Face The Sun: Let There Be Light!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are exclusively those of its author, and are not in any way meant to reflect the opinions or policies of the US Government.

Past Travelogues.

Finland, Estonia, Petersburg

Kirovograd, Ukraine


Tirana, Albania

Macedonia & Romania

Budapest to Bucharest

Balkans and Poland.

Christiania, Copenhagen.

Northern Norway

Northern Finland


Kashgar, briefly

More to come, Inshallah, as I go through old paper travel journals.

The DC experience, archived.

July '05
June '05
December '05
October '04
More to come should interesting things happen to me. Ever.

Blatent Plagiarism

The nation's largest chain bookstore has indicated that, due to lack of consumer interest, it has stopped selling books.
--Frederick Raphael, The Glittering Prizes

I feel this is the equivalent of a surgeon, skipping through a radiology department singing, 'I don't have cancer, I don't have cancer!'
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

Mum is crying with her faced turned away from me, gulping and honking like an injured seal. And I'm rolled up in the back seat wishing the old man would stop the car and make her walk. That or buy her a fish.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

I love it when well-educated women sweaar -- the words regain their original power and meaning when delivered unexpectedly with so much poise.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

She lived with her mother, who looked like an old labrador, and an old labrador.
--Will Self, Great Apes

When I was small and would leaf through the Old Testament retold for children and illustrated in engravings by Gustave Dore, I saw the Lord God sitting on a cloud. He was an old man with eyes, nose, and a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that thought always gave me a fright, because even though I come from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious.
--Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Quality is merely the distribution aspect of Quantity.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

...In the frank brilliance of the bright sun, which, as we all know, is the friend of heroes.
--Jose Saramago, All the Names

He stuttered so badly that you could go out and buy yourself a chocolate bar while he was wrestling with an initial p or b; he would never try to bypass the obstacle by switching to a synonym, and when the explosion finally did occur, it convulsed his whole frame and sprayed the interlocutor with triumphant saliva.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

To Stand on Jericho's Walls and Face the Sun.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Per request, a top ten list. Except, I can not and am not willing to rank these, so this isn't so much by priority as it is a general passport checklist. Thus:

The top ten under-rated travel destinations in the world. The goal here is to transcend the Parises and Pragues of the world. Paris is wonderful, yes, a nearly perfect city, but Paris is Paris and needs no further recommendation. Prague is castles and cheap beer, assuredly, but the world of the college student has figured out Prague, and there's no need to say anything more. When I was in Kiev, I met a guy who was obsessed with finding 'the new prague.' 'I heard the Krakow's the new Prague,' 'I like Budapest a lot, but I don't think it's the next Prague,' 'Do you think Kiev could ever be the new Prague?' It made me want to punch him in the face.

To be the New Prague is to be a wonderful city that becomes so overrun with miserable idiots waving their passport and EurRail tickets like so much prize money, ruining the place forevermore so that while the city is phenomenal, the experience of being there is unparalelled in it's horrificness. Hopefully none of these destinations will ever become the New Prague. Prague is Prague. Let her remain as such.

Let's get started. At least, with half. The remaining five to be posted tomorrow or so.

10. Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovinia.
Being war-torn is rarely a bonus for a destination, but Sarajevo is an incredible place: stunningly beautiful (well done in picking locations, IOC), mountain-ringed and river-split, green and cobblestoned and perfect. But the green is studded with graveyards and the cobblestones are pock-marked by damage from shell and mortar fire and the entire place is an overwhelming reminder of war, and the contrast between the two is so bracing and omnipresent that it makes Sarajevo into the sort of destination that would-be genocidal warmonger dictators should be forced to visit during whatever training they undergo before taking the throne. Sarajevo is a haunting blend of tragic beauty and overwhelming sadness, and can't be recommended highly enough.

9. Vaduz, Lichtenstein.
It's the sky kingdom, people. It's a country that most people don't know exists. They'll stamp your passport, happily, but they'll charge you for the privelege, and when they chatter to each other, it's in a low Germanic dialect reminiscent of Switzerdeutch. It's ruled by a Prince in a castle on a hill, and if that's not enough to turn your crank, I don't know what is.

8. Mendoza, Argentina.
Mendoza is Napa Valley minus the pretention and the price tag. It's perfect steaks and open vineyards and purple mountains and dusty sunsets. It's pinot noir and outdoor cafes on warm summer nights. Argentines seem to recognize how good they've got it, and it makes them warm and friendly and inviting. The joie de vivre is addicting, and I'd kill to go back.

7. Copenhagen, Denmark.
Copenhagen might seem a little incongruous on this list. If I'm shunning Paris, why include a place that's got direct flights multiple times a day to the US?

Because Copenhagen is perfect. And no one goes there. I don't know why it doesn't rate any higher on the US tourist circuit than it does. There's really one word that sums it all up, and that word is of course: Danes. Blond danes. Tall, blond danes. Tall, blond Danes who play the saxaphone on the street for cash. Street performers, open air hash markets, narrow streets and enormous buildings. Copenhagen has the odd characteristic of feeling like a small city while simultaneously making you realize exactly how tiny you are; there's something about standing in the shadow of a ten story building on a street that's only four feet wide that does it. And also, it's got Danes. So. Many. Danes. Even if tall and blond isn't your thing, these are people who regularly make a political statement by blowing up the most famous landmark in their country; the Little Mermaid statue is constantly being replaced because some yahoo decided it had to go. Surely's THAT makes the place worthwhile.

6. Tokyo, Japan.
Tokyo is the opposite of Copenhagen. It makes you feel like a giant (the physical stature of the Japanese is legendary, and that legend is well-earned), while not at all feeling like a small city. At all. But Tokyo is assuredly all things to all people. Except to epileptics. My god is Tokyo an epileptic's nightmare. So much neon, everywhere, and so many people sprinting to get from one place to another (where are they going? why are they going simultaneously?), but managing to be perfectly polite all the while. There's nothing you can't buy, and if there's something you want, chances are it's already in a vending machine that you have to stoop down towards to put your coins in because the Japanese are so damn short. New York might be the city that never sleeps, but Tokyo is the city that never stops doing speed.

More from me tomorrow. The best of days!

Posted by Dakota on 1:13 PM link |

Friday, December 10, 2004

Submitted today, to the Department of State: an application to leave sunny America on 22 December 2004, Returning 29 December 2004.

Destination: Ukraine.
Job Title: Elections Monitor.

Please please please let this one come through.

Chances: slim. Hope: far too much. Crushing disappointment: imminent. Hooray!

Posted by Dakota on 1:57 PM link |

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Do you know what's surprisingly delicious? The new FreshMint Coated Nicorette.

Honestly, I can't get enough of this stuff. Sort of. After you chew it for a while it loses it's mint flavor and tastes a bit (a lot, actually) like tar. But before that: I mean, this is good GUM, people!

The thing about gum is that it's a food product that you really don't think about it. You put it in your mouth, you chew it for an indefinite period of time, and then about half an hour later you realize it's gone. I find that I'm never sure if I swallowed it, threw it out, or if it just dissolved courtesy of the massive crushing force of my uncharacteristically strong chompers.

That said, Nicorette is a product that you can't NOT think about. It's just gum, you say? Sure. But it's gum that comes with an instruction manual. Inside said manual are a series of warnings on the order of 'Hey! Don't even think about chewing this gum like it's regular gum, because honestly, pure chemical nicotine isn't a commodity you want to subject your organs to in the wrong way.'

And so I read the manual. Chew gum, they say, and enjoy that minty flavor. Then here comes the catch: when the gum starts to lose it's minty flavor and develop a 'peppery' flavor, it's time to toss that sucker between cheek and gum (the actual phrase they use 'park it in your gumline').

But as previously stated, gum isn't a commodity you think about it. You're not constantly monitering your gum for flavor shifts, because all gum is constantly in the process of losing it's flavor; it's a given. That said, if you don't constantly think about nicorette, then all of a sudden your mouth will be ablaze with the flavor of pepper and you realize that Nicotine Polacrilex, the drug that makes nicorette possible without being (overly) toxic, is streaming down your throat.

A bit of nic-polac in your throat is actually somewhat desirable. It mimics that same feeling a cigarette gives you, burning in the small of your throat as you inhale; it's what I miss most when I'm craving a cigarette. That said, if you're like me and forget about the gum, then the amount of nicotine that hits your throat would be more than enough to strangle a Great Dane with an abnormally large windpipe. I find that more often than not my throat is in the process of being gummed shut by nicotine, but the fact that I'm gasping for breath is so much like still being a smoker that I can't let it go.

As I choke to death on Nicorette throat goo, the only obvious thing to do is reach for water. That said, by the time I can get to the water my throat is already quite swollen, so swallowing starts out as painful and ends up as a sputtering coughing fit. Again, mimicing smoking.

I mean, honestly, whoever came up with this product is a genius.

I can't help but wonder if I again made the mistake of buying too high a dosage. Much like the nic losenges, nicorette comes in 2 dosages: 2 mgs and 4 mgs. The mints instruct you to buy the 4 migs if you smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day, or if you smoke in under half an hour from waking up. I figured nicorette would be the same, but upon getting home and actually reading the box, I found out that it's NOT the same.

Nicorette 4 mg, you see, is for people who smoke more than 25 cigarettes a day. Which I do. Sometimes. The question is, how the hell do they define 'day?' Is it 'day when I'm at work?' 'Day when I'm not at work but spending most of my time at the Caribou Coffee studying?' 'Day when I'm neither working nor studying but not drinkig?' 'Day when I'm drinking with people who are fun?' 'Day when I'm drinking with people who are boring?'

I mean, there are so many different variables at play here (poker night? parents in town? out hunting for sig-o? under significant amounts of stress? depressed? overly happy? pay day? hot smokers anywhere nearby? hot vehement anti-smokers nearby?). So perhaps I over-bought. But 60 dollars (60!!) later and a hundred (100!) tabs of gum later, I'm not about to balk on this.

So then, it's been 16 hours since I've had a cigarette. We'll see if the nic-polac in chewable form can stand up to the martini bar. In the mean time, the best of smoke free days!

Posted by Dakota on 4:19 PM link |

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

I have just this evening become the last person on the planet to see Spiderman Two. Even the Ukranians got to it months before I did.

As all the world already knows, about halfway through the movie, Peter Parker's aunt launches into a Mariah Carey-esque monologue on the nature of heroism and all that, woefully reminding all of us that a hero does in fact lie in each of us.

This has led to a full audit of my life. Barring the advent of radioactive spiders (which would really remove the pressure of finding an alternate identity), what in god's name do I have to offer the underworld of superheroes?

In the 11th grade, when my life revolved around AP exams and editing the yearbook and newspaper for my miserable suburban high school, I went to a halloween party festively draped in a deep blue bath towel that, courtesy of a safety pin, doubled nicely as a cape. Said cape was emblazoned with punctuation marks cut neatly out of white posterboard, and served a complement to the G bordered by an elongated pentagon that had been neatly pigmented with off-brand colored pencils and taped to my chest.

Yes, that's right. Super Grammar Boy. So you see (writing, wall), a life of tragic loneliness has been all but pre-ordained.

Let's have a little look-see, shall we? at the other things I might have to offer the world.

Pseudo-Opera Buff. Undoubtedly, my ability to wow the bad guys of the universe with the ability to sing the entire fourth movement of Beethoven's 9th (and let's not forget the librettos from Rigoletto AND Il Trovatore!) is all but unstoppable. Or maybe it's the definition of stoppable.

Arrogant Literature Snob. Be dazzled at my zinging Nabokov Quotes, my ability to name all Nobel prize winners within recent history! Watch in amazement as I save Saramago and Coetzee from the burning building while leaving John Grisham and Dan Brown to die in a fiery inferno! My arch-nemesis, Pulp Fiction, is no match, NO MATCH I SAY, for my secret weapon, writing that involves the SEMI-COLON!!

We've gone from bad to worse. There must be something better.

Ahh, yes. Pseudochef!! Accompanied by a fleet of underlings (sous-dochefs!), I can make everything I touch taste overpoweringly of garlic! And when all else fails, there's the cayenne pepper, and lest ye forget, the all powerful microwave! And of course, my powerful allies at the globe-spanning Dominos franchises. Honestly, there's so little redeeming about my life at this point.

I suppose that in the end, though, it's not Lung Can't, Sir, it's fuckin'-A Lung Cancer, because at 5 bucks a shot, a pack a day of Camel Lights has to be worth something.

And let's not forget about my not-so-secret identity as Travel Geek, because honestly, when the going get's tough, the tough might get going, but we the meek and cowardly can always sit back and discuss airport codes. After all, it's not just any guy off the street who can put the 'dull' back in IAD.

And let's not forget my true alter-ego, the Napster. Which, rather than having anything to do with illegally downloading music, actually sums up the fact that while there might be criminals out on the street, there's definitely an electric blanket on my bed, and nothing else really matters at all.

So then, I suppose that about sums it up: Super Grammar Boy actually is the best I've got.

Work continues apace on knitting my own noose.

Posted by Dakota on 10:47 PM link |

Monday, December 06, 2004

This afternoon found me in Farragut square after an uneventful metro ride home from work. Sharing the sidewalk with me, waiting to cross the street, was a woman with long dark hair and face creased from years of smiling in a way that implies true contentedness with life. Sharing her walk home was a golden retriever wearing a harnass and a sign that plaintivly implored passersby not to pet, please, the dog is working. Standing next to her, I could hear her talking to the dog, first complementing it on doing such a good job at stopping at the sidewalk, and then asking: do you see that big red truck? What do you think he's going to do? And that green car, where are they going?

She had full cataracts in both eyes, couldn't see anything without the dog's help. For some reason, this entire scenario made me overwhelmingly sad.

It is Monday, the sixth of December, and I am cold.

Posted by Dakota on 1:53 PM link |
Current Location:
The People's Republic of China.

Stop by any time: everyone's welcome.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem to Be Born

Comments and requests for dates should be directed to email.

And here I am.

And for all you random folks out there whom I don't know, for the love of god, email me. I'm abroad, know no one, and look forward to hearing from you. I'm especially looking at YOU, whomever YOU are who's Facing The Sun all the way from Kenya. And Sweden. And Canada. And whatnot.

Books Tackled, 2006:

1. Jarhead, Anthony Swofford
2. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, Dennis Covington
3. A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
4. A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, Anonymous
5. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism, Dawn Prince-Hughes

This year's movies, in chronological order:

1. Kung Fu Hustle
2. A Wrinkle in Time
3. Pi: Faith in Chaos
4. My Big Fat Independent Movie
5. The Winter Guest
6. Voices in Wartime
7. What Dreams May Come
8. Farewell My Concubine
9. The Ring
10. Like Water for Chocolate
11. Sahara

Foreign Service Officers by day, Bloggers by day as well.

The Diplodocus
(Islamabad, Pakistan).

The Permanent Mission of Joshie
(Zagreb; Libyaward).

Prince Roy
(Chennai; Taiwanward).

Sue and not You
(Tbilisi, Georgia).

Life on the Mekong
(Vientiane, Laos).

FSO Globe Trotter
(Lahore, Pakistan).

Vice Consul: Diplomatically Transformed
(New Delhi, India).

Adventures in Good Countries

Our Man in Tirana
(Tirana, Albania).

Anne's Blog
(Kazakhstan; Greeceward).

(Bogota, Colombia).

Furnish Worldwide

Tasman's World
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

(Lome, Togo).

World Adventurers
(Seoul, Korea).

Aaron Martz

A for Adventure
(Chennai, India).

The Excellent Adventures of Nickie P
(Paris, France).

Permanently Disco
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

Consul At Arms
(Kingston, Jamaica).

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