27 July 2011

Postcard gallery: Croatia, sand castles, New Zealand, Edgar Allan Poe

All kinds of pen-and-paper awesomeness have been showing up in my mailbox of late. In fact, I now get more letters and postcards than I do blog comments—which is absolutely wonderful. Old-school handwritten correspondence for the win. And it bears repeating: these letters and postcards convey a specific sense of personality and sense of place and general warmth that e-mails and tweets and text messages never can.

A partial sampling from the last couple of weeks:

Clockwise from upper left:
  • Edgar Allan Poe looking handsome-but-sad, from Lee (see below for his note on the back).
  • Aerogram (!) from Mike Barish.
  • Plitvička Jezera, Croatia from Shirley.
  • Handmade map aerogram (!!) from Susie in New Zealand (close-up below).
  • How To Build a Sandcastle group postcard from my parents, uncle, and cousins, writing from the Jersey shore (the cool, classy kind, not the MTV kind).* 
  • Rannoch Moor, Scotland postcard from … I don’t know who. Given the location of the scene on the front of the card, I’m going to guess it’s from my friend DS in Glasgow (if so: cheers, mate!). See below for the hilarious note on the reverse side.
  • Arches National Park (Utah) postcard from Eva Holland.
* NOTE: Group postcards are a family tradition and often include greetings from waiters, newly-met friends, and random passersby. Each line is in new handwriting, the sentences getting more compressed toward the bottom as everyone squeezes in, correspondence as clown car. It makes for an interesting, telling artifact of a particular moment of time, showing not just where you were but who was with you and who had what to say about that place and that moment.

A few close-ups:

Yes, Lee. We'll be going to the State Fair and watching the Twins play outdoors
--I asked them to move back outside just so that we could do things the old-fashioned
way when you came to visit.

Seriously, this is a sweet envelope--it's made from a map of the Caribbean. 

It's good to keep those writing fingers in shape now and then.

Thanks, all, for joining the Campaign of Awesome People Bringing Back the Handwritten Letter (CAPBBHL—totally catchy, right?). If I have your address, my own postcard to you should be arriving shortly.

And if anyone else wants to join the CAPBBHL cause, my address is right over there in the sidebar. à

Write on.

18 July 2011

Notes on watching the World Cup in an airport bar

I am a soccer nerd. As a player, I am merely semi-competent, although I do have precisely one good move--the step-over turn--and will totally burn you with it, at least until you catch up two seconds later. As a fan, I am somewhat less than a European hooligan, but decidedly more enthusiastic than the average American. Our national attitude toward the beautiful game is pretty well summed up by the header at the top of The Onion's sports section, which has links to the site's sub-sections, in this order and with this wording: baseball, basketball, football, hockey, motorsports, women's sports/soccer.

But it's amazing what a little bit of success in a major international competition can do, at least temporarily. Last year, when the American men's team made a minor run in the World Cup in South Africa, the zeitgeist briefly made room for terms like offside trap, back-heel pass, vuvuzela, and What the hell are you doing, Landon Donovan? And in 1999, famously, the Women's World Cup had its fleeting but bright moment in the national spotlight, with Brandi Chastain's screaming celebration, after making the winning penalty kick in the shoot-out against China, becoming an iconic photo, gracing the covers of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated.

Still, few Americans this year seemed to realize that the Women's World Cup was underway. I'll confess that although I read game re-caps, I didn't actually see a single group-stage game aside from a couple of YouTube highlights.

And then came The Goal. Abby Wambach's laser-precise header off a brilliant cross from Megan Rapinoe in the game against Brazil. (Sadly, I can't find any videos of it--they've all been taken down for copyright violations. If you haven't seen it, though, know that it is bona fide gorgeous). Suddenly, the nation awoke. Abby Wambach became a trending topic on Twitter. Lil' Wayne tweeted his congrats, as did, well, seemingly everyone. (My favorite part of this, by the way, was that Rapinoe also got her due. Americans love the goal-scorers--in any sport--but have a tendency to overlook the people who do all the set-up work. It was nice to see an outside midfielder--my old position--get her richly-deserved praise for the phenomenal service.)

There was no way I was going to miss the final, not as a confirmed soccer nut but also, suddenly, not as an American with even a passing interest in sports. Just one problem: I was going to be on an airplane, coming back from my cousin's wedding in Philadelphia (mazel tov, Jason and Emily!). My plane would arrive at MSP midway through the second half. If I planned right, I could find a television and watch the end.

When I left MSP on Friday, I grabbed an airport map so I could plan a route to a bar at the airport. I packed lightly so that I could carry on my bag and sprint of the airplane. And when I landed on Sunday, that's what I did--I ran off the plane and straight to the French Meadow.

Which was packed. I mean, packed. All the seats at the bar counter were taken, as well as all the tables with even a partial view of the restaurant's two small-ish screens. A low fence separated the restaurant from the concourse, where another two dozen or so people stood staring, rapt. I joined them.

Really crappy phone-camera image of the scene.
But you get the idea.

15 July 2011

Eight reactions to getting galleys from your publisher

1. Initial anticipation
The UPS guy delivers a large parcel for you. From Penguin. Admire the packaging. Never before has bubble wrap looked, to your eyes, so much like a Fabergé Egg. (What, you don’t see it?) But now the anticipation is killing you—stop gazing and open the dang thing already.  

2. Wild-eyed, kid-on-Christmas-morning glee
Get a knife. Slice carefully, trying very hard, in your shaky-handed giddiness, not to lop off a finger—or, worse, even slightly knick those precious, precious galleys.

3. Cinematic moment of discovery and triumph
Open the bubble wrap and pull out a galley like Indiana Jones unearthing an ancient, possibly-magical relic. Listen for the John Williams soundtrack soaring in the background.


4. Savor
Stare. For a good long time.


5. High-five Mary Tyler Moore.

6. A Toast!
Introduce your new friend Galley to your dear old pal Vintage Frommer’s Guidebook, the book your book is basically all about. Buy them each a drink. Let the conversation flow.

7. Back To Work
Realize you still have to review the galleys and make some last-minute updates and corrections and fix that one really awkward paragraph that has been confounding you for months.

8. Share the Moment
Also realize you should remind people of some important info, because after all that work, you think you've actually maybe done an okay-pretty-good job (especially once that paragraph is fixed) and it would really be pretty sweet if people, you know, actually bought it, read it, enjoyed it.

Pre-order links:
Also, please keep in touch!

Sign up for the e-newsletter to get updates on book launch events and info. (Two options: you can sign up for semi-regular updates from me or, if you prefer, just a reminder when the book comes out. I promise to keep it short, sweet, and sporadic--no spam.)

And! Andand. To keep in touch the old-fashioned, pen-and-paper way, send me a real letter/postcard/aerogram (template! over! here!). I promise to write back and I just might feature it in my Postcard Gallery. You can write to me at:

Doug Mack
PO Box 1922
Minneapolis, MN 55458-1922

13 July 2011

Guidebooks of doom and the new Chinese Grand Tourists

These links are a bit old, but still of note: 

The Wall Street Journal reports that in Hawaii, too many tourists are doing dangerous-slash-stupid things based on guidebook recommendations. So many, in fact, that the state legislature is considering a law to "hold Hawaii guidebook writers personally liable for deaths or accidents at spots they recommend."

I think it bears repeating: the best guide is some common sense. 

There's that old headline trope again: Europe on [monetary amount] a day, the cheap journalism cliche that originated with, of course, Europe on Five Dollars a Day, and now just won't stop. In any case, though, this article offers an interesting insight into the newest generation of Grand Tourists. Many of the points and anecdotes are similar to those in the Economist article from last year about Chinese Grand Tourists, although it's still fertile ground for storytelling. 
In the front row of the bus, Li stood facing the group with a microphone in hand, a posture he would retain for most of our waking hours in the days ahead. In the life of a Chinese tourist, guides play an especially prominent role—translator, raconteur, and field marshal—and Li projected a calm, seasoned air. He often referred to himself in the third person—Guide Li—and he prided himself on efficiency. “Everyone, our watches should be synchronized,” he said. “It is now 7:16 p.m.” He implored us to be five minutes early for every departure. “We flew all the way here,” he said. “Let’s make the most of it.”
As long as the demographics of tourists keep changing--that is, as long as more people from more places and more backgrounds start traveling--the tourist trail will continue to evolve, to have fresh stories, to retain an intrinsic newness and intrigue. Each person, each culture passing through, leaves its own mark.  

11 July 2011

An Amsterdam pirate speaks

So back in Amsterdam, on our first night together, Lee and I went to a pirate bar. You can guess whose idea this was--and which of us was somewhat convinced that he was about to inadvertently donate his skeleton to the  decor of the place. For the full story, go back and read my post "Scenes from a pirate bar in Amsterdam."

You know who else read it? Pirates. Amsterdam canal pirates. Apparently pirates read blogs. Apparently pirates, like the rest of us, like to search for themselves on the internet. (For that reason, allow me to state: Blackbeard, if you ever decide to start plundering bakeries, I'd be happy to help. Yo, ho, ho and a barrel of pain au chocolat.) Because a couple of days ago, I got a comment on that year-old post. It's disappointingly free of piratese and seafarer lingo--nary an "Aaarrr" or "Matey" or the Dutch equivalent, whatever that may be--but it's still pretty interesting. Quoth the pirate:
As one of the people working in the pirates bar, I have to comment on this, as I see it, funny post. It sounds like you entered pirates at about 10.30 pm, if at that time it was your fourth bar, you just started too early, mostly all parties start after 11 pm. I think you witnessed a pub-crawl comming every night around 10.45 pm, after that, the night starts. Yeah, there are a lot of english people on the pub-crawl, but you should have been there after 12.30, when most dutch people come to town...

Still hope you enjoyed our bar, and maybe see you another time...
Yes, Amsterdam Pirate, if Lee and I are ever in Amsterdam together again, we will definitely have to stop by and say hi. Or "Aaarrr." And, truly, thanks for clearing up the mystery of the sudden influx of Brits. We did ask a random person if it was a pub crawl, and he said no, but perhaps we just happened to ask the one person who happened to have wandered in on his own.

Also, let it be noted that the International Talk Like a Pirate Day web site has an entire page of Dutch translations of pirate vocabulary and expressions. Like:

Buit / scheepsbuit  booty, swag
Kielhalen  to drag someone along the keel of the ship
Schatkist  treasure chest

AND that same page has Dutch pirate songs. Seriously. Amsterdam Pirates Bar employee, if you're listening: mass pirate song sing-alongs would really enhance the spirit of your bar. You know those carousing Brits would love it.