Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Raising the Bar

Considering my last post, I guess it makes perfect sense that the first (and often only) people I get to know in a new place are the bartenders. So far, in Lander, Jonmikel has hit up the new brewmaster for a nice cask ale, we've already gotten one of the bartenders at the Lander Bar to give us discounted beer, and we've made friends with the bartender and owner at the Atlantic City Mercantile (lazily and/or cleverly called "The Merc"), David. The latter is a fabulous bar that is reserved to the T for dinner (they apparently have excellent steak and are in the "1000 Places to See Before You Die" book) and turns into a local bar (complete with dice games, men with long gold-mining beards, and thick cigarette smoke) after the kitchen closes down. We stopped in for a couple of beers and a "Welcome to Lander" shot of peppermint schnapps (Thanks David!). The bar is old and wooden, the animals on the wall are old and dead, the wood-burning stove is old and covered with soot, and there are old photographs of the bar through the ages lining the walls, looking largely the same. A place that will be cozy and wonderfully redneck in the winter! We'll have to snowmobile to it...

Also, I wanted to post something I said to some friends about Jimmy Buffett and why I like him:

"For me, Jimmy is all about a way of life. I mean, a lot of his songs are arguably bad (unless you really enjoy 80s country ballads that sound like theme songs for old TV shows; and trust me Cheeseburger in Paradise is by far NOT one of his best songs!). But look how creative he is. He talks about living and loving and having fun and acting stupid and feeling silly and never getting old and enjoying life in all of its crazy, quirky and often downright ridiculous aspects. He writes the themes for so many of us who never confuse growing older with growing old.

I think that's why he's so influential and so cross-generational.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Very Own Best Beer List

I've seen a lot of lists lately about the world's best beers, and none of the lists even remotely line up with my own favorites, so I decided to make my own. Though when I travel, I tend to stick with microbrews (in the US) and cask ales (in the UK), and genuinely enjoy those more than any of the following beers (with perhaps the exception of Franziskaner and Fraoch), you can usually only find them in small geographic areas, and I generally can never remember their names. So here is MY list of MY favorite mass-produced, can-get-at-a-good-local-liquor-store beers:

Arguably, not a good beer. It's the "Budweiser" of Scotland, but it has this super smooth head, akin to that on a Guinness, without the weight. Or the alcohol content.

OK one of my all-time favorite beers. You pay almost as dearly for it in the UK as you do in the States, and it comes from an ancient Pict recipe, using heather flowers for an aroma quite akin to a perfume and a brilliant taste to match.

"Scrumpy" means "extra hard." I had this for breakfast once while camping on the Isle of Arran, after being eaten alive by midges while soaking wet. I felt sorry for myself before, and after, I felt like I could take on all the midges in the world at once! It didn't last, but it's practically apple juice, right??

I discovered this stuff while living in Germany, and spent hours practicing how to say it so I wouldn't look stupid. Since then I've managed to impress many a bartender at Old Chicagos, currently the only chain I know that carries it. It's superb and reminiscent of smoked sausage.

This is the local brewery in Tromso, Norway. Used to be the world's most northern brewery, but somebody opened a microbrewery or brewpub or something elsewhere in a more northerly location... but it still rocks. I prefer the Bayer, or dark beer. Plus, they have a giant stuffed polar bear in the bar. They put Santa hats on it at Christmas.

Not Amstel Light, real Amstel. I had it for the first time in South Africa, and didn't even know they MADE the non-light version!

So good. Classic Scottish name. Dark brown and sweet and like 8% alcohol. And it only comes in big bottles. And you can get it at nice liquor stores in the US.

Not the best beer ever - a light lager, rather reminiscent of every other light lager ever. But it will always remind me of Vietnam and drinking out of coconuts while wearing a silly hat. And crawling through creepy Viet Kong tunnels. And learning how to cross the street properly. And everyone else you ask will say the same thing.

Cool and refreshing and it makes you forget that it's 100 degrees with 100% humidity. Which really is OK because you're on a beach in Central America, so who cares if it's that hot?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

While generally I do agree, and while generally I tend to confuse the two with impulsive overreaction and sublime assumption...
I can't help but spend some time trying to decide which is worse, malice or stupidity?

Interestingly, I found the quote in a blog discussion about the honest feasibility of the Bush Administration's ability to orchestrate 9/11 and so successfully cover it up..

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ex-Pat Nostalgia

Reasons I miss being an ex-pat in Edinburgh:

-real dart boards
-good cask ales
-Arthur's Seat
-Sheep Heid Inn, since 1360
-stone streets
-my love-hate relationship with the US Consulate
-creepy closes
-sitting outside at a bar or cafe and hearing no less than 5 different languages
-trying to explain American football in exchange for lessons on cricket or rugby
-Pie Maker
-thinking that all my classrooms looks like scenes right out of Harry Potter!
-being able to totally dress up without looking out of place
-easy access to inexpensive yet fashionable clothing and shoes
-Edinburgh Zoo and its African wild dogs
-Indian food
-living next-door to the Queen
-looking right before crossing the street (which I still do on occasion)
-carrying my passport around everywhere (which, actually, I still do, too)
-smart cars galore!
-Ryan Air
-folk clubs, jazz cellars and Latin bars... now I feel like a city isn't a real city without them
-being the center of attention because everyone thought my accent was hot
-Christmas markets
-the train
-public transportation that was worth a damn
-the National Library of Scotland, with its Gutenberg Bible
-British politics and how utterly amusing they are

-the freedom that only comes by living somewhere totally unfamiliar...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lesson learned from the Fort Collins Irish Festival 2009: rock music is sooooo much cooler with a fiddle.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Things I’m currently stoked about:

Rockies game tomorrow
My Michael Weston aviator sunglasses
USVI over 4th of July; nothing says “Go America” like the Caribbean
The fact that JM is buddying up to the new brewmaster in Lander
My lavender-colored fake Keens, which have turned out to be super comfortable
Summer and being hot
My new bathing suit
Having a wood-burning stove this winter
Wood floors

My renewed enthusiasm about my canopy bed
Writing my travel novel, 140 characters at a time
Burn Notice tonight – I LOVE Bruce Campbell!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sitting in a meadow in Red Canyon Wildlife Management Area; it's a winter range for several species of wildlife, and the ranch nearby is conducting various studies on how to make ranching more sustainable and less impactful on wildlife migrations. No, the photos aren't crooked, the canyon is.

Good thing the Jeep was already the same color as the mud!

See how green it is?!?!?! Wyoming is NOT supposed to be this green! Its like... Ireland up in here!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wow I know that last post was a doozy... someone made the mistake of asking me what I thought of the Iranian elections, and that's the word vomit that resulted. Heh.

So now, I give you: the Jeep!

We took the jeep for a spin in the orange muds of Red Canyon, outside of Lander. Most of the area is either public lands or owned by The Nature Conservancy, which raises cattle on parts of the land to study their effects on the ecosystem and to determine more sustainable ranching practices.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Iran is the Fad of the Week!

Response to the election in Iran has been, to say the least, astounding. We are as practically up-in-arms here as they are in Iran, proclaiming our "support" for the Iranian people in their time of need (ahem).

But I take issues with this whole thing. Largely to do with how the media has taken it on as a personal Crusade and how the American public (now bored with the economy and swine flu) have latched on to it. Iran is the new yoga.

First, I’m fairly certain that the election was fraudulent. I mean, counting 40 million hand-written ballots in a couple of hours is laughable, at best. But really, did we expect anything else? Ahmadinejad is crazy; we all know that. The Iranians know that. The Supreme Leader supports him because though he’s not particularly religious (in fact, his party has come out against government crackdowns on women who aren’t wearing the correct hijab), he tends to not get uppity about religious issues. So he doesn’t challenge the Ayatollah’s authority. If we all started treating him more as crazy and less as a real threat, he’d probably go away.

So my first problem is as follows: elections are rigged ALL THE TIME. We Americans are all up in arms about democracy and we “stand in support of the Iranian people” and all that crap. But as far as unfair elections go, this was pretty tame. I mean, tons of people showed up to vote and (more or less) were all allowed to do so. The results weren’t so blatant and ridiculous (like say, 100% of the votes in Cuba always went to Fidel Castro, and he swore up and down that it wasn’t rigged) as to draw immediate cries of “fraud” from people other than us. The Iranian people figured out on their own that something seemed a little fishy and staged some peaceful protests (and we like to pretend that here in the US our peaceful protests NEVER turn out violent, despite the fact that every time there is a protest for race issues in Cincinnati, at least one person gets shot and dies).

So if we’re all so big on democracy and want to see it everywhere, where was our overwhelming support for, say, the Kenyans when they had their issues a couple years ago? Nobody really seemed to care then, and the fraud was much more blatant and the reactions much more violent. So…. We don’t care about Africa, apparently? Or Nepal? Do we not care about them, either? That seems rather hypocritical to me.

Second, nobody in the US would give a damn if the situation in Iran were reversed. If it was Mousavi who was cheating and Ahmadinejad who was the victim of election fraud. We’d be happy. We’d say to Ahmadinejad’s supporters, “Oh you lost, get over it, that’s how democracy works.” We only seem to care about democracy in the developing world if we hate the person they elect, and then we get all up in their business as if we had a perfect democracy and they should all be like us. That, too, seems hypocritical.

Third, most people I have spoken to who are in support of who they deem to be “the Iranian people” and are demanding recounts and whatever genuinely believe that by calling Mousavi a “reformer,” the media means that 1) he will stop developing nuclear weapons and 2) (more important for all us liberals) that he will reform the religious law (and the oppression that, personally, I feel come with ALL religious law, Muslim or not) in the country. Except he will do neither of those. The Iranian people aren’t voting for or against a revolution here; they aren’t voting for or against the supreme leadership of the Ayatollahs. They are voting for someone who will be in charge of political decisions, international affairs and the economy. Maybe whoever becomes president will ease up on the strict clothing and travel restrictions for women (though I should point out that women can vote in Iran, which is more than can be said in many Muslim countries, notably our good buddy Saudi Arabia), and maybe that person will be a little nicer to the US (though certainly not to Israel), but whoever becomes the new president will not reform Islamic Law. Nor do I think people really want him to. I think by and large, Iranians like the fact that they live in an Islamic Republic; they just wish it was a little more fair. They want freedom of speech and freedom to hold peaceful demonstrations, and they don’t want to get beaten to death if caught with their wrists showing in public. Women want to be able to have better jobs and more respect and more education (all of which, by the way, are emphasized in the Qur'an). These aren’t things that conflict with Muslim law, and they know that. But it will still be an Islamic Republic. Everything Mousavi will do, if he becomes president, will be subject to the approval of the Ayatollah. Ahmadinejad does not, despite what all the media outlets are saying, represent the “clerical regime.” He has never been particularly religious. The pro-Ahmadinejad supporters who are rallying now are not necessarily rallying in support of the Ayatollah, just as those rallying in support of Mousavi are not rallying against the Ayatollah (if they were, you can be sure that they would all disappear very quickly and silently). This isn’t a revolution, it’s a regime change. And nobody in the US knows that.

I mean, I guess it could turn into a revolution, especially if foreign journalists keep pressing the idea that only way to fix it is to stop the religious government. So maybe Ahmadinejad being crazy will be the downfall of the Ayatollah? I’d be surprised, but I guess it could happen.

Anyway, we are so busy criticizing Iran for rigging elections that we’ve forgotten that 5 years ago, these kinds of demonstrations would have been stopped swiftly and violently. Dissenters would have been purged and would have disappeared. I think it means something that people feel informed enough and comfortable enough to protest like this and that this has happened within the confines of an Islamic state. It’s a young state, and they’re still working out their issues and this whole democracy. It took us 200 years and several very bloody and very violent wars to get us even close to where we are today, democracy-wise. Why should we expect everybody else to do it in 30 years and without violence?

So the point: I’m not surprised this is happening, and I do think the government is up to no good, but I don’t think it is the big crisis we Americans think it is. I’m on Twitter and I keep up with Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN, and it’s fascinating to follow the headlines and note how different they all are. Take the whole Gordon Brown problems going on right now… CNN seems WAAAAYYY more concerned about the whole things than BBC does. Similarly, CNN is a great deal more pessimistic and dramatic about this Iranian Incident than Al Jazeera, which has taken a kind of bemused, “yes this is a concern, but the Iranian people will prevail, whatever the outcome, so we’re just going to sit back and watch” approach. Plus, they are way more concerned that somebody kidnapped their journalists in Afghanistan. Following these headlines is certainly an interesting study. The American media seem way more concerned about the fact that we can't really get in there to snoop around than what is really happening. And I don't think that cheating in the election has anything to do with it being an Islamic republic (despite what AP would have you believe), because they've had perfectly valid elections before, and election fraud happens just about everywhere. But I am heartened that the Iranian people feel that they can demonstrate as such to demand fair elections, and because I do think that something is dodgy, I think its a fair demonstration (though to be fair, I have seen demonstrations after elections where I'm like dude guys, get over it you lost, it sucks, try again next time and stop whining).

So, American, let's not make any more assumptions and base our foreign policy on misinformation!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Buying a House

... is way easier when you're with someone who has owned three before. JM knows all the ropes, and I'm just along for the ride. But we had an offer accepted on a house in Lander, WY! It is inexpensive and quirky, and the plan is to make it more quirky and more expensive. Some of you may have seen photos from Realtor.com, with the view of the field behind it, but here is the view from the other direction:

Not bad, eh? Ours in the green one 3rd from the left. From the upstairs, you can see those mountains over the foothills. Score. It used to be owned by Todd Skinner, the world-famous climber who died in a fall in Yosemite a few years back. We beat out a lot of eager perspectives/climbers for this house.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Personality crisis: what do I want to do?

One side of the brain tells me I want to have my freedom and my free time, find a place I love and do whatever I need to do to stay there.

The other side of the brain tells me that I should find a job in which I can do something significant and important with my time. Feel important. Feel part of a team. Feel in the loop.

And then there's that odd frontal lobe, which really loves my high standard of living.

And like so much in my life, it's all extremes. There's no compromise, and there's no in between, and there's no overlap.

I can't decide if this fountain was actually supposed to be so yellow...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Driving Wyoming.

Rows of endless yellow dashes hinting at perpetual passing zones, roaming roads, basin highways, straight-and-narrows with less than a dozen cars in 200 miles.

Being on a Wyoming road is having cabin fever without the walls, cabin fever without the context... an empowering restlessness and penetrating loneliness. You're unsure of where you're going, and you can't quite remember what exactly you left behind to get there.

Monday, June 8, 2009

President Obama is going to create 600,000 jobs, and not one of them for me.

I think it's great that the guy is creating jobs trying to stimulate the economy. I really do. But let's look at the kind of people who are getting laid off here. Executives. Cultural resource managers. Biologists. People with advanced business degrees. People who are failing to pay their mortgages are, largely, educated (note: this does NOT imply that they are in any way smart or responsible, but that's another argument), white-collar workers.

Now lets look at the kinds of jobs being created by this "awesome" stimulus package. Trail maintenance crews. Repairmen. Wastewater plant improvement personnel. Construction workers.

Has anybody else noticed that these aren't lining up right?

The people with the greatest amounts of education are being laid off at enormous rates and are struggling to find jobs that fit their education qualifications. Let's be honest, someone with an advanced degree in history and historic preservation is not going to settle for a job improving water treatment facilities or clearing washed out trails. We worked hard and paid $40,000 for our masters degrees, and we're not going to take a job that pays $8 an hour doing mindless tasks in exchange for being laid off.

So why are all the jobs being created aimed at blue collar workers? Wyoming is struggling to find ENOUGH blue collar workers to fill hundreds of open positions in the oil and natural gas arenas, but museums and national parks don't have the money to pay cultural resources specialists or historical interpreters. Companies and government agencies will receive money to hire people to fix roads and repair buildings, but non-profits will have to fire ecologists and anthropologists to make ends meet.

When will the educated class of Americans feel the economic stimulus? At the risk of sounding whiny and disturbingly Republican, why does this whole stimulus package seem like an unfair waste of time?

South Pass City

Just down the road from the famous South Pass (made popular not by the Oregon Trail itself but by the educational AND fun children's computer game The Oregon Trail... now it has a cult following!), this former mining town has been lovingly (a brilliant PC real estate term) restored, minus the working saloon. Really, they should refurbish the saloon so that you can actually sit in it and have a beer. Even Lame-O Dodge City has one!

A pool table without pockets???


Friday, June 5, 2009

Still at Miner's Delight...

Still as in continuing to be there. Not still as in moonshine. Though I'm sure there were some of those around, too. Can't mine without booze!

I believe this structure is in need of some historic preservation work! Perhaps a specialist in historic carpentry?

Yikes, my work is following me everywhere!

Museum collections on display... in need of cataloging, cleaning and preservation? Where's the HVAC system, people!!!

There were middens, too, for all you archaeologists out there... but photos of those would have been much less interesting than a survey...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

So this is the crazy swampy pond (man-made, created by swaths of rubble and dirt piled up along a creek) that reminded me of that fateful scene in Lord of the Rings when Frodo tries to drown himself in the eerie glow of long-dead elves...

Drip drip dropping into the pond...

The abandoned homes of miners at Miner's Delight, now supported by the BLM. The fog made the loneliness of the place eerie enough to make me start when another couple-young, adventurous, with a puppy and from Bozeman-hiked up and said "hi."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Miner's Delight

As if ghost town weren't creepy enough, we stumbled upon Miner's Delight, outside of South Pass City, on an early afternoon of thick fog, brisk winds, and dropping temperatures. The fog curled in and around the skeletons of homes and the old stands of rotting mining equipment creaked and moaned an eerie harmony... As I peered into the murky ponds surrounding the town, I half expected dead elves to be mournfully staring back at me...

This creepy town was actually inhabited until the 1960s!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Because my newest photos have not yet been processed (and I have some super dramatic quotes to go with them), I'm going to put up some old photos from Scotland that I never got to post because my travel blog was rotten and posting photos was such a pain in the butt.

This creepy shot was taken outside of Rosslyn Chapel... fitting, I think