January 31, 2012
January 30, 2012
It's Monday, so you know what that means: no, not work, but the inaugural edition of Meat Loaf Monday! You might have thought I'd start off with "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)" or "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," but if you thought that, you'd be wrong. Meat Loaf Monday is all about throwing my readers curve balls... or should I say curve meatballs! Watch and be amazed:
One of the reasons I decided to start with this song is because I heard it on my alarm radio the other morning, but there was one major difference: it was a cover version of the song, but it was subdued and laid-back. Almost country music-esque. That struck me as strange; if you're going to cover a Meat Loaf song, you need to try to be louder, more exuberant, more over-the-top, and even more full-on than the Meat Man himself, and that's a pretty tall order. You don't cover Meat Loaf songs, he covers your songs, and he sings the hell out of them. That's just his M.O. (a Latin abbreviation for meatus operandi).
So that got me into this Meat Loaf Monday idea, but this song is also pretty good. OK, I'm not going to bullshit you: the song's spectacular. It's got a sweet opening line ("You can't run away for ever / but there's nothing wrong with getting a good head start"), and in classic Meat Loaf fashion it builds up more and more grandeur with each beat.
The video is great, too, but in a weird way. I guess it's about... hmm, Rock and Roll being awesome? The redemptive power of sweet music? Motorcycles? It's hard to tell what's going on. Frankly, if I had about $500,000 and the rights to a Meat Loaf song at my disposal, I'd probably make a pretty similar video with similar bizarre crap: random explosions; a sexy cyborg that appears to be half juke box, half supermodel; dangerously flying radios; fog machines; flashy-light necklaces; and Angelina Jolie. I'm pretty sure the idea of the video is that Meat Loaf saves some kids, but at the beginning he looks like he's trapped in a Zoltar machine, and later on he seems to be some kind of homeless wanderer/warrior (and are those prosthetic ears??). It's hard to tell if he's trying to save, seduce, or kidnap Angelina Jolie. In any case, it's certainly her best acting role ever, although not Meat Loaf's (that'd be his role in Fight Club).
So, happy Meat Loaf Monday! I hope it starts your week off with a nice, meaty bang, and we'll see you next week!
Posted by Sitzman at 10:43 AM Share This:
January 29, 2012
Paul Theroux is surely one of the most excellent sarcastic travel writers out there. I'm glad Lucy pointed him out to me. If you've not read any of his books, this could be a good first one. In this, as in many of his books, he journeys to some interesting place and provides the reader with a thoroughly dry running commentary, focusing not only on the destinations, but often just as much or even more on the journey itself. The first quote I shared from this book a few weeks ago is a good example of that.
In this book Theroux travels almost exclusively by train from his home in Boston to Argentinean Patagonia. The book was written in 1979, so it's older than me, even, yet aside from some references to the controversy around giving the Panama Canal back, the book doesn't seem dated. That's remarkable, considering that very likely many of the very train lines he traveled on in his trip are no longer running (the Costa Rica ones from San José to Puntarenas and Limón certainly aren't). And the political situation has surely improved in most of the countries he visited, but that wasn't as much of a focus anyhow; regional culture and the train system itself are front and center in most of the book.
I especially liked the section where he was traveling in Costa Rica, mainly because I live there and because even though the trains no longer run, many of the aspects of Costa Rican culture are still true and relevant today. That part maintained my interest and my attention, but it had already been caught at the very beginning of the book and held to the last page. He's just a good writer.
Since Theroux is a good writer, there were many quotes that I wanted to share, many of them fairly long. I actually put up one of them in the comments section in my previous book review, since it was about an overly loud church service in El Salvador, and it worked well with the topic of that review. Still, I'll put up a few of them here, but I'd definitely recommend you check out the book if you're interested in travel and culture in Latin America.
This quote from page 8 puts the whole flag-lapel-pin debate in a new light:
“[I saw][…] American flags—the Stars and Stripes flying over gas stations and supermarkets and in numerous yards. […] But the flags puzzled me. Were these the pious boasts of patriots or a warning to foreigners or decorations for a national holiday? And why, in the littered yard to that rundown house, was a pretty little flag flapping loyally from a pole? On the evidence here, it seemed an American obsession, a kind of image worship I associated with the most primitive political minds.”
