Monthly Archives: January 2018

Art and the world

On the local radio station – well, not technically local, but close enough – a new song came on around the end of 2017. The lyrics are simple, and the melody is said to symbolize an emerging music genre called “alternative dance,” combining alternative rock of the 1990s with the dance craze. The song was “No Roots” by Alice Merton.

Video courtesy of YouTube. 

Music is said to be a universal language, and the stories of the places that musicians and artists tell. Merton is no exception, and the lyrics are largely autobiographical. She was born in Frankfurt, Germany, to a German mother and an Irish father. During her childhood, she spent time all over the world, due to her father being constantly reassigned for work. Among the places she spent times were Connecticut, Ontario and various parts of Canada, Munich, then to Mannheim for her musical education. Her mother also spent time in France, and she’s currently based out of Oakville, Ontario. A road well-traveled, Merton re-connected with her German heritage upon arriving in Munich and began learning the language to communicate with her grandmother. Reportedly, they had seen each other only once before then.

In fact, this story has similarities with my own. I grew up in the same place for most of my life, a college town in southern Indiana. My dad grew up in Wemmel, a Flemish-speaking suburb of Brussels, and my mom was based in Nashville, Tennessee. I don’t know our official heritage on that side, but I’ve heard some stories. I’d imagine Anglo-Saxon would be very close, but she once told me (around 20 or so years ago) that she was contacted by a man in Francophone Canada who said they may have had a common relative. I’m not sure if that ever panned out, but I’d love to try to find that. And like Alice Merton, my linguistic journey starts out in a similar way. My grandmother spoke no English, and I spoke no Dutch or Flemish. But she did speak French, so I learned it as a way to communicate with her whenever I could. I was so good at it so early that I majored in it all the way through college. Over the years, I started picking up others, including my dad’s family’s native tongue. Ik ben zo trots om meer talen te leren. 

I’ve often felt that the languages and the theatre and acting side combined together perfectly. I’ve certainly won roles because I could speak some French. In fact, in one role, I was said to be the only actor in the main cast who didn’t need a dialect coach. It may be imitation, but I supposedly have a good ear for these things.

Art knows no language. Art knows no boundaries. It’s been said it requires only four things to keep it going: an artist, an audience, a venue, and an idea. As long as you have all four of them together, art will always be a survivor.

Art can be done in the streets, as entertainment and protest, as music, as theatre, as dance. It can be done in sporting arenas, which often give us a perfect blend of true-life drama. Poetry in motion is all around this world. Everybody has a rhythm to life. I’m grateful I get to be a part of it.

Art, travel, and a strong sense of family: what more could a guy ask for?

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Writing on the spectrum

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Uncle Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson), Spider-Man 

So far, this 2018 year has been an overwhelming success. I may be tempting fate by writing this post, but I’ve been able to expand this blog to a wider global audience. But I have to admit, being autistic in America is very different than being autistic in other countries. I feel like my great power, and my great responsibility, is to shatter many of the myths and the misconceptions. Perhaps some of you may realize, “Hey, I never really thought of it that way.”

Around the end of the calendar year in 2017, I got a major boost in viewership from a link to other autistic blog sites, both on WordPress and in other domains. And I have to admit that the logo is really nice. It appears to be a megaphone that’s pointing outward and releasing the autistic voices into the world. The logo was designed by the site Aspie Under Your Radar, https://visualvox.wordpress.com/, and with their permission, this could be a new badge of honor for a lot of us.

For all the troubles going on in the world, travel is said to be a beautiful thing that will hopefully bring many of us together. I may not be able to drive you there (see my previous post), I may have difficulty with some of the food, but I will do my best to fit in, to try to find my place in the world. Hopefully, the world can also accommodate some of us whenever possible. I am proud to be a citizen of the world, born and raised in the United States, but also be of Belgian heritage. Perhaps, in writing, and sharing my experiences culturally and psychologically, there’s a place where I belong after all.

I proudly share with all of you. Hope you’ll stop by and say hi every once in a while. 🙂

Two steps forward?

