Category Archives: paradise

Chocolate Paradise with Animatronic Cows

Ahhh, lovely chocolate themepark place, how I adore thee.

Visiting a theme park, any theme park, something is bound to go wrong.  Too much humanity crowds into too small a space, adrenaline levels rise, people eat bad food, glucose levels spike, trends in wearing identical matched clothing magnify bodily imperfections to frightening levels (whether Youth Group Smiley-Face t-shirts or double velour sequened sweatsuits).

Yet the trip my family took to Hershey Park was almost perfect.  We tasted chocolate, dark, darker, milk, spiced = yum.  We bought chocolate.  We sipped hot coco.  We made our own candy bars.  Double yum.

Candy being specially made-to-order for us at the ‘Make a Bar’ attraction.

Chocolate actually flows through this pipe: I need one of these!

And then we took the little indoor tramcar ride through what we thought would be the machine-shop workings of the ‘real’ Hershey’s plant.  We wanted to see the Kit-Kats and other delicacies in their moment of nugaty, carmely, chocolatey birth.

Wrong.

Cow butts. Weird.

What we got instead were singing animatronic cows, sometimes (oddly enough) with their swishing, dusty butts turned toward us, all amid a flashing frenzy of lights, a Willy-Wonka-Meets-Ann-of-Green-Gables abomination from which all of us (but especially my stout and very nearly manly sons) fled as quick as the seatbelts and lapbars unclicked at the end of the ride.

Go there.  They’ve built it.  See it for yourselves.  And certainly build a candy bar of your own choosing.  But beware the cows.

Scary Dancing Cows . . . not sure if this shows up as a movie, but try to click on it. Animatronics just BOTHER me.

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Sleep Fishing

This image qualifies as the opposite of “Not Quite Right.”  It’s 100% right, what life should be like everyday.

Taken in the Boundary Waters, a canoe-only wilderness on the border of Minnesota and Canada.  My 12-year old had paddled 13 miles and then fished, almost non-stop, for the rest of the day.  Late afternoon, beautifully calm skies and waters, the fishing ‘action’ had drifted off and so, too, had he.  He’s completely asleep in this photo, though he’s holding his fishing pole cupped in both hands and though the bobber drifts on the mirror-flat surface of the lake.  A fish even bit at one point, pulling and jiggling the bobber beneath the surface.  He continued to sleep and then, at last, after about 20 minutes, startled awake, completely unaware of where he was!  How strange it must have been for him to wake from a dream into the very place of his dreams.

My 12-year old, in paradise.


Distance Makes Bootcamp Grow Fond

Not that I wasn’t fond of Oman when my family and I enjoyed the awesome experience of living there for a year, but now, looking back through photos, some of the more mundane or even unpleasant aspects seem better.  Take our present experience of New Jersey traffic for instance. The rudeness of drivers here almost makes me wish for the super-sonic speeds and random construction zone lane-changing of Oman, always accompanied by smiles and good manners.  Or the heat.  Miserable to live through an Omani summer, but O, the winter — 80F with balmy sunshine every day!

In addition to the steps and the beach where bootcamp was conducted, I linger over the fine remembered taste of Costa Coffee (seen in background) not to mention the pleasant swaying of so many palm trees.

Even this photo, seeming rather barren, rather boring, inspires a moment of NQR reflection and remembrance.  It was at the base of these steps, along a stretch of Muscat beach sometimes left dry by the tide, sometimes washed over knee-deep by blessedly cool water, that my wife and I and a goodly number of our friends and acquaintances — mostly expats, though my buddy Aflah became a regular attendee — tortured ourselves every morning by attending a bootcamp physical training session led by two crazy South African gentlemen.

Ahh, I look at the steps and wish I could return to those mornings:  waking up with a light mist of sandstorm or mosquito-fogging (an expelled concoction part deisel, part napalm) floating in the air, temperatures hovering around 90, 95F at 5am, picking our way down these very steps, sometimes awash with kelp and little crablike critters, slipping, tiptoeing to keep our shoes dry, waving the beam of a flashlight in front of us to avoid stepping on anything truly unpleasant.  Then gathering in the dark with the other masochistic morning bootcampers, a quick jog down beach, a stretch, and a return to the real heart and misery of the morning.  Usually it went something like this:  1 minute of a randomly chosen but inevitably brutal exercise, the easy ones being push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, the tough ones impossible combinations of twisting, pushing, prying, jumping and generally getting wet sand into every crevice of the body; then a quick shuttle-run sprint down to a line drawn in the sand; another minute of a different but equally painful exercise; a second sprint to a farther line in the sand; a third exercise; a third and final sprint to the farthest of the lines.  Rest.  Repeat.  Sweat.  Repeat.  Charge into the water (maybe bringing gallon jugs to fill and then lift in a final burst of calesthetics or isotonics).  Return home dripping, sandy, but well-worn and well-woken for the day’s chores and pleasures.

Thinking back on it now, such mornings seem almost perfect, although a little bird in the back of my head still chirps a reminder about bleary-eyed cursing that occurred during, and especially en route to, such bootcamp fondnesses.


The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge

Joris Hoefnagel's painting: "Animalia" -- unknown whether the artist employed a fine camelhair brush in his creation

On to a discussion of the sort of completely esoteric (by which I mean, ‘interesting but utterly useless from a practical sense’) things a person might encounter during graduate school.  Add to this esotericity a small dose of humor and we have a subject begging to be NQR‘ed.

This is the somewhat famous taxonomy of “The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge.”

As background, this list is reputed to be genuine, though likely is a fiction created or latched onto by Jose Luis Borges to show that all organization of the world into categories — despite the very convincing and cannonized taxonomies of Artistotilian and Linnaean thought to which we in the West have become accumstomed — is necessarily arbitrary.  In simpler terms, even though we think of classifications like ‘mammals’ and ‘reptiles’ to be fundamental to a ‘correct view’ of the world, those classifications are no more real than what Borges presents in this following list of ‘ancient Chinese’ groupings.

That’s prolly ‘enuff words for today.  Enuff high-falutin’ talk.  I’ll merely leave you with the original Borgian list, hoping that ideas will roll around in the back of your brain and that, the next time you look at something and slap a label on it, you think twice: “Does it belong to the emperor or has it just broken the flower vase?”

All animals fall into one of 14 categories:

  1. Those that belong to the emperor
  2. Embalmed ones
  3. Those that are trained
  4. Suckling pigs
  5. Mermaids
  6. Fabulous ones
  7. Stray dogs
  8. Those that are included in this classification
  9. Those that tremble as if they were mad
  10. Innumerable ones
  11. Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  12. Et cetera
  13. Those that have just broken the flower vase
  14. Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

Peace on Veteran’s Day

Yesterday I stumbled into the monastic quiet of Chancellor Green Hall on the Princeton campus, just to sit and think for awhile before the start of a seminar.  There, in the empty octagonal enclosure, with light streaming from all angles through gorgeous stained glass windows, I found a little item worthy of a Not Quite Right mention in honor of this Veteran’s Day, 11-11-11.

An image of peace in a window of Chancellor Green Hall, Princeton.

I’ve got two takes on the image of this Crusader-like figure, both of them worth mentioning in the context of NQR.

First, I wonder if the artist intended the image to embody the Pax Romana, the somewhat oxymoronic enforcement of peace through a monopoly on violence.  Does the horseman’s slumping posture hint at the failure inherent in such a doctrine?  Or is his head held high, looking foward to a horizon that must lead to a soldier’s self-sacrifice in the name of his ideals?

Second, and maybe simultaneously, I think that this figure represents the very opposite idea: a Don Quixote, piquant, holding aloft a banner embroidered with a single word for Peace despite the realities of the world around him.  I like this interpretation best.  It has warmth to it that matches the warmth of the light flooding through the colored baubles of glass — the lone soldier holding to an unreality, facing a corrupt world.  The invocation of Don Quixote touches also upon madness, a beautiful madness that sees things in their most wondrous light rather than in their most real and dismal actualities.  Unfortunately, such an idea is one for books, for literature, for poetry.  It intersects only in the realm of ideas with what life is really like for a soldier.

I think of the friends and comrades I have lost at war today and all those who have gone before us, sacrificing, unsure of what ideals they really represent.  All a little Quixotic.


Heavenly Etymology

The Garden of Allah by Maxfield Parrish.

I’m going to nerd-out here for a moment in order to show my enthusiasm for what must be a totally obscure and academic discipline:  etymology.

I’m taking a course right now with Professor Michael Cook, who is a truly entertaining teacher as well as being one of the world’s most iconoclastic scholars of Islam.  During the course, reading through an Arabic passage on the life of the revered Muslim scholar Bukhari, we came across a strange nisba, or surname, in Bukhari’s lineage.  The name, roughly transliterated into English, was Birdizbah.

This is, doubtlessly, a non-Arabic name.

We asked Professor Cook about it in class and he launched into a really groovy etymological explanation.

It seems he, too, had the same question but was not, like me, completely dumbfounded when it came to deciphering the word.  He guessed that it likely derived from a very obscure Iranian language (still spoken in one little valley in Tajikistan) called Sogdian.

He found an online Sogdian discussion forum (wonder of wonders!) and posed the question of the origins of this name to the assembled electronic Sogdians and Sogdian enthusiasts.  It seems, within a short period of time, that a Japanese scholar identified the ‘–bah’ ending of Bardizbah as roughly equivalent with the Indian term ‘walla,’ which could mean lord or possessor or owner of something.

Then in the same forum an English professor, switching the Arabized ‘B’ to a phonetically equivalent Persian ‘P’ arrived at Pardiz for the first half of the name.

This gave Professor Cook “Pardiz-walla’ or “Owner of Pardiz” for the rough meaning.

It was only a small step further to produce our English-language version:  Paradise.

Lord of Paradise.

When you think about it, it’s quiet beautiful as a name, really.  And the only quip I can make as far as NQR is the fact that such a linguistic excavation was really incredibly interesting to me.  I guess I’m in the right place, immersed in academia!