Wednesday, June 01, 2011

San Juan

Tracking back a couple months:

Spring break this year bore the traits of classic spring break. Tropical weather, beaches, palm trees, good food, sweat, some tromping in the rain forest, and complete removal from the daily grind. It was amazing. I love San Juan.

San Juan

The old town was perhaps more picturesque than I even imagined it would be. Near to the center was this sort of drug-infested yet colorful neighborhood called, I believe, La Perla. We were about to descend into it when a very tall, very conscientious and possibly very high man muttered something about "only drugs down there" and we decided to change direction. It was quite lovely from afar, however.

San Juan

It was bordered on one side by this extraordinarily pristine cemetery, in which I took many, many pictures. I've never seen a cemetery right on the sea like this, let alone one that sparkled with such marble and melancholy. Imagine stifling heat as you look at these, because it heightens the surreal quality of the scene.

San Juan

San Juan

The old town was very small, but we spent much time there. The people were friendly (and surprisingly good-looking! Seriously, there was an extraordinarily high percentage of attractive folks), the streets were sweet and enticing, and there were little squares and markets everywhere that made dawdling not only easy but practically necessary. However:

San Juan

Yeesh! I don't think I've ever noticed how scary-big cruise ships are. They're like little cities on the water that could be disbursed to troubled islands in need but instead are full of masseuses and comedians and yoga teachers and I don't know what else. (I am referring, of course, to the ship on the right). I am serious about these ships going on rescue missions. Do they do that already and I have simply not noticed?

We spent some time outside of the city, as well, most notably on the eastern edge of the island. There we found a national park and even embarked on a fantastically magical nighttime kayak trip through a mangrove channel that ended in a lagoon full of bioluminescent water. The rain forest, true to its name, was rainy for much of the day, but it wasn't much of a deterrent.

El Yunque

El Yunque

It did, however, make the rocks a bit slippery.

I was quite unhappy to leave San Juan, honestly. I have been practicing my vacation state of mind in my more everyday and humdrum life, however, and it has been going swimmingly. Without the balmy and unscheduled days it's a bit of a strain, but I've averted quite a bit of stress just by willing it away, which has been somewhat miraculous. I highly recommend it.

Next up: my midwestern vacation!

Friday, March 25, 2011


This is how I celebrate:

Swan Point 3/11

Friends from out of town, a momentary whim that caused me to take a bunch of jumping photos (thanks in part to this blog) and the trusty and fantastic camera that was given to me by my father a few years ago made for a perfectly lovely day hunting in vain for the tombstone of H.P. Lovecraft. Navigating by rare, unusual or otherwise notable trees, we found our way to his supposed location, to no avail. We did not let this bring us down.

Swan Point 3/11

It's as if that picture makes a sound, maybe of popping or of a spring being sprung. Weirdly, when I look at this, I am continuously afraid that he'll come crashing to the ground. I am fairly certain that that will not actually happen. I'll let you know if it does.

Speaking of spring: welcome to it. It's still a bit shy to emerge around here - it's currently about 29°F and we had a few snow showers in the last week - but winter is somehow, intangibly, definitely over. Maybe by the end of this next extra-fantastic-no-school-week, there will be some other flowers joining the sturdy little crocuses that are scattered about. I cannot wait for flora.
Until then, I'll enjoy my time off.

Swan Point 3/11

This is how I act my age.

Friday, March 04, 2011

South County

I guess I should say, however, "South County"; it's actually Washington County. Rhode Island has a whopping Five! Whole! Counties!, and the southernmost of those is most often referred to by its nickname. I don't know why.

(Other counties: Newport, Kent, Bristol, Providence. If I ever get picked up by Cash Cab, I hope this is one of the questions they ask me).

