Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jingle All the Way

Happy New Year! At long last, The Armchair is back. Whether or not it's better than ever remains to be seen.

So what have I been doing all of this time? Well, when I wasn't scaling mountains or taming wild boar, I was building wind turbines with my bare hands and feeding the hungry in the slums of Potosí. Don't believe me?

The truth is, I have been busy. I've been everywhere from London... Brussels... Branson, Missouri.

And you wouldn't believe the celebrities I've run into along the way!

Negative Media Attention Doesn't Scare Jon Gosselin's fans away!
Jon Gosselin
65th Venice Film Festival:Celebrity Sightings/Atmosphere - Day 7
Natalie Portman
Clearwater Benefit Concert - Media Room
John Mellencamp
San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker looks to the basket in Oakland, California
Tony Parker

Yet somehow, when I wasn't making new friends or experiencing the thrill of my brakes failing or discovering I like pickle spears, I was wasting a lot of time. Consider the fact that I recently watched the better part of Jingle All the Way. Surely I could have spent that time updating my blog.

1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad stars in the new movie "Jingle All The Way".

Apparently Sinbad (see above) has jingled his way into a lot of trouble. Wikipedia claims that Mr. David Adkins "has the third highest tax delinquency of all active delinquencies in California." Pay your taxes, Dave.

Anyway, we'll get back to the meat and potatoes next time. Or should I say, Fleisch und Kartoffeln? The topic: Graz, Austria. Why? Because Sinbad's hometown is Benton Harbor, Michigan.


(Whatever, like you would have been able to resist.)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Eureka Springs Teaser

I would say I feel like a cliché sitting here in this coffee shop with my cappuccino and my MacBook but for one important fact: I'm in Arkansas.

I think Eureka Springs, AR might be the strangest place in America. And yes, the abbreviation is "AR" and not "AK." "AK" is Alaska's. I was surprised too. The "k" in Arkansas somehow seems more important than the "k" in Alaska. Maybe this would be a good moment to try and work in "What did Delaware? Idaho, Alaska." I'll resist the temptation.

Anyway, you'll have to check back in late July for the sure-to-be-legendary-in-its-own-time post about Eureka Springs. It's part perfectly preserved Victorian spa town, part modern-day Christian pilgrimage destination, and part biker haven. A huge statue of Christ looks over a town that once very seriously tried to legalize marijuana. It's fascinating and beautiful and totally WEIRD. Get excited.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


"I'm obsessed with"

That's how I wanted to begin this entry before I saw that my friend Matt began a recent entry with "I love" Phew, dodged a bullet there! I wouldn't want to be a copycat or an aper...or an...armadillo. (I know armadillos aren't particularly well-known for copying but I still wouldn't want to be one, would you?)

Anyway, for the past couple weeks I've been consumed by one particular Sporcle challenge.
The game: Can You Name the Countries of the World. My nemesis: Island Nations.

I recently made it as far as 194/195 countries with time to spare. Bahrain? Antigua and Barbuda? Naturally. São Tomé and Príncipe? CHILD'S PLAY. Still, time ran out and I still hadn't come up with that elusive 195th country.

The suspense is killing you, right? Well, it was Tuvalu.

View Larger Map

I understand that the average person's sense of self-worth doesn't hang on the completion of a Sporcle quiz. I recognize that I have a problem. Still, you might find handy this list of the sovereign states of Oceania:

Marshall Islands
Federated States of Micronesia
New Zealand
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands

The Pacific islands are the bane of geography dilettantes everywhere, wouldn't you say? They're just so damn hard to remember. In light of that, I have crafted this small story as a kind of memory aid. Please enjoy:

