Category Archives: history

20 Years Later

Okay, so I know this blog is a couple of weeks late. On September 11, 2021 I visited the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska to honor the 20 year anniversary of one of the most horrific events of my lifetime.

Sometimes, it is difficult to explain to those who were not yet alive or too young to remember how this event made a lot of us feel.

Many people describe the period of time between the end of the cold war (1989) and the September 11th attacks (2001) as a “break from history” of sorts. 12 years is not a long time when considering the overall course of history. However, 12 years is significant when it comes to the course of one’s own life. Many people, especially those who were quite young during that time period, got accustomed to a world that did not seem that dangerous.

It is why Trying to Make Sense of It is a very appropriate name for this exhibit. On that day, and for the weeks and months that followed, what most of us were trying to do is try to make sense of it. I recall it was the era of AOL Instant Messenger and when we were away we would put up away messages that would function as kind of an auto-reply to anyone that messaged us. That day mine was…

So we’re different colors and different breeds. And different people have different needs. It’s obvious you hate me though I’ve done nothing wrong. I never even met you so what could I have done? (Depeche Mode, 1985)

Yeah, I like to quote song lyrics.

The museum exhibit is a really good one. It contains some writing about how we all felt during the event.

There was also bunch of tables where people can use blocks to create their own art. I think it is mainly for children, but I made one anyways.

Typically, when I get a chance to do something creative, I try to do something off the wall. However, with the memories of growing up in pre-9/11 New York, all I really wanted to do was create two identical square shaped towers and remember how the skyline once looked.

The main part of the exhibit is a series of quilts that were made to honor those who died that day. There were a lot of them, some had names, some had flags and other designs. There were people from other countries that died that day, and those flags are represented here too.

Already emotional, the thing that got me into tears was actually seeing the faces of some of the victims. I guess that is how human emotions work.

That day I was generally fixated on the past, listening to a station called XM-FLY, which plays a lot of music from that time. However, I began to reflect on the event’s lasting legacy.

The first few months we seemed so united. For a little bit of time, a moment in history, all of our differences didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we were all American. We were all sad, mourning the deaths and pledging to be strong and continue living as free and prosperous people.

This would be the last time in American history anything would feel like that. It wouldn’t be long before we would first become divided over our response to the attacks and military interventions in Afghanistan and then Iraq. Then, a financial crash would cause us to lose faith in many institutions. Social media would further divide us. The economic stress and loneliness caused by these two developments would lead to all new divides, including the generational divide that created “those damn Millennials” and “OK Boomer.”

I wonder what the people who perished that day, especially those who heroically took down flight 93 before it could crash into the White House would think about where we are today. Maybe some of them would understand. Maybe some of these large scale trends are more powerful than any one event. Recently, after viewing some mean spirited content on Nextdoor, an app meant to connect neighbors, I came to the realization that any platform that facilitates asynchronous chat where people do not have to see people’s facial expressions will descend into nastiness, the same way Facebook, Reddit and Twitter have.

Part of me misses that world of national unity. However, it is important to be realistic. First, it was never going to last. The fact that another tragedy that has lead to far more deaths, COVID-19, has only made us more divided is evidence of these more powerful cultural forces. Second, times of national unity commonly revolve around a crisis; the War of 1812, the World Wars, terrorist attacks, etc. Maybe it is time to find some national unity around something positive. However, sadly, with where things are it feels like we could not be further from that moment. There’s too much fear around us.

Pittsburgh- a City That Feels Everywhere at Once

For people who love putting things into categories, Pittsburgh has to represent an absolute nightmare! Known as the “Steel City”, no regional map would not place it firmly in the rust belt. Like other rust belt cities, it fell on some hard times when many key industries collapsed in the final 30 years of the 20th century.

However, Pittsburgh is also known for having made a comeback. It’s considered a blueprint for other cities looking for a revival after suffering from the decline of their primary industries.

Pittsburgh’s revival is commonly attributed to versatility in embracing new industries like health care and technology. The education infrastructure and leadership with a more long-term focus is credited with creating the conditions needed for the city to once again thrive.

The story is reminiscent of countless personal stories of people who suffer major setbacks in life and later make a comeback. These stories often involve people who become complacent and stagnant. Typically their livelihoods get disrupted by external events they are unprepared for. Their personal revival stories typically revolve around a combination of adapting a new way of looking at things and tapping into core strengths they possessed all along.

For a long time, Pittsburgh was a place that valued science and education. It is home to several major universities.

Benefiting from it’s hilly terrain, it is also home to the Allegheny Observatory, an observatory over 150 years old where countless star distance calculations have been made.

The hilly terrain makes Pittsburgh unique in other ways.

One of the city’s top attractions in the Duqeuesne Incline, a reasonably priced and dog friendly tram one can ride to overlook the city.

It’s also a historic commuter train as walking up the side of a bluff is often treacherous.

In fact, the entire layout of the city is forced by these geographical features. The city’s downtown is situated where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge into the Ohio River.

Both the football and baseball stadiums are right downtown.

Along with your typical big office buildings and a square which surprisingly seems to attract a lot of loud cars and motorcycles.

To the east of downtown, sandwiched between the Allegheny River and a densely forested bluff is the strip district, which seems like a standard tourist destination.

Pittsburgh’s most unique quality has to be legitimate hiking within the city limits. Riverview Park, on the north end, is one of several places with a system of trails that have significant terrain and fairly dense forests.

It is also a place with plenty of other parks.

When many think of Pittsburgh, they may still think of it as a rust belt city with a rough exterior.

That, of course is only part of the truth, one aspect of the city’s culture. Many of the things Pittsburgh was about before the decline and subsequent revival are still there. There is still all the ketchup.

Pittsburgh’s history also involves a lot of food and traditions based on Eastern European culture.

However, the city has managed to incorporate the amenities demanded by talented urban professionals in the 2020s.

We all are, in a way, every chapter of our lives. A tour through Pittsburgh shows the city before the steel industry declined, during its dark days and in the current era. It’s a reminder of all of our personal stories and how even during the more prosperous times in our lives, the bumps we experienced along the road, as well as who we were before experiencing these setbacks are still a significant part of who we are. Battle scars don’t go away, they are just put into context.

Despite my sincere desire to avoid categorization or labelling, I could not help but want some kind of quick description of what Pittsburgh is. Do people think of it as on the up-and-up or in decline? Do people know how Pittsburgh is viewed by others? What region do they consider themselves to be in?

Pennsylvania has recently emerged as quite possibly the most important state in presidential politics. Walking around town, I could not help but wonder if people here were already starting to dread the inevitable onslaught of political ads that will be absolutely impossible to avoid in the run up to an election that is still over three years away.

When people try to make sense of this state, they will often say the state has a genuine east coast city in Philadelphia, aspects of rust belt and Appalachia and a midwestern city in Pittsburgh. But, some aspects of Pittsburgh felt downright eastern to me. There are the tunnels.

The bridges.

Some neighborhood have really tight roads, reminiscent of the Northeast.

As it is on the East Coast, the roads are often not in straight lines and the intersections are often not 90 degree angles.

In just over 24 hours, my long dormant east coast instincts regarding driving, walking pace, how to act and how to time things kicked back in.

What does the future hold for Pittsburgh? Based on what I have read and seen, it seems like the ability to adjust, long-term focus and unique spirit has not gone anywhere. So, most likely it will be a good one.

As long as people don’t get sick of cloudy days.

The Great Divergence

When the first pandemic in over 100 years disrupted our lives, forcing many of us to stay home and stay apart from one another, I instantly became consumed with what life would be like when the pandemic comes to an end. Will this event cause us to re-think the way we are all living our lives? Or will we go back to our old ways once the danger of spreading a potentially deadly virus subsides? Will the changes associated with this once in a lifetime event be for the better or for the worse?

This summer, after a little over a year, we will finally get the opportunity to start seeing what this post-pandemic world will look like.

From observing how people behaved during the pandemic, and how people are acting as it comes to an end, there appears to be several points of divergence.

Back to what we had before or on to something new?

It would be hard to think of a more obvious area of post-pandemic divergence than this one. There is nothing I want more than to return to the activities many of us were denied for a little over a year. But, do we need to return to everything about the world in 2019? Some employers are already asking their employees to commute to the office five days a week once again. This, despite numerous studies showing people are actually more productive working from home.

The same can be said for many other aspects of how we live our lives. There is the instinct to return to “normal”. There is also the instinct to find a way to take the lessons learned from this experience and create something better. However, there also appears to be a current of fear, as many of us started living a different life during the pandemic. Now have to merge that version of ourselves and our “normal” lives.

A new power structure

Disruptive events stir the pot. They mix things up. There are winners and losers. An aspect of this appears to be luck. During the pandemic, people in “essential services” and in jobs that could be done remotely mostly did well while those in industries like travel and tourism got hurt pretty bad.

The post-pandemic world will come with a completely different set of changes that will stir the pot once again. Some people and groups will come out of it significantly more powerful and influential, while others will be significantly less so. A question for all of us is, are we ready to adjust the way we do things to fit into this new world?

A new found appreciation

The Best Views of New York’s Skyline

One of the first things I remember hearing about after the onset of the pandemic was the New York Times opinion piece where columnist Roger Cohen forgave the City of New York for everything that he had been annoyed about. It appeared as if the pandemic had given him a new found appreciation for the city, leading him to focus less on the petty annoyances covered in the article, from rats to traffic and bad odor, and more on what he loves about the city- it’s liveliness.

Can we say the same thing for the people and places that meant a lot to us in our lives? When the pandemic struck, did we contact the people we wish we could still see? Or did we yell at strangers for their views or behavior as we were all fearful?

While I wish to never return to wearing masks and social distancing, I hope to retain my appreciation for less active days, one-on-one experiences as opposed to large groups, and people who’s jobs are important but often under appreciated. There is the instinct to discard everything that happened in an effort to simply forget this horrible period of time. However, there is also the instinct to remember being without the people and places we love and continue to appreciate them.

Freedom or Avoiding Risk

I often hear people talk about the lack of a standard flu season this past winter, due to our mask wearing and social distancing. Some are even talking about adapting mask wearing every winter going forward.

The main question is, what risk avoidance methods are worth it. For the past 16 months, it feels as if Americans have abandoned our traditional concern for freedom and skepticism about mandates that curtail it. There is a divergence here between the desire to return to our orientation toward freedom, removing some of the extra layers of control adapted during the pandemic and fear of the virus or what is coming next after all the crazy events of 2020.

Do we know it all?

The pandemic was not the only event to rock the world in the last year. We live in a divisive time. There are the obvious divisions out there, between political parties, ideologies and priorities. However, if we dig deeper within these divisions, another one emerges. This perhaps even deeper division is between curiosity and believing we know it all already. I have observed this division in nearly every highly intellectual setting I have entered, from graduate school to TED talks.

Are we there to learn or advocate for a cause we’ve already adapted? With everything we recently experienced and the ongoing issues of loneliness, lack of fulfillment, high asset prices, etc. both instincts will still be there.

The battle within

As is the case with any historical event or set of historical events, some people will come out better for it and others will not. It is my belief that, based on these divergences, some people (those that worked on improving themselves, are curious and ready to adjust to a new reality) are in for a better decade than others.

However, that is also far too simplistic. The divergence in attitude described here is not just from person to person, but it is within each of us individually as well. Nobody is completely only on one side of each of the divergences described in this article. So, in the end, the way this decade will turn out is not about what people or groups of people adapt certain attitudes. It will probably be about which of these competing energies emerge more prevalently and where.

Cycling up Mountains in a Storm

Loveland Pass on Sunday May 23, 2021

Colorado can be a pretty confusing and frustrating place in the Springtime. In most mid-latitude Northern Hemisphere places, Spring is a time of revival. It is the time of year where people who had mostly been indoors and inactive during the winter return to life. Here in Colorado, Springtime is a period of major weather fluctuations. In Denver, March and April are often the snowiest months. It can even snow in May. Sometimes it feels like we go from tracking the weather for snow to 90 degree heat with barely a week or two in-between.

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At higher elevations it snows quite a bit during springtime (Leadville is 10,200 feet (3.1km) above sea level), even as the snow melts into mud on most trails. It is probably the most inactive time of year in the mountains.

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Springtime in Colorado requires a combination of planning, adjustment and resiliency. The weekend of May 22nd and 23rd would test my resiliency because I kind of dropped the ball on planning.

On Saturday, I climbed Lookout Mountain, a ride in Golden, Colorado that climbs from 5500 feet (1675m) to 7300 feet (2200 m).

The day was somewhat stormy but also quite active. Paragliders took off from Lookout Mountain, flying over the town.

And the road was packed with cyclists. Only about 20 miles (32 km) from Denver, this is a very popular ride!

After noon, with even more paragliders taking off from the mountain, I encountered the storm.

Some cyclists chose to wait out the rain by finding a building to stand next to. I raced back home, into a fairly significant wind down the hill.

The next day, I went up to Loveland Pass to climb another mountain, this one at a much higher elevation. My ride began at the parking lot of Loveland Ski Area, which sits at around 10,600 feet (3230 m). I could already see that the storms had returned.

As is the case with going upwards in elevation, the weather was much colder, probably only around 45°F (7°C) at the start of the ride. From the very beginning, the ride felt like it was taking place in a different season.

Much of the ground was still covered with snow. Unlike on Lookout Mountain, I was the only one on a bicycle on the road up to Loveland Pass that day. The only other people I encountered were backcountry skiing. One joking asked me for a ride to the top of the pass on my handlebars.

Higher up the mountain, I suddenly found myself doing something I typically try to avoid, riding in the snow. It became scary as it was obvious that slippery conditions existed.

Near the top visibility continued to decline.

Finally, just to be true to the cycling community I belong to, I took a photo holding up my bike in front of the sign that indicated I had reached the top of the pass at just shy of 12,000 feet (3650 m).

There I stood, the only cyclist, almost out of place, like I was suddenly in the wrong season. It reminded me of how often we forget that different people in different places are often having quite different experiences. Two months ago, towards the end of March, while most places in North America were seeing people emerge from their winter dormancy and return to life, life in the Central Rockies was slowing down as the ski season was coming to an end. Now, there could not be more contrast all around me.

As the United States has mostly put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, countries with slower vaccine rollouts are dealing with some pretty bad case numbers associated with newer, more rapidly spreading, variants of the disease. This sits in sharp contrast to last summer, when other more prepared countries had much greater success in containing the virus through behavioral measures than we had. Heck, even the period of time westerners refer to as the “dark ages“, were not a dark time for everybody. The Tang Dynasty was remembered as a golden age for China. It was also a time of great advancement in the Islamic world. Finding myself on my bike in the snow in the second half of May reminded of the benefit of understanding that not everyone and not every place is having the same experience.

The Musical Instrument Museum

Unique places like the Musical Instrument Museum are the essence of travel. The reason it becomes worthwhile for anyone to leave the place they live and travel to places beyond where they typically find themselves is to see something different, something unique, something they can’t see in their hometown. Often times they are places of natural beauty or specific cultural experiences. However, this museum, on the Northeast side of Phoenix is something few people have in their metropolitan areas. It is a museum dedicated to musical instruments and the musical experience around the world.

Upon entry into the museum the motivation behind building it is apparent and obvious.

For reasons that are hard to impossible to explain, music is and has always been a major part of the human experience. It is hard to imagine a world without it, and music historians speculate that music has been around longer than language. Music is an experience that cannot be accurately explained in words. The reasons different people have different reactions to music cannot be programmed into an algorithm or explained using science, language or any left-brained tactics.

The museum itself has a lot of exhibits. The downstairs has exhibits demonstrating the importance of specific musical instruments.

While the upstairs contains exhibits showing the musical traditions of every country around the world.

Each county’s exhibit contains videos of popular songs, performances or dance rituals in their country, as well as artifacts of instruments past and present.

Coming out of a very isolating year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is hard not to get emotional at some of these exhibits. While the venues vary, especially from poorer countries to richer countries, music seems to be a means by which people gather together and have fun. Many of the videos show people doing ritualistic dances together or performing in front of a large audience. It is exactly everything the world has been missing as many have been forced to “social distance” for a year or more. Seeing people gathered together and enjoying music is seeing exactly what the world needs and exactly what the world is craving.

It was also interesting to note that even the poorest of countries have musical traditions. Pure logic would dictate that in places where people live in extreme poverty, where their basic needs for food, water and shelter are not secure, people should spend every last bit of their time and resources trying to fill these needs. Even in these places, people are willing to use natural resources to build drums rather than secure their fragile homes or build weapons to hunt food. They are willing to expend energy that could be used to build, hunt, and prepare food, water and shelter dancing and even making costumes for some rituals.

It shows that no matter how much some people emphasize things like advancement, monetization and efficiency, there is an intrinsic value in things that don’t specifically correspond to money or material wealth. People in wealthy countries are willing to spend their money on concert tickets and streaming services. People in poorer countries are willing to use their resources to play music and dance in their communities. Both represent people using resources that could be used for personal advancement or obtaining something material on an experience that makes life joyous. The same could be said for all kinds of other experiences, from spiritual pursuits to sports and other activities with friends. Humanity shows, over and over again that joy, connection and fulfillment are valuable.

The United States and Canada section is quite diverse, honoring all of the musical traditions that graced this diverse continent, from the Native American traditions all the way up to rock and roll and hip hop.

It was great to see that all traditions were represented, seemingly without bias.

To view all of the videos and learn about all of the musical traditions around the world would probably warrant an entire day. However, it is possible to get a pretty in-depth experience in a couple of hours. By displaying the music traditions of all people all over the world, the Musical Instrument Museum gives the true respect music deserves for its role in shaping humanity.

Northern Arizona 1000 Years Ago

When we think about remnants of ancient civilizations, we often think of places like Egypt, Greece or Italy. Athens, Cairo and Rome are certainly places people visit for the primary purpose of observing and learning about history. However, one thing I learned about travel, generally speaking, is that history is all around us. Evidence of historical events, both the human and natural kind, can be found almost everywhere, and sometimes in some unexpected places.

Wupatki National Monument sits about 30 miles north of Flagstaff and is easily accessible via U.S. highway 89. Those traveling through the area can visit the remnants of several abandoned pueblos, as well as sunset crater, the site of a volcanic eruption, on a convenient 36 mile scenic drive.

In the 11th, 12th and early 13th centuries, the region around the present day four corners was home to one of the most advanced civilizations in North America north of the Aztec Empire.

They had houses large and small.

They even had buildings that would serve the equivalent function to the larger buildings we have in urban areas today.

Recent evidence indicates that the population of the continent before Columbus’s arrival was likely much higher than we had originally thought. Before the pueblos were abandoned and subject to 700 years of weathering, these building were certainly more densely packed together than they appear today. Archeologists and historians are still debating why the settlements here and in other nearby places were just abandoned. It is likely that a combination of drought and over-hunting made the region no longer ideal for civilization at the time. Looking out upon them and imagining this past, it becomes possible to speculate about people’s lives at the time.

Some things were certainly different from our lives today. For example, they did not have the means to travel long distances, as horses would be introduced by the Spanish centuries later. So, there were few journeys or adventures. However, based on human nature, there was certainly the friendships, conflicts, drama, power struggles, rivalries, parties, shared experiences and accomplishments that go along with life in towns and cities.

There were definitely events, one of which is evidenced by Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument on the same scenic drive

Evidence points to this volcano erupting in the later half of the 11th century. The eruption was seen by Anasazi and Sinagua inhabitants of the region. They probably talked about it for years, possibly even the entire two-ish centuries between the eruption and their mysterious departure from the region.

The volcanic eruptions changed the landscape of the area in ways that can still be seen today. Slopes in the area still appear black from the ash that followed the eruption.

Scientists can identify the minerals deposited on the rocks in the area.

These minerals likely altered the manner in which the Anasazi and Sinagua people farmed the area when they lived in these pueblos.

I began to wonder what other records, knowledge and traditions were lost when these civilizations collapsed. Could they have had scientific knowledge that we will never benefit from? Did they have philosophical ideas worthy of our consideration? Is there a history we could be learning from?

Sometimes it feels like we fail to consider the history of a place before “our” involvement- before we arrived. What event constitutes “our” arrival is open to debate. Regardless, “our” involvement in the North American continent spans between 150 and just over 500 years out of a history that goes back at least 13,000. What happened on this continent before Columbus arrived certainly impacts our lives today.

Even if we talk about the course of events on the scale of our individual lives, the same bias often surfaces. We’ll move to a city and learn what highways jam up at what hours of the day, what restaurants to go to, etc. But, what about the city a few decades ago? There is often a reason, based on the migration of people, why the best Italian restaurants are in one neighborhood and the best Chinese ones are in another.

As I took a deep breath and gazed out into the open sky I thought about a phenomenon I had first thought of nearly 20 years ago. Right now, there is something happening, in another town, involving people I do not know yet, that will have a significant impact on my life. The same can be said for anyone else, including anyone reading this entry.

A Letter to a Nation in Crisis

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Dear USA,

There is no denying that this in not our finest hour. We have struggled more than most with our response to the Coronavirus. Where other nations have been able to largely put the virus behind them, often with far less draconian measures, we have been unable to contain the virus. At a time when we had expected to be through the worst of it, caseloads are spiking.

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We are still suffering the economic damage from having essentially shut down our entire economy for about a month and a half.

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I mean, was this lack of traffic ever even theoretically possible

The damage will be even worse, as many of our biggest states, including California, Florida and Texas, are backing off reopening the economy. As parts of the world reopen themselves to visitors from some countries, we will find ourselves left off the list due to our high infection rate.

The world is also watching as we deal with issues of continued racial injustice. In response to several high profile news stories about the killing of unarmed blacks by law enforcement, protests have erupted all over the nation.

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Will this response to these events lead to justice and healing? Or will our problems continue or simply take on another form? Only time will tell.

One thing is for sure though. The U.S.A., the nation that I love and feel blessed to have been born a part of, is going through a tough season. We are struggling with self doubt. We are struggling with our identity. This is not the typical Fourth of July. The are far fewer crowds and celebrations. For many, the holiday is far quieter; more reflective.

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Perhaps more upsetting than the lack of travel opportunities and my general inability to live my life the way I typically do is our season of self-doubt. In the places I most commonly find myself, the pride I typically observe in people for this Nation feels to have waned. It feels unfashionable to show pride in the United States of America at this point in time.

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We all encounter periods in life where we struggle more than others with specific challenges due to our personality types.

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Different periods of time require different skill sets. A period of imminent danger requires a bold leader. It will be a period where a more sensitive type will naturally struggle. But, that does not mean that the ability to support others and empathize with them is no longer an important skill.

The same can be said for this period of time in the United States. We as a Nation tend to be bold, individualistic and skeptical of top-down authority. It is for this reason, we struggle with things like mask compliance, that naturally comes so easy to many other nations. Our skepticism of authority has made our struggles with COVID-19 worse.

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However, during these turbulent times, we should not lose sight of how much we have benefitted overall from the principles on which our Nation was founded. We are one of the wealthiest and most innovative countries in the world. Most of the top tech firms are based in the United States. We recently took a major step towards returning mankind to the moon and potentially to other planets.

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We have been at the forefront of most recent global cultural trends. It is here that jazz, blues, rock and roll and hip-hop originated.

Our revolution inspired others around the world to adapt a similar societal structures. Despite our current challenges and period of self-doubt, there are still far more people looking to enter than leave.

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Right now, it might be tempting to lose sight of who we are and try to emulate places that seem to be having a better time.

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No doubt, we need to grow from this. We need to do a better job with taking care of our health, possibly reshuffling our priorities. There is also without a doubt a need to improve the way certain racial groups are treated in this country. However, we need to do so in a manner that is consistent with who we are, at our core. Trying to be what we are not is not a path to long term happiness. Those who I see who are forced to live a life untrue to themselves suffer a kind of spiritual death that at times can feel even more painful than actual death.

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I want to offer this great Nation some encouragement at a time when it is most needed. Despite the extra pain it is causing in 2020, I love our skepticism of authority. Despite some challenges with too much emphasis on work, I love our free market economic system. Even though the calls for justice are legitimate, assuming those accused are innocent until proven guilty is one of our nation’s greatest attributes. Our problems don’t come from the philosophy on which we were founded and still are mostly oriented. They come from the incomplete and sometimes uneven implementation of them. Let’s grow from this tough season. Rather than become something different, something unrecognizable, let’s become an improved and more confident version of ourselves!

Love,

A concerned and still proud Citizen

Taos Pueblo: A Trip Back in Time

New Mexico is a fascinating place. In many ways, it feels both old and new at the same time. Santa Fe is one of the oldest cities in North America.

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From a U.S. perspective it is associated with the new. It is the 47th State, having only achieved Statehood in 1912. When the Eastern States had well established State identities and were lining up to take sides in the Civil War, New Mexico was part of a large open area thought of as the Wild West. It’s rugged terrain still suggests that to this day.

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Taos Pueblo is a part of New Mexico’s older heritage, having been around for over 1,000 years. It is here that Native American tribal people still practice the culture of their ancestors.

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Taos Pueblo is only several miles to the Northeast of the town of Taos. Admission is $16, and volunteers give free guided tours of the Pueblo (tips recommended). Visiting the Pueblo without taking the guided tour would not do justice to the experience. The tour guide on this particular day was a cheerful father of two who is currently getting an English degree from the University of New Mexico- Taos and was happy to talk about the Pueblo and answer any questions tourists might have.

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Life in the Pueblo sounds quite a bit like life in the Amish country. Within the Pueblo, there is no plumbing or electricity. Much like the Amish, they have a communal living situation that involves a lot of hard work that those outside the village have delegated to technology decades to centuries ago.

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The most significant difference between life in the Pueblo and the life of the Amish is that they do often engage with the outside world. The tour guide indicated that many of the Pueblo’s residents pursue higher education or careers in the military. Taos being a very artistic community, one of the residents became a famous artist and travels quite frequently to sell and talk about her artwork.

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While there is not plumbing or electricity within the Pueblo, cars can be seen all around, which the Taos use to travel outside the Pueblo. While the residents of Taos Pueblo practice ancient cultures, rituals and gender roles within the walls of the Pueblo, when they go forth into the outside world, they often behave quite a bit like everyone else does in the modern world.

The way of life is also distinctly Native American. The river that runs through the Pueblo is considered sacred, visitors are advised not to touch it.

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They also all use the traditional stove, called the Horno (pronounced like the Spanish word orno), to cook their food

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With everyone’s horno outside, it suggests a lifestyle that involves much more time outdoors.

Spiritually, they practice a hybrid faith between the ancient religion of the Taos people and the Catholicism that was forced on them by their Spanish conquistadors.

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As is the case with many Catholic communities, the church serves as a community center. However, rather than Jesus, they place the Virgin Mary at the altar. Their patron Saint is St. Geranimo, a man who refused to join the Catholic church until he was permitted a certain amount of individual autonomy behind his methods of worship and study. One of his oddest preferences; He preferred to pray and write naked.

The traditional indigenous religion is something the villagers do not talk about outside the tribe. The tour guide did indicate that it still played a major role in the lives of the Taos tribe, and that it was “nature based”.

Discussions of history naturally came up. Part of the tour is a visit to the remnants of the first church, which was destroyed in the 1840s by the U.S. military.

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When the United States defeated Mexico in the Mexican American war, there were a lot of people in Taos, both Mexican and Native American who did not want to be part of the U.S. U.S. officials tried handle this known resentment by appointing Charles Bent as the first territorial governor. It seemed like a logical choice. He was a successful businessman who was known for having good relations with people of Hispanic and Native origin. However, it did not end well for him. He was eventually murdered by the Taos, with support from Mexicans, both resentful of the prospect of being ruled by the United States.

The gripe that his assassins had with him was not about his personality or actions, it was about the sheer fact that they resented being conquered and ruled.

I personally struggle with this situation because I see a lot of myself in Governor Bent. Charles Bent was a very ambitious and successful person who was also cheerful and well liked. As was indicated by the account of his assassination by his five-year-old daughter at the Governor Bent Museum, he was willing to lend a helping hand and go out of his way to understand people from different cultures- even embrace them.

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Ironically had he been a stereotypical business tycoon with no regard for others, he would never had been appointed as Governor and never would have been assassinated. He also could have avoided his fate by turning down the position, which would have required putting concern for others over his own ambitions. Many suggest this course of action, but, like Charles Bent, I am not convinced it leads to true happiness.

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While many of the Pueblo residents pursue higher degrees and career opportunities elsewhere, all indication is that they “always come back” to the Pueblo. The Amish cite preserving their community as their primary reason for rejecting certain technology. The Taos similar rejection of technology seems to have produced a similar result. People here feel a much deeper tie to their community than most of us 21st century Americans. Many of us gladly leave our hometowns for whichever city provides us the best opportunity. Some of us never look back.

Maybe the Taos, in New Mexico, have the right balance, between the old and the new. There is a place for high-tech life and there is a place for low-tech life.

The Great Ocean Road Day 2: The Twelve Apostles

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Just like that the weather turned. A couple of hours after the sun went down After our first day on the Great Ocean Road, the wind started howling and the rain started falling. It was weird to be on top of a van while a storm was coming through. At first I was scared that the van would tip over, but I reminded myself of the amount of wind needed to actually do that, at least 85 miles per hour (135 km/hour). As much as I lament the amount of places in the world, particularly at work, where emotions are expected to ignored, it is still great to overcome an irrational fear with knowledge and logic.

I was surprised to awaken and find that I had slept in, until about 8:30 A.M. Given how early I had gone to sleep, due to the sun setting at 5:10 P.M., this meant that I had slept nearly 11 hours! While I had hoped to get an earlier start that day, I could not believe how refreshed I felt. Lately it feels like there are multiple competing theories about sleep, in particular related to whether or not lost sleep can be made up for. Based on my experiences, it feels like it can. The experience reminded me of coming home from college and immediately sleeping 12 hours at my parents house after stressing out about finals and final projects for weeks (as well as living in the dorms). After sleeping 11 hours, for the first time in what feels like years, I did not feel any sleepiness or need for caffeine!

No matter how much people plan, changes in weather create the need for some adjustments. The wind and rain made it feel not exactly pleasant outside. The beaches, as well as some of the walking trails, were empty that day. The town of Apollo Bay is bigger than Torquay and Lorne, and where the Great Ocean Walk, a 104 km trail that leads to the Twelve Apostles, begins.

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About 3 km West of Apollo Bay, is the first place along the Great Ocean Road, nearly halfway through the drive, deviates from the coastline.

Map of Great Ocean Road

Even here, the ocean is still always kind of in sight, but the inland traverse into the hills provides some variety in the scenery.

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It is this section of the coast, near Cape Otway, conditions felt at their windiest. Sort of like a peninsula jutting out into the Southern Ocean, the area is often referred to as “shipwreck coast”. 19th Century historical events here include a number of documented shipwrecks, but also the construction of the Cape Otway Lighthouse, Australia’s oldest. This lighthouse established the first connection between mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania, via both shipping routes and telegraph messages.

In the afternoon the rain stopped, but the wind continued to howl. The sun even gradually started to return. However, the cold wind straight off the coast would still make it a less than pleasant day for any kind of long walks or hikes. It ended up, however, becoming the perfect conditions for a once in a lifetime experience. A helicopter ride over one of Australia’s most iconic destinations; The Twelve Apostles.

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At AUS $145 ($110 US) per person, the cost of this epic journey is quite reasonable! The ride itself lasts about 15 minutes, and quickly soars over some iconic images, including The Great Ocean Road.

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Of course, the Twelve Apostles.

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And, many of the similar limestone structures further West.

While the helicopter ride provided an arial view of these beautiful oceanside structures, the Gibson Steps, located just a couple of kilometers to the East of the Twelve Apostles, provides a view at beach level.

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The Gibson Steps are exactly what one would expect, a staircase that leads down from the overlooking cliffs to the beach. Walking down and up the steps requires being outside for only about 10 minutes, so the less than pleasant weather was not too much of a factor.

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We camped that evening in Port Campbell, a town of barely 600 permanent full time residents with a beautiful beachfront. In the summer, this place is a lot more crowded. In the winter, it was quite empty.

This was the evening that having traveled to the Southern Hemisphere in June messed with my mind the most. Port Campbell in winter has a clasic quiet small town feel. The Main Street bar with a faded neon light outside it. The three block stretch of lit roads surrounded by darkness in all directions. The quiet street with a few people walking around but most inside the restaurants or their own homes.

We are accustomed to the relatively gradual changes in daylight patterns as the seasons progress. Even in periods like April and October, the amount of daylight, at most changes by a couple of minutes each day. Having experienced the daylight expansion in the Northern Hemisphere from April to June, I’d inured to sunset being sometime around 8 P.M. and complete darkness onsetting closer to 9. Being in complete darkness in a quiet small town made 6:30 P.M. feel almost like 10. Without seeing too many people out and about, it is easy to feel like we had arrived at everyone’s bad time.

 

Downtown Los Angeles; Where the Recent Past Comes to Life

Los Angeles is something that can be felt as soon as visitors exit the airport. The air has a feeling about it that is distinct from drier inland areas but also distinct from the humid areas of the Eastern United States. It feels like a strange combination of warmth and chill that hints at the relatively cool waters of the Pacific Ocean nearby.

Could this atmosphere be why California’s lifestyle is chill compared to the also densely populated cities along the East Coast? This interesting combination of almost tropical sun and breeze coming off the relatively cooler Pacific Ocean creates a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere that is neither begging its residents to get inside like the cold winters of the Midwest nor suffocating like the combination of heat and humidity characteristic of summers in the Southeast.

Los Angeles is a city that came of age in the 20th Century, more recently than most other large cities in the world. When most people think about the region, images of windy roads and people surfing come to mind. Most don’t think too much about downtown Los Angeles. However, Downtown Los Angeles, as it turns out, is also quite historic, as well as vibrant.

First, there is the Pueblo, just across the Street from Union Station.

On the plaza which surrounds the historic monument, performers periodically perform traditional Native American dances, while Olivera Street is a Mexican themed market. Los Angeles, like everywhere else in North America, was originally inhabited by Native American tribes. It was also part of Mexico before it was conquered in the Mexican-American war in 1848. Markets like Olivera Street can be found in many other cities that were originally part of Mexico, including San Antonio and Albuquerque.

One of the oldest establishments in modern Los Angeles is the Grand Central Market, dating back to 1917. Today, it feels like a testament to the idea of multi-culturalism, which is a key component of the current identity of L.A.

Packed into this area, which covers less than a City block is cuisine from all over the world, from Mexican to Salvadorian, Chinese and Mediterranean. It feels like there aren’t two vendors serving the same nationality of food!

Most people who grew up in the United States have seen at least one movie scene filmed at the Los Angeles River.

Perhaps the most famous one is the car race scene in the movie Grease. This river is typically dry, as had to be the case for the teenagers to race their automobiles on the concrete. However, in springtime, especially in wetter years like this one, it can become filled with running water.

The last quarter of a Century has seen a renewed interest in Urban living which has not completely escaped Los Angeles despite its car-centric past.

Downtown Los Angeles has become a desirable place to live. As is the case in other thriving American cities, development is everywhere. The old stereotype that “nobody walks in L.A.” seems to no longer be true, at least for downtown. The sidewalks here are bustling, although not as much as New York.

The Last Bookstore, built in 2005, has also become a destination for locals and tourists alike.

Built at a time when people believed bookstores were going to gradually cease to exist (thus its name), it was built to be so much more than a bookstore. Seemingly influenced by the hipster movement at the time, it was built to be a community center with a strong artistic component.

In particular, the upstairs, referred to as the “book labyrinth”, attracts many visitors, many of whom are taking pictures in front of the most interesting artistic displays.

Many of these visitors appear to be “doing it for the ‘Gram”, a quick way of saying that someone’s primary motivation for taking part in a certain activity is to post a picture that is likely going to get a good amount of likes on Instagram. This can easily be spotted because these individuals are always taking photos with their phones and posing in an attention seeking manner (which can manifest in many ways)

The present-day condition of Los Angeles is in some ways like many other cities where renewed interest in urban lifestyle has brought a lot of new energy and life into the central part of town. New, hip neighborhoods have emerged, with places like Urth’s Coffee shop in the Arts district.

Urth’s Coffee Shop feels like the epitome of trendy, selling expensive coffee and healthy food, essentially exactly what young wealthy urban professionals want. It is a part of the Arts district, which is your quintessential Early 21st Century trendy neighborhood.

However, these districts are often still adjacent to, and sometimes mixed in with the remnants of the urban decay that took place about half a century ago. Adjacent to the Arts district are some places that appear less than desirable and include large homeless populations.

Los Angeles is not nearly as obviously historical as Rome, Athens, or Alexandria. However, many often forget that recent history is still history. An event does not have to have occurred too long ago for most people to remember for it to be historically significant in the sense that it had a significant influence on the subsequent progression of the human condition.

Attractions in and near downtown L.A. uncover pieces of our history whose overall significance is something that is still being determined. The Last Bookstore appears to be certainly influenced by the recent hipster movement, and downtown’s other destinations are impacted by recent movements including globalization and gentrification. One day in the future, this will likely be considered just as historic as monuments from centuries past.