Being as there are now over 900 entries here, I thought I'd make a tag index for the unlikely circumstance that someone other than myself might want to look for something here ;)

   Unfortunately everything is going to be listed from most recent to oldest so if you start at the top it'll be "reverse order" -- I don't know how to fix this.

   I'm sure there are entries that lack the proper tags. The travelogues at least are pretty well tagged I believe.

   Introductions - I've introduced myself a few times, typically for LJ Idol, here's the ones that are correctly tagged.
   LJ Idol - Nonfiction LJ Idol entries
      America - Only a few of the most travelogue-like posts tagged, since I've lived most of my life there.
            Brisvegas! (AKA Brisbane)
            The Bundaberg Gulag
            Life in and around Moorepark (outskirts of Bundaberg)
            Birregurra - Life in and around my quaint little village
      Dominican Republic

   Historical Fiction
   Science Fiction - I know there's more that could be here, it seems I haven't been using this tag diligently
   LJ Idol Entries - Mostly fiction, a wide variety of topics. I think only about 75% of these entries are correctly tagged.
      LJ Idol Season Indexes - used to be a thing I did, though I stopped doing it in later seasons because it was kind of tedious to put together.
   The Coming Zombie Apocalypse - Continuing coverage of the coming zombie apocalypse
   The Clone Series!

Media Reviews
   Movie reviews
   Book reviews



Podcast! - "Tales of a Wandering Beekeeper" -- travelogues from Africa.

And most important:


Fiddle-dee-dee! A Gone With the Wind Review

   I might pump out several entries this morning since I have several different topics I fancy writing about and a free morning while it rains outside, which is pleasantly conducive to writing.

   So I just finally read Gone With The Wind. I had just finished reading Half A Golden Sun about the Nigerian civil war in the 60s, which is told from the perspective of people on the losing side of the war and it had gotten me thinking I ought to read that American classic about being on the losing side of the civil war. I thought Half a Golden Sun was great by the way and recommend it. Also I had recently written a piece I wish I could get published about traveling in Tigray and the lovely people I met there, the losing side in the recent Ethiopian civil war, so I had this theme of being on the losing side of civl wars much on my mind.

   Anyway so I finished Gone With the Wind and.... boy was that racist. I expected the characters to be racist because of the time it takes place, and the author to be a bit racist because it was written in the 1930s, but yikes. All the black characters just want to serve and be taken care of by their kind kind white masters and ... I don't even want to recount all of the racist stuff because it's disgusting to recount. But just like, the author (NOT a character but the author in the omniscient narrator's voice) tells us that after the civil war black people turned free didn't know how to take care of their own children and abandoned them to starve unless kindly white people took them in. Like, seriously? Or like when the auther breezily mentions second-main-character Rhett shoots a black person who was impertinent to him or something minor like that, and acts like we should agree he shouldn't be held accountable for it as those damn yankees are seeking to do.
   So this kind of made me want to hate the book, that plus the main character starts out very dislikable and remains so. For much of the book I was trying to decide if the author thought the character of Scarlett was actually likeable or knew she was an unlikeable character, but gradually towards the end I began to conclude the author must know she is largely dislikeable and I began to have some admiration for an author who could write a whole book (a very long book!) about an unlikeable character. It was weird, I read it almost entirely rooting _against_ the main character and hoping her disagreeable ways would bring her misfortune. One theme I identified though, fitting for a book about the civil war, is that even when bad things happen to characters you don't like, in their own mind they are never defeated, and ultimately it is useless to wish them misfortune because of the fact that they'll never see themselves as defeated.
   I think another redeeming quality of the book was that it did seem to have a coherent feminist message about how a very capable woman was constrained by the society of the day.
   On a very minor note it kind of annoyed me that they refer to "Captain" Rhett Butler as "Captain Butler" throughout, despite that his own maritime experience seemed to be a few months of blockade running during the war, which it doesn't go into the details of but as he had zero maritime background prior to that he presumably was involved in as the owner but not the seamanship expert aboard and as an avid sailor and consumer of books about sailing adventures, I strongly feel he does not appear to have earned the title of "captain" at all.

   Anyway, I think it was a worthwhile book for its interesting themes and bold decision to make a dislikeable character the main character, but, and I'm normally totally against censorship, but I rather feel like someone should go through and eliminate all the blatantly racist garbage the author included (not the racism inherent in the people and society of the time but the steaming shit the narrator tells us) and release an official updated version that won't poison the minds of impressionable readers who might already be inclined towards racism and gobble that shit up / it's distractingly appalling for anyone.


