Make a "city symphony" of your own.

DIY: Soundcities is an open online database of thousands of urban sounds from around the world. On the site, you can visit various cities and create soundmaps of your own. Cool.

Looney Tunes on Southwest

The internets want to be free

We have long-complained about the ridiculous fees charged by hoteliers, especially at the high-end, for wifi access. But with wireless now so ubiquitous that you can get on line everywhere from your carwash to your to haberdasher, getting hotel customers — many of whom already are paying a few hundred bucks a night — to shell out to log on has become a losing battle for hotels. More are throwing in the towel and making in-room Wi-Fi free for all guests, or at least those who sign up for the hotels’ free loyalty programs. So check out wifi availability before you check in.

Cheaper flights to Europe, at least for now

"Nane were keener against it than the Glasgow folk, wi' their rabblings and their risings, and their mobs, as they ca' them now-a-days. But it's an ill wind blaws naebody gude." -- Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott

The rest of the story: Airfare to Britain Plummets to Lowest Level in Three Years by Patrick Surry (Hopper).

Visiting The Doors' Venice

Ray Manzarek gives a tour of Venice and Santa Monica, talking about the early days of the Doors. This was made for his 2003 film, "Love Her Madly."

People on the Mexican-American Border

On the Border is a New Yorker-ish report on a 2,000-mile long, 20-mile wide strip of territory stretching between the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Coast, that has its own laws, its own culture and its own people. It is the people, especially, that come alive in Tom Miller's wry, sensitive profiles.

The frontier between the United States and Mexico has a contrived quality to it, as if it were erected in response more to xenophobia than to genuine political or economic problems. The society on one side is much like that on the other. Indeed, the wall, barbed-wire and chain-link fences slice not only through empty countryside and crowded metropolitan neighborhoods, but also through families, dividing breadwinners from their dependents, parents from their children. For the people on its banks, the Rio Grande is a river of tears.

Miller, who made the trek from east of Brownsville to the shore of Baja, knows how to tell a story. In one revealing (and often amusing) tale after another, he brings alive the campesinos, politicians, political activists, border police, businessmen, parrot smugglers, Klansmen and whores who make the region as lively and fascinating as any place on the planet. He not only captures the border as it is, but delves into its past, a history not only of wars and treaties, but of cultural landmarks such as Rosa's Cantina, the locale of Marty Robbins' classic country and western hit "El Paso."

"On The Border" humanizes an issue that for decades has been marked more by ignorance and prejudice than compassion and understanding. It is rare for a book to be as informative on an important issue as this one is -- the unending political arguments about immigration that mar every election cycle demonstrate how important -- and still be wonderfully entertaining.

On the Border: Portraits of America's Southwestern Frontier by Tom Miller

Also of interest:
Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War On "Illegals" and the Remaking of the U.S. - Mexico Boundary by Joseph Nevins
Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity by David G. GutiƩrrez

Myanmar: Voices of the Voiceless

MTV's Rebel Music series, produced by activist artist Shepard Fairey, "is an intimate look at the lives of young people in the heart of today's greatest protest movements, who," in places like Venezuela, Senegal, Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Native American communities in North America, "are using the power of music and art to demand positive change." If you haven't yet caught the series, now in its second season on MTV, here's a sample:

"The fearless Myanmar musicians went deep underground to build a thriving punk and hip-hop scene, despite the limits of freedom they faced. Now that the country is beginning to open its borders, see how punk lifer Skum, guitarist/promoter Eaiddhi and Y.A.K., one of Myanmar’s only female hip-hop groups, make music in such uncertain times."

See, also, Shepard Faireys' Obey Giant: Manufacturing Quality Dissent since 1989.

Just because we know where the L-points are doesn't mean we're going to live there any time soon.

Still be a while until the grand opening of Club Med Lagrange.

