Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: A Look Back

Well, that really sucked.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In High Places

When it comes to pain, I'm a Class A wimp.

Even a steady, moderate-level headache mixed with a little nausea makes me all whiny. I've been sluggish for two days, and you'd think I had some chronic illness from the way I'm sleeping and complaining.

It's just altitude sickness. Happens to lots of people when they come to La Paz, Bolivia. It's happened to me before once, in Cuzco more than a decade ago.

I'll just leave it alone. It'll go away eventually.

Day Job the Article

Hey, look, it's me in an online Jersey City magazine.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Into Thin Air

The sound of rain striking corrugated steel roofs seeps into my consciousness slowly; my head is throbbing and I have my La Paz hotel room's heater on full-blast. The sound is so familiar that at first I don't even think to check it out. Part of the buzzing soundtrack of the developing world.

When I gradually realize that the racket isn't the neighbors, I open the curtains and look outside at a quiet Bolivian street which was full of people a few hours ago. The windows of the buildings across the street twinkle brightly with strings of Christmas lights, taunting my dull brain, numbed from flying into thin air this morning from Lima's sea level. I'm at the back of Hotel Rosario, and my map tells me that I'm in front of a market called "Mercado Negra." Intriguing name. The steel roofs covers the stalls of the market. If I can rouse myself from my altitude-induced haze, I'll go check it out tomorrow.

Bad Luck Charm?

The first time I came to Peru, it was the early 90s. I flew with Faucett Airlines.

It was great—one of those old planes, kind of like flying on Air India. But the flight attendants passed out game cards and made everyone on the plane play Bingo. Which was awesome.

Faucett is out of business now.

The second time was only a year later, a trip to Machu Picchu tacked onto a longer trip to the Galapagos. I took AeroPeru.

AeroPeru is out of business now.

This time I flew with American, intent on proving that the previous two incidents were just coincidence.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pushing It

Yesterday, I left my mother's at 10, ran by the post office, drove to Alexandria where I bought some last-minute things at REI (which I already own but stupidly did not look at my packing list for Bolivia until I was underway), got a manicure, ran by Target, and dropped the rental car off at National Airport with only six minutes to spare.

I got to hang around the airport for hours. What fun.

Then I was off to Miami, but because we had NO PILOT, our flight was delayed. I barely made my Peru connection in Miami.

I picked at my plane food and slept poorly, as one does on airplanes.

This morning, my plane arrived an hour late. But the hotel taxi driver waited. In Spanish too screwy to qualify as broken, I convinced him to take my bag to the hotel and drop me off at the bus station.

Which, of course, was sold out of seats on the 7:30 bus to Ica. So I jumped into another taxi and rushed over to Soyuz bus terminal. Their buses are not as nice as the Cruz del Sur buses I'd been aiming for, but they leave every 8 minutes.

I got on the 7:34 a.m. bus, wished for coffee or breakfast, but knew it was only a day of inconvenience.

Four-and-a-half hours later, I tried to stop the bus as we passed the hotel that holds the office of AeroCondor, but there was a toddler plopped down in the aisle, so I continued on to Ica like the other passengers. There I got a taxi to the Hotel Las Dunas, where I wheedled for ages until a single seat suddenly became available.

"I e-mailed ahead! Three separate people responded that I had a booking."

"That happens all the time."

It was another 4.5 hours back to Lima afterwards, which didn't include a 45 minutes wait to buy a ticket or the fact that all I got eat all day was a Popsicle, and my ankles were swollen while my brain was numb.

But I got to see the Nazca Lines, something I never got around to before.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Muggings

On Christmas Eve, I interviewed my mother and sister about the traumatic experience of having pyscho neighbors while we were growing up.

Which went well, though there is a lot more to ask about.

But my mother reminded me of the times when she was mugged, which I had completely forgotten about given the bigger picture. We were terrorized daily, so what's a little urban mugging?

Once, Mom was walking home from the grocery store across the ball park on the night before Thanksgiving. Just as she noticed the streetlight overhead was out and that it was really, really dark, she heard someone run up behind her. "Maybe it's a jogger," she thought, wishful-thinking the obvious away.

Wishing didn't work and a man grabbed her purse and kept running. She held tight, was pulled down, and found herself dragged along as she fought to hold onto the bag.

"I am getting scraped up for $5," she thought. She let go and the man ran away with her bag. She still had her groceries. Replacing the ID and credit cards was a drag, but the mugger would have done better to grab her groceries.

My sister then told a story about someone grabbing her bag when she was waiting down near The Birchmere, a famous music club in Alexandria. All she'd had it the bag was her bus pass, but damned if she didn't need that bus pass. She chased the guy all the way down into a part of town called "The Hole," so named for unsavory reasons involving crime and poverty. And perhaps for an inability to spell the word "waffle" with two Fs.

"When I looked up and realized I was in the Hole, I turned around and ran back the way I came. Forget the bus pass. I walked home."

The second time Mom was mugged, she was walking to work and again, a kid/man (older teenager, I guess) ran up behind her and grabbed her bag. She held tight and pulled back. "Stop, thief!"

A minibus full of senior citizens was loading up a half-block away. They turned around and eyed the situation.

"What would they have done, Mom?" I asked. "They couldn't well chase him!"

"I don't know, but all those people watching seemed to work. The mugger let go of my bag and grabbed my beret instead. I liked it—it was brown and had a silk lining. He grabbed my beret and ran away!"

"And later, I saw him on the Metro. I'm sure it was him. I *glared.* AND HE WAS WEARING MY BERET."

And on that note, I am boarding a plane to Miami, to connect through to Lima, Peru. Hasta mañana.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Shark Ate My Internet

Three of the four telecommunications cables connecting the Middle East to Europe were cut last week. As far as I could tell, this didn't seem to affect Kuwait much, but it diminished Egypt's Internet access by 80 percent.

This isn't the first time. It happened before earlier in the year. That time, ship's anchors were blamed for the cuts. Or maybe sabotage. Conspiracy theories abound.

My favorite theory is the one my Cairo-based designer heard: Sharks!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas With My Family

Mom's husband's Wii is making chirpy, friendly noises in the living room, as I interrogate my sister at the dining room table. I've stuck my new digital audio recorder in front of her to ask about her memories of our teenage years. Mom's bratty cocker spaniel barks like it's defending the homestead from zombies.

Sis: "Tony was doing tattoos down in our basement."

Me: "What? Tony was doing tattoos in our basement? I didn't know that."

Sis: "You didn't know that?"

Me: "No. Where was I?"

We talk a while, then I ask when my parents split up. No one can remember exactly when.

Mom: "He left at least three times."

Me: "He did? I only remember once."

Mom: "There was that time he went and stayed in a tent."

Me: "Why did he do that?"

Mom: "He was mad about something."

Me: "What?"

Mom: "I don't know."

Me: "How come I didn't notice any of this? Tattoos... leaving... "

Sis: "Cuz you were reading your books. You were in your room reading your books while life went on around you. You were always reading your books. Until you got a job at Roy Rogers, and then you were always working."

Mom: "You were ... escaping."

Some things never change. But at least I come by it honest.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An Experiment in Live Blogging

I can think of few things duller than live blogging my bus ride to Washington, DC, but because the BoltBus has wi-fi, I simply cannot help myself. Here goes.

0815: I've "tornado packed" for Bolivia (12/27), and I totally underdid it on the clothing front. This happened when I went to C-olombia earlier this year. I texted C in a panic as he was already at Newark Airport, having been more disciplined than I am since his train from Princeton ran less often than the on-demand taxi from my apartment. "What's the weather like in Colombia?" "Just throw something in a bag and come on." I am pissed now when I read his Facebook update which notes that he is already packed and ready for his own trip home. I guess I can buy clothes in Bolivia if I run out. Cheery Alpaca sweaters, anyone?

0823: I couldn't get a taxi to the PATH because it was raining, and everyone wanted a taxi to the PATH. And I have my backpack, which is a lot heavier than I remember. But there's a bus that goes from in front of my house to Port Authority, so I am waiting on it.

0824: I see the bus up the block, leaving. It wasn't waiting at its usual stop because, as I now notice, the bay was full of ice. I trudge to the PATH in the rain. Not so bad. Half the walk is through the Newport Mall and an attached office building.

0835: Train pulls in just as I do. Off to 33rd and 6th. BoltBus stop is at 33rd and 7th.

0900: Standing in line at BoltBus stop. There's a big gap between me and the guy in front of me, cuz he has an umbrella and I am huddled under an awning next to SBarro.

0902: Driver calls out "B!" My printout says "B." Apparently A and B get to board first. The driver puts my pack under the bus and I board. Another customer tells me that if you sign up at the BoltBus website, you are always an A no matter how late you buy you ticket.

0920: A large man smushes in from the aisle and crushes my a/c adapter, which make a horrible crack. He doesn't notice, nor does he hear my whining pleas to "EXCUSE ME!" I have visions of no power for two days (I doubt the Apple Store is open on Christmas). I pull it out from the outlet and inspect it. Bent. Fortunately, it still works. I glare at him. He switches seats and a nicer, smaller man sits next to me. A sensible man.

0930: Departure.

0932: The driver gets some kind of call, then announces that the Lincoln Tunnel is closed in both directions. What? It's going to be a long day. NJ Turnpike in rain on Christmas Eve. Joy to the world indeed. We head south to the Holland.

