Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Movie Review
    — Avatar

We saw Avatar yesterday at the huge-screen Cinerama theater in Seattle.  Unfortunately, not in 3D; I missed that MovieFone lists the 3D version as a separate film, so I wasn’t aware that I was only looking at 2D entries.  (And in fact, one of the theaters showing it in 3D is apparently also showing it in 2D!  Talk about confusing!)


As everyone else in the world has said, the effects are fantastic.  I noticed one of the “helicopter” shots early in the film where I could tell it was CGI rather than real, but the rest of the film was pretty darn flawless in that regard (and I really tend to notice these things).  Some of the Na’vi characters were a bit stiff in their movements, but that was (a) mostly the avatars and (b) an alien race, so it falls easily in the realm of “Willing Suspension of Disbelief”.

I’m not sure whether I missed the 3D.  Since I wear glasses as it is, any additional eyewear is a bit troublesome anyway, and tends to fail at the peripheral vision edges.  As I recall from seeing Coraline last year, some aspects of the 3D process were more bothersome for me than useful as a result.  In particular, I had a couple nauseau bits with the overhead and falling camera shots seeing it just in 2D, which I think might have been worse in 3D.  But I could also tell that some of the “depth of field” shots — the landing helicopters, the Hallelujah Mountains, the flying dragons — probably would have been that much more “wow” with 3D.  I’ll probably have to see it again, in 3D, just to be sure.

The story?  Eh, yeah, you’ve heard the complaints.  It’s not that the story is weak, just that it’s standard, by the book: human (or white man) is assigned to research/spy on aliens (or natives), human falls in love with their lifestyle and the chief’s daughter, human fights back against his own kind’s intent to destroy the natives.  The first step on that plot trail leads inexorably to the last step.  With two possible endings: pure heart of the natives beats back the humans/white men, or technological superiority destroys the natives.  (The first is what happens in fictional stories, the second is what happens in historical dramas.)  But in the middle of watching the movie, you really don’t notice that too much.

Now that the Hometree is destroyed, the Na’vi clan will have to move elsewhere (although still close to the Tree of Souls).  Despite shipping the humans back offworld (which really means just back into orbit), there is absolutely nothing that’s going to prevent them from coming back down to mine the unobtanium.  It might take a while to get the needed confirmation from Corporate on whether to nuke it from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure) in revenge or to just go in again, but the odds of the Company just writing this whole thing off as a loss is remote.  Best option will be for Jake to work to broker a mining deal, but even then, we know those agreements are made to be broken, and other lesser deposits will be found and exploited, and there’s basically no way for the Na’vi to win this and not end up on reservations or outright exterminated.  As noted, the humans have nothing the Na’vi want, so there’s nothing that will prompt diplomacy and nothing to stop the eradication of the People.  (And the Company may want to exact specific revenge on their employee, Jake, for destroying Company equipment and absconding with Company property, his Avatar body.)

Speaking of dragons… I thought this after the travesty of Eragon and I really think this now: someone needs to be producing Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” novels now!  The dragon effects are so ready for this.  It’s a two- or three-picture deal just waiting to be made, with the option of additional films out the back (the Harper Hall trilogy, Moreta’s Ride, Dragonsdawn,…).  I want to see Thread!  (Mind you, they absolutely have to use Michael Whelan’s dragon designs!  Those whirling eyes!)

Odd thoughts:
  • The wolf-niche creatures reminded me a lot of the alleged chupacabras which have been filmed or killed recently.
  • The idea that the Company in this is the same one as in the Alien films (especially Aliens, since that was also directed by James Cameron) gives rise to questioning whether Sigourney Weaver’s character here is related to the one in Alien.  It could work easily enough if you apply the cloning concept from the Heartbreakers comics — where one base person is cloned with genetic tweaks to create scientist clones, warrior clones, and so on.  (I recall that was even a continuity burp between the 3rd and 4th Aliens films which this could explain, something with Weaver’s character dying in one and being back in the next.  Never saw them myself.)
  • The idea that the Hometree is so huge precisely because it is on top of the unobtanium deposit is never broached.
  • A book?  They still print stuff on paper-like materials?  The amount of fuel required to transport that weight of paper is cost prohibitive.
  • After making The Bond with the horse and the dragon and the tree, why didn’t we see those fiber-optic tentacles making the bond between Jake and his Na’vi princess?  Surely that would be the most intense intimacy possible.  (Oh god, I’ve just opened the door for gay Na’vi fanfic stories!)
  • Wasn't Norman in the portable link station when the colonel started smashing it up to disconnect Jake?  He had forcibly come out of the link when his Avatar body was shot, but then what happened to him?  (I think we saw in in-Avatar again when the Company folks were being escorted off planet.)
  • When Jake first got in his body and ran out of the medical bay, there were a dozen other Avatars with people linked into them.  What happened to them?  All loyal to the company?  All killed by the colonel?  All just conveniently forgotten?

Updated on December 29, 2009

Updated on February 26, 2010
After having seen a bunch of other movies on my February 2010 trip to New Zealand, I came back to thinking about Avatar’s story, combined with the Best Picture nomination the film has received.

Avatar does not deserve the Best Picture award.  While technically brilliant, the simplistic plot is a fatal flaw.  15 minutes into the film, you know exactly how the story will resolve: damaged man joins native tribe, man falls in love with native girl, man becomes the best native ever, man fights his own people to save the natives, natives win.  There is no particular subtlety and no notable deviation from the standard plotline.  The movie is on a bobsled track: unless it jumps the track (which then kills everyone involved — like nuking the entire planet), it&rsquos going to go right to the end, with the only question being how fast.  (I figured a luge reference there would be tacky.  Oops.)

In comparison, the other heavily animated film nominated for Best Picture — Up, pretty much designed for kids — has more layers to the plot and several possible endings, each with their own poignant value.  Avatar is a big FAIL in comparison.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wordplay #1

What is a sexy Egyptian teen supposed to do in Kansas during the summer?
When it’s hot in Topeka, a hot Coptic eats a Hot Pocket and shops at Hot Topic.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Writing Tidbit
    — Leaves

Something that came to me while riding to work this morning…
An autumn leaf sat in the middle of the street. Orange and brown, its edges curled under it from the dry, frosted air. A puff of wind and it skittered across the asphalt, the crisp edges making the faintest scraping noises.


There was no wind.

Woo hoo, post #100!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Movie Review
    — The Road to El Dorado

Via Netflix, I finally watched this animated film from the year 2000.  Some semi-spoilers below.
  • Completely forgettable songs by Elton John.
  • Every see a movie trailer which you feel like has shown you every good scene?  (Witchboard is the one that I first remember giving me that feeling.)  This one’s trailer goes a step beyond and shows the villain’s defeat!
  • Were these folks Aztecs or Mayas?  Imagery was mostly Mayan, I think, but the Spanish villain being Cortes (Cortez) points to the Aztecs.
  • Slightly puzzled by the inclusion of the Cortes plot at all.  The only menace added came from the knowledge that Cortez wiped out the Aztecs.  And after the big fight with the High Priest, the boat crash and such is denouement.  I suspect they just needed another 10 minutes of story to get things to the 70 minute mark needed for a theatrical release.
  • Curious to watch the credits and see that other than the character animation, lots of other parts of the film appeared to have been farmed out to a bunch of other animation studios (probably doing various computer work, I guess).
  • Can we draw thematic connections between this and the Hope/Crosby “Road” movies?   (Apparently so.  IMDB trivia says Miguel and Tulio’s reflections twist into Hope and Crosby at one point.)
  • No one died.  Not even the guy who was stomped on by the giant stone jaguar.  Sigh.  Kid’s film in the end.
All this said, the movie itself was pretty enjoyable.  (RottenTomatoes rates it a 49%, which gives it a Splat value there but really means that it’s probably okay but not stellar.)  The themes were reasonably adult, the backstory interaction between the Chief and the High Priest had more subtlely than you expect in what is usually kid’s fare, and there was only one obligatory humorous animal sidekick and it actually supplied an important plot point.

