Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year

This is again a short week, but I did want to take a moment to wish everyone a happy New Year! See you in 2009.

Maui Photos


I finally got my Hawaii photos uploaded and labeled. Here they are.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas


I’ll be enjoying a little Christmas break for the next few days, and I hope you all are, too. I wish a very merry Christmas to everyone.

(For your viewing pleasure, a photo taken in Maui. Hawaiian Christmases are especially surreal.)

Geography Quiz Answers

Here are the answers to the geography quiz. How did you do? I got, by my generous reckoning, 26.5 right out of 49. This was by far my best year. It helps that I always read the Chronicle travel section—the editor gets a lot of trivia from stories that appear there. (And sometimes from stories that don’t—I strongly suspect that a rejected article of mine inspired a question about Mongolia that was included several years ago, but I can’t prove it.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Yuletide Geography Quiz

Some Christmas traditions are enduring. Every year, for example, in a tradition going back to when I was in junior high school, we have a Yule log cake for dessert at Christmas dinner.

Some traditions do fall by the wayside. One thing we don’t do anymore is axe-murder a whole tree. We used to, but now we just use a little potted rosemary bush decorated with gingerbread cutouts. It’s small, tasteful, and sustainable, so it works well for everyone. The only thing I miss about the full-size tree is the ritual argument with my sister over what exactly that dough ornament I made when I was six is supposed to be. (It’s a sheep, so don’t even let her try to tell you it’s a turkey. It’s clearly a sheep. With drumsticks.)

For every tradition that runs its course though, it seems a new one comes along. Here’s one that’s fairly new for me. It may not have the emotional resonance of baking Christmas cookies for Santa, and now that I think of it, there is nothing specifically holiday-ish about it, but it’s something I do every year at Christmastime nonetheless. Please join me in hosting a glass of eggnog (and then discreetly leaving it on a bookcase because nobody really likes more than a few sips of eggnog) and taking the annual San Francisco Chronicle Geography Quiz.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On a Lighter Note

Pipi and I are off to Hawaii today. Her brother is getting married there, and we’ve all decided to make a vacation out of it. I’ll be back late next week. I probably won’t blog while I’m there, but I will put up pictures as soon as I can.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Other Things We Learned the Hard Way

One other example of this kind of thing: After the Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004, we all learned that what we used to call a tidal wave is really supposed to be called a tsunami. I sort of knew that before the event, but all the news coverage really cemented the proper term into my brain.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Mumbai

Like everyone, I’ve been following the news from India. I don’t have much to add to the narrative that hasn’t been said already. I did have one observation, though, and that’s that I noticed that all the news I’ve been reading refers to the city where the attacks took place as Mumbai. For a day or two, most stories clarified that this is the city formerly known as Bombay. But now they’ve stopped, because it’s just understood that we have internalized the new name and don’t need to be reminded anymore.

Mumbai has been known as such since 1996, but I confess, the name change never really took with me until now. But now I’ve heard Mumbai enough that I get it, and I probably won’t make the mistake of calling the city by its outdated name anymore. It’s funny how a tragedy can have the unintended effect of making us a little more cosmopolitan.

Now I need to get to work becoming fluent with the names Kolkata (Calcutta) and Bengaluru (Bangalore). But please, no more violence. I can do this on my own if I put my mind to it.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bah, Humbug…

…No, that’s too strong, because there are a few really great Christmas pop songs out there. Here are a few that actually make me dawdle if they should come on just as I am getting ready to leave a store.

Christmas Rapping, by the Waitresses
When the song came out, I remember that the thing that impressed me the most was the fact that the song used the word “damn,” which I thought was very daring. But I was 11. Now, I realize that this was actually a group of very good musicians. Note: there is no actual rapping on the song.

2000 Miles, by the Pretenders
This is one of those not-so-merry-Christmas Christmas songs. Brillantly melancholy.

I Believe in Father Christmas, by Greg Lake
Perhaps because the holiday season involves a lot of overindulgance, things that I normally hate in pop music—strings, kettle drums, obvious classical influences, and British terminology—all seem to work here.

River, by Joni Mitchell
I always used to wonder what Christmas was like in warm places, like Los Angeles, and now I know. Kind of bittersweet.

Father Christmas, by the Kinks
The best song ever written about getting mugged while dressed up as Santa Claus. OK, actually the only song ever written about that, but it is really good.

Fairy Tale of New York, by The Pogues with the late, great Kirsty MacColl.
This is another song about dysfunctional Christmas, but this one is funny. The song gets extra points for being sung by a guy who was born on Christmas day.

Do They Know It’s Christmas, by Band Aid
Boy George, George Michael, Duran Duran…it’s the ultimate guilty Christmas pleasure.

The Christians and the Pagans, by Dar Williams
In all seriousness, this is possibly the best secular Christmas song ever. It’s about a family gathering that by rights should have gone horribly wrong. But instead, everyone realizes they have more in common than they ever realized and gets along great. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

Where did November go? It was just here, and then I turned around, and suddenly there’s Christmas music at the grocery store.

I sort of dread this part of the holiday season because Christmas music at the grocery store means I have to start shopping in very short bursts. I can only stand commercial pop holiday music like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” for a minute or so. I think it’s just a coincidence that this is also about how long I can hold my breath, but I’m not sure. What I do know is that for the next few weeks, I will be shopping like I’m diving for abalone. I’ll take a deep breath, dive in, and hope I manage to grab at least one thing before the pain becomes too excruciating.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Pipi has a short work week this week, and I’ve decided that I do, too. So let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. We’ll be in San Francisco with my parents, my sister, and her boyfriend. I truly am thankful that we can all get together so easily these days.

This morning on KFOG listeners were invited to call in and relate Thanksgiving disaster stories. I was tempted to tell my turkey-on-a-train story, but I think the Bay Area has had its fill of that one. On the off chance, though, that there is someone out there on the Internet who hasn’t seen it, here is a little Thanksgiving-themed reading to get you through the rest of the week.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Still Crazy After All These Weeks

One habit I’ve been slow to get back into after moving is walking. For a while it seemed like every afternoon I would find a household project to work on instead of going out. But now, maybe because the days are getting shorter and colder and wetter, I am appreciating the daylight more and trying to get outside as much as I can.

Plus I’m running out projects.

I’ve had a few good walks recently, and am starting to have covered a pretty good radius around my house. I’m making some interesting discoveries. One is the neighborhood crazy yard. Every neighborhood has one, and I located ours towards the end of October. I wasn’t sure at first if the house was full-time crazy, or if Halloween had just gotten a little out of hand. I was suspicious from the start, though, because some of the crazy stuff didn’t seem to be Halloween themed. There seemed to be a lot of holidays going on at once, as well as some pretty eccentric statuary. I went by again in mid-November, and sure enough, still crazy. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that we’re dealing with year-round nuttiness, although I’m interested to see if there are seasonal variations.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Back from the Real World

I’m back in the blogisphere after an absence—I hope nobody missed me too much. I guess I just needed a break.

Actually, there hasn’t been that much to write about. I was writing copy for two web sites, but in the last few weeks, one project came to an end, and the other went on hold because the site isn’t making enough money yet. This is kind of discouraging, but it’s just the way freelancing goes. There is a chance that both projects may have a second phase, but I’m not expecting anything to happen before the end of the year.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Chinese Democracy

Yesterday I said that I was a life-long voter, but I confess that that doesn’t mean I have voted in every election for which I was eligible. I made what I thought was a good faith effort to vote in 1992, but never ended up casting a ballot.

I was on my Chinese walkabout then. I knew I should have arranged an absentee ballot ahead of time, but I didn’t have any idea where I would be at election time.

Once I was in China, I determined that I would probably be in Shanghai at about the time I should be sending my ballot back, so I faxed a request to have an absentee ballot sent to me there.

This plan had so many flaws that I can’t begin to guess which one actually tripped me up. I can’t even be sure the fax ever went through. I had a little trouble with the machine. My Chinese vocabulary didn’t cover telecommunications issues, and the shop owner didn’t speak any English. Amazingly, someone who happened to be there at the same time asked me in excellent French if he could be of any assistance. Together I think we made the fax machine work, but the receipt it spat out was completely unintelligible to me, so I’ll never know.

I remember thinking at the time that U.S. election officials would jump at the chance to literally deliver democracy to China, but it was not to be. I showed up every day for almost a week at the American Express office in Shanghai, but the package didn’t arrive while I was in town. When the election actually happened, I was on a ferry sputtering up the Yangtze River. The Chinese were definitely interested in the election, and several different people told me that Bill Clinton had won, but I had no access to news sources on the boat. It wasn’t until I arrived in Chongching four or five days later that I found out for sure that Ke Lin Dun had beaten Bu Shi (with Pei Lo placing a distant third).

I thought of this on Tuesday night when the results of the latest election were announced on television. We knew the winner just seconds after the polls had closed in California. It’s amazing how quickly they can calculate things these days. It’s also amazing to think about how hard it would have been to put myself in a place where I wouldn’t have been aware of the results of this election.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Voted


Did you?

One presidential election year—I think it was 1988, when I had just tuned 18--I announced to my parents that I wouldn’t be voting because none of the candidates met with my approval.

