Friday, April 30, 2010

Surprise At Work

As mentioned in another post, at the company I work at we often decorate people's cubes for their birthday's, usually in a very tongue in cheek way. Thursday was the birthday of my friend and co-worker Jenny, who is very neat and detail-oriented. So what better way to celebrate her birthday than cover her desk in crumpled paper, and make a huge mess of it? I got in extra early to do the work, tossed pages of newspaper circulars on the floor, and filled her drawers full of crumpled paper which made them rather difficult to open. It was a gift that gave all day long, as that's about how long it took her to clean it all up!  She loved it!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Red Cliff II

The blu-ray came and I got to watch the second part of Red Cliff.  What an amazing finish. There were already so many epic battles in this movie that I wondered how they could possibly top it off in the finale, but they did. I've never seen a military battle filmed so beautifully. And, once again, in the midst of the sweeping grandeur of the movie there are scenes focusing on the individual characters that are so intimate and emotional, and it's all in a stunningly well-balanced combination!

Again, I think this is a martial arts film in a rather loose sense. Certainly there is great fighting and weapons combat, but it is more about armies and strategy and characters than about one-on-one hand-to-hand combat.  The tone of the movie has much in common with most martial arts movies.

Don't watch the short version that was released in the US! Get the full 4-5 hour 2-disc international release version. Kudos to John Woo for an amazing film!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pirate Latitudes - Michael Crichton

I've never read a book by Michael Crichton before, though I have seen several of the movies based on his novels. One thing I was impressed by was his versatility as a writer. He wasn't one of those people who writes a certain kind of book (e.g., legal thriller, horror, romance); instead he seemed able to move between a lot of different genres. I find that very interesting.

The villa Jim and I stayed at in St. John had many novels, and I found this one. Since it was a sea adventure, it seemed a fitting read for the poolside. I got hooked very quickly. In some places it's a bit silly but it really struck me as a kind of homage to all those pirate/swashbuckler sea novels from the past, such as Captain Blood or Treasure Island.

It wasn't published during his life, so I don't know if he was working on it and didn't finish it or if it was a sort of lark for him. In any case, I enjoyed it. A pleasant surprise as I find it very hard to sift through contemporary writers in order to pick something worthwhile. Though, like I said, this was definitely not a deep book. Have some fun!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Tea Party

On the one hand, I like the Tea Party because it represents people speaking their minds, rabble rousing against our crooked government, and (sometimes) trying to step outside the established political process and its parties. My parents have been to a Tea Party event, and they forwarded me a sampling of some of the slogans. Alas, the Tea Party is - like communism - an idea that sounds good but, when seen in the light of day, is just tired, sad, and pathetic. This first slogan I like and agree with. It's a good, traditional American sentiment.

And here's one I thought was funny. However, I can't agree that Nancy Pelosi is the Wicked Witch of the West. I'm thinking the witch in Hansel & Gretl. When she smiles, doesn't she look like a twisted hag who might have caged children in her home, getting plump, and waiting to be eaten? Anyway, these were the exceptions.

The rest of the slogans were just pathetic. Here's a sampling of the idiotic opinions these people actually go around touting.

So, what is this saying? Diversity is bad? Gee, that's American. Let's only let the Protestant white straight guys into the military, because you have to watch out for those...others.

Huh?! My mom explained that Obama had a friend in college who did something at the Pentagon. A friend from college? C'mon! My Aunt Petunia went to college with someone who became a nut thirty years later. So what? 

If you're going to say you stand for traditional American values, then you should know what they are. Abolish Congress? Fuck you! Move to North Korea or an African dictatorship if you hate democracy.

And this one sums it all up for me. To me there's a difference between challenging authority and being a whiner. If people want to complain, fine. But at some point you have to stand for something to replace what you are fighting against. Who do these tea partiers support? What do they believe in?  All I see here is a lot of anti-this and anti-that.

I asked my parents to explain what the Tea Party was for, and all I got was 'small government'. Well, what the hell does that mean? "What are you going to cut," I asked. "All the pork," was the answer. I am now convinced that the Tea Party are a group of upset people blurting out slogans when prodded with intelligent questions. 

The problem is that one person's pork is another person's justified government spending. I'd love to see how quickly some of these tea partiers stop whining about socialism and big government if anyone asked them to put their money where their big mouths are and send back their Social Security, Medicare, and/or Medicaid checks.

Don't get me wrong. I think Congress is filled with crooks, and I definitely think government spending is out of control. However, I don't remember the kind of outrage we're seeing back when Bush deficit-spent a trillion dollars on his wild goose chase in Iraq. Am I the only person who finds it weird that these tea partiers are so mad about government spending that helps Americans (Obama's health care reform), when they had no problem with government spending that didn't (and doesn't) help the US at all (Iraq)? Where are the 'Bail on Iraq' slogans? 

