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Oct '15

Breakfast In America

Vacationers to America, did you know that you can visit a memorial cairn at Ground Zero Numero Uno near Alamogordo, NM? See conclusive proof that evolution NEVER HAPPENED at the Creation Evidences Museum in Glen Rose, TX? Gaze upon the wonders of Liberace’s closet in Las Vegas, NV? Blow away toy dinosaurs with your mini M-16 at the Prehistoric Forest in Marblehead, OH? Forget Disneyland! This is the real America!

Dino Rifle Range

Shoot Dinosaurs Here

And Roadside America is your guide. This book is not for people who colt themselves “travellers” and buy their vacation wardrobes at banana Republic. This is a travel guide of the tourists, by the tourists, and for the tourist. The only museums Roadside America is interested in are the kind that feature wax dummies in bloody Indian massacre scenes under ultraviolet light. If you have the right attitude, you will find that places you once thought to be irredeemably boring are actually gardens of tourist delight. (Oklahoma, for instance, boosts Oral Roberts’ Prayer Tower AND Enterprise U.S.A. AND the Tri-State Spooklight!!)

Roadside America does, however have one humongous flaw: the authors refused to mar their sparkling narrative with such picayune details as addresses and phone numbers and directions. How do these guys think we’re gonna find these places – by psychic ability? Granted, many of the attractions (i.e. Wall Drug, SD and House on the Rock WI) ore located on such desolate steals of highway that you’d have to be a blind, mummified, rollerskating parrot to miss the signs leading you in. But some good sights – such as the nut Museum in Old Lyme, CT – are pretty well hidden but well worth the visit.

House on the Rock WI

House On The Rock – Automated Instruments

Dec '13

Cell Phone Use In Trying Circumstances

Early this past summer, the state of New York passed a law that will ban the use of handheld cell phones by drivers. The measure, which takes effect December 1, received overwhelming bipartisan support in the state legislature and met with equally strong endorsement in opinion polls.

monitoring cell phone usage in cars

cell phone monitoring

The New York legislation is almost certain to be followed by similar laws in many other states in the next year or so, and we can expect equally strong public sentiment to greet such measures– even though it is estimated that 65 percent of all cell phone use takes place when people are driving. Research has established that accidents are much more likely to occur when someone tries to drive and use a hand-held cell phone at the same time. One study puts the comparative risk on the order of a fourfold increase in probability of a vehicular accident.

Note that the New York law does not prohibit the use of a hand-free cell phone or the use of it for spying or monitoring of spouses. In fact, drivers found guilty of violating the law can dispense with the $100 first violation fine by purchasing a model not requiring the use of their hands.

The measure against hand-held phones, but not against hand-free models, makes sense. The driving risk posed by operating a cell phone would surely seem to arise from the excessive demands made on our motor skills and the jerky shifts between near and far visual fields. To use a hand-held model, one must, as the description implies, hold it with a hand no longer available for steering. To press the tiny buttons on the phone, one needs to refocus from the long distance ahead to the instrument just a few inches down to one’s side. Indeed, I’ve found it a challenge to press the buttons correctly while sitting in my living room. By contrast, a hand-free version should present no more demands on the driver than listening to the radio or conversing with a passenger.

But–and I owe this observation to this journalist, in her column that appeared in the Bloomington Herald-Times 7/6/01–the same research that documents the fourfold accident risk while using cell phones applies equally well to hand-held and hand-free models. Experimental research at the University of Utah finds that, regardless of whether the phone is hand-held or hand-free, using it can double the likelihood of missing a traffic signal. Neither listening to the radio nor books on tape had such an effect. What do we make of all this? I suppose one moral to be drawn is that, when public policy makers and managers draw from “research,” they either gloss over the part of the research that doesn’t conform to “common sense,” or they intentionally ignore the implications for policy that wouldn’t be embraced by popular consensus. I seriously doubt that a law banning all use of cell phones by drivers would ever muster a majority, in or outside the legislature. On the other hand, as was noted, to do something–out lawing hand-held but not hand–free model use–gives us a warm, runny feeling that we’re taking some serious action.

