Sunday, December 28, 2008

Intimacy of the Mundane

The top photo was taken in a small town in the Netherlands last year. The second in the elaborately art deco train station in Sofia, Bulgaria, the third in Yellowstone National Park. Because I have been having to blog at times lately without having had an "adventure" to blog about, I've been having to write about the mundane, which then feels like an adventure. I was listening to NPR the other day and a scientist was being interviewed who asked the question "would you rather go rock climbing or stay at home?" I turned up the volume as I was super curious about the kind of person who would want to "stay at home," since to me there is only one answer to that question. The scientist went on to talk about brain chemistry and how people who crave adventure derive a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from these experiences whereas the stay-at-homers brain functions differently. He said these were hardwired personality traits, and they must be as I've craved adventure/travel/intense experience as my first conscious memory. I've always also thought the homebodies were lazy, scared, or "squashed creatives," which may be the case with some people, but for many is just a personal preference. I always liked a place to come to to take a breather between adventures, but the discomfort level I feel about being "at home" more than several weeks always pushes me out the door. But as I've had the ability to do whatever I want for the past several years, I can now see the value in what I took for granted for so long when I was a homeowner & had a structured life. I can see the value but am not ready for it yet. I sort of want both lives but feel I have to commit to one more than the other. Adventure always wins. And it wins because it connects me with an intimacy that I don't feel when I stay home. Lately though, and upsetting to my m.o. I have been having these incredibly rich and connecting experiences in my daily, non-adventurous life. A lot of it is because I have gone deeper in my yoga practice, and that in itself is a joy beyond description, but more of it is just being awake to what is around me in the present moment. The "adventure" of being not in Antarctica for the holidays: the surreal X-mas frenzy, the beauty of early sunset and black skies after 4 seasons of 24 hour daylight. I suppose it's what one would call an inner adventure.  Being on stage in an improv class is not at exciting as waking up in Istanbul, but it is incredibly satisfying nonetheless. I get so hooked on thrills and the "new" that sometimes I rigidly refuse to accept something familiar and mundane as satisfying, but wall has been torn down, and I now see that it's all good, it's all interesting and fun and exciting...just in different ways.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ten Degrees in Texas

That's right. Today, with wind chill, it's 10F degrees in Austin. It might actually be colder here than at McMurdo, which is one of the reasons I don't really miss being there anymore. Because my mood is so affected by climate, I have been borderline ecstatic in this cold & cloudy season. Finally out of the heat & sun, my soul smiles and my energy level escalates dramatically. I'll be finding out about a job (hopefully soon) that would take me out of the country again in March, but if I don't do that, I plan to immerse myself into the creative community here in Austin again. We have an amazing local theatre, endless art classes, and daily film listings that would make any film geek cry. I find myself so many times not doing anything because there are too many choices, but really missing the culture when I'm somewhere that doesn't have any. This photo was taken at my favorite dive restaurant, The Omelettry, one of the Old Austin Institutions. I've been eating here for 30 years, and apparently so have many of people seated at the counter, as they seem to be superglued to their stools, grey beards skimming the tops of their heuvos rancheros. Nothing makes me happier than being in a place in Austin that is unchanged from when I arrived in '79 (though I was also born here), and except for the occasional Lexus (Lexii?) in the parking lot, the Omlettry is unchanged. Some of my more foodie friends berate me for eating at these places because the food is not "good." It's eggs & bacon for crying out loud - how good does it have to be? I'll take an atmosphere I like with marginal food over great food in a "hot" restaurant any day. I'm from the old "die yuppie scum" school (that sweet motto was spray painted on the sides of the punk clubs we patronized) & am aware that a part of that sensibility still lives in me, though it is a dated notion. I am too old for it & should probably eradicate it from my cadre of character defects, but I still get some pleasure from it, as Austin is full of yuppies now and it's getting harder & harder to dodge them. They keep finding our funky battered haunts, run off the punks & semi-hobos, and glitz up the place with neon & liquor infused coffee drinks. Effin gag me. I didn't know this posting was going to turn into a  yuppie rant so I'll have to eventually get back on track. Apologies to any yuppies reading this - though I already know none are, and before I go all Denis Leary on you, I have to get back to the photo. For some reason I had my camera in the restaurant the morning I took this. While I was proudly boasting like I always do to the 18 year old waitron that I've been coming here for 30 years (apparently, I'm going to be one of those obnoxious old people) I noticed a photo on the fridge (conveniently located in the dining area) that is a still from a documentary about the relationship between Werner Herzog & Klaus Kinski. I don't know if this particular still is from "My Best Fiend" or "Burden Of Dreams," but I had to snap the photo as I really admired the text someone had put with it - it says "I need more coffee!" while Kinski strangles Herzog. Oh so many connections! Long time readers will know I had the privilege of hanging out with Herzog in Antarctica 2 years ago. Long time friends know I went to film school  here & was wildly influenced by Herzog's work in the 1970s. Also, Tarantino's "Deathproof" had a really long scene in this restaurant, and obviously Q. knows of all these cool old "yuppie proof" haunts, as many of them feature in his films shot in Austin. I think the lowbrow exteriors keep them away. Or possibly the size of the parking spots.

