Sunday, April 29, 2007

More trucks!

What is with the trucks-carrying-trucks thing in PA?


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The two capitals of Bolivia are La Paz and Sucre

A couple of months back, Sean posted about Clicky, a website that monitors traffic on websites. I joined up, and since then I check in almost daily to see who is looking at my site, why, and from where. I definitely did not get visitors from strange searches like Sean did (although yesterday somebody landed here by searching for "au pair smoking marijuana". In fact, nearly every visitor I get either comes here directly (i.e. already knows about my site) or finds it through a search about something Latin America-related. The most interesting result is that at least once a day, and usually twice, someone arrives at Distant Wanderings by searching for information about Bolivia's capitals.

So here's your answer: La Paz is the administrative capital, and Sucre is the constitutional capital. Although really, I'm not exactly sure what that all means. For old time's sake, here is my old post on this topic.

The searches that lead curious web denizens to my site may not be all that varied, but sometimes they are funny. Here are today's:

  • Google search, Dearborn, MI: "What are the two capitals of Bolivia"
  • Google search, Rohnert Park, CA: "Sassy magazine blogger"
  • Google search, Colombia, SC: "Interesting facts on the Incas and human sacrifices"
  • Google search, Colts Neck, NJ: "'temple of fertility' 'visit get pregnant'"
  • Google search, Sumiswald, Switzerland: "bus movi peru"
  • Google search, Dublin, Ireland: "Funny coca leaf slogans"

    (I also had visitors from Bucharest, Romania; Chihuahua, Mexico; New York, NY; Appleton, WI; Mount Vernon, NY; Timmins, Canada; Geneva, IL; Duebendorf, Switzerland; and San Antonio, TX, but I don't know how these people arrived here.)

    EDIT: It turns out that that visitor from San Antonio is actually ME! How strange. I have no idea why it shows up that way.

  • Monday, April 23, 2007

    A Word of Warning

    If you ever plan on spending several hours driving across Pennsylvania, let me extend you this piece of advice: for the love of god, bring your own music! Of, if love of God is your kind of thing, you might as well leave the radio on, considering the abundance of Christian rock. Aside from that, there is a lot of country, Christian country, and cheesy, unbearable pop, mixed in with the occasional hair-rock hit from the 80s. If you find yourself, as I did this weekend, without your own entertainment, this makes for a looooooong drive, with nothing to distract you besides the abundant and varied roadkill (deer, of course, cats, raccoons, possum, small unidentified rodents, a fox and even a turkey).

    And disconcerting sights like this:
    Funny sight on the highway

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    It's a Small World After All

    In 1999-2000, I worked for an au pair agency. I dealt with a lot of au pair and host family applications and over time I've forgotten most of them. The ones that I do remember (aside from the troublesome ones) stayed in my memory for a number of reasons: some were male au pairs, some had unusual names, some sent interesting applications, and some stood out because of success with their host families. One was all of those things. He had a very unusual Eastern European name, he had interesting hobbies, and during the year he got involved with local performance groups and branched out into the community. During the year he lived in the U.S. he was interviewed for at least one article about male au pairs. But it was especially the name that I remembered.

    Today my department hosted a reception, and many people from all over the university attended. As I stood talking with my supervisor in the lobby--incidentally, talking about the company I used to work for--in walked one of the guests of honor, an older woman, and with her a PhD student who lives at her home. I looked at his name tag, and there it was--that name! Eight years later, there was that same former au pair, now studying for a doctorate in Special Education. He doesn't remember me, of course, which is a good thing, since the only reason he would have had to talk to me was if he had had trouble with his host family.

    If I was making this story up, he would have told me a story about how his year as an au pair changed his life, and influenced his decision to become an educator; he would have told me stories about regular reunions with his host family and with the other au pairs he met that year. In reality, he had to think for a second before he remembered the family's name, and most likely his interest in education was the reason he became an au pair in the first place. But still, it was really fun to see someone that I remembered from back then! And a reminder of what a tiny world we live in.

    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    Fleece Me, Man!