In Which I Meet a Moth

   Yesterday was a nice sunny day (for once), and it being a holiday I was enjoying a nice nap in my lush probably-overdue-for-mowing backyard lawn. As I drifted back to wakefulness I heard the sound of a small animal slowly rustling through the grass nearby. Thinking it might be one of hte large blue-tongue lizards I sometimes see, I carefully raised my head. What I beheld instead was a very large moth, a little longer than my index finger, making its way toward me "on foot" through the grass. The back edge of its wings were very ragged and a yellow jacket appeared to be attacking it.
    I sat up and the moth continued on toward me and then climbed up my torso, up my neck, and onto my ear, where it proceeded to remain for most of the rest of the evening even after I went into the house and attended to various things. I hope it didn't put any eggs in my ear that would be quite rude.

   Asking around, it appears to be a bogong moth, which I'm informed is edible. Australians probably put chicken salt on it, they put chicken salt on everything. I did not eat it.

   At one point it fell off me and fluttered its wings frantically (but didn't appear capable of flying, the fluttering was completely ineffectual), but when I got it in my hand again it immediately calmed down completely.

   Finally when I had to go to bed I put it on the outside table. It walked around as lively as when I'd met it once placed there. In the morning it was gone, I'm gonna assume Sancho the Possum didn't apply chicken salt to it and instead it has flown off to seek its fortune.


A Rather Duct-Taped-Together Profile

   So I've been taking this "narrative journalism" class taught by southern california journalist of some repute Gustavo Arellano. For one of our assignments we had to do a profile on someone. El profesor said our subject didn't have to be newsworthy, they could be just important to us, but to me that sounded like a cheap cop out and I wanted to go for gold. And of course a profile of a doctor straining to deal with the overburdened undersupported conditions of coronavirus in Venezuela would probably be quite acceptable but doing my own fiancee also seemed like a cop out. But there's one celebrity I've been hearing about around here (not counting the former sports star who was insulted that I didn't recognize his name), Australian travel show presenter Catriona Rowntree (pronounced "Catrina" -- I don't know why Australians have to spell things so strangely)
   I had first become aware of her almost exactly a year ago when she was the celebrity host of the launch of a major conservation project that had its launch event immediately prior to lockdown, she's apparently a household name in Australia for her travel show. Being, you know, rather interested in travel, I proceeded to look up what clips of her show are on youtube and found, at least as far as I can gather from the clips on youtube, her show seems to be entirely show-length infomercials talking up specific tour packages or cruises. I wasnt' really terribly impressed but at least she's a local celebrity, involved in travel, and appears to live in the area -- Stavros among my new coworkers actually has hives on her property.

   So I googled around for a contact for her, messaged her public figure profile on facebag, surprisingly got a response from her asking me to contact "Jo" to sort it out, and then realized that "jo" was an email address listed on that profile, so I emailed her. A day or two went by. Then, as I was walking across the open field between my house and my village's main street to attend an editorial meeting of the local monthly newsletter, my phone dinged with a new email -- Jo writing back to say that I could interview Catriona by phone at 10:00 on the 22nd. The profile was DUE on the 22nd and thus that wouldn't work for this assignment, but I figured I'd come this far I might as well go through with it, maybe I could write a profile and sling it to an Australian travel magazine or something. Then I walked into the editorial meeting and immediately one of the editors was asking if I could possibly do a profile on a resident, an olympic* equestrian, who was moving away next week (* chosen for the 1980s Olympics which Australia boycotted). Why yes, yes I could do that. And so I did: Chris Smith Rides Into the Sunset

   To interview Chris Smith and his neighbors I used a simple voice recording app on my phone and that worked well. But that app wouldn't record a phone call. Interviewing Catriona would be by phone, so I downloaded and tested FIVE different purported call recording apps and not one of them would record a caller (they'd just record my voice and periods of silence). And somewhere in this my phone developed a problem where callers couldn't hear me clearly if I was on speakerphone. So now even if I were to take pen and paper notes I'd have to do it while uncomfortably propping my phone against my ear. I had a recording program on my computer I'd used for recording the podcast but that wouldn't work without speakerphone either AND my computer crashes every twenty minutes.
   So the totally duct-taped-together hare-brained solution I came up with in the end was plugging my computer's external speakers into my phone so while I was speaking into the handset in non-speaker-mode it was coming out loud enough from the speakers that audible could pick it up, and I just had to hope against hope the computer wouldn't crash during the interview.

   I called her manager at 9:55 as instructed but it turned out Catriona had forgotten and was unavailable, but she was available at noon. Well okay, even though this was already a bit of a clusterfuck and it would mean not coming into work at all (it was a day I would have worked, and I was going to come in at noon after interviewing her at ten), I figured I'd come this far.

   So I got her on the phone at noon, she would talk to me while driving somewhere that would take fifteen to 20 minutes.

   After about half my interview, my computer crashed, dumping the first half of the interview forever. I hadnt' written anything useful down as it was tedious between holding my phone against my shoulder and everything. This was officially a bit fucked.

   In preparation I'd watched some other interviews of her and they all seemed to tell the same story -- she wasn't a terribly great student in school and constantly got in trouble for talking too much. Then one day she learned a friend's dad was a radio presenter and was thrilled by the idea that one could essentially get paid to talk. She then went in to community radio once she was out of school nad slowly worked her way up until she got her big break with the opportunity to host on the Getaways travel program which was initially expected to run "maybe a season" and only covered local Australian destinations but has now run for over 25 years and covers destinations throughout the world (if this were a real profile and not a mere blog post I'd probably include more detail about that rise to fame I promise).

   Hearing her tell this familiar story almost word for word the way I'd seen it presented in two interviews about her I rather wondered if other journalists were too lazy to try to vary the story or this was how she herself had formed her "profile" in her mind. Anyway, I politely tried to get her off that track because i'd heard it all before and I wasn't here to write the same profile I could have from watching existing interviews.

   So what I really wanted to know was had she always wanted to travel? I forget what she said, that was on hte part of the interview that flushed itself and I have no memory.

   Her first trip abroad was to Fiji at 14 with her mom, who was an "air hostie" as the Australians call it. "We had a very fraught relationship, [paraphrased from my bad memory] so that was interesting" Okay this sounds promising "what kind of problems did you have on that trip?" "oh I don't know." Well okay so much for a good story coming out of that. But her mom being an air hostie definitely sets a prominent place for travel in her early childhood. And she said she much later went back to Fiji with her mom as a seasoned traveler and they had a much better time. There's probably a story there but I didn't capture it.

   At 15 she went to Egypt on a class field trip [I'm making mental notes at this point about how posh her school must have been], but this got her talking about how she's always liked history and cultures and didn't have the grades to go to university and study these things on an academic level, but she found she loved traveling to places to appreiciate their history and culture and later to share them with the world, and this seemed to be really something. As she expanded on this subject I came to see and appreciate how she's not just a luxury-cruise-aficionado on TV sharing her love for five star hotels but someone who loves travel for some of the same reasons I do, but slinging vacation packages is what sells and keeps you on TV to talk about these foreign places. At least that would be my thesis if I hadn't already lost hope in getting an adequate interview due to the overwhelming technical difficulties.
   "Well you're probably about to arrive at your destination?" I asked kind of looknig to bail out of this disaster.
   "Oh, I got here a few minutes ago actually, do you have any more questions?" the thought that she was sitting in her car in a parking lot to continue the interview warmed my little heart.
   "What's the most unexpectedly likeable place you've been?" I asked. Bhutan, apparently, it's so peaceful and nice and the government measures its success on this concept of gross domestic happiness (again loosely paraphrasing from memory here, if this were a real profile I do have her actual quotes about this on the bit of audio I was able to salvage). I ended by pitching that she really ought to go to Ethiopia and that was that.

   I think aside from the immense technical difficulties, just being on the phone made it disconcerting for me. I've never particularly liked talking on the phone, not seeing the person feels like you're dealing with the person in a darkened room and triggers fight or flight responses, makes me feel uncomfortable and disconcerted at the best of times. I think one could get a decent profile out of her but I think I'd want to be talking to her or anyone else I might be profiling in person rather than on the phone.


A Year Later

   A year ago today Australia entered coronavirus lockdown. At that time there had been 2,136 confirmed cases, people had only just begun to wear masks, and the grocery stores were surreal places with big gaps on the shelves where pasta and flour had been, mostly empty produce sections, and of course a completely empty toilet paper section. None of us had any idea how long it would last but if we were to venture a guess I'm pretty sure we would have all wildly under-estimated.
   Melbourne enacted the "ring of steel" quarantine that was one of the longest and most stringest lockdowns in the world. And as a result of these measures, we haven't had widespread community transmission in about five months now, and life is pretty much back to normal without even much vaccination (I think the doctors have been vaccinated but I haven't heard a thing about general public getting vaccinated at all). Masks are still common but there are very few instances when it's still required (public transit maybe?).

   In the United States vaccination is going forward as fast as possible, with, I believe, most older people vaccinated and my teacher friends are all getting vaccinated these days. Community spread in the US still seems to be pervasive.

   And in Venezuela, official news is sketchy, but they are once again on a very strict lockdown, Cristina seems to practically live at the hospital working 6 days a week, she's received her first vaccination dose (the Russian one) but not yet the second, and she reports some doctors havent' even been vaccinated yet. In a hospital where pre-corona they seemed to lose a patient once a month and Cristina would be pretty bummed about it, they lost 22 patients to coronavirus this past weekend alone.


The Trump Putsch

Today was a beautiful day. Perfect for beekeeping. I didn't get much work done today.

In the early morning my time, my phone started beeping like mad with notifications. When I'd gone to bed the two democratic senators had just been declared winners in Georgia, yet when I opened my phone to the messenger chat group of my politically minded high school friends the first post I saw was "shit shit shit shit," but I scrolled up 44 messages to the last one I hadnt' seen to see what was happening in order. Of course as I was reading them more shit was going down. I finished right around the time people were announcing "they've breached the senate chamber" and "people are shooting in the capitol" .... shit shit shit shit.

This has been.... an unprecedented day. I hope all these insurrectionists whose faces are brazenly on camera --mugging for shots behind the rostrum or even livestreaming themselves with their feet up on Pelosi's desk-- get charged with sedition and locked away forever.

The one plus side is I hope Trump and his ilk have overplayed their hand and completely discredited themselves. A number of republicans and conservatives loudly distanced themselves from him today and there seemed to be serious talk about the 25th Amendment, wherein his own cabinet would declare him unfit. He shockingly actually conceded in the early morning hours after the EC count was finally formally completed (which I think was at 3:45am so he was still awake and monitoring it at that time like a neurotic maniac?? Like he somehow thought it might somehow still go his way???), but I hope that doesn't take reimpeachment or the 25th off the table. I think they need to send a strong message that this is utterly way beyond acceptable. Rermember when Sen Collins said she thought Trump had "learned his lesson" after the last impeachment (and therefore her vote against it was, she alleged, justified), yeah about that. Related fact, Adolf Hitler was convicted of High Treason in 1924 but given a slap-on-the-wrist sentence, eight years later he had absolute power. Sedition cannot be punished with slaps on the wrist.

I'm going to bed now, I fully expect to wake up to more wild news developments.


2020 Year In Review

   As is tradition let us begin with the map of where I've traveled in the past year:

   Though this would seem to imply I've been to the Melbourne airport, which, I have not, but you have to input at least one airport code to make it make a map.

   In fact I never left the state (indeed for much of the year we legally could not. Counting just these furthest trips this year I traveled 969 miles, which compares to my mileage and my comment about my mileage last year: "23,695 miles this year, a fraction of any previous year since 2012."

   Anyway, so, this year! I'm pretty sure this will be a year we'll all remember for the rest of our lives. [Interruption for the celebration of new years. Okay all writing after this is in 2021!]

Cases in this state

   In January Australia was on fire. Literally a seventh of this state was on fire. Its funny I think I recall in the first week it looekd like Trump was going to start a war with Iran, Australia was on fire, and I forget what all else but we were all like "whoa 2020 slow down." Little did we know. Little did we know.

   In February my parents made their annual visit. One of dad's friends happened to be on an around-the-world cruise that happened to be stopping in to Melbourne while they were here so we met up with them and went on a walking tour of Melbourne. Needless to say, their cruise never made it around the world (they were actually left wandering the sea for awhile with nowhere willing to allow a cruise ship to dock, which was a bit silly since having been at sea for over two weeks it clearly wasn't aboard)

   March: by the beginning of March the pandemic was definitely on our radar but we had nooo ideaa what we were in for. On March 5th I booked the flights for Cristina and I to fly to the Bahamas to get married April 20th... woo yeah woo! .... that was $3,000 I may as well have flushed down the toilet as the airlines refused to refund any of it, though United agreed to give us the equivalent maount in credit that will expire after a year. I'll definitely start harassing them again to at the very very very least get an extension on it's usability.
   Anyway things quickly exploded from for example 28 new cases on March 12th to 537 on March 22nd (the height of the first wave it turned out), and the state went into lockdown on March 25th. What we initially thought was going to be a two or three week lockdown turned out to be a 112 day lockdown. In what became known as the "ring of steel" Melbourne residents couldn't leave Melbourne except for work, and the state borders were also locked for all but a small handful of very narrowly defined reasons. During the height of the lockdown one could only leave the house to work an essential job or go on one grocery shopping run a week (I think?) and an hour a day of exercise within 5km of their house. This didn't effect my day to day much at all really.

   On March 30th the beloved tallship Pilgrim sank at her dock, which was heartbreaking for those of us who have spent countless hours aboard her.


   April I started to notice it was severely impacting my sales, cutting my income to a meagre trickle, and unlike all my neighbors I don't have the support of the numerous Australian programs that supported people with lost income. Also coronavirus was hitting Venezuela and Cristina and her coworkers had no PPE, leaving them feeling doomed like little coloured chickens, and it was freaking me out.
   And again, Cristina and I had been going to get married on April 20th. I then could have added her to my existing visa, she could hae joined me within months, and been no my Permanent Residency visa application. Instead I need to wait till the PR hopefully gets approved and then start a separate $13,000 14 month visa to get her here, so not being able to get married in April _really_ set us back.

   June after about two months of low double digits of monthly cases it felt like we had this Covid thing mostly behind us and lockdowns were starting to ease up. My friend even had a party and all got together! Not like huge bumpin 30 person party but there were like a dozen of us. In one indoor location! Meanwhile in the states Trump was encouraging ominous displays of police force against protestors. It's funny I suppose for many of you reading this that was summer but for me that was mid winter and literal dark days. My memory of this whole period is of one continuous night actually.

   July - On July 3rd my grandfather Roger collapsed and died, he was 93. He's fortunate I suppose, there was no lingering away in a hospital, he was up on his feet, had just gone to the hardware store, and then he suffered heart failure. I never posted about it earlier because how do you begin to do justice to an amazing man who lived such a multifaceted remarkable life? Also I hate it when people say "I'm sorry for your loss" to me. I do feel like I should make a post about him though. Obviously I was unable to travel to his funeral, which I would have under normal circumstances, but then again, no one was able to. There was a nice ceremony in August via zoom attended by dozens of people recalling how he had impacted their lives. Later later in October there was an "inurnment" in which his ashed were placed in the grave beside his wife my grandmother, which hadn't been intended to be a ceremony but a dozen plus people ended up attending, and as well since he was a veteran the military sent a bugler to play taps.
   In July the "second wave" hit us here, this time it was almost exclusively in Melbourne. It apparently had somehow gotten out from the quarantine hotels. There was a pervasive rumor, apparently started by a tabloid making up a story whole cloth, that it was because a security guard had had relations with a quarantinee, but I believe that turned out to be baseless. On July 21st, masks began appearing around here. Which is amazingly late in the game looking back on it. On that date there were 359 new cases in the state and rising vast, and I estimated about 1 in 8 people out on sidewalks was wearing a mask and about 40-60% of the people in the grocery store. Also around this time Cristina and I succeeded in getting her PPE.

   In August having successfully figured out how to get money to Cristina and source PPE there I decided to start a gofundme for her coworkers, which raised $2080 in 48 hours! Also some time around here I discovered that a group of volunteers here in the little village of Birregurra get together every Tuesday to do landcare around the township, weeding, planting native plants, cutting out blackberry brambles, etc. I found this very enjoyable and a way to be more involved with the community.

   In September I signed up for classes at two community colleges in California, since everything is offered remotely now! So that was the one up side to this year. I took two biology classes and a writing class, finishing with a 98% average. (: Also in September I was increasingly panicked since my 457 visa was due to run out Oct 4th and I had to chase down a lot of paperwork from my boss and jump through some other hoops (it looked for awhile like I'd have trouble proving I speak English but that turned out to be unnecessary in the end).

   November I took the train out East (the Easternmost route on the above map) to go hiking with my friend Billie, whom I hadn't caught up with in over a year. Most people I met out there in Eastern Victoria were excitedly hoping for a Trump win in the election that was then days away. Yikes. And then there was the election!


