Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Congolese Hippos in Trouble

An article in the New York Times this weekend reported this of hippos in Congo, in the national park where the mountain gorillas also live:

“Between July and October, 508 hippopotamuses and 48 elephants were killed,” said Deo Mbula, head warden in the east of the Virunga National Park, where the animals are most prevalent. “There are 308 hippos left. At this rate there will be none left in a month.”

That's terrible... and yet, the people killing the animals for profit subsist on less than ten dollars a month.

It's a bit of a tough situation for the poor hippo, who is just minding his own business and knows nothing of poverty or dollars.

What's a hippo to do?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Going... Going...

My condo has been--maybe--sold.

Anyway, a deal has been made and my attorney is reviewing the contract.

Okay, not my attorney. Seems my attorney—who last met with me to close on my garage in 2004—has moved to Florida. I have a new real estate lawyer.

A lot can still go wrong. The buyers could see something they don't like in the contract (though I think these are fairly standard). They could ask me to alter things in the condo that I don't want to do. (I'd probably flat out refuse as I live here just fine and don't see anything wrong with the place.)

I didn't get an especially good price. The market is changing. Has changed. I probably lost $20-30,000 by selling at the totally wrong time. Sure, it's way more than I paid for the place. But it isn't about profit. It's about what I can buy now, bearing in mind I'll get a higher interest rate and surely higher taxes as well. All I can really hope for out of the deal is a lateral move, and rearranging of my debt to where it is all in one mortgage on a new place, instead of spread out over several unaffordable payments a month.

I'm already having second thoughts. What if prices only go up? What if I never find such a great place again? Won't I miss the great old-time neighborhood, and talking to the senior citizens every day? Won't I miss having Roberta live five doors down? Running into my old housemate Otis when he walks the dog in her building? Won't I feel guilty for abandoning all of Turbo's hard work?

Last time I sold, I had the same kinds of thoughts. And I got something MUCH better in the end.

I hope that happens again.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Djenné, World Heritage Site

I just finished reading Jeffrey Tayler's book Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel. I like Jeffrey Tayler's writing, and his book Facing the Congo, about going down the Congo River in a small rowboat helped get me through some rough patches in Namibia last year.

Tayler travels in a more intellectual way than I do. He prepares ahead of time. He speaks five languages and writes for Atlantic Monthly. He's written four books and contributed to National Geographic and Harper's. My whole schtick is more like "Hey, who knows where to catch the bus, or wait, IS there a bus" mixed with innovative sign language.

In Chapter 17 of Angry Wind, Tayler visits Djenné, the Malian city famous for its mud mosque and old mud-brick houses. He thought it quite stunning (it's a major sight in West Africa) and said so.

A local man responded that UNESCO, by making it a World Heritage Site, had doomed the town. They were not allowed to use modern construction techniques, were forced to live in mud huts.

"How would you like it," said the man, "if you were forced to repair everything as it was done in the ninth century, without the use of cement? Would you want to live in New York if it hadn't been repaired in centuries?"

Having read about 1890s conditions in my old Avenue B neighborhood, and having listened to my neighbor talk about how cold my current place was when he lived here as a kid and there was only a small gas burner as heat, I'd have to say that I would not like it at all.

The Malian's complaints reminded me of similar ones I'd heard from shopkeepers in the UNESCO-protected Hoi An, Vietnam. "I can't even take down that old sign and put up a sign for my own business" said one coffee shop owner.

It also reminded me of people complaining in my own neighborhood. "I haven't replaced the windows because we're in a historic district, and I can't afford the wooden historic ones." "We can't paint it that color because it has to be a color on the City Hall historic chart." "We have to use cedar siding, which costs more than vinyl."

There are always two sides to everything.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Which One is Not Like the Others?

Yancey just sent me this photo of his wedding party. Now that it's in the past instead of a future-something filling me with dread, I'm looking back at it fondly.

For the record, if anyone else wants me to be in their wedding, I'm very sorry, but I'm overfilled my quota in the "Always a best man, never a bride" department. I don't want to be in any more weddings. Not even my own. Especially my own.

Though I will wear a witch hat and go down to City Hall with Babc0ck and Jenn on Halloween. That's different. It's more like helping someone get a driver's license.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Wish I Had A Camera Phone

I saw him today!

The locally famous guy who always dresses smoothly, kind of like Hollywood's idea of a pimp at the height of the blaxploitation film era.

He looked awesome, walking down Jersey Avenue in a full-length faux fur vibrant purple coat, matching wide-brimmed hat, and checkered pointed shoes.

I couldn't help but stare. Last time Roberta saw him, she had more presence of mind. "You look great," she said. "You do too," said the well-dressed and not-shy man.

I was on my way to see my real estate agent, to sign the contract for the sale of my condo. A lot can still go wrong. Perhaps I'm making a big mistake, jumping ship when there are guys in purple fur hats around.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

More Antarctic Explorer Tidbits

Here are two interesting facts I learned yesterday while reading about the great age of Antarctica exploration.

-There are moon craters named for Shackleton, Scott, and Amundsen. Shackleton Crater is at the moon's south pole, even though Amundsen and Scott were the ones who raced to the Pole. I guess Shackleton got the place of honor because "Boss" had the most colorful adventures.

-Writer Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) was named for Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, first to the South Pole and most effficient of the three.

New Writing Gig

I'm writing the text for a 3-D children's atlas. It's actually a lot of fun, but much harder than I expected. I have to submerse myself in children's writing, to rearrange how I put words together. It's going to take a few months.

For the last two days, I've been writing about Antarctica. Should be easy, right? Penguins, ice, whales, Shackleton.

It's really not all that cut and dry. (Speaking of dry, did you know Antarctica is technically a desert?)

Yesterday I learned that the following famous quote is most likely an embellishment, even though just about everyone believes it was actually an ad placed by Ernest Shackleton for the Endurance voyage.

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success."

No one has ever found a source! And people have really looked. It's a great quote though, and apt for a trip that included five months of camping on ice after the Endurance was crushed, followed by horrific sea voyages in row boats, and finally by a 36-hour hike over an icy island.

There's a hardcover book out of the incredible photos taken by the expedition photographer, Frank Hurley.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Foliage Photos

I actually did get some non-blurry photos on the Amtrak trip to Montreal and back.

Problem is, aside from a bit o' sunshine from Penn Station to the Tappan Zee, it was either 1) raining or 2) threatening to rain.

All my photos are overcast.

I did what I could to clean them up. But short of adding yellow or cyan to the sky, there's not much to be done about it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Temporarily Censored!

Today's earlier blog post has been temporarily censored.

I just got an offer on my condo. So I thought I shouldn't be whining about the lame real estate market in public.

Instead, have a look at what trying to take photos on a moving train at 60 mph turns up.

Monday, October 23, 2006

JC Art Tour

When my eyes get all twitchy, I know my body is telling me that it's time to step away from the computer.

This happened yesterday, at 4, after I'd worked on my Amtrak article for too many hours.

My bed called to me from the next room. "I'm warm and comfy! Have a nap!" I nearly succumbed. Then I remembered.

The JC Artist's Studio Tour was this weekend. And in two hours, I'd have completely missed this once a year event. Years ago, I'd run into Jessica Wolk-Stanley during the studio tour, after having lost touch with her for a decade.

I shut down and raced down to Erie Street, where Michael Kraiger had some pieces in an exhibit about faces.

I ended up spending the rest of the afternoon at the single gallery, in the back of Grace Church. But it was nice. And my eyes quit twitching.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Delivered Vacant

Yesterday was pretty much a disaster when it came to working. From 10-1 was Arabic class. I shuffled Amtrak words around for a while after that, then went to the 6 p.m. screening of Delivered Vacant at a middle school across town.

The two-hour documentary by Nora Jacobson was completely engaging. The filmmaker shot footage in Hoboken for eight years, during the prime years of Hoboken's transition from diverse old-time neighborhood to the upscale gentile waterfront community that it is today. Its transformation was completed years ago now. It's hard to believe that I used to know people who lived in cheap tenements over there, and that we used to roam the streets going to indie-rock parties, back when you could still park in Hoboken.

Several shots showed buildings on fire, and rumor was that the mafia was involved in setting buildings ablaze to drive low-rent tenants out, so that the buildings could be sold vacant to condo developers. Many of the interviews were with senior citizens and minorities who were driven out. Where did they go? Some went to the projects. Some disappeared. I'm sure some went to Union City or Jersey City.

The educated poor--that is, writers, artists, filmmakers and people who make a lifestyle choice not to pursue financially rewarding careers--were able to fight. They learned their rights, protested, and cut deals. As usual, most ethnic and economic minorities were pushed out without being aware of what they could ask for as compensation.

A few highlights: A group of Indians announced early on that they were quiet by tradition, but that they would fight back in their own way, and they did. In the end, they bought their building. And a Costa Rican couple held out for $20,000 payoff to leave their rental. They got it in the end.

The screening was crowded, even though the film is 14 years old. I'm sure that's because of all the development going on in Jersey City now. People want to see what happened in Hoboken, because what's happening here is scary and we want to keep the diversity and rich culture that exists in Jersey City.

There was a Q & A session afterwards. One woman stood up and said "It is happening here. Now. Today. We need to stop it."

True and not-totally-true. I'd describe Downtown Jersey City as a community "At Risk." In serious danger. But like the East Village during weekdays when the rich kiddies are not drinking themselves silly at every bar, there's still heart. There's still a lot of the original homesteaders and old-timers. Though not in the luxury high-rises, which are all dedicated to wealthy professionals. And unlike the East Village or Hoboken, we have a lot of houses, so many of the newcomers are families. A totally different breed than the type who view the area as a bedroom community. Families mean school involvement. Park renovations. Day care centers that offer jobs.

After the program was concluded, the beat writer for the Jersey City Reporter approached me for a few "Why did you attend" quotes. I talked his ear off, and I probably will come out sounding naive and overly optimistic. I suggested that we'd never have the mafia setting fires to drive people out because 1) a lot of our old-timers OWN, as opposed to renting (which led to remarks on property tax reassessments, but I do know that senior citizens on fixed incomes can get their tax bills adjusted accordingly, and believe me--if I know, you can bet the informed old-time citizens of my block know too), and 2) Jersey City is a lot bigger than Hoboken, which is just a little over a mile square. You can still get a cheap place up in the Heights or out near Bayonne. And the new(ish) Light Rail means these areas are accessible now, even without a car.

I dread to think how naive, rich, and oblivious I will sound in next week's paper. Think about it: I look like an invading yuppie and I was optimistic about development being managed or even slowing down completely. Silly me?

The neighborhood is in transition and in the end, no one will be able to stop it. Those of us who came here in search of cheap housing made the area more palatable to others like us. But the market goes in cycles and we're now experiencing a serious slowdown. Economics could dictate that development slows to a manageable level. We even have a developer who has cut deals with the Hamilton Park community. The guys turning the old St. Francis Hospital into condos are also restoring the eastern part of the park, researching the retail the community wants, and perplexing us by sponsoring local artists. Er, aren't developers supposed to be the enemy?

What we are currently at risk of losing is the Embankment, a fantastic elevated old bedrock railroad right-of-way. Some developers want to build homes on it. But the community and municipal government both want a park. Who will win? Normally, I'd say the developers. But I look around and see thousands of condos going up. In a flat real estate market. I suspect a lot of money will be lost. And I optimistlcally think the community might win this one.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

We Have Moose??

While researching my Amtrak Adirondack article, I came across a tidbit about a moose being hit by a train. In New York. Last month.

Wha--? We have moose? (Mooses? Meese? Moose as a plural sounds wrong, but it's right.)

Here's what the local newspaper, The Post Star, had to say about it on September 22:

The moose-train collision involved an Amtrak train, and left the moose seriously injured on the side of the tracks. A conservation officer who was called to the scene euthanized the animal, but it was unclear if the train was delayed.

The article went on to state that the problem is that it is moose mating season, so the moose are on the prowl. Guess it was a loose moose.

Friday, October 20, 2006

More on the Postcard

Jessica is almost done drawing the Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik postcard. I can't wait for the unveiling.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fun with Plumbing

Today is the happiest day of my plumbing-career life.

Admittedly, my career as a plumber has been rather short. I have twice repaired PVC pipes under my sinks, and once held two copper pipes in place while Al Huckabee welded the other ends of them. Backwash poured all over me and soaked my Johnny Cash sweatshirt, while Al encouraged me to "Don't let go! I'm almost done."

Today, after ignoring my kitchen island sink going "glub glub glub" for two or three years, I googled "island sink vent."

And discovered this miraculous invention known as the "Air Admittance Valve." Before, I delayed doing anything about the "glub glub glub" because I thought it involved a complex loop of "out" pipes that needed to vent to the roof of the building.

Now I know I can just stick this handy valve into the drainage pipes under the sink, and Bob's your uncle. Bye-bye to glub-glub. It's probably not up to code, but it beats nothing.

I know I was encouraging Roberta to dress as a plumber for Halloween, but maybe I'll do that instead.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

My New Motto

Pete Sheehy, a writer friend I know from college, today offered this assessment of me. I think I'm going to alter it just a little and call it my motto.

"You always land on your feet, albeit with your pockets empty."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Travel En Masse*

The new Dragoman brochure is out!

Long-time readers know that I've been on a few Dragoman overland trucks.

Now, I realize that it 1) drives me crazy to be pent up in a group and 2) is more expensive to go with a group and 3) sounds wimpy compared to hefting a backpack and catching a bus alone, but I actually recommend some truck travel for some people.

Sometimes, even to myself.

Overland trucks, from Dragoman, Exodus, Guerba, and a host of other companies, are movable worlds. They are modified trucks, either Bedford or Mercedes, that carry passenger seats (about 23 of them), small refrigerators, card tables, luggage lockers, safes, camping gear, kitchen equipment, and spare parts. Two driver/mechanic/organizers travel with the group, and in Africa there are also cooks along for the ride.

These trucks are not needed in many parts of the world where there are hostels and great transportation. Indonesia, for example, would be a pointless destination for an overland truck. Southeast Asia, which is super-easy to get around, would also be a silly place to take a truck. When you can get a hotel room for $6 and a meal for $1.25, why camp out in the sticks?

I took an overland truck from Kathmandu to Damascus in 1998. This was a great way to get around that part of the world. I'd have had a hard time getting an Iranian visa on my own, and I could never have reached rural Pakistan without help. The group was small--about 8 passengers--and this was part of Dragoman's attempt at hotel trips (small, local hotels), so we were able to stay in cities instead of in rural areas.

Another overland trip that made a lot of sense for my itinerary was the Ethiopia one described in Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik. Ethiopia itself is no problem to get around by public bus, but the trip from northern Kenya to the Ethiopian border is tricky. Paul Theroux solved it by hitching a ride with... an overland truck. Peter Moore spent days on top of a cattle truck (I think--I don't remember now and I loaned Roberta my copy of his Swahili for the Broken-Hearted book so I can't check).

When it comes to East and Southern Africa, I can't claim to support overland trucks. There's too damn many of them. It's not the rare experience it is in Pakistan. You don't need the safety of the tourism bubble like in, perhaps, Nigeria. There are plenty of transportation alternatives.

But then in other parts of Africa, such as Ethiopia, being on a truck is as close as you'll get to your own wheels. And you find yourself camped in the shadow of remote mountains, just off the side of the road, with ten local people staring at you. Taking the local bus only takes you to towns, and you won't get out into the countryside without your own wheels.

I checked out the new Dragoman brochure online. The technology was annoying, so I clicked off and ordered a paper copy. But I looked long enough to see that the West Africa Dragoman dates don't coincide with my proposed West Africa dates. Pity. I could use the backup of the occasional tourist bubble.

*Nice truck art by Steve Buccellato

Monday, October 16, 2006

Eliza in West Africa

I'm following the adventures of Eliza as she travels through West Africa.

Eliza is a writer who lives in Iceland. She's only been on road for a few weeks so far, but it seems that she may already have malaria! She has so far visited Senegal, Gambia, and now she is in Mali.

I'm pretty jealous. Especially since she has friends in Senegal and they took good care of her. I wish I had friends in Senegal.

Read about Eliza's West African adventure here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

L'il Maries

My mother keeps posting embarrassing photos of me on her blog. But why let her have all the fun?

This one is two wee Maries--it's the other Marie and I at either 15 or 16 years old. We're in my bedroom in Virginia, in the neighborhood called Del Ray in Alexandria.

The image isn't clear but the posters behind us are of a Narnia map, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars. They're left over from when I was a few years younger. (My hamster was left over from that stage too.)

What a geek! No wonder I ended up in comic books.

A Recommendation

On Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik:

"This book practically reads itself." -Polly W.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Doody Caca

I realize that is really only funny if you're 12 years old or an immature 40, but today in Arabic class, we learned to pronounce Dodi (as in Princess Di's man) as "doody." And the Arabic word for cake is ca-ca.

We practiced asking for ca-ca for ten minutes. With coffee, of course.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ride through Rain

"You didn't sleep through the best part, did you?" asked the conductor as he passed my seat.

"Um… was that the best part?" I didn't want to seem jaded as I realized the scenery was spectacular, but the rainy day had lessened the effect the landscape produced.

He frowned. "That was it! Did you see the lake on the left and the foothills of the Adirondacks on the right? From Port Kent to Whitehall?"

"Yes, they were lovely." I smiled weakly. Lake Champlain separated New York state from Vermont, and the colors were surely vibrant and stunning when bathed in bright sunlight.

The conductor went on to enthusiastically explain our pace.

"We slow down between Westport and Port Henry because we follow the curve of the lake."

I'd had a half a day of gray yesterday, and it seemed we were due for an entire day of gray today. I'd have to go out in my car or on the Metro North later if I wanted scenery shots.

I canvassed the café car, looking for people who were stunned by the foliage. They were, but they were mostly somewhat dazed from the long ride. The train had been held up an hour and a half at the border.

I talked to people and stared at scenery. When darkness fell, I answered emails and did my comic book work. I'd freeloaded briefly on a wi-fi signal at Westport, and raced up into the terminal at Albany to use the open signal there.

"Why do all these people keep asking me if there's wi-fi on the train?" asked the café car attendant.

"Because they have it in Europe," I responded.

"There they go again, making us look bad."

But at least Amtrak had power points by each seat. I was able to recharge my cell phone and my laptop without getting up.

As we cruised through the dark into the Hudson Valley, I checked my email on my phone.

"Lots of excitement in New York," wrote Yancey from San Francisco. There had a been a small plane accident on the Upper East Side.

"Is transportation disrupted?" I texted back.

"Seems okay."

He was right. From San Francisco, Yancey told me it was all right to continue on into New York City. Then Babc0ck texted me that it was pouring rain.

At Penn Station, I caught the "E" to World Trade Center, where I changed to the PATH to Grove Street. I caught a taxi home. Someone had spilled half a bucket of gray paint onto the sidewalk and not cleaned it up. No one had touched the circulars that piled up on the stoop over the 36 hours I'd been gone. Maybe there will be a message from my realtor, I thought. Maybe it won't be my problem soon.

I was exhausted, but still had to put everything I'd had with me in the bedbug hotel into a plastic bag. I stuffed it in the freezer overnight, took a long bath to drown any strays, and collapsed into bed. I'd wash everything in the morning.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Station Break

I'm taking a short timeout from train riding to call attention to my mother's input on Halloween costumes.

On her blog, she's got photos of my costumes from 1969 and 1970.

In the second photo, my sister was dressed as Wilma Flintstone. No one knew that's what she was, and she got upset.

I'm not suggesting that Roberta dress as Wilma Flintstone, but the bag costume would be easy to imitate and inexpensive.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Desayuno in Zimmer

The hotel in Montreal seemed decent enough. Nothing special, but it had free wi-fi and included free breakfast, which was brought to my door.

My only complaint was that I woke up and saw a tiny bug crawling on the blanket. Brushed it onto the ground and smashed the small pinkish bug, fearful that it was what it indeed turned out to be.

The pink tone was from the blood the bug was full of. Bright red blood. My blood. The insect had gorged itself.


North America has been going through a bedbug epidemic in recent years. This was my first North American bedbug. Previously, I'd encountered them not in Ethiopia, Laos, or East Timor. Not in a skanky hostel. No, only in a nice place in Sydney.

Great. Now I have to wash everything as soon as I get home. Or at least seal it all in plastic until the morning, and then submerge myself in the bathtub for ten minutes for good measure. Don't want to carry bedbugs into my home.

I did enjoy my "breakfast-in-bed," aside from being so worried about bedbugs that I ate it on the bare wooden floor instead. I tried not to look at the red spot where I'd smashed the bug.

Creeped out, I left early for the Gare Central. I stopped at the store to pick up bottled water and some film for my SLR. I approached the cashier.

"Buenos dias," I said. She looked a little puzzled, then said "Bonjour."


Caught the subway back to the train station. Went into McDonald's to buy a wi-fi card and tear through the morning's comic book work from Kuwait.

"Hola," I started. Then, damn… "Bonjour."

I bought an orange juice and a wi-fi card.

"Danke," I said brightly.

"Merci," replied the cashier.

Maybe I should just stop learning Arabic now.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

En Route à Montréal

We hurtled past a southbound Metro North train, purposefully carrying its occupants to work as my Amtrak train raced northward out of the City's granite cut and under the George Washington Bridge.

"When does it get pretty?" A hefty man in socks was talking to the conductor. Out the window, I spotted two men fishing in the Hudson. Then we went back into darkness.

"It's pretty all along. You're on the best side."

Note to self: Always be on west side when taking the train north along the Hudson.

I didn't get a window seat. This wasn't surprising, since I'd boarded the full train with only two minutes to spare.

If the PATH train had been delayed... It was unthinkable. I need to stop cutting things so close.

On we rolled, eventually leaving the scenic Hudson River behind, with its cliffs, hills, and picturesque small towns. We entered a tunnel of bright colors as the trees closed around us, the reds and yellows merging at high speeds.

"What's the best part?" I asked the man working in the snack bar.

He motioned at the windowless wall behind him. "How would I know?"

Point taken, I asked the conductor instead.

"You've just sat through the best part," he explained. "North of here, the leaves fell early this year."


I talked to my neighbor, who had once worked at Macy's.

"They have a jail in Macy's basement, for shoplifters."


And I talked to two older Australian women. They were cousins, one from Sydney and one from the Gold Coast.

"Are you single? We're both single. Neither of us ever married. There are a lot of advantages to it. You are very lucky."

There's something so very civilized about traveling by train. It creates a spirit of camaraderie. In the dining car, a small group offered me different names for leaf colors.

"Copper. Burgundy. Rust. Wait! I have one... how about... ochre!"

The conductor, it turned out, had been right, and eventually we were speeding along next to bare but unembarrassed trees, standing tall in their nakedness.

We were held up at the border, and crept into Montreal just before 8. Exhausted, I found the ATM, took out $20 Canadian, and caught the subway to a small 3-star hotel I'd booked on Hotwire. Collapsed into bed, having seen only the edge of Montreal's underground shopping center, two subway stops, and the central rail station.

And today, I get to do it again on the way home.

All Aboard

And off I go to cover leaves.

Okay, not leaves. People looking at leaves.

I'm catching this morning's Adirondack train out of Manhattan's Penn Station, and taking it all the way to Montreal.

I'm writing a fall foliage story for the Amtrak online newsletter. Tonight I will stay in Montreal, and tomorrow I'll do the trip in reverse.

It's a ten-hour trip each way. Them's a lotta leaves.

I'm supposed to get a release form off anyone who speaks to me, and give them a dollar. I still haven't been paid by the clients who just sort of stopped paying a few months ago, and that means I'm well past overdraft now and into credit card cash advances. I guess I won't talk to that many people.

Who has a brilliant idea for what I should write about?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Around the World by Bike

Four years. 46,000 miles. A man and his bicycle.

Over a series of years, I followed Alastair Humphreys via his newsletters as he slowly pedaled his bicycle across five continents. I first stumbled over his site when he was in Ethiopia. His comments on being constantly asked for handouts inspired me to drop him an email, to which his response was "You don't know me, but I know you!" He'd stumbled over MariesWorldTour.com while researching his own trip.

I thought I was going at ground level by taking the bus. But Alastair was really going local.

He's written a book about the Africa part of his ride. And Alastair, never one to wait around for others to get it together, decided to publish it himself as the grim realities of the publishing world hit home. I'm impressed! It took me five years to get into the bookstores. He's just skipping that bit and viewing self-publishing as a new challenge.

To top it all off, Alastair is paying a carbon tax to offset the printing and delivery carbon contributions to our world (which makes more sense than hand-delivering each copy by bicycle). And of course he produced no carbon emissions by riding his bicycle, putting my ship and bus transport idea to shame. Think you're doing well by recycling and turning off the water while you brush your teeth? This guy is serious.

Alastair's book is called Moods of Future Joys. He has sample chapters on his site, and the actual book will be available in time for the holidays.

I wonder if someone really told him this:

"oh, not another travel book:
I already read that one about the guy with his fridge..."

Another six months and they would have said they already knew about Africa; it has dik-diks.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


My pal Scarf posted a link to a NY Times story on the remains of a giant camel having been found in the Syrian desert.

The Giant Camel seems to be 100,000 years old and as big as a giraffe. This reminds me of the Australian megafauna I saw at a museum in Brisbane. You know, giant kangaroos and half-ton birds Anyway, our friend the giant camel seems to have been killed by humans. I guess a giant camel would make a lot of camel kebabs (the kind on a stick, of course, since even ancient man would have worked out that everything tastes better on a stick).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Scanning Success

What's important about the above photo is not that the Bucce and I went to Marrakesh in 1995. It is not that it was my first time on a camel and I hadn't yet learned to ride from watching Peter O'Toole. Nor is it that the Bucce is allergic to camels. He had to stay several feet away and still sneezed.

No, what's important is that I scanned this photo on my Mustek ScanExpress A3 USB. On my Mac. In OS X. On the scanner I was about to return to MacMall.

I had no power before. I thought I'd give it one more try, and tried every A/C adapter with it that I could find in my closet.

One of them worked.

Cool. I have--well, my parent company has--an 11x17 $200 scanner. Thank you, Steve Lieber for posting instructions on how to use this PC scanner with OS X.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Let Them Eat Pie

It has been discovered recently that there is a deficit of pie in Jersey City.

Grace Church Van Vorst, which is not too far from my home, is having a pie-baking contest on November 5.

I've never made a pie, and I wouldn't really know where to start. But Michael Kraiger can make a pie.

I cannot exactly issue a challenge to Michael Kraiger, because his pies would wipe the floor with my pies. But perhaps if they grade on a curve, my pies would make his pies look better. If someone out there can tell me how to make a not-too-embarrassing pie, I could enter this throwdown and at least help him look good. Or if I can't look good, at least I could look silly. Does a Ritz Cracker mock-apple pie count?

If I Wore Costumes...

...then I'd wear this one that Ax pointed out to me last night.

The costume designer obviously forgot to imprint the map of the Jersey Shore on the front, but I can do that.

Except I won't. I don't really wear costumes, don't have a costume party to attend, and I could nearly buy a new storm window for the same price as this here shark outfit. But I like it in theory.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Faint Praise

I found this mention with my Google alerts.

"Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik" by Marie Javins
Turning out to be better than I'd thought it might be."

Um, that's a good thing, right?

Update: Seems the reader just gave it five stars on Amazon! Won over a skeptic. I'm chuffed.


All right, 'fess up. Who did this?

And why did it seem important to name my parents in it? I just edited those out. Why don't we just post my middle name, social security number, and mother's maiden name while we're at it?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Scooby Dogs and Storm Windows

I try to avoid the JC Home Depot because I cannot resist the pull of the Scooby dog.

The Scooby dog comes from the Scooby truck, which was once bedecked in colorful images of Scooby-Doo and his pals. Baseball enthusiasts may argue that the home of the better dog is in the Bronx or Boston or Chicago, but for my money, it's on Rt. 440 in front of Home Depot.

I really just meant to go to the window store over near Bayonne. I have two hundred-year-old windows in my apartment's airshaft. Turbo restored them and got them working a year-and-a-half ago, but when we took off the storm windows, they were so disgustingly weathered that we left them off. One went to the scrap metal guys, who patrol the streets on trash days. The other is at the bottom of the airshaft.

I don't care if there are storm windows or not since in winter, I dress up all my windows in aesthetically displeasing plastic. But no home inspector is going to let his client close on my place without something reasonably modern and weather-proof in the window openings.

"We don't even sell storm windows," said the salesman at the window store. "It's more practical to buy new vinyl windows."

A new vinyl window is $118. A new alumininum window is $200. Installed? $500 for either. Two windows? $1,000.

The salesman gave me a handout. "It's not hard to install a new window. Read these instructions. You could do it yourself."

"Even when it's a hundred-year-old building with no square corners?"


Hmmm. Skepticism. Plus, I'd wanted to keep the old wooden windows for a reason. They're cool. They're original. They're restored. And yet... I'm not even going to be living here.

I drove Henry the 1990 Ford Taurus up the street.

Maybe Home Depot has windows. Mmmm... the Scooby dog truck. No, must resist...

Inside HD were... storm windows! $80 each. But oh so complicated... did I want the kind that "outside mount" or "blind stop." And how do I measure for storm windows?

I measure by climbing down into the airshaft and measuring the OLD window. That way I get it right.

I couldn't decide. Did I want to pay someone (with money that does not exist, since one client is now two months behind in paying me) to install new windows, DIY, or get new storm windows?

I didn't know. But I did know what I wanted on my Scooby dog.

"Ketchup and relish, please."

"Sure, hon."

I contemplated windows and munched my dog in the Home Depot parking lot.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ro's Halloween Costume

Ro found a bunch of costumes on Target's website. She'll buy one and modify it somewhat, but buying a Target costume is definitely the easiest answer to her Halloween costume dilemma.

What's your vote? I thought maybe she should modify "Cat" into "Dik-Dik," or just go as one not on the site--as a banana-in-pajamas. That'll knock the boys out. Bananas are good. I also like pajamas.

boxer girl
   *   sassy grim reaper   *   evil pixie   *   bellhop   *   Marilyn   *   flapper   *   funky cat

Scanner Woes

My new 11x17 (A3) scanner arrived yesterday! I promptly ignored it, and left it in the middle of the kitchen. This morning, after tripping over the unopened box, I dug in.

I unpacked all the parts and found a place to position the scanner (it's kind of big). I followed Steve Lieber's instructions to the letter, and for good measure cross-referenced them with other instructions.

Re-started. The driver was there in Photoshop. Great. Plugged in the scanner.


No light. No noise. Nothing.

I tried a different a/c adapter, one with the same voltage. Still nothing. For good measure, I booted up in OS 9, installed the official Mustek OS 9 driver, and tried in Photoshop 6. The software was there. The scanner was still dead.

I was sent a broken scanner. Crap.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Halloween with Ro

Does anyone have suggestions for what costume Roberta should wear for Halloween? She's invited to a party and attending requires her to wear a costume. I suggested "plumber" and "real estate agent," and she wants something cuter than than, but not too cute, as I discovered yesterday when I called her from Target to report that they sell adult cheerleader costumes.

All suggestions welcomed. She is tall and thin and a fine arts painter. So "starving artist" is out. She has to look different than normal.

Dik-Dik Alert

GoNOMAD.com has posted an excerpt from my book, Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik.

If you've been reading this blog since the beginning, or if you read MariesWorldTour.com, some of it might seem kind of familiar. But if you've already read the book, then it will all sound familiar.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Dik-Dik on Written Road

Kelly Amabile, a writer and contributor on writtenroad.com has posted a super-duper review of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik. And I don't even know her! Ax does, through the writing class she famously teaches, but apparently this had nothing to do with Kelly's final passing grade.

Ax and Edward R-H called my attention to the review. I'm so clueless about the industry I pretend to be steeped in that I don't even look around, and my Google alerts missed the mention. (It will probably show up in a week or so.) I clicked over to check it out and got engrossed in Kelly's post about going gadget-less instead.

In some ways, I am attached at the hip to my laptop. But I don't always carry it. When I went around the world for a year, iBooks hadn't been invented yet (the light white kind, I mean, there were heavier models), and Airport had been but you sure couldn't get it at Starbucks. But the 4-pound Powerbook Duo 230 had been invented, and I took it on the 20-day cargo ship journey. I posted it home from Australia, and don't think I've turned it on since.

After that, I used the same method that Kelly used. Pen and paper. Furiously typing at internet cafes. Scanned in images from photos developed en route. Don't laugh--at this time, you couldn't get the photos OFF of a digital camera without installing a driver, and no internet cafe would let you install software on their machines. USB was far from ubiquitous. Remember floppy disks? There were no thumb drives.

This was only five years ago.

Anyway, going gadgetless as Kelly did is near-and-dear to my heart. Less to carry. Fewer adapters to fuss with. No worry about breaking your laptop, losing it, or having it stolen. No worries about electrical outlets--which are hard to come by in many of the places I traveled in. And all those bumpy rides on dirt roads--they're hard on you, and even harder on your gadgets.

I've certainly taken my laptop and digital camera on every trip since--except Antarctica--because most of them involved staying in one place for months. And my laptop is my ticket to a paycheck. But would I take it along to West Africa? No. Not unless I was freelancing in Photoshop from the road. There is nothing wrong with pen and paper, and you can buy a new supply anywhere in the world.

P.S. I do take my Euro-cell phone along everywhere though. Buy a new SIM card in every region, and I can text-to-email from it. So I guess I was lying to myself when I said I could go gadget-less a few hours ago. Even in the national park in Uganda, I could be reached from any email account via my phone. And even if there is no power outlet, there are small businesses in the bush where people charge phones for a small fee, via solar panels.