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, and...do 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.)