Mark Twain: Disquisition on Railroad Coffee

At 62, Mark Twain undertook a journey to follow the equator. He called his book — what else?– Following the Equator.

At this point in his narrative, he’s been to Fiji, Molokai, Australia, etc (Wonder why he skipped the Asian countries?) got very very sick, then resumed his journey by train through Australia. He got a tall tale from a fellow traveler (Of course — what is travel if not a series of encounters with tall tales told by strangers one meets in the course of a trip?)

Last weekend, self was in Lake Louise, and it was almost completely iced over. As soon as she got back to Banff, she started reading Robert Falcon Scott’s diary of his disastrous South Pole expedition. The poor man led a team to the Pole, but days away they already saw signs that they had been beaten to it by another team: there were sledge marks in the snow, small cairns, and far off, the Norwegian flag. 1 and 1/2 miles from the Pole they came across a compact tent with a note inside listing the names of five Norwegians and the date: 16 December 1911.

On the way back, all of Scott’s party perished in a blizzard.

Having now gotten completely off-tangent, self has to pull herself back by the nose to Mark Twain’s disquisition on coffee:

Twain experiences his own frustrations during his Australian train journey:  “We saw birds, but not a kangaroo, not an emu, not an ornithorhyncus, not a lecturer, not a native.”

He did, however, encounter something called “sheep-dip,” which he describes as follows:

It is a stuff like tar, and is dabbed onto places where a shearer clips a piece out of the sheep. It bars out the flies, and has healing properties, and a nip to it which makes the sheep skip like the cattle on a thousand hills. It is not good to eat. That is, it is not good to eat except when mixed with railroad coffee. It improves railroad coffee. Without it railroad coffee is too vague. But with it, it is quite assertive and enthusiastic. By itself, railroad coffee is too passive; but sheep-dip makes it wake up and get down to business. I wonder where they get railroad coffee?

Just for fun, self looked up “sheep dip” on Urban Dictionary and got this.

The next chapter, Chapter XV, begins with this quote from Twain’s novel Pudd’nhead Wilson:

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


And self is back to reading Twain.

She’s on Chapter X of Following the Equator:  “Some Barbarous English Laws.”

The opening quote is: “Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.” (Pudd’nhead Wilson)

Twain lets his indignation/sarcasm go flat out in this chapter. The excerpt below is probably his mildest in this section:

When the colony was about eighteen or twenty years old it was discovered that the land was specially fitted for the wool culture. Prosperity followed, commerce with the world began, by and by rich mines of the noble metal were opened, immigrants flowed in, capital likewise. The result is the great and wealthy and enlightened commonwealth of New South Wales.

It is a country that is rich in mines, wool ranches, trams, railways, steamship lines, schools, newspapers, botanical gardens, art-galleries, libraries, museums, hospitals, learned societies; it is the hospitable home of every species of material enterprise, and there is a church at every man’s door, and a race-track over the way.

Twain’s next stop was Australia, where he was to spend three-and-a-half months.

(Self still going to be quoting from Clockwork Angel. She’s just alternating between the Twain and that)

Stay tuned.

There Is Not World Enough and Time

There is not world enough and time for self to finish reading all the books she checked out from the Banff Centre Library, every Canadian magazine she has borrowed from the Writer’s Lounge (Grain, Room, Prairie Fire, The Walrus), not to mention all the books on her reading list. Time passes too quickly, in the blink of an eye.

Nevertheless, self has not completely given up. She will plow manfully on.

Here’s a passage from Mark Twain’s Following the Equator (Hilarious as only Mark Twain can be):

I had just arrived in Washington from the Pacific Coast, a stranger and wholly unknown to the public, and was passing the White House one morning when I met a friend, a senator from Nevada. He asked me if I would like to see the President. I said I should be very glad; so we entered. I supposed that the President would be in the midst of a crowd, and that I could look at him in peace and security from a distance, as another stray cat might look at another stray king. But it was in the morning, and the Senator was using a privilege of his office which I had not heard of — the privilege of intruding upon the Chief Magistrate’s working-hours. Before I knew it, the Senator and I were in the presence, and there was none there but we three. General Grant got slowly up from his table, put his pen down, and stood before me with the iron expression of a man who had not smiled for seven years, and was not intending to smile for another seven. He looked me steadily in the eyes — mine lost confidence and fell.

(This is not the end of the anecdote, but self has just been seized by brilliance. Yes, she’s just had a flash of insight about how she can continue her 18th century WIP. Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.)

Intricate 3: Memories of Ireland

Self spent most of the day wandering around by herself. It was a glorious day in Banff.

None of the photos she took today seem to fit with this week’s photo challenge, INTRICATE, so she scanned her photo archives and came up with these, taken when she was in Ireland, May-June 2014.

In the Dublin park next to the Chester Beatty Museum

In the Dublin park next to the Chester Beatty Museum

For some reason, self is very interested in birds and other animal life.

For some reason, self is very interested in birds and other animal life.

Illuminated Lightbox, Part of an Exhibit in the School of Fine Arts in Cork

Illuminated Lightbox, Part of an Exhibit in the Crawford School of Art and Design in Cork, Ireland (June 2014) — Self regrets she didn’t note the name of the artist.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Intricate: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is INTRICATE.

The prompt is from Krista, who gave as her inspiration the Palace of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.

Here are a few of self’s pictures of intricacy:

Llorona, a print by Alicia Reyes McNamara

Llorona, a print by former Mendocino Art Center Artist-in-Residence Alicia Reyes McNamara

Ceiling of the cathedral of Christ Church, in Oxford, England, May 2014

Ceiling of the cathedral of Christ Church, in Oxford, England, which self saw for the first time in May 2014

More of Christ Church in Oxford, England

The stained glass windows in Christ Church are a wonder to behold.

Each of the subjects is a work of art. As for the pictures of Christ Church, they bring back a host of memories. Self had gone to Oxford to attend the 2014 Saboteur Awards announcement of their literary award winners. Self was able to meet up with poet Jenny Lewis, who self first met during an artists residency in Hawthornden in 2012, and who teaches at Oxford. It was great to see her!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Things Self Is Learning About in Canada 1: Wolves

Self should have begun this series of posts with Dinosaurs but she didn’t have time until today to think this through. Hence, Post # 1 will be about WOLVES.

Like humans, wolves display a variety of temperaments and psychological quirks. Their family structure more closely resembles ours than those of many primate societies. Loyalty and affection towards kin are two of a wolf’s most observable characteristics.

— Doug Chadwick, National Geographic, May 1988 (Quoted in a pamphlet produced by the Northern Lights Wolf Centre in Golden, British Columbia)

Sponsor a wolf! Help wild wolves:

You can also, believe it or not, schedule a 1.5 hour HIKE WITH WOLVES. Contact Blackwolf Photography for prices. They recommend calling ahead for availability. (Information: 250.344.6798;

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Motion 4: Memories of Ireland 2014

A Surfing Book Encountered In a Café in Sligo

A Surfing Book Encountered In a Café in Sligo

Platform 4, Dublin Train Station, June 2014

Platform 4, Dublin Train Station, June 2014

Headed for Sligo on William Butler Yeats Day, June 2014

Dublin Train Station, June 2014

Motion 3: Calgary Olympic Park, Great China in Berkeley, Fillmore Street in San Francisco

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is to share photos of things and people in motion.

Here are a few Read the rest of this entry »

Motion: Buses, Planes, and Taxis

Capturing motion is a beautiful way to convey a story in a paragraph, sometimes even more so than a photo of the same subject in a stationary pose. — Jen H. for this week’s Daily Post Photo Challenge

Without further ado:

Crossing a Bridge Into Manhattan On the Bolt Bus From New Hampshire

Crossing a Bridge Into Manhattan On the Bolt Bus From New Hampshire: March 2015

Flying into Chicago, October 2014

Flying into Chicago, October 2014

Downtown Chicago, October 2014

Taxi Ride: Downtown Chicago, October 2014

Early Bird 3: Good Morning, Calgary

It is self’s first time to be in this Canadian city. She’s on her way to the Writer’s Studio at Banff. By chance, she has Bacolod cousins here. Amazing synchronicity! She’s spending a few days with them.

A Prairie Subdivision

A Prairie Subdivision

It is huge. A prairie city.

Self still posting on the theme EARLY BIRD:

This week, I encourage you to set your alarm for the early hours, grab your first (several) cups of coffee, and challenge yourself to capture an outstanding photograph in the early morning light.

Without further ado, Early Bird, Calgary edition:

Good morning, Calgary!

Good morning, Calgary!

First stop of the day, a nearly deserted Calgary Olympic Park:


The Olympic Flame, Calgary Olympic Park

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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