The Great Plotnik

Friday, February 27, 2009

Cannouan to Carriacou

It is Friday, 3pm on the island of Carriacou, nation of Grenada. Days like this, when the weather is calm and the winds are not making you crazy, and the sun is shining, and fish are jumping out of the water in the path of your boat cutting through blue and white waves, make Plottie wish one or another of his ancestors had been water folk instead of desert diggers.

Carriacou looks so English. Compared to the Grenadines, everything seems to have changed -- a bit. The kids in their school uniforms are English, the police have proper blue uniforms with bright red caps and belts. But it's pure Carib too. We will be here two nights before taking our final long sail, 35 miles across the channel to the island of Grenada.

Back up a few days.

2-25 Wed

5:30AM in Cannouan ("CAN-uh-juan") Island's Charlestown Bay. The wind calmed downed enough fifteen minutes ago for Plotnik to walk up top and sit in the cabin watching the night turn to day. By now the sky is blue layered with pink stripes and gray clouds, lying atop rolling hills with a few houses built on them, and yellow street lights that seem to promise more houses built in the future. Crow and Finch say Cannouan was very poor when they were here first in the seventies and even seven years ago they ran into kids standing around, hassling tourists for money or to buy their trinkets, instead of being in school.

Apparently that is still the case on larger St. Vincent, but not on Bequia and not here. Yesterday Duck and Finch and Plot motored in on the dinghy from the boat and then walked down the small main street of Charlestown and there were signs of progress -- a well stocked grocery store, for one. Of course, that's because charter boaters are coming down to Cannouan now, on their way South to the Tobago Keys or heading North to St. Vincent or St.. Lucia, boats like ours, with the wherewithal to desire products like Indonesian sambals or frozen Virginia hams, from a tiny store a fifth the size of your local Chenery Market. That's what tourism does.

The ferry came in from St. Vincent in the afternoon, and people started congregating outside the grocery store to score the day's fresh loaves of whole wheat bread, baguettes, white bread and rolls. Plot Duck and Finch stood near the front door and listened to the women, wearing blue shirts signifying they worked in the nearby Moorings Yacht facility, bantering with the young men who were hoisting the boxes of frozen fish and loads of other goods from a pickup truck and hauling them into the store. You couldn't understand all that much of the word language, but the body language is universal, that dialogue between eye and smile.

Yesterday's three hour sail down to Cannouan from Bequia was very tough on Plotnik's stomach, but he has come to accept that the only way he and Duck can ever see any of these out of the way islands is by boat, and they're never going to want to get stuck playing shuffleboard on a cruise ship, and anyway no cruise ships come to places this small, so Plotnik has to view getting seasick as just part of the V.A.T., the sales tax added to the purchase. The problem is he has to pay it frequently, but the other times are incomparably beautiful. And it really is getting better.

Like right now, sun almost up now, as the few other charter boats occupying this enormous bay have come into further view -- up ahead bouncing on the waves are a white cat boat with a blue awning and there's another cat with a yellow "CoolChange" advertisement on the side -- both those boats are French, from Guadeloupe or Martinique. Right now Plottie feels like aces in the hole. Finch is making French Toast this morning (we talked about it last night -- you tend to talk about the next day's meals while eating the current one, because of making sure the provisioning lasts).

It's almost 6:30am. Plot will try to get another bit of shuteye while the wind has died down, to store up for the day's cruise down to the Tobago Keys. Maybe this will be the day he gets his other sea leg.

2-26 Thu Union Island

How do you describe the perfect bay? Just say Chatham Bay. Chatham Bay on Union Island lies in the protected lee of the island, it is large with a sandy beach where there are five beach shacks visible. There are only half a dozen other boats at anchor, the water is green with fish visible everywhere and pelicans diving after them, and it's sunny and warm. That's how.

First to greet us as we sailed in from Tobago Keys was Seckie, in a motorboat, to make sure we had his menu for the pink shack on the beach with the blue beach chairs -- "Will you come to my place tonight? We have callaloo soup, mahi mahi, kingfish, banana bread, we're clean and it's the best food you'll ever eat."

We say maybe. Not long after him comes Shark Attack in his black motorboat. He wants us to eat in his restaurant two shacks down from Seckie's, the little battered blue one with the white roof that looks from here like the place you'd store your old bicycle with the one tire. He's also got the best food we'll ever eat. Both men advertise their rum punch Happy Hour at 5PM, only 5ECs.

It's hard to look at these shacks in this incomparably beautiful beach to imagine how any hour would not be Happy Hour.

From around the point of the harbor I have been watching a very dark man paddling a white surfboard, steadily through current, heading in our direction. He finally pulls up to our boat and hangs on to the dinghy rope astern to rest and tells us he is a tour guide without any customers. Would we like to take a hike?

The man is built like David Robinson, a solid wall of muscle in a green bathing suit. When he sees he will have no business with us he heads for the one other boat on the other side of us. He is paddling a surfboard across an enormous bay. This is truly a hard way to make a living.

Later on, we see him on the beach, tipsy, staggering a bit on the sand. It's been a long day for him.

Yesterday in Tobago Keys was very beautiful, our first short, easy sail in excellent weather, with no wind, and we spent the day doing what most boaters do, which is to look at the other boats sailing in and find something to criticize them for. Especially the French, who are everywhere. Why are the French so easy to lampoon?

Night at Tobago was something else again. The wind came up and pushed the current out through the cut and against our stern, which is where the Plotnik quarterberth is. The waves would WHAM against the bottom of the boat, WHAM WHAM WHAM and then pitch the boat in one direction or the other WHAMMITY. Plotnik didn't sleep a wink, though he does remember lots of very weird dreams, which Captain Crow says are common on boats. It has to do with all those strange night noises and the brain crossing circuits trying to interpret them.

Early this morning we jumped in the dinghy and beached on a sand bar, put on the snorkels and went to dive with the green turtles in their underwater grassy feeding ground. They were everywhere -- as graceful in the water as the finest fish -- and they paid us no mind whatsoever. That was a spectacular hour.

So which shack do we choose for Happy Hour?

Later this same night--

Wow, those stars. We went to Seckie's after all. We spoke with Seckie and his girl Vanessa. They had a huge orange plastic tub filled with rum punch, the kind of tub they dump over Bill Parcell's head after he wins the Super Bowl. There wasn't much rum, not much punch, but fantastic reggae music and a sunset from the beach chairs facing due West, if you wanted. But we came back to the boat to watch the stars from the fantail deck.

You can see two zillion stars on the fantail deck -- the boat swings on its anchor and if you stare up in the sky, the view changes every second as the boat swivels. What is the fantail deck? Nothing but a little one-butt platform at the very back of the boat -- what you climb up onto to get up into the cabin from the dinghy. But it alone is open to the sky and tonight there is a great deal to stare at.

We talk about our kids and Bron at space camp at Cape Canaveral at age 11 and Andrew at space camp in Huntsville at age 13, and stories about Baby I and Debbie and Chuck's grandbaby-to-come in May. We talk about the things we remember and the people we love. Stars, stars, a zillion stars. The boat swings in another maneuver and there's Orion's belt.

It's been great to have the computer but this is the first time since we got on the boat that it has been calm enough for Plottie to compose in the cabin without feeling squeamish. It's all about the wind. Maybe -- maybe -- tonight we'll actually get one peaceful night's sleep. or maybe that's just something you dream about on a boat but, really, you've learned not to care about it all that much.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Boat is Torn Apart by High Winds, But Not


A hammock in the galley is filled with fruit from the Rastaman Fruit Market. Pineapple, mango, cherimoya, passion fruit, guava, herbs.

Saturday night Sailor Duck and Sailor Plot awoke in their berth to the sound of their boat being broken into smithereens by a howling wind. "I'm not gonna worry about it until they worry about it," said Plot, right before Co Captain Finch slammed open the door to her berth. "Yawn," was all she said. "It's nothing. Don' t worry."

OK, it was nothing, but it was really loud, plus the boat was pitching in every direction while tacking around its anchor. But Plottie has at least one of his sea legs now and he's working on the other, so the motion didn't bother anybody -- it's easier to be lying down with your eyes closed. And when Plot went on deck at 6am, it all looked just as calm as the night before -- lots of boats, flying flags from around the world, with rowboats and motorboats slicing between them with merchants selling...stuff.

Were any of you wondering? Here's how a marine head works. It looks kind of like a regular toilet, except it's got this handle on the side and a couple of valves. What you do is first pump out all the water in the bowl. Second, do whatever ya gotta do. Third, pump all the, you know, out of the bowl. It it's pee it goes away easily. If it's not pee, it's a lot harder to pump out. Fourth, you then flip the valve and pump twenty times, to bring fresh water into the bowl. Fifth, you flip back the valve and pump it all out again, awaiting the next contestant.

If you do things just this way, the head never smells and everybody's happy.

But let's just say this: sometimes what goes into the bowl doesn't really want to go out of the bowl. And sometimes it goes out of the bowl and then gets sucked right back into the bowl. If this was a guy's-only blog, we could have some more laughs about it, but for The Great Plotnik's more sensitive readers, let us only say, Amen.

You shower in the same place that you, you know. The spigot on the sink pulls out. You stand on the floor next to the toilet. First you get the right temperature on the spigot, then you wet yourself down. Turn off the water, and then you soap yourself all over, then turn back on the water and wash it off. Simple and refreshing. Do this once and you realize it's a perfect shower and that we waste so much water in our daily lives that we ought to be embarrassed.

The ocean is salty, did you know that? Even jumping in for a few minutes can cake your skin and make you feel like the top of a barbecued pork chop. That fresh water shower really feels nice.

The four ol' pals have been eating a lot of really fresh fish. So far: dorado (the best), kingfish, barracuda (also delicious) and several un-named fried morsels. Plotnik has been working in the kitchen to prepare food, but he can't stay downstairs in the galley for too long, so he tends to bring his chopping board, cucumbers, garlic, mango, red onion, herbs, bananas and squashes upstairs onto the deck, where it's just too nice to imagine. He could crew in the kitchen of a large boat, if only they wouldn't make him go downstairs.

