Microaffirmations

So. My boss and I went to St. Louis for five days and four nights for POD 2010. Here are some notes on the whole experience.

Perhaps most noteworthy, from a strictly personal perspective, was the fact that I co-presented at not one but two sessions. The first was called “Investigating Our Blind Spot,” which I co-presented with my boss to a packed room.

Blindspot

I was proud of this because it was at least partly my idea. It grew out of a conversation we had on the way back from POD 2009. Here’s an excerpt from our proposal, which I wrote all by my very own self.

As faculty developers, we often rely on chronic participants to assess our programs, “frequent flyers” who see the value of our offerings and keep coming back for more. These faculty provide valuable insight into what we are doing right and how we can improve our services. However, the limitations of such an approach are self-evident. Chronic participants present an incomplete picture at best, and at worst they may contribute to a narcissistic cycle of self-admiration wherein fundamental assumptions are rarely challenged. As a result, even while we learn to better serve our most ardent supporters, our effectiveness across the institution may be limited.

If chronic participants act as a mirror, reflecting our own values, what might we learn by looking beyond the mirror, into our “blind spot”? Faculty members who never (or very rarely) take advantage of development opportunities can provide information that is just as useful in setting the direction of our offerings. Yet most of our knowledge about these nonparticipating faculty is anecdotal or speculative. Who are these faculty? Why don’t they participate, and how might we better serve them as faculty developers?

We conducted an investigation into these questions over the summer. I can’t take credit for the research. I had no clue how to proceed, but it was right up the Boss Lady’s alley. It was an educational experience for me. I won’t get into all the details here, but the turnout for the session indicated that the concept resonated with others. Perhaps a publication will come out of it.

On a truly bizarre note, after the “Blind Spot” session, I was asked for my autograph by a ROX fan. No lie.

The other session I co-presented was “Uncovering the Heart in Higher Education.” I mentioned my involvement with this previously. Here’s the description.

Beneath the frenetic pace of the academy and its superficial busyness, many of us feel an emptiness and absence of purpose. Surveys of faculty in the Spirituality in Higher Education project confirm the underlying fragmentation in the lives of faculty. This session extends a conversation ongoing at the conference since a symposium cosponsored by POD, the California Institute of Integral Studies and the Fetzer Institute in October 2008. Participants will experience aspects of the new academy we imagine including silence, mind-body practices and sharing personal worldviews. The session will also provide opportunity for exchange of promising faculty “heart” development practices on campuses.

It was a fun session. We took a moment of silence to contemplate some serious questions, we did a yoga breathing exercise, we broke into dyads to discuss our fundamental worldviews. We also shared what we were doing to promote this work on various campuses. That was my contribution; I discussed our modest efforts here at the University, which I have also written about here over the last few months.


As for sessions at which I did not present, the most interesting one I attended was called “Gateway to the East? Professional Renewal Using the Chakra System” by Michele DiPietro. This was fascinating to me because although I’ve heard of chakras for decades I know almost nothing about them, and certainly I’ve never thought about them as a framework for professional development.

My golden shining moment came during a plenary session by Kristen Renn of Michigan State University, titled “Intersections of Identity, Teaching, and Learning: LGBT Issues and Student Success.” At one point she talked about the concept of microaggressions, a term coined by Chester Pierce in the 1970s. These are everyday verbal comments or other behaviors that fall short of outright physical aggression, but serve to assert and maintain the dominance of a majority group over various minorities — basically little ways of putting other people down and perpetuating inequalities. When Renn talked about strategies for supporting students who might feel marginalized, she talked about small positive behaviors intended to indicate solidarity. These might be considered the opposite of microaggressions, but Renn complained that she didn’t have a word for such behaviors, and she invited suggestions from the audience during the comment session after her talk. When the time came I stepped up to the mic and offered my idea: microaffirmations. I got a big round of applause for this, and received continuing kudos throughout the rest of the conference. One person even mentioned how much she liked my voice.

Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun. It turns out this term was already coined by Mary Rowe in 1973. But I’ll happily take all the credit.

I don’t think POD 2010 will prove as transformative for me personally as POD 2009 was. How could it be? This is not a real disappointment nor a criticism, just a statement of fact. But only time will tell.
Continue reading “Microaffirmations”

Butts of St. Louis

I thought about doing a photo series titled “Butts of St. Louis,” but I worried that the good citizens of that city might find it disrespectful. I would never, ever want to offend the residents of any Midwestern city that isn’t named Indianapolis.

