January 2011

BARBADOS — Day 6

This was our last day in Barbados — or rather fraction of a day. We had to leave for the airport at 1pm, so aside from the little time we spent on the beach, we walked 10 minutes to a nearby mall. In the following photo, my mom is wearing the straw hat and my half-sister Martha is just ahead of her:

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Did you notice the guy wearing the Yankees cap? I saw at least a dozen of those (not all red) on people’s heads during my time in Barbados. Not once did I see anyone wearing Mets gear.
The walk to the mall provided beautiful glimpses like this…
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…but also forced us to navigate forgettable stretches like this:
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Holetown clearly wasn’t built with pedestrians in mind.
Once we reached the mall, we found our way into a huge department store/gift shop. Martha and my mom bought a bunch of souvenirs for friends and family. The only thing I got was a snazzy T-shirt for myself. (That’s how I roll. I think gifts are stupid. I haaaaaate receiving them and rarely give them.) Check it out in the photo below, and while you’re at it, note the hair-hand on the back on my head:
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The funny moment of the day happened after we left the store. We stopped in a little restaurant for a drink/snack, and one of the things we got was a “guava turnover.” Here’s a photo of it:
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The woman behind the counter asked if we wanted it warmed up.
“Sure,” I said, “thanks, but not too hot. Just slightly warm.”
Unbeknownst to us, she heated it up so much that the cheesy-guava center became thermonuclear. Martha took the first bite, but only got a taste of the edge. In other words, she didn’t get any of the hot stuff.
“Good call on getting it warm,” she said.
I then took a bite that caused the filling to ooze out and burn the corner of my mouth.
“Damn!!” I said as Martha prepared to take another bite. “It’s really hot! Watch out.”
Martha must not have believed me because she took a HUGE bite of the center, which scalded her mouth and sprayed everywhere and dripped on her hand and burned her skin. She shrieked and spat it out and flailed her arms — and it was one of the funniest things I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing in quite some time. Meanwhile, my mom grabbed her camera and took a pic of me laughing. It’s not a particularly attractive photograph (in part because my mouth was still full), but here you go:
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Here’s a photo of the guava turnover immediately after:
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It was still unbelievably hot, so I named the center filling “guava lava.” Even Martha, who was nonchalantly cleaning herself off at that point…
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…had to laugh. I can already tell that 
“guava lava” will be a source of hilarity for years to come. My family tends to hang onto ridiculous/funny things forever. We’re still joking about a “short stack” of pancakes from a diner in Arizona in 1997, if that’s any indication. Long story. Don’t ask.
My mom went back to the condo after that, and Martha and I headed to a supermarket in another mall. While she checked out the rum…
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…I picked up a couple more bottles of my new favorite drink:
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Actually, the stuff is nasty, but I wanted to bring some back to New York City because…you never know when it might come in handy.
It was time to leave for the airport. Martha took one last look at the ocean… 
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…and then our taxi arrived:
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There weren’t many food options at the airport, so I settled on this place:
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Doesn’t look all that special, right? Well, look at my outstanding meal below. I got a fillet of grilled “jerk” trout (which was VERY spicy) with pumpkin rice and a fried sweet plantain:
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Sooooo good. The long doughy thing next to the rice was a soft/fried bread stick. As I tweeted earlier today, I somehow managed to lose weight on this trip. I mean, I did my share of exercising, but still, there were several meals when I ate like a madman.
We were supposed to have a direct flight back to JFK, but as I tweeted late last night, there was a sick passenger on the plane (she had a seizure and needed heart medication), so we had to make an emergency landing in Bermuda. On the way down, I took the following photo of the sunset:
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We were told that we’d only be on the ground for 20 minutes, so we weren’t allowed to get off the plane, but then of course the 20 minutes turned into three hours. How nice.
You’ve probably noticed by now that I like to photograph everything. The cab ride back from the airport was no exception. Here’s a semi-blurry photo of Martha (sitting closer to me) and my mom:
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I didn’t want to use the flash (because it screws up the gentl
e natural light), so I had to try extra hard to hold the camera steady.
Here’s where it gets cool…
Check out this shot I took of our view as we sped down the highway:
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I was using a function on my camera called “continuous mode.” I basically held down the button and it took a pic or two every second. When I went to turn it off, I noticed that I’d accidentally taken a bonus shot at the end — and since I had been moving my camera at the time, everything came out blurry and crazy and awesome:
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The photo above is NOT photoshopped. That was just a natural effect of moving the camera while taking a photo in very low light, and it gave me an idea: what if I zoomed all the way in on the meter and took pics without trying to hold the camera steady?
The result was trippy and gorgeous…
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…and I took a bunch more photos just like it:
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This is how I entertain myself. I photograph EVERYTHING. I’ll happily go a week without turning on my cell phone, but if I have to go an hour without my camera, I’ll start to freak out.
The End.
(Forty-two days until my book comes out…)

