Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I've Been Kidnapped By a Guatemalan Banana Monkey!

I wish I had taken a picture of the driveway leading down from the main street to the gate of the River House, the donated apartment house/complex where we stayed in Panajachel. That driveway was very steep, with standing water near the bottom; and when the vans delivering us from the airport in Guatemala City pulled up in front of the River House, we could see, even in the gathering dark, that it stood behind a gated wall, part of which was topped with razor wire. It wasn’t the first wall topped with razor wire I had seen that day, though the others had been in Guatemala City, which I had both read and been told was quite a bit rougher than most of the rest of the country—and yet there we were, arriving to stay at a place surrounded by a wall partially topped with razor wire. Not that there was anything to be done about it – the drivers were already unloading our luggage from the racks on top of the vans, and one of our trip coordinators was opening the door in the gate to let us into the compound. (I never quite stopped thinking about it that way.) And even though it was dark by that time, it was still obvious, if not quite as dramatic, that what lay outside the gate of the River House was much different than what lay inside, which was this:

That was our first glimpse of what the next week, in part, was going to be like for us in Guatemala; but I had a hard time shaking some of the things I had seen on our way to Panajachel. There was all of that razor wire I mentioned a moment ago, topping the walls of not a few buildings (and other compounds—there’s that word again) we saw on the road from the airport in Guatemala City. Some of those buildings were abandoned and crumbling, and some of them had rebar jutting up along the edges and corners of the roofs. We were told that the reason for the exposed rebar was so that if money were ever raised to finish the building in question, the contractor would have an idea of where to begin the work again, so that the building would retain roughly the same kind of structure it had had at the beginning of the project. There is no system of credit in Guatemala, at least as compared to the United States. If a construction project runs out of money, they just stop where they’re at.

People in Guatemala get by with much less than we do in the United States, but it’s difficult to appreciate the truth of that idea unless you see it for yourself; and once you’ve seen it, it’s hard to shake it. We saw and did a lot of amazing things—and I’m not much for using the word amazing in that kind of context, for pretty much the same reason Sam doesn’t like to say “I love you” in the film Ghost—in our short time in Guatemala; but there was also much that we saw that brought the truth of what it means to live among the middle class in the United States into sharp relief. This is the room where the students we worked on the basketball/soccer court for go to school every day:

They attend school for five hours a day, and public education in Guatemala, especially for the least well off people in the rural communities, generally stops at sixth grade. One morning, we stopped at Nueva Esperanza, a community that had been created for people displaced by Hurricane Stan. There, we were able to see the results of a previous project that Mission Guatemala had completed—a kitchen with cinder-block stoves, seen here being used by a group of women who are making tortillas by hand (in traditional Mayan dress):

You may not think it looks like much, especially compared to what you probably have at home; but it was a major upgrade over what they had before, which was this:

I cannot properly convey the spirit of so many of the people we met during our time in Guatemala. I’m sure they’re not all happy-go-lucky, and maybe many of them put on their bravest faces for us because we were easy marks who were eager to spend money on souvenirs; but there is a warmth and kindness to these people that cannot but alter your estimation of what constitutes a full life, a life well lived.

And yet it already seems far away. We’ve been back for a little over three weeks now, and it was all too easy to slip back into my routine. It would have been very easy to sit back and write a series of posts about everything we got to see and do while we were there, everything our position of relative privilege bought us, to post pictures of mountains, volcanoes, art, the surprisingly touristy streets of downtown Pana; but I couldn’t just look away from what was difficult to see. A lot of the pictures I took in Guatemala are of scenes that would not necessarily strike one as picture-worthy. I wanted to be sure I would be able to remember everything, and what all of it meant to me, because I knew it would fade once I returned home.

I know I won’t forget the six-person tuk-tuk ride, or stepping into a brothel half by mistake, or the Spanish guitar at Circus Bar the last night we were there, or what one of the guys in the group looked like wearing the traditional Mayan skirt his wife had bought for herself, or the way a little boy named Brandon Omar (all of seven years old) ran up to me and gave me a hug out of the clear blue sky the day we stopped in Nueva Esperanza, or the guy who tried to sell me marijuana (“Weed cheap!”), or the beautifully simmered black beans and handmade tortillas and fried plantains that we seemed to eat a little bit of every day we were there. I’ll write about the touristy stuff and post those pictures later. It was the less touristy stuff we saw and did that often made the biggest impression, and absolutely made me want to redouble my efforts to “live simply, so that others may simply live.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Deep Thoughts #99

Has anyone ever thought it a good idea to read A People’s History of the United States concurrently with any part of In Search of Lost Time?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Deep Thoughts #98

Finally, that smug wiseacre who won nearly $300,000 by playing the board the wrong way lost when his Daily Double strategy backfired on him.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Toothless Snow-Eater and the Giant Sledding Hill!

This past Sunday, Amy bribed Jackson with the promise of letting him tackle the Sledding Hill at Fort Harrison if he promised first to go cheerfully on a walk with us. It's a fairly respectable system she has developed for getting him to do things we want him to do that he doesn't necessarily want to do himself. He was very excited when we got into the park and he could see the Sledding Hill from where we parked the car. We walked most of the 2.5-mile loop around the Duck Pond and Delaware Lake on the Harrison Trace trail, and I was able to get quite a lot of pictures of the snow-covered landscape - as well as a number of Jackson the Snow Eater.

And then once we were done with the trail, we came back to the sledding hill and let Jackson go to town. He walked his little sled all the way to the top of the hill five times and came whooshing back down. The first time was the best for sheer reaction, but I did not get a video of that one. The second one might have been more exciting, though, because he wound up shooting right toward me when he got to the bottom.


I posted a few more pictures on my photo page.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Brian Bosma is a Coward

The dishonorable speaker of Indiana's House of Representatives, Brian Bosma, has voiced the possibility of replacing members of the House Judiciary Committee who may not vote the way he wants them to vote on the legislative abortion known as HJR-3, the Indiana Discrimination Amendment. This would be the second shameful act of cowardice by the House with respect to this bill - the first being to rename it from HJR-6, in order to confuse stupid Hoosiers.

The good folks at Freedom Indiana have another convenient e-mail form you can use to write to Herr Bosma and tell him what a coward he is.

Also, anyone who votes for this bill should be voted out of office at the earliest opportunity, for abuse of power and dereliction of duty. The proper role of government is to protect rights, not to take them away. The state of Indiana would be permanently damaged if this bill were to pass, which makes passing it - and voting for it - an act of treason. If, Darwin help us, this bill makes it to the ballot in November, any Hoosier voting for it would also be guilty of an act of treason.

That's a lot to have on your conscience for something the U.S. Supreme Court is eventually going to overturn anyway, don't you think?

Friday, January 10, 2014

I Would Vote for Kim Jong Un for President of the United States If He Would Promise to Execute American Conservatives the Same Way Hong Kong Says He Executed His Uncle

The right-wing monkeys in the state legislature are so afraid of getting dragged out into the alley and beat the fucking shit out of that they changed the name of their bigoted, discriminatory hate crime from HJR-6 to HJR-3. I have thought for a long time that no other group of feces-throwing knuckle-draggers could look more ridiculous than Indiana Republicans, but now, by changing the name of their intellectual abortion in an incredibly retarded attempt at misdirection, they have shown themselves also to be cowards. People who don’t live here—and many who do!—think that Indiana is a ridiculous laughingstock of a state, and they are correct; and Indiana Republicans are the reason that Indiana is a ridiculous laughingstock of a state. You just have to feel bad for people who are so awful, stupid, and evil.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Reject HJR-6

You too can let your voice be heard in the campaign against the discriminatory piece of legislative fecal matter known as HJR-6, a hateful phallus with which the right-wing fear mongers keep trying to orally rape the citizens of Indiana. Click here, and you can write a message that Freedom Indiana will format into a neat little letter and present to the legislature when it reconvenes next week. Here's what I submitted:
I am writing to let you know that I oppose HJR-6, and to ask for your support in seeing that this discriminatory, bigoted piece of legislation is exterminated. This issue is important to me because HJR-6 would take away rights. The proper role of government is to protect rights, not to take them away. I hope that I can count on you to do what is morally correct, which is to do everything in your power to prevent the passage of this backward piece of legislative fecal matter. If you are able to do so, then I thank you for your public service. I thank you for your time.
Ten years ago, the Republicans used gay marriage as a wedge issue (along with blatant lies about John Kerry's military service), because they knew that Dubya had no chance of being re-elected on his own merits. Ten years from now, gay marriage will be legal in all fifty states, with no restrictions at all. Conservatives are always wrong about social issues. Every. Single. Time. They're just too ignorant and bigoted to admit it, so it's up to those of us with brains to drag them, kicking and screaming, into the light.

