Supreme Madness…

The Supreme Court is all over the headlines these days. Last Friday was the end of its 2021 term, when the few remaining unpublished opinions of the year’s term were announced. This was unlike any other. The new 6-3 conservative majority, untethered and free-ranging, gave us a whole new playbook.

But… it’s not entirely new. Antonin Scalia, the deceased Justice, replaced by Justice Gorsuch, started the train down this track when he described his jurisprudential approach as originalism. The term had been in use since the 1980s but Scalia was the first Supreme Court Justice to embrace it. An originalist, he believed, should base each constitutional decision “on what reasonable persons living at the time of the Constitution’s adoption would have understood the ordinary meaning of the text to be.” It was a radical approach when presented and regarded as unconventional by most constitutional law scholars.

Because of its relevance, it’s worth reviewing originalism. If it’s the judicial flavor of the day, as it is for the six conservative justices, it should be noted that four of the current court’s justices – Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barret, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor – would not have originally been allowed to serve. All would have been disqualified and denied the opportunity and the vote, because none are white, male landowners – the only citizens allowed to vote when the Constitution was adopted in 1787. And, for that matter, Justice Thomas’ vote would only be worth 3/5 of the others because blacks were counted as that fraction when the Constitution was ratified. Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the US Constitution.

We know that argument is specious, but no less so than those being espoused by the new majority. Let’s get real. This is not 1787, even though Justice Alito cited a 17th century jurist, more than a dozen times in his opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and called him “a great common law authority.” ProPublica, on the other hand, reported that he is better known as the jurist who “conceived the notion that husbands can’t be prosecuted for raping their wives, who sentenced women to death as ‘witches,’ and whose misogyny stood out even in his time.”

Here, at the end of the 2021 term, we can see the new Supremes in action, and it’s probably worse than you think. Six opinions in less than ten days. Funding religious schools (Maine). Permitting the open carry of guns without restriction (New York). Denying women the right to an abortion (Mississippi). Allowing a coach to kneel in prayer at midfield following a high school football game (Washington). And overruling Environmental Protection Agency rules on carbon emissions. This is Back to the Future, A Handmaid’s Tale, and 1984 all rolled into one. A colossal setback for American legal landscape?

There is no question about the direction of the new court. Its conservative majority has thrown away the traditional playbook and introduced a new one. Overturning Roe v. Wade was foreshadowed by a leaked draft opinion that grabbed most of the headlines two months ago, but it’s only one of four important cases and is likely less significant than the others. Conservatives have a long history of criticizing “activist” judges, but the current court has usurped that label by creating new law with each of its recent decisions.

The new majority is viewing Constitutional questions outside the traditional judicial review framework and in one case (Washington) by misstating its facts in order to reach the decision it favored. (See  https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/the-myth-at-the-heart-of-the-praying-bremerton-coach-case/?utm_source=referral&utm_medium=mobile-app&utm_campaign=ios

Separation of church and state was ignored in two of the cases, and vigilante justice upheld in the other. New rights were created in three, while one, relied on by women for 50 years, was taken away using that specious originalist approach.

How can they even think about going back to mid-century America? In 1950 misogyny, racism, segregation, and antisemitism were common. Schools were segregated. It was unlawful for men and women of different races or same-sex couples to marry. Contraception was unavailable to unmarried couples. Sodomy was criminal. Neighborhoods were red-lined to prevent people of color from buying in. Until the 1960s a woman could not open a bank account in her own name and it was 1974 before she could get a credit card without her husband’s permission.

I’ve always believed it’s good to shake things up as a way to introduce new ideas, but these are not new ideas. These are throwbacks to an earlier time. Is the court trying to recreate an earlier America? We should not be bound by 18th century notions of justice. Most legal scholars believe the Constitution is a “living” document and should be interpreted to reflect changes in and appropriate to the times.

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Justice Thomas, the longest serving and most radical of the new majority, was confirmed in 1991 and voted with Scalia for 25 years. For most of those years he sat silently on the bench. In one ten year stretch he didn’t ask a single question during oral argument. It wasn’t until after Scalia’s death that he started to talk. Some court watchers think it was because he feared Scalia’s criticism?

