Arrivals and Departures

This is an unusual post, marking arrivals and departures.

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Even worse, the sea creatures on display appear to have nothing to do with that theme. Let me explain. One of the arrivals is that of my daughter arriving at the critical age of 18, and one of the departures is hers to college in California. This provides a first link: The pictures are from the Monterey Aquarium, which we visited last year.

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When I see these astonishing creatures, I am inevitably reminded of Denis Villeneuve’s film Arrival, a rare example of an adaptation that works independently and as well in its own way as the source, here Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life. The departure I will associate with this is that of the composer of the wondrous film score, Jóhann Jóhannsson, who left us last year, too early.

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Arrival and departure sound like beginning and end, joy and sadness. This is treacherous, because each departure is a departure to a new arrival elsewhere. Arrival and departure are like a single contraction of one of these jellyfish. What you perceive depends of where you are: inside or outside.

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More important than arrival and departure are the stories that are framed in between, the mysterious creatures that propel our lives forward or bring it to a halt.

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I am looking forward to hear more.

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The Lack of Words (Budapest 1992)

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New Year 1992/1993 I spent with a handful of friends in Budapest. It is maybe a little odd to spend this time of the year at an even colder place, but that’s how we were. Below a night view of a main land mark, the Matthias Church.

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How do I know it was 1992? One of us, the young lady below, was carrying a book and spending every free minute with it.

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The book was Robert Schneider’s sleep depriving novel Schlafes Bruder, which had just come out. 

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Democracy in Hungary had just been 3 years old, and capitalism showed its claws. You could get amazing Hungarian desserts for a fraction of what it was worth. Our last meal in town was at the Gundel restaurant. One of the dishes was an unforgettable goose liver together with an aged white Hungarian wine. I rarely eat meat these days, but this dinner I would repeat any time.

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Another interesting aspects of this visit was the language. Few people spoke any language we spoke. My best shot was to read the leftover signs in Russian, with my puny knowledge of that language.

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The picture above I took to be able to look up the name of the place. I was making assumptions here. Nyalóka means lollipop, even in winter.

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One of my interests back then was East Asian art, and Budapest has a famous collection that I wanted to see. To get there, I used a partial map with a few street names and and a cross for the museum in Gorky utca, Gorky street.  After a while, the map stopped making sense. I erred around for a while, until somebody took pity. I showed him the map and shrugged the shoulders. He started talking, but seeing my incomprehension, just shook his head and said Gorky utca, kaput.

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Evidently, Gorky street had been renamed. Fortunately, this information was enough. I ignored street names and just relied on the street pattern to find the museum.

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New year’s eve was a different affair, too. Street venders sold cheap noise makers in the (relatively) warm underground stations, and all hell broke loose. I liked this better than spending a fortune on firework.Unknown457

The Chapel (Utah 2019 III)

A little way east of Kanab, along Highway 89, is a popular roadside attraction called the Toadstool Hoodoos. The short trail takes you through a somewhat desolate landscape.DSC 2013

You might encounter children running around and screaming sandwar! and the like, which makes you wonder whether they just toppled all the hoodoos over.

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Most peaceful people come to enjoy the landscape above and hoodoos like the ones below. 

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For me, the main attraction however is a little secluded space at the far wall of the plateau that I called the chapel.

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If it was made by humans, I would call it an intriguing piece of architecture. You can see it as a face or a heart, it is both closed and open.

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The interior has some pre-human wall art to contemplate the passing time.

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Nobody ever goes there.

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Mount Shasta (25 Years Ago)

One of the more iconic mountains of northern California is Mount Shasta, a volcano a little above 14,000 feet, or 4,321m to be precise and metric. I fell in love with it on a flight from San Francisco to Eugene in Oregon in March 1994. A few weeks later, a had the opportunity to climb it. This was in late April, and means this is a Spring climb with lots of snow and potentially bad weather. 

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I have relatively few pictures from this trip, one of the first is the one above, already from the summit. We are a group of about 12, all from CHAOS, led by our intrepid Norwegian Øyvind. Just before we went off, he had confessed that the recorded mountain weather forecast at the local ranger station promised a weather that they considered on the light side for those training  for Denali.

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We started on a Friday afternoon in heavy snow and went up to Lake Helen, the standard ascent, using snow shoes. The lake was invisible and frozen, so we pitched tents. While we waited for an hour until our chefs had the potatoes cooked, we practiced  breaking falls using an ice axe. That was fun, despite the snow.

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The next morning was pristine. We were above the clouds and anxious to get going. All of us reached Desperation Point, where you realize that you are not on the summit yet. But you can see it, and it looks like a brutal vertical rock face. This scared a few of us to turn back. Don’t. There is a surprisingly easy way around that takes you safely and quickly to the summit.

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The way back took forever. We ended up in the clouds, and when we reached Helen Lake, it was vert heavily snowing. We packed all our gear and triple checked that everybody was there, and went down in the dark, reaching the cars by 2am in the morning. Unforgettable.

Slot Canyons (Utah 2019 II)

Escalante is a dreamy little village on spectacular Utah Highway 12, featuring a great little restaurant in the annex of the outdoor outfitter store. For some, this place is just a stop at the most scenic portion of the highway, for others the place to begin an exploration of the many slot canyons nearby.

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Our destination was Dry Fork Trailhead, a 30 minute drive away on a bearable dirt road (Hole-In-The-Rock Road). Bring plenty of water. 

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There are four slot canyons accessible from this trail head. They are all long and narrow. We went through one of them, forth and back, because we couldn’t get up the steep boulders at the end. It would have been easier to enter at the other end at slide down.

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But only in retrospect: These canyons are really narrow, and you should never make a move that you cannot undo.

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Often one has to wedge oneself through, trying various body positions. I wonder how many people get seriously stuck there.DSC 1752

Small occasional caverns let you take a break and rearrange your limbs. I found that the most unreal part about this place is that I actually fit through. This doesn’t happen in real life.

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Don’t forget to save some water for the long hike back.

The Grand Gulch II (25 Years Ago)

A little while ago I posted a few pictures from the Grand Gulch in Utah. This year, almost to the day, it is 25 years ago that I went there with a few hiking friends from Berkeley.

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One of them is now Math Professor in Utah. I don’t know the fate of the others in the picture. I see him occasionally at conferences.

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Pictures like the ones above are misleading. The gulch is mostly a narrow canyon, and if you think there is an exit just around the corner, it is a dead end.

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There is water, but not much. Seeing a stream like the one below is rare and means you better fill your water bottles.

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The week long hike leaves ample time to contemplate the beauty of natural walls.

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Teotihuacan (25 Years Ago)

The first three days of my Winter Break excursion to Mexico in 1993 I spent in Mexico City, and one of them in Teotihuacan.

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By bus it takes about an hour to get there. I should have arrived much earlier, to beat the crowds and have better light. One of the most fascinating aspects of this place is how little we know about it.

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It had been abandoned by about 700 CE, reaching a population well over 100,000 before. The reasons? We don’t know. Who lived there? We don’t know. Of course there are speculations and theories. 

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What fascinates me is the discrepancy between the longevity of what’s preserved and the fragility of what is gone. Did they care what would survive? If we knew we’d be gone in a century, would we care to leave something behind?

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Would it be art, pomp, or an attempt of a message?

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Perhaps it should just be a vision: This is how we liked it to be. This was us. 

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