My father explained to me that even in a situation where neither of the candidates is all you are hoping for (and I think we can all agree that Dukakis/Bush wasn’t exactly one of those once-in-a-generation matchups), not making a decision means leaving the decision up to someone else.

My father created a life-long voter that day, and I admire him for urging me to exercise my rights even though he knew that my vote would probably cancel out his.

I’m repeating his words in the hope that if you’re thinking of skipping this election, you might reconsider. Maybe you think both the candidates are bums. But one of them is going to be the next president. Wouldn’t you like him to be the bum you chose instead of the bum imposed upon you?

Polls are open until 8pm.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Time Out


It’s not all gnashing of teeth around here. Tonight Pipi and I will be far from the angry corner. We’re told that trick-or-treaters do come to this neighborhood, so we’re staying in tonight to hand out candy.

This may not be the most impressive Halloween display in the neighborhood, but it’s our first ever, so please cut us a little slack.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bula


The first word every Western visitor to Fiji learns is “bula.” It’s kind of like “aloha.” It’s a versatile word that can stand in for many things, including “hello” and “thank you.”

I think that what bula literally means, though, is “welcome,” and as you can see, Fijians are a very friendly and welcoming bunch. This photograph was taken at a checkpoint near the international airport in Nadi as I was on my way home from Fiji several years ago. There had just been a coup, and I had been invited to Fiji as a journalist to document the fact that the islands were once again safe for tourists.

This soldier was supposed to be guarding the airport and looking for the leader of the coup, who was then still at large. (Somebody did catch him later, but I somehow doubt it was this guy who nabbed him.) I had asked the soldier if I could take his picture because I thought he looked very fierce in his guardhouse, and I thought a photograph would reassure my readers that Fiji was well protected.

I really wanted a picture of him by himself, with his gun and his imposing bulk, but what I got instead was a man transformed into a giant golden retriever, all eager goofiness and affection. I understand that this kind of unguarded openness is common to the people of the South Pacific and I certainly saw a lot of it in Fiji. I really got the sense that everyone I met there would have given me the shirt off his or her back if I had asked.

I’m trying hard to keep that in mind as I deal with a neighborhood that is invaded every evening by Tongans intent on taking something away from me and my community. I confess that I’ve been struggling with some ugly thoughts lately, stemming from the fact that while about 45% of the state backs Proposition 8—a large cross-section of the California population, in other words--virtually all of the people who have gone to the trouble of waving rude signs in my neighborhood are of Tongan descent.

So I did a little research. I learned that there are thought to be about 20,000 Tongans in California, 75% of whom live in the Bay Area. That means there are about 15,000 Tongans here, and only about 100 of them are actively campaigning against gay rights. That’s actually a pretty low bozo rate—less than 1%--which makes me feel better.

But mostly I just like to remember the chorus of “bula” that greeted me at the airport on arrival in the South Pacific and followed me for 10 days across three islands. I’m trying to hold onto the welcome that was extended to me with no regard for whatever strange or maybe even offensive cultural baggage I brought with me from home. I only wish I were doing as good of a job accepting Tongan guests into my neighborhood, but I have to admit, right now it’s hard.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First Time Protesters

The funny thing is I’ve never really been a protester before. Oh, sure, in college I showed up at some Gulf War protests, but everyone does that. I don’t think they let kids graduate if they haven’t, at some point during their four years, protested a Gulf War. But I never really believed that signs and slogans changed the world much.

I still don’t believe they do change things directly, but for once, I feel strongly enough about something that I don’t care. I needed to go out on the corner anyway, partly because I wanted to show that there is resistance to this amendment, and partly because I just needed to make a public scene.

Interestingly, a lot of other people seem to have had the same reaction. Several other people I’ve struck up conversations with have told me that this is their first protest ever. I haven’t asked any of the Yes people, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that most of them are otherwise fairly apolitical as well. This just really seems to have gotten all of us here in California pretty riled up.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Signs of the Times


Pipi and I aren’t just sitting around seething. Last night we were out on the corner, too, with a pretty good crowd of like-minded people. I can’t say it was fun—I endured more epithets and slurs in one hour than in the rest of my entire adult life—but it felt like doing something, and I did meet a lot of my neighbors. There are some good, brave people living here and that, at least, makes me feel better.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Suffer the Children


The following isn’t strictly related, in fact isn’t even loosely related to travel, writing, exploration, or cultural discovery. It’s just what’s on my mind and I need to unload.

Lately a group of pro-Proposition 8 protestors have been massing during rush hour at the corner of High and MacArthur Streets in Oakland. This intersection is almost a half a mile from my house, but it’s a major Laurel District thoroughfare, and I seem to have to pass by this group almost any time I go anywhere.

Every time I do, my blood boils. Proposition 8 is a proposed state constitutional amendment that will outlaw gay marriage, a right that, believe it or not, we actually do have in California right now. So every time I go on an errand, I have to pass by this vocal group intent on taking away one of my civil rights. That this group that wants to make me a second-class citizen is composed mostly of people of Tongan descent is just one of the oddities of the situation. Why would a bunch people of color try to impose a separate but equal scenario on anyone else? I don’t get it.

Another thing I don’t get is the fact that most of this group are also Mormon. I know it’s a conservative faith, but you’d think Mormons, of all people, would understand how terrible it feels to have people legislate your relationships.

And it does feel terrible. This is the thing I don’t like to admit, because it gives the bigots power, but it really does hurt. It feels just like junior high school, when the popular kids go out of their way to make it clear how unwelcome you are at their table. This feeling, this shame at being made to feel like you aren’t good enough to be included in something, is apparently one of those things I’m never going to outgrow.

Part of what makes this so painful is the fact that for the Yes on 8 crowd, it’s a big party. They’re out there on the corner dancing, shouting, high-fiving each other, and just generally having a great time.

That hurts, of course; nobody likes to feel that someone’s having fun at their expense, least of all me.

But the thing that’s really disturbing me, that’s actually making me despair a little bit, is the fact that kids are getting involved. These people, pretending that they’re pro family, are dragging their children to the protest. On Thursday night, a large group of adults and children were still out at 9:30pm, when I drove by on my way home from a class.

Now, 9:30 was my bedtime—my weekend bedtime—until I was 14 years old. So here’s the last thing I don’t understand: If these Yes on 8 people are such superior parents, why are their little urchins not in bed at a reasonable hour?

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Room with Access to a View


This is not the view from my house. Like most Oakland residents, I live in what East Bay people call “The Flatlands.” We don’t have any view to speak of out our windows, although I am learning to appreciate living at ground level for the glimpses it provides into our neighbors’ lives. This morning, for example, our firefighter neighbor was pounding something into her lawn with a sledgehammer, though we couldn’t see exactly what, and wasted a good deal of time speculating as to what it could be. But I digress.

The good news is that if you’re feeling energetic, views are not far away. This picture was taken only two blocks from where we live. One of the blocks, though, is very long and graded like a ski jump. The reward for climbing that hill is a view across most of Oakland and the San Francisco Bay, one even better than the one I got the other day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Walking Down My Street

One of the interesting aspects of moving is that it puts a whole new neighborhood within walking distance of my house. My own new street, in fact, is one that I hadn’t ever been on before we looked at the house. So recently I took a stroll up and down my street so that I could mark it off on my map.

This was harder than it sounds. Where I live, my street is only a few blocks long. Almost a half a mile away, though, the street recurs for about a block. I ended up getting some pretty good exercise just finding my whole street.

Friday, October 17, 2008

¡Obamanos!

I took a great walk yesterday. I was exploring my own neighborhood but I went uphill a little bit and found myself in Redwood Heights, which borders the Laurel District. It’s a wealthy neighborhood full of very large houses, most of them mock Tudor or some other imposing style. It was a little intimidating, but the houses were pretty and I was rewarded for my uphill trudge with a beautiful view of the Oakland flatlands, the bay, and the hills south of San Francisco.

Some of the campaign signs that I saw in Redwood Heights surprised me. There were a lot of “No on 8” signs, just like in my neighborhood. (Proposition 8 is a proposed amendment to the state constitution that will outlaw gay marriage in California. Again.)

There were also a lot of pro-Obama signs. Most of them I’d seen before, but one caught my eye. It just said “¡Obamanos!” I take this to be a play on the Spanish “vamanos,” meaning “let’s go.” I thought that was very clever, and I love that for everyone out there calling him “Osama” or reminding us over and over what his middle name is, there’s another person using his or her powers of name-twisting for good.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Haleakala

The other thing I want to do is ride a bike down Mount Haleakala. You get driven to the top of the volcano very early in the morning to watch the sun rise. Then you are given a bicycle and pointed downhill. You more or less coast back to the bottom.

This is my favorite kind of outdoor adventure--one that has a veneer of athleticism, but which is really all about looking at pretty things. I can look at pretty things all day long and not get tired.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Molokini

The first thing I want to do is snorkel at Molokini. This is a partially sunken volcanic crater in the ocean a few miles from Maui. I saw a picture while I was researching luxury activities in Hawaii and knew instantly I wanted to go there; I just didn’t know when I’d get a chance. I’m told you can go on a sort of escorted scuba dive there, too, without being certified, but I’m not sure I’m brave enough for that. Snorkeling works for me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Next Big Thing

Pipi and I only have one major trip planned this year, but it’s a good one: We’re going to Maui in December. The occasion is Pipi’s brother’s wedding. This is the wedding that might have taken place in Australia, but we’re not complaining.

