Travel Thursday Snapshots: Djerba, Tunisia

No one told me to put on sunblock before going to bed at night. . .
Sighing heavily, knees creaking as my feet hit the floor, I walked over to the large window behind the bed, the stars of last night replaced by the heavy sunlight that had awakened me. Below the almost-tropical blue sky was a beach, though it had plenty of big rocks, enough to make real surf noise that had probably helped in lulling me to sleep last night, not an easy thing to do when you suffer from both insomnia and apnea. . . plus in this particular instance jetlag.
The scene made it easy to picture Odysseus’ men lazing on the sand while subsisting on lotus flowers, probably that blue water lily I’d seen on my first walk. Often called the “Polynesia of the Mediterranean,” Djerba was an island of palm trees and sandy beaches, along with the inevitable luxury hotels. What made it different than the rest of the Med, as well as the Carib, the Pacific, and basically everywhere else, was that it belonged to a Muslim country, albeit one not all that strict. Off the coast of Tunisia, Djerba not only had pirate castles, ancient synagogues, buildings that were featured in the original Star Wars (those were the droids you were looking for!) and open-air markets full of potters and silversmiths, it also had a casino. . . not that I would be wasting my time gambling, though I did hear there was a game room, with air hockey, Galaxian, skeeball, etc. You know, in case I got bored with all the sun. . .
Which I did, but not before walking what felt like the entire island’s circumference; at least my knees were creaking for an honest reason now. Realizing I was still early for dinner, I took the scenic route back to the hotel; unlike most tourists, I savored the moments amongst the locals, both their festivities and everyday work. How else would I have met so many friendly people, watched some dancers rehearsing for some festival, come across a wedding procession with the bride riding a camel? All soundtracked to melodious flutes and pulse-pounding tambourines.
And then end the day sharing the absolute splendor of a Mediterranean sunset with fishermen still casting their nets at this late hour, though I figured the clock didn’t matter, since fish don’t sleep.
Refreshed and relaxed without having stopped the walking, I wandered back towards the hotel, my mental GPS unerring as usual as I walked through shady gardens of fig, apple, and pomegranate; I’d grown up with a granada tree in the front yard, so I recognized that last fruit easily without wanting to reach up and grab one. Skipping the olive groves, though taking in the gnarled trunks that proved just how old civilization was on this island, I found myself high enough to look out, in the last dregs of post-sunset glow, to what I’d heard called The Island of the Pink Flamingo, as always wondering if it would be worth the trip. . .


Poetry Tuesday: The Fort of Rathangan

It’s World Poetry Day! And it falls on Poetry Tuesday! What are the odds? (Approx. 1 out of 7, taking leap year into account.)

Here’s an anonymous Irish work about non-permanence a thousand years before Shelley’s Ozymondius.

The fort over against the oak wood
Once it was Bruidge’s, it was Cathal’s,
It was Aed’s, it was Ailill’s,
It was Conaing’s, it was Cuiline’s,
And it was Maelduin’s;
The fort remains after each in his turn–
And the kings asleep in the ground.


Book Reviews: Put some Graphic in Your Pencil

Overheard at Coffee Bean:
“She’s the poster child for high maintenance. . .”

Lady Mechanika V.2: Tablet of Destinies
In the first volume I mentioned the heroine is a half-mechanical steampunk Lara Croft; should have saved that description for this one, as the plot starts with a search for an ancient artifact in secret caverns in Africa. Unfortunately she’s hunting abominable snowmen in the Alps with dilettantes while this is going on, but after a brief stop in London she eventually gets out there.
The first thing shown is a jewel-encrusted mechanical messenger bird, which tells the reader what they’re dealing with right away, in case they hadn’t gotten it from the cover.
For all her baddassery and proneness to hiding her feelings, she’s surprisingly good with little girls. Unlike the previous collection, where the girl was mean to her and called her a liar, this one goes as far as to dress up as her. Even better, “I kicked him in his trinkets just like you taught me.”
But then I love every moment where she shows her human side, like the rare times she laughs, or says something like, “Cheeky little bugger.”
There’s a beautiful shot of the desert’s desolation, with Mechanika and Fred looking tiny. Even better is the one where they’re silhouetted against the sun that reminds me of Star Wars. As before, the artwork is superb and the highlight of the book.
At the end is a cover gallery where Mechanika again reluctantly plays model.
Didn’t like it quite as much as the first, but still wonderful, and well worth the read.