0950: The same passenger who told me about the hot Boltbus A tip informs the driver that the next right is Varick Street and will get him to the Holland Tunnel. The driver is like "No duh, woman." She's gone too far.

0955: We are in the Tunnel. There is wi-fi. THERE IS WI-FI IN THE HOLLAND TUNNEL, on the BoltBus. That's strange. I am kind of freaked out by this revelation.

1000: We sail by my apartment, only three blocks away. What a shame I cannot flag the bus down from the Hess station.

1006: Doing about 40 mph on the NJ Turnpike Spur.

1012: By Exit 13, I make the astonishing discovery that staring at a laptop on a moving bus makes me want to vomit. Shutting down.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hair Don'ts

Here's what you don't want to hear while getting the hair color and shampoo rinsed out of your hair at a posh salon:

"We don't have any water! What happened to the water?"

I was lucky. Normally, my colorist waits "five more minutes" after the timer to wash out the color, but today, she was like "Oh, whatever, it's baked, springs back when touched" and sent me off to get doused.

And the water gave out halfway through. There was exactly enough left in the pipes to drizzle on me and get the color out. But I don't know what happened to everyone else.

The owner of the salon was yelling at a man from the building as I left. "What do you mean it will be back on later? This is a HAIR SALON and tomorrow is Christmas Eve! We have hundreds of customers today! We have people in the middle of their process."

"Use toilet water," snarked an assistant. Then, looking at me, "She isn't laughing."

No. No, I wasn't.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas in Springfield

Here's a little video that Thanos and I made in 1987.

It's kind of like A Christmas Carol, but not.

I put the easy-to-view low-res video here on the blog, but those of you with nice big computers and Quicktime plug-ins can go watch the nicer-quality video here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Christmas Gift to Me

Today is a snow day and somehow I've already finished my Christmas shopping. I even mailed it all to myself at my mother's PO Box in Virginia, to avoid carrying too much on the bus. So instead of running around the mall with the rest of the region's population, I am playing with my new toy.

I bought a Zoom H2 digital audio recorder after Thanos recorded Denise and me on the one he got at B&H when he was in town. It's known for excellent sound, portability, and all I have to do to move the sounds onto my laptop is plug in the USB cable, then drag-and-drop. Yee-haw.

We've come a long way from my days of dragging around a Marantz recorder and cutting tape with razor blades, back at school in the mid-80s.

Today I learned to use my Zoom by recording messages off my answering machine (Hello, Jessica Wolk-Stanley, thanks for cooperating with my experiment). There was ambient noise from 'fridge (oops, better turn that back on) and the neighbors, so I threw a blanket over the answering machine's speaker and the Zoom, and turned the Zoom on "Front Record" so it was directional.


My plan now is to take this down to Virginia, put it down on the dining room table, and sit my mother in one chair and my sister in the other. I am hoping we can straighten out exactly what happened in Del Ray in the early 80s. I put some of the story in my comic "Scorched Birth" (free for the asking) and some of it here on the multimedia project that Thanos helped Denise and I with. But this brought up all kinds of "It wasn't like this, it was like that" back-and-forth between the rest of my family.

And maybe, once we get that straight, maybe I'll take the Zoom to Bolivia with me. Along with my tiny flash video camera.

You've been warned.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Avenue B Christmas

In 1999, I made a Christmas postcard out of this image. It's the view from my studio, in my 2-bedroom Avenue B condo that I sold in January, 2001 so that I could go around the world.

Back then, I actually had a list of people I sent holiday cards to.

I haven't bothered sending out cards in many years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Another Event that Baffles

Buy why? Why would the comic strip Mary Worth quote Daniel Johnston?

Worse, why would they attribute it wrong? Would the writer have used the quote (not the most insightful) if she'd known it was a Jad Fair lyric, not a Daniel Johnston lyric? When did Daniel out-cool Jad? (I think it might be when the movie The Devil and Daniel Johnston came out.)

The world of the Sunday funnies is a strange and mind-boggling place. But I'm not the only one wondering about this.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Am So Not Impressed

Jeff T sent me a scan of the Parade article. "Marie Jarvins?" WTF?

Lame, lame, lame.

Everyone Loves a Parade

A half-dozen friends and e-acquaintances have e-mailed or Facebooked me to say that the 3-D World Atlas & Tour was recommended in Parade magazine this past Sunday.

Lisa W is sending me a copy from Seattle. She said that it read:

Kids will also love *3-D World Atlas and Tour* by Marie Javins, with its more than 50 3-D photos of world maps and sites--from the Grand Canyon to Athens to Antarctica.

And is pictured nearby.

No wonder the atlas screamed up the charts at Amazon yesterday.

Sunday the 14th of December was a big day in Sunday newspapers. More about that tomorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Shame I Don't Get Royalties

Wow! The 3-D Atlas is at #604 on Amazon this morning. Amazing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An Empty Promise to Myself

Every time I rent a car (which admittedly, isn't that often), I remind myself to look into the LDW and insurance options before the next time I rent a car.

I know that whatever credit card I use covers me to a point, but I also know that car rental employees are somehow not doing their job if they aren't trying to sell me additional coverage. And they make it sound like the world will collapse if I don't take the LDW or whatever it's called. They always confuse me. Is there some value to what they are selling or is it a total racket? I have no idea. I smile, decline the coverage, and hope nothing hits my cheesy little rental.

I'm renting a car at Christmas, as part of my scheme to end up in Bolivia. No, I'm not driving to Bolivia. I'm taking the BoltBus down to Washington DC and renting a car there. I'll drive that to my mother's for a few days, then drop it off at National Airport (no "Reagan National Airport" for those of us who grew up in the shadow of "National," nosirree) on the 27th before flying to Peru via Miami. Neither of which is Bolivia. It's complicated.*

So this morning, I am perusing credit card websites. Apparently, "Terms and Conditions Apply." And it's "Subject to Change Without Notice."

My, how helpful.

Now I remember why I never worked this out before. It takes hours. Maybe even days.

Maybe I'll work on this some other day. Sure, that's it. Some other time.

Before the next time I have to rent a car.

*Actually, not that complicated. 30,000 frequent flyer miles gets me to Lima. 50,000 gets me to La Paz. I had 30k. Once I get to Lima, I have a paid flight to La Paz via a LAN South America Airpass, which is insanely cheap compared to direct flights. See? Easy.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


E, a friend of mine from college, found me on the Instant Message function of Facebook the other day.

I have to say, I kind of abhor the IM seems so abrupt. One minute you're minding your own business—or rather everyone else's business as you voyeuristically observe the activities of your Friends—the next you've got this message screaming across your screen at you. Uh, hello.

But I was quite happy to hear from E, who I hadn't talked to since 1987 or maybe 1986. My college was funky in that only half the students were on-campus at once, the rest spread out across the country and even world. E was a poet, and my most vivid memory of her is of her performing at a cafe in town. There were other poets too, and some music. CM from Youngstown was there, reading his poetry just before or after E. I don't remember the rest, except that they both kicked butt over a faculty poet, one who'd given me a sarcastic evaluation about my writing skills and my sense of humor. I didn't take poetry seriously. Ha. Truer words have seldom been spoken.

E is divorced these days, lives in a northern city in the Midwest, and works hard to support her kids. So many of us have had to come to terms with our hopes and dreams dissolving into the drudgery of work. I say that as someone who clearly has NOT come to terms with it. I fight routine, reject boredom, and resist, sometimes passively, sometimes out loud and with ferocity.

"Marie," typed E. "What would make you happy?"

I thought for a second before typing back. I could talk about creative disappointment and how I want to write my own books again, not spend my days facilitating someone else's dreams in exchange for a paycheck that allows me to subsist and nothing else, or I could mention how routine is dulling my senses and makes my brain flat, or I could talk about how my body has started betraying me with wrinkles and pockets of unexpected flab and how I'd like that to stop short, or I could talk about how I don't want to be reminded of cultural elitism and of how I am not part of the intellectual class, how when push comes to shove, I'm not of that world. I could mention that I want to be challenged daily, to learn new things and to be engaged, and if I can't travel as a shortcut to get this, I'd like to find a way to be more "alive" at home.

Or I could tell her the truth.

"Company." I typed. "I'd like some company."

She paused before typing back.

"Me too."

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Surprise

Yancey and Andrea are beyond the reach of the blog right now, where they are on dial-up, and when they get access, they'll spend it on work and e-mail, not on reading my blog.

So here it is, the surprise I sewed for them last weekend. I'm still kind of inept at sewing, but I made them a diaper bag and matching changing pad for their upcoming life-changing event, which is scheduled to occur in the spring of 2009.

It's still in the mail, and I'm missing their baby shower tomorrow because I just couldn't fit in a drive to Maryland and back this weekend.

I sewed in pockets this time, a first for me and bag-sewing. And I tried to use non-cutesy fabrics so that Yancey could carry the bag as well as Andrea. Though knowing Yancey, he wouldn't care in the slightest if anyone looked at him sideways. He'd probably do a little dance for them.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Last Class of the Year

My second coloring class finished up last night.

"I'm telling my friends to take your class," said XX.A., son of a famous comic book artist (turned advertising illustrator).

Wha--? The pressure!

"Really?" My voice might have quivered just a little. He could see I was a little freaked out.

"I just want them to stop asking me questions about Photoshop." He backtracked.

Ah, relief.

