Marquesan Now!

Posted on 10 February 2013 | Comments Off on Marquesan Now!

Hey all,

I recently arrived in French Polynesia to spend a year conducting doctoral fieldwork in anthropology.  I would love to keep in touch, but will be posting to my other blog more regularly than this one.  Please check out Marquesan Now for daily Marquesan words, photos and updates!



Posted on 14 September 2012 | Comments Off on My NEW BLOG!

I know, I know.  I don’t keep up with this one…so why am I starting another one?

But this new one is SPECIAL.  Believe me.  It’s associated with one of my greatest passions: THE MARQUESAS ISLANDS.

Inspired by my book on the Marquesan language, it shares Marquesan news, photos, and words (it will parallel my Facebook page, but is really better because you can actually keep up with what I post without having to visit every day).

Live vicariously!  Learn Marquesan!  Visit:

Dance performance in Hakahau, Ua Pou.

Marquesan Now

Posted on 11 September 2012 | Comments Off on Marquesan Now

Hello hello!  Long time no see, I know.  Busy times (I went back to school!) and a bit of a fail in terms of my blog-maintenance tactics.  In any case, I hope to do better in the future (working on it!).

One thing I’m up to lately: I just started a new Facebook page called “Marquesan Now.”  Check it out!  And if you’re interested, like it and subscribe!  Inspired by my book on Marquesan, it has photos, news and daily Marquesan words.  Hope to see you there!

Hanamenino, Tahuata, Marquesas Islands

Tracks through the back yard…

Posted on 10 May 2011 | Comments Off on Tracks through the back yard…

I recently took the train north from Massachusetts to Vermont, and once again found myself marveling at how much I love this mode of travel!  The (usually) gentle click-click of the train wheels is calming and peaceful.  The seats are large and comfortable compared to other forms of public transport.  The seat next to you is usually empty so you can lazily expand into the space with various snacks, bags and sweaters.  The air is fairly normal—not too hot, not too cold, not too dry—and there are no vents blowing directly into your face or next to the windows (one of my pet peeves on buses).  Last but not least, you ride along with the soothing reassurance that you have helped to minimize environmental impacts by taking the most sustainable mode of ground transport available.

Above and beyond these benefits, however, are the joys of train track views.  Unlike the highway, trains cut through the heart of the countryside.  They sneak through back yards and tiptoe along river edges.  With only one or two passing per day, trains are different from the constant, nagging disruption of cars traveling at high speeds.  Train tracks are consequently blocked off, or alienated, much less from their surrounding landscape than highways.  Although some sections are lined with berms or fencing, most of the train right of way in rural areas is simply that: two tracks running through the woods, or along the edge of a field, or through a village.  From the large windows, you suddenly find yourself peaking in the back door of people’s lives, and seeing what they intend to hide by putting it in the back yard.  It’s a fabulous little foray into American culture!

With that in mind, here are a few highlights (glimpses or observations) from my most recent train voyage:

– A flock of turkeys in a dew-soaked field.

– Abandoned children’s toys.  LOTS of them: big wheels, plastic shovels, balls and bats.

– Rusted old iron bed frames and old automobile carcasses.

– Amazing amounts of trash.  One house, in particular, whose back door is barely visible for all the junk in the back yard.  A nearby gully is filled with heaps of trash casually pushed over the edge…to make room for more trash.

– Graffiti, of both the artistic and angst varieties.

– The two-sided coin: As a train passenger you spend most of your time looking out a single window, on exclusively one side of the train.  Occasionally looking out the opposite side can therefore result in delightful surprises, or sometimes disappointments.  For example, on one side you may be enjoying a quaint little farm house set on a backdrop of gardens and fields; but a glance out the opposite window reveals that this little house is not, in fact, isolated among rolling green hills as you had imagined.  Instead, it’s right across the tracks from the grey, hulking forms of an old industrial site.

– A pair of deck chairs perched on the edge of a river, facing the quiet water and away from the small house nearby.

– A single deck chair in the open bay of a wooden barn.

– A sculpture park, including circles of stones and giant, gangly human-like sculptures cavorting around in an open field by the river (this one took me by surprise!).

– Fluttering laundry lines, raised garden beds and dog houses.

– At each stop, people getting on and off.  Friends greeting friends, relatives collecting relatives.  A little boy running into the arms of his grandparents.  An older woman searching the platform for her daughter.  It’s fun to imagine the stories.

– A beautiful, rambling old farm house and barn…with a mobile home only a few yards away.  Two generations, illustrated?


Canine Connection

Posted on 24 April 2011 | Comments Off on Canine Connection

Since adopting our dog, Jolie, last fall, Damien and I have had a thrilling time getting to know her better, both as an individual and as one of the canine kind.  I grew up with dogs and so I met Jolie with a certain level of experience.  However, in working from home I have had an unusually high exposure to this particular dog.  She’s also our first dog of our very own, which means we’ve been her primary trainers and care takers since she came to us from North Carolina.


Among other things, I have been impressed with Jolie’s ability to read human emotions.  Though not always entirely accurate, her emotional reaction to human feelings is perceptive, reliable and even magical, at times.  Damien and I go about our lives as usual, making the same noises, motions and exclamations in response to this or that and to each other; but on a whole different level is Jolie, listening and responding to our universe of actions in her own way—regardless of our acknowledgement.

I wanted to share a few of these scenarios, just for fun, and perhaps in the process come to understand this strange little animal a little better.  The following are a list of: 1) actions by the owner; 2) reactions from the dog; and 3) my own guess at what might be going through the dog’s mind.

OWNER: Laughs or sings happily in response to something positive.  Claps.  Jumps out of seat.

DOG: Gets up, yawns noisily.  Stretches with tail flopping back and forth; trots happily over with ears perked and tail wagging.

DOG BRAIN: “Ooh, ooh!  Fun!  Yay!  What’s next?  Where to?”

OWNER: Talks animatedly on the phone, usually after a period of peace and quiet.

DOG: Gets up, stretches, and locates the loudest squeaky toy she can find.  Gallops around the room with it pouncing, squeaking, jumping, and squeaking some more, very excitedly.

DOG BRAIN: “Yay!  Time to make noise!  Yes!  Make noise make noise make noise!”

OWNERS: Engage in talking happily, laughing or sitting on couch together.  Hug.  Work on something together in the same room (like dying Easter eggs).

DOG: Show up as soon as the team activity begins and linger around suggestively, tail down, eyes alert.  Squeezes between legs of owners, puts head on owners’ legs, rests against owners’ legs.

DOG BRAIN: “Helloooo!?  I’m here, too.  Yes, me!  Just a friendly reminder.  Yup—still here.  Still cuddly.”

OWNER: Speaks heatedly or argues, with passion or anger.

DOG: Appears to shrink an inch or two in size; wags tail furiously with ears back against her head.  Approaches hesitantly, with head down slightly and eyes half closed.

DOG BRAIN: “Sorry sorry, so sorry—I didn’t do it!  I swear.  I’m a good dog.  Aren’t I cute?”

OWNER: Exclaims or shouts in frustration at a magazine article, kitchen accident, or other negative surprise.

DOG: Trots in wagging her tail, ears back and eyes alert.  Observes from a distance, tail down, before approaching (if it’s safe) with tail still wagging slowly.

DOG BRAIN: “What was that?  Come on, it’s okay.  Pats for the nice dog?”

Facing Religion in the New Millenium

Posted on 23 April 2011 | Comments Off on Facing Religion in the New Millenium

I recently saw an excellent documentary on religion and the role it plays in America today.  For the Bible Tells Me So, by Daniel Karslake, does a decent job of tiptoeing the tightrope of objectivity (at least from my admittedly liberal point of view) in a look at how religion can divide, damage and hurt.

Above all, the film confronts the conflicts between religious doctrine and practice.  It poses questions about families and what it is like to grow up as a homosexual in a religiously conservative home.  It interviews both parents and children, from families with a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities, and explores the ways in which religious practice and American culture have changed over the past fifty years.  Fascinating!  Frightening!  Sad.  But surprisingly uplifting.  Watch it!  It’s available on Netflix, among other places.  Visit the official website for more details.


DVD cover for "For the Bible Tells Me So"

18 Minutes of Fireworks: Ted Talks

Posted on 20 April 2011 | Comments Off on 18 Minutes of Fireworks: Ted Talks

Just heard about a great website on Vermont NPR.  Their motto is: “Ideas worth spreading”, with the mission: “Bring big ideas to everyone”.  The basic concept is that by sharing 18-minute, thoughtful and animated talks on various topics of our day online, anyone who visits the site can benefit from information and be inspired to act, change or just laugh.  The speakers are from around the world and include some of the top academics, professionals and thinkers of our time.  Known in some circles as a “spa for your brain.  It’s great!  It’s Ted Talks.  Check it out.

For example, one incredible post lauded by NPR: the Virtual Choir, a compilation of 2,000 voices from around the world singing a single piece of music that was compiled from individual recordings.  Complete with video of the individual singers!  Bizarre, a little creepy (especially the floating conductor), and very new age: the realization of an inherently communal activity entirely lacking in social contact, through the power of technology alone.  Wow.  Watch the video here, and hear the creator talking about it, here.

Another neat one they mentioned on NPR is about ants and how they know what to do without the use of language, memory or leadership.  Watch it here.

One I loved: Stuart Brown discussing the importance of play and what it means to our happiness and education, as people as well as animals.  According to him, play is something for its own sake rather than for any specific purpose.  Moral of the story: PLAY MORE!  Learn more about it here.

For the anthropologically-inclined, there’s one with Jane Goodall speaking on what separates humans from apes (including her best imitation of the classic chimp greeting!)  Excellent.  She also discusses some of the most disturbing trends in resource management around the world; and gives a hopeful message about how we, as humans, have the power to change where we’re heading.  Watch it here.

Another one I enjoyed: an alternately funny, sad and interesting talk on dogs and dog-training, given by a veterinarian, dog trainer and animal behaviorist.  Watch it here.

And, last one—I promise!  I’ll let you explore it on your own, from here—an excellent talk on “5 Dangerous Things you Should Let Your Kids Do”.  YES!  We need more of this out there.  Watch it here.

A New Film: Mother Nature’s Child

Posted on 17 April 2011 | Comments Off on A New Film: Mother Nature’s Child

I recently attended a screening of Mother Nature’s Child, shown at the Green Mountain Film Festival.  A peak into the lives of some of America’s children of today, it’s a fascinating, frightening look at where technology is taking us—and what it means to grow up in a world where continuous, pervasive access to technology is both embraced and taken for granted.  The film explores how our children are increasingly isolated from nature—one of the best and most effortless teachers we have at our disposal.  It ventures to suggest that instead of confining your child to a sterile, carefully engineered playground, consider releasing them into the natural world!  So severe is the separation of humans from their environment that a new phenomenon known as “nature deficit disorder” is now recognized.  What kind of people are our children going to become, if we never allow them to get their nails dirty?  How will our efforts to manufacture learning, even at the earliest ages, effect those we are trying to instruct?  What kind of world leaders, thinkers and parents are produced by today’s accepted procedures for combining isolation with confinement and rigid structure?  We have yet to find out, since this generation is really the first to grow up under such conditions (my generation—the wonder children of the 1980s!—was on the tail end of the old school, fancy free pre-lawsuit days).  This film, made by Camilla Rockwell (my aunt!) explores these questions and more, infusing you with equal measures of happy, hippy-loving warmth and genuine anxiety for our future.  Go see it!  Find a screening near you or host your own by visiting the film website.  And get outside!


The official film poster, copyright Fuzzy Slippers Productions.


Oh, Canada!

Posted on 4 April 2011 | Comments Off on Oh, Canada!

It seems a little strange to know exactly where I will be in six months…but not yet be able to do anything about it.  Damien and I are moving to Montreal!  Wooo!  Now what?  I almost immediately started making lists of things to do…only to realize that almost all of those things are tasks I can’t tackle until some future date.  Dernit.

For someone who likes to check things off of lists, this is immensely frustrating.  It’s too early to really start looking for an apartment, though that has not in the least deterred us from spending hours on Craigslist searching available apartments with nice pictures (so we can drool over places we can’t rent because their leases start next week).  Sigh.  So far the only concrete thing I’ve accomplished is to begin my online application for a Quebec Acceptance Certificate (commonly referred to as CAQ).  This will allow me to obtain my study permit (like a student visa), which I will present at the border to get the necessary Canadian immigration paperwork (one more thing to add to the “future” list!); but I haven’t completed it yet because I’m still waiting for the final word on the source of funding for my studies.  Sigh (again).

Cornered in this awkward limbo of lag time between decision and execution, I’ve spent far too many hours of late day dreaming and scrabbling around for information, with nothing but a few scrap paper lists to show for it.  That said, there has been one thing Damien and I have done that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.  No question, it still counts as a giant waste of time.  But so far it has been pretty satisfying compared to the other products of immigration anticipation.  It began with a Google search for the words, “silly canada” and ended…well, it still hasn’t ended.  But I thought I’d share some of my favorites.

First, there are the YouTube videos.  This one advertises a Canadian “ELITE” plan for well-educated American liberals ready to flee their (increasingly crazy) homeland.  For a little musical entertainment, check out this rap remix of the Canadian anthem (yes!  Makes you want to immigrate TODAY) and “Canada, Please“, featuring dancing, Canadian mounty (i.e. Royal Canadian Mounted Police) outfits and a catchy rap beat highlighting Canada’s greatest perks (will have you singing along in moments).

My other favorite items were the posters.  Specifically, the demotivational poster spoofs (see the original demotivational posters website here for non-Canada related hilarity).  I’ve pasted a few highlights below (with no hard feelings intended, for any Canadians out there…).





Trouble the Water, U.S.A.

Posted on 25 March 2011 | Comments Off on Trouble the Water, U.S.A.

I recently watched a fascinating documentary called Trouble the Water (it’s available on Netflix or to read more, watch the trailer, etc. visit  Made in 2008, the film boasts some of the most incredible live footage I have ever seen—both of Hurricane Katrina itself and of life in New Orleans’ 9th Ward, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by the storm.  I turned on the movie expecting to be seriously depressed; but instead it told a complex and intricate story of a big storm, a neighborhood, and an ailing country.  So…yes, depressed.  But also intrigued.

Kimberly Rivers Roberts, a local resident of the 9th Ward, kept her camera running for much of the storm and shared the footage with the documentary makers for the creation of the film.  What happens to Kimberly, her family and her neighbors both during and after the storm highlights some of the most glaring political, economic and cultural fissures in American society today.  From an anthropological standpoint, Kimberly’s brief escape (with her husband Scott and some neighbors) from their neighborhood in the storm’s aftermath is an interesting experiment in the nature versus nurture debate.  Their hopes are high to make a better life for themselves once they have escaped the cyclical patterns of the poverty-stricken environment in which they grew up.  In a bizarre, surprisingly happy twist of fate, the storm gives them the motivation and excuse to leave New Orleans and, for the first time, Louisiana.  The change, and eventual hope, that springs out of this move and their subsequent return to their home in New Orleans is heart-rending and inspirational. (NOTE: Read no further if you want to watch the documentary and don’t want the end spoiled!  Hehe.)  Kimberly makes her first rap album, Scott gets a job in construction and they have their first baby.  The rays of sunshine are tangible, at the end of this tunnel.  But reality is never far away, and it is clear throughout the film that they are the lucky ones—by virtue of not only providence but their own enduring hope and hard work.  Even for them, the future is frighteningly uncertain.  Their home and neighborhood is still shockingly vulnerable to future floods, and a repeat of Katrina appears all too possible if the broader issues implicated by their story aren’t addressed.

Ah yes, the broader issues.  When will race cease to be an economic indicator?  When will American citizens mean more to the government than non-renewable resources?  When will disaster relief in poor neighborhoods mean helping people, more than policing them?  (Okay, maybe never, since poverty in America usually means desperation.)  When will politicians and policy makers take real, immediate and preventative action against climate change and the catastrophic events that will accompany it?  The Mayor of New Orleans, C. Ray Nagin, had prior knowledge of Katrina and began evacuating the city accordingly…but did not offer any form of public transportation out as part of this plan.  I only hope that others will learn from his mistake.

Raise awareness: watch Trouble the Water, and tell others to watch it!


The poster for Trouble the Water, from the film website


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