If this title sounds familiar, it should. I took it from Charles Dickens novel, I just substituted cities for bikes.
As Bono, the one of the U2 fame, famously said every poet is a thief and every writer is even worse.
I stole a lot of my writings from others over the years, but I added some original content to it, I am sure.
I am convinced that’s how progress happens and besides, science works the same way. You build on what is already there, it doesn’t make any sense otherwise.
I stole most of my texts from Kurt Vonnegut, he is gone now, but I don’t think he would mind. I like his dry sense of humor, just read “God bless you Mr. Rosewater” and you will see what I mean.
A bit of an issue is that I am running out of things to read, and so I write.
People seem to like it.
Now for the bikes, and let’s keep it light in these confused times - I have two, one in Europe and one in Canada.
The red bimmer in Switzerland is a masterpiece of technology, it shows on the display really everything, from temperature to tire pressure and all the stuff in between. It’s got the boxer engine, which nobody understands how it works except for the people who make it. It’s also pretty rough when you start it up.
It just sounds like nothing. Half the experience with motorcycles is how they sound, that’s what made Harley-Davidson big.
I crank it up entering the highway to the point that the front wheel gets light, but I still can’t hear much. Goes very fast though.
The Yamaha in Canada is a perfect opposite of it, it shows just the speed and the lights comes on if it just a gallon of fuel in the tank. I think the word to describe the experience is “visceral”.
The world describes me too, and it takes two to tango.
And the bike sounds amazing, so guess my preference.
One day a black 911 Turbo pulled beside me at the stop light.
The young guy behind the wheel was looking at me smiling.
I thought “You really want to flex with me? – don’t be silly. I can do 0-100 in three seconds.”
Kids these days.
And I think a Porsche is a girl car, can’t take a guy in it seriously.
I am a fan of British sport cars, but I make the exception for the Lamborghini Urus.
The business are closed, it’s an eerie feeling, my two-for-one favourite pizza lunch is not happening, lights are out.
I got on my big bike the other day even though it was raining on the highway, but hell, I ‘m not made of sugar and will not dissolve (Polish expression). My wife says that I’m a stubborn eastern man, but somehow she is still interested in what I have to say and she tolerates me. The boys tolerate me too.
I was likely breaking some rules in these Covid times , but I just can’t sit.
I drove to service the motorcycle for the summer and somehow the guys at Serpa Automotive still keep the doors open. They told me it will take about and hour and I went for a coffee only to find out that everything around is closed.
Starbucks with the lights out.
So I was limping around, which is another story.
We landed in Geneva on an Emirates flight some days back and I fell on the stairs from the plane with the bags in my hand. I fractured a bone in my foot.
Being a stubborn eastern man, I tied my shoe some more and carried on.
It’s my right foot, and you need to know that on the motorcycle the left side is for riding, the right side is for breaking, so I am a little wild on the road.
At the dealership I was sitting in the waiting area watching the depressing stuff on TV when I heard my bike starting, which shook the building. I may had gone a bit far with the exhaust upgrade, it sounded like somebody is starting a tank.
Anyway, we got out from Europe on the last flight, just in time. Air Canada suspended operations until the end of April. They were flying the crew to Toronto that was supposed to service the next flight. Hasta la Vista, as they say in the south.
Lights out, as they say here.
As it happens, I got a new motorcycle jacket that just shipped from China, thick KLIM gloves and I know a place called Ania’s Deli for breakfast, about two hours drive north.
Ania drives a Yamaha too, an FJR1300ES and she makes great food. It's a halfway stop on the way north. North is where you will find me.
We’ve all lived life within similar boundaries, having iPhones with the same applications, CNN on TV, Al Jazeera for some, some of us ignoring TV altogether. Dinosaur desktop computers at work loaded with ancient Microsoft software.
All that, plus financial markets priced to perfection and a slough of reality shows for the evening entertainment. Life was steady.
Then the reality changed and set us apart, the awakening coming in the form of a virus, which was always out there but somehow now it’s getting a lot of attention.
Go figure why, it beats me.
Now we work from home practicing “social distancing”, as going to the office requires permission, and we use Skype or similar apps to do business.