Motro V.1
A tiny motorcycle—I was hoping it was the main character—is in telepathic communication with a boy who has the power of ten men and even survives a direct blast from a tank. He has to save them all, according to his nightmare. He doesn’t want to fight, but has to, and eventually becomes the ruler’s new son. (Don’t ask what happened to the old one.)
Fifteen years later he’s basically in charge and wants to go on a quest, no matter how many of his soldiers die. Thirty-four years later, the world has turned to black and white, where reptiles are kidnapping babies. Yep, it gets that weird.
There are some fun touches. The bad guys’ tanks also communicate telepathically, but only in pictures, so they must be dumber than the motorcycle. This time it’s the frog that licks you to make magic, not the other way around.
But I found both the plot and the character development lacking. He says he doesn’t want to fight, but when he has to, he kills—no middle ground. Leads his men to icy death, but that’s okay, because he gets what he wants.
Strange ending. If there was a point to all this, I didn’t get it.

The Flintstones Vol. 1
Puns abound—even more than on the original show or the movie—in these six stories that have a common thread: Fred and Barney are now war veterans, which works out for the best at the end.
Wilma is now an abstract artist. Fred’s words of love: “You were worth every goat.” I think Fred got a bargain with her less-than-impressive dowry. You can see why the guys from Red Dwarf were so hot for her.
The puns are the best part. Andy Warthog! David Rockney! Then the author unleashes a pun hurricane on the mall: Bloomingshale’s, Oscar de la Raptor; plenty of shoes I don’t know enough about, though there are original Ugghs. Starbrick’s. Foot Licker! Outback Snakehouse! And don’t forget Falcon Crest, the official toothpaste of ancient birds.
The local god’s name is the lovely-sounding Morp. “You can’t enter heaven unless Morp enters you.” Sounds about right. But Morp’s priest screws up and has to come up with something better. . . and the choice is awesome! The astronomer looks suspiciously like Carl Sagan, even though he thinks the earth is riding on the back of a giant turtle.
“Monogamy destroys!” Domestication of animals and marriage. . . I get where you’re going with that. And a lot of stealth jokes in the vein of Adam and Steve. And in addition to the David Bowie quotes, the mayor is Bruce Campbell!
Could have made the Vietnam analogy a little more obvious. . . wait, no.
14 pages of covers, mostly of Fred getting nuzzled by either Wilma or Dino.
Fun, and funny. Don’t worry about the plots and just enjoy the moments.

Rick and Morty, V.4
I’ve read one graphic novel in this universe, though at a bit of a tangent to this one, so I like Summer and I’m glad there’s no walking talking poo this time. Other than that I didn’t know much about this, and had no idea Grandpa Scientist was going to be such an ass; he’s like Back to the Future’s Doc Brown without a soul, or any type of morals.
There are no punches pulled here. At one point they club baby seals. One character is described as “why women walk around with keys between their fingers.” Then there’s the robobros, as though human bros aren’t bad enough. And the cops: “Well, we zipped this case up. Let’s do zero more investigating nor consider any other suspect.”
“The vanquishing of my enemies has engorged my genitals with blood!” Means a lot more coming from a woman. And you should always wear a sexy outfit when you friend-zone an alien who thinks he’s hot stuff.
So there’s plenty of funny moments, but not enough to justify the words they bandy about in their publicity blurbs. Every page I think it’s not possible to hate Rick more, but he’s definitely a go-getter in that category. I think the creator uses this comic to get all the stuff out of his head that he can’t say on his TV shows.


Poetry Tuesday: Sailing Through the Gorges

By Yang Wan-li (1124-1206)

Our boat going upstream barely moves by the inch;
The dark cliffs on both sides deepen into the dusk’s gloom
With a clap of thunder the heavens threaten rain;
A wind rushing in from the South Seas beyond the horizon
Angrily blasts the gorges asunder–
A hundred men shout and beat the big drums,
While a single swain flies up the towering mast.
When the sails are rigged, all hold their hands in their sleeves
And sit down to watch their boat–
a goose feather skimming over the waters.


Book Reviews: Ero-tick

Hotel Hookup: Chicago
First I’ve read of this series that obviously takes place in different cities, apparently featuring a one night stand that despite all efforts might turn into something more.
It doesn’t take long to realize I’m not the target demographic here, as Hannah goes bra shopping, which takes FOREVER. So bored I almost gave up on it. There’s so much build-up that this feels like a short story that later got expanded.
Wasn’t sold on the character either. Hannah pretends to be a deep thinker, but she’s quite superficial, especially around men. She’s only interested in looks, but that’s fair, since she certainly doesn’t mind being called a beautiful girl. . . or she might mind if she wasn’t so hot for the guy saying it.
At least the hookup scene was excellent, which only reiterates my belief that so much of this was unnecessary. Less is more here.

The Beginning: I Bet My Wife
A married couple gives in to their sexual urges, which sends her in the arms of other men while her husband waits at home, alternately turned on by what he imagines is being done to her and yet none-too-thrilled, especially when the guy in question is his archrival at work.
Not exactly a new story: be careful what you wish for—as far as sexy wives are concerned—has been around for centuries, and everyone knows what’s going to happen.
The writing isn’t that great, though it’s probably helped by being first person. Unfortunately that first person is the husband, so we don’t get the first-hand account of the sex scenes. Couldn’t help but think this should have been better, or at least put a twist on the same old story.

Bottoms Up
Woman in Tucson who just got fired and has a stalker walks into a bar; what happens then isn’t a joke, unless you count all the drink puns.
Lexi is a little flighty and neurotic, but oddly enough that makes her more endearing. The further the story goes the more adventurous she gets, especially with locations involving the word pool. Oddly enough, the first sex scene isn’t written with nearly the same style as the rest; almost stilted, choppy. Luckily after that it gets better. There’s a few fun side characters, like her best friend who’s engaged to a Brit; of course they walk in on the new couple at the worst time. Unfortunately the villain is so one-dimensional it hardly seemed worth including him. And of course there has to be a girl from Justin’s past to pop up and make a misunderstanding.
Cute, but no big deal. At least it’s somewhat funny, especially the drink names. The hot sex scenes are the highlight.

Blind Seduction
Dominant husband takes submissive wife to a sex retreat, blindfolding her from the moment they’re in the car and giving us the first part of the title. Once there the couple expands their sexual power games in small increments while listening to others’ stories. One guy wants her more than the rules allow.
Though I’m not much for the erotic power genre, I enjoyed this. The couple seems to have the perfect combination of adventurism and trust that only love can achieve. Leslie’s a fantastic character, from her desire for submission to her fortitude in escaping a kidnapping attempt. The subplot with the bad guy hardly seemed necessary, though it did show her strength. Had this just been about the sex it would have been just as good.
And the sex scenes were plenty good, including some interesting psychology into the Dom/sub relationship. A few times their games were interrupted by stories told to them by others, which at the time felt like filler, though it did make it easier to understand what the main characters were going through.

High Class—VIP Desire Agency, Book 2
Australian call girl doesn’t want to admit she’s in love with client; client tries to win her over with money and not taking no for an answer. In real life she’d be calling the police, but because this is a romance, guess what happens?
Despite the not-likely plot setting, there’s nothing here that isn’t typical. I might have been better convinced If there’d actually been a sex scene for her with someone other than him, considering she is an escort. Yet at the beginning she leaves the man who bought her time to go off into an empty room with this guy she apparently can’t say no to.
The romance is equally bland, with the usual misunderstandings and lack of communication. I don’t know if it would even be called a romance; if he wasn’t so rich and handsome, his behavior would be labeled stalkerish, especially when he shows up at the hotel near the end. The best part was their backgrounds, opening up about why they’d become so closed off emotionally, but that hardly overtook how bored and unwilling I was to suspend all belief for most of this.


Travel Thursday Snapshots: Spokane, Washington

One could hardly be blamed for thinking of rainy Seattle when Washington state was mentioned, but the view all around me was as different as it could get. All the liquid precipitation fell west of the mountains, which was why the coast averaged over ten feet of rain a year while on this other side of the Cascade Range both the ground and the people were much dryer. Here in early fall there was plenty of sun, tons of fresh fruit, and a vast rolling countryside with lots of space for everyone.
But don’t visit in winter. . .
Due to the miracles of modern refrigeration and irrigation, this part of the country was pretty famous for growing a lot of food, but for that same reason, plus all the snow in the winter, it didn’t get many visitors. Amber waves of grain might sound poetic, but to the eye, and camera, they were pretty boring. Most tourists, like most residents, preferred to cluster with the seafood around Puget Sound.
I’d visited this part of the country only once before, during my collegiate sports career, and thought it was high time—whatever that means—to check it out when I wasn’t worried about soccer or Grinch-like soccer coaches. Once here I simply wandered around, going wherever the spirit took me, figuring I might end up somewhere in Montana or Wyoming before I got bored.
Problem was, I was already a little bored, after hours of the same landscape. Still, it would be different once I got to Idaho, since mountains are so much more fun.
But now, as the highway crested the hill, my eyes were filled with the panorama of Spokane, sprawling a lot more than anyone would have thought before seeing it. I’d read there were close to 200,000 inhabitants, but from the view it didn’t look like they were jammed into a small place, and after all it was the major metropolis of a pretty big area, stretching from the Cascades to the Rockies, which for some reason was called the Inland Empire, like there wasn’t already one of those in Southern California, neither of them having monarchs. . .
I sighed at the way my mind worked sometimes and looked for a hotel.
Other than a local college volleyball game, where I spent more time looking at a blonde on the visiting team’s bench, the eastern part of Washington state hadn’t thrilled me on my first day. The next morning brought me to the tourism office, which pushed a “finest old homes” tour that bored me in a hurry, but Manito Park had a Japanese garden where I enjoyed myself for a while, as well as a more formal garden—it had “formal” in the name, after all—with the kind of scenery that had me maxing out a couple of smallish memory cards, so I really couldn’t complain.
For a moment I thought about dropping all the way down to Oregon, thinking of all the shots I’d get of the fall foliage, a sharp contrast to what I was seeing now. The entire Palouse region, between the wooded hills surrounding Spokane to the Blue Mountains—nothing like the Australian version—was full of barren knolls, low but steep. The tourism guy had told me this was the best wheat-growing land in the world, and if it wasn’t just pure homerism then I had to wonder how bored a grad student must have been to think up that study.
Somehow I ended up at the Grand Coolie Dam, which was, as one might expect, the centerpiece of the Grand Coolie Area. Not worried that I’d be missing the “spectacular” laser light shows shown only during the summer, I just stood there and looked up at what had at one time been the largest concrete structure in the world. . . then shook my head and got busy shooting the lakes, which, according to the tourist propaganda, reached north almost to the Canadian border. Before the dam, the Columbia Basin was so barren locals said you had to prime yourself to spit, and jackrabbits had to carry canteens. Definitely hard to believe, the way things looked now, but all the scenes of irrigation sprinklers bubbling happily along and over the wheat, grapes, corn, potatoes, and other stuff I couldn’t identify now made sense.
Realizing I was feeling tired, I remembered something I’d read in the tourism propaganda and dug through the stash. There it was, Soap Lake. I tried really hard—and was only moderately successful—to ignore the part about them having the world’s largest lava lamp, concentrating on the spa of it all. The name of the place, they claimed, came from a local native term for “Healing Waters,” even though in one of the photos I could see the buildup of what really did look like soap right at the water’s edge. The tribes used the lake for healing purposes, even brought their animals, so I figured it was good enough for me. If one of the twenty-three minerals—or more likely a combo of them—in the water and mud didn’t work for me, it wouldn’t be from lack of trying.
A quick meal at a place with wi-fi brought me more info; although I was looking for a good massage spa, I kept getting sidetracked by the science. At least I learned a new word: meromictic, which meant the lake had two layers of water that never mixed. The first layer was over eighty feet of mineral water, while the second was mud, with a stronger mineral composition and concentrations of unusual substances and microscopic life forms. That caused some pause, as I didn’t want any kind of life forms, especially unusual ones, all over me, but then I figured I didn’t need the mud pack as much as the massage. Seeing there were only eleven meromictic lakes in the whole country, I filed that away for the next quirky road trip.
Then I really got excited at the end of the list of minerals present—sodium, chloride, carbonate, sulfate, bicarbonate, etc.—when I read it matched the contents of the water in the Baden-Baden spa in Germany! Having been there and enjoyed it, in fact was one of my fave places in all of Europe, I let out a little chortle as I wondered if this might be just as good a stop as that had been. . . but since I didn’t think I’d be running into any European supermodels here, I doubted it. The waitress looked at me a little funny, but I merely grinned, thinking this would be the highlight of her boring day.
Once there I found references to the lava lamp unavoidable, though I couldn’t help tsking at how some locals didn’t want it, thinking this icon of the 60s would inspire other cultural artifacts of the time, namely drugs and sex. On my trip across the state yesterday I’d passed through Moses Lake and found the description exactly like a friend had told me, and now realized she’d been dead on as to the “moral” aspects as well, though morality was hardly the word I’d use for it. No wonder Martha the Stewardess left this area.
Finally I was having the massage I’d promised myself, followed by a dip in the healing water. I wasn’t about to go for the whole works; the thought of those microscopic critters was still on my mind. Eventually I settled for the therapeutic mineral water bath, foot bath, and biofeedback, though I didn’t expect to need that any time soon. I almost gave in to my curiosity about the detoxifying infrared sauna, but somehow managed to rise above.