My Christmas Place

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

At Christmas time, my thoughts turn to Reykjavik, Iceland. I always think of the small city—the world’s northernmost capital—as my special Christmas place.

Not that I have ever been there at Christmas, which at that latitude is dark twenty-two hours a day around the winter solstice. No, like most of the other tourists, I have only been here in the summer. Then why do I think of Reykjavik when I think of Christmas? Is it the warmth of its people in that freezing seasonal darkness? Is it the thirteen Yule Lads of Icelandic lore that have woven their spell on me?

Here is a photo of the port of Reykjavik taken by Páll Stefánsson of The Iceland Review. His photographs have a way of keeping his little land foremost in my mind.

As for the “real” meaning of Christmas, I give you this comic strip by Berkeley Breathed:

A Merry Christmas to All!

A Merry Christmas to All!

Thousand Palms

At the Thousand Palms Oasis

At the Thousand Palms Oasis

There are strange and beautiful corners of this country that take one by surprise. One such was the Thousand Palms Oasis, to which my brother introduced Martine and me last Friday. Not far from the usual desolation of the Coachella Valley was a large concentration of California Fan Palms, the Washingtonia filifera. Most of the palms in the California desert are Arabian imports, such as the date palms of Indio; but the California Fan Palms are native to the state.

As we walked into the oasis, the temperature dropped by several degrees; and there was a whiff of sulfur in the air from springs that bubbled up from the ground.

Natural Spring in the Oasis

Natural Spring in the Oasis

The oasis was not very large, and there was even a subsidiary oasis about a quarter of a mile farther on. But while we were in the shadow of the palms, we were transported far from the barren rocks, dirt and succulents of the desert floor. The effect was magical.

The Only Way to Survive in the Jungle

Having a Beer in Puerto Iguazu

Having a Beer in Puerto Iguazu

When I went to Iguazu Falls last month, it was the first time I had ever been in what I call a “monkey jungle.” There isn’t much jungle in Argentina, but the northeasterly states of Corrientes and Misiones readily qualify. Many of the trees have been cleared to make room for the Yerba Mate crop, of which most is consumed within Argentina itself (and sometimes in the United States by strange people like me).

Although I had Yerba Mate even for breakfast in the jungle—in the form of teabags, usually referred to as mate cocido—the drink which kept me going during the day was ice cold beer. In the above picture, I am enjoying a Quilmes, which is as popular down there as the various Anheuser-Busch productoids are here. You can see the edge of the pool at the Posada la Sorgente on Avenida Córdoba in Puerto Iguazu. In the late afternoon, I enjoyed having a cool one by the outdoor bar while reading my Kindle.

My overwhelming impression of the selva was that it was hot and humid, especially as it was getting ready to unleash a Biblical thunderstorm on the evening of the day the above picture was taken.

Bananas on the Bar at Posada la Sórgente

Bananas on the Bar at Posada la Sorgente

Here is another view of the bar, which had a handy basket of home-grown bananas at its edge.

I don’t know if I will ever find myself in the jungle again. For the Iguazu Falls, though, it was worth it. My greatest fear going there was the possibility of getting bitten by disease-carrying mosquitoes. Not too far north, in Brazil, the Zika fever (carried by the same Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry malaria, dengue, and chikungunya) is so prevalent that residents of the State of Pernambuco and surrounding areas are being urged to avoid getting pregnant. The danger? The children are in danger of being born with microcephaly.

Fortunately, not only was I not bitten: I did not even see any mosquitoes.

Selfie Sunday

This Baby Smiles for Selfies

This Baby Smiles for Selfies

Visiting my family in Palm Desert, I was amazed by my niece Hilary’s little four-month-old baby. His name is Oliver Moorman, and whenever his dad Joseph (at the left in all the pictures above) takes a selfie which includes him, little Ollie cracks a delightful smile.

The other persons are, clockwise from the upper left:

  • My brother Dan
  • Martine
  • Hilary
  • My nephew Dan
  • Me
  • Just Joe and Ollie
  • My sister-in-law Lori
  • My niece Jen (in the center picture)

Even though Joe, Hilary, and Ollie arrived from Seattle with colds, it was amazing to see the baby stage such a quick recovery.

It has been a couple of decades since I’ve handled an infant, and I have to say the experience is magical. Oh, he did occasionally squirm and fret, but in every case it was like a small cloud scudding across the sun. Just wait a second or two, and the sun comes out again bright as ever.

All of us were entranced with little Ollie. May he live long and prosper—and always be happy!

 

Seeing the Latest Paris

The Area Around Palm Springs

The Area Around Palm Springs

I’ll be taking a four-day weekend beginning tomorrow to visit my brother, nieces, and nephew in the Palm Springs area. Most particularly I’ll be meeting young Oliver Moorman (pictured below), who is the latest addition to the Paris family. Names don’t matter: It’s the blood that counts.

Oliver Moorman

Oliver Moorman

The little lad is the son of my niece Hilary and her husband Joseph Moorman, who live in West Seattle. In addition, Jennifer and Daniel will be driving from San Diego and L.A. respectively to join in the festivities.

My next posting will probably be on Monday or Tuesday of next week.

 

(Not) Strictly for the Birds

Toucan at Güiráoga

Toucan at Güiráoga

In the Guarani language, it means the House of Birds. Fortunately for the animals sheltered there, it’s not limited to birds.

I arrived in Puerto Iguazu by an overnight bus from Buenos Aires, so I decided not to go right away to the famous falls. Instead, I took a taxi to Güiráoga on the outskirts of town. There, I boarded a tractor-driven trailer and rode to the heart of the local jungle, where there were cages containing birds, monkeys, coatimundis, small mammals, and even a crocodile. Our guide was a young Italian naturalist, who led the tour in Spanish. (There is a tour in English, but I was there too late in the day for that.)

The purpose of Güiráoga is to rehabilitate injured animals. According to The Argentina Independent:

Sadder, human activity is what populates the rehabilitation centre; most of the injured animals are victims of poachers, automobiles, or wildlife trafficking. In a recent case, several wild birds were confiscated from the Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires. Those that were not found dead were transported back to Güirá Oga for rehabilitation.

Seeing the occupants in action at the park, however, helps you believe there is still good in the human species. Two vultures square off against each other, oblivious to their onlookers; several small birds flirt and chase one another around their cage; and all except one of the Capuchin monkeys cuddled and showed off for their viewers.

On the jungle trails in the Iguazu National Park, one can see several of the birds and animals, but not all. That’s why my toucan appears behind a chain link fence. I did see plenty of capuchin monkeys (called monos in Argentina) and coatimundis. Happily, I did not encounter any crocodiles or leopards on my walks.

The website (in Spanish) of Güiráoga is accessible by clicking here.

On Eating Leaves

Some People’s Idea of a Meal

Some People’s Idea of a Meal

Sometimes I feel as if the entire medical profession is ganging up on me to eat salads with or without chicken. To begin with, I am no lover of chicken or turkey, though I like to use their stock in cooking soups.

But I draw the line at what the typical American considers a salad: a bunch of leaves with some goopy dressing. My complaint is not with raw vegetables. In hot weather I make good salads with red and green peppers, celery, onions, garlic, and even a few leaves of red leaf or butter lettuce mixed in. Salads consisting of nothing but leaves, as in “field greens,” I usually leave on my plate untouched. Without a decent crunch, salads come across as limp weeds with no character.

Now certain Middle Eastern salads are more to my liking, such as Shirazi or Israeli salads, with diced tomatoes and cucumbers—and no raw greens. Even Greek salads have some crunch, along with some tasty feta cheese for flavor. But American salads, well ….

I know that “they’re good for you”—but so is a lot of other unpalatable stuff. When I eat, I don’t like to feel that I am grazing in a meadow. (I suspect that most people who eat those all-leaf salads are doing it to make room for rich pastries or chocolates afterwards, when out of sight of one’s friends.)

Do I eat enough vegetables? Yes, indeed! All my dishes include a good mix of veggies. Especially my soups, which usually contain Swiss chard or kale mixed with stock in my blender.