Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Gifts For the Frugal v. 2016

An ATM in Awassa, Ethiopia.

It's getting that time of year again. Gift suggestion lists. I've got a penchant for looking at gift recommendations for the budget-minded traveler or just for the budget-minded.

Most of the time, the suggestions are for some level of "budget" that is over my head. Like some of these.

Liberty Bank, Mestia, Svaneti, Georgia

Adventurous Kate has offered one of the best, the meatiest, the most comprehensive gift lists I've seen. She has many items that are less than $25. For people who feel good just reading lists, it delivers many utils of satisfaction.

There's also "What Do You Want For the Holidays? For Frugally-Minded Folks," by Trent Hamm. I like all of his suggestions except for the Fitbit idea. The last thing I want is to be dictated to by a little tyrant strapped on my wrist.

ATM in Yerevan, Armenia.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Louisiana: Livingston: Gravitational Gossip

If you're a science nerd (redundant?), the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Livingston, Louisiana, is a must-see.

Yeah, I know, right? What the hell is that? And where the hell is Livingston, Louisiana?

I had no idea about either LIGO or Livingston until I happened to see a seductive bit of science gossip on a newsfeed on my phone. Apparently, there were whispers about a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT forthcoming from the scientific community about GRAVITATIONAL WAVES FROM SPACE. A mention of LIGO and Louisiana.

Salacious headlines such as: 

Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, 1958. Source: Haphazard Stuff Blog.

This demanded personal investigation! And I only had until the end of February to check it out before I left Louisiana for good!

Maybe the coolest thing there

LIGO has a visitor's center that had interesting stuff in it, but because I'm a superficial geek girl, I don't remember any of that.

Here's what I remember best: Having lived in South Louisiana for awhile, the center of gravity for joyous dance, I was most particularly attracted to these items below, in LIGO's master command center! And in such a large quantity!

LIGO, Livingston, Louisiana. January 2016.


This kind of mundanity (like the avocado green phones at the Very Large Array here and here) just cheer the hell out of me. Kind of like reading a trashy celebrity magazine with pictures under the title, Celebrities Are Just Like Us! showing us how celebrities buy groceries! walk the dog! drink coffee!

Gravitational wave physicists wear squishy, fluorescent green ear protectors!

Here is a picture of an actual scientist who is listening for gravitational waves:

LIGO, Livingston, Louisiana. January 2016.

He was surrounded by RSPs, Really Smart People, who asked serious scientific questions. I, on the other hand, while somewhat smart, left the serious scientific questions to others, and instead, probed for confirmation of the astounding rumors.

The scientist skillfully squirmed his way out of such questions, and I was left unsatisfied.

But maybe there was evidence here?

LIGO, Livingston, Louisiana. January 2016.

LIGO, Livingston, Louisiana. January 2016.

LIGO, Livingston, Louisiana. January 2016.

LIGO, Livingston, Louisiana. January 2016.

No, I found none. But I cannot speak the language of this people.

But ho, ho, ho, ho! Physicists and their sense of humor: 

LIGO, Livingston, Louisiana. January 2016.

You know how when you are in a tour group and there's always That Person who asks all the questions related to obscure bits of minutiae that NOBODY cares about but that person? Well, sometimes I am that person, but on this tour, someone else took on that role! So I could fly under the radar, and under the cover of that person's really smart questions, I could ask deceivingly simple questions like: Tell us about those rumors. We PROMISE not to tell anyone when we leave here.

Alas, to no avail.

LIGO, Livingston, Louisiana. January 2016.

But the man above choked with emotion at the possibility of the rumors being true. Gravitational waves. From space. In my lifetime.

So were the rumors true? 

Gravitational Waves Detected 100 Years After Einstein's Prediction, news release from LIGO Caltech

Gravitational Waves Exist: The Inside Story of How Scientists Finally Found Them, The New Yorker, February 2016

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Life Hacks From the Road: Fishing and Friends

Lake Martin, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. September 2014.

By living rootless, I have the privilege of meeting people with life experiences that I might not encounter if I were rooted.

This, in turn, means I get to learn cool stuff that I might not otherwise learn.

Thus a new series: Life Hacks From the Road.