A journalist once asked Scalia to compare his judicial philosophy to Thomas’ and his response was, “Look, I’m an originalist but I’m not a nut.” Commentators have characterized that by saying, while an originalist, Scalia felt bound by stare decisis (prior precedent). He was not untethered and free ranging. Thomas is, and recent decisions have documented his take-no-prisoners approach. Precedent be damned. All decisions are political, and it seems clear the new majority will do whatever mental jiujitsu is necessary to get where they want to go.

I’ll get to Roe v. Wade, but in the recent set of six decisions, the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” was the first to fall.

Both the school funding (Maine) and coach prayer (Washington) cases were decided in favor of Christian petitioners. Would the outcomes be the same if the school had been a Jewish yeshiva or the coach had taken a prayer rug to midfield and faced Mecca? Not likely. Perhaps more significant than the result is knowing that Gorsuch’s opinion in the prayer case misstated the facts underlying the appeal. He characterized the coach’s behavior as a “short, private, personal prayer,” when in fact the coach said in 2015 that he was inspired to start holding midfield prayers after he saw an evangelical Christian movie called “Facing the Giants” and was moved to hold his “postgame ritual at midfield after each game…to help these kids be better people.”

Gorsuch stated that “He offered his prayers quietly while his students were otherwise occupied,” but one student recalled, “To this day, I don’t remember who we played or if we even won. … All I remember is the aftermath of that game and over 500 people storm[ing] the football field … from both sides, hopping the fences and rushing to the field to be close to Kennedy before he started his prayer.”

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Originalist outcomes are impossible to predict. For 240 years Supreme Court justices weighed the interests of petitioners, looked at written statutes, established and Common Law to interpret the issues before them. They established guidelines to test and judge the constitutionality of these cases. Over time, some standards changed but so did the court’s view of the Constitution and how to apply its strictures.

The new majority, using the rubric of originalism, now claims the only rights protected by the Constitution are those specifically enumerated. Roe was overturned on that basis. According to Alito, Roe was “egregiously wrong from the start,” because there is no mention of abortion in the Constitution and no compelling federal interest to recognize. On the other hand, the public-school coach’s right to prayer was upheld even though the First Amendment states unequivocally “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”

In the Trump Muslim ban case, Justice Sotomayor wrote, “When the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose [of disfavoring a particular religion],” it violates that central Establishment Clause value of official religious neutrality, there being no neutrality when the government’s ostensible object is to take sides.” Neutrality is the key in determining whether an action violates the Establishment Clause.

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Of the four opinions delivered last week, the one most likely to tear us further apart is the reversal of Roe v. Wade. As Linda Greenhouse, the New York Times Supreme Court reporter says, “The did it because they could.” They’ve been laying the groundwork for 50 years and Donald Trump finally gave them the numbers. Much as I admired her, I partially blame Justice Ginsburg for this situation. She was tough as nails but terminally ill. Had she resigned and allowed President Obama appoint her successor the court would have maintained its fragile 5-4 balance.

In 1973 the court anchored its Roe v. Wade decision on the appellant’s “right to privacy,” the right to be secure from government interference in your personal life. Scholars have argued that it might have been better to have based it on the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection provisions, as it had in so many other civil rights cases. Either rationale was destined to fail in light of the current court’s determination to cancel a woman’s right to control her own reproductive life. It was part of a long-standing plan—50 years in the making. Neither right to privacy nor equal protection could have saved it.

Overturning Roe had nothing to do with jurisprudence. It was purely political—maybe even religious. The court’s majority in the Mississippi (Dobbs) case, cast it as a matter best left to the states, but within days it overturned a gun law enacted by New York State because the matter was too important to let the state to decide.

Isn’t that circular? In the abortion case, the government gets to control a woman’s reproductive choices, but can’t protect its citizens by restricting the open carry of a gun in public. Apparently, citizen safety is less important than limiting the Second Amendment rights of free-ranging gun owners.

