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All posts for the month July, 2015

This was originally scheduled to be posted on Independence Day of 2015, only I was just getting the hang of writing posts and scheduling them for later, so I accidentally posted it on June 22.  I’ve triple-checked and made sure that my attempt to pre-schedule this post worked.  I’m typing this paragraph on July 10, 2015, but if all goes as planned, it should post on July 20, 2015.


 

I figured I would start the Northern Illinois Destinations posts with one of my family’s Fourth of July traditions, the Taste of Chicago Festival in Grant Park, Chicago.  I cannot remember specifically what year we started going to Taste of Chicago.  The festival started in 1980, so it certainly couldn’t have been any earlier than that.  We started bringing the man who eventually became my husband, and then, years later, my ex-husband, in 1989 or so, so it must have been earlier than that.  For the record, the Taste of Chicago is no longer held on the Fourth of July weekend.  The last Fourth of July Taste of Chicago apparently was in 2011.  In 2015, the Taste of Chicago will be held July 8 through 15.

My parents and I had a traditional pattern for doing the Taste.  We would walk the entire thing once to get the lay of the land, then we would buy our tickets and make another pass and buy our food.  We traditionally got ribs, chicken wings, Chicago style hot dogs (though I cannot digest onions so I would scrape mine off), turtle soup (from the now-defunct Binyon’s.  Frankly, the turtle was sort of optional — most people ate the turtle soup for the sherry), and chocolate-covered strawberries.  Whatever else we bought would vary based on what was available that year.

I went back with my now-ex a few times after we moved to Texas and my parents retired to Florida.  We didn’t have the specific routine that my folks and I did.  Then, after my ex and I split up, my son and I made a return visit in 2010.

The food is not the only reason to go to Taste of Chicago.  No, I’m not talking about beer, though if that’s your thing, have at it (I don’t drink, myself.  I come from a family of alcoholics and my distaste for the flavor of alcohol is not worth attempting to get over if that is the fate that would lie ahead of me).  I’m talking about two other things:  the music and the people-watching.  There is usually a big headliner act in the band shell at night.  One year the act was Chicago and I made my folks hang around the park for a few extra minutes just so that I could catch part of the concert.  There are also smaller stages that have musicians  throughout the day.

If you ever plan to attend Taste of Chicago, remember that it may be, as the saying goes, “cooler by the lake,” but it’s not necessarily that much cooler.  Plan for it to be about the same temperature downtown as it is wherever your hotel/host/home is and dress accordingly.  Some years the temperature was a balmy 80 degrees Fahrenheit or so.  Other years, it has been in the high 90s.

(originally posted on June 22, 2015)

While trying to remember all of the places we stopped at on our way to Florida, there are places that I returned to as a teenager or adult and places I haven’t been in over 30 years.  Mammoth Cave National Park is one of those places I haven’t been in over 30 years.  In fact, it might even be closer to 40 since I have been there (if we ever find all of our photo albums I should be able to place dates on our visits).  As a result, I have only the vaguest recollections. 

It was a cave.  That part is pretty obvious.  We went at least twice, because on our second trip, we did the same walk as on our first, and then my dad went off and did an adults-only tour without me and my mom (he told me later that he had seen some bats, which made me kind of jealous because at that point in my life, bats were something that happened to other people). 

All I really can concretely remember of the cave are two parts that are now politically incorrect.  One is an area called “Fat Man’s Misery.”  I’m pretty sure that only really stuck with me because I remember asking my parents what it had to do with Batman.  You see, I thought the tour guide had said, “Batman’s Misery.”  The other was “Lost John,” a mummified body in a glass case.  Lost John died in the cave over 2,000 years ago, and the combination of minerals in the cave mummified him. 

You can still go on the tour that we took.  It is now called the “Historic Tour,” though Lost John is no longer on display.  He has been interred in an area of the cave where they do not allow tourists.

(originally posted May 25, 2015)

As I write this, it is around 6:45 (I say “around” because my cat is sleeping in front of the clock on my computer) on July 9, 2015.  When this posts, it will be midnight, Central Daylight Time, on July 16, 2015.  If all goes as planned, my son and I will be asleep in New York City, recovering from our first full day of vacation.  We will definitely have just visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island the day before and hopefully will have been to the United Nations as well. We probably will have taken the bus to Battery Park so that we could make it in time for our tour, but I may have convinced my son to walk at least some of the way back.  Let’s see how it all plays out in the end.


The theme for this issue is food. There are other articles, on the Middle East, 3-D printers, and the like, but the first three articles (well, technically, article and two pictorials) are about food, so I am going to group them together.

The Joy of Food Text and photos by various writers.

