Poll!

Feb. 25th, 2007 10:28 am
My local JCC sponsors a photography contest every year; last year's honorees went on display around the same time that I started working out there, and I must admit that I was envious of all the exhibitors. I also like to think that I've taken a few decent pictures over the last two years (the period of eligibility for the competition) -- in fact, I may have taken too many. For each entrant is limited to seven submissions, and I have as many as nine good photographs in my portfolio. I've scanned in the prints of these nine candidates, and I'm hoping that you will help me Pick Seven )

Because I don't consider myself a skilled photographer -- my talent mostly lies in getting to the right place and then holding still instead of, say, understanding what an "f-stop" is -- I will be proud if I just have some of these accepted for display. Still I like to think that I might have some chance to do well in any category other than Jewish Life. Though I think the bear keeps kosher.
Something new to collect, via [livejournal.com profile] ann1962:

Metros of the world! )
One of the most pleasant aspects of the Baltic Sea cruise was the chance it gave me to read; I've managed to hold to my resolution regarding Proust. In fact, I've progressed down Swann's Way with so much more alacrity than I expected that I've been dropping into various Norwegian bookstores (all of which well-stocked with English-language novels, in which might lie my problem, considering) looking for In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. I've only found one English copy of any volume of In Search Of Lost Time, and that was the redundant Swann's Way, moreover in the icky unhip Moncrieff translation, though I did see the whole set in Norwegian. And while sometimes while reading variously informative signs I get the impression that Norwegian is just English not even badly spelled but only badly typed, with the occasional manual typewriter strike-through on the o's, I don't think I'll get the full flavor of the Proustian language reading it in a language I only comprehend through bull-headedness and an inflated ego.

But while English-readers in Norway don't seem to be driving up the demand for Proust, I cannot say they are without taste. If popularity can be calculated by the sheer footage of shelf space, then two of the most popular authors in Norway are Paul Auster (ex-husband of Swann's Way translator Lydia Davis, apophenetically) and Haruki Murakami. Apparently there is a Norwegian appetite for existential, pulpish, experimental novels. Hoping to pass off synchronicity as miscomprehension, I bought Norwegian Wood.
Trondheim: the city that stumbles seedily about in a distressed leather jacket and run-down black jeans while crooking its track-marked elbow around its hot Asian girlfriend. Yes, there may not yet be an evening but there is amazing Thai food up here at 63° North; we were so impressed by the existence of crisp, fresh vegetables that we've been to the Bangkok Palace twice in two nights. We've actually been off the boat, and surrounded by free wifi, for four nights, spending two in Bergen before coming up here; my apologies for not updating sooner. I must say that I've been a bit daunted in trying to sum up a two-week, eight-country cruise in a pithy and witty manner. Cruises obviate even the just barely half-potted bullshit sociopsychological observations I like to pass off as travelogue. By the time you've figured out how to jaywalk, you have to get back on the boat. You don't even get a chance to see a city by night -- well, that's not much of an issue here this time of year. I think there might have been something resembling dusk somewhere between Gdansk and Copenhagen.

I tried to avoid most of the ship-organized shore excursions -- I hate the idea of bringing my own crowd with me -- and the most special moments on the Baltic certainly came during those times we had escaped the throngs. Canoeing along the Royal Canal, alone but for the ducks and the trees of Djurgärden, in the middle of downtown Stockholm. Crossing through the Green Gate onto the sun-dappled Długi Targ before anyone before a few Polish commuters. I also tried to extend my stay in each country as often as possible through at least a meal. The chef on the boat was undistinguished anyway. I was happy to sample the local cuisine of several little nations, if the cuisine can be considered local when I demur from visiting any restaurant that isn't specifically garlic-themed.

I don't really expect to find much garlic, or Thai, or broadband internet when I arrive in Svalbard tomorrow, so after checking in before my flight out in the morning I probably won't be able to update with whatever half-baked fantasia of insight to which I might aspire.
One of the few reasons I was glad to leave Finland was the language. I have no facility with foreign languages, but I like to muddle through sometimes as best I can. I'm usually pretty successful finding cognates and deciphering at least the warning signs in the Western branches of the Indo-European language tree. But Finnish is Finno-Ugric and features mostly umlauted vowels; my immediate response on encountering a word in Finnish is to try to solve the anagram. So I've been grateful to reach Russia, where I may not be able to understand the language but where just reading the alphabet feels like a major victory. I can become inordinately proud of myself just for sounding out a word. I missed phonics in first grade (as I could already read) and I suppose I'm trying to make up for it now.

