Travel Thursday Snapshot: Chichen Itza

When you’re tramping through the jungle, trying to avoid giant insects rather than giant predatory cats, and happen to look up. . .

;o)

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Travel Thursday Snapshots: Amman

Exactly one year ago today I landed in the capital of Jordan for about the fourth or fifth time in my life, can’t remember. (I say exactly, but time zones and stuff.)
With only half a day remaining after settling in, I thought about hanging out at the entrance to the Royal Palaces on the off chance of running into the amazing Queen Rania, a lady I hold in as much esteem as Valerie Kondos-Field (Gymnastics coach at UCLA) and Katherine Heigl. But before I left the hotel I saw on her Twitter that she was in Norway, so that’s that. I suppose I can’t blame her for wanting to get away from a possibly crazed fan. Maybe the king will want to talk Star Trek. . .?
Did you know that Amman was the original Philadelphia? Now you can impress with your knowledge of trivia at the next party. There’s still a lot more brotherly love in this city than the current one, as I saw plenty of times once I finally ventured outside and made my way past a ton of embassies, arriving downtown just in time for dinner, which with my stomach was not an easy thing to find. After that I took a taxi up to the Citadel, as there was no way these knees were going to make it up that hill, especially so early in the trip when I should seriously be conserving my limited energy. I spent some minutes getting every conceivable angle of the Temple of Hercules, as well as the Hand of Hercules (a little creepy), before settling in to shoot the sunset.
Feeling the first pull of jetlag, I dropped off the hill and found a taxi to take me back to my hotel, figuring I’d have time right before I left the country to peruse the amphitheater and all the museums, which other than maps are pretty much my crack.
Perhaps it was the excitement I always get at the beginning of a trip, or else my internal clock set itself perfectly when I went to sleep around 10PM local time, but the next morning my brain was perfectly tuned to the time zone and I was smiling as I had a quick breakfast of oranges, grapes, and even pineapple (!) before heading off south, ultimate destination Petra, followed by Wadi Rum and Aqaba.
;o)

Book Reviews: Star Trek/Green Lantern and Sherlock Holmes Graphics

“Promise me you’ll always make me laugh.”
“That sounds like a marriage proposal.”
She threw her arms around my neck. “See? Exactly what I mean!”

The Courier
A bike messenger in a futuristic West Coast city. . . sound familiar already? Yep. But luckily it goes off in a different direction than Dark Angel and Heinlein’s Friday. For one thing, Kris Ballard hides her girl-ness. For another, while she’s doing well, she’s not a kick-ass fighting machine; she’s winging it and barely surviving, which makes it more exciting as everyone underestimates her. So even though the premise is the same, the execution isn’t.
As one would expect, the plot centers on something she’s delivering, and when things go wonky everyone’s after her. About halfway through the story comes into focus, involving much more than just futuristic Earth, and of course corporate shenanigans, not so much espionage as infighting between factions of one up and coming company who wants to play with the big boys. There’s also an anti-corp group involved, I suppose you can call them the Resistance.
There wasn’t anything great about the writing, but I did like the main character, as well as the world-building. The idea of one vast city stretching from San Diego to Los Angeles has been mentioned before, but what’s new here is levels, with the lowest being the poorer sections, where people can go their entire lives without ever seeing the sun. As for Kris, she’s feisty yet vulnerable when no one else is around to see. It’s hard for her to trust anyone, considering her family history, but as you get to know her she’s thoroughly likeable and you end up rooting for her.
4/5

Sherlock Holmes: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
This is most likely the most famous non-Doyle Sherlock story, now brought to you in graphic novel form.
An old Watson is telling a Sherlock story many years after to Miss Dobson, who likes being called charming. Everyone in the story has died—except for Watson—so he can tell it now.
It’s claimed that Watson made up 2 of the canon stories, about Holmes’ death and return, having to do with Moriarty. He gets Sherlock to go to Vienna so Freud can cure him of his cocaine addiction, so they’re in the right place at the right time to prevent, or at least postpone, the first world war.
I find myself enjoying this bare-bones version more than the original novel; Meyer always liked going overboard with the clichés. And there’s a few pieces from the movie that were not in the book, but the reader doesn’t need to know anything about those versions to get the full gist of this. As for the artwork, the drawing of Holmes seems to be based on Rathborne or Brett, certainly not Cumberbatch. And Watson also looks like the older versions, more stout than Freeman’s slight figure. The graphics are more brightly colored than I expected for this kind of story, but it works perfectly. Definitely a must for Sherlock fans, and good enough for those who aren’t.
4/5

Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War
Some catastrophe happens in the Green Lantern universe, sending those characters into the Star Trek universe, where they again fight their evil nemesis with the help of the Enterprise crew. That’s the best I can tell you, as I’m not at all familiar with the Green Lantern stories.
All the Star Trek characters are drawn remarkably similar to their real-life counterparts; I know that’s how it’s supposed to be, but even more so here. Even non-regulars like General Chang look exactly right, and thankfully he’s not spouting hammy Shakespeare when he shows up.
The plot was a bit difficult to get through, as this is really a Green Lantern story set in the Star Trek universe, though there are a few moments that would not have happened anywhere else, especially the outcome of the final battle.
Here’s a twist that I’ll bet no one thought they would ever hear: Vulcan zombies!
4/5

The Adventures of Basil and Moebius Volume 3
A British dandy who fancies himself the next Indiana Jones and a former SAS guy are forced to serve an ancient alien by going around the world collecting artifacts for him, though they don’t know why he wants them. The story starts in Hong Kong but goes off to many other places, including London, before the final showdown in Crete. Both the Mossad and a secret cult are after them, with no one knowing the endgame, as you would expect.
I love that it’s the old Chinese professor who comes up with the perfect word everyone’s groping for to describe Basil’s mom: “Cougar?” There are other female characters more appropriate to this kind of story, particularly Sophi, who’s a wannabe Lara Croft, especially in the way she dresses. Isabella the assassin babe is actually more fun, and exquisitely drawn, until she meets her untimely death in a most gruesome way; I hate when that happens, and even more that Basil didn’t try to help her.
The one thing that could have been done better was the exposition, which happened in the form of clunky info drops. There isn’t much opportunity in individual comic books to tell the whole story, but there’s room for improvement.
Extra credit: if you go to their website you can see a short film about these characters, with Zach Levi from Chuck playing Moebius!
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: All Kinds of Genres

Secret Kindness Agents
Like the previous book I read in this category, this is a fascinating account of how given the right incentive and drive you can get teenagers to do something that will benefit not just them, but those around them. Written by their teacher, who came up with most of the objectives and plans, but it’s especially intriguing when the kids come up with the ideas themselves. Wish it had been longer, but what there is here is gold. 5/5

The Cana Mystery
In a previous review I mentioned that the very next book I picked up–electronically–also involved Saint Malachy’s Prophesy of the Popes; this is it. It concerns the Jars of Cana, which supposedly–being an atheist, I haven’t read much of the Bible–is where Jesus turned water into wine. Everyone’s looking for a message hidden in them, of course.
As usual in these stories, the rich powerful bad guys will do anything they can to get their way, so there’s a lot of killing, especially innocents, which never fails to annoy me. From an archaeology story it becomes a chase story, through numerous places in Egypt before ending up in Malta.
There was one part I particularly enjoyed: having studied the Battle of Milvian Bridge, it was intriguing to read a more personal–though of course fictional–account of the behind-the-scenes that led up to Constantine marching into Rome, rather than the cut-and-dried military history. Particularly captivating was Maxentius, the unpopular ruler of Rome at the time, being told that the enemy of Rome would fall in the battle; it never occurred to him that HE might be the enemy of Rome.
All in all, a good but not great thriller to wile away some hours. 3.5/5

A Spacious Life
I try to not have expectations, but I couldn’t help think this wasn’t going to be for me. . . or else I was setting myself up for a happy surprise. Thankfully the latter happened. Stories from an attractive lady growing up in Australia while trying to become a better person through Buddhism. I assume she is showing these examples of what worked for her in building such a spiritual life in order for the reader to do the same, but a lot of them seem difficult for the ordinary Joe to attain. . . which I guess is a roundabout way of saying this woman is pretty special. The greatest thing about this book is her sense of humor, especially when self-deprecating; the best way to put it is she entertains me as she’s enlightening me, even if I can never hope to attain her spirituality. 4/5

Star Trek: Shadow of the Machine
There are some things to like here, but not that many. I expected this to be like the episode “Family” from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in a lot of ways it is, as all three threads–Kirk, Spock, Sulu–dealt with family. I wish I could say what made me not like this as much as I thought I would, but I can’t seem to put my finger on it; perhaps I am comparing it too much to the STTNG episode. The most intriguing parts were Kirk’s family in Iowa. 3/5

;o)

Travel Thursday: Pain and Pleasure in Paestum, part 2

After a quick breakfast–I barely refrained from her suggestion that I eat it off her; it was cereal, after all–I was off to the site, this time with a promise that she’d come see me after lunch. I told her I’d spend the morning looking for a temple of love, just as she’d asked, and that seemed to make her happy, at least for now.
So I walked out and headed south toward the site, skipping the seaside, since it was late enough in the morning to have its fill of tourists. On the other hand, a nice ocean breeze would hit the spot, since it was a hot muggy day, the kind that made you want to shoot yourself in the head. . . just to get some air in.
Today I planned to concentrate on the art, the painted tombs, since that would be the easiest clue as to a temple of love or such. To my chagrin, I didn’t know much about them, and hadn’t studied at all on the Lucanian period, the time of all but one of the aforementioned painted tombs. And this wasn’t the place to study them, having no books and not about to sit in this mugginess while reading a laptop with a satellite link.
There was a long, sandy beach nearby, though, with hopefully that possible cool breeze coming from the ocean. . . nah, couldn’t risk the laptop on the sand.
Finally I decided to concentrate on the one Greek mural, which a water girl like Blanca was sure to appreciate. It was called the Tomb of the Diver, and despite the small hike in this paella-like weather, I figured it would be worth the trip. Of course it wouldn’t be with the others, I groused as I walked, and it had to be in a necropolis, an ancient cemetery the likes I always hated to go into. On the other hand, at least I wasn’t going at night! Then I wondered if the ancient Greeks knew about vampires. . . and shuddered in the humidity.
Still, I knew better, just kidding with my always silly and overactive imagination. According to the latest theory, the tomb was actually the sanc¬tuary of Hera, at the mouth of the river Sele. I wasn’t quite so sure yet, because Hera’s house was an ancient myth that a lot of people wanted to be true, especially since the legend also had it as being founded by Jason and the Argonauts, the original wrong-way drivers. . . or was that Odysseus’ crew? Ancient dates always confused me. . .
But, whatever, I sighed. Archaeologists were just as notorious as everyone else for being pigheaded. . . excluding myself, of course, but then I wasn’t a full-blown archaeologist either.
And when I got there I realized I’d blown it, though immediately blaming the weather for my lack of concentration: the frescos were no longer on site! Instead they were at the local National Museum, which I really should have known, or at least realized the possibility. Shaking my head at my stupidity, but covering up by taking photos of the small structure, I thought my body might have overheated beyond repair from this morning’s activities.
Somehow I had to find a way to blame this on her. . .
Or I could simply take her to the museum to look at the murals, put the pressure on her to come up with something worthwhile, especially since she was likely to take a dim view at the futuristic interior of that building.
Heading off at a slow slog back to the main site, I used the wide angle to take some shots of the entire region, though stopping each time, not trusting the landscape without my eyes. It was hard to figure now, but from what I’d read of this place, after the usual deforestation for ship building, had become a marshland, as always bringing malaria along for the ride. Not that I would prefer marsh, of course, but I simply couldn’t picture how different the place had to be to make it worth building such an important ancient city.
Stopping on a hill to overlook the area–and take a better photo–I studied the walls, looking prehistoric around the site, except where the whole place was cut by that damned highway. Once again I wondered if I could get permission to go into even one of the towers, just for some photos if nothing else. Problem was, most of the site was on private land, which pissed off the archaeologist in me, but the rest of me knew better than to worry about it and walked on, though still in an abstract mood, trying to picture how the place must have looked in its great days. It was hard to believe these were the only remaining Greek temples north of Sicily, and then it was only the malaria-bearing mosquitoes that kept people from destroying these too. On the other hand, it was just as astounding to imagine that, due to the place being so utterly uninhabitable so that staying overnight with the biting bugs meant certain death, a thick forest grew around the buildings and hid them like Mayan temples in the Yucatan jungle, all the way to the eighteenth century, and weren’t seen again till the crew building that damned road stumbled across them. . .
Another pause for a look, and photo. In a way it seemed amazing: a huge, seemingly empty area, with just a few buildings in the distance, and some very tiny-looking excavation pits on the end closest to the beach. There were the remains of the amphitheater, but I really couldn’t tell it had been such. Everything else was underneath the ground, but damn how beautiful it must have been. . .
Finally I decided it was too much to spend my life on and was done with it. . . which was made a lot easier when I headed back to Blanca’s place and found lunch ready.
“I’ve been out there plenty of times,” she la-de-da’ed as I approached, “but always hunting flowers, hardly noticing the ruins. Thank you for broadening my horizons.”
“Anything for you, dear,” I replied in the same tone of voice, which made her laugh. “Now return the favor and tell me about the famous roses.”
Pleased, she murmured, “I’m very impressed when you ask me for advice or such.”
I kissed her on the forehead.
Sighing with pleasure, she launched into her story. “The famous Paestum rose has been celebrated as far back as the poet Virgil. . . you remember him, right?”
“Not personally, but I’ve read his stuff. Want a critique?”
“Not now, dear, keep it historical rather than literary. In front of the Neptune temple–I’m sure you know which one that is–there’s supposed to be clumps of flowering roses, sketched and painted and mentioned by your favorite German, Goethe. . .” She waited for a reaction, looked disappointed when she didn’t get it. “One guy named Seume came down on foot from Lipsia for them, only to find them all torn out by visitors.”
“The German author who walked for nine months to Sicily?”
Sigh. “Is it sad that you no longer surprise me?”
“It’s sad you couldn’t make that sound more convincing.”

;o)

Top 15 outings of 2013

Was talking to a violinist who told me the last time he’d played Summer from the Four Seasons, he’d been going so hard he lost control of the bow and hit a percussionist twenty feet behind him right between the eyes.
“There there,” his wife soothed. “It was just a percussionist. . .”

15        Oct 5   Burning Man Decompression
Woulda been higher if not for the allergy attack, but awesome because I finally—yes, finally!—got to shoot my buddy Christiane in conditions that didn’t cover her face or had the sun behind her or anything.

14        Apr 3   UCLA Beach Volleyball
Never cared much for my favorite sport on the sand—with just two players—but seeing ladies I’ve been rooting for made it a whole lot better.

13        Mar 14 2 Broke Girls at Paley
Getting to see the upcoming episode a few days early was cool, but finding out how witty Kat—well, the entire cast, really—was had to be the highlight.

12        Aug 27            Caprice/Missy Peregrym
I love Caprice Crane’s books enough to put up with her idiosyncrasies at her signings, but every time has been with the faint hope that her buddy Missy—who plays Andi on rookie Blue—might show up, and she finally did. . .

11        Oct 12 NCIS: LA convention
Well, not exactly a convention, but certainly a get-together of fans flying in all the way from Germany, with plenty of people from the show and even officially recognized by the network, with their PR people in attendance. One of the actors even showed up. . .

10        May 4  UCLA Archaeology open house
Even without Dr. Cooney giving the lecture—she had to give way for a British lord—it was mostly, though not thoroughly, fun herding Christiane’s kids around.

9          Feb 10 What is art? Paulina Logan and Vixen
Loved Vixen’s fire act and Paulina’s Lovely so much I went twice. . . though the second time was also to take photos, and included a UCLA gymnastics meet beforehand. {Two links}

8          Sept 21 Marina V house concert
A house concert at the musician’s house—that’s new, right?

7          Dec 24 Stomp
The Percussionist’s Wet Dream

6          May 16 Natalie Gelman at Hotel Café
(Bonus for being on the same blog: June 5 Before Midnight/Riddle the Sphinx at Molly Malone’s)

5          Sept 18 Los Angeles County Fair
“I went to the LA County Fair and all I got was this Jeri Ryan poster. . .”  (and the next 5 blogs after the one linked)

4          June 22 Molly Quinn in Kindertransport
I keep tellin’ ya, everything’s better with redheads. . .

3          July 9   Catalina
Birthday trip.

2          Oct 26 Mark Knopfler at the Wiltern
Happy to finally take the Telegraph Road in person. . .

1          May 12 Daniela Ruah in Proof
Getting a hug from your favorite actress is too awesome for mere words. . .

;o)

UCLA Archaeology Open House 2013.0

Two weekends in a row of archaeology at UCLA—that’s gotta be a record. . .
So the first crucible of the day: celebrations at Olvera Street for Cinco de Mayo are starting on Saturday the Fourth, so Union Station is making sure everyone knows about it by having strolling mariachis throughout the cavernous building. . . all day long. There aren’t that many things in the world I hate, but mariachi music is definitely one of them. Coming out of the bus and crossing the loading circle, I enter the building and get on the escalator, wary for the bedazzled-suited ones. . . and almost as though they were waiting for me, they start up at the foot of the escalator! Yeow! I could even hear them in the restroom over the flushing! Fuck, what god did insult now? And don’t say the god of music, there’s no way a deity could stand this stuff either. . .
Then coming out of the subway, a Wilshire Express flashes by, empty. Unfortunately I’m going to Subway {sandwich shop this time} first, and as I wait in line another empty zooms by; looks like that kind of day. By the time I’m ready to move along I have to wait 20 minutes for the next one, and even then it’s scrunching in next to big people in the back. . . better than standing, but not by much.
The walk from Wilshire to campus was nice, though, and pretty empty, though not as much as last week. Quick detour to the newsstand to get my usual mother’s day gift–word searches–and then straight on to Jamba; I may be in a rut with Subway and Jamba, but it’s a delicious rut, so. . .
Again just like last week, I’m way early. A quick glance down at the little plaza shows no one has set up yet, so I take a stroll over to the powwow, which was pretty much the same as previous years, although I think there were less vendors. Still way too early, I go back to Ackerman, having to pass what looked like a kendo exhibition on Bruin Walk; wonder who scheduled that and Cinco de Mayo at the same time as Archaeology open house.
Mmmmmm, Jamba. . .
Finding a seat in the bookstore, I grab what I’m sure is the same copy of Clockwork Angels I’ve been reading piecemeal for the last few months. Wasn’t sure where I’d left off, but found it quickly enough; Owen was off the airship and was about to go hunting for the seven cities of Cibola. Read through that part, then stopped, though I’m anxious to get to the section described in The Wreckers song.
Good enough. Time to head back to Cotsen, this time for good. As always my first stop is Rock Art, and yes there’s Deidre, remembering me and showing me the book is finally out. And Rachel is there, remembering me! Or at least the shirt. . . {you should probably read about last year’s event to get why all this is important; do so here}
Some students entered the room and Dr. Von Tillburg was happy to talk to them, mentioning how African, Oceanic and Native American art got lumped together when they had nothing in common. I mentioned they were the leftovers, which she didn’t take well, but she then said there probably wasn’t enough room for all of them to be individual, which was exactly what I meant. Then I told Deidre, “I got out of that one smoothly,” which made her giggle.
Soon after a quick trip to Egyptology, where I spent a few giggly minutes with Dr. Bernard, I found the Kinneys in the childrens’ area, of course, making masks. Took Sean on a quick tour of what would likely be the most kid-friendly labs, and he and Deidre hit it off really well; luckily he didn’t embarrass me the way he likes to with babes.
So the kids were happy in conservation, especially with Vanessa doing the UV–she was really into it too, more so than I have ever seen her. After that came a lot of fun in Egypt, with some great time with Rachel, who I found even more interesting this time. I love how all the Egyptologists know their glyphs, which comes in handy when writing them for kids. . . and Christiane, who of course needed her name in hieroglyphs too; I guess when you have a band called Riddle the Sphinx you’re allowed such a moment. After one last moment with Rachel, where I told her about a Facebook conversation I’d had with Dr. Cooney about Moby Dick in glyphs–there’s no sign for “whale” in Egyptian, and when I said “fat crocodile” she really hooted–we ushered the kids out, where Ireland instantly had a tantrum outside of Southwest. Zaiden didn’t want to go into Rock Art either, so Sean took him out to flint knapping and I went into the lecture, and that was that.
Having had such fantastic speakers in the past few years, from Drs. Cooney to Stanish to Vranich to Cooney again, how could I expect any less from such an enormous figure as Lord Renfrew, famed archaeologist and member of the House of Lords? His speech was titled Before Religion and had to do with his excavation in the Cyclades. Maybe I was so pumped up for it I oversold it in my mind, but in the end I was disappointed and couldn’t wait for it to be over. Dr. Monica Smith, on the other hand, showed what an awesome speaker she is in her intro for him.
There were still plenty of highlights. I’d never seen Early Greek/Aegean sculpture, which turned out to be very angular; I could see why he said it had influenced Picasso and Braque. Some of the statuettes looked funny with the crossed arms, and there was one a little more refined that sure looked surprised, but I don’t believe I got the name right, as there was no sign of it on the internet.
Lord Renfrew spent some time comparing various cultures around the world, one being Caral, Peru, which had a small steppe pyramid I’d never seen. But soon enough we were back in Greece, where he spoke about “ritual deposition,” where sacred objects were broken on purpose, like Greek dishes or Viking cups, so no one could use it in a profane way.
Monkeys painted on walls in the Aegean? That just seems weird. . .
With the lecture starting at 2:30 and food not allowed in the auditorium, I got hungry pretty quickly, but wasn’t about to walk out on Lord Renfrew. . . not that I was afraid of being hanged or anything, but I didn’t want to be seen as disrespecting him. Didn’t stay for Q&A though. Back to some more labs, but nothing really to see, so feeling suddenly very tired I’m off to Ackerman for another Jamba, barely getting there before they closed, then to the lounge, where the TV showed the Kentucky Derby had just finished, for a very late lunch and, more importantly sitting down in a much more comfortable chair.
Even then as I walked out a half hour later I was still plenty tired. Immediately missed the Sunset bus, just like last week, and by the time I got to Wilshire I was really dragging. The Express came quickly, but there was quite a crowd, so I let it loud, about to wait for the next one when a regular 20 came around the corner, about to start its run and therefore EMPTY! Yay. Although on the run we got passed by another 20 and 3 720s, so it was pretty slow going.
I don’t remember much after that. . . which is damned scary. . .

;o)