Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
“I’m pretty sure this is true,” D said. “Not because I was there. I wasn’t. I heard it from my college buddy. But his father was at the time the military commander in the district. So I’m pretty sure this really happened.”
D was a recent college graduate, a handsome, athletic, and gregarious young man from southern China who studied in the far north and was now working in marketing in Beijing. Between us we conversed in Mandarin, though for someone who never lived abroad he spoke English quite well. Overall I liked him as a person, though we clearly disagreed on some matters of politics. We had met through a mutual friend, and now we were talking over gin and tonic.
I am currently traveling in China. Between sometimes having spotty Internet, sometimes being unable to get past Internet restrictions, and sometimes just not having my laptop, I will be taking a hiatus for a week or two. Stay tuned for new posts in September!
I have a thing for mythical beasts as reflections of the human soul. Chimera, basilisk, huma, garuda. Now, if only I could see one. But a handful of real-life creatures so capture the human imagination that they may as well be mythical. The Komodo dragon must top that list. Even its name — the hard “k” like Kafka, the elemental “o” triply repeated like a chant, the way it contains the holy Sanskrit syllable “om” — evokes something primal in the brain.
Last year I found myself standing on a pebbly beach on the island of Komodo, engaged in a staring contest with the eponymous beast. It was not eight feet away. I looked straight into its cold eyes, hypnotized by its beige, forked, darting tongue. And it was coming toward me.
The Icelandic Volcano that Froze the Mississippi, Starved Egypt, and Helped Along the French Revolution
On June 8, 1783, the Laki or Lakagigar volcanic fissure in Iceland erupted. It wasn’t a giant explosion, but it kept going for the next eight months. In that time the Laki sent into the earth’s atmosphere 8 million tons of hydrogen fluoride and 120 million tons of sulfur dioxide.
The visitor to Iceland — as I was recently — commonly tours around Iceland’s many volcanic sights from the Geysir (whence the word “geyser”) to the Blue Lagoon and sees them as charming places. And even the earliest Norsemen to settle in Iceland immediately noticed its volcanic character — “Reykjavik,” meaning “smoky bay,” was so named because the Nordic sailors saw the area covered in geothermal steam. But in the course of history, Iceland’s volcanos often played cataclysmic roles. In 934 A.D., the Eldgja eruption may have led to severe weather conditions in China. In our own time, the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 grounded flights in and out of Europe; I distinctly remember my then colleagues in the U.S. for a conference being unable to return to Germany.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."