Sunday, September 30, 2007

the call of the ice.

it's that time again.

in forty-five minutes, I leave for sea-tac airport, headed to denver for orientation for what will be my third season at mcmurdo station, antarctica. lord willing and the creek don't rise, I should be on-ice this coming saturday, 6 october. (that's 5 october for all of you on this side of the international date line.)

my birthday on thursday will be spent flying from auckland to christchurch early in the morning, then celebrating in christchurch upon arrival, probably involving some combination of a ginger beer at the dux de luxe, purchasing a bag of RJ's soft eating licorice at a convenience store, and browsing for thrift-store treasures at toff's on columbo avenue.

I made sure to get out yesterday in some true seattle weather -- drizzly and cool -- with my housemates' border collie mix annie. here we are at seward park.

be well, everyone -- I'll write when I hit the ice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

attack of the scuba ninjas.

I took the ferry over to the olympic peninsula this past weekend to see some ice friends -- alison and KB. they were there to do some cold-water scuba diving in a town called hoodsport. here we are, along with alison's boyfriend rob, being all stealth-like in diving hoods.

and this is what we really look like.

I'm back in seattle for just a week and will deploy to denver for orientation this coming sunday. right now my life is a frenzy of packing, shipping, getting together with friends, dealing with a year's worth of mail, reorganizing the stuff I'm keeping in storage, and getting outside once in a while to enjoy the late-summer seattle weather. today is crisp and sunny and golden and beautiful.

a friend just forwarded me this extremely well-done, quietly powerful website. have a look.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

no place like home.

here's a photo of me with some lovely ladies I've been friends with for years and years and years. L-R: cathy, diane, and kristie.

cathy, on the left, and I have been best buds since third grade. back then I had coke-bottle glasses, long stringy mousy hair barely held in place with those barrettes that had ribbons and beads strung through them, and was wearing things like members-only nylon jackets and camouflage fatigue army pants. it's a wonder she would even speak to me, let alone be my friend.

cat and I have slept over at each others' houses endless times; these sleepovers, in our youth, usually involved sneaking the toaster and some ingredients upstairs in the dead of night to make tuna-fish sandwiches and reading back issues of Seventeen and Young Miss. we rode our bicycles all over mililani town, usually stopping at the pay 'n' save for crack seed (if you're not from hawaii, you probably don't know what crack seed is, and thank your lucky stars you don't). we've sung in choirs, played the trombone in bands, stumbled our way through handbell performances, and performed organ-piano duets together for almost three decades. she's a relentlessly cute, sassy-dressing, extremely talented artist and musician with a penchant for jane austen and movies from korea and hong kong. she's hoping to get a job teaching english in korea this fall, which means that when I return to hawaii for another visit, she may not be living there anymore, which would be extremely sad and weird for me but an incredible life-changing opportunity for her.

more to come soon. I'm off to seattle tomorrow.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

my fifteen minutes starts now.

back in december, I blogged about the day I accompanied werner herzog and his cameraman peter zeitlinger to cape royds on a day of filming. werner's documentary, encounters at the end of the world, is now premiering at the toronto film festival to wide acclaim.

about a month ago, I was contacted by werner's production company. they had seen a photo I took of werner and peter and liked it. in fact, they liked it so much they wanted to use it for the film poster.

here it is.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

crossing the continental divide.

in which cindy (now in hawaii) writes the granddaddy of all blog entries to catch her faithful readers up on what she's been doing for the last two months.

after I completed the camino de santiago on 16 july, I headed north to cooler climes. first stop: the netherlands.

while trekking in nepal, delaney and I had met a couple from utrecht, a university town about thirty minutes from amsterdam. they were tall, attractive, extremely fit, fluent in english, and -- best of all -- extended an invitation to me to visit them in holland whenever I happened to get there.

bas and mari introduced me to dutch life over a whirlwind three days in utrecht. we ate stroopwafels (alluded to in an earlier posting), shopped for gouda cheese (correctly pronounced 'gow-da'), rode bicycles all over town, attended a seaside birthday party (which seemed to be solely populated by equally tall, attractive, sporty and fluent-in-english thirtysomethings), and drove out to de hoge veluwe, the largest national park in the country, for a relaxing day of cycling through the sun-dappled woods.

after a month and a half in spain, holland was a bit of a shock. my first impressions were that the dutch were tall, blond, fashionable people, given to efficiency and a businesslike demeanor. they greeted each other with three kisses, alternating right and left cheeks. holland, in contrast to spain, was rainy and expensive. a cup of tea, my litmus test for any new city, was two euros ($2.75).

chock-full of bookshops, swank home-furnishings stores, and temp agencies, holland seemed a very literate, style-conscious and economically opportunistic place to little first-time-in-europe me.

in spain, I had identified myself primarily as a pilgrim -- someone who had forgone temporary luxuries like cute outfits, proper hotels and restaurant meals in order to focus on the spiritual and physical journey. pilgrims are a common sight, and it's understood that they usually aren't carrying a lot of material possessions or cash. the 'impoverished peregrino' culture of northern spain had therefore enabled me to do such things as wash my same two sets of clothes in the sink, ask bartenders to refill my water bottle, linger over a pastry and cup of tea for three hours at a cafe, or eat grocery-store meals on park benches without much embarrassment. here, I felt a sudden pressure to buy bottled water, pay the fifty euro cents required to use public toilets instead of peeing behind a bush, and to order proper meals in restaurants. it was disconcerting but not to the point where I felt uncomfortable in this clean, polite, hyper-efficient country. on the contrary, I loved it.

after a few days with bas and mari, I hopped a train to The Hague (Den Haag), the political nexus of the netherlands. a camino friend had put me in touch with her former co-worker there, who had offered me a place to stay. I stayed with ginny for four days, reveling in her spacious apartment's high-speed internet connection, washing machine and dryer, well-stocked kitchen and proximity to the tram line. I explored the hague, amsterdam, delft, and haarlem at my leisure. I admired amsterdam's architecture (both of the buildings and the elaborate dike system protecting the country from encroaching seas) from a boat cruise up and down the endless canals. I browsed an outdoor market in delft and bought myself the quintessential dutch souvenir -- a set of flowered vinyl bicycle panniers. I purchased french fries covered in a tasty mystery sauce from a street vendor. and in haarlem, I visited something I had read about years ago and had always been fascinated by -- The Hiding Place.

corrie ten boom, a dutch watchmaker, together with her sister, elderly father and other members of their family were involved in the dutch resistance during the early years of the holocaust. at first, their involvement was limited to procuring illegal ration cards for jewish friends or finding places for them to hide in the dutch countryside. however, as the gestapo stepped up their effort to rid holland of jews entirely by shipping them off to concentration camps in germany and poland, corrie and her family realized that their calling was to protect these jews in a more personal and hazardous way -- by hiding them in a secret room at the top of their house in haarlem. a tiny space, roughly two and a half by eight feet, was constructed in corrie's bedroom out of bricks smuggled in in pockets and briefcases. the false wall was then wallpapered and aged to make it look like the real wall. in the bottom of a bookcase against the wall was a secret sliding panel. drills were held several times a week -- a buzzer would sound, and any jews in the household at the time were to drop whatever they were doing, grab a minimal amount of personal effects, run up the stairs and disappear into the hiding place -- within one minute. the other family members would clear away the incriminating extra cups and saucers from the dinner table and rearrange the chairs. the hiding space was so small, those hiding had to take turns sitting and half-lying down. although one of them was asthmatic, with a hacking cough, they were not allowed to make even the slightest noise. corrie and her family knew full well that if any jews were discovered in their home, everyone would be put to death.

one night, as corrie lay in her bed sick with the flu, the buzzer sounded. the six jewish friends staying with them at the time began running into her room and crawling frantically into the hiding place. corrie, confused, thought: I didn't order a drill for tonight. then she realized it was the real thing.

corrie, her sister betsie, and their 80-year-old father were taken away to a concentration camp in germany, where betsie and their father eventually died. while in her prison cell, corrie received a package from their sister nollie. the address written on the front slanted upward, toward the postage stamp. recognizing it as a sign, corrie moistened the stamp and carefully peeled it off. underneath, written in tiny letters, was the message: All the watches in your closet are safe. the six jews, after four days in the hiding place, had all escaped unharmed.

you can read more about corrie and The Hiding Place here:

from amsterdam, I then caught a plane to stockholm. sofia, a swedish girl I'd met on the camino, had offered me a place to stay. knowing full well that I'd never be able to afford scandinavia without a sofa to crash on, I gratefully accepted her offer.

to me, sweden looked like western washington state -- lakes, evergreen trees, and lots of volvos. as in holland, the natives were tall, blond, gorgeous people, coolly polite and fluent in english. and as in holland, everything was expensive. the average cup of tea: 17 kroner ($2.50). lunch at one of sofia's favorite restaurants: 138 kroner ($20). 90 minutes of internet time: 29 kroner ($4.20).

sofia took me on a walking tour of stockholm, surely one of the most beautiful cities on the face of the earth. stockholm consists of eleven islands linked by walkways and bridges, ringed by marinas and full of beautiful parks and museums. it was a busy weekend, as stockholm was playing host to approximately one hundred ships and their crews from countries all over the world. we attended a peace mass in gamla stan (old town) at the historic Storkyrkan cathedral, witnessed the changing of the royal guard at the palace, watched a parade downtown and walked the waterfront looking at the boats. at dusk we hiked to a nearby, nearly deserted lake and went swimming in the crystal-clear water.

sofia was amused by my very american habit of saying 'please' and 'thank you' to everyone. there is no word for 'please' in the swedish language. to make a request more polite, swedes will add the word 'tack' (thank you) to the end of a sentence. perhaps this added to my impression of swedish folks as no-nonsense, terse and businesslike, yet friendly and helpful people.

sofia had to fly north for a few days to take a test for her graduate program in psychology, so I had her apartment to myself. I did yoga, read, cooked leisurely meals, did all my laundry, and made the occasional foray into town. by far the most interesting destination was an open-air museum called Skansen, an attraction so huge it takes up half of one of the eleven islands comprising stockholm. it includes a sami village, several farmsteads, gardens and restaurants and a zoo featuring nordic animals. people in period costume demonstrate such traditional crafts as linen-making and answer questions about the historic buildings, many of which have been transplanted in pieces from all over sweden.

I highly recommend a day (it's difficult to do it in less) at skansen for anyone making a trip to stockholm. info here:

a couple of relaxing days later, I said goodbye to sofia and jumped on an overnight ferry to finland. I had always wanted to visit this strangely not-quite-scandinavian, not-quite-soviet country with its famously unintelligible language, especially after having seen such films as Night on Earth, Man Without a Past, and The Cuckoo. further piquing my interest was the fact that the finno-ugric language finnish is distantly related to mongolian, korean and japanese. and the culture of the northern sami (lapland) nomadic reindeer herders, intact after centuries of coexisting with more modern europe, fascinated me to no end.

helsinki was another beautiful seaside capital, full of gorgeous churches, bustling open markets, peaceful parks and cell phone-toting locals (nokia is a finnish company, and 96% of helsinki residents have cell phones). I checked myself into a local hostel and started exploring on foot.

I loved seurasaari, an island containing an open-air museum and acres of flat sun-warmed rocks from which to gaze out across the water; the famed train station guarded by four giants and designed by eliel saarinen; but by far the most impressive sights in helsinki were the cathedral and senate square, the russian orthodox cathedral, and temppeliaukio kirkko -- the church in the rock. check this link for photos, which nevertheless don't do it justice.

and here's a link to the famous train station:

I bought myself a one-month trainpass to get further north. kuopio, my next destination, is a small town in the eastern lake country. I checked myself into a bed in a hostel that used to be an elementary school. there was still students' artwork on the walls and chalkboards, desks and chairs, and plastic dinnerware in the kitchen in bright, primary-school colors.

the highlight of my stay in kuopio was a visit to Rauhalahti, the largest public smoke sauna in finland -- it seats 60. the finns invented the sauna (pronounced 'sow-na'), and it's a tradition that has been in use for hundreds of years. taking sauna is an important ritual for social, physical and even spiritual reasons. in years past, they were even used for giving birth, as they were usually the cleanest facility around. the non-sexual aspect of the finnish sauna is quite strict, and you will typically see men, women, and children all relaxing at the same time, usually nude or with a brief towel.

a smoke sauna is one that is heated not electrically, but with a wood fire. the fire is built into a stove at one end of the room and topped with hot rocks, onto which ladlesful of water are thrown from a bucket to produce cleansing steam. I had never liked taking sauna before -- I overheat very easily, and it always felt oppressively blistering -- but for some reason, this time I was not only able to handle the heat, I thoroughly enjoyed it. there were about eighteen or twenty other people in the dark room, of all ages, chatting quietly and occasionally getting up to throw more water on the coals or step into the shower room. it was very calming.

the major appeal of Rauhalahti is that it is situated next to a pristine finnish lake. once you've gotten good and steamed up, tradition is to go jump in the lake to cool off. in the winter, this may involve first cutting a hole in the ice, something that doesn't put the hardy finns off one bit. warm up, jump in lake. repeat as necessary. enjoy your newfound glow.

I did the whole routine about four or five times. then I enjoyed the complimentary lumberjack show. only in finland!

next stop: rovaniemi, on the arctic circle. this little town has two major claims to fame: the 'santa claus village' a few kilometers away, where visitors can not only send postcards postmarked with a special 'north pole' stamp and shop for christmas-themed souvenirs all year long, but can also visit with santa and his elves in their workshop; and Lordi, the 'monster rock' band that won the Eurovision Song Contest last year (finland's first win). eurovision is akin to our American Idol, with the winners propelled to instant stardom. Lordi plays heavy metal while flanked by spectacular pyrotechnics and costumed in elaborate KISS-style getups that include masks made of foam and latex. a public square in rovaniemi is now named after them.

here's a link to Lordi's website, for a giggle:

rovaniemi milks the santa theme for all it's worth -- I stayed at Hostel Rudolf, just down the street from Hotel Santa Claus. the train that pulls into rovaniemi is stencilled on each car with Santa Claus Express.

nevertheless, I bypassed a visit to the santa claus village to instead see an ethnographic open-air museum that featured a farmhouse community transplanted from various locations around finland and a sami (lapp) cultural center.

the sami are the indigenous people of northern scandinavia and western russia. traditional reindeer herders, trappers and fishers, many of them still live in rugged lappland, albeit with many modern trappings and conveniences (such as using snowmobiles to herd their reindeer). their language, also part of the finno-ugric family, is distinct and separate from finnish or swedish.

the tiny village of inari, even further north of rovaniemi, is one of the best places to interact with the sami culture. for that reason, I hopped a five-hour bus ride due north and checked into a tiny cabin next to glassy lake inarijarvi. at that latitude, sunset took three hours, with the sun finally disappearing at around 11:00 pm, and it never quite got dark before the sun rose again at around 3:00 am.

the next day, I rented a mountain bike from the local information center and took off for a local reindeer farm, about an hour's ride away. reindeer walked languidly away as I pedaled past them, looking not at all concerned. most of the 14,000 reindeer in the inari area belong to various herds, but are allowed to graze freely. when I arrived at the farm, the tour was just about to start. a woman dressed in traditional lapp clothing herded us through a fence, picked up a stout stick, and banged several times on a tree.

in a few moments, a dozen or so reindeer came bursting out of the birch forest toward us. one of the tourists freaked out and ran out of the gate, but the rest of us had a ball feeding the reindeer, petting them and listening to the soft clicking of their feet (reindeer have special bones in their hooves that click when they walk, thus enabling the herd to stick together in darkness or fog). it was an incredible experience to be near such beautiful, exotic animals.