And the Mayan imagery was way fucking cool to have running in my head during that hot sex scene we had the next night.  Jaguar gods, rivers of gold, feathered headdresses, pyramids erupting out of overgrown jungle, stone altars… wow!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dream Journal: December 4, 2009

On December 4, I was scheduled to start the Landmark Forum, an event I didn’t really want to do.  (More on that in a later post.)  I had a brief dream the night before:
I was in a building with a high arched ceiling with glass skylights.  Sort of haphazardly placed around the large room were false walls, the sort that went halfway to the roof but not all the way.  Each wall had landscaping — ferns, moss, flowers, trickling fountains — and barely audible New Age music was playing.

It felt like a 1970s/1980s sci-fi show set, something from Logan’s Run or Buck Rogers.

I was talking to two guys who were also there for the Forum.  We all had on name tags and one had a black bar on his, an indicator of someone having taken the Forum before.  His name was “Belief”.  The other guy was named “Don”.  (I’m not sure if we were all wearing form-fitting jumpsuits or not.)

Some chimes rang, signalling that we to go in to the start of the Forum.  As we filed into some other room, Don and I noticed that Belief had vanished.  When we sat down, Don had also vanished.
Then I woke up.

Jeez, talk about your blatant and ugly symbology: that Landmark was New Agey and sci-fi, that any “Belief” would vanish from me, and that anyone (anything) else I knew would also vanish and I would be left alone.

The next night, my dream was Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” repeated over and over and over.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Crap crap crap

My old blog went bonkers.  Started giving errors every time I tried to post.  Tried unpublishing everything, no luck.  So I pulled off all the content (exported it) and deleted the old blog, and then created a new one.  But I can’t point it to the old location; something has changed with Blogger to only allow blogs at full domains, not leaf nodes.  (Suspicion: that change may be what broke the blog.)  So now I have to have it hanging from their free service until I can rig up a subdomain off my site, and I have to republish all the old posts (with the original dates).  Hours and hours of work, but at least I’m up and going again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Movie Review
    — 2012

Oh my God, what a steaming heap of…

Well, if you turn you brain off…

No, I mean really turn it off.  Don’t think about any of the stuff in the movie.


  • Don’t think about the odds of surviving
    close call after close call after close call.
  • Don’t think about jumping a limo from the street into a sinking building, through the collapsing floors, and jumping it out the other side (just in time) and down a story or two with one door missing and neither losing any passengers nor setting off the air bags.
  • Don’t think about managing to get the plane to take off and then staying just 50 feet off the ground while buildings throw themselves at you.  Instead of going upAway from the destruction!
  • Don’t think about whether a super-heated volcanic ash plume only a few miles from a just-erupted supervolcano would foul the engines of a small prop plane, maybe melt things, or invade the interior air supply.
  • Don’t think about how an ash plume from Yellowstone can reach DC in 7 hours (averaging nearly 300 mph), and only reach Las Vegas (about 1/3 as far away and on the same side of the Rockies) in the same time.
  • Don’t think how a plane can take off from the Las Vegas airport, at the south end of the strip, and then cruise over/through the Wynn, the Venetian, and Paris casinos in that order, since those run north to south!
  • Don’t think about how they got two fat teens, two little kids, a fat adult man, two normal sized adult men, two adult women, and a small dog into a single Bentley.
  • Don’t think about how long it would take for hypothermia to set in atop a Himalayan glacier, for people wearing the same clothes they did in Southern California, Yellowstone, and Las Vegas.
  • Don’t think about how a 1500 meter tidal wave manages to make it far into inland India.  And really don’t think how it then increases to be more than 5000 meters high in order to crest the Himalayas.  (And definitely don’t think “Why didn’t any of the brilliant scientists question how a tidal wave would increase in height while travelling over a thousand miles of dry land?”, even if the in-movie answer would have be “We don't know, but there it is!”)
  • Don’t think about where the fuel is stored in a plane which falls off a cliff, impacts nose firsts, and explodes as a result.  And don’t think that there should be consistency when another plane runs nose first into the side of a ship.
  • Don’t think about how overtaxed the food stores would be on the ships after taking on twice the planned load.  Don’t think “Donner, party of five.  Donner, party of four.”
  • Don’t wonder about what devastation hit Africa, the only populated continent never mentioned during the destruction part of the movie.  (Because they actually sideswipe pretend to address that one.)
  • Don’t think about why there was no mention of the other half of the surviving rich people of the world at the end.

Once you stop thinking about science and the odds and geography and fuel lines and food… if there’s any of your brain left, you’ll probably enjoy the outright goofiness of this movie.

You’ll definitely be talking about this movie after it’s done.  You’ll be saying:

“What the…
how the…
fuck, that made no sense!”

Updated on January 2, 2010

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dream Journal: November 1, 2009

I rarely have any dreams, or at least only rarely have any that I remember past waking up.  (I don’t think I’ve ever had a dream about flying, although they say such are one the most common kinds.)  So when I do have a memorable one, I try to preserve it.
It was early evening and we were standing on the deck.  (There was a definite sense of “us”, but whether the other person was my real-world boyfriend or not, I can’t say.)  Down below, our cats (not my current cats, though) were leaping off the ground, landing in the top branches of trees, and then jumping down again — and not just jumping up and down, but 10 foot leaps into the air, into delicate twig-like branches, and doing backflips on the way down.  I soon realized that the trees were loaded with twittering birds, so the cats were jumping and catching them.

Looking closer at the branches nearest me, some of which extended onto the deck at foot level, I could see that the branches were laden with big plump berries or small plums, and the birds were feasting on them.  The berries were so ripe that they must have fermented and the birds were passing out after eating them.  There was even a stack of birds three deep in front of me.

Our dog (not my current dog, because I don’t have one) came over to the stack of birds, sniffed at them, and took the top one in its mouth, then dropped it over the edge of the deck.  The dog took the second one, and dropped it over the edge.  The dog then took the third one — a small, pure white bird which had been under the other two — took it in its mouth, and crunch crunch ate it.
And then I woke up.

I have no idea what the dream means.  (Do dreams always have to mean something?)  I can make up something sexual about watching other people doing fancy “tricks” and not settling for the first “bird” when a better one may be hidden behind it.  But the whole eating metaphor with the cats and dog gives that one a hard twist to the right.

Updated on February 3, 2010

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Truth Behind the Politics

Mark Evanier writes:
Sometimes, I don’t think most Republican leaders hate Obama so much as they just hate not being in power… and don’t see any other weapon at their disposal than to keep on fanning the rages of the Rush/Glenn Beck/birther mob.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Europe 2009: Aftermath

Now for a set of miscellaneous wrap-up topics, about what has happened since I got back and stuff that I forgot to mention earlier.

My bronchial cough has really been nasty all week, although I’m on my usually “onions and honey” home remedy.  It is definitely improving, but I’ve been very low energy.  (The remedy: chop up a strong onion into dime-sized pieces and place in a Mason jar, then fill to covering the onions with honey.  Put on the lid and store for 8-12 hours.  Decant an ounce — a shot glass full — of the now thin and smelly honey and drink it.  Tastes awful, try not to breathe in as you drink!  Take further shots morning and night until what remains is too thick to deal with.  Strain out the now-desiccated onions after 24–36 hours.  Works about as well and fast as a Z-Pack of antibiotics, and it’s both cheaper and you can make it up right away rather than waiting until your doctor can arrange to see you four days from now.  Now and then, I have to do a second batch, but I’ve had to do that with a Z-Pack before, too.)

The medals from the OutGames are disks with the center cut out, and they are hung around the neck on a cord looped through the center.  When my boyfriend saw it, he said it looked like a Chinese coin.  I had a flash of insight and fetched one of my leftover Danish coins — a disk with the center cut out.  Ah ha!

