Monday, December 31, 2018

Backyard Safari

Coffee shop conversation, this morning in Bergen-Lafayette, JC:

Cashier: "Trust me, you don't want a dog."

Barista: "Get a fish, man."

Owner: "I got that, I got four fish. Guess who has to clean the tank?"

I don't have any pets myself. I like pets a lot, but they hamper one's ability to move freely across the world.

But my mom gave me one of her game cams, and I rigged it up in my backyard in Jersey City. Within hours, I had photos of cats and squirrels and raccoons.

I put in fresh batteries and a 64 GB memory card. Can't wait to see what I have next time I go home.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Deer Safari

My mother and I headed up to Skyline Drive on Christmas Eve.

Saturday, December 22, 2018


Here are a few fun moments I ran across while running errands in Manhattan this morning. 

Single-use? Not really.

Monday, December 17, 2018

On the List

An email showed up in my vanity in-box (my name at myname with a dot com after it). This email said I was on someone's end-of-year list, did I want to give a quote and a photo?

I ignored it for 24 hours, sure it was some new way of trying to lure me into responding to spam. But it seems a bit too authentic--spelled correctly, used my full name...I sent it to one of my job's senior publicists.

"That's real," she said. "Better get that photo going."

The quote was easy enough, though I ran out of time to edit it down to a short one. When you provide too many words, you never like the cuts. And my photos were all the wrong size--most of my attempts at an author photo are on film in NJ.

Steve Cook, one of our art directors, is a photographer, so when I came back from winter break, I went to him straight from the airport. He wouldn't let me blur the skin or lighten around my eyes, but he did a great job even au natural, and the site is for young women. "Screw it," I thought. "If I'm setting an example, let all 52 years hang out." (I did tweak it a little later, just a tiny bit.)

Here is the list as it showed up on Refinery 29. I sort of knew this was coming, this tying my career to that of a former male colleague, and for the record, I was already a group editor long before his story ended. I was even an editor in chief before--remember the Kuwaiti job? I earned my position over 30 years, gender aside. I had to take a step down to go to DC.

Below is the uncut comment I provided.

Q: You began your career as an intern at Marvel Comics in the '80s. How do you feel having a woman at the helm of the company would've motivated or inspired you back then? How do you think we can help women see themselves as superheroes today?

A: By the time I interned at Marvel, Jenette Kahn had been in charge of DC for more than a decade, so I didn’t have to look far to see women at the helm of a comics company. And at Marvel itself, women worked both in the office and as freelance writers, artists, colorists, and letterers, but maddeningly—like centuries of women in teaching, nursing, and childcare—history tends to ghost them, to overlook their contributions. The stage was set for me by Louise Simonson, Marie Severin, Ann Nocenti, Jo Duffy, Bobbie Chase, Flo Steinberg, Carol Kalish, and countless others, and I honor their legacies by supporting the younger women at DC now. I try to teach the staff to navigate complex situations with fearlessness, strategy, patience, humor, and a small dose of subversiveness. Sure, it helps that I’ve gone around the world alone twice on public transport, lived in eight countries, written nine books, and been the editor-in-chief of a comic book staff based in Cairo and Kuwait, but I find the younger generation doesn’t need me to show them how to be superheroes by fighting with corrupt border guards or pickpockets. They were already crashing into the glass ceiling of their own accord before I started pointing out the weak spots.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Holiday on Wheels

The WB holiday party actually involved roller skating this year. Roller skating! I was good at this as a pre-teenager at the Alexandria Roller Rink, long since destroyed and replaced by condos or whatever.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018

Haiti Souvenirs

After carrying my souvenirs from Haiti to my mother's house, I posted them all across the country. They arrived today.

They look great!

Sunday, November 25, 2018


I just followed a link to a 1940 b&w tax photo of my first condo, the Avenue B one.

52 years after this photo, I bought this 463 square foot apartment for $56,500. The rest, as they say, is history.

Well, history I care about and very few others do, but history nevertheless. This is how I have been able to travel freely around the world and treat jobs with curiosity rather than necessity.

My building didn't change all that much in 52 years.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


I woke up at 6, had a quick shower that never really got warm, enjoyed a good breakfast at La Lorraine, and headed to the Port-Au-Prince Airport international terminal. In addition to my small backpack, I was carrying a paper maché chicken along with a horse head, three iron wall decorations, and four paintings among my souvenirs.

As the flight took off from Port-Au-Prince, I reflected on my incredible week, and how Haiti's general strike had altered my plans. As the protests and work stoppages had led to roadblocks, I'd lost my itinerary a day at a time, eventually going from four days in PAP to a little less than 24 hours, with most of the city shuttered.

And yet my singular experience had likely been made better for having to wing it. This week in Haiti—no, less than a single week—had been one of those rare trips, the kind we seek out year after year, holiday after holiday, where our goal is human interactions of the sort you can't get at a theme park. Well, maybe you can, if someone in a dog outfit is tasked with repairing plumbing and asks you to hold their wrench. But it's unlikely.

Haiti has few enough tourists that Haitians do not appear to be sick of us. They are not jaded by our selfish requests and attempts to interact for our own satisfaction. We tourists are still individuals here, treated with far fewer clichéd expectations than in many destinations. Heck, I'm not even sure Haiti is a destination. That's something you say in glossy travel magazines. Haiti is a place. A destination is something involving a lot more infrastructure and many more ways to spend your tourist dollars.

And yet, the exquisitely human interactions my delays had led to were in no way good for the country itself. One day of protests had been planned, and this had so far led to five days of paralysis. I felt guilty for having enjoyed my trip. Ten Haitians had died, according to news reports. One tourist had been shot by bandits on a road near a resort. And here I was, thrilled by the minor interactions with artists and schoolchildren.

I do not believe there is an inherent difference between a tourist and a traveler. I believe the difference is merely one's opinion of one's actions--people say "I'm a traveler" because they are embarrassed to admit how frivolous planned adventures really are. I am unabashedly frivolous in a way, as I carefully spend money purely in service of my own need for adventure. The people I visit with likely think me quite mad, and I am reminded of a Namibian travel executive I met who rolled his eyes and suggested tourist dollars might be better spend in a hundred different ways. He's not wrong, of course, but possessions aren't all that special either, so maybe there are only 99 different ways. Later, I'd count every cent I'd spent on the trip—including vaccines, guidebooks, the private plane, the booze for the vodou ceremony, every coffee downed in airports, the malaria meds I'd decided not to take—and learn my careful spending still added up to $2,800 for my week away from home. If that's not frivolous, I don't know what is.

But I wouldn't trade this past week. Well, I would, but the offer would have to be pretty damn good, because this had been one of those rare trips where pretty much everything had been fascinating, and I'd been alone the whole time without once being circumstantially isolated from those around me.

Less than an hour into my flight, I looked down and saw Cap-Haitien. That seemed like so long ago now! But today was Thursday and I'd taken that photo the previous Saturday morning.

An hour later, I saw Florida beneath me. We landed in Ft. Lauderdale, where I met a friend for a Thanksgiving BLT at a hotel restaurant. Later, I put on my socks for my connecting flight into winter, and by evening, I was at my mother's house near Washington DC, contemplating the nature of life and paper maché chickens.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The (Improvised) Artsy Tour of Port-Au-Prince

Getting off a tiny private plane was a little different from getting off a commercial airliner in Port-Au-Prince. For one thing, I had to pay on arrival. I was taken by golf cart to a separate terminal from the main arrivals one, where a friendly missionary office worker ran my credit card and then ushered me out to the curb outside the terminal.

Another difference was only one taxi driver lackadaisically asked if I needed a ride. I’m sure things are different when an entire plane arrives, plus I was at the domestic terminal, but I was startled by how low-key my arrival was.

My driver, the one I’d confirmed just last night, was nowhere to be found. I sat down to wait. After a minute, I dug out my phone to text him.

No signal.

I spent the next five minutes wandering around, my phone held high to the sky. I was just about to beg an airline check-in desk for the password to their wifi connection when my cellular signal suddenly clicked in. I texted my driver. “I am coming,” he said. He was the same driver who’d taken me to the bus depot last Saturday, the last day Haiti had normal working hours.

He had been confused about my arrival time, but he showed up within 20 minutes. Driving in PAP today was easy. The streets were still nearly deserted as a result of Haiti’s general strike.

As we drove from the airport to La Lorraine Hotel in Petionville, the driver told me stories of his other clients. Everyone was stuck somewhere, sending him updates. He handed me his phone and asked me to text a tourist in Cap-Haitien about my private plane solution, so I gamely did so.

We quickly arrived in Petionville, though we had to pass a bad car accident on the way.

At La Lorraine, a different driver and guide were there waiting for me, their car full of touristy treats like a straw hat, a coconut, and a Haiti keychain. I'd booked two day tours with a travel agency, but obviously nothing had worked out, so we were improvising based on whatever was open. I wasn't even sure we had any business being out on the streets, but they didn't seem worried so I checked in, left my luggage, and raced down to their car. I cleared the sedan’s back seat of the souvenirs (What am I going to do with those?), hopped in, and off we went.

High Over Jacmel

Here's a look at Jacmel from the tiny plane that flew me from there to Port-Au-Prince.

And here are a few photos.

Arrival at Port-Au-Prince airport 

A New High (or Low?)

When I checked out of the hotel this morning, the clerk laughed and said "See you soon."

"God, I hope not," I said. She was a nice clerk, but my thwarted attempts to leave Jacmel for Port-Au-Prince during a countrywide general strike had a Groundhog Day-like feel to them.

This was getting old.

I walked to the corner and hailed a moto-taxi using just a slight tip of my chin. I'd only been on a few motorcycle taxis in Haiti, but they work the same all over the world. I used to take one from town to my bungalow every night in Ubud for the month I stayed in Bali in 2011. And of course, I took them frequently in Kampala when I stayed there in 2005. And, you know, in other places too.

I was off to Jacmel's airport, just an airstrip and a building, really. The moto-taxi driver hand-signaled to get into the airport, so I paid the man 30 gourdes instead of 20 for his extra safety efforts. (He'd had to dodge a few smoldering tires where the protesters had been, so I probably should have tipped him more).

The pilot walked up to me at the airport security checkpoint. "You're Marie?" He was an earnest young American man, but what else would you be when you're a pilot for Mission Aviation Fellowship? We brought along one of their employees who had gone to Jacmel and become stuck there, just like me.

The six-seater held a pilot, a co-pilot, me, and the employee.

We took off, rising quickly over the sea and then turned back around to fly over the town.

Good-bye, Jacmel! You are lovely.

After days of trying to get over the mountain in a two-hour long bus ride, the $274 private plane journey took 15 minutes.

And came with spectacular views.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Last Day in Jacmel

I packed, but I didn't bother taking my bag to the bus depot. I didn't even take them out of my room this time.

I walked up the street, away from the Jacmel historic district. The farther you walk from Rue du Commerce, the most typical the city looks, with rubbish on the roads and traffic and chickens and motorbikes. The walk up to La Source takes about ten minutes. 

The depot gate was shut. I pushed it opened and barged in. 

"Wout la bloké?" I asked. 

"The road is still closed. We do not know when it will open again."

I wasn't surprised. I'd seen a lot of policemen at the staging area, in front of town headquarters. They had on what I can best describe as riot gear, and they'd go off north up the road in trucks. Were they going to the road block? To some kind of checkpoint? I don't know.

I walked back toward my hotel, and as I crossed the river, I was greeted.

"Hey, you are still here?"

The man greeting me had been one of the few with an open shop on Sunday during the initial protests. He was carrying a sack of groceries, but he adjusted them and shook my hand.

"Wout la bloké," I said ruefully. He laughed. I laughed. What else could was there?

"Good luck," he said, as I continued on my way.

A Visit to Church, in a way

"Don't eat anything! Don't let anyone touch you." The hotel manager's instructions stopped me. I looked at him, puzzled. I'd been reading in the guidebooks how vodou (not voodoo, which is something in New Orleans that mostly seems to involve souvenirs) is not about zombies and scary movies. It's a religion. Spiritualism.

The hotel manager laughed and laughed.

Oh. He was joking. Maybe? I mean, he's from Brooklyn, but before that, he was from Haiti. He knew vodou wasn't what we've seen in the movies.

I found the guide for the evening in front of the Florita, where he always is. He asked if I had money for rum—the donation to the vodou ceremony.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Patron of the Arts

Back at the Jacmel Arts Center, the guy who had pulled me off the stairs at the request of the police wanted to show me his art.

I looked at every painting by every artist. Finally, I said "I will give you twenty dollars, and you choose the painting."

He immediately got to work, considering.

"Not by another artist. One of yours," I explained.

"I represent all the artists," he said.

"I know, but I want one of yours."

He chose one, wrapped it up, and sent me on my way.

Wout la Bloké

At 6, I hopped out of bed in my Jacmel hotel and turned on the shower. The water takes a minute to warm up, so doing this involves consciously ignoring one's guilt about water shortages in Haiti.

I hurried downstairs right before breakfast started, but service was taking too long. I watched impatiently as the staff showed up, and eventually my coffee did too. I was nervously watching the time. On my three-hour ride down, I'd just missed the previous bus (what can I say, I was on a plane), and I had to wait two hours for the next bus. And the downtown Port-Au-Prince bus depot is not the kind of place where you whip out an iPad and start reading. This is what paperbacks were made for, but I'm not carrying one here—I went with carry-on luggage only, one tiny backpack and my handbag.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Lazy Sunday

I sat eating breakfast inside the hotel's dining room, dimmed by the security doors which had not been pulled aside today, here on national strike day in Haiti. My Kindle app was full, but I didn't really want to sit inside all day. Still, there was no rush. It was Sunday morning, after all. Few businesses would be open.

I asked for milk with my coffee, and the server looked quizzically at me. "Um...lait?" I tried. She still didn't know what I meant. Finally, she said "Oh, let." And I assumed that's the pronunciation in Creole, but maybe I'm totally wrong.

"Haiti the beautiful asks for justice," said the Facebook posts of an artist I'd met the day before. She was ready to take to the streets. Everyone in town was either protesting or in lockdown in case of problems.

I peeked outside after a few hours. Some Haitians were venturing out. I saw a boy walk by with a radio to his ear. At first, I thought he was listening to the news, but then I realized a football game was happening.

I headed downstairs to go outside for a walk, and as I passed the front desk, the hotel owner abruptly clicked off the TV before I could get a look at it. A guy in one of the few open art studios later explained why. “The reports are bad from Port Au Prince,” he said. “One person has died already.”

I bought three little wooden figures from him for $6, because if someone bothered to open today, I figured they deserved at least a small sale. Then a guy in a park said "Oh, hey, I'll open my shop for you." I'd been in his shop yesterday, but I went along anyway. I bought this wooden Haiti sculpture with a world in its bay.

People in Jacmel were inquisitive and friendly. I was never at a loss for people to chat with. Some asked me which agency I worked for. Red Cross was a popular guess. They'd look pleased and surprised when I say I’m a tourist. Fun Marie fact—I was reputedly the first tourist into East Timor after the revolution. Actually, that's not really a fact. I don’t even believe it myself, but in 2001, some people told me this was true.

As a tourist, I wanted to go take photos of the protests, but I understood my role was to stay out of the way, though Jacmel's protests were probably nothing like what was going on in Port-Au-Prince or even Cap-Haitien.

I stopped at Colin's Hotel for lunch, because it was 1) open and 2) had food. After I finished eating, I went to the cashier and asked "Where are these?" I showed her a photo of the Préfète Duffaut stairs. She said "Above Sogebank."

So off I went and there they were! Right where I turned into the stairs, two scooters collided and some guys started yelling at each other. But the police were there. OH WAIT, the police were there. I scurried up the stairs, hoping they wouldn't see me and send me back to the hotel.

A minute later, a guy I'd met yesterday at the art center came hurrying up after me.

"The police would like you to come back down. It is not safe here. Last time the protests happened, many people rushed down these stairs.”

Oh, okay. 

I went back to the hotel for a while, then went for another walk. A few more shops had opened up, but not the one with the painting I liked. I wandered down to the sea, walked along the mosaic path at the ocean's edge. Crash! What was that?

I looked over to see a lamp post had toppled into the sea. Several Haitians gathered to fetch the parts of it back out. They stood there with the pieces of the lamp post, unsure what to do next.

Tomorrow, I thought, I will go to the bus around 7:30 in the morning and catch La Source back to Port-Au-Prince. I'd pre-booked a ride in PAP to get me from La Source to my hotel in Petion-ville, since I now had my hands full with my paper maché horse head and my chicken.

Au revoir, Jacmel!

Photos of my lazy Sunday are here. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018


I'd visited several art stores on my whirlwind race around Jacmel, and now, as the end of the day approached, I left dance practice at the arts center and hurried back to see Charlotte and her paper maché horses.

I don't know how I knew that Charlotte was the one to stop and talk with. I saw her sitting in a park, working on a piece, and she was like a magnet. I realize that sounds ridiculous, but some people just have "it," whatever "it" is. I brush by a lot of people. Not this person. I stopped and greeted her. She showed me how she works.

I stopped to talk to her and took a few photos, then continued my town tour.

Now, as dusk approached, I hurried back to get a piece from her before she closed her shop. Tomorrow was protest day, so nothing would be open as everyone would either be out protesting or behind closed doors, and Monday morning, I was heading to Port-Au-Prince.

Charlotte was about to close up shop and head home, so I quickly chose a horse and a chicken. She spent several minutes polishing them both, taking pride in her work, and packing them carefully in paper packing materials. I hope they make them home.

Dance Practice

I gobbled down my lunch and raced off to see the town of Jacmel. Tomorrow Haitians were planning a general strike (initially, a travel agent had written to me that "riots are scheduled for November 18"), so I didn't think anything would be open. My late arrival meant I had about 3 hours to see the town before dark.

I'd studied my guidebooks and mapped out a quick route around Jacmel's historic center. My goal was to visit the art stores and workshops. I hit up several on one block, ran into Charlotte (a lovely and talented paper mache artist), then walked by the Jacmel Arts Center, where drumming came from the open upstairs windows. An artist pulled me in to upstairs and see this. Wonderful!

A Saturday Drive

Here we are pulling out of Port Au Prince.

IMG_2964 from Marie Javins on Vimeo.

From Cap-Haptien to Jacmel

The hotel breakfast started at 7 a.m., when I had to leave for the airport. Leaving was complicated by a different guest who was being dropped off at the bus station, and decided to still be in bed at departure time. I watch wide-eyed as the hotel staff brought down giant bag after giant bag from the budget rooms up the hill. Who could be traveling with so much luggage? (A cruise line employee on his way home, it turned out.)

No problem about missing breakfast, I thought. I’ll eat at the airport. But the airport restaurant was closed at 7:30. To be honest, it didn't look like it had much anyway.

The flight from Cap-Haitien to the Port Au Prince domestic terminal took only half an hour, but the terminal had no food. I'd booked a transfer with a taxi service, Eagle Transfers, in order to avoid running the gauntlet, but the gauntlet turned out to be one man saying "Do you need a taxi?" I didn't, and my driver was there waiting for me, so that chaos of flying into PAP is either exaggerated or only in the international terminal.

I thought I’d get something to eat at the bus station. Here is the bus station.

I ended up eating stale cookies from a nearby market. Well, not really eating. More like tasting a few and then asking where the trash was. (It was a cardboard box inside this dark room.)

And this is why you want to never go in the road with a coffee habit. And why I always end up eating crap on this kind of trip.

I was a little surprised at the filthiness of the part of town with all the buses. I had read about the rubbish problem but seeing it firsthand is different than reading about it, and it made me never want to buy water in a plastic bottle again. I was timid and didn't run off to the taptap station to find a better options when I arrived at the bus depot and saw the list of passengers was blank. My name was the first one on the list. I had most likely just missed one.

The "hourly" departures are of course not hourly. Buses depart when full. Even the jitneys in Port Authority operate this way. I sat there staring into space and nibbling on stale cookies for two hours. My Kindle app on my iPad is full, but I felt awkward pulling out my iPad. Everyone everywhere has a phone. No one in this circumstance has an iPad. I did read things on my phone a bit, but I was worried about running out of power on the ride to Jacmel.

The monotony was finally broken when a passenger showed up with a cat on a string. I guess if you don't have a cat carrier, you have limited options for taking a cat on a bus. Daddy went to go buy the two tickets, one for himself and one for his bag with the cat attached to it, Cat became very worried and meowed loudly until he returned.