You're looking at lunch at the Port Hole on Bequia: fried barracuda, fried bananas, rice and slaw. The bad boy in the red bottle was very, very bad. (The restaurant was not called the Pork Hole, which was what Plotnik thought in the first place.)

This morning was a hike over the crest of Bequia and down to a new resort they're planning on the other side of the island. Hot day, cold ginger ale at the end of it. Back on the boat and we are amidst preparations because the Zim man and his wife are coming over in their dinghy for an Alliance Punch in five minutes. Their boat is right next door. We won't have to wonder when they left the house.

2-23 Monday

This is the Alliance, shot from our dinghy. High winds have canceled today's planned departure for the Tobago Keys. The problem is we're waiting for a delivery of fresh water for the boat, and won't be able to make the 2 1/2 hour reach without getting in too late to guarantee a protected berth. And apparently there is nothing blocking the African winds down there, so if you have to anchor in a bad place you can end up being buffeted and blown all night long. Nothing is worth that.

Plot mentioned he had one sea leg. Two would be better. He's not seasick, but he's not altogether un-queasy, especially when the engine is on to charge the batteries, like it is right now. This should be the last internet connection for awhile, until we get down to Carriacou, perhaps a few days from now.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Atlanta to St. Lucia and Down to Bequia

2-17 Tuesday

Don't want to forget the meal the Plotniks, JJ-aka-PP, Paco, Paco's son Matt and Matt's wife Jill had last night at the Watershed in Atlanta. Don't know if Atlanta has a finer restaurant, certainly those shrimp grits are incomparable. That long thing on the plate is not a canoe paddle, it's a piece of toast, maybe the best toast ever. The grits must be cooked in shrimp stock, butter, butter, butter, more shrimp stock and more butter.

Believe it or not, Plotnik ordered a burger, A $12 cheeseburger. It was just about as good as the one at My Father's office in Stiletto City, and that's saying something. One burger a year is about right for The Great P, as long as it's either this one or that one.

The Great Ducknik had fried oysters along with the shrimp grits and there were local Atlanta beers to go around. Afterwards, Plot and Duck mostly played with Cleo, JJ's new kitty, and then packed and repacked for the flight down to St. Lucia this morning. Right now, Plot and Duck have gone through the military-efficient check-in and security line, taken the tram to the very last stop and then walked through the International Terminal to the very last gate. There are only a few people here so far which means Plot was able to grab the wall plug for his laptop. The coffee is colored water, but that's about it for things to complain about.

We spoke to The Great Finch yesterday. She and Captain Crow and the boat are already in St. Lucia waiting for the Plotniks' arrival this afternoon, and plans have been made to eat at an old favorite watering hole of theirs in a harbor outside of Castries, St. Lucia. Look at the map -- you'll see the airport at the bottom of the island and Castries at the top. There's a volcano in between. Plot and Duck will have to find a cab to take them from one point to the other point, and then: it all begins.

2-18 Wed, Castries, St. Lucia

You can't beat tropical sunsets.

Here's where we ate last night -- the Coal Pot in Castries, St. Lucia. Plot ate kingfish, but he tasted Finch's dorado, and it's dorado from now on.

Plot attempts to use the computer on a sailboat anchored in a small harbor, but the boat goes back and forth and up and down. He is determined not to use the scopolamine but to instead let his body get used to the pitching of the sea so his body can iron everything out naturally. It's not really working. He can't read on board yet either.

It was hot in the berth last night, and hard to sleep. Then around 3:30am the skies opened and a cloudburst brought the temperature down. Some of the raindrops got into the cabin, but very few, and it got cooler with a little breeze. This morning after breakfast Captain Crow and Finch and Plot and Duck got in the dinghy and motored past three enormous cruise ships, each the size of small mountains, and tied up at the little jetty in Castries.

An old woman had a t-shirt shop on the pier and the first shirt Plot saw had Obama on it. "He is our man, we pray for him," said the lady and her friend nodded in agreement. Both wore long, flowering skirts, multicolored scarves on graying hair, and sandals. "He's my man too," said Plottie. "But he's got a really hard job now." "We love him," they both said.

All those tourists on those boats -- probably more than 7-8 thousand, and practically none of them venture on to shore, except to take the planned excursions. So the local shore economy gets nothing out of it. We have a little of that Africa feeling -- white people nosing around a black island -- but that's just the way it is.

We bought fresh dorado in the fish market, where the fishmonger used a knife like a Saracen invader and sliced four huge chops off a fish two feet long. It was three pounds of fish and the price was $25EC, which is around $9US. Actually the cost was $24EC but when we didn't get change, Deb asked about the last $1EC and he said the bag cost $1EC.

Bags of spices and bottles of hot sauce in the Castries Outdoor Market, next to the fish market.

The roti shack that was calling Plotnik's name, but there will be more roti.

Time for a snorkel.

Thurs 2-19 Soufriere, St. Lucia

Plot made up a marinade for our fish last night, and a cucumber salad, but being below so long made him start to feel a bit squeamish. The problem was that the night's anchorage in Anse Aye was so rocky that that squeam never really left him from yesterday afternoon until maybe an hour ago, when everyone hopped into the dinghy and motored into Soufriere, the larger village where we can clear customs for tomorrow's run down to St. Vincent and Bequia.

