Sunday, March 25, 2012

Monday Reader -- Reading Worth the Read

Such a great line-up of reads this week. All these links have something to inspire, thrill and challenge you. I hope you'll have a seat on this bench near London Bridge along the Thames and browse through these links. Imagine that you've just walked two hours all the way from Canary Wharf and that your legs are throbbing--but your mind is going wild. You're ready for a little stimulation. Well, I've got it for you.  

Flash Fiction Friday: Numbers

This is such a great, professionally produced radio/internet radio show focused on flash fiction. Robert Vaughan is the king of flash. This time on FFF, Tony Van Hart speaks about his process, and Robert Vaughan reads Joseph Quintela. 

Are We Horrible?

A great blog post by Martha Williams about online relationships. Her response to my response in the comments is grand. I loved this (honestly).

Spring Things to Do

This post is golden. Marcus Speh reveals his spring resolutions in his usual grand way. This is great reading.

Michele Collet's "7 Incredible Drowned Churches"

This photo-essay is amazing. Click through these pics. Definitely incredible. 

Walk off the Earth

You HAVE TO SEE this youtube video! I love this song, and I love this cover. This is beyond beautiful.

And this Interview with Walk off the Earth

This interview is so inspiring. These guys have been working for years, so give them some support. They're very very good.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Good Things Come in Threes

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My recent health problems notwithstanding, I am a very fortunate person. Life isn't always good, but it's instructive. Before I moved to Germany, my outlook on life wasn't so rosy. Actually, maybe I'm giving D-Land too much credit here. I was quite the nasty fellow even years after moving here.

I'm not sure when it changed or how it changed, but my attitude changed. I became grateful--grateful for the adventure. Grateful for the instruction. Maybe being a teacher for two decades now has taught me something about how difficult it is to learn--to really learn. So every time something clicks and I see this world a bit more clearly, I'm grateful. Goodness, this got all serious, and I was logging on simply to tell you about three interviews I was fortunate enough to do with Gay Degani at Flash Fiction Chronicles, Dan Powell at Dan Powell Fiction and Ruth Rieckehoff at Tanama Tales.

Flash Fiction Chronicles

Gay Degani surprised me with graciousness when she asked to interview me, and for that I'm very grateful. Her site Flash Fiction Chronicles is an Everest of information for writers of flash fiction. You could wander through the links on the site for weeks and not learn half of what the site offers. It's truly one of the best sources of information for flash writers out there. I'm honored to have been interviewed about my writing process. If you haven't already visited the site, please do.

Dan Powell Fiction

Dan Powell, an amazing writer of unexpected fiction, asked me to respond to his questions in the My Life in Short Fiction series--and for this I'm grateful. Not because of the publicity it gives me as a writer (although this is nice), but because of the soul/past searching the questions required. It was such a productive time of reflection for me about my influences and my early reading moments. If you haven't read the interview, please do. And while you're on Dan's site, congratulate him on his recent successes. Make his day.

Tanama Tales

Ruth Rieckehoff is a giving person. In this new world of social networks, she's one of the good guys. Her travel blog, Tanama Tales, always delivers interesting stories about interesting places. It's lively. So a big thank you to Ruth for interviewing me in her Featured Traveler series. It was fun to rave and rant about the places I hate and love and love/hate. I hope to work more with Ruth.

Good things--all three.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. Allen writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this here blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Inside Bangladesh with Paola Fornari Hanna

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Paola Fornari Hanna lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh and writes almost daily about its charms and hazards. After reading many of these articles, I have to ask myself . . . why haven't I been to Bangladesh? It's a question not many people ask themselves. Bangladesh has a reputation for abject poverty, catastrophic flooding and violence. Today, I'm getting the inside scoop from a person who is sensitive to and respectful of diverse cultures -- and who thinks Bangladesh is certainly worth a visit. 

IMBO: Hi, Paola! Welcome again to I Must Be Off! Since you've lived in Dhaka, would you say Bangladesh has lived up to its reputation (poor, dirty, dangerous)?

