Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts From Inside A Zoo

An idea that hasn't really taken hold in the US is "reverse zoos" - where the observer is thrust into the middle of the observed habitat, rather than watch it from outside like "normal".  I've seen a few drive-though safari game parks in Texas, and the northern plains of Yellowstone National Park might qualify.  But comparatively, the idea has really taken off overseas.  Kruger?  Etosha?  Serengeti?  Maasai Mara?

But really, isn't all travel a reverse zoo experience?

We don't really notice when we say, go to South Dakota and find the closest Starbucks.  The differences aren't different enough to really register with us.  The observed speak the same language, spend the same currency, have a favorite restaurant, and gas station down the street from where they live that receives most of their business.  They a large extent, just like me.  Their lives unfold just like mine does, by and large.

But then we get on a big jet-liner and the differences become impossible to ignore.  We might as well be driving through the northern plains of Yellowstone, watching a bison stroll down the middle of the road, for all we have in common.

I laid over in Berlin on this trip, and our shuttle from plane-to-terminal drove through the under-terminal area where baggage handlers sort luggage and airline employees have their offices.  It was 7 am and I watched a guy wearing a formal uniform stand in the open door of his late-model Mercedes, eating a piece of cold pizza and waving it in the air to make a point to his colleague standing next to another car.  Berlin, 7 am, cold pizza for breakfast at work.

He probably has a favorite pizza place, a usual gas station, and Wednesday night plans to watch his favorite team play in the Stanley Cup Finals (side note: \O/ \O/ \O/ \O/).  Ok, maybe not that last one, but you get my point still.

The more reverse zoo experiences I have that feature really different differences, the more I realize that the lives of the people in the places that I visit unfold just like mine does, by and large.

This thought becomes especially salient when I have my usual "this place is complicated, navigating it doesn't seem possible/logical/easy" freak-out.  And then I realize that for someone else, navigating it is second nature, so it must be possible to do because their life there unfolds there just like mine does in Bloomington, by and large.  I'm just the observer rather than the observed; I'm just inside a habitat that's not my natural one.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Brooklyn, or Mars

And thus my Crusade to the Holy Land has ended.  Salah ad-Din, the Knights Hospitallers and Templars, and I parted with an uneasy truce.  I returned yesterday afternoon.

I have very mixed feelings about my trip to Israel and Jordan this summer, not least because of the on-going geopolitical debacle.  Over the 23-ish years of my international traveling career I have evolved from places that evoked the developed West to places that were anything but.  Israel was firmly a return to the West, but unexpectedly.  

I thought "Middle East".  I thought "Israel-Arab" conflict.  I thought "Jews, Muslims, and Christians mingling/fighting in 2,000-2,500 year old cities".

I got Maseratis, wifi on city buses, and cost-of-living that met or exceeded that of the US.  I got Brooklyn.  

Literally Jaffa Street in Jerusalem could be the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn: a landscaped pedestrian mall were (Ultra-)Orthodox Jews buy trendy clothing and push baby-strollers, and conversations take place in Hebrew or Yiddish.  And that soured me because I travel to experience things I can't see at home.  

I told The Canadian: "To me this is Brooklyn.  To my friends this is Mars."  I looked around and kept getting yanked back to the US, which shredded the veil that I had traveled anywhere at all.  But many people miss the similarities to the US, and see it as foreign language, foreign money, foreign war - and have their little freak out about "holy shit I am totally out of my comfort zone".

I was way too much in my comfort zone.

That's not to say that I didn't see and experience unfamiliar things and culture.  I just had to dig past way more BMWs, espresso bars, and clothing boutiques than I anticipated.  

More to come as I resurrect my life.  Yuck yuck yuck.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Go Looking Somewhere Higher

[Title from Rag'n'Bone Man's Human.]

You know those friends who you don't see for 6, 12, 18 months, but when you finally see them again, it's like no time has passed?  Let's see if it can be like that with this blog.

What has happened since Carnegie Deli's went down for the long nap?  Honestly - and not surprisingly - a lot.  It has been six full months so plenty of time for some good and a whole lot of bad.  The late January through early May period of 2017 was the longest, most defeating experience of my life.  And at the end of it, I have less trust for my peers, less respect for some of the behemoths in my field, less surety about who I should be when dealing with other people - and two finished masters degrees (with straight As, natch), glowing supervisor evaluations, and in my more cynical moments, thoughts that none of it seems to have counted for much toward where I want go in the long-term.

So where am I going to go in the short-term?  Israel and Jordan for two months.

I was supposed to go last summer.  My foot intervened and instead I revived the Best Of The West tag.  In the vein of Alanis Morissette's definition of irony, two weeks ago I woke up and my foot was unhappy again (after 6 months of fine-ness and running).  Back in the boot and back on the hot-seat of do I go or don't I.

This time, I'm going, boot and all.  If things become untenable, I'll come home early.  For no more important reason than I really, truly need to get out of here for a while.  

Let the Hummus Tour begin.

Friday, December 30, 2016

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Night

In less than an hour, NYC's 7th Avenue location of Carnegie Deli will close forever after 80 years in business.

I ate there the Springs of my freshman, sophomore, and junior years in college, as well as several times during my years in DC.

The go-to was matzah ball soup and some sort of gargantuan sandwich, followed by a piece of their Hershey's Fifth Avenue Chocolate Cheesecake.

That meal could kill you, but it would have been a good and tasty death.

I can only hope that the Deli's own end is just as delicious.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Paint Me Like One Of Your French Girls

Meet Sally.

Sally is at her leisure, to be sure.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Peek A BOO!

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Can You Tie 'Em In A Bow?

Life is hard when your ears drag on the ground.  Doesn't mean it's not cute though.

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