Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Rain in Spain....

Yesterday I returned from a fortnight stay in San Sebastian, Spain, That explains my protracted absence from this blog.

I did take a computer and a smart phone (of course), but did not use them for anything work related.
So, anyway, now I'm back.

I'm not a tourist at heart, nor am I one in fact (I would argue). We (I did not go to Spain alone) stayed with local families in their homes and every week-day morning until 1 pm attended a school for the Spanish language. After that, we lived similar to the locals, except that our work day in school was shorter than than the average worker.

We did take a day trip to Pamplona, the city made famous by Ernest Hemingway,  the city's annual running of the bulls, and bull fights -- although we didn't see even a single bull running, fighting, or just hanging out, for that matter. I did do a couple of touristy things there including visiting their cathedral and the four bars still extant where Hemingway would hang out.

In San Sebastian, which is right on the Atlantic Ocean, we did walk the beach and my daughter surfed on four of our days, but mostly we lived the life of a longer-term visitor to the city by eating their food and living their daily schedules, both of which are very different from my own in the U.S.

It is very difficult to be a real vegetarian in San Sebastian -- especially a vegan, and even more especially, a low-fat vegan; so very quickly I gave that up for the duration. They did have some excellent vegetarian restaurants and some others with "vegetarian" items on the menu, but in San Sebastian, vegetarians are often viewed as eating cheese and other dairy, eggs, and fish. For the most part, pork is king there, and many foods are fried. All of it was delicious, but much of it made me uncomfortable from a health perspective.

Perhaps unlike the rest of Spain (who knows? -- I didn't go to the rest) but certainly unlike the U.S., the women in San Sebastian are generally of healthy and attractive body weight -- even many, many older women. Most actually look good in their tight leggings or jeans as well as their light revealing summer dresses or beach wear. Oh, yeah, I should also mention that at the beach, women's swimwear is top optional, although the look was not particularly sexual. I felt no compulsion to gawk. I did enjoy simply walking the cities and seeing all the beautiful, slim women. It was only when we were at the departure gate for our plane headed directly back to Detroit -- which was mid-return journey in Amsterdam -- that I was once again uncomfortable with the obese women packed like gigantic sausages and hams in their tight leggings and the men with enormous bellies wearing their t-shirts hanging over like a tent.

The men in San Sebastian are similar to us in the U.S., being a bit overweight, though on average perhaps not quite as much. I pondered the possible reasons why those in San Sebastian -- especially the women, of course -- aren't as fat as us, and was somewhat stymied. Perhaps it is as simple as portion control; they likely don't eat as much, though their dishes are certainly as fattening.

The daily-life schedule there is very different from mine. I rise very early and go to bed early as well. There, the San Sebastians rise early enough to go to work, but then most stores close from about 1-4 pm, after which they open again for the evening. After work, the people have a busy family and social life, take their dinner (cena) at about 9 pm, and afterward are often up until very late in the night.

Importantly, the Spaniards are ecologically conscious -- much more so than here in the U.S.. Their culture expects one to be thrifty and efficient. They have timers on most light switches in public places such as rest rooms, which will automatically turn the light off after the appropriate time. Their public water faucets all have similar timed dispenser mechanisms. They have small clothes washers in most homes, but fewer have the accompanying all-in-one dryer option. Virtually all in Spain air dry their clothes. Sadly, in my neighborhood north of Detroit, a household drying their clothes on a line in the backyard is a small scandal and cause for a home-owners-association meeting -- pathetic and stupid!

I don't know where the rain in Spain falls, but during our first week there, it seemed to fall entirely on San Sebastian. This was a minor annoyance, however, because we had read the forecasts and packed accordingly. So not as mellifluous as the well-known rhyme, I would say, The rain in Spain falls mainly on San Sebastian -- at least at times.

I found the people of San Sebastian and Pamplona to be charming, friendly, and generally very good-natured and patient with my pathetic command of Spanish. It was interacting with the people and appreciating their approach to life that was the highlight of the trip. Forget being a tourist; in my opinion, travel is only meaningful when it serves to help us recognize the common bond we have with them (those in countries that are not our own), in understanding the way they see the world in a different (but still reasonable) way, and in trying to borrow from them the things they see and do differently but which are an improvement over the way we see and do things. (If this idea of travel as a way to broaden one's perspective is interesting to you, I recommend a good book by Rick Steves called Travel as a Political Act (I believe that's the title).

Regarding shaving, I used my normal shaving kit for plane travel, which is simply a disposable plastic razor and shave soap, which is lathered with my fingers, not a brush. My daily shave was consistently very good. In the local stores, they are similar to U.S. stores offering modern cartridge-razor designs and shave creams and foams in a can. Different was the availability of shave soap in the form of a stick for face lathering, though I could only find a single brand -- previously unknown to me -- on any store shelves. I don't recall seeing any double-edged (DE) razors in stores, but DE blades were available in a very limited selection, but at a price. Like here in the U.S., DE blades can be purchased locally, but are stupidly expensive.