The Joy of Food is the first pictorial in the article. There are both historical and current pictures of people eating (mostly of them sharing food) from as far back as 1894 and from locations all over the world.

We open with two children in England sharing an apple in a photograph first published in National Geographic in 1916 accompanied by text by Victoria Pope. Following this are images from Afghanistan, Germany, England, and the United States (one from California and one from Washington, DC). The 1894 photograph takes up two pages. It is of picnicgoers in Maine eating watermelon. The next pages feature images from Croatia, Ghana, China, and one of a family saying grace where the location is unknown (but likely is the United States once again). We get another two-page photograph, this one likely to be a modern photo of nuns in Beirut making marzipan. The final five photographs are of 1934 birthday party, an Armenian wedding, food laid out for the dead in Belarus, a fisherman in Alaska, and a boy eating porridge in Denmark.

In addition to the Victoria Pope quote, the text is from Erma Bombeck, M.F.K. Fisher, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The Communal Table Text by Victoria Pope, Photographs by Carolyn Drake

I think that this is the first article I’ve reviewed that has both text and photographs by women.

The Communal Table is about a meal in Milpa Alta, the poorest borough of Mexico City. Milpa Alta, which is Spanish for “high cornfield,” is the site of around 700 religious festivals a year, culminating in an annual pilgrimage, which begins on January 3, to a holy site in Chalma, 59 miles from Milpa Alta.

This meal, which is held just before Christmas, is called </i>La Rejunta</i> (Spanish for the roundup), is a meal of tamales and atole, which is traditional Mexican chocolate drink. The tamales and atole of La Rejunta given to thank those who made donations to the pilgrimage, and the amounts of each are proportional to the value of the donation.

The Communal Table focuses on the people who make La Rejunta work, particularly on the 2013 majordomos of the event, Virginia Meza Torres and Fermín Lara Jiménez. Pope takes us through the steps of preparation for La Rejunta until the day of the event.

My only issue with this article is that the focus on the people leaves the places shrouded in mystery. The reference to “the ancient place of the holy cave,” and to “a life-size darkened statue of Jesus” led me to the conclusion that the pilgrims still visited the original cave. Instead, the “statue” is a crucifix and the current pilgrimage is to a baroque church that stands in front of the cave. There are references in the text to Milpa Alta being “rural,” but the images are all very crowded looking. In reality, the area is spread out enough that three major hot-air balloon festivals are held in the area every year.

By Their Fridges Ye Shall Know Them, photography by Mark Menjivar

This is a two-page spread featuring several photographs from Menjivar’s “Refrigerators” project. Menjivar takes pictures of the insides of people’s refrigerators and displays them full-sized, so that the viewer gets the feeling that he or she is really looking into someone’s refrigerators. Four images are featured in this spread, including the refrigerators of a football coach and social worker, of a midwife and science teacher, of a street advertiser, and of a bartender.

The bartender, by the way, has a container of mayonnaise from the Central Market Organics line which is local to South Texas (where I live currently). I looked up Menjivar’s CV, and he is in South Texas, as well.

Cross Currents, by Kennedy Warne, photographs by Thomas P. Peschak

Even though this isn’t an official part of the food theme of this issue, this is also an article on food — fishing in particular.

After apartheid ended in South Africa, the government set up a new policy regarding fishing, allowing a certain number of licenses to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishermen.  The subsistence fishermen group were largely indigenous Africans who fish to provide food for their families.  Subsistence fishermen had previously been shut out of getting licenses, so it was a huge step forward to allow them to have a certain percentage of the available licenses.

The are two problems  with this scheme.  The first problem was that the commercial licenses all went to large operations, leaving the smaller commercial operations (who are described in the article as “artisanal”) without licenses.  The second was that they overestimated the ability of humans to overfish.  As a result, the government ended up rescinding a bunch of licenses and set aside “marine protected areas” where the fish could, theoretically, reproduce undisturbed.

The end result of this, however, was that poaching is now skyrocketing.  Warne spends much of this article talking to the poachers and trying to balance their viewpoints with those of the people who are in favor of keeping, or even expanding, the marine protected areas.

Blessed, Cursed, Claimed:  On Foot Through the Holy Lands: (Out of Eden Walk – Part 3) by Paul Salopek, Photographs by John Stanmeyer

Blessed, Cursed, Claimed is the third installment of Salopek’s series, Out of Eden Walk, where Salopek is walking from Africa’s Rift Valley and across the Middle East, then through Asia, into North America and then down into South America.  Apparently Salopek is taking a fairly liberal interpretation of the term “walk,” since he is doing some of the trip by boat.  Salopek began the walk in 2013, and hopes to complete it in 2020.

