“He’s a Harvard undergraduate. It’s almost justifiable homocide.”

Today I came down with a migraine. I took the migraine meds, and then, because I am not working* (which provides distraction), I decided to watch my favorite Hitchcock film, Rope.

Whenever I hear people talk about Hitchcock’s greatest, Rope doesn’t get mentioned. Psycho does, or Vertigo (my second favorite Hitchcock film), or sometimes North by Northwest (which bores me). But it’s as though people have forgotten about Rope.

It’s a taut little thriller, about two young men who set out to commit the perfect murder, and how one of them decides to gloat about it. It’s not “who-done-it” but “will they get away with it.” They gamble with discovery every step of the way, deliberately, as a way to prove their superiority to “ordinary people.” Jimmy Stewart is wonderful as the cat to John Dall and Farley Granger’s mice.

Every time I see it get something new. Today, as I was watching Dall leading — almost browbeating — Granger through the cover-up (and, one suspects, through the murder), I was reminded what I had read about the Columbine killers, that Eric Harris was a psychopath and Dylan Klebold a depressive who fell under his sway. The same dynamic was at work here.

Fascinating. Check it out if you have a chance.

*Yeah… not working. Long story.

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Lady of the storms

I am currently reading Laurell K. Hamilton’s Merry Gentry series, which can best be described as…Fairy Porn. Maybe I’m exaggerating — maybe it’s just Fairy Erotica.

At any rate, several of the tall, statuesque fairies with silken hair down to their feet are described as gods, or former gods. Merry herself says she is descended from five different fertility deities.

It got me to wondering… if I were a deity, what would be my bailiwick?

The answer came to me almost immediately: I would be a goddess of the weather.

Not all weather, though. Not the brilliant sparkling days of fall, with the cornflower blue sky and air crisper than a Granny Smith apple. Not the golden days of summer, which tempts out the cold-resistant (or people with wet suits) into the frigid Pacific.

Those days are controlled by that other god. The bronzed, golden, surfer type from SoCal, with his carefully draped hair over one eye that is meant to be cool and casual and is anything but.

I would be the goddess of the mist and the rain. The gentle warm rain falling on the corn fields in Iowa. The soft mist that rolls in off the ocean, condensing and dripping on the redwoods. The drizzly annoying rain that lasts for days (I have my moods, just like any other deity) that forces parents and teachers to figure novel ways to entertain small children. The fog that hides the deer from the hunter.

The dark clouds that mass and mass until they cannot contain themselves anymore, sending sheets cascading from the heavens, accompanied by the wild magic of the lightning and thunder.

If I were a god, I would be the Lady of the Storm.

Probably a good thing I’m not.

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So, I’m back.

I have been back for a week now. My blood pressure has gone up several points since my return.

It is easy to forget the trauma a country may be going through when you’re a tourist. Especially when you’re in a UNESCO World Heritage Site like the Galapagos. You return to your own country and see how quickly everything has gone to hell in a very large hand basket.

I don’t want to write about the impeachment. It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and I don’t want to start crying. I don’t care who wins this (I’m not a 49ers fan) since whoever it is, it won’t be the Patriots. It’s all good.

A couple of final notes about travel:

Ecuador is smart. Unlike other countries that might peg their currency to the U.S. dollar, Ecuador simply uses U.S. currency. Which a) saves them all the costs of minting and printing and b) means U.S. tourists don’t have to muck around with currency conversion. (Not that the last is smart, per se, it just makes travel easier for people like me.) They tend do favor dollar coins — especially odd Presidents. Therefore I own (in addition to Sacajaweas) a James Monroe (not that odd) and a Franklin Pierce (really, pretty odd). I was hoping for a Milliard Fillmore or Chester Alan Arthur, but no such luck.

I have been reminded how exhausting moving through water is. After snorkeling on the boat trip, I needed several wonderful deck hands to move back onto the boat. The water holds me up — gravity not so much. Since my current plan to start exercising involves water walking (I have found a warm pool that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg), I need to remember that.

I tended think of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as being properly developed and “Western.” The Galapagos is not, although there are streets on San Cristobal that are. I worry about the economic well-being of the people. Especially as tourism is a major industry and the country is trying to reduce tourism to the islands.

Their reasons make sense: like National Parks in the U.S., the islands are being loved to death. Ecuador is talking about doubling the access fee for the islands. It make sense, but tends to place the islands beyond the reach of the less-than-wealthy. People who are shelling out large sums for cruises won’t feel it — much — but others might. Personally, I think they should have a lottery for each islands. Give the cruise companies a certain number for each island, and place the rest in a lottery.

I wish I had been in Quito during the daylight. I imagine it is interesting. We did go into town during our massive layover on our way home to see a pretty student production at the Ballet Folklorico. Oh, and on our way to the Galapagos we stayed at the Quito airport Westin which is my favorite (non-historic) hotel not called Ritz-Carleton.

So, I have returned. I kind of wish I hadn’t.

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I spent yesterday on a boat.

I saw the frigate birds and Nazca boobies soar and wheel over Kicker Rock, and a blue-footed booby perch precariously on a nest halfway up its nearly sheer cliff-face.

I saw the maelstrom churning through the honeycomb of rocks at its base.

I saw sea lions: sleek and elegant in the water, not the clumsy clowns they are on land.

I rode over dark navy waves, the color of the Pacific near my home.

I snorkeled and swam in waters as turquoise as those of the Caribbean at Key West, and saw parrot fish and damsel fish dart and scatter below me.

I saw a sea turtle pop its head out of the water a dozen feet away from me, take a look around, and slide back under the waves.

I dozed on a bed of ice-plant, and sand soft as fine sugar and pale gold as morning sunshine.

I saw dolphins cavorting in the boat’s wake, and shearwaters forming an avian honor guard as their flocks escorted us.

I swam in the ocean for the first time in far too long — I had forgotten the feel of the silky water on my skin, and the briny aromas on my nose. (I had forgotten too, if I ever knew, the unforgiving nature of lava rocks.)

I grew up a creature of the ocean, of wind and wave. I live now in cities of metal and glass, not even visiting the sea that lies ninety minutes from me. Yesterday was coming home.

Yesterday was a very good day.

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If it was good enough for Darwin…

Notes from San Cristobal, Galapagos:

San Cristobal was the first island Darwin landed on in the archipelago. That almost makes up for not being able to see more penguins, since the penguins live on other islands that are at least a two-hour ride over generally very choppy seas. According to the Rocket Scientist, who has seen the penguins, they’re pretty much like Magellanic penguins. Therefore, I shall not pout.

Because I have seen giant tortoises! We visited the center that is working to preserve them and saw tortoises from huge monsters that a person could ride and that were over a century old down to one-year-old babies the size of a box turtle at the pet store. Birds may be modern day dinosaurs, but giant tortoises look like dinosaurs.

Which brings me to the question… if you are somewhat mobility impaired, is it worth forcing yourself up a steep hillside along a path of lava boulders, so slick that your guide held your arm most of the way so you wouldn’t fall, through two miles of pain, to see baby Galapagos turtles? Damn straight it’s worth it. (We tipped the guide well.)

And the first night we were here I saw frigate birds flying, and a striated heron walked past so close I could have stepped on it. There were also sea lions, who are nature’s equivalent of spoiled teenagers.

We were sitting on a bench looking at the rocks when we noticed a sea lion had hauled itself onto the sidewalk. A man with a camera started taking pictures and that animal posed. There is no other words for it. Head straight ahead, body still? Check. Head up, showing length of neck? Check. Lying on side with one flipper over face? Check.

The photographer didn’t feed it, or reward it with anything other than attention, and this animal stayed put for a good ten minutes until the photographer left. Until he did, it was a bit like watching a sea lion at Sea World.

Speaking of photos, I haven’t yet gotten mine loaded from my phone, so there will not be any wildlife pictures in this post.

In preparation for going around the island, I have been reading up on Galapagos bird life. I have seen a finch already, although Darwin’s finches are not in fact true finches. It was a pretty nondescript bird with a large beak for its size.

I have never been a passerine fancier: my heart belong to seabirds and wading and shorebirds and especially to raptors. So every time someone mentioned the finches I would smile and shrug. But turns out the Galapagos finches include the bad-ass Vampire Finch. When other food supplies get low they peck on boobies (get your mind out of the gutter, people) and drink their blood. (At the other end of the scale is the rather prosaically named Vegetarian Finch. It would be great if the Vampire Finch preyed on the Vegetarian Finch, but alas, life does not always follow a movie script. On the other hand, the Vampire Finches exist on only two islands, which coincidentally do not have Vegetarian Finches. Hmmm…) I am not going to be seeing Vampire Finches; they live on Darwin and Wolf Island, while I am on San Cristobal.

The one thing about San Cristobal finches: they are fearless. At one stop on our “highlands” tour, our taxi driver/tour guide Ricardo ignored the carefully placed sign that explained exactly why it was bad to feed the birds and put out his hand with bread crumbs. He literally had the birds eating out of his hand. And once one had food, a flock came and settled expectantly around his feet. It was like a scene from The Birds except less frightening, since finches don’t look like they’ll peck your eyes out, unlike seagulls or ravens.

Ans then there are the mocking birds. The Galapagos Mockingbird drinks blood from iguanas; the Espanola Mockingbird drinks the blood of sea lions. The San Cristobal Mockingbird is less impressive — it’s diet only includes eggs and carrion. Compared to that, the mockingbirds back home seem pretty boring. I’ve seen several mockingbirds here and… they’re mockingbirds.

On a non-bird note….

I don’t generally post food pictures, but I’ll make an exception for this morning’s coffee:

Yes I know, they probably use a stencil. Whatever. It’s still adorable.

And the pastries were pretty good, too. And the bananas on this island are very small, and very sweet. And the pineapple we bought tasted fantastic.

Tomorrow? A boat tour around the islands, so I won’t be posting. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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It’s rough out there, right now. Would a couple of penguin pictures help?

Although I have a bunch of pictures taken by the ship’s photographer (which I am having trouble loading), the Rocket Scientist took these.

Or just maybe scenery?

There is a glacier up there, but you can’t see it because it is the same color as the clouds. Stupid clouds.

At any rate, hang in there. As the Doctor said in the second show of this season, “Darkness never sustains, even though sometimes seems it will.”

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I can go home now. I saw penguins yesterday.

Penguins swimming. Penguins waddling. Penguins doing what penguins do, all where penguins normally do things.

And geese! and cormorants! and albatrosses! and petrels and terns!

Even skuas, those mobsters of the ocean, of whom the guide said “They’re really aggressive.” The Rocket Scientist, who encountered them in Antarctica, calls them “seagulls on steroids.”

Three types of penguins, too. Magellanic, the most numerous; Gentoo penguins; and King penguins, which look sort of like the Emperor penguins’ smaller brother.

And sea lions too, but they looked a lot like the sea lions that hang out on the pier in San Francisco.

And drumlins, too, but those are geographic features, not birds.


There are mountains beautiful beyond belief, with snow and glaciers. You can tell that you are at “fin del mundo,” as they have on their tourist trinkets, because it is high summer and to snowed in the mountains last night. (We’re closer to sea level, so it only got down to 41F for us.)

Reading my Birds of Patagonia book, I see over and over that climate change is a threat to some of these birds existence. It is only going to get worse — the guide yesterday mentioned how much the glaciers had eroded. (The other major threats appear to be animals such as cats and rats, and for a lot of marine species, longline fishing.)

This special place will disappear, as the earth warms and the glacier melt away. The species vulnerable to climate change may go extinct.

I’m glad I got to see all of this before that happens.

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