Friday, July 25, 2008

Culture: Aren't We a Bright Lot, Though?

Yesterday TLS was watching "The Family Feud," and from the next room, this is what I heard:

HOST: Name something a man making a deal with the devil might ask for.


HOST: Let's see if "Money" is up there. Yes! It's the number-one answer! On to you, Harold. Name something a man making a deal with the devil might ask for.


REST OF THE FAMILY: Good answer! Good answer!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Family: Road Trip to the Home Place

It was certainly impromptu; my blessed beautiful car had been parked behind Brother Beorn's house for more than six months, and I was beginning to fear that it would simply crumble into the earth if I didn't get it out of there and start driving it again. So, with a sudden lull in work, we decided to seize the moment and just head northward to retrieve it, laying aside plans for a more structured visit next month. 

What a beautiful time of year to visit the North Country! Fresh air, everything just as lush and verdant as the mind can imagine, the lovely farm smells, a massive pink sun sinking over wet pasture where cows graze, the rivers all swollen and happy. 

Sister Lue and I (with help from Niece Lauren) saddled up my parents' two rideable horses and took a beautiful evening jaunt up the road where we used to ride when we were teenagers. Much has changed there, but it felt like a time warp to be riding along with my big sister -- especially when we passed the power line where the redwing blackbird used to scold and chase us. One of its descendants is still there, guarding the same spot. We rode into a meadow and let the horses run, and I can't describe how good it felt to be charging down the field with a horse beneath me. I need more of that in my life.

And peppermint still grows abundantly along the brook where we used to play as kids. I harvested three large bunches of it which are now drying in my kitchen, for tea.

Our visit happened to correspond with the annual Summerfest of the town of Hopkinton, the subject of my father's recently published history book. He, Mom, Aunt Di and Chrissy were set up at the museum/historical society to sign copies of the book for sale.

Stillman got to meet lots of new relatives (The Blogger apologizes to those many who were not photographed. He was simply not on the ball.). But we did get shots of Aunt Nichelle . . . .

. . . and Dear Sweet Cousin Molly Bryn.

He got to reconnect with Grandma Irene:
And see his cousin Lauren again.

Meeting Cousin Truman was interesting for him. When Truman's mom, Nichelle, held Stillman for the first time, Truman took it as the dirtiest sort of betrayal, and set about howling and screeching with indignation and hurt. This is a picture of him not howling and screeching with indignation and hurt, though.

Eventually an uneasy peace developed between the two cousins. (For the record, Truman seemed completely okay with the idea of his father, Jonathan, holding Stillman).  By the end of the visit, Truman was even giving him hair (you touch your hair and then reach out and touch the head of the recipient, see).

Three generations of male Burnetts . . . .

As for head-kicking, I've lost all ambition for it. Attentive reader Kenrya points out that the world record is a mere 77 blows, but if anyone is going to shatter that record, it won't be me. It will be my sister Chrissy, against whom it seems futile to even contemplate competing. How do you beat someone who doesn't even have to bend over to kick herself in the head? Check this out:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Family: The Congers Drop In

Cousin Maria and two of her brood, Elisabeth and Young John, dropped by for a night over the weekend, in transit from other parts of PA to the northern stomping grounds. We had a very pleasant visit, sitting up on the deck until after midnight visiting, joking, and performing acrobatic feats. Most notably, we worked on kicking ourselves in the head, which is roughly as difficult as it sounds. It requires a certain degree of balance and flexibility, and the nice thing about it is that it's impossible to even try without causing those around you to erupt in laughter, and that tends to make you laugh, too, which makes the whole endeavor just that much more challenging.

We've all vowed to work on it until one of us breaks the world record, which is only, like, 145 times or something. A little conditioning and that sucker is mine to hold, I swear it.

In the morning we took some photos with Stillman, but he was pretty sleepy, so he looks more like a clump of clay than an actual human child.

Family: Your Basic Baby Update

Young Stillman continues to thrive, and astounds us with the way he changes daily. We're guessing he must weigh 16 pounds or so, and as you can see from the photos, he's developing quite a unibrow and his hair is lightening considerably.

He's remarkably alert these days, making eye contact from way across the room, and paying close attention to his three favorite objects: the television (I know, I know! We don't let him watch it, but if you carry him into a room where it's on, his eyes zoom in on it, especially commercials for local car dealerships); a plastic star that lights up and plays classical music; and as is the case with all babies, of course, an iron image of the Hindu elephant-god Ganesh.

Yes, my son worships graven images. I think it's funny; TLS thinks it's creepy. A few years ago, I brought home from India this dull-black iron depiction of Ganesh. When we moved into this place, I half-jokingly hung it on our bedroom wall where a screw was sticking out. A week or so ago, we realized that every time we carried Stillman past it, he looked at it and smiled. Now, it's not just a matter of smiling. He coos at it, laughs at it, stares meaningfully at it. It stops him from crying. Really, he's fussing and you carry him over to the wall and hold him up to it and he starts to laugh. The thing just hangs there, dull black, but it somehow entertains him or otherwise holds great significance to him.

It's getting really fun to play with him. He laughs, is starting to giggle, and plays The Howling Game with me. In the Howling Game, what you do is, is you howl at each other. He makes the greatest shouting/howling/laughing noises, which I do my best to imitate. Sometimes it can go on for 15 minutes, just us looking at each other and trying out new sounds. He's pretty attentive when we read to him, too. Sometimes he'll spend a good quarter hour looking through books with us, staring at the pictures, occasionally yelling at them. Kind of like me with the TV.

And he remains a serious music fan. He likes a beat, and he likes it loud. Lacking breasts as I do, it's the only truly reliable method I have for calming him. Crank up some music and dance. You can't try to dance without music; that's just stupid. Same with music without dancing. But put the two together, and it soothes the savage beast.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Politics: Freedom and Rights (July 4th Musings)

So I'm a bit late for Independence Day reflections, but hey -- only by five days. Rather than waiting until next year, I wanted to share a few notions that have been chasing each other around in my head recently, making my brainbox clatter, before they dissipate forever.

On my recent trip to Jamaica, I was struck, as I often am when traveling in the "developing world," at how free the people there are. Now I realize it is heretical and blasphemous to put forth the idea that people in another country enjoy greater freedoms than we do in the U.S., but it's pretty hard to argue that they don't: just witness people zipping around on motorcycles with no helmets, racing around in cars with no seatbelts, carrying their babies on their laps instead of strapping them into carseats -- and that's just the automotive stuff. How about walking down the street with a marijuana joint in one hand and a Red Stripe in the other? (Yes, marijuana is illegal, but nobody's going to bother you about it out in the bush) How about not having to work for the government for the first three months of every year?

Now, do I want to do all of those things, or do I think that they're good ideas? No, all except for shrugging off some of the tax burden. But it would be nice to make those decisions myself, and it's pretty undeniable that the people in Jamaica (and a lot of other places) live much more freely than we do, at least if your definition of freedom has to do with being left alone to make your own choices about how you conduct your everyday life. So jingoists who spout the line that the USA is the freest country on the planet either are ignorant of how the world actually functions or they're confusing freedom with rights.

We do have good rights in the US, no doubt about it. But the way I've come to see it, there is a practical tension between rights and freedom. You have to surrender some of your freedom to secure your rights. I'm being a bit abstract here, so let me lay down something concrete by way of illustration.

Several years ago, my brother-in-law moved to Haiti, in large part because of the freedoms he could find there. As you may know, Haiti has almost no functioning government. People are left alone to sort things out. There's not even such a thing as a building permit. You want to build, you put up your structure and get on with life. There's no reliable electrical system, so you wire up something using a generator -- no light bill, no regulation. And if someone steals a dozen eggs, he will be chased down by his neighbors and beaten, perhaps to death, his body left on a garbage heap. Nice, right? Your neighbors will definitely think twice about pilfering eggs from off your porch.

But here's where it gets tricky. What if someone thinks they saw you steal a dozen eggs, but you were actually at home with your children at the time of the theft? It's pretty hard to argue your case against a mob determined to do you harm. In the US, we have the wonderful right of due process, a trial by peers, a chance to defend oneself in open court.

But you can't have the rule of law without sacrificing some of your freedoms. You've got to organize into civil society, abide by more and more rules, pass some laws, get some order going, allow the government into your life and into your wallet. Is it a worthwhile tradeoff? When the gang of neighbors has you cornered up against the garbage heap, you certainly might think so.

But these things are not absolute. The balance between freedom and rights changes constantly with passage of new laws, court precedents, the political mood. At some points in our history, that balance has looked quite different than it does today or will tomorrow. Somewhere in abstraction lies the perfect balance. Compared with a lot of other countries in the world, the US is doing all right in finding that balance. Compared to others, not so great. We have the rule of law, sort of: but the blacker your skin, or the further down the economic ladder you happen to be, the less enforceable some of those rights seem to be. And when it comes to the basic balance between how freely we get to live and how secure our rights are, I think we're losing ground.

This was driven home to me a few days ago when I was out riding my bike. One of my favorite trails is a dirt road sandwiched between the river and the railroad tracks. It goes along like that for miles. I stopped for a drink of water and an older gentleman pedaled up to me and we started talking. Somehow we got onto the subject of the railroad tracks, and he said something about how you didn't ever want to venture onto them because they'd fine you for trespassing if you got caught. I began to bemoan the loss of the old freedom of strolling along the tracks to one's heart's content. "I hate that people aren't allowed to make their own choices about things like that," I said. "The government always seems to be deciding for you what things are safe enough for you to do."

He looked at me kind of funny and said, "The railroad and the government don't care at all about your safety. The railroad just doesn't want to have to defend itself in a lawsuit because your foot got stuck in the track."

True enough, I realized. We in the US have this wonderful right to sue for the redress of grievances and damages. I've spoken to enough people who were woefully maimed by malpracticing doctors to believe very strongly in that right. And yet the ample exercise by enough people of the right to sue has resulted in the curtailing of a personal freedom: the freedom to spend a lazy afternoon seeing where the tracks go.

And it's not just railroad tracks. In my lifetime, I've seen an astonishing number of personal freedoms just disappear from this country, sacrificed to public health and national security with virtually no thought to the reality of the threat. No kids under 12 in the front seat. Why not? Well, because there's a very, very slim chance that you might get into an accident. And if you do get into an accident, there's a slim chance that it might be just such an accident as to cause the airbag to deploy. And if the airbag deploys, there's a slim chance that it might injure your child. Yet we follow these rules, and follow them, and follow them.

There are some pretty obvious reasons why that's a bad thing, but let me suggest one not-so-obvious repercussion of all this: the psychological fallout. Put up enough gates and barriers and warning stickers and ordinances and no-trespassing signs, and pretty soon you have a population that believes their world is absolutely fraught with peril (especially when you throw in some television, including the 6:00 news). Walk along the railroad tracks? Everybody knows that's dangerous; look at all the signs and laws against it!

Americans used to be an intrepid people. We used to go out into the world and do bold things, confident in our self-sufficiency. We're not like that anymore. We're an increasingly timid, law-abiding, stay-at-home people. Who makes it out to Jamaica's Cockpit Country these days? Germans. Dutch. Australians. The Americans are down on the coast, at the Sandals resort, safe within their fortress.

One final note to my rant. I've talked about the natural tension between rights and freedoms, and I've said that in the balance between them, we've been losing ground. The worst eventuality is an erosion of both rights and freedoms simultaneously. And I would contend that we have experienced just that over the past eight years. If you're a conservative and a Clinton-basher, I'm certainly not going to argue that the Clinton years didn't see a diminishment of personal freedoms -- but what do you make of an administration that codifies torture, conducts illegal domestic spying, suspends habeus corpus, and on and on?

This election is about some very basic things. I posted a couple of days ago about some of my reservations concerning Obama. But voters would do well to ask themselves which of the two candidates is more likely to continue the Bush Administration's policies of simultaneously curtailing our rights and our freedoms. The US will not be a very nice place to live when we are overburdened by taxes, penned in by laws that touch every corner of our lives, and denied the human rights which once made the sacrifice of a few freedoms seem worthwhile.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Music: The Sweet Playlist

Yes, friends, the Globe's music editors have been toiling ceaselessly to bring you the Sweet playlist, and it's finally here. It is the product of your own input along with their carefully selected numbers, all designed to bring you and your children and pets relief and peace on a summer's day.

It is a lengthy playlist, spanning genres ranging from New Orleans jazz to Hawaiian ukulele to reggae to country to West African to American folk to French pop, and a little song in Portuguese just to round things out. Because this is Old Gesh's list, there had to be one Manu Chao song. And at least one Willie Nelson. Please let us apologize in advance if you suggested a song and do not see it on the list. It wasn't that we didn't like it or that we don't love you; only that acquiring the song proved prohibitive.

As a special added bonus, to complete your hammock experience, we're throwing in the recipe for Uncle Gesh's Gin & Tonic Without Any Gin:

1. Fill a tall glass with ice-cold ice.
2. Squeeze half a lime into it. Really, don't be shy with the lime. You aren't going to hurt anything.
3. Fill 'er up with fizzly water.
4. Stir it, if you're into that sort of thing.
5. Turn on the Sweet playlist.
6. Take a sip.
7. Recline.

Of course, if you're the kind of person who enjoys a little gin in your gin&tonic, you can put some of that in there, but be sure not to totally fill up the glass with fizzly water first, because it will spill over the rim when you add the gin.

The playlist resides here, all available for download. Here's the list on paper:

1. A-Ha: Dark Is The Night for All
2. Wilco: How to Fight Loneliness
3. Salif Keita: Baba
4. Jack Johnson: Lullaby
5. Baaba Maal: Myaabele
6. Samite: Ngwino Rukundo
7. Gregory Isaacs: Stranger in Town
8. Beth Orton: Sweetest Decline
9. Julien Jacob: Cotonou
10. Louise Attaque: Du Nord Au Sud
11. Nickel Creek: Out of the Woods
12. Joe Strummer and the Mescaleroes: X-Ray Style
13.  The Wailin' Jennys: Barefoot Floors
14. Don Williams: My Rifle, My Pony and Me
15. Grateful Dead: Ripple
16. The Weepies: A Painting by Chagall
17. Alison Krauss: Baby Mine
18. Daniel Lanois: San Juan
19. Willie Nelson: It Always Will Be
20. Jimmy Buffet: Tin Cup Chalice
21. Willie Nelson: Overtime
22. Louis Armstrong: When It's Sleepytime Down South
23. Manu Chao: Mina Galera
24. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What a Wonderful World
25. Sade: By Your Side
26. The Beautiful South: Everybody's Talking
27. John Denver: Sunshine on My Shoulder

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Human Folly: Run, Mr. Homosexual, Run!

From the Washington Post:

The American Family Association obviously didn't foresee the problems that might arise with its strict policy to always replace the word "gay" with "homosexual" on the Web site of its Christian news outlet, OneNewsNow. The group's automated system for changing the forbidden word wound up publishing a story about a world-class sprinter named "Tyson Homosexual" who qualified this week for the Beijing Olympics.

The problem: Tyson's real last name is Gay. Therefore, OneNewsNow's reliable software changed the Associated Press story about Tyson Gay's amazing Olympic qualifying trial to read this way: "Tyson Homosexual was a blur in blue, sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone ever has. His time of 9.68 seconds at the U.S. Olympic trials Sunday doesn't count as a world record, because it was run with the help of a too-strong tailwind. Here's what does matter: Homosexual qualified for his first Summer Games team and served notice he's certainly someone to watch in Beijing."

Politics: Obama Fundraising Decision

Weeks ago, back when it was news, Brother Beorn sent me this e-pistle:

We don't get to see much about the election on the Globe. I wonder if you can shed any light on this announcement about Obama's fundraising that's getting so much hype. What I've been able to gather so far is that a public campaign financing system was set up as a response to Watergate and that it was supposed to be designed to control funding by lobbyists and special interest groups. Apparently it exists as an option. You can either use public money and that's all you can spend or you can refuse the public money and you're on your own with no limit except what you're capable of raising. I also gather that since its inception no major candidate in a general election has opted not to use it. Taken alone, it seems like it would be a very fair system. On the other hand, it looks like there is a back door, which I don't entirely understand, that puts the Republican Party at an advantage in this system. I guess the Party itself can go ahead and raise money to support the campaign rather than having the candidate raise it. Is all of this right so far? Are there restrictions on how the party can fundraise? Do the lobbyists and special interest groups just buy the party instead of the candidate?What makes for the advantage in the Republican Party under that system? Is it just that the wealthiest special interest groups are controlling the GOP?

Now, what about this reversal of Obama? Apparently he said last year that he would use the public funding system in the general election. Now he's saying it's a broken system. Presumably the system hasn't changed since last year. What has changed is that it's real clear that he can raise more money on his own than is available in the public system and more than McCain can raise either way. Wasn't Obama's statement last year supposed to be a moral high-road decision in support of the public financing system, implying that it was a good thing?

I'm planning on voting for Obama. I'm even thinking about giving him my own $10. I would like to understand this issue better. I'd like to assume that he's intelligent and has some integrity. The media often confuses things by oversimplifying but to me, this is what it looks like:Last year it looked good to say that he would support the public finance system because it's reform oriented. Now the money looks too good (not to mention the impressive feat of raising that much money in small donations) to pass it up and so he's putting the best political spin on it that he can manage by saying that the public system is unfair the way the Republicans use it. Did he not know last year that it would be the Republicans he'd be running against in a general election?What are your thoughts? What am I missing? What light do you have to bestow?

Let me preface my response by saying that, according to everything I've read, you've pretty much got it right, minus a couple of details. First, if you accept public financing, you don't have to stick to the $84 million of public money, but you do have to abide by other limitations (such as a nearly $30,000 limit on donations to party committees). As far as the loopholes go, yes, for one thing the political parties can finance their candidates lavishly. There's also an ability to gather unlimited money in "527s," which have nonprofit status and are not part of the party structure (Remember those delightful Swift Boat Veterans For "Truth?" 527). In terms of the advantages enjoyed by Republicans under the public system, as it happens this year, although Obama has outraised McCain by far, the RNC itself has an extremely deep war chest compared to that of the Democrats. And they're also just much more adept at exploiting this system. Which is not at all to say that Democrats aren't swayed by special interests or willing to game the system -- they're just not as good at it.

So what about the decision and its implications? I guess I'd make four points:

1. It means Obama will stand a chance of winning. Financially, he will keep the upper hand now, and ought to be able to campaign in places where he might not have been able to otherwise.

2. In the end, by refusing public financing and relying on the contributions of political donors, Obama is, to a great degree, accomplishing what the public system with its loopholes has failed to accomplish: giving access to ordinary people like you and me. Nearly half of his contributions have been for $200 or less, not from lobbyists invited to $1,000-a-plate dinners.

3. It's dissapointing that he would break his word. I have no problem with his opting for private funding, but as you say, why did he state that he'd do otherwise a few months ago? It suggests that back then he was either being disingenuous or short-sighted, neither of which does much for his image. If you want to spin it or look for the silver lining, you could point out that he is, in the end, doing the smart thing by taking the hit that comes with breaking your word (and taking it now, strategically), and that at least he isn't recalcitrant enough to stick to a failing plan just because he espoused it a few months ago. For this view, you can also see him recalibrating slightly on Iraq withdrawal as the situation changes there.

4. Get used to this kind of thing (And yes, I'm saying that to myself as much as to anyone else). Obama would not be where he is right now were he not a shrewd politician. Remember the elation and then letdown of the early Clinton years, as the liberal wing of the party saw compromise after compromise? I think that if Obama becomes president, we'll experience even more of that than we did under Clinton. Clinton turned out to be very much a centrist, of course, but remember that one of the core themes of Obama's message is national -- and party -- reconciliation. By all indications he's sincere about that, and most of us know that the real meaning of bipartisanship is a slide rightward. So now is as good a time as any to start pulling off the rose-colored lenses and get used to the fact that our candidate is a politician, not a saint.

The Globe/Politics: Inadvertent Injection of Truth

Here's what happens when diplomats get lazy and rely on objective sources rather than making up their own malarkey:

White House sorry about Berlusconi bio gaffe

By DEB RIECHMANN Associated Press Writer
8:02 AM EDT, July 8, 2008
TOYAKO, Japan -
Sorry about that, Silvio. An embarrassed
White House apologized on Tuesday for an "unfortunate mistake" -- the distribution of less-than-flattering biography of Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi at the Group of Eight summit. Still, the gaffe led to headlines in Italy. The summary of Berlusconi was buried in a nearly inch-thick tome of background that the White House distributed at the summit of major economic powers. The press kit was handed out to the White House traveling press corps. The biography described Berlusconi as one of the "most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for government corruption and vice."
It was just last month that Berlusconi welcomed Bush to Rome, calling him "a personal friend of mine and also a great friend of Italy." And Bush responded then: "You're right. We're good friends." he biography, written by Encyclopedia of World Biography, said Berlusconi burst onto the political scene with no experience and used his "vast network of media holdings" to finance his campaign on a promise to "purge the notoriously lackadaisical Italian government of corruption." The biography went on to say that Berlusconi was appointed to the prime minister's office in 1994, "however, he and his fellow Forza Italia Party leaders soon found themselves accused of the very corruption he had vowed to eradicate."

In a written apology, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the biography used insulting language." The sentiments expressed in the biography do not represent the views of President Bush, the American government, or the American people," he said. "We apologize to Italy and to the prime minister for this very unfortunate mistake." Corriere della Sera, a leading Italian daily and one of several newspapers featuring the case on its front page, said: "US gaffe, then the apology."

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Globe: Jamaica's Cockpit Country

The Blogger spent about a week in Jamaica's Cockpit Country, reporting an article for Discovery Channel Magazine. The Cockpit Country is a unique and little-traveled section of the island's interior which has always been so inhospitable that it has managed, in large part, to avoid development. Most Jamaicans have still never set foot there.  As you can see from the photo above, its topography resembles an inverted egg carton -- steep hills separated by deep recesses that reminded the colonizing British of the pits used for cockfighting. Hence the name Cockpit.

The Cockpit is precious for many reasons: it's the watershed for the tourism-intensive north coast; it's the world's foremost example of limestone karst topography (a landscape of limestone covered by jungle canopy); it's home to several endemic species, including the giant swallowtail butterfly (largest butterfly in the Western hemisphere), two species of parrot, and the Jamaican yellow boa; and it's home to a people group called the Maroons. The Maroons are national heroes to Jamaicans, since they are the longest continuous population of freedmen in the Americas. They were slaves who escaped from the Spanish and later battled the British for decades from their redoubt in the heart of the Cockpit Country. Pity the hapless Redcoats, sent into this hot, overgrown, treacherous, malarial, waterless place to do battle with the expert locals, who defeated army after army sent in to rout them. The British ended up signing a peace treaty with the Maroons, whose leader, Captain Cudjoe, insisted that it be done the African way, using the parties' blood for ink.

The Maroons still live in the village of Accompong, and I went there to visit the locals and interview the elders. It's sad to see the state of their culture. They pride themselves on the purity of their African culture (They are Ashanti, from what is now Ghana); because they have been so isolated from the rest of Jamaica, and because their treaty with the British allowed them a certain degree of autonomy, they managed to avoid a lot of outside cultural influences for much of their history. But the world keeps shrinking. Now people want more things. They want to get out. They want their kids to get out. Few of them want to stick around Accompong growing yams and not really having an income. So the elders face a dilemma: either bring in some kind of development or lose the population to greener pastures. Yet, of course, as they bring in development, a lot of outside influences will come in with it, and their cultural ties to Africa will continue to disappear as they become more Jamaican. As it is, most expressions of their Ashanti legacy are mere vestiges -- their language survives only in a few songs, their religion has been Christianized, and their physical artifacts are mere symbolic relics. The strongest remaining tie is their deep knowledge of the bush and its medicinal plants, and as they grow less and less close to the land, that, too, will disappear.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun reporting this piece. I got to bang around in the sweetest LandRover I've ever beheld, which belongs to a fantastic guy named Jan (on the left in the photo below). Jan is a Jamaican from Kingston who is part of the Jamaican Caves Organization, which is equal parts funtime outdoor club and serious conservationist group. Jan was my guide for most of my trip.

The Cockpit Country is littered with caves, and Jan took me into a couple. They're enormous and beautiful, a nice change from good old Eagle Cave in the Adirondacks. Jan and his partner in the Jamaican Caves Organization have traveled for miles in underground rivers through some of these caves.

When I got to Accompong, Jan and I parted company, and I took shelter with an older expatriate American, who's trying to open up a resort/camping ground kind of place. It sits on top of a beautiful hill with spectacular views, and it will consist mainly of raised cabana-style thatched-roof shelters. It's not open yet, but Tony took me in. You could do worse than to sit taking notes as a gentle rain falls on the Cockpit Country at your back . . . . 

A very congenial farmer/caretaker named Gee, resting by the side of the road during the day's worst heat:

Jan, myself and a Peace Corps Volunteer named Paul spent one night with the family of the guy in the photo below. They have no electricity or running water, and use an outhouse and an outdoor kitchen with wood fire. They were very sweet, gracious people. We arrived after dark, and they were sitting on their front porch talking quietly in the dark: An old man, mother, father, a seven-year-old boy, and another boy under age two. The stars were raging overhead, and "peenie wallies" -- fireflies -- were flickering off in the dark among the yam vines and banana trees. I slept under the stars on the simple platform that comprises their back porch.

A father and son transporting yams by bicycle as the rain falls over Barbecue Bottom Road, which cuts through some of the prettiest scenery in the Cockpit Country:

Dango, who runs tours into Windsor Cave, the best-known cave in the Cockpit. Dango is also a subsistence farmer, so he gets up every morning before dawn, does his farming, then walks down the road to this shack at 10:00 or so. He sits in the shack until about 6:00 every evening, in case anyone comes along wanting to see the cave. He keeps a guestbook there, and by the looks of it, he averages maybe one visitor a week (and that's taking into account the fact that most arrive in groups of two or three). Ecotourism has just not taken off in the Cockpit Country. The crime rate in Jamaican cities has driven an "all-inclusive" style of tourism where most foreigners stay in beach resorts that are little self-contained universes and they never have to go out and brave the real Jamaica. So it's only a few intrepid souls who find their way out to the Cockpit Country, and even fewer who happen upon Dango's shack.

Family: Surprise Visit from Grandmama Fay

A day and a half before we were to vacate the Jim Thorpe offices so that The Blogger could go to Jamaica to report a story and the Lovely Sophia and child could go to New York to pass the week with Auntie Marcel (Hon.), we got a call from Grandmama Fay in North Carolina saying that she had bought a ticket and was boarding a Greyhound bus to come introduce herself to her grandson. She is a woman of magnificent energy and great resolve; as she later explained, she had awakened that morning with the desire to come see Stillman, and you could have offered her a million dollars not to come and she would have refused it. So she did 12 or 14 or some similarly ungodly number of hours on the bus and stayed here for less than 24 hours, then turned around and did the long ride home.

But it was wonderful to have her here, and for her to get to meet Stillman. While TLS and Stillman were in New York, they got to visit Uncle Johnny, Grandpa Tooly and "Mama" (Stillman's great-grandmother) -- which means everyone in TLS's immediate family has got to meet Stillman now.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Family: Stillman Meets His Cousins

A couple of weeks ago, we seized the opportunity for Stillman to get to meet his cousins Kameron and Kailey for the first time. They were up from Georgia, visiting relatives about an hour away from us in Pennsylvania. Obligations kept us here in Jim Thorpe until after 10:00 p.m., but then we jumped into the car and drove out for a one-hour visit. Kameron and Kailey are the brother/sister twin children born to Sophia's cousin Kerrine four months before Stillman was born.

This is the beautiful Kailey:

And here is young Kameron:

Kameron was absolutely ecstatic to meet Stillman. He sat there and smiled and screamed and shrieked with delight at the sight of his younger boy cousin.

Family & Friends: A Visit from Julie and Adrian

Yes, loyal reader, Gesh's Globe is finally back up and running, and the prodigious staff here has vowed to really deliver the goods as a way of thanking you for your patience during this long hiatus.

As promised before we lit out for the territory, the first order of business is an account of our visit with dear friends Julie and Adrian, who now join the illustrious ranks of repeat visitors to the Jim Thorpe facilities.

It was a relaxing time; we stayed up late chatting and passing Stillman around, then the next day Julie, Adrian and I took a stroll down to the river, got our feet wet, threw rocks, saw a big spider, got yelled at for messing around on the railroad tracks, and then rejoined Stillman and TLS, who had been resting. And then, you won't believe this next part: We went to a little cafe down the street and sat there and had a meal! Our lives sure have changed. Not much more than a year ago, life was a whirlwind series of such outings -- the living was fast and easy. Now dining in a cafe down the street is a memorable event, the kind of thing that holds you for weeks. The old high-flying ways were fun, to be sure, but it's also nice to feel a bit more grounded and . . . what -- sustainable? Reasonable? Responsible? Poor?

The other thing that struck us about the visit is how very, very fortunate we are to have so many wonderful friends and family members, people whose company is so thoroughly enjoyable. As life's pleasures go, tell me something better than a relaxing summer weekend with family and good friends. I bet you can't.