Saturday, May 31, 2014

Week Four: Divergence

Stories about the same group of people or the same country diverge in all sorts of interesting ways. Newby includes excerpts from a variety of travelers whose explorations of (in this case) North America include encounters with unknown landscapes, animals, Native Americans, and "the white man" (432-4), and includes more contemporary Anglo-American perspectives, including those in the 19th century that offer advice as to how to live well on the eastern seaboard at the turn of the last century (429-30), and a description of New York City in the 1940s (437-8). What's interesting about these multiple perspectives is the way in which different authors focus on different aspects of the same landscape.

Divergence is central to these literary interpretations; different writers focus on different aspects of the same culture based on their own experiences, although bias and prejudice would color their points of view, too, based on experience. (This is sometimes frustratingly circular; bad experiences lead to bias, which can lead to further bad experiences.) Columbus' Eurocentric views of religious conversion are central to his narrative, and as a means of demonstrating friendship, he provides what are (to his mind) snazzy clothing (383-4). Similarly, Cartier's sixteenth-century descriptions include a dismissive attitude towards Native American theology, and include descriptions of the apparently hearty disposition of the Hurons (385-7). These stories are not necessarily dissimilar; rather, they include multiple narratives that could be seen as confirming a stereotype. Cartier's narrative especially has almost a tone of an outsider with his descriptions of indifference to cold and "very bad customs" of placing the daughters in the tribe, when they reach a certain age, into a brothel. Of course, these are just two examples, and not necessarily fully representative of what we might consider an ignorant mindset.

If these travel accounts were written today, I would consider them a form of willful misunderstanding, and would I not consider any one example more authoritative than another. I would not ignore these narratives, though, either, because they provide insight into a Eurocentric mindset such that we could analyze how travelers and their writings have changed. Perhaps they're as important to the growth of travel writing as a genre because they allow us to compare how our attitudes have shifted towards different cultures; I've come to think of early travel writing as foundational. We "listen" to whatever stories are interesting to us and use them as a source of comparison to develop our own opinions about another country. These multiple stories fill in the gaps and offer different perspectives that we might not have otherwise considered.

More recently, stories from journalists who cover war-torn areas add a different dimension of understanding that we miss if we limit ourselves to news sources or more typical investigative journalism. Chilson's “The Border” is a good example of one journalist whose article examines movable borders, both geographical and cultural, while incorporating multiple viewpoints from those on different sides of the war in Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. In this case, authority is tied to Chilson's credibility; multiple attitudes are prevalent throughout the piece, leading to a deeper understanding of the complexities of the trying to negotiate multiple types of boundaries.

Authority can be misleading, though: Credibility can be suspect, and can be culturally defined in terms of both geography and history. Definitions of what women are capable of, for example, has changed, but remains culturally inconsistent. Schribner provides examples of the ways in which women traveling was considered dangerous, with the potential of wreaking domestic havoc, a danger to social structure, order, and system (27). Clearly, women were seen as delicate creatures who needed the protection of men. In western cultures, and in many eastern cultures, this thinking is now suspect and not credible (dare I say incredible). When I hear stories that indicate that women are to be protected, under a man's care, that women should not have educations or be allowed to drive, I am exasperated. I belittle this line of thinking in the same way I might have been belittled a century ago.

The story that we truly listen to is the one that resonates, or is one that comes from a person with whom we feel connected. I wish I had been a bit braver in talking to the native Icelanders in whose midst I spent nearly three weeks last summer. The waiter who taught me how to pronounce "Eyjafjallajökull" was very funny and very friendly; Sigurbjörg, the woman who led my husband and me on an elf tour in Hafnarfjördur was also very friendly and obliged me by answering my (probably ridiculous) questions. Sigurbjörg was authoritative on Icelandic elf culture, and it was a wonderful insight into Icelandic fairy culture. (Ireland has a similarly strong fairy and fairytale culture, and since I grew up being told Irish fairytales, going on this elf tour appealed to me.)

(The above picture is of a troll rock - the troll was turned to rock when the sun came out - at Hellisgerdi Park on the Hidden World Walk tour. If you look carefully, you can see a big forehead and a nose; the face points to the left.) 

Something about first-hand insider accounts lend credence and authority. In this particular case, I was able to relate Icelandic culture to my own heritage, and allowed me to briefly connect to another culture. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Week Four: An Eyjafjallajökull Story

Do you remember Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010 and caused all sorts of aviation problems? Before my husband and I went to Iceland last summer, a friend asked if we would find someone who could pronounce it for us. I finally talked to a friendly waiter at Lækjarbrekka who allowed me to interview him so we could get the correct pronunciation. (On a side note, we specifically went to this restaurant because we wanted to try Hákarl (fermented shark), an Icelandic delicacy.

listen to ‘How Do You Pronounce "Eyjafjallajökull"?’ on Audioboo

My friend had wanted to hear how one actually pronounces Eyjafjallajökull if for no other reason than because it was such an exotic and difficult sounding word; when the volcano erupted, I remember reading a lot of news stories online but had no earthly idea how to even go about pronouncing it. (I have never found pronunciation guides helpful.)

I had gone to Iceland before I knew I would be taking a class on the rhetorics of travel writing; I hadn't yet even begun classes for the graduate program in which I had been accepted (I would start that fall). This particular interview does perhaps not entirely fulfill the requirements of talking to at least one person (preferably several) whose stories converge and relate to the concept of multiple stories. Yet I remember the waiter knowing exactly what I was talking about when I referred to the eruption and was almost blasé about its consequences. Of course, this was also two years after the fact, and whether it would have affected him anyway was another story; in hindsight, there are all sorts of questions I wish I had asked. What attracted me at least in part to Iceland was the linguistic impenetrability, which in and of itself was almost enough of a reason to want to go there. I knew almost nothing about Iceland before we went, aside from the what turned out to be correct assumptions about the plethora of Vikings.

I want to do some more thinking about the authority and narrative divergence of those who present multiple stories; this will be the subject of my next blog post in a few days, as well as a reaction to some of the week's readings.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Week Three: Colonialism, Part 2

Caveat: To me, "imperialism" and "colonialism" are dirty words, reminiscent of a violent loss of identity and language, bigotry, cultural repudiation, misappropriation, starvation, and theft. "Colonialism" implies the belief that a land and a people can, and indeed must, be conquered and civilized. It reflects a sense of entitlement and overinflated ego at its absolute worst. Given the history of British imperialism, it is only during my visits to Ireland does colonialism affect my travel writing or penetrate my mind.
Ireland is the country I've visited most often. This isn't because I find Ireland fascinating or that I've found a lost sense of "home," although there's a lot to appreciate about Ireland: It's difficult to go anywhere without encountering something historically interesting - which I love - and cows or sheep cause traffic jams often enough - which is equal parts funny and frustrating. My mother's parents were from Ireland, and many of my mother's relatives - mostly cousins at this point, and two aunts-by-marriage - still live scattered throughout, so because of its small size, going for a visit is easy. I've yet to actually rent a car and drive in Ireland myself, but visiting my parents and cousins in Ireland means I've been chauffeured all over the country (only very occasionally by tractor). It's such a small country that one can get from Dublin to Arigna, where my parents live for part of the year, two-thirds of the way across the country, in just over two hours. Galway, the major city on the west coast of Ireland, is also just over two hours' drive from Dublin. It can take just over seven hours to drive from Londonderry, on the northern tip of Northern Ireland, to the southern tip of Ireland.

Spurr says that the "problem of the colonizer is in some sense the problem of the writer: in the face of what may appear as a vast cultural and geographical blankness, colonization is a form of self-inscription onto the lives of a people who are conceived as an extension of the landscape" (7). The presumably British cartographers have subsumed Ireland's landscape as a means of overtaking their culture, as you can see in this map of Ireland in 1653, when Cromwell led the conquest of Ireland by the forces of English Parliament during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Throughout Irish history, Irish Catholics were forbidden to speak their language, practice their religion, play their music, or own property, including the land on which they lived. Ireland was perceived as an extension of England, in some cases used to pay off debts, and in other cases as a means of reward for service. In the above map, you can see that the Irish were pushed off to the western part of the country, as has been done throughout American history, with the Native Americans, who were pushed farther and farther west and into smaller and smaller spaces.

Traces of the British are still visible in the Republic. During one visit to Ireland, my mother and I drove down to Clonmacnoise, a mid-sixth Christian monastery founded by St. Ciarán, which had been sacked by British troops in the mid-1500s, and was finally returned to the Irish Government in 1955. Since the 18th Century, Church of Ireland services have been held on site in Temple Connor, and although everything else was open for exploration, that particular building was continually padlocked.

Meanwhile, as Iyengar would say, I get to choose my narrative; as an American (albeit one who also has Irish citizenship, and from a distance of more than 3,000 miles and two generations), I get a choice in how I wish to present how British colonialism has affected me. I believe, because I am American, that I have a choice,and as an American that choice is mine to make - not my parents', not a teacher's. (Iyengar's studies demonstrate that choice is a matter of cultural perspective, since in America, as she argues, the primary locus of choice is the individual. Had I been - for example - of Asian descent, I might not be making this choice for myself.)

Perhaps I merely corroborate Bassnett’s assertion that I, like, many other women travel writers, have different motivations for writing, in that I a "physical engage with the everyday as an end in itself, not as a means to a different end" (230). Land ownership for me is not particularly important, for example, but it had been very important to my mother, who understood that in many cases, land ownership was equivalent to power. Similarly, education had been understood to be extremely important as a means of protection against loss; you might lose your land, your house, and your horse, but education inoculates. My motivation for writing can be echoed in Bassnett, who says that travel permits the redefinition of self (234), and my "gaze" is more likely to reflect the "demise of a world-view that separated us from them" (240).

One of the reasons I write about my travels is not only to remember what's happened, to have a written (and hyperlinked) record of where I've been, but to see connections between myself and others, even when seeing the differences in personality, culture, and history.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Week Three: Colonialism, Part 1

There's a problem with the thinking that all travel writers automatically view the world with an imperialist mindset, the assumption being that all others must think, act, and travel like us, and therefore write from this viewpoint as well. (Ironically, this speaks to an imperialist mindset.) Colonialism does not influence all writing about different communities and cultures; for many people, there is simply not the assumption or belief that the "other" is inferior. There is a basic awareness of difference, the result of culture, religion, geography, nature, etc., but this does not lead to the implication that those from different cultures are inferior. Difference is neither automatically better nor worse; it's like questioning whether one type of food is better than another; it's a matter of preference and mood.

That said, in many ways it is easy to see difference before we see similarity, but the assumption that "difference" is seen negatively is also a presumption. Different is merely difference; it is not necessarily better or worse by dint of being different. "Better off" is a relative term, regardless of cultural status. If one person has more money than another person, the first person may be seen as better off; however, if this first person is miserable - doing a job she hates; desperately lonely or in an appalling marriage - this is not necessarily better off than the person who finds meaning in her work and/or is in a happy relationship. 

Somehow, for many people, Europe has apparently come to be seen as the cultural center; at least, it seems that's what many of the previous readings suggest.  I'm bothered by the assumption of Eurocentrism and imperialism in our collective traveling mentality. I don't see how it could be problematic in moving away from this type of writing, which I find interesting but limiting in its appeal. Since this is not my own default method of thinking, how to move away from writing that separates power and inferiority from the writing seems clear: If this is one's mindset, perhaps consider traveling to places that aren't in Europe. Consider that there are non-European empires (the early Chinese empire comes to mind) that had just as far-reaching effects throughout history. I could see how this could be a challenge; I'm finding it difficult (and slightly offensive, given that "imperial" has such negative connotations) to respond to assumptions that my travel writing and mindset is one of an imperialist. 

What about travel writing in or from other parts of the world, travel writing that focuses on Asian countries, or South America, Australia, or Antarctica? There are many reasons to travel, including that it might lead us to think differently, but regardless of where travel takes us - regardless of continent - that the traveler is exposed to something new is, for me, one of the primary reasons to travel.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Week Two: Mapping Territories, Part 2

I wouldn't know where to begin when it comes to formally mapping a territory. Of course, it doesn't help that I don't have background in geography, cartography, or anthropology, but the scope of such a project must be enormous. Travel planning includes figuring out what you’ll see, where you’ll go, and how you’ll get there, and if one is being scientific about it, there are (theoretically) procedures to follow in order in order to impartially study a people, history, culture – whatever it is that one’s task is. In my previous blog entry, I focused on how I map my travels, but in a larger sense, mapping new landscapes, countries, continents, and people is part of the history of travel writing, and in many cases, it was part of the colonial mindset that would help travelers figure out how to define what they saw in terms they, their sponsors, and their readers could understand based on a limited understanding of cultural pluralism and cultural relativism.
In a 1991 talk, Pratt introduces the concept of contact zones, which, as she explains, “refer to social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today” (34). There’s an inherent imbalance here: The travelers who came from far-off lands had the opportunity to describe a foreign people with whom they may not have been able to effectively or clearly communicate, and who therefore might not have been able to describe language, customs, food, religion, etc. the contact zone was highly politicized and unbalanced in terms of power. Historically speaking, the sociocultural complexities of the native people would have been outside the grasp of an imperial culture. Native and indigenous cultures were maligned and misunderstood, however unintentionally (and intention has a lot to do with it, although motivation does not necessarily justify the imperialists).
There is more than one way to “map” when it comes to travel writing. Mapping the interior or the body is one way; mapping continents is done on a larger scale, but all this means is that cultures are visually depicted. Blanton notes that one difficulty is mapping faithful representations of foreign maps were done in familiar terms (1). Mapping is, of course, another form of narrative, and purposes of travel affect any such narratives – whether travel is done for exploratory purposes, for development, for economics, or, at the other end of the spectrum, for including social and psychological issues (Blanton 3, 4). Divergent purposes lead to different narrative structures. In other words, audience and motivation affects purpose of travel and travel writing, which affects narrative style.
The issue at hand, relating to Pratt’s contact zones, is how to effectively analyze a culture to which we do not belong: Travelers’ motivations affect their ability to understand a different culture. Given travelers’ varying degrees of insider/outsider status and depth of knowledge of a culture, interpreting any given aspect can become especially complicated. Leibsohnrecounts the complexities in analyzing a historic artifact (the Codex Mendoza, below), taking into consideration initial observations, contextualizing placement of an object or person, and finding sources for examining the ways a single work of art may have meaning, because, as she says, “[I]t’s important to realize that there’s no such thing as a single meaning for any particular object, any work of art, that there are always competing ones.” Considering the larger historical context and knowing which questions to ask are also important facets, and having this background could allow one to map a culture in terms of societal (mis)understanding.
a map from the Codex Mendoza (c. 1543),
that represents the founding of Tenochtitlan,
the large imperial capital of the Aztecs

Monday, May 19, 2014

Week Two: Mapping Territories, Part 1

I love old, historical maps. Before my husband and I went to Iceland last summer, I found a print of a map created by Abraham Ortelius, a 16th Century Flemish geographer and cartographer. (Ortelius is credited with creating the first true atlas.) I bought it and had it framed, although - of course - I also found a copy in Iceland that I transported home. I personally like the sea creatures and monsters included around the edges. I suppose if anyone was likely to control the sea monsters, it would be the Vikings.

Ortelius' map of Iceland, c. 1590

One of the reasons I like old maps so much is because I like seeing how spaces have changed; how the map is drawn and positioned, what is included, shows me how countries and their people are interpreted. (Why Ireland is depicted as sideways is curious. I can attest that many Irish people are sideways - although perhaps that just includes my relatives - but it's an oddity nevertheless.) I've been to Ireland more than any other European country, and I've driven around many places throughout the country, so I like trying to see how familiar places have been identified.

Ireland (Hibernia)
from Ortelius' 1592 Latin edition of the Theatrum oris terrarum

With more recent European travels though - Ireland aside - I like to plan my trips, with the understanding that plans might change, that places I'd wanted to visit and see might not happen, or I might see something else to see that I hadn't planned on. Much of my own mapping experiences are based on both historically and contemporarily important sites, as well as being based on geography. I map out what I want to see and how I'm going to get there, and the geography affects how I get there. Depending on how long I'm going to be visiting a place, for example, and how much of the area I'd like to see will affect if I rent a car (as I did in Iceland), or if I make use of public transportation (as I've done in Stockholm, Helsinki, and Dublin). 

My most recent trip was the 19-day trip my husband and I took to Iceland, and for more than half that time we drove around the exterior of the country. We could have taken buses; we could have backpacked or rented bicycles. The former had no bathrooms; we're not interested in backpacking or bicycling. Driving was the most practical option because it gave us the freedom to stop to explore, to eat, and to admire the sheep that decided to run in front of us one morning (we wondered if the rental car company offered sheep insurance). Driving also allowed us to explore historical and natural sites – like Þingvellir National Park or a whalewatching tour – that we might not have seen otherwise, had we stayed on a tour bus, and it gave us the freedom to stay as long or as little as we liked. This meant, though, that our mapping included walking and a boat - places that were inaccessible to cars.
Many of our mapping experiences - because my husband is the person with whom I travel most - are also based on restaurants and museums. For our last week or so in Iceland, we stayed in Reykjavik, a small enough city in which we didn't do much driving. We rented a small room close to an area that was close to the waterfront, shops, restaurants, and museums, so we were able to walk.

We were able to walk to the Sun Voyager.

Our mapping neither especially includes nor excludes people or political systems - although, again, if there is an aspect that is historically relevant, we would do our best to see it. My husband and I both have special interests in history (in case you might not have been able to tell), but our politics are not exactly in alignment, so it's not an aspect of travel we go out of our way to see. We did, however, make an exception to see Alþingi - the Parliament House in Reykjavik - where one can view meetings from the public gallery. This was really cool to see, although we had no clue what was being said. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Week One: Motivation of Travel

There are quite a lot of different types of travel writings out there, and a lot of different types of travel writers. Some travel writers are professionals (or would-be professional travel writers) who make a living traveling on someone else's dime or would like to, possibly having found a way to support themselves while traveling extensively; some travel writers, though, work in other capacities, and only occasionally write and publish their experiences.

Such pieces of travel writing might include details on how to travel cheaply (helpful for would-be travelers who might not have a lot of travel experience, or those who are going to a very new place and don't know where to start in terms of planning), where to eat or stay, and other pieces of advice. Some travel writing is akin to investigative journalism, focusing on social conflicts. Others write about first hand and personal experiences; many of these works can be found in publications such as the Best American Travel Writing series. Catherine Watson's "Where the Roads Diverged" speaks to the manner in which travel can be a search for home, but the allure of an idealized home doesn't necessarily include the consideration of minutiae or the complications of the necessity of self-sufficiency. Travel can be romantic, but can lead to fading idealism.

And then, of course, there are guidebooks, written anonymously or as part of a larger organization, such as the Lonely Planet or the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, or as part of personable travel guides like Rick Steves (whose focus seems to be mingling with the locals, but who has horrible foreign language pronunciation and nearly always seems to wear khakis) or Burt Wolf (who consistently stays in higher end hotels, and whose audiences are arguably older or mature). Some travel writers, though, write about their travels to share their adventures with their friends and family, and/or to remember the specifics of their travels.  Blogging is fairly easy way to become notice and gain an audience. Travel blogs and short stories (like those found in the The Best American Series, which includes a travel series) are something in which I'm becoming more interested; I like reading about people's personal travel experiences, and these are the sorts of things I'm likely to continue reading: hearing (so to speak) about people's experiences with those from other countries, places they've visited, food they've eaten, the history of different countries - all interesting topics.

Some travel blogs are more interesting than others; on my own, I'd read blogs that include simply personal narrative, and would tend to avoid that blogs like Runaway Jane, whose motivation seems to include increasing readership. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, but I'm not especially interested in lists, ways of saying "drunk" in Scottish,  or "Instagram Guides." (Although the content of that last blog post was interesting - and travel photography certainly can be - the title was a deterrent. I also don't need to be educated on how to travel cheaply or how to research information about a country I'm about to visit, but I can see the value in that for those who have traveled less.)

Something I hadn't much considered, though, are the reasons behind travel writing - the traveler's motivations. I'd never put much thought into this myself, mostly because my own motivation is curiosity, as well as having an appreciation for seeing something new. Clark notes that there are few declarations of admitting curiosity, novelty, or grief as motivations behind travel, believing that travel writers are imperialist; and that travel writing promotes, confirms, and laments the exercise of imperial power, which pervades the travel writer "at every level" (3); he notes that post-war travel writing has "become more sensitised to ethnic stereotyping...however, it refuses to relinquish its basic prerogatives" (10). I would argue that many there are many other reasons to travel (for example, visiting one's ancestral homeland, which might ostensibly be categorized as curiosity), and that travelers are not always aware of the reasons they travel. I would also argue that curiosity and novelty are the primary reasons for travel, but have difficulty in agreeing that this is genuinely imperial attitude.

Martin Jacques, in his TEDTalk "Understanding the rise of China," makes a valid point when it comes to cultural awareness, that there is a danger in applying individual cultural norms and mentalities to other countries, such as in the case towards China: He opines that the "attitude towards China is that of a kind of little Westerner mentality. It's kind of arrogant. It's arrogant in the sense that we think that we are best, and therefore we have the universal measure. And secondly, it's ignorant." Perhaps this would be a benefit of more advanced travel, though, or simply being aware that there is very little to universality. One might question the ethos of such a mentality, but this might be something I explore in a future blog post.

Being able to travel does require a level of financial independence that is not available to everyone at all times, but I'm not sure whether that can be categorized as imperialist. Having the financial wherewithal to travel is necessary; having a job that provides you with enough time off and/or flexibility with time off (or being financially well off enough not to need a job, or having enough of a retirement) is also essential. Several non-teacher friends and acquaintances have the luxury of packing up and going during the times of year I can't, if I want to keep teaching. Teaching is not conducive to winter holidays unless one takes a sabbatical.

Year Three

Three years ago today, this happened:

From Our Wedding

It's been a good year. Last summer, we took our Icelandic honeymoon, in which we spent 19 days in June and July driving around the Ring Road, the national road that runs around the exterior, and generally poking our noses into interesting things. It was a beautiful, much needed trip that we thoroughly enjoyed, an extended time together to recalibrate ourselves.
We've started the adoption process, having taken a rather long time to finish the home study process. The first adoption agency we chose didn't work out (once they found out we had a retirement fund, the agency tried to get several thousand more dollars from us), but we found another with which we're happy. (Now we wait.)

I'm halfway done with my graduate degree; although I'm still awaiting my grades from my last semester, I'm doing well. I'm registered for four summer classes (one of which started earlier this week), will take the next-to-last class in the fall, and the final class next spring.

Tonight's celebration: dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House and a Nickel Creek concert.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Week One: Personal Travel Blogging

This summer I'm taking four classes at NAU. One of the classes - ENG 599: Rhetorics of Travel Writing - includes a blogging component. I'll be writing one to three blog entries per week in which I consider consider identity and travel writing. The bibliography page includes the semester's readings to which I will sometimes refer.

I was an unwilling traveler for a long time. I was seven years old when I got my first passport, but I wouldn't have gotten it had my great-grandmother not been dying in Ireland. The next time I flew internationally was the result of moving to Germany during the 1987-1988 school year, about a year and a half before the Berlin Wall fell. I was too young to make decisions about travel for a long time, but once I became older and could make decisions for myself, I began to enjoy traveling: My most recent trip to Europe was my 10th, and I've traveled to 17 countries.

Until a few years ago, it hadn't occurred to me to write about my own travels, but during the past couple of international trips, I began blogging. My travel writing experiences focused on specific places I've visited, even keeping a separate blog that allows me to document where I've eaten and what I ate.Though the extent of anyone else's interest is negligible, blogging helped me remember my experiences and allowed me to centralize my memories and photographs. When my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Iceland, I specifically created a blog that I decided I would maintain and update the more we travel. It's been the personal ties to specific European countries that have drawn me to specific aspects of travel writing; having cousins, aunts, and uncles in Ireland - and dual American-Irish citizenship - means I have a connection that others might not. Having been speaking (albeit ungrammatical) German for 27 years means I have a linguistic backup in Europe. (And it means that I'm not dismissed as an American who can't speak another language. )

I gravitate towards personal accounts of travel writing; I'm interested in what people have seen, what they've eaten, the people they talk to, and the historical and geographical background of a country. In broader terms, I'm interested in cultural, historical, culinary, religious, and musical aspects of travel writing, both in terms of reading and experience. And while nature isn't something in which I had been interested previously, landscapes that are different from what I'm used to hold an interest.

But my interest in nature is a recently developed one, the result of a trip to Iceland. The first picture is of Laufskálavarða, a lava ridge located between the Hólmsá and Skálmá rivers, close to the road north of Álftaver. All travelers tossing the desert of Mýrdalssandur for the first time were to pile stones to make a cairn, which would bring them good fortune on their journey. The second picture is taken at Logberg ("the law rock") at
Thingvellir National Park; during the Icelandic Commonwealth period (930-1262 CE), this was the hub of the Althing meeting.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

DestructoGirl: The Accident

A few weeks ago I was in a car accident, thereby eliminating our now former Ford Escape from ownership. I was technically at fault because I was making a left at an uncontrolled stop (and therefore did not have the right of way), but I wasn't hurt; I was a bit achy the next day but gave myself the day off (which meant no homework or teaching prep), took some Aleve, drank tea, and read a book.

The damage didn't look too bad, but the frame was damaged
to the extent that the cost of repair would have been more
than the car was worth.
Apparently the car door could fit in the trunk.
The damage was largely structural.
In any case, this means we had to go buy another car; I wasn't keen on walking to work, which I technically could have done, but 3 miles with some heavy stuff is just not convenient (and I won't necessarily be teaching at the same campus each semester). A few years ago we had bought a Toyota Yaris, a manual which got great gas mileage and which I drove because I was driving 60 miles round trip two or three times a week to get to a teaching job. I only taught there for two semesters, though, after which I began teaching much more closely to home - which meant Ed had the longer commute, so he began driving the Yaris. So last weekend we bought a 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE. And because I'm driving much less, it seemed only fair that Ed get to drive the shiny new Camry.