There is an app for conferencing called “blue jeans”, as flat of a name as one can possibly imagine. May as well call it “wet towel”.
I don’t get excited about blue jeans, but try Victoria Secret blue and I will dial in.
The current virus scare shows that there are no similarities from continent to continent and we’re not the same.
The climate matters – if you have hot summers and cold winters with insect and bacteria kill, you’re better off. Living mostly in Europe for the last few years I have been watching in amazement the number of TV drug commercials for cold, flu, joint pain, muscle pain – there are hardly any of this kind in Canada.
We get down to -40C in the winter, but also to +40C in the summer and people are healthier. This is in contrast to rainy and sun-less climate in Central and Northern Europe.
Location matters too – Italy has the oldest population in Europe and they live in densely populated communities, in contrast to say, Canada. They have a high number of deaths every flu season.
Nevertheless, life will come back to normal eventually and by this I mean soon, the media is going to drop the topic like a hot potato and all will be good on the western front again. Lost taxes and increased welfare payments will put pressure on governments to lift the absurd business closures.
Then later in the year, come October on a random Tuesday evening I will heat the pool to the point that steam will be raising from the water and blinding me when I swim.
And my pool is big, not Olympic size but close, and I will be enjoying it to no end.
Then I get nasty letters from the local energy supplier about how I am not doing my part in being tame and how I am the worst among the neighbors.
They show how bad I am in fancy graphs.
To which I say: “I pay the bills, no? Go away and focus on something else.”
I am under quarantine now for 14 days, today is day number six since I returned from the desert (read my Long Stem Rose for the account of it.)
I have no symptoms whatsoever, if anything, I never felt so good. I go for walks sometimes and the streets are deserted, if I meet people they make a round through the grass to keep away from me. We all seem to be living on the edge.
The way life feels now is like we’re going through a big reset and we will come out better on the other side, I am convinced of that.
We have plenty of human capital: strong backs and agile minds. They just have to be reconditioned off their addictions to canned entertainments and raptures of techno-narcissism – in other words, we need to get real. Mostly that means re-adjusting our attention back to the people and the place around us, while expecting a whole lot less from distant institutions far away.
Hell, just saying that feels so good.
I walked barefoot through the desert gate after a brutal ride through the dunes in a Toyota Land Cruiser, where the truck was leaning sideways to the point that I was loosing my sense of space. The Arab driver in traditional thwab was casually changing radio stations as he was furiously working the brakes and the steering wheel.
“You’ve done it before, no?” I asked.
“Highway drive is boring, I live for this here”, he replied in perfect English.
“Bet you own the camp in the desert too.”
“Yes,” he gave me a wide smile, “I do”.
He parked the car high on the dune and I went down where the lights were.
“Don’t rush,” he said. “We can be the first car out or we can be the last car out. It’s all the same to me.”
As I walked down, a man with a falcon on his arm came by and I didn’t know much about falcons so I asked him.
“Look,” he said, “the Bedouins didn’t have guns to hunt for animals in the desert, but they needed to eat all the same. What’s the second fastest thing that can catch an animal?”
I was looking at the falcon he held.
“This guy here.”
“He can go 400 km/hour when he strikes.”
I looked at the bird and he didn’t look like much and the man in the white thwab read my mind and said: “that’s the idea.”
The sunset came early in the desert and the food was ready, with belly dancing show on stage and all that.
The cold weather came with it.
Being here, so far away in the south, I wanted to wait out the corona scare even though I don’t believe in any of this, but the flights were getting cancelled and I had to make my way to the airport.
I did it in a Tesla and it’s a compliant ride, but I like a car that makes healthy noise, I need a manual transmission to make me feel how the car works, what it says, how the gears engage with the engine. Is the third gear too long? Is the steering loading heavy as I get into a turn?
The Tesla experience was like driving a dynamic wheelchair and the popularity of it makes me feel out of date. Not a bad feeling actually, simply because I think the others are missing out on something that I got under my skin.
Nice finishes inside the car though.
And no, I will not talk about the corona virus this time; except for the fact that this artificial scare makes most people think that something doesn’t add up.
That we’re all being had.
As Leonard Cohen had it:
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
And everybody knows
Every year, worldwide, we have new types of viruses. They want to keep changing, because if they come next year in the same form, our immune system will recognize them and will not let them multiply, and they want to multiply.
