Someone (Oscar Alajandro) one from Venezuela recently put together a video on our little town in the edge of nowhere. My fiance assures me that it’s worth watching. I can see a few errors (For example, there are definitely more communities north of us than he suggests), but overall, it’s certainly an interesting view.
I had already booked a work-related flight to Fairbanks when Covid19 began spreading through the U.S. I remember talking about it with Moni in the days before I flew, and especially the night before I was to go. We seriously talked about cancelling the trip, but I thought it best to follow through with my plans. By the time the plane hit ground the next day, pubic sentiment had shifted from something along the lines of “maybe wear a mask, wash your hands a lot, and avoid crowds” to something more like “don’t go out at all, definitely wear a mask, and start shutting down the businesses. By the time I left Fairbanks 3 days later, the University was all but closed and restaurants were take-out only. Touching people, even to shake hands, was not done. Needless to say, I didn’t get much done. I felt pretty relieved to get home safely.
And then there was a period when we were all just locked down and travel wasn’t really an option.
I felt this.
I felt it in my teeth.
And in my stomach.
I had already scheduled a visit with an oral surgeon. He was to take the remains of 2 molars out the right side of my mouth, hopefully before the botched cap on my left side fell out and left me on a solid yogurt diet.
As the time of Covid stretched on, and people began to realize this wasn’t ending any time soon, I started to think about flying south to get my teeth done after all. With the help of her sister (a nurse), Moni had the safety precautions down to a science, and we started making limited forays out of the arctic. I still cringe at the thought of leaving the state, but with a little planning, I feel like we can get down to Anchorage and get what needs doing done. We can even venture pout of our room a bit, in which case we figure it’s best to keep going right out of town.
One good thing about Alaska, some of the best things about it take you well away from other people.
Still got one last procedure before I can sink my teeth into a proper steak. I would prefer to hunker down completely for the next few months, but I may need to risk one more trip. In the meantime, it occurs to me that I haven’t done a proper poto-gallery in awhile. So, here are a few pictures from recent travels. This of course includes a few drives around town, and maybe a few from before the pandemic. Anyway, …pics!
(Click the pics to embiggen them. You know you wanna!)
Gallery 1: In flight.
Gallery 2: The Beaches of Barrow.
Denali (and Nearby).
Southeast from Anchorage.
…and, oh yeah!
Whatever you are doing?
This guy disapproves!
I know! Most of y’all will get a few more of these, but no so, those of us up here in Barrow. Our last sunset was yesterday. I’m told we can expect to be overrun by vampires any moment. We hear about that every year, actually, but this being 2020 and all, it seems like it actually might happen this time.
Anyway, I was flying up from Anchorage yesterday, caught a couple pictures of the sunset as the plane came in for a landing. Turns out, my nephew, Danielito, was filming the sunset on the ground, and he caught my plane coming in.
Danielito is a good kid.
I hope the vampires don’t get him!
“Honey, this place looks like it’s closed.”
Moni is trying to brush the sleep from her eyes. Leaning forward as far as the seat belt will let her, she cranes her neck around to see if she can see why I have pulled over. The more she sees, the more she realizes how very right she is. As I recall, this place was already closed over ten years ago when I used to drive through Gray Mountain on my way to work. It’s well past closed now.
“Why are we stopping here?”
After a moment, she realized the answer to her question.
(Click to embiggen. …You know you wanna!)
FWIW: My Instagram.
I’m at the airport in Anchorage. The woman standing next to me gets out her phone. She is visibly irritated.
“Yes, I’m waiting here for the shuttle. Another gentleman is waiting too. There are three of us. We called half an hour ago and you said it would be 15 minutes. You told the other gentleman you’d be here any minute. It’s been 30. We’ve already called you twice and nothing’s happened. We’re just waiting…”
…a group of at least half a dozen people walk up and pushes between us just as the airport shuttle arrives and opens its door right in front of them.
“Oh, he’s here already. Boy are they fast”
Moni and I are back in the icebox now, having just returned from a relatively short bout of southyness over the Christmas break. Didn’t get to see near enough of our loved ones, but it was good to connect with those we could.
