Oct 23, 2009
Measurements on the Fly
Greetings from airTran flight 305, Denver to Atlanta*. I'm having my first airline Wi-Fi experience and I like it. I definitely like it better than the crazy vibe that marred our last moments at the gate -- with several attendants rushing and barking at passengers who couldn't find space for their bags.
My Denver friend Ken is a first officer for a major airline, and just this week he was telling me about one of the industry's particular stupids. It turns out that crew ratings (and their bonuses) are highly dependent on their on-time departure numbers, so they work like crazy to make their schedule, and often piss off passengers in the process. They get left at the gate, or run like cattle in the plane. In theory, the airlines want on-time departures because passengers say they want them.
The error, as Ken points out, is that passengers don't really care about departure times. They care about arrival times -- making connections and getting home (or to meetings) on schedule. Pilots can make up a lot of time in the air, so a few minutes on the ground aren't a big deal -- especially if you communicate. "Hello folks. We're a few minutes late taking off, but don't worry -- we've got good weather over Nebraska and have found a route that will get you to Atlanta right on time."
Related: Ken also wants supermarket cashiers to skip the price check when there are long lines. For as much money as the store spends to get you there -- why hold up the world while someone checks whether a can of beans is $1.29 (like the scanner says) or $1.19 (like the customer thought it said at the aisle)? Instead -- spend the dime. Move the line. Trust the customer and let them tell their friends how "Safeway took my word over the computer -- there's still hope for humanity!"
*continuing to Rio de Janiero. Dang! If only I could stay on -- especially since I'm in business class today -- but I'm switching planes and heading home to Durham. See you there soon, if there's where you are.
Photo from Paul Stamatiou's blog, with an in-depth description of how airline WiFi works, and a screenshot of his speedtest numbers (1.52 to 2.6 MBPS down). My only bummer is that there are no electric plugs and my Lenovo has ween batteries... but I'll live. For Atlanta to RDU, I can continue reading Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm, while stretching my legs in a reclining emergency-row seat (yes, I'm a 5'6" traveler who'll grab the good seats any time he can.)
Oct 22, 2009
Denver of the Wacky Weather
Same hammock, today:
Perfect for snowballs, by the way -- many of which I threw after brunch and dinner.
I do love Denver, along with my dear friends who I come to visit when I can. If only I could take the best of Denver, San Francisco, Portland OR, Asheville and Providence and bring them home to Durham... I'd be so pleased.
Jul 16, 2009
I can't recall his name, but we had a pleasant half-hour together last June -- hanging out in his open-air cabin alongside the Rio Cangrejal, just downhill from the Omega Jungle Lodge. The little pipe at left is his water supply. Don't ask me where it comes from. More about that afternoon, later.
These days I am of course thinking of my Honduran friends. Here are quotes from a couple of my Honduran friends (both of whom were born elsewhere but moved to Honduras as adults) who sent news within the ~72 hours after the change-of-power:
1. Incredible false reporting by CNN (Esp)! CNN (ESP) is using a voice tape of an imposter saying it is Zelaya. IT IS NOT ZELAYA, doesn't even sound like him. How irresponsible. They were using Hugo Chavez's Telesur feed in this pretend telephone interview. J says the imposter has a Ven. accent. Even I could tell it was NOT Mel Zelaya. CNN should be sanctioned before they start a war in Honduras.
2. Yay! Micheletti! Whew. As far as anyone here is concerned, this IS A GOOD THING. The entire world is mis-informed. YES, it is true that it is called a 'coup', however, there are few civilians opposed to it.Okay, NO ONE seems to be reporting things as they are... Just a few things: 1) How many 'coups' are taken over by someone from the same party 2) How many 'coups' actually had SO FEW DEATHS (yes, there is ONE now... a 19'year old, but what the %&* to you expect when there are thousands and thousands of people with opposing views, gathered together in one place with police/army with guns. AND IF THEY WERE OPEN FIRING on the crowd, I'd imagine their shot can't be that bad!!!!! 3) It's been HOW MANY DAYS SINCE THIS STARTED, AND HOW MANY DEATHS...? LITERALLY NONE 4) Whose plane did Mel try to come back on???? Chavez'. People wake up!!!!!!!! 5) HE BROKE THE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW. From my extremely knowledgeable head on politics (NOT), they are waiting for things to calm down before letting him back, and they probably won't do it if he's bringing Venezuelan backing with him..
Dec 04, 2008
"Where Do You Stay?" ("19 Miles a Second, So it's Reckoned")
Hanging out at the UMD homeless shelter, I once learned that the question, "where do you live?" is often phrased by African-Americans as "where do you stay?"
I assumed that the differing word choice was primarily a function of economics: people with less-stable incomes are more likely to stay at some address for a while rather than to live some address for a long time. But I'm now starting to think that the expression finds its origin in something more temporally and geographically distant. A quick online search indicates that this phrasing is also typical in parts of Africa and India.
Regardless, I'm growing more fond of the expression. Not only for my particularly peripatetic lifestyle, but for the wandering life we all seem to have whether or not we realize it.
Monty Python describe(s)* this nicely:
*can of worms, here: do you choose a singular or plural verb after Monty Python? My understanding from listening to BBC radio is that the British often use a plural verb after a singular noun that describes a group of people. "Manchester United are down three games". But then again, they also say "Parliament is". Hmmm.
Dec 02, 2008
Travel Lessons and Verizon -- Any Opinions?
One of the top three things I learned while driving around the US for four months: AT&T mobile sucks everywhere. Downtown Denver, downtown San Francisco, urban Portland, urban Claremont, suburban Hillsborough -- all bleah.
Several folks told me that Verizon -- while a bit more expensive -- has much better signal so I'm planning to switch. Any opinions? CNET tells me that I want either the Blackberry 8830 or the LG enV for a good combination of signal quality and functionality. Sadly, nobody praises the phones with the 3.0MP cameras, so it appears I will have to settle for a good phone with only 2.0MP.
Dec 01, 2008
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich x2
My friends Mike and Sel had some folks over to their place after the Carrboro Film Festival last Sunday. Sel worried that there wasn't enough food and asked if anyone would like her to make some P, B & J's. Replied Kyle, "You had me at 'P'."
Above, a PB&J at a Flying J Travel Stop somewhere around Nebraska. At the center of each sandwich, the peanut butter and the jelly were around two-thirds of an inch thick. That would put me into a coma so fast, but I guess it works for truckers.
I enjoyed sleeping at several Flying J's while I drove around the US in my Pontiac Vibe with the fold flat seats. The parking lots seemed safe and the morning showers were big and clean for ~$8.00. My only problem was on my first Flying J night in Ohio or thereabouts, when the 4 a.m. lawn sprinklers shot through my windows that I'd cracked open for air. It was a confusing way to wake up.
Nov 13, 2008
Connie from Durham
My Couchsurfing hosts in Houston had a couple of Redneck Joke books, and I stumbled into this joke while skimming. The choice of Durham, NC as the punchline town surprises me on several counts. But I had to laugh, especially since I have a Durham friend named Connie.
Nov 12, 2008
Durham + 8 months
So I've only been gone for a few months, but plenty in Durham looks different. Since I last drove around downtown, Pettigrew St. has suddenly gone up in lights: the new Performing Arts Center is beautiful at night, the Bull Durham neon sign ("Bull Du" on election night -- some bulbs were out) is blazing red, and the transportation center has gotten all framed out. Holy cats! I also visited the north side of Washington St. where I got my first glimpse of the two new/adapted buildings at Trinity.
Still undone: I have yet to visit Pinhook, Maverick Partners has yet to put any tenants into the great space at 1001 W. Main St., and Mangum South 219 has yet to be renovated. Too bad on all counts, though I think I can rectify one of those by myself.
It's good to be back. Now if only we could replace Pettigrew St. with a river.
Nov 10, 2008
Yes "Sir" but No "Ma'am" in Texas
I had the greatest time watching my niece play high school volleyball in Mission and McAllen TX. Three matches in nine days made for a lot of yelling, and one very polite referee's request to move my camera and myself a little bit farther from the court. Which is a long way of introducing two photos shot outside the restrooms at Mission's Memorial High School.