A week later and the cough is still around.  Mostly out of the chest, but up in the head.  Completely knocked me out on Sunday evening, such that I slept (or at least dozed) 12 hours.  So I finally broke down and called the doctor, and they phoned in a Z-Pack prescription.  Here’s hoping it helps.  (Another week later and there are still traces of the cough, and probably will be for another couple weeks.  But it’s tolerable, down to only one or two cough drops a day now.)

In the Amsterdam Centrum, I had noticed that most of the limited parking for cars was right along the canal edge, without either a curb or a railing to mark the edge.  It would give me the heebie-jeebies to park like that, so easy to go a few inches too far and edge up in the canal.  And then just after I got back to the States, I chanced upon this entry from Schott’s Vocab blog, about Smart cars ending up in the canals in Amsterdam.

In Berlin, I found a little music store and went looking for some European country music.  Didn’t find any of that — it was a mostly Classical music store, which is probably why most of their country selection was from the Johnny Cash era, with very little current country and nothing that wasn’t American.  But I did end up buying a Greatest Hits CD from Buck Owens, whom I have little from, and it was a Japanese import to boot.  (So let’s see: I spent €5 to purchase American country music from the 1960s imported to Germany from Japan.  Sounds par for the course.)

Between my medals from the OutGames, my medals from the 1st World OutGames a few years ago, and other medals from dance competitions, I’m acquiring quite a few, to the point that I can’t really display them effectively.  (Nor do I need to display most of them.  Many are generic, without even an indicator of what event they are from, nor what I won them for.)  An idea that comes to mind, given the general size and flatness of the medals, would be to have them embedded in clear plastic, with a floater label on the back indicating when and what they were for, and turn them into coasters.  Probably just the important, unique ones — the OutGames and a couple of the IAGLCWDC competition medals — rather than the whole lot.  Not that I generally need more coasters, having about a dozen already, but that would make the medals both useful and actually displayable, which seems like a great solution.  I think I’ll try visiting TAP Plastics here fairly soon.

I got interviewed by the Seattle Gay News for an article (and picture) on the OutGames.

A week after I got home, some scabs on the top of my head released.  These would have been from repeatedly banging my head on the rafters while getting dressed at the contest.  Guess I did some damage.  Ow.

I seem to have dropped 3–5 pounds on the trip.  That’s a good thing, although I’d still like to lose another 10 lbs. at some point, down to the low 190s.  But it’s hard to complain when you’re back at the weight you were at 10 years ago.

Updated on February 5, 2010

Updated on May 19, 2010
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Europe 2009: Berlin to Seattle (Monday, August 3)

I slept poorly last night.  No disco music on Sunday night, but the cough was just making me miserable.  Good hydration helps, but a good bed does as well.  After a couple hours, I went out to the common room and slept there on the couch for a few hours, then back to my room a bit after dawn.

I aimed to leave at 9:00 to catch my 11:25 flight, but didn’t get out the door until almost 9:15.  And it was raining.  That makes for interesting bookends to the trip, having the first and last days be in the rain, plus the rain midway, on Thursday in Copenhagen.

Long, long flight from Berlin to JFK.  I dozed here and there, through parts of all three movies (The Soloist, Monsters vs. Aliens, and Duplicity); I’ve seen the second and had no real interest in the others.  At least they do feed you on the trans-Atlantic flights (for now, anyway), although Delta wanted to charge me $50 for the second piece of luggage, so it became a heft-and-carry-on.  I also worked on the trip report a bit and read a few Fantastic Four issues (from a collection from the end of Lee/Kirby run; little to write home about in those issues).

The entire trip, I’ve been re-reading Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, the omnibus collection of the first three volumes.  I think this is my third time though this volume, although it’s hard to divorce it from my past viewings of the three mini-series, so it might only be my second time through; I’m pretty sure I’ve only read the second omnibus once.  My boyfriend and I have been watching them and are about 2/3 through the second mini-series.  I’m right now 1/3 through the third book, right where the DeDe and Prue storylines are about to intersect.  I recall how fucking spooked I was by this book the first time through, since the real-world events that preceded it are some of the first Current Events things that I recall growing up, around age 13.

I have been struck by how much these books are not only products of their time, but also signposts of the mid-70s and beyond.  Beyond the faked (and sometimes simply veiled) society people that Maupin uses, the books (especially the first one) are massively laced with references to current events (the Zodiac Killer), San Francisco (a particular North Beach meat vendor is name checked several times), and pop culture (Pet Rocks, EST, the Walkman, etc.), and of course gay stuff is threaded through everything.  It makes me want to have (or produce) a The Annotated Tales of the City, with footnotes and Wiki entries expanding on all the references.

I’m also aware that Maupin went back to the original newspaper columns and changed things around when compiling them into a book.  What was removed — were plotlines abandoned, were characters dropped?  And what was added?  I presume, for example, that the pivotal destination comment from D’Orothea at the end of the second book — which totally freaked me out when I initially read it — was a book-aimed revision, since it’s a bit too prescient otherwise.  But it would be nice to know for sure.

Customs was done at JFK, and it was a zoo.  They herded us and people from another flight or two like cattle, into a long hallway.  I could see a couple hundred in front of me, and more behind me, all stopped at some barrier.  Perversely, all I could think of was Holocaust references, spotting the sprinkler system shower head above us.  (Maybe I’m sicker than I think.)  I couldn’t find my pen, so I hadn’t filled out the customs form, so once I got to the customs desk, I had to go back over there to get a pen from the airline rep, but she wasn’t a rep and directed me back over there to get a pen from the airline rep, but she wasn’t one either and directed me to get one from an airline rep.  And which point I had a brief explosion — “There isn’t any airline rep!” “I’m sorry, I don’t have a pen, sir” — despite that I could see two in her pocket.  “I’ll help you once the line lets up” as she ushered another 20 people into the room, with no sign of the stream stopping.  She eventually gave me a pen (and I properly gave it back when I was done), and then I had to wait for 200 people in front of me to go through, rather than the 20 who were there earlier.

Utterly destroyed whatever assumed German accent I had left, let me tell you!

Showed that guy my passport.  Filed into the next room.  Showed someone my passport.  Got my bag.  Showed someone my passport.  Dropped off my back for moving to the next flight.  Showed someone my passport.  (Jesus Christ!)  And then they had only one lane open for security check for people going to connecting flights, with a couple hundred to go through it.  They now make us take our shoes off and put them through not in a bin with anything else — even baby shoes have to go on the belt by themselves — which only slows things that much further.  What do they expect to accomplish with this shit other than making people not want to fly, which will only make the airlines have that many fewer customers and complain about costs that much more?

I have no fucking sympathy for the airlines.  Not one shred.  I actively hope a couple of the big ones go under, and gloriously so.  (United, please.  Can’t stand them anyway.)  They’ll blame the consumers, of course, but they’re the ones at fault.  That’s what it will take to wake them and TSA up.

JFK is apparently so crowded for flights that they have to use non-gates.  My flight was at Gate 77, but the signage was for Gates 1-12 and B-something, nothing near “77”.  Turns out that Gate 77 means the plane is parked out on the tarmac and they use a huge people mover to get you to it.  So they loaded us all on it… and then made us sit for as much as 30 minutes, waiting for I don’t know what (late passengers, I guess).  Finally disgorged us onto the plane… and then made us sit, waiting for I don’t know what (late passengers, I guess).  Our 5:00 flight didn’t end up leaving until just before 6:00 pm.

(In Amsterdam’s airport, they announce your name and say you are delaying the flight, and that if you don’t show up right way, they will remove your luggage from the plane.  Good threat, especially if the actually carry through on it.  They should try it in the States.)

I debated getting food at JFK.  If I do, they’ll feed us; if I don’t, they won’t.  Looks like I made the right call and got a piece of pizza (which thoroughly cooled by the time we got onto the plan, grrr), since peanuts will be the only thing we’ll get on the plane.  (Mmm, make that pretzels.  Peanuts are persona non grata on airplanes these days; someone might have an allergy.)  And we’ve been airborne for almost 90 minutes without even beverage service yet.  (You can tell I’m a happy traveler when I’m sick and need hydration badly.)

My boyfriend will be picking me up at the airport.  Hope our late departure will be made up and we’ll get home close to on time.  I’m trying to not nap so I can collapse into bed with him tonight and get good solid sleep.

Updated on February 9, 2010

Monday, August 3, 2009

Europe 2009: Berlin (Sunday, August 2)

Another night of fitful sleep.  I was coughing some on Saturday, but it has definitely turned into my full-on recurrent bronchial infection thing.  Probably mostly caused by too many late nights, but the rain squall in Copenhagen on Thursday probably helped it along as well, and there has been a lot more cigarette smoke here in Berlin, especially at Kellerloch last night.

I toodled around Schöneberg again today, but surprisingly to me, very little was open.  Probably 90% of the shops were closed.  I wonder if this is a legal (even religious law) thing in Berlin, or if Sundays are just not typically a good day for business?

I eventually headed up to the huge Tiergarten park (“Animal Garden”, not sure if that signifies the zoo or the forest).  Schöneberg is a little south of it, and tourist attractions like the Reichstag, Berlin Wall Museum, and Holocaust Memorial are at the far east end.  At the center is the Siegessäule (Victory Column), with a huge gold statue of the angel Victoria on top, commemorating the formation of nation states which eventually became Germany.  I climbed all the way to the top, where I could see most of Berlin, and counted steps all the way back down: 291 to street level.  Exhausting.

Later, I took the U-Bann out to Prenzlauer Berg, to the bar Stahlrohr 2.0.  (2.0 because it had moved a few years back.)  Several of the guys from the Kellerloch party were there again.  After a few hours, feeling tired and dealing with my cough (asthmatic bronchitis, not contagious, never has been; I get this a couple times a year and have for my entire adult life), I headed back to the hotel.  Had roast chicken and Greek salad at a corner restaurant; one of the best meals of my life, I swear, meaning I was way hungrier than I thought.

I was very tired at this point, and struggled to get my bags packed to be able to leave at 9 am the next morning.

Updated on February 23, 2010

Updated on May 18, 2010
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Europe 2009: Berlin (Saturday, August 1)

I didn’t sleep particularly well.  First was simply the time frame, going to bed at 5:30 am for the second night in a row.  Second was the bed: it’s a converted hospital bed, I guess, with the mattress just a foam cushion on the metal base, neither thick nor pleasant and with a joint in it 1/3 of the way down to allow for folding or angling.  Worst, though, was the club music from the Connection disco, which vibrated the entire building, and apparently continued until 7 am.  I fell asleep before then, but it would not have been a good sleep.  The owner of the Kinky Tulip tells me that other rooms had it worse, but I’ not convinced he is right; since I could see the back of the bar from my window, I think I was closest to the music.

After a nice breakfast (the Kinky Tulip has a nice kitchen/living room, with self-serve breakfast and snacks available for whenever you crawl out of bed) and blogging time, I cruised around the Schöneberg neighborhood, buying some souvenirs and such.

Had a beer at a bar near the Kinky Tulip, and then dinner at Trattoria á Muntagnola, a south Italian cuisine cafe, where I had Insalata Pomodoro and Gnocchi di Ricotta (in sage and butter sauce).  This was one of one a couple nicer meals I had during the trip, rather than mostly quick/fast food and the like.

That evening, I went to a private party.

Updated on March 1, 2010.

Updated on March 2, 2010.

Updated on May 14, 2010
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Europe 2009: Copenhagen to Berlin (Friday, July 31)

I checked out of the hotel, but they didn’t have a locked room for baggage storage, just a roped off area in the lobby (the most unsecure storage I’ve ever seen, not where I wanted to leave my laptop or several hundred dollars of leather gear).  I found that they had lockers in the basement for 20 DKK, though, so I wandered around for a few minutes with my laptop bag until I found someone to point me to them.  They were big lockers, though, so I trekked back upstairs for my bag of leather, then back down, only to find that they took tokens.  So back upstairs and buy the token — which was 2 for 20 DKK.  But I only need one.  20 DKK.  Whatever.   Not that I was the only one to deal with this, as another guest offered me a spare token as I was heading back downstairs again, just a minute too late.  In other words: a little scam.

I went to the Men’s Shop and to X-Rated Leather to take advantage of my contest prizes.

The master’s cap arrived by post this afternoon from the Anco, before I had to leave.  Thankfully!

As opposed to Amsterdam, in Denmark I was better able to isolate both an accent and a “look” for the locals — sort of German with a little lilt to it, and of course hair that is blond to strawberry blond and good facial structure.  The Danes are a handsome people, by and large.  I ended up adopting a little bit of accent, but only a little.

The streets near the Centrum tend to have wide bicycle lanes, twice as wide as in the States.  They usually have a curb about 2 inches high between them and the auto lanes, and another 2 inch curb between that and the sidewalk.  I had much less problem with stepping off curbs by accident in Copenhagen than I did in Amsterdam, although I did find myself sometimes crossing the street and then walking in the bicycle lane for a few feet before remembering that I wasn’t on the sidewalk.

Scooters also ride in the bicycle lanes here.  There were way more scooters here than in Seattle (3 times as many, maybe), but nothing like the number in Amsterdam.

The bicycles typically are not locked up when they are parked here.  I assume this means that everyone who wants a bike has one, so theft isn’t an issue.  But it was surprising to see dozens of parked bicycles, and almost no chains.

I’ve come to despise the cobblestones commonly used here for sidewalk paving.  With all the walking (and dancing!) I’ve been doing, I have developed shin splints, and negotiating the uneven surfaces makes them hurt.

I was surprised by the amount of wood used in Denmark in outdoor, public settings.  Places such as the steps at the Copenhagen Central Station were wooden.  I wonder how often these have to be replaced?

Speaking of steps, the stairs at K3 had phantom bottom steps.  That is, the first step of several of the stairways was flush with the landing, but designed to look like the other steps, complete with edge markings and the like.  This meant that I stumbled on each of those steps for the first several stair ascents and descents, until I started to trust my memory of the staircase and not the visual.

I flew AirBerlin into Berlin-Tegel airport (the smaller and closer-in of the two Berlin airports).  From there, I hopped the 109 bus to the Uhlandstraße U-Bahn (subway), then that to Wittenbergplatz, and then three blocks walk (or drag, in the case of the luggage, getting heavier each leg!) to the Kinky Tulip hotel in Schöneberg.

After a quick nap, I went out to some of the local bars.

Updated on February 26, 2010

Updated on May 14, 2010
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:
Updated on June 15, 2010
Here’s a short bit about “Copenhagenisation”, heavily promoting bicycle riding in urban areas:

Friday, July 31, 2009

Europe 2009: Copenhagen (Thursday, July 30)

This was my day for really focusing on the competitions.  First I put things together for the Mr. Leather competition — checked the outfits, finalized the performance, and practiced the performance at the contest space.

I snagged a Champagne Brus popsicle from the Elite mini-mart — lime and mint (I think) with a chocolate shell cap on the top third.  Looked interesting, but the flavor was too weak to be really memorable.

After that, I went to DGI-byen to practice my dances.  I brought the netbook and used the webcam to record, so I could watch the videos large enough to use them.  (Clever, huh?)  While I was there, Sherwin from Copenhagen came in to practice for Beginner, and I was able to give him some coaching and webcam filming, and then others in Beginner also came in and I gave a little coaching to them, too.  I had planned to be there for 30 minutes, but it was over 60 before I left.

I had to scramble out of there, over to Yam Yam at Central Station for some Thai yellow curry to eat on the way to the hotel, and visited the ATM.  Then back to the hotel, jump in the shower, jump out of the shower, jump into pants, and hurry back to DGI-byen for the Competitor’s Meeting.  This was when I found there would only be four in my division for overall, rather than the 10 or so I anticipated; Beginner was the one with 9 competitors.  This did relieve me some, since it meant I would surely bring home a medal or two of some kind, no matter how good the other dancers were (and I didn’t know how good at this time).

For the competition, with the Beginners division, they did a preliminary heat of all 9 dancers, then brought back the top 5 from each dance at the end of the competition for a final heat.  Not much of a surprise in the results: 4 of the finalists were the same from each dance, and the third dance had 6 in the finals, the other 2 being the 5th one from each of the other dances.

The floor was very slick.  I was not able to do the full turn and the Monterrey turn in “I’m Movin’ On” very well, but I didn’t mess anything up.  After that, we used shoe brushes to rough up the soles, and I also added a little water to my suede soles to further improve the traction.

End result for me: Gold in “I’m Movin’ On”, Gold in “Working It”, and Silver in “Soakin’ Wet”.  (That last was a bit of a surprise, since I came out easily on top in it in Tampa and DC, but here I tried adding some hat action which may not have worked, and the floor slickness may have worked against me.  (And I may have just been too confident about that dance and slacked it a little.)  I also won the Overall trophy for Intermediate Line Dance, an engraved silver (aluminum) cup on a pedestal.  (There was some question whether there should have been medals for each of the three dances on the division, or just for overall; they only did overall in Montreal, I think.  They did it here like at the competition in Washington DC a few weeks before, though; on some level, that produces medal inflation, but it also enables a dancer to compete in only the dances he or she wants to and still medal for them.)

The big surprise, I think, was Marcella from Seattle, one of only two women in the competition.  She won Bronze in “Downpour”, but then took Gold in both “Bar Room Romeo” and “D.H.S.S.”, and thus the Overall trophy for her division.  (Bradley from New York took three Silvers.  We joked that they matched the hat and boots he wore for “D.H.S.S.”)

I had asked them to try to not delay the awards.  The schedule was to finish awards at 9:45 pm, and then have a performance from the Teams winner from the day before.  I guess they were having difficulty figuring the final scores for the Beginners, but they had the Team performance first (and it was Madison Street from France, I guess the women from Trip the Light Fantastic could not all be there; but more appropriate for this night, perhaps, since Madison Street is a line dance team).  They finally did the awards and finished them just after 10:00, so I had to grab my clothes and really hurry to K3 for the Mr. Leather competition.

(Frankly, this should not have been delayed as long as it was.  I think Lee, the competition director, did all the score tabulation himself.  He should have had a scoring assistant who would do the scoring tabulation for each dance while the next one was running; that’s standard procedure for tally mastering at a leather contest.  With a two song break between each trio of dances and between the Beginner finals, there would be plenty of time to do the tallying.  Even better would be to set up a spreadsheet to do it for you; enter the values and it produces the answer.  Ultimately, though, they do it how they do it and I’m not privy to what adventures Lee might have had to deal with.)

After this win, it is not clear if Marcella and I have to move up to compete at Intermediate and Advanced in the future.  A recent discussion thread said we don’t, but these were the biggest competitions we have had in a few years for line dance and probably should force the move.  (Especially for Marcella, since the competition was much larger and stronger in her division.)  I will discuss with Marcella and probably recommend a rule change) in Atlanta this fall.  (Tony, the sole competitor in Advanced, really wants me to move up, to ensure he has some competition.  We potentially could have Tony, me, Sammy, Daniel, and Chris in Advanced next summer in Austin; wouldn’t that blow them away, with more Advanced competitors than lower levels!)

Updated on February 25, 2010
At the IAGLCWDC convention in Atlanta in October, we updated the rules to have “international scope” competitions (like the OutGames and the Gay Games) qualify for level advancement for wins with an appropriate number of competitors, and made it retroactive to cover this year (since Marcella and I were the ones affected and we both agreed that we should move up after our wins).

Updated on May 14, 2010
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Europe 2009: Copenhagen (Wednesday, July 29)

I got up too late for breakfast at the hotel, so I popped to the nearby mini-mart, Elite, and bought orange juice, pastries, yogurt, instant coffee (shudder!), cream, and cheese wedges.

No sightseeing today.  Ironed my shirts for the competition.  Went to DGI-byen, the Danish gymnastic center (and bowling, apparently) and took two hours of line dance workshops by Niels B. Poulsen (a yummy instructor, woof!): Cha Cha With Me, My Next Love, and I’m Yours.  The third of these was fairly advanced; the second was a Viennese waltz.  I’m always of a mixed mind with line dance workshops: it’s rare that I’ll ever do the dance again after that workshop, and I’ve pretty much got the dance vocabulary down, so what am I actually getting out of the workshop?  Just mental and physical exercise?  Is that enough?  (Sometimes, yes, but not for more than a couple hours at a shot.)

Afterward, I talked for a while to Kurt from the Munich L.A.D.s dance team — he will be competing against me tomorrow — and to his mother, Karen.  We talked about line dance, IAGLCWDC competitions, and stuff like that.

Back at the hotel, I practiced my dances out in the courtyard and videotaped them, but I can’t get the video camera to connect to the laptop to upload them to YouTube where I can watch them on a screen bigger than one inch.  Grrr.

After dinner, went back to DGI-byen for the Couples/Teams competition.  Four couples competed — one Novice, two Beginner, one Intermediate — so very little real competition there.  Likewise with teams — Trip the Light Fantastic, a women’s team from the Bay Area competed in couples, and Madison Street from France competed in line, with the women’s team winning the Overall award.

I’m guessing that there will be as many as a dozen or more of us for the Intermediate Line Dance competition tomorrow, which means at least two heats.  That means it will be a significant competition.  It’s a problem not just with country dancing, but with other disciplines that I’ve seen records of at the OutGames: there are many sports with only a handful of competitors.  Of course, having several actually competing also means (a) I may not win and (b) the overall winner could be a challenge to identify, if different people win each of the three dances.  Could be interesting!

As with Amsterdam, the humidity seems to be getting thick here in Copenhagen.  I have sweated through all my t-shirts, at nearly two per day.  I’m going to put a few of them in the bathroom and turn on the shower very hot to hopefully steam a little life back into them.

Tuesday night was another at the SLM clubhouse.

Updated on February 24, 2010

Updated on May 12, 2010:
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Europe 2009: Amsterdam and Copenhagen (Tuesday, July 28)

I had to be up by 8:00 am to catch the train to Schilpol airport, but it turned out the Anco’s breakfast isn’t served until 9:00 am, and indeed the hotel bar are was locked and I didn’t know how to do checkout.  (Much less recover my key deposit.)  Turns out details for that were on a guide in my room that I didn’t read; I have no idea where the guide was, didn’t see it at all.  So I wrote a note with the key and pushed it under the bar door.

Grabbed an orange juice and a pastry of some sort at the HEMA at Centraal Station.  Made it to the airport without incident.  Oh, look!  Starbucks!  Yay, familiar coffee!  But I bypassed it in favor of getting checked in, just in case.  Only checked the one suitcase, so when the big carry-on with my leather in it went through the scanner, they pulled out my chainmail harness and asked what it was.  On the other side of security, there was another Starbucks.  Yay!

Customs in Denmark, was it smooth like in the Netherlands?  Not at all.  By which I mean: not at all.  None.  Didn’t even have to show my passport, other than getting on the plane in Amsterdam.

Fewer signs in Denmark are bilingual than in Amsterdam, even at the airport.  After a few minutes fiddling with the iPhone to figure out what train I might need to take, I had to stand in line at the train ticket counter to get help.  Turned out I wanted Copenhagen Central Station.  Figures.

Long walk on tile and cobblestone paths to the hotel.  I’m getting blisters on my hands from this luggage.  I think it gets heavier each leg.

The hotel room at Cabinn City is… small isn’t the word for it.  It’s about 10–12 foot deep and 8 foot wide; about half-size is how it feels, rather cramped — a walk-in closet.  Two single beds (which I pushed together to make a double.  Modular desk, storage, and closet space.  Bathroom has the shower head in the middle of the ceiling; you pull the curtain around and flip a lever on the sink, and then deal with a wet bathroom floor until it drains/dries.  The whole thing feels very IKEA (although that’s actually in the next country over).

