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Winter Cruising in Norway
Overnight the snow broke up into squalls that came and went as the ship traveled through classic fjord land of otherworldly beauty. We’d seen pictures of the fjords as green canyons of summer, but with a winter fog hanging low and the water various shades of gray below, the views from the ship were surprisingly modernist. It was a world of clean horizontals — water meeting the land, vapors meeting the tops of the fjord walls — bisected occasionally by a plunging curve of cliff or the tumultuous vertical of a frozen waterfall. Add to this the snow that periodically blotted out the scene, and the total effect was mesmerizing. It was easy, we thought, to see where the Norwegian affinity for crisp and spare design found its inspiration.
more in the NY Times
Having just returned from a trip to Europe, I'll share a few disparate impressions. First, and broadly speaking, the U.S. seems less civilized than ever. I'm not referring to the obvious slew of catastrophes brought on by the current Administration – that's been well documented on this site, and in many other places. I mean, for example, the destructive and increasingly problematic reliance on automobiles in the U.S. It's not simply the fact that we are at the end of the era of cheap oil, and that it will continue to become increasingly expensive to operate cars, but also how personal vehicle use degrades the quality of life in the U.S., while the (far greater) use of public transportation enhances the quality of life in Europe. I say that because it is generally much less stressful to sit on a clean, quiet train (or tram, or bus), where one can focus on the scenery, or contemplate various topics, rather than concentrating on driving. The regular contact with a variety of people – even if only with the eyes – is also a great advantage, I believe.
Then there is the other side of the same coin. When walking around a charming, interesting city like Zurich, the experience is – as it is literally – miles away from walking around an American city. Very little traffic, quiet, efficient, and attractive electric trams are the only vehicles allowed on certain main streets. Pedestrians are treated with respect, rather than as targets, and horns are very rarely heard. So the stress levels of traveling – both on foot and in vehicles – are reduced considerably.
Another obvious disparity between the U.S. and Europe is how food is brought to market. I can't overstate the importance of the advantage of being able to buy and eat food which, if not locally grown, has been shipped and stored for only a couple of days, as opposed to weeks. Quality, nutrition, flavor, in every respect the food available at European markets (including supermarkets) is generally superior to that which is found in American markets.
As I mentioned Zurich, where I spent several days, and from where the above image came, I'll add a few other related thoughts. Located in the northern, German influenced part of Switzerland, Zurich is a very old city, and the largest in the country. By American standards, though, it is actually quite small, with a population of roughly 370,000 (though around 1m in the broader urban area).
It is, unfortunately, hellishly expensive these days, but even that didn't put a damper on my otherwise thoroughly enjoyable stay. Zurich is a fine city for those who like to walk, from the famous and elegant shopping boulevard Banhoffstrasse (trams only!), to the narrow, winding streets of the older (and hilly) part of the city, to the banks of lake Zurich, set with the Alps rising in the background.
From a touristy standpoint, the two strong recommendations I have are to view the Chagall stained glass choir windows in the Fraumünster church (spectacular!), and the superb Zoo. From a more personal standpoint, I'd add that the holiday season is a really good time to visit, as the city seems very festive indeed. The roasted chestnuts ("Maroni" in Switzerland) are sold at dedicated stands on certain streets, and are by far the best I've ever had. What a treat!
Dawn in Suffolk (u.K.)
Newmarket on Saturday
A handsome colt in the parade ring
Chongqing: world's largest city
Chongqing, a heavily polluted industrial city at the confluence of the Jialing and Yangtze rivers, has a current population of 13 million, and is estimated to grow to 20 million by the year 2020. Jonathan Watts narrates an interesting video report (approximately nine minutes; requires Quicktime and broadband) as part of a continuing series on China in The Guardian (UK).
The best taco in LA?
I don't eat meat (and haven't for roughly 30 years), nor do I live in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, I like this site, at which Bandini samples and rates tacos which he has found in that city. He documents his efforts really well, and you might enjoy his work.
the East Village
It strikes me as the most interesting and dynamic neighborhood in Manhattan.
If you happen to travel to Savannah...
and need a reliable hairdresser, you might want to consider the above salon.
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