This one from when he's in Laredo (page 40) seemed great, since what he makes fun of here is something that I can't stand in many writers (although I probably do it myself sometimes):
“That was the first time on my trip that I spoke Spanish. After this, nearly every conversation I had was in Spanish. But in the course of this narrative I shall try to avoid affecting Spanish words and will translate all conversations into English. I have no patience with macaronic sentences that go, “’Carramba!’ said the campesino, eating his empanada at the estancia…’”
And this one from page 80 points out the great irony of many Spanish place names:
“We came to Tierra Blanca. The descriptive name did not describe the place. Spanish names are apt only as ironies or simplifications; they seldom fit. The argument is usually stated differently, to demonstrate how dull, how literal-minded and unimaginative the Spanish explorer or cartographer was. Seeing a dark river, the witness quickly assigned a name: Río Negro. It is a common name throughout Latin America; yet it never matches the color of the water. And the four Ríos Colorados I saw bore not the slightest hint of red. Piedras Negras was marshland, not black stones; I saw no stags at Venado Tuerto, no lizards at Lagartos. None of the Lagunas Verdes was green; my one La Dorada looked leaden; Progreso in Guatemala was backward; La Libertad in El Salvador, a stronghold of repression in a country where salvation seemed in short supply. La Paz was not peaceful, nor was La Democracia democratic. This was not literalness—it was whimsy. Place names called attention to beauty, freedom, piety, or strong colors; but the places themselves, so prettily named, were something else. Was it willful inaccuracy, or a lack of subtlety that made the map so glorious with fine attributes and praises? Latins found it hard to live with dull facts; the enchanting name, while not exactly making their town magical, at least took the curse off it. And there was always a chance that an evocative name might evoke something to make the plain town bearable.”
There were a few that I liked regarding Costa Rica:
“The only characteristic Costa Rica shares with her Central American neighbors is a common antipathy. You don’t hear a good word about Guatemala or El Salvador; and Nicaragua and Panama—the countries Costa Rica is wedged between—are frankly loathed.” (p. 160)
“Costa Rica has a large middle class, but they go to bed early and rise at dawn; everyone—student, laborer, businessman, estate manager, politician—keeps farmers’ hours.” (p. 193)
Both sad but true. There was also this one about Costa Rica, but the secularism that he mentions is something I've never really noticed here. But then again, he's comparing it to the rest of Central America, which I've seen very little of. I guess I can mostly compare my own experience with what I've seen in the U.S. and Germany, both of which I'd argue are more secular than Costa Rica:
“We were passing a church. In El Salvador or Guatemala, the passengers would have blessed themselves, made a slow sign of the cross; and the men would have removed their hats. Here, the church was not an object of much interest—and it was an imposing church, with two Spanish towers like plump thermos jugs, and scrollwork and stained glass and a pair of belfries. It aroused no reverential gestures among the train passengers. It might as well have been a barn, though a barn that size would certainly have had the train passengers crowing with approval.
Costa Rica is considered unique in Central America; prosperity has made it dull, but this is surely preferable to the excitements and urgencies of poverty. What is remarkable is its secularity. I was not prepared for this; I had never seen this commented upon; and I naturally expected, after my churchgoing in Guatemala and El Salvador, to see a similarly priest-ridden society, genuflections, the poor wearing rosaries as necklaces, and Never mind those huts—look at the cathedral! […] But a free election was like man’s answer to the bossy authoritarianism of a religion that demanded humility and repentance; it seemed to prove that competition was possible without violence or acrimony. The Costa Ricans’ dislike of dictators had made them intolerant of priests. Luck and ingenuity had made the country prosperous, and it was small and self-contained enough to remain so.” (p. 197)
Finally, these last two were from the Colombia section, and they both made me laugh out loud:
“I had thought I was the only foreigner on the train. I was wrong—I should have known the moment I saw his cut-off dungarees, his full beard, his earring, his maps and rucksack that he was a fellow traveler. He was French. He had a sore throat. A French traveler with a sore throat is a wonderful thing to behold, but it takes more than tonsillitis to prevent a Frenchman from boasting." (p. 244)
“So I contented myself with the posters. They were of Bolívar, Christ, and Che Guevara; but they were hard to tell apart. They seemed like versions of the same person: the same sorrowing eyes, the same mulish good looks, and heroic posture.[…] The other posters were of blond nudes, Joseph Stalin (bearing a warning about “Yankys”), Jane Fonda, Marlon Brando, and Donald Duck. The one I bought was the best of the bunch. It showed Christ on the cross, but he had managed to pull his hand away from one nail, and still hanging crucified but with his free arm around the shoulder of a praying guerrilla fighter, Christ was saying, ‘I also was persecuted, my determined guerrilla.’” (p. 249)
That's all I have to say about this book, but you can check out my Sitzbook list to see what I'm reading or give me suggestions. If you'd like to join in on the conversation, please feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks for reading, and have a great week!
