Monday, June 08, 2009

Mexico Lindo

Mexico Lindo describes itself as a "Family Restaurant and Cantina." It has four locations-- Melrose and Methuen in
Massachusetts, South Portland and Portland in Maine. We visited the one located at 865 Forest Avenue in Portland,
just down the street from The Caravan Bead Shop. Steps and a ramp lead up to the front doors which are situated
behind a Thai Restaurant. Once inside, we saw colorful clean premises and cheery personnel. We were immediately
seated in a booth whose table was painted flamingo pink, given menus, and asked what we wished to drink. Along with
the water (no straws) came a basket of chips and some watered down but fresh salsa. The salsa did not have much
hotness to it and we figured that was in deference to northern gringos who dislike food that burns on its way down
the esophogeal canal. The chips were homemade and delicious.

For our main courses, I had Carnitas de Res (8.45 lunch special in the back of the menu) and companion had Chicken
Mole (also an 8.45 lunch special). According to the menu, my dish is described as "Top sirlion, grilled and sliced
with bell peppers and onions, sauteed in...mild sauce, served with rice and beans and melted cheese, guacamole and...
warm corn or flour tortillas." The meat was sliced thin and flavorful. the bell peppers and onions were fresh. The
sauce was tomato-based and yummy. The rice was separate from the beans with melted cheese but were easily mixed
together to form a satisfying repast. I chose the flour tortillas. They were good.

Companion's chicken mole sauce was peanut butter based with less chocolate and more cinnamon than I personally care
for. The chicken was shredded nicely and well cooked. Coleslaw was crisp. His rice and beans were served the same
way as mine. Companion remarked that his corn tortillas tasted suspiciously of wheat (a potential problem for any
patrons with celiac disease). Otherwise, companion enjoyed his meal.

We declined dessert. Our bill came to under 20 dollars. Recommended for those on the road and looking for something
slightly different but reasonably priced lunch.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey

Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Ballantine Books, 1968. paperback, 337 pps.

Naturally since I am on an island in the northeastern part of the United States this week, I decided to pick up an Edward Abbey book about living in the desert of Utah for reading. Abbey was a guy (he is dead now) who liked his living and had many things to say about stuff I am just getting educated about now. The books covers a couple of
summers worth of time spent living in an old trailer at Utah Arches before Industrial Tourism came in and wrecked everything. Abbey had a pithy style of telling stories interspersed with humor which I admire greatly. He spoke about the desert surrounding the town of Moab, the hikes he took, his reflections on nature as found in the desert, the great irrigation and dam projects which served to and continue to serve to obliterate much of what was once remote and beautiful. Glen Canyon was one such place and Abbey described a rafting trip there before the engineers took over.

Abbey and his friend with one bum leg navigated the Glen canyon on a blow-up boat-- no leaks, rips, or holes the whole trip. There was catfish aplenty, a few day hikes which Abbey took alone, petroglyphs and pictoglyphs left by the natives in times past. It sounded grand and I would have liked to float through Glen Canyon myself.

On another trip, Abbey went down the Grande Canyon in Arizona (I'd been to the rim) and he stopped at the Indian settlement at the bottom. The folks there had been wise enough to refuse the government's offer of a "free road" which would have enabled more tourists to wreck havoc with their way of life. Abbey stayed in the tourist hostel one night, then rented a house. He floated a few more miles down the Colorado River and slept out in the stars among some old ruins. It sounded wonderful!

Abbey's dealings with the tourists passing through Arches is not to be missed. Of particular hilarity are the questions that the tourists asked him over and over again. His comment on television caused me to laugh out loud. Something there about vacuum tubes. Many of the tourists complained about the rutted road they had to take to go into the Arches and leave by in order to get to the highway. At that time, there was also no soda machine-- that little "problem" has probably been fixed by now.

It is hard to summarize this book. A few of the things Abbey talked about I had passed through on my cross-country trip several years ago. Most of it was foreign to me and even so I was moved when reading about the plight of the desert out west. I came away with a distinct feeling that I will not purchase any land west of the 100th meridian and a desire to see more of the desert which I had caught only glimpses of in my travels.

Highly recommended for those who like the outdoors and simple living.

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Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost

J. Maarten Troost, Lost on Planet China. New York: Doubleday, 2008. paperback, 382 pps.

I have become a fan of Troost. I was first introduced to his rollicking style in The Sex Lives of Cannibals and went
on to laugh through Getting Stoned with Savages. Lost on Planet China is Troost's third book and I hope there are
many more to come.

J. Maarten Troost decided to go check out China. He was unable to pick up any Mandarin Chinese and knew virtually
no one when he landed in China. The book narrates his haphazard voyages around mainland China. I learned several
things from this book: the air in China is incredibly foul, and so are the bathrooms. Prostitution is rampant there.
Karaoke bars are very popular. At one such bar, he was forced to sing "Hotel California" for his guide of the day
whose name was MewMew. People are numerous. Lines are disorderly and little kids are encouraged to use the streets
as a restroom. And I won't quickly forget the mental image of schoolkids pissing on the Great Wall.

While retaining his humor, Troost also addresses the race toward Industrialization and Bigger Cities that continues
to be going on in China as well as the desert which continues to threaten to overtake Bejiing. Not a riotous book
but still recommended to those who like his writing.

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Down the Nile, Rosemary Mahoney

Rosemary Mahoney, Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2007. paperback, 269 pps
excluding bibliography and reading group guide.

Rosemary Mahoney is a rower by choice. She likes it. She first began to row from a Casco Bay Island in Maine where
she used to live to the mainland. She continues to row where she now lives in Rhode Island. Having been to Egypt
a couple times before, Mahoney became enamoured of the Nile itself as well as with the folks who live along side it.
She decided that she wanted to row part of the Nile.

The problem is that (most of Egypt is Muslim and there are a few Coptic Christians thrown in for good measure) as a
woman in Egypt, Egyptian men did not believe that she should or could do much strenuous work. She found the purchase
of a skiff to be very difficult. She ran into an Egyptian man who did allow her to row his boat around the hotel
where she was staying at. The friendship between her and Amr resulted in her being a guest in his home on Elephantine
Island. At long last, she was allowed to row his boat partway up the Nile with his felucca sailing behind her. At
a halfway point, she takes her leave of Amr and succeeds in buying her own skiff. She rowed the rest of the journey

rosemary Mahoney has written a fine book. The rowing is essential to the story but also a backdrop. Through her
experiences, she illustrates the difficulties that vastly different cultures have in understanding each other. She
also quotes from the travels of several other Nile travelers-- among them Florence Nightingale. Florence Nightingale
was far more than the nurse I had learned about in grade school. For me, the book got off to a slow start, the middle
was excellent, and the ending was rather anticlimactically and suffered a certain lack. At any rate, this book comes
recommended to armchair travelers looking for something a bit different. I also must admit that Down the Nile seems
to me to be very much chick lit and not something that the average man would appreciate.

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Bitter is the New Black

Jen Lancaster, Bitter is the New Black. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. paperback, 400 pps.

Jen Lancaster had a high tech career and an expensive wardrobe, a live-in boyfriend, and a penthouse apartment in
Chicago. The memoir opens with a series of e-mails before one is transported to a high-tech chartered fishing boat
where she holds court via an impromtu comedy routine. She was a rising star in the company one day with a promotion
in hand. The company was in the process of a merger/takeover and thus two days later she was dismissed. Laid off.
Done. Five years later she was still unemployed.

During those five years, Lancaster sold most of her extravagances on E-Bay. She also married the boyfriend, moved to
a "slum" (in comparison with her old digs), and acquired two dogs. She never did buy the fancy 8K couch with no
back. The two dogs were a total riot, her quest to find employment was one I can relate to. These days employers
want one's experience to be specific to their job offer. For instance, years of tutoring adults with a myriad of
disabilities somehow does not translate into the ability to make sure that the folks living in a community residence
for those with "mental health challenges" are doing their laundry on a regular basis or washing dishes.

The reason why I had picked up this book at the island library buck for a book sale is that Lancaster became a blogger
during the time of her unemployment. In fact, she was not hired at one company because they had mysteriously "found"
her blog. She had published a list of places which passed on her for work. Some of that company's client companies
had made the list. The interesting thing about finding her blog is that the domain wasn't registered to her, but
rather to her live-in boyfriend. The personnel woman refused to say how her blog had been found. It turned out that
a former co-worker competing for the same position had spilt the beans about Lancaster's website.

The first half of the book to me was boring. I have never been a clothes horse. Lancaster made the point many times
over that she was. The second half moved quicker for me and there were some priceless moments. Her description of
her Las Vegas wedding made me smile. The best thing about the book was it left me curious about her blog.

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