Pipi has been to Maui before, but she was pretty young, and I’ve never been at all. I did write a luxury travel description about Maui a few months ago, so I feel like I know it a little. I’m looking forward to doing some of the activities I wrote about, which actually aren’t all that expensive--they just struck me as cool.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Some Good News on the Candy Front

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that White Rabbit candy will relaunch soon. It will have different packaging, the main feature of which is some kind of message from the company saying the product is no longer made with tainted milk.

I guess this is good news. I’m not sure how much safer the new packaging really makes consumers, but I like White Rabbit so much that I may risk it, once in a while anyway.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Flickr Fun

Here’s another interesting web site I find myself part of. This isn’t one of those wayback searches; this item just went up a few weeks ago.

The site is called Now Public, and it appears to be a user-generated news site, sort of like Wikipedia, only for news. Writers troll sites like Flickr for photos, and recently someone found a photo I took in China to use with an article about traffic controls in Beijing.

Several hundred other photos are attached to the story, so I don’t feel like it’s a huge honor, but it’s kind of interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pardon My….Turkish?

If you’ve been to Google’s home page in the last few days, you know it’s their 10th anniversary. As part of this observation, they’ve placed a temporary field on the home page that enables you to see what results would have come up if you had used Google in January of 2001.

I was curious what would happen if I Googled myself using the time-machine box, so I did. It found 113 results, about 20 of which were non-duplicates.

Some hits don’t actually have to do with me; they’re news and statistics about Nicole Clausing the Midwestern soccer star. Some are from my ancient history—mostly tables of content for books I edited 12 or 13 years ago. But the very last one amused me. I’ve seen it before, but I haven’t been able to find it on the Internet for years. It’s a link to an article with my byline—but that’s the only part of the article I can read. The text itself is written in a language I don’t even recognize. Turkish, maybe? If anyone knows, I’d love it if you’d let me know.

I think I know what the article is. I’m sure it’s this article that I remember writing (in English, naturally) many years ago with my Travelocity co-worker, Lisa Zeng. What I can’t explain is why someone would bother to translate it. This is the only thing I’ve ever written that I’m aware of having been translated. I guess it’s an honor, but mostly it’s just a fun mystery.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Even Worse Candy News

I spent three months backpacking in China in the early nineties, and one thing I remember fondly about that time is Cadbury chocolate bars. Cadbury isn’t the best chocolate in the world, but all the other “chocolate” products sold in China in those days tasted like brown crayons in colorful wrappers, so I was grateful for it.

I was so grateful, in fact, that I used to buy one or two every time I saw some for sale, reasoning that I never knew when I would next get the chance to have good chocolate.

It wasn’t until very close to the end of my trip that I realized that Cadbury was pretty much everywhere, and that I was actually consuming candy bars at a far faster rate than I did at home. I had somehow convinced myself that I was experiencing a chocolate famine, when in reality, I was putting away three or four bars a week.

I don’t eat Cadbury that much anymore, but when I do, I have a Proust-like memory of traveling on Chinese trains, and I can remember how good it made me feel to taste something sweet and creamy and familiar so far from home.

I am thinking of all the Cadbury chocolate bars I have eaten in my day because I just read that the company is recalling its Chinese-made chocolate because of fears that it might have been made with tainted milk. I’m not concerned for myself—this was a really long time ago—but I am a little sad to think of all those backpackers out there now, scrunched up on hard-sleeper bunks somewhere in the Chinese countryside, scribbling in their journals after an unsatisfying train dinner, and not being able to pop an overly sweet, oddly light colored piece of mediocre chocolate in their mouths.

They’re probably all sipping Starbucks mochas and not missing mass-market candy at all, but that’s a sad thought in its own way, too.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Interesting Article

Today I stumbled upon an article in Travel + Leisure magazine that caught my attention. It listed the scariest airports in the world to fly in and out of. It seemed to be judging the fear factor from the perspective of pilots, but I imagine that in most cases, the approaches would be pretty scary for a passenger, too. There’s an airport in the mountains of Bhutan that’s so hard to get to, for example, that only eight people in the world are qualified to land there. I think that most passengers would notice the rocks and trees whizzing by the window and be a little alarmed.

A few approaches did take me by surprise, like JFK and Washington National. Who knew these airports were so difficult for pilots? But because of airspace restrictions and traffic from other nearby airports, they are.

I’m pleased to report that I’ve flown into three of the ten scary airports, plus one—Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak—that got an honorary mention even though is no longer in use.

There is one I probably never will get to, though. That’s the one in Lesotho where the runway isn’t long enough, so on takeoff planes sometimes go off the edge of a cliff and plummet until they get enough speed to become airborne. I just don’t need that much adventure in my life.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Not Strictly Related, But….

…This struck me as funny and I wanted to share.

I was at Whole Foods last night, and not even the one in Berkeley. This happened in good old Adams Point, in Oakland.

I was standing in line and someone said over the public-address system, “Would the gentleman who wanted the vegan doughnut holes please return to the deli counter?”

I repeat, this wasn’t even in Berkeley. Vegan doughnuts. What will they think of next?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bad Day for Bunnies


Lately the papers are just full of bad news. So far, I’ve been considering myself lucky. Lehman Brothers collapsed, but I didn’t have any money invested in them. WaMu folded up, but that wasn’t my bank. There was a devastating hurricane in Texas, but, for now at least, California is not falling into the sea.

Finally, though, something has hit home with me: They’re recalling my beloved White Rabbit candy. Apparently White Rabbits in California are testing high for melamine. This shouldn’t be surprising, because they are, after all, a Chinese candy made primarily from milk, but somehow I’m still shocked. And vaguely worried—I eat a lot of those things. Probably not enough to give myself a kidney stone, but they are made from condensed milk.

I never thought I’d have anything in common with infants in China, but the world turns out to be smaller and stranger then I could ever imagine.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Back at It

I know I kind of disappeared for a while there. I moved, and that disrupted my life more than I imagined it would. It has been a long time since I did this, and it’s taking longer than I expected to find a place for everything.

The upside (aside from liking the new home and new neighborhood better, of course) is that I am getting to know my local café well. I have been working there a lot because if I stay home all I can see are boxes cluttering the living room and it’s all I can do to stop myself from unpacking them.

Things are slowly getting back to normal. I’m back to work—I had a miraculous week off from destination descriptions the week we had to pack—and now, back to blogging. So thanks for your concern. Nothing bad happened—I was just buried under a sea of cardboard boxes.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Oakmore

I’m heading east for now, trying to close the gap between Glenview and the Laurel District. That means right now I’m in Dimond and Oakmore. Dimond I know a little bit already because my favorite grocery store is there, but Oakmore is new to me. I feel like it’s a pretty well kept Oakland secret, almost but not quite in the hills, and cut off from Glenview by a long, skinny park. There’s a little commercial strip I don’t know very well yet, including a pizza place and a produce market that looks good. I always like it when my explorations include lunch.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Other Day That Lives in Infamy

I just noticed the date today. Are we ever going to be able to write “September 11” without flashing back to that September 11? Probably not. I have a poster on my wall from an art exhibition that closed September 11, 1985, and even that looks weird now. (“We can’t end it then—don’t you know what’s going to happen on that day 16 years later?”)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Connecting the Dots

I haven’t been walking as much as I’d like to lately. I’ve been working pretty hard—for me, at least—and it hasn’t been easy to make the time. Also, Pipi and I have been experimenting with swimming a few mornings a week, leaving me with less time and energy for strolling.

I am getting back into it, though. I’ve finished the Glenview neighborhood, and now I have to decide what to do next. I was working from Glenview westward, but I got distracted by some neighborhoods to the east. I thought we might want to live in either the Dimond or Laurel districts, so I started getting to know those. Now my walking map is a mess, with isolated marked-off areas and half (at best) finished neighborhoods. This offends my orderly sensibilities, but it also motivates me to get walking so I can fill in the blanks. I’m pretty busy tomorrow, but I do want to get out there.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Walking Update

Today I took what I’m sure is the last walk I can walk to from my current neighborhood. This was sort of a way of saying goodbye to the area, because Pipi and I are planning on moving to a different part of Oakland soon.

Amazingly, on my walk today I discovered a street I’d never been down. I thought I had, but nothing looked familiar. That was a surprise to me; finding out that I live within walking distance of a street I’d never, in nine years, actually bothered to walk down.

Monday, September 08, 2008

An Interesting Proposition

I got an email over the weekend from someone who used to work for the luxury travel site that I’ve been writing descriptions for. He said he liked my work, and wondered if I might be interested in helping him write content for a web site he’s starting. This site isn’t about travel at all. It’s going to be for parents of children with special needs, especially autism.

That’s not exactly my field of expertise, but I do find autism a fascinating subject and have read way more about it than I have any real reason to, so I said yes. I don’t know what the time frame is for this project, but I will let you know when things start appearing on the site. (It may not be for a while, because the site isn’t even live yet.)

Oh, and the heat did break. The sun is sinking into a fog bank as I type. Thanks for asking!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Gosh It’s Hot

How many of you have an espresso maker in your office? And someone to make you an iced mocha when you need it? Well, today, I do.

One thing I didn’t think too much about when I started working at home was climate control. It gets warm sometimes in Oakland, but it’s dry and rarely breaks 100, so I thought it would be okay.

And usually it is. What I didn’t think about, though, is the fact that when most people step outside to get lunch on a day that’s 92 degrees, it’s no big deal. When it’s 92 degrees all afternoon in my home office, though, that gets old after about three hours. Also, my cat Tommy likes to sleep under my desk when it’s really hot, and I’ve been worried all day that I’ll fidget and run over his tail with my desk chair. So I had to get out of the house.

This afternoon I’m at a coffeehouse, where it’s considerably cooler. The music is a little distracting, but they’ve got a good British Invasion mix playing so I don’t mind. I’m conscious, which I might not be right now if I were in my apartment, so I don’t think my productivity is taking too much of a hit.

The heat is supposed to break over the weekend.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Destination Summaries

As you might have guessed, I’m deep in a destination description project. I’ve been writing 10 destination blurbs a week for a luxury travel site based in San Francisco. It’s a good gig. It’s kind of draining to become an instant expert on one location before lunch, and then have to write 300 words about another place in the afternoon, but it’s doable.

And as you can see, I’m picking up lots of cocktail-party trivia, so it’s paying all kinds of dividends.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

More on Sir Seewoosagur

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam did have more going for him than his name. (Though I think we can all see it must have given him a pretty big edge.) Ramgoolam was the Mauritian Prime Minister who won independence from Britain. He was a follower of Gandhi, and managed to achieve his country’s freedom completely peacefully. That’s something the United States can’t even claim, so hats off to Sir Seewoosagur on his well-deserved knighthood.

(Ramgoolam, by the way, was preceded as governor-general of Mauritius by Sir Dayendranath Burrenchobay, and succeeded by Sir Veerasamy Ringadoo. They just come up with good names in the Indian Ocean.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Yes, Sir

Another fun fact discovered while writing destination descriptions for the far-flung corners of the earth: Someday I am going to travel to the island nation of Mauritius, just so that I can have the pleasure of flying into Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport.

I’d go anyway, because Mauritius sounds beautiful, but that name! Did Mr. Ramgoolam get knighted just because he had such a great name?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Fun Fact

Today I learned that although the British Virgin Islands are still a British Overseas Territory, U.S. dollars are the official currency. Does anyone know why this is the case? I sure don’t.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

One More Fun Fact

There are a few McDonald’s locations in the world that have been certified kosher. All but one are in Israel.

That one other one? It’s in Buenos Aires. Who knew?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fun Facts

Today is Namibia Day.

On this day in history, Krakatoa began to erupt (1883), women got the right to vote (1920), and the first major-league baseball game was telecast (1939).

Today is the birthday of Apollinaire, Geraldine Ferraro, Christopher Isherwood, Macaulay Culkin, crossword-puzzle editor Will Shortz, and Branford Marsalis. Oh, and me. So, short post today.

I’m off to eat ice cream.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Good News, Bad News

Recently I heard about two long-lost pieces on the same day. An editor wrote to me to say that she can’t use a Beijing article I sent her ages ago. I’d pretty much figured that out already, so I didn’t mind.

She also said that she’d like to hold onto another piece of mine for a little bit longer. This is an article about Japan that I first sent her months ago. She said it was long, so I shortened it and sent it back. I didn’t really expect that to do any good, but just now she said she’d like to hang on and see if a space opens up for it. I’m patient.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Netcast

A few days ago, I didn’t know exactly what a netcast was. Now I’m in one.

I mentioned earlier in the month that someone asked me for permission to use one of my Flickr photos in a webcast. I was happy to let him have it, and the guy did use it, in this webcast he produced about historic preservation. (It’s about 30 minutes long. The segment I’m part of starts at 8:13, and my photo is at 8:33.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Not Strictly Related But…

…Has anyone been watching the Olympics?

Pipi and I have been getting up early to watch U.S. women’s soccer. (On TV, they’re always identified as “Football Women.” I like that).

Some really exciting and surprising things have happened. Germany, the 2007 World Cup champion, fell apart and didn’t make it to the final Olympic match. On the other hand, Japan, usually a bracket-padding team, is doing phenomenally well. They made it to the bronze-medal match. In fact, they played Germany for it early this morning in a match-up of the surging underdogs and the surprised superstars. If you know what happened DON’T TELL ME! I recorded it. I normally like the German team, but today I’d like to see Japan win the bronze for effort.

The biggest surprise of all, though, was the performance of the U.S. team. Just a few weeks before the Olympics, our star player, goal machine Abby Wambach, broke her leg. Most people (including me) thought we were doomed, but amazingly, the team won the gold medal this morning.

It was a very exciting game, won on a goal scored by a player who hardly ever scored during the Wambach era. In addition, Hope Solo performed brilliantly. I’ve always found her a little hard to get behind. (I can forgive the immature outburst at the World Cup, but I have a hard time with the eyeliner she wears on the field.) But I have to grudgingly admit, she came up big in goal.

Everyone came up big, which was a beautiful thing to see. The U.S. women came together and played as a team. A year ago, we might as well have been called “The U.S. Wambach Soccer Team.” If we were a rock group, we’d have been Abby and the Assistants. But today, it was a real team effort. And isn’t that what the Olympics are about?

(Yes, I’m talking to you, Mr. Bolt.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mission Accomplished

The event at Book Passage turned out to be a lot of fun. Simon Winchester is a very engaging speaker—the kind of guy who can turn a simple question about how he got his start in writing into a half-hour yarn about the first time he met the writer Jan Morris. (Without giving away the punch line, I can say that what I learned is that it isn’t always a good idea to drop in on your mentor unexpectedly.) I picked up his newest book, The Man Who Loved China, which I haven’t started but am looking forward to.

The networking went pretty well, too. I reminded a few editors of my existence, and met someone who might need some help writing and editing content for a travel web site, so that was successful. But I am now returning to my regular hermitic life.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Networking Tonight

I’m going to another of those slightly nerve-wracking networking events tonight. The author Simon Winchester is speaking at the Book Passage bookstore in Corte Madera. His talk is part of the annual Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference, which I’ve been to twice. His talk is the one conference event that’s open to the public. I’m looking forward to his presentation, because I’ve read several of his books and liked them all.

My ulterior motive, though, is that most of the conference faculty will be around that evening. So there should be some opportunity to corner some editors and chat them up. I’m not so good at that, but I will probably have a glass of courage during the talk, which should make me a little chattier. We’ll see how it goes.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Siberia Photos

I recently got one other photo request. This one was from a guy producing an online presentation about Siberian architecture, specifically what he describes as the endangered Siberian “gingerbread” houses. I didn’t realize how endangered they are, because I saw lots in and around Irkutsk. I confess, I don’t fully understand how my Siberia photograph is being used, but I don’t mind. One of these days I’ll Google it and see where it shows up.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Big in Japan

Usually when I get back from a trip, I post photos on the Flickr web site. It’s a fun site that makes it easy to share your photos with other people, as long as they have Internet access. For a long time, I wondered if anyone ever stumbled across my photos without invitation.

Recently I caught on that Flickr will tally statistics for you, if you want them to. So now I know the answer: Yes, strangers do see my photos. Flickr will give you a list of what people are looking at. My most-viewed image (85 visits) is one taken of downtown Shanghai from the top of a TV tower. Second place, with 65 viewings, inexplicably belongs to a sad picture of a makeshift memorial to Anna Nicole Smith.

Just behind that one is a photo that I do like. It’s of a family of Mongolian nomads putting up their tent. It’s not a technically great photo, but I do feel lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to have gotten the shot at all. Sixty-one people (one just yesterday) have viewed it, but even more surprisingly, four people, all strangers to me, have labeled it a favorite. One other person contacted me explaining that he moderates an online group called “Nomadology,” and wondered if he could add it to a group of photos that they like. And just a few weeks ago, someone emailed me from Japan asking permission to include it in a children’s book about nomads he hopes to publish soon. Apparently Flickr is now the poor man’s stock photo agency. I’m flattered. He promised to let me know when the book is published, and I’ll try to get my hands on a copy when (if?) that happens.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I Did It

I dreamed the night before last that I did my reading, and in my dream, it went terribly. (Great—a new anxiety dream scenario. I guess the exam I didn’t study for was getting tired.) My performance wasn’t awful; it was just that everything else in the dream went wrong. I forgot to bring a copy of the story and so I had to go back home for it, which made me late. I had trouble finding the venue, and when I did, it was a tiny classroom hidden upstairs in some dark and depressing school. Only Pipi and a stranger showed up.

I think that in real life, the reading went pretty well. Compared to what I was expecting, it was a smashing success. I got there in plenty of time, with story in hand. The bookstore was well lit, as usual, and lots of people came. In my cheering section I had Pipi, my sister, and several friends. I really appreciate everyone finding a way to rush over there from work. Thank you!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Today’s the Day

I can’t really think about anything else today (which is unfortunate, because I need to write luxury travel descriptions for Fort Meyers and the Maldives), so I will take this opportunity to again mention my reading tonight. Not even to urge you to go—I’ve already made enough of a pest of myself about that. I’m just a little pre-occupied, is all. Real life will resume tomorrow.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Fair Warning

Just to remind everyone, I’m giving a reading at Book Passage in the Ferry Building in San Francisco at 5:30 Monday evening.

