Comparing the “Alien” Films

23 May

I sometimes pepper the travel content of this blog with movie critiques.  See, I was a movie geek long before I became a travel geek, and both activities appeal to the dreamer inside me.  (I have even penned a few screenplays – of varying degrees of ineptitude.)

The Alien films, which began with 1979’s simply-titled Alien, comprise one of my favorite movie universes.  Not only do they generally have above-average writing and acting, but their art direction and creature design are state of the art.  And what kind of traveling journeyman hasn’t dreamed of spending months or years in peaceful cryo-sleep, en route to a new world?!

This past weekend marked the release of Alien: Covenant, the sixth film in the franchise.  So far, it has all the hallmarks of a box office disaster, although it will still turn an eventual profit following its overseas release.  I don’t consider the cheeky AVP (Alien vs. Predator) movies part of the immediately family, but I will share my thoughts about the six core Alien films in the following paragraphs.

Yes, there will be SPOILERS.

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Cuba: The Food

19 May

This is pargo.  Pargo – snapper, for the non-Spanish speakers reading this – is a common dish for both tourists and locals in Cuba.  I mention this distinction because during my travels through Cuba this past March, I learned that the diets for Cubanos and extranjeros are, with a few exceptions, worlds apart.

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Four Days in San Miguel de Allende

15 May

The colonial cities and towns of Mexico, with their leafy public squares, Baroque churches, vibrant markets, and colorful architecture are quite special.  Oaxaca, Querétaro, Guanajuato, even much bigger Guadalajara…all are worth visiting.  For years, the small city of San Miguel de Allende, acclaimed by countless travel writers as among the very best, alluded me.  One planned visit was canceled after I caught the flu.  Another was aborted following a schedule change at work.  But this past March, I finally made it to San Miguel de Allende…

…and it was worth the wait.

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A Sunday on Doll Island

7 May

I had the opportunity, during my recent February trip to Mexico City, to make a return visit to Xochimilco, the canal district and delegación that has much to offer visitors and Chilangos both.  Xochimilco is most famous for its canals, tranquil (albeit polluted) waterways that zig-zag through largely agricultural acreage.  This was my fourth or fifth trip to Xochimilco, but rather than take the tren ligero (light rail train) to the market-church-and-canal trifecta that I call Xochimilco Town, I opted for a longer, spookier trip.  My destination: Doll Island.

La Isla de las Muñecas (Doll Island) is a small island in a remote section of Xochimilco’s waterways that, as its name suggests, is home to children’s dolls.  Hundreds of them.  Decaying.

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Photo Locale of the Month – April 2017

30 Apr

It has been five years since I last visited Europe, and six years since my first, and thus far only, visit to Spain.  I visited with a friend in April, 2011, and flew into Barcelona for two days, which was not enough time by half.  The Catalonian capital was enchanting enough, and the unseasonably warm weather instilled us with high hopes for how the rest of the trip would go.

Alas, eight days of late-season rainfall swept in a few days later, dampening our spirits (no pun intended) to the point that we hightailed it out of Spain one week earlier than expected.  We finished the trip in Paris, which is a delight to visit in any climate and which was greeted by an early summer.  One city we did visit in Spain before the worst of the weather moved in was Granada, a mid-sized Andalucían borough with roughly 235,000 people.  As regards tourism, Granada has one mainstay, the massive, UNESCO-protected Alhambra.

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Cuba Photo Gallery: The Propaganda

25 Apr

It is no secret that Cuba, for many years a no-go destination for most Americans, is rife with propaganda.  Much of it is anti-American, or anti-Capitalist, and an equal amount of it is pro-Castro, or pro-revolution.  Throughout my travels to China, Russia, the Ukraine, and Syria, I have always found a certain kitschiness in images of Mother Russia, of the working man sowing fields “for the people,” of that great hammer-and-sickle, of the Fearless Leader.  Even Mexico has its share of anti-colonial propaganda, from urban graffiti to the murals of Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.  Some of these images are impressive, artistically-speaking, while others make me laugh.  The key, I think, is to take them with a considerable grain of salt.

Here is a gallery of Cuban propaganda as photographed by yours truly.  They are in no way a reflection of my political beliefs; I don’t condone the violence that accompanied Cuba’s revolution.

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Cuba Photo Gallery: The People

16 Apr

I have not, historically speaking, been good at photographing people.  From time to time, I’d notice a person during my travels who had that photogenic something that I knew needed to be captured, and – after getting their permission – I would try my best to photograph them, being cognizant of their time and any cultural sensitivities.  I always made it a point to show them the picture afterwards, and frequently offered to email them a copy of the image.

The results were mixed, however.  That gap-toothed Asian woman along the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall?  I captured the smile but zoomed in too much.  The curious boy standing near the Istanbul tram that ran through Sultanahmet?  He posed, soldier-like, but I forgot to crouch down to his level, and his head appeared the size of a giant pumpkin.

I have gotten better, however.  I felt especially brave – and as curious as that young Turkish kid – while exploring Cuba, and snapped dozens upon dozens of pics of Cuban locals going about their business.  Fishing, singing, selling, relaxing.  The camera gods smiled upon me those three incredible weeks.  Here are some of my favorite shots, along with any relevant commentary:

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A Reunion of Amigos

9 Apr

Q: What do an entrepreneur, a human resources executive, a high school English teacher, a middle school history and science teacher, and a graduate student have in common?

A: They live in Mexico City, and they are my friends.

My long-awaited (for me, at least) return to “CDMX” was a resounding success.  I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see, nor was I able to hit up every one of my former stomping grounds, but on the whole, I was able to stroll through some of my favorite neighborhoods and spend time with old friends – even if it was just for a quick drink.

Would you like to meet them?  (Apologies in advance to mis amigos for posting these pics – although I don’t think the content is anything too compromising.)

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A Few Paragraphs about Cuba

31 Mar

It has been less than one week since I journeyed from Havana to Mexico City, and it has been just two full days since I returned home to Tennessee from there.  I was gone for six weeks, and whenever I settle back in to my normal routine following a trip of similar length, it always feels as if everything “back home” has changed, even though it usually hasn’t.

I am in the early stages of reviewing and labeling the over 6,000 photos that I took during my travels.  That is going to take awhile, to put it mildly, but I did eyeball my pics, looking for a few images that were representative of each place I visited.  This was, suffice to say, not an easy task.  I have much to say about the “real” Cuba, and some strong opinions about “Cuba for tourists” vs. “Cuba for locals.”  These stories will manifest themselves in time, and will be interspersed with tales about my first trip back to Mexico since I left there in July, 2014.

But to whet your appetite and to find a starting point for my own storytelling, I thought I’d write just a few paragraphs about Cuba – one per city visited, let’s say – and post a few pictures as well.

Enjoy…and thanks for reading!

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Photo Locale of the Month – March 2017

29 Mar

It has been less than 24 hours since my plane touched down in Knoxville, marking the end of an unforgettable, nearly six-week trip to Mexico and Cuba.  I slept like a baby last night, and have spent much of this morning sorting my dirty laundry and uploading pics – thousands of them – to my computer.  The trip itself had the usual ups and downs, with plenty more highs than lows, but lots of time for self-reflection.  I thought about previous travels to Latin America and to places all across the globe.  I thought about my old life in Mexico City, and about the possibility of settling down there again in the not-so-distant future.  I thought about my mom, whom I miss terribly.  I thought about my dad, who I know has had trouble sleeping and filling the void in his life left by my mom’s passing.  Lastly, I thought about my own mortality.

So you could certainly call the trip “profound.”  I know that many of my Loyal Readers are looking forward to seeing trip pics and hearing stories about what it was like to return to Mexico for the first time in two-and-a-half years, and about whether Cuba really is as colorful, as anti-Capitalist, as – dare I say “backwards” – as it is often portrayed in the West, particularly by the U.S. media.  Those stories are coming; I have dozens to tell.  But first, the completist in me wants to continue my monthly travel photo gallery series.  The images below were uploaded prior to my recent trip, as a way of back-logging content for March.

Colonia del Sacramento – “Colonia” for short – is, for many travelers, the only part of Uruguay that they take the time to visit.  Most of them, myself included, see the small colonial city on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, just upriver from where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean, as a day trip from Buenos Aires.  It was March of 2011 when I woke up before daybreak in my Argentine hostel and stumbled, bleary-eyed, across the city to the Buquebus ferry terminal.  Border formalities are handled before boarding, and I found myself with two more stamps in my passport.  Less than 90 minutes (and two coffees) later, I was in Uruguay!

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