Posts tagged: Travel

Cairo, Egypt – Overview

By , December 28, 2010

If you were to take New York City, eliminate all the health, traffic, and building codes, and let it develop for 200 years, you would probably end up with a place a lot like Cairo. I cannot begin to describe this city in any way that will not read like major exaggeration, but nothing I am about to say is even slightly overstated. This is all unbiased truth. I came to Cairo with no preconceived notion about the city at all. I just knew there were pyramids and I wanted to see some.

The first thing I noticed was the driving. My hostel arranged to have a driver pick me up at the airport and bring me to the hostel for the ridiculously affordable price of $12.00, so of course I jumped at the chance, especially when they mentioned he would be waiting for me at the airport with a sign with my name on it! All my life I have disembarked planes and seen all the sign-holding drivers and felt jealous. I always look for my name, just in case, even though I know full well there will be no driver there waiting for me. One of my less-than-exciting life-long dreams has been to come out into the terminal and read my name on a sign, and at last that dream has become a reality. That was a huge digression, but it was a big deal to me, so whatever. Where was I? The driving. Jesus. Every street and freeway in Cairo feels like the Indianapolis 500 being run at 5 miles per hour. No one stays in a lane, and no one yields to anyone. Every single driver is constantly veering and cutting off every other driver, and every time there is any sort of opening, a car instantly races into it. The end result is permanent gridlock, and unending start/ stop herky-jerky driving. Every driver is also honking his horn about 10 times per minute, so the city is a ceaseless cacophony of car horns. Every single car bears evidence of multiple collisions, and you see cars hitting each other quite regularly.

No provision whatsoever has been made for pedestrians. There are no signals and no crosswalks. Well, rarely are there, and when there are it is meaningless, for no one acknowledges them, in much the same way that the painted lanes in the roads are ignored. Pedestrians cross by walking directly into moving traffic at any point in the street they wish. That is really, honestly, truly, not-lying, the ONLY way to cross a street here. You must walk directly in front of a moving car and trust that the car will stop or veer around you. They always seem to do so, sometimes at the last possible moment, and always with a honk of the horn, but crossing a busy street feels like a real-life game of Frogger. Even on the freeways, pedestrians are constantly darting in and out of traffic. Also, on freeways, pedestrians hail cabs and buses, and the cabs and buses stop for them! It is madness, and a complete and utter failure of the system, for everything is congested when it needn’t be. If drivers in Cairo drove like drivers elsewhere, traffic would flow, as it does elsewhere. Sadly, that is not the case.

The second thing I noticed was the air. Because I COULD SEE IT. And I don’t mean like in Los Angeles where you can sometimes see a bit of haze on the horizon. I mean the air in Cairo right in front of your face is visible. And taste-able. There is a permanent cloud of soot and exhaust hanging in the air around you, and I am pretty sure a day breathing the air in Cairo is about the equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes.

Another common event here is being approached by someone trying to sell you something you don’t want, and doing so by trying to strike up a pointless conversation with you. About three times per block someone will ask, “what is your name,” or “where are you from,” or “what are you looking for?” If you do anything other than ignore them and walk away, they will try to steer you into a friend’s perfume shop, or shoe store, or whatever, by pretending to be your best friend. They won’t say they get a kickback from the shop owner, but rather will act as if they know you must want to shop there and they are doing you a huge favor by bringing you there. It is ridiculous and transparent, but they think they are being very clever, and when you don’t respond they sometimes get upset and curse at you.

Other things– cats roam the streets the way pigeons or squirrels do in other cities. You see hundreds of scrawny, feral cats darting about. In Alexandria, one of the cats scratched me, so I may die of rabies soon. I am hoping said cat had not licked his paw just prior to lashing out at me. Speaking of the local animals, about five minutes after I began exploring downtown Cairo I saw a dead dog lying on the curb, paws up, covered in flies. I have never seen that anywhere in my life, but there it was, right in what is said to be the Times Square of Cairo. In a city that treats the street like a trash bin, I suppose it is to be expected. Speaking of which, trash cans are such a rarity here that it is common to see people of all description cavalierly tossing their trash onto the sidewalk as they walk.