One of these things is not like the other:
Nov 08, 2008
Dumb Things -- and Staying Put, Catching Up
There is no end to the stupid things
people I will do to get some WiFi signal, and no end to the stupid things bloggers I will do to document it. Above photo taken on the second floor balcony, courtyard side, at the Hotel Iberia in La Ceiba, Honduras. A fine value at ~$18 per night. Just don't take the rooms that face Avenida San Isidro. The balconies are great but the street is very loud and the windows are very thin. Below, a pic from the room I could not nap in and soon traded for another. Yes, that is a Wendy's sign in the distance, with the cathedral just beyond:
For the week I spent at Hotel Iberia, I enjoyed hanging with the staff in their tiny lobby, especially at night when we'd lounge on the soft couches, watching TV. The owner was visiting relatives in Spain so he left his son, Luis, in charge. Luis, who usually manages the family's small ranch outside town, was as nice as nice could be. One evening as I was getting ready to find a beer in the Zona Viva, he also cautioned me about going out alone (as I had done the night before, duh). So of course I got paranoid and asked if he wanted to come along.
Next thing you know, Luis and two of his staff and I were zipping around town in his dad's four-door pickup truck. We had a great evening, despite the struggles I had trying to grab the bar tabs at the two or three places we stopped. Unlike the beggars who routinely dropped by the hotel's lobby and sidewalk stoop, these guys had no interest in taking greenbacks from the gringo. But I'm glad they were gracious enough to let me insist.
While we were out, the hotel was faithfully guarded by the last remaining male employee -- a whip-thin guy who carried a machete wrapped in a pretty scabbard. Most hotel guards in La Ceiba carried guns, so I'm not sure what was up with this one. But he was fun to chat with most any time. Below, the lobby/lounge/guardshack by day. FYI, most people in Honduras have all their limbs, despite the suggestions of this blurry phone-pic:
La Ceiba. Happy memories.
So it looks like I'm going to stay in the Triangle through March. This is not a bad thing. I've enjoyed traveling for most of 2008, but it won't kill me to stay put for a while, earn some money and maybe even catch up writing the backlog of travel blogs I've meant to do since January.* And shucks, I might even visit with my long-missed friends!
*I'll probably post them on current dates while I'm getting them done, and then maybe I'll move them back to the dates they actually come from. Or not. The reasons I am mentioning this are not worth explaining, so I'll leave you with Maddox's definition of a blogger:
Blogger: Term used to describe anyone with enough time or narcissism to document every tedious bit of minutia filling their uneventful lives.
Maddox has other humorous definitions, including:
Liberal media: Whiny, bitching, cry-baby conservatives love to prattle on and on about the "liberal media." To be fair, except for FOX News (Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, John Gibson, Neil Cavuto, Steve Doocy, E.D. Hill, Brian Kilmeade, Brit Hume), Clear Channel, Laura Ingraham, Dr. Laura, Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, Ann Coulter, Newsmax, G. Gordon Liddy, Michael Reagan, Michael Savage, The New York Post, Sinclair Broadcast Group (WLOS13, Fox 45, WTTO21, WB49, KGAN, WICD, WICS, WCHS, WVAH, WTAT, WSTR, WSYX, WTTE, WKEF, WRGT, KDSM, WSMH, WXLV, WURN, KVWB, KFBT, WDKY, WMSN, WVTV, WEAR, WZTV, KOTH, WYZZ, WPGH, WGME, WLFL, WRLH, WUHF, KABB, WGGB, WSYT, WTTA), David Horowitz, Rupert Murdoch, PAX, and MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, they're right.
Nov 04, 2008
Last Friday I visited the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, and I cried as I should have. Today, an historic election, and I cried as I should have.
In this photo, the surface of the memorial's fountain. Reflected in the water is a shiny new building across the street. I do not know what the building is, but it stands in clear contrast to the older buildings nearby that were witness to the seated Rosa Parks in a Montgomery bus, and the preaching Rev. King on the State Capitol steps.
Obscured in this photo are the words that struck me hardest just four days before our presidential election. Two of the first three souls commemorated had been martyred for voter registration and organizing.
7 May 1955. Rev. George Lee. Killed for Leading Voter Registration Drive. Belzoni, MS
13 Aug 1955. Lamar Smith. Murdered for Organizing Black Voters. Brookhaven, MS.
On the fountain -- cleansing waters and a reflection of the new. Present light resting on but not forgetting past darkness.
On that day -- tears of sorrow and then hope. On this day -- tears of joy and then belief. Cleansing waters.
Nov 02, 2008
Home is Where the Heart (Disease) Is
After 16 weeks and ~11,250 miles, I'm back in the Triangle.
I don't think I gained any special new wisdom from the trip, though I did gain back a shockingly (to me) large fraction of the weight I'd patiently lost in the year prior to the road trip. Why is this important? Because next week I'll be 41. And my dad will celebrate the 14th anniversary of his double bypass surgery (at age 57). And because on my last morning in Texas, just last Monday, my otherwise-fit-looking 50-year-old cousin had a heart attack. So I'm serious when I tell you that my family (on both sides) are heart disease specialists. And I don't mean the kind with MDs.
But back to other things. I'm glad to be home in NC where I plan to stay through at least early spring. I look forward to seeing wonderful folks I've missed here, even as I miss the wonderful folks I've seen on the road.
Good morning' America, how are you?
Say don't you know me? I'm your native son!
Oct 21, 2008
That's Right (I'm Not From Texas)
Maybe I'm seeing something different because I expected something different. But man, Texas is different. Late last week I drove eight hundred miles from El Paso (at the western tip) to Mission (near the southern tip), and what I've seen makes me believe I can understand why Texas thinks of itself as "apart from".
I can't at all explain it, but Lyle Lovett will sing you the distance between his people and me:
I've been listening to Lyle all week -- my tour guide and friend in an unfamiliar space. In Las Cruces, NM near the border, I had acquired two Obama stickers and put them on my back window. At the Texas welcome center I added a "Don't Mess With Texas" sticker (handed out free with every tour magazine) underneath. Kind of for protection.
Last night at an open-air honky tonk on the Rio Grande (you could throw a baseball into Mexico if you wanted), I discussed politics with folks who did not necessarily share my point of view. A Border Patrol SUV prowled the parking lot nearby. And my cell phone frequently reminded me that automatic time zone changes were not guaranteed for where I was sitting, and that roaming charges would apply.
Oct 17, 2008
Yes we telecom.
Last night I dropped by the Obama HQ in Las Cruces, NM, while I was overnighting with a splendid couchsurfing.com host who needed to do some pre-canvassing tasks.
Pictured above, Team Obama was on their (maybe nightly?) conference call. Various teams were reporting on the numbers of doors knocked on, number of people contacted, etc. It was nice to catch my first glimpse of the ground-level organizing that I've been hearing about for the last year.*
Slate just ran an article on how every tiny town counts in this complex swing state whose five electoral votes are getting plenty of attention. Click here for It's the Little Things -- In the New Mexico presidential race, no town is too small to matter. By Jacob Leibenluft
In 2000, Gore won the state by a margin of 366 votes. By comparison, 2004 was a landslide for Bush, who carried New Mexico's five electoral votes with an edge of 5,988 ballots. Campaigns in New Mexico have gotten used to thinking in small numbers.
Southern New Mexico presents the ultimate challenge to a campaign that is counting on its ground game: It's got a lot of ground and not many people. New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District—which covers the southern half of the state—is bigger than Pennsylvania. It's very rural and very conservative.
LAS CRUCES—As southern New Mexico goes, Las Cruces is about as liberal as it gets. It's home to New Mexico State University, as well as a growing community of East Coast transplants who have moved here for the weather. But for a good example of New Mexico's ideological diversity, consider this: Santa Fe, in the northern part of the state, was one of the first cities in the country to pass a living-wage ordinance. Las Cruces, on the other hand, doesn't yet have curbside recycling.
I watched most of last night's debate at the New Mexico State University student center, along with a dozen or so folks. One of the audience made a series of disparaging comments about how "McCain's face looks weird". Another said, "well, give us fifty years and we might all look like that. I want to hear about his policies."
*I volunteered for the Gantt campaign all of October '96. It of course looked nothing like this.
Unrelated: I left Las Cruces this morning and drove just over 600 miles to San Antonio. That's a solo record for me. I'm now in a hotel watching America's Funniest Videos and they really are hilarious. I just saw a stork swallow a big fish, and then I saw a seagull swallow a whole hot dog and then yarf it up. No one's gotten hit in the nads yet on this show, but I saw one of those on Corner Gas. I love television.
