drama : Oh Fair New Mexico

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by Karen Fayeth

I Don’t Want To Be Right. Okay, Maybe I Do.

In my quest to 1) become a better person and 2) survive 2016 intact, several weeks ago I signed up for a mindfulness meditation class.

The instructor is lovely and the class is, well, relaxing. It makes me calmer and a better person in so many ways.

This whole meditation thing doesn’t really jibe with my New Mexico upbringing. Stress reduction is a bit different ’round here than it was there.

For example, where I live now, it’s awful hard to take a three-hour ride upon my favorite horse in order to relax. And driving out to Chopes for enchiladas and a beer is a longer drive than I can make in a day.

Meditation it is, then.

Last week, we had a long class discussion about the use of one’s car horn. How it’s not mindful or necessary to lay on the horn while traveling this world. How it can make things worse by scaring the other driver or making the other driver mad (and bad things come from that).

This is also in line with The Good Man and his rules for better living. Since we live in a more urban city than I’ve ever lived in before, he has asked me nicely give my horn honking a rest. These are tense times and occasionally I travel through tough neighborhoods. Who knows how the ol’ toot-toot will be received?

Really, this is all sage advice, both from the Vispassana teacher and the man I married.

Until yesterday, when I found myself in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood. Where the Chinatown in San Francisco is something of a tourist delight, the Oakland Chinatown is a serious ethnic neighborhood. It sits near Oakland’s downtown, so it’s busy, jam packed with traffic, and not to be taken lightly.

I’ve spent many an hour in Oakland’s Chinatown over my years and I love it. It had been a while, and was nice to be there again. I had a couple things on my shopping list that can only be found in that neighborhood.

As I rolled into the area, I made my way past city buses and double-parked cars, and was filled with glee to find a nice wide parking spot on the street just around the corner from where I needed to be. Score!

I carefully maneuvered over, waited while the car ahead loaded her kid in the car, had my blinker on the whole time and as I pulled forward to align and began to back into the spot, some $%^& started to pull head first into my spot.

Yay, verily, there was much laying on of horns. Oh yes. My beloved Jeep is equipped with not one but two bassy air horns that make it clear to whomever is on the receiving end that they have been properly honked. One firm flat-palm press lights up the hearing cavities of all nearby.

I held that Jeep horn with a solid hand, owing my destiny to all of the fabulous people throughout my years here in the Bay Area who taught me how to survive in a city. Indeed. I followed the playbook and hoped to hell this wouldn’t escalate into that driver getting out of their car.

Thus, as the interloper assessed the situation, she surely noticed my sixteen-year-old Jeep was far less shiny than her almost new SUV nosing into my spot. I held steady, knowing even then that the person backing in is at a disadvantage to the person trying to head in.

Finally the fancy car threw it in reverse and left, giving me an exaggerated shrug on the way by.

Here is the true confession: Damn did honking the hell out of my horn feel good. Like, real good. Like cold beer after a hard day of yard work. Like that first bite of a Chopes enchilada (egg and sour cream on top). Like finally getting out the splinter that is starting to fester.

I know it goes against everything my spouse and my learned teacher have asked of me. It wasn’t peaceful, nor kind. But damn did it feel good.

Almost too good.

Okay, okay. The horn honking is over. The satisfaction was quick and delicious. The endorphins rose and quickly dissipated.

Today I’ll rededicate myself to the peaceful life. To being more kind. To being more centered. To let traffic solve itself without the help of two weighty and meaningful Jeep air horns.

They don’t call meditation a practice for nothing. It takes work. Perfection is not expected. (I’ll add this note, I refrained from both cursing and arm waving in addition to the horn. It’s something to build on.)

Given the same situation, would I honk it up again? Hee, hee…probably.

Okay, okay. I’ll try harder.

Ooooohmmmmmmmmmmmmm……




Recycling one of my favorite photos.





Image found here.





A Giant Quantity of Nope

This morning, like most weekday mornings, I hopped into my trusty old Jeep, fired ‘er up and took off, careening toward my place of employment.

As I traversed one of my hometown’s very busy main roads, I glanced into my sideview mirror, as any safe driver would do.

As I glanced, I saw a little leggy burble and a pop and this thing emerged:




See the hinge for the mirror? It had somehow packed itself in there.

I should note that I was so startled that I had to pull over to the side of the street and consider my options. Also to take a photo to send to The Good Man. It was essential to document the situation in case my Jeep and I were later found suspended from a stop light, wrapped in silk and drained of fluids.

Let me zoom in a little closer for ya.




The Good Man refers to this time of year as “Chunky Spider Season.” It’s true, our current hometown is very, er, spidery. More than any place I have ever lived. And they are often quite big. And chunky.

At home, I park on the street near a tree and some brush. These eight legged demons seem to consider the Jeep part of their homestead. I often brush webs off every corner of the Jeep, including when they manage to string webs across my roof rack.

But this, today, goes beyond the pale.

How about an even closer look, because you need to know my fear.




After snapping photos, I cinched up, put on my determined face, then re-entered the roadway at speed hoping this sumnabitch would fly off in the wind. No such luck. It first hunkered down, then feeling carefree (I assume), it later spread all eight of its legs as though surfing the breeze.

Hitting speedbumps at a hard pace didn’t seem to help either.

Soon, I arrived at work and had to unroll this window to reach out and badge into the garage. Thankfully my new overlord didn’t seem to flinch much.

But it’s still there. Still hanging out like it owns my Jeep. Like I am just a pawn in its spidery game.

I am currently unable to exit the Jeep. This is my life now.

Someone please send help! To the passenger side, though.

Gah!

_____________

The Good Man did some research based on photos and determined this is a Cross Orbweaver and that it isn’t poisonous. Fab. I’ll remember that when it singsongs my name and tells me to “come out and play.”





All photos ©2016 Karen Fayeth, and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.




I Don’t Subscribe To This Point of View

Do you remember the Sting song “Russians” from way back in 1985? An overly somber commentary on the state of the Cold War, Sting implored “I hope the Russians love their children too.”

I have had occasion to listen to this song a few times over the past months. It keeps coming up in my consciousness. I do readily admit that in 2016 the song sounds almost quaint and old fashioned. I remember the first time I heard it in 1985 it felt deadly serious.

As a GenXer, the Cold War is certainly a part of my formative years. Growing up in New Mexico, I was acutely aware that “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy” was largely created in Los Alamos. My dad was employed by Sandia Labs and he worked on nuclear weapons. Hell, my dad was one of those guys in the 1950’s out on some Pacific island in the middle of nowhere setting off nuclear explosions just to see what would happen.

So the Cold War was a little more real to me than perhaps many of my classmates. I remember on the playground talking with some friends about this list that apparently the Soviets had. A list of the first places they would hit if the war began. We all agreed Los Alamos would be on the list and debated if Sandia was there too.

I remember saying to a friend that I’d rather be nearby if a nuke was dropped. I’d rather be vaporized than have to live with radiation poisoning. I was just a kid but I had worked out how I would get as close as possible to Kirtland Air Force Base to control my own destiny.

That was some heavy stuff for a little kid, but it was the reality of the world back then.

So when I learned in April of this year that I would be traveling to the Czech Republic, I was incredibly excited. I love international travel and Czech Republic is a really old and quite historic city. The Good Man calls it “deep Europe” and it sounded so dark and mysterious.

But I also pulled up short. Hesitatingly, I asked The Good Man, “Didn’t…uh…Czechoslovakia used to be Communist?”

Then I took a look on Google, I searched “Iron Curtain” and found this map. There it is, Czech Republic behind that heavy line.



Map found here

I had a startling realization that I was preparing to travel to a communist country. This brought up an amazing amount of fear and almost guilt. Like I was betraying my country. Like I was letting down my father and all of those people he worked with back in the day. Or that I would surely find myself taken prisoner and subjected to intense KGB scrutiny simply for being an American in the wrong place.

Of course, all of that is patently ridiculous. The Czech people had taken back their country in 1989 and Americans visit Prague all the time. One of my coworkers had just been there and she loved it.

My weirdness was not helped when the guy who heads up the property team at work dropped a letter on my desk and told me to keep it with my laptop when I traveled. The letter assured that my employer owned the machine and that I was authorized to carry it.

I said, “This is my fourth international trip for our employer. I should admit I’ve never had a letter like this before.”

He quickly replied, “That’s because you’ve never traveled to a former Communist country before.”

Oh.

Back in the day, I loved that movie “White Nights.” What more could a movie do to pander to GenXer fears around the Cold War? Plus, I had enormous teenage tingly feelings for Gregory Hines (I can confess I actually got to meet him once and he was even more handsome in person, and also a true gentleman). Mikhail Baryshnikov was not exactly hard to look at either. But I’m wandering off topic…

That scene where Baryshnikov’s character, a defector from Russia, realizes the airplane is going to make a crash landing in Siberia had a big impact on me. As he’s tearing up his passport and flushing it down the toilet, I was terrified. When the inevitable straight out of central casting KGB agents arrived to harass our hero, I just knew that was EXACTLY how it really was. This was more documentary than fiction, right? <*smirk*>

It was with all of these thoughts and fears that I boarded a plane headed for the Czech Republic. Of course what I found when I landed was a beautiful country and very kind people.

My first foray into the center of the city of Prague was to attend a formal dinner at the historic Rudolfinum. One of my coworkers who knew her way around suggested we get off the Metro a couple stops early and walk about half a mile to the venue. Well of course, I was excited at this very idea. My first real exposure to the heart and soul of Prague.

I was immediately enchanted by the lumpy cobblestone streets and the very old buildings. We soon came across an odd building with four statues over the entrance depicting what appeared to be, to my eye anyway, communist era workers. The kind of thick neck and heavy features you’d find in a Diego Rivera painting.



A very bad screen grab from Google maps because I didn’t take a photo while there

I had kind of a “holy shit, look at that” moment and kept walking. There was a remnant of Soviet era Prague right there. Right there!

As we kept walking my eyes landed on souvenir shops with colorful marionettes, crystal shops, many pubs, restaurants and even a big ol’ Burger King, and I knew that it was okay. I was not somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. I didn’t need to rip up my passport and toss it into the murky blue waters of an airplane toilet.

No, rather, I was exactly where I needed to be. Instead of fear I felt proud that my ten New Mexico bred toes felt the pulse and music and life of one of deep Europe’s most beautiful cities.

Now, in hindsight, of course I was being ridiculous. I mean, my brother has traveled right into the heart of Moscow, Americans are free to visit Cuba, and Dennis Rodman gets to visit his bestie in North Korea. It’s a different world and a different view.

At the end of the day, it turned out that the Russians did (and do) love their children too.





Log, Log, It’s Big, It’s Heavy, It’s Wood

The photography club I attend monthly has been going through a lot of flux over the past year. A few of the main members have left (retired, mostly) and new folks have joined. We have a new leader and he’s got a lot of ideas. It’s a lot of change. For the good, I’m sure, but change anyway.

I’ve talked a bit about this group. It’s made up of both scientists and engineers and is overwhelmingly male. These guys are very much tech head photographers who are all about gear and photographic perfection. Their photos are technically precise but in my opinion lack emotion…which suits them just fine.

It’s a debate we have a lot in the meetings. Art vs Technical. Let’s just say, my storytelling approach to photographs is in the way, way minority. I can often actually *hear* eyes rolling as one of my photos rolls across the screen during critiques.

I have learned a lot from this group. I work hard to make my photos better. To improve. To get technically cleaner. That said, in some ways, I also like to goad them. Poke the tiger with a stick.

One of the things we seem to struggle with as a group is our monthly theme. It’s hard to come up with jazzy ideas every thirty days. This year’s themes are some good and some weird. All are great in my opinion. I love being challenged.

A few of the more rigid photographers aren’t having as much fun with the themes as I am.

For March, our theme was “wood.” Seems easy, doesn’t it? But it’s harder than you’d think to come up with a good, unique, and well crafted photo of wood. It’s almost too broad.

We get two entries each month. I did one that was a bit more “clean” though it still could use some technical work. And I did one storytelling photo.

Neither were very well received.

Presented for your perusal:


Palm, Pine, Maple, and Telephone


Copyright ©2016, Karen Fayeth


I presented this as a study of the wood types found in my neighborhood, each pattern more interesting than the last.

Ok, the image has a joke there at the end. And with the title I was yanking their chains, as these nature photographers get quite sniffy about the precise genus and species of flora and fauna they photograph.

This photo garnered four votes in our monthly contest. Not terrible, but not close to winning either.

Here is my other shot. I very much enjoy the story in this one. It got one vote. (At least it got one?)


Log


Copyright ©2016, Karen Fayeth


When faced with the conundrum of properly conveying the feeling of “random log in parking garage,” I chose to go with moody.

This photograph was not subjected to Instagram filters. A color photo of this wooden beauty was lightly desaturated then pulled into Photoshop for burn and dodge to bring out those beautiful loggy highlights.

The squarish shape is due to cropping out surrounding cars.

I really love this photo. I mean…why the hell is there a log in the parking garage at work?

Also, could this BE any more perfect for the theme of wood? Nailed it!

One vote. At least one other photography club member gets it. It’s something to build on.





Both photos are Copyright ©2016, Karen Lingua. All taken with an iPhone6 and the Camera+ app. First photo also utilized the free photojoiner.net site to combine the photos. Subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page.





The Day I Rode In The Belly Of A Whale

Or: Tales From The Upper Deck

When word came down at work that I had approval to travel to Porto, Portugal to participate in meetings with key folks from around the world, things began to follow a usual path.

Since the place I work for gets a lot of Federal funding, we’re bound to abide by the Fly American Act, i.e. when on Federal business, fly US carriers.

No problem. I’m used to shoving my cookies onto a United Airlines jet and riding around the world, so per the norm I picked out my United flight pairs and the admin booked them. I was all set.

Because I am a little weenie and need more leg room, I like to pay out of pocket to upgrade my government bought United economy seats to United Plus economy seats.

My employer doesn’t pay for business or first class and I don’t fly enough to rack up the miles to get me there, so I ride in the back half of the plane. Economy plus at least gives my long legs a little room. A little less sardine-like.

However, when I logged into my United account and tried to upgrade my seats, I was told I could not. That I would have to wait until the day before the flight to pick out seats. What?

It took a little work but I figured out the deal. Three of my four flights on this trek would not be on United planes but a codeshare on Lufthansa.

Well hell, I’d never flown Lufthansa before so this was an adventure.

Doing some research on the Lufthansa site, I also figured out that my plane for the San Francisco to Frankfurt leg of the trip would be on an Airbus A380-800 airplane. A gigantic double decker of a holy-crap-that’s-huge airplane.

In fact, it’s the largest passenger plane flying today.

Looking up the specs of this plane online, I found people affectionately call it “the whale,” and it’s no wonder. The configuration I rode seats about 500 people.

When I was finally able to select my seats, I found that the second floor of the airplane (this airplane has two floors!!) was mostly first and business class, but the back of the upper deck had a small grouping of seven rows of economy seats. So yeah, I scooped up an aisle seat upstairs right away.

On the day I arrived at SFO, I let out an audible “wuh-huh-hoooooo” when I saw the airplane sitting at the gate. Then I became filled with anxiety. “How will that ever fly?” said my worried mind.

I wondered if my brain had anything I could compare this to. Many years ago I worked for a Lockheed Martin site that was right next to a military airstrip. Every once in a while the military would practice “touch and goes” with various planes and pilots. We’d drag our desk chairs outside and watch the show.

What I’m trying to say is, I’ve seen a fully loaded C-130 execute a touch and go, so yeah, I realized that the A380 could certainly fly. And I was going to get on it.

As I walked down the jetway to the plane, my heart began trip hammering. I always have a moment of pause before boarding any plane but this was different.

I stepped through the nice wide doorway and saw a beautiful gleaming white staircase front and center. “Ah, that must be how I get up there,” I thought.

The oversmiling male flight attendant looked at my ticket and informed me that I needed to go all the way to the back of the plane and find a staircase there.

In other words, your economy-seat riding ass don’t climb these stairs, honey.

Fair enough. I set off on my journey to the back of the plane. I stopped rest once or twice. I had snacks to keep my energy up. I may have camped out overnight. Jesus, that’s a big airplane.

Finally I reached the end of the plane and scurried up the stairs, then slid into my seat.

It was still an economy class seat so it fit tight around the hips. I got snug like a bug in there as the plane began to push back from the gate.

The Lufthansa A380 features three live cameras, one on the nose pointing forward, one on the tail also pointing forward, and one on the belly looking straight down.

Here is a terrible quality image. It’s a photo taken with an iPad of my screen on the plane as we are somewhere over the Labrador Sea. It’s enough that you can see what the view from the tail camera looks like:




I wanted to stick my hand out the window and wave to the camera, but that’s mostly frowned upon


It was mildly surreal to watch this behemoth take off from a bird’s eye view but I was fascinated.

Once aloft, I began to realize why non-US carriers rock the casbah. It’s one word: alcohol. The wine flows freely on non-US airplanes. I had flown a Singapore Airlines plane a few years ago and was gently surprised at the wine served with meals. The Germans have the Singaporeans beat. Wine with snacks, wine with dinner, brandy and irish crème after dinner.

All of this is a plot, however. They ply you with food and booze then turn down the cabin lights. Pretty much everyone falls asleep right away. Except me, I have a flaw in my DNA. I can’t sleep on a plane. Not even a long haul. Nope.

The Good Man shares this flaw and it’s good when we travel together because we entertain each other like little kids while everyone else sleeps. Sadly on this trip I was alone.

The flight attendant overseeing our little cozy area of economy class seats was a rockstar. He noticed I was the only one awake and didn’t let up on the top-notch service. He checked in on me constantly and brought water, juice, snacks and some cookies that seemed way too delicious for economy class.

Even though I was packed into an economy seat I felt spoiled like a little princess up there, inside the white whale.

When she touched down in Frankfurt I was reluctant to leave my cozy little seat and my white glove service. It was a gentle landing as the plane beast docked next to its siblings.

That was one of the most comfortable and happy international flights I have ever known and I am sure I will reflect back on it for years. It has become the high water mark by which all other flights will be measured.

Sadly, when going home from this journey, the Frankfurt to San Francisco leg will be on a plain old United jet, a Boeing 747-400. That plane also has a second deck, but only the pish-posh get to sit up there.

I’ll be seated among the cattle, in an economy plus seat but still among the unwashed. No first class cookies for Karen on the way home.

I think I’ll write a nice letter to Lufthansa to tell them how much I appreciated the flight attendant. As I have learned in my short time in Portugal, I will extend a hearty obrigada (i.e. thank you or much obliged) for his attention and job well done.

And I will wistfully dream of my time inside the whale, a modern day Jonah high above the bustling world.




Thar she blows!






With a nod and a smile to Johnny Jet for the photo and for his awesome blog post about the Lufthansa A380. Read it here.





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