Friday, June 30, 2006

A Romantic Thought

Scarf', my friend in Greece, has an aunt in her 70s. Even at that age, she still has man trouble.

Her pearl of romantic wisdom?

"It doesn't get any easier as you get older. It just gets weirder."

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Monumental Day in Kuwait

Women are voting for the first time in Kuwait. They make up half the electorate.

That's great. Let's not go into the expat vs. citizen thing here; only citizens can vote, and to be a citizen, you pretty much need to be born lucky. But what's important is that women are running for Parliament and going to the polls.

Hope the queues are inside. It's real hot in Kuwait in June.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Publicity Ops

I'm responding to an email from the publicist who will work with me on Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik.

She has her own list of places to contact, and I'm sure it includes all major US travels mags, major newspapers that cover travel books, and literary outlets.

I'm supposed to respond with my own ideas. So far I've mentioned these:

-Heidi MacDonald's The Pulse
-Warren Ellis
-a Uganda monthly magazine called "The Eye" that reviews Uganda-related books
-the Intrepid Travel newsletter
-my local paper (extremely local as the NYTimes seems somewhat ambitious, not to mention I'm sure the publicist knows of its existence)
-the Staten Island Advance (who printed a lovely article on was a cub reporter there when I was 19).
-QE2 and Cunard (it was part of my trip)
-getting an excerpt on Amazon
-getting copies to Australian papers (Peter Moore supplied a great quote for the back cover)
-UK's Wanderlust magazine.

Does anyone have any useful ideas aside from the totally obvious? Of course I'd like to spill the untold backstory to an international audience on Oprah but I think I lost her number.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hello Balloon?

I liked this shot I took in 2001, because it looked like the elephant was waving to the balloon. But it also reminds me of the Maasai warrior outside my tent at 4:30 a.m. chirping "Hello Balloon?" He was my alarm clock for my balloon ride.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Geburtenkontrolle und Bier

I had a hankering to hear a song I have on an LP, by Two Nice Girls.

My LPs are all in the basement and being lazy, I thought it would only take a minute to find it somewhere in the cyberworld and then my butt would be able to stay put in the chair I work from.

But I got distracted instead by a site that offers lyrics... I almost clicked off when I noticed a button on the bottom of the page.

"Translate this song!"

Funny. Is it really a public service to offer "I spent my last ten dollars on birth control and beer, My life was so much simpler when I was sober and queer" in Chinese? Russian? Japanese? Does it even rhyme in Greek?

Reality Dawns

Life begins at 40.

I've only been 40 for 65 days, but I think I must have missed something important.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Minnie is a Tramp

I worked on a three-part reprint of a Mickey M*use story from the 40s and it was a great read.

In it, Mickey has been out of town for a bit too long, so Minnie takes her revenge by getting a new boyfriend. The new "man" is a rich rat with a fancy car. Minnie prances all over town with him while Mickey is depressed.

Mickey gets a new girlfriend and then Minnie acts like a jealous idiot, being outrageously rude to Mickey's new date and acting like an absolute cow. She encourages her rat boyfriend to make Mickey look stupid in public.

For reasons unclear to me as Minnie is obviously playing a lot of control games and on a power trip, Mickey still wants her back. Lucky for Mickey, the rat-guy turns out to be a rat-bastard. Mickey exposes rat-guy in public as not really being rich. (The horror!)

Minnie is then devastated that not only is her rich boyfriend not rich or cool, but her old standby isn't pining away and waiting by the phone for her.. Good thing Mickey is such an understanding guy, right?

Wrong. Mickey is a fool. Minnie's behavior was appalling. What strange lessons for children these were. Then again, I guess the couple did make it through another sixty years so maybe Minnie was just temporarily insane...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Giant Cat

This 19-foot fiberglass cat in a Santa hat lives two blocks away from me, on top of a clock maker's garage. The cat has been on this roof since 1978 and the rest of the residents on the block have probably been there that long too. It's a block where no one moves in or out, and everyone has time for a neighborly chat. Except for the dogs that guard the cat. They like to make their ownership clear.

A friend of mine once wrote an article about the giant cat. I'll see if I can find it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hiking Garbage Island


Thunderstorms were creeping in as Roberta and I held a hurried conference on her building's stoop.

"Should we go? Should we try the hike?"

I called Michael Kraiger.

"How long do you think it will be before it rains?"

"How would I know? Let's go."

We went. We weren't going far, only to the Meadowlands. It's normally where you go for a concert or sporting event. Once, years ago, I took a date pal to a golf driving range there as a kind of a gag. Another time, it was a different date outing to the racetrack. And now, having given up on dates and manmade fun, I was headed to the Meadowlands to experience nature with my friends.

Reclamation of a 3.5 acre illegally filled "garbage island", incorporating wetland and upland habitats, educational facilities and other site amenities.

Hmm, okay. Scratch that. This nature is manmade too.

"Um, it's not really a hike, is it?" Roberta realized this almost immediately as we scooted along the plastic boardwalk above the marsh, each with one eye on the overcast sky.

Not really. It's an easy, flat mile-and-change walk. But as we walked through the reserve, looking at egrets and muskrats, we were within spitting distance of the New Jersey Turnpike and the Pulaski Skyway. Garbage island and the surrounding marsh—one section made of 400,000 plastic soda bottles—house migratory birds as planes fly in low overhead, aiming for Newark Airport.

We had just finished the Marsh Discovery Trail and part of the Transco Trail, when we came across the mile-long Saw Mill Creek Trail. The rain, threatening for so long, hadn't started yet. We got cocky.

"Let's try it."

We were about 50 meters into it, when the skies opened. We ran, laughing, for the car.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ring Around the Mulberry Bush

It's man-versus-mulberry season in downtown JC.

These pesky squishy berries fall out of trees at a rate of about one purple mini-bomb per three seconds.

The first year I was here, there was a guy upstairs who fought the good fight against the berries. He also landscaped the backyard. I teased him, thought he was being ridiculous.

"They're just berries. Make a pie from them. Berries happen."

He bought a net and strung it up across the yard. I soon learned (as did all my neighbors) the error of my ways in mocking him. These berries were relentless and if you trod on one, you soon tracked purple into your apartment, not to mention our new deck would get stained. The net was the only solution.

The guy is gone now, having taken profits from the insane escalation in JC real estate values. I missed the boat by wallowing in Namibia and numbly licking my wounds instead of coming home and selling, and am now left sitting on an unattainable theoretical profit of more than $200k, except that since condo sales are as stagnant as the foul pile of berries by the fence, I ain't got squat. A purple-stained white elephant.

"At least it's not a purple hippo," I tell myself.

The guy's replacement tried hard, trimming the tree and stringing up the net as best he could.

Unfortunately, the net has to hang from the second story condo window to do the job properly. And the new woman who moved in there went to see her boyfriend in Bavaria (my upstairs neighbor has a Bavarian BF--what are the odds?) so we can't get into her place. The net is half-useful, and I've spent my mornings wearing dollar-store gloves, patiently picking up purple berries off the deck.

Here's a before and after look at our backyard, pre and post landscaping. You can see why I don't want it to turn purple.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Startling Junk Mail

I'm on a travel junk mail e-list, and I cannot seem to get removed from it.

Normally, when this "newsletter" comes in, I hit "delete." But this one had a headline: Watching the World Cup from Kampala, Uganda. It came complete with this line: Courtesy of SN Brussels Airlines Bavarian beer had been flown in for the event and a resident German butcher provided authentic Bavarian ‘Weisswurst’ and ‘Leberkaese’ with mustard from the old country and a potato salad, which could have come straight from the Munich ‘Oktoberfest’.

I laughed. I know that butcher! We had "pancake soup" at his house once. I used to run into him at Garden City Mall, sipping cappuccino in the early afternoons. It took me back, for just a minute to the giddy days of summer, 2005, in Kampala, when living in Africa was a great adventure full of promise.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Chasing Waterfalls

"Isn't there supposed to be a waterfall around here?" asked Roberta, as she stepped over a stick at a sunny overlook.

"Waterfall? Where did you read that?" I asked.

"That trail guide you emailed us. Didn't you read it first?"

"I, uh, skimmed, it," I responded sheepishly. Then, "Wha—ACK!"

I jumped and then froze. The stick Ro had blithely stepped over slithered off the trail and onto some rocks next to me. It was a four-foot snake.

I looked at it for a minute before some innate ancestral hillbilly instinct in me took over.

"It's a black snake. Just hold still. Black snakes are good."

At least I assumed it was a black snake. It was all black and had no markings. Thus, a black snake. Michael Kraiger ignored my instructions and proceeded to get closer, to peer at the good snake.

"Stop! You'll scare it."