After waiting for two hours, the bus showed up. We were all motioned on, and since I'd been the first on the list, I got first choice of seats. And yet somehow, I wasn't allowed the front seat. (Boo.) I think because the guy riding shotgun was a friend of the driver. I chose the driver side second seat—the first doesn't really get enough leg room.

We pulled out, one driver, six passengers, and one cat, heading through PAP toward the mountains, in a dusty bus with plastic sealing up a missing back left window. The radio was on, and as we pulled past streets full of people, motorbikes, and trash, "We Are the World" serenaded us on our way to the mountains.

The ride was hot and dusty and took three hours. In Jacmel, I trudged out of the La Source depot and turned right, down the block. Ten minutes later, I turned onto a pedestrianized historic street with old buildings, most of them crumbling. And there, right across from my brand-new hotel, was a coffee shop.

At last.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Citadelle Henry & Sans Souci

Cap-Haitien is the second-largest city in Haiti, but it's really quite small compared to Port-Au-Prince.

I stopped here to first see Citadelle Henry, a massive garrison built in the early 1800s. Perhaps the intimidating fort did its job well. No one attacked it and thus it was never used for its original purpose.

James, the hotel manager, had told me what to pay everyone involved in getting me up the mountain to the fort (aside from the hotel driver, I mean).

First, it was five dollars to get in. The hotel covered that as part of its $40 fee for the day. I guess that makes it $35.

Second, I had to pay ten dollars for the horse.

Third, the horse attendants work for tips. So $2-3 each. (There are two.)

Fourth, if I wanted a guide, the official one at the office would be $15, or the unofficial one would be $10.

Of course, I would rather wander around the site alone and take photos, but sometimes a guide is not so much about getting information as about participating in the local economy. So I got a ten dollar guide and a horse (whether or not these are happy, healthy horses is a matter of some debate), two boys to guide the horse (I can ride a horse, but again, this is part of my responsibility of being a tourist), and off we went from "second parking," which is as high up the mountain as you can get in a vehicle.

Macho, one of the horse guides was taking Spanish in school. The other guide was taking English. My French is godawful, and my Spanish might even be worse, so we were quite the ridiculous team going up the mountain. The guide spoke some English, but he took the shortcut up over boulders while we trotted along the path.

The boys told me the horse's name was Toyota. I asked if the other horses were named Honda, Mercedes, Ford, Isuzu...Macho said "Non. Honda, Nike. Like that." I said "Like Pikachu?" He thought I was very silly then. As if a horse named Pikachu is more silly than a horse named Toyota.

The ride up was pretty harmless. For me. Toyota was working hard. The ride was short, maybe 15 minutes? I didn't time it, but it didn't take long at all.

I've posted some photos of the experience. Going down on the horse was also no big deal. I'd been dreading this, but it was nothing. Even the supposed mob scene of souvenir sellers wasn't a big deal. A firm "no thank you" helped, but what really did the trick was a car full of tourists pulled up just as I arrived and handed off my horse.

Ronny the driver took me to a hole in the fence at the to of the Sans Souci ruins. Baffled, I look at him inquisitively. He told a kid to show me the hole in the fence. "I meet you at bottom."

I climbed through the hole in the fence and meandered around the Sans Souci ruins. No souvenir sellers, no wannabe guides. It was lovely.

At the bottom, by the office, Ronny was waiting for me. We drove back to Cap-Haitien, where I tried to ask him to drop me at the coffee and croissant place. I was unable to figure out how to make myself understood, so finally I said "Lakay." That's one of the town's top restaurants, where I sat and nibbled at a chicken sandwich until finally, I wandered through town a bit more, then began my ascent of Everest.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Cap-Haitien Afternoon

I toured the town, tried to use an ATM that only took Visa cards, stopped to eat at a place called Cap Deli (which took credit cards, so no worries for having no appropriate currency), visited every kiosk in the crafts market (there must have been 20 of them), and finally, walked up that big hill.

It wasn't as bad as it looked. Well, it was pretty bad, but the experience didn't last long and it's not like I felt it the next day or anything. Harmless.

I ate dinner at the hotel, because there was no way I was climbing that hill twice in one day, and then scrubbed my laundry in the sink. Part of the fun of traveling light...