Friday, December 22, 2006


It's the middle of the night of the longest night of the year;
tomorrow the days finally start getting longer
as the northern hemisphere will begin to tilt away from winter solstice...
(Those who don't live at a northern latitude might find people's daylight-obsessions up here, well, obsessive...
a few years of wintertime light-starvation would give you insight...)

Although the days are short right now,
the low angle of the sun does make for the occasional spectacular sunrise when the grey lifts,
such as this scene from 8:00 a couple of days ago:

...and then by 4:15 p.m, the sun is already going down again, ("sunrise,... sunset,...swiftly go the days" oy...)
turning Rainier's snow-blown slopes purple in the afternoon-night:

Now, on to the 'sun-worship' portion of tonight's posting. Thus, this photo of a Nicaraguan church:

The Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Subtiava, begun in 1698, presides over the opposite end of León from where my wife and I lived last year. Age lends its slight decreptitude a patina of stateliness, no?

When you enter the pillared interior, look up, and you'll see this: The Spaniards carved and mounted this gilt-tinged sun in an effort to persuade the local Subtiava índios to come worship in the new structure. 'You worship your god, I'll worship mine--let's just all do so under the same roof.' Something like that, at least. Evidently, the artistic endeavor paid off, and for three centuries now the religious syncretism has been at work. Sun-worship, colonial-Nica-style...

( On the longest night of the year, isn't it appropriate to mention sun-worship, especially with Christmas coming up, what with its links to Saturnalia and 'The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun' in Roman times? )

On a non-sun theme, Paquito our parrotlet began repeating something new today--and it's most definitely Nica-related: "Va pue'!" That thoroughly and unmistakably Nicaruguan phrase can mean so many things: "okay, then"..."I hear ya man"..."see you later"..."take care"...

So, then: May the sun shine on you, dear reader. Va pue'!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Epilogue to windstorm

When I wrote a few days ago, I didn't realize how serious last week's windstorm here had been.
The peak winds were 69 miles per hour--a record for highest windspeed recorded in Seattle.

Our top-floor apartment-on-a-hill has a wide balcony facing south, and so the sliding glass doors,
for several unrelenting hours, were literally and noisily bowing inward last Thursday night....

fortunately they didn't shatter.

At its worst, up to a million were without power;
even now there are still thousands of homes without electricity,
and with
the sub-freezing nights,
local shelters and motels packed.

(My wife's parents, along with their, alas, crated dog,
have been 'camping in' with us since last Friday.)
The school district where I work, along with many others, canceled school last Friday...
...and also today...and also tomorrow...which means I don't go back to teaching until January...whi
ch also means I'll probably be in the classroom until the end of June...

The cold nights are LONG right now:
sunrise isn't until around 8:00 a.m. and sunset is around 4:15 at this latitude...

(There have been dozens and dozens of cases of carbon-monoxide poisoning--people, including many immigrants/refugees from Somalia, bringing barbecue grills indoors to cook and get warm, ay ay ay...)

So, with winter storms on the mind, here's a semi-gratuitous photo of the Paris skyline--a passing winter storm (that's a snowsquall you s
ee to the right of the Eiffel Tower) seen from 'my' window way back in the winter of '98-99:
But, to have something summery to visually counteract this northern S.A.D.-ness,
a photo of sunflowers in Provence; cliché, yes, but no less bright:

...while I'm browsing old photos from the first time I went to the south of France,
here's a typical scene of a shady country road a few miles outside Avignon:

But, since this blog IS 'post-NICARAGUA,' here's a view from down there:

--a hammock's-eye view from my lifelong dream to lie under coconut palms, swaying in the afternoon breeze coming off the Pacific at a beach resort... this case, Montelim
ar—Nicaragua’s only 5-star all-inclusive beach resort (and surprisingly affordable!).

It began its life as the private beach get-away for the Somoza family during the years of their dicta
The ‘dynasty’ of a father and his two sons lasted from 1937 to 1979 (with a few years of ‘elected presidents’sprinkled in). The road that leads to the property was, at one time, one of the only paved roads in the country. Imagine. When the dictatorship was overthrown, the property was used as a military base during the Sandinista years, and finally was transformed by a Spanish company into a tourist-destination. Not every beach-hotel has such a storied past, eh?

The original mansion is now a casino and restaurant/discotheque. Nearby is the new hotel—all rooms with balconies facing the ocean—and ‘cabanas’ built among palm and almond trees with lush (litter-free!!) gardens…A toucan-&-parrot enclosure, huge pool, swim-up bar, all-you-can-eat-and-drink—My wife and I had never stayed in such a place. It felt like being in a different country. When we got off the bus from Managua, the transportation from the little town to the resort was in the form of caponeras--the local word for bicycle-taxis--vehicles for ‘rider-guilt;' it feels strange to pay someone to use pedal power, huffing in the heat, to move you and your luggage while you just sit…

As my wife and I are “word-nerds,” you can imagine the delight we experienced at the resort's dessert buffet, seeing the occasionally misspelled multilingual labels for the sweets.
Our favorites were:

sheesecake” HA!
(just begging to be used as a euphemism; sadly, more fun to say than to eat)

coconut flawn
and, more mundane, "carrotscake

So far, that weekend at Montelimar has been my 'one-and-only'...
Winter nights lend themselves to dreams of palm-shaded warmth, no?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Paquito--Pyongyang--Public Radio--Poinsettia

These four P's DO have a logical link;
may I ask for your patient perusal, please...

