Category Archives: True Stories

Anecdotes from my past and present.

Juneau

Posted on August 22, 2010 by

Continuing the theme of fragmented Alyx vacation posts, I’d like to note that Skagway has about 900 people.

Our ship had nine hundred staff and more than two thousand guests. And when we ambled out into the town that day, there were two comparable ships and a piker at the dock. Six thousand plus tourists at once. I think that qualifies as an invasion. I certainly wanted to run away from us all, and I was part of the hoard.

Juneau, by contrast, is home to a cozy 30,000 souls. You could actually look around and see people there who looked like they might not be tourists or those pandering to same. Our look-around had a couple of highlights–local bookstores with prominently-displayed posters of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Sarah Palin memorabilia, and a store with some lovely prints by local artists, of whom my fave quickly became David W. Riccio. There were also non-human residents, who found us boring:
Juneau

After we checked out downtown, the cousins and I caught the Mount Roberts Tramway up, way up, eighteen hundred feet, I believe, enough so our mammoth home of a Carnival Spirit looked tiny!

Juneau

The mountaintop had some nice trails, the usual restaurant/gift shop/bathroom configuration, and the Juneau Raptor Center’s resident Bald Eagle, a bird whose name I didn’t catch but who’s there for good, since someone shot her through the beak, which also took out one of her eyes, which in turn caused her early, permanent retirement from the hunting grounds:
Juneau

We did a short hike (time wasn’t quite as abundant as it was in Skagway), took some shots, yakked and yakked some more, and generally enjoyed the scenic walk, the sunshine, and the glorious fresh air. It was sunny and temperate (I gather that it was sweltering in Vancouver and Seattle). The ship’s crew had made a point of telling us, repeatedly, that we’d had the best weather of the season. When you get a gift like good weather and this kind of scenery, you just get out and appreciate it.

Juneau

Skagway: is it real, or is it Playstation?

Posted on August 21, 2010 by

A couple years ago, I went with friends to see The Magic Flute, as directed by Julie Taymar, via The Met in HD, which is–as you may guess–a satellite broadcast of a Metropolitan Opera show to a local movie screen. We walked into the theater, and they had a live feed from the house–the curtain, the stage, the people filing into their places, chattering with anticipation. The sound was perfect, the crowd infectious. I started to get excited. Then weirdness set in. The gorgeous red ranks of the seats, rising to the balconies, up, up, up, were not merely lovely. They were also familiar.

I stopped dead. “I’ve been here,” I said. But I hadn’t. This was before our New York trip.

“Me too!” Kelly agreed.

(Irrelevant pictorial interlude.)

Skagway

We looked more closely. The memory sharpened. Flames. People burning… what the hell? Then, one of us, I’m not sure who, said: “Parasite Eve.”

Parasite Eve is a horror video game we owned back in our pre-Wii days. It opens with a beautifully animated sequence (which of course can be had on Youtube, Chaos but I loves me my Intrawebs) set at the Met. After the carnage, you scramble around the theater, killing monsters and hunting for clues backstage. That’s right: cartoon memories of a virtual experience were intruding on… well, another virtual experience. I was still in Vancouver, after all, experiencing the opera at a remove.

Constructions of reality. Fake memories of real places, formed in one’s living room. Real memories of simulated real places? Untangle that knot for me, Gordian.

Later, after Parasite Eve, there were MMORPGs. Asheron’s Call, first and most–I played so much I was in game when I learned about the 9/11 attacks.

I am the kind of player who sets their character to running and then bumbles around the landscape, checking the map a lot and hoping I’m not too lost. In the real world, I build up landmarks and figure out where I’m going… if not easily, at an acceptable rate. Computer worlds have a little too much repetition, I suppose. Anyway, I learn the fake contours of these game landscapes quite slowly.

Maps, on the other hand? Can barely read ’em. I can use one to navigate from place from place once I have a route worked out, but I essentially lack the gift for looking at a map and being able to imagine the terrain in 3d. Or any other d, for that matter.

What does this have to do with our recent cruise stop at Skagway? (Mmmm, Skagway. Check out their Tourist Info Center.)
Skagway

Nice, huh? Okay, here comes my point: Google Street View rocks the universe.

GSV looks to my gamer brain like a slower, more varied, disappointingly monster-free version of Worlds of Warcraft. You can tool around in the real world from the comfort of your couch, using your iPod. How cool is that? In the past month, I’ve spent just enough time in virtual Skagway that I knew what it looked like before I ever got there. I was able to tell where a few key things were located before we ever landed. I knew we would be able to walk off the ship and straight into the funky smalltown cool.