Not that it’s really a secret, but it is a little embarrassing to talk about. But I also feel like as painful as it is, it’s necessary to try to get people to understand. I don’t know how to drive a car, or ride a bike.

One of the most infuriating parts about being on the spectrum is how people think it’s a lack of desire that is the main cause. They’re half right. The lack of desire is there, but it’s not the main cause. That lack of desire is brought on by a lack of know-how. I had a learner’s permit when I was 15 and 16 years old, but even then, I could tell that I wasn’t cut out for it. What’s even more upsetting to me is that I cost myself a chance to audition for the spring musical my freshman year of high school. The fact I likely wouldn’t have made it aside, at least auditioning would have been a better use of my time. At least I could do what they were asking me to do. Acting was the easy part. Driving, not so much.

It’s true that there are some autistics that can drive. And more power to them. But I think it’s fair to wonder if they’re just a lucky exception instead of the norm. Ordinarily, driving defensively would be considered a good thing. Except when you’re an autistic 15-year-old in Indiana, trying to fit in during your freshman year. I can’t tell me how many times my dad would get frustrated and raise his voice when I wouldn’t speed up. Most kids at that age tend to be a little reckless. I was the complete opposite, but that wasn’t much better. The rigidity of rules was so high here that I created a hazard by following them. The manual said not to touch the line in a no passing zone, so I didn’t. I drifted as far to the right to the road as I could….constantly. A few times, including twice with my driving instructor, I ended up on the side of the road. And there was nobody else in the car to distract me. I doubt it would have made a difference, but I do think I was unfairly singled out in my class. I was the only one granted that exemption. Over the years, I wonder if I really should have had it.

The following story is all true. I couldn’t make it up if I tried. It’s too humiliating to be false.

When I had my permit at 15-16, I once drove with my cousin Troy one time, driving a pretty hefty truck. We were in a residential neighborhood, near a cul-de-sac. I pulled out of said cul-de-sac, and headed into the neighborhood, with a 10 mph speed limit. Ours was the only car on the road, in large part because it was a Sunday morning (ergo many were at church or early work). Instead of going too fast, I went too slow off of a speed bump, and amazingly at first, I didn’t have enough momentum to get over it. I accelerated just a little bit, mistimed it, and veered off the road…and straight into a mailbox. Nobody was hurt, but the mailbox was almost obliterated. I think I drove two times after that, and both were unmitigated disasters. The first of the last two times, I was unable to control my fine and gross dexterity, so I almost careened off a blind curve with no guardrail, and on top of that the engine gave out; and the last time, the only time I finally felt brave enough to venture closer to the median line in a no-passing zone, I narrowly missed side-swiping somebody. The margin was just over an inch. My dad yelled at me for not paying attention, and it was then then I realized: I was a hazard behind the wheel.

He forgot that story, but I never have. I reminded him of it about a year or so ago, and I think he finally gave up trying to get me to try again. I told him this: I’m trying to protect everybody, not just myself. 

To recap: I hit a mailbox in a dead end going ten miles an hour on a dead Sunday morning. If I can’t do that part right, how can I be expected to go 55 in traffic five days a week? 

On top of that, I never learned how to ride a bike either. I tried and tried and tried, but I could never balance properly. I’d always tilt to one side or the other. This was more emotionally painful for me than driving because as a half-Belgian, they are crazy about cycling over there. I felt like a fraud. 

If I can’t do it on two wheels, how can I be expected to do it on four, and vice-versa? 

This and my diet are the two worst parts of being autistic. But even the diet isn’t that bad. Because there are other people with dietary issues, such as gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance, etc. But I bet they know how to drive. It’s humiliating and embarrassing enough to not be able to do it, but what makes it worse is having to explain why.

“Safety first” is one of the first lessons we’re taught of children. Does it suddenly become waived as we get older? No. And it shouldn’t.