Paquito, our parrotlet, has just added a new item to his diminutive lexicon:
"dear leader,"
( pronounced more like de-ah lea-dah, actually)
WHY? you ask...
Well...he's little. And it's fun to hear him say silly things.
(Up to now, he's said "Salut" & "Paquito," & "ça va?")

So, the other day, when I was looking at him while his head feathers were fluffed up,
I thought--hey, that reminds me of Kim Jong-Il--the reclusive and bizarre dictator of North Korea.who inherited the throne from his father Kim Il his country's personality cult, he was referred to as 'Great Leader,' ergo, his son, logically, must be called "Dear Leader"...
He must have the strangest hair-do of any head of state today--witness the state of his head:

So, as a joke, and to my wife's bemusement,
I began squawking 'dear leader' to our little bird--especially when he would look like this:

yes, he looks a bit crazed...all the more reason to be reminded of the North Korean dictator, as he postures in Pyongyang, his capital city...

And then just a couple of days ago--surprise!--Paquito pronounced the phrase--in a high-pitched repeated recitation: de-ah lea-dah! deah leadah! deah leadah! deah leadah!
Yes, I know--resemblance is in the eye of the beholder.
But a parrotlet that, ahem, parrots, North Korea's party line, is quite amusing.
(Disclaimer to Homeland Security here:

Let's hope that works...

So, now on to Public Radio.
(The link between Pyongyang and NPR is this:
I listen to NPR, therefore I am informed about international goings-on, including things North Korean.)
Now, yesterday, while listening to KUOW, NPR's local affiliate, there was a talk show mentioning, among other things, that a recent study concluded that Seatle is America's 'most literate city.'
(That 'literateness' must be one reason why, evidently, I insist on writing with numerous subordinate clauses, this being, parenthetically, an example thereof. Call it peer pressure...)

The self-congratulatory tone of some of the people calling in being annoying, I decided to call in--my first time ever trying to talk on a radio-call-in-talk-show--and they took my call!
I had my 30 seconds of local Nerd-Power-Radio fame.
I don't recall exactly what I said, but it was something to the effect of, 'okay, we might enjoy that we live in a 'literate city,' but don't let it go to our head--oh we're so educated, oh we're so literate--let's not let the findings of this 'study' nurture a self-superiority complex...'

To get another point of view on the local 'literate' pulse,
read this column here (entitled "Ask an uptight Seattleite"), from where I copied the following drawing.
(all due credit to The Seattle Weekly.)
As a neo-Northwesterner, I find the caricature to be right on:

Let's start with the shoes--suitable for hiking, no doubt, and probably Gore-tex. (weather update--we had a WINDstorm last night, power is out to 700,000 people as I type this, and schools are cancelled...) The NPR-tote-bag is a must, because, as a 'literate' person with a thirst for news, the only right thing to do is be a contributing member, which fact one can subsequently advertise with the 'gift.' And inside that (hemp fiber?) bag, full of reading material, naturally, one must have Utne reader magazine, which you can pull out when you stop for your organic soy latte made by a multiply-pierced barista at a NON-Starbucks establishment, to ensure onlookers that you don't allow pre-digested pablum, such as Fox 'news', to bias your westcoastworldview...which is seen through small de rigueur wire-rimmed glasses...

Living in such a literate place, I have been surprised, then,
by the occasional playing out of the following dialogue, which I am not making up:
person asking question:
So, where did you live last year?
me, replying:
In Nicaragua.
person asking question, earnestly:
Ah, Nicaragua...(thoughtful pause), where in Africa is Nicaragua?
me, suppressing natural reflex to express, facially, my surprise at the geographical non-awareness:
Umm...actually, it's in Central America...

In all seriousness and sincerity, my point here is not to make fun, but just to point out how 'literate' we are here...
No, really, seriously--this shows how geography and world-awareness are not taught in schools here.
Washington state, in fact, does not even require world history for high school graduation. (gasp of horror!) So literate. You have to have Washington history, ( all 150 years of it ) and US Government...but the rest of the world, well, you know, if you just listen to NPR and browse at Barnes & Noble once in a while, you'll get what you know...

Okay. So Nicaragua...
and my fourth P for today's posting: Poinsettias:

A year ago, that was the view out our second-floor front-door in Nicaragua: a tree-size poinsettia, in its natural habitat. (Behind it is a guava tree. Yes. I know. An excuse for a gratuitous Nicaragua photo...but hey, there are literate people out there who don't know that poinsettias are tree-sized plants in their tropical homes, not just foil-wrapped December-décor...)

And while Nicaragua--and Africa--are on the brain, here are a couple of book reccomendations (remember--literate!!) if anyone wants to know more about where Nicaragua is not. I just finished them:

King Leopold's Ghost, by Adam Hochschild

( from Leopold of Belgium, writes historian Adam Hochschild in this grim history, did not much care for his native land or his subjects, all of which he dismissed as "small country, small people." Even so, he searched the globe to find a colony for Belgium, frantic that the scramble of other European powers for overseas dominions in Africa and Asia would leave nothing for himself or his people. When he eventually found a suitable location in what would become the Belgian Congo, later known as Zaire and now simply as Congo, Leopold set about establishing a rule of terror that would culminate in the deaths of 4 to 8 million indigenous people, "a death toll," Hochschild writes, "of Holocaust dimensions." Those who survived went to work mining ore or harvesting rubber, yielding a fortune for the Belgian king, who salted away billions of dollars in hidden bank accounts throughout the world. Hochschild's fine book of historical inquiry, which draws heavily on eyewitness accounts of the colonialists' savagery, brings this little-studied episode in European and African history into new light.

