Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fall Colors

Last weekend - camping by the Entiat River with Jenine, Josh, and Arlo, Scott, and Mike Huey. I'm not sure why Mike is the only one who warrants a last name, but that's the way it is.

Arlo and Jenine

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

New Yorker Festival - 5

It was actually the 11th annual New Yorker Festival, but it was my fifth year in a row attending. Peter skipped this year but I had my lovely friend Jenine for a traveling companion, and we had a great time. Unfortunately, that great time started at 4am on Friday. Our flight was at 6, hence the early start. We landed at JFK around 2:30 and headed for the subway; about 40 minutes later: Times Square. 44th Street isn't my ideal New York City address, but it was Jenine's first trip to NY, so it was kind of fun to be right in the middle of the known universe.

View from our room on the 46th floor.
We hung out in our hotel room for a little while and then headed out to our first festival event: an interview with Alec Baldwin. Alec is a funny guy, and a bit of a flirt. He told Ariel Levy who was interviewing him that he liked her dress (I thought it was ok). It was a fun interview, lots of movie clips (including one from "Working Girl" from 1988 - 22 years younger and 30 pounds lighter), and political chit-chat (campaign finance reform is his pet political cause). He also talked quite a bit about changing the divorce laws in New York state. I've heard that it's easier to kill your spouse and do the time than to get a reasonable divorce in New York; apparently he's using his influence and his experience with the process to affect legislation on this front as well. In talking about comedy and his success with "30 Rock," he gave all the credit to Tina Fey.

AND (and this is the best part), Calvin Trillin was sitting next to me during the interview! I was sort of distracted by this fact the whole time, and I just couldn't quite let it go, so when the interview was over I turned to him and said, "excuse me, Mr. Trillin?" he looked a bit startled and said "yes?" I stuck out my hand, which he shook (what else could he do?) and said "my name is Manomi, I came out from Seattle for the festival, I just wanted to say, I've enjoyed your work for a long time." He gave the smallest hint of a smile and said "thank you," I said, "you're welcome" and then left him alone.

Jenine and I were then supposed to meet my friend Elizabeth who was making the trek out from Brooklyn to meet us for dinner. Unfortunately, Jenine was jet-lagged (having just returned from China and Vietnam a few days before leaving for New York) and not feeling well, and decided to get back to the hotel for some much needed sleep while I went off to meet Elizabeth. We had a nice dinner at Harrison (pricey, noisy, good, not spectacular with the exception of our side order of fries, which were spectacular; I've eaten fries at a lot of places, these must have been fried in duck fat or something equally decadant - they were sublime) and I ended up back in the room about 12:30 - Jenine didn't even twitch when I came in.

Saturday we got up and immediately headed out for bagels, which we got at a little deli near the venue (we were back at the same place we saw Alec). The Saturday morning talk we attended was by Atul Gawande who was speaking on "How to Live When You're Dying" which was the title of his article on end-of-life matters/hospice care earlier this year. I often skim the heavy articles but this one was so interesting that I read every word. Atul is a practicing surgeon in Cambridge, he talked about how some patients choose not to treat their terminal illnesses, but to go home, manage their pain, and live out their days by actually living those days, instead of fighting death with painful and draining treatments. Atul needs to learn to modulate his voice (he's a very monotone speaker), but his talk was interesting, and by the end, several people in the audience were sobbing.

