Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Castel Of Salerno

Medieval Castles are very important tourist attractions in Europe. Some of them are "natural", built really by medieval people to protect their territory, others, built in the last decades of Middle Ages and later, were only expensive toys of their owners. I wrote some posts about castles in our zone like Castles of Campania, Castles (2) and mentioned them in other posts.

Here I want to say some words about the castel of Salerno. More photos you can find here A sunny day in Salerno. This castel was a real permanent defensive work with roots in Roman and maybe earlier times. The old town is just under it, at the foot of the hill, as you see on the photo. We know that there was only one case when the castel was conquered. It happend after 6 months of normann blockade because water finished in the castel. And it signed the end of Longobard possession in Italy.

Only once the owners tryed to organize their residence in the castel but did not like that life and went down in the town.

AGM - Tuesday Feb 3

We have our association AGM on Tuesday (2pm) in Plouneour Menez at the salle polyvalante. In addition to celebrating Brittany Walks' anniversary with a birthday cake, we will look forward to a range of new activities for 2009, including a Tro Breizh project for members to participate in, Days of Discovery (a festival of walking, guided in English, throughout Brittany) and short break coastal and canal holidays as well as our regular walks and outings. Weather permitting we'll have a short walk around the bourg during the afternoon, and finally a presentation of the Britons in Brittany intiative followed by refreshments. All welcome. Memberships available on the day.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Sitzmedia: "Eastward to Tartary," Part 2

Last weekend I finished up Robert D. Kaplan�s book �Eastward to Tartary,� which I mentioned in a post a few days ago. The end was as good as the beginning, and as the book and the author�s journey came to a close, I fantasized about packing my bags to go and see with my own eyes the destruction and squalor left over in the former Soviet republics of southwest Asia.
Which I probably won�t do. But still, it was a good book, and just by reading it so voraciously, I feel a bit smarter.

I bring this up because I came across an interesting quote. As I mentioned in the other post, the book was written in 2000, but Kaplan showed an uncanny ability to predict the changing fortunes of the parts of the world that he visited. Among these instances, I found the following quote from pages 266-267. Hot on the footsteps of the Russian invasion of Georgia, it seems all the more foreboding:

�From what I learned over the next two weeks, I was left with the queasy apprehension that was Vietnam was to the 1960s and 1970s, what Lebanon and Afghanistan were to the 1980s, and what the Balkans were to the 1990s, the Caspian region might be to the first decade of the new century: an explosive region that draws in the Great Powers.�

Obviously, in the time that�s passed since the book was published, the world has witnessed the September 11th attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and ethnic struggles throughout the world, particularly in Africa. Kaplan obviously couldn�t have known that these things would happen, but that still doesn�t discount the prescient statement above. It gave me pause, at least.

In any case, if you�re looking for an erudite examination of a volatile but very important region of the world�especially if you want it to read like a slightly adventurous travelogue written by a man with the combined outlook of a renowned geopolitical journalist and a Lonely Planet guide�then check out this book.

Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus

Nine States, Five Sounds

photo credit: NOAA Archives

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Going Gatsby On You

Man, I think Tuesdays are even worse than Mondays. Mondays hit you so hard you don't even feel it. But Tuesdays do the same, only they add on the realization that you have to put up with four more days of this crap.

I was going to put up another quote thing, but I think I'll do that tomorrow. Gotta get to the store to buy some bread before I get accosted by a drunken hick (the Palmares Festival is in full swing).

I'm not that into today...

P.S. - Happy Birthday, Angie!

Conomor was here

Hard at work, but not entirely without sustenance, the history course students are puzzling over a little question: why were the early saints of Brittany said to have arrived on these shores in stone boats? To help they have a picture, a couple of facts, a Latin quotation and some words from old Breton. But will they get it?

Big Monasteries To Visit

This is a splendid photo made by my friend ??????? when she visited Pochajevskaja Lavra, one of the holy places in Ukraina. I remembered that I've never mentioned this country in my blog and asked her to post her photo here.

Lavra or Laura originally meant a cluster of cells or caves for hermits, with a church and sometimes a refectory at the center. Later a big orthodox male monastery.

The Lavras I've seen are very beautiful. I was in Kiew -open this page to see this really splendid photo- and in Sankt-Petersburg in Alexandr Nevsky Lavra(Photo on the left). I was in similar constructions here in Italy too. Not far from us (about 100 km) we have a Certosa di Padula (52.000 mq!) where we, our archeological group, were guides in a modern artists exhibition. By the way, those artists were closed as monks in that ex-monastery with a task to born works of art in one month.

In any case, working or not, these monasteries have very great histories. And are very interesting to visit and to study.

Stony Creek

"Like a section of the Maine Coast, drifted into
Long Island Sound" *

Thimble Islands Tours & Cruises
Volsunga IV
Sea Mist
The Islander

*Connecticut: A Guide To Its Roads, Lore And People
American Guide Series, WPA 1938
Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston

Monday, 26 January 2009

Sitzmedia: MP3 Thing Test

I'm just seeing if this thing works.

I've been listening to this song a lot.

Please tell me what you think, and if it works for you.

Sitzmedia: "The Fall" In The Summer (Or Winter)

One thing about Costa Rica which has fairly confounded me, and which continues to do so to this day, is the way they designate seasons here. Right now it�s January, and here in Costa Rica we�re basically in what they call �Summer,� although in the United States and, indeed, nearly the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, it�s Winter.

Here in Coast Tasty, �Summer� goes from approximately the end of December to some vague date in April or May. At that point, the rainy season (or �Winter�) kicks in. Still, there are quite a few nice days up through July and possibly even August, but around September, things start getting rainy, moldy, and altogether shitty right about then. There�s no real Fall, since different plants seem to lose leaves at different times, and those varying plant lifecycles also mean there�s no identifiable Spring.***

This actually is a very circuitous introduction to a movie review. You see, although it�s �Summer� here, it was actually more �wintery� this last weekend, with overcast skies and even a bit of drizzling rain yesterday. That meant that Angela and I had to scrap our plans of going to the pool and getting a sunburn, and instead we stayed at home and watched a movie called �The Fall.�

Paul gave the movie to Angela for Christmas, and I guess he explained it to her a bit when she opened it up. I even remember him mentioning it on his blog some time ago, but I guess I was somehow confused, because when we started watching it yesterday, I was under the impression that it was a French movie. It�s not. It IS the type of movie that continually pops into your thoughts for the next few days, though, and that�s why I�m writing about it now.

If you�ve seen the movie, maybe you can post a comment on what you thought about it. If you�ve not seen it, it�s sort of like �The Princess Bride,� if that movie had taken place in a hospital in the 1920s and Fred Savage�s grandpa had been suicidal. Also, this time around, instead of--well, Fred Savage--the protagonist is an adorable 5-year-old girl from Russia or Albania or some other place where people wore scarves. So I guess the two films are not exactly alike, but there are a surprising number of similarities between the two movies--all of which I�m sure more astute and nerdy bloggers have already commented upon.

Still, both contain an underlying theme of convalescence through fantasy storytelling, and that�s worth recognizing. In any case, I�m getting off topic here, and I basically wanted to bring up this discussion of �The Fall� based on my own thoughts and reactions to the movie. I think that no one can argue that �The Fall� is visually stunning. In fact, I had to watch the special features before I even believed that the places where the crew filmed were real. But what else does anyone know about this movie? What is your opinion? Maybe you�ve seen something that awakened a similar feeling in you�whether it be nostalgia, amazement, hate, or whatever. Anyhow, if anyone feels like sharing, please do.


***SEASONAL BONUS!***If you can explain the following conundrum to me, I will consider you a genius. OK, when I started teaching at my present job, I left one class to go teach another one every evening around 5:30. As I walked outside to my second classroom, I often was blessed with amazing views of the sunset. In a period starting in March and ending in July or so, I observed these daily sunsets. The physical point where the sun dipped below the horizon was gradually moving a little bit every day.

Now, it does that in Colorado, too, and as America�s Summer comes into being, the days get longer and the sun sets later every day. That's normal. However, in Costa Rica, the opposite was the case, and the sun would set a little bit earlier every day. Maybe I was forming my own personal time zone by just drinking WAAAY too much coffee, but that just doesn�t seem right at all. I know that we�re much closer to the equator than in Colorado, but how could this be possible, seeing as we�re still in the northern hemisphere? Anybody got anything?

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Bucks Mills

I haven't been here since I was a small girl. And I don't think its changed a bit. I had an image in my mind of narrow green country lanes where the trees blotted out the sky above, and of standing on bridges watching streams bubble underneath, and it was just like that today.

Bucks Mills is just off the A39 between Bideford and Clovelly. A mile drive takes you to a free car park and from here there are a number of footpaths you can take either into the surrounding woods or through or around the village. We walked through the village today, which is actually a road open only to residents, so occassionally we had to make way for a car. The village is very picture-postcard pretty and the road follows the path of the fast-flowing stream which once powered the mill.

At the end of the village is a steep path down the side of the cliff to the beach. Although my middle daughter pointed out in no uncertain terms that this was not what she called a beach. It's mostly pebbles.

Nevertheless they had fun filling their pockets with small stones and then throwing them into the sea. The stream that winds through the village crashes spectacularly down the side of the cliff just a short way along the beach, drawing people to it. There were quite a few visitors today which surprised me. After the toil back up the cliff path we headed for home, stopping at my sister-in-laws for a cup of tea, and found them on their way to Bucks Mills for a walk too!

History of Brittany Course - Study Day 1

After a most enjoyable start to this course with a taster day, we begin work in earnest this Tuesday at Gouarec, looking at the earlier periods of Breton history with a focus on megaliths, the Age of Saints - when Brittany began - and the 9th century kings. All places are booked but it is possible to sign up for a future repeat of the course.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Pompei Of Nocera

It is a joke for us. We call this place in Nocera Superiore "Pompei of Nocera". About a year ago the park you seeon this photo was something very bad. There were the sloppy rests of an old animal-market. All this zone had a vey bad look.

Now it's a park with archeological excavations in one part of it.
I wrote about this part of Nocera in my post A Day Without Rain In Nocera Superiore
This park is situated some steps after the Baptistry.

The administration of the town wants to attract tourists in this zone to create job for residents and makes the town really beautiful.

From other side, Nuceria Alfaterna was a great and maybe most important city here in antique times. Pompei was it's port, Salerno did not exist as something valuable. Nuceria was a sort of capital, main city of Sannitic tibes. It's amphitheater (under earth now) seems to be the greatest in that period in Italy, it's theater is a piece of acustic art. There are infinite and very beautiful stories happend here. No one movie invented something similar the truth.

With the idea to make Nocera Superiore interesting for tourists, archeological excavations began. This part has to be Roman Forum of Nuceria.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Answer to Photo Quiz

So, remember this picture from the other day?

It turns out that the picture was taken in... (drumroll please)...

Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran!

I only bring up this picture thing again to make a small point (Fade in after-school special music; we're gonna learn something more valuable than mere geography here, kids). The point is probably clich�, but it is interesting to see where our prejudices and stereotypes can sometimes take our imaginations.

Now, I'm not sure how I came across this image, but I think it had something to do with looking at a map of Santiago's metro system, and one thing led to another, as is often the case. Suddenly I was looking at the Wikipedia page devoted to Tehran, and the pictures, especially the one above, really caught my eye. "Weird," I thought. "That's what I'd imagine some place like Salt Lake City would look like." But in fact, Salt Lake City looks like this:

...which ironically looks like a mental picture I would have formed of Tehran, before I saw the first picture.

So what's my point? That cities dominated by different branches of right-wing fundamentalist politics can deceive our stereotypes? Well, that's part of it. But I also think that there's something to be said about these stereotypes themselves. After all--be honest here--how many of you, if asked to form associations upon hearing the words "Tehran" or "Iran," would have come up with something positive? How many would have thought of Ahmadinejad, or terrorists, or Arabs, or dusty deserts? I, for one, probably would have.

Yet here we have a picture that shows us that despite our preconceived notions of our world, the home of our supposed enemy doesn't look that scary after all... in fact, it looks like a pretty nice place to go on a resort vacation and get in some quality time by the fireplace after a long day of skiing.

And Salt Lake City looks like a suburban skate park.

So, if anyone's headed to Iran any time soon for a bit of tourism, give me a call. I'll bring my curiosity, my camera and, of course, my snow boots.

PS: Interestingly enough, according to this site's Clustrmap, Sitzblog has even had one visitor from Iran! (Scroll down on the page that opens to see individual country statistics)

(Both pictures copyright-released and available on Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Sitzmedia: A Great Book With A Huge Title

Over the last couple of days, I've been reading this book:

It was given to me (or maybe just loaned, I can't remember) by my friend Julien Katchinoff when we were in Colorado for Pierogi Sunday. He and his wife Martha were the ones in Peace Corps Georgia, and he highly recommended me this book.

Well, he was right. It's a great book. Robert D. Kaplan travels from Hungary to Turkmenistan via many other countries (most of which will cause you to continually flip back to the maps on the first few pages of the book). The book was written in 2000 about a trip he took in 1998, but it still seems current and exciting, somehow. The writing is vivid without being overly flowery, and the end result is that you find yourself beginning to care about countries like Bulgaria, which before would have barely caused a blip on your World Geography Radar.

Here' a typical excerpt, from page 76:

"American and Russian values in Eastern Europe were still at war: the humanism demonstrated by a homeless shelter for an abused minority and a university to foster tolerance pitted against the absolutism and thuggery of criminal oligarchies. Bulgaria was a poignant, if obscure, battleground in this struggle."

Maybe I'm just a geography nerd. After all, my students half-mocked, half-challenged me to name world capitals during English class (In hindsight, I'm starting to think that they didn't really care if I knew the capital of Somalia, and I suspect they were just trying to distract me). But geography nerd or not, there's surely something interesting in this book for anyone who's interested in post-Communism world politics, travelogues, or just plain good writing.

And in an interesting twist, when I arrived to work today after reading my book in the back seat of my carpool, I looked up and what should I see but a Lada Niva, Soviet automotive engineering at it's best! As I watched this rare Cold-War beauty chug and smoke off into the distance toward the freeway, I reluctantly closed my book, eager to begin another new chapter during my lunch break.

(Lada picture from Wikimedia Commons)

...And Now Video About Pompei

I wrote different times about Pompei in the last weeks
... And Excavatins Of Pompei
Modern Pompei

Now I foud an interesting video about the antique town and hope it will be interesting for you too. Many things you see in this documentary are not in Pompei actually, they are in different museums.

When you visit excavations you have to go there with a guide because it is not so interesting when you don't understand what you see. If it is not possible to pay a guide that works in the excavation because they are very expensive often as in Pompei where it's a business, you have to read something about it. History is very interesting when you understand what is in front of you.

So How's Moses?

On occasion, we get asked how our buddy Moses is doing. It's been five years since this donkey came to live at Heston's, and he has definitely become one of the family. The picture above was taken last week at our bonfire. Greg thought that he might want to come and enjoy it with us, but we weren't letting him help out. Without opposable thumbs, his "help" is a little..shall we say clumsier...than really helpful.

He watched as we got the fire started, but then retreated a short ways up the hill. We think that the fire bothered him a bit, although he did enjoy being around his people. He also had a sled full of hay to occupy him. That kept him out of the bratwurst, too.

The fall was a bit rough for Moses. We didn't expect it to happen, but he was really missing his donkey buddy Jethro. In early September, Jethro moved to Montana, after accepting a part-time position there. He left in a trailer, and now resides with two other donkeys in the western part of the state.
He had an interesting fall, as he had to learn how to be a pack animal. His job involves carrying camping equipment up in to the mountains for hunting trips. If the hunt is successful, he is asked to carry down fresh meat. It's not a job for the fainted hearted or the weak. We always knew that Jethro was a strong boy, but we didn't have those kinds of jobs for him. (Somehow, I can't see a donkey packing off to a cabin for me, carrying my clean linens and vacuum cleaner.)

When a donkey is carrying a load, if he stops and lays down, he is unable to get back up by himself. It means that the load has to be removed from his back before he can stand up again. Then he gets re-loaded, and the trek continues. Jethro tried this a couple of times--shall we call it a work stoppage? But he soon realized that he didn't like the feeling of not being able to get back up when he wanted. After that, he signed on to his fate and learned that packing is really quite enjoyable.

Like Moses, we miss Jethro, too. One of these days, we'll go out and visit him. Maybe Greg will even get a chance to go on a camping trip with him. That will be a fun reunion.

The Gamecock Cottage In Stony Brook

There are only a few, small inlets that break the long, gradual curve of Smithtown Bay. Stony Brook Harbor, located in the southeast corner of the bay, is the largest. Eleven miles east of Eatons Neck, the harbor consists of a series of creeks that merge before entering the Sound.
Just steps from the village center is Stony Brook Beach (or Sand Street Beach), that includes sitting areas, and a concrete walkway providing views of the harbor. There are interpretive signs near the walkway leading visitors on a southwestern course along the harbor, but I was interested in what lay in the opposite direction. In the distance I could see a small cottage or boathouse standing by itself on a strip of land surrounded by water. I decided to forgo the Harbor Walk and get a better look at the structure.
The beach was a combination of harbor ice fragments and fresh snow, which made walking a complicated task. I zigzagged my way between the high water mark and the trees lining the beach. Mallards paddled a similar path, swimming away from the shore, only to return once I had passed. Before reaching the cottage, I discovered that a creek separated it from me, and I would have to view it from a distance. I continued walking, eventually reaching a spot that was as close as I was going to get.
I learned from a longtime resident that the building is known as the Gamecock Cottage. The peninsula once had over 80 cottages, that eventually were demolished about five years ago. This was a well publicized, divisive story that involved leases on public land. The Gamecock Cottage (built in 1864) was spared, but there has been disagreement over its future role.
Everything around me was silent and still. There was no wind in the air, or current in the water. The recent snowfall silenced any sounds in the distance. The small strip of land that had been the focus of so much heated debate, stood desolate and quiet.


We visit some famous Parish Closes

We all met on Wednesday morning at the church of St-Thegonnec, south west of Morlaix, for an educational day, visiting three of Brittany�s famous Parish Closes. These were built mainly in the 16th and 17th centuries and reflect the wealth, particularly in the region of L�on, resulting mainly from the linen trade with England. At that time, personal wealth was used for the benefit of the community, particularly as an expression of faith and local pride. The wealthy peasants, because it was the peasants who benefited from the economic wellbeing of the period, paid for these Closes and competition arose between communities to see who could build the biggest and the best.
A Parish Close consisted of, on the exterior, the triumphal arch entry gateway, modelled on the Roman triumphal arch, the Ossuary (a funeral chapel where bones were kept, often with a scene of sculpted figures showing the �Mise en Tombeau� (Christ being placed in his tomb)), the Calvaire depicting the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the porch with statues of the Apostles and the Sacristry. The interior would contain the Baptistry, Pulpit, Altarpieces, statues of the Saints, the �Poutre de Gloire� (beam of glory), and processional banners for the pardons (celebration of Saints� Days).
We visited three parish closes � those of St-Thegonnec, Guimiliau, and Lampaul-Guimiliau. They are all similar in their constituent parts, but very different in the way in which these are presented. Apart from the coffee at the Salon de Th� at Guimiliau, which was very welcome as the day was quite cold, what was it that struck me most?
The Calvaries were so different. At St-Thegonnec, the Calvary has nine scenes on the main frieze. The one at Guimiliau, by contrast, depicts 200 people in the scenes of Christ�s life, death and resurrection and the carving is spectacular. However, at Lampaul-Guimiliau there was far less decoration, it was a much plainer piece of work. The interior of the church at St-Thegonnec was badly damaged by fire in 1998, but has been wonderfully restored. The door to the ossuary at Lampaul-Guimiliau is quite lovely, depicting the tree of life, but over the door is the usual reminder that we will all die. Inside the church at Guimiliau, the beautifully carved organ was made by Thomas Dallam, an Englishman who fled Cromwell�s England to produce such tremendous pieces of work for the Catholic church abroad. The baptistery at Lampaul-Guimiliau was colourful, as indeed were the altarpieces; the Poutre de Gloire was magnificent. All three Closes were lovely in their own particular ways.
Oh, and you may be asking what has this got to do with walking? Well we did do a walk, albeit short, between eating our picnic lunches and visiting Lampaul-Guimiliau, taking in the Fontaine de Ste Anasthasie, killed by her father because she wouldn�t marry the man he wanted her to! And we had just one canine friend with us today, Merlin.
What did Alan & I take away from today? The desire to see the rest of the Breton Closes � a project perhaps for the coming Spring and Summer.
Liz (and photos by Alan) Quantrell

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Five Mile Point Lighthouse

Five Mile Point Lighthouse (aka New Haven Light), January 2009
First Lit: 1847
Discontinued: 1877

Lighthouse Friends
New England Lighthouses
New Haven Parks & Recreation

Sitzmedia: Bill Bryson Nebraska Excerpt

Hi everyone, we're back with another Bill Bryson quote from The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America ...although these quotes can probably be more properly termed "excerpts," instead of just mere quotes.

Frankly, I'm not sure if this is OK to do. I've tried doing a bit of internet research, and I can't figure out how much of a book or magazine I can excerpt and still be legit. If anyone knows, please feel free to tell me. And if you're Bill Bryson and you don't want me putting up so much of your book on my crappy site, feel free to tell me that, too.

In any case, today's excerpt is about Nebraska. Personally, I really can't say enough bad things about Nebraska. I know that this is a sticking point with some of my friends, since many of them have relatives who were unlucky enough to be left behind in Nebraska when their families migrated west towards a more promising future in Colorado. And I definitely hate Nebraska's football team. This is for two reasons: 1) I hate Nebraska and, 2) I hate football teams in general.

As an extra aside, this rabid dislike of Nebraska came to an interesting head when I went to the University of Colorado, because my university's team routinely played in games against Nebraska. But, you see, I also hated Colorado's team (see Reason 2 above). This meant that I had to strike a delicate balance and occasionally root for the home team, if only to blow those corn-husking bastards out of the water.

I've probably introduced this quote enough, so I'll let Bryson take over from here:

(From The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, page 207-208):

�I was headed for Nebraska. Now there�s a sentence you don�t want to have to say too often if you can possibly help it. Nebraska must be the most unexciting of all the states. Compared with it, Iowa is paradise. Iowa at least is fertile and green and has a hill. Nebraska is like a 75,000-square-mile bare patch. In the middle of the state is a river called the Platte, which at some times of the year is two or three miles wide. It looks impressive until you realize that it is only about four inches deep. You could cross it in a wheelchair. On a landscape without any contours of depressions to shape it, the Platte just lies there, like a drink spilled across a tabletop. It is the most exciting thing in the state.

�When I was growing up, I used to wonder how Nebraska came to be lived in. I mean to say, the original settlers, creaking across America in their covered wagons, had to have passed through Iowa, which is green and fertile and has, as I say, a hill, but stopped short of Colorado, which is green and fertile and has a mountain range, and settled instead for a place that is flat and brown and full of stubble and prairie dogs. Doesn�t make a lot of sense, does it? Do you know what the original settlers made their houses of? Dried mud. And do you know what happened to all those mud houses when the rainy season came every year? That�s correct, they slid straight into the Platte River.

�For a long time I couldn�t decide whether the original settlers in Nebraska were insane or just stupid, and then I saw a stadium full of University of Nebraska football fans in action on a Saturday and realized that they must have been both. I may be a decade or so out of touch here but when I left America, the University of Nebraska didn�t so much play football as in engage in weekly ritual slaughters. They were always racking up scores of 58-3 against hapless opponents. Most schools, when they get a decent lead, will send in a squad of skinny freshmen in unsoiled uniforms to let them run around a bit and get dirty and, above all, to give the losers a sporting chance to make the score respectable. It�s called fair play.

�Not Nebraska. The University of Nebraska would send in flamethrowers if it were allowed. Watching Nebraska play football every week was like watching hyenas tearing open a gazelle. It was unseemly. It was unsporting. And of course the fans could never get enough of it. To sit among them with the score 66-0 and watch them bray for more blood is a distinctly unnerving experience, particularly when you consider that a lot of these people must work at the Strategic Air Command in Omaha. If Iowa State ever upset Nebraska, I wouldn�t be at all surprised if they nuked Ames.�

Brats on a Rake

Several years ago, we were confronted with a challenge: How do you cook hotdogs and bratwurst over a bonfire? The traditional sticks that we used for campfires were not a good option. Long sticks tend to bow, and the meat ends up in the ashes. Short sticks can't be held safely, since you have to stand so far back from the fire. Our best way to recruit the kids to help with these fires was to offer a cook out, and so Greg came up with the perfect solution. He built a special tool to hold the brats near the coals, without risking the safety of the chef. Thus, a new tradition was born: Brats on a rake.

This rake is pretty cool. It's about eight feet long, has straight tines, and two large loops of metal that hold it up off the ground.

We load the rake up with brats and then slide it into the fire. Then we sit back and watch them cook.

It's a little tricky sometimes, to turn them, but the straight tines make a big difference. We give 'em a little quarter turn and send them back into the fire.
The heat of a bonfire cooks the brats quickly, and so soon we were enjoying these tasty little morsels. Some were made of elk, while some were traditional brats, and they all were scrumptious. Eating outside in any type of weather is a real pleasure when the food is this good.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Photo Quiz

Please take a moment to look at the image below:

OK, now that you've had a look, think about it for a minute.
The question of the day is this:

Where was this picture taken?

I'll bring it up again in a new post a few days from now, but I wanted you to have a chance to put up any guesses that you might have in the meantime. Thanks for playing!

(Picture is a copyright-released image from Wikimedia Commons)

Sitzmedia: Bill Bryson Quote

This will be my first official contribution to the "Sitzmedia" idea that I mentioned yesterday. I was recently reading the book The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson. I liked a few passages that I wanted to share, mainly because they were funny or talked shit about Nebraska. So, I'll put up the first quote in a moment, but first I wanted to mention something about Bryson.

He's brilliant.

Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. I believe--although this belief is not entirely confirmed-- that my friend Brad Bonner loaned me one of Bryson's books when we were exchange students together in Germany ten years ago. Ah yes, 1999. The German air was cool, my head was covered in hair, and a sense of a promising future filled with Eurotrash permeated every aspect of our lives. Basically, we were partying like it was 1999.

Brad loaned me Bryson's book, and even then it was 10 years old. Neither those 10 years, nor the 10 more that have passed since I first read this book, have diminished its entertainment value in any way. In the book Bryson basically drives around the US in a shitty Corvair, and snarkiness (and excellent writing) ensue. I can thoroughly recommend this book or any other one by Bryson, to anyone who enjoys humorous non-fiction writing. I'll put up a quote about Columbus today, and tomorrow I'll put up the aforementioned Nebraska-slamming excerpt. Hope you enjoy:

(From page 147 of "The Lost Continent," by Bill Bryson):

�It was the Columbus Day weekend and the roads were busy. Columbus has always seemed to me an odd choice of hero for a country that celebrates success as America does because he was such a dismal failure. Consider the facts: he made four long voyages to the Americas, but never once realized that he wasn�t in Asia and never found anything worthwhile. Every other explorer was coming back with exciting new products like potatoes and tobacco and nylon stockings, and all Columbus found to bring home were some puzzled-looking Indians�and he thought they were Japanese. (�Come on, you guys, let�s see a little sumo.�)

�But perhaps Columbus� most remarkable shortcoming was that he never actually saw the land that was to become the United States. This surprises a lot of people. They imagine him trampling over Florida, saying, �You know, this would make a nice resort.� But in fact his voyages were all spent in the Caribbean and bouncing around the swampy, bug-infested coasts of Central America. If you ask me, the Vikings would make far more worthy heroes for America. For one thing, they did actually discover it. On top of that, the Vikings were manly and drank out of skulls and didn�t take crap from anybody. Now that�s the American way.�

Monday, 19 January 2009

Sitzmedia: Introduction

"A while back... we agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like. Books, records, films -- these things matter! Call me shallow; it's the fucking truth."
-Rob Gordon,
High Fidelity

If you are with my family for Christmas, you'll notice one thing about the presents that we give each other: about 85% of them are books, CDs, or movies. And that may even be a low estimate. I was thinking about this phenomenon recently, and it also struck me that many of my friendships and conversations in the past used discussions about books, movies, and music as a centerpiece, or as a kind of springboard to a deeper conversation. When I talk to my friend Chris, for example, we can talk about almost anything, but a lot of the time we talk about the last movie we saw. Or the new music we're listening to. Or what book we definitely have to read when we get a chance. And this is fine, in my opinion, because it's just a part of a friendship, and not the whole friendship summed up in something material and shallow.

Still, being in Costa Rica isn't too conducive to such conversations. Movies and music are popular here, but they don't seem to carry nearly as much importance as they do in the U.S. (which probably goes a long way towards explaining Reggaeton music). And books? Well, people just don't seem to read here.

Also, my wife Angela is slowly getting into these types of things, but growing up on a coffee farm around here seems to equate to infrequent visits to the movie theaters, to say the least. When I first asked her what music she liked, her list was two groups long: Bon Jovi and Savage Garden. In the meantime, we've gotten to the point where we can discuss movies we've seen together recently, but she still doesn't have an entire quarter-century of pop culture references under her belt.

So, in an attempt to have at least a one-way "conversation," I came up with the idea of "Sitzmedia." I'm still developing it, but I'm thinking it can be a place where I can talk with you--or even with myself, if need be--about what I've been reading, listening to, and watching. I was originally just going to put up some quotes from books and samples from songs, but I'm thinking this could be a lot more interesting, depending on how I/we do it.

If you read something under a Sitzmedia heading, I would certainly encourage you to leave a comment, and maybe this can develop into something cool. If it does, I may be able to make a different blog out of this. Or, if it sucks and it bombs, I'll just scrap it.

Those are my thoughts for now...

By the way, I think I'll include some sort of links to the movies, books, and music, either like in the quotation above, or the link below. That's the idea, so hopefully something interesting comes of it!

Here Comes The Ferry

The Grand Republic arrives in Port Jefferson on Sunday morning at 10:15 AM.
Right on schedule!

Bridgeport/Port Jefferson Ferry website

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Boardwalk At Sunken Meadow

After a week or so of temperatures in the teens, yesterday's thermometer reaching 30 degrees seemed like a warm spell. I took advantage of the "heat wave" by visiting Al Smith/Sunken Meadow State Park in Smithtown. This is a LARGE park, both in acreage and waterfront.
It originally opened as a 520 acre park in 1930, and has expanded to over 1,200 acres through the acquisition of adjacent properties. In 1992, the name of the park was changed to honor former Governor Alfred E. Smith, who played a vital role in the creation of many New York metropolitan area parks.
I focused my visit on the three-mile beach area which includes a boardwalk that lines a portion of the beach. Despite the morning snowfall, there were a considerable number of people walking the 3/4-mile deck that was free of snow and ice. Smithtown Bay was silent, with barely a ripple on the surface. The sky had a low, gray layer that thwarted any long distance visibility. The only landmark I could see was a foggy and blurry Crane Neck, several miles to the northeast. A few gulls used their beaks as icepicks, digging through the snow and ice to reach the shells and sand below. Several Canadian Geese got some much needed rest and relaxation, after a busy week of sabotaging departing jets at LaGuardia Airport.
Like many state parks, there is a certain generic quality to the architecture here. Most of the buildings and structures are nearly identical to those found at other state parks in the Adirondacks and Hudson Valley. Even the railings along the boardwalk looked familiar. This however, is really a small complaint that rests more in a quirky pet-peeve of mine, than in any legitimate criticism. The state park system is so extensive that creating and maintaining unique, locally influenced structures would not be cost effective. In the end, it is the park itself that matters, not the refreshment stands.
I reached the end of the boardwalk, and continued walking westward along the beach. At this point, there were no footprints in the snow, and everything seemed silent. The glacier-formed bluffs rose in the distance, blocking from sight the four stacks of the Keyspan Power Station in Northport. I have seen those stacks from as far away as New Haven, CT, and Westchester County, NY. I found it amazing to be so close to them, yet unable to see them. Sometimes, "not seeing the forest for the trees" is an admirable quality.
I reached an area of the beach that was quite icy and dangerous, so I turned around, and made my way back. I came upon a friendly couple who were taking a break from their cross-country skiing. They were quite familiar with the park, and were able to describe some trails, and a marshland area that I was not aware of. This is the type of park where one can visit many times, and still find new places to explore. There is too much here to discover on one Sunday afternoon in January.


Campfire Time

As was predicted, the weather warmed up this weekend, above zero, and that made it a lot easier to be outside having fun. The fishermen were very happy, as the fish cooperated and several people were able to catch their limit. We were the fortunate recipients of trout and northern pike from some generous guests. I cooked it up for dinner tonight, and we all enjoyed the flavor of fresh fish. It's been several months--last summer--since we tasted trout right out of the cold water of Gunflint Lake. It's hard to beat. (.....though Addie admitted that she prefers fresh ciabatta bread to fresh fish!)

We got new snow on Saturday, and Addie reported excellent skiing conditions. She hit the Amperage Run trail, shortly after the groomer had been through.

On Friday evening, we headed over to Sharlene's and Jim's place to have a campfire. Well, it was more like a bonfire.....Over the course of the fall, Jim had done a lot of clearing of brush on their property. He had piled it all up on shore, down in front of Jasper cabin. They had asked if we could help when the time came to burn the pile. We gladly said yes. We love a good campfire, be it summer or winter. The nice thing about this time of the year is the lack of bugs while we are out there.
The secret to a good bonfire is to start the fire small, and then to feed it from the larger pile. That way you can keep the fire going, and everything burns. It's a lot of work, but I find it amazing, too, at how quickly the large pile disappears. We all took turns pulling branches out of the pile to feed the fire. A considerable amount of snow had covered the heap, but it didn't stop the brush from drying out, and so it burned well.
It was a perfect night to be out there--no wind, the stars were out, and of course, warm enough, given the the amount of heat generated by the fire. And no mosquitoes!