   December a beekeeping friend invited me to their family's place in Warnambool for Christmas dinner, thus making the westernmost extremity of my travels for the year. In the United States and Great Britain people began to receive vaccination shots for covid which is exciting. Here in Australia a new outbreak began in Sydney mid month (20-30 cases a day since then), and, after 60 days with not a single new locally acquired case here in Victoria we had 3 locally-acquired-from-unknown-source cases yesterday and six today. With undetermined local cases and people generally thinking its over and attending multi-hundred-persno NYE parties tonight, I fear we may be in for a third wave.

   Tonight as I mentioned, I was working on this very entry when I took a break to videocall Cristina to ring in the new year with her. After midnight I went outside to see if anyone was firing fireworks or anything, but things seemed pretty low key here. The moon was bright like a floodlight, and when I looked up at it whispy clouds were scudding past in front of it ... but they were going the opposite direction they usually do. I've only ever seen the wind blow west-to-east here. To see clouds flitting east-to-west across the moon felt downright eerie. I hope this isn't some kind of omen for the year.


All in all 83.7 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with coronavirus this year, and 1,824,053 people have confirmably died of it. This is almost the population of Latvia, and certainly greater if one ccould include undiagnosed deaths. There are about 30 countries with populations smaller than the 2020 death toll from coronavirus.

Plans for 2021
   They don't expect to open up international travel for the year so probably no traveling. If at all possible I very badly want to see Cristina as one could imagine but it's not looking likely. I tihnk my PR should be approved sometime between April and July, which will be a huge relief and make life easier. Other than that it's hard to make plans in this uncertain world!

See also:
all posts tagged with "coronavirus"

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Whimsically Hunting For Lucrous Chunder

   Ambergris. A greyish substance that looks like a rock, is sometimes found washed up on beaches. When fresh it smells vaguely of manure or squid, though after it dries out it smells "sweet and earthy." Recently a fisherman named Naris Suwannasang while walking on the beach in southern Thailand found a 220 pound lump of it, which has been estimated to be worth $3.2 million.

   Ambergris is whale vomit. Only sperm whales seem to regurgitate this golden ejecta. One can imagine one of these scarred old leviathans cruising along in the dim depths of the sea feeling content after a recent snack of giant calamari when suddenly he grimaces a bit, soon he's arching his back and hoik hoik hoik here comes a whale hairball right on the reef rug.
   "What do they do with it??" my friend Asli asked me.
   "I don't know, it's probably magic or some shit" I helpfully responded.

   In truth they use it in perfumes apparently, but it seems to be so rare its hard to imagine how anyone could plan to make anything that depends on a reliable supply of it.

   The extreme value of this material plus the difficulty of finding it plus its pungent nature gave me an idea. What if you could train a bloodhound on the scent of ambergris, the way they use pigs to hunt for truffles ... or bloodhounds to hunt blood. You then set off out into the wild blue yonder towards the whalegrounds with your faithful dog in a sailboat, and literally follow its nose in quest of floating treasure.

   Asli who had rolled her eyes at my earlier assanine response, googled it herself, and then pointed out that US regulations make it illegal to trade in ambergris because there's a blanket ban on all whale products and they darkly assume if you're coming back with lots of ambergris you've been hunting whales to take it from them. This method of acquiring ambergris hadn't occurred to me but I promise I am not suggesting plying sperm whales with cheap bottom shelf vodka until they chunder their lucrous treasure out. Additionally, the US government saying you can't do it gives it a certain piratical cache.

   Anyway this idea struck me as both delightfully whimsical ... but also possibly actually possible? The google informs me most ambergris is found in the Caribbean (which is weird because I don't think that's where sperm whales hang out?) so one could sail around there hunting floating treasure by bloodhound. I think one of the main problems would be actually getting ahold of a sample to train the dog on.

   I don't happen to have a greyhound so I may have to try to talk Cato into participating. What could go wrong? (no Cato, you can't eat that tunafish!) Also they use honeybees for scent identification of land mine locations. I googled to try to determine if they were more effective at following scents than dogs but couldn't find an answer. Also this googling did reveal to me that apparently bears have the best smelling abilities of any terrestrial animals soooo it might be me and yogi on a hunt for ambergris.
   And can you imagine if they used "drug sniffing bears" at airports and such?? That would certainly scare the bajeezes out of would-be smugglers.