After Atul, we had just enough time to trot down a few blocks to the Chelsea Market and browse the goodies there. We bought some treats, including chocolate covered Corn Flakes (you have no idea...) from Jacque Torres and some savory crepes for a snack, and then headed back to the same theater for the "Fashion Forward" talk. I have to admit, this was the talk we had tickets to that I was least interested in, but that turned out to be the MOST interesting. Four designers, four runway models, and Judith Thurman moderating a very interesting discussion on fashion, the fashion industry, femininity, Michelle Obama vs. Carla Bruni, inspiration, fabric, draping, layering, wool, PETA, and the best part: the Rag and Bone collection (my favorite) featured mittens. No gloves, mittens. The models were all leggy, beautiful, and appeared to completely lobotomized. Jenine, an apparel designer by training, more of an industrial designer by trade, was hugely inspired by the event, and I found it incredibly interesting and entertaining, and it made me think that in my life, which is often totally void of personal artistic endeavors, fashion can be art and expression, and every day can be an opportunity to create a personal artistic statement, even if it's with other peoples' products.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening downtown in Soho: Dean & Deluca, Muji, CB2, Prada, Uniqlo, Pearl River, AND... Jenine is pretty sure she saw Donatella Versace in the Dolce & Gabbana store when we walked by. I insisted she go into the Prada store to not only look at the clothes, but more to check out the Rem Koolhaas architecture and design elements, which are fantastic. It's also fun to check out the sleek salespeople in their sleek clothes, although Jenine did comment about one of the sleekest salesgirls, "I feel bad that she doesn't have a rib-cage." Dinner was at Papatzul - fresh, spicy, Mexican fare which I'd had and enjoyed a few times before. I like going back to the same old places.

Sunday morning was with Steve Carell. Again, lots of clips, and lots of chat about "The Office." He answered my burning question during the interview -- it turns out that the show was in fact very deliberately re-tooled after Season 2 (the change was obvious, and hugely disappointing); the result was more viewers and numerous awards - but the changes rendered the show practically unwatchable as far as I'm concerned. It lost all its charm and all its subtlety while becoming a major hit with the masses. I have to believe all those smart actors and writers are disappointed now too, and that the turn is a contributing factor in Steve leaving after this season, but introducing myself to Calvin Trillin was as much as I could do in terms of confronting celebrities, so I didn't ask Steve to elaborate on the change after Season 2 during the question and answer period.

Our last festival event was right after Steve -- Malcolm Gladwell talking about "The Magical Year of 1975." It turns out that what Malcolm found so magical about 1975 was the fact that that's when Marvin Miller, who was the head of Major League Baseball's players' union, won the players the right to free agency, changing the economics of the game (and possibly the nation - his talk was a little hard to follow) forever.
View from the roof of the Gansevoort Hotel.
And that was the end of the festival for us. We spent Sunday afternoon walking down the High Line Park, stopped for a cocktail ($15) at the bar on the roof of the Gansevoort Hotel, made our way back to Times Square, and on a tip from our doorman, ate dinner at John's Pizza ("best pizza in the City!")
Monday morning we got up and went to Zabar's for bagels, chatted with some Israeli guy in the cafe, walked from there to Central Park through light rain, and took a stroll through what eventually became a torrential downpour. I thought we were heading south through the park back toward midtown, but at some point I realized we were actually heading north, so given the time and the fact that our bags were at the hotel (south) and we were taking the subway back to JFK, we hightailed it out of the park and to the subway on Lexington Avenue and made our way (running late) to the airport. We were so late that we got to jump the security line (escorted by a Delta agent) and made it to our gate only to find that our flight was delayed. We finally boarded and sat on the plane for two hours while a new flight path was cleared as ATC had just closed the runway we were waiting for. It was a long trip home after a super-great weekend. Can't wait for next year - I hope Jenine will go again and Peter will be back on board.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ashland, OR

Ah, Oregon. It’s population still insists on tie-dying their clothes (at least those which didn’t come straight from Guatemala), and appears to be existing primarily on raw goat milk. Never before have I seen a more fashion-generic population than during the three days I spent in Ashland. I’d always wanted to go to Ashland to see the plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival – an odd name for the venue given that plays run for nine months of the year, and only a fraction are by Shakespeare. 2010 is the 75th anniversary of the fest, which is one of the oldest and largest professional non-profit theaters in the nation. It employs 325 people full-time, 175 part-time, and utilizes 600 volunteers. One of the most impressive things about the festival is that they produce so many plays during a season. In 2010, eleven plays will have run on the three stages, often overlapping on the same stage, meaning one play might run on the Elizabethan Stage one day as a matinee, but the techs will break down the set before evening and a different play will run on the same stage that night. Even more impressive is the fact that actors may be in three different shows during a season. We saw Twelfth Night on Saturday, a play with two female leads (one of whom was embarrassingly dreadful), and one of the leads (the not-dreadful one) had the second lead in the musical we saw on Sunday night. Peter and I (critics that we are) determined that while the actress whom we saw twice wasn’t dreadful, she was a one-trick pony and her performance as Lady Olivia in Twelfth Night wasn’t particularly different from her performance as Miss Ritter, a 1930s shopgirl, in She Loves Me. We thought the performances in general were good (better in She Loves Me than in Twelfth Night), but not particularly stellar compared to performances we’ve seen elsewhere in the country. Those actors work hard though, and I’m sure the OSF is a great gig to get for an actor starting out. We also took a backstage tour given by one of those hard-working actors. Our guide, Kate Hurty, told us she started out as a scientist doing cell research after graduating from Swarthmore, and did community theater on the side before deciding to ditch her lab coat to pursue an MFA in acting. She was very vivacious and cute and gave a very interesting tour. She was starring in Pride and Prejudice which we didn’t see, but also had a small role in She Loves Me (in which she got to wear absolutely beautiful 1930s-style dresses, hats, and coats – the costumes in this show were wonderful).
I got a little bored with the Shakespeare, which I expected, but She Loves Me was delightful. It’s based on the movie Shop Around the Corner, which takes place in Budapest pre-WWII, and is the movie that You’ve Got Mail was based on.
Ashland is a very nice, tiny village, with nice shops, decent restaurants, and a lovely park on the edge of town. Peter and I also drove the two-and-a-half hours to Crater Lake to check out the azure blues, and they were as advertised.

The B&B where we stayed was very nice, we had a big room and big bathroom and the breakfasts were good. I was sort of expecting extraordinary, but I’m sticking with good. The ladies who ran the place were very nice, helpful, friendly, etc., and the other guests we dined with at breakfast were the same. Really nice weekend.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Odds and Ends before Leaving

Heading home today. It feels like we've been gone longer than we have. My feet are sore from so much walking. Peter, who has visited more museums and historic places in the last 11 days than I'm sure any other tourist to ever visit Great Britain, has become obsessed (in a "car wreck" kind of way) with Big Brother. This is a person who doesn't have a TV in Seattle, has season tickets to the Seattle Opera, went to the theater three times while we were here, and spent three hours at the British Museum yesterday looking at artifacts from the dawn of all civilizations. Big Brother.

our flat was in the building on the right
The building we've been staying in is on the Albert Embankment which runs along the south side of the Thames (the Victoria Embankment runs along the north side; the Brits really seem to love their Victoria & Albert - well, except Charles Dickens. Apparently, he refused a knighthood from Queen Vicotria [Peter learned this when he visited the Charles Dickens' House/Museum]).

There's a scene at the beginning of Get Him to the Greek which is supposed to take place in the main character's London flat - it's the penthouse of this building!! I recognized the view from the balcony in the movie, it's the same view as from our balcony but from higher, and from the street, I can look up and see the entire balcony where the scene was shot. Okay, I thought that was cool.

The U.K. has banned smoking in public places (thank god), however, Londoners have refused to give up their fags (hee hee!) and now they (all of them) smoke to and from wherever they're going and then they smoke some more outside when they get there. I am really tired of walking down the sidewalks through clouds of cigarette smoke.

One day when I was taking the tube somewhere, a guy got on with what looked like a little amplifier. I didn't think anything of it until I saw the microphone in his hand and then I got a little worried. Within a few minutes of him boarding the train, the unmistakable opening of Careless Whisper started playing and then he started singing. I've heard people sing in the subways of New York and then ask for tips; here's the deal with those people: they sing really well. This bozo introduced himself to his captive audience as "Klaus" and then sang a few more lines. Here's the deal with Klaus: I don't think English is his first language, he didn't actually know the words to Careless Whisper and appeared to be making them up as he went along, he couldn't sing for shit. I mean, I can sing better than he could - and if you know me at all, you know that's not saying much. A bunch of us exited the train just as Klaus was screeching out "So I'm never gonna prance again, the way I danced with mules..." or something like that. We all winced collectively as we desperately ran for the stairs.

I do like London a lot, but I'm ready to go home.

[Full disclosure: I typed most of that Tuesday morning from the London apartment but didn't have time to post it before rushing off to the airport. I also tried to post it from the Calgary Airport during our connection but the Canadians have an interesting concept for what "free wifi" means. I'm posting it now, Wednesday morning, from my desk in Bellevue but plan on adding a few more photos when I get home tonight. It's been fun, thanks for reading and emailing me while I was away; the blog now goes back into hibernation until the next trip. -M]

Here are a few pictures of our lovely little rented flat:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Neighborhoods of the Rich and Famous

If I were going to move to London (and I'm not going to move to London), I'd first have to win the lottery (a Powerball jackpot would be best), and then I'd find a place to stay in Hampstead. The neighborhoods on the outskirts of London are great; both Kew and Wimbledon are about 30 minutes on the tube from central London, Hamstead is a little closer, but still has that "village" feel. It's also the home of several celebs (Ricky, Russell) and for good reason, the homes are beautiful, the Main Street (or High Street as they're called here) has a ton of shops and cafes with the tube station at the top of the road, and Hamstead Heath, a fantastic, wild, huge, sprawling park with a view from a hill of almost all of London spread out below it, is a 15 minute walk from the tube station.
But before heading out to Hampstead yesterday, acting on a tip (thanks Laura!) I trotted across the bridge to the Tate in search of some Andy Warhol prints. My friend Laura emailed me that she had heard that the Tate has a series of prints Warhol made of his mother in its collection, and since the apartment we're staying in is almost directly across the river from the Tate Britain, it was easy enough to run over there and investigate. I asked the person at the information desk about the Warhol collection and she said that any Warhols would be at the Tate Modern (I learned that the Tate Britain does show contemporary art, but only by British artists). The info-girl was able to look up the Warhol collection currently on display at the TM on her computer but we couldn't find the ones I was looking for, which just means they aren't currently on show, but it was a fun little scavenger hunt anyway.

Then I jumped on the tube and headed up to Hampstead. Peter was spending the morning at the British Museum, I spent the morning taking a nap (I've never really gotten over the morning effects of the jet-lag) and then wandered around Hampstead, looking in shops on the High Street, and having lunch in a cafe. At 2pm I met Peter and Sumathi at the tube station and we headed to the park, walking through really fabulous residential neighborhoods on the way. Once we entered the heath, we found Parliament Hill which affords a great view of greater London, and from there got hopelessly lost. We walked and walked down paths and tails (Hampstead Heath is 790 acres, we passed exactly one trail map) but lost our bearings along the way and ended up in the middle of the park just wanting to get out. By asking a few different people we did manage to escape dying there and having to eat one another, Donner party-style, and made our way back to the High Street and the comfort of a bakery.
Monday night after our woodland adventure, Peter and I took a spin on the London Eye, which is a giant ferris wheel that was built for the millennium celebration; it turned out to be such a cash-cow that it remains a permanent fixture on the South Bank.

Today we wandered around the City of London with my friend Chris. When people talk about "The City" they are talking about a one-square-mile area of downtown - the financial district. About 8,000 people live there but about 350,000 people work there. We started our tour at the Royal Courts of Justice, saw a bunch of Christopher Wren-designed churches, stopped into a couple of ancient pubs, found some hidden, quiet, quaint courtyards, and then took the tube to go Sloan Square to go shopping, but ended up in the Saatchi Gallery instead. I love looking at this kind of contemporary art, mainly because it makes me laugh, usually at it, but still, what's wrong with that?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Country Life and Train Stations

Today we took the train to Amberley Castle which is in West Sussex and another 90-minute train ride from London. The castle was built in the 14th century, it went through many phases of destruction and restoration, it was owned at one time by Queen Elizabeth I, and in 1989 it was fully restored and turned into a luxury hotel. Peter and I went there for lunch. The dining room is quite formal, the food is good (not necessarily better than the Sri Lankan meal I had last night which cost about $15 for two; this meal was a bit more), but the grounds are beautiful. Peter had a cold watercress soup with cucumber sorbet and goat cheese foam to start (the goat cheese wasn't really foamy, thank god, more whipped), I had a smoked chicken thingy with pea jelly... okay, I know I kind of went off on dishes made into foam and jelly and cotton candy, but I have to admit that my cubes of pea-jelly were damn good even though it sounds both vile and pretentious. We both had a pork cutlet (which was really a chop) for our main course, which was served with a layered square of sweet potato, a smear of spicy apple sauce, and star anise pan-sauce; it was good but not the best thing I've ever eaten. Oh, and there was a perfect square of something totally unidentifiable on the plate, I couldn't get my knife through it so I finally picked it up (daintily, with my pinky out) and took a bite - it was pork crackling, fried hard. The only thing missing from the plate was a side of Lipitor. My dessert was almost too sweet, a square of nougat which was kind of marshmallow-y (I'm not so fond of marshmallows) and a smear of salted caramel, covered with malted chocolate ice cream; it was okay. Peter's strawberry parfait with mint sorbet was fantastic. I really enjoy these excursions to the country-side to investigate nice restaurants. If the food turns out to be fantastic, that's a bonus, but if it's just okay, I don't mind if the trip is nice. In this case, the grounds of the castle which we wandered around after lunch were spectacular. There were a bunch of hidden gardens, flowers everywhere, an albino peacock lounging on a parapet (it didn't have its feathers displayed, and really just looked like a fat chicken so I didn't take a picture of it), sculptures, water features, a treehouse where you can arrange to have private dinners for two - the meal is really only half the fun, so even though I'd only give our meal a mere 6.5, it was well worth the trip, even though we had to arrive by train and not helicopter, like some of the guests did.

We got back to London in time to have a 45 minute rest before heading off to Waterloo Station for The Railway Children, a play based on a children's book about a family in post WWI England. The mother and three children go off to a home in the country when the father is hauled off to be tried for treason (which the children don't know at the time, and which is a farily sophisticated plot-point for a children's story, I think). Their adventures center around the village's train station, the station-master, and the people who come and go from the trains. Except for in two scenes, when an actual life-sized train-prop appears on the platform (the stage is a real train platform with the audience sitting on either side and the tracks in the middle), the train is represented very convincingly with sound and light effects. The three children are played, also convincingly, by adult actors, and the story is quite charming, although in addition to the treason plot-point, there is also a slightly watered down pro-Marxist element, also unusual for a children's story, but then again, children need to learn about Marxism from somewhere. There was one very intense scene in the play where the children see a landslide on the track, and we can all hear a train approaching, and the children know they have to get the engineer to stop the train or there is going to be a horrible accident. The two girls have red petticoats on under their dresses which they remove, ripping one into two pieces, and all three of them wave the red flags wildly as the train approaches, with the older girl standing in the middle of the track so she is sure to be seen. I have to admit, I was pretty stressed. The actors did a good job of conveying the emergency of the situation but the real star of that scene was the sound design - it truly sounded like a train was approaching and three kids were trying to stop it - ONE STANDING DIRECTLY IN ITS PATH. Even though I was fairly certain the scene wouldn't end in carnage, I was still pretty anxious... the power of theater man, the power of theater.

Friday, July 16, 2010

An Ordinary Day

Today I did one of my favorite things to do in a foreign country, I went to the movies. I like doing it because it's something that mostly only local people do so it's a way to blend in and not feel so touristy. I also like doing it because I love going to the movies anyway, so why not do it while on vacation. I've been reading Russell Brand's autobiography (called My Booky Wooky) which was conveniently left here in the apartment, and since I've been a fan of his since discovering his radio show podcast on the BBC website a couple of years ago (he was forced to resign from that gig after a controversy that's too complicated to go into here), Get Him to the Greek was the obvious choice for a movie today. I thought it was completely hilarious. The first 15 minutes or so involve a music video for a song (he plays a rock star in the band, Infant Sorrow) called African Child, which is so ridiculously offensive and condescending, it's called by one critic (in the movie), to be "the worst thing to happen to African culture after famine and war." The interesting thing about the moive, I thought, as I happen to be currently reading an autobiography by its star, is that while Russell didn't write the script, the guy who did clearly had read Russell's book and based the character (a completely self-indulgent, heroin and alcohol-addicted, imature, destructive, hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold-type) on the real Russell Brand -- the pre-clean-and-sober-Russell, who was quite a tragic figure. I thought the movie was very funny; the book is very funny too, but very heart-breaking as well.
After the movie, I met Peter at the Royal Academy of Art and Science to see the John Singer Sargent exhibit. I had seen his exhibition of portraits when it was at SAM years ago, and while I don't usually go for portraiture, I remember really liking that exhibition. This one was mostly of seascapes in France and Italy and it didn't strike me as much as the portraits, but it was still very nice. The photo at right isn't from the exhibition, it's from the Tate, I took it on the first day in London, and it's stunning.
For dinner tonight, I met my friend Sumathi who is a British friend I know from my months in Sri Lanka (she's Sri Lankan-British), and we had dinner at a Sri Lankan restaurant just a few tube stops away from where I'm staying. My instinct was to completely pig out on Sri Lankan food because it's so delicious and this place was completely authentic, and who knows when I'll have the chance to have it again, but I managed to control myself. It was very fun catching up with Sumathi, she was my closest friend when I was living in Sri Lanka in 2008, and it's always fun to meet up with friends in foreign lands.

Taking the Waters

the old spa
Yesterday we went to the town of Bath which is 90 minutes by train from London. Jane Austen's characters were always going to the town of Bath - not that I've read any Jane Austen, but I've seen all the movies, which counts. Bath is a beautiful town; all the buildings are a sandy color, a river runs through the town, there are parks everywhere, and it's the site of the ancient Roman baths which is the main tourist attraction. The baths were constructed 2,000 years ago and are amazingly intact. The main bath still contains water from the same source that filled it in 43 AD as the thermal spring is still active and the construction is still water-tight. The Roman baths were built as a temple to the goddess Sulis Minerva, as well as a spa, an exercise facility, and a gathering place for both social and business activities. So, sort of... St. Marks meets Gene Juarez meets 24-Hour Fitness meets Starbucks.
the new spa
After checking out the ancient baths, I went to the modern bath for a soak in the mineral springs. The Thermae Bath Spa was built a couple of years ago and the water is considerably less slimy-looking than in the ancient one.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Spot of Tea

Today was about organizing things, shopping, and snacks. We were supposed to go to the town of Bath today but when I checked the weather in the morning, the forecast was for rain all day so we changed our plan and got a few other things done in London, where there were only a few light showers. Peter went to some museums, I went to Victoria Station to change our train tickets, and then we met in Leicester Square to inquire about theatre tickets. Peter got a ticket to As You Like It at the Old Vic for tonight, he also got a ticket to the London Opera for Friday, and we both got tickets to The Railway Children on Saturday; I have no idea what it's about but it's being staged on a disused train platform in Waterloo Station, and apparently a train actually passes through the set - cool. Then it was off to the department store, Fortnam and Mason to look at the food halls and have some tea, followed by a stop at Harrods where the food halls are even more impressive. I can't imagine actually shopping at either of these stores, they are packed with tourists and totally chaotic - at least on the lower floors where the accessories, perfume, makeup, and food halls are. Maybe the upper floors where the clothing is located are more pleasant, we couldn't bring ourselves to investigate. Lots of ladies in burkas shopping in both stores; I'm guessing they're Saudi as it would take an oil well or two in the family to be able to shop at either; we saw a cake that you could order for about $6,000; truth told, it looked kinda gross.