Archive for October, 2007



Madison Snapshot

SHE WHEELS IN A RUSTY old road bike, wearing mud-caked boots and baggy grass-stained jeans. Her front tire is flat. “Here’s the deal,” she says to a tall, lanky bike mechanic, “I have a flat, but I’m just coming back from the farm so I don’t have any money. So I can either trade goods or come back and pay later.” She flicks her hair out of her face and gives a comfortably resigned shrug.

“Either one,” says the mechanic, “whatever.”

“Really? Great!” she answers.

The mechanic eyes a box full of produce strapped to her bike. “Sweet, are those leeks?”

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Pleasing China

WHEN CHINA WARNED THE U.S. not to honor the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal – which he is set to receive today – their language was ludicrous [IHT]:

The Chinese officials, speaking at a Foreign Ministry briefing and on the sidelines of the Communist Party’s 17th National Congress, condemned the Dalai Lama as a separatist and said foreign leaders must stop encouraging him.

“We are furious,” the Tibetan Communist Party leader, Zhang Qingli, said during the congress. “If the Dalai Lama can receive such an award, there must be no justice or good people in the world.”

But apparently saying ridiculously inflammatory shit gets you places these days. Following George Bush’s 30-minute meeting with the spiritual leader yesterday, White House aides refused to disclose details and would not release a photo of the two. Despite this sheepish behavior, Bush is apparently fighting on Tibet’s behalf [IHT]:

The Dalai Lama’s envoy, Lodi Gyari, who attended the meeting, said Bush described his efforts with China’s president, Hu Jintao, on the Dalai Lama’s behalf: “The president said he has been telling the Chinese president that you need to meet with this man, you should trust the Dalai Lama, I know this man and I trust him and you must not hesitate to meet with his holiness.”

Right.

Interview with Travelblogs.com

Travelblogs.com took the time to ask me a few questions last week, and posted the interview today. Check it out here.

Last Days in San Francisco

north beach. photo by Andrew Møøre.

AT SOME POINT IN your drinking career, it will happen. You will walk into a bar amid a strange silence – that awkward period between jukebox tracks where everyone realizes how loud and rowdy they’ve been. And then, catching you completely unawares, Journey will boom through the stereo. But by then my friend, it’s too late.

Such is the case for Nick and I as we stroll into North Beach dive up on Green Street. By the time Steve Perry is belting “livin’ in SOUTH Detroooit!” a woman who is phenomenally drunk wraps her arms around both our necks and croons along, urging us to do likewise. I escape from her talons by excusing myself to the bathroom, and come out to find Nick looking both awe-stricken and sincerely pissed as this chick guzzles half his beer.

Somehow he manages to convince her to resume her spot at the bar stool, but by this point we’re really not feeling the vibe. The bartender tells me as she pours a pint of Newcastle that she saw a guy get his head blown off outside her apartment last night. Sweet. Nick and I look at each other wearily, and I drain my beer.

We’d started the night out with the lofty goal of getting wobbly drunk. But we wanted to kick off our bar hopping on a classy note, and so circled several blocks looking for a spot serving great martinis and chilled atmosphere. We come across a waiter taking a smoke break and ask him what he’d recommend. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he convinces us to come into where he works – Joe Dimaggio’s. Pricey, yes, but it’s exactly what we’ve been looking for: plush leather booths and strong drinks.

A little alcohol swimming in the belly and we decide that we need some proper drinking food. We stumble upon Golden Boy, a place serving life-changing Sicilian pizza with great beers on tap. I bite into steaming slice and look up at the curved aluminum ceiling, and think that this place almost looks like a small airplane hanger.

We hit the Journey dive after Golden Boy, and I finish my drink as we stand up to leave. Buzzing in the cool night air, we fall back onto the tried and true – Vesuvios. There’s just something about the atmosphere of the place, the stained glass windows, the wooden booths, the dark corners. We order a couple pints of Hoegaarden and grab a seat. Our conversation blurs into the din of the bar. Several German men sitting next to us chat loudly. Nick and I talk about the trip, about life. We order another drink. We feel content, we feel a stir of wanderlust, and finally, we’re slurring. Time to head back to the hostel.

Continue reading ‘Last Days in San Francisco’

From the East Bay to the Pacific

beach @ golden gate park. photo by dailytransit.

THERE’S SOMETHING DISCONCERTING ABOUT speeding through a dark tube mere feet away from the crush of thousands of cubic tons of seawater. But you’ve got to get across the Bay somehow, and so Nick and I sit calmly as we zip along on the BART towards Berkeley.

We come up to street level to find ourselves amid crowds of Cal fans who’ve arrived for the day’s football game. People are hocking tickets, looking for tickets, and we cut a line towards the greenery of campus. The last time I came to UC-Berkeley we spent so much time wandering around shops that it was dark by the time we got to the main campus entrance, and so I never really got to explore the college that had rejected me years back – to see what I had missed out on.

I should preface what I’m about to say with this: I’ve seen some gorgeous campuses in my day. The University of Washington probably tops them all with its Gothic architecture, cherry-tree lined quad, and views of Mt. Rainier. Tied for second are the University of Wisconsin-Madison, nestled between two vast, clear lakes, and Seoul’s Yonsei University, with its old stone buildings choked by lush green ivy. And so as we’re wandering through Berkeley, taking in the fields and the orange-tiled roofs and all I can think is, “It’s pretty, but it isn’t that great.”

Campus snobbery aside, Nick and I do take the time to lay down in beautiful green field and soak in the day. A young coed is chatting away on her cell phone not far away, but it doesn’t break the calm washing over us. My mind feels delightfully untethered, my consciousness floating just above the spot where I lay.

After enough sun we meander down towards Telegraph – Berkeley’s version of the college strip, like Seattle’s University Ave or Madison’s State Street. But we do notice a key difference: the hippies here are old salts, sexagenarians who’ve probably been smoking gummy weed for decades. They sell tie-dye tees, knit caps to hold up natty dreads, and used reggae albums. Peace and love and fighting the empire are carved into their lined faces.

We grab lunch at Cafe Intermezzo – the same place I came when I was at Berkeley six months ago – and shove the massive quantities of salad into our fiber-deprived guts; a welcome change from the grease and beer that have been our diet’s staples. Sitting at the window bar we see a guy wearing cycling shoes holding a hand-made anti-war poster. “Silence is consent!” he shouts.

After our meal we browse at Rasputin Music – I scour the shelves for a collection of Cambodian music I heard at a cafe in Portland and for a punk album that a friend in LA told me was an essential listen, but come up with nothing. We decide it’s about that time, and walk back towards the BART station.

Continue reading ‘From the East Bay to the Pacific’

Inseparable

AS I RODE MY BIKE through the rain this morning, my jeans and shoes becoming increasingly drenched, I thought about a news article I read yesterday. The Associated Press piece discussed the link between “global warming and global peace,” spurred by statements made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change after Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Prize:

“Climate change is and will be a significant threat to our national security and in a larger sense to life on Earth as we know it to be,” retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, former U.S. Army chief of staff, told a congressional panel last month.

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee agrees. In awarding the prize Friday to climate campaigner Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N.-sponsored network of scientists, the Norwegian committee said the stresses of a changing global environment may heighten the “danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.”

Those like Sullivan who study the issues point particularly to the impact of drought and altered climate patterns on food and water supplies, leading to shortages that could spur huge, destabilizing migrations of people internationally.

The large majority of us in developed nations live as though we are independent from our environment – myself included. It’s cold? Turn up the heat. It’s raining? Take the car. It hasn’t rained for a while? Use the hose to water the grass.

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves. However disaffected we may feel about melting sea ice, we must acknowledge that we are inseparably linked to our surroundings – to the changing seasons, to the quality of our water, to strength of the sun’s rays. Indeed, there may be a day not far in the future when the problems “out there” follow us into the house.

While ruminations on how nature and man are invariably linked coming from a guy in Wisconsin who’s still wearing damp socks might not bring home anything new for readers, I would encourage you to read an in-depth article published by the International Herald Tribune today. Journalist Joseph Kahn focuses on how the souring of a once-scenic Chinese lake has had real effects on the local community – (they were without drinking water for days because of algae blooms) – and how one man’s fight against pollution has nearly ruined him. Reading through the story I thought to myself, There is nothing abstract about this – we cannot continue to live the status quo.

Korean Government Blocks Journalists’ Access

BY SHUTTING DOWN PRESSROOMS in 11 government ministries throughout South Korea yesterday the Roh Moo Hyun administration made a bold move towards controlling the flow of information to the public.

The Korea Times reports that the closure of the rooms – where journalists can hookup their laptops and have ready access to government officials – was met with wide protest. Reporters sat in ministry lobbies and continued to write.

The pressroom closures are part of a new media policy in South Korea, in which reporters are only allowed to use a new central pressroom regardless of their beat and must have permission to meet with government officials when writing an article.

Surprisingly, the more conservative opposition Grand National Party condemned the closure:

The government pressrooms are offered by the people to watch the government, not by the government,” Ahn Sang-soo, the party floor leader, said. “The shutdown is against taxpayers’ wishes.”

The GNP will try to pass a bill to reopen the pressrooms as soon as possible, he said.

The closures have frightening implications for the free flow of information, and raise the question: Why is the government shortening the leash?


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