In between personal, familial and financial failures, Mark Twain took time to see the world and insult the peoples, locales, and histories of the places he visited. It is in this tradition of being annoyingly unsatisfied and too smart for our own good that we present "Not So Innocent Abroad:" a deplorable, ethnocentric, at times hilarious, and always historically unreliable dump on every place we have ever visited.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Where History is Swallowed, Distorted, and Vomited Up in Technicolor by Skilled Teams of Designers to Walt Disney’s Anal Retentive Standards

The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resorts in Orlando, Florida, USA:

In the few moments I was not trying to schedule a vasectomy during my recent trip to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in September, I took some time to visit some quality historical sites at the almost 40-year-old amusement park.

Now before I am beset by shouts from the granola gallery that Walt Disney World and specifically the Magic Kingdom are not historical sites of merit let me just say this. When construction began Disney built miles of “utilidors,” tunnels designed for park “cast members”(a code for employees) to traverse unseen while dressed in costumes. This system prevents out of place characters from interfering in the illusion of other "kingdoms" of the park. Because of these tunnels the surface of Disney is in fact 107 feet above the original ground. The park features architectural facades inspired by Germany, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Chesapeake, the American Southwest, and Deep South. Also featured in the Tomorrowland Park is the "Carousel of Progress," a revolving exhibit from the 1964 New York World's Fair sponsored by General Electric that traces technological progress in the 20th century and into the future. The Magic Kingdom opened its doors in October of 1971.

In 2009 there were more than 17.2 million visitors to the park, making it the most visited amusement park in the world. A pretty good record for a tract of land that 40 years ago was an uninhabitable swamp. Plus Hall of Presidents! If that doesn’t convince you that Walt Disney World is a massive engineering and cultural landmark than you are probably a self-deluding elitist. Do me a favor, jump in your corn oil powered VW bus, the one with the bumper sticker that says “I Break for Al Gore,” and drive it off a cliff. For those of you who have a respect for Walt Disney’s astounding achievement in being a neurotic control freak of astounding grandeur please read on.

The number one historical attraction at Disney is the Hall of Presidents. Like all good Republicans before 1978 Walt Disney was obsessed with Abraham Lincoln, and like all megalomaniacal personalities he was also obsessed with the presidency of the United States. The result is the first hyper-realistic stage performance ever made featuring animatronic human figures. The 20-minute show features vignettes of historical moments that people unfamiliar with details associate with interference from the executive branch. Mixed in with these great man fallacies are mythical tales of everyone’s favorite overrated presidents. This is all set against the backdrop of articulate speeches by Washington, (Teddy) Roosevelt and Lincoln about the tenuous line America’s Chief Executive walks between power hungry madman and ordinary Joe. A noble and genuine lesson that is utterly destroyed by an ironic short video of George W. Bush at Ground Zero rambling on in breathless monosyllabic dribble. Equally perplexing is that in the midst of two wars, historically high unemployment and a financial meltdown, current President Barrack Obama found the time to record the speech delivered by his far more animated robotic counterpart, but I digress. The Hall of Presidents is a terrific place to visit if you want to learn the order of the Presidents and see zombie Abraham Lincoln rise from his chair and stare at you with black eyes, as dolls eyes.

Of course lost on most people is that there is far more German history wrapped up in Disney World than American. In fact nearly every Princess story is built on some Grimm Brother’s tale designed to scare the living shit out of German kids and discourage them from adhering to the values of the French Revolution. Fortunately however the 1990s feel goodery that pumped out titles like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Lion King, and Mulan knew better than to thrust 19th Century German values on American children. So Grimm’s lessons of be a first rate version of yourself instead of a second rate version of someone else have fortunately been replaced with, you can be what you make of yourself and with enough money you can do fucking anything. That is as long as you are white, heterosexual, and good-looking. And if Magic Kingdom is not a testament to those American values I know no better example.

Finally let me just finish with two final criticism of Disney’s historical track record. It is difficult to truly appreciate Pirates of the Caribbean without being piss drunk on rum. Do the world a favor and lift the alcohol ban in the Magic Kingdom. Also having a character named “Red Fox” who jive talks you through Splash Mountain is a little racist, even for the South. 
Verdict: If ever given the opportunity, visit Magic Kingdom if only for the sake of proving your not a Communist. Also I am told that like me, children enjoy sugar, cartoons, and Space Mountain. Who would have known?

Dan Roberts,
September 2010


Thursday, October 21, 2010

the Horror!....THE HORROR!!!!!!! Picking Apples in New England

Applecrest Farm Orchard, Hampton Falls, New Hampshire

You would think that a day which ends with a woman declining to go to Maine with you because she forgot to take her birth control that morning would be ranked in the bottom tier of days, but you would be mistaken. Despite that peculiar--if hilarious--end, my day picking apples with friends in New Hampshire's Applecrest Farm Orchard was quite fun.

Located just across the Massachusetts border in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, Columbus Day weekend at Applecrest was a major event and marked (at least on Saturday) by excellent weather and sunny glory. When you're not gagging on the now superfluous tracker ride around the farm--the aforesaid woman insisted that we sit right behind the tractor spewing fumes in our faces--you can enjoy a superfluous petting zoo! When the ride ended and I regained consciousness, it was time to pick delicious apples, take bites of them and then toss them back into the orchard for slight defects--just like the Spartans used to do with their inferior new-born infants.

Beautiful women stalked the orchard and the adjoining market store, food tents and stands, and bluegrass music pavillion. I spent many moments contemplating stupid things to say to them, but decided that on a lovely day it was better to keep my dignity intact. Not so, Dan Roberts. While we imbibed hot apple cider, one of the local wasps (and here I mean the small flying stinging sort and not the large, white, anglo-saxon sort) landed on Dan's cup quite near the opening. I remarked that Dan was likely to drink the little fellow, but apparently I went unheard as Dan raised the cup to his lips. As you can imagine, what came next was a combination of awful and really really funny as Dan realized there was a wasp on his lip and the wasp realized that it needed to kill the odd thing swatting at him. After the stinging occurred we were really fortunate to have a woman with her portable pharmacy (aka purse) at hand to administer an antihistamine. Dan's lip only swelled a little bit, but he continued to whine like the prissy and pathetic small child that he is.

Slight Dan Roberts lip swelling
Filling a bag with apples when there are tens of other people all over the place is actually mildly harder than it sounds. Boosting Dan Roberts into the upper echelons of the apple trees was only slightly homo-erotic, probably lessened by the presence of a woman. Applecrest is a very user friendly orchard with a Halloween season pumpkin patch attached and a very cordial staff ready to help you make a scarecrow, buy any variety of jelly or jam, cook up burgers or sausages, and hand out delicious cider donuts (for 75 cents). This was my second visit and I had a great time. Dan probably had a less great time, but he still had a lot of fun. Our female friend also seemed to enjoy the day, but who wouldn't when they got the chance to hang out with two really super amazing awesome intelligent guys like us?

On the way home we stopped off at a local seafood place where I had a tasty clam roll, heard the birth control news, laughed, and then proceeded back to a night of mayhem in Maine. If you too would like to pick apples at Applecrest you need to be able to get there, find parking, and then pay $18 for a bag to put your apples into. But, let's face it, the fun isn't so much putting apples in the bag, it's the picking them, judging them, taking a bite, and tossing them. In a world dominated by overbearing tree hugging morons, the act of littering is one of the truly liberating experiences left to us (the other is shooting a gun outside) and Applecrest Farm Orchard is one of the remaining bastions of such freedom.

Get yourself a clam roll!

October 9, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Going to love you forever more.........