The final thing I’ll point out today is the lack of a queueing system here. No one lines up or waits for anything. Whether it is to buy a subway token, a sandwich, or a ticket to an exhibit, everyone elbows and cuts in front of everyone else (much the way they drive) and unless you also push your way to the front, you will never get anywhere.

I am never one to say any item or culture or person or ideology is good or bad, better or worse, or make value judgements of that nature. I firmly believe that every culture, no matter how different from mine or anyone else’s, is neither better nor worse than another, merely different, and my lack of familiarity or understanding of it does not make it wrong or bad. But by golly, I have to say that Cairo blows. There is some neat stuff here, sure, and the exchange rate makes it ridiculously cheap for an American to visit, but, and I hate to say this, at times it feels positively uncivilized here. I’m having a blast, don’t get me wrong– I can enjoy damn near anything– but I sure as hell would never live here. Mostly, I hope I don’t have rabies.

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Cairo, Egypt – Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza

By , December 25, 2010

The Sphinx is drowsy,
Her wings are furled:
Her ear is heavy,
She broods on the world.

                        -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I knew I would be on the road and alone for Christmas, and when I realized last week that I would be in Cairo today, I decided to spend my Christmas visiting Giza to see the only one of the Seven Wonders of the World that is still standing. I have to say, based on the treatment it is receiving from Egypt, the real wonder is that it hasn’t collapsed like its peers.

After my visit to Cairo’s museum, the appalling lack of organization at Giza came as no surprise. That did not make it any less disappointing and depressing. I think the best way to convey Egypt’s presentation of her centerpiece is to describe my visit.

I decided the most affordable, and likely fastest, way to get to the pyramids was via the subway, so I boarded a Metro train (cost per ride, 17 cents!) headed in the direction of Giza. Here I encountered my first problem. There are two Giza stops, and no indication as to which station serves visitors to the pyramids. In any other country, it would be made obvious. The Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty– whatever a given city’s chief attraction is, that city spares no expense in making sure every visitor knows how to get to it. Not Cairo. I disembarked the train at the first Giza stop, reasoning that if it were the wrong one it would be easier to hop back on and continue to the next station than if I overshot it and had to go back. Once off the train I found no sign referring in any way to the pyramids. No picture of a giant triangle or sphinx– nothing. I went out one exit, and saw nothing, so I went back in and exited via the other side. Then it became clear to me I was in the correct place. Not because of any signage, but rather because of the dozens of local touts and hucksters approaching me in an attempt to rip me off. “Buy your official government ticket from me!” “Only 100 pounds for a taxi to the pyramid!” I was clearly in the right place.

I walked past the throng of would-be scammers, out to the city street and hailed a white taxi. I negotiated with the driver, and agreed to a price of 20 EGP (still too much, but only $3.50– it wasn’t worth flagging down multiple taxis to save perhaps $1.75.) and hopped into the cab. As I expected, he constantly attempted to detour off the route, but each time I reminded him “no, I do not want tickets or a camel,” and he got back on the road. Taxi drivers, given the chance, will take you to a friend’s camel rental stand, where the friend will attempt to fleece you out of anywhere between 300 to 500 EGP. They will try to sell you tickets that you don’t need, or run any manner of other scams on you. I had read in advance about this, and I was able to get the driver to take me to the entrance without stopping.

As soon as I got out of the taxi, I was again beset upon by locals trying to sell me all manner of things. Still no signage indicating I was anywhere special, either– just a ticket booth (shack?) and a plain-clothed ticket agent. The fee was 60 EGP, which equates to about 11 U.S. dollars. I can’t help but think they are drastically underpricing their exhibit, and if they were to charge more, perhaps they could take care of a few of the problems I am about to enumerate. And really, I think I speak for nearly every tourist when I say that I’d be willing to pay more to see them. In fact, though part of me is glad the cost was so low, I probably would have paid any astronomical sum I’d been asked to pay. I mean, come on, these are the pyramids! And the Sphinx! I am sure there is some limit to what one will pay to gain admission, but that bar is certainly steeper than $11.00! I would not have batted an eye had I been asked for 60 U.S. dollars rather than 60 EGP, that’s for sure. Maybe to be fair to all travelers, the cost could be 60 whatever-you-spend-in-your-country. You present a passport and pay however many Egyptian pounds 60 of your bucks buys. That would drastically increase the site’s revenue, and I don’t think anyone would change their mind and go home. If you have come all the way to Cairo, you aren’t leaving without visiting the pyramids.

