Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thoughts on Egypt

In looking at pictures of the events in Egypt, I am struck by the absence of anti-Americanism. Maybe they are there, but just haven't been captured on film. However, I find this unlikely as the burning of American flags and effigies are usually what the media likes to seize on.

I find the absence of the anti-American rhetoric fascinating because:

- The US is a powerful symbol to rail against in any protest, but especially in the middle east
- The US provides copious amounts of assistance to the Egyptian government that the people are intent on bringing down

The only image I saw that had any reference to the US was some protesters pointing out that a tear gas canister had "made in the USA" written on it.

I guess sometimes it is not all about us.

It uneases me that the future of the country (and perhaps the region) hinges on the wisdom of a leader who has clearly lost touch with the world around him. Hopefully he will recognize that he must move on and that a peaceful transition of power can be achieved.

I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


We were hit by yet another snow storm last night.  According to news sources we are already at the 6th snowiest season since they began recording.  I don't mind the snow too much.  I much rather have snow than rain.  I love how the landscape looks after a snowstorm.  I like how the snow reflects light once the sun comes out, which compensates for the short winter days.  It is fun to see the tracks of the various animals have treked across our yard.  Not having to go to work is a mixed bag.  It is nice staying home, but it also means having to catch up with material when we do get back to campus.

Then there is shoveling and clearing the snow.  I also have mixed feelings about that.  I enjoy getting out of the house and doing something physical in the fresh air.  I like the peace in the area if I am out right after the snowfall: few cars, quietness, stillness.  The type of snow that has fallen does make a difference.  Light flaky snow is so easy to clear; I do not like if there is ice.  The one thing I hate - the giant hard levy of snow/ice piled up at the end of our driveway from the plows clearing the street.  It's such a chore to break through it.

As I was out shoveling the other day, the silence was broken by the roaring and grumbling of snow machines and riding mowers equipped with snow removal equipment.  Then a big front loader came along to clear our neighbor's driveway.  I stopped to take a break, which I need to do frequently given my pitiful level of fitness, and I looked around looking at the sources of the din.  I was the only one out with a shovel and hence the only one taking a breather.  If a neighbor threw a glance my way, I would offer them a wave to which they would wave back.  Occasionally a neighbor might drive by perhaps on their way to restock their kitchen.  Again waves might be exchanged.  But no conversation.

Perhaps if others would be shoveling, they would take a break like me and be willing to exchange a word or two.  If that were the case, maybe I would know my neighbors a little better.  Is this another example of technology (snow machines) or wealth (paying someone else to clear the snow) isolating us socially?

For now I will continue to shovel on my own amid the buzz of others technology.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sounds of Place

Following is a comment I left on Oso's blog following a fascinating post on Mexico City:

This post brought back a lot of memories.
I find flying into Mexico City more fascinating than any other city.  It is equally impressive during the day or night.  It's not just the sheer size of the city - Sao Paulo is pretty impressive too - but the flight plan that takes you over most of the city as you arrive.  Sometimes the descent into the thick layer of smog is both fascinating and revolting.  
As to the sounds of the city, I remember that we knew the coming and goings of the neighborhood based on what we could hear.  Because doorbells often didn't work, people would announce themselves based on a particular sound.  There was the man who drove up on his loud motorcycle and yelled "Las tortillas!!!"  You had only a few minutes to grab a few pesos and run outside to buy them before he zoomed off.  The milkman had his own particular whistle.  Then there were the camoteros, who would ride around on their hybrid bicycle/oven that would emit a particular whistle.  Another biker would be the guy who would sharpen knives by propping up his bicycle and pedaling to spin the sharpening stone.  He had a little bell he would ring on his handlebars to alert everyone that sharpening services were being offered.  The mailman would just tap on our gate.  Our neighbors' friends would have their specific whistles to announce that they were there for a visit.  A few would yell out the specific person they wanted to see.  Then there were car horns that differed in timbre and people had their unique rhythm of honking.  And I can't leave out the music - people sang without inhibition and car radios shared the music with the rest of the neighborhood.  However chaotic all this may seem, the cacophony was woven into a complex symphony of place.  All this may now just exist in my nostalgic thoughts, but I have no doubt that they have been replaced by a more contemporary version.
As to exploring neighborhoods.  I don't think you are alone in the city when it comes to finding your movements constrained to a few areas.  Involved I do think the difficulty of movement (traffic in particular) in the city is part of it.  But Mexico is also very segregated by class (and by fear).  Another issue is that a lot of the places you list, there isn't much that would draw an outsider.  For example, Naucalpan was right next to where I used to live, but there really isn't much there for you to really explore.  Unless you like small industrial parks and warehouses.  Obviously, if you know someone there, they can take you to that special taco stand or show you that small plaza where you can hang out.  But otherwise, you are the guero who got lost or came to gawk at how the "others" live.  
My suggestion, though, is to find specific places to visit in different parts of the city.  For example, go to the Sonora market and get a limpia or a sobada.  Go to la Villa and sit and watch the pilgrims.  If you want to go to Naucalpan, go visit the Basilica de los Remedios where people with illnesses go to pray for cures (there is also a cool statue of St. George slaying the dragon/devil - I could see that statue from my childhood window).  Or just ride the length of a metro line, getting off at every other station.  An interesting illustration of segregation is if you go to the south of the city, go from Jardines del Pedregal to Cuidad Universitaria to Colonia Santo Domingo.  Three completely different worlds within a few kilometers.
But the city extends way beyond the DF.  I couldn't tell you what to see in Cd. Neza or Ecatepec or Santa Fe, for that matter.  
In any case, have fun and thanks for the trip into my memories...
I spend enough time writing it, I thought I should post it here too.  Why not?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Absent-mindedness and Mishaps