Oct 16, 2008
Things for Men
Who knew that snack foods were gender specific? Those darned Japanese sararimen. Also for men only, rushed and slightly careless mucking around with fire-producing objects, followed by cursing. That's my pal Dave. He has done smarter things on that same San Francisco kitchen table.
Oct 14, 2008
Interior of the back wall at my aunt and uncle's place in Surprise, AZ (just outside Phoenix). It's dry here. 85 in the day and 50 at night.
The back yards in this neighborhood have solid walls around 7 feet high. When I amble the sidewalks behind, I get barked at by invisible dogs, every tenth house or so. I hope they are not in the yards of houses that have been foreclosed upon.
Oct 13, 2008
Fasting in California
Last week in Claremont I attended not one but two Break Fasts at the end of Yom Kippur. I hadn't fasted for the ~24 hours beforehand, though I might have, had I known more and given it some thought. At the first Break Fast, three items came from the host's favorite deli at home in New York. There was smoked whitefish, pickled herring in sour cream, and smoked salmon. Oh. My. G-d. So good.
Meanwhile (or sort of -- if you go back to July), six hours to the north in Salinas, Mayor Dennis Donohue took a week-long one-meal-a-day Fast for Peace. The mayor was looking for a new method to create change in his gang-troubled town, and he was joined by a city council member and the chief of police, and an untold number of others. See here for the July fast coverage and here for the mayor's call to take the Fast for Peace statewide.
Oct 03, 2008
Johnny Delegate-Seed, 277 Votes on the 12,000-mile Campaign Trail
At RealClearPolitics.com, you can create your own delegate map.
Above, a Johnny Delegate-Seed record of my 16-week road trip. If you give Obama every state that I will have visited between July 15 and Election Day (when I arrive back in NC), he gets 277 electoral votes to McCain's 261.
The "home stretch" is key -- I'm picking up 96 delegates between October 11 and November 1 on the southern third of my route.
And of note: every little decision counts. I almost skipped Oregon and Wyoming for a ten delegate swing. Whew.
Oct 02, 2008
University Ave., Berkeley.
I can understand why most of the bike is gone (i.e., the bike owner was lazy or stupid). But why the tire and the innertube? The tire would have taken some effort to steal, since the bead is pretty sturdy. The tire underneath (even if cut) would be useful like a bungee cord for a homeless person (and there are many in Berkeley). But still... I'm guessing someone removed the tire and inner tube just because. Kind of a moral obligation to penalize someone for locking their bike poorly. (It sometimes seems that people in the big cities have different rules -- like the mafia guys who say, "look, this isn't personal. I'd love to forgive you and let you live. But if I don't kill you, other people are going to think I'm weak, and they're going to make a mess of the system. So... Sorry. Bam.")
When I was an undergrad, I once locked my bike very carefully to a parking meter post that I later realized had no parking meter on it. Someone could have slipped my bike right off the top. But no one did.
I was once in New York City walking past Rockefeller Center at Christmas. Big fluffy snowflakes were falling slowly and quietly. The sidewalk was packed with people. It was lovely. Then in front of me I noticed a (presumed) out-of-towner holding up a small stack of twenties that he was apportioning out to his family. I wanted so badly to yank them out of his hands and to shove them back into his pockets while yelling, "Hey are you a complete idiot?!" But I didn't. Because, you know, I was also an out of towner. The locals should have first dibs on fun stuff like that.
Gosh -- why am I sounding so gruff and grumpy? I hope it isn't just because I've been in the big city for a few weeks. I hope it's just because I've got one of those eyeball headaches. OK. To bed, then.
Sep 25, 2008
Do you remember Divaville on WXDU? Of course you do. And of course you know it's now hosted at KMHD in Portland, Oregon, ever since Christa broke three thousand east coast hearts with her three-thousand mile move to the Pacific Northwest.
Above from last night, a shot of Tony Starlight hosting Christa on the stage of his Supper Club and Lounge, during their second Divaville Listener's Party. I can't recall whether he was serenading or speaking to her in that particular moment. With Tony it could be either.
I'm enjoying a short visit in Portland with all its nice people, rich culture, and fantastic scenery. Last night at Tony's it was fun to see several dozen of Christa's local Divaville fans treat her like the celebrity that she is. Despite the cool weather up here, people find ways to be warm. I shared a table with two of Christa's friends and two new acquaintances who had each come solo to the evening, open to making new friends.
Photo taken with Christa's little Canon, I think. A fantastic little camera with a "twilight photo" setting, which I used for this shot.
Sep 23, 2008
Here's some YouTube video of what I saw today in Portland -- Vaux's Swifts checking into the Chapman Elementary School hotel:
The actual evening show is around an hour long. Tonight, a peregrine falcon gave us an interesting ten minute exhibition on how hard it is to catch a swift, especially when they occasionally turn the battle around and chase after the predator. The woman next to me with binoculars saw it finally catch dinner before flying off.
There is various lore about the Vaux's Swifts at Chapman Elementary School. The story I liked best was how the school used to freeze its kids for several weeks each autumn, as they wouldn't crank up their heating system until the birds had moved on. For more pedestrian yet still interesting details, fly yourself to the Audobon Society of Portland.
I'm here for a short week to visit my friends JudyBat and AnnRay, with their kids The Boy and The Girl. It's so lovely to see them. JudyBat surprised me with tonight's outing. Her only clue was that "we are going to a uniquely Portland event", which of course it was.
It was fun to see several hundred friendly Portland people gathered on the hill with snacks and meals and binoculars. Were I the ambitious travel journalist, I would have interviewed folks about what they brought to eat and drink, and would have asked them to share their favorite Tom Swifty jokes. But I am not so ambitious, so I settled for enjoying the show and the company of friends and nearby hillmates.
The swift migration through Portland lasts for several weeks each year, and I love the idea that so many people are out at the Chapman School every evening, kicking around a soccer ball, sliding down the hill on cardboard boxes, or just hanging out with friends and food, all for the occasion of hanging out with nature. No tickets. No scheduled show. No PA system, nor even any electricity. Just birds at sundown doing their thing.
Sep 18, 2008
Stupidity and Laziness vs. Ego and Greed
A modest debate: can more corporate problems be credited to stupidity and laziness, or ego and greed?
I vote for stupidity and laziness. Some of my debate partners in San Francisco vote for ego and greed.
Given the differences in our respective markets, we may both be right. San Francisco sits at the far end of the corporate behavior curve. It's one of the first places you'd want to be if (you think) you've got the brains, imagination, and drive to make it big and quickly. As for the Triangle (and many other "mid-cap" or "low-cap" markets), we don't have nearly the concentration of the corporate ambitious.
I'm sort of OK with that, especially since I have the freedom to spend time in either place.
But back to the debate, if you were to frame it nationally rather than by locale. Stupidity and laziness vs. ego and greed: who "wins"?
(By the way, I want to claim Scott Adams for my side, given his explaining theory for nearly everything: "people are idiots''.)
Sep 09, 2008
West Coast Bull
To commemorate my dinner with Bull City peeps who are coincidentally traveling in San Francisco, here is some West Coast Bull that I saw a few days ago. Just north of Death Valley, on the turnoff from Highway 95 to Highway 266 you see this:
They are not kidding. Because twenty miles later, after seeing nobody else on the road, you'll pass a few dozen of these:
Aug 25, 2008
Step Around the World
Above, the earth as imaged by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I like geographic images that don't include political borders. They let me perceive and notice different things, undistracted by ideas of country or boundary.
That said, I usually make my travel plans on the basis of nationalities, culture, and history. Here is my list of places-I'm-currently-motivated to see, as an American of Philippine and Indonesian descent. (Note that countries may belong in multiple categories but are listed only once in which ever category they show up first. Italics where I've been so far):
For family heritage:
- China (because you can't find many Indonesians or Filipinos who aren't fractionally Chinese. I think I'm ~1/8th).
Western intellectual and political heritage:
- Great Britain
Non-western intellectual and spiritual heritage:
Relevance to daily US culture and commerce:
- Saudi Arabia
US political and cultural history (war, immigration, other not already listed):
- West African countries such as Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Ghana
- S. Korea and N. Korea
To see how things could be slightly or very different:
- Brazil (as my friend Art says, "the US in an alternate history")
- Papua New Guinea
- (this list very inexact)
Just because I got interested in them somehow:
- Easter Island, Chile
So that's my list so far (minus anything I've forgotten). I doubt I'll try to reach all of them before my end of days, but a good few and many others not on the list. Because why not?
