Leffis Key Preserve

Reading this week:

  • the joy and terror are both in the swallowing by Christine Shan Shan Hou

Look, by the time you read this I am going to be like a solid half week into a brand new career and I gotta build up a backlog of entries so I can do all the new-career things like figuring out where to get coffee and where the bathrooms are and also like, how to do the job. So that’ll be exciting! And also with that said, while on our Florida vacation my super amazing girlfriend and I visited the Leffis Key Preserve.

I have been going to the Leffis Key Preserve for years when I visited my grandma and it is one of my favorites. It’s just this tiny little park that was built as a sorta artificial ecology center, that is they built up some islands (or I guess actually dug out some canals) and made a small hill and planted a bunch of mangroves and stuff and just watched as the ecosystem rolled in. Despite it being across from a usually rather crowded public beach, it typically has around zero people in it, so you can have the various trails and boardwalks all to your lonesome.

The biggest draw for me personally is the mangroves. I’m a big fan of mangroves. I’m not a fan of Crossing the Mangrove, which I had to read for a French class with an absolutely atrocious teacher, though maybe if I re-read it I would enjoy it a lot more, but the trees themselves I like both for being extremely friendly for the environment or whatever and also being cool and stuff what with all the fiddler crabs and stuff you get running around their roots. When in the preserve I mostly like just hanging out on the boardwalks they got going through the mangrove uh, groves and taking in feeling of it all.

While my super amazing girlfriend and I were visiting the preserve we also got to see a lot of wildlife. She spotted a little crab in a tree, which is I think typically not where crabs go but just goes to show the beauty and wonder of nature. There were also just a whole butt-ton of fiddler crabs, though I wondered why they all went for the fiddle instead of some branching out to electric guitar or the drums or something. Based on the two pictures above we also got to see some birds. I think (based on a sign we saw) that the top one is a Black-crowned Night Heron (though looking at that webpage maybe not?) while the bottom one is an ibis. We actually see a lot of ibises around here, eating I guess worms or something out of people’s lawns, but this one was special for eating in something that I assume is closer to its natural habitat.

So anyways if you’re in the area you should go to the Leffis Key Preserve. It’s a beautiful little spot and I wish there were more spots like that, except maybe bigger and taking up the entire coastline so we could restore mangrove ecosystems and also prevent seaside erosion. Carbon capture too? Things to think about. The boardwalks are well-maintained and get you real close to nature and stuff, as well as provide gorgeous views of the channel between the islands and the mainland. Plus you can see fish. What’s not to love?

Orioles vs. Rays

Reading this week:

  • Footsteps by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Back on June 12th, I went to a baseball game along with my dad and my super amazing girlfriend. The location was Tropicana Field in Tampa. The game was between the Rays and the Orioles (you can watch the highlights here; the Orioles hit a grand slam!). The occasion was Father’s Day. This is that story.

Look I gotta say I’m not all that into sports. I resent every single football game I was forced to go to as a Midshipman. I just can’t get all that into the action on the field. I usually reason this is because I have absolutely no effect on the outcome and thus can’t get involved in the drama, but then again I enjoy books, movies, and TV shows, so maybe that’s not it. There are some exceptions. I will watch the Army-Navy game when there are other people around. I am also an enthusiastic attendee of the Annapolis Cup when I can go, but I will also say I have been several times and I don’t think I ever managed to actually witness any croquet. Also Rowing Blazers sponsors the cup now???

The point is that although I don’t follow any teams or watch any sports on television, and probably wouldn’t ever buy a ticket on my own, I do kinda enjoy going to baseball games. The pace of action is just about right for my tastes. Football is too staccato. Soccer looks tiring. But baseball! Baseball is just right.

It might also be that once upon a time I had a dream of becoming a baseball star. This dream never made it very far, stalling in little league. The root cause is that I wasn’t very good at it. I don’t think I ever hit the ball when I was at-bat, mostly because I was petrified of being hit by it. I wanna say here that with the quality of the little league pitchers this wasn’t unfounded. I also never found a groove on the field. I long harbored dreams of being a pitcher. After many weeks of practicing I was finally given my big chance and I was pulled before I got through one batter. I had brief promise as a catcher, with an ability to sit in a squat, but please note several sentences ago when I said I was petrified of being hit by the ball which meant I took a dive on every single pitch. I was eventually relegated to the outfield, which given the quality of little league batters rarely got any action. I viewed this is a good thing.

I do remember the one moment that I was truly great. It was the last game of the season, and to I think the mutual benefit of all parties, I had decided to not return to little league the following year. In the final half of the final inning, our team was on the field and I wasn’t. I was giddy about this. No more practice! No more balls being thrown at me! No more baseball! But THEN: a crisis. Our catcher was injured. Taken right out of the game. He needed to be replaced. Who would step up to the plate, in this case literally what with this being a baseball scenario? I was the only option so I was chosen. I dressed in that dreaded catcher’s gear but for once I didn’t care; the giddiness had already taken over completely and wouldn’t be undone. So for this one inning, I was actually a good catcher. I wasn’t afraid! I think I caught the ball regularly even, and then threw it back and mostly got it back to the pitcher’s mound! It was a feeling of sports euphoria I wouldn’t re-achieve for a long time, if ever. It was great.

