Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Drinking where Hercules killed the lion

April 5th, 2017

Don’t expect Greek table wines to stand up to those from the likes of Italy and France. It is infamous for bland ones.

Many will seem watery. That’s historically reasonable too. Think of a symposium, which is Greek for drinking together. In ancient times, the likes of Socrates would resolve matters philosophical, governmental and more over wine. However, a big however, they watered their wine equally or more; they wanted to keep a clear head for the discussions.

Over my life, I’ve had decent Greek wines. Moreover my wife and I are fond of retsina. I’ve heard many compare the resin-tinged wine to the way kerosene smells. Then in disclosure note that I love malt whiskey, particularly those from Islay. My absolute favorite is the very peaty Lagavulin. Even some Scotch fans say it reminds them of iodine.

On our recent swing through Greece, we found a nice white from Corfu and a new favorite brand of retsina. We also tasted two whites and three reds at Domaine Skouras  in Nemea, near Corinth. Those included some real winners.


Dimitris at Skouras really knows his horticulture. Nearly as important he is a great showman. He made the tour and tasting funny and fun.
We did two dry whites — a 100% Moscofilero and the Armyra, 95% Chafrdonnay and 5% Malagousia. The former was flowery and the latter fruity. Either would would be a fine patio buddy. They were respectively just under 8 € and just under 10 €. Things are cheap in Greece, but these would be well worth more.
Of our 3 reds, two featured the classic Nemean Saint George (Agiorgitiko) grape. Saint George was 100% and Megas Oenos (snicker, big wine) 80% with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fleva was 100% Syrah. The 17.4 € Megas allegedly would cellar well for 15 years. The 14 € Fleva had complex nose and mouth. I liked the 8.8 € Saint George best, medium body with long finish.
Back in the bleachers, we discovered a new favorite retsina at several restaurants on Corfu and in Athens. Malamatina is full flavored and not too heavy on the resin. It is an excellent meal wine.

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once. Click images to enlarge.

Fetishes of Heroes and Appearances

April 4th, 2017

Let me be straight up about Achilles. His treatment of Hector and King Priam knock Achilles out of the running for noble and honorable. I’d put him in the gonif class (the Greek for scoundrel is αχρείος).

However, Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, fetishized old weak heel Achilles. She built a palace in his name (Achilleion) in Gastouri just south of Corfu town. It is chockablock with Achilles statues by German sculptor  Ernst Herter and others.

The late 19th Century wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I had considerable power and wealth, she was also a cautionary tale. Such negativity aside, the palace is a splendid tour.

Imperial Obsessions

Raised in nobility, married an emperor (too young at 16), and she even met goal number one for her type — she produced a male heir to the throne. What was the problem then?

Sissi (sometimes Sisi) as Elisabeth was known was not happy in the Hapsburg court. It was formal and stuffy, and came with a controlling mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie.

Moreover, she was not as enamored of her hubby as he was of her. Instead, she was a looker who was determined to be the most beautiful woman in view. Children? Age? No, nothing was an excuse for her.

To feel like a slug, check out her wikipedia entry on her physical regimen. She was 5’8″ and maintained 110 pounds via exercise and diet through four pregnancies and high social life. It seems she was anorexic, which goes with the package.

So how you might ask did a Hungarian big-shot come to love Achilles, and all things Greek, and to build a palace off Northwest Greece? Her wiki entry has numerous citations and there are several good biographies of her. The short of it is that Sissi fancied herself a scholar and saw the ancient Greeks as the epitome of humanity.  What better basis to continually study the language, culture, philosophy and arts of Greece?

Arm’s Length

Alas, Sissi never enjoyed the Hapsburg game. She and her emperor produced some children, including the mandatory male heir. Apparently neither of them pointed out that the world had a long history of successful women rulers. When the time and circumstances arose, they were stuck.

Their one son, Rudolph, at 31 shot his 17-year-old mistress, then himself to death. Daddy had said he couldn’t divorce his wife, Princess Stéphanie of Belgium (arranged noble marriage of course). You can read how this cascade of related events likely lead to WWI. For Sissi, it was closer to home.

She piled on the plans and work orders. She had many builders and craftsmen imported (such as Italian marble workers), and led the palace to completion in just over two years.

Sissi visited the palace for long periods twice a year until an Italian anarchist assassinated her nearly 10 years later. Then her daughter Maria-Valeria did little with the property and sold it within a decade to Kaiser Wilhelm II. He shuffled and replace a few of the statues, as emperors are wont to do.

The palace suffered various uses, shifting furniture but not the paintings and statues…at least once Wilhelm blundered around. He removed a statue of a Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, and had added a gigantic full-drag Achilles bronze in hoplite armor. In the main though, it survived pretty well through serving as a rescue center for children, having its second floor transformed from bedrooms into a casino (featured in the Bond flick For Your Eyes Only), and use as an Axis-powered HQ.

What’s to See?

For your 8 € entry, you get use of an audio tour box and a real view of the splendors of the Gilded Age, royal version. Vista fans and gardening types can revel in the grounds. Levels of terracing lead overlook the forest and old plantings.

Some olive trees are centuries old and huge. This one that our guide claimed was maybe 600 years old was about 3 feet across before splaying out at the base. It has large holes from a common vine disease. It continues to produce. O
Life sized statues of the nine muses lined a patio. Here are snaps of Melpomene (muse of tragedy, holding a tragic mask) and Terpsichore (muse of dance with a lyre).

Behind them were 14 busts, 13 ancient Greek philosophers, and somewhat inexplicably William Shakespeare.

Furniture outside and a fountain by the muses featured another of Sissi’s obsessions, dolphins.
That bronze Achilles Wilhelm commissioned included a shield with an intimidating gorgon.
Befitting the palace’s name, the highlight statue is a gigantic dying Achilles.
For drama, dying Achilles appears pulling the fatal arrow from his heel.

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once. Click images to enlarge.

 

 

Public Pets Abound in Greece

April 3rd, 2017

Among the things we learned in Greece recently was that stray dogs and cats are ubiquitous. In the few major cities and all tourist sites, seemingly healthy and clearly well fed furry things lounge and beg.

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once. Click images to enlarge.

There are ways and ways of viewing public-pet reality. Here’s one writer’s thoughts close to mine. The Friends of the Strays of Greece sees anguish and death for them. In fact, in rural areas where stray dogs may be kept as hunting animals, then discarded, street life is not good.

What we experienced was the public-pet picture. Many tavernas and other eateries had a resident dog. It would bask and nap in  the sun on the paving stones.Various people would speak to, pet and feed the dog.

Where we saw cats was mostly at tourist sites and mostly outside of large cities. They and they dogs seemed to keep their distance. Tourists would feed them. The cats were much more cautious than the dogs.

I thought of how different Athenians are from Parisians. Both love dogs, but deal with them very unlike the other.

Parisians clearly own their dogs and take them home, as well as everywhere they go. That includes groceries, bars and all kinds of restaurants. That extends beyond Paris too. I recall a meal at Scorlion in Saint-Jean-d’Angély near Cognac. A well-dressed elderly woman parked a pair of primary-school aged boys, likely grandsons, on the patio outside. She brought her dog in and they dined while the boys waited outside for a couple of hours.

…and the poop…

Right up with Parisians’ disdain for anyone who speaks what they consider imperfect French, is having to experience dog feces. The smell permeates the city and one has to be constantly careful where shoes go. This seems peculiar in a city and nation that has so many virtues and joys. Let us remember that the revolutionary call liberté,égalité,fraternité did not add considération.

Greeks on the other hand seem to clean up after their dogs. Walks through towns or country did not include assaults on the nose or shoe. Perhaps a country that prides itself on founding democracy should tend to the commonweal. Arf,

Very close sounds in the Village

August 7th, 2015

denhert2Without question, my favorite intimate NYC music venue is the 55 Bar. My Boston drinking buds and I visit when we go to the City. While it humbly advertises itself as a Prohibition Era dive bar, it really is a wee place that features jazz in the broadest sense, one where you can sit within touching distance of the musicians.

This Wednesday, the three of us went for KJ Denhert with guest, her long-term singing bud, Vicki Genfan. They have been singing together for decades since college (one at Ithaca and the other down the hill at Cornell. They both sing and play, with KJ specializing on vocals and Vicki on guitar. Each will occasionally guest on the other’s gig. They like each other and it shows in the music.

As always, we arrived 10 minutes before showtime and trotted to the barstools next to the band and johns. The early sets at the 55 don’t have a cover, just a two-drink minimum per very long set. Out stools were literally right there.

Genfan2Pix notes: Click a pic for a larger view. These are Creative Commons, so use ’em if you want; just credit Michael Ball once. I won’t apologize for the grain and such. The light inside the 55 is Dis as befits the underworld. The bulbs are in fact red, so these are even color corrected a bit. I won’t use flash when I’m close to musicians. I have some upbringing.

Back to the 55, if you go look carefully for the 55 street number to its down-the-stairs entry. It’s, if you pardon, cheek to jowl with the famous Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher. It seats maybe 60 at deuces and quads, with another 20 or so at the bar. There are no bad seats, you are all close to the music.

KJ likes to scramble her style(s). She sometimes is urban folk, but does real jazz licks and her own blues. She performed mostly originals for us, with beyond Genfan on some, the combo’s drums, guitar and bass guitar.

She and Genfan performed together on an off. Sometimes KJ sat next to me while her friend went solo. Again, they like each other.

To Vicki, I’d never heard or seen her signature style. After the break, she came over and I asked her if there was Denhert4a name for that spanking the frets just above the guitar body. She turns her guitar into more of a percussion instrument…think piano. It’s a hell of a lot more powerful than beating the body for a thump or 20. She creates a combination of rhythm and melody with the flourishes.

She was impish though. She could have told me that she’d named the style. I found that out by clicking around to read about her. She calls it slap-tap. Good stuff.

As every other time we’d gone to the 55, the music was superb, particularly because we were a few feet from it. I guess it also helps that it is such a small room that they don’t have to blast the audio to the point of making your ears bleed. (Don’t you hate that?)

This is kind of like the Lowell Folk Festival. I have some CDs to buy. I also chatted with both of the lead singers. Is it true that memories are free?

You should go out to their sites or YouTube or Amazon and listen. You’re allowed to buy their music even if you didn’t sit next to them.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

 

Hipster Food Palace in Boston

July 31st, 2015

bpmsunsHipsters, foodies and the dwindling herd of yuppies have a new (and clean, make sure to say clean) food shopping place i Boston. The Public Market opened yesterday after a couple of years of planning. It’s not bad, but it has its limits.

Regular readers here know I’ve been a fan of the Haymarket here since late ’60s college days and weekly since we moved her in December 1979. The whispers in town are that the city wants to replace the always boisterous, much beloved, remarkably cost saving, and splendidly diverse Haymarket with with a more sanitary indoor facility better suited to the temperament of tourists and suburbanites.

You can forget that. The Haymarket has been at it since 1830 and serves restauranteurs and home cooks alike. The new joint is very different. Some locals may shop at both. Certainly visitors and nearby office workers will swarm like ants for lunch and snacks to the new market. There’s no way restaurants and plain folk would want to or afford to shift to the new one.

ABPMroomsll of that written, the new market has some fine offerings already. The vendors are all New England sources, for everything from honey to cheese to bread to ale to ice cream to cheese to flowers. In fact, A Taste of New England might be a subtitle or epithet here.

PR and ads leading up to the opening were, of course, hyperbolic. The predictable unique aired repeatedly…and inaccurately. For a few, Seattle’s Pike Place Market has been at it since 1907, much bigger, grander, diverse and still local sourced;  the concept of year-round, indoor, local vendors started in Québec in 1841 with its Le Marché; even in Rochester NY, its Public Market has been perking 3 days a week since 1905 with more vendors and even the most remarkable cheese shop I’ve ever seen, even including Manhattan. Oo, oo, and the Rochester market features Amish baked goods and crafts as well as numerous NY State vineyard offerings. It’s fab.

Ycheesegorillaet, for New England, the new spot down next to the Haymarket is a remarkable place, well worth regular visits. Truth be told, I won’t make special trips. However, I’m at the Haymarket weekly on Friday or Saturday and shall certainly augment my regular haul with speciality items from next door. I’m a food slut.

I won’t build a FAQ, but you need to know:

  • Unlike the Haymarket and nearly all of Boston, this shopper-friendly market has obvious public restrooms, water fountains, and tables for two or four. You can buy and then eat. In fact, the slugs clogging up the area around the ice cream vendor should get some manners.
  • jasperhillNext to nothing is inexpensive. An exception is fresh pasta (Nella Pasta) was only $3.99 a pound. Veggies and fruits are two to ten times higher than the Haymarket, where it has the same.
  • You’ll find goods that are hard to impossible to source elsewhere and you might not have known about. Several vendors had splendid, often huge, mushrooms of exotic varieties, for example. Unlike a friend who eats Japanese knotweed shoots, I think those plants are vile pests. Yet, Boston Honey offers samples of its wares, including knotweed honey. It’s earthy, powerful and damned good. Likewise, Hopsters Alley has a wide range of New England craft brews and wines, but hard-to-find spirits, like Berkshire’s Ethereal Gin. They don’t discount, but they have the goods.
  • 1% dinners are easy here. Those who don’t mind dropping several hundred dollars for a meal for themselves or a few chbpmsilberbrookums can buy prepared or frozen meals, mains, meats, desserts and such.
  • The market offers an hors-d’oeuvre paradisse. The few cheese vendors are very high priced (up to $30 a pound), but again they have the variety and quality for a memorable cocktail event. Likewise, the Boston Smoked Fish Company gets a bit silly about its small-batch products, but they are remarkable if very high priced.
  • The airiness and high ceilings and open spaces make for a good experience. I had to stop at Silverbrook Farm (Dartmouth MA) for its beautifully arranged stalls.

In the main, the new market is at the Orange and Green Lines’ Haymarket stop. It’s worth a visit. Bring cash.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Fair Fairmount Fare

July 19th, 2013

fairfairmount tstubI adore trains. How many times and ways have I said and written that?

Today was a splendid return from the big southern swing back into metro Boston. Foremost, I trotted down the hill to the Fairmount stop on the MBTA and took it into town.

That turns out to be a big deal in numerous ways:

  • They have increased the weekday sked (still not Sat/Sun trains…double boo)
  • They responded to grumbles, growls and snarls by reducing the fee to zone 1A (subway fare of $2) instead of zone 1 ($6), after all, we are in the city of Boston, dagnabbit
  • The walk is about 12 minutes and the ride to South Station in the intestines of downtown is 23 minutes
  • My new geezer card reduces the fare by half, so a round-trip was 2 (count ’em, the same number as feet I have) dollars.

Now I truly, truly want everyone I know who has avoided the purple line to take the train, enough to ensure it thrives and enough to inspire the overlords at the MBTA to add night return trains and for crying out loud weekend trains. I”ll spread the word, here and elsewhere.

The experience was fine, albeit with the nervousness of seeing only a half dozen passengers on the 12:03 into town and maybe 20 on the 3:45 south.

This is pretty much the way the MBTA should be operating and charging for this in-town line.

Oddly enough, from what I heard and read at the national rail conference, Rail-volution, this Indigo Line is a model for everyone. We in Boston were largely unaware of two decades of Strum und Drang by by the neighborhoods from lower Hyde Park north into town. Fundamentally, the poorer, darker folk saw the wealthier, lighter folks’ trains speed by without any stops (as in zero) in their neighborhoods. They raised hell at city, commonwealth and federal level to get stops in their areas, transit-oriented development as the urban-planning cliché goes. They won and it was from the most local level up. They won, I write again.

So, it’s sweet on many levels to ride a quick, cool, clean efficient train into town at a fair fare from Fairmount.

 

Soft Opening, Solid Thrill

June 5th, 2013

grillebarFive of us at one table and two at another were among the fairly joyous Hyde Park sorts who noticed the Fairmount Grille’s Facebook announcement of a soft opening last evening. Only a banner hung outside the 81 Fairmount Ave site in Logan Square called passersby not to pass by.

As someone who really liked the previous Townsend’s in that spot for its four years, I’ve been figuratively pacing. Townsend’s shut last winter, but the owners passively obstructed the transition. For some reason, they held liquor license, which of course is essential for a bar/restaurant. The arcane, anachronistic Boston licensing does not allow even nominally for two licenses to be affiliated with one address. So the old license had to be revoked before another one could apply.

Perhaps more parochial and old-fashioned, there really aren’t enough liquor licenses to go around. Trot to any other sizable city and see that they are not afraid that something awful just might happen if there are two bars in a block. Bacchanals nightly! Anti-Puritan indulgence!

Regardless, with the Clarke’s in South Station becoming yet another drug store, that license migrated as Townsend’s went back into the treasure chest.

It seems Christopher Rassias got the restaurant and booze licenses and set up shop. He’d worked for numerous other such joints in town, mostly with Glynn Hospitality (Black Rose, Purple Shamrock and more). He told me last evening he was really ready to start his own.

Timing is superb. The popular The Hyde a little over a block away closed suddenly two weeks ago. The owner supposed retreated to Maine. Compounded with Townsend’s closing, that left a considerable hole in Logan Square. Rincon is across the street from the Hyde. Its limited Caribbean menu is good (particularly its goat stews), but it doesn’t have a full bar and seems to thrive with its DJ/dancing nights and its lunches. Around the corner on River Street, Master McGrath’s is a formidable, drink-all-day beer joint that sells a little bar food, and El Rancho has OK West Indies fare.  A little farther on Maple, Las Vegas Seafood (eh?) has good Haitian food, but is really a take-out joint.

fgrille

Logan and Cleary Squares didn’t have a good sit-down with booze…you know, a place with adult choices.

Same and different

So, The Fairmount Grille is likely to get business from the Townsend’s loyalists. The food is similar, priced about the same. The wine and beer selections are also reasonable in variety and cost. It was super to see the bar (in the same location) with stools shined again by singles and couples sliding into place.

All of that written, the soft opening had its predictable glitches. Moreover, some details are still unattended to by Rassias and his minions.

Perhaps most obvious, in addition to no marquee or sign visible driving on Fairmount Ave., the web presence really isn’t present. The Facebook page is OK. However, it doesn’t have enough info. The restaurant website it displays is not only incorrect (thefairmountgrille.com instead of fairmountgrille.com), but the real site is not active. You can’t see the menus and anything else. Rassais told a customer yesterday within my hearing that would be fixed real soon.

At our table we ordered a cocktail, some wines by the glass, a soda, and an ale. We had an appetizer touchstone for Boston eateries, fried calimari, and the house burger, fish and chips, Cobb salad, and stuffed poblanos. Our chums at the other table tried duck wings, a steak and something I’m blanking on with a couple of beers.

Everyone liked the food. I think the winner was Sara with the vegetarian poblanos. They were big, just spicy enough and not cooked to mushiness as so many restaurants pre-prepare them. Objections were real but minor. For example, those who put the house butter on the excellent (Fornax?) bread didn’t care for the stuff with some kind of sugar or homey mixed in unrequested. Also, Tallon spoiled customers with his great, regularly changing range of mussel dishes. For those of us who like such, that was a big selling point, but not represented here.

Beers were in the $5 to $7 range. They weren’t as varied as Townsend’s, where Michael Tallon took great pride in a large number of superb ales on tap.  Still, there were nothing beers like Bud, augmented by a dozen or so good ales and beers, with malty, hoppy and Belgian sorts to satisfy almost anyone with dinner. It was not a selection for a road trip to taste.

Wines by the glass were similar. Reasonably priced at $7 to $11, No one was going to feel ripped off. The selection of 8 or 10 whites and reds each had a range for most tastes. They didn’t have everything in stock yet. On a clumsy sidenote, I knocked over a glass shortly after the waiter arrived. He brought us cloths to clean up my spill but still charged for the replacement. It was my boner, but a savvy restaurant would not have charged, particularly with new customers.

At the end, one of our party wanted to split the bill and pay her part with her credit card. The staff and even the cash register troubleshooter who apparently wanted to be there for the first night could not make it work. A few minutes headed to a half hour, even with a couple of my visits to the register hallway. They didn’t get it working and eventually, I had them put everything on my card.

We also peeked as several other customers to see what shape the small back patio was in, as it was popular in its Townsend’s life. As my wife put it, right now it looks like the inside of our garage, with coiled hoses and such cluttering the space.

We’ll go back and look forward to trying their brunches when they get that together. Rassais seems open to comments and criticisms. I’ll see if I can get some more, better ales, for example. He seems already to know he has to get someone to give him a web presence.

Train Rant

One more notable aspect of the Logan and Cleary Square biz life. The inane MBTA zoning lets locals travel to West Medford or Malden or Chelsea for the subway fare ($2 with a Charlie Card). Down here, but in Boston city limits instead, the fare is $5.50 for Hyde Park, Readville and Fairmount. The Indigo Line proposal requests dropping the zone from 1 to 1A to put it at those suburban rates. That would definitely encourage business traffic, including to local restaurants.

Get your act together, MBTA. Let logic rule here!

Free-dumb on the 4th

July 5th, 2012

Visiting #1 Son and DIL around Independence Day of course has been full of obvious and subtle examples of freedom and restrictions. While the Fourth is ostensibly about casting off colonialism and occupation, we boomers go far beyond that.

Growing up with WWII parents and WWI grandparents, we are filled with grand and even naive ideals of cultural and personal. Those were reinforced by that newish TV, movies and all around us. American exceptionalism and frontier concept of freedom characterize and drive us.

My curmudgeonly comment today includes exasperation with 20 and 30 somethings who would try to excuse ignorance and lack of analysis saying they weren’t born when this or that occurred. That shows only a lack of knowledge, curiosity and perhaps intellect. The world did not begin spinning when you nor I arrived.

With my hoary head, I noticed our airport experiences and the heavy symbolism of a trio to Alcatraz.

For the former, recap it with removing shoes and belts keeps no one safe. We are both delusional and sheeplike pretending otherwise. Chants about sacrificing for safety or even that the mere theater of arbitrary and ineffectual TSA regulations and procedure dissuaded terrorists from plying their hellish aims are sad and un-American.

More to the metaphor on the Fourth, ferrying to the Alcatraz tour was an object lesson in freedom as well. Ceding all liberty as punishment for crimes is an Independence Day meditation.

We coursed through our day and night until early on the Fifth, interacting with other revelers, residents, citizen, cops barkeeps and such. We experienced the relative liberty boomers idealize in most places. We did show our papers – train, and boat tickets, credit cards and such on demand. Some instances were silly overkill, like three times each in the snaking, cordoned ferry line for The Rock, but in the main, we perked and went at will.

As a nation, we definitely have freely ceded too many liberties to feed our collective post-9/11 insecurities. We’re not likely going to regain those soon or easily.

More IT-Gone-Wacky Tales from FAST LANE

March 8th, 2012

Apparently there’s no pleasing me. A couple of years ago, I noted the incompetence of IT for the transponder program here in MA. Not only could they not suck money in real time or close to it to keep the $20 deposit flush for long trips, but if you called in to support, you have to give up your password over the phone to talk with a rep.

That’s right, your only security for an account that had access to your bank or credit card funds had to be spoken in the most insecure possible way, just to ask a question of support. Some support.

Well, that was true again and still last month. We replaced a vehicle and the stick ‘um stripes for the Velcro retainer did not hold on the new windshield. It seems they are designed this way and the FAQ on the MA DOT site says call in to get new strips.

Of course, I couldn’t even ask for that or explain at all why I was calling without spitting out my “secure” password. Not only that, but there is a separate PIN the agency assigns transponder users that you have to reveal. To see that, you need to log in with your account number and password, highlight the field at top and read that to the rep. Only then can you say you need to 2-inch strips to hold the box in place.

Honest to Ada Lovelace, computers were never designed to remove all mental processing capability from humans. We do that to ourselves and each other.

After eight minutes to inane bureaucracy, my silly rep was satisfied I was the person I represented myself to be and that I deserved the two strips. They arrived about four days later in a #10 envelope. Control freak I am, I thought and told the woman in support that this function should be automated and a menu choice from your account. Of course, that would be less for support to support.

Today’s episode was getting my monthly email of the FAST LANE statement. That includes a link to the DOT site. It has brought up the log-in screen and retrieved my account number and password from a cookie. Good enough.

Not today though. Instead, I got a screen worthy of the Bastard Operator from Hell. Not only could I not do as I had for years, but the stored data was gone. I had to track down my seven-digit account number (which serves as user name), and then bow to the new FAST LANE password schema.

So the old four-character (a.k.a. mnemonic) PW was not good enough. There was no advising about the level. I had to do what the screen said or forever be locked out of my account info. Instead, it meant contriving a new PW that was eight or more characters, and included “at least one of each”:

  • Upper-case letters
  • Lower-case letters
  • Numbers
  • Special characters (the punctuation and symbols on the keyboard)

Something you can remember? Forget it!

A tricky non-word or meaningful-to-you number with a funky symbol somewhere? Forget it!

The new PW had to meet five BOFH rules. So there.

Plus, there’s a note at the bottom of the PW hazing screen that you still need to have access to the DOT-assigned PIN as well to get any help from alleged support.

These IT satraps do have real power in their tiny provinces, power they abuse. The only question is are they ignorant of how much trouble they’ll cause in aggregate by their bureaucratic inconvenience or are they being malicious, as in “Let’s make ’em dance.”?

God Bless Giraffes

January 19th, 2012

Hamisi1Truth be told, giraffes are my favorite animal. They are beautiful and have an elegant stride, oh, and compelling eyes.

So, I have been emotionally caught up in reportage of Europeans and Americans who shoot giraffes for sport. Trophy hunting of giraffes is by no means dangerous, but it is very expensive $10,000 or more for the experience (plus $2,000 trophy fee).

No Screams

An understandable giraffe myth is that they make no sounds. While they often do not vocalize, they can — moms bellow for lost offspring, males hoping to mate snort, all will bleat on occasion and such.

More obviously, both in the wild as well as in zoos and preserves, they munch plants all day. They run and play with each other. They are gentle herbivores, who are violent rarely. Their only real weapon is a super-strong kick, which can maim or kill a predator such as a lion. Males will sometimes fight each other over a female by swinging their heads at each other.

While I eat meat, I do not believe nor understand hunting for sport.  With mammals as benign, as harmless as giraffes, it makes no sense at all. I have read and seen enough, and have enough hunter relatives and acquaintances, to know some of the other side, such as:

  • Tracking and killing large cats, bears and such is perilous, manly and an expression of a primal struggle for life
  • Hunters of deer and other ruminants cull the overpopulated herd, keeping the survivors healthy and in stasis
  • Some hunters butcher and eat what they kill, equating it with store-bought meat, with the benefit of pelts

Giraffe trophy hunters don’t have any of those arguments. Instead, per that article in the Sun linked above and numerous safari-company sites, it runs:

  • A half dozen African countries allow legal giraffe slaughter
  • The countries use the fees to support their local economy
  • When the residents know hunts are legal and they can get paid for these, they do it rather than poach giraffes for their skins. As one safari guy put it, “Rhino and other animals have been saved through conservation and the most money for conservation is generated from hunting.”

Hierarchy of Affection

Another truth from me is that I am no adherent of ahimsa. I swat mosquitoes, for example, although yesterday, I did remove a fair sized spider from my bathroom by hand, placing it on plants on the deck to scurry off to safety.

Moreover, I regularly eat muscle meat and fish that I purchase. I’m country enough to know chickens don’t grow in shrink-wrapped packages. In fact, I’ve eviscerated fish, plucked chickens and such. It is the sport aspect — the thrill of the kill — that I have never wanted nor understood.

I grew up around hunters. I think of my mother’s brother and his three sons. They loved shooting animals and particularly pleased my country grandmother when they showed up with a deer haunch. They butchered it and we had venison out of the freezer for many meals, including actual mincemeat pie.

I have species prejudice. The idea of killing a whale or any cetacean appalls me. They are far too close to us in brain capacity and are very human in many ways, short of being cruel and ambitious.

From there, I feel an affinity for the great and lesser apes. I identify less and feel less protective of other species, particularly vermin sorts like rats and squirrels. For learned emotional reasons, I would not kill nor eat a cat, dog or other pet variety.

Because I Can

796px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_105-DOA0377,_Deutsch-Ostafrika,_GiraffeWhile not strongly anti-hunting, I do listen to hunters, who like fishermen love to talk about what they do. Many I have known from childhood, into school and college and as an adult, fall into several types. A few truly seem to be those conservation type. They enjoy the outdoors, truly believe that they keep herds healthy through culling, and eat their kills.

My emotional problem is with the many I have known or heard who plainly simply like to kill. The glee they express in describing shooting animals and watching them struggle and die is freaky, scary. We should be glad they have an outlet and are not driven to turning on us.

Likewise for giraffes, there are numerous descriptions and short videos that illustrate both types. Search trophy hunting giraffes to find both safari companies and people opposed to such doings. Oddly, the videos of tourists killing giraffes, posing (invariably under an arced neck) and bragging about it are on both types of sites. One family’s murder is another’s adventure.

Giraffe hunting is not new, of course. The picture above is a pre-WWI one with natives who with their prey. They would eat the animal and sell the hide — old style and not for amusement.

Seeing the videos of the modern version reminds me of a visit to the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY. Mr. Photography loved killing African mammals. His rooms share the building with photography museum. There are elephant and other heads on walls, desks covered in hippo hide and such, and outsized artifacts like umbrella stands made of elephant or hippo feet.

He was quite a control freak, it seems. His journals specify how he micromanaged each trip, down to how many socks of what type each person would bring and precisely what the provisions would be for every meal. In the end, so to speak, he hunted himself as well. He was getting physically feeble and rather than forgo such excursions, he brought in acquaintances one or more at a time, conversing at length to show he was rational (and his will would not be contested), and then killed himself with his favorite pistol. The journals and pistol are on display a floor above the animal trophies.

Long-Necked Muses

Back to giraffes, I am fond of them. As they threaten no one and they are not overpopulated, why should anyone kill them? Short of because humans are atop the food chain and can fairly much slaughter animals at will, I don’t see any good reason.

Those who walk near these 16 to 19 foot tall herbivores and shoot them dead speak on those videos proudly. It does not seem like much of a challenge or accomplishment.

Contrast that with the account in the 1897 The Encyclopaedia of sport, Volume 1 (page 452):

In South Africa the giraffe is invariably hunted on horseback a form of sport which has always had great attractions for English sportsmen. There is nothing finer in nature than the sight of a troop of giraffes in full flight and the excitement of the find and the run up is intense. In its slower paces the giraffe with its curious gliding walk is extremely deceptive It is in reality travelling at a rapid rate. When thoroughly roused these animals are capable putting first rate hunting horses to their utmost speed. It is well to remember that unless the hunter plies sjambok and spur and rides his very hardest at the flying troop in the first two miles of chase he may lose them altogether. At a steady slinging gallop giraffes will travel for hours and wear out a horse but if chased very hard and forced beyond their pace early in the run the hunter will be enabled to ride close up to the particular beast he may single out and put in his shots from the saddle. Some hunters prefer to get up within a hundred yards jump off and fire. In the opinion of the writer and of many experienced African sportsmen it is better to push one’s horse close up to the stern of the giraffe and within a few yards fire from the saddle. A good South African hunting pony needs little guiding in a run of this description and the rider can drop his reins and safely use both hands. The best point to aim at whether on foot or on horseback is the root of the tail. The giraffe’s body is very short and a well planted solid bullet travels right into the vitals of the animal and speedily brings it down broken limb will also effectually bring down giraffe.

The same text notes that giraffes are defenseless against humans. The only danger is if one is dumb and clumsy enough to come in from behind and get kicked.

Anyone with a rifle can kill a giraffe. The guides drive a short distance away. There’s no pony chase, mounted shooting or risk. The giraffes are not skittish and seem to observe the hunters with curiosity, at least until the shots bring down one of theirs.

Putting money into the local economy does not seem at all a justification here. Again, there is no need to cull giraffes, they harm no one and nothing, and hunting them is neither challenging nor dangerous. It seems the hunters should be ashamed to return with a hide or head of these gentle giants.

As the guide company repeatedly point out, such hunts are legal in numerous countries. They offer menus such as on this page, with the per diem as well as the trophy fee, for the long list of animals you can kill. I suppose that’s free enterprise, African style, although U.S. and Canadian hunting preserves have similar plans on less exotic beasts.

It is not in my nature to hunt for sport. I am sad that beautiful, gracious, gentle giraffes die for the titillation of tourists. With the many fulfilling ways to get pleasure in this life that do not bring pain and death, they have chosen most poorly.