That's also a way to kill vampires. How about that?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Deep Thoughts #97

Part of me really wants to blog about how foolish the First Amendment screamers defending Phil Robertson sound; but what would be the point?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Down by the Creek, Walking on Water

Last Wednesday we went down to McCormick's Creek State Park, which is just west of Bloomington on 46 - and is, in fact, closer to Bloomington than Brown County State Park; and yet for some reason, this was the first time we ventured the other way on 46. We had an incredibly good time, and Jackson did a really great job on the two most rugged trails in the park. (Truth be told, I'm not sure we were actually on the trails so much as we were just wandering back and forth across the actual creek itself - though that was certainly as rugged as the trails would have been.) I took over 200 pictures, though many of them were action shots that were too blurry to use. I managed to cull 25 or so that I thought were worth posting on my photo site.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Here in week three of a Peddie Family Vacation Trifecta, Amy and I both have the week off at the same time, while Jackson is back at school; and that means lots of opportunities to try new places for lunch. Yesterday we knocked out one of the places that has been near the top of my list for a long time but which was hard to fit in with Jackson in tow, due to the fact that they don’t serve any type of breaded and fried chicken. There was a period there where Jackson was very willing to try new things to eat and managed to develop a taste for things like chips and salsa, hummus, quesadillas, and even broccoli. Unfortunately, that phase seems to have run its course for the time being.

But with him at school, we have the run of the city—and others nearby—and so yesterday afternoon we noshed at Rook, a relatively new Fletcher Place eatery in one of those fancy new mixed-use development deals that are popping up all over town. I can’t think of another place I have been to that uses holes in the drywall as a design element, but that’s the case here, as a “downed power line” pokes through the wall and extends out across the ceiling. You walk up to the counter and order from a lunch menu that consists entirely of bánh mì sandwiches with various fillings that evoke the flavors of Asian street food—Chinese barbecued pork, Indian-spiced tofu, and Thai sour sausage, to name a few. (All of the sandwiches on the lunch menu are $8, and a handful of sides go in the $2-$6 range. A recently-added dinner menu expands the lunch offerings and adds new items, with prices ranging from $6-$12.)

The sandwiches are topped with a delicious sweet and sour cabbage, carrot, and pepper slaw that just barely overpowered the flavor of the Indian-spiced tofu on my sandwich. The balance of flavor in the slaw by itself was impressive, but could have done with something a bit more dynamic in there—a touch of spice from the peppers, maybe; and those pillowy bánh mì rolls, while light and airy, are also not sturdy enough to soak up the moisture from the slaw and the thin coating of some type of mayonnaise that dresses the sandwich. On the other hand, tofu itself is fairly delicate and tends to get lost in the shuffle, especially when it’s added to the menu as an afterthought; and despite the fact that this is a place that serves Asian food, I definitely got the impression that this was a menu calibrated to showcase the hardier proteins favored by carnivores.

Also, because this is an Ed Rudisell joint, like Black Market and Siam Square, you may have a hard time eating economically and also feeling fully sated. We haven’t tried Black Market yet, but Siam Square is one of the best restaurants in Indianapolis, even if the portions seem a little bit anemic for the price. The same can be said for most of the restaurants in the Martha Hoover empire, but they are minor quibbles in both cases. Rudisell and Hoover are doing some of the best restaurants in the city. Rook is a nice addition, but it doesn’t hit the back-alley vibe it’s shooting for—in much the same way that Café Patachou doesn’t hit the “student union for adults” vibe it claims to be shooting for. I’m not quite sure that it gets to the level of pretension in either case (though I am closer to sure about Hoover’s M.O. than about Rudisell’s), because I think the efforts are genuine—they just seem to wind up being a little bit fancier than they aim to be.

719 Virginia Avenue