Why am I writing about Austin in a blog which is supposed to be about Antarctica, world travel, and a big puffy cloud? Well, I'm not in Antarctica right now nor travelling, so I have to write about something. It has been very cold, and ominously overcast for many days (ie: feels sort of Antarctic, yet covered with clouds), so that is somewhat related. I have been seeing some incredibly awesome art and avant garde theatre lately, and just had a second interview for a job which may take me far far away for many months - and that always makes me sentimental for a place that I haven't even left yet. And this is the longest stint I've spent here in 4 years and just had to force myself to start liking it again. I have accepted that the yuppies won't go away, but there is always a place I can go where I'm guaranteed never to see any (and not just Terlingua and Moloka'i!) 

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Why I Went to Hawaii

Honolulu, Waikiki

Oah'u was a nice change of pace from Moloka'i, but I believe that small raggedy Island will forever hold a special place in my heart - if you crave a funky  non-tourist experience, got to Moloka'i. So I think I was expecting, once again upon exiting the airport in Honolulu, some Disneylandesque type beach experience for adults, and once again, I was pleasantly surprised. Honolulu is unpretentious, has the grittiest Chinatown I've visited in the US, and has the busy seaport action that makes me want to drop off resumes. There were lot of homeless people on Waikiki, cohabiting seemingly well with the buff and bronzed jogging set. I feel a comfort level being somewhere where homeless people can sleep in parks & on the beach (they can't where I'm from) and where gay people can feel comfortable walking down the street showing affection  (which they CAN where I'm from-yea!), so each day in Hawaii provided more reasons to see it as a really great destination (and a lot shorter plane ride than to New Zealand!). The U.S.S. Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor is powerful & touching, and hiking Diamond Head Crater at 6:00am was a great morning workout with stunning views. We stayed in an old hotel on the harbor which deserves it's own posting - I may have to start another blog called "Lodging David Lynch Would Love." Built in 1962, the Ilikai Hotel is the one that Jack London is on top of in the opening credit shots in Hawaii Five-O. The daily scene there could be the subject of a minor film-fest bound documentary, it was so full of resident characters and odd shops. But I know one thing for sure: if I ever buy a condo again (worst purchase of my life!), I'm buying one built in 1962. I never heard even a faint sound from the surrounding units (and after Moloka'i, I was a little shell shocked from shared-wall noise). So, Hawaii is just about perfect it seems. If it had a 60 degree season at all I would seriously consider moving there. We did take a day trip to Maui on Thanksgiving day, so we saw all five islands in 3 weeks. I love it when things I expect not to like, or feel ambivalent towards, end up being really awesome. Now I'm back in Texas, where the consolation is that is 50 degrees and rainy. Yee-ha!

Monday, December 01, 2008


This small, rural island is visited by less than 1% of all tourists who come to Hawaii (and most of those come for one day, to do the mule ride to the leper colony), but the solitude and lack of tourist attractions make it feel as if you are someplace utterly wild and lawless. These photos are from the famous mule ride down a very steep cliffside, filled with switchbacks and slippery rocks, that could only compare in pucker-factor to forking a 4000 lb. load to the power plant in early Winfly. I didn't know that mules will walk on the EDGE of a sheer cliff face, scaring the bejesus out of you, while "faking" tripping over rocks. All us city folk were sweating from places we didn't know we had sweatglands, and probably would have been in tears if it weren't for the stunning thing that we were doing: going down the side of a cliff to visit the Kalaupapa Peninsula, which aside from being possibly one of the most beautiful spots on earth, is a still functioning colony for people with Hansen's Disease (formerly known as leprosy). There are 24 patients still living in the community, and we were allowed to spend a couple of hours there visiting various buildings and photographing the postcard-like scenery (the residents stay indoors while the tour is on), before getting back on our mules. The mules always walk in the same order, and they had me on the first one, "Kumu," which means "teacher" in Hawaiian. The guides must intuitively know who to put in front, as I am as wobbly on a mule as any flat-city bred girl could be, leaving me shrieking as I held on for dear life to my small saddle knob, while the local guide laughed & told me to kick Kumu to go faster. The mule truly seems like he is going to go straight instead of turning, but most of the fun of it was how freakin' scary it is. The history of the colony and of Father Damien (recently canonized), who gave his life in selfless service to the patients, is quite inspiring. It was an unusual tour as several emotional landscapes are traversed: the giddy mule ride, the heart wrenching facts that were presented to us about the suffering at the colony, the dread of getting back on the mules (it as a much shorter trip up). Moloka'i feels very different from the other islands. It really tests one's ability to be without "toys" (there was free wifi but I consider that essential, like coffee, and hey, don't even get me started on how great it is to be swilling coffee on the spot where it's grown!). Once again, I am suprised at how interesting a place Hawaii is.