whistlestop caboose

The view from the back.

My Photo

www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

Tulips 2006 for Gran ellengwallace's Tulips 2006 for Gran photoset

Friday, September 29, 2006

Bears galore start here

Let a bear wear long red underwear, please!

The bears that go with some of my posts have been stuck on camera cards, but they are now marching out of the camera and into the computer. You will soon see more bears than you care to see. For now, here are just a couple, from the delightful town of St. Gallen in Switzerland. Maki added a comment to the previous post about the origins of fiberglass cows. I think, but have no proof, that cows evolved before bears, at least in plastic and faux-plastic terms.

Cross my heart and hope to die; I love that building and I would never lie.

Let's all go to the zoo!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Bearably cowable

Familiarity breeds love or loathing. This we travel, to bring fresh winds of emotion to our lives. Plastic, decorated cows: i first saw them in chicago where they appeared to me to be true American kitsch. LINK Then they appeared in Switzerland, home to cows PIX and more cows PIX. Last year the Tribune de Geneve ran a decorated cows photo contest, by which point I was getting tired of Barbie cows. I went to a wedding in South Africa soon after and fell in love with a plastic cow because she gave me several minutes of great peoplewatching time. I had to rethink my attitude towards decorated cows.

Two weeks ago I was photographing a small square in downtown Vancouver, Canada, squinting into the viewfinder on a bright day. I suddenly realized that the streak of white in the middle was a bear, a giant plastic bear. In front of the tourism office - very cute, I thought. I walked around town, saw more and more of the bears, and began to really like them. They are the stars in a Vancouver Lyons Club fundraising project which ends this week with an auction. (Now where will I put the bear I win? The bathroom? Veranda?)

I met a woman on the bus who asked where I was from and we discovered we had two things in common, that we are Europeans and that we both had sons starting school at the University of British Columbia that day. "I hate those bears," she muttered as our bus passed an especially pretty green one. "I am so sick of them!"

I found them very bearable. I wonder if she would find a Heidi pal pink and yellow flowered Swiss plastic cow very cowable. Just a question of perspective, I suppose.

Shhh, hummingbird drinking

I sat perfectly still and watched this wonderful creature pause long enough to take a good, deep drink. He and his friends returned again and again, and I never ceased to be amazed at how they flutter their wings. How many calories does a hummingbird burn a day, in Arizona?

I'm off on another short trip, this one to St. Gall in eastern Switzerland to learn about aging. Meanwhile, enjoy the Arizona bird!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Photos of Kabul, from doing a job to a thing of beauty

The BBC features photos by Chilean photographer Tomas Munita, winner of a 2006 Leica award for his photos of Kabul, Afghanistan (under Features). He works for AP as a journalist, but these go far beyond reporting: they are beautiful images that make you see a place and its people in a new light. I'm reminded of the The Kite Runner, one of the richest and most moving novels I have read in years. Put the two together and your heart aches for a country that deserves better than it is getting.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Pig tails and happy pigs

This charming fellow now has pride of place on top of my computer speaker. He's some pig.

I've been trying to upload photos from my trip to Canada and the US, and to organize them, but I had to pause long enough to photograph my new pig. He is a present from my sister Mary, who remembered that in the early weeks of this blog, in December 2005, I wrote about pigs a couple times. So here is my new good luck happy pig, a blogs mascot to keep me company while I write. I'm going to call him O-Ink.

Mary introduced me to the charm of pigs, although she now shudders at the thought. She was a college student doing biology and I was a little girl. She had to dissect a poor piglet, not something she was enthusiastic about, but she gave me the tail, which I thought was the cutest thing I had ever seen, and I wrapped it around the base of my bedside lamp, where it kept its curl nicely, until my mother discovered it. Out went the tail, but I was left with the impression of an animal so naturally cheerful that its tail curled. Mary, meanwhile, accidentally left the rest of the pig in a brown paper grocery bag at the back of a bus one day.

One of my favorite books became Charlotte's Web, by EB White, and if you somehow reached adulthood without reading, rush to make up for your loss. It is possibly my alltime favorite book.

Every time I look over at my pig now, I smile. O-Ink!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Air travel is better, not worse

I'm back from two weeks of travel in Europe and North America, tired but rejuvenated after seeing friends and family and doing a bit of work. I'll be writing more about all of this starting tomorrow.

For now, one comment, after taking eight flights in 14 days, through four countries and four states: air travel is easier, and generally better, than it was a year ago. Everyone seems to take the new security restrictions in stride, more or less, people show up at the airport earlier, the check-in process is longer but done efficiently most of the time. And here is the good news: less carry-on luggage means the airplanes' overhead racks are less congested and people get on and off planes faster. Maybe this is a factor in planes leaving on time: there is certainly an improvement on this score. Every plane I took was full. It's been a few years since I've seen this level of overall efficiency.

That said, a topic of conversation everywhere was the acceptability of the new security restrictions. This is a gross generalization, but it appeared to me that most people think the new rules are a good idea in general, but that they need to be applied rigorously. Inconsistency irritates people: one friend who flew to Phoenix, Arizona, to meet with me and other friends, saw someone's lip gloss confiscated (but a tube of lipstick was accepted), while the person sitting next to her came on board openly carrying a bottle of water.