Geographical digression aside, there is some beautiful land in the southern part of the state. We went, specifically, to Arcadia Management Area, which holds the tallest waterfall in Rhode Island. The rain and swiftly melting snow made the waterfall swell, so it was quite monumental:

RI's largest waterfall

It is currently, apparently, twice the size that it was in summer. I can say, at least, that it sounded really big, and it was made a bit more exciting because of the snow and ice on the ground; the slight chance that the ground would give way to freezing, rushing water did give the experience an extra tinge of adventure. (Yes, of course, the location of the trees helped to indicate where the true banks were, but I played at adventure nevertheless). Thrill was totally superfluous, though. I mean really, check this out:

South County

There was nobody else out there, and it was beautiful and silent except for the water, and despite the fact that I am beyond ready for winter to sink into spring, this was like a fairy tale landscape after the previous night's few inches of snow. Time-wise, I couldn't totally afford to take this hike; everything-else-wise, I couldn't afford not to. Five and a half miles took about two and a half hours, so we were moving at just over two miles an hour; with the snow a foot deep in some places, that's actually not so bad. I was sore and exhausted in the best way.

South County

And today, though it's still very cold, the sun is shining and the snow is melting, and I actually caught the smell of grass and earth on the walk home. Spring officially begins in about three weeks, which reminds me: Brad says that once, in grade school, his teacher told the class that it was officially the first day of spring, so he asked her if that meant he should start wearing shorts. I laughed when I heard that story, but I am beginning to see some merit in it. Maybe if I start wearing springy clothes, spring will move in to accommodate me. Might as well give it a shot.

And a final unrelated note: every single teacher in Providence has been pink-slipped. Ultimately, the mayor expects only ("only") about forty percent of them will actually lose their jobs. "Only" = 800 teachers? So I guess approximately 24,000 students will have to fend for themselves from now on? File this under "Education: Who Needs It?"

Send luck. Until next time.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


I have so far managed to stick to all the rest of my New Year's resolutions, but the resolution regarding blogging more has somehow eluded me. There are a few reasons for that, mostly too boring to mention, but the basic gist of it is: lots of catching up has made the first few weeks of this semester a bit more stressful than it ought to have been. I have only myself to blame.

Now that I have finally "caught up" (tentatively placed between quotation marks because of the extreme temporality of this state), I thought I would sit down and report back. And so:

I don't have much to report. Whoops again! All my talk about keeping an eye out for interesting things has also been backseated. Yes, I've had some delicious dinners with friends, played plenty with my hopelessly adolescent cats, and put a lot more active thought into eating (which, I should mention, has a lot to do with a part of my resolution with which I have been successful), but I have had practically no time for Actual Wandering. My one real jaunt during the month of February took me to Northampton for a concert, which was perhaps the first time I have seen live music in about, oh, two years or some similarly too-long amount of time. The train across Massachusetts whipped me by trees that convinced me that "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" was in fact based on real experiences of the Brothers Grimm:

Cherry Blossom v Snow

I was, unfortunately, unable to get a decent picture of a phenomenon which I have not actually seen before, in which the sun was refracted through small bits of ice held to the crooks and ends of every branch of every tree, which gave the impression of trees with diamonds growing in place of leaves. Because of the growing heat of the sun, there was a very small window of time in which this combination was possible, and the trees, flashing, flashed past and were gone. You'll just have to take my word for it: it was extraordinary.

Northampton, too, was quite beautiful:


See how delightfully snow-covered everything is? No, really:

Northampton Car

Maybe for the owner of that car, snow-covered does not equal delight. Similarly, the heavy, stubborn icicles hanging from roofs and eaves were most likely not entirely pleasing to the residents of the houses to which the roofs and eaves belonged. Structural damage was clearly occurring in a variety of ways; for instance: a particularly thick and angry sheet of ice was melting into the wall of the friend I went to visit. She was none too happy. We had, however, a lovely time.

As February deepened, however, and the snow refused to melt, winter began to seriously wear out its welcome. Here it is, almost March, and there is still snow on the ground, some of which has been there since the middle of December and is unbelievably filthy. I haven't been suffering from the same seasonable blahs as some others, but I am ready for the first blossom of spring, I'll tell ya. My California blood has grown tired of this.

I said it before and I'll say it again: I'll be back more often. This time, however, blank passing weeks will not prove me wrong. See you soon.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It Begins Again

In a couple short days, the semester commences. So ends the blissfully lazy days of the last few weeks, in which my brain was allowed to wander where it pleased and my hours were divided between Something and Nothing pretty evenly. Without a schedule, I lost, for a few days, the ability to structure my time, and I reveled in it. I'm sure it'll come back to me pretty quickly as soon as every hour is once again reserved for some task or another.

Of the Something: shoveling snow, and shoveling snow, and shoveling snow; various university-related tasks whose doing was neither unpleasant nor stressful; getting to know my environs a bit better, with the help of Actual Friends; cat-sitting for an old and persnickety but lovable and goofy old cat; and devising plans to instate my resolutions for the new year, which involves, of all things, a pedometer. I've never used one before, but apparently there are about 2000 steps in a mile, and so my goal to begin with is to walk a cumulative and approximate four miles a day, which may be difficult in the ice and snow that has been covering the ground for well over a month now. Some images of Something:



Similarly, images of Nothing:



Of the Nothing: it's hard to describe nothing. Reading and writing and thinking back, thinking forward; short trips and snow-filled shoes; cat naps, complete with cats; recounting and describing things in my head that I would at one point have recounted and described out loud; commiserating with friends on endless subjects, both personal and public; and wandering. Oh, the wandering. A semester's worth of hurrying makes the afternoons of wandering like an unattainable dream come to life, especially with the brisk winter air and the crunch of dehydrated snow underfoot (and yes, dehydrated snow seems like an oxymoron, but I'm sure you catch my meaning). The holidays were, once again, spent far from family, but at least this time we share a continent.

And so it all begins again. One of my resolutions this year is to allocate time for decompression, which means that my blog will not be quite so neglected, and I assure you, I have a good track record with resolutions, so this is not an empty promise. The fact that I will be around these parts more often means that I will have to constantly be on the lookout for new and interesting things to write about, which will probably also help me avoid the extreme tunnel-vision that is inadvertently appended to my academic program. I have high hopes and good boots, so I'm off on the right proverbial foot, excited for my two more days of Nothing.

Monday, January 03, 2011

January, 2011

I have just now decided that one of my New Year's resolutions is to write on my blog more often. I'm not sure that it will take, but I'll give it a shot. (I wonder how many people are making this same resolution right now, with the same wariness regarding its realization).

I am finally settling into having some time to be myself again. It occurred to me recently that the subversion of every aspect of the personality (except, of course, for coping behavior and survival skills) is one of the most traumatic elements of graduate school. I'm not knocking it - I knew what I was in for - but it's definitely a visible side effect.

Hence, it takes a little while to work back into the personality one uses during periods of relaxation. You know, the personality that listens to music, does things for fun, socializes, reads books without making notations. For instance: I am reading Günter Grass's Cat and Mouse right now (tr. Ralph Manheim), for absolutely no reason except that I feel like it. It was difficult at first, though. I took a lot of naps, watched an awful lot of movies, and walked face-first through a mini-blizzard over the last few weeks just to shake my brain out of its steady and high-pitched frequency.

(The movies I watched: Together by Lukas Moodysson, a beautiful and surprising film whether it's the first viewing or the fifth; Dolores Claiborne, a dark and lovely old nightmare in which Kathy Bates is seriously captivating; Dead Snow, a Norwegian slasher flick about Nazi zombies which was satisfactorily bloody but fairly flat; Rudo y Cursi, better the second time around; The Baader Meinhof Complex , which is about the Red Army Faction in West Germany in the 1970's and amazingly doesn't draw any heroes where there really weren't any; and some comfort-movies that only come out around the holidays, like Big and Moonstruck. Only joking! I'll watch Moonstruck anywhere, anytime).

Looking back, I see that I sort of abandoned my narrative of Petersburg in a cloud of discombobulation. I am soon going to pick it up, though it's long overdue, and I'll even wind my way up to the present. For now, though, Happy New Year to all y'all. Here's to a productive 2011.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Summer Number One

Lickety split: here I am again.

