Apr 27, 2005

Flower Blog!

Saturday Elizabeth and I went to the Amherst Orchid Societies Flower show. It was remarkable, but pictures definitely speak louder than words, so without further ado:






Apr 26, 2005

Our Trips Antithesis

Paul Theroux once wrote, 'Travel is only glamorous in retrospect,' which all the traveling I've done has shown to be true. As swanky as it sounds for us to say we're going to 'summer in Central and South America' the reality is going to be a lot grittier. We'll be rootless, frugal, focused on sampling what life is like whereever we visit and generally living well outside of our comfort zone. If, at any point, we feel it is getting glamourous we'll need to stop, take breath, and make sure we haven't morphed into tourists.

Which is why I was terribly amused when the internet showed me 'the World,' a way of experiencing the exact opposite of everything we're looking for. In Dubai they are making a manmade 'world' of 300 Islands, in the rough shape of the countrys on the earth. Each Island will be it's own luxurious beach resort, with hotels, luxury homes, and manufactured terrain. The idea is to populate an entire 'world' with extremely wealthy people who want to experience absolutely nothing but their manufactured culture. With any luck, the next generation of kids on this Island won't really even understand that there is a world outside of, well, 'the world.'

Apr 22, 2005

Land of Z's, the New One.

I've lived in Zealand, the biggest Island of Denmark, and found Copenhagen to be one of my all time favorite cities. But even then the impatient wanderer in me is always fascinated with the shiny and new. Like New Zealand.

I'm a fan of spectacular natural beauty, trendy citys, low crime and the irrepressible friendliness of every Kiwi I've ever met. So much so that I'd love to live there for a time one day. And I'm not the only one, I've met many restless souls who're curious if to see if the Middle Earth landscape is real. But at some point in our daydreams, we sigh and note that the Kiwis have long since figured out what a great thing they've got going. They don't want too many foreigners crashing their party, so New Zealand is famously hard to expatriate too.

But then, a couple days ago, I found that Bunac had just changed their eligibility requirements. Instead of being only for recent college grads any American 18-35 can get a year long unlimited work visa (via this specific program, there are others). Although most people get jobs in pubs or doing seasonal farm work this work visa allows you to work legally anywhere.

So, for $495 they'll get me a work visa and an orientation. For another $1,300 I've got a one-way (24 long hours, at best) flight from NYC to Wellington, NZ. And finally I'm required to enter the country with a minimum of $600 in pocket money to get started.

So if you share my NZ itch, all you need is $2,500 to scratch it. I'm not going anytime soon, but I figured its not a bad thing to have floating around in the back of my mind.

Admittedly, this doesn't answer my biggest concern about being on the bottom of the earth. Aren't they worried about falling off?

Apr 21, 2005

Marla Ruzicka: something more than a Hero

I have a bad habit of 'preparing' to do something worthwhile but not quite getting around to it. I've got thousands of ideas of things I think should be done, a handful of which seem pregnant with potential to make the world better. But I had to go to school first, then grad school and then get job to pay down some debt and get some real experience. I've felt much of my life I've been accepting more from the world than giving back: from my parents, from schools, from various governments. And now I feel I'm at a break even point, I'm not really taking any more than I'm giving back to the world. I work my job, pay my bills, and spend money on gadgetry (and soon, travel). And my hope is that I'll soon be on the other side of the balance; I'd like to find a way to be a net benefit to the world around me. All of these seem like perfectly good justifications for delaying good works, and it almost seems like no one could get much meaningfully done by my late twenties.

But its not true. It's not even remotely true. Marla Ruzicka, for one, didn't have the patience to wait and so she got busy doing, and she sure did. She had a long list of accomplishments throughout her life, but some that stand out to me are what she did during this War with Iraq. I've gone to a number of protests, argued with hawkish friends and have moped around generally pissed off about the whole thing. When I read General Tommy Franks 'We don't do body counts.' quote when asked if my government was paying attention to innocent Iraqi victims, I was enraged! I wrote e-mails to listserves, posted on websites then went for a beer and moved on.

Marla, in much the same position I was, did things a little differently. She roped together her meager savings, founded CIVIC and went to Iraq. She, herself, started interviewing people whose family members were killed and started creating a record of what was going on. What the situation of the survivors was, and who needed how much help. And she wasn't all gloom and doom. She was a pixie-like blond Californian who organized parties in Iraq and charmed everyone she met with her gleeful smile.

But did it make any more difference? Hell yes. Since she went over she ultimately is responsible for freeing up $20 million to help these people. She literally went into a war zone, found desperate victims, asked them what they needed, and then got it! And we're not talking about one or two people, she personally interviewed over 2,000 and set up a mechanism to take care of even more. Thats more supernatural than just a hero, she was an angel.

And on April 17th, at age 28 (just a few months older than I) she was killed by a suicide bomber outside of Baghdad. And even though I never knew of her, or even heard of her until the ensuing post mortem media blitz I'm feeling inspired in more ways than one.