Waterloo, Belgium

Visiting the battlefield of Waterloo, where on 18 June 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte met defeat at the hands of allied British and Prussian armies under the command of the Duke of Wellington and Field Marshall Gebhard von Bl├╝cher respectively, was one of the three greatest experiences in my life. The other two were the day that I became an Uncle and the day I first had sex. If I had to actually rank them, Waterloo would win easily—sorry ladies, I’m sure you’d agree if I asked you to rank my bedroom performance or becoming my niece.

Why? My reason is very idiosyncratic. As a wee lad, I drove into Belgium with my family, yawning at the endless farms of the northeastern French and southwestern Belgian countryside. I was not particularly interested in history, except through my enduring love for the Indiana Jones movies, which were my favorites growing up (and still hold a special part of my soul—such as that shriveled and bitter piece of me continues to gasp and claw for life). But then I saw the pyramid on the horizon and I felt some stirrings of curiosity.

The Dutch King, William I, built a large mound in 1820 on the battlefield where his son, the Prince of Orange, was wounded during the battle (not mortally—pussbag) and placed a large Lion on top of it. When Wellington saw the battlefield afterward, he was extremely upset about the alteration, but he got over it—or maybe he didn’t, I don’t really know. Chances are he forgot all about it when a “doctor” dumped quicksilver in his ear in the mid-1820s to cure a mild infection—inflicting him with intense pain and deafness in that ear for the rest of his life (he lived until 1852!). To say I’m extremely grateful to have been born in a portion of the globe and in a century where such barbarisms are not practiced, but mocked, is like saying I like it when a fat man whips me while telling me I’m a bad boy—a truism.

So I spent a whole morning and early afternoon gazing on a patch of farm fields where on one day in 1815, the fate of Europe hung precariously in the balance. Had it not been for a patchwork force of British regulars, Dutch auxiliaries, a hodgepodge of units from around the British Empire, and a crusty and determined Prussian Prince, Napoleon may very well have returned to rule France leading to god knows how many additional years of ceaseless warfare and baguette rations. I was entranced, much like the first time I saw a woman naked. And, just as in that instance, not knowing how to fully explain it, I wanted to know more.

Thus began a love affair that never ended, though I did eventually abandon a youthful admiration of Bonaparte, I still maintain a healthy respect for Wellington. I am told that since my day, it now costs twelve Euros to get into the visitor center—back then you could still use whatever ridiculous currency one used in Belgium. We went to Brussels later, but I would not recommend that, you’ll just see a bunch of morons protesting whatever International body happens to be meeting in the Belgian capital that day. But definitely see the Battlefield at Waterloo—it’s a truly breathtaking experience.

Based off reminiscences from a trip to Italy, France, Belgium, and Great Britain in 1993.

For more on the Napoleonic period, of which I am something of an expert, see:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

History’s First Example of People Stubborn to a Fault

Tel Megiddo, Megiddo, Israel:

In a nook of the Fertile Crescent is the little ruin of Tel Megiddo. While this pile of dirt and sand may not look like much, its position falls along the cross road of several ancient roots taken by the conquering powers of the Tigris and Euphrates whenever they intended to pay the Pharaohs of Egypt a visit.  This quaint little township, once the Northern governmental seat of the Canaanites and ancient Hebrews, saw more action over the past few thousand years than Wilt Chamberlain and doesn’t seem to have endured quite so well. The sandy mound juts out of a fertile valley dominated by Israeli Communists and looks like a cross section of baklava. Its 25 layers commemorate the 25-time separate times the city rose and was burned to grounds by an invading force. This history of the stubborn citizens of Megiddo begins in 7000 BCE and finally ending in 586 BCE when the Babylonians invaded Canaan for the purpose of nabbing some ancient Hebrews and burning Solomon’s temple to ground. This Detroit of the Middle East now stands a broken ruin being uncovered layer by layer by archeologists, a testament to the Jewish peoples willingness to rebuild and get destroyed over and over and over again, beginning a tradition that lasts even until today.

Now a warning to all those interested in settling on ruins of Megiddo, opening up a mud brick concern, and raising a couple of Israelites beneath an olive grove. Not surprisingly this cross roads of wanton destruction has reached biblical proportions and like all hills in Israel has crucial religious significance to the worlds Christians. In keeping with traditional patterns of unhappy people seeking an end to the suffering of a dismal existence, Christian theologians from the late Roman Empire and Medieval period have given Megiddo the eschatological honor of being the site on which the final battle of good and evil will be fought. Many Christians firmly believe that the end of days, (Armageddon) will come when God shoot fire at Gog and Magog and banishes Satan to the depths of Gehenna for a thousand years. The devils defeat will begin a 1000-year period of sinless boredom and daily church bake sales.

Even if you don’t believe in Eschatological Christianity you should still be aware that Megiddo and the valley it overlooks has been the site of two significant Battles in the 20th century including British General Edmund Allenby’s routing of the Ottomans and occupation of Palestine in 1918, beginning a 30 year British headache known as the Mandate Period. The site was again host to a second battle during the Israeli War for Independence in 1948, beginning another tradition of near constant conflict and destruction in the region between the modern Hebrews and all of their neighbors.

Tel Megiddo today is a part of the Israeli National Parks Service and a well-preserved site of archeological finds dating back to the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BCE). It is open year round and cost around 7 American dollars (25 Israeli Shekels) for adults and 3 dollars for children (12 Israeli Shekels). The site features English language displays, a gift shop, and is a must see for any one interested in Ancient Battles, Archeology or the end of the World.

Verdict: If its good enough for the Pope it is more than good enough for me. This my friends is a site to see.

Dan Roberts,
August 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Finding Polk in Las Vegas (Encontrar a Polk en Las Vegas)

Tales from the Lied Library, The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA:

To say Las Vegas should not exist is like saying you wished money and sex fell out of the sky all the time--but just on you. Both statements are obviously true, but reality doesn't give a shit. Were it not for the notion that gambling was some sort of social problem pervading practically all of the country more than half a century ago, there would be no reason for a city to be located in the middle of nowhere in one of the hottest places on the continent. But such is history, replete with inanities that have, somehow, profound and significant effect.

As a perennial student, I’m quite familiar with the downtown area where the university is located. Only in a city like Las Vegas would they decide to teach 17-22 year olds serious subjects—next to perpetually naked women, booze, and gambling. Somehow I graduated from it in three and a half years, but then again, people have described me as peculiar—also a homosexual. In any event, this is more about the college than the city, because UNLV is much like the city which surrounds it—except not exciting and the women aren’t naked.

Founded in 1957, the University of Nevada-Las Vegas has a very broad focus in that it trains tomorrow’s future hotel managers today! Always constructing new buildings that have the names of complete unknowns on them (everyone in Las Vegas until the economy tanked was a virtual nomad, no one grew up in this town and stayed—except of course the crazy psychotics—we call them Mormons), UNLV prides itself on....hold on, it’s right, well it has a lot of pride. Unlike most D-1 schools, UNLV has made the bold move to locate the football team’s stadium many, many miles away in an adjoining city, which has had the major benefit of allowing the team to be really bad in almost complete obscurity. But, look, if you want a great second-rate undergraduate education at a large school where you can either live off campus with well over half of its over 25,000 students, or live on campus where you will be ostracized by the extremely clique-ish Hawaiian and Samoan populations that dominate dorm life, then UNLV might be for you!

But this has all been a digression. The real story is an epic tale in search of a rare treasure of marginal importance to a history dissertation that, in part, delves into the Mexican War—James K. Polk’s diary. Turns out that Polk had nothing better to do at the end of his days than write up the events he’d witnessed, forever condemning the reputations of such famous figures as Postmaster General Cave Johnson. I’m kidding of course, who the hell knows who the hell Cave Johnson was?

One day I went to UNLV’s Lied Library—Ernst Lied to be precise, an ubiquitous philanthropist who established a trust to continue random grants to cultural centers and universities after his death in 1980—which for some reason smells like a Calcutta alleyway out front during midday (bad sewer placement). Once I stepped in from the third world aroma and thousand degree heat, I was hit by the true Las Vegas environment, ice cold AC.

The Lied Library, University of Nevada, Las Vegas (Yes, it looks this a prison)

It's always about right here that one gets their first whiff of the "lovely" aroma in front of the Library.

As I made my way to the third of five floors, I recalled that at some point during my undergrad years some unnamed apparatchik had claimed proudly that the library (recently completed at the time) had been purposely made the largest building on campus by then UNLV President Carol C. Harter. Why? So that it could be said the university’s biggest building was an academic one. The previous title owner was the Thomas & Mack Center where evil sports and musical events are routinely housed. But I remember that this proud puff-story culminated in the actual square footage between the two buildings being one square foot! One square foot! And they actually told the story to impress people. Just imagine how many extra books you might be able to stack in a one square foot space! (I might also add that much of this space is gratuitously wasted in a giant internal cavernous atrium that extends throughout the middle of the building to the ceiling.)

These three pictures are of the cavernous interior of the place--as you can see, they really tried to maximize their use of space here...........

Back to the hunt for Polk. I get to the third floor and make my way to the Mexican War section of the American history stacks where they keep all the Polk-related materials. If you ever want to learn why they called him “Young Hickory,” this is where you go. (Hint: it wasn’t his barbeque sauce, but it may have been is penchant for being spanked with certain sorts of switches.) When I get there, they have what I’m looking for, but there is a problem, a somewhat serious problem as I examine the book. The title will help clarify—Diario del presidente Polk, 1845-1849. WHAT THE F***!!!??? They seriously had Polk’s diary, but only the Spanish translation. WHY? The Spanish translation of Polk’s diary has to be much more difficult to procure in the United States than the original English—also it’s not of much use to most English speakers at a college populated with drunken, gambling addicted, oversexed reprobates who would be better off reading the original language anyway. Polk’s diary in Spanish is like finding Patton’s memoirs in German—War da ich wusste, dass es. Or like finding Shaka Zulu’s memoirs in English—Shit! Why that didn’t work and 101 other lessons from the bush. And so, like nearly every other story I have from Las Vegas, I left disappointed.

No habla!

As I left, I tried to pick up a cappuccino at the attached Seattle’s Best only to discover that the coffee shop had been destroyed, to be replaced by a competitor in a couple of weeks. Vegas!

Visit the campus of UNLV and it's library at your own risk!
Based on visits from August 2010.

If you would like to learn more about Cave Johnson and pretend like you too go to UNLV, check out:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Indiana Dan and the Big Hole in the Middle of the Jordanian Desert that the BBC Calls a Wonder

Petra, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan:

Well I found the Canyon of the Crescent Moon but it looks like I was a little late.

 In 600 BCE a community of traders known as the Nabataeans discovered a big canyon created by a massive earthquake and remained there for nearly 800 years without influencing or bothering anybody. During this time their massive cultural achievement was to build a city and to keep it from being destroyed by flash floods and droughts while slowly carving what could be describe as crown molding into the canyon walls. This blissful state of minutia continued through Egyptian, Seleucid and Roman rule until 363 CE, when an earthquake caused the buildings to collapse effecting almost no one and causing very little disruption in the lives of everyone outside of Petra. Over the next 1600 years no one gave a shit, except for a few Bedouins whose prime use for the structures was target practice until Steven Spielberg showed up looking for someplace neat looking to film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. This subsequently initiated the only interesting period in Petra’s history and was unfortunately crushed by the interference of the Jordanian government when they realized it was the only place worth visiting in modern day Jordan. A subsequent conspiracy of Indiana Jones fans led to Petra unjustly being named in the second set of Wonders of the Ancient World by British State Television.
This sophisticated trading society used a canyon created by an earthquake to carve out some living space... until the canyon was destroyed by another Earthquake. I wonder if the ancient Nabataean version of FEMA was subsequently blamed.

While the city ruins and canyon itself are a marvel to look at the history is boring once you get past the plumbing that fed water to city and deflected flash floods. The isolation of the city ensured that no great battles ever occurred there and the failure of the Nabataean to resist the influence of other cultures made them the play-dough culture of the ancient world. After their civilization collapsed no one cared until a Swiss Archaeologist named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt showed up in 1812 and even then no one cared because several hundred miles away archaeologist were up to their necks in gold inside the tombs of Egyptian god kings and looming over it all were the great pyramids. For the next 170 years Petra was un-apologetically used as a Bedouin toilet until the gifted location scouts at Paramount found it and used its Nabataean treasury relief as the final resting place of the Holy Grail. The ensuing 20 minutes of film will go down as some of the best ever and includes such memorable quotes as “We named the dog Indiana” and “He chose poorly.” Man I love that movie!
Some geological formations in southern Jordan. Also a Bedouin kid just blowing off school and chilling on a camel.

Anyway the most fun thing about visiting Petra today is actually what a pain in the ass it is to get there and how all of the frustration is tied to much more interesting periods of Middle Eastern History. I for one started my journey in Eilat, Israel, the Jersey Shore of the Red Sea. My harrowing adventure began when a Russian named Jeff picked me up in a decrepit van. It didn’t take long to realize that Jeff was not my tour directors real name and I suddenly started having flash backs to Lifetime Original movies about the white slave trade. Things only seemed to get more troubling at the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial border crossing between Israel and Jordan where I was told to get out of the van, walk through a series of barriers guarded by machine gun wielding 18 year-olds until I got to Jordan. Once in Jordan I was instructed to start yelling for “Osama,” hand Osama my passport and wait on further instructions… yep pretty fucked up.

If crossing the militarized border between the “friendly” nations of Israel and Jordan weren’t unsettling enough, having your tour guide reveal that he fought in the First Chechnyan War against the Russian and then refer to the country you just came from as “the occupied Holy Land” doesn’t improve matters. Fortunately the tour guide explained that our misunderstanding of History was the result of the World Zionist Media Conspiracy. Ironically, were it not for said Zionist media conspiracy no one would have heard of Petra, but for the sake of avoiding a fatwa and knowing that I couldn’t settle differences in Jordan by buying the tour guide a beer, I refrained from commenting.

As an aside the diverse deserts of southern Jordan are a site to behold and were the locations selected for the filming of Lawrence of Arabia. Unfortunately because they are a barren wasteland with almost no water, infrastructure, or economy to speak of these deserts, like much of the Middle East, are basically giant litter boxes. The hostility of the desert was only matched by the hostility of our tour guide and the Hashemite government, which demanded 55 American dollars just to get into the country. And the harrowing journey only became more extreme upon arrival when it was revealed that the price to enter Petra is in fact 90 American dollars. Furthermore just to get to Petra a person has to walk over a kilometer in 115 degree Fahrenheit heat to reach the canyon, all the while the Chechnyan guide struggles to make a series of water troughs sound interesting.
Stupendous crown molding. You would have to go to a classy Home Depot to get something like this.

It is difficult to say whether the hassle, cost, and risk are all worth it in the end to see the world’s most famous example of crown molding. I happen to really like camels and it is a constant source of entertainment to watch Bedouin kids come screaming by driving the heat stricken and overweight in horse carts from the site to the entrance. I am serious about this, have you ever seen a horse try to carry a three hundred pound women in shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and sun hat. That folks is a real wonder.

Verdict: A trip to Petra (transportation, food, taxes, and park fees) will run you 250 dollars a person and could possibly kill you, making it a similar experience to getting a hooker in Vegas. Difficult to know which is more satisfying 

Dan Roberts,
August 2010