Street View doesn’t take all the fun out of exploring, at least not for me. It doesn’t go into buildings or down the various little wooded paths. We and one set of cousins hiked off their grid pretty quickly on our way out to the Klondike Cemetery, where I got my favorite shot of the day:

Skagway

Behind the cemetery was the waterfall. I did in fact shoot the waterfall, but the thing I found really compelling was the colony of Daddy Long Legs on this bunch of Devil’s Club berries (sorry, arachnophobes):
Skagway

Finally, as we reach the end of a very rambly post, here’s a tourist tip for the caffeine-addicted: if Chowhound says an Alaska coffeeshop has the real goods in 2009, there’s no guarantee the same place will exist a year later. However, the Ketchikan Coffee Company looks like it’s there year-round, and they brew very well indeed.

The good ship Lollipop

Posted on August 18, 2010 by

Some of you have no doubt seen the interior of a cruise ship before, but Carnival Spirit was my first. The artist friend who saw the pictures described them as ‘fin-de-siecle hell-in-a-fancy-handbasket tone to it!’ kelly-yoyoKelly, meanwhile, called it a floating mall. And it did remind me of West Edmonton Mall, a bit. What do you think? (Click the pic for the whole set).

Carnival Spirit Decor

This spot is in the lounge we staked out as our reading area; within a couple days, all the loved ones knew they could look for us here. As you look, try to add in a very short CD on continuous loop; we heard “Dee Doo Doo Doo” by The Police so many times I’ve carried it home as a permanent earworm (slightly less fun than tinittis). The other five songs were unknown to me but sounded far worse.

Comfy chairs, though, and a view of sea and sometimes whales, won out.

Three hour tour

Posted on August 13, 2010 by

Kelly and I are on an Alaska cruise with my mother’s family. I am barely online, except when I’m checking in on my students, but I thought I’d shoot you all a quick update.

All told, we are five couples and one teenaged boy. Everyone but us being from the U.S., it made sense to converge on and embark from Seattle. We therefore spent Monday catching up with a friend who flew out from Waterloo to housesit for us, a lovely, brilliant, seriously-I-am-so-in-awe-of-her! brain on very shapely legs, who had a hand in designing the university’s Knowledge Integration degree. We then slept for two hours, got up before dawn, breakfasted, finished packing and caught a 6:00 a.m. train to Seattle.

If you have limited funds for a vacation and are just looking to get out of town, there are worse thing to do than take Amtrak to Seattle for a day. It was inexpensive and easy. The train’s route runs along the coast, offering better viewing than many an Amtrak route. The salt flats were dotted with herons and other shorebirds, and we caught a blurry glimpse of a river otter and its two babies, humping their way up onto the shore and into the brush. I dozed a little, rewatched the Doctor Who Runaway Bride special on my iPod, gaped at the scenery and whee! Four painless hours later we were in King Station at the heart of Seattle, down in the part of town which evokes fond memories of Clarion West.


We cabbed off to the terminal and got onto the ship with minimal fuss. We lunched, walked the sundecks, marvelled at how high up we were, scoped out the hot tubs and the good book-reading spots. Then we had dinner with the family and headed off to a naturalist’s lecture, all on two hours sleep.

The dregs of the evening were taken up in trying to find a couple of healthy snacks before bed. (We have taken to keeping a hoard of fruit in our stateroom; it’s not always out where you can get at it. Overall, this cruising thing seems more oriented to people who eat three huge meals than to people who eat small and snack between.)

Anyway, we slept like the dead, had brekkie the next morning, went back to the room and slept some more. There has been a stunning amount of reading and napping.

I had imagined sitting out in a hot tub with the ocean view all around, but I had told myself not to get my hopes up. There are 1998 other passengers, after all. But that first afternoon, that’s exactly what happened: me, Kelly, and a cousin had the hot tub on the stern of the ship all to ourselves for well over an hour. We only got out because I figured we were at risk of burning. (We both found a few barely rosy patches of skin, as a matter of fact; my timing was excellent!)

Wednesday was billed as a “Fun Day at Sea!” as we chugged north. Thursday we sailed into Tracy’s Arm Fjord and goggled at an amazing glacier, a sheer river of ice colored the most fantastic and improbable blues I’ve ever seen, ringed by coastal mountains and iceberg-studded waters. We had many whale sightings at a distance, and have had some good food and some bad food. Also stunning—in the hammer meets cranium way–is the décor, which is Disneylandish in its intensity. The elevator shaft (this is, after all, a twelve-storey building) has some open lifts and the mouldings and lights on the thing are beyond glittery. I have pictures; you’ll be stunned. There’s a Versailles lounge, a glittering, sarcophagus-encrusted Pharaoh’s Palace, a Tiki-themed Jungle, a mini-golf course, and multiple bar/dance floors. Also a casino, which is no-go territory because it’s a smoking area.

Our chosen reading area is next to one of the lounges; there are facing sets of comfy chairs by the windows on the 2nd floor, with screens separating each. The screens have Gaugin prints on them, so one is surrounded by artistic nudity. I’ve finished reading Quarrel with the King there, and have started rereading Tana French’s In the Woods. It’s all very weird and decadent, and I am enjoying the downtime, the multiple naps, and the family time very much indeed.

Except for the icebergs and my genetic relations, I haven’t found many things to shoot so far. But today we get to get off the ship—we will be in Skagway! I expect to come back to our cabin with many exciting shots.

Memories served cold…

Posted on July 8, 2010 by

As I write this it’s Wednesday afternoon, three-ish, and the living room thermometer claims it’s about 85 degrees indoors. I am alternating bursts of work with little forays into emptying out our fridge and packing away the perishables in temporary cool storage. All this because kelly-yoyoKelly and I bought a new fridge about a month ago; between one thing and another, it is only just arriving today… sometime between four in the afternoon and bedtime.

I am thus trying to find the perfect balance between having to empty an entire fridge if the guys arrive early with taking the food out and then having to wait so long that, even in coolers, it melts. All while keeping enough of the kitchen clean to accomplish dinner.

The new fridge is black, energy-efficient, and a hair bigger than its predecessor, a lowend GE model with no Energy star rating whatever, chipped paint, two decades of accumulated grime, busted crisper drawers and assorted condensation/mildew issues. Since I’m allergic to mold, I’m thrilled to be rid of the thing on that count alone!

I am pretty sure I have never cohabited with a fridge that wasn’t on the old and wheezy side. The Moldebeast is the only fridge I’ve even owned.

The landlords of my youth, not surprisingly, favored disastrously cheap appliances. I can remember a weeks-long battle to convince our first BC landlord that food was rotting in our fridge overnight. He’d have kept fake-fixing that one forever while we fought food poisoning, if I hadn’t taken advantage of its single working feature–beautiful, well-oiled casters. I slammed it into the wall repeatedly one afternoon, until the various non-working bits were too busted up to sustain the game of pretend. The guy then got us a reconditioned fridge which was large and flesh colored and heroic and functional; we named it Cyrano.

Shortly after that we moved on to Chez Frank, whose freezer was supposed to be self-defrosting. It wasn’t, and so we had Frank up every six months or so to pull it out from the wall and power-thaw the bits we couldn’t reach. Since Frank sincerely cared and kept it working, we lived with it.

The first fridge I remember was in the house in Bonnyville. These rocks lived on it–they are rocks my grandmother Maudie picked up in the Nevada desert. She then cut, polished and glued them to tragically weak magnets. I am sentimental about them; I think the three-toned one looks like a lake with ice on it, and I cannot tell you how many hours I spent watching them all lose the war with gravity, sliding down to the floor.

That fridge handle, in Bonnyville, had a wicked sharp edge; just a little rasp of metal that would reach out to snag clothes or your arm. One of those dumb things, a pain, but not worth doing anything about. We all scraped ourselves on it at one time or another.

Anyway, cruising toward a point, I swear: as a tween, I had the job of clearing the dishes after dinner, and one night I was multitasking, by which I mean putting away food and, simultaneously, scrapping with my sister. I have no idea what we were arguing about or what was said, but soon enough she was lunging at me. This I remember as M coming at me in a classic X-men Wolverine lunge: body canted, head low (and of course she didn’t have claws like that).

I was opening the fridge door anyway, but I gave it a bit more arm. Malice aforethought: it’s embasassing to admit to premeditation, all these years later. I figured she’d hit the flat part and bounce. Haha, argument over.

Or… not! Instead of bouncing like a wacky cartoon animal, poor Sib cracked her bean open on the sharp bit of the fridge door. Chaos ensued. The magnets probably all hit the floor, but between the spray of blood, the screaming, and the sudden mustering of a Trip to ER, I don’t remember that. Three stitches later, the wound was sufficient to leave a small vertical scar right in the center of her forehead. Did I mention that my father nigh faints at the sight of blood? Yeah, it was a fun night.

So. Not one of my shining childish moments of humanity. However, I am a better person now and as proof I will point out that I did not name this post, despite strong temptation, “Fridge over troubled daughters.” (And if you read this, M–Oh! Still damned sorry about that! I cringe when I think of it!)

Ahem. Grandma’s fridge was green and had its own collection of fridge-rocks. Plus it was magic! You could find Hostess Ding Dongs and kid-sized cans of sarsaparilla soda in it.