and A Continent for the Taking, by Howard W. French

( From Publishers Weekly)--Although both tragedy and hope are mentioned in the subtitle, this work of reportage on Africa focuses more on the former than the latter. French was first captivated by Africa after college, in 1980, when he joined his parents and siblings in Ivory Coast. Taken by the pride and beauty he found on the continent, he became a journalist there, eventually serving as a bureau chief for the New York Times. His strength as a reporter is evident as he takes the reader across the continent, recounting in vivid detail the genocide in Rwanda and the AIDS and Ebola outbreaks. His prose is evocative without being melodramatic in describing the suffering he saw. The "powerful and eerily rhythmic" wailing of those who had lost loved ones to the Ebola virus "was painful to hear, and clearly bespoke of the recent or imminent deaths of loved ones." French is just as eloquent discussing his ambivalence about covering African crises after criticizing other journalists for their pack mentality in focusing on such crises rather than on giving a more rounded picture of life on the continent. In addition to disease and murder, French focuses his book on Africa's other plague: corrupt tyrants. While his insights into Zaire's Mobutu and Congo's Laurent Kabila are valuable, like many other writers on Africa French excoriates the "treachery and betrayal of Africa by a wealthy and powerful West." But providing some ways to improve life thereâ€"to give Africans some hopeâ€"is not so easy. As his book shows, French might be exactly the kind of seasoned Africa observer who could help point the way.

Solomon of old had it right: 'to the making of many books there is no end, and much devotion to them is warisome to the flesh.'


May we all go out and live our literate-enough-but-not-overly-so lives.

Monday, December 4, 2006

In today's IHT,...

While reading today's International Herlad Tribune online today, I saw this picture in an article about upcoming architectural additions to Europe's skylines:

I love Paris (having lived there 1998-99), and I love skyscrapers, so I just had to save the photo from the article and include it here. Called "Phare" (lighthouse), the tower is scheduled to be completed by 2012 in the "La Défense" district in western Paris.

...below is an excerpt from the article:

Designed by Thom Mayne of the Los Angeles-based firm Morphosis, the Phare Tower will rise amid the office towers of La Défense, the western business district conceived in the late 1950s as a way of expanding the city while protecting its historic core from overdevelopment. Embedded in this maze of generic towers and blank plazas, the tower will overlook the hollow cube of the 1989 Grande Arche and the elegantly arched concrete roof of the 1958 C.N.I.T. conference center.
Mr. Mayne dug deep into the site's convoluted history to create a building of hypnotic power. Viewed from central Paris, the building's gauzy skin, draped tautly over the tower's undulating form, will have the look of luxurious fabric. But as you draw closer, the forms will appear more muscular, with massive crisscrossing steel beams supporting a perforated metal surface.
The aura of the veil has a titillating vibe, but there is nothing superficial about this design. By drawing on what energy the site has - a tangle of roadways and underground trains - the tower transcends La Défense's deadening urban reputation. Supported by a series of gargantuan steel legs evoking a tripod, the tower straddles the site, allowing pedestrian and train traffic to flow directly underneath. The skin lifts up to envelop a nearby plaza, linking it to an underground train station. Beneath this perforated metal skirt, gigantic escalators shoot up more than 100 feet to a lobby packed with restaurants and cafes.
The approach recalls the machine-age fascination with physical and social mobility that yielded masterpieces like the Gare de Lyon in Paris and Grand Central Terminal in New York. Pushing the idea further, Mr. Mayne rips the top off an existing plaza to reveal the trains and traffic passing underneath. As you ride up escalators link
ing the plaza to the lobby, seams open up in the building's skin to create vertiginous views of both an underground world of shadowy figures and the monuments of the beloved city past the Arc de Triomphe to the east.
The notion of building as machine is tempered by the structure's earnest environmental agenda. Double-layered skin on the south side of the building will deflect the harshest sunlight. On the north side, the surface peels apart to reveal transparent glass skin. The tower's peak, conceived as an extension of the skin, seemingly fraying apart in the breeze, consists of a cluster of antennas and a wind farm that will generate electric power.

Not exactly another Eiffel Tower, but definitely a tall statement...

When I lived in Paris, I was only a ten minute express-commuter-train ride away from the "La Défense" district. If I understand the article correctly, the new curving tower will be built approximately in the location pictured in the center of this photo:
The IHT article mentions the 'hollow cube'...well you see it clearly above--a thirty-story hollow building, with a façade of white Carrera marble; the entire edifice of Notre Dame Cathedral can fit inside the modern structure, which was built as a modernistic office building/'monument' to commemorate the bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1989. (The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 for the first centennial, and for decades remained the tallest man-made structure in the world)

I used to take the train to this neighborhood to run errands (of the book and cd purchasing kind) once in a while; and I admit that I occasionally stopped at the local McDonald's...for a cheap cup of espresso...

To put the La Défense skyscraper-suburb (location of most of the headquarters of France's big finance/computer/insurance, etc. companies) in context, look at the view below, taken a few miles away from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, looking west:

In order to keep the harmonious historical character of Paris intact, the city's building codes do not allow skyscrapers, so they have been 'exiled' to the 'burbs...That's not to say that Paris is anti-modern; far from it. What today passes for 'typically Parisian' was, when it was built, revolutionary and modern. The uniform facades of mansard-roofed buildings lining straight tree-lined avenues that connect plazas and parks--that was all 19th-century 'modern' urban planning... And the city continues its quest to stay modern by commissioning ever newer monuments and buildings...just no more skyscrapers in the middle of the city...

(I couldn't resist: here's a night-time, street-level view of the Arc de Triomphe from the middle of the Champs-Elysées:)

Another example--my favorite modern building in Paris--is the Institut du Monde Arabe. Here's a portion of its 10-story ultra-modern glass façade:
Each gigantic 'pane' of the facade has metal 'lacework' that can be opened or closed via computer--kind of like giant camera-shutters, to let in much or little daylight:
And from the rooftop café-terrace of the Institut, you get this classic view of central Paris--the back of the l'Ile de la cité with the flying buttresses of Notre Dame, and a couple of bridges over the Seine, linking the left bank to the Ile St-Louis, and the Ile St-Louis to the Ile de la Cité:

Finally, to close out today's newspaper-inspired architectural reminiscence of Paris, a less-than-monumental example, found in a commercial-ghetto of a suburb south of the Seine:
Oui, mon ami, you're looking at a car-dealership with a car-vending-machine!
Parking's a pain in European capitals, so the smaller the better, n'est-ce pas?
I wonder how many Euro-coins it would take to get your vehicle to come out the bottom...
and remember:
if your purchase gets 'stuck,' don't try to shake the machine or tip it over, s'il vous plaît...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Nov. to Nov.: Nica-steam to nasty-slush...

Exactly a year ago yesterday,
my wife and I said good-bye to friends at the airport in Managua.

Tres amigos had come to visit us in Nicaragua, and after a week-and-a-half of inside jokes and sweaty afternoons, they returned to Gringolandia... How strange it was that day to bid them farewell at the airport; they were going and we were staying?! (By that point we had been in Nicaragua for a little over five months, and the reality of living there hadn't fully sunk in yet.)

During their visit we had rented a car all together, but when they flew back al norte, we returned to our carless ways, taking a recycled yellow school-bus back to León...
Bus-drivers throughout Central America are known for their, uh, 'fearless' driving...
However, the diesel-scented machismo is tempered by a virtuous/cutesy side, attested to by the interior decor:
Note the sticker of Tweety-bird ("Piolín" en español) decked out in hip-hop attire, accompanied by backwards-baseball-capped Bugs Bunny, and of course, on the right--blurry but still identifiable--la Virgencita...
Yeah, I bet you didn't realize that la madre de dios and Looney-tunes characters could harmoniously share wall-space, eh?

One place we took our friends during their
stay was the Masaya Volcanic National Park, a tremendous smoking crater that occasionally burps up bolders that smash tourists' cars in the parking lot. Fortunately, the day we hiked around the crater was incident-free...And incidentally, (remember that I've recently become a bird-nerd), a colony of parakeets has adapted to the sulfurous atmosphere and lives in the crater's interior cliff walls...

And now, from one volcano to another, one year later:
Yes, I know that I'm slightly obsessed with taking photos of Mt. Rainier from our balcony...but hey, remember Monet, the (overly-)celebrated Impressionist painter? Well, he was 'obsessed' with multiple images of the same thing, creating dozens of paintings of the façade of the Rouen cathedral, fascinated by the changing light conditions...and they're considered masterpieces...So, seriously, all self-justification aside, the scene of snow-covered roofs and the cloudy 'hat' on the mountain is definitely wintry, no?

What a difference a year (and a few degrees of latitude) makes!

The above photo was from yesterday morning--after a snow/ice storm that is unusual for Seattle in November.
(And it's official now: November 2006 has been the wettest month on record here--normally Seattle gets around 5 inches of rain in Nov.; this year there's been almost 16"--almost half the yearly total!)

Just a few white inches, but enough to shut down roads and schools in this hilly place...

We were happiily stuck in our apartment all day--vehicles couldn't get in or out of the hilly complex...on the road, there were vehicles abandoned from the night before...

The temperature stayed below freezing all day, although the sun did come out...

...and when it did, in the afternoon, we had a little visitor on the balcony:
I had never before seen a hummingbird that wasn't, well, humming.
This was the first time we'd ever seen one perched...sitting...still.
(A humming snowbird? Or, rather, a non-hum
ming bird, sitting and sunning himself...a sunning cold bird)
And because he was so still, my wife got worried and thought that maybe he was sick and had come to our balcony to die.

Well, he must have found a warm place to sleep, because we saw him again this morning, buzzing around in a most live fashion...He couldn't eat on our balcony, though, because a while back a crow stole our little nectar-feeder...

Now, after one bird-photo, another:
Tango, our Senegal parrot, is doing well, getting tamer and tamer by the day, loving to do acrobatics on my hand. He's even 'squeaking on command' now--I've conditioned him to go 'kweek-kweek' when I squeeze his sides... And one last bird-photo, of Paquito-the-parrotlet, who's become my wife's shoulder-guardian. But he also has a little rubber-ducky nemesis:

As I wrap up tonight's 'column,' it's 'slushing' outside--a mix of sleet, snow, and rain is falling--finally thawing the freeze that began Monday...It's going to be in the balmy 40's tomorrow...

So tomorrow's view from the balcony toward the west, looking at the SeaTac airport control tower, won't look like this anymore...

If any of you ever come visit,
as you can see, it won't take us long
to come pick you up at the airport...

...if we still live here... view-obsessed as I am,
apartments are,
never permanent... snow, which,
must melt away...

Too many 'alases' tonight...too trite...
telling me it's time to sign off.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Looking up?

Remember when you were a little kid, how fun it was to look up into a snowy sky--how you felt like you were traveling into space at 'warp-speed' while the white flakes ('stars') flew past you?
Too bad it's not fun to do that when it's raining...

(This November has been the rainiest month on record here--over 15 inches of rain. Despite its precipitous reputation, Seattle actually only averages about 5 inches of rain in a 'normal' November...)

So, if you'd been a sky-gawking turkey up here recently, you'd have died.
At least, that's what I've heard. Perhaps it's an urban-farm-myth--that turkeys are so dumb that they can drown in a mere shower because they don't know that they should stop looking up at the rain...
One of my wife's coworkers said that when raising poultry on a small farm, it's better to raise turkeys and chickens together, since the little birds help out their bigger, duller, cousins...
Who knew? (Incidetnally, I LOVE the clay-mation film "Chicken Run"...)

All those turkeys...the tens of millions of turkeys that graced American's tables these past couple of days...Here's an agro-factoid for you:
to breed turkeys that have the desired quantity of 'white meat,' the farming industry has now ended up with birds that have been genetically 'modified' to have such heavy breasts that they can't even stand upright anymore. There's some gravy for your plate, eh? (I'm not a militant vegan or anything, just so you know...)

And, ah yes, the yearly joy of 'black Friday' as people gleefully begin the Holiday-shopping-season. (It's all about consumption--cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and Best-buy...)
Reports from around the country show fights breaking out and police having to intervene.
Ah yes, the 'holiday spirit.'
Here in Seattle, there's a sort of passive-aggressive 'civility' that manifests itself especially this time of year in parking lots, at four-way stops, and in grocery-store aisles.
For example, you're shopping for produce. Watch the gore-tex-vest-clad lady over there, as her path to the parsley is blocked by another shopper's cart. Instead of calling out 'excuse me' or simply pushing past, Ms. gore-tex just stands there, face all a-crinkled with indignation, waiting for the 'violator' to finish squeezing the flavorless tomatoes and to get out of the way. A minute passes and the indignation climbs, but still, oh no, we're not going to be 'rude,' we'll just wait. Finally tomato-squeezer finishes and moves on, and Gore-tex-zilla, whose face is now red with eyes rolled way up, huffs past the still-unwitting 'violator' who ambles to the free-coffee-sample table...

Speak up people, just speak up--a little 'excuse me' won't kill the joy...And oh, when you get to a four-way stop and you have the right-of-way--just GO! This 'no, YOU go--no, really, YOU GO'-business just holds up traffic. It's not polite. It's stupid.

I wish I had come up with this phrase, but I didn't--'scando-japanese reserve.' Perhaps that's what keeps people from calling out 'excuse me' up here...False, cool, civility does not civilization make.

And now, a lengthy music-nerd joke, which was forwarded to me:
A C, an E-flat, and a G go into a bar. The bartender says, "Sorry, we don't serve minors." So the E-flat leaves, and the C and the G have an open fifth between them.
After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished, and the G is out flat. An F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but is not sharp enough; A D comes into the bar and heads straight for the bathroom saying, "Excuse me, I'll just be a second."
Then an A comes into the bar, but the bartender is convinced that this relative of C is a minor. Then the bartender notices a B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and exclaims, "Get out now! You're the seventh minor I've found in this bar tonight!"
The E-flat, not easily deflated, comes back to the bar the next night in a 3-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender (who used to have a nice corporate job until his company downsized), says, "You're looking sharp tonight; come on in--this could be a major development!"
This proves to be the case, as the E-flat takes off the suit, and everything else, and stands there au natural.
Eventually, the C sobers up, and realizes in horror that he's under a rest. The C is brought to trial, found guilty of contributing to the diminution of a minor, and is sentenced to 10 years of DS without Coda at an upscale correctional facility.
On appeal, however, the C is found innocent of any wrongdoing, even accidental, and that all accusations to the contrary are bass-less. The bartender decides, however, that since he's only had tenor so patrons, and the soprano out in the bathroom, everything has become alto much treble; he needs a rest, and closes the bar.


Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Red and black

A blog with "Nicaragua" in the title can't not mention the recent election down there...
So here are my dos centavos...

Most of you have surely heard at least a little bit in the news about how Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista politician who was leader of Nicaragua back in the '80's, has just been elected president again, almost twenty years later...
"Tio" Sam is not too pleased...

The majority of Nicaraguans who are now of voting age are too young to remember the Sandinista-revolution of the late 70's and early 80's, and then the civil war that raged through a good part of the 80's...(and it's surprising how many Americans don't know what 'Iran-Contra' means--the illegal underground arms-deals of twenty years ago in which the U.S. illegally sold weapons to Iran (!) in order to arm the Contra rebels fighting the Sandinista government.)

Nicaraguans have been desperate for change for decades. The Somoza dictatorship (which ruled for much of the 20th century) didn't help the poor...The Sandinista's experiment in socialism didn't offer lasting help...and the supposedly more open democratic-capitalistic governments of the last couple of decades haven't helped...Most Nicaraguans today live on less than 2$ a day. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti.

The fact that Ortega could be re-elected after almost two decades out of power, after a bloody civil war and an international blockade that crippled the country--this is all sad testimony to the desperation of ordinary Nicaraguans, who just want something to get done! (It's a pathetic echo of the recent elections in another Latin American country--Peru--in which a former president, also from nearly two decades ago, was elected, despite the fact that his previous administration ended up dragging the country into economic chaos...people are desperately choosing known-but-hopefully-lesser-evils in their elections...and this is the 'best' hope of human government?!)

Now, to get to the reason for the 'colorful' title of this blog:
During the revolutionary years, red and black were the colors of the Sandinista party...
Those years ended up being bloody years. There were promising social improvements at first--within a few years the illiteracy rate in Nicaragua plummeted from almost half of the population to around 10%.! (Alas, it has since climbed upward....) Medical care was free! ...Dignified housing was provided for the poor!..
...and then, at least according to the 'official' story, 'foreign imperialistic intervention', a.k.a. the Reagan administration in Gringolandia, got in the way...tens of thousands of Nicarguans died in the bloody war, blockades made the economy collapse, and it's only recently that most land-mines have been removed from the northern parts of the country.

