travel

"Place Lag" and the magic of flight

Kottke posted a link to a vox.com article by Mark Vanhoenacker, a 747 pilot and author of Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot. This chunk of the article quoted by Kottke perfectly articulates a feeling about flight I’ve never been able to adequately put into words:

I came up with the term “place lag” to refer to the way that airliners can essentially teleport us into a moment in a far-off city; getting us there much faster, perhaps, than our own deep sense of place can travel. I could be in a park in London one afternoon, running, or drinking a coffee and chatting to the dog-walkers. Later I’ll go to an airport, meet my colleagues, walk into a cockpit, and take off for Cape Town. I’ll fly over the Pyrenees and Palma and see the lights of Algiers come on at sunset, then sail over the Sahara and the Sahel. I’ll cross the equator, and dawn will come to me as I parallel the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, and finally I’ll see Table Mountain in the distance as I descend to the Mother City.

Then, less than an hour after the long-stilled wheels of the 747 were spun back to life by the sun-beaten surface of an African runway, I’ll be on a bus heading into Cape Town, sitting in rush hour traffic, on an ordinary morning in which, glancing down through the windshield of a nearby car, I’ll see a hand lift a cup of coffee or reach forward to tune the radio. And I’ll think: All this would still be going on if I hadn’t flown here. And that’s equally true of London, and of all the other cities I passed in the long night, that I saw only the lights of. For everyone, and every place, it’s the present.

Pictures of Lake Tahoe during the drought

August 2014:

Late May 2015:

We’re lucky enough to live near Lake Tahoe and all the surrounding glory — and fortunate enough to make it up there every now and then. Our most recent jaunt was a nice one with a great hike, good food, and all around fun times.

It was clear while roaming around town that the Lake Tahoe was very, very low. Docks had ladders and secondary structures to allow access to vessels. The walkable area extended much further than before. This was all amplified when we stood at the edge of the lake — now a few dozen meters further out than in August of 2014 — at one of our favorite public access points.

Alamere Falls redux

Beth and I took off on Saturday morning for a hike to and from Alamere Falls via the Palomarin trail. This walk is one of our favorites, meandering through a range of terrains, passing a few small lakes, and then descending down to a beautiful, secluded beach where the falls crash into the ocean. A magical place.

The drive to the trailhead was remarkably quick. When we arrived, we were greeted by a surprising sight: a line of cars stretching back around a half mile from the trailhead. Beth and I have done the hike probably a dozen times in total between us, but had never encountered that volume of traffic in the parking lot or on the trail. Made some sense: it was a beautiful, warm, even hot Saturday morning. Everyone was out.

I’ve been a bit conflicted about what I saw on the trail. Getting people outdoors is a good way to get them to think about open space preservation and may spark some environmentalism. That said, I was dismayed by the amount of trash I saw on the trail, ranging from toilet paper to Clif Bar wrappers to empty bottles. Beyond litter, there was a remarkable lack of trail etiquette - a fair amount of wandering off trail, loud music and shouting, flower picking, and a seeming lack of awareness of one’s surroundings. This all sounds a bit curmudgeonly — perhaps it is — but I think it points toward a renewed need for some “trail manners” literature, discussion, and signage. A small thing, but an important one as social media and the internet continue to highlight the outstanding outdoor opportunities in the Bay Area.

Field Notes - Measuring Village Air Pollution in Bajada Pahari

Twenty minutes from INCLEN’s SOMAARTH field headquarters lays Bajada Pahari1, a sleepy, picturesque village of ~120 households. The road to Bajada Pahari twists through bustling little villages, becoming more and more narrow until what remains is suited more for bullock carts, tractors, goats, and shepherds than personal vehicles. As the settlements dwindle, large open croplands — of tall sugarcane, bright yellow mustard, and various green sabjiyom2 — dominate the field of view. Enormous metal structures for high voltage powerlines stand erect yet untethered: no cables connect them. Below, and all around, the landscape is dotted with small, oblong discs of gobara3 used for fertilizer and as fuel.

Bajada Pahari is trapezoidal in shape, buttressed to its north by a small hill, upon which sits an old, abandoned watchtower4 and a small informal shrine to Shiva marked by narrow, red flags. Immediately behind the ridge, a green pool sparkles in the hazy winter daylight. Stray dogs roam a nearby shallow dig - perhaps an old quarry. Looking away from the village, pasturelands extend for as far as the eye can see. Barely visible brick kilns spew grayish black emissions. From the hilltop, the only audible sounds are chirping birds and rustling leaves, punctuated occasionally by a wailing child, a barking dog, a puttering engine.

We arrived in Bajada Pahari mid-morning and went first to the home of the Sarpanch, the head village elder5. At his residence, on the edge of town, a large gate opens first into a foyer full of mechanical farm tools — a tractor, a manual chopper — and a few simple cots and then leads into an outdoor space with trees, cows, chairs, and chulas. The Sarpanch arrived shortly thereafter, on a motorcycle bearing his title. After initial pleasantries and introductions, we discussed the village, which won an award for progress on sanitation and cleanliness, and our air pollution project.

Village air pollution is a hard concept to grok. For most, the pervasive images conjured by the word ‘rural’ are clean and pure, especially compared to places like Delhi, Mumbai, and Beijing. The sources of air pollutant emissions are no doubt different — quaint cookstoves, open fires, brick kilns, and small village industries look innocuous when compared to massive smokestacks and endless diesel vehicles visible in large Indian cities6. Tens to hundreds of these little village sources, simultaneously used over a small geography, probably adversely impacts air quality. Think of each one as a small contributor to a larger village smokestack.

The sarpanch is (unsurprisingly) thoughtful, measured, and interested. Mayur explains what we’d like to do, and why, succinctly and in simple language - a difficult feat he has perfected in his years with INCLEN. We talk about why we’re interested in understanding air pollution in a rural village (unmeasured, significant, and likely related to simple combustion of wood and dung) and why we think it’s important (trying to convince government to monitor and regulate the entire airshed, not just in urban areas). We show him some of our toys — including a miniature quadcopter, similar to the larger one we’ll use to measure some meteorological parameters and PM2.5. He laughs at the copter and approves of our plans. He decides we should discuss further with others on the village council.

We walk down the street, past a few cows lounging next to an abandoned biogas plant. At the intersection of two of the town’s biggest roads, a group of men and empty plastic chairs await us. Our discussion with them is similar to the previous one with the sarpanch. A few sarcastically questioned if we are asking them to stop cooking entirely. Others suggested their households, as proxies for the village, would be enthusiastic to move to LPG if the hassle of acquiring fuel wasn’t so great. They noted that there were no home deliveries and that it was difficult to coordinate pickup and dropoff of the cumbersome cylinders. One man, in particular, railed against the notion that food cooked on LPG was any different than that cooked over an open fire; he opined that it wasn’t the fuel that made the food, but the cook. His example was of village boys, who move to a city and eat food cooked on LPG by a stranger; they blame the poor taste on the fuel. He blamed the cook — or, more accurately, the fact that this food wasn’t the food they grew up eating, that they were accustomed to. A pretty neat (and new) insight. Not atypically, we spoke with only men about tasks they weren’t directly involved with.

We learned a little about electricity in the village, as well. It is reliable and consistent — rare for these areas. It arrived first in 1978. Many households have multiple electric appliances, including a washing machine, metal rods used to heat water, fans, and small electric stoves known as ‘heaters’. Our final task in the village involved locating a site to place an ambient air pollution and meteorological monitor, along with associated solar panels. We found a nice rooftop location, in the center of town, adjacent to a beautiful, decaying old farmhouse.


1 Alternate spellings include Bajda Pahadi, Bajda Pahari, Bajada Pahadi, and various other permutations. Depending on the spelling, the town’s name takes different meanings. My favorite is “lazy hill,” which sums it up succinctly. Bajada also has a Spanish meaning, which is curiously on point: “a broad alluvial slope extending from the base of a mountain range into a basin” or, more simply, “descent, slope.”

2 Vegetables

3 Dried bovine dung

4 The history of the tower is a little ambiguous; some of the village boys said it was an old British outpost, while others claimed it is a much older Mughal structure.

5 The sarpanch serves as a link between the local and regional governments and the community. There’s some push to pass along certain judicial and legislation-related powers to Sarpanches.

6 The situation is complicated by a national emphasis on cities as thriving centers of vitality, modernity, and growth. The concerns of rural villages don’t align with those of the metropolis - as such, their ranking in the national conscious and in the media is low. This despite ~80% of the population living in rural areas.

Point Reyes: Estero Trail to Drake's Head

Click image to view larger

Pretty early on Sunday morning, I hit the road to Point Reyes for a 10-ish mile trail run. I decided to explore parts of the Estero trail. Beth and I hiked Estero to Sunset Beach in April — and it was really spectacular. I decided to go a bit south of Sunset Beach to Drake’s Head.

