28 August 2013


Twenty-five years ago, I think today, I landed in New York and started pounding the pavement in search of an apartment near NYU, where The Mate was starting film school while I was in search of a job.

I remember getting thoroughly lost in search of Perry Street, deep in the West Village, and feeling even more lost when I stumbled on the intersection of West 4th and West 10th, because if I knew anything about New York, it was The Grid north of Houston.

I stopped in a pizza place and ordered two slices and a lemonade for $2.50 and was completely baffled when the guy behind the counter asked, "T-steh-o-d-go?"
"T-STEH....  O-D-GO."
Oh, oh, for here.

We ended up on West 15th Street.  On Sundays I might jog down Washington Street toward the World Trade Center, or wander about the meat-packing district, where the only other soul might be a stray dog or a  lingering lady of the night.  Sometimes I went to the trash transfer station on the Hudson River and marveled at the amounts of garbage my fellow New Yorkers produced.

On Sunday mornings, we might bike to the Cloisters or to Coney Island, seeing the panorama of humanity from all over the world along the way.

We lived in Chelsea for two years, then moved to the East Village for fourteen, then spent five years in Washington Heights, and a few years ago landed in the Lower East Side.

One of my favorite things to do these days is to walk the dog along the East River in the evening and stop mid-way between the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, just too far to hear the traffic on either, and watch as the subways snake their way across.  The surface of the water flickers with reflected light and joggers and bikers pass quietly behind me and I'm at peace.

Twenty-five years later, I'm still crazy in love with this city.

18 August 2013


After six weeks traveling through Germany, Switzerland and Italy by train, with the occasional bus or cab ride, I found myself in quick succession on several of the major highways in the Northeast Corridor.

People alone, or in pairs or tiny groups, in their individual metal boxes on wheels, hurtling in the same direction, other boxes inches away on either side and a few feet ahead and behind.

It suddenly struck me as completely insane.


The conventional wisdom is that the US doesn't have the population density to support an efficient public transit system.  But between, say, Baltimore and Boston at the very least, that's just ridiculous, and the fact that it doesn't exist represents a failure of political and public will, not of logistics.

Shortly after I arrived home and after taking numerous efficient train trips, I took New Jersey transit to work.  My route is 55 miles long and typically takes an hour and 40 minutes -- averaging a little better than 30 miles per hour.  That day, heavy rain caused power problems, so the actual average speed was closer to 15 miles an hour.

That also struck me as completely insane.

If New Jersey, and the entire northeast, had an efficient high-speed rail system, paid by federal, state and local governments to the same extent as (or better yet, more than) the existing highway network, if trains were clean and comfortable, then people would actually want to take the train.

And if more people took the train, there would be less pollution, fewer car accidents, lower operating costs for roads and bridges (because less wear and tear).   People could be healthier if they walked or biked between train stations and home and/or work rather than driving door to door.


Leaving your own culture for a while lets you see it more clearly when you return.  Our public transit funding is ridiculous.

11 August 2013

In My Pack...

... just in case you were wondering.

Shirts with buttons: two short-sleeved, one sleeveless, one very light-weight with long sleeves.  Stretch shirts: one long-sleeved, tank top purchased during the trip; fleece sweater.  One short-sleeved shirt would have sufficed.

Zip-off pants, skort, knee-length shorts, and long underwear.  Could have left skort or shorts behind; a longer skirt (for going into churches and the Vatican) would have been useful.

One necklace, one pair of earrings.

Rain pants, rain jacket, Polartec hat, neck gaiter, gloves, scarf.  Jacket used once during a quick rain shower at the top of a ridge, scarf used in the evenings at high altitude, the rest unused, because the weather was so warm and dry.  I'd carry them again, except for the scarf -- could have used the neck gaiter.

Sunscreen and sun hat, used extensively.  I'm going to be on the lookout for a hat with a wider brim.

Four pairs of socks, four pairs of underwear, two bras, two-piece swimsuit; hiking boots and sandals.  Three pairs of socks would have been enough; the swimsuit wasn't used enough to justify carrying.

First aid kit and space blanket.  Unused (this is good) except for Band-aids and the occasional Tylenol or Advil.  Rehydration powder packets added to first aid kit after The Offspring got heat stroke.

Sheet sleeping sack and quick-dry travel towel (for mountain huts).  Used less than expected: the huts, except the most remote ones, are getting more like hostels or even hotels.  Bandanna.

Soap and (bar) shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, disposable razor, panty liners, Diva Cup.  (Way less hassle than any other method of dealing with the red tide, especially while traveling.)

A roll of toilet paper.

Camera, very old Kindle, chargers for both, and plug adapter.  No phone or other wireless/web device: a bit tricky given that phone booths and internet cafes are vanishing.

Maps, sections of guide books, compass, head lamp, notebook and pencils, train tickets and room reservations, passports, wallet, copy of Offspring's birth certificate. Harmonica: unused.

Lightweight backpack, lightweight shopping bag.  Quart and gallon zip lock bags used to store and sort food; two-gallon bags intended to keep clothing dry unneeded given the weather.  Very small purse, used to carry essentials while not hiking.  The lightweight backpack turned out to be too fragile and of limited use; a larger shoulder bag and/or better day pack would have been helpful.

Two 40-ounce stainless steel water bottles and a four-liter water bag (the latter unused).  The stainless bottles are kind of heavy; I'm tempted to go back to plastic.

Food.  I wished I had dehydrated beans and/or hummus to reconstitute.  After four days of hiking, I broke down and ate the Speck: I couldn't get enough protein from potatoes and polenta, even with nuts to munch on, and I was feeling increasingly weak.  Few beans and no tofu to be had in the mountain huts.  Pocket knife and a plastic fork, spoon, and knife.

10 August 2013

Less is Less

Six weeks traveling in Europe out of a backpack, with no phone or internet, no email, no facebook, no twitter, no blogger, no news.  Connecting face to face with The Mate and the Offspring, with friends and family in Switzerland, with fellow travelers in the Dolomites and in Rome.  One ancient Kindle among the three of us.

The trip taught me something I've learned, and forgotten, before: I am happier with less.

Less stuff, an issue I've chronicled in this blog in the past.  But also less input.

Over the past few years, I've cancelled the catalogues, cut down on magazine subscriptions, unsubscribed from junk mail, eliminated telemarketing by getting rid of my land line.

But somehow I've signed on to a plethora of email subscriptions and Facebook groups resulting in a constant stream of messages about petitions to sign, political situations to be enraged about, foods to eat, exercises to avoid, and the reverse.  And then there's Twitter, Academia.edu, LinkedIn, and the news.  Always the news.

Cutting back is a project.  Going through six weeks of email and signing off all the subscription lists took hours.  Going through drawers and closets and cabinets full of stuff is an even bigger project, one I've been chipping away at for months.

But also: fewer commitments, fewer conferences, fewer projects tumbling simultaneously in the air.

The to-do list is long, there's a large pile of mail from the past six weeks, and preparation for the semester ahead is looming.  I don't know how long I can hold on to this thought.  But I'm going to try.