Red and black became associated with the years of bloodshed and hardship...
So, in more recent years, Ortega decided to have a color make-over:
instead of red and black, PINK would be the new official Sandinista color--soften the image, woo the young...this street-scene from León shows one of the campaign signs.

However, the sign (which says 'love is stronger than hate') is NOT from this year's's from years ago, the last time Ortega ran for president...and lost. He was voted out of office originally in 1990, and ever since has endeavored to re-take the 'throne', losing every time...I guess persistence paid off...

Last year, with his party in control of the Nicaraguan legislature, constitutional amendments were put through to make it possible for someone to become president of the country with only 35% of the vote! Incredible, no? ( And people in this country are still in a tizzy over the fact that the current president became president with just under 50 percent...) Since Nicaragua has many parties, in the presidential election there were several candidates...Normally, the top two vote-getters would end up in a run-off...Well, the constitutional amendment made it possible for the top candidate to automatically 'win' without having to go through the run-off procedure if he got at least 35% AND was at least 5% ahead of the nearest opponent...

And that's what happened.
The weeks and months ahead should be interesting, to say the least.

Many Nicaraguans are afraid the U.S. will again try to interfere, perhaps blockading the country economically...The fact that Ortega is a buen amigo of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez doesn't help...

Surprisingly, though--despite the years of foreign intervention in Nicaragua by the U.S., most people there are very friendly to American visitors and residents. (Thousands of Yankee ex-pats now live in the old city of Granada--buying up the old colonial real estate and pricing out the locals, and in the surfing-paradise of San-Juan-del-Sur...)

The revolutionary murals in the city of León are fascinating relic of the past but in no way depict any persistent menace towards Gringo-turistas. For example, the painting surrounding the doorway below:

You can see revolutionary figures triumphantly 'stomping' dictatorship on the left (in the figure of a dog-like Somoza) and imperialist Uncle Sam on the right (depicted as a puppy--perhaps Somoza's lap-dog). The 80's were wild times in Nicaragua...
One can only hope, for the sake of common Nicas, that the first decade of the 21st century will continue to be 'mild' in commparison...

Do societies ever learn from the past?
Or does a change in color-scheme just 'paint things over?'

To conclude, a complete and banal change of subject:
at the end of the last entry, I'd tried to upload a photo from last week's stretch of cold clear weather--the view from our "Sunset view" balcony of a foggy it is:

(who knew that Renton could seem so scenic? Amazing what a bit of fog can do...)

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

What's in a real estate name?

...already mid-week in mid-autumn...
I've been meaning to write this since Sunday;
every weekend I enjoy testing my absurd-o-meter
by perusing the real estate section in the newspaper.

The names of new condo-complexes and subdivisions are so often scratch-your-head-worthy. The classic example is perhaps the use of 'estate' in any name--apartments and tract-housing are hardly 'estates,' eh?

Some names are merely slightly annoying.
"Brix" for example...I guess "Bricks" was too mundane, and "Brickes" would be too much in the vein of 'ye-olde' corniness...At least the building in question actually has an 'old-world' facade of red baked blocks of clay...

Urban overpriced buildings need to use creative spelling to stand out from its neighbors...
...such as "Bolero"...I guess that building can just dance away from its more mundane peers...

"Verge" caught my eye. On the verge of what? trendiness? the burst of the real-estate bubble? Or maybe you will have one of those "almost!-views" touted in ads--lean out far beyond the railing of your postage-stamp balconette and you'll get a hint of the sun setting behind the other building behind the cranes...on the verge of a view...

I saw a townhome complex a while back--"Lendemain." Ahh...the use of French to 'upgrade' a locale..."Lendemain" simply means "the next day." I wonder if in the suburbs of Paris there is a "Tomorrow" being built...
And while we're speaking French, why not mention "Châteaus." That's right--'chateau' with an 's' on the end. Ack! If you're gonna try something in French, at least know that you have to have an 'x' on the end! "Châteaux," since 'castles' so often come in cookie-cutter

Or maybe you want to look into a complex with a Spanish name. "Mira." I wonder if somewhere in the outskirts of Madrid a neighborhood named "Lookie-here" is advertising itself in the glossy section of the weekend paper?

But the icing on the cake for me this weekend was:
"Cambria Hills."
Not a bad name in itself...picturesque...conjuring up a rolling British pastoral scene...
"Cambria"--the ancient Roman name for what is now Wales.
But..."Cambria Hills" touts its three "French"(?!)-themed-areas: Provence, Rhone, and Loire.
Who came up with these 'themes?' Is there any concept of geography?
Why the Welsh-named sub-division with French-named sub-sub-divisions?!
Nothing in the architecture of these homes even remotely alludes to anything Celtic or Gallic...
(The color schemes available in these homes are "lumière, vintage or crème." Ahem.)
I wonder if there are even hills there...

Ahh...ostentation + misinformation = an equation for modern real-estate monikers...
Surely many people must live in these new areas in spite of the names, rather than because of...

I must admit that I am not immune either; my wife and I live in "Sunset View."
(speaking of 'sunset'--now that daylight savings time is no longer around, nightfall at this latitude now takes place before 5 p.m! Ugh...By December 21, sunset up here will be at 4:15--disgustingly early for 'nighttime' to begin...)
There is no view of the sunset; the apartments all face south...
But at least there is a view...on a recent foggy morning, for example:
...except that right now the blog website is not allowing me to post photos...another time, then...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What can You(you) do(do)?

