Thoughts

My vision for the towns and villages of the future

As I hinted in my previous post, I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for some time, and I hope to do it justice. If what I write here seems scattered, it’s because I haven’t been keeping notes on my ideas, though I’ve had many, so this is more or less ex tempore.

Even though I’ve made my thoughts on overpopulation pretty clear in previous posts (here is one of them), it’s important to state once again that I don’t believe the natural world can support as many humans as there are in the world for much longer, and something will happen to cut our numbers down. Nature will either do it for us, through the use of a blunt instrument such as a nasty disease or a series of natural catastrophes, or we can do it ourselves, by limiting the number of children we have. I have written previously that I believe one child per family would provide an immediate and constant decrease in population for the foreseeable future, and the ideal way to do it is for each family to commit to this by themselves, or we may get into a situation in the future where it will be mandated upon us.

In many ways, we are living in the best of times, and I’ve written about this in the past as well. It would be a great pity and a great loss if catastrophic events cut down the world population indiscriminately, reducing our civilization and technology back to medieval times, but that may well happen if we don’t take action ourselves. The best way to go about this is to ensure that we decrease the world population while we maintain and continue to develop the comforts that make modern life so worth it. I’m talking about modern plumbing, modern surgery, modern dentistry, modern electricity installations, modern computing, etc. Losing these would set us back hundreds of years, but that’s just what will happen through some sort of cataclysmic events if we don’t reduce our numbers proactively.

There are population controls built into nature for every species. I don’t think I need to say more on this. Nature documentaries abound, and you can see for yourselves that every species is subject to either natural predators or natural diseases that limit its numbers. When those fail, food supplies become limited and numbers once again fall. But we as humans have managed to evade our predators and our diseases, and we’ve also managed to pump up the production of our foods, to the point where there are much too many of us around. We are literally eating everything in sight and we’re consuming everything we can get our hands on. This cannot go on. Something will happen. It sounds ominous, I know, but just look around you. Everything in nature is governed by natural laws. We have been stepping all over those laws. How much longer do you think this planet upon which we’re so dependent will tolerate our numbers and our crimes against nature?

At this point you might be asking what this has to do with the towns and cities of the future. Well, this was the preamble that now allows me to say that these settlements of the future will have greatly reduced populations (one way or another), yet if we have been proactive, they will have maintained all of the modern comforts and will also provide gainful employment for people from all sorts of trades and occupations. That will be the hat trick.

Let’s look at population density. Clearly, lower population density is going to be a natural result of less population, but how about some numbers? There are many studies on this and I could link to a few, but I’d like you to do your own research on this. What feels comfortable to you? What feels overpopulated to you? For example, my house sits on a plot of land that’s about 1200 square meters in a small town in Southern Transilvania. The plots for the houses around me vary in size but I would say on average, they’re about 1000 square meters. This is enough space for a good-sized house, a driveway, a courtyard and a garden, plus some nicely-sized trees. I find this to be a good size for a plot of land in a town. Any smaller and it would feel cramped. Any bigger and it would of course be better 🙂. As for apartment buildings, that’s a different story. I would say about 100 square meters is the minimum for up to two people, but more importantly, and this is something I rarely found in apartments, there should be a minimum ceiling height, and it shouldn’t be 2.4 or 2.6 meters, but more like 2.8 or 3 meters. A small room is much more bearable when the ceilings are higher.

How about in the countryside, in a village? There, a decent plot of land that would allow you run a moderately self-sufficient household would have to be at least 3000 square meters, though that’s a bit small by my account. Let’s go with a number that’s easier to remember: 5000 square meters. That would allow you to have a bigger courtyard where you could round up your animals, keep a tractor or two, have a good-sized garden in the back to grow vegetables, etc, and you’d still have space for a good-sized house, a barn and various annexes such as stables, hen houses, etc. And you’d need some additional farmland outside the village, but since I’m not a farmer, I can’t speak to the size of those plots of land.

So 1000 square meters in towns and 5000 square meters in villages sounds good to me. And in order to meet the demands of farmland in-between settlements, we’d need to ensure a good distance between them. I can speak to the distance, because I’ve been doing a fair bit of driving. In order for these distances to be enjoyable and for the cars to be run properly, so the engines to have a chance to heat up during each drive, 10 minutes would have to be the minimum, with a 20 minute relative max, otherwise the drive gets a bit tedious, especially if you have to do it often.

How about the size of towns and villages? What numbers should we be looking at? Once again, I’ll speak to what I know. My town has about 47,000 inhabitants. By most standards, it’s a small town. But as it turns out, 47,000 people are too many for its infrastructure. The streets can get crowded during rush hour, partly because they were built for a much smaller town and partly because there are simply too many people crowded into the edges of the town, into neighborhoods full of apartment buildings built during communist times. When all those people get into their cars or into trolleys and start going through a medieval town that was built for about 10,000 people, it’s too much. So if we’re going to try to preserve the existing infrastructure, and I think we should, our town could probably handle somewhere between 20,000 – 30,000 people, and of course these numbers would be different for each town or city. Some people would be much more comfortable living in larger cities, but even there, I would caution against encouraging ridiculous growth. I could look at one city where I grew up, and that’s Cluj-Napoca. It’s one of the most prosperous cities in Romania right now, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s become unlivable. It’s much too big, much too crowded, much too stretched out, much too expensive and it’s chaos to try and get through it during the day. I wouldn’t want to live there.

As long as I’m on the subject of density, I’d like you to think about another number. When you walk through your town or city, count the people around you and think about what feels comfortable to you and what feels overcrowded. To me, more than 1 person per 10 square meters feels overcrowded. 10 square meters may sound like a lot, but it’s not. It’s about 3 meters by 3 meters, roughly. Given that our personal space is roughly about 1 square meter, we’d need at least 1-2 meters of space around us which could be navigated by other people without impinging on our personal space (keep in mind they may be carrying bags as well), and you’re already at 9 square meters (1 sq m + 2 sq m in each direction). Add another square meter to the total for a little more buffer and you’re at 10 square meters. I guess at peak times we could go as low as 1 person per 5 square meters, but anything lower than that would be overcrowding and even though you may not realize it, your body would feel the effects. Your heart rate would go up, your stress levels would go up, you may get a headache, etc.

Let’s talk about transport and roads. There are huge costs associated with building and maintaining roads and highways. There are also so many vehicles on the roads. Should the population levels come down, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but we’d still have this ongoing debate about pollution and consumption of natural resources and so on and so forth. I for one love cars and furthermore, I love old cars. While I enjoy the convenience and reliability of modern cars, I love the way old cars look, inside and out, and I love their fantastic, cushioned ride quality that’s so easy on the back, especially during long drives. If there were a way to combine the advantages of new and old cars, I’d be all for that. Some people say electric cars are the future. I’m not so sure, not unless we invent batteries with much higher capacities and whose raw materials aren’t as toxic and difficult to obtain from the ground. A number of years ago, I had a rough idea about a car that might be able to harness the gravitational force of the Earth and turn it into propulsion and possibly even levitation, but it’s something that has so far stayed in the realm of scifi. Beyond a wild hunch that this might be doable, I don’t have the scientific knowhow to even begin planning a prototype. The advantage of such a (scifi) vehicle would be that it wouldn’t pollute and it wouldn’t need the tremendous expenditure of paved roads, since it would be able to float just off the ground. Back to reality though: I’d be happy with cars that pollute less, last longer and look better, and by better I mean they should look more like the old cars, with organic curves and endearing appeal.

Let’s talk about buildings and architecture. I think most buildings in existence today are copy-paste jobs and have little to no originality that would make them worth saving when they start breaking down, and that’s a great pity. In terms of environmental impact, getting a house or a larger structure built takes a tremendous amount of natural resources and manual labor, and if you’re just building some nondescript box with cheap materials, you’re guilty of not only using up natural resources, but also for using them improperly, for a structure that will eventually be torn down. Furthemore, if you’re gilding that same crappy architecture with expensive finishings that you then tear down every decade in a stupid effort to keep up with fashion, you’re guilty a third time. There’s an old saying with a clear message that goes, “three strikes and you’re out”.

I think all structures built should have a planned lifespan of at least 100 years. Given the age of so many of the historic buildings in Europe, I think we could successfully plan for building lifespans of 500 years and we could and we should be building structures that could make it to 1,000 years. We owe it to ourselves (to our collective civilization and advancement) and we owe it to the planet, to build structures that last as long as possible, so that once we’ve used up valuable natural resources, we’ve put those resources to very good use. And there should be real, concerted effort from governments everywhere to conserve and restore historic buildings with time-proven methods, using high quality, traditional, natural materials and workmanship.

I’ll give you one pertinent example: in Southern Transilvania, we have many Saxon villages and fortified churches whose architecture was shaped by the industrious people that built them and whose architecture further shaped the land and created an integral artistic and historic whole that is unique in Europe and in the entire world. Nowadays, most of those churches are falling down and the houses are occupied by people who no longer see their historic significance or even appreciate their aesthetic appeal. Historic facades are being mangled. Historic reliefs, sills, cornices, socles, thrusts, pilasters, frontons, gables, porticos, brackets and other ornamental shapes are being stripped away and the bare walls are being covered with styrofoam insulation, with no regard for what was once there or for what will happen to a breathing brick wall once it’s sealed up. We have villages where the churches no longer exist, so even if the houses may still be historically accurate, the village has lost its focal point, or where the churches still stand, but they’re out of place, being surrounded by houses which have entirely lost their shape and are now some ugly, non-descript boxes for the so-called living, painted in garish colors. Ideally, the historic sections of these villages would be declared historic monuments and the whole ensemble (fortifications, church, schoolhouse, village center and village houses) would be conserved and restored accordingly.

Let’s talk about law enforcement, or as I sometimes call it, pruning one’s garden. I’d really like our collective societies to have stricter rules around what is and is not acceptable behavior in public, around public order and noise levels, and about gainful participation in society through work or other involvement such as volunteering, and about the consequences of not doing so. I’d like our towns and village to be quiet, peaceful places where we can do our work and live our lives undisturbed and without disturbing others.

I’d love to see noise violations punished more severely — and this is much more important, with frequency and constancy. I’d love to see people who play loud music get serious fines, now and in the future, and it doesn’t matter whether they do it at home or in their cars. I for one have had it with people whose loud speakers blare and boom up and down our streets and I’d like this kind of behavior stamped out completely. I’d love to see bad behaviors in public punished instantly, even if it means having policemen beating down offenders with sticks on the spot, like they used to do not so long ago.

I am all for people having rights under the law, and I am very glad for the equitable treatment we now espouse for people of different races and particularly for the equitable treatment of women. These advances are humane, they make sense, and they should have happened earlier. But there is a flip side to this: some of these rights should not be inalienable; they should be based on behavior. In the future (and also in the present), participation in society should afford you the same rights as anyone else who participates in that society, but if you’re just a parasite who portends to be part of a society but does not contribute to it through work or other proper involvement, you should, by rights, lose some of your rights. Let me give you some present-day examples.

Those who continually shirk work should not get aid from the government, and those who abuse society’s aid mechanisms by having multiple children just so they can get extra money, should also have their aid cut off, and they should be put to work. But there are currently no legal mechanisms in the EU through which someone can forcibly be put to work, so what we have now, although not many countries talk about it openly, is a certain percentage of the people in those countries who know they can’t be forced to work and who actively choose not to work and live on aid all of the time. This needs to stop in the future. It’s not sustainable and it’s not tolerable.

There are also no legal mechanisms through which policemen can adequately defend themselves and arrest people, should they be attacked. I don’t know if this is the case throughout Europe, but I know, directly from policemen, that it’s what’s going on right now in Romania. Should a policeman pull out his gun and defend himself in Romania right now, it would most certainly mean jail time for him. Should they want to arrest someone, they’d have no jail to take them to, because most, if not all police stations have no holding cells. You can’t put someone in county jail without due process, and you can’t leave someone violent or too drunk on the streets, so what do you do? Right now there’s nothing to do, so policemen will sometimes take these people for a ride to the station, hoping they’ll cool off. This needs to change in the future.

