In Lima, I had the luxury of ocean views. I now live inland, with no ocean views. But, I may have a remedy. I’ve been looking on Instagram, of course, and I’ve seen some azure seas that beckon like jewels glittering from the Internet. Most of the tropical views that I see on Instagram from Italy are from the South, on Sicily, or Amalfi, or Puglia… Or, I could use a photo from my archives. This photo of our “taxi” seaplane from the Maldives is still one of my favorite photos.
My plan was to paint directly on the wall… but, then I thought, why invent the wheel? I looked online and found sticky decals that already have pre-printed tropical views. There are even decals of views of forests, or even outer space.
Other than for view, I also want to be able to give directions to the bathroom by saying, “To the left of the Maldives” or some fun phrase like that. I may have to play the sounds of waves, a fan, some sand, and it will be a complete view to a tropical location. Or a kitty litter box. Oh COVID, we are all cats now.
Culture shock seems like an outdated phrase from the 1980s, but then again, I find that the 1980s are still around… for example, when I was traveling in Kenya in 2012, the radio stations all played Michael Jackson’s songs as if they had just come out. Now in 2020 in Italy, the down jacket is back from the 1980s. Not really back, as it never left as it is still the fashion to dress like Hans Solo in certain other Latin countries.
In a way, the down jackets remind me of the “pizza bianca” or “white pizza” that is a common food here in Rome. It’s a bit shocking that the pizza is square, sold by weight, and can still be pizza — even if it has no sauce or cheese. Yes, it really can still be pizza. In a way, in its purest form if one reads the etymology of the word, pizza.
More shockers another time. I need to go get a pizza and put some cheese and ham on it, and call it a sandwich.
For the past seven months, many of us have spent time socializing and working on Zoom, Google Meet, Whatsapp, Facetime, and more. I do not know which one is better, but here are few things I’ve learned about them.
Zoom is now a verb. That’s how big it is. For more than 50 people, someone needs to have a paid account. With the paid version, I have the option to “hide self view” which allows me to not have to look at myself when I am looking at the grid view. There are a few other features like the ability to change the view when sharing someone else’s “shared view.” The free version has a meeting limit of 40 minutes. Zoom allows you to share your screen and have a “green screen” virtual background. I enjoy this feature quite a bit. It allows me to travel every time I zoom.
Google Meet, previously Google Hangouts, also requires a paid account and the non-Google emails must be “let in” to the meeting “room.” The professional account can host meetings of over 100 people.
Whatsapp now allows for up to eight faces to appear on your phone screen. The computer version of Whatsapp does not allow video. Whatsapp is owned by Facebook. One can also have video calls on Facebook Messenger.
Facetime is the classic Apple iPhone product.
Skype was one of the revolutionary early products for video calling. It was acquired by eBay and it is now owned by Microsoft. Microsoft deactivated some of the features in 2017. Microsoft Teams seems to have take over many of the features.
I find that I actually prefer using most of these video calling programs for audio only. I don’t need to see people’s faces when I talk to them. But, that may just be me.
With friends and family all over the world, these various options are an important part of keeping in touch. My very informal and tiny survey of my friends is that they seem to prefer Zoom. They seem to feel that it connects better, and that is the point.
I was doing some research on Italy, and I got to a screen that said, “You have reached the end.” During this time at home, you too may have reached the end of the Internet… but, did you wonder where it began?
The Internet started just a few steps from Washington, DC, USA, fifty years ago. Developed from 1970-1975 in Arlington, Virginia, the “ARPANet” (Advanced Research Projects Agency Net) was developed as a communications tool by the military. A small plaque stands on the side of the road in Arlington, Virginia. The plaque has a smaller plaque with zeroes and ones representing the binary code for “ARPANet.” Although Arlington County claims to have invented the Internet, the first computer-to-computer transmission was in California in 1969, but it was the ARPANet who figured out how to dice up information into binary code…. which became the Internet, online shopping, electronic mail, blogging, and video-calls (imagine no Zoom?)… The World Wide Web.
One of the constant questions I get on my blog is, “Where is the best Mexican restaurant in…?” Most of my readers are hankering for Tex-Mex or Chipotle, so I follow the trend of Tex-Mex for my readers. When I lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh, there was only one Mexican restaurant and avocados were not easy to find. I recall once going to that restaurant with my restaurant group, only to find that they had no avocados. That night was epic in many ways as due to road works and Dhaka traffic, it took 90 minutes to travel one mile. So to arrive hungry at 9 p.m. to find that the place had no guacamole, was a let down. We ended up setting up our private Mexican restaurant at a different restaurant. In Dhaka, I also recall buying avocados for party and paying $50 for them, only to find that they were rock hard and no amount of time in a paper bag with bananas, or even boiling, made them edible. When I live in Bogota, I went to the Mexican restaurants as they opened up, and in Lima, I also followed the trend.
To get ahead of the question for Rome, I have googled the question. I have a friend who has great faith in the collective opinions of Google reviewers, on the assumption that if 300 people have reviewed a restaurant, then their collective rating is probably reliable. So here are the top ten (okay, eleven) Mexican restaurants in Rome.