Finch gave Plottie half a Meclazine, which worked except for making him very tired, and by the time he was on dry land, walking around Soufriere looking for a roti shop and a supermarket, he was feeling fine. Seasickness appears to be all or nothing-at-all. You're sick and you want to die or you're perfect.

Men standing up in rowboats or pangas continue to approach any boat on a mooring, attempting to either guide them into the harbor, which is unnecessary at best and really annoying at worst. Cap'n Crow had a run-in yesterday in Marigot Bay where two men, one a young guy in a canoe, the other an older man in a gussied up windsurfer carrying two boxes of bananas to sell, refused to take No for an answer. It ended up a shouting match but at least that's all there was to it.

Tonight, while Plot was on deck trimming ends off green beans and cutting up mangos and scallions for salad, a buy steered his boat next door. "Want to buy my vegetables mon?" he called. He had bananas, mangos, avocados and other fruit and a few squashes. it was really nice to have a boat float up next door with dinner provisions, but we already had bought everything we needed yesterday in Castries. Tonight we ate bbq chicken in Plottie's zaatar spice mix, saffron rice, green beans and mango salad, and all that after an Alliance Cocktail, created by Finch and Duck out of rum, passion fruit nectar, lemon lime-with bitters, lime juice and grated nutmeg on top. We drank to friendship while sitting on the deck staring at the sunset and the palms. This is the most beautiful time of day for sure, but especially on the back of a sailboat in the tropics. I know, I know.

The wonderful thing about traveling with old friends is you start at a higher level. You don't need small talk and it's fine to hang out in silence on the after deck, awaiting the green flash, hah! (Cap'n Crow claims he sees a split second green flash the second the sun drops below the horizon, but Plottie has even stared through binoculars. Not hardly, Bob Mar(d)ley.)

The local Creole patois here sounds more like French than English, and in fact is a combination of the two. Can't understand a word of it, until they speak our English with us, which we can get most of. The women are less involved with you than the men -- the women nod their heads, answer what you asked, and that's it. You get smiles out of the men and some commentary, especially when they are trying to sell you something, which is all the time.

Life is close-quartered on a sailboat but there is a lot to do, at least when you're not feeling sick. The truth is Crow and Finch have sailed this boat many times by themselves and don't need Plot and Duck at all, but we can do a little bit at least -- coil a few lines, learn how to tie some knots.

Tomorrow is a real sail, starting early in the morning across 50 miles of open ocean and Plot has already reserved a whole Meclazine.

Sat 2-21

Just goes to show you how you can plan and you can plan but you can't plan for everything. There has been no internet service anywhere in the vicinity until we arrived at Bequia. Plot decided he would not take the computer off the boat ever, but would simply keep a journal in TextEdit, then transfer photos and blog entries to his thumb drive, take the thumb drive to town and plug it into a waiting computer.

But the garbage, the damned garbage. On a boat you can't dispose of anything except by putting it into a black trash bag and taking it to shore on the dinghy. Also, when you're in the dinghy motoring to shore, your hat can easily blow off in the wind.

So when the Cap'n and crew got set to go to shore this morning, we still had to pack up the garbage. Plot did so, but had to tie a knot in the big garbage bag and he needed two hands to do it.

While tying the garbage, his hat flew off into the ocean.

Plot quickly emptied his pockets, which were ready to go to shore: cell phone, extra camera battery, wallet. Stripped off his shirt and sandals, patted his pockets once more to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything, dove into the drink and swam out to capture the hat that was heading for Cuba.

When he got to the hat, he remembered the thumb drive in the secret interior pocket of the new LL Bean shorts that you can't feel from the outside.

By the time he got back to the boat, the thumb drive was dead. So he's had to scotch the thumb drive idea and has taken the computer to town right now. That's just goddam well the way it's gonna have to be.


The run down to Bequia was amazing yesterday -- 50 miles and 8 1/2 hours in squalls of wind and rain. There is no direction the boat didn't get battered in, up, down, side to side, inside and outside and all of them at once. But thanks to the meclazine, Plot only felt a bit sleepy, and never queasy. By the time they arrived at Bequia, everyone was exhausted but it also felt exhilarating, like we'd accomplished something.

Bequia is pronounced Beck-wee. This large bay where we are anchored (Charlestown Bay) is very beautiful, surrounded by green verdant hills. This morning Plot was up at 5:30 and went up on deck to find a complete half moon rainbow covering the mouth of the harbor. Duck got up in time to see it too, and thirty seconds later it was gone.

Guys bring their boats up to the sailboats to sell banana bread, or marine supplies, or even to take your laundry into town to wash and fold it and bring it back in the afternoon. You sit on the back of the boat and stare out to sea while people are very happy to take care of your business.

Above is Banana Bread Man. Plot bought one of those loaves for $20EC and it lasted for three days, dense, whole-wheaty with a hint of banana and not too much sugar. Below is the laundry boat.

We met a man from Zimbabwe this morning, living on his boat the past 5 years. Very interesting dude, if definitely from the old school. But what else will you be when you've been forced to sell all your possessions and buy a boat to live on the rest of your lives? Not that white Zimbabweans shouldn't have seen it coming, which they did, know. There are two sides to every story.

There seem to be Brits and British colonials everywhere around the world, living on their boats and minding their own business. Not too many Americans doing that.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Checking In After a Long Day on the Water

Look on the map for the nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Pass St. Vincent going South and the first island you see is Bequia. That's where we are right now. The computers work, but it's been a very long day on the water. Tomorrow Plotnik will report from a nation of blue water and rastamen for water taxi drivers.

It's hard to imagine how two people who did nothing on the boat could have gotten so exhausted, but Plot and Duck did. Hasta manana.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Barbecue and In and Out

Absolute crack of black predawn and the cab calls. He's out in front of the house, a few minutes early, and Plot and Duck have only been out of bed fifteen minutes but they're ready too. A lightning fast trip down the empty 101 to the airport, followed by a too-slow check-in-line, then another lightning fast trip on a comfy 757 to Atlanta.

Plot has already consulted with Chef Pickle on where to eat in Atlanta this time. Tonight it's dinner at the renowned Watershed. "Have the Shrimp Grits," Pickle says, so shrimp grits is what it's gonna be, but you can't just eat shrimp grits without a proper warmup. So JJ-aka-PP takes Plot and Duck to Daddy Z's Barbecue for the pre-dinner snack.

Man, this is good stuff. The sauce is unique -- smooth and closer to a brown sauce than a classic barbecue sauce, though vinegary and sweet enough. Collards, slaw and a corn muffin round it out.

The waitress at Daddy Z's is from Grenada. So now Plotnik knows the sound he'll be hearing for the next few weeks -- he knew she was from the English speaking Caribbean but not Jamaica. She's easy to understand, but she' s been in Atlanta for 17 years so maybe that's the reason. We'll know in a few days.

Dance-Nik, Plotnik read and loved The Old In and Out on the plane. It didn't take too long too read -- how long is the show? (NotThaTLucas would wonder where are the car chases in this play?)

The idea of a woman looking for her father's eyes in those of her various lovers intrigues him. Very wonderfully done and you both have very different styles of writing, but they're quite complementary. And the book looks great. Plot'll write you soon when he has more time.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Stimulus Package and More Mangos

So we're packed. One suitcase, with a red ribbon, that fits in the overhead rack, and one carry-on, with a green tag, which weighs more than the suitcase. The carry-on will get jammed under the seatback which will mean there will be no room for Plottie's feet for the two five hour flights. Those feet will be happier, though, due to the addition at the last moment of an extra pair of old shoes, which he will wear on the plane, remembering how important it is to not get sore, blistered feet while on vacation.

So Plottie's feet will feel fine but his legs will be on fire from having nowhere to live on the airplane, except out in the aisle, which the bad-tempered stewardess will either dodge and grumble at him, or trip over them first and then grumble at him.

Travel broadens the mind.

The newspaper has been disconnected, John the King will move the car and keep his eye on the house, and the cats died five years ago, God rest their peaceful souls.

And five hour flights don't register until the third hour, so you only get one internal reminder that you're wearing a seatbelt while trapped in a flying cage like a flock of chickens and you're on Delta and Captain Sully flies for US Air. Anyone can take one reminder.

Travel expands your horizons.

Seashells. Sunsets. Moon rises. Green water. Mangos.

Does anyone but Plotnik think Stimulus Package would be a great name for a Porno?

In fact, now that he thinks of it, perhaps a Flip Cam video of The Great Plotnik, religious leader of a Select Few, wearing his speedos, could be titled 'Stimulus Package.' Did that make you feel queasy? You need a vacation.

(Don't worry. Plotnik does not own speedos.)

Reggae. Calypso. Volcanoes. Bright red fish. More mangos.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Spotted Shirt

It's cold in this house. The Great Plotnik World Headquarters needs to replace that old wood-and-peat boiler down in the dungeon. Or turn up the thermostat, but that would, you know, hurt the environment.

Plot is recording like crazy, trying to beat the deadline. What deadline? There is no deadline. But he's been locked away, messing with wave forms and Help Lines where the wait is half an hour, minimum, and what's worse is the message every thirty seconds: "Your call is important to us. An operator will serve you momentarily."

Plot wishes people would leave Barack Obama alone. If anything can undo or at least lengthen any recovery our economy is bound to have, it is refusing to see the entire garment instead of constantly harping at every single square inch of cloth. Sooner or later Pres O. is going to have to chastise us, wean us away from CNN, where if he saved the world in a spotted shirt, they'd have symposia with 50 experts about his spotted shirt.

It's raining in the Caribbean, so we hear.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Too Much Gear?

Some people love technology and some people are afraid of it. The Great Plotnik is a little of both. But how can you not love this tiny Flip Video Camera?

The Great PunkyDunky, who now works a lot shooting in HD, told Plottie about this little video camera, which supposedly combines good sound with excellent HD video. Of course, that all depends on how good the video-audiographer is. You download your files onto your computer via USB and then keep shooting.

But here's the problem.

Plotnik loses EVERYTHING, sooner or later, especially small things. Big things, like cars and kids, even semi-small things like wallets, he can keep track of. But small gizmatos can easily fall through the cracks in his brain. So if he does what he is contemplating, he will be on a small sailboat with: laptop, phone, camera, charger for phone, charger for laptop, charger for regular camera batteries, download cable for regular camera and now Flip Camera. There is NO way he won't lose at least two of these items.

This is the template. Plotnik has never forgotten what went on inside this shaman's hut in Zululand. What if he had the Flip Camera? He could now listen to that incomparable music and see the supplicants on their knees with the candles...

OK, probably he would be listening to a lot of hum with a little singing and watching a ton of darkness with a few figures in motion. He already knows the truth: that his memory is putting on a better show than any amateur camera ever could. And he did get a few pictures with his little Canon Sure Shot.

Here's a secret -- Plotnik always laughs at tourists with videocams taking pictures of themselves waving their fingers and saying: "Hi, Mom! Hi Dad! Look! We're on Maui!" But this little guy is, like, tiny. Nobody'll know, right?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The I-Tunes Follies

Today is a day for I-Tunes Follies. The deal is that Plot wanted to transfer the songs in his I-Tunes on his desk top to the I-Tunes on his laptop, but there's stuff on the laptop he doesn't want to lose either. And of course, the problem with I-Tunes is that you don't download the stuff you love, you download the stuff you get, most of which you haven't even heard when you download it. So you end up with a disc full of crud you couldn't care less about, plus a few nuggets.

And if you're writing a musical, you also end up with hundreds and hundreds of snippets of tunes and dialog pieces and wave forms and mixes you can't remember and you don't know which are which and you feel like just erasing everything and starting over anyway.

And, to boot, Davey Blue, who used to own this laptop, has some very cool stuff on there already, but also, you know -- the Collected Devotional Tapes of Guru Satchinanda-Doo-da-Day. He's also got some maudlin things Plot wishes he hadn't ever run into.

Final piece of confusion: you don't just transfer tunes out of I-Tunes en masse, you have to do it ONE SONG AT A TIME and it's endless. So, here's what Plottie has decided to do.

He's erased as much of the garbage as he can find on the laptop, and is importing his favorite stuff from the original CDs, those he has anyway. (NOW he knows why you save CDs, instead of giving them back to the person who gave them to you in the first place once you've downloaded them.)

(And, yeah, yeah, the songwriter didn't get paid, trust us we know all about that one, and never have complained about it all that much because we do it too. So.)

So here's Tupac's "Brenda's Got a Baby"-- man, this artist got a terrible bum rap from white people around the country. He's really a genius, and like so many, a dead one.

And here's Hugh Masakela's "Bring Back Nelson Mandela," possibly Plotnik's favorite song of all time. It doesn't matter how many times he listens to it, this song fills him with hope, with happiness, with the desire to go dance again in a Capetown club.

And here's Chris Smither's "No Love Today," a song about a vegetable seller in New Orleans, but really about a long ago time. One more thank you to Hanky Girl for turning Plotnik on to Chris Smither in the first place.

Ooooh - Asimbonanga. How many times did the Plotnik family Minus BZ (and Brooklyn Belly) listen to this Johnny Clegg song in the car while driving through Swaziland and Zululand?

Coltrane, Wynton Marsalis ooh Lila Downs and soundtrack from Frida and The Wild Tchoupitoulas...this isn't such a bad job after all.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Two Hills Up

Last night, The Great Cynic (I was going to write 'The Great Cy-Nik,' but would you have gotten it?) and his wife walked up the 260 stairs at Harry Street and went to one of these newfangled Obama Meetings, the idea of which is to get together with like-minded people and talk about the recovery plan and offer suggestions. It was held in the home of ex-neighbors, she the physician and he the architect, nice people even though (ATTENTION: SOUR GRAPES WARNING!) they used to live 'round the corner until they traded our hill for another one two hills higher.

A dozen people showed up, from all over the city. The really really interesting part about the meeting was this: nobody cares too much about the details of the recovery plan, but what everybody does want is to continue the exhilaration of the campaign, where we all felt personally involved and motivated, most of us for the first time in our adult lives. Obama has tapped into this deep well of desire, and maybe these meetings will serve as a conduit to funnel our energies into meaningful places.

Cy-Nik does not do meetings easily. He always finds something to niggle about, but last night even the person who felt weepy for the homeless did not bother him. The point was no matter what anyone's personal agenda, everyone took their time to show up for a 6pm meeting. This has to be encouraging.

A few more points of interest: nobody bashed Bush. Bush is so yesterday.

Republicans ate a little crow, but just a little, and not for their past but for their present intransigence.

Nobody ate the cheese or the crackers.

The view is a whole lot grander two hills up.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Brother Street Has Come and Gone

Brother Jimmy Street left this morning. It was very nice to have him here for the weekend, though it's hard to see him struggle to walk very far, with what appears to be a very painful sciatica. Jim's one of those horn players to whom tone matters -- you never hear him play an out of tune note, even when practicing. And, though he is not Catholic, he is auditioning for Pope.

Plotnik hopes those basketballers among you got to watch the Shmlakers demolish the Cavaliers yesterday. Now that was a fulfilling two and a half hours. The Celtics won the first part of the season, and the Shmlakers the middle. Who wins the end is what will really matter.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Final Shoe Selection

A few weeks ago we had a very interesting string about the choice of shoes to take on a holiday that involves 6 nights on land in three different places, two possibly freezing and one tropical, plus 13 nights on a sailboat. Plotnik received much helpful advice. So, yesterday Plotnik and Ducknik went down to REI, which carries a 30 rating, which is to say Plotnik can stand being in REI for up to half an hour.

(A 30 is an excellent rating. For example, Circuit City has a 5. Nordstrom's Rack has an 8. Any storesy-worsy with the stench of scented bayberry candles has a 2-Minus. REI's 30 is equal to Guitar Center and the Acme Bread Outlet.)

He went to buy a lightweight waterproof windbreaker, a feat he accomplished by picking the first one he saw, which was absolutely perfect -- if perhaps $70 too expensive (OK, he had hoped to spend $10). It's a beaut, though, and should last until he loses it somewhere.

But then he had 23 minutes left of his half hour allotment of store patience, so he walked over to the shoe section, where the End of the Year Closeout was going on, or was it the Beginning of the Month closeout, anyway prices were Drastically Reduced on All Shoes You Don't Want. Plot looked until he found the WAS $75 NOW $35 marker. Those are the dark tennies.

The friendly salesman also brought over the light tennies, WERE $60 STILL $60. The problem was the $60 tennies were a lot more comfortable than the $35 tennies, but the $35 tennies were a lot cooler AND considerably cheaper.

So Plotnik turned to page 42 of the Da Plotnik Code and found this sentence: "When buying shoes, if you buy two pairs you'll only have to go back half as often." Excellent advice. He bought them both.

So now, his final shoe selection is complete: one (or both) pair of tennies and his ancient Tevas. This makes sense. Doesn't it?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Ogenki desu ka, wait...

Jimmy Street's in town, so last night Plot and Duck had Jim Zim and Beverly-san over for dinner. They featured Jim Zim on KSCM yesterday, on the Desert Island show, giving the eight or so jazz CDs he would take with him to the desert island (presumably there is power for a CD player on the island, or a lifetime supply of double-A batteries). His choices were interesting, though Plottie hadn't heard of many of the players. Jimmy Street, meanwhile, has had a terrible back attack and hasn't been working all that much. So the drummer and the saxophonist and the piano player talked about -- you know, real estate and food.

It's always nice to see Beverly -- she and Plotnik took a few Japanese classes together, but that was awhile ago. Neither one of them can say an entire sentence anymore without it sounding like this: "Ah, Beburee-san, ogenki desu ka, oh shit I'm trying to say, wait, ogenki desu ka, nee, onegai shimasu, no, wait, shit."

But the chicken was delicious and Duck made a cake so -- life is good, ichiban.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Grandma Joy's Beautiful Challah

Perhaps when you see Grandma Joy, you think: educator. Perhaps world traveler. Or perhaps simply Mother of the Five.

But from now on, when Plotnik thinks about Grandma Joy, he will think: challah.

In case the phrases "black Catholic woman" and "challah" are not synonymous to you, you are disastrously misinformed. Inside every Jew is a challah. Preferably two. And obviously the same is true for Grandma Joy, because this is the prettiest challah Plotnik has seen in years. He wishes he could get his mouth around at least half of that loaf right now.

Religion is so weird. You never know what will ring your bell. Joy has always been a spiritual person and we can see it is true: you don't make a challah like this one without a little menschkeit down to the gribines.

(Hint: it means 'soul.')(Probably there is a female equivalent for 'menschkeit, but at this juncture it is unknown to Plottie.)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Distorting the World View

Oi, something seems to have happened to Plotnik's neck. This has happened before, and he knows what he should be doing about it -- core strength. The lower back controls everything, sooner or later. The program starts now.

It probably also has something to do with mashing up that big toe a few weeks ago -- everything has been thrown slightly out of kilter.

But in the meantime it is harder to move around, being very careful not to step incorrectly, and not to slouch in front of the computer, and not to pedal grimacingly up a hill. He is trying to avoid taking Advil, but the problem is Advil works.

And there is the other problem that the airplanes and other ab-and-back strength exercises tend to make his neck and shoulder feel worse. Professionals should be involved, know. To do that, Plotnik would have to enter the World of the Ill, and he is very very disinclined to do that. Very very.

Meanwhile, brother Shmeckl turns just-shy-of-a-Big-One-that-ends-in-Zero tomorrow, and nephew Staubach-Nik turns 45(!) next week. Grampy Plotnik turns 117 on Saturday, but he's going to have to blow out his own birthday cake.

Getting older seems to involve new aches and pains, if you're lucky and that's all you have to deal with. Mummy P. went to Cousin Two Point Eight Names's baby shower last weekend and she found herself having to deal with the dilemma of a long stairway up to the party room and the bathroom back down at the bottom of that same stairway, and no elevator, and no bathroom upstairs. In the end she had to go downstairs to the bathroom, but then couldn't get back upstairs to the party. So Cousin Brother Two Names had to leave the party and drive her back home. Mummy P. felt bad about it, but what can anyone do?

You certainly can't blame young people for not thinking about these possibilities when they plan events. They just haven't been there. Yet.

Man, a sore neck tends to distort your world view. So says Plotnik.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Women Have Great Backs, the Men Have Great Fronts

Wow. Great Dance-Nik, where were you last night when Plot and Duck went to review "Burn the Floor?" Oh, well, you'd probably have hated it, or maybe you'd have loved it. Plotnik found the beautiful parts beautiful, though he wishes there could have been more of them. You can read the San Francisco Theater Blog Review here. If you go, sit on the aisle because the best part of the show is when the cast dances up and down the aisles and you can actually see them up close. On stage, they look like clones of one another, but when they dance past you you realize how athletic and graceful these men and women are.

As he is writing this, The Great Plotnik realizes he didn't mention their athleticism in his review, and he's going back in there right now to do so.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Travel Question for the Blogger In All of Us

The Great Plotnik asks you to consider this question: here you're gonna be, on a beautiful sailboat, in one of the planet's most gorgeous spots, with many new sights and sounds and smells and tastes to experience. Plus, you're with wonderful old friends.

So, do you REALLY need your computer?

How about that really COOL digital recorder you could buy on EBay, which would then enable you to make a digital sound record of --- oh, waves slapping at the bow, pineapple sellers in the local market, music you happened to hear on the street in Port of Spain, the accent of the lady who runs the bed and breakfast, that conga drummer at the bake and shark stand?

(Translation: bake and shark is Trinidadian for fresh fish, fried with hot chilies and spices and served on Indian roti bread.)

(You could even post these sounds to your blog!)

Or -- listen to me now, Plotnik -- how about just a camera, a few books, a journal and a pencil or two? Wouldn't that make everything easier, less to worry about, less to keep track of?

I mean, shorts, sandals, swim trunks, a toothbrush, a camera? Isn't that what simplification in life is supposed to lead to? Isn't this the idea?

So Plotnik is considering the metaphysical dilemma this morning. He says he wants to grab huge pieces of the planet, to see and hear and experience what the world has to offer (with a few exceptions: pain, illness and death come to mind). But he also wants to sing about it, to take pictures of it, to listen to it, to blog about it, to write about it in depth, in other words to experience it more than just once.

The question is simple: can you really enjoy that shark and bake if you're already thinking about how to describe the texture of the roti? Can you get blown away by that waterfall without noticing where the sun will land on your lens? If the shaman doesn't smile during her exorcism can you really ask her to do it again and look right at you this time?

He knows what the answer SHOULD be. He's just not sure what the answer IS.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Let's Raise A Glass for Them Steelers

On the one day each year where theme parks across America are empty, Super Bowl Sunday (yesterday) was very cool, with places to go and people to meet. Each event was interesting and fun. It started with Plotnik coming off the I.R. to play ball in the morning, with no pain during the game (although afterwards his big toe, still bruised from the, uh, home repair incident, was a bit throbby). Next was putting together a large antipasto to take to J-Whacky and Domin-Nik's house for the annual Super Bowl watching, but before that came a trip to Elizabeth Street Brewery.

The owner and his wife are not pictured here (their photos will go up in the Noe Valley Voice article). Perhaps you will not be surprised to hear that the topic of the fellow in the top picture's weekly podcast is: beer. He, and everyone at the small brewery, where there was also a Super Bowl Party going on, were really nice people and willing to take lots of time to initiate a newby into the world of home brew.

The beer is REALLY good. Plotnik and Ducknik drank the "Daddy's Chocolate Milk" which is a dark ale with touches of porter but without the smoky burnt taste. Duck announced it was the best beer she's ever tasted, and she does not normally even like dark beer.

Factoids: It takes 20 pounds of grain to make 10 gallons of beer, and every citizen of the USA who is over 21 years old is permitted to brew 100 gallons a year. You can't sell it though, so ESB gives their beer away at periodic open houses. One can, however, purchase t-shirts and caps, and it is also possible for one to buy a square on the Super Bowl Puzzler.

There is a small park caddy-corner from the brewery. Plotnik played basketball there for many years. Afterwards, he sipped water from a fountain that barely worked. There was home brew across the street. Who knew?

The next Sunday stop was J-Whacky's and a terrific football game. There were three televisions set up for seven people. Even The Great Domin-Nik, who is as interested in watching football as Plotnik is in shopping for shoes, enjoyed the last quarter of this classic.

True, there was an interior price to pay for home brew, salami, prosciutto, smoked cheese, pasta, crackers, marinated mushrooms, olives and chocolate. But it was well worth it.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

But You Can 't Forget the Severed Head

Last night, Plot and Duck saw John Guare's "Landscape of the Body" at San Francisco Playhouse. He gave it Three Stars with a Severed Head. That ought to be enough explanation. You can read the San Francisco Theater Blog review of "Landscape of the Body" here. Gabriel Marin is really good.