BARBADOS — Day 5

I woke up at 10:30am and found this on the kitchen counter:

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It was my mom’s handwriting. She and my half-sister Martha had gotten an early start to their action-packed day of…
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…reading.
The photo above shows the view from my beach chair when I looked to the left. The next photo shows my view to the right:
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Nothing special or life changing. Just nice. The scene in the following photo, however, is rather glorious:
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The white building on the left (just a one-minute walk from our beach chairs) is a restaurant called Tides. We’d be eating dinner there at 7pm.
Ready for the random photo of the day? Check this out:
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In case you can’t tell, it’s a guy walking his dog — and his monkey.
Martha and my mom and I took a break from the beach, ate lunch in our condo, and chilled on the back terrace:
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We headed back to the beach at 4:30pm, half an hour before I was scheduled to go jet skiing.
Here I am in the late-afternoon sun:
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I had a little time to kill, so I started building something in the sand:
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Here’s my silly creation two minutes later:
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I worked on it a bit more until it was time for the jet ski.
Remember the hand-shaped hair pattern on the back of my head?
I was still rockin’ it:
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I got the quick safety briefing and then took off:
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Here I am off in the distance:
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Here’s a pixelated closeup of the previous photo:
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The half-hour session flew by…
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…and before I knew it, it was time to head back in:
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I finished working on my sand sculpture:
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Here I am with it:
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Meanwhile, in New York:
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I was so happy NOT to be bundled up:
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I was also happy — overjoyed, in fact; thrilled beyond words — not to have to work on my book. I still can’t believe it’s done. I felt more free than ever, and I just wanted to run around and sing and dance and play.
As the sun began to disappear, Martha and my mom headed back to the condo. I stayed on the beach and built this:
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It’s a three-foot-tall stack of rocks and pieces of coral…just because.
We had dinner at Tides, and it was uh-MAY-zing. Here’s a pic of my mom and Martha inside the restaurant…
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…and here’s a four-part pic of the food I ate:
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Let me tell you what everything is by quoting from the menu:
1) Sautéed Spiced Jumbo Shrimp & Thai Scented Crab Cakes – Served with a Red Curry Coconut Coriander Cream
(Are all those capital letters really necessary? No, of course not, but that’s how it was written, and let me tell you, the meal was so good that the whole menu deserved to be in ALL CAPS. Anyway, let’s proceed, shall we?)
2) Jamaican “Jerk” Pork Tenderloin – Wrapped in Parma Ham with Pesto Mash, Leek & Calvados Cream finished with caramelized Apples
(Holy shyte. Yes, it was as good as it sounds.)
3) Caramel Banana & Baileys Bread & Butter Pudding
(This was Martha’s dessert. It was the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my entire life, and she was kind enough to let me eat half of it.)
4) The Tides “Tidation” A Chocolate Lover’s Dream, Rich Chocolate Ganache scented with Cappuccino Coffee set on a flourless Chocolate Cake and glazed with a thick Chocolate Topping
(As Borat would say, “Wow-wow-WEE-wow!!”)
I’m not a so-called foodie. I don’t know anything about food. I can’t cook at all. I don’t ever eat like this unless someone else is paying for it (thanks, Mom!), but I can certainly appreciate a phenomenal meal to the point of getting giddy about it.
Phew.

BARBADOS — Day 4

The day got off to a disappointing start. We had plans to take a tour of the Mount Gay Rum factory. We called ahead to make sure it was open. A recorded message said it was. But when we arrived, the security guard turned us away because there was a “private event.”

(Private event?! I’ll show you a private event…)
We visited a well-known pottery place instead called Earthworks. Here it is from the outside:
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Here’s a look inside…
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…and here’s another:
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Cool stuff. Not really my thing. But still cool.
THIS was more like it:
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We had a driver for the day, a very friendly woman named Yvette, who took us all over the island. At one point, we had to stop when a bunch of cows slowly crossed the road:
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Still bummed about the rum factory, we poked our heads into a roadside rum shop. Here I am heading inside:
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My half-sister Martha was really the one who wanted to check it out. (I’m not much of a drinker.) She bought a small bottle of rum and a can of coconut/pineapple juice to go with it. Here she is pouring herself a drink (as Lucille, the shop owner, looks on):
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Check out the ground outside the shop:
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Yvette took us to several spots with great views. This was the best:
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That’s me on the left, Martha (who’s 14 years older than me) in the middle, and my mom on the right.
On our way back down to sea level, I said I needed a bathroom.
“Number one or two?” asked Yvette.
“Number one,” I said.
“Just go over there,” she replied, pulling over to the side of the road and pointing at the sugar cane.
So I did. And Martha photographed me:
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(If you find yourself in Barbados anytime soon, you might want to use an artificial sweetener.)
We’d made reservations to go on a short snorkeling trip at 2pm, and we had to drive through Bridgetown, the capitol of Barbados, to get there:
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We changed into our bathing suits and headed to the boat:
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There were about a dozen of us total: three employees, four divers, and five snorkelers. Here are some of the people on board, including Martha (wearing the yellow and blue shirt) and my mom (in the straw hat):
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Once we got going, we left a nice wake…
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…and reached our destination two minutes later. See the dark patch of water in the following photo where all the snorkelers are?
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That dark color was the result of a sunken ship just 20 feet below the surface, and there were LOTS of fish swimming around. There were actually several shipwrecks in this vicinity so we had lots to see. Martha had a waterproof camera…which got some water deep inside and stopped working. (Oopsie.) So, unfortunately, we have no pics from beneath the surface. There are no pics of me in snorkeling gear either — just a topless photo of me on the boat, which I won’t share because I look ridiculous: very white (from avoiding the sun in general) and somewhat pink (from having gotten too much of it the day before). Here’s another pic of me instead:
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We were on our way to get some roti (with curried meat; I got mine with pork) from a little roadside stand.
Back at our condo, my mom played with her laptop while I kicked Martha’s heinie at Scrabble:
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This was the view behind me from our terrace:
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BARBADOS — Day 3

It was another day at the beach:

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My mom and I sat in the shade (this is why I’m so pale, but I’ll be the last person to get skin cancer, ha ha ha) and played Scrabble:
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While waiting for her to make her plays, I entertained myself by taking pics of random people walking by:
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The game took forever, and that was fine. It was nice to zone out and stare at the water and not use my brain for minutes at a time. Here’s a pic of the final board:
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I bingoed three times, first with OVERBREd for 66 points, then with CRANKIER for 66 more, and eventually with SUNdIAL for 70. That was the final move of the game; I “bingoed out” (as they say in the Scrabble world) for a 430-250 victory.
But wait, *was* it the end of the game? After tallying the score, my mom discovered nine tiles lying on the sand between our chairs.
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What the–?!
Evidently, they had fallen out of the bag. Lucky we found them. They don’t exactly stand out in the sand. If this were a tournament, there would’ve been some fancy-schmancy ruling about how to replay (or perhaps NOT replay) the endgame, but in this case, we just called it quits.
At 5pm, I rented a jet ski for half an hour. Here I am getting a last-minute life jacket inspection:
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I helped the guy drag the thing into the water…
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…and then I was off:
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More off:
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I had to go past those boats, and then I absolutely flew. Ohmygod, so much fun.
I came back in after a few minutes and gave Martha (my half-sister) a brief ride. Then I took my mom o
ut for a bit. Between the two of them, I must have heard the phrase “SLOW DOWN!!!” at least a dozen times. Thankfully, I still had a few minutes at the end to head back out on my own and go full speed. There were waves. I went airborne on several occasions. Did I mention it was fun?
Fast-forward three hours. My mom and Martha and I went to a “fish fry” and had a great/memorable meal. Check out my plate below:
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Let me identify everything…
At the very top, you’re looking at fried flying fish. (Say THAT ten times fast.) The round thing on the right is a grilled potato, which was cooked with garlic butter and some spices. Soooo good. Below that is macaroni salad. To the left of that is regular salad with a very creamy dressing, and above that is cheesy pasta, aka “macaroni pie” to the lovely people of Barbados. The flat yellow thing in the middle is breadfruit (which I’d never had before). It was potato-like. Not great. Not bad. Just different.
The meal cost $20 Barbados, which is $10 US. This is where we ate:
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That’s my mom in the white and blue flowery shirt and Martha sitting to her left.
There were lots of tents with vendors selling stuff — mostly jewelry.
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We passed by a bunch of food stands, including this one:
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(So glad it wasn’t Tuesday.)
Last thing of note: I was offered drugs three times today, first at the beach by a sketchy-looking guy who identified himself as a “farmer.” (This made my mom laugh when I told her, and the guy was still within earshot, so that was embarrassing, but hey, that’s what moms are for.) Then, at the fish fry, I was approached by two more guys, including one in the bathroom as I stepped out of a nasty stall. For the record, I politely declined the offers. I happen to think that all drugs should be legal, but I have no interest in using any of them myself.

BARBADOS — Day 2

The day started like this:
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Meanwhile, in New York City, it was 29°F with 3.8 inches of snow on the way. (Yeah, I checked.)
My one complaint about Barbados, or at least about the beach where we’re staying, is that it’s teeming with hustlers. Here’s one of several people who approached us with a “special offer”:
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This particular guy wanted to send us on an hourlong glass-bottom boat tour to see some turtles. Within the next 30 minutes, a scrawny, disheveled woman offered us foot massages, another man (who claimed to be trained in reflexology) offered a full-body massage, and another dude tried to get us to rent a Jet Ski.
We decided to take a walk on the beach instead. In the following photo, my mom is on the left, and my half-sister Martha is on the right:
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We saw some lovely sights:
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Sorry, couldn’t resist. Here’s some (partial) eye-candy to make up for it:
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Ahh, Barbados.
Martha and my mom decided to turn back when we got here:
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They thought the beach looked suspish and didn’t want to deal with the water and rocks.
I kept going and took lots more photos, starting with the rocks themselves. Check it out:
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I’m not sure what to call the green stuff. Moss? Seaweed? Misplaced outfield grass? Regardless, it was beautiful. Look at the swirly patterns on this rock:
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Here’s one more. Really. Last one. I promise. It’s a closeup:
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Here’s what the beach looked li
ke after that:
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I balanced my camera on a rock and used the 10-second timer to take a self-portrait:
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I kept going and took this postcard-esque photograph:
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Then the beach ended:
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I walked along the rocks and discovered this staircase:
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I considered the fact that it might be private property…and then kept going. Here’s what it looked like on the elevated walkway:
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There was a house on the right:
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Where WAS everyone?
I kept going…
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…and at the end of the walkway, there was a clearing with some picnic tables and a bunch of people:
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As you can see, I wasn’t encountering anything dangerous or exciting — just beautiful and unknown.
The clearing had a staircase that led down to the beach. I walked a bit more and then saw this:
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Hmm.
I looked to the right and saw a semi-abandoned alley:
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I probably could’ve kept going, but I didn’t have shoes or flip flops, and I was thirsty, and I didn’t have my wallet, and I’d already walked a couple miles, and I figured my mom was freaking out, so I headed back. She and Martha were floating in the ocean:
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(I was chest-deep when I took the previous photo, and my camera isn’t waterproof.)
We all swam for a while and then headed inside. Check out the moat in the back of our condo:
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We headed back out and poked our heads into some of the stores across the street. This one was my favorite:
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It was a gourmet food store. We didn’t buy anything because it was rather pricy:
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The price above is in Barbados dollars, which are half as valuable as US dollars, but still, that’s a crapload of money.
My mom brought a camera on this trip, but still hasn’t used it. (Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time she used it.) Martha has a camera on her iPhone, but wasn’t taking any pics of me. (Martha never takes pics of me.) I half-jokingly complained about it while sitting on some steps outside one of the stores. Martha responded by whipping out her phone and shouting, “Say cheese!” This was the result:
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We entered a nearby mall…
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…and made our way into a supermarket, where we stumbled upon a bunch of weird soft-drinks. This was my favorite:
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We ended up buying some “Luv Tonic” along with several other unusual items. Here they are back at our condo:
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From left to right, you’re looking at: 1) coconut soda, 2) ginger beer, 3) umm…, 4) a guarana-based drink, 5) pineapple soda, and 6) mauby syrup. I’d heard about mauby from a friend and had to try it. It’s sweet and has a bitter clove-like aftertaste. I did not, however, try any of the other drinks. They were all room-temperature, so I stuck ‘em in the fridge and forgot about them when I saw this — a review of my new book in Library Journal:
If you want to see the review on the Library Journal website, click here and scroll halfway down the page. Obviously I’m thrilled with this review, but it just goes to show that reviews in general shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Last week Kirkus dissed my writing by saying that it wasn’t “literary.” Now Library Journal (which reviewed Watching Baseball Smarter in 2007) is praising my writing for being “articulate and accessible.” (AAAHHH!!!) But anyway, back to Barbados…

We went to dinner at a nice restaurant…

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…and I photographed my amazing meal.

In the following four-part photo (starting on the top left and then going clockwise), you’re looking at 1) a caesar salad with bacon, parmesan, and garlic croutons, 2) bacon-wrapped chicken stuffed with feta…on top of “pesto mash” 3) an incredibly rich “chocolate lava cake” with vanilla ice cream, and 4) a toffee roulade with creme fraiche and butterscotch sauce:

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For the record, I shared the desserts with the ladies. Thanks. Just wanted to let that be known. I might be a pig, but I’m not a PIG.

BARBADOS — Day 1

I’m in Barbados!
So is my half-sister Martha. Here we are on the beach:
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My mom is also here (pictured below in the red shirt):
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Why are we in Barbados?
Because the weather in NYC sucks, and it was time for a vacation.
We’re staying in a two-bedroom condo. Here’s a shot of the kitchen and living room (taken when we first arrived)…
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…and here’s the view from our back terrace:
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Niiiiiiiiiice.
That’s about it for now. Day 1 was pretty simple. We didn’t get here ’til 4pm, and the rest of my pics aren’t worth sharing. More soon…

Kirkus book review

Big news: the first review of The Baseball is in. It was published by Kirkus, and it’s 99 percent positive. Here’s a screen shot from the website:

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I don’t have an “active subscription” to Kirkus because it costs $129, so forget that. I also don’t have a hard copy (yet) of the particular issue that contains this review, so for now, you’ll have to settle for a very plain-looking version that my publisher sent me:
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When I first read this review, I felt totally dissed by the line marked above with the red arrow, but now, after having talked to some publishing people, I’m seeing it differently. You know how some books are brilliantly/intellectually written — how they’re descriptive and flowery and practically poetic? Well, I’m pretty sure (or at least I’d like to think) that the reviewer simply wanted to let people know that The Baseball is not one of those books. If that’s the case, he (or she?) could’ve said it in a nicer way, but whatever. If you liked the way Watching Baseball Smarter was written, and how this blog is written, then you’ll like my new book. Same style. Fun and engaging. No big/unnecessary words. Great bathroom reading. Short sections. Easy to follow. Lots of info and wacky stories and cool photos and so on. I think The Baseball is my best book yet, and I’m curious to hear what other people think about it.
Finally, I’m legally obligated to say that this book review was reprinted courtesy of Kirkus Discoveries.

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Book update No. 29 — fan mail

Remember when I blogged last month about the galleys for The Baseball? Well, somehow, one of the galleys ended up on eBay. Check out this screen shot:
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I decided not to blog about it at the time because, quite simply, this advanced copy should not have been leaked, and I didn’t want to reward the seller by driving up interest. Not surprisingly, it ended up being bought by someone who reads this blog — a 15-year-old named Matt, who’s been leaving lots of comments recently as “mhbaseball.”
Yesterday Matt finished reading the book and sent me the following email:
——————————————-
Dear Zack,
I was just about to go to bed last night when I decided to read another couple of pages from the galley. Well a couple of pages turned into ten pages; and ten turned into a whole chapter. Before long, you guessed it, I finished the rest of it. I couldn’t help myself. It was such a great book, that I wanted to keep reading, and reading, and reading. I even read the introduction.(Something I never do when I am reading a new book.)

I learned a lot of new things that I didn’t know about the history of the ball. There were even some things that I thought I knew, but had completely wrong. My three favorite parts of the book are the sections about: The Rawlings factory, Celebrity ballhawks, and the amazing timeline of how baseballs have changed over the course of the game. It is amazing how something so poorly put together was tweeked, almost every year since the 1840′s, to become the masterfully assembled baseball of today.

I have never read “How To Snag Major League Baseballs” or “Watching Baseball Smarter”, but I can’t see them being much better than this.

-Matt
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Matt is right about How to Snag Major League Baseballs. It’s a terrible book, and I’m embarrassed to have written it. I have to say, though, that Watching Baseball Smarter is pretty damn good, but okay, yes, The Baseball is probably the best of the three.
Big thanks to Matt for the positive email he sent; click here to read all the fan mail that I’ve already received about The Baseball (which will be officially released in 57 days).
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