Of course, I can reach that reward all the more quickly when the source text is "Макдоналдс" rather than a long placard on the culture of the ancient Scythians. Yes, I was a little lost in the bowels of the Hermitage Museum this morning, trying to find my way towards more recent cultures. I wasn't quite certain whether I wanted to be touring the world-famous art museum, the Hermitage, or touring the Czar's Winter Palace; one is of course juxtaposed on top of the other but I'm not sure I was able to give either my full attention. We kept circling through the galleries, making sudden jumps in era and subject, striving desperately to see everything and sometimes feeling that we hadn't seen anything. Museum fatigue set in rapidly and we went to a couple of churches: the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in the Fortress and the Church on Spilled Blood. The Cathedral is a reminder of why they shouldn't have held the Baroque era outside of France and Italy; it's a travesty in lavender and chartreuse. I was expecting similar garishness from the Church, as the outside is a turn-of-the-century nationalistic sentimentalization of stereotypical Russian style. But instead the art nouveau interior was soaring and gorgeous, alive with golden and indigo tesserae. It was as though the Byzantine cathdrals of Ravenna had been reimagined by Alfons Mucha. What it lacked in subtlety it acquired in sublimity.

Tomorrow we transfer onto the boat, and I expect that I will finally be weaned from the broadband connection on this trip, so updates may become spare.
St. Petersburg: the city that totters along atop its three-inch fuck-me heels. Yes, the former Leningrad dolls itself up in miniskirts and shortshorts and decolletage and thus goes into the category of places I'd like to visit without my mother. Though I suspect it's tough on men here: I walked in front of two women practicing English break-up lines. "Don't put your trip on me," one would lightly accentedly say. "Don't put your trip on me," repeated the other. Then after some staccato Russian, "Drama." "Drama." "Crisis-drama." "Crisis-drama." More Russian. "I don't need this crisis-drama," the first declared. "Good-bye."

Speaking of abject humiliation, [livejournal.com profile] nzraya is somewhere in this city for another few hours, and it's looking like we're not going to get to rendezvous after all. I suppose I could make an effort to track her down, but as if I need that crisis-drama!
This sojourn through Finland has been terrifyingly self-relevatory. I've had to question some of my basic assumptions and break down my very sense of self. Apparently, I'm just not as blond as I once thought. Or, at least, in the right light you can see my eyebrows, which is more than I can say for many of the people here.

Today was a short and fatigued spin through the center of Helsinki, buying cherries at the fishless fish market, visiting the plain interior of a Lutheran church and the exuberance of an Orthodox Cathedral, and then climbing a hill to crawl into a church carved from its own bedrock. Hot chocolate in the middle of the boulevard as they set up the bandstand across the green. The Andean pan flutists I had run into before in front of Rouen Cathedral and in Copenhagen's Rådhuspladsen and all across Europe and once, memorably, overheard playing in Covent Garden while on the phone with [livejournal.com profile] rahael, have put on Sioux-style headdresses and leggings and are now marketting themselves as "The Mohicans." They're still playing panpipes, authentic as they are, but I didn't stick around long enough to hear if "I'd Rather Be A Hammer Than A Nail" was still the mainstay of their repetoire.

Tomorrow brings us to Petrograd, where I hope it gets darker.
The Sami, the indigenous people of Lapland, have many uses for their reindeer. One of the primary uses seems to be denial, or at least it seemed that way yesterday as we stopped on the outskirts of Inari for a visit to the home of a Sami schoolteacher. The noonday sun -- much like the midnight sun but still not going anywhere can't you tell I'm losing my mind from the sun the sun the sun -- had the temperature up to a lot closer to sweltering than I had expected, but she was dressed in a heavy calf-length dress made from reindeer wool; she quickly escorted us out of the open air into a canvas tepee so we could sit around a crackling fire, listen to her explain which portions of the reindeer become which handicraft, and sweat. To be fair, this was an attempt to avoid the mosquitos, gnats, horseflies, other-nasty-winged flies and flying, bug-sized piranha that infest the Lappish air, lapping up my blood. Our hostess said that she much preferred the winter, especially when it would reach 40 below, and I suspect the insects have something to do with this.

In the afternoon, we met another resident of the area who preferred the winter, but she was raising sled dogs, so I suppose it's to be expected of her. She had one Siberian Husky, but the bulk of her team were cross-bred from Alaskan Huskies and greyhounds. For the speed, one supposes; they are capable of reaching as high as 45 k.p.h. with a sled in tow.