Nonetheless, my little league career was over. I was still, however, a baseball fan. I think maybe I was mostly a Cal Ripken fan. My childhood was his era, man. I remember the “Got Milk?” posters vividly, displayed in our elementary school gym. Of course the Orioles were our hometown team, since I grew up a bit south of Baltimore (a bit north of Annapolis, really). One time I insisted that my parents buy me a whole kid-sized Orioles uniform and then was too embarrassed to actually wear it to the game. The Orioles were my dad’s team, too. Now dad, dad is actually a baseball fan. He listens to games on the radio. He falls asleep in front on games on the television. He knows who the players are. He is a fan! Which is why we went to the Orioles vs. Rays game for father’s day. He asked for the tickets, my mom bought them for him, and my big responsibility was to go. My super amazing girlfriend gamely came along too, to her very first major league baseball game, despite being even less of a sports fan than I am. I think we all had a good time! She was particularly amused that they actually sold Cracker Jacks at the ole’ ball game.

I think we all had a pretty good time. We showed up a bit early and walked around. The groundskeepers provided some amusement. I couldn’t decide if the notion of them watering fake grass or them watering dirt was funnier. I realize why they water the dirt. The amount of effort that goes into dirt when it comes to baseball is stunning when you think about it, really. In the other part of the photo above, they’re smoothing out the dirt. The little bag behind the pitcher contains very special dirt. Dirt! Exciting stuff.

I took the above photos to comment on the COVID precautions in the game. There weren’t really any, except that the umpires and coaches went through a whole elaborate fist bump routine I assume in order to minimize human contact while still pretending like it’s a thing. All well and good until I noticed Mansolino just up and shake hands with the third baseman there. Double standards!

And, uh, and that’s all I really have to say about the game. It was as entertaining as baseball ever is. We snacked on peanuts (no Cracker Jacks) and my super amazing girlfriend even had a hotdog. If only we had baked an apple pie when we got home, it would have truly been an all-American day. (I realize now this will be published on the 4th of July. ‘Merica.)

Harry Potter World

Just yesterday (as I write this), my super amazing girlfriend and I went to Harry Potter World!!!! It was quite the adventure. It was also very hot.

My super amazing girlfriend, who features prominently in this story and of course also my heart, had wanted to go while we were on vacation down here in Florida. She is a big Harry Potter fan (I have read the books, and as of writing this, I have watched most of the movies) and had last visited 11 years or so ago when there was only one Harry Potter World, which was Hogsmeade over in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. She wanted to visit again, and so we did. Along with many, many other people.

We started the day driving the two hours or so to Orlando and made our way first to Islands of Adventure. My super amazing girlfriend had mapped out a bit of a strategy which involved trying to get in line for one of the more popular rides first thing in the morning as soon as we could in order to beat the crowd. This strategy went the way most did in contact with the enemy. The park was CROWDED that day. Super crowded. Packed. A seething mass of humanity desperate for butterbeer and chocolate frogs. And we went on what we thought was going to be a “slow” day. Next time we go, it’s going to be in January or something and we’re splurging on the Fast Passes.

Nonetheless we approached Hogsmeade and we were quite impressed! The Hogwarts Castle is really impressive, I think, with its forced perspective and detail making it look pretty big. It housed the first ride we went on, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” This ride was a lot of fun. I didn’t really understand the storylines for most of the rides, but the conceit with this one is that the Harry Potter gang want to take you somewhere, and the best way to do that is to make the suspiciously ride-looking set of chairs they have fly. I looked out during the ride and it seems the way this one works is having you on the end of a big robotic arm that is on a track, and it moves you around. A lot of the action comes from moving you around in front of these big screens to give you that 4-D ride effect of feeling like you’re flying around. The strategy of having you jostled around in front of screens in the midst of a roller coaster was used a lot through Universal, in this ride to great effect, though with less success (in my opinion) on most of the other rides that used this technique.

With that complete we headed across the path to “Flight of the Hippogriff,” which was a pretty small coaster, but was fun with a payoff commensurate with its (relatively) short line. At this point we were growing increasingly startled at the inexorably lengthening wait time estimates for all the other rides provided by the Universal App thing they had. We decided to poke around the shops, which were also very crowded but had some neat trinkets. The only souvenirs we picked up through the day were two lapel pins for me and a Ravenclaw bookmark for her. Then we tried to get a snack. In retrospect, I don’t know what the best food strategy would have been. My super amazing girlfriend was excited to try butterbeer, so I got in line. After waiting for ten minutes or so, I took the picture below. You can see the butterbeer stand in the middle, off in the distance:

You couldn’t do anything in the park with a less than 30 minute wait, and this included getting a refreshment or snack. And it was HOT. This is not surprising, given that it was Florida in June, but man Universal needs to invest in some awnings. The wintry-wonderland decorations of Hogsmeade started to feel a bit mocking. We did eventually survive to the front of the line and obtained our butterbeer (we tried every butterbeer-flavored thing they had in the park, as far we could tell, and frozen butterbeer is the best), but our dreams of snacking on various Harry Potter themed treats were a bit dashed. During one of the many times I was whining about extremely slow food service, my super amazing girlfriend pointed out that Universal might be suffering from the same food service hiring troubles that is affecting the rest of the industry, but I hope they get that sorted soon.

