discarded lies: thursday, march 22, 2018 3:53 pm zst
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guest author: Frank IBC
A Miner's Life
What follows are excerpts from my grandfather’s diary, transcribed by his son (my uncle) Hugh, and posted online through the efforts of several relatives. We take job security and safety for granted these days. It’s interesting to look back just 110 years ago when such things didn’t exist. (Passages in parentheses are notes by my uncle.)

May 8, 1894 Ocean Mine (near Midland, Maryland) suspended work this morning (a strike). Mass meeting of the miners at Wright’s Crossing (near Frostburg) that same day.

May 9, 1894 A crowd went to Coney (Lonaconing) to try to induce those men to suspend work. They heartily acceded (correction) they partly acceded (or agreed?)

May 11, 1894 Frostburg assembly, with Midland, went to Coney to try to induce Jackson, Detmold and Kingsley (?) men to suspend work.

May 12, 1894 Barton, Coney and Midland assemblies marched on Hoffman Eckhard and New Shaft to try to induce those men to suspend work. They did not suspend.

May 19,1894 Midland men with Barton men had a scrap with the Hoffman men from Vale Summit.

May 22, 1894 Another crowd marched from Midland in all the rain to try to induce Vale Summit men (who worked at Hoffman) to suspend work. They did not suspend.

May 23, 1894 A great mass-meeting was held on the Firlie property (in Midland?) to hear the report from the delegates who attended the Cleveland Convention (they were elected at the mass-meeting held at Knapp’s Meadow, May 9, 1894) Resolutions were read and adopted that the miners demand 50 cents per ton, a check-weighman, and abolution (abolition?) of the “Pluck Me” Company Store. The action of Mine Inspector McMahon was condemned, and the Lonaconing Press with the “Times” reporter was ejected from the meeting.

July 17,1894 We started to work in Carlos today.

July 18, 1894 Spot and I arrived in Shaw (W.VA.) today at 4:40pm. After having supper we started for Elk Garden (W.VA) and arrived there at 10:30pm. We took a berth in the engine house.

July 19,1894 Next morning we went to Fahey’s Mine (these Faheys later, some still, resided in Westernport) and got work. Were to start that night, but owing to a wreck on the Railroad did not start until next morning.

July 21, 1894 We are boarding at the Levell House. We made a start tonight and loaded six cars for three (probably had to load three cars of slag or bone coal to get three cars of good coal) and had three different places.

Same Day Spot and I took a walk out of town today, and sitting on the mountainside, we took a gaze over into Maryland.

Oct. 11,1894 Started dancing school at Barton

Oct. 15, 1894 Started dancing school at Piedmont,(WVa) (He could play the violin. I understand he-while a good dancer himself-furnished the music, while one of his friends, possibly a Daley from the tri-towns, Piedmont, Westernport & Luke, or maybe “Schuyler” Melvin taught the steps)

Nov. 10,1894 Started dancing school at Windom, WVa.

Nov. 18,1894 Organized dancing school at Keyser, W.Va. and started to teach on Friday, Nov. 25, 1894

Mar. 1, 1895 I arrived in Shaw,W.Va. today and will start to work on the 4th.

Mar. 23, 1895 Local strike was started today

Mar. 30,1895 Will Robertson died and was buried Apr, 2, 1895

Apr. 3, 1895 Spot left for parts unknown, today. (Note: eventually he settled in California)

Apr. 12,1895 Daily (or Daley, possible one nick-named “Gump”) departed for Elkins, WVa today and returned Easter Sunday, reported 36 pupils (for dancing school) but no job.

May 13, 1895 Moved from Sultzer to Rawlins today. (This may have been a change in boarding houses)

Mar. 29,1896 Bernard Murphy died today from a gunshot wound in the mouth.

Apr. 29, 1896 Started to work today at noon, on the new steel bridge at Knapps Meadow (near the Old Stone House, on the Georges Creek Railroad; abandoned and torn down some years ago.)

June 24,1896 Started for Leadville,Colorado today at 7:am. Arrived in Chicago Thursday at 11:30am. Separated from Chicago same day at 5:50pm. Arrived in Omaha at 8am on Friday. Bid Omaha good-bye on Saturday at 4:45pm and after riding all night I arrived in Denver on Sunday at 8:30am. Took a train out of there at 9:45am for Leadville and landed there at 6:30 on Sunday evening. On my arrival there I was informed that a strike was in progress. My luck, as usual.

Jul.4,1896 Leadville. This is as quiet a Fourth-of-July as I ever spent. My pocket-book is opposed to all and every kind of sport. See!

Jul.10,1896 The strike is still on. All the women in this state have a vote.

Aug 14,1896 I started to work tonight at the Gallager Mine. And after working thirteen shifts, was laid off

Sep. 2, 1896 This has been a very hot day. 118 degrees on the Avenue.

Sep. 3, 1896 Today Farrell (from Midland?) and I started for the Milltop Mine, eleven miles distant. We walked both ways. The mine is between 13,000 and 14,000 feet above the sea. We had all kinds of weather-Summer, Autumn, Spring and Winter

Nov. 29,1896 I took a train from Leadville this evening at seve o’clock for Butte City, Montana. Passed through Salt Lake City at 12:25 on Monday. Arrived at Ogden, Utah at 1:45pm, and got a train from there for Butte at 8:30pm, and struck Butte on Tuesday afternoon, December 1 at 1:45pm, and took a streetcar for the Hale House. I have been in only eleven different states up to the present time, to wit. Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Montana.

Dec. 24, 1896 This is (or was) Christmas Eve. In the evening Barry and I went to the opera, and from the opera to a Midnight Mass—the first Mass said in the church since the new wins were added to it. The church was full to overflowing—there was not even standing room left. The choir sang beautifully and the music was exceedingly fine.

Dec. 25,1896 Xmas Day. Was at Mass at 10:30 this morning and it was just a repetition of last night’s ceremony. I spent the day with Barry and Moore. Taking everything into consideration, and after considering everything, I have arrived at the conclusion that I had a Merry Xmas.

Dec. 27, 1896 I started to work today in a mine called the Green Mountain at $3.50 per day.

Jan 1, 1897 The first time I wrote anything in 1897, it was this-I worked today, New Years. Such is the custom of the place, and made my little three dollars and fifty cents.

Mar. 17, 1897 St. Patrick’s Day. Anaconda, Montana. I was in Anaconda today and took part in the A.O.H. (Ancient Order of Hibernians) parade. It is my first visit to this city and I don’t think much of it. Most all the private residences are small., one-story frame houses. There are some very fine buildings in the City, however.

June 14, 1897 Butte, Montana. This is “Miners Union Day” and all members of the trade unions were in a parade. This parade was an immense one, some thousands of men being in line.

June 20,1897 Butte, Montana. A.O.H. had a picnic in Anaconda today. I went down there with the rest of the boys but did not have much of a time. We traveled in a gang, and drinking beer seemed to be the order of the day. I did not have much fun, as drinking is not in my line. Took leave of Anaconda at twelve o’clock same night. I was so thoroughly disgusted that I swore I would never go there again.

July 4, 1897 Fourth of July. Rained all day. There is no celebration outside of the “small boy” and his firecrackers, and they are in evidence on every street.

July 5, 1897 Today we celebrated the Fourth. There were plenty of amusements in town, such as concert halls, opera, bicycle races and other sports. I celebrated by going to “The Opera” in the evening.

Aug. 10,1897 My time was turned in at the Green Mountain mine this morning. About nine days later I started to work at the Gray Rock. It was a “Cousin Jack” (Cornish and Welsh miners) outfit and they did not have any use for me. So, after working 14 shifts, I was fired.

(Note: These Western mines were not coal, but from what I recall of his conversations about them, they were mineral ore,-gold silver, copper lead.)

Dec. 6, 1897 Morning. I was fired from “the Mountain” and on Tuesday at 4:20 pm I left Butte for Leadville, Colorado; was in a railroad wreck at Pocotello, Idaho. Arrived in Leadville on Thursday at 1:15pm.

Dec. 25,1897 Xmas. This has been a very fine day for a place like Leadville, which is 10,200 feet above sea level. I was at a ball in the evening and had a good time.

Note: From June 24, 1896 up to Dec. 9, 1897 I have traveled 5,000 miles, had 5 jobs, was in two earthquakes, and one railroad wreck.

Jan. 1, 1898 New Years. Leadville, Colorado. I was at a ball tonight and had a good time.

Jan. 2, 1898 This evening I started to work in the Gallager Mine.

Jan. 21,1898 This evening I was laid-off again after working 9½ shifts. I would like to know what is the use in trying to get along and not being able to do so. Looking and looking for work and can not find any. Such is life, I suppose. This is the finest weather Colorado has had for a number of years-some days are like summer.

Mar. 19, 1898 Today I started to work in the Klondyke Lease, run and operated by Kelly V. Cunningham. It is not much of a Klondyke (gold strike) for the miners, as they are expected to do a hard day’s work.

Mar. 24, 1898 I was compelled to stay in bed all day yesterday, and when I went to work this morning I was told that another man was put in my place, and that I was fired. I was greatly surprised, as I did not expect it. I don’t think I ever will have any luck in this city of the clouds. I have my mind on Arizona—may go there, but have not decided.

Note: Hale House in Butte, Montana—the place where I stopped, was destroyed by fire and a number of lives lost. Not a suit of clothes was saved from the fire. Had I stayed there I would have lost everything.

April, 1898 Started to work in Yellow Medicine Mine this month. It is 12 miles from Lake City.

July, 1898 The place shut down and I went to Leadville. From Leadville to Victor, Cripple Creek, Montana. Then to Colorado Springs, Colorado City, Pueblo, Denver, Boulder-then back to Denver again. From Denver, I rode on the trucks of a passenger train a distance of 337 miles into Eliss, Kansas. Worked 3 days on a threshing machine, got tired and quit. From there I worked my way east to Kansas City. Was in Topeka, Salina, Junction City, Ottawa, Lawrence, Paola, then Kansas City. Stopped there two weeks, and went back to Colorado again. Then down into Raton, New Mexico—back into Colorado again. Worked three months at Trinidad; from there I started for Gunnison and was snowbound on Marshall Pass for four days. I arrived at Vulcan in time to participate in a hot strike. I escaped arrest, however, and got about two months work. From Vulcan I walked over the range to Creede. From Creede I walked back to Vulcan again. Then to Gunnison and Salida, from there to Leadville.

July 22, 1898(1899?) Arrived in Leadville today for the fourth time. I am not looking for work this trip. The smelter strike affects the camp. From here I went on a short trip via horseback, only 45 miles. I was good and sore and had to take my meals from the mantelpiece for a couple of days. From Leadville I made a special trip to Salida and back (120 miles) While in Salida, the smelter strick ended. Went back to Leadville immediately for my freedom and started for Creede.

Aug. 15, 1898 Leadville. Started for Creede tonight, after a little trouble and some disappointment, arrived O.K. Distance from Leadville to Creed, 150 miles.
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guest author: levi from queens
levi from queens and his friend with a bird name go to jail
My friend with a bird name has been (presumably) catting about with a boyfriend in Washington. She and I hitch back to JAX together. A boy and a girl work well together hitching, The girl signals harmlessness, and the boy signals not to mess with them. I hitched thousands of miles with my friend with a bird name.

Richmond always loomed as an obstacle with its tolled interstate highways which provided little opportunity for hitchers—most people stopping and few going through..Somebody let us off in Henrico County, the next county north of Richmond. We try to hitch on the access ramps, but my friend becomes impatient and leads me down to I- 95 where we are quickly picked up by a cop.

We go to the jailhouse where the cops chemically analyze the dirt in my pockets and discover dirt instead of hashish. My friend with a bird name must sit at the police station until we can pay the fine for being pedestrians upon an interstate highway.

The jailhouse has two rows of cells split by a concrete aisle. The cops take all of the dozen prisoners but one and put them in the right-hand cell-row. They then put me and the other in the left-hand row. I remain grateful to the cops that they tried to protect me, a young blonde fine-featured curly-haired prettyboy from rape.

The man with whom I am left to converse has high intelligence but poor connection with reality. I do not recall his offense. He had massive scars on his wrists where he had previously attempted to slash his wrists. We ate baloney and tomato sandwiches together. He told me that he prayed to God for help but that God told him to go away. He talked for hours. After about six hours, my little brother (Springsky’s father) wires sufficient cash to free us.

My friend with a bird name later (not that day) said that she had a far harder time of it than I had in the concrete and steel, being chirpy and charming in a police station for six hours with every cop who walked through. Walking back through life and being a boy and therefore somewhat devoid of understanding, I feel at this point that as hard as that cell was that she has a point. In contra-defense to the cops, prettyboy that I was, I would have made an awesome ruckus if some person presumed liberties upon my person. Cops dislike ruckuses.

We are let out of jail.

Our next ride is in a sportscar (probably a vette) from a large Black man (a spade in the vernacular of those days). He has a cup of Southern Comfort on his dashboard which he generously shared with us. He also has a lit rolled joint which he also shared. He took us only a short ways --probably only to the southside of Richmond, but I remain grateful for his southern comfort. We met the Ace of Spades.

Our next ride is with a gang of criminals. These were really old guys, probably even over 30. Every so often, they would throw up the windows and shriek obscenities at old ladies on the sidewalks. While I and my friend with a bird name would have ordinarily found such behavior unseemly, at this time and on this day, it was uproarious. One of the criminals told us a story where he had knocked over the vending machines at Motel 50 on Rte. 50 in Arlington, Va (my hometown) just short of Key Bridge. He had collected all of the coins and put them in the back seat of his car. He then had passed out from drunkenness where the cops found him in the parkinglot of the motel. He tried to tell the judge that he had all of the coins because he drove a lot of toll roads.

My friend with a bird name and I really liked the criminals.

We arrive back at Jax at dawn, much bedraggled, 12 hours later than we had planned. Jail will slow you down.

We are sitting at an underpass beneath the interstate and I snake my arm around my friend with a bird name. She throws my arm off and snarls—I don’t need comforting. I snarl back (I was at least as bedraggled as she) “I wasn’t trying to comfort you; I was trying to comfort me.”

I do not recall what happened next, and I do not know if you understand how madly in love I was with my friend with a bird name. In the best of all possible worlds, she would have draped my arm around her shoulder.

As I cannot recall it, that must not have happened. I just squired her to her home and went off exhaustedly to University.
1 commentrolex replica left a comment at 4:05 am 11/08
guest author: levi from queens
Progressive Catch
You stand next to each other and hand the ball across for the first move. It can be a football or a volleyball or a basketball or a pig’s bladder. Just some sort of ball. The recipient takes a step backwards, counts one, and returns the ball to the giver or another who counts two and steps back. It can be played by 2,3,4,5,6 (more?) people. You count the number of successful toss-and-catches as it goes – 1, 2, 3, 13, 15, 20? Until somebody fails to catch a toss.

We did not play this game when I was a child.

Children all over the world play it today.

In ~1985, I had a son whose klutziness worried me. I tried different things. He has grown well. But it is at least possible that I invented progressive catch for my son.

If in fact I invented this game, I have done some small part of the stuff which has been demanded of me.

The game is so bleeding obvious that somebody must have invented it prior to me.

I beg of Bloggie, to be a Devil’s Advocate, and point out a prior existence of this game.
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guest author: levi from queens
My best estimate is that I hitch-hiked for 25,000 miles, generally in 800 mile chunks ( the distance from D.C. to Jax). Don’t hitch-hike. It has become far too dangerous both for driver and passenger. My father would always pick up men in uniform wishing to get from base to home. And I also followed.

But here are my worst stories from that time. I met many wonderful people on the road, but at some point in the early 70’s it became far too dangerous.

Wilson, North Carolina was by far the best spot to hitch-hike going either north or south. In those days, the interstates had not yet been punched through. Wilson was at the intersection of 17 and 301. There were two well-lighted gas stations at the corner.

A man picked me up at Wilson at 2:00 a. m. and carried me about 10 miles into darkness. At this point, he let me know that sex was the purchase for the ride.

So I got off in pitch black and tried to thumb another ride in the darkness. I do not begrudge him the request/demand for sex. Although I am unhappy that he took me from the best hitching spot to an awful spot.