The people I have met in Finland have seemed very nice, but I was a little disturbed to see, hanging in the window of one apartment building in Ivalo, a flag with a white cross on a blue background, starbursts at each point of the cross, and the Confederate flag. At 68° N I don't think this is an expression of regional pride. The population of Ivalo is so white as to be translucent, and my impression is that the immigrants there are all Russian, so I'm a little on edge. They do have a surprisingly large number of tourists from Thailand, though.

Today was spent indolently tramping around Urho Kekkonen National Park and then driving down to Rovaniemi, which has an absolutely beautiful riverside. It seemed as though every twenty feet another pair of young lovers had deposited their bicycles so they could sit, and talk, and watch the river, and forge dreams together, or somesuch.
It is 1:45 in the morning in Ivalo, Finland, 300 km north of the Arctic Circle and ten days past the solstice; I've lost track of the sun as the northern horizon is obscured by trees and clouds but I've grown to accept that it's just never going to get dark. The south of Finland was shockingly green. We flew in over lightly undulating fields a brilliant shade of green. Not jade, or emerald, or malachite; the best analogy from my experience would be pond scum. Not the most appealing of associations but perhaps I'm talking about the expensive pond scum you buy from Tricker's for your ornamental pond. The land is largely flat -- we had to get a hundred klicks north of Rovaniemi before seeing anything like a hill -- and the borders of the lakes are more fractally arbitrary than a permanently rounded edge. I suspect that much of what we overflew was spongey. Bright green, full of lakes, infested with biting insects: I think I now understand why the Finns liked Minnesota so much. Up here there's a little more orange mixed into the green, a little more heathery. And the flora feels like the Sierra Nevadas without being all that far above sea level.

My attitude changed from "Oooh, Lapland! I sure do hope we see some reindeer" to "Get out of the god-damned road, you god-damned speedbumps" in about thirty minutes. They're everywhere. Down near Rovaniemi they're tagged and molting, but up here where it's on the whole chillier, they're less motley, and seem to be roaming free in herds of eight to fourteen. I have yet to see any dead along the side of the road, but I suspect that's due to some stereotypical fastidiousness I have just invented from whole air and imputed to the Finns without cause than to any shyness on the part of the reindeer.
I am not someone who likes to prepare for vacations well in advance. If I can get the dryer to chime fifteen minutes before I need to catch the cab, I'm happy. However, after sleeping for forty-five minutes on the red-eye back from San Francisco, then on the day before departure spending all day moving furniture and all night working on a strenuous gathering recounting, even the bestly mislaid plans gang aglay. I have managed to realize, since I left Cleveland, that I've also left my waterproof socks (needed in Svalbard), my Scopolamine patches (likewise) and the charger for my electric toothbrush. I also managed to lose track of two separate copies of Pride & Prejudice right between Jane's letters revealing Wickham's absconscion with Lydia. And that aforementioned dryer? Its thermostat broke last night and my soggy clothes were just spinning around. Luckily, I didn't particularly need any of them right away, and Simply Books at Cleveland Hopkins is well-stocked with Austen. And apparently people could brush their teeth before Sonicare entered the market; I believe they used valets. But the misapprehension that most reveals my fatigue must be the incident of the fruit.

As some in Tahoe may have surmised, I'm eating a lot of fresh fruit these days, and I can't now imagine getting on a long-haul flight without my own snacks. So I ran over to the grocery store while hoping for some divine laundry miracle and picked up three apples and a like number of oranges. I tucked my favorite water bottle into the grocery bag and carried it along with me when I went to hail the cab. Well, while in line for the security check, I realized that I didn't have that bag -- and I really, really like that water bottle (Dannon 1 liter; $1.49 when containing actual water). So I turned around, bucking the tide on a very security-conscious day, and rushed downstairs to the cabstand, figuring that my driver was waiting to make a pick-up there. I talked with the dispatcher, who allowed me to look over the line; he wasn't there. She suggested calling the company, and a driver made the same suggestion, but, really: produce.

So I head back through security, today a ten-minute process, and stalk out to my gate, which is all the way at the end of Concourse C. Adjacent to the gate is an outlet for Phoenix Coffee, one of our local Starbucks/Caribou competitors. I'm in desperate need for a hot choco/vanilla now, and, lo! not to mention behold!, they sold fruit for 99 cents apiece. I bought two apples, two oranges and a banana.

I no sooner set my purchases down at my gate when I hear a page, "Will the party leaving the bag of fruit in the Ace Taxi please collect his item at the information center?" Well, I weigh my options, but it was really nice of the driver to bring my fruit in, and it is my favorite water bottle, so I trek all the way down the concourse, asking the security guard if someone could bring me the fruit -- negative, sir -- and leaving the secure area to pick up my fruit. Then ten minutes back through security, fifteen to the end of the concourse, and they're boarding my plane.