Fortified with butterbeer, and with lines having died down from their 2.5-hour peaks, we opted to wait in line for “Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure.” This was the best ride we went on that day. It’s a roller coaster, but with more cool features. It’s got drops and you go forwards and backwards and all that stuff and it was awesome. Highly recommend. From there we went over to the Jurassic Park section in an overly optimistic attempt to get some lunch without dealing with the Harry Potter crowds, and then hopped on the Hogwarts Express to go over to Universal Studios to see Diagon Alley.

Going over to this side of the park was especially exciting because my super amazing girlfriend had never been there so we were able to check it out for the first time together (awwww, very cute I know). As impressed as I was with the castle, we were even more impressed with Diagon Alley. It looks super cool! Also a large section of it has an awning to keep the sun from beating down on you, and it has a super cool Knockturn Alley section, and overall the tall walls mean the sun just isn’t quite as oppressive. It had some neat shops and I made sure to check a good chunk of them out.

The big (and only) ride on this side is “Escape from Gringotts.” We took advantage of the single-rider line despite being a very cute couple, my super amazing girlfriend and I, and briefly chatted with a kid who must have been like 10 and had been to the park five times already. Tired of our conversation I suppose he just up and left the line at one point however. The ride itself was so-so with a storyline I didn’t get at all but which they really tried to sell you on via screens and 3-D glasses and all that. There were some cool sections in the dark, and the payoff was again commensurate with the shortened single-rider wait times. One thing I have noticed about Universal though is these guys are into fire. A lot of the rides incorporated fire and pretty close. We went on “The Mummy” ride eventually and like, they had the whole ceiling on fire. The dragon atop of Gringotts also breathed fire at intervals, and you felt it when you were anywhere in that courtyard. I got what I think are some pretty cool pictures of the dragon:

Having ridden all the big Harry Potter rides, we did take some time to venture out into other sections of Universal and ride some other coasters. I personally wonder how often Jimmy Fallon thinks about the fact he has a whole Universal Studios ride and gift shop dedicated to himself. They were pretty neat but we preferred the vibe in the Harry Potter sections and as a final big thing got dinner in the Leaky Cauldron (standard but good English fare), having earlier gotten some ice cream at “Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour.” Universal was closing but we then dashed back over to Islands of Adventure to jump on two more non-Harry Potter rides to round out the day and then make the long trek home.

Harry Potter world was a lot of fun! My mood soured while waiting for slow food service in a very hot sun, but overall I had a really good time and there were lots of interesting things to do and see. I’m looking forward to next time, when we’ll have a better strategy. That strategy will be to go in the off-season and also get a fast pass.

Ringling Museum

Like last week, both in blog-time and in real-time, my super amazing girlfriend and I are on our fantastic Florida vacation. We’re down a bit south of Tampa, and there are plenty of things to do in the region. We’re at my grandma’s house, and since she has been my grandma for quite some time and has lived here for quite some time, I have visited many times in the past and I have gone to most of the places that my super amazing girlfriend and I want to visit. This is good! This is good both because these places we are visiting are interesting, and also because it gives me a good chance to blog about them in order to maintain a constant production for the content mines! This blog post is about Ringling Museum.

A large banyan tree on the grounds. I’m a big fan of banyan trees.

The Ringling Museum is situated on the grounds of the former home of John and Mable Ringling. John Ringling is of Ringling Bros’ Circus fame, and apparently that old-timey circus money used to be real good money because this dude was rich. He was also the last surviving of the Ringling brothers and lived out his retirement down here in Florida. The museum is really three museums, or maybe three and a half. There is a Circus Museum, all about the circus, an art museum, which John and Mable collected art to be viewed by the public, and then a house tour of their very nice crib. There are also a pretty large and landscaped grounds, which got me my half in three and a half.

The first place we went upon entry was the circus portion of the museum. This in turn is split into two buildings. The second building mostly serves to house a variety of circus wagons and other large artifacts, including John Ringling’s private railroad car which seemed pretty nice. The first building tells the story of circuses and the Ringling circus specifically with a bunch of different displays and old posters and all that. One of their major displays is a gigantic scale model of the whole circus operation, built over 50 years by a very dedicated dude. The above picture is of a bandwagon housed in the main part of the museum. It is a wagon for the band, and it is included because I had never before considered I think that a bandwagon was an actual thing. Learning about the logistics operation of the circus was pretty interesting, and they have a huge section on circus advertising showing the importance of getting your message out. They also had some displays where you could sorta try out being a circus performer yourself, which is why I am expertly riding a horse in the top image.

