Mail call

November 16, 2004

We live for mail around here. A good letter is always cause for excitement... but a package from Almaty. Well that's like hitting the lottery.


November 16, 2004

On Sunday we were scheduled to have brunch with the doctors' Winkler. Mrs. Dr. Winkler was due a week after Jenn. It was supposed to be a friendly "let's talk about how things are going in the final weeks" get together. It didn't happen. About an hour before we were supposed to meet, I got a call..."Raul... (heavy breathing)... I'm sorry but we won't be able to make..... lunch. I'm in labor... we're headed to the hospital." The call won points for drama and it freaked us out a bit kicking us into high gear to finish up the details that remained. Now our bags are packed. The nursery is done & stocked. We've taken all the classes, discussed things till we're blue in the face. I think we're as ready to go...

From Sam Shepard's Motel Chronicles:

I keep praying

For a double bill


Bad Day at Black Rock


Vera Cruz


November 14, 2004

Need a Martin D-42K? This is a very fancy guitar. My friend JP is selling one that is brand new at an absurdly low price. Email me if you want me to forward you his info. This is an amazing instrument with incredible warm sound.
It's Saturday night so we must once again be a a birth/newborn class (I think this is our last one). Perhaps doing this stuff on Saturdays prepares you for parenthood... or not. We caught Primer, a low budget sci-fi time travel movie afterwards. Fun movie for geeks... reminded me a bit of La-Jette, cheap, dirty, moody.


November 12, 2004

No matter what you think of the war, it's hard not have a grim fascination with the events in Falluja. Kevin Sites blog give you grounds eye perspective on the American side of the battle.

This is the view from an Iraqi who lives there.


November 12, 2004

With fatherhood impending, I've found myself thinking quite a bit about Jenn's dad. He died young of a heart attack when Jenn was a kid. At the time of his death he wasn't much older than I am now.

We don't have many photos, but in his formal portraits he always seems to be chaffing a bit in his suits, just suppressing a smile. By all accounts he was funny, hard working, and tough--a devoted son and father who doted on his family. I regret his not being here, just as I regret the absence of so many of the others.


November 11, 2004

You always know you are officially moved in when Albert shows up as a houseguest. His tale of being bullied into going to an initation ceremony for a quasi-cult has had us giggling for days.

Visa mig på kartan var jag är

November 9, 2004

A Swedish man wrote in today and asked me today if I had any images of holy places in Amdo. The simple answer is yes of course, I have lots of images of monasteries, temples, and specific holy sites around the region, but the truer answer is that people who live there have a very broad sense of what is a holy place. This is one of the most isolated corners of Tibet. There are large swaths of unbroken plateau. Nomads tend to move around in small family groups gathering together only occasionally for festivals and trade. There are cities, but these are few and far between. Up in the mountains you will still find pockets of pre-Buddhist animists (the Bon). For the nomads who live in a world of such utter emptiness, the mountains, the rivers, the grass, the wind, and even the yaks all have some spiritual significance. For the most part these are not literate people... their faith is expressed simply and organically. A man on horseback will remove his hat when crossing a pass even when he is alone. Women will often circle a spring before collecting water. Children will often say a small prayer before venturing into a cave. In the mountains the traveler will encounter mounds of stones arranged into stupas often near key geological or natural features. This might not sound like much but if you have been walking for hours over featureless brown plains, seeing that simple marker near a patch of wildflowers can be a profound experience. Caves and springs are often marked with bits of cloth. Praying is expressed by circumambulating whether it be a stone stupa, a cave, or an entire mountain. So the holy sites often look like nothing special in pictures, a pass marked by rocks, a slight trickle of water — the mouth of a stream, or a small patch of hillside


People ask why I keep going back... hard to say exactly, but perhaps this slightly bastardized quote from H.G. Wells explains something of it:

"Most people in this world seem to live "in character"; they have a beginning, a middle and an end... They have a class, they have a place, they know what is becoming in them. But there is also another kind of life that is not so much living as a miscellaneous tasting of life. One gets hit by some unusual transverse force, one is jerked out of one's stratum and lives crosswise for the rest of the time"


November 9, 2004

After my haircut post. I received this bit of odd bit of SPAM:

You too can have gorgeous hair.





Hair that other men envy and women can't resist. You will be a Samson and your Delilahs will come flocking.

If you want the best man hair buy....


November 9, 2004

To my European friends who look at our red/blue electoral maps on CNN and think we are all right wing rednecks, I offer this graphic by Jeff Culver at the University of Washington. It shows a US map proportional to it's electoral votes (and hence roughly proportional to population) and shaded by the intensity of the vote. This election was awfully close, in most places that matter... a landslide only in the eyes of someone who lost the popular vote last time and then declared victory.

This page by some folks at the University of Michigan offers a few more interesting cartograms.

Robert Vanderbei of Princeton also has some informative election maps.

Speaking of Princeton. This was the scene November 1986, 18! years ago:

Tom Wolfe's Hair

November 8, 2004

Ellis, the Uzbek, cut my hair again this morning. Apropos of nothing he asked, "Could you get me Mr. Tom Wolfe's phone number?"

"The writer?" I replied.

"Yes. The writer. I cut his hair for 30 years. Then he stops visiting. For three years nothing. Nothing! I thought he was my friend. I want to call and see if something is wrong."

Mr. Wolfe, if you are out there, stop by. Ellis misses hanging out.


November 6, 2004

I generally steer clear of images of sunsets, fall foliage, or kittens (cats are evil), but sitting on the roof tonight watching the sun go down behind the statue of liberty was awfully nice.

Local Color

November 6, 2004

Jenn and I have been debating the feasability of travelling with the baby during it's first year. My theory: while the baby is breastfeeding, travelling is relatively easy. Strange food is not an issue. The kid is still relatively light and emotionally undemanding. & The baby will open up all sorts of dialog with the locals. Jenn's theory: I'm crazy.

Feeling woozy

November 5, 2004

Because of the previous post, I've received a couple of emails today asking me about traveling around Amdo... I keep going back to this area and over the years things have gotten progressively easier, but one thing hasn't's still basically many many hours in buses...

...but busses are cool because when you arrive someplace you always get invited in for tea:

If you want more detail I refer you to an old series of travelogue emails I originally sent to a Sino-centric travel list run by Peter Neville-Hadley. You can join the travel list by sending an email to this address.

Nothing much to report from Brooklyn. I have a cold. It's raining. I'm swamped with work and annoyed that I'm sick three weeks before Jenn is due (it could be any day now).

Demon Chasing Festival

November 3, 2004

As I've been in scanning mode all week I've finally been looking at hundreds of images I took two years ago when visiting a Demon Chasing Festival in Amdo (they've been sitting in boxes the whole time). It's funny how certain images stand out. These two were right next to each other on a roll of Kodachrome taken as I was waiting for the festival to begin.


November 3, 2004

We stayed up late last night watching returns and now we're both to depressed to blink. My friend Kevin wrote a letter from Europe that sums it up neatly.

At least our house is coming along and we have a nice place to mope.

Election Day

November 2, 2004

This election is making me super nervous. I need it to be tomorrow.
This is a cool map.

Manhattan Bridge

October 30, 2004

Tonight's fog reminded of another foggy day two and a half years ago on another part of the globe.

I was on the road, near Langmusi saying with some yak herders who had invited me to their homegod ceremony. The ceremony is simple. Everyone walks up to the peak of the highest nearby mountain, throws prayers in the air, shouts for joy, and goes home. I thought I might get some good photos.

The day began clear enough. We walked into the city to the temple to gather some printed prayers, but as we headed up the mountain the fog got thicker and thicker until someone had me hold onto a horse's tail for fear of losing me on the mountain. Horses walk faster than men. I don't think I've ever been more out of breath in my life, but I kept going for fear of being stranded. The ceremony was done in a thick pea soup and photography was virtually impossible but I managed to get a few ghostly long exposure images. Of course virtually the minute the ceremony was over, the fog cleared...

Anyway that's what I was thinking about as I drove with friends across the Manhattan Bridge, belly full of Chinese food, not able to see the city below...

Kodachrome Part II

October 29, 2004

I know it's normal for parents to dress their kids in ridiculous outfits... all part of the scarring process. We intend to dress our daughter in little chick suits for example. But some of my childhood clothes were particularly bad.

Here I am as Little Lord Fauntleroy:

(the socks really make the outfit)

And here I am with a bonnet!

And this is my star trek outfit:

I'm sure it was cute at the time, but it seems almost cruel now.


October 28, 2004

When I was in Texas I passed the time by going through old family pictures. The photos are well worn and familiar from years of browsing. On this trip I also picked up boxes of Kodachrome slides and have begun scanning them. Looking at the slides on my nice 23 inch monitor (as opposed to holding them up to a light bulb and squinting) has taken me down several interesting personal culdasacs... half remembered family trips, photos of long gone great aunts, and so on...

These were the first 2 slides out of hundreds scanned this morning...

This is my mom pregnant with my little brother. April 1970.

Puerto Vallarta. August 1974. I'm the dork with the hat.


October 27, 2004

New York not being a swing state, there are virtually no presidential politcal commercials playing (there were none in Texas either)... if you want to see some nice Kerry ads check out Errol Morris' site.

I can't get enough of gizmodo.


John Peel was a minor deity to me. I discovered his radio shows on my little grundig shortwave while trekking from Kulu Manali to Leh in Ladakh.

Peel's punk flavored shows were a blast of fresh air in the musical detritus that dominated the airwaves. It was a 40 day trek and nobody spoke English so I relied on that radio quite a bit. I would count the days between shows and even stopped sort of an 18,000 foot pass in the snow to listen in. I've been listening ever since, first on shortwave and later on the web. Dead of a heart attack in Peru. He was the coolest 60-something around. The man will be missed.

Last day home

October 25, 2004

In Lufkin they call Mr. Maldonado good people.

This place features fresh squeezed grapefruit poured over ice shaved from a big block--so good it will make you forget your name.


A girl I liked in the 7th grade used to live here.

Mothers and daughters

October 25, 2004

Sometimes when I encounter childhood friends I have not seen in almost 20 years there is a subtle instinctual reaction of recoil and sadness before the hellos and hugs. We look at each other's faces trying to push away the years and see the person that was. Perhaps the sadness comes from seeing our own aging reflected or perhaps it comes from all that we have missed from each other's lives and of friendship unraveled. Voices don't change much though. Speaking bridges the gap and helps bring us back. A familiar laugh can do much to ease the divide.

I ran into a friend this morning. She was shopping with her 17 year old daughter who was born when her mom was 19. The daughter looked more like my memory of the mother than the mother did and I had to stop myself from staring. When the daughter waved goodbye she sparked the memory of the last time I had seen the mom... it was a late night high school graduation party out near Zed Creek. She was holding court on a diving board above a pool full of revelers and caught me slipping out the back gate. She alone noticed my exit, smiled, and waved for me to come back... Although I wanted to, I acted like I hadn't seen her, turned my back, and walked into the darkness. I remember the stars above the pines that night. I remember standing out by my truck looking back on the scene and I remember the Earnest Tubb on the radio as I drove away down the gravel road.

That whole complicated humid evening of June 85 came back to me complete in the moment of the daughter's wave... but of course I said nothing, waved back to mother and daughter, and continued on.

Sea Cucumbers

October 22, 2004

A long time ago Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom did a show on sea cucumbers. I remember Marlon Perkins saying there are more of them then there are of us, and that they move across the ocean floor in herds scavenging for fish leftovers falling from above. Sometimes on quiet nights I'll lie awake and think of them moving like silent buffalo across the ocean plains always on the lookout for their enemies the sea turtles and, in their quiet moments, wondering about the world beyond.


October 20, 2004

My desk is still cluttered, but this will end soon. In two days I vow my office will be organized.

A couple of years in and I still enjoy the Mirror Project. I've posted a bunch of stuff on there over time.

My Directv audio/video keep falling out of sync. Especially annoying when tivoing.

I have to stop pulling all nighters. They leave me feeling miserable.

Nikon D70 owners, I highly recommend you use a card reader as opposed to using the default USB cable. If you use the default USB cable the camera battery drains quickly. If you use a card reader (I found one by eFilm for about $15 online), the battery can last up to several weeks on one charge.

Three random songs recorded from old records playing at this location at around 4:30am: Karl Denver, David Kaonohi, Lydia Mendoza.

I like this new keychain device that turns off airport and restaurant TVs.

Brooklynites might be interested in this story of some folks canoeing the Gowanus Canal (brave souls).

These blogs/sites have caught my eye recently:

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