Well, I’m not dead yet.

I really should be posting something about my job and current experiences thus far, but this is more fun.

So far, there are only a few minor mistakes I’ve made in my time here in India.  The first is that I may or may not have been eating street food the entire time I’ve been working.  Why?  Because we usually eat in the office, and someone else orders from who knows where.  Ok, they know where, and it’s someplace they’re comfortable with, but of course my immune/digestive system is not accustomed to it.  But judging from my bosses’ reaction to what I’d been eating – frog eyes and “Seriously?!?” – maybe it’s something I should’ve been more careful about.  And then there was that time he put his foot down about me eating bhelpuri.  Evidently our ‘of council’ got typhoid and all his hair turned white from eating it someplace on the street, and he’s probably got more of an iron stomach than I have.  So no more of that for me, even though it’s delicious.  Of course I didn’t get smarmy about how I took the live typhoid vaccine so I’d be inoculated for the next five years, thanks very much – because why take a risk?  I could get e coli instead.

I have been careful not to drink the water.  I’ve been doing all the right things as far as brushing my teeth with the bottled stuff and not eating raw things unless they are fruits with a thick peel, like bananas.  But then there’s the chutneys, which I didn’t really think much about until recently.  I should probably have been more careful of those, since I’m not sure quite what is in them – or how much, if any, fresh stuff (especially herbs) they contain.  Coriander is delicious, but it might be a bit of a risk. However, despite all this, I haven’t gotten myself sick yet, at least as far as digestion goes.

What I have done is had the worst allergy attack in quite some time merely due to the change in climates.  For a single day, I went through a box and a half of tissues, which is bad, even for me.  I took antihistamines up to the hilt, which didn’t really help much.  And I didn’t epi pen myself, as I could breathe just fine – I was just sneezing up a storm.  Thankfully, for that eventuality I came prepared – three boxes worth of tissues, family size, stuffed into separate ziplocks.  And they ended up having plenty of tissues for sale here, in this very metropolitan city.  Even have toilet paper!

Additionally, tonight, I may have gotten my co-worker drunk.  I’ve been craving just a sit-down someplace with people to hang out, and I finally convinced at least a few people to go with me tonight.  Of course, this meant me advocating for it for half the week, the girls in the office being excited in the office and seemingly willing to join me, another bunch saying they ‘don’t drink’ and me convincing them that my company and appreciation are worth a slightly pricy lime juice, and then half the cast dropping out last minute.  But, there were two other girls still willing to go – after a suitable amount of time hanging around, waiting – and then some shopping on the way, because who doesn’t need more chapatas? – and then some serious confusion and walking around dazedly when we got separated.

But my one drinker and my one non drinker eventually crowded into the only available table at the back of a small restaurant/bar on the main strip.  And it was lovely – cool, dimly lit, and only just a little loud.  My drinking buddy decided she didn’t know what she wanted, and I was the resource as the oh-so-cultured foreigner.  So.  I suggested something with rum.  She thought maybe she wanted to try tequila – a shot of it in fact.  I counter suggested getting some food into her stomach first, and explained the concept of a shot.  Eventually we decided on some strawberry soda concoction with tequila in it.  Very fruit, very sweet, and possibly too much for her, even with a mound of noodles, a fact of which I was only aware when we stood to leave and she started traipsing off through the crowd, a mad cackle on her lips.  Luckily, I was able to leave her in the care of my non drinking buddy as far as making sure she got on the right train.

As far as my usual habits, I haven’t fallen into anything obnoxious, I haven’t broken myself too badly, and I haven’t had any negative interactions with glass or fire.  One evening in particular the snails were out in force and I may or may not have stepped on one and crushed it to death in the dark, but I continue to hope it was just a crunchy leaf or something.  Oh yeah – I did explode my water heater.  Turns out you aren’t supposed to leave this particular type turned on without the water running – the connecting fittings get to hot and can snap off.  I think you can even rupture the tank eventually with the pressure that builds up, but thankfully I didn’t get that far.  Thankfully it also popped off while both me and my landlord were home, so he was able to shut off the water almost instantly when I came banging on the door.

Lastly, I discovered today that honey in India has a high concentration of lead.  Not sure how high, but you can bet I’m going to be checking out the symptoms of lead poisoning online and will be finding something else to go with my pb in the mornings.

