Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Teach and Learn in Georgia: Back in Business

A supra in Kardanakhi, Georgia
After a hiatus during "regime change," Teach and Learn in Georgia (TLG) is back in business.

Tamar making borshi

Go here for a list of (or links to) blogs by current and past TLGers, packing items, and cultural notes.

Nely holding up her farmlet's green grapes, Kardanakhi, Georgia

Go here for the official TLG page.

Making churchkhela, Georgia

On my right sidebar is a link to a current TLGer - one who started under the old regime and continued under the new, so he may have a unique perspective to offer you.

Tia serving Kinkhali in Rustavi, Georgia

My second favorite Georgian dance video:

And my favorite, Xorumi or Khorumi, performed by Erisioni. Doesn't matter which gender you are, it gets the blood a-movin'.


 Ah, what a place.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New Mexico: An Antlers Thing

Carlsbad, New Mexico

New Mexico likes its antlers.

Antlers on White Sands Boulevard, Alamogordo, New Mexico

New York Avenue shop window, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Between Rodeo, New Mexico, and Portal, Arizona

Between Rodeo, New Mexico, and Portal, Arizona

Lordsburg, New Mexico

Ruidoso, New Mexico, Cowboy Symposium

Rodeo, New Mexico

OK, I've taken a little poetic license, including skulls and horns. But horns are antlers, too, aren't they?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gila National Forest, NM: The Catwalk

Catwalk, Gila National Forest, New Mexico. Credit: USFS

I saw photos of the Catwalk in the Gila National Forest some years ago, and read about its interesting history, and was immediately attracted. So when my sister arrived for a visit and expressed an interest in going to the Gila National Forest, I was ready.

Something to know about the Gila National Forest is that: 1) it is immense and 2) access to one north-south half is a considerable travel distance from the other north-south half. If, for example, you want to visit both the Catwalk and the Gila Cliff Dwellings, you'll need - realistically - one day for each.

Catwalk, Gila National Forest, New Mexico

To get to the Catwalk, you take Highway 180 from Silver City, follow it up to Glenwood, and then take a jog to the northeast.

En route, you'll pass the pleasant Aldo Leopold Vista picnic area, about 50 miles north of Silver City. Nice latrines there, pretty views. Covered picnic tables.

Aldo Leopold Vista, Highway 180, New Mexico

Aldo Leopold Vista, Highway 180, New Mexico

We didn't know about this great place, thus turned off a little sooner for our lunch in front of this fine scenic view.

Highway 180, north of Silver City, New Mexico


The good news about the Catwalk is that it had been closed entirely for awhile, but now part of it is open. The bad news is - only part of it is open. We were able to see enough of the Catwalk to really yearn for the rest.

Catwalk, Gila National Forest, New Mexico

A gentleman at the park told us that a few years ago during a forest fire, the park management folks made the difficult, but proactive, decision to dismantle the suspended walking bridge that goes alongside and over the canyon river. This was in anticipation of many burned, dead logs falling through the river and getting jammed up at the points where the bridge crossed the river. A side benefit of dismantling the bridge was to give the much-loved recreation area a rest from the heavy tourist traffic. The gentleman explained that the park intended to postpone rebuilding the bridge for yet another year, but the village of Glenwood was really suffering from the drop in tourist traffic, thus the partial opening of the Catwalk now. How accurate all of this is, I don't know.

Below is a good video of the pre-fire-flood Catwalk trail. Enjoy.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Gila National Forest, NM: Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila Cliff Dwellings, Gila National Forest, New Mexico

Getting to the Gila Cliff Dwellings is a significant time investment that includes a road fraught with twists and turns and ups and downs. If you go, consider that it's about a two-hour drive from Silver City.

Alas, my sister and I didn't explore the hot springs that are fairly close to the Gila Cliff Dwellings visitor center - perhaps another time.

Gila Cliff Dwellings, Gila National Forest, New Mexico

At the visitor center, there's a movie you can watch. Not bad. It surprised me that the dwellings were only used for one generation and also that they were, relatively speaking, a recent construct - 700 years ago. 