    Last week, E! showed The Big Lebowski several times, and I watched it twice. When I saw that it was going to be on, I wondered how the censors were going to manage to show that movie without completely butchering it. If you've seen the movie, you know the language in it is, er...colorful. If you haven't seen it or need a reminder, check out some sample dialogue. The answer is, they didn't. I'd even say, they can't...the movie is just too full of profanity to gracefully dub for TV. But it was a valiant effort, and when you're not looking at the TV it doesn't sound obviously dubbed. However, the rewritten lines were completely silly! Besides that, the plot was irreparably damaged by the cutting of a large number of entire scenes, including the confrontation in the bowling alley to the accompaniment of the Gipsy Kings' version of Hotel California and, for no good reason that I can fathom, Aimee Mann's brief cameo as a German nihilist with nine toes.

    The dubbed dialogue was amusing in its ridiculousness; here is a sampling of my favorite lines. According to IMDB, the F-bomb was dropped more than 280 times in the film, so you don't have to have seen it to guess what the original lines were:

  • Fleece me, man! The kid spent all the money!
  • You don't like my music, get out of my peaceful cab!
  • They killed my Ford car!
  • You see what happens, Donny? You see what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!?
  • We chop you up, man! I chop you! I chop you! / I kick you! I kick you!
    and my favorite:
  • They peed on my valued rug! -That's right, Dude. They peed on your valued rug.

  • Monday, April 09, 2007

    Vacation Report: Part Quatre

    Well, seeing as it's been two weeks since I returned home from my vacation, it's time to wrap up the story and move on. The basic reason for my trip was the ten-year-anniversary of the year I spent studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. My three closest friends from that year and I have been planning this reunion for the past five years, since two of them and I celebrated our five year reunion! This time, we decided to reunite in style, by renting a house--not in Aix, but in a small town called Vaison-la-Romaine, in a part of Provence none of us were familiar with. It's a beautiful area, surrounded by rolling hills, ancient villages, vineyards, fields of olive trees and lavendar--none of which, unfortunately, were in bloom in this cold season.

    I haven't seen these friends all that often over the past years, although we've stayed close by e-mail and the visits we have had. We live in very different areas: Oakland, Portsmouth (NH) and Geneva, so it was very exciting to be together--and it was better than I could have ever expected. We had a fabulous time! We drove all around the region, visiting towns, having long lunches, tasting wine and seeing the sights. We also had some adventures! These stories probably fit into the you-had-to-be-there category, but amongst the highlights were:

  • Allowing Claire (Kristin's friendly GPS system) to guide us to the Avignon TGV station to pick up Harriet, only to put Claire away and get lost in "le petit Guatemala" and narrowly avoid running over a chicken.
  • Hiking through a vineyard to reach the ancient ruins at the top of the town of Séguret, then getting caught in crazy Provencal weather on the way down, providing a vocabulary lesson: "les giboulées de Mars" (March downpours, like our "April showers" only more so)
  • Making Belgian BFFs, discussing American politics and the Belgian divorce rate over a long lunch, promising to send them postcards when we return home.
  • Causing a yoga instructor to jump out of the shower and into a pair of skin-tight gray leopard-print spandex pants in order to show us her pottery.
  • Encountering a real-life Town Crier and interviewing him about his round-the-world travels and ascention to the Town Crier throne (er..pedestal)
    Crieur Publique
  • Visiting a town called "God made it" to look at pottery that was supposedly ugly but which, in fact, we all kind of liked.
  • Continuing the quest for perfect pottery, driving down a winding side road to a 500-year-old castle to see cups and bowls described by our landlords as "beautiful" and "reasonably priced". Finding neither of these to be true, but having spent a long time chatting with the potter's husband and discovering the three degrees of separation between him and Kristin, we make purchases anyway. Then we get a tour of the castle and have tea and 20-year-old cookies.
    Tea at Marc and Tristan's chateau (Photo courtesy of Mollie)
  • Being like adopted daughters at this point, we agree to play a practical joke on the potters' son Barnaby, a former flutist who is building an apartment building out of bricks and plastic. He helps himself to ALL of the cookies we offer, but in the end we don't mind because he is cute, in a mountain-man kind of way.
  • Returning home each evening to cook a meal, open a bottle of wine and catch up with each other late into the night, discussing our lives, relationships, and jobs, and reminiscing about our year in Aix.
  • Conducting a highly scientific comparison test of the pastries and chocolates of many of the local bakeries:

    It was a perfect week...although unfortunately the weather wasn't perfect. But hopefully we'll get some sun for our next reunion, five years from now.

    Before heading home I made a quick stop in Lyon and got a tour from my friend Thibaut, who I met in Chile. Lyon is a very pretty city. It's also home to a recent installment of the worldwide "Free Hugs" movement, which resulted in my You Tube debut.

  • Wednesday, April 04, 2007

    Vacation Report: Part Drei

    I used to live in Switzerland. I moved there for my job, after living in Amsterdam, and at first I was dubious about my new home. I had loved living in the Netherlands and like a stubborn child I was sure that nothing could replace it. And it was true, Switzerland could never take that special place in my heart, but over time it managed to burrow its own little hole there. It is a beautiful country; the kind of beauty that always takes you by surprise. Even when you think you've seen it all, you'll turn a corner on a mountain pass and gasp at the view in front of you. But some of the other qualities that I loved were double-edged swords. Its people are highly efficient and highly organized--and highly inflexible. Everything is impeccably clean and well-maintained--and if not, your neighbors will complain. Rules are meant to be followed, and you can count on cars stopping for you if you are in a crosswalk--but you risk being yelled at if you cross the street when the light is red. (It's true, it happened to me twice).

    So when I headed back to Lucerne for the first time in almost two and a half years, I was unsure what kind of emotions I would feel. Would I be filled with regret? Would I wish I had never left? After a few days revisiting the town, I was pleased (and relieved) to realize that the answer was no. I felt fondness, and nostalgia, and was reminded of the good times I had while living there. But those good times, I realized, were tied to the people I knew there, not the place itself. So the best part of my trip was the time I spent with my friends there. We couldn't believe it had been so long, and if it weren't for the intervening life events (engagements, marriages, three babies born!) it would have seemed like just yesterday that I saw them last.

    Aside from visiting with friends and a few walks around and in the hills above town (and a few opportunities to practice my German, which came out of hibernation after a couple of days), the other main event of my visit to Lucerne was a beautiful day of skiing at Gemstock Ski Resort, near the town of Andermatt. I could not have asked for a better day to go skiing or better conditions. The sky was blue and the weather was warm enough to sit outside in the sun with no jackets for an hour and a half at lunch, but the snow was perfect and the views were amazing! When I lived in Switzerland I used to go skiing every weekend whenever possible, and having only skied twice in the past two years, I was in serious withdrawal, and this was just what I needed...until next winter.

    Alisa & Me at Gemstock Juan, Luki, Alisa, Me Friends Andermatt

    Sunday, April 01, 2007

    Vacation Report: Part Two (of Four)

    After spending a day reminiscing with Sylvine and Celia, and looking at ALL of our photos (approximately 8,492,797 in total), I took the tube ($8! I swear that's the last time...but really...$8!) to Paddington Station and with nary an abandoned bear in sight, caught a train to Overton, the bucolic new home of my friends Kathrine and Tom. They bought a house last summer and have been living the domestic life, gardening, painting, scraping wallpaper, etc. They have a beautiful garden complete with a small pond (at the moment filled with frog eggs), a tiny gazebo, and a paddock in back (their next-door neighbors are actually using it for its intended purpose--keeping a horse). After a busy day in London, this was the perfect place to relax for a few days. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and we went walking in the fields, had lunch at the pub, and strolled around town. One day we watched England play France at rugby. This was lots of fun, even if I didn't understand it all and had to ask the occasional question to figure out what was happening ("what was that penalty for?" "are they allowed to lift them up like that??" "do ALL the players have cauliflower ear???"). But once I got a grip on the rules, it was a really exciting game, especially with Tom and Kathrine and their friend Al yelling at the TV (while his fiancee Rowan, fearing disappointment, hid behind a newspaper), and England won, which made it even better.

    One day Kathrine took me on a tourist excursion. First stop was Stonehenge. It's a pretty impressive circle of stones, I must admit.
    However, I also must admit that we were too cheap to pay the entrance fee (you can't even go near the stones anyway) so we had to stay outside the fence, and instead of an audioguide I had Kathrine and later Wikipedia to inform me about interesting Stonehenge historical facts.
    Kathrine & me at Stonehenge

    Later we continued to Bath, where we had lunch and shopped for lampshades. For the rest of the time we just hung out, had dinner with their friends, and watched amusing new reality TV shows. We ate curry, cake and treacle, and digestive biscuits and had tea. It was all very fun, very relaxing, and very English.