We made a stop at one of my favorite haunts in Vegas, the Neon Museum, otherwise known as The Boneyard. This is the afterlife for many of the old marquees used on the strip and throughout town. It’s strange for me, because I used to live in the Vegas area (Boulder City, to be exact). I remember some of these signs when they were alive and in the wild, so to speak. I should say that I sort of remember them. The Strip and much of what most people think of as Vegas was always just as foreign to me as it might be to the tourists coming through town. I don’t think that’s an unusual perspective for locals, but it does give Vegas nostalgia an interesting mix of oddity and familiarity. One of the cultural consequences of tourism, I suppose, a past rendered both intimate and alien. Of course, in this case, the whole thing comes surrounded with the faint glow of neon lights.
Moni and I took a daytime tour of the museum a couple years ago, and we’ve been planning to go back ever since. This time, we made it! Thanks to Mark Thiel of Powel’s Camera Shop for helping us to figure out a few things about our new(ish) cameras. Moni and I made the Neon Museum our testing ground, so to speak. Looking at the photos now, I can see that I have a lot of practice to do, but anyway, the place is cool enough to overcome my clumsy camera skills in at least a couple pics.
The guided tours are an interesting mix of commentary on the signs themselves and stories about old Vegas. One minute you are learning about how they bend neon tubes to make the signs, and the next you are hearing about the role of divorce tourism in the mid-century development of the city. The tours are at their best in those moments when the two themes come together in a single narrative. The stars on the old Stardust marquee are a good example of that. As I recall our old daytime tour-guide related a rumor he couldn’t quite vouch for that they might have been meant to reflect the fall of radioactive dust in the days of nuclear testing. Our night guide on this tour was content to connect them to the era of space exploration. Either way, it’s interesting to see larger patterns of history in the very objects in front of you, or at least in the stories told about them.
My favorite story would have to be that of the Moulin Rouge accord. It’s hard to get a good picture of the Moulin Rouge sign, because it’s so big and distributed in with so many other signs, but the casino played an interesting role in Vegas history. So, it features prominently in the tours. As the first of the Vegas casinos to desegregate, it quickly became a Vegas hot spot, a place where the you could see Frank Sinatra hanging out with Sammy Davis Jr. after doing their own shows. So, it was fitting that the Moulin Rouge would pay a role in the civil rights movement. Facing protests in 1960 over segregation throughout the city, hotel owners met with civil rights leaders at the (already closed) Moulin Rouge. The resulting agreement desegregated the Las Vegas strip.
The tour guides have lots of other stories, of course. I wish I could remember them all.
(Anyway, …click to embiggen!)
Between her new job and our move into a new apartment, my girlfriend and I haven’t had much of a chance to to travel together this summer. We did manage to sneak out for a week or so in mid June. What we decided to do this time was a quick road trip from Anchorage to Valdez. Of course, getting to Anchorage required a little flying time, but that’s old hat. We had to make a couple purchases for the new place, so that meant staying a couple days in the vicinity of Anchorage, so we found a lovely bed and breakfast in Palmer. After that, we hit the road!
Not literally, of course. I ain’t got nothin’ against the highway.
Anyway, the trip was about a 5 hour drive, but we made plenty of stops. We traveled along the Matanuska river for quite some time, made a brief stop a bit south of Glenallen, then headed off toward Valdez. To say that we found a number of beautiful sites along the way would be putting it mildly.
Valdez itself was absolutely wonderful. I hit a couple museums (The Whitney Museum and the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive) and we hung out at the docks for a time. We ate at the Fat Mermaid a couple of times and made stops at Mike’s Palace and Fu Kung. …suffice to say that we were well fed. We also ran into the folks from Sweet Cheeks Bakery, run by the parents of a coworker, but we didn’t get back in time to get our cinnamon buns. Still, …all of Alaska is just one small village! You just can’t travel through this state without finding connections to the people you meet. Eventually, we bought tickets on a tour boat, which of course meant that I got sick (yes I took some meds), but mostly that was just amazing. I almost never opt for a paid tour, but I’m very glad I did this time.