You have to put your room key in a slot by the door to work the lights and outlets; they go out after about 15 seconds if you remove the card.  Took me a while to figure that out, and my laptop ran out of power once despite being plugged in.  Also seems like a great way to leave your card in the room, although it also does prevent big electric bills from lights left on.  (But it also prevents you from leaving a small light on to greet you when you return).

I took a quick shower and booted up the laptop to check out the Scandinavian Leather Men site.  Oh look, that leather club sightseeing tour starts at 14:00, and its now… 1:50 pm (13:50).  Quick, scramble into shorts and shirt and jog over there.  (I chose this hotel because it’s only 10 minutes from both the SLM clubhouse and DGI-byen where the dance competition is being held.)

We then spent about 90 minutes walking through Copenhagen: past the oldest gay bar in the city, by the original Carlsberg brewery location, through the King’s Garden, past the royal palace, down to the water across from the Opera House, and to the new Royal Theatre where we had beer and cider.  There, the rest of the group left for a ferry ride, while I headed back to the Hans Christian Andersen castle at Tivoli to check-in for the OutGames.  Along the way, I bought a basket of blackberries from a street vendor, the only food I had eaten since a pastry about 8 hours earlier.  And then back to the hotel for a nap.

I wanted to get a t-shirt from the OutGames, but they made the (poor, to me) decision to limit different colors to different styles.  The general OutGames design is very loud and busy — dancing silhouettes in front of the multi-colored “bubbles” logo — and I didn’t want it.  I preferred just the single color “bubbles” version (“preferred” meaning “would settle for”; still didn’t like it much), but it was only available in blue or yellow on a black shirt for men; women had two other colors, and another two were only on tanks.  I could have lived with the yellow design, but then the price: 150 DKK ($30) for a t-shirt which I didn’t really like a lot to start with?  No way.

All registered attendees get a participation medal, which they decided to make do double duty as a luggage tag.  This strikes me as very odd: it makes for a pretty heavy luggage tag, and not one that I would want to risk getting yanked off my bag in transit (having had other tags broken, ripped, or lost over the years).  I hope they got a price break by doing this, rather than it costing extra for a nifty but dumb idea.

After the nap, dinner was an egg and tomato sandwich and a creme cheese danish from Upper Crust at the train station.  Cheap and quick.

Tuesday evening was a party at the SLM clubhouse.

Updated on February 23, 2010

Updated on May 12, 2010:
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Europe 2009: Amsterdam (Monday, July 27)

Today, it was finally time to do some of the traditional touristy things.  I intentionally saved them for Monday, figuring crowds would be smaller.  I trekked down to the Museumplein, where several of the museums are clustered.  The Rijksmuseum is undergoing major construction, so only had a small portion open, and a long line out the door.  (Looks like I’m never supposed to go to that museum, since my last trip here in 1981, it was also closed [due to Liberation Day, I think].)

Heading toward the Van Gogh Museum, I went through the free part of the Coster Diamonds Museum, but opted out of the paid part (€7.50); the ticket booth was all the way through the downstairs, by which point I had got that museum out of my system — I would likely have bought a ticket if they had been sold at the front.

Next was the House of Bols museum, the oldest distillery in Amsterdam and creators of Gen.  Genever (which was dubbed “Dutch Courage”) was copied by the British as Gin.  Bols is best known today for their myriad of fruity liqueurs in bottles shaped like juggling clubs used in “flairtending” (think Tom Cruise in Cocktail).  The bottles were repeatedly said to be designed “by bartenders for bartenders” but they never mentioned the blatantly obvious juggling club antecedents, which was an odd omission.  This tour (€11) ended with a Genever cocktail (I had a Holland House — strong lemon flavor) plus tastings of a couple of the liqueurs (I tried the Dark Cacao and Peppermint).  I bought a spherical Bols shot glass as a souvenir.

The Van Gogh Museum (€13.50) had only a couple people in line, so I paid for this one.  It was good enough, I suppose, with one floor all Van Goghs, arranged by date so as to give a through line of his work.  In the end, I decided I didn’t much care for his work.  The early stuff was incredibly dark (all blacks and browns), much of his middle stuff had such whacked out perspectives that it detracted from the work for me, and his later stuff became more abstract.  Only his flower pieces really hold any enjoyment for me, and I bought a set of espresso cups with his “Butterflies and Poppies” image on them (a painting I don’t think I had ever seen before).  The other two floors were dedicated to some of his contemporaries, none of whose names (other than Gauguin) were familiar to me and none of which I can recall now.  One set of lithographs struck me: a series called “In Dreams” by Odilon Redon, with one image being a floating head with white skin and a huge shock of black hair; almost certainly an inspiration for Morpheus (from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman), although I’ve not heard of the connection before.

Passed up at the gift shop: a nifty flower vase made of folded waxed cardboard, which will fold flat or pop out into a double vase with Van Gogh imagery on it.  Too expensive, but I considered it for a Christmas present.

Near the Dam Square, I stopped to get my obligatory Amsterdam t-shirt — black with red print “Amsterdam” and the “XXX” city logo.  (Hmm, I wonder if “triple X” = porn stems from the Red Light District?  Must research.)

(The web has conflicting stories.  One theorizes that since “XX” stands for kiss, and since it was once illegal to kiss a woman in a film more than three times, films that went beyond this limit were labelled “XXX”.  Sounds contrived to me.  Another equates it to the “XXX” on kegs of beer, indicating a level of quality or strength.  I couldn’t find any connection to Amsterdam, to newspaper editorial signoffs, or to shirt sizes.)

I planned to go to the Hash, Marijuana, & Hemp Museum, just a few blocks down canal from the Anco, but passed out for a nap instead.  Dinner was a Chinese place, something bland but with a good bit of veggies which I probably needed.

Unlike many other regional cities — be they European like Dublin or American like Atlanta and Houston and Boston — I had a very hard time detecting a Dutch accent.  I usually hear accents fairly quickly and start adopting them unconsciously within a day or two, but not in Amsterdam.  I guess it’s such a melting pot, especially in the Centrum, that it evens out.  By when I left, the best accent I retained was something that seemed a little Italian tinged, if anything.

Amsterdam’s sidewalks are edged by dark colored curbs, carved (I guess, or maybe molded — hard to tell) and in segments with puzzle-piece interlocks.  Very cool, but they vary in height from an inch or less to about 8 inches.  And probably because of the dark color, my peripheral vision identifies them as “street” rather than “curb”, so I have had a very hard time with them.  I keep suddenly stepping off the curb and onto the actual street.  It’s amazing that I didn’t twist my ankle with the number of times I did this.

Amsterdam also seems to be loaded with steep stairs with shallow steps.  I tried to stumble into the basement at the Argos, and the stairs at the Anco were a trip to get the large suitcase up, since they were shallow, steep, and curved!  Most fascinating were the ones at Mauricio’s apartment, which were about three stories up but only 1.5 deep.  It’s a good thing I already tend to take steps with my foot sideways to increase surface area.  (To make matters worse, I racked my shin on the bed frame at the hotel, and then hit the exact same place going up the stairs at the Argos.)

The weather in Amsterdam has been fantastic, but the humidity has been through the roof.  This made the late night walk on Sunday night terrific, but Sunday was increasingly thick and miserable, turning to rain a little bit.

Amsterdam is incredibly flat.  Reminds me of the drive from Houston to Galveston.  No visible landmarks other than town water towers, unlike the West Coast where we always have mountains to navigate by.  Patrick and Chris told me that I had to go about 100 km outside the city to start getting to some hills.

Amsterdam is loaded with bicycles, especially in the Centrum, where there are 50-100 bikes for every car.  (And none of the mountain bikes or 10-speeds everyone has in the States.  These are either single or 3-speed bikes, and all with bag racks on the back.)  The flatness of the Dutch countryside and the narrow streets in the Centrum are undoubtedly the cause of this, making it reasonably easy to bike anywhere you need to go; I imagine it is also quite expensive to own a car here.  It is quite cool to see the racks of bikes, 50 to 100 or more per rack, every slot full.  There were a number of tandem bikes (that’s a bicycle built for two, Daisy), and I even saw one with four seats, for the entire family.