Marshall was a wealthy Australian shipping magnate in the autumn of his life. Having tired of his playboy ways, he decided to find a wife and settle down. Though his wealth meant he had his pick of Hollywood starlettes, he eventually Naurued it down to two who particularly struck his fancy: Keira Knightley and Vanna White. Night after night he tossed and turned, punching his Palau in frustration. How would he ever choose between them? He really liked Kiribati wanted Samoa Vanna too! On one such evening, unable to restrain himself, he called Vanna. When she answered he whispered, "Vanuatu wearing?" "Look, I don't have time for you anymore," she replied. "Marshall, Islands are calling my name. I'm going to Fiji to relax on the beach in my Tonga bikini." "Mmmm, can I buy a...towel?" he asked, undetered. Vanna sighed. "Listen, I shouldn't chaTimor-Leste your suggestive wordplay lead me astray." Just then he heard the beep of his call waiting. It was Keira on the other line! "Oh Marshall, you're so handsome," she said, "and as wise as King Solomon. Islands are so nice this time of year. Let's take a vacation together!" Marshall hesitated. "Keira," he replied, "I don't think this is going to work out, though I promise Tuvalu our friendship in the future." Keira was beside herself with rage. She shouted, "He'd beat you up if my Papua New! Guinea pigs are better lovers than you! This womIndonesia anymore. I'd rather date New Zealand's Jemaine Clement of the novelty band Flight of the Conchords!" Now defeated and alone, Marshall lived out the rest of his days in a hut on a remote island in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Okay, now that you're an expert on naming the countries of Oceania, I have one warning. Demonstrate your knowledge of semi-obscure geography sparingly. I recently drove a guy right out of my apartment after an over-zealous recitation of the world's island nations. Okay, he didn't actually leave because of me, but the timing was a little troublesome. It went something like this:

Julia: "KIRIBATI!"
Guy: "Actually, I really need to get going."

The point is, I think I was actually trying to flirt. Sad, I know. If "guys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses," they definitely don't make passes at girls who have a couple drinks and start yelling about the Asian Pacific Islands. Just a heads up.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Haas House

First of all, I think I fixed the comment problem. Please comment so I know it's working!

Also, these folks used a picture of mine from Vienna on their website. Kind of neat, huh?

Lastly, I've added a link to my Dad's blog. He's funny, you should read it. (I mean, we're talking about the comic genius behind "The Food Fart.")

Friday, May 1, 2009

Los Angeles

I'm a New England girl. I've seen Doris Kearns Goodwin at the Lexington and Concord Battle Reenactments. The small Massachusetts town where I grew up (West Newbury) is best known for its important role in the early American decorative hair comb industry.* My childhood best friend lived in a house built around 1780. John Kerry once stepped on my foot at a store in Harvard Square. I even have a Revolutionary War era ancestor named Thankful Bennett. I wonder if I could be in the Daughters of the American Revolution? My family probably isn't wealthy enough. Good thing. Otherwise I'd be a real nightmare.

*In my cursory search through The Internet I failed to come up with any foundation for that claim, but I choose to believe my 4th grade teachers, the nice ladies of the Historical Society, and the old sign that said "Welcome to West Newbury: Home of the Comb."

You'll also be interested to know that I share my hometown with noted professional wrestler John Cena, who is apparently a big enough star to host the Australian Kids' Choice Awards.

Arrivals At Nickelodeon Australian Kids Choice Awards 2008

As far as I know, his mother still works at the West Newbury Food Mart. Somewhere along the line my family took to calling it the "The Food Fart." Catchy, I know. In fact, my father usually takes it a step further and just says "The Fart." Though it may imply otherwise, this is in no way a comment on the quality of the establishment. Mostly it says something important about my family.

Anyway, like most East Coasters, I grew up assuming I lived at the center of The Universe. The world was predominantly Irish-Catholic (which made me a minority), the only city in the world more important than Boston was New York, WBZ-TV's News Team (including my former idol, arts and entertainment reporter Joyce Kulhawik) was God's gift to journalism, and California was a land of make-believe.

