Jen and I watched the debate this evening. I think Hilary did well, and Trump started out doing well but went off the rails in the second half. We sat on the couch listening to some of his answers and couldn’t believe what we were hearing. What’s been almost more interesting is listening to the talking heads on PBS afterwards, and how casually sexist the two old white guys (David Brooks and Mark Sheilds) are.
We’re back from Ohio and a family wedding where all of the grandchildren on Jen’s side were together in the same place for the first time. The wedding was lovely and we all had a great time watching the kids interact together.
I set the X-E1 up for black and white, figuring I’d be fighting low light and fast subjects for the whole night. I used the standard B/W preset, bumped ISO up to ~1250, increased the highlight and shadow settings, and opened the lens wide to f/1.4. Even though the hunt for focus is maddeningly slow, I managed to get some nice shots that are different from the color pictures I got on the D7000.
I fought with the settings a little bit, but after a while I got it dialed in and was enjoying the results I got. Eventually, when I get a Fuji body with faster focus, this will be easier. I’m also finding I like the position of the viewfinder on the left of the body as opposed to a center-mounted VF. Which is unfortunate, because the replacement Fuji body I’m considering (the X-T1) has a center-mounted VF.
Still, I like the results I got, and I’ve programmed one of the presets for this kind of shooting. I want a camera that will point and shoot as fast as possible with the f/1.4 lens I’m using here. I just need to be patient and jump on the right body when it comes along.
September 21, 2016
Look at the size of that kid. How did she get so tall?
I’ve noticed a couple of things while sitting on the couch for the past couple of days. The first is that modern television is shit. No surprise, right? I stopped watching TV seriously about 8 years ago, after Finn was born; at one point we had three or four TVs in the house hooked up to basic cable and there used to be shows that were worth watching. My channel list today shows nothing but Duck Dynasty and Flip or Flop on continuous repeat. The second is that modern news is total shite. No real surprise there, but when I go to Mexico and I can find out what’s happening in the world faster and easier when the anchors are speaking Spanish, there’s something severely wrong. It’s no wonder we’re dangerously close to electing a racist liar for President.
I’m currently dosed with fist-sized capsules of Cipro to fight off the worst combined case of fever and GI tract hell I’ve ever experienced. Traveler’s Diarrhea is no joke, my friends. I can see why they came up with a funny nickname for it. Montezuma’s Revenge sounds a lot better than EYEBALL FRYING POOP SHOWER BRAIN HOLOCAUST. I didn’t drink water from anywhere but a bottle; I stayed at a Holiday Inn that was international in quality, so I didn’t think twice about eating the fruit at breakfast. I did have sandwiches at the paintball course that were brought from a street vendor (or so I understood); at that point I hadn’t eaten anything all day and had to take what they gave me.
I did not think the gestation period would take this long, but there you have it. I started feeling feverish Saturday afternoon and by that evening it was up to 102˚; I spent Sunday battling fever and then on Monday the bottom system fell apart. We went to Patient First on Monday and they gave me Cipro, but nothing was working so today we decided to go to the ER for a second look and some fluids. They gave me two bags of saline and took a bunch of blood and other stuff for testing. The fever seems to have broken, but my head still hurts and I’m waiting for the plumbing to get fixed.
Look below or click here for an update on my first day in Mexico. It gives a lot more background on the paintball picture, why I went, and how I wound up on a roof drinking 40’s of Mexican beer.
The weather was overcast Sunday morning, so I made a plan for the day based on the chance of rain. I read that the Museo Nacional de Antropología had free wi-fi (turns out it didn’t), plotted out all of the Starbucks in a kilometer radius and took a picture of the map on my cellphone, packed my umbrella, and called for an Uber. (Three overseas trips and I haven’t figured out a better way to deal with communication than depending on wi-fi and taking pictures of Google Maps. Someday…)
The museum is nestled in a wooded park in the northwest part of the city, fronted by a wide two-lane avenue which was filled with bikers. I walked into the museum and was quietly ushered to a “foreigners” ticket desk, and thus blew past the line. The museum is huge and expertly laid out, built in a square around a large central courtyard and fountain. I went left when I should have gone right and thus did things kind of backwards, but still saw the whole museum. The main exhibits are all marked clearly in Spanish and English, so I knew what the broad strokes were, but the individual captions were Spanish only. Still, I remembered enough from high school to understand about 70% of the information.
Early in the afternoon I was looking at an Olmec colossal head and parsing the Spanish label, when a young woman tapped me on the shoulder. She asked me in good English where I was from, and I told her. She asked me if she could ask a couple of questions, and I agreed. Her first question was if I liked the museum, and I told her I liked it very much. She wondered if I was traveling with anyone, and I told her I was here on business, but that I wished my family was here to see Mexico too. Then she asked me why I was at the museum, and I told her I was very interested in the history of Mexico and of all of the civilizations founded here, and this seemed to make her happy. She smiled and said, “Welcome to Mexico!” and her boyfriend shook my hand. I replied in mixed-up Spanish, probably something like “Beautiful thank you,” and we parted ways.
I don’t know what possessed her to ask me these questions, or if my answers were what she was expecting, but I hope our interaction made as big an impact on her as it did on me.
The history of Mesoamerica is fascinating. I could have spent days in the museum looking through the exhibits, but as the day wore on the crowds got thicker and my need for solitude overtook my curiosity.
I bailed out at about 1PM and walked east toward the Reforma, a long, wide avenue flanked by modern towers and leafy trees. This was definitely a different part of the city than the Historic District; modern and clean, and as I arrived the scene of a city-organized bike rally. Down the Reforma stands the Angel of Independence, a gigantic and inspiring monument to fallen insurgents of Mexico’s past. At the circle, I waited for the car and bike traffic to halt and then ran out to climb the stairs to the monument.
After taking pictures of the Angel and shooting some video of the bike rally, I walked back down the Reforma towards a small Starbucks, which didn’t have wi-fi, and then found a taqueria that did. Here I started out with a beer but the delicious smell of the al pastor meat cooking convinced me to order a meal. I was not disappointed. The chicken pastor was delicious, served inside a flour tortilla with cheese, and my server did not have to twist my arm to order guacamole as well. He then talked me into pork, which was even better. Over my shoulder the TV was showing NFL highlights, so I saw the end of all of the 1PM games as I ate.
Then I jumped on the wi-fi and called a cab to head back to the hotel, where I translated a powerpoint deck on infographics into Spanish with Google translate and cranked out a couple of website flats for work.
Dateline: Mexico City, Saturday, September 10.
I’m reclining on my hotel bed after a long, exhausting day exploring the Historic District of Mexico City. I’m staying in a hotel far south of the touristy areas, a beautiful Holiday Inn nestled next to a Wal-Mart and a mall with every type of American chain restaurant I could ask for. This morning I got all of my gear sorted out, packed a bag with water and snacks, and wrote down a few key phrases, all starting with I’m sorry, […] because I don’t have enough Spanish. This has been working relatively well so far. Getting to my destination was handled through Uber, and within about 20 minutes I was standing in the Plaza de la Constitucion, looking at workers erecting seating for the 15th of September celebration next week.
I skirted the plaza and walked into the Cathedral Metropolitana, which was as old and as beautiful inside as I hoped. It’s a traditional layout but the central nave is surrounded by chapels of different kinds, some open and some closed. I was there in time for a morning mass, and so a lovely baritone filled the building. Walking around the central altar, I spied a litter of kittens playing in the darkened Chapel of San Pedro and stopped to shoot their picture.
At the back, the Altar of the Kings is an immense baroque structure dating back to the early 1700’s, and it was so large it didn’t fit in my camera frame (I only brought a 35mm lens, dammit).
Exiting the Cathedral, I attempted to follow Lonely Planet’s walking tour of the Historic District but found that I was thwarted by a lousy tour and a lack of signage. Seriously, there is no signage in that district at all. I found the main avenues pretty easily but once the tour had me off the main streets I was on my own. I followed the pedestrian Avenue Madero west towards the Latinamericana Tower, which had been the tallest building in Mexico City until 1985. The Avenue was relatively busy (this was nothing, as I would later discover) with people shopping and groups of vendors hawking stores at every intersection. I stopped into a Starbucks to grab coffee, use the bathroom, and hop on wi-fi when I found out that lots of Starbucks in Mexico City don’t have public wi-fi. This made me a little nervous, as this was my only way of using Uber for a ride home. I spent the next couple of hours looking for a good wi-fi signal anywhere (outside of hotels, cafés, and other Starbucks) but never found one.
Reaching the Latinamericana Tower, I found my way inside, paid 90 pesos and crammed into an elevator with 10 other people and rode it to the observation deck. Mexico City is a huge, sprawling place, filling the basin it sits in all the way to the mountains. The air is pretty clear, but I could just barely see the edges in the distance. Beneath me the Palace of Fine Arts spread out to the west and beyond that the Alameda.
Back out on the street, the crowds had grown, and it took about 10 minutes to cross the street to the museum. Inside there was a long snaking line at the ticket counter so I bailed on the exhibits and continued west into the park. There are lovely fountains and benches throughout the grounds, and I found a shady spot to get my bearings. Supposedly there is free public wi-fi in certain areas, but I wasn’t able to connect after multiple tries. I stopped and asked a friendly fellow at an information booth, and he seemed embarrassed to tell me it was broken.
At the far end of the park was a marketplace full of handcrafts, and I debated on an embroidered Mexican peasant blouse for my ladies but I couldn’t find a blue one in teh right size for Finn. I also paused at the stand with luchador masks but I knew Finn would never wear it.
At this point the Lonely Planet guide had me walking down side streets to find a cantina for a cerveza (I could have used a cerveza), a food market, and another craft market, but I could not find the street, the cantina, or the markets. Instead I found myself in a barrio specializing in appliance repair, plumbing supplies, and later, car stereo installation. I backtracked in an effort to get my bearings and found myself in the Barrio Chino, a small outpost of Asian shops and restaurants, but never found what I was looking for. So I looked east for the Latinamericana Tower and followed that back to the Avenue Madero. At this point it was jammed with people out for the day, probably five times the number I’d seen in the morning, and it was slower going. I threaded the crowds back to the Plaza and walked south to Avenue 20 de Novembre and followed that south for a few blocks. Along the way I detoured and found the Museum of Mexico City, which was beautiful, and stayed until my stomach started rumbling. Out on the Avenue again, I found a cab and rode back to the hotel for a little quiet time before dinner.
Tomorrow I’m going to head northeast and check out the Paseo de la Reforma, east of the Alameda, and maybe the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, which is billed as a world-class institution with Spanish and English displays. Depends on how far I can walk.
I’ve been fighting with the change in altitude by popping Advil in the morning to stave off pounding headaches. It’s enough that I’m seriously winded walking three flights of stairs, which is alarming. This would be a great place to train for a marathon for a couple of months. I’m expecting to land in Baltimore and be positively drunk on oxygen for the first 24 hours.
The weather here has been chilly in the mornings, but by about 11AM the sun heats things up pretty well. Still, if you’re in the shade it’s just cold. So it takes getting used to, and layering is key.
…and all I got was shot in the face with a paintball.
Seriously, there’s much more, but this was the most bizarre retreat I’ve been on. Fun, and with awesome people, but bizarre.
Postscript: Wednesday, September 14
I suppose I should explain what this is all about. My trip to Mexico was meant to help the local program office there transition to a full-fledged WRI office, something that’s been in the works for months now. Along with this transition we’ve been working on updating the brand for that program. We’ve been going in circles over this for a year, as the original brand was not well received by the country offices and visually it was imbalanced.
My job is to intermediary between the D.C. office and the Mexico office, who are spearheading this rebranding exercise on behalf of the other country offices. We were negotiating my travel dates for months, dependent on the external agency’s schedule and our own approval schedule, so what was originally meant for August dragged out into September, and into my teaching schedule. Here is where having class once on Wednesday really screwed me. I booked flights leaving early on Thursday and returning on Tuesday, attempting to get there and back with as much time in country as possible.
What I was not aware of, and was not made clear to me, was what we were actually to be doing on the days I was here. I hoped for two solid days of work and workshops, where the staff could pick my brain as much as possible to help the transition. I hoped to meet the branding agency, so that the voices on the phone were more than voices. And I hoped to shoot video of programs in country so that we’d have new footage to work with.
When I got to the hotel on Thursday, I found out they were all leaving the office to play paintball and do a team-building day. I debated on whether or not to join them, as I didn’t pack any paintball-ready clothes to wear and knew my boss was expecting, um, work to be happening.
Because the trip was coming in the middle of a lot of projects, I got comfortable in the hotel and worked from 3 until about 10, stopping to talk to the girls and go find some dinner. Ultimately, after talking it through with Jen, I decided to go with them and play, bringing a camera and a healthy sense of adventure.
I got to the office at 9 on the nose and met the whole team with a dopey-sounding, “Hola! I’m Bill from D.C.!” I dropped off my camera bag (better for something to happen to it in the office than in my hotel room) and followed everyone outside to the bus, where we boarded for the trip north.
The venue was up in the hills outside the main city between a petting zoo and a cement block factory. We got off the bus and sat in plastic chairs while a nice man explained what we were going to do in Spanish. Then we split up into teams and did some warmup tasks: practicing with a paintball gun, solving a jigsaw puzzle as a team, stacking cans as a dexterity test, and trust falls. Yes, my first trust fall was in a field in Mexico.
Then we suited up for our adventure. The first team to suit simply wore a vest protector and helmets, but our team, who followed them, all collectively saw the wisdom in wearing coveralls, the vest, and a helmet. I got worried when all the teams put their vests on the same way, but smarter heads suggested one team flip them so that black was on the outside. Thus, we were the Manos Negros, or Black Hands. I was a little alarmed to find that our scratched facemasks were only semi-opaque and did not cover the neck. Having played paintball before, where the groom got shot in the Adam’s apple two days before his wedding, I knew this could be dangerous.
The referees went over the rules, the details of which went over my head, but I was already familiar with the basics. They then led us to the field, where multiple obstacles in varying formations separated the two sides, including a hollow wooden helicopter, a downed plane, and a pseudo-storefront. My new friend Miguel, who had been conferring with me on gear selection, explained our team’s strategy to me (shoot the other team) and we scoped out our side of the field to see where the best areas of fire were. We found that every depression held ankle-deep mud, and hoped it wasn’t runoff from the petting zoo.
The game itself was fun. I’ve enjoyed paintball in the past, and even though my gun looked and shot like it had been run over with our tour bus, I took out two of the other team’s players. Most of my time was spent ducking behind obstacles as everyone yelled in Spanish around me; it’s disorienting to be playing a team sport and not be able to communicate with anyone. In hindsight I should have asked Miguel what left, right, forward and back were in Spanish, but I would have forgotten that in two minutes anyway.
Somebody worked up our right side and finally got me on the shoulder and back, so I raised my gun and walked off. Our team lost by two players in the end, but we played a full 10 minutes and I only had about 15 balls left.
Several of our team limped off the field with paintball injuries; two men had been shot in the neck enough to draw blood, one woman was hit on the top of her head, and several others had circular bruises. We recharged our guns, refilled the ammunition, got some water, and then regrouped against another team. The second game was much like the first; this time I took out three of the other team’s players before getting shot square in the center of my mask.
After we returned all of our rental gear we walked up to the roof of the building, which was set up as a patio, and watched as different teams did presentations about WRI’s projects. The idea was for each team to research and develop a 10-minute explanation of the project so that they could familiarize the rest of the office as to what WRI does. They all did an excellent job, and even though my Spanish is weak I knew and could follow almost all of what they were presenting.
After this, we scarfed down some food, then hopped on the bus and headed back. There is a reason the transport program was founded in Mexico 11 years ago; it took us about 45 minutes to crawl back to the office through the traffic.
Once we were there the group invited me to stay for drinks and karaoke, so I popped a the Mexican equivalent of a 40 of Leon and got on their wireless network to call home. We gathered on the roof of the building which overlooks Coyoacan plaza, a beautiful outdoor park, and talked about the day and our experience. In the park, people laughed and played, music from the market and the smell of fried dough wafted up to us, and we enjoyed a cool breeze as the sun set.
I drifted in and out of conversations in English with different groups of people and enjoyed myself listening to them talk in rapid-fire Spanish, picking out words and phrases here and there. It was surprising to me that by the end of the day it was a lot more familiar and I could pick out sentences and phrases that made sense. When I felt myself flagging at about 9:30, I called for an Uber and headed back to the hotel, tired and peckish, and found that the smell of the petting zoo was coming with me.
Our nearsighted zoning council recently approved a modified plan for the Catonsville Promenade, a misguided development project that’s been lurching along since before Finley was born. Details on the project are sketchy at best, but I found an interesting article summing up the developer’s iterations, all of which have me wondering what they’re smoking. The most recent maps show only one point of access and have the entire development squished up against the Beltway, which seems like an unappealing and inaccessible plan for a bunch of hotels and restaurants nobody will visit. It’s obvious the builder is holding out for the state to sell him adjacent land from the Spring Grove complex, so that he can continue the plan northward, add more buildings, and link up to Frederick Road. Which will clog our traffic pattern tighter than a heart attack.