Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tree, Takes 1 & 2

Took this photo a couple of days ago of an ivy branch wrapped around a tree branch.

 Branch 1

I sort of liked the weirdness of the random in focus parts, but the more I look at it, the less I like it.

So, today, I took this one:

Branch, Take 2

Better, but still not right.

50 Book Challenge Round Up


I've read exactly 50 books. Here are some of the highlights.

# of books read: 50
- female authors: 20 / male authors: 23 (authors only counted once)
- nonfiction: 4 / fiction: 46
* general fiction: 20
* children: 4
* fantasy: 11
* mystery: 5
* historical fiction: 6

- Longest Book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at 784pp
- Shortest Book: Silk at 91pp

Best Books

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Seriously, if you haven't read any books by David Mitchell, what are you waiting for? This is a beautiful book that starts on a slave ship, rockets through time up to the future, then goes all the way back again. Each of the time periods is connected nominally with the period before and after, though all of the connections aren't apparent until the reader reaches the end. Beautifully written, really interesting, and a fantastic read.

Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood
One of Atwood's earlier novels (pre-Handmaid's Tale) about a woman trapped in her life and fakes her death to escape. The book is about her life in its entirety, including her obesity, poor relationship with her mother and bad relationships with men. Easy to relate to, and wonderful to read.

One Perfect Day by Rebecca Mead
One of the non-fiction books I read this year, about the way that American weddings are less about love and more about consumption. Mead traces the production of wedding from the manufacture of the poufy white dress in a sweatshop in China to the marketing of carefully engineered wedding videos. If you've ever been in one of THOSE weddings, you should read this book.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Both a mystery and a study in the way that traumatic events can shape the lives of people, Case Histories is a fascinating read. It's rare that a book does everything well, but I was interested in the mystery, interested in the characters, and the book left me wanting to read more from this author.

As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway
This book traces the relationship of Anastacia and the narrator, two misfit high school students. Halfway through the book, Anna goes mysteriously missing, and it is up to the narrator to piece together the clues she's left behind to figure out what happened to her. There is plenty of room for the reader to come to their own conclusions as well. This book won some sort of "young adult" fiction award, but there is more than enough here to satisfy even the most discriminating readers.

In Search of King Solomon's Mines by Tahir Shah
I want Tahir Shah's job. He is a travel writer who choses insane places to visit and goes on crazy, unconventional journeys in the most amazing of ways. This book takes place in Ethiopia where Shah goes in search of the King Solomon's legendary gold mines. Shah is never condescending and seems to really care about the people he meets along the road. He is often self-depricating and very funny. If you like Bill Bryson, you will love Tahir Shah. If you don't like Bill Bryson, well, you'll still like Tahir Shah.

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I feel like I was the last person to read this book. The Time Traveller's Wifeis an unconventional romance between Henry (a time traveler) and Claire (a non-traveler). Part romance, part science-fiction, this book shows the way that Henry and Claire have known and influenced each other throughout their entire lives, thanks to the mystery of time travel. Beautifully written and totally original.

(and of course, Harry Potter).

Most Disappointing

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
A convoluted murder mystery set in Istabul involving the illuminated manuscript trade. While the historical bits about illuminated manuscripts were interesting, this book is bogged down in senseless exposition and strange, uninteresting subplots.

Stiff by Mary Roach
A book about what happens to human bodies after we die. Too much trying to be funny, and not enough science. If I pick a book out of the "science" section, I want to learn while I'm being entertained.

Shopgirl by Steve Martin
Flat and unemotional chick-lit written by a man. Steve Martin tries to be a serious author. Kind of.

An Imperfect Lens by Anne Roiphe
Three young french scientists go to Alexandria to discover the cause of cholera. I found this book to be almost clinical in the descriptions of the love stories between two of the main characters, and in the descriptions of the progression of cholera through Alexandria. I just couldn't get into this book.

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman
Henry is an early anatomist, and Gustine is the young prostitute that helps him acquire bodies during the cholera epidemic in England. Unlikeable historical fiction. I wanted the disease to win.

#50: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
fiction, (c) 1991 , 306pp
rating: ***

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has long been on my shelf of "frequent re-reads". So, for my 50th book of the year, I picked up Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, the first book of Douglas Adams' less well-known series. I use the word series loosely, as there are only two books. Adams left a third book, Salmon of Doubt unfinished at the time of his death.

The plot of this book is convoluted at best, but I'm going to try and describe it. The book starts with a series of unrelated events: an electric monk on a horse going through a door in a desert; a young woman going on a date; a young computer programmer having dinner with an old college professor. As the book goes on, these threads start to come together when a side-character is murdered. At that point, Dirk Gently (finder of missing cats and saver of the world) enters the picture to solve the crime using the interconnectedness of all things. Are you confused yet? You should be, because I was. Through a series of strange plot twists, including a time paradox, all things are resolved. To say anything about the plot twists would be to give too much away, so I'll have to leave you with just these things.

The only - the ONLY - reason this book works at all is because Douglas Adams is so clever. His satire of academics and computer programmers is dead on. A lot of the dialogue is really snappy, which is partially why his books lend themselves so well to radio shows and other serials. On the downside, I found the character of Dirk Gently to be irritating instead of endearing. Many of his monologues seemed to be an excuse for Douglas to show off just how freakin' clever he is - which turned me off, as a reader. The ending of the book seemed sort of slapped together as all of the pieces conveniently fall into place within a space of thirty pages.

If you like Douglas Adams' humor, and you've got nothing better to read, go ahead and pick up this book. But I wouldn't go looking for it.