There are about 100 types of viruses out there that evolve constantly, and the corona virus was always a part of it, accounting for about 7 – 15% of the mix.
This is nothing new.
Normally about 8 - 10% of the population has some viruses that make them sick or unwell. Obviously, if the tests are performed on patients already in clinics and hospitals, that number is higher, but there still will be the corona virus present in the 7 - 15% of the virus’s mix. To assess the data and determine the level of risk, we need first to know on which group of people the tests were performed.
The point also is this - there is no way of knowing if the corona was the reason of a patient’s illness or death – impossible to determine.
The province of Ontario (about 15 million people) announced 214 confirmed cases without saying on which population the tests were done.
Premier Doug Ford introduced draconian measures, which are bringing economic activities to a halt. He declared a state of emergency and said that we are facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions. There is so far one death case “potentially related to the coronavirus.”
Let’s look at the cold facts, taking Germany as an example – every winter between 20,000 and 30,000 people there die of the flu. Let’s assume for simplicity that corona accounts for 10% of the death cases, meaning that it causes between 2000 and 3000 deaths every year in Germany alone, and it did for years.
However, as the media focused on this subject in their typical incompetent way, forcing the politicians to come out and do something decisive, it became impossible for logical people to come out and say – “wait, there is nothing unusual happening, you are destroying the world’s economy because of a common flu.”
Now the damage has been done, with massive layoffs, huge losses in the stock market and bottoming commodity prices. The tourist season will be terrible for countries that rely on it the most, like Italy.
The official approach seems to be to kill the patient to cure the disease.
The critical question now is this – how is the insanity going to end?
The government’s response to this non-crisis will undermine people’s confidence in it, and at some point we will start ignoring the safety measures imposed on us, simply because there is no justification for them.
Life will go on, some governments will fall, and I can’t believe that they do not see how they’re cutting the very branch they’re sitting on.
The rain came down hard just after midnight and I like rain, it fills up the space and it makes a better background noise than TV.
The Caribbean islands are perfect for this – you get the rain in the night and beautiful sunshine in the morning. Like the rain washes away the sins.
An interesting thing – there are no animal sights in the South, in Canada I will see the deer and hear the coyotes, see the squirrels too, which are black in Ontario.
I will take Muskoka over Barbados every day of the year, you know.
Outside the coronavirus panic continues. My sons just flew in from Toronto and the plane was almost empty. Felt like taking a private jet, they said.
More controversial are claims that political structures become top-heavy after long periods of success, and these bloated, brittle hierarchies lose the flexibility and boldness needed to deal with novel challenges hitting at the same time.Their response to the crisis is pathetic.
This applies directly to China, which is experiencing not just a public health crisis (Covid-19 pandemic) but a host of overlapping crises triggered by the epidemic.
As for the export economy: Chinese companies were already relocating abroad as a result of the trade war with the US, to Mexico for example, where the labor cost is just as low and that country is within the NAFTA zone. This will only accelerate going forward.
One thing is clear for me – this is the end of China as a global manufacturing hub, there is no going back. The important question is what comes next over there – the ruling party needs to keep people employed otherwise they will be on the streets soon. China doesn't have the domestic market to absorb the factories output. A lot of people will learn the lesson that the domestic demand is the key, not the export economy.
Problem is that we’re dominated by the political left, that is incapable of acting in the crisis. Someone needs to put the foot down and stop the nonsense. The left refuses to accept that every value system produces a hierarchy and if you dispense with the hierarchy, you dispense with the value system. It’s a Marxist thinking that we can somehow not shake off and it is now coming to hunt us. We’re looking at major confusion and swings that will get the best of most people. It’s coming.
I went to cut my hair the other day, and I know the guy who owns the place for years now. He was one of the first to read my book and he liked it.
He said “I almost read the whole thing.” Good enough.
“You know where the coronavirus comes from?” he asked.
“If you said Wuhan I walk out.”
“From a brewery in Mexico, along with the lyme disease.”
Got to love the Italians, they never give up to be cheerful no matter how bad it gets.
Now Milan is the European center of the virus, likely because of the fashion shows and the many Chinese visitors shopping. Not their fault, except how the virus got out of a lab in China, it didn’t appear out of thin air in the world. Nobody is investigating it.
The media said that 41 people died in Italy last day alone from this. That’s tragic.
For the rest of us, we’re about to find out what we’ve wrought with the wonders of globalism. Is there anything you can think of over at the Wall Mart or the Walgreens that isn’t made in China?
The message is getting out — though not from US authorities yet — that everybody may soon be spending a lot of time home alone.
Switzerland banned events with more than 1,000 people (why that number, exactly is not clear), Japan has canceled school for the time being — duration unknown for now. The auto show in Geneva in cancelled.
Of all the many-networked systems the world depends on, banking and finance are the most fragile, the most susceptible to danger of disorder. And, of course, that is exactly what we’re seeing in the stock markets – they’re diving hard.
Purchasing Managers’ Indices (PMIs) are a tally of how executives see their own company – whether business activity at their company rose or fell, whether they added or shed staff, etc.
A value above 50 means expansion; a value below 50 means contraction.
And in China, both, the PMI for the non-manufacturing sector and the PMI for the manufacturing sector, released on March 1, have collapsed to unfathomable lows (from 54.1 in January to below 30 now). After that time, the government site with this info became not accessible (error # 502, whatever that means).
ANZ banking group estimated, based on migration data of workers returning to the city from their villages, that about 50% of the workers had returned to their jobs as of this weekend, but that China’s economy was operating at only 20% capacity, hampered by issues ranging from lacking parts to other workers not having returned to work.
Despite repeated pleads from health officials not to buy face masks, which will not work, people can’t stop snatching up masks and respirators.
Countries have been planning for scenarios like this for decades, and now is the time to act on those plans, as a WHO official in Geneva was lecturing the other day.
Let’s see how efficient are the governments that cost us a fortune in taxes.
Efficient in protecting their own people, that is.
For all of you stacking up on food for the coming apocalypse, just remember – rice comes from China and pasta from Italy.
Let’s start with this:
“Please allow me to introduce myself I'm a man of means and taste.
Been around for a long time, pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name.”
That’s the Rolling Stones, their best song ever, my opinion, and he is talking about Lucifer, God’s fallen angel who they never mention in any sermon in the church.
He was an angel, right? Just with a different view.
“Stole many a man's soul to waste.” Mick Jagger says in the song.
Better words have never been spoken.
And wait, I will get to the rose soon.
In the world, the diversity idea is a misleading name, and a misguided concept because men are more interested in things, and women are more interested in people. We can’t be measured the same, try to make the best use of diversity, not introduce competition.
Engineers are interested in things and not surprisingly most of them are men. If you have a desire to become a nurse you are interested in people, and most of nurses are women. With the new concept you’re moving men and women against each other, not moving the world forward at all.
It’s been a couple of years now since anything I said mattered, but if you’re creative you know that the rose smells slowly and it’s addictive.
I spoke to an old priest a while back in the Sanctuaire Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Quebec.
Read the name again now.
He said I am an aggressive man, and I asked him, “in all the years people came to you, confession or just talk, what did you learn from them? “
He said – “the dream, the vision, the desire. It never stops.”
You never stop having a dream.
I have two sons, aged 17 and 25.
The 17-year-old thinks I am an idiot, the 25-year old knows I am an idiot.
But I have my moments and this is when I teach them about live, the real one, like how things really happen. And about what’s really important in what you do. Funny thing is, they both turned up good in part because I was sharing my thinking with them since they were little. Driving them to school and talking over dinners. And they actually thanked me for my lectures, both of them.
The other day I was sitting in a restaurant with a lady I know for a while since I followed her though three countries and two continents over the years.
That’s a lot of commitment and the connection is real like IBM.
We were sitting in a coffee in Nyon, a city just east of Geneva.
I said “I am loosing interest with what’s happening in the world, I feel like I’ve seen it all.”
She put down her white cappuccino cup with a red Rougemont
sign on the side of it. Didn’t touch the croissant.
“Do you care?” She asked.
“I actually hopped you don’t, just make every day of your life stand for something.”
I’ve missed things, I compete with missed opportunities and I don’t have much time.