I rode back down to helsinki the next morning by bus and train and bought myself another ferry ticket -- this time to tallinn, estonia.

estonia is the largest of the three baltic states and was occupied by both russian and german forces for most of the twentieth century, finally gaining independence as the republic of estonia in 1991 following a 'singing revolution' in which more than two million people joined hands across estonia, latvia and lithuania in a call for self-determination.

most of the interesting sights in tallinn are quartered in an egg-shaped neighborhood called Old Town. cobblestoned streets wind every which way, leading to public squares ringed by vendors selling knitted sweaters and fresh flowers. a church tower used by the KGB to spy on the local populace is now a tourist lookout. the oldest continuously operating pharmacy in europe is in tallinn. records show that it was on its third owner in 1422.

by the second day, I'd met another american, nic from chicago. we killed an afternoon walking around, and then went in search of fixins for dinner. the balti jaam open market was just across the train tracks. we had read that it was a 'colorful' place, where tourists were advised to keep their wallets and wits about them.

as soon as I walked into the market, I felt like I was back in mongolia at ulaanbaatar's har zakh. kiosks were selling soviet memorabilia, cosmetics, used books, cuts of meat, fresh produce. I even recognized some of the toiletry brands as the same stuff I'd used while in peace corps -- harmony soap, blend-a-med toothpaste. what a trip down memory lane.

the next day, I was determined to hit the museum of occupations, which details everyday life under the soviet and nazi regimes. I spent an hour there, taking in the instruments of torture, giant busts of lenin and stalin, and the excellent displays on espionage and resistance. then I decided to go back to old town for lunch.

as I walked up the street, I noticed a large tour group on the other side, the type that comes off cruise ships, consisting mostly of older asian people. their group leader was holding a flag on which I could read the name of the cruise: Sun Tours Hawaii. hmmm, I thought. it's a pretty small world.

I crossed the street and asked the folks at the back of the line, Hey, you guys from Hawaii?

in surprise at hearing a pidgin accent, a few of them stopped.

Where you from? one lady asked. she was wearing a big flowered hat.
I grew up in Mililani. My parents still live there.
Oh! What's your name? she asked.
Cindy Ogasawara.
pause. Are you Roy's daughter?

told you it was a small world.

turns out a couple of them had grown up with my dad and his siblings at Camp 9, a plantation village in central o'ahu. one man had done some plumbing work on my parents' house. another man was my dad's high school principal. and one of the women was the registrar at the same high school. freaky!

my tourist brochure mentioned a greek catholic ukrainian church in a remote corner of old town. I had never been in a ukrainian church before, so I set out to find it.

down a little-traveled alleyway, I came to the large wooden door set into the stone wall and fitted with an iron knocker. there was no one around. I knocked.

a few seconds later, the door opened. an elderly man with dancing blue eyes stood there. without a word, he beckoned me in.

we walked into a courtyard ringed with ancient oak trees, filled with light and flowers and a tinkling fountain. a couple of other men were doing woodwork at a table. they barely acknowledged me.

the old man opened another ancient door. I walked through into the most beautiful church I have ever seen.

