Saturday, March 31, 2007

This, That and the Other

I'm on another of my four-day weekends, coinciding with two developments -- the temperature dropping ten degrees (mostly a good thing -- having to use the air conditioner in March is a bit much) and losing all internet service, at least for a few days (I'm currently on the patio of Eclipse di Sol, pictured above). So there's gonna be a delay in mental institution pics, part two.

So, a little roundup of various things:

* Two quick book reviews:

#11 -- "A Crack in the Edge of the World" by Simon Winchester
#12 -- "Rumpalla: Rummaging Through Albania" by Peter Lucas

Winchester is one of those guys that makes science accessible and readable for dumbos like me. This one is about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and it's pretty interesting. I'm far more engrossed in the anecdotes than the science -- the details of the earthquake, how people reacted, the tangents that Winchester pursues, and the tale of his 21st-century trip to see some of the seismically-active parts of the U.S. A lot of the geology isn't so much lost on me as just not really my thing. A nice diversion from the stuff I usually read, and a few of the things mentioned in here are enough to make me want to read up a bit more, so thumbs up.

I found "Rumpalla" unexpectedly, on a table of beaten-up paperbacks in Tirana's Rinas Airport, the only English-language book in a sea of Albanian versions of John Grisham or whatever. I'd never heard of it, and I held out hope that it was the Great Modern Albania Travelogue I've been hunting for.

Unfortunately, it isn't. It's got some interesting insights -- Lucas was the first American journalist to enter the country after Enver Hoxha died, and he continued regular visits over the next decade and a half. He's got a good eye, and it's interesting to see the country changing.

But it jumps around a lot, and needs some heavy editing. Most bizarrely and sometimes uncomfortably, a lot of people irritated Lucas along the way, and he feels compelled to mention all of them.

So, the quest continues. Next up will probably be "The Accursed Mountains," but everyone on earth seems to hate that one.

* * *

Like an Albania travelogue, I'm also always looking for some book, some film that will properly capture the haunting aspects of the desert. "The Sheltering Sky" sucked, "The Woman in the Dunes" left me cold. A friend of mine recommended Antonini's "The Passenger" some time back, and it's finally out on DVD, and I watched it a couple weeks back.

At the beginning, I thought I'd hit paydirt: gorgeous shots of the North African desert, a dissolute and directionless hero (played by Jack Nicholson). Unfortunately, it never really has much of a plot. Burnt-out journalist Nicholson finds an acquaintance dead in their African hotel, and decides to switch identities with the guy. So far so good. But from there, it meanders through England, Germany, and Spain. The journalist's wife starts looking for the guy who's now actually dead. Nicholson goes to lots of restaurants. He meets a girl. He finds out the guy whose identity he's assumed is not so advantageous.

In between, there's lots of horrible dialogue -- meaningless, trite lines, dealt with more gravitas than they deserve. Lots of nihilistic yammering. Lots of shots of Maria Schneider in a tight blouse (I'm all for that, I admit). Lots of feigned deepness.

Really beautifully shot, though. Maybe watch it with sound and subtitles off?

* * *

Ok, signing off now. Hopefully the home internet will return soon.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

They're Coming to Take Me Away

A few years ago, when I started getting a bit more interested in some of the odd stuff around Atlanta, I found a posting on a message board about "an abandoned mental institution in the Druid Hills area" (non-Atlantans: not far from me, kind of nice, leafy neighborhood). The poster said the place was such a treasure that he couldn't reveal its location, etc etc etc. It drew lots of fawning, desperate responses, and I was certainly enthralled, picturing a hidden, mossy building, full of rusted manacles, disused electroshock equipment, the odd leftover patient, and so on.

A couple years later, I figured out why the poster was sort of vague about his hidden treasure: it was taken over by Emory University in the late 1990s, and is about as difficult to access as a Publix Grocery. Once I figured that out, I never bothered going by, assuming that anything interesting was long, long gone.

Wrong, Greg, wrong. This week, I took a stroll up (the fact that I've never been by becomes sillier when you consider that it took maybe 15 minutes to walk over there) and checked out the grounds -- and it's a really impressive site.

