a terrestrial European purgatory,
the terminal encloses
our transient souls
airport air, static and stale—
yet mobile and mosaic in its own way
spiced by the respiration
of thousands of earth’s denizens
worldly forms internalize and effuse
the captive atmosphere
that’s outside the outskirts of Stockholm
the Earth is near, but
only through periodic intervals of glass slates
can I scale such a realm
humbly sized hills span the horizon
covered by conical Scandinavian spruces
pointing towards the billowy clouds—
landscape that backdrops a Lufthansa aircraft
its wheels roll across the black tarmac
the winged carriage designed
to transcend mortal beings
towards the heavens above
the layover void entails
indoor insularity arrests the experience
the Swedish landscape, untouchable
the Stockholm cityscape, unperceivable
so describes my brief survey of the area
the only kind I truly know
I entered what’s technically Sweden
with but a smattering of regional knowledge
my first flight’s carrier screened Scandinavian factoids
the most memorable slice of the montage
informed me that Celsius was a Swede
I absorb minute observations
of my short-lived, transient sojourn
conscious that most in-transit concerns float
within the vacuum of myopia
removed from the comfort zone
of my home country’s currency
I calculate equations of divine banality
given variables: products and exchange rates
duty free: alcohols for sale, for outside EU borders
Euro accepted: after a Euro fee, crown trade encouraged
authorities from the material world
still control materialism’s realizations
in the hub of purgatory
I thus avoid acquiring additional matter
to my accompanying earthly possessions
packed into the parameters
of the airline’s weight and dimensional limits
American, I appreciate the English inscriptions
printed on café menu selections
continental reminders spot my surroundings
European English: A “Favourites” sign indicates sandwiches
European beer: A Staropramen bottle glows emerald
European water: An umlaut dots the o
a dialectal smorgasbord
simmers within the airport café
stews of words spiced with “mit” and “und”
hint of Germanic ingredients
“s kockou!” three nearby Slavs remark
about domesticated bestial entities
that enhance our planetary existence
I wait as I watch
a slew of summoned souls
to pass beyond gate 14-b
slowly they migrate
towards their aerial carriage to elsewhere
I sit waiting in anticipation
for my turn to come
I monitor the nearby monitor
which has yet to announce the gate,
my threshold of liberation
to advance to the next level
another world awaits beyond purgatory
my turn will come
An indicator of being from a place is that you can speak of it using the first person.
“We New Yorkers…”
“In New Mexico, we…”
“Because I am an Oregonian…”
You explain the cultural customs you identify with like virtues of your personality. You take pride in favorite local fares borne by your surroundings (regardless of whether you ever concocted the dish, sauce, or beverage on your own). You may detest the place’s less favorable facets and reflect a deeply digested reaction to why that particular dislike has not only been subtly imprinted, but intricately embedded into your consciousness due to personal experience. You could perceive familiar discomforts that outsiders struggle with as challenges you know how to handle or characteristic feats you’ve long overcome.
This summer, I’ve familiarized with the Michigander culture, but knowingly through the lens of the third person. Hearing the third person object pronoun, “them,” being used in place of “those” (i.e. someone saying, “Them are done”) at first confused me. Associating Detroit as “the city” and nature as “up north” took several reconfigurations by remembering where in the world I was. Having my “Where is…” inquiries answered not just verbally, but also manually—by Michiganders popping up their palms with their thumbs jutting out to symbolize the shape of the Lower Peninsula—slowly started to make more sense.
Then there was the beach. Being a native East Coaster (who has also resided on the West Coast and in the Korean peninsula), my idea of entering the beach starts neither at the sandy shore nor the wavy water, but beforehand. What’s in the water transmits into the atmosphere. In a beach town, signals that the ocean is nearby consist of a dense, breezy air coupled with a distinguishable salty fragrance, one which scientists profess to be a gas effusion from sea-dwelling bacteria.
As such, in Muskegon, Michigan, seeing the cusp of sand and freshwater sans any saltwater air threw me off.
I was admittedly uncertain about what I should call it. Was I going to the beach? The shore? The lake? The coast? There are certainly beachy symbols all around town in Muskegon. Wind chimes ping to ding lovely little bells; seagulls squawk, soar, and eat garbage; prints of crabs, lobsters, and seashells adorn paper and porcelain surfaces; lighthouses and sails perk skyward. Naturally, and most importantly, the freshwater beach proves itself a beach existentially, by being a long, sandy strip along a body of water.
The topography of the area also took some gauging. Most of Michigan that I’ve seen so far is flat and stays consistently so for many miles in any direction. There are several higher points of Muskegon that line Lake Michigan, though, in the form of sand dunes. Mammoth masses of sand constitute hilly mounds covered with forest flora and cut up into hiking trails.
With visitation comes comparison to other episodes of exploration. I couldn’t help but think of NYC’s Intrepid as I toured Muskegon’s naval ship, the USS LST 393. The downtown drag reminded me of the architecture in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The appearance of ice cream stand sort of looked like those in Detroit, but the scenery that surrounded them was reminiscent of the Adirondacks.
As for figures, I learned that the rock icon I knew from growing up outside of Ann Arbor, Iggy Pop, was actually born in Muskegon. A big, blue placard honoring Buster Keaton along with ability to keep a straight face in any situation piqued my curiosity enough to find out that his family and their vaudeville friends developed an actor’s colony. The Muskegon where Buster’s parents used to ride around an elephant was a place of the past. The house the Keatons had built was razed in the 50s, and even the streetcar system of their time is now but a vestige of some nondescript steel rails engulfed by asphalt road.
Another New Yorker in Michigan might make completely different observations, while a Michigander in New York might appreciate overlooked details. Parallels amount in any era; it was a century ago that Lake Michigan Park was referred to as “Muskegon’s Coney Island.”
In any case, here or anywhere, I’ll acknowledge I’m not the first to discover a place that has long existed, but I’ll be the first to make my own discoveries and categorize them accordingly.
In the days of Ancient Mesopotamia, humans claimed to see a cat in the night sky.
Millennia later, members of modern human civilization still connect the disparate dots millions of miles away in recognition of that same cat: the constellation, Leo the Lion.
Terrestrially speaking, live Panthera leo prowl across African open planes and through dense brush landscapes. As a motif, the same sub-species has traversed traditions of assorted eras and areas. The lion is filmed roaring for MGM trademark footage, printed clawing across Bohemian coats of arms, and, ironically, encountered searching for its courage in classic narratives.
Humans have also typecast the courageous cat as a universal security guard for its shelters. Scowling bronze lions menacingly guard imperial Chinese palaces; monumental marble statues magnificently flank NYC cultural institutes. Chiseled lion visages grimace at passersby from the stone slabs that construct grandiose apartment buildings. On such facades, the muscular cat’s bestial behaviors threaten as its regal physique adorns.
But for as powerful as the lion sculptures seem, their power to protect carries a fundamental limitation: it is symbolic. The animals are inanimate, figurative facades in themselves—like how starry Leo’s existential state is really a bunch of big, burning gas balls far out in the universe.
Meanwhile in Hamtramck, Michigan, residents practice a more pragmatic means of employing felidae for protective purposes.
They use living breathing cats–of smaller sizes.
Lions may be the choice animal for the football team of the greater city that engulfs the city of Hamtramck. With Tigers, too, for baseball, it seems that Detroit has designated ferocious felines as its athletic juggernauts. But for home security, the domestic cat is suitable, size-wise. Two or three-story, freestanding urban homes of the American Midwest have no need for 600 pounds of cat.
Some porch cats are solitary.
Others flourish in groups. Similar to the lionesses in prides, several mother cats congregate in clowders to raise their young and find ways to procure nourishment for their kittens, kith, and kin. Their tom counterparts? Perhaps off fending their turf–or marking it, or lazing upon it–like their lion cousins do.
Whether the Hamtramck inhabitants intended it or not, their lion substitute is apt. In a 2010 study by the University of Edinburgh, researchers found that domestic cats and African lions exhibited a trio of similar personality traits: dominance, impulsiveness, and neuroticism.
For defensive purposes, letting a dominant, impulsive, and neurotic lion pace in front of the home may sound like a smart protection strategy. Inside the home, well… those three virtues might make for some problematic behavior.
An five- or ten-pound creature acting in such a manner should probably be less destructive to indoor settings.
Inclusive of the interior and exterior environments of Hamtramck’s residential edifices, cats have traveled along countless trajectories throughout human history. Their domestication took place thousands of years ago, possibly around the rodent-fraught grain silos of what is now Egypt. Members of same ancient society considered cats to be a deity. One of their iconic relics still stands as the world’s largest monolith: the Sphinx of Giza. Although many uncertainties still surround the lion-man limestone statue–what the Ancient Egyptians called it, which Pharaoh built it, how the nose broke off its face–the colossus still shows us the deep roots of humankind’s fascination with felidae.
Should the foundations of contemporary civilization come tumbling down, it seems likely that we’ll have some four-legged friends to join us in the ongoing evolutionary journey.
But until then, we can indulge in the sumptuous comforts that periods of peace offer…
New York City is a fascinating place to travel—and travel from. Living within a locale where constant change permeates controlled chaos amidst a sea of countless cultural influences can be as riveting as it is tiring. Many New Yorkers may say it’s hard to travel, due to demanding jobs coupled with the high cost of living. Nevertheless, NYC is not the worst place to feel trapped, as there is often something, somewhere in the five boroughs left unexplored.
Some of you may still put a pen to postcard out of tradition’s sake. Others may miss the old ritual of stopping by a souvenir stand, spinning around the card carousel, and deciding between a monumental shot or comprehensive montage of a city.
On the receiving end, the connectivity that a material object carries from a faraway or foreign land couples with the sentimentality that its writer was thinking of you while away.
What can one do during a week’s time in Panama?
Start off in the city and see how the skyline stacks over the low-tide muck.
Study local urban ecology by observing how endemic mammals practice the siesta.
Realize that it is quite hot and humid to stay in the city.
Venture off to El Valle de Anton for a few days to enjoy Panama’s natural settings.
Hike up into the hills to see more hills across the crater.
Get privy as to how a fence can depict the cruel reality of the food chain.
Bathe in mineral delight at Los Pozos Termales.
Cross into the woods over a bridge that is itself constructed out of wood from the woods.
Stroll under trees and alongside gushing streams.
Admire how parrots pair at El Nispero Zoo.
Not get poisoned by poison dart frogs that thrive behind glass.
Stop by a mango graveyard.
Watch bugs suck into overripe fruits at Butterfly Haven.
Learn about the stages of life pre- and post-pupa.
Take a peak at the Panama Canal of course.
For all of my time spent in and around New York City, I had never ridden the tramway or visited the island. Roosevelt Island, that is. Yesterday was the day when that all changed.
Like a typical tourist, I strolled down the promenade towards Roosevelt Island’s southern tip and snapped shots of the arching cherry blossoms in bloom–yet saw nothing of the area’s residential neighborhoods to the north.
The main attraction was the Smallpox Hospital that stands today as a shell of the facility it once was. Other than functioning as its namesake, the Gothic Revival building also served as the Charity Hospital before closing in the 1950s.
Enclosed by the edges of an encompassing fence, the remnants of an institute originally intended to combat an infectious, sometimes fatal disease (that was eradicated in 1980) are now buttressed by interior and exterior beams.
The barren window frames frame sky-scraping edifices that tower above the west-facing horizon.
Visitors: do not plan on getting too close to the Smallpox Hospital.
Unless you happen to be a goose (who reads this blog).
I climbed what appeared to be the the tallest hill on the southern end of Roosevelt Island. The pinnacle offers instant visual access into the current skeletal structures recently constructed for Cornell Tech to flesh out.
Nevertheless, like the smallpox medical facility of the past, the grounds of the future Cornell Tech institute are also off limits to the public.
The campus even trained an infantry of miniature panthers to guard the territory from intruders.
Apparently these little guards also defend gardens from pesky canine invaders.
However small and arguably overlooked, Roosevelt Island is surely its own ecosystem where structures develop, thrive, die, decay, and regenerate. Alas, at this location’s southernmost tip, the viewer can compare it to two tiny islands that will in all likelihood never host any such towns, towers, or tourism.
I was satisfied, so it was time to head back into the sky and say bye to Roosevelt Island.
It was one week ago that Winter Storm Jonas came to NYC. Two notable forbiddances have occurred in this seven-day stretch: on the roads, there was a temporary motor transit ban, and in Brooklyn, a resident who constructed an igloo on his property and tried to rent it out on Airbnb had his listing taken down within several hours.
After the precipitation had settled and things were more or less back to normal, I took the chance to travel north to a wooded area where I could try snowshoeing for the first time.
While there were some traces of human impact along the trails of Anthony’s Nose, on Monday, we had the whole hike to ourselves.
The lack of leaves on the trees on both sides of the Hudson made views of the snowy Bear Mountain grounds much clearer.
After a taste of nature it was time to remove the snowshoes and return to civilization, the designated outpost being Peekskill, NY. The town itself is as friendly as the sign suggests (but not as creepy as its overall appearance suggests).
Back in NYC, the snow has been gradually melting. Some mountains have amassed on street sides–some prettier than others.
Snowshoes aren’t needed, but still, proper footwear is required for urban snow navigation.
Crocs are not recommended.