It's good to be back home, but also good to be slightly changed by my travels.

Adios, and happy shaving!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Disposable-Travel-Razor Ideas and Techniques

In planning and preparing for some summer trips by air, I've continued to tweak my travel-shave process.

Of course, because airline travel prohibits packing double-edge (DE) blades in any carry-on luggage, which is all I bring, then my DE razors stay at home and I use plastic disposables.

Of the few designs that I've tried, my favorite disposable is a pivoting-head, two-track design from Gillette. I find this to be relatively inexpensive and high quality. With it I can get consistently high-quality shaves. I also have a couple of Bic-brand designs: the single-bladed yellow-and-white razor for sensitive skin, and the the triple-bladed fixed-head model. Of those, I prefer the single-bladed Bic. I also bought from a dollar store a small quantity of Personna-brand, two-track, fixed-head razors, which are serviceable, but not my favorite.

Because of carry-on size restrictions and the fact that I prefer to travel as light as possible, I will often saw off half the handle length of my disposable razors. This emulates the handle length of Gillette's classic Travel Tech razors. Maybe more important than saving weight and space, the short handle requires a finger-tip grip, which in my opinion is the best technique for a wet shave with a safety razor.

As I've mentioned before, I take a small lump of soft shave soap in a pill vial -- and my razor(s), of course -- but I leave other shaving gear at home: no brush, no alum products (including styptic), no balms or lotions.

When I shave, I wet my beard, rub the soap on the stubble, and "lather" with my bare hands and fingers. I do my typical one-lather, regional shave, and my primary shave strokes are against grain. However, on my lips and chin, my primary strokes are more cross grain, which is how I've come to do it at home with my usual DE razors.

Because hand-lathered soap makes a rather flat lather, neither fluffy nor thick, it tends to dry out fairly quickly. So during the shave I will add moisture with my non-razor hand to keep the shave smooth and comfortable. I tend to keep the razor against my face for most of the "return" strokes, so you might say that my usual stroking technique is a slow, buffing stroke. After my initial strokes in a region, I will make various clean-up strokes adding moisture as appropriate (and occasionally swiping used lather from the underside of the razor as needed) and stroking in whatever direction seems most appropriate.

When I'm done, I will rinse the razor (and sometimes soak for a minute if necessary before the final rinse under the tap) to ensure that all the soap and stubble are removed. I then shake the razor and blow on the blades to remove as much water as I can. Then I will strop the upper, exposed side of the razor blade(s) on my pant leg or the inner length of my forearm to dry it as much as possible.

I then store the razor without its plastic blade guard to help the blade(s) dry as thoroughly and quickly as possible to minimize edge-destroying micro oxidation.

This whole process works very well for me, and with it, I can get good shaves when away from home without much fuss.

Happy shaving!

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Pair of Shaving Tips

Softening a Stiff No-Rinse Brush

If your brush begins to get stiff near the base of the knot due to excessive retention of shave soap, there's a simple fix:

Thoroughly immerse the brush bristles in water for a second or two -- just enough for all the air to bubble out of the bristles. Then give the water another second or two to soften the soap in the brush.

Then with thumb and forefinger, squeeze the base of the knot just above the handle as though you were trying to choke the brush knot. The pressure should squeeze excess soap up from the base of the knot toward the bristle tips. You will see soap lather emerging at the bristle tips. If you do this a few days in a row, you will easily and quickly make available for shaving that otherwise useless soap trapped deep in the knot.

UPDATE 8 June 2016: The preceding tip pertains to shave soaps that are somewhat soft such as the formulations that are typically used in shave sticks (which I, personally, prefer). If you use a hard shave soap, the soak time in water may need to be longer, and perhaps the water warmer to soften dried soap deep in the brush knot.

No worries!

Controlling Razor Aggression Shaving 1-Pass ATG

When you're shaving against grain as a first pass, it may be helpful to add a simple technique to your repertoire in addition to slow strokes with a light touch. That technique is to use low-angle shaving; that is, reduce the angle of the cutting edge to your skin by increasing a bit the angle of the razor handle in relation to your skin.

By slightly reducing the blade-to-skin angle in an initial pass that is against grain, you will reduce the propensity of the blade to nip and cause weepers. After you make a stroke or two with the reduced blade-skin angle, you can go back in the same pass (without re-lathering) and use the razor at it's most efficient cutting angle. This works even better if you are making slow, light buffing strokes, in which the razor never leaves the skin surface. Buffing strokes help to spread moisture and protective soap back onto an area just shaved.

I now use this technique most every morning with good results.

Happy shaving!