Saturday, August 09, 2008


I didn't mean to leave yesterday's post hanging. It was about umbrellas: how the little ones are convenient for carrying but not for using, and the big ones are the opposite. Here are two ways to tie the topic up: One, I found a folding umbrella at the grocery store that telescopes to about two-feet long closed; and it's as large as a golf umbrella opened. It was about six bucks. I'm returning for some more of them. This covered me during our four-day birthday retreat last weekend. Two (and the reason I was thinking about this yesterday), on Thursday night after perfect Japanese noodle soup with a perfectly fried egg floating in it, I went to Lush, a club near the corner of Lý Tự Trọng and Tôn Đức Thắng streets, and retrieved my lost black umbrella. It had been thirteen days since I'd left it in a locker there, but they still had it. I'm very happy about that. During all this rain protection talk I've forgotten to mention all last week's flooding. The very Friday afternoon that we flew to the soggy central highlands city of Dalat all hell broke over Hồ Chí Minh City. It rained so hard during the last ninety minutes of the workday that many streets in the usually somewhat safe downtown area were flooded--including those streets right outside Sunshine's office building. Parts of central downtown were under nearly two feet of floodwater just in time for rush hour traffic. Scooters and cars stalled out all along downtown Hồ Chí Minh City's busiest streets, and gridlock stalled remaining traffic for kilometers in every rain-soaked direction.* Of course, we were safely in the air between rainstorms and by the time we came home Tuesday, all was right with the world again. [Cavin]

Friday, August 08, 2008


It rained the whole week before our recent trip to Dalat. It rains several times every day, in fact. This is normal. What isn't normal is that I didn't have an umbrella that week. During the rainy season, umbrellas tend to accumulate between our shoe hutch and the laundry closet door. Last week there was a little tiny blue one and a little tiny pink one there. My strong black umbrella was lost. Little tiny umbrellas are made for a purse: they collapse on spindly wire fingers and telescope down insubstantial aluminum shafts. Their tops are small and they only protect a radius of two feet. It doesn’t take much breeze to render little umbrellas totally useless. These little things fit their pursey niche, I suppose, but aren't worthwhile against rain. They accumulate because we don’t use them enough to accidentally leave them in taxicabs or nightclubs. My beautiful black umbrella was strong and useful. Also a yard long. Also I'd lost it at the end of the previous week. Every single day I couldn’t use it. I needed to buy another umbrella. I never would have bothered doing this in town--it's pretty easy to avoid the rain at home--but looking online I noticed it was also going to rain every day of our vacation. This raises a question: could I have boarded an airplane with my black umbrella? It folded into a hooked cane with a metal tip. In an environment where security screens for toys and mouthwash, a pointy stick is probably also verboten. But we frequently fly within various rainy seasons, and umbrellas small enough to fit into the checked luggage are essentially worthless. I don't want to accumulate any more of these niche umbrellas--or lose any more of the good ones. [Cavin]

Thursday, August 07, 2008


I've become a nervous flier. I've mentioned this here almost as often as I've mentioned airplanes. This nervousness is some awesome brand of irony considering how much I travel. Putting armchair labels on things is shorthand I know, but my primary nervousness seemed to begin on my first flight after September eleventh, 2001. Perhaps that's arbitrary. That terrible aviation violence took place during a five-year dry spell between my flights to Port-Au-Prince in 2000 and México City in 2005. Obviously, many other things happened to me during that half-decade (and frankly, the events of nine-eleven even didn't happen to me, except in some collective entitlement sense). But that short Mexican flight was terrifying in a way I'd never felt before. At a quick count, I've taken forty-three flights since that scary day. Over that time the sheer terror has mostly worn off. Also, I've adopted routines to help me cope. Before nine-eleven, I occasionally got a little nervous while landing. Since, I'm continuously nervous; but take-off is the worst. So I work a crossword puzzle during the beginning and end of each flight. It's just something to focus on, less passive than merely reading. Returning from Dalat on Tuesday, a thirty-minute hop nevertheless comprising both a takeoff and a landing, I worked a NYT crossword puzzle written by Nick Grivas (and originally published on a Wednesday). The theme was "Southern-style". Hoot Southernisms frequently irritate me, particularly NYT-style, but I actually had to blog about this one. For the clue "More than tipsy, Southern-style" I was expected to write the answer "drunkasacooter".* Is this some Ma and Pa Kettle-type Hollywood Hee-Haw dialog I'm unfamiliar with? Do readers of the New York Times really think we talk this way? I’m as puzzled as a polecat. As revolted as a revenuer. [Cavin]

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


I've just returned after an eventful two-week hiatus from blogging. I had no idea I was going to take this break, I even tried not to, but eventually had to concede my ability to retroactively write entries for each day I'd fallen behind. This only happens when there's too much happening to leave whatever time it will take to write it all down. What little extra I time did have was spent, during that first week, working up photographs in lieu of blogging. Those begin here, and were originally taken at the beginning of December, when the Dana Leong Band came to Ho Chi Minh City.1 Also, I've begun posting low resolution movies every Friday (the first, last Friday's, is here; let's see how long it takes me to fall behind on this scheme, too). Low resolution movies are the only kind my camera will make, but I'm doing what I can to fix the irritating auto-focus action this week. Two Fridays back we went to a party at Sunshine's office where I drank a lot of Irish whisky. Not too much, of course; I didn't even drink it all. But I did drink enough to go out and continue drinking until four am, killing any impetus I had to sit and write (or do much else) over the following weekend. There's a story about that night here. That's okay because there was little chance I'd have gotten around to writing much, anyway: that very same Friday we were at long last presented with the massive listing of available jobs for our next post. Final bids are expected by, I believe, sometime in October. Whenever I wasn't taking long showers and popping aspirin with entire bottles of water, I was researching places like Zagreb,2 Pristina,3 Podgorica,4 and Ljubljana.5 [Cavin]

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


I want to wish my good friend Bronwen Burr a very happy birthday. We are celebrating her today. I hear she celebrated it to excess Saturday. When Bronwen was born, Sunshine and I were on holiday in Xilitla, México. We are out of town on most of Bronwen's birthdays because Sunshine's own birthday is the day before. (Well, more "out of town" than normal--but we're getting confused as to what "in town" actually means.) This makes it easy to remember Bronwen's special day, since we're already doing something special at the right time to celebrate her, too. Last year, we happened to be out of town again, but at just the right place at just the right time: we were visiting Bronwen's house. We got to see her turn one. Today, when Bronwen turned two, we were in Dalat, Vietnam. We had one extra half of a large, purple, two-layer berry cake with icing roses (in various stages of bloom) and bows of curled flat white chocolate. We imagined it would be very nice to share this cake with our friend BB; but, as you know, while it was the right time we were in totally different places. It is becoming very difficult to imagine Bronwen: at two she is twice the girl we remember from her last birthday. I'm afraid she might have similar trouble imagining just how good her half of this cake would have been. There was no way to carry it on the airplane this afternoon, let alone mail it around the planet to Bronwen. Maybe it isn’t such a hot present, this tease of a half-eaten cake. So I took a picture for her instead, now she can someday imagine having, instead of eating, her half-cake. It's here when she wants it. [Cavin]

Monday, August 04, 2008


Dear everybody. We're on a wonderful four-day vacation in Dalat. Dalat is pretty close to Ho Chi Minh City geographically, but in temperament it is decidedly different. It's very cool for one thing. When it rains, it rains all week without any break. There are plushy grass-like mosses and pine forests, spongy this time of year. I probably wouldn't pause to pick-up on the accidentally dropped Update trail right now, not while we're off on holiday. But this is a vacation made up entirely of extended, luxurious pauses, our first in forever, and also made up of Sunshine's birthday, her thirty-first, which happens to be today. Since I consistently demonstrate a tendency to elaborate on needless minutia here, I imagined it wouldn't really be fitting to miss making note of this special day. Dear Sunshine, happy birthday. We just enjoyed high tea, my first ever, in conjunction with a chocolate buffet (two words that nestle together so winningly that they should only be employed on a cozy, rainy birthday). Also, since this is turning out to be a number of open letters, I'll add a carbon copy: dear Gilberto Hernandez, many years ago you sat at your art table and drew the final couple dozen or so pages of Human Diastrophism, one of my favorite Palomar stories from Love and Rockets. One of these pages, one of the best, originally appearing as the eighty-fifth page of that story in issue number twenty-six of the magazine, I think, and renumbered to page eighty-eight for various omnibus reprints, has wound its way to Vietnam. Here it has made one birthday girl very happy; and she promises to cherish your piece. Since I have rather retroactively hijacked your collaboration in this year's big surprise, I wanted to thank you. Yours truly. [Cavin]