The morning began densely fogged in. Some cows blocked the road for a few minutes. By the time I got to the parking lot, the sun was out; it was pretty warm.

I followed the trail marker through some dense grass that gave way to a sandy trail. It winds by and through one magical patch of forest — and then another. As you emerge from the forest, you can see Home Bay, where you can stand on a bridge and admire various birds in the estuary. Be sure to look down to the rocks, where you may see dozens of crabs scuttling about. The trail continues up to a pretty great view and then meanders, up and down, through some beautiful estuaries hidden amidst rocky terrain and pasture land.

Eventually (2.5ish miles in), you’ll hit a fork in the road that points to a number of destinations — including Sunset Beach and Drake’s Head. Either endpoint is well worth it. I turned towards Drake’s Head. The trail disappears a bit amongst more pasture land. Expect to see quite a few large, mainly docile cows. Arrows pop up every now and then to point you in the right direction.

Eventually you hit another trail marker pointing towards Drake’s Head. Turn down that ‘trail’, and follow the faint path to the beautiful bluff viewpoint. Despite the lack of a formal trail and the numerous bovine companions, the walk is straightforward and the endpoint is visible for much of it.

The views from Drake’s Head are incredible. You can see Limantour Spit and Estero, Drake’s Bay, and up and down the coast. I saw one person on the way to Drake’s Head and two or three on the way out; I had the bluff to myself for the half hour I spent there. A beautiful, solitary hike (or run). One of my new favorites.

Planet Money, T-Shirts... and Household Energy

Planet Money recently tracked the creation of a t-shirt — from the farms of Mississippi and the yarn factories of Indonesia to garment factories in Bangladesh and in Columbia. They wrapped up with a meta-political piece about how trade deals allowed the creation of the garment industry in Bangladesh and opened the doors of the US to imported garments. The entire series is fantastic — well reported, compelling, fun, and insightful.

Household energy and cooking got a mention in the piece on Bangladesh. The story follows two sisters — Minu and Shumi — who move from a village to a city to work in a garment factory. Minu and Shumi cook on a gas stove that they share with neighbors near their modest one room apartment. The story then follows them to their parents’ home in a village a few hours away.

Their mom cooks in the back room. The difference between her life and her daughters’ lives is very clear. No gas burners here — its a fire pit, made from mud. There are holes underneath to stick branches into and the room fills with smoke when she cooks. Minu and Shumi grew up cooking like this, with sticks instead of gas…

Shumi and Minu send money back to the village… And you can see how that’s changed things right here in the kitchen. The stove is the same as what they had growing up — but what’s inside the pot is different. It’s chicken… Factory money has paid for a new house for Shumi and Minu’s parents. The house they grew up in was made of bamboo — it leaked — this house is made of brick. It’s water-tight.

Telling - and a little surprising - that Planet Money used a gas stove as an indicator of modernity and as a way to draw contrasts between city and village life. The flow of money back to the village paid for household improvements and chicken and fish, still cooked on the traditional stove. It would be interesting to track the point at which the transition to a more efficient cooking technology occurred, if ever. What other needs are perceived as priorities over replacing the stove? How much of the issue is related to supply of liquid fuels and their costs? How much is related to the perception that wood and biomass are free? You can see a niche for clean cookstoves in there — meeting the requirements of using a ‘free’ fuel, but also using it more efficiently and more cleanly. The endless challenge will remain - finding a clean stove that people want to use - and use often.

see a whole load of stories here

Venus, Mars, the Earth and Moon from Saturn

NASA and JPL continue to release some incredible images. Click the image to see a large version in a new window; click here to see huge ones over at NASA.

Humbling and magical.

On July 19, 2013, in an event celebrated the world over, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn’s shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings — and, in the background, our home planet, Earth.

With the sun’s powerful and potentially damaging rays eclipsed by Saturn itself, Cassini’s onboard cameras were able to take advantage of this unique viewing geometry. They acquired a panoramic mosaic of the Saturn system that allows scientists to see details in the rings and throughout the system as they are backlit by the sun. This mosaic is special as it marks the third time our home planet was imaged from the outer solar system; the second time it was imaged by Cassini from Saturn’s orbit; and the first time ever that inhabitants of Earth were made aware in advance that their photo would be taken from such a great distance.

With both Cassini’s wide-angle and narrow-angle cameras aimed at Saturn, Cassini was able to capture 323 images in just over four hours. This final mosaic uses 141 of those wide-angle images. Images taken using the red, green and blue spectral filters of the wide-angle camera were combined and mosaicked together to create this natural-color view. A brightened version with contrast and color enhanced (Figure 1), a version with just the planets annotated (Figure 2), and an annotated version (Figure 3) are shown above.

This image spans about 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across.

David Byrne: Will Work for Inspiration

David Byrne, in an editorial at Creative Time Reports:

Some folks believe that hardship breeds artistic creativity. I don’t buy it. One can put up with poverty for a while when one is young, but it will inevitably wear a person down. I don’t romanticize the bad old days. I find the drop in crime over the last couple of decades refreshing. Manhattan and Brooklyn, those vibrant playgrounds, are way less scary than they were when I moved here. I have no illusions that there was a connection between that city on its knees and a flourishing of creativity; I don’t believe that crime, danger and poverty make for good art. That’s bullshit. But I also don’t believe that the drop in crime means the city has to be more exclusively for those who have money. Increases in the quality of life should be for all, not just a few.

The city is a body and a mind—a physical structure as well as a repository of ideas and information. Knowledge and creativity are resources. If the physical (and financial) parts are functional, then the flow of ideas, creativity and information are facilitated. The city is a fountain that never stops: it generates its energy from the human interactions that take place in it. Unfortunately, we’re getting to a point where many of New York’s citizens have been excluded from this equation for too long. The physical part of our city—the body—has been improved immeasurably. I’m a huge supporter of the bike lanes and the bike-share program, the new public plazas, the waterfront parks and the functional public transportation system. But the cultural part of the city—the mind—has been usurped by the top 1 percent.

Incredible Photos of Mars

The Verge highlighted some amazing photos from NASA and University of Arizona’s HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment). From the HiRISE FAQ page:

HiRISE returns images of the Martian surface with higher resolution than ever seen before from an orbiter. This means we can see extraordinary detail in all kinds of surface features. Scientists all over the world are already using these images to understand many previously-unexplained phenomena on the Red Planet. We might also discover brand new types of features never seen before! The stereo and color capabilities will also allow us to explore Mars in 3D, and with compositional information. The ultra high resolution also makes HiRISE the perfect tool for investigating the safety of future landing sites for other missions, such as the Phoenix lander or the Mars Science Laboratory. We’ve also done some searching for past Mars landers, both successful and not. But even without the higher resolution and added capabilities, additional cameras in Mars orbit are always valuable for imaging new terrains on Mars, and for monitoring the dynamic surface and atmosphere for activity and changes.

A few more favorites:

A week with the Sony DSC-RX1

I took off to Basel a couple weeks ago for a large environmental health conference. Before leaving, I rented a Sony DSC-RX1 from borrowlenses.com and picked it up at RayKo in San Francisco. Switching from my normal photography kit — a 5D Mark II, a 17-40 f/4 L, and a 50mm L — to this wee little gadget felt like an impossible stretch. I’ve shot almost exclusively on Canon gear since I borrowed my family’s old Canon T90 in the late 80s. I was a little scared of something new (we fear change) and concerned about how long it would take me to figure out the Sony.

The RX1 turned out to be a delight — the camera produced pictures on par with the Mark II and the fixed focal length forced me to stop and think before shooting. A good exercise for any photographer. Somewhat organized thoughts and notes on the camera follow.

At first glance, the RX1 is underwhelming — it resembles a standard point + shoot. It looks pedestrian. All that goes away, though, once in hand. It’s weighty and substantial, dense and solid. The glass — a spectacular Zeiss 35mm prime f/2.0 — has a satisfying, clicky (and wholly electronic) ring for selecting an aperture. The RX1 borrows styling cues from old school rangefinders (Leicas, the Contax G series). It’s got a full-frame 24 megapixel sensor and shoots 14-bit raw images. The screen is bright — really, really bright — and displays images vividly and accurately in broad daylight (no small feat). The overlays on the screen are nice and completely controllable; you can quickly turn on and off a batrillion status indicators. A nice touch: the ability to enable an on-screen level, helping compose the shot and avoiding rotating/cropping during post-processing. The RX1 - with this combination of fancy and traditional - is an odd gadget, full of ultra-modern, high-end technology, but formed wholly by older platonic ideals of what a camera should be.

