So a little while ago, I hinted around about unexpected travel that took me to the land of plentiful leis. It’s true, denizens. It’s so very true. Starting the second week in March, I’ve been in and out of the lair almost every other week. It’s not typically the nature of my particular job (contrary to those unexpected “spy” rumors that have sprung up recently…that’s not Loba, denizens…that’s that other Internet PersonalityTM), but I do jump in when I am needed. Especially if being needed means getting to travel to places like Miami or Honolulu.

I ended up in both places in March, one by plan and one because of a very last minute call in which I needed to take over for someone on staff who had a family emergency. I found this out on a Friday morning; Sunday morning I was on a plane to Chicago to connect for a 9 1/2-hour flight to Hawaii. Longest flight I’ve been on thus far…long enough to read two books, develop a lasting hatred for my sprawling seat mate, and lose all feeling in my butt. Bonus!

I wish I had photos of Miami. I also wish I had more photos of Honolulu. However, the one thing that most people don’t realize when they hear that I’m jet-setting off to these places is that it’s not for fun. Even though the settings are gorgeous, that’s simply a secondary bonus. My sole focus while there is work, and that can often mean that I spend the bulk of my time sequestered in windowless sections of a hotel for the majority of my stay.

Poor, poor, pitiful me, right?

I did get the opportunity to go out and about in both places (I also got the same chance when I found myself sequestered at a hotel in downtown D.C. for a week as well…but I live here so that’s not too terribly exotic). I’ve been to Miami a few times before, so that was a nice revisit to some favorite local haunts. However, I was able to see enough of Honolulu to figure out that I definitely want to go back as soon as I can. I also know that I want to see other parts of Hawaii.

Honolulu is a very commercial area and a bit too touristy for my tastes. But it is beautiful. Plus every store you go into sells Kona coffee, which I confess I stocked up on while I was there. Okay, truth is I bought so much Kona coffee while I was there that my suitcase still smells like Starbuck’s underoos. And, yes, I know that was a vivid image…

Anyway, I promised you photos…and I always try to deliver on my promises. Here, then, are the few pictures that I was able to snap while in Honolulu. A couple are pulled from work shots that I took (“staff photographer” is one of many hats I get to wear when I’m onsite for conference detail). Most of them are of sunsets, since that was usually when my duties were over for the day.

This was the view from my balcony. Not a bad sight to wake up to every morning, eh?

And this little guy was one of the visitors who came to see me the evening I had a little time to eat dinner on the balcony. Anyone know what kind of bird this is?

Part of the Hawaii “experience” is a luau, which almost always includes a whole roasted pig. Snout, ears, and all…

(And if you must know, someone ate his ears and his snout before the evening was finished…)

What better way to wash down pig than beer? The cans are three brews from the Maui Brewing Company and the two bottles are brews from Kona Brewing Company. I’ve had experience with the latter brewery; their Longboard Lager and Pipeline Porter are two of my favorite recent discoveries. I hadn’t had their ale and the KoKo Brown brew was something I’ve never seen here on the “mainland” so I had to give both a go.

I’d also never heard of Maui before this trip, though, so when I found a six-pack sampler of three of their most popular brews (Bikini Blonde Lager, Big Swell IPA, and CoCoNut PorTer), I jumped at the chance to buy it. I’ll say simply that IPAs are not really my thing. Neither was the lager. Or the Kona ale. However, hands-down, the KoKo Brown and CoCoNut PorTer beers were simply amazing. Who knew that coconut beer could taste so great? Hawaiians, apparently…

As an FYI for those of you considering a trip to Hawaii, do yourself a favor and become very familiar with the chain over there called ABC Stores. They’re about as ubiquitous in Honolulu as 7-Elevens are here on the East Coast, and they sell practically everything you could possibly need. Case in point: I found all these beers as well as a bottle opener, bottled water, orange juice, cereal, yogurt, sliced fruit, a razor, and more things made with macadamia nuts than I ever knew existed. These stores are amazing.