Gila Cliff Dwellings, Gila National Forest, New Mexico

The other thing interesting about the cliff dwellings are the 10-12 volunteers who serve there. Semi- or fully retired, they live at an RV park in Gila Hot Springs, about four miles from the dwellings. One couple, originally from Texas, but who now divide their time between Colorado and New Mexico, bring their horses with them.

Visiting the cliff dwellings reminded me of Uplistsikhe in Caucasus Georgia.

Walking up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings is very pleasant - shady, with a stream that burbles along beside for awhile. I find that the dwellings themselves don't get me too excited, but that's strictly a personal preference. I know folks who visit all such dwellings they can find. It's nice that visitors follow a different path down than they take up, allowing for a fresh view. 

Gila Cliff Dwellings, Gila National Forest, New Mexico

Which route to take toward the cliff dwelling? 

From Silver City, you can take Highway 15, or from a little east of Silver City, you can take 152 to 35 to 15. Of the two, the Highway 15 route is prettier and shorter. Driving through the idyllic pine woods on the narrow and winding black lane - so nice.

But not everyone loves winding narrow lanes, so you might prefer to take 152 to 35 and then get onto 15. The 152-35 legs are relatively calm.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gila National Forest, NM: Sex Amidst the Gravel

Boxelders, Gila National Forest, Catwalk, near Glenwood, New Mexico

It's February in the Gila National Forest.

You know what that means.

Boxelders, Gila National Forest, Catwalk, near Glenwood, New Mexico

The boxelders are in the mood for love.

Reminded me of another springtime romp, this time in Ureki, and this time, frogs

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Three Rivers Petroglyphs Site, New Mexico

Three Rivers Petroglyphs Site, New Mexico

My sister is visiting me from Missouri. We went to the Three Rivers Petroglyphs Site, which is between Carrizozo and Tularosa, off of Highway 54.

Some photos:

A nice place for lunch, Three Rivers Petroglyphs, New Mexico

Sister eating said lunch, Three Rivers Petroglyphs, New Mexico

On the trail, Three Rivers Petroglyphs, New Mexico

You'd think I'd have at least one photo of a petroglyph, right? There are, after all, about 21,000 of them at this site. I'm not all that much into them. My sister, on the other hand, took possibly hundreds for her husband back home, as he is definitely interested.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Istanbul: Flashback: Ferry Ride on the Bosphorus

An evening on the Bosphorus rocks, with new friends, Istanbul, Turkey

I was in Istanbul for three weeks in June and July 2012. I've got some photographic loose ends.

One of my photographic loose ends was the video below of a ferry ride on the Bosphorus, showing some of the Istanbul skyline.

Stacy, a TLG colleague, had stopped by for a few days in Istanbul on her way back home, and we enjoyed this ride together. I substituted a Turkish song for the awful wind noise the video had. Of course, one swaps the distracting noise for an advertisement. Just "x" that closed, of course. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Alamogordo, New Mexico: Scenes From Around

Lake Holloman Recreation Area is between Alamogordo and White Sands National Monument. It is where the mysterious brown Road #61 takes you. This photo is from January 2013.

Lake Holloman Recreation Area, between  Alamogordo and White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.

The photos below are of Alamogordo, taken from a hill above. I took these in October 2012. If you look carefully, you can see the white ribbon on the horizon, which is White Sands.

Overlooking Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Overlooking Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

San Antonio, New Mexico: The Rio Grande in Winter

The Rio Grande, December.
Highway 380, just outside San Antonio, New Mexico.

Rio Grande, Highway 380, outside San Antonio, New Mexico

Rio Grande, Highway 380, outside San Antonio, New Mexico

Rio Grande, Highway 380, outside San Antonio, New Mexico

Friday, February 8, 2013

New Mexico: Of Turquoise, Coral, and Spiny Oysters

Ruidoso Downs, Cowboy Symposium 2012

A know-nothing disclaimer

Me offering a discourse on stones that Native Americans of the Southwest use to make jewelry is pretty presumptuous, since I know barely anything about it.

On the other hand, I'm a consumer of jewelry made by Indians of the Southwest, therefore I have standing to publicly fumble and bumble my way up a learning curve.


You'd think turquoise would be a straightforward matter. Special kind of blue with black veins spidering through it. Got it, right?

If only.

Here's a list of names for turquoise:
  • "Natural" turquoise
  • Turquoise "treated" to stabilize the stone
  • Turquoise enhanced to add color
  • "Reconstituted" turquoise (sometimes includes turquoise "trash" and sometimes has no turquoise at all) 
  • Substituted turquoise (uses a real stone, but one that is enhanced to imitate turquoise or that is sold as turquoise, falsely)
  • Fake stone (e.g. made from plastic or polymer clay)

There's nothing inherently wrong with any of the above as long as the seller is honest about his product, allowing the buyer to make an informed decision about his purchase. 

Here is a clear and concise discourse on the subject of turquoise. The Turquoise Guide also offers a good overview. Reading both will give you the best picture. 

Information that surprised me

  • I used to think turquoise was plentiful, but it isn't. Indeed, most of the turquoise mines, worldwide, have been tapped out. 
  • Very little turquoise jewelry is made of so-called "natural turquoise," that is, turquoise virtually untouched by any sort of processing before being made into jewelry. And there's good reason for this - natural turquoise can fracture easily, and because it's very porous, it is susceptible to discoloration, stains, and fading. So treating the turquoise can extend the life and beauty of the stone.

So the important tip about buying turquoise is to ask the seller to tell you about the turquoise she's selling.

Red coral aka precious coral. Credit: Oceana


I used to hold three contradictory beliefs about coral. I "knew" it was a stone and I also "knew" it was the remains of a formerly-living marine animal. And because I always associated it with Southwest Indian jewelry, I held the unexamined belief that coral was "somehow" indigenous to the Southwest, from prehistoric seas perhaps.

Of course, now I know I didn't really know anything.

The color red has always been prized in Native American jewelry. Before Europeans introduced coral to Indians about 600 years ago, they often used spiny oyster shell for the desired red. Spiny oyster had been used for centuries in North America, believed to be traded north from as far away as Ecuador. 

The red coral we usually think about in Indian jewelry doesn't come from the shallow coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia or the Belize Barrier Reef. Rather, it comes from the deeps of the sea. For centuries, such coral could be found off  in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Italy.

But red coral is now scarce because of over-harvesting. Some jewelers no longer sell jewelry made with red coral because it encourages the depletion of remaining red coral. Some artists only use coral salvaged from old pieces of jewelry.

As with turquoise, there's coral and then there's "coral." 
  • Red, precious, blood, or oxblood coral (endangered and regulated)
  • Bamboo coral or "apple coral," often dyed to replicate red coral
  • Sponge coral, often dyed to replicate red coral

As with turquoise, nothing is intrinsically wrong with bamboo or sponge coral being treated to appear as red coral, as long as you know this is what you're buying.

Spiny oyster. Credit: Wikipedia

Spiny oyster shell

I love spiny oyster shell. I like the name, I like the variegated color, and I like that such beauty comes from something so prosaic as a shell. 

I'd never heard of spiny oyster til I was in Hannibal, Missouri, for a weekend some years ago. My travel companions and I popped in and out of some stores, and one was a jewelry store, where I saw this ring:

The owner explained that he got his jewelry from the Southwest, and as with the odd mythical beliefs I had about coral, I also had the confused idea that spiny oyster was also indigenous to the Southwest. In fact, some sources say it exists only in along Baja California; other sources say it is also in South America.

I wish there were more information on spiny oyster shell, but sadly, I'm unable to find much. But the colors range among red, orange, and purple.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Very Large Array, New Mexico, Part 2: Geeky Wonderfulness

Very Large Array, Highway 60, near Magdalena, New Mexico

Getting to the Very Large Array (VLA) requires a pretty serious investment in time and gas, so listen up:

If you happen to be driving by (only likely if you're using the lonely Highway 60 to get from Socorro to, say,  well, never mind, Highway 60 isn't an efficient way to get to anywhere unless your destination is Pie Town) ....

So let me approach it this way: If I made a special trip to the VLA, I would make damn sure it was on the first Saturday of the month, when I can go on the 11:00, 1:00, or 3:00 tour.

If you don't go on a tour, then sure, you can walk over to one of the dishes, and visit the small (and cramped, truth be told) visitor's center and gift shop, but if you're like me, it will feel pretty low-calorie.

With the free tour, however, you get to: 
  • Watch a pretty interesting movie;
  • Listen to a knowledgeable docent and ask her geeky questions; 
  • Go into the building with the Control Room (with the avocado phones!);
  • Talk to the Control Guy on duty; 
  • See the Real Live Geeky Computer Stuff in the Control Room; and  
  • Go out on the balcony overlooking the dishes. 

The tour took about an hour and a half, so plan a solid two hours for your on-site visit. Figure close to an hour to get from Socorro to the VLA.

Uh, what's VLA about? Radio astronomy.

Whirlpool Galaxy. Credit: National Radio Astronomy Observatory

And now I need to amend what I said about there being nothing along Highway 60. I was kicking myself for not planning an overnight stay in Magdalena or even Socorro because I passed these really intriguing spots that I didn't have time to explore on a one-day trip to/from Alamogordo:

And when I turned onto Highway 52, and saw a road sign pointing to Winston, NM, only 59 miles away, I was really kicking myself, because there's a story there that I want to hear, having to do with Victorio's great-great granddaughter ....but it will keep for another day.

A slide show of the Very Large Array:


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Relocation 2013, Part 1: Mexico!

Virgin of Ocotlan Basilica, Ocotlan, Tlaxcala, Mexico

Damn, is it that time already?

Back here, I drilled down my decision to either Mexico or New Mexico for 2012/2013.

This go-round, after toying with other possibilities, I've settled on Mexico.

Last year, these were my criteria:
  • Reasonable access to family/friends; 
  • Proximity to mountains; 
  • Locations with mild(er) climate; 
  • Cultural and language diversity; 
  • Low cost of living; and 
  • Income opportunities

For 2013/2014, my criteria are ...  huh .... identical, if one defines "income opportunities" to mean access to reliable and high-speed internet access, as my plan is to continue teaching English online.

So now that I know the country ... time to figure out the city.

My wish list for the city are (in addition to the above):
  • Population less than 500,000 and more than 50,000
  • Sense of place
  • Socio-economic, age, and ethnic diversity
  • Trees, pretty scenery; a lake or river would be nice
  • In a location that's a good base for exploring the entire country
  • Not in a criminal-gang hotspot.
  • Elevation lower than 7000 feet
  • Reliable and fast internet connection (this one is a deal breaker)
  • Within 3 hours of an international airport (preferably two)

But before I go to Mexico, I'll leave New Mexico (boo hoo) at the end of September, and spend October in Missouri.

Of course .... if I learned only one thing in Georgia, it was this: Be flexible. So, quien sabe? Maybe my plans will change.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Very Large Array, New Mexico, Part 1: Hipster Prime

Very Large Array, Highway 52, New Mexico

Is it  ironic that the Very Large Array - make that the Expanded Very Large Array - the very epitome of sci-fi goodness - is so 1970s?

Take the avocado green, old-school, analog phones.

Or the Southwestern "style," puffy polyester chairs.

Very Large Array, Highway 52, New Mexico

Or the virgin vinyl couch.

Very Large Array, Highway 52, New Mexico

This is Geek Central. They don't care what you think about their decor. Besides, what's wrong with it? The phones still work. The chairs and couches still do their jobs. It's like, "Hey, we're watching stars explode and black holes consume planets every day . ... what are you doing"? 

And guess what. You only get to see this behind-the-scenes coolness if you go on one of the guided tours. First Saturday of every month at 11:00, 1:00, and 3:00. Plan for two hours. 

And put your cell phone on "airplane mode" when you enter.     

Very Large Array, Highway 52, New Mexico

Monday, February 4, 2013

Highway 60, New Mexico: Stories at a Shrine

Santo Nino de Atocha Shrine, Highway 60, near Socorro, New Mexico

On my way to the Very Large Array the other day, I caught sight of a tiny building and a large cross out of the corner of my left eye. I was in a dash to arrive at the VLA in time for the 1:00 tour, and I promised myself I would check it out on my return home.

Miniature church on Megobroba Street, Rustavi, Georgia
Miniature church, Rustavi, Georgia

What attracted my attention was that it reminded me of the tiny churches in Georgia, constructed by an individual or family.

So on my way back from VLA, I re-located the little monument (between mile markers 131 and 135), and as I pulled off the highway saw a car and a man visiting the place. Oh, damn, I thought. Company. But I continued anyway and pulled up to the little fenced-in place, and got out of my car.

Santo Nino de Atocha Shrine, Highway 60 near Socorro, New Mexico

And that's when I learned the stories of this place.

The man's name was Ernie Silva. The shrine, devoted to Santo Nino de Atocha, used to be over on the other side of the highway, up aways, but when they built a new bridge, Mr. Silva's family got permission to relocate the shrine to its current location.

Mr. Silva's mother conceived of the shrine - she had it made as a promise to God to bring her son, Nicanor, back safely from World War II. On the crucifix is a photo of Nicanor and his wife Edith. Both are now deceased, but Nicanor Silva did, indeed, come home safely.

Ernie Silva and another brother later served in the Vietnam War. Mr. Silva is the youngest of 14 children. He's now 71 and his oldest-living sister is 96.

In addition to the crucifix and the pink shrine is a white memorial. About 10 years ago, a man was found dead on the lane that is beside the Santo Nino de Atocha Shrine. He had been murdered. His name was Peter Lopez. The homicide remains unsolved.

Mr. Silva pointed to the spiral notebooks inside the tiny chapel. He said people from all over leave their names in the notebooks. When Mr. Lopez was found killed, the police took the notebooks to see if they could find any clues that would point them to the killer.

Santo Nino de Atocha Shrine, Highway 60, near Socorro, New Mexico

Mr. Lopez' mother asked the Silvas for permission to erect the memorial to her son, and they agreed.

Many people visit the Santo Nino de Atocha Shrine. Sometimes they leave items as part of a prayer for safety for themselves or loved ones.

Santo Nino de Atocha Shrine, Highway 60, near Socorro, New Mexico
Mr. Silva was at the shrine to complete some maintenance work there.

I asked Mr. Silva where Atocha was, and he didn't know.

So, of course, I have now looked this up and in the process, have discovered Southwest Crossroads: Cultures and History of the American Southwest. From this rich resource comes one little girl's story about her need to kidnap and hold hostage the Santo Nino: The Miracle of the Santo Nino.

Here is a website devoted to information about the Santo Nino de Atocha.

There's some question about the origin of "Atocha." Was it: "... Antioch [in present-day Turkey], and that St. Luke the Evangelist was the sculptor of the first mother-and-child image. .."?

Or was it in honor of Atocha, a Madrid suburb that was home to a large men's prison in the 15th century, where sprang up a legend: "... Those prisoners who had no young children to feed them were being visited and fed by a young boy. None of the children knew who he was, but the little water gourd he carried was never empty, and there was always plenty of bread in his basket to feed all the hapless prisoners without children of their own to bring them their food. He came at night, slipping past the sleeping guards or smiling politely at those who were alert. Those who had asked the Virgin of Atocha for a miracle began to suspect the identity of the little boy. As if in confirmation, the shoes on the statue of the child Jesus were worn down. When they replaced the shoes with new ones, those too were worn out. .... "

So now I feel lucky that Mr. Silva was at the shrine when I arrived.