What really annoyed me was that he sat in his car 15 feet from me for 20 minutes waiting for me to give up while I tried to hitch another ride.

So Fred and Julie and I were trying to hitch southwards. A man in a jeep needed a quarter mile to slow down to pick us up. He drove us the 50 miles from Fredericksburg to Richmond in about 20 Minutes without ever putting his hands on the steering wheel. His hands were engaged in tuning his transistor radio as he steered with his knees. It was an efficient ride.

Here is a story where I was not along. My friend with a bird-name was hitching with her other friend, Gary, when a whole bunch of Harleys with guys in black leather blew by. She said. “ Wow, -- the Hell’s Angels—I always thought they were a myth just like the mafia. The driver looked at my friend with a bird name and said—“You think the mafia is a myth?” He then popped the top of an attaché case filled with $100 bills.

I get a ride north with a reasonable gentleman. He has business at National (now Reagan) airport. He asks me to hold his three Great Danes outside while he does business in the airport. I was young then, but the three dogs out-weighed me by 50%. As he leaves, he tells me, “these dogs really hate n*ggers.” I was petrified as there was no way that I could have physically controlled those dogs. If you know Washington, you will know that several African-Americans walked by us. The dogs did not react. At the time, I thought that the dogs felt with me and that my non-racism calmed the Great Danes. I have since concluded that I was hubristic about my control of dogs and that the man was just funning me. He did give me a great scare.

When I was 19. I hitchhiked to FSU in Tallahassee one weekend to get some articles from their scientific library. My friend with a bird name (but without privileges in the modern vernacular) who allowed me to sleep next to her that weekend pointed out that some strange man the prior weekend had snuck into the dorms at FSU and murdered two coeds. It later eventuated that the strange man was Ted Bundy. I remain grateful that my friend was sufficiently trusting in a nerve-rattled environment to provide me with sufficient cover for my research.

Sunday evening I began to hitchhike back to Jax down US 90. At some point, I realized that I was truly terrified – for no particular reason.

I was sufficiently scared that I thought that I might be best off just sleeping by the side of the road. I climbed a farm-fence and lay down. And then I began to worry if there were a bull in the pasture. So I climbed back.

A man walked up to me on the highway and offered me shelter in a bedraggled shack. He told me that he was two days out of prison. He introduced me to his dog, which he had just acquired. It is my belief (and my beliefs are pretty decent in this area) that he was not asking me for sex.

When I scroll back through that evening, that man was Jesus.

So I have walked away from both bulls and Jesus and get back on US90 with my thumb out. I catch a ride from a largish guy in a pick-up in about his mid-forties. He takes me somewhere to which I do not wish to go on I-87, the big interstate from Chicago to Tampa. While there is plenty of traffic there, little of it is bound for Jax.

For about a half hour, he tells me how friendly he is with all of the local police forces.

He dumps me at an Exxon station in Jennings on the GA-FL border. As I walk down to try to catch a ride, a one-armed man runs after me and throws me to the ground and holds a knife to my throat.

You should understand the year to understand the story. It was 71 or 72. The one-armed man had likely lost his other arm in Nam (where I should have been regardless of what Aridog thinks). I had hair way down below my shoulders.

After maybe 20 seconds, a second man comes thundering after us. He hits me repeatedly – but he says, “I have a brother who looks just like you and I hate him just as much as I hate you.”

So while I continue to lightly hit back, I realize that this man is here to save my life. So he pulls punches and I pull punches.

Eventually, I walk down to I-87 and get a series of rides back to Jax. I arrived back at Jacksonville University and told a few people of what had happened. I was utterly emotionally and physically exhausted. The next thing I noticed was persons amassing weapons (baseball bats and knives and machetes) and designing cars for an attack upon Jennings GA. I was a Resident Assistant and oddly enough the boys upon my floor were fond of me. So I roused myself from my torpor and explained to the boys (after all I was 19 when they were just 18) just why it was that Jacksonville University was not going to make war on Jennings Georgia that night.

I continued to hitch-hike for a few years after that evening, but I never enjoyed it again.
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guest author: levi from queens
How To Not Get Mugged
You actually cannot avoid getting mugged. If somebody is determined to take your wallet at the threat of your life, you must give up the wallet. No matter how large and powerful you may be, there is always some person or some combination of persons who are stronger.

What you can do is determine the venue.

Here are some simple rules:

Trust your instincts. If you feel endangered, you are.

Have no shame about acting oddly – Run if you feel threatened; run down the middle of the street; and scream. The worst that can happen is that some handful of people will find you eccentric. The best is that you may preserve your life.

Walk with confidence but not cockiness. Pay attention to other peoples on the street. When I lived in Baltimore and Boston, I always knew what each other pedestrian was about. In NYC, a far safer place, you cannot possibly deal with the volume of pedestrians – but I sometimes pick out a few to give attention to.

What is the best venue in which to get mugged? Make it as public as possible. The middle of the street is vastly superior to the sidewalk. Under a traffic-light is probably as good as you can do. Make the mugger come to your choice of venue.

Here are a pair of stories where I was not mugged.

I was in my late 20’s auditing a company located at ~23rd and Greenmount Avenue in Baltimore– when Greenmount was incredibly dangerous below 27th St. One evening, I started walking to my home on 31st in my cheap three-piece suit carrying a brown auditor’s bag in a slow drizzle. I noted about four men on both sides of the Avenue sizing me up (while I was young then, I would have been no match for four). I moved to the middle of the Avenue. Cars honked at me in the light rain. I didn’t feel I needed to either scream or run as I knew I was only a few blocks from safety. The men walked along the Avenue on both sidewalks parallel to me. When I got to 27th, the following men went away and I moved to the sidewalk. (FWIW, there have been other occasions where I have both screamed and run, but where I was probably in less danger than that evening)

Perhaps there is a corollary here – if you are going to be in a tough neighborhood, either know the neighborhood and its edges or have a guide who does.

Time matters. Muggers sleep in – it is a lousy, dangerous, and poorly-paid job. Sleeping in is perhaps the only fringe. You are safe in the worst Project in America on a Saturday or Sunday morning when the responsible people of the Project are about and the muggers are sleeping in. At 2:00 a.m., watch yourself.

The family took a trip across Mexico. One evening, I was a little bored in a town which was about the size of Saltillo or Morelios (but which was neither) – so I took my eldest (then thirteen year old) son for a walk. I was then about forty and had far more physical presence than I retain today, but my now quite formidable son had far less. We walked down the mainstreets and then to an intermediate-size street and then to a side street. I noted two really tough-looking and threatening men, one with a weapon (some sort of iron bar), walking towards us about 50 yards away. I reversed direction and headed back towards the intermediate-sized street. After about ten yards of retrowalking, a windowless blue van pulled directly across our path, blocking both street and sidewalk. The driver was clean-shaven, kindly, and sweet-spoken and had no accent to his English. He motioned for us to climb into his van. I looked at him like he was crazy, and asked “you want me to get in there?” He pointed to the rapidly approaching tough-looking guys and said, “yes.” He also repeatedly and nervously glanced at my right fist wherein I had wrapped my keys with a key protruding from between each finger. Living in the slums of Baltimore and Boston for twenty years had taught me a couple of things which might be useful in Mexico. I said, “Thank you. Thank you very kindly. Thank you very much. Thank you very very much. But no thank you.”

I grabbed the son’s hand and swept him around the back of the van – saying, “Come on Jeremiah.” This was actually the scariest moment – for if the van had backed up, I would have had to fight right there.

Walking back through the calculi, I have no clue as to what I would have actually done if the van had backed up. The sweet-spoken guy however may have thought that there was a substantial possibility that I would have killed him sitting in the driver’s seat before his compatriots could arrive. At any rate, the van did not back up.

I have played urban chess for all of my adult life.

We then jogged – my son frontward and me back-pedaling – to the intermediate-sized street. I told Jeremiah to scour the streets for largish rocks and for nirvana – a bottle where I could break off the bottom and give Jeremiah something to fight with. It is astounding how frustratingly clean the streets of Mexico can be.

The tough guys stopped to speak with the sweet-spoken guy, and we reached the intermediate-sized street which we walked down the center of for about 100 yards and then returned to the sidewalk.

For about a decade and one-half, there was a chunk of me which thought I might have turned down the sweet-spoken guy’s offer of assistance from racism rather than self-preservation. Then I read a magazine article laying out how a “rescuer” is a standard part of Mexican robbery method.

Trust your instincts.

And of course the tough guys did stop to talk with the sweet-spoken guy.

Now, there is no way that my son and I could have actually held off the would-be robbers, although I maybe could have handled one of them despite my age. All that we did was to raise a little doubt in their minds and move the venue to as public a place as possible.

So once I took my children (then in their mid-teens and twenties) to visit my sweet, petite, and Quaker wife in Takoma Park, Maryland. I let them off one evening and they walked over to New Hampshire Avenue to purchase something. She was utterly appalled that I would allow them to go to such a dangerous neighborhood at night. I busted a gut at the thought that there was some possible group of muggers who would even consider taking my sons as a group. My wife made me drive after them. When we returned to her house, I said, “You were right – they were in a mugging. But I made them pick up the old lady and return her purse.”

In fairness to my wife, she looks at a world where essentially all are stronger than she; and she must depend on her wits and the order of the public square. While I and my children understand that it is our duty to provide order to the public square.

I am aging and can no longer stand as large a presence in the public square as I once could and did.

I am far closer to my petite Quaker wife in terms of force than in the past -- but I can still make a decent bluff.

So as I gain in age, I may have to get to the second half of Dylan’s sentence “and let others do for you.” I am not used to letting others do for me – I do for others. Perhaps I need to learn a little humility.

But with Bane beside me, we can still do for others. Perhaps I should get Bane a puppy.
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guest author: levi from queens
Everybody Loves Organic Chemistry
I promise you that I will have a little romance later. But to really understand the romance, you need to first understand the science – a little organic chem. Let’s start with the name—octo means that there are eight carbons (one at each vertex) and cyclic means that they are arranged in a circle (or rather a stop sign). 2-4-6-8 Cyclic Octo-tetraene:

Carbon can form a single, double or triple bond with another carbon: C-C or C=C or C≡C. What “ene” means is that there is a Carbon=Carbon double bond. Tetraene means that there are four such double bonds and the 2-4-6-8 means that they alternate around the stop sign. As each Carbon has four bonds, each Carbon also has one Hydrogen (H).

There are ways to recognize the presence of a carbon=carbon double bond, most notably – if you add bromine, the solution will turn purple.

Math-phobic bloggieites may skip this paragraph with no harm: Carbon likes for its bonds to be at a 114 degree angle. The angularity of an equilateral structure of n vertices is determined by the following formula: (n-2)*180/n. As you can see readily a five carbon circle gives you a 108 degree structure and a six carbon structure gives you a 120 degree structure. An eight carbon structure would of course give you a 135 degree structure which is only mildly tortured and should in theory be attainable. Three and four carbon cyclic structures are quite unstable as are all those with really large numbers of carbons in the ring.

There are extreme difficulties in creating such a chemical as 2-4-6-8 cyclic octo-tetraene. The biggest one is that it will collapse from its intrinsically unstable state to the extremely stable benzene. There is no such thing as 2-4-6 cyclic hexa-triene.

Instead there is benzene. There are no carbon-carbon double bonds, but rather a single benzene bond tying all of the electrons and nuclei together in a stable structure — the description I recall is a cloud of electrons. Here is the standard diagram of benzene:

Benzene is so important that all of organic chemistry is divided into two parts – the chemicals which contain benzene (the aromatics) and the chemicals which do not (the alkyds). As Benzene has no carbon=carbon double bonds, it does not turn purple when you add bromine.



The Quagga, a close relative of the zebra, died extinct. My Organic prof said that the last one died in the St.Louis zoo in the mid-1870’s – wiki says the Amsterdam zoo.

In those days, the Germans were the best chemists. And being German, there was a hierarchy between and within universities, such that everybody understood that the best chemist in the world was Dr. Emil Fischer of the University of Wurzberg. The zoo with the last quagga sent Dr. Fischer the gall bladder of the last quagga for his further research.

Dr. Fischer didn’t really know what to do with such a gift. So he put it up on a shelf and thought about it for nine months or so. (What would you do if somebody sent you an organ of the last living member of an extinct species?)

Eventually, Dr. Fischer decided he would use the gall bladder to create 2-4-6-8 cyclic octo-tetraene. He fiddled about for a while, and eventually decided he had succeeded. He dropped in bromine, and the solution turned purple. The other tests for carbon=carbon double bonds were also positive.


Over the next forty years, organic chemists endeavored to recreate 2-4-6-8 cyclic octo-tetraene. They all failed. Stuff would resolve into benzene or just go weird. Somewhere around WWI, the organic chem world concluded that, while Dr. Fischer was undeniably a brilliant chemist – he must have been mistaken about 2-4-6-8 cyclic octo-tetraene. There was no such thing.


Nobody gave any thought whatsoever to 2-4-6-8 cyclic octo-tetraene.

The Allied tanks rolled into Berlin in 1945. On the outskirts of Berlin were tank car after tank car after tank car – each filled to the top with 2-4-6-8 cyclic octo-tetraene.

Germany in WWII was under enormous stress to create items which naturally came from outside of Central Europe. A chemist named Reppe did wonderful stuff with acetylene, C=C, to create all sorts of other chemicals. He did Nobel quality work. He is one of the rare scientists to be denied a Nobel for political reasons – he also experimented on Jews. My prof said he died in prison in the early 50’s. But here is wiki – no Nobel but no disgrace. (in the defense of my prof, you should understand that I am trying here to retell a story which I heard once over a third of a century ago – and the inaccuracies of my memory are likely greater than the inaccuracies of his story.)

The 2-4-6-8 cyclic octo-tetraene was a byproduct of Reppe’s work with acetylene.


I was taught that chemists all over the world were trying to come up with some conceivable use for the damned stuff.

Another third of a century has now passed, and I have no idea if anybody has figured out what to do with it.

It is, however, my hope that this post will finally cause Bloggieites to cease their annoying pestering of e&z for an organic chemistry post.
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guest author: papijoe
Two Weeks in Colombia - Part 2
My sister-in-law's house was located in the somewhat ritzy part of town on a narrow lot with a yard in back surrounded by a fence that was more than decorative. Around the corner there are a few blocks with upscale restaurants and boutiques. Closer to the center this gradually fades to bodegas and workaday shops in rows with no alleys between them. Side streets run off into neighborhoods more cheaply constructed but still tidy until after a few vacant trash filled lots or decrepit structures with cracked plaster exposing cane or bamboo and moldy thatch, life stumbles into the tumbledown. A morning walk needs to be attempted early. Soon the motos are everywhere like flying buzzsaws, spraying their stink of benzina through all the neighorhoods. Approaching downtown the vendors are already set up selling tinto or cafe con leche, arepas empanadas and papas rellenos, and flaky pastries stuffed with guava or the faintly rancid tasting cheese they like in the Sabana. In the center of the town is plaza in front of the main church with an small adjacent park. Next to the part is the high school my wife attended after a bus ride from Toluviejo. It was in that park that she had a terrifying encounter while waiting for her bus home. She was sleepy from waking up so early and was nodding off. She was wakened by a rustling in the trashcan next to her bench. When she turned she was looking into the eyes of a hideous creature. Intrigued by her screams, one of the local layabouts ambled over at the prospect of free amusement. "What is that thing?" she quavered, pointing to the nonchalant sloth that still regarded her with its melancholic gaze. "Oh that? That's a perico ligero!

Sincelejo was experiencing a record heat wave. The heat itself was bearable with a slight breeze, but the direct sun was like a jackhammer. Fifteen or twenty minutes of exposure was enough to poach my brain so I was useless for the rest of the day. We tried to escape to Cobañas, a resort area on the coast. Only a few years before the road there could have meant a detour up into the hills as a guest of the local guerilla band. Farther down was the spot where a joint task force of the Army and the National Police gunned down Gacha the Mexican when he refused to surrender. We took a quick tour of Tolu which Garcia Marquez describes as a "seaside paradise". Without the sea it would have looked much like Sincelejo, but the charm of the boulevard along the waterfront was apparent. In both Cobañas and Tolu there was sense that as soon as El Sol Tirano disappeared below the horizon, his oppressed subjects came to life to Caribbean drumbeats and trumpets. Young people appeared in groups laughing and shouting, and no one seemed particularly concerned about sleep. The wisdom of this became apparent when we were attacked by swarms of a savage variety of costeño noseeums that my mother in law called jején. Princess #1 was covered with itchy bites that only a local herbal tincture could relieve. Thus vanquished we slunk back a day early to roast again in Sincelejo.

The next day we inefficiently headed out in the same direction, this time to visit Toluviejo, my wife's personal Macondo. At one point Toluviejo had all the elements of a classic Marian pilgrimage site. At one end of town there was a sulfur spring in whose therapeutic waters the old and lame found healing. Next door was the entrance to network of tunnels and caves that fulfilled the requirement for a grotto. But most important was the great tree, where an image of the Virgin appeared on one of its boles. It blew down in a storm one night. They found it in the morning lying on its side completely uprooted. On the third night after, a strange noise was heard and the next day the tree was standing again. It still stands today, but a thief sawed off the image of Mary and the spring has dried up.

Her grandfather had once been the richest man in town, a farmer who started off with a single cow. His late wife had 13 children, 9 of which survived childbirth. He had nearly been burned with his house during La Violencia. Now he is 94. Once a great horseman, he is confined to a wheelchair. He welcomed the hugs and kisses of his greatgranddaughters who he was seeing for the first and probably last time. He smiled broadly when the youngest sang a song for him, but all the excitement had tired him and he soon dozed off in the noontime heat. We were now all anxious to leave. For my wife and her sister the house was full of sad memories. As we drove off I thought it unlike we would ever see Toluviejo again either.
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guest author: papijoe
Two Weeks in Colombia - Part 1
It was not the most auspicious way to start a vacation. The minivan was loaded with family and luggage and I had just been brazenly cut off at the tolls. Just as my road rage was cresting just below murderous my cell phone rang. It was a recorded message saying the flight had been cancelled. Two days and another half a grand later we made it to Miami but two of the suitcases had not. We wouldn't see them for another three days.

As a result of this and some other unexpected events, the Bogota leg of the trip was cancelled and I was unable to take advantage of Jourdan's travel tips for the capital. But there was little time to dwell on that. We still had a busy itinerary. After landing in Barranquilla we stayed overnight at a relative's place. It was similar to the other places I'd been to on the Caribbean coast in terms of architecture, flora and fauna. Other than being surrounded on the outskirts by huge industrial complexes the sections I saw were unremarkable.

We drove out of Baranquilla the next day. Once in the countryside my travel-frayed nerves were initially soothed. But gradually it became clear that we were to be subject to an accelerated series of tests and ordeals like the ascending levels of initiation into a secret society. Yet the goal wasn't membership in a mysterious fraternity or even submersion into the heart of the culture itself. Instead it seemed to be related to an expected revelation of a new direction in my life and the future of our family. But first elements of the past would be disinterred and exposed to the strong midday sun and a narrative of self-knowledge would be unfurled in verse and chapter.

We got a glimpse of the Cienaga or great swamp that appears in Garcia-Marquez's fiction and memoirs. During the trip one of my disciplines was to try to reread the first volume of his memoirs in Spanish [with each paragraph read yet again in the English translation so nothing would be missed]. Of all the locations he brought to life this short glimpse of Baranquilla would be the only one I would see on the first half of the trip as we headed in a different direction from his peregrinations. But his presence lingered like a Virgil in my slow spiral ascent of this costeño purgatory. We crossed the Dantean bridge over the Canal de Dique which had flooded along with the Magdalena River and much of the land to our left was innundated. It was soon after we stopped for gas, an snack and bio-breaks That the driver began to drive on the wrong side of the road. In my initial panic I assumed that he was falling asleep, despite the plastic dixie cup of hot syrupy tinto he bought from a roadside vendor at the last toll. Even after I realized he was avoiding bad patches of pavement that were hardwired into his memory it was impossible to relax the rest of the trip. His passing technique was an new experience of intimate proximity with oncoming tractor trailers.

This did however concentrate my mind wonderfully, and it was around that time I became aware of two elements of realismo mágico that would recurr during the first leg of the trip. The first was my strange inability to set my watch to the correct time. When we arrived in Baranquilla the clock in the taxi reminded me to set my self winding watch [which usually runs fast] ahead to the time zone we had entered. However the next day I was back to an hour behind, so I set it again. A few hours later it was pointed out that I was still an hour behind. This went on for days until I gave up on time altogether.

I also noticed the strange phenomenon of plumbline straight rows of trees that parcelled out the green meadows of the valleys and scaled the sharp ridges of the hills surrounding them. It seemed to be an incredible effort to plant so many trees with such geometric precision and the thought of it being natural or accidental was Darwinian in it's absurdity. The puzzle was soon solved. The fences of the pastures were roughhewn unpainted sticks of 3 or 4 inches in diameter. with 3 levels of barbed wire wound around them. Nearly all of the sticks would eventually sprout branch and leaf and root itself in a testament to the literal fertility of the native soil as well as the wisdom of the local idiom that uses the same word for "stick" and "tree". Beyond that, it tied the physical to the metaphysical throught the vehicle of the Colombian folk imagination that translated itself freely through my terror-heighten senses, that had until those moments been so dulled by the comfort and tedium of my current life.

Little villages were strung along the road like antiquated Christmas lights. San Juan, San Jacinto , El Carmen, Obejas and and Corozal.

Our driver was now passing even faster and more aggressively. He had a special animus for the anemic motorcycles that didn't immediately swerve to the shoulder when he passed them. At one point he came so close to a young couple on a moto that I was sure he was going to send them flying off the steep embankment. I was oddly comforted when I saw him cross himself as he passed a certain shrine of the Virgin by the road side Just as I was experiencing the serenity that comes with the acceptance of imminent death, we passed the airport in Corozal and someone announced that we had more or less arrived in Sincelejo.
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guest author: lady redhawk
The 'Uncivil' War: The Battle of Shiloh Church
Shiloh lies tucked deep in the Tennessee woods, just a few miles north of the Mississippi border. The Tennessee River meanders lazily through the forest, slowly making its way southward towards Alabama. There wasn't much here in 1862; small farms and orchards dotted the landscape, an old wooden church basked in the springtime sun, and the ripples of the Tennessee River lapped up on a rock landing the locals used to transport goods and homebrew. It is on this peaceful, bucolic site that one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on American soil was waged.

General Grant, fresh off a Union victory at Fort Henry, was ordered by General Halleck to advance his Army of the Tennessee to Pittsburgh Landing at Shiloh. There, he was to await the arrival of General Buell's Army of the Ohio, where they would join and form a massive assault on the vital railroad center at Corinth, Mississippi. Corinth was located just a few miles south of Shiloh, and it was there that the Memphis and Charleston Railroad (the Confederacy's only east-west supply route) crossed the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.

For the CSA, Generals Johnston and Beauregard concentrated almost 55,000 men around Corinth. They could not allow the vital rail center to fall. On April 3, 1862, Johnston and the Army of the Mississippi began preparations to launch a massive attack against Grant's forces at Shiloh, hoping to defeat them before they were reinforced by Buell.

Johnston's army marched through a driving rainstorm to within striking distance of the Union camps. Grant was utterly clueless. He had not fortified his positions, nor prepared in any way for an attack. The surprise was nearly complete. Johnston's plan was to drive the Union army away from the Tennessee River and into the swamps west of the battlefield.

The Army of the Mississippi attacked at dawn on April 6. At the little wooden church, the Union dug in their heels, and the fighting was brutal. The peaceful ground around the church became a field of slaughter. At a small peach orchard a few hundred yards away, the fighting was so intense that the peach blossoms fell like snow upon the bodies of the dead. At a sunken farm road, the flying bullets were so dense the combatants named it the "hornet's nest". The water of a small pond near the peach orchard became bright red with the blood of the wounded men and horses.

As the sun set on that first day of slaughter, the Confederates found that they had only succeeded in driving Grant's troops to the river, instead of away from it. The Union army formed a solid front at Pittsburgh Landing and repulsed the final Confederate attack of the day. The Confederates were reeling from the loss of General Johnston, who had fallen in battle and died.

As dusk fell on the killing fields, General Buell's army arrived on the eastern banks of the Tennessee River, and he began ferrying his troops across to the Union position at Pittsburgh Landing. Also, a reserve division of Grant's army, led by General Wallace, had arrived. During the night of April 6, over 22,500 reinforcements had been added to the Union lines.

At dawn on April 7, Grant began an aggressive counterattack. General Beauregard, who had assumed command of the Confederate troops, mounted a defense, but his troops were exhausted and outnumbered. The Union troops pushed the Confederates back to Shiloh Church in brutal fighting. On the afternoon of April 7, Beauregard ordered a retreat, and the Army of the Mississippi relinquished the bloody battlefield to the Armies of the Tennessee and Ohio. The Confederate troops limped back to Corinth in the rain and sleet, defeated. The Union troops camped on the grisly battlefield, and began to bury the thousands of dead.

Grant was in disgrace after the battle of Shiloh. He was accused of being drunk or utterly negligent. He was so humiliated that he considered resigning his commission. President Lincoln was implored to remove Grant. His words: "I can't spare this man. He fights."

110,000 troops fought at Shiloh. In two days, almost 24,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing on a battlefield that consisted of only 4,000 acres.

My husband and I spent all day traipsing through the woods at Shiloh. It was so peaceful and beautiful. The birds sang from the trees, and we saw dozens of deer. The church has been rebuilt, and is still in use by the locals. The grounds are mostly well kept by the National Parks Service, and they have a guided tour of the cemetery, which we took.

The cemetery overlooks Pittsburgh Landing and the Tennessee River, and is shaded by massive trees. Some of the stones have inscriptions, but most are blank. Unknown soldiers. The parkie who guided the tour informed us that only United States soldiers are buried in the cemetery. We had thought that all the soldiers of that battle had been buried in trenches, but it turns out that the Union soldiers had been buried (or reburied) in proper graves.

There are five burial trenches for the Confederate soldiers at Shiloh. Only one is located on the driving tour. We found another one by playing Daniel Boone through the woods. One of the trenches contains 700 soldiers. To stand before them is incredibly sad. Someone had recently laid a memory wreath at the largest of the trenches. After the battle of Shiloh, Beauregard had written Grant, asking to be allowed to bury his dead, but Grant had already buried the Confederates in mass graves.

As we explored the park and read all the monuments, my husband and I were struck by the realization that this pivotal battle of the war had not been fought by professional soldiers, but by farm boys from Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Most had never been outside the county of their birth. At Shiloh, many of them rest in unmarked graves.

For the Confederacy, the war was essentially lost at Shiloh. The Union armies sacked Corinth, and continued down the Mississippi to lay seige to Vicksburg. The casualties would continue to mount in the remaining three years of the war. By the time the savagery ended, 620,000 Americans were dead.

I'll be thinking about Shiloh for a long time to come.
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guest author: papijoe
Costeño Dictionary
Someday scolars will write volumes about Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's native tongue as a distinct language rather than a dialect. Until then, we have the Costeño Dictionary. You can consider this a companion post to the previous ones on Colombian music. Where the idiom is as salty as the ocean breezes, the distintions between language and music are not sharp ones.

I've selected a few entries for review that were instructive, and in most cases personally meaningful.

Arepera: Lesbiana
Literally an arepera is a person, institution or device that makes the corn cakes that are a staple of Colombians and Venezuelans. Connection to lesbians? Ahh, we're just getting started.

Avispado: Persona más maliciosa que otras, persona que trata de aprovecharse de las otras
Derived from the word for "wasp" the definition is someone who is mean or takes advantage of others. Oddly I've heard it used with a slightly different meaning, more as someone who is sharp especially in business. Hmm.

Babilla: 1: Especie de Caimán pequeño.2. Mujer fea.
Either a miniature alligator or an ugly woman. Ouch.

Bacano: Bueno, chévere, agradable.
One of the most common expressions [along with chévere] used for anything good or cool.

Bochorno: Vergüenza
Something that is a shame or embarassment. Very commonly used in a class conscious society. Whether prompted by accidental flatulence or a fashion faux pas, "Ay, que bochorno! No te conozco! [I don't know you]" is likely to be heard between friend or family members at social events.

Cachaco: Persona del Interior o sea no Costeña.
A person from Bogota or another part of the interior. A non-Costeño. Basically this is another state of mind. Costeños are known for being laid-back, lazy even, fun-loving: dancing joking and partying are the dimensions of the Costeño universe. Cachacos seem to be the opposite, at least compared to Costeños: formal, proper, humorless and easily offended.
In his memoirs Gabriel Garcia-Marquez relates in his version of the infamous labor disputes from which the myth of the United Fruit Massacre was generated, the first order to disperse the mob with gunfire wasn't obeyed by the local troops so units from the interior were brought in who were willing to comply. From then on all government soldiers were bitterly referred to as Cachacos. Like any of Garcia-Marquez's claims around this event the tale should be taken with a grain of salt, but it illustrates the attitude towards Cachachos perfectly.

Chácaras: testículos
By far and away the funniest of the many Costeño/Caribbean terms for testicles.
Perfect example from a conversation with a family friend in Cartagena who is the epitome of a Costeña. Upon seeing a pair of boots with a strangely textured leather she was asked what they were made of. "¡Cuero de chácaras!" was reply followed by hysterical cackles of laughter.

Chancletas: Sandalias
Traditional sandals, also almost synonymous with disciplining children.
There is a typical joke about a Pastuso[inhabitant of the Pasto province which is the butt of the jokes of the rest of Colombia] who is to be executed by firing squad with an Engishman and a Frenchman. Just before they shoot the stoic Brit cries, "I die for the Queen!". Not to be outdone the Frenchman shouts, "I die for La Belle France!". At this point the terrified Pastuso bolts when his captors are distracted and disappears in the nearby jungle. While the soldier are blaming one another for the escape, he reappears to retrieve the sandals that came off as he ran and shouts, "I die for my G--damn chancletas!"

Cocotazo: golpe en la cabeza con el nudillo
Literally, a blow to the head from a coconut falling from a tree, it is kind of a power-noogie. The knuckle of the middle finger is extended from a fist and then bounced off the top of the victim's skull. What makes this particularly cruel is that by it's nature it is reserved for children and other short humans.
One of the Colombian in-laws is a practicianer of this dreaded punishment. All she has to do is shout. "Un solo cocotazo...!" and her children run screaming covering the tops of their heads. The synonym "coscorrón" is an onomatopoeia for the "big 'cosk!'" sound that a cocotazo produces.

Corroncho: Ordinario, Tosco, sin estilo.
One of the most common Costeño expressions used in our household. En La Casa de papijoe, it refers to any object, expression or behavior that is low-class or unsophisticated. On the Colombian side this was a give-away of the family's position in the limnial space between higher and lower society. Once they had attained success and became nouveau riche, a simple earthy [even Costeño] expression could give away past corroncho influences [¡Ay que bochorno!]
I tend to use it [only when pressed] to express my true feelings about a knickknack or home furnishing that would perhaps find a better home in a doublewide trailer in Arkansas.

Cucallo: Pegao, Resto de arroz que queda pegado en el fondo de la olla en que se cocina
Commonly known as "pegado" in Latin America. It's the rice that sticks and partially burns on the inside of the pot. Considered something of a delicacy, I've seen it served separately from the unburned rice. Personally it tastes like carmelized uncooked instant rice and I don't see the appeal.
This is a good example of an untranslatable expression that will surprise me when I attempt to read Garcia-Marquez in the original Costeño.

Flojera: (nom.)Pereza
Huh. I didn't even know there *was* another word for laziness in Spanish. I suppose I should have looked it up but...

Fritos: Comidas fritas varias a base de harina de maiz o yuca.
(empanadas, arepas, caribañolas etc.)

There is actually a "Festival de los Fritos" in C-gena. Oh the buñelos, papas rellenos, stuffed arepas, all cooked in pure lard. As delicious as they are, after about 4 or 5 samples, the gringo digestive tract is vanquished. I'll leave it at that.

Guache: Burdo, Grosero. Persona de malas costumbres.
Not unlike "corroncho", but specifically in regards to persons, synonym to "maleducado". Rude, Boorish, badly brought up. Adjective most frequently used by mrs p about Hugo Chavez.

Guayabo: enfermedad causada por el cosumo excesivo de alcohol, resaca
A hangover. Similar to Mexican "crudo".

Huepaje: Grito de alegría
Also spelled guepaje. Similar to "Yippee!" in spirit and the rural associations. Used all the time in cumbias and porros. ¡Ay homb'e, guepaje!

Ira: (Interjección) manifestación de incredulidad, ej: "iraaaaa, eso no te lo crees
ni tú mismo" //¿será que es la contracción de "mentira" -> (ment)ira?

Typical response to one of my daughters' fibs. Irala? "Oh Reeeeally?"

Joder: molestar (ej: no me jodas= no me molestes)
To bother, "bug", or annoy. Used in exactly the same sense as the Anglo-Saxon "f" verb when combined with the preposition "with". Also an expressing of disbelief [¡No joda!] used extensively in the Giordano's story.

Jopo: 1. nalgas de la mujer, culo (que jopo tiene) 2.mal, inaceptable (algo es jopo)
I have to take issue with the diccionario's definition. Our usage is in contrast to to other "butt" words like culo, or nalgas. Jopo refers specifically to the...um..."O-ring" if you will...
For some colorful applications, see entries for jopoloco and joperico.

Mojon: materia fecal. 2 suerte(cule mojon, osea, que suerte!)
Specifically, a turd. You would be surprised how useful this expression is in Colombia. Or maybe you wouldn't...

Monicongo: mamarracho
The diccionario says a buffoon or clown. However we use it also for unusual or ridiculous things that lack a better descriptors.
For example, my sister in law once referred to the Statue of Libery as "La Moniconga"

Patacón: plátano frito y aplastado, tostón
Plantains, fried and smushed. Subject of epic and song.

Pilas, Ponte (las) pilas: Pon atención, Despiértate, Apúrate.
Literally "batteries". Most common meaning is "hurry up". This phrase nearly always produces an ironic smile in gringo husbands.

Vaina: cosa u objeto.
A thing. Very common expression. If Ray Smuckles really spoke Spanish he would use this all the time:"Ay homb'e, ¿Porque quieres hacer una vaina todavia? "

If my patient audience hasn't OD'ed on vainas colombianas I'm sure I'll have lots more material on my return in mid-July. I'm desperately trying to finish Garcia-Marquez's memoirs in English. Once it's committed more or less to memory the original Costeño won't be so tough. I hope to get some pictures of some of pivotals settings in his life and create a series around that. Hopefully circumstances will cooperate.
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guest author: Dances With Typos
So, What Scares You?
In the summer of 1974, I was 22 years old, and driving cab in Anchorage, Alaska. It was an "interesting" job. Interesting enough, in fact, that I later received a couple of "A's" in my creative writing classes at the Anchorage Community college simply by recounting true experiences I'd had behind the wheel of the Big Yellow Taxi. Including this one.

Anyway, early one afternoon in August of 1974, I was driving Yellow Cab #12, which we called "the old one-two," on the 6 am to 6 pm shift. It was Saturday, and had been a slow day. "Spenard One-Two, Spenard One-Two," The scratchy voice of the dispatcher called through my radio, "Spenard Motel."

"Ten-Four," I answered in my best radio voice. No reason to let any of the other cabbies know I was only a punk kid in my third month of driving.
The Spenard motel was not really a place for tourists. It was generally a "residence" motel for those who were not yet able to swing the ridiculous rents that were charged for even the most humble of efficiency apartments in this second year of Alaska Pipeline construction.

Anyway, I knew exactly where it was, and did not figure I would have any of the night shift problems of loud, or worse, nauseous, drunks at a little after one pm, even on Saturday, so I rolled on in to the motel's drive and sat for a minute, waiting for my fare.

The cab companies in Anchorage used a color code in those days, to give the dispatcher an easy read of their location and readiness for a new call.
"Red" was for an empty cab, and when you called that in, as "One-two, red, Spenard," the dispatcher would respond with your car number, and your position on the waiting list, as in "One-two, three Spenard." The city was divided into about six sections, and each driver was placed on the board as to where he was, and what order he would receive a call. One of those districts was Spenard.

Spenard had been a tiny separate town, way back when, until Anchorage's urban sprawl had overtaken it in the 1950's. Spenard was not the best neighborhood in Anchorage, and had, in fact, lent its name to a very informal form of divorce, usually involving a firearm and a futile attempt to hide a body.

"Green" meant you had a fare in the cab, whether dispatched, or a "flag." In the winter, cruising the bus stops was a great way to get flags during the day, as someone who had missed their bus had little desire to stand for twenty minutes in twenty below zero weather, waiting for the next bus. My very first day driving a cab, only a couple of months before this day, I had gone out with no instruction, and reversed the codes. I think the long-time cabbies are still amazed at the newbie who was "green" all over the city, and still made no money at all.

"Orange" was the one we all listened for. That was the code for a cabbie in trouble. It might be an accident. It might be a drunken fool screaming and refusing to pay. It might be a cabbie who had been shot by an armed robber, and was praying someone would get to him before he bled out. Both cab companies in Anchorage monitored each others frequencies, and an orange call from a Checker driver would be put out both by the Checker Cab dispatcher, and the Yellow Cab dispatcher, and the closest cabbie would be the first one on the scene. Color just did not matter.

There were too many of the wrong people in Anchorage, then. End of the roaders. People who had come thinking that anyone could get hired on the pipeline, and make thousands of dollars every week. People who had sold everything to get there, and found that they just did not have enough to live on.

So, armed robberies of cabbies had been increasing, but only at night.

So far, anyway.

The guy who walked out of the Spenard motel and climbed into the front seat of my cab was an average looking man of about 35 or so. He was average build, and average height, wearing a long grey coat, and his black hair was greased straight back off his forehead. "Head out the Seward Highway," he said, in a completely average voice.

"OK," I responded, and wheeled the old Plymouth out from under the covered portico as I flicked the meter over to "occupied." "One-two, green Spenard," I told the dispatcher. "One-two, green," she responded in her tired voice.

The Old Seward Highway had been overgrown with businesses and neighborhoods, and going that way was not at all unusual for a cabbie. In fact, it meant a pretty good trip, usually, as the mileage was never short on that end of town.

In 1974, before the sudden realization that nicotine and second hand smoke were playthings of the devil, it was a rare cab that was non-smoking, at least in Anchorage, Alaska. This was the Last Frontier, after all. So, after a couple of miles, when my fare asked "mind if I smoke?" I said "no, not at all. In fact, I will too."

I reached into my pocket for a Camel filter, and pushed in the car lighter as my fare unbuttoned his coat and brought out his own smoke. When the lighter popped, I lit mine, then held it out for him to light his. That is when I saw the butt of a large revolver standing out through the opening in his coat.
I gulped a few times, then asked casually, I think, "So, where you heading?"

"Just out the highway," he said. I don't think he had any idea I had seen the gun in his coat.

I kept driving, and thinking furiously. We were now on the New Seward Highway, where there is nothing, except miles of nothing, between Anchorage and Seward. The only thing I knew was out there was a place called Potter's Marsh, part of a migratory bird sanctuary, and just full of deep pools suitable for hiding a body. Finally I said "Well, if we're heading out of town, I've got to call in and let them know where I'm going."

"OK, go ahead."

I licked my lips, picked up my mike and announced "One-two, orange, heading south on the Seward Highway." There was no response. We were already out of town and heading into the valley. I realized we were out of radio range. I thought even faster.

I was not a night driver. I did not have a 12 inch Crescent wrench or foot long section of rebar beside my seat on the floor. I had nothing except a useless radio and an ever-increasing feeling of fear.

The fare smiled at me.

After a few more miles he said, "OK, there's a road coming on the right. Turn in there."

There had been no traffic for the last 10 minutes, at least. No one at all to see where Yellow Cab number 12 was going.

"Yeah," he said, "here, it's about a half mile in."

The things that flashed through my mind were incoherent. I thought of slamming on the brakes and making a run for it. I thought of running the cab off the road into a tree. I thought of dying.

As we came around a last corner, there was a sign. "Potter Marsh Rifle and Pistol Range."

"Ahh," he said with a smile, "my friend is here. You can drop me by that red Chevy truck."

I bit back a whimper.

He opened the door, and looked at the meter. It read $28.50. He handed me 2 twenties and got out. "See ya later, guy," he said, and closed the cab door.
As he walked toward his friends truck, I sat shaking. After a few moments, or maybe hours, I put the car in gear, and headed back out toward the highway. At least I did not throw up on the drive back into the city.

You know, before then, I don't think I ever realized just how beautiful the mountains and the sky were around Anchorage, Alaska.
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guest author: gutterfiend
The Calgary Stampede
Every year in early July, the city of Calgary undergoes a transformation. Hay bales start appearing on the sidewalks, businessmen wear cowboy hats to work, and the sweet smell of pancakes and syrup wafts through the air. It’s time for the Calgary Stampede once again!

The Calgary Stampede has been around since 1912, when the first one was held to promote western heritage. It was the richest rodeo event of the time with prize money totaling $20,000 and had a total attendance of over 100,000 people (an impressive turnout considering the population of Calgary at the time was only 44,000!). The Stampede was supposed to be a one time only event but the first one was so wildly successful that it has been held annually since 1919.

The first day of the Stampede begins with a parade that travels through downtown, led by the Stampede Show Band. Since the parade can draw as many as 400,000 spectators, people usually have to stake out their seats well in advance, or buy a spot on one of the temporary bleachers set up along the route. Back in the day runaway livestock was usually the highlight of the parade, but in later years race organizers insisted that the cowboys keep their horses under control to prevent accidents (spoilsports!). But even without an actual stampede, the parade is still very exciting.

The main event of the Stampede is of course the rodeo. The Calgary Stampede Rodeo remains the world’s richest rodeo, with a top prize in each event of $100,000 and total prize money of $1.6 million. This year we were lucky enough to see the son of a family friend compete in the bull riding; unfortunately he was bucked off. There was also a run-off in the barrel racing which was very exciting. At this point I learned the hard way that sunburned knees are very painful (next year I’ll be sure to wear sunscreen).

After the rodeo most of our group went our separate ways to see the rest of the sights. My husband spent the afternoon going on various terrifying rides, but I preferred to look at the agricultural exhibits. They had these crazy little miniature goats that were all wearing sparkly purple blankets. They were cute, but the blankets made them look like they’d just come back from a three day bender in Vegas. I was also able to see the Budweiser draft horses being hitched up to the beer cart. It was amazing to see these enormous horses calmly standing still with a huge crowd of people only a few feet away. They looked quite impressive once they had their harnesses on, and there was even a Dalmatian dog that rode on top of the beer cart.

Other than pancakes, the most popular Stampede food is mini-donuts. I’m not sure what’s in these things, but they are the crack cocaine of pastry. After I watched the draft horses I gave in to their siren call and ate a whole bag. Then I felt sick. But it was so worth it!

Every night the Stampede ends with a fireworks display. The best place to watch is from the top of Scotsman’s Hill, across the Elbow River from the Stampede grounds. As a bonus you get a beautiful view of downtown Calgary, but you have to get there early because there is limited parking. The best night to go is the last Sunday, because they have to use up all of their fireworks. Ten days of fun goes out with a bang!

Click to see full-sized:

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guest author: Dances With Typos
Gorillas In The Mist
So it was another nice visit, and another nice meal, the morning after the big 50th Anniversary party.

My uncle was back in his true form, wearing one of his crazy hats and a T-Shirt that showed an illustration of three white-tailed deer, holding protest signs which read "Catch More Fish."

But it was much quieter, with many fewer people, and the ability to actually converse without shouting.

The food was all pretty good, except for the world's record blandest scrambled eggs, but there was an outstanding potato dish. Another uncle (one who is actually younger than I am, and does a lot of cooking, as well) likened it to his "Smashed Potato" dish, in which he boils potatoes until well-done, then heats olive oil in a skillet, and literally smashes the potatoes into hot oil, adding garlic and flattening the potatoes until they brown against the bottom of the skillet, then turning until another surface is exposed, adding more olive oil if/as needed. He said that, much like these, his potatoes were partly soft & starchy, and partly crispy brown.

The dish at the restaurant contained finely chopped green pepper, and my uncle told me he has used all sorts of leftover vegetables, but that his favorite is broccoli. I will try something similar very soon, using unpeeled redskin potatoes and whatever veggie comes to mind.

Anyway, after much laughter, and hugs, and tears, and the exchange of various email adresses and Major International Cheese & Politics Blog names, we piled into our cars and headed for the falls.

The area surrounding Niagara Falls says "Tourist Trap" in at least seventeen languages, and includes pictures for the illiterate. It is, essentially, a sleazy, second-rate carnival atmosphere, and at least on this Memorial Day Sunday, was packed to the top with milling humanity. We were lucky enough to get two parking spaces within about one block of the park, only $5 each for up to 2 hours.

Oddly enough, the vast majority of people I saw were from India, the women complete with Saris and caste marks. The strange, to my ears, lilt of Indian English was everywhere, it seemed like they'd had a direct flight from New Delhi to Niagara Falls.

Of course, there were also Japanese, all draped in cameras, many South Americans, some Chinese. A cornucopia of people, all talking, all laughing. The sound and sight of people was everywhere.

We threaded our way through the crowds, across a busy street and onto the park grounds.

And then suddenly there was another sound just at the edge of hearing, a deeper sound, like a constant low thunder. The further we walked, the more that sound grew.

Whether the crowds quieted in awe, or the new sound simply overwhelmed all else, soon it was the only thing to be heard.

We stepped through a hedge and there was a vision to match the sound. More than a river, it was a seeming eternity of reflections moving at amazing speed, shining in the sun, a constant movement of waves, a constant thunder of power.

I walked on. My family faded from my sight, and from my conciousness.

I walked on. I began to feel the wind from the waters flow, and an occasional drop of mist, even at this distance.

I looked back and could see, but not hear, my family calling. I could tell they were talking about taking a tour bus. They wanted to be surrounded by glass and 200 chattering strangers. I did not.

I turned back, and walked on. I could feel a smile stretching my face as more and more droplets of mist splashed on it. The wind from the falls was making my eyes water, or maybe it was tears of joy.

I walked on. There were people around me but I did not see them.

I came to the railing, looked at sheer power, and took a deep breath. I could see the motion within the water, I could feel the power of the sound, and the wind.

If God exists this is one of His Holy Places. Even surrounded by greedy, weak humanity, grasping for every dollar, this is a place of purity.

I walked on. Soon I came to the top of the Falls, themselves. My hair blew back from my forehead, the mist on my face felt like the tears of God. I looked down into the chasm as the wind whipped around me.

With all of the sound, the wind, the water, the pure power, I felt more at peace than I have been in longer than I could remember.

I turned and walked back toward my family.

On the way I smiled at a cute little Indian boy in a stroller. He looked like a handsome, dark-skinned Alfred E. Newman. He smiled back and turned in his stroller as I passed, his white teeth shining in the sun.

A young Indian couple asked me to take a photograph of them against the background of the Falls, and I was happy to.

My sister was still in line to buy tickets, but it did not matter, any more.

When I started, this was going to be a tale of argument and near-accident, of screaming kids and unhappy drivers. A tale of finding a relative enshrined on a Civil War memorial. A tale of a disappearing brother in law, and finding him.

But, in the end, after all of that has faded from memory, the purity, grace and sheer, overwhelming power of the Falls is what will last.
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guest author: Dances With Typos
Buffaloed Again
The trip had not begun well. My Mother called about 10 minutes before their supposed arrival time and asked desperately if I could get driving directions. I told her, "sure, but my printer is dead."

"So is ours," she cried.

So I called work, and asked one of the guys there to get a Mapquest of the route from here to Buffalo and print it out for me. I planned on surprising them with nice directions when they came.

My mother called again about 10 minutes after they were to have arrived and told me that my sister was copying the directions down by hand, and could I please do the same, so I informed her I was having it done, and please just come get me so we could beat at least a little of the Memorial Day traffic.