Posted by Sitzman at 9:19 PM Share This:
January 28, 2012
For anyone who's "lucky" enough to be my friend or to have been in one of my classes, you probably know that I love Star Wars. So a few months ago when my brother Paul mentioned Star Wars Uncut, I was pretty interested. It's a project that divides the movie into 15-second segments, and then different fans re-make the segments however they want.
Well, the project is finally complete, and it's pretty amazing, actually. You can check it out here:
As you can see, it's about 2 hours, which is no small investment of time if you want to watch the whole thing. But really, what else do you have going on this weekend? A few of the segments are lame, half-assed, or just plain bad, but I'd say the majority of them are actually outstanding. It's just really cool to see people who are such big fans of something have a sort of field day, and many of them are very creative and funny.
Some of my favorite bits are cheesy cat inserts (like 11:30) and two cowboy/Civil War segments (the first around 1:01:00). A few other of my favorites are the Japanese comedy show (24:15), the creepy My Little Pony part (37:20), and the Kill Bill reference (46:10).
The other great thing about this is you can watch it for a few minutes at a time when you're not busy, and you don't lose what's going on--if you're a true fan, of course!
If you check it out, enjoy, and whether you do or not, have a great weekend!
Posted by Sitzman at 4:30 PM Share This:
This book was a departure from my normal Sitzbook fare, which seems to consist mostly of novels; if there is any non-fiction on my list, it often seems to be more leisure-oriented, and very few to zero of them tend to be Christian manifestos written by pastors. But while visiting Brad in Iowa --which I still need to blog about!-- he gave me quite a few "handouts." He said that he was trying to get rid of a lot of stuff, so he gave us a colorful variety of cables, some stickers, T-shirts, a few books, and many great memories. He gave me this particular book after I commented on the cover (it looks like a bunch of indistinct boxes, but if you look closer at the individual boxes' corners, they actually form letters that spell out the book's title).
I was also interested in the book's description on the back cover, since it seemed to be focused on social criticism; it said, for example: "It's a book about faith and fear, wealth and war, poverty, power, safety, terror, Bibles, bombs, and homeland insecurity [...] it's about oppression, occupation, and what happens when Christians support, animate, and participate in the very things that Jesus came to set people free from."
That definitely caught my interest. Without going into my own beliefs, I can say that those words struck a chord with me and how I view things. And I did read the book very quickly, in fact. Much of it is actually about these themes, but a lot of it is also a sort of biblical history which, although not "disappointing," wasn't exactly what I was looking for or expecting when I picked up the book. Much of the book reads like a general history of Judaism and Christianity, and although I understand that much of this information is necessary to set the stage for the commentary on modern times, the balance was definitely tilted towards the historical part.
Another thing that I noticed was that it did indeed have some criticism and frank assessment of modern religion's failings, although it didn't really provide much in the way of concrete ideas or suggestions about how to change things. But that may just have been an impression that I took away. In fact, the more I think about this book, the more I think I should read it again just to get my mind around what I think about it.
In any case, my goal with these individual book reviews wasn't to blabber on, but to give a summary of a book and include some interesting quotes or impressions, and I've gotten off track on that.
So, here are some quotes that stood out to me; you can interpret or read into them what you will. I do apologize that they are so long, but if I had kept them to "sound-bite" length, they might not have made much sense out of context. And I guess if you weren't into long-winded-ness, you'd already have stopped reading a few paragraphs ago. A comment about the format: the quotes actually look like that in the book, with paragraph breaks even in the middle of a sentence, sometimes. It looks strange here on the blog, but it's not so weird in the book. Finally, keep in mind that the book was written in 2008, so it's been around a few years.
