Monday, March 31, 2008


I picked up a very old copy of The New Yorker from the endless pile and started reading a profile of Christopher Hitchens. I'm relieved that it is highly unlikely that I will ever meet Mr. Hitchens; I'm grateful to circumstances for keeping us apart. The author describes an interaction between Hitch and another person at a restaurant gathering:

And then the young doctor to his left made a passing but sympathetic remark about Howard Dean, the 2004 Presidential candidate; she said that he had been unfairly treated in the American media. Hitchens, in the clear, helpful voice one might use to give street directions, replied that Dean was “a raving nut bag,” and then corrected himself: “A raving, sinister, demagogic nut bag.” He said, “I and a few other people saw he should be destroyed.” He noted that, in 2003, Dean had given a speech at an abortion-rights gathering in which he recalled being visited, as a doctor, by a twelve-year-old who was pregnant by her father. (“You explain that to the American people who think that parental notification is a good idea,” Dean said, to applause.) Dean appeared not to have referred the alleged rape to the police; he also, when pressed, admitted that the story was not, in all details, true. For Hitchens, this established that Dean was a “pathological liar.”
“All politicians lie!” the women said.
“He’s a doctor,” Hitchens said.
“But he’s a politician.”
“No, excuse me,” Hitchens said. His tone tightened, and his mouth shrunk like a sea anemone poked with a stick; the Hitchens face can, at moments of dialectical urgency, or when seen in an unkindly lit Fox News studio, transform from roguish to sour. (Hitchens’s friend Martin Amis, the novelist, has chided Hitchens for “doing that horrible thing with your lips.”) “Fine,” Hitchens said. “Now that I know that, to you, medical ethics are nothing, you’ve told me all I need to know. I’m not trying to persuade you. Do you think I care whether you agree with me? No. I’m telling you why I disagree with you. That I do care about. I have no further interest in any of your opinions. There’s nothing you wouldn’t make an excuse for.”
“That’s wrong!” they said.
“You know what? I wouldn’t want you on my side.” His tone was businesslike; the laughing protests died away. “I was telling you why I knew that Howard Dean was a psycho and a fraud, and you say, ‘That’s O.K.’ Fuck off. No, I mean it: fuck off. I’m telling you what I think are standards, and you say, ‘What standards? It’s fine, he’s against the Iraq war.’ Fuck. Off. You’re ‘Any liar will do. He’s anti-Bush, he can say what he likes.’ Fuck off. You think a doctor can lie in front of an audience of women on a major question, and claim to have suppressed evidence on rape and incest and then to have said he made it up?”
“But Christopher . . .”
“Save it, sweetie, for someone who cares. It will not be me. You love it, you suck on it. I now know what your standards are, and now you know what mine are, and that’s all the difference—I hope—in the world.”

Who's the nutbag? Just reading that gave me an anxiety attack.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

S.D. Shorty

My two-year-old nephew spends some mornings hanging with his grandpa. His mom captured this lovely triptych as he took leave of his dad and went off to do some farming.

He sat on my lap as we dyed Easter eggs last weekend. He's a cuddler, y'all!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Daily Philosophy

I don't quite know what to make of The Right Attitude to Rain by Alexander McCall Smith, though 50 Books swears by him. The novel is part of a series of books about a Scottish woman named Isabel Dalhousie. She is a philosopher by trade (no, really) and, I guess, a sort of detective, only her "mysteries" are those of the human character. The plot is a bit like a Seinfeld episode, consisting of small, daily interactions, only with likeable characters and lots of insight and reflection. But the reflections can be kind of intrusive -- the protaganist is always launching into these little rhetorical flights in response to the most mundane things. Much of the dialogue and Isabel's trains of thought seem contrived and make jarring leaps. I might try another of his novels, but this one was middling. OK