40 minutes later, having given my frustration sufficient time to ripen, they pulled into the drive. I was to ride with my youngest sister, her hubby, and their great-niece, a 3 year old who has a sure-fire strategy for control. She screams. At this point the only way to stop her that they could think of (Heaven knows we mustn't discipline the poor child) was to play, continuously, a kids CD called "Silly Songs." John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt was probably the least offensive of the selections.

Anyway, we drove to my workplace. I went in to get the directions, and Xerox a couple of extra copies, just in case. I was not wearing my glasses. I thought I punched for 2 copies. The machine refused to cancel. So, a few minutes and 22 copies of mapquest directions from DuBois, PA to Buffalo, NY later, I was ready. That's when they told me we were going to Niagara Falls. My Mother swore that she had told me Niagara. She told me Buffalo.

I refused to go back into the store.

But, luckily, Buffalo is only a few miles from Niagara, so most of the directions were still correct. Only at the very end would we be flying blind. It was something I would have looked forward to, had I known what the rest of the trip was going to be like.

Except for the music, and the fact it kept adult converstion outside the realm of possibility, the first part of the trip went fine, though I did contemplate, after the 4th or 5th playing of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, throwing open the car door and leaping to freedom, or my death, whichever came first.

We stopped at a service station on the New York Seneca Nation lands and had a little pre-packed picnic from the cooler in the back of the car I was trapped in. There was a very cute young Seneca girl giving away free packs of Indian's Revenge (cheap cigarettes) in the parking lot. I considered asking her if American Indians ever took white men hostage any more, but decided against it.

The other too-young-to-go-along child, my niece's now almost two year old son, whose premature birth I announced here, was also along. He was the opposite of his cousin, being smiley, quiet except for play and laughter, and very well behaved. Unless I looked at him. For some reason he was deathly afraid of me. So, naturally, after we chased these kids all over this busy parking lot for 30 minutes it was decided we would take the boy with us, and Shrieker would ride in the other car.

Of course each time I turned to attempt to engage my sister in conversation, he shrunk back in his car seat and started to tear up, while each time I looked toward the front of the car, my brother-in-law, who single-handedly I think, brought the Pennsylvania average in the National Driving Test down to a state record low of 77% was doing something else dangerous. He followed far too closely. He changed lanes abruptly, without benefit of signal. His speed varied between 50 and 70 with no apparent relationship to the posted limit. but he did do very well at pointing out cows to distract both himself and the baby in back from the actual roadway.

I closed my eyes, finally, and leaned back in my seat. Figuring at least that way, I would not see my imminent death coming.

So, we arrived, anyway, having gotten lost only a couple of times, since my other sister did write down the directions from Mapquest.

It was a completely non-smoking hotel, that threatened a $100 "cleaning" fee if anyone dared to light up in one of the rooms. Having not had any nicotine since the picnic stop outside Salamanca, I stood outside and inhaled two in a row.

That left us with about 2 hours to prep ourselves for the party.

The Como Restaurant in Niagara Falls is apparently a pretty well-known eatery, judging from the autographed celebrity pics that hang in the entryway, most with little notes praising the food. The decor and atmosphere are also quite nice, blond wood, deep carpets, beautifully cast renaissance-style dryads holding up the plaster columns in the bar.

Our party, however, was in a basement annex around to the side.

The first thing I noticed upon entering, was the noise. The second thing was over 200 semi-recognized people, all of them obviously born into my strange clan, or foolish enough to have married in. The third was a smiling man standing behind an open bar.

Two strong vodka & tonics (no gin, sigh) later I was feeling much better about the whole situation.
At this point, one of my cousins announced that the "Couple of Honor" would be arriving in about 5 more minutes, so everyone be ready to surprise them.

I turned to my Mom. "This is a surprise party?"

"Yes," she answered.

"For a 75 year old man with congestive heart failure?"

"It wasn't my idea."

"So, do we shout, Surprise! Happy Anniversary! or Oh My God, Call 911!?"

Hey, at least it got a laugh from others at the table.

Actually, it turned out to be a very nice party.

The food was very good, there was a slide show of 75 years of photographs, including many of my mother, grandmother and grandfather, as well as seemingly thousands of cousins that I still half-recognized.

Also, the bar was free. I think I have gained a real appreciation for vodka & tonic.

Anyway, I had a nice time, my aunt and uncle were suitably surprised, (and lived through it) and I got to talk to a lot of folks I did recognize, but had not seen for quite a while.

I even got a laugh from my mom for a semi-risque joke. As the evening was winding down, and she had enjoyed chattering away to the much larger group that she knows by sight (and history) she mentioned to me that she did not know what to do at this kind of party, after she had talked to everyone. I told her, "Well, if we were in West Virginia, we could spend the night hitting on cousins." She actually laughed.

While this had been going on, one sister had taken the two too-young-to-be-there kids back to the hotel, to let them swim in the pool and hopefully relax enough to sleep.

So, when the rest of us arrived, at about 10:30, the kids were ready. The little girl was screaming that they had to take her back to the pool (which was now closed) and the little boy was crying because she was screaming.

All of us were in two connecting rooms.

My brother-in-law who can drive and I went for a walk. When we got back, the kids were quiet, but the adults were not. At least my youngest sisters husband was doing a very passable imitation of a World War One fighter plane movie soundtrack. Since we had only the two connecting double rooms, and the hotel was full, I had my choice of "Dawn Patrol" or sleeping in the car.

I finally collapsed into a fitful sleep sometime after midnight, and awoke slightly before 5 am. The serenade was still sounding, and my body was craving nicotine, but I bit back on my addiction, and took a shower before inflicting my presence on the outside world.

There was a family breakfast at the Como for those of us traveling, and the restaurant did a fine job, once again, including a potato dish that I am going to attempt to duplicate, or at least approach, in the near future.

After, we packed ouselves all into the cars and headed for the Falls.

But, Day Two should really really be a second story, tentatively titled "Gorillas In The Mist." Maybe soon I will be over the jitters enough to write that one.
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guest author: Lady Redhawk
Happy Fishing!
Have I ever told you guys the story of when my lovely mother planned a "Family Fishing Day"? No? Well, pull up a chair and sit a spell.

This story begins two and a half years ago. My parents were newcomers to the Ozarks, transplants from Southern California, and hadn't had the pleasure of one of our "balmy" winters. My youngest brother Greg was flying out to spend a week, my son and daughter-in-law had just moved here, and my nephew Nick was on leave from the army. For my family, this constituted an enormous gathering, and my mom was beside herself with joy. To celebrate, she decided that we, as a family, were going on an all day fishing extravaganza on the White River - the day after Thanksgiving.

This adventure is not for the financially challenged, and my folks are not the Trumps. Seven people, two jon boats, two guides = 665 clams, plus tips for the guides, plus out-of-state fishing licenses for Greg and Nick. Yowza.

Well, Mom set it up weeks in advance, and as the Great Family Event drew nearer, the thermometer plummeted. An arctic air mass settled over the Ozarks. Man, was it cold.

My 6'2" husband rebelled. "I'm not going! It's too damn cold!" I said "Yes. You. Are. My MOTHER has plotted and planned this for weeks! She will NEVER FORGIVE ME if you don't go!" He looked me dead in the eye and said "NO." So I said "YES YOU ARE, you big wimp!". He defiantly put his hands on his hips. "NO. NO means NO." Well, at that point I had to bring out the big guns. I batted my eyelashes at him and sweetly asked "So which couch are YOU sleeping on this week?" Heh. I win.

Next, I called my chiseled, then 25 year old son. He said "I'm not going! It's too damn cold!" I said "Yes. You. Are." He said "Uh uh. No way, Jose." I shreiked that he was a big scairdy-cat, and that his feeble old grandma was tougher'n he was. That worked.

My brother and nephew were easy, but when I called my dad, he of course said "I'm not going! It's too damn cold!" I said "But Dad! Everyone is going!" He replied with "Ha! Everyone but ME. Hmph." Oy. What could I do? He MADE me play the guilt card, I tell ya. "Oh Dad" forlorn sigh..."Mom's going to be so disappointed! I hope...I hope...oh, you don't think she'll cry, do you?" Like shootin' fish in a barrel.

Friday morning we gathered at the boat ramp to begin our Great Family Adventure. 7 AM. 28 degrees. Swirling winds. My teeth began chattering almost immediately. My mom gave me THE LOOK, so with a joyous smile frozen on my face, I pumped my arm in the air and squeaked "Woo-hoo! We're having fun now!" If looks could kill, I'd be a goner.

By eight o'clock, I was a barely breathing popsicle. When I tried to set my hook, tiny icicles tinkled where my nose hairs used to be. My nephew, convulsing and shivering, set his hook so hard the sinker sailed out of the water and clunked our guide right on the head. Ice shattered around the poor man's ear. He slowly looked around, paused, and quietly mumbled "Ouch". I think he was too numb to feel much.

In spite of the cold, I cannot describe how utterly breathtaking the White River is. The fishing was absolutely fantastic. We caught rainbows, browns, and cutthroats all day, one after another. And oh! How they fought! We kept the lunkers and released the smaller fish. (psst! a 'lunker' is a really big fish, in hillbilly lingo.)

At mid-day, we beached the boats. Have you ever heard the sound ice makes on a thawing lake? That's what my knees sounded like when I stood up. When you are frozen solid, you don't walk; you do a wrist-leading John Wayne shuffle.

Concerned about my mom's welfare, I helped her from her boat. "Mom, are you okay?" She answered "Mwagahobesheeska." I translated that as "I'm freezing my f*cking ass off, you moron!" But since I'm not supposed to know that my almost 70 year old mom occassionally says "f*ck", I answered with "Oh good! I'm so relieved! Come sit in my truck where it's warm!" I took her arm, and together we John Wayne shuffled across the boat launch. I could hear people laughing. Warm people. People with down-lined parkas, and earmuffs, and thermal socks. Bastids.

We may have been freezing cold that day, but the memories (and my mom's glowing smile) will keep us warm for many years to come.
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guest author: packen
The Brick
This GA post was prompted by ev’s post about the dibbyk box. Although I have serious suspicions as to the veracity of that particular story, what I am about to relate actually happened and can be corroborated by at least two people who read this blog and would call my bluff if I was making it up. The story is not nearly as spooky and in some respects even amusing. Whether I put too much into it and this is just a strange chain of coincidences is up to you to decide, but they were compelling enough to send two semi-sane, semi-educated, fully skeptical and basically down-to-earth people on a long trip to a long-forgotten place. The events unfolded some sixteen years ago, in the span of about five months, but they are still pretty fresh in my memory and I will try to recollect them as closely as I can.

The trigger point for this story can be traced to five or six years before the actual event, while we still lived in New York and before Michael was born. It is no secret to some of you that Pete’s always been obsessed with tornadoes. He was lucky enough to lay his hands on a rare original book published in 1879 by J.P. Finley. Finley was an army engineer sent by the army to investigate the aftermath of a devastating tornado (actually, two separate tornadoes in the same day) which wiped out the town of Irving, Kansas that year. Very little was known about tornadoes at that time, and even though Finley was not a meteorologist, he provided the most comprehensive account of tornado devastation to date, which has become a classic. This link provides some of the pictures as they appeared in his book.

It has become Pete’s dream to one day visit the site of Irving, which to his knowledge at the time has never been rebuilt after the tornado, and retrace Finley’s steps. The dream came true in April of 1991, when equipped with xerox copies of Finley’s maps he set out from Madison, WI to Irving, KS. Michael and I stayed home to take care of business.

Pete came back after a couple of days, with a little memento. When I opened the door to let him in, he was standing on the threshold, holding a brick in his hand. It was a very old fossilized-looking brick, with one edge broken off at an angle. When I inquired as to what the heck was that, he said it was a brick from what he thought was (based on the location found) part of the destroyed town church (you can see the picture of the church at the above referenced site, half-way down). He was going to use it as paperweight. I protested mildly at first, intending to increase the volume of my protestations if met with resistance. Truth be known, I did not object due to some foreboding or such, but purely for practical reasons. We lived in an apartment at the time out of which I was running my business, and I had more souvenirs and relics already that I knew what to do with (other than throw away)–-a can full of ash from Mt. St. Helen, boxes full of paper crap, not to mention Michael’s growing collection of his interest du jour–-fossils, or more like a ton of rocks with fossil potential waiting to be uncovered once he got a big enough hammer.

As it turned out, I had to protest no more, which was very odd in itself and interpreted by me as a sign of extreme tiredness. I was fully prepared for “This is my office and I can do whatever I want!”, but instead he said very meekly: “Where should I put it?” “Oh, put it under the fence”, I said, waiving toward the long chain-link fence running along the apartment complex property. “OK”, he said, and proceeded to do just that. Only much later did he confess the reason for such uncharacteristic compliance. When he picked up the brick on the way back to his car, he was overcome by the strong feeling of nausea and the sense of being compelled to put it back, but shrugged it off as nonsense. That feeling didn’t exactly dissipate when on the way home his car was almost blown off the road by a sudden downburst (yeah, it was a CRX, so what?).

The trip itself was pretty uneventful. After getting lost a few times on unpaved, unmarked roads trying to find Irving which was no longer on any contemporary maps, navigating basically on over one-hundred-year-old maps, Pete finally stumbled onto a grassy clearing with what looked like a tombstone (note the mailbox next to it).

The mailbox contained a notebook left there by a local historian whose name I don’t remember, asking visitors to leave a note. Pete left a note with his address, explaining that he was doing tornado research. He then proceeded to investigate the area. The pictures below show what’s left of the once thriving little town.

The next two pictures are of what was supposedly the center of the town where the church stood and which sustained the hardest hit. You can see a scattering of bricks on the second photo. He picked up one of them.

The following link is the only reference of interest I found on the net today. Note the warning to relic hunters: “Relic seeking, in this case, becomes a FELONY. Be warned, take nothing but pictures.” Amen to that, I says.

Mysterious Illness
The chain of strange events started within days after Pete’s return. There were so many of them it would be too space- and time-consuming to list them all, some I may have even forgotten, so I will just give you the highlights. The first I recall happened on our way to the supermarket one night, with Michael, then six, in the back seat. He was chirping all the way to the store, but as we were about to turn off the main road onto the parking lot, he suddenly fell quiet. I asked him a question and he did not respond. When I turned back to look at him, he was slumped over in his seat, seemingly asleep. I tried to rouse him up when we realized that he was not asleep, but passed out and was unresponsive. This has never happened before or since. At speeds nearing 100 m/h through the mainly residential streets, we rushed to the emergency room. The doctors didn’t waste any time once they confirmed that he was, indeed, really out of it. He came to on the examination table, totally confused, but fine otherwise. The doctors ran his vitals, did some tests and could not find absolutely anything wrong with him. They did find a wood tick on his back which wasn’t even embedded, but categorically dismissed it as cause of unconsciousness. To this day it remains a mystery.

The House
This was probably the longest drawn out drama of the summer. With the apartment complex going downhill, I decided it was time to start thinking about buying a house, some time in the next year or so, since we didn’t really have enough money. My business was relatively new and struggling, while Pete was still collecting unemployment from his previous job–-not a good time to apply for a mortgage loan, but a girl can dream. On May 1, 1991 I opened the classified section of the newspaper just to see what’s out there. The very first listing, ABC Builders, was for an open house of a model home by that builder, so off we went. I immediately fell in love with the house, but it was way more than what I had in mind. Just for the hell of it, I asked the builder if he would settle for about 10% less than the asking price-–he looked at me like I was crazy. We ended up employing the services of a real estate agent, a rather snotty middle-aged woman. She worked hard, she showed us a lot of properties, but nothing was good enough for me in comparison. I could not get the #1 house out of my head, I was becoming obsessed. Finally, exasperated, the agent asked me if there was a house good enough for me, or I was just wasting her time. I told her. When she found out that I offered the builder $10,000 less than he was asking, she laughed in my face, saying that I would be lucky to get $900 out of a builder. She wrote me off as a nut case. (Incidentally, she called me a month after we moved into the house to see if we were still looking. When I told her we bought the house I wanted for the price I wanted she almost choked.)

Meanwhile, I was writing offers to the builder which went unanswered. To further exacerbate the matters, he hired his own real estate agent and upped the price by another $10,000, so I now had to deal with the agent. Oh, the wringer I put that sweet old man through... I stopped at nothing in my evil scheming. I recruited all my friends and acquaintances to make him phony offers a few thousand more than mine, get him all excited and change their minds the next day. Every night I used to drive up to the house and peer longingly through the windows. Quite often, I would see other potential buyers in their Volvos and Saabs and my heart would sink. To this day, I don’t know how I got this house, it simply should not have happened under normal circumstances. For example, after we already moved into the house, I befriended one of the future neighbors who was in the process of building the same house as mine, by the same builder, in the same development. She was quite shocked and hurt to find out how much I paid for the house, since she and her husband were negotiating with the builder the same time I was and were offering $5,000 more. Why he wouldn’t sell it to them neither one of us had any idea. All throughout that ordeal I had a feeling that someone was toying with us, wagging a carrot in front of our noses and pulling it away, but not all the way. That same pattern applied to my business that summer-–it was as if everything I tried to do became suspended.

Crises were coming out of the blue to just suddenly disappear under some weird circumstances. At the same time I was playing cat and mouse with the builder, I was trying to secure a mortgage loan with the bank. I lied, I cajoled, I exaggerated, my chutzpa knew no bounds. Let’s face it-–an unemployed husband and a wife with a small start-up business showing very little profit for the last couple of years is quite an iffy proposition. I managed to impress the bank with my rather vague UN contract enough to consider accepting my application, but as far as solid paperwork to back it up, there was none, I was running on fumes. My loan application was being reviewed by a loan officer named Jackie. Jackie was dragging her sweet ass and getting somewhat annoyed by my frequent inquiries, but the feeling I got from her was that the prospects were dim.

Some time during the summer, when Pete’s unemployment benefits already ran out, he received a letter from the unemployment office informing him that he was under investigation for fraud. If found guilty, he was facing the refund of all his benefits (about $7,000), plus that amount in penalties, plus possible jail time. Ouch. We were floored and had no idea where that came from. Since they subpoenaed my business records, I figured out it had something to do with him working for the business, but how that came about I had no clue. I was the sole proprietor of the business and he actually was not doing any work for the business at the time. He was doing some kind of internship at the weather station that summer, without compensation. The only place where they could’ve gotten that information was the loan application, where I stated that Pete was working for the business. Duh, what was I supposed to do? Say that the head of the household was unemployed? Sure, that would’ve helped a lot. How they got a hold of that information though, I had no idea.

I wasn’t overly concerned, just majorly PO’d. There was nothing in the records to indicate that Pete was a paid employee, there was nothing illegal going on as far as unemployment office was concerned, but you never know when you are dealing with the government. The hearing procedure provided for the accused to bring a witness in his defense. There were no witnesses relevant to the issue, so Pete hit on a brilliant idea to bring a character witness–-his minister and family friend. Oh, you should’ve seen the bewildered look on the adjudicator’s face when presented with pastor Dan, complete with the black and white pastorly collar, but minus the joem hat. It quickly became obvious that there was no case, the adjudicator seemed to be surprisingly sympathetic despite my initial blustery indignation, so I took the opportunity to find out how they got a hold of this information. She sighed and disclosed the following:

Jackie the banker called Pete’s former employer to verify past employment history and spoke to the bookkeeper named Laura. Said Laura and Pete never had any conflicts while he worked there, on the contrary, I gave her all my pregnancy clothes when she needed them. However, Laura contemplated, upon hearing Pete’s voice on the weather radio, to inform the unemployment office that he was working for them while collecting unemployment. Her decision was further spurred by the gall of him applying for mortgage while she could not afford such luxury. So to make sure that her suspicion was correct, she asked Jackie what he put on the mortgage application as his employment. Jackie told her that he was working for me. So Laura wrote a letter to unemployment accusing Pete for working for both me and the weather station. And here’s where the plot thickens. By some weird coincidence, prior to becoming an adjudicator for unemployment office, this lady used to work as a loan officer for the same bank as Jackie, she actually knew Jackie pretty well, she trained her. She said that Jackie broke the confidentiality rules by divulging this information to a third party and may lose her job had it become known.

Equipped with this ammunition, I came home that day and called Jackie. The conversation went like this:
packen (in her most sugary voice): Hi, Jackie, this is packen. Any progress on my loan?
Jackie (in her most annoyed voice): Nothing yet. We will inform you as soon as the decision is reached.
packen: Say, Jackie, did you by any chance talk to Laura at such’n’such?
Jackie: Yes, I did.
packen: Did you by any chance give her Pete’s employment information from the application?
Jackie (after prolonged silence): No, I don’t recall doing that... Of course not, it would be against our policy to give out personal information.
packen: Really? I see... So... Say, Jackie, when can I see my loan approval?
Jackie: I will put it in the mail today. You can expect to receive it in a few days. If you don’t, please give me a call.
packen: Thank you, Jackie, you’ve been most helpful.

As a side note: Pete confronted Laura about that letter to unemployment office, to which she replied that she was simply protecting her employer’s interests. Oddly enough, only a year later Laura was convicted of embezzling that same employer for $50,000. Oh, sweet irony.

As I mentioned earlier, that summer Pete was doing internship at the weather station located by Truax airport, a military airport next to the civilian one. Needless to say that possibly the worst tornado (or a tornado producing storm, he can fill you in on details) in Madison happened around July of that year, while he was on duty. He was actually the one who issued the tornado warning. Interestingly enough, the highest wind velocity was recorded in the vicinity of the weather station, a small cement building with no basement. The wind destroyed a couple of hangars and scattered a whole bunch of military airplanes.

I happened to be at home at that time. Pete called and yelled for us to immediately get down to the basement. I grabbed Michael and as I opened the door from the apartment leading onto the second floor landing, I could feel the whole building shift a little. Running down the stairs, I could see an old birch tree laying flat on the ground, trunk and all, and remember feeling sad because I really liked that tree.

This is the picture of the tree. The building I lived in is attached to the one on the picture, it is obscured by the pine tree on the left. The birch tree escaped unscathed and I couldn’t imagine how an old trunk could be so flexible and what kind of wind would lay it flat on the ground.

The next picture is of Michael a few years before this summer, showing some heavy cables running along the whole length of the property. The cables were positioned right above the fence, you can barely see the top of the fence, the bottom is hidden by a ravine. The brick was lying underneath a section of that fence. The wind of the storm knocked the cables down, but not all the way to the ground. The lowest point of the hanging cables pointed directly to the brick, terminating about an inch from it.

I don’t remember at which point we began to jokingly implicate the brick in all those bizarre happenings, but not to worry, the hint was on its way.

The Letter
Within days from the storm we received some unexpected mail, a thick manila envelope with the return address of Manhattan, Kansas. It contained a letter from a local historian with some information about Irving. The letter was sent in response to Pete’s note left in the mailbox. Now mind you, we were under impression that the town was completely destroyed by the tornadoes and never rebuilt, nor did we know anything about the town’s prior history. What we read blew our minds. Unfortunately, I am no longer in possession of that material, but this is what I remember.

The town was settled in 1859 by brave dedicated pioneers. Life on the prairie was harsh, but through hard work they persevered. Houses were built, fields plowed, and for a couple of years it looked like the town was going to make it. The first hard blow followed a few years later, when the whole crop was devastated by locusts. The farmers recovered, just to have the same blight hit again the next year. They made it through, the town seemed to grow and prosper. Life was looking better and better, especially when the railroad came through. The railroad was a pipe line to security and prosperity and with great enthusiasm the citizens embarked on building a railroad station. A whole lot of money and effort went into it, and they had just enough time to celebrate the dedication before the station was hit by lightning and burned to the ground, literally within a week after completion. That must’ve hurt a lot, but nothing could stop the settler spirit and the railroad was rebuilt a year or so later. This time the lightning didn’t wait for the dedication and obliterated the station shortly before it was completed. Time went on, the town recouped, until being totally destroyed by the two tornadoes in the same day in 1879. Notice the x 2 pattern?

This was, however, not the ultimate end of Irving. The town never completely recovered after the tornadoes, but a few hundred hardliners still clung on. The end came in 1959, when the government evacuated the area prior to building the dam. It was estimated that the area would be covered by water. Ironically, though, it was all for naught, since the water stopped five miles away from Irving.

Yikes! I just googled Irving after typing all the above from memory and uncovered this site, even though I didn’t see it a few days earlier.

Irving, during its infancy, seemed to be linked with a destiny fated to its advancement. Alluding to the drought of 1860, we should mention that the climax of the year's discouragements occurred in July, in the shape of a severe wind and thunder storm. Most of the buildings in Irving at this time were new and unfinished, and offered but little resistance to the wind. Buildings were blown down, houses unroofed, smoke-stack of the colony saw-mill destroyed, and many narrow escapes reported. Some of the colonists went back to Iowa, others located in different parts of Kansas, but the majority remained, and soon others came in and Irving was again on the ascendancy.

I didn’t know about the drought of 1860 and the severe wind and thunder storm which happened in July. Hmmm...

I don’t recall whether the documents we received hinted at a curse, or whether we decided to conduct some research on our own, but Pete is still in the possession of a book whose title escapes me at the moment, which documented the plight of an American Indian tribe force-marched through the area which was later to become Irving, or maybe it was already there in its conception. What I do remember is that the chief’s 18-year-old son named Little Cottonwood died of exposure during the march and was buried at that location. So distraught was the father of the boy that he put a curse on that land for eternity. Our jokes didn’t seem so funny any more.

The Book
A few weeks went by, during which Pete mentioned a few times that some time when things settle he may take another trip to Irving and return the brick to where it belonged. It was strongly recommended by a young American Indian friend of our neighbors to whom we related the events and showed the brick with the cables pointing right at it: “Whoa, man, take it back...”, he said. Yeah, sure, whenever, in a couple of years maybe, we have other things to worry about for now...

The “now” happened a few days later, which was the second half of August. We woke up on Saturday morning. It rained all night–-slow, steady rain, nothing special. I opened the door to the office to fetch some stuff--and lo and behold--there was a hole in the ceiling, about six inches in diameter, where there was nary a crack before. All night long the water was pouring into the room, right on top of a filing cabinet. The bottom drawer of the cabinet was not pushed in all the way, and it was full of water. The carpet was soaked. I kept my finished jobs files in that drawer, and even thought everything was ruined, it wasn’t a big deal, the $60,000 typesetter was at the other end of the room, undamaged. Seemed at first glance that the only area affected was the filing cabinet. A book shelf about a foot away from the cabinet seemed untouched, so was the desk on the other side. I needed some strong coffee, fast.

While I was making coffee, Pete went back to office to make sure there was no other damage. He walked into the kitchen a few minutes later, ashen-faced. In his hand he held a book, presented to him by his mother the previous Christmas. It was a coffee table type picture book called “The Plains Indians”. The book was soaked half-way through–-from the bottom. It looked like it absorbed water from underneath. I went back to the office. I remember seeing that book on the shelf when I first looked at it that morning. It was hard to miss because the position of that book always bothered me. Pete was very fussy about his book collection, everything had to be arranged by subject and then by alphabet. The middle shelf of the bookcase was devoted to Indian history, and “The Plains Indians” happened to be in the middle of the row. Being a large, horizontally elongated book, it stuck out like a sore thumb next to paperbacks. I checked and triple-checked the adjacent books–-bone dry. Shelf–-dry. Top of the cabinet-–dry. Only this book was wet. Everything up to this point could be written off as amusing--or amazing--coincidences, but not this. There was simply no explanation.

Irving Revisited

We didn’t even discuss the course of action. I immediately called a friend and arranged for babysitting Michael over the weekend. We packed enough stuff for overnight stay and hopped into the car. The brick was carefully placed in a cardboard box. By the time we deposited Michael and left Madison proper, it was late morning. We had 600 miles in front of us.

We barely talked on the way there. The trip was uneventful until we reached Kansas. Here we were, in the middle of nowhere, on the straight stretch of the road resembling an old washboard, up and down, rise and fall, enough to make a person seasick. Not a sign of human life for miles and miles, not even a distant farm. It was getting close to evening, but still light, and we were about 30-40 minutes from Manhattan, Kansas, and another 30 minutes from there to Irving. “Shall we get it over tonight, do we have enough daylight?” one of us asked. “Sure, let’s try”. We were doing about 70 m/h. A short while later we passed a row of big trees, an old windbreak, casting long shadows onto the field. The sun was setting fast. “Maybe not,” I said, “Let’s do it first thing in the morning.” “OK,” Pete replied as we were cresting another hilltop. And right at that second, coming straight at as from the opposite direction, was a cop car. Damn. He put his flashers on and turned around. We stopped immediately like good boys and girls. “You folks from Wes Cownsin think you can drive every which way, huh?” he said, spitting a wad of tobacco. “Um, yes officer, um, we mean no officer, we didn’t realize, sorry officer,” we mumbled while the scenes from “Deliverance” flashed through our minds. The cop looked disappointed, muttered some more insults and took his sweet time to write us a ticket. That was Pete’s first traffic ticket, by the way.

By the time we got to Manhattan, it was already dark. We booked a motel room and went out to eat. We finished eating around 8 p.m., too early to go to bed, we needed to occupy our minds with something. And there it was, playing at the theater next to us-–Terminator 2, The Judgment Day. At some point toward the middle of the movie there was a scene where the heroes go back in time to change the future, or the other way around, don’t remember, but it struck me as funny that there we were, two sane individuals, 600 miles away from home, doing something equally as plausible. I turned toward Pete and laughed. He laughed also, as the same thought crossed his mind as well. I turned back to the screen and at that precise moment a lens popped out of my glasses. I don’t mean fell out, there was nothing wrong with the frames, it literally popped out forcefully with an audible sound, hit the back of the chair in front of me and fell onto the floor. I tried pawing for it, but encountered nothing but a bunch of garbage and spilled popcorn. So I spent watching the other half of the movie with one eye closed. Once the movie was over, I retrieved my lens from underneath the front seat.

One last step we had to coordinate before retiring for the night was what to do with the brick--leave it in the car, or take it to the room with us. I am not sure common sense prevailed, but this was the line of thinking: if the car gets stolen during the night, screw the car, but we can’t afford to lose the brick, so we took it with us and put it under the bed. The sleep was fitful that night and we awoke before dawn.

As soon as the sun came up, we set out for Irving, where I had a chance to see first-hand what you saw on the pictures above–-the tombstone, the mail box, the long-abandoned streets, the crumbling foundations. We were on our way to find the clearing where the brick came from, which turned out to be not that easy. The problem was that the first trip took place in April, no grass, no leaves on the trees. This time it was the end of August and everything looked wildly overgrown. We took one road which looked like a dark tunnel, with trees forming a dense canopy completely blocking the sky and thick spider webs stretching in every direction, blocking the way. But like Indiana Jones we forged ahead, knocking spiders off each other, just to realize that we hit a dead end.

Finally, after a few more false leads, we found ourselves at the edge of the clearing. What was scorched barren earth in April was now covered by waist-long grasses, some sticking up, most beaten down by the wind and rains. We wandered around, looking for the right spot. I don’t recall feeling spooked or uneasy, on the contrary, there was a feeling of pleasant calmness. After 10-15 minutes of wandering it became clear that to find the right spot would be impossible, so we headed back toward the woods, following a semblance of a path, probably beaten down by wild animals. “Just put it anywhere, it’s close enough,” I said to Pete who was walking a few steps ahead of me, but he seemed to be in some kind of a trance. All of a sudden, without saying a word, he jumped a few feet off the path, lifted a ramdom clump of grass and there it was-–a clear impression in soil of a lifted object. He put the brick into the hole and it wobbled slightly. He turned it around, where the soil met the missing chunk and I swear you could hear a sucking sound as it sank perfectly into the depression, like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

We stood in silence for a few moments and moved on.

Our offer on the house was accepted a few days after our return to Madison.
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guest author: mauretto
I went to Morocco for business last week.
Loved it, very nice place, great food and witty people but the best thing I’ve seen is the contrast between The Old and The New and it gave me great faith over the future of that country.
The Net Cafés I was using to keep in touch were full of young people, young girls in hijab, young girls with no hijab and boys of all ages all surfing the net. Couldn’t help peeping on the pages they were visiting and it was all about The West in all its shapes and forms. From U-tube to dating sites, from News channels to travel sites…all West…West, West and nothing but West. I peeped every-time and never did I see any one of those youngsters in an Islamic site. Good stuff I thought.
Put that together with what I saw in the streets and yes, the future looks good.
Starting from my airport contact…good-looking girl, pretty westernised in her dress and in her work attitude. “Good-good” I thought, “I wonder if”…well, every appropriate Italian man calculates his chances every time an eligible woman is around ;-) but she was married so my Italian flight of fantasy only lasted approx 3 seconds until I noted the wedding ring. Ah well. Drove off and was taken to a nice Riad (hotel) in which I checked in (and checked out as soon as she left. I like to be where I chose to be)
The small Riad/guest-house I was, had a window over the main square in Marrakesh and you could smell the food the street vendors were cooking. Delicious. My stomach decided it was time to go out. Got changed, got out and went to the medina….now I am not a man that likes to be pulled left-right and centre by bazaar sellers, hate it actually and a few of them had a short sharp answer to their insistence. “When in Rome, do like Romans do”…so, technically, I should have been more tolerant of their selling techniques but hey…I am the Roman and I am not known to be particularly patient as a man.
Eventually got myself some excellent fish food. Ridiculously cheap and very, very good. I liked that. I hate tourist’s rip-offs. Then again, who’s the tourist?
The bazaars were filled with rugs, carpets, and local tourist tack and fake good. An avalanche of fake goods. I wondered what Armani and Dolce&Gabbana, Nike and Reebok, Prada and Lewis thought of that but hey…all that stuff either comes from China, Italy or Chicago really so…someone’s winning anyway I thought.
Women always peep from the corner of their eyes at the Western man whom, I heard, is a “great catch” Muslim or not; apparently a lot (a lot!) of Moroccan women marry Westerners nowadays. Prime catch. Part-time, on the day, appearance-only conversion and et-voila`, we’re married.
Pity that 8 women out of 10 I saw are totally ugly. “Ah well” I thought “won’t get married in this trip then” I joked in my mind.
Still, it was dead easy to collect 3 email addresses and 5 numbers in 5 days. I guess that hunger for a decent man and a decent life is all-appealing in the land of the Berbers.
Once I managed to put the Italian in me away, I concentrated in what I was there for and in trying to take a note of something to put to the DL lions so I continued to take mental pictures and notes.
I left Marrakesh and took a train to Casablanca. Would you believe it? 4 women in my train compartment. 4 women and me. Deadly risk girls. Still, a good way to understand that society better and deeper. Took photos and short videos of the train journey. Desperately dry lands, rocky scenery, peasants and towns where modernity never got into. I saw poverty, I saw completely covered women and I saw hunger.
The whole country seemed hungry to me. No, not hungry for food but hungry for growth. Hungry for freedom and hungry for advancement. I saw goodwill and to be honest I was never singled out for my all-too-evident Crucifix. It didn’t stop anyone from wanting to talk to me, my statement of faith attracted rather than rejected and I was pleased to see interest in it. I like to sport my Crucifix at times…I know lord that vanity is a sin and it won’t get me anywhere fast but hey…allow me a few sins; I am a Christian after all.
Casablanca was dirty and sad yet its people vibrant and open. I saw more West there. I saw clubs, bars, women and seaside resorts. I also saw a lot of hijabs but probably not as many as we’d like to think. I recon half the women wear it and the other half just have no intention to but the best conversation I had was with this man, Saeed, who has two daughters and a great policy. He told me “I can close the door to the West and it will come into my house from the window. I close the window and it comes from the radio, I switch off the radio and it comes from the TV, I switch off the TV and it comes in from the computer, I switch the computer off and it will just crash the walls. So my policy with the West and my girls is simple: door’s open and I will just try to guide” I thought that was the only thing he could do by what I have seen. The place is being conquered day by day and it’s the young that are writing that page.
Saeed family is great although a bit too religious for my liking. I saw them praying and I saw the life-style but the best thing I saw is the unstoppable charge of the West and the realisation that things are changing.
I ate, I drunk and I mingled with that conservative family and I loved it. It was good to see “them” from inside. It only reinforced my absolute certainty that all we have to do is wait: Troy will fall…Troy is falling daily and nobody can stop it.
The best thing is…nobody seems to want to stop it.
The “war” is over and has been over for a few years; the Internet has won.

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guest author: joem's kids
Summer Vacation 2006
Every summer, our father takes a week off of work after we finish camp, and we do something fun as a family. This is what we did this year:

On Monday we went to the Bronx Zoo. First we went to see the flamingos and the birds of prey. Then we ate lunch and afterwards went to the children's zoo.

In the children's zoo, we sat in pretend bird's nests, went into a tunnel and popped up in mock gopher holes and saw the gophers up close, climbed a "spider's web" made of rope, went inside a fake log and climbed in a treehouse that had telescopes and a slide inside the tree. The last part of the children's zoo was a petting zoo where we had lots of fun feeding and petting the animals.

Next we went to the monkey house and then to Tiger Mountain, where we saw a tiger up-close!

On Tuesday it rained a lot. We went bowling and to TCBY to redeem coupons that we received from the library for reading over the summer. The flavors we got were rainbow cream, cotton candy, chocolate chunk cookie dough and white chocolate mousse.

On Wednesday we drove to a hotel near Harrisburg, PA. After we unloaded the car, we went swimming in the indoor pool and enjoyed the jacuzzi and then we went to Hershey Park. At Hershey Park you can "preview" the park for free for the last 2 1/2 hours it is open the day before you've purchased tickets for.

We got a chance to go on the carousel, Sidewinder, SuperDooperLooper, CoalCracker and the little kids went on Dry Gulch Railroad. After the park closed we went back to the hotel and went swimming again till the pool closed at 10:00PM.

The next day, we got up, packed and loaded as early as we could, and went back to Hershey Park. First we went to Midway America, where we went on Wildcat, Wild Mouse and Lightning Racer, while the younger kids went on the Miniature Train, Granny Bugs and Pony Parade. Then we all got changed into bathing suits and went on water rides!! We went on Canyon River Rapids (4 times), Tidal Force (5 times) and Roller Soaker (once). Meanwhile, the two little kids played in the sprinklers. After that we changed back into dry clothes and ate lunch.

S: Then I went on StormRunner with Mommy. That was my favorite ride! It's the fastest ride in the park . Here's the description from the website:
This one-of-a-kind coaster will launch you from 0-72 mph in 2 seconds flat. 18 stories straight up, straight down. And that's just the beginning. You'll fly through a 135 foot cobra loop, barrel rolls, and a dramatic flying snake dive so fast, you won't know which way is west.

D: In the meantime I went on Sidewinder 4 times in a row. I was my favorite ride! It goes forwards through three loops and then backwards! Click here to see a movie of the ride! (ed: warning - BIG file [66MB])

Y: My favorite rides were Canyon River Rapids, Tidal Force and Coal Cracker.

K: I loved everything, especially the slides. I went on the Trailblazer roller coaster 3 times!

The baby's favorites were Coal Cracker and Merry Derry Dip fun slides.

Then we went to Chocolate World, where the tour was a little different than it was two years ago - they even gave out a different kind of free chocolate bar sample.

Next year HersheyPark will be adding five new water rides in honor of their 100th anniversary! We can't wait to go back!!
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Bone-eating snot flowers and other exotic animals
The monster detectives: on the trail of the ninki-nanka
As you read this, a small group of intrepid, pink-nosed Brits are creeping through the Gambian jungle, dodging crocodiles and cobras, in the hope of spotting the legendary "ninki-nanka".
You know, I had a feeling they'd be Brits...

After you read about the ninki-nanka, the orang-pendek, the naga, and the Mongolian death worm, you'll surely want to read all about the zombie worms, also known as bone-eating snot flowers. I bet it won't be too long before some chef makes a fancy dish out of them.
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I can think of worse bullies than eunuchs, but this is a fun little story. Apparently many eunuchs in India make their living by crashing weddings and parties, threatening to expose themselves to the guests unless they are paid off.
India has somewhere between half a million and a million eunuchs. The estimates are very approximate, because the hijras live in a secretive, shadowy world they've created for themselves away from the abuse and persecution of general society.

They gather in public in large numbers only at their annual conventions, which always attract media attention for the skillful dancing, the raucous atmosphere and the sight of gaudy clothing draped around burly shoulders and dainty jewels hanging off overly thick wrists.

In antiquity, India's eunuchs dressed as men, and a few were granted royal jobs — for example, as guardians of harems. But today's hijras make themselves up as women. In the West, they would probably be identified as something between a cross-dresser and a transsexual; in India, they often describe themselves as a third sex, and refer to themselves as "she."

A few have become well-known. One was elected mayor of her city. Another has recently written an autobiography. Activists demanding greater rights scored an important victory last year when the Foreign Ministry began offering "E" as an option under "gender" on India's passport application form.
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Tourism or farming?
Read Richard Bangs' very interesting travelogue about the Dead Sea. I knew the lake has been slowly dying, but I had no idea of the extent of the loss: Fixing a Hole in the Holy Land
For nearly 2,000 years, the contour and coastline of the Dead Sea remained virtually unchanged from the days when the famous Dead Sea scrolls were stashed in nearby cave. But in the last 50 years, since the great diversions upstream to irrigate a growing economy, the river flow that fed the lake has decreased to 8 percent of its former pour. The Dead Sea is dropping about a yard a year, and its surface area is just a third of what it once was. The Global Nature Fund has declared the Dead Sea "Threatened Lake of the Year" for 2006.

Moving down the road, past a parade of "Danger" signs, we come to a place that looks like a detonated mine field. It is a garden of sinkholes: As the lake has receded, it has sucked the water from the underbelly of the shoreline, causing the earth to collapse. There are over 1,000 sinkholes on the west side of the Dead Sea, and more appear every day.

Planners once envisioned a string of resorts along the Dead Sea, but there is a ban against development now. Sinkholes have swallowed campgrounds, closed a military camp, and caused the evacuation of a date plantation.
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guest author: M-Max
Max's New Jersey - The Amusement Parks
Amusement and theme parks have played a big role in the popular culture of New Jersey for the past 100 years. This was because they served as getaways (for the day or for the week, in summer) for not one, but two metropolitan areas – New York and Philadelphia. Even today, people from all over the state and the Northeast Corridor come to Six Flags Great Adventure, which is conveniently located midway between the two big cities. However, in the interest of not taking up too much of Bloggie’s valuable space, Max will reminisce about three of the amusement parks about which more folklore and popular culture was generated, both past and present. Then I will briefly mention list some other major ones - for which, I might add, I get no renumeration from the NJ State Department of Tourism… :-(

Come On Over! – Sitting just over the George Washington Bridge from New York City, Palisades Amusement Park was a staple of recreation for New Jerseyans and New Yorkers for 70 years.


Over that time, the park had almost 60 different roller coasters, as it was for a long time owned by Europeans who used the park to test new rides from Europe to see their compatibility for the tastes of the American market. It also claimed to have the world’s largest saltwater pool, and starting in 1961, the “Little Miss America” pageant, for girls between the ages of 5 and 10.

Palisades Amusement Park actually almost died in the early 1960s, but was given new life by, of all things, a commercial jingle. Sung by a gentleman named Steve Clayton and titled Come On Over!, the commercial with the jingle was frequently heard on New York television for 6 years, and is still one of the most memorable jingles in the history of advertising.

Even before that, though, the park was immortalized in a 1962 novelty song, a top 10 billboard hit in the USA, sung by Freddy “Boom-Boom” Cannon, and written by none other than Chuck “The Gong Show” Barris, simply called Palisades Park.

The park closed in September 1971, as larger theme parks, especially in Florida, seemed to make the old fashioned ones obsolete, and the towns on which the park sat – Fort Lee and Cliffside Park – saw greater tax revenue in building condominiums, and thus rezoned the land.

Those Wildwood Days! – Located near New Jersey’s southern tip (to answer the famous NJ question – Exit 4 of the Garden State Parkway), Wildwood, with it’s 2.5 miles of boardwalks, piers and amusement parks (operated by a company called Morey's Piers ), not only is the stuff of nostalgia, but lives on today bigger and better than ever, with 3.5 million visitors per year, and a new convention center, designed to compete with Atlantic City’s.


Whereas New Yorkers and North Jerseyans would vacation farther north along the Jersey Shore, such as Asbury Park, Seaside Heights, and Atlantic Highlands, Wildwood was a magnet for working and middle-class people from Philadelphia, especially Italian-Americans. As opposed to the more chi-chi resorts located at Cape May, this was and is the resort with mostly motels instead of hotels, and a lot of diners and pancake houses. Fine dining here is, not surprisingly heavy on the Italian. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the teen pop idols who came out of Philadelphia, such as Bobby Rydell (who sings the song “Those Wildwood Days” when you click the above links), and Fabian (the teen idol singer, not the Socialists), found that it was a must to play the clubs here.

And as many Canadians will tell you, it was (and still is) a summer playground for French Canadians. Many of the restaurants have menus in both French and English, and more than a few young French and French Canadians put their linguistic skills to work during the summer, acting as bellhops and waiters.

Seaside Heights – located in Ocean County, the boardwalk here, about one mile long, and home to two large amusement parks and a water park, are the weekend hangout for many Northern New Jersey families, for whom it is about a 1-1/2 hour drive to get here (yeah, if you leave at 4 AM!). The boardwalk is not as long as Wildwood’s, being about one mile in length, nor has there been any pop song written about it.


Above is the Loop Coaster at Funtown Pier.

However, since most of NJ’s population lives in the North and Central parts of the state, this is the one that all the people will tell you they either go to for the day, or for the week when they have their summer rental.

Now, this is not the exhaustive list, so let me give you the websites of some other amusement parks, in case you find yourself in New Jersey with your kids (or trying to be a kid):

Keansburg Amusement Park – located in Keansburg, a working class Monmouth County shore town, this is only about 30 minutes from Staten Island and perhaps an hour from Brooklyn.

Six Flags Great Adventure – Now Six Flags is a big chain, and they really don’t need my publicity, but this is the biggest amusement park in the State. And perhaps Ed Abu has a story about his visit here. (Because my visit here was completely uneventful.)

Steel Pier, Atlantic City – where you can go after you lose enough money gambling.

Gillian's Amusement Pier, Ocean City – That is, of course, OUR Ocean City, not the more famous one in Maryland…..Ocean City was where both Philadelphians and New Yorkers went….which makes for some interesting times in summer when the Phillies are playing the Mets.

So, do you have an interesting story about your trips to these places? Did you go to these growing up?
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Max's New Jersey - The Jersey Diner
I was not born and raised in New Jersey, but I have lived here my entire adult life. Now and again in this periodic series of posts, I am going to highlight what makes New Jersey, well, New Jersey. And it does not mean having a Superfund site in your backyard, Tony Soprano as your next door neighbor, or reading in the newspaper that your town’s mayor is under indictment (although the last has happened to me – with two different mayors in the same town).

I though I’d start with the most unique piece of New Jersey – the diner.

Wait a second you say…aren’t there diners all over America? Yes, but nowhere are they as ubiquitous as in New Jersey. In all, there are about 3,000 diners in the USA. About 600 of them are in the Garden State. So our little state, with less than 3% of the population and 0.2% of the land, has 20% of the nation’s diners. We have one for every 13,500 people. For America as a whole, it’s 1 for every 100,000. Travel the major roads in New Jersey, and they seem to pop up every couple of miles. And they all seem busy. People go after church, young people go when they get late night munchies, geeky Jews go to them when they visit their parents in the Over 55-community (I’m not referring to anyone at DL, of course) and every type of worker from truckers to sales reps hit them for a large lunch or dinner at a not-so-large price. People frequent diners here in a way that they do not frequent the chains, and over time, develop great relationships with the owners and waitresses. They are a part of the fabric of life in NJ as they are nowhere else in America.

Now, what makes a diner different from Denny’s, IHOP, TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s and the like? Well, perhaps it’s wonderfully described in this link.

In addition to being independently owned, having the biggest freakin’ menus you’ll ever see (and amazingly similar from one diner to another), being open 24 hours, and serving larger portions at lower prices than the chains, there is one more important ingredient to a diner. It has to be owned and operated by an extended family descended from a certain Mediterranean country (care to take any guesses which one, Zorkie)?

Perhaps the most famous of all the NJ diners was Rosie’s Diner, which was used in the famous “Bounty�? towel commercials of the 1970s (“The Quicker Picker-Upper�?). When it was in Little Falls, New Jersey, it was actually called the Silver Dollar Diner.

Rosie's has since literally been picked up (oh yes, diners are usually prefabbed buildings) and moved to Michigan some years ago.

Another famous one is the REO Diner in Woodbridge:

From the REO, the (in)famous conservative talk show host Bob Grant used to broadcast (I saw him do the show once from there).

And if you watch the Food Network, you may have seen a couple of shows where Al Roker featured the largest of the state’s diners, the Mastoris in Bordentown. The original ‘50s style prefab diner building is in the center of the restaurant, and the Mastoris family expanded around it:

Finally, here is the Roadside Diner in Wall Township:

Note the ‘50s retro look of the Roadside. A lot of NJ diners have remodeled to this style in the last 15 years.

Near where my parents live, there are three diners within a 10-minute drive, and we almost always go to one of them to eat. And in case you’re all wondering -- no, I never complain that the food is cold and they should go back and “nuke�? it……

So next time you’re in New Jersey, instead of going out for a meal at International House of Denny’s or TGI Houlibees, check out a bit of real New Jersey and eat at the local diner. Here’s the comprehensive list for you.

Not only is it cheaper, you never know who might be in the booth next to you. Perhaps it will be some goodfellas “doing business�? with my mayor.
10 commentsSIMON left a comment at 3:57 am 06/06
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guest author: Franco CBI
El Cementerio (The Cemetery)
It was Sunday morning. (I had arrived in Cochabamba the previous afternoon.) I woke up refreshed, not hung over. (I had overestimated the amount of beer I had drunk at the party the night before, because I didn't realize that the beer glasses were only 250ml instead of the standard 350 or 500ml of the USA.) My body had fully adapted to the altitude of 8400 feet. All was well.

We had continental breakfast - fresh rolls and tasty jams, with coffee made by putting instant coffee in warm milk. On all other days of the week, the maid would put out the breakfast, but since Sunday is her day off, the family does this chore. Families eat breakfast together. They eat dinner together. They even come home to eat lunch, the big meal of the day - the lunch break is two hours. All three meals together. Every day. The minimum present at the meals would be my friend, his unmarried older sister, and me. But more typically it would include Mama, one of the other siblings, and a nephew or two that happened to wander in.

In the late morning, we headed to the cemetery, which is on the south end of the city. We drove down a long cobblestoned avenue with a meter-gauge railroad track along side it. The street was almost empty of traffic, and the sun, just a few degrees shy of the zenith, shone brilliantly.

As we pulled into the parking lot, some street urchins directed us to an empty space. You are expected to pay them for this, and in return they will watch your car. If you pay them a few pennies more, they will wash your car while you are in the cemetery, using a bucket of water that they filled G-d-only-knows-where. Americans might regard this as a shocking nuisance. Bolivians think of it as we would when we pay a parking meter.

The cemetery is quite different from an American one. The ideal American cemetery is modeled after the plains of Nebraska - an open meadow with grass and little else aside from the occasional set of flowers. In most newer American cemeteries, headstones are flat on the ground, apparently to make it easier to mow the lawns. Ease of maintenance is the priority. The flowers that are there stand out, but if you look closely, you will notice that a very small proportion of the graves actually have flowers on them, except possibly on Memorial Day or All Souls' Day. On a busy day, you might see half a dozen visitors in a cemetery with several thousand graves. Sadly, the dominant attitude seems to be "stick 'em in the ground and forget about 'em".

The Bolivian cemetery couldn't be more different. The graves are mostly above ground, in crypt buildings organized by alleys, streets (but with no cars) and mini-parks with fountains and benches. The place is absolutely jam-packed - it feels like the "Main Street" of a theme park. Every Sunday, almost all families visit their departed. Not every individual in the family goes every week, but at least one person, usually more, will make the trip. Fresh flowers are put by the graves every week.

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Tomb of Ulyses Hermosa of Los Kjarkas, a popular Bolivian folk group

The family was visiting the crypt of my friend's brother, who died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago - he was only 46.

The brother was a priest, and the crypt contained the tombs of the priests of the archdiocese. It was very nice with marble and brass. The brother had been quite an artist - the crypt was filled with many works from his own hand. The figurines in the tomb's "cabinet" as well as the large crucifix were by his hand.

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The family replaced the flowers and prayed for a few minutes. Two years later, the family was still very strongly affected by his death. Seeing their loss, and at the same time thinking of my own departed family members, and thinking about how shabbily we Americans treat our departed, made me very sad.

But the cemetery isn't a totally sad place. It's a place to be with your family, living and dead. And since almost everyone in town goes there, you're bound to bump into friends, relatives, people you haven't seen in years.

And the visit to the cemetery is typically the start of the Sunday picnic. Since the maid is off on Sundays, the family goes out for lunch, and spends the whole afternoon outside, enjoying each other's company for several hours.
guest author: Stormi
Christmas In Salzburg
About a month ago a friend of mine approached me with a scheme. He said 'Hey, why don't we all go to Austria for Christmas?'

And I said 'Dude, I don't care about Christmas. I want to stay home and chill out. But if you're all going there won't be jack to do here anyway. Well, where in Austria? We're not just going to drive across the border and stand around are we? And what all of us are you talking about anyway? Not Michy I hope, that bitch is crazy.'

'No, not her. You're right, that bitch *is* crazy. Just us. The crew. To Salzburg, maybe, or Vienna. Or Kaprun. Or...'

'Sven, make up your effing mind.'

'Salzburg it is.'

'Good. Now we've got that settled. I don't know if I'm gonna go. Let me think about it.' And I promptly forgot all about it.

The crew, in case you are wondering, are a raggle-taggle group of miscreants, drunks, scalawags, and psychopaths. Well, not exactly. If you knew my friends, you would know those terms are flattering. We're way worse than that. Really, I need better friends. The crew does not include Michy, who is a crazy bitch. She's a German girl I've known for over three years, she really ought to be on medication and locked up but for some reason she's allowed to run around unsupervised ruining the lives of unsuspecting horny American guys. But that's another story...

I hemmed and hawed and thought about it for a couple of weeks, and then I decided I would go. Why not? It's not like I have anything better to do; these are the people with whom I usually spend my holidays anyway. So I told Sven to book me a room at the hotel, and off I went to Deutsche Bahn to book my train ticket. Yes, we went to Austria on the
train. Yes, we drank most of the way there. The ride took us about eight hours, and as I can't sleep on anything that moves, I had the opportunity to stay awake all night watching the boys behave like zoo animals.

We had a couple of compartments on the train, in all there were about eleven of us, three married couples and some assorted singles. Sven, being the anal retentive personality he is, had called the Salzburg tourist information office and arranged for us a walking tour of the city with a licenced guide. Lucky for us, it had snowed about two feet the morning of our arrival, and then proceeded to rain just enough to make nice, ice cold wet slush about eight inches deep. Perfect for a three hour walking tour of a city! It continued to rain, but fortunately it was a freezing rain, and didn't melt the slush. That would have been sad.

Our guide was named Pablo, a traditional Austrian name if you're Spanish, and he was excellent. He started off by explaining how Salzburg got its name. Salz, meaning salt, and burg, meaning castle or fortress. So, Salzburg= Salt fortress. Very apt, considering the wealth of the city came from its salt, and its ability (by means of the Salzach river) to ship that salt somewhere to sell or trade for other things: silk, spices, Russian mail order brides, et cetera. He explained to us that for a long period of time, Salzburg did not belong to a country but was a sovereign state in its own right, ruled by archbishops of the Roman Catholic church. Three of these - namely Wolf Dietrich, Markus Sittikus and Paris Lodron - left their mark on the city in the form of over a hundred palaces, castles and churches.

Photograph 1

I enjoyed walking around the city, even in the slush, listening to Pablo talk. That kind of thing interests me, but my cohorts were casting ever-more-desperate looks at the many cafes Salzburg had to offer. So Pablo took us to the Mozart Geburtshaus (birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) where we were treated to a newly renovated exhibit which featured a really creepy white-wig-wearing glass-eyed baby doll in a cradle and many ribbon-tied samples of Mozart's hair. The Mozart Geburtshaus is located in the Getreidgasse, the main touristic shopping street of Salzburg. After our Dreaded-Lurgy-inducing tour of the house, we bade 'Auf Wiedersehen' to Pablo, and about half of us took off down the street to Salamander, a shoe store. The other half went up the street the other way to Denkstein, another shoe store. I ended up visiting both, Denkstein didn't have my size in the waterproof boots I wanted, but they did have a really cute black pair I had to have. So I got those, then squelched back down the street to Salamander and got me some waterproof boots. Happy feet. Now to attend to my tummy. My friends had taken themselves off somewhere, probably to a bar, so I was on my own again.

I went off in search of a cafe; I'd seen one during the tour that looked promising. It was in the Alte Markt and was called Cafe Tomaselli; it was mentioned in my guidebook as the oldest cafe in Salzburg and was said to serve excellent cakes. I went in and hung up my coat and tried to find a table inside; it was afternoon and the place was packed. A custom in Central Europe is to have cake and coffee in the afternoon, so everybody was in for their customary cake and
coffee. An elderly gentleman saw me casting around looking for a place to sit, and offered me a seat at the table with him and his wife. They spoke no english, nor any other language I could understand, but they were very nice. I had a slice of Sacher torte and a hot chocolate with rum. The chocolate was delicious, thick and unsweetened just like I like it. The rum tasted like jet fuel, but I figured what the hell, and dumped it in my chocolate anyway. That dramatically improved the taste of the rum. Unfortunately it did not improve the functionality of my feet, but the chocolate cake helped to sober me up enough that I didn't stagger too much on my way out of the cafe.

My next adventure was to be the Hohensalzburg fortress, which can be reached by a steep climb up the side of a mountain, or a 60-second ride on a cable train. I, being monumentally lazy, took the cable train. Building on the fortress was begun in 1077 by Archbishop Gebhard and enlarged and fortified over the centuries until it has become the largest and best-preserved fortress in Central Europe. I walked around the towers and the buildings, looked out over the battlements, took pictures of the city and the Salzach river. Even had one taken of me up there.

Photograph 2

Across the river I could see the remains of walls, but I never did find out what they were for. It was late afternoon by this time, and starting to get dark. My favorite! I love cities after dark; the whole character of places changes completely. I went into the fortress museum, took my audioguide and went through the exhibits. The audioguide tour ends by taking you out on a tower lookout, where there is an even more commanding view of the city than I'd found before. It was full dark now, and still snowing a bit, and the city was all lit up down below.

Photograph 3

I descended by way of the cable railway again, and although my last set of batteries was about to die, I managed to coax one more picture out of them before they crapped out for good: That of the fortress up on the mountain, all lit up.

Photograph 4

Enough sightseeing for one night, time to eat! I'd researched some of the culinary possibilities on the internet before the trip and I knew there was an Indian restaurant in the city. A tradition of mine is to eat Indian at least once in every new city I visit, if possible. Only problem, I didn't know where it was exactly. I mean, I knew the address, but I couldn't find it on my map. And I didn't really feel like walking, so I broke down and did what I almost never do. I went to a taxi stand and got a cab. It dropped me off at this dingy little street corner and sped off; no changing my mind now. So I went inside the place, and instantly all my fears were laid to rest. It was beautiful inside, with murals painted on the walls and interspersed with brass plates in peacock motifs. It had the nicest decor of pretty much any Indian restaurant I've ever seen. And the smells coming from the back of the place were enough to make my knees buckle. I sat down and ordered samosas and a muttar paneer (a curry of peas and homemade white cheese) because I was so hungry and there was so much to choose from that I just couldn't think, so I went with my old favorites.

I sat back in my booth and sipped on a bottle of water waiting for my food to arrive. Just after I'd gotten my papadum and pickle, two young men walked in. I could tell by the look of them that they were Indian, but their clothes looked American. They sat down just across from me, and I could overhear their conversation. Yep, they're American all right. They ordered in Hindi, so I didn't know what they'd gotten, but I desperately wished to know. I also desperately wished for any reason I could find to talk to them, because they were both extremely hot, and I have a weak spot for Indian men. My food arrived, and I started to eat, and then I saw the waitress bring their food. They had ordered thali of one kind or another. Thali is the word for the tray the food is served on; it's a small assortment of little dishes with small bits of different things. I continued to eat my food and eavesdrop on their conversation trying not to look like I was eavesdropping. After I finished my meal, I ordered a pot of chai with milk and gulab jamun, a dessert of fried balls of dough in a rose scented syrup. The two men finished their meals and ordered tea as well, so I took that as my opportunity to go over and say hello, and to ask them what they'd ordered. Just out of friendly curiosity, you understand. So, I asked them and they told me, and I said thank you and turned around to go sit back down at my booth, when one of them (the hotter but less interesting Prashant) asked me if I was an American too, and I said yes, and he asked if I was on vacation in Europe. When I said that I live here, the less hot but more interesting Saurab asked me to sit down at their table with them and chat for a while so I brought my tea and dessert over and we sat a while. I explained a little bit about my work, and how I was in Salzburg, and they talked about what they did and were doing. They both seemed pretty impressed when I told them I'd learned how to cook Indian food. We went through two more pots of tea during the evening, and I ended up sitting and talking with them for well over an hour and a half. A recurring them in all of my travel stories is that you meet the most interesting people when you're travelling by yourself, and it's really true.

I had figured out by that time where I was in the city, and I knew that I could walk down to the end of the road I was on and catch a bus that went near my hotel, so Saurab and Prashant walked with me and stood around while we waited for my bus. I got their email addresses, and I fully plan on sending them emails. The two of them were headed for Prague the next morning on an early train; I had assured them they would love it. I really should email and find out how they got on. When I got back to the hotel I walked by and saw about half of my crew sitting in the hotel bar (really, where else _would_ they be?); they hollered for me to come in and sit with them. I told them in a minute, and went up to the room to change into my pajamas and fuzzy Godzilla slippers. We were the only people in the hotel, and it was more of a family-run gasthaus than a hotel anyway, so I felt OK with that. The barkeep didn't even blink an eye at my slippers; my friends however had a field day, and I was roundly mocked. I need better friends.

The next day was Christmas Eve, I saw a bit more of the city and did a little bit of shopping before the shops all closed down. I went into Konditorei Fürst and had cake and coffee for lunch, and then bought a box of Salzburger Mozartkugeln (they were invented in this cafe by Paul Fürst); chocolates with nougat and marzipan inside. I'm not a marzipan fan, myself, but I bought them to share around the building when I got back to work. I did end up having one, they're not bad. Since it was Christmas eve and everything was closed, I just walked around and looked at things and made frequent stops for coffee or schnaps. I was due to join up with my friends in the evening to go to a restaurant together which Sven had booked for a 'traditional Austrian Christmas dinner', which I knew meant some kind of wild game, organ meat, fish or some combination thereof, so I made sure to eat plenty during the afternoon. I wasn't disappointed; or I was, as the case may be. The dinner was, indeed, organ meat, wild game, and fish. Paté, roasted wild
boar, and carp to be precise. Mmm. Yummy. I ate my green beans and potatoes, and drank a lot of wine, and felt glad I'd eaten so much during the afternoon.

On Christmas day, we departed Salzburg in the morning and made our way to Königssee on the train, where we walked around the lake a little bit throwing snow at each other and trying to get the ducks in the water to catch the bread we tossed. Then we took a cruise out to the pilgrimage church of St. Bartholomä which was small and cold and smelled like mildew. The cruise was neat though, the clouds were hanging very low over the mountain and halfway to the church the captain stopped the boat and took a trumpet out, opened the window and played tunes which we heard echoing back at us.

Photograph 5

A nice trip, in all, and even though I went with a group of people I was mostly alone. Which is fine, I'm good enough company on my own.
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