Can We Love Nature Too Much?

16 04 2009

A couple days ago the New York Times ran this article about a recent conference in Washington focused on protecting the fragile Arctic and Antarctic regions. In her keynote address, secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed U.S. concern over tourism to Antarctica, both for the safety of the region and of the tourists themselves. Tourism to the region has become rather popular over the course of the past decade or so, and the effect on the area has been somewhat questionable. The article cites concerns over fuel spills and over the tourism industry in general being responsible for “about 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The article questions tourism’s effect on nature closer to home than the poles as well, discussing a recent study at the University of California, Berkeley, which went so far as to surmise that “even ‘quiet, non-consumptive recreation’ — defined as things like hiking, biking and horseback riding…still led to a steep decline in the density of native carnivores.”

The irony, it seems, is that as the world gets more eco-minded, travelers are more likely to choose “nature-based tourism, and yet it seems that this increase in demand (which, it should be noted, seems to signify an increase in awareness) is also putting some of these ecosystems at further risk. The question, then, is where to draw the line. Is eco-tourism, while excellent in concept, in fact part of the problem? I’ve got no answer, but I’m hoping people will weigh in…

Return From Paradise

9 04 2009

There is always a certain amount of letdown involved with the return from any trip: return travel itself can be exhausting, and that’s only compounded by a sense of wistfulness at leaving a place one loves or returning to the pressures of every day life. I’ve experienced this many times over, but today I’m a bit out of sorts for a whole different set of reasons.

I’ve spent the past five days in paradise. From the time I arrived on Friday evening to the time I left yesterday morning, I never stopped hearing the crash of waves, was never cold and never had a worry beyond what I wanted to wear (pat on the back for a job well done in the packing department: all three bathing suits were worn and all but two dresses and a pair of shoes got a little love) and how to capture the beauty of the pristine turquoise water in words and photos (the latter remains under close scrutiny).

Now I’m back in Brooklyn and not entirely sure what to do with myself. Not only was I in total relaxation mode for nearly a week, but I was completely unplugged as well. That means no cell phone and no computer. Both got stamps in their passports, but the laptop wasn’t opened once and the phone (on roaming) was used only as a timepiece. There are no phones in the cottages, and no internet either. This, at first, caused a little anxiety, but by Saturday morning I found it utterly liberating. So liberating, in fact, that being online now is a strange experience. I’ve done nothing today but unpack and sift through 200+ emails that piled up in my absence, and I must admit that neither have I done very well (papers remain piled on the table and there are emails that are going to take more time to respond to just waiting until I’m fully adjusted).

For now, I’m just watching paradise for a little bit longer:

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.

Penny: A Few Friday Laughs

13 02 2009

It’s been a long and strange week and this Friday I’m in need of a few of Annie Dillard’s proverbial pennies to pick up my spirits. A few that I’ve found: book group, hot tea, my new photo wall (I’ve covered part of my enormous walls with a collage of some of my favorite travel moments and am very proud of how it turned out), and…

New York Magazine. Every week, this little collection of paper gives me a reason to look forward to Mondays, when it will arrive in my mailbox, and even more so to Tuesdays, when it is my subway reading. While John Heilmann‘s column is always a highlight for its great perspective and ability to keep me more politically aware, this week it was two other columns that thrilled me.

First was a review of Will Ferrell’s short turn on Broadway as good ol’ Dubbya in You’re Welcome America. A Final Night With George W. Bush. Will Ferrell poking fun at George W. as a final goodbye. On Broadway. I don’t think much more needs to be said about that. It simply brings a smile to the face.

Second is the cover story on Demetri Martin, comedic genius of the new comedic era. I discovered Martin months ago when a friend sent me a video of him doing flip art comedy (which I just discovered is no longer available: tear), and I must have watched the thing 50 times, never getting sick of his simple, but brilliant jokes. The fact that he now has a show, Important Things With Demetri Martin, which is being produced by John Stewart and will soon air on Comedy Central is enough to make this book lover/online television enthusiast want to go out and purchase a TV, and cable. And after reading the article, I love him even more. I’ll say nothing else. The article speaks for itself, and so does this:

The Small World of Travel Writers

6 02 2009

It’s a huge world out there. And no one knows that better than travel writers.  And yet, in the travel writing world one learns quickly (as I did at a party last night for World Hum) that the world of travel writing is rather a small one. There, crammed into the tiny basement of the fantastic Lolita Bar, were countless writers and lovers of travel from all  publications and areas. The fascinating thing is that most know each other, and the even better thing is that, in the world of travel writing, even if we don’t know each other, there is that common bond of world exploration that is a constant and inexhaustible topic of conversation.

But the small world gets even smaller as so: First, I finally met Mr. David Farley, curator of the Restless Legs Reading Series, with whom I had only before emailed since he was a part of the first Lit Crawl (and very popular, I might add). But second, there I was, meeting new people, when I spotted a familiar face and yet could not place how it was familiar. It was driving me crazy trying to figure out how I knew this guy at the party, until I finally approached and he recognized me, though also did not know from where. Finally after a few moments we realized: we had been in the same travel writing class last year in Buenos Aires! Now if that isn’t a small world, I’m not sure what is. And then, of course, we both got to swapping travel stories and then pining over how much more there is to explore in that bright big world out there.

Tomorrow it’s off to the NY Times Travel Show for more of the big (small) world of travel.

Monday Pennies

23 12 2008

Given the current economic downturn, we could all use all the pennies we can collect. And so, a few that mean a lot to me recently:

  • Subway friendliness: Yesterday I got to the subway station and could hear my train coming in as I went through the turnstile. I raced down the stairs behind two other women, certain I would get to the bottom only to see the train rolling out. Before reaching the platform I heard a voice saying, “She’s right there,” and when I got down saw a girl sprawled between the doors and holding them open for me. If that isn’t neighborliness, I don’t know what is.
  • New York Magazine: Last week’s issue (which I only received this weekend due to glitch with the lovely US Postal Service (namely my old post office) lists “Reasons To Love New York 2008,” two of my favorites being that  “Obama is One of Us” and that “Every Once in a While There Is Dancing in the Streets.” Also amazing is the (well-stated) claim that you have to be part masochist to make it in New York, and perhaps most outstanding is the lengths one goes to to live here.
  • New Books: I’m reading two right now: Forever, which will ultimately be a story about New York, but I’m only a few chapters in and am currently fascinated by the depth of Irish history involved (and will soon be diving into more of that) and I’m a Stranger Here Myself, Bill Bryson in all his genius, hysterical, insightful, classic.
  • Snow: Much as I hate the cold, the stuff has a magical quality to it:
  • blog-bike

    Snow flowers?

  • Trees: I know I may have overdone the Christmas thing, but these trees had to be shared:


    Reminds me of the village my mom and I make under our tree every year...

Bryant Park

Bryant Park

Across the street from Bloomingdales

Across the street from Bloomingdales

Christmastime in the City

17 12 2008

I’m not shy about my disdain of winter. Generally I find it cold and miserable, especially when the wind picks up. And yet there is something that makes Christmas decorations all the more, uh, Christmasey, when the air has that bit of chill to it. And, I’ll admit it, walking home last night, with snowflakes flurrying about me and a thin blanket of that pretty white substance that we have to fabricate in California was a little touch of magic (topped only by the tiny, blinking, and ever-so-charming Christmas tree with which some nice neighbor graced my new lobby).

Now, New York, cold and snow and all, may be considered, if you will, the city of Christmas. We have Rockefeller Center (much as I cringe thinking about cutting down trees, I can’t deny that the fact that this one has its own website is pretty nifty, even niftier that it lists some green tips), for one, and then there are those little ladies with the long legs, who really know how to kick it up a notch for Christmas (sorry for the terrible pun).

But these Christmas classics are just the tip of the iceberg. And so, for the remainder of the week, I devote Around the World to Christmas festivities, in New York and elsewhere. Because the first snow of the season got me into the spirit.

List: Musings on a Return to the Real World

11 12 2008

I’ve had such a long stint of silence that it seems only apprpriate to return with a list, a musing on the moving and how it made me a wreck for nearly a month. And thus, thoughts…

  • Movers are fantastic. I went with the “guy with the van” route, or, rather, two guys who ran up and down my four flights of steep stairs with heavy furniture while I sat on the sidewalk and watched the van. They also fixed my couch. All for very cheap. Go movers.
  • Cockroaches are disgusting. One of the realities of living in New York is dealing with pests. You’re not a real New Yorker until you have at least one story of the mice or cockroaches or other disgusting pests that invaded your living space. When I got into my new place I had more roommates than I’d bargained for, which made settling in tough. They are, however, gone now (fingers crossed).
  • Caulking is therapeutic. I spent the first few days in the new place caulking all the spaces between baseboard and floor (and any other hole I could find) to keep the roaches out. There was something oddly pleasant about the whole thing, even though it kept me from unpacking. But hey, if the whole writing thing doesn’t work out, at least I have my back up plan.
  • California is lovely. A trip home for Thanksgiving was a welcome reprieve to the stress of moving. No cockroaches, for one. And then there was good food, great family, and my mother to fuss over me. We took the ferry into San Francisco one day and wandered around my old haunts in North Beach. It was both a thrill and slightly upsetting to see people laying out in Washington Square in late November. Much as I love New York, I won’t lie and say it didn’t have me wanting to stay for more.
  • Christmas is coming. I finally bought my ticket to Colorado for Christmas, and miraculously waiting as long as I did seemed to have helped. It wasn’t cheap, but given I know people who paid upwards of $700 a few months ago, it makes me relieved to think that travel prices may be going down. As for that whole shopping thing, I’ve yet to do it.
  • It’s good to be back. After nearly a month of floundering in moving craziness and travel and playing catch-up, I’m finally back to normal and able to blog again on a regular schedule. Until Christmas…

Fall… For Obama

28 10 2008

This weekend I took a little excursion to Allentown, PA to do my part in getting a certain amazing man elected president. A friend of a friend has been organizing trips every Saturday for the past month and finally I had a free Saturday and was able to tag along.

The drive itself can only be described as stunning. The thing I love about east coast highways is that they are always so tree-lined and, well, pretty. Save for stretches of 101 along the coast and a little thing called the Pacific Coast Highway, California highways are, in general, nothing more than retaining walls and the occasional bush. But here on the east coast they’ve got trees, and lots of ’em. And this time of year, trees only mean on thing: COLOR. Tons of it, beautiful, rich golden yellows and burnt oranges, just short of technicolor.

A little before arrival we made an obligatory stop at a Cracker Barrel. I didn’t realize the southern staple came as far north as New Jersey, but I was happy to have my first CB experience. The general store up front was thrillingly kitschy and I’d almost go back just to wander around there. The food was grand, real biscuits and thick grits. Everything a breakfast should be (including the “I ate too much” stomachache after the fact).

And then it was off to knock on doors. Our first route was a neighborhood where the houses were spread out and set back on massive plots, all surrounded by more of those amazing trees. The ground was soggy and covered with leaves, which were really begging me to jump right in (though given the wetness, I had to refrain).  And every house had better Halloween decorations than the next. I’m talking scarecrows, and mummies that make noise, and one house that even had caution tape over the front, making it look even more like a haunted house than it already did.

But here is the best part of all. Despite the monsoon that breezed in and soaked us, our little car managed to hit 120 doors on Saturday. Though some folks chased us away and many were not home, a very exciting number were pro-Obama, and many even got excited when they saw me at the door with my Community Organizers for Obama button (thanks Alex!). And the final numbers for the day? The dedicated folks of Allentown hit more than 2,000 doors on Saturday. In a monsoon no less.

It was not a little exhilarating to have contributed my small part to what promises to be one of the most important and historic elections of our country’s history, and now I’m jonesing for other ways to be involved and my excitement is building. New York is a buzz of excitement as the campaigns are winding down and it’s looking more and more like change is on the horizon. And me, well, I’ve officially fallen.