Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I was in Santa Fe this weekend.    I'd never been to New Mexico before, except for crossing time and maybe a campsite during a roadtrip back in 1997.    That was a good road trip.   I took the train out of Berkeley down to Bakersfield, where my pal Smith picked me up in his truck.   We were both rising seniors in college; I was playing hooky from a summer job working for a professor, and Smith was just willing to fuck off for a week from whatever summer action he had going.     We drove to College Station, TX, to visit a mutual friend from high school we hadn't seen since high school, mostly because said friend has the bizarre desire to  go to college in distant Texas and never return for holidays.   We probably should have taken that as a sign.  

The clear memories I have of that trip include living off of a gallon can of refried beans we kept in the back of the truck along with a few bags of tortillas and a lot of water.    We exited California through Death Valley, near the bottom of which the truck overheated.   It was July, so a little bit scary.   We didn't really know not to take the radiator lid off when it was hot, so we both got sprayed with hot steam, thankfully not melting any features off.   Texas itself was boring, our friend wasn't a terribly great host, and we left after one night.   I was harassed for being purportedly gay in College Station, around the apartment complex in which my friend lived with a bunch of other undergrads.   I had long hair and an earring at the time, which must not have sat well with the Corps of Cadets.    I've thought ill of A&M every day since then, and am sad that not one but two close friends are taking jobs there.

Along the way back to California I had my arm out the window for half a day.   I don't remember if I put on sunscreen; either I put on lotion that wasn't sunscreen or I just plain forgot, because by the time we made camp I had bubbles rising on my arm.    By the time we  got to Santa Barbara for Smith's brother's graduation, my full upper arm was a single, sheet-like bubble.    We sat outside that afternoon for the graduation, me in an agonizing button-down, in too much pain to even notice the unending stream of clingy sundresses and freckles.    When the light hits my arm just right ten years later, I still think I see a little scarring. 

Smith and I are great travel buddies- we've gone on long trips to Scotland and Wales since then- but we finally got a little snippy toward the end when I didn't really know how to navigate the disaster of freeways around the Bay Area.   A few weeks apart (he was at Davis) and we were back to normal, though.   For better or for worse, he's constantly challenging a lot of my basic assumptions about life, which comes off as pointless argumentation to my other friends, but I get off on it.   I just hope he doesn't turn into some loopy old autodidact who's traded in curiousity for misanthropy.  

The point being, I'd only been to New Mexico once before.   We drove across White Sands, or near it, and it was pretty.    This past weekend I flew DC,ORD,ABQ, and rented a car on work dime to get to Santa Fe.   I'll preserve anonymity and not talk about the work stuff there, but I spoke to 200 people for 40 minutes or so, and it went pretty well.    I even got sucked up  to by some students afterward.


Saturday, February 2, 2008


Have picked up a copy of James Boswell's London Journal: 1950, Yale University Press.   I've never heard of him but it seemed like an interesting volume.   Plus, only $10 at some surprisingly good used bookshop in Alexandria, a place I had not been to before.   The bookshop and the Masonic GW memorial are all I remember, though.   Apparently Old Town Alexandria is a festival of "cute," according to Cricket, but I seem to have missed it.

The book appears to be Boswell's diary from his years in London as a young man of 23 or so, arriving from his family land in Scotland circa 1762.   I have a feeling I'm going to regret not having found this earlier: a passage from the introduction which I opened to in the aisle:

Probably Boswell waked with a headache more often than any human being on record.   In his journals we read with terror his innumerable resolutions to be more "retenu," to build a more "solid" character, to quit "rattling" (talking like a fool), because we know it will immediately be followed by some grotesque excess.

I doubt if anywhere in literature there is such a bodily confession of of le diable au corps, the grotesque intermixture of human agony and absurdity. 


They say that of the vast hordes of people that descend into the Yucatan each year, the vast majority never leave Cancun/Playa/Cozumel.   A small minority take buses to Chichen Itza.    A smaller minority go to Tulum.    We saw the ruins there.  They were beautiful, especially being right on the water.   But there were a ton of people, and while I'm gregarious to a fault when in my humors, I didn't really want to be around people this vacation.    The iguanas had it right, though: lying in the sun on thousand-year-old pyramid, and not giving a shit as long as nobody with a fanny pack tries to pick you up. 

The geology of the area lends itself these things called cenotes, which are essentially sinkholes carved out of the bed of limestone covering the whole peninsula.    We spent an afternoon in one of these snorkeling around.    I've never been snorkeling.   I'm not a terribly strong swimmer, and I was perplexed at how I was supposed to manage things.   I don't even float that well, and I certainly can't tread water.    What I didn't know is that even a bad floater will float just fine face-down, which is where the snorkel comes in, and the fins help a great deal.    Cenote snorkeling is essentially cave-diving: I didn't take any pictures that day but have the image of looking down through water a hundred feet or so, stalagmites everywhere, and fish the size of my thumb, mostly pink and blue, swarming about dodging the occasional sunbeam.   I only got scared once, when I found myself deep in the cave, away from walls, and the water leak into my mask got unmanageable.    It's strange feeling, panic on the horizon.   But there was a stalactite nearby (there being only a few feet of space between the surface and the ceiling) that I could grab onto so's to readjust. 

We drove to Chetumal in the southeast corner of Quintana Roo province, near the border with Belize, and found a cheap hotel.   At this point we were the only gringos around.   Most of my traveling has been in Europe, and with some exceptions in the Czech Republic I've never really been quite so out on a cultural limb.   Cricket's spent a lot of time in Africa, though, including a year in Rwanda, so this was cake for her.   I was looking at the maps ahead for the next few days, though, and seeing 500km stretches without gas was making me really nervous.