Category Archives: Travel

Stockholm, lovely Stockholm

Stockholm has brought us tiny baby goats, Joe Bataan, Nietzsche’s death mask and more Munch paintings than I have ever seen before, an exhibit on Satyajit Ray and Tagore’s artwork, discovering how good the Swedish modernists were, the best boar sculpture, meatballs and reindeer stew and skinksmorgas, medieval alleys, turf houses and farms, the red room where intellectuals and artists once congregated that inspired August Strindberg’s novel by the same name, knowing that the king encouraged every Swedish household to grow their own tobacco, boats, wood-paneled working mens’ bars…amazing trip. I might write more later, but everything in life is going so fast and I am off to a new farm this morning.

Stockholm

From ferries to amazing buildings to food at Kvarnen and Pelikan, restaurants/bars in Södermalm (which is the area I by far loved the most). The red room in Berns. Boats and stick figures, also inlcuding a few pictures of Thielska Galleriet, where we saw: ‘Olof Sager-Nelson and his contemporaries. “Anywhere out of the world” along with an amazing collection of Edvard Munch and Nietzche’s death mask, a bit of Blasieholm as described by Fredrika Bremer…I love this city.

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Gamla Stan

The petrified medieval centre of Stockholm, with wonderful narrow alleys that we went slinking through so as to avoid completely all tourist thoroughfares. It is hell. of. touristy. But quite beautiful when empty, so I was sorry to spoil it for others with my own tourist self.

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Skansen

Stockholm’s open air museum, this I did want to write more about because I loved the ancient buildings. I am fascinated by the process of ripping them from the ground they grew out of to bring them here. We shall see when I write!

There were also baby goats.

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Snus- och tändsticksmuseum

Part of Skansen really, but incredibly amazing place…I will write more about this too, and it’ going into the novel too, but for now:

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Millesgården

Studio and collection of Carl Milles, and most of it was stunning though that crazy array of statues in front of the sea was a bit overwhelming… but I liked visiting a further island by ferry, seeing a bit more of the everyday city. Satyajit Ray and Tagore — amazing.

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We saw the photography museum as well, missed lots of things but hopefully we’ll be back. When we’re both much wealthier because it was by far the most expensive place we have ever been.

A Very Swedish PhD Defense (plus gothic after-party)

The real reason we are here in Sweden is for Mark to examine a PhD. That process is so different here, not least in the amount of camaraderie and collegial support because things are done as cohorts and everyone finishes about the same time. I was just a little jealous.

We all came together in a large round lecture theatre, it is a public defense here — I was not at all jealous about that. In front of the door there is a table with a stack of theses upon it, free to take away. They print them in the form of a nice little book, a lovely cover, something you’d be proud to have on your shelf. I was hell of jealous about that. In the audience sit: the supervisor(s), the three examiners with an additional internal examiner in wait in case of emergency, partners of examiners, the parents and siblings, a host of friends. There were maybe 30 of us? The candidate can open with a few words, and she did. Then the interrogator comes in — today’s was flown in from Michigan. He gives a summation of the thesis in about 20 minutes. He asks formally if she finds it an acceptable summation, to which she can say yes, or can challenge or add commentary. Then begins the interrogation, lasting over an hour. It was run more like a discussion, but many a tough question lurked near the end.

Coffee break.

We convene again, each of the examiners (two from the UK, an internal examiner who was of course based at Linkoping) asks questions for about ten minutes. They each have different specialisms, but each related to the candidate’s subject. Philosophy, Derrida, Monsters. Then it is over, there is applause. Examiners and interrogator retire to discuss their verdict. Everyone else retires for snacks. Champagne is ready.

Finally the examiners too are ready with the verdict. Apparent from chatter in the corridors is that if someone gets to this stage they are expected to pass. But of course, you can still fail.

The examiners return. There is a tense moment. Then passing, speeches, happiness, champagne.

I thought that actually, it is rather nice for everyone to sit and listen to the content of their friend’s life and work over the past years. To hear her talk about it. To then be able to make jokes about the present absence.

Everyone retires. A few of us convene again for dinner, theatrics and dancing. I think that is what impressed me the most, because it was so damn lovely.

First I love vaults and restaurants to be found downstairs — I am quite gothic in that respect, and gothic is what the party was. Masquerade masks met us on the tables, candles, dark corners, bricks and stone.