"Don't do that," I thought. "I want students to come in here with low expectations. There were already three students in here who could out digital-paint me, though they claimed to have learned something. I had to use snarkiness to keep the class under control this time. Fortunately, I am a skilled snarker."

No more coloring school until January 14. Phew.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

An Uncomfortable Truth

I haven't learned much in writing class, but there's been a steady parade of entertaining guests. Today's guest had just written a Times piece that made me laugh, but there was nothing funny about the close-to-home Graham Greene line he quoted at the end of his essay.

"As the years pass writing will not become any easier, the daily effort will grow harder to endure, those powers of observation will become enfeebled; you will be judged, when you reach your forties, by performance and not by promise."

-Graham Greene, The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen

Monday, December 08, 2008

Cambodia Photos

Yancey and Andrea went on a long trip to Southeast Asia. They sent back beautiful photos, including lots of them petting baby elephants near Bangkok.

I can't upload their photos (for one thing, there are hundreds but for another, they are not mine) but I scanned in some of my own photos from Cambodia in 2001 and from a trip a year earlier in 2000. I have loads more of the rest of the region, but one place at a time. Though I didn't get to pet any baby elephants. Not in Thailand, anyway.

Looking through the photos makes me pine for mango and sticky rice on the street near the Viengtai Hotel, and for green curry served in a coconut in Siem Reap. I want to outsmart Bangkok traffic and argue with touts by the lake in Hanoi. I'd love to stumble onto someone I know unexpectedly on Khao San Road again, or hail a kid on a moped to take me to get pizza by the river in Phnom Penh. Or ask Mrs. Thuy in Hoi An to sew me up a replica of a dress I wore in 1992, but make it cover my knees this time.

Instead, I will send a few more pages of next month's comic to the printer, trudge through the cold to the deli for lunch, and fight with a corrupt font.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Top-Secret Project

Sorry I've been quiet on the blogging front.

I'm working on a top secret gift.

Friday, December 05, 2008


The 3-D children's atlas has shown up in a few unexpected places, setting off my Google Alerts.

TrustyPony mentioned it, and a spot called A Book Blogger's Diary.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Words to Dream By

Here's a Chinese proverb that was quoted in Alison Wright's book, Learning to Breathe: One Woman's Journey of Spirit and Survival. So true...and the end, it's just a proverb. I've had so many romantic coincidences in my life, and in the end, they just dissolve into poetic nothing. I want to believe. But I don't.

An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle but it will never break.
—Chinese proverb

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Linky Tuesday

A couple of interesting links today:

Max from has been blogging as he travels around Iran. His trip there is what inspired me to scan in and post the photos from my 1998 trip across Iran. Read about his adventures on his own blog.

Meanwhile, World Hum writer Frank Bures has taken a trip to Uganda. I had to giggle as he waited for hours for the bus to fill up at the end, and then a tire blew out en route from Gulu to Kampala. ("Flat of the day," thinks the voice of experience.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

A Cold, Hard Look

Pernille's blog linked to an excellent post over the weekend.

The post writer offers a dose of reality on pay-to-volunteer programs and explains why overseas programs won't take just anyone. Put another way, think of it like this. Could anyone walk into your workplace and do your job? It doesn't change just because it's in another country. Aid and development work takes training too, and not everyone can do it. As for "I'll do anything, even sweep floors," well of course there are plenty of people who are willing to sweep floors, and many of them already live near the office.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I took the PATH to the Amtrak to the Metro yesterday, to get from my home in JC to where I met my mother, sister, and the Other Marie for an afternoon, before I took the Metro to the Amtrak to the PATH to get back home just after midnight.

My mother posted a photo of me and the Other Marie on her blog.The Other Marie has her eyes open in that one.

One of the day's highlights was when a certain person that I know pulled her wallet out of her coat pocket in Staples and as she pulled it out, a Tampax flew up in the air and landed on the floor at Staples. The cashier, a dignified older man, didn't miss a beat and stared straight up like he hadn't seen it, though my mother and I were collapsing in giggles while the other person grabbed the Tampax and shoved it back into her coat.

Staples Alexandria Duke Street cashier: All class.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Giving Thanks for Not Having to Blow Up Giant Frogs for a Living

Actually, the idea of blowing up giant Kermits for a living sounds kind of appealing. I don't mind the idea so much.

I went to the Macy's balloon inflation on Wednesday night. I've almost gone many times, but it's usually too cold to brave the streets after dark the night before Thanksgiving.

It was a mob scene, with the mob mostly being made up of wee children.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Guinea Fowl with That?

For years, I thought this was a photo of l'il me with my color-by-number acrylic painting, my turkey drawing, and my pilgrim hat.

But I just took a close look, and it is clearly not a turkey. This Marie-art is a guinea fowl. So my Thanksgiving photo has gone off-course a bit.

Which means somewhere, there is a turkey photo. Maybe next year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Atlas-Reading Grown-Ups

My sister forced everyone she met to look at my 3-D World Atlas & Tour. Even our mother. And then she took their photos.

And put them on Facebook. Have a look.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Work Stuff

Wall Street Journal. Day job.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Headless Me

Kelly sent me some photos of me at the bookstore appearance.

Strangely, I had no head in several of them. But here, in this shot, I had a head.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Guest Blogging

I'm the guest blogger right now on the Chronicle Books blog.

I did a little self-cannibalizing of my own blog and works, and I also took the opportunity to dispel the myth of seeing the Great Wall from space.

Think about it. How ridiculous is that? The Great Wall is, what, ten feet across? Sometimes it crumbles and almost disappears into the landscape. It's not even as wide as your house, unless you live in a NYC railroad, in which case your 8-foot-wide apartment is probably in a large building that is way wider than the Great Wall but duh, cannot be seen from space.

Okay, sure, bring a telescope with lots of power and you can see anything. We're talking naked eye here.

I personally have not been to space to confirm all of this, and I think in China it's a "fact" that the Wall can be seen from space, but I went to a lot of trouble to look it up and NASA astronauts agree—nope, can't see it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Knitting With Marie

I went to my second (and final) knitting class last night with Roberta and Michael Kraiger. There's a new coffee shop dedicated to knitting in JC, so it seemed wise to take advantage of it while it is still here. This new shop could surprise me and be in business in a year—it sells coffee, after all—but it does seem bit too nichey to survive. Knichey. Whatever.

I was discouraged. Roberta showed up with a good six inches of knitted red scarf, perfectly stitched. Kraiger had done even more, though less perfectly. I'd had a great deal of practice and "casting on" (loading up one stick at the start) and the "knit stitch" (the basic movement that is the basis for knitting), because I'd screwed up about 12 times, and had to rip out what I'd done to start over.

But every time I finished a few rows, I'd end up with a big knot. This repeated itself in front of the others. I pulled the mess off the needle and dangled it in the air.

"I'm good at sewing," I whined plaintively. "You can't be good at everything."

"She's a perfectionist." Kraiger dismissed the teacher's concerns when the teacher worried that she hadn't taught me well.

I glared at him, thinking "You'll pay for that Monday, when you are my assistant at work."

I hate knitting. I am a lousy knitter. That's fine, I suppose. I can leave knitting to those who appreciate it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Photos of Iran

In 1998, I visited Iran.

This trip was part of a longer expedition, an overland truck trip from Kathmandu to Damascus. You know about overland trucks, right? Remember in Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, when I went on that Dragoman truck around Ethiopia? Each truck is modified to have bus-style seats for passengers, a small fridge, a card table, a small library, safes, overhead nets or racks, storage space for luggage, camping gear and additional storage on top of the truck, and kitchen gear underneath. Trucks also carry spare parts and spare water/fuel.

Anyway, Americans were not getting into Iran independently or with groups when I signed up for the Kathmandu to Damascus overland truck trip. But I had a plan.

I'd read on this here Internet-thingy (yes, kids, we had Internet in 1998) that the way to get into Iran was to hire a special visa expediter. I hired an Iranian travel specialist in Switzerland and he did it! He got me a visa.

I didn't run around advertising my nationality inside Iran, but I didn't deny it either. Most people didn't seem to mind.

I posted some photos of Iran here and I'll scan in more tomorrow.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I Got Clout

Wasta is an Arabic word that makes the world go 'round in the Gulf. It means influence, or clout, or connections. Need to get paperwork through a ministry in a hurry? You better have wasta. If you don't, it's acceptable to know someone with wasta, so long as that person will contact their connections on your behalf.

I had no wasta of my own in the Gulf, but I knew people who were well-connected. This translated into a kind of semi-wasta for me, where if I had asked the right person to ask another right person, I could possibly have accomplished something.

Here at home, it's not always so different. And here at home, as in the Gulf, I have a terrific shortage of my own wasta. This might be due to my working class childhood, my choice of colleges, my disrespect for normal society, or my career choices. Whatever. I don't have wasta. Sometimes I don't care, because in my heart of hearts, I naively believe that living with sincerity, hard work, and honesty will pay off one day. Though this belief is challenged so frequently that I am having a hard time sticking to it as I age and wilt.

Wasta is kind of like being on the guest list. All the time.

For months now, we've been trying to switch my office's storage unit out of the name of a colleague who left the company and into my name (since I have the corporate card that the bill needs to go to).

D, the kid who does support work in my office, called Manhattan Mini-St0rage some time back.

"I need to change the name on the storage unit."

"The guy whose name is currently on it needs to come in. So does the person whose name it's being changed to."

But that wasn't going to happen. The former colleague has a job too...he cannot go to the storage place during the day. And I have made myself so busy after work that I can ONLY go during the day.

And so we waited. The former colleague got a new bill for the storage unit.

"Tell D to take care of this!"

Uh...hmm. What to do?

D called the storage place again.

"Is there some other way to do this?"


"What about...?"


"Can't I...?"


He gave up. Another week went by.

"Take care of this," I groused at him.

"What should I do?"

"I don't care. Do something. Fix it." I'm a firm believer in continuing to push until you get an answer you can deal with. And I didn't want to spend my time chasing this.

He called the storage place again. Somehow, he got a manager on the phone.

"I need to change it from one name to another, please, isn't there something you can do? I need to put the unit in the name of my editor in chief, Marie Javins."


"Marie Javins? You mean the writer who travels all over Africa?"

Turns out the manager of the mini-storage place owns the garage next to my single-car condo-garage. Minutes later, he cheerfully agreed that the ex-colleague could write a letter, and I just had to come on down with it, and he'd get all the paperwork sorted out.

I have wasta at Manhattan Mini-Storage.

What a waste of wasta.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Today's Bookstore Event

My in-store appearance for the 3-D children's atlas was unlike any other event I've ever participated in.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I'll be speaking and showing photos tomorrow at Book Culture on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at 11 a.m.

It looks like rain.

Come on out and make a girl feel useful, okay?

Book Culture
536 W. 112th St (at Broadway)
11 a.m.
Children's section (upstairs)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

But I Didn't Inhale

Did everyone see this NY Times story that China is covered in toxic industrial soot? That it's blotting the sun out by 20 percent in some places?

Yancey and I could both have told you that. We were there in April of 2001, and yeah, I don't remember who ended up sicker. No, I do remember. Yancey was sicker than me at that point. But I'd been assimilating already by then, through Bangkok and Hanoi. Didn't help me in Cairo though. I got a horrible cough there initially.

I wonder how the clouds would have looked over the Northeast US during the Industrial Revolution, or if it was just too much "smaller" a world then to have the same impact.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Whatever It Is, I Think It's Important

On Saturday, I am speaking to impressionable young minds about the merits of dik-diks, Djibouti, and Lake Titicaca.

And this site mentioned my appearance. Though I've never heard of the site, they apparently get a lot of traffic because the bookstore in question has been flooded with orders for the 3-D World Atlas & Tour.

Come on by. I'll be at Book Culture on W. 112th just east of Broadway, starting at 11 a.m. I'll wear my new skirt and boots, even.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Insult or Compliment?

I had to go to Brooklyn yesterday to pick up my new custom-made Flirt-skirt and to see a designer about taking in another article of clothing that I'd bought from her flea market stand.

Brooklyn is a big place, with lots of different neighborhoods. I started in Carroll Gardens, which I like, and walked through Gowanus over the canal (now one of my favorite parts of Brooklyn) and then on into Park Slope. After taking care of the business I was there for, I dodged strollers and training wheels on my way to the coffee shop, where I intended to get a snack and do some work on a 3-D atlas piece I'm trying to write for the Chronicle Books blog.

I scanned the menu and addressed the counter help.

"What bread does the hummus and avocado sandwich come on?"

"Whole grain or alsatian."

"Alsatian?" I was puzzled. "Sounds like a dog. What about the chili? Does that have tofu in it?"

I didn't mean to spit it out like tofu was the devil. But y'see, to me, it is. I'm horribly allergic. But the guy behind the counter didn't know that.

"No, no tofu." He laughed at me a little. "It's turkey. It's really good."

"Turkey chili?" I probably looked a little appalled. "I'll have... the BLT."

I thought for a second and then realized I should make sure.

"That's pig meat, right? Not turkey bacon or tofu bacon?"

Shocked, the counter help looked at me.

"You're not very Park Slope."

I squirmed. "I'm not from around here," I said after a minute.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Welcome to New York, Now Go Home

This sign is posted in front of the Woolworth Building. Which made me wonder, since I'm not a tourist, could I march right in?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

More Brain Work

We started knitting school last night. Me, Kraiger, Roberta. Well, Roberta had to start the night before due to a scheduling conflict, but she'll be knitting with us next time at the Stockinette Cafe around the corner from me in JC. It's in a place that used to be a deli belonging to the brother-in-law of my friend Pete (who used to be assistant editor on X-Men when I was coloring X-books).

Our teacher was patient and sweet, and coincidentally belongs to the same knitting group as Kraiger's neighbor. His neighbor knows me too, from 20 years ago, when life for me, the Other Marie, and Nancy was about splitting our time between work, sleeping, and watching music at Maxwell's. I've seen the knitting group down the street at BASIC, and I always thought it was odd, all these people sitting around a table chatting and clicking needles.