The message is clear, guns are more important than women. It’s lawful to open-carry but unlawful for a woman to control what’s in her womb. There is a certain consistency…both decisions will result in more innocent deaths. Better to let a woman die than give her the vote, because denying her the right to choose is the same as canceling her vote. The 19th Amendment doesn’t mean much when your body is unrepresented.

Ironically, following Roe’s reversal last week, the governors of Mississippi and South Dakota were quick to show their compassion for women by claiming they plan to increase funding and enhanced services for young women–specifically education on the virtues of abstinence, adoption, and foster care. It should be noted that Mississippi is ranked #1 and South Dakota #2 as “maternity care deserts,” states in which maternity health care services are limited or absent, either through lack of services or barriers to a woman’s ability to access that care. (www.marchofdimes.org)

OK, ladies, just cross your legs,. Everything will be fine. And if not, we can place your newborn in our overloaded foster-care system. At last count, the US had 117,000 children awaiting adoption and 400,000 in foster care. www.datacenter.kidscount.org). That’s right, half a million children were without parents during the Roe v. Wade period, when abortion was a constitutionally guaranteed right. How many more will there be now that abortion is unavailable? 

I’m no oracle, but we are in uncharted waters with the new Supreme Court. The new majority is disregarding the old ways of the court and undermining the civility and authority of the Chief Justice. It has articulated a new approach – stating in the gun rights case that the prior “means-end” test is giving way to an approach “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition.” What that portends remains to be seen.

On Friday, Justice Breyer retired and Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as his replacement.  She will join Justices Sotomayor and Kagan on the liberal side. It won’t likely change outcomes, but it will change the look and to some extent the interactions of The Nine. I’ll be watching.

Stuff…

When M and I were working in Saigon, we lived in a tidy minimalist apartment. Three rooms, tile floors, built in appliances, TV console, small sectional, kitchen table, bed and writing table. It was uncluttered, and we loved it. So it was a shock to come back to Seattle, open the door to our condo and confront the overwhelming amount of stuff inside. Rugs on top of rugs. Walls full of books. Art on every surface. Closets full of shirts, suits, jackets, sweaters, shoes, linens, blankets, luggage. Two televisions. Two computers. Two desks. Two chests. Three sofas. Tables. Chairs. Filing cabinets. And a storage locker in the basement. Contrast raises your consciousness.

It’s probably stage-of-life related, but today we find ourselves whipsawed by the stuff of our lives–the decades worth of accumulation. Now, approaching our respective expiration dates, we’re aware of the accumulation and what it means.  It’s part of the wrap up. Who gets what, or better yet, who wants what? It’s going somewhere, maybe family, maybe the Goodwill

We’re not collectors or connoisseurs but we love the art, ceramics, books, rugs, and furniture we’ve collected. I could easily pitch the six fake Rolex’s I bought in Asia (though they all still keep time), but it will be hard to let go of the Toko Shinoda print I bought at Yoseido Gallery in Tokyo, the Persian rugs we bought from our friend, Ahmad, or the Raku platter I watched Jim Romberg “throw” in Sun Valley.

HBO’s recent release of a 2-part biopic on George Carlin brought it all back and triggered a tipping point in “stuff” awareness. Carlin first brought stuff to our attention in 1981 with an album called A Place for My Stuff, and though George and his stuff are gone (he died in 2007), his art lives on and so does his riff .

Carlin’s hilarious improvisation also reminds me that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” How else to respond to the sudden appearance of NFT’s (non-fungible tokens), a one-of-a-kind digital asset. I can’t wrap my head around a digital picture worth $1,000,000. It’s not a painting or a photograph but it may be a picture of a painting or photograph. My trash. His treasure. It seems to me, NFTs are for people with too much money and not enough imagination.

But stuff is always loitering in our consciousness. Designers and efficiency experts keep reminding us to tidy up, clean house, or just get rid of the junk we’ve stashed in the basement, closet, under the bed, or in the attic.

