Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Craftsy

I went through a tear of making stuff, right before I got utterly bogged down in work. 

Pottery was fun, but in the end, it was taking up too much of my time. My first-ever mug is below, complete with too-big handle. I loved pottery! But you can't do it in two hours a week. 






Saturday, September 13, 2014

Day Job: The Previous One

I got around the paywall for the WSJ with a little help. 

So this has been going on for months now. A bit more detail is here. 

It's pretty nuts. Especially considering we're essentially inactive right now. 



Monday, August 18, 2014

Please Curb Your Dog

I wish I knew what the lower sign once said.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book of the Month

Look at the bottom of this! It's for August, but I was traveling when this came out. 

Unexpected, but kind of awesome. 



Thursday, August 14, 2014

Busy Day in Barcelona


Noooo! My shopping expeditions in Barcelona were a bust.

The caganers were of a terrible quality this time. If I'm honest, they were last time too, but I bought some out of habit. I suspect that the popularity with tourists has caused a kind of caganer gold-rush, turning out um, shitty caganers as quickly as possible. I'm backing out of caganer collecting except when I see high-quality ones from now on.

Then the shop with the Bionic sign above it, which never really was called Bionic but I suppose it's to do with commercial changes you can make in the Gothic quarter, is closed for good now. I bought clothes I wore almost every day in Kuwait here at this shop, when I was en route and desperate for something with long sleeves that was too frumpy-modest. 

I could buy clothes on Etsy from the couple that ran the shop now. But it's not the same without trying them on. 

Plus one of my other go-tos, On Land, was closed for summer vacation. 

And Tomo II, where I'd picked up a lot of inexpensive shirts over the year, was closed permanently as well. That one at least had a second branch near the train station, but I didn't find anything there I wanted to buy. 

One new addition was Fete again has a store in town, so that's a bonus. I used to get their stuff all the time until their shop closed some years back. 

I didn't buy much, and what I did buy from Fete and Anna Povo is a little too big, and I keep believing I'll have the time to take the shirt in. I made a special trip (with my T10 metro card) up to the Skunkfunk Outlet, but even the stuff I've bought at home from them never fit me quite right. 

I don't know what it is about Barcelona that keeps me coming back. I don't know anyone there and staying in the tourist area never brings me great luck with finding food. I realize Barcelona is a great food city, but I don't eat seafood at all, and I hate going into crowded places by myself. I had a fabulous, perfect lunch at a little cafe, which is what I gravitate to when I travel rather than proper restaurants. I'm just not a gourmet foodie in any way, because I have too many dietary restrictions, some legit and some self-imposed. Normally, I'd pick up fresh food at the open-air market, but not for a short stay. 

Staying in the beachside made eating trickier due to the massive crowds and shocking prices. But it was only one day, and I was packing a lot in, so the last thing I wanted to think about was researching good food in suitable atmospheres. I tried loading up Foursquare a few times for reviews, but in the end, just went by the kebab shop on my way back to my room. 

(yes, yes, I know, what a crime against Barcelona to not try this and that and good god, please don't give me hell. I have shit to do. I can't be obsessing for half a day about where to eat dinner. Reminder: this is my constant life, not a my once-in-a-lifetime fantasy holiday.)

My old Raval building has been renovated
I was pretty beat after my day of crisscrossing Barcelona in search of new clothes and caganers (and I stopped at the comic book store where I was a bit shocked by the sneering High Fidelity-esque brusque "assistance" I got--I wonder if they'd have been nicer if I weren't female and middle-aged. Did I come off as someone's mother looking for something I had no clue about? I won't be going back to that comic book store.) 

I took my chicken kebab back to my room, where I got back to work on the DC comic books I'm overseeing for the mass market until I couldn't see straight, then collapsed into bed. I'd have to get up before too long. 

The next morning, I ignored the gross processed-food breakfast basket and just ate the banana and peach I'd picked up. I headed out at the crack of dawn to the Barceloneta metro, zipped up to Plaza Catalunya, and caught the airport bus. At the terminal, I checked in, went through security, and happily immersed myself in a latte at Costa Coffee. Finally, I boarded a plane for the trip to Copenhagen, where I'd soon learn my United pass would NOT get me into the lounge as I'd expected it to. Instead, I found an outlet by a window, and worked for hours on editing a prose novel for Marvel. A really nice old man sat next to me for a while, and he complimented my work ethic when he left. That made me feel pretty good.

Eight hours later, I disembarked at Newark, caught the monorail to NJTransit to Newark Penn, crossed the platform to the PATH for the short trip to Grove Street, stopped by the all-night deli for a banana, an apple, and a little container of milk so I could have breakfast in my own apartment, then walked home. 

And I stood there at the steps of my building for a minute. And I thought.

Four flights to go, and completely out of willpower and strength. 

This is the always a tough moment. Challenging after every trip. 

I keyed open the door and took the steps, one at a time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Dorm in Barceloneta

My flight to from Sofia to Bulgaria was half an hour late, and by the time I got to the dorm room I'd booked in Barceloneta, it was already 8:30 p.m.

This was my first experiment with the dorm room. It was okay. The price was right at $130 for two nights, including private bath, a/c, wifi, and a desk. Oh, and breakfast, but it was a basket of packaged, er, treats left in the fridge. So an envelop of instant coffee, a packaged croissant, a sugary yogurt, some bread and processed cheese. Eww. And unfortunately, the a/c dropped water all over the closet, so that limited my a/c use, and the window was unscreened, so I didn't want to have it open at night when I had a light on.

The real issue with the room was the location. It isn't far from Born, but it's a little too far for easy convenience. The restaurants in Barceloneta are expensive and touristy, mostly for the throngs of beachgoers. I ended up at a kebab house the first night.

But for the price in Europe in August, I was doing all right. 

Made for Walking

I may have gotten a little carried away with the shoe thing.

Lots of tourists get taxis and people who live abroad for work often get vehicles or drivers. I rely on these and the bus.

I didn't want to leave the Sofia hotel maid with the problem of figuring out how to dispose of my old shoes, so I carried them along when I checked out.

I tossed them into the dumpster at the end of the block, then headed to the metro to head to the airport bus stop.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Sofia Walk

I hurried down to the meeting place for the free Sofia walking tour.

These free tours are an interesting phenomenon in lots of European cities. The idea is, I guess, that people work for tips. Or maybe it's to hone certain skills. Certainly, my guide was a historian.

There were many guides and a tremendous number of people, so they were all split up. I went with the last one who picked up the stragglers (that's me).

He walked us around the Sofia historic district, and eventually, I left him and headed to the archeology museum, then took a long walk over to the university.

Tomorrow I'd be starting my homestretch—that is, I'd be off to Barcelona, en route back home.









Sunday, August 10, 2014

настойници

I saw a poster for this on the Sofia metro.

Looks great! Maybe I should go see it.

Yes, I immediately sent this to Keith Giffen.

Sofia Afternoon

The 0900 bus pulled away from Hotel Etar and out of Veliko Tărnovo. I'll be in Sofia by lunchtime, I thought.

That turned out to be a slightly late lunch, as I'd foolishly booked the bus that stopped by the Sofia airport first. This took a bit longer than I expected it to, because the roads leading up to the airport are in various states of disrepair. There seemed to be construction going on, so the bus driver eased the bus down the bumpy road with a bit of care.

Someone on the bus behind me had teeth that stunk of powerful rot. I'd noticed this on some trains too, but was in no position to guess if this was common among older people here or just plain bad luck for me. Certainly, there was more smoking in this part of the world than at home, but again, all I could do was make jokes, not assess with any real evidence if this was a societal issue or not.

I did make a snarky joke about it on Facebook, and that resulted in a tirade from an NGO worker (one with subordinates, paid lodging, paid vehicle or driver...none of which you get on the bus) who finds me superficial and accused me of not staying anywhere long enough to get to know a culture. Which...I can't argue with that on a two-week vacation. It's not remotely the same as renting an apartment and staying somewhere. Deep cultural understanding is not even on my agenda. My point here was to sightsee like the tourist I am. You can't possibly believe you'll develop deep insights in a few days of snapping photos of castles.

At least, I don't.

I know this much. The longer I stay somewhere, the more I learn to acknowledge my deep level of ignorance of a culture. Breezing through, I tend to think I've learned a few tidbits. Staying somewhere longer is a great experience, but unless you leave that situation understanding how much more there is to learn, you've actually learned nothing about the level of complexity of a culture. In Kuwait or Cairo, for example, I may know more than someone who hasn't lived there, but I would be foolish or vain to believe I'd done more than break off the tip and peek inside. Even people I know who have lived in other cultures for years speak of how much they have to learn.

And I know this. Being from another culture doesn't make you immune to jokes. Rotting teeth are not beautiful simply because I am traveling. They stink everywhere.

Being called superficial is not exactly pleasing, I admit. But I openly acknowledge a certain heavy-duty psychological armor goes on the second I get a passport stamp, the moment I head off alone in the unknown with zero resources save US-passport-privilege and the problem-solving abilities I carry along in my own brain. I am not going to be airlifted out by a distant company at the first whiff of danger. I don't have a fixer or a driver or a company-sponsored SUV. I don't have subordinates to enforce my dubious democratic values on, or a paycheck that reinforces my belief that I have something to offer. I'm a tourist, subject to the whims of fate and bus schedules and bad plumbing. Nothing more, now that I work and live stateside and get the common two weeks a year off work.

I was packing a lot into this two weeks. Two nights in London, the convention in Birmingham, two nights in Budapest, four nights in Romania, four nights in Bulgaria, and then two in Barcelona. It's too bad I can't get frequent-ass miles for the time I spend on buses and trains.

When my coach pulled into the Sofia bus station, I rolled off the bus and wandered down the block, navigating by iPhone to Favorit Hotel. It was completely and utterly pleasant, the best hotel I'd seen during my whole trip, including the Radisson in Budapest and the Hilton in London. I devoured some almonds and fizzy water from the mini-bar (later I'd learn I'd paid $9 for that), rested a bit, then headed down the block to acquire a banana and take the newish, gleaming metro to the center.

I walked along a grand boulevard to Alexander Nevsky Church, went in and played tourist for a while, until it was late and I was exhausted, and I headed back to my room. I had plenty of work to do, as even though this was holiday, the work never ends. I'd do some more touristing in the a.m.