Beaches looked something like this:

Plum Island, MA
Or this:

New Harbor, ME

Or this:

One year ago John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a crash

The Kennedy Compound

A California beach, were I to give it any thought, probably would have looked something like this:

David Hasselhoff with the Mermaid stunt double

Despite the raw, bronzed sex that is Hasselhoff, there was a time when I swore I would never go to California. I was probably about 10 or 11 and we had recently learned about fault lines at school. Naturally, I became convinced that the moment I went to California it would break apart from the contiguous United States. Not even the fact that Kelly Kapowski and Zack Morris called it home would change my mind. Incidentally, Mark-Paul Gosselaar is much more interesting than you might think. Check out the link.

When I did find myself in California for the first time (older and wiser) I was most excited to finally see the Pacific Ocean. I spotted it from the top of a hill as we drove toward Hermosa Beach and it was just as glittering and expansive as I had imagined.

I ran down and dipped my toes in the surf, relishing the cold majesty, reveling in the sweet glory of nature!

I was filled with such innocent joy and excitement that I even allowed this Hallmark moment of a picture to happen.

Then, in the form of a toxic goo, reality struck:

This goo is hard to explain. Let me begin by saying that this picture really doesn't do the problem justice. At first it didn't feel like anything worse than a piece of seaweed. Calmly, I bent to peel it off. But whatever it was had thoroughly adhered itself to the bottom of my foot. Then I smelled it: motor oil with a hint of burning rubber. Scraping wildly seemed like the logical next step. Unfortunately this only resulted in getting it lodged underneath my fingernails. It would ultimately take the next 20 minutes and a combination of suntan lotion, sharp seashells, and the elbow grease of three people to get it off.

Kinky? Maybe a little.

Pollution. Leave it to Los Angeles, right? I felt like one of those ducks you see getting cleaned off after an oil-spill. But guess what? It's natural! Not only that, but apparently this happens to dumb tourists all the time. Awesome. It's certainly not the first or the last time I'll fall into that category. It brings to mind a night in London when some drunk girls leaving a club looked at my friend and me and said, "Get out of the way you...TOURISTS!" A low moment. For the record, they were the ones in the way. And if I did live in London who's to say I wouldn't wear shorts and hiking shoes around town? Ah, but this is another post for another time.

Beach adventures aside, Los Angeles is a strange place.

View Larger Map

The smog, the sprawl, the freeways- it feels like a different planet. The purpose of this particular journey was mainly to see a much-missed friend who now attends the University of Southern California. (Her name is Sarah and you can catch her on The Price is Right on May 22nd. Spoiler Alert: She won an air hockey table!) Experiencing the city was, in this case, my second priority. And anyway, Los Angeles is a difficult place to explore. My first instinct when I go somewhere new is to take a walk to get my bearings. Even if taking an exploratory stroll were a real option (it's not), I'm not sure I would ever get my bearings in LA. A car is obligatory and driving strikes me as a little bit frightening. I don't want to be on the freeway with Paris Hilton, do you?

Still, we squeezed in some excellent highlights. Here's the boring slideshow:

This is me (duh) outside of Grauman's Chinese Theater doing my best to reenact my favorite scene from Moonstruck. You know, the part when he yells, "I LOST MY HAND! I LOST MY BRIDE!" Here's the whole scene, check it out. It's one of the few moments in film during which I don't loathe Nicolas Cage. Moonstruck also features the never-loathable Olympia Dukakis, who has now made her second appearance in The Armchair.

Here we are outside the Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park. It's named after a guy named Colonel Griffith J. Griffith. No joke. As you might imagine, he was quite a character. Enough of a character that I think we need to take a moment to talk about him.

Griffith Jenkins Griffith was a Welshman. He was also nuts. He came to the United States as a poor teenaged immigrant in the 1860s and, thanks to various enterprises having to do with mining, promptly became a millionaire. In his adopted home of Los Angeles he purchased and then donated the huge swath of land that would ultimately become Griffith Park. In his spare time he went around town spreading his particular brand of crazy. You know, gold-topped cane, outlandish overcoat, delusions of grandeur, the whole bit. Then he shot his wife while they were on vacation in Santa Monica. It was something to do with the Pope.