He stopped. He likes to look up close at animals and reptiles. I don't know if it's because he has a kid or is a big kid, but he likes to turn over logs and look for frogs and worms.

I didn't mind the enforced rest. Ro, who goes to the gym three times a week and lives mj_rockin a third-story walk-up, was taking the 1,200-foot mountain easily. I was pretending not to mind, but my calves ached from the steady uphill climb over the rocks. Like Ro, I go to the gym three times a week, but my gym is the lame express-circuit-training-for-old-ladies gym. Ro goes to the real gym. And I live at street level, though I freely admit that being in a fifth-story walkup when I lived in Barcelona in 2004 made me the healthiest I've been since I was a small child.

The snake slithered away. We enjoyed the view of the S-bend in the Delaware River, then proceeded up the trail.

After an hour and fifteen sweaty minutes, we reached the summit. A couple in their 60s were there, enjoying the panoramic view of the Delaware Water Gap.

"Did you guys see a waterfall somewhere?" asked Ro. Kraiger was wandering off to a rocky ledge so steep it would have petrified me.

"Waterfall? Who told you there was a waterfall?" hooted the woman of the couple.

"I just, uh, er, I guess I read it somewhere…"

We rested in the perfect morning sun. We were less than 80 miles from Manhattan, but we were in a protected National Park Service Recreation Area. The Delaware Water Gap is one of the many examples of cool things nature does with erosion. The Delaware River cuts a winding path through the Kittatinny Mountains,
and forms a natural border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Further south, George Washington took a regiment across the frozen Delaware in the dead of winter, surprising the Hessians and scoring a decisive victory for the Continental Army.

The Father of our Country could have brought his troops up to Mt. Tammany to hide if he'd had to. The British would have been crazy to climb these steep, rocky slopes in winter. Then again, George would have been mad to try it too. He did use natural barriers to protect his troops, but valleys were preferable to exposed cliff faces. dwg
There was probably no easy access via highway 80 then, and certainly no port-a-johns at the visitor's center.

The couple left ahead of us, heading down the Blue-Dot Trail. Another hiker came up, a man in his 70s wearing a leg brace. He looked around quickly and then sped on.

We laughed a little. Climbing a mountain had seemed like such a big deal from Jersey City. But the only big deal had really been working out when to go.

We started down, passing a deer in the woods and then passing the couple. woodsAt the bottom, there was a bench cut from a log, next to a beautiful waterfall. We tore into the turkey sandwiches I'd carried along, stashed in one of those cool-bags which had served me well in transporting food in Uganda. The scene was idyllic, as the bench was bathed in sunlight but surrounded by tall hardwood trees that provided shade all around us. The water was also lit by sun.

The couple caught up. We looked at them smugly. Ro's waterfall. Here it was.

"That? You call that a waterfall?" The hikers laughed at us urban-dwellers and continued on.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Climb Every Mountain

"Moderately strenuous" read the description of the Red-Dot Trail, the route we'd follow up our chosen New Jersey mountain, Mt. Tammany.

"How hard does that mean?" wondered Roberta. A lot of people had tried to frighten her with tales of not being prepared, physical difficulty, and the scary things out in the wild.

"No problem," I said. "We're fit. And if we can't do this, we have no hope of even trying Kilimanjaro."

The Mt. Tammany trail rises 1,200 feet above Route 80 and the Delaware Water Gap. I've been meaning to go climb it for years now, through three boyfriends. I kept waiting to do it with one of them, and as each relationship dissolved into ludicrous melodrama (two years seems to be the standard expiration date, though the last was not even as much as two months), climbing Mt. Tammany seemed more and more like something I'd end up doing alone. Like most things.

But then Ro had been thinking about Kilimanjaro. And from there, it was easy to convince her to climb Tammany. She wanted to.

During our first seasonal backyard barbecue, we talked about it. And then Michael Kraiger said he'd like to come too. We were rained out for our first departure, but on the second, the day was perfect and cool and bright.

Ro emailed me early. "I've been up since four!"

"Was it the gunshots that woke you? That's what woke me."

It was. Ro lives five houses away from me, and I'm sure the distant gunshots awoke the whole neighborhood. Downtown Jersey City's 8th Street is a far cry from my old street, Avenue B in Manhattan's Alphabet City.

After a minor which-bag crisis, I got out of the house at 6:30. Ro was waiting in front of my house, in her blue VW Golf. We picked up Kraiger, who lives in the Heights, and headed west.

