Monday, January 26, 2009

home is where the heart is

As the man who once said he'd like to live in a new place every six months, and own no more than would fit in his station wagon, "settling down" has been an acquired taste. I also never felt any deep need to own a house, which makes it strange to wake up in a house that I supposedly "own". It's a little bit like the French philosopher behind the wheel of an automobile -- he is fascinated, but almost dangerously detached. The old place felt like something I owned -- spiritually if not legally. It's like a phantom limb; when I go there to clean it, supposedly for the next person, I can't help but "living" there. Time fuses us to our residences, but home itself ultimately comes from within.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Calamity Jane's transition

Calamity, they tell me you lived a good life for a rabbit -- eight years? Nine years? The Bush years? Why did I decide to put you down within a few hours of Obama's swearing in? Can you ever forgive me? You got swept into this time of major transitions, and made the ultimate transition. Just a few weeks ago you made the transition from having two-and-one-half good legs to only one. That must have been tough. And a few months ago you miraculously rebounded from your first bout of E. cuniculi, or whatever was making you wobbly. Were you OK with being wobbly? I will always question whether I did the right thing with you.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Puerto Vallarta

The third and final port of call was Puerto Vallarta. The actual city was a bit more touristy and less charming than I'd imagined; it has no doubt multiplied many times since Richard Burton and Liz Taylor put this fishing village on the map. Indeed the prettiest part was the posh Mismaloya area to the south, which in some ways felt like a tropical version of Carmel. But even in these tropics the Pacific Ocean remains colder and darker than, say, the Caribbean. Otherwise the weather was totally pleasant.

The resort at Mismaloya (below left) is where we almost spent our last vacation, so it was interesting to see it on this vacation. It's on the cove next to where Night of the Iguana was filmed. The hotel in that movie, the one managed by Ava Gardner, was located on the adjacent point (below right). Director John Huston built it as a set in what at the time was a random piece of jungle.

It was interesting to learn that Night of the Iguana, the film that was such a boon to the local tourism, was never released in Mexico. Apparently the deeply religious population had no use for Richard Burton's portrayal of an errant priest turned drunken, womanizing scoundrel.

Old Town Mazatlan

After the hike we were dropped off in the Old Town, where we explored on foot for a few hours. It was a charming place with rough edges. I'm pretty sure it was the real Mexico. These photos play up the charm more than the rough edges. The grand yellow cathedral was one of the town's focal points. The naturalist recommended a restaurant right next to it, which turned out to be one of the most insanely busy restaurants I have ever eaten at. As is my habit, I had nopales con huevos (cactus with eggs).

Afterwards we wandered over to the other town square, which was more secular. Here the focal point was the historic opera house. Otherwise there were hotels, cafes and restaurants. Mazatlan is a well established port that became wealthy in the 19th century from nearby silver mines. It is also the home of Pacifico beer, so we decided to honor that fact at one of the cafes on the square. It is actually one of the better Mexican beers, especially with a lime wedge squeezed into it.

Friday, January 16, 2009


By contrast Mazatlan, on the other side of the Sea of Cortez, was sunny and clear. With a small group and a local naturalist we hiked up to the 2nd highest lighthouse in the world (after Gibraltar), which sounds like a lot but is actually only about 500-600 feet above sea level. The rocky trail was full of iguanas and organ pipe cacti; at the top was a fabulous panarama of the city and surrounding islands plus the spectacle of dive-bombing falcons. It was good to burn off some calories after all that cruise food!

Cabo San Lucas

The Tropic of Cancer cuts right across the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, so it was ironic that Cabo San Lucas, out first stop in the "tropics", was overcast and a little windy. After the ship docked in the harbor we were taxied ashore on the smaller craft shown here.
The weather didn't stop us from kayaking out to "El Arco" at the end of this formation that forms the very tip of Baja. It's the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez -- a bit choppy but we were led by an experienced guide. The rocks were covered with pelicans and sea lions.
From sandy "Lovers Beach" near the tip we went snorkeling, which didn't go as well. The fish were somewhat neon but the visibility was reduced (due to lack of sun), and being in a group it was hard not to get a flipper in the face.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

the cabin

What was our cabin or stateroom like you're wondering? Smaller than a motel room but more comfortable. Seemed to be very clean. This one was windowless, so it got dark. You wake up in the night, and the motion itself isn't unpleasant. But then you consider that this ship is larger then the Titanic, and then you start thinking about the Titanic, and that can disrupt your sleep.

Your head points toward the bow of the ship. There may be science or feng shui behind this. It works.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

shipping lanes

What's it like leaving L.A. Harbor on a cruise ship? To start with, I swear this "Evergreen" cargo ship is the one I photographed on last summer's Channel Islands trip (see blog entry). The west coast's largest port is a slightly surreal place. This view of San Pedro reminds me of a hand-tinted picture book of the glory days of communist China.
This is what it looks like from the top deck of the cruise ship. One cargo ship coming in, one cruise ship going out, with us following right behind.

To comprehend the scale of these ships, it helps to see one of similar size churning away in front of you.

The lighthouse and the tugboats doing their jobs...

Leaving the harbor at sunset. Nice photo Lisa.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

beST FILMS of 2008

In this man's opinion, the beST film of 2008 was:

Into the Wild ('07)

and the rest of the beST were:

The Last King of Scotland ('06)
Across the Universe ('07)

The Kite Runner ('07)
Year of the Dog ('07)
God Grew Tired of Us ('06)

L'Avventura ('60)

and a few more films worth watching are:

There Will Be Blood ('07)
Rescue Dawn ('06)
Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains ('07)
Elizabeth: the Golden Age ('06)

Juno ('07)
About Schmidt ('02)
Mama Mia! ('08)

whereas these films must be punished for excessive violence:

In Bruges ('08)
No Country for Old Men ('07)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

beST MUSIC of 2008

Manu Chao: Clandestino ('98) Ten years old? Who cares? This one's every bit as good as the better known Proxima Estacion...

Bryan Ferry: As Time Goes By ('99) Not sure how this gem slipped by unnoticed... Here we have the retro core of the man unplugged and channeling Cole Porter.

Rough Guide to the Asian Underground ('03) A long, many layered series of noises that will take forever to digest...

B-52's: Funplex ('08) Amazing. These guys picked up exactly where they left off with 1992's Good Stuff, as though frozen in a time capsule, and like a fine wine got even better.

Amadou & Miriam: Dimanche a Bamako ('05) Blind duo from Mali, teamed up with Manu Chao to create a long, lively set of African pop.