Monday, June 28, 2010

In a galaxy far, far away

I’ve been neglecting this poor blog for a while. There are always excuses, of course, but the nice thing is that if you’re too busy to write stuff on the blog, it often means that you’re doing interesting things that you can eventually write about.

I’ve spent the past week in Seattle. This city is beautiful, and about as far (both geographically and culturally) as you can get from Miami. I’ve never flown from one corner of the US to the other, and I hope I won’t often have to do it. There came a point on the trip, when I had already flown five hours, and yet I still had two and a half hours left, when I thought, “How can I still be in the same country?” Wikipedia claims that they are, respectively, the northern-most and southern-most major cities in the Continental U.S., and that doesn’t include the fact that you also have to travel east across three time zones.

Seattle has presented a great contrast to Miami. Here in Seattle, someone thought that my sandals, which have a low heel, might prevent me from walking to lunch. After all, most everyone else is wearing clogs or Teva-style shoes. In Miami, my clothes are two understated: my heels are too low and my skirts are too long. I definitely don’t wear enough jewelry. Seattle also reminds me that Miami is really, really flat. It’s not just Mount Rainier, which rises majestically in the distance (at least, it does on the days when it’s not raining), it’s also that most roads wind around, up and down over the hills. They all seem happy about the warm weather here, because it recently topped 75 degrees, after nine months of cooler weather. I don’t think we go below 80F in Miami in June.

The more alternative attitudes shouldn’t catch me by surprise, and yet they do. I went to a street fair yesterday and bought some kettle corn. They explained that they had salted popcorn and a sweet and salt corn. I said I was in the mood for salted popcorn, and the seller replied, “Isn’t it great how our body just knows what it needs.” They just don’t talk like that on the East Coast – we don’t get in touch with our bodies. We just take them to the gym. On the other hand, it’s nice to be in a place where eating vegetarian doesn’t get you weird looks. (Yes, it really is proving harder to be a vegetarian in Miami that it was in Germany.)

I’m here to work on a project for work. Due to unforeseen circumstances, it’s not been as rewarding as I hoped. Still, it’s great to have a week of cool weather, and to spend time with my former advisor, who’s working on this project. Plus, I get to take a field trip to a wind farm at the end, and that just sounds like science nerd nirvana.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The marvels and mysteries of Miami

A marvel: the beaches
I grew up in the Midwest. Sure, we had beaches. We had the Great Lakes, which provided us with sand dunes and waves and a place to splash around. But the beaches here amaze me. I'm used to water that is green, or maybe brown. And, unlike the water that comes out of the faucet, the water in the Great Lakes (or any of the 10,000 in Minnesota) is opaque. In Miami, the water is turquoise, right up until you walk into it, at which point it is clear. This blows my mind. I feel like I'm in some version of a Hollywood beach, because I didn't know until now that it was possible to see your feet when you're chest-deep in the water. And fish! You can see little schools of fish swimming around your feet. Too cool.

A mystery: They sell a lot of stuff at intersections here.
That is, when you pull up to a red light, people walk through the stopped cars, offering cold water, flowers, and shrimp. The other things they sell are bags of citrus fruit - limes and lemons. The lemons, though, appear to have all the zest removed. I've been puzzled by this, and have discussed it with many people. Removing the zest makes fruit go bad more quickly, and lemon zest is a pretty useful ingredient. I know now what's going on, though. Any guesses? (Answer at the bottom.)

A marvel: the dragonflies
Around campus, I can walk through what can only be called swarms of dragonflies. I'm not a big fan of bugs (as almost everyone knows) but dragonflies might be my favorite bug. They're beautiful, they don't bite you, and they don't give you the plague. The combination of palm trees and dragonflies makes me feel like I've stepped back into the Paleozoic era.

A mystery: why more people don't die in car accidents here
The columnist Dave Barry always joked about the terrible drivers in Miami. I know that lots of people claim they have bad drivers in their city, so I've been busy comparing this to DC. I can't yet tell if there are more bad drivers here, but they do seem to be bad for a different reason. In DC, aggressive driving is the norm. There was a lot of honking and a lot of tailgating. People were bad drivers because they were important and they had somewhere to be. Here, people are bad drivers because they're just not paying attention too much. So the car drifts in the lane a bit, or they pull out in front of you - they're not trying to be mean, they just aren't too worried about their driving. I'm still working on adapting to this new attitude. I honked at someone the other day, and somehow felt like I had been extremely rude. The guy hurriedly backed up out of the lane, and I realized that car honks are quite rare here. I'm still adapting.

***The secret is, they're not actually lemons. They're oranges, and they've been peeled by a machine, and then bagged. This makes them easy to eat, although I think it also means that you have to eat a huge bag of oranges before they spoil.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Vacation retrospective, the UK version

When we were on vacation last month, I didn't have much Internet access and so I couldn't put record quite as much as I had hoped to. Here's the first in a series of posts to remedy that.

Andrew's family's favorite place to vacation is in Wales. It's only a few hours' drive from their house, but offers a very different landscape compared to the Midlands, where they live. My previous visit occurred in December, so I tend to think of Wales as a cold, empty place. In the spring and summer, though, it fills up with vacationers, and the shops and various attractions are open. For us, the principle attractions were the beach (although it was still cold enough that I wore a hat and gloves) and fish and chip shops. The fish and chip shops provide all things deep fried, so I believe my options included a veggie burger or pineapple rings, both battered and fried.
One of our day trips included a trip to Puffin Island. In the picture below, Andrew's father gazes hopefully (but fruitlessly) toward Puffin Island, which appeared to have no puffins on the day we visited.

We had extraordinarily good weather for the UK. It was generally warm and sunny, and we all enjoyed it immensely. I especially appreciated this when we got to Germany, where it was unseasonably cool.
The crowning event of our week was a trip to the opera with Andrew's parents. The tickets were a gift from them, and I found it quite a novel experience to attend opera with parents. My parents, although they did their best to introduce me to many types of music when I was a child, had no special love for opera. In fact, I believe my father offered to pay for my voice lessons only on the condition that I promised never to sing opera. So, it was a great gift. Thanks, G & F!