Friday, May 22, 2009

Notes from the road

Odds and ends on topics not quite congealed enough to constitute an entire post:

  • Scandinavia, even in early May, is freaking cold, gray, and dreary. I can see how the place has spawned so many death metal bands and existentialist philosophers. It's a coping mechanism against the heavy iron hand of existence.

  • To someone who rarely needs an alarm clock and finds it hard to sleep in even if I stay up late, jet lag is a curse. Few things are more miserable than feeling your brain suddenly mucking through tar in the middle of the afternoon or waking up starving at 4 in the morning.

  • Also from the "it's all clear to me now" department: if the famous Russian brides you hear about are anything like the real Russian women you see by the hundreds in St. Petersburg, maybe it's not such a bad idea after all.

  • A clear daytime flight back can give you a bonus itenerary. Thanks to excellent weather on the return flight, I was able to see the snowy mountains of central Norway, oil derricks in the North Sea, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and millions of North Atlantic icebergs that looked close enough together to walk across. It was sort of scary when the pilot came over the intercom to tell us that we could look out and see the uncommon sight of Iceland below when we were in fact over the Faroe Islands. I was left thinking that we were either much higher than I thought or that global warming had melted the last of Iceland's eponymous ice. We did manage to find our way back home, thankfully.

  • I love to travel, and cruises are one of the easiest and most relaxing ways to see places it would otherwise be difficult logistically to see. But I'm learning that I like to travel much more than I like to cruise. It comes down to authentic vs. fake. Authentic is planning things yourself, seeing what you want to see, and moving at your own pace. It's finding your own food. It's knowing, seeing, feeling where you are. It's how to say you've really been somewhere, not just seen it. Fake is going on overpriced tours loaded with one-foot-in-the-grave geezers festooned with fanny packs and Hawaiian shirts who move at a pace rivaling snot on a frozen doorknob and always seem to be shuffling about aimlessly two feet in front of you every time you want to get somewhere. Fake is a crew who seem to not want to be there yet feel compelled by their superiors to shoot you a tepid "hello, sir" along with an empty smile any time you get within 15 feet of them. Call me a curmudgeon, but I find these fake overtures of "courtesy" to be an irritant. If I say hi to you, it's because I'm glad to see you. If I smile at you, it's because I am happy. Tossing out a fake hello to strangers, smiling, and pretending to be interested in how they spent their day is not being polite. It's filling the air with white noise. It's a gaudy plastic flamingo in the yard of sociability. I read somewhere that most British people find the American cultural compulsion to sing out "have a nice day!" left and right to people we barely even know to be cutesy and silly. I tend to agree. Being rude is not ignoring others...being rude is imposing on others. Being polite is being sincere.

    By the way, this is in no way a knock on the thousands of thoroughly alright and decent Southeast Asian and Eastern European people who are just trying to make a living while seeing the world and dealing with spoiled, elderly Americans on the cruise ships. They do what they're told.


  • Matryoshka dolls I bought in St. Petersburg, depicting various Soyuzmultfilm characters. Soyuzmultfilm was a Soviet animation company of the 60s, 70s, and early 80s that produced some of the most imaginative, exotic, and often creepy non-kiddie cartoons and stop-motion shorts I've ever seen. Each a little Faberge Egg.

They strike me as slightly darker versions of the educational / cultural shows our teachers would show us on KET / PBS back in my elementary school days of the mid-80s.

If interested, here's



and creepy.

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