I won’t be the only reader, so I don’t know exactly what time I go on. I like to be first, and people are usually happy to let me do that (how they sit through the first couple of readers, sweating bullets the whole time, I’ll never know), but I can’t promise.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Captions

I put captions on the photos. I’m sorry I didn’t do that yesterday. I am working on luxury travel destination descriptions again and don’t have as much time to play with photos (or my blog) as I would like.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Home Again

We’re back from Wisconsin now. Today, however, I’m playing hooky from work because a friend of mine from New Zealand is in town. So I’ll tell you more about America’s Dairyland tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some photos.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hello, Wisconsin

I’m off to the badger state first thing tomorrow. I think I’m going to treat this as a real vacation, so I probably won’t be blogging until I’m back next week. Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fun Fact

Wisconsin produces 25% of the cheese consumed in the United States. My kind of state.

I bring this up because I’m headed there Wednesday morning. My parents have rented a house there, and my sister and I are joining them this week. We’ll be in Oshkosh, on Lake Winnebago. It should be a relaxing and calcium-rich vacation.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Rats

My Great Wall of China article just got rejected by the San Francisco Chronicle.

This was a situation where the editor thought maybe he could integrate some of my article into a feature on China he is planning on running soon, but he just sent me an email apologizing for the fact that it won’t work after all.

That’s disappointing, but he said specifically he hoped I didn’t get discouraged, so I’ll try not to take it too hard. I was actually a very nice rejection, definitely in the top decile, so I certainly won’t take it personally.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sign of the Times


I found this sad display on Fruitvale Avenue in Oakland. Making Ends Meet has met its end.

This initially struck me as funny—a business that tries to save money runs out of money, ha!--but of course it isn’t a joke; it’s for real. This is just a sign of tough times all over.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Talking to Myself

In anticipation of my August reading, I’m back in the habit of reading out loud to myself every morning. I’m practicing reading my piece so I get used to the sound of my own voice and so that I’m familiar enough with the words that I can look up a lot, and keep moving if I lose my place. I did this before, preparing for a reading last summer, so I know it’s good practice. But I never get used to it, standing in the living room talking to nobody for 10 minutes. I keep imagining that the neighbors are sick of the story, although I doubt they can actually hear me. This just puts me in a strange frame of mind!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In Good--or at Least Famous--Company

I wouldn’t have thought I had anything in common with our nation’s most decorated curmudgeon, but there turns out to be one slim thread that connects us: John McCain can’t get published, either.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Technical Difficulties

I finally got ahold of an article I wrote about Monterey that was published several months ago in Philippine Airlines’ inflight magazine. Unfortunately, I can’t show it to you yet because Comcast changed the way its personal web pages work, and I can’t figure out how to make a new page for it. I’ll try to get that figured out tomorrow. I meant to do it today, but I suspect it will take a call to tech support to get things working, and I’m not in the mood.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Red Room

A few nights ago, I went to an event that might be every writer’s worst nightmare: A party where I didn’t know anyone.

The party was hosted by Red Room, a networking site for writers that I’m a member of. I expected a quiet little salon full of people dressed in black scribbling in notebooks and looking at their shoes, but to my surprise, it was a pretty lively event at Tosca, in North Beach.

Once I got over the shock of seeing so many extroverted writers, I did begin to enjoy myself. There was one really fun aspect to the party, and that was that the cost of admission was one signed book. I dutifully signed a copy of The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2007, which includes my Thanksgiving in China story. That felt like cheating a little bit, but I don’t have a book of my own, so it had to do. When I got to the party, I dropped off the book, and got a receipt that entitled me to take someone else’s book on my way out the door.

At the party, I talked to a few people, but not too many because it was pretty loud in the bar and I am not good at high-volume conversations. As I was getting ready to leave, though, I picked up a book by Daniel Handler, one of Red Room’s local celebrity authors. Having his book (Adverbs) in my hand emboldened me to speak to him, so before I left, I found him by consulting the author photo on the back of the book. We had a brief chat, and my impression is that he’s a really nice guy. He started the conversation by apologizing to me—when I walked up to him, he seemed to think he was in my way. I was charmed to see that, big shot though Daniel Handler may be, he still assumes that people approaching him are only doing so in order to get around him.

So I consider the party a success, though I can see I still have some networking skills I could work on, like introducing myself more confidently and having an easily articulated summary of my work ready.

Oh, and I guess I’d better write a book, too.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

MIA Piece Accounted For

It wasn’t good news, but at least it was closure. I just got a rejection note about a piece I sent out so long ago that I had forgotten that this particular paper had even received it. I sent the paper an article on Japan at the end of 2007, and I got the rejection last week, 197 days after I first emailed the article.

That may not be a record, but it’s close.

(If you’re wondering how I know how many days had passed, I figured it out with this new time wasting tool.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mission Accomplished

I did my reading last night, and I think it went pretty well. I wish I’d had more time to prepare, because I know my delivery wasn’t as seamless as it could have been, and I wasn’t as able to look up at the audience as much as I would have liked. But someone later told me she was surprised to hear that I’d been nervous. So I guess I faked it well enough.

The pieces I read seemed to go over well. People were surprised to find out that neither one had ever been published, so I resolved to try again harder to send them out.

For those of you who missed the reading—and that’s just about everyone, because I didn’t have time to rally the troops—you get another chance next month. I’ll remind you again later, but it’s at the Ferry Building Book Passage location, at 5:30 on August 11. I promise to practice more next time.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I’m Reading! 5:30 PM

I made the cut and I am reading today at Book Passage at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what time I go on—we won’t decide the set list until just before the event starts. But it’s a great bookstore, with some good places to get a drink afterwards, and I encourage everyone to come down, if you get the chance.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Getting on My Soapbox

The theme of Monday’s reading is “On the Soapbox.” We will all be reading opinion pieces. I have two that I am trying to choose between, both about gay marriage. The one I like best is a little outdated now, so what I have to decide is which is more feasible: updating the old one, or improving the new one. I think I’m going to go with editing the newer one. That will give me something to work on this afternoon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another Reading?

It never rains but it pours on my public appearance calendar.

The woman who organizes the Ferry Building events invited me to do a reading next Monday, forgetting that she’d already signed me up for the August reading. We both agreed that two months of Nicole might be a lot, so right now I’m penciled in as an alternate. If she can’t get a full schedule of readers, I get to go on.

If this does happen, I’ll be reading at 5:30 on July 14 at the Book Passage Ferry Building store. I will let you know as soon as I do!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Book Passage Reading

I decided which story I’m going to read at the Book Passage event. It’s the one about Taiwan. Of all the travel stories I have that would be appropriate for the event, that’s the one that’s gotten the least exposure so far, so that’s the one I’m going to go with.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Mark Your Calendars

I believe I’ve said before in this space that I’m not an enthusiastic speaker. I’m okay once I’m at the podium; I’m just terrified of the idea. As a consequence, my public appearances as an adult have been very limited.

But, rock stars have to support their new material, and so do writers. (See, there’s something else I have in common with Mick Jagger.) So I decided it was time to take advantage of an opportunity offered by a writers’ group that I’m part of. Every month, this group (Left Coast Writers) hosts a bookstore reading. Any member can volunteer to present, but I’ve never had the courage.

Yesterday, however, the group met and I allowed myself to be talked into signing up for August by one of the other members. August’s theme is travel writing, so if I don’t do it then, I may never.

The event is August 11 from 5:30 to 7:30 at Book Passage bookstore in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. There will be several other readers, but I don’t know yet how many or which number I am.

If anyone’s worried about this, I think the two-hour time frame includes drinks at the Wine Merchant afterward—I’ve never known one of these readings to take anywhere close to two hours. Book Passage is an excellent bookstore and I encourage everyone to stop by if only to patronize a clean, well-lighted, and independent place for books. (The San Francisco branch is small, but they can order anything for you.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

When to Buy?

It used to be that buying airplane tickets was a little bit of a gamble. You never knew if you were buying at the right time. You might commit to buying a ticket and the next day the price might drop significantly. Or it might go up. It all seemed very random and it was hard to decide when to make the purchase.

Lately all the advice I’ve been getting says to buy now, because prices will only go up. And over the weekend, I had an experience that suggested very dramatically that this is true.

My family is planning a getaway to a lake near Oshkosh, Wisconsin at the end of July. On Saturday, my sister and I had a pow-wow on the phone, each of us in front of our own computer, in order to book plane tickets to Milwaukee. We looked at airfares for various dates and times on several different web sites. Finally, we decided on a particular American Airlines itinerary, which Hilary found on Orbitz and I saw on Travelocity for exactly the same price. We went through the booking process together, picking seats that were next to each other.

When we got to the end of the process, we double-checked with each other and then we both clicked our purchase buttons at what must have been almost exactly the same time.

I instantly got a confirmation that my purchase had gone through. Hilary, though, got a message saying that one or more of her flights was no longer available. When we tried to start the booking over again, neither site offered that exact itinerary as an option. After a few minutes, the flights reappeared—for several hundred dollars more than I had just paid. We hoped this was a fluke, and that prices would come back down after a few hours, but so far, no luck.

I am aware that two people sitting next to each other on a plane can pay wildly different prices for those two seats, but I never realized this could happen when they’re booked seconds apart. In retrospect, I see now that we should have been using one computer to purchase both the tickets at once. But if we’d taken the extra time for one of us to drive to the other’s house, who knows what would have happened to prices during that hour?

Like I said, it’s a gamble.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy Fourth of July


Pipi and I like to be ahead of things, so we already saw fireworks, last night at the Marin County Fair.

This frees us from the annual Bay Area ritual of packing into a crowded public place and standing in the damp chill while watching muted color flashes going off in the fog. I’m relieved that I won’t feel obligated to do that this year in order to say I saw fireworks on the fourth. It feels, well, freeing.

The weather was good in Marin. Joan Jett played a set right before the fireworks show, and what’s more American than rock ’n’ roll? Pretty much only hot dogs and corn on the cob, which is what’s on the menu for at least two meals tomorrow.

Happy Fourth, everybody!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Marketing Pays Off?

A few days ago, I had a rare nibble of interest from the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He wrote back to me in response to an article I’d sent him about the Great Wall of China. He said he already had an article lined up, but that he would see if he could incorporate any of my work into the China issue. I haven’t heard anything since then, and I’m not holding my breath, but it’s more encouraging than anything I’ve ever heard from him before, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Introducing Glenview

The original idea behind my walking project was to get to know parts of Oakland that I knew very little about. I’m definitely still interested in that, but right now, I’m taking a little bit of a break by exploring the Glenview neighborhood. This area is not far from where I live, so I do know it a little already.

Glenview has the distinction of being the last neighborhood I will be able to walk to. Any other unexplored neighborhoods are far enough away that by the time I walk to them, that will be my exercise for the day. So soon I will be in the odd position of always having to drive to take a walk.

Not too soon, I hope. I’m afraid that driving to exercise will make me irreformably Californian.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I’ll Come Back Later

Another thing the guard told me is that the whole eastern side of the base is going to be bulldozed, and that a car dealership plaza will be constructed in the area that is already torn up and covered in gravel. So one day I probably will be able to walk around the old Army base again. It just won’t look anything like it does now.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Not-So-Warm Welcome


Here’s the funny thing, though: Actually, you’re not particularly welcome. In fact, I got kicked off recently.

The guard was nice enough. I think he was just surprised to see a walker meandering between the warehouses. He wanted to know if I’d “come off a truck.” I wondered for a second if he thought I was part of a human smuggling operation, but I think he just wondered if I were a truck driver, because those are about the only people around the base during the day.

The guard politely informed me that the base is private property, and I politely offered to leave, since I was done for the day anyway.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t entirely done with the base. There are still a few streets I haven’t been on yet. One doesn’t seem to exist anymore—it’s under a parking lot now. A couple more may not exist—if they do, they’re buried under a mountain of construction-site debris, and in any case are in the private area. Two more short streets are outside the area marked “private,” but they seem to lead to a truck loading zone and you have to go past a guard post to get to them. I don’t think I’ll be walking on them, either. I did say I wouldn’t trespass, so I appear to be done with the Oakland Army Base, and with it, West Oakland in general. I’ll miss the area, even the base, which was a little desolate, but full of history.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Phase III

So far no results yet from my marketing blitz, but I didn’t really expect anything to happen so quickly.

My next step is to try to pitch some story ideas to magazines I’ve worked with in the past. This might be where some previously unpublished pieces finally find a home, although it will take a little work to get them into magazine shape. That should keep me busy for a while.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Not Taking No for an Answer

Phase II will involve trying anew to get articles published. I keep lists of every publication I’ve offered every piece to, and periodically I go back over those lists and try to think of papers that might be a better fit. Today I tried sending some China articles to various newspapers. I can’t believe no one’s taken my Great Wall of China article. If they don’t want it this summer, they never will, so I was pretty aggressive about sending it around. Some editors may not be seeing the Great Wall piece for the first time, but my feeling is that if you don’t ask me to cut it out, I can keep offering it. (And I will keep this up as long as editors persist in ignoring submissions completely.) As always, we’ll see how my campaign goes.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Getting Resourceful

Part of writing is marketing, and on Friday I went on a big marketing push. I’m trying to find homes for pieces I’ve already written and that either never got published or still seem to have some life in them.

Phase I of this push involved me unloading a number of stories on the Travelers’ Tales web site. They offer a number of avenues for allowing travel pieces to see the light of day. They publish anthologies, which is the real goal, and they also post stories on the Travelers’ Tales web site, which would be nice, too. In addition, they run a contest every year called the Solas awards. Awards are given in a lot of different categories, including Women’s Travel, Bad Trip, Travel and Food, and the intriguing Animal Encounter category. I’m not holding my breath, mostly because the awards aren’t announced until spring, but I remain hopeful.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Rest of the Story

There was a whole scene that got cut out of my Taiwan story. Karen said she edited it this way specifically so that I could publish that part elsewhere, which was a nice consideration. I do intend to try to get an audience for it somehow. I’ll start with you.

This section starts at the end of our hike along the train tracks, and describes dinner at a sort of bed & breakfast (well, bed & dinner) establishment Sarah and I stumbled into. I remember that I was a little apprehensive going into the situation—what if I couldn’t talk to anyone? What if the food was weird? What if I committed a faux pas? Pretty quickly, though, we relaxed and stopped worrying so much, and that’s when the fun began. I didn’t get all the conversation, and in fact, the food was a little weird. But it was, as they say, all good. Well, not the maple gelatin, but everything else, once I’d let go of my need to understand and anticipate every little thing, was great. It’s one of my favorite memories from that summer.




We finally decided to turn around when we got to a dark and forbidding tunnel full of imaginary snakes and spiders. The hike back to town was uneventful, with no train wrecks and no further epiphanies.

We’d heard through the backpacking grapevine that the town’s railway workers were eager to supplement their income by renting out rooms to tourists, and this turned out to be true. For the equivalent of $12, we were invited to have dinner and spend the night at the home of a boyishly jovial conductor named Mr. Gao. He was no taller than either of us, and was still wearing his uniform, with a hat that fell over his eyes and sleeves that hung down to his knuckles. If he had been on the train that had almost run down (or at least bumped) a couple of Americans earlier that afternoon, he kept it to himself.

We just had time to wash up before dinner. As I was taking off my muddy shoes, I overheard Mr. Gao in the bathroom explaining a quirk of the plumbing to Sarah. “Thanks,” I heard her say in Chinese, “I’ll tell my peng you.” Peng you. Friend. She’d called me her friend. A jolt of happiness made me smile, and for the second time that day, I had the feeling something important had changed in my life.

There were about 10 people at the dinner table. We spoke a pidgin of Mandarin sprinkled liberally with English. I picked up that the others were railway employees who came and went with the waxing and waning of tourist crowds. I wasn’t sure I understood who lived in the house and who didn’t, but it didn’t matter. The sunny Mr. Gao made us all feel like we belonged, heaping our rice bowls with more and more food. He brought dish after dish out of the kitchen, bok choi with garlic following shrimp and mayonnaise chased by chicken, stir-fried squash, and bamboo made with local shoots so stupefyingly tender and nutty that Mr. Gao said that he forgot his name whenever he ate them. A few of the offerings did challenge my teenaged palate, like the brown jelly that looked like consommé but tasted like Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. (I slid my portion into Sarah’s bowl when Mr. Gao made one of his many trips into the kitchen.)

I wondered aloud what some of the more exotic items were, and each time I asked, Mr. Gao jumped up from the table, bounded downstairs, and returned a few minutes later with a dot-matrix printout describing the dish in English. When one slip came back with the single word “tripe,” I decided to stop asking. I never found out what the next item was, a fibrous, tasteless, branched thing that looked like a diagram of human bronchial tubes. (Years later, when someone happened to ask me what the weirdest food was I’d ever eaten, this was the first thing that popped into my head.)

I can’t say that everything in my life became clear that day. I couldn’t identify half the things in my stuffed belly, for one thing. I never learned the names of all my dining companions. I hardly understood the obsession with China that had made me want to study in Beijing, and nobody really had a clear picture of the massacre in Tiananmen Square that had re-routed me to the island formerly known as Formosa.

So it’s true that I was still, in many ways, the same baffled teenager who had gotten on a bus with a near stranger that morning. I still barely knew where I was or how I got there. But for the first time in my life, I had some idea of where I was going.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Read All About it at Readerville

My story is live now on the Readerville front page. You can click here to see it.

I can tell that this was an interesting editing exercise for Karen Templer, the wonderful woman who runs the site. It was an interesting exercise in editing for me when I wrote it. I could tell it was going long before I was very far into the story, and I had to stop and ask myself how I was going to deal with that. Usually the answer to a piece meandering into the 2500+ word territory is to cut mercilessly. Occasionally, though, the thing to do is to let it happen, making sure you take the time to treat each element of the story before moving on to another part of the narrative.

I chose the latter approach for this essay. I’m not saying it was the right decision; I’m just saying it was what I chose. As a consequence, the story did turn out longer than Karen wanted (i.e. longer than normal people will give an online story). So she cut some parts out. I don’t blame her. Something had to go, and you probably won’t even notice. (I once left all the sugar out of a dessert recipe by mistake and nobody noticed. It’s amazing what you can do without when you have to.) I’m just saying, if you are left wondering how I got full from a dinner I never mentioned eating, or what exactly I overheard Sarah say, the answers were once there.

