The Lost World – thru stamps

Back in the early ‘50s, my uncle was given a stamp collection book (“The New World Wide Postage Stamp Album” from Minkus Publications) by his father, a railroad engineer on the Philadelphia trains, who married a young immigrant from Scotland. My uncle kept this book for a while, but bequeathed it to me many, many years ago. Most of the stamps that were supposed to be collected, never were; probably due to our meager living, likely not out of lost of interest. Those that remained in this album have been examined, visited and re-visited several times. A story of the adventure, the land, the sights and sounds captured in the ink and paper of the stamps beckoned me over the years, somewhat like Peter Pan who enticed those who still believed and still had an imagination.

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A Lost World

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There was a time, not too long ago, before the ubiquitous mayhem of media and instantaneous information, where imagination ruled. It was a time when dreams inspired travel and the exploration of other cultures and lands. Sadly, that era has passed away and can only be recalled by the memories of those fortunate enough to live in the sunset of that time.

To those under 40, they may have only a slight vague recollection. To those under 25 this is pure bullshit. But to those born in the ‘60s there was a time when that little Zenith TV, which got only 3 VHF channels, and maybe access to the Encyclopedia Britannica was the only gateway to the world outside of America, let alone their county. Vietnam was talked about, but only in hushed tones and maybe by the rare 5-minute clip of some harried reporter in black-and-white talking about a conflict that was as remote as the Seleka uprising in the Central African Republic is today in 2014.

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Essentially, in 1969, children were more aware of the moon then they were of places that didn’t speak English, wore different clothing or were not in the Soviet sphere. In a nutshell, the world was a mysterious domain. Places like Ceylon, Siam and Tanganyika are shuttled away into the archives of the Lost World.

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Today, of course, the world has shrunk down to the size of a walnut and when a cocoa worker in Sierra Leone develops a fever from Ebola it’s brought quite literally to our doorsteps. On August 23rd 2011, when an earthquake hit Virginia, people along the east coast knew about it from Twitter before they actually felt it. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204394804577009980037533446

Information is good. Information is bad. But in a time before information, we filled in the empty borders of the world with imagination. And imagination of an unexplored world has flown away. Forever.

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Autumn Photography – In My Backyard

Still working on my photographical skills. They say an infinite amount of monkeys typing will eventually produce a work of Shakespeare, so an infinite amount of amateurs will eventually produce one awesome photo. This monkey will keep trying.

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Nashville Skyline

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Have you ever been in a restaurant where you see an item on the menu, but for whatever reason you just didn’t have the time or opportunity to try? Or DVR’d a show that you never just got the time to watch?

Have you ever passed through a city and for whatever reason didn’t get a chance to walk about and see things from the ground level?

Last month I had the chance to spend 4 days in Nashville on business. And it was business – ALL business. These folks I was with took their purpose above and beyond the call of duty. Our function was to attend a convention at Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland convention center, and if you’ve never been there, it’s an enclosed city to the likes of Biosphere II, Masdar City in Abu Dhabi or even the ‘the City of Gold’ from John Christopher’s “The City of Gold and Lead”. A hermetically sealed village that is the brainchild of Walt Disney, Dolly Parton and Buckminster Fuller all combined, if such a child could ever be allowed to function. One could live there comfortably, provided you had a fat wallet or resilient credit card, for an endless period of time. It hosts 2800 rooms arranged in such a way that Hiram Bingham would be challenged to find his way about.

This hermitically sealed biosphere, complete with Starbucks, shopping malls and a lazy river is intoxicating to hoards of country bumpkins who release their guards and succumb to this new world. But like the character from the video game Fall Out III, that adventurous soul will eventually yearn to break free (like from Vault 101) and explore the essence of downtown Nashville.

I managed to convince 2 of my conference co-horts to escape with me to downtown Nashville; one was difficult to persuade because he was a true dyed in the wool company man; the other was easier to con because he was a naïve new guy but more importantly, the one with the rental car.

It was a Saturday at around 10 am and we parked the car near Broadway and hiked our way through the unusually cold and blustery wind along the unforgiving concrete sidewalks to Puckett’s on Church Street. As quaint as quaint can be, charming, down home but not too kitschy as to be some sort of Disney-fied theme park. Good foods but expect a very long wait for those biscuits with sausage gravy.

Broadway in Nashville is definitely an experience for the unaided. They call Nashville the Music City and this is a moniker well deserved. Just about every location along the 5-6-block stretch is either a bar, a boot store, a bar, a souvenir shop, a bar, a bar or a boot store (with cowboy hats). And the bars. At noon every location was jumping with live music and lively crowds. More authentic fun per square foot than probably anyplace else I’ve been (Vegas is complete artificial conjuring), save ‘Narw’leans’.

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By the time we got to the original Grand Ole Opry, we stumbled upon a local man, casually dressed in his early 20s clearly inebriated from either the hard night before or more likely that morning – hard to tell and not worth exploring either way. As we stood outside this sacred cathedral of country music, he began to speak in non-sequiturs as to make my head spin. Something about being a gleam in his pop’s eye, bluegrass, booze, country music appreciation 101, his drunken state and so forth. Imagine having a gibberish voice recording of Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” novel and playing it backwards – that’s about the sum of it. I made my escape slowly and carefully, as if he were some black bear in Alaska, so as to not disturb his mental state but enough to leave this scene.

After awhile it was clear who the tourists were and who were the scam artists and roadside musicians fishing for handouts. There’s lots of fun but there’s also a stratified layer of struggling artists, locals busting their ass for meager wages, out of town tourists gawking about and drunken fools to fill up this sausage known as Nashville.

There is music history, LOTS and lots of music history, free spirits and fun, if you can afford it. If you can’t there’s always a chance to take out a guitar, open up the weather-beaten case and wish for success. Nashville is also like other cities in that it has an over abundance of dreams. Plenty enough to go around.

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How does one write and create when one’s life is in turmoil?

How does the woman who works 10 hours a day as a waitress then another 20 hours a week at the local Wal-Mart be able to have the energy to write poetry, or an essay, or a blog?

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How does the soldier who gets up at 0300 and begins to don his battle rattle to face another long enduring day of patrol, knowing that the dead dog on the side of the road could be a hidden IED, or that the smiling face of a young local boy masks the evil intent of a suicide bomber, be able to write down his precious thoughts about love and journeys and aimless goals?

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How does the battered wife, who faces the pit of dread each day as the clock ticks down closer to the impending hour of doom whence she must meet her tormentor to face more abuse and terror, when the knot grows even more tighter and tighter in her stomach and the anxiety builds like some crashing tsunami wave upon her soul, have the time and freedom to write about the hopes of joys, the mundane blathering of recipes or the postings on Facebook of her child’s soccer games status?

During intense personal struggles when does one have the opportune time to be able to have the freedom to relax and put down on electronic media the light-hearted observations of life and blissful joys?

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Charles Bukowski chastised potential writers in his poem “air and light and time and space” about the necessity to write, EVEN during times of stress. Writing should not be a leisurely act created during moments of spare time when the perfect environment permitted the space. Writing should be done in spite of the ‘Sturm und Drang’ that one faces in one’s life.

It’s a tough spot to be, and I don’t want to wish anyone the torment of one’s own personal battles to have to relive it on paper. You cannot have the legitimacy to write about the horrors of war if you have never slipped on a pair of combat boots, laced up and bloused the pants, and seen the bizarre random surreal-ness of war. You could try, if you’ve never experienced it, but you’ll lose in the authenticity and be exposed as a fraud.

As my mother once said, “every one has their cross to bear”. Some have heavier crosses and everyone’s struggles are relative to their own experience and how they are equipped to deal with them. Documenting them during these times of turmoil is at another level.

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“air and light and time and space”

— you know, I’ve either had a family, a job, something 
has always been in the
 way 
but now
 I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this 
place, a large studio, you should see the space and 
the light.
 for the first time in my life I’m going to have a place and the time to
 create.”

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
welfare,
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your
body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented,
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses
for.
– Charles Bukowski

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Eating Tropical Fish – Caveat Emptor

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Whether you’re in a foreign land for 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years, there’s always a temptation to “go native”. This act of untethering that cord to your known customs and courtesies to experience what the locals do is enticing but not without risks.

Those who “go native” in the extreme and live to tell (or blog) about it are the poster-children for this exuberant embrace of the other side of your known culture. I remember the story of one Air Force pilot from my squadron, who on a trip through Africa in the ‘90s had 2 days off from duty and wandered away into the unknown of Tanzania. When he resurfaced into civilization, a ‘la Colonel Kurtz he told of stories of living with some random family off the grid, away from the cities playing drums by the raging fire of some mud hut. I suspect some sort of drugs may have been an invited guest at this party. Nonetheless, “Chuck”, who was a California surfer in a previous life, walked back after going native, even for 2 days and was able to tell about it. But it’s the ones who suffer some sort of malady, disease, criminal mischief or worse, which we tend to blot out of our romantic notion of extreme travel.

I’m building the case for something that’s actually mundane, but excuse me while I set the narrative.

I was in Guam for a period of time and the house I was living in on base had a charcoal grill that was handed down from each temporary duty (TDY) person like some baton. Grilling up steaks, chicken and whatnot are fun and delicious, but after awhile, I was getting either a bit bored or adventurous, or maybe both and was looking for something “native”.

A few miles off base there’s a local supermarket. And when I say local I mean 99% of the customers are Chamorran. Guam being Guam is a US territory, but even there, there are places that locals protect as their own. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to explore the local supermarket. Shopping malls tend to want to emulate western commercialism, but what the locals shop for and eat, in open display, speak more volumes on cultural anthropology than almost anything else.

So, as I hovered around the seafood section I was intrigued by some of the “local” fresh fish for sale (local meaning Philippines and/or Papua New Guinea). The colors, shapes and names of these fish were unlike anything I would see at a Wegman’s back in New Jersey. Should I buy the Rabbit fish or the Parrotfish?

But it was at this moment that a sublime voice echoed in my head. Just like the character Charles Foster Kane in ‘Citizen Kane’, who whispers softly “rosebud”, this voice was quietly saying “Fat Soup”. If you’re confused about “Fat Soup”, please read my blog at:

http://kuppajodotcom.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/fat-soup/

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This nagging voice was telling me to find out how to cook these exotic tropical fish, properly. So, without an iPhone on this island I went back to my rented house and searched using that thing we call the Internet. And while doing a search for “how to cook parrotfish” I found out something disturbing. It seems that tropical fish of the South Pacific tend to eat coral, or local algae, which can contain toxins, which get absorbed in the fish, and when eaten, get absorbed by the human.

What kind of toxin are we talking about? How about ciguatera, which can be a very nasty end to a wonderful experience. It seems to be the gift that keeps on giving, sometimes up to 20 years. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations and even some that mimic Multiple Sclerosis. What kinds of tropical fish can carry this toxin: Groupers (Lapu-lapu), Parrotfish and Barracuda.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciguatera

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Am I exaggerating the dangers of Ciguatera from a supermarket? I don’t know, because after initial research, and the past experience of Fat Soup, which caused the sudden and repeated excavation of every parcel of food and bodily waste from my entire internal organs over a 36-hour period, with the unintended benefit of losing over 5 pounds of body mass, I was just a bit gun-shy.

http://fijimarinas.com/poisonous-fish-in-fiji/

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In the end, I walked away from buying the parrotfish from the market. Was I too neurotic and risk-averse, let alone gastric paranoid? I’m sure. But I figured that in my life, there’s enough weird shit that I have to face every day, that I don’t need the hallucinations from ciguatera to enhance this lovely experience. I’ll go native, but at a time and place of my choosing, and on my terms.

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Posted in essay, food, military, Nature, ocean, seafood, shopping, South Pacific, travel, travel safety, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alaska – In Search of the Elusive Arctic Grayling

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I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a hunter, but I’m not against hunting. I like to fish, but my version of fishing is to hang bait on a hook and let it marinate in the water for endless periods of time. Long ago I did a Cost Benefit Analysis and realized that, while there is a stoic serene pleasure of the art of fishing, if I have to provide sustenance at the end of the day it’s more beneficial (and easier) to just avoid the cost of gas, bait, whatnot and just go to the local supermarket and buy the damned thing. If out in the wild, I’d probably trade tools, furs or whatever implements of survival for a nice fresh culled moose. If I were on an expedition with Teddy Roosevelt, I’d be that guy who gets chased by the lion or attacked by piranhas.

But I will not pass up a chance to go fishing, especially if it’s in an exotic place. Also, if there’s no better travel options. But I do like to give fishing another chance at the roulette wheel of sport. So, when I was in Alaska in the mid-90s for a military deployment, the offer was made and I jumped like a wild salmon at the opportunity.

We had a weekend off from our military duties, and I was invited by 2 cohorts, Andy and Steve to pitch in on the rental of a Ford Expedition. Our plan was to rent fishing gear and all the accouterments at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation center on base, stock up on provisions and drive like bats out of hell towards the wilderness.

Being the novice I am, when I was at the MWR I passed a requisition slip to the haggard-looking man at the desk for the various equipment I would need. Under interrogation I was asked about which type fly fishing rod, lures and other particulars I would need. I just wanted something, and was definitely out of my element in this arena. I felt like that guy on a TV game-show that when asked the $64,000 question, would freeze up and assume that famous look of the deer in the headlights.

During this time in Alaska, it was mid-June so the sun practically never set. If you’ve never experienced this, it will definitely shake your circadian rhythm about.

Our first stop was outside Fairbanks. We parked the truck and made our way to what seemed like a nice spot. Up until then I had never tried fly-fishing in my life, but this, like other episodes in my life, was when I was willing to give it a sporting chance. Very little expectations and potentially big rewards.

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Fly-fishing for those who’ve never done it, is a series of cascading whips of the rod, with the appropriate lure on the end (specifically chosen for the target and region – you wouldn’t want to entice a 9-year old with prune juice or a 90-year old with a skateboard). This methodical wrist-action and bullwhip of the line can be tricky, but even an amateur like myself can make it look passable.

After a few hours at our first spot, with no luck, we decided to pull up our stakes and get even further north to Denali National Park. Both of my travelling companions talked up the mystery of the Arctic Grayling. This fish only exists in the wild in cold, northern Arctic waters (hence, of course, its name). My local fishing experience consisted of sunnies, catfish and maybe trout.

At the end of the first day, we caught some trout, but not enough for what we hoped for, and definitely not the elusive Arctic Grayling.

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We parked the Expedition on the side of the road at about midnight, which looked like noon at this time. Tired and exhausted, we pulled our ball caps over our eyes and went to sleep inside the truck. Or tried to. At about 4:30 in the morning, with the sun still hanging low in the sky, I was woken by the sound of 2 grown men snoring, so I decided to go outside alone and stretch my legs. For an urban Easterner, the sprawling McKinley Mountains can be truly mesmerizing. The grandeur of the snow-capped mountains is a sight one can never tire of. I walked and walked to explore more and more of this beauty. I was a ways away from the truck when I noticed a glacier slope to the west, and I wanted to keep walking and seeing more. But then a thought dawned on me – Alaska has quite a few bears in its population. And they are territorial. I decided that my walkabout was enough and sauntered the 2 miles or so back to the Expedition.

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At about 7 in the morning we packed up and drove to the nearest tavern for a bit of food. As we walked in, there were the locals sitting, caressing their tall neck Budweisers for company. Spoiler alert: Alaskans drink a lot. After a short reprieve we headed back out for more fishing. We finally found a spot alongside a nice hill and tried once more. Using the wrist-action and bullwhip, I landed the lure on top of the lake in the crisp clean air. Suddenly, a tease of a tug and then a slight yank of the line and a determined resistance. Reeling in, with a playful fight, I brought the prey closer and closer and when he came up to the surface I had finally caught my first Arctic Grayling. The sun was bright, the water cool, and I had my trophy. TR would’ve been proud.

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