TSA pees on Tom Sawyer

Start with three key ingredients: Detroit, a bag of urine, and the TSA.

Add an agressive pat-down at security and what do you get? A disgruntled man on a plane, soaked in his own warm pee and a national news headline!

On Nov. 7th, a male passenger flying from DTW to Orlando, Florida was selected for additional security screening. A bladder cancer survivor, the passenger carried an urostomy bag under his clothes–a plastic bag attached to his abdomen for collecting urine. Despite repeated requests to exercise caution in their search, the agents broke the seal on the bag, spilling the passenger’s urine all over him.

Adding insult to injury of the American psyche, the poor guy’s name was Tom Sawyer (not making this up), a Michigan special education teacher who is currently learning the true power of the internet. Obviously, this guy is pissed–he’s already taken the issue to the White House and the Department of Homeland Security.

An official response is still unknown, but the current threat advisory level is yellow.

Ten great bands that I only discovered by traveling

To travel is to trade.

From the 15th century Portuguese explorers to the overconfident 18-year old who crosses the ocean with a loaded iPod, travelers are always in the business of exchanging things: ideas, food, fashion, genes and diseases. Music is right up there, and with the ease of the MP3, we freely unload playlists to one another like apples in a market.

When I look over some of the best music I own, I realize that I only discovered these bands/musicians from traveling away from home, well outside my own musical comfort zone. Certain bands are universal, others still quite local (or were, once upon a time), but despite iTunes attempts to drench us all in far-reaching world tastes, some music is still homegrown. Here’s a quick (and personal) top ten of my own discoveries accompanied by a slew of cheesy YouTube clips for your listening pleasure.

Trentemøller (Denmark) Something about dark, electronic music and the Nordic countries go hand in hand. Trentemøller has become a legendary DJ who plays across the globe, but had I never gone to Denmark, I would have waited five years for his music to work its way across the Atlantic.

Zero Degree Atoll (Maldives) I met the lead singer of this band in his home country of The Maldives, right after he performed a chilling cover or R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion”. Though he masters Led Zeppelin and his favorite band is Jethro Tull, his own music is sung in the Dhivehi languages and combines the local blend of Arabic and Indian influences.

Cheb Hasni (Algeria) You can’t visit North Africa and not hear the signature sounds of Algerian Raï music blaring in the chaotic streets of the medina, day and night. Cheb Hasni is king of the genre–an Algerian man, who with his band, cultivated a global following before he was murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in 1994. I caught on to Cheb Hasni in Morocco and despite regular online research, have yet to listen to every one of his songs that make up his prolific discography.
Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola (Ireland) Sometimes when you’re traveling, you just have to take a chance and buy a random CD from the locals. I picked up Lasairfhiona in Ireland’s windswept Aran Islands some 7 years ago and have been listening to this Gaelic singer ever since. I don’t know any other music that captures the spirit of a place like she does.

Faye Wong/ 王菲 (Hong Kong) Anyone who’s been jetlagged in Asia knows the thrill of watching hour after hour of sappy karaoke-style MTV all night long. And yet, I actually discovered Faye in a discount bin in New York City’s Chinatown and had to wait until YouTube came around to take in her full repertoire, which is extremely vast. Somedays she the Chinese Celine Dion, other days the Asian Alanis Morissette–Faye is constantly reinventing herself and loves to do Cantonese covers of western indie classics. So don’t judge too quickly–Faye grows on everybody.

Architecture In Helsinki (Australia) Admittedly, big city Melbourne’s got a pretty crazy independent music scene but Architecture in Helsinki might just be the trippiest of them all. Going on a decade strong, the bizarre musical set-ups of AIH evokes a lot of “What?” reactions while still gaining global fans for their deliciously infectious, irresistibly toe-tapping and hip-shaking songs. As ambassadors from down under, AIH begs the question, is Australia an actual country or just a constant spaced-out party?

For a Minor Reflection (Iceland) Four 20 year-old dudes wailing thoughtfully on guitars. It’s a tried-and-true recipe but somehow, this post-rock band from Reykjavík adds something wonderfully new, delivering long, drawn-out ballads completely devoid of lyrics. Heard them first at Iceland Airwaves, which might be the greatest music festival in the world.

Marisa Monte (Brazil) Fairly popular in Brazil and France, I only came upon Marisa myself while passing through South America earlier this year. Her voice, songwriting, rhythms and melodies fall slightly outside the typical Latin American canon, which is why she’s succeeded in crossing over to an international following.

Springbok Nude Girls (South Africa) Compelling band name and even more compelling music, there’s not a South African out there who doesn’t have a strong opinion about these guys, thumbs up or down. That’s why I started listening to them in London, where there are more South Africans than Brits, I think. Springbok’s broke up a few years back but are apparently back together and playing sold-out gigs in South Africa right now.

Iryna Bilyk (Ukraine) Countries with dysfunctional governments always promise a steady flow of talented artists, and after living there for several years, I can say without irony that Ukraine is no exception. Of the many divas that rock Ukraine’s airwaves, Iryna Bilyk is the most classic–a kind of bottle-blond Slavic Madonna that plays in every cab in Kiev. Like the actual Amereican Madonna, Iryna caused no small scandal when the 40-year old singer married her 22-year old backup dancer. This song is called, “I’m not sorry.”

Feel free to add your own great musical finds in the comments below–Just make sure it’s music you discovered while traveling abroad.(If you spam me with your favorite Beyoncé or Coldplay clip, the world will know that you don’t even own a passport.) Thanks!

Paris Hilton’s Top Twenty Travel Tweets

OK, so how creepy is it for a grown man to follow Paris Hilton? Because I do, like, on Twitter.

I’m not ashamed–on the contrary–I love Paris and will always defend her, because that’s what BFF’s do for each other. For the record, I’m no follower-come-lately. I’ve been with @ParisHilton back to the time when she was barely hovering around one million followers. Since then, we’ve gone through so much together, she and I–Life’s ups and downs, laughs and cries, canceled flights, denied visas, the works.

What I’ve learned about Paris is that she and I have SO much in common: We both love scuba diving, we both use superlatives freely, we like to fly carry-on only, we just adore baby animals and both enjoy deep tissue massage. Oh! And we’re both 29 years old!

We’re also crazy about travel–loves it–though if it was a contest Paris totally wins, chihuahua paws down. No matter that I’ve been to some 25 countries this year–Paris travels much, much more. In the last year she’s been to France, South Africa, Brazil, Asia, and Anguilla. She also can’t get enough of Vegas–heads there as much as possible on her private jet.

I always know where Paris is because she’s forever sending little messages from such-and-such a place, often with a little picture to prove that she’s really there. It’s our more intimate version of postcards and over the years I’ve been collecting her digital missives in stacks.

Here’s a few of my favorites from 2010, unedited and published in full with links for the sake of journalistic integrity (Thank you Paris!):

1. I LOVE BRAZIL!! :) 7:04 PM Sep 26th

2. Love Michigan, so fun. Been fishing all day and been at our friend son’s 16th birthday party all night, now lighting fire works. Loves it! 9:12 PM Sep 18th
3. I love Vegas!
4. On set, what another beautiful day in LA. I love this city! :) 2:27 PM Aug 9th

5. Just went on Space Mountain 3 times in a row. My favorite ride at Disneyland. So much fun! :) 11:37 PM Aug 3rd

6. On set of the music video shoot. What an incredible house were shooting at and the weather is just beautiful! I Love Ibiza! 4:32 AM Jul 28th
7. Having the time of my life in St Tropez! Best Summer Ever! :) 10:26 AM Jul 23rd via web
8. Portofino is such a beautiful place. http://twitpic.com/26zwce 7:12 AM Jul 20th via Twitpic // Sailing to Portofino. Looking forward to the shopping there and amazing italian food. Loves it!

9. http://twitpic.com/13bhne – Me in Seoul, Korea

10. Jetting off to yet another amazing destination. Life is amazing! http://twitpic.com/25s5hy 8:11 AM Jul 16th
11. Another day in beautiful Paris. The most romantic city on the planet. Friday, July 16, 2010 8:24:35 AM
12, Having the most incredible time in South Africa. This place is magical! I Love Life! 3:59 AM Jul 7th
13. Went to Cape of Good Hope. So beautiful. Saw the cutest penguins and ostrichs. Having an amazing dinner in Cape
Town now. Love the food here 12:27 PM Jul 4th
14. Cape Town Rocks! 6:20 PM Jul 3rd
15. Finally finished packing for my trip. Excited to go to Brazil again. :) 12:39 AM Jun 9th
16. Had such an incredible day! Saw the mummy’s and tombs at The Egyptian Museum, Went in the Pyramids, Saw the Sphynx and rode Camels. So Fun! 5:13 PM Jun 3rd
17. Such a Beautiful View from My Room. Central Park is so Beautiful. http://twitpic.com/1rcmob 4:49 PM May 26th

18. Just landed in Madrid for a couple important business meetings. It is so beautiful here! I Love Spain! :) 10:36 AM May 13th

19. I Love staying at The Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami. It’s such a beautiful hotel and has the best club and restaurants. Th Club LIV is fun! 7:03 PM Mar 22nd

20. Just landed back in LA. :) Can’t wait to get home to all my pets, miss them so much! :)

The Greenlandic Riviera

“Where did you get so tan?” they ask, and I tell them: “Greenland.”

“But how?” they exclaim, laughing in sheer disbelief, because let’s face it: the nameless friends we invent for the sake of trite opening dialogue are inherently dumb. Mostly, their minds are muddled with storybook imagery like scary snowstorms and Eskimo cliché, a random mix of Alaska, Siberia, and the opening sequence in Empire Strikes Back. They still think Greenland is like, cold.

This is my chance to correct them. Besides my sheepskin rug, my enviable neck tanline is my best souvenir from a blissful week on the sunny Greenlandic Riviera. What, you don’t know it–the Greenlandic Riviera? What rock do you live under? What travel magazines are you not reading? The Greenlandic Riviera is exploding right now-it’s already this whole thing and the real estate war is right around the corner.

Alright, I totally made that up. If you Google “Greenlandic Riviera” you get zilch–until now. See, that’s the magic of the internet–once you say it, it becomes real. Greenlandic Riviera, Greenlandic Riviera, Greenlandic Riviera. If you build it, they will come.

The real Riviera was (and still is) in Liguria, the region that spans the northwest coast of Italy. Despite its 700-year old status as an iconic vacation spot, the original Riviera can be a little disappointing. For one, the coastline is all rocky and the towns comprised of overpriced boutiques selling pink sweater vests for men. There is nary a beach to stand on, and the ones that are any good are ultra-private. But no matter–history, tradition, and Hollywood have made “Riviera” mean everything we long for in a chic travel destination: escapism, romance, sunshine and sea.

Today, there are other countless Rivieras to choose from: on our planet today, actual people will non-jokingly refer to the English, Mexican, Russian, Chinese, African, and Australian Rivieras (also, French). Did you know that there’s even a self-proclaimed Redneck Riviera along the American Gulf Coast where instead of seashells, earnest Alabama children collect shiny black tarballs to take home for “show-and-tell”?

Greenland’s beaches come sans tarballs, (although the country’s drive for oil exploration could change this, wink, wink). In fact, Greenland has the cleanest beaches I have ever seen: a mile-wide half-moon stretch of vanilla sand bordering clear turquoise shallows that are so clear, you can follow the gently waving seaweed below. There are no cigarette butts and no blowing trash. Also, there are no people, which is the recipe for a perfect beach. And who knows what you’ll find as you stroll along the shore? A reindeer skull, a salmon-colored piece of wave-polished granite or a jumble of blue, microwave-sized ice chunks. What the real Riviera offers in fashion, culture, and high-life, Greenland makes up for with its elegant arctic beaches.
Perhaps you’ve never considered a beach vacation in the Arctic, but when you know the facts, the concept is compelling:

  1. Greenland is at the top of the world, which means extra long summer days-and for at least a few weeks in June and July, endless summer days. In fact, Greenland’s national day is June 21st, the summer solstice, and the amazing arctic light is something to experience for yourself.
  2. It’s not THAT cold. The southern reaches of the Greenlandic Riviera are on the same latitude as Stockholm or Helsinki. In September, it was still remarkably sunny with temperatures in the mid-50s.
  3. It’s getting warmer. Climate change is Greenland’s consistent headline-an attention-grabbing story that’s a little tiresome. In Narsarsuaq, a town that’s destined to become the airport hub of the Greenlandic Riviera, my taxi driver wiped her brow and exclaimed, “You can really feel the climate change today, can’t you?” I couldn’t, but even if I could, the climate change schtick is a total downer and most Greenlanders enjoy the nicer weather. It’s nice to be able to swim in the sea, finally.
  4. All the ice is melting, too-you can now buy that melted glacier by the bottle and enjoy the delicious cool, clear taste of pre-historic snowstorms in the comfort of your own cup.

After some consideration, one realizes that we are on the verge of a new and grand beach destination trend. Renting a villa in Tuscany with friends is the women’s magazine dream of the late 90s. The 21st century’s male equivalent is renting a villa in Greenland for two weeks of full-on nature and total testosterone outdoor adventure. You will have the world entirely to yourself and can spend your days scaling rock walls, hiking empty green valleys and fishing for Arctic char that you take back to your villa and grill outdoors.

In order for the dream to take root, we’ll need at least a half-dozen middle-aged men to escape poor life decisions and corporate humdrum by running off to the Greenlandic Riviera, where thanks to a wily sled dog, a cheerful blue house, or a fix-it upper fishing boat, they each rediscover their spiritual centers and pen subsequent memoirs that compete with each other on the New York Times bestseller list.

To hasten the process, I am thoughtfully including this small guide to the Greenlandic Riviera, with the knowledge (and intention) that my text will like be cribbed, copied and pasted into countless future guides for generations to come, including the omniscient Lonely Planet:

“Place of the polar bear” might just be the cutest village on earth. “Picturesque” comes close to describing this delightful panorama of bright civilization clinging to the rocky edge of a final, modern-day ice-age. Angled wooden houses painted red, white, yellow, blue, and green dot the round, granite boulders next to the mirrored and rippled harbor. On weekends, gleeful children play soccer on the wharf, and after school, these same brave children go swimming in water that’s about 38 ° F (admittedly, most wear wetsuits). The town’s flag proudly bears three polar bears and everyone’s got a good polar bear story to share at the local bar, where glowing Christmas lights blaze all year round. The “museum” consists of a dozen historic and well-preserved buildings, with lots of photogenic architecture and exhibits on life in Greenland for the past several hundred years. Oh, and what’s that out in the harbor? The yachts of adventurous richies who are plum tired of the real Riviera. What’s that? You didn’t know that the yachties love Greenland? Oh, but they do: Nanortalik is like the St. Tropez of Greenland (and actually, I’m not kidding.)

With 3,500 inhabitants, the larger and much more prominent Qaqortoq is technically the Cannes (or “Qaan”) of southern Greenland with all of its glitz and glory and beautiful seacoast and lovely sea breezes and fussy culture. Not only does the town’s name sound like the exclamation of a lounge singer in a choke hold-the town itself is a cultural epicenter populated with the studios of several talented artists and outdoor sculpture that decorates rock walls and grocery store parking lots. Qaqortoq also boasts the only Thai-Greenlandic fusion restaurant in the world (e.g. leg of lamb roasted in coconut milk and red chili), as well as a remarkably trendy hotel, the Hotel Qaqortoq. Just last winter, a bundled-up Paris Hilton was spotted strolling along the waterfront (ok, that’s a lie. It was probably just an emaciated Polar Bear looking for food), but whatever–there’ll be a Qaqortoq film festival there before you know it.

The town has a population of 1,500 and even with the rising number of curious cruise ships, only gets about 5,000 visitors a year. Narsaq also represents the “Real Greenland”-one of the few villages where you can actually see the massive inland ice from your doorstep. The Royal Greenland fishing plant adds a healthy dose of authenticity, as do the early Viking ruins overlooking a glistening bay of drift ice. Narsaq is also home to Greenland’s school of culinary arts, where you can sample serve national dishes like king crab and smoked halibut.

I’ve mentioned this village before, and frankly, I’m afraid of it being discovered, so I shouldn’t even mention it, but since we’re such good friends, I’ll let the secret out. This quaint Greenlandic settlement (population 67) feels like the world’s first neighborhood-a rare and civilized tribe protected from the rest of the world by a most magnificent fjord and the shadow of Ulamertorsuaq, a mountain whose name rolls quite nicely off the tongue, n’est-ce pas?

This uninhabited island is famous for it’s wonderful hot springs (as seen on TV), but should really be famous for the stunning scenery of grey, fairy-tale mountains and vast expanses of fragrant wildflowers. Once you’re soaking in the pool, you’ll never want to leave. Unutoq is all the loveliness of the Riviera but without any of the traffic or people. Just you and planet earth.

Anyway, there it is–ta da!: The Greenlandic Riviera. Spread the word, tweet it, chat about it at dinner parties, mention it to your pals in the sauna and dedicate Sunday’s Travel section to its merits. In short, pass it on. The more you say it, the realer it becomes. Greenlandic Riviera.

(All photos by Andrew Evans)

The author traveled as a guest of the nation of Greenland but the Greenlandic government and it’s corporate affiliates had nothing to do with conceptualizing the Greenlandic Riviera. That’s all original and the author will be charging them royalties once it takes off.

Now Open: the Pentagon’s super secret art collection

Did you know the Pentagon collects art? The United States military began taking an interest back in 1840 and today, the total collection counts more than 15,000 pieces produced by some 1,300 actual American soldiers. Most of these artists are self-taught, enlisted military personnel and depict the sights and scenes of life in the armed forces–often at war and often in other countries.

I got a sneak preview of the exhibit a while back and was amazed by the talent and emotion depicted in the collection. From Vietnam to the Gulf War to Iraq and Afghanistan–these paintings explore an insider’s view of war, sometimes tender and sometimes horrific yet utterly lacking in propaganda or modern media. One artist even painted on canvas torn from combat tents because that’s what was available in Iraq.

Interested travelers can get a taste of our nation’s long-hidden art reserve in Philadelphia, where 300 pieces have been chosen for a special exhibit, Art of the American Soldier at National Constitution Center. The show opens today, September 24, 2010 and runs until January 10, 2011, after which it will begin a national tour.

(Attack at Twilight; Roger Blum, Vietnam 1966)