Homer's Travels: July 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010


Well, I'm supposed to post another Jordan trip segment tomorrow and I can already post with certainty that it will not happen.  I'm in a minor funk with ... well, just about everything.  My mood is fine but, when it comes to Homer's Travels posts or photography, I just feel Meh.

I'm especially  disappointed in the photography department.  While I've taken some good pictures, I just don't feel that I've taken any that really make me go "wow."  There have been times when it's been hard for me to pull out the camera because I anticipate taking another mediocre capture.

The same goes with writing posts.  I occasionally go back and read old posts and I can see a decrease in quality over the years.  At least, that's how it feels to me.  I read some old post and think "that's not half bad" then I look at some draft that I've been working on and it feels uninspired and forced.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Winnebago Pow Wow 2010

The Wife goes to teacher's workshops each summer.  This year she went to Fort Robinson, located in northwest Nebraska, to learn about the Plains Indians.  She had her eyes opened to how America has treated the Native American people.  She went to a couple reservation schools, White Clay, and the Wounded Knee memorial. The Wife took some pictures while she was there and I'll have to post some later this week.

After these workshops, the Wife often continues her education by reading more about the subject she immersed herself in.  This time we did something different.  We went to a Pow Wow.

In Regalia - Note The Batman Logo.
This week, starting last Thursday, was the 2010 Winnebago Tribe Pow Wow. We drove up to attend the grand entry and to watch the dancing, singing, and drumming contests.  The Pow Wow started with a tribute to veterans including the showing of the colors and singing of several native american songs honoring veterans and the flag.

This was followed by the Grand Entry when the dance competitors, in full regalia, danced into the circle and danced to the singing and drumming.  There were local drummers and singers as well as a troupe from Detroit and another from Canada.  There were fewer dancers than I expected.  I suspect that it was because it was a work day.  Saturday would probably have been a better day to attend.

Winnebago Pow Wow - For All Ages.
It was pretty cool.  We ate some Native-American fast food (I had the Indian Burger - a burger on frybread.  The Wife had an Indian Taco.) and enjoyed a slice of another culture.

On the way back we stopped at an overlook and took pictures of the Missouri River Valley.  The Wife's superpower kicked in when she ran into a former student ... two hours out of Omaha ... at the overlook turnout.

Missouri Valley Panorama - The River Is High.
Pictures are here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

2010 Vacation: Jordan - Day Five - Petra

Every vacation usually has that on destination, that one attraction, that you really look forward to visiting.  For Peru it was Machu Picchu.  For our summer vacation last year, it was Yellowstone and Arches National Parks.  For our Jordan vacation it was Petra.

We had a whole day at Petra.  We started, early in the morning to beat the heat, outside the gates where we met up with our fellow tour people (they all walked from their Hotels) and guide.  We passed through the gates and started down a dusty road that, after passing some simpler tombs, led us to the start of the Siq, a narrow valley that leads to the Petra ruins.

The Siq, which is Arabic for shaft, is a narrow canyon with sheer stone walls three to six hundred feet high.  In places the canyon is only ten feet wide.  Along the way are small shrines carved into the stone.  One impressive sculpture was of a caravan including three life size camels and their leader.  Only the bottom half of the leader and some hooves remain.  Water channels run the length of the canyon walls on both sides.

Petra - The Treasury.
As we approached the end of the Siq, a guide for another tour group started humming the Indiana Jones theme.  Why, you ask?  Well, at the end as you turn a slight corner you see possibly the most spectacular, and most recognized, ruin of Petra - the Treasury - famously showcased in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  The carved facades are memorials and tombs of wealthy and/or powerful Nabataeans who made Petra their capital sometime in the 6th century BC.  This would make Petra the oldest ruins that I've ever been to - very cool.

Our guide took us along the winding canyon pointing out other facades and, eventually, more Roman ruins.  Petra has changed hands many times in its lifetime.  The last residents, Bedouins, left in the 60s after King Hussein payed them a personal visit to ask them to leave so that it could be preserved.  In return for them leaving, they were given a new village not far away and they were allowed to work and sell things in Petra.  Most of the vendors we saw in Petra were Bedouin.

We wandered down the canyon admiring the swirling strata of the stone (I had better pictures of the stone but my camera card decided, after this picture, to take a crap and they all went *poof*).  We looked into one chamber to see the burial niches.  We passed Roman temples.  Our guided tour ended at a museum.

At this point we were given choices.  The afternoon was ours to do with what we pleased.  Our guide had told us of another facade known as the Monastery.  By the way, the names given to these facades have nothing to do with what they were used for.  They were all tombs.  The treasury was not a bank.  The Monastery never had monks.  The Monastery lied past the museum ... up 900 steps.  It was probably in the high 90s or low 100s Fahrenheit.  I looked at the Wife and she said Hell Yes.  We hadn't traveled all this way to be turned away by a few steps.

What Would Jordan Be Without A Smiling Camel.
The steps were not all contiguous.  You would walk up a few dozen steps hewn in the stone and then hit a flat stretch.  The path up twisted and turned in and out of shade.  In the flat areas small Bedouin shop keepers had set up tents where you could get shade and buy crafts.  We were passed by surefooted donkeys carrying tourists up the stairs.  I let the Wife set the pace as I figured my usual pace would be too fast.  We were doing pretty good.  Soon we could see a large tent, larger than all the others, up above our heads.  Thinking this was our destination we pushed ahead.  It wasn't the Monastery but it was the location of our most memorable Jordan vacation moment.

I reached the big tent first.  The tent covered a large rest area with chairs, a jewelry store full of Bedouin jewelry, and a snack bar.  I turned around looking for the Wife.  She looked winded so I tried to steer her to one of the chairs.  She passed me, ignoring the chairs, and sat on a step.  I wondered what was happening when she started wheezing, crying, and said she couldn't breathe.  She was having an anxiety attack and hyperventilating.  I tried to calm her down.  She laid flat on her back gasping loudly.  Two French women came over and fanned her with their hats.  I got up and bought cold water and rushed back.  I got back in time to hear one of the French women, her face only a few inches from the Wife's face, say:
"You must promise me you will hire a monkey.  You must ride the monkey down. You must have you husband hire you a monkey."
Now, this was a very confusing thing to hear.  I was confused and you could see in the Wife's eyes that she was thinking about what the French woman was saying.  All this talk of hiring a monkey distracted the Wife so much that she forgot that she couldn't breath and she stopped hyperventilating.  The Wife said later that she was thinking "She means Donkey but she's saying Monkey" and she didn't know if she should laugh or not.  We think that the effort and the heat had combined to deprive the Wife of air which triggered the anxiety attack.

The Wife recovered and downed the water bottle.  I asked if she wanted to go back and she insisted on continuing so, after we had rested a while, we continued.  The Monastery was only about ten minutes further ahead.  At the top there was a very large, lush Bedouin tent with carpets, pillows, hookahs, tea, and cold drinks.  Opposite the tent was a huge facade.  Very impressive and worth the climb.  Because of reasons beyond my control ... damn camera card ... the only picture of the Monastery is a scan of a postcard the Wife bought.

The Monastery - Resorting To A Scanned Postcard - Damn Camera Card.
I left the wife at the tent and went up to some view points.  At one of these viewpoints was a geocache.  I figured it was my last chance to find one in Jordan.  To get to it you had to walk out on a four foot ledge with a knee shaking drop off and search the pock marked cliff face.  I searched and searched and did not find it.  My GPS said I was two feet away from it at one time.  It probably was gone.  Or maybe I was just too tired to see it.  I left Jordan without finding a single geocache.

I rejoined the Wife and we headed back down.  Going down is so much easier.  We stopped at a lunch place near the museum at the bottom and ate ... a buffet lunch.  After eating and drinking our fill we headed back up the canyon to our hotel.  Since it was the afternoon, the temperature had gone up several degrees since the morning and it was really, really hot.  By the time we got to our room we were exhausted and a bit ripe, if you know what I mean.  We had been walking around Petra for about nine hours.  We walked about 10 miles per my GPS (Actually it said 11.67 miles but GPS reception was shaky in some of the valleys and the track actually shows me walking through solid stone in some places so I'm guessing it over did it on the distance).  The vertical, from the museum up to the Monastery was 768 feet.

After showering and cooling off a bit we were crazy enough to go back out and do some shopping.  Prices were pretty reasonable as it was the off season.  We even negotiated for some ice cream.  If we'd known the ice cream was so good in Jordan we would have bought some sooner.  Those Eskimo Pies were awesome.

The last of my pictures have been added to my 2010-07 Jordan Google Photos album.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

2010 Vacation: Jordan - Day Four - Madaba, Mt. Nebo, And Al Karak

Jordan is a Muslim country.  Some 94% of the Jordanians are Muslim.  The rest are mostly Greek Orthodox.  After spending three days exploring Muslim, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman cultures, day four of our Jordan vacation was primarily focused on Christian culture.

We checked out of our Amman hotels, got on our short bus, and headed south.  Our first stop was the city of Madaba.  The city of Madaba is roughly 45% Christian.  One of the first things I noticed as we entered the city were signs advertising liquor and beer.

In Madaba we stopped to visit an example of the Christian churches of the area, the Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George.  The church is known for it's extensive mosaics including a mosaic map of the holy land dating back to the 6th century.  Our guide took us to a room with a blowup of the map and explained several landmarks on the surprisingly complete map before we entered the basilica to see it for ourselves.

Basilica of St. George - Mosaic Map of the Holy Land
From Madaba we went to nearby Mount Nebo, the supposed location of Moses' death.  There is no physical proof of this but it has been visited by two Popes so I presume is is accepted by the church.  From the top you do have some awesome views of Jericho and the Dead Sea, despite the ever present sandy haze.  This is where God gave Moses a view of the promised land before burying him, somewhere, on the mount.

There is a 4th century church and monastery on the highest point but it was being restored and we could not go in.

Near the entrance of Mount Nebo is a sculpture with representations of Jesus, Moses, and Mohamed.  While the faces of Jesus and Moses are fairly detailed, Mohammed's image is vague to satisfy Islam's prohibition on images of the prophet.

General Tours, our tour company, has a custom of taking it's guests to one charity location, a way to give back to the host country.  In Peru it was an orphanage in Cuzco.  In Jordan it was a mosaic factory outside of Madaba, and not far from Mount Nebo, that employed women and  handicapped artisans run my Queen Noor's charity foundation.  It was interesting.  We learned how mosaics were made and we had the chance to buy the finished products.

Farther south we passed through the "grand canyon of Jordan", Wadi Mujib ('Wadi' means valley in Arabic).  We stopped at a viewpoint and admired the beautiful water-worn landscape and one of the dams that was slowly choking the Dead Sea.

Wadi Mujib
Lunch time approached and we pulled into the city of Al Karak.  We ate at a restaurant facing the crusader castle of Kerak.  After another tasty buffet lunch, we explored the castle.  The crusaders built the castle in the 1140s.  The castle had been used and reused, built and rebuilt, many times over.  The castle felt bigger that the Saracen Castle we'd seen in Aljun.  There were tunnels running under the castle that we were able to walk through.  It was pretty cool.

A Chamber in the Kerak Crusader Castle.
There was a geocache at the castle which I failed to find.  My geo-senses and my luck just weren't working on this trip.

Kerak was the last stop today.  The rest of the day was a driving south, passing by dry farm fields and desert landscapes, ending in Wadi Musa, a town located near Petra.  Our hotel was only a few hundred feet from the entrance.  We checked in and got to our room in time to watch the sunset.  Pictures can be found here.

Sunset Over Wadi Musa.

Friday, July 16, 2010

2010 Vacation: Jordan - Day Three - Ajlun And Jerash

Day three was a big day with two very cool sites being visited in addition to expansion of our tour group.

This morning we graduated from the mini-bus to the ... short bus.  Well, the short bus was definitely more comfortable.  We three Americans were joined by a German couple and two Costa Rican couples.  After a few introductions we realized that the Costa Ricans couldn't speak English.  This made the tour guide's job a lot more difficult.  I'm sure it wasn't very pleasant for the Costa Ricans as well.

As we drove north we passed by groves of olive trees.  This area is famous for it's olives and olive oil.  The road wound through hills until we approached the town of Ajlun, the location of a 12th century Saracen castle.  Ajlun Castle was built by the Saracens, Muslims, to protect against the crusaders.  Our first view, as we approached, made it obvious why the castle was erected where it had been - the castle was at the top of a hill overlooking all approaches.  It would be easy to defend and you could keep an eye over a lot of terrain including the valuable iron mines in the area.

We toured the castle including mosaic floorscannonball-sized head-bonking ammunition, a small museum displaying artifacts excavated in the area.  The view off the top of the castle was impressive.  One thing we discovered is that Jordan is in an active earthquake zone and most ancient sites, including this one, had been destroyed in earlier earthquakes.  What we saw today was reconstructed using whatever could be salvaged from the original ruins.

As we were leaving I realized that there was a geocache near the castle.  Unfortunately, I realized this as we were pulling away from the castle.  I wasn't paying very much attention to my GPS.

Our second stop was the Roman city of Jerash.  Jerash, another of the decapolis cities, is one of the best preserved Roman cities in the middle east.  After walking through the gauntlet of vendors trying to sell all all sorts of souvenirs, we enter the Roman ruins through the Arch of Hadrian, past the hippodrome where chariot races are reenacted.  First stop was the visitor's center for lunch.  We met up with the last four members of our group, a Swiss couple, a Canadian, and a Romanian.

After lunch we walked by the Temple of Zeus before entering the piazza.  This was one of the most impressive parts of the ruins to me.  The large area surrounded by pillars hinted at how many people lived/worked/worshiped here.  The call to prayer started and our guide explained to the larger group about the call, how it was recorded in Amman, and it was performed live elsewhere.  The call was definitely more chaotic here but still quite beautiful.

After the call finished we entered an amphitheater and listened to a group, two drummers and a bagpiper, play.  A Bagpipe, you say?  Yep, a remnant of British rule.

After the mini-concert we walked along the main thoroughfare of the city passing by the nymphaeum and ending in front of the steps to the Temple of Artemis.  It was very warm hot and our guide wasn't going to take us up to the temple so a bunch of us, including the Wife, took the initiative and headed up the stairs.  The stairs are actually interesting.  There are seven flights with a deeper step in between each flight.  From the bottom the long steps are not visible and the stairs look like one long flight (signifying the difficult journey to be with the gods).  From the top of the stairs looking down you only see the seven deep steps (signifying the easy journey back home).  It was an interesting illusion.

I walked around the temple and pulled out my GPS to look for a geocache near the temple.  The GPS took me around to the back corner of the temple.  I looked around a bit, getting as close as six feet, when I looked up and saw one of the tourist police looking down at me.  I guess he was making sure I wasn't taking a part of the temple with me.  Not wanting to explain what a geocache was, I abandoned my search and rejoined the tour group.

This was our last stop.  After shopping for souvenirs, we got on our short bus, returned to our hotels, rested up, and packed.  Tomorrow we were heading south into the desert.

Photographs of Aljun and Jerash have been added to my 2010-07 Jordan Google Photos album.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Write Like ...

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Sadly, I've never heard of David Foster Wallace and had to look him up in Wikipedia.  Not sure I like the fact that he committed suicide at the age of 46 as I'm 46 for at least a few more days.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2010 Vacation: Jordan - Day Two - Um Qais, Pella, Dead Sea

On day two we joined up with MSD and headed north.  We left Amman passing reforested areas, cities, towns, and Palestinian refugee "camps" (They were more like towns and cities).  The northern part of Jordan is the agricultural area of the country and is the 'greenest' area of the country.  It reminded me a lot of parts of southern California in the summer - hints of green amongst very dry browns.

We arrived at our first stop and our guide pointed toward some vendors who had some cards for digital cameras.  This wasn't exactly the camera store I'd envisioned.  The largest card available was 2 GB which was less than what I photographed the first day (over 3 GB).  The card was also rather expensive so I passed.  I gambled that my camera card would work and it did ... for a few days anyway.

Our first stop of the day was Umm Qais, location of Gadara, one of the decapolis cities.  Here we walked through Greek, Roman, and Byzantine ruins.  Like most ancient cities in the area, the main part of the city was built on a hill to take advantage of the cooler, breezier conditions.  The heights also had strategic advantage as trade routes ran through here and those who controlled the heights controlled the trade.  In the main thoroughfare you could see the worn wagon wheel ruts of years - hundreds of years? - of trading caravans.

Northern Border - Syria
From a nearby view point we had a sweeping view of the Jordan/Syria border and the Sea of Galilee.  There was a dusty haze this time of year in most of Jordan, the dry season, so our view of the distant hills, especially the Golan Heights, were just barely visible in the distance.  It reminded you where you were and the issues that still plague this region.

Byzantine Church Of Gadara.
As we explored the site, a young boy in a window overlooking the ruins yelled Hello down to us.  He made sure we heard him by repeating himself ... 10,000 times.  It was funny for the first 100 times or so.  I exaggerate, of course, but the boy was insistent.

Back on the minibus we headed for our next stop, Pella.  Along the way we passed through several military checkpoints where bored soldiers watched you warily over large caliber automatic weapons.  Something you don't see in the United States except, maybe, Arizona.  I have to say that I never felt safer than in Jordan.  To enter the lobby of our hotels you had to put your bags through x-rays and walk through metal detectors.  Cars were inspected on the way in using mirrors.  Unfortunately they also used bomb detecting wands which, as far as I could tell, were just a radio antenna attached to a small metal handle.  Similar bomb detectors have been deemed fraudulent.  It looked like they were dowsing for water or something.

We stopped at a rest house which, in Jordan is a combination rest area, hotel, and restaurant.  The rest house overlooked the Roman ruins of another decapolis city, the city of Pella.  This is also near where Jesus supposedly went out into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights.  The building of the rest area and some of the initial excavations of Pella were done with help from USAID.  Unfortunately funding has dried up and only a little excavation is done now.

We ate lunch here overlooking the ruins.  The owner/manager of the rest stop asked us where we were from.  He got excited when he found out that we were familiar with Iowa.  Apparently he has been trying to contact the Iowa governor so that they could set up a sister city relationship with Pella, Iowa.  The Wife promised to try to contact someone from Pella.  We left with Mr. M.G. Deeb Hussein's card.

The call to prayer was heard and we sat down to eat an okay meal while surrounded by some of the skinniest cats I've ever seen.  The Wife and MSD fed some of the cats from their plates.  Not sure what I would have thought if I was the owner.  Feeding pets is very American.  Not sure how Islamic cultures interpret that.

We were given glasses of mint-lemonade.  The past couple of mornings I'd had bitter orange juice for breakfast and the lemonade continued the trend.  I think sweet juices are not the norm in Jordan.  I discovered that adding one part pineapple juice to three parts bitter orange juice made it much more palatable to my American sweet tooth.

There was a geocache some 500 feet away from the road house but I never had the opportunity to search for it.

After lunch we drove further south to the Dead Sea.  Here we stopped at a resort/spa where we were given the opportunity to swim at the lowest point on Earth.  The Wife and I changed into our swimsuits and headed to the beach. I waded in.  They recommend that you not get water on your face or in you eyes and I discovered why very quickly.  The salt water made every little cut, scratch, and nick burn.  I now understand the phrase "Rub salt in the wound."  The water is one third salt and feels very oily to the touch.   As I walked out into deeper water my feet came out from under me and I found my self floating on my back and bobbing like a cork.  I never could float very well before but in the Dead Sea I had more difficulty trying not to float.  No need for a floaty in this lake.  The Wife discovered this as well.  I've now been in the lowest lake and the highest navigable lake in the world.

The Dead Sea and a couple of umbrellas.
On shore there was free mud that was supposed to help your skin.  We did not partake but I saw other people smear it all over before getting in the water.  Dead Sea Spa products were on sale all over the country.

Sadly, the Dead Sea is dying.  Its main source of water - the river Jordan and two smaller rivers - have all been dammed up and diverted to support agriculture and to provide drinking water.  The lake has dropped 50 ft in some ten to twenty years and may be completely gone in less than thirty years if something is not done.  Fortunately the Governments in the area are looking into bringing water from either the Red Sea or the Mediterranean.  The new construction, mostly resorts, indicate that there is some optimism for the lake being kept alive.

The sun was hot, in the upper 90s, so I got out before I burned.  We rinsed off the saltwater under the showers and changed back before heading back into the spa.  By the time we got back with our driver and guide I was sweating buckets.

The place where Jesus was baptized was not far away but was not on our itinerary.  Our guide says, due to the diversion of the Jordan river, the water is very narrow at the site and is not very impressive.  I think the Wife was a little disappointed that she didn't get to baptize me.

We headed back to Amman and the Wife and I crashed early.  We rarely went to bed later than 9:30 PM this vacation.

I've added more pictures to the 2010-07 Jordan Google Photos album.

Monday, July 12, 2010

One More Religious Site

For someone who's not very religious, I seem to end up visiting a lot of religious sites.  Byzantine churches in Jordan.  Spanish Missions in California.  The list goes on.  The latest addition was the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa.

I think what attracts me to religious sites is the architecture and the art of the places.  My latest stop, made on the 4th of July, was more of a folk art tour de force.  We visited it while celebrating the 4th with the in-laws at their lake house.  (We did not win the boat parade, by the way.)

Started in 1912 the Grotto was built by two men, Father Dobberstein, who started the project, and Matt Szernsce who helped him.  Another Father, Fr Greving also helped, taking over for Fr. Dobberstein.  The Grotto is made of concrete and stones ... lots of stones.  Stones gathered by the builders all over the world and donated by interested people.  He would build concrete panels with the rocks encrusted in them over the winter and then, with the help of his parishioners, would put them in place in the spring and summer.The best way to describe it is through pictures.

Grotto Stone Work.
As you can see, every square inch of the grotto is covered in stones, crystals, and seashells.  The structure is built on 12-15 foot deep footings to stabilize it and to reduce settling.  Various grottoes are dedicated to Mary, Jesus, Joseph, and other Catholic saints.  Parts of the structure are spectacular such as this dome:

Grotto Dome.
Other parts are embellished with sea shells sent by volunteers. This example looks almost alien:

Cool symmetric shells.
Father Dobberstein was quite a fellow.  His housekeeper had to hide a set of his clothes to prevent him from giving them away to the poor.  He once got lost in a cave in South Dakota looking for a large quartz crystal.  A couple days later and several miles away from the entrance he had gone in, he emerged with the crystal and practically blind - his flashlight had died early on.  Based on the movie in the visitor's center, the Father was quite a spiritual man.

Photos of the Grotto can be found here.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

To The Wife ...

To the Wife, at Fort Robinson learning about the Plains Indians:

Happy Anniversary!!!

I can't wait to see what the next year will bring and the places we shall go.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Music: Kansas, Styx, and Foreigner

Just over a week ago, Omaha held their annual, free, Memorial Park concert.  This concert series, sponsored by a big bank and entering it's 20th year, is one of the best every year.  This year the bank held an on-line poll and let the people choose who would perform.  The result, a series of great late 70s, early 80s bands.

The 2008 concert was stormed out.  Last year I went and, despite the oven-like heat and humidity, enjoyed the Guess Who and Grand Funk.  The Wife wasn't much a fan of these bands and I ended up alone.  This year the bands were much more to her liking and she joined me.  It also helps that the weather was cooler and the overcast skies kept the temperatures down and the Sun out of our eyes.

The first up was Kansas.  Kansas got me through part of my High School years and the first semester of my Freshman year in college.  I wore out the records and tapes.  I remember studying in the memorial union with them blasting from my Walkman (That may explain the ringing in my ear).   I always thought of their music as epic rock.  It had a depth, a complexity, and a power that moved me.  As you can expect, my expectations were highest for them, my expectations were probably too high to meet, and they didn't quite make it.  The music was good.  They picked some of the best songs but the vocals were off.  I think this was probably due to the fact that only two or three performers were from the original 70s band.  The other members joined in the 80s when Kansas changed, became more commercial, and faded away.

Kansas was followed by Styx.  They started with a medley of some of their stuff which was both original and cheesy.  Reminded me of some bad Andy William's show medley.  After that they played music like they were supposed to - complete songs.  I liked their music, despite the medley faux pax, and I enjoyed their set.  Their sound was spot on.  The Wife's comment about them was that all their on-stage movements were cheesy 70s-80s band moves.  I wasn't bothered by this but she's right.  What I did  find fascinating was how relevant some of their songs were today.  Just listen to the lyrics of "Blue Collar Man".  I guess it makes sense as Styx was writing songs during the Carter malaise and we are now slogging through the Bush-Obama malaise.

The concert was capped off by Foreigner.  My expectations for them were the lowest but they managed to bring me around and I enjoyed their set.  They were the only band of the three that played new stuff.  The crowd was polite but you could tell that the new stuff wasn't what most of the crowd were there for.  One cool thing was when Central High School's Vocal Jazz Ensemble (Omaha Jazz Central Station) joined the band in singing "I Want To Know What Love Is."  The Jazz Ensemble had won a VH1 Save the Music competition.  Along with the chance to perform with Foreigner, Central High School also received funding for their music program.

The night ended with a fireworks show, something Omaha really knows how to do well.  None of this 30 minutes of Pwew ... Boom.  Oh No.  They give you 10 minutes of Oh My God BOOM BOOM BOOM!!!  Very impressive.

This year's concert had record attendance.  It was so big that a jumbotron was set up to allow more people to enjoy the concert.  The final total attendance has been estimated to be around 80,000.  The crowd left a lot of trash behind.  I love this quote from a boy scout volunteering for the cleanup effort:
"Last year it was a needle and a bag of marijuana," the 14-year-old from Boy Scout Troop 42 said. "This year it's ... condoms and margarita mix."
It was a fun time.  We enjoyed the trip back to the 70s - 80s.  It seems a lot of our concerts have been classic bands lately.  Pictures are here.

One last thing, I think all band lead vocalists should learn to sign.  That way this poor lady wouldn't have had to sign the entire concert.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Book: Hugh Pope's "Sons Of The Conquerors"

I always read non-fiction books slower than fiction.  I wonder why that is.  It was no different for my latest read, Huge Pope's "Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World".

I wanted a book that would fill in a hole I had in my history education, the Ottoman Turks.  This is not the book for that, unfortunately.  This isn't the books fault.  I was just careless in researching the book before I bought it.  The book covers the Turkic world after the breakup of the Soviet Union.  While there is some history sprinkled in the mix, most of the book covers the last twenty to thirty years.  I learned a bit about the modern Turkic world but I will have to go somewhere else for the Ottoman Empire.

Pope is a journalist who has lived and traveled extensively in what is now the Turkic world of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and various -istans most people know very little about or, sadly, care about.  The author's writing style is ... well ... that of a journalist.  Each chapter covers a single country (though there are several chapters per country) and has the distinct feel of a newspaper article.  This is okay, I guess, but the problem is that he jumps from one country to the next, one time period to another, in a very haphazard way.  I would have preferred a more chronological and geographically coherent ordering of the chapters.  But that's just me.

If you are interested in the modern Turkish world and don't mind jumping around a bit, then I would mildly recomend this book.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

2010 Vacation: Jordan - Day One - Amman

Monday, Day One of our tour, started at midnight for me.  I couldn't sleep.  I suppose it wasn't a very good idea to sleep on the airplane.  I went in and out of consciousness all night.  The Wife was smart and took an Excedrin PM.  I would have been totally irritated by my insomnia except for one thing: at 3:35 AM I heard the Call to Prayer.  It wasn't as loud as I expected it would be.  It sounded ghostly, ephemeral, and quite beautiful.  In Amman the call to prayer is a uniform recording that is started at the exact same time for all mosques.  The result is an harmonious citywide chorus.  Outside of Amman the call is sung live and the many different voices are more cacophonous.

After breakfast (beef bacon ?!?) we met our guide for the next six days -  Suhaib Al Nweihy.  Suhaib was twenty-something wearing a polo shirt with his collar turned up.  He looked like some bar hopping gigolo.  He turned out to be a nice guy and fairly knowledgeable.  He led us to a minivan where we met the first of our tour mates - MSD.  MSD was a retired civil servant from San Diego.  She would be the only other American on the tour.  She would also be our only companion for the next two days.  Ultimately our group would consist of twelve people of six nationalities living in three different hotels.  Our group would not be completely together until the afternoon of day three.

The first stop of the day was the Citadel.  Amman is built on a series of hills in the east mountains.  The Citadel, a group of Iron Age, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman ruins, is located on one of those hills.  The Roman city built here is called Philadelphia and was one of the Decapolis Cities.  This is where we were first exposed to the mixture of cultures that make up the history of Jordan.  Everywhere we went it was mainly Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman.  The ruins were my first Roman ruins and were very interesting.  After touring the grounds we went through the small but well stocked museum that included some of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Temple of Hercules
After leaving the Citadel we travel into one of the many valleys/canyons criss crossing the city to the Roman amphitheater.  The place has a capacity of 6,000 people.  The Wife and I climbed up to the top, not an easy feat in 85°F heat.  Along the way I looked for a geocache that was supposed to be hidden there.  We didn't find it and the cache logs appear to indicate that it's been gone for a while.

Roman Amphitheater from the Citadel
At this point our guide said that we had a free afternoon.  This came as a surprise as I didn't realize we had a free afternoon scheduled.  On the way back to the hotel we passed a shopping district and some of the more modern areas of Amman.  The guide explained that most buildings were built of Jordanian limestone which gives it the sandy beige - white -rose color.  Amman is sometimes refereed to as the white city.

At the hotel we decided to do a couple of things.  We found out that we were not visiting a mosque on this tour so we would visit one.  We also decided to go back to the shopping area we'd passed to do some shopping.  This is also where I had a pang of insecurity and a mild panic attack.  What is it about being in a foreign country in a taxi that sets the hair on the back of my head aloft?  What's worse, I would have to ask questions ... the horror.  Fortunately I got over my hissy-fit and we got on with our business.

We went to the hotel desk and asked about a taxi.  They suggested hiring a taxi as a city guide for about 15 JD per hour.  We went out front and the bell hop called a taxi over.  Talking with the driver (in English of course) we negotiated for 25 JD for two hours of his service and off we went.

Our first stop was the King Abdullah Mosque, a mosque we'd passed on the way to the Citadel.  The taxi parked opposite the visitor's center.  The traffic was fairly heavy and I wondered how we would cross.  Before I could wonder for long, the driver just stepped out into the street and walked across.  The cars didn't stop.  Horns were not honked. He just walked across like there was no traffic and the traffic avoided him.  I decided, rather foolishly, that I could do that too and I just walked out across the street.  It felt a little like playing Frogger without the stress of being hit.  When I reached the other side, frankly, I was amazed that I hadn't been run over.  I looked at the Wife who was still on the other side.  It became obvious that she was not as crazy as I was.  The taxi driver, also realizing what was happening, stepped back into traffic and managed to stop the traffic so that the Wife could cross.  Crazy.

First stop at the mosque was to get some coverings for the Wife.  She was given a black robe-thingy that covered all but her face.  Then we walked through a small museum featuring models of other famous mosques all over Jordan.  We picked up a brochure that explains Islam and, most interestingly, condemns those who "have done gruesome and criminal acts in its name."  This was followed by the main attraction, the interior of the mosque.  We had been a little strategic in picking the time of our visit, planning it to be between times of prayer.  We took off our shoes and entered the main prayer area which was empty except for three or four men praying.  It felt a little like a round church without pews.  A niche in the wall, where the Imam would preside, was set in the direction of Mecca.  The dome was ringed in stained glass.

We then went to the room where the women pray.  Unfortunately I didn't realize where we were going.  The Wife went in as I approached (I was taking exterior pictures).  Our taxi driver took off his shoes and then put them back on.  I took off my shoes and went in.  The taxi driver then took off his shoes again and followed me in.  There was only one women in the room but the Wife said that she had an horrified look on her face (again, I was taking pictures and missed the look).  Next thing I know a woman police officer came in and ushered us out.  She also chewed out the taxi driver.  When I realized what was going on I looked at the taxi driver and said "You could have stopped me."  He just shrugged and smiled sheepishly.  We were a little embarrassed.

Our next stop was shopping.  Unfortunately to the taxi driver this meant taking us to one of his friend's store.  While it was a very nice store, it was obvious that it was also overpriced.  I sort of let him know with my look and manner that I wasn't very happy.  He knew exactly where we'd wanted to go and was just trying to make some extra money on the side for his friend.  We bought some small trinket and the Wife wisely used this chance to find out what overpriced looked like in Jordan.  This helped us find some better deals later on.

Back in the Taxi and off we went to the shopping area that we'd seen earlier in the day.  We stopped and the driver showed us a shop that he said was pretty good.  We walked the street a bit before returning to this store.  Fifteen minutes later, after talking with a real salesman, one who probably watched too many westerns,  we had some Christmas shopping done and we got pretty good deals on all of it, I think.

When we got back to the hotel we were a half hour over our two hour time allotment.  To the driver's credit he did not ask for more money and stuck to our original agreement.  We recognized the honesty by paying the original 30 JD and added a tip on top for him.

Later that night our guide picked us up and took us to Kan Zaman, an Ottoman trading post whose stables had been converted into a restaurant.  Here we had another buffet but it was a more authentic Jordanian food experience than what the hotel offered.  We invited our driver (Mohammed) to join us and we had interesting dinner conversation over interesting food.  I would never have guessed that I would like lamb in a yogurt sauce (Mansaf) but I was surprised.  I'm not sure I can say I liked it but I can say that I had no problem eating it.

After eating I took out my camera and took pictures of the stone domed arches and the impressive dinning hall.  I decided to check out a few of the other pictures I taken earlier that day.  That is when I discovered that my camera would not display several pictures.  Actually, of the 167 pictures I'd taken that day, only about 35 to 40 were viewable.  My heart sunk.  I had an extra battery but I did not have an extra SDHC card. On the way back to the hotel I asked the guide if we could stop somewhere to buy a new card on day two of our tour and he said we would.

That night I spent about an hour in the business center trying to see if the pictures were good or bad.  Unfortunately there was no RAW viewer capable of viewing the pictures I took.  Everything looked okay.  The files were there and they varied in size like pictures would.  I didn't accomplish much except to infect the camera card and my thumbdrive with Viruses/Trojans.  I went to bed, after taking an Excedrin PM, hoping that the pictures would be there when I got home.  I slept better that night - better than I expected I would - while it was the Wife's turn to hear the call to prayer at 4:00 AM.  (The time of the call to prayer is based on the rise and set of the Sun so it varies as the day lengthens and shortens.)

The Wife and I have come to the conclusion that my camera problems were punishment for entering the woman's mosque.

The few pictures I took that survived can be found in my 2010-07 Jordan Google Photos album.  What is missing is most of the Citadel, the museum (including pictures of the dead sea scrolls), the roman amphitheater up close, the King Abdullah mosque, the Kan Zaman, and, most disappointing, the seven goat heads lined up in a butcher's window.  As I post, I will add more pictures to the set.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

I'm Beginning To Hate ... Falcons

I've been putting off posting about Jordan until I find out the results of my latest attempt to recover my corrupt pictures.  Well, the pictures arrived in the mail today on four DVDs.  I would like to share a small sample of the recovered pictures:

The last picture I took in Jordan was of a Falcon at a rest stop.  Every picture that was "recovered" was of the falcon.  Several hundred pictures of the F-ing falcon.  When I click on the thumbnail, I get "invalid image".

I haven't given up all hope.  I think I'll visit a local camera store to see if they have any ideas. What bothers me is all the files on the card are of varying sizes consistent with a RAW format picture but all the recovered pictures have the same size.  Seems odd to me.

Anyway, I plan to start posting about Jordan tomorrow with the pictures I have.  I'm missing three quarters of the first day, half of Petra, and all of Wadi Rum.  All in all, I lost about two of the six days.

Sorry for the delay.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Homer's Travels ... Now On Your Kindle!

The Best Man, author of the Reader's Diary, recently posted that you could subscribe to his blog on the kindle.  Not wanting to be left in the dust by progress, and finding out that it's free to publish, have set up Homer's Travel's on the kindle as well.

If you are so inclined, and lord knows why you would be, you can subscribe to Homer's Travels on your kindle here: