Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Air

Went into the studio tonight without telling a soul, just to feel myself out on the radio. No callers, no co-host -- now that Virginia's moved down the road a piece to Northampton -- and quite possibly no listeners, unless someone out there was spinning the dial in our tiny school-radio-station radius. But it felt good to be back.

In the long summer hiatus I picked up a few new CDs, and rediscovered some old ones; playing them tonight was a good way to get back into my own music, too, after too long driving a car with no CD player and, before that, an even longer summer series half a world away from the bulk of my life's soundtrack, a collection fast approaching the 500 mark.

Tonight's annotated playlist follows. As always, cover songs are starred, and I'll give a free amazon.com gift card to the first person who can identify the original performing artists of each cover song. Seriously.


Tributary Log: September 8, 2003

Bob Dorough -- Too Much Coffee Man
>>>our theme song, and did you know that Bob Dorough is most famous in the pop culture world for writing and performing the bulk of the original Schoolhouse Rock TV shorts?

*The Rembrants -- Making Plans for Nigel
Habib Koite -- Cigarette Abana
Jorma Kaukonen -- Big River Blues
Erin McKeown -- Hum
Biscuit Boys -- Coming Into LA
Chris Smither -- Thanks To You

>>>I've had this CD since I was a kid; it was autographed by Smither at a show my father took me to. Johnny D's in Somerville MA; I think it was my first time in a real bar. Good times.


-- bedtime story break: The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown --

Trey Anastasio -- Cajun Review
Keller Williams -- Anyhow Anyway
Gillian Welch -- Look At Miss Ohio
Girlyman -- Hey Rose

>>>You have to hear this group. Trust me.

The Waifs -- London Still


-- bedtime story break: The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein --

*Dolly Parton -- Shine
*Johnny Cash -- Personal Jesus

>>>The first "real" non-club concert I ever went to was James Taylor, but the second real concert I went to was Depeche Mode. Happily, I remember none of it.

*Nikki Boyer -- Brain Damage
Warren Zevon -- Don't Let Us Get Sick
>>>Except he did. Warren Zevon died today after a long battle with untreatable lung cancer. He was 58, just a year or two older than my father; I went to college with his daughter, in fact. I'll never listen to Werewolves Of London the same way. Don't Let Us Get Sick is one of the most beautiful, heartbreaking songs ever recorded live in a radio station.

*Patty Griffin -- Take It Down
* Girlyman -- My Sweet Lord

>>>God, is this a beautiful song.


-- bedtime story break: Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, recited from memory --

*Nenes -- No Woman No Cry
Eddie From Ohio -- Good At That
Bare Naked Ladies -- Light Up My Room
*Tom Landry and the Paperboys -- All Along The Watchtower
*Norah Jones -- Cold, Cold Heart

>>>Sadly, few people know this is a cover. Did you?

*Sarah McLachlan -- Blackbird



From folk to funk, jazz to jambands, blues to bluegrass and back again: you're listening to Tributary, your ten to midnight Monday night show here on 91.5 WNMH, serving Northfield, Gill, Bratteboro, Keene -- and you.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:57 AM | 0 comments

Monday, September 08, 2003

Monday Mosh: Back With A Vengance!

You remember the rules: Dance around with impunity; answer three simple unchanging questions; post answers here and/or in your own blog; feel good about memedropping. Okay, let's Mosh!


What song did you mosh to?

Restless Wind, a live cut off The String Cheese Incident's Extra Cheese, Volume II disk that came free with the SCI DVD. Just a funky feel-good ten-minute long song.

What did you bump into or step on? (Bonus points for breakage)

Nothin' this week 'cept the world's largest bug, and that was deliberate. It did break, though, so 50 bonus points for me, yay!

Why did you stop?

Had to go wipe bug off my shoe so I didn't smear it into the carpet.

posted by boyhowdy | 4:31 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Hear Ye, Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Convocation today, the usual pomp and circumstance. I'm a big fan of ritual -- not merely, as religion teacher and newly-ordained minister Ted suggested during the pre-event milling-around, for love of ritual itself, but most especially because I find the potential for interesting chaos to be heightened significantly when so many people have so much stake in such an ordered program. Ceremonies such as these are often arenas where small mistakes make big waves: the instantaneous visibility of persona and pride on a full community scale prime the pump, as it were, for moments to become, in-an-instant, part of a community memory.

On that scale, today was a bit disappointing. Other than a few easily-rectified program sequencing errors from the head of school, school songs went smoothly, the orchestra and chorus performing at a near-professional level, and everyone actually waited for the last row of seniors to get up for their recession before storming the exits, as requested. Lucky for Loki-lovers, there's plenty of ceremony in prep school life; surely, the next event will better serve my impish nature.

Subjectively speaking, the most striking aspect of this annual formal opening of the school year was the Senior class, who in formal clothes marched in slow procession past the faculty gauntlet to sit front and center, where they were easily visible from our own seats in the balcony. I remember teaching most members of this class, and they seem too young to be seniors -- indeed, despite their stiff shirts and spring dresses, and in most cases a few more inches of height or bustline, these could be the same raw prep school recruits I taught and mentored four falls ago. It's as if their movement in time has been an illusion; as if, for me, they will always be freshmen. I must be getting old, or at least settling in.


Blogwatch

New from Reed College freshman Will Henderson, a recent NMH and Media Literacy alum: lifebeat: rhapsodies of a young college boy. The blog comes to us courtesy of the MT-served Reedie Journals service, which I covet thoroughly, and if Will's student papers and projects last year are any indication, it -- the blog, not the service, though the sentiment surely applies there as well -- promises to be coherent, creative, and perceptive.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:30 PM | 0 comments


Fairgrounds, Fouled Grounds

Last Wednesday between media center coverage and dorm duty the three of us -- spouse, child, and self -- went into nearby micropolis Greenfield for a quick family supper at local fave People's Pint and, upon leaving, serendipitously emerged onto Main Street just as the annual Greenfield County Fair kick-off parade began their slow plod through the thinly lined streets. Here, umbrella-ed despite a sudden downpour just moments too late in its beginning to cause a parade cancellation, was the best of local half-rural life: shaky old-men's marching bands, preadolescent cheerleading squads, car-bound small-town mayors, dumpy girls dressed as Holsteins waving from the back of hay-lined tractors. It made a fitting end to a meal at the People's Pint, famed for IPAs, farmer's sausage quesadillas and thick grilled steak burritos, and other small-batch brews and fine and hearty foods made with local and oft-organic materials.

Having seen the parade, it would have been a shame to miss the fair itself; further, we had high hopes that Willow might enjoy it more than last year, back when she was just a tiny summer baby, a fleshy peanut asleep in a stroller. This morning being the only coinciding ole in our schedule, we woke not-too-late, headed out to the free roadside parking, and made it into the park just after ten.

Fairgrounds are funny things: in most communities, their purpose is spent in a single summer weekend. The rest of the time, they just sit there, unnoticed and unseen off the main roadways, the only reminder of their presence several small green streetsigns pointing the way into their small suburban cover neighborhoods. Today the park was still only half-full or less by noon, and the light crowd led to a light spirit as we wandered through barns filled with prize winning flower arrangements, apples, and quilts; petting farm stations and cattle pens; half the midway; a huge farm equipment showcase, and seventeen fresh-cut fries and cotton candy booths all aglow like Christmas. Willow liked the duck and rabbit showcases best, a half-lit and stinky spot where she clucked back at the chickens so endearingly I later won her a stuffed one at a water-pistol booth just to hear her cackle to it in the car on the way home.

And home was calling quickly, an unfortunate truth of boarding school life on the first weekend of the year. No racing pigs, no second lunch, no tractor pulls to come kept us around, though I wish we'd thought to buy tickets for tomorrow's crash-up derby before they sold out, as it turns out Chuck, the otherwise conservative English teacher downstairs from us runs a car in the derby every year. Instead, we left by 1:00 to get back to the dorm, long before the fair's weekend cornerstone, the eight o'clock performance of local hero Travis Ledoyt, "the best young Elvis in the business" -- and came back here so I could get to work.

Today was Community Service Day at NMH, a by-now annual first-saturday event which plants the right seeds for student works later on in the year and beyond, but which in the moment feels like one of those "good idea at the time" curricula in which little gets accomplished and even that's hardly community service. After a 45 minute discussion defining terms (What is our sphere of influence? How do they need help? How can we help?) and another 45 in the chapel being lectured to by do-gooders from alumni to current students, a few guys from the dorm and I decided to wander out into the 3400 acres here and pick up trash along the trails -- mostly because it seemed like real work, made all the more satisfying by the fact that all around us other groups were walking others' dogs, babysitting faculty kids, planting flowers outside their dorms, and, suspiciously, making banners depicting their community service project ideas. In an hour we found and kept enough glass alcohol bottles (remnants from last-year's illicit student woods-parties) to make my back hurt carrying my share, enjoying each other's company despite initial unfamiliarity, took it back, weighed it in our hands, felt proud of ourselves and each other, and called it a day.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:36 AM | 0 comments

Friday, September 05, 2003

Noting Blogger's Blogs Of Note

Over at Blogger, it seems the ever-ubiquitous "they" are finally updating the "Blogs of Note" section, and on a daily basis, too. BON, Blogger's very own blogroll, lives, of course, in the lower left of the Blogger home page, and by definition all blogs listed come highly recommended by folks who should know.

Comment 1: After months of glancing over at the same old MBA admissions blog listing, it's about time.

Comment 2: If anyone has any suggestions as to how someone like little 'ol boyhowdy might end up on that 'roll, don't hold 'em back -- I ain't ashamed to have the extra hits. Think maybe over-linking to Blogger might help?

posted by boyhowdy | 12:26 AM | 0 comments


In Other Technology News...

