23 February 2006

2005: Machu Picchu, Peru; 17 Jan

A month in South America, and only one guided tour. One "all-inclusive package," one "tourista blue-plate special." With a limited number of days remaining on our trip, my friend and I arrived in Cusco with no arrangements and no place to stay. The only thing we had was an ultimatum hanging over our schedule. "We have to go to Machu Picchu tomorrow, otherwise its not gonna work." When we arrived at the Cusco bus terminal, after a 54-hour ride from Valparaiso, Chile, the joy of being on land mixed with the exhaustion of our ride. Two women approached us and pitched their hotels. One woman gave us a phenomenal rate. The other woman said, "My twin sister runs a travel agency right out of the hotel. We have gas boilers in our hotel. This woman's hotel has electric boilers. We have more hot water." It was the strangest duel between two women I've ever seen, and it made me feel ashamed to even be in the position of choosing one fine sales pitch over another. But the idea of not having to leave my hotel to book this tour seemed golden.

If you want to go to Machu Picchu on a day trip, you are going on a tour. The only way to avoid it is to hike the last stretch of the Inca Trail, a four day hike from Cusco. I highly recommend this hike, as a day trip proved to be overwhelmingly incredible but too brief.

We get to the hotel and the twin sister of the woman we spoke to at the bus terminal says, "Yes we have a tour leaving tomorrow at 6:30am." I sigh. I haven't really slept in any of the past three days on the bus. They've been the worst rides of my life, actually. I turn to Danielle in despair. I tell her I'm not sure I want to shell out $110 to have another miserable day without sleep. She says, "We have to go tomorrow. I'm going whether you are or not." The absolute authority in her voice was all the convincing I needed. The next day we dragged ourselves out of bed and went down to the lobby. 6:30am sharp. The bus was not there. At 7:30 the bus arrived. So did the other people in the group. We were in Peru. New time zone.

But the totally unnecessary 5am wake-up was invigorating. The trip to the Incan ruins featured a ride on a coal train, a bus ride on what was formerly the world's most dangerous road (Venezuela has now earned that distinction), hikes, information, wandering, and photo-opping like nobody's business.

Though it is South America's #1 tourist destination, the January offseason and the enormity of the grounds made viewing peaceful, relaxed, and intimate. The site is similar to other ancient ruins travelers have told me about. One can, without hindrance, climb on the walls, walk along terraces, hike down any hillside, and generally play all day long. I felt as if I were among some of the holiest ruins on earth, yet simultaneous inside of a well-curated exhibition and an absurd performance art space. The way in which you can interact with the space only heightens the profundity of the trip. If this ruin was within the continental US, all of it would be roped off. Visiting hours restricted. Viewing platforms designated. Instead, the experience is not a stagnant expectation. It can be interpreted a number of ways. I highly recommend this trip, and hope to make it back someday on a more flexible itinerary.


22 February 2006

2005: Near Aguas Calientes, Peru; 17 Jan

2005: Lake Titicaca at Puno, Peru; 16 Jan

The world's highest lake.

2005: Near Ollantaytambo, Peru; 17 Jan

17 February 2006

2005: Puno, Peru; 16 Jan

13 February 2006

Zora's Sonnet

Zora, a 6th-grader I tutor in math, surprised me on Sunday with an assignment totally unrelated to the subject I was hired to teach her. She needed help writing a sonnet. The requirements for the sonnet were draconian, and I found it hard to believe that anyone I know could do this easily. Some of the guidelines: ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme pattern, in iambic pentameter, 3 quatrains and a rhyming couplet, 2 similes, 2 metaphors. I said to myself, "This is gonna take an hour."

I asked Zora what she wanted to write about. "Snow." So we wrote a sonnet about snow. I think its fairly safe to assume that the only reason I'm sharing this is because I got paid to do it. Most of the other work I did with 8th graders on Sunday (Coordinate Geometry and the Quadratic Formula) wasn't worth blogging about. Although I did lend a hand in organizing the rhymes and syllables - as best I could, but I wasn't trying to kill myself - the logic and opinions of the piece are her own. I swear. She handed it in today. Enjoy.

Sunday Snowday Hooray.

The snow is white and plentiful and deep,
The snow makes people happier inside.
Snow is very dirty on the street,
but it is very pretty in the sky.

Why do people shovel anyway?
I would rather have a snowball fight.
Snow is like ice in a weird kind of way
the X-Games are boring like old bald guys.

Snow could harden and someone could trip.
So be careful not to break your skull open.
You will get frostbite if you lie there too long.
Snow is pretty like a unicorn.

The snow wants to let out its joy and rhyme,
But that is an illusion of your mind.

09 February 2006

The Eiffel 94 vs. Yahoo! Mail, Part 2

I'm not claiming victory here. Yahoo! Mail took down all of the suggestive images on their log-in screen that I ranted about in a November post. Did Yahoo consult my site before making this decision? Almost certainly not, but they replaced the images. And the reason I am hesitant to claim victory is, well, I feel like Yahoo! has upped the ante here. This is a war, not a battle. Why? Because now I'm even more aggravated by the stupid pictures they've used as replacements. There is a lesson in here. Leave offensive enough alone. When it comes down to offensive vs. idiotic, go with offensive. Idiotic will aggravate you to no end. Offensive, when done correctly, can seem almost... charming.

Here are the stupid pictures in question:

08 February 2006

The Book of Daniel, Part Three

A twisted little snot named Daniel, aged 12 years and a student of mine, is required to do a bit of writing for me every week. Over my vacation I made him read four short pieces and write summaries of them. "We have to practice our summarizing skills, Daniel." These are the titles he was required to read:

-"Winter Dreams," by F. Scott Fitzgerald
-"Equal In Paris," by James Baldwin
-"The Man Who Was Almost A Man," by Richard Wright
-"The Laughing Man," by JD Salinger

I wanted to encourage him to use a much broader vocabulary than the one he currently employs. I wanted him to consider a variety of narrative techniques. I wanted him to identify the main points of each story and summarize them. These works I felt were both long enough to challenge his attention span and nuanced in their respective tellings. It wouldn't be easy for him. These were all stories that - and I'm not sure if I am embarassed to say this - I was assigned to read in college. The curiousity I felt, to see how these works held up in the mind of a sixth grader, was matched by Daniel's apathy toward them. Here is one of his summaries.

“The Laughing Man,” by J.D. Salinger
A Summary by Daniel F_______

There is a summer camp with only boys’ .They have a Chief who is smart, athletic, and talented and good at telling stories. Every day they ride to a field by bus and play baseball. On there way back the Chief tells them a story. The story is called the Laughing Man. The laughing man is the son of a rich couple. He then is kidnapped by Chinese bandits.The bandits torture his face and make him look incredibly ugly. So he must always wear a mask. He learns how to do crime. The laughing man turned out to be a genius in crime. The bandits got jealous of his ideas and tried to assassinate him while he is sleeping. But he was too clever for them and made them assassinate their mother. Then he ran away. He made many famous crimes such as stealing an expensive jewel which monks that trained German dogs. He lives with four pets. As the bus arrived at the field the Chief saw his old girlfriend. They had a talk and at the end of the talk the Chief is angry. The kids got on the bus. He continued his story. One day Dufarges kidnapped one of the Laughing Mans pets. They told him in order to get his pet back he must exchange his freedom with his pets. So he agrees. They chained him to a tree and let his pet go. The Dufarges’ daughter tries to kill the laughing man but he took of his mask. She dies from his ugliness. Her father shielded his eyes and shot the laughing man. But did not die because he did a trick with his muscles which protected him. The father unshielded his eyes and died. The laughing man died chained. Then the bus returns back and camp ends. You could have noticed the chief ending the story with sadness. It’s clear the author wrote this story to bore people. THE END.

07 February 2006

2005: Pablo Neruda's Bar, Isla Negra, Chile; 13 Jan

I mentioned in my last post that Valparaiso changed my opinion of Chile from ambivalence to admiration. I should amend that. Chile has 4,000 miles of coastline, stretching from Patagonia to the Atacama Desert (and coming fairly close to the Equator). The variety of natural beauty has nearly no comparison for a country its size. My ambivalence was directed toward urban Chile. That's where we spent most of our time. Chile has some great cities, but I saw only one.

Isla Negra is a small beach town near Valparaiso. We went for the afternoon to see the place where Neruda wrote some of his finest works, including "The Sea and The Bells." Both the sea and the bells were still intact, but the residence has become a hideous tourist museum. Cardboard cut-outs, shitty souvenirs, display cases, and steep fees. I pecked around for a while and found probably the best bar I never drank at: an ocean-facing lounge where Neruda could entertain. The ocean itself, the poet's backyard, is worth the trip. The inspiration he gained from it is lost to the ages, but it was wonderful to see a place that is better in my imagination (and his) than it is up close. He is a master of words this man, and he's got a hell of a flair for decorating.