Thursday, October 21, 2010

नमस्ते सारा इवान्होए

Sometimes I think it would be cool to have a Sherpa half brother. We would explore mountains, speak cool Himalayan dialects, engage in a light but enlightened banter, and sometimes save each other from certain death on the edge of an icy abyss. Eventually he would probably tell me to get over my grudge against the free yoga instructor at the public library. She may not be reliable or prompt. But her classes are, after all, free.

I like yoga. I try to do it every day. A couple of years ago, what I was doing might have even vaguely resembled something that real yoga practitioners could have recognized. My own personal yoga routine has since devolved into what my wife dismissively referred to as, "that little stretchy thing you do." At the time, she was waiting for me to be done with the mat, so that she could actually do yoga. "Aah, you're right." I replied and popped a beer open before my inner guru could talk me out of it.

There seems to be a new trend among the college students in town to ride bikes around with yoga mats tied to the frame. Thin people in fantastic, strange and complicated poses have become common sites in the park and around the river. This is a very intimidating looking style of yoga. They always seem to be in the most difficult poses. I want to say it seems kind of pretentious. But it is possible that I am just a little jealous of their agility (and youth). I never really wanted to learn how to do the upside down, twisted beyond human recognition poses. I just want to stretch and breath and feel better than I did before I started.

Jenn and I started watching yoga videos and doing the workouts a few years ago. I don't know if 'workouts' is really the best word. But, for me, it really was a workout even if it is almost all stretching. I immediately found that it made me feel incredible... a luxurious combination of stronger, leaner, taller, and just generally healthier. If it weren't for the copious amounts of wine and breakfast tacos that I consume, I would be probably be in pretty good shape. As it is, my downward facing dog looks more like 'fat bloodhound stretching'. But I still get up most mornings and slug through a ten minute 'stretchy thing' routine before I get ready for work. It think it may be the thing that keeps me sane, though even that is a subject of considerable debate.

Part of the problem with my grudge against the instructor, is that the event that sparked such rage happened over six years ago. The healthy option would certainly be to let it go. I'm probably a jerk for being mad at a teacher for flaking on a free class in the first place. It was just a yoga class. It was free. Her absence from the room did not actively stop me from doing yoga. The more enlightened folks simply rolled out their mats and did their thing. Not me. I stood in the foyer, griping about the nerve of someone to plan a class, and then not have the courtesy to show up or even call ahead. I think I proclaimed loudly that she was, very possibly, thwarting my way to any sort of spiritual and personal breakthrough. How could I ever trust another yoga instructor? I would let my muscles atrophy in protest, never to be stretched again.

Actually, we just went home in and popped in the video for another dose of the old faithful Crunch yoga DVD. The beautiful and approachable instructor, Sara Ivanhoe, is always on time when I watch her video. She never pushes too hard, just explains what to do with that same approving smile every time. She doesn't cancel class or annoy me with references to eastern deities whose existences seem even less plausible than the ones they push around here. No, Ms. Ivanhoe's yoga is serene, and yet refreshingly secular. I do not and will not have a guru. But if I did, she would be like Sara Ivanhoe. Or maybe, Sara Ivanhoe is really that long lost Sherpa half sister who I never knew about (growing up so far apart, as we did). We may not explore mountains, but I can watch her DVD every once in a while with Jenn, so that I can get my yoga poses back in order. I wonder if she would ask me to forgive the yoga teacher for not showing up for that free class all those years ago.

My Sherpa half sister

Monday, October 11, 2010

सेक्सिएस्त मन अलिवे

So Esquire magazine just crowned a woman named Minka Kelly to be the sexiest woman alive. I don't keep up too much with tv and don't have much of a frame of reference as to exactly who she is and what she has done that is so very sexy. So, of course, I did a quick image search. Yes, she is very pretty, arguably even sexy. I don't know if she is the sexiest woman alive. But it did get me wondering... why did they have to qualify her sexiness with the word "alive"? I can't imagine a dead woman being particularly sexy. But then again, I am very naive about such matters.
I hope that I am not going out too far on a limb to suggest that sexiness, like so many things, leaves us with (if not somewhat before) our dying breath.
I have never been particularly sexy. I've thought about it (sex, that is) quite a bit. But I am reasonably certain that thinking about sex does not automatically make one sexy. Would that it did... would that it did.
Neither am I dashing, debonair, suave, particularly sophisticated, or hot. So sad. I wonder what it would be like to have a major magazine proclaim that I am the "sexiest". I suppose by the time it hit the mainstream press, I would already be fairly aware of my sexiness. Perhaps it would be akin to me being crowned the chubbiest, most frizzy haired, and pleasant despite harbouring barely concealed doubts about ability of humanity to overcome its obvious shortcomings guy. I would probably be a little flattered. Of course, I would think to myself, "surely there are chubbier guys with frizzier hair who harbor even greater doubts about the ability of humanity to overcome its obvious shortcomings than me." I would attribute my new found popularity to this blog and its immense fan base... of about four people (including my wife and I - just checking in to look for comments again). I would smile coyly and sign the various articles placed in front of me by my adoring fan. I would vow not to change, and then change immediately.
Probably, there is not category for 'chubby, frizzy haired, and doubtful.' But there may be a contest to be the most sardonic. I could win that... if I really put my mind to it (and had my agent making calls to all the right people). Maybe Esquire would do a full page layout of the most sardonic man of 2010 together with the most sexy woman (alive, that is) of the same year. He (me, that is) would be looking (sardonically) down at the sexiest woman (alive) of 2010. She would look up at me in a sort of sexy way. It can't imagine it would be too very hard for the sexiest woman alive to look at me in a sexy way if she really is so scary sexy. I think it would look something like this...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

