An Unusual Travelogue

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Publishers’ blurbs are sometimes much better than the sound of the word blurb would imply, and anyway I always trust them more than I could possibly trust Amazon’s tricky sales methods. Reviews in trusted publications are best, but they take much longer to read; this blurb has my attention, especially after pondering two decades of life online:

For Erik Reece, life, at last, was good: he was newly married, gainfully employed, living in a creekside cabin in his beloved Kentucky woods. It sounded, as he describes it, “like a country song with a happy ending.” And yet he was still haunted by a sense that the world–or, more specifically, his country–could be better. He couldn’t ignore his conviction that, in fact, the good ol’ USA was in the midst of great social, environmental, and political crises–that for the first time in our history, we were being swept into a future that had no future. Where did we–here, in the land of Jeffersonian optimism and better tomorrows–go wrong? Continue reading

Smart Reading, 20 Years On

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-09-24-amThere is a 5-10 minute read in the upcoming issue of the New Yorker that helps put two decades into a narrow but interesting perspective. 20 years ago I was in the process of moving my family to Costa Rica for a job I had accepted one year earlier. I remember the period described below, which could be considered the transition to life online, as we now know it. Odd to think it was happening just as we moved to a kind of Garden of Eden. Slate has been a part of “life online” ever since. I was mainly drawn to Kinsley, one of the sharpest of thinkers and communicators. He is long, long gone from Slate. But the experiment was fruitful; Slate is alive and well even as the media landscape is oversaturated with copies of copies of copies:

TWENTY YEARS OF SLATE

The digital magazine’s founding editor-in-chief and his successors got together to survey its history and its contributions to online journalism.

It’s been twenty years since Michael Kinsley, the former editor of The New Republic, undertook a novel adventure: the creation of a magazine, underwritten by Microsoft, that was to exist primarily in what was then known as “cyberspace.” “There will be efforts to update it, perhaps on a daily basis,” the Times noted, in a report that appeared below the fold on page D1 of its issue of Monday, April 29, 1996, two months before the launch of Slate.

Recently, Kinsley, who was the editor-in-chief of Slate from 1996 until 2002, and his three successors—Jacob Weisberg, David Plotz, and Julia Turner—gathered in Washington, D.C., to record a podcast: a five-way conversation with Josh Levin, the magazine’s executive editor. It was a nostalgic and forgivably self-regarding celebration of what Turner characterized as Slate’s “smarty-pants, curious journalism, opinion, and analysis.” The editors posed, grinning, for a group photo. Continue reading

Antikythera, Belize & Wondrous Discoveries

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Divers and archaeologists excavating the 2,000 year old Antikythera shipwreck. Credit Brett Seymour/EUA-WHOI, via Argo

This story, about remains recently found under water in a region of the Greek islands where several of us at La Paz Group have very fond memories of, gives me pause. At the time the ship in this story wrecked, the Mayans in Belize were flourishing. The archeologists working at Chan Chich Lodge are still dating the structures there, but the sailor from the ship lost in Antikytheran waters would likely have found the Mayans quite advanced relative to his own culture.

Greece’s classical period was long over by the time this sailor lost his life, and Rome’s empire was still expanding, impressively. Lots of progress, civilization-wise, philosophy-wise, math-wise, geometry-wise in that Mediterranean zone; but also in what is now called Belize, and the wider Mesoamerican corridor. Reading this article, I appreciate the work of archeologists who advance our understanding of those who came before us:

Human Remains Found at Ancient Roman-Era Shipwreck

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Underwater archaeologists have found a 2,000-year-old skeleton belonging to a victim of the famed Antikythera shipwreck from ancient Roman times. Continue reading

Get Jolted By Understanding Fish Better

9780374288211_custom-a8005fb568cedbbcdfa556084e27717de66bba19-s400-c85The morning walk’s provided a different sensation from the learning component of the morning walk a few days back, giving me a jolt of new appreciation for all that I have no clue about related to life underwater; the jolter was an ethologist, of all things:

…The knifefishes of South America and the elephant-nose fishes … [are] both electric-producing, so they have EODs, which are electric organ discharges, and they use those as communication signals, and they communicate in some pretty cool ways. They will change their own frequency if they’re swimming by another fish with a similar frequency, so they don’t jam and confuse each other. They also show deference by shutting off their EODs when they’re passing by a territory holder…

Continue reading

The Future Of Coffee Matters To Us For More Than One Reason

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A farmer with coffee cherries from his latest crop, the seeds of which are roasted, ground and brewed to make coffee. Photograph: YT Haryono/Reuters

We work in several countries where coffee production is important to the national economy. We serve coffee in every property we have ever managed. Many of us working in La Paz Group are coffee junkies.

But more than that, as I have mentioned at least once in these pages, we care extra deeply about the future of coffee because on one of the properties we manage, some excellent arabica estate coffee is growing in the shade of a rainforest canopy. I owe you more on that topic. For now, what has my attention is ensuring the long run sustainability of this organic coffee production.

So you can be sure of where some of our team members will be next Tuesday. Join us if you can:

Climate change is threatening the world’s coffee supplies: what can we do? – live chat

Join us on this page on Tuesday 20 September, 2-3pm (BST), to debate the future of coffee, and the millions who depend on it, in the face of climate change

What we’ll be discussing Continue reading

Renaissance & Other Possible Interpretations Of Our Times

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During my morning walk today, while taking in the Onam visuals, I was at the same time absorbing sound, in the form of conversation, from the same phone that was snapping pictures. I use the time of my walks to listen to podcasts, one of the easiest ways for me to stay attuned to happenings and ideas from the USA, my onetime home, and home to many of the people who visit properties we manage.

The central idea of today’s podcast, at once frank about the perils of the “Age” we are in now but also optimistic about how to harness modern tools to navigate these times, took me by surprise:

New Maps, New Media and a New Human Condition

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Some 500 years ago, Johannes Gutenberg, Nicolaus Copernicus, Michelangelo and others were part of the Renaissance, a time of significant cultural change. Now, authors Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna say we are in the midst of a second Renaissance.

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Onam, Kerala, 2016

img_5224-1Yesterday, the midday meal was a traditional one for this time of year. We have written about Onam festivities each of the years that we have been based in Kerala, since 2010. Now, during our seventh such celebration, we finally hosted an Onam feast in our own home. In order to be sure that the guests at our table would have the best of the traditional foods of the season we made the only sensible decision: we ordered the feast from a local kitchen we favor.

These dishes, which we have written about in previous years, tasted as if they were the best we have yet had. Maybe because it was all so easy and pleasant. Our guests, anyway, we knew to be not high maintenance. It was a cross section, functionally speaking, of La Paz Group’s Kerala team, including (from left going around the table in the picture below) engineering, finance, revenue management, reservations, sales, design, me, and front right is the man in charge of it all, who was also the photographer. Continue reading

The Man Behind The Hidden Life of Trees

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Trees a crowd … Peter Wohlleben and friends. Photograph: Peter Wohlleben

9781771642484The man who thinks trees talk to each other

Beech trees are bullies and willows are loners, says forester Peter Wohlleben, author of a new book claiming that trees have personalities and communicate via a below-ground ‘woodwide web’

Early this year I linked out to a profile of Peter Wohlleben, and that post was remarkably well received. The post about the woodwide web concept more recently, clearly connected conceptually, was also well received, while pointing to the findings of other researchers (if you did not listen to the Radio Lab piece, do yourself a favor and do so). I am happy to link to more about the ideas in this book, and to learn more about the man himself:

Trees have friends, feel loneliness, scream with pain and communicate underground via the “woodwide web”. Some act as parents and good neighbours. Others do more than just throw shade – they’re brutal bullies to rival species. The young ones take risks with their drinking and leaf-dropping then remember the hard lessons from their mistakes. It’s a hard-knock life.

Continue reading

Wulff & Konstali & Hygge

 

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Image from the Galleri of Wulff & Konstali’s website

It is just after 10am Sunday morning in Kerala, as I type this. Maybe because brunch is associated with late Sunday mornings, or maybe because I just read Jocelyn’s post (or maybe both) my mind is wandering in the direction of food experience. While we have had (and hosted) many a fine brunch in Kerala at the moment my brunch-thinking has drifted to Copenhagen. You do not need to speak Danish to sense the hygge in the image above, or to want to experience it in the space pictured below.

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Image from the Galleri of Wulff & Konstali’s website

If you need a primer on hygge, the best place to find it is this article just published in the Guardian, which also happens to be how my attention was brought to Wulff & Konstali:

…“Hygge is when you treat yourself, it’s not that healthy, but it’s good food,” Agnete says. Continue reading

The Essayist Essay

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A student at the University of Chicago, which recently declared itself a space safe from safe spaces. PHOTOGRAPH BY B. O’KANE / ALAMY

I have just read the most remarkable short essay (or is it a blog post?), the best in a very long time because it is eloquent, wrestles with important ideas, and is very timely. Although the title of the essay has a reference to a divisive character who I do not look forward to reading more about, I nonetheless waded in because the writer has written some of my favorite reported pieces in the last couple years.