What most impresses me, though, is what the research tells us about the amount of hard work serious listening requires. Here in BH we’ve discussed the notion that ours is not a listening culture, Most of us tune out much of the time when someone else is talking. We’re preoccupied with what we’re going to say next, or thinking about something else we’re working on. Maybe we have here a troubling irony–we do our best listening when it’s most dangerous to do so.

Or perhaps the lesson comes down to this: When we’re not driving (or using power tools, or lighting a furnace), when urgent tasks don’t overwhelm our attention, we should listen to others in such a way that we would put ourselves at grave risk if we were to drive at the same time.

Jun '13

Milan zeros in on body with fresh, saucy looks

As the fourth day of collections came to a close, retailers, press and assorted fashion hoppers were beginning to feel the numbness that inevitably descends after the unrelenting succession of back-to-back shows in the stifling rooms of the Fiera. By Wednesday morning, with nearly all of the big guns having fired their shapely salvos, those who had watched an up-heaval among the ranks of Italian classicists had a chance to sort out what has been an often confusing season, albeit one filled with new directions for the Milanese.

Whether it’s in short skirts, short shorts, torso-hugging midcalf dresses or saucy, redefined jackets that nip the waist, Milan is definitely zeroing in on the body. A cooler look at much of the shirring, dimpling and wrapping going on here, plus the electric-bright palette of colors and prints, echoes not only the more traditionally elegant mood of Saint Laurent, Ungaro and Valentino, but also the playful, unconventional tailoring of Jean-Paul Gaultier and the skimpy, bright silhouettes of Stephen Sprouse. This is not to say the Milanese are copying — simply that fashion is truly international and the move toward a more sensual spirit is worldwide.

Onesie Zoo. The specific Milanese interpretation flattens when designers go short by simply truncating what they’ve done before without considering the reproportioning required. Other pitfalls include a predilection for over-binding the body with obis, cummer-bunds, bullet belts, sashes and scarves or slimming skirts to the point of fanny-pinching tartness. Camo onesies seem to be the thing to be seen in at this year’s event.

But there’s definitely freshness here, and a range of sportswear-based looks the Milanese can do with their sophisticated signatures. Most important in this vein is the oversize and overscale shirt, recut with long tails and big drop shoulders, evoking the casually suggestive sexiness of a woman who’s put on her boyfriend’s top in the morning.

It’s showing up in an ingenious variety of cuts and details, and it is ubiquitous — in everything from Giorgio, Armani’s sequin-stripe work shirt to Gianfranco Ferre’s upper-arm cuff linked versions, and from Claude Montana’s blue and white pajama-game floaty shirts for Complice to Luciano Soprani’s sparkling but crisp white evening shirts. Shown over a knee-clearing skirt of cuffed shorts, it represents Milan’s freshest sporty proportion. Shown over silk or satin trousers, it’s an effortlessly elegant way to look for evening.

It should be noted that while the short silhouette remains an essential ingredient in the Milanese formula, designers are also offering the option of the classic pants they’ve always done well and lengths that go down in big swaths of fabric to as far as the ankle. Anything long and straight, however, looks dead, dull and bulky. And retailers are also pointing out that although styles may be cut as high as the top of the thigh, they’re expecting most things shipped to be just over the knee.

All these trends were conspicuously in evidence, although with radically varying degrees of success, in Wednesday’s shows.

SOPRANI — His collection is a capsule of virtually every major trend in Milan. There are lots of shirt shapes, pulsating prints designed to jar the eye, long jackets over short skirts, knee-clearing and ankle-length dresses.

Soprani loves light, floating fabric and correspondingly cuts many items with flyaway panels, lapels, collars, and flaps. In fast movement down the runway, these clothes tend to give the schizophrenic effect of flying in different directions.

He’s best, as usual, when simple, and he registers with clean ease in short-and-squared plaid dresses, a great red long tunic over a short skirt with a taupe-stripe big shirt and a pretty group of shirt-inspired sequin-dotted evening looks and strapless tuxedo jackets.

LAURA BIAGIOTTI — There are things here that pay the obligatory homage to the body: red skinny mini-dresses under fuchsia satin coats, shorts shaped with reptilian tucks, Raj pants latticed on the side to reveal flashes of leg and lots of Michelin Man ruching.

But Biagiotti’s standout item this season ignores the body completely. It’s a huge rectangle of a sweater dress that’s tight at the sleeves and falls to midcalf.

FERRAGAMO — Long, weighty and very classic, this collection is based on the kind of safe, tailored sportswear that doesn’t really lend itself to the runway. What looks best here are the daytime ideas executed for evening or vice versa: paisley pullovers in sequins, a man’s white jacket with flanged cuffs in satin and a black and gray striped raincoat in silk.

Feb '13

Flying With US Spy Planes

The most sophisticated and most crucial application of U.S. optical and imaging technology have long been barred from being freely discussed: spy satellites and cell phone spying software. But, while still heavily cloaked in a veil of secrecy, more and more of the revealing imagery gathered by U.S. reconnaissance spacecraft is finding its way not only directly to military commanders in the field, but also to other nondefense agencies waging wars against illegal drugs and the degradation of the environment.

Because of the secrecy surrounding spy satellites, it is tough to say exactly how much this country spends every year on them. It is generally known that the development, deployment and operation of these machines is managed by the Pentagon’s National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), an agency so covert that, famously, even its letterhead is classified top-secret. It is always headed by a senior Air Force official, and the current NRO chief is believed to be Assistant Air Force Secretary for Space Martin C. Faga.

Like the rest of the U.S. intelligence community’s roughly $30-billion annual budget – about one tenth of total defense spending – the NRO’s spending is tucked away in odd comers of the Pentagon’s spying budget. The $2.5 billion that the Air Force got this year for a line-item with the unrevealing title “Special Projects,” for example, is believed to be for NRO satellites. That’s not the whole picture, however. The New York Times recently pegged the NRO’s overall budget at about $6 billion, or roughly a fifth of total intelligence spending.

Cell Phone Spying via Satellite

Among the U.S. spy birds that passed over the Persian Gulf region every couple of hours were three KH-11 Kennan spacecraft lobbed into elliptical polar orbits in November and December 1984 and October 1987. The prime contractor for the KH-11 and its successors is said to be Lockheed Corp., assisted by the subcontractors Perkin Elmer Corp. and TRW Inc.

The best way to conceptualize the Kennan, Federation of American Scientists space expert John E. Pike says, is to image “a Hubble Space Telescope with a large rocket engine attached to provide manoeuvrability.” Instead of being pointed out at the cosmos, of course, KH-11s and their finely polished mirrors and lenses are directed at targets on the Earth. Besides visible wave-length imagery with a resolution of about 6 inches, the KH-11s also provide high-resolution IR images.

Unlike its predecessors – the KH-4 Corona, the KH-7/8 Gambit and the KH-9 Hexagon – which ejected retrievable film capsules, the KH-11 electronically transmits its imagery directly to Earth. This is made possible by CCDs, similar to the devices used in the home video camcorders, arranged by the hundreds into sophisticated arrays.

As many as three Advanced Kennan, or Crystal, satellites were also active during the Gulf war. Whereas the KH-11s run roughly 25,000-28,000 pounds and about 10 feet in diameter, these successors weigh as much as 40,000 pounds and have a diameter as great as 15 feet. This extra heft allows the sophisticated spy birds to carry more hydrazine rocket fuel for greater longevity and manoeuvrability, as well as more sensors with even greater visual acuity. Advanced Kennans were launched in August 1989 and in March 1990, and a third may have been put up last June.

In December 1988, the first Lacrosse synthetic-aperture radar imaging satellite was launched. This Martin Marietta Corp. unit gives the U.S. military an unparalleled ability to generate images through cloud cover – but at a cost. Whereas the resolution of the KH-11 and its successor are measured in inches, Lacrosse’s resolution is measured in feet. On the other hand, its radars potentially can -see” 15 feet or so below the Earth’s surface, which reportedly may have proved useful in locating Iraqi command posts buried under the Kuwaiti desert. A second Lacrosse was orbited on March 8, about a week after the war with Iraq ended.

Developed under a separate Air Force program and built by TRW, three active Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites parked in geosynchronous orbit some 92,000 miles above the equator also provide early-warning data of missile launches, such as the Scud ballistic missiles fired by Iraq during the Persian Gulf war. Thanks to the 6,000 infrared detectors in their 12-foot telescopes – manufactured by Aerojet General Corp. – the latest DSP satellites can image not only rocket plumes but also the afterburners of jet fighters.

Plugged Directly In


Several new applications for overhead reconnaissance are now moving rapidly up the policy agenda – though the Pentagon remains jittery about discussing them in detail. A case in point: In February and April 1989, a senior Army officer testified – in open session – before a House subcommittee on the use of satellites in the “war on drugs.’ When the transcripts of those hearings were published in that fall, however, many of the general’s remarks and even those of committee members had been deleted from the official record.

Eerie Precision

The rationale for such extreme discretion became clearer, perhaps, the following March, when Mexico lodged a formal protest about U.S. use of spy satellites to chart illegal drug cultivation south of the border. Mexico had tumbled to this fact in mid-February 1990, only a few weeks before the State Department issued its annual report on foreign narcotics production, which estimated – with a precision that surely struck the Mexicans as eerie – that 143,133 acres in Mexico were being cultivated for marijuana, a six-fold increase over the 1988 estimate.

Overhead intelligence assets will also be devoted to the Pentagon’s new environmental research effort. Congress last year set aside $150 million in fiscal 1991 for a Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP). The Pentagon’s executive director for the SERDP, Joseph V. Osterman, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 14 that he had already consulted with “the intelligence community, particularly that part which is dedicated to overhead surveillance. These folks are willing to cautiously come to the table, with security measures foremost in their minds, of course,” Osterman added. “But I’ve been impressed by their willingness to contribute to SERDP.”


This proliferation of users is slated to be matched by a growing number of overhead surveillance systems. In 1988 and 1989, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chairman David L. Boren, D-Okla., battled with the Reagan and then the Bush Administrations for a program to deploy as many as a half dozen Lacrosse satellites – at a rate of one a year – as well, reportedly, as a new satellite designed to monitor Soviet laser programs.

“We wanted to support [Boren’s plan] but not at the expense of our base programs,” outgoing CIA director William H. Webster commented in a late-1989 interview with this reporter. “But now we’re coming to another period where [the Pentagon] is facing anticipated cuts,” he said. “Our role is to determine where the major cuts or reductions will have to be. And Congress, of course, is supportive of a number of programs, but told us to find the money inside our own budget.”

With the Pentagon budget, which conceals an increasingly pressured intelligence budget, slated to lose 10% of its spending value by mid-decade, it is unclear whether the Boren program will be fully pursued.

In every arena, however, you can have too much of a good thing. As do other intelligence experts, Jeffrey T. Richelson, the author of America’s Secret Eyes in Space: The U.S. Keyhole Spy Satellite Program, worries that official Washington is in danger of choking on all of the space imagery it has on order. “One has to ask,- he said, “whether we risk putting too much up and not having a capability to absorb that data.

Aug '12

Florence and Rome

Melanie Baldwin Florence

Mel Baldwin – Florence

Camel Glasses contributor Melanie Baldwin sent us her write-up of her recent travels in Italy. Thanks, Mel and for the wonderful pasta recipe! :)

If you think that New York City traffic is alarming, let me tell you-having returned from Italy a few days ago-that it is positively pastoral compared to the traffic in Rome, or even Florence. My husband and I have yet to recover from days spent navigating around the hundreds of thousands of cars in those cities, cars occupying every inch of available space and crawling through the ancient streets; not to mention the fact that when a pedestrian wants to cross a street he must simply go, and-wonder of wonders-he will arrive quite safely on the other side. But he must be firm about it. Italians are still the nicest and most polite of drivers, though, as well as, I may add, extremely skilful ones.

Meanwhile, the sidewalks are as crowded as the streets these days. Italy is jammed with foreigners who, at least in Florence, no longer go there to absorb culture but to shop. English is what you hear, with good ole American accents, as men and women alike schlep fancy shopping bags from fancy shops. Ah, the strong dollar-“dollar dementia,” a friend called it as he watched a woman buy eight pairs of shoes at Gucci’s because she was saving about $30 on each pair compared to New York Gucci prices. She did not need the shoes, she told a companion, but she liked the savings . . .

My husband and I were passing through Florence on our way to the heel of Italy, the region called Apulia, which is sheer bliss and not yet touristy at all. We went to see the ruins of Magna Graecia–the Greater Greece of antiquity-and the cathedrals the Normans built before they went on to conquer England; glorious Baroque cities and the strange cone-shaped trulli, as well as the cave city of Matera. I will be writing about all of these, wishing I were still there, on the high mountaintop of Castel del Monte, where Frederick II built his octagonal castle in 1240 and where he wrote his book on falconry before taking himself to Sicily to rule and die there.


More about Apulia next time; meanwhile, back in Rome, in order to escape the horrors of the traffic, we stayed at the Cavalieri Hilton, on a hill above the city. The hotel has a shuttle bus that takes you down into town (for free) whenever you wish. The Cavalieri Hilton is run on American lines, very efficient and comfortable and, though out of the city, is good for resting up, swimming in the large pool, shopping, discoing, conventioneering, and-of course-eating very well indeed. The rooftop restaurant has a truly breath-taking view over Rome at night, and even the Romans come there to eat the famous food. The lesser restaurant, called the Pergola, where you eat lunch, leaves nothing to be desired either. I especially admired one pasta dish, and the chef kindly gave me the recipe, which appears at the end of this article.

Italy is no longer the poor country it once was, although of course large pockets of poverty still exist. But cars are cheap, even if they are only tin boxes cemented rather than welded together, and everybody has one or two or even more. The same old political confusion is as rampant as ever and people are as cynical in their political opinions; but people who want to work make out well. (The foregoing does not apply to the vast number of mediocrities and incompetents who think that working with their hands is shameful because they went to a university for free, and feel superior.)

Television has radically changed the country in every nook and cranny. There are RAI (the state-run TV system) and more than seventy private TV stations, which blare over and over the punk rock imported from the United states and its feeble-minded Italian imitators. However, the color is far better than ours, because Italy’s TV color system is newer–a revelation of how good color TV can really be.

All in all, six weeks in Italy have convinced me that the romantic vision of that country prevalent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is no longer accurate, though you may find spots where it still exists. Yet I could not help feeling that the vibrant and energetic life around me would be as lasting as all the other vibrant and energetic lives Italy has absorbed over the centuries, and that all the cars, computers, washing machines, and smart clothes would go as they came, to make room for the next wave.

Chef Nando’s Tagliolini Limone

4 servings – 1 pound tagliolini (long, thin egg noodles) 8 tablespoons butter Grated peel from one large lemon (yellow part only) 4 tablespoons dry white wine 1-1/2 cups cream Pinch of cayenne pepper 2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese A few drops of lemon juice Salt to taste

Cook the tagliolini for two minutes in plenty of salted, boiling water.

In a large, wide pan melt 4 tablespoons of the butter, add the lemon peel, cook slightly for one minute, add white wine, and lower flame to minimum. Add the cream and cayenne pepper and cook for a few minutes. Add the freshly cooked tagliolini and let it simmer for a few minutes until the consistency is slightly thick. Remove from flame, add the rest of the butter, Parmesan cheese, and a few drops of fresh lemon juice, mix briskly, and serve immediately.

Aug '12

A Summer In Egypt

It was early evening when we landed in Cairo. Noisy crowds milled wherever we turned. Before we could be sucked into the whirlwind, we were spotted by representatives from Misr, the Egyptian travel service, who had arranged to meet us. They eased our way through Customs and loaded our luggage into the aging stretch Mercedes-Benz that would be our wheels in Cairo.

I’d wondered why we had to be met and driven about, but now the reason was clear. There’s no way the uninitiated can negotiate the airport’s chaos unaided. We were to encounter similar scenes in Luxor and Aswan, and would be thankful for the Misr representatives who escorted us through them.

Cairo is a city of 6 million souls and, it seemed to us, a like number of cars–all with horns. Motorists set a maniacal pace, honking and swerving. We arrived breathless at our hotel, the Ramses Hilton, on the Corniche, overlooking the east bank of the Nile. Its lobby was a micro-melting pot of nations and languages. Native dress from every corner of the East could be seen interspersed among the tour-package travelers from the West.

Our Hotel In Cairo

Luxurious Cairo Hotel

Serenity prevailed, however, once we entered our palatial rooms. Nancy and I stepped out on our balcony into the cool night. Below us were endless streams of car lights on the bridges leading to Giza and the other suburbs, but the raucous traffic was just a purr from the 26th floor. The Nile looked serene. No boats stirred the north-flowing current, and the river seemed no more than a quarter-mile wide at that point.

The sun had already set, but the sky still glowed–bright orange to red to purple and blue. “Look!” said Nancy, pointing beyond the lighted bridges, the traffic flow, and the apartment-tower clusters. There, at the edge of the desert, we could see the Pyramids silhouetted against the afterglow. Chills passed through me.

Another moment of awe came the next day. We had visited the ancient capital of Memphis and the famous Step Pyramid at Sakkara, built to honor King Zoser, who ruled Egypt from 2667 to 2648 B.C. As we ate lunch at Mena House in Giza, on the Nile’s west bank, the Great Pyramid of Cheops loomed beyond the hotel gardens–so close, it seemed, that we might almost touch it.

Mena House is a 19th-century hunting lodge-cum-guest house transformed into a lavish resort. Furnished opulently, with elegant grounds, it reeks of British colonialism, another phase of Egyptian history that confronted us now and then.

Old Egypt hands had warned us that the food was poor and would make us sick. But starting with our flight, the food was carefully prepared and consistently tasty. Aware that we must eat nothing raw and drink only bottled water (which we carried everywhere), we policed each other. For the most part, exotic bacteria left us alone.

The centerpiece of our four-day stay in Cairo was the Egyptian Museum. Our guided visit prepared us for what we would see in situ in the coming days. Recalling the “Treasures of Tutankhamen” exhibit that had toured the U.S. in the 1970s, we marveled at vast rooms filled with the contents of King Tut’s tomb. The touring show had comprised several dozen objects; the museum displayed several thousand.

Tutankhamen was only 18 when he died (or was he murdered?). There had been no time to prepare those great, ornamental burial chambers assigned to more emblematic Pharaohs, all of whose tombs were systematically plundered. Tut’s was hidden, tucked beneath Ramses VI’s resting site. It had been invaded twice before its discovery in 1992, but not pillaged. If this small, cramped tribute to a minor king could yield enough splendor to fill 12 museum galleries, what must the tombs of Amenhotep III, Thutmose III, or Seti I have contained before grave robbers got to them?

The four of us had been friends for a long time and wanted to stay that way. So we agreed that while we’d travel and sightsee together, we’d go our separate ways during “free time.” Our car and driver stood by to drop any or all of us wherever we wished to be–on a street corner, at a museum, or back at the hotel.

We also felt the two weeks in Egypt should be at least partly restful. Our hotels in Luxor and Aswan, where we spent four days each, had swimming pools, and the late-winter sun was warm until about 4 p.m. It was refreshing to return from a hike through the Valley of the Kings, across the river from Luxor, or the Tombs of the Nobles in Aswan and enjoy a cool dip. Usually we napped late in the day, so we’d feel energetic enough to walk to dinner and, afterward, poke into the shops and kiosks.

Aswan’s outdoor bazaar, the souks, proved irresistible. We bargained, because it’s the custom, and we bought, although we hadn’t planned to: rugs and shawls, scarabs, papyrus souvenirs, baskets, earrings, and other trinkets. Our luggage was stuffed and almost unmanageable by the time we were ready to fly home. But it had been so tempting to buy. After all, when would we be in Egypt again?

Luxor, known as Thebes in ancient times, was a one-hour flight from Cairo, and it was here that antiquity truly flowered for us. Here, too, the single flaw in our planned itinerary became apparent. The schedule called for tours of both the Karnak and Luxor temples in one afternoon. Each should have been accorded the better part of a day.

Our guide through the Temple of Karnak gave us a 45-minute survey that didn’t begin to probe the awesome complexity of this 40-acre site. While we were being hustled along, I found myself standing within a majestic colonnade that had taken 200 years and untold numbers of slaves to build. Each column looked like a single sculpted entity, though in reality it was an assemblage of individual shaped stones that had been magnificently incised. The hieroglyphs looked almost fresh, and there were still some traces of the original colors–after 5,000 years. As I looked up, I felt chills again.

Our guides repeatedly made the point that only since the late 19th century had full access to such temples been possible. Before their widespread excavation, the ruins of Karnak and others were but protuberances on the floor of the desert. Often we would see graffiti high up on a wall or monument, a reminder that until relatively recently, most of what we were seeing had been filled nearly to the brim with sand. And excavation continues. It’s possible that if you were to dig deep enough anywhere in Egypt, you would unearth some chunk of history.

Our lodgings in Luxor, the Hotel Etap, were far from plush, but the buffet meals were bountiful. We shamelessly returned to the groaning tables for seconds–before the busloads of German, British, French, and Scandinavian tourists could scoop up the last crumb of delectable pastry.

In Aswan, 110 air miles south of Luxor, we stayed at the resort-like Hotel Oberoi on Elephantine Island, in the middle of the river. It was a short ferry ride from the city proper, which meant that it was also quiet. Because of this, we felt relaxed in Aswan; we could recharge our batteries. Our only imperative was a half-day excursion by air to Abu Simbel, site of the great temples of Ramses II and his queen, Nefertari, who reigned from 1304 to 1237 B.C. In the 1960s these sandstone monuments were cut out of their mountain setting and moved 213 feet up to higher ground so the Nubian Valley could be flooded when the Aswan High Dam was built.

It wasn’t just the temples proper that we toured. We were also invited “backstage” to see how the $40 million miracle of disassembly and reconstruction had been accomplished. It was fascinating, but it dispelled some of my awe of the monuments’ immensity and great age.

Wonderful Egyptian Sculptures

Wonderful Egyptian Rock Carvings

After our stay in Aswan, we flew back to Cairo for one final day. Harriet and Asher wanted to stay near the hotel. Nancy wanted one last visit to the Egyptian Museum, and I wanted to see some of the city by myself on foot–the only way, I feel, to really know a place.

Half a block from the hotel’s back door, I found myself caught up in the heady street life, which resembled a continuous bazaar. Pushcarts in which sweet potatoes or meats were roasting stood next to merchants selling scarves and headgear, books and cigarettes. Some streets were lined with open kiosks, others with elegant shops, but each proprietor generally stood at the door, keeping an eye on passing tourists and business people and chatting with other shopkeepers.

I’d been hoping to buy a pair of sandals and found what I wanted at a curbside display. The seller spoke no English, but he was intensely eager to bargain. We negotiated wordlessly, using the currency I held in my hand. He wanted 12 Egyptian pounds; I offered 8. No deal. He came down; I went up. We ended at 10–just under $4–and both of us were satisfied. Then in a cordial parting gesture, he used one hand to show me how to get my feet between the straps so I could put the sandals on.

Whether dodging traffic in the squares or striding down narrow, rutted streets, I never once felt uncomfortable or fearful. People tried out their English on me and giggled when I replied in English, “Good morning.” But a machine-gun-toting sentry guarding a bank was a reminder that tension and violence really do lie close to the surface of life in this teeming capital.

It didn’t take me long to get lost, but I knew that if I kept heading toward the river, I’d eventually reach the hotel. I got back sooner than I’d expected. Nancy returned a few minutes later, reporting that her walk had been interrupted when traffic stopped dead to allow a shepherd to lead his flock across a thoroughfare, presumably to a slaughterhouse.

On our last night in Cairo, the four of us dined early in the hotel so we’d have time to pack at leisure. And we splurged. At least two of us had a glass of wine; three of us had soup–consomme, lentil, and cream of tomato. We also devoured a platter of hot grilled tomatoes before our waiter brought shish kebab for Asher, prime rib for Nancy, and chateaubriand for Harriet and me. Dessert was crepes suzette served from a gleaming cart. The total bill we split was the highest for any meal we’d shared in Egypt: $63.

The next day, after a hair-raising ride to the airport, I settled into my seat for the homeward flight and felt bereft at having to leave. I thought about Cairo, about the comforting sounds of the muezzins’ calls to worship, about the sweet smells of bread baking in pushcart ovens, and I got chills. Again and again.


Jul '12

Recounting My Road Trip Through Colorado And New Mexico

Just thought I’d share some of my experiences and places I went to in case anyone is interested. I can also expand on any of this if anyone has any particular questions about the places we visited.

The wife and I just took an 8 day road trip around Colorado and New Mexico.  We spent 3 days in Denver to start off. Got to hit pretty much every brewery in the area, hit Elitch Gardens, enjoyed some of the nightlife, and visited rocky mountain national park and garden of the gods (spent a day at each) since they were both within an hour of Denver. I’d say I preferred garden of the gods to rocky mountain national park. Love was certainly in the air that day but the plans for the wedding that we’d talked about had to be put on hold. I’d spent a good part of the day wondering how can I get my boyfriend to propose but even at this altitude it wasn’t clear how I could get him to pop the big question.

For the next part of our trip we drove down to Southern Colorado in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. We camped in the Crestone peaks in southern Colorado right near Alamosa for 2 1/2 days. We visited sand dunes national park (I made it to the top of the tallest dune there which was about a 1,000 ft.). My wife couldn’t make it up that one even though the day before we climbed to the top of the 14,200 ft. Crestone peak next to our campground. I’ll tell you what; I think it was much harder too. Climbing a 1,000 ft. sand dune in 40 mph wind where every step feels like 10 was way harder than climbing any 14teener mountain in Colorado. Our campsite was pretty awesome and secluded… but at night time the gap winds really make you feel like you’re camping on Everest or something… feels like the tent is going to blow away. Hard to get any sleep.


Incredible Geology On This Trip - Balance Rock

Balance Rock Colorado – how does it do that?


After that, we drove down to Taos New Mexico where we spent the rest of our trip. I would definitely rate Taos and New Mexico in general waaaaaaay higher than Colorado. Northern New Mexico is so beautiful and it is a really underrated vacation spot (which I am thankful for… there was hardly anyone there). It has lovely mountains and ski resorts surrounding the city, beautiful pueblo style and Spanish type architecture everywhere. it is really odd, it feels like you’re in Santa Fe or something, the weather is really warm and the building and food all has that native American and Spanish flavor… but you look out your window and see snow-capped mountains in June. The town is also a really big art mecca. I would highly recommend it.

I will say one thing i picked up on this road trip… small town America is REALLY vanishing and dying. We took many scenic highways and went through countless small towns in southern Colorado and they are hurting. Pretty much every piece of property, business, ranch, you name it is for sale. Everyone is out of work, and no one is particularly friendly (which they should be since tourism is pretty much the only industry they have left going for them).

For example, I don’t know how many people are familiar with the TransCanada pipeline, but Nebraska (the state I’m from who’s economy is actually doing quite well), has been blocking it’s construction pretty successfully because they want to run the pipeline through the protected Nebraska Sandhills area (the largest wetlands environment in the country, home to the largest aquifer in the country, and several endangered birds species live there). So Nebraska has good reason to oppose it. When I was down in small town Colorado where they are really hurting and could use the pipeline jobs… I saw tons of signs people had in their yards that said… and I quote “*beep* Nebraska and *beep* the sand cranes, build the TransCanada pipeline!” yup, they actually had political signs that said the word *beep* the sand cranes on them. Stay classy there Colorado.

Anyhow, it’s kind of sad to see what small town America is being reduced to. Many of these towns that were at one point the back bone of our country and part of living the American dream are just flat out vanishing. It’s a very eye opening experience if you ever have a chance to take a road trip through the west.

I wanted to add one more thing too. We met and made friends with some awesome German travelers up at sand dunes and they actually came down to New Mexico with us too. Germans are some of the coolest, fun loving, and just in general friendly people in the world that I think get a bad rap for being “serious”. I think that in large part just has to do with the “aggressive” sound of their language… but they are really just so chill in all of my experiences once you get past that. I can’t wait to go visit Germany myself. It was really interesting to talk with our new friends about how they get four weeks a year for holiday travels to the typical two weeks Americans get. I think they (and most European countries in general) really understand much better than our American culture that people need to be afforded a REAL opportunity to relax and explore the world each year rather than placing so much emphasis on work work work all the time. I had 9 days off and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to do and how much I wanted to unwind… our German friends still have two more weeks of exploring the U.S. to go!