And my eleven pieces of fruit won't fit comfortably under the seat in front of me.
I'm out the door for the huge freaking trip through the Baltic sea and up the Norwegian coast. My connectivity will be spotty for the next five weeks (!) though if I can find WiFi broadband in the middle of the Libyan desert, Talinn ought to have no secrets from me. Still, I expect that there might soon be a few posts that contain (the one true marker of LJ quality) mentions of me; I would appreciate it if people would make some small effort to ensure that I do not miss those.
I think this was the first ATPo Gathering at which people called each other by their given names more often than by their posting names. One could argue that this signifies greater bonds of intimacy growing across what had been a rather anonymous medium, or one could mention that going from the Board to LJ means that we have trouble dealing with the plethora of polynyms -- I, for one, can never keep that [livejournal.com profile] c_mantix/Aquitaine/Lorraine stuff straight (especially since the dead useful "El" has been recently repossessed by its original referent). I certainly believe that there was this year an even greater closeness among us, and not just the eight of us sharing that one shower. (Not at the same time.) I surprised myself a few times opening up to people; I'd like to thank [livejournal.com profile] atpotch and [livejournal.com profile] ann1962 in particular for their patience and empathy, though I have to acknowledge that where it counted most I fell back into my own deathly taciturnity. I also surprised myself by stepping past my usual reservations and self-consciousness and singing lustily along to "Once More With Feeling," though it did not help my confidence at all when [livejournal.com profile] masqthephlsphr, sitting directly to my front, started complaining about her headache and muttering to [livejournal.com profile] cactuswatcher darkly something about flatness. Considering that I was pleased when I managed to end a line in the same key in which it began, I'm afraid flatness too optimistically suggests that my voice and the music were even in the same three-dimensional space. Now that I've ruined what pleasant memories people have of the musical, next year I'm sure there will be raised a hue and a cry for the audience-participation airing of "Hush," just to guarantee I keep my mouth shut for forty-two minutes.

But I get ahead of myself. I left Cleveland last Wednesday evening on a delayed night flight to San Francisco; by the time I'd rented the car and driven to the hotel it was 2:15 California time, or about six hours past my bedtime. I did take a perfunctory earful at the door TCH, Rob ([livejournal.com profile] buffyannotater) and [livejournal.com profile] scrollgirl were staying behind, trying to pick up any spawnful burbles, but luckily reached it during a rare lull and resignedly retreated to retire. Thursday morning, I reach the breakfast room in time to meet [livejournal.com profile] atpolittlebit, [livejournal.com profile] ladystarlightsj and Aqui, who has brazenly taken someone else's hash browns. We talk of much, and confirm that my Zachary's fetish will hold sway for our lunch plans. We then go wake the kids. I had worried about making the long drive to Tahoe without company, but TCH agreed to do his spawnial duty and ride with me. And once all got a gander of the red Dodge Charger muscle car I was driving, there was much envy and jealousy, which kept being expressed through the stuffing of spare luggage into what became known as its three-body trunk. Rob slid into the back and we roared north on 101 )
Having landed at Cleveland Hopkins at eight this morning, dozing through only one disc of Aaron Copland and some of "Bring the Noise," and coming after two straight nights of no more than four hours of sleep and a solid week of no more than six, I'm far too exhausted to write a recapitulation of the 2006 ATPo Gathering with concision, coherency or tact. Will I persevere through anyway? Perhaps; I keep floundering wading in the littorals of this post, rather than just diving deeply in. But what washes over me currently is sleep, and what sentiments I might bubble out burst before they breach my placid surface. And I'm half-tempted now to swap the ATPo icon for one of my SCUBA ones, so I will quit before my only public recollection of the Gathering becomes my snide spite at the painting at the seafood restaurant that paired a (Caribbean) Queen Angelfish with an (Indo-Pacific) Clown Trigger. That would be paralipsis, by the way, and for tonight the rest will be ellipsis . . .
I suppose I'm not going to write that substantial update I'd been planning before I leave for Tahoe. Oh, well, I had something planned about nostalgia. Speaking of which, I wonder if Jane Austen wasn't the correct high-toned author to whom to turn in my current mood of happy self-recrimination. And since I'm looking for dense doorstops to carry on the great Northern Europe expedition, the question arises: which translation of Proust should I favor? I'll get to ask [livejournal.com profile] atpotch that in person, won't I, in just twelve or so hours. And other people, of course, some of who might even have opinions on the subject.

