St John Day 3

30 11 2007

This morning we slept in again, then we went over to the Westin Resort to register for our SCUBA excursion with Cruz Bay Watersports. We ate lunch at the Westin and walked around the grounds. There is a reason it costs an outrageous amount to stay there, but it is very very nice.

We went on an afternoon SCUBA/snorkel excursion. Our SCUBA excursion was around some coral ledges and there were a lot of fish to be seen – again I don’t know the names – except pufferfish, angelfish and trumpetfish. The SCUBA divemaster was great. He really stuck with us and made us feel very comfortable. He picked up a lot of things off of the bottom of the ocean and let us touch them – only things that would not be damaged by human hands. It was amazing to see the coral and all of the organisms that live around it. I was struck by the thought that many people swim in the ocean without SCUBA or snorkeling and have no idea what is going on below them.

Then we went snorkeling by a private island. Can you imagine owning an island and building your house there?

We just returned from eating Chinese food. The lifelong ban on eating in Chinese restaurants is over and I think that a whole new realm of food has been opened up for me. Those of you who know me, know that I am a really picky eater. I am trying to get over that.

Tomorrow we will go over to St. Thomas to make sure we catch our plane on time Sunday morning. Back to work on Monday. 😦


St John Day 2

29 11 2007

A great day in paradise! Slept in until about 9:00 – though it is Atlantic Time here – 2 hours later than Central time zone. We got ready and headed over the National Park Visitor’s Center, where we picked up a map and some pamphlets on snorkeling and hiking locations.

We spent most of our day snorkeling. First we went to Trunk’s Bay which has a guided underwater trail. Trunk’s Bay is often listed as one of the top ten beaches in the world. We thought the snorkeling here was amazing, until we went to our next two destinations.

Next we went hiking Annaberg Sugar Mill ruins. It was a very interesting self-guided tour about St. John’s sugar plantation era. The mill and other buildings were built in the late 1700’s, but a surprising amount of the structures were still standing. I’m sure the houses in our neighborhood will not be standing in 2200!

Then we were were ready for some more snorkeling, this time at Francis Bay. There were an abundance of fish here. We saw a stingray buried in the sand, and many colorful fish that I really wish I knew the names of. There were quite a few pelicans at this beach. It was neat to watch them swoop down and eat fish from the ocean!

Our last snorkeling adventure was at the Saltpond Bay. This beach is at the Southeastern end of the island, at the very end of the National Park. It was definitely worth driving to. It was very secluded and we were the only people there. We saw a hawksbill sea turtle– an endangered species. The turtle’s torso was as big as a full grown man’s. It was a bit daunting to be so close to it, but it just ignored us. There were huge schools of small silver fish. At times they were so thick that we couldn’t see anything else. I literally saw a million of those fish today! At one point they parted to reveal two huge fish – four to five feet long. We also saw a lot of squid here, although they weren’t as large as I expected they would be.

We finished the night off by eating at a restaurant called Morgan’s Mango. A guitarist sang and played nearby. The food and ambiance were both good.

St John Day 1

28 11 2007

We have arrived in St. John!

Last night we stayed at a hotel in Chicago (where I finally reaped the rewards of the great toenail painting candy eating cessation – my toes look very tropical!) so that we could make our 7:45 a.m. flight. Things went very smoothly. I had reserved inexpensive long term parking at a Marriott hotel and their shuttle took us right to our gate. We used the self-check-in kiosk for the first time – and it saved us an amazing amount of time. I think my future travels will definitely include this convenience, as well as only bringing enough things for carry-on luggage. Those measures should greatly reduce the wait time.

We flew from Chicago to San Juan, Puerto Rico and caught a connecting flight to St. Thomas. When we arrived on the tarmac in San Juan there were very large lizards running around in the nearby grass. It was neat to see the lizards in their natural habitat.

We arrived at the San Juan airport a bit late, so I was worried about making our connecting flight, and then worried about our luggage making the connecting flight. No worries, mon. Everything worked out!

We rented a jeep at the St. Thomas airport and drove to the dock at Red Hook to take a barge to St. John. It is quite a different driving experience – they drive on the opposite side of the road here – but the vehicles are still left-hand drive. I am so grateful that my husband is doing the driving, it is very disconcerting to see cars turning from what seems like the wrong place. A few times my heart dropped when I looked up from the map and saw cars in the “wrong” lane.

St. Thomas is a very crowded and touristy area. There were a lot of cruise ships docked there. I am glad that we chose to stay on St. John – after all there is a National Park here.
We arrived at the Red Hook dock where we drove the jeep up onto a barge that transported us to St. John. There were small semi-trucks and even a Fed-Ex van on the barge. I don’t think there is an airport on St. John, so I guess if you want freight to get here, the barge is the way to go.

We got to the dock and called the proprietor of the Hillcrest Guest House. She met us at the dock and led us back to our room. What great service and a terrific room! There are two different kinds of complimentary ice creams in the freezer, a basket full of muffins and various fruits, bacon and eggs and all kinds of other complimentary goodies. There is a DVD player and a selection of DVDs and books for guests.
All of the guidebooks will tell you that there is not much of a nightlife on St. John. In fact one says – Nightlife? Bring a book!

We walked down to a restaurant called “The Lime Inn for dinner. We shared a Caesar salad and an entree of blackened wahoo. I really enjoyed the meal. It was the first time either of us had eaten wahoo. I will definitely get it again. It was a thick and meaty whitefish with a good flavor. The service was great and so was the outdoor atmosphere. If you happen to come to St. John, give it a try.

I am looking forward to the rest of our time in St. John.

Flying the Friendly Skies

27 11 2007

Another airline snafu! American Airlines left my luggage in St. Louis but took me to Springfield, IL.

American did not seem to think this was a big deal. When I a baggage claims representative she told me that American would FedEx the luggage to me. When I told them I am leaving for the Virgin Islands tonight they said that I could borrow a loaner suitcase from the airport. Never mind that every pair of jeans I own, my contacts and various other sundries are in my luggage.

An employee of the Springfield airport is bringing the luggage to my house as we speak. I am very grateful to how kind the employees at the Springfield airport are.

On a happier note, I had a great time in Dallas. I got to see the grassy knoll (literally a strip of grass between a road and the interstate) when we went to a the 6th Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza. This museum is about the Kennedy assassination and was quite interesting.

The weather in Dallas was rainy and in the low 30s, which is unusual. We shopped, shopped, shopped – though I didn’t buy much. We went into a Barney’s, which I thought would be comparable to Macy’s… Ummmm, no. They had shirts for more than $1,000. A paisley sleep mask for $94 and my favorite the shaved beaver cape for $4,860. I don’t think anything from Barney’s will ever be in my future.

We ate at a lot of restaurants that we don’t have here. My favorite is still Jason’s Deli. I hope we get one of those someday – because it is GOOD.

I got to see a good friend from high school and her son. It was great to bond with her and my cousin and her family. Hopefully I will get to go back in the future when there is nicer weather and enjoy the many outdoor activities that Dallas has to offer.

Things Just Haven’t Been the Same (Or Why I Love My Jennifer So)

19 11 2007

Here is a story about my good friend Jennifer that always makes me laugh.

About five years ago, Jennifer and I went to the movies with some guys I was friends with. We were going to see Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Jennifer had never met Matt and David before. I dared her to pretend that she was a huge Leonard DiCaprio fan.

Throughout the evening she mentioned her love for Leonard – especially his pivotal performance as “Luke” in Growing Pains. Matt and David were polite, although they were exchanging meaningful (as in “what a moron”) glances every time she mentioned Leonard.

The best part of the evening was when she started talking about her love for the music of Lynyrd Skynrd, but since Leonard (DiCaprio) left and they were now known simply as Skynrd things haven’t been the same.

That was the straw that broken the camels back! David looked at her and said “WHO THE SHIT IS LEONARD?”

This is one of the funniest moments in the history of our friendship.

Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni

12 11 2007

Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni. Reading a book like this one makes me glad that I have restricted myself to by to-be-read pile. It is nonfiction, a memoir – genres that I usually stay away from. I really enjoyed this book. There were some political portions that I felt I needed more education about Iranian society to understand, but the parts were necessary to tell the story coherently.

Moaveni’s book relates her story of being Iranian in America and then being American in Iran. The two countries are quite different. We don’t have “morality police”, who stop women for having on makeup or showing too much hair or ankle.
She tells about the time she spent in Iran as the foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. It was during the early turn of this century, prior to September 11th. The laws were starting to loosen up and women were enjoying more freedom than they had since the Revolution. One resonating passage from the book is:

“Iran’s young generation – the generation born just before the revolution or along with – is transforming Iran from below. From the religious student activists to the ecstasy-trippers, from the bloggers to the bed-hopping college students, they will decide Iran’s future. I decided I wanted to live like them, as they did, their “as if” lifestyle. The chose to act “as if” it was permitted to hold hands on the street, blast music at parties, speak your mind, challenge authority, take your drug of choice, grow your hair long, wear too much lipstick…”

I cannot imagine living in a society where I have to cover my hair, because it’s beautiful luster might tempt a man sexually, a place where my husband and I could not hold hands while walking down the street.

There is one part in the story where a young couple pretends to not know each other when questioned by the morality police. The woman stands there straight-faced as her love is beaten and still does not claim to know him.

During a conversation about not being yourself in public a friend of the author’s makes an amazing insight about Iranian culture:

‘Personally, I dislike lies,’ he said ‘I find that if you act them out long enough, you begin believing them. You’ll find that lies are natural for people here. Having a facade is normal, because being honest is such a hassle. you have to decide what bothers you most – lying all the time or the consequences of openness.’

What an impossible pair of choices: One would corrode your spirit, and another would bring dailiy aggravation to your life. This, I realized was the central dilemma of life under the Islamic regime, and its culture oflies – whether to observe the taboos and the restrictions, or resist them, by living as if they didn’t exist. What if your conscience and your spirit dictated the latter, but you didn’t have the energy to live each day as a struggle. What did you do then?”

I can’t imagine having to pretend that I believed things that I did not – like Christianity – in order to avoid being beaten or killed. I can’t imagine not being able to ride alone in a car with a man that I was not married to.

Speaking of marriage, in Iran, they have sigheh – temporary marriage. This concept helps men to use prostitutes within the legal realm of the country. A couple can exchange vows in as little as 15 seconds and the marriage can last as little as 15 minutes. I would like to learn more about this concept, as it seems completely insane. A prostitute could be married hundreds of times with no ring, no alimony, etc…

I am extremely grateful that I am not a women in Iran or Afghanistan.

The Barrens by Joyce Carol Oates writing as Rosamond Smith

9 11 2007

I just finished reading The Barrens by Joyce Carol Oates, writing as Rosamond Smith.

I have never understood why famous authors sometimes write under the different names. This is my first experience reading anything written under this pseudonym.

This book is a psychological thriller, written about a serial killer and his effects on people that he encounters. Some of the concepts are interesting, but overall I didn’t really enjoy the book. The serial killer, Joseph Gavin also goes by NAME UNKNOWN. Some of the chapters are told from his perspective and the prose is totally different from the prose in other chapters. It was very hard for me to keep my focus on those chapters.

Although I really enjoy reading Joyce Carol Oates, I don’t enjoy this genre of writing. Perhaps if I had read more reviews about the book I would have realized that the topic is not for me.

For a person that enjoys the psychological thriller genre, with some gore thrown in, this might be a good book. But for me, it just didn’t deliver.