Friday, December 28, 2007

I Am Legend: The Dog Always Gets The Short End of the Stick

There seems to be some kind of universal rule in movie-making where if a dog is featured in a storyline as the best-friend/loyal companion of a main character, something awful will happen to it.* That should tell you just about everything you need to know about I Am Legend, a movie I saw two days ago (not my selection).

I think the problems with I Am Legend can be summed up by three major flaws.

(1) I Am Legend is a zombie movie. Zombie movies can only be good if they abandon all hope of serious movie making and either descend into camp or play it like a straight blockbuster/thriller style movie (like 28 Days Later). I Am Legend does neither of these things. Through the first half of the movie, it attempts to be a "serious" film and explore the mental issues that the main character has after living entirely alone (with the exception of his faithful pup Sam). Robert Neville (played by Will Smith) spend much of the first hour wandering around Manhattan conversing with his dog and mannequins that he's set up around the city. While these scenes are supposed to be poignant, they end up being merely laughable.

(2) About halfway through, there is an abrupt transition between being a "serious" film and being an action/thriller. There are explosions. There are roaring albino zombies. There is gunfire. It has nothing to do with the first half of the movie.

(3) Will Smith can be a serious actor given the right script. While I didn't love The Pursuit of Happyness as a film, Will Smith was very good in it. But this is a bad script, and while Smith does the best he can with it, there is only so much one man can do. In the first thirty minutes, Smith tells his puppy dog to be careful, because he's not immune to the contact version of the virus. I'm surprised a little banner with the word "foreshadowing" didn't unfurl across the bottom of the screen.

The more I think about it, the less I liked it.

* This rule is null and void if the dog has a humanlike ability to communicate via voice overs (i.e. Dr. Doolitte or the Incredible Journey) or via the ability to communicate complex information through a stream of woofs (i.e. Lassie).

Thursday, December 27, 2007

PS: comments are now open to everyone.

#49: Greenfire

It has been my goal to read 50 books this year (and it will be my goal to read 50 books next year too). Since I've been getting flak for not posting here, perhaps I'll make more use of this space for book reviews and such.

Greenfire by Louise Titchener
fiction/fantasy, (c)1993, 306pp
rating: ***

Another book from the unread books from my youth. I'm pretty sure I probably bought Greenfire in 1993 when it was new. Had I read it when I was actually 13 years old, I might have really liked it. However, as an older and (at least, I would like to think) more sophisticated reader, it lacked something. Greenfire is a bit of fluff that, while mildly entertaining, is certainly not worth searching down.

Greenfire follows the story of Reawen, the demigod of water. She (and the other three elemental demigods) derive the majority of their power from magic stones. The king of the Peninsula ticked each of the domi (demigods) out of their stones and is using them to rule his kingdom. Reawen sets out on a quest to win her stone back and regain all of her powers. As she continues on her quest, she realizes that all is not what it originally seemed - the domi have been capricious and cruel and the kingdom that King Brone has established has people she comes to care about. Add in a war with a neighboring kingdom and a feud between wizards, and that's basically all of the main plot points of the book.

Greenfire is totally predictable and the writing is trite. It's not necessarily boring though. It would be a great book to bring on a plane or other long trip where you want something to occupy your mind, but not something that needs a lot of concentration. Bonus is that I wouldn't feel bad leaving it in whatever place I arrived in.

A Year in Photos!

A year in photos!

Point Lobos 5 grassveld Table Mountain Path 2 Thunder 2 Tired Flying Birds House of Neptune sunsetlodge-a chameleon 2 Butterfly Duo 2 Tailspot Blenny Fat Squirrel! 2

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Friday, June 22, 2007


My last three days in Florence were pretty good. Day 3 in Florence saw my going to Pisa and Lucca. So, there's this tower in Pisa and it, like, leans and stuff. Seriously, that's about what I can say about Pisa. There's also a pretty cathedral that looks pretty much like every other cathedral I've been in. There was a really interesting graveyard that has soil from Jerusalem. And there were hordes of people, all taking photographs pretending to push the tower back up. Everywhere I looked, people taking the same picture.

So I took a picture of the people taking pictures. Metaphotography!

Let's see, Lucca was good. It's a medieval walled city, so I took a wall walk as well as had a glass of wine, and saw their cathedral too. Guess what? It looked like all of the other cathedrals I've seen. But in all seriousness, Lucca was a very pretty little town.

Florence Day 4 was busy - I started with a walk through Boboli Gardens in Palazzo Pitti. They are huge. Enormous. I got so lost, and never did find half of what I was looking for. I went nice and early, so there weren't many people there which was nice. The coffeehaus in the park was not open, and that was not nice. I also went to the Academia and saw David in all of his marble glory. I know this is going to sound bad, but I still like all of the Bernini sculptures from the Galleria Borghese better. I know Michaelangelo is a genius, blah blah blah, and his scultpures are beautiful, but they don't make me want to go back and look at them over and over like the Bernini sculptures did. Aside from David, there is a bunch of the typical medeival church art that I hate ... and that's about it. The Academia was a huge waste of money for me. They also had a nice little exhibition on muscial instruments, but I'd seen a lot of the same sort of stuff at the Museum of Musical Instruments in Brussels ... and all done better. So yeah, very dissapointing. My last stop that day was to climb the 427 steps to the top of Brunelleschi's dome. Having read the book, I did really enjoy that - and not just for the spectacular view. The stairs you walk up are the original stairs that the masons used while building the dome. Also, some of the plaster is worn away so it's possible to see some of the building techniques King discusses in his book. All around, way cool. And I went nice and late in the day to both avoid lines/crowds and to get the best light. And if I ever finish editing my photos, you might get to see them.