This is the main building, and I believe the one that's most used by Emory now (for its Lifelong Learning program). Basically just an example of horrendous architecture, until you look a bit closer and its previous use shines through a bit:

No windows (or if they're there, they're covered up by that weird mesh). It's a rather ominous effect.

Surrounding the main building are a bunch of smaller, office-type buildings -- these were apparently originally "cottages," where some of the patients lived. When Emory took over, they became space for area businesses -- I saw signs for the Georgia Department of Human Resources, and the Junior League. From a distance, they look normal, but up close, it becomes apparent that they sure aren't in use any more.

So, why is that?

Oh, that's why.

No idea how long they've been shut up -- an article from 2004 (one of the few things I found discussing the complex) seems to indicate the cottages had been closed up a while at that point. There's still office equipment and such visible through the doors.



The institute was closed due to expense concerns in the late '90s, and the inmates transferred elsewhere. Another article quotes an official at the Gwinnett County jail, saying that after that closure, the prison saw a spike in the number of inmates with mental problems.

On a more fun note, the article linked higher up discusses some of the urban legends surrounding the GMHI complex -- including one that the former residents occasionally get confused and return in the middle of the night, to prey on students or whatever.

All this is only a portion of the complex, though. The REALLY cool stuff -- stuff that goes back further in Atlanta history -- will come tomorrow.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Break Down the Walls

I woke up to the sound of cheering this morning -- there's a marathon going on through the streets of Atlanta, and unbeknownst to me, the route runs right past my condominium. I stayed inside -- I figure the way you start dabbling in deviant behavior like marathons is through exposure to those already lost, so I spent a few hours doing nothing, leaving only when it was safe.

In the meantime, I indulged myself in something a bit pointless, that I've been contemplating lately: what's on your walls? How do people decorate, what does it reveal, etc.? I'll lose interest in this in a day, I'm sure, but in the meantime chronicled the current state of Greg's condo walls, early 2007.

Above the couch. The Rio Vista lithograph, two antique maps (Austria/Hungary, Bohemia and Moravia), and photos -- St. Petersburg, Morocco (not by me), Tirana.

Around the door. Left of door: good luck symbol from Singapore, replica street sign from Prague, old Ragusan emblem from Dubrovnik. Right: Scott Mutter poster. Not shown, farther to right, beyond the window: Slavia Praha soccer scarf, African mask.

Above the entertainment center. Czech flag. Note Thrashers puckhead.

Kitchen. Painted plate from Albania above the microwave -- photos of friends, family, Prague and Croatia on right wall.

Kitchen. Czech beer signs. Sparta Praha hockey scarf in the distance.

A familiar sight. Valeri Kamensky stick, Vladimir Ruzicka Litvinov exhibition jersey, Jaroslav Petruzalek HC Hvezda Brno jersey, Jiri Jelen IHC Pisek jersey.

Hallway. Colorado license plate, lithograph from Split, Croatia.

Where the magic happens. "Big Sleep" poster I've had since college, HC Velvana Kladno scarf. Yes, I have both a Thrashers puckhead AND foam finger. Actually, two foam fingers. You bet I'm single.

Sparse wall, above where my desk used to be. Hemingway poster, Mike Royko photo, Swedish ice hotel photo, quote, kitschy postcards. The vintage Majestic poster will go up here soon.

Autographed photos (l to r: Martin Straka, Radek Bonk, Milan Hejduk, Vladimir Ruzicka, Roman Cechmanek), calendar.

The bathroom. Photo of mountains west of Boulder, photo of Petr Tenkrat.

Ok, so this seems even more self-indulgent and silly after writing it, but what the hell. I didn't have anything else to write about. Probably more of an insight into my life than anyone wanted. As my friend MD said a few years ago, the first time she saw my place -- "you're definitely a bachelor." It hasn't changed much since then.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Bridge Too Far

The Elk passes this on...

Bridge owners angry over sex position

An unusual trademark row has broken out after a Swedish magazine published an advert showing a sex position named after a famous Swedish-Danish landmark.

The advert for the Stockholm-based child clothes store Liten Butik contained 24 depictions of sex positions, one of which was the Öresund Bridge, named after the link between southern Sweden and Copenhagen.


The article raises a lot of questions, unfortunately unanswered -- number one being "what does the position look like?" (Don't bother looking for an image -- I tried) I'm guessing it's sitting upright, partners facing, but the article is sadly negligent on this end.

Also -- the ad was for a children's clothing store? Pardon the vulgarity, but what the fuck? What kind of children's clothing store is this? Swedes, man. Different than you and me.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Big Dance

#10 -- "Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance" by Richard Powers

Oh, hey, I may have a new candidate for favorite writer. First "Gold Bug Variations," last year blew my mind -- and now this one, which I was sorta nervous about picking up due to the prospect of disappointment, is really fantastic as well.

It starts with the titular photograph, by August Sander (below), shot just before the outbreak of hostilities in World War I. It uses that as the springboard for three loosely-connected storylines -- one surrounding the three young men shown in the photograph, the other two late-20th-century Americans who find themselves affected in different ways by that picture.

And in the course of telling those three stories -- all well-done and well-characterized -- Powers manages to take on much larger themes -- technology, war, love, and a sort of history of the 20th century.

It's not light. But he's got such a fantastic style that I didn't get bogged down at all. Nowhere near as tech-heavy as "Gold Bug," it may be more a novel of ideas. Once again, highly recommended, and as soon as I can buy books again without feeling guilty, I'll be getting the rest of his output.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Technology 1, Greg 0

A couple weeks ago, I was hungover, drinking Bloody Marys and reading. Unable to concentrate on the words, I started text messaging friends. Most were "Having Bloody Marys! Join me!" -- but some friends are in other parts of the world, so THAT doesn't work.

I decided to message occasional commenter KWK, one of my oldest friends. Much of our friendship, over the years, has been built on football antipathy -- he cheers for the Oakland Raiders, which anyone from Colorado knows is just plain wrong.

So, I sent him a note, making unfounded, untrue and disgusting claims about a former Raiders quarterback. Seconds later, I got a note on my phone -- I'd sent the message to his landline, not the cell. Seconds after that, I got another note -- it had been delivered anyhow, successfully! Uh oh.

It wasn't until a subsequent e-mail that I learned exactly what happened next: his wife checked the voicemail first that day, to hear a robotic female voice saying "Ken Stabler likes little boys." His wife thought it was an obscene caller. Which, in a sense, it was. But not a random one.

I really long for the days of rotary phones.

My Favorite Place

Blue skies, 70-degree temperatures, and a sense that I've not been living too healthily lately got me out to one of my favorite spots in Atlanta for the first time in ages.

Sweetwater Creek State Park is surprisingly little-known (at least in my circles). That may be because of its location -- it's out west of town, and to get there, you've got to navigate through an odd conglomeration of highway, car dealerships, featureless subdivisions, and industrial parks.

Once through that unappealing mix, though, it's an amazing setting. Hilly ground, running alongside a creek and (artificial, I think) lake, lots of trees, very quiet (aside from the occasional burst of gunfire -- there's a military range located unfortunately close).

The highlight for me is the remnants of the old New Manchester Manufacturing Company. The sides of the creek were, 150 years ago, lined by a company town for this mill -- but in the March to Atlanta during the Civil War, it was burned to the ground. Now, only the skeleton of the mill remains, and a bit of the artificial structures put in place to guide the water.

Aside from that building, and the odd visitor (I saw about six people on the trail this morning -- well above average), you get the sense that you're seeing a bit of untamed Georgia, with rolling rapids, dense trees, birds chirping. Straight out of "Deliverance"!







Friday, March 16, 2007

I Don't Want to Leave the Congo

#9 -- "Chief of Station, Congo" by Larry Devlin

I was asked to read this one for one of our programs at work, which I'm happy about -- I'd planned to get it anyway, and this way it was free.

I'm probably not the first person to compare "Chief of Station, Congo" to Graham Greene, and I won't be the last. Devlin was, uh, Chief of Station, Congo for the CIA in the '60s, when the country became independent, Patrice Lumumba was killed, shit got hairy.

As you might imagine, he had a hell of a lot of adventures, and he tells them with a nice breezy style -- dramatic but with wit. Looking back 40 years later, he's able to chuckle about a lot of it.

Entertaining and insightful as it was, there's a few problems. There's a general lack of questioning of whether the U.S. motives were right; it's taken for granted that the U.S. was doing the right thing, that it was just reacting to events, never setting them in motion. And there's a lot of praise for Joseph Mobutu -- the fact that ol' Joe turned out to be an absolute disaster for the country down the line is largely glossed over. Devlin was apparently in country for much of the '70s, in other capacities, but that doesn't change his opinion of Mobutu -- I'd like to have read a bit more about why.

So, some problems and disagreements, but overall interesting, and an educational first-hand look at the behind-the-scenes workings during a tumultuous time in Africa.

Nerd Crap

The PPA has been roped into co-sponsoring a fantasy baseball league along with Chez Meow Meow. It's the free Yahoo! type, and anyone who has been in a fantasy league with me can vouch that I will start forgetting to update my lineup a month in, and completely throw in the towel halfway through the season.

If that sounds fun to you, we've got some spots open -- send me a note at the e-mail link over on the side. Play ball!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Good Stuff

As with most internet rages, I may be coming on to this one a bit late-- but I was tipped off to "God, Inc." today, and it's improved my life immeasurably. Funny, funny stuff, making work and watching the Thrashers lose (eat it, Marty Biron) much more bearable.

Thanks as usual to Fidel, who scours the internet so I don't have to.

Wanderings, Part Two

So the weather's great now, 60s and 70s, each day beginning with the mist slowly burning off. My go on lengthy walks every day plan has been aborted, though -- I really tore up my toe yesterday, and it hurts to walk six feet, much less six miles. Feh. Anyway, a few more pics from the other day.






Dead kudzu


Lowly Worm!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Wanderings, Part One

Poncey-Highland, Inman Park, and Old Fourth Ward - 03/13/07


Art deco detail, Plaza shopping center


Didn't stop to check the size, but there is one large set of bosoms going unsheathed around Atlanta today




Purple seems to be the thing in Atlanta this year -- just one of several homes/businesses that has a recent coat of purple/lavender paint















Immediately after taking the last picture there, a pickup truck pulled up to me, and a large angry man leaned out the window -- "Excuse me, why the fuck are you photographing my house?" I didn't think it wise to say "I take pictures of shitty buildings," but given the neighborhood, also wanted to make it clear that I wasn't acting in a law enforcement capacity. Thankfully, the excuse I gave -- something about taking pictures of interesting buildings -- satisfied him, and my ass remained unkicked. I didn't take any more photos of houses/apartments today.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Just For the Record

All-you-can-drink sangria is a bad, bad, bad idea.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Wasn't Born to Follow

So Jake Plummer has retired. I'm sorry to see that -- he was a guy I always wanted to see succeed, someone who seemed generally decent (aside from the facial hair) who just really, really should have chosen a career other than football.

#8 - "Out of Their League" by Dave Meggyesy

Not sure how I went through so much of my life without hearing of Meggyesy -- a 1960s NFL linebacker who became thoroughly radicalized, quit the game in his prime, and wrote a pretty detailed book listing the sport's sins. I stumbled across a reference a few months back (and I wish, now, I remembered where), became interested, and got this book. Any pro athlete who publicly ripped Nixon at the height of his presidency (the book originally came out in 1970) is of some interest, especially in today's context.

"Out of Their League" is an interesting, multi-layered book that perhaps could have used an editor -- it jumps around a lot, subject to subject. I'll grant that some of it seems dated, which is hardly the author's fault. In 1970, exposing the corruption of college sports was still pretty radical. In 2006, much of it seems quaint.

Where the book really gains steam is when Meggyesy hits the pros, with the St. Louis Cardinals. His description of his political awakening and increased involvement is fascinating (and heartening) -- side-by-side with his career in a league that tried to beat down individuality.

I've been trying to think of any North American athlete who's been involved with any sort of activism, however limited, in recent years -- Carlos Delgado? Steve Nash? Today's sports talk radio/idiot loudmouth culture isn't very forgiving of such activities (John Smoltz or Curt Schilling are just fine, though). That alone makes Meggyesy's book a good read for sports fans (ok, at least those of my political stripe. I doubt I'll be giving this to Dad for Christmas).

And the image of a hyper-intense NFL linebacker mellowing out with hash and acid is pretty awesome, you've gotta admit.

* * *

Rare music bit: I've been listening to pretty much nothing but Jesu's "Conqueror" album for the past week or so. For those into such things, it's streaming here. (Though it seems to be down for the moment.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Hugo

A friend of mine received a package a few days back -- several months ago, he'd ordered a talking Hugo Chavez doll from parts overseas. It arrived this month, considerably the worse for wear after going through customs -- he described the package as opened/resealed, with the doll inside taken out of its packaging, crammed back in wrong-side up, pretty much destroyed.

How weird has this country become when a freakin' doll becomes an excuse for an angry statement? Sheesh.

So word to the wise -- get your Chavez dolls from domestic sellers only, I guess. Always buy American!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Unfinished Business

So, the votes are in: the Pletka jersey is, by a factor of several million, everyone's favorite thing ever. Just a smattering of the responses:

"You wore that out in public??!!"
-Anonymous L.P.

"You were seen in public in that shirt? Gawd. I hope you were drunk."
-Nanuk

"Oh, Greg, tell me you didn't do another jersey post."
-Coco


So, uh, yeah.

I've been neglecting my little blog lately -- new TV, 65 degree temperatures. I actually sweated today. Winter seems so far away. In a month I'll be bitching about the heat.

In the meantime --

#7 -- "Write to Kill" by Daniel Pennac

This has been sitting on my shelves for nine years or so -- a review copy obtained in my previous life as a half-assed book reviewer. I'd read one of Pennac's others ("The Fairy Gunmother") and enjoyed it, which saved this from the used bookstore pile over the intervening years -- but didn't rush to get into this, obviously.

It's pretty fun -- I have limited memories of TFG, but while I remember laughing a lot, I don't remember this much. It's an absurdist French mystery, centered around the main character and his dozens of sibilings, and a spate of murders. Trying to relate the plot would be pointless, and spoil some stuff -- there's a prison that tries to rehabilitate inmates into artists, there's multiple stolen identities, the main character spends a good portion of the book in a coma.

Best way to describe it? French Douglas Adams writing mystery novels. I won't rush to read another Pennac just 'cause I've got so many other things taking up space, and I'm long removed from reading many mysteries, but if one crossed my path, I'd welcome it in.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Capitalist Whore

Time for another of these. Václav Pletka is something of a hero to those in the know -- a member of the NHL's one-game club (with the Philadelphia Flyers -- his rights are now held, like a Get Out Of Jail Free card, by the Chicago Blackhawks), a veteran of the Czech and Russian leagues, now a member of Bílí Tygři Liberec in the Czech Extraliga (where he has the singular honor of playing alongside L'ubomir Vaic).



This is his 2005-06 jersey -- he joined the team (back from Russia) toward the end of the season. Earlier in the season, it was worn by proofreader's nightmare Ctirad Ovcacik (only for four games that year). Rumor has it that Pletka demanded #7 because of his immense admiration for John Elway.

I wore this out to a game last month, and it didn't, surprisingly, draw legions of squealing nubile female Pletka fans to me. It did prompt comment from a friend, though:



"You look like a billboard."

Yeah, even by European standards, this is pretty ad-heavy. It's probably more egregious than EHC Freiburg, actually. Seriously, that's a lot of ads.

But at least you can determine the mascot here --



"Bili Tygri Liberec" means "The White Tigers of Liberec," which doesn't sound too much like a white supremacist group. They've been among the class of the Extraliga over the last few seasons, with Pletka, Vaic, Milan Hnilicka, and yes Jes, Valdemar Jirus.



Who knew Pletka supported Basque separatism?

(As always, jersey biography concept created by Tapeleg, who is hopefully celebrating Sunday's Avalanche win against the worst team in the world.)