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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hello, Kitty

There is as yet no scientific term for the eye-blink interval between the end of my last trip and the start of planning for the next one. It's slightly less than the moment it takes a Parisian shopkeeper to size me up as an American, and slightly longer than it takes a car to appear out of nowhere angrily flashing headlights in my rearview mirror when I pull into the left lane on an apparently empty Italian autostrada.

This year the choice of destination was easy.  A whirlwind visit to Hong Kong in 2010 convinced my husband and me that a week was nowhere near enough time in this fascinating city and environs.  There were markets unexplored, dim sum restaurants untried, and Lan Kwai Fong pubs unexperienced. So back across the Pacific we're headed.

My major planning challenge is what the military calls "mission creep." It's far too easy for me to look at a map and think, "Gee, we're only an inch away from Singapore, we should add that in.  And while we're there we could make a day trip to Kuala Lumpur." Thankfully my husband is skilled at project-managing my trip planning, and has so far succeeded in averting catastrophe.

But we will visit at least one other city this time.  We plan to fly to Hong Kong on Taiwan-based EVA, ensuring a change of plane in Taipei. This choice seemed uncontroversial until my husband learned that the airline has chosen to paint some of its planes in a distinctive "Hello Kitty" livery.

Now, my husband is as secure in his manhood as any male can possibly be.  But the prospect of traveling in a flying comic book nearly proved too much, and he refused to be seen on such a conveyance.  I reminded him that fourteen hours in the air is a long time to spend with a paper bag over one's head, plus it's really hard to watch the in-flight movies that way. He finally relented when I learned that the cartoon livery isn't used on EVA's long-haul routes. But I avoided mentioning the possibility that we'd be on one of these cute planes on the Taipei-Hong Kong leg.

This will be our first visit Taipei, and any itinerary suggestions are welcome.  Plus advice on how to navigate the airport with a paper bag over one's head.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Los Angeles

Speeding by through a car window, Los Angeles resembles an overexposed photograph. The city has a bleached, grimy quality that stands in stark contrast to the high gloss portrayed in the media it churns out. But LA can be seductive as well as sinister. Over three million people from every corner of the globe, simmering day after day in a climate described by “Chinatown” screenwriter Robert Towne as “the same temperature as your skin” can produce thought-provoking art and ideas. The bougainvillea growing past a collage of old posters on a wall near a gallery in Santa Monica caught my eye.

Octoberfest in Leavenworth, Washington

Octoberfest in Washington’s faux-Bavarian mountain village of Leavenworth was not at all what I expected. Sure, there was slap-dancing, a horse-drawn wagon full of imported German dignitaries, oompah music and yodeling aplenty. And beer. Lots and lots and lots of beer.
But I never anticipated the intensity of the revelry. Under the governing principle that an Octoberfest-goer does not live by dirndles and lederhosen alone, attendees dressed as Imperial Storm Troopers from “Star Wars,” half-naked Vikings, and the 1972 US Olympic track team. There were Rastafarians with both real and artificial dreadlocks. A group of imposingly buxom women on a balcony tossed pieces of saltwater taffy into the crowds waiting to enter the main festival tent. Every shop and restaurant was jammed with customers spilling into the streets. By far the longest line was outside the costume store, where a bouncer kept those desperate for a foot-tall beer stein hat at bay with a chain across the entrance.

Thankfully there were quieter moments as well. In the gazebo in the town center a traditional Alpine band drew a crowd of footsore partygoers. One tiny girl in particular was entranced by the accordionist.