My last day in Florence started at the Bargello museum, which was nicer than the Academia. Not nearly so crowded and had a very diverse and interesting collection. More statues by Michaelangelo which also failed to really blow me away, as well as a huge collection of small carved irony miniatures by various artists which were really cool. After that, I had lunch and then did a wine tour.

Now, I hate tours. HATE them. I have taken so many bad tours in my life - somewhere I have an account of the winner of my worst tour ever, which was my tour around the Greek islands where E was stolen by some Greek dancers and whirled around on top of their heads. Second runner up was the interminable Swamp Tour in New Orleans, and third runner up was the voodoo tour of St. Louis Cemetary No. 1 also in New Orleans wherein the tour guide told us we would die if we left the group. Now that I think about it, Cari was with me for all of those. So maybe she's particularly bad luck.

Regardless, this tour wasn't BAD, it just wasn't GOOD. It was huge, for one - at least 50 people on it. I had to sit up front in the bus with the tour guide because the only seat left was on the second level of the bus and the lurching around made me nauseous. We only got to taste three wines and none of them were very good, and there was a pointless stop for 30 minutes iin this little village where we all sort of milled around. Then the tour guide expounded on her anti-immigration, anti-Euro political views over the microphone on the bus for the entire hour back. So that was also a waste of money. Then I saw a small performance of La Traviata at one of the many churches, and that was quite nice. I had a perfect seat for it, and the two male singers were amazing, especially the one playing Alfredo's father. The woman playing Violetta was a little sharp in the first act in places, but picked it up in the second act. I nice end to the trip.

Today was my first day in Venice, and it's fabulous. My favorite city in Italy, but I'll discuss that after I get some sleep.

Monday, June 11, 2007

When in Rome ...

Oh, where to begin. I've been a bit remiss in my blogging and thus I have a lot to relate. Perhaps it will have to be done in bullet points. Or, even better ... roman numerals.

I. Our last day in Naples was a lot of fun. We saw a huge flavian amphitheater in Puzzoli, as well as a mostly dormant volcano called Solfatara. There were some other ruins in Puzzuoli that we also couldn't find. All in all, what we did see = very cool. What we didn't see = sad.

II. The next day we went to Rome! The place we stayed in Rome was really nice, especially for a hostel. The first night in Rome, we just visited the Colusseum where I took the requisite tourist photographs (forthcoming, as I am really behind on my photo sorting). The next day, we took the worst of the guided city bus tours - yes, worse than the bus tour where the commentary broke. This tour had almost no commentary at all, which is really frustrating when you're obviously passing tons of beautiful, historic places. After that, it was on to the Galleria Borghese in Villa Borghese park. It's a small art collection, and it houses a lot of very nice renaissance art, but the BEST part of it was the large collection of large Bernini sculptures. They were AMAZING. Photographs do not do them justice. Nor do the ones in fountains that have been exposed to the weather. The definition and the movement and the expression that he captures in stone is stunning. IMHO, more stunning that even Michaelangelo. We finished up the day with a walking tour of the oldest part of the city that hit the major highlights - Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon. Gorgeous all.

III. THe next morning, my mom left and I continued the journey through Italy solo-style. Don't weep for me; I've begun to get used to this travelling alone thing. I stayed one more day in Rome, which was probably a mistake. You see, George W. Bush was in town and there were loads of street closings and subway closings to protest him, his policies, his wars, and America in general. I actually think that GWB might be the worst president we've ever had. No other president in recent history (save maybe Nixon) has inspired so much hate for Americans - and all of this after the outpouring of well wishes after 9-11. GWB has squandered all of those good wishes and destroyed our relationship with the global community in such a short time.

THe protests really disrupted my day (and apparently the day of many others. I talked to two girls that had been stuck on a train for hours because of protests on the train tracks). I did see the Church of St. clemente, interesting because there are remains of two different churches below the present day church - on a 2nd century mithric temple, and one the 898 basilica. I then took a tour of the Palatine Hill and had the best of the tour guides. I wrapped up my day with a trip to the shrine of the Capuchin Monk where all of the burials are decorated with the bones of other disciples. One girl who was there with a group told the woman collecting donations that the display made her, 'sick to her stomach'. So much for respecting the beliefs of other. Wait, maybe that's why everyone hates Americans.

It took my ages to get home because of street closings. I had to go far out of my way. Then I had to switch hostel rooms, and my new room was in a different building. So out came all of my bags, but because of street closings I couldn't take the short way around. No, I had to take the long way. It took forever and I was hot and sweaty by the time I reached my new rooms.

IV. I left Rome the following day, after having a delicious breakfast of ricotta pancakes with fresh peaches, and having given Ingmar, the fat grey hostel cat, a fond belly stratch goodbye. I took the slow train to Florence, a trip that took 3.5 hours instead of 1.5. But, the train was comfortable and empty and cheap, so I can't really complain. Florence is beautiful, but smaller than I thought it would be, especially directly after the hustle of Rome and the gritty, spread out Naples. I can walk to the farthest thing on my map in about 30 minutes. There are lots of tourists here too, which is a blessing and a curse. It makes it easier to get around certainly, but it also makes it feel more like a very different part of America. Thus far, I have taken the tour of Palazzo Vecchio, which was not as cool as I expected it to be. It was the 'secrets' tour, supposed to show me all of the de' Medici hidden passages and such. And true, we saw one hidden passage and got to go up into the ceiling to see some of the original woodwork, but it wasn't all I hoped for. I also went to Santa Croce and saw the graves of Michealangelo, Dante, Machiavelli and others. I've also eaten a lot of good food - no Pizza since I've been in Florence. And a lot of the restaurants have menus of the day - a sort of prix fixe of house dishes. They're pretty cheap on the whole, especially for lunch, and I've been taking advantage of them.

So there you have it! All caught up.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Holy crap do I have a lot of photos. There is tons and tons of flickerage right now - I have everything posted through my second day in Naples. Stuff after that has not been sorted through yet.

So, here are my activities (in a semi-abbreviated format):

Day 2 in Naples
Day 2 dawned ... rainy. The rain seemed to be following me everywhere. My mom was quite depressed by all of the rain, but I convinced her to leave the hotel and brave some nice, inside activities. I was captivated by a photograph of the grand entryway in at the Palazzo Reale museum, the old royal palace. Thus, I broke my "no palace tour" rule and walked around the museum. It was BEAUTIFUL - not so much for the art (which was gorgeous, of course) but for the architecture.

Palazzo Reale 2

After that, my mom convinced me to do another one of those city sightseeing buses. It was okay - problem is that during the rain, you can't sit on top if you are poncho-less (as we were). So, it was really difficult to see much of anything. We got off at the Archaeological Museum to see lots of the cool stuff from Pompei and Herculaneum, amongst other things. By then, the rain had let up, so we were able to walk back to the bus station to pick up the citysighteeing tour for a different tour. Sadly, the commentary broke halfway through the trip, so it got a bit boring. Beautiful views though.

Statue Line up

Day 3: Isle of Capri
We took a houseboat across the bay of Naples to the Isle of Capri. En route, we met a very nice family of Canadians who were a little lost on the island, so they decided to tag along with us. We skipped the Blue Grotto, but took a bus up to Anacapri, the city at the top of the mountain. From there, we took a chairlift to the highest point on the mountain, Monte Solare. We decided to walk down - a 40 minutes easy walk in my guidebook - but a 60 minute excruciating downward slope filled with slippery shale in reality. The kids with the Canadians were tired after that, and they headed out, but my mom and I got some lunch and headed to Villa San Michele, a beautiful old church that Axel Muenthe converted into his private villa. The resulting museum is gorgeous, quiet, and all around fantastic. After that, we took an open taxi cab down to the lighthouse at Faro to "make some pretty pictures" and then back to Capri. From there, we headed down to the marina and came back to Napoli... just in time, as the skies opened up and it started to pour on us.

Day 4: Herculaneum and Sorrento
Herculaneum is amazing. Really, really amazing. Frescos still preserved, burned wood from when the firey ash from vesuvius poured down on the town. It's an archaeologists dream. We took the audioguide, which was interesting if loooooong. However, without the audioguide I would never know that it costs 11 asses to dig a well, and that bakers would put phalluses in their ovens for good luck. And I think my life has been enriched by that knowledge. (This reminded me of the "erotic room" at the archaeological musuem that has all of the sex statues from Pompeii and Herculaneum. I kept wanting to take pictures of everything but it seemed to immature. But there were men having sex with men, men having sex with women, and men having sex with goats. They really got around, those romans.)

After Herculaneum, we had pizza (again - no more pizza, please) and took the train to Sorrento. Sorrento is a tourist haven. In fact, I'm not sure I saw a single local save the shop keepers. We took a leisurely stroll around the city, the high point being a stroll through the lemon orchards and some limoncello tasting. It was delicious! (Unlike the rancid stuff we tried in Capri. I'm glad we gave limoncello a second chance.) We decided that the train ride was really uncomfortable, so we took the hydrofoil back across the Bay of Naples. We sat and chatted with a nice british couple from a cruise ship while sipping caffe and eating gelato and waiting for our ship. It was a nice end to a nice day. And no rain!!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Trip Continues ...

London day 2 was full of touristy goodness. We started with a trip to the Tower of London (my mom wasn’t sure she wanted to spend the money, but I convinced her she’d regret it if she didn’t) and then we walked along the South Bank. It started out grey and rainy, but by the time we finished with the Tower and lunch, it cleared right up. We ended the evening with a trip to the Globe Theater where we saw a performance of Othello. This is actually the second performance of Othello that I’ve seen, and I think I liked the one in San Francisco better. For one thing, it was shorter. With the run time of four hours (including intermission), my butt had fallen asleep by the time the last line of the last act was heard. Also, this version was quite high on the melodrama, with characters uttering full soliloquies punctuated by death moans. Perhaps that’s how Shakespeare intended it, but I liked the subtle playing a bit better, I think.

London day 3 went fairly well. We grabbed savory tarts for breakfast at Victoria Station, then headed for a walk past Buckingham Palace to peer through the bars at the queen’s house. As it happened, there was a big parade, so we ended up just skirting the crowds and carrying on to our next destination: The Hard Rock Café.

My mom collects HRC shot glasses and other paraphernalia and was excited to hear that there was not one, not two, but three Hard Rocks in cities on our vacation itinerary. London being the original Hard Rock was a must see. We don’t have to EAT at Hard Rocks – only go to the gift shops. That was at Hyde Park Corner, so after getting turned around a couple of times, we managed to fulfill that goal. After that, it was back into the center of town to go to Sir John Soane’s Museum (why, oh WHY can’t I take photos in there) topped off by a visit to the Orangery in Kensington Park for high tea. Mmmmm, champagne, lapsang tea, clotted cream, little sandwiches and chocolate cake make for a fabulous meal. We walked around in the gardens a bit, then hurried back to the South Bank for some wine and absinthe tasting at Vinopolis. Then it was time to head back to the hotel to get ready for our big train trip to Naples.

