06 May 2016

On Travel and Tourism

I am on vacation.

I am traveling. I’m taking a trip. Playing tourist. I will be out of the office starting on Monday… I am staying at… Going away. Touring. Doing a little sight-seeing. Going abroad. Taking some time (off). Visiting.

It seems to me that there is some important weight, some cache, for how we describe (or are described) ourselves when away. “I love to travel” has to be an almost ubiquitous response to any conversation that arises on the subject (unless you’re a happy contrarian, like Woody Allen, who proudly never leaves the island of Manhattan*). To not proclaim to be interested in travel is to risk being perceived as provincial or uncultured. Of course, there are a lot of socio-economic assumptions wrapped into this line of thinking – and others have done much of this thinking already, most notably, Dean MacCannel's work: The Tourist.

In the course of my week away, it occurred to me that a large part of the attraction of traveling for me (whether abroad or an hour out of the city) is to help strengthen the muscle that has to do with imaginary thinking. We took a day sail (a day motoring, really), and passed by a massive freighter in the port that was being loaded with shipping containers. As we passed, I looked up at the bridge of the ship, 100 or more feet up from the deck (I am a bad estimator, but it seemed quite far), and I wondered about the life of someone captaining or serving on that vessel. I thought about what sequence of choices in my life might I have made to land myself in Aruba, working on a boat, and waiting for it to be loaded and weigh anchor (way anchor? whey anchor? not a boat guy, clearly), and be off to Fort Lauderdale, or wherever our next port of call would be. I also thought about the arbitrariness of our station in the world – the blind luck (not saying whether good or ill) of being born in Wisconsin in the year 1978. And the ease with which the former sequence of choices might have been lightened – made more probable – were I born in Aruba or Fort Lauderdale or Monrovia…

In classic RPG-ing, a player chooses a class or profession for her or his character – a bit like we do in life – based on strengths and weaknesses, and preference. Almost invariably, a player also goes on to select his or her race (human, elf, dwarf, etc.). This has always struck me as a bit out of place (though fine, of course, for a good bit of fun – convention gaming and what not). Gary Gygax’ Dangerous Journeys is one of the only games I know where players roll to determine their birth (if I remember correctly, even their birth order – that game has a lot of tables). Now, for some, developing a character back story is half the fun of gaming (for non-gamers, imagine the amateur thespian who created the four-page back story for his or her one-line character in the high-school musical… for non-gamers who’ve also never been a part of an amateur theater production, you have missed much in your life…), but playing the arbitrariness – experiencing the thrown-ness^ of your life (real or gamed) – is a gran part of the payoff of traveling (and of gaming, I would argue).

We went to a bar called Charlie’s in San Nicolas, Aruba. It’s a great bar, and an average tourist trap. Famous for having been family-owned for over 70 years, it used to service (along with the rest of the red light district where it finds itself {stattfinden is amongst my favorite German verbs, because it embodies Heideggerian German, and German itself strikes me as a language that was constructed by great thinkers more so than it is a derivative of the Indo-European languages that linguists would have you believe}) the refinery workers – first for the American company that ran it (and built the ghost town Sero Colorado for its workers), and now for Valero (a company whose origins is just a google away, I’m sure).  We had a couple of drinks, and looked at the museum of left memorabilia for a short time, and then headed down to Baby Beach for the afternoon.

It seems to me, though, that the way to experience Charlie's is as it was intended.  You should go to Charlie's, a little after lunch, with the full intention of spending the whole afternoon there, getting drunk, talking with tourists, bartenders, and locals alike.  There was a man sitting at the bar, holding fort (holding forth?), occasionally singing and riling up the crowd.  We called this man Sam, because we'd read a book, An Island Away,^^ in which he'd seemed to appear.  It seems to me that to really experience Charlie's - to travel there, as opposed to be a tourist there (although I am disinclined toward this distinction) - is to while a way the afternoon, make friends (because what else are bars for?), and be a part of the collection, at least for a time.  Now, most likely, you've got a week - maybe two - in Aruba, and spending a whole day getting drunk and chatting folks up seems bit of a waste of your vacation...

