Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Taste of Adventure

Travel is always an adventure, one aspect of which is trying new food and drink. When I spent a summer in Spain during my college days, I set the challenge of trying at least a taste of everything new that I was served. I ended up trying--and liking--some things I probably never would have tried at home, octopus and squid among them. When I went to Vietnam last year, I was not quite so open, vowing not to even taste dog or cat were I offered them. Different spices on meat that I consider fit to eat, fine, but meat from an animal I consider to be pet material? No way!

Meeting up with the Aussies in New Mexico gave me the chance to try something I'd only heard of and not necessarily in complimentary terms, Vegemite. For those who may not know much about Vegemite, here's the Wikipedia summary: "Vegemite is made from used brewers' yeast extract, a by-product of beer manufacturing, and various vegetable and spice additives. It is salty, slightly bitter, and umami or malty — similar to beef bouillon. The texture is smooth and sticky. It is not as intensely flavoured as British Marmite and it is less sweet than the New Zealand version of Marmite." The Aussies had some along and were all too willing to share, so I had to give it a go. They warned me that the other Americans with whom they'd spent time had not liked it, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. Diane from Canada didn't let it stop her either, and here's her reaction. She went straight for the milk, which seemed to help. I didn't have quite that reaction, though I can't say I'll be seeking out a jar here so as to have my own supply. As Wikipedia says, it's salty, and I didn't find the taste to be one I'd like first thing in the morning, for breakfast. I tend to like salty foods later in the day, occasionally or often with a beer. I think I'd like Vegemite better under those circumstances than for breakfast.

Speaking of salt, Sarah makes a mean margarita, from scratch, no margarita mixer allowed. I even helped squeeze the limes. Margaritas were new for the Aussies, and Gilly's reaction to hers was even better than Diane's Vegemite face. Here it is, in sequence. First, the preparation ... then, a sip ... then the reaction ... followed by ... and ... and then ... and finally ... I think that's relief that the first taste is over. Not to worry. Gilly survived her first margarita, just as Diane and I survived our first tastes of Vegemite. We all had a taste of adventure and lived to tell and laugh about it. Plus, the Aussies ended up with more Vegemite left than they might have had Diane and I really taken a liking to it, and some of us ended up with seconds and more on the margaritas.

And just in case any reader is wondering, both Diane and Gilly agreed to my posting their photos here. Yes, I asked them since they, after all, have much they could tell on me should I inadvertently tick them off.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Continuing Right Along ...

As I was saying, I was in New Mexico with friends for a few days, and since they were very fun friends, it all made for some very fun days. Diane, from Canada, and I met up at the Denver Airport on a Friday and flew together to El Paso, where Sarah, our NM hostess, picked us up in her new-to-her Mazda 5 mini-minivan, Bling. Bling was not having a good day, though, and wouldn't let the rear passenger-side door open when we stopped for drinks and snacks before the drive to Las Cruces. No worries. Diane, who was sitting in the back, just got out the rear driver-side door. Sarah was a bit miffed since the rear doors had supposedly been fixed with the 30-day warranty period that had by then ended. Little did we know then that by the end of the trip, Bling would become known as "the Clown Car" when both rear side doors stopped working, threatening to strand six women who wanted to go places. It turned out to be a good thing all six of us had senses of adventure and humour. (I added the "u" in honour of the Canadian-Australian element of the story.)

Our first stop Saturday morning was the Las Cruces market that covered four blocks of the pedestrian mall downtown. If you wanted it, you could probably find it there, from flowering plants to kitschy purses
to dogs. This one was not up for adoption, though there were plenty that were.

I missed out on a photo of the two-level dog stroller being "driven" by a woman with also managing two dogs on leashes, one in each of her hands. Diane and Sarah stimulated the local economy at several of the jewelery vendors, while my major outlay was made at the knife maker's stand. Each son now has a hand-crafted knife chosen to fit their particular personalities and needs. I told Sarah that on my next visit, the knife I buy will be mine.

Sometime around the time we left the market, the second rear side door stopped working, so I started putting the front passenger seat down all the way and crawling through to the back seat. Diane then put the front seat up and sat there. We still had to go back to the El Paso airport for the two Terri and Gilly, the two Aussies, but we figured that we could put one of the far rear seats down, someone could go in the rear hatch and occupy the other seat next to all the luggage. The middle two seats would have to be accessed via the reclined front passenger seat.

The Aussies' flight from Dallas to El Paso was delayed, so we had some extra time to kill at the El Paso airport. They do have some nice metalwork there. as well as a rather inane message on their arrival board. What other kind of message do they expect me to watch for? An auditory one?

Fast forward to the Aussies having been picked up in El Paso and returned to Las Cruces, and the final friend, MJ, arrived from Texas in the company of her husband Wayne, who took group photos with each person's camera then beat a hasty retreat to his hotel. He planned to go hiking the next day, while we went to White Sands. With a sixth person added, the Clown Car came into her own and merited a dedicated photo sequence. (Video exists, too, but not on a camera to which I have access.) Here's how we got into the car all day Sunday. First, Gilly reclined the passenger-side front seat to "assume the position" in the passenger-side middle seat. This allowed Diane to crawl through to the driver-side middle seat. Then, with the passenger-side rear seat down, Terri climbed into the driver-side one. Of course, this all took place somewhat simultaneously. That's MJ, waiting for the passenger seat to go back up. A place for everyone and everyone in her place.

Finally, the passenger-side rear seat got raised, and I went in over the back. We only had to do this full routine for one full day, but in that day we got into and out of the car at least five times.

We were lucky that the first time was not at the "border crossing," because I'm not sure what the border patrol folks would have thought of the routine. No, we did not actually cross a border and leave the United States. It just so happens that there are at least two points along New Mexico's interstate highways at which all traffic bound away from the real border must stop. An officer asks about the citizenship of everyone in the car, and non-citizens are asked to show their passports. Our Aussies and Canadian had their passports handy, though the officer told the Texan in the car that she might want to go back and get hers. The drug-sniffing dog--at least that's what sort of dog I assume it was-- did not alert on the Clown Car, so we passed through with no problem.

White Sands was a huge draw when the chance to go to New Mexico to meet Terri and Gilly came up. I first visited White Sands when we had a similar gathering of quilters in Las Cruces two years ago. I found it to be an incredibly powerful landscape, a truly magical place. The white sand has passed for snow in photographs, and they actually remove the sand that blows onto the road with snowplows. The Visitor Center also sells saucer sleds and wax for, yes, sledding down some of the dunes. I expect that the National Park Service (White Sands is a National Monument, not a National Park) knows that people will try this whether it's allowed or not, so they might as well help it be done safely. There are signs along the first part of the road that ask folks not to sled or play in the dunes at that point, but to wait until further in. If you think I'm pulling your leg about the sleds, here's the sign outside the gift shop at the Visitor Center. In addition to passing for snow, the white sands could easily be a beach, particularly when viewed from the boardwalk from which one can observe various native flora and fauna tracks. What appears to be water off the end of the boardwalk in this photo is actually the mountains in the distance. As you walk along the boardwalk, though, you really, really expect there to be a beach and water at the end. Alas, it's just more sand, albeit beautiful sand, albeit sand in which one can make a pretty realistic snow angel. Unfortunately, the sledding photos were taken by others, so I can't prove we did sled down one of the dunes in a saucer sled. It was a blast, though, probably just as fast as snow would have been. I commend Diane on the job she did waxing the sled.

Back in Las Cruces, we stopped for lunch at the Double Eagle in Old Mesilla. Besides very good food and service, it had a side room with an amazing stained glass ceiling. Then we did some shopping, including at a shop with a room full of crosses. The next day, Monday, we headed north to Albuquerque, where another friend, Carla, is working as the set decorator on the USA series In Plain Sight. Since MJ's husband was coming along, we had an extra car, helpful in that we no longer had to do the full Monty of entering and exiting the Clown Car. But back to In Plain Sight. On a movie or TV show, the set decorator is the person who decorates the sets, which sounds much more trivial than it really is. She's the one who makes the setting that the viewer sees believable, from the loose change in the dish on top of the dresser, to the hodgepodge of junk that always seems to accumulate in one of your desk drawers, to the mismatched furniture some characters might have in their living rooms.

As you might imagine, decorating sets requires access to, well, just about anything and everything. Carla says that Google has made her job so much easier than it used to be. Still, the show keeps rooms full of life available for immediate use, everything from chairs to clocks to things that can hang to produce for a market scene. There's even the kitchen sink. There's also this cool hand, which I'm including simply because I really like this photo. Returning to the production facility after a late lunch (though not as late as the cast and crew were having that day since they don't eat lunch until six hours after they start for the day, which that day was at 10:00 a.m.), we actually ran into the star of the show, Mary McCormack (who plays Mary Shannon). I was quite impressed with how gracious she was to a bunch of random people being shown around by the set designer. She introduced herself and suggested we do a photo, not just there out in the hallway, but why not in on the set, in "her" apartment? So we did. As astute readers may have figured out, the man in the photo is Wayne, MJ's husband. And that's MJ at the opposite end of the photo. In front of Wayne is Gilly, then Terry, then Mary McCormack (whom viewers of In Plain Sight will recognize), then Diane, then me, with Sarah in front of Diane and me. Carla was the photographer. I'm still amazed at how pleasant Mary was, but then maybe I'm jaded by having read of too many celebrities who are just too full of themselves.

It's three-plus hours one way between Las Cruces and Albuquerque, plus a stop at the "border" on the way there, but it was well worth the time in the car to see what goes in to making a TV series. From the rooms full of potential props to the rooms of costumes to the shop where things that can't be bought are built, it was easy to see what a boon something like this can be to a local economy. While the actors and upper staff--producers, directors, and so on--come in from outside, much of the people behind the scenes are hired locally. And the ones that come in from outside need places to stay, food to eat, and so on.

After the In Plain Sight visit, MJ and Wayne stayed in Albuquerque, while the rest of us returned to Las Cruces. The next day, Tuesday, we figured out that the Clown Car could indeed hold five people, four of whom had luggage. Sarah drove, with Terri in the passenger seat. Diane had her usual seat behind the driver, while Gilly had her usual seat behind the front passenger. I sat in between them, on Gilly's duffel bag. All the other luggage fit in the back. Terri and Gilly got on a flight to Denver then Los Angeles and Disneyland, while Diane and I checked into the Wyndham Hotel at the airport, the better for Diane to catch a 6:15 a.m. flight the next day and for me to catch a 6:48 a.m. one. We took a walk that included admiring the amazing statue outside the aiport. What's most amazing about it is how big it is, better shown in this shot. And now I'm back home, in real life again, but hoping to return to New Mexico someday soon. I could see flying into Albuquerque and heading south, stopping to see the Very Large Array on the way to Las Cruces. Then the market and some fun with Sarah and another trip to the magical White Sands. It might be interesting to continue on to Roswell, and/or to time the trip for one of the two dayss each year that Trinity Site is open to the public, the first Saturday in April and October. It's on the list of places to which I would like to return, right up there with Iceland, Vietnam, and Cambodia. So many places, so little time.