My first hack is about fishing and friends, and it comes from a fellow TLGer, Jennifer.

Jennifer and her husband, Martin, stood outside chatting with me one Sunday morning following a Catholic Mass in Tbilisi. We talked about meeting people in new places. About creating a social network from scratch.

Jennifer explained her easy-going philosophy:

I'm at a pond.
There are a lot of fish in the pond.
I throw a line out to see if a fish bites.
Sometimes a fish bites, I reel it in, and it's good.
Sometimes no fish bite, so I just throw out a line later. Or in a different spot.
Sometimes a fish bites, I reel it in, and it's not to my taste, and I release it back into the water.

Me being an introvert, analytical, sometimes-overthinker - gee - Jennifer's philosophy was so simple: Sometimes you land a fish, sometimes not, sometimes you gotta let it go, no big deal. Tomorrow's another day.

But you've got to throw out a line.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Louisiana: Opelousas: Highway 190 West of Town

Highway 190, west Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.

On a sunny day in October 2015, I explored a bit the part of Highway 190 that's on the west side of Opelousas.

Club 190 West, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.

The structures there told a story of a time back in the 1950s, for the most part, when there was a line of happening little nightclubs, like Club 190 West and the Southern Club, and other small businesses.

The Southern Club, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.

A slideshow below, playing to a vintage Bessie Smith tune:

Off of Highway 190 is a tree-lined area, home to the defunct Oaks Motel and Lounge, which closed in 2014.

Oaks Motel and Lounge, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.

From the Daily World:
The Oaks Motel and Lounge, an Opelousas landmark for decades, is going away.
" ... It was an icon,” ....“Man! I can still taste that red draft in those frozen mugs. ...."
Colver Lafleur built the club and adjoining apartments. They opened at 218 S. Liberty St. in Opelousas on Sept. 13, 1957.

If you were a young person looking for a good time, it was the place to be.
The Oaks was famous for its red draft beer. “It was about two fingers of tomato juice then topped off with draft beer and served in an ice cold mug straight out of the freezer,” remembers Lainey Prejean Smith, Lafleur’s granddaughter. “We also had cherry Coke with real cherries for those not old enough to drink.”

[When The Oaks opened in 1957], [r]ock ‘n’ roll was in its infancy, and the joint had a jukebox that played all the hits of the day. “I danced many nights away in front of that jukebox, cher,” Smith said.
And by nights, she meant all night. “Until the blue laws were passed in the 1970s, the Oaks was open 24 hours a day. You would start the evening with a draft beer and end the morning with the big, hot cup of coffee and a hot sausage,” Smith said.

Sports writer Bobby Ardoin remembers the place always had a card game going on in the back room. “There was always a big black pot of stew or gumbo cooking. You would grab a bowl and just sit down and play,” Ardoin said. “Many a bourrĂ© game was played there,” posted Cindi York Cooper.

Randy Herpin remembers those all-night card games well. "Dr. (S.J.) Rozas was a regular. He was one of those doctors who still made house calls and would take chickens as payment,” he recalled.
The club and its iconic neon sign reached an audience beyond Opelousas when they surfaced in the music video of Sammy Kershaw’s 1994 chart topper “Third-Rate Romance.”

Vine and Liberty, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.

Someone received a public warning.

Off Highway 190, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Louisiana: Opelousas: A Holy Ghost Parade 2015

Holy Ghost Creole Festival Parade, Opelousas High School Marching Band, Opelousas, Louisiana. November 2015.

In 2014, I went to the Holy Ghost Creole Festival for the first time.

I went again in 2015. Today's post is all about the Holy Ghost Creole Festival Parade.

Holy Ghost Creole Festival Parade, Opelousas High School Marching Band, Opelousas, Louisiana. November 2015.

I just smile thinking about this day, looking at these photos. A beautiful, proud-ful day of gladness to be alive. How can you not be happy when there are marching bands?

And soft smiles?

Holy Ghost Creole Festival Parade, Opelousas, Louisiana. November 2015.

Here's a slide show with kickin' music from the United States Army Fife and Drum Corps:

Smile with me.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Louisiana: Buggy Mayhem Nostalgia

Confrontational buggy. Louisiana. December 2015.