टेक्स मेक्स हूलिगंस

I really don't like Brazil. Let me say that even more emphatically. I really, really don't like Brazil. I am perfectly willing and capable of adding another 'really' if you are not getting the point. Now I'm not talking about the country. I'm talking about the national soccer team. Do you want to fight about it? I am not exactly what you call a hooligan, but if we have to fight about it we can.

My friend and fellow USA supporter, John, and I nearly got beaten up by a middle aged waitress at a texmex restaurant over the Brazilian team. We were watching what they optimistically call a 'friendly' between the US and Brazil. We often go to this same restaurant to watch even less 'friendly' Mexico/US games (believe me, that is a whole other story). We are used to being in the minority as US supporters and so it did not really phase us too much that all of the staff and most of the other patrons were as pro Brazil as I am anti. Of course we were losing, as most nations do when they play against Brazil.

The employees (mostly Mexican nationals and a few local tejanos) were getting just a little too excited about the brutal destruction of our national team. We were frustrated. I decided to mix it up a little and whispered to John, asking him if he noticed anything funny about this... "Huh?" "Well, what is it John? These folks aren't from Brazil. They don't have family in Brazil. They don't even speak the same language or come from the same continent as Brazil." I needled my friend a little, knowing that he would rise to the occasion. "It's not that they love Brazil. They hate us." Our waitress, who seemed to be more Tex than Mex was being particularly snotty about the game, sneering and cheering in an exaggerated fashion each of the many times Brazil scored. The next thing I knew John was heatedly arguing with her about where her loyalties were and whether she had any right living in Texas and supporting Brazil against us and that maybe she should get a job at a texmex restaurant in São Paulo where she would be happy and and a little more willing to enculturate. I am not a hooligan... a little bit of an instigator at times, but not a hooligan. It was clearly time to go and so we left.

I actually find it humorous that so many foreigners delight in hating our national soccer team; supporting anyone playing against us while most Americans could care less or don't even know that we have a soccer team. It is one of the most impotent forms of anti-Americanism imaginable. But, if it makes them feel better, OK.
The truth is that lots of people like Brazil here too. I don't like Brazil because I am contrary by nature and am easily annoyed by the act of going for the obvious choice. 'Brazil is great. Let's be fans' (insert sheep noise). It is not that I am a sap who can only root for underdogs. I love both the Houston Dynamo (multiple time MLS champs) and the Netherlands (second place in World Cup 2010). But I can justify this. I was born in Holland, lived in Houston, and look fabulous in orange. I just can't support a team for the sole reason that they are good. I used to hate the Cowboys (I know I'm mixing sports) for the same reason. Luckily, they pretty much suck now so I have found a certain peace with them and their few remaining fans.
I am not a hooligan, but I do enjoy debating about soccer teams and loyalties. You know, all this is making me feel a little froggy. Maybe this weekend, I can go to one of those ever so slightly pretentious, faux English pubs in Austin and for ninety minutes become a ravenous supporter of whichever team happens to be playing the one team I hate even more than either Brazil or the Lakers (sorry, sport mixing again). That is, the absolutely, obnoxiously over fanned, over hyped wankers in a nation of wankers... Manchester United. But, as I mentioned, I am not a hooligan.

Looking fabulous in orange

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

वहत अरे वे?

What Am I?