Over the years, I’ve gotten accustomed to walking. But even on flat sidewalks, I’ve tripped. I turned my ankle pretty badly walking on a flat sidewalk with no elevation. Even that is hit or miss sometimes. But I still do it. There, I can put my best foot forward – pun completely intended.

So, I want to clear something up once and for all. I want anybody who reads this to do so carefully. In fact, I’d suggest you read it multiple times.

I don’t walk everywhere for exercise purposes (although that is an added benefit). I don’t walk to make a statement. I don’t walk because I’m trying to save money, although that too is also nice to have. I walk because I have no other reliable means of transportation. If I don’t walk, then I’d basically never go anywhere. 

Sorry to be a little blunt, but I had to make my point. I hope this answers the question. I don’t drive because I can’t drive. And I doubt I ever will able to correct my hand-eye coordination to do so.

But I’ll try to conclude on a positive note. Being able to walk has allowed me to see the world in a new way. It’s allowed me to slow down and see the beauty of the world we live in. Perhaps we’ve put too much praise on the culture of the car. This is one of my favorite travel questions: where are we going, and why are we always in such a hurry to get there?

To quote the following song below (Ted Leo and the Pharmacists):

“And if we’re near or far from out city by the sea-side
Well, as long as we keep our stride, I believe we’ll be fine
You’ve seen the years roll on, and you’ve seen me roll with you
I see the road is long, so get on my side, there’s a whole lot of walking to do.

World Cup profiles up and running!

If any of you reading this are interested in the 2018 World Cup, here’s a recap of what we have so far.

Group C’s profiles have just finished with the conclusion of the Denmark post. So far, profiles have been written for 12 of the 32 teams playing in Russia. Coming soon will be the Group D profiles: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia, and Nigeria. I hope some of you from those countries will keep an eye for them.

If anybody is interested in finding all of them, here is the link:
https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/category/world-cup-profiles/

If you’re looking for a specific team, here is a link to all of the other profiles so far.

Group A 
RUSSIA: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2017/12/04/2018-world-cup-team-profile-russia/
SAUDI ARABIA: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/world-cup-profile-saudi-arabia/
EGYPT: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2017/12/14/2018-fifa-world-cup-profile-egypt/
URUGUAY: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2017/12/20/2018-fifa-world-cup-profile-uruguay/

Group B
PORTUGAL:  https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2017/12/22/2018-fifa-world-cup-profile-portugal/
SPAIN: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2017/12/28/2018-fifa-world-cup-profile-spain/
MOROCCO: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2018/01/06/2018-fifa-world-cup-profile-morocco/
IRAN: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/2018-fifa-world-cup-profile-iran/

Group C 
FRANCE: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2018/01/13/2018-fifa-world-cup-france/
AUSTRALIA: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/2018-fifa-world-cup-profile-australia/
PERU: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2018/01/17/2018-fifa-world-cup-profile-peru/
DENMARK: https://ericparisvangucht.wordpress.com/2018/01/18/2018-fifa-world-cup-profile-denmark/

I’ll get through the final 20 teams as fast as I can! Keep an eye out for your team, or if you have a team to root for. Hope to share this “beautiful game” with all of you!

Best,
Eric

Image result for soccer ball
Photo courtesy of Amazon. 

2018 FIFA World Cup profile: DENMARK

Having survived a scary qualifying group with both Poland and Montenegro, which waited until the very last week to be settled, Denmark returns to the World Cup after missing out on Brazil 2014. In three of their previous four appearances, they’ve made the knockout stages, including a surprising group win in 1986 in their debut appearance, and winning the Euros in a shocking upset in 1992. Somewhat quietly, Denmark has been increasing their profile on the world stage, and if they can navigate the potential trap games in this group, I don’t see why they can’t continue to do it in Russia.