Plus, I only actually took two such photos.

Butt #1

Butt #2

There’s twenty more photos in this set, but no more butts. Sorry.

Moscow

25 years ago today I was visiting Moscow.

Red Square

That was a great trip, which remains a highlight of my life. Back in 1985, visiting Moscow was no trivial thing for an American. It meant going behind the “Iron Curtain.” It was toward the end of the so-called Second Cold War. Gorbachev had become the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that March, and he had his first talk with Reagan in Geneva later that November, I think. Still, things were quite frosty between the US and the USSR. I had the good fortune to be escorted by a family of Finns, which made everything easier.

Coffee in Moscow

So what were you doing 25 years ago?

Seriously, I’d love to hear from everyone who reads this. “Don’t remember” and “wasn’t born yet” are acceptable answers.

Contemplative Academy

I sat next to empty seats on my two flights up to Hartford (changing planes in Charlotte) so I didn’t talk to much of anyone until I got on the shuttle I’d reserved. I was sharing the vehicle with three young folks who looked to be in their mid-twenties. As we pulled away from the airport, I said, “Hey, I noticed y’all had instruments. Are you musicians then?”

The reply: “No, we’re not, we just enjoy carrying musical instruments with us wherever we go.”
Continue reading “Contemplative Academy”

Houston

I just got back from a trip to Houston.

First View from My Hotel Window

Office Building at Night

My Reflection in the Building Across the Street

I guess you might wanna zoom way in to find me.

Street Corner with Crosswalk

Halloween at the Hyatt

Levels

More to come. I’m a little preoccupied with packing and stuff. When I’ve sorted through my photos and papers I hope to post some notes about the conference I attended as well as my extra-curricular activities. It might take a while. In the meantime, you’ll find photos in this set as they are posted.

Notes from Sevier County

I wrote most of the following last week when I was up north, but wasn’t able to finish it until now.

I’ve spent the last week or so in a timeshare condo in Sevierville, Tennessee.

It’s a curious place. Or perhaps I should say it’s a curious non-place, in a strangely transmogrified town, surrounded by the beautiful Smoky Mountains.

The condo itself is fairly nice. Two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, a fully functional kitchen, nice living room, and of course a balcony. No timeshare condo is complete without a balcony.

However, this balcony looks out over a five-lane highway.

Five Lanes

It’s got sidewalks on either side which end abruptly for no apparent reason. And that’s where the trouble begins.

I’ve stayed in a few timeshares over the years thanks to the generosity of my in-laws. (As a friend once put it, “You didn’t know you were marrying into timeshare, did you?”) The price is always right, essentially free to Xy and me. I’m sure I’d be much more critical if I was footing the bill, but I’m not, so I’m not, as a rule. I’ve learned that not all timeshares are created equal. They vary quite a bit in terms of quality and amenities. Generally speaking, as long as we have easy access to a swimming pool, Xy is happy. And when Xy is happy, I am happy.

This resort (Wyndham Smoky Mountains) is composed of 30-odd buildings, each containing 16-24 condos, with the aforementioned five-lane highway running between them.

Condos

There are two recreation centers, with indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, kiddie pools, fitness facilities and more. Neither rec center is very far from our condo unit, as the crow flies. Certainly they are both well within what most people would consider walking distance.

And yet, it’s virtually impossible for us to walk safely to either one. To get to the Greenbrier Amenities Center, we have to cross that damned five-lane highway. There is no stoplight, not even a painted crosswalk.

Xing

Very well then, surely we’d do better to stay on our side of the highway and go to the Elkmont Amenities Center. It’s atop a high hill and offers a fairly nice view of the surroundings. But as far as I can ascertain it is simply not possible to walk there. As absurd as it may seem, one has to get in the car and drive.

Pedestrian Unfriendly

It’s a well-known fact that I’m not a big fan of automobiles. But even if I was, I’d like to think that I’d still recognize the importance of walking. It’s our most primal form of transportaion. Walking is pleasant and just plain fundamentally human. Even people who can’t walk generally benefit from an approach to design and planning that emphasizes walkability. (My spellchecker doesn’t recognize “walkability” as a word, but then again my spellchecker doesn’t recognize “spellchecker” as a word either.) Places that are designed to actively discourage walking strike me as fundamentally inhuman. Of all the timeshares in which I’ve stayed, I’ve never before seen one so hostile to the pedestrian, and that troubles me.


One of the biggest criticisms one might lodge against timeshares is that they can be pretty profoundly divorced from the surrounding area. Thus they can have a sense of being a generic non-place. It doesn’t have to be that way, but often it is. However, in this case, I’m afraid that the timeshare has captured the ambiance of the area perfectly. Sevierville is just as unfriendly to the pedestrian as our resort. Choked with factory-outlet strips malls, the main drag bears a striking resemblance to the shopping district of Greenwood, Indiana, where I grew up, cross-pollinated with an amusement park. And I’ve gotta tell you, it ain’t pretty.

There is a town here. I’m sure of it. I’ve read about it. (I even caught a glimpse of a beautiful courthouse as we departed.) Apparently Sevierville was a hotbed of abolitionist activity before the Civil War. (Though now the Confederate flag seems to be more popular.) Apparently Dolly Parton was born here. I wonder what she thinks of the place today. I wonder what the people who live and work here think. It seems abundantly clear to me that somewhere along the line something went wrong. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at first. I’m sure it seemed like wise economic development. People accuse New Orleans of prostituting itself to the tourist economy, but we can’t hold a candle to this area. The end result is, quite frankly, horrifying and sad.

Yet at the same time I have to recognize that not everybody shares my perspective. To judge by the thronging masses, huge numbers of people would seem to find this a desirable place to be. And so I’ve spent some time wondering about that disconnect. Why do I see things differently, am I in the majority or minority, and what does it all mean?

I don’t know.


Continue up the highway to Pigeon Forge, the town next door, and you get more of the same, only it’s more spectacular. You can even catch a glimpse of an honest-to-gosh historic district off to the side, “The Old Mill,” if you are not completely bedazzled by all the animated video billboards. (Even the cheap hotels have them.) It takes a long while to drive just a few miles because there’s such a lot of traffic.

Keep driving. At last the town ends, and the highway snakes through a wooded area beside a stream. Signs might lead you to believe you’ve entered the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but you’re not quite there yet. First you have to pass through Gatlinburg.

Unlike Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Gatlinburg was clearly built with pedestrians in mind. It’s still as hoaky and kitschy as all get out, but at least it doesn’t seem hostile and inhuman. It’s more surreal, or perhaps I should say more hyperreal.

Jean Baudrillard, recently deceased French theoretician, devoted much of his career to explain what he called “hyper-reality”–evidently a reality above reality, fantasy qua reality. This hyper-reality is especially well illustrated in Baudrillard’s schema of the procession of the simulacra, wherein in a sign mirrors basic reality, begins to distort it but nevertheless remains faithful to the original, departs heavily from reality, and finally exists instead of reality (the basic reality no longer exists). Baudrillard could have written this work on a single visit to Pigeon Forge.

Personally I found Gatlinburg a bit more charming than Sevierville or Pigeon Forge, but there’s no accounting for taste. Gatlinburg is a lot like Disneyworld, only less completely contrived and engineered, and with a bit more chaos. It almost looks like a genuine urban space if you look at it with your eyes half-shut.

As noted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

High-powered, high-volume tourism has transformed [the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge] communities into amusement parks. Both towns feature factory outlet stores, wax museums, souvenir shops, go-cart racing, and theme parks. As portals to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are perhaps the country’s best examples of gateway communities completely transformed by tourism.

If you keep on driving through Gatlinburg, you will find yourself almost abruptly in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Wow. What a contrast. It’s beautiful and quiet and more or less pristine, and quite vast. Of course nine or ten million people do visit the park every year, so it can be crowded, but nothing like the throngs playing miniature golf in Pigeon Forge. Take a few steps down a nature trail, and you’ll find yourself in virtual solitude.

Mountain Haze

They say the haze that hangs over the mountains these days is not the mist for which they were named, but pollution from power plants, industry, and — of course — automobiles.

Our autocentric culture is not healthy. Which leads me back to my gloomy reflections on the pedestrian-hostile layout of our resort and Sevierville and Pigeon Forge and Greenwood and so many places.


It was my hope with these notes to capture something of the feeling of distress which this area has evoked within me, and at the same time to avoid condescending arrogance, to reconcile my contempt with my compassion. I feel I have failed on all counts. Cataloging the discontents of modern American culture is a tall order, and I’ve only been able to peck away at this entry between changing diapers and driving to the pool. This visit has reminded me of many feelings that have lain dormant for years. Living in New Orleans entails quite a different set of contingencies. This visit takes me back to my youth in suburban Indianapolis.

Having failed to capture the bigger issues, perhaps I can at least enumerate some of our activities.

  • Saturday: Upon arrival we unpacked and then went out to Mr. Gatti’s. With all due respect to my in-laws who seemed to enjoy the place, this was amongst the worst dining experiences of my life. The all-you-can-eat pizza buffet is just a bad idea. Apparently they often have a live music/gospel puppet performance, but not that evening, though I did snap a photo of this kiosk which hints at what we were missing. The food was not good, and the atmosphere was nauseating. The only redeeming quality was that our girl was able to run around (barefoot) and nobody cared. I’m not sure if that’s really a plus.
  • Sunday: Summer Solstice, and Father’s Day. I celebrated by bleaching my hair. I used the remnants of a kit that had been sitting on our bathroom shelf for eight years. The results were not very dramatic. In fact, I’d say it didn’t do much at all but bring out the gray in my hair. Ah well.
  • Monday: I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer. I got in the car and drove to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I dragged my father-in-law along with me. I was somewhat astonished to learn that neither of my in-laws had ever set foot in the park despite coming to this area for years. We made our way through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg (slow going) to the Sugarlands Welcome Center, where we saw a film about the park. We then hiked a nature trail nearby, a short one-mile loop. Very enjoyable. I considered this a scouting expedition — I was trying to discern what part of the park might be good to visit with an infant in tow. I talked to a ranger about it. Which led us to…
  • Tuesday:  The whole family went on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This seemed like a good option for a one-year old. You drive a bit, then stop at key locations, get out, enjoy the scenery and learn a little bit about the local ecology.

    Waterfall

    The fatal flaw in this plan was that Xy had a migraine and the twisty turny road made her quite carsick. Also my mother-in-law’s car got scraped against a rock. My father-in-law was behind the wheel, but I swear that rock just lunged out at us. It became a point of contention for the remainder of the trip. But it really was a beautiful drive. On the way back we stopped at Happy Days Diner, where Persephone had a coughing fit. A passing waitress inquired, “Are you choking?” and a short while later asked “Are you still choking?” a line which we repeated often in the days that followed. Guess you had to be there.

  • Wednesday: We visited Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo, which was almost in walking distance from our condo but of course we had to drive. It’s kind of unsettling to see a bunch of exotic animals from faraway places cooped up in small cages to be ogled by marauding church camps. But perhaps it’s not such a bad life — they have their meals provided after all. We watched a presentation by a naturalist who performed magic tricks and told scatological jokes. Did you know diarrhea is hereditary? It runs in your genes! My daughter picked out a gift from the shop: a baby tiger wrapped in a blanket, equipped with a bottle for nursing. She took right to it. She calls it “baby” (her second two-syllable word) and feeds it the bottle without any prompting. Almost spooky to me.
  • Thursday: Anxious for a change of pace, I took the girl on a car trip in search of Pittman Center. This was a nearby town cited by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, so I figured it would have to be at least halfway cool. I plotted a route which kept me away from the trafficky madness of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. A beautiful drive. I found Pittman Center eventually, and pulled up right in front of City Hall. In fact, City Hall was about all I could identify as being part of a town. (Population 477 in 2000 census.) An employee looked out her window at me, so close we could almost have talked except for the glass. I wanted to go in and ask for direction to any points of interest. But the girl had fallen asleep in her car seat, and I didn’t want to disturb her. So I just drove around for a while and then made my way back to the condo. By that time the rest of the family had left on a shopping expedition to the World’s Largest “As Seen on TV” Superstore, and so I spent several happy hours playing together with my daughter. She’s growing so fast now it’s like I can see her developing on an hourly basis.
  • Friday: My father-in-law got sick. It sucks to be sick on vacation, but at least it was only that one last day. He was well enough to drive back home the next morning. Thus ended our sojourn together.

Also should note: Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout is a pretty good beer. It’s brewed with milk! Or milk sugar, anyway. Lactose. It’s dark with almost a burnt coffee flavor. I always like to sample the local brew, and this was the closest I could find, though actually upon further research I discovered that Farmville NC is some 400 miles away. Anyway you gotta love a beer with a logo inspired by Wittgenstein.

And finally a shout-out to my mother-in-law, who cooked just about every meal we ate there. Big hearty breakfasts and tasty dinners. I probably packed on a few extra pounds, but it sure beat eating out. Not only is it economical, but our daughter is probably at the worst possible age for going to restaurants. So major props to the stalwart Susie for her tireless efforts in the kitchen. And thanks to both my in-laws for sharing their condo with us. Despite all the kvetching above I really did enjoy myself.

Bloomington

Part of me wanted to get back home to New Orleans and gloat over the fact that we appear to have power while most of the city does not.

But I didn’t relish the idea of sitting in traffic with two million other evacuees all trying to get back home at the same time.

So when we got the news yesterday that neither Xy’s school nor mine will reopen until Monday, our evacuation turned into an evacucation. We decided to run up to Indiana for a few days and visit family. What the hell, it’s only 522 miles from Tuscaloosa, and we have four new tires.

So now we’re here. This is the first time I’ve been back to Indiana since we returned to New Orleans in November of 2005. Thus ends my life’s longest absence from the Mystical State.

If you’re game, meet us at the Upland Thursday night around 8 PM.

Amazing

The internet and this old world can still blow my mind. Browsing through a random Wikipedia article I discovered that before the Cuban Revolution there was a ferry that sailed twice daily between Havana and New Orleans. This bears further investigation.

Christopher Elliott Writes About My Case

Thanks to Carol G for getting me in touch with the very helpful Christopher Elliott. He’s the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Today he published my case. I found it in the Arizona Daily Star, though not, strangely enough, in our Times-Picayune which usually carries his column in the Sunday Travel section. I can tell you that $83 was very helpful. Orbitz actually refunded our tax paid as well so we came out ahead on this deal.
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Dominica

Over the past week I’ve found myself obsessively reading up on Dominica, an island nation in the Caribbean. I don’t know why, exactly, but I have been fantasizing about visiting or even moving there, and the more I learn the more attractive it seems.

house_20040114_s306_021

photo by stevenhouse

I’m not alone. Yesterday, USA Today ran a story on Dominica. Coincidence or telepathic conspiracy?

For a small island in the Caribbean, Dominica sure seems to have a lot of web content, which has fueled my curiosity. Here’s what I’ve learned so far, which I’m reproducing to the best of my ability without double-checking.

Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is the least developed of the Caribbean islands. In fact, it’s called the Nature Island. Since the loss of a preferential trade agreement with the United Kingdom, the banana business has been declining. Now there’s a push to develop their tourist economy while preserving their greatest asset: the pristine natural environment. Thus there’s quite a bit of interest in eco-tourism. One place that caught my attention is 3 Rivers Eco Lodge.

It’s a poor country, with a third of the people living in poverty. But crime is surprisingly low, and people are surprisingly healthy. Dominica has one of the highest percentages of centenarians in the world.

The official language is English, but lots of people speak French creole.

The island has one of the few remaining populations of Carib Indians. However, most Dominicans are descendants of African slaves.

Some of those popular pirate movies with J. Depp were shot there, and also some pirate-themed reality show.

Dominica has some volcanic activity, with one of the world’s largest boiling lakes.

It rains there a lot.

Jean Rhys was born there. She wrote The Wide Sargasso Sea.

The biggest city in Dominica is Roseau, which is nicely written up by some Finnish dude in Naturalistic and existential realms of place in Roseau, Dominica. It vaguely reminds me of some neighborhoods in New Orleans. They even have a French Quarter.

Of course, one of the best ways to get down-to-earth perspective on day-to-day life is through the blogosphere. Here are some Dominica-related blogs:

Now if only I had a couple hundred grand lying around… I know just what to do with it.

It’s tempting to attribute this obsession to the stresses of living in a disaster zone, but the truth is I’ve been fascinated by tropical islands ever since I moved to New Orleans. Perhaps it’s because New Orleans is a Caribbean port city that just happens to be on the mainland. Every few months I get the bug and start researching and that’s how I learned about Dominica. I’m fairly certain that life on a small island would drive me crazy very quickly, but it’s fun to dream, and maybe to visit, and who knows what that could lead to?

Saving

I stopped by the bank on my way home today and opened a savings account. (I also got soaked by the rain but that’s neither here nor there.) Ever since my personal bankruptcy, I do not use credit cards; therefore, if Xy and I are ever to make that trip to Amsterdam, we will have to save our pennies. I deposited 40,000 pennies in the account to get started. We’ll see where we’re at next summer.

July 7, 2001

London — The overnight sleeper train was expensive but definitely worth it. Trains and planes are the way to go — fuck a bus, except for getting around a city.

It’s around 8:00 AM, foggy and damp. I’m in Regent’s Park, making my way to Leinster Square the slow way — by walking. Leinster Square is where I’m staying tonight, so I’m in no rush.

Navigating through London, especially on foot as opposed to public transit, is a fun puzzle in itself. London streets make the warped grid of New Orleans look almost sane by comparison. I bought a detailed street map — it’s a 300-page book.

Gotta start looking for a place to take a crap…

Ah… free, quasi-sanitary public restrooms. Xy would appreciate this. Not to mention the elaborate flower gardens.

July 6, 2001

Edinburgh — I’m sitting on a bench on a hill in a park looking across a small valley at the most incredible array of stone buildings. When I got off the bus here three days ago, the site of Edinburgh made up for the eight-hour overnight ride, which sucked big-time.

But I haven’t spent the last three days in Edinburgh. I’ve been barreling around the Highlands on a bus tour. Saw Loch Ness, the William Wallace Memorial, Glencoe, the site of the battle where Robert the Bruce defeated the English, the site of the battle where the Jacobite Rebellion was crushed, the castle filmed in Highlander, some neolithic ruins, and lots of astonishingly beautiful scenery. Stayed at two hostels; the one on Skye was pretty shabby but the one at Ft. Augustine rocked. We took a walk up to Loch Ness and met a member of the local fire brigade. They were practicing for a rowing contest to be held the next day; their handmade craft was labeled FART which stands for Fort Augustine Rowing Team.

I didn’t take a camera on this part of the journey — mailed it home from Helsinki — but I don’t think I could have captured the expansive grandeur of the Highlands.

I really wish Xy could have been along to see it. I was the only singleton on the bus, and though everyone was nice enough, I was a little lonely sometimes. But moreover, I think Xy would love Scotland, so maybe I can manage to drag her here someday.

It’s been cold and misty most of my time here. I bought a sweater in Portree which is keeping me warm and toasty now.

But Glencoe was so amazing — I expected Gandalf or someone to come walking down the mountainside.

Back to these buildings in Edinburgh: They’re dark, heavy, Gothic, oppressive even — especially with the thick fog.


Later: Ate at a French restaurant I found by chance. Had duck in a raspberry sauce the way it should be prepared — made me realize just how bad the duck at Court of Two Sisters really was.

June 30, 2001

In the Finnish countryside: I wasn’t sure what it would be like to see Päivi again after 15 years, but very quickly we were talking as if no time had passed at all. It seems odd that it could be so very natural, but so it was. We sat on the porch of her apartment outside Helsinki eating salmon and salad and drinking wine and talking about what had happened over all this time until late at night — although of course it never really got dark.

That was yesterday. Tonight, Saturday, I’m sitting in bed in a guest room of the very charming summer cottage which belongs to Päivi’s parents. It’s in the forest some hours outside Helsinki. Raili told me that this house was actually the first thing Päivi designed as an architect, though she’d asked her mother not to tell me. Neither Raili nor Erkki seem to have changed at all since I met them in 1985. Marja is also here — She seems to have changed very little, though she’s only just returned from UCLA and is suffering jet lag so it’s hard to know. But she looks very much the same.

June 27, 2001

Tampere: So much modern “International Style” architecture in America is so ugly. There is a lot of this sort of architecture in Tampere, and some of it is just as ugly, but somehow much of it is not. Why? What’s the difference?

As I write this I’m sitting at the foot of yet another church, Kalevan Kirkko. It’s very strange, very tall, very modern — hardly looks like a church at all.


Nobody locks their bikes here — and there are many, many bikes. The city is small and clean but very cosmopolitan. Almost everyone speaks English, but what’s amazing is how many people speak it so well. They must get lots of practice. And of course the Nordic system of social welfare, with universal healthcare, no poverty, and virtually no crime, all adds up to make this seem very close to paradise.

Except that the sun is too damn small in the sky. It’s really unnerving.


A Spaniard’s been rooming with me the last two nights at the hostel. I never quite caught his name. He used to be a student at the university here, but he doesn’t know Finnish. I thought that was strange. Apparently many courses are taught in English.

Last night we went out for beer to a nice pub where we sat outside just above the river and talked about public radio (and how NPR isn’t very “public” by European standards) and access TV, religion, race politics, anarchism, and many other things. After a couple of beers we relocated to a place called Café Europa, filled with antique sofas and armchairs around low tables with candles. I’ve never seen anything quite so cool. I had a Monty Python’s Holy Grail Ale, and we talked some more. When we got back to the hostel, it was past midnight, but the sky was still bright although the sun was below the horizon.

June 26, 2001

Tampere: Damn I’m tired — combination of jet lag, three nights of inadequate sleep, and the fatigue of travel, the stress of being in a foreign country. Also the memories evoked by being in Scandinavia again are mildly confusing, though mostly pleasant.

I’m sitting on a bench in a public square in Tampere, in front of the Greek Orthodox cathedral. Soaking in the 17:00 sun. It looks almost like high noon, but the sun is smaller than I’m used to seeing it. Won’t be dark for another six or seven hours.

It’s warm, almost hot. I’ve seen a couple women lying on blankets in bikinis, here at the square and at a nearby park. Last night it seemed as though the entire town was out by the river, enjoying the sunlight and the mild weather.

I hope I can sleep tonight. I’m going to try making a blindfold of my bandanna.

Things that went wrong on the way here: A storm kept us in a holding pattern some distance from Newark. Finally we landed — in Baltimore. After an hour or so they stuck 15 kids on our plane, a tour group bound for Rome. But then word came that Newark would not be holding the flight to Rome, so they unloaded the kids, and their baggage. When we got back in the air, we were put in a holding pattern again, and when we eventually did land at Newark, we couldn’t get to the gate. The people in front of me watched in frustration as their plane for Portugal was boarded, taxied down the runway, and took off without them. They chewed out the flight attendant, and I castigated them for whining too much. (They were in their mid-fifties at least; “I thought my generation was supposed to do all the whining.) When we got off the plane, Newark Airport was in chaos, as both arrivals and departures had been canceled or delayed for hours because of the weather. I’d missed my flight to London. I was directed to stand in one line, then another. There were lots of lines, all insanely long, and nobody seemed to know if they were in the right line. The Continental reps seems as confused as the travelers, and more harried. One passenger, a Frenchman, tipped me off about the toll-free number for Continental’s customer service. I walked to a payphone, no line at all, and in mere minutes had my flight re-booked for the next day. However, I still had to stand in a long line to arrange for overnight accommodations. It took a couple hours before the bus arrived to take us to the hotel, and then there wasn’t room for even half of us. So we waited for the next bus, which still couldn’t accommodate the multitude of displaced Continental passengers, but I got a seat this time. The Airport Hilton was already overflowing, but it was only a 45 minute ride to the East Brunswick Hilton — or so we thought. After half an hour, the bus driver pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway and made a phone call. “She’s lost,” said the man sitting next to me, a videographer turned high school teacher from Alameda, California. “I bet she went the wrong direction on the highway.” Sure enough, thirty minutes later we were driving past the Newark Airport again. 45 minutes after that, we were at the hotel, but the driver missed two separate turnoffs and ended up in an inclined cul-de-sac. She had to back the bus up, uphill, and then the damn thing would shift into reverse. We finally checked into the hotel at around 1:00 AM. Many of us got booked into occupied rooms and had to return to the front desk, more than once in some cases. I got to sleep around 2:00 or 2:30, then got up at 6:00 to catch the 7:00 shuttle back to the airport. Unfortunately that bus also seemed to be ominously late in arriving. But this is when things began to pick up. Three passengers decided to hire a taxicab; they were looking for a fourth to share the cost and chose me at random form the mass of people waiting in front of the hotel. The cab driver informed us that he would not accept Continental vouchers for payment because “they simply don’t pay.” But we didn’t have any such vouchers anyway. My fellow travelers were all going to London on my flight, as it turned out: Jane, a jet-setting new age hippie from Boulder; Josie, a Filipino living in Buckinghamshire; and Zoe, a British geologist living in Utah and running very late for a conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she was presenting a paper on earthquakes.

After that, the rest of the trip went very smoothly.


After soaking in the sun and reflecting for an hour or so, I don’t feel tired at all.