T-shirt slogans and bumper stickers can make us chuckle, and I'm sure it's fun to go to a rally and 'party like it's 1773'. However, unless the tea party puts together a coherent, realistic platform that can be implemented, they will be nothing more than a loud - and ultimately irrelevant - freak show of ignorant whiners and sloppy malcontents. As it stands now, I predict the whole movement will evaporate as soon as the jobs come back.

Sorry for the diatribe. This is why I avoid political 'parties'.

Monday, April 26, 2010

St. John (Day 7 - Last Day)

Well, we had a great time. But all good things must come to an end.  I brought much less clothing this time and packed pretty light, but I still found that I had brought a bit too much clothing. Between having a washer and dryer on site and wearing my swimsuit so much, there wasn't a need for much clothing. Next time, I will try to get by with an overnight bag of stuff. I could probably be fine with 3 pairs of shorts, 5 underwear, and 5 shirts.

Said goodbye to Rocky, took a last look at the iguanas, and cast longing glances at the hammock and the pool.  However, I think we'll be back someday. Even though we did a lot of new stuff this trip, there's still plenty more we could do. For such a small island, St. John has a great deal to explore.

This final shot is a picture of a rainbow we saw from the deck as a small storm blew by out at sea. I'll post it here as a sign that we'll return.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lazy Afternoon With Friends

Our friends Pete (I get called RePete to avoid confusion) and Mike came over to pick up some plants from Jim. We had a great afternoon with pizza, cake, Funny Or Die episodes, and...gimlets!

This past year, I have tried more different kinds of spirits that at any other time in my life. To my surprise, I'm finding that I like quite a few of them. Jack Daniel's is my drink of choice, with coke or straight.  I just like that charcoal-whiskey flavor. Didn't care for Southern Comfort. And now, Pete made his lime gimlet. I love them, but they sure pack a punch! I was pretty loopy after one (I'm a total light-weight). Luckily, I was already home.  Definitely took the edge off!

Later that night I re-ventured into the waters of eBay. I've started reading my second Horatio Hornblower novel (Ship Of The Line), but it's all in paperback. EBay had for auction a three novel set in hardcover of the first three Hornblower novels which are all set during the time he is a captain. The set comes with a slip case, so I thought that was kind of cool. We'll see if I win!

St. John (Day 6 - Part 2)

Last time, we left our intrepid explorers at the junction of the trail to the petroglyphs...

We did the extra .3 miles to petroglyphs over much easier ground.  As you could tell from the photos so far, everything around us was very much about forest and dirt and tree roots everywhere. When we got to the petroglyphs site, it was a very different story. We came to a natural spring that has been there for over a thousand years and, all rising all around it were these wrinkled walls of stone.  Some vines dangled down from the tops, but otherwise these walls and much of the ground were now solid rock. So the environment was completely unlike the rest of the jungle. In the picture above, the pool is behind Jim and some petroglyphs are in the lower right.

The pool is fresh water according to a placard there, but I wasn't going to test that out! The water had a dark red tinge to it and was home to dozens of big dragonflies with bright red bodies that were flying all around.  I honestly felt like we'd stepped into a different and fairly surreal place. This was only heightened by the petroglyph carvings.  While they're not something that really knocks your socks off, they were pretty interesting and added a feeling of tribal primitivism to the already 'Land of the Lost' setting. Again, there are petroglyphs alongside me in this picture. If you click the picture for a larger view, they are fairly clear.

Per a placard at the site: "Archaeological discoveries at Cinnamon Bay [another bay on St. John] confirm that these petroglyphs were carved around 900-1500 AD by the pre-Columbian Taino and their ancestors. The carvings exemplify the designs found on ceremonial Taino pottery. The pool and symbols were sacred dwelling places and ritualistic sites for the spirits of their ancestors. This spring-fed pool stays at nearly the same level despite rainfall, causing an interesting and perhaps intended mirror effect of the petroglyphs - a duality of the spiritual and living worlds often reflected in Taino art." Of course, from the Park District office displays, we know that the Taino were wiped out by Columbus and the Spanish, who introduced diseases to kill of most of them. Those who survived were exploited, enslaved, and/or killed.

After that we started the long hike back up (and I do me up, as in on an incline) the 1.8 miles back to the jeep. It was pretty humid by this point, so we were sweating pretty good. At the jeep, we had out ice chest with fresh supplies of cool water waiting. Tasted so good!

After that we drove to the East End to try and find Haulover Bay, but it wasn't easy to locate parking or a path down since locals mainly know about this place. Since it was pretty late, we were a bit too tired to make a huge effort.  And, since we knew the pool was waiting, we thought: "Let's go home!"  Plus we were getting hungry and tonight was Uncle Joe's BBQ for dinner.