On the last day as Moni and I were strolling around downtown getting ready to say goodbye to the place, a random guy came out of Mike’s Palace and asked us if we lived in the area. The answer was ‘no’, of course, and then he proceeded to tell us that he had lived here himself once, 30 years ago. I cringed inside as he launched into his efforts to tell me about the good old days. A few minutes later I felt a twinge of sadness as he left us with tales of bar fights between Okies and Texan (oil workers) spilling out of the Palace and onto the street. Apparently, the police had once been disarmed so as to enable the fight to continue. Additional stories involved a pair of Korean prostitutes who paid him extra for a pizza every night so as to have a place to stay. Just how much of this was true, I have no idea, but the stories were a good deal more entertaining than I had anticipated. I found myself wishing we’d run into him before lunch rather than after and on the verge of leaving. Still, a few more eagle pics and off we went.
Hell, even the shopping we did back in Anchorage before boarding the plane back home went well.
I wish every vacation was this cool.
(You may click to embiggen!)
Well over a thousand miles separates Barrow from Juneau. It’s enough to make the place as different from Barrow as either place would be from much of the lower 48. I imagine many of my friends and family must themselves imagine the sights Moni and I have been enjoying here this last few days are common experiences. But we don’t have eagles in barrow, nor trees or mountains. We don’t have glaciers either, unless you count the whole ocean as a glacier for part of the year. (Jokes aside, I’m pretty sure that’s not how glaciers work.) Southeast Alaska is a truly beautiful place. It’s one we don’t often get to enjoy.
This guy was a little ways off, which is why Moni and I weren’t immediately sure what we were looking at. I was busy snapping stills of this eagle with as much zoom as I could. Moni scooped me with a vid.
…the persistence of seagulls pays off.
A needlessly hurried spin around Mendenhall Lake.
…and a short photo gallery (click to embiggen):
I never met my grandparents on my mother’s side. Hardly a day went by that Mom didn’t mention them, but of course I have more questions about them than answers. So, it was a very pleasant surprise to find out that grandpa left behind a few travel journals. One relates the story of a trip to central America in 1950.
What caught my attention?
Okay, so it might not be all that obvious why this should be interesting to me or anyone else for that matter. I probably won’t be traveling on the Great White Fleet any time soon, and who has even heard of United Fruit? They probably don’t even exist anymore, right? Well, they don’t. That’s true. If you’ve eaten a Chiquita Banana, then you’ve some familiarity with their progeny, but United Fruit itself doesn’t exist anymore. In the 1950s, though, they were going good and strong.
United Fruit was more than a business. It controlled much of central America and helped give birth to the phrase ‘banana republic,’ which I suppose means it has yet another descendant of sorts in the business world. In just four years, United Fruit and the Central Intelligence Agency would engineer a military coup in Guatemala, one of the nations my grandparents visited on this trip. Two of the ships in United Fruit’s Great White Fleet would later be used in the Bay of Pigs operation. Clearly, United Fruit did a lot more than grow and sell bananas. They would eventually be forced to sell off their monopoly interests in Guatemala, and then merged with another company to become Chiquita. In the meantime, Grandma and Grandpa were free to enjoy the hospitality of the company on the Great White Fleet.
It’s just a travel journal, to be sure, but a travel journal into the business end of American imperialism. Suffice to say, this was enough to peak my curiosity.
I can’t say the journal was overflowing with details of military juntas and revolutionary conspirators. That’s not what Grandpa and Grandma went down there to see, and this isn’t exactly my area, anyway, so I may have missed a thing or three. Most of the journal seems like pretty normal stuff for travelers. Its pages are filled with tales of mundane trips about the countryside, meals enjoyed (or simply ensured), beautiful architecture, run-down hovels, archeological sites, and countless random travel companions, most of which slide onto stage and back off without too much fuss.
Yet there are a few notable passages.
I no longer have the actual journal in my possession, but I took pictures of every page. I reproduced a number of the these below, numbering them for ease of reference. I intend to give the thing a closer reading sometime down the road, but for now, these are a few things that caught my notice for one reason or another…
Apparently, my grandparents hit a cow somewhere near Chichen Itza (pic 70). Grandpa also mentions meeting a young man in that area who had been to Peoria, IL during the war (pic 76). I can’t tell enough from the narrative, whether the man is even local, or perhaps an ex patriot, but I wonder if this wasn’t someone who had come up on the Bracero program (workers brought into the U.S. to replace Americans gone to war). Either way, I expect there would be an interesting story there.