Ten, fifteen years maybe but I will accomplish what I want, you can bet your last dollar on me.
Problem is, we’re loosing the battle against the stupid. How do we fix that? Well, the first step is to bring back the word “stupid”. Totally incorrect statement these fragile days, but that strong word was invented for a reason.
Apple operating platform is that, stupid, electric cars are too, space programs, traffic cameras, #metoo movement.
Do you want to know what isn’t?
When I sit on a patio by the lake on a sunny day sipping coffee and I left my iPhone at home and I talk to someone and what she says impresses me.
Back to the stupid thing, and let me tell you this – when president Obama won the elections, the Republicans accepted it in the “yeah, fine” fashion. You just take it right? The people have spoken. When Trump won there was a fury from the left (and still is) not accepting any of it. Three years in and the political left cannot settle! What does democracy mean anymore? Just look at the Brexit mess, people voted, right, that doesn’t count for nothing?
And Trump will win the second turn and it will get even uglier, I am convinced we haven’t seen nothing yet.
Democracy is dead, a scary thought. We’re not progressing as societies, we’re moving backwards. In every sense of the word, the rules that made the western civilization great are out the window.
There are Polish people returning from living in Sweden for years because they can’t stand the mess that country has become. Police in the city of Malmö appealed to citizens for help to contain violence.
You know you’re in trouble if the police are asking for help.
Some people say stuff that goes against the common regression and they don’t get much recognition. I am one of them, I wouldn’t have it any other way and I hope that there will be more of us.
One thing to understand is this - it's dangerous to be right, when the government is wrong. Even worse, when majority of the people are wrong.
In closing, I maybe temperamental but I also push the envelope. I say things that are original and this has to count for something. And to be clear, I don’t like doing any of this, it feels like paddling up the creek.
My favorite quote comes from Charles Dicken’s novel “A Tell of Two Cities.”
Here it is: “these are the best of times, and these are the worst of times.”
And they are.
For all your sinners out there, see you in hell, first lap dance is on me.
Listen, I am from the past and I am here in the present thinking about the future.
Some people say “the future is now,” but it’s not - this is now. Future is then, and when we get to “then” that will be the future. It may be disappointing or not, it is up to our children and how we bring them up. And they have great energy and attitude towards life that impresses me constantly.
I was just thinking about it still lying in bed.
Let me explain my mornings to you.
I wake up and look at the tremendous cedar out there; it’s straight outside my bedroom window. It is quite possibly the main feat of nature that keeps me in Switzerland for so long, with all due respect to this great country.
With age I learned to appreciate the details of life, except this one is anything but a detail. The tree looks something like this:
I don’t eat until the afternoon and I spend my days writing my new book, the Villa Rose. Yes, the famous one on Lake Lucerne and the story is about Marc Rich, the (in)famous financier. Rich was born to a Jewish family in Antwerp, Belgium, and moved to America as a kid. He is mostly known as the founder of the commodities company Glencore, but there was way more to him than that.
He was also an art collector and lived surrounded by Renoirs, Monets and Picassos, a dimension which I admire in a person.
At some point, before he died, he wanted to sell the villa for 100M – it is really that spectacular. His daughters accepted less after he was gone.
In 1983 Rich was indicted on 65 criminal counts, the biggest tax evasion case in US history. He fled to Switzerland and never returned, even to visit his dying daughter in California and that was tough on him.
Later, president Clinton granted him a presidential pardon on his last day in the office. It was controversial, but then the Clintons were always open for business.
Rich was married for 30 years to Denise Eisenberg, a songwriter from New England. I guess she was really something, keeping him on an even keel with all the shady businesses he was involved in over the years.
Funny thing is, marriage is a learning experience for men, for women is more of a teaching experience. The difference exists because women know what they want to do in life. They typically get married, have kids and bring them up, go to work if they feel like having a career.
Or not if they don’t.
It’s a pre-defined path.
Men don’t have any of this – we need to figure life out.
So, the book is coming along, writing it feels to me like a therapy in a way.
The night comes quickly and I like working during the night, except that I don’t see the big tree.
At night I get the feeling of time shattered in gray dust and sometimes someone in the building plays violin.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler