Friday, February 27, 2009

We Interrupt This Broadcast

I am going to be making an unexpected trip to the East Coast. This should keep me busy for the next few days. I’ll be back Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Alarming Newspaper News

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting on its own possible demise. It seems they need to find a buyer or a whole lot of money lying around soon or the paper will be in dire financial straits.

This is alarming not just because I have a peculiar obsession with getting myself published in this paper, but also because the closing of the Chronicle would obviously be a very bad omen for publishing in general. Here’s hoping they—and other newspapers in trouble—find a way to turn things around.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Different Perspective

It’s fashionable to mock air travel for being tedious and irritating, and lots of comedians and travel writers (especially those who think they’re also comedians) get easy laughs out of this subject.

Then there is this brave guy who thinks we ought to be enjoying flying more. This clip is pretty interesting, and very funny. Thanks to my sister for sending it my way! (The first few seconds don’t make a lot of sense—what now about the donkey?—and he riffs for a few minutes on other subjects. Flying stuff starts at about the two-minute mark.)

(Oh, and the language is a little crude—sorry!)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Not Strictly Related, But….

…Has anyone else heard of this Facebook thing?

I’ve been resisting, because I’ve seen it suck the productivity right out of stronger people than myself. But I finally succumbed, and whoa, Nellie, is it ever a time waster. I was right about that.

But it’s also a fabulous tool for reconnecting with people, and for all those who pooh-pooh electronic communication as superficial, I submit that I have known my friend Lisa for 12 years, and we just now realized that we share a fanaticism for the band Squeeze. We figured this out not through a face-to-face conversation, but because in my Facebook profile I’d marked myself as a fan of the band’s lead singer.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it; that there is some socially redeeming value to all the time I now spend on this site.

Some of the site’s features are a little harder to justify, but they are undeniably fun. One feature lets you put virtual pins on a world map to show where you’ve been. You can share your map with your friends and see where your friends have been. I’m pleased to discover that I’m the only one of us who has visited Mongolia, but my African and South-East Asian experience (zilch) does not come close to measuring up to my peers.

As if that’s not enough, the map page also comes with a link to a geography game. I’ve played an online game like it before, but this one gives you a score in the form of a “travel IQ.” Mine was a slightly disappointing 111, but I’m just getting my mouse warmed up. I know I can do better next time. It’ll just take a minute…

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Disarming Digs

I sent another one in. (If the editor feels she’s under siege from me, then I’m accomplishing my goal.) This one’s about the experience of traveling on the Trans-Siberian railroad in a sleeper car. If that’s not “disarming,” I don’t know what is.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Disarming Digs

I just submitted a very short piece to the Chronicle. They have a new section on offbeat lodgings, and I wrote in with a description and photo of a Mongolian nomad tent I once spent the night in. That’s got to be offbeat enough to at least warrant a second glance. Here’s hoping.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why Didn’t I Think of That Part II

Before I interrupted myself with my appreciation of Southwest Airlines and Valentine’s Day, I was musing about getting scooped.

It probably happens to everyone. It happened to me recently—the Chronicle had a story on the Trans-Siberian railroad, which I’ve taken. The author didn’t take the train the whole way across Russia. Instead, he traveled from Moscow to Yekaterinburg and back. The Moscow-Siberia leg was the route traveled by the Czar Nicolas II, on what turned out to be the last trip he ever took—he and his family all met a bad end in Yekaterinburg. So the author presented the story as following in the last footsteps of Russia’s last Czar.

That’s a creative angle, and it was a good story. So I definitely am not saying mine would have been better. I just know it could have been me in the paper, if I’d just been quicker on the draw, or done a better job, or known the editor better, or…well, I don’t really know. You can make yourself crazy trying to figure out why something happened or didn’t happen. All you can do is hope for better luck next time. (You can also hope your trip gets complicated in some amusing and unforeseen way. Everyone likes a good-trip-gone-wrong story.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentine’s Day

Speaking of LUV, I hope everyone has a very happy Valentine’s Day. Pipi and I are going to L.A. to see a play directed by her cousin. We’ll have dinner at a restaurant we like at the Grove, which is Pipi’s favorite mall.

Okay, that sounds kind of funny—favorite mall? But if you grew up in L.A., you’d have a favorite mall, too. And it would probably be the Grove, which is very nice and often good for a celebrity sighting. I grew up in a place where there were only two malls. One we creatively dubbed “the mall,” and the other was “the dead mall,” so I may not be much of a judge, but my inexpert opinion is that even though you can’t get an orange Julius to save your life, the Grove is a pretty good mall.

So happy Valentine’s Day. Here’s wishing everyone love and happiness, or at least some good retail therapy.

LUV is All You Need

They’re not the most glamorous of carriers. In fact, Southwest Airlines, with its folksy flight attendants, orange airplanes, and cutsey stock-ticker symbol (LUV), has probably done more than any other legacy operation to destroy the mystique of air travel.

But LUV is there for you. When something comes up unexpectedly as it did for me this weekend (and is it just me, or is this year already off-the-charts bizarro?), Southwest does make it incredibly easy to change your plans. I just had to bump up a flight for this coming Saturday by a couple of hours. I assumed that I would have to pay the difference between the price of my original flight and the two-day advanced purchace price of the new flight. Since I had to rebook for both Pipi and myself, I thought it might be expensive.

Turns out, there’s a sale going on and the new flight was about half the price of the old one. No, Southwest isn’t going to pay me, but they are letting me change my itinerary absolutely free. That’s a rare thing in these days of baggage fees and peanut surcharges.

It’s official: For flights under 2,000 miles, I LUV Southwest.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why Didn’t I Think of That?

Last Sunday the San Francisco Chronicle had a cover story on gay and lesbian travel. There was no incredibly creative angle; the main information conveyed was that there exist cruises sailings for gay and lesbian travelers, and that more and more same-sex couples are honeymooning and traveling with children. The author didn’t even go on any gay adventures. This piece was strictly a desk job. I finished the piece thinking, “Well I could have done that.”

So why didn’t I? Because I didn’t think of it. Or rather, it didn’t occur to me that the Chronicle would be interested in a cover story that is an overview of gay travel. I’m not saying I could have done it better; it was a very good article. I’m just saying I could also have done it, but for some reason I didn’t. I’m reminded yet again that so much of this business is having the right idea at the right time. I’m going to have to work on that.

Monday, February 09, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

The San Francisco Chronicle has given itself a complete makeover. If you ask me, it looks a little too much like USA Today for my taste, but that’s not important to me. What is important to me is the fact that there are several new departments in the travel section, and a brand new editor to go with them. It’s a great opportunity and I hope to weasel my way in there and pretend like I was there all along. We’ll see how well that works out.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Speaking of India

There’s a new Indian restaurant in Oakland’s Dimond District, which is right next to my neighborhood. It’s called Shaan and it’s pretty good. They bungled our delivery order pretty badly—we got three times as much rice as we asked for, and half as many lassis (wrong flavor, too), but it was all so good we didn’t mind. We will definitely be back when we’re in the mood for something a little healthier than Vik’s.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Clarification

Every once in a while I’m reminded that I’m not writing in a vacuum. Real people, sometimes not even related to me, check in here and keep me honest.

Yesterday an alert reader noticed that I had a questionable claim in a posting I wrote more than a year ago. In it, I called Kauai the rainiest place in the world because it gets 350 days of rain annually. This may make Kauai the place with the most monotonous weather forecast, but it is not actually the rainiest spot on the globe. Parts of Kauai get about 400 inches of rain a year, which is a lot, but not as much as the village of Mawsynram, in India’s Meghalaya State. This sodden spot gets 467 inches of rain every year, making Mawsynram a strong contender for the world’s rainiest place.

Of course a much more glaring error is my contention in the same posting that we didn’t need any more rain in northern California. In spite of a rainy January, last winter’s rainfall was below average, as I recall. And now we’re in a drought, with very little rain having fallen in January of this year. I take it back! We could use some rain now.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

How It’s Done

I just finished reading Trieste, by Jan Morris. It took me a long time to get through, because it’s a dense book, full of centuries’ worth of historical lessons and anecdotes, and because Morris writes in a careful third-person style that’s very different from the zany, personal stories that are popular now.

The time was well spent, though. Morris paints an interesting portrait of Trieste, a city I’ve never been to (and one which, according to a possibly apocryphal 1999 poll, 70% of Italians don’t realize is in Italy). She covers all aspects of Trieste’s history and culture, from the city’s Jewish Diaspora to the city’s relations with its Slavic neighbors and what happened when the city ceased to be an important Adriatic port.

Just when the anecdotes start to get a little cloying and you’re starting to wonder where she’s going with all of them, Morris wraps up the book—her last, she says--with a magnificent chapter that explains why Trieste has been significant to her throughout the years. It’s a beautiful end to not just a book but an entire distinguished writing career. The final chapter manages to tell us a lot about both the author and the city, without being either self-indulgent or dryly historical. In my experience, that’s a hard balance to strike. It’s easy to tell your own story about a place, and easy to impart a history lesson, but very hard to make your own experiences interesting and relevant to a general audience. This book shows how that’s done.

Monday, February 02, 2009

First Things First

Before we go to Australia (Pipi just got the time off, so it’s looking more and more like that will happen), we’ve got a quick trip to L.A. in the works. We’re going down to see a play staged by Pipi’s cousin, Debbie. It’s been getting great reviews and keeps getting extended. We’re very proud of her.