Thursday, May 24, 2007

Eye Candy

Hans On Vacation

Unfortunately, there will be no posts at Hansisgreat during the next week. Hans will be on vacation, and will return on June 3rd with new posts.

The Europeans are right: most Americans don't appreciate the National Park system.

Now I'm from New Jersey, a terrific place to live in which I'm enormously happy. My town is quite charming, there's lots of employment, good schools (although I don't have kids), and lively neighborhood fun. We have beaches, forests, and easy access to Philadelphia and New York City's museums and culture. It's an awesome place to live or visit. If you've never been, you should come! I'm afraid you can't stay with me, though.

In spite of this, a change of scenery is nice from time to time. This week I'll be traveling through Southern Utah, to Zion and Bryce National Parks, an area noted for good rock-climbing, hiking, and terrific people in nearby towns. They're not dry towns, as you may have heard. Beer and wine are available, and I shall consume them both with the friendly people of the Beehive State.

After Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), was shot in Illinois, Brigham Young led his people west, ultimately to Utah in 1847. The chief obstacle to statehood was polygamy, which the church eventually renounced. There was an influx of non-Mormons after the discovery of silver in 1863, but Mormons still comprise the majority of the state's population. I've known some Mormons, even dated one for a while. They're very nice.

Zion (above) is my favorite park because it's the most diverse. Towering cliffs over narrow canyons, waterfalls, secluded pools. Definitely a bad choice if you're afraid of heights. Bryce Canyon (right) is cool too, like visiting the surface of another planet. Awe-inspiring scenery like this simply can't be found on the East Coast.

So, forgive me for leaving Hansisgreat unattended, but I've got a good reason. Enjoy the last week of May, and please check back in after my return!

Your friend,
Hans

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Eye Candy

Quotations

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune
Without the words,
And never stops at all.
Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886)


You do not need to leave your room. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
Franz Kafka (1883 - 1924)

The universe is change, our life is what our thoughts make it.
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121 - 180)

Everything has its beauty but not everyone sees it.
Confucius (551BC - 479BC)

Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.
Plato (427BC - 347BC)

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.
Helen Keller (1880 - 1968)

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end.
William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Eye Candy

Gross National Product

Here are some more fun facts from the New York Times World Almanac, a terrific book full of useful and fascinating information just like this:

Countries with highest Gross National Product per capita:
1. Luxembourg
$56,230
2. Norway
$52,030
3. Switzerland
$48,230
4. United States
$41,400
5. Denmark
$40,650
6. Iceland
$38,620
7. Japan
$37,180
8. Sweden
$35,770
9. Ireland
$34,280
10. United Kingdom
$33,940

And the five countires with the lowest GNP per capita:
5. Guinea-Bissau
$160
4. Democratic Republic of Congo
$120
3. Liberia
$110
2. Ethiopia
$110
1. Burundi
$90

Monday, May 21, 2007

Eye Candy

Water For Elephants

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
$8.37 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 1565125606
I've had my eye on this book for a while, but finally read it this week and what a rewarding experience it turned out to be! Gruen clearly did a lot of research preparing to write this novel, and paints a very vivid and meaningful picture of her setting, as well as a cast of fascinating and off-beat characters. Here's a great choice if you're looking for a fun, fast-paced story in a queer environment.
It's set in a circus in the 1930s. Our hero, Jacob, is 23 and about to take his final exam to become a veterinarian when his parents are killed in a car crash. After the funeral he discovers his family was deep in debt: his house and everything his family owned is seized by the bank as was so common in those days. With his family dead and his home taken away, there seems to be little point in staying in his small town or even finishing his schooling. He jumps onto the first train he can find, which turns out to belong to the Benzini Brothers travelling circus. Upon discovering Jacob's background as a veterinarian, he's hired by the ciurcus to tend to its menagerie of elephants, tigers, and other exotic animals.
There's a love story in here, too. Jacob falls in love with Marlena, the beautiful wife of the circus' volatile ringmaster. Their adultery gives us some romance and intrigue, which is nice, but it doesn't consume the entire plot: Water For Elephants is not a romance novel. Jacob's connection with some of the animals is fascinating in its own way, and the harsh realities of living with the circus in the 30s come to the fore as well. Al, the ringmaster, has the habit of red-lighting some of his employees: throwing them off the train in the middle of the night to avoid paying them. Rough crowd.
Contrasting this are scenes of Jacob as a 90-something old man in a nursing home, where nurses help him into a shower safety seat or wheel him to mushy meals in the home's depressing cafeteria. Strange to read about him as a studly young man and then again as a withered senior reminiscing about his life. That's what Water is really all about: making the most of one's life. Feeding 800 pound tigers on a train during the depression sounds mighty scary, but dammit, this guy lived a full and interesting life, and looks back on it with no regrets.
It's great to find a book like this: an awesome story with interesting characters, easy to get into and a page-turner until the end. Great work, Sara! This one's a must-have!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Eye Candy