it wasn't huge and filled with stained glass, like the cathedrals of spain. it wasn't whitewashed and palatial like the helsinki cathedral. it was small and dark and smelled of incense. the pews were roughly hewn out of dark wood, but polished by decades of worshipers sitting in them. there were mysterious icons at the front of the church, gold-haloed saints half-smiling beatifically down at me. iron chandeliers hung from the ceiling, filled with melted candle stubs. I knew immediately that this was a sacred space. it was apparent that people had been worshiping here for a long, long time.

the man disappeared. I sank into one of the pews and just sat there, reveling in the quiet and beauty.

all of a sudden, the floor started to open up.

the center floorboards were sliding away to reveal a secret room under the church. as I sat there, open-mouthed, they slid under the altar completely, and I could see a staircase leading down into the basement. the old man was in there, using a crank to open the floor with an elaborate system of pulleys and weights. he motioned that I should go down the stairs.

I had heard that old town was full of ancient secret passageways and tunnels. maybe this was one of them.

in the secret room, he showed me glass display cases, each full of dozens and dozens of intricately painted eggs. I had no idea what they were for, but they were beautiful.

then he took me through the whole church complex, up and down stairs and ladders, through passageways and under low-hanging beams. there were living quarters, places for drafting and drawing, places for making paper in giant vats, straining it in frames, and hanging it up to dry. there were spiral staircases and hidden attic rooms, full of beautiful drawings and calligraphy. and it was all completely ancient-looking and I could not believe I was the only guest. I kept laughing out loud and saying Wow. this was the tallinn I had dreamed of experiencing.

we went back out into the sunny courtyard. one of the younger men doing woodwork said something to the old man. they chatted for a bit (in ukrainian? russian?) and then the younger man introduced himself in english. his name was nestor and his father, anatoly. he told me that his father was the caretaker of the church. he himself was an artist. they sometimes stayed at the church complex, sometimes at their own homes, and were glad to give tours to anyone who knocked on the door.

we went upstairs for tea. through nestor, I learned that the ukrainian greek catholic community in tallinn was small but active, had been suppressed during the soviet occupation but had met in secret, and bounced back with vigor after independence.

nestor showed me a copy of a book he'd illustrated, The Poetics of Endangered Species. each page contained a beautiful watercolor of an endangered bird, animal, or plant, and a poem written by estonian poet timo maran from that organism's point of view. hence, cepaea nemoralis, or brown-lipped snail, says:

quietly I crawl carrying
my own house
and never ever have I
stepped on
anyone at all

I told them about my around-the-world trip, about my job in antarctica, and about the occasional loneliness that comes with traveling solo. about how being surrounded by people doesn't necessarily mean companionship, and how most interaction with locals is shallow and brief -- buying a meal or a souvenir, or having a conversation in a train or bus. and they offered me a place to stay in the church.

I stayed there my last night in tallinn, in a tiny attic space up a flight of stairs and a ladder, and slept like the dead.

here is the best link I can find about the church:

the next morning, I said goodbye to nestor and anatoly and got on a bus to riga, latvia. I would only have 24 hours there before catching a ferry back to stockholm.

riga is a beautiful city, full of easter-egg-colored buildings and church towers, and bisected by a lazy canal thronged with ducks. it somehow felt a little more sinister than other northern european cities I'd visited -- perhaps it was the fliers in the hostel warning male tourists not to buy local girls drinks at bars. apparently, this sometimes leads to an exorbitantly high bill (in the neighborhood of US$400), a common scam. you don't happen to have that much cash on you? no worries. the bartender's thug friends will gladly accompany you to the nearest ATM so you can withdraw the money. seeing as I wasn't about to go buying drinks for strangers (male or female) in the local watering holes, it didn't concern me all that much, but it still lent a slightly seedy air to my visit to riga.

the rest of my time in latvia was spent shopping for soviet kitsch at the outdoor market (again, reminiscent of the black market in mongolia), having pancakes at a famous local eatery, strolling in the park and marveling at the strange fashion sense of the locals. otherwise snazzily dressed young men were wearing white winkle-picker leather shoes. the women's outfits could best be described as lurid and tawdry, with a heavy emphasis on day-glo colors. perhaps cindy is a little out of touch with today's fashions, having worn the same pair of khaki hiking pants almost every day for months.

here's my favorite photo, from the window of the pancake place. apparently credit cards, alcohol and cigarettes are no-nos...along with horseback riding and trumpets.

I ferried back to stockholm, flew into heathrow and set out to kill an afternoon waiting to meet up with my camino friend leslie, who was arriving a few hours later. we would be crashing with her ex, stanley, in north london. I knew how I would spend my time waiting -- at the Tate Modern. I grabbed a steak 'n' cheese pasty, hopped on the tube and made a beeline for Bankside.

aside from the stylish name it shares with my three-year-old niece, the Tate's appeal lies in the fact that it is the largest modern art museum in the UK, free (except for some of the temporary exhibits), and housed in an architecturally interesting former power station (one of the largest spaces, the Turbine Room, is five stories tall). works are grouped thematically instad of chronologically, which introduces visitors to lesser-known artists by placing them alongside the more famous ones. I wandered for hours up and down the spacious halls filled with sculptures, paintings, and installations, and made sure to visit the gift shop for souvenirs emblazoned with the name 'Tate.'

my favorite sign at the museum, with its typically british choice of words, read: This room contains works of an explicit nature that some viewers may find challenging.

back on american soil at JFK, while waiting for my flight to burlington, I killed time in the food court over chinese take-out and read more of madeleine albright's book about religion's role in foreign policy, The Mighty and the Almighty, while seated -- appropriately -- between an elderly muslim man and a young hasidic jew. the muslim man was drinking a bottle of soda and hiccuping while the young jewish man studied a small paperback written in hebrew. god bless america.

it felt strange to pay for my take-out with american bills. it felt even stranger to be able to understand the voices on the PA system without really trying. and I could read ingredient labels again! dextrose...emulsifier...*sigh*. lovely.

a quick jetblue flight north and I was in burlington, vermont for a brief visit with an ice buddy, brian. burlington is a smaller version of the most outdoorsy, hippie-ish seattle or portland you can imagine. natural grocery stores, used bookshops, and outdoor gear stores abound, and everyone seems to have a large, friendly dog. we barbecued out back, went hiking near lake champlain, ate lots of ice cream, and tooled around in his huge green ford. vermont is as eco-friendly as it is un-friendly to the wal-mart corporation (see link).

after leaving burlington, I headed downstate to visit another ice buddy, amber, who is attending a graduate program at dartmouth in globalization. she's been enthusing about it ever since her first class, so I was eager to sit in with her and see what it was all about. the discussion that day centered on the writings of political prisoners, and although it was heady to be sitting in a dartmouth classroom!!!, I had problems following what was going on. maybe I've been away from academia for too long, maybe it was low blood sugar... but I felt as if my synapses were coated in motor oil. still, it excited me to see amber all fired up about the program and to consider whether I may someday return to the classroom myself.

I hopped a greyhound down to NYC for a week with my sister. lynn and I hadn't travelled together since she was married in 2002, so both of us were excited about this time that she could get away from her responsibilities as a mommy and as the manager of a naturopathic doctor's office.

the first thing we did was to take in an off-off broadway show called Walmartopia!. I haven't laughed that hard in ages. I think I may have (slightly) lost control of my bladder at one point. here's the website:

my sister lives in a sterile suburb in hawaii, which is ethnically but not quite culturally diverse. we were walking around greenwich village when she leaned in and whispered, I keep seeing all these Amish people everywhere.

after a moment, I realized she was talking about the hasidim. I explained the difference. hasidim = jewish. amish = christian. we got a good laugh out of that.

although our time in NYC mostly consisted of me carrying my sister's purchases while she shopped, I did get to do two things I'd set my heart on: visit ground zero, and take a tour of UN headquarters.

ground zero resembled nothing so much as a huge construction site thronged by tourists. the sun beat down, a man tried relentlessly to sell me some postcards of the planes crashing into the north and south towers, and I started to feel claustrophobic. there was nothing sacred about the site. I decided instead to duck into a church across the street, st. paul's, which had been used as a resting-and-refueling station for rescue workers after 9/11. as soon as I entered the church doors, I knew that this was a place for healing. it had been turned into a museum of sorts, filled with children's artwork and old 'missing person' fliers. people moved reverently around the sanctuary, looking at the photos and memorabilia, or sat silently in the pews. I managed about two and a half minutes before I completely lost it.

the next day, we went to UN headquarters on the bank of the east river. it turned out that we were visiting on a particularly auspicious day. the general assembly was actually in session, but had cleared the chambers for lunch break, so we were able to go in and sit in the impressive room. each arm-rest was equipped with a little dial on the side that could be turned to one of six languages, the six official languages of the UN. delegates stick the earbud in their ear, choose a language and listen to testimony and deliberation translated in real time. the murals on the walls are completely abstract, executed in muted colors that don't appear on national flags, in order to represent that no country's culture is being subverted at the expense of another's. we learned that almost every country in the world, except for some tiny south pacific island nations, is a member (including north korea, which surprised me), and the reason the UN is based in NYC instead of london, geneva or another major city is because john rockefeller donated the land that it now sits on. fascinating!

all too soon, our week of girl-time was over, and I was off to denver for a doctor's appointment and to see an old peace corps buddy and his wife. david and nara met while we were living in mongolia and now enjoy a cozy existence with their rascally but adorable two-year-old, kevin. I credit parents of two-year-olds with having the patience of job, the cleaning skills of heloise, and the sleep requirements of hummingbirds.

next stop: tucson, to see dave, an old ex from my redmond borders days. dave and I were inventory manager and coordinator, respectively, way back before I headed to the peace corps and he moved to arizona to ultimately become a high-school english teacher. his tiny, welcoming casita at the edge of the saguaro national park is surrounded by miles and miles of inhospitable desert. as I pulled into his driveway, I glimpsed a coyote in my headlights; and the next morning there was a tarantula in his kitchen (thankfully, before I had awakened). it was 115F. yes, you say, but wasn't it dry heat? um, yeah...thanks. I feel much cooler now.

last mainland stop: flagstaff. another peace corps buddy, bob, has been living there for a few years and I had yet to visit, something he was fond of reminding me of every time we chatted. after the blistering heat of tucson, flagstaff's cool juniper-scented mountains were a welcome change. bob, his girlfriend scarlet, and I watched movies, went hiking, and fed our faces. and just like that, it was time to head back to hawaii.

what am I reading? my sister brought me a book to read while in NYC -- a memoir called the glass castle. it's a quick, engrossing read about four children that basically raise themselves under horrific circumstances imposed by their well-meaning by ultimately irresponsible and selfish parents. I can also heartily recommend the albright book. I'm now reading karen armstrong's the spiral staircase, about surviving her seven years as a nun and her evolution into one of today's most respected and in-demand comparative-religion experts.

lest you're wondering why cindy would take a trip around the world only to mash the last bit into a few weeks' time, the answer is that somewhere in all of this traveling I decided to go back to antarctica for a third season. I am nearly PQd (medically cleared) at this point, and scheduled to fly down on the first flight of the austral summer. that means I will be spending a mere week in seattle, packing, going through a year's worth of mail, and catching up with friends before heading to denver for orientation on the 26th or 27th of this month. I'll be doing the same job I did in the chalet last season -- senior admin coordinator for mcmurdo station -- but this time without the steep learning curve; and working with the same team of fabu-rous ladies (the 'chaladies'), something I'm really excited about.

sorry for the long silence between postings. hope this finds everyone tarantula-free.

XO chalet (again) cindy