I’m not talking about demented hoarders who can’t get rid of anything and need to create aisleways in their homes to get from room to room. That’s a sickness. I’m talking about ordinary people—about you and me–and our accumulated stuff. Nor am I talking about Marie Kondo who hit the scene in 2014 with her OCD tidiness blitz that had America tossing everything from family heirlooms to second frying pans so they could live minimally. For her and her followers, it was all about “decluttering.” 

Hoarders and Marie Kondo aside, others have also weighed in. The writer, Ann Patchett,  joined the parade in 2017 with an essay called My Year of No Shopping (included in her recent essay collection – These Precious Days). She recalls how a friend inspired her to go through her house to rid herself of the things she didn’t use, want, or need but had accumulated over the years – dishes, mismatched goblets, dolls from her childhood, broken pottery, etc. – cart them down to the basement and ask friends to come over to see if they wanted anything before taking them to the thrift store. It’s a good essay and a plan of action that might work for all of us.

It’s a given that stuff can trigger a passionate attachment. I’m that way about a few possessions, but nothing of great value. On the other hand, I have friends with collections full-size merry-go-round horses, silver inlay snuff bottles, soft-paste porcelain, and Madame Alexander dolls, collections of great value but whose children have no interest in inheriting them. They’ll undoubtedly be sold at auction, but the parents will be disappointed that their years of collecting stir no feelings of attachment in their children.

Our relationship and feelings about things change – obviously – over time. In my own case, when my former wife and I were first married and living a hippie life in Mill Valley, she inherited a set of Baccarat crystal stemware – wine, water, and sherry glasses – from a great aunt. Mary Alice’s crystal was etched with a flower pattern, so fine, so thin, and so beautiful it took your breath away. They belonged in an elegant brownstone, but we lived in a one room “apartment” under a crooked old Mill Valley house with a mattress on the floor, two beanbag chairs, and a hollow core door made into a desk/dining table. The Baccarat was museum quality, but we weren’t. Slowly, over a year the glasses cracked and shattered. First the sherry. Then the wine. Then the water – because they were the least used. It was almost criminal, but we were just becoming adults.

Things change. Attitudes change. Attachments change. We grow older, until we’re truly old. Soon, M and I will dig in and pare down. We’ve started a list of who gets what but were still in the planning stage. We may have one more move. I don’t even like to think about it, but if it happens it will be another downsize. And it will be the last stage of “decluttering” two complicated lives. We came into this world with nothing, and we’ll leave a little ash when we go. Zen Buddhism believes that attachment is a source of suffering. I can’t say I’ve ever suffered in that way though I’ve had plenty of attachments to people, experiences, and even material things. But I’m happy to let them go when I go, to pass them on to someone who might enjoy them as much as I do.

Here’s to George Carlin (RIP), Ann Patchett, Aunt Mary Alice (sorry about the Baccarat), and Marie Kondo, all of whom helped me think of my stuff and what it means in the scheme of things.

Look Who’s Coming to Dinner…

“Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” I first heard of “replacement theory” following the neo-Nazi, Unite the Right, demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11, 2017. Antisemitic neo-Nazis with tiki torches marching across the street from a university campus designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Those demonstrators were promoting a fear-based theory that rests on the proposition that “elites” are encouraging illegal immigration so non-whites can take over, become the majority, and deny the “native” white population its rightful place atop the demographic pyramid, as they believe the Founders intended.

I thought organized white supremacy was a relic of WWII’s National Socialism (Nazism), but I was wrong. Replacement theory is centuries old, but its latest iteration, title and philosophical roots were re-articulated by French author Renaud Camus in his book The Great Replacement in 2011.

I had never heard the words “(they) will not replace us” spoken until the events in Charlottesville. But they were always there…unspoken. From slavery to Reconstruction, to the Tulsa Race Massacre, Jim Crow, and on. The movement was mostly hidden in the shadows. White robed Ku Klux Klansmen in the South. Neo-Nazis in rural Idaho, and cells of “European identity groups” spread across rural America. I never imagined white supremacy could become a mainstream political force in America. But it has–as nightly screeds by Tucker Carlson on Fox News and race-inspired mass shootings in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Charleston, and El Paso attest. White supremacy, antisemitism, and replacement theory are out in the open and gaining support.