There are also no legal mechanisms to force someone to pay police fines. Ridiculously enough, if they have a job, they can be forced to do it, but if they don’t, if they’re parasites, they can go to court and argue they have no job to pay the fine with, or they can go to their local mayor and get a written excuse from the fine. These local yokel mayors are only too happy to give them these written excuses, because they’re desperate for cheap votes and don’t want to put in the work that wins real votes. Lots of nasty characters take advantage of these loopholes in the current laws and they go on offending, knowing there won’t be serious consequences. So we literally have people in Romania who’ve been violent toward their families or toward the police, or have committed other illegalities, who are staying at home on government aid because they don’t want to work, who are not paying their fines because they have no jobs, and who are also making more children so they can get more government aid. That’s a trifecta of crime and it goes on, unpunished. This needs to stop in the future, which I’m hoping will be much more orderly and disciplined. I’m all for rights, but in a logical and rational world, there are also consequences to one’s actions.

These are the things that come to my mind when I think of the future of cities, towns and villages. Thanks for reading!

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Thoughts

On gardening and civilized society

Ever since we’ve begun the restoration work on the historical monuments in the Transylvanian countryside (see Asociatia P.A.T.R.U. for the details), I’ve had to tend to the landscaping, among other things. And if there’s one thing you learn when you garden, is that you have to prune the weeds constantly. Some weeds you simply cannot just pull out and throw in a compost pile, they’re so invasive that you must burn them in order to stop them from spreading.

Yet in our modern, civilized society, we are led to believe that we must tolerate the weeds, including the really nasty ones. That somehow, we are to be as tolerant as possible, that there is a place for everyone in our all-inclusive civilization. It’s as if everyone’s a precious flower that we must tend to and nourish. Inasmuch as I want that to be the case, and lots of other idealistic people want that to be the case, a lot of people are weeds. Nasty weeds that we shouldn’t tolerate, that do not deserve our respect, attention, or our help. These are people that constantly shit the bed of civilization, so to speak. They take every chance, every opportunity given to them by society, by well-meaning people, and they abuse it. They turn it into something to be regretted. Like weeds, if they’re not pruned, they spread everywhere, and then there’s no garden anymore. They must be thrown out of society. For some, a little time in the compost pile might be enough. For others, there is no coming back. It’s like trying to stick a square peg in a round hole. They’re anachronisms, throwbacks to more barbaric times. Unfortunately, unlike anachronisms, they’re not self-eliminating, they’re self-perpetuating. And so more drastic action must be taken.

This isn’t something that’s done once. It requires regularity. Punishing regularity. Real effort, real sweat. A constant battle against the weeds. Just like gardening.

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Thoughts

The best of times

Isn’t it interesting how timeless and true good writing proves itself, even in our modern age, and even though it was originally intended for a different literary context?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, 1859

We are indeed living in the best times of current recorded history and because every coin has a flip side, there are surely plenty of things to complain about. Yet I thought I’d point out some of the good things in this post.

Out of all our known and written history, I don’t believe we’ve ever had a time like this, when most of the world is enjoying a period of “not war” and when the options available to us in areas such as healthcare, living conditions, hygiene, infrastructure, learning, jobs, possessions, transport, personal freedoms and just about everything else you can think about are so many and so readily available. Yes, some of these options can get expensive, but they are there and they are available, whereas most of them simply did not exist in the past.

We get so caught up in our daily, mundane routines and our various disappointments that we allow to blacken our lives, that we forget we have it so good. I’d like to invite you to find and watch documentaries and TV series that portray our various periods of history with accuracy; there are quite a few these days. I’d like you to become acquainted with how people lived and how hard it was to simply get through a day and have some food to put on the table, much less be able to afford a few knick-knacks here and there.

Most people have never been able to afford what we call a proper home and have lived in sheds, hovels and small cottages for most of history. Most houses were a one-room affair in the past. The toilet was a pot under the bed or a communal outdoor hole in the ground. Chamber pots would be thrown into the street every morning. Think about taking a walk in those cities! Even in civilized cities, right up to the 1960s-70s, people would have to share a common bathroom or bathrooms in apartment buildings or subdivided houses. And now we’ve gotten to the point where we mind sharing a bathroom with our guests and we complain if our house has less than 3-4 rooms.

The capability to take a daily shower under hot running water, with a pleasant soap and shampoo, has been unheard of in all our recorded history, until recent times. And yet people still find excuses when it comes to maintaining proper daily hygiene and complain about water hardness and water pressure and soap quality, etc.

Dental care is so important. Without it, most of us would be toothless by our 40s and those who’d still have teeth would have some rather nasty decoloration and build-up on them. Should we be part of the majority of the population without teeth, we’d have to wear dentures made of wood or animal teeth, or of metals such as lead, dentures that wouldn’t fit properly and cause us daily pain. We now have access to orthodontics, fillings that match the color and hardness of our teeth and are almost invisible, crowns, implants and now stem cell implants, which can regenerate our own teeth! This was never available in the past. We’ve had to struggle with primitive tooth care for so long.

Of all healthcare options available, I would single out trauma surgery as the most important development. Nowadays we have the option of receiving triage and trauma care that allows us to fully heal without infection, including proper bone and joint surgery and for most of known history, we simply didn’t have this. Broken arms stayed broken. Torn joints stayed torn. Cuts and flesh wounds often got infected and led to death. Yes, healthcare is terribly expensive. Yes, good basic healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. But look at the bright side: it exists! How governments choose to make it available to their citizens is an open and ongoing discussion instead of a “No, we’ve never heard of that, it doesn’t even exist” kind of discussion.

How easy is it to learn things nowadays? Access to information is virtually free, and more resources (historical and modern) have become available online than we’ll ever have time to read, and yet I’m hard pressed to come across than a few learned, thoughtful individuals during the course of a day and sometimes even a week; (perhaps that’s also due to the way our educational systems are structured.) Various apps on our mobile devices compete to make learning as fun as possible for us. Universities and colleges post videos from their courses for free online access. For most of history, people didn’t know how to read or write. They were thirsty for learning but it was out of their reach. It was simply too expensive or just not an option for them. Trade secrets, for example, were closely guarded and only revealed to tradespeople in secrecy, after long apprenticeships. Now everyone can watch how-to videos and learn how to do something, but how many follow through and actually do those things or even more, persist at them until they get good? Most of us tend to confuse reading or watching the news with learning. Opening up our minds and pouring in the news isn’t learning, it’s just a deluge of unhelpful and depressing bits of information.

For most of our history, people couldn’t pick their jobs. There was little social mobility. If you were born into a peasant family, you were a peasant, end of story. Only the aristocracy could pick and choose what they wanted to do, but even if they were passionate about something, it could only be a hobby, because they were expected by all to be aristocrats, not do things (I know, boo-hoo for them…) Now anyone can be just about anything, and training for that job is within reach if they want it enough. One way or another you can make ends meet and get to do what you like in life. I know, I know, student loans are huge… that’s why it’s doubly important to figure out what you want to do before you start going to school for it, else you’ll be spending money you don’t have so you can get to do what you don’t want to do. While I’m talking about this, allow me to pitch you on choosing a career in the trades; good craftsmen are in severe demand these days.

The subject of possessions is huge, both figuratively and literally. We could talk all day about rampant consumerism and fake economies and fast fashion. The point is, it’s incredibly affordable to buy things today, and it simply wasn’t the case for most of our history. Even something that we often take for granted and is typically rusting in our garden sheds, such as a simple hand saw, was incredibly hard to make and buy during medieval times. Even an axe or a pick was hard to make. They cost lots of money, the equivalent of small cars nowadays, so people saved up for years to buy tools, then cared for them and handed them down to their sons and daughters. Clothes were made by hand, and that included the materials. You cared for them and mended them as long as you could. Someone would typically only have one change of clothing. Nowadays clothing is literally clogging up our homes and people are desperate to get help in order to clean them up and organize them.

In the last 100 years, means of transport have progressed tremendously. Whereas travel was slow and expensive, it’s now fast and inexpensive. We can travel by car, train, ship and airplane. We can even skip physical travel and visit locations virtually by looking at photos from those places, or street views in mapping applications. We can even immerse ourselves in 360 degree videos and virtual realities.

We find time to bitch about every little bump and pothole in our public roads, yet we’ve never had it so good. It’s true that Roman roads are legendary, but you have to remember they were cobblestone in a time where suspension hadn’t yet been invented. Every single bone and sinew in your body would have been shaken out of sorts by the time a day’s ride would be over. After Roman civilization degraded, we were back to mud ruts and dust for over 1500 years, plus frequent attacks from highway robbers. Now all but the most rural roads are paved and can be safely traveled.

How about personal freedoms? Have societies ever tolerated so much free speech, even when it’s hateful and offensive, and offered so much personal freedom for various lifestyle choices, even for something that we now consider so commonplace as divorce or adultery? Do you know how shunned people were for adultery in the past, or how impossible it was to get a divorce, even when situation was terrible and abusive? How about the open criticism and ridicule of politicians, business leaders and other figures of authority or fame that we now tolerate? When was that sort of thing well-tolerated in the past? And yet we still find ways to take these things to the extreme, and we keep pushing the boundaries till things get truly and downright brazen and defamatory, instead of celebrating the freedom of speaking out against someone and doing it with some sense of decency.

I do wish more people would realize how good we have it and would be more grateful for all of the opportunities, amenities and conveniences that modern times offer us. We certainly don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we lose what we’ve worked so hard for as a human race and civilization, because then we’ll have really failed ourselves. I think the way to become more grateful is to pay attention to the past, because it offers up enough contrast to the present to make us have those little epiphanies of conscience that raise our collective morale.

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bass boost sucks
Thoughts

Excessive bass is the bane of modern music

In much the same way that too much sugar will give you diabetes and too many calories will make you fat, bass-boosted music ends up being a hollow, crappy experience that will make you deaf and piss off your neighbors. And hopefully, it will also bring you lots of fines for noise violations, fines which you will thoroughly deserve.

Manufacturers are sticking more bass into everything with speakers these days. Singers and studios are busy boosting the bass on their songs too — hey, it doesn’t matter if your song is tired and it recycles the same rhythms and loops used by every talented music creator in the past… just stick a few reverse beats in there (they freshen up the whole mess) and turn up the bass! Bass bosted songs are all over the internet, much like pigeon poop is all over rooftops and statues in busy cities. You’ll find tons of these “improved” songs and you’ll also find tons of tutorials on the subject. So in that sense, this article is going against the grain. I’m aware of it. But I’m sure I’m going to be made aware of it repeatedly by some of you.

The problem is made worse by the people listening to these cacophonies. It’s the wrong type of people, isn’t it? It’s the screw-ups, the ones who don’t amount to much in life, the ones with no regard for those around them. The idiot son of the neighbors a couple of houses away, the one who can’t hold down a job and mooches off his parents, he’s got speakers with lots of bass and he plays them loudly. The no-good neighbors who practically live off social aid and whose idea of a good time is grilling pork in the yard, getting drunk and listening to loud music, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass and they love their bass boosted songs. Any dumbass, jackass or just plain ass who buys a car nowadays and drives it with the stereo turned up and the windows down, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass and they’re sure to let you know. They want everyone to know! Heck, they’ll also stick a subwoofer in the trunk, to ensure the whole bodywork rattles with every shitty bass beat.

Even the partially deaf and elderly neighbors who just bought a new TV, they’ve got speakers with lots of bass, even though they didn’t ask for them when they bought their TV.

The problem is two-fold:

  1. Adding anything extra to the music as it was recorded and as it’s meant to be played ruins the music, the inherent goodness of the song (well, if the song is any good at all, anyway). Mind you, I’m not talking about sprinkling a little salt on the soup! Boosting the bass on a song, both in the studio and on a stereo is the equivalent of heaping shovel-fulls of salt onto the soup. Let’s face it, if all a song has going for it is the boosted bass, then it’s a crappy song.
  2. Excessive bass angers everyone around you, no matter how low the volume on your bass-bosted stereo is kept. The bass sounds travel through anything, and that’s all that your neighbors will hear.

A great speaker is supposed to reproduce sound just as it was recorded, with all of its frequencies, not just the low ones that are collectively called “bass”. A good speaker comes fairly close to it. An idiotic speaker made for dimwits will have thumping bass sounds and little else. Even if you listen to an idiotic speaker at low volume, it’ll still transmit the bass sounds through walls, disturbing everyone around you, because all they’ll hear is the thump-thump-thump noise, the beat, without any of the accompanying sounds. Even if the song is great, it’ll still sound like shit as the beats pound the neighbors’ brains, boom-boom-boom, until they get a migraine.

The situation is made worse by the compressed music of today, sold mostly as MP3 and AAC files, which cannot reproduce all of the frequencies of the sounds that were recorded in the studio. It muddles them with the compression algorithm. So the producers rely more heavily than necessary on bass and beats in order to make the songs catchier. I realize this is an oversimplification, but it is true.

I would like excessive bass to be outlawed, just as excessive noise is currently outlawed. I’m not kidding. I realize I’m going completely against the grain here, but this has become a constant nuisance and these people who go on abusing our ears and our laws are everywhere. I’d like you to begin to notice them as you walk through a city and you’ll soon realize there’s a constant cacophony of bass beats that pollutes our lives, whether we’re indoors or outdoors, whether we’re awake or trying to sleep. If it’s not the neighbors playing music or watching a movie, it’s some douche driving down the street with the music turned up in his car; even if he’s got the windows up, the bass beats travel through the body of his car, across the street, through the walls of your house and into your brain. Why do we tolerate this nonsense?

To me, this thing is akin to a deranged hobo who throws poop at people as he wanders the streets. Bass beats may not be made of physical poop, but they’ll stink up your life and leave a mess behind. You may not need to wash them off, but even if you wanted to, you couldn’t. As the years go by, you’ll be able to see those same crappy beats as furrows on your forehead, as white hairs on the temple of your head.

Civilized cities already have very good noise regulations in place but they do not address excessive bass. In Europe, noisy cars aren’t even allowed to enter certain city centers, which I think is a wonderful thing. And yet no one directly addresses the problem of excessive bass. I don’t think the measures to be put in place should be complicated. Let’s not have to measure the decibels or the frequency of the sounds. The measure to be used should be as simple as possible. Is the sound traveling through the wall or the window of the house? Can it be heard on the street, or by the neighbors? Then it’s too loud. In the case of cars, is the sound of their stereos coming through the car’s body? Can it be heard on the street, even if the windows are up? Then it’s too loud.

Let us start to penalize excessive bass with excessive fines. The manufacturers, the studios and the people listening to music will follow suit, unless they enjoy paying hefty, wallet-burning fines.

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Thoughts

Not so civilized after all

Someone once said that the mark of a good civilization is set by how they handle their poop. By and large, it’s a good rule of thumb. And yet, in this modern and somewhat sanitary world of ours, it’s so easy to be reminded of how fragile our constructs of civilization and sanitation are — all we need do is look at our bathrooms.

I was working on our toilet yesterday, attaching it to the floor, and I realized that all that stands between me and the neighbors’ poop is some height and a thin water layer that blocks the primitive smells from infesting our living spaces. In light of all we go through to isolate ourselves from other human beings, in our quest for privacy and cleanliness, with fences, walls, soundproofing, thermal insulation, fancy double-paned windows pumped with inert gases and vacuum-sealed, double-bolted doors, curtains, tinting and other things, it’s so ironic to see how close we are when it comes to our more shameful habits. Sure, we can’t hear or see our neighbors — we’ve taken care of that — but we sure can smell their poop, and in some unlucky cases, even see it erupting from our toilets onto our floors.

Staring into the open toilet pipe, not only could I smell the offal of my fellow human beings, but I could know the exact moment when they flushed their toilets, and I could hear the rush of the brown waters flowing into the communal collection pipe. When I placed the toilet on top of the pipe and sealed the ring that secured it there, the smell persisted, winding its way through the toilet’s innards and out into the bathroom. It only stopped coming up when I flushed the toilet for the first time. That thin seal of water, sitting in the low part of the P-trap loop inside the toilet, is really all that’s keeping our civilization civilized, at least when it comes to the two numbers we must all do at some point during the day.

This wasn’t the first toilet I installed, and I’m not knocking our modern plumbing system — all I’m saying is there’s surprisingly little between us and wilderness, in spite of all the constructs we’ve placed between us and it, and between each other.

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Places

Wish I could do something about those dogs

There are two problems with dogs in Romania, as I see it:

  1. There are entirely too many stray dogs
  2. Most dog owners care little about their dogs’ behavior

Let me say first that I’m a dog lover, though my recent experiences here in Romania have cooled my enthusiasm for dogs significantly. Overall, it’s been one negative experience after another, and right now, it’s gotten to the point where I will not hesitate to kick a dog who lunges at me or my wife, as has happened repeatedly.

Stray Dogs

Everywhere you look in Romania, there are stray dogs. It could be the middle of the city, or the middle of the countryside — you are guaranteed to find a stray dog. They usually converge where people are, but you’ll see them crossing open fields or walking alongside roads in the middle of nowhere, looking for scraps of food.

The look

You’d think a breed of animals that depends on people for their food supply, especially dogs, who are supposed to be “man’s best friend”, would be more grateful to people. You’d be dead wrong to assume that, and I don’t exaggerate. Sure, they’re nice when you have food and you want to give them some. They’ll line up and beg, putting on a show. Some packs of these stray dogs specialize in begging, and will stick around car stops and fast food kiosks. They do alright, because they look well-fed. Even I feed them sometimes. After all, I still love dogs, and I don’t mind sharing my food with a hungry and friendly animal.

But may God protect you from meeting a pack of stray dogs at night, or when they’re hungry, because they’ll tear you to pieces. They’re dangerous even during the daytime, sleeping in the sun, curled up next to buildings or on the sidewalk. Those same sleepy dogs can turn vicious and attack at any second.

The dangerous thing about stray dogs is their pack behavior. They’re not disciplined and they are dumb animals. When one begins to bark at you, they’ll all join in. When one of them lunges at you, they’ll all start lunging at you. When of them bites and draws blood, the others become enraged and will all start biting you. As the taste of blood enters their mouths, they’ll soon begin to bite you in order to get pieces of meat. You will no longer be seen as a human being, someone to be feared and respected, but as food — a hunk of meat to be eaten.

I’ve seen stray dogs lunge at street cleaners working nearby. I’ve seen them lunge at elderly people. I’ve heard of them killing adults and children or leaving them scarred for life. A relative of ours from Constanta was jogging on the beach one morning, and was attacked by a pack of dogs who chased him for over a kilometer. He literally ran for his life while they lunged at him one after the other, biting, scratching, digging their teeth deep into his body. He fought them off and barely escaped alive. Now he’s scarred for life on his arms, legs and face, from something that could have been avoided if the city of Constanta did its job in cleaning the city of strays.

I was running one evening in a village in the province of Dobrogea, and a stray dog lunged at me, barking and snarling viciously, ready to bite. I stood my ground, ready to fight, and he retreated. If there had been more of them around, they wouldn’t have retreated, and I might have ended up in the hospital. I have not been able to do any regular running during my stay in Romania. You can’t do it in the city, and you can’t do it in the countryside. When you run, it’s basically an open invitation for stray dogs to attack you. To be able to do any sort of outdoor sport, I’ve had to find remote places away from people, but even there, I have to watch out for sheep dogs, who will attack you on sight if they see you running. It’s insane. This brings me to the second part of this article, where I talk about dog owners and their dogs’ behavior. Before I do that, let me mention one more incident.

I don’t know if folks in the US have had the chance to witness dogs running alongside cars, or behind them lately. The US does a good job of taking strays off the streets. In classic cartoons, this is sometimes depicted as dogs running to latch onto the bumpers of the cars. That’s inaccurate. Dogs will run alongside the cars, barking at them, and some might even try to lunge at the tires, in order to bite them, clearly with sad consequences. When you see stray dogs with bad scars on their faces, you can assume they probably succeeded in latching onto a moving tire.

When you’ve got so many strays, you can get anywhere from only one or up to ten or more running after your car, and accidents will happen. Before I spent any significant time driving in Romania, I couldn’t understand why, and thought the drivers were just being vicious and ran them over on purpose. That’s not the case. I, too, ran over a stray dog recently. It couldn’t be helped. It was raining, so the road was somewhat slippery. This particular dog came out from the side of the road and started running alongside the car in front of me, on the driver’s side, then decided to switch sides and darted right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes and swerved left, but couldn’t avoid him and ran over his hind legs. Needless to say, that was not a good day, and I’d still rather not think of it — but that’s what will happen when the stray population isn’t controlled.

Domesticated dogs

Few dog owners in Romania care enough for their dogs to teach them how to behave properly. Of the majority, there are two classes: those who do little more for their dogs but provide them with a dog house and food, and those who pamper them for the very purpose of showing them off on the street.

This latter class of people is more rare now, but used to be quite common during Romania’s communist regime. They’d have these big, ferocious dogs, such as German shepherds, dobermans, or bulldogs, and they’d walk them in public with a muzzle, smiling secretly (or openly) every time their dog growled at someone and that person shied away.

The other class of dog owners — by and large the overwhelming majority — is quite content to tie up their dogs in the yard, next to a dog house, and to feed and (maybe) clean up after them, but do little else for them, like teach them when to bark and when not to bark. The end result of their treatment (or lack of it) is that you have these frustrated dogs who are tied up behind wooden fences where they can’t see what’s going on outside, but can hear and smell a ton of foreign scents, and who are going nuts, barking at everything, all the time. For all intents and purposes, they’re not really domesticated, because they’re not potty trained, house trained, or taught how to respond to signals and when to be silent. They might as well be strays, because they’re just as dumb as the strays. They cannot communicate. They only bark and snarl, and collectively, they create this cacophony of barks and yelps and snarls that can’t be ignored and drives me crazy.

I’m told I’m supposed to get used to it. I cannot. I can only bear it, and that only for short amounts of time. After that, I get pounding headaches, and the only thing I want to do (and imagine doing) is to squash those idiotic, furry, barking noise boxes. If you’re reading this and you’re shocked, I tell you, you cannot understand it unless you get to spend a few weeks in Romania and are treated to incessant barking at all hours of the day and night, from all directions. You try sleeping when every damn dog in the neighborhood has joined in the barking started by the neighbor’s idiotic mutt. You try concentrating on your work when some moronic, flea-bitten fartbrain a couple of houses away chooses to mark the passing of every 10 seconds with a bark. You try going on about your business, accompanied by that sort of a noise parade, and you let me know how it feels after a couple of weeks (or months) of it.

The other issue I encounter is that of violent behavior in dogs that are supposed to be domesticated. I guess this sort of ties in with what I said a few paragraphs above, but this sort of violence isn’t necessarily encouraged by the dog owners. It results more from a lack of care. I’ve seen it on two occasions.

While in Predeal — a popular mountain resort — I hiked to one of the peaks nearby, a place miles away from civilization, called Clabucetul Taurului. The only settlement nearby was a tourist cabin set in the valley between two peaks, about a mile away, called Cabana Garbova. As I stood there on the peak, taking in the beauty of the place, a stray dog wandered up the slope of this peak, and greeted me in a friendly fashion. I warmed up to him quickly. After all, I still love dogs, in spite of my recent experiences. This dog was nice and clean, which isn’t something you see often in stray dogs. It’s likely that he belonged or had recently belonged to a farmer down in the valley, and he liked to wander around all day long. I took several photos of him while up on the peak. Here’s one of them.

Friendly company

When I headed down the mountain to re-join my wife, who was waiting for me near Cabana Garbova, he followed me. As we all approached the cabin, it became evident to us that we had a problem. The dogs at the cabin, a pack of about 8 big monsters accustomed to fighting wolves and bears, sniffed him and started barking wildly. We tried to shoo him away, to make him go back up the mountain, but he didn’t want to leave us. Then the dogs down below started running toward us. We started getting really worried. Here were some seriously large dogs who gave all the signs of intending to do us harm. I started yelling down at the cabin, hoping its owner would come out and call them back. No such thing. Our companion stray got really worried, and stood close to me, behind my legs. He was hoping the other dogs would see he was with me and wouldn’t attack.

I called out to them, telling them to stop, but they kept coming. I could see their teeth, bared, ready to bite. They ran and lunged right at me. I braced for the impact. They brushed right by and latched onto the stray. The poor thing was mauled, right there, in front of me, and I was helpless to stop them. I had nothing but my camera in hand, so I took photos. I may at some point publish them, but right now it’s really hard for me to even look at them, because I got attached to that stray. He did nothing to us, even helped us by hanging around as we walked through wild territory where we could have been attacked by wild animals, and yet these vicious dogs were trying to tear him apart. He was, after all, one of them — not a wolf, not a bear, not a fox — not a danger to anyone.

My wife found a stick and started hitting them, trying to make them let go of the dog. They wouldn’t, but growled at her and started dragging him away, wanting to kill him and likely eat him. I woke up from my shock, grabbed the stick from my wife, and started hitting the ground next to them, yelling loudly. Finally, they let go. By this time, some people down in the valley below came out and started calling them back. They spread apart and left us alone. The poor dog was still alive, but badly hurt. He was bleeding in several places. Thankfully, there were no open wounds. His thick fur protected him. He followed us down to the cabin and laid down by the door. Others nearby kept the dogs away. I was livid with anger. I went inside and asked to speak to the owner, who was in the kitchen, not outside tending to his vicious dogs. I asked him why he hadn’t done something to stop them. Did he think it was okay to let them kill an innocent dog? He called me stupid to my face and told me he couldn’t care less about someone else’s dog. I couldn’t believe it! What if the dogs had attacked us, I asked. He didn’t answer that question. I wanted to punch him right in the face, but chose to walk away.

Just imagine for a second how much more traumatic this whole experience would have been if that had been my dog, not a stray. If it were your dog, and you were standing there helpless, fearing for your life, watching it being mauled to death by a pack of large mountain dogs, how would you have reacted? It’s likely that a smaller dog would have died right away. Thank goodness our stray was hardier and more resistant. Still, only the adrenaline kept him on his feet long enough to walk down to the cabin. When we came out, he was lying by the door, in pain. He didn’t, or couldn’t get up. I bought some meat and bread and put them in front of him. He started eating, slowly, afraid for his life, flinching every time he saw the cabin dogs in the distance.

We had to leave, and he wasn’t going anywhere, so we left him. I only hope the cabin owner had some heart left in him, and didn’t let his dogs finish him off. I think I saw his wife chiding him in the kitchen as we were leaving. Perhaps she knocked some sense into him, because he sure needed it.

The other incident I wanted to mention happened as I was walking through the hills outside a village near Bacau, in the province of Moldova. I was taking photos, and I had my tripod with me. It was a viciously cold day, and a snowstorm was brewing in the air above. The calendar might have said it was March, but no one had told Jack Frost. Billy, a lovable mutt belonging to family of ours, accompanied me.

Billy

Suddenly, he became wary of his surroundings and started sniffing the air with a worried look. He kept looking at me, then at something in front of us. I could see nothing. I only heard the distant bleating of sheep. Billy hung around for a couple more minutes, signaling that we should return, then, seeing I had no intention of doing so, turned around and headed back home by himself. I laughed and wondered why he did it, but kept walking my way. I soon discovered the source of his fear. It was the vicious sheep dogs who were guarding the flock of sheep in the distance. As soon as they saw me (I was downwind, so they couldn’t sniff me), they charged right at me, three of them. I was ready. I had my tripod, which is nice and thick and just the right size for bashing in the head of a violent dog. I raised it above my head and waited for the first lunge. It didn’t come. They stopped a few feet away and kept snarling and barking. I advanced toward them. They retreated. The shepherd finally came in sight, saw what was going on, and called them off. They obeyed and left me alone.

I walked off, finished the route I wanted to do that day, and started to walk back home. The flock of sheep were still around. I tried to keep a safe distance and avoid another encounter, but this time they sniffed me and came at me again. I raised my tripod again, ready to put out their lights, and again they retreated, leaving about 10-15 feet between me and them. But they were still barking like crazy. I called over the shepherd and had a talk with him. I told him I’d have no qualms about quieting his dogs if he couldn’t control them. He disagreed, and said they wouldn’t attack if I stood still. I didn’t test his theory, because it might have proven painful and hazardous to my health. I went home instead and warmed up by a nice fire.

So you see, Billy wasn’t the coward I thought he was. He knew what he was doing when he hightailed it out of that area. The scar you see on his muzzle in the photo above is apparently the reminder of a fight with sheep dogs — that’s what our relatives told us.

What’s to be done about those dogs?

The way I see it, two things need to happen in Romania when it comes to dogs. For one thing, the stray population needs to be controlled. To this point, city governments, working with NGOs and veterinary offices, conduct neutering campaigns every once in a while, but it’s not working.

Perhaps euthanasia of unwanted strays is a solution. I know it sounds cruel, but stray dogs are a real danger, and they need to be off the streets. They need to be put up in shelters, where if they’re not adopted within a certain time period, they’re euthanised. Why condemn unwanted strays to a life on the streets, in bitter cold or fierce heat, with little or no food, to the risk of accidents that maim them and leave them in pain for life, when they could rest in peace? If we were to judge the situation coolly, we would realize it’s not feasible to take care of all the strays. Perhaps if the money and the interest were there, we could feed them and neuter them all, but neither the money nor the interest is there. We can’t find adoptive families for all of them, either. Why not put them to rest? At least they won’t suffer anymore.

I look forward to the day when I can run on city streets or on a beach in Romania and not have to worry about being mauled by strays. I’m sure a lot of other people look forward to simply being able to walk the streets without being mauled by strays.

The second thing is that dog owners need to start being more responsible about their dogs. At the very least, they need to teach them when to bark and when to keep quiet. That’ll go a long way toward cutting down on unnecessary noise and headaches. As I write this, some mutt a few houses away is barking like a nutcase at something of no consequence. He’s been driving me up the walls for the past few days. I honestly think the dog’s owner ought to be fined for his lack of concern and for the noise pollution. That should be another measure implemented soon by local governments.

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Places

Photos from Antietam Battlefield

Last weekend, on a fiercely hot Sunday, my wife and I visited the Antietam Battlefield, located near Sharpsburg, MD. It’s quite easy to get to it from DC. You take 270-N to 70-W, then keep going on 70-W until you see the signs for Antietam. Once off the highway, you’ve got another 8 miles or so till you get there. You can’t miss it. There’s a big National Park Service sign by the side of the road. All in all, it’s about a 1 hour and 30 minute drive, give or take 15 minutes, and the history lesson is priceless.

Antietam is “the bloodiest one day battle in American History”, according to the official NPS website. In 12 hours of “savage combat”, over 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing. Six generals were killed during this battle. The human price of this battle was driven home by a photographer: Alexander Gardner. His haunting photographs of the dead at Antietam were said to have brought them “to our doorsteps” by the New York Times. And it’s true. It’s one thing to sing of battles won and of bravery on the battlefield, and it’s quite another to stare at the dead in front of you and see the horrible price of that thing you call victory.

What always strikes me when I look at war is how senseless it all is. Even when I’m far removed from it, by a century and more, I can’t help shivers from running down my spine when I think the ground I stand on is the same ground where countless men lost their lives.

