Category: Travels

Brasilia bleg

I’ll be there too, your recommendations are welcome.  Looking for a hotel there has been a side-splitting experience.  No one seems to mind that few of them are any good, and they’ll plunk perfectly good ones on the side of a lake, next to nothing, many miles from the city center.  Nonetheless visiting Brasilia has long been a dream of mine and I do have a room.  I’ve already read Shoumatoff’s excellent Capital of Hope.

Costa Rica bleg

Michael A. asks me:

As always, appreciate all your prodigious information output.  I am traveling to Costa Rica this summer and was wondering if you might be able to give me any info about Best of Costa Rica — specifically foods, wines, etc. to hit as well as music and books to check out beforehand, sights to see, the usual Tyler Cowen treatment.

I haven't been to Costa Rica in a long time, but here is what lodged in my memory:

Monkeys and birds, hanging sloth is hard to see, excellent dialect on Caribbean coast, eat palmitos [hearts of palm], like it or not beans and rice for breakfast, cross the country by taxi in a day, if you mispronounce the volcano it rhymes with the last name of David Boaz, Spanish paella in the capital, "Tica," music is mediocre, worst Chinese food anywhere, the least interesting locale in Central America but the best trip for most Americans.  Glad I went but won't return.

Zeno’s paradox

I did get stuck in The Great ???? — have they given it a name yet? — last night.  A ten mile commute home took me almost eight hours and from what I have read many people had it worse.  I thought of Keynes and liquidity.  The worst part came at the end when I saw the car crushed by a large, heavy tree, which also fell over the main road and turned four lanes and two directions into one lane and two directions.  For the most part human cooperation held up and people kept their places in line.  Bathroom norms evolved (and were improved), and I now know every station on my radio.  As the trip continued, the number of car corpses rose.

We at GMU are so dedicated they didn't even cancel classes.  And if a nuclear weapon is being launched at DC, I'm simply going down to the basement.

Querétaro notes

Enchiladas and crepes are especially common here, often with potatoes.  The best meal cost one dollar and was bought on the sidewalk from a crouching elderly woman (for all the talk about "street food," often "sidewalk food" is where it's at).  It was potato, nopalitos (cactus), finely ground white cheese, and a potent chile sauce on top of a fried blue corn tortilla.

At the local Arabic-Mexican restaurant, ten chalupas can be had for $2.10.

In Mexico never eat until you are full, because you will likely encounter something even better along your way.  What is hard is not finding the food but rather enforcing the optimal stopping rule.

If you are trying to argue that Mexico is a "normal" country, this city is your Exhibit A.

The much-vaunted decline in the Mexican birth rate is somehow not in evidence here; perhaps that is an artifact of who visits the Christmas displays.  Plenty of police are out with guns, as a signal to deter a potential drug gang invasion.

The aquaduct has 74 arches, some as high as 30 meters; opened in 1738, it was in its day considered the greatest engineering achievement of New Spain.

As Yana notes, on the streets you will see many examples of perfect competition.

El Salvador observations

The best meal was whipped yucca with chicharrón and vinegar, sold next to Tazumal.  The ubiquity of corn products means the country has less culinary variety than any of the other eighty lands I have visited.  There is a Taiwanese restaurant in San Salvador, however.  Olocuilta is a pupusa paradise — go there from the airport.

In Suchitoto, Garett bought a first-rate tortilla for 5 cents and had trouble changing his one dollar bill.  If Mankiw abolished the penny, how would the country — which uses the U.S. dollar — cope?  Or would they keep pennies as legal tender and all pennies would flow there?  How small would a country have to be, to experience hyperinflation from such an influx?  Could they put up a penny barrier?

El Salvador has good infrastructure (real roads), the electricity always runs, and the country embodies petty bourgeois values.  It is much richer than Nicaragua, Honduras, or Guatemala and it feels quite Protestant.  The crafts are weak, but volcanoes, lakes, and birds abound.  Their economic policies are quite good, and therein one sees both the potential and limits of economic advice.

On the road, we debated in what year the United States attained current El Salvadoran living standards (measured at $4400-$5800); I thought by the late 1920s.  The existence of penicillin makes the numerical comparison difficult, though in favor of El Salvador.

We saw a dead guy on the side of the highway; apparently he was struck down by a passing car.  Ill-advised pedestrian walks are a problem for many El Salvadorans in the United States as well.  “More guns, less crime” I joked to Alex as we drove through the center city.

It is an excellent country for a three-day trip.

My Buffalo visit

For architecture, it is one of America's best cities.  The Guaranty building, Ellicott Square building, and City Hall are peaks of the art, plus there is lots of Frank Lloyd Wright.  There are hundreds of excellent residential homes, off of Elmwood for instance, but all over town.  Elmwood itself is a fun, walkable area.  There are two good art museums, plus a strong alternative culture scene, low rents, and lots of art galleries.  It feels more like the Midwest than say New England and the people are friendly and relaxed.  Food is not exceptional although meals can be had.  If you're not into architecture I would describe a city visit as optional, but for me it was a must.

My dialogue at Ess-a-Bagel

That's the excellent bagel and smoked fish shop at 3rd Ave., just north of 50th St.

I order my bagel from a gentleman with a thick New York accent and he eyes me suspiciously.  Finally he grunts out, in a tone slightly less than that of accusation:

Server: "Where are you from?"

(I pause.  There are different answers to this question, depending who is asking and where you are.  Is it about where you were born, where you grew up, where you live now, and in the latter case how specific should the location be?  In Ghana I should say "Washington," though in Portland that answer fails.  In North Carolina I can say "northern Virginia."  In Arizona I should say "Virginia."  In El Salvador I try "Falls Church.")

I answered, after a pause, with a feeling of insecurity:

TC: "New Jersey"

Server: "Really.  You look like a farmer!" (pronounced as if the concept were a deeply alien one)

"I thought you were from California or something."

Buffalo bleg

What to do in Buffalo?  Yes, we are going there voluntarily.  Please feel free to include the Canadian side of Niagara Falls in your answer.  Furthermore, how long does the drive take, crossing the border from one place to the other?

As always, I thank you in advance for your assistance.

Berlin Holocaust plaques, or Stolpersteine

There are small sidewalk-affixed plaques in many locations in Berlin, including on my street.  Here are some visual examples and here are many more.  They sit by the victim's former home and list the victim's name, the date he or she was taken away, and date and place he or she was murdered.  The word given is the more brutal "murdered" (ermordet), not "killed."  

Most plaques refer to Holocaust victims, although one nearby plaque is for a German general who apparently disliked the Nazis (and vice versa) and others are for gypsies, gays, and resistance fighters.  Here are further sites on the plaques, including in German.  Here is Wikipedia on the plaques; some homeowners do fear price depreciation.  Since the plaques are placed in public space, the homeowner has no veto rights.

The plaques are the brainchild of Gunther Demnig, a sculptor from Cologne who has made them his life's work.  A plaque costs 95 euros and a sponsor, often a relative or former friend, commissions Demnig to make a "Stolperstein," as he calls them in German, or a "stone to stumble upon."  The story of the origin of the plaques is here.  Demnig's parents were ardent Nazis, which he reports caused him to feel some responsibility for what happened.  He relies on records collected by the Gestapo itself. 

The first Stolpersteine he laid illegally in the mid 1990s.  As of April of this year, Demnig himself has installed over 22,000 of the plaques.  Here is Demnig's home page.

The city of Munich has since relented in its ban, and now it allows the plaques.