Amigos Mexican Grill, 5 stars
Sabor Latino, 5 stars
Il Calavera Fiesta, 4.8 stars
Mr Tabu Tacos e Burritos, 4.8 stars
Coney Island Street Food Roma, 4.8 stars
Casa Sanchez, 4.7 stars
El Jalapeno, 4.7 stars
Quiero Tacos, 4.6 stars
Pico’s Taqueria, 4.5 stars
Gustamundo, 4.5 stars
Maybu – Margaritas y Burritos, 4.5 stars
When I’m in Rome, I’ll check some of these places out… maybe. I will have lots of other things to try, so maybe not.
It is fairly easy to publish on Blurb. You can upload a print ready PDF with photo and illustrations all included or you can use their software to layout your book. I found that the layout program was a bit clunky for me as I find it easier just to use one of the book templates in my word processing system. The only tricky thing so far has been figuring out the sizes. Luckily, the Blurb computer figures it out for me. Unlike in the old days of the printing press when the broad sheet could be folded and cut into 16 pages, Blurb uses six as the divider. If you upload less, Blurb will add blank pages at the end.
You can even upload the cover and back cover in the same PDF. I did and Blurb worked with me. It even troubleshoots pre-flight (printing). My page size was not quite what it was used to using for the “bleed” (variable area around the outside of the page) even though I made the size of the books according to what I thought was a Blurb size. Blurb’s computer just quickly says that it is not a standard size. When you see this message, you just choose the option to have it auto-fix it and it does. The books turned out great. Blurb also tells you if the images you are using are too low quality, too low in pixels for printing. You can adjust them right there by replacing or re-sizing. I still went with one that was “lo-res” and it turned out fine. I was concerned that it would look pixelated, but it did not.
The minimum page count is 20 pages, but you can go as high as you want. I think, but do you want to publish a 600 page book?
For the photo type of book and the hardbacks, the prices are higher. The cheapest, with the highest profit margin for you, is paperback. The good thing about these paperbacks is that it includes color photographs in the cost. If you buy more than 10 books at one time, you get a discount. Blurb will even mail out the books for you! Once done setting it up, you can buy it for yourself and send out the link so others can purchase it. Books are hard to find on Amazon so it’s best to search by ISBN or author name.
Then, when you get to the next process which is where you set it up for sale or not. If you do want to sell it, you can choose to hard back, paper back, paper type, and your profit margin. You can also choose an ebook for five bucks. The book will then be on sale on Blurb with an ISBN of its own. Yay! If you click on the “Ingram” publishing option, the book will be distributed through the Ingram distribution system, a central warehouse system. It takes about two weeks for the book to show up on Amazon. When it shows up on Amazon, they add their markup.
My children’s book, a 7 x 7 inch photo book cost around $26. If I buy it and send it through Blurb, I can get a quantity discount but it’s rare that I’m sending more than ten books to the same place. The “coffee table book” of M’s Adventures in Peru cost $42 because it’s a hardback with outer sleeve. Wowsa. The cheapest was the standard paperback size for the Tales, Tall and Short, About Food in Peru, at around $16. I set a small “profit” on that and marked it up accordingly.
The paper versions of the books look good and even the images that the Blurb software warned me were “low resolution” turned out okay. I will be printing more with Blurb, but I’ll probably move all the books to the paperback size.
The honey shot — a riff on the money shot. I was scrolling through old photos from back when I “lugged” around my DSLR camera and this got me thinking about name calling. While I understand where it comes from… I think it’s sad that the hobby of food photography is called, “food porn.” Maybe we could call it “foodlust” so that it’s more about the passion and less about bodily fluids. Equally so is the term, “money shot” which derives from the same business (and it is a business), so I posit the term, “honey shot” instead to denote something sweet and in keeping with the food field.
In that vein, I present to you, one of my favorite honey shots. It’s a photo of home made cabbage salad and egg pie from a picnic in New Zealand. Hark, how regal (purple is a royal color) and how glorious (gold like honey) it is!
A few friends told me about Amazon Smile, smile.amazon.com, where for every purchase you make through Amazon’s charity, a percentage of the cost on eligible items goes to the charity of your choice. You have to go to smile.amazon.com and choose your charity and then from then on, shop through that portal. Easy peasy. At 0.5 percent, it might not seem like a lot, but I bought a book recently and $13 went to my charity of choice.
In preparation for my move to a new adventure, where all roads lead to, I am buying lots of visual storytelling equipment, and now I am doing a little good at the same time (pats self on back). If you want to use it on your iPhone app, you will have to allow notifications. I prefer to use smile.amazon.com from my computer.
As an aside, I bought a bespoke iPhone SE 2020 case on Amazon Smile from MTRONX Direct. The ink job on the case is well done and the case has the flat sides, like the iPhone design from the 5 SE. Good old days. It took almost two weeks to get the order, but it was worth the wait. Plus, the little holes for my lanyard/hand leash are an added bonus.
A few years ago, when I published my book on my time in Bangladesh, I received so many questions about publishing. Back then, in 2013, self-publishing was called “vanity press” — publishing as if it was for one’s own vanity. That seems an age ago as social media has made us all creators and storytellers — Instagram and its television channel, YouTube, and Facebook Stories (watch my month-long farewell to Peru on those channels or on the video page of this website), are all “vanity press” as they are self-published. Of course the paper book did not disappear as some feared. We simply gained more independence in how, where, and to whom, we can share out stories. Maybe we are more vainglorious…
Even with all these new choices, some media are still harder to edit than others. Take PDFs. Adobe Acrobat owns that format almost completely. One can buy a license for $180 per year. It does, however, make editing PDFs acrobatic (had, had, to play on the words!). As I work on my many projects, and my next book (a paper version about Peru), I am glad to have the freedom to be flexible.
Just as story telling has moved beyond the book, so have other media, like chocolate, taken on the terminology of books. My favorite chocolate shop in Peru, El Cacaotal, calls itself an “edible library” — that should encourage reading!
Keeping up with all the forms of communication is a bit like a chariot race. In between my website/blog, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and podcasting, something may have to go by the wayside when I get back out exploring in my next country…
As I mentioned in a previous blog posting, we are all content creators now. I started the M’s Adventures blog/website when I moved to Bangladesh in 2011 (you can read one of my early blog postings here), and since then, I’ve created a book for each country I’ve lived in. As I will soon depart Peru, I was looking through photos to put together my book. The previous books have been published on Lulu.
But, this time, as I’m learning how to make movies on iMovie, I thought I’d make a “videobook” or moving picture book, a love letter to Peru. I may also make a paper book, but I’ll see how I feel when I’ve edited 8,000 photos and taught myself more iMovie. For now, here’s a film trailer so you can see what how it’s going. Don’t worry, the content of the body of the show will be less dramatic (film production really teaches one how much music changes the mood of a piece).
Here is the video trailer for “M’s Adventures in Peru: A Love Letter”
Or if you prefer to watch it on my YouTube channel, here is the link.
I have become my own film crew, my own makeup artist, director, script writer, sound crew, caterer, gaffer (okay, not yet), lighting director, film editor… you get the idea. Recently, I needed some new headshots. What, I have to put on real clothes?! So I took out my makeup and put on “outdoor” clothes, set up my studio, and did a photo shoot. I even did two wardrobe changes.
The photo is from an art exhibition at the Ministry of Culture in Lima called, “Peruvian Beauty” by Yayo Lopez, and it included people from Peru of all ages and types, but the beauty on the poster shows a good example of a headshot.
What I learned from doing the photo shoot was that I’m glad that I bought a remote control for my phone, use good lighting (nothing beats sunlight), use plain backgrounds, have the camera at eye level, and take many photos. A trick I used to get a smile to reach my eyes was to do some silly photos as these would make me laugh thus causing some of the jollity to reach my eyes for the more normal headshots.
Staying indoors is giving me time to look through old photos and try to organize them. But mostly, I’ve been teaching myself how to use iMovie, GarageBand, and other tech tools for my blog.
A friend suggested that I name my studio space (my dining room table). Clearly it has to be Madventures Studios.
With the rise of social media, everyone with a smartphone is now a “content creator.” Most of us have become entertainers as we “direct” the photos of our food (north light is always best!). In Korea, they have “mukbang”, an “art form” where people pay to watch others eat. This has been ridiculed by many… but look at us now, as we all zoom happy hours and dinners with each other.
Going out to eat is a performance art where you as the customer are the audience, but also part of the experience. That is why it sort of makes sense that many actors work in the restaurant industry (a working actor = can be someone who works in a restaurant but also works as an actor) because a live “show” every night is superb practice! Everything in a restaurant from the lighting (lots of dishes now involve fire and smoke), decor, and seating is evaluated just as one would in a theater. In a theater, there is that expression, “smoke and mirrors” and that is also true of most restaurants. But, at a restaurant, on top of smoke and mirrors, there is smell and taste involved along with the other senses (plus that “something” like the umami of the whole event), are engaged as part of the experience.
In a natural segue, some of the food influencers, like David Chang, have their own shows. The Danish influencer, Claus Meyer, did a lecture/show at a theater. With the advent of videos and “stories” on Instagram and Facebook, the food industry has become an entertainment producer online, not just in brick and mortar. Both these chefs/influencers are active daily on Instagram. That’s more interaction than you could ever get back when you had to wait a year for a reservation at one of their fine dining establishments. One of my friends commented that due to COVID, she is able to get food delivered to her house from restaurants where she could not even get a reservation!
In the time of COVID, and all the zoom and whatsapp virtual gatherings, the paradigm has shifted. Perhaps, we have all become, oddly much more connected, but more than that, how we see each other has changed. We are seeing more people in their pajamas and without makeup or dyed hair. This, like things, has good sides and bad sides. Maybe we don’t want so much contact?
I’d also posit that we’ve become more egalitarian as well… well, if you have mastery of social media…