Linköping

Delicious food, wine, speeches and the best advice from advisor to student having problems I have ever heard — did you drink wine with your friends and talk about it? The best story about a tiny cat. Presents that were impossibly thoughtful, several involving a celebration of the new Doctor through Doctor Who. Some goth makeovers of friends and supervisor.

Then an homage to the candidate from her cohort, a little theatre piece based on the awesome Night Vale podcasts. Not only was it clever and creative, it also showed whoever wrote it was all too familiar with the theoretical arguments as well as the content. It was quite wonderful and I was entirely and wholly jealous, as was everyone at my table who had varying stories of our own PhD examinations that were all of varying levels of anti-climacticism.

Then we danced to songs I had never heard before. Someone mentioned Depeche Mode. There were some other things I had heard before, but I have forgotten what they were.

Wonderful night.

Linköping

We wandered back to our hotel — Fawlty Towers. An entirely hilarious Swedish interpretation of this British classic with surprisingly fine friendly service.

Linköping

In Swedish, Pangi Bygget. Awesome.

Linköping

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Baja adventures part 2

A foggy morning in the ex-ejido of Chepultepec. We wandered down to the little restaurant for an excellent breakfast, un omelete de rajas con crema, chilaquiles, frijoles, happiness even though I could only finish half. We wandered out of the restaurant again, we heard the sound of tires peeling out, and through the arched entrance we watched police cars drive past going west, they must have turned where the road forks and then back they came going east…two cars, a truck, another car, another truck, they raced back up the road, lights flashing, sirens blaring. I walked through the arch to look down the road but they were already disappearing. And a minute later behind them came put-putting a tiny little car like a golf cart with a family happily oblivious inside. It was like the keystone cops.

We are back in el ex-ejido Chapultepec, but just for one more night, not two…And there are gunshots even as I write, first one, thirty seconds later another. I hope it is nothing. We got a reservation in Ensenada proper tomorrow but tonight there was nowhere available. Third gunshot, I hate guns. Fourth gunshot. A lot of cars pulling away. Fifth gunshot, they’re just fucking around, did I say I hate guns? I hate them.

Anyway, today was a great day…we walked down to the main road and waited for a bus…sixth gunshot. That one sounded closer. This morning we were waiting for the bus and there were three guys hanging out down by the fence alongside a little stand selling second hand goods. All of a sudden sirens blare, lights flash, and a police car and a police truck together pull over a van right beside us…I watch them for a minute, we’re a bit nervous you understand, then turn my head and the three guys have disappeared into thin air, vanished into the earth. The police get out with their huge automatic weapons, they confer. Seventh gunshot. We wonder if the bus will stop for us with them there, but it does, we get onto first one and then a micro to la Bufadora…eighth gunshot, I’m glad they’re just fucking around but it would be nice if they stopped now. So, la Bufadora, a natural phenomenon that is apparently very rare, there were a steady stream of tour buses headed there at any rate…small ones. We found out later that they were ferrying people from the cruise ships. Ninth gunshot, this is absurd.

And they’re interrupting my story, cabrones. So, we got on the micro with a man carrying a load of perhaps one hundred caramel apples fixed onto both ends of a pole, another with a khaki vest I rather fancied that had ‘professional photographer’ embroidered on the back in red…we wound along the coast and it was beautiful; if I come back here for a weekend I think it would be nice to try La Jolla beach, we passed it on the way, it was long and white, it was not fenced off, and apparently you can find beautiful shells there, I like shells. La Bufadora was…now there’s a loud fight taking place outside, you have to love Saturday night, I’m glad we’re tired and sunburned and in our rooms…so, La Bufadora was very cool, not astounding. Or perhaps it would have been amazing had there not been crowds of people lining the wall overlooking it…luckily they were all lazy and none of them felt like climbing to the top with us so we could look down for a while in peace. Bev says that the legend tells of a mother and baby whale traveling from the South to the North, and the baby whale gets trapped and so la bufadora is the poor trapped whale trying to escape and expelling the water from it’s blowhole. And that’s what it looks like, a huge spume of water that leaps up to oohs and ahhs from the crowd at regular intervals. I think if you were to stumble upon it alone, it would be spectacular. Crawling with people it is not quite so spectacular, though I rather enjoyed the gauntlet of tourist stalls on the way there: T-shirts of Zapata getting high, Bart Simpson as Che and an Aztec warrior, pharmacies selling antibiotics, valium and Viagra, knockoff bags by Chanel, the pleasant smell of churros in the air, chanclas of every description…