Related: Argan Oil

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Some Good and Bad Travel Writing (or vice versa)

   This past weekend I once again took the six hour train trip to Eastern Victoria, this time for my friend Billie's 30th birthday party. That was fun but I came here to write book reviews. In fact, on my return trip she gave me back all the books I had loaned her to read, having read them, so I returned like a mobile library with six books in my knapsack (4 returned books, the book I brought to read, and a book she has loaned me to read).

Geldof in Africa
   I had picked up this book somewhere since someone's collected travel writings about Africa sounded imminently interesting to me. I'm not terribly enjoying it but muddling through. And trying to put my finger on exactly what I'm not enjoying about it, since it has many characteristics of good writing, such as nice turns of phrase, good descriptions, thematic structure. Some (other) writing fills me with a fear I can't possibly write as well as what I'm reading, reading this fills me with the fear that my writing might be as uninspiring as this.
   I think a major problem is that it's a collection of short pieces ranging from a few paragraphs to a few pages and as far as I can tell zero effort has been made to tie it all together. I often wonder if there is any rhyme or reason to the order. Is it chronological? It's not organized by country because it bounces back and forth. Is there some thematic order I haven't yet grasped?
   Another problem for me I suppose is right from the get go it's written from the perspective that you already know and admire Bob Geldof, know what he's famous for, why he's in Africa, and apparently are familiar with mundane details of the London underground. Since I had never heard of Bob Geldof, this came across rather wankerish to me. There's a picture on the cover of him staring off into the distance... wankerishly. I mentioned this Geldof to someone and they said "oh he did Live Aid," which I suppose is admirable. I googled him and wikipedia said he was the lead singer of a rock band I'd never heard of that was popular at the height of the punk rock movement. Having been rather a punk myself I thought maybe this might earn my respect and pulled up some of his band's top hits on youtube ... and it in no way conformed to what I think of as punk rock, was rather sickly sweet crooning like cats in heat with bubblegum for brains. So no, knowing something about him didn't increase my esteem at all.
   The theme for most of the pieces seems to be how dangerous, sad, and unfortunate life in Africa is. Granted he was traipsing about thirty years before I was and I have no doubt there were terrible things afoot, I feel like surely this could have been balanced by some less dire glimpses at African life. As it is, even though he never says anything that could be construed as racist against Africans, the collective impression I feel like would fuel racist views that the continent is on a whole just a giant "shit-hole." He generally blames all their ills on European/American involvement and generally derides all aid and charity work by anything other than liveaid* (which he doesn't actually really mention). I too would say yes most Western governments have been terrible to Africa and a lot of aid work can be looked at pretty cynically, but the unsaid implication that he alone sees through all this is kind of wankery.
   When he's not talking about what a shit-hole it is or heaping shit on other charities he's sharing out of context little snippits about what a badass he is chillin with Somali warlords.
   So yeah, in conclusion, I guess he made his money with his music/television career / tax dodging in Mauritania, I suppose he wasn't trying to win fame or money through writing a best seller here, he just thought he'd publish a mish mash of stuff he had written so good for him I guess. But literarily speaking it fills me with existential dread that I might come off like him.

   *and it's worth noting that Live Aid raised funds for the Ethiopian famine and gave those funds to the Ethiopian Derg government that was causing the famine ... well a small amount was siphoned off to buy weapons for the TPLF fighting the Derg (as thoroughly explained in my recent podcast!). Charities make occasional mistakes, I understand that, which is why it's worth evaluating their activities cynically while keeping in mind that they do mean well. But this kind of downright stupid lack of understanding of the context of the problem is exactly the kind of thing he spends much of the book sarcastically deriding every other charity for so it all seems a bit rich.

Personally I think this is one of the more wankery cover design ideas one could go with for a book about your time in Africa