And speaking of the great Northern Europe expedition, if you would like a postcard from the top of the world, or at least 79° North Latitude, send your address to dherblay at livejournal.com!
On my return flight from Memphis to Cleveland, my napkin was this:

napkin-003

I took it as an omen and I have booked my Tahoe trip, though I resisted even the strict authority of the napkin and bought tickets neither with USAir or into Reno. I fly into SFO late at night on the 21st (I'll head up to Tahoe the next day) and leave SFO late at night on the 26th. I have no idea where I am staying or how I am getting there, but I do plan to eat at Zachary's going both directions. What is the transportation/lodging situation these days? Leaving at such an unusual time, I'd probably be better off renting a car, but I'd rather not sleep in it.
In Tunis, it seems that everyone speaks French, and if they don't speak French, they speak Arabic with accents out of the tenth arrondisement. I, misnamed as I am, do not, so communication could at times be dicey. I understood our cab driver when he told us (en Francais), as he whizzed an inch by the fender of the car stopped in the fast lane (they're all fast lanes), that he was the Schumacher of Tunisia, and was tuned-in enough to pun (in English) that I'd almost rather he be Willie than Michael. (Shoemaker, you see.) But I was much less confident that any understanding was reached when we asked him if he would return to the Bardo Musum at five o'clock. Partly this doubt was due to my confusion over whether our proffered "cinq heures" would lead him to arrive not at 5 p.m. but after five hours, but mostly I was worried that we should have mangled "dix et sept" instead as the twelve-hour clock might be to him nothing but a long-abandoned anachronistic chronometer.

See, I'd been reading Charles Stross's Singularity Sky, and I'd gotten to the bit where Martin Springfield is being held by the secret police for committing a political infraction the nature of which no one will tell him. Stross writes, "Outside the skylight, it was a clear, cold April afternoon; the clocks of St Michael had just finished striking fourteen hundred [ . . . ]" For some unlikely reason, my mind stretched back to the opening line of Orwell's 1984, which was always an eerie and ominous annoucement to this American reader, the clocks striking thirteen carrying a sense of otherworldly strangeness, plain wrongness, and invoking a hint of triskaidekaphobia. But had I grown up with the twenty-four hour clock, I may not have noticed any peculiarity.

I have no idea when the United Kingdom or the rest of Europe adopted the twenty-four hour clock for civilian time, so I have no idea whether Orwell intended the reference as a frightening anomaly, an allusion to the weird way they do things on the Continent, a symbol of the regimentation of Oceanic society, or an only slightly futuristic bit of realism. Britain, though, has a history of resistance to such government imposed rationalizations. Famously, for a hundred and seventy years it regarded as suspicious popishness. I remember as a child encountering generation-old Punch cartoons lampooning the opposition to decimalization of the Pound, and I think the metric system was rejected for some time as being too closely associated with the French Revolution. My ignorant impression is that the British, or elements of British society at least, look at government-imposed rationalizations as perniciously continental. Then a generation grows up with the new system, and people are incredulous that their elders could ever have been such paranoid, parochial provincials.

Over here in America, we have a civic ethos built on our inalienable right to be paranoid, parochial provincials. We're lucky that the Revolution took place after the UK adopted the Gregorian calendar, or we might have obstinately stuck with the Julian at least until the Red Scare. We still treat applications of the metric system as a Euro-weenification roughly tantamount to letting the UN land black helicopters on our front lawns and force us to listen to Robbie Williams. And though we've since relented, we initially regarded one of the most widespread government-imposed rationalizations as a Wilsonian internationalism as threatening to the American way of life as the League of Nations. I speak of daylight savings. )
According to my eclipse bible (a heretical text on my tour, which pays its fealty to Mr. Eclipse himself), one of the first photographers to use Photoshop to build a composite photograph of the sun's corona took six months to come up with something he found satisfactory. I certainly didn't do better in a largely shadeless afternoon. I'll instead post four pictures. )
DATELINE - 80 KM SOUTH OF JALU, WESTERN DESERT, LIBYA

Totality occured with perfect clarity, though I wish I could say the same thing for my new contact lenses. I had trouble resolving the ring of the sun as a single image; in fact, the view was considerably better through my camera lens. I also wasted a considerable amount of the four minutes, four seconds of totality fidgetting with the tripod supporting my video camera. Once, one of the eclipse veterans with a stopwatch called out "Sixty seconds!" "Elapsed?" I desperately cried. "No, remaining!" was the disappointing response.

Three initial pictures below the cut. )

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