Ah, Louisiana, how endearing it is to run across these photos of buggies - grocery carts - shopping carts - lolling about your parking lots so wantonly.

Free range buggies. Louisiana. December 2015.

I first wrote about this cultural practice here.

Snuggling buggies, Opelousas, Louisiana. December 2015.

I go to other states and I see buggies, for the most part, in their proper corrals. But Louisiana buggies; you are free spirits.

Buggies at sunset, Opelousas, Louisiana. January 2016.

Buggies, pretending not to know each other. Lafayette, Louisiana. December 2015.

Buggy herd at night, feeding. Lafayette, Louisiana. December 2015.

Embedded buggies. Lafayette, Louisiana. December 2015.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bayou Corne, Louisiana: The Sinkhole, Part 2

Bayou Corne, Louisiana. July 2014.

Bayou Corne, Louisiana: The Sinkhole, Part 1 is here.

This astonishing 2012 video stunned:

In brief, here's what seems to have happened

From the New York Times: BAYOU CORNE, La. — It was nearly 16 months ago that Dennis P. Landry and his wife, Pat, on a leisurely cruise in their Starcraft pontoon boat, first noticed a froth of bubbles issuing from the depths of Bayou Corne, an idyllic, cypress-draped stream that meanders through swampy southern Louisiana. They figured it was a leaky gas pipeline. So did everyone else.... 

Just over two months later, in the predawn blackness of Aug. 3, 2012, the earth opened up — a voracious maw 325 feet across and hundreds of feet deep, swallowing 100-foot trees, guzzling water from adjacent swamps and belching methane from a thousand feet or more beneath the surface.

Oil-industry-related actors caused the collapse of the natural infrastructure.

Well, oil-industry-related actors were the immediate causal agents.

Indirect actors were (are) local, regional, state, and national officials with mixed interests; men and women whose livelihoods currently depend (directly and indirectly) on the oil industry; and all of the rest of us - including me - who, for so many reasons, don't ask questions.

What caused the sinkhole is important.

And what's just as important, in my opinion, is how we interpret such events and their consequences, and that's what this post is about.

First, the anti-climax

I didn't see much of the sinkhole. But I did have other adventures on my journey here, here, here, and here. Not to mention the giant dead snake in the road outside of Pierre Part.

Dead snake outside Pierre Part, Louisiana. July 2014.

I was reminded of some life lessons

Lesson #1: Getting truly informed on an issue takes a lot of time and effort. When I was a college student during the Reagan Era, I had a project in which I needed to study the US military relationships in Central America, specifically Honduras. It was a revelation how difficult it was to get a full picture (if I even ever did) of what was going on there at the time.** I discovered that it takes a concerted effort, looking at multiple information sources, to learn about just one issue. Not many of us have the time to do this. No wonder we tend to rely on one-note news sources and take black-white positions on certain issues.

Bayou Corne, Louisiana. July 2014.

Lesson #2: We humans have messy motivations. In the abstract, we want a clean environment or human/civil rights or peace  ... but when it comes to our own wallets and back yards, then the abstract ideals become more difficult to sustain. Heck, even within altruistic communities, there are competing interests. My past work with trails showed me that hikers, cyclists, equestrians, and OTR vehicle riders all love trails and the Great Outdoors - but they don't necessarily agree on how to build, maintain, share, and use trails.

Bayou Corne, Louisiana. July 2014.

Sinkhole. Bayou Corne, Louisiana. July 2014.

Sinkhole. Bayou Corne, Louisiana. July 2014.

Two people look through the same window, and see different things

To wit, below is a loving, lovely visual story of Bayou Corne, filmed in 2014, two years after the sinkhole opened in 2012:

The same woman, "rainbeaudais," published this video a year earlier, in May 2013, titled Sad, Ironic Contrasts Seen at Bayou Corne Today:

When I moved to South Louisiana and readied myself for a visit to Bayou Corne, my internet research revealed that "Rainbeaudais" spoke with a strong voice in the telling of the Bayou Corne story.

When I entered the tiny village that is Bayou Corne, I saw a newish-looking subdivision of houses that lined the bayou. I wondered if this gathering of houses was where Rainbeaudais might live, so I turned in to check it out. Incredibly, I saw a house that looked just like hers, and I parked my car, got out, mustered together some chutzpah, and knocked on her door.

She kindly allowed me to go out on her back deck with her and answered a few questions.

The serene beauty of the bayou was just as she depicted it in her videos. Off her deck, or maybe her neighbor's, I saw this basket of fish - and a snake! - freshly pulled from the water.

Bayou Corne, Louisiana. July 2014.

Bayou Corne, Louisiana. July 2014.

It's hard to look at such a bucolic scene, such as off of Rainbeaudais' deck, seemingly flush with animal and plant life, and reconcile that with unseen toxins or structural instability below our feet.

Back in mid-2014, when I visited Bayou Corne, Rainbeaudais was confident enough in the safety of her village that she took a huge financial risk. Before the Big Suck, Rainbeaudais owned a lot next to her current home. When her neighbor fled the town, Rainbeaudais bought her neighbor's house with the full understanding that she waived any future right to claim damages if Bayou Corne should sink, explode, or succumb to lethal gases. ... At that time, villagers were still under an evacuation order.

When making such colossal decisions like this, what data do we use?

Way back in the day, when I worked with a couple of agencies that touched on the lives of young single mothers, I read some research on how said women chose a childcare provider. Above all else - with costs and location being equal - it was the vibe, the impressions, the emotive gut instinct that drove the mothers' decisions. Did the potential caregiver seem kindly? Did she look nurturing? Did she feel safe?

Then there's the day I touristed to the Trinity Site - ground zero of an atomic bomb - and saw how normal everything appeared. Hundreds of folks troop to this site twice-yearly. I still have the question I had then: 
"... [I experienced] some cognitive dissonance in the low levels of radiation that exist there today (apparently) versus what we've had pounded into our psyches about how many eons it takes for radiation from an atomic bomb to go to 'safe' levels. Does this mean I take away a sense that atomic weapons are "not that bad"? No. The take-away is my inability to reconcile two alleged realities."

A few months after BP's Deep Horizon spill, I met a friend for lunch. She averred that all of the hoopla about the spill damage was over-wrought and it had unfairly harmed the Gulf Coast's tourism industry and put oil-rig workers out of work.

In the case of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole, gosh, how does a resident make an informed decision about whether or not to stay or go (or, if complying with the early-on mandatory evacuation, to return)? To hold on to one's property or participate in a buy-out?

Being how it's Louisiana - with its willingness to sacrifice fellow Louisianans who are low-income, low-influence, and low-visibility - and which is the butt of jokes about the pervasiveness of its government corruption - would I believe what officials tell me about the risk of danger to myself and my family? Were they over-playing the risk? Or under-playing it?

Once the immediate shock of the Bayou Corne's suck was over, could I believe what my eyes told me about the apparent return to my heretofore idyllic paradise, with the fish still biting, the birds still swooping gracefully, the water still rippling peacefully, the sky still blue, the trees still shading and sheltering?

I couldn't see what was - and wasn't - below my feet. Couldn't feel what was - or wasn't - there. Who could I trust to tell me the truth?

What would I do?

I don't know. 

Current status of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole

The June 13, 2016, Times-Picayune article, Bayou Corne Sinkhole Now Covers 35 More Acres But More Stable, pretty much says it all in the title. But to offer some more details: 
A massive sinkhole that went viral in 2013 swallowing trees in Assumption Parish and forcing more than 300 residents from their homes has quieted down as officials slowly allow residents to come home. ... Previous tests have indicated that there are no further voids that would cause another hole in the area. Other scientific modeling has suggested the hole will not reach the nearby highway or the Bayou Corne waterway. .... it's that stability that has led the parish government to slowly drop mandatory evacuation orders to voluntary evacuations.

 An October 2016 update, as reported in the Baton Rouge Advocate, offers heartier reassurances: 
More than four years since the Bayou Corne sinkhole appeared, Assumption Parish officials declared on Friday that the once growing, burping, oily swampland hole that made worldwide headlines had settled down enough to no longer pose a risk to the public.

Below is the trailer of a movie about the Bayou Corne Sinkhole - and the community - released in 2016, titled The Forgotten Bayou: