Saturday, January 31, 2009

New York City!? ...get a rope

Please forgive the above reference to an old salsa commercial.

Whose idea was it to start this trip in New York City!? They were right about the whole not sleeping thing. Yeah, I'll spend a few days in the craziest city in North America before I fly down to spend time in the wilderness with indigenous coffee farmers. And then come back here after two months! Hello culture shock, I'm looking forward to getting smacked in the face by you any day now.

Connections are falling into place for Guatemala and I'm very relieved to feel like things are coming together. Thank you Mel for the contacts, and thank you rad people and friends of friends for already being in Guatemala. It's all very exciting.

I owe a remarkable debt of gratitude to the wonderful folks from Royal Coffee, NY who I had the pleasure of visiting with on Friday, roasting and cupping coffee, eating pizza and geeking out on Lost, sample roasters and Kenyan micro-lots. Heaven. To know they got my back while I'm in Central America, even if moral support is all it is, feels like a net underneath me. Thanks y'all!

Last night, my world changed. for the first time ever in my life, I danced all night at a club in New York City. It was amazing. Remember that one movie with the scene in that packed club where music was really loud and lights were crazy and people were dancing all over the whole place and there was an attendant in the bathroom and everything? It was like that. All my gratitude to the proprieter of the establishment for his hospitality. And speaking of hospitality, my buddy Rich is a remarkable human being. He moved to NYC only three months ago to start acting and is already well on his way to a pretty sweet career in it. Go Rich.

Sadly, I missed all the incredible huge art pieces that have already been moved out, but earlier today I assisted in the evacuation of Alex Grey's studio. Ever seen Alex Grey's work? I'm sure you have. look it up, that is an order. it's amazing. Actually, just go here to holy wow.

One last thought. In New York City, at least manhattan, there are almost no places to dip into to get a cup of coffee (disregarding bagel shops or deli's or whatever, I'm talking about an actual coffee centered coffee house with good coffee) that isn't a starbucks. I walked eight or so miles through the city yesterday and saw only one coffee shop that wasn't starbucks. entire neighborhoods with nothing at all. For shame, New York. It's almost tempting to consider opening a radical neighborhood specialty coffee shop up north on Broadway or something. Too bad about my three day limit in the City.

Stay tuned. next stop, a bookstore and then, Guatemala City!

Thursday, January 22, 2009


For those of you still tuning in, I've been back in Brattleboro for a bit over a week now, and will only be in town for another week. I've been spending nearly all my time on my own which is totally awesome 95% of the time and we won't be discussing the other 5 here. If you're a friend I haven't seen since I got back, don't take it personally, I'm in full-on recharge mode, just gimme a call.

Doing lots of art, stretching and exercising, reading about Guatemala, studying spanish, snowshoeing, XC skiing, listening to the radio and reading the paper, preparing for my next trip mentally and materially, hanging out with the family, playing my drums, writing in my journal...that's what's been filling most days lately.

And I've been giving lots of thought to where I'll be in a week and a half, something I haven't really said much of anything about here. Why am I going to Central America? I sometimes feel like I should have a mission, a thesis, a hypothesis, more of an Idea that would justify my being there, more of a purpose than the one I've got. Maybe I'm just nervous because it's coming up quick and may be, aside from organizing activist campaigns or teaching a college course or managing a company, one of the bigger things I've done.

In Mexico, January of 2007, I spent some time with an indigenous coffee farming community, an experience that was completely mind blowing, entirely humbling, and sort of made my brain explode. I was face to face for the first time in such an intensely direct way with colonialism, my white privilege, the real-time effects of neo-liberal globalization and the stories of people who were struggling to survive with dignity in spite of it all. And we were there with the farmers and families of Yunquin for only one full day. Too short. This made me want to go back to Central America and really spend some time on a farm, put in work, learn the language, hear the stories, experience the daily life for longer than a day. So I got back to the US, put in almost two years at a coffee roasting company, a great majority of that as the business manager, and decided after that tenure, having learned much about coffee from the perspective of a North American specialty roaster, that it was time I got back down to where it comes from. So I booked a two-month round trip to Guatemala, contacted a language school, a medium-sized independent high-end socially responsible coffee estate and a co-op of small scale organic, fair trade indigenous farming communities. I intend to keep my ear to the ground when I get there for more contacts, but so far I've got the first two and a half weeks booked. With the rest of the time I'll either find more coffee farms, farmers, communities, estates to explore, carry on to Nicaragua, Costa Rica or Panama to visit some places I've had in my sights, or hang out on a beach or up a volcano.

I'm going to Central America...

...Because it's important for people to know where the goods they consume originate and under what circumstances.

...Because particularly in the case of coffee, first hand experience at those places of origin is by far more educational and illuminating than any book, article or video could ever be.

...Because when I went to Mexico I could feel my perspective shifting and ideas about what I want to do with my life changing before my eyes. I was more inspired by that trip than anything else I can remember, and I need some more of that.

...Because I believe strongly that it's the responsibility of North American roasters to work side by side and in support of coffee growing communities to work for quality of life as well as quality of coffee, and the best way to do that is to spend time with those communities, listen to them and form relationships directly.

...Because I'm eager to to find out how coffee markets and programs such as Organic, Fair Trade, Cup of Excellence or Rainforest Alliance work and don't work for farmers, communities and co-ops of different types and sizes.

...Because my goal is to never stop learning about coffee and its consequences, and I figure this is a good way to keep up on it.

...Because I want to share with and enrich my community and work in support of coffee farming communities with whatever knowledge and experience I gain.

...Because it's high time I learned some Spanish.

...Because it's really really cold in Vermont right now. really really really cold.

If you've got any insights or advice, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


The following pictures are of pieces of art that I've done in the past little while. All are done using nothing but paper and x-acto knives, some also have lightbulbs in the photos. Many are works in progress and in most cases I'm not happy with the photo quality. Click on the images for bigger pictures.

If I remember correctly, this is one of the very first I ever made. Musculature of the back and shoulders. The black is all one piece of paper, cut out the inside and pasted on the red, then cut out around it and pasted it on the beige.

This is a tree from a photo I took near the coffee roasting company where I used to work.

This evergreen was a new challenge, I finished it yesterday. It's from a photo I took at Snoqualmie Falls in Washington state.

These two pieces are for my, sadly, now inactive band, Nepantla.
Find our recordings to listen to by clicking here.
I'm way into the shapes of skulls with antlers and have a pile more pieces like this but unfortunately don't have any photos of them and they're really far away now.

Click on this one for a bigger image and better detail!! Actual size is about 9"x20"
It is of the human central nervous system, taken from a totally sweet anatomy book. It took a very very long time and spent a huge number of blades. I built a light box for it. This is the piece I'm most excited about and so the image quality I'm most disappointed by. Someday I'll have a nice camera again.

Detail of the brain and head.

The first tree I cut, and idiotically glued to an opaque piece of paper. no backlighting here. Also from a photo taken near the old roasting shop.

I love birds and trees and birds in trees. This was cut from a photo I took in Ohio. It's a work in progress. The sweet blue textured effect is from hanging it on a white fridge and taking a picture with the flash on a weird color balance setting. It will look much different when it's done.

I've got folder full of 'em, thanks to many late nights and a good portion of ISIS's discography.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

For good measure

A few more of the nearly 1200 photos taken during the recent road trip

The sun over Pittsburgh taken from Dan's rooftop.

Not the best photo but a pretty funny thing. Wandering the aisles of a local grocery store in Asheville, a bird swoops down and right past our heads and into the shelves, pausing long enough atop the salad dressings for me to snap this grainy photo before flying away. The bird, I mean.

Christy getting squished between the walls of an alleyway behind the Nashville Trader Joe's.

One of the thousands of windmills discussed in my earlier post from Sweetwater county, Texas

Just us and the road. Outside Clayton, NM.

Mountain landscape outside Graaaaaand Jnctshn, Coloraddy.

Sunset with a crappy camera.

Surveying the landscape outside Arches National Park, Moab, Utah.

Boxing in the new year on the magical Wii.

The ever stunning view from the shores of Lake Tahoe.

City nights in San Fransisco.

One of the many beautiful sculptures at the Albany Landfill site in the East Bay.

Sunset from the airplane on the flight back east.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mark and Christy VT to Cali '08-'09 Road trip recap and stat sheet

Start - Brattleboro, VT
End - Oakland, California
Start date - 12/3/08
End date - 1/6/09
Long driving days - 15
Total days - 35
Miles Travelled - 6,139
States crossed - 16
Fuel stops - 39
Total $ spent on gas - $484.67
Total Gallons Consumed - 272.66
Average MPG - 22.5 (keeping in mind it was an all wheel drive car and heavily loaded down)
Average Price per Gallon - 1.777561799
Most Expensive gas - $2.25, Happy Texas
Least Expensive gas - 1.35, Sandy, UT

Cities stayed - 15
People stayed with -
Friends houses - 9
Family - 3
Motels - 3
New friends (previously unknown folks who kindly hosted us, of course we made about 1,000 new friends) - 2

Items left or lost along the way -
sweet pair of polarized singlasses (r.i.p)
Leatherman tool in holster (I got it back, Thanks, Tate!)

Most Awesome non-x-mas item acquired -
Thule roof rack assembly with correct towers and Q-clips for Subaru Legacy with no
window frames or rain gutters. what are the odds? Thanks Jenna and Karl!

Most highly recommended book read on the trip -
Flight by Sherman Alexie. I read it in one day, you can too. It's great.

Movies watched -
How to draw a bunny, Milk, The Times of Harvey Milk, Loose Change, Brain Candy, Elf,
Shrek, Iron Man, Hellboy, The Music Within, Planet Earth documentaries, an obscure british comedy I'll never remember the name of and a TON of Metalocalypse.

Sock hops - 1
Hot tubs - 2
Hot springs - 3
Canyons - 4
Mountain passes - 5
Dogs we met along the way - 21
Fights, disagreements, difficulties, etc. as one might expect when two people are stuck in a car together for over a month - 0

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Idaho Vs. Vermont. Round 1. FIGHT!

There's one thing Idaho's got that vermont ain't got. Hot Springs. Burning hot mineral rich water that flows right out of the earth, down mountains into cold fresh creeks where people've built pools around where the hot pours in, so you can take off yer clothes and get in the hot rock pool in a creek in the middle of nowhere in the snowy woods.

And it's awesome.

But Vermont's got summer swimming holes alll frickin' over the place. Ponds and lakes and rivers and brooks, like you could pick a new one every week and not run out by the time it's too cold to swim anymore. Big quiet lakes, quick little rivers, rocks to jump from, places only you and your friends know about til some fool blows up the spot, then you find another place to make a secret dam and sweet new secret place to go. But I suppose Idaho's got tons of those too.

One thing idaho has that Vermont certainly does not have is canyons! great big huge rock cliffs directly facing great big huge rock cliffs with rivers running in between them way at the bottom. That, along with jagged snow-capped mountains, is one of the dramatic characteristics of the landscape out here that makes out here unique. unique from Vermont anyway, because they got canyons in Utah, too, and I think there's a pretty big one in Arizona somewhere. However, I'm considering now, do gorges count? Because Queechee has a gorge, and Queechee is in Vermont. It's sorta like a canyon, just not quite as big. if it counts, disregard this paragraph.

But you know one thing that Vermont has that's not out here? Sugar maples. The magical tree that bleeds sweet water that gets boiled down to a thing syrup of pure amber golden sugary goodness. If you don't understand the sorcery in that then I can't even begin to try to convince you. In other words, if you're not from around here you just don't know.
And, as I'm in Idaho as I write this, I'm not from around here, so where's no way that I can know for sure what it's like to be from here, because as I'm thinking of all the wonderful things that either place has or lacks, I keep coming back to Idaho might have rivers to swim in but it doesn't have the rock river, may have ponds but it doesn't have south pond. It might have beautiful trees to play in but not the ones I climbed when I was little. It might be a magical place for a million people who live here or lived here or visited and loved it but to me there's no place like the place that watched me grow up. Mountains might be bigger and canyons might be deeper elsewhere, but there's no place like Vermont. Not in Oregon across the continent or New Hampshire across the river. Because I was born there, I'll probably die there and the whole time in between it'll always be my home, no matter where I am.

Plus, there's way less strip malls and no sprawling sub-divisions. And not - this should have been the first sentence of this entry - not a single solitary goddamn billboard is displayed throughout the entire state. And we were the last of the lower 48, maybe all 50 states, to allow wal-mart to trespass within the boundaries, and the first to pass civil unions, and our senator is a socialist.

Beat that.