Of course, you probably you never would have asked. It can be hard when you write something to tell what’s important and what isn’t. That’s what editors are for.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Readerville to the Rescue

Several months ago I went to an event where I saw a speaker who runs a web site called Readerville. It’s a site by and for literary people, dedicated to the idea that people still read for pleasure. I hadn’t heard of the site before, but I loved the idea and tried to think what I could send them.

I did think of something, and today I’ve been working with the editor to prepare a piece for publication. It’s a long story about a summer I spent in Taiwan when I was in college. It’s too long—and took place too long ago—to be published in most conventional venues. I still have hope that the full-length piece will appear in an anthology someday. But soon—maybe as soon as tomorrow—a mercifully abridged version will appear online. I’ll post a link when it’s live.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Taking the Scenic Route

Several years ago, Pipi and I flew Southwest Airlines from Oakland to New Orleans. It was cheap, but it also took all day, the itinerary involved three stops, and a drunk lady in party seating spoiled a big part of the book I was reading. After the second stop in the state of Texas alone, I vowed never to fly Southwest cross-country again.

That vow held for almost 10 years, but recently, temped by a low fare on the ultra convenient Oakland-Harford route, I broke down and decided to give it another try. The web site promised just one stop each way, which I find acceptable on that route, so I thought it might not be so bad.

And it wasn’t too bad heading east, where I really did have just one stop, in Nashville.

On the way home, I was expecting a stop in Baltimore. The leg between Baltimore and Oakland, however, turned into a frustrating lesson on the difference between a non-stop and a direct flight

Instead of proceeding non-stop from Baltimore to Oakland, the plane traveled directly—we touched down in Chicago, where I didn’t have to get off the plane, but I did have to sit in my seat for an entire deplaning/cleaning/boarding cycle before we were airborne again. I know that’s not so bad, but I found it annoying because I hadn’t been aware of the Chicago stop until I got to the airport in Hartford.

The moral is study your itinerary carefully. When Southwest tells you that you only have to change planes once, that doesn’t mean you’re only stopping once. They don’t actually use the words “non-stop” or “direct,” so you can get tripped up even if you do know the difference between the two terms.

Friday, June 13, 2008

No Place Like Home Part III

I alluded recently to a Mary Chapin Carpenter song where she says that she’d never really seen her hometown until she’d spent some time away. I’m sure some of you are way ahead of me and knew right away that I had the artist wrong. The song I’m thinking of is San Diego Serenade, which is a song written by Tom Waits and recorded by a number of artists. The version I’m thinking of is in fact by Nanci Griffith.

Nanci Griffith and Mary Chapin Carpenter aren’t really all that similar, and you’re probably wondering how I could mix them up. I’m pretty sure it’s because I keep both of their catalogs in the same box in my head labeled “Songs by Women I Like to Pretend Are Not Really Country Artists.” Lucinda Williams, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris have their music in there, too. Iris Dement would like me to put her in this box, but so far I’ve resisted. Michelle Shocked and the Indigo Girls are afraid they’re going to start appearing there. Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies doesn’t really want to be in the box of denial, but as long as she continues to sing songs with titles like Murder in the Trailer Park, she leaves me little choice. The women of the Waifs, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t mind if I put their songs in the box, as long as it meant someone from America was paying attention. My point is, it’s a big bin, and I can see how the contents have shifted over time.

The reason I bring it up at all, really, is just to say that I know what Nanci Griffith means when she sings about distance making things clearer. Almost every time I’m home I notice something that seemed perfectly normal when I lived there, but which after years on the West Coast, has started to look odd. Or at least noteworthy.

This time it was brick. Everything in Northampton that isn’t wood and isn’t made of huge blocks of stone is made of brick--unreinforced masonry brick with no X-shaped retrofitting braces in sight. I love that look—brick, clapboard, and brownstone are God’s construction materials as far as I’m concerned. I just realize now that the architecture is strikingly different from what I’m slowly getting used to in California. Aren’t people in Massachusetts worried about earthquakes? (Hint: no.)

Here is a link to some pictures I took when I was home. (I’m back in California now.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

There’s No Place Like Home Part II



A few weeks ago, Pipi and I were driving through Oakland on Interstate 580, when I spotted a bumper sticker that I was pretty sure referred to my hometown. “Look,” I squealed, “Hamp!”

“What did you say?” Pipi asked me in a tone that said, “I’m trying to work with you, but this conversation has not gotten off to a promising start.”

“Hamp, HAMP,” I repeated, as if volume were the only problem; as if everyone in California knew that old-time Northampton guys refer to the town as “Hamp.”

“How are you spelling this?” Pipi finally asked, and I realized that along with my Northampton pride, I’d also experienced an upwelling of my Northampton accent. This twang, which has more in common with upstate New York and even the upper Midwest than it does with Boston, has a Cockney-like disdain for internal consonants. (Remember the nursery rhyme about the three little kittens? In my childhood, they were called “kih-ins,” and they’d lost their mih-ins.) The accent also strangles “A”s to within an inch of their lives. My “Hamp” apparently came out more like “Heeamp,” confusing Pipi, who’s never known me to be much of a rope-maker.

This kind of misunderstanding doesn’t usually happen when I’m visiting Massachusetts, and that’s one thing I love about it. I don’t have to watch my vowels. No one asks me to repeat myself if I mention a tag (yard) sale, or gets shrill if I utter the phrase “packie store.” (It’s short for “package,” and means a place to buy a six-pack of beer.)

In Massachusetts, I order a grinder and I get a hot sandwich, not a blank look. People here speak my language. And like me, they’re prone to pronouncing it “leeanguage” if they’re not policing themselves.

It may not always sound nice, but it feels like home.

Monday, June 09, 2008

There’s No Place Like Home


Regular readers may have noticed that my postings have gotten slightly sporadic. That’s because I’ve been traveling. I’m currently in Northampton, MA. This, as most of you know--because 99% of you are related to me--is my hometown.

Mary Chapin Carpenter has a line in one of her songs about how she never saw her hometown until she’d been away too long. I feel a little like that right now. I’ll try and see if I can explain what I mean by that another time. I will also try to post some more pictures so that the two of you who’ve never been here can see my hometown, too.

But now I have to reacquaint myself with one of the city’s drinking establishments. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. I will be back in Oakland Tuesday night, and real life will resume then.

Friday, June 06, 2008

A Note to My Kiwi Friends

I hope none of my New Zealand readers are offended by my enthusiasm for a possible trip to Australia. Oz would be a new place for me, and I’m always excited for new experiences.

Please note, though, that as much as I talk about wanting to go to Australia, I haven’t managed to get myself there yet. Whereas I did actually make the effort to get to New Zealand once—and would go back in a heartbeat. (Well, that and if a round-trip ticket fell out of the sky.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Too Long

Yesterday I had the unusual but not unprecedented experience of hearing about a story I submitted a long time ago. The Dallas Morning News told me they liked an article I wrote in December on Japan, but said that it was too long for their current format. Taking them at their word, I shortened it and sent it back. And in another six months, I’ll let you know what they think of the new version.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Bridalveil Falls


The waterfall in this picture is called Bridalveil Falls. It does look somewhat lace-like when the wind blows the spray around, but a park ranger also told us that there is a legend stating that if you can stare at the falls for a full minute without blinking, you’ll be married within a year.

One of the members of our party—a wonderful Australian woman named Michelle who has been dating Pipi’s brother Eddie for a few years—confessed to me later that she’d tried this trick, but hadn’t been able to pull it off.

In the end it didn’t matter, though: On Sunday, Eddie and Michelle slipped away from the group for a private hike. When Eddie found just the right spot in the woods, he got down on one knee and popped the question.

Eddie and Michelle were absolutely giddy the whole rest of the weekend. I thought Michelle would hyperventilate when they made the announcement, and already several hours had passed. They’re happy, and I’m very happy for them.

But I confess that some of this happiness is for myself, too. This development means that Pipi is about to have an Australian sister in law. Which means that I practically have an Australian sister-in-law. Which is just about the coolest thing imaginable. Better yet, the wedding may take place in Australia. I’m so excited for that I can’t stand it. Hopefully more details will follow soon.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Fogged In


As I mentioned yesterday, my Frommer’s guide said that 95% of visitors to Yosemite never leave the valley. Having finally been to the park, I realize that’s not as sad as it sounds. The valley is a big place, and it’s where the big sights are, including Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. It’s also where most of the dining and non-camping lodging options in the park are located.

Still, I don’t like the idea of acting like 95% of any group, so Pipi and I made an effort to head off the beaten path at least once. On Monday, we learned that the road to the Glacier Point lookout had just opened, so we drove up there, feeling virtuous for having gotten wind of this bit of news.

The drive was beautiful, and I don’t regret taking it. The road climbs over 3,000 feet through the woods, with spectacular views. There was a lot of snow by the side of the road, which I enjoyed seeing as well.