First Summer took place in St. Petersburg. A bizarre and disruptive paradox occurred, namely a heat wave that curdled every single person in the city, turning all of us into bleary, irritable dysfunctionates (which, yes, is not a word, but is most certainly a state of being). A strange phenomenon: that far north, the sun pretty much doesn't set for a month or so, which means that neither the earth nor the buildings have a chance to cool down after hours of unnaturally intense heat. An almost total lack of air-conditioned spaces aggravated the situation; my worry was mainly for the books in the libraries and the priceless works of art being exposed to a range of harmful elements. For instance:

Hermitage 3

On the banks of the Neva, windows wide open, wet sunlight everywhere; trauma for woodwork.

The improbable weather was inescapable and pervasive; to be honest, it coated everything I did during my time at GMT+3. I'll not mention it anymore, so just remember - it was there.

St. Petersburg is not much at all like Moscow. I spent a quick couple of nights in Petersburg in 2006, but this is the first time that I was actually able to get to know the city a little. I won't toss about the debits and credits of coolness in one city or another; they're just different. People have a tendency to take sides on the issue, and when it comes down to it, I don't feel qualified to judge. I have no empirical evidence that one is better and another worse, and my opinion is neither based on scientific method nor relevant. It's like comparing New York City to Portland; they're entirely different animals, philosophically and aesthetically.


Chesme Church

OK, this type of crazy one-off design is common to both cities. Petersburg seemed to have an unusually high ratio of them, however; it began to get a little exhausting after a while, as if I simply couldn't take any more luxurious facades or opulent interiors. In fact, I originally thought that I would visit the Hermitage twice, maybe three times during my two months there, and I suffered from museum burnout and only ended up going once. I don't regret it; the crowds and the direct sunlight on, say, Caravaggio made it somewhat less savory than I'd hoped. A relief from that brand of amazing:

P10 2

Pushkinskaya 10 is an art collective that occupies several flights of a staircase and a small number of flats; they seem to like the Beatles and they put on an incredible exhibition. Petersburg, in general, has a very laid-back type vibe, dismissively friendly and busy without being in an irritable hurry. I imagine my impression would have been very different had I been there in winter; maybe someday.

I was only there for two months, so with both temporal and financial restraints, I remained in the city pretty much the whole time. I took a couple excursions, sure, but nothing too monumental; I opted not, for instance, to take the overnight train to Moscow for the weekend, which, yes, I would have thoroughly enjoyed, but which did not and does not seem entirely necessarily. I did, however, go to Repino, to the homestead called Penaty, which belonged to the artist Ilya Repin. After the heat and grime of a canal-bound city, the proverbial fresh country air was unbelievable, as was Repin's house (which is not totally apparent in the picture; use your most fantastic imagination).

Repino 7

I went, also, to Pushkin, or Tsarskoe Selo, depending on who you ask. It was rather strange, actually. Catherine had a palace there, now aptly named the Catherine Palace, and Nicholas II had a palace there, called, of course, the Aleksandr Palace. The Palaces' interiors I skipped - I couldn't help it - but the Gardens were lovely. A question, though:

TS 5

What's up with that? There was a distinctly faux-Asian motif going on in the Aleksandr Gardens, complete with some porcelain figures at the gate that are doomed to have tourists stand next to or below them, doing lighthearted yet racially suspicious gestures, throughout the foreseeable future.

I have to say: it seems like all of this is a world away, like I am only just skimming the surface. The experience of getting on a plane, crossing many time zones, and ending up somewhere that in all other cases is absolutely inaccessible, often seems to take on a dreamlike quality after any length of time has passed, like a figment of the imagination, a memory possibly completely made up. The combination of that with the fact that I have been up to the neck of a much taller person in work means that I have a disconnect with Summer Number One, which hopefully will pass as my brain processes the backlog of information and can simply relax again. I relish the expectation of that hypothetical day. And when it gets here, I'll let you know.