And it was rewarded quickly, because as soon as the second paragraph he used a word that I did not know, a beautiful word. And followed that with a couple beautiful sentences opening the third paragraph. I was hooked. And in less than half an hour I was fully rewarded with inspiration and motivation.

Essays and the essayists have been the topic of numerous posts here over the years, because we have many language-lovers and word-players among our ranks. (For silly example, the first word in the title of this post is meant to convey “the most essay-ish of all” while using the word that normally just means someone who writes an essay.)  But also because, as we have tried to also communicate, words matter alot in translating ideas and ideals into actions. So, may I recommend: Continue reading

Guilt In The Eye Of The Beholder

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A raspberry dessert at Café Gratitude in Hollywood. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

A few days back I was struck by a post on this site about lab-grown foods, and wanted to continue the thought exercise by sharing a few comments on a brief article I had just read elsewhere on the intersection between performance art and food issues. Two more cents to add here, by way of a few excerpts from this fascinating, if alarming, article:

Eschewing a Vegan Lifestyle at Home, but Still Embracing It at Work

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Guilty As Charged

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The Austrian performance artists Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter, a.k.a. Honey and Bunny, want to make us reëxamine the culinary mores that we take for granted. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY SONJA STUMMERER AND MARTIN HABLESREITER

I have been on the road for most of the last six weeks and have been consumer of the posts on this site, rather than contributor, for the entire stretch since we got distracted by a hurricane. That’s okay. Other contributors have carried the ball forward well, and before I forget I want to share one recent item I read elsewhere that seems a fitting counterpoint to Jocelyn’s most recent post.

That topic has a kind of ick factor I cannot articulate while at the same time is clearly a topic we are going to need to deal with more and more. I am certainly guilty of avoiding the topic, and must overcome the ick thing. Clearly linked to the lab/food topic is the issue of food waste, which we address on a regular basis here.

We need more diversity in our approach to these tough topics to avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed; antidotes to the ick/tough factor to make the topic more palatable, so to speak. We are so serious in our earnestness that we no doubt add to the weight of the topic, and I speak guilty as charged on that too. It may be that “playful” is an appropriate alternate approach from time to time, as this item suggests:

THE WASTEFULNESS OF MODERN DINING, AS PERFORMANCE ART

Many of us reflect, at least occasionally, on how our gastronomic habits affect the health of the planet. We regret that our takeout dinners come in a Styrofoam container inside a paper bag inside a plastic bag, with white plastic utensils in their very own plastic sheaths. We feel guilty when we order too much food at a restaurant and resign half an entrée to be scraped into the trash. But the pull of convention is most often stronger than these feelings. We eat in the manner we’ve grown accustomed to eating.

The sly and playful Austrian performance artists Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter want to make us reëxamine the culinary mores that we take for granted. Continue reading

Wood Wide Web

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Forests and fungi–words that make me think of Milo circa 2010-2012 in the south of India, especially in the Periyar Tiger Reserve (but also later, writing about fungi in relation to food waste). When I first heard this a week ago, it seemed typical of Radiolab’s attention to quirky outlier science stories:

From Tree to Shining Tree

Saturday, July 30, 2016

A forest can feel like a place of great stillness and quiet. But if you dig a little deeper, there’s a hidden world beneath your feet as busy and complicated as a city at rush hour.

In this story, a dog introduces us to a strange creature that burrows beneath forests, building an underground network where deals are made and lives are saved (and lost) in a complex web of friendships, rivalries, and business relations. It’s a network that scientists are only just beginning to untangle and map, and it’s not only turning our understanding of forests upside down, it’s leading some researchers to rethink what it means to be intelligent.

And it was typical, in that sense. But Milo’s attention to the underworld of fungi, which at the time seemed to me as quirky as this Radiolab story does today, got me to start paying attention to anything in our news network with certain keywords (mushroom, fungi, etc.) and just now I came across a short journalistic account that taps into the same science as the Radiolab piece above, and I am realizing it may not be merely quirky: Continue reading

An Architect Shines Brilliantly On

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© Fundación de Arquitectura Tapatía Luis Barragán A. C.

Intense weather woke me up just after 1:00 a.m. a couple nights ago. Gale force winds, which I had not experienced before, provided such exhilaration that returning to sleep was not an option. I made coffee and sipped it in the dark, out of reach of the horizontal rains. We were prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Earl, expected to reach where I was sitting at 2:00 a.m. I was committed to witnessing the force of nature. Continue reading

When Silence Is Golden

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It is not a principle of branding, per se, that silence is golden; just the opposite normally, since getting the message out is the point, and messages seem defined by noise, however subtle or clever. But Finland, by way of this article in Nautilus, has had me thinking, in the couple days since I read it, about alternative views on the value of silence, on messaging, on branding:

One icy night in March 2010, 100 marketing experts piled into the Sea Horse Restaurant in Helsinki, with the modest goal of making a remote and medium-sized country a world-famous tourist destination. The problem was that Finland was known as a rather quiet country, and since 2008, the Country Brand Delegation had been looking for a national brand that would make some noise.

Over drinks at the Sea Horse, the experts puzzled over the various strengths of their nation. Here was a country with exceptional teachers, an abundance of wild berries and mushrooms, and a vibrant cultural capital the size of Nashville, Tennessee. These things fell a bit short of a compelling national identity. Someone jokingly suggested that nudity could be named a national theme—it would emphasize the honesty of Finns. Someone else, less jokingly, proposed that perhaps quiet wasn’t such a bad thing. That got them thinking. Continue reading

2.5 Minutes With David Lynch, Well Spent

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Take a moment, just listen to this unusual, gifted man speak:

David Lynch on Where Great Ideas Come From

In 2008, The Atlantic sat down with the filmmaker David Lynch as he mused about inspiration and how to capture the flow of creativity. Now, we’ve animated his words of advice. “A lot of artists think that suffering is necessary,” he says. “But in reality, any kind of suffering cramps the flow of creativity.”

Putting A Value On National Parks

Academic research publications tend to appear dry and out of reach to most non-academics. As someone who prepared for an academic research career, but who subsequently left that career, I am conflicted in what to say about that.

So I will say nothing about that. Instead, I say, read this (we rarely post without images, but the point of this post is purely a thought exercise, so I am keeping it strictly limited to words):

1. Summary This paper presents the first-ever comprehensive estimate of the total economic value of the National Parks Service. The estimate covers administered lands, waters, and historic sites as well as NPS programs, which include protection of natural landmarks and historic sites, partnerships with local communities, recreational activities and educational programs.

Our estimate of the total economic value to the American public is $92 billion. Continue reading

Kerala Beef Fry

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The Kerala beef fry is the stuff of legend

Last week, sitting with a new colleague for lunch–I had ordered a classic north Indian version of the ubiquitous biryani served across the country; she had ordered a very Kerala dish, one with beef–I wondered why I had not ordered what she ordered, since it is the more local dish, and I am still not vegetarian. The BBC makes me wonder again:

The Indian state that is obsessed with beef fry

Not many people would associate India with beef. Spirituality yes, perhaps even vegetarianism, but certainly not beef.

But then they have probably never been to Kerala, the south Indian state that loves its beef – preferably fried.

The Kerala beef fry is the stuff of legend. Continue reading

Museums, Things, Epiphanies

Reading the review, and the museum’s description of this show, I immediately thought of a museum that Amie and I had the chance to visit in Istanbul, which had been on our to-do list for some time; and the next click through the museum’s website led me to this:

THURSDAY 09/29 /16 7PM 

Orhan Pamuk in Conversation with Massimiliano Gioni

Which just seemed right because the museum in Istanbul was create by Orhan Pamuk. I will do my best to find a recording of this conversation, if they make a recording or transcript available and but for now the best I can do is direct you to the website of the museum in Istanbul which, hopefully, will lead you to the actual museum, easily the most moving museum experience of my life:

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The Museum of Innocence is both a novel by Orhan Pamuk and a museum he has set up. From the very beginnings of the project, since the 1990s, Pamuk has conceived of novel and museum together. The novel, which is about love, is set between 1974 and the early ’00s, and describes life in Istanbul between 1950 and 2000 through memories and flashbacks centred around two families – one wealthy, the other lower middle class. The museum presents what the novel’s characters used, wore, heard, saw, collected and dreamed of, all meticulously arranged in boxes and display cabinets. It is not essential to have read the book in order to enjoy the museum, just as it is not necessary to have visited the museum in order to fully enjoy the book. But those who have read the novel will better grasp the many connotations of the museum, and those who have visited the museum will discover many nuances they had missed when reading the book. The novel was published in 2008, the museum opened in Spring 2012.

Be sure that you read the explanation for this floor motif.