They encountered the President of Honduras (Juan Lindo?) whom they were evidently told had been too democratic to live in the President’s Palace. He tipped his hat to someone in their party. (You can read Grandpa’s account of this on pic 55).
Grandpa mentions a banana shaped menu once in his journal (pic 46). Pics 14 and 15 would seem to fit the bill. Oddly enough, I don’t see bananas all over the menus, which is interesting. Under the guidance of Edward Bernays, the father of modern Public Relations, United Fruit made an effort to broaden people’s ideas about when and where to eat bananas, a campaign which included (for instance) reversing ideas about whether or not parents should encourage snacking. I really did expect to see a lot more gustatory propaganda on those menus, but mostly the fruit (which would have been the Big Mike), seems to show up in pictures and other visual motifs.
There is an interesting little history of the Banana, according to United Fruit (pics 17-19), and nice overview of the travel services aboard ships of the United Fruit Company (29-45). Oddly enough, this does not mention any of the company’s efforts to monopolize the entire national economies of several of the countries on the itinerary.
A couple of these pamphlets include references to ‘Middle America’. (I think these were menus.) I found the phrase amusing enough, wondering what folks in Oklahoma or Nebraska might make of it, but of course our North American fashions of speaking about ‘America’ can be a little odd once you shift references to include the whole hemisphere. More interesting than that, the phrasing matches a news agency developed by Bernays for the purpose of promoting the interests of United Fruit. The Middle America Information Bureau had gone dormant by 1950, but I do find myself wondering if the phrasing doesn’t reflect some conscious reference to that project.
And then of course there are just a couple cryptic references in Grandpa’s journal to a rather large layoff by United Fruit coupled with the observation that communism is coming in fast (pic 54).
I could easily wish for more. I could wish Grandpa had uncovered a great big smoking gun, or that he had left behind a complete account of the political history of the region, but alas, he was just a tourist along on a vacation. His politics were not mine, and he didn’t know the history of the company. He mostly wrote about the meals and the sites, and the friendly chatter with people he met here and there. It’s me that sees these documents nearly 70 years later and thinks about all the history of the company that took him down there, but perhaps there is an interesting lesson here after all. This is what the imperialism of the day looked like to people like my Grandpa, to guests of United Fruit.
It was central Americans that witnessed the violent side of United Fruit. For so many (North) Americans, it was simply slices of fruit a mother may have wanted to put on bowl of cereal. Or perhaps it was a quaint news story about a far away place, and perhaps reasons Uncle Sam needed to help fight the red menace somewhere else. Living here in the United States, the majority of Americans would never have felt the blunt force of this company’s power. Neither would they have seen it in any recognizable manner. What they saw was always this benign.
Whatever else can be learned from Grandpa’s journal, it seems we can learn the same was true for countless American tourists traveling through the region. United Fruit is all over the literature in this journal. Details that would one day matter can be found here and there, along with rumors that even reached the ears of a passing tourist. Still nothing recognizably nefarious pops up in the journal, at least not to the eyes of tourists such as my grandfather. What we can see is a range of pamphlets, dinner menus, and brief canned histories, all of which make the whole region seem so innocent, and so quaint. To so many (North) Americans, that banana shaped menu is presisely what our imperial age did look like.
I could of course rest happy thinking that we are better and wiser today. This is all behind us, right? Then again, we sometimes get a little reminder that there is nothing new under the sun.
This is hardly a research paper, but I thought it might be worth mentioning a couple sources here. I first Read Bitter Fruit as a teaching assistant to a professor who specialized in Latin-American studies. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a couple other books on the subject. Bananas makes a particularly nice quick read with a lit of interesting details on the history of United Fruit. Cohen’s books is also useful. Galeano’s book helps to draw connections between different regions and phases of history, all with a very pointed sense of significance.
