Sunday, June 28, 2009

In Between the Silence

I have been traveling quite a bit these last few months—Canada, Sweden, Ireland, Romania, Norway, Greece, and Spain. I began to suspect that I had brought the perpetual rains of Ireland home with me as late spring and early summer in Colorado has been wetter and greyer than usual. The upside to that has been a proliferation of wildflowers and blossoming cacti. It’s amazing what a semi-arid mountain desert can do with just a little water.

The number of blooms surprised me, so rather than upload individual photos, I put together a video, with a special guest appearance by a sweet, Irish lamb.

You can also see the show on You Tube if you prefer a larger view.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Art of Tea

Sometimes all you have to do is walk outside in a new place and you’ll find an adventure. I’m in Vancouver, and I learned to drink green tea. The clay tea pots catch my eye, and I walk inside Modern Tea Art where three Chinese gentlemen are sitting at the tea bar taking tea. I inquire about the tea, and Mr. Lee invites me to sit down. He is dousing a pot that looks like it belongs in a playhouse with steaming water. Each of us has two cups—one tall and one short. Mr. Lee pours the tea into the tall cup, shows me how to cover it with the shorter, wide-brimmed cup and then how to hold the cups and flip them so that the tea flows into the drinking cup.

I learn that I should inhale the aroma of the tea from the tall cup before drinking. This mutes the stronger flavors of the tea, much like sniffing brandy before sipping. Not to mention it is good for the sinuses and can help with allergies. Inhaling the steam still rising from the cup, the scent of white flowers greets me. Mr. Lee tells me that is possible. He smiles. There are over 700 varieties of green tea. Each with a unique flavor and aroma. Maybe flowers, maybe not. If I want flowers, then flowers.

We drink half the tea, turn the cup and let it warm our fingers. Now we sip the tea, savor the fragrance of flowers and green, enjoy the company of old friends and new acquaintances. I didn’t think I’d have time to discover Vancouver, but just outside the hotel entrance, adventure was waiting. The marvels and the miracles of life.

While we drink tea, we talk about the benefits of green tea—good for digestion, calming, cleansing. Many vitamins. But the benefits are lost and the tea turns bitter if it’s over heated or steeped too long. If it’s stored too long, it will ferment again as well, which causes the tea to turn.

Mr. Lee’s friend pats his forehead with a hanky. “No more for me,” he says. “I’m good.” The tea has begun to take effect. “You drink this tea for 60 years, and it makes a habit.”

“I’ve had worse habits,” I say.He smiles. We sip our tea.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

San Francisco: Funtabulous Family Vacation

I just read in the Financial Times that San Francisco is a good choice as a travel destination for business groups looking for a low-profile opportunity to hold face-to-face meetings. With the economy in the tank, traditionally popular destinations like Orlando and Las Vegas are under scrutiny. Having just come back from a writers’ event sponsored by PenNobHill in San Francisco, I can attest to what a funtabulous city is perched above the Bay.

The vistas are stunning; strolling the pier is delightful and relaxing; the ambiance is international; the cuisine superb.

If you’re considering taking the family along, there are plenty of activities for kids. We had nine young adventurers with us on a Saturday in San Francisco and found plenty to keep them smiling.

We visited Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, and I believed it all, except for how the kids were able to touch their noses with their tongues and even twist their tongues upside down.

The young ones with too much energy we set bouncing on the bungee cords.

When we all needed to sit down, we climbed aboard a cable car to China Town.

We stopped by the Fortune Cookie Factory, where we were treated to free samples of fortune cookies. Mine said I was going to win an award, and I was! Wow!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

San Francisco: The San Remo and the Sea Lions

We choose our hotel, The San Remo, because it is haunted. Although no ghosts float at the top of the stairs or glide along the hallways, lights flicker on and off at will. We are treated to strange sounds—cats meowing—and odd smells. We are told later than an elderly woman (with a cat) died in the room that Laura and Shelby occupy.

In the heart of Little Italy, we are surrounded by Italian restaurants and cafés. We don’t know it that first day, but regardless of the compass direction we choose, our path will lead to beautiful vistas, bright sights, sounds of life. San Francisco—city of color.

On our list of must-dos:

Ride the cable cars
Stroll Pier 39
Climb Lombard Street
Visit Alcatraz

San Francisco is a city I’ve visited many times. No matter how many times I go, there are things I want to do again—crest the rollercoaster hills and glimpse the Bay Bridge shimmering in the morning light. Stroll along Pier 39 and watch the sea lions basking in the tepid sun.

A mother has her flipper wrapped around her pup.

The little one sleeps smiling, content and secure. Another sea lion slips into the bay, squeals, and dives. It swirls and pokes a flipper out of the water.
The man standing next to me says, “He’s flipping you off.”

Only a sea lion could do that without seeming rude.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rescue: Rockin' With the Best

I’ve been home for three weeks now, but that’s no reason not to adventure. Today was one of those not-so-rare to Colorado stunning, early spring days. Everybody was out. Some got higher on the spring air than others. While I was walking in our beautiful Garden of the Gods, I came upon a rescue. (You can watch the video compilation below.)

First of all, let me say that I admire these guys for getting out in nature, for breathing the cool, Colorado air, and for letting the day take them away. Second, let me mention that it’s not only written in some ordinance somewhere, but also probably a good idea not to do what these guys did without climbing ropes, experience, and advising someone of your plan. Lucky for them, they had at least one cell phone and unobstructed access to a cell tower. Ha, ha. They should have had good reception. They were on top of the world.

Whether you travel afar or you just explore your own back yard, the adventures are out there waiting for you.

In case you wonder what possessed these young men to make such a dangerous climb without the proper equipment, I included a few pictures of the Garden of the Gods. The first picture is the rock they climbed, known as Cathedral Rock. At the end of the slide I included a few shots of the Garden—almost, but not quite, what they got to see and experience. Today they were rockin’ with the best.

Cheers to Colorado Springs Fire Department, station 13, for bringing them safely back to the ground. The battalion chief was very gracious in directing me to the site of the rescue, and the whole team (from what I could hear) was extremely professional to those young men who got lifted up by life and deposited between a rock and a hard place.

Music that accompanies the video is DJ Pavo & The Prophet, Rocking With the Best.

I also posted this to YouTube if you want a larger view...Rockin' With the Best

Monday, March 9, 2009

Animals Talk to Me

I love Dr. Doolittle, and ever since I was a child and saw that movie, I wished that I could talk to the animals too. As time has passed, though, what I wish most of all is that I could listen to the animals. I wish the animals would talk to me. More precisely, I wish that I could understand the animals when they talk—to me or to each other.

My dogs, for instance understand a smattering of English—come, sit, stay, back, down, that again and you’re toast. That’s more English than I speak or even understand of Dog.

Several species of parrot can even speak English. But how many People can speak parrot?

In all fairness, I did meet a guy in Antarctica who could speak three dialects of Penguin. But I’m pretty sure Toby had no idea what he was saying.

For the most part I suspect that the animals I’ve met—whether they’re visiting my backyard, floating on Antarctic sea ice, or hanging out in top tourist destinations like Xel-ha—are telling me not to take life so seriously, to enjoy the world and all the beauty that surrounds me.

As a tribute to the beautiful animals I've listened to, here are a few more of my favorite pictures. I was the author of some, but others were taken by brilliant and talented friends and acquaintances, including Clare, DJ, Gitte, and the photographer at Xel-ha. (Note: The beautiful dog hiding in the Colorado brush is my brother's dog, Smokey.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Sun Is Going to Be Shining

Three hours on the bus, and finally we arrive at the Maya ruins that Tom and I have come to see. Ventura, our guide, ushers us out of the bus. We follow him along dusty roads to the entrance of a long-deserted city. He gathers us in a half-circle and sweeps his hand across his body. “When the Maya get across the peninsula of Yucatán,” he says. “They walk. That because no rivers out there. That’s why the construction of the streets. We can see that one over there.” He points. “Sac-bay. The name of this. Sac, Maya for white. Bay, Maya for road-e. White Road-e.” Ventura’s accent is like music playing. “And they walk-ed from one city to another. From Chichén Itzá to Tulum.”

“Only the lee-ders live in-si-dee the ci-tee,” Ventura tells us because, in times of war, the invaders only killed the leaders. The common people, they worked. Ventura smiles. “So the leaders, they don’t kill the workers. The workers live out-si-dee the city walls.”

The conquered people often adopted the gods of their invaders because a god that could lead an army to victory was powerful, deserving of some respect and attention. In fact, many of the temples of Tulum are dedicated to Kukulkan, but his origins are uncertain. Later invasions probably resulted in some blending of Kukulkan and the primary god of the Aztecs, Quetzalcoatl. A Mayan merger of sorts. Not so different from the lee-ders of today, I think.
Ventura points to the eastern side of the city, where the temple of Kukulkan towers above the rest of the ruins. “This is where the lee-der sits and watches the people and thinks,” he tells us.

But it is to the little temple to the left that Ventura directs our attention. “The amazing of this,” he says, his words more lyrical than notes wafting from a flute, “is that the astronomers capture the mo-ment of the sun in the two solstices. In the two solstices the sun is going to be seen inside of the temple.”

In the space between yesterday and today, Kukulkan rises, drawing the sun across the sky, bringing life. I stand beneath the Mayan god who brings light, and I wonder how a people who understood the movement of the planets and the stars, who charted the fragile journey of our own little planet through space and time could believe that this god or any other demanded the life blood of his subjects in exchange for his light.

A little voice , perhaps Kukulkan himself, whispers in my ear: “It is so different from other religious wars,” he says, “wars fought and people killed to bring the Word of the One God to unbelievers?”

I don’t think he needs an answer, so I give none.

Ventura explains the Maya perception of heaven—nine levels of hell and four of heaven. The noble class was guaranteed a place in heaven, but the average citizen could hope, at best, to land in one of the upper levels of hell. For the majority of the population, the only hope of ascension to a better place was through stardom (as a sacrifice to the gods) or sports.

Tulum has no ball court for playing pitz, the Mayan ballgame that could end in the death of one or more players. Ventura tells us a little of the game. Spectator sports have never been top of the list for me, and my mind wanders out to sea, up to the sky. Ventura yanks me back to present moment, though, when he says that it was the winner of the game who offered his life to the gods. The captain of the losing team cut his opponent’s head off.*
“Can you imagine that going on today?” I say to my brother. “A CEO orchestrates a merger or acquisition, and the CEO of the “winning” company gets to cut his head off?”

We chuckly at the impact this would have on modern-day, enterprising nobility.

“That ought to be an episode of South Park,” I say.

Tom points his finger, assuming the identity of Cartman, one of South Park’s stars. “But wait,” Tom-as-Cartman says, “I won.” He shakes his finger. “You must respect my a-thor-e-TIE.” Rules are rules, though, and Cartman loses his head.

Ventura ushers us along, stopping in front of another temple. I am still lost in the why, why, why would the winner want to die?

While we examine the stone tablet that was a book, and I consider carrying one of those stone blocks to class, the thought seeps in that perhaps the Mayans valued something more than life. To win at pitz was to assure one’s place in paradise. After all, in the end, as Kukulkan sets on the last day of our life, what can we carry with us but the memory of how we lived?

(*This is not what I found on many of the websites dedicated to the topic. Most say that the a noble was pitted against a starved and drugged slave so that he could show off his prowess in a risk-free environment, or that the losing team was killed as a sacrifice. It’s a testament to our times, I think, that we assume the loser lost his head rather than the other way around.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Swim with the Dolphins

My brother and I climb down the ladder, shivering as we submerge ourselves in the water. The Caribbean water is warm as oceans go, and maybe the shivers are more excitement than chill. In the pool to the south of us, four dolphins leap into the air, twirl above the heads of half a dozen visitors, and dive. The visitors squeal and clap.

The dolphin trainer blows his whistle and waves his hands. “Swim to the middle of the pool,” he says, “turn around, and face me.”

The six of us—Leone and Lyle, Kathleen and Bill, Tom and I—obey his command. Sunlight shimmers on the water. To the left and right all I can see are bright eyes and smiles. The water laps against our life vests. I hold my breath. Behind me I hear a splash. Water sprays down, and I glance up. Arched pink bellies gleam like morning sky.

During the next hour we are kissed by Box (pronounced Bush) and Nuk. We hug them. We dance and sing with the dolphins. We play games. We splash them; Box and Nuk splash back. The dolphins push us across the pool, lifting us until we are airborne and we fly across the water. The dolphins click and squeal; the humans clap and cheer.

These creatures are well cared for and loved by their trainers. The affection between them shows in gentle flicks of water that sprays the dock, in eyes wide open and curious. They swim figure eights through the line of visitors bobbing in the water and patiently allow us to touch their sleek, firm bodies.

Somewhere I read that dolphin females choose when to become fertile. Many dolphins and whales don’t breed in captivity, but at Delfinus, five calves have been born. A record. One that indicates the dolphins are content and at peace with their lives.

Allied with the word’s most successful hunters, they no longer fall prey to fishermen’s nets. They no longer wander through oil slicks or islands of garbage floating in the sea. In exchange for tricks and human touch they receive the 40 to 60 pounds of fish they need to consume each day. They seek out human company as well as that of their own kind. They are affectionate and playful.

The scars that mark Nuk’s back and dorsal fin are a testament to their power. One-on-one, in the water that is their home, they have the advantage. They choose not to use it against us, even though—based on their brain to body size ratio, they may be intelligent to understand the harm we wreak in the oceans of the world. I wonder if they have sacrificed their freedom to teach us to love what we do not understand.