At Dover, we decided to go for breakfast at a diner that Kraiger knew about. (He works in Dover at the Kubert School.) As we drove off the highway, a shiny new SUV in front of us skidded, perhaps on a little gravel, swerved as the driver lost control, then hit a curb and spun over, landing on its roof and crushing the SUV, turning it into a sedan. The SUV slid across Route 15 and halted in front of us.

Ro pulled over and stopped. I called 9-1-1. Kraiger, solid and reliable man that he is, quickly got out of the car and headed over to the scene of the accident.

"Look, he's alive!" Ro was pointing at the driver, who slid out of the driver's side window—the driver's side was the only part left uncrushed.crash
The driver walked over to the side of the road and sat on the guardrail, while Kraiger checked him over for wounds.

This was not an auspicious beginning to our day, but we were undaunted. It was a frightening thing to watch, but scrambled eggs and toast calmed our nerves, though Kraiger discovered he'd gotten glass and a little blood on his hands. We drove on.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The (Vanishing) Snows of Kilimanjaro

Here is Mt. Kilimanjaro. Yeah, it's in Tanzania. But you get a great view of it from Amboseli National Park in Kenya, where I was a few weeks ago.

The snows of Kilimanjaro are receding and will be gone completely within 15 years. Deforestation? Global warming? A bit of both? Theories abound. But no one argues that it is happening.

I didn't attempt to climb Kilimanjaro any of the three times I breezed by it, in 2001, 2005, or 2006. That's because I'm lazy and I get altitude sickness. I have friends who have done it--as many who have tried and failed as who have succeeded. It's true that a normal person in good shape can climb Kilimanjaro. But it isn't so much the exertion that deters climbers as the alititude-sickness. It's serious business, and does occasionally result in deaths, even on this seemingly innocuous mountain.

My pal Roberta is thinking of trying it. She's in good physical shape. I told her I'd go with her and hike around a bit, but would not try to summit. My ex, Turbo, vomited his way up the last bit (altitude sickness) and Peter Moore didn't make it that far before suffering fever and diarrhoea. It doesn't sound so nice to me. Something like 80 percent of climbers fail to summit.

We decided it might make sense to first try climbing a mountain at home in New Jersey.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Poo Fighters

After a few days on safari, the thrill of elephants and lions starts to wear off. And then you start to look for smaller things--mongoose, wild dogs, birds, beetles.

We saw this dung beetle on the way to Amboseli National Park. It was pushing its dung ball along, making it bigger and bigger and presumably looking for somewhere to bury it.

Dung beetles are not exclusive to Africa. But I'd never seen one before. They both eat feces and roll them into round balls. They bury the balls and then lay eggs in them.

Other dung beetles lie in wait and try to steal the ball. Then there is a big beetle battle. I guess it's easier to abscond with someone else's ball of dung than to collect enough crap to make one yourself.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

More Lions

Here's some more lion shots from Masai Mara National Park in Kenya.

The lions in the bottom are about to strike out at each other and growl angrily. The young male was trying to take over the females while the head of the pride was off with one of his harem. This female fought the young lion off.

Mapping the Route

My goal was to make a sample map for my publisher. There is to be a map with a trek line in the Dik-Dik book, to show the route I took across Africa in 2001. They had an initial design done by their cartography department.

But I had a slightly different idea, and I wanted there to be little animals and matatus and bananas and whatnot on various spots, along with a dotted trek line instead of a solid one. So I changed their map and put on "borrowed" art that I had on a Zimbabwe postcard and on something my pal Jessica had sent me, to show what I had in mind. It's not quite what I intended. I planned for it to be a lot more intricate, the kind of thing you could really look at for a long time.

The actual map in the book is going to be a lot more "map-like" and not have animals on it.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Real or Memorex?


One of the places we went on my most recent trip to Kenya was a private game reserve near Hell's Gate National Park.

Last summer in Uganda, Herr Marlboro and I would often drive around looking for tails hanging out of trees. There was one ranger who excelled at leopard-spotting. We'd see him with tourists, doing his guiding duty. Once we saw him and I wasn't wearing trousers—kind of embarrassing but the context is that H.M had gotten the truck upholstery washed. We'd thought it dry, but it wasn't, and the longer we sat, the soggier our bottoms got. ("Soggy Bottom" is funny to me, a native of the Washington DC metro area, probably not to anyone else.)

We were in the middle of a national park in Uganda—who would see besides a nosy giraffe? I took off my trousers and put them in the sun across the dashboard. When we saw the approaching car, I grabbed them and threw them across my lap. The leopard-spotter probably just chalked it up to H.M.'s Madam being as weird as H.M. was by reputation. We mzungu are considered eccentric.

"Straight ahead, in the trees on the right! You can't miss it—two leopards!"

We'd race ahead—pants or no—and look for the leopards.

We never saw any.

So I was thrilled when we saw a leopard in a tree in Kenya, munching on warthog thigh. As we approached, the leopard climbed down from the tree and vanished.

"Look, another leopard!"

Another one nested in the crook of a nearby tree, with a bored look on his face.

We took a lot of photos, but I was confused.

What's a private game reserve, anyway? It's got a fence. If they run out of animals, they can buy more. It's like the safari drive at a theme park.

Except what did the Uganda Wildlife Authority do when they wanted a rhino?

They bought it.

Is that so different?

I don't know if it counts in a private game reserve or not. In Samburu, there was a lodge where they put a hunk of meat in a clearing every night. Then the leopard would come and the tourists would snap photos.

It's still a leopard. It just feels like cheating.

Don't ask me for some deep introspection into if it's all right or not. I'm kind of conflicted on the answer. It's a leopard in a tree, all right. That will have to be enough. At least the private game reserve had lovely huts and a nice central lodge.





Wednesday, June 07, 2006

How Green Is Your Valley?

This is the first spot where you stop and look over the Great Rift Valley when driving from Nairobi to Masai Mara.

Aw Shucks

Peter Moore* had some kind things to say about my book over on his blog. Amanda followed it up with something about stalking.

I wonder what my mother bribed them with.

*Amanda and Edward have no chance of ever beating Peter in Strip Passport. Sorry.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Tembo Tano Mguu

I feel a little guilty for invading this elephant's privacy (and being tacky), but since we're on the theme anyway, I might as well finish it out properly.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Simba Love Part II

Lions in Masai Mara.

Swahili Ginger

"Marie, do you want a drink?" One of the other safari-goers had the cooler open in the back of the Land Rover.

"A... whatsits... Stoney. Is there a Stoney in there?"

"A what? Oh yeah, here's one." He handed it over. "What's a Stoney?"

"I'm not sure exactly. It's ginger-flavored. I started drinking it at Red Chilli behind our house in Murchison, but to be honest, I'm not even sure I like it."

Some things are like that. I wasn't sure if I liked Stoney or not, but because I wasn't sure, I kept trying it. One day last summer, I decided I disliked it intensely, and I announced to HM that I was done with Stoney. The next night I ordered one again, and decided I kind of liked it. (To his credit, HM always stuck with Nile Special and never wavered. I still hear the Nile Special jingle in my head. To my knowledge, Stoney does not have a song.)

Here's the Wikipedia on Stoney:

Stoney tangawizi is a soft drink sold in parts of Africa. The product is made and distributed by The Coca-Cola Company. It is sold in a brown bottle. The drink has an unusual taste and gives the consumer a sensation in the mouth. This sensation can often be too much for foreign visitors to handle.

That's about right.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Brushes with Celebrity

Jimmy Carter. Brad Pitt. Bob Geldof. Marie Javins.

What's wrong with this picture?

This passage was originally in a London newspaper article last summer, but I just found it has been copied onto Wikipedia. It's part of a review of an Italian restaurant in Addis Ababa.

"Long considered the best restaurant in Addis Ababa," agrees the Lonely Planet guide. "Fantastic - some of the best food I had all the year I was travelling," says Marie Javins, editor of the alternative travel website And our own Sir Bob can't speak highly enough about Ethiopia's top trattoria. "No question about it, you haven't tasted real pasta till you've been there," says Geldof, whose epic Live 8 rock extravaganza on July 2 close on the launch of his six-part TV series, Geldof in Africa, which is due to start on June 20 on BBC1. "Every time I'm in Ethiopia, I'm just aching to go to Castelli's."

I'm not editor of, though I am a contributing editor (read: longtime freelance writer).

I wonder if they were desperate for quotes, googled, and used the next person they found after Sir Bob.

In other news, Angelina Jolie had her baby in the same hospital I was in last September in Namibia. Which would be kind of cool, except that being in the hospital was far from an enjoyable experience, since I wasn't there for fun.