This is where the story gets a bit more interesting. We got a cab to Waterloo Station in London without any problems and got on the 6:30am Eurostar from London to Paris. The plan was in Paris that we would stow our bags in lockers and take the half-day to do a quick tour of the city (perhaps having time to stop at the Paris Hard Rock Café) and pick up our bags before taking our overnight train to Rome. However, it turned out that our train station had no locker; we had to go “5 minutes walk” to Gare to Lyon to stow our luggage. So, off we went pulling our heavy bags behind us. The directions from the woman behind the counter were extremely vague (“Out the door and turn left.”) and, as it turned out, not entirely accurate. After two wrong turns, we realized that by “turn left”, she really meant “turn right,” and by “five minutes”, she really meant, “thirty minutes.” So, four sore arms later, we rolled into Gare de Lyon to store our baggage. After a quick lunch of baguettes, we hopped on the metro out to the Louvre. I had recollections of picking up Les Cars Rouges the last time I was in Paris (7 years ago), but had high hopes that it or another touring company like it would still be in existence. And I was right! We hopped on a “Tour Paris” bus and had a lovely two hour spin around more of the important monuments in Paris. We saw the Arc de Triumphe, the Eiffel Tower, various museums and other historical buildings. We ended at the Louvre and took a stroll through the Tuillieries before catching the metro back to Gare de Lyon.

Remembering our previous journey, we decided to take a cab back to the other train station. The cabbie told us it was only a five minute walk, but I politely called him a big fat liar (in French) and said we’d like that taxi anyway, thank you very much. Thus we made it onto our train to Rome with few more difficulties (aside from hefting our suitcases on the racks at the top of our sleeper car.)

The overnight train was an interesting experience. We were in a car with four other people, all French speakers with no English whatsoever. Thus I got to practice a little of my disused, rusty French. But, despite my lack of vocabulary (I’ve forgotten so, so much!), I was able to make myself understood to the other passengers in the car. One of them even complimented me on my accent, which was nice to hear. Being able to speak a foreign language is like having a superpower. The overnight train was sort of comfortable, though quite hot and quite cramped. Despite that, I slept fairly solidly, considering our exertion from earlier and woke up in Italy! Sadly, I realized that Italy is to my superpower as Kryptonite is to Superman. I know absolutely no Italian. I don’t even know how to say, “I don’t speak Italian.”

After a few hours, we arrived in Rome. I got tickets to Naples without any further incident, and a nice American helped my mom and I get our bags in and out of the train. I had heard the Naples was dilapidated, but I was a little unprepared for how run down it really is. Naples reminds me a big of some of the poorer parts of Mexico I’ve been in. Lucky for us (she says sarcastically), Italy must have just won a big football match as there were children in the street kicking around balls and lots of light blue and white balloons, flags and football jerseys around. My mom and I had a nice lunch at a café across from the hotel, and then we went in search of the Cathedral of St. Gennaro. After taking multiple wrong turns and walking about 75% more than necessary (have I mentioned that grid systems are highly underrated?), we found that Cathedral. It’s a beautiful church with gorgeous stone work and painted ceilings. Of course, no photos allowed (cry). Also, yet again the Catholic church proves to be a just a little creepy. They keep the bones of St. Gennaro in a gold bust of him on the alter in his chapel, dressed with an expensive looking brocade cape and hat. In addition to this, they keep the blood of St. Gennaro in a little casket on the side alter. Twice per year (I assume on his Saints day), they pull out of the little amulet of blood and wait for it to liquefy. While the wait for the liquefication process to occur, people lay the amulet on their faces and pray for miracles. I’m sorry, but if it is actually the blood of St. Gennaro, that’s just not sanitary. And if the priests are sneaking wine into that amulet, well then it’s just dishonest.

After that, we headed back to the hotel for an early night.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

London, Day 1

Well, it's another summer which means another set of insane travel plans. My current itinerary puts me in London, then Italy (Naples, Florence, Venice), then Paris, then London, then Nairobi, then Rusinga, then Nairobi, then London, then New York. Are you tired? Because I certainly will be after hauling all of my crap across four countries and two continents.

I had a reasonably awful flight from New York to London yesterday. My seat wouldn't recline, and the person in front of my reclines all the way, so I was squished into a tiny box like area and couldn't sleep. When the woman next to me woke up, I asked her if she could get up so I could use the bathroom... AND SHE SAID NO. She had just gotten comfortable. I was so flabbergasted (I love that word) that I didn't say anything, and then she went right back to sleep. I should have kicked her and climbed over her anyway.

I couldn't remember which airport was Heathrow until I saw the huge line for customs. Suddenly, my hour long wait in January '06 with all of my equipment came flooding back to me. I gave small thanks that for the new travel rules which have caused me to have to check my equipment. Sure it could get lost or stolen, but it makes traveling so much easier. While in line, the woman behind me was practically doing calisthenics, stretching and jumping around so much. It almost made me nauseous to watch her.

I got my bags okay, and went to try and find my mom. Our planes were supposed to come it at the same time, but mine was delayed. I checked for her at baggage claim - no Mom. Checked at the meet and greet outside of customs ... no Mom. Finally decided to walk to the bus stop, which was our failsafe meeting point. No mom. At this point, I began to worry as I knew her plane was in. I decided to give her thirty minutes to show up before I went back to the terminal and had her paged. She showed up about twenty minutes after I sat down, with a small purse. "Where's your bag?" I asked her. Sadly, the answer to that question was ... Canada. We are still waiting for her bag to show up. Once we made it into London (four hours after our flights were supposed to get in) we went to Marks & Spencer to buy some clothes and things for my mom. I bought some things too, even though I had my bags. Then we had a little dinner and made it an early night.

Today was a pretty calm day. Still COLD and still RAINY - weather is just about the same as it was when I was here in February, a fact I find to be cosmically unfair. We went to Westminster Abbey (finally - I tried to do that twice before and it was closed for various reasons) and I saw all of the dead famous people. If you think about it, it's a little macabre to be worshiping surrounded by dead people. After that, we took a walk through St. James Park, then up through Covent Garden. We had cornish pasties for lunch (one of my favorite England foods unavailable in the USofA), and walked up to St. Paul's. So, it was a good sightseeing and walking day! Pictures forthcoming. :)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Coney Island

I had the perfect New York day today.