Beyond the bikes, though, are the scooters and motorcycles, especially the scooters.  Probably 8-10 scooters for every car in the Centrum.  Lots of Vespas, naturally, but I saw Sym and Kymco and Yamaha models, too, and some lines I didn’t recognize.  Apparently no helmet law, either.

Updated on February 9, 2010

Updated on May 12, 2010:
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Europe 2009: Amsterdam (Sunday, July 26)

I’m slowly recovering from jetlag, but today was a day where I didn’t really want to do anything.  Again, wrote the blog posts for an hour after breakfast.

Wandered around a while, then trekked 30 minutes southwest of the Centrum to a party I had been invited to, at a bar called Sameplace.  The further out from the Centrum, the wider and more familiar-to-Americans style the streets became, and the newer the construction.  And though more familiar, there was still a definite “European” feel to things, in an almost stereotypical way.  (All stereotypes are rooted in fact, after all.)

I was wearing one of my kilts, the tan canvas and black leather one from MacLeo.  It got a number of looks, but I trained myself long ago not to make eye contact back on those.  Just let them pass by.

Took the tram (light rail) back to the city; I think the cars are the same design as used in Dublin.  Later that evening, I caught a cab back out to near where the party had been, and later walked back to the Centrum late at night (1:30 am); beautiful weather in the high 60s, me in shorts and tank top.  I got a little lost — went one canal too far — but the iPhone map tool got me back to the hotel.

Updated on February 8, 2010

Updated on May 3, 2010:
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Europe 2009: Amsterdam (Saturday, July 25)

Struggled myself out of bed at 10:15 for breakfast.  Collapsed back in for two more hours.  Got up and worked on the blog posts and cruised online for an hour while they made up the room.

Trekked a mile or two west, to the Homomonument and Anne Frank House.  Stopped at Dam Square for lunch, at a Bali Chicken stir-fry (with Javanese spices; had a nice heat to it) and found a coffee shop with coffee to go (er, “take away” is the local term).  This wasn’t a pot-serving “coffee shop”.  I still haven’t broached one of those.

The Homomonument surprised me.  The only pics I had seen were of a stone triangle “dock” extending into the canal, but it is one of three triangles in the square at Westermarkt — one raised, one flush with the ground, and the one in the canal (below ground level) — representing past, present, and future.  Not sure that it “works”, but it’s sure more or something honoring gay rights struggles than we’ve got in the States.

Anne Frank House?  Well, I walked past it.  Line down the block.  Didn’t plan to go in anyway, and definitely not for that sort of a wait (probably a couple hours to get in).  I despise waiting lines like that; given the choice between waiting interminably for something and going to the next place, I’ll opt to walk on.  I may never go back to a theme park again (although now with the iPhone, they aren’t so bad, maybe, since I can play games and surf the web while I wait.).

Trekked back to the hotel, then back to the Cuckoo’s Nest and the Web.  Came back to the hotel for a nap, and then some dinner — take-away shoarma (“shawarma” in the US; Lebanese chopped meat) sandwich and frites (fries) with curry, mayo, and onions.  The curry sauce for fries here is red and liquid, like ketchup, as opposed to the yellow gravy in Ireland, which I liked better.  Really wish I could get them with poutine (gravy and cheese) though; had that in Vancouver in April and it was yummy!  Watched a chunk of Men in Black II, then prepped to go out.

Updated on February 5, 2010

Updated on May 3, 2010:
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Europe 2009: Amsterdam (Friday, July 24)

Customs in Amsterdam was surprising.  Surprising in that it was almost non-existent.  Seriously: I stood in line behind one person, showed my passport to get into the baggage claim (and was asked no questions about my stay), got my bag, walked through the “Nothing To Declare” door, and that was it.  I was done.  I get hassled more than this driving into Canada!

I rode the train from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station.  This would have gone smoothly, but I misread the schedule and thought I was on a train that didn’t stop at the two stations in between.  So I got off at the first stop, got out of the station, checked my iPhone map, and said “Where the hell am I?”  (I couldn’t see signage telling me which stop I was at.  Or maybe I just couldn’t read it.)  I had to get back on and ride two more stops.  I chatted for a couple minutes with a nice Dutch girl for a few minutes before the first stop, where she exited.

Lugging my bags to the hotel wasn’t easy, between the bump-bump-bump of the brick streets and the rain.  Good solid rainstorm.  Thank you, leather jacket and leather cowboy hat.  Felt like home (but like spring, not high summer).

I’m staying at the Hotel Anco.  Several years ago, one of the Seattle Men in Leather members (Leo) wrote an article for our newsletter about leather travel in the Netherlands and Belgium, and he recommended the Anco.  For €65 per night, I’ve got a room with a double bed and a sink (shared toilet and shower, one floor up), plus free WiFi and breakfast every morning, and I’m a block from Warmeosstraat.  (I think it was supposed to be a single bed when I made the reservation, but shhh, I’m not telling!)  The classic leather stay in Amsterdam is the Black Tulip (but I haven’t chanced on it yet, not sure just where it is; ah, a web search shows it is closer to Centraal Station than the Anco is), but it was another €20 or more a night.

My room wouldn’t be ready for a couple hours (since it was still morning, about 9:00 am), so I had some breakfast and then wandered around Warmoestraat, where RoB and Mr. B and several of the leather bars are.  Nothing was open at 10:00 am on Friday morning, though.  I wandered over to another neighborhood where a couple more leather bars and gay shops are (also not open yet), and then back to RoB (now open) where I bought a new pair of leather braces (suspenders), for the Mr. Leather OutGames contest.

We’re used to streets in the States which are wide — two lanes plus two lanes of parking — and paved with asphalt.  Here in the Amsterdam Centrum, most of the streets are closer to what we would call alleys, but paved with bricks.  They are often as small as one narrow lane and about 3 feet on each side for walking, and some are narrower than that.  Some of it reminds me of Greenwich Village (maybe no surprise, since New York was originally New Amsterdam), and of Philadelphia.  Of course, the canals cross-cutting everything remind me of last spring’s trip to Dublin, where the river bisects the city, with Temple Bar on one side, kind of like Warmoesstraat and the Red Light District are here.

The Red Light district is between the Anco and Warmoesstraat, or at least a portion of it is, centered around Ould Kerk, the oldest church in Amsterdam.  It is rather bizarre, having full glass doors with whores behind them, gyrating and winking at possible customers in the direct view of the church.  The last time I was in Amsterdam (other than at the airport last year), I was 13 and on a tour.  I think we went through some chunk of the Red Light district on that trip — I saw some tour groups in the area this time, even just after dark — but I don’t really remember anything about that piece of the trip, nearly 30 years later.

Back at the hotel, I got my room and a couple hours nap, then went wandering again.  Found that the Web was open, but the Warmoesstraat bars don’t open until 2200 or 2300 (10 or 11 pm)!  They stay open unto 4 or 5 am, but that late of an opening seems very strange.

Somewhere tonight, I lost my nose ring.  (Probably in the dark room at the Eagle.) Beautiful little crescent (no balls) from Palm Springs Piercing.  It’s held in by two rubber rings, but I only had one on (“Danger, Will Robinson!”), because I only have three and the others were on my other, larger crescent ring.  Which I had forgotten I was wearing on Monday when I got to work, so I took it out and put it in my shorts pocket, then put them through the wash, and… guess what didn’t come back out on Tuesday.  Fuck, that leaves me with just the nose staple and the spike for the rest of the trip.

Updated on February 4, 2010

Updated on May 3, 2010:
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Europe 2009: Seattle to Amsterdam (Thursday, July 23)

I spent much of the morning scrambling around the house to get those last few things packed.  Where are my leather braces (suspenders)?  (Never did find them.)  Where is the master’s cap?  (Oh, yeah, left it on the corner of the sling frame.)  What the hell am I forgetting?  Was also changing the sheets, doing the laundry, and doing the dishes, to leave the house in a good state.