The craziest case was another woman, rushing to catch a plane while closing a deal on the phone, who forgot that she had planned to check in her bag. She took it as carry-on luggage. It was x-rayed but never opened. It contained aerosol hairspray, several liquids, sharp objects. She admits that she heard announcements saying it was illegal, but at that point she was in such a state about what to do that she simply carried the bag onto the plane and hoped for the best.

You could argue that we should accept the occasional slipup because overall the level of security is much higher. The problem will be convincing people that they need to diligently observe the rules long-term if the authorities do not rigidly enforce them.

The rules also need a little refinement. I've never kept my contact lenses in on overseas flights because the cabin air is too dry. However, I need them when I board a plane and when I land, in order to read monitors and other information (such as security notices). I can't even carry the lens case, which has soaking solution, at the moment (some airlines allow this, but not all, and not in the US). People with bifocal contacts rarely have bifocal glasses, so wearing glasses is not a solution. I have old glasses that let me see things at a distance, but I arrived home with a nasty little eyestrain headache. Grumpy passengers with headaches can easily turn into unpleasant passengers, so the airlines and security people might want to find a happier solution to this odd problem.

I wouldn't mind a little hand and face cream, either, but I guess I can forego that. A business idea: a little stand next to luggage pickup areas, with 1-minute deplaning face and hand massages with deep moisturing treatments. Sounds almost as good as the massage therapy you now find in some airports - if you've never tried that, do so the next time you see one. Ahhhhh.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Schiphol news: inflight pause

I flew Monday from Geneva, Switzerland to Vancouver, Canada, and loved every minute of it. If you have heard tales of hellish travel lately, this is the other side of the coin. It's nearly two hours from Geneva to Amsterdam, KLM's home base and a major European hub - wikipedia says it was 4th in Europe in 2004. I was on KLM so into Amsterdam we went, skimming over the low land and waterways of Holland, to our left giant sea clouds banking and piling up as they skid to a halt when they hit continental air. The land looks like it has been wrapped in tinsel when the sun is shining through the clouds, so pervasive are the dikes and canals for which The Netherlands is famous.

This is one of my favorite hub airports. It's big but easy and comfortable, everyone seems to be briefly on pause, having just arrived from one exotic location, en route to another. Japanese tourists in droves were buying tulip bulbs and the under-30 crowd was streaming into a large "audio" shop.

I had brought a novel that wasn't holding my interest (Singing Bird, by Roisin McAuley), so was delighted to see how large the English selection was in the Dutch bookstore, and bought two more books for the trip: Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch, by Dai Sijie and Arthur & George, by Julian Barnes.

I did not buy but lingered over two books about the Middle East, one a history of the Arab world and the other an explanation (bravo to the editor for attemping this!) of the tensions in the Middle East. Both looked worth reading, but airplanes are places where I like to rise above the world's problems. They are escape hatches and movies and fiction seem the best way to while away the hours.

I wandered around the spaceship that is Schiphol, studying tulip bulbs and other travellers, then headed for my gate, which had been changed. A security measure, explained an airport employee. A nuisance, grumbled a German businessman behind me. I had dressed and packed 2006 style for international travel, which made things easier. Shoes slipped off, nothing in my pockets, no hand luggage other than handbag and bookstore and Swiss chocolate shop plastic bags.

The airplane left on time, with not a seat to spare. On my left was a young Italian construction worker, returning to his two-year posting on a major building site in Vancouver. I asked if he skied. "No," and he blushed and laughed at himself. "I guess that is strange, since Vancouver is so good for that, and maybe I should. Maybe I will. But I had to ski in the Italian army and that was such as awful experience I haven't wanted to wear skis since!"

On my right was a bespectacled boy of perhaps 14-15 who shyly asked for help with the landing card for Canada. His mother was in first class, he was in economy. He was Canadian, but seemed unfamiliar with Canada and he had never seen a Mars bar before (they were being handed out at the back of the plane). I asked if he had started the trip in Amsterdam - no, in Iran. He'd flown for five hours, had a three-hour layover and now he had nearly ten hours of flying time ahead of him.

The world slipped away before us and the magic carpet syndrome of flying took over. When I was a child my oldest sister Jeanne gave me a hardbound copy of Arabian nights, with color plates. I loved the physical book and the tales in it and I suspect it is responsible in part for my love of travel.

We all settled in to watch our movies. I laughed my way through American Dreamz, silly nonsense and just right for a long flight. I read my book, dozed, watched On a Clear Day, a Scottish film about an unemployed man who finds courage again by swimming the Channel. I tried to imagine doing that. The seaweed would defeat me before I started, I decided.

We flew far north and what joy! It was a crystal clear day and we could see the raw mountains and ice packs of northern Greenland, as clear as could be. My little map of the world has another few notches on it now - seen that bit of geography. What an amazing globe we have.

Greenland photos will follow once I find the USB port on my hosts' computer.