ANYWAY– once I got inside, it was the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities all over again. No signs directing you anywhere, no labels, no maps, no descriptions. Nothing whatsoever, save for a bunch of guards posted so as to prevent anyone from climbing onto a pyramid. Including no trash cans! Which means that the various tombs and pits and… and… well, whatever they are, I wouldn’t know because there was nothing to tell me, but there are a lot of excavations and holes and pits all slowly filling with water bottles and candy wrappers. I’m pretty sure the pharaohs weren’t eating all those potato chips, so they must have come from the tourists.

While I couldn’t find out whose tomb was where, or when a particular pyramid was constructed, I could have rented all the camels I wanted to rent, for every two minutes a man on a camel would approach me and attempt to sell me a camel ride. They won’t take no for an answer, either. They’ll follow you and attempt to rent you the camel for at least a minute, about which time another camel rides up. Coupled with the hundreds of children selling packets of kleenex or postcards, and you never have a moment’s peace to simply observe or contemplate the wonders around you.

That is just the way things are run in Egypt– poorly. I guarantee if any other nation had the pyramids, they would be clean, organized, and well-run, and there would be tour guides, brochures, maps, signs, and the overall experience would be a pleasant, informative one. Sadly, that is far from the case, and though I by no means regret going, and consider this day to be one of the highlights of my life in terms of having viewed something majestic and awe-inspiring, I know that the experience could have been far, far better.

At one point I ducked into a tomb of some sort. Inside, one of the guards pointed to a carved image of a cow being butchered and said “cow, butchered,” and then held out his hand and said “give me tip.” I am neither lying nor exaggerating. That was exactly what happened, and it serves as a very good metaphor for the entire experience of visiting Egypt. I had intended to visit Sakkara, and view more pyramids later in the trip, but have changed my mind. I have had my fill of pyramids.

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Cairo, Egypt – The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities

By , December 23, 2010

I have visited museums all over the world. They tend to have at least two important things in common– first, and foremost, they are curated by knowledgeable individuals, and it is clear that every attempt has been made to present the collection in an intelligent, organized fashion, with an end goal of offering the visitors information and entertainment. Second, and with occasional exceptions, they are free to the public. At the majority of museums, visitors are given the chance to donate an amount of their choosing on the way into exhibits. The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo is the exception to both rules.

For starters, visitors must pay 60 EGP (Egyptian pounds, 60 of which equates to about 11 U.S. dollars) to gain entry to the museum. That is not an exorbitant amount, and if the museum were on par with other museums, I wouldn’t even be writing about it. I would consider the fee more than justified. As the Cairo Museum, as the museum is better known, is hands-down the worst museum I have ever visited, I find the entry fee to be anything but justified. Upon entering the museum, I sought an information desk. There is none. Instead, there is a booth at which you can buy postcards. I asked the clerk where I could obtain a map of the museum. None exists. A list of the exhibits? Also non-existent. Are there audio tours? No. Docents? No. Museum staff of any kind? No, only security guards. In short, visitors are left to their own devices.

The collection itself is in appalling shape. It is crammed with no discernible order into corners and dusty cases. Some items appear not to have been unpacked yet– as a visitor, you will encounter several piles of crated objects, presumably relics, stacked in front of unpacked and unsorted pieces. The majority of the collection is unlabeled, and the pieces that are labeled only have photocopied, hand-cut scraps of paper affixed to them; some of those have been mounted upside-down. To me, the entire museum felt as if a pharaoh had just moved into a new apartment, and had not yet unpacked or put away any of his stuff. Moreover, the majority of the collection is not even on display, as the museum is far too small; one can walk the entirety of the two floors in less than an hour. Most of the collection is languishing in the basement, allegedly sinking slowly into the earthen floor, or stored off-site.

There are certainly many cool things to see at the museum, some mummified animals come to mind, and some of it is understandable, but with no organization and few descriptions available to me, I left with a feeling of extreme disappointment, as though I had been robbed of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about Egypt’s ancient history.

I have visited the British Museum twice now, as well as Berlin’s Egyptian Museum, and there were moments while I was perusing the collection in which I felt a twinge of regret that such priceless treasures had been removed from their native land to be displayed on foreign soil. After seeing how the Egyptians treat their priceless treasures, all I can say is thank goodness some of them made it out of Egypt! Were it up to the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, the Rosetta Stone would likely be facing a wall. The Bust of Nefertiti, if even displayed, may well be perched atop a mummy, or perhaps labeled as “Missus Tut.” I half wish some Indiana Jones type would organize a raid and liberate the rest of the collection so that it may actually be enjoyed.

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Casablanca, Morocco – Overview

By , December 22, 2010

I’ll begin my description of my stay in Casablanca by describing my lodgings, as I think they are somewhat indicative of the state of the city itself. The hotel in which I stayed, Hotel Foucould, was clearly a nice place once. The elevator, long out of commission, was a beautiful wooden contraption, ensconced in a wrought iron cage. In the hotel’s heyday it must have been a sight to behold. My room must have been nice once, too. It had a 20-foot high ceiling, and ornate touches, but today it is in awful shape. There was a puddle of water on the floor that remained there for my entire stay. The bathroom looked to have been created by crudely erecting a cement wall on one side of the room and installing plumbing. There was a shower-head, but no shower structure, so the water (only cold water was available) just sprayed into the room. There was a sink, but no toilet. The walls had massive holes punched into them, and there was graffiti on one of them, and the bed was falling apart, but there were lovely French doors that opened out onto a balcony that offered fresh air and a view of the city.

That contradiction exists all throughout Casablanca. I have a sense that 50 to 75 years ago Casablanca was quite posh. There is evidence everywhere to that fact, but it is buried beneath a seeming ton of rubble. The word that repeatedly comes to mind when observing this city is dilapidated, for that is what Casablanca is. I have the constant feeling of having walked into a city the day after a long war has ended. Everywhere you turn you see massive buildings that have collapsed in on themselves, and faded facades of what were once lovely, art deco masterpieces, standing proudly next to a two-story-high pile of brick, wood, glass, and other building material.

There is considerable garbage to navigate whilst walking the streets, as well as potholes deep enough to be used in trench warfare, so caution is necessary lest one take a nasty fall. The streets are full of mopeds– this was a never-ending source of amusement to me. Dozens would ride by at once– impromptu moped gangs made up of strangers, breaking up and recruiting new members at every street corner.

The people of Casablanca are for the most part friendly, and helpful to this American who speaks no Arabic and precious little French. One in particular, Abdallah, assisted me in finding a good cup of Coffee Moroccan style. The coffee, espresso actually, is really good here. It is subtly different from the European version, perhaps a bit more bitter and not quite as viscous, and thoroughly enjoyable to me. Abdallah told me about his days working at a restaurant on a now-defunct U.S. Air Force base between 1958 and 1962. That is why he spoke English, he explained, for most Casablancans possess a rudimentary grasp of English, at best.

Casablanca is not a town for a tourist, but for someone who travels as I do, plopping down in a neighborhood and haunting a few local cafes and eateries and chatting with the local folks, it is a pretty ideal place to be. Couple that with the amazing affordability and you have a place in which I could spend quite some time. My four days here was enough to get a sense of the place, but nowhere near enough to tire of it.

Speaking of costs, here are the prices you can expect to pay for a few things in Casablanca, translated from the local currency, dirhams, into U.S. dollars:

12 oz. glass bottle of Coke 47¢
cup of coffee (espresso) 59¢
taxi ride around downtown $1.31
1 night at Hotel Foucould $11.81
best fish ever at Snack Amine $13.08
fried bread thing at a stand 20¢

Pretty cheap, huh? You can see why I like it so much! Up next… Egypt!

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Dateline – Las Vegas

By , August 29, 2010

(I wrote this last month while in Las Vegas, but never got around to posting it until now.)

Every time I visit Las Vegas I feel disappointed in the human race. Of all American cities, Las Vegas is the one that offers the closest to an “anything goes” existence, so this is apparently what humans create when allowed to do anything they wish. :(

Bad Bets

This town is full of slot machines– everywhere you go you find them. I can understand the fun of inserting a few coins so as to watch the bright lights and hear the fun noises, but the likelihood of winning a substantial amount of money is on par with having one’s leg bit off by a shark while simultaneously being struck by lightning. In fact, that is probably more likely to happen than a slot machine jackpot, yet there is never a shortage of slot players. People pour millions, if not billions, of dollars into the things every year, forever thinking they are on the fast-track to wealth.

All Boobs, All the Time

At least for females, the only requirement for being hired to work anywhere in Las Vegas seems to be “big boobs.” Everywhere you turn, there are women old and young, fat and skinny, ugly and pretty, wearing the standard-issue pushup bra and hot pants uniform of whatever casino you happen to be in at the time. They scatter these employees everywhere; one girl’s job is apparently to sit on the bartop and look cute, and another is paid to dance in front of a miniature stripper pole behind some blackjack tables. Las Vegas amplifies every bad aspect of mankind.

You Can’t Beat Arithmetic

Or can you? I’ve been splitting my time between the poker tables and the craps tables. Normally poker is where I win most of my money. Two days into this trip, I have won a satanic $666 playing craps, and merely $304 playing poker. One should not be able to win at craps, right? The mathematical odds are against it, or at least I think they are. I play a very conservative strategy, but still– human vs. math, math usually wins. And speaking of which,

We Aren’t Teaching Our Kids Math Anymore

For all the free and cheap conveniences one can find in Las Vegas, wireless internet is not one of them. The last thing a casino wants are its guests holed up in their rooms, online. They want us at the slot machines and gaming tables, so wireless internet is sold in 24-hour blocks for $8.99. I don’t mind a week without wifi, but I did have to send a few emails to clients, as well as post this blog, so I went in search of a more affordable option than what my hotel had to offer.

I told the young girl at the front desk that I only needed about an hour to an hour and a half online, so $8.99 for 24 hours would be overkill, and asked if she knew a cafe or other nearby place where I could find free or cheap wifi. She bit her lip and scrunched up her eyes, spent a moment deep in concentration, then her face lit up and she proudly gestured towards a computer in the lobby. “You can buy 90 minutes on that one” she explained, “and it only costs $5 for each 20 minutes you use it.” She was so obviously delighted with her cleverness that I didn’t have the heart to press the matter any further.

Arithmetical illiteracy apparently is not limited to front desk clerks in this town. I saw a sign advertising the “World’s Biggest 64 oz. Beer.”

Coffee, the Mysterious Beverage

I ordered coffee with my lunch. The cashier took my order, then turned to her manager in the back and asked her, “how do you make coffee?” The manager came up front and together they tried to puzzle out the methodology behind brewing a pot of coffee. They poked at the long-dormant machine, hoping it might spring to life on its own. I was only paying partial attention to them, but snapped to attention at the point I saw the cashier using paper towels in lieu of a coffee filter.

“You don’t get much call for coffee here, do you?” I asked the cashier.

“Not really.” She replied, still layering paper towels into the coffee machine.

“I’ll switch to Coke.”

“Thanks.”

(And there you have it, my belated report from sunny Las Vegas, Nevada. For those keeping score at home, the dice continued to defy the odds and I left with $952 in craps winnings, on top of what I won at poker. dub tee eff?)

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Suede Reunion for Charity Gig Confirmed

By , January 17, 2010

The marble clock has stopped. The curtained sun
Burns on: the room grows hot. There, it appears,
A vase of flowers has spilt, and soaked away.
The only sound heard is the sound of tears.

So, I’m going to London in March. I don’t know precisely, when, and I won’t know until Suede announces the date of their one-off reunion concert. That’s right, my favorite band is reuniting for one show at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Suede

Sadly, Bernard Butler won’t be a part of this. The other three original members will be on stage, as well as Neil Codling and Richard Oakes, who joined the band after Butler’s departure.

I am excited beyond description, even more so than when I planned a trip to Paris around Jarvis Cocker’s first solo gig. That wasn’t Pulp, my other favorite band, it was just Cocker; this is the actual Suede, a band I have never had the chance to see live. Attending a Suede reunion show has long been my dream, and it seems about to become a reality.

I’d be remiss if I did not note that the proceeds from the show are being donated to the Teenage Cancer Trust.

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What is This? MySpace?

By , January 6, 2006

Since MySpace is all the rage these days, here is the latest ridiculous “survey” that I’ve filled out there, saved here for posterity. And for future embarrassment.

9 lasts.
last cigarette: I don’t smoke, but I had my last pretend cigarette whilst getting air outside at the Chinese Hospital casino bash
last beverage: coffee at Fenton’s
last kiss: friendly? Chloe, unless I kissed Josh tonight. I think I only bundled him up. romantic? Tzuen.
last cd played: actual CD? Brian Jonestown Massacre. Last song, Joy Division is playing now.
last bubble bath: at the Madonna Inn in October of ’04 with She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named
last time you cried: this morning :/
last time you laughed: Moments ago whilst foos-balling with a super-stoned Josh

8 have you evers.
have you ever dated one of your best friends: no
have you ever skinny dipped: no. wait, yes. forevs ago
have you ever kissed somebody and regretted it: boy howdy have I ever
have you ever fallen in love: yes
have you ever lost someone you loved: yes
have you ever been depressed: consult previous blogs…
have you ever been drunk and threw up: *nod*
have you ever ran away: no. but ask me again in a couple weeks.

7 states you’ve been to.
1. Alaska
2. New York
3. Michigan
4. Arkansas
6. Hawaii
7. Texas

6 things you’ve done today.
1. got drunk
2. ate cheeseburgers, plural
3. listened to music
4. read comics
5. wilded in the streets with Teddie, Bronson, Kevin, Josh, and Nick
6. sent a fax

5 favorite things in no order.
1. my friends
2. being massaged
3. cooking
4. her, but not the her you think I mean
5. film noir

4 people you can tell [almost] anything to.
1. Teddie
2. Kathryn
3. Chloe
4. Diane

3 wishes.
1. to be happy again
2. to trust again
3. to love again

2 things you want to do before you die.
1. spend time in at least 50 countries
2. find out why

1 thing you regret.
1. trusting her, the bad her

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Some Stuff I Did

By , May 14, 2005

I am in Washington, DC.

__________

Today I withdrew $50 from a Bank of America ATM. I’d never been confronted with such a choice before. I stepped up to the machine intending to withdraw $60, but opted to forego the additional ten dollars simply to see $50 come out of the machine. I briefly wondered if the device would produce a fifty dollar bill, but almost immediately received a ten and two twenties.

__________

I saw a woman walking with what I presumed to be her two children, two daughters no less, neither of whom looked older than six. The woman’s shirt read “It Ain’t Gonna’ Lick Itself.” What mother dresses this way? Why does anyone dress this way? When did this become acceptable?

_________

For the first time in my life I saw an actual Good Humor truck. I’ve seen a few ice cream trucks in my day, but never the famous Good Humor truck. I purchased a popsicle.

__________

There is an impressive thunder and lightning filled storm pounding the house. Good stuff.

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Cemetery

By , May 11, 2005

I grew up about a mile and a half from a cemetery. About the time I started high school, I got into the habit of walking there and wandering about amongst the monuments and trees whenever I had any deep thinking to do. If something in my life was uncertain or upsetting, I’d usually find myself able to sort through it while meandering through the cemetery. Even throughout college, anytime I was visiting my parents and had some school issue, career question, or girl problem, I’d hike out to Pleasant Hill and contemplate that which was on my mind.

Cemeteries are possessed of a serenity that is lacking from most other places in this world, and seemingly one of the last places people treat with any sort of dignity or respect. That is, when you even meet another person there, as a cemetery is also a wonderful place for solitude.