The Bernays angle on all this stuff is particularly interesting. His book Propaganda, is still considered a classic in the history of Public relations. It’s a good peak into the kind of techniques the man used in selling United Fruit and its interests to the American public.
Bernays, Edward. Propaganda. Broooklyn, New Yok: IG Publishing, 1928, 2005.
Chapman, Peter. Bananas: How the United Fruit Company shaped the world. Edinburgh, New York, Melbourne: Canongate, 2007.
Cohen, Rich. The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York: Picador, 2012.
Galeano, Eduardo. Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973, 1997.
Schlesinger, Stephen and Stephen Kinzer. Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatelama. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1982, 2005.
I’ve been to San Francisco before, not often, and never for long. This summer I spent a couple days in the city with my girlfriend, Moni, and her friend Annie, all before starting the great road trip with Wonder Woman as our companion. That was this summer, but what do I recall from before?
I was once on a massive field trip to San Francisco with virtually my entire grade school when by a perverse coincidence someone in California decided to kidnap a school bus full of children and bury them alive while waiting for the ransom. The seventies were kinda wacky that way, but don’t worry, they all made it.
…and someone at my school had to tell countless concerned parents that we were all on course and fully accounted for.
The field trip, itself I don’t remember much.
I remember a speech and debate tournament held at Berkeley way back when I was in college. I remember a hoard of people drumming in a courtyard, lots of great bookstores, a lovely trip to the wharf, and plenty of great street performers. I also remember wearing red ribbons in protest of apartheid. This was a new thing at the time, not just the color and the specific cause, but as I recall the notion of wearing ribbons as a political statement. It wasn’t then quite the cliche that it is now. Two athletes realized what the ribbons were for. That was all.
I also remember attending an anthropology conference held in San Francisco. We were palling around with an ex-Jesuit priest who had done his fieldwork in China. The guy swore he knew a great dim sum place near the hotel. We were snaking up and down the side streets until he finally hooked a quick turn into some place quite unimpressive, at least until they started serving the food. I remember him asking about spicy chicken feet. He was told they didn’t serve it to the customers, because we wouldn’t know how to eat it. After speaking to her in Mandarin for awhile, she agreed to feed him, and she brought out just enough for HIM to eat it. The rest of us got to watch.
I remember a little here and there from other trips, but nothing worth mentioning.
This time I recall getting very sick on a tour boat. I do that sometimes. Pretty much whenever I’m on a boat. Sometimes on a plane. Once recently in the back of a sled. Needless to say, roller coasters are right out! Anyway, I got off the boat this time and found myself miserable and bucking up for a day of hard work just to make it through what should have been good fun. So, Moni and Annie let me sleep in the park for an hour or so after which I actually enjoyed the rest of the day. At the very end of the evening, we decided to check out some street art. Seeing me go crazy with my camera as the sun went down, her friend, Annie, graciously agreed to take me back to check out the art in the Mission District again the next day.
I think I love Annie!
My all-time favorite was the Women’s Building with its great mural, MaestraPeace. We weren’t the only ones there with cameras, which is quite fitting, because a lot of great talent went into this piece.
MaestraPeace Mural was painted in 1994 by a “Who’s Who” of Bay Area muralists: Juana Alicia, Miranda Bergman, Edythe Boone, Susan Kelk Cervantes, Meera Desai, Yvonne Littleton and Irene Perez.
Seriously, that painting is very cool.
We were hunting some murals in a small alley at one point when a local suggested we go check out Clarion Alley. Moni was a little annoyed that I was talking to random homeless people, but honestly the guy helped me out quite a bit. Clarion Alley was great advice! Moni was even more annoyed the next day when I was accosted by a homeless man who wanted me to leave Clarion Alley very quickly. He wasn’t as helpful as the first guy. Still, I got my pics, and he didn’t shoot me after all, not that he had a gun mind you, but shootings were mentioned.
…as were donuts.
Anyway, I clicked away at my camera for the better part of a full day, and I could hardly tear myself away as the sun fell again. I have no doubt that I missed a great deal. I’m also told that much of the artwork would be different if we go back.
I really must test this theory some day.
(Click to embiggen!)
The Women’s Building