Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Maybe they needed pocket money?

There were two little girls selling cookies and lemonade with their nanny outside of a huge elevator building between Park and Madison. It was so incongruous, I had to make a purchase.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Lensbaby @ Trinity Graveyard

Thanks to the kind people at Lensbaby, I have a brand new one for my new digital camera at half price. Thanks guys. :) And today I took it to Trinity Graveyard.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Even More Books

Private Dancer - Stephen Leather ****
fiction, (c)2005, 288pp

Of all of the books that I picked up at the resort in Venezuela, this one was the best. Published in Thailand (and apparently purchased there - the sales sticker was in Baht), this book explores the sex tourism industry in Bangkok. Pete is a british writer employed by a company that makes travel guides. He is sent to revise the company's guide about Thailand. When he gets to Bangkok, he falls in love with Joy, a bar girl that works in the red light district. The book chronicles their relationship and the way that it takes a toll on both of their lives.

The book is told in alternating voices. Leather isn't a particularly skilled writer and all off of the different characters basically speak in the same voice, but being able to see the situation from all different points of view adds a richness to this story. Really, this book is about the cultural divide between East and West. Pete meet Joy at a bar while she is working as a prostitute and wants her to prove to him that she really does love him and it is not about money. But from Joy's point of view, the way that a man proves that he loves a woman is by providing for her monetarily and keeping her so she doesn't have to work. This was a really interesting and compelling read. If you can manage to get a copy, I'd recommend it.

Silent Fall - Barbara Freely ***
fiction/mystery/romance, (c)2008, 416pp

Another book donated to my reading deperation cause by my mom. My mom and I have very different taste in books. This is yet another romance novel, though a romance novel with a veneer of mystery. In this case, Catherine is a firey redhead with a heaving bosom, gently curving hips - oh, and psychic powers. Dylan is a rakishly handsome television reporter who is framed for the murder of a one night stand. They are thrown together through happenstance - but is it love? (I bet you all know the answer to that question).

This book wasn't so bad when it concentrated on the mystery aspect of things. The story was interesting, if not particularly well written (too many cliches). The book fell apart at the end with an ending that came out of nowhere - and not in a "oh, I should have guessed it from the beginning sixth sense sort of way". But it was entertaining for a twelve hour flight and that's all I can really ask for.

The Caliph's House - Tahir Shah *****
nonfiction/travel essay, (c)2006, 349pp

Tahir Shah's latest foray takes him to Morocco with his whole family. He and his long suffering wife buy a fixer-upper house in Casablanca. This book charts their troubles in renovating their home, where they come up against lazy worker, the Casablancan godfather, a man who trades stories for stamps and several vengeful jinns. Shah is a fantastic writer and I pretty much will gobble up anything he has written. And you should too!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Work and Cat

I have been told 95% that I have this research post in Europe. Sadly though, not 100%. They have said they want me. They said I am their first choice. They said they wanted me in July. I said that was impossible and so they revised their demands and said they wanted me in the end of September. Yet, no official offer and no mention of money yet.


Here is a gratuitous cat photo.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Listy Fun

What we have here is the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users. As in, they sit on the shelf to make you look smart or well-rounded [or were bookclub choices that you never read that month]. Bold the ones you’ve read, italicize the ones you read for school you have on your shelf and haven't read.

(as seen at unbalanced reaction)

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights

The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: A novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked: The life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales

The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes: A memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood: A true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

Wild Horses Couldn't Stop Me

Last weekend, I went camping in Assateague National Seashore with H and friends. Ten people went in all, and each small subset of people were friends with H in a different way (work colleagues, high school friends, college friends) though we didn't know each other. That's why it's funny that she got all turned around and arrived at the campsite last.

I picked up my friend JSG in a rented car and we drove down. Our drive was unremarkable. Manhattan never gives up anyone without a fight, but we didn't hit terrible traffic leaving the city. We just had to make multiple stops for different things. We actually hit no traffic all the way down to Maryland and even had the foresight to buy a map so we wouldn't get horribly lost. Yay!

Assateague National Park is known for the two groups of wild horses that run free along the beaches. When it's cool, they stay up in the marshes but since it was hot, they were down along the beach a lot. In the middle of the night on Friday, we heard loud pony noises coming from our camp and one lone pony came pounding through. Luckily they did not disturb anything - apparently the ponies are mean and destructive. Even though they look cute and cuddly. Who'd a thunk it.
We spent most of Saturday laying around on the beach, reading our books, pony watching and beer drinking. It was an excellent day.

There were only two downsides to the entire trip. The first were the mosquitoes. HOLY. CRAP. It must be because the seashore backs up onto a marsh, but they were huge and aggressive and apparently immune to 40% Deet bug spray. I'm sure I when I get cancer in 10 years, I'll be able to trace it back to the all of the chemicals that leeched into my skin on this trip. I must be extra tasty, because when I came back I counted 53 mosquito bits on ONE LEG ALONE. Srsly, they aren't that bad in Africa. AFRICA. The other is that JSG convinced me that the best way to get back into the city was not to go over the George Washington Bridge, but to take the Goethals bridge and the Verrazano Bridge since she lives in Queens and we needed to stop there first. TWO AND A HALF HOURS after we got off at the Goethals Bridge exit, we got back to her place. That's the worst traffic getting into the city that I've ever had to sit in. Holy crap.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Two views of the fencing on the dunes at Assateague National Seashore. I took out my film (film!!!) camera for the first time since 2004. It still had film in it and I used the film I bought pre-2004 which was clearly expired. I kind of like the effect though - the lighter film is yellowed and the darker film is more blue/green than it should be.

(17-35mm wide angle)

(100mm macro)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More Books

Bodily Harm - Margaret Atwood
fiction, (c)1981, 301pp
rating: ***

Maragaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. Ever since I read The Handmaid's Tale for the first time as a sophomore in high school, I have been a big fan and have read her novels avidly. Bodily Harm is one of her earlier works and this one definitely does not stand up to her later novels. The book is about Rennie, a fashion/travel writer. Following a bout of breast cancer, she travels to the fictional Caribbean Island of St. Antoine which is on the brink of revolution. There, she gets involved with Paul, a mysterious man with shady credentials. Mayhem and self-discovery ensue.

What I found most disconcerting about this novel is that it lacked Atwood's poetic style of writing. Usually, when I've finished one of her novels, I have a list of quotes to write down and keep and savor later. But this one was completely without that and I felt like it could have been written by anyone. Like many of Atwood's later characters, all of Rennie's relationships with men are self-destructive in different ways, but there is no sense that she learns anything from most of these encounters. The non-linear storytelling works to a certain degree, but also is distracting at times. The character of Lora (an island ex-pat) is more irritating than tragic.

I found this book to be more disappointing than the Penelopaid.

Light on Snow - Anita Shreve
fiction, (c) 2006, 288pp
rating: ***

I ran out of books in English about halfway through my time in Venezuela, so I had to read books that people had left at the resort. Sadly, the most common nationality of resort-goer was ... German. So the english selection was sad. That is my only excuse for some of the next few books. Desperation will drive a person to read anything (witness my Dan Brown reading extravaganza when I was in Ethiopia).

Light on Snow is a short book that deals with a week in the life of Nicky and her father. Nicky's father is a recent widow. On a walk through the woods, they find an abandoned baby in the snow, which they take to the hospital and save. A few days later, they are visited by the mother of the infant and the real story of what happened that night is told. It is a simple plot, but poignant in its own way.

I freely admit that I am not an Anita Shreve fan. She's a little too angsty, a little too Oprah, a little too trendy for me to really enjoy any of her novels. But Light on Snow manages to be good snapshot of two weeks in the life of this family. The contrasts between Nicky and her father's family before the accident, as it as after the accident, and Charlotte's makes for interesting ideas about what really makes a family. The writing was good. I can see how a lot of people would really enjoy this book - it just wasn't really my kind of book.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Iron Dragon´s Daughter - Michael Stanwick

fiction/science fiction, (c) 1994, 412pp
rating: ****

The last of the "from home collection". This book takes place in a world that is parallel to our world. Jane is a human changeling that is an indentured servant in an iron dragon factory. All of her friends are fey creatures, strange hybrids of creatures that we would recognize from mythology and folktales. One day Jane finds a Grimoire which teaches her how to operate one of the iron dragons. Then the iron dragon begins to talk to her and Jane makes her escape. The rest of the book deals with Jane's integrating into life outside of the factory

At first, I wasn't sure if I liked this book, but the more I think about it, the more interesting it is. Has anyone read it? The book deals with the idea of reincarnation and fate and how our actions impact the lives of others. It also explores sexuality and what constitutes deviant behavior. It would have been easy to make Jane a really likeable character, but Stanwick makes her more and more unlikeable as the book goes on, yet still compelling to read about. The ending of the book was a little abrupt and strange, and we are left with questions as to whether or not Jane was really a changeling or if the entire book was something else entirely. A strange read, but ultimately really interesting.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Song for Arbonne - Guy Gavriel Kay

fiction/fantasy, (c)1992, 512pp
rating: ****

This is another book from the "Unread Novels From My Parent's House" collection. Song for Arbonne takes place in a world that approximates medieval Europe. Arbonne (France) is a country that is dominated by a goddess cult, strong women, troubadors and the Court of Love. Directly to the north is Gorhaut (Germany), a war-like country where women are second-class citizens, and fighting and hunting are prized. Enter Blaise of Gorhaut, who leaves his own land and comes to Arbonne. He quickly becomes enmeshed in the politics of Arbonne, including the ongoing war between the Duke of Miraval and the Duke of Talair which was started 23 years prior over the infidelity of a woman. Throughout the book, Blaise has to come to terms with his upbringing and his mind is slowly opened to other ways of thinking by the friends that he makes in Arbonne. There is love, there is sex and there is war.

Overall, I liked the novel. It was very well written, linguistically, but I thought that the story was kind of loose. Much of the novel felt kind of contrived. At 512 pages, it's already a long book, but I thought that Kay should have either focused on the war between Miraval and Talair, or the war between Arbonne and Gorhaut, as opposed to trying to deal with them both. It's impossible for one or the other not to get short shrift. There were interesting characters introduced that never got particularly well fleshed out and the ending of the book was especially contrived. I would recommend this book if you like the genre, but I've heard some of his other novels are better.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Today, I went to the Belmont Stakes to watch Big Brown (not) win the triple crown.

The Belmont Stakes was an interesting experience. Since Big Brown was going for the triple crown, the crowd turnout was larger than normal. They projected 120,000 people there and it certainly felt like there were that many people there. It was over 90 degrees today so I'm pretty sure I sweated out about fifteen pounds. The Belmont Stakes was the eleventh race of the day, and we were there from race one. I don't know about the other tracks, but at the Belmont track there is a large general admission grassy area where you can bring picnic good and lawn chairs and sit out and make a day of it, so that is what we did. Being there early was good, because we got a prime position in the general admission section. I placed some modest (read: two dollar) bets on a few horses and managed not to win a single one.

There were a lot of obnoxious people where, which was probably to be expected, as well as the most extraordinary assortment of outfits I have seen in one place. If you have grandstand or clubhouse seats, then you are expected to dress. For the general admission, you can wear just about anything. A lot of women were wearing sundresses, which was fine. But then there were the other dresses. A younger lady sitting next to us was wearing a black and white cocktail dress with a huge black hat straight out of the Ascot Gavotte number in My Fair Lady. There was a couple sitting a little in front of us that I dubbed "Miss Teen Staten Island" complete with sparkly tiara, prom hair, and a little jersey dress that just barely cleared the edge of her dress. Her boyfriend was wearing white linen pants and about two pounds of gold chains around his neck, visible because his blue button down was only about half buttoned.

I also don't know what happened, but they closed all of the bathrooms about halfway through the races. There were enormous lines for the eight port-a-potties on the back lawn (where the paddock and fair games were). It got to a point where a lot of the men were going in this little area that was screened by some bushes, and at one point there was a line of six people just to pee in the bushes. Also, after the stakes were finished, there were police officers doing "crowd control" on the exit, and only allowing a few people to trickle through at a time. Supposedly, this was to stop people from being trampled, but instead people were being squished up against the fences. I was glad I got a ride with my friend because the train was backed up at least four people deep on the platform.

Big Brown didn't win (sad, sniffle sniffle) but it was still fun to watch all of the horses. Big Brown was in third place going into the last stretch, until the jockey pulled him out of the pack and he trotted in at last place. I have to assume they realized that he wasn't going to win and decided it was best to save the horse for future studding than to push him too hard and have him be injured a la EightBelles. They are FAST - as the horses come around the track, it almost looks like they are on rails.

So all in all - a great day out!

The day begins

The track before the races started.

The second race of the day

Second race horses coming by us!

The whole place was packed by the time we got to race 11.

It's Big Brown! You may have lost, but we still love you.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Debt of Bones - Terry Goodkind

fiction/fantasy, (c) 2004, 175pp
rating: **

Debt of Bones is a novella set as a prequel to Goodkind's famous Sword of Truth series. I read the Sword of Truth books when I was a senior in college and during my first year of graduate school. By the time I got to Faith of the Fallen, the most recent in the series at that time, I was heartily sick of Goodkind. It was clear to me that this was going to be a never-ending saga and his books were getting progressively worse (with the exception of Faith of the Fallen, which was actually quite good). My friend left Debt of Bones in my apartment and told me to read it, so I figured why not oblige him.

Debt of Bones tells some of the backstory of Zedd Zorander, one of the pivotal characters in the SoT books. This takes place before the boundaries go up. The book is centered around a woman who goes to plea with Zedd and the Mother Confessor to intercede in the war with D'Hara and save her village (and more specifically, her husband and daughter). Though it is a prequel, its short length means that there is little backstory. So, if you haven't read the other books, you would be missing a lot by starting with this one.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it was mercifully short. Given Goodkind's propensity for long, meandering novels that explore the actions of minor characters, 175 pages is practically miraculous. It was not well written, and it wasn't even really a good story. Debt of Bones will not make me go back to the Sword of Truth Series any time soon.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

fiction/literature, (c)1719, 320pp
rating: ***

When I was an undergrad, I read a couple of his other books (Moll Flander and Roxana). I remembered really liking them both, so when I saw Robinson Crusoe in the far depths of my bookshelf at my parent's house, I picked it up and brought it back to NYC to be read. Robinson Crusoe is the original castaway, a man who is shipwrecked on a semi-deserted island for over thirty years. The book chronicles his early life, the circumstances that led him to become shipwrecked, how he learned to live on the island and his eventual salvation.

This was easily my least favorite of Defoe's books, which is interesting because I think it is the most famous. Defoe is fond of the anti-hero - people who are victims of circumstance and life that eventually find redemption from their fall. However, Robison Crusoe is not as dynamic as his female leads and his fall is not as great. Therefore, the "redemption" seems less like a redemption, and more like just a plain rescue. Also, too much of the book was devoted to the minutia of living on the island. He spends the majority of his time communing with goats and pontificating about God. I would not really recommend this book, especially to people who are new to early english writers.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

... Also

There is a good possibility that I will be moving to Europe before the end of the year. Stay tuned.


When I was a young, I had a recurring nightmare. I used to think that burglars were going to break into our house and steal things while I was still there. This home invasion nightmare I think was brought on by the fact that there have always been branches outside of the window that tap on the glass in the breeze. To a nine year old in the middle of the night, that sounds less like branches and more like someone scrabbling at the screen, trying to get in. So, when two thieves burst into my hotel room at 3:00 am two weeks ago, it seemed at first to just be a recurrence of my previous nightmare.

Here is what happened:

Apparently, around 3:00am, there was a knock at our door. I didn´t even hear it but it woke up my mom. Sleepy and disoriented, she thought we overslept our alarm and it was one of the hotel people coming to tell us that it was time to go (I was scheduled to go diving the next day). She opened the door and two ¨marauders¨ (their words) burst in on us. They were carrying knives. One of them pinned my mom down and the other one came over and tried to pin me down. Clearly, having lived in New York for the last six years, I kicked him hard in the stomach and screamed for all I was worth. He had to put down his knife to stop me from struggling and he put his hands over my mouth. So I bit him, hard enough to draw blood. At that point he slapped me and started yelling at me in Spanish and my fight or flight reflexes slowed down and began to think a little bit more clearly about all the things that guy could do to me. One of them took all of my mom´s local money, but she took a chance when their backs were turned to hide that last of her american cash under her pillow. They took all of my money (the ONLY time I´ve ever travelled with a lot of cash on me because the exchange rate is so much better on the black market in South America) and, more importantly ...

... they took my camera. And my lensbaby. They didn´t find my wide angle lens or my ipod or my cell phone, all of which I hid under the bed. My camera was in my bag though, ready to be taken out on the boat with me diving. Perhaps it was karma catching up to me - I have traveled by myself in many less than savory places and never had a single thing stolen or a single problem. This is the first time - and I hope the LAST time something like this ever happens to me.

I gave a description of my assailant to the police (thank you photographic memory) so I guess there is a slight chance my propery will be recovered, but it is unlikely. The owner of the hotel apologized about a million times and only charged us for half of our stay at the hotel.

After that, we moved to Isla de Margarita. Isla de Margarita was quite nice. We stayed at a particularly schmancy resort, one of these all-inclusive numbers. Here is the thing about all inclusive resorts: they are full of pod people. All identical families having a sanitized, identical good time. Seriously, what is the point of an all inclusive resort in Venezuela? Everyone speaks English, the food is "international" and they play American elevator music on the loudspeakers during meal time. You might as well just go to Miami and have exactly the same experience at half of the plane ticket. There is nightly "entertainment" which two nights ago consisted of a truly horrific "international dance show". Bad dancer did a tangos and salsas across the stage to equally bad music and announcing. It was like a train wreck and I couldn´t look away.

We did get out of the soft confines of the resort several times. We shopped and bought duty free liquor in Porlamar, saw an old spanish fort in Pampatar, took a driving tour of the Macanao peninsula, went to the museo del mar, and took a boat tour through the mangrove swamps. I finally got a chance to go diving (but I also got an ear infection from my snorkeling trip off the coast of Playa Santa Fe where we originally stayed). So all in all, an eventful vacation. At least I am tan now.

Playa el Agua, Isla de Margarita
Taken with a disposable camera.