From page 17/18:
"On the news are sound bites from a speech by the president of the United States. He's on the deck of an aircraft carrier, proclaiming victory in a recent military effort. Not only was the mission accomplished, according to the leader of the world's only superpower, but American forces are now occupying this Middle Eastern country until peace can be fully realized within its borders.
This puts Christians in an awkward place.
Because Jesus was a Middle Eastern man who lived in an occupied country and was killed by the superpower of his day.
The first Christians often said 'Jesus is Lord.' For them, Jesus was another way, a better way, a way that made the world better through sacrificial love, not coercive violence.
So when the commander in chief of the most powerful armed forces humanity has ever seen quotes the prophet Isiah from the Bible in celebration of a military victory, we must ask, Is this what Isiah had in mind?
A Christian should get very nervous when the flag and the Bible start holding hands. This is not a romance we want to encourage."
From page 123, after citing some depressing statistics about global wealth distribution:
"Now, when many people get a glimpse of how the world really is, whether it's through travel or study or reading statistics like the ones just cited, it can quickly lead to guilt. We have so much, while others have so little.
Guilt is not helpful.
Honestly is helpful. Awareness is helpful. Knowledge is helpful.
Human history has never witnessed the abundance that we consider normal. America is the wealthiest nation in the history of humanity. We have more resources than any group of people anywhere at any time has ever had. Ever.
God bless America?
And we should be very, very grateful."
From page 160:
"When the goal of a church is to get people into church services and then teach them how to invite people to come to church services, so that they in turn will bring others to more church services--
that's attendance at church services.
And church is not ultimately about attending large gatherings.
Church is people.
People who live a certain way in the world.
People who have authority in the world, but authority that comes from breaking themselves open and pouring themselves out so that the world will be healed.
The authority that the church has in culture does not come from how right, cool, or loud it is, or how convinced it is of its doctrinal superiority.
As Paul says, 'We don't fight with those weapons.' A church's authority comes from somewhere else-- it comes from how we've been broken open and poured out, not from how well we've pursued power and lobbied and organized ourselves to triumph. This is why when Christians organize politically and start flexing that muscle, making threats about how they are going to impose their way on others, so many people turn away from Jesus."
From page 163/164:
"Our standing in solidarity with the single parent, the unemployed, the refugee, our joining the God of the oppressed to work for jusice in the world, doesn't just make a difference for those who are suffering.
It rescues us.
Have your ever heard someone return from a trip to a third-world setting and talk about how the 'people there' have nothing and yet they have so much joy?
Our destiny, our future, and our joy are in the Eucharist, using whatever blessing we've received, whatever resources, talents, skills, and passions God has given us, to make the world a better place. Disconnection from the suffering of the world, isolation from the cry of the oppressed, indifference to the poverty around us will always lead us to despair.
We were made for so much more.
The church, the Eucharist, says no to religiously sanctioned despair. The Eucharist is an invitation to be the new humanity. To suffer, to bleed, to open the heart, to roll up the sleeves, to have hope that God has a plan to put the world back together, and it's called the church.
In the Eucharist, there's always hope.
Hope for the poor,
and hope for the rich.
Hope for the bored,
hope for the restless.
The Eucharist confronts its culture with the question,
If we can spend a trillion dollars on a war,
what else could we spend a trillion dollars on?
The Eucharist is about converting all of that ability and energy and entrepreneurial skill and can-do attitude into blessing for those on the underside of power.
Those on the margins.
Those who aren't in the game.
The Eucharist is about people with the power empowering the powerless to make a better life for themselves."
So, that's it for the moment, but I'd be happy to hear any comments from people who have read or heard of the book, or also from anyone who wants to say hey or comment on the quotes... but let's not start a holy war here!
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!
Posted by Sitzman at 12:29 AM Share This:
January 20, 2012
Our time in Santiago was short but sweet. We were only there for two nights. When we first started planning our trip months before we left, we thought we'd split our time almost evenly between Argentina and Chile, but due to different scheduling considerations, we decided to just concentrate on Argentina for this trip. But we'll have to go back!
We did manage to see some interesting stuff in our time in Santiago, so here are some pictures. You can also check out my other Santiago pictures on Flickr.
|After crossing the border.|
|Based on our brief time in the country, we got the impression that Chileans really like guacamole, as it was on nearly everything offered at a food court (including hamburgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, and even French fries).|
|Another interesting food thing: wheat in juice with peaches.|
|Angela and I at one of the parks in Santiago. We were a bit sad to realize that compared to many Latin American capitals, Costa Rica's San José is pretty crappy.|
|A building near our hotel.|
|This recipe for milanesas (like schnitzels or breaded beef cutlets) was on a chalkboard at the final place we had supper in South America. It was fitting considering the staggering number of milanesas we'd eaten during our trip.|
|A cool plant that looked quite a bit like the metal flower sculpture in Buenos Aires.|
|More employment: have cops directing traffic, even if they have to stand under stoplights to do it. (By the way, the hat was cool and I thought it was interesting that male and female cops had completely different hats).|
|The President of Belgium happened to be visiting the same time we were, so there were lots of Belgian flags.|
|Our hotel was pretty old school, but it was central and even had a nice TV.|
So, that's about it for my Santiago report. Like I said, it'd be great to go back and see much more of the country and not just a little of the capital, so we'll have to see if that's in the cards for us.
That's also it for the actual traveling part of my trip report. Within the next few days I'll try to put up a separate post about the logistics of the trip, including information about the frequent flyer miles we used to get the trip for free, and a few other tips like that.
Thanks for reading these, if you've actually been reading them! Have a great weekend!
Posted by Sitzman at 6:01 PM Share This:
|More tasty mate. Nacho makes a mean mate but then again, he's an expert.|
Hello! Here's the fourth part of my South American trip report, although this one has mostly pictures. After we returned from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires, we stayed in a hotel for a few days, then finally caught a bus to Neuquén, in western Argentina. There we met up with our friend Nacho and stayed with him for a few days until his girlfriend Carla got to town. From there, Nacho --an excellent host, it must be said-- drove us all the way from Neuquén to Santiago, Chile, stopping in a few places on the way to visit and sleep. Here are some pictures:
|On the bus from Buenos Aires to Neuquén. As it turns out, some parts of Patagonia aren't as majestic as magazines might have led you to believe; in fact, some parts of it look like Nebraska.|
|Angela eating some of Nacho's delicious food.|
|Nacho, El Nuevo Libertator, consummate host, CIA-trained extreme chef, and King of Deep Cuts on CD mixes. And Angela, who is also pretty great but who lacks such auspicious titles...so far.|
We stayed at Nacho's place for a few nights and hung out in Neuquén, a pretty calm provincial capital. It was a bit like parts of Colorado, in that it was really dry, warm, and flat. After a few days, Carla arrived from Buenos Aires, and the four of us set off towards the north in Nacho's car.
|Carla making mate in the back seat.|
|Our first stop was Mendoza. It seemed like a pretty nice city, and it would be nice to go back sometime and spend a bit more time there.|
|Angela and I in Mendoza|
|Nacho and Carla|
For our second night on the road, we stayed in a town called Uspallata, on the road between Mendoza and the Chilean border. We also stopped at the Trapiche winery to see how the wine was made.
|Carla and Nacho in front of the vineyards|
|Angela and a llama|
Finally, after Uspallata, we made our way up the mountains to the Chilean border, relatively high in the Andes. We stopped on the way to take a look at Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas.
|The four of us|
|Someone had problems, so they had to do a helicopter evacuation. Angela likes helicopters.|
|Our captain and his trusty Jeep.|
|The road after entering Chile. I wanted to take this picture earlier since we had already passed about half of the curves at this point, but there wasn't a good opportunity before this. But I think you get the point: it was curvy.|
Once we crossed the border, we went down an incredibly twisty and curvy road with something like 32 switchbacks. The landscapes were very interesting, a mixture of Alpine, Mediterranean, and Desert scenery depending on where we were at the moment. And finally, we made it into Santiago, or at least the area near Santiago. It's probably good Nacho was driving, because he was fairly patient, but the roads were not clearly marked, and it was a bit confusing to find our way into the city itself. Once we were there, we also had to find a place to stay, which was another pain. But in the end, we found a hotel at a tourist info center, we actually got to the hotel, and then we went out to have a final dinner together.
|The perpetually short Angela and her two gentleman heroes.|
|At dinner in Santiago|
The next day, Nacho and Carla headed back to Argentina, and Angela and I hung around the city. That just goes to show you what great folks Nacho and Carla are, going all that way just to keep us company and spend time with us.
Anyhow, there are a few more posts coming up but if you want to look at more pictures from this part of the trip, you can check them out on Flickr in the meantime. Thanks for reading!
Posted by Sitzman at 10:26 AM Share This:
January 19, 2012
When most people see the name "Ushuaia," they think, "What the hell's an Ushuaia?" Good question, although it should be formulated "Where the hell's an Ushuaia?"
Ushuaia is the world's southernmost city, at the very tip of South America. I'm not exactly sure why I decided to go there when I was planning the trip, but the more I read about it, the more interesting it sounded. And there were penguins!
|Here I am, working on my Ushuaia street cred.|
Since it's the southernmost city in the world, you'd think it would be cold. It is cold, and we weren't even there in the winter, but it wasn't as bad as we had thought it would be. To put things in perspective, if you look at a map or a globe, the city is actually about the same amount south as Copenhagen is north. I guess there's just a lot more "stuff" in the northern hemisphere, and it gets all up in the North Pole's business, but that's not really the case with the southern part of our charming little planet.
|I've never been to Alaska, but I have an image of Alaska similar to this in my mind.|
But yeah, it was cold. The main thing we had planned during our visit was a tour to a penguin colony, and it was a definite highlight of the trip. After a visit to Estancia Harberton, one of the first European settlements in the area, we took a small boat to an island where the penguins nest and we were able to walk among them for an hour. Many tours go on larger boats, and since the island's administrators have a tourist limit, the people in the larger boats have to take pictures from the water, and the boats only stop for a few minutes. The people from those boats aren't allowed on the land. But the company that ran our tour is the only one with a permit to land on the island, and it limits visits to something like 80 tourists a day. Anyhow, enough talk! Check out some penguins:
|Angela making friends.|
|The boat we came in on.|
|One thing they don't tell you about penguins:|
They often come with penguin crap.
|The lone king penguin. The guide said he goes back there every year, even though he's the only of his kind on the island, and everyone's smaller. Like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused, maybe?|
|Me with penguins.|
|They have advanced moisture-wicking technology, apparently.|
|Angela (in a jacket borrowed from the B&B owner) laughs in the face of Mother Nature.|
So, the penguins were great, although the day we went it was windy and chilly. What else is there to do in Ushuaia? Well, that's an issue, as it turns out. Because of flight times and based on online reviews, we had 7 days in town, and the forums I'd read indicated that wouldn't be too much. But we kind of ran out of things to do after a couple days. We went to the nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park, which was beautiful. And we walked around town a lot. But we mainly went through stores in town, or stayed at the B&B and read to pass the time. It was relaxing, but we had the feeling that we should have stayed a few more days in Uruguay and cut out a few days in Ushuaia. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20.
In any case, have a look at some of the National Park pictures:
|A friendly German couple that was staying at the same B&B as us. We went to the national park together. The B&B was a great alternative to a (very expensive) hotel, since we got to meet quite a few very nice people from all over the world.|
|An inlet in the national park.|
|Angela and the Germans on the trail.|
|This repulsive-looking stuff turns out to be a kind of weird, spongy fungus. I guess when it hardens, you can even eat it.|
And here are some pictures I took while around town:
|Angela walking in a former prison we toured. It was pretty interesting, actually.|
|A boat that was grounded and simply left in the harbor because it looked good.|
The Bed and Breakfast we stayed at was really nice, and the owners were very friendly and welcoming. Although we probably budgeted more time than necessary in the town, it was relaxing to have a place to hang out after Buenos Aires, and before continuing on our voyage.
And there were penguins!
So, that's it for Ushuaia. Thanks for reading and looking; if you feel like seeing more pictures, you can check out my Ushuaia set on flickr here. And if you want to see any of the other sections of this trip report, follow these links:
Posted by Sitzman at 10:38 PM Share This: