Sunday, June 28, 2009

a change of plans

we awoke early this am to catch a ride to the docks to catch a boat to start our two-day tour of islands on titicaca. we met our guide in the lobby and she said "there is a transport strike starting tomorrow. is better to do sillustani excursion today and to do island visits and stay monday and tuesday." after a bit of wheeling and dealing with the hotel we got things settled. we leave in the am for Uros, Amantani, and then on tuesday we go to Taquille.

Sillustani is a cool place. The Callo people built short silo-like towers for their noble dead out of stone and mud. When the Incas came they copied these tombs, but built them out of typically exquisite enormous stones, carved into rounded and interlocking blocks. Some archeologists along the way decided to look for gold in these towers by dynamiting them, so all of them are in various states of ruin, but they still impress. There are a couple stone circles which were ritual sites to the sun and moon, and which resemble something out of Lovecraft. There is also a large boulder with a jaguar face on one side and a spiral on the other. When our tour guide put his compass next to the spiral, it went bonkers. I made a movie-it´s pretty cool.

nothing much to do in Puno. huge swaths of the city are off-limits according to lonely planet, because of attacks on tourists. our fist day here we ran into an aged Englishman who asked how long we´d been in this town. I told him ten minutes, and he said "i can´t wait to get out of here. they don´t have a bloddy place to drink a cup of coffee outside. and the cold is bone-chilling."

But all the restaurants are playing non-stop MJ.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I can die now

macchu pichu is the most over-rated tourist destination on the planet-PSYCH!

forget all superlatives, which are rendered forever insufficient. macchu pichu effortlessly surpasses my previous favorite places and takes the prize. nothing even comes close to the grandeur of its natural setting, which alone is worth the trip. situated between two rugged tree-clogged peaks in a sort of saddle high above a roaring river valley at the border of the amazonian rain forest, macchu pichu is worth all the effort and expense. do i wish i´d hiked? would i have enjoyed spending the night there, climbing wayni pichu for the view? sure, but even catching the train and the bus from aguas calientes is a magical experience.

the train from cusco took three hours, and actually descends three or four thousand feet en route. we took the vistadome, which has assigned seats and a nice breakfast included. there are spectacular views of the andes along the way.

aguas calientes is a bit of an eye sore with its half-assed construction and new agey groove, but it is nowhere near as bad as the Lonely Planet guide made it out to be. we had a good time there, and met a parrot in a tree who said ola and whistled and made baby noises at us-at first we thought it was a child taunting us from a nearby balcony, but no. we also saw a hummingbird, which actually alit for a moment and regarded us regarding him before he blurred away dragonfly fast.

the bus ride up is not for cardiac patients. i nearly shat myself four time in 20 minutes, what with the switchbacks and the crumbly one-lane roads with buses running two directions. several times we inched painfully close to the ravine to allow another bus to pass, and i could stare straight down several thousand feet at the rusting carcasses of previous, less lucky buses. i can only hope the folks aboard died on the way down.

that´s the first thought i had in macchu pichu itself: i can die now. i´ve seen and done what i needed to see and do. the incas certainly surpassed any urban aesthetic planning i´ve seen elsewhere, and did so half a millenia ago. then, once we finished our tour* and started climbing around, i realized that i actually could die now. a few stairs and paths and terraces lead directly to the abyss. watch your footing.

tho we were pooped cha insisted we climb to the guard´s hut, and though it was exhausting it was well worth the views of the city. we had a lovely 80 degree day with spectacular blue skies. roving clouds would catch on the surrounding peaks, veiling them mysteriously for a few minutes before drifting on. the light continuously changes, making a new dramatic view of the city every few minutes.

we of course missed the June 21st solar alignment spectacles by a few days, but we saw all the stuff: temple of the sun, temple of the condor, the astronomical measurement stones, the temple of three windows, the southern cross stone. maybe i´ll upload pix tonight if nobody is using the pc´s later.

we´re getting pretty remote tomorrow. we leave at 8am to visit the Uros people, who got so fed up with the bullshit violence on shore centuries ago that they built rafts of reeds and they have a sort of floating village on titicaca. thence we´re off to amantani island to stay overnight with a native family and participate in a coca ritual at the sun temple. then we have a trip to taquille island and the curious sillustani ruins the following day before flying back to Lima, taking the bus to Nazca to fly over the lines, and then back to Lima to wind down. This trip has already lasted forever, and we´re unbelievably not yet halfway done!