Note: some places that aren't on my priority list, but that I enjoyed visiting anyway (even if so briefly): Denmark, Singapore, Thailand, Honduras, Belgium, Taiwan, Bahamas.
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Trail Skylounge
Some people. Give them a mountainside vista of Boulder and all they want to do is watch TV. Above, my pals Jy* and L hanging out on the National Center for Atmospheric Research skylounge. Not its official name, but that's what I'm calling it.
Here's the view for when you're not looking at the tube:
A person who knows these things tells me that the white line going into the horizon is the famed Baseline Road which follows the 40th parallel which, in turn, is the eventual border between Nebraska and Kansas.
To know about the NCAR trail:
1. Most everyone you meet is very friendly. Lots of "hi" and "hello" and occasional conversation.
2. Dogs, on the other hand, just don't care. They won't stop for petting. Won't stop to say "hey".
Signs say they're allowed off leash if they display a green tag that says they're under "voice and sight control". We saw several of those running free. We also saw another non-tagged dog that was running free, but with its leash dragging behind. The owner was walking not far away, following the letter of the law if not the intent. Lots of dogs in Boulder, though not all are as well trained as Southpark's Cartman after some KFC with Cesar Milan (click for the whole f***ing video at SouthparkStudios.com. After you click on the link, look for the "Watch Full Episode" link, then click that, f***face. And "I'm not being aggressive, I'm being dominant.").
3. There's a big water tank on the NCAR trail, and if you throw rocks at it, they make a really cool "pwinng!" sound. There's a whole pile of rocks on the trail side of the tank. Gee, I wonder how they got there. Interesting thing that Jy noticed: the tank, though metal, painted dark green and in full sun, feels cool to the touch. Thermal sink, anyone? Shoutout to Jy for the Southpark link, and to L for the hike.
*Jy is my Durham BFF who happens to be in Denver for the Democratic National Conference. We had our own little NC-people caucus in the Barack-y mountains for the day.
Aug 18, 2008
Gravlax a la Denver
Above, the last bits of Gravlax a la Denver, served at the 7th birthday party of my delightful young friend A., daughter of my friend-since-childhood L.
This platter was carried around the party by our friend Jn. who requested a name for the dish so she could introduce it properly. Gravlax a la Denver was the best I could do on short notice while assembling a second batch, but a proper description would be "first-timer gravlax served on cream cheese and toast, with fresh dill and (most importantly) incredible grape tomatoes picked this afternoon from the garden of friends J., P. and M."
Believe what they tell you: it's easy to convert raw salmon into something extra fun with a handful of salt and sugar, a sprinkle of pepper, and a few sprigs of dill.
Here's what I ended up with after checking out a few recipes*:
- Two salmon fillets (~.7 lbs each), skin-on.
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup kosher salt [way too much! see notes below]
- 1 tsp. black pepper [way too little! I got tired of grinding]
- 5 bunches dill
- Coat the flesh side of the salmon fillets in the sugar, salt and pepper.
- Sandwich the fillets with the dill in between.
- Insert in a Ziploc bag
- Throw in any remaining sugar, salt and pepper.
- Squeeze out any air.
- Weight down with something modestly heavy (e.g., a bag of rice)
- Cure for 48 hours in refrigerator, turning every 12 hours
- Remove from bag, rinse.
- Place fillet skin-side down on a cutting board, and cut thin slices on a diagonal, with your knife blade perhaps 30 degrees from horizontal.
- Slice thinly and on the diagonal (knife blade ~30 degrees from horizontal)
Things I noticed about today's gravlax:
- This recipe was saltier than I would have liked because I mis-read the recipes. I will try with less salt next time, at least if I plan to eat it plain or just with capers. However, with toast, cream cheese, dill and tomato, the saltiness was perfectly fine.
- The thicker parts of the salmon definitely cured less than the thin parts -- the flesh was less salty and less firm. Closer to (but still more firm than) nova lox.
- Judging from what kids kept coming back for while I was prepping the snacks: (1) all kids love plain white bread, (2) almost all kids love plain white bread with cream cheese, (3) many kids like Gravlax a la Denver if they can pick off the raw tomato.
- Clever Jn. pointed out that snipping the dill with scissors is a much faster way to distribute it over gravlax than trying to pluck bits off with my fingers. Go Clever Jn.! Even better than Clever Hans!
- If the platter comes back with a bunch of empty toothpicks, it is kosher to reuse the toothpicks when making the next serving.**
Here's how it looks, mid-prep. Mmm, pile o' salmon:
*If you Google gravlax and recipe***, the first two recipes come from Cooking for Engineers (click for great photos) and Mark Bittman. These recipes and others disagree on many points. For example: Bittman says "It is imperative that the fish be as absolutely fresh as possible," while Cooking for Engineers says, "for safety [in killing parasites] use salmon that has been commercially frozen or freeze the salmon yourself to at least -10°F (-23°C) for at least 7 days." While reviewing these and other recipes just now, I realize that I used way more salt than anyone would recommend for 1.5 lbs. of fish. I'm not sure why I did that, but I'm glad I didn't ruin the product.
**Lookit, if the guests think it's OK to put their used toothpicks back on the serving platter... What do they think, we've got nothing better to do than wash plates all day? One platter, four batches of canapes, then wash: that's my game plan. I seem to remember an etiquette expert advising "use your pants cuffs" to a gentleman who didn't know where to put his used toothpicks.
***How do you indicate Google search terms while clearly distinguishing whether you want the terms to be in quotes or not? For my search, I inserted the words gravlax and recipe, but I didn't join them in quotes. Normally, I'd be inclined to say, "Google "gravlax recipe" (no quotes)" but that seems annoying and/or longwinded ****. How about if I wrote "Google gravlax recipe". Would that be clear? And if I wanted to search for something in quotes, I could say, "Google "Penny Marshall is my friend""
UPDATE, 3/09: Google uses square brackets to describe what goes in the search field. Thus:
Google [gravlax recipe]
is different from
Google ["gravlax recipe"]
BTW, "Penny Marshall is my friend" (in quotes) is a Googlenope. Unfortunately for fun, Google no longer returns a nearly blank page for a Googlenope. Instead, they return a "no result for phrase in quotes" message followed by results for the words not searched as a phrase. Ah well.
****I know, I know, so do I. On a regular basis. But at least here in blogland you can skim. Or skip. Or skip to my lou.
Aug 07, 2008
Convention Capitalism at $1,000+ per night
We would like to rent our comfortable house out to a respectful non-smoking Obama supporter for the Democratic National Convention. We are located in the Bonnie Brae area of Denver, near the intersection of University and Louisiana which is an established and family oriented neighborhood. The house has two queen size beds and a full size bed so six can sleep comfortably. We have a great patio with a brand new outdoor grill.
We welcome dogs (sorry, no cats) with a non-refundable $100 deposit. Our house has a dog door leading to our fenced in backyard. We are 0.9 miles from the fabulous Wash Park (www.washpark.com). We would like a minimum of a three night stay and we can be flexible enough for up to eight nights. The price range would be from $1,500/night for a short stay (3 nights) and $1000/night for longer stays (4-8 nights).
Greetings from Denver where I'm hanging out for a few weeks with friends. The DNC convention is coming to town in a couple of weeks, and ho-lee-cow do people know how to make a dollar. While I know I live in cheap-land and am not used to paying retail for much, I'm still astonished at what things are going for in Denver. A basement apartment that sleeps three is going for $300 a night, and that's by far the most affordable thing I saw on Craigslist except for the tent space for $25 (no word on whether you can use a bathroom.)
I wonder whether the Craigslist poster quoted above is an Obama supporter who wants like-minded people in their home, or a non-Obama supporter who wants to make a dollar off the people who are.
Humane Society of Utah Billboard
I'm hoping that above this text you can see a little bit of I-15 in Salt Lake City from the Google Maps Street View. If not, click here.
Above and to the right of the nearest car in the right hand lane -- do you see the billboard that looks like a photo of a cat? It's a photo of a cat, from the Humane Society of Utah that owns this fantastic electronic billboard that rotates a series of pics of animals up for adoption. More about their five-year-old billboard here from the Deseret News, "Fido, Fluffy on Sign Hard to Pass Up".