My older brother is, at times, what I call a "backpacker". That is to say that he goes on long walks, typically on trails through some degree of wilderness, carrying everything that he needs in a device called a backpack. He totes his own water and food, and sleeps on the ground in a thing called a sleeping bag (inside another slightly larger thing called a tent). I believe that he takes only photographs and leaves only footprints, though I can't say for sure. In my small view of the universe, I understood that a person's temporary designation as a "backpacker" was defined by his/her activity (you know, walking a long way through the woods and all that) rather than simply by traveling with a backpack. When I started reading travel guides and budget traveling as a young adult, I learned a whole new definition for the word "backpacker".

As far as I can tell a backpacker is now a relatively wealthy young person from a relatively wealthy nation who travels through relatively poorer nations cleverly disguised as a poor person, and spending as little money as possible on food and lodging while feeling superior to other wealthy people who are spending more for food and lodging. He/she may be carrying a backpack, but probably not very far. A typical backpack may never be carried farther than the distance from the taxi or bus to the baggage check at the airport. Backpackers tend to gather in relatively poor nations at places described in travel books as backpacker bars and in backpacker hostels and hotels. They are easily recognized by their backpacks and an air of one who is most certainly enjoying the 'real' culture on a level that someone carrying any other variety of luggage could never even approximate.

Please believe that I do not desire to denigrate the marvelous invention called a backpack. The backpack is ingenious in that it is a bag that you can carry on your back. This has the dual benefit of enabling you to carry your gear for great distances with minimal exertion while leaving your hands free to do things like point at birds or whack vines with a machete. I don't know if my brother would have ever survived some of his ridiculously long hikes without a good, sturdy but light backpack.

I have a dufflebag. Does that make me a "dufflebagger"? It sounds kind of dirty - but not in the good way. I like my dufflebag well enough. I suppose I wouldn't mind having a backpack. There are probably about fifteen minutes out of every two week trip when it would be useful. It seems like there's always at least once when I have to lug my old dufflebag down the road between hotels or to a bus station and it would be more convenient if I had a backpack. It happens, but not too much. I would not mind having a backpack, but I don't want to be a 'backpacker'.

If I am not a dufflebagger or a backpacker, what am I? I understand why the hip backpackers are not crazy about the term 'tourist'. It denotes that you are on some sort of tour, which is often not the case. But more unpleasant are the connotations of the word 'tourist'. One thinks of a tourist as loud, insensitive, rich, brash, unappreciative, and ignorant of local culture. Hey, I know that I am sounding like a backpacker. Give me a break. At least I am aware of my own hypocrisy (or does being aware of hypocrisy only make it all the more hypocritical?)

I think I like the term 'traveler' the best. It describes what one is doing without paying undo attention to luggage, intention, or (real or assumed) socioeconomic position. It is broad enough to describe the tourists, the honeymooners, the backpackers, the dufflebaggers, the vagabonds, the cruise shippers, the hitchhikers, the pilgrims, my brother, and even me by the activity that we all love and that brings us together.... traveling.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

डेलिकिऔस एन्दंगेरेड Seafood

I lay daydreaming on my stomach as the two large and powerful Garifuna women started to work me over with strong, confident hands. They bantered in a sweet, melodic language that was certainly English, but that I had to actively listen to to understand. They really weren't talking to me anyway, so I slipped into my thoughts, into the warm, clear blue water where I had spent the morning snorkeling. I saw more colors on fish and coral than there are crayons in a delux Crayola box. I was in heaven, swimming for hours through the reef, pointing and smiling. "I saw a turtle!", I exclaimed, probably interupting Sonia and Nell. "Yes." cooed Nell, "They are delicious. mmmm." "Yes, I love turtle meat. It is the best." Agreed Sonia. "Well, it looked pretty too... I mean, alive and swimming."

I used to have a tie. It was green and was decorated with pictures of various threatened marine animals. I think I bought in in my early twenties when somebody either got married or died. I wore it for the next few years anytime someone I knew got married or died. I liked to call it my 'endangered seafood' tie whenever someone complimented or commented on it. Incidently, sardonic cracks like that actually play better at funerals than they do at weddings. I remember there was an endangered turtle on the tie, but I don't know if it was the same kind that I saw in Roatan. The one I watched was big and magestic. It swam slowly and looked at me, but not with particular curiosity or suspicion. I swam around it for a while and could have stayed longer, but I just had to go back to the side to tell Jenn what I had seen. Plus I was getting hungry... maybe for seafood, but not so much for turtle.
Conchs are also popular to eat on Roatan. They are big snails. Fritters are one common way to eat them. We tried them as deep fried conch balls. The grease was obviously old and they tasted like rancid hushpuppies. Maybe they are typically better, but I was not impressed with my one tasting. Despite not having been thrilled by the flavor, we bought a big conch shell from a girl who was selling them on the beach. It was funny when we were going through the security check in the airport departing Honduras. The guards found the shell in Jenn's carry on bag. The guard looked at her disapprovingly, shaking his head and telling her that she could not steal the treasures of his land for cheap souvenirs to be placed amid other excesses on the shelf of an overpriviliged, ungrateful American two year old child. I looked down and tried to distance myself as much as possible from Jenn. Actually, he just said no and put the shell under the counter, but he may have been thinking those other things.

Sonia and Nell worked on my back and arms for about half an hour. Nell claims to have relocated my shoulder. It does feel better, but I am not certain that it was ever really dislocated. I asked them how they liked turtle cooked. For some reason, I can't remember exactly what they told me. I was thinking about all of the fish I had seen. Sure they were all beautiful, blues and greens; reds, yellows... so many shades. But how many were as delicious as they were pretty?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

गेत्तिंग तेरे

I've probably used the term a couple of dozen times in the telling of dubiously first person travel stories, but I don't know if I've ever actually ridden on a bus with a (live) chicken aboard. I'm not saying it has never happened, but I can't quite recall hearing or seeing chickens on the so called, "chicken buses" I have ridden on numerous occasions. Now, I have been on some a/c busted, windows stuck closed, broken seat, I think that guy just peed himself, stopping at every god forsaken shanty and taco stand in the nation, Christ I think I'm going to die today, dirty, and old chicken buses. When we travel in Mexico, I mostly prefer the middle of the road (not literally), semi-luxurious bus lines that have working windows and brakes. I don't favor the super fancy (fresa) buses with stewardesses and VIP lounges in the bus station. I am middle class. I like the clean, but not too expensive modes.
I heard that there really is no middle class in Honduras. I was on vacation, not a sociology field trip, but I did notice a couple of things that convinced me of this.... the total absence of local hippies (we can talk more about that later), and a bus system that consisted of one very fancy line (Hedman Alas) and a whole coup full of chicken buses. We rode both.
Our plane ran late and we were trying to get a cab, to get a bus, to get a cab, to get a ferry, to get a cab (that wiggled and squiggled inside her), to reach our first destination on the same day. San Pedro Sula is a hot and sweaty place... at least, I was a hot and sweaty person for the duration of my stay there. We were running when we reached the hot and sweaty bus terminal and raced up to the first ticket booth with a promising sign. When is the bus leaving? Two minutes. Ok, two please. Is it direct? Mas o menos.... Ok, well we only have a minute and half now, so let's take it.
The smells are so strong. Some are good. Some are evil. But they are strong. Just enough windows opened in the bus to let in the heat and the many aromas.... now it is burning plastic, now diesel and fried chicken. Now we are passing a churros factory and for a moment I am drinking the humidity, sweet and doughy with cinnamon. Now it smells of dung and old water. The little girl in the seat in front of me thought that I was very funny, her little nostrils flaring as she laughed, showering me in tuberculin mocos. Her seat was broken too, but my knees were able to brace the back of the seat, keeping her from falling onto us when she leaned over, giggling and threatening to cut off my fingers. Jenn had to pee. It was hot, so very hot. I remember the people laughing and singing; the sellers selling. I remember the trash that lines the highway like some sticky, soft shoulder. I remember the strange mix of singsong Spanish and even more singsong English that we heard with increasing frequency as the coast approached. But I don't actually remember if there were any chickens on the bus.
And on the way back we took the Hedman Alas luxury bus for the elite. It was like stepping out of Honduras and into a sensory deprivation tank, only one with a movie showing and little sandwiches. The seats were deep and rich and perfect. The air was cool and clean. It was a little slice of something decadent and familiar in a strange and foreign place. I hated it instantly. The view out the window ,now, was like a distant, moving postcard - a photograph that someone else had taken from almost, but not quite the same angle that I was looking at it. The windows were higher up, just a little, but enough that you couldn't quite see the candy wrappers, empty floating bags, stray dogs and kids along the highway without pushing your face right up against the glass and peering down. And nobody pushes their face against the glass and peers down at the world in the Ejecutive Plus section of the Hedman Alas bus. We even upgraded to the first class section at the front of the bus. This was the result of one of my typical linguistic blunders. The guy at the booth asked if I wanted first class or regular tickets. I thought he meant that there were two buses, a first class or a regular. The truth is that there are just two sections on the same bus. In my genius, I asked him if the first class got there quicker. He replied, a little. So I bought the tickets, and as we were at the front of the bus, we did arrive shortly before the regular rich people at the back of the bus. I think next time I will likely take the fancy Hedman Alas bus. But, I am going to try to sneak a chicken on with me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The first two weeks were easy. I drew comics on some scrap paper that I found in the corner.