Mrs. Griffith J. Griffith managed to avoid a fatal wound by jerking her head away at exactly the right moment, launching herself out the window onto an awning, and crawling to safety. Unfortunately, though she came away from the ordeal alive, she was left partially blind and rather disfigured. A zany trial ensued and he spent a couple years in jail making burlap sacks. Ah, the 19th century egomaniacal self-made man. He spent the rest of his life trying to get the city of Los Angeles to take his money and fulfill his grand vision for the park. They demurred for a few decades but eventually gave in and broke ground on the observatory in the 1930s. Did I mention he wasn't actually a colonel?

Anyway, the observatory is in Griffith Park, up in the Santa Monica Mountains in the Los Feliz neighborhood of LA. There are great views of the city, the smog, and the ubiquitous Hollywood sign.

There's also this sweet tunnel that was used in Back to the Future. Like so many other places in Los Angeles and environs, Griffith Park has been used as a location for a slew of movies, including Rebel Without a Cause, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and The Rocketeer. That's right, The Rocketeer.

On St. Patrick's day we celebrated at our friend Greg's place in Redondo Beach. This is Molly, Greg's Girl Friday and Goo-Getter-Offer Extraordinaire. If friendship isn't helping you scrape s*** off the bottom of your foot, I don't know what is.

We had our obligatory stroll down Rodeo Drive (followed by a no-regrets splurge on high tea at the Peninsula Hotel) but didn't do any real retail damage until we stopped at a Marshall's on our way home. You haven't been to Marshall's until you've been to Marshall's Beverly Hills. I got a pair of Italian-made suede heels for $10. Just saying.

There's so much more to say about LA. For that reason, I'm going to call it quits here. Out of necessity I've left out quite a bit but I'm sure it will all surface in future posts when I'm trying to talk about Equatorial Guinea or something.

Equatorial Guinea is a country in Africa. That's as much as I know about it. Curious? Me too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Going to California with an Aching in my...Stomach

I don’t generally like to complain. Seriously. I have a sort of militant loyalty to the "seeing the best in everything" philosophy. Pretty dumb, I know. It certainly hasn’t done anything good for my love life. Am I right, ladies? Just kidding with that last sentence. The one before it is still true though. Anyway, the point is that I would like to take a moment to complain about air travel. Bear with me, I know we've all heard these rants before.

The main problem on the flight from Indianapolis to Charlotte had to do with the previous night's ill-advised merriment. In fairness, I can't blame that on anyone but myself. Still, the woman sitting next to me could have been a lot nicer. Whatever lady, I wouldn’t want to interrupt you in chapter 43 of your James Patterson book. What’s the deal with that? She wasn’t even a third of the way into the book and it was already chapter 43. I can’t decide if she bought it at the airport or rushed out to Target after she saw the TV advertisement.

I guess that's rather elitist and hypocritical. I too have been known to enjoy a good page-turner. And it's not as though I've ever actually read James Patterson, mainly for fear of actually liking it. Hell, I liked the Da Vinci Code. I was also 18 and on the beach in Aruba. That makes it okay, right? It’s okay that I liked it, right? Right, guys??

By the way, did you know you can take a Da Vinci Code tour at the Louvre?

Da Vinci Code Locations,

Kind of depressing. I think that might be James Patterson Lady with the straw bag.

Anyway, what I really want to complain about is the flight from Charlotte to LAX. First of all, it smelled like body odor. Fine, it's not the first time I've had to deal with body odor while traveling and I'm sure it won't be the last. My bigger problem was the food situation. There were over 200 passengers. It's a six-hour flight. How much food do you think they had on board? I'll tell you. Seven pastrami sandwiches ($7) and seven cobb salads (also $7). Oh, and an undisclosed number of "snack boxes" ($5), of which I saw a total of one (1). Apparently these boxes of food included, among other things, tuna salad. So to recap, that's airplane versions of pastrami, cobb salad, and tuna. I don't know about you, but I don't think I could come up with three more disgusting options.

Still, I was ready to eat pretty much anything. I was even ready to fork over the cash. But, as I was in an exit row about halfway down the aisle, my only option was one of the three remaining pastrami sandwiches. At the last minute, I chickened (pastramied?) out and didn't buy one. The thing is, I'm very particular about sandwiches. I didn't even regret it until the guy next to me pulled out a cookie and some kind of roll. It was just supposed to be the sandwich! Foiled! This is how happy that guy was:

Man eating sandwich
This is how happy I was:

Luckily, I had purchased a bag of pretzels before boarding (probably for about $9- I'm not sure because I willed myself not to look) so I was able to survive until In-N-Out Burger, about which I will write next. In the meantime, check out these websites I found about airplane food:

Vintage Airline Meals
Airline Meals in Miniature (I don't understand, but I know I want one)
One Man Resorts to Violence

Friday, March 13, 2009

New Links

I'm currently working on a post about author Tony Hawks but as usual, it's taking me longer than expected. In the meantime, check out some of the new links I added, thanks in large part to discoveries made via StumbleUpon.

The Maps of War link sends you to a cool and colorful 90-second explanation of the Imperial History of the Middle East, but there are other interesting maps in the site proper. Tangential side note: thanks to an ad I came across in my browsing there, I ended up at If you ever doubted the insanity of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, take a look. My favorite part is when one of the guys in the testimonial video says, "It took me twenty minutes to figure out why I was depressed and the depression instantly went away." Not to mention the fact that they use the phrase "less accidents" in one of the FAQs. It's "fewer," folks. Anyway, that has nothing to do with traveling. I'll try to work it into something in the future, though. I'm a stickler for tying things together.

Breathing Earth
is another cool, if slightly terrifying, site. I'd like to know who chose that particular sound effect. Rattling bones, anyone? Earth Album, on the other hand, has a much happier feel. Perfect for armchair traveling. And don't miss the World Sunlight Map!

In other news, The Armchair will be doing some actual traveling this coming week, all the way out to sunny Los Angeles! Stay tuned!

Come to think of it, what could possibly go together better than LA and Scientology? I guess I tied it together after all!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Colombia, Part II

I have a lot of books in my apartment. I like to pretend this makes me cool and interesting and adds to my overall intellectual street-cred. Unfortunately, for that to be true my bookshelves would probably have to be a little less Bridget Jones and Harry Potter and a little more James Joyce and Feodor Dostoevsky. Still, before resorting to Google, I had a feeling I could find some paper and ink information about Colombia right here in my own little apartment. As it happens, I did.

Colombia makes up .2% of Patricia Schultz' anxiety-inducing tome 1,000 Places To See Before You Die. Check your own bookshelf, you probably got it for Christmas a couple years ago. El Museo del Oro del Banco de la República de Colombia (the Gold Museum) in Bogotá is listed first. Listed second is a discouragingly expensive hotel (one of many in this book, thanks Patty) in a small coastal city called Cartagena.

Hadn't I seen "Cartagena" before? Yes, I had, on the cover of one of many unread issues of Budget Travel Magazine sitting in my living room. Big purple letters say, "Cartagena: Chic & Cheap. The Next Buenos Aires!" Incidentally, there's a little bubble above it containing the words "How to Start a Travel Blog," which I like to believe is an encouraging message to me from The Universe. Even his month's National Geographic (Photo Journal, pg. 14) mentions Colombia and One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book that made me want to find out more about the country and its people to begin with. Talk about encouraging messages.

Okay, so throw in The Internets and apparently I have something to work with. Let's start with the basics. Where is Colombia?

View Larger Map

Famous people born in Colombia:

  • Gabriel García Márquez
  • John Leguizamo
  • Orlando Cabrera
  • Shakira

Rock In Rio Madrid - Day 3

Have we peaked too early with Shakira? Stay with me...

No discussion of South America would be complete without mentioning that dashing hero of the Spanish American struggle for independence, Simón Bolívar (Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar Palacios y Blanco to his friends). Now don't be embarrassed if you'd always assumed Simón Bolívar was a woman. I've obviously known all along, but I wouldn't be surprised if you had been mistaken. In a nutshell, he fought the Spanish in the early 19th century and won independence for what would eventually become the modern states of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and Bolivia. Amazing, I know. Especially since he was in a nutshell that whole time.

The Liberator

Not bad, right? The mustache is problematic but he was way ahead of his time with the fauxhawk and popped collar. I'm going to put him somewhere between Alexander Hamilton and Albrecht Dürer on my list of attractive dead guys. Anyway, if you're going to go to Colombia (or pretty much anywhere else in South America) you need to know who he is because a lot of things are named after him.

People do seem to be going to Colombia these days. I know it's climbing my travel wish-list. There's something so enticing about the fusion of cultures (Spanish, African, indigenous) across Central and South America. Liz Ozaist, in that article about Cartagena in Budget Travel (which I actually really enjoyed), writes about hearing Cuban music, staying in a Moroccan-style guesthouse, and eating Creole cuisine. Geographically, Colombia has beaches, mountains, rainforest, you name it. And that Gold Museum sounds pretty fantastic. Sign me up!

Okay, so actually it's still kind of dangerous and there's a lot of crime in the bigger cities. And I certainly wouldn't recommend wandering off into rural Colombia by yourself. I guess I wouldn't really recommend wandering off in a group either. Real dangers persist. One of the biggest news stories of last summer was the release of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt from her captors of over 6 years, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or "Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia" (FARC), a group of militant left-wing rebels. Like most civil conflicts, Colombia's is complicated and difficult to fully understand. In the interest of maintaining some kind of integrity (artistic? journalistic?), I tried to read as much about it as I could before attempting any kind of summary. This is the best I can do:

The violence associated with Colombia today goes back to the mid-1960s when left-wing guerrillas, inspired by the Cuban Revolution among other things, began executing an organized insurgency against the established government. Various manifestations of this conflict continued into the 90s and grew increasingly serious as the rebel factions drew funding from the illicit drug trade (I know, you were wondering when we'd get to the cocaine). The conflict has been characterized by high-profile kidnappings and rural guerrilla warfare.

Colombian Military Launches Offensive Against FARC

It's easy to think of FARC (and other groups like them) as the bad guys and everyone else as the good guys, but of course it's never that simple. Armed forces on the opposing side (some officially sanctioned by the government and others not) are also responsible for high civilian casualties and human rights abuses. And of course, powerful drug interests influence both sides and occasionally, the government itself.

All of that being said, since current president Álvaro Uribe took office in 2002, things have settled down quite a bit. Now deemed a relatively safe travel destination by the U.S. Department of State, the British Foreign Office and others, tourism is steadily on the rise.

Please don't take my word for it:

Less Depressing Things

First of all, please enjoy some Colombian music as you continue to browse. These are examples of vallenato, a popular type of folk music (don't be alarmed by the spoken word).

SeeqPod - Playable Search

More about Colombian Music:

Colombia: National Geographic World Music
(my new favorite website)

Here are some really beautiful pictures taken by people who have actually been there (thank you Flickr Creative Commons):

If Your Curiosity Has Been Piqued

Adiós viajeros!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Colombia, Part I (Having Very Little to do with Colombia)

I tried to read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez back in 2004. I didn't get very far. In fact, when I picked it up last week to give it another shot, I found a receipt keeping my place at page 16. Apparently at 3:00 pm on April 21st, 2004 I was filling up my tank at a Hess gas station in Lowell, Massachusetts.

I hate Lowell. It's usually the standard by which I judge other awful places: "Well, it's pretty horrible here but it's better than Lowell." This is, of course, completely unfair and 90% to do with the fact that I was miserably unhappy while I was living there. That's also why I never finished the book. I was too busy listening to John Mayer and crying into my Easy Mac.