In this installment, Salopek walks from Jordan to Jerusalem.  We see archaeological sites, refugees, Bedouins, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, in this part of the walk.

Much of this article focuses on barriers.  not only does Salopek cross a national border, he also crosses through the West Bank, where the two-state solution would have the nation of Palestine be.  We also cross the barrier between the main city of Jerusalem and the community of the Haredi, ultraorthodox Jews who have a strict separation between men and women in their society.  We also visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  The actual site where Helena (mother of Constantine the Great) believed that Jesus was born is now a Greek Orthodox church.  At the height of the tensions between the Greek church and the Catholic Church of St. Catherine next door, the only way that Catholic visitors could see the church was through a peephole in the common door between the two churches.  And, finally, we see the gulf of darkness that separates a Bedouin family that was  Salopek’s host on the shores of the Dead Sea from the nearby luxury resort.

Just Press Print, by Roff Smith, photographs by Robert Clark

I think that this may be the first non-travel-centric article that I’ve written about here, aside from the prefatory material from 1888.  Though there is some geography-related content in the article, the article is mostly about the advances in technology that comes from 3-D printing.  Most of the results of 3-D printing that I have heard of has been plastic and since the results of the 2-D printing industry, in the form of junk mail, has been a big stressor for me, my reaction has usually been “Oh, goody.  Plastic three-dimensional stuff to take up even more space.”

So, this article was good for me to read, since we see some of the useful things that can be made, including a new face for a man who lost much of his face to cancer (warning: if you are squeamish about these types of things, don’t read this article, because there is a beautiful photograph of the man and his prosthetic face) and living tissue, with a view towards perhaps being able to print replacement  organs for people.

The travel hook in the article is a bit about a printed house that the firm DUS is building in Amsterdam.  They expect the house to be finished in around three years.

Wasteland, by Paul Voosen, photographs by Fritz Hoffmann

Wasteland is an article about Superfund sites in the United States.  In 1980, Congress created a program, called Superfund, that was designed to remediate lands that were damaged by toxic waste.  The Superfund program arose after toxic waste was discovered in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York.  The original plan was for the companies that caused the waste to be left there to pay some of the cost of remediation and for the government to pick up the rest of the cost, but a number of the companies were unwilling or unable to pay for their share, leaving the government to pay the entire cost.

There are more than 1,700 Superfund sites in the United States, and one statistic given says that one in six people in the United States lives within three miles of a Superfund site.  I have lived, if not within three miles, pretty close to that, of two in my life, one in the Chicago area when I was a child and one in the San Antonio area as an adult.

The article talks about the different types of remediation being done on some of the sites in the United States and also the increasing difficulty the government is having coming up with the money now that the tax that had previously paid for the government’s share, a tax on chemicals and oil, has expired.

Images of other sites profiled in this, article, aside from Love Canal, are Tar Creek in Pitcher, Oklahoma; a landfill in Monterey Park, California;  the Gowanus Canal in New York City; and the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.  There is information on even more sites in the text of the article.

Cowboys on the Edge, by Alexandra Fuller, photographs by Tomás Munita

Cowboys on the Edge is the tale of baguales of Estancia Ana María, in Patagonia in Chile.  In the early 20th century, Estancia Ana María was owned by Arturo Iglesias.  Some of his herd of cattle went feral and natural selection caused them to become wilder and stronger than regular cattle.  Now, rather than vacas, the name for this type of literally savage cattle is baguales, and the men who herd them are bagualeros.

Fuller traveled with the bagualeros as they went to round up as many baguales as they could in the period before the Iglesias family sells the land to a rancher.  The bagualeros hoped to collect as many as 50 baguales, but it was a tougher job than they expected.

I am used to running with a fairly sensitive group online, so I want to put a small content warning on this article. Several of the baguales die on the trip and there is one reference to invading Poland that is kind of tone-deaf to those who are sensitive to Nazism.

Otherwise, this is a quick read written in a pretty informal style.  I did have to wonder about Fuller’s assertion that boat or a 10-day horse ride through fairly deep water are the only ways to get to Estancia Ana María.  I wondered if there are some extreme updrafts preventing one from reaching it by helicopter or if that was an oversight.

(originally posted March 2015)

I’m in no way a National-Geographic-quality photographer (though I am trying to learn some secrets to taking better photos), but I do enjoy taking photographs. 

When I was little, my folks had a black-and-white Polaroid Swinger.  Cameras were pretty expensive back then, and I was really young, so the camera was my parents’ property and I wasn’t allowed to use it at all.

When I was maybe 11 or so (I’m sure I’ll pick out the exact date as I find more of my family’s old photographs), my dad got a Polaroid SX-70 camera.  For those who are unfamiliar with Polaroids of the 1970s, this was the first camera where the film auto-ejected and the picture would develop as you watched it.  When my dad got this camera, I finally got one of my own — the old Swinger.  So I think that every black-and-white photo in the albums after this point is likely to be mine.

My mom sent me to Girl Scouts for years.  The first few years were pretty good, despite the sexism in a lot of the materials (A “housekeeping” badge?  Really?).  Later I got into a group that were mostly strangers and all of my friends dropped out.  This was the beginning of the end of Girl Scouts for me.   In that era, we had a project on photography and the theory was that we were going to get a chance to develop our photographs in a real darkroom, so I had to buy black-and-white 35mm film and borrow someone’s Kodak camera.  I ended up needing to take my photos in to be professionally developed.  I cannot remember if we ran out of time or if I was sick the day that we developed them, or we had some kind of family event planned and I missed it.

In what I am pretty sure was now 1981, my mom got a Kodak (I keep wanting to type “Kodiak” for some reason) disk camera, which she allowed me to use.  On our 1988 vacation, I think I took as many pictures with it as she did.

I got married in 1991.  My (now-ex) husband and I each got a cheap 35mm camera.  We used those things for years. I think I have three of them around here because one time (I think it was our trip to Wisconsin) one of us left ours at home and we had to buy another one. 

In the late 1990s, my ex-husband started buying digital cameras.  I was allowed to use them, but they were primarily his.  At this point, I mostly used those cheap disposable cameras.  We upgraded digital cameras twice before we split up in 2008. 

Once I was on my own, I went out and bought my own digital camera (then a year later I ended up getting a job at that same Walmart).  I needed to keep it inexpensive, and ended up with a Nikon Coolpix.  I still have it and use it a few times a year.  I use my Galaxy S5 phone as a camera more often, simply because I have it with me.  During our 2014 trip to Italy, I took probably close to 2,000 pictures, around 700 of which were with my Nikon.

By the way, I get a real kick out of the Google “Auto Awesome” feature.  It has taken some of my best photos and made them better.  It has also taken some of my more . . . interesting photos and made them, well, more interesting.  In 2014, I took a picture of a pigeon in Newark Liberty International Airport and for some reason, that is the picture that Google decided to “Auto Awesome.”  I can’t explain that one.

(originally posted May 14, 2015; edited July 9, 2015.)

I usually check a bag when I travel.  As much as I love to travel, I don’t have the time or money to travel enough to qualify for frequent flyer perks like seat upgrades, so I usually end up with the cheapest seats available.  This means that, despite generally arriving at the airport at least two hours ahead of time, I am in the last “boarding group.”  by the time I get on the plane, the overhead bins are full.  I am also five feet two inches tall, so shifting stuff around in the overhead bins so that I can fit my bag in there just isn’t going to happen.

There are some pluses to checking a bag, however.  For example, while everyone else is still fighting over the overhead bin space, I am usually buckled in my seat and reading whatever book I brought with me.  I also can walk faster through the airport than many others because I only have the one bag, rather than having to drag both my carry-on and my personal item through the airport.

As a result, I can bring some things with me, like a full bottle of shampoo for my son and me to share.  I keep my hair short, but my son is growing his out, so he uses more shampoo than I do. Rather than trying to see if one of those three-ounce carry-on bottles will hold enough for both of us, or taking my chances that the little freebie bottles of shampoo won’t have an unfortunate effect on my finicky hair, I can just bring a bottle of shampoo that I know makes my hair look pretty good, and know that I will have enough to get both of us through the week.  I also spend most of my hours indoors, so we are still working our way through the same container of sunblock that we bought in 2013.  It expires in October, so I will want to bring the same container with us so that we can get as much use out of it as possible.

Then there’s clothing.  I generally pack at least one more shirt and pair of underpants than the number of days I am traveling.  If I am going for more than a week and know that someplace where we will be staying has a laundry facility, I will pack eight of each and plan to do some laundry while I am there (and if I am planning to do laundry, I will bring some of those laundry detergent packs/pods in my luggage so that I don’t have to pay inflated prices for detergent at my destination).  I also pack at least three bottoms.  I generally wear these foofy skirts when I travel (one of the skirts I travel with is a “broomstick skirt” that my mom bought me.  My mom died in 2006, so the skirt is at least nine years old, but I only wear it when I’m on vacation, so it still looks pretty good).  I bring one of those skirts (I generally wear the other one on the plane) and either a pair of jeans, a pair of shorts, or a pair of capri pants.  I generally only bring one set of pajamas, since I don’t wear them for that long in any one day.  I only pack my bathing suit if the hotel I am staying at has a pool or if I have an actual planned beach day.  I don’t have either for this trip, so I will not be bringing my bathing suit.