We took the micro back to the main road and then the bus to Ensenada to plan our escape. We passed fields of asparagus. We passed lines of farm workers tired and dusty carrying pails and waiting to get onto large yellow school buses. We passed piles of coconuts and stands full of preserved olives and chiles. We passed a Japanese restaurant with a large red sun above it, caricatured with slanty eyes and glasses and buck teeth. We passed a poverty that even coming from South Central is shocking. I had forgotten, funny how easy it is to forget when you don’t have to look at it every day. Or survive it every day. And we wandered Ensenada which is a great deal richer, but full of indigenous women and children hustling the streets selling bracelets and chiclets, they way they do in Nogales, in Tijuana, in Juarez, in Guadalajara. Everywhere in Mexico, such inequalities hurt my heart. And I wonder why they didn’t rise up and join the Zapatistas, why they came here. I wonder how such a precarious life of dismal suffering could be better then making a stand and fighting. I wonder if the decision was a conscious one or not. I wonder what I would have decided had I been in their place. I gave thanks for where I am; who I was born confusing as my worlds are sometimes. I am glad I am fighting, and I am glad to be alive, and I am glad to be here. And I am also glad I have no internet connection, almost two full days without being able to work and that has been a rather beautiful thing, though it is back to civilization tomorrow.

And er…those aren’t gunshots, they’re fireworks. They have to be.

Baja California…er…adventure

We are five miles south of Ensenada…ex-ejido Chapultepec. Cars drive up and down every now and then outside the hotel. There is no other sound here, and no wireless networks at all.

If you keep walking west down the paved road you come to Faro beach quite quickly…Faro beach and trailer park. You can rent rooms there with kitchens, a space for a tent, a place to park. And welcome to chuntilandia! There are lines of washing. There is the smell of carne asada. There are ice-chests with beer, and radios playing rancheras and banda. Grandparents sit on folding chairs with their hard-faced tatted children and their children’s children in masses. The kids are lined up at the little store buying candy and snacks. You walk down the steps to the small stretch of beach and find it filled with more families; many of them are swimming in their clothes. To your left as your stare out over the ocean are broken down horses that you can rent for an hour’s worth of riding, and a wall that once bore a sign now half washed away saying the area is unsafe for swimming because of riptides. The remnants of what looks like a rather grand sea wall curve around with fisherman sat up on top. Before you get too far there is a fence, a guard, the other side is Estero beach resort. The people fishing on the other side are all white tourists. At least we are on the right side of the fence.

If you walk the other way you come to another dead end quite quickly, but you can climb up onto the wall’s ruin and follow it around past a new wall topped with barbed wire to the dirt road running to the houses behind the tents and short-term rentals.

The houses there are a crazy mix of anything that can be thrown together, the most common being a trailer entombed in a house, or a house built around a trailer…some feel more like one than the other. In one lot stood two toilets waiting patiently on a concrete foundation for their house to be built around them.

We passed Mario & Cookie’s house of love, un vato y su ruca on the sign and wedding pictures in the windows. There are a number of little houses here that are loved. But more that look empty, more that are abandoned and broken-windowed and falling apart quickly. Over a third are for sale.

In fact a huge amount of this whole town is for sale, or it feels that way. It feels as though it has lost its heart…or did it ever have one? I wonder if it is just an older prototype of what is springing up everywhere between TJ and Ensenada…the pockets of luxury play-homes, advertised by a line of billboards entirely in English showing the ocean, gleaming white houses with cool and modern interiors, beautiful women in bikinis. Mario at the bar said the resort has been there sixty-nine years and started out as almost nothing, a collection of trailers…some of the people in the restaurant had practically grown up there. They weren’t speaking Spanish. They were so obviously American in every visible way. I don’t understand how such a thing could be, but it obviously is.

Bev, Jose and I walked back to the hotel as it grew dark, and I attracted the attention of an old one-eyed cholo carrying a plastic cup of beer that was clearly not his first of the day. Like others before him he was taking no hints, to show off he had words with Jose about what neighborhood he was from, before it escalated the hotel owner kicked him out of the little courtyard…so that was exciting. We came in and watched anime until the coast was clear to go to the little bar next door for some bohemias.

I’ve enjoyed the adventure but…tomorrow we are getting the hell out of dodge for the day and look for another spot. Prepaid reservations now, that’s a dilemma.

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Scotland Remembered

Scotland remembered

So…struggling to keep awake and reset the old internal clock…up at 5 and I was absolutely finished today about 3 pm, but caught my second wind after I’d left work (I am hating this whole work thing I must say) and spent some quality time on the couch.  Nothing good to report about being in LA except being reunited with my chanclas (flip-flops to the Spanish deficient, and that reminds me, a chanclatada is a slap you give someone with your chancla, so I invented the spanglish word flip-floptada, but I don’t think it’s catching on), so I shall relive my holiday, and present…

drum roll please…

Edinburgh!  Lovely to be there with T and Chris, it shall live long among my happier memories.  We saw many sights, but just the city itself is lovely as you can see here

And here…

And here…

And here:

And here:

Went to a great pub and drank steadily, it is highly highly recommended but sadly I cannot remember its name…missed the train home but that wasn’t all bad…it was all right actually.  And finally, a few words of wisdom:

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Glasgow

Last day in Scotland?  Perhaps I’m staying here tomorrow as well and leaving Tuesday but who can tell?  I have to call the relatives and match up plans, we shall see how that goes, i have been truly terrible at communicating with my relatives so hopefully we all stay relatives at the end of this trip…mm, its only friends you can lose through lack of communication isn’t it, i’m just being very silly, possibly the massive hangover has something to do with that, erm, anyways, thought i’d do a little pictorial tour of Glasgow, I love this city!

Cool museums, though I’m not a hige museum person, but this is Kelvinhall, recently opened and FREE!  Also has Dali’s crucifiction on display…

And the People’s Palace, also FREE!  Where you can wear the displays!

Mm, we have great streets and great buildings, especially since i was lucky enough to have generally great weather

Everyone knows I like grafitti and some of the work here is great, we have one piper piping:

And one rogue

Also dragged the little brother to McKenzie’s Willow Tea Room…not happy…

He was hating until he discovered the joys of scones with cream and jam, then he thought it was all right…I must admit, pink and grey and tea rooms full of old ladies don’t do it for me really, but the billiard room was brilliant…Finally, St George’s Square…lots of other streets I loved and good times had and pubs enjoyed but they might have to wait for another day…

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Scotland holiday update

Just a short update for those of my friends anxiously waiting to hear how my holiday is going…very well!  Don’t have much time to write sadly cause i’ve been fiddling about with my photos but here are a few of the best…

Here is home base in Howwood where I’m staying with the uncle and aunt…

Went up to Loch Tay and saw Castle Menzies rather than the Crannog which was an excellent decision,

Tristram is in Hamilton, not scenic at all I’m afraid, but we took a little day trip to Chatlehraut – that is obviously a massacring of the spelling, but since i have already admitted i can’t spell…besides, it’s french

Climbed Ben Lomond as well, my first Munro!  Here is one view…

And a little bitty picture of me at the top!

Also took a day trip out to New Lanark and the Clyde Falls, which were incredible, though those stairs after Ben Lomond caused me great sadness…

Lot’s more but have to run…these pictures all look very healthy and outdoorsy, but never fear, I have also been taking full advantage of the pubs and drinking heavily…

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Welcome to Tijuana

Left thursday night for San Diego and a Friday presentation for the Southern California Technology something or other, and stayed at the…at the…damn, it was a good weekend! my only excuse, but it was a hotel, on San Diego’s hotel circle no less.  Who thought it a good idea to build hundreds of hotels on a mile long strip beside the freeway I ask you?  Ensuring that you must get into your car and drive if you wish to do anything but sleep or eat, I suppose it is the American way and the reason we’re the fattest nation in the world.  Still, our little hotel was a 1970’s paradise with a fake stone interior, fake tropical foliage and, I am happy to say, home to the Waffle Spot and a host of engaging breakfast characters such as the Waffle King, Sir Up, Squire Browns, the Court Eggster, Sir Robin of Flapjack, Sir Waffleot, and the Banger Brothers.  They were quite tasty.  The conference went well, I didn’t choke, and then we were off to Tijuana.

Tijuana…hard to know where to even start, I can’t…perhaps I shall just give random impressions.  The smell first of all, I think all big border towns smell the same, TJ, Nogales, Juarez…a mezcla of urine, roast meat, chiles, cheap perfume, hints of rotting garbage and sewage from time to time, sweat, leather and fresh cut wood from the shops…Naco doesn’t smell quite like that if anyone cares.  If you like cheap, colourful, shiny things this is paradise, base silver jewelry, bead bracelets, statues of every character you can imagine.  Christ and the Saints and la Virgen de Guadalupe in bottles, on towels, on shirts and ponchos, on blankets, pasted on wood plaques with shiny acrylic painted over them, as garish painted statues.  Right next to obscene T-shirts, right below the bars and strip clubs lining la Calle Revolucion.  Liquor stores everywhere.  Most of the women are sadly bulging out of skirts that are far too short and halter tops that are far too small.  Or sunburned tourists wearing flowy “vacation in mexico” clothes.  It is common practice to look a woman from top to bottom and then back up from bottom to top, and while emancipated, I have to admit myself quite glad of Jose and Ryan walking around with us because when every man does it I stop being furious and begin to be a tiny bit afraid.  But that was later really, I suppose an all night fling in TJ requires sterner stuff.

Every visitor is quickly drunk, because all the bars sell buckets of ice and beer – 10 coronas for $10.  Or shots of course, and caballitos for the unwary.  I tried one of those on my 21st b-day in Guadalajara, everyone poured out of the kitchen banging on pots and pans while a waiter tipped a shot of tequila down my throat, covered my mouth with a hand towel and shook my head roughly while blowing loudly on a whistle.  I have never been drunker. This is background, because on Friday, I saw them pour 5 shots down people’s throats and even though the poor souls were begging for mercy, shake their heads all around. We saw cops wrestling this huge pelon to the ground, handcuff him, and throw him into the back of their pick-up.  I think it must have been a slow night because the dance floors were pretty thin of dancers, and so you were able to watch some rather disgusting displays, and I am really afraid that if hear another raggaeton song playing ever again it shall bring with it incredibly disturbing flashbacks.  Every strip club had men in front to bring in the customers with a variety of propositions for ladies and gentlemen alike…the place is just a mad mixture of drunkeness, sex, mad catholicism in bright colours, desperate poverty, falling down buildings and rubble, clubs blasting out cumbias and reggaeton and hip hop from all directions…

Highlights were the lucha match, that was awesome.  Sobering up a bit in the early early morning with tacos 3 for a dollar and Vicente Fernandez singing Por Tu Maldito Amor and Volver Volver Volver on the juke box and me singing along with him – I like singing with a beer in one hand and a taco in the other.  Our taxi driver who taught us the fantastic new phrase hijo de la mañana.  Really good tapas at a Spanish restauraunt. Wandering old men carrying guitars and accordeons and bases, singing us rancheras over a late and delicious breakfast.  A Darth Vader marionette.  Playing pool at 4:00 am in a sketch bar, where there were only 3 solids yet two cue balls, only two cue sticks one of which was sadly cracked, and the table felt was stained and still wet from, er, something or other…I played brilliantly though with an incomplete set who can care but me?  It happens from time to splendid time though how I make almost every shot I really have no idea since in general I am pretty bad.

Of course the best bit was just a memorable weekend with good friends.  Hope Britain can compete, only 4 to days to go and I’m off!

Last World Cup Game in Vancouver

my mourning period for Mexico is still not quite over, but I am feeling much better certainly!  We went to an English spot this morning to catch the game as did over a hundred other fans and therefore I did not care a bit that England is still playing like shit, though Ecuador played much worse…that shot by Beckham was incredible, and besides, I was regaling myself with bacon and eggs while singing God Save the Queen and something else quite catchy but seeming to have lots of syllables and no words and crashing my coffee cup down on the counter while chanting and clapping and jumping up and down the whole time.  And the match this afternoon, for pure drama it was brilliant!  I do love a good fight or two, means the teams have heart que no?  I was hoping for ot, but the damned dutch just couldn’t seem to find the net…still, England should be moving ahead nicely given all the red cards…and Figo’s probably out as well.  It was a noble head butt though, what possessed the man?

One observation…when Italy won earlier this week the Italians poured out of Cafe Roma en masse to celebrate in the streets.  And today when portugal won the Portuguese poured out of the Portuguese Club of Vancouver (of which i became an honorary associate member today) and shut down the street – even more of them present, it looked like a parade!  When the English won, they sang, jumped up and down, waved their arms around, but did they leave the bar?  No…they ordered another round.  I imagine many of them were planning a day of it.  I shall leave the deductions to you!