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Death on the Beach

I read The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty when I was traveling. It's the story of a woman who returns to Mississippi for her father's final illness. Through the funeral and its aftermath, she tries to make sense of her father's choice of an unpleasant, inappropriate woman as his second wife, his reaction to the death of her own mother, and the previous loss of her husband. The book is wonderful, but I read a lot of it, including the funeral scene, on the beach in Playa del Carmen. The disconnect between what I was reading and where I was sitting may have blunted some of the force of the book, but I still thought it was very moving and true. Yay!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Look what Jack Frost did to the roof of my car this morning. So beautiful, how does he do that? It's nice to have some moisture in the air again.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bridget and Jane

I was in the market for light reading as I prepared for my trip, and Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding is like the quintessenial vacation read, right? And it served its purpose very well --amusing, not challenging ... good times.

Is it just me, or does everyone borrow from Jane Austen, like, all the time? (Why not me? You laugh, but Dickens came up in a meeting about estate planning this morning -- Bleak House, natch.) BJD doesn't purloin a whole plot like, say, Clueless did. She really just nods at Jane as a way to celebrate JA's influence on chick lit through the ages, I think. But check this slacker-nicity(tm A. Fish): In the book, Bridget watches the classic BBC version of Pride and Predjudice starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennett, and she notes that the London streets are deserted when it's on, a la all of America during the last episode of Seinfeld. So? Masterpiece Theater (ahem, Masterpiece) just got done running that film! (and it is AWESOME. Thank you for not screwing that one up, at least.) And Colin Firth starred as the BJD Mr. Darcy in the movie. Wheels within wheels. Anyway, who better to steal from than Jane, but she does seem to be everywhere.

Further BJD goodness: I finished it on my first day in Mexico and decided to leave the book in my hotel room for some other tourist, rather than dragging it along. So I stayed in the same hotel on my way out and met a woman from Quebec named Mary Emily who works on a quasi-organic farm outside of Quebec City. Yeah. She speaks mainly French, but we were rocking the English. She mentioned she was reading an English book and, yeah, you got it. She had my old room. I wonder what she was making of all the British slang, but the only question she had for me was, "What does 'perhaps' mean?"

Also: Yay!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I'm The One That I Want

Margaret Cho, in her new stand-up show "Beautiful," is coming to the Orpheum on April 25! Who wants to go with me? She is determined to make us feel good about our non-compliance with the standards of beauty. Heed the call!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Awesome, Part III: The Jungleing

OK, I'm back for our third and final round in which our protaganist conquers the jungle of Guatemala. They never saw me coming! Which is amazing considering how much time I spent crashing around in the undergrowth.

After spending the night at a hotel in El Remate, Lou picked us up and we went over to his house to pack the truck. He and Mario had tied the canoes and kayak on the night before. We drove for a couple of hours on a gravel road that was pretty bad, but they tell me it could have been worse. We'd be going along alright but would periodically come to a few yards of road bed that hadn't really survived the rainy season. Could have used a load or two of gravel. And some big rocks. And geosynthetics! It's a good thing Lou's truck has good clearance and four wheel drive. It reminded me a little of riding through the pasture with my dad, checking cows. At one point we got out to re-secure the canoes:

We made it to Paso Caballos, a small village on the San Pedro river where we started our paddle. The village, like the others we'd gone through, had lots of chickens, pigs, dogs, and horses that roamed around without restraint. None of them looked particularly well fed, and some of the horses looked positively suicidal.

We had an audience of local children as we unloaded the truck. Some men drove up who were taking a motorboat to the place we were going. They offered to transport some of our stuff for us:

That was nice, because it was necessary to carry all our water with us, so our cargo included two big water-cooler-sized plastics bottles. Mario rode with them, so it was just four in the canoes. The canoeing was lovely:

Dennis and Chantal went for a swim, and Dennis displayed his ability to propel himself out of the water like a dolphin:

Awesome. We saw some really cool plants:

There were lots of these sorts of tree parasites -- including orchids, but it wasn't the season for them to be blooming, unfortch. Eventually, we came to spot where we heard water rushing, though the water in the river was undisturbed. We landed to investigate and found this delightful spring with the water rushing out of a rock ledge:

We all went for a swim. After a bit more river paddling, we came across Mario fishing from a borrowed dugout canoe:

We'd made it to our campsite -- the Las Guacamayas Biological Field Station. It was far more luxurious than what I'd pictured. There were bathrooms with showers and screened buildings. Even the dock was covered:

After setting up the tents and familiarizing ourselves with the place, Lou dug out the bottle of rum and the fruit drinks he'd packed, and we climbed up to the bluff behind the station. There's a lookout tower built on it, from which we had a lovely place to view the sunset:

The howler monkeys were doing their thing, and the rum drinks were very tasty. Chantal even got cell phone reception. The wind started to kick up just as we were leaving, and before we could get back to camp, it was raining like crazy. We hadn't even put all the rain flies on yet! Chantal says, "Well, it is a rainforest." Indeed. After messing around unsatisfactorily with the rain flies, we threw up our hands and just picked up the tents and carried them into the nearest building. It was dry and screened in. And there they remained for the rest of our stay.

We did our cooking (if by "we" I mean Lou and Chantal) in the staff kitchen. A few men were working at the station while we were there. The kitchen had four tables on which you could build fires to cook over. The nice thing about roofs made of palm leaves is that you don't have to have a chimney; the smoke just escapes wherever, though it makes the building's interior rather blackened.

Lou kept us very well fed with a shrimp and tomato sauce over pasta the first night and a beef teryaki stir fry the next. He even packed in eggs for breakfast (only two broke) and a veritable bakery's worth of homemade breads -- wheat, banana, carrot. So friggin' good!

We made sandwiches for our lunch the next day and set out again -- an hour of canoeing and then two or three hours of hiking to get to El Peru, another Mayan site. Not much has been excavated there, so we only saw a few things. But the closer we got to the site, the more often we'd walk over some incongruous hill in the road -- probably ruins that have not been uncovered. So tantalizing! We passed through a military camp that protects both the ruins and the jungle (any unprotected jungle is mostly cut down and carted off). All these young men in fatigues with semi-automatic rifles. It ain't Itasca.

It was a long, hot walk, but so lovely. Lou and Mario pointed out all the birds, and on the way back, we got very near to a family of howler monkeys -- Mom, Dad, and baby. Awesome squared! The jungle seemed to even desensitize me to the existence of bats, to which we got close up on the water, in this little bower:

My camera battery died on the road to El Peru, but who needs it. After our long day in the jungle, we had a hearty meal and enjoyed a clear, gorgeous view of the lunar eclipse. The station staff were listening to a soccer game on the radio; the play by play was being given in that excitable-Spanish-speaking-soccer-announcer way. We pretended that he was announcing the eclipse; the level of action is comparable, I'd say.

We canoed back out the next day and I, for one, was very sunburned and bug-bitten. I wouldn't have it any other way. We made it back to El Remate by about 4:00 and after a quick goodbye to Mario and Lou, we immediately got in a van and headed for San Ignacio in Belize. We spent the night there at the Midas Resort -- my cabin was round!! So adorable.

In the morning, we were picked up and taken to this bucolic spot:

We tubed on the beautiful clear blue river through two large caves. It was a relaxing enchantment after our strenuous trip into the woods. Afterwards, our guide Juan Carlos drove us on to Corozal, Belize, and the Hotel Mirador. The next day we caught a bus back to Playa del Carmen and the adventure was over. So sad to say goodbye.

I recommend it highly!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Losing Your Stuff

Two short stories in one volume -- The Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett -- are both about possessions and the lack of them. The first is a rather spare novella about a staid London couple that loses everything they own in a bizarre burglary. In the second, Bennett tells the story of a Miss Shepherd, who spent several years living in a van in his driveway. They are both quick reads and compelling. I especially enjoyed The Lady in the Van; the author is rather reluctantly involved with the crazy Miss Shepherd and is simultaneously compassionate and annoyed. Bennett also wrote The Madness of King George, which I haven't seen but am interested in now. Yay!