The thing my super amazing girlfriend was especially interested in seeing, however, was the house, pictured (kinda poorly) right above. They had named their house “Ca’ d’Zan,” which is just Venetian for “House of John,” which makes sense but wow okay I guess we’ll just ignore Mable, huh? Anyways from the fact they named it in Venetian I hope you can guess that they were going for a Venice vibe, and not ever having been there I can’t tell you if they pulled it off but the place is pretty nice! In large parts it was a sorta standard rich person home, and the biggest feature I remember is that they made sure you could move some furniture around and expand the ballroom, because they were into ballroom dancing. They also named this room the “Court:”

They had apparently managed to get rich at just about the right time (or stay rich anyways) and bought a lot of furniture from the homes of formerly rich people who were foolish enough to invest in stocks before the great depression instead of cornering the market on acrobats. Nice! The place is right on the water overlooking the bay between the mainland and Longboat Key and is utterly lovely. The water-side of the Court is all colored glass giving the place a permanent rainbow appearance. Nice lifestyle if you can swing it. Last time I visited they had a full guided house tour, but due to COVID this was self-guided on only the first floor, though they did have an audio tour on your phone if you were patient enough. I’m excited to see what kind of house I build if I become extravagantly rich.

After walking the grounds a bit, the final part of the museum we went to was the art museum. Most of it is the art John and Mable had collected, which was largely Renaissance and pre-Renaissance art from Europe, if I recall correctly (I could look it up but that’s boring and un-exciting). Honestly I don’t really dig all that stuff so much but they did have a very nice collection as far as I could tell. There were some pictures of boats which I always like and also some very very large pictures, the content of which I wasn’t so into but the scale of which I admired. For both me and my super-amazing girlfriend, however, the part we liked the best was a whole section of Asian art, collected more recently than John and Mable’s time. This stuff was more our style anyways, and I think was overall more colorful and interesting.

The picture above the previous paragraph is of a goat they had. In museums I’m actually usually most drawn to the oldest stuff, because I like to think about the ancient people that made the art. I think it really connects the past to the present when you can see the brushstrokes laid down by a person that lived in such a dramatically different time and environment. This particular goat is from the Han Dynasty, somewhere within a century of year 0. That’s a two millennia-old goat. That goat and Jesus were contemporaries. It’s a pretty nice goat! I just like thinking about the Chinese person from so many centuries ago who sat down and made a goat, and now it’s sitting in a museum on the gulf coast of Florida. Wild, right?

But with that, having admired all the components of the museum, we head out and went back home. It is a very nice museum, and I am excited to go back when my super amazing girlfriend can get the whole house tour. Hopefully they get some more Asian art too.

Mote Marine

Reading this week:

  • Child of All Nations by Pramoedya Ananta Toer
  • The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

A lot has happened, faithful reader(s), since last week’s post about New York. Sort of anyways. We’re in blog time now, which has only a tenuous grip on events as they happened. In our blog timeline, only last week my super amazing girlfriend and I were in New York, spending some time before graduation to try to enjoy our New England environs. In between that blog post and this one, we have both graduated from Yale University. We have also packed up our apartments, loaded them onto a U-Haul without any help besides the two of us, driven that U-Haul to her parent’s place, dropped all that stuff off, hung out for a few days, gotten a bus to Boston, and there gotten on a plane to Florida, where we are hanging out at my grandma’s place. We are hanging out at my grandma’s place not only because she is the world’s greatest grandma (I think I gave her a relevant mug one time to prove it), but also because she has a guest room in her house which is in turn located VERY NEAR indeed to the beach. We are on a month-long beach vacation to imagine that like most of my family at this point we, too, are retired, before plunging back into the world of reality and work, luckily for the both of us in government employ.

You are now caught up to speed! One of the first places we went (besides the beach) here in Florida was the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. Mote Marine is a special place! I have visited somewhere between several and many times before, given that it is fairly close to where my grandma lives and also a pretty neat place to go. This visit, however, is the fist time I visited since learning that it was founded by Eugenie Clark. I learned about Eugenie Clark when I picked up at a used bookstore her book Lady With a Spear. The book is about her early life and career as a trailblazing marine biologist. I enjoyed it very much and then put it on my bookshelf. Some time later, I started dating my super amazing girlfriend. For much of her youth, she too wanted to be a marine biologist. I was therefore excited to give her my copy of Lady With a Spear, hoping very much she would enjoy it. She did! Turns out my super amazing girlfriend had also owned for years Eugenie Clark’s second book, The Lady and the Sharks. My super amazing girlfriend had obtained this book when she had visited Mote Marine some years back. We (she) at some point had put all the pieces together of our connection with Eugenie Clark and Mote Marine, and were excited to go back on this visit.

Mote Marine is a pretty nice place! It is split into two parts in two buildings. The main building is more of a traditional aquarium sorta thing. When we approached on this day we were sternly warned by a very nice employee out front that we might want to start with the other building. The main building, she explained, was currently overrun with a collection of kids from a summer camp, and she suggested avoiding them for the time being. So we went to the second building.

The secondary building at Mote Marine had long been their more animal rescue-focused section. You’ll note from the name Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium and it’s founding by a world-renowned shark researcher that the raison d’etre for the place was really animal research and then also marine animal rescue. Since I was at Mote Marine last, the secondary building, as far as I can recollect, as become a lot more “slick.” It used to have I think a much more utilitarian vibe, but now the animals feel more on display rather than just being housed. But you can get rather up close and personal with some rescued sea turtles (see above), and since I was last at Mote they’ve also gained some crocodilians and some aggressively cute otters. The picture at the top is of one of the two manatees they have this side. Given how much they eat maybe it wasn’t so special that we got to see them eat, but I did enjoy watching the manatee shove cabbage into its mouth with its flippers.

Having given the summer camp ample space to get their fill of fishy sights, we head over to take in the main aquarium. They got all sorts of fish, and for a long time the main draw for me was Molly the Mollusk, an at this point long-dead but well-preserved giant squid. It was pretty amazing to me to think about how much we’ve learned about giant squids between the time I first saw Molly and now. Now they film these guys in the wild pretty regularly, you know? My super amazing girlfriend’s favorites however, much like Eugenie, are the sharks. Mote Marine has a rather large shark tank where you can observe sharks swimming around from both above and below. I guess gifs are just my aquarium thing now, and instead of recording the sharks in the shark tank I recorded the school of fish swimming around in a mesmerizing circle:

I was also excited to watch the octopus they had in its own tank. We must have caught it around feeding time, because this guy was way more active than I usually see them in exhibits:

All in all a lovely day. We saw plenty of fish and other animals, got to hang out at the place Eugenie Clark founded, had a lovely lunch at the aquarium’s café, and avoided being totally mobbed my hordes of summer camp kids. Not a bad time!

New York Part IV

I was once again in New York! Except this time the weather was much better! The purpose of this expedition to New York was to see New York. You will recall there has been a pandemic, and so despite spending two years only a very short train ride from the Big Apple, neither me nor my super amazing girlfriend had spent much time there. In the free time between finishing all of our final papers and graduating we decided to head down there and see what there was to see!

The first major thing we went to go see was the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I had visited both back around Thanksgiving of 2019, but my super amazing girlfriend had never been. Besides the patriotic fervor that of course burns in her heart, she had relatives that came through Ellis Island and wanted to investigate the origins of her family’s American adventure. I, too, have relatives that came through Ellis Island, but she actually knows who her’s are and was therefore much more equipped to gain deep insights from the experience. Visiting the two islands was very nice and made for a lovely day out, and the only disappointing bit was that the area where you can actually research the people who came through Ellis Island was closed for COVID, seriously knocking the knees out of our attempts to investigate people who came through Ellis Island.

One thing I saw this time that I hadn’t seen last time I was on Ellis Island is a section about more modern-day immigration into the United States. This section had me in my feelings because while it wasn’t exactly jingoistic it didn’t quite reach the full level of reflection that I think the immigration paradigm needs these days. A particular example is the sidebar above. I’ll only bother to link to one random article on the perils of international adoption (which doesn’t even touch on the cultural components that need to be reckoned with), but man that sidebar only bothers to note some minor difficulties before firmly coming down on the side of believing adopting “orphans” from other countries is always a good thing. The National Park could do a lot better than this!

Every time I pose like this I think to myself “why do I always pose like this?” and then I pose like this.

Having gotten a satisfactory fill of American history, our major excursion the next day was up to The Met Cloisters. I am bad at researching the places we go to, especially when my super amazing girlfriend selects the destination, so I didn’t know what to expect. It was nice! When we went they had set up a one-way path through the whole museum for you to go through. When we got to the first cloister (which is a courtyard sorta thing), I took lots of pictures because I was like “I like courtyards so I better document this courtyard, which I assume will be the only courtyard we’ll see, what with most locations in the world only having one courtyard if they have any.” But then we came across several more cloisters and suddenly I understood the name!

Frankly I’m not all that much into medieval art (maybe I mean early modern?), so a lot of the art-art wasn’t totally doing it for me, but I liked The Cloisters a lot. First off, I am still stunned by the concept that you could just go over to Europe, buy loads of bits of old churches and stuff, and then just cart them to the US and use ’em to build a museum. I suppose the Benin Bronzes wouldn’t be surprised, but still. I am also unclear if the various sarcophagi they had still had dead people in them, or if they didn’t where those dead people wound up. The architectural bits were in fact very pretty though! And I like the overall philosophy of just stuffing as many courtyards into a place as you can. We also liked the unicorn tapestries they had, one of which I am doing my pose again in front of above. The Cloisters is nice!

After we finished up at the Cloisters, we took the subway back downtown and wanting to fill our afternoon with something else we decided to go to the American Museum of Natural History. This was nice! I liked the bits about Africa the most. I mostly take photos of very niche things however. The photos above are of some dioramas I found particularly interesting, showing various ways that people had to raise water up. These might have been handy back when I nominally taught people how to fish farm for a living. They had an Archimedes’ screw, which I knew about, but that counter-balanced pot thing on the left would have been a lot easier to build.

I am also a particular fan of reed/grass baskets. This is mostly because back in Zambia I would wake up in the morning and watch my host mom use a winnowing basket in order to winnow, and then go to the Moto Moto Museum and see those exact same baskets in a museum, and I find that funny. The bottom three baskets in the picture above are from various places in Africa, but the basket on top is actually from the United States, woven by the descendants of enslaved persons. I own a very similar one I bought in Charleston, SC. I am writing this blog post from the ~future,~ so I will have even more pictures of reed baskets to show you in follow-on posts.

The various halls of various animals in the museum are a particular bounty for Atlas Obscura, including the gorilla diorama above. I particularly liked it because I have been pretty much literally in the exact spot the diorama shows, which Mt. Nyiragongo in the background. Pretty neat! That’s um, that’s all I have to say about that.

The rest of our time in New York, when not at museums, was very fun as well! We looked around and saw the sights! We met up with a friend of mine for dinner, and also had dinner with my aunt and uncle, and also had dinner with my super amazing girlfriend’s friend! It was great! We had New York Pizza and looked in at least one bookstore! Very nice! All in all a very nice time. On our very last day, as we were walking to the train station, we also got to see “Ghost Forest” by Maya Lin. I thought it was pretty funny that people were just using the trees as like, regular trees, lounging among and against them. On the one hand, maybe that is a pretty blasé way to face climate change and the inhabitability of large swaths of the planet, but on the other hand it’s nice to see people interacting with and using public art, you know?

And so that was our New York adventure. A pretty nice time!!!

It Isn’t the Veteran

I’m going to backdate this (I’m on vacation, which has involved a lot less free time than I anticipated and so I am behind on posts), so I think this post will “officially” come out around Memorial Day but I will note it is “actually” several weeks later. I wanted to talk about what I think is a particularly pernicious sort of attitude I tend to see around the holiday. I wish the following paragraphs were more elegant.

The attitude is that every single right you have as an American or even as a person is because a veteran fought for it and, especially on Memorial Day, died for it. Maybe it doesn’t pop up on your Facebook feed but it pops up on mine. A quick googling brought me “It is the Veteran,” a particularly direct and all-encompassing version of it. Credited there to Sarah Palin’s uncle (?), I’ll quote it here:

It is the veteran, not the preacher who has given us freedom of religion. It is the veteran, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press. It is the veteran, not the poet who has given us freedom of speech. It is the veteran, not the campus organizer who has given us freedom to assemble. It is the veteran, not the lawyer who has given us the right to a fair trial. It is the veteran, not the politician who has given us the right to vote. It is the veteran who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag and whose coffin will be draped by the flag.

I think I first heard some version of this sentiment during my Plebe year at the Naval Academy. Even then I didn’t like it, but that might have been because I’m just a contrarian instead of some precocious political awakening. I don’t quite get why military veterans and their fans are so eager to claim every good thing that’s ever happened. Veterans are already pretty well lauded, why not let some of the love be spread around?

I think “It is the Veteran” is wrong, and so wrong that it is a full 180 degrees out. I don’t think you get rights because a veteran fought on the battlefield. I also don’t think you get rights just because someone says you have them or because they’re written down on some piece of paper. I think rights come from exercising those rights. Freedom of the press comes from the press writing about politicians that don’t want to be written about. The freedom to assemble comes from assembling when someone doesn’t want you build a movement. And the right to vote comes from voting when vested interests do everything they can to keep you from being heard.

More importantly, the attitude isn’t pernicious just because it is wrong. It is pernicious because it implies that people didn’t really earn their rights. The majority of people aren’t veterans and never will be. Saying that rights come from what veterans did means that the majority of people didn’t earn their rights, but owe their rights to the actions of this very small minority. Their rights are therefore far from being inalienable but instead have been granted.

The eagerness to claim that all rights stem from veterans is therefore I think an eagerness to be able to claim who does and doesn’t get them, or how people get to use them. If rights come from the sacrifices of a group most people will never be in, then it’s valid to say that freedom of speech doesn’t apply when supporting Black Lives Matter. It makes it valid to say that the freedom to vote is only really for people who vote the “right” way. It makes it valid to systematically deny whole groups of people their rights because in your eyes they simply don’t deserve them.

I suspect most people that share the sentiment that we should thank veterans for our rights aren’t thinking about what that actually implies for their rights or for the rights of others. But it is another part of an American way of thinking that allows us to say we’re the greatest nation on Earth without thinking about for whom that is and isn’t true. We are still in an era where people have to struggle every day to attain those rights that Sarah Palin’s uncle would say veterans already granted them. When those rights finally come, it won’t be because they shot enough people. It will be because they broke through the forces holding them down to stand up and exercise those rights.

Hore’s Tanganyika Pictures

I quoted the book at length when I wrote about the building of the SS Good News, but I wanted to present some pictures from Edward C. Hore’s book Tanganyika: Eleven Years in Central Africa. I had meant to actually read the book in it’s entirety and then present my thoughts on it, but I didn’t manage to finish it in time and this post is already late so I’m just throwing these pictures up there so the world gets to see ’em. You can just download and read the whole thing online via Google Books (the previous link), but the picture scans aren’t very good. Turns out Yale Library has an original copy, now like 130 years old, and will just let you borrow it, so I did and then I also scanned in the pictures. I hope you like them!

PEZ Factory

Sorry I made you suffer through Sandwiches last week, but this week my super amazing girlfriend and I went to a place! Specifically, we went to the PEZ Factory which is nearby us here in New Haven. We went because a little while ago when pandemic restrictions were slightly more restrictive and we were less able to travel, I had driven by it and thought it might be interesting to go. We just only got around to it, and there will be more adventures in the coming weeks, but still it was a pretty nice little visit.

The PEZ factory, in a way that makes absolute total sense, is very very into PEZ. When you enter you are immediately greeted with a wall of 700 or so PEZ dispensers, and there are so very many more to come. The place is not large and in some sense is more of a gift shop with some overzealous displays than anything else. This is not meant to undermine it! PEZ is a collectible commodity and they embrace this fact!

I think we learned a lot at the PEZ factory. Certainly stuff we never would have looked up on our own. For example, we learned that PEZ is Austrian and “PEZ” is an acronym for “mint candy” or somesuch! We learned the bestselling PEZ dispenser ever is Santa Claus! We also learned that the little things on the bottom of the PEZ dispensers that look like feet and help them stand up (like feet do) are referred to as “feet!”

The vast majority of the displays at the PEZ factory are various PEZ dispensers and other PEZ paraphernalia from throughout the ages (well past century or so, PEZ hasn’t been around all that long). One thing I found curious is that a lot of the displays (such as the one up top) mention how rare and hard to find they are. I don’t think I could ever be a PEZ collector. There is just about no way to even get close to collecting them all. There are limited edition Star Wars sets only given to Lucasfilm executives and PEZ executives! There are umpteen versions of like, Popeye from throughout the decades! Various ones only attainable from exclusive giveaways! There are a lot!

I was delighted to learn, however, that there is a subculture of PEZ lapel pin collectors. I collect lapel pins myself as my preferred souvenir when I go places (picked one up from the PEZ factory, don’t worry). Apparently there are enough PEZ collectors out there from around the world (they had a whole Japan display at the factory) that conventions come hard and fast, and to remember what conventions you’ve gone to as a PEZ collector the thing to do is to get a lapel pin. I want to see how deep we can make this rabbit hole go. Anyone want to have a convention for PEZ collector lapel pin collectors? We’ll issue souvenir spoons to keep the train going.

Inside the visitor’s center area you get a view into the factory floor itself, which is pretty neat. We visited on the weekend, so the factory wasn’t operating, and I can’t say I’m disappointed because that means employees get weekends off which is nice. They had a virtual tour thing you could navigate a la Google Streetview via a touchscreen, and a video showing you the candy production process. Industrial food production is always interesting.

On top of all this, the factory provided ample photo opportunities. On the left is my head on a PEZ dispenser, though now that I look at it, awfully phallic, ain’t it? On the right is a picture of me with the world’s largest PEZ dispenser. I was hoping for equally gigantic PEZ to pop out of it, but alas it appears to have been empty. Is it really a PEZ dispenser if it doesn’t dispense PEZ? Philosophers will have to battle it out for the ages.

Aaaaaand with that our visit was largely over. The place is not gigantic, but the entry fee is $5 and you get a $2 discount on anything in the place, and since the PEZ dispensers they sell are mostly $1.99, it’s really as though you get a free PEZ dispenser thrown in with the (self-guided) tour. Not a bad bargain! Besides all the dispensers, another remarkable thing is all the old candy they have. They have a whole bunch of decades-old candy just sitting in these display cases (one package from the 1930s, even), and it seems just fine. I guess then the major thing we learned is that when the apocalypse hits, the canned food might expire in a few years, but we’ll always have PEZ.

Sandwiches

Reading this week:

  • Where the Evidence Leads by Dick Thornburgh

An informal survey of the dates associated with the google search results (and I guess some trend analysis) indicates there’s been a recent uptick in sandwich-related scholarship. I’m not going to claim to be treading new ground here. But I have a blog to fill and I haven’t been able to travel lately to bring you more colorful stories), so I wanted to talk about sandwiches.

The first time I thought seriously about sandwiches was when my Spanish roommate Francisco brought them up. Our senior year at the Naval Academy, my buddy Tom and I had grandiose plans for a two-man room, a privilege earned by our several years of continuing to exist at the Naval Academy. Lo and behold, when we went to go move back in for our final year, we discovered we would be placed in a three-man room, which as you’ll recall is one more man than Tom and I put together. Our mysterious new roommate, who neither of us had been consulted about, was… “Spain.”

Or apparently only that country’s representative. The Naval Academy has international exchange students, and Francisco was one of them, from the Spanish Naval Academy. He was quite the character. He was 29, and back then, in my youth, therefore unimaginably old. He was married, which is prohibited for American midshipmen, and so was quite an exotic status to have. The first night we were together, when we had barely known each other for a few hours and our biggest adventure together had thus far been finding Francisco a blanket, he was telling us the many stories of his worldly travel when his eye adopted a particular glimmer.

“Ah yes, Rio,” he said, “how do you say – I fell in love with Rio.”

“In Rio,” he explained, “you can fuck a girl for twenty dollars. For the whole night.” And, he emphasized, “including the hotel.”

Our most heartfelt moment of cultural exchange was probably his birthday. He had mentioned off-hand I think that he was missing olive oil, so I managed to track down a bottle of “Spanish” (so said the label) olive oil, and presented it to him as a gift from me and Tom. A few days later, Francisco pulled me aside. He wanted to thank me for my thoughtfulness and generosity. After I had given him the olive oil, he had gathered all the other Spanish exchange students, and together in King Hall they had all had salad – with olive oil. I think the man was nearly in tears, he missed olive oil so much.

In return for my gift, Francisco shattered my entire world. I don’t think he knew what he was doing. It was simply that one day, he said to me (apropos of something, not exactly out of the blue) “Americans – all you eat is sandwiches.”

And with that my world was quite simply ruined. The curse of knowledge was downright unbearable. He was right! I think the very next day, the Naval Academy served us breakfast sandwiches, followed by roast beef sandwiches for lunch, and then with hamburgers for dinner. I began to count the sandwiches in the weekly meals. Seven days in a week, three meals a day, for a total of 21 meals, and out of those, 15 or 16 – or more! – would be sandwiches. This is why you get to know other cultures, people.

I mean, I love sandwiches, but once you think about your tongue, you know? After the Naval Academy, in honor of Francisco, and to buck the trend, I scrubbed sandwiches from my diet. Scrubbed them! Sorta anyways. I would avoid making a sandwich. I packed my lunch most days to go to nuke school, and whatever I made, it would never be a sandwich. I would, however, happily go to East Bay Deli (my favorite Charleston deli) all the time, typically getting the Reuben. But… I would think about Francisco.

The next time where I wound up thinking about sandwiches a lot was probably Prototype. After nuke school, which is classroom stuff, comes Prototype. “Prototype” has long been a misnomer, but it is where you spend six months operating a real nuclear reactor. Very little of the second half of that last sentence is true, but the important part here is that Prototype (in Charleston anyway) has a very large building in which you spend much of your time. I spent a total of eight months at Prototype on rotating shift work with 12-hour shifts, largely unmoored from rational time or normal conventions. This building is no ordinary building. It is a half mile away from a weapons loading dock that is rated to have I think half a kiloton of explosives on it, or something like that, and so the building is built to withstand the blast from half a kiloton of high explosive from a half mile away.

This renders the building in a very literal way fortress-like. It is large, it is beige, and it is windowless. You arrive and after parking your car trek you to this government fortress and to enter you heave open these heavy not-quite-blast doors that lead to a small lobby. Forward through the lobby is the building proper. Once you enter through these doors for your shift you are not supposed to leave for twelve hours. Like I said, I usually packed lunch, but not everyone did, and I didn’t always. So, how did they feed us?

If you ever enter the building, the answer will be obvious. Every single day as you show up for your shift, lugging your nuclear-strained propium to this ominous citadel, dragging open the weighted gates, it’s the first thing you smell, and on your way out, as you ooze your mashed lucidity back to your car, it’s the last thing you smell, the smell which is to me one of the most recognizable smells in all of these blessed United States: the smell of a Subway sandwich shop.

That’s right, at Prototype in Charleston right inside the building the only option to obtain anything resembling nourishment during your many many many hours there is Subway. It’s open very nearly 24/7, closed I think only on Christmas and New Year’s. Your only respite from the world of neutrons and pipes is the jarring green and yellow color scheme of the sandwich-based universe that is Subway. I ate a lot of breakfast sandwiches while I was at Prototype. It was the only solid excuse for a break. I didn’t really mind at all. But for years, and even somewhat to this day, when I walk by the open doors of a Subway, catching just a hint of that smell, I get shivers.

But what is the moral of this story, a story very loosely held together with the thread of sandwiches? I made an egg salad sandwich yesterday. It’s pictured up top. It wasn’t perfect, but I thought it was pretty good. It had olives. And that, my friend, is the story I came here to tell.