The High Frontier by Gerard K. O'NeillWhen I first picked up The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space in 1978, I thought the publisher was hyperbolizing, what with cover lines shouting, "They're coming! Space colonies -- hope for your future." But it turned out that the late Gerald K. O'Neill wrote about orbiting townships with all the caution and fastidiousness of a TV pitchman. He sounded, in fact, very much like the evangelicals who preached salvation through nuclear power before Chernobyl and Fukushima. Reading his book, I was reminded of H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come. But by the third edition in 2000, a new publisher had turned down the volume; "The High Frontier" was now merely a "classic." After all, despite extraordinary advances in technology, very little that O'Neill envisioned has come to pass.

Not that projections of giant self-supporting cities and resorts dancing round the earth or plopping down on Mars are without appeal. Like much utopian dream-weaving, such schemes are frequently logical (if you accept their premises), humane in their ambitions, and efficient in their design -- but also, too often, quite mad. If you wish to read a brief in favor of space cities, however, The High Frontier has all the virtues of good propaganda: It's passionate (for all its gloss of sweet reasonableness), intelligent (within its assumptions) and unflaggingly optimistic (O'Neill, who was a member of the physics department faculty at Princeton and founder of the Space Studies Institute, believed he had outlined a workable plan that would have us
living in space by 1995; instead, twenty years later all we have is an aging International Space Motel nearly ready for the car crusher).

Should you find yourself swept away by O'Neill 's fervor, you'll discover healthy correctives among the arguments presented in Space Colonies, a collection of essays originally issued about the same time as O'Neill's book. Although editor Stewart Brand (he was founder-editor of the still-relevant Whole Earth Catalog and runs the Long Now Foundation) is something of a space colony partisan himself (he was editor of CoEvolution Quarterly, from which most of the book's material is drawn), it is O'Neill's critics (among them John Holt, George Wald and Wendell Berry) who have the better of the arguments in this book.

They excoriate O'Neill and his supporters for being sanguine about finding solutions in space to political and social problems that have never been amenable to solution on the planet's surface (it's utopian to imagine earthlings won't take their baggage with them), for offering a program that would require a commitment of resources sure to aggravate existing terrestrial difficulties, and for ignoring the fact that control of technology this sophisticated would almost certainly be placed in the hands of the military of the alleged great powers; they
also offer fatal criticisms of the technology that is the crust of O'Neill's pie in the sky.

In the years between then and now, the technology has vastly improved beyond what most of us could imagine. But the planet's resources have been further depleted, climate change looms, and visionary political leadership is suffering it's own great die-off. Approached as science-fiction, space colonies are fun to think on and dream about -- The High Frontier is as exciting a read as it ever was, and six new chapters point out the technological advances made in the 25 years since O'Neill's original manifesto, but science-fact they are not, at least not yet, and one hopes that until we can learn to live together more peaceably, they never will be.

When space tourism becomes viable, Detourist will be first in line to go. In the meantime, my bucket list is long enough without adding the Hyatt Europa.

The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space by Gerald K. O'Neill
Space Colonies, edited by Stewart Brand

For NASA's speculations on orbiting colonies, see Space Settlement Basics at

Rocket man, I think it's gonna be a long, long time

Lost Places: The Himalayan Kingdoms

The Himalayas, the forbidding 1,800-mile mountain range that divides the Indian subcontinent from Asia, have held a particular fascination for westerners. Not only are these barren giants physically treacherous, but the ancient civilizations they sheltered are especially alien to our own. Despite the intrusion of pilgrims and traders from the West, details of the social functioning of the dozens of tiny kingdoms there went largely unrecorded for centuries. As late as the end of the 19th Century, maps of the Himalayas still showed such large geographic areas as Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan as "unexplored."

Of all the people of the Himalayas, the most mysterious and thus most fascinating were the Tibetans. Except for a brief invasion by the British in 1904, Tibet remained shrouded in a thick veil of mystery.* Partly this was a matter of the physical remoteness of the plateau, but also it reflected a determination on the part of the Tibetans to remain aloof and apart. At any event, in "Seven Years in Tibet" we have one of the few in-depth accounts through western eyes of traditional Tibetan life.

Heinrich Harrer
In 1943, Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountaineer, sportsman, geographer, and author, escaped with a companion from a British POW camp in the foot hills of the Himalayas. Two years later, they reached Lhasa, Tibet's capitol. Within a relatively short time, Harrer had risen from almost illegal status as an alien pauper to the position of tutor to the Dalai Lama, the political and spiritual leader of the country. In 1952, the Chinese invasion forced him to leave Tibet. "Seven Years in Tibet" is a rousing tale of adventure as well as an intimate journal of daily life in a social environment that has been lost forever. Because of the nature of Harrer's journey and because he is a very courageous but in other ways ordinary person, "Seven Years in Tibet" is unlike any other travel book you've read.

"Stones of Silence: Journeys in the Himalaya" is an adventure story of a different kind. It is the account by George Schaller, one of the world's foremost animal biologists, of his study of Himalayan
Bharal, or blue sheep
sheep and goats over the better part of a six-year period. These animals, known by such unfamiliar names as markhor, tahr, urial, argali and bharal, had been little studied before Schaller, who hoped to answer such fundamental scientific questions as whether the bharal was in fact a goat or a sheep. The biology of sheep and goats may seem a trifle esoteric, but Schaller in one of those rare scientists who can write absorbingly for the layman. Like Harrer, the scientist is attempting to preserve something in danger of being lost, and his passion for his subject informs every page. Neither book should be missed by anyone who enjoys armchair adventures.

If you go, as they say in newspaper travel sections, be sure to take Hugh Swift's "The Trekker's Guide to the Himalayas and Karakoram," still the only guidebook to the entire mountain system, including the hill regions of Pakistan (Chitral, the Gilgit River Valleys, and Baltistan); India (Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Garhwal, and Sikkim); all of Nepal; and parts of Bhutan (although more recent books such as Lonely Planet Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya (Travel Guide) explore parts of the area). Included in Swift's book are chapters on the history, cultures and natural history of the region, 22 maps, glossaries to seven Himalayan languages, and lots of advice for the would-be trekker.

All three volumes are illustrated with photographs or line drawings. (1982)

Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer
Stones of Silence: Journeys in the Himalaya by George B. Schaller
The Trekker's Guide to the Himalaya and Karakoram by Hugh Swift

*An earlier report, Western Himalaya and Tibet: A Narrative of a Journey Through the Mountains of Northern India During the Years 1847-8 by Thomas Thomson, first published in 1852, was recently restored to print. The explorer and naturalist, on a perilous eighteen-month journey to define the boundary between Kashmir and Chinese Tibet, made valuable contributions to the geography, geology and botany of the western Himalayas.

They tore down Marilyn and put up a parking lot

Seward Johnson's "Forever Marilyn" (photo: © The Detourist)

Road Food

Recommended: The Cheese Shop of Centerbrook, specializing in cheeses, wine, meats, breads, oils and vinegars, and specialty foods, is more than worthy of a detour if you're roadtripping through Connecticut. Great selection and attentive, informative assistance.

The Cheese Shop of Centerbrook, 33 Main Street, Centerbrook, CT (closed Sundays).

Another site to look for hotel deals

Amazon Local has expanded its hotel bookings. Hotels can now offer rooms at published rates in ongoing listings; previously they were limited to discounted rooms and finite sales. According to a report on Skift, "[i]n the past couple of weeks Amazon Local updated its iOS and Android apps and began on-boarding a handful of independent hotels offering their rooms at published rates, which is a big departure from the steeply discounted, distressed inventory that has been the mainstay of Amazon Local over the past couple of years....Amazon is trying to give hotels the flexibility to work with Amazon on an ongoing basis and not just when they have rooms to sell at 40 percent or 52 percent cheaper than published rates when the hotels are feeling the pinch. Among the hotels that have loaded their published rates, availability and photos through the Amazon Local extranet over the last week or plan to do so in the coming days are sister properties Ledges Hotel and The Settlers Inn in Hawley, Pennsylvania, as well as Ocean Place Resort & Spa in Long Branch, New Jersey, and Salishan Spa & Golf Resort in Gleneden Beach, Oregon."

The rest of the story: Amazon’s New Hotel Business Begins to Take Shape by Dennis Schaal (Skift).

Thought for the day.

Any day.
Mural and outdoor furniture, Isla Mujeres, Mexico (photo: ©The Detourist)

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