Category Archives: Travel

How to Take Irritating Pictures of Your Vacation

Jesus the rest of my pictures from Tbilisi turned out really annoying.

The city has beautiful buildings, a fascinating language and a kind, history-weathered population.

Of which I managed to capture exactly none.

Instead, I came home with a bunch of pictures of an empty, vaguely European diorama.

It’s like a master-class in how to ignore the characteristics of your subject and resort to sub-Instagram photo trickery.

Like this one: The Ferris Wheel Atop The Mountain. It’s auditioning to be the headline of a Malcolm Gladwell article.

Or this one, with that movie-star lighting. What’s the appropriate hashtag to describe it in detail?!

Awwwwww shit, chain links and religiosity. They give Pulitzers for cropping, right?

Notice the electrical lines in the foreground. You can tell I was ducking sniper fire as I took this.

Oooh, this one’s ugly! It must be real!

Oh no, this church is hella nondescript! What to do?

Zoom in on the flag, for a little metaphorical significance?

Or kneel in the dirt and finagle this rose for the foreground?

Naw, son. Just zoom in until it looks like a stock photo on the cover of a Vote For Bachmann direct mailing.

Wanna make something seem mysterious and far away? Hold your camera behind some branches til you get the desired Escape From Witch Mountain effect.

Who needs PhotoShop when you can fake your photos at the source?

Backlighting is the black sweater of my photographic repertoire: Appropriate for all occasions.

Another favorite: If the bottom half of a church is littered with dumpsters and unsymmetrical bushes, just aim upwards til it’s unblemished.

That way, instead of looking like your photos were taken in a specific place by a specific person, they could be anywhere, depicting anything. That’s the point, right?

This picture is trying so hard it’s practically doping.

Thank god there’s nothing here to actually look at, that would have been confusing.

Nighttime! That’s an iPhone app, right?

Aaaaand… I’m out. I may not have come home with any amazing photos, but at least I have some nice memories.

They don’t last as long, but they’re easier to edit.

1 Comment

Filed under Pictures, Serious, Travel

Ugly Pictures Of A Beautiful City

I wanted to take nice pictures of Tbilisi, I really did.

It’s such a fascinating place:

The food is amazing,

the people are nice

and this week Georgia had a free, fair election

that filled the storefronts with huddles of people watching the news, pointing at it for me so I know it’s important.

But I’m not a good enough photographer to capture Tbilisi’s inner beauty.

So I biked around her for three days,

looking for signs of it on her outsides.

My friend who lives here says many of these apartments are in a lot better shape than they look.

No one is officially responsible for maintaining building exteriors and shared spaces.

And there’s no property tax, so many people own more than one apartment and leave it empty for years.

I like the thought of a vast, polished ballroom waiting behind each of these awnings:

Immaculate innards protected by this cracking, pockmarked skin.

Like people, cities’ insides show on their outsides,

whether they want them to or not.

And in Tbilisi, ‘good looking’ isn’t what you see, it’s what you owe.

Comments Off on Ugly Pictures Of A Beautiful City

Filed under Pictures, Travel

How To Reduce Corruption — And Lose an Election

Imagine it’s 2003, and you’ve just been elected the president of a failed state. Its name is Georgia, a little wedge of forest nestled between the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. It has spent the last 900 years as a trinket passed back and forth between Russia, Turkey and Iran. If it ever comes up in conversation, which is rarely, people are likely to think you’re talking about the land of peachtrees and Ted Turner, not eggplants and Joseph Stalin.

Nevertheless, it’s 2003, and you’ve got a job to do. Your country has 4.5 million people, an unemployment rate of 50 percent, a median income of about $10 a month and, in its most fortunate cities and regions, two hours of electricity per day.

This was the situation Mikheil Saakashvili found himself in nine years ago. His country had declared independence from Russia in 1991, and the ensuing 12 years had been a countrywide game of Hungry Hungry Hippo. The police force was neither police nor a force, but a mobile fraternity of bribe-extractors. Politicians and civil servants performed the routine functions of governance—issuing licenses, allotting budgets, delivering services—with reluctance so severe the World Bank referred to them as ‘criminalized’. Getting a business license required approval from 29 government agencies. Who even knows how many bribes you had to pay.

Saakashvili studied at Columbia and George Washington University. He had a fellowship at the US State Department in the early ‘90s, and studied human rights in France. It’s sort of surprising he hasn’t given a Ted talk. He was pulled away, his political biography tells us, from a gig at a US law firm and general international awesomeness in 1995, and convinced to come back to his humble homeland, stand for elections and rescue his wedge of Caucasan forest from Russia, Turkey, international donors and, possibly, itself.

Tbilisi, the capital, from above.

Saakashvili got 95 percent of the vote in something called the Rose Revolution, something we all skimmed articles about in the New York Times in 2003 and then immediately began confusing for all the other ones (velvet, orange, etc) we mix up at pub quizzes.

As the spotlight of the world’s attention dimmed, Saakashvili began the impossible, invisible task of making a country work. The way he did this was by giving the entire country the Alec Baldwin speech from Glengarry Glen Ross:

First prize is, your salary goes up by a factor of 20. Second prize is, you get to keep your job. Third prize is, you’re fired.

First up: The cops. Overnight, he fired all 16,000 of them. He replaced them with applicants trained in community policing, crime reduction and citizen services. Salaries increased 23-fold between 2004 and 2011.

‘Wasn’t there a period when no one was policing the country at all?’ I asked my friend who works at an NGO here. ‘Wasn’t it just chaos in the streets?’
‘You’re assuming there was policing going on at all,’ he said. ‘Georgia was basically Somalia in 2003. Crime went down after all the cops were fired.’

It didn’t stop there. Police officers were given new uniforms, glass-fronted police stations (transparent, get it?) and—without their knowledge—squad cars equipped with listening devices. The first cops found to be taking bribes, plotting against their superiors or otherwise fucking with their new mandate to protect and serve were accused of such on national television, and sent to prison for up to 10 years. No, seriously, these measures said, we mean this.

One of Georgia’s new police stations.

Next, politicians and civil servants. Saakashvili made sure every single one got the same message: I don’t care what you did yesterday, I don’t care what you do today, But starting tomorrow, you’re going to hep this country run smoothly, or you’re gone.

He fired 40,000 of them the first year. The rest were watched by cameras, tracked by spreadsheets and evaluated by superiors and customers alike. The better services worked, the more he raised their salaries.

Tbilisi’s Public Service Hall

And finally, everybody else. In 2003, tax revenue was only 12 percent of GDP (in the US, it’s 24 percent. In the UK, 39 percent.). Most retailers kept ‘official’ and ‘actual’ books to avoid reporting income.

The first thing Saakashvili did was ban informal vendors—those dudes who sell fruit while you wait at red lights, for example—from city streets. This is too harsh, they protested. Fine, came his response, but at least it’s consistent.

For the formal vendors—corner stores, restaurants, hair salons—It was Alec Baldwin again: You’re all going to install special cash registers that tell the government, in real time, what you’re selling and what you’re earning. If you don’t like it, you don’t stay in business. Oh, and you have to buy the cash registers yourselves. That’s too onerous, they protested. Fine, came his response, but it’s not unfair.

Within months, everything bought and sold was now tracked and reported. The new, policing-focused police force sent undercover officers to stores all over the country to check if vendors were using the cash registers. Saakashvili also worked on the demand side. The special cash registers spit out receipts that had built-in lottery tickets. Each had a barcode that, for a lucky few, could be redeemed for cash. All of a sudden, ‘where’s my receipt?’ became as common in Georgia as ‘have a nice day’ was in America.

Georgian receipt with ‘lottery barcode’

Next, he went after the bigwigs. For months after he came to power, the news was animated with raids on Georgia’s biggest businessmen, mafia, oligarchs and political fixers. He gave them all the same deal:  You’ve got two options: Go to jail for all the warlord-ass shit you’ve pulled over the last decade, or pay restitution and get a full amnesty. The restitution for some of them was as much as $14 million. There was no special receipt.

The bigwigs didn’t even protest. They knew the response before it came.

At the same time he made everyone pay their taxes, he made sure everyone knew what they owed. He threw out most of the old tax code and installed a flat tax: 12 percent on your income, 20 percent sales tax and 10 percent on any interest you earn. The rates were crazy-low, but everyone was paying them. Tax revenue went from $300 million to $3 billion between 2003 and 2008.

These reforms built a fence and fertilized the soil. All Saakashvili needed now was for the private sector to come and plant the seeds. And came they did: Between 2003 and 2007, foreign direct investment in Georgia rose from $330 million to $1.7 billion. In 2010, two years after the financial crisis, it was $810 million. Two new oil pipelines link Georgia with Asia and Europe. I hear the lines at Carrefour on Saturdays are brutal.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s rank on the Economic Freedom Index went from 93rd in 2005 to 34th in 2012. The World Bank says Georgia is the 16th easiest country in which to do business.

There was other stuff too. The education system got pegged to a nationwide standardized test, ending its reliance on the former ‘pay your teachers for grades’ model. Healthcare was privatized (I know, I know), which reduced corruption among doctors. Border guards and customs agents got their own version of the ‘you’re all fired; the new guys get new uniforms!’ program.The government posts all of its tenders and procurement contracts online.

Georgia doesn’t require a visa for most foreigners to work or start a business. Georgia doesn’t want your tired, your poor. It wants your rich and energetic.

Nine years ago, Georgia was basically Deadwood on the Black Sea. Nowadays it’s not exactly Blade Runner, but it’s not Mad Max either. The lights are on, trains and buses work, construction cranes provide shade for clinking outdoor cafes. Nearly 80 percent of the population reports that they’ve personally experienced a drop in corruption. Violent crime was cut in half, and the homicide rate is the same as the United States. Per capita GDP is $5,400. OK, that’s the same as Angola, but when you consider that a decade ago it was $400, you have to give a little whistle.

Georgia’s remaining challenges include updating its infrastructure

Last Monday, Saakashvili was voted out. If it all goes smoothly from here (Saakashvili has to voluntarily hand over power to the James Bond villain who defeated him, a mysterious billionaire named Bidzina Ivanishvili), it will be Georgia’s first democratic transition.

Saakashvili’s zeal for reform, for tearing down existing structures and installing new ones, left some holes in the plaster that he filled with his own power. Saakashvili’s towering achievement is that the state is no longer a vehicle for politicians, civil servants and police officers to enrich themselves. The problem is, it may have become a vehicle for Saakashvili’s party, the United National Movement, to do so instead.

Crackdowns on journalists, political firings, restriction of free speech, and various backroom sketchiness have increased in recent years, and some of the post-revolution reforms (restitution and amnesty for organized-crime lords, seriously?) have left a bad taste in people’s mouths.

There’s also the prison rape video.

Over the last decade, all those no-tolerance sentences for petty criminals, crooked cops and corrupt bureaucrats swelled Georgia’s incarceration rate to the 4th highest in the world, above even Russia. In September, a video hit the news showing prison guards sodomizing prisoners with broomsticks. The media went to the citizens, citizens went to the streets, politicians went to the media. Saaksashvili’s party got 40 percent of the vote. The opposition, 55 percent.

I want to use the cliché that Georgia is a shadow of its former self. But more accurately, its former self is a shadow that refuses to disappear. Everything Saakashvili has done is fragile. The minute you turn off those cop-car microphones, delete those civil servant spreadsheets, hide those procurement documents, the cost-benefit analysis goes back to where it was, and behavior will adjust to fit.

I don’t know if Saakashvili deserved to lose the election. In a world full of leaders who get elected promising to reduce corruption, he’s one of the only ones who actually did. Georgia, for better or for worse, is a country where someone demonstrably wanted the government to work better, and wasn’t afraid to slap a few hands reaching for the cookie jar.

Mikheil Saakashvili made his country work. He made citizens safer, government more effective and businesses more profitable. And then he paid the cost.

Imagine yourself in his shoes again, this time in 2012. As you look down from the hills above Tbilisi, maybe you’re thinking that in the end, nothing is free, not even the market.

1 Comment

Filed under Essays, Pictures, Serious, Travel

Fast Nude Nation

This weekend I went to Warnemunde, on the Baltic coast.

It’s a typical German beach town:

Rent a towel, buy an ice cream, repeat until melanoma appears.

The only thing that surprised me was how many nude beaches there were.

Naked, restful Germans from one horizon to the other.

My friend who grew up around this area says nakedness was a big deal in East Germany. Given the frustration and unfulfillment of daily life, nudity was a way for people to feel free.

My other friend, who grew up in West Germany, was more succinct: ‘There was nothing else to do, so everyone just practiced fucking each other all the time. They got really good at it.’

Regardless of whether it’s a means or an end, ubiquitous nakedness is mostly fascinating.

It’s rare to see naked people who aren’t Hollywood toned, porn-star trimmed or reality-show tanned.

The human body, as it turns out, does all kinds of interesting things when left to its own devices. Somewhere between their clothes and their character, people are amazing just to look at. 

If they look back, it’s because that’s the only thing to do on a German beach for free.

3 Comments

Filed under Berlin, Germany, Personal, Pictures, Travel

Norway Timelapse

10 pm

midnight 

4 am

6 am

Ridiculous.

1 Comment

Filed under Personal, Pictures, Random, Travel

Norway Wants You To Know That You Are Not Welcome

Everything about Norway, from its location to its weather to the good-lookingness of its people,

has been engineered to discourage you from going there.

Tromso, for example, was placed above the Arctic Circle specifically to dissuade tourists.

And can only be reached by a secret passageway in selected IKEA wardrobes.

The weather is blatantly some sort of performance art.

From May til August, it’s daytime.

Your shadow spins around, but it doesn’t get any longer.

In winter, it’s nighttime from December to February.

All of this has clearly been done to discombobulate guests.

‘What do people do here in the winter?’ I asked a Tromsoian.

‘Suffer,’ he said.

I’m not sure if that was a description or a command.

No one that far north has ever seen anyone below 5’8” before.

‘Do you grant wishes?’ they asked, taking pictures.

My second day in Tromso, I rented a bike and set out to see the sea.

No matter its ostensible shape, Norwegian scenery is actually giant finger pointing at you, shouting ‘You are insignificant!’

That boat is full or Norwegians, waiting offshore until the foreigner leaves.

My bikesploration somehow ended up spanning 80 miles and nearly 10 hours.

I arrived back in Tromso red and windscraped as the flag.

‘Did you do that on purpose?’ someone asked.

In the evenings I took long walks

and watched the moose cash their welfare checks.

Even the statues look like they’re waiting for you to leave.

So I did, and Norway celebrated.

Comments Off on Norway Wants You To Know That You Are Not Welcome

Filed under Personal, Pictures, Travel

Bad English Translations Always Come Out As Metaphors

1 Comment

Filed under Personal, Pictures, Travel

Bought and Seoul

Last week I was in Seoul.

It’s too big and complicated to understand in just seven days. I am very blind, and it is very an elephant.

My friend remarked ‘I think I actually know more about North Korea than South Korea’, which is a little weird but a little true.

But this is the internet, so I’d like to share my uninformed observations and premature conclusions.

First: Korea is hella developed-er than you expected. Per capita GDP is higher than Spain and Italy, and just a tad below Japan.

Trains, buses and boats run often and on time, augmented by ubiquitous bilingual touchscreenery.

There’s no graffiti anywhere, and by all accounts South Korea has petty crime like Greenland has chopsticks.

You get the feeling people from Seoul come to European cities and go ‘how do they live like this?’

The most amazing thing about the living standards here is how quickly they happened.

Before the Korean war, the north was the peninsula’s industrial powerhouse, and the south was the backwards, agricultural Redneck Belt.

South Korea doesn’t have any natural resources, and only 40 percent of the land is even arable.

After the war, with all the country’s industrial output locked up above the 38th parallel, South Korea shoved all its resources into infrastructure and industry.

And basically stole the ‘we work hard for cheap!’ market from Japan, which had done the same thing 10 years before.

In the same way you walk around Berlin and marvel that everyone your parents’ age lived through three decades of political division, in Seoul you’re staggered by how different life must have been here just a generation ago.

Anyone born before 1945 experienced Korea as an exploited Japanese colony, then a Cold War bargaining chip, then a military dictatorship and now an enviable diorama of shopping malls, tech companies, earbuds and functioning democracy.

As a tourist in 2012, meanwhile, I experienced South Korea primarily as an inaccessible culture beset with a baffling variety of pickles.

My presence there was equal parts serendipity and curiosity

so it was difficult to decide how to spend the few days I had.

Between meals, there aren’t many ways to participate in a culture where you don’t speak the language or know any locals.

No matter where you’re looking from, you’re at a distance.

In the end I mostly just walked around zigzaggically.

Humans are incapable of true randomness, so eventually a pattern set in: Church, shrine, mall, church, shrine, mall.

One day I rented a bike and explored the Han River and the riverlets that lead into Seoul’s rolling, infinite suburbs.

If it wasn’t for the canals, I would have had to drop bread crumbs to get back to the city center.

Like visible poverty and non-animated signage, bike lanes are a thing of the past.

According to Wikipedia, Seoul is the world’s 2nd biggest metropolitan area, and the 9th densest.

Or maybe it just feels that way because of the traffic, and the smells.

I happened to be reading a book on chaos theory the week I was there

and by day five, I started thinking that the only way to understand something as big and complicated as Seoul is as a fractal diagram.

No matter how much you zoom in, there’s just as much detail as last place you looked from.

So you lean forward, or you lean back. And reach for another pickle.

5 Comments

Filed under Pictures, Travel

Cologne Promotes Health and Wellness, One Cigarette Machine at a Time

 

Did these used to be everywhere in Germany?

3 Comments

Filed under Germany, Pictures, Travel

Germany’s Boringest City

Before I went to Cologne, everyone was all, 'There's nothing to do there!' 'Go to a real place instead!' ''It's super lame!'

And they were absolutely fucking correct.

Grapeseed?! Even their fucking crops are uncool.

You said it, street sign.

All of my photos are overly zoomed-in, to crop out as much of the surroundings as possible.

Once you get downtown, it's even worse.

Vertical strip malls punctuated by obsolete technology like horse-cops and cobblestones.

Deliberately narrow streets so you don't have to see it all at the same time.

See? Zooming again just to kill time. It's a citywide solitary confinement sentence.

Cologne's one claim to fame is this fucking upward sprawl. Old, check. Dirty, check. One photo is enough, but I took four. Out of sympathy.

Someone in Cologne told me that if humans disappeared tomorrow, this church would be one of the only structures left standing on earth in 1,000 years.

Maybe in Cologne, it just feels that long.

4 Comments

Filed under Germany, Pictures, Travel

From The Bottom of My Art

Through a chain of serendipities, last week I ended up at Art Cologne, a trade fair for the art industry.

It's an opportunity for galleries to show off their artists, bag new clients and reach their yearly quota for the word ‘zeitgeist’.

I was wearing collared shirt and carrying a notebook, so people thought I was there to buy. As opposed to gawk and finagle, which was closer to the truth.

The art industry is the last true alchemy left in the modern economy.

Like most developed-world business models, it doesn’t really make anything.

It takes equal parts gossip, expectation and propaganda and turns them into revenue.

Collecting art is either an expression of self, the promotion of an idea or an investment in a commodity, depending on which two people are conversing.

Art galleries work like this: You rent a space, you give it a name, you find an artist. You put their stuff on the wall until someone buys it. You take a percentage and move on to the next wall.

It’s like running a mini-mart, except you don’t actually own anything you’re selling.

Creating art may be philosophy, but selling it is pure capitalism.

After the fair, I asked a gallery owner how he decides how much a particular piece will cost.

Why does this diorama, for example, cost $45,000?

Why not $10,000? Or $200,000?

‘Darling,’ he said.

‘It costs whatever they’ll pay.’

I asked him whether the artists attended.

‘You don’t see cows at a cattle rancher convention,’ he said.

After the show, I met a British performance artist

who had a job teaching English to factory workers in The Netherlands.

Instead of teaching them terms like ‘value chain’ and ‘synergy’, she replaced all the course materials with the works of Marx and explanations of labor rights.

‘If the school finds out, they’ll fire me,’ she said. ‘But it’s not a job, goddammit, it’s art.’

After last week I still agree with her sentiment.

But maybe not her italics.

Comments Off on From The Bottom of My Art

Filed under Germany, Personal, Pictures, Travel

World in Miniature

For some reason I've started taking long bike rides every Monday after work.

About 50 percent of the time I end up making it to Potsdam.

This is the bridge where West Germany met East for 46 years.

The thing I like about living in Europe is that all the cities look like model train sets from far away.

Up close, you see the effort in all the details.

and it makes you glad you took your time getting there.

Comments Off on World in Miniature

Filed under Berlin, Germany, Pictures, Serious, Travel

Sachsenhausen

1 Comment

Filed under Berlin, Germany, Pictures, Travel

Desire Lines

When I first got here, I was irritated at how much the German countryside resembles Denmark.

All crewcut and radiant, mocking you with its productivity.

I've lived here almost a year now, and I'm starting to notice the differences.

It turns out I just had to wait, and look harder.

1 Comment

Filed under Berlin, Personal, Pictures, Travel

So Far So Goethe

Last weekend I went to Leipzig.

It's big and historic and charming, and you get the feeling that if it was in another country, it would be a majorer tourist attraction.

But since Germany is already so sardined with cute cities, it's like 12th on everyone's list.

The list of former residents reads like Germany's greatest hits: Bach! Mendelssohn! Schumann! Kafka! Wagner! Leibniz! Goethe!

The rich history informs current lifestyles. In the malls, all the dollar stores are called Faustian Bargains.

The bike share scheme is called The Ride of the Valkyries.

And the gyms have signs outside that say 'Metamorphosis!' in the imperative form.

OK, those are lies, but people here probably get those references.

Leipzig has the same basic biography as most of Berlin's surrounding cities:

City founded in random location un-near river, lake or major trade route.

City gains reputation through robust university and cultural life.

City significantly bombed in World War II.

City restored to snowglobe status by East German government.

The particulars are where it gets interesting. This is the monument to when Leipzig beat Napoleon in 1813. It's shaped like a middle finger, and the Latin inscription reads 'How's the weather on Elba, punk?'

The statues inside depict sullen teenagers, as a tribute to Germany's youthful soldiers at the time.

Shortly after this was built, Leipzig became famous for cotton production, pastries and Nazi resistance.

And you can still find two of the three here today.

In the '80s, Leipzig was a site of major resistance to the East German regime. Nowadays it's an overstuffed college town, full of students and artists gliding around on bike paths.

Only here they call them Bach lanes.

3 Comments

Filed under Germany, Pictures, Travel

Aw Snap

Like I said, my pictures from Buenos Aires are a themeless jambalaya of shit I biked past.

The only official touristy thing I did was visit the big cemetery in the city center, and I only lasted about 15 minutes

Whenever I got off my bike to investigate anything, I found an excuse to keep going after 5 or 10 minutes. Even my meals were mostly standing.

I know you shouldn't judge a hotel by its signage, but I'm glad I didn't stay at this one.

Espresso-break!

I made it to the museum of modern art and checked out the exhibitions for almost 20 minutes, a personal best.

This is clearly Argentina's attempt to attract the filming of the next Men in Black movie.

Dismount, snap, mount.

This park smelled like chorizo and spray paint.

While this one smelled like expat and optimism. Diversity!

This is what most of the barrios look like. Little buildings with so much character they're in danger of falling over.

Try not to notice how small the leaf is. Go ahead, try.

For some reason Argentina's Poseidon is more bored and sickly than others I've seen.

No matter where you are, banks are architected to do the opposite of invite you in.

So are cemeteries, but by the time you're invited, you don't care I guess.

This pond flooded after the thunderstorm. The joggers looked bemused and terrified, trying to stay in the little stripe between the water and the mud.

An art museum in Tigre. It's probably amazing inside, but I glided past without stopping.

Everything looks like the 1970s if you shoot it through pink clingfilm. If I had figured this out before Instagram, I'd be a millionaire.

I thought this was the ocean when I first got there. 'Worst ocean ever, Argentina!' I thought.

But by the time I realized where I was, I had already left.

3 Comments

Filed under Personal, Pictures, Travel

Don’t Try for Me Argentina

In five days in Buenos Aires, I barely took any pictures.

And certainly no good ones.

Every day I rented a bike.

And cycled through, around and away from the city from breakfast til darkness.

Without a map, sense of direction or destination, I ended up with a random assortment of impressions of Buenos Aires I'm still sorting out.

Cruising through the inner city, you feel like the blind man feeling the elephant.

There are sketchy ghettos, inside of which are beautiful parks, next to which are abandoned colonial villas, in front of which are surly teenagers on ATVs.

The benches on this pond, for example, were occupied by cute couples, sleeping homeless people, enterprising drug dealers and solicitous prostitutes in equal proportion.

How am I supposed to make unjustified conclusions about you, Buenos Aires, if you won't hold still long enough!?

My understanding of Argentinian history is elementary, but it's this: The Spanish came to Argentina down from the river from Peru (!) and set up Buenos Aires as a customs port.

Argentina got its independence in the promiscuous period after the king of Spain abdicated to Napoleon and all of Latin America was like 'let's roll'.

Since then it's been basically nonstop turmoil. Argentina's had more revolutions than an EP.

Argentina got rich and then squandered it enough times that economic disasters have nicknames. A lot of the city looks like a slightly abandoned Paris.

The only interesting thing that happened—the only thing that happened at all, really—was that I got stranded in a monsoon.

I was biking deep in the suburbs when the sky started to close like a clamshell. 'Oh, a little drizzle will be nice after a day's biking,' I thought.

It turned out to be Buenos Aires's worst thunderstorm all year. I biked 12k back home, wetter than a coral reef.

The next morning the city awoke clear and warm, tantrum forgotten.

In a country with so many turns of fortune, this seemed strangely appropriate.

1 Comment

Filed under Personal, Pictures, Travel

The Problem With Apples

according to the Madrid airport, is that they have too little packaging

1 Comment

Filed under Food, Pictures, Travel

It’s Getting Chile

The rest of my time in Chile kind of went by in a blur.

Chile's ridiculous shape gives it a great tolerance for idiosyncracy

And Santiago violently radiates the feeling that people cooler than you are living there.

I woke up zombie-apocalypse early every morning,

and tried to see everything,

As if it was about to disappear.

Like every vacation, you look back and realize you missed more than you saw.

Chile is a great country for brooding. There's so much great stuff to look at while you hold still in dramatic lighting.

See? Even the buildings look contemplative.

And in the mornings full of purpose, ready to be jogged under.

Or hidden from, under an umbrella.

The lefternmost building is where we were staying. Chile has more nice backgrounds than Windows 95.

We took a trip to wine country, where I discovered that riding a horse is basically the same experience as biking drunk.

That pond down there is where boxwine comes from.

We also went to a private beach to get a tan and participate in income inequality.

Chile's per capita GDP is $14,700, about one-third of the United States's.

In gated communities, the skin tone gets is 4 shades lighter, the heels 4 inches higher and the lips 4 milligrams Botoxier.

These seagulls have their own show on Bravo.

We left after an hour and an espresso that cost 6 times the minimum wage, feeling complicit.

I spent three days in Pucon, a city in the Andes Lake District.

Other than climbing the volcano, I took a bunch of long, bumpy bike rides through the countryside.

This waterfall wasn't remotely where I wanted to end up, but the nice thing about Chile is that even getting lost ends up photogenic.

The volcano is visible from pretty much everywhere, so it appears like a watermark in all my pictures from Pucon.

It's shocking how bad my sense of direction is. This lake is just 20km from Pucon, but I went there via Peru.

Getting the bee in the shot was accidental, obviously, but didn't prevent me from feeling like Werner Herzog for the rest of the day.

Trees shot with backlighting look amazingly like fractals, it turns out.

Tourists, less so.

Instead of waiting for the sunset, I'm sure I could have achieved this same effect by just holding a pink hanky in front of the lens.

This is what Wes Anderson's vacation photos look like.

On my last day in Chile, I took the car and went to check out the Andes. I drove until the paved road ended, then turned around.

This is an unavoidable metaphor for my trip. The best parts of Chile, I have a feeling, begin after the paved road ends. Next time I'll keep going til I get there.

1 Comment

Filed under Personal, Pictures, Travel

Other People Are Better Photographers Than Me

My friend Paloma took a bunch of photos when I was visiting her in Chile.

Not only does she have a better camera than me, but she is a significantly better photographer. Hence why these look like actual Chile, rather than Sandusky, Ohio, like mine do.

We took this from the top of the W hotel. They charged us $3 for those palm trees to be in our view.

Contemplating the design of a life fully lived. Or, wait, I’m peeing. Yep, I’m peeing here.

If the figure on top of the cupola is gay, is it technically a ‘weather vain’?

Valparaiso, feloniously pastel.

Escher gets an iPad

You can tell I took this one because BACKLIGHTING

I was seriously phobic about getting tangled in one of these. Hella of them were at like shoulder height.

Texture!

We actually took this by accident because we didn’t know what F-stop was. But it turned out ok!

I don’t know how she got this photo to look like mid-’50s Johannesburg, but I wish my camera had that setting.

An apparently famous Paris graffiti artist was doing a huge piece in Valparaiso. We shouted and waved, but he couldn’t hear us under all his dreadlocks.

It’s better that you can’t see the look of sheer terror on my face.

I was so excited for local produce when I was there, but it was mostly imported from Ecuador.

1 Comment

Filed under Personal, Pictures, Travel