Uncle Joe's is in Cruz Bay. It's an open air stand where they cook ribs and other food and, since the kitchen is open air too, it's not unusual to see wild chickens running around. Despite the lack of ambiance and the revolving door of grouchy young people who work there, the BBQ is amazing! We actually had it twice while we were on the island.  Spent some time that night, staring up at the stars. I remembered enough of astronomy to pick out Sirius, Betelgeuse (the red supergiant that - when it explodes - will be visible on Earth even in the day!), and Rigel (a massive blue star). Nice quiet way to end our - unfortunately - last full day on St. John.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

St. John (Day 6 - Part 1)

There was a goodly amount of rain (I like the word 'goodly' but never get a chance to use it) today and that made travel around the island treacherous. The roads on this very mountainous island are steep and curvy. Even with our jeep, when the roads get slick, some of those turn-offs are tough. So we came back to Andante after about 5 minutes of unpromising driving. This was a good decision as we had 30 minutes of solid rain shortly after we returned. I'm on vacation, dammit, I do not want stress!

We finally got out (finally, hah! it was 10AM). Today, we decided to do the Reef Bay Trail, which 'descends 975 feet' into the semi-tropical forest and connects to trails that lead to some of the bays for which there are no decent roads (Reef Bay and the Lameshur Bays), as well as the petroglyph carvings in the center of the island.  I like hiking but I'm hardly what you would call and avid hiker, so we had to learn the hard way that a trail that 'descends 975 feet' is not 975 feet long. Oh no! It twists and turns on its way down and was actually 1.8 miles one way. Not the Trail of Tears but, in that steamy forest after a rain, we felt pretty sticky going down. As you can see, though, there was plenty of scenery to keep your mind occupied.

Along the way, we saw some plantation ruins (very ruined), although it sounds like there's some better stuff on the trail that foes all the way down to Reef Bay from the petroglyphs (maybe next time?). There was loads of wildlife, because we could hear it and see all the holes and pools and crevices under tree roots that suggested enough critters to make me expect Yoda to come walking out and: "Away put your weapon; I mean you no harm." The lizards were everywhere (see pic), leaping out of our path and climbing up trees.  Some were so close that I declared I was going to catch one.  Jim absolutely forbade me to touch anything and - probably for the best - cooler heads prevailed. Who knows what kind of plant I might have stumbled over in chasing one? 

Something I would not have touched for worlds were the giant millipedes we saw in the trees. I know some of these creepy crawlies have poison on their scales and some - not sure if it's the kind we saw - can spray stuff. There was plenty of prettier creatures though. Lots of butterflies that seemed to fly just ahead of us going down the path like in a storybook when there is a little fairy that beckons you on to the some gruesome fate. We didn't see any hummingbirds, though they were pretty much a daily sight around Andante. We did see some weird, big black bird up in the canopy making loud whooping sounds. There was also many bananaquits, these cute little black birds with white stripes on their heads and bright yellow breasts. They have a very nice call, and they are the official bird of St. John. And of course, there were tons of massive trees. Some of the slender trees were growing in helixes and wide curves as they swept up from the floor towards the light.

Definitely a good hike.  After a long while, we finally reached the junction to the path leading to the petroglyphs. Just .3 more miles to go! But this entry is long enough, so I'll save the rest for part 2!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Green Belt

Tonight was the rank test for my green belt. I did a good job, though I still did not get called out as 'excellent'. I'm not sure how they decide who gets called out for that, because some of the people I saw who were really good did not get called out. Oh well, I really shouldn't worry about it. The promotion is the thing that counts.  I thought I was going to have to do some sparring for the green belt but it might be the blue belt where I have to do that.  Bottom line, I'm progressing well and learning a lot. And it's a great fitness activity!

St. John (Day 5 - Part 2)

After the effort expended in snorkeling, it was definitely time for a hammock siesta! This, by the way, is an approximate view from the hammock siesta. With the sound of the waves and a nice breeze blowing over you (the hammock is also on the lower deck so it's not in direct sun), it's very easy to get a refreshing nap.

At the end of my siesta, I was just staring out over the sea when - what should I see not three feet away? An iguana walking along the deck. He saw me at the same time I saw him and he froze, his beady black eye blinking once in a while and his head tilting as he regarded me carefully.  He was about 2 feet long, including the tail, and he had the full-on back spines, death claw, and everything.  After a few minutes he scooted along and then leapt off the deck into the brush.  I stood to see where he was and he was on top of some plants a good distance away, staring up at me with a reproachful look on his face. Then he slunk off into the undergrowth. Sweet!

Speaking of lizards, we finally started to see more of the anoles and small lizards, which was a relief. They're no more than and inch or two long, they run away the second you seen them (probably often before you even notice they are around), and apparently they eat bugs on a grand scale.  That's why, when I went to Cozumel back in college, a native told me it's bad luck to kill one.  They're so cute, I can't imagine anyone doing that.  This picture is of a little guy who seemed to have claimed a particular pot and group of rocks about two feet square as his dominion.  He was always seated there like a king surveying his realm. I named him Rocky.

