Category Archives: Travel

NYC in 12 hrs

New York City

New York City (Photo credit: kaysha)

If you only have half a day in the City of Empire, here is what you need to do.

I’m meeting a client for a writing project in New York next week, taking the train in from Philly, and there is no way in Tartarus I’m going to waste a trip to The City. I’ve got shore leave for 12 hours. What am I going to do?

So I started thinking — what if this was my first time, or my only time, or a stopover on a world tour? What must be done if I wanted to introduce myself to NYC?

The following is a NY lifetime packed into one single trip around the face of a clock.

Old New York was once Nieuw Amsterdam, according to They Might Be Giants. It still is, if you recognize contemporary Amsterdam as the European headquarters of finance, art and sin. Investigating these three spheres of knowledge will suffice as a time map of your day in the Big Apple.


12 noon – Take a taxi to Wall Street and get a pic with the obligatory bull. Grab some grub at The Spotted Pig in the West Village with investor and frequent luncher Jay-Z. Don’t complain if you have to share a table with Luke Wilson, Courtney Love or Jude Law when it gets busy. Take a Styrofoam to-go cup and head to 47th St and 6th Ave for an afternoon of prospecting. Between the diamond exchanges and gold merchants, one patient soul found $800 of discarded wealth on the sidewalk. Will your friends laugh at you for spending your precious time in the Empire City looking for garbage? Sure. Will they shut up when you drop the benjamins? Likely.


4 pm  – Art is what defines us as distinct from animals. Ants build cities, otters use tools, birds have language but only humans spend every waking moment swimming in symbols. Leave the Met, the MoMA, the Whitney and the Guggenheim for a time when you can spend a few days to gaze in wide wonder. Today, you will need to become the artist. On your smart phone, learn street photography from Yomatic, then take the Landmarks Photo Tour from Citifari. Starting at the world-famous Camera Superstore of B&H, you can pick up what you need there or rent a DSLR with a SD memory card from Citifari. You will trek across Manhattan, learning about f-stops, apertures, and deep focus as you capture lightning in a bottle, or at least some share-worthy uploads for Instagram. The tour culminates at the cinematic UN building on 1st Ave and 42nd St. It is time to put away your art and welcome the night.


8 pm – Rick Blaine once told Major Strasser that there are certain sections of New York he would advise him not to try to invade. I believe he was referring to the South Bronx, Brooklyn Heights, and the murder capital of Brownsville. Actually Midtown, with all its gawking tourists, rates dead last on the safety list, so travel by yellow cab and don’t carry purses or bags if you can avoid it. Eat dessert for dinner at ChickaLicious then hide out at someplace like Le Scandal Cabaret for a night of torch singing fan dancers, contortionist fire eaters, neon sword swallowers, animal-riding belly dancers and performance art that you won’t be able to unsee.

At midnight, your glass slippers fall off and your carriage turns into a pumpkin. Time to catch your plane, train or hotel bed. If not, you’ll regret it; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life. As you return to your regularly scheduled boredom, take a moment to thank the Sumerians for their base 12 numeric system, giving us our hours, months and the zodiac.

Right now, as I sit here wondering whether the Babylonian Great Intercalation syncs up with the Mayan End of Days, I can hear the whistle of the tonight’s last train to NYC. The whistle is saying that I will never be able to see it all and that is OK. After all, isn’t my bucket list is half full?


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The Science of Naming

A bit of a conundrum: does naming art consist of art or can it be a science? This is not an idle question. la jocondeI have stumbled into a career, of sorts, in naming artwork.My paycheck depends on being able to answer that.

La Gioconda

I believe that Naming is a science and that its rules can both be identified clearly and applied consistently. Sarah over at Sarah Dawn Designs was kind enough to put up a piece I wrote about my new obsessive vocation and the 3 Laws of Naming.  A clip:

My job is to assist artists in naming their works – partly for aesthetic resonance, partly for crass commercialism. The two overlap more than you would hope them to. Has it ever been otherwise?
So in a moment of calm, I am sitting down to attempt to construct an elegant scientific edifice to guide artists in their typically intuitive bursts of naming frenzies.
1.)  Separate the eidetic from the linguistic. A work may look like something or it may not, but the artist’s visual inspiration should never be the starting point of a name. Would you buy the Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo or the Mona Lisa. Actually, that’s not a bad name, but I would create a more evocative one if it weren’t already sold. Often great works survive despite poor names, but a living artist depending on sales rather than patrons does not enjoy the luxury of waiting.

You can read the whole article here.


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Riau in the eye of the day

English: Bintan Island

Image via Wikipedia

Wednesday came fast tonight. Time for some more microfiction.

This one is part of a mosaic narrative I’m working on. It suffers from the lack of past tenses that French would provide for it. Proust got lucky in that way. I hope you can make some sense of it.


Riau in the Eye of the Day

Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve; She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair — Ode on a Grecian UrnJohn Keats

I’ll love you forever, she never said. In richness and in wealth, for better or else. How could we speak the law we live? Truth is Ugliness and Ugliness Truth; more than we imagine. Keats, you are salt to wounds. Yes, all I do is quote. At a banquet, do you pass the plate that is offered to you or vomit up your own half-digested thoughts?

Kinski says [the jungle] is full of erotic elements. It’s not so much erotic, but full of obscenity, Werner Herzog spoke from deep in the jungle. Nature here is vile and base. Asphyxiation and choking, fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. The trees are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing; they just screech in pain. It’s the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder. It’s not that I hate it. I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment. 

I can see you are in pain, she might have said but didn’t. You need someone. That someone cannot be me. Come to bed.  Of course I went — an infinite amount of times. In the absence of love, the silent freeway is less burdensome.

The warmth of the sun, the waves on the pier, Tiger beer on my tongue and the innocent orangutan gnawing on my fingers. It’s over now and I’m sitting on a pier in the Riau. The purring archipelago yawns and stretches out toward Indonesia, where somewhere there is a hut with the girl who couldn’t be. Inside the hut, under mosquito nets, with her long legs and saltwater, she is sleeping. She is not dreaming of me. Meet me in Bali, she said. Of course I went.

Bintan lies in the heart of the Riau, an island no more than an outrigger reach from Singapore. Yes, ship to Surabaya, I take you, the withered man assures me. He shows me his pistol and grins rotted teeth. The warmth of the sun, the wailing of prayers, the bite in my mouth from the heat of the peppers of Nasi Lemak. It will be three days on the Java Sea to Jakarta, then a bus on a boat to Bali. And then…? And then…?

I did not crash in Kuala Lumpur for her. I came for Malacca, for the Hikayat of Hang Tuah, for the blood-soaked keris of Hang Jebat and deadly betrayal of his closest friend. They dissipated like heat mirages on the Straits and suddenly meant nothing.  In KL, I wrote to her from an internet café. Love to see you again. Could not put the word “I” in my own sentences. Meet me in Bali, she wrote.

Long before, we had been sitting too long in a café in Copenhagen, her flight waiting, snow and wind against the glass, spiced wine between us. That and the smell of her hair.  Hot places are happy places, she said. Ring me if you drop by my neck of the woods, hey?  The freeze in the air, the shuttering glass, the dull of the wine, and her walking away.  If we disappear into an infinite moment when we die, this is where I will go.

On the tanker to Sunda Kelapa, the ghosts won’t leave me alone. They take my sleeping to be a desperate cry for attention. They want to shake my hand in the toilet. Longnose! Where are you going? Three aeons on the tanker to Sunda Kelapa.

The sun is now rising over Ubud. Bali is dancing for matahari, the eye of the day. Children play soccer in the graveyard. Carnivorous lizards writhe up from the marketplace. It is always morning in Bali. I am always drawing back the mosquito nets.

Indonesian friends who treated me well, no I won’t tell you about them. Not now. Not with her lost to me for the rest of my life.  How can you love a thing that brings you only pain? I’m losing all the countries of the world.

I don’t want to hear about it, she said. The maddening wind and snow outside her bedroom window, the trembling candlelight, the hyggelig Danish gløgg. You jaw on your past like it’s some kind of kino. She pulled her jumper. It’s not cool, hey?  Nick off now, my shof’s gone wonky.

What the hell are you even saying? I laughed.

I quieted and held my mouth shut.

I’m still in the Riau. Even now on the pier, in the warmth, with the Tiger. I’ll always be there if you need to reach me. I don’t believe the orange ape child will ever stop chewing down the remnants of my hand.


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The world’s oldest “Yo mama” joke is 3500 years old – io9

Yes, four millenia have not improved our sense of humor. Do you find this encouraging in that across cultures and eons we can clearly see we are one race with a single case of poor social skills? Or is it devastating to the pretentious idea of progress?

Well the joke in question (no need to read the article if that’s what you were searching for to sound witty on a Monday) is incomplete and the answer didn’t survive. So here’s your challenge: using the fragment that remains, submit your Babylonian Yo Mama joke in the comments below.

Best joke wins a prize! You can select your favorite ancient history e-book from a list of titles I’ll send you by email.

Be clever and don’t let the Humbaba’s get you down.


Via Scoop.itVorager

The world’s oldest “Yo mama” joke is 3500 years oldio9Around 1500 BCE, a student in ancient Babylon inscribed six riddles on a tablet.

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Happy Cemetery!

“Stop the car!”

happy cemetary

I was sick as hell. The Carpathians are unforgiving in the winter. We had just come up from Sighişoara, the boyhood home of Vlad Țepeș (affectionately known as Dracula) and I couldn’t get myself right.

Part of it was the Ţuică, fruit alcohol that my travel-fatigued liver couldn’t understand. Part of it was slamming along potholes the size of mortars in a Soviet built Dacia.


“But there is nowhere here,” my driver sagely advised like a giant ungreen Yoda.

“Stop!” I bellowed.

We skidded to a halt and I tumbled out.

The cemetery was waiting.

I miss it all now. Adventure is someone else going through hell and now I have become someone else to myself.

Tonight I’m writing a book proposal about the happy cemetery. If you are an agent, give me a shout. I’ll make you a superstar — trust me, baby.

The people of Săpânţa know how to die. One side of the grave marker shows the deceased in the full stream of life; the other, floating on the surface. A jolly poem often accompanies each. As baseball, there is no crying in Săpânţa.

It’s like Edward Gorey married Melissa and Doug. Come to Transylvania and enjoy the happy cemetery. And don’t bother about the return ticket.


happy cemetery

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The Red Sea of Ixtapa

English: View of the mainland from an isolated...

Image via Wikipedia

A piece of flash fiction today. Maybe the kernel (maybe the operating system) of a story. Perhaps best left alone. Based, as they say, on a true story.


His shadow crossed her naked back in Mexico. She lay in the sand on her belly, straps undone. Massive rocks, anchored in the bay, watched immovable and impassive.
“Tell me why, Carla.”
Her smooth skin never rippled. A sigh alone escaped.
“I can’t talk to you like this, Frank. I need space.”
“You ran to the other side of the planet. I don’t have any more space to give.”
She still hadn’t looked up at him. Her eyes were closed behind designer shades. An issue of Soldier of Fortune lay curled by the wet tangle of her hair. “I can’t connect with you anymore, Frank.”
“You stabbed me! I nearly died!”
“Oh, so I can’t do anything right, is that it?”
“That’s not what I’m… Carla…. The Federales are up there in the lobby right now. I had to beg them for a minute alone with you. Tell me where the money is and I can still get you out of this.”
A translucent scorpion crawled by her mouth. She crushed it between her fingers. “You’re just not there for me emotionally.”
“Don’t you see? I searched the world for you. I never stopped thinking about you.”
“And that’s another thing: you’re too obsessive.”
“I’m not… That’s not the point. You stabbed me, Carla! How could you just walk away, leave me lying in a pool of blood in some godforsaken airport, screaming your name?”
“Why is everything always about you?”
His next sounds were not speech. “Just forget it. I can’t talk to you. Best of luck in prison.”
He said nothing. He surveyed the rocks, shifting his weight in the sand.
“Frank, put some oil on my back?”
“No way. Not this time. You know I know it’s a trick.”
“Frank, please. Don’t do this, not now. The sun is hurting me.”
He looked from one rock to the other. He cocked his head. A gull screamed, skimming the surf. “OK. Five minutes.”


English: View of the mainland from an isolated...

Image via Wikipedia

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Why travel?

Why do you travel?

When I was asked this recently I had no answer.


Image by yilmaz ovunc via Flickr

‘Why not?’ is woefully inadequate. How about all you travelers on Triberr and Empire Avenue? {EAV:be3ccb82d15ad0e9}

How can you answer someone who doesn’t have the fever?

In Victorian times, the novel was born partially because people wanted to know about the world and couldn’t. Dracula was really just a travelogue with monsters on the side. Travel was dangerous and expensive. But now? It’s more dangerous to stay home.

If you want to see the world, go to YouTube. If you want to explore different ways of life, go on Twitter. If you want to expose your mind to the full experience of being alive, try to find a parking space at the mall.

Why travel? After crawling through the muddy underbelly of 54 countries, I still can’t tell you. I only hope the answer lies in 55.

Here are a couple of my crawls:

Summer in Bodrum

Poisoned on Paros


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