The wonderful lens, the beautiful controls, and the insane, huge, magnificent sensor all come with some caveats. The RX-1 has no optical or electronic viewfinder. I spent the better part of my time with the camera lifting it to my face, looking for something to look through — and then remembering that my viewfinder was the screen on the back (now complete with cheek imprints). For me, that was the single most difficult thing to become accustomed to. The cost to play is high — 2800 USD. The fixed lens confused colleagues who handled the camera; once they played with it for a few minutes they wondered about other lens options. Their reaction — that at its cost, a fixed lens seemed inappropriate — wasn’t surprising.

The image quality is astounding. The RX1 performs much like other full-frame cameras — it does a great job up to ISO 3200, and fine beyond that. I shot regularly across the gamut — from 100 to 3200 — and am pleased with all of the results. The focus times weren’t nearly as fast as the Mark II, but weren’t slow enough to be a real concern, except when it was between dim and dark where I was shooting. While the focusing often failed under those conditions, the image quality held up. Battery life wasn’t great — the camera made it through most days of shooting with little power left. This was okay in Basel, where most of my days were spent in a conference center and away from camera-worthy moments. If I had been outdoors more and working less, I’m confident I would have exhausted the batteries regularly. On the upside, the camera can be charged with any portable USB battery; the downside, of course, is the added bulk. Were I to rent the RX1 again, I’d get one or two extra batteries (and an external viewfinder).

Downsides… The menus run deep and require some serious thought to decipher. They’re better than on many cameras, but that’s not saying much. Another nice touch: most of the physical buttons on the camera can be reassigned to custom functions. This helped me get comfortable with the camera much more quickly, putting commonly used controls in easy reach.

I could go on and on about this camera. But others have done that, and far more eloquently and capably than I. This, in my opinion, is the camera to beat. It redefines what a small and light camera can be, and does so without compromising image quality. It’s not perfect, but if I could afford one, it would be my go to daily camera.

"Warp drive. Like on 'Star Trek.'"

Harold G. White, a physicist and advanced propulsion engineer at NASA, beckoned toward a table full of equipment there on a recent afternoon: a laser, a camera, some small mirrors, a ring made of ceramic capacitors and a few other objects.

He and other NASA engineers have been designing and redesigning these instruments, with the goal of using them to slightly warp the trajectory of a photon, changing the distance it travels in a certain area, and then observing the change with a device called an interferometer. So sensitive is their measuring equipment that it was picking up myriad earthly vibrations, including people walking nearby. So they recently moved into this lab, which floats atop a system of underground pneumatic piers, freeing it from seismic disturbances.

The team is trying to determine whether faster-than-light travel — warp drive — might someday be possible.

Warp drive. Like on “Star Trek.”

This is a fun one. They’ve also got a nice statement from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

“Routine travel among the stars is impossible without new discoveries regarding the fabric of space and time, or capability to manipulate it for our needs,” he said, adding, “By my read, the idea of a functioning warp drive remains far-fetched, but the real take-away is that people are thinking about it — reminding us all that the urge to explore continues to run deep in our species.”

Thomas Prior's Insane Photos from Fireworks in Tultepec, Mexico & El Torito de Antigua

Kottke linked to Thomas Prior’s collection of celebrations laden with fireworks in Mexico. Madness.

The original article at Wired tells us a bit more:

The annual nine-day festival attracts more than 100,000 people to bathe in the glow of pyrotechnicians’ expert displays. The main event is the Pamplonada — a seven-hour running of the (wooden) bulls in which more than 200 timber-framed toros of fire roll through the streets with up to 4,000 fireworks on each in perpetual explosion.

Tultepec is the center of the country’s firework industry, accounting for half of all fireworks made in Mexico. Approximately 30,000 of the 120,000 Tultepec townsfolk work in the pyrotechnics industry building frames, supplying parts and distributing goods. Two thousand work daily in the 300 registered workshops manufacturing fireworks.

The National Pyrotechnic Festival takes place in honor of Saint John of God, the patron saint of hospitals, the sick, nurses, firefighters and alcoholics — quite fitting given the occasion’s flaming revelry and danger.

Those photos reminded me of some revelry I encountered in Guatemala. Witness El Torito de Antigua:

The video actually captures it pretty well. The nonchalance of the fellow who’s got explosives strapped to a wooden bull he’s wearing over his head. The nervous, bemused excitement and terror of the crowd. The madness of the entire endeavor. Not quite the same level insanity as in Tultepec… but of a similar. Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be pyrotechnics.

We also monitored air pollution in the plaza (of course) during the march of El Torito.

Backpacking to Sword Lake

Ben, Katy, Oliver, Jessica, Beth and I set out to the Sierras on Thursday morning for a couple of nights of camping, swimming, hiking, and bumming around Sword Lake, located in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. The trip came together at the last minute... and turned out spectacularly.

Beth and I made it out of the East Bay relatively easily, with no real incidents on the road and only minor traffic as we passed through Oakdale. The drive was pleasant enough. We stopped at the Summit Ranger Station near Pinecrest, CA, where we rendezvoused with the Lovehardgolds and got a camping permit. We were warned by the Ranger Station staff to expect some crowds at the lake, given its popularity and the long weekend.

After lunch a mile or so up from Pinecrest, we turned off of 108 and onto a dusty, slow county road and made our way to the trailhead. We arrived to a nearly empty parking lot -- only one other car was there. A good sign. We packed up and hit the trail. The walk to the lake was nice -- a few scenic vistas, fields full of wildflowers, and shady, interspersed groves of large trees. Ben and I scoped out campsites on both sides of the lake; Ben spotted a good one, slightly above the lake but with some shade. We set up our two-day home there. We saw a few other folks, but basically had the lake and surrounding environs to ourself. A pretty spectacular find.

From a small hill east of our campsite, the Dardanelles and Spicer Meadow Reservoir were visible. Mornings and evenings atop that hill were especially magical, with the entire landscape bathed in warm, pinkish orange hues. Our last morning at the site, I stumbled up there and had lovely views of the surroundings and an encounter with a deer unfazed by my presence.

In tow was amazing little Oliver, who (as usual) was a delight. The boy loves the outdoors and was (1) an avid swimmer in the hands of his parents and aunt; (2) a rampant mover of dirt, using any utensil available; (3) a burgeoning climber; and (4) a rockstar. He was a smiley, giggly, and sometimes weepy joy.

On the way out, the crowds streamed in. When we got back to the parking lot, it was brimming with vehicles. We were lucky to have missed the masses! A fun trip with lovely, lovely people.

Photos from the trip are at Flickr.

Google Street View of Hashima, the abandoned island base featured in Skyfall

Hashima, commonly known as battleship island, served as a model for a set piece in Skyfall, the recent James Bond movie. Remember the creepy ruins where Javier Bardem’s character is introduced? That was based on Hashima. Google recently mapped the real island, using their trekker backpack camera.

PRI’s The World recorded and wrote a short piece on Hashima after the release of Skyfall.

The island is known as Hashima, or alternatively as Gunkanjima (“Battleship”) Island, and it sits about nine miles off the Japanese coast in the East China Sea.

In the late 1880s, coal was found on the sea floor beneath the island. In the early days, Japan’s Mitsubishi company, which was mining the coal, would ferry miners to and from the work site from Nagasaki.

Then, the company decided it would be easier to just build houses for the workers, and their families, on Hashima itself.

Giant, multi-storey concrete apartment blocks went up. Schools, bath houses, temples, restaurants, markets, even a graveyard, were built, all on a space the size of a football field.

“Once they reached 5,000 people or more out there, it was recognized as the most densely populated place on earth…ever,” says Thomas Nordanstad, a Swedish filmmaker.

Delicatessen with love: Global grammas + their favorite foods

Arianna Rinaldo, introducing Gabriele Galimberti’s photo gallery of grandmothers and their prized recipes:

Appealing to their natural cooking care and their inevitable pride in their best recipe, common factors to all grandmothers in the world, Gabriele persuaded them to do their best in the kitchen. This means moose stake in Alaska and caterpillars in Malawi, delicious, but ferociously hot, ten-spice-curry in India and sharks soup in the Philippines. He has come back with a cookery book of detailed recipes that mix love, photography and travel amongst the many exotic ingredients. Indeed, each for each grandmother he has produced a portrait of the cook, and easy to follow recipe and an image of the extraordinary and at times mouthwatering final dish.

His photos and text are great. I’ve had a similar idea floating around for a short video series of how people cook in households around the world — with a specific focus on how they cook AND what the meal looks like. My colleagues and I tend to focus on the fuel, the stove, and the practices of cooking in rural households — but often don’t pay as much attention to the nourishing final product. The meals carry such cultural and local significance (not to mention deliciousness) — a fact that Galimberti highlights magnificently.

via kottke

Bald Head Island's Generator Society

From Our State magazine, a well-written piece about idyllic Bald Head Island. Sounds pretty nice:

Toward the ends of many afternoons, they all came together, usually gathering on East Beach, for what they took to calling TPP, or Total Population Parties. The kids’ job was to collect a mess of driftwood to make a fire. The women brought hush puppies and coleslaw. The men cooked the fish they caught that day or boiled a big pot of shrimp or made chowder from fresh clams. They ate and told stories and jokes. They played guitar and sang songs. They even shared some coveted “diamonds” for drinks.

The sun set.

Night fell.

Out came the ghost crabs skittering on the sand and the bright white stars in the sky.

At the Dunlaps’ by the beach, where they almost never ran their generator for light, the adults lit the lanterns, probably a dozen or so latched to the walls, 6 or 7 feet off the floor. They played Monopoly or dominoes or checkers or chess. The kids ran up and down the beach, around on the dunes, just enough light from the moon. They clambered up a ladder to the wide, flat deck on the roof of the house. From there, they could see the hulking cargo ships, with their blinking lights, coming in off the Atlantic and approaching the mouth of the river. They went back down in the house and grabbed all the cushions, dragged them back up to the deck, and finally closed their eyes.

Seems like the island’s got some advocates worried about climate change, too.

Bald Head Island Conservancy has developed a comprehensive public outreach campaign to help educate community members about the potential impacts of climate change to the island and individual choices that can help improve the socioecological system’s resilience. Staff work with community members to identify tangible solutions to future problems. The Conservancy has attained funding to build a research and educational facility and is developing a knowledge sharing network, the Coastal Barrier Island Network, with other barrier islands to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and lessons learned as communities begin to adapt to climate change.

Read more here.

Stories To Mark 60 Years Since First Summit Of Everest

slayers among men.

From SFGate:

Nepal celebrated the 60th anniversary of the conquest of Mount Everest on Wednesday by honoring climbers who followed in the footsteps of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

Among them was Italian Reinhold Messner, the first climber to scale Everest without using bottled oxygen and the first person to climb all of the world’s 14 highest peaks.

“I am here in Nepal again for filming … not any more for climbing,” Messner said, adding he did reach the base camp of Mount Kanchenjunga during his visit. “I am full of energy and full of enthusiasm for this country.”

Nepalese officials offered flower garlands and scarfs to the climbers who took part in the ceremony. They were taken around Katmandu on horse-drawn carriages followed by hundreds of people who marched holding banners to mark the anniversary.

Hillary and Norgay reached the summit of Everest on May 29, 1953. Since then thousands of people have reached the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak.

and from NPR:

On this, the 60th anniversary of the first successful summit of the world’s tallest mountain, there’s plenty of news about Mount Everest. Here are six stories [NPR] found interesting.

Stray thoughts from Kathmandu

It’s a little odd being back in Kathmandu. Much feels the same — congestion, pollution, tourists. Silent places pepper the roads, close to and worlds from busy intersections. Beautiful old crumbling Rana palaces, inhabited by the packs of wild dogs that still control the city. It feels as though it would be easy to fall into old work and life patterns - a welcome thought.

Familiar haunts have been reoriented, reorganized, redistributed, relocated. Some roads have gone from crudely paved to stone tiled. The palace — on lock down during past lives here — is open, a museum to an abolished monarchy, its end initiated in violent bloodshed.

A spot we visited often, for tourists of all ilk, once lived down a little alley. It still lives in the same place, but the alley has transformed. It has widened, opening up into a brick megaplex full of shops catering to tourists. It is like many of the paths here that converge on large central squares and are often adorned with stuppas, small shrines, and clotheslines.

On the streets, traffic appears much the same — though far fewer UN vehicles plow through intersections and around corners. Perhaps the UN mission here has been downsized. Perhaps my sample size of two days is far too small.

Fat, almond-shaped rain spewed from the sky yesterday for four and a half hours. “Pre-monsoon,” the hotel staff said. Memory must have erased the Kathmandu monsoon from my neurons — I have no recollection of rain like that. The streets filled with inches of water. Shops closed their front gates in an attempt to keep the rain out. Fellow KGH residents - with plans for meals out and about dashed - congregated in the small, overpriced, hotel restaurant.

Near Bishal Bazaar, Tip Top Tailors still serves the ultimate, mouth-scorching samosa. Amidst hundreds of similarly named tailors, on a bustling and wide road, two small signs point down a corridor to the legendary snack vendor. The largest clue that you’re in the right place is a steady stream of people entering and existing a narrow alley (which, like others, opens into a wide courtyard, this one with rich smells swirling about). Wandering there yesterday, old muscle memories guided me right to the spot. Another nice bit of delight.

Despite the gradual expansion of the city through the entire valley, KTM is still a small place. It’s unsurprising, then, that I ran into an old friend today. Now married to a Nepali, he runs an environmental consulting firm in Kathmandu, and is pulling off feats with rainwater harvesting, biosands, and soon cookstoves. He’s transformed — still American, but Nepali, too.

Into the fire — off to Delhi in four short hours. Temperature don’t seem to drop below 90-95, even in the early morning.

Reflections from Pokhara

Mornings have a consistency here, and ordered patterns take hold easily. As the sun rises, young and old alike dot the trail around Fewa Lake. Meditators face the green grey tal, their backs warmed by the sun. Water gently swishes against yellow, blue, and red dinghies. Boys and girls practice karate on a soccer field, jabbing at invisible foes in the distant, lush jungle hillsides. Hotels and cafes stir, staff setting tables with a practiced stillness. Others, meanwhile, splash water on sandy patio tiles, sloughing off the dregs of the past day’s monsoon. A man with an old hiking poll limps assuredly down the path. Every morning we pass each other; today, we knowingly make eye contact, confident in a shared, unspoken secret - that these moments, between the bustle of the daily and the quiet of the night, are precious.

On occasion, in the far distance, the craggy Himalaya emerge through thick clouds. Their summits melt into the heavens, with snow packed peaks camouflaged by puffy atmospheres. Their unmovable enormity seems impossible, their suddenness shocking. Nearly as quickly, they go back into hiding. Their indescribability evokes Ansel Adams: “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” More precious moments, as the mind is briefly hushed by the scale of the scene.

Between 3 and 4 pm many days, the temperatures cool quickly, the skies darken, and winds pick up. Faint thunder gets closer and closer and closer until the deluge begins. Sometimes the rains last an hour, other times they last longer. The water cleans the air, thick humidity displacing the civilized smells of burnt plastic and exhaust and industry.

When we leave the office, the rains have usually paused. Our taxis perform regular miracles, weaving through wide lanes populated by all manner of beasts - bicycles, water buffalo, chickens, scooters and motorcycles, men and women and children, and sometimes boys on camels or ponies.

We eat as the sun sets. It rises again, and the cycle begins anew, an anything but boring repetition.

Murakami on the Boston marathon bombings

Haruki Murakami, author and avid runner, in the New Yorker:

Why? I can’t help asking. Why did a happy, peaceful occasion like the marathon have to be trampled on in such an awful, bloody way? Although the perpetrators have been identified, the answer to that question is still unclear. But their hatred and depravity have mangled our hearts and our minds. Even if we were to get an answer, it likely wouldn’t help.

To overcome this kind of trauma takes time, time during which we need to look ahead positively. Hiding the wounds, or searching for a dramatic cure, won’t lead to any real solution. Seeking revenge won’t bring relief, either. We need to remember the wounds, never turn our gaze away from the pain, and—honestly, conscientiously, quietly—accumulate our own histories. It may take time, but time is our ally.

For me, it’s through running, running every single day, that I grieve for those whose lives were lost and for those who were injured on Boylston Street. This is the only personal message I can send them. I know it’s not much, but I hope that my voice gets through. I hope, too, that the Boston Marathon will recover from its wounds, and that those twenty-six miles will again seem beautiful, natural, free.

How to be gracious

Tom Chiarella writes an amazing little piece on grace.

…graciousness reflects a state of being; it emanates from your inventory of self. Start with what you already possess. You, for instance, have a job. Live up to that.

When wandering the world, forget your business cards. Don’t look for more contacts. Instead, observe. Say hello to the people you see every day, but don’t make a fetish out of it. Stay interested in others. Be generous in your attentions but not showy. Don’t wink, snap your fingers, high-five, or shout, though laugh with those who do. It bears repeating: Look around. Remember names. Remember where people were born.

On the street, in the lobby, square your shoulders to people you meet. Make a handshake matter — eye contact, good grip, elbow erring toward a right angle. Do not pump the hand, unless the other person is insistent on just that. Then pump the hell out of their hand. Smile. If you can’t smile, you can’t be gracious. You aren’t some dopey English butler. You are you.

Remember that the only representation of you, no matter what your station, is you — your presentation, your demeanor. You simply must attend. Stand when someone enters the room, especially if you are lowly and he is the boss, and even if the reverse is true. Look them in the eye. Ask yourself: Does anybody need an introduction? If so, before you say one word about business, introduce them to others with pleasure in your voice. If you can’t muster enthusiasm for the people you happen upon in life, then you cannot be gracious. Remember, true graciousness demands that you have time for others.

So listen. Be attentive to what people say. Respond, without interruption. You always have time. You own the time in which you live. You grant it to others without obligation. That is the gift of being gracious. The return — the payback, if you will — is the reputation you will quickly earn, the curiosity of others, the sense that people want to be in the room with you. The gracious man does not dwell on himself, but you can be confident that your reputation precedes you in everything you do and lingers long after you are finished. People will mark you for it. You will see it in their eyes. People trust the gracious man to care. The return comes in kind.

Via kottke.

Comet PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) and the Northern Lights

Pretty amazing time-lapse photography from Babak Tafreshi, a science journalist, photographer, and astronomy communicator. Captured on March 20 in northern Norway.

Treehouses by Takashi Kobayashi, Japan

I’ve got a long obsession with (1) tree houses and (2) Japan. This short story and related photographs takes those two interests and smashes them together with vigor.

From designboom:

takashi kobayashi is a self-taught designer that has brought treehouse vernacular to the japanese landscape. the carpenter and architect of 120 houses throughout japan, his prolificness is borne of a deep-seated investment in the creation of a new architectural tradition in his country added to the hefty, overall aim of each project- to erode the boundary between man and nature. using reclaimed wood, the designer and his collective treehouse people have developed methods since the first building in 1993 for the arboreal structures balanced on living boughs and limbs that avoid stunting the growth of the tree.

Tokyo Metro Posters

Back in 2008, the Tokyo Metro system launched a three-year-long campaign aimed at reminding subway passengers to mind their manners while riding the trains. It featured the slogan “Please do it at home” or “Please do it again” alongside an illustration of the featured manner or rule. All posters are written in Japanese and English, some featuring hilariously outrageous and sometimes confusing activities that make you wonder, “Do people actually do that on a train?!”.

Via The Loop

The Drive Back from Bear Valley

Last weekend, the Lovehardsteins, ChAriel, Beth and I went to Bear Valley for a weekend of skiing, hot tubs, and some fantastic team cooking led by Ben. I x-country skied, but that’s a story for… never. On the drive back, we encountered a lot of outstanding randomness, including the following:

1) a large number of cows, walking in a straight line, down a path, despite huge swaths of trodable land surrounding them;

2) a boy on a dirt bike, racing parallel to us, in a field;

3) some very, very large birds;

4) a murmuration.

Today, kottke.org coincidentally featured a cool video about murmuration (posted below).

Flying over tulip fields

Normann Szkop, a French photographer, took some amazing photographs of Tulips in the Netherlands. See them all at this Flickr page.

Flying over the Tulips Fields in Anna Paulowna a municipality and a town in the Netherlands, in the province of North Holland. The tulip has come to be a loved symbol of the Netherlands. Many tourists visit the country just to see the bright coloured flower and the astonishing view over the bulb fields. The season begins in March with crocuses, followed by the daffodil and the yellow narcissi. In April the hyacinths and tulips blosssom to some time in mid May, depending on the weather. Later, in August it is time for the gladioli. Even when spring is over, the Netherlands is still a garden, visitors can enjoy flowers in the Netherlands all year round. In the 20th century, the bulb flower business continued to boom, resulting in the establishment of auction and trading houses, large-scale cultivators and cooperatives. Today, The Netherlands exports bulbflowers in large quantities to over a hundred countries worldwide.

Leh

I arrived in Leh yesterday morning after an exceptionally early start. My taxi arrived at Noida at 2:40a and we began the longish drive to the airport. Typical of all taxi experiences, we made a couple of round-about navigational decisions, had to go a permit renewed, and got stuck in traffic at 3:30a behind large, large trucks struggling up an overpass.

The entire process at Delhi airport was far better than in previous years; the domestic and international airports merged into a single location. Checking in was easy and getting to the gate relatively painless. No re-identification of bags required, either. The flight to Leh was typically beautiful, with the sun rising over the Himalaya, mountains extending in one direction forever, peeking through dense fog. On the other side, the plains of India. The crowd on the plane was interesting — primarily Europeans and Indians, both older than I would have expected.

Development in Leh seems to have slowed a bit over the past four years; there are fewer new hotels and construction than in the past. A good thing, in my opinion. The main strips are still crowded, full of trucks, and a little grungy — but the outskirts of town remain as they have for quite some time. Beautiful, quiet, nice.

Catching up with Hem and the HHE staff was a delight. Much has improved from a logistical / organizational standpoint — and much is still the same. Looking forward to the trip.

Some tragedy — a driver, who had been with HHE for many years, died a few weeks after his marriage. A truck rolled backwards and over him in his home-town, not 50 meters from his house. Truly sad. He was a gentle, kind, and funny man.

Yesterday was a day of rest and acclimatization. Not much to report. Sleep last night was fitful; interrupted at 3:30a by a mournful prayer from the local mosque. The packs of stray dogs that control Leh added a chorus of howls and barks to the lilting dirge. Odd, a bit annoying, and captivating.

Today, I got up early — around 5 — and climbed up to the monastery and palace that overlooks Leh. The views were typically beautiful and the space was blessedly empty. A nice morning.

Humidity, Rain, and Power Losses

Made it to India Sunday night around midnight. Skirted through customs and baggage claim with little incident. Was stopped on the way out by a well-heeled, well-dressed fellow asking what was in my bag (not much outside of clothing and some teflon and quartz filters). Managed to talk my way out of a bag search, and then emerged from the airport into the stifling, 88 degree heat. It was 11:30p. It was 88 degrees… at midnight.

My glasses fogged up, sweat beaded on my forehead, and it finally registered: I was back in the motherland.

A short drive later, I found myself at a family friend’s house in Noida (which has grown, emboldened by status, into a thriving metropolitan suburb of its own). The apartment building (Stellar Kings Court) was well outfitted. I collapsed into a fitful sleep, interrupted by what turned out to be one of the largest power outages India has ever faced.

From the BBC:

An estimated 370 million people — about 60 million more than live in the U.S. — were without power for at least part of today in northern India because of a massive failure in the country’s power grid.

It was “one of the worst blackouts to hit the country in more than a decade,” The Times of India reports. The outage turned the [Monday] commute in New Delhi and other major cities in the north into chaos as trains couldn’t run and traffic signals went dark, correspondent Elliot Hannon tells our Newscast Desk.

Traffic was indeed horrendous, though by the time I made it to the Metro service had resumed and things were progressing normally. India Ink, from the NYT has a nice description of the “chaos” resulting from the power outage:

Power failures are common in India, but officials said Monday’s blackout was the worst in a decade. The Ministry of Power was investigating the cause, but officials suggested that part of the problem was probably excessive demand during the torrid summer. “This is a one-off situation,” said Ajai Nirula, the chief operating officer of North Delhi Power Limited, which distributes power to nearly 1.2 million people in the region. “Everyone was surprised.”

Monday’s blackout could have proved more crippling if not for what might be called India’s unofficial power grid — the tens of thousands of diesel generators and inverters, most privately-owned, that serve as backup power sources during the frequent localized failures. Many hospitals across the region are equipped with backup generators, as are many office buildings and government offices. In New Delhi, many homeowners also have their own private backup.

“The electricity here goes every day, several times a day,” said Sushil Gupta, general manager of Ashok Mahajan Hospital in Amritsar, in Punjab State. “We have installed two large generators. We don’t even know when the power goes and comes. Today was like any other day.”

India’s power supply has been especially tested during this year’s hot, dry summer. Electricity use has skyrocketed, especially in large metropolises like New Delhi, home to more than 16 million people. In recent weeks, with a poor monsoon, New Delhi has set new records for energy demand.

The scale of Monday’s grid failure was enormous. Beginning at 2:30 a.m., the entire state of Rajasthan, with 67 million people, lost power. Power failures also affected the states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, as well as the Delhi metropolitan region, which includes the capital, New Delhi. The capital’s seven water treatment plants, which require hundreds of megawatts of power, also temporarily lost power. However, officials said water service was fully restored by early evening.

Update: Power has been lost throughout the North + East of India for a second time. At 1:45pm Tuesday, demand in Delhi peaked at slightly over 4000 MW. Supply was measured at 38 MW.

Speaking in India - Indian English

There was a recent thread at Quora titled, “What are some English phrases and terms commonly heard in India but rarely used elsewhere?” It is really, really priceless.

I find this kind of thing fascinating, and know many of the smarter out there know more about the academic and intellectual underpinnings of adaptation of a language to local culture, circumstance, region. Fascinating, though, how a foreign language, once adopted, grows to become something unique, evolving, unto itself. I can’t help but think that part of the unique change that occurs during this adoption process is just bootstrapping words and phrases — say in Hindi — to an approximate equivalent in English. Throw out some of the confusing conventions that English speakers take for granted, and it can feel you’re speaking two distinct languages.

The quora discussion explores unique vagrancies of the English language in India. A few of my favorite excerpts follow:

That reminds me, I should get my pre-paid converted to post-paid to make sure there is no hassle with roaming. The operator tells me that under the current scheme roaming is free but always the possibility for screwup is there. But the paperwork for updation is too great. Every time wanting same to same KYC. Limited timings, phones always engaged, very much difficult. They trouble you like anything but never answer any of your doubts. Tell me, what is one to do yaar? They are like that only.

I need to prepone some meetings to arrange for the trip so I need to rush due to the same, but not to worry, I will keep you initimated of my progress. Will give you a missed call when I deplane upon returning back.

Indian : Too much stuff in dicky

American : Too much junk in trunk

Gymming: In-house version of ‘Working out’. Have you been gymming lately?

Hope your head is not paining, I didn’t mean to eat your brains. I will offer a translation in a few days. Now it’s time to slow the volume, increase the AC, and off the light because sleep is coming. Kindly to stay in tune.

Paining always gets me. Eating brains evokes the zombie apocalypse.

Everything is lost — and found again — in translation.

Samsara

I first saw Baraka in college and was blown away by the imagery and the format — a beautiful 70mm film, silent, relying solely on the power of its images to carry narrative force. It succeeded. The follow-up - 20 years later - took five years to make and was filmed in 25 countries. From the creators’ website:

SAMSARA is a Sanskrit word that means “the ever turning wheel of life” and is the point of departure for the filmmakers as they search for the elusive current of interconnection that runs through our lives. Filmed over a period of almost five years and in twenty-five countries, SAMSARA transports us to sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial sites, and natural wonders. By dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text, SAMSARA subverts our expectations of a traditional documentary, instead encouraging our own inner interpretations inspired by images and music that infuses the ancient with the modern.

Expanding on the themes they developed in BARAKA (1992) and CHRONOS (1985), SAMSARA explores the wonders of our world from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of man’s spirituality and the human experience. Neither a traditional documentary nor a travelogue, SAMSARA takes the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation. Through powerful images, the film illuminates the links between humanity and the rest of nature, showing how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet.

The filmmakers approach non verbal filmmaking with an understanding that it must live up to the standard of great still photography, revealing the essence of a subject, not just its physical presence. SAMSARA was photographed entirely in 70mm film utilizing both standard frame rates and with a motion control time-lapse camera designed specifically for this project. This camera system allows perspective shifts to reveal extraordinary views of ordinary scenes. The images were then transferred through the highest resolution scanning process available to the new 4K digital projection format that allows for mesmerizing images of unprecedented clarity. SAMSARA will be a showpiece for the new, high-resolution 4K digital projection, the HD format, as well as standard digital and film projection.

A Jaunt to Twenty Lakes Basin + Yosemite

Beth and I took a brief weekend sojourn to the Twenty Lakes Basin, located between Yosemite and Mono Lake. It was outstanding. A few images below.

Stamen Maps

Stamen design creates some amazing maps and variations of existing map tiles. They’re a design firm based in SF. Two of their most intriguing maps are Toner and Watercolor.

San Francisco

London

Perfection: Xaver Xylophon's "FOR HIRE! BANGALORE RICKSHAW"

This short animation captures the cadence of local travel in India perfectly. It nails those conflicting sensations of monotony, adventure, and relief.

Green, yellow, black. They are the blood in the veins of Bangalore: the 450,000 rickshaws and their drivers. Knocked together from bits and pieces, decorated, ready for the junk heap or carefully maintained like antique cars, the vehicles are as charismatic as their owners, who brave the monstrous traffic of this metropolis daringly, sleepy, chattering or stoic, making sure the passanger’s trip from A to B will be full of memorable experiences.

Based on days of riding around in rickshaws and drawings made locally, this animation captures the tough workaday life of a rickshaw driver, seen through the eyes of a European visitor.

Result of a one month trip to Bangalore, India as part of the project “The Law of the Market” at the University of Arts Berlin Weißensee, 2011

NYTimes: Low Tide

Min Jin Lee, reporting nearly a year after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami:

There are two sayings in Japan for when bad things happen: shikata ga nai, an idiom that means "it can't be helped"; and gambaru, a verb translated as "to persevere against adversity." When life doesn't go your way -- a job loss, illness or a romantic failure -- your friend is likely to say, "Sho ga nai" (a variation of shikata ga nai), it's out of your control. If you need a boost before an exam or when your favorite team is losing, you hear "gambatte," you can do it.

Several survivors shown here, their faces carved deeply like woodblocks, withstood wars, rationing, atomic bombs, postwar reconstructions, economic booms and busts and now an earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown. From the outside, it looks as if the Japanese accept all things with equanimity. But we cannot know if inside, the survivors want to spit at another well-intended sho ga nai.

See the associated slideshow, Faces of the Tsunami.

Boonville & Anderson Valley (part I)

At the recommendation of the Lovehardsteins and the NYT, we went to Boonville last weekend with Beth's mom in tow. She escaped snowfall and bitter cold back East, and we were all fortunate to have incredible weather for our jaunt into wine country.

We left late in the morning on the seventh, had a delicious brunch at Tomate Cafe, our favorite Berkeley breakfast/spot. The ladies stuck with a traditional American breakfast {eggs, bacon, etc}; I tried a 'Cuban' breakfast with rice, plantains, beans, kale, and grilled shrimp. It was delicious.

We made quick time to Anderson Valley, as traffic was light early in the day. It was pretty foggy and a tad gloomy on the way in, but majestic nonetheless. We turned onto winding Hwy 128 that would lead us to Anderson Valley, working our way through the hills and wine country as the fog folded around, between, and through the trees. Around 1p, as we arrived in Boonville, the fog burned off completely. We checked into our studio at the Boonville Hotel, an amazing little inn and restaurant in Boonville. I can't gush enough about the hotel and staff -- it was a beautiful place, with well-designed, spacious rooms that fit the place of life in the valley.

We ate lunch at the Boonville General Store and then set off to Point Area and the coast, by way of the meandering, winding, and aptly titled 'Mountain View Rd.'

Momofuku Fried Chicken

Yes, this is a post about fried chicken.

Yes, it is expensive fried chicken.

Yes, it was delicious and totally worth it.

After a long Campus MovieFest Northern Regional Grand Finale, we slept a little and then descended on Momofuku Noodle Bar for their fried chicken dinner, which includes “two whole fried chickens, one southern style and one korean style - mu shu pancakes, bibb lettuce, four sauces and an assortment of seasonal vegetables.”

Sounded good. Had no idea how much of a treat it would be.

We kicked off the meal with a smattering of a la carte plates, including grilled asparagus salad (bearnaise, frisee, trout roe); fingerling potatoes (poached egg, scallions); sauteed bok choy (delicious, umami-laden pork broth; chili flakes); and grilled ramps (my favorite, with pickled chili, crispy fried shallots). The kitchen gave us a plate of three tamales, each different — two with pork, one with cheese and vegetables. All amazing flavor combinations.

I was particularly fond of the grilled ramps, which were garlicky, sharp, slightly green and wholly delicious. The addition of the trout roe to the asparagus was surprising and amazing, as well. Made for a beautiful presentation and a shocking flavor — the briny roe played off the bearnaise magically.

Then the chickens rolled out. I had no idea what to expect. We received a huge platter half full of “Korean-style” fried chicken (above), fried and slathered in a sweet, spicy bibim sauce — and then fried again. The other half of the platter was Southern-style — buttermilk batter and old bay. UNBELIEVABLE! I’m shocked to say it, but I preferred the southern-style — the batter was perfect and flavorful, thick, crispy and delicious. The platter of herbs and veggies included carrots, radishes, shiso, bibb lettuce, and basil. Four sauces came out, as well — hoison, bibim, ginger-scallion, and some sort of jalapeno garlic. All were great; the table seemed most partial towards the jalapeno garlic.

We ate. And we ate. And then we ate some more. Somewhere along the way, the kitchen blessed us with additional pancakes and a plate of glutinous rice flour formed into cylinders, fried, and coated with bibim. They were delicious and texturally amazing - the outside were crunchy, crispy, sweet and spicy; the insides were gooey-chewy-weird awesomeness. Good. We did pretty well, knocking out about 2/3 of the platter and almost all the sides.

All before 7p.

I can’t remember a meal that so well met and surpassed the anticipation surrounding it. I’ve blabbered on above mainly about the food, but it was that magical combination of the great eats and a large table full of old friends that killed it. It was such a treat to dine with you peeps.

Blorgh!

Hell's bells, its been like ten trillion days since i've written. Since then, much has come to light, many things have gone down, blah blah.

Monitoring

The work has been extremely, insanely challenging. The rains subsided earlier this week; the heat rolled back in, the sun beaming down irately in a vain attempt to sunburn the 16 million melanin-enhanced residents of Mumbai.

It's been hot. Haydes fire and brimstone hot. Anyway, given the fortuitous change in weather, we decided to sample like mad. Since Tuesday, we've sampled 11 homes and run all the blanks - somewhere around 48 or 49 samples total. Remarkably, there have been no real mechanical problems - one pump went nuts, one family disconnected the monitor, but nothing too insane. A typical day of sampling kicks off around 7:30 or 8:00, when I hump 50 pounds of equipment over to the bus stand and wait for Magic Bus 85, which whisks me away to Sion Hospital. After a short walk to the slum, the work begins in earnest. We identify two homes, get consent, and set up the monitors for a four hour run in the morning.

Potters are on a schedule that lends itself to monitoring - they prepare pots in the morning, let them sit in the sun during the day, and kick off the firing process around 3. We monitor both inside and outside homes in the mornings from 9:30-1:30, before the kilns begin. Then, i swap out monitors and we monitor inside and outside again, while the kilns are running.

Two days ago, I encountered hands down the worst air quality i've ever witnessed. You could see/feel the pollution three blocks away; in the slum itself it was nearly impossible to get around due to the smoke. Imagine taking hot peppers, sprinkling them with acid, mashing them up, and then pouring them on your eyes; forget about breathing; plan on showering asap - the fires burn hot and dirty. The last home i visited was a disaster - when i stepped inside, i almost doubled over from the smoke; they had shut the doors and windows in attempt to keep the smoke out, but instead were preventing any air circulation. Smoke crept in through cracked windows, gaps in the doors, poor roofs. The indoor air was like pudding. Bad, burning, caustic, smoke pudding. The two matriarchs were just kickin' it in the kitchen; one little fellow who's been tagging along/helping out took one step inside the place and had the good sense to get the hell out of there. The air inside was a thousand times worse than the air outside, surprisingly. To make things more trying, the temperature inside was easily fifteen to twelve million degrees higher than outside. I'm doing no justice to the situation - it is awful. Its a miracle the children can breathe at all; many have a perpetual hacking cough and runny nose. Today, two of the older chaps involved in the co-op talked openly about a number of folks in the community with cancer.

How did Dharavi come to be?

As a result of becoming more familiar [or numb, take your pick] to my surroundings, i've been getting curious. How did Dharavi, sandwiched between moderately high income parts of town, arise? And, perhaps more significantly, what allows it to keep sitting there? My first, instinctual answer to the latter question revolves around simple economics – the place churns out goods sold throughout Mumbai and India. It is economically self-sustaining; like in other places throughout India, the division of labor is phenomenal. Everyone has a job and pays some fee for people to do nominal things for them. A tremendous number of the goods produced cheaply in Dharavi – including textiles, leather, pottery, the like – are exported to other regions of India for sale. The economic impetus for keeping the people there is present – especially when, by vacant land tenant law, the government does not have to officially recognize or support squatters with infrastructure. There's an open window for folks to be booted from the land at any point.

History tells an interesting story of Dharavi. Originally, as far back as 1909, it was one of the great koliwadas of Mumbai – a great fishing village, flanked on one side by a bustling creek that fed into the Arabian sea. British reclamation efforts dammed up the creek, redirecting it prior to simply eliminating it - spelling the end of the thriving fishing community. The area fell into extreme poverty and slowly grew into the modern day slum of Dharavi.

That's it - that's all i've been able to glean from reading and research. There are some folks in the slum - two elderly couples in particular - who have been there for 40 or 50 years. I plan on picking their brains once the monitoring is finished.

Bedtime. more to relate later on: women's group meetings; kids, cricket, and caram boards; politics; video scheme; supplies for the school.

Yesterdays

rewind -----> all aboard the shrimp train

i was slow catching my train, so i quickly scurried into a very small compartment - reserved, much to my surprise, for fish vendors carting their wares about the peninsula. (fantastic! perhaps I can acquire food for the evening.) the car smelled like one would imagine- pungent and brackish; raw shrimpy goodness. positive i was on my way to hurl city, i flung myself out of the train at the next stop [okay, flung is too strong... hopped daintily out of the "shrimp car"] and jumped into the next open car.

big, big mistake.

the only analogy i can think of is the floor at philips when we saw NIN... a number of sweaty folks, except this time crammed into a thin, barely lit tin can. all pushing. to make things more fun, the people waiting at the next stop fight and throw arms and generally take a running dive into the train. picture: flickering lights; a gaggle of limbs, flailing about; a small american-indian, grappling for air complete with pained look upon face; hundreds of people, rushing the car, as though the one true answer to the mystery of life, sex, wealth, happiness, and samosa resides in the cubic centimeter of space between resident indians 1 through 4 and non-resident alien me. i'm not claustrophobic, but at one point i was crammed between one dude's armpit and another's fella's back and pinned to the wall and seriously thought i was going to flip out, yo. i had to close my eyes and just sort of wish myself outta existence for a little while. Two sweaty armpits and their associated staaaank whisked me violently back into reality.

The shrimpies were a far more tempting fate.

fast forward -----> Tanneries, Textiles, & Domestic Violence

Yesterday scared me. Anil, Rajan, & I went to the slum to collect B footage and interview some children, women, and a few other folks for YUVA's documentary. The interviews were smashing; one elderly gentleman in particular, who has been making pottery for over 25+ years, remarked intelligently on the strong need for change in the community and the excellence of the gas-powered kiln. He spoke about his breathing and heart trouble, and how they seemed to be worse with the smoke; he spoke on his children, who have found other work; and he spoke on the way the gas kilns fired pots, how some of them broke but no more than when firing with the traditional kilns. He recognized the resistance in the community to change, but felt it necessary, inevitable. It was refreshing to hear an elder statesman speak positively of change, to be in favor of change. Similarly, the B-roll footage of the kids and the women's group went well. The kids adore "shooting" [as the filming is called] and stuck around until we had to chase them off.

The early chunk of the day was similar to others - fun yet not central to my work. The later part of the day involved shooting in other regions of Dharavi for the introduction to the video - this portion was insane. The areas with tanneries and other small to medium-sized enterprises were unlike the potters' colony; they were cramped, without the wide lanes to accomodate bhatti; sewage and trash were rife; naked children, beggars, flea-laden dogs. small pathways careening through makeshift housing alongside informal, open sewage ditches. overwhelming and intense.

i started looking for something less... caustic. a group of children with a litter of kittens. three men, pushing a wheel chair-bound companion through muddy, muddy alleyways, all of them laughing hysterically as they slide around. a beaming mother, looking down on her elder daughter of 5 or 6 holding her newborn brother, who is cooing and gurgling loudly. i felt and still feel remarkably out of place. i have no right to be there, invading, internalizing.

the industries themselves make the sweatshops of NBC and Baraka look tame. Groups of between five and ten workers of ages ranging from 7-80 are crammed in a reasonably large, unventilated room with one wide opening. they're all working; the eldest gent, 100000 years old, hums out a familiar hindi tune along with the radio whispering in the background; its hot, but sweating here is a way of life. Perhaps most striking are the products they are working on - one shop worked on plastic containers found around blankets and comforters; another worked on fabric, pressing it and printing it; and the tanneries worked hides. the tanneries were an environmental disaster. chromium was everywhere, green and blue, frothing, mixed with god knows what else. hide was everywhere. the place smelled of death, fixatives, and mold. across a major road, leather wholesalers abound. no regulation binds action here, and concern for the environment comes second to scraping by.

india doesn't allow visitors to focus on just the attractions or remain in fun, comfortable places. for better or worse, the beautiful stuff plays footsy with the devestating stuff on every street corner, at every tourist attraction, around every corner. difficult.

step forward -----> Thunder Lightening Strike!

"Very heavy rains expected in Mumbai in the next 48 hours. Thank you and have a safe monsoon."

The rains have begun. For those of you who've lived in Louisiana, think storm season times ten. The streets in Dharavi flooded in minutes, and the rains didn't let up for over an hour. They began anew two hours later, twice as intense.

Slums + Development

K-wada is a small chunk of Dharavi, Asia's largest slum that hosts 1 million people of varying religious and ethnic backgrounds. Dharavi sprawls in all directions - upwards for two or three stories, and out and out and out. K-wada's an interesting part of Dharavi. It's the region's largest pottery colony, home to some 1200 families. Around 600 of those families earn meager wages as amazing artisanal potters. The pots are stunning, but more amazing is watching the community at work - some work the clay, preparing it for the potters; other prepare the kilns; other still glaze the pots. The final products vary - some serve a strictly utilitarian purpose; some decorative; the majority find a niche between utility and decoration. The functioning, organized, delineated process of the operation is striking, contrasting sharply with larger Indian inefficiency.

Development is a tricky concept to grasp at home. It is even more convoluted in India, a country in the throes of modernization, industrialization, commercialization - all the "-tion" buzzwords affiliated with development. We went to the slum on Saturday to hold a drawing competition with around 30 of the children and to give the cooperative members their pictures, which I had taken the day before. The cooperative members were sincerely grateful and enjoyed the 7 or 8 basic portraits I had taken, which came out well. The lighting was awful, so some improvisation was required, but they were adequate. Anyway, at one point around 40 kids burst into a tiny office, surrounding a small desktop computer so they could see digital photos from a trip they had taken to the park. Technology be damned and all that, but the kids' reaction to the computer, to the images, was priceless - the excitement, energy, and enthusiasm was palpable and contagious. There's this side of modernizing - the amazing trickle of technology to societies who otherwise don't have access to it. The people in k-wada aren't marginalized by large MNCs, by the national government, or by any of the usual suspects - instead, repression comes from history; from an archaic, outdated caste system that, while buckling under pressure, manages to maintain a firm, vice-like grip on Indian society. Mobility outside of your designated lot in life isn't a reality, it's a pipe-dream. It seems impossible. Yet watching those kids - a few in particular - one gets the impression that things will change, that they have to change, that they are changing. The kids speak broken English, while their parents speak none. The kids read and write, few of their elder's do. Many of the teenagers volunteer at the school as tutors, mentors, as little leaders - of their own volition, sometimes to the chagrin of their parents. They kids seem to yearn for something else. The parents, like parents everywhere, boast and show-off scores from their chillun that ARE as good as students from more prosperous areas. The ability is there - it always is, always, in every single person - but will the society let it flourish? And then, the flipside of all this, the loss of cultural customs to developmental homogenization. To the desire to escape the current lifestyle. Lays potato chips next to homebrew masala-laden hot mix. Plastic containers in place of hand-made earthenware. High capacity housing in place of sprawling slums. I'm in no place to judge that escapist desire. But, for the first time, I'm not sure where I stand with regards to development. There is life here that doesn't exist elsewhere, energy and vitality and an approach to living that world is rapidly losing... but the need to ramp up production, the desire to create more product for as little money as possible, the pressure of modernization has lead to tremendous difficulty in continuing to actively pursue pottery in a sustainable fashion. The current kilns simply are not sustainable - from an environmental perspective, an economic perspective, and a political perspective. The sheer volume and thickness of smoke created EVERYDAY when the kilns are run is extraordinary. Sometime last week, I watched one elderly gent get caught between two kilns that were firing pottery and take a hacking deep breath - and then cough up blood and pass out. All hell broke loose, as children tried to move this fellow five times their size. Everyone mobilized to help him, and after a few minutes he regained consciousness. Then, the kids return to running around the kilns, playing cricket, chasing each other - blissfully ignorant of the poop they're breathing in. Elders look on, relatively unconcerned. This is how its been, and how it will be. This is their lot in life. Long live tradition, but foofaa that.

Traveling and Arrival, Recounted

these are ancient posts. only edits are to correct my potty-mouthed tendencies

Around 10 days ago, I threw comfort to the wind and left for Mumbai. Those last few days, I surprisingly found myself unprepared for departure. I was aware of how wonderful my friends were before leaving, but now I'm keenly, acutely aware of it. All the time. I miss you all more than I can describe.

I've never been to Mumbai, never imagined Mumbai, never conceptualized all that Mumbai is/could be/may be. On paper, I knew some facts - 16 million people, a city built by "reclaiming land from the sea", Bollywood, bhangra, clubs. Beaches.

16 million people - an unimaginable number, as though one person for every grain of sand on the beach. Then, in the larger context, 16 million is nothing... 16,000,000 out of over 1,000,000,000 in India. A glass of water against the oceans. 1+ billion people. Unfathomable.

Flights are flights, and I'll leave out most of the details of the prodigiously long flight from Atlanta to Mumbai via Amsterdam. Suffice to say, the flights were packed [though my concept of packed people moving has since changed]. I had brief conversations with a fellow from Cameroon, which was interesting; and even more interesting, I found myself sitting next to a fellow who works for the same company as Meg's dad. Small world.

The flight arrived on time, miraculously. The terminal at the international airport in Mumbai smelled ancient, like my old high school - lingering odors of mold, flopsweat, dust, saltwater. It felt creaky, rickety. I rushed myself through the airport to baggage claim, attempting to reassure myself that collecting my baggage and making it through customs would be a cinch.

Alas, non.

But, before I get ahead of myself, let me describe Indian baggage claim. The carousel snakes around a large, rectangular room, curving and swirling about senselessly, as though to maximize inefficiency. Indians coming home from abroad tend to return with copious excess baggage, often beyond the designated limit of 2 pieces per person - for example, the family of four that was standing to my right had 8 checked bags, probably each in excess of the weight limit, and 8 carry-on pieces. Never mind the fact that one family member is probably 4 and another is still in swaddling clothes. Seriously, no big deal.

I digress. The horn sounds, and the baggage starts coming through the very small entry point. Not single file, not piece by piece, but instead bags stacked haphazardly atop bags - a house of cards, a pyramid shaped flea market of oddly colored, oddly named suitcases, boxes, duffle bags, strollers, televisions, rice cookers, air quality monitors - you name, veeee have it. Every fifth piece gets caught in the entry door. Ever other piece has some strap that gets caught in the conveyor belt, resulting in literally dozens of large pieces of luggage crashing to the floor. This being India... the luggage just sits there, as though eventually - at some point - it will gain sentience, realize its mistake, and hop back onto the belt. Or, more likely, someone else will come by and take care of it. Small children sit on the fallen luggage, play amongst it, and then try to move it. Occasionally, they succeed. More often, they become trapped by it, and start screaming. Loudly.

My bags were two of the last ones off the plane, but they arrived intact, a blessing. Blessing be cursed; customs was a nightmare. After reclaiming bags in India, one is presented with two options - the "Green Channel" and the "Red Channel" for customs. The green channel facilitates rapid movement for residents and non-residents who have nothing of consequence they are importing; the red channel is for folks who need to make some sort of declaration. I hustled over to the queue for the green channel, but was instantly spotted. A large customs official - dressed from head to toe in spotless, pressed, pristine white - heralded me with great fanfare to the red channel, where not one, not two, but three magical customs officials awaited me. At this point, my pulse quickened to a breakneck pace, my pores began springing sweat like a geyser, and my brain turned into a smoldering lump of coal.

My bags contain around 10,000 USD worth of equipment, three-quarters of which belongs to Harvard and the remainder of which belongs to Emory. Every piece is essential to the study. And so the conversation begins...

Hello, bya, bags ma kya ha?(Hello, brother - what's in the bags?)

Well, in this one, camping gear. I'm going to Ladakh in August. Clothing, personal medicine - normal travel stuff.

And in this one?

More camping gear, some electronics.

Electronics? Quickly, bring them here (points to X-ray machine, bags go on x-ray machine. Man makes rapid clicking sound with mouth, Indian for, nonononono.)

What is all of this?

Long, drawn out explanation. Volunteer in slums, air quality monitoring, student, equipment all goes back to US.

... ... ... ... ... ... How much USD do you have?

350.

Duties for this equipment are $400

(oh, of course they are, since I only have 350. Foofaa, to be honest, I don't really have 350. I bought coffee and a sandwich at the airport. What if he takes all my money? Then what? Bribery! Must... bribe...customs fellow. What if he's honest? Jackass, slap yourself later, he's not honest. Figure out a way to bribe him. 100 bucks is like 4600 rupees. One month's pay. Foofaaing piece of poo assholes. Foofaa Foofaa Foofaa Foofaa.)

I don't have 400, and all of the equipment is coming back with me - it is NOT staying in India.

Give me 50 USD.

Wha...Excuse me? (I mean, yeah, I had contemplated 100, but the reality is so much more severe and... poop.)

He now calls two guys with big guns, who usher me to a back room. They speak to each other in Tamil or Maruthi, which I cannot understand; we go over to a wall with a one-way viewing mirror. Extending from the wall is around 2 feet of table, like a bar; they make me exchange the money literally under the table. I find this final flourish both inexorably cruel and hideously, ridiculously amusing. Finally, after between two and three hours, I'm outside of the airport, passport and equipment in hand. It's a bit after 1 am.

Harpreet & Niladri (Batman & Robin, The Justice League, Fantastic Two, Turner & Hooch, JD & Turk) come to my rescue. I get a prepaid cab, we stop at a restaurant, and we head into Mumbai. Despite it being 1 am, its still extremely hot out - the sort of heat that sticks to you like flypaper. 1000% humidity. Supersaturated air. You exhale here, it rains somewhere.

Finally, we're at the apartment; its beautiful. Running water, two beds, plenty of space. Constant electricity. A foofaaing television! Pots pans silverware cleaning supplies. Unbelievable. I owe these two chaps my life.

Sleep that night consisted of lying awake, wide-eyed, wishing for a beer and friends.

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