Bangladesh is slightly smaller than England in area, and has a population of 160 million, 15 million of whom are children under five. With 1100 inhabitants per square kilometre, it is the most densely populated country in the world, apart from small city states. And it is prone to natural disasters: As a result of snowmelt in the Himalayas, the massive rivers flood the plains every year. And more devastatingly, from the opposite direction, cyclones sweep north, bringing with them winds of 200 kph, and hammer the coastal belt and beyond. For months at a stretch, two-thirds of the country is under water.  It is on the front line for global warming, and the future looks bleak. But what strikes you when you live here is  the resilience of the people. They have been dealt a bad hand, but their spirit is strong and they pick up and carry on after every knock.

Traffic in Dhaka
Before independence, in 1971, Henry Kissinger famously dubbed Bangladesh as 'a basket case'.  But just over a year ago, in a Wall Street Journal feature entitled 'Bangladesh, Basket Case No More'  the Indian journalist Sadanand Dhume wrote 'Bangladesh has much to be proud of. Its economy has grown at nearly 6.37% a year over the past three years. The country exported $12.3 billion worth of garments last year, making it fourth in the world behind China, the EU and Turkey. Against the odds, Bangladesh has curbed population growth. Today the average Bangladeshi woman bears fewer than three children in her lifetime, down from more than six in the 1970s.'

When you next sip tea from your granny's Royal Doulton or Wedgwood porcelain, or don clothes, whether they be H&M or Hugo Boss, bear in mind that they are likely to have been made in Bangladesh.

To associate poverty with Bangladesh is to see only part of the full picture. The country is only 40 years old. It is crazy, chaotic and creative. The art scene is unbelievable. There are 80 million mobile phones. Its Nobel Prize-winning Banker of the Poor, Mohammad Yunus, was recently proposed by the Bangladeshi Prime Minister as President of the World Bank.
The Old Port of Dhaka

IMBO: If I choose to visit Bangladesh, where should I go to enjoy the best the country has to offer? Annual events worth a visit to Bangladesh?

It depends a bit on what sort of traveller you are. Bangladesh is not for you if you're looking for luxury. The weather is hot and humid for most of the year, the traffic is insane, and it is crowded, noisy and polluted. If you are patient and intrepid, a visit to the chaotic, capital Dhaka, would be indispensable, just to experience (and share with me!) the day-long traffic jams. You could head to some of the bazaars downtown and pick up cheap designer clothes.  These are not fakes - simply overstocks from the garments factories. Bangladesh is the world's rickshaw capital, with about half a million of these colourful vehicles - take one and stop at a roadside tea-stall to sip some sweet tea and chew paan - betel leaf. 
Bangladesh is the world's rickshaw capital.

Don't miss the Sundarbans, the UNESCO World Heritage site which is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger: sailing down the innumerable canals of the delta in the south of the country, your Dhaka-traffic-shot nerves will find true peace and tranquillity. 

I have heard that Srimongol to the north-east, Bangladesh's 'Little Darjeeling' is well worth a visit - great for cycling - I will be going next month. 

Another place I have not yet visited is the Chittagong Hill Tracts, where 11 different minority tribes live in the hills bordering Myanmar. My guide book stresses that one should avoid intruding into the lives of the tribal people, and says 'ensure you ask permission before entering the villages'. There are tensions in the area following a long conflict lasting from partition in 1947 to the peace treaty in 1997 and beyond. You need a permit to go there, and caution is advised.

Festivals: there are a lot of them. Though Bangladesh is predominantly Moslem, it is a secular state. Ramadhan is the most important event in the Moslem calendar. During the month-long fasting period, traffic is even worse than usual, especially in the evenings. It ends with a massive holiday lasting several days - that's a good time to visit Dhaka - but the dates change every year.

Wangala Festival
Festivals from other religions are also celebrated. Almost ten percent of the population is Hindu. The Hindu Durga Puja Festival is a very colourful one. It celebrates the victory of Mother Durga over the demon Mahishasura. Thousands of ten-armed Durga idols are displayed around the country, and at the end of a week's festivities they're all chucked into the river, symbolising Durga's return to the Heavens.

Tha Garo Wangala festival is a stunningly vibrant one. There are various minority ethnic groups in Bangladesh, and the Garo, who live near the Meghalaya hills to the north, number about 200,000.  Their annual celebration is associated with the harvest, and falls in November or December, depending on the full moon.  This is a particularly interesting occasion, as the people are so different from the Bengalis - they are more like people from Myanmar or Nepal. They have a matrineal society, and were converted to Christianity over a hundred years ago.

The Bengali New Year, celebrated on 14 April, is again a picturesque time to visit: everyone turns out wearing red and white saris and punjabis.
Celebrating Bengali New Year

Mother Language Day is one of my favourites. In 1952, the people of what is now Bangladesh took to the streets demanding that Bangla be recognised as the official language of East Pakistan. Police opened fire and four protesters were killed. The discontent which started in 1952 eventually led to the emergence of Bangladesh, which means the country of the Bangla language. Since 2000, UNESCO has been observing International Mother Language Day on 21 February. Here in Bangladesh, people wear black and white in honour of the martyrs who died for their language. A vibrant week-long book fair is held around this time.

For more information, see

"Sleeping on Deck" -- Shortlisted in the Crowdsourced Travel Photography Project
And to see more photos of the 'real' Bangladesh, go HERE . This is a 'crowdsourced travel photography project' designed to 'accumulate the country’s best travel photography into a single resource library for usage in promoting Bangladesh internationally'. I am happy to say one of of my photos made the final cut of 100 -- I'm waiting to hear whether it will be used in the next Bradt guide!

IMBO: Which locations should I avoid? 
Is travelling in Bangladesh safe? How would you advise a tourist who doesn't speak Bangla to travel?

Don't walk or take rickshaws at night in the cities.

River travelling is a unique and wonderful experience in Bangladesh. But it is hazardous, as ferries and boats are often poorly maintained and overcrowded. Recently, a ferry carrying two hundred people capsized following a collision with an oil barge 25 miles southeast of Dhaka. 105 people are known to have drowned. (Read the report from the hindustan times HERE.)

People say travelling by train is fun, but I haven't yet tried it. Your safest bet is to take internal flights, if you're not on a tight budget. I would avoid buses -- way too dangerous. 

I've never found (anywhere in the world) where not speaking a language is a barrier to communication, and the friendlier the people, the easier it is to connect. Bangladeshis are particularly friendly.

Thank you for allowing me to share my host country with you. If there's one lesson I've learnt from a lifetime of travel - and I think I've said this in a previous interview on this site -- it's that you don't need to be comfortable to have fun!

IMBO: Well, this interview was definitely fun. It's been a pleasure -- for me and I'm sure for my readers -- to have you back at I Must Be Off!, Paola. You've brought Bangladesh much closer to me now. Thank you.

I must be off,

*All photographs on this page are the property of Paola Fornari Hanna. Please respect the copyright laws. 

Paola Fornari Hanna is the trailing spouse par excellence. She's been been following her husband around the world for thirty-three years -- before that she was a trailing daughter. She was born in Tanzania — then Tanganyika — where her father was a doctor. Her parents moved house, and often village, twelve times when she was a child. With her husband, she has moved a further twelve times and has covered four continents. At present they're living in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. Allen writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this here blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Monday Reader -- Reading Worth the Read

I've just now returned from a relaxing weekend in London. We didn't do much of anything but had an incredible time doing it. I now fly into London Gatwick, which gives me the opportunity to walk from London Bridge to Canary Wharf. The walk takes me about an hour and a half at a very fast pace. Friday was cloudy but not rainy, so I took the Thames Path home. This morning was beautiful. Sunny. Here's the bench I took a rest on and read--and this time listened to--the following links. Starting with a great article on the state of art . . .

Damien Hirst and the great art market heist from the Guardian

Dan Powell's "Her Hands Like My Hands" at Fleeting Magazine (not for children)

Mumford and Sons

"Perishable" by Sheldon Lee Compton at Fictionaut

Something Just for Fun

Yes, today is not all about reads, but these were a few of the places I landed while resting.

I must be off,

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Expat Author Interview with Michelle Elvy

Michelle Elvy
From a spacious Edwardian mansion to a little green sailboat, Michelle Elvy has come--or drifted--a long way to a larger, yellow sailboat named Momo. She was born in North Carolina but grew up in Annapolis, Maryland. She's lived in New Orleans, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich (yay!) and Leipzig, a thrilling place to be in the post-Berlin Wall days of the 90s. She's now a "permanent" resident of En Zed, where she's becoming involved in the thriving artist communities there. Her latest projects are NZ-oriented: Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and the Aotearoa Affair Blog Fest, co-edited by Dorothee Lang in Germany. 

IMBO: Welcome to I Must Be Off!, Michelle. It's so great to have you here. Let's hit the ground running. How would you describe your writing?

Hmmm. I don’t know how to describe my writing, actually. It changes from story to poem to real-life recollection. I know what I like. I like it watery, liquid, flowing. But sometimes I like it staccato and punchy. Sometimes I like pulling on a large pair of pants and prancing around like a Big Man. I’m a post-postmodern girl: I like layers and movement back and forth in time; I like conceptual dilemmas embedded in a simple story. But at the end of the day, I tell a story in a fairly straightforward manner. I do like writing about hard things. I like trying to find the right word(s) to describe an impossible feeling, beyond happiness or sadness or fear. And I like creating characters who are perhaps unpredictable. I like getting into the heads of those folks who are in my head. And I like hearing them talk – they always have some kind of accent, to me. Even the pissed off elephants.

Imagery that locates the specificity of the story, or of a place, is important to me. Sounds and smells, the metallic ticking of a cheap clock, or the greyish smell of dark wet mushroom. Last week I read a poem containing the image of hiding in skyscraper grass. I love specific images like that, against the backdrop of a much larger story or idea. That’s something I try to do in my own writing as well.

Winter Sailing in NZ
And finally, writing is all about connection. Between the writer and the reader, between the characters on the page, between the past and the present. How can it be about anything else, really? Connection comes in many forms: language and sounds, as well as other sensory experiences. A fingertip brushing a shoulder blade, or a raucous fuck: these are both about connection. And then there’s disconnection, too, which can also come with either of those, the finger or the fuck. Exploring the connections, and the disconnects, is important to me.

IMBO: And I can connect to so much of what you've said. The characters' voices, the precision of the image, exploring connections. What has influenced you along the way?

Hailing from the American South, my mother has always felt a deep love for writers like Reynolds Price, Eudora Welty, Robert Penn Warren, Katherine Anne Porter. I grew up in a literary household; one brother studied poetry at Duke (and yes, we were as enthused about college basketball as literature). Me: I wrote bad poetry and musicals all through primary and middle school and more forgettable things in high school. Then university and post-grad studies led me into Lit and History and academic research and writing.

But even then, the creative element was always central to the task of writing. As a university teacher (my specialty was German history), I always focused on writing – on the telling of the tale. Never mind what people think about history; never mind about how we’ve all been scarred by mindless high school lit or math or history classes (“Class? Anyone?”) – memorizing dates ain’t history. History is all about point of view, perspective, voice. It’s how you tell the story. History and memory, whether it’s Primo Levi or William Styron: that’s what it’s about, for me. Lately, I’ve been pondering how to turn my dissertation notes into a novel. All the material is there: a whole century of conflicted German characters, questions of identity and loyalty, an exploration of literature and architecture, tensions between mercantile interests and art, perceived progress and disappointment/reality (I’d throw in a lot of sex too). The Leipzig Hauptbahnhof is a grand setting for drama. It’ll be a blockbuster, no doubt: a Buddenbrooks for the 21st century. Unless I end up writing shorter and shorter works, a la John Barth’s Peter Sagamore’s “Bb”.

IMBO: And being an expat? Has being a Weltbürgerin influenced what, and the way, you write?

Sunset Lookout
Well, to begin with, I’m now tuned into removing the series comma before and, and also writing honour and neighbourhood and organisation. Being an editor in various versions of English keeps you on your toes. I might be a wee bit schizophrenic – in a good, E.L. Doctorow way (“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia”; see Len Kuntz’s blog, March 5). I like that feeling of straddling two places, or even three. I feel a romantic attachment to the Chesapeake, and to Germany, but I don’t belong there. A good friend said recently that I occupy the between, and I think she is right. I’ve been living geographically detached for some ten years. I have felt passing attachments to certain places we’ve sailed to: the majesty of Alaska, the mana of Hawaii, the warmth of Mexico (where my second daughter was born).

IMBO: You're not just an expat; you're a special type of expat. You live on a boat. Is your writing, um, more fluid because of this? Groan, OK. But is your writing more . . . daring?

We seem to like extreme living. Even if we don’t do extreme sports. I think all this has informed how I order my life (which is a farce of course, because how much order can there be, really, except for the way we insert commas, or hyphens – or perhaps a sigh or a shrug or a smile, though those are more often than not involuntary and unplanned… the way they should be). I guess I like order and chaos in the right doses. Sailing across oceans in a world of unknowns, filled with natural wonder and poetry and fiction, does me just right. Life moves at a slow speed. We meander. My husband translates and I edit (and edit some more) and write and write about other writers too. And we brainwash our kids in our own way, without television, so they’re pretty much immune to Cocacola or Barbie or – the horror! – Bratz. Thus far… (again, I recognise that control is limited and fleeting, even in my own children’s lives).

Great Barrier Island, NZ
But living on the edge of things suits me, and I’ve discovered it makes me all the more tuned into observation of people and places. I often keep an intellectual critical distance (that stems from academic training, no doubt) but dive right into experience: whether it’s boiling the eyes of reef fish or pounding kava. I like this complicated challenge in my everyday existence: finding a way in while not quite belonging. I’m pretty sure this tension between detachment and belonging impacts my writing – both my travel writing and my fiction.

And yet… juxtaposed with my preference for transience, for life on the edge, for an identity that defies labels and loyalties, I find deep in my centre a feeling that I might just belong here in New Zealand. From a practical perspective, it’s a wonderful place to live on a boat (better climate and less red tape than almost anywhere we’ve travelled). New Zealand is a place of possibility. It’s a place where my emotional landscape connects with the physical landscape around me. It nurtures the part of me that leans toward a life of action, and the part of me that is more reflective. It’s a relatively new country of course, and its past is intimately wrapped up with its present – and future. This is something that interests me enormously as a writer.

Northland, NZ
All of my interests – the imperfections of memory, the difficulties of portraying reality, the search for meaning in the mythical while living a feet-on-the-ground everyday routine, the sense of one’s own history (looking at it in a forward-viewing sense, not backward-leaning) – all of these are right in front of me here in New Zealand and offer a very rich environment in which to write. And whether I write about personal (as in my own memory, reality, myth or history) or something more fictitious, New Zealand is becoming, on an almost daily basis, the place I want to do it. Ultimately, I feel optimistic living here. And that’s saying something.

IMBO: Care to share some of your work with us? Please?

1) Lately, I find myself writing more about New Zealand landscapes and people. I am influenced by the idiom, by the cadence and rhythm of language, by the mood of this place. It’s a quiet place, not loud or brash. I wrote a story a couple weeks ago for Flash Frontier, my Kiwi flash project; it’s a quiet story, in a characteristically Kiwi beachside setting. It begins with a platinum sky, something I see a lot of round here this season. “Timpani” (scroll to last story on the page)

2) This story was recently included in my recent proposal for a New Zealand Society of Authors/Auckland Museum Library grant for a collection of stories I am writing this year, a series of short stories set across the landscape of New Zealand’s history. This one’s contemporary, but it indicates a relationship to Place, which is at the centre of the collection. It was written last year during my 52|250 challenge. Some of my stories chronicled my own path, directly or more obliquely. “Nothing Happens at Sea” marks a personal transition. It reflects the tension of coming and going, of staying and sailing away. The pounding in the character’s chest is a pounding in my own, a powerful pulling back toward something -- back to Aotearoa. That is quite new for me, and extraordinary.

IMBO: How about a link to a story or an article written by another expat?

Claire King’s story “Redux” is jam-packed. It’s powerful and dark. She does anger extremely well. But there is also subtle, tender movement. And language so specific it makes me squirm.

IMBO: How has your concept of “home” changed over the years? 