Once we got to the top, though, at an elevation of 7,2000 feet, we couldn’t see a thing. Glacier Point was smack in the middle of a cloud, which is its own kind of charming, but left the famous view of the valley almost entirely to the imagination. Every few minutes the wind would blow some of the thicker mist out of the way, and we could catch an eerie glimpse of mountains across the way, or get a flash of the valley floor. I really don’t regret the trip. The atmospheric fog added something to the landscape that you wouldn’t get on a brilliantly clear day. It was just one of those experiences where you have to adjust your expectations.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Yosemite Valley


We are back from a long weekend at Yosemite National Park. The park is every bit as beautiful as I hoped, though it did look slightly different from what I imagined. For one thing, it’s in color. All those Ansel Adams photographs I’ve seen seemed to suggest otherwise.

Also, the weather wasn’t great. It was cool with occasional drizzle and constant mist. That might not sound nice, but it gave the park the look of a Chinese landscape painting, which I really liked. It was a great weekend, full of family and good food. Some really nice things happened and although, like 95% of park visitors, I barely left the Valley, I feel like I had a good introduction to the park.

Here are some more photos.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Welcome to Summer

I’m finding it hard to believe that it’s Memorial Day weekend already, but it is. Pipi and I are leaving in the morning for Yosemite National Park. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never been there before, but I am looking forward to it a lot. We’ll be back Tuesday, so I may miss a day or two blogging. Photos when we return.

Happy long weekend, everyone!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A New Record

I got rejected by Curve Magazine yesterday in what may be record time—I didn’t clock it, but no more than five minutes could have passed between my sending the email and getting a rejection from an editor. (She said she read it and liked it…..)

Still, it’s better in some ways than being left hanging. At least now I know for sure it’s okay to start looking for other outlets.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Overcoming Inertia

On Friday I was tempted to clean up my Thursday gay marriage blog posting and send it out for publication.

But I was also tempted to take a walk, go pick up a book I ordered in San Francisco, and/or watch Ellen DeGeneres announce her engagement to Portia DiRossi on TV.

Early in the afternoon I got a sweet email from my father, who had seen the posting and urged me to try to get it published. This made me realize that I needed to wait until Friday evening for my weekend to begin just like everyone else. I spent the afternoon polishing the piece, giving it a real introduction and tightening up the writing. (And correcting a misspelling Pipi found. That was embarrassing.) I sent it to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Advocate.

That may seem like an unlikely lineup ("One of these things is not like the other….”), but the Christian Science Monitor did publish me once before. They run an essay every day, and their web site says they welcome differing points of view, so I took them at their word.

The Christian Science Monitor got back to me very quickly. The editor said the piece was a little too topical for the Home Forum. I don’t think she meant this euphemistically because she offered to personally forward it to the Op-Ed person—which she did. I got a similar response from the Chronicle—my story is now with the Insight section editor there.

No word yet from either of these new editors, or from the Advocate. As always, I will keep you posted. And I’ll keep trying other publications as well.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Another Unusual Souvenir


These are the dyed scales of a fish called the gar. A gar is a scary-looking primordial armored fish that can grow up to nine feet long. A website I found describes them as “America’s toughest sport fish for one hundred million years.” Not only do they put up a ferocious fight in the water, but once you get a gar in your boat, it’s said that the only sure way to keep it from thrashing and attacking with its sharp teeth is to shoot it.

I realize that sounds apocryphal—people really discharge firearms inside their own boats?—but Pipi and I did get the guy who sold us these scales to confirm it. Possibly this story of indestructibility is a rural myth winkingly passed along to impressionable Yankee girls. I don’t know. In the spirit of good fun I’m going to choose to believe it, but you don’t have to.

In any case, as if Louisiana didn’t have enough trouble with alligators and poisonous snakes, the swamps are full of these gilled dinosaurs. There are, however, those who appreciate them. There is a lot to admire about the gar’s longevity, its brute strength, and the fish’s importance to the Native American tribes of Louisiana. The gar are sort of the bison of the bayou—not only is the meat edible, but other parts are salvaged as well. Scales like these, for instance, were used as small arrowheads.

I am pretty sure the guy was joking, though, when he said the pastel colors are an old Indian tradition.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Big Nerd in the Big Easy


Here’s a souvenir of New Orleans that not everyone would bother seeking out: A silver dollar minted in the Crescent City.

There are only a few cities in the country where it’s possible to bring home locally made money. Denver and Philadelphia are the only places where it’s easy—regular-issue coins are still minted there, so you can find souvenirs in your change. In San Francisco, you can buy a current proof set for not too much more than face value, and in West Point, you can purchase a modern commemorative coin that won’t be too expensive.

But New Orleans is harder. That mint shut down in 1909, so any coins made there are collectors’ items. Luckily, they’re not all that rare. This coin caught my eye in a shop window on Royal Street in the French Quarter. There was a whole box of them set out as bait for people like me.

There are several other cities that have extinct mints: Carson City, Nevada; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Dahlonega, Georgia. One day I will get to these places and complete my complete my compulsive coin-collecting tour of the United States.

(New Orleans mint mark is an O, found between and a little bit above the letters "D" and "O" in "Dollar.")

Friday, May 16, 2008

Main Line Clubs


Here is a photo of a member of yet another New Orleans social group. (Pipi swears she saw a billboard advertising a fraternity while we were there—New Orleans takes its clubs very seriously.) I originally assumed this guy was a slightly less flamboyant Mardi Gras Indian, but he’s not. He’s part of a “main line” club called the Original C.T.C. steppers.

The term “main line” originally referred to the core group of participants in a parade—the family of the deceased at a funeral, for example. There would be a second line, too; this would be made up of people who weren’t quite as close to the deceased. The second line often got pretty big as the parade went on attracting spectators from the neighborhood, but the main line was the main attraction.

Now the term usually refers to musical social aid & pleasure clubs. A few mainline clubs were scheduled to march during Jazz Fest and I was lucky enough to catch this performance of the Original C.T.C. Steppers, a relatively new group. Without even understanding the tradition, I became a temporary second liner as I scampered along with a large group of other photographers, trying to get a shot of this colorfully dressed man.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Not Strictly Related, But….


….Since it’s all I’ve been able to think about, I’m going to write about today’s big news: The California State Supreme Court just legalized gay marriage.

Early this afternoon I went to City Hall in San Francisco, hoping to crash what I expected to be a big party. My first thought when I arrived there was, “How cute; all the broadcasters in the city came down to get hitched to their partners.” Because the first thing I noticed was a huge number of news trucks parked around Civic Center Plaza. There were generators and cables all over the sidewalk, and unhappy men lugging cameras around looking for something to film. (It’s 96 degrees in San Francisco today.) Everywhere there was a puddle of shade there was a miserable looking TV reporter in a dark suit drinking water and trying not to have a makeup meltdown before his or her next stand-up spot.

What I didn’t see much of were gay couples celebrating. The scene was nothing like what I expected, which was something along the lines of the sea of tuxedoes and white dresses paired with Doc Martins I saw on the news several years ago after the mayor of San Francisco briefly declared gay marriage legal, but before the courts annulled every last one.

I realized, however, that this lack of exuberance somehow mirrored my own mood. If you had asked me a few weeks, even a few days ago, how I would feel if gay marriage were legalized, I would have guessed that I’d be ecstatic. But today, I feel strangely subdued, and it’s not just the heat.

I feel like I did when the Rex Sox won the World Series in 2004--another thing I never thought would happen in my lifetime. During the playoffs four years ago, it was incredibly exciting to think the cursed Sox actually had a chance to have something good happen to them, and when they beat the Yankees in the league championship series, I was thrilled.

But when the last out of the anticlimactic World Series was safely in Mientkiewicz’s glove, I didn’t feel euphoria. I just felt relief that they hadn’t blown the play, a routine toss to first base eerily reminiscent of the Bill Buckner between-the-legs error that doomed the Red Sox in 1986.

The plays were so similar in everything but outcome that I got mad all over again. I was happy that my team had finally gotten what in my mind they richly deserved. But I also had a fresh bout of righteous anger over having had this prize dangled in front of me once before, only to have it yanked away.

And that’s how I feel today. Relieved that no cringe-inducing gaffe occurred; that the state Supreme Court didn’t mess up. And a little angry. That old voice from 2004 is again whispering in my ear, “This is nice, but shouldn’t it have happened a long time ago?”

I’ll get over it and find my way to gratitude. I’m already on the way. Heading home from City Hall, I ran into an acquaintance who had just gotten an appointment to marry her partner. She will probably always remember today as the day she got engaged (or at least set a date), and she was radiating sunlight. It was good to see someone be a bigger person than I and go straight to the joyful part of the ruling.

I’m sure I’ll be getting a slew of wedding invitations in the coming weeks from friends rushing to the altar ahead of any possible November referendum. These weddings will be especially joyous occasions for not having had the spontaneity planned out of them over the course of months, and because they will, against all odds, result in actual marriage certificates for people who never thought they’d hold a real one in their hands. All this will also help bring me around to a purer form of happiness

I do understand that it’s a beautiful thing that gays and lesbians are finally being offered places at the table—especially if that table is the head table at a wedding banquet. But forgive me if I have to take a moment to feel indignant about the years we had to sit with the kids and the weird drunk uncles no one likes. That kind of slight takes a little time to get over.

Probably I’ll feel more gracious when the heat breaks.