And now I am one of them. Well, not really. I assume they know what they are doing. I do not.

I did work out how to get the yarn onto the needle, and then how to knit it off onto the other needle, and then switch hands and start over. But it looked like a bunch of knots.

Which is what it is, I suppose. So maybe I'm doing okay.

Friday, November 07, 2008

But Isn't That A Bit Risky?

Eight babies in a Kisumu, Kenya, hospital were named either Barack or Michelle yesterday. Two of them were twins, a boy and a girl.

I know it's like getting a Superman logo tattoo and then hoping the franchise doesn't start to suck. But how cute.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

About Last Night

At quarter past eleven, New York City erupted in a community primal scream, a shout so jubilant that only one person appeared to not be swept up in it.

"What's going on up there?" The token booth clerk at 86th and Broadway asked a customer.

"It's for Obama."


"You don't care?"

"No. Obama. Whatever."

I guess if I had to sit in a bullet-proof booth night after night, handing out MetroCards, I'd be kind of dejected too.

But for the other New Yorkers, there was no stopping the joy. The horns, the hoots, the shouts. The occasional "It's over!" But why quarter-past, why not at eleven on the dot when California, Oregon, and Washington reported in and tipped the scales?

Cuz people were crying. Total silence for a minute, and then gasps and sniffles. I looked around the room I was in, watching my friend's big-ass flat-screen TV. Not a dry eye in the house. Earlier that evening, when I'd rushed uptown after class, the streets had been abandoned as New Yorkers gathered around televisions and held their breath. We're not exactly a stronghold of the right-wing up here, plus any way you cut it, the neocons were out. Now the question was, what direction would we go in?

I don't envy Obama his new job. It's no secret that two things that got him where he is now are Iraq and the economy. Neither of which has any obvious or easy solution. Neither of which can be repaired without significantly unpopular choices and some national—and global—pain. A bit of perceived betrayal is inevitable. But damned if we didn't witness a cultural and generational shift last night. Baby boomers were put on notice. The balance of power shifted from old-school to something as-yet-unnamed.

And you know that scene at the end of Star Wars, where celebrations take place around the galaxy? Keep your eyes on the BBC today, that's all I'm saying.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day Edition

Have you ever tried to explain the concept of "tyranny of the masses" to a non-English-speaking man in an unindustrialized country? Have you ever been cornered by a person who lives in a hut, has no plumbing, makes three thousand dollars a year, and wants to know how the USA can go around making demands of other countries when it cannot even get its own elections straight? Stuttered out something vague about the Electoral College to a local guide on a hike in Papua New Guinea?

Have you ever watched as the opinion of your country changed from grudging respect tinged with envy to distaste? Have you seen foreign taxi drivers to academics shake their heads in disbelief at the actions of your very own government?

I have. Most of these moments are immortalized online in one place or another.

I know that next January, we'll all be disappointed, and that the problems our country—and by extension, the world—faces are massive and unmanageable and that on some level, we are all deeply screwed, but seeing the handmade signs that read HOPE, or the WE ARE READY TO BELIEVE AGAIN banner on the window at Gray's Papaya, or the photos of Tanzania on Pernille's blog really does get cynical me all misty-eyed for just a minute.

Monday, November 03, 2008

From Target to 8th Street

Here's my new toy.

We've only had one fight so far, but a quick look at the instruction manual straightened that out.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Skirt Class: Part 3

I'm sorry to report that I did not make a brilliant, cool skirt in skirt class.

Instead I produced something that didn't quite work, and looks like someone's kid sewed it in Home Ec in high school. No, someone's kid probably would have done a little better.

I was doing really well in Classes 1 & 2, but in Class 3, I lost the plot. First, we were a little late. Second, I was more interested in showing off my old Whitegirl brand party dresses from an indie designer in JC in the early nineties. Third, my bobbin spazzed (so did Denise's), and finally, I managed to sew my zig-zag stitch right into my straight stitch along the hem.

I took out the zig-zag stitch with the seam ripper, but meanwhile the class was moving on to twill tape waistbands. Things were getting away from me.

I industriously plowed ahead, but could feel frustration rising in me. Denise was having the same problem, as her machine rebelled. I could hear her lecturing it, but nothing seemed to work.

Then, one of the other students kind of lost it. She was even more frustrated than we were, and looked quite upset.

Denise and I talked about it at the coffee shop afterwards. That was the moment when we'd both caught ourselves, stopped our rising frustrations, laughed a bit, and gotten back to work.

Neither of us was that thrilled with our final products, and we both made the mistake where our top hems don't meet at the zippers. So she bought another skirt and I ordered a custom-made one.

Made by Patti at Flirt, that is. Not by me.