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


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.