But I would say that perhaps this is in fact the purpose for your trip.  The reason to travel.  It is the hardest and the easiest thing to do - to put yourself in someone else's shoes, and methinks our time on earth is better spent trying to inhabit those shoes - in your mind if you can't in actuality - for a moment, an hour, two weeks, or the rest of your life... whatever it takes... to better understand and appreciate our present condition.

I had thought to write about Recalibration Travel Narratives - travelogue stories where someone commits to walking away from their life for a time - in this entry, but I've rambled further than I thought I might. I thought these RTN would, perhaps, a way to distinguish the traveler from the tourist... again, not something I'm actively engaged in, but something worth reflecting on I think.

Another time for the RTN...  Now, hit the road.

*Note: Non-New Yorkers will be quick to celebrate this mentality, because – it’s New York, and where else would you need to go? – but that logic only holds if you’re not from a place, and are celebrating a distant locale, a ‘travel destination’.
^Note: For those of you playing along with Roman Numeral J Bingo, you can mark Heidegger off on your boards, if he appears there… “that’s Heidegger, Heidegger, the sunshine vitamin…”
^^Note: Finally, I think I've found a use for my goodreads account.  To track all of the books (not many, but a good sum over time) that I don't ever finish, but may eventually decide to do.

17 April 2016

Walkabout (and sneeze-about)


Just in the midst of a rare sneeze-fest (8 or so in the last 90 seconds)…


Enjoying some sunshine in the backyard. Alongside an almost depleted rum and coke (Cruzan, because #AvenueLiquor wasn't stocking Barbancourt - I always prefer rhum to rum) 

So nice and warm today. And going to be hothot in Aruba in early May. 

A nice book and a friendly walk-y day. (Walked to McDonalds for hangover breakfast, and walked to Brig's to deliver Boots [aka Dog Terrorist] home). 

Not eating, but feeling peckish. 


20 February 2016

On Eco

This morning I learned that we lost a great literary and philosophical mind with the passing of Umberto Eco at 84. 

I have long been a fan from afar of Eco's, never someone I would list as my favorite author, but formative in my early academic thinking, particularly his beautiful book On Ugliness, which is an embarrassment of richness of images and ideas on our relationship with ugly things (death, bodily functions, horror, etc.)

His loss is sad, but go forth and embrace all of his work and thinking...

I'm revisiting my favorite work this morning:


The work is a curation of passages from literary and social theory works alongside beautiful images from classical and modern art, architecture, and ephemera centered on a specific theme.  Eco adds editorial remarks in each section.

Of particular interest is the chapter on the Uncanny.  The thinking on that concept and in that chapter was fundamental in my academic thinking on Gunther von Hagens' BodyWorlds exhibition.  The artistic presentation of death is an exquisite example of Freud's and Eco's discussion of the concept of the Uncanny (unheimlich).  Presenting a thing that is, inherently, familiar (our own bodies) in a way that causes discomfort, uncertainty questioning what we know we know.

I highly recommend picking up a copy.  Go borrow it from your local library!

28 December 2015

Monuments of Future's Past

In the midst of Icepocalypse 2015: Midwest Edition - a lazy day and evening, featuring some bad-TV watching, some less-bad TV-watching, some reading, and a movie - some deep thinking about bad art has ensued.

There's evidently a movie called A Little Chaos - I think it's the 2nd in the Alan Rickman Rose Trilogy* (first was Blow Dry {dir. Paddy Breathnach}, unless I missed something).  On this new film (came out in 2015, who knew!?), Rickman takes the directorial reigns himself, and crowns himself king (Louis XIV).  My general rule regarding movies that pop up on premium cable, Netflix, or On-Demand, is that if you haven't heard of it, you can probably stay away.

In this case, I will say Chaos is worth an exception to my rule.  The premise of the movie centers on the construction of the Gardens at Versailles.  The silly premise has to do with a lady gardener (imagine that! in France, in the 15th Century!) who challenges the status quo at court.

I have not been to the Gardens (perhaps I will visit soon on my fancy new treadmill!), but the film had some anachronistic elements (and I apologize, i'm going from memory and sense here, not from rewatching) not in the plot but in the filming.  In the shots and composition. 

And those shots and that composition gets one thinking, not so much 500 or 600 years, but 500 or 600 years into the future, and legacy, namely, what we leave behind.  That is what A Little Chaos is really about.  Sometimes weather, and natural phenomenon give us a glimpse into this thinking.  Major events (hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunami) can give us immediate and obvious examples of what the future may well hold.  300 years of "time equivalences" pass by in a matter of minutes or seconds or hours of destructive power. 

So too, even a bit of odd or strong weather, can offer us smaller glimpses if we know how to look.  Take a walk outside after there's been a sizeable blizzard or during a rain storm, or walk around on an extremely cold day for your area.  Watch the corners of your perception and see things (for it's mostly things you'll see, few people) anew.  There's an abandoned, moved on quality to them.  What folks you do encounter (not in your own neighborhood, mind you) will be over-warm or over-cold.  Warm because they're lost, and feel desperate lucky to have found ye (for some reason, this blog post is coming through in my head in Calla-speak, say thankya); cold because they feel desperate, and fear (oddly) that you plan to take what's his.

These are moments - interstices - when time has grown thin, and we can glimpse what this space might be like in 200, 500, 1,000 years.  We, in the U.S.A. are 10 years away from living in a country that is a quarter millennium old.  To us, this seems a surprising development, and quite a very long amount of time, and it feels natural, to us, to assume that while the USA of 500 or 600 years from now, may look very different, and be very different, the USA will be, naturally. 

We always build, always create, as if we are permanent.  What Rickman's little film helps us see through to, is imagining what these spaces of ours will feel like when they are existing in another world.  His King Louis was building a grand garden for a history of perpetual royalty.  Half way between that construction and where we stand today is the Age of Revolution, and the world changed unexpectedly. 

Just imagine what will be halfway to that next era, looking back at us... Or mayhap, we are that halfway point.

* The Rose Trilogy is an as-yet-completed (and unacknowledged) trio of movies starring (or possibly involving, depending on what we decide the 3rd movie is) Alan Rickman, where the image of the rose is invoked.  The 1st (again, unless someone has one I missed, and we can be done with searching) was the hairdressing competition movie, Blow Dry, in which Rickman reveals a long-hidden tattoo of a rose on the bottom of his foot.  In A Little Chaos, King Louis is sneaking about out of disguise, and runs into his gardener (Kate Winslet) - they discuss roses, and Kate later uses the Four Seasons Rose as a tet-a-tet to put the king in his place.

* * *

In a strange oddity of coincidence, I started this post in late December - when was actually holed up in blizzard! - and since, sadly, dear Alan Rickman has died.

For someone my age and filmic disposition, I doubt Rickman was a favorite actor**... But he was for certain a known actor, and perhaps even a well loved (or well despised) one.  He was Hans Gruber, the first fun terrorist of the 80s.  And he played the Sheriff of Nottingham in a Bryan Adams video vehicle film (but truly a coming of age piece for us cuspers). 

Rickman was a wonderful villain actor - later embodying all that we loved to hate about Snape - but it was in his smaller, simpler roles that I think he really demonstrated why he was truly great at what he did (he was an actor...).  The doofus husband that he plays in Love Actually is a perfect example - he's not a bad guy... he's just a schlub.  And when a schlub is offered the chance to be a stud, inevitably, he takes it. 

Rickman is an actor who embodies the (possibly apocryphal, and possible entirely made up by me) story that Harrison Ford tells about his early days in the business.  A big-shot (director? producer?) allegedly told Ford that he would never be a movie star, because he didn't have that star quality.  The big shot tells Ford that when Cary Grant (this name is grabbed at random, but it stands in for some household name actor from days of yore) first walked onto screen, even though it was just a small role as a waiter, Big Shot says, "you saw him walk onto screen, and you knew! right there, that There!, there is a movie star".  For deadpan (in my memory of this telling), "I thought the point was that when he walks on to screen you're supposed to say, 'there is a waiter'".

It is a good story, and characterizes Rickman's acting perfectly I think.  He wasn't always likeable, nor always laughable, nor always anything.  He was what he was meant to be.  And it's a shame to have lost his craft.  I am sorry for it.

** Since the dawn of J, I have felt that the concept of "favorite" was fraught.  I have never really thought that I have what I would call a favorite actor.  Although, JP once told me that Paul Bettany was his favorite actor, which struck me as an odd choice at the time, but the more I learn about Paul Bettany, and the more I encounter  him, I find it to be an inspired choice. 

06 August 2015

What time is it?!!?

4:30...

4:30 PST that is.  As I publish this post, it's currently 5:30am in Los Angeles, and the entire West Coast of the US, but it's 4:30 Pacific Standard Time.

Now, there aren't a lot of places in the world that (celebrate?) observe PST year round, but once you move a little further east, and get a little more Pacifically-challenged, other time zones don't behave quite so orderly...

For example, go to Phoenix tomorrow, (oh my gawd, wouldn't it be hilarious if twos upon twos of my readers went to Phoenix tomorrow!?  That reminds me of a social media experiment I want to try called #letsGoToRookies - it's based on the theory that everyone lives fairly close to a bar called Rookies.  Probably, you've never been there or maybe you went once and haven't been back... Anyway, on this certain moment, we all go to Rookies, and around the country, places called Rookies' business explodes, for like 40 minutes {stay and have a couple beers!} and regulars and bar owners are flummoxed for a while) and figure out what time it is.  Sure, it will seem like it's whatever time it is Pacific Time, but in fact it is Mountain Time, Mountain Standard Time.

Let that soak in a moment, while you think about the last email you received from your client in Denver.  They were likely confirming a call (did you know that today, 15% of all emails are confirming times for future calls? That's a fact.) with a consultant in Flagstaff, Arizona for 3:00pm MST (because the middle initial makes everything seem so much more business-like!).  Point of fact, those two people will (I think I don't know if all of Arizona follows the same rules - there is no research budget for RNJ...) be on the phone exactly one hour apart.

Of course, our glorious savior Microsoft Outlook, solves these sorts of scheduling snafus, if you use calendar invites (USE CALENDAR INVITES!), but I've been seeing this in far too many places, and blatantly mistaken, and it's time that someone finally says something.

It's quite simple, really... also, those of you who are reading this as news and use middle initials in your time stamp, we who know better have been laughing at you for years... YEARS!!!  Most of the world honors daylight saving time (this is, of course, a wildly inaccurate statement, but as an American, it's true for most of America, so it becomes true... "from a certain point of view" - name the movie quote i'm thinking of and win a VMP {very minor prize} shipped to you at no expense -), but I would estimate that 83% of all administrative professionals are using CST or EST right this very moment.

Well fear not, help is here:
  • Daylight Standard Time (DST - hugely confusing because S!!! is the middle initial - happens, generally, in the summer time for the Northern Hemisphere)

  • Standard Time (ST - standard time is what we more commonly refer to as time.  Of course, time is relative, but as long as we all are still land-bound, it makes sense to come to some accord with regard to what time it is.  That said, Standard Time is the closest we have available in the US to GMT.

I think this distinction is fairly clear to most calendar purveyors.... that said, I will stand by my 83% statistic that most administrative and support professionals misuse (or perhaps disable) the correct language.

The reason for this is complex/simple as most things are... D is less serious than S.  At a momentary glance this sounds crazy - that said one need only look at the (i.e. vs. e.g.) example.  I.E. which is a couple of glorious vowels, working together to say - literally - "in other words".  E.G., of course, mean "for example".  Somehow, seriously, G makes things seem less serious to some folks, and so almost invariably in standard business writing and most non-academic prose, you'll see i.e. when the writer clearly means e.g.  Oddly, I think part of the reason for this is also that e.g.  sounds like the start of the way that many Americans say the word "example", and they may be afraid that it's an abbreviation, rather than a Latin derivation.

I think it's also, maddeningly, related to the "I/me" idiocracy that holds that using the word 'me' makes people sound less intelligent, and so you get fools using phrases like "between George and I".  Please learn this, people.  Really, I'm just asking for the time one today.  D is a less-oft used letter, I know, but using it more often will improve your Scrabble scores, and, at least until November, stop infuriating those of us already in the know.

13 June 2015

This Post is Very Meta...

A couple of years ago I was taking a real look at my social media self.  Bringing back this tag to Roman Numeral J reminds me of my recent Facebook post about same date nostalgia

When I was a kid I had a page-a-day sports calendar.  For that reason I know that Jay Hilgenberg shares my birthday, March 21st.  The date on which things happen is important to us (anniversaries, birthdays, deathdays) and being able to mark just how long ago a specific thing occurred helps comprehend the passage of time.  This understanding, I think, can help calibrate our intentions - that is, understanding that you are now, say, 37, and that you were 28 - or maybe 19 - and had many of the same ideas, aspirations, or hopesdreams, and that there may be specific actions that need to be taken.

The link between memorial and memory is something I've written about (sorry, no link at present - not sure where that is).  Facebook's new On This Day feature is symptomatic of our desire to memorialize our lives.  However, Facebook's new version is imperfect.  Today, we post instantly from our iPhones, and properly memorialize, but many of the earlier year Facebook memories I see in my feed are on the wrong day... I didn't post my vacation photos until I actually got back from vacation (because I used to use a camera to take pictures).

I don't mean to sound like an old coot.  But I think the medium of social media is not built for memorialization, but they try...

I'll think this through, and remember it fondly.  I think I'll tweet out a link to the post to try to keep the conversation going...

15 February 2015

Of the Beginning...

Well, this is surprising: Mes. Ahmed Farag Ali and Saury Das have mathematically done away with the necessity for the Big Bang
Source: www.fromquarktoquasars.com

My understanding is, of course, inexpert, but wildly interested.  (I do have my own working theory of the universe that I formulated in the Fall of 1999, as I was taking my Intro to Astronomy class at Luther College.  That theory remains as yet, un-disproven!).

The essential problem of modern physics has been that we had a theory called gravity (just wait until Creationists and Climate Change Deniers learn that gravity is a theory!), which works fairly well in most day-to-day situations. 

As we start to think about big things (galaxies and stars in various points in their life cycles and stuff like that), gravity stops being true a lot of the time (one example of this is explained by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity).  Also, when you start to look at very small things (sub-atomic particles like quarks, Higgs-Boson particles, protons, etc.) gravity also stops being true (which we call Quantum Mechanics).  The problem we run into is that gravity turns out to be false in very different ways with regard to the big and small stuff.

One way that we accounted for these big/little discrepancies was to theorize a singularity at the beginning of time - the Big Bang (not to be confuse with the Bing Bag, a magical vessel that emits anything from crooning melodies to doddering background vocals in a David Bowie Christmas carol when you reach into it).  I'm not quite sure as to why we thought the Big Bang was mathematically necessary (would appreciate some guidance in this area, and am trying to read up on it to better understand).

But now, we have a mathematically plausible universe that doesn't start in some spectacular explosion, before which we could have no understanding or make any predictions.  Instead, it may now be the case that the universe has simply always been. 

I'm not entirely sure yet how this new revelation, if in fact true, changes my sense of the everything.  At the very least, it would expand on the fictional Mark Twain's sentiment from the ST:TNG speech, where he bemoans a universe with only human existence on earth, a "waste of space" - if this finding holds true (at least for the time being), it seems our unique human existence would also now be a waste of time as well.