Thursday, June 30, 2005

To See or Not to See ...

... That is the question.

I've never not seen a movie because of the beliefs of an actor in it.  Sure, there's plenty of times actors have made their political and/or religious beliefs known, using their fame as a soapbox from which to exercise their First Amendment rights.  And there have certainly been situations when I didn't agree with the positions of said performers.  But, hey, when I see a movie, I'm not endorsing their positions, I'm seeing a damn movie.  Being entertained.  Escaping reality.  Et cetera.

But I'm really torn over this whole Tom Cruise War of the Worlds thing. 

Because he's using air time that he should be devoting to publicizing the movie to instead spouting his own nonsense about Scientology and (specifically) that psychiatry is a "pseudo-science" and "there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance."  Like I said, I generally don't mind when actors go on about things they feel passionately about, even when I disagree with them.  But here, I find his comments offensive to the people I know living with chemical imbalances and the millions like them.  Thank you, Tom; thank you for telling my friend who is struggling daily to overcome depression that there's no physical cause for it and that in essence (I hope you don't mind me giving voice to your unspoken point, Tom) "she should just snap out of it."

Sure, there's plenty of people out there who hold those beliefs.  And I invite those people to debate psychiatrists in the court of public opinion -- that is, if anyone cares enough about their position to listen.  But, I don't think they should get free air time for their arguments simply because they have an adherent who happens to be a celebrity opening up in a big motion picture.  Cruise said (in the now infamous interview with Matt Lauer) "I can't discuss what I wanna discuss?"  No, Tom, you can't.  You're here to promote your damn movie.  Your fame gets you an eight-freakin'-figure salary per movie.  Write and publish a book.  Hell, buy a whole damn newspaper and spout on at length about whatever it is that is getting your jockeys in a bunch.  If you took all your money and invested it in an Anti-Psychiatry Public Service Campaign, I'd have no problem with it.  (I'd think you were a nut, but I wouldn't begrudge you your share of my $9 admission ticket.)

But you're not just using money that you've earned fair and square.  You're using your celebrity.  You're using the fact that people love your work and think you're cute in order to get free TV time to "discuss what [you] wanna discuss."  And you know what?  I don't want to hear it.  And I feel that, if people stayed away from your movie in droves, your celebrity would plummet and you'd lose the opportunity to have free press time to insult my friends.

Here's the thing.  From everything I've read, War of the Worlds is a pretty damn good movie (which I would certainly enjoy).  But what if, instead of grossing $150 million over this holiday weekend, it just tanked?  Everyone would know why.  It isn't the movie itself -- everyone knows the movie is good.  It would be because the public decided to say it no longer wanted Tom Cruise to have celebrity, because he abused the privilege.

I doubt this will happen.  Heck, I doubt even the millions who are actually taking anti-depressants will be so angered they'll deny themselves a perfectly good Fourth of July science fiction blockbuster.  But man, I so want it to.  I think I may be willing to do my part.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Why am I Journalling at 2:15 a.m.?

I'll tell ya.

.... so, when I got home from the massage, I curled up on the couch to watch some TV and cuddle my cat.  Jasmine actually let me brush her a little bit, which was pretty rare.  I usually only get three or four strokes out of her before she realizes I'm using the brush and then tries to bite it, or me.  But this time, quite a bit.  When she eventually gave up, she started chewing on the bristles.  Not the brush, the bristles.  After I dropped the brush, she kept chewing.

My idiot cat was eating her fur off the brush.

Fast forward to 2:00 a.m.  I send her scampering down the hall while I make my retreat into my bedroom and close the door, as per usual.  I get ready for bed.  This includes turning down the sheets.  It is then that I notice it.  The big puddle of cat barf--with a hairball in it--smack dab in the center of my comforter.

Man, somebody around here has to learn something about cause and effect.

Anyway ... not wanting to open the bedroom door (at which point she'd gleefully try to follow me in) and it being too late to do laundry anyway, I picked up the evidence with the best available tool (a few "personal wipes" from the bathroom) and flushed it.  Only when it was circling the drain did I think that sending a huge clump of hair down the toilet was probably a bad idea.  Eh, whatever.  I draw the line at sticking my hand in a toilet to pull out a hairball. 

Actually I draw the line way before that.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Today's Adventure

I was browsing one of those stuff-in-your-neighborhood-for-half-price sort of websites and among all the local plays and comedy shops and baseball tickets there was a deal for a massage.


Supposed to be some sort of fancy package with an hour long massage with aromatherapy lotions, some bizarre hand softening treatment, hot rice bags and stones placed upon your person, and cold stones rubbed against your face.  Regularly $130 -- yours for only $60. 

Er...did I mention Sunday was my birthday?  I plunked down my $60 and took an appointment after work today.  Happy birthday to me.

Now, the spa had just moved to its new and improved location about ten blocks from my house.  I had its street address.  And, for good measure, I looked at the directions on the spa's website.  This was somewhat problematic, as the directions seemed to lead you to a place a block away from the street address.  "Hmm," I wondered, "is there a back door or something you're supposed to use?"

I drove to the place the directions pointed me to.  All I saw there was an old abandoned building.  I parked and decided to walk to the street address.  Even then, I would have missed the place were it not for the fact that the half-price-ticket site had cheerfully informed me the spa was located above a pub.  Walking past the pub, I saw a staircase with the street address noted on a wall nearby.  No sign saying "Day spa upstairs."  In fact, no sign saying, "Day spa."  Just, at the top of the stairs, a little sign reading, "Open."

I walk up the stairs, thinking there's about a fifty percent chance I'm hitting the service entrance for the pub.  I cautiously open the door and see another staircase, going up.  And then it hits me.  The unmistakable scent of essential oil.  (Shout out to Tammy.)  This is clearly the right place.

I go up the stairs and find myself in one of those touchy-feely places.  You know, the ones where there's all sorts of quartz stones around emblazoned with words like "Health" and "Balance."  And there's cassettes you can buy about female empowerment.  (Around now, I remember that I had seen "Aura photography" on their website in the list of services.)  When I parked my car, I had taken off my work shoes and slipped on some flip-flops.  I still don't believe flip-flops are appropriate footwear for any place other than the beach, but I thought I REALLY didn't want to force my feet back into those heels after a relaxing massage, so everyone would just have to deal with me wearing flip-flops, dammit. 

My therapist entered, barefoot.  Wearing a tank top and some sort of sarong.  She offers me some water.  I accept.  She goes away and comes back with a stone cup with some Chinese character on it.  (Probably means "longevity" or something.  I don't ask.)  She leaves the room and I drink the water.  It tastes funny.  I wonder idly if I'm being poisoned with some bizarre herbal concoction and that I'll pass out right here (on these really comfy cushions) and I'll wake up two hours from now without my wallet but with one hell of a headache -- and then I realize it's just lemon.

Before we go into the treatment room, my therapist shows me a list of all sorts of different aromatherapy mixtures she offers.  I am to choose the scent I want, based on what sorts of health effects I want from it.  I look down the list and choose the mixture of orange (cause I love that) and Jasmine (cause I wuv my Jasmine).  I am informed that this particular combination is good for "mellowing out female problems."  I can't say I actually believe in this stuff, but, if it does that...well...bonus.

I'm then brought into the treatment room (massage table, rug, some hot grill-like thing with rocks in it, speakers blaring out relaxation music to drown out the pub downstairs, lots of candles in some set up involving stones and a mirror that very likely isn't some sort of witchcraft altar, but you never know), and told to disrobe and park myself on the massage table.

This I do, and my therapist re-enters the room and gets down to business.

Here's the thing.  I'm generally a talker in these situations.  I know, I know -- a lot of the whole massage experience is supposed to be about relaxing in silence, but when some total stranger has their hands all over me in ways somewhat more intimate than most of my dates, I figure I ought to break the awkwardness with a little chat.

My therapist had this way of ending each comment with a, "Know what I mean?" to which I felt obligated to respond before she'd go on.  This was all well and good when she was saying stuff like she could tell I worked with computers (and was right-handed) based on the quantity and placement of knots in my neck and shoulders.  But when she moved on to things like being able to tell if someone is constipated just by touching their feet, I just mumbled "Mm-hmm" as if I was actually on the same page as her on that one. 

Then she said that when she walks into someone's house, if they have a houseplant that's dying, she'll immediately feel thirsty even if the plant isn't in the same room.  Now, I was a little skeptical of that one, but you don't really want to express skepticism when you're lying there naked, your hands are wrapped in plastic bags, and the person of whom you are skeptical has access to a hot plate full of steaming rocks.  (It's sorta like how I always nod in polite agreement with whatever whacked out political theory the cab driver is spouting.  Because you don't want to piss off the guy with the power to hurl your side of the car into oncoming traffic.)  Discretion being the better part of conversation, I tried my best to sound impressed by my therapist's powers of botanical sympathy.  And steered the conversation quickly into safer topics, like kittens.

Being distracted by the conversation, though, I sorta failed to notice the whole massage thing that was going on.  At the end, she asked me how I felt, and ... upon checking in with various areas of my body for reports ... I concluded I was pretty much asleep from the neck down.

Mmmmm.  Good.  A little weird, but good.  If they keep that $60 deal going, I may go back.

But I'm still not getting my aura photographed.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Word game

(Got this from Wil)

One word

Please leave a one word comment that you think best describes me.

It can only be one word. No more.

Then copy and paste this into your journal so that I may leave a word about you...

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Batman is back

So, the other day, I was talkin' with Andi (shout out) about how I thought Revenge of the Sith was okay, "but," I said, "it wasn't a real kick-ass prequel like, uh, uh..." and I couldn't really finish the sentence.

That night, I saw Batman Begins and can now end the sentence.

If you'll let me get all hi-falutin' in my reviewing for a minute, I'll 'splain.  See, the Batman franchise managed to change with the times.  It grew up.  It got rid of the brightly-colored comic book villains and aimed for a more real looking film.  (Which is pretty ironic, considering how the original 1989 Batman movie was a huge jump on the reality-scale from the 1960s TV series.)  But Batman Begins isn't just another movie in the series with big-name actors trying to be bigger-than-life villains.  It ignores the other movies altogether (except for broad, general plot-points) and comes in with its own vision.  A grittier vision.  A darker vision.  (A vision in which not everyone in the movie is an A-list actor taking part in the franchise on a lark.)  A ... dare I say it ... post 9/11 vision in which the villains don't dress themselves in fluorescent costumes and take on silly names to work their evil -- but hide in plain sight as people just like you and me.  Batman Begins makes the earlier Batman movies look silly -- because they're a product of their time, and we're living in a different time.

Star Wars never grew up.  Three prequels later, and George Lucas is still playing in the exact same universe.  (And why wouldn't he?  It keeps making him piles of money.)  But it's just another Star Wars movie -- with slightly better effects, thanks to the advancements of technology.  We're generally pleased to go back there -- to have one final romp in the world of Jedi and droids and light sabre battles.  But there's nothing new to it, nothing particularly special.  It's more of the same stuff that entertained us from '77 to '83 -- and it doesn't pay any attention to the fact that we are some 22 years older.

Batman Begins is a 2005 Batman movie.  It is exactly what it needed to be.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

So I sez to Jasmine...

"Do it once, and I'm getting you down.  Do it again, and I'm getting the camera."

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Not-So-Pretty Iceland Pics

And, just to put an exclamation point on the Iceland Photo Essay -- let's finish things off with:

1.  The icky bruise I discovered on my lower leg when I got back from horseback riding.  (Wow.  Naked flesh.  Try not to get too excited.)


2.  The picture I took of myself that last morning -- when I looked so pitiful the nice lady in the convenience store walked me over to the pharmacy when I trudged on in asking for cold medicine.

Is that an elegant ensemble or what?  Red waterproof jacket, long black knit skirt, and big brown hiking boots.  Not to mention the facial expression that says, "Hey, I'm amazed that I'm standing up without assistance." 

The most amazing thing, actually, is that within, say, 15 hours of this photo, I was back in Maryland, wearing a nice clean outfit (having been reunited with the bulk of my luggage), and enjoying a lovely dinner with my aunt and uncle in Baltimore.

Still had the bruise, though.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Smart Radio

So, my new car has a pretty decent sound system in it. 

I didn't get XM or any other satellite radio.  When it plays radio, it's playing good old-fashioned FM radio.

So, I crank it up, and discover that, when it is tuned to a radio station, a little display screen will list not only the exact number to which it is tuned, but the call letters of the station I'm listening to.  Also the type of music (e.g., "rock").  This seemed like a nice improvement over old radio.  I didn't question how it was done -- but I figured it couldn't be that hard.  Maybe pre-programming the radio with a list of local stations or something?

This morning, I put the radio on a station I rarely listen to.  And the display started showing words other than the call letters and the type of music.  It was showing the title of the song that was playing, and the name of the artist singing it.

Totally weirded me out.

My radio does not do that with all stations.  (Only one of my five presets does it.  Another seems to be trying, but picks up gibberish most of the time.)  I'm left with the conclusion that, when the radio station is broadcasting a signal that my radio interprets as SOUND, it must also be broadcasting a simultaneous signal that my radio interprets as text -- in this case, the name of the song and artist.  Did not know we had that sort of technology.  Totally cool.

The Very Last Set of Pretty Iceland Pics

So, they take you to this waterfall.  It's a very pretty waterfall, but it's located in a place that makes getting a good view of it somewhat difficult.

When you first come up on it (from an outlook) it looks something like this:

What I found so annoying was that you couldn't really see how deep it was -- the water going over the edge seemed to just go off into that thin crevasse, and you couldn't get a decent view on how far it fell.

But... see that little walking path there on the left?  You can trudge up to the waterfall (weather permitting) and stand on that little outcropping of rocks there near the top. And if you turn and look down, you see this:

The mist sorta gets in the way, but you can really see the force with which this water is tumbling down there.  Pretty impressive.  Impressive enough that I asked someone to take a snap of me in front of the aforementioned waterfall.

Iceland is darn fascinating from a geological standpoint -- and this remark comes from someone who doesn't know squat about geology.  But, um, "The island of Iceland is actually a hotspot volcano located right on the mid-ocean rift in the northern Atlantic. The combined volcanism of the hotspot and sea-floor spreading have built up the island to above sea-level. Iceland has extensive volcanic activity along the rift that bisects it from south to north, and is extensively studied as a natural laboratory for what happens at mid-ocean ridges in general."  (I stole that from this site.)  So, they take you to this space where Iceland is actually growing -- a valley that is expanding a centimeter or so every year, thanks to all that under-ocean volcanic activity.  And you get to walk to the top of this really massive ridge on one side of the valley.  And take pictures.  This one is my favorite.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

More Iceland Pics

So, Andrea asks:

And did you feel the heat from where you were standing when the Geysir spewed?

Which is pretty funny, because when I was downloading pictures from my camera, I couldn't remember why I'd taken this one, but now I do...


That's my foot.  Walking along the path in Geysirland.  I had noticed that I was walking on land that was, you know, wet, and had therefore wondered if I was in any danger from unexpected spews in my direction.  Apparently not.  We reached down and felt the ground -- both ground and water were not particularly warm to the touch, and although we were walking where water had pooled, we were far enough away from eruptions that we didn't feel any heat in the air.

And now ... pics from the horseback ride.  This is Horry, the evil horse you can read about here.  Oh, by the way, I found this site which tells you all about Icelandic horses, and explains that whole "tolt" thing better than I can.  Anyway, Horry:

This was when we'd stopped to graze.  Note the tautness in the rein, as he's pulling me over to where he wants to go.

As the only time we were allowed to take pictures was the grazing break, I never got a shot of me on the horse -- nor the horse I eventually switched to when Horry misbehaved.

Then we went Whale-Watching.  I already told you how successful  that was.  Well, I checked the photos and, as expected, I did not get a picture of the three leaping dolphins.  Still, I think this shot of the water (right after the dolphins disappeared under the surface) isn't bad.

I was, however, pleasantly surprised by how nice this shot of a bird came out.

Look at that.  Centered in the frame and everything.  I rock.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Pictures Everyone Gets in Iceland

The "Golden Circle" Tour is apparently the tour everyone does when they visit Reykjavik.  I therefore assume everyone who goes to Iceland comes home with photos that look a lot like these.  At least, I know everyone on the bus with me got photos that looked a lot like these.

This is Kerith Crater.  It used to be a volcano till it fell in on itself.

Next up -- Geysirland!  Iceland is very interesting from a geological standpoint.

Yes.  That's steam coming out of the earth.  When you get to "Geysirland," you walk toward the great big "Geysir."  (See?  Isn't it neat how you know these Icelandic words even if you didn't think you did.  Several Icelandic words look a lot like English words just spelled a little differently.  Would you like a cup of Kaffi?  Or Te?  I am not kidding.)

OK, so, on your way to the Geysir, you come by... the Litli Geysir.  Awww, innit cute?  Just sitting there, gurgling away.

Then, you make your way over to the Geysir.  And wait.

And then you're rewarded...

And finally, I'm including a photo I don't think everyone takes in Iceland.  The thing that struck me most about Iceland is how ... stylized the whole place is.  I mean, you all know the joke about a country being so small you can get the whole thing carpeted.  Well, Iceland looks like they hired an interior decorator for the whole country.  It's all about clean and elegant lines.  Thus ... this is the photo I took of the bathroom at the shop where you buy touristy junk in Geysirland.

Where's the Birdie?

OK...Julie couldn't see the eagle in the lining in Lincoln's coat.  Doesn't surprise me.  Black thread on black fabric ... AND the whole thing was behind plexiglass, which created a photographic challenge somewhat beyond my abilities. 

But I do have a photo editing program, so I lightened it up a bit.  Ignore the three white spots (reflection) and look for the eagle with wings outstretched in the upper-center of the picture.  All of the lining is rather ornately embroidered.

The Trip in Photos

Hey, Scalzi, does this ring any bells?

There it is, folks.  The pistol with which John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln.  Pretty small gun that did so much.

I also took this pic of his knife, which looks rather nastier. 

Can't say that I admire Booth or anything.  But you do have to give marks for the theatricality of the whole thing.  Killing Lincoln in a crowded theatre, leaping to the stage, yelling "Sic Semper Tyrannis!" -- I mean, really, what assassins bother with the whole Latin catchphrase thing these days?  Booth was wrong and twisted and evil, but he does get points for style.

Speaking of style, however, his victim was a bit ahead of him there.  Check out the coat Lincoln was wearing.  More precisely, the lining. 

Check it out.  Dude has a Brooks Brothers coat made all special for his second inaugural, and gets them to stitch the American eagle into the lining.  (See the eagle there at the top of the photo?  With the ribbon in its claws?)  Now, I'm sure Abe didn't have any idea anyone would be seeing the inside of his coat.  (I mean, it wasn't like he knew he'd be assassinated while wearing it and the coat would end up as an artifact in a museum at Ford's Theatre for generations to come.)  But when he has a coat tailored especially for him, he puts the national symbol in the lining even though he figures he'll probably be the only one to ever see it.  Smooth.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Homework: The Mouse House

For this week's homework, Scalzi asks:

Recount a noteable amusement park experience. No, it doesn't have to be about getting sick on that rollercoaster... although (heh) those usually are pretty good. It can be any sort of memorable moment: cute, scary, funny, nice, whatever.

Dude.  I got me an Annual Pass for Disneyland.  I am makin' me some theme park memories on a regular basis.  (At least six times a year, if I want the pass to pay for itself.)  But the one which belongs in my journal is a trip to DisneyWorld one Christmas.

Went to DisneyWorld with my friend Mary.  We went for a few days, got us some park-hopper passes and did it up right.  We had one afternoon in the Disney/MGM Studios park....

Oh look, there's the Tower of Terror.  It's one of those "runaway elevator" themed rides.  I understand it has something like a 13 (natch) story drop in it.

I am vaguely interested in this.  To this day, I can't tell you why.  I've always been afraid of this type of ride.  I was at Magic Mountain the day they opened their "Free Fall" ride, and I sat it out while my friends rode it.  Or, more precisely, I sat in its shadow for about three hours while my friends waited in line for their six second drop.  That ride was pretty simple:  haul you up, push your little car out onto the vertical track, let you hover there for a second of stomach-wrenching fear, then drop you -- the car would go straight down, and then curve 90 degrees and slow (and stop) on a little horizontal track.  I must have watched it hundreds of times.  Heard the screams.  Swore there was no way in hell you'd ever get me on one of them.

So, here's me and Mary looking at Tower of Terror in DisneyWorld.  Mary is absolutely not going to ride it.  I sort of want to.  I think maybe I wanted to face my fears, and had this sort of trust in the Disney Imagineers that they wouldn't, y'know, kill me.  I got a FastPass for the ride, and we ate some lunch while waiting for my time.

FastPass lets you enter the line near the front.  It actually let me in a little too far near the front.  I'd been in line for maybe five minutes and was about 20 people from the front when the woman loading cars asked if there were any solo riders in the line.  I heard her.  I was a solo rider.  But I hadn't yet psyched myself up to ride this thing, so I was real quiet.  A few minutes later when I worked my way to front of the line, and the same ride-loader asked me how many people in my party, she gave me a "why didn't you speak up before?" look.  I gave her an "I didn't hear you" look and boarded the ride.

Noticed lots of kids around me.  Many of whom had ridden this before and were talking about how fun it was.  Hey, small children like this.  Can't be scary.

Tower of Terror isn't just a drop, like the Magic Mountain Free Fall.  It's lots of drops.  They drop you a few stories, pick you back up, drop you some more, and so on.

First drop, I thought I was gonna lose my lunch.

Second drop, I thought, "Hey, this ain't so bad."

Third drop, I thought, very cautiously, "Wheee?"

By the fourth drop, I believed this was actually fun.  Wanted to ride it again.  Couldn't believe what a cool sensation gravity could be.  Loved it.

Now, in hindsight, I can say that riding Tower of Terror in DisneyWorld was probably the first step in creating the more adventurous me.  The one who did that Canyon Swing thing in New Zealand.  I mean, there's obviously some distance between dropping while you're sitting in a controlled Disney ride and jumping into a canyon while you're strapped in a harness -- but it wasn't all that different to me.  I'd already realized that, despite everything I'd thought I knew about myself, I seem to be the sort of person who (a) likes overcoming fears and (b) quite enjoys hurtling through space with an acceleration of 9.8 meters per second per second.  Go figure.

Stop the Madness

I've been cautious about telling you guys about the New York part of my trip.  Because I saw a play called The Pillowman.

Which I saw because it was brilliant and creepy.  It had nothing to do with the fact that Jeff Goldblum was in it.


I am never going to live this down.  (sob).

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Why Did This Annoy Me?

Flight home.  Aisle seat.  Next to an older woman (late 60s, I reckon) and her husband.  They're clearly American.  I chat pleasantly with them for a few minutes, then dive headfirst into the mystery novel I'm reading.  I drink an entire can of Coke before dinner comes, then have a cup of water with dinner, and a cup of tea after.

I gotta pee so bad my eyeballs are floating, but I can't get to the john because they haven't picked up our trays yet.  Older woman beside me comments that she needs to get to the lavatory, and why have they picked up everyone else's trays but ours.  I smile sympathetically (and slip on my shoes, so I'll be ready to run to the can at the first available moment).

The trays get picked up and I'm finally able to answer nature's call.  When I return to my seat, the woman is standing there in the aisle near my seat, and her husband is not there.  She comments -- somewhat unnecessarily, as I can put two and two together -- that she's waiting for her husband to come back so he can get back into the window seat, then we can all sit down.

Except she doesn't say it like that.  Instead, she puts her hand on my forearm and says, "I'm just waiting for my husband to come back, honey."  I involuntarily jerk away from the hand on my arm -- but try to do it in a way that isn't totally offensive.  (I don't need a confrontation with someone I will spend the next three hours sitting next to.)  She continues on with it, though -- now putting her hand on the back of my shoulder, and patting me.  I'm pretty sure she calls me "honey" again, too.

Now, I know she didn't mean to be anything other than friendly, but, my goodness, I was so ooked out by this.  Some total stranger calling me "honey" and going so far into my personal space that she's actually touching my person.  Who did she think I was, her daughter? 

Now, maybe I was a little over-sensitive to the issue.  (The mystery novel I'm reading has a subplot involving a female detective who gets no respect from her male coworkers.)  But I was really wondering if she'd do that to an unknown man.  Or an unknown woman of larger build.  Or even someone who looked older.  Don't get me wrong -- I'm totally happy with my appearance (and grateful for the fact that I still, on rare occasions, get mistaken for a college student) -- but, dang, is the fact that I'm youngish looking and fairly short license for every woman of a certain age to go maternal on me?


Last Update till US

Bailed on the Blue Lagoon.  For some reason, this is one of those colds that thinks sitting in a thermal pool surrounded by warm steam is a really bad idea.  (As demonstrated by the horseback riding yesterday, it seems to respond favorably to just being outdoors in the cool crisp air.  Go figure.)

Convinced the woman at the tour desk to swap my Blue Lagoon ticket for one for the direct bus to the airport.  I would've thought this would be easy -- as they are from the same company and the airport bus is rather cheaper -- however, she seemed initially opposed to the idea.  She kept saying I had to buy a separate airport bus ticket and then go back to my travel company and get a refund for the Blue Lagoon trip.  The problem with this plan was that my Blue Lagoon trip was part of a package deal from the airline -- one that came with a "No refunds for unused portions of the trip once travel has started" clause.  Once I got the lady at the desk understanding that I didn't want a refund at all -- and just wanted to give her my unused Blue Lagoon ticket in exchange for a shiny new airport bus ticket, she cleared it with a manager.  Now, I could look at this as losing out on the money for the Blue Lagoon, but I prefer to think of it as -- since I wasn't going to go to the Blue Lagoon no matter what -- saving the cost of the damn airport bus.

Disappointed that I missed out on the Blue Lagoon (and also have an unused ticket for a rather nice spa nearby as well).  But, I've still got quite a bit of travel left, and I need to get well in a hurry, so I'm considering these missed opportunities as just costs of the cold, and I figure someday I'll come back and make them up.  Now that I've done my own "scouting mission" to Iceland.  And I know how to find that place what makes the lava cakes.

Instead, I spent the morning hunting down the nearest pharmacy.  THIS time, I asked the lady at the desk not ONLY for directions, but for the name of the shop I was looking for.  (We learn from our mistakes.)  Which would have been a really excellent plan, excepting that she gave me the wrong shop name.  Sending me into the local equivalent of a 7-11, rather than the pharmacy two doors down.  When I asked the salesperson at the 7-11 if they carried any cold medicine, she took one look at my pitiful self (I took a picture of my clothing ensemble -- I really do look pitiful today), and not only TOLD me where the pharmacy was, she walked me outside her shop and pointed it out to me.  Darned helpful, these Icelanders.

It's now just after 1:00.  I've already had two throat lozenges and six (count 'em, six) cups of tea today.  I intend to flush these germies out.  Hopefully, before we land in Baltimore.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

A Whale is ... Who Really Cares?

The shuttle driver came to take me to Whale Watching.  I was the only person doing this particular tour combination.  Now I know why.  You've gotta be insane to do both these things in the same day.

Especially when fighting a cold.

I should note that, what with all the excitement of Horry, my cold wasn't really a factor in the riding, and I was rarin' to move on to the whale watching.  (Sure, sitting in the shuttle bus waiting for the driver for ten minutes was a bit of a freeze, but I could handle it.)

Peggy had advised that whale watching was the coldest she'd ever been.  I packed accordingly.  By the time I was sitting on the deck of the whale watching boat, I was wearing:  jeans, a wool turtleneck, a wool sweater, a jacket (combined flannel vest and spray jacket), and a scarf.  As soon as the boat pushed off, I felt the wind whipping through my jeans like they weren't even there.  I quickly added rain pants to my ensemble.  (And wasn't it nice that I'd bought the ones with full zippers, so I was able to put them on while remaining seated -- and without having to remove my hiking boots?)  Cold.  Windy.  Ucky.  I sucked on a lozenge.

We went out to the whale watching waters and saw dolphins!  Three in a row.  All leaping together.  (I tried to get a pic, but I doubt it came out.)  Cute.  Dolphins.  After I'd watched them for a bit, I moved away from the railing to let the others see.  And to sit in the sunny patch on the other side of the boat.

And sat. 

And sat.

Words came over the loudspeaker about a whale somewhere, so I went to look, but it had gone under the surface.

So did I.  I went down the stairs to the cabin below.  With windows.  And (relative) warmth.  And tea for sale!  I unzipped my jacked, bought some tea, and sat by the window trying to warm up and spot the whale at the same time.

Had partial success on both fronts.  Saw something vaguely whale-like leap and dive, and I was satisfactorily warmed -- except, for some reason, my feet, whichstubbornly remained frozen.

I remained there, and as the loudspeaker announced signs of whale on the other side of the ship, I got up to walk over, and realized I didn't really have the strength for that.  Decided to just sit by my window, eat a muffin, and watch for all the whales on the starboard side.

As the trip progressed (with our guide being the only person to actually SEE the whales doing anything particularly cool), I started to care less and less about the whales.  In fact, sitting here (on this hard table) was rather uncomfortable.  Maybe I should just sit on the soft cushy seats in front of it.  Who cares if I can't see out the window from here.  If they call out a whale, I can always get up, right?

I dozed off, dreaming of when I would get back to the hotel, and sink into a hot tub in the spa.  Warm feet... yessssss.

I was awakened by the loudspeaker talking about puffins.  We had apparently pulled up alongside Puffin Island or something.  Loads of puffins everywhere.  I pulled myself up to the window for a look.  Nothing.  I looked across the ship outside the windows opposite.  An island.  With puffins on it.  I mumbled -- to nobody in particular -- "How nice, puffins" and went back to sleep.

Didn't wake again till we were pulling into port.  Whale watching company gave me a lift back to my hotel.

Hotel... spa... hot tub.  Hot tub GOOD.  Complimentary neck and shoulder massage while in hot tub -- BETTER.  I melted in there.  Got out and sat in the "Relaxation Room" -- in a nice cushy lounge chair, with a warm fleece blanket over myself.

Wasn't till about twenty minutes later -- when the chill started -- that I realized sitting there in a soggy bathing suit for twenty minutes was a stupid, stupid thing to do.

Put on dry clothes and went back to my room.

Now, tonight is my last night in Iceland.  I'd thought of going out to dinner for nice Icelandic fare -- and was flipping through guide books to find a place -- but, at the same time, I felt like crap and couldn't see myself leaving the room.

OK, here's the problem.  (Well, one of the problems.)  I brought a lot of cold medicine with me.  That's not the problem.  The problem is I'm taking some OTHER med which reacts badly with ... an ingredient found in my cold medicine.  I could take some Advil, but I was basically on my own with whatever I could find in the room.  Which, ultimately, added up to a teapot (and a few teabags) and a $5 can of peanuts from the mini-bar.  (Which was probably the best food deal I got in Iceland.) 

The peanuts and tea got me feeling well enough to go downstairs to the restaurant in the hotel.  Which is, apparently, one of the nice places in Reykjavik.  Well, the main restaurant is.  It also has a "cheaper" bistro attached.  (I was going to put "bistro" in quotes, but, really, "cheaper" is the word that deserved them.)  Scarfed down massive quantities of food, and came over here to the free internet terminal to tell you all about my day.

Tomorrow I leave.  The package I purchased has a stop at the Blue Lagoon (thermal baths) on the way to the airport.  We'll see if I'm up to it.

Being sick sucks.  Going back to my room for the rest of the tea.

A Horse is a Horse

... except when it's an Icelandic horse.

More on that in a second.  I should note that last night, I felt like I might be getting sick again.  Damn and blast.  I also stayed up till midnight, just to see for myself whether this whole "24 hours of daylight" thing was true.  Sure enough, by midnight, the sky had managed something on the order of a light dusk, and I had all reason to believe that it would quickly turn to dawn without all that unpleasant darkness in between. 

Blackout curtains are a necessity in Iceland.

So, the horses.  Icelanders are extremely proud of their horses -- and really touchy about the breed.  All the horses that were first brought here (Norse horses, I guess).  Every single one.  No non-Icelandic horse is allowed in the country.  In fact, if you bring riding gear into the country, you have to have a vet's certificate saying it was specially cleaned and disinfected before you can bring it in.  They say that a plane had to stop for refuelling here and it was carrying Arabian horses -- the horses had to be put to sleep before they allowed the plane to land.  Damn serious about keeping the breed pure.

One of the ways the horses are special is that they have five gaits.  In addition to your standard walk, trot and canter (gallop), they also have tolt (a trot variant) and pace (which I didn't see in action, but the graphic chart makes it out to be kinda like a gallop).

Woke up this morning for my day of horseback riding and whale watching (the tour which had originally disappeared from the computers, but ultimately found its way back).  Got picked up by the horse riding place, taken out there, given a brain bucket, and put on a horse.

My horse was named Horry.  To tell you the truth, I thought he looked like trouble from the start, but I brushed that feeling off.  I mean, he was a perfectly good trail horse.  Sure, he was bigger and differently-colored than all the other horses, but they assured me he'd be fine.

We started down the trail (through a field studded with bits of lava) with our horses in a single-file line.  The horses walked.  Horry behaved.

At one point, the trail split.  Our guide (who had been silent to this point) said we were going to split into two groups -- one would continue walking, and the other would go a little faster.  "How much faster?" I asked.  She said no cantering but we'd trot and tolt.  Well, you haul ass all the way out here to see the horses with their special gaits, might as well try one out.  I turned Horry toward the faster path.  He didn't want to go.  The guide is giving me the helpful advice to pull on the left rein.  "I AM pulling," I said.  She told me to knee the horse as well, and he finally went.

And we're off, in a single file line again.  Five horses.  We walk, then trot or tolt for a bit, then walk again.  Each time we pick up speed, Horry goes to the faster gait, but hangs back a bit from the horse in front of him.  Once, I nudged him to pick up speed, and he (obediently?) went into a canter for a few seconds.  I knew this was prohibited -- although it was fun and Horry clearly enjoyed it -- so I pulled up on the reins and pulled him back in line.

Next time we did the pick up speed thing, and Horry passed the horse in front of us.  I apologized, but there was nothing for it.  Horry wanted to be number two in line -- right behind the guide.  He was pretty good for the rest of the trip.

We stopped at a small creek to rest.  We all dismounted and held the reins while our horses grazed and drank.  I noticed that everyone else kept a loose hold on their reins while their horses just stood there and ate the nearby grass, while Horry kept pulling the reins (and me) so he could eat the grass HE wanted.

We mounted back up and started down the path again.  Horry was fourth in line.  We started a trot or tolt, and Horry hung back a bit.  Because Horry was hanging back, the fifth horse nearly passed us.  I nudged Horry, "Are you going to let that horse pass us?"  Clearly not.  Horry shifted into a canter and started barrelling ahead.  Ahead of the that horse.  Also the third and the second.  By this time, I was pulling on the reins calling "Whoa!" (knowing full well that "Whoa" is probably not the correct term in Icelandic).  Horry had the lead horse in his sights and refused to slow.  The guide turned her horse to block his path, and Horry was forced to stop (although he ended up stepping into the number 2 horse as he did).  The guide said, "We'll have no more of this," and immediately swapped horses with me.

We both dismounted (she was holding Horry by the reins at this point -- to prevent further funny business) and I mounted her horse.  Well, I tried.  I put my foot in the stirrup and tried to jump for it, but I couldn't get high enough to get my rump in the saddle.  I got down and tried again.  I noticed that my foot, which was still in the stirrup, was trembling wildly.  I guess that when Horry refused to stop when cantering away, I'd been a bit terrified, and my body wasn't letting me just laugh it off.  I took my foot out of the stirrup and -- at the guide's direction -- took a few deep breaths.

I said to the new horse, "Are you a good horse?  Are you going to be calm?"  The guide nodded her head and said slowly, "Ya."  I said, "Am I going to be calm?"  The guide nodded and said, "Ya" again.  I got on the horse.

This horse was great.  Receptive to every little touch of the reins.  Totally did exactly what I wanted him to do.  Got in line and stayed there.  I said to the horse, "Now, you keep your eyes on that tuckus and don't take them off till we get back to the ranch."  (Have you seen "Frisco Kid"?  Oh, never mind.)  We walked.  We trotted.  We tolted.  Horse was great.

As we were going along, I heard this little clink-clink noise.  It was sorta keeping rhythm with the pace of the line.  Once my horse pulled back just a touch, I saw where it was coming from.  The shoe on the rear hoof of the horse in front of me was coming off -- flipping with each step like a little horsey flip-flop. 

This concerned me.  I don't know much about horses, but the term "threw a shoe" came rushing to mind, and I figured that if that shoe came flying off, me and my horse would be the obvious target.  I did not like this idea.  I thought I should call the problem to the attention of our guide.

Now, keep in mind, the whole ride has been totally silent.  We were told that raising voices excites the horses, and we didn't want to go there.  I put on my most nonchalant voice and said all conversationally, "Y'know where that sound is coming from?  Your horse's shoe is just flipping along."  The guide said, "I heard it."

We didn't trot or tolt much more.  We pretty much walked all the way back.  Right near the end, we did a little trot, and I could swear I heard a little "ping" which I imagined to be one more of the nails coming out. 

Made it back to the ranch safely.  They gave us all little preprinted diplomas signifying that we'd successfully completed a trail ride on an Icelandic horse. 

I felt like I'd actually earned mine.