DENMARK 
Image result for Flag of Denmark
Photo courtesy of http://www.flagpedia.net 

Team profile
Nickname: Danish Dynamite
Total Appearances (including 2018): 5
Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1998)
Current manager: Åge Hareide (Norway)
Caps leader: Peter Schmeichel (129)
Leading scorer(s): Poul Nielsen (52); Jon Dahl Tomasson (52)

The Cup 
Group/Placement: C4
Date of qualification: November 14, 2017
FIFA ranking at tournament draw: 19

Matches 
June 16 vs. Peru – Saransk
June 21 vs. Australia – Samara
June 26 vs. France – Moscow (Luzhniki)

Denmark’s best run was in France ’98, making it all the way to the quarterfinals before losing to Brazil in an amazing 3-2 match. Danish Dynamite is an appropriate name, given how explosive they can be in the World Cup. Coming into the draw, they were the highest ranked team in Pot 3, ranked 19th in the world. Hopefully, the Dynamite can avoid the landmines awaiting them in this group.

It’s likely that it will come down to Denmark or Peru for the second spot. Most are already conceding the group to France. If Denmark is going to get through to the knockout stages, then Christian Eriksen is said to be the man to get them there. Playing his club football at Tottenham Hotspur in England (Spurs for short), Eriksen is their midfield ace. Forward Nicklas Bendtner is there to complement him.

If you don’t follow the World Cup as closely as I do, then you may be surprised to know that Denmark has gotten through three times in their first four tries. They narrowly missed a fourth in South Africa 2010, losing to Japan on the final match day. Group C’s final team ends a tougher group than expected. But Denmark’s presence shows that sometimes you need to look a little deeper than what is seen.

Image result for christian eriksen denmark
Christian Eriksen should be the dynamic player for Denmark. Photo courtesy of The Irish Sun. 

Related image
The DBU logo and jersey crest. Photo courtesy of http://www.futbox.com. 

National Geographic Books: Secret Places updates, January 2018

The 2018 updates of the next National Geographic book, Secret Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Best Hidden Travel Gems.

As usual, repeats are allowed if they occur, and will be listed by the book’s listing. These also include side lists, such as specialized places, like museums. And this time, I’ll list if and when it’s connected to anything.

I. The World at Your Feet 
1. Cherohala Skyway (Tennessee/North Carolina)
Secret: Great Smoky Mountains 

Image result for cherohala skyway
http://www.cherohala.com. 

2. Willis Tower (Chicago, IL) 
Secret: Not the building, but its observation decks 

Image result for willis tower skydeckSkydeck Chicago

II. Last Wildernesses 
None

III. Island Getaways
None

IV. The Road Less Traveled 
None

V. Secret History 
None

VI. Spiritual Havens
1. Our Lady’s Church (Bruges, Belgium) 
Secret: Religious Art 

Image result for our lady's church bruges art
http://www.visit-bruges.be 

VII. Hidden Treasures 
1. Chateau d’Hassonville (Ardennes, Belgium) 
Secret: Castle with accommodations, once a favorite of Louis XIV
Image result for chateau d'hassonville
TripAdvisor

VIII. Undiscovered Villages
None

IX. City Secrets 
1. Central Park (New York, NY) 
Secret: Birding 

Image result for birding in central park
National Audubon Society 

2. Le Châtelain (Brussels, Belgium) 
Secret: Lesser-known part of southern Brussels
Image result for chatelain district brussels
http://www.fourpointsbrussels.com.

Potential Visits in Near Future 
1. SoMa District, San Francisco, CA (City Secrets)

Near-Misses, Unconfirmed, or Inconclusive 
1. Caesars Head State Park – South Carolina (The World at Your Feet)
2. Forêt de Brotonne – Rouen, France (Last Wildernesses)
3. Shining Rock Wilderness – North Carolina (Last Wildernesses)
4. Île des Cygnes – Paris, France (Island Getaways)
5. South Oxford Canal – Oxford, England (The Road Less Traveled)
6. St. John the Divine – New York, NY (Spiritual Havens)
7. Chappelle Expiatoire – Paris, France (Spiritual Havens)
8. City of London Churches – London, England (Spiritual Havens)
9. Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum – Gatlinburg, Tennessee (Hidden Treasures)
10. Lumina Domestica – Bruges, Belgium (Hidden Treasures)
11. Biltmore House – Asheville, North Carolina (Hidden Treasures)
12. *Begijnhof of Kortrijk – Kortrijk, Belgium (Hidden Treasures)*
13. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – Boston, Massachusetts (Hidden Treasures)
14. National Arboretum – Washington, D.C. (City Secrets)

*This is in italics because I’m pretty sure I’ve been to another begijnhof, in Bruges, just not the one in Kortrijk. Viewers, what do you think: should I count this as half, perhaps? I’ll leave it up to you. Comment with what you think.*

Total: 6

The frustrating part is that it could be as many as 20 if any of the unconfirmed ones come through. Maybe it’ll give me an incentive!

Related image
Photo courtesy of National Geographic Store. 

Cooperstown conundrum

Suppose you’re like me and you had a wish of voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame on the writer’s ballot. What questions would you ask yourself? Would the PED argument, rumors or not, sway your judgment? Would you use sabermetrics in the argument at all? In my case, the answer to both questions is no. I consider myself a traditionalist in terms of stats, focusing on the basic stats – batting average, hits, etc. Why? Because it’s easy to calculate. I applaud the sabermetric community for their efforts, but it seems like they’re over-complicating a game that’s supposed to be for the casual fan. It’s like trying to add math and logic to art and theatre. It can work, but it’s a delicate balance. Not adding it at all probably means it works better.

Maybe I’m being too generous, but I’m looking at purely what a player did on the field. Even if a player did PEDs or had a contentious or even toxic relationship with the media, who does the voting, I can overlook that. Baseball is a game, or at least it should be one, of simple means. Either you can hit a curve or you can’t. Either you can throw 95 in your prime or you can’t. The so-called “morals” clause that is said to pervade the Hall of Fame is completely arbitrary, and thus, I’d argue, completely irrelevant.

Much of the debate comes in regards to the voting process itself, a flawed one at best where writers (who by the nature of their job are supposed to remain impartial but often finds it impossible) have to vote for a maximum of ten candidates in a given year. And those candidates have a 10-year lifespan on the BBWAA ballot, or else their eligibility expires and they have to be considered by the Veteran’s Committee, which is probably even tougher. And to stay on for another year, you have to get a minimum of five percent of the vote (there are expected to be 424 ballots this year, so to survive, you need a minimum of 22 votes). In order to be inducted, you must be named on at least 75% of all ballots. See how confusing this process is?

Despite, or perhaps even because of this, being able to have that vote is baseball’s equivalent of Charlie Bucket finding the Golden Ticket. A lot of people would love to have it.

All of this is a way of saying, this would be my ballot if I had a vote, and assuming I used all ten spots. Candidates will be listed in alphabetical order.

My ballot (if I had one):
1. Barry Bonds
2. Roger Clemens
3. Vladimir Guerrero
4. Trevor Hoffman
5. Chipper Jones
6. Edgar Martinez
7. Manny Ramirez
8. Scott Rolen
9. Curt Schilling
10. Larry Walker

Near-Misses
1. Fred McGriff
2. Mike Mussina

Instead of making my cases for who I did vote for, here’s the cases for who I didn’t vote for. I feel like it’s easier to discuss this way.

Some of you who have been following this year’s vote may be asking why I asked why I left off Jim Thome. Well, for me, it’s quite simple: if he hadn’t hit 612 home runs, he probably wouldn’t be in the conversation. It felt like either he hit a home run or did nothing. He was a liability on defense, couldn’t stay healthy for the latter half of his career, never came that close to winning an MVP award, and never played on a World Series winning team (though he came close in 1995 and 1997 with Cleveland). In other words, he felt like a slightly better version of Mark McGwire, and minus the controversy. Thome is actually an easy no for me – I feel like I’m not getting enough out of Thome to get him in. The ones who actually have the vote have him way over the 75% threshold, so he probably doesn’t need my vote anyway.

Another pretty obvious no, at least for me, is his former Cleveland teammate Omar Vizquel. Basically, apply the same argument to Thome, except the fact that he was the defensive whiz at shortstop. But offensively, I couldn’t see it. And as great as he was defensively, I heard he had a knack for letting a lot of easy ground balls go past him. In another year or two, I can see myself voting for him, but he’d still be borderline in my eyes. He’s closer to 30%, so he should be safe beyond the minimum threshold.

The last two cases are the hardest. Fred McGriff doesn’t look like a Hall of Famer, and never quite hit 500 home runs, peaking at 493. But he was a veteran leader who became the first to homer in all 30 Major League stadiums. He won a World Series with the Braves in 1995, beating Thome and Vizquel that year, and played in another one the following year. He also won two home run titles early in his career. I know it’s hard to justify, but he’s got one year left on the ballot, so assuming he makes it, he would get one from me next year on sympathy.

The hardest call is Mike Mussina. The numbers are there, supposedly, except when you look at them a little more closely, you find a little more inconsistency than you’d expect. Compared to his fellow pitcher Curt Schilling, also on the ballot, most of the numbers head-to-head would favor Schilling. (And the only reason that Schilling’s not in right now is because of his outspoken views on everything. Whether he admits it or not, I think he certainly wants that Hall call. But in order to get it, he’s got to play nice with the writers a little bit more, and vice versa, as much as both sides disdain it.)

A head-to-head comparison in stats.

Wins 
Mussina – 270
Schilling – 216

Strikeouts 
Mussina – 2,813
Schilling – 3,116

Earned Run Average (lower is better) 
Mussina – 3.68
Schilling – 3.46

All-Star Games 
Mussina  – 5 (1992, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1999)
Schilling – 6 (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004)

20-win seasons 
Mussina – 1 (20 wins in 2008)
Schilling – 3 (22 in 2001, 23 in 2002, and 21 in 2004)

Pennants
Mussina – 2 (2001 Yankees, 2003 Yankees)
Schilling – 4 (1993 Phillies, 2001 Diamondbacks, 2004 Red Sox, 2007 Red Sox)

World Series Championships 
Mussina – 0
Schilling – 3 (2001 Diamondbacks, 2004 Red Sox, 2007 Red Sox)

Neither one won a Cy Young Award, although Schilling finished second three times, and Mussina finished second once.

Admittedly, those stats are a little skewed, but it suggests that Mussina had a tendency to choke late in the season, or late in games. At least three times by my recollection, he came within three outs of a no-hitter or perfect game, and lost it every single time, never actually throwing one in his career. His only 20-win season was his last one in 2008, and he won 20 right on the nose. Admittedly, he had two other ones that were close where the bullpen blew it both times on the last day of the season, but consider this. Schilling and Mussina faced off against each other in the 2001 World Series, not just on opposing teams, but they went head-to-head in Game 1. And Schilling’s Arizona Diamondbacks won easily, 9-1. And in 2004, although this is through no fault of his own, Mussina will always be a part of that 2004 Yankees team that choked away the 3-0 lead to the Red Sox. But even then, Schilling and the bloody sock overshadowed whatever accomplishments Mussina had. The only category where Mussina had the edge over Schilling is career wins. And if Schilling had been more consistent in his early years and towards the end of it, spending a lot of time in the bullpen, his numbers would be much higher. We could argue this until we’re blue in the face. Basically, my argument against Mussina is like his career, at least in my eyes: can’t get it done when the game’s on the line.

Whatever your thoughts are, ask yourself: what’s your metric? What would you do if you had a chance to grant baseball immortality?

If baseball fans read this, I welcome your comments and perhaps your arguments as to why our picks may or may not work.

Related image
Photo courtesy of http://www.thesportsquotient.com. 

January wonderland

The sleighs bells are no longer glistening, but everything else held up. The lane held glistening snow, such a beautiful sight, and even if it was only down the sidewalk and back, it was a winter wonderland outside.

It’s been a while since Bloomington has had this much snow. Right now, it stands at 5° F (or -15° C) outside, and it’s not scheduled to warm up until around Friday or so. That’s why I wanted to get photos of the snowfall outside of my apartment while I still had a chance. And this wasn’t just a “come as you please and go” snow. This snowfall stuck to the ground. I was starting to think it had forgotten about us in this neck of the world.

True, I didn’t venture past my apartment sidewalk, and didn’t even go to my mailbox. And if you’re reading this from overseas, it’s currently a few minutes before 11 p.m. EST as you’re reading this. I’ve got about an hour left before I head off to bed, and I have plans tomorrow. But I needed it to relax. I think it was good for me. And I feel like I got spoiled with actually having a camera with a phone on it (though I still think flip phones are easier to use). So, I used the hand-me-down Canon I got from my parents. It’s easier to grip with gloves on. And I’m old-fashioned. Cameras need to be allowed to function the way they’re supposed to, if that makes sense.

The only ones I got on my phone were selfies from back inside. Here’s one from inside, with a little hometown pride going on.

20180116_224311

Not the best photo, I know, but it’s hard to get a selfie in the apartment.

Anyway, these are the other ones done of nature in the near vicinity of said apartment. I know I’m the exception, but give me this colder weather any day.

IMG_5584IMG_5583IMG_5581

2018 FIFA World Cup profile: PERU

Welcome back to the party, Peru! Although the days of Teofilo Cubillas are long gone, making it back to the Cup after 36 years, the longest drought of any returning team, has to be a dream. But Peru doesn’t appear to be a team that is just happy to be here. It’s possible they have a very good rising crop of talent, and they’re more than eager to challenge for the knockout stages. They’d face an uphill road should they get there, but I can’t think of any World Cup in recent years with so much parity, so much eagerness, and so many potential story lines awaiting it. Peru’s is definitely one of them.

PERU 
Image result for Flag of Peru
Photo courtesy of World Flag Database. 

Team profile 
Nickname: La Blanquirroja (The White and Red)
Total Appearances (including 2018): 5
Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1970)*
Current manager: Ricardo Gareca (Argentina)
Caps leader: Roberto Palacios (128)
Leading scorer(s): Paolo Guerrero (32)

* Peru also made the last eight in 1978, but that was a second round-robin format and they lost all three matches in that round.

The Cup 
Group/Placement: C3
Date of qualification: November 15, 2017
FIFA ranking at tournament draw: 10

Matches 
June 16 vs. Denmark – Saransk
June 21 vs. France – Yekaterinburg
June 26 vs. Australia – Sochi

I read somewhere that the team placed in C3 in the pot was at a distinct disadvantage, as they’d have to do the most traveling of any team in the group stages, at least in terms of distance. I’ll double-check that, but that’s what I heard. If that’s the case, then Peru may not be able to overcome the effects of the jet lag. But I’m sure regardless of what happens, they’ll be a fan favorites. Casual fans love the underdogs, after all.

The last time Peru made the World Cup was in 1982. That was the same year my dad came to the United States. It was the year of E.T., and the death of Princess Grace. Needless to say, they’ve been itching to get back ever since. They had a favorable draw in the playoffs against New Zealand, managing to get in on the final day and knock Chile out of the competition (and the latter were Confederations Cup runners-up and two-time defending Copa America champions). Although Jefferson Farfan is a great player (23 goals in 79 caps), he’s on the wrong side of 30, so instead this post is going to focus on their potential upstart playmaker, midfielder Renato Tapia of the Dutch club Feyenoord (based in Rotterdam). He’s only scored twice for his country in 28 caps, but from what I hear, he’s a potential star in the making.

Peru is playing with house money at this point. Quietly, they’ve climbed the rankings to be a top ten team in the world, at least according to the FIFA World Rankings, which admittedly can be arbitrarily put together. It’s possible that Peru may end up with egg on their face, if only because of the surprising deceptiveness of the group (as I mentioned in the France post). At the same time, I could definitely see them making it out of the group. That first game against Denmark is the crucial one. If it’s not quite must-win, it certainly feels like it. Denmark’s also a top 20 team at the time of the draw. All I can tell you is, I’m looking forward to seeing those iconic jerseys at the Cup for the first time in my life. Hopefully, they can extend their stay as long as possible.

Image result for Renato tapia peru
Midfielder Renato Tapia may be a key to carry Peru as far as they can go. Photo courtesy of Getty Images. 

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Peru’s jersey crest. Photo courtesy of Twitter.

National Geographic Books: 2018 updates – Journeys of a Lifetime

Thank you all for reading the previous post. There are five in total that I have, and I’ll post the 2018 updates.

This book is Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Greatest Trips, edited by the late Keith Bellows. As with the previous list, they’ll be listed by category instead of country, and will be listed in order by the book’s listings, and including side lists as well. For example, the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building (Part 8, “Up and Away”) aren’t the attraction, but their elevators are. Similarly, in the last list, it’s the cities as major film production centers. I’ll do my best to find corresponding photos so readers don’t get too confused. Also, repeats are okay from previous lists.

Here’s the list!

I. Across Water 
Staten Island Ferry (New York, NY) 
Image result for staten island ferry
http://www.nycgo.com. 

II. By Road 
None

III. By Rail 
None

IV. On Foot 
1. The National Mall (Washington, D.C.) 
Image result for the national mall
http://www.washington.org

2. Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee/North Carolina)
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http://www.visitmysmokies.com.

3. Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky) 
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National Park Foundation.

V. In Search of Culture 
1. Freedom Trail (Boston, MA)
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Boston Private Tours 

2. The Loop (Chicago, IL)
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http://www.loopchicago.com.

3. England’s Gardens (Windsor, England) 
Image result for windsor gardens englands
http://www.planetware.com. 

4. Cathedrals of France (Paris and Strasbourg, France) 
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Wikimedia Commons (Strasbourg’s is shown)

VI. In Gourmet Heaven 
None

VII. Into the Action 
1. Dutch Bulbfields (Keukenhof, Netherlands) 
Image result for Dutch bulb fields keukenhof
http://www.fullsuitcase.com.

VIII. Up and Away 
1. Eiffel Tower (Paris, France)
Image result for eiffel tower elevator
http://www.visiteiffeltower.com.

2. Empire State Building (New York, NY) 
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Wikimedia Commons.

IX. In Their Footsteps 
1. New York, NY (Film Production)
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http://www.scoutingnewyork.com.

2. Paris, France (Film Production)
Image result for paris film locations
http://www.cntraveler.com.

3. London, England (Film Production) 
Image result for london film locations
Brit Movie Tours

4. Normandy Beaches (Normandy, France) 
Image result for Normandy beaches
France Tours 

Planned Trips or Possible Trips in the Near Future
1. San Francisco to Sausalito Ferry – California (Across Water)
2. Route 66 Through Arizona – Arizona (By Road)
3. San Francisco’s Streetcar F – California (By Rail)
4. The John Muir Trail – California (On Foot)
5. Ansel Adams’ Yosemite – California (In Their Footsteps)

Near-Misses, Unconfirmed, or Inconclusive 
1. Brooklyn Bridge – Brooklyn, NY (On Foot)
2. Colonial Virginia – Williamsburg, VA (In Search of Culture)
3. Vieux Carré – New Orleans, Louisiana (In Search of Culture)
4. Dutch Masters Tour – Delft, Netherlands (In Search of Culture)
5. The Battle of the Somme – France (In Search of Culture)
6. Cajun Cooking in Louisiana – Louisiana (In Gourmet Heaven)
7. Cheeses of Normandy – Normandy, France (In Gourmet Heaven)

Yes, I included some from side lists, but to the best of my knowledge, they are part of the list. So, I think I’m allowed to list them. If anybody has the book to compare, you are welcome to post your lists. I hope to see them, too!

Total Confirmed: 15

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Photo courtesy of Barnes and Noble.