A few days ago, through a friend-of-a-friend, I met an older, retired French guy who used to live in Senegal thirty-some years ago. Inevitably during our conversation, the topic of my Senegal-parrot came up...and it turns out that le monsieur used to have one as well. (In fact, the bird is still alive, being taken care of by a friend back in France while he is on an extended trip...) Monsieur got the parrot when he was living in West Africa, and when he returned to France, the tame bird simply flew along in the plane in his carry-on bag!

From Monsieur, I learned that in Wolof (one of the native Senegalese languages), the word for the local parrots is "youyou." That term has been officially etymologically embraced by les français. So, in good French I can say...J'ai un youyou qui s'appelle Tango.

And he has been toilette-trained; who knew you could 'potty-train' a parrot?!
Here's how his previous owner had trained the bird to poop before coming out of the cage:
She would sit in front of the cage before taking him out, then ask him 'want out?' while lifting the door hinge...and then before she would take Tango out, she would repeatedly and animatedly say 'poop!' until the tell-tail (ahem) plop would occur, at which time she would immediately (and animatedly) say 'good-bird!' while taking him out of the cage. Pavlovian conditioning, eh?

So, we 'inherited' this little ritual. But...I didn't want the bird to begin saying 'poop' after hearing me repeat it all the time every day when I wanted to take him out...
So, I thought maybe I could try 'shifting' the verbal cue to something less, well, fecal...
I thought I might try saying "Poop-hurry up!" with the eventual idea of dropping the 'poop' and just having 'hurry-up' be his order...
It seems to be working.
I can't believe I'm writing a blog about bird crap...

The other little bird in our life--Paquito the Peruvian parrotlet--said his first words this past Sunday while on my wife's lap: "Salut Paquito!" Yes, kind of silly that he says hello to himself, (in French, no less) but logical since we always say hello to him including his name...tiny tiny voice, but it's a trip to hear a bird that's less than five inches in length talking to you!

And Tango, in addition to saying "ouiiiiiiii!" and "hello" is learning to imitate the little bird's diminutive tweets...

When my wife and I eat together at the table in the morning, we hear bird beaks busily breakfasting around us--seed-cracking in surround-sound.

Back to Senegal, now...
a while ago I read an awesome travelogue about West Africa, "Angry Wind; through Muslim Black Africa by truck, bus, boat and camel" by Jeffrey Tayler.
I just got to thinking about how Africa is just not talked about enough in American much ignorance...
And as my wife and I become more aware of our south-of-Seattle-surroundings, we are noting a strong African presence: the bright billowing burka-like robes of the Somali women walking along the traffic in Tukwila...the West-African women who work in the hair-braiding salons in Renton and Federal Way...the Senegalese who often sells sunglasses on downtown corners...the Ethiopian restaurants frequented by the taxi-drivers...

Interesting to look at numbers as well...For example--French-speaking countries. If you total up the population of the 19 sub-Saharan nations where French is an official language (including the island of Madagascar), you get the staggering figure of 214 million. Compare that to the population of France: 60 million; way more people speak French OUTside of France than within...

In case you're wondering which African countries are francophone, here they are in no particular order: Senegal, Guinea, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo (Rep.), Congo (Dem. Rep.; formerly known as Zaïre), Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi, Madagascar, and (the 'funnest' to say for English-speakers:) Djibouti.

And while on the topic of foreign countries and immigrants, I have to mention my newest neighborhood culinary find: at the Filipino produce stand down the hill, on Tuesdays and Fridays the local Ukranian bakery delivers fresh loaves composed of layers of brioche-like pastry rolled around honeyed and crushed poppy-seeds...(The muy auténtico taco-truck in front is also worthy of a stop.)

To go back to the list of African's interesting to read through a list of just some of the languages spoken in those places: Mandinka, Jula, Pulaar, Wolof, Maninkakan, Arabic, Fulani, Saninka, Bambara, Bamanankan, Móoré, Hausa, Djerma, Zarma, Sara, Dioula, Baoulé, Ewe, Mina, Kaloye, Dagomba, Fon, Yoruba, Beti, Fang, Myene, Nzebi, Bapounou, Bandjabi, Lingala, Monokutuba, Kikongo, Kingswana, Tshiluba, Luba-kasai, Kituba, Sango, Kinyarwanda, Swahili, Kirundi, Rundi, Malagasi, Somali, Berber, Afar...makes sense that even decades after the end of colonization, le français continues to be the lingua franca, eh?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

'Are there trees in (which?) Korea?'

I admit, I find entertainment value in the occasional ignorant question.
Those who know me know I am a map nerd.
I am a fan of the corny bumper sticker that reads:
"without geography, we're nowhere!"
I cannot fathom not knowing, or not wanting to know, where I am and where I might go.
I am a geographile. (I know that's not the real word...someone help me out here...)

One of my favorite questions I was asked when I was younger--in middle school--was this:
"Are there trees in Korea?"
A fellow student learned that I was neither Chinese nor Japanese, but (half) Korean.
And so he asked...I can only hope I controlled my eye-rolling reflex before saying, 'why, yes, there are.'
And then someone else asked me (this was in high school) once:
"Do they have seasons in Korea?"

So here's some photographic evidence--autumn in the mountains of Korea, the envy of a New England fall photo spread:

(another, ignorant question, having to do with my non-Korean other-half heritage--I was once asked, when I was in college, by a fellow university student--egad!--"Really, they speak English in Canada? I thought they all spoke French..." I was kind of impressed actually that the person knew that French was spoken as a native language up north...but really, they didn't know English was the language of 3 out of 4 Canadians?)

And there's this:
"So, you were born in North Korea or South Korea?"
Well, I guess that's a fair question...
...but really, almost no one gets out of North Korea...99.999 % of Koreans abroad are from the Southern half of the peninsula.

And that peninsula sure is in the news these days...
A while back when I finally got around to scanning some photos, I found a photo (from 1993) of North Korea. Back then, one of the only spots in South Korea where you could safely look into the North was about an hour to the NW of Seoul, along the estuary of the Han River at the "Ae-gi-bong" lookout:

It was taken in October--the rice paddies in the 'propaganda villages' are golden...Note the completely deforested mountains, apart from the slopes right along the river in the middle...To the left of those green lower slopes, there's one of those non-populated propaganda villages, built to make it look like all is well in the uptopic North, unlike the evil capitalistic hell of the South...Loudspeakers blast music across the river, to convince gawking day-trippers from Seoul that they live in a (pardon the pun) soul-less society and that Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il merit worship..

A couple of weeks later, some relatives took us to visit the eastern mountains of Korea (where the above fall foliage photo was taken: Odae-san national park). Nearby is a little road-side monument marking the pre-Korean-war division of the peninsula. After 3 years and over a million deaths, the country remained divided in 1953, and the DMZ-border hardly moved...

(ahh...the days before contact lenses, in the large-glass-framed 90's...fresh-out-of-high-school geekdom...)

I thought a glimpse into North Korea might be of interest.

And so--yes, there ARE trees in Korea...just not in the North...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

...and today's newspaper-gleaned factoid is...

...that Nicaragua is hoping to trademark a new national drink.
Mexico has margaritas.
France has champagne and pastis.
Japan has saki.
Cuba has cuba libres and mojitos.
Peru has its pisco sours...

And now, Nicaragua, trying to play catch-up in the tourist-world,
and also to cash in on its really good rum,
wants a typical liquid refreshment of its own.

So, a contest was held,
which you can read about in this article in today's International Herald Tribune (click on this).

Here's an excerpt:
After sipping numerous offerings, the judges have opted for a fruity concoction that they called el macuá, after a tropical bird found in this part of the world. The drink is one part white rum, one part guava juice, with a half-portion of lemon juice and some sugar and ice.

It's nice to read about something less threatening than North Korean nuclear tests and school-shootings, no?

I don't recall ever seeing a 'macua' bird, (macaw) least not in the wild. They are extinct in most of Western Nicaragua, where most Nicaraguans live. Their nests are hunted down due to the supposed semi-spiritual powers that can be obtained from its extracts...Hmm...

Monday, October 9, 2006

Adoption numéro deux...

Today we brought home a seven-month-old-baby from West Africa.
We figured Paquito, our five-and-a-half-month-old Peruvian,
could use some company during the day when we're not at home.

So we adopted Tango, a Senegal parrot.

Paquito, our parrotlet, who is sitting on my shoulder as I type this, doesn't seem to mind the avian addition to the apartment. Of course, he hasn't yet seen the 'other' bird directly yet; Tango's in semi-quarantine in the other room for a week...

I guess this means my wife and I are (weird?) bird people now, no?
While living in Nicaragua, we saw so many domesticated birds: the requisite chickens (for eating and fighting)...turkeys...even toucans sometimes! (They like to eat papaya.) Mostly, though, we got acquainted with little green conure parrots, such as "Pinky" who spent some of his time in an recycled fan-shell in a friend's backyard:

(Desgraciadamente, Pinky didn't live too long after this photo...a gato got to him...)

After making friends with a few of these feathered creatures, we decided that when we got back up to
Gringolandia, we would get a bird. So, in August, a couple of weeks after moving into our apartment, we went to the parrot store just down the hill from us...and we brought home Paquito:

He is a funny little bird--a quiet little acrobat, just under five inches long. He is still discovering his pea-sized voice. Speaking of peas, he likes to eat them--just the soft inside part; the outside shell gets tossed out of his dish.

I'd mentioned to one of my classes that I have a bird...
...and then last week one of my students came up to me, saying that a family friend was needing to find a 'good home to adopt' their Senegal parrot that they can no longer care for. I thought--aww, the student thinks that I'm 'worthy,' that my wife and I would be a 'good bird home.' Then I thought, "hey--what's wrong with this bird so that they want to get rid of it? Is it a screamer? a half-nude feather-plucker?"

So I called the family...drove by on the way home from work last Friday...learned he hasn't been abused and doesn't have weird ticks...took Sara to meet 'Tango' on Saturday...then we returned this morning to see him one last time and then bring him home.
And here he is:
After having gotten used to Paquito's size, Tango seemed like a pterodactyl (nine inches long!)at first...but he's adjusting well. He can look out the window at the starlings and jays that visit our balcony. We took careful notes from his first owner about what/ when to feed him. (Apples and scrambled eggs in the evening; he likes a red Fruit-loop now and then, but just flings around banana pieces...) His nascent vocabulary already includes 'hello' and 'pretty'...and I hope to teach him some vocabulaire français by next spring so I can take him into class and have fun with the students...

Sara and I are excited to have a full-fledged PARROT now...don't worry, we're not going to neglect 'the little guy'...

But I should put Paquito away now. (He's left quite a few 'gifts' on my shoulders in the past few cannot have a phobia of feces and have a pet bird! But having a towel on one's shoulders helps.)
The whistling from the other room indicates that I need to go spend some out-of-cage-time with le perroquet africain...

Who trains who, eh?