We are back from our jungle and archaeological adventure in Mexico.  

We didn't get as much sun as we would have liked and there were the occasional mishaps, but we did have a good time.  We stayed at a interesting little eco-hotel (more like a b&b) in a little village tucked away in the jungle.  We visited the Maya sites of Coba and Ek Balam, but skipped Chichen Itza.  We also explored the small city of Valladolid, which is sleepy and a bit rough around the edges.  It does have a cenonte right in town, with a restaurant overlooking it.

Of the mishaps, I shall share the last one.  While in Valladolid, we bought two bottles of liquor: Xtabentun, the local drink made with anise and honey (this one had also been infused with coffee), and Kahlua.  On the day we were flying back, I mindlessly put them in my carry-on backpack and not in my suitcase.  I realized right after we checked our bags, that I couldn't get through security with them.  I ran back to see if they could retrieve the suitcase, but they said no.  The only option was to toss the bottles or check my backpack.  They gave me a little box to try to pad the bottles in the backpack and I checked it, hoping for the best.

Our trip connected through Atlanta and we had to get our bags to clear customs.  I thought if the bottles survived, I could repack them in the suitcase and take the backpack on the plane.  As I picked up the backpack, I felt some moisture.  The Kahlua bottle made it, but the Xtabentun bottle didn't.  There was a wet, sticky, and pungent puddle inside the bag.  I had to discard the broken bottle in the box - mind you this is just outside customs - and find a bathroom to dump the puddle from the backpack without looking too suspicious.  After all of this, I packed the Kahlua bottle back in the backpack, covered the backpack with some plastic bags, and packed the whole sticky odorous mess in my suitcase.  We cleared customs ok and rechecked the suitcase.  Only then did I realize that my house keys were in my backpack.  My worry was that if my bag got lost - not beyond the possibility given the way the days events had gone - we would be locked out when we got home.  I called the friend who was dog-sitting for us and asked her to leave a spare set of keys hidden somewhere outside.

In the end the suitcases made it.  I did get a note inside my suitcase from TSA that they had opened and inspected it.  They were probably wondering why it smelled like a wino.  And the Kahlua bottle did survive!

I think in the future, Sara will have to pack for me.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year, Same Sh...

Another year gone by, but not much has changed.  I wish I could be optimistic about the upcoming year, but things still look grim.

It's ironic that I received tenure this past year, meaning that my job is fairly stable from here on out (not a certainty, though, with that nutty governor in New Jersey), yet my life seems so very unstable and uncertain.  The stress of it all has been overwhelming and depressing.  I am not sure where I am going here because I just don't want to vent and spew all the details.

Despite the personal financial crisis that is looming, I am taking a short trip to Mexico next week.  Flying down on frequent flier miles and visiting on the cheap.  It will be good to have a change of scenery and more sun and warmth.  Is it the smartest thing to do?  Probably not.

I am not sure why peace of mind and stability in my life continues to elude me.  There have been poor choices and gambles that have not paid off along the way, but there has also been a lot of bad luck.  I am not sure why.

So here I go, trying to survive, trying to keep my head above water, struggling to overcome the stress and the worry.

Happy (?) New Year...