Barbarian Days

sometimes reading “the news” I am reminded of this part from Barbarian Days:

In the cemeteries in Tonga, late in the day, there always seemed to be old women tending the graves of their parents – combing the coral-sand mounds into proper coffin-top shape, sweeping away leaves, hand-washing faded wreaths of plastic flowers, rearranging the haunting patterns of tropical peppercorns, orange and green on bleached white sand.

A shiver of secondhand sorrow ran through me.  And an ache of something else.  It wasn’t exactly homesickness.  It felt like I had sailed off the edge of the known world.  That was actually fine with me.  The world was mapped in so many different ways.  For worldly Americans, the whole globe was covered by the foreign bureaus of the better newspapers – the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal – and, at that time, the big newsweeklies.  Every place on earth was part of somebody’s beat.  Bryan understood that map before I did, having gone to Yale.  But when I’d found an old copy of Newsweek on Captain Brett Hilder’s bridge, and tried to read a George Will column, I’d burst out laughing.  His Beltway airs and provincialism were impenetrable.  The truth was, we were wandering now through a world that would never be a part of any correspondent’s beat (let alone George Will’s purview).  It was full of news, but all of it was oblique, mysterious, important only if you listened and watched and felt its weight.

As the Jamaican cab driver said, the news is a Babylon thing.

 


Tupaiai’s Map

After he landed in Tahiti in 1767, Captain James Cook met an island man, Tupaia, who drew him a map of islands of the South Pacific.

That Cook respected and trusted Tupaia is evidenced by the fact that for an entire month, he let Tupaia navigate his precious ship through the archipelago of the Society Islands, and on southward across open waters to Rurutu in the Austral Group. Tupaia turned out to be an invaluable linguistic and cultural translator for the crew, especially so in Aotearoa/New Zealand, where Cook landed next. Only when the Endeavour reached Australia did Tupaia’s powers to communicate fail; he eventually fell ill and tragically died in Batavia, today’s Jakarta in Indonesia.

Only copies remain, and they’re hard to comprehend:

For almost 250 years, Tupaia’s Map posed a riddle to historians, anthropologists and geographers of the Pacific alike. Until more recently, only a rather small number of islands on the map could be reliably identified. The British on Cook’s ship knew little Tahitian, and their linguistic talent was limited. They wrote down what they heard Tupaia say when he named the islands he drew, in an often very corrupted English transcription. What is more, many of the Tahitian island names are no longer in use in the region. But the more foundational problem is that even those islands which could be identified are hardly where one would expect them according to the logic of a Western map. By the standards of maps in Mercator projection as Cook used and drew them, the islands seem to be all over the place: Islands thousands of kilometers apart appear right next to each other, islands which should be to the south of Tahiti appear in the northern quadrants, small islands can have very large outlines, etc.

To cut a much longer story short: In Tupaia’s cartographic system, avatea marks a bearing to the north. It references the direction of the sun in its highest position at noontime (which south of the tropic of Capricorn, and most of the year south of the equator, points due north). Tupaia thus overrode the cardinal logic the Europeans set up for him: For the islands he subsequently drew, north would no longer be ‘up,’ east ‘right,’ south ‘down,’ west ‘left.’ North would from now on be in the center of the chart. What he thus also overrode is the logic of a singular, central perspective.

In Tupaia’s logic, there is no singular orientation abstracted from the traveller. True to his wayfinding tradition, the center of observation is always the va‘a (canoe). Rather than imaging an aloof bird-eye perspective, Tupaia must have invited his European collaborators to situate themselves in the chart, on a va‘a at any of the islands he subsequently drew.

One can’t help but be reminded of Super Mario Bros. 3, World 4:


Showbiz

a non-industry friend asked me to summarize the current dispute between the WGA and the ATA.  I did my best:

Anyway.  We welcome comment!


Breakfast inequality

saw this on Bloomberg, but I don’t think it really tracks.  Maybe just the specific combination of regular milk, one egg, two slices of toast, and one fruit, an ideal of breakfast we can probably say evolved in Europe, is just easier to get in North America and Europe than it is in sub-Saharan Africa?

As Bloomberg notes:

Bloomberg picked the four food items based on widely available commodities that allow for price comparisons globally. What people across the world actually eat for their first meal of the day varies from egg-and-potato tacos in Mexico City to fried pork buns in Shanghai to cooked fava beans in Cairo.

Damn all those sound good.

In my own experience trying to get breakfast in Latin America or Asia, you might not be able to get milk, an egg, two slices of toast, and one fruit, but you can easily and inexpensively get say pupusas or a tasty medu vada or something.

Still, the point they are going for, worth considering:

The 30 cities with the least affordable breakfasts were largely concentrated in South America, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa. Many of these regions suffer from food insecurity, or limited access to affordable and nutritious food, which can lead to additional problems such as disease and even death.

In Accra and Lagos, the two cities with the least affordable food prices, the standard breakfast would take more than 2 hours of work to purchase. The index would show an even more staggering disparity if Caracas were included. However, due to hyperinflation and the complex currency situation, that nation’s capital was excluded from this year’s list.

 


Top Of The Rock

Purging some books from my collection.

This one no longer sparks joy.  Perhaps because the cover itself is too busy, and also summons up a specific 90s period that now feels almost grotesque?

I got a lot out of this book.  What an era – when the most popular TV show really was the funniest.  On Frasier:

What a great, brilliant innovation.  It really gave Frasier a different, quieter feel than some of the other shows of the era.

How about this story about Clooney on the first day of E.R.:

 


How far could you get from LA using public transportation networks?

For the purposes of this exercise, let’s rule out Amtrak.  It’s “public transportation” in a way but that’s another level.  Let’s talk about traveling, by public transit only, no Greyhound, connecting network to network, and see how far you could get.

Worked on this problem briefly and here’s what I came up with.

The key is really Lancaster.  From LA you could take an 785 Antelope Valley Transit Authority Bus to Lancaster.

From Lancaster, you could connect on Kern Valley Transit and go as far as Lost Hills or Delano, or even out to Ridgecrest.

You’ll be dropped off around here:

But, you could also hop on the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority’s Mammoth Express, go out to Lone Pine, change there for a bus that will take you to Reno, Nevada.

You could even hop off early, in Carson City, Nevada.  It’s thus easier to travel in this method to Nevada’s state capitol than it is to California’s.

Far as I can tell, closest you can get to Sacramento without resorting to Amtrak or Greyhound from Los Angeles is Delano or Lost Hills.

Along the coast I don’t see how you get farther than Santa Barbara.

If you’re heading east, I could see you getting to Hemet with some help from the Riverside Transit Authority, or you could work your way all the way to the east side of the Salton Sea with some help from the Sunline Transit Agency.

We welcome corrections from our transit-minded readers!


Busy

Noticed something about myself, but maybe it’s true for you, too.  I am most productive when I am a certain level of “busy.”

When I have absolutely nothing to do, like zero, I rarely get anything done.

There’s a level of overwhelmedment where I am also useless.

But at just the right level of medium busy, my machinery hums and I get a lot done.

Surely there’s meaning in this!

(Image found by doing a search on NARA.gov for “busy.”

Original Caption: Older Citizens, Retired Persons and Those Unable to Care for Themselves Physically Are Cared for in Two Community Centers. This Man Lives at the Highland Manor Retirement Home, Keeping Busy with “Old Country” Crafts. New Ulm Is a County Seat Trading Center of 13,000 in a Farming Area of South Central Minnesota. It Was Founded in 1854 by a German Immigrant Land Company That Encouraged Its Kinsmen to Emigrate From Europe.

U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-15875

 

Photographer: Schulke, Flip, 1930-2008

 

Subjects:

New Ulm (Brown county, Minnesota, United States) inhabited place

Environmental Protection Agency

Project DOCUMERICA

 

Persistent URL: arcweb.archives.gov/arc/action/ExternalIdSearch?id=558325

)