Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Bernadette

I saw the trailer a few months ago and made a mental note to see the film. Cate Blanchett is completely believable as a genius architect who has become a social menace. I was rooting for her the whole way. All of the actors were excellent. Although you have to wonder, when Billy Crudup plays another self-absorbed man, if in fact he’s playing himself.

I had not read the book, by the same name. book

My mom and I like to go to the movies together. We generally like the same kind of films: No violence! This takes out 80 percent or more of the options. We prefer lively plots involving well-developed characters. Good acting is a plus. Even with such liberal requirements we can go months without a movie worthy of our entertainment dollars. We thoroughly enjoyed this film.

I also loved the penguins! The film begins with Bernadette in a kayak in Antarctica, so I don’t need to worry about creating a spoiler. I enjoyed the details about the science focused cruises they book, the reality of seasickness on Drake’s Passage, and the new design for the South Pole research center (shown during the credits).

Screen Shot 2019-08-24 at 8.21.53 PMI got to thinking about my own goal to visit Antarctica with my grandson when he is old enough (must be over 8 for most cruises). How do we visit responsibly? The climate crisis is hitting some parts of the world more than others. And we watched this movie while the news of the Amazon rainforest fires broke. I appreciate how Afar travel magazine tackles these hard issues. Should we travel at all, and especially climate-impacted places, if our travel might hasten the crisis (excerpt of 8-23-2019 article by Michelle Baran above)?

First, you might choose to go because the areas where Amazon eco-tourism is available is not threatened by fire; however, as a Californian with experience dealing with megafire smoke, I have to warn anyone with lung issues that the smoke can be a serious health threat. The photo of Sao Paolo in darkness at 2 p.m. must be taken seriously by anyone with asthma. Smoke also creates a really depressing environment for a vacation.

Second, there is a case that Afar makes to go ahead and visit the more sustainable ecotourism providers to strengthen the case to local governments that the rainforest is worth more as a tourist and environmental resource than it is for its short-lived timber or cattle production. Other ethical suggestions include: 1) Look for carbon neutral travel providers; 2) Eat only locally produced grassfed beef; 3) Do not use tropical hardwoods in building and furniture. My initial reaction is this is insufficient.

At the same time, I am not traveling just to increase my status as a someone who goes to the hard to reach places, and I am willing to share why these places need to be managed differently on this blog and other places. If I am willing to grapple with the accompanying socio-economic issues, and educate my network of family and friends, then maybe I can justify the impact.

I will write more on ethical travel…

 

What Should I Read Before My Next Trip?

LessJust read the novel Less in under 24 hours. I had to find out what happened next, then discover the ending. Andrew Sean Greer won the 2018 Pulitzer for fiction with this travel novel. Most booksellers will rightfully shelve it in fiction. I have placed it with my favorite travel reads.

Similar to Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir, it is the tale of an author traveling the globe to escape heartache and to find oneself. Except that Arthur Less is fictional. In this story Arthur learns to love himself a little more as he turns the big 5-0. It also gave me insight into gay culture. The author also exploits the advantage of a narrator who seems to be in Arthur’s head. We travel with Arthur from San Francisco to New York City to Mexico to Turin Italy, to Germany, to Morocco, to India, to Kyoto Japan to the Vulcan Steps in San Francisco. The descriptions are delightful, awful, and sometimes also funny, depending on the circumstance.

I have started to highlight “sparkletts” that I love rolling off my tongue or around in my head. Samples from Less include: …that crazy quilt of a writer’s life: warm enough, though it never quite covers the toes …what he met were not young Turks but proud bloated middle-aged artists who rolled in the river like sea lions… The kind of guy who wore his bicycle helmet while shopping…knuckle-whitening rattletrap wellspring of trauma.

It got me thinking about the various books I’ve read to prep for travel or to temporarily satisfy the need for travel in my life. My favorite travel authors whose work I’ve read EVERYTHING include: Bill Bryson Notes from a Small Island, and Tony Horwitz Confederates in the Attic. I just learned that Tony Horwitz has a new book coming out May 14, 2019: Spying on the South. (Just preordered!)

I consume a lot of podcasts. One of my favorites is What Should I Read Next? with Ann Bogel. And I was thinking about promoting the release of my travel guide for planning your own civil rights crawl. I thought about applying to be a guest–and there is a questionnaire to complete–so I’m practicing here. The topic I would want to discuss with her is travel literature. Not guidebooks, per se, but the broader idea of books where the characters or author travel. Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley is a classic, but there are many more that take a little effort to find.

IMG_7759You may also find suggestions for the place you are traveling next from Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go. I have found some terrific books from her recommendations and some duds. Sometimes I discover that my interest in, say Norwegian, literature is limited. One of her recommendations is in my top three travel books I love:

1. Come On Shore and We Will Eat You All by Christina Thompson, a New Zealand story.

It is hard to choose among so many great books, and yet I remember #2 book having a tremendous impact on me, perhaps because my heart was already tenderized by Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham classics.

2. Looking for Lovedu by Ann Jones, a memoir of traveling from Africa top to bottom

Choosing the third book is really tough because there are so many options. I only have one continent left to visit–Antarctica. I have read the journals of explorers and book about penguins by scientists. When I was in Australia I discovered #3 on my list.

3. Shiver by Nikki Gemmell, a novel set in Antarctica

Ann Bogel also asks her guests for one book they hate (or didn’t care for if you hate the “h” word, haha). This is harder to select because some years ago I learned to abandon books I do not enjoy. In knitting an abandoned project is “frogged” so I write this in my the back of my journal with a note why. I had to rack my memory for a travel book I abandoned or read with a sour face. In college I tried reading something by Paul Theroux. I can’t remember exactly what but I was completely turned off by his tone of disdain for the place or for the reader or both, my memory is fuzzy after 35 years. Nancy Pearl tried to convince me to give him another try, but alas, one chapter in a book store and I returned The Great Railway Bazaar to the shelf. I will provide a more current answer though. After PBS began showing The Durrells television series, I mentioned to someone that I didn’t enjoy the show as much as I hoped (I love Keeley Hawes mostly). They said, “Oh, you have to read the book it’s based on! I loved it.” So I dutifully bought Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals about their life on Corfu and waited for it to get good. And waited. And waited till the end. It’s not for me.

Ann Bogel also asks guests what they are reading now. I have several books on the go, but in keeping with the theme of travel, I am reading next: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This stretches the theme of travel as it is historical fiction involving travel by hot air balloon.

If Ann Bogel asked me what I’d like to be different about my reading life, I’d be hard pressed. I love the variety of my reading, and the amount I read. I enjoy both printed books and e-books. I listen to a lot of podcasts but I’m not that keen on listening to books. Although sometimes the narrator experience tempts me–like when I heard a review of Lincoln at the Bardo–a book I struggled to read and keep the characters straight. Hearing Liz Dolan recommend the audio version with dozens of actors sounded like fun. I don’t like headphones either, so that makes it hard to listen to books on planes or in public. I was feeling bad about not getting more books from the library until I heard one of her guests refer to her book buying as being a patron of the arts. That’s me! Plus when I buy them used from Time Tested Books, or new from Avid Reader, I can share them with my mom and others and keep my local bookstores open.

I write this blog to inspire travel. I am pushing myself into writing travel guides, where I am much less comfortable, because I want to help people design their own more off-beat adventures. Just as Arthur Less and Elizabeth Gilbert learned aspects about themselves that they’d never had known if they had not left home, I always discover so much about what I love, what’s not for me, and what I want to do next when I travel. And always, I pack books I can leave behind so I can lug more books home that I discovered along the way.

 

 

Celebrating Penguin Awareness with Dr. Michelle LaRue

 

penguins
Estimating populations of penguins is a challenge given the ice even in summer. Can you tell the difference between Adelie and Emperor penguins? Photo from https://emperorpenguinchange.blogspot.com/

Dr. Michelle LaRue is an ecologist and science communicator who specializes in using Geographic Information Systems, satellite imaging and other tools to count penguin, seal and mountain lion populations. I follow @drmichellelarue on Twitter—I especially enjoy her #Cougarornot game. She recently moved from the University of Minnesota to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, NZ. This new adventure includes research opportunities in Antarctica.

The USA and New Zealand have a history of collaboration in Antarctica. The McMurdo research station is just down the road from the Kiwi Scott base, and both are supported from Christchurch. Dr. LaRue agreed to answer questions about this new opportunity.

Q: You’ve done research in Antarctica whilst maintaining your University home base at University of Minnesota. What prompted the move to New Zealand?

A: A faculty position with Gateway Antarctica at the University of Canterbury! Here I will continue my research on the ecology of Southern Ocean predators and look forward to building a lab in the next few years.

Q: From your new position, what do you hope you’ll be able to contribute to our understanding of penguins and the endangered polar habitats?

A: My goal is to effectively fill in the pieces of the puzzle that are missing – we’ve got several baseline population estimates now for Adélie and emperor penguins and we’re doing the same for Weddell seals and crabeater seals. Once those pieces are filled in, we get to start asking: why? Why are these populations in certain spots and not others? How do these species interact with each other across space and time? How might climate change impact their populations and habitats? To ask these questions we first need to know how many animals there are and where they live, so that’s my focus at the moment.

Q: Have you experienced an earthquake yet in Christchurch? And what is your favorite discovery about living in New Zealand?

A: For the first time, I felt a 3.2 earthquake back in December, though I will say the people around me didn’t even notice! I think my favorite discovery or realization is just how unbelievably beautiful it is – I mean this is something I knew before but now that I live here it’s remarkable to me how much diversity there is in the landscape in just a short distance. It’s an incredibly beautiful place to be an outdoor enthusiast!

Recall that it is currently summer in Antarctica, so she was in the field this past November. You can follow her team’s current research at https://emperorpenguinchange.blogspot.com/. Dr. LaRue also has links to a number of her video presentations and written papers on her website.

Dr. LaRue works on teams gauging the status of Adélie and Emperor penguin populations in Antarctica. There are things we can do to reduce human impacts on penguins and their habitat. First, more efficient fishing vessels are harvesting the krill that makes up the food supply of penguins and whales. It is important that we stop using krill oil (I didn’t realize this was a thing; however, a quick Google search and apparently lots of people are taking it as supplements). Second, the ice is shrinking in both polar regions due to rising ocean temperatures from rising CO2. We can all reduce our use of fossil fuels by riding a bike, walking, or carpooling.

Imagining Life at the South Pole

South Pole thumbnailLoving most movies, books and blogs about Antarctica, I was strongly attracted to South Pole Station on a best books of summer reading list. I read about 4 nonfiction books in a row and needed something fictional to absorb my attention. Picking up the book yesterday I found myself reading it obsessively until I finished it a few minutes ago.

The NPR book review recommended reading South Pole Station a debut novel by Ashley Shelby on July 4, 2017. As Heller McAlpin writes:

“In this unusual, entertaining first novel, Ashley Shelby combines science with literature to make a clever case for scientists’ and artists’ shared conviction that “the world could become known if only you looked hard enough.”

I enjoyed the vivid detail of the life inside the small community of 105 beakers (scientists), nailheads (construction and maintenance) and artists. The world and the oddballs who inhabit it was so precise that I thought perhaps the author overwintered herself on an NSF fellowship. Apparently her creativity was supplemented by a sister who worked as a cook and a lot of research. Emails with her sister may have been the inspiration for the heroine’s emails with her sister Billie. I especially liked how she provided the backstory for main characters and still moved the plot forward–the mark of a good storyteller.

The story is driven not by the extreme environment as much as the people and their passion for science and for the strange community they create at one end of the world. It resolved a couple of things for me. I really want to go to Antarctica. I don’t want to go to the South Pole or work overwinter for pay or fellowship. Though I do admire the people who have.