Nowadays, the nearest one to me is Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery. The higher up the hills you go, the grander the markers and mausoleums become, and the more familiar the names become, too. Merritt, Wheeler, Peralta– it’s a veritable who’s who, or rather who was once who, of Oakland history. I sometimes sneak in after closing time and roam about under the moonlight. I’ve spent many nights perched atop various mausoleums, a living gargoyle, motionless except for the occasional movement required to sip from a flask. The Black Dahlia is buried in that cemetery; her grave makes me feel profoundly sad, as though I’ve already outlived my allotted lifespan.

Maybe you are like most of the friends to whom I’ve mentioned this, and you find it creepy or morbid that I like to walk through a burial ground when I need to think, but it’s just something I’ve done for so long that it’s a part of me. To this day, whenever I pass a cemetery, almost as a reflex I momentarily reflect on my life and the events that have shaped me into the person I am today.

In recent years I’ve had a long run of good luck, and I haven’t had much confusion or sorrow to assimilate, but all the recent turmoil in my life has left me with a lot of unsorted thoughts. Yesterday I spent the better part of the afternoon drifting though the vast expanses of Arlington Cemetery.

Seeing row after row of headstones, endless lists of names and dates, and all the loving memories etched into stone, I am reminded that some day I too will be laid to rest in such a place. It helps me put my own problems in perspective, and reinforces the idea that life is ephemeral, and meant to be enjoyed. Whatever task, deadline, girl, loss, or woe looms over me somehow becomes less frightening when taken in that big picture context.

I’ve never been one to dwell on the past, and I tend to look to the unknown of the future with gusto. I’ve been a bit reluctant to do so of late, but I know I have no other choice. As Seneca wrote (though I can’t swear I remember this verbatim) “Fates lead the willing, and drags along the reluctant.” Or something like that. Perhaps more fitting, shown in the picture below, are the words I found etched into a statue outside the National Archives– What is Past is Prologue.

what is past is prologue

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Atlanta’s Rhodes Hall

By , May 8, 2005

I was in Atlanta for a few days, now I am in Washington, DC. While in Atlanta, I spent an afternoon at the High Museum of Art. I’d never taken a docent led tour of a museum before. Normally I just show up and wander around alone or with friends, but there happened to be a lonely docent waiting to give a tour just as I arrived, so I figured why not. It was actually a really neat experience. She offered many insights into the collection that I’d have otherwise never have learned. I’ll totally do the docent thing again.

I also visited a place called Rhodes Hall. I was walking around Atlanta just looking at things when I saw an impressive castle-like mansion. I’m a sucker for pretty buildings, and I wanted a closer look. When I got to the front door I discovered it’s a monument of sorts, and, as at the museum, there happened to be a tour about to start, so I joined in.

Rhodes Hall is sort of Atlanta’s version of Hearst Castle, though it is nowhere near as grand. It’s great for what it is though– a fully restored, lavish home built in 1904. I took a few pictures:

The first is of the grand staircase in the entrance hall. Nothing says decadence like a grand staircase. It’s hand carved out of African mahogany. Notice the history of the civil war depicted in the stained glass.

Rhodes Hall Stairs

A crazy cuckoo clock.

Rhodes Hall Cuckoo Clock

A not so great picture of a really cute room. They found a patch of the original pink silk wallpaper behind the mirror when they restored the room, and had it recreated.

Rhodes Hall Pink Room

Okay, I’m a furniture fan, so bear with me. But seriously– isn’t that great cabinetry? I love the curved sides.

Rhodes Hall Cabinet

Last but not least, what southern estate is complete without a Confederate flag? Actually, the story goes that at the end of the war, the Southerners respectfully folded their flags and stored them in a closet as a remembrance of times past. This window was hidden in a closet as a sort of visual representation of that tradition.

Rhodes Hall Flag

Well, that’s Atlanta, more or less. Oh, also, I ate some Chik-Fil-A, but that’s hardly worth reporting, though when I went the first time it was closed at like 4 PM. I looked at the hours: they are open from 1:30 am until 3:00 PM. That’s really weird. I came back later and ate some.

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