India – at the beginning

India is strangely like China and strangely different, in a variety of ways.  The smells are reminiscent, especially the rotting garbage street-smell.  There are other smells as well that are the same – the smell of dust in the air, the dust of concrete and the chalky dust left from the cutting of stone like marble and granite, rather than the dust kicked up by dirt and dry soil.  There’s the smell of fish markets and too ripe fruit.  But there are differences as well.  The architecture is not really taken over by the communist ideology of the flat box – but there still is quite a bit of faceless concrete in use.  Fort itself is beautiful a and if it is mostly the work of the British, there are definite pure Indian influences as well.  Hindu gods pop up frequently in façade motifs, and there are some markers of the Parsi influence as well.  In fact, my boss is parsi, which I discovered through the mention of some of the distinctly Persian-looking sphinx statues around the area.  I knew nothing really about the Parsis, but evidently they are Zoroastrian.  I still know only a little, but the sphinx is really the angel of mercy.  Which I will have to check out later when I have internet again.  Scaffolding is the same bamboo ridiculous dangerousness I remember.  The smell of chalky, heavy dust in the air is the same – at least until the monsoon starts.  Then there’s the use of sugarcane – the same , and yet different, all chewed up into some kind of weird drink. I’m oddly fascinated by it but afraid of it too.  Deepika has warned me off of the street stuff, especially during monsoon when evidently all water and cleanliness are in question, even at the nicer restaruants.  So no street food for me.  Also, everyone is so nice and helpful.  It’s part of what I liked about Portland, too.

My first night here was basically not a real experience at all.  I met a lovely couple on the plane, and their son, who was much less fussy than you would imagine on a 14 hour flight.  The wife especially was very solicitous and curious and kind.  I think they would have asked me to live with them (we discussed me looking for a place once I got to Mumbai) if they had not lived considerably outside the city.  But they did look after me and made sure I got my luggage and had a way to get to my hotel.  Also I met with another law student, a Frenchified one who goes to (Rice> Kings?  Whatever that Montreal college is).  He’s not here to do that work though – he’s setting up playgrounds out in the remote regions for impoverished kids.  And travelling of course.  But it was interesting to run into another law student, especially one from that background,  Evidently they teach dual civil/common law systems at the same time.  Too much for me I think.

The next day was basically one of panic for me to find a place to live, interspersed with enjoyment.  I called quite a few brokers, which was difficult, since I had no way for them to reach me back other than calling the hotel and trying to get through.  However, one of them heroed for me and set me up with a visit to a place within walking distance of my office.  I couldn’t see it till the next day however, so I decided to stay an extra night at the hotel.  Still, the broker, like everyone else, was very nice and considerate.  He convinced my landlord that a two month stay would be acceptable to everyone involved (usually paying guest accommodations are not set up for less than 11 months here, at least in Mumbai) and got me in to see the place as soon as possible, since I was basically without a place to stay.

During the day I also managed to secure a phone for myself and did some clothes shopping.  The phone was an adventure, but I think a good experience.  I did it all on my own, after looking at various online advisories.  Evidently it’s getting harder to get a phone here in some ways – the phone companies are required to verify your residence in order to keep the number activated.  I think they are a little more lax with foreigners though, since they let me use the hotel  for verification.  Of course my number will not remain mine forever, once I stop re-upping my sim card with value (it’s a prepaid number) but that’s perfectly acceptable as I don’t know when I might be  coming back to India so a continuous number is not necessary.  Again, in this experience, everyone was very helpful.  I think that was a bit of the foreigner advantage though, because they let me jump the queue to get my number, and get the cheapest phone available.  They even sent me to a nokia dealer rather than giving me one of their more expensive phones once they knew I wanted the cheapest available.  Go Vodaphone! (I must further comment here that they shut off my phone a week later, made me resubmit all my documents, and were highly unresponsive to my annoyance at having to come in a second time.  Boo vodaphone.)

I also took myself to Fab India to get some culturally appropriate clothes.  Fab India is an institution in India, somewhat about local trade, but mostly about cleverly marketing rural and traditional fabrics and styles in a more modern way to the public at large.  Also, their bags are made out of recycled newspapers, which is pretty cool and works well.  The plastic bag disaster that seems to be plaguing the U.S. isn’t really present here, but neither is the drive to bring your own bag.  The companies are creative, rather than the customers perhaps.  Or maybe I haven’t seen enough yet to judge.  Plastic bottles, on the other hand… I’m not sure how much of a success my purchases were, but we’ll see how everything looks later on.  I’ve only been courageous enough to wear one top so far, and it was a very plain blue one.  Also, the pants really don’t fit my hips.  So I’m an extra large in pants (if those even work) and a medium or large in tops.  Usually I’m a medium unless it’s fitted across the chest.  But I did get some lovely things – they are just a bit brighter than I am used to.  So we’ll see how it goes.

Finally that evening I visited the restaurant recommended by the hotel staff as a good one close by, called Mahesh Lunch Home.  Evidently, it’s all about fish and other sea life, and also a local institution.  And spicy.  In fact, Deepika’s mom later commented that she would never send a just-arrived foreigner there, even though it is very good.  “And to think, I was worried about our lamb being too spicy for you!”  Evidently the hotel staff judged me well though because I loved it.  Even the waiters at the restaurant were worried about me though.

Are you sure this is what you want?

Yes,  I’m sure.

DO you like spicy?  Because this is very spicy.

Yes, I like spicy.  Not just to be spicy, bugt spice for flavor.

Is like 75% spicy.  Are you sure you want it?

Yess, yes.

It was spicy, I’ll admit.  But it was also very good.  And I had a beer to go with it to cut the spice if things got too intense.  And I didn’t even cry, so it must have been within my tolerance (there was a bit of nose dripping, I’ll admit).  And I left completely and overpoweringly full, something that was to continue in the coming days.

The next day was my day to spend with Deepika, but first I was off to check out the new potential living situation.  Of course I showed up early, but very sweaty.  Pre-monsoon weather is like the worst thunderstorm buildup you’ve ever experienced.  Yes, it had rained lightly the night before, but that served to only increase the pressure.  The experience is what I would imagine walking through pea soup feels like.  Maybe not quite scald-your-tongue hot soup, but enough that just the feeling of the air against your skin is wrongly hot and thickly oppressive.  It is a struggle to want to move, and every point of contact – clothes touching your skin, purse strap, belt – is sticky and bad.  But the room I was looking at, thankfully, was cooler.  It’s small, but good I think.  There are no windows in the bedroom, just the bathroom, but the door is frosted glass so even with it closed some light comes through.  All the cabinets and the wardrobe are new, or nearly new – the smell is of lovely fresh wood.  There’s no place really to cook, which has been a bit of an issue (according to other people – I don’t really mind eating a restaurants for 2 months), but  my landlord and landlady are perfectly open to me eating in the room – they just don’t want me coming in and out of their home all the time to use the kitchen, which I can understand.  In fact, my landlord suggested I get an electric teakettle or something similar so I at least have something in my room.  Also, the experience was one where I was able to offer some local Oregon jam to them as a gift for letting me stay – thanks to Louise ragging me about what stuff I was taking to give as gifts.  So, jam.  And I had that to use for Deepika’s family as well.  Which was lovely.

For the rest of the day I spent time with Deepika’s family, which was lovely and ridiculous and fun.  Ridiculous, because as all families with young children are, they were contantly tugged about by the hwhim of the youngest ones.  I was near Churchgate when I first called Deepika to try and figure out how to get to Bandra, where she was put up with her mom and daughter.  Of course, I called just as ‘something’ was afoot, and she couldn’t really talk.  So I wandered around and found someplace to get tea while I waited.  About the time my tea came of course she called back and said could I leave right then, because her sister was taking a car and I could possibly catch a ride with her.  So I gulped down what I was intending to savor, and went out to meet Priya.  After an interesting ride with her and her groggy daughter, we arrived to the family home and spent much time doing family things – entertaining the girls, making sure they were fed, trying to get them down for naps, etc.  it was delightful and relaxing.  And best of all, I didn’t have to do anything at all.  I was fed lunch and dinner, they took me shopping and for coffee, and I did get to spend a bit of time with Deepika talk over old times and currnt adventures.  I am supposed to have lunch at Priya’s home today as well.  No one has called me, so I will text about 10 am, when people can be expected to be awake.  All in all, it was a lovely experience and Pryia took me quite close to the hotel where I could find my way – constantly taking care of me, which I appreciate.

To top it all off, the weather finally broke that night.  And I discovered my hotel has a tin roof in certain parts.  At first I thought the hallway near the elevator was flooding with downfall.  But when I went to investigate, there was no leakage – only the sound of the water coming down, and coming down hard.  Along with natural thunder and lighting as well, of course.  It was nice to get to watcha  storm for awhile – things rarely happen that way in Portland, and the one summer storm we had while I was home just doesn’t seem like nearly enough.

Then, at last, it was moving day.  I packed all my stuff up from the hotel after breakfast (and reading my emails – thanks family!) and headed out.  I must admit, I was a little worried about finding a cabbie would listen to and understand my directions, but it all worked out.  The most nerve-wracking point was when the front desk called a car, saying the cabs outside were not so good, and then one of the other staff took my luggage out for me and put it in one of those very same cabs 9after confirming the cabbie knew where he was going.  Kinda).  In that situation at least communication was at a minimum, but it all worked out.  I got there, I got let in, the landlady was super-nice and gave me her cell phone number, saying I should call if I need anything at all.  Unfortunately, the keys had been misplaced, so I was basically forced to trespass a little on their hospitality if I wanted to go in and out until the landlord returned.  She gave em water as well, which was great (it’s still pretty hot here), and I spent some time acutrally unpacking 9at last!)

Around 3 I got to the office to meet with my boss, which was lovely.  He’s fun and funny, used to live in Boston (went to BC), has done a million and one things, and I think will be great to work with/for.  But it’s going to be intense.  I work from 10 to about 9 every weekday and noon to 5 on Saturdays.  Sundays we have off, and I’ll probably use that time to explore the city, which is nice.  And the girls I’m working with (Somandy and Associates is basically him and a bunch of girls) seem really nice.  No real going out, but I think they’ll be great for showing me the city and such.  Especially with working so much I’m not sure how much I would want to go out anyway.  But there is quite a lot exciting going on.  I’m going to be in on everything they do, going to court, maybe going to Delhi to see the highest court (which I forget what it’s called).  I’ll also be writing a research paper.  Which I guess it’s up to me to potentially publish once I get back?  It’s going to be about diplomatic immunity and its exceptions in India, but it’s a little unclear to me where he wants me to go with this.  I mean, I get the topic – it’s just that a thesis might be hard to come by.  Maybe it’ll just be an exploration sort of paper, I guess that’s possible.  The point is to help me explore the legal system because it’s a topic that touches on  a variety of types of law 9criminal, civil, Const.).  Anyway, it’ll definitely be challenging and he seems really nice and helpful – and apologized for the emailing issues.  Evidently he was getting ready to travel and a bunch of people were leaving he office for vacations so their stuff had to be organized as far as passing it along and tracking everything as well.  I don’t see how he keeps track of things, but it seems to work.  Also, the girls are wonderful, and fun.  And mostly young, even though there is one older than me and one who’s 29.  Not as young as the Chinese, but still young, and ridiculous, and sweet in a way that I think they will refresh in me and I hope I haven’t lost.  So that’s also a good thing.  Also, my boss loves food, so I think that he’ll be an excellent person to have as a reference for places to try out.  But those are going to have to be on my own I think because the girls seem (so far, at least) to have minimal food adventurism.  The boss man has already given me one reference though that he pretty much insisted I check out today (the 5th of June).  So there’s that, if I have time with everything else.  Also going to a Hindi film with the girls this afternoon, hopefully after I’ve had lunch with Deepika’s family again.

I noticed last night that lighting here is weird.  I guess all the main intersections have streetlights, but the roads themselves may not.  Buildings have few exterior glows, so seeing where you are can be a bit tricky.  Usage of headlights is inconsistent.  I hope I’ll be able to find my way home on Monday.

 

 

Many travels – Saint Louis

Many thanks to Kate for both hosting me and for taking all the awesome pictures.  Tim gets thanks for hosting too, and Tony gets thanks for driving me to the airport, and Cat gets thanks for just being awesome.

The *new* *improved* attraction of Saint Louis is the City Garden downtown.  Not only does this place have tons of awesome sculptures like the dancy chimes, the rabbits, and the giant-legged starhorse, but it was also chock full of fountains.  Prime fountaining location.  And they actually want you to play in them!

IMG_0628

IMG_0637

IMG_0632

IMG_0649

IMG_0650

IMG_0663

Bunny!

Bunny!

Bunny again!

Bunny again!

Giant-legged starhorse

Giant-legged starhorse

We also ran off to IL for a gathering with a bunch of Tim’s friends, which was lovely.  There was a nice fire, a delicious hammock, plenty of great people and good conversation, some learning about companion plants, a shrimp boil, and tons of other awesome food to play with.  I did get bitten by mosquitoes quite a bit, and the tent was a bit rough on my ancient bones, but otherwise, a splendid time.  I especially enjoyed playing with my food.

IMG_0708

Finally, on Sunday I was part of the crowd watching True Blood at Cat and Tony’s place.  I had prepared for this, my first-ever viewing, by reading the wikipedia articles and all the online synopses I could find, and filling in my gaps with Kate’s extensive knowledge of the show.  I felt as if I’d seen the whole show from the beginning.  Alas, I had not, a deficiency which Ivy in Portland has decided she will soon correct.  And then I have to read the books.  In my copious spare time.

This concludes my travel section for the summer.  As of now, I am in Portland, settling in, mentally preparing for law school, and generally making a nuisance of myself.  Hooray!

Many Travels – Chicago, Part Jo and Suitcase

This will be a mostly pictoral adventure.

P1030621

Here’s Suitcase at the train station, taking a little rest after trundling all the way from Tina’s apartment.

P1030628

Jo-Jo and Suitcase grab a quick nap on the train.  It had been a tiring time for us all – exhaustingly fun, like being around me often is.

P1030631

Samba-stepping Jo leads Suitcase to an empty grassy area for more dancing!

P1030632

Finally both Jo-Jo and Suitcase collapse from shaking it.

P1030635

Suitcase takes a rest and poses with the giant reflective bean.

P1030641

Jo, Suitcase, and giant Chinese dinosaur.  Big Red was part of a sculpture exhibit of modern Chinese works.  I’ll leave the naked people/pig/red wrecking crane sculpture to your imagination.

P1030646

Suitcase makes a final stop at Cosi for lunch, and then he’s off to the Plains states.

Many Travels – Chicago Part 1

There are people who intersect your life not without impact, but without disruption.  A part of it has to do with knowing someone well.  Time passes, and regular communication may lapse, but still there is a strong connection.  Another part of it has to do with the pattern of a contrasting life.  Knowing someone parallels you in certain ideas, in humor or behavior, or in any number of other small kernels allows for you to walk in step with certain people more easily.  Jo is one of those people for me, so of course I went to Chicago to see her while she was in this country.  And it was good.  It was as if I’d spent no time away from my Jo-Jo.  It also allowed me to relax and for awhile not stress about all the life changes I have to worry about from moving cross-country.

The first day I was late to pick her up at the airport because I failed to correctly estimate how long it would take me to get out there on public transportation.  Point one against me.  Then we went into the city and just sat down to coffee and tea before we were supposed to meet some of my friends, Dave and Allie, for dinner.  Of course, then I totally messed up where we were supposed to meet them, and made them walk twenty minutes out of their way to find us.  Point two.  Still we had a lovely dinner at a reasonably authentic Mexican place, and Jo had a beer.  it was the first time I’d seen her drink alchohol in my life, since she’d taken a break from it while we were working together in China.  So here’s the shocking proof:

P1030605

P1030606

Then we headed out to Oak Park, to meet with Tina, who was our host and hotelier for the next few days.  Yay Tina!

The next day we went to Buzz Cafe, which is a breakfast place just around the corner from Tina’s.  Jo had never eaten pancakes before.  Evidently the crazy little island (GB) doesn’t have real ones – they just have crepes or dense Scottish-type things.  So she was all about the diner experience – we wanted to get her an asthmatic, cranky waitress named Dolores.  Alas, our waitress was perky and totally not embittered.  Still, she did get some delicious fluffy pancakes.  And then we were on to the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Robie House.

Tina had been to the Museum before, and I had as well back in the days of my youth, but she had not seen the coal mine.  Jo thought it would be fun as well – I guess that coal mines are a rarity now in the UK, like pancakes.  I did remember the giant bug from the first part of the exhibit, but I did not remember the other extensive part of this exhibit, which is waiting in line forever.  Let me share:

P1030609

P1030611

And it just gets better from here…

P1030610

We decided we deserved, nay, needed ice cream afterwards.

P1030614

We ended the day with a visit to the Robie house, a visit to the Trader Joe’s, and a nice evening of wine, bread, cheese, salad, and hanging out on the back porch overlooking Tina’s garden.

The next morning we were on our way when I discovered this sign.  I had to imitate:

P1030622

(The sign says “Danger – Keep Off Tracks.  High Voltage”  The figure does…what I am doing.)

The trip culminated with a morning at Millenium Park doing samba (yay free samba every Saturday), a visit to the Chinese sculptures, and lots of pictures with the reflective bean and the spitting fountain.  I’ll leave you with a few.

P1030635

P1030645

P1030644

Many Travels – Oliver Winery, Brown County, and other parts Indiana

Let me just say that I’ve discovered anew how much I like hicks.  Sure, they can be frustrating and annoyingly persistent in certain forms of hardheadedness, but so I can I.  With distance and time, somehow they don’t seem to be so bad.  And then I come back over Brickyard weekend, and they’re everywhere.  Muscle shirts, beer bellies, tractor baseball caps, mullets, the heavy traffic, the campers everywhere two days before and one after, the works.  And somehow that seemed homey, and kinda nice, as if I’d been missing out on the hoo-haa just because it was mine, because I’d grown up with it even if I was never really aware of the racing scene.  Sometimes, especially on the west side, it’s just unavoidably present, and that makes it even more fun for the rare periods I’m home now – it’s a little bit of hometown flavor, with very little discomfort or disruption of my life.

Oliver Winery – Near Bloomington, IN

So the family decided that as a part of my time at home, we needed more wine.  Not to say that we couldn’t stand each other’s presence without liquid aid, but rather that wine is something we all enjoy.  Coffee is as well, but I’d provided some of that with the stuff I brought back from Puerto Rico.  So, tasting tour for us.  And of course our favorites were not exactly the same, so we got several.  Here’s Shelly with hers:

P1030528

Most of the grapes are grown on-site, but they do use some from further afield.  Certain bottles are made exclusively from their vineyards, which is the Creekbend Vineyard line.  You can learn more about them here.  They do not sell any of their wines in stores out of state, but you can order online and have it shipped direct to certain states.  MA is not one of them, nor is OR, alas.  I am partial to the oddly somewhat dry Valvin Muscat, which of course you can’t buy online at all – only at the winery. And the grounds were lovely.  Next time, we’re having a wine picnic.

P1030532

Brown County

So onward, and uphillward, into the deep and spooky forests of southern Indiana.  Shelly and I bumbled along one of our favorite trails at Brown County State Park, since the wine tasting and long hour of driving had already taken quite a bit of spunk out of the older adults.  Mom did come along  for a bit of the hike though.  So, here’s a few sweet pictures of that:

P1030536

Above the amphitheater.

P1030539

In the amphitheater.  PS, who knew about the first H in this word?  News to me…

P1030543

At the horse bridge.  Yes, Shelly is on the phone and loving it.

P1030561

P1030564

P1030584

Many Travels – Puerto Rico Part 1

If any of you have a great fear of spiders, skip ahead to part 2.

For the past few weeks, it seems like I haven’t really had time to breathe.  What with visiting my parents in Indianapolis, my youngest sister in Barbourville, Kentucky, vacationing throughout Puerto Rico, quitting my job, and moving from the East Coast to the West, things have been unusually busy and I’ve been much more widely mobile than is typical even for me.  I’ve just barely begun to catch up.  So, let’s try and put it all in perspective, shall we?

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (Corina, Stacey, Josue)

First we needed some food, so we decided to go local immediately.  We tried a place in Old San Juan near the parking garage that Josue hadn’t been to before, just for expediency’s sake, and it turned out really well.  I had mofongo, which is a traditional dish made with plantain which is mashed and then formed into a cup with a really large mortar-and-pestle arrangement.  The inside is filled with some kind of meat usually – mine was pork – and then cooked with the open side down, so that it looks like a small hill or mountain of goodness.  At this particular restaurant, the mofongos were particularly large.

Mofongo

Then we stopped for coffee at a local fast food chain, the name of which I can’t remember.  Josue knew it, and the coffee was surprisingly good.  Then we toiled over to the old fort, hoping to get as much of the old city in as possible before jet lag kicked in.

P1020924

While I doubt that pictures like these are going to win me any sympathy points, I still thought I would try.   I mean, bars on the windows of the old fort – that’s like being in a prison, right?  Plus, the wind was in our hair the whole time, blocking vision, making us eat our own locks.  Josue had even more of a fro than usual.

P1020918

And all in the name of good pictures, we had to risk life and limb.  This brick wall, for instance, was covered in fire ants.  I swelled up into a giant rash and had to bathe in Caladryl.  Ok, not really, but it could have happened.

P1020935

Plus, even a picture like this that looks pretty amazing, was fraught with potential annoyance.  Palm branches are itchy, and the ocean wasn’t really blue enough.  Really.

P1020944

And then Corina accidentally trapped herself in this little guard station.  And by ‘trapped’ I mean ‘totally able to release herself once I’d taken enough pictures’.

P1020967

Here’s a close-up:

P1020968

There were some spectacular moments of watching the pelicans dive for fish as the sun set.  Most of the time they are even more ungainly than an albatross, but there’s that one moment of fishing when these odd birds are sheer elegant motion.  You can see the instinct coming on as they circle, seem to hesitate in midair, and then become this thin-stretched spear into the water.  I never got tired of watching that unfolding, so you’ll have to suffer through several attempts to catch it on film.

P1030038

P1030044

P1030046

P1030077

P1030085

We ended our first-day tour with two of the creepiest (and yet fascinating) areas that exist in Old San Juan.  The first we came upon all unawares while walking along the path below the main fort outside the old city walls.  This particular area is covered mostly with sea grape plants (Coccoloba uvifera), which are highly resistant to salt and can be eaten directly from the plant or made into jam. They are often used to shore up coastline or as an ornamental in this area, as they also supposedly have a hearty resistance to pests other than the seagrape borer, according to online sources.  However our particular plants were heavily infested with what I think were white flies, tiny little winged things that attached mostly to the underside of the plants, but also to the stems.  This large concentration of insects led in turn to a ridiculous concentration of large, scary spiders setting up shop in the sea grape thicket.

P1030028

P1030061

Some of the spiders, like this one, even turned cannibal.  Strange, scary, and yet none of us could stop taking pictures.

P1030060

Creepy number two was pigeons.  Normally I don’t have a problem with pigeons, but then normally I don’t have a problem with rats, either.  And as a championship pigeon herder, I have some experience with larger numbers of the animal in enclosed quarters.  But this was like Funk Island of the Great Auk pre-extinction.  Bird doo everywhere, people feeding the birds handfuls of brown pellets so they can expel more, birds landing on shoulders, arms, even heads with no fear.  Not a place I wanted to spend a great deal of time, though the nearby chapel was picturesque.

P1020982

P1020981

So, instead of this grimy bird image, I’ll leave you with the short form of the chapel legend.  Back in the day when Old San Juan was not so old, but the streets were just as steep and bumpy, a young gentleman lost control of his carriage.  It could have been that the horses were bit by something, possibly fire ants.  It could have been that he just gained too much speed and the horses couldn’t stop themselves.  Regardless of what caused it, this man had second before he was going over the edge at the end of a steep narrow street and there was nothing but certain doom in front of him.  So, like a good Catholic, he spent his last moments in prayer.  I can’t remember the particular saint he appealed to, but his wish for his life to be spared worked – he was able to cling to an outcropping near the edge and haul himself back to safety.  As a survivor, he built a church to the saint on that very spot, which stands to this day.  And to this day, if you’re in a runaway carriage down that narrow street, instead of plowing straight over the edge to your doom, you’ll shore up safe and mostly sound against the stern steel gates of this little chapel.

Island Getaway

I hate the cold.   Well, perhaps that’s unfair to the Arctic north.

I really really really dislike the cold.  You would think, after spending most of my life in the northern Midwest and now living in Boston, I would have dealt with it and moved on.  But the dislike has lingered.  Every year, as the weather turns towards autumn, I get excited about the changing colors of the leaves and enjoy the briskness to the air without thinking about what all this change foreshadows – icy tundra time.

Instead, each year about this time I begin to pine for the tropics.  I ask myself (again) why I don’t live in Florida, or at least someplace a little more temperate.  This year in particular I’ve gone a little crazy.  I will be going on at least one trip to some international beach somewhere at an affordable price if it kills me.  I hope to go on two, or at least get as far as Florida for a little sun before the ice chills my veins completely and for all time.  A little sand, a little sun, a little ocean action would do me a world of good.

Unfortunately, despite dropping prices and the economic crisis, vacations remain expensive.  While looking for a way to get away, one co-worker suggested a cruise – affordable, food-packed, and generally an enjoyable experience.  But somehow for me, the appeal of lazing in the sun on a boat (albeit a giant luxury boat) does not have the same appeal that lying on the beach does.  Even a vacation on something small, like a sailboat, does not really meet my desires.  While it’s a picturesque image, I would end up spending most of my time off the boat, lazing on some beach or in some coastal town somewhere.  I like the waves rolling up on to the land, that experience of margins, rather than simply being near the water.

Perhaps that’s why the movable design of a ‘tropical island‘ doesn’t appeal to me.  Yes, this luxury ship may be wasteful or expensive or extravagant in a time of reduced income and expanded need.  But there’s more to it than that.  The allure of an island does not spring merely from being surrounded by water.  Every continent is surrounded by water – that doesn’t mean ever citizen of the world interacts with the vastness of the ocean.  Even living in a coastal city, I don’t get to experience that edge very often.

The tropical gardens, the pool, the elaborate quarters, aren’t what makes a tropical island beautiful or relaxing.  It’s the ability to wade down to the shore line, squishing your toes into the sand letting the ocean wave up on to you that matters.  When your movable island can give me that, I’ll consider buying it.  Until then, why not just buy a limo?

A flight in the right direction.

The Department of Transportation announced yesterday that reimbursements to ‘bumped’ passengers will increase to $400-800 on all planes with 30 seats or more.  The new rule will go into effect in May, and is one of many attempts (also including an ‘escape route‘ over Canada from NY airspace) by the department to reduce consumer frustration with the airline industry.  According to Bloomberg, this is the first increase in such payments since ’78.

This undoubtedly raise questions regarding who will qualify as being ‘bumped’ and how often individuals
actually get paid.  Does the flight I purchased three months in advance and then discontinued due to lack of passengers along that route two months in advance constitute a ‘bump’?  Are those who voluntarily give up seats on overbooked flights entitled to the $400 as well as other incentives?  Will this new bumping rule actually decrease flight delays, which are more typically caused by mechanical problems or weather than overbooking?

Still, I think the new rule is a step in the right direction, and one of the reasons I’m not a libertarian.  If air travel is getting more and more hectic and stressful, and airlines are still going bankrupt, someone has to step in to cover the discrepancy between consumer desire and corporate structure.  Maybe a part of that covering will involve new rules instituting fewer flights per day or more efficient planes, but it’s not something that the masses can demand from airlines easily or directly.  If we lived without government, or with minimal government, it might eventually happen through a group of concerned citizens coming together to advocate for the change, but personally I’m glad to see the government already in place starting to do the work it’s supposed to.

Around the World…almost

When my parents had their 25th wedding anniversary, my sisters and I wanted to do something special for them.  We thought about throwing a big party, or sending them off to travel someplace, but what we really wanted to do was send them on a cruise.  We had difficulties with fundraising and organization, so it never ended up happening, but the idea still lingers in my mind.  I think to myself, ‘maybe for their fiftieth’.

I’m not sure what it is about a cruise that still catches my attention.  Perhaps its the allure of old money, of travel undertaken in a slow and stately manner, the call of the ocean and  the mere idea of ‘ports of call’.  Perhaps it is the food or the entertainment or the style of the whole huge ship.  But somehow, there is still an attraction that outweighs the inevitable problems of cruise ships.

And there are always problems.  There’s food poisoning and seasickness, mechanical problems and staff shifts.  There’s possible seasickness, there’s the lack of real interaction with the ocean itself.   There’s the limited amount of time spent in those touristy regions in various ports-of-call, and be sure to be back aboard on time, cause we WILL leave without you.  And hey, even if you manage to get all the way around the world on your around-the-world cruise just to be stopped at one of the last ports of call, like these poor suckers.  I mean, you could make your own way back home, catch a flight or something while the various owners and cruise lines work out their legal troubles.  But who really ever wants to leave the Madeira islands?

I’ve decided instead to travel around Africa in a sailboat, after I save up the money to buy one and learn how to sail.  If you’re interested in joining me, please send a check.

« Older entries