Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Monstrous Rats, Underground Rivers and Kids Who Can See in the Dark

(Above: Long-exposure photo of fireflies. More here. I wish I could buy one of these photos! So beautiful.)

Whew! I'm finished! (For the moment.) Time to get back to my year of adventure. Still gotta figure out what I'll be doing this week. But in the meantime, I have a few things I'd like to share. I've been hoarding links for quite a while now, and I need to start posting my discoveries here on the blog. (So I can clear out my cluttered bookmarks menu.) Watch out. There's a lot of weirdness coming your way!

1. This is pretty amazing. The boy in the video below can see clearly in perfect darkness. Apparently his eyes (which are a rather unusual color) also "shine in the dark" the way cats' eyes do. I don't think (as the title of the video suggests) that he's an "alien starchild." However, I do believe that he would make a pretty amazing cat burglar. Or superhero. Or spy. And I am very, very jealous.

2. Ever chuckle in disbelief when you hear tales of "giant rats?" Yeah, well, it's time to stop laughing. Several truly monstrous rodents have been discovered in New York in the past few months. Here's the proof. I've seen other pictures, but they were too gruesome to post. (Warning: The rat you'll see if you click the link is no longer among the living.)

3. A group of "Guerrilla Grafters" has been turning the trees that line public streets into fruit-bearing trees. Yes, this is possible. It's also illegal. And very cool.

4. Are you aware that there's an underground river beneath London? Wanna see some amazing pictures? (BTW, Retronaut is a pretty great site.) Some day I'll work the River Fleet into a book.

5. Made from 21% "snail extract," Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream is a popular skin-care product on the other side of the globe. You'll be happy to know that the snails are "fed red ginseng" and "raised in Korea" in order to produce quality slime.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Life Gets in the Way

(Above: The first rule of adventure: Make sure you pack more than a bra. Though I doubt that author and I define "adventuress" the same way.)

So I had to postpone my seance! I'm slaving away on revisions for my latest (non-Kiki) book, and I haven't had time for anything else. But I'm hoping I'll be finished by this weekend--just in time for ADVENTURE! The seance may even be back on. (It depends on whether my guests are still available. You didn't think I was planning to chat to a ghost by myself, did you?!)

I'll be back with an update soon. In the meantime, would one of you PLEASE go have an adventure for me?

Actually, that reminds me . . . A very good friend of mine recently returned from a remarkable African adventure. He was on a small plane that crashed in the middle of Namibia. He then had to walk over four miles through a national park to get help. A park filled with lions, rhinos, and other unfriendly beasts. I'll see if I can convince him to write the whole story himself. It's pretty incredible!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Adventure #3: The Mistake

(Above: We'll get to the subject of seances in a moment.)

Last week I found myself on an unexpected adventure. I didn't blog or tweet about it, but it may have been the most important adventure I'll have all year. I made a mistake. A big, potentially life-altering mistake. I trusted someone I shouldn't have trusted, and I found myself facing some rather terrible consequences. But then something miraculous happened. The universe set me free.

I've never been the kind of person who sees the value in making mistakes. If anything, I've always been a little too cautious. But this experience has taught me an important lesson. And it's not necessarily one I expected to learn. I've discovered that "failure" can be a wonderful thing. I think we learn more about ourselves--and the world--by failing than we do by succeeding. So I'm not afraid of making mistakes anymore. In fact, I plan to make more of them. Because I know that as long as I stay true to myself, I won't go too far wrong.

Maybe this will sound a bit hokey, but I feel like I've finally absorbed the message that I've been hiding in my books. (It's there, in all six of them. You don't even have to look hard to find it.) Never, ever, be anyone but yourself.

So as I continue my year of adventure, I'll make sure I never leave home without the following . . .

Two Eyes (Wide Open)
Duct Tape (Of Course)
A Clever Disguise
An Unquenchable Curiosity
A Smart Phone with GPS (Because I Do Love a Good Map)
An Unshakable Faith in Myself

Maybe it came as a result of my new outlook on life. (Or maybe it was just a spot of good luck.) But something else happened last week. An idea popped into my head. And yep, it's for a new book. I'm pretty excited about it. So excited that I'm going to start writing this morning.

Then, later this evening tomorrow evening, I'm going to embark on Adventure 3.5. All our talk about seances has gotten me thinking. I'm going to see a lecture on the 19th century spiritualist Madame Blavatsky. Medium, mystic, world-traveler, writer, con-artist, and fraud. And probably one of the most fascinating people who ever claimed to speak to the dead. (Read about her here. Warning: The article from The Daily Beast has a bit of foul language. It also happens to have been written by one of my personal heroes.)

I'll let you know how it goes. I'm kind of hoping to pick up a few tips from Madame. Even if my ghost doesn't make an appearance this weekend, there's no reason my guests need to leave without enjoying a good scare. Heehee.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Adventure #3: Still Thinking!

It has been a crazy week! But I fully intend to make room in my hectic schedule for ADVENTURE this weekend! I'm still exploring the possibilities, but I will be back with an update soon! I have already decided what NEXT week's adventure will be--and I think you're going to like it! I will be hosting a seance in my haunted apartment! I can't wait to hear what my ghost has to say. While I'm on the subject, there was another strange incident a few days ago. I went into my bathroom to take a shower and noticed a small, rubber ball sitting motionless on the floor. I took my shower and forgot all about it. Then, when I left the room, the ball came bouncing out behind me. It was as if someone was telling me, "This doesn't belong in the bathroom!"

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Adventure #2: The Human Car Wash

Yesterday evening, I completed my second adventure. I would have tweeted, but my phone ran out of juice just before I got to the baths. But that's fine. There's no way I could have described yesterday's experience in 140-character increments.

I'll confess--I wasn't sure if my visit to the Russian/Turkish Baths would qualify as an adventure. I worried that the only thing I'd find at the underground "spa" would be a crowd of sweaty New Yorkers sitting around in their bathing suits. I needn't have worried. My visit to the famous 10th Street Baths in the East Village was among the strangest experiences of my life.

To begin with, the baths are no place for the germ-phobic. I am a card-carrying member of that particular group. Fortunately, I left my card at home yesterday (along with all of my valuables). This is my YEAR OF ADVENTURE, and I can't afford to be squeamish! I plan to encounter all sorts of disgusting stuff over the next 50 weeks. A little sweat should be the least of it.

(Above: NOT what you should expect.)

That having been said, if you visit the baths, I highly recommend that you schlep your own supplies (as I did). Bathing suit. Flip flops. You might even bring your own towel or robe.

OK--now that you've been warned, allow me to set the scene. After you arrive, you deposit your belongings in a locker, pull on your bathing suit, and head downstairs to the pool and saunas. This is the main part of the baths. It's much smaller than I imagined. And there's absolutely nothing pretty about it. In fact, the place looks oddly industrial--like a human car wash.

The basement was full when I got there. (If you don't like company, you should probably go during the work week.) The crowd was fairly young (I'd been expecting to see a bunch of old Russian guys) and there were lots of ladies. Still, there was an astonishing array of body hair on display (not all of it attached to the men). At first I felt like I'd wandered into a carpet showroom. Then I decided to mind my own business--which is probably what I should have been doing in the first place. After that, I didn't feel weird at all. Seriously. Even I was surprised.

Downstairs, I was immediately approached by one of the bath's "therapists," who wanted to know if I would like any extra "treatments." I know some people find the solicitations annoying, but since I was there for adventure, I wasn't bothered at all. The therapist spoke with a thick accent I couldn't place and he wore a big gold chain around his throat. Super nice guy. But I don't think you'd want to make him angry.

I started with a goopy mud treatment. I'm afraid there's not much to report. The mud was cold at first. It seeped under my bathing suit and stained the inside lining. Getting it washed off was the best part. They hose you down like an elephant. But I didn't go to the baths for mud. I went for the platza treatment. And that's where the experience became a true adventure.

There are five saunas in the basement of the baths. The hottest is known as the Russian Room. It is, beyond all doubt, an entrance to Hades. I have never felt heat like that. I didn't check a thermometer, but it was hot enough to scorch my lungs the moment I stepped inside. I didn't think I could stay for more than a minute. But the Russian Room is where the platza treatment is administered. I'm not sure how long I was in there. But each and every one felt like an eternity.

A giant Russian man in long, monkish robes told me to lie face-down on one of the benches. He put a wet towel over my head, which made it somewhat easier to breathe in the heat. Then he proceeded to beat my skin with a bunch of soapy oak leaves. I don't think it hurt. But I honestly don't know for sure. Because the entire time I was far more concerned that I might die from the heat. I'm not exaggerating at all. And what really freaked me out was that I'd probably end up partially cooked before the giant Russian figured out that he was beating a corpse.

When it was over, I was guided out of the Russian Room and told to take a dip in the freezing cold plunge pool. (Horrible, horrible, horrible.) After the giant confirmed that I could "move my face" (was there a chance that I might not be able to?), he smeared my skin with honey and told me to sit still for five minutes. At that point I wasn't ready to go anywhere.

So that's it. Am I glad I visited the 10th Street Baths? Absolutely. Will I go back? Maybe--but probably not. If I do, will I ask for the platza treatment? My first response would be NOOOOO! But whenever I look in a mirror, I gotta admit that my skin looks fantastic. The only question is: How much will I suffer for beauty?

Interested in going to a Russian bath? Here's a list of a few in New York!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Adventure #2: The Russian Baths

Told you I was going to go somewhere warm this week! At some point in the next three days, I shall be visiting New York's famous Russian Baths, which I've heard are an adventure one MUST experience. (Don't be startled by the appearance of a nude painting when you click the link. And FYI, I will not be removing my swimsuit. Not even when I get beaten with "fragrant oak leaves." Always wanted to try that.) I probably won't be able to Tweet from the inside, but I promise I'll Tweet all the way home.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Adventure #1: The Houseboats of Lavender Lake

Above: Lavender Lake (otherwise known as the fetid and fragrant Gowanus Canal).

Isn't it lovely? Maybe you're thinking it wouldn't be such a bad place to park a houseboat. Well here's an exercise that will help you imagine what life might be like for the brave souls who choose to make a home on Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal . . .

First get a little toy boat. Then locate the foulest, most disgusting public toilet around. (Gas stations are always a good place to start.) Drop your boat into one of the toilet bowls. Try to pretend that you call that boat home. Imagine the smells and sights one would endure. Pretty horrible, right? Well, believe it or not, there are worse places to live. Like the Gowanus Canal.

I'm not exaggerating. There's a reason the Gowanus was recently declared a Superfund site. The water is teeming with countless disease-causing pathogens. Cholera. Typhus. Gonorrhea. And every time there's a big rainstorm, New York City's ancient sewer system releases raw sewage directly into the canal. (Want to see a video? Click here. Don't watch while you're eating.) To be honest, the sewage would only be second on my list of worries if I lived on the canal. My primary concern would be the highly-toxic chemicals left behind by the factories, tanneries, and gas refineries that have lined the Gowanus for the past 150 years. Take a dip in the water, and you'd probably emerge with a little less skin.

Oh yeah . . . did I mention that the Gowanus is rumored to have been a mob dumping ground? Some might argue that the stories are pure fiction, but I honestly couldn't think of a better place to toss a body or a bag of guns.

(Above: The waterfront.)

As I may have mentioned, I live a few blocks from the Gowanus Canal. Which means next to nothing. In New York, you're always a few blocks away from something stomach-churning. (If you're lucky. If not, there's something revolting right next door.) In fact, I never thought about the canal very much until the hurricane that hit New York last summer. That's when I discovered that my house is across the street from a flood evacuation zone. And it wasn't seawater that might have flooded my neighbors' homes. It was the poisonous soup from the Gowanus Canal.

Then, after I came across a few articles about the Gowanus houseboats, I decided I should pay a visit to the canal. It's too bad that I chose to make my first excursion on a bitterly cold winter day. But I pulled on my boots and set off on my quest. Because this is my YEAR OF ADVENTURE! And I'm so happy I did. I may have come close to freezing my butt off, but when I got home I felt more inspired than I have in ages.

(However, my next adventure WILL take me somewhere warm and relaxing. Ha.)

Now, on to my discoveries . . .

The bright yellow boxes in the photo above are "bird and bat houses" that an environmental group has constructed along the canal. These little structures are very interesting for several reasons. First, there might actually be bats inside. How cool would it be to see bats flying over the canal at dusk? (It'd be even cooler if they belonged to some mutant, bloodsucking species that can only be found in Brooklyn.) Second, the yellow boxes would be perfect as dead drops. Or they could conceal surveillance equipment. Or just about anything else. (This is how a story starts to form in my head.)

One of my favorite spots along the canal was the boat dock. The boat-shaped "sign" shown above says, "Brooklyn's Coolest Superfund Site." I found it rather amusing. But not quite as amusing as the little green sign to the left which cautions boaters to avoid coming into contact with the water or sediment in the canal. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not sure it's possible to canoe or kayak without getting a little bit damp.

Apparently the warnings haven't dissuaded the canoe club that meets at this site every Saturday from May to October. Members of the public are welcome. If I can find a waterproof hazmat suit, I may well join them.

(On a side note, while I was at the boat dock, a group of doofuses broke in through a fence on the other side of the canal. I don't think they were intent on causing any trouble, but it shows you how poor the security is along the Gowanus. Good to know.)

Above: This oozing pipe was a few inches to the left of the boat dock. (And yes, that's my shadow.)

Finally, I found a houseboat. On Monday it was moored between the Carroll St. and Union St. bridges. And the sight was well worth all of my pain and suffering. The owner obviously has excellent taste in art. But I can't understand why (s)he would steer that floating masterpiece into the Gowanus Canal. I would have inquired, but the boat's dock seemed pretty inaccessible. So if you happen to read this post, houseboat dweller, please drop me a note. I'm one of your biggest fans.

Just as I was about to head home, I came across this street art alligator. I'm afraid my camera didn't do it justice. It's really quite spectacular in person. And I can't help but think that the artist must have been inspired by something (s)he saw emerge from the murky Gowanus.

While sipping hot chocolate back in my office, I found the video I've embedded below. The guy being interviewed lives on a houseboat in the Gowanus (one I didn't happen to see). I admire his commitment to living "off the grid" in New York City. But I bet he sneaks off the boat now and then for a hot shower, a gourmet dinner and a shiatsu massage.

The Off-Gridder from Yardena Schwartz on Vimeo.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Back from the Gowanus Canal . . .

The trip was very interesting indeed! I tried tweeting about my adventure, but it was so cold outside that my hands were shaking too much to type. (Though I did manage a few tweets.) Before the end of the day, I'll post about my discoveries. (One of which was pretty amazing.) But first I must get this chill out of my bones!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Adventure #1 Will Take Place Tomorrow

Picked up a cold on Friday. Thank goodness this Monday's a holiday! Check in tomorrow!