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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

I’m still thinking about travel, so today we have a short excerpt from my trip to Egypt (and apologies to anyone from Cairo, but that taxi ride made an impression).

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June 29

Thursday

Cairo

I’m liking Egypt. Even the boys’ open stares and the sticky heat don’t deter me, and the organized chaos seems creative rather than threatening. That’s how I know I’m infatuated, not truly in love. No clear-eyed observer looks out from the back of an Egyptian taxi and sees anything but fear and death.

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Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

Our guide picked us up in yet another van, but this time we were the only ones aboard. It seemed that no one else was crazy enough to tour the Valley on a June afternoon. And yes, it was hot.

The guide was very well-informed, trained in the States, and proud. He took us to many burial sites, tomb after tomb baking in the hot sun. As the day went on the heat made it harder to listen and certainly to remember all the facts being thrown at us. This caused us some trouble as the guide kept giving pop quizzes. At first we thought he was joking, but it turned out he really did care if we knew exactly which Ramses we’d seen (three in total), what the symbols on either side of the tomb entrances meant, and how the tombs were built. It was a little disconcerting, but kept us on track. We spent most of the time in the Valley of the Kings, but also headed around one of the mountainous valley sides to visit the Tomb of Queen Hatshepsut, the only woman buried as a king.

When Hatshepsut’s husband the king died, she bribed his priests into declaring her a man, transformed through divine will. In that way she was able to become more than a regent for her husband’s heir and take control of the throne directly. Her tomb is backed into a towering cliff wall and covered with carvings. Wherever her name appeared, however, her bitter nephew later scratched it out, hoping to keep the gods from finding her spirit in the next life. No love lost there.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, Egypt. Photo by Jeremy Zero on Unsplash

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I find it fascinating to see how much the world has changed, and how much humanity hasn’t.

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Thinking about my grandfather yesterday got me thinking about our trip to Sweden. Here’s one of the best souvenirs I brought back, an adjustable driving distance calculator. The sheet inside slides to show distances from a given starting location. I like maps, and this one is particularly well done.

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For fun, here’s one of the first known distance maps, the Tabula Peutingeriana, with measures for (where else?) the center of all things at that time, the Roman Empire. Although at 22 feet long, it’s not exactly portable!

Tabula Peutingeriana map
Conradi Millieri derivative work: Thecinic, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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I am fortunate enough to have one, two, three mothers! To them, and to you, I send all my very best wishes.

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Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

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I’m a little bit beat. I know it’s May the Fourth and therefore Star Wars Day, but I’m not quite up to a long-form essay on all that this world has meant for me.

Suffice it to say, I’m a fan.

If you’re in the mood for a quick recap of the main movies (or an introduction, I won’t judge!), here’s a quick summation by Star Wars actor Daisy Ridley, with a little help from Jimmy Fallon:

If you’d rather go back to the beginning and study the source, check out this piece on the first movie’s script:

Star Wars: A New Hope Script — Screenplay Analysis and PDF Download

We’re going to break down the essential aspects of the Star Wars script, and how George Lucas made a science-fiction classic.

Buckle up, we’re going into hyperdrive…

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Photo by Honza Kurka on Pexels.com

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I had an unexpected rush at work today so here’s a bouquet of dried flowers I collected in Switzerland, and sketches of architectural and other details at the Swiss chalet* where I stayed. 

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Much of the work I did today involved editing for other people, bringing an outside approach to a problem. Fresh eyes can give a whole new perspective, and as the UK’s GCHQ has noticed,** a neurodiverse mind sometimes sees things in a new light.

Like the keyhole I drew at the bottom right of the picture below.

Walking down the hall on my tour of the chalet, I asked, “Are all the keyholes in the house shaped like upside-down and backwards numbers?” The family member who had been visiting his entire life hadn’t noticed. 

(I now feel compelled to say that I am not actually a spy.)

Happy Friday!

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click to embiggen!

* The original kind in Switzerland, not the one that will deliver roasted chicken with multiple side dishes in a cute little yellow car. Great, now I’m hungry.

** Americans, and anyone else wondering about the number-themed through-line between this bit and the sketch, think MI-5.

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Today, a travel journal excerpt: Once upon a Wednesday in Peru.

The mountain under Machu Picchu is 6 kms high, if measured by the route I traveled to get there. The winding road looks like a serpent coiled on its side, weaving up the incredibly steep slope in turns almost too tight for the bus to manage. It is possible to walk and save the bus fare, but you’d have to pay me a lot more than $13 to walk up a slightly tired cliff face such as that. Most use the road, but a few intrepid souls choose the steep stone steps that link each turn in the road, heading straight up the slope. The climb can be done in an hour and a bit, and coming down takes 40 minutes or so, if you’re a tourist. If you’re a local you can climb a hill like that in 15 minutes and little children run down the stone steps as quickly as the bus makes the journey. There’s a mini-Mafia of sorts making money doing just that. Called the “Goodbye Kid” in guidebooks, there are at least three boys dressed in bright traditional clothing who stand by the road calling out “Goodbye!” as the bus leaves the mountain’s top. Lovely, we think, a friendly local. Imagine our surprise when, at the very next curve in the road, the same child flashes by our window in a bright red shout of “Goodbye!” At each and every loop of the road the boy is back, and it gets funnier at every turn. By the time we reach the bottom we’re all happy to present him with whatever goodbye gifts we can find in our pockets. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We had fifteen minutes of rest at the top, which was enough time to buy empanadas, stuffed pockets of baked dough with meat, and sit on a wall with a Coke enjoying the view. It also gave me a chance to assess the site’s layout and the awesome nature of the place. Mountain peaks rise sharply all around, tickled by the Sacred River below. Clouds brush the very tops of the trees and sun beats hot through thin air. To my left and a bit below I see the remains of hundreds of stone houses on the bar hilltop overlooking the valley. Above, the ruined city continues up the slope’s face with dramatic purpose. Incredible to think that in 1911 Hiram Bingham had to hack those stones free* of a jungle that had completely covered all traces of this powerful regional outpost. We wiped the empanada from our fingers and slowly filed our way inside.

It doesn’t take five minutes at Machu Picchu to figure out why the Inca’s first rule of conduct was “Don’t be lazy.” Every step is either straight up or straight down. The guide moves our group along as quickly as we can go, and 15 minutes and some history later we are at the Caretaker’s Hut. The hut is at the top of the site just above the Inca Trail. The building itself was home to the one who guarded a sacred stone of sacrifice, set nearby on the high ledge. 

Incan tradition dictates that when a person goes to a holy site for the first time they must bring a rock from their home as an offering. The space between the hut and stone is, to this day, filled with rocks. There in the white-granite mountains now rest rocks from all over the country, in different colors and textures and sizes attesting to the pilgrims’ dedication. On the shelf just below the hut a couple of llamas grazed. Rumor has it that they were trained by the Peruvian Tourist Board, and they did seem to tolerate a remarkable number of photos. Around me people collapsed for a quick rest, a Japanese woman began what became a solid hour of coughing, and one foolhardy soul enjoyed a cigarette.

Incan cities had gates, temples, guest houses, running water, grain storage, terraces, and hockey fields. What they did not have were sewers. It turns out that the llama (20 per person in the city’s heyday) weren’t the only ones busy leaving “offerings to Mother Earth.” Part of their sustainable urban environment depended on a steady supply of fertilizer from all animals in the area, people included. Llama dung was used as fuel as well as fertilizer. Seeing the crumbly, almost dry soil it made sense. Somehow the Incans managed to have a clean, healthy city despite the fact that 500 people were peeing in the bushes. It was also forbidden to cut down trees without permission and a special replanting ceremony. My hunch is that the Inca knew a lot more about soil erosion than we modern descendants. 

* Although I have to wonder how much of that he actually did himself.

** I’m guessing it was a lot more sophisticated than that.

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Photo by Lee Scarratt on Unsplash

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Today is Earth Day. Happy 4.543 billionth birthday, Earth! Here’s hoping for many more.

Much of my day job is based in current news and events, which means I spend a good part of most days knee-deep in the internet. Yeah, it can be exactly as fun as it sounds. That said, I’m not looking for the bad stuff, or not only the bad stuff.

I’m looking for the uplifting, the hopeful, the rays of light. For a path to something better. So for every article I read telling me that in recent years, there are more Starbucks locations in California than overwintering monarch butterflies, there are pieces on what’s good, like these:

Let These Stunning Photos of a Year of Virtual Youth Climate Activism Inspire You

Halifax-based developer of CO2-injected concrete wins multimillion-dollar prize

It’s hard to miss the evidence of change, but the good news is that we’re not just discussing it, we’re beginning to take concrete action.

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You already know that doing big things is hard. Like ”saving the planet.” Human beings are small, and I suspect that at the root, most of us are plagued by the niggling feeling that we are just bit players on an unimaginably vast stage. That at some fundamental level our actions don’t matter much at all in the bigger picture. Not really.

But we’re wrong. And the world is made up of smaller pictures.

Photo by Martijn Baudoin on Unsplash

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It’s the question every hero is asked: The future is uncertain. The path is unknown. What are you going to do about it?

What you can, wherever you can. As a minor example, I spent time today researching ways to turn our absolutely useless lawn space into a pollinator garden.

Of course, a lot of what needs to happen on climate change isn’t just about individual action. Deciding not to eat meat on Tuesdays matters, but standards and infrastructure for energy, transportation, agriculture and construction, to name a few sectors, will need to modernize too.

It means working together on new ideas, new innovations, and new legislation. More and better targets, the kind that make a positive difference in people’s lives.*

Because humans are a social species. There is never just one, and when it comes to saving our home that’s a challenge but also a benefit. Sea shanties swept the globe in a matter of weeks. Why not this?

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It sounds big, and it is, but we do big things all the time, often by accident.** It’s just time to do this particular big thing on purpose. Here’s the mantra I try to stick with: Pick a goal. Break it down. Start today.

We are never just one. None of us are. We are legion. And we got ourselves into this mess. We can get ourselves out.

Starting today.

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* Like clean air and water. And I really enjoy the fact that one day, for example, I’ll be able to put my seat belt on, drive an electric car down well-maintained roads, sit in a non-smoking section at a restaurant, and eat food that won’t kill me. And that my nephews don’t spend their summers swimming in a creek laced with PCBs (like we did). Crazy, I know!

** I mean, who sets out to upend civilization? They just want to see what happens if they burn that dirty rock or invent the light bulb or the assembly line or freaking Facebook. There is no button a curious monkey will not poke. Wouldn’t it be nice if we can make it work for us for a change?

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“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives… The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand… To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

— Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

NASA via Voyager 1 Spacecraft, Feb. 14, 1990.

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It’s lunchtime and I’m snacky, so for today’s post I bring you an excerpt from my European travel journal, featuring the delicious and mysterious (not really) zalmforel!*

I like the map, too.

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Bron: OTRES. Licentie: Publiek domein

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* It is a trout that looks something like salmon, but isn’t (despite what the nice lady told me at the time) an actual cross. Still very good, and isn’t it nice to learn new things?

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So somehow I missed First Contact Day. You know, the day Vulcans pass by Earth just as Dr. Zefram Cochrane makes the first human warp flight in the Phoenix

As recorded in the historical document Star Trek: First Contact.

Right. Anyway, I missed it. The good news is that the real thing won’t take place until 2063. We still have time for benevolent alien species,* a future of livable space ships, the Federation, currency-free economy, and peace on Earth.

What do you say we get started:)

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Photo by Benjamin Suter on Pexels.com

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* Granted, there are a lot of ways this could go: String theorist Michio Kaku: ‘Reaching out to aliens is a terrible idea’.

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Happy Easter!

What with no travel or outside family, this isn’t a great year for giant eight-layer cakes, so today I’m revisiting my one and only Easter dessert, the Bunny Cake.

It was fun to make. Will I do it again someday? Maybe, maybe not, but techniques like the meringue mushrooms, grass, and fondant were interesting to do.

Also, chocolate and bunnies are delicious:)

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