Molly reports via email that some random guy in Vancouver was using my AIM handle (boyhowdy25) without even realizing it; she chatted him up a bit, but they seem to have figured out pretty quickly that it wasn't "me" even though, by AIM standards, it was "me." Seems I must have accidentally logged on to AIM without disabling the "remember this loging on this computer" and the "auto-login" functions while on an Internet Cafe workstation outside the Vancouver Westin Grand, and now whenever someone sits down at that computer and boots it up, they've logged on to my AIM account. How odd to think that somewhere in the universe at a public, well-utilized terminal a quarter of a world away, a series of random individuals are masquerading as me without even knowing it -- and there's nothing I can do about it if I want to keep the buddyname, 'cept wait and hope someone else makes the same mistake I did sometime soon, in the process deleting my settings permanently from said workstation.

The reason I logged on AIM, of course, was to see if anyone I knew was out there -- if you remember (c.f. about three entries down), I was pretty homesick by then, a weary world traveller. Interestingly enough, the one person I ended up chatting with at that time was Bitsy, who was in my Media Literacy class the term before I met Molly as a student in the same class. Small world.

Also in the techmeme I'm having today: I've decided to live with the practically-ancient PalmIIIx as an extension brain for at least this term, despite increasing decrepitude, as all I really want of my PDA is a calendar, a phone book, and a memo pad, and the Palm isn't so old it doesn't interface cleanly with Centrinity's First Class calendaring software; Zack has a new webcam, but I'm not going to give out the address yet so Molly and he can have some "privacy;" my new job responsibilities brought me to real sessions on over twelve different computers school-wide just today.

Pictures from recent vacation coming soon, I promise. It's just that, of those twelve computers, none was my own laptop, though I carted it around all day in the back seat of the big powder blue boat in hopes of beginning the pic-work.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:11 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Bugs

As before, there'd be a picture here if I wasn't on a 28.8 dialup -- ideally something like a close-up of a mosquito, its long needlenose sunk deep into a landscape of magnified skin. But alas, it is not to be, so back to the bugs.


The NMH network, for example, is full of 'em. I couldn't blog last night because the firewall was down with the virtual flu; computer bugs of all sorts clog our mailboxes and our wires, corrupting hard drives and stifling proper OS functioning. Public computers shut themselves off after fifteen minutes. Our servers groan and flicker. I guess that's what you get when 800 new computers suddenly plug into your network all-at-once to begin the incestuous gabfest that only a new school year can bring, but this year's been a thousand times worse than previous years, partially because the incidence of viruses running around the Internet right now is at a pretty steep peak -- it even made last week's Newsweek.

And then there's the fleas on the dog. We only noticed them yesterday, bathed 'em off quickly, but I still ended up with a bite or two somehow; the cat didn't seem to have any, but just thinking about fleas makes me itch with the phantoms of a thousand fevered fleadreams. And why is it every time we leave the dog with Virginia it gets fleas? So many theories on this one -- does she have fleas? Is she taking our dog to slum with the great unwashed of the canine kingdom? -- but perhaps we'll never know. (Sure, we could just ask, but where's the fun in that?)

Of course, the reason the house is full of bugs -- like that orange-beige moth currently shadowboxing over by the uglier of two black lamps -- is that the solution to the problem "how will the cat get out when we live on the third floor" has turned out to be a brick in the downstairs door, plus a slight ajar-ness to the apartment door at the top of the two wooden flights up; when the cat wants to come home, he just nudges the apartment door open, and all these flying critters -- moths, mosquitoes, more -- that have just been hanging out downstairs by the entryway light come seeping in like rain through a poorly plastered ceiling.

Oh wait, it wasn't a moth. It was a big-ass stick-like thing, body just a bit thicker than one of those huge female mosquotoes, or are those the males? I can never remember.

Tonight, my first night of post-dorm-residence dorm duty was even infested. Sure enough, the new boys seem like a calm and focused group this year, but, as is generally the case, over half are new; how should they know that propping all the outside doors open with wooden wedges and ping-pong paddles lets in summer's leftover mosquitoes, bred in the nearby pond, looking for a slightly warmer night and a hearty bedtime snack?

But man, was it good, almost centering, to drive away and come home at the end of a verylong day. I never realized, I guess, how living so close to the kids kept me just a little bit buggy without even realizing it. It sure is good to be me right now, no matter how fleabitten or ragged.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:32 AM | 0 comments

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Brick Wall At The End Of The Tunnel

The extended vacation -- see previous blogentries for context if you're just joining in -- allowed me to miss much of the slow build that is the typical beginning of the prep school year. By the time I arrived here Saturday afternoon, just in time to meet a few new and nervous advisee's parents and scarf a few chewy oatmeal cookies in the dorm lounge with my dorm faculty peers, the first faculty meeting had long passed, my dorm's staff had planned out several orientation events in anticipation of the days ahead, and my department had met twice without me.

Students, too, our charges and vocation, had begun to arrive, buzzing and eager, in the days before my own arrival. Student Leaders, Peer Educators, and International Student Ambassadors were the first to come, that they might be trained in their respective peer-duties; then, with their guidance, new students, including an entire new class of freshman, began to settle into their dorms and social groups. By Saturday, too, early sports camp students had already spent days out on the field recovering their old skills and, for many of them, testing new summer-matured bodies. By the time I arrived, the vast majority of students were already here.

Missing the slow build means that, subjectively speaking, this year's fall semester here at Northfield Mount Hermon School has begun with the shock of jumping into frigid water. Though classes don't start until Wednesday, today returning students, the last to arrive every year, registered and began to settle in. Now the gang's all here; now the fun really begins. Suddenly the place is raucous, the plans others have made for me vague and hard to find, and I am needed everywhere.

Where less than 48 hours ago I was in summer mode full-tilt, listing the things I did for work since I awoke this morning to an early alarm would take an entire page and bore the heck out of my entire readership; I didn't get home until a few moment until eleven, after a long, dull discussion in the dorm about rules and expectations for the year.

The whole darn juggling act should settle down soon, I suppose, but, man, right now I really need a vacation.

To top it all off, the baby got badly cat-scratched at a friend's apartment today, and screamed for hours tonight when we tried retraining her to sleep in the crib after two weeks in bed with us aboard ship.

On the bright side...it's raining outside, and the road below is cool and shiny in the quiet light of the single streetlamp. It's so nice to be out of the dorm, far away from the students, to come home from work and leave work so far behind; I think I could get used to this.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:29 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Home

Storybook fingernail moon, larger than life over an orange horizon at dusk. Blackened hills; the electric hum of a thousand crickets and tinyfrogs; the smell of mown hay in otherwise-clean air. Murmurs in the darkness. Fluttering wings on porchlights.

Silent stairs. Darkened hallways, familiar slanted eaves-walls. Tinydog hiding in the crook at the back of her bent knees on the futon couch. Bare feet against rough carpet. Softlit corners.

The past receding, fading into that same horizon like the setting sun. The future shelved, hidden from the self. The present soft and gentle, yet heavy, a thick down comforter. It no longer matters how I got here -- this blog is no travelogue, and shouldn't be. What matters is that I'm here.


God – if you’re here, too, despite the skepticism of those (like me) who grasp desperately at logic all their lives – I know I don’t thank you enough, or think of you much when I am not in need; don’t keep your commandments; don’t praise your name:

I cursed you this morning when the car battery was dead after three weeks in my parent’s driveway;

I called for you too late when my daughter fell off the top of the luggage cart;

I cried for you in despair driving away from the dorm, looking ahead into the days before me, trying to figure out how to be in three places at once for the next nine months, and none of them in my own apartment, on the carpet with my daughter, at the table with my wife.

But here, in the peace of this home, my daughter and wife, my dog and cat, my silence, I remember you, perhaps not quite too late: Thanks, God, for this fleeting moment, and for those other moments; thank you for those moments you will bring. It is more than I deserve; It will have to be enough; It is enough: Thank you, O God, for these blessings before me; it is the home, the peace, I have always wanted…but did not know how to build on my own.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:11 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, August 30, 2003

If I'm Not Back In Five More Minutes...

Darcie will be increasingly annoyed. Sorry to skimp on the blogging, but the work-related email's piling up, and we have to pack tonight for a 9 a.m. flight tomorrow morning to Dallas, because the original plan -- Vancouver to Boston via Chicago -- was cancelled due to too light seat sales. Flying through Dalls will take forever, but hey, we already knew that most american airlines suck, right?

So, in the next few days, expect more stress, more substance, and more about:

Dinner last night at Vij's, the best indian restairant in the entire non-asian world according to the New York Times,

The Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia this morning, especially the fine open research collection, which was dense and rich with native peoples' artifacts from all over the world,

Bussing it to Granville (?) Island with Darcie and Willow afterwards, meeting up with Jesse in the market, and having some excellent Pale Ale at the local brewery on-island,

Dinner at a nice Italian place, mostly good for prawns and Veal Scalloppini, and

Frantic packing surely to follow. Until then, stay cool -- the weather's fine but the work's about to begin.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:25 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, August 28, 2003

The End Is Near: Last Days in Alaska

Mars is closer to the Earth tonight than it will ever be in my lifetime. Yellow and bright, a tiny moon, it looms over the horizon like a lighthouse. The waves below are choppy as we return to the open seas for a quick getaway over the Canadian border; the ship sways drunkenly beneath our feet and seats. If Darcie’s case is prototypical, the seasick-prone have all gone back to their cabins, where they lie in bed moaning and cursing the water below.

Although queasy myself, it seems important to jot down the day’s events before they fall through the sieve of my mind, for you, for me, and for posterity. The desire to preserve and share without my hard four-fingered typing rattling away at my wife’s now-tender ears has brought me to the ship’s library, a quick trip downship through the bustling and bright-lit casino. In the background, a string trio plays a merrily uptempo waltz in the nearby bar; behind me older postprandial rumblers flip the pages of out-of-date newspapers in their easy chairs. Regathering the day in the mind isn’t easy when the stomach rebels at the deck’s every lurch and heave, but here goes the old collegiate try.

We disembarked this morning into a cloudless warm Ketchikan, splitting up after a quick group answering-machine message to Aunt Lil, 80 years young today. Having learned a thing or two in our previous excursions, Darcie and I had decided to play things by ear today rather than sign up long in advance for the cruise-run excursions. Thus, while Dad and Jesse went off on a bus tour of the greater city, and Mom and Sarah hopped a boat for a two-mile sea kayaking adventure, Darcie, Willow and I set off to find the town behind the town.

And quite successfully, too, I think. Town was, as promised, more diverse and substantive than our two previous stops: where Juneau boasts little more than the state government, and tiny Skagway little more than post-gold-rush ghost-town history, until very recently Ketchikan boasted a pulp mill and a major fishing industry, and even though the mill closed a few years ago, dropping the local population from 24 thousand to just over 14K, tourism and a continued fishing boom in the midst of otherwise-global fished-outedness seem to be sustaining a much richer local economy and culture. Sure, there were the by-now-expected cruise-ship owned diamond stores and “craft” shops, but around the edges this place is still a real place, run year-round; around the edges and in the cracks Darcie and I managed to find a funky bookstore, several fun artist’s shops and galleries, and plenty of locally blended coffees and beers.

After several minutes snapping shots of rivers thick with salmon spawning and dying under the town boardwalks, and a Chinese lunch at the end of a long wooden pier called Creek Street – complete with cinnamon-tinged egg rolls, which I’m assuming was either a regional stylistic choice or a total and quite odd-tasting local anomaly – we joined Jesse and Dad fresh off their bus tour for the lumberjack show. It’s hard to imagine how best to describe the ten well-narrated events pitting world-class athletes against each other in contests of will, speed, strength, and balance which followed; it will have to be enough to say that if you’ve never seen a lumberjack competition, it’s exactly what you think – so be prepared for flying woodchips, souped-up chainsaw roars, and huge men wielding fifty pound axes. I know I’ve seen this stuff late at night on ESPN, so maybe some day you’ll get a sense of what this looks like if you’re a lumberjack show virgin.

Back on the boat just before sailing hour after a solo wander through town, one wherein I finally found an Alaskan Amber Ale tee shirt with the logo on the front (backside logos being totally useless when your hair is long enough to cover the design), revisited the funky bookstore for a native-design stuffed shark, shopped unsuccessfully for a nice gift for Darcie, hit the internet café to post yesterday’s blog, and, at the last, joyfully overtipped for a latte in a nice comfy coffee café because Alison Krauss’ Oh Atlanta was playing over the speakers. A swim and a hot tub with Jesse and Willow and Darcie in the setting sun, a beer on the deck with same, and back to the cabin to dress in tie and jacket for dinner – rack of lamb and tiramisu, both excellent – brings us right back where we started, with Darcie getting vertigo during dinner and having to have her dinner brought down to her while Willow slept in the ship-owned crib at the foot of the bed, and me retiring to the library, now nauseous from screenwriting in the heaving waves. Here’s hoping tomorrow’s Sea Day won’t be as nauseating, even with the time change back again cutting an hour from all our sleep as we pass silently over the Canadian border under Mars’ watchful eye.

***

Final day at sea. Up late last night – cigars and gin on the observation deck with Sarah – and a slight hangover this morning. Breakfast line, the longest I’d seen, left us scant moments for a small-scale family meal before a slightly ill Darcie went off for her final massage, leaving me with Jesse and a wandering Willow longing for Mama, comfort, home. The fog was thick until just a few moments ago; the abrupt foghorn scared the crap out of the baby, sent her running to my arms, calling “mamai, mamai,” and I felt helpless before her, and hid my tears.

Passing into Canada moves us back a time zone; this is now the seventh time zone change I’ve experienced in just three weeks, with two more due over the next 48 hours and then work early the next morning. I no longer know what time it is back home. My watches and clocks do not coincide. I’m expecting a difficult adjustment.

Not much else to say about a Sea Day. Islands creep ever closer and the waters are dark with driftwood and scum. Tiny birds dodge shipwaves as we pass, ducking underwater like aquarium penguins at the last minute, flying under the waves. The ship is filled with last-minute on-board shoppers, scarfing up their duty-free liquor and diamonds; the casinos are filled with squinting old men and women, money left to burn, cashing in that last hundred, hoping for a jackpot, or at least a good story for the folks back home. The lecture about how and when to tip, missed due to those long lines at breakfast, plays over and over on the on-board television. The naturalist says dolphins and whales among the islands until six, and in the distant waters darker spots bob in the waves, but my eyes don’t follow them; I’m all whaled out.

Behind me in the cabin Darcie and Willow draw pictures for the waitstaff, a token to hold them over until they can see their own children again, or for the first time, late in November. On the laptop as I type Patty Griffin sings “On Top Of The World” and I feel overwhelmed by the universe; I play my favorite sad songs – Phish’s If I Could, Deb Talan, Alison Krauss – and wish for those I could not bring. We’ll pack tonight, leave our bags outside the door before sleep, disembark by nine tomorrow morning: Vancouver, Dallas, Boston, Home. But it isn’t coming soon enough; I’m more than ready to stop moving; it’s long past time to come home in the evening, sit in my chair, sing in the morning to the mountains I know, take my family home.

***

Midnight; outside the stars are bright and the little dipper looms over us like a blessing, but the glow on the horizon says Vancouver all over it – all 65 Starbucks of it. As predicted, a slow and somewhat relaxing day. Orcas close by off the port and starboard sides today, their whiteness flashing into black at the top of their assumed underwater loops. Packing much of the morning, at least after Willow cranked her way through breakfast and fell head-first into the deck. Much filling out of forms, from disembarkation manifests to shipboard quality surveys.

Lunch late at the pool grill; dinner in “dress casual” with the family; a crowd watched Willow dance one last time to the now-traditional post-supper trio of strings – piano, bass, and violin – curiously listed as the “Anton Quartet” in the ship’s daily literature. Close-out sales in on-ship stores in which no prices were changed and which, thus, weren’t really sales at all. Tipping, which, thankfully, Dad handled for all of us. Beer on deck with Jesse; blog, (presumably) bed: we have to be out of our cabins at 8:30, for they need to clean the ship; the next shift of tourists arrives later that day for a trip down the West Coast, around Mexico, through the Panama Canal, and up into the Caribbean.

In the midst of all this excitement, about six thirty, a random meeting of the entire “original” nuclear family unit of my childhood – all siblings and both parents accounted for – wherein Dad revealed that he’s been checking in on the in-hospital progress of Uncle David daily from aboardship via rented satellite-phone, and the prognosis isn’t good. I hardly know David; we met once when I was young, a day trip to New York City; somewhere in my parent’s photograph collection there’s a shot of us all, Mom, Dad, Sarah and Jesse and Me, standing with this wizened, already-frail, well-dressed man at some famous New York two-floor deli. But I know of him: David is my father’s favorite uncle, a man who essentially raised my father, and who has no one else by choice – a retired army psychiatrist, solitary by nature, he lived alone after years living with his own mother, a master of the self-dependent life. Or, rather, self-dependent until recently, like when my father found him last week in his long-time apartment, dehydrated and incoherent at 92, having not left his bed in four days even to answer my father’s weekly call.

Now David’s in an ICU in a New York hospital, a quarter of a world away, and Dad had to call today to refuse surgery on his behalf just-in-time (hoorah for the wacky world of modern medicine, where even if surgery is contra-indicted and would probably kill an elderly and frail patient, a surgeon must operate unless he can get express and legitimate permission to refrain from doing so). David really never wanted to see anyone but my father, so I don’t think the sorrow I feel is that of the impending loss of David-the-person. But Dad’s clearly saddened at the prospect of losing a surrogate and partially-absent father, although he doesn’t let it show much – I’ve never seen Dad mourn, really; we’re all such private and reserved people at heart in the family, and a part of me is mourning for him, in a skewed empathic instinct.

But another part of me feels…well, it’s not pride that I experience when I watch my father prepare himself and support David simultaneously, in the ways that work best for and values both of their needs and limits, peculiar though they may be; not pride, exactly, but something close to it, an admiration and a resolve tied up together. May God grant me the strength and centered-ness to make the same hard decisions with the same confidence and knowledge, in the same calm and committed way, when and if I’m ever in his place – for I know I will want to; for I know here, too, is love.

***

Vancouver, B.C. Finally on land after an early wake-up and a very confusing off-loading process. Tried to check into the Westin Grand Hotel, which is – no foolin’ – shaped like a baby grand piano – but it was far too early for the room to be ready, so off we went, the entire family, past the circular public library to Gastown for a quick tour and some local artist small-size art for the walls at home, as it’s hard to figure out how to tote totem poles home when the car’s already going to be overfull with luggage from two consecutive trips, Dhaka and Alaska/Vancouver.

Gastown was nice the second time around but we’re all a but tourist-ed out; within an hour we were into the bad part of town, through it, and just as suddenly in Chinatown for a surprisingly nice Dim Sum lunch, and why is Chinatown always near the “bad” part of town? Willow woke up in Darcie’s arms as we finished the last of the wor mein and shrimp dumplings, and deep fried duck feet didn’t seem like useful baby food, so I bought pork buns to share on the way home and back we went to our big old piano-room. There’s a dishwasher and toaster in a cabinet here, and the windows look out on a big old crane lugging steel cable across the street; very nice digs inside, though, and comfy beds.

After hitting a sneaky-charge snag with the hotel ethernet connection – the directory says $1.25 connection fee plus ten cents per minute after the first 60 minutes, but then you need to agree to a $12.95 login fee to use the network for the day – I left Darcie and Willow there for a walkabout. No stores gone inside but lots of window shopping; it’s such a nice day the people-watching was especially fine, the sun warm and inviting on my face. Am now in an internet café, and from now on hope to be blogging one day at a time like a blog should be blogged.

posted by boyhowdy | 5:58 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

More Blogfodder From Alaska

Days 4b-6, I think. We'll start with Skagway day.

Skagway is the first incorporated town in Alaska, over 100 years old, a remote and still-tiny place where once thousands swarmed to a gold rush that made many more dead than rich. Now for five months a year the town’s 870 permanent residents and a transient summer worker crowd of over two-thousand host thousands a day off the cruise ship; lines. Today there were three ships in town, a light day for the locals, but it’s the end of the season and a Sunday; the stores – mostly the same as in Juneau, plus a few museums and shops reflecting the gold-rush heritage.

Darcie, Willow and I got a late start, and had to make a 12:30 scenic train ride to the Canadian border high in the mountains along the old goldrush routes, and it was raining, and it was cold. But we managed the morning okay, I think, buying little, seeing much. Wary of cruise-ship ubiquity, we’ve begun to shop only in those stores which have “locally owned business” in the window; today, this meant a funky espresso bar filled with long-haired locals and small runny-nosed children and the biggest oatmeal cookies ever, and a quilting store for Darcie, but otherwise treating the shinier stores as museums, not purchase-places. Much more satisfying, and it was getting too weird to keep bumping into the rest of the extended family in town, anyway.

The scenic railway was scenic and a bit longwinded, with a well-meaning tourguide (local) on the loudspeaker who seemed to know her stuff but with little rhythm for the job. The train was packed with the same faces we’ve been seeing on our boat all week, reinforcing the false but ever-strong impression that Alaska is really just one big Disneyland ride for this finite group of folks. Lots of pictures of bridges and gold-rush scenes and glacier-runs will surely follow when I’m home and the network access is cheaper.

After our return down the mountain, sick of tourist glitter, we spent as much time trying to find the real Skagway as we did the Juneau-clone shops. The small roads off the main strip were quiet and mostly residential; we bought Darcie, who had forgotten to pack a swimsuit, an almost-bathing-set of shorts and a sports bra at the local Patagonia store, and spotted the real Skagway: pizza places, Laundromats, supermarket, diner. Watched salmon die slowly upstream in the small clear waters on the edge of this tiny town; watched a small boy catch one with his bare hands out of a roiling glacier-runoff river, too, just for show. Walked home in the rain, past the seals under the gangway, through the security system at the ship’s entrance, and back to the lap of luxury, where AG and Al told us of their unseen children back home while making toys of napkins and paper scraps for the baby, their new surrogate.

***

Morning; Day 5. Glacier Bay. The water is a deep turquoise and still, its surface the texture of slightly grained glass. To either side of us islands float below landslide-scarred mountains topped with ice and snow. Two pointy-nose creatures – probably sea lions, possibly dolphins – when I went out for my first morning look; a whale off the starboard window at breakfast with Willow while Darcie read and relaxed in the cabin bed. And over everything: glaciers.

The glaciers come over the valleys between mountains like frozen waves the same green-blue color as the water they’ve created. Before them like landslides a grey grit forms, the residue of mountains pushed and scraped over eons towards the sea – imagine sliding into home at a glacial pace, so slow that no dust rises, and you’ve got the basic concept. On the scenic railway ride yesterday our inept guide mentioned that, like a finger pushed into a sponge, glaciers tamp down the land – thus, land where glaciers have melted away or passed rises up slowly like bread dough, or that same sponge taking back its shape: you can see the faint evidence of the process along the shore, where rocks have cracked apart in tulip shapes, spreading out as if from pressure far below.

We won’t disembark today; Glacier Bay is a protected area, a state park from water to mountaintop. Instead, there are special “events” on board – mostly sales of merchandise, where old ladies swarm upon overpriced stuffed moose and wolves like a K-Mart blue-light special, but also pea soup served on the Lido Deck at 10. Several rangers boarded earlier this morning and will narrate as we travel through the idyllic scene. Sports will not be held on the top-most deck as usual, for fear that balls of any type might fly overboard and disrupt the natural beauty, not to mention confuse the heck out of the food chain. Dinner is supposed to be a special sea-going formal event, with lobster and other oceanographic delights.

The Official Map and Guide passed under our cabin door overnight shows sight-possible flora and fauna: wolf, moose, bear, mountain goats, Horned Grebe, Guillemots, three types of whales. We might watch for them, Darcie and I, at the cabin window, or fighting the crowds on the observation decks with their blankets and their binoculars. But Mom has agreed to take the baby for a while later this morning so that Darcie and I can have some time together, just the two of us: odds are good my eyes will be elsewhere, and the blog that follows, perhaps, thinner than usual, for you can’t blog everything – sometimes, you have to just live your life, and enjoy it, keeping the best most private moments safe inside yourself.

***

Noon, I think: I now carry four timepieces, counting the laptop and palm pilot, and each reports a different time. Up Glacier Bay to an inlet where a glacier ends sharply at the water, a wall of striation topped by spiky points. The ice booms and cracks the air; pieces fall into the water, in slices and in frozen boulders both, roiling green water, sending up spray, making ice caves where before there were none. Many pictures taken as the ship turned around; from here, everywhere we go is part of the long way home.

The deck-side pea soup was spicy and hot; the air was, is cold. Willow returned just moments ago; we could hear her wailing for her Mama all the way down the hall; now she sleeps and Darcie stands at the rail outside, watching the glacial ice floes pass alongside us. It’s quiet, save for thousands of seagulls on the rocks above; they fly close past our balcony when we are inside but stay away when we watch for them, as nature tends to do.

A peaceful morning, then, the beginning of a homecoming too long coming. Turning around means thinking ahead, perhaps too far, but there you go, it can’t be helped. Still to come before we return to school as the students arrive: Ketchican tomorrow, a Sea Day to follow, then a day and a half in Vancouver again; finally, a day of flight – Vancouver to Boston via Dallas, oddly enough – and an evening in Boston repacking, combining Bangladesh and Alaska and Vancouver into one set of luggage and one single car trunk (and boy, I really hope I remember how to drive a car); a long drive home on Sunday morning; home at last and two flights up a hundred times to get all the luggage into the house.

And then work, looming on the horizon like a glacier, and just as heavy. The school year begins Monday, just far enough away for the creep of nervousness and stress to have begun its itch in the back of my head last night as I lay in bed with my family, trying to sleep. If it weren’t for the frenetic pace, the lack of privacy, the Disney culture, the thousand time zones, I’d rather be on vacation forever, but what is a vacation but the act of vacating one’s place in the world; how can one vacate something that never exists? It is this time that makes the other valuable, and vice versa; this life is good and strange and powerful, but it will be good, I think, to come home again.

***

Notes from aboard ship, too short for their own entry:

Other than the 8:00 dinner seating – far too late for any self-respecting thirteen-month-old – Willow is in her element. She wanders the ship with each of us in turn, calling out her favorite word (Hi!) to everyone she sees, pouting if they don’t respond or turn their heads. But most do. The average traveler here’s a senior citizen, her grandchildren already past this precocious age; surely most realize that they’ll not likely live to see another generation back home, and even those whose grandchildren are still in their own infancy haven’t seen them for ages. Hundreds of people know Willow’s name, and ask about her if one of us appears without her. No one knows my name, and that’s just fine.

People who live in harbors or otherwise inland don’t realize that the ocean isn’t the same from horizon to horizon. As we travel past glacier-fed fjords and inlets we pass over clear lines in the water, each marking a change in color, texture and chemistry. At first I thought these were the remnants of ships long passed; now I know better. The spectrum here would fit on a single Aquamarine crayon, but once you’re in it, the palette is vast and broad. The unseasonable sunshine in this temperate rainforest zone makes it easier to see, too.

I’ve had nosebleeds every day since leaving Bangladesh, most recently in the hot tub last night with the baby. Mom thinks they’re allergy-related, but if they are, why not in Dhaka, where the air was dirtier than I’m used to, and filled with unfamiliar microscopic things? I suspect the dry air has something to do with it; also, surely, the drastic changes in temperature I’m experiencing on a daily basis. Whatever the reason, if this goes on I may have to get my nostrils cauterized upon my return. In other health news – salmon tastes great but seems to give me the perma-runs, and I think I’m getting a cold. I know, thanks for sharing.

Best store so far, although I haven’t even been in it, as it was closed when we got back from dinner in Juneau: Wm Spear Design, home of The World’s Most Wonderful Enamels. As the website hopefully shows, local Alaskan artists Bill, Susan and Deanne makes and sells pins and zipper-pulls of the most glorious detail and type; check out, especially, the one called The Night My God-Dammed Drink Caught Fire, and the medical science selection, which includes full-color realistic-slash-anatomical-textbook-like lungs, hearts, livers, synapses, and spinal columns. I’m thinking one of the cross-sections, either an epidermal pin or a tooth; feel free to buy me one if you feel especially generous today.

Speaking of which and before I forget, you can learn much about the way the local economies work here along the cruiseline routes by asking shopkeepers what time their stores close – generally, instead of having regular hours, they’ll tell you closing time depends on how many ships are in port on a given day, how large they are, and how good business is in the mid afternoon. The reason Wm Spear Designs was closed the other night was that there were only three ships in port, a low number – it’s late in the season here, only a few weeks away from the end of it all. At the proprietor’s suggestion, I tried to keep the internet café open late enough to revisit the other day in Skagway by asking crewmembers to go there in the later afternoon, but they were all out playing soccer on the gangway instead, so there was not time to re-blog from town before leaving.

The oceanic wildlife here is incredible and, if you look for a while, vastly populous. In rapid succession just now on the balcony I saw: a larger-than-I-thought-they’d-be sea otter, happily paddling along on its back; a whole sequence of twice-leaping straight-in-the-air blacksilvery fish, large enough to be salmon or perhaps a halibut; a long, deep shadow under the waves, most probably a whale of some sort. All came within thirty feet of the cabin as we sped along out of Glacier Bay towards tomorrow’s Ketchican stop; the waves are growing choppy as we push on out of the bay into the open water along the Alaskan coastline.

***

Day 6; Morning in Ketchikan, which I’ve been spelling wrong all along. The water’s gone back to a typical deep sea black-and-blue; the only things I saw on my morning deck-sit were the more remote local houses along the water, small fishing boats, a few gulls in the distance, and a splash in the water which could have been something interesting but was equally likely a wave. It’s very dark in here, as Darcie pilled all the curtains before sleep, but bright outside – today marks the first morning of a sail home, so the sun will be in our faces for the next two mornings as well. The sky is blue and clear, not a cloud visible.

An hour later we’re nestling into port slowly, a be-tie-d man on radio assisting from shore (“okay, just a meter or two…if we can hold it here we should be drifting in in just a moment”); I write from the cabin balcony as Darcie and Willow dress behind me. Port smells like fish and fishing boats and looks bright and welcoming; some stores are familiar, but they’re not all along one big strip as they were in Juneau and Skagway, and the homes here run up along the hills in back in a manner most welcoming after a full day at sea. There’s also a much larger fishing industry happening here, as evidenced by the several long docks of sun-white boats across the gangway below us. And by the fish, of course: now dressed, Darcie spots and shows to Willow a school of big old fish swarming below; salmon, I think, so perhaps there’s also a fish ladder around here somewhere.

We meet the rest of the extended family in a half hour outside the cabins to wander together into what looks like a fairly dense and interesting town, then a day of wandering with Darcie and Willow, and possibly joining Dad and Jesse for The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show, which we can see from the cabin balcony, after lunch. The sign across the way here says Internet, so it seems a good chance that this will be the last blogentry ‘till Vancouver; think of me as we pass back into Canada, and I’ll try to blog again on Thursday.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:40 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Blogfodder: Days 1 through part of 4 on the ms Maasdam

a.k.a. Blogging By Boat

Day 1. First impressions, recorded after-the-fact:

Customs flanked by what will soon be ubiquitous kiosks: watches, binoculars, coffee, tees with cartoon moose. Pick up on-board credit cards (charged to your own credit card all-at-one-go, or in this case, to Dad’s credit card); all is part of the flat (but steep) cruise cost on board save drinks and spa services, which we will use, shops, which we will try not to use but will quite likely end up visiting once or twice, and casinos and art auctions, which we will avoid, as I have a gambling addiction detected early in life when I lost $180 in one go at a street fair and vowed never to gamble again.

The ship from up close is no longer, as Robert Cormier once proudly described a luxury home on the good side of the tracks, a great big birthday cake of a boat, but a mountain, a wall, a backdrop. In we go, and the mountain becomes a movable neighborhood, apartment tract and shopping mall all in one.

The two 2400 HP motors, one astern, two aft, are already buzzing the floorboards; by the time we leave Vancouver port the entire ship will become a single vibrating chair, no quarters required.

The cabin is much like the hotel room we just left, albeit much, much smaller, and closer to the water. If you’ve got a window here, you’ve got an oceanfront view. On the cabin desk, stationary with our own names printed on it, Mr. And Mrs. J. Farber, and an outline of our Holland-registered ship, the m.s. Maasdam. Must find out what m.s. stands for, and why it’s always lower case.

Casual dinner too late for Willow – we’re stuck with the 8:00 seating, table 61, all week. Steak like pot roast, but all-Filipino, all-male waitstaff friendly.

Crash at 10:00.

***

Day two, I suppose. Crossing from Canadian to American waters. One whale early this morning, a tail and a single spout off the water from the almost deserted deck. Too much food and luxury; I can feel my beltline tightening despite my best intentions. A cruise ship is no place to diet.

Afternoon passes into early evening. There are 1400 people on this ship, yet I can sit in the hot tub on the Lido deck under the half-closed dome and have the place to myself for an hour. My beard is trim from an afternoon stylist visit; my stomach has adjusted to the pitch and yaw of this afternoon’s rainstorm. Somewhere in the decks below my wife and daughter sleep, my brother draws, my sister wanders; somewhere below my parents may or may not be together, talking, reading, laughing. Somewhere all our fellow travelers do what they are doing, whatever it might be.

There are 1400 people here, on twelve decks, five of which are primarily residential. The richest among us live in the suites one deck up, some of which may be as large as our largest room back home; the vast majority primarily reside farther below, in balcony-less, even windowless cabins little more than a bed, a nightstand, and a bathroom. Between them is Verandah deck, our own, where each room has a small living room complete with couch, table, desk and television between the bedroom and the private balcony. Thanks to the generosity of my father, for this week-long journey, Darcie, Willow and I in live one room, Sarah and Jesse sharing a room beside us, and then my parents’ room.

Although there is surely a deck or two unnamed by our passenger maps for the crew to sleep and live upon, from our tourist-given perspective the “other” decks contain our fun and function here: two floors of shops, a library, an Internet café, and a two-story nightclub-slash-presentation hall. There’s even a large movie theatre, where last night the rest of the family saw Finding Nemo while Darcie, Willow and I went to bed too early.

There are 1400 people on this ship, and through a few will eventually visit sauna and/or fitness center, their weight will increase by an average of three pounds each over the course of the journey. Buffets run all day in the Lido lounge, first breakfast, then pasta, salad, deli, ice cream, supper, and late night snack. Near the pools taco bars and burger grills serve out midday meals to the not yet full. In the main restaurant, breakfast and lunch are semi-casual affairs, where waiters seat you at community tables for a menu-ed meal, but dinner is served at assigned tables in two shifts, 5:45 and 8:00, each evening; two dinners, tonight’s and one other, are formal, meaning tuxedos or full suits for men, ball or evening gowns for women, and the rest are informal, meaning slacks and button-downs – jeans are not allowed.

There are 1400 people on this ship, not counting crew – another 600 or so, waiters and stewards and busboys, roomcleaners and deck-swabbers, entertainers, hair stylists, masseuses. Surely captain and ship’s crew abound, although we see only glimpses of them in their sharp blue uniforms as they pass through like infrastructural fish in a sea of paid-for excess.

After a soak I sit with my Tanqueray and tonic and a Garrison Keillor book on the deserted deck and watch the water in the nearby pool flow front-to-back and back again with the movement of the ship, rising three, maybe four feet at a time before it ebbs away again to swamp the shallow end. Somewhere, 1400 people eat, dress, gamble, and otherwise live their week out, invisible on the rolling eternal sea.

***

The sea is growing rough, as it was this morning: the endless whitecapped sea stretches out infinite towards the horizon; I head downstairs. Darcie, whose head and stomach never really managed to adapt to the slight motion of the engines and the ever-forward movement, is lying down, feeling and looking green. The baby’s in her element, happy to meet-and-greet this near-infinite group of cruising mostly-retirees all afternoon, and after spending much of the afternoon happily meandering around the decks while Jesse and I chased her laughing, has finally gone down for a nap just in time for us to dress for dinner. In a few minutes, we’ll make our way two decks down and congregate at table 61, our assigned spot, where Al and AG, our otherwise-Filipino-named table servers, will try to convince the seven of us – Mom, Dad, my two siblings, Willow, Darcie and me -- that nothing is moving, and that we should eat well of this evening’s menu.

But we don’t. The seas get worse and worse, and Darcie in her lavender prom dress gets greener and greener; the baby remains asleep. In my tie and a dark blue suit that once belonged to my father I scoot out to find my brother, wearing an identical suit of similar origin, and we wonder together why Dad would buy two identical suits before I pass on the message that we’ll not make it to supper tonight, sorry. We have to rouse the ship’s nurse to get more Dramamine, and eat boiled chicken and toast with the baby until, after a short run through the halls looking for balloons with a well-fed Uncle Jesse, bed for the three of us at 11:00.

***

Day three, if you count the first evening boarding as a day on board. Morning; this afternoon we land in Juneau, and helicopter off to stand on frozen-ice glaciers for twenty minutes at a time. The water is turquoise and deep; on either side of us, the land begins to close in, rising high enough to top the clouds. Whales off portside before breakfast. A time shift for daylight savings – all day I’ll think it’s an hour ago.

Something’s wrong, and I think it’s me.

The women doing our hair in the salon yesterday are white South African. Their contract extends eight months with no vacation. One told Darcie: I miss my boyfriend, and we’ve got all that you see here at home – mountains, ocean, whales and glaciers. What we don’t have is work, because we’re whites. I realize it’s the first time I’ve been confronted with the way racism works in South Africa. Somewhere, intellectually, I knew that whites were a race-downtrodden class, but never had to think about this woman, whose best choice for work is to ride the waves half a world away from family and homeland with her hands in my beard.

The men – boys, really – who clean the rooms are mostly Filipino, like the waitstaff. Darcie reports a conversation with a roomcleaner yesterday who mentions a son at home, three months, he has not seen, and will not for a few months more. At breakfast before my massage appointment, while Darcie and Willow were off to the bathroom, a short conversation with the young Filipino waiter behind the waitstation adjacent to our table, who had been eyeing our blond and beautiful daughter. How old? he says. Thirteen months I say, do you have children? Four months, he says, a boy. I’ve never seen him.

And how long have you been on the ship? I ask.

Eleven months.

How long do you have left?

Thirty two days.

I assure him that he’s only missing the parts where a child is an object, and cannot love back, or play, and he smiles. I’m lying, of course, out of kindness, and I think we both know it. But the charade is all we have.

I’m reminded of how I felt in Dhaka, watching poverty from the back of rickshaws, through the glass windows of the backs of cars. Like George before me, I begin tipping heavily for services, too heavily, twenty dollars where two would do, even though stated ship’s policy is to frown upon tips.

But what I want to do is give everything I own to these people, and to the families and friends I know back in Dhaka. Three things that keep me from doing so: first, a sense of the ridiculous – what would other people say? Second, a sense of the futility of giving away one’s worldly possessions when one makes little and has no savings – what would I give? And third, a sense of the vastness of need in the universe – I could give away a penny to everyone I saw in need, but it wouldn’t make a dent in the weight of the world upon our collective shoulders, would it.

Something’s wrong, and I think I like it – the person I wish I could be is the person who frowns at these experiences, and struggles to stay distant from the luxury on board. But this is fast becoming the wrong place to be wrong like that. It’s hard to stay separate, and inappropriate to identify with the crew and staff if one is to truly take advantage of their services – and how can one avoid it, other than to stay in one’s room, the door barred against food and well-dressed cleaning boys? The ship is alternately luxurious and confining, a treat for the body but a split to the soul. I am becoming torn, and Darcie feels it too – we are becoming torn together.

***

Juneau out the cabin window as we pull into port around 1:30; we’ll stop here until 11, and move on through the silent waves to Skagway, and then Ketchican, a day stop at each, before another “sea day” on the way back South to Canada and Vancouver, BC.

The town looks bright and colorful from the deck, a slight line of small buildings and streets snug between the clean water and a green mountain looming steep and high into the clouds just a few streets in. It’s the narrowest city I’ve ever seen. Other cruise ships overwhelm the harbor, swallow the town, block the view. Juneau is only accessible by water or plane to the rest of the state – no roads have been build to connect the seaside cities along the Alaskan coast, as there’s no need, and the mountains are too high to be worth the bother. I’m reminded that, in less than a week, I’ve traveled from one of the most congested and dense countries in the world to one of the most sparsely populated areas outside of the poles and the deserts. Reminded, too, that much of Alaska is technically rainforest, or practically so – the “nice day” the captain promised is cloudy and cool.

Also struck by how cold it is in summer here. In a few hours we’ll be wearing gloves, hats, long underwear and winter coats, standing on an actual glacier, via helicopter, when a week ago it was 92 degrees Farenheit and too humid for my thick long hair and New England skin to acclimatize to. Of course, that was near the equator; here the days are 50% longer in summer, as well.

And Juneau seems a bit French for an American state. Jesse agrees; when we were kids we learned it as Juno, and when did everything become spelled in French? Jokes about Bosteau, Massachussemont follow in the typical family humor pattern of one-upmanship.

***

Dinner outside of town; who knew you needed to make a reservation immediately upon leaving ship? The originally-from-Arizona cab driver on the way to dinner informs us that many of the shops in Juneau – a typical tourist town, like Provincetown almost, but with even less local shopping – are actually owned by the cruise lines. This explains the on-board tv channel devoted to promoting some stores by telling horror stories about shopping gone awry (products broken, shipped glass never arriving) at the “wrong” stores.

***

Day four, or, as they call it on ship, “Skagway” – as opposed to Sea Day or Juneau or Ketchican. Morning – just about 9.

Waking up later and later each day; this morning at 8:30, even with the daylight savings time change just a night ago. Right outside a dock and a landing helicopter; when I opened the curtains and stepped onto the cabin balcony, a greyblack speckled harbor seal head was turning this way and that, like an owl’s, in the water directly below. Odd, when last night I fell asleep with the garish lights of Juneau’s touristy shirt shops and jewelry stores and artisan galleries.

Surprised, in some ways, to see no town in Skagway. Originally I figured it was because we were on the other side of the boat from the dock this time around, but then I read the daily “on board” greensheet slipped under our door last night: where Juneau town was right up against the boat docks, Skagway – a town of 600 residents and, when the ships are in, as much as six thousand tourists – is a quarter mile walk. Just docks down here up against the mountains. Not a bad change, actually.

Today the family separates – Jesse and Mom and Dad off on a wilderness adventure; Sarah rockclimbing the local hills and cliffs. Willow, Darcie and I have a short scenic railway journey planned at 12:45, and, now that they’re waking in the background behind me, will probably eat breakfast together and wander through town beforehand. A nice family day, just us. Maybe I’ll even have a chance to post this stuff before it grows stale.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:27 PM | 0 comments


Juneau Minipost

In a net cafe in Juneau, though I plan to buy a package for the laptop on-board ($55 for 100 minutes PLUS use of the wireless net card for the duration of the journey, still expensive but a far cry from the 4$ a minute I expected). Much to say but not to bother about now, mostly about the cruise itself, as I've been "blogging" by word processor during the journey and plan to post tomorrow morning when I finally get things set up there. We're docked for another hour or two, and I don't want to waste the time indoors, but since the cafe offers a great deal for me -- $5 buys a full hour to be used here OR in Skagway or Ketchican, the other two port-stops we make on the cruise, I thought it might be nice to save the big bucks for later and serve my adoring public by hitting a few of today's high points.

And high points there were. Spent this afternoon seeing glaciers by helicopter, a private hire for the entire family (Mom, Dad, sis, bro, wife and child). The helicopter ride was stellar, the view incredible and indescribable. Lots of video and pix will surely follow.

Better still, we landed on two of the glaciers; I can now report that glaciers are a deep blue, often gritty and dirty up close, and full of crevices that drop down forever and could swallow us all whole with nary a thought. Imagine some future alien culture half a million years from now digging us up? Weirdness.

Willow ate some ice off the glacier, lthough I couldn't bring myself to do the same. But the rocks in my pocket are still cold from the surrounding ice where I dug 'em out, and -- get this -- have never been touched by another human hand. Ever. Coolness, literally.

Fish for supper -- fresh Halibut Oscar, with local crab and store-bought artichokes -- at a restaurant a bit scummy-looking but ultimately full of locals with ties out for a fine night out, which is always the best sign of real food in a toursit town. Now the 'rents and the baby have gone back to the boat with Darcie, and the three siblings wander the streets alone. This town is just 60k people, a tenth the total population of this country the sixe of the entire Louisiana Purchase.

More later, already written, about whales, Filipinos, seasickness, cruise ships, etc. Until then, stay warm -- it's about 50 outside and getting colder, and the snow's been falling in the glacier fields above our heads already this summer, so think of me if it's hot where you are, and expect a full retro-blog -- about three days worth -- tomorrow. 'ta...

posted by boyhowdy | 12:47 AM | 0 comments

Thursday, August 21, 2003

All Aboard

Five minutes before I must leave this cafe-in-the-back-of-a-korean-sub-shop to catch a cruise ship to Alaska. In short, then:

Dinner last night with mom's cousins at a wonderful sushi restaurant -- Vancouver has the freshest and best salmon I've ever eaten raw.

Walking trip to Gastown neighborhood with Darcie and Willow this morning. Coffee, typical touristy moose-sign t-shirts, and lots of nice native American art shops which we'll revisit upon our return, as we've got another day-and-a-half when we disembark before heading back to Boston and, from there, home and work.

Boat impending. I'll be back in a week, but watch the comments below for new installments in Shaw's tinyblog during that time...including a Monday Mosh while I'm afloat, as I'm sure as heck not paying 4$ a minute for it. This is boyhowdy, your host, signing off from BC...

posted by boyhowdy | 4:11 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

In The Lapdog Of Luxury

Just a quick in-transit blog while Darcie and Willow nap upstairs in the Four Seasons Vancouver; it's about 6:20 here, a good 14 hours off Dhaka time, and we've got dinner at 7 with mom's cousin Kathy and her family, so I can't type for long.

The nuts and bolts:

Henry and I managed the flight from Dhaka-London and London-Boston with little problem. I was so exhausted after two hours sleep the night beofre that I slept the first four hours of the first flight. Spent most of the second flight comparing travel and culture-shock notes with a nice young lady in the next seat over who had just returned from a two-month retreat in Armenia.

Arrived at Logan a few minutes early but got stopped by too many customs agents trying to get through baggage claim -- perhaps it's the long hair, or the fact that both my bags landed on the carousel right on top of each other; grabbing them all-at-once and then taking off must have looked suspicious. Tearful reunion with family just outside the security gates was well worth the customs trouble, and Willow's leap into my arms was worth the whole flight.

Back to my parent's home for a two hour sleep shift and then up again at 4 a.m. for another airport, another flight. We met up with Jesse in Chigago and went on to Vancouver; everyone slept in the plane but me.

Checked into the Four Seasons by noon and went out for a trolley tour, about two hours round the city. I kept falling asleep against the window -- being up for 70 hours with only two 2-hour naps in there can do that to you -- but managed to stay awake through the all-imported chinese garden at the penultimate stop, and then through dinner at a verynice restaurant afterwards (oxtail tarts and duck with figs) before cabbing it back with Darcie and Willow to crash for about nine hours.

Talk about culture shock: Vancouver's nothing like Dhaka. Instead, it's an ocean-side valley city of narrow glass skyscrapers surrounded by the highest mountains I've ever seen; seaplanes fly overhead near the wharf, and we've seen only a dozen or so beggars, all hippies. There are over fifty Starbucks in a province of less than 3 million, a tenth the total population of this vast but sparsely populated country. The main shopping street looks like Rodeo Drive, and gets almost as many visitors every day.

I think I preferred Dhaka for what it offered, and miss home too much to appreciate this town for what it's got.

But we're managing, mostly by toursiting around town while we wait for the boat trip to begin. Went to the aquarium and petting zoo at Stanley Park this morning, and for another fine meal afterwards at the park pavilion, before the rest of the family -- siblings and parents -- headed off for city wandering while Darcie and Willow and I came back for the baby's naptime. The hotel lies over an underground mall, so I've been shopping and people-watching for an hour or so: bought a new caribiner watch, a wonderful and hard-to-find fave of mine (the batteries can't be bought, so you have to buy a new ten-dollar watch every four months, but hardly anyone carries them), and diapers for the baby but no sunglasses; right now I'm in an Internet cafe inside a drugstore, signing off.

We're here 'til tomorrow noon and then on the cruise ship up the lower Alaskan coast for a week -- rumor has it 'net access is 4$ a minute on ship, so probably not much blogging (if any) from there. Remember I love you all, especially some of you (and you know who you are), even if there's no time to email...and after a hoped-for blog tonight, I'll be back in a week.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:45 PM | 0 comments

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Leaving Dhaka

This will have to be a short one – Henry and I leave for the airport in a few hours and I’ve just now managed to get the packing under control. I did want to jot some things down here from the last few days before the long journey back to the other side of the world, though. The concern is less that I will forget the people, or that I will unlearn what I have become over this incredibly intense ten days (and has it really been that short a time?) – rather, I worry that I will lose the trees for the forest. If the truth really is in the details then there is no truth to be had in blogging, or indeed in any but the most tedious minutia, but if this trip is to be even slightly understood, it is important, I think, that we catch what we can where we can, and hope against hope that it will somehow be enough.

Two days ago, then, was the dawn-to-dusk hartal, perhaps the most orderly of opposition tactics, a day when a riot is called and no one comes, though the streets are empty of cars and stores stay open behind almost-closed gates with their window lights dim. Breakfast late ran into a short planning session for our last workshop day, followed by time enough for walking in the late morning through the silent suburban streets sans camera to marvel at the stillness.

George showed at 1:00 as promised with Tahira, his Bangla-American ladyfriend, and a triad of rickshaws The rusty ride felt precarious at first, but seemed safe enough without the motorized competition which usually smashes around the roads here. Azra and I, paired snugly between a solo Henry and our fearless almost-local leaders, acclimatized quickly, learning to lean into the rickety floor as we sped across the crumbled streets; Henry, a bicyclist at heart, even tried a tourist trick, taking a marvelous go at driving the thing while the driver grinned and laughed in his fare’s usual seat.

We soon arrived at the American club, the first and last Bagladeshi sign of what by now is surely a universal American paranoia: where George’s Canadian Club had a simple gate and sign-in entry, Tahira’s membership got us through the metal detector into a tiny entry room, where bags were searched, licenses checked, and nametags given. From there the world opened into a space quite large and typically ostentatious, where outdoor barbers, bars and creamie corners flanked basketball courts and playspaces. Tahira showed us the fully Western multimedia room, quite possibly the only one in the entire country, before sitting us down poolside at the cabana for buffalo wings, onion rings, potato skins, and other bar food typical of, say, my local pub at home. Had an Anchor Steam and then a new-try extra-light brown microbrew from Colorado called Flat Tire, and thought it a nice taste of home.

Back at the hotel, emboldened by the absence of violence or even crowds, Azra and I went off to support the economy some more in a rickshaw of our own, this time halfway across the Gulshan area. As before, shopping finds will remain unblogged until gifts back home are given. Hint for the traveler, though: rickshaws may have foldable headcovers much like a convertible top, but if you want your pants legs to stay dry, it’s better to do what the locals seemed to already know and carry a plastic sheet for the legs when the monsoon downpours begin.

Back for showers and fancy dress – in my case, a short punjabi over from-home trousers, notable primarily because formal occasions tend to bring out the western clothes for the locals but the long cottons for the foreigner as a default – and off to Topkapi, a local Thai/Indian restaurant, where the Aga Khan teachers and schoolboard had prepared a nice old-fashioned going-away party complete with endless photography and mad-dash-for-free-food buffet. Afterwards, Suni brought me home with her for a crown-fitting in her parent’s home-slash-surgery, because the crown had already arrived and, as Sumi said, better to put it in now in case problems come up tomorrow than wait and find out that something went wrong with no time to fix it. It was a late one, mostly because the crown, as crowns seem wont to be, was just off enough to warrant a tiny bit of other-tooth drilling to compensate, but things feel wonderful now, so hoorah for Sumi and Asif, the best dentists in the East!

And then to this morning, our last unless tomorrow’s mad dash to the airport under a still-rising sun warrants mention afterwards: the workshop conclusion, mostly evaluation forms and closing discussion and a ceremony of certificate-giving presided over by George and his VP Fatima, though Azra and I snuck away with Sumi during tea for a madcap rickshaw dash for cheese (sorry, dad, too soggy to get home) and some of those little dots that Hindi women wear between the eyes and forehead. From 1:00 – 2:00 saw the other two schools (primary and junior high) just down the street once the locals had cleared off amidst much handshaking and photography, where Henry and I, complete with silly western looks and, in Henry’s case, a lower-class-style skirt-like leg-covering he’d bought days earlier but not figured out how to tie until that morning, entertained kids by making fun of ourselves as we interrupted classroom after classroom. Lots of blurry pictures to follow – seems my camera doesn’t like the heat and humidity that much. Lunch at the hotel; chat with Azra and a short excursion for some last-minute mutual gifts before she got into the hotel car and left me behind.

And thus the end begins. Going out to the Canadian Club for a few whiskeys and a business-chat with George over a fairly even-match pool game was a wonderful opportunity, but in many ways it, too, marked the end of something only just begin: we mostly talked shop, thinking about the workshop and it’s follow-up potential, and although it was nice to have some time just he and I, with no teachers to look forward to on the morrow the exhaustion and post-trip drain has begun to kick in. A last supper with the rest of the international hotel crowd, with added tables as the group arrived unplanned, was a nice and quiet denoument, but knowing that Azra’s already left makes this place already a little emptier, and I think it’s time to go home, so it’s back to packing for me.

Fair warning, by the way: timing’s tight when I return, and I may not have time to blog before re-plane-ing less than ten hours after I arrive in Boston tomorrow, this time for that family Alaskan cruise by way of Vancouver. My hope is to stay in touch with the universe and, as happened here, it might turn out that access is a non-issue…but it might not. If I’m unbloggable there, hope your week-or-so goes well; I’ll be back on August 28th just in time for the first day of school. Hope you're getting more sleep than I am out there...

Oh, yeah -- and since it's Monday already here:


Monday Mosh

Song: Reasons Why -- Nickel Creek. Also the rest of the "sad" mp3 playlist I keep on my laptop: some Dar, a bit of John Cale's version of "haleluiah," etc.

Things Stepped on/Bumped into: Nothing, really. But my heart feels broken, I think.

Reason stopped: Packing with three hours to go before we leave for the airport.

posted by boyhowdy | 4:27 PM | 0 comments

Friday, August 15, 2003

Dhaka Days: Another Two-fer

As my visit to Bangladesh nears its end I’ve been trying to cram as much culture and community into my life as possible. Sleep is sacrificed for sharing, shopping, and self-exploration in the context of a cultural experience so alien it can hardly be put into words. A kind of desperation sets in as time runs out, and I fear that blogging has suffered in return. Tonight like all previous nights I am wholly exhausted; tonight like most before it I’ll choose documentation over body-maintenance even though I am reminded of the limits of language and memory in tandem: that no blog, no matter how long or thorough, can really capture as much as a tenth of what is happening to me, to us, to the universe.

In the interest of keeping blog-as-medium a reverse linear activity – to wit, a communicative infrastructure in which more recent information rises to the top of the blog like cream – I’ll try to put this one in temporally backwards. So:

Finally figured out why people in this country keep asking if I want to wash my face; I just scrubbed up a bit to keep alert during the blogentry and turned the washcloth grey.

We’d just got back from Asparagus, a W.S. Maugham-story-themed Thai, Chinese, and Indian restaurant choice recommended by the concierge, who I must remember to thank – we were getting sick of eating in the hotel every night, and Azra’s not a big fan of the spices in the weekly Friday night Sri Lankan hotel buffet. The mango milkshake starter was creamy and sweet, Henry finally got enough to eat, although via a strange combination of curries and garlic nan, fried rice, wonton soup, and a cucumber-heavy garden salad. Azra and I also shared a sharply spicy beef in garlic sauce and a cabbage dish in something dark and oyster-sauce-y. It was wonderful to get out for a new ritual just the three of us.

Shopping in a finally-found local crafts shop beforehand with Azra. As before, gift-recipients may be reading, so no details herein. Beautiful and finally ethic stuff, though – it’s been otherwise frustratingly difficult to find anything other than western clothes and eastern cloths, cheap in terms of both in price and quality, on our now-daily shopping excursions both guided and self-finagled.

We were dropped off there by George and driver Ibrahim fresh back from a lengthy tour of the Dhaka we’d not yet really seen, having been suburban-locked most of the trip so far – even the airport is just around the corner here. Many pictures to share when I return, some taken successfully from the speeding car window as we passed busses driving two abreast on potholed one-laners, others taken at the stops George had chosen as most sightsee-worthy: underwater brick factories run only in the drier summer months when the waters have receded; a high cement monument of pointy and immense proportions outside a teeming local market we were rushed past without even a thought for local roadside handicrafts, rough-cut fresh coconuts with straws, and sugar cane juice grinders of tin cans and simple gears; a new amusement park typically both familiar and yet essentially and uniquely South Asian; a bank of ferries and medium-sized picnic boats bullhorn-blaring the loudest music imaginable into the ether (George says that the louder the music is, the better the party is seen to be).

I had joined the tour late and lunchless, met at Westecs, a local chainstore much like a slightly larger and more densely-packed Van Heusen but with far better prices even by the value-standard of the coke translation (see below entries); I got there via Sumi and Asif, who had been drilling away at my root-canaled tooth in their home-based but highly professional dental surgery for over an hour previous while their young daughter drew in pen on the high dentist’s stools and the rest of our international party relaxed and lunched at the hotel after a prayer-shortened penultimate day of PowerPoint teaching all Henry’s aegis. Yes, that’s right, I went for the crown-work here after all – Sumi’s by now a trusted friend and student, and when I found out that she had a husband whose specialty was not only root canals and capping but lecturing on same subject in the local dental college, I couldn’t resist taking the Lonely Planet guidebook up on their suggestion that, and I quote, “Dhaka has excellent dentists, and if you have a lot of work to do (eg, root canal) you can probably pay for your trip by using them instead of a more expensive dentist in the west.” As the price paid was less than a tenth of what it would cost in the west and my dental insurance is all used up until next Januray, long after the temporary filling was expected to crack, I think – I hope – that both they and I got a good deal financially out of the work, although I feel a little badly about realizing and acting on the possibility so late in the game, as it seems to have cost the family their weekend afternoon off.

Work had ended at 11:00 this morning, of course, as this is a Muslim country, and Friday afternoon is prayer throughout the city, even if not much was closed as we had expected. Surely there were many at prayer, as Ibrahim said that the roads were much less busy than usual (though they still seemed madly congested and dangerously scary to me), but it seems to only come up in the internationally-typically-secular middle class when things break on Fridays: Sumi said that the reason was that the thingee they use to suction spit out of mouths during surgery was breaking down was that “nothing works on Fridays;” George had said the same when we saw a bus half off the road during our later fast-paced tourism jaunt.

Last night was an eye-opener, too: the entire international group of fourteen (including George) had been invited to the extraordinarily upper-class home of a borad member and her Pharmeceutical-company-owning husband, but the nominal reason for the event was that the High Commissioner (Ambassador) of Nigeria to Bangladesh was being bid farewell after a stint of several years. As guest-of-honor, the in-passing Ambassador was too busy to do more than shake hands, but I managed to have some wonderful conversations with a holy-God-host of other Ambassoadorial types from all sorts of amazing and fascinating countries while the rest of the Aga Khan visitors, apparently not as naturally socialite-ist as I am, mostly talked among themselves on a couple of couches. Collected business cards from the world’s powerful people and spent most of the evening chatting with the Ambassador from the Philippines, a man of encyclopedic knowledge and a surprising interest in issues of language, symbology, media and communications. The food was exquisite, and other than green watermelon and the world’s largest in-shell giant prawns, indescribable.

Yesterday afternoon had been for local shopping. Sumi took us to a too-hot and too-crowded building crammed with tiny shoppes selling saris and silk, once we all sweat through our clothes in a matter of seconds we waited in the van while the two members of our party from India worked bargain-basement miracles for saris not to the taste of the rest of us. After balloons for Patricia in honor of her birthday, we went back to the shopping plaza of the day before, where Azra and I never made it off the almost-all-silk third floor despite men’s clothes just one floor down which both of us wanted to ultimately browse but had no time for. To my immense disappointment the silk available to travelers here in this country is so incredibly thin, and of such poor quality, that it would have no practical use in a country not characterized by sari-wearing and daily summer heat in the mid to high nineties. I ended up buying only a few cotton cloth strips intended as saris but surely most likely to end up table runners or even wall hangings back home.

And before that, work, including some great conversations about cultural change and east-west cultural outlooks with visiting-from-Canada teacher Hugh, and of courts the usual morning breakfast buffet, where I was brave enough to try the cheap mutton sausages but never got past their shiny hot-dog looks, and before that the documentation’s already occurred; see previous entry for more if you’re just back from hiatus or new to the blog herein.

Haven’t tried emailing Darcie in a few days because I’ve been unable to get to my school-based email account server; I’m assuming the US East Coast blackout which makes the newspaper front-pages here is affecting home as well. I hope she’s reading the blog nonetheless. Baby, are you out there? I miss you terribly (haven’t had much practice at it, I suppose, which is a wonderful thing), and hope things are well; let me know any way you can what’s going on at home.

By the way – in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the timestamp which accompanies each blogentry is still set to the stateside clock. For those keeping score, it’s just about three a.m. again, and I have to call George tomorrow morning at 8:30 to make hartal-safe arrangements to visit the American Club before the entirety of our teaching-and-learning group, both international travelers and local Aga Khan-ites, are taken out to dinner by the school board. Here’s hoping I can stay awake that long. Maybe the expected riots, low-key though they may turn out to be, will help.

posted by boyhowdy | 4:29 PM | 0 comments

Thursday, August 14, 2003

I am writing this here in class!

Please don't worry, this is just a teaching example.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:56 AM | 0 comments

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Yesterday: Downpour in Dhaka

Note to regular readers -- this entry has been temporarily modified for teaching purposes. Please don't be confused; yes, this entry has changed since you last visited.

Finally, monsoon season lives up to its name, waking me this morning with rooftop drums at six with the alarm impending; the patio across the way buried under the three inches it could contain before spilling over down the narrow back steps., the resident dog usually sleeping on selfsame patio nowhere to be seen. The rain continued through the drive and the workday morning; though the three-inch-an-hour neverending did let up a bit during our drive over to the school, the roadside canal overflowed onto the main road all the same, and passersby rode their bicycles through ankle-deep flood conditions one-handed, umbrellas ineffective before them.

The lab was thick with humid air when we arrived, but the NetMeeting activity seemed well-received and the network slightly more accepting and forgiving with NetMeeting than yesterday’s email disaster. Work is surely boring to my readers, so although it is much of what we now do all day, and although not including it in the blogentries will surely shorten them, I will no longer be including more than the thinnest content-mentioning details unless there is high demand for it, and, well, I’d be surprised.

The skies finally cleared by four as we international travelers arrived in van and car at the Canadian Club for shmoozing with George and Peggy, the Canadian spouse of Aga Khan School exchange teacher Hugh. Most significant discussion at the club involved the universal value translation potential of Coca Cola, something which I think I discovered on my own but which George believes he has read about somewhere. If you’ve never tried this method, I highly recommend it; it’s a much more useful way to compare value (as opposed to raw cost) than dollars-to-taka: the basic idea is that if you want to figure out whether you’re paying too much for a given service or good in a foreign country, figure out how much a coke costs in each country and compare accordingly. For example, what at home would be a nice cotton button-down costs $30, and a can of coke costs maybe 75 cents; here, a can of coke costs 12 taka, or about a quarter, so a nice button-down shirt should cost about 40 cokes, or 480 taka. As good shirts DO cost about 480 taka here, and that’s about 8 bucks, what this teaches you, it seems, is that the dollar here has about a three-or-four-to-one buying power, so you should buy as many shirts as you can, except not at the local Van Heusen store, where the mark-up averages out at about a thousand taka, clearly a price for westerners.

No longer sure what day it is…


Today: Dollars in Dhaka/Buying Up Bangladesh

…fell asleep last night mid-blog at about 7:00 p.m; woke briefly at 8:30 to hit the hotel restaurant but realized immediately upon entry that I was essentially sleepwalking and went equally rapidly back to bed for the first full night’s sleep I’ve had since leaving Logan. Sorry to keep y’all waiting; if it helps, know that I dreamt about blogging all night.

Anyway.

Up, refreshed, by 5:00 to drop ultimately unuseful and unused random pix from hard drive to disks in anticipation camera-to-computer glitches in today’s morning workshop module on photomanipulation, mostly discussing Microsoft Photo Editor, as software here is either MSOffice or nothing. Took some pix of uniformed kids from the nearby junior high school playing football (what we Americans call “soccer”) during tea. At lunch Azra and I holed up in a small classroom to redesign yet again the afternoon curriculum on assignment and assessment over the by-now usual take-out, today a spice mutton curry which I enjoyed immensely even after finally realizing that, in this part of the world, “mutton” means goat. In anticipation of tomorrow’s curriculum on both advanced and teaching-specific uses of MSWord and, more usefully, how writing changes in a digital age, showed Kamel, the school’s Professional Development Coordinator and a teacher of English, Eric J’s webraw-based invaluable, accessible, and highly recommended page on Writing and the Web, to which I would link here if I was not paying 4$ an hour for an Internet connection.

Worth noting, though, just for consistency’s sake, that the above paragraph breaks pretty much every rule Eric and I agree upon in his now-international curriculum component. Sigh.

After school a couple of the female teachers here took the international crowd to a local shopping plaza for what George calls “supporting the local economy.” As many of the people for whom I bought gifts read this blog, I can’t say much about that experience without spoiling everyone’s fun, but I will point out that what Bangladesh is best known for worldwide in terms of quality goods is Van Heusen and other American-brand shirts, so it’s beginning to look like the gift-giving will be a bit sparse this trip unless folks at home are interested in the same thing they can get at home, except cheaper.

Azra and I wrangled an invitation to the middle-class suburban home of one of our tour-guide teachers post-shopping, which was a wonderful cultural and interpersonal experience in and of itself. Urban planning is apparently not at all a familiar concept here, as road-blocking construction was taking place on both ends of her suburban street when we arrived, and Ibrahim, George’s driver, had to drive over steel core to get into the gated driveway. Nevertheless, although some cultural differences are endemic to all groups here in Bangladesh, the contrast between classes here is incredible; while our host prepared a wonderful tea of pound cake and kebab, and I stroked her young son’s pet quail Errol (not a euphemism, thank you very much, and note the Harry Potter reference, itself a kind of universal language), a young impoverished houseboy of just a year or two younger than Errol’s owner tried to impress us by scrubbing the glass-topped table at my elbow. [note to non-Easterners: lest you think it odd that a young boy would be employed as such, although this is no place for a treatise on the machiavellian choices necessary to kee everyone fed and alive in a young developing nation, it’s worth pointing out that such employment really does turn out to be the best option for such a young boy from the his particular economic class and background]

Speaking of the underclass, if you’ve ever seen huddled crowds traveling on the shiny curved roof of a train as it crosses in front of your car at a railroad crossing where the electronic red-and-white traffic bar doesn’t work, and a second barrier needs to be lowered by hand to keep drivers from getting smashed to pieces by a train, as we did on the way back to the hotel, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. One man was even walking backwards on the train roof, precariously hovering over the same ground as the train moved slowly forward under his feet.

The evening was uneventful save for a happy unplanned chat with Darcie, followed by a heartbreaking phonecall with Willow, who said “hi daddy hi daddy hi!” before clearly feeling a bit unsettled by my voice and demanding to nurse, followed by supper and, as usual, more curricular planning. And now…oh dear, is it really 2:30 in the morning? Goodnight, folks; stay cool…tomorrow this blog becomes a curricular example, so I better not break any further rules of digital discourse.

posted by boyhowdy | 4:29 PM | 0 comments
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