I didn’t understand “white flight” when I was growing up, how a white family could feel compelled to move to a new neighborhood if a Black family moved into theirs. Now I understand it was their fear of “otherness” that “forced” them out–of their neighborhood being invaded by people of another race.

And in the beginning, white governance came to their rescue with “redlining,” creating legal exclusion zones to protect them from people who were different. Jews, Blacks, Asians. They were protected by restrictive covenants that prevented sales to those “others.” That was the official response to replacement theory before it was outlawed, before it had a name, and before the “invasion of “illegal aliens.”

What’s difficult to understand about replacement theory is who these “elites” are? Are these mysterious “elites” just garden variety vanilla-flavored Democrats? Who’s behind the movement. Is this “dark money” from the likes of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos? And how do they plan to maintain control once non-whites have ousted the “native” white population? This is a dystopian fever dream, like QAnon’s Pizzagate pedophilia.

If I have this right, white people are afraid of dark-skinned immigrants, but other “elite” white people are encouraging them to flood the country, become the majority, and replace the “native” whites. And by replacing them, the “elites” will be able to maintain power. It sounds more like a proposition for a 1984-like dystopia or some kind of an American apartheid, with white “elites” ruling the emergent larger non-white population.

I’m appalled by the purveyors of misinformation and the unabashed promotion of replacement theory by mainstream media personalities like Tucker Carlson, but in these chaotic times America has bigger problems than Mr. Carlson. Today, for the second time in a week a teenage boy with a semi-automatic weapon killed more than 10 people. Last weekend it was 10 Black shoppers in Buffalo, New York. Today, it was 19 elementary school children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas.

I’m not risk averse, but because these times are so chaotic I am more cautious than I was a few years ago.  Covid-19 remains a wrecking ball and monkeypox, the latest viral invader, has just landed on our shore. I’m fully vaccinated, boosted, and wear an N95 mask in public settings. I’ve spent my whole life traveling, but haven’t been on an airplane in almost three years because of fluctuations in the virus and not wanting to come down with it away from home. I’ve opted to stay put. Nor do I go to my “office” in downtown Seattle, not because of Covid-19, but because my bus stop at 3rd and Pine is a dangerous drug dealer dominated war zone. 

I have a hard time believing that replacement theory has a foothold in America, but there is another replacement theory I wish would take its place. It’s the one that would replace cowardly legislators with courageous ones, homeless camps with secure housing and mental health services, drug and crime infected neighborhoods with reliable community policing, and unrestricted gun purchases with universal background checks and a ban on military-style weapons. That’s the kind of replacement theory I can believe in.

 

Good News in a Bad News Cycle…

The US Soccer Federation announced today that the men’s and women’s national soccer teams have agreed to identical compensation and commercial revenue sharing for all competitions, including FIFA World Cup competition.

In addition, next Sunday, Seattle Sounders FC will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, (Education Amendments of 1972 to the Civil Rights Act of 1965) along with members of OL Reign, our professional women’s soccer team.

Both are good news but not easy to find in the wake of mass shootings, war in Ukraine, the pending reversal of Roe v. Wade, and diatribes on mainstream media about “replacement theory”.

The weight of bad news always prompts me to look for signs of progress, signs we are evolving in a positive direction. Equal pay for men and women is one of those signs. Title IX prohibiting discrimination based on sex in any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance is another.

Based on these trends, I’m wavering between short term pessimism and long-term optimism. Bipolar but not in the mental health sense – rather in the how can we be optimistic when we’re inundated with news of war, insurrection, gun violence, racial unrest, and political polarization.

I’m old enough to remember the turmoil following Brown v. Board of Education. The racist rhetoric of George Wallace. Federal intervention in Little Rock schools. James Meredith’s enrollment at Ole Miss. The assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK–but followed by the Civil Rights Act(s) of 1964 and 1965.

During a period of relative peace, I served seven years in the military. I thought it was my duty to defend our freedom. We thought that way then. But those were the same years Emmett Till was murdered for whistling at a white woman and four black girls were killed in a church bombing. It became clear to me that a large portion of the country was not as free as I was.

I was naïve and privileged. I’m still privileged. I don’t live in a neighborhood where a racist killer might target my supermarket, Walmart, or church, but I’m no longer naïve. I see and hear things I never thought possible in America.
As a child, I had a BB gun and was taught gun safety. Today more than 300 million guns are in the hands of Americans – beyond the point of no return. The NRA used to teach gun safety. Now they protect manufacturers of military-style semi-automatic weapons from liability.

I was equally naïve when Richard Nixon was elected president. I didn’t trust him, but never thought he would stoop to burglary to hang on to power. I was wrong. But, 34 years after he resigned in disgrace, America elected Barack Obama its first black president. I want to believe in cycles. I’d prefer they be good, but I’m willing to accept some bad with the good if there is progress.

We just endured another bad cycle. Things are more stable now that the former guy is no longer center stage. I believe the current president is doing his best, but he doesn’t inspire. We need leadership, vision, and inspiration to move forward.

Things are better than earlier in my lifetime. I try to keep that in mind. History is cyclical. Civilizations come and go. They decline and fall. In the meantime, I will try to wean myself off fossil fuels, buy organic fair-trade coffee, use public transportation, support UNICEF and World Central Kitchen, trust public education, stand up for a woman’s right to choose, and cheer the Seattle Sounders.

“In spite of everything, I believe that people are good at heart.” Anne Frank 

Travel is Like Chocolate Mousse…

It might have been Treasure Island or Mutiny on the Bounty that sparked my interest, but islands have always exerted a magnetic pull on me. Small. Romantic. Isolated. Surrounded by water. Their attraction is galvanic.

I first heard about the Balearic Islands when I was in college.  Dots in the Mediterranean Sea, ruled successively by Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Moors, and Catalans. Spain, but not quite Spanish – Mallorquin. Exotic.

The archipelago has four major islands – Mallorca, the largest, with Minorca, Ibiza, and Formentera in descending order. My first visit was to Formentera a few years before its first hotel was built. Then, a windless sailing trip took me to Ibiza, the party island, where we repaired the blown engine that left us becalmed in Mediterranean shipping lanes at night. Mallorca was last in the sequence but not least in its appeal.

Despite a career in international aviation and years of independent travel, my wife M and I have seen a lot of the world, but it hasn’t dampened our curiosity or desire for more. For nearly two decades we took annual self-supported bike trips to Europe, but as we grew older (and slower) our approach to travel changed. Our richest experiences were always those closest to the ground – biking, walking, sitting in a sidewalk cafés – so in 2014 we altered our approach and began to pick destinations for extended stays. We wanted to experience living as locals. First in Paris, then Rome and Berlin. Two months each.

International travel can be overwhelming. Speed travel is exhausting. Cramming as many cities, museums, and monuments as possible into a short time diminishes the experience. Remember the film If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium? Probably not, but there’s a message in the title. Travel is enriching but, like chocolate mousse, whose dark flavor and creamy texture is more enjoyable in small portions, we think travel is better savored in small bites.

In 2018, a year and a half before the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown most elective travel, we settled on Mallorca as our next extended stay. Island life would be our next small bite.

Nevertheless, just before our flight touched down in Palma, we had a personal issue–a little rough patch to get over. Inbound, I learned that a Legends’ Cup tennis event was scheduled to begin the night of our arrival. I winced, knowing it would rankle if I asked M to spend her first night on Mallorca at a tennis tournament, but I couldn’t resist.

I knew it would stress test her generosity and patience – virtues she has in abundance but not unlimited supply. Of course she’d seen it all before. The French Open in Paris (2016). The Italian Open in Rome (2017) and the U.S. Open years before. But, none of them was on the first night of her vacation. None was on an island in the Mediterranean. And not one was…on her birthday.

“Are you kidding? Tennis? On our first night in Palma? Did you forget it’s my birthday?”

“I did. I mean no, I didn’t. But these guys are legends. Mats Wilander. Carlos Moya. Tim Henman. Tennis greats. All in Palma. All competing. There’s even a chance we might catch a glimpse of Nadal. It’ll be great. Up close and personal. On clay. Close enough to reach out and touch ’em. And it’s part of the local scene. I mean it’s Mallorca. Rafa and Moya are local heroes.”

“Amazing. What about my birthday?”

“We’ll do it up big tomorrow. I promise.”

“One night? Just one night? One night and one night only? Not the whole tournament, right?”

“Yup. I promise.” I was all in. She wasn’t, but she gave in. I don’t want to leave the wrong impression though. She is not long suffering and doesn’t suffer fools—me included—but she is forgiving and that counts for a lot. I knew it would cost me, but it would be worth it. Mea culpa.

On the advice of a friend, we had chosen a small ground floor apartment in Santa Catalina, a lively area neighborhood full of bars and restaurants just a short walk to the harbor, cathedral and city park. After checking in and getting settled that afternoon, we walked the short distance to the tennis stadium.

We watched the first two matches then took a break to stretch our legs and look for a snack. While I was in line for tapas and wine, M scouted for a place to sit. The tables near the refreshments tent were all occupied, but she spotted one with two empty seats and asked the couple seated there if we could share with them. They gestured yes, and by the time I showed up with the tapas M had them deep in conversation.

“Jack, say hello to Gisela and Nicolas. They’ve invited us to share their table. They live just across the street; in the building you can see behind Court One.”

I laughed and nodded. “Hi! Nice to meet you. Thanks for letting us share your table. I’m sure M has told you all about us? She’s very good at making friends.”

Sharing their table established a connection that was key to the success of our Mallorquin adventure. That’s generally how it goes when we travel. I find places, she makes friends, and it all works out. Our best travel memories almost always center on the people we encounter.

As we drank our wine and nibbled on tapas surrounded by fragrant bouganvilla, they gave us a quick rundown on themselves. Both had long careers in the hospitality sector. On Mallorca, Gisela was consulting for a hotel chain and Nicolas was General Manager for a high-end resort called Sa Torre. Those we discovered were the least interesting things about them.

Nicolas was born in Paris to a Russian émigré father and Swedish mother. He met Gisela, a Chilean, while they were both working in Sweden. There’s a lot to unpack in those two sentences. Global citizens to be sure. Our serendipitous meeting, another instance of how good fortune often follows when time and opportunity come together. The tennis match was never part of our vacation plan, but we leveraged it into something more. Two glasses of Rioja and a short conversation were all it took.

As we headed back to the match, Gisela told us they’d like to see us again so they could “share something very Mallorquin” with us. We exchanged phone numbers, and Gisela promised to be in touch.

******

In his 1953 memoir, Majorca Observed, the poet Robert Graves, wrote,

“I chose Majorca as my home because its climate had the reputation of being better than any other in Europe…. because it was large enough – some 1300 square miles – not to make me claustrophobic. Then, from all of Majorca I chose Deia, a small fishing and olive producing village on the mountainous north-west coast of the island… where I found everything I wanted as a background to my work as a writer: sun, sea, mountains, spring water, shady trees, no politics, and a few civilized luxuries such as electric light and a bus service to Palma, the capital.”

The morning following the tournament (and M’s birthday), we initiated a ritual we held to for the rest of our stay. Roll out of bed. Slip on shorts and T-shirts, and step next door to SIM-PLE, a “smart food” organic café,for lattes with a side of yoghurt and fresh fruit. English is the café’s lingua franca, but the air was full of Swedish, Dutch, and German voices blending with Castilian Spanish and the local Mallorquin dialect. We acclimate quickly, adjusting to differences, but with its polished concrete floor, exposed pipes and ducting, this small café could have been anywhere in the world, making those adjustments easy.

SIM-PLE’s baristas, Sergio and Miryam, welcomed us with smiles and a warm “Que tal?” each morning and when we finished, they sent us off with the same smiles and a “Que tengas un bonito dia.”