Patrick Leigh Fermor - A Time of Gifts & Between the Woods and the Water
   My current writing teacher put me on to Patrick Leigh Fermor, who was "Britain's greatest living travel writer during his lifetime" and I had never heard of him either. I'm clearly not very plugged in to post-15th-century English culture. As wikipedia goes on to say, he's like "a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Graham Greene." And indeed, he appears as a character in the 1957 film Ill Met by Moonlight not as a travel writer but the war hero he also is (he organized and successfully executed a mission to kidnap a German general in Crete in WWII).
   The two books of his I recently read are two parts of a journey he took in 1934 on foot through Europe from Holland to Constantinople. He wrote about it decades later from his journals, so the writing looks at the journey through the retrospective lens of the coming calamity of WWII. The rising nazism of Germany and fascist movement in Austria contrast with the kindness of strangers and bucolic scenes of every day life. His descriptions are poetic, precise, and full of awareness of the context of the moment in time. Traditional dress and culture in Eastern Europe is recited with a detailed intimacy simultaneous to a wistful nostalgia knowing it would all be seen wiped away by war.
   I gather his family was somewhat well-to-do, his father was a Sir So and So Fermor, distinguished geologist, and his mother was "daughter of [someone apparently worth naming in a wiki article]," and his original intention was to live like a hobo during his journey, but he somewhat accidentally befriends a German or Austrian count living in a castle at some point relatively early in the journey, who sends him off with a letter of introduction to the lord of the next castle over, who does the same, so he ends up spending most of the journey staying in castles being hosted by grafs and margraves. This could come off wankerish if it weren't for the fact that he remains humble, often mentioning its not how he expected to be traveling, feeling a mild guilt for not traveling in the style he had intended to (and one really can't blame him for taking the opportunity), and he does absolutely insist on adhering to his intention not to travel by car or train except in extraordinary circumstances. He mostly goes from castle to castle by foot even with rides in cars proffered, though he's not against riding in barges or by horse.
   Sadly he died before he finished the third and final installment of the journey. It was published posthumously from the draft manuscript but I couldn't get my hands on that. Indeed, this "greatest British travel writer" seems to only have three works available on Audible (which is by far usually the easiest way for me to access works).
   But anyway, in conclusion, in complete contrast to Geldof this was some really good inspiring and enjoyable-to-read travel writing. I hope I can find more of his writing.
   By an amusing coincidence I mentioned this book to my mom and she was like "oh dad and Maria [my sister-in-law] were just talking about that book." Yes, it turns out, and I'm pretty sure I hadn't put them onto it, they happened to also be reading this book published in 1977 & 1981 at the same time as me. What a funny coincidence! We're an accidental book club!

   And speaking of travel I recently discovered this song I really like, called "The Wandering Song," purely as a poem I think I would like the lyrics and you should listen to them. But also it's a good song:

   In other other news, another important milestone to mark, yesterday the first covid vaccination shots in the United States began. Also the Electoral College finally met, and important figures in American politics like Vladimir Putin recognized Biden's win, but Trump still has not. Not sure how long he can hold out without big daddy Vlad's support though, even Moscow Mitch changed his tune on Vladimir's cue.


Uncovering Bridges

   I have posted another episode of the podcast! This one explains the current Ethiopian civil war in Tigray and tells some stories of my time in Tigray in better times.

Ethiopia Episode II

   Today we continued cutting back the blackberry brambles by the river. Myself and two other regular volunteers have come to be referred to as "the three musketeers of the blackberries" (: Today we were also assisted by a a four person conservation crew that apparently roves around the region.

   But we had an exciting development today, we seem to have inadvertently conducted a bit of archaeology! As we cut back the impenetrable brambles the pilings of an old bridge emerged. None of the current old lifelong residents of the town have any recollection of their having ever been a bridge there, but our wee little village is complete with a historical society so hopefully they can find some record.

   After cutting blackberries until noon, we three musketeers had been encouraged to stop by the golf clubhouse for pizza. It was apparently the christmas party of the local golf club (is that what you call a club for playing golf? It sounds like an obvious pun). I was a bit self conscious at first because I'm not golfer, but they made us blackberriers feel welcome and noted that since the blackberries we've been eradicating border on the golf course we've been contributing, and everyone was very friendly, so it ended up being enjoyable. I love the community of my little village. (:

   Now in other news, why does the FBI have to be like this? Recall I posted a bit ago about what I had to go through to get fingerprinted here to send them to the FBI to get a background check for my visa. Well the FBI received them and I got this email. Why do they have to make it like a gosh darn exploding message?? And because my computer crashes about once an hour I'm terrified to access it on my computer and have it crash before I can save their secret message. So I actually dusted off and booted up my OLD laptop that I had replaced with this one. It's really slow and half the keys on the keyboard don't work, but I can get around the latter by using an external keyboard. So I managed to try to go to the FBI site on that computer, only to find a message there that my records might not be available for 12 more hours. I am really lucky I used the old computer though because my newer computer did in fact crash in the next minute or two of usage. So anyway tomorrow morning I'll try again, once again with the older more dependable computer. But seriously why do they have to make my life difficult with this dire you-can-only-look-once thing???