Horse Ears

Friday, January 18, 2019

Rancho Santana, Nicaragua.-“Do you know how horses communicate?” Beverly asked at the beginning of our riding lesson.

My mind trotted back (it cannot race anymore) to the last time I heard Beverly ask this question. I was sitting on this same bench in the Rancho Santana stables a year ago. Or was it two years?

Trot. Trot. Trot. Just as I was pulling open memory’s file, she answered her own question: “With their ears.”

“When your horse is feeling comfortable and happy, his ears are upright,” she explained, using her cupped hands to demonstrate. “And when they are not happy, what do you suppose they do?”

“They are pulled back!” I nearly shouted, responding like the eager school child her style of pedagogy implied.

“And when their ears point forward?” Andy asked.

“Good question!” she said. “When their ears are pointing forward it means that they are no longer paying attention to you. Their ears are pointing towards what they are interested in or what they’re about to do.”

Rancho Santana, as the name suggests, has always been a ranch. Long before we bought the property 20+ years ago, horses were stabled here, along with cattle and occasionally goats.

The stable we were in is the third one in my time. The first was essentially a covered corral near the beach. The second we built a year or so after we bought the land. It housed six horses and was replaced by the current one, which is about three times larger and way nicer.

Today, the stable and surrounding paddocks are home to 15 or 20 horses. And the ranch itself frequently hosts a dozen more that somehow get onto the property and graze on its fields – free food, basically – then make their way back to their owners’ casitas at night.

I’ve never been a much of a caballero. I like the idea of riding a horse and the way a body looks sitting upright in the saddle. But I’ve never enjoyed the riding itself. When the horse is walking, it feels clunky and slow. When the horse is trotting, it’s uncomfortable. (Horse people say otherwise. I don’t believe them.) And when the horse is galloping, it’s frightening. And dangerous!

Still, I feel some sort of obligation to “use” the stables when I’m at the ranch. So I usually book one ride per stay.

Cecily, Andy, and I arrived at the stables at four in the afternoon. We figured that would give us 90 minutes of daylight in the cooler part of the afternoon. And after Beverly’s lesson (which we did enjoy), we saddled up and she tested us on the basics: going forward, backing up, and turning.

Since these horses are accustomed to amateur riders, they are very responsive. We all passed muster, so Beverly turned us over to Lorenzo, chief horse master or whatever, and his two sons. (Apparently, she felt we each needed a handler.)

Lorenzo asked me which of the half-dozen routes I wanted to take. I told him I had another idea. He looked concerned. I said I wanted to ride all the way to Los Perros, at the southern end of the ranch.

“But that will take more than an hour,” he said. “It’s not good for you to be riding back in the dark.”

I told him that my plan was to get there just before sunset and enjoy cocktails as the sun dropped behind the horizon. “You and your boys can take our horses back.”

He seemed okay with the plan, so that’s what we did.

Lorenzo was at the lead, followed by Cecily and Andy, followed by Giovanni, Lorenzo’s youngest son, followed by me, and with Lorenzo Junior at the tail.

The trip took just about an hour. It was mostly walking, with the occasional 50-yard trot. But there were steep ups and downs that tested our leg muscles. Along the way, I paid close attention to my steed’s ears – which were, I am proud to report, generally in the upright position. She labored well, up and down those hills, carrying me, at 210 pounds, on her back. By the time we arrived at Los Perros, I’d had my fill of riding for the day, and I believe my horse was happy to have me dismount. Walking stiffly to the beachside cantina, Cecily, Andy, and I agreed that it had been a good idea to make the ride one-way.

As a courtesy, I invited Lorenzo and the boys to have drinks and snacks with us. He surprised me by agreeing. We sat at a table overlooking Playa Iguana. The waves were gentle. The sky was turning orange. My Margarita was salty, not sweet, which is the only way to drink it. I asked Lorenzo if he minded taking the horses back in the dark.


Today’s Word: waggish (adjective) – Waggish (WAG-ish) means like a wag – i.e., humorous in a playful, mischievous, or facetious manner. As used by Booth Tarkington in Alice Adams: “No, that isn’t it,” he said, chiding her with a waggish forefinger.”

 Did You Know?:  Horses evolved from lamb-sized animals 55 million years ago. There’s no telling how long humans have appreciated their beauty. (There are cave paintings of horses that are 16,000 years old.) But the first evidence that they were used as transportation is 5,000 years old, in the form of fossils of horse teeth worn down by bridles. Of course, they could have been ridden without bridles long before that. Before being used as transportation, they were probably used for meat and milk.

Worth Quoting: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” – Epicurus

Watch This:


If I Were in Charge of These Hills

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Rancho Santana, Nicaragua.-There is an unwritten rule when building your house on top of a hill: Keep the roofline below the treetops. When you violate this rule by setting a two-story structure at the very crest of the hill, you create an ugly and permanent blemish on the profile of that landscape. Any sensitive someone looking at the hill from afar would have his pleasure ruined – the vista’s soft and undulating strata of green interrupted by an ugly man-made block.

We have such violations in Nicaragua, along the Pacific coastline north of Rancho Santana. One of them is a restaurant called Mag Rock (short for Magnificent Rock), a barn-like, three-story structure perched at the top an outcropping of rock that rises above and juts out from the shoreline like a prow heading into the ocean.

Every time I look at it, I get annoyed. What kind of shallow, selfish, and aesthetically demonic person would do this. And stupid. You can get your view, even of both sides, without destroying the tree line. All you have to do is cut the structure into the hilltop. (See illustration below.)

So when Andy and Cecily said how much they enjoyed their lunch at Mag Rock, with its “mag-nificent” view and all, I had to say something.

“I’d like to burn it down,” is what I said.

Cecily decided to ignore me. Andy took me up. I explained my theory about building on hillsides.

“There should be a law,” I said.

“Maybe there is,” he said.

I like to think of myself as a classic Libertarian – i.e., that if forced to choose, I’d choose freedom over other social values. But when it comes to beauty – and let’s be real for a moment, sooner or later nearly every ideological view comes down to deeply held views about beauty – I’m a law-and-order monger.

“Lots of people think the world would be better if they were in charge ofeverything. I just want to be in charge of beauty,” I said.

“A Grand Minister of Aesthetics?” Andy offered.


I smiled and thought about it.

“It would be a big job,” I admitted. “I’d need help. Several ministries beneath mine. I’d need a Ministry of Landscape, a Ministry of Architecture…”
“A Ministry of Interior Décor?”

“Certainly. And a Ministry of Attire… and Jewelry… and Watches… and Cars…”

“With you at the helm?”

“Naturally. Someone has to set and approve the standards.”

“And would there be penalties? Fines perhaps?”

“Not tough enough. Corporal punishment. Torture and death.”

Seriously, just think about how much better – i.e., more beautiful – the world would be if we could do away with all the ugly things.

Forget about eliminating war and poverty for a moment. Think about how wonderful it would be to wake up each day to a world devoid of aesthetic abuse.

Think of all the things that would not be. Such as:

* Buildings built upon hilltops

* Brightly lit, quasi-Italian restaurants

* Boca-styled mansions

* Boca Raton itself

* Duck backs and comb-overs

* Gold-plated faucets

* Almost any fixture plated in gold

* Which is to say Trump Tower

* Earth shoes and tube socks

* Plastic furniture coverings

* Renoir reproductions

* Any sort of stretch material on unattractive bodies

The list goes on.

Dinner at Mad Dog Pizzeria

Monday, January 14, 2019

Rancho Santana, Nicaragua.- Dinner last night was at Mad Dog’s, located about 20 minutes west of Rancho Santana on the coastal road by the turnoff to Guasacate.

It sits in the corner of a brand-new shopping mall that is said to have been built by “the Italian guy that owns that huge house with the giant blue dome on the beach.” I find that easy to believe. Both structures are wonders in bad taste.

Partly because it is new, but mostly because tourism in Nicaragua has all but disappeared since the political protests began early in 2018, the mall has only this one tenant. (And three cars in the parking lot last night.)

It’s called a pizzeria. And although it does serve pizza, one can see that it’s really a wannabe restaurant, with a menu that includes appetizers and entrees, as well as wines, beers, and desserts.

The layout is unfortunate: one oversize room, heavy on the marble, topped by a ceiling fresco of the sky and ducks (of all things). And the place is lit up like an operating room.

I’ve seen restaurants like this in some of the smaller cities of Italy. Just last year, we had dinner with Peter and Jill at one in Salerno. We would have never thought of entering based on its appearance. But it was recommended confidently (and correctly, as it turned out) by a pretty young woman on the street as having the best pizza in town. But that was Italy. This is Nicaragua.

Andy and Cecily were still on their way, coming back from a day-long adventure that included climbing the Mombacho volcano, visiting a coffee plantation, having a late lunch in Granada (the most perfectly preserved Spanish Colonial city in the Americas, according to UNESCO), and then zip-lining. (“We never got to take the boat tour of the isletas of Lake Granada,” Cecily complained. “We ran out of time.”)

So there were seven of us for dinner at Mad Dog’s, including my sister Gaby, who has lived in Rome for 30 years; Cecily and Andy, who met while working for me 30 years ago; Tommy, my friend of nearly 60 years; and Tommy’s 180-pound, 11-year-old son Billy, who was halfway through a warm-up pizza when we arrived.

The waitress spoke some English, which would have been unheard of 20 years ago when I first came to Nicaragua. She was far from fluent, but she was familiar with such idioms as, “I’ll check it out.” (I wondered about the history of that.)

The menu was odd. Light on salads and vegetables, heavy on pizzas, and featuring six entrees, half of which were not available. I chose the pork belly, which turned out to be a mistake. But everyone else’s meals were reported to be “good” to “very good.” Tommy said his lamb was the best he’ ever had. And “little” Billy finished his pizza and ordered a few tacos to boot.

As near as I can recall, the dinner conversation was mostly about nothing. But there were two discussions that I did enjoy.

One was about the difference between sweet potatoes and yams. (Most yams – and almost all sold in US supermarkets –  are actually a type of sweet potato, softer and more orange than the harder type that retains the name. True yams are entirely different. They come from a plant that is native to Asia and Africa, and are sold only in specialty shops.)

The other one was a brief argument about the meaning of the word “Palladian.” I had come across it during my daily exercise of looking for new or unfamiliar words. The reference I used defined it as somehow related to the goddess Athena – in particular, as “something that gives symbolic protection,” like the many statues of Athena that you see all over the classical world. But Cecily thought it had to do with architecture.

I looked it up – and we were both right. Palladian architecture is a 17thcentury neoclassical style – symmetrical and balanced – that was inspired by the work of the 16thcentury Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580).

It looks like this:

Driving back to the ranch in the blackness, the car’s suspension system rattling from the hard dirt and rock road, I thought about how lucky I am to be having ordinary dinners in such extraordinary places with people I’ve known for so many years.

Today’s Word: tome (noun) – A tome (TOHM) is a large, heavy book. As used by the Indian-American writer/critic Karan Mahajan: “Novelists get to say plenty in their massive tomes; rock singers only get four-minute songs with two verses and a chorus worth of lyrics, and so there’s a real pleasure in accessing the intelligence behind the music, even if it doesn’t qualify as ‘great literature.’”

Did You Know?: Spaghetti was invented in China.

Worth Quoting: “Every day above earth is a good day.” – Ernest Hemingway

What I’m Reading Now: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. This is actually a relatively long history of nearly everything, beautifully (i.e., simply) written. Bryson begins by explaining the origin of the universe and moves on from there. It took him three years to research and write the book, but that seems like no time compared to the accomplishment.

Something to Think About: “This Could Be Worse Than 1929”

By Bill Bonner

This is an essay from Bill Bonner about why “buy and hold” investing might not work. I find his long-term gold/Dow system intriguing and exciting, so I’ve made it a point to keep following it.

I have a system for buying and selling stocks that is still in development. (I’ve told you about in dribs and drabs, but it’s not “official” yet.) It is also about timing, but it is not about selling stocks to avoid crashes.

I like my system. But as I said, I’m also interested in Bill’s. I’m passing this essay along so you can judge for yourself…


The New Challenge I Give Myself Every Day

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Delray Beach, FL.-I received a note from a former protégé who is using my personal productivity system (my “Goaltending Program”) to accomplish her very demanding schedule as editorial director of a growing publishing company.

I thanked her for the note, congratulated her on her success, and said, “You know, I’ve taught this system to dozens, showed it to thousands… yet you may be the only person besides me that is using it!”

Then I shared with her something that I’ve added to the Goaltending Program.

It’s a new challenge I give myself – four things I try to do in order to enjoy the satisfaction of an intellectually fulfilling day:

  1. Write something worth reading.*
  2. Do something worth writing about.*
  3. Read something worth recommending.
  4. Learn something worth teaching.

This is a quality-of-life challenge. There are no requirements in terms of “how much” or “how long.” For example, “Learn something worth teaching” might be how to adjust one’s side view mirrors so that there are no blind spots. And “Write something worth reading” might include this little journal entry that you are reading right now. (Of course, you are the judge of whether I’ve succeeded.)

*I got the first two from Ben Franklin.

Today’s Word: exoteric (adjective) – Something that’s exoteric (ek-suh-TER-ik) – as opposed to esoteric – is commonplace, simple; suitable for or communicated to the general public. As used by Marcel Duchamp: “The curious thing about the Ready-Made is that I’ve never been able to arrive at a definition or explanation that fully satisfies me. There’s still magic in the idea, so I’d rather keep it that way than try to be exoteric about it.”

Did You Know?: Topolino is the name for Mickey Mouse in Italy.

Worth Quoting: “Only those who dare to fail can achieve greatly.” – Robert Kennedy

What I’m Reading Now: Man Up: How to Cut the Bullshit and Kick Ass in Business (and in Life), by Bedros Keuilian

I’ve always disdained the common disdain for “motivational” speakers and writers. The implication is that we don’t need is any more inspiration. We need facts and specific strategies to show us how to succeed. The opposite case could be easily made, though, because the strategies are relatively simple and widely known but the energy and the courage and the tenacity to follow them is always on the verge of disappearing.

Put differently, you need to learn the strategy only once. But the inspiration to pursue the strategy… that you need every single day.

It is with that thought in mind that I can recommend Man Upas a good, fast-reading, and inspirational book about breaking out of the quicksand of laziness and fear and victimhood and moving on, energetically and responsibly.

I was a bit worried by the title that the advice would be in the genre of what I call Bully Coaching – where the protégé is belittled and then bullied to “man up” and follow the coach’s rules. But it’s not. To his credit, Keuilian explains his rules of success (which are of the ilk of being responsible and decisive and honest with yourself) by recounting experiences in his own life when he wasn’t manning up.

Something to Think About: “Love Is Now a Hate Crime”

The white man’s dilemma – hate yourself or be hated.




10 “Truths” About  Building Wealth That You Won’t Hear from Your Financial Advisor

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Delray Beach, FL.- When I “decided” to get rich, I didn’t know the first thing about creating wealth.

I was an editor. I wanted to be a novelist. I’d never taken a course in finance or economics. Plus, I was broke.

But I had a great advantage. I was working for a human wealth machine – a man who, at 43, had already created three hugely profitable businesses. He adopted me as a surrogate nephew and taught me everything he knew about making money. Eventually, he made me his partner.

I retired about 7 years later with a net worth well in excess of $10 million.

Eighteen months later, I gave up on retirement and went to work as a “growth” consultant for a publisher I much admired. By combining the marketing know-how I’d learned from my previous partner with this man’s ideas and generosity of intellect, I was able, about 10 years later, to retire again, my wealth having multiplied many times over.

In this, my second retirement, I focused on two long-put-aside lifetime goals: to write and to teach. I was able to do both at the same time by starting a blog called Early to Rise. In the ensuing 10 or 11 years, I wrote and published more than a dozen books and thousands of essays, “teaching” my readers what I knew about entrepreneurship, marketing, business management, and wealth building.

And even though it was no longer a priority, my net worth continued to grow.

At 60, I meant to retire again. But I got talked into going to work for someone who worked for someone who worked for me. (Don’t ask.) As co-founder of Palm Beach Research Group, I still write about wealth building. But I’m older now and have more experience.

I’d like to think that my observations and advice are somehow better now. At the very least, I’ve been able to go wider and deeper in terms of thinking about wealth, how it’s created, how it’s invested, and how it’s lost.

Why am I telling you all this?

Maybe because I’d like you to think that when it comes to the subject of building wealth, I have some insights that might be useful to you.

For example, I’ve come to believe that many commonly accepted “facts” about wealth building are, in fact, fallacies.

Take these examples:

Read More10 “Truths” About  Building Wealth That You Won’t Hear from Your Financial Advisor

Today’s Word: whelm (verb) – To whelm (HWELM) is to submerge, engulf, overcome completely. As used by Dante Alighieri in Paradise, Canto 27: “That canst not lift thy head above the waves / Which whelm and sink thee down!”

Did You Know?: The last course in a traditional Chinese meal is soup, so that the earlier courses can “swim” toward the stomach for digestion.

Worth Quoting: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” – Soren Kierkegaard

What I’m Reading Now: South and West: From a Notebook, by Joan Didion. Not a novel. Not a memoir exactly. More a series of notes about a trip she took with her husband through the South and some notes she made during the Patty Hearst trial that turned out to be about privileged young women growing up in California. The thesis of the book, if there is one, is that the culture of the South, however backwards we feel it is, is steeped in history and likely to endure, while that may not be true of California’s very different culture. It is really well written. Sparse and precise and at times poetic.

Didion was a very attractive young woman who grew up wealthy and connected. But her writing is undeniably good – and that is a fact that cannot be diminished by her various advantages.

Watch This: Every time I go to San Francisco its streets are dirtier and more depressing. It’s sad to see one of America’s great cities decline so steadily. There is always hope — New York is now a much cleaner and safer city than it was 30 years ago. It took the intervention of an administration or two that recognized the fact that a city’s survival is based on its ability to attract and keep good businesses.

This video — though a bit preachy — is funny and depressingly accurate