Some Monday Lightheartedness

31 03 2009

Liz recently emailed this article over: 20 ridiculous complaints made by holidaymakers and I adore it, not only for its loveable “Britishness” (who doesn’t love a good “holidaymaker”?) but for the utter ridiculousness it explores. It’s always nice to have a little laugh at the silliness of others. And the pictures are fun as well.

Highlights: realities of street gear, please tame the sea for my children, special treatment for Americans, sorry ma, it’s the hotel’s fault and hairdressers not allowed. But hey, just flip through the whole thing. It’s worth it.

Happy Traveler: Cheap, Cheap Fares

29 03 2009

I just purchased a ticket to go home in April for my friend Christine’s wedding. I paid less than $200. I had a thirty percent off code for Virgin America, but even without that my ticket would have been just over that amount. This for a fare from New York to San Francisco. Moral of the story: recession or not, travel now while fares are cheap!

Book Review: Confessions of an Economic Hitman

27 03 2009

I just realized that my book group book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, is due back at the library today, but I have to write about it before it goes back to the shelf. It is not the sort of book toward which I would ordinarily gravitate. And yet I’m obsessed with it.

It’s a horrifying and riveting true tale of an EHM, an “economic hitman” whose job it is to convince developing countries to take out massive loans that will leave them indebted to the United States, allowing the latter to then call upon these countries for their pound of flesh—money, oil, UN votes or sundry other benefits—whenever necessary. It’s a system author John Perkins describes as “the most subtle and effective form of imperialism the world has ever known.”

The book is well-written and truly thought-provoking. It also had me seething at many, many moments, especially reading about how much the government is tied up in private business and how many government decisions—such as the 1989 invasion of Panama (which President Bush called a way of ending Noriega‘s dictatorship and Perkins calls “an unprovoked attack on a civilian population”)—were based on business concerns (oil, disputes over who should control the Panama Canal,…). I know that I shouldn’t be surprised, and in many ways I’m not. I am horrified nonetheless. While there were points when I alternately felt sorry for Perkins because he felt trapped in this system and annoyed at his justifications of his own involvement, I realize that the good of his experience is that this book could come from it. And hopefully this book will enlighten and help to end the cycle.

On top of that, I must say that I loved it for the travel journalistic qualities it had about it. Perkins visited some fascinating places and describes them vividly, along with his interactions with real people there, and real glimpses into the cultures of these places. It was refreshing that, amid all the gloom and doom of discovering what a monster your country is, you get inside glimpses at the indigenous cultures of Ecuador or a puppet show (dalang) in a tiny town of Indonesia. It also made the U.S. actions all the more despicable.

For me, ultimately, the book is about memory. It’s about the writing of history, how we write it and also how we read it, and, most importantly, what is left out. By telling his story, Perkins helps to reclaim a little of that history, but the most important part of reclaiming history, it seems, is to learn from it.

Ties of Memory

26 03 2009

I don’t know if these things have any correlation, but I’m sure somehow they must. A little over a year ago I reconnected with my best friend from high school. Rachel and I met freshman year during cheerleading tryouts (we bonded over the fact that we both cheered even though cheerleaders themselves seemed the bane of our existence) and were pretty much inseparable for four years.

In many ways we were about as different as two people can be: she a pint-sized, Beatles-loving, thrift store shopping, artistic type and me loving jazz and country, verging on preppy and incapable of drawing a believable stick figure. Yet in many more ways we were utterly the same, and the combination of our similarities and differences balanced out to make us, in all ways, kindred spirits.

Rachel and I had a bond I’d never had with anyone else, nor can I truly say I’ve had that same bond with anyone since. It’s that very rare connection that is so much more than friendship; we balanced each other, leaned on each other, sent each other into fits of uncontrollable laughter over the most ridiculous of discussions and even had conversations during which words were spare and sometimes wholly absent.

Then somehow, after college ended, Rachel and I lost touch for some time. But all the time that we didn’t speak I thought of Rachel often; at random moments I’d be making the cookies she used to love or reading a book of poetry and Rachel would crop up in some way. Then, finally, we were back in touch, and though years had passed (during which time she’d had a baby, I’d moved to New York and we’d both pursued advanced degrees), it was the same fantastic and unique connection we’d had all those years ago, and now even stronger somehow.

I say all this because it just so happens that while I was in New York working on my MA in English and exploring various aspects and instances of memory through literature, Rachel was working with memory through art. This is one of those strange and rare coincidences that seems too incredible to be merely coincidence. I am certain that it speaks volumes to bonds of friendship and female intuition that are stronger than the miles or even the silence. Despite years apart my friend and I were still linked by the one thing we had of each other during that time: memory.

Whether this speaks to the strength of memory or the strength of female friendship I’m still uncertain. More likely, it’s a combination of the two and whatever it is, it’s amazing.

Musings on Memory

24 03 2009

In my last post I mentioned my obsession with memory and history. While I have, it seems, and ever-growing list of  obsessions, I realize I neglected to explain this particular one. It’s a relatively recent one—more recent, at least, than my obsession with books or my obsession with travel. And yet it’s really not all that recent.

Though my obsession with memory as an entity larger than myself is a more recent development, I’ve realized recently that memory has always been important to me personally. Since I was a tiny child, I’ve always been overcome with this urge to remember something, if not, that is, everything. Whether I was urged on by the fact that my brothers took such pride in the fact that their 5-year-old sister could recite the theory of relativity or simply that I wanted to forget nothing, I felt an irrepressible need to record every single thing I experienced or learned.

And record I did. In second grade it was the song we sang at First Communion (which, incidentally, to this day still plays in my head every time the priest gives Communion to the Eucharistic ministers). Later it was the minutest details of every interaction, good or bad, in journals and scrapbooks (which still reside on a closet shelf in my room in California, bursting with the most simplistic and mundane of mementos). Cards, stickers, dolls, newspaper clippings and sundry other trinkets have been stored away for heaven knows what purpose, and though I’ve taken the liberty of purging over the years, much, admittedly, still remains.

My obsession with remembering everything has waned somewhat with age, though I still take copious notes on random events and even more copious mental notes on pretty much anything and everything. And to add to all that, I can still recite all those formulas drilled into me by my brothers, along with assorted poems, the introductory paragraphs to a chapter of Annie Dillard‘s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and one rather long children’s book called Miss Twiggley’s Tree.

Until recently, I’d never really given my past with memory much thought. I chalked it up to having a strong one, along with some sentimental (and sometimes ridiculous) inclination to recall life details. In graduate school, however, this obsession came to the forefront, and I found that most of my projects and papers somehow revolved around the concept. If I could work it in, it was there. And of late it’s been cropping up again and again, and so, I’m devoting all posts this week to musings on the subject.

I Want to Go There: Crosby Beach, Liverpool

17 03 2009

This isn’t by any means breaking news, but I randomly came upon this blog post the other day and it inspired a new obsession: Antony Gormley. The British artist is known for his work with the human form, often studying and casting his own body. His “radical investigation of the body as a place of memory and transformation” is (not surprisingly, given my obsession with memory) a fascinating concept to me, and many of his works appear to have a quality that is at once eerily haunting and serenely calming, which makes them all the more appealing.

Take, for example, “Another Place,” a July 2005 exhibition on Crosby Beach, Liverpool that has become a permanent installation there. Here, flanked on one side by industrial Liverpool with its electricity windmills and on the other by a long expanse of empty beach, 100 cast-iron figures stand looking out to sea. The figures, molded from the artist’s own body, are rather ghostly in aspect, and their rusty, corroded facade gives the sense that they may just as easily be some ancient monument as a modern, incredible work of art.

They are spread out along the beach at random intervals, many up to waist deep in water when the tide comes in, and have the odd effect of looking realistcally human or inhumanly alien, depending on the angle and distance of viewing. There is something wistful in the way that they all look out in the same direction at the sea. (All this, of course, only from the photos I’ve seen.)

In an article written back at the installation’s inception, Gormley describes the work as “a whispering communication with forgotten levels of history” as well as “a kind of acupuncture of the landscape, but also acupuncture of people’s dreamworld.” But the even more fascinating aspect of the exhibition (and presumably the reason it’s staying) is that it creates a sort of dialogue between artist and audience: Gormley says, “Each person is making it again… for some it might be about human evolution, for others it will be about death and where we go…I think that’s what’s amazing about in a way the work of now – contemporary art, it’s no longer representing the ideology of a dominant class it’s actually an open space that people can make their own.” Death of the Author indeed.

See the work for yourself with this video about the fight to keep the statues.

Economic Crisis Brings a Little More Peace

13 03 2009

The upside to this gloom and doom recession we’ve got going on? More people are volunteering. Applications for AmeriCorps, an organization that gives volunteers a stipend in exchange for volunteer work (tutoring, building houses…) have gone way up, as have applications to the Peace Corps, up 16 percent from last year. Surely President Obama’s call to service has a little something to do with that (on January 20 and 21 alone, the Peace Corps reported a 37 percent increase in applications from the same period in 2008), but there seems to be something more at stake too.  With so many out of work these days, the Peace Corps is looking like a great option in terms of job security, and a good way to boost that resume as well, especially for those about to graduate college and vie for jobs against the many much more qualified current job-hunters.  Plus, it’s a great way to do a little good and see a little of the world, especially those parts we may never see.

They Drink Beer in Philadelphia

10 03 2009

Attention beer lovers: get to Philly, NOW. Through March 15, the city of brotherly love celebrates the brotherhood of the brew. More than 50 breweries, plus some of the city’s favorite restaurants and bars combine forces to create a beer extravaganza with 650-plus tastings.  And we’re not just talking beer, folks. They’ve got brunches (three points to the Plough for best name: Kegs and Eggs), tours, and of course, the beloved ba(ee)r crawl.

For a full calendar of events and individual pricing, click here.

Friday Pennies: NY Souvenirs and Orchids and More

7 03 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve done a penny post, and after the week I’ve had, I need one. I don’t know why this week was exceptionally hard, but the combination of the frigid weather outside and my own feeling under the weather has had me feeling exhausted and pretty much blue all week long. But coming into the weekend, all is looking fine. A few reasons? Funny you should ask:

  • I’m lovin’ this blog post on Budget Travel about Authentic, Affordable New York Souvenirs. No snow globes here! A few favorites: the fantastic and unique New York dishes from Fishs Eddy, sweets from Zabar’s, and, of course, totes from Strand Books. A few to add: Fat Witch Brownies and that magical scrub from Sabon.
  • The fact that I was able to walk around today without my toes going numb. Is spring here?
  • Orchids.
  • Book group. I just picked up the latest book today. Confessions of an Economic Hitman, in which John Perkins tells of his role in helping “the U.S. cheat poor countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars by lending them more money than they could possibly repay and then taking over their economies.” Not, admittedly, something I would have chosen, which is why I’m thrilled that book group turned me on to it. I’ve read two pages and am already fascinated!
  • The weekend. Despite the fact that I must work tomorrow (I have to attend a class to learn about SAT prep, faux-yay!), the weekend promises a chat with Liz in London, a tour of an abandoned subway tunnel, and longer, lighter days.

71 Miles to Almost Anything

4 03 2009
From the roof of my former SF apartment

From the roof of my former SF apartment

I feel as though I’ve been touting the virtues of California a lot recently. In the past few weeks I’ve found myself in several conversations, both with fellow Californians who know what I’m talking about and with New Yorkers (or other East Coasters) who wonder if I’ll ever go back. It’s amusing really: the Californians pretty much always say they’ll return, especially this time of year.

The East Coasters will often ask why I left, but generally conclude that they could not live in California, mostly given the earthquakes. This is an amusing fear to me: I’d much prefer the threat of an earthquake (the last major quake in the San Francisco Bay Area was 1989) than the actuality of hurricanes, tornadoes or whatever other national disasters occur just about annually in other parts of the country.

But that is not the point. Whenever Easterners ask me what’s so great about California, my answer is simple: everything. We have great weather (most of the time) and in most places in the state you’re not far from whatever it is you might seek: mountains, ocean, desert, sea elephants, wine… California, and San Francisco in specific, pretty much has it all.

Which is why it was so thrilling to find this e-zine the other day: 71Miles is a website covering weekend destinations within a four-hour radius of San Francisco. Within those guides is something for everyone. Head out to the coast, up to the mountains, into the wine country, or simply stay put. From San Francisco, four hours gets you (almost) to Santa Barbara, also known as paradise, to Yosemite, one of the natural treasures of the United States, and just about anywhere else you might want to go.

It’s basically a blog, but it’s amusing, well-written, and there is a lot of good content on it. Best part? The writer/editor, John A. Vlahides happens to be a New York transplant to San Francisco. Go figure.