I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Friday, August 31, 2018


Kigali is in the same time zone as Brussels, so I can't claim jet lag, but I am tired. I had to get up at 5 in the morning to catch the train to the airport from Ghent yesterday, and though the Brussels Airlines flight was quite nice -- there was no shortage of chocolate -- it was still eight hours on a plane.

So I took advantage of having a completely unscheduled day. I went for a swim, read by the pool, had lunch. The other hotel guests at lunch were mostly African, except for a pair of missionaries at the next table who bitched endlessly about bosses and co-workers. (Apparently spreading the Word of God is as tediously bureaucratic as any other occupation.)

I went for a walk after lunch but the hotel is up in the hills overlooking the city, and there's not much to see in the neighborhood -- it's mostly a few large hotels amid nondescript office buildings; the liveliest crowd was at the corner gas station. Most people ignored me, but my tourist status was obvious and taxi drivers kept pulling over to offer me rides, and a series of men with identical piles of magazines and Kinyarwanda phrasebooks for sale materialized at my elbow at regular intervals. One young entrepreneur even offered to sell me a counterfeit passport.

I didn't take many pictures -- although I know Kigali is considered safe, phony passports for sale notwithstanding, it didn't seem prudent to flaunt an expensive camera until I had a better sense of my surroundings, so it mostly stayed in my bag.

Greetings from Rwanda

You were expecting maybe a gorilla?

I got into Kigali last night, and so far haven't done anything except check into my hotel, sleep, and eat breakfast. The actual tour doesn't begin until tomorrow, so although I'll probably take a walk around the area today, and get myself adjusted to the altitude -- it's about the same as Denver and I already have a headache -- I probably won't have many interesting pictures.

But this baby palm tree on the lawn here at the Hotel des Mille Collines made me smile. I woke up to birds whistling, and the swish of brooms as workers swept the parking lot outside, and breakfast included tree tomato juice, which tastes something like very tart raspberries, so I know I'm definitely not in Belgium anymore.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Here's your moment of zen

I'm boarding my flight to Kigali shortly, so here's a quick glimpse of serenity: light and curves of stone in St. Nicholas, one of the many churches in Ghent city center.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A perfect afternoon in Ghent

It might go something like this:

You're wandering around inside the magnificent cathedral when a small group of singers rehearsing in front of the altar catches your attention. You remember seeing a sign out front about a choir from Cambridge University giving a concert and go back to check. The concert starts in half an hour and it's free.

That's just enough time to go across the street to Neuhaus and buy one of their custom ice cream bars (you pick the flavor of ice cream, dark or milk chocolate, and a crunchy coating, and they dip it for you while you wait), and sit on a bench in the cathedral square and eat every delicious mouthful. Then wipe the chocolate off your stupidly happy face, return to the church and spend an hour listening to beautiful voices harmonizing.

The only thing that could make it more perfect would be coming out to discover the sun was shining for the first time in two days, and that Ghent was now somehow even more beautiful than it was a mere hour before.

And of course that meant I had to run around and retake many of my shots from yesterday before the light disappeared, so here's Graslei again.

You're welcome.


Speaking of medieval treasures....

I am now in Ghent. This is the Graslei quay on the river, just one of many jaw-dropping sights in the city center. I'm afraid this is going to turn out to be yet another day in which I decide not to go to Bruges, which is a short train ride away. There is so much to see here, not just architecture but churches, historical sites and art, that I'd rather just spend another leisurely day taking it all in. I'm already thinking that I'd love to come back here around Christmas, maybe next year.

I can go to Bruges then.

Amen and Hallelujah! part two

Here's another look at the cathedral, through the very modern roof of the train station. (The foreground is blurry because the train was still moving.)

Amen and Hallelujah!

Bear with me on this one.

I took this picture as the train to Brussels pulled into Cologne. I noticed the tower in the background, thought at first it might be a church, and remembered that Cologne has a famous cathedral. I wondered if we'd be able to see it from the train, and thought it unlikely, but watched carefully anyway, hoping for a glimpse.

Then this!

The cathedral is literally next to the train station and it looms over the tracks as you pull in.

I have never seen anything quite so Gothic in my life, and of course this hastily snapped picture through a train window doesn't do it justice, or capture its immensity or grandeur.

I gaped. I took a picture. And I smiled all the way to Brussels.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Random things I saw in Frankfurt

I realize Frankfurt was so last week -- it's already three cities ago -- but here's a last set of pictures before I move on. From the top left, the tower of the Alte Nikolaikirche in the Römer district, one of the bridges over the Main, a platform at the train station, and a couple shopping for Birkenstocks that for unknown reasons now come in every color of the Dayglo rainbow.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Down by the river

One of the many pretty bridges spanning the river that gives Frankfurt am Main its name.

Frankfurt is a global business and banking capital of course, but I didn't see much of the modern sections. If I only have one afternoon to spend in a city, I'd rather go to the older parts -- I can see Manhattan any time.

Sausage fest

I happen to find all giant reproductions of food vaguely (and sometimes not so vaguely) creepy and unappetizing.

But this one just made me laugh. Seriously, who thought an enormous bratwurst was a good idea? (And I assure you it looked far more obscene in person.)

It's no surprise that Frankfurt was full of bratwurst and all of its relatives -- this is the city that gave its name to the hot dog after all. I walked through the park along the river yesterday afternoon and almost every food cart was some variation on sausage and french fries, plus lots of bier, bier, bier.

I was too tired to find the idea appealing, and the smell made me a little nauseous. Which may be why I ended up having a truly terrible vegan wrap from Starbucks for my dinner.

Why I'm in Germany rather than Belgium

This was my seat on the Singapore Airlines flight from New York. The picture doesn't really show you the scale but it was approximately the width of three economy seats on a U.S. carrier (if you look closely, you can see the seat belt coming out of the leather next to the pillow -- there was at least an extra twelve inches of room on either side of the seat belt, handy for stashing the throw pillows.)

I first started looking for flights to Brussels six months ago, and they were ridiculously expensive, even for August -- $1700 in coach, one way! I put off booking, hoping that prices would come down, and when they didn't, started looking for alternatives -- Amsterdam? London? Nothing was any cheaper once you factored in the cost of a second flight or train to get to Brussels.

When I found this flight on Singapore Airlines, I didn't notice at first that the price was for business class rather than coach. Even with the cost of a night in Frankfurt and a train to Brussels the following day added in, it still cost less than a direct flight in coach. (I realized later that it was such a bargain because the flight continued on to Singapore and they probably had empty seats on the first leg that they wanted to fill up.)

So I'm in Frankfurt. And the Singapore Airlines experience was even more luxe than expected -- instead of Economy-Business-First, this flight had Economy-Business-Suites. The bathroom was large enough to walk around in, with bins of toothbrushes, razors and toiletries instead of the usual amenities bag, and there was a makeup mirror at every seat. The suites probably had Jacuzzis.

I didn't really sleep, despite taking an Ambien, but at least I was lying awake in an actual bed complete with sheet and duvet.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Greetings from Frankfurt

I'm at that stage where I find myself alternating a minute with my eyes closed for every minute I have them open, and I expect to be unconscious shortly.

But I have made it to my first stop, Frankfurt. Here's the exterior of a museum in the older part of town this afternoon -- I love the contrast between the old statuary and those very modern light fixtures (and their shadows!)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Urban poetry

In photography, as in life, timing is everything. This young man was sitting on the round bike rack in front of this shuttered Starbucks on Ninth Avenue, perfectly framed between the two windows. But by the time I got the camera out, he'd moved. So it's okay, but I missed the great shot it could have been.

I'm shocked and saddened to report that my Fitbit, ordinarily so eager to log my activity (or lack of activity) decided that painting a closet doesn't count as an aerobic workout.

I beg to differ. I did two coats yesterday and have one more to do today, and I was a breathless, quivering, sweaty mess by the time I was done. I might reconsider painting the rest of the bedroom myself and just give in and hire someone. We'll see how I feel when I get back.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Astronomy Tuesday

It's been a few years since I posted one of Alan Friedman's spectacular photos of the sun.

Today it's a year since the great American eclipse; I didn't see solar prominences with anything like this detail but the fact that I could and did see them at all still amazes me.

Image Credit and Copyright: Alan Friedman (Averted Imagination)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Welcome to the working week

Oh, wait -- I'm not going to work today!

I have an appointment at the travel doctor to get my anti-malarials, so I do have to shower, dress and be on my way shortly, which is probably not a bad thing.

In the meantime, here's a hard-working horse by Central Park, sharing his lunch with the pigeons.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sunday bird blogging

They grow up so fast! Here's another young robin in Central Park.

So far my first weekend of retirement has been a lot like -- a weekend. I have shopping bags full of miscellaneous crap from my office to sort through and attempt to find homes for, and I have to spackle and paint a closet where I'm having drawers and shelves installed, but I spent much of yesterday lying on my bed reading, waiting for thunderstorms that never came.

I'm leaving Thursday, for Africa by way of Belgium, so this will probably be the last bird until I'm back.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Saturday reflections

I took this picture last winter, during one of my many weekends in the almost-empty office, and decided to save it for this occasion.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Urban poetry

When I was small, I never wanted to step in puddles. Not because of any fear of drowned worms or wet stockings; I was by and large a grubby child, with a blissful disregard for filth of any kind.

It was because I couldn't bring myself to believe that that perfect smooth expanse was no more than a thin film of water over solid earth. I believed it was an opening into some fathomless space. Sometimes, seeing the tiny ripples caused by my approach, I thought the puddle impossibly deep, a bottomless sea in which the lazy coil of tentacle and gleam of scale lay hidden, with the threat of huge bodies and sharp teeth adrift and and silent in the far-down depths.

And then, looking down into reflection, I would see my own round face and frizzled hair against a featureless blue sweep and think instead that the puddle was the entrance to another sky. If I stepped in there, I would drop at once, and keep on falling, on and on, into blue space.

-- Diana Gabaldon, Voyager

This is my last week at my job of 23 years, so I do feel on the brink of -- something. At the moment the anxiety about the huge changes coming is almost overwhelming, but there's excitement and anticipation as well. I'm going to be jumping into my puddles with both feet, fingers crossed, and hoping that if I do get soaked to the skin, it will be worth it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Astronomy Tuesday

The Cassini probe took this picture in 2007, but NASA just posted it yesterday.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Sunday bird blogging

I should call this one The Truth about Bird Photography. I'm posting it because it made me laugh, and because at least there's an actual goddamn bird in the picture instead of just the empty branch, which is what I get a discouragingly high percentage of the time.

The steps of bird photography are:

1.  Locate bird.
2.  Attempt to locate bird again through your heavy and extremely unwieldy lens. If the bird is gone by the time you manage to find the place where it was just a few seconds ago, return to Step 1.
3.  Focus.
4.  No, focus on the bird, not on the branch in front of the bird or the leaves behind the bird. If the bird departs before you manage to see it clearly, return to step 1.
5.  Shoot.

And even if you make it to Step 5, you're still likely to end up with this. That cardinal was sitting in the patch of sunlight on that branch through Steps 1-4, then took off before I managed to get to 5.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Saturday reflections

One of the buildings in Rockefeller Center lost power a few weeks ago, and this is the spooky lobby in the underground concourse.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Urban poetry

This was taken through a window at Bar Sixty-Five above 30 Rock, so there's a bit of a reflection there, but it's pretty spectacular all the same.

We were in the middle of a dramatic thunderstorm, with lightning flashing through every window. No lightning in the photo, unfortunately, but I love those spooky skies over the Manhattan skyline.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Astronomy Tuesday

The Iris nebula, glowing bright blue in the midst of a cloud of dust. I am reminded of returning from Iceland to find that the crew renovating my bathroom had apparently never heard of plastic dropcloths and my apartment resembled Pompeii before the lava arrived.

But at least this dust has that one bright blue star in the center, sparking off all the dust around it, to magnificent effect.

Image Credit and Copyright: Franco Sgueglia and Francesco Sferlazza

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Sunday bird blogging

No other avians do attitude quite like blue jays.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Saturday reflections

This one was kind of serendipitous: I was sitting in the van in the parking lot of the Chapel on the Rock, waiting for the rest of the group to board, when I saw this reflection in the van next to ours, whose driver was also waiting for his passengers.

I took the picture, immediately forgot about it, and then a couple of weeks later, found it when I was cleaning out the folder. I like it a lot, but it's not exactly something I can replicate on demand. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Urban poetry

This is New York: angles and squiggles and a deep blue summer sky and a peek of Cyclone fence to keep the unworthy away.

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