But anyway, in the interest of fairness, we should probably take a minute to talk about it.

Lowell, population approx. 105,000, is located in north-eastern Massachusetts on the banks of the mighty Merrimack River (which also runs through my hometown of West Newbury). It's very close to the New Hampshire border and all of the lovely malls and liquor stores the Granite State has to offer.,_Massachusetts

UMass Lowell, a satellite campus of the University of Massachusetts, makes up a major part of the city. You may also know it as an important center of the American Industrial Revolution. Tindall & Shi in America: A Narrative History (an A.P. U.S. History textbook I've saved for occasions like these) write:

In the early 1820s a steady stream of single women began flocking toward Lowell and the other mill towns cropping up across the region. To reassure worried parents, the mill owners promised to provide the "Lowell girls" with tolerable work, prepared meals, secure and comfortable housing, moral discipline, and a variety of educational and cultural opportunities such as lectures and evening classes. Initially the "Lowell idea' worked pretty much according to plan...But Lowell soon lost its innocence as it experienced mushrooming growth. By 1840 there were thirty-two mills and factories in operation, and the blissful rural town had become a bustling, grimy, bleak industrial city.

Well, there you have it. It hasn't changed much.

Want a list of famous people born in Lowell? I know you do because everyone loves to know where famous people were born. Here it is:

  • Bette Davis
  • Olympia Dukakis
  • James McNeill Whistler
  • Jack Kerouac

I heard a story once that Jack Kerouac failed to show up for a speaking engagement at UMass because he couldn't bring himself to cross the bridge that connects the two parts of campus. If it's true, I can't say I blame him. It's a particularly scary bridge that sits over what I now know is called the Pawtucket Dam. The combination of the cars crossing and the water pounding makes for a pretty shaky experience. And of course, like everything else in Massachusetts, you're never entirely certain anybody's bothered to take a look at it since it was built in, you know, 1765 or whatever.

As for Bette Davis and Olympia Dukakis- who knew! Well, I guess "Dukakis" probably should have tipped me off. And yes, she is related to Michael (cousin). It's also worth mentioning that Leonard Bernstein was born in Lawrence, NOT the next town over, but close and also an old mill town. Who knows, maybe it will be a Double Jeopardy question someday.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, on the other hand, was born in Colombia.

Come back later for Colombia, Part II, which will probably be about Colombia.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Armchair Traveler

My car is an absolute disaster. If Goodwill had a clearance section, I imagine it would look a lot like the pile of junk in the back of my little Accord Wagon. What I dread most is having new passengers. At least my friends, the frequent fliers, know what to expect. They've mastered the subtle technique of getting the broken doorhandles to work. They anticipate the sound of an obnoxious crying baby when I put it in reverse. They know that the Dunkin Donuts coffee in the cup holder is old enough to be a bio-hazard. The new passengers have no idea what they're getting themselves into. To make matters worse, they're unfailingly polite about it. It kills me.

Let's face it, a person's car says a lot about his or her place in the world. Obviously mine is not the vehicle of the financially secure. I'm sure there was never a good time, economically speaking, to be an indebted graduate student in music, particularly one with lofty ambitions to travel the [entire] world in some sort of nebulous "writer" capacity. But this morning, driving my death-trap to campus and thinking about the article I read over coffee about our country's dire financial situation, I had trouble imagining a worse time.


Actually, I'm an optimist. Or something. Economies are failing, wars are raging, the planet might be dying, and I can't even afford basic cable. I'm sure, though, that it will all magically work out and in a couple years time I'll be happily trekking in the Australian Bush or watching the Northern Lights in the remote Arctic or running from lions in the Serengeti (and coming home to HBO On-Demand, of course). In the meantime, the best I can do is come here to write about the places I have seen, the places I hope to see, and the places I might never see outside the pages of my National Geographic.

Come back soon and maybe we'll go here...

...or here...
...or maybe even here...