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.