Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Three Kinds of People

1. those who would look at a bowl of stale doughnuts and think nothing, 2. those who dream of throwing them and 3. those who would actually do it. (Source: A Czech humorist, name unknown because it didn't come up on the first couple of pages of Google hits.)

I think I'm the second kind of person. What kind are you?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

GI/BIGG 7: Last-Minute Shopping

Good Idea*:

The fanciest bottle of wine at the supermarket you can afford. At this point, you're making up for a lack of thoughtfulness with expense.

*Unless the intended recipient is a small child or recovering alcoholic. Or current alcoholic, for that matter. That's just mean. In these cases, admit defeat and give cash.


Bad Idea:

Anything else from the supermarket. Nothing says "I didn't think of you until about twelve hours ago" like a hastily assembled basket of deli products.

More Bad Ideas:
wiper fluid
a toothbrush you got from the dentist (especially if you have the same dentist)
handmade coupons "good for one free backrub", unless you usually charge
decorative rocks
anything that looks like it might have been picked out of the donation barrel at the Y
food stamps
hotel toiletries
excuses

Thursday, December 21, 2006

GI/BIGG 6: For the Cook

Good Idea:

A paring knife.


Of course, the person you are shopping for already has a paring knife. Or, at least, he or she is sure there is one around here somewhere, only people keep taking it to open packages or unscrew the back of the dvd player, because who knows where the screwdriver went, and yes there's that one but the tip got broken off when it was used to pry that silver dollar out of the toaster, and oh yeah, every once in a while it turns up in the garage because someone has been using it for whittling.
This person needs a paring knife.


Bad Idea:

A cupcake stand.



It's a stand. For cupcakes. I realize that cupcakes are having something of a renaissance these days, as evidenced by the fact that when I was in New York I went to a bakery I had heard of as being specifically famous for making cupcakes and I had to stand in line around the corner to get in and there was a bouncer. For cupcakes. And when I did get one it was perfectly nice, the kind of cupcake someone's mom might make for a bake sale if she had enough time not just to make a run to Safeway but not enough to bake a whole pie or something, but not what I would call wait-around-the-corner-and-get-past-the-bouncer exceptional. So, clearly, there is some kind of fashion thing going on here. But a cupcake stand? Seriously? I mean, can you imagine anything more useless? Okay, so maybe it's cute the first time you pull it out for a party and everyone is impressed by how fashionable you are, but then what? Are you going to use it every year, until your guests start to sigh inside every time they see it? Plus, when you aren't using it, you've got this big thing you have to store somewhere, and what else are you going to do with it? Decorate it with tinsel and set it in your living room? Hang your bras to dry on it?
In short: No one needs this item.

Surgery Is Not Awesome

But you know what is? Being able to see out of both eyes.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

GI/BIGG 6: For the Person You Don't Know What to Get For- Male

Good Idea:

Nerf Weaponry


You might think the guy you are buying a gift for is too mature for this kind of thing. You are wrong.












Bad Idea:

Cologne.




Most guys do not want to wear cologne. Those who do have one particular kind that they have been applying the exactly the same amount of in exactly the same way since they were seventeen and they are perfectly happy with it.

The only exception here is if the guy in question has taken to coating himself with a thick layer of Axe Body Spray, because he believes the ads that explicitly state that this will make all women, everywhere, want to have sex with him when in fact it makes him smell like a cheap bathroom deodorizer. In this case, just about anything will be an improvement.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Daisy's Big Gay Night Out: Music, Produce and People From Inside My TV

It was a really great time, right up until the bananas hit me in the head. Followed, of course, by the tangerines. At least I got one of those.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. The beginning is a text message, received by me last Wednesday afternoon, asking if I wanted to go to the Soul Asylum/Scissor Sisters concert happenning that night. After briefly considering my obligations to my employer, I decided "Hell yeah" and replied with a text message to that effect. That I was mistaken as to who, exactly, was inviting me turned out to be a minor issue (it was David, whose boyfriend John got the tickets but couldn't go); more serious was the fact that I hadn't anticipating my day taking a turn for the fabulous and had come to work in a crummy old sweater. But, one emergency trip to Target later, I was ready to go.

The show was at Bimbo's, in the city, which turns out to be a really nice place, albeit with expensive drinks. On the way in, everybody got a blinking plastic Christmas tree necklace, which just makes any outfit cooler. Soul Asylum was opening and they were pretty good, except they played a few too many songs that weren't "Runaway Train" (including "Hava Nagila", which was odd). But it was worth it, because they did get around to playing their one-hit-wonder-qualifier and I was instantly transported back to high school, when I thought that song was just so deep, and held it as proof that I did like grunge.

But, as fun as that trip down the memory superhighway was, it was the act with the current hits that we came to see, so in the break between the sets we edged our way up closer in front of the stage, into a seriously primo position (which came with it's own downside, but more on that later). David wandered off to check out the place, and I happened to notice that the people standing in front of me looked awfully familiar. They were, in fact, Jamie and Bevis, two cast members of a show called 5Takes, a travel show that I find inexplicably fascinating. They were on the last leg of their trip, in San Francisco, so of course I had to go up and introduce myself and act like a total dork. But they were nice, less naive and better informed than they come across on TV, and it was just very odd and to see in person the people who typically live inside my television. Eventually, they managed to edge away from me, and a while after that the headliners finally took the stage. I knew some of their music from the radio, and I had heard that they were good live, and suffice it to say that they were not a dissapointment. The crowd was about 1200% more into than at the last couple of concerts I've been to, and at one point I was entirely surrounded by gay men, one of whom kept stepping on my foot. People kept pushing by me, pretending like they were going to join someone, and then stopping, sometimes directly in the spot I was at that moment occupying (perhaps they had confused orientation with spin, and believed the Pauli exclusion principle didn't apply). At times, I had to be rather firm with some of them.

Inconveniences, and potential violations of basic laws of physics, aside, it was an awsome concert, and totally worth not being exactly a hundred percent effective at work on Thursday.

*About the bananas: When they came out for their encore, the Scissor Sisters brought with them what I presume was the fruit basket from their dressing room and started pitching the contents into the crowd. Boxes of raisins were going off like squishy grenades on the floor, and what seemed like about half of the larger fruit somehow found its way to my head. But it was still a very good time.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

GI/BIGG 5: For the Person You Don't Know What to Get For- Female

Good Idea:

Chocolate



Actually a good idea, regardless of gender. Unless they're allergic, then not so much. Also, avoid the fruit-flavored filling, unless you know otherwise.


Bad Idea:

Candles.



Nobody needs candles. It's the gift that says, "Here. I got you a gift."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Speaking of Holiday Music...

I have a bone to pick with the song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band-Aid (which, if you will recall, was one of those collections of famous singers who cut charity singles for Africa, back when it was a place you sent money to, rather than where you went baby shopping), and I feel the need to share.
"But, how can you have a problem with such a noble, worthy cause?" you ask. "Don't you have any heart at all?"
"No," I say. "I don't. But that's not the issue here. Let's take a look at the chorus, shall we?"

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life(Oooh)
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?


Now, breaking that down:

And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
Except in the Atlas Mountains and on Mount Kilimanjaro. And, of course, we are ignoring the fact that about half of the continent is south of the Equator, where it is, technically, summer. I hear there's some good skiing in South Africa in July, though.

The greatest gift they'll get this year is life(Oooh)
Isn't that true for all of us? (Oooh)

Where nothing ever grows
Principle agricultural products of selected African countries:
Kenya: tea, coffee, sugarcane, corn, wheat, rice, sisal, pineapples
Ghana: cocoa, pineapples, cashews,coconuts, pepper, shea nuts, cassava, yams, plantains, maize, rice, peanuts, millet, sorghum
Mail: Millet, sorgum, rice maize, peanuts, cotton
Republic of the Congo:cassava, sugar, rice, maize, peanuts, vegetables, coffee, cocoa
Democratic Republic of the Congo: coffee, palm oil, rubber, cotton, sugar, tea, cocoa, cassava, plantains, maize, groundnuts, rice
Chad: millet, sorghum, peanuts, rice, sweet potatoes, manioc, cassava, yams, cotton, gum arabic

No rain or rivers flow
Average annual rainfall in the Western Nile Basin: 390 in
Nile River: 4,160 mi
Niger River: 2500 mi
Congo River: 2,900 mi

Do they know it's Christmastime at all?
Well seeing as how Ethiopia is the second oldest Christian nation in the world, I'm guessing that at least a few of them do. For the forty percent of the population who are Muslim, a better question might be, do they care? And what is this, an evangelical thing?

Okay, so my point, which I have now made at length, is that whoever wrote the song failed sixth-grade geography and based their perception of an entire continent on that one picture of the skinny kid with the big eyes standing in front of the shack in a dusty field. But hey, is that so bad? They raised a lot of money, right? And who cares if you're a little bit condescending to people if you give them money?


Whew. Thanks. I feel better now.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Is Somebody Cooking In Here?

Before you get laser surgery on your eye, they tell you a lot of things. They tell you about the drops you're going to need to use, and how long it will take to recover and what, exactly the laser is doing in there. What they don't tell you about is the smell.

(Also: Apparently, I was the first person to ever ask the nurse how often people's eyes explode during the procedure. Seemed like an obvious question to me.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

GI/BIGG 4: Holiday Music

Good Idea:
Bing Crosby's Christmas Classics



Bad Idea:
A Colt .45 Christmas



(For certain individuals, reverse the above recommendations. You know who you are.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Woods-Williams Subtlety in Movies Act of 2006

Proposed: That no movie which contains in it singing and/or dancing penguins shall also include, as its climactic scene, live human actors depicting the members of the UN debating a ban on fishing in the Antarctic oceans, inspired by the power of dance. Violation of this law shall result in fines not less than a third of the gross earnings of said movie, to be paid to the North American Professional Fisheries Association. Failure to pay will be punished by the employment of government agents to attend all screenings of the offending movie and declare, "You have got to be kidding me" at regular intervals.

All fines are to be doubled if said movie employs a rendition of the song "Leader of the Pack" for dramatic purposes.

Monday, November 20, 2006

It's the Monday Before Thanksgiving

Why are all you people still here?

Good Idea/Bad Idea Gift Guide 2

Sweaters

Good Idea:
A nice sweater, without your employer's logo:



Bad Idea:
A sweater with your employer's logo. Which you paid money for.

(Actual text of an email sent by said employer:
Tis' the season to begin shopping.......

To ring in the holiday, XXX's online company store is offering selected items at discounted prices!! All items are in-stock and ready to ship out within 7 days of placing your order.


Happy Holiday's from XXX to you!

Click here to go to the company store and begin your holiday shopping


Happy Holiday's, indeed.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Good Idea/Bad Idea Gift Guide

As you may or may not be aware, the holidays are approaching. And since I am nothing if not helpful, I have decided to offer a series of posts one what to and what not to give as gifts. I'd say I'll do one a day until Christmas, but we both know I'd be lying. First up, the last resort for when you have no idea what to give: gift cards!

Good Idea:
Really, the best thing here is to figure out where your recipient actually shops, and get a card from there. But, if you don't know or can't be bothered to care, you can't go wrong with amazon. They can get pretty much anything and they don't have to leave the house.

Bad Idea:
A grocery store gift card:

The gift that says, "I don't think you have enough money for food.
Or,
"I'd give you cash, but I'm afraid you would spend it on drugs."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Downside

Recently, I've taken up stained glass-making. Which is fun, and you end up with a nice window:



But, there is a downside:

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bad to the Subdermal Layer

Happy Halloween! This year, for reasons are now unclear, my lab decided to all dress up as biker-punks for the company Halloween party. With scooters. Here's a picture of some of us:



Left to right: Marcia, me, Benny (who designed the shirts-- note the antibody on the skull), Fiona, Hongxia, ~1/3 of Paul


Everybody, with scooters:

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Daylight Savings Time

Beginning or ending? I can never remember. Either way, the clock in my car is finally accurate again!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Need to Feel Better About Yourself?

Just think, you may have done some pretty nutso, boneheaded things in your time, but at least you never opened a cereal-themed restaurant.

Or did you?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

29 Today

Today is my 29th birthday. I'm starting to think that "not turning out the way you expected" is one of those Things That Life Does.


Commencing year-long freakout about turning thirty in 5. . . 4. . . 3. . . 2. . . 1. . .

Monday, October 09, 2006

Blood Money

Convential wisdom holds that when one has a fear, one must face it, thereby conquering it and becoming a more perfect person. So, as part of my ongoing quest for perfection, I decided to sell some blood. At work, because they don't take too much and they pay pretty well (more than a hundred dollars for five 10ml tubes if you have the right genotype).

Those of you who have known me for a while can already see the flaw in this plan. The thing is, I have low blood pressure (corpse hands!) and I freak out very easily. To illustrate, an example from my shameful past:

At my high school, every senior had to get up in assembly and give a speech. The subject matter was open, but was typically something along the lines of Life Experiences. Except that these were all wealthy, coddled children of Marin County, and they hadn't actually had any life experiences, So you got a variety of related topics, such as The Time I Met Poor People and Injuries I Have Had. One of the latter was a young man who decided to describe the time he got hit in the face by a softball, and the amount of bleeding that ensued (I believe the term "buckets" was used). I was sitting on the end of the third bleacher up and I started to feel dizzy. "But no," I thought, "I can't put my head down. That would be too embarassing."
The next thing I remember is looking up at the underside of the bleachers and wondering where my glasses went. I turned my head to find one of my friends holding my feet up in the air and a teacher asking me if I knew my name. I had scored a direct hit on the top of my head, which might have been bad if I hadn't already been unconcious.


What I'm saying is, I have a history. But can a person really be a prisoner of her fears and biology her entire life? (Yes.)

Given that I have taken the time to tell this story, no points for figuring out what happened ten and a half tubes into my ritual bloodletting. The nice lady had to take the needle out pretty quickly because I was twitching. To be fair, I did warn her. Anyway, the experience wasn't a total loss-- I got apple juice and some rice crispy treats and fifty dollars for the shoe fund. And really, don't you think conciousness is way overrated?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mai Tais and Sunsets

One of each, actually. That's my entirely stereotypical image of a tropical vacation, and I was determined to make it a reality. Since the sunset in question must, of course, be over the ocean, once we finished our adventure Megan and I made our way to the southern (but west-facing) shore of the island. We found a promising-sounding restaurant in the guidebook which, of course, was under construction (see previous post re: guidebooks, accuracy of). But it turned out okay, because there was another restaurant at the same hotel (a Mariott, I think), outside by the pool, where there was a lady playing music and another performing a very mellow hula. They made a fine mai tai and the rotation of the earth obliged with a glorious sunset over one of the neighboring islands and I had tuna (seared, rare) with a macadamia nut crust and mango salsa that was at least an order of magnitude better than anything else I had had on the trip so far.

Given the chance, I think I could get used to this sort of thing.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Road to Hana

So, we drove to Hana. That is, I drove, and Megan clung to the door and rethought the whole atheism thing. The road was too winding to build up much in the way of speed, but the profusion of blind curves and one-lane bridges more than made up for it. We stopped periodically to look at waterfalls (most on private property, with "No Tresspassing" signs that went largely ignored, though not by us), peer at the grand ocean views offered by lookout points and the dense surrounding greenery. Which, if you take photographs of them, end up looking like pictures of water and leaves. Examples to follow shortly.

All told, it took us a couple of hours to make the drive. Hana itself isn't much of an attraction, just an average small town with a fabulous location. Maybe I was just imagining it, but I got the impression that the people who lived there were not overly thrilled by their town's international reputation as a great place to visit in your rental car. The culinary options were certainly limited-- your choice of the fancy restaurant at the one hotel or an overpriced sandwich window down by the beach. We went with the sandwiches.

The beach was a black sand one, allowing me to check off an item on my 'things to see' list. Close up, black sand looks an awful lot like asphalt, only sandier.

We had considered continuing on to the innacurately named but felicitously alliterative "Seven Sacred Pools", another hour or so down the road, but the day was wearing on and a girl can only do so much driving. So we turned around and headed back the way we came, stopping on the way out of town at a little gift shop-cafe-smoked fish-candied coconut emporium, where we had some really excellent banana bread and a somewhat lumpy smoothie, served to us by a girl who was the first person from Hana to go to Brown (home for summer vacation, doesn't like the winters in Providence). Thus fortified, we faced the return journey.

One thing on Megan's tropical to-do list was to swim in a waterfall pool, so to that end we made a stop at the twin falls, a spot reccomended by both our guide books for just that purpose and proof positive why you should never put too much faith in the accuracy of guide books. The falls were described as being "a short walk" up the path, which was true, for certain values of short. Other people might call it more like half a mile, but hey, details. Totally omitted was the fact that, to get to the waterfall after making this short hike, one had to cross a section of concrete, about one foot wide and six feet long, then make one's way over the rocks and through a couple of waist-deep pools. All of which is especially challenging if one happens to be wearing one's wedge sandals which, though comfortable, are not exactly intended for off-roading. There are times when it is useful to be unafraid to go barefoot.

Needless to say, we did not make it all the way to the waterfall. (The swimming part was what finished it.) But we did have an Adventure.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Alrighty Then

Having now had my uncharacteristic and, frankly, embarassing, moment of sincerity, blogging will now return to normal. What I remember of the rest of Maui and an important message about cruise ship photography to follow shortly. Watch this space.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Postscript

It's a long way from Fremont to Willits, in just about every way, and the drive gives you a lot of time to think about things, especially if you're trying not to think about something else.

One of the things I ended up thinking about was my job. I'll admit, after the end of my academic experience, and its subsequent redirecting of my career goals (translation: I got kicked out of grad school, so I don't get to be a scientist) work became more something I did for the money while I dreamed of becoming a Famous Writer. I handed out the standard line about "wanting to do something that really helps people", and I meant it, but the truth is that in terms of influencing my career choice, "helping people" had about the same weight as "can wear jeans to work".

But driving up 101 last Monday, I started feeling uncharacteristically good about what I do. I mean, I may be a minor and replaceable cog in a giant biopharmaceutical machine, but without someone doing my little cog job the machine wouldn't run. And if it runs, it can maybe generate drugs that can mean that someday, someone is not going to have to make that drive, or at least postpone it for a while. And that's something.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Nana

Written on 9/12/06

Sometimes things don’t turn out okay.

Yesterday, at work, I got a call from Mom. Two calls, actually, I was just starting to play the one on my voicemail (I had been away from my desk, refilling my fishtank) when my cellphone rang. I did not know right away that something was wrong, but I found out soon enough.
I’m up in Willits, she said. Nana is dying.
Willits is the small town in Northern California where my mother grew up and her parents and brother (my uncle Bruce) still live. Nana is her mother, my grandmother, Hattie Ogden Burton, the keystone that keeps this family from collapsing in on itself. She has been sick for a long time, a fact which I have dealt with in the same way I deal with anything that disturbs or upsets me: by thinking about it as little as possible and pretending that everything is going to be all right. Which is probably why my first response was incredulity.
Seriously? I asked. Seriously, she said. We talked for a little while and I cried onto the open pages of my lab notebook. Then I got up, told my boss I had to go and asked him to take care of the cells I had growing to freeze down for the cell bank, got in the car and started driving. I had been housesitting for a friend last weekend, and had some toiletries and a couple changes of clothes is my car, so I only stopped at home for long enough to feed my cat and send an email to my writing group saying I wouldn’t be able to make this week’s meeting.

With no traffic to speak of, I made good time up 101. I didn’t want to think of where I was going or why, so I made up a feud between myself and a particularly obnoxious actor I had just read about in Entertainment Weekly and really gave him a piece of my mind. That jerk. I also listened to my satellite radio, which has spent the last month working through every pop song that ever charted. We were just finishing with the eighties as I passed through Ukaih. There’s something comforting about listening to the lousy music you loved when you were twelve. Works even better if you sing along.

I got there around three, and Mom took me back to see her. She was sleeping, sedated, really, so I gave her a kiss and said I loved her and I would be back to talk more when she felt better. Which was stupid, but there you go. I went in again, later in the afternoon when Mom was giving her her medicine. I thought I’d wait around in the hope that maybe she would wake up and I could talk to her. But I didn’t. Because I am weak and a coward and I couldn’t handle seeing someone who I had admired and respected being fed medicine from a syringe like a sick kitten, and so I ran away.

By the evening all the available family had gathered at the house and a few close friends had stopped by. We kind of took turns going back to visit and sitting out in the front room and talking. Uncle Bruce played her some songs on his banjo, and at Mom’s request, Dad sang the Lord’s prayer in Russian. Around eight-thirty I went in to say good-night, kissed Nana and told her I loved her.

I’m not going to talk about finding out when she died, because I don’t want to.


When the people from the mortuary where on their way I ran away again. Entirely away, out of the house and down the hill in the dark to the tennis court, so that I wouldn’t have to see the truck or the stretcher or the people saying we’re so sorry for your loss, now if you could just sign right here at the bottom. All of a sudden this person, who was a very important person, is just a problem of logistics, and that’s too wrong to even think about.

So instead, I stood in the middle of the tennis court and looked up at the stars and said the most honest prayer in the history of praying:
‘Dear God,
Please exist.’


I have the luxury of being outrageously cynical (and, occasionally, cynically outrageous) because I know that my life is never really going to be that bad. That if worst comes to worst, I can always call home and my parents will do whatever they can to fix it. And even if they can’t (for example, grad school) I know that at my baseline state I have a place to live and people who love me and I will never be without food or even, for that matter, laundry detergent. And Nana was part of that. Nana was, in a lot of ways, the founder of that, the person the people I turned to would turn to when they were out of options. I know she was not as perfect as I once believed, that she was, shockingly, human. But, coming from a childhood that was not the picture of stability, she built a family where "family" was the safest place in the world and for that, if nothing else, I owe her everything.

Good night, Nana. I love you.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Day 7- Maui and Out

Our last day in Hawaii does not begin well. As soon as they process your account, cruise ships loose all interest in you, and their focus is on getting you off the boat as quickly as possible. This pulls some focus from, for example, dealing with all of the people who have found mistakes on their bills, such as a waiter having charged someone else's bottle of wine to their account. Just, you know, as an example. Plus they lost (okay, temporarily misplaced) my luggage. People talk a lot about the importance of first impressions, but for my money last impressions have a lot more impact on whether or not they will ever be getting any more of my money.

Things improved significantly once we were finally off the boat and in the rental car, a nice small one this time. Our plan for the day was to drive the road to Hana, thirty-some miles of twisty, waterfall-studded goodness.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Day 6- Kona

One nice thing about going west for a vacation is that the time change actually works in your favor. Hawaii is three hours behind California, and as a result we've been getting up by 7:30 or eight every morning, which is nothing short of revolutionary in my case.

It was a particularly good thing that we got going early this morning, because Kona is the only port we have to take tenders into and that can mean major lines of irritable tourists, clutching their beach bags and making the same tired jokes about the Titanic.

After we made it to shore I called the lady at Enterprise who instructed us to go and wait in front of a nearby hotel, possibly because the port charges the rental companies for access. So we went there and eventually an unmarked van pulled up, driven by a guy with an indeterminate Eastern European accent, who drove us to a run-down strip mall. Where, in fact, the rental place was located, but I was worried for a minute there.

They were out of economy cars, so we were "upgraded" to a giant, gas-guzzling SUV. Just the thing for two people with a combined one cubic foot of baggage to drive in a place where gas costs $3.65 a gallon. Sigh.

So anyway, we boarded our tank, figured out our map and headed out of town to the beach we had chosen out of the guidebook. The landscape, at first, was not exactly promising. "Austere" would be the nice way of putting it. The highway cut across a huge lava field, parts of which looked frozen mid-flow but mostly looked like it had been recently bulldozed in preparation for a really enormous construction project. The cool part was the roadside graffiti, names, high school team bragging, and some rough pictures, which were picked out in white rocks and shells on any surface facing the road.

Then we got to the beach, and blah blah white sand, blah blah turquoise water, blah blah blah. You get the picture. (For those who don't, I'll post photos shortly.) Having learned from out experiences on Maui, which picked a spot in the sand under the shade of an overhanging tree-- one that, as I learned later, was in the habit of scattering tiny but very spiky twigs beneath it-- to lay out our towels. It was another windy day and the sea was too rough for snorkling, or even swimming really, so the best you could do was go in and let the waves push you around for a while. It was actually a lot like the ocean back home, only instead of being freezing cold it was pleasantly warm. Makes all the difference, really.

Aside from the occasional miscalculation of wave height that left me with an occasional face full of ocean, the only downside was that whenever I went into the water I got the song "Love is a Cannibal" stuck in my head. Which is bizarre; I don't even like that song. As best as I can figure, my brain really wanted to get stuck on "Love is the Seventh Wave" but, hampered by the fact that I don't actually know that song, did the best it could with what it had.

Having had our fill of paddling in the ocean and lounging on the beach, Megan and I piled back into the tank and headed back, for our last night on the boat on our way back to Maui.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Day 5 continued- Volcano Sail-By

In a shocking change of pace, tonight's event of intrest occurred on the boat ("The Super 8 of the Seas"). Or, more accurately, about half a mile away from the boat, because that's about as close as you can get to flowing lava in a cruise ship.

Actually, it was pretty cool. We were sailing around the southern edge of the Big Island, on our way from Hilo to Kona, and we passed by where the volcano is currently erupting into the sea at around ten in the evening. And even at that distance it was something to see, bright red-orange steaks of lava flowing slowly down into the black water, sending up huge plumes of steam that reached out all the way to where we were. It was the sort of thing that gets you thinking about the power and beauty of nature, or it would, if people's damn flashbulbs would stop going off in your eyes.

I mean seriously, flash photography? "Boy, it's a good thing I had the flash on my camera on. Otherwise this tiny picture of something half a mile away would be completely incomprehensible!"

I'm just glad we weren't in one of the places on the ship where you can only see out through plexiglas windows. Because nothing promotes a calm and healthful mindset like being repeatedly blinded by people who are having trouble grasping the concept of "reflection".

Megan and I had staked out a place on the bow, so we got a great view as the boat did a full 360-degree turn, so that everyone could get a chance to see. Of course, the second the view from our position started to slip away, everyone went charging around to the other side, so so much for that idea. We stayed where we were (the view of the night sky was amazing, with occasional shooting stars as a bonus), and were rewarded with the coolest view so far: one of the lesser vents, separate from the main field, suddenly sending up a fountain of lava. Thus proving that, while virtue may be its own reward, explosions are better.



The best story I heard about Pele was from the driver of the rental car shuttle who was taking me back to the pier. He was telling me about a town that was destroyed by an eruption a few years back, and he mentioned that there was a story about that.
"They say," he said, "that Madame Pele was hitchhiking in that town the night before, and no one would pick her up and give her a ride, except this rancher." (He said the names of the town and the rancher, but I have forgotten them both.) "He picked her up and took her where she wanted to go, and the next day the volcano erupted and destroyed the whole town, except his ranch. The lava came up and stopped at his property line. You can go and see it today."

Note

Yep, it happened again. I'm back from my trip and I haven't finished with the blogging yet. Turns out, I was spending too much time having fun to write about how much fun I was having. You can just imagine how bad I feel about that.

Anyway, I'll try to finish this up over the next week, but the entries may get sketchier as time goes on.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Day 5- Hilo

Today’s Lesson: Curiosity may or may not have ever killed a cat, but it did make me eat the chocolate-covered squid.

Our first day on the big island, and Megan and I split up again. It’s not that we aren’t getting along but, having covered career, family and relationships and, politics and religion being off the menu, we were running out of things to talk about. Also, she has family in Hilo and I really wanted to go see the volcano, so we decided to go our separate ways.

My first stop was, of course, the car rental place. I’m starting to get good at the part where you walk around and look for dings, so they can’t bill them for you later. That settled, I headed off to my next task; to find a pineapple.

Specifically, to find a white "sugarloaf" pineapple, which I had read about once in a travel article and wanted to try ever since. Apparently, they only grow in Hawaii, mainly on the big island, and they are sweeter and less acidic than the usual kind, which sounds like a good idea to me.

I decided that the best place to look would be the Hilo farmers’ market, and for once I was exactly right. I found a guy selling the pineapples and he sold me one, possibly for a bit more than I should have paid, but oh well.

So, now I had a pineapple. Which, as you may or may not know, is unlike most other fruit, such as a pear or a banana, in that it is well defended and you can’t just sit down and eat it without the proper equipment. But we’ll get to that part later.

Pineapple secured, I made my way to Volcano National Park, about thirty miles outside Hilo. For whatever reason, this is something I have been looking forward to for the whole trip, so it was a bummer that I had so little time. The boat was leaving at six today, which meant we had to be back on board by five-thirty, which meant I had to be back at the rental car place by four-thirty, which meant I had to leave the park by three-thirty. Which meant I spent my whole time there checking my watch and rushing through things and generally being my least favorite kind of tourist; the one who hurries along, ticking sights off her checklist without actually ever stopping to see anything. Go there, do that, get the picture.

When I got to the visitor center, a ranger-led hike was just about to leave so, despite my reluctance to engage in anything enriching and/or educational, I decided to tag along. The ranger was maybe a couple of years younger than me, part Hawaiian, and very fond of the phrase "with that in mind". "And those are the three things ancient Hawaiians used this plant for. With that in mind, let’s continue down the trail." "And when they finally got the boy out of the steam vent, he had third degree burns over ten percent of his body. With that in mind, here’s an interesting kind of fern."

With that in mind, it was a nice tour, complete with two legends and some inexpert playing of the conch shell and nose flute. I hiked back past the sulfur banks, then got back in my car and did the driving tour around the rim of the caldera.

Volcano National Park may be the most accurate thing ever created by the federal government: it is a national park that is a volcano. An active volcano, in fact, although there were no eruptions convenient for viewing at the time of my visit. What there was were a huge caldera (big crater) with a smaller crater (crater) inside it, some lava flows and an old lava tube, plus various native and non-native plants and animals (not so interesting, as they are significantly less likely to explode). I thought it was all pretty cool, until I went to the museum and found out what I was missing. Apparently, for about a hundred years (ending in the twenties) the crater had been a boiling lake of lava, with red-hot fountains and everything. People used to have weddings there. By comparison, a hole with some steam coming out of it seems pretty tame.

Failing that, I think the lava fields were my favorite part; they looked like the remains of the world’s biggest barbecue pit and smelled like bad well water, but there’s something appealing about the idea of rocks that are younger than me.

Thanks to my hurried tour of the park, I got out of there with time to spare. Which was a good thing, because I still had a pineapple to deal with. I couldn’t take it back on the boat with me, because they have very clear policies about bringing produce on board, i.e., no. But, as noted before, eating it in its natural state was not an option, so I set off into the town of Volcano in search of a solution.

In the end, it didn't turn out to be that hard at all. I found a little convenience store, run by about four generations of Asian ladies and with a small lunch counter, explained my predicament and asked to borrow a knife (having bought some chips and a bottle of coke, because you don't like to just walk in and start asking for stuff without buying anything), and the nice lady behind the counter not only leant me a rather fearsome-looking one, but also some paper towels and a box to put the trimmings in. So I sat myself down on the steps in front of the store and took that pineapple apart, eating some pieces and saving the rest for later. I gave a quarter of it to the lady when I returned the knife, because it seemed like the thing to do.

The pineapple was delicious, by the way. I ate most of the rest, along with the chips and the soda, of it sitting in a grassy spot behind some kind of cell phone tower or something, and felt like I was travelling like me again.


As for the squid: I had a little extra time before I had to return the car, so I stopped in at the Big Island Candy Company, a Hilo tourist trap baited with chocolate. Their (clearly effective) business model involves being very generous with the free samples, which were almost uniformly delicious (the butter-free cookies being a notable exception). So I picked up a couple of items to bring back, and then I noticed the chocolate-dipped strips of dried squid.

You know how sometimes you see a food item that makes absolutely no sense, something that looks like just the worst idea but then turns out to somehow, mysteriously, be delicious? This was not one of those times. This tasted like dried squid, with chocolate on it. And neither component was improved by the combination.

Day 4- A little more Kauai

Today’s Lesson: No lesson today. We’re on vacation.

Aside from Maui, where we arrived, this is the only place we are staying overnight, and we have an extra half day in Kauai. Since the boat was leaving at one, we opted not to do the car thing and Megan and I split up to pursue our own activities. She went on a shore excursion to see the botanical garden, and I stayed behind to do approximately nothing. That is, I did get off the ship, and walked down to the mini-mall set up for the purpose of bleeding a few dollars out of the lazier cruise passengers (to lazy to even take one of the several "shuttles" to various shopping locations). But even I couldn’t find anything to purchase there, aside from a shave ice (lychee flavor), which I ate while walking along the wall above the little beach by the port. Then, because it was really too hot for even that much physical activity, I went back to the boat and sat by the pool (in the shade) and read.

I finished two books today.

Our one event of the afternoon was to sail by Kauai’s mountainous north coast, with its knife-edge cliffs and gorgeous, inaccessible pocket beaches, made oddly familiar because they shot some of Jurassic park here. Didn’t spot any velociraptors, though.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Day 3- Kauai

Today’s Lesson: Nothing is ever perfect, but sometimes you can get close enough.

Our third island in as many days, and I have to admit, I’m starting to get kind of dizzy. There’s something to be said for those long sea days between ports, with nothing to do but sit around and work your way through a couple dozen books. Of course, there’s also something to be said for actually travelling, as opposed to wrapping yourself in a cocoon of chaperoned security and walking slowly in long lines to wherever the nice man on the loudspeaker has told you to go. Something for everyone, I guess.

Anyway, we got to Kauai today, and I think it’s my favorite island so far. It just looks the way I think a tropical island should—huge green cliffs and funky little stores and pretty, palm-tree lines beaches, no giant walls of high-rise hotels lining the shore. Of course, we didn’t get that right away. One of the problems with travelling on a huge ship is that you have to arrive at the same point as all of the other huge ships, which is to say, a container port. Which, although vital to international commerce, are not exactly scenic wonderlands.

So we got out of there in pretty short order, on the shuttle to the rental car place and then in the rental car out to the northern coast. Along the way, we stopped to rent some snorkle gear and ran in to a woman from Berkeley. What is it with northern Californians around here? The dang things are everywhere.

The drive was, quite frankly, spectacular. Yeah, yeah, enough with the superlatives, you say, we know it’s pretty, why not say something interesting for a change? To which I reply, shut up. This is my vacation and I’m having a good time and I can be happy if I want to, even if it’s not funny.

Right. So the beach we chose was kind of tucked away, down a road with no signs past a lot of rental houses, any one of which I would be very happy to stay in or, possibly, own. But it was still pretty well populated, with bathrooms and a campground and a boat ramp that seemed to be getting a lot of use. Unfortunately, it also had some fairly high winds, strong enough to kick up waves on the pretty little bay and to make snorkling a pointless and somewhat dangerous endeavor (what with the part where you’re getting pushed out to sea and all. So that was out, but it was okay. We found a spot on the beach, in the shade and out of the wind and read and napped and watched a series of people engage in what looked like a completely futile activity, involving a small board and a huge kite, attached to the rider by about a hundred feet of line. We saw several failed attempts, including one guy who flew up out of the water and bounced at least once before landing, but there were several people who seemed to know what they were doing and zipped around all afternoon. All in all, it supplied some good entertainment.

So, sure, what with the wind and having to race back to return the snorkle gear we really didn’t need before the store closed at five, getting stuck behind a dodderingly slow driver and almost not making it, coming back to the boat through the diesel fumes and sounds of large equipment; maybe it wasn’t the perfect day. But it was still pretty darn nice.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Day 2- Oahu

Today’s Lesson: You get what you pay for.

There is an image of Oahu I want to remember. I’m sitting on the lanai, outside of the spa, having been massaged to within an inch of my life, sipping orange-flavored water and looking out at an ocean and a sky so blue that if I saw those colors in a painting I would think, "Eh, tacky."
I am focusing on this memory, because there is another one that is a bit more prominent; of me, crammed in the back of an overcrowded bus with a vent pumping hot air at my sunburned legs and sweat rolling down my back, listening to one of the world’s truly obnoxious people hold forth on his favorite subject—himself—for the second hour. And that’s not what I want to think of when I think of Oahu.

Our plan was simple. Megan’s dream Hawaii activity was to go horseback riding on the beach, and the Turtle Bay Resort on the North shore of Oahu offered just that. They also had a spa that offered massages, and I like massages. (I like horseback riding too, but since I have one back home that I can ride for free, and rarely do, I have trouble justifying paying a lot of money to ride one somewhere else.) You may wonder if it is a good idea to get a massage the day after you have received a severe sunburn; I wondered this too. It turns out that the good people at the resort spa have a certain amount of experience with people with sunburns and, in fact, being pampered and rubbed with nice lotion is exactly what you want in that situation.

Afterwards, I had my nice time sitting out on the lanai and then we went to lunch at the (extremely overpriced) café on the beach. Then, in our charming innocence, we went to catch the bus back to Honolulu.

It seemed okay at first. Sure, there was a crazy guy talking to himself at the bus stop, but that just made it feel like home. And the guy who was waiting for the bus with us did make a remark about him (the crazy guy) being strung out on crystal meth, which seemed kind of insensitive (and, according to Megan, probably inaccurate). And the seat was kind of warm, but Megan had been complaining about how the bus ride out had been too cold, so maybe this was an improvement. It’s only two hours. How bad could it be?

Well, the guy—from Texas, living in Hawaii, does "a lot of different things"—had no intention of falling into the bus-ride personal space cocoon that the rest of us were going for; he wanted to chat. First with me and Megan then, after switching seats, with a kid from UC Davis who was spending his summer working in Honolulu. We learned a great deal about the guy, his life, his kids, his opinions, his very rudimentary sense of humor. We also learned some about the kid, mostly that he plays rugby and has been enjoying his summer. Meanwhile, more people were getting on the bus, and then more, and then more, until it was shoulder-to-shoulder, standing room only, no air moving except what people were breathing out.
There was also a teenaged couple sitting near us who were apparently squabbling the entire time they were on—about half the ride. I managed to totally fail to notice them, which is one time when my lack of social perceptiveness has been a definite blessing.

We finally made it back to Honolulu and all but fell out of the bus. Megan and I had planned to go on to Waikiki, just to see it, but it was getting late and we were already tired, hot and cranky. So we transferred to another bus, this time, blessedly air-conditioned, and retreated back to the ship and our unlimited soft-drink cards.

But really, what I want to remember is that chair and that view and that soft, warm air.

p.s. On the subject of value for your money, I’d just like to say a few words about the service on this ship. Specifically, the service in the dining rooms on this ship. Even more specifically, the fact that it can take up to an hour to get your entrée, and no one seems exactly sure of what they are doing. This is in contrast to the other cruises I have been on, where you practically have to pry the waiters off the back of your chair and your water glass never seems to dip by more than a centimeter before being refilled.
People aren’t working here because they want to be waiters (or whatever), they’re here because they want an extended Hawaiian vacation, and waiting tables is just what they have to do to get that. So the service is somewhat less than stellar.

Day 1- Maui

I got a bad sunburn today. I blame Raymond Chandler.

Today was Maui, where we technically arrived last night, but didn’t really notice until this morning. Our visit began, as all tropical vacations must, at Walmart. We needed a few things, like lip balm and water and a hat and a power strip (our room, in a quaint, old fashioned touch, only has one outlet.)

Our chores taken care of, we piled back into the rental car and drove across the island, through some very California-esque landscape, to the western shore of Maui, which comes complete with palm trees, soft sandy beaches and blue, warm water. I’m still not convinced this is the same ocean we have back home.

We made a brief stop in Lahaina, a town positively bursting at the seams with cuteness, and also t-shirt stores, and then made our way to the beach recommended to us by my parents, who have been here twice before and are therefore experts. (See previous comment re: beaches for a description.) And this is where Mr. Chandler became a problem.

This year, as part of my ongoing quest to read the classics of detective fiction, I brought along The Long Goodbye as one of my books for the trip. So, when I got out of the lovely warm water after my nice swim I flopped myself down on my towel (recently purchased at Walmart, with a map of Hawaii on it) and settled in to read. And I was reading for a while, which probably would have been fine, except for the part where I forgot to put sunscreen on the backs of my legs. Or my back.

Today’s Lesson: Sunscreen only works in the places where you actually put it on.

But that particular downside didn’t make itself known for a while, which was a good thing, because there was snorkling to be done.

The snorkling spot was at the end of the beach looked small, and I was afraid that it might not be impressive enough to impress Megan, who was kind of dubious about the whole idea, but I needn’t have worried. There were triggerfish and angelfish and a bunch of other fish that I didn’t pick out on the card at the rental place, along with urchins and anenomies and brain coral that could win a Nobel. Megan was sufficiently impressed. In fact, I think I may have created a monster.

As the day was winding down and the sunstroke was starting to set in, we headed down the beach to the restaurant in front of one of the fancy hotels, for drinks and nibbles. (Well, I had a drink, anyway. Megan looked too young to be served alcohol without an ID.)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

And They're Off

(I want you to know that I am spending good money on internet access, so blogging may be kind of rushed.)

Well, we made it, after eleven hours in transit, only five of which were actually spent going anywhere. Getting there, when it involves modern air travel, really isn’t any portion of the fun.

Getting to the airport had an extra element of adventure, as our ride (Megan's friend Raquel) was under the impression that we were leaving from Oakland, rather than the more accurate San Francisco. Fortunately, we got it straightened out before we actually got on 880, though time constraints caused her to have to drop us off at the BART station. Which was entirely not a problem, because getting through security took all of about seven minutes. Plus a little extra on the other side, because they pulled Megan out for further searching, seeing as she is such a highly suspicious individual.

The Pride of Aloha is a US-flagged ship, which means it can sail around Hawaii without having to stop in at a foreign port, but it also means that it has to have an all-American crew, which costs more than the usual Caribbean/Eastern European mix. So I think that to remain competitive, they have had to cut corners in other places. Like the beds, for instance, which are highly ergonomic slabs of concrete, each with one thin blanket. Or the soap and shampoo, which come out of dispensers in the bathroom. But it's all good. After all, how bad could it be? We're in Hawaii.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

This is a fine kettle of NTSA-banned substances

As you may know, I am leaving to go on a cruise in Hawaii tomorrow (and, if you didn't know, you probably also don't care). I was planning on having it be seven days of worry-free frolicking, and I'm sure it will, but now it's going to be bookended by several hours of airport hassle, sans liquids, thanks to some stupid terrorists. I mean, really, couldn't they schedule their little mass-murder thing for a time when I don't have to fly out of SFO? Honestly. It's not like I even travel that much anymore.
And why is it always planes? Ooh yeah, blowing up an airplane; that's a new one. Not. Would it kill them to be a little bit more original with their suicide attacks? It's not like there aren't any other ideas out there. They could flood the San Andreas fault to cause an earthquake that would destroy Silicon Valley, so they can take over the world's microchip industry (hey, if it's good enough for Christopher Walken...). Or maybe they could do like in that one tv movie with Rob Lowe where the terrorists tried to steal a train full of nuclear waste to do something with. I think. It might have been Dean Cain. Anyway, my point is that I'm kind of annoyed that I'm going to have to get to the airport about four hours early tomorrow, and also that I didn't get a lot of sleep last night, so I'm kind of incoherent.

'Til tomorrow, then, when with any luck travel blogging should begin in earnest. Unless it doesn't.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Well this is just too cool for words

But I'll give it some anyway. It seems that one of my short stories has been nominated for an award, without me even knowing. Until now, anyway.

Yay!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Alma Mater Alert!

I was watching Mythbusters the other night, and I coudn't understand why I kept experiencing feelings of depression and rising dread. It wasn't about the the show, which was good clean fun about car accidents and drowning (after all, they don't just tell the myths, they put them to the test). And it wasn't because I was depressed or dreading anything, because it was only Thursday. Then it hit me: the promos for Shark week, in the commercial breaks I was fast-forwarding through, were all filmed at Caltech. Which also explains my sudden concern about keeping track of my units.

For those interested (and you know who you are) sites sighted are Millikan pond, the lawn in front of Gates, the Gene Pool, a couple of classrooms (Noyes, maybe?) and the Olive Walk in front of the arches between Ricketts and Flemming.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Prepackaged Ice

I have this theory. My theory is that Armageddon already happened, and nobody noticed. All of the good people ascended into heaven but there were only about nineteen of them so it didn't get a lot off attention, and now the rest of us are all living in the end of days. For those who doubt me, I offer as evidence Paris Hilton's new album, the fact that Big Momma's House 2 has made more than seventy million dollars, and prepackaged ice.

And I'm not talking about the bags of ice you forget to buy at the grocery store when you're having a party, so you have to run down to the 7-11 with your hair still wet, twelve minutes before your guests are supposed to arrive. This is premium packaged ice. Actually, technically, it isn't ice at all, just filtered water sold in sealed, disposable trays, which you purchase at a cost of approximately ten cents a cube, or a penny for every functioning neuron you have. They also come with artificial lemon flavoring.

At least Rome got to be sacked by the Goths.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Update

Remember how I was complaining about how cold it gets in San Francisco in the summer (see below)? Yeah. Nevermind.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Vampires? In San Francisco? Booooo*

So, my friends Ben and Beverly got married last weekend. And it was lovely wedding indeed, with activities spread out over four days. I assume they are spending their entire honeymoon sleeping it off.

Anyway, the first event I was involved in was Ben's bachelor party, held on Saturday night. It was not exactly deboucherous, inasmuch as the guest list included several female friends and the groom's dad, but it was fun. We had a nice dinner at Buca di Beppo, and then we went on a "Vampire Walking Tour of Nob Hill". Now, I have lived in the Bay Area my whole life. I have quoted and heard the famous Mark Twain quote about summers in San Francisco so many times that any mention of the fog provokes a Pavlovian recital of it. So, armed with this knowledge, what did I wear for an evening of walking around one of the coldest, windiest, hilltops in the city? Did I perhaps were a sundress, sandles and a lightweight jacket? Yes. Yes I did.

So I was cold. And since I have very poor circulation, when I get cold I get something I lovingly refer to as "corpse fingers", which is when all of the blood retreats from my fingers, leaving them stiff and dead-white. Which means that I was actually the creepiest thing about the tour.

Our guide was a woman of early middle-age, dressed all in black (with a nice warm cloak), with her face painted white, her hair died black, sparkly fake eyelashes and a canvas tote bag with Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer on it. She claimed to be "Mina" from Bram Stoker's Dracula, the credibility of which was somewhat spoiled by one of her friends calling her "Kitty". Also, she occasionally said things like "anyhoo". Her bit was that there was a whole community of vampires living under the city, and she mixed the vampire stories in with actual San Francisco history. Which made for a kind of odd effect; you would be going along, listening to a story about the 1906 earthquake, when all of a sudden, vampires! Then more history. Also, she told us some of her vacation stories, and about a show she saw on tv the other day.

The tour actually covered about a two-block radius. We would go to a place, stand there while our guide told us some stories, then move on to the next site, sometimes as much as fifty yards away. But it was all good, because afterwards we went to the Tonga Room, where we ordered silly drinks with umbrellas in them, and when I left (early, because I had to catch BART before it went out of service), I got to walk through the Fairmount and pretend like I belonged there, and have the doorman call me a cab. While I was waiting, we talked about the weather. It does get cold in San Francisco in the summer.


*This title is likely to only make sense to people who have lived in the Bay Area for long enough to remember a certain ad campaign, and who have very low standards for humor.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Pickled Apples

I was making some pickles the other day, because my dad is going to visit my grandfather in Florida, and he really likes my bread & butter pickles, and I ended up with some pickling juice left over. So,since I didn't want to waste good pickling juice, I looked around the kitchen and said to myself, "Self, what can I pickle?" And having rejected lettuce, the blender, and meat, I settled on an apple. Which I pickled. It's sitting in the refrigerator now, in a jar, and I have no idea if it is any good or not. I've never heard of anyone pickling an apple, but on the other hand, I've never heard anyone say that you shouldn't.

UPDATE: I tried the pickled apples today. I was having a grilled cheese sandwich and we were out of the actual pickles, and as you may know, it is physically impossible to eat a grilled cheese sandwich without sweet pickles. So I ate a couple of slices of the apple and they were... not bad. Not great, but not bad. A little mealy for my taste.

I think I'll make some more pickles tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Day 9- Eating in Hell's Kitchen

(For the purposes of this post, please pretend it is last Saturday. Blogging has been a little lax recently.)

[A new acquaintance] asked me, in which city, out of all I had seen, I would prefer to make my home. And when I answered "New York," it surprised them so much that I had to explain why, and did so with real enthusiasm until one of them interrupted to ask me, "If you are so in love with your own land, why do you write about places abroad? Why not make a book of all these things you have been telling us?" I told him that I wrote about places abroad because I liked places abroad, but just the same, he had an idea there, and maybe some day I would do something about it.
-Cue's Guide to New York City, Foreword

Last day in New York and it's a short one; our plane leaves at six. But that still leaves enough time for one last adventure, and it just so happens that we have one on tap. There is something called the "Ninth Avenue international food festival" going on today, which sounds like just our thing. Even better, it's walking distance from the hotel. So we checked out, paid the insanely outrageous hotel bill (six nights on my credit card, three on Mom's) left the luggage with the clerk, and headed off to the party.

Which looked a lot like the Solano Stroll, only with more people selling socks. Seriously, socks. Also something called "mozarepas" which seem to have something to do with cheese and corn. Still not sure about that one. There did seem to be a lot of businesses represented which were not exactly local, in the sense of being trailers with Massachusetts plates. But others were, like the booth in front of the fish market selling, among other things, oysters and fried soft-shell crabs. Turns out I really like soft-shell crabs.

Other notable stops: A restaurant which had set out tables within listening distance of the main stage (a really very good high school jazz band was playing) where we bought drinks mainly for the privalege of use their restroom; a booth for a local theater school selling some very cool Broadway memorabilia; and the Clinton Community Garden ("Clinton" is apparently what people who don't like cool stuff call Hell's Kitchen), which also had a booth, where we got some nifty t-shirts and directions to see the garden, not usually open to the public, which was lovely. I could see how having somewhere like that would almost make living in such a densely packed place bearable.

Almost, but not quite. My final, highly original take on New York is, it's a great (if expensive) place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. (Unless I had absolutely vast amounts of money. Then it would be fun.) Too many people, too much pavement, too much rushing around, not enough space. I had a great time, and I'd love to go back and just kind of hang out, instead of trying to see all the sights, but I'm glad to be coming home to somewhere where the world is bigger than one city and "open space" doesn't mean a few acres of heavily-landscaped land with traffic noise from all sides.

Be it ever so full of crazy old hippies, there's no place like home.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Day 8- Of Trains and Family

The architect of [Grand Central} station was Whitney Warren, and the Main Concourse is his masterpiece. This noble room, 275 feet long, 120 feet wide, and 125 feet high, is a model of symmetry. The immense windows at either end are double, and passageways with floors of glass connect the two ends of the building through the windows themselves. If you look long enough you will probably see someone walk casually across. The effect is peculiarly spidery.
-Cue's Guide to New York City, Chap. 5: Midtown New York

What can you do with a BA in English?
-Opening line of 'Avenue Q'

My cousin Ella graduated today, from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, to which one must take a train. The ceremony was at ten am, and about forty minutes away, so we set the alarm nice and early so we would have time to get ready and get there. Unfortunately, the alarm did not see things that way; it had its heart seet on going off at eight. Which made things a little tight, and I didn't get any breakfast, but we made it, dashing on to the last train bare minutes before it left.
The campus was lovely, though damp, as it had started raining again- just misting when we arrived, but by the time the ceremony got underway it was pouring down, complete with enough thunder and lightning to make me wonder if it really was such a hot idea to be sitting in a tent that was held up by two giant metal posts. The fact that no one got electrocuted is probably attributable to the the amazing isulative powers of East Coast WASPs.

Since it was a graduation, there of course had to be several people speaking about Your Future and The Value of Education. The president of the college went the traditional route, talking about how much their school emphasizes original thought and questioning convential wisdom, interspersed with recitations of party lines that date back to 1938 and cliches so tired that they didn't even bother to set their alarm.
On the other hand, Ann Patchett, the graduation speaker was original, relevant and sincere, telling stories about her adventures with the question of 'what next', which can apparently be a real problem when you leave school with four years worth of very expensive education and no marketable skills. Of course, things worked out for her, because she is Ann Patchett. Very few of the rest of them are likely to be so lucky. (Someday I am going to write a post about the difference between dreams and plans. It will be cynical, preachy and self-important, so I'm sure you just can't wait.)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Day 7- Daisy and Mom Take On the Town

Fifth Avenue is still the great shopping street of New York, although it is not quite as smart as it used to be. In recent years there has been a steady increase in the number of cut-rate "linen" shops along FIfth Avenue, and the smaller smart stores, and some of the large ones, are deserting it for Madison.
-Cue's Guide to New York City, Chap. 14: Shopping

Our day of glamour in the big city started at the NBC studios in Rockefeller Center. Acutally, technically, it started with us deciding that, as fun as it might be to stand outside of the windows of the Today Show and wave at the cameras, it was even more fun to sleep. Besides, I've never even watched the Today Show. So we had our nice continental breakfast at the hotel, and then toddled on over to take the studio tour. Which we had to wait about an hour to do, as it seems that one of the five things that every tour group does upon coming to New York is to take the NBC studio tour. So we had plenty of time to browse in the gift shop, which was really an attraction in and of itself. Do you want a 'Crossing Jordan' t-shirt? 'Scrubs' scrubs? A keychain-locket with a picture of the cast of 'Friends' on one side and the dates when it started and went off the air on the other? Me neither! And yet they're all here, along with 'Fear Factor' shot glasses, 'The Apprentice' tank tops, and a frankly stunning array of 'Will & Grace' merchandise.
The studio tour was fun too; we got to see where they film their sports stuff and the evening news, and marvel over how small and unimpressive the sets look in real life. And that goes double for the Saturday Night Live set, although that one did have the bonus of being able to watch Nellie Furtado setting up to rehearse for her appearance this weekend. Our guides were actual studio pages, which seems to be one of those thankless, unpaid jobs that you only get in industries where the starry-eyed hopefuls vastly outnumber the available positions.

After the tour we headed across the street to Saks Fifth Avenue- the real one, the Saks on Fifth Avenue, for some intensive browsing. Which was going great until Mom checked her phone and discovered that there had been a minor catastrophe back at work, requiring her to go into crisis-management mode in the jewelry department.
That settled, we headed on up Fifth Avenue, in search of the high life and possibly lunch. We found one in the Cartier store (nice, but I still have issues with the diamond industry) and the other in the form of cokes and giant pretzels purchased from a street vendor, which we ate on the edge of Central Park. (Mom took a couple of pictures; I'll post them if they're flattering enough.) But it was becoming clear that the Problem was something that was going to have to be dealt with, so we took a break from the ogling of expensive goods and Mom returned to the room, while I headed off to Times Square to see what was available at the half-price tickets booth for tonight. Then it was once more into the retail space, with the intention of finding a card and gift for my cousin Ella's graduation tomorrow, and to hear Vespers sung at the Episcopalian church.

Now I am going to break from my narrative and give you some background. All week long, I have been carefully following the weather reports. And all week long they had been predicting 'thunder showers' (whatever those are) for Thursday. But after spending all of last Friday lugging around my completely unnecessary raincoat, and having the umbrella in my purse get in the way every time I went for my wallet, I had gradually lost faith in the forecasters, and so, when I looked out and saw what a nice sunny day it was, I said to myself, 'feh', and left them behind. It was getting on in the afternoon, and we got distracted shopping at Brooks Brothers, so we decided to only peek into the service, because we really needed to get that present. And that must have made God mad, because we had only made it about half a block before it started to drizzle. Then it started to rain. Then it was coming down in the quantities generally described as "cats" and "dogs" and we were soaked through. And we couldn't just go and wait it out, because it was almost six and the play was at eight, and at the very least we were going to have to change and dry our hair. So we made a run for it, squelching on through the crowds, who had mysteriously all sprouted umbrellas, arriving back at the hotel each her own personal river.
By the time we got dry and headed out again, it was a perfectly clear and lovely evening.

The play, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee", was completely hilarious. The next time I come here I am definitely going to devote more time to going to plays, even though I may go broke doing it (even at half off, the tickets were pretty ruinous). Afterwards we went across the street, to the bar at the Palm restaurant, where I had a drink strong enough to more than make up for last night's, plus some. But the great part was that a couple of the actors from the play came in and sat down at the next table over and we got to (discreetly) stare at them, Mom by just looking and me by turning around and pretending to be interested in the episode of 'Law and Order" playing silently on the tv behind the bar. And if that isn't glamour, then I don't know what is.

Seriously, I don't. What is it?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Day 6- Panoramas of New York City

So, I didn't post yesterday (see below), because I was grumpy. And even I know that when I'm grumpy, the best thing to do is just to leave me alone and wait until I get over it. Anyway, moving on:

The Empire State Building is the tallest structure yet erected by man. It is 102 stories high from the street to the top of the so-called mooring mast, 1,250 feet above the street level... There are two observation galleries, one with an open terrace on the 86th floor and another completely glass enclosed on the 102nd floor, at the top of the mooring mast. A visit to them costs $1.10 for adults, and 25 cents for children, and if you go up on a clear day you will find that it is a bargain.
-Cue's Guide to New York City, Chap. 5: Midtown New York

My theme for today was Grand Vistas. I started with the Empire State Building, the source of my only memory of my previous trip to New York (it was windy). I had meant to get an early start and beat the crowds, but what with one thing and another (translation: I am a very lazy person) I didn't get there until about eleven. And there was a line, but not as bad as it might have been, judging by the roped-off maze in the waiting room. Passage to the top cost a lot more than a dollar ten, but then a room at the Ritz-Carlton doesn't cost seven dollars a night anymore, either.

What was annoying was that the entire time you're stuck there in line, they're trying to find other ways to separate you from your money. There was a movie, an audio tour, and even- and this was my favorite- the opportunity to purchase a picture taken of yourself in front of an actual backdrop depicting the Empire State Building. For only twenty dollars! It seemed to good to pass up, but somehow I managed.

Fortunately, it was worth the hassle, because the veiw from the top (86th floor only- tickets to the 102nd were extra) was really spectacular. I took my time, stopping every three feet or so to peer out through the metal safety grate and blowing a dollars worth of quarters on the coin-operated binoculars. Around here, buildings are their geography, so it seems like they put in a lot more effort than other places to make them interesting. There was also a kind of voyeuristc pleasure in seeing the roof gardens and fancy penthouse patios, and realizing just how little living space people have around here. And I think I must be the only person in the history of ever to visit the top of the Empire State Building and not take a single picture.

I was kind of windy, though.


Next stop in my tour of Looking at New York From a Distance was Brooklyn. I had been meaning to see something outside of Manhattan and it was a nice day, so I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I took the subway across (intentionally this time- see below if I ever write it) and wandered around the Brooklyn Heights and downtown areas, did my typical get-kind-of-lost-in-a-vaguely-industrial-part-of-town thing, then got an ice cream cone and walked back across the bridge. It's a vey nice bridge. And I know this is the part where I say all kinds of good things about the Manhattan skyline, but I've run out of adjectives, so let's move on, shall we?

Once I got off the bridge, I decided to walk back through Chinatown and catch the subway in Soho, because I am insane. Really, if I'm going to keep hiking all over the place like this, then I really need to just embrace my touristness and wear a big honkin pair of white sneakers, because even my lavender suede Converses aren't cutting it, distance-wise. Anyway, Chinatown was nice to see, if not that terribly different than Fremont, only with more street vendors and fewer strip malls. I stopped a store I had read about and got a bunch of fun, cheap stuff; including some chopsticks, because I needed new chopsticks. Then I got back on the subway and went to see the New York Public Library.

At this point, it's pretty clear that I have completely departed from my theme but, in the immortal words of Aristotle: whatever. Actually, that's just one word. Anyway, I wanted to see the library. I said hi to the lions, saw two special exhibitions (one, on some high-concept illustrated books, was kind of pointless; the other, on letters written by a young woman in a Nazi work camp, was not), admired all of the marble and the painted ceilings and sat down and read my guidebook in the reading room so I could pretend to be a regular patron. There were a lot of people there, reading or working on their laptops, and I could see why. I think if I lived in a tiny, stuffy apartment with a couple of sometimes-obnoxious roommates, I would really value a place that was big and airy and quiet, with a good internet connection.

Oh, and I saw their Gutenberg Bible. It was cool.


Mom got in at around seven-thirty, after some confusion with local workers over whether the hotel actually existed. We went out and had a lovely dinner and a couple of lovely drinks, which don't seem to have been nearly as strong as the one I had at the Met, because I'm not even tipsy.
Oh well, better luck tomorrow.

Day 5- Patriotism, Tragedy and a Dirty Puppet Show

Okay, I'm over my crankiness now. Unfortunately, I've also forgotten most of my brilliant observations, so we'll have to make do with whatever I can come up with at this point.

Today I finally decided that the weather was nice enough for my planned trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It started out gray, but not actually raining and this week that seems to be about as good as I'm going to get.

I took the subway to the Wall Street stop, got off with all of the suits and came up into a landscape that has been called a canyon so many times that I refuse to use the term on principle. Unfortunately, I can't seem to think of a better one.

I may or may not ever actually finish writing this post. We'll see.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

By the way

What do people think about the quotes? Fun? Annoying? Flagrant copyright violation?

Not that I'm likely to change anything, I'm just curious.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Day 4- Nature: Dead or Alive

[The American Museum of Natural History] is decidedly one of those things that must not be missed... Be sure to visit the Asiatic Hall, the collection of dinosaurs (unique), the exhibit of the life and art of the American Indian, the new exhibit of bird life and anything else your time or your tired feet will permit.
-Cue's Guide to New York City, Chap. 11: Museums

The weather finally made good on its threats and came through with the rain today. So it was a good thing that I had already decided to go to the Natural History Museum today. And it was cool, especially the dinosaurs, but I don't know if it's museum fatigue or just that I'm getting too old for interpretive displays, but I'll admit that overall I was kind of underwhelmed. Don't get me wrong- I'm glad I went; the new space hall was all shiny and interactive (though oddly skimpy on the exhibits) and, well, dinos. But I really am just not all that interested at looking at hall after hall of displays of dead, taxidermied animals. Because I know that, once upon a time, this was the only way for people to see them, and you could make the argument that zoos are no better but, well, ick. Various native cultures get a similar treatment, to less disturbing results. It is interesting, though; there were exhibits in this science museum on the primitive peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas, but not of Europe. I wonder why that is?

Even the gem exhibit, which I thought was some kind of marquee attraction, turned out to be a dark, dingy room way down in a corner, with various (mostly not very valuable) gemstones displayed against badly faded pieces of crushed velvet and an interpretive display that must have been cutting-edge in 1952. I went all the way around the place looking for the good stuff before I realized I had already seen it.

But like I said, it was all for the best. It kept me indoors and out of trouble for most of the afternoon, and I saw some cool skeletons. (I also managed to get the hiccups in the Hall of Prehistoric Vertebrates, alarming some of the other patrons. That place sure is quiet.)

By the time I was done with the museum, the rain had cleared up and the sun had come out, so I set off to explore Central Park. Given the choice, I prefer my nature alive and well and digging through trash cans. thank you very much. I have to admit, I set off with a certain agenda in mind: to find ways that this park, so effusively praised as the most awesome, terrific, super-fantastic park in the world, really wasn't a patch on our parks back home. And in a lot of ways it isn't, but about ten minutes in I realized that I was being stupid and missing the point, and I needed to cut it out. So I had an excellent time there, making wrong turns, totally missing key sights, and wandering off towards equiment sheds, but also finding little pockets of beauty so perfect it made me wish I had brought my camera. But then it made me glad I didn't, because beautiful spots never come out very well on film, and later on you look at the pictures and wonder what the big deal was, anyway.

It was good people-watching too: all the New Yorkers with their tiny little dogs, tourists looking for the bathrooms (one school group asked me twice) and just a lot of people just being outside. I still don't think it's the most fabulous place in the world, but I do see how, if you lived here, you would.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Day 3- The Good, The Bad and The Cupcake

In the back of my mind is always the feeling that I am unrestricted- that I never have to ask what I can do, but only decide what I shall do- and that no matter what diversion I may prefer at the moment- whether it be Wagner or Whoopee- the best of it in the world is waiting for me just around the corner.
-Cue's Guide to New York City, Introduction

-Today I got up bright and early and went to Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Okay, nine-twenty. But that's early in Pacific time.

-I'm not usually one to go to church on vacation (or at home, for that matter), but how often do you get to hear an Archbishop lead a Mass in a massive gothic cathedral?

-After Mass I went to Times Square, which was quite the contrast. When you require that every new building in a neighborhood have a massive video screen or display of lights, it does interesting things to the general ambience of the area. Specifically, it attracts lots and lots of tourists, plus a guy in underpants and a cowboy hat getting his picture taken with them.

-I went back for the shoes. They are good shoes. They were sixty percent off. This is not a bad thing.

-On the same block as the shoe store is the Magnolia Bakery, famous for its cupcakes. It is a tiny place, and there always seems to be a line out the door. It's probably the only bakery in the world with it's own bouncer. Anyway, I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I stood in the line and got myself a cupcake and a cup of cocoa, and went to the park on the corner to eat it. It was a good cupcake, a tasty cupcake, but not an earth-shaking cupcake. But somehow, from all of the people lined up to fill their boxes with them, I got the impression that it was not the physical properties of the pastries that were drawing the people, it was where you got them. These were status cupcakes.

-I really do have an almost magical ability to always choose the exact wrong direction whenever I am given the choice. Seriously, I did it about five times today- didn't get it right once. I really should carry a compass.

-Eating at the bar in fancy restaurants is my new favorite thing. Today it was the Tavern Room at Gramercy Tavern, with less entertaining but very solicitous bartenders and the best fish stew I could ever imagine having. Plus, if you have a coke, it gets refilled constantly.

-The World's Biggest Macy's is a lot like a Macy's, only bigger.

-Why am I such a sucker for skin-care product salespeople? I need to work on that.

-Despite the highly confusing map and schedules and the faint but pervasive smell of urine, the subway system is really quite handy.

-Three straight nights in New York City spent in my hotel room! I'm going for the record.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Day 2- Shopped Until Dropped

Although it would be possible to go on indefinitely, I think that I have listed enough places to make a devastating gap in all but the most unlimited budget. And if you will only window shop a little while you are doing your sightseeing, many other things will suggest themselves to you. . . So tuck aside enough money to get home on, and have a good time.
-Cue's guide to New York City, chap. 14: Shopping

My stated plan for today was that I would go to Soho and see the art galleries. Only it happens that my information was a little bit outdated, and most of the galleries have relocated to Chelsea, and Soho is now mostly the home of high-end stores. Tragic, I know. The only art exhibition I ended up viewing was the display of skirts through the ages (really, I have the program) at the Prada store. I was not technically shopping there, even at my most shopping-crazed, I am not a Prada customer, but I did try on a dress, if only for the thrill of seeing the dressing room walls go from clear to opaque with the push of a button. Lacking the five grand, though, I had to pass on the outfit.

What I did purchase was a purse. This was not an impulse buy- I needed (okay, wanted) a new purse and I had my mind set on getting one here. And I found one that was absolutely perfect for me. It was a very sensible purchase, as long as we don't bring up the price. Seriously, don't even mention it. Besides, we have to consider price-per-use here. It will be very economical as long I never buy another purse for the rest of my life.

I got lunch at an apparently very popular bistro called Balthazar, by being by myself and sitting at the bar. Really, I wouldn't have had it any other way- the bartender was so entertaining it was like lunch and a show. The food was pretty good too.

The shops in Soho were fun, but I as I was not the only person who was aware of this, the place was absolutely swamped with tourists. So I took the advice of the lady at the Marc Jacobs store (it's amazing how friendly people are when they're making a massive commision) and walked over to the West Village.

I think if I lived in New York, and had the money, I would like to live in this part. Strings of pricey boutiques aside, it had a nicely laid-back, almost Californian air to it, only with more brickwork. I didn't make any purchases here, expect an iced chai at a coffeeshop, purchased mostly because I wanted to use their bathroom. I'm going back tomorrow for the shoes. (After another day of walking my feet were too swollen to get a good idea of fit.)

This entire time, the weather had been gorgeous. I was about to decide that New York forecasters are just hopeless pessimists when, as I was on my way to visit Washington Square park before going back when the skies opened up. Fortunately, one of my requirements for purses is 'big enough to hold an umbrella', so at least my head stayed dry. My feet, not so much.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Day 1- Around the World in Eight Hours (give or take)

While other museums may have a finer collection of some particular specialty, in general value and interest the Metropolitan is supreme. There is almost nothing imaginable of worth or beauty, from paintings through sculpture to early American furniture and antique jewelry, that is not worthily represented and well displayed.
-Cue's Guide to New York City, chap. 11: Museums

My original plan was to go and see the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan today, but I changed it because it was going to rain. The forcasters were very clear on this point, from the Weather Channel, to the local stations to the CNN website: major rain on Friday. Having interpreted the tone of the last sentence, you, dear reader, know exactly what happened. It didn't rain. Normally I would not consider this cause for alarm, and I am glad that my feet are not wet as well as sore; I'm just worried that I may have spent most of the nicest day of my trip indoors.

Of course, I didn't spend it indoors just anywhere; I spent it indoors in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But first I did some shopping. Not a lot of shopping- not major shopping, just a little looking around at Rockefeller Center, which seemed like the right thing to do, seeing as how it's about half a block from my hotel. And actually, I saw some art there too, in four shipping containers that had been converted into a display area for some very modern artists. I kind of liked the one who made flower motifs on the walls out of monkey bones, and the small figure dressed in childrens' clothes that periodically pounded its head against the wall with jackhammer force was certainly arresting, but the video installation had crashed and the giant wall-hangings made of Spongebob Squarepants toys was just confusing.
I am, perhaps, not the ideal audience for the truly cutting edge.

Since I had already blown a good chunk of my morning before I realized that it was not going to rain, I decided to stick with my new plan and hit the museum, which I reached via subway. And I would like to point out that I was able to successfully purchase my metrocard (unlimited rides for seven days), make it through the gate on my second try and figure out before I got on that 'downtown' was not the direction I wanted to go.

In case you weren't aware, the Met is an impressively large building, and one good way to look like a total tourist dork is to stand in front of it with your head tilted back, looking up and squinting. I am a total tourist dork.
Once inside, I paid the very aggressively 'suggested' donation and got a map of the museum. Which I promptly left in the bathroom, so I went back and got another. I knew coming in that I wasn't going to be able to see everything, so I took the advice of my guidebook and focused on the things that were of the most interest to me: ancient Egypt, nineteenth century European paintings and sculpture, and the gift shop. I was getting a late start, it was almost one by this point, but the museum is open until nine on Fridays, so I figured I'd have enough time to see a few things.

Hitting the Egyptian wing was a no-brainer; you could not keep me away from that stuff with a stick. Except for the mummies. I don't care how long they've been dead or how interesting their preservation process was, putting someone's dessicated corpse under glass for morons to try and take flash photos of is Not Cool. Displaying miniature models of daily life in ancient Egypt that were recovered from the tombs of said mummies, on the other hand, is Very Cool, as is having a complete tomb (sans mummy) which one can enter and examing the hieroglyphics first-hand (behind plexiglas, of course). There was also a special exhibition about a woman who declared herself pharoah and served as co-ruler with her nephew/stepson, which was also cool but my feet were starting to get sore.

This was when I discovered that sore feet=art appreciation. By the time I got to the Impressionist galleries I couldn't walk another step, so I plopped myself down on one of the benches and appreciated until my feet felt better. Then I moved to the next gallery and did the same. There really was a lot to appreciate. Seriously, it was almost an embarassment of riches- wall after wall of Monet, Van Gough, Degas, Manet, Seurat... it was like a Great Impressionists screensaver come to life.

Speaking of which, is there anything more pointless than taking a photograph of a famous painting in a museum? You know it's not going to come out very well, and anyway, if you wanted a copy you can get it on a print, t-shirt, mousepad or mug at pretty much any yuppie-supply store. Then there were the people who were taking turns having their pictures taken next to one of Monet's waterlilies paintings, like it was the world's largest ball of earwax or something... I'm ranting again, aren't I? Sorry about that.

One of the reasons I had kind of wanted to go to the Met today was that on Fridays and Saturdays they have live music and a bar on the balcony over the Great Hall, which sounded pretty cool. It was. I got a fancy drink and a duck terrine (which ended up being my dinner) and sat for a while, watching the people and listening to the music. Then I went and looked at a special exhibition about Tibetan arms and armor, but since by that point I was very tired and just the littlest bit drunk, I'm afraid it didn't sink in very well.

All in all, a great day, which could only have been made better if the A's had actually managed to score some runs against the Yankees.

Photographic memory

I can never leave for a trip without forgetting something. This time it was my camera. I'll get a disposable one for the time being, but I won't be posting any pictures until I get back.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Day 0- Arrival

Although flying is steadily on the increase, passengers arrive in New York by rail in thousands to the air line's tens. The finest trains from the West arrive at either the Pennsylvania Station or the Grand Central Terminal...
- Cue's Guide to New York City, Chap. 1: How to Get to New York

I don't know what the great rail terminals of the forties looked like, but I think it's safe to assume they were pretty much equivalent to the Jet Blue terminal at JFK.
It was after ten when my flight got in, so I went contrary to my upbringing and actually took a cab from the airport. Because, yeah, it's expensive, and yeah, there's a train, but there are times when my usual habit of getting hopelessly lost in strange cities seems slightly less charming. Besides, something just seemed right about arriving in Manhattan in a real, honest-to-god yellow cab. Even if he didn't find the hotel on the first try.

I can't really blame the cab driver for that, though, seeing as the hotel itself, while nice, is not technically finished, in the sense of having actual signs or anything. But they did have a banner up on the awning, and it didn't take too long to find. It's really quite a chic place, very modern and boutique-y.
My room is, shall we say, cozy, and smells very faintly of paint. The good news is that it's on the twentieth floor, with lots of window to look in in the other buildings, and it has free internet at chocolate. (Yes Mom, I checked- it really is free. I got the Cadbury bar, I'll save you the Hershey's.) It also has a nice, soft-looking bed, which I think I am going to take advantage of right now, because I have a big day coming up tomorrow.