Why? How many more people need to die horribly until humanity as a whole realizes war is bad? Forget humanity as a whole, how about the United States alone? When will we get it? Ever? At the first sign of trouble somewhere (preferably in the Middle East), we’re more than happy to send our soldiers in there to die for some trumped up cause, and to spend trillions of dollars and bankrupt our economy as well. At least the Civil War had a good reason. The country needed to be kept together, and slavery abolished. Still, in spite of those good reasons, far too many people died during that dark time in American history: around 360,000 lost their lives, and countless more were injured or maimed for life.

I’m going to show you how Antietam looks today. But I want you to have a look at the way it was back then, too, especially through Gardner’s eyes. Never mind the fact that the dead bodies may have been arranged in a photo or two. Death is still death, and it’s still just as grim and nasty regardless of the pose.

First, the Library of Congress has a LOT of scanned negatives from the Civil War — an amazing resource. Here is their collection of Civil War photographs. That’s where I got the few photos shown below (taken by Alexander Gardner). Most of the photos are in the public domain, which means they can be used freely, although it would be nice to give the LoC credit for their work in scanning, archiving and curating the photographs. It’s also worth looking at the October 1862 issue of Harper’s Weekly, which features illustrations and reports by eyewitnesses to the battle.

This is Abraham Lincoln at Antietam, after the battle ended.

Abraham Lincoln with two generals at Antietam

Assorted photos of dead soldiers, in the aftermath of the battle.

Gardner’s notable photographs from the battlefield are listed in an album on the NPS website. Have a look at them, and even download them, should you want to have your own archive.

What does it look like today?

Dunker Church is the spot where truce was called at the end of the battle. If you’re interested, there’s a nice historical summary available.

The church is visible in this photo taken by Gardner as well.

The approximate spot where those soldiers died is now the site for a war monument. I hope you won’t find me irreverent, but I find war monuments woefully inadequate at paying back the men that gave their lives in battle. They’re pretty much useless at teaching people lessons against war as well, since they usually depict some victory symbol, or men charging, or some other idiotic thing like that.

What is that supposed to mean?! Tens of thousands of men died here, and we have an eagle on a column? Whoopee…

You know the expression “war on the doorstep”? Well, the people who had farms at Antietam got to know it full well during that battle.

Just remember, the next time a politician makes the case for war, this is really what he or she means. Those are going to be your sons and daughters.

Historical photographs courtesy of the Library of Congress. Photographer: Alexander Gardner. The recent photographs are naturally, my own.

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Thoughts

Migratory state of being

Every single day, I go around with a little pain in my heart. It’s the sort of pain that only certain people can understand. These people are called immigrants.

Sometime this month, a familiar date will pass, and I’ll know that I’ve been in the States for 17 years. I’ve been a naturalized citizen for a number of those years. Born and raised in Romania, I came here when I was almost 15. I’ve lived the better part of my life in this country, and yet I still do not feel entirely at home. The States feels familiar, but not familial; it feels like I belong, but I don’t entirely fit in; it feels like home, but I don’t feel at home.

I envy Americans born here, I really do. In some ways, they’re better off than me. They feel something, every day, which I cannot feel; they may not realize it, and they may not even appreciate it, but they feel at home. It’s a priceless sort of feeling, and you don’t understand its true value unless you’re away from home.

It’s a painful way to live. I look around me, at those fortunate enough to have been born here, and they haven’t got my problem. They are at home no matter what part of this great big country they happen to live in — especially those that have been born, raised, and now work in the same cities or regions. They benefit from familiarity with customs, habits, lifestyles, places, people, language, traditions — all those things that make home feel like home. If they’ve moved to another part of the country, no matter how different they think it is, it’s still the USA, and it’s still the same country. Some things still apply, and the overall feeling of home is there.

Although I live in the DC area now, and have done so for the last 4 years, I spent most of my years here in the States in Florida. Still, it doesn’t feel like home. Sure, I know the streets and the neighborhoods. I know the cities and the beaches. When I walk or drive down a certain street, memories from my life there evoke certain emotions that make it familiar. The best word to describe that kind of a feeling is comfortable. When I step into my parents’ home down there, I get the closest feeling of home I can get here in the States. It’s relaxing and peaceful, that’s true. But it’s still not home. And I think my parents understand what I mean, since all three of us came to the States as a family back in 1991.

It would be logical to assume that Romania would feel more like home, since it’s where I was born and raised. You’d only be partly correct. Yes, when I go back there, I feel more at home than here. The strings of my heart vibrate at the same frequency as my birthplace. When I’m there, the air is sweeter, the food tastes better, interactions with people are more meaningful, every sensation is accentuated by the vibrancy of my home land. Sleep is more restful, and life takes on a new, familial rhythm. I feel a peace that I cannot feel here. Yet I do not feel at peace.

There’s the awful rub. In the words of Charles Laughton from the movie “It Started With Eve” (1941), “I’ve been tampered with!” I’ve spent so much time in the States that I’ve grown accustomed to the way of living over here. Not the comfort and abundance of products, though that’s part of it, but the way of life, of doing business, of approaching situations. I no longer fit in, in Romania, and I still do not completely fit in over here, after 17 whole years.

I can function just about anywhere, but am at home nowhere. I’ve got a mongrel heart, a split state of being, and it’s a sad, painful way to go through life, at least for me. A piece of me exists in each country, and I’m forever torn between the two.

It must be even worse for Ligia. She’s only been here for 4 years. She spent her entire life in the same region of the country, in a very close-knit family, among friends and relatives, and the only reason she left all of that was to be with me. It’s probably safe to describe the way she feels every day as home sick. At least she’s lived enough in one country to know which one feels more like home. Although the more time she spends here, the more she’ll bond with this country, till she’ll be just like me, a mongrel spirit.

I think of the pilgrims that came to the new continent from Europe, hundreds of years ago. I wonder how they must have felt, knowing that the likelihood of ever going back to their home lands was next to nothing, and having to face the rough conditions that awaited them in untamed territories. Perhaps the tough lives they led, and the blood, sweat and tears they put into eking out an existence bonded them more to their new homes. Or maybe they sat down on quiet evenings and silently bore pangs of sorrow over the distance that separated them from their birthplaces and ancestral homes.

Then I envy their children, who didn’t (and don’t) have to worry about any of those things. And I yearn for the normalcy and peace which I don’t think I’ll ever reach.

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