Home has always been where I am. And over the last ten years, I carry my home with me, quite literally. My children have grown up on Momo; it is their only home. But as I say, I am gaining a sense of New Zealand, a country whose psychology and history is informed more by the sea than by any other I’ve lived in. And I quite like this new feeling. But I’d be lying if I did not say I miss my mother, and the Chesapeake. And friends and family on the east coast of the US and the west coast of Canada and Germany. It is hard being oceans away from people who are my family.

IMBO: Michelle, this has been fascinating. What an incredible life. Thank you for sharing it with the readers of I Must Be Off!

I must be off,


Michelle Elvy reads and writes and edits and lives in New Zealand's Bay of Islands. For more about her projects, you can find her at Glow WormFacebook, and Twitter.

Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. Allen writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this here blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Reader -- Reading Worth the Read

São Paulo isn't the most beautiful city in the world. I don't think anyone would disagree with this. With almost 11 million inhabitants, the city has its urban problems. There are, however, almost 40 parks in this sprawling monster. Imagine you've been wandering the streets of a gigantic beast of a city all day when you happen upon a grand park--only the second largest in the city actually--where thousands of joggers, walkers and and cyclists are getting away from their own monsters. You find this bench and you rest. It's shady and cool. You need a few moments of Spain, to the Grand Canyon and to Australia. I hope you enjoy these three excellent travel posts. 

From the Travel Blogs!

Top 10 Bars in Seville by travel writer and photographer Robin Graham

Even if you're not planning a trip to Seville, you'll want to read Robin's take on the tapas bars of Seville. Hop over to The Expeditioner and give Robin a few thumbs-up for this great read.

A Night in Grand Canyon Caverns Suite by Danish travel blogger Renè Frederiksen

I was enthralled by this article. Renè gives us lots of pictures, lots of information, and two videos--one of which is an interview on American TV. One of the best--fullest--travel posts I've seen in a while.

Red Nomad OZ from Amazing Australian Adventures interviews Diane from the blog Adventure Before Dimentia. The interview is witty, fun and informative. If you're planning a trip to Western or South OZ, you'll find this one a fun and helpful read. Go HERE to read the interview.

And! If you haven't already read my interview at Tanama Tales, by all means stop by and comment. You'll feel prettier if you do. 

I must be off,

Friday, March 9, 2012

Street Art in Brazil

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Wherever I am, I take pictures of street art--South Tyrol, Bali, New York City, Nice--but there's no place on earth where the street art is more developed than in Brazil. As I was taking these pictures, I felt as if I were walking through the largest museum in the world. Rio de Janeiro, the world's first museum of street art. Every surface--facades, sidewalks, walls, fuse boxes, garage doors, benches, lampposts--is the street artist's canvas.

Of course this sort of art is controversial. Without a permit, it's illegal. There are people--probably a lot of people--who think street art makes a city uglier. These folks should ask Berlin how much money the Eastside Gallery makes every year.

Rio can be ugly for so many reasons, but not because of its street art. I was amazed by the talent, the wit and the passion that go into many of these pieces. I was struck by the relative anonymity of it. The average tourist is never going to know who painted them. Poking around on the internet has given me the names of a couple of artists. When I saw their unique work I was eager to share it.

And these from Sao Paolo . . .

If you want to see more Brazilian street art, go HERE and HERE. And if you are the artist who created any of these pieces, forgive me for not putting your name to them. If you'd like your name here, please let me know.

I must be off,

One Year Ago on I Must Be Off!
Two Years Ago on I Must Be Off!


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. Allen writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this here blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Safe in Rio de Janeiro?

Did you know that Carnaval in Rio actually lasts until the Sunday after Ash Wednesday? You did? Well, you're smarter than I am. I was sure we'd get to Rio and find only the corpses, but there was still a few sparks, a few straggling revelers. There were also quite a lot of paint-slathered youths collecting money after getting into medical school. We saw them in Leblon and also on the island of Florianòpolis. Congratulations to you all and sorry I didn't have any reais for you!
When I returned to Munich, a student of mine asked me if I'd felt safe in Rio. Apparently there was a police strike while I was there and lots of murders. Honestly, I felt safer in Rio this time than ever before. The last time I was there, two people threatened to kill me, a crazy woman grabbed me and started shaking me, and somehow I ended up in a very rough dance club one night. Ah, those were the days.

The last drops of my first caipi on the Copacabana
The Copacabana is cleaner now than it was eight years ago, and I'm happy to report that the Brazilians are a bit fatter. I've always been intimidated by the fit, brown bodies of the guys playing foot volleyball on the beach. Don't get me wrong. They're still fit, but there are also lots of flabby-bellied people on the beach now too. Comforting, no?

What's not comforting? The prices in Rio. Eight years ago the exchange rate between the euro and the real was around 6 reais to 1 euro. That meant that a caipirinha on the Copacabana cost around 1 euro. Ah, those were the days. Now the cheapest caipi will set Europeans back around 3 euros. That's 300% inflation if my calculation is right. The upside? I drank less. Yay, he yawns.

Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain
Sugarloaf and Christ the Redeemer have also become incredibly expensive. Just getting to the statue that spreads its arms over Rio will cost you one of yours. Taxis charge around 20-25 R$ per person from the Corcovado station, and don't even waste your time haggling. There must be a mafia controlling this concession, because we tried to bargain with ten drivers and every one of them shook his finger at us and drove off. There's also another company that takes vans of people up to the statue. We didn't ask how much they charge. The train was an interesting--but expensive--ride.

OK, I see them now!
The last time I was in Rio, I walked all the way to the top of Corcovado Mountain; this time, while I was waiting two hours for the next train to the top, I took a stroll to the place where the road diverges and heads up the mountain. As I took this picture of the ascent, six or seven men jumped out of the shadows and started yelling at me. When a couple of them started towards me, I turned away and started back down the hill. Fortunately they stopped when they saw a police car. In a split second, this situation could have turned into another Nice moment. I hadn't even seen them in the shadows. Is walking up Corcovado mountain still safe?

We felt safe on the Copacabana and Ipanema. Leblon felt safe. The old town felt safe, but we there in the middle of the day and only for a short time. The sun was broiling, so we spent much of our visit seeking shade. I'm not the beach type. I can't lie in the sun for longer than it takes to drink one caipirinha and eat one batata fritas.

Roasted Chicken and potatoes
For Gluten-free Travelers:
Eating in Brazil for people with Celiac Disease is not as difficult as you might think. For starters, there must be laws now concerning labeling because every packaged food that I saw had either "Contém Glúten" or "Não Contém Glúten" in bold print in the list of ingredients. If you can't eat foods containing gluten, you need the Não Contém Glúten variety. Dishes like the traditional mocequa should be fine if the fish stock they use is gluten-free, but always ask the waiter "Contém farinha de trigo?" I've also found it effective to use the word "allergy" instead of trying to explain Celiac Disease to waiters. "Sou alérgico ao trigo." worked fine in Brazil. Even with my pitiful Portuguese, I was almost always able to make myself understood. The server at the Blackswan pup on the island of Florianòpolis was well informed about Celiac Disease.

More on my jaunt through Brazil in the weeks to come. If you have time, Ruth at Tanama Tales has interviewed me about the way I travel. Comments appreciated always HERE. Also, Dan Powell asked me some challenging questions about My Life in Short Fiction. If you want to open this window into my early reading life, go HERE.

I must be off,

One Year Ago on I Must Be Off!
Two Years Ago on I Must Be Off! 

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to S is for Samos.


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Ficton, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday Reader -- Reading Worth the Read

Imagine that you've been walking through Stanley Park in Vancouver all day and you just can't walk another inch. The day is broiling, but this pretty little bench is in the shade. You think you'll be prettier if you sit on it too. Have a seat and take out these Monday Reads. They're from Fictionaut, a writers' community I've been involved with for a couple of years now.


The Sentinel by Marcus Speh

The Tightrope Walker's Demonstration: Coming Out by Beate Sigriddaughter

A Journey of Seven Thousand Miles by Bill Yarrow

Potato Head by Stephen Hastings-King

Going to Reseda on the 405 by Robert Vaughan 

Mesozoic Misanthropy vs. Holocene Humanitarianism, or The New Dinosaurs by strannikov


I must be off, 


One Year Ago on I Must Be Off!