*****

M and I love beaches, and after breakfast on any other island we’d be thinking of which one to go to, but Mallorca is different. It has stunning, secluded beaches too, but Palma, with nearly half a million residents, is a sophisticated urban center with upscale shopping, fine dining, and an historic cathedral. Miro, a Mallorquin native, and Picasso, a Catalan, have literally left their marks on the island’s mix of Roman, Gothic, Art Nouveau, and Modernist art and architecture. As Robert Graves noted, the island’s scale makes it appealing – not too small, not too large – every part of it easily accessible.

The island’s topography is a mix of mountains and plains. The best beaches are on the east side, where the flat plains run to the sea. The other side, the Serra de Tramuntana, is a spiky ridge of mountains running from its southwestern edge near Andratx to its northernmost tip at Port de Pollensa. Razor-like peaks, limestone cliffs, centuries old terraces, hidden coves, and eye-catching villages mark the route.

Our days on the island were spent taking those proverbial small bites, discovering little-known facts buried in its historical record and unique geography. Our small bites methodology was to pick one local highlight each day – a village, gallery, museum, market, restaurant, church – then let the day unfold. A bus ride up-country with the locals, an historic touchstone like Graves’ home in Deia, the Joan Miro Museum in Palma, or the Carthusian monastery in Valdemossa where Chopin and George Sand spent a miserable winter in 1838, followed by an al fresco lunch at a shaded table in the village and a bus ride back to Palma These were the small bites that made up our nearly perfect day trips. 

Back in Palma, within a day or two of our meeting, Gisela called to invite us to their apartment. She wanted us to meet their son, Andreas, a younger version of themselves – born in Sweden, raised in Mallorca, studied in London, now working in Tanzania. When we arrived, spread out on the kitchen table was that “something very Mallorquin,” she’d mentioned as we were leaving the tennis match—a traditional fix-it-yourself dinner of – Pa Am Boli.

Artisan bread lightly toasted, brushed with extra virgin olive oil and rubbed with garlic. Salty dry-cured Iberian ham, sweet Ramallet (local) tomatoes, and slices of smooth young Manchego cheese. Sweet, tangy, savory, chewy, and spicy fragrant. The taste and scent of Spain washed down with a fruit forward Rioja red. As we sat around the table in their kitchen it was as if we had known them for years. We talked about jobs, hopes for our children, places we knew and loved, as well as things they thought we shouldn’t miss on the island. Such a generous and rich introduction to Mallorca.

During our Mallorquin holiday, we saw them several more times, including a day at Sa Torre where Nicolas walked us around the resort, treated us to an elegant English breakfast, and showed us where his guests enjoy luxurious gourmet dining, Swedish crystal, Italian linens, horses, golf, tennis, three swimming pools – even a 17th Century chapel.

Their generosity continued with suggestions of even more Mallorquin sites, foods, and restaurants, many of which we took in. We couldn’t begin to repay their hospitality but did take them to a lovely indoor/outdoor restaurant in the heart of the old city to share one last meal before our departure.

It’s been three years since our Mallorca adventure, but we continue to be in regular communication. Nicolas and Gisela are still in Palma, but Andreas is back in Tanzania, with a project that brings lighting to rural villages without electricity. Last year I put him in touch with a friend of mine who delivers medical and dental care in the same area, and they’re hoping to collaborate on a project in the future.

Like most serious travelers we work hard to shed our Seattle skins and adapt to the local culture. Mallorca had everything we were looking for—striking landscape, interesting people, unique culture, fragrant bougainvillea, and savory foods. But, arriving in Palma in 2018, we couldn’t have known that within a year Covid-19 would strike and disrupt elective travel.

Life is full of surprises and this one taught us to expect the unexpected. Because of our ages, M and I have finite travel horizons. We’re hoping to be back on the road for another extended stay later this year, but if we’re delayed we will still have the sites, smells, tastes, and Mallorquin friends who linger in the small bites we banked on our last stay.