I've mentioned the pool a lot, and here's a picture of me enjoying some time in there. It was actually very private so I had to crop this pic to make it G-rated.  It was about four or five strokes to get from one end to the other and was always just cool enough to be really refreshing.  We spent hours in the pool, especially as, the breeze started to flag off a bit by this time. That meant things got a little stuffy at times, but not too bad all things considered.  I know it will be a big benefit tomorrow, because we plan to hike through the forest.  We'll need to cool off!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

St. John (Day 5 - Part 1)

On this day we went back to Salt Pond Bay, where we had our best snorkeling last time we visited St. John. So, since I fully intend to run on endlessly about how fantastic this place is, I'm going to need two entries to get through Day 5.

First things first, getting to Salt Pond Bay is an arduous journey - at least by St. John standards. The funny thing is the bay is on the same side of the island as Andante, so it should be a short jaunt. However, between us and the bay is nothing but national park - and no roads. So we have to drive clear around the island to get to it. Since the island is so small, this takes about 30 minutes. No big deal really.

Parking is a rocky, gravel pull off with a run down stand where, allegedly, someone sells bottled water. We've never seen this place manned, so we bring our own in a cooler. And it is needed, because this part of the island is dry, very hot, and the sun seems much more intense for some reason. SPF 3000 is required, especially for your back! After parking, there's quite a hike to get to the bay. Take a look at this 'path' leading down to the beach. It's jagged rocks and pits and not much fun when you're carrying beach chairs, snorkels, and fins.

But, anyway, about Salt Pond Bay! It's our favorite snorkeling site on the island with no distant second I can think of. This place simply rocks! It appeals to both me and to Jim. Jim likes it because the water isn't rough and there's plenty to see in the broad sandy shallows. I like the reefs and the great visibility even in the deeper waters. We arrived really early - as usual - and had the beach almost entirely to ourselves, aside from a few boats moored in the bay. Here's Jimmy on the beach!

Of course, while our early arrival allowed us to get one of the picnic tables in the shade to stow our gear (very important at this bay), it wasn't perfectly sunny yet as a result of the prior night's rains. Therefore visibility in the water wasn't the greatest during the morning. Even so, we saw some incredible stuff. Naturally, there were big schools of tiny little fish that part before you as you swim through them. But these schools were not big, they were huge. Had to be thousands of fish in the largest one, no exaggeration.

Jim almost immediately spotted a starfish about seven inches in diameter (he later found another one that was burnt orange in color). I found a perfect whelk shell about six inches long, with brown and yellow colors and a surface so smooth it was like porcelain. (Yes, I out it back). Then, while I was darting after fish, I suddenly saw a sea turtle swimming no more than two feet away from me! He was as big as my torso and not at all interested in making my acquaintance. I swam with him a bit, but he was only that slow because he was surfacing to breathe. After two gulps of breath, he was off with a speed that would have kicked dirt in my face were we on land. This was by far the closest I had ever come to a sea turtle!

And this was just an appetizer of what was to come. We got out to sun until the sky cleared, and then went back in to enjoy the sights with the suns rays to make the water crystal clear, even over the sea grass. Off by the reef, there were giant sea urchins, brightly colored trigger fish, parrotfish of all colors, tangs in neon bluish-purple, sergeant majors, red bigeyes, and all sorts of wrasses, fairy basslets, and other tiny fish in scarlet, aquamarine, neon yellow, and all sorts of colors. I spotted a trunkfish, some foureye butterflyfish, and a fireworm (or a giant sea slug) creeping on some coral.

Other highlights included seeing about fifty small silver fish school in a dense ball as needlefish darted around them to pick off stragglers. Needlefish are silvery, very thin, and swim right near the surface so you often don't notice them. They have teeth but, naturally, they steer clear of us lumbering humans. As was the case last time, we saw reef squid. Five of them this time, and Jim was the one who spotted them. If you swim too fast, they are easy to miss but, once you see them, you can get close and take a look at the turquoise, brown, and yellow spots on their back and the big eyes they have. They just hover in the water, always keeping their bodies pointed away from you so they can jet away in a second. I'd love to make them shoot some ink, but it's so much better to watch them.

The best sighting this time was in the deeper water. I was swimming and noticed 'smoke' rising off the sea floor in about ten feet of water. I didn't want to swim into the 'smoke', so I circled and saw - on the bottom - a six foot long stingray stirring up the sand, probably munching on some food. He was huge and had (I think) a four or five foot wingspan. Dark brownish in color, with what looked like yellow spots. I swam parallel to him as he skimmed to seafloor. I could see him keeping an eye on me, but he didn't seem overly concerned. I followed him for a while, before returning to shore.

Awesome snorkeling day!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Red Cliff

Just finished watching part one of the international release of Red Cliff, which is John Woo's 4-5 hour epic treatment of the 14th Century novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I had rented it through Netflix, but I was impressed enough to buy the blu-ray version to own. Hopefully, part two delivers as well as part one did.

In terms of martial arts movies, this one isn't straight forward hand-to-hand combat. There's definite skills of that kind in evidence, but the battles are often much larger scale. In any case, the battles are massive in size and very well shot. There are a few over the top acrobatics that make you roll your eyes a little bit, and they are especially unwelcome given the generally gritty feel of the battles. I think the excess was too much given the already impressive battle choreography.

Although there is a big epic sweep in the scope of the movie, there is a strong focus on characters as well. It's a little tough to keep all the players straight at first, but you slowly catch on as to who is who and who's on what side. I especially like the loud, wild haired general (not sure what his name was), as well as the tomboy princess. The two male leads (played by Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro who also starred in the excellent House of Flying Daggers) are great characters, though there is a bit of homoeroticism involved in their connection that I have to admit I enjoy a bit! In any case, the balance of intimate character scenes and big battles is nearly perfect.

The blu-ray came today, and I'm sure I'll be watching part two this weekend! Can't wait to see how it all ends!

St. John (Day 4)

Today we drove out to another bay we'd not been to: Lienster Bay. A bit cloudier today so maybe that's why it looked so unpromising. It seemed very rocky and dark, so we skipped it and went to another new bay: Maho Bay. Maho Bay is pictured in this post (it's a big pic so be sure to open for a closer look).

Maho Bay had a very nice beach and, as you can see, we were virtually alone for the early part of the day. In fact it never really picked up. This may be because the snorkeling wasn't really all that good (or that parking was really limited and chickens climb on the jeeps). Despite the lackluster snorkeling, we did have one great sighting. Jim spotted a hermit crab the size of a dinner plate, complete with a big, spiny conch shell on his back. He looked wicked!

As I was swimming, I stood up to adjust my mask when someone from the beach called out to ask how the snorkeling was. I looked up to see...lesbians! They were very nice, and we traded a few bay stories. They told me a giant stingray had been in the water swimming in the opposite direction as Jim and I. That's a metaphor for life, ain't it?

We didn't spend too much time at Maho, so we went back towards Lienster Bay to hike around some of the Annaberg Sugar Plantation ruins. St. John has ruins of sugar plantations all over the place, but these were the least ruined we have seen so far. What bothers me about some of these places is the tendency to sugarcoat what was going on. I mean, they don't hesitate to say that labor was slaves or anything like that. However, Annaberg has a room called 'The Dungeon' that was found with a post and shackles in one corner. It was here that (so the placard said, and I'm paraphrasing): 'severe discipline was dealt'. Can't we just say 'where the slaves were whipped and tortured'? After all, we all know what went on. I may be getting picky over language, but what's the harm in being upfront about this stuff? I noticed they hadn't yet found time to replace the post and shackles as part of the upkeep of the ruins.

After the ruins, we went to Cruz Bay for lunch. We chose J.J.'s, which is an open air bar right next to the ferry and what functions as a sort of town square. The place is full of hardcore tourists arriving from the cruise ships (you know the kind of people I mean) and chickens. The two groups make sounds that are often indistinguishable from one another but, luckily, there was a kettle drum player to listen to. Good burgers.

Back to Andante for - you guessed it! - siesta, tanning, pool, tanning, dinner, book, bed. I was looking a bit red today, but that just means a tan is in my future. Despite some of the snags, it was yet another beautiful day!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Guru (1966-2010)

Very sad news today. One of the greatest rappers of all time dies of cancer. Guru (or Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) was the smoky, chilled voice of Gang Starr who, along with DJ Premier, were one of the best rap acts ever.

I bought my first Gang Starr album in 1992, and what an album it was: Daily Operation. I lucked out big time, because it's still the CD I consider the best rap album ever made. Deep lyrics, great beats, minimalist production, and one-of-a-kind MC-ing. It just never got better than that.

I followed Guru and Premier, both as Gang Starr and as solo artists. In fact, in 1996, I saw Guru perform live at the Metro in support of his Jazzmatazz, Vol. II album. The always scintillating Vanessa Daou opened for him, and then he came out with jazz legend Donald Byrd and performed a kick-ass show. Me and a friend were grooving and dancing amid an audience of every ethnicity. I've never seen such a diverse crowd at a show, before or since. It was an amazing night. And, yes, I got the T-shirt which I keep in a 'time capsule' of all sorts of belongings from that period of my life.

After that, Gang Starr reunited for a couple more albums, but they ultimately broke up. After that, Guru's music inexplicably became everything he had been fighting against during his career. So, even though the best days of his career were behind him, it's still very sad to know that such a great writer and performer is gone. He will be missed.

See ya at the crossroads.

St. John (Day 3)

This is a view of Chocolate Hole as seen from our patio. If you click to see an expanded version, you may be able to pick out the large iguana in the cactus at the lower left. We had never been to Chocolate Hole before, so we thought we'd take a look since it's within a short walk from the villa.

Of course, we drove since we were carrying all our snorkeling stuff with us. As always we're early risers so we got rock star parking. Unfortunately, Chocolate Hole was rocky, full of boats, and just didn't look very impressive. So we hopped back in the jeep and drove off to another bay we wanted to try. Another nice benefit of being somewhere we have been before, we knew the island well enough to - at a moment's notice - completely change our plans.

Instead, we went to Hawksnest Bay. This was much better! The bay was surrounded by steep hills/mountains full of thick undergrowth and palm trees. Very jungly looking and beautiful. The beach was small, but we were still ahead of the herds so we had no 'people issues'.

Hawksnest Bay had great snorkeling but, oddly, it wasn't because of the fish. There were plenty of the usual fish to see, of course, but what I liked best was the assortment of coral. A complete forest of it covered the bottom about 100 - 200 feet from shore in maybe eight feet of water (or less depending on how high the coral reached). I saw a carpet of I believe elkhorn corals stretching in a swath before me. They were yellow-green and a bit brighter than the picture here (which I pulled of the internet). Literally like a hundred of them, each about three to four feet across with green and purple sea fans in between and finger corals and grooved brain corals scattered around. It was like flying over a garden. While there were plenty of fish, I also saw a lot of crevices, nooks, and crannies. Unfortunately, I couldn't see anything hiding in them. I always take a second to look at crevices, nooks, and crannies because some really exotic stuff usually hides there: eels, groupers, and once - in the Turks and Caicos Islands - I even saw a nurse shark sleeping under some coral!

We were done snorkeling by about 10:30, so we headed back to Andante for tanning, pool time, lunch, hammock siesta, more tanning, more pool, dinner, cards, reading, and bed. During the day, there were iguana hunts and I was whistling at a brown bird which sorta seemed weirded out by me. The wildest thing was that, on the way back up the rocky road to Andante, we saw a big iguana - at least three feet long - race across the road. It's freaky to see them move so quickly because, usually, you see them sitting like bumps on a log when they sun themselves. But they can really move when they put their minds to it!

Monday, April 19, 2010

St. John Playlist

Knowing we would be tanning on the pool deck, I created a playlist for my ipod that I could pipe out onto the deck through the sound system. I picked songs that were laid back and often with a little South American flavor. Here's the playlist, and I hope maybe it's one that can be useful to others. It was very relaxing to zone out to this stuff while baking in the sun or lying in the hammock.

Venasque - Ian Pooley
Tropicalia - Blue Six
Surrender - Michiko
Momento - Bebel Gilberto
Tell Me - Wax Poetic
Speck Of Gold - Afterlife
Looking For The Sun - Aya
Quando Das Um Pouco Mais - Sara Tavares
Le Monde - Thievery Corporation
Sem Resposta - Celso Fonseca
Kissing - Bliss
Slippin' - Aya
Chiquita - Pacifika
En Cada Lugar - Federico Aubele
Ponto De Luz - Sara Tavares
Quedate - Andrea Echeverri
I've Given Enough - Blue Six
All Around - Bebel Gilberto
Feels So Nice - Michiko
Makeda - Les Nubians
Go Easy - Afterlife
Saudosismo - Rosalia De Souza
Azul - Bebel Gilberto
Moonchild - Cibo Matto
Searching - Nobukazu Takemura
Cafe Latino - PJR Peter Rooke
I Would For You - Vanessa Daou
Deep Surprise - Samantha James
Juliette - Vanessa Daou
Rain - Samantha James
Spirits - Latrice
New Beautiful Life - Newton
Besos De Sal - Federico Aubele
Previsao - Bossacucanova
Gafieira - Paula Lima
Nunca Mais - Zuco 103

St. John (Day 2)

First full day here! As usual in such settings, I get up at the ass crack of dawn and walk on the beach. It's very new-agey of me, but I can't help it. The smell of the sea and the cold wind over it in the morning is intoxicating to me.

It's actually not quite that romantic here, because the bay below the villa (Hart Bay) is not real hospitable. It's very rocky and in the rough water the sea grass is full of sea urchins the size of basketballs. The wind keeps things pretty choppy and rough. When we snorkeled here last time, Jim wasn't real keen on being tossed about by waves with the aforementioned sea urchins all around. I'm not foolhardy enough (so far) to go snorkeling here alone. The word is though that you can see sharks in the channel off this bay, which would really be something!

And just getting down to Hart Bay is a challenge/work out. There's a path from our villa to the bay, but it's very steep and made up of indifferently strewn jagged boulders running through tall grass and cacti. It's pretty thick undergrowth (see picture), and full of critters: iguanas (see picture), scorpions, spiders, anoles, assorted birds and lizards, and who knows what else! Oh yeah, and mosquitoes during some parts of the day and bugs that bite (no-see-ums?). But it didn't stop me from heading down. At heart, I'm that kid who has to put his hand on the stove to know it's still hot.

The iguana in this pic is a male (I think), and we called him Big Daddy. He looked to be around three or four feet long, and he always sunned himself on a cacti just off our deck. He was like clockwork, sunning between 7 and 8 in the morning and 4 to 6 in the evening. There was always two or three smaller iguanas in his cacti (his harem, I'm guessing?)

Anyway, by the time I got down to Hart Bay, I'd pushed through brush, swept spider webs out of my way, and probably done several things an experienced hiker would have groaned at. And I was sweaty! So it wasn't especially pleasant getting down there, and the climb back up was definitely not fun. Regardless, I had had my morning stroll.

Aside from trying to spot as many iguanas as we could from the porch (I think we saw five on the cacti right near the villa) and trying to find anoles and other small lizards (seemed to be less of them this year), I have little to report about this day. That's right, we did nothing. NOTHING! We ate breakfast at a snail's pace, tanned all morning, swam in the pool, and then I had my daily siesta in the hammock. Then it was lunch, tan, pool, dinner, and a relaxing night with cards, books, and the stars. Life in the real world had gone slap right out of our pretty little heads, and I'm proud to say we kept it exiled for the entire stay. Work/Life may be about balance, but we were fully committed to being totally unbalanced in favor of Life.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

St. John (Andante By The Sea)

I should plug the villa we've rented both times we stayed on St. John: Andante By The Sea. I totally recommend it! A couple named Marilyn and Richard own the place, and they are fantastic hosts. They have done so much to make this place perfect for visitors, and they are always available to answer questions. Really friendly couple with a great house to share.

The villa website is http://www.andantebythesea.com/. It's hard to do justice to the place in photos, but I've made an attempt with this panorama shot (click to make it much, much bigger). The railing looks all jaggeddy because it's something like a 270-degree view merged together.

Andante has everything: amazing views, privacy, a hammock in the shade of the lower deck, a big grill on the patio, a private pool and hot tub, a sound system that lets you play music anywhere in the house or decks via your ipod, and the ability to watch the sun rise and the sun set. There's also a great breeze that keeps the place cool enough so you don't need AC. The villa sits on the side of a mountain/hill, and there's a steep trail down to the bay below (Hart Bay). Not much of a beach, but the snorkeling is rumored to be pretty good. We've only given the snorkeling there a trial run so far...maybe another year we'll really check it out.

The best thing I can say about this place is that, even with all St. John has to offer, it's sometimes a tough choice whether to go out in the jeep and explore the island or kick back at the villa all day to tan and swim.

St. John (Day 1)

Flight time to St. Thomas is only about four hours (direct), so it's not bad at all. It was even nicer because we upgraded to first class which is always a good idea, because the trek to St. John isn't anywhere near over when you arrive at the airport.

Once we land on St. Thomas, we have to catch a cab with about eight other people for a winding ride across the island to Red Hook, where the ferries come in. From there, we ride the ferry over to Cruz Bay, which is one of the only two collections of buildings on St. John that can be called a town. From there, we grab our rental jeep (4-wheel drive, baby!). And head off to the villa. After checking in, we have to head right back out to stock up on food. All told, from when we woke in the morning to when we brought the groceries to the villa) it was about 10 hours. We got back, had dinner, looked out at the stars, and then went to bed.

The pic here was snapped on the ferry by a pair of lesbians we met (like all the pics I'll post, this one can be clicked on to see a larger version). It's becoming more clear to me that Jim and I can't go anywhere in this world without bumping into lesbians. And very nice lesbians who often seem to see us as quite a novelty. Like: "Wow, some boys!" I'm not too surprised by this reaction since we only seem to meet women when we travel and never any gay men. Anyway, Barbara and Deb chatted with us all the way over to Cruz Bay. Like they say: "We're everywhere!"

St. John, Virgin Islands

Just got back from our second visit to St. John! We had a great time, got very relaxed almost instantly, and got very nice tans! We did mainly all new stuff while we were there, which is amazing considering it's such a small island. I still feel like we could go back yet again and there would be plenty of new things to do and see.

For those who don't know, St. John is - unlike the other U.S. Virgin Islands - almost entirely set aside as a National Park. It's largely unspoiled, largely undeveloped, has no night life to speak of, and is not crowded. I think there's only something like 4,000 people on the whole island. Even when the cruise ships come by (and I think they land at St. Thomas), the most adventurous cruise ship denizens ferry to St. John and take these 30-seater taxis to specific 'must see' beaches. So it's easy to avoid the herds, and we often had entire beaches to ourselves or with only a few other people around.

I've put two maps in this entry (click to open) that show exactly where this island paradise is located, and I'll be posting entries just as I did with the London trip. I didn't enter anything down on St. John because I didn't bring my laptop with me. Not that there was a chance in hell I was going to log into my work email or surf YouTube rather than go outside, but part of me wanted to leave the PC and everything it represents behind.

Nice idea, but I'll never do that again! The villa had wi-fi, so I could have pulled up star charts to identify the stars we saw at night, done my blog entries on site, and maybe even researched some deep sea fishing places. Plus I could have watched DVDs on a nice large screen during the plane ride down. I should have trusted myself more. Next time, the laptop comes!

Anyway, on to the entries...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Peteradio

The latest tunes on Peteradio:

"Rondò Romano" (Redlounge Orchestra Epic Mix) - Tafubar - Awesome instrumental dance track that is super atmospheric. From the Lemongrass Music comp Lounge Du Soleil Vol. 9.

"Big Love" - MoShang - Mixes traditional Asian sounds and dance ethos. Very different!

"The Last Days of Disco" - Glam Sam and His Combo - See earlier post around this slice of dancefloor heaven. He's got a new album coming out that I'm certain to pay cose attention to!

"Chemise" - Sorcerer

"The Alkemyst" - Afterlife - Afterlife has a really chilled out sound, and the Spanish sounding guitar really adds a great vibe to this laid back track.

"Sweet Tides" - Thievery Corporation - More stuff keeps jumping out at me from the Corporation's latest release (Radio Retaliation). This has the traditional downtempo sound the boys are known for, but there's also a ballady feel to it as well. Check out the album review in another post on my blog.

"Daydreamer" - Michiko - She's got a new CD coming out soon, but I couldn't wait. Her album (of the same name) is a sophisticated piece of self-made music that shows you don't need loads of dollars and effects to make great music. Great slinky vibe on this.

Monday, April 5, 2010

'The Last Days Of Disco'

'The Last Days Of Disco' is the latest single from Glam Sam and His Combo, and it's such a great feel good song that I smile whenever I hear it. Just one example of the great stuff available from Lemongrass Music.

While surfing their website, I found this video. I'm not sure if this is strictly something created as a clip for the song or if this was a real wedding. However, if gay marriage is ever legalized, I would love it if our ceremony could have this kind of carefree energy.

Enjoy!

video

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Horatio Hornblower

So I've moved on from Herman Melville, but I'm still in the sea novel genre. I just finished Beat To Quarters the first novel C.S. Forester wrote in his eleven novel Horatio Hornblower cycle (set during the Napoleonic Wars). The book falls at about the middle of Hornblower's story chronologically, but I read it first because it seems to be the best point of entry to see if you like the novels and want to read more. I do.

Beat To Quarters was written in 1937, so there's a lot more psychology in this book than in earlier periods of lit. That said, the book is mostly a sea adventure, rather than anything deep like Melville. The core of the book is the character of Horatio Hornblower, and it works because he seems very real to me. He's an excellent sailor and captain, heroic really, but in his own mind he has a lot of doubts and he views himself as cowardly and weak. Naturally, he always keeps a 'stiff upper lip' before his men.

I found that his internal dialogue helped me relate to the situations in the book in a greater degree, as it made me understand more clearly what was at stake in each situation. Hornblower certainly has flaws, but Beat To Quarters was written well before the 'flawed hero' transformed into today's whining anti-hero, so there's no sense of the author begging you to pity his hero. There's still enough of that old Romanticist tradition in the story to keep this an engaging adventure story.

The plot is rather thin, overall, but I found it to be a diverting read with a well-drawn main character. I actually felt like I learned something about leadership based on the qualities and behaviors Hornblower engaged in. I'll probably start reading the books in order of his life if/when I pick up the next one.

'Herman Melville Crazy'

Okay, I have officially fallen short in my goal in reading all of Herman Melville's novels in the order they were written in. The truth is that I have found Melville's novels - for the most part - deserve the praise or scorn that they have earned over the years. Since his novels after Moby Dick are largely ignored (as they were at the time he published them), I'm not really motivated to read them.

Still, 6 out of 9 (I'm not counting Billy Budd as a novel) is not bad. The ones I didn't get to are Pierre (infamously panned in an article titled 'Herman Melville Crazy'), Israel Potter, and The Confidence-Man. The only other work of his that I have read was one of his short stories (Bartleby, the Scrivener). It was an interesting piece that was almost proto-modern in its style and the depiction of the title character.

So long for now Hermy. But life twists and turns, so maybe I will return to you someday and finish what I started.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hawt Car

On a recent business trip, I was able to enjoy a very nice ride! I've never gone 115 miles per hour in a car before, so this was definitely a first. I could feel the engine working, as well as the pick up during acceleration. I now understand why people in these little zoom-zoom cars go flying by so fast. What a thrill!

I only wish that I had brought my ipod hookup so I could have listened to some out of control techno. That would have been nirvana! Or some of that death metal I was writing about before. Pretty yellow car and Celtic Frost. Sounds like a great combo to me!

The business trip was a big success, so everything worked out well all around.