And finally…the sunsets. I am sorry that I don’t have more photos to share with you…but I hope you enjoy the ones that I do have…

Flashback Friday: April 15, 1973

Thirty-eight years ago today, my mother married my father. He wore sideburns and polyester. She wore her long auburn hair piled high on her head and her bouquet was highlighted with yellow. Her favorite color.

So much changed through the years, but her smile stayed the same. Sometimes it’s her smile I miss the most.

Remember Me?

Hi, remember me? My name’s Loba and I’m the purveyor of filth and folly here at the lair. Long time no read, right? Right.

Sorry about that, denizens. I hate just ducking out like I did. Didn’t even leave a note saying I’d call or a rose on your pillow or anything. To say that my life has been in a constant state of ma-HU-ssive upheaval feels like both an understatement and a lame excuse after the fact. I can assure you all, however, that I have been going at several notches above my normal baud rate for the past month and things definitely tripped into overdrive toward the end of March.

Things are still orbiting Planet Crazy at the moment, but at least I’m able to breathe. And think about all of you. I’ve missed you. And I know I have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. So I start here, with a small gift: a rare moment of photo complacency from the elusive White Wolf. I hate being photographed, especially if it’s a photo of me doing something questionable. However, I do make exceptions. And, really, I can’t resist the opportunity to say that this is a photo of me getting ready to lei someone (this is also a big clue about part of what’s been occupying my time as of late…more on that to come very soon):

Aloha, denizens…

A View to Die For…

I love the cemeteries of New Orleans: beautiful, aged, foreign, mysterious. My first trip to the Crescent City was incomplete until I was able to sneak away from work long enough for a stroll through St. Louis Cemetery #1. Many of you have probably seen this particular cemetery without even realizing it. Ever see Easy Rider? Then you should recognize this tomb:

If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m not going to ruin it now by telling you what happens on this particular statue. Suffice it to say, however, that because of that scene, the city of New Orleans has banned all production companies from ever again filming in St. Louis #1. Thank you, Peter Fonda.

However, there is another movie link inside this particular cemetery. Everything from the One…

This, denizens, would be the property of Nicolas Cage. I’ve read that this tomb had something to do with National Treasure 3. Since I have spared my brain the torment of watching any of these films, I cannot confirm this. However, our tour guide informed us that Cage plans to use this as his final resting place when his own Ghost Rider comes looking for him. Until then, the tomb is inhabited by Cage’s acting ability, which, let’s be honest, was DOA anyway.

Other famous names from history already reside at St. Louis #1, including Homer Plessy, he of the landmark 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the erroneous concept of “separate but equal.”

Then there is Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. This is a bouquet left for the Voodoo Queen (note the triple Xs all over her crypt; no, she wasn’t also a porn star…some believe the Xs are a sign of gratitude to the queen and her powers, even from beyond the grave).

There are other noteworthy burials inside this cemetery, but these are the only ones I snapped shots of before being distracted by the actual beauty of this cemetery. It’s located in a rather “off” section of the city, so if you visit it, please do so with a group. Trust me, you won’t regret your visit.

In Beauty, There Is Truth

Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.

I know. Most people found that line, and that scene, from American Beauty to be cheesy. I remember it bringing tears to my eyes. Guess I’m just a soppy girl after all.

It’s so easy to be jaded, so easy to lose faith, lose sight, lose hope. But sometimes…sometimes, you stumble upon a moment of beauty so overwhelming, that you’re left breathless and restored at the same time. I found such moments while driving into Sedona, Arizona, this past weekend.

I wish I could find the words, but they elude even me.

I wish my camera could have captured the rawness and the majesty of every moment. But nothing comes close.

Still, I did try. And these are some of my favorite moments. I hope you enjoy them…

Beignets and Beads and Brass Bands

“I’m not going to lay down in words the lure of this place. Every great writer in the land, from Faulkner to Twain to Rice to Ford, has tried to do it and fallen short. It is impossible to capture the essence, tolerance, and spirit of south Louisiana in words and to try is to roll down a road of clichés, bouncing over beignets and beads and brass bands and it just is what it is.

It is home.”

—Chris Rose

New Orleans is a city haunted. Not by the Gothic vampires of Anne Rice’s devising, who slither through the shadows of a long forgotten (if ever existent) French Quarter. Not with the tall tales told by tour guides, who give tourists all the voodoo and mystery they suspect we seek.

These are the ghosts of decadence and impropriety, purged a million times over from the hearts of those who still teem to the Big Easy, looking for bliss in the bottom of shots of whatever is the cheapest path to total inebriation…clinging to strings of plastic beads, hoping to entice a slip of skin, a naked curve…pressing into the myriad packed bars, the surge and throb of music as inescapable as the heat and humidity that drips from the tips of your hair and makes grinding against a total stranger a slick, sticky encounter most likely forgotten by the time the diffused gray mist of morning light slips quietly down Bourbon Street.

Laissez les bons temps rouler.

These are the ghosts of sorrow and loss—the ghosts of miseries borne on shoulders that sink from ineffable sadness but still carry on. They haunt your thoughts as you walk the claustrophobic streets, the whisper of wrought iron slithering across edifices crumbled by time and tempest. They mingle with the tantalizing scents of Cajun and Creole cuisine that blessedly hold back the unpleasant undertones of Bourbon Street’s unseemly stench, rising from mysterious pools that slough down cracked and shifting sidewalks.

They come to you in visions of New Orleans under siege, under water.

Apres moi, le deluge.

You find yourself looking for the scars, wondering where the wounds were deepest. It’s a sick curiosity, but one that seeps in slowly, subconsciously: as you wipe away powdered sugar from your lips, the heat and grease of that last beignet still staining your fingertips; as you stroll Le Rue Royale, perusing galleries filled with local artistry that leaves you breathless from its beauty; as you slip from that last bar, the bitter tang of Sazerac expelled from your lips with each exhalation.

You remember the images. You remember the stories. The loss. The chaos and devastation. How could this city survive? How could it continue on?

New Orleans is a city haunted. But New Orleans is not a city dead.

Its life comes from its people. For many, to be from New Orleans means to be New Orleans. The Mississippi flows through their veins, strong as a chicory brew, and there is no home for them beyond this Crescent City.

Katrina may have displaced them briefly, but their migration home was as miraculous and meant to be as the swallows’ annual arrival at Capistrano. Some returned before the waters had finished receding. Some never left. All have sworn fealty.

New Orleans is a living, breathing entity. It wraps you in its history, its charms, its decadence. Its soul is Cajun hot and jazz blue, with a zing of zydeco on the side. If it seems weary at times, it’s because this is the city that never sleeps. It is constantly alive, constantly awake, constantly singing, dancing, drinking, swearing, loving, screaming, smoking, driving, pulsing, moving, rolling ever onward. Perpetual as the tides, unceasing as the universe itself.

Sur-Cease and Nepenthe

As I previously mentioned, our drive along California Highway 1 was a little bit of a wash-out. The rain started early and streamed down unrelentingly for a good portion of our journey.

However, as we continued south toward Big Sur, the damask of drizzle finally shook free, and we saw the faintest line of orange break through the steely gray horizon, pushing its warm glow further and further outward each passing mile.

I pulled over a few times, trying to capture the sense of transcendent joy that overwhelmed us at the appearance of sunlight, even if only for the briefest of performances. Ironically, however, one of my favorite shots from these stops was one that shows no sign of sunshine at all:

There’s such a palpable undercurrent of desolation to this photo. Honestly, I keep expecting to catch a glimpse of plastic wrapping and Laura Palmer’s water-soaked curls just out of view behind one of those rocks.

Don’t cry, Andy. It’ll be all right.

Needless to say, this image greatly appeals to my darker sensibilities.

We continued a little further past this point, the sunshine strangely growing in intensity the further south we traveled, yet gloriously diffused by tendrils of mist that slipped along the mountainous crags with sultry ease.

Our final destination was Nepenthe, a restaurant that received convincing enough praise from the folks at Lonely Planet that I figured it would be a lovely end to a long drive. It was here that the sun made its final bid at breathtaking before dipping back to bed:

I do believe this might be what is known as “the money shot.” It’s certainly one of my favorite non-aquarium photos from the day.

As for Nepenthe, if you ever find yourself wandering the edges of California’s coast around Big Sur, you should definitely keep this place in mind. It’s a delightful stop, perched precariously above the water’s edge and providing views that were breathtaking even in the midst of misty gloom. Add to this a roaring fire at the heart of the dining area, cozy cushioned seating with pillows and candles galore, wonderfully bohemian wait staff, and simple yet simply delicious meals, it was indeed worth the drive.

SanFran PSA

It would be a magnificent lie if I wrote right now that I try to keep things non-biased and non-political here at the lair. I really don’t try that at all. And while things are nowhere near the level of political that they were in my Angry BloggerTM days (and while I’m nowhere near as big a blue jackass donkey as I was in those days either), I still like to throw out the occasional political jab.

Like this one. I came across this sticker while wandering back from my walk to the Pacific through Golden Gate Park. It was stuck to a telephone pole somewhere on Fulton Street:

There’s really nothing else to say after that. Although, I do very much enjoy the little heart at the end of this message. See? It’s a PSA written with nothing but love, denizens. Just like everything else that appears here at the lair…

Admiral, There Be Whales Here!

Let’s revisit Loba’s San Francisco trip!

Okay, so Kirk and Spock didn’t actually go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to find George and Gracie, the whales that would save humanity from that giant…cylinder of lead. They went to the “Sausalito Cetacean Institute,” a magical place right on the outskirts of San Francisco. (We went to Sausalito. There were no whales there. No nuclear wessels either. Groovy T-shirt shop though.)

And, yeah yeah, there weren’t any actual whales at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (other than the giant humpback whale sculpture suspended from the ceiling near the aquarium entrance). However, how could I not jump at the chance to visit the place where Spock swam with George and Gracie?

I do believe, in fact, that this was the tank into which Leonard Nimoy made his Vulcan plunge:

(Not that difficult a guess, really…this is pretty much the warp core of the aquarium. And, yes, I am going to milk this Trekkiness for as much as I can.)

So, yeah, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was in the back of my mind the entire time we were at the aquarium. It is, after all, one of my three favorites of the Star Trek movie franchise. On a really nostalgic day? It might actually be my favorite. After all, it was the first Trek movie I ever saw. We always have a special place in our hearts for our firsts, eh? Besides, it’s funny, silly, and utterly quotable. My favorite TOS character, Dr. McCoy, in fact delivered the lines that never fail to make me laugh out loud each time I hear them:

McCoy: My God, man. Do you want an acute case on your hands? This woman has immediate postprandial, upper-abdominal distention. Now, out of the way! Get out of the way!
[They enter the operating room]
Kirk: What did you say she has?
McCoy: Cramps.

Seriously, nails me every time. Wow, but I love DeForest Kelley.

But this isn’t about Star Trek (Really? Could have fooled us, Loba. Shut up.). This is about the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Yes, it’s a bit of a haul from San Francisco, but it’s totally worth the drive, especially if you choose to go there via California State Route 1. What a gorgeous stretch of road! I’ve wanted to drive along Highway 1 for years. My only regret is that it was utterly dismal weather the day we drove along this beautiful stretch of California coastline: dark, thunderous skies; torrential rainfall; and a constant, chilling wind.

However, none of this had much impact on the aquarium experience (although the poor little sea otters were stuck out in it all day). Here, then, are my favorite shots from the aquarium:

I wish I could have gotten some better shots of the sea otters, as they were the “stars” I most wanted to see. However, the murky skies and the steady rain played quite a downer of a role in setting up pretty shots. Plus, the sea otters seemed a bit off that day (gee, wonder why?). I’m just glad I got even these semi-salvageable shots. Yeah, it is blurry and a bit dark, but how cute is that pic of the sea otter snout zooming toward me?

That was the other thing that I learned while at the aquarium: I still have quite a bit to learn about taking photos with my Big Girl camera. While I confess that some of the blurring in these photos was intentional (I love the simulation of motion in photos sometimes), some of it was simply user error that worked to my advantage…sometimes. Those photos that don’t fall into the category of “sometimes” shall remain far, far away from the lair…