(Things I know I forgot thus far: bathroom scissors to touch up the beard, and a pack of Kleenex.  Finding some place to buy those in Amsterdam turned out to be a challenge.  No Walgreens on the corner!)

Rusty is going to be house sitting for me while I’m gone, feeding the cats and such.  He showed up at about 9 am, expecting me to already be gone.  So instead, he was able to give me a ride to the Light Rail station, saving me the time of schlepping luggage to the bus and waiting for it.

The new Seattle Light Rail was smooth (as expected). Coolest part was the stage between Rainier Beach and Tukwila stations, seeing parts of the area I haven’t seen before.  Ride was a little bumpy on that stage, the elevated part, but only a little.

There were only two of us on the train at that hour.  Which means I’m expecting mid-August to be when the Light Rail detractors declare it a failure due to low ridership, and start to talk about shutting it down and ripping out the tracks.  (Just wait.)

They don’t have all the bugs out of the system yet, though.  No announcements when coming to a station.  Oh, wait, there’s one: “Now arriving… Rainier Beach Station.  Please hold on to a handrail (etc.)”  Only problem is, the announcement went off as we left the station.

I’m flying Northwest from Seattle to Amsterdam.  Only problem: there’s no Northwest ticket counter listed on the airport map!  Oh, that’s right: Delta is merging with Northwest, so go to their counter.  Was pleased to see that there was no charge for the international flight for either bag; I was fearing an additional $50 or more.  So I ended up checking two rather than carrying two on.  Had to move some from the suitcase to the smaller bag to get under 50 lbs., but that was easy.

Coming out of the subway and into the South Satellite terminal, they were doing some major work on the escalators.  They had one bank completely off and were directing everyone onto the other set, but spacing us about six feet apart, to balance the weigh (I guess; maybe it was just to annoy us).  Never seen such a thing.  Making it even more bizarre, they wouldn’t let anyone take the stairs next to the closed escalator, either, for “safety” reasons.  What the fuck?

Boarding the plane, there were no less than five uniformed security people in the jetway itself.  And then at the plane door, one of the flight attendants was being grumpy on the phone, something like “That’s not the policy we’re supposed to follow.  I’m not doing that on any other flights!”  Mmmmaybe that merger with Delta/Northwest isn’t going smoothly?  Were the security folks there to deal with problem employees?

The overhead bins on international flights are about a foot higher than on domestic ones.  Can’t imagine how those bleached blonde 5'1" real estate chicks can get their shouldn’t-be-a-carrry-ons up there without help.  (Didn’t I make that same comment on the trip report for Ireland last year?  Checking the blog, it doesn’t appear so.  I’m sure I thought it.)

I think I only slept about 2-3 hours on the flight (10 hours + 9 hours of time change).  That’s the problem with a daytime flight.  Unlike the flight to Ireland, this one was packed full, almost every seat taken, so there was no chance to stretch out and try to recline and sleep.  (Poor, poor airlines.  Losing money because nobody will fly.  Bull-fucking-shit.)

Watched two movies — the bromance I Love You, Man and Jim Carrey’s Yes Man.  Both were okay, and like most rom-coms (and these are on the edge of the genre), they work perfectly fine on a 7" screen in the back of an airplane seat.

My seatmate was going to have a 3-hour layover in Amsterdam, and then another 5 hours to the Ukraine.  Ugh.

Updated on February 3, 2010
Knock on wood, but the predicted “Get rid of it!” call about Light Rail that I feared would surface hasn’t yet, at least not to any degree I’ve noticed.  I’ve taken it to the airport and back several times now — next Wednesday will be the next time, heading to New Zealand — and ridership has increased every time I've been on it.  And I’ve been noticing more people riding it when the trains go by, although I have no idea how the actual numbers are comparing to projections yet.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Europe 2009: Seattle (Wednesday, July 22)

Spent the day wrapping things up at work — we have a small team these days, so it will be tougher for Cindy and Doug to pick up the slack while I’m gone.  Then had Rhythm Riders dance practice and the SML Leather Social.  Snuck a few bits of packing in around the edges, but was by no means done.

Had a small tiff with my boyfriend after the Leather Social, which put him in a bad mood and so we certainly didn’t have a good “send off”.  My not being done packing was probably part of it, and just the trip itself.  Hope things will reset by the time I get home.

At 11:45, checked my schedule and realized that I had my departure time wrong.  I was thinking of the depart-from-Amsterdam-on-Tuesday time, so I had 2.5 hours longer than I thought.  So I didn’t stress about getting all the packing done tonight.

Updated on January 2, 2010

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Europe 2009: Preparation (background, planning, tickets, etc.)

I started planning this trip 18 months or so ago.  I had competed in the 2006 OutGames in Montréal (in country line dance), and I wanted to take another trip to Europe following the trip to Ireland in February/March 2008 (see earlier blog entries), so the 2009 OutGames in Copenhagen seemed like the deal.  Of course, what good leatherman wants to go to just Copenhagen, when Paris and Amsterdam and Brussels and Hamburg and Berlin beckon?

For my birthday last summer, my mother gave me a chunk of money to use for this.  I slowly put the schedule together over several months: the Copenhagen competition days were to be midweek, so I could do the weekend before in one city and the weekend after in a second.  Amsterdam and Berlin were the obvious targets for both a leather experience and for reasonable proximity to Copenhagen.  The weekend after the competition was Pride in both Amsterdam and Copenhagen, so I opted for Amsterdam the weekend before and Berlin the weekend after.  (Yes, that’s right, I avoided Pride celebrations — better hotel rates and more availability, fewer swarms of people, and even a better chance at getting laid.)  That eventually firmed up into fly Thursday, Amsterdam for Friday–Monday, Copenhagen for Tuesday–Thursday, and Berlin for Friday–Sunday, flying back on Monday.

I initially looked at rail travel within Europe, since it was such a good option last year from Killarney to Dublin.  Early on, I saw a good deal for and overnight from Amsterdam to Copenhagen (via Berlin and Malmö, Sweden), but by the time I was ready to purchase, that was gone and rail tickets were in the €200 range— way too expensive (doube the airfare for that leg!).  So I got a SAS leg to Copenhagen, and an airberlin flight to Berlin.  (In retrospect, I realize that RyanAir and easyJet weren’t on the travel sites I visited, so I wonder if I could have got cheaper options?  Well, no point in wondering now.)  One of my other options to Copenhagen would have taken me through Riga, in Latvia, which would have been an interesting additional country to check off my list, but the SAS leg was about $50 cheaper.

SLM Copenhagen (Scandinavian Leather Men) was scheduled to host an Out In Leather program at the OutGames, including a Mr. Leather OutGames contest on Thursday.  Appear in leather and do a 3 minute presentation (“fantasy” to those in the States); max of 8 contestants, with everyone getting at least €40 of porn, and the top two getting €500 and €2000 leather packages.  What do I have to lose, eh?  So I scripted and recorded and edited a leather retelling of Pinocchio (“When he told a lie, his ahem nose would grow”).  (Maybe I’ll post the MP3 later, especially if it gets a good reception.)

Of course, after I had all this planned and some of the travel details purchased, they released the specific schedules.  Leather contest is Thursday at 10 pm.  Line dance competition is Thursday… 8-10 pm.  Aieee.  Assuming it doesn’t run the full two hours, the contest location is a 5 minute cab ride, so it will be tight, but I should be able to make it.  The SLM contact says it will actually start at about 10:15, and the line dance awards are supposed to be done at 9:45.  Rrrr…

Updated on February 1, 2010

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Let It Not Snow!  Let It Not Snow!  Let It Not Snow!

First snowman I’ve built in years, even if he was only 10 inches tall.
The squirrels stole his nose by that evening.

Updated on January 29, 2010