*must remember to look up books by our tour guide, Darwin Camanche. Anyone with the name Darwin Camanche has to write good books.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

ola mi amigos

having a great time in Cusco! our trip to lima was a bit brutal. we boarded the plane in newark at 2pm, with a flight time of 2 50, and then there was a two hour delay due to fuel pump problems. because our flight was delayed so much we ended up having to circle lima for an hour before landing. nearly 10 hours on the plane!

once in lima we settled in for a three hour nap in the hotel, and thence to the airport for our flight here. cusco is crazy energetic, filthy, gorgeous, and delicious. i felt fine the first 8 hours or so, but became terribly sick at dinner the first day, weak and nauseous. chicken broth and coca leaves helped. by night time i was aclimated to 12000 ft.

we toured Sacsayhuaman and saw the magnificent rock work and the prep for Inti Raymi. the whole city was abuzz with anticipation of this annual incan sun fest, and the crowds rivaled obama´s inauguration. we spent a lot of time just watching the parades and floats and musicians. i made many great movies on my kodak youtube movie maker, but unfortunately you can´t see them. i was victimized by a crew of professional indian pick pockets who´d obviously been watching me for some time. They knew exactly what pocket to go for, and spit in my face in a big crowd from the right side, then swarmed me pointing upwards trying to distract me. i knew pretty quickly what was up and put my hand down but it was too late. a small child had already made off with last years Xmas gift from mom! A terrible loss, especially because of the videos i´d made. dammit! i had thought earlier in the day that i needed to be on guard, and how lucky i´ve been to visit 16 countries withtout such problems (tho we came close to being robbed by Gypsies in Rome and by confidence specialists in Derry).

tomorrow we are off to machu piccu. Can ya dig? thence to puno and titicaca. i´ll be sad to leave cusco, however. the food is awesome and the people are great. even the the thieves and street hawkers

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Off to Peru today, sans laptops. It's possible I'll get a few minutes online somewhere down there, who knows? I've blogged from crazy places before, like Borocay and Tegucigalpa. But in case I'm un-online for some time, I'll see you in 2 weeks or so. Digitally, at least. Or, in a yage trance I might swing by...

Peace out.

Breaking my VAIO

So suddenly two days ago my trusty VAIO started freezing unexpectedly. I'd not once had a problem with it in nearly two years' heavy use. I'd also never had any trouble with the Vista operating system, and never understood why others maligned it so.

After four or five hours of dicking around I found a program online called PC Mechanic, which I downloaded and used to fix some registry problems. The laptop hummed along, fast as ever, and I was back to work. Then, a window popped up announcing an update for Windows Vista. I clicked to install it, a window said "your computer will reboot several times. Do not turn it off." It started churning through the various stages, and after about two hours I noticed it kept loading until the screen said "configuring update 3 of 3--0% accomplished do not turn off your computer" and then it would shut down and start again.

A Google search showed this to be a well-known problem with the Vista update, but for some reason Microsoft is still making it accessible to automatic update programs. Mother fuckers. My VAIO has no Vista disc; everything was pre-loaded onto the machine with online support. But I can't get into the computer because the "configuring update" thing has precedence even over Safe Mode and Command Prompt and Restore Point selections. Argh. So I'll have to wipe the drive clean and install the system anew from a terabyte drive I use as back-up. But how to wipe the drive if I can't get past that stupid update freeze?

I'll worry about it upon return, when I have a billion pictures of Machu Picchu and Nazca Lines I want to upload NOW but can't.


In Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood first flexed his auteur muscle, becoming more than an flinty movie actor and competent director. What was most interesting about the film for me was its deconstruction of old Western movie tropes, and its clever usage of Eastwood's age and iconic persona to criticize the white hat vs. black hat theme of an entire genre of American moviemaking.

Now, with Gran Torino, Clint has deconstructed his other cinematic persona, the tough urban Dirty Harry type, the man who "fixes things," who gets the job done, the rough-and-tumble no bullshit American he-man, with his tool-laden workshop, his polished classic muscle car, his dog, his guns, and his small-minded racist worldview.

Eastwood is a wise film-maker, and he learned a lot making A Perfect World after Unforgiven. That film was bloated in length, at times awkwardly acted, and a bit too preachy. Gran Torino is none of those things. It's funny, it's gritty, it's sad, and Eastwood again uses his own iconic status to deconstruct and critique not only the roles which made him famous, but also the society which gobbled up such fare, and which barely exists 30 years later.

Gran Torino is nowhere near the level of artistry of Eastwood's Changeling, also made last year. But it is a moving film and Clint is surprisingly agile in front of and behind the lens. I don't know how many more films you have left in you, Clint--but thanks for these two. Keep making them.In fact, I have a recommendation: Please, Mr. Eastwood, make a film which critiques and deconstructs those movies where you drove around with an orangatang fighting inept bikers.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I've watched an hour and a half of this. Should I watch the rest? It's not doing much for me. Very dated, with makeup and lighting right out of a funeral home. Anjelica Huston and Kathleen Turner look ghastly. Nicholson is mumbly. I did like the scene where Huston gives her papa a glass of grapa and he thinks it's water. Otherwise, meh...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


So we leave Sunday for Peru, flying out of lovely Newark, NJ and arriving in Lima some 8 hours later. I'm dreadfully excited, but also a bit freaked out--we haven't done a trip this big in some time, and I keep thinking I've forgotten something. I think the Philippines was the last trip of more than a week, and that was five years ago. We'll be in Peru for 2 and a half weeks.

I went to REI and bought some all-weather easy maintenance clothes and a rain jacket which folds up into a tiny bag. We're not doing any substantial trail hikes but will nonetheless be high in the Andes visiting various ruins. Also, we're spending the night on an island in Lake Titicaca in someone's hut. I need clothes which can go from cosmopolitan Lima to Cusco and into the wilderness, and I need them to pack small without wrinkling.

I think everything is ready. Julio will drop by and feed the fish and water our plants, the itinerary is set and paid off, the plane/train/boat/car/bus/site entry tickets are all accounted for and set. Now it's a matter of getting packed and getting there. Woo-hoo!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's Alive

On a whim I watched John Carpenter's The Thing last night. It holds up after a half-dozen viewings; particularly impressive is the performance by that creepy Husky. Also, Wilfred Brimley getting punched by Kurt Russell in the head? Awesome.

It's all a sci-fi/horror yarn, no? But then today I saw this story...time to buy a flame-thrower?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Get out yer Herodotus

Casey's got a good post about Iran over at The Contrarian. As much as I hope for reform and true democratic change for those long-suffering souls in Persia, I wonder if now is a good time for another collapsed state in that region, with Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan in various stages of chaos?

As much as the neocons might not like to believe it, the Iranians have a lot of influence in Iraq at this time, and a big part of the surge's success has been the Mullahs keeping their henchmen and allies in Iraq in check. Obama and HRC need to tread lightly, because the Powers that Be in Iran can make things very hot for our troops in Baghdad if they feel we're squeezing them over the Moussavi injustice. Imagine if US pressure over the elections makes Khamenei decide to unleash al-Sadr against US troops? There would be an unimaginable blood bath.

I'm quite curious how this will all play out, but the idea of a truly democratic Iran is quite exciting. Hopefully if it comes to fruition the US won't overthrow it again.


The Wire and Deadwood are my fave all-time TV shows, but this curious drama about ad executives and their families and the early '60s is teetering the others toward a precipice. I don't want to talk about Don Draper because if you've not seen the show, i might give too much away, but I love the way Mad Men moves through conventional TV narrative for a while and then suddenly we get hints and flash-backs about the main character's surprising past. I love the sets, the costumes, the cast, and can't wait for season 3 on DVD on some far-in-the-future date...


Thursday, June 11, 2009


This is the first Visconti film I've seen, and I will certainly work my way through his catalogue. The Leopard clocks in at 3 hours, but I didn't notice its length at all, swept up as I was by the gorgeous look of this film, which uses Italy and its interior and exterior landscapes to such glowing effect.

Burt Lancaster is an actor I've never thought much about, but his performance as an aging Prince "straddling two worlds and uncomfortable in neither" is truly remarkable. He's a sensitive liberal, he's a pious hypocrite, he's a raging self-righteous nobleman, he's a pitilessly practical man, he's an idealist, he's a philanderer, he's an indulgent father; Lancaster brings all aspects of the Prince of Salina to warm and subtle life, and I fell in love with the character warts and all. Just when you think Burt has brought down the house, he manages an extended and elegant dance sequence! "We were the leopards and lions. What follows us will be jackals and hyenas." Indeed, Burt! The Prince is realistic about Garimbaldi and the changes in Sicily's and Italy's future; he doesn't hold onto the old ways, merely noting their passing and enjoying his old age. Offered a role in the "new" Sicily, the Prince refuses, and his explanation is a precious moment in a long long film.

As always, the Criterion disc is exceptionally clear. Worth checking out!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I first encountered Harlan Ellison when my older brother Pork Heaven handed me a battered copy of Dangerous Visions. I was 14 or thereabouts, and remember reading Kurt Vonnegut's "The Big Space Fuck" first, for obvious reasons, though that was far from the filthiest story included in the massive tome. So my first taste of Ellison was as editor, rather than writer (tho technically I suppose I'd seen some Ellison-derivatives on Star Trek and The Outer Limits earlier than that).

Then in 8th grade Ms. Cherundalo had us read "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Tick-Tock Man." Shortly thereafter I read Shatterday and some other collections, and then I began to read his regular columns in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. The articles were acerbic, self-righteous, and full of indignation and vengeance. Everything was a vendetta, a crusade, and how I pitied the targets of Ellison's wrath. And yet at the same time he managed to be self-deprecating and compassionate when he wasn't punching people, cussing them out, or mailing them dead gophers.

All of this comes through in the wonderful documentary "Dreams With Sharp Teeth." Mostly the director just lets Ellison talk, which is marvelously entertaining. He's like a character out of Stanley Elkin or Philip Roth with his insane and beautiful rants. The film teams him up with worshippers Robin Williams and Neil Gaiman who also tell stories about Ellison and discuss their admiration. You get to tour his wonderful house and to see him watch old films of his family for the first time. It's great, and even if you haven't a clue about Harlan Ellison or his work you'll likely enjoy meeting him here.

UPDATE: I received a kindly email informing me that Dreams With Sharp Teeth is available as an iTunes download as well. Nice.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Day 89

Made major strides today in tearing down and cleaning up my room. Sat for a while, after 10 trips down three flights of steps and back from the car hauling boxes of books one by one, looking around and thinking: I made it through a whole year.

Did I make it to the end with the same degree of idealistic enthusiasm I had at the beginning? Hell, no. I learned quickly that regardless of intention and skill and dedication these kids are not going to read Notes From Underground with me, and I had to bust my ass every day just to get them to pay attention for 20 minutes out of a 90 minute class. So I lost some idealism--I didn't quit, no matter how many times I thought about it. I did crap out earlier than I'd have liked, and started dialing it in about a month before school was out. I need to think long and hard about ways to keep engaging 8th graders late in the year.

Yeah, we still have the sixth and seventh graders until Friday, but most of them aren't coming this week. Today was chill--the only kids in the building busied themselves helping pack up and clean. I had a crew of misfits last period, hallwalkers mostly, which I captured one by one as they drifted past. I gave them chips and grape sodas and showed them The Simpsons.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Day 88

The 8th graders "graduated" tonight. It's a big deal, and parents filled a giant church in the 'hood to see their kids walk the stage. Too many of these families figure this might be the only time they get to see such a thing. Some of my most hateful pains-in-the-ass welled up and cried while hugging me goodbye. That's their way of saying "I wish I had let you teach me!" Several kids who failed my class and math class as well ended up mysteriously walking across the stage and getting certificates this evening. Arrrgh. Send 'em on to high school with their fifth grade skills--no wonder the graduation rate in B'more is in the 30s.

I only have 6th graders last period for the next couple of days. Of course that won't stop the higher-ups at the March from dumping other classes on me, as they did today, when other teachers call out. I tore down my entire room and packed everything up first period this morning, regardless. We have a half-dozen house guests coming this weekend and Cha's big Taste the Arts fundraiser event @ Center Stage. I want to make sure I am done hauling books and supplies out of my classroom by the middle of this week to free up time.

Sorry the posting has been sporadic and not particularly deep or engaging of late. I'm pooped. We'll get back online with more zest and verve beginning next week--with a lengthy hiatus for Peru in late June/early July.

Friday, June 05, 2009


I have a sense of humor but I tend to keep my amusement to myself. I don't typically laugh with abandon. But Wells Tower had me rolling a couple times, great gouts of guffaws until tears ran down my cheeks. I haven't laughed like that since I read George Saunders for the first time. Wells Tower is a lot like a more sedate and staid George Saunders, kind of like if George Saunders wrote more like Bobbie Ann Mason.

I might have laughed out loud several times reading Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, but that doesn't mean these stories are light. They are, in fact, quite dark, and the subject matter is often hard as anything cooked up in Faulkner's pickled and Satanic imagination. This is a book of high quality.

dispells the gloom

dispells the gloom, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

I like rainy weather a lot, but flowers help keep the doldrums away.


lunch, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

chicken adobo and salad

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


"I didn't go to Antarctica to make another damned penguin movie," Werner Herzog says early in the film. He also says the research base he visits contains "abominations such as an aerobics studio and a Yoga clinic." I love Werner Herzog for just this reason--the things he says. He could make an interesting documentary about paint drying. He meets and interviews a lot of freaks at the bottom of the world. Some of them make Klaus Kinski seem tame.

Also excited about:

It's excerpted in this month's Harper's.


The Wind-up Bird Chronicle possibly requires a second reading before fair judgment. There's a lot of symbolic material and the various mirrored narratives and time-frames suggest a careful analysis might be rewarded with a deeper appreciation of the novel. But do I care enough to read it again?

I'd approaced the book with a great deal of anticipation, as it is adored by so many folks. Unfortunately I found it more interesting than good, and at times my interest waned to the point it bored me to death. I nearly put it away around page 400 but slogged through.

Societies repress disturbing memories, just as individuals do. Japan's war-time atrocities in China bubble to the surface as the narrator confronts smaller evils in his personal life. Symbols recurr: the wind-up bird, the baseball bat, the mark on a cheek, the well, the island nation which once housed a powerful empire. The characters are universally detached, devoid of emotion. The narrator is unconcerned when confronted by death, ghosts, psychic phenomena, adultry by his spouse, accounts of war crimes, his own mortality--and if the characters are so unconcerned about events in the book, why shouldn't the reader respond similarly?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Things found on my stoop

Here is a list of cool/interesting/disgusting things I've found on my stoop lately:

5) crack and smack vials (red caps, blue caps, yellow caps, AND black caps); empty, alas!

4) an empty Magnum condom box

3) a Dr. Scholl's comfort insert

2) a razor blade

1) the Spear of Destiny