This morning, Thee Boy and I and one of our friends went down to Coney Island. We got food at the VERY FIRST Nathans ever in New York City. (Well, they did - I am not fond of hot dogs.)

The Original Nathans

I had carnie food (funnel cake with powdered sugar = delicious). We rode the Cyclone, one of the last remaining wooden roller coasters in the United States and a NY historic monument, then we went to the aquarium to look at fishies (my tank is better).


Shark Watch

After that, we headed to Brighton Beach (little Russia) to look for international foodstuffs, though eventually settled on taking the train back into Park Slope (Brooklyn) for some of the best Tex-Mex food available in New York (to my stringent California standards).

Seis de Mayo!

Ahhhh. Sometimes I really do ♥ NY.

(more @ flickr

Saturday, April 21, 2007


White Blossom

Petals 3

Blossoms 4

Blossoms 5

Spring is here!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday Fish Blog

I am home from South Africa. I'll get back to discussing the end of my trip very shortly - I've been concentrating on getting my sleep schedule back on track and working since I've been back in New York.

But, in the mean time .... here is my whole fish familiy!


Food - he misses his school (I had two others but they died) so he might eventually go to someone who has a school. Or, I'll get him a friend. We'll see.

My roommate has named him "Princess" even though you can tell by the spike dorsal fin that he's a male. Princess might not be able to stay with me - he only eats live foods, so it depends on how well I can supply him with those. If he looks like he's starting to starve, I'll have to give him away. :( Sad.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Even More Capetown!

I went allllllll the way to the top of Table Mountain today.

All in all, it was a good day. I woke up early, had breakfast, and internet-ted a bit. I had planned to do Table Mountain but the weather was overcast and quite windy. When the clouds sort of stick on the top of the mountain and it's windy, they don't let anyone go up. So, instead I walked around Cape Town a bit, got my hair cut (finally), got my eyebrows waxed (finally), and bought a cute little dress that will have to go away until it warms up again in my hemisphere. Le sigh.

Anyway, when I emerged from my beautifying extravaganza, I noticed that it was suddenly gorgeous outside. Thus, I grabbed a taxi and headed for the cable car without a second thought. The cable cars spin a bit going up the mountain which gave me the distinct feeling of seasickness. When I got to the top, there were all sorts of little walking paths to go down, plus bigger hiking trails. I started down one of the slightly less paved trails and got to a section full of huge boulders. There was an enticing looking sign at the bottom of the boulder path and and enticing looking path leading up the other side, so I went down.

Turns out the sign said, "Danger this way". Less enticing than I thought. The other path was fine though, so after climbing down a bunch of boulders, I climbed up another set thinking that I might be able to just walk around the ravine on the way back.

Of course, then I saw this and realized that wasn't going to be an option:

I was still intrigued as to where I was going. Eventually, I ran across a sign that indicated I was heading for the "Smuts Trail". The name rang a bell - I eventually realized it was the path that would take me down from the mountain. I paid for a return ticket on the cable car, so I knew I didn't want to do that. Then I ran across another trail that seemed to lead to this pretty little lake:

I wanted to get a better photo of the lake, but in my haste to take advantage of the good weather, I forgot about something:

So, I turned back. It was beautiful up there - more (and better) photos at flickr, as always.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More Cape Town

Since my last post, I've been very busy.

I spent most of Saturday at the botanical gardens. The gardens are very interesting, and have a focus on native South African plants. The whole gardens runs up the side of Table Mountain and affords beautiful views - I tried in vain to get a really good photos of it, but I failed miserably. I got to the top of one hiking path and realized that I was on my way to hike all the way up Table Mountain. Since I was wearing flip flops, and not carrying a whole lot of water, I decided that this was a distinctly poor idea and have vowed to take the cable car up some other time. The neatest part about the gardens was the "weed garden", a section that showcases plants that have become invasive in other countries. Very cool.

I spent Sunday on a tour of Cape Point, which highlighted Boulder Beach and the WIIIIIILD penguin colony (many photos taken there, I assure you), as well as scenic views from Cape Point. We then walked from Cape Point across to the Cape of Good Hope, the most southwestern point in Africa. There were a group of four Dutch high school seniors with us that decided not to do any of the activities, and instead sit around and gossip and be annoying. I'm not sure why they came on the trip in the frist place, unless they are here with someone's mom who wanted them out of their hair for the time being.

Monday found me starting my research. The cheapest way to get from the center of Cape Town to the university is by the free shuttle. Because of my limited experience with proper college campuses, I naively believed that the shuttle made a number of stops in some kind of circuit, and I would just get off at the one that looked right. Silly, silly me. Instead, there is a labyrinthine bus system that can only be navigated by certified cape town students. There are abbreviations that are meaningless to the casual consumer, as well as at least ten different lines that run to different places. With the help of several valiant bus drivers, I was able to figure it all out. My only mishap was a 30 minute bus ride that took me right back to where I started without going anywhere near where I needed to go. Oops.

Today, I took the train down to Simonstown to have a look around. Taking the train down was no problem, but the train back was a bit irritating. I happened to hit it right during rush hour and spent the better part of an hour smashed up against smelly people. It almost made me a little homesick for the 4-5-6 and F Trains during rush hour.

And that's where I am right now! Tomorrow, I'm sightseeing around Cape Town, Friday I am shark diving, Saturday I am taking a wineland tour and Sunday, I return to the USofA.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Cape Town!

the shift key on this keyboard doesn't work, so my capitalization is going to be erratic. i can't stop myself from hitting it, and occasionally it functions. sigh.

it has been a really good couple of days, with a very bad incident in between. i spent my last day in jo'burg at the bruma flea market doing some shopping with one of the other girls staying at the same place. bruma fleamarket isn't all that exciting, but at least i was able to get out of the house. the problem with jo'burg is that you must have a car to get around. without a car, you are basically hamstrung. to get anywhere you must take taxis which can get quite expensive. as a result, i've spent much of my spare time sitting around watching movies. it's a shame to do so in a foreign country, but i don't want to waste money unnecessarily.

the shopping was fun and it was really good to have company. when i was in zanzibar, I bought a little bao board, but i never learned how to play, and a couple of guys showed both of us the simple version of the game. the other girl i was with thought they were going to ask us for money, but they didn't. they were just being nice. the only bad spot was yet another screw up with my bank - this time with my new bank. they were unable to verify a very large check that was deposited. they gave me the fund for said check and i withdrew money. but then, they TOOK THE FUNDS AWAY. i spent the better part of an hour on the phone with them, and they are trying to get it verified as quickly as possible. i'm going to check the card again today to see if any progress was made. i wish when they left me on hold for ages, they would have thought about the fact that i told them i was calling internationally. but, whatever.

yesterday, i arrived in Cape town, and it is like night and day from Johannesburg. i love cape town. it's a very walkable city, and i did the short walking tour in my guidebook yesterday. there are lots of nice restaurants and cafes and bars and shopping, though it's quite a bit more expensive than gauteng (where jo'burg and pretoria are). it took me forever to find a place to stay, and this place that i've ended up reminds me a bit of a college dorm. no bathrooms ensuite and full of undergraduates who want to do nothing but go to bars on vacation. but it's cheap, and available, and that's really what counts. i spent most of yesterday down at the waterfront where i walked around, did some window shopping, went to the aquarium and took a sunset cruise around table bay. the sunset cruise was on an old wooden sailing ship, and they served a nice selection of wine and snacks. I met a really nice couple from Jo'burg that i spoke to quite a bit - i think they felt sorry for me because i was alone. :(


Victoria and Albert Waterfront

Sunset Sail 1

Sunset Sail 2

i also signed up for the tour of cape point for sunday, which will be fun. i'll be seeing the wild penguin colonies at boulder beach (!!!!!!!!!) as well as lots of other good stuff. i'm trying to decide whether i want to take a tour of the winelands as well, as i think I've been convinced to do the great white shark cage diving. looks to be the easiest diving ever - i don't even think you need to be certified. they just stick you in a cage and lower you down - no buoyancy necessary. everyone who has done it said it's pretty amazing, and i feel like it's one of those things that i must do while i'm here since i don't know when i'll be back.

i think today i'm either going to go to the botannical gardens or to a couple of museums. then on monday, it's back to work for a few days. BOO.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Update 1/21/2007

Entry: 1/19/07

Today has been my first semi-bad day in Africa South Africa. (As anyone who knows me or has been reading this blog for sometime knows, it is certainly not the first time I've had a bad day in Africa!)

The day started out well enough. I packed up all of my belongings, checked the internet one last time and said my goodbyes to the people at the Transvaal Museum. DOOM gave me one of his replicas of Mrs. Ples that he's been marketing around which was so SO nice of him. He called a taxi for me and helped me with my stuff out to the front of the museum to wait for it.

And wait we did. And wait. And wait. Taxi finally showed up 15 minutes late. My driver was not particularly good. He played Jesus music at top volume in the car and did not know his way around. Instead, he chose to rely on me - an American - to tell him how to get from point A to point B. When the taxi driver got to Point B, he halfheartedly tried to lift my suitcase out of his trunk, but he couldn't quite manage it. I had to haul it out instead.

Point B was the Incaranga Ranch Resort, a place that sounded awesome from the guidebook. Looked close enough to Jo'burg, was purportedly safe, and situated on some lovely grounds with duck pond and swimming pool and restaurant, and horse-back riding and internet. The truth is a bit south of there, I'm afraid. It is North of the city. They would not help me negotiate taxi fare, and instead said that I'd have to use their taxi service to get to and from the Unviersity at R200 EACH WAY. That's about 50 dollars per day for taxis. The rooms are not safe; not all of the lights work, all of windows are open to the outside, the lock is practically falling out of the door. Because all of the windows open out to the outside, there are craploads of mosquitos in here that are currently eating me alive. The staff is loud and unhelpful -- I used the internet and the man behind the desk stood impatiently looking over my shoulder so he could get back to watching football. The bartender was too busy playing a slot machine to take money for my bottle of water, and the restaurant was deserted. No diners, no waitresses. But really, the safety issue is what bothers me the most. When I am travelling with my computer and camera equipment and microscribe, the ONLY thing I look for in a hotel/hostel/guesthouse/whatever is safety. I want to feel like I can leave my computer in my room and not have it be gone when I get back. Lack of safety was one of the reasons I switched hotels in London last year.

I've already made arrangements to stay elsewhere from tomorrow night on. The woman I talked to on the phone was very nice, and it sounds like a better place to be, so hopefully all will be well.

PS: Getting a SIM card for my phone was the smartest thing I've ever done. It's been so convenient to be able to call ahead for reservations and things.


The new place is quite nice - reminds me a bit of the place I stayed at in Birchington-on-Sea.
The taxi driver once again didn't know how to get from point a to point b and likely would have driven around in circles all day if I hadn't phoned for directions. The owner is a bit loopy - makes veiled racist comments (not particularly uncommon around here) and thinks that she was a native america in a past life (a bit more uncommon). She had a birthday party last night which I attended, in which I met a woman who is into new age metaphysical mumbo-jumbo. Very odd.

The other people who are staying here are also quite nice. One of the girls has malaria and I feel for her acutely. Went for a walk to "chinatown" today. DC's chinablock looks grand in comparison to the half block of dilapidated buildings. I had some chinese food for lunch and it was mediocre at best. Looking forward to getting my work done and going to Cape Town.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


I wrote a post yesterday, that I'll post when I can be bothered to put it on a flash drive for uploading on a computer other than my own. Suffice it to say, since I last posted, I have:

- moved from Pretoria to Jo'burg

- moved from one backpackers to a different backpackers


- gone to a birthday party

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Pretoria Zoo

Today I went to the zoo! The Pretoria Zoo is not exactly in the best of condition, though they have a pretty amazing set of animals, concentrated most on African animals. They had a bunch of stuff I've seen before, a bunch of stuff I HADN'T seen before, plus a cable car offering views over the zoo. I rode the cable car to the top of tiger hill and back down, and not since my time in China has a ride scared me so much. Note to self: do not go on rides in Africa. Ever.

Today I saw.....

Desert Cat



Fast kitties!

Tiger 1

BIG kitties!




Pretty birdies!

Lazy piggies!

... and, of course.... MONKEYS! More monkeys (okay, apes and lemurs too) than I've seen at ANY zoo. Including the Bronx Zoo, and the National Zoo.

(for those that care .... that would be none of you, okay. Well, for my own reference, they had four species of lemur, three species of gibbons, gorillas, baboons, mandrills, assorted guenons and mangabeys, chimps, assorted marmosted and tamarins, lion tailed macaques, and probably more that I am forgetting)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Two days ago, the Director (who shall forthwith be known as DOOM) asked me if I had "seen the sights" in Pretoria.

I was momentarily confused. "," I replied.

"Well, I must take you before you go! I'm going out there on Wednesday - make sure to bring walking shoes and a hat. Do you have a hat?"

I was still confused. ""

He got up and fetched one of his own Indiana Jones style field hats and handed it to me. He told me that he thought I could go to Sterkfontein first while he had an appointment, and then he'd take me to Swartkrans and Kromdraai. It was at that point when I realized he meant SITES not SIGHTS, and I was off to see the main attractions in South Africa's "cradle of humanity", a series of paleontological sites.

First up was a museum complex called Marupeng which is supposed to be about the journey from the formation of the earth through all of human evolution. Incongruously, the building is shaped like a tradition European burial mound, a decision that DOOM said he strenuously objected to. The museum opens with an odd little segment about the diversity of people in the world, before seguing into a strange boat ride through the four elements. Unfortunately, the boats are meant to work on inertia and with only me in the boat... I got stuck. There are no cameras and no walkways (this is Africa, after all), so I stood up and sort of rocked back and forth through the narrow opening until my seaworthy little craft eked through. The museum had reasonable information, but I thought it was a bit difficult to navigate as there was no set path through the exhibit.

odd entrance to Marupeng Museum

Then it was off to Sterkfontein, where I took the guided tour of the caves and excavations. It was quite interesting, though the last five minutes were bit harrowing - lots of steep, narrow passages. I knew there was a reason I didn't want to go cave exploring. A small child was on the tour with us and went running through these passages, shouting, "These aren't so small!" I wanted to shout back, "If you were four feet taller, YOU'D BE SINGING A DIFFERENT TUNE."

Cave Formations

an entrance to the cave

After this was a 1 km hike to Swartkrans. Part of the 1 km hike required the fording of a small stream. A small muddy stream. So what was the first thing I did? Set my foot in about an inch of mud. In trying to pull it out, it slipped out from under me. Luckily the PUDDLE OF MUD broke my fall. My entire left side, from my ankle to just above my knee was coated in a nice layer of mud. But there was nothing to do but wait for it to dry and carefully flake it off.

The evil roaring river of death!!!!! Okay, so it was like a three inch puddle. You got a problem with that?

The last site I saw was Kromdraai, where they recently had a break in. A bunch of equipment was stolen, and then the theives felt the need to absolutely trash the place. Tables turned over, boxes full of breccia over turned, the tops of stools ripped off and thrown around. DOOM said it lookes like King Tut's tomb. It's unfortunate that thieves feel the need to be vandals as well. It's easier to replace the stuff without having to worry about cleaning out all of your carefully catalogued belongings and sending them to the rubbish pile.

On the way back, I saw a huge eyesore of a building up atop a gigantic hill. I asked DOOM what that was, and he said it was the Voortrekker monument.

The story that he told me about it was this:

The original colonists were the Voortrekkers, and they were a very devout lot. They moved into the region to escape religious oppression back home. When they moved to the Tshwane area, they encountered the Zulu people. They waged war against one another, with the Zulu having superior numbers and superior knowledge of the land, but with the Voortrekkers having superiors weapons. Finally, they decided to sign a peace accord. They wrote it in Dutch and had translators tell the terms to the Zulu. All of the heads of the Voortrekkers went to the Zulu camp to present this treaty. The Zulu chief pointed at the group and said that they were sorcerors, and they were immediately killed by the Zulu tribe. This prompted the "Bloody Battle". Before the battle, the Voortrekkers prayed to their God and said that if they won, they would build a monument and pray to their God every day at that monument. They did win the war, so they built a small monument which was then expanded upon in 1936. It became a symbol for white domination and black oppression. Thus, in 1994, "Freedom Park" was built on the top of the nieghboring mountain, as a symbol for the end of the aparteid. So freedom and oppression now face each other over a small valley.

And now I am resting.