Since I am wearing a top, a bottom, and a pair of underpants while I travel, that actually means that I have two extra tops and pairs of underpants.

I generally bring at least two pairs of shoes, one pair of sandals and a pair of the Skechers Go Walk shoes that I wear for work at my day job.

I have asthma, so my maintenance medication and at least one rescue inhaler are required.  I got a new rescue inhaler a couple of weeks ago, so I’ll probably bring that one.

Then, at the last minute, I throw my daily things in the bag, my allergy pills, my acetaminophen (paracetamol to anyone reading this who speaks UK English), my vitamins, my facial sunblock and cleanser, toothbrush, toothpaste, anti-perspirant and things of that nature.

I used to knit on plane rides, but I haven’t done much knitting in recent years.  These days, I now bring at least one physical book, several ebooks, and my tablet computer.  Now that I’m doing my National Geographic reading project, I will start bringing a couple of those with me on trips, as well.  And since I am bringing my phone and tablet, I have to remember to pack their chargers.

 

I should have picked up some of these things earlier, but as much as I try to get things done early, sometimes it doesn’t work out so well.  Last year we had a nearly twelve-hour delay getting to Rome and I lost quite a bit of money on train tickets to Naples that I had booked gambling that we wouldn’t be delayed by more than five hours.  This made me a little wary of spending too much money too early in the planning stages.  Then, just as I was about to start spending the money for things, an old health problem of my father’s popped up again.  About four years ago, my dad hit himself in the eye with a bungee cord a couple of years ago (Public service announcement:  Please be careful with bungee cords.  My dad’s ophthalmologist says that she sees a lot of bungee cord injuries.  If you cannot consistently keep your head out of the range of the cord, then please wear eye protection) and that eye was pretty red last week, so I thought that if it got much worse I might have to cancel the trip entirely so that I could be there for him.

Anyway, as of 7:45 this morning, we were 48 hours from departure, so I figured that we had better pick up those last few things that I’d been putting off.

My son and I started out the day walking in a new-to-us park that was pretty convenient considering the locations of the stores we wanted to visit.  We got there sometime around 11:30 this morning, and it was 90 degrees in the shade and there was no shade.  That may have been the fastest walk we’ve ever taken — the S Health app actually thinks we ran for part of it.

I also needed a lighter suitcase and carry-on bag.  I dragged my old suitcase and carry-on about half a mile through Naples last year and nearly considered just leaving the bag behind. My new suitcase is one of those ultralight ones and my carry-on is a fabric backpack.  Together they weigh maybe seven pounds.  So that will be so nice compared to dealing with my old 11-or-so-pound suitcase and three-or-so pound carry-on.

The pair of sandals that I’ve been using as my main walking shoe, a sort of Crocs knock-off made by Skechers, for the last three or four years are starting to wear out and they don’t make that shoe anymore, so I needed to look for an alternative.  I’ve only had the shoes I ended up with for about six hours now, so I don’t know how they’re going to work out, yet.  I will be bringing the old sandals just in case.

I lost my favorite jacket at Roma Fiumicino airport last year, so I also hit a couple of Ross Dress for Less shops to see if they had any lightweight jackets that would do for this trip, but wasn’t able to find anything.  Last summer, I bought something from L.L. Bean that was similar to the jacket that I lost, but I wasn’t perfectly happy with the jacket, so I haven’t used it much.  I’ll take it anyhow and see what I think of it after living with it for a week.

Then I ended my errands with a new haircut.  I keep my hair short largely because it’s easy to care for.   I just wash it and towel-dry it and then run a brush through it and it looks pretty good.  Additionally, I need some height in my hair and the only time my hair has the proper lift when it’s long is when I am living in a place with high humidity.  South Texas is not that place.  So I keep it short.  Unlike this post.

Now I am working on my second load of laundry for the night.  I will be pretty much done with my laundry for today after this load, though I may throw another one in just to get a head start for tomorrow.  My suitcase is about half-packed, as is my carry-on.  I have five books on my phone (including two in Spanish) and am bringing the May 2014 and June 2015 National Geographic magazines in hopes that I can get a head start on those articles.

I have long said that I want to go “everywhere.”  I know how I made this decision.  Part of it was because of my parents’ National Geographic subscription. Every month for as long as I can remember we would get a new issue with beautiful full-color photographs of the world and, once I got old enough to read, fascinating descriptions of the places and the people who lived there. 

The other part was my parents’ landlords.  When they were first married, and prior to having had me, my parents rented an upstairs apartment in a couple’s house.  We would visit them every New Year’s Day and every year they would have photographs of the places that they had traveled.  Far from being bored, though, I loved it.  The wife was a musician and she would buy a small hand-held instrument at most of their destinations.  They were on windowsills and bookcases and on top of the television.  And every year I would think, “I’m going to go there someday.”

Unfortunately it took me until I was 11 to actually start checking places off of that list.  This is because for most of my childhood, travel meant driving from Chicago to Florida to visit my mom’s family.  We would stop at some destinations on the way, but most of the time was spent at my cousins’ house doing basically the same things I did at home, only with cousins.  We’d go to the supermarket and cook dinner at home, and visit my mom’s old high school friends, and sit around and watch television.

One thing that was differentiated home from the cousins’, though, was that my cousins’ house was just a block away from the Intracoastal Waterway.  My cousin’s son is only a year younger than I am and we would go down and watch the fiddler crabs and the boats.  This was in the 1970s, which was when the manatees were really in decline; my mom would tell me about seeing them when she was in high school and lived in that area, though.  The area of the Intracoastal Waterway that my cousins lived near had lots of mangrove plants when I was little.  I didn’t even realize that people lived on the other side of the mangroves until I was much older. 

My last visit to the Waterway was after my mom’s funeral.  My dad and son and I walked down there.  The mangroves were long gone and much of the land where my cousin and I used to watch the crabs had been paved over.  It was so different from how it had looked in my childhood and yet it still felt a bit like “home.”  Suddenly, my son, who was a kindergartener, said, “What’s that?” and pointed out into the water.   It took my dad and me a while to see what he was seeing.  It was a small pod of dolphins.  Probably there were two or three of them, it was hard to see at that distance.  And, of course, this was before everyone had a camera on their person at all times, so no one got a chance to photograph them.  Even if we had tried, it is likely that they would have been just a little blip on the surface of the water, since they were about 600 feet (just shy of 200 meters) away by my calculations.  I’ll never forget it, though.

(originally posted April 25, 2015)

My son and I are out the door for our annual vacation in just about 72 hours.  We’re going to New York City with a day trip to Philadelphia.

Why New York?  When I was a kid I always wanted to visit New York and in 1988 when I was starting to date my now-ex, my folks finally agreed to go.  We had a fantastic time and I’ve always wanted to go back.

Fast-forward to my son and my 2013 vacation to North Carolina.  We rented a car and drove through the Smoky Mountains and the Outer Banks.  I’m not a huge fan of driving at the best of times and driving in places that I am unfamiliar with makes me really nervous.  Nearly all of that vacation was driving in unfamiliar places.  As a result, we were both so stressed out from some of the driving that I told my son I needed a couple of years off from rental cars.  In 2014, we went to Rome and Naples and pretty much took public transportation or walked everywhere (we took a cab a few times as well).  Then, for 2015, I needed someplace else we could go where we wouldn’t need a rental car.  I asked a dear friend who grew up in the New York City area if she would recommend New York City as a vacation destination and she said of course she would.  So when the time came (about six months ago), we started planning for New York.

Now, in the next 72 hours I have to pack, clean my bathroom, clean my bedroom, do all of my laundry, and board my cat.  I don’t have to do much other cleaning because my dad will be home.  We invite him every year and every year he refuses to go.  We’re boarding the cat because my dad and the cat don’t get along and I will be more relaxed knowing that they’re out of each others’ hair (or fur, as the case may be).  I’ve gotten a start on those first two, and am about to start on the third.  I’ll do most of the fourth on Sunday and that last item has to wait until Monday.

National Geographic has occasional theme issues.  This is one of them.  The theme for this issue is “Firsts.”

First Artists by Chip Walter (Photographs by Stephen Alvarez)

This article, just as the name implies, is about the beginnings of artistic expression in humans. We start out at one of the best known early artistic sites, Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, where artists starting at least 36,000 years ago made charcoal drawings on the walls. We then go to South Africa, where an even older form of artistic expression was found — pieces of ocher with geometric patterns carved into them dating back to at least 100,000 years ago.

There is no continuity to the artistic expression, however. It will flower in one place and then die out again only to resurface somewhere else. The development of art seems to track to times when there were more people, so the theory that Walter and, presumably those he’s spoken with, advances is that the art was a way for groups to communicate.

I wonder if it could be the other way around, though. Perhaps the default state of humanity is to be creative, but stresses on the population reduce that urge. Maybe the population increases were because times were relatively good, which allowed the natural creativity of our ancestors to show. We are, from all the research I have read, naturally wired to acquire a language, so it doesn’t seem to be too much of a stretch to think that maybe we are wired to express ourselves artistically as well.

And despite their reputation as brutish, there may be some evidence that there was a creative urge for Neanderthal humans. Archaeologists have found items with holes drilled into them as if for jewelry in a cache with some tools in France.

Along with the articles are the usual stunning National Geographic photos, including pictures of the earliest pieces of art (including one that is described as a flying bird, but which looks awfully phallic to me), of the archaeological dig in South Africa, and of two young women covered in ochre. 

The First Year by Yudhijit Battacharjee (Photos by Lynn Johnson)

Technically this article should have probably been called The First Years because much of it relates to events in the second year of life and there are even some references to events beyond that point. 

The article, for the most part, recounts studies being done on the brain development of children in the first years of life. We begin with Hallam Hurt’s study of children who come from poor backgrounds which showed that the damage our culture associated with prenatal maternal use of crack actually reflected the situation of poor families in the United States. From this, we developed programs to encourage bonding and mental development during infancy and early childhood.

We also see a glimpse into some of the imaging studies being done of the brains of babies, including studies that show how language development works. 

There is also one study referenced that made me uncomfortable. Nicolae Ceausescu made birth control and abortion illegal, in service of increasing the population of Romania. It worked. It worked so well, that many families ended up abandoning their children, who then ended up in orphanages. The orphanages were understaffed and fifteen to twenty babies were generally taken care of by each worker, which meant that there was no time for the babies to be given any kind of personal attention, which harmed their brain development. A group of scientists saw that the children in these orphanages had irregular behavior patterns similar to those of children with severe autism. When the children’s brains were studied, it was shown that they had much lower levels of activity than would be expected from a child of that age. So they devised a study where half of the children would be put in foster home and half left in the orphanage. The brains of the fostered children under the age of two came to resemble those of children who had not been deprived, but the brain development of the children who remained in the orphanage remained abnormal.

Now, my own background is training as a medical librarian, so my frame of reference is clinical trials, but it is my understanding that if a treatment (which in this case is being put in a foster home) is shown to work (which it clearly did), the study is halted and all of the participants are given the treatment. To do otherwise would be unethical. Yet, there is no indication in this article whether the institutionalized children were put in foster homes in hopes of helping their brain development as had been done with the children put in foster care. I finally had to do some research on my own to find that homes were found for most of the children who had been left in the institution. Out of 68 institutionalized children in the original study, ten of the institutionalized children were still in the orphanage by the age of eight. So at least something was done for most of those children, but I’m still not happy about the ten who were still in the orphanage. On the good side, Romania now has a law forbidding placement of children younger than two in orphanages.

While the article itself is fairly dry, with lots of talk of studies and brain imaging, the “human element” comes from Johnson’s black-and-white photographs of families, many of them poor, taking the time to bond with their children, thus enriching their lives and helping their brains grow.

First City, by Robert Draper (Photographs by Robin Hammond)

In the case of this article, the word “first” is more a reference to rank rather than to chronology. The census for the country of Nigeria has trouble tabulating the population of Lagos, which has grown so fast that, at the moment it is somewhere between 13 and 18 million. The economy of Lagos is flourishing, as well. In the 21st century alone, consumer spending in Lagos has grown from 24.4 billion to 320.3 billion. The economy of Nigeria passed up the previous front-runner, South Africa, in 2012.

As with many National Geographic articles, this one features the stories of a number of Nigerians, from Onyekachi Chiagozie, an electrician who has big dreams, to Banke Meshida Lawal, a beautician with offices in Africa but who has representatives in other countries, including the United States, to Kola Karim, a multimillionaire who owns a conglomerate that employs more than 3,000 people.

The article also discusses the political climate of Nigeria, including the gap between the culture of Lagos and the upheaval of the rest of the country. Draper also discusses the corruption of the national government of Nigeria, which is a major exporter of petroleum but which doesn’t have enough gasoline for its citizens and which is unable to supply a steady level of electricity to any of its residents.

The photographs range from sitting portraits of residents to pictures of people going about their daily lives, both in the upscale and downscale areas of the city.

First Glimpse, by Timothy Ferris, Photographs by Robert Clark

This article is on cosmology, and cosmology really isn’t my thing. Somehow, the huge numbers of years and distance and things just serves to remind me that the clock is running and the universe will wind down someday. I mean, I’d be gone by then anyhow, unless an article I read a few years ago that said that time might stop any second turns out to be true, but I still find the thought, particularly that there is nothing we can do to stop it, or even slow it down, sort of distressing. 

That being said, I read this article, which opens with a quote that cosmologists are “Often in error but never in doubt.” That’s comforting. Well, not really, but it does kind of remind me of the Dunning-Krueger effect, which says that people who don’t know what they’re doing (“often in error”) will be more likely to be certain that they are experts (“never in doubt”) than one would expect. It is likely that they do know what they’re talking about, but obviously someone has some doubts. 

The article that follows talks about “dark matter” and “dark energy,” which are two forces that we cannot perceive but that seem to have some kind of effect on the universe. “Dark matter” seems to be pushing things closer together, while “dark energy” seems to be pushing them apart. Ferris also talks about the things that cosmologists are doing to measure what they perceive as being dark matter and dark energy, including a large sphere of lights pointing inward towards a pool of argon. The hope is that dark matter will pass through this device and make flashes of light. 

I did find out that dark matter is not some mysterious thing “out there,” though, which was kind of interesting. Apparently, the Earth is being bombarded by it constantly and since we cannot perceive it, it is likely to be be passing through our bodies and we just are not aware of it. 

First Americans, by Glenn Hodges

Now I’m back on familiar, and far more comfortable, territory. 

In 2007, Mexican divers found a cavern full of bones. The oldest one whose skull was intact enough to do a facial reconstruction on, was a teenaged girl who died somewhere between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago. She was given the name Naia, after the Naiads of Greek mythology. Naia’s basic genetic structure is the same as that of current Native Americans, indicating that the current Native American population is descended from the people who were here all those centuries ago, but her facial structure is very different, with much coarser features. 

The bodies of Paleo-Americans that have been found so far seem to be very likely to have evidence of injuries from some kind of close-range battle. The standard explanation is that the men were fighting over women, and the women were victims of domestic abuse. While this is a possible explanation, and may even be the most likely explanation, I was a teenager several decades ago and remember a few physical fights among my female peers. As a result, I’m not going to completely discount the idea that perhaps the women fought among themselves just as the men seem to have done. 

The article also discusses the Friedkin site which is described as being in central Texas “about an hour north of Austin.” That’s still a very large area, so I did a little digging and discovered that it is in Salado, Texas, in Bell County. The Friedkin site may be the earliest settled place in North America. A large quantity of stone tools have been found on the site, some dating back 15,500 years. The quantity of tools seems to indicate to the archaeologists that a group of Paleo-Americans actually settled there for an extended period. 

Hodges mentions the Anzick site in Montana, as well, where the 12,600-year-old skeleton of a child. They were able to extract an entire genome from this child, the first time we had been able to do so. Fossilized human waste was also found in a cave in Oregon, which gives archaeologists a chance to see what people of the area ate and which indicates that the Paleo-Americans may have settled there for a while.

The photographs on the article were taken by various photographers including Timothy Archibald, Paul Nicklen, James Chatters, David Coventry, and Erika Larsen.

First Bird, written and photographed by Klaus Nigge

This is a short, six-paragraph, piece on the bald eagle accompanied by five beautiful photographs. In the article, Nigge discusses his time photographing the bald eagles of the Aleutian islands, who were so habituated to humans that they would let him walk right up to them to photograph them.

At my old LiveJournal, I tried to get into the habit of posting every other day, and I was pretty successful.  I finally got the hang of scheduling posts ahead of time (and as I write this, I still have three or four unposted posts queued up).  I have around 50 old posts that I want to move here, most of which are about National Geographic issues.  However, since I started working on that blog, I have added three other topics, My Travel Memories, Northern Illinois Destinations, and South Texas Destinations.

The pattern that I developed over time has been:

National Geographic
My Travel Memories
National Geographic
Northern Illinois Destinations
National Geographic
My Travel Memories
National Geographic
South Texas Destinations

That’s a lot of “National Geographic”s, I know, but I, will, by the time the dust settles, have about 167 years of magazines to get through and only around 40 years or so to do it in.  At the rate I am going, I’ll be lucky to get through 120 years of magazines in that time.

I will keep that pattern here, with one exception.

That exception is that I will add extra topics to the rotation for that year’s big summer trip.  For example, the week after I am posting this, I will be going on vacation to New York City with a side-trip to Philadelphia. When I return, I will temporarily add “New York City Destinations” and “Philadelphia Destinations” to the rotation until I run out of those topics.

I also occasionally make an extra post on a separate topic.  I like to do that on one of my days off, but if it occurs to me to do so on the day when my post runs, then so be it.

Since I already have so many National Geographic posts, I will combine them into entire issues for the time being.  So my first repost of a LiveJournal post will be the entirety of the January 2015 National Geographic issue, which I think I will put together and queue up right away.