I'm glad that Tyler and I have been talking about doing volunteer work during our travels from the beginning. We're thinking about working for Volunteers for Peace, Habitat for Humanity International, and a few smaller organizations we've heard about before we're through. And even though I considered it before, Marlas story has made it even more important to me to find a 'net positive' balance with my life wherever I put down my pack next.

But what this story really triggered in me is frustration that I didn't know she even existed until she died. I'd like to make it a point to learn more about people doing remarkable things when they're still around to be learned from. Not just martyred into legends. And I'd like to share who I find with this weblog.

I'm tempted to say 'God Bless you Marla.' But I think it more accurate to say:
Marla, God blessed us with you.

Apr 20, 2005

Location, Location, Location

One thing I keep thinking about with this impending change is how much I'm going to leave behind. So, as the inspiration strikes I want to write about some of the things that make it so wonderful. The greatest part about my life in Massachusetts is without hesitation the people I've met here. But writing a blog post about them, gets me so caught up in emotion that I can't type more than a series of grateful adjectives before I get lost in daydreams and wistful ponderings. So, although I'll get to them sooner or later... I'll start with something a little less difficult to write about: Geography.

The Pioneer Valley, the 'Happy Valley', is nestled comfortably in the Connecticut river Valley of Western Massachusetts. It's a smattering of towns and small cities in a vast patchwork of greenery.

In 1864 a painter named Thomas Charles Farrer painted this view from the top of the Northampton State Hospital thats now at the Smith college Museum of art:

Which, even though it was painted 140 years ago, doesn't look too much different than this picture I took from the top of Mt Tom last summer:

Perhaps not much has changed since then even though that was in the final throws of the US Civil War. At that time Massachusetts was fiercely fighting for it's idealistic vision of American Freedom. It was a stronghold for the newly formed Republican party when that party fought hard to end human slavery. And today, Massachusetts was the first state in the union to legalize same sex marriages which is a major battle for human rights in todays American culture Wars.

It's funny how history can have a kind of poetry.

PS) Earlier this year Sam and I braved a blizzard, a harrowing trek through a haunted building and a breaking and entering charge to try to take a picture of the same view Farrer had. The huge castle-like State Hospital is still perched proudly overlooking Northampton although it's been abandoned for decades. This is what I saw:

Apr 19, 2005

A Backpacking Geek?

Is 'Backpacker Geek' an oxymoron? We shall soon find out, because I'm afraid I'm becoming one.

When I first started backpacking in Europe in '96 I proudly wore gigantic frame pack with full camping gear, a couple weeks worth of clothes, a small library of books, several pairs of shoes, a CD player and a few dozen CDs. I saw people trembling in awe at my skinny body with a small house strapped to its back strolling through narrow ancient streets. It was only a later I realized they were suppressing their peals of laughter.

Since then, every successive trip found me carrying less and less. The external frame pack shrank and then didn't have quite so much hanging off of it. Then it became an internal frame bag, then a smaller one, and then even that wasn't full. And finally I to a point where I could comfortably do a month with a pack the size of a large book-bag.

But since, my undeniable geek nature has reared it's head. I've now got a slew of electronics that I feel should join us on the journey: a GPS, a digital camera or two, an Iriver MP3 Player (and recorder/radio/Harddrive), and a couple walkie-talkies. And then, if all of this is to be documented to you, my dear reader, we'll need someway to write and post along the way. There should be plenty of internet cafes, but they don't help out so much with the posting pictures or do anything we'll need to run programs on. If you'd like to see pictures from the road, alas, we'll need some way to do some sort of downloading and editing. Which, I'm reluctant to admit, might be to bring my tiny 12" powerbook computer.

On one hand it'd be great, and much easier to write, tweak photos and make this blog groovy from a tiny cabana in the mountains during the regular afternoon thunderstorms (has anyone else noticed we'll be in Central America during hurricane season?).. But then, of course, are the myriad of issues with traveling with a delicate, heavy and expensive piece of hardware. As we'll be traveling simply in a developing country we'll likely not often be able to leave stuff safely at the hostel or campground. Which means we'll need to have it on us most of the time. And as much fun as it sounds to carry a five pound block of burnished aluminum to a beach or a danceclub it doesn't exactly follow my minimilistic budget backpacker ethic of yore.

So my backpacking hippy and geeking engineer personas are engaged in a psychic battle to the death over the contents of my backpack.

Apr 18, 2005

Um, Shouldn't Someone Warn Latin America?

The brothers MacAllen have slowly, and methodically, been cutting free of the ties that bind. We've started charting a path to Colorado, by way of Central and South America. This summer we are going to start moving, and won't stop 'til we find the fall in the Rocky Mountains.
We're coming at it from different places and for different reasons. We're both looking for answers that we suspect might be abroad, but we're sure we will find together. We've got a long history of going on ill-conceived ventures that, after going awry, work out spectacularly well. We've gotten hopelessly lost on mountains in NY and in the Colorado, and found both hope and laughter on our way back. We've taken Scandinavia by storm, smiling, seducing, strolling and sunburning along the way.
We really have no idea what we're in for, other than the adventure of a lifetime. And there is no one I'd rather do it with.