Jul 30, 2008
Salt Lake City Public Library, Part II
In the Part I: a T-shirt and a professional photo.
Today, a telephone photo from the roof, looking southwest toward the Wasatch Mountains:
AND two wholly unprofessional videos important only because one of them takes you on a rooftop view of Salt Lake City and the nearby mountains. Download salt_lake_city_public_library_rooftop.3gp This first video starts at the top of the 6-story arcing stairway that goes all the way to street level. I've never seen anything like it and I think it's very cool. At 1:25 in the movie, you can briefly see the bottom end. Oh and cute: the top stair is marked "The beginning" (text oriented to be read if you're facing downhill) and "The end" (oriented the other way, of course).
I Can't Swear on Sundays
Photo snapped yesterday at the unbelievably awesome Salt Lake City Public Library.
To mention briefly before getting back to work tasks:
1. Utah is estimated to be ~63% Mormon (in 2004). Salt Lake City's numbers are a bit lower. The city has long been described as a place with two identities -- the Mormon and the non-Mormon. I can believe it. I often feel the same way about my Durham.
2. The Salt Lake City Public Library is really frickin' incredible. See pic below (courtesy of their website which has more pix). They have a 6th floor rooftop garden with 360 degree views of downtown and the Wasatch Valley. Holy crap.
Jul 28, 2008
Balls of Salt Lake Fury
So far, Salt Lake City is more like salty sweat city.
Above, my Aunt Beth's husband Karry and his home court table with deer in the basement, where I've spent more waking hours than anywhere else in the State of Utah. After five days, I'm 19-26 against Karry, 5-3 against other relatives. Karry's definitely got my number but I think I make him run more than he's used to, so I can take comfort in that.
My psychological wiring at ping pong: After a couple of "on" games when my speed and spin completely gel, I start second guessing my body and immediately lose confidence in my topspin control. This is invariably followed by either (a) a boring and less effective mess of pushing or slicing the ball back, or (b) completely spastic smashes that can go anywhere including backward. Then after I lose a few games, my mind relaxes and the body re-starts doing what it's supposed to. Maddening.*
BTW, have you seen Balls of Fury? It has a few great moments that had me in stitches but the rest, not so much. Star Dan Fogler is played as a discount Jack Black (in the same way Jacob Pitts is a discount David Spade in EuroTrip). Some of the ping pong scenes are great (especially the ones with Maggie Q) but not long enough. Perhaps best is James Hong as the ping pong master. You may remember him as the maitre-d' in Seinfeld's The Chinese Restaurant. Hong was born in Minneapolis.
*I also have this problem with tennis, but not with pool. I play no other sports. I do not recall having this problem when I used to fence.
Jul 27, 2008
Diamse Family Reunion, Salt Lake City
Pictured here, a mess of people I'm related to in one form or another. The largest fraction of folks in these pictures are Diamses, most of whom are LDS folk, and most of whom live near each other. Thus the reason for having the reunion in Salt Lake City. Behind us, the Wasatch Mountains.
A few Ganzons (which include me) came out for the event, as well. This is the first time I've ever hung out with any third cousins (or second cousins once removed, or first cousins twice removed) in any quantity. It was fun. I had to ask a bunch of people how we were related, so I could be sure to properly call someone auntie, uncle, or cousin, regardless of age. (Note that in Asian-land, you would call your parents' cousins auntie or uncle. The terms don't only apply to your parents' siblings.)*
My grandfather, Felix Diamse Ganzon, was first cousin to the Diamse who was father to five or six of the senior generation now living in Salt Lake City. It's nice to meet more kin, especially when they're all very fun, and all so extremely kind and generous. My understanding of the word "hospitality" is getting both wider and deeper on this little road trip around the country. It's also a pleasure to spend more time around people of the LDS, of which I've known almost nothing. I'm surprised that one of the most important features of my trip so far has been to spend time with evangelical Christians (in Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming) and now with Mormons.
*the song "I'm my own grandpa" did come up, which gave folks a chance to hear my North Carolina accent.
Jul 25, 2008
Salt Lake City Pride -- Awesome Photo Not by Me
I think this picture is from last month's Utah Pride festival in Salt Lake City. I yoinked it from the User Photos section of the Salt Lake City Weekly -- "Salt Lake City's Independent Guide to News, Arts, and Entertainment". (You know, them liberals.)
So anyway -- here I am in Salt Lake City, which is larger than I thought and of course more diverse than I thought. I haven't had much reason to think about this place except for its cultural significance as home of the Latter Day Saints, and for the 2002 winter olympics. I'm here now for a week visiting family and hope to learn more.
Jul 20, 2008
Santa Please Stop Here -- Iowa City Flood
"Santa please stop here" says the little red sign. I didn't hear much about the Iowa City floods while I was in Honduras last month, but when I swung through town today I thought I'd help out with some of the cleanup.
In its way, volunteering for cleanup can be fun work. You meet lots of people. Feel like you're being useful. Do something different. Get lots of thank-yous (and a good workout). The local TV station grabbed me for a quick interview and they asked me why I volunteered. I told the TV guy that a big reason I and many people volunteer is because it makes us happy -- not just because we're doing something we're supposed to do or need to do for someone else. Anyone who says different is lying, or lacks self-awareness, or is some kind of freaky angel person. I also told the TV guy that altruism does exist and is a real motivation, but that I doubt it's ever the only one. Incidentally, I'm glad I'm doing the helping and not needing the help. The ability to give help seems an easier virtue than the ability to accept it.
Here's a pic of what people look like after three hours of slinging heavy, wet, abrasive bags of sand and riverwater:
Not evident -- just how much everyone's biceps hurt. I told the volunteer coordinators that they need to put packets of ibuprofen in every lunchbag. Forget the bags of Fritos and chips (that everyone seemed to skip in favor of a second sandwich) -- people need their vitamin I!
In any case, this was a long day that started with bedding down at a Flying J truck stop in Davenport (where I was wakened at 3:30 a.m. by the water sprinkler shooting through my window), continued with the flood cleanup followed by a swim in a beautiful Iowa City park pool, followed by a spontaneous invitation to an afternoon wedding (to which I got to wear a sarong and my knock-off Crocs, bought at the Flying J that morning), and eventually -- finally -- hauling my luggage into an over-priced Super 8 motel down the road from Grinnell College. ("Grinell Iowa -- where the hell is it? who the hell cares!" said my Grinnell friends' t-shirts back in the 80s). The first four days of this road trip have been really nice. For this once, it's nice to be crossing America slowly on the ground where I can see every mile of changing landscape, instead of the normal voyage a 30,000 ft.
*Speaking of virtue: In recent years I've come to the sense that our common concepts of "character" and "virtue" are really (a) more complex than I can get my mind around or (b) not real. Philosophers have written on these topics at length, but my way of looking at it for now is more simple: there are some acts that make the world better and some things that don't. Acts that make the world better I call "virtuous". And "character" is what you have if you make a habit of doing "virtuous" things. Simple enough, right? But when it comes to judging souls, forget it. Why do some people do more "virtuous" things than others, and get assigned the label of good "character"? Beats me. Are their souls any better or worse than someone else's? Yeesh -- what a question. I try not to worry about assigning labels. I just think that encouraging "make the world better" more often than "make the world worse" is a good idea, whether the person getting encouraged is me or someone else.
Jul 06, 2008
"Smiles Everyone, Smiles!"
At first glance, the coconut shell beanie is indistinguishable from the Dave-fro. But indeed, it's something he found on a northern Utila beach (which may or may not have been Rock Harbor) along with tons of broken shoes and other detritus.
When Dave hopped off the Utila Princess ferry, I forgot to greet him with a "welcome to Fantasy Island. I am your host, Mr. Roark." Fortunately, he still managed to catch on to the smile thing and made lots of friends, most of whom he shared with me. Yay for the smiling coconut beanie head!
A week or two later at a restaurant on the Honduran mainland, I overheard an American guest say this about his attractive-but-never-smiling waitress, "Man, it's like she ate a shit sandwich last week and the taste is still in her mouth." Though it was rude of him to speak so loudly and crudely of a nearby human being (who he presumed knew only Spanish), I have to admit his description wasn't far off.*
Smiling is an interesting thing. Filipinos do it all the time. Koreans not so much. Americans do it all the time (outside certain cities and regions, anyway). Russians not so much. Lonely Planet says this about the Russians:
On a personal level, Russians have a reputation for being dour, depressed and unfriendly. In fact, most Russians are anything but, yet find constant smiling indicative of idiocy, and ridicule those who constantly display their happiness.
Heh. One of my uncles is Russian. I won't say whether he smiles a lot, but I will mention that my dad and I have an itch to visit Russia and to maybe do a river cruise along the Volga. I've read that Moscow is craaayzee expensive but that other places may be more manageable. If and when I find out for real, I'll let you know. Just look to see whether my blog posts from there have me smiling or frowning.
*She smiled once while talking with me -- whether out of good will or amusement at my grammar, I'll never know.
Jul 05, 2008
Dancing and Snarking with "Where The Hell is Matt?"
Things like this make me cry like a happy bride. Matt travels the world and gets people to dance with him.
The Where the Hell is Matt FAQ made me laugh almost as much as the video made me cry. Turns out that Matt traveled on Stride Gum's nickel, and he's low-key snarky (or at least awfully cavalier) in responding to his fan questions.
I'm too lazy/chicken to come up with and execute anything like this dance video* while I'm traveling, but I'm glad that Matt did it. And I'm glad that Stride "The ridiculously long lasting gum"** sponsored him. I look forward to being wealthy so that I can sponsor stuff (or at least give out awards).
*some time ago I wanted to tour the world visiting libraries. I'd take photos and do interviews. I guess I could try that, though I'm feeling less excited about it than I used to -- perhaps because the internet has replaced a whole lot of what used to make libraries magic for me.
**coming soon, a blog on Black Black gum.
Jul 04, 2008
Snorkeling, Sunburning and Sustainability in Utila
Coral reefs. They might not look like much from above water, but underneath, they're something.
I went snorkeling here for about an hour. The coral and the fish were fascinating, as was the experience of swimming past the edge where I couldn't see anything but water and some refracted light. It was dreamy. And eventually sunburny (my first peeling burn since ~1980).
Below, a Stoplight Parrot Fish photographed by Adam Laverty, pulled from his gallery at AboutUtila.com.
I saw several of these fish (~12-16" long?) in various places around the island. But in other places, I saw almost nothing.
Utila was hit hard in 1998 by a bleaching event and hurricane Mitch. This
combination was likely responsible for a large amount of dead shallower
corals <10m dominated by Montastraea annularis (mainly on the south side of
the island). Since Ma is struggling to recruit across the Caribbean the
ability for this to recover seems limited. As the cover of this major reef
builder declines the space is increasingly being taken up by algae, likely
hindering coral recovery further. In Utila this is augmented by the
decreasing population of herbivorous grazers through by catch and removal of
top predators, grouper etc.
Utila is a classic example of the necessity for ecological balance on reef
systems and the limited capacity of reefs to recover from major disturbances
if their fish populations (and other key species) are removed.
On the north side of the island and on the outer banks and deeper reefs,
coral cover is far healthier but their resilience is also likely to be
severely degraded, they just haven’t been as impacted by external influences
On the UCME website, Box says that he hopes that the reefs will still be around when his daughter is old enough to dive.
Jun 30, 2008
This Morning This Morning
A joke about jazz musicians is that they don't realize that 10 o'clock actually comes twice in one day. As for me, today I had two mornings.
From my first morning at Omega Tours Lodge in Honduras, Alexandra and her elegant work of flowers and grasses:
She proudly pointed out that she found all the blossoms loose on the ground, and plucked nothing except for the grass at center.
I hope you can see how pretty her work is (click to make larger), with different plants at the center of each "petal". She really has a fine eye. On the previous night, her sister made a big heart that everyone carefully stepped around. I think one of the dogs messed it up, but that was a fine excuse for Alexandra to start a new piece. (Makes you think of the monks and their mandalas, doesn't it?)
After breakfast, I scooted downhill to La Ceiba from which I hoped to catch the 10 a.m. bus to San Pedro Sula. But there weren't any seats left so my new travelpals Ben and Mariam joined me for a fun few hours at the mall where I got some work done, too. Yay for the few hours of delay!
And after the redeye flight from San Pedro Sula, here I am blogging from JFK airport for morning number two. Here's the sunrise:
Those odd lights in the sky? Not proof that the MIB movies were speaking truth. Just reflections of lights in the terminal hallway. Sorry.
After a month of ample and often-yummy meals for ~$4 to $8, it's a surprise to see airport sandwiches in plastic wrap for $7.95. The music on the JFK public address system also surprises. They just went from Kool and the Gang's "Cherish the Love" to Feist's "One Two Three Four" (see here for Feist pitching iPods.) And a few songs later, Karla Bonoff's "Personally" followed by someone's cover of Joni Mitchell's "River"
A great travel writer (whose name escapes me at the moment) says that travel ought be done as much as possible by land (or water) and by daytime so you can feel yourself moving across the world. Airline travel at night may as well be a teleporter for the disconnect from geography. Next up for me: a cross-country US road trip, most of which will happen with daylight driving, I suspect. We'll see how I feel about airplanes after a few thousand miles of that.
Unrelated note: the first message you get upon arriving in the United States via JFK is the public address system telling you not to accept rides from unsanctioned cab or limo drivers, who might overcharge you and might not be insured. "Welcome to America. Don't trust people." Though to be honest, this is not far from the experience you'd get in, say, Cuba or Honduras.
Jun 29, 2008
Note the green roof :-) This unoccupied (?) cabin is on the eastern bank of the Rio Cangrejal. Across the river (not visible here) is the Pico Bonito reserve. A large fraction of Honduras (~40% by some counts I've read) is protected from development. Illegal logging, etc., has been rampant in the past but some folks at the Omega Jungle Lodge where I've been staying say that in the last few years, deforestation has decelerated dramatically.
Government commitment (i.e., military guarding against illegal removal of timber) that has come in part from encouragement/pressure by Honduran and international environmental groups has been the key element.
"I hate to say it but money and guns are the only two things that people understand here," says one European expat who has been doing ecological work in Honduras for some years.
Honduras has incredible natural resources: gorgeous mountains and coast, good weather, ease-of-access from developed economies... All the physical resources you'd need to succeed at, say, sustainable tourism. What's missing?
In any case, I surely encourage you to visit Honduras. More posts on the place shortly, probably after I get back to the US on Monday.
Jun 25, 2008
"The World Is A Big Place..
I think that Brian said something like this in an old comment, but I can't find where. Hey, Brian -- care to remind?
I've lived in or around Durham since 1983, so it's no surprise when I run into friends or acquaintances when I'm wandering around town. In the early 90s when I was making a lot of short trips around the US, I noticed that one of the weird sensations of travel was the absence of seeing familiar faces while walking the streets of, say, Atlanta or Chicago. Thus the special fun of unexpectedly running into someone I knew, whether a Chapel Hill acquaintance at the New York Public Library, or a college schoolmate at a Washington DC bar.
Now when I travel for pleasure instead of work, I usually stay in places long enough to get to know a few people and then run into them around town. It's happening regularly here in La Ceiba (population ~150k) even though I've only been here a few days, and it helps me at least feel like I'm actually in the community, not just visiting.
But here are better stories from my friends, paraphrased best as I remember:
In the summer of 1990, my friends John and Julie were traveling separately through Europe. They made tentative plans to meet at the Duomo on a particular date and time, and John made it there. But Julie and her travelmate were put off by the World Cup crowd, and decided not to push into Florence (figuring that John had done the same). A week or two later, John was walking through the Zagreb train station when someone grabbed him from behind, pinning his arms to his side. His life flashed before his eyes as he realized he was going do die behind the Iron Curtain and that his parents would never know what happened. But of course it was just Julie.
Around the same time, my friend Geoff was traveling in India. Outside the Taj Majal, an Indian man walked up and asked, "excuse me, sir, I noticed your Duke t-shirt and wonder if you went to school there?" Geoff noticed that the Indian man was wearing a Carolina t-shirt, and then he noticed the man's face. "Whoa, Dipak!" "Whoa, Geoff!!" They'd been hallmates a few years earlier at NCSSM.
Back in the 70s, my friend Sheila was traveling in Greece when she met some friendly guys on a ferry boat. The odd thing was that they claimed to have met her before, a few weeks earlier in Czechoslovakia. Sheila said there was no way that could have happened, as she'd never been to Czechoslovakia, but they insisted -- repeating various parts of their conversations, etc., and things she'd told them about herself which sounded strangely familiar. That's when Sheila finally figured it out... they had met her twin sister who (Sheila finally remembered) was traveling concurrently through Eastern Europe.
Europeans sometimes mock Americans as being overly fixated on their college alumnihood, what with all the car stickers, t-shirts, and hats, etc. But these things are useful. Three weeks ago I ran into a team of anthropology students from UNC-A whom I recognized because one of them (a guy who'd gone to E. Chapel Hill High School) was wearing a school hat. This week I spotted some kids from Winston Salem ("Forsyth County Day School" on their t-shirts), and last week I also ran into some NC medical students while walking around the restaurant/bar part of town on the beach (pegged not because of their clothes, but because one of them called out "hey, y'all -- let's take another taxi, this one's full.").
But anyway, I'll leave you with my favorite small world story, which I've probably told you before:
Back in '84, my Dad met a UNC anthropologist during an Indonesian gamelan performance at Duke. They got to talking, and figured out that the anthropologist and his new wife had lived with my grandparents for a year in Indonesia back in the 60s while he was working on his doctoral dissertation. They adored my grandparents in Indonesia, and we've been extended family in North Carolina ever since.
The world is a big place, but it often folds back on itself.
Addendum and case in point: ten minutes after I originally posted this blog, I left the 'net cafe to get something to drink, and while I was walking through the food court I saw a woman with a Durham Regional Hospital bag. So of course I asked her if she was from Durham and she said, "Didn't we meet outside of El Guapo's last week?" Oh, duh. It was one of the medical students. (Hi Katie!)
2nd addendum: reader Glenn is surely considering a comment along the lines of "while La Ceiba may have 150,000 people, it's likely that certain classes/types of people are likely to concentrate in similar areas. For example, the mall has the town's most expensive shops, and people who go there are likely to visit the town's five or six most expensive restaurants, and none of the town's cheapest barrios. The self-selection effectively creates a much smaller "town" in which to run into each other." If he's thinking this, of course he's right. (See also blogpost Durham: Bimbé Festival) But still...
A related story about self-selected groups on similar life-paths: my friend Kristina (a fellow Brown alum) spent the mid-90s traveling around the world, working with various NGOs. First she went to India for several months, and then she went to Tanzania. While she was in Tanzania, she heard from her Indian friends that another Brown alum had recently started working at the Indian NGO. A year later, after Kristina had returned to the US, the folks from Tanzania told her about a new cool woman who was working there and of course it was the same one. A year after that, Kristina enrolled at the UNC School of Public Health, and when she went to her first faculty advisor meeting, guess who was also there? Contextual note: all this information moved around the globe before email was in common use in any of three countries mentioned.
Jun 24, 2008
I Said 'Hop In'!
Best pal Dave next to our very small plane*, 6 a.m. on Utila just before scooting to La Ceiba by way of Roatan.
On the previous day, someone expressed surprise that we had been best friends for so long, and wondered if this meant we weren't good at making new friends. Interesting.
She had another theory that held maybe a little more water : if you're very smart, it's harder to make new friends because most other people aren't smart enough to be interesting. I could see where she was coming from, but I think she was arguing from an exaggerated sense of scarcity, and a constricted sense of what makes people interesting and/or appealing.
*Despite how it looks, the plane is not actually smaller than Dave's head. It's "perspective". But doesn't it remind you of Mr. Burns' Spruce Moose? "Smithers, I've designed a new plane. i call it the spruce moose, and it will carry 200 passengers from New York's Idlewild airport to the Belgian Congo in seventeen minutes!" Yoinked from here.
Burns: Now, to the plant! We'll take the Spruce Moose. [picks up the model] Hop in!
Smithers: But, sir --
Burns: [pointing a gun] I said, hop in.
"A Three... Hour... Tour"
You start out on a nice catamaran sail around Utila with Dave and Captain Lisa:
And stop for nice snorkeling atop the coral reefs by Water Cay:
And then, 8 hours later, having made it 7/8 around the island (about 300 yards off the bottom-left point with the big breakers that would pretty much smash you to bits):
...the wind dies (as it never ever does just before sundown).
So you (eventually) flag down a fishing boat and get your butts towed in:
Re-live the relief, in video: Utila Sail Tow In (6 MB) Mpeg
Dave's version of the story is here at Borogoves' "Third Way Round Utila". He remembers us as being further out of danger than I recall. But either way, we didn't feel like getting stranded on the water after sundown, not sure which way the currents would take us. Yay for the fishing boat.
Aerial photo of Utila (looking west-southwest) from somewhere on the web. Our trip started at the center of the populated bay, and our mid-day stop was at the tiny cays sort of visible at center top of photo.
Jun 23, 2008
Dance of the Street People
American Dance Festival. I just remembered that it's going on right now up in Durham, and I remember the quote of some Ninth Street business owner who said upon the dancer's arrival each year, "It's the return of the posture people!".
Back in 2000, I saw Mark Dendy's "I'm Going to my Room to be Cool Now and I Don't Want to be Disturbed," and my God it was loud. I think of that performance almost every time I hear "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone", and I thought of it again when I saw this friendly guy on W. Main Street in a year or two ago. I thought I might send a copy of the photo to the Dendy folks, but then I discovered that the dance company had shut down some years ago. Dendy is still around but not his dance company.
In any case, I wanted to mention that there's street people, and there's street people. The guy pictured here seemed to be high-functioning alcoholic when I met him. I don't remember ever seeing him at Urban Ministries of Durham, but on this occasion, he was a perfectly amicable guy to chat with for a while. Yesterday I met someone like him on the streets of La Ceiba Honduras. "Stone" (his nickname, not a pseudonym) is a recovering crack addict Honduran who teaches English (he grew up on one of the Bay Islands where they speak both English and Spanish) and writes poetry about staying away from drugs. He was sitting outside my hotel when I was looking for folks to share some excess candy with and we hung out for a bit. He's pretty funny.
There are sadder sights in La Ceiba. Though it's nothing like, say, India, there are still more than a few kids on the streets at night looking for a few Lempiras or some food. I don't know what the "responsible system" is down here, but I've avoided giving money to any kids so far. I've also avoided eye contact, and I can't help but feel some shame about that. But shame is nothing compared to hunger, right? Fortunately for the kid on this evening, another kid from the hotel ran into the restaurant and brought him a small meal. When the kid approached me a second time, I gave him a fresh pack of gum.
Jun 01, 2008
Cenotes Near Mérida
This is why people should buy underwater cameras. Above, Tom shot by his friend Jeff or maybe the other way around. We were swimming at one of the cenotes near Mérida*. Note the stalactites below the water.**
The Yucatan peninsula has several thousand cenotes -- freshwater sinkholes that are just awesome for swimming. So perfect, it's almost a moral obligation to do it skinny style.
The one pictured here is ~80 ft. across and ~30 ft. deep, with the water surface ~30 ft. below ground level. Here's a shot of Tom (or maybe Jeff) leaping in:
*We were on a tour run by Sr. Raul Espejo, an excellent tour guide and even more excellent gentleman. Raul's tour company works closely with the folks at Hostel Nómadas (which is run by a different Raul, just so you don't get confused.)
**Tom (or maybe Jeff) has a nice mnemonic for remembering the orientation of stalactites and stalagmites. The stalacTites hang down from the ceiling, like a capital "T". The stalagMites grow up from the ground, the like the humps of an "M". This is much better than the mnemonic I'd been using since I was little: stalaCtites have a "C" as in "Ceiling".
May 31, 2008
Mirko and Katy -- Global Travelers
Here are Katy and Miroslav -- the two most amazing people I met during my travels in Mexico and Cuba:
Mirko (age 35) grew up in the Czech Republic, and Katy (30) grew up in Slovenia. They met seven years ago while traveling in India, and they've been together ever since -- earning their living by making jewelry and selling on the streets.
Mirko and I had a nice chat about things, and I was just so pleased to meet two people who had such a sense of freedom and peace. Here are some of his unedited comments, which I was scribbling in the margins of a newspaper while we talked:
[On being a beggar for a year in Japan] Begging is an excellent school. You have a lot of time to observe the world. It can teach you to trust. But you have to be a person to learn. Many beggars are stuck. It should be a station to move from.
Fear is a powerful thing. If you give up, it will completely consume you. But if you trust... If you give yourself to Nature, which is like our mother... Even if I didn't have food for 2 days, I take it as a fast.
We trust. We wish to go somewhere so we believe and then it will come. We don't lose the trust.
Japan was nice. We go to the convenience stores to use the toilet - no charge. They have hot water that people use for ramen - no charge. They don't mind. It's not just that they don't complain. I think it their pleasure to give you the hot water (Katy: I never had the feeling they were unhappy for us to be there (but were quiet to be polite). But they do have signs: "do not sleep" in stores. The workers are exhausted.
In communist time in Czechoslovakia it was illegal to have no work or accommodation.
In Isla Holbox [Mexico] we sold for several days. The police did not mind. But one day the police said, "excuse us -- we don't mind, but some of the other stores here are complaining that you are taking their business, so we need to ask you to quit selling in the park." But then another artist -- an artisan with a store, said, "you can use the sidewalk in front of our place to sell."
I cannot visit the US because the US requires a Visa. And I haven't been documented for years.
[talking about Spartans and the way they raised kids through violent training that was sometimes fatal]. You know, the Spartans and the Mayans and some other people -- they were just making sure that the bodies were strong enough to live a tough life. If they weren't, then it was OK for them to die. Maybe they'd get better bodies the next time.
Katy and Mirko have slept with a monkey.
May 23, 2008
Fernando Plays Accordion -- We Need More Busking
This is Fernando Gonzales de Jesus, playing near the Plaza Grande in Mérida, MX. He and his daughter Marisol are from Oaxaca (about two days' distance) but they came here in search of economic opportunity. Same story the world over, I guess.
Fernando has a cool busking technique. He'll play a few bars in the normal way (left hand for chords and rhythm, right hand for melody), then he'll stick his right hand out for donations while the left hand keeps chugging along. Download a 3GPP clip of Fernando here.
After a while, I felt badly for yapping with Fernando while he was trying to earn some money, so I went to a nearby cafe to buy dinner for him and his girl (hamburgers, horchata, and a jamaica agua fresca). After I returned with the food, Fernando asked if I wanted to play, and I took a five-minute shift on the squeezebox.
Apparently the people of Mérida prefer his Oaxacan music to my waltzes, tangos, and randomalia. I didn't make one frickin' peso. (Though my cultural theory gets busted when I remember my German sax player friend who did alright about two blocks away.)
Back here in Durham: I'd love to see some
more any busking. But as Barry R says at the Dependable Erection, Durham isn't the most busking-friendly place. The folks at Southpoint seem to have juggled around on this one. Artsplosure is also working out the details for their one weekend a year. Sigh.
May 22, 2008
Vampiro at El Trapiche - Fun With Beets and Celery
I've already pointed to this pic at Emaya's blog, but I wanted to share it again for a different reason: the vampiro, shown above (the drink in the glass, not the woman at the table) at El Trapiche in Mérida, MX.
At El Trapiche, the vampiro is a straight-up juice made from freshly pressed oranges, carrots, beets, and celery. No sugar, ice, or alcohol -- just health and yumminess. Drink one and you won't need your daily vitamin.
I'm not sure what proportions go into the mix. On its best days (for me) the beetiness was noticeable but not dominant (i.e., you got the flavor but not the mouthfeel) and there was just enough celery to add some green sharpness, spiciness and "breadth" to the flavor.*
As served, the vampiro was always too rich for me, so I'd order a bottle of sparkling mineral water and a glass for cutting each vampiro in two, which is why the bit of vampiro pictured above is a bright red instead of its naturally deep blood red.**
A few more things about El Trapiche. First: the staff are nice and will take you dancing. Second: do you notice how the chair in the foreground is opened out
from the table just a little? That's a nice touch at many Mexican
restaurants: the chairs are all angled out as if to say, "please, have
a seat." Lastly: you can see the street view over here at Flickr. The two women pictured are standing on the sidewalk just outside where Emaya was sitting.
**blood red. Thus the name "vampiro." I didn't catch on until I'd had two or three. As much as I like words and languages, I'm slow at noticing some things. Didn't realize until reading Xta's blog four years ago that "Colorado" was named after "colored" in Spanish. Didn't realize until my dad mentioned it that "Sanka" was derived from the French "sans caféine". Didn't notice that the Singapore/Malaysian restaurant wasn't pronounced "MARE-lee-on" but was rather "Mer-lion" as in "sea lion" as in the mascot of Singapore. Of course I sometimes go the other way. At a steakhouse in ~1981, I thought "Dieter's delight" was some German dish, probably with bratwurst, instead of the low-calorie cottage cheese and lettuce thing that ended up on my plate.
May 18, 2008
La Ceiba, Honduras -- Destination Next
POST-VISIT NOTE: I had an excellent visit in La Ceiba. All the people I met there were remarkably kind and welcoming, though it is fair to say that one of the ways they expressed their kindness was in warning me to be careful about many parts of town. I was snapping photos near the golf course (while walking to the mall) when a couple stopped in their truck to warn me that someone had been mugged the day before, on the block where I was standing. So I asked them if they wouldn't mind giving me a ride to the mall, and they were happy to oblige. On another occasion, a woman who had given me directions felt badly that the place I wanted to visit was unexpectedly closed, so she gave me a tour on her own. And on another evening, I went out in the Zona Viva with the guys who worked at my hotel after they warned me not to go alone to the block I wanted to visit. While I wouldn't describe La Ceiba as a gorgeous place with tons of sightseeing and recreational opportunities, I would still say that it is a beautiful town and a great place to spend some time actually meeting people as they normally live, not in the context of tourism.
Original blog post:
This is La Ceiba (pronounced "la SAY-bah"), on the northern coast of Honduras where I plan to visit from June 3 to 29.
Several people I know who have been there say, "it's a dirty nothing of a town, you'd rather go somewhere else. Another country, even." But when I explain that part of my point in traveling is to see different, not just obviously appealing, they say, "well, you'll get different, alright." Hmph. I'm sure I'm going to love lots. There are even some cool bloggers there, and maybe I'll meet them!
Rightly or wrongly, Honduras is often labeled the "worst" country in Central America for its combination of poverty, bad government, bad luck, etc. Despite their good weather and interesting geography, they've only recently started any effort for international tourism. But the mountains next to La Ceiba have several new eco-tourism places that I plan to visit. And who knows -- maybe the deforestation and pollution across the country aren't as bad as I hear.
Regardless, the nearby Bay Islands of Utila and Roatán are said to be perfect for diving: great water, great flora and fauna, great weather, and good prices. My Australian pal Emaya* learned to dive there and has shared both underwater pix with sea turtles and abovewater pix with Scandinavians.
I've never tried scuba diving but I have friends who will shoot me if I don't take advantage of this trip.
We'll see. While I avoid sports that require expensive equipment, I also avoid getting shot.
*We met in Mérida. See bottom of this blog for a pleasant photo of her taken by yours truly.
La Ceiba photo credit: some unfortunately forgotten place on the internet. Don't you love the green mountains right next to the sea?
Apr 22, 2008
William Least Heat Moon on Seeing in Travel
In one chapter of Blue Highways,* William Least Heat Moon picks up a hitch-hiker who persuades him to take a different route.
She looked at me absently and said, "Hmmm," her curiosity easily satisfied. "If you took me on to Green Bay you could get the ferry across Lake Michigan. You wouldn't have to drive through Chicago. Please?"
I agreed to it although now I would be across Wisconsin without really seeing Wisconsin. Later, as we drove along state 29 through the moraine country of dairy farms and fine old barns, across the Embarrass River, it occurred to me that I had seen something of Wisconsin. What I hadn't seen was the Wisconsin of my blue highway preconceptions. Little is so satisfying to the traveler as realizing he missed seeing what he assumed to be in a place before he went.
*apparently my favorite book. See another quote here at the Archer Pelican. See interviews with William Least Heat Moon here from Powell's and here from Salon. I'm planning a long US road trip in July and August, and might do some pre-trip reading here at BlueHighways.org.
Apr 21, 2008
How to Get There from Here
People have wondered.
It's easier than many think.
Here's an FAQ from me to you.