Working

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Here’s some of the pile of work I still have to wrap up before leaving for Dallas. The time to the trip is now measured in papers graded rather than months. I kind of like that, but I have to make it through the grading to get to the floating, pie eating, coach purse buying, and traveling portion of this program.

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USA v Ghana

Stomach falling, heart wrenching disappointment. Sigh. Why do football teams break my heart? I’m not usually the kind of person who buys into national identify. It’s hard to being from a neighborhood in Dallas where quinceanera shops out number grocery stores. I hate empty jingoism and mindless patriotism. But, I really wanted the USMNT to go through. I’m happy for Ghana. It’s an honor for them. But, my heart still hurts.

South Korea v. Uruguay

So I’m trying out posting from my phone while hanging out with my brother and watching the first round of 16 game. He’s giving me advice on doing songs of the day for the travel blog. I don’t have a “dog in this hunt” for this game. I kind of want South Korea to win. They’re one of two Asian nations that made it this far, and Brazil is the South American nation to beat in this tournament. We’re meeting a friend later at Varsity to watch the USA v. Ghana. I’m going to be on pins and needles the whole time. That’s why you have a beer while watching.

Update: Okay, so my ability to pick the underdog winner is obviously flawed.  South Korea played well, but Uruguay made the plays when it counted.  The second goal was simply perfect.

Commonplace

“Like fanning through a deck of cards, my mind flashes on the thousand chances, trivial to profound, that converged to re-create this place.  Any arbitrary turning along the way and I would be elsewhere; I would be different. Where did the expression ‘a place in the sun’ first come from? My rational thought processes cling always to the idea of free will, random event; my blood, however, streams easily along a current of fate. I’m here because I climbed out the window at night when I was four.”

~ Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

Round of 16

I have become World Cup obsessed.

I thought I had it under control when I was watching the USMNT in their qualifying rounds for the World Cup. I’d watch a game a month or so and tune out the Premier League vagaries and the British press obsession with WAGs.  I’d watch the occasional MLS game.  I should have known last summer during the Confederations Cup when I found myself reading the New York Times live blogging while at work that I would go fan crazy.  The Gold Cup match at Cowboys Stadium between Mexico and Haiti should have alerted me to the possibility of my interest developing into a full blown obsession.

Me and Beth at the Gold Cup game

I should have known when I bothered paying attention to the World Cup draw, watched the MLS final, and started watching matches in pubs that I was going to turn into one of those people I tend to mock.  As I was just recently reminded, sports just didn’t make up part of my childhood experiences.  We rode bikes around the neighborhood, played American football in the yard, and occasionally played baseball.  I played intramural volleyball in high school, but I was pretty darn awful.  Not even the two Cowboys super bowl victories in the 1990s turned me into a fan.  Now I’m giving people football tutorials, hunting down Vanity Fair special features, and issuing edicts to my students not to tell me the score for the match that started before class.

This all started in 2006.  I worked that summer for my parents as a clerk in their jewelry store instead of teaching or getting an office job.  Mom wouldn’t let dad spring for cable, so the television in the back of the shop only got the local networks.  Really, it only got Telemundo and Univision.  Everything else but PBS came in fuzzed.  Dad, for some reason having to do with the oddness of Spanish language programming and the scantily clad women, liked watching the stations.  Both channels turned over their programming to the World Cup in Germany.  Between waiting on customers, setting things on fire, and the whir of the polishing lathe, we watched almost every game. My brother, my father, and I just couldn’t stop watching.  We would duck into the back to check the score, listening for the Spanish announcer’s trademarked GOOOOOAAALLLLLLL.  We wondered at the medics and their spray stuff that seemed to magically heal players.  We cheered when England prevailed, and we sneered at diving and dirty tactics.  My mother  thought we’d all gone insane.  I remember England losing to Portugal.  It felt like I had been punched in the stomach.  I had to sit down, and I tasted the bitterness of my team failing for the first time.  (It was to be a summer of such shocks. Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement a few weeks later, and I nearly dropped my coffee in complete disbelief.)

But my fandom seemed isolated to that summer.  I followed a couple of English players, but it was more for the class on British culture I was teaching than out of fan interest.  Not any longer.  I have a bracket. I made my best friend watch the USA v. Slovenia game before we left for Hot Springs last Friday, and I’m trying to figure out how to get the final over my phone while we’re on the road since we’ll be traveling by then.  I’ve spent two Sundays watching multiple games.  And today, I TiVoed both the England v. Slovenia and the USA v. Algeria games.  By a cruel twist of faith my two teams, England and the USA, are in the same grouping.  They could both advance or not based on these two games.  While I wasn’t completely successful in avoiding the score before I got home to watch, I at least didn’t know how the games went.  I sat on the edge of the sofa, watching the USA battle it out until their goal in stoppage time at the end.  England actually showed up for their game, and they also won.  So both of my teams advance to the round of 16.  I’m not entirely sure who I want to win, even though I picked England as the champion for my bracket (a case of Anglophenia overriding common sense).  I just know I don’t want either one of them to lose right now.

UP

I finally watched UP over the weekend.  Christopher Orr’s review for the New Republic pretty much sums up the technical aspects of the film.   (For those of you who don’t know this, Orr is probably my favorite movie critic.  Part of it is his writing voice, but he also is well versed in film history and it shows in his reviews.)

UP is a film about place, two places really.  One is Paradise Falls, Venezuela.  It’s billed as “a land lost in time,” where only true adventurers like Charles Muntz can venture.  The lush rain forest jungle rendered here serves as a setting for the typical adventure story.  The intrepid heroes help and protect the indigenous wildlife while fighting off other, evil invaders.  Several of the sequences, particularly Muntz’s cave, resemble settings from George Lukas’s films.  The cave is close to the one in The Last Crusade, and the fighter planes at the end overtly reference the ending of Star Wars (1977).   It’s the dream space that binds Ellie and Carl together through their childhood play and desire for a grand adventure.  Eventually, their playhouse–a run-down Victorian house–becomes their real home, bright with paint and life.  Full of natural light, in someways the house, an eventual stand in for Ellie, is a character in its own right.  It’s not surprising when Carl refuses to leave the house, and his airborne escape with the house is one of the more visually creative in the film.  Once Cal and Russell end up having to walk the house to the fall, many of the camera angles bring the floating house into the action, participant in the conversation.

As with WALL-E, my favorite parts were the ones where the dialogue and plot gave way to image and music.  The opening sequence showing Carl and Ellie’s happy marriage, set to Michael Giachhino’s beautiful, Gershwin-esque waltz, sets up a film about the boring parts of life and how these parts make up a grand adventure.  Russell, Carl’s eventual companion in his South American adventure, voices this when he nostalgically remembers going to get ice cream with his father: “Sometimes, it’s the boring stuff I remember the most.”  Indeed, Ellie’s Adventure Book shows the boring stuff, not a life of adventure in South America. It’s this life that Carl has been do desperately holding onto with his trip to South America.  By the end, he must let both places go in order to move on to his next adventure.

Garvan Woodland Gardens and Lake Hamilton

I’ve discovered the downside to blogging on the road…time for reflection.  I’m trying to figure out how to balance timeliness with reflection and thought.  I realize that blogging is a real time activity, demanding a reaction to the here and now, while travel writing is more reflective, meandering, contemplative.  Striking the balance between the two is going to be difficult.  The travel writers I like the most are the ones who lean more towards reflection than specifically documenting every event and occurrence.  I’ve adored Frances Mayes’s writing since I first read Under the Tuscan Sun over ten years ago.  I don’t re-read it every summer, but I do revisit her work frequently.  Mayes, borrowing from Gaston Bachelard, evokes space and place as metaphors for dreaming and being.  Bachelard, in the Poetics of Space, describes the home as the safe space for dreaming: “the house protects the dreamer.”  Bachelard is discussing the poet and how poetry creates ideal spaces.  The ideal house the poet creates is the space for our dreams.  Mayes discusses how her sense of her own history belongs to place.  Her childhood in the South has defined her as much as her choice of Italy as a second home.

I think discovering places is part of the human endeavor; our chance to shape dreamscapes for ourselves.  This process is more than the journey of self discovery that travel is supposed to bring.  I don’t think going to a new place will necessarily help you find yourself; I think travel adds to the narrative you’ve already constructed.  It gives you new places to dream.  I thought about this yesterday as I wandered through the Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs.  This space is one meant for dreaming and slow movement.  It’s rich peacefulness, deepened by the early heat and humidity, reminded me of the Japanese Gardens in Portland.  Fir and gardenia wafted past in waves, and for once, the scent of gardenia didn’t make me frown in impatience.  A number of streams and springs bubble merrily through the gardens, and the koi pond sports happy, fat koi.

One of many springs

Koi Pond

The flowers, the name of which I never found out, floated on their stalks, brilliant shades of blue and white.  We passed a group of people meandering through, one of whom wore an I love Beer shirt.  Somehow, the incongruity of this peaceful place and the t-shirt struck me as both funny and appropriate.  It also fit the mini-train exhibit at the end, which my grandfather would have loved.

White Flowers

I Love Beer

Mini Train Exhibit

The smallish gazebo for wedding receptions was just starting to come to life for it’s planned use.  I couldn’t imagine getting married in a more lovely space, but I wouldn’t do it in late June.  The humidity was terrible, and it was the kind of heat that flirts with but doesn’t resolve into a thunderstorm.  The gazebo roof was an intricate design of cross beams and light.

Gazebo roof

Despite getting frustratingly lost thanks to inadvertently misreading the address to the Belle of Hot Springs dock, we did actually make it for the lake tour of all the multi-million dollar homes on Lake Hamilton.

Belle of Hot Springs lower deck

Lake Hamilton Lake House

The lunch, while welcome, was not exactly a culinary delight.  The thrum of the boat engine, and the gentle glide down the lake and back almost lulled me to sleep.  Looking at lake houses also just made me want a house.  (I have a house buying itch that I’m ignoring.)  But, in my ideal world, I’d have a lake house.  Some place secluded, but not too secluded.  It would be overrun with family and friends every summer. I like lazy dreaming.

Hot Springs

My best friend and I are spending a couple of days in Hot Springs having a girls weekend.* I’m afraid I let her do most of the leg work on where we were going and what we were planning on seeing, so I had almost no expectations about what this trip was going to be like. We drove up along Highway 71, a winding two lane highway through the Ouachita National Forest. Despite getting stuck behind an army convoy, the trees and mountains proved peaceful and soothing.

Hot Springs itself suffers from the normal Arkansas problem–nice things next to not so nice things. 270 into Hot Springs is a less than ideal introduction to the city. Once we go onto Bathhouse Row, however, the city transformed into an almost Gatsby-esque space. The bath houses are stately, surrounded by magnolia trees. They’re almost preserved in time with Adirondack and wicker chairs, slow ceiling fans. This impressions was strengthened when we went to the Fordyce Bathhouse.

Fordyce Bathhouse, exterior

Built by Samuel Fordyce, the bathhouse is an elegant space filled with light, porcelain, and mahogany. It’s now the welcome center and museum, and it’s decently curated. The national parks tour guide funnily emphasized the “health” aspects of the expensive three week treatments offered in the early 1900s. I’d feel better too if I spent three weeks in thermal baths and having Swedish massages. Admittedly, some of the people who came were in need of what the bathhouse had to offer, but the Fordyce is obviously built for the Gatsby’s of the world, not the disabled or ill.

The original bathhouse was divided by gender, and the only still operational original bathhouse on the row, the Bickerstaff, is still done so. In classic Gatsby fashion, the men got the better rooms, complete with statues and stained glass ceilings.

Dos Santos

Ceiling of the Men’s Bathing Room

I think my favorite parts were the gym (I remember some of that equipment from elementary school) and the large tub that they used for hydrotherapy.  I also liked the tile in the music room, and then Beth and I drove up the mountain in the National Park.  We could have walked, but I’m glad we didn’t.  Neither of us were wearing appropriate footwear, and now she’s got blisters from the walking around town we did.

The Gymnasium


Our Nice Tour Guide in front of the torturous wall hold thing I dreaded in elementary school

Me in the Gym

Hydrotherapy tub, especially useful for patients suffering from polio.

Music room floor

Mountain view from the National Park

Me feeling all cool at the National Park

It was the music room in the Fordyce and the mountain view from the national park, however, when I fully felt like I could actually see Hot Springs as a place catering to the elite in the early twentieth-century. I could see women in white lawn dresses walking down the avenue with parasols, and men in high collars and slicked back hair sauntering down to the speakeasies run by the mob.

*Note: I’m using it as a sort of testing ground for the on the road blogging and for the on the road picture taking. Specifically, I’m working on taking pictures of people and things not just things. I have a bad habit of getting distracted by flora and fauna. Normally I’d be okay with just continuing to take pictures of flora and fauna, but my friend Mouse gave me advice specifically on how to do this whole documenting a trip through words and images thing. His advice primarily consisted of emphasizing taking pictures of people, both those I know and those I don’t. So, I’ve tried to do that here.