fauxklore: (travel)
I also collect state capitals. My specific goal is to do a volksmarch in every capital, generally involving the actual capitol building. Cheyenne was on my way back to Denver (where I’ve done the appropriate walk already) so made for a reasonable morning excursion.

I had not done a 10K volksmarch in nearly two years. I have been having sporadic foot issues, which were probably not helped by how much walking I did in New York the weekend before. It was hot out. It was not really fun.

It didn’t help that the walk wasn’t particularly interesting. There were a few sections of historic buildings, but there was a large part around a lake in a park and another large section through a cemetery, neither of which were notable. The area around the Capitol was better, but the Capitol itself is closed for renovation. There was an attractive Greek Orthodox church and a synagogue across from a statue of Robert Burns. I’d have liked more background on some of the historic houses. So, overall, I thought the walk was meh, but it did serve its purpose.

After the walk, I drove back to Denver and checked into the Hampton Inn near the airport for the night. I have stayed there countless times over the years and it remains reliable for what it is. I called some friends and we made plans for dinner. Normally, I’d have been up for meeting them downtown, but I was pretty worn out and suggested we eat near where I was. That required a bit of research and, through the simple expedient of seeing what the iphone said was nearby, we ended up at African Grill and Bar in the Green Valley Ranch shopping center, a couple of miles down Tower Road.

What a find! Okay, they didn’t actually have any African beers other than Tusker (which is Kenyan, so doesn’t really go with West African food). But the food was excellent. We ordered lamb samosas, fried plantains, spinach stew with oxtail, coconut stew with chicken, and okra stew with goat. The stews came with rice, too. Everything was tasty and all of the dishes were different from each other. Seeing as I do have occasions to be in that area, I am definitely going to keep this place on my go-to list for the future.

And the next day I flew home, though with a delay of a couple of hours. Thus ended an all too brief vacation.
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The NPL Con will get its own write-up, but I did some other things before that.

Celebrity Death Watch: First, a quick note about someone I mentioned last time. My friend, Megan, reminded me that Michael Bond not only wrote about Paddington Bear, but also wrote the Monsieur Pamplemousse series of mysteries. I’m not sure I’d ever connected up the name before.

Since then we’ve lost a number of people. Anthony Young was one of the losingest pitchers in baseball, losing 27 consecutive decisions for the Mets. Ketumile Masire was the second president of Botswana. Gary DeCarlo was responsible for "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye." Simone Veil survived Auschwitz and went on to a prominent role dealing with women’s issues in France. Heathcote Williams was a poet and actor. Gene Conley pitched for the Braves (including a World Series championship in 1957) and won three NBA titles with the Celtics during the off-season. While Otto Graham also won championships in two major professional sports (football and basketball in his case), unlike Conley he didn’t play both during the same years. Sheila Michaels popularized the title "Ms." Spencer Johnson wrote Who Moved My Cheese, which, of course, became the biggest best-seller ever in Wisconsin. Neil Welch was behind the Abscam sting. Jon Underwood founded the Death Café movement. Interestingly, he apparently died suddenly (related to undiagnosed leukemia) at only 44. Shlomo Helbrans was the founder of the Chasidic cult Lev Tahor. Nelsan Ellis was an actor, best known for True Blood.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: John McLaughlin was a storyteller and baseball enthusiast in Florida.

Terry Duncan had filled several government leadership roles involving satellite communications. I had the privilege of working with him in two of his jobs and was always impressed by his calmness and ability to listen to his staff. He was only 46 and died within a few weeks of his cancer diagnosis.

Karl Hedrick had been a professor at MIT in my undergrad days and later went to Berkeley. I took a couple of classes from him at MIT. I will not remember the exact titles of because it was a long time ago, but one involved Linear Dynamic Systems and Estimation (i.e. Kalman filter type stuff) and the other had to do with Nonlinear Dynamics and Control. He was an excellent teacher and I appreciated his mentorship.

Geostock: This is a big party that friends in Colorado give every year. It’s mostly an event for hanging out, talking, eating, and drinking. In the food category, a definite highlight was the ice cream truck they’d hired for a couple of hours. We also drank a toast to a dear departed friend, which included a skype connection to another absent friend. Beyond that, lots of talk about aging parents and estate issues and how we need to clear out our own crap. And there are conversations you can have with people you’ve known for ages that you can’t have with other people. Also, noting children, there is something wrong with the rotation of the earth.

Hotel Note: I stayed at the Residence Inn in Louisville this time, because it was somewhat cheaper than the Hampton Inn. This was a mistake as they had a basketball court. That appeared to be immediately underneath my room and they let kids play basketball until after 11 at night. Sheesh. (It also hit another of my hotel peeves in that one had to practically climb over the built-in desk to close the drapes for the dining room window.)

Vegas: For complex frequent flyer reasons, it made sense to detour from Denver back to DC via Las Vegas. Vegas remains a great city for people watching, though I did have one somewhat annoying encounter this time.

30ish guy: Come on, say hi to me.

Me: you're drunk.

Him: no, I'm just a total asshole.

I guess there is something to be said for self-awareness, but he was still obnoxious. Beyond that, I spent my entertainment (i.e. gambling) budget for the night, but it took me long enough to do so that I was content.

Brine: I was back for Independence Day, which I spent trying to get caught up at home. I did also go out to lunch with a group of friends. We went to Brine, a seafood place in the Mosaic District. We all went for the simply grilled fish (trout, swordfish, soft-shell crabs among the six of us), which were served over arugula. We also sampled pretty much the entire dessert menu. I think the crème caramel (which had espresso and chocolate, so was not the traditional version) was the definite winner there. At any rate, the bottom line is good food, good service, and going on a quiet day at lunchtime made it quiet enough to be able to hear one another.
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This was the weekend of June 9th through 11th. Yes, I am behind. Live with it.

Part 1 - 31 Chambers Street: I decided to leverage off a flyertalk-related trip to New York and took a vacation day, enabling me to get up to the city early enough to spend some time at the Municipal Archives. The main thing I was looking for was the death certificate for my great-grandfather, Henry Schwarzbord. I also obtained the death certificate for Rose Lebofsky, my great-uncle Nathan’s first wife, and the marriage certificate for another great-uncle,Willi Lubowsky (aka Wulf Chlebiocky). None of those actually told me much that I didn’t already know, but did confirm some transcription errors on Family Search. And I am somewhat of a completist regarding documentation.

Part 2 - Soup Do: Soup Do is an annual flyertalk dinner event, held the Friday night before the Brooklyn Reality Tour. It’s basically a lot of people in the back room of La Bonne Soup, eating dinner, and talking about travel and frequent flyer miles and such. There’s a prix fixe dinner available (though only 2 of us at the table I was at did it). I thought it was a good deal – salad, soup, dessert, and a glass of wine for about 30 bucks once you add in tax and tip. The wine was so-so, but the salad, onion soup, and crème caramel were all quite nice. And, of course, the point is the conversation, which was lively and entertaining.

Part 3 - the Brooklyn Reality Tour: This is an annual flyertalk event, focused largely on food and conversation. We started with Smorgasburg, which provided an early lunch stop. It was hard to choose among all the options, but I went with a Peking duck bao (a bit messy) at someone’s recommendation and the very trendy (and delicious) halo-halo, which consists of ube ice cream with dragon fruit, jackfruit, tapioca pearls, blackberries, red mung beans, coconut, mango, and a little almond milk. Then we drove over to an overlook of the Verrazano Narrows, before going on to Coney Island. We drove around various neighborhoods, including Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Sheepshead Bay. We attempted to go to Floyd Bennett Field, but the hangar with the display of historic aircraft had closed early, so were foiled in the sightseeing attempt. More driving around included Crown Heights, Prospect Park, Grand Army Plaza, and, of course, Dan’s childhood home and elementary school, because you do that sort of thing when you run the tour. We had a bakery stop at Butter and Scotch, which had excellent pecan pie. I bailed at L&B Spumoni Gardens, since I had theatre tickets, but the rest of the tour included a pizza dinner there and the traditional sunset over Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Part 4 - Pacific Overtures: Pacific Overtures is my favorite Sondheim score, so I would have been interested in this revival at Classic Stage Company even if it didn’t have George Takei playing the Reciter. He does have a nicely resonant voice, but the real highlight of the performances for me was Megan Masako Haley, playing Tamate and, later on, a girl mistaken for a geisha. Much of her role was silent, but she was very expressive and elegant, highlighting the simplicity of the production. I thought that the overall aesthetic felt essentially Japanese, which is pretty much the point. I was disappointed in them having cut "Chrysanthemum Tea," which has one of Sondheim’s absolute best internal rhymes ("it’s an herb that’s superb for disturbances at sea") but they did an excellent job with the other songs. "Please Hello" is proof that Sondheim’s talents at pastiche, for example. And "A Bowler Hat," is my single favorite Sondheim song of all time, as it reveals character so effectively by showing Kayama’s transformation as he absorbs Western culture. This was a lovely production, with fine voices and was well worth seeing.

Part 5 - Welsh brunch at Sunken Hundred: Sunday morning had me back in Brooklyn for brunch at Sunken Hundred, a Welsh restaurant. This was part of the "around the world in 5 boroughs" project that one flyertalker started. I had crampog, which are oatmeal and buckwheat pancakes, which came with a blueberry and fenugreek compote and rosemary butter. I also tasted a small piece of a scone. The food was fabulous and I would happily eat there again.

Part 7 - Ernest Shackleton Loves Me: I am not sure where I first saw this show advertised, but the name itself was enough to sell me, given my interest in polar exploration. (Though, for the record, I think Douglas Mawson was even more impressive than Ernest Shackleton.) And it’s a musical – well, just take my money! The premise is interestingly bizarre – a 45 year old woman seeking a relationship finds love with the long-dead explorer via a dating website. It’s probably just a fantasy from her single-parenthood induced sleep deprivation, but they act out various parts of the Endurance expedition and Kat learns about optimism and standing up for herself. Both Val Vigoda as Kat and Wade McCollum as Shackleton (and other male roles) were clearly having fun in this very quirky show. Overall, there was a lot of laugh-out-loud humor and lively music (sea chanteys! Yes!) And they even used Frank Hurley’s actual photos and footage. I could quibble about the script making Shackleton’s journey to South Georgia too much of a solo effort, but, then, this wasn’t titled Frank Worsley Was the Best Navigator Ever. I thought this was a lot of fun and am very glad I had the opportunity to see it.

Part 8 – Ben’s I grew up going to Ben’s Kosher Deli in Baldwin. The one in the city is not as good (and, definitely, not up to the 2nd Avenue Deli) but it is conveniently located close to Penn Station for pre-train dining. I got a tongue sandwich and stuffed derma. The former was good, but the latter was quite disappointing, with overly salted gravy. The service was also decidedly mediocre. It wasn’t a horrible meal, but it didn’t fully satisfy my Jewish deli needs. Fortunately, I have at least one more trip to New York planned this summer.
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On Rye: I had a moment of inspiration before going to the Shakespeare Theatre Company production of Macbeth last night and got dinner at On Rye, a pseudo-deli that has been getting good buzz. I say pseudo, because of the limited menu, which lacks most of my deli favorites. (No tongue? No chopped liver? No latkes? No knishes? No kishke? Not a real deli by my book!) I got the matzoh ball soup, which was disappointing. The actual matzoh ball was good, but the broth tasted too much of dill and not very much of chicken. I also got a pastrami sandwich. The pastrami was satisfyingly peppery, but the rye bread could not hold up to it, making it annoying to eat. Overall, I was not impressed. I understand that they have a stand at Nats Park and I will take advantage of that to try out their babka ice cream sandwich.

Macbeth: Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest play, but you wouldn’t know that from the current production at Shakespeare Theatre Company, which came close to 3 hours. Overall, the production was weird. Liesl Tommy, the director, emphasized the political aspects of the play, at the expense of both the psychological and supernatural ones. From some of what was written in the program, this was a deliberate choice because this is, after all, Washington. Anyway, it was done in an African setting, though they kept the language to Scotland. As far as I could tell, the only significant change in the script was to turn Duncan into a queen, instead of a king. (A few other characters also got the sex-change treatment.) Most of the characters were dressed in camouflage (with red berets, which kind of defeats the purpose of camo). The witches (and Hecate) were treated as CIA operatives, manipulating the action. I actually liked that aspect for the most part, with one witch shooting cell phone footage of all the dead bodies, and the cauldron scene done as a briefing for "Operation Brinded Cat." The most African moment came in the murder of Lady Macduff, who was "necklaced," a specifically South African form of summary execution in which the victim has a rubber tire placed around their upper body, which is then dowsed in gasoline and set on fire. I suspect that went over the heads of a lot of the audience.

I understand the ambitions of the production and the attempt at relevance, but it didn’t really work for me. It did emphasize Macbeth as a tyrant, but it gave Lady Macbeth very little attention, for example. And I have always thought the right way to handle the witches was to have them be rather ordinary, which would allow the language they use to highlight their strangeness.

I should also note that I believe this was the first time I have ever actually payed to see a Shakespeare play. Admittedly, a heavily discounted ticket via Goldstar, but paid for nonetheless. I saw Measure for Measure in college, but I am fairly sure the guy I went with bought the tickets. The two shows I’ve seen previously at the Shakespeare Theatre Company were Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest, both of which were part of their annual summer Free for All program. This summer’s production will be Othello and I will probably try the on-line lottery to get tickets. Free Macbeth would have been more satisfying.

Cough, cough The pollen count is sky high right now. It also didn’t help that the person sitting next to me at the theatre last night had soaked in some particularly allergenic perfume. Sigh.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Luis Olmo played outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first Puerto Rican position player in the major leagues in 1943. (Hiram Bithorn had pitched for the Cubs a year earlier.) Sam Mele played baseball for a number of teams, notably the Red Sox. Tony Alamo was an evangelist who was best known for his church’s tracts, which often got left on car windshields, at least in Los Angeles. He was convicted as a sex offender, related to his sexual involvement with young girls.

Roar: I went to the Better Said Than Done storytelling show on Sunday night. It was a benefit for the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the nine women who performed told stories about their triumphs over sexism, harassment, and violence. The stories were interesting and heartfelt, with a wide range of content and telling styles. Obviously, I thought some of them were better than others and this is the sort of material that can lend itself to a certain amount of bibliotherapy (i.e. tellers who are focused on their therapeutic needs, rather than the audience). But I am more forgiving than usual since the underlying issues are ones we need to talk about.

Office Move: The powers that be decided that my officemate, who is about 90% retired, should not have his own office space, but should use a hot desk when he comes in. So they moved me to a one person office down the hall. The move was not handled well, with it taking far longer than it should have to get my phone hooked up. And I had to battle to get a white board installed in the new office. Now, I just have to finish unpacking, which is annoying enough.

Artomatic: I went with a couple of friends to Artomatic last night. This is an unjuried art exhibit, held periodically in one or another soon-to-be-renovated office building. This year’s is in Crystal City, so was convenient to my office. We only had time to hit a small percentage of it. My favorite pieces were a series of fused glass dresses (intended for display, not wear) and a quilt done on teabags. I also enjoyed some of the poems that were written about various of the exhibits. I just wish I’d had time to see more of it.

Uighur Food: After Artomatic, we went to dinner at Queen Amannisa, which is a Uighur restaurant. We ordered several dishes to share – orange and beet salad, lamb kabobs, meat nan, and a noodle dish with chicken. I thought all of them were good, though the noodles definitely topped my list. They were, alas, too spicy for my friends. I think that, overall, the meal was a success. And we certainly had good conversation during it. It was a pleasant evening, and worth a bit of sleep deprivation for.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Chuck Barris was a TV producer, responsible for The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show. Dallas Green played for several baseball teams (mostly the Phillies) and managed a few, including some success with the Phillies and remarkable lack thereof with the Mets. Lola Albright was an actress, best known for her role in the TV show, Peter Gunn. Pete Shotton played the washboard, but is better known for his friendship with John Lennon and for founding the Fatty Arbuckle’s chain of diners in England. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian was the Governor-General of St. Kitts and Nevis, but I wouldn’t have heard of him were it not for a couple of my ghoul pool rivals having him on their lists. (My picks are thriving, alas.) David Storey was, appropriately, a writer, and won the Booker Prize for his 1976 novel, Saville. Bernie Wrightson drew horror comics and is best known as the creator of Swamp Thing. Ahmed Kathrada was an anti-apartheid activist. Darlene Cates played the mother in the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. William Powell wrote The Anarchist Cookbook, though he later tried to have it removed from circulation. Roland Schmitt was an executive at GE and president of RPI. Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag as a symbol of gay activism. Richard Bolles wrote What Color is Your Parachute?, a frequently recommended book on job-hunting, though I never found it particularly useful. Lonnie Brooks was a blues singer. Gary Austin created the improv theatre troupe, The Groundlings. Yevgeny Yevtushenko was a Russian poet, best known for his work Babi Yar, which was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Quarterly Goals: I have been working on various projects, but haven’t finished any. I have not been reading things from the goals on my life list, alas. I treated myself to a pedicure, perfume, and a couple of extravagant meals out. And I have gotten in touch with the daughter-in-law of a cousin twice removed (in Israel) and a couple of the descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother.

MIT Reception: Monday night was the reception for MIT student in their policy internship program. It is always good to corrupt young minds, er, try to persuade students to: a) get involved with space policy and b) take advantage of all the non-work things to do in the D.C. area. Overall, it was a pleasant evening of decent food (heavy hors d’oeuvres) and intelligent conversation.

Loren Niemi House Concert: Storyteller Loren Niemi did a house concert in an apartment in Adams Morgan on Tuesday night. It was a nice intimate setting and he is always interesting to listen to. I particularly liked his story about re-encountering a woman he once knew under unexpected circumstances, which evoked a lot of memories for me about how life circumstances change. He also told an excellent ghost story.

Book Club: Wednesday night was book club. It was interesting because the person leading the discussion really disliked the book (Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan, which is not really a typical book club type of book). I didn’t think it was a brilliant book, but it was typical women’s magazine humor and an entertaining enough read. The other news is that the person in the group who has annoyed me (because of not so hidden racism) is gone. I knew she was moving but it has happened a bit faster than I expected. I’m sure somebody else will grate on me – and that I irritate some people, too, but I’m still pleased.

Rasika: This modern Indian restaurant is generally considered one of the best restaurants in D.C. and, therefore, it is next to impossible to get a reservation there. A friend had managed to get a reservation for Friday night, with the catch being that it was on the decidedly early side. Alas, she got ill and couldn’t make it, but I decided it was worth taking advantage of the opportunity, even alone. The famous dish there is palak chaat, which is crispy spinach with yogurt and date and tamarind chutney. It is amazingly good and lived up to its reputation. That was followed by lamb achari, which was decently spicy and very tender, but felt a bit heavy. It came with rice and a mint paratha, which was good, but the flavor of the mint was kind of drowned out by the spices of the lamb. I also had a champagne cocktail, which was okay, but did not have as much ginger flavor as the menu had led me to believe. For dessert, there was excellent gulab jamun with amazing cardamom ice cream. Overall, it was a good meal, though I would order a different main course if I went again.

Out of This World: I had never actually been to the Ringling Brothers / Barnum & Bailey Circus and, this being their final tour, suggested this to the group of friends for whom I am Chief Entertainment Officer. So Friday night (after Rasika) found me with a couple of friends at the Verizon Center for the circus. The show is space-themed, which was a nice plus. There were impressive aerialists and superb horseback riding, but my favorite act was the guys riding motorbikes in a metal orb, with seven of them at one time. The lowlights were the clowns, who were mostly at the far end of the arena, so I couldn’t see what they were doing, and the big cats, who just looked too unhappy. I found myself wondering what has to go wrong in somebody’s life for them to think that a career yelling at lions and tigers is a good life choice. (Yes, I do know most circus performers are born to the life. Still…) I’m glad I went, but, overall, I’m not really sad that it’s ending.

Midwestern Gothic: This is a new musical at Signature Theatre. The book is by Royce Vavrek, who I was unfamiliar with, and Josh Schmidt, who wrote Adding Machine, a show I didn’t know quite what to make of. And that was more or less my reaction to this show. The plot centers around a sociopathic teenage girl named Stina, ably played by Morgan Keene. She sets up her friend to be St. Sebastian, tying him to a tree and shooting him with an arrow. She flirts with her creepy stepfather, Red, who takes semi-pornographic photos of her. Her mother is mostly absent, running a bar. Red picks up a woman, who Stina kills. So she and Red run off to an old, condemned house, where there is more blood shed. The music is a mixed bag, some of it operatic and some of it livelier. Overall, the show just didn’t work for me – and I like dark humor. I think the problem is that the likeable characters are nothing more than victims. Oh, well, it’s always worth seeing something new.

Knitting Group: And Sunday was knitting group. I am finally past the part of an afghan square that I'd had to tink because I'd forgotten the border on the sides.

Whew! What a hectic week. (And things had been busy at work, too, with a couple of big meetings to deal with.)
fauxklore: (travel)
I flew to Albuquerque on Friday. Because it was a fairly last minute trip and ABQ is not exactly a well-served airport, I ended up buying a one-way flight on American via DFW and using miles for a return on United. Mostly, this reminded me how much I hate American. To be fair, I don't have status with them and I am unwilling to pay for an allegedly better seat (another $42 for a middle seat a few rows closer to the front? really?) so it isn't a fair comparison. But their seats are less comfortable than being crammed into a typical third world bus. I did manage to get an aisle seat (only middles available when I booked) but even there, the customer service was crappy. The first time I asked, the gate agent told me to ask again in a half hour. United actually knows how to keep lists and add people to them.

I also hate that they have about 37 boarding groups before they get to group 1. (Okay, group 1 is actually just the sixth group to board. But, still.)

We got to DFW about 20 minutes early and then had to wait 40 minutes for our gate. Fortunately, I had plenty of time. And my connecting flight was in the same terminal. So it wasn't too stressful to get to the onward flight.

I stayed at the Hyatt Place near ABQ because 1) the friends I was carpooling with the next day were staying there and 2) it was cheap. I'd been there before and it is, er, adequate. My major complaint is their lack of thermostats with numbers on them. I know exactly what temperature I like a room to be. With a slider that just says "warmer" or "colder," I can't get it right. And, yes, I am a pea princess when it comes to this.
But they are friendly, their airport shuttle works, and did I mention that it was cheap?

The reason for the trip was Groot's memorial service. This was at Bosque del Apache, a National wildlife refuge outside Socorro. It's sad that it takes funerals and such to see various old friends, but I am glad I was able to make it. And I was, frankly, inspired by hearing how many lives he had touched. There isn't a much better thing to say about someone's life than knowing they made a difference to others.

There was also music and good food (awesome posole) and a herd of cranes flew over, which was most appropriate. (By the way, I googled what the collective noun for cranes is. And, really, herd seems way too unpoetic, but who am I to argue?)

Later, back in Albuquerque, we went to dinner at Scalo. The food was good, but I really shouldn't have gotten the insalata caprese to start, as that made the meal just too much food. The veal picatta was very tender, but I had to ignore most of the pasta that came with it. I did still get dessert - a hazelnut semifreddo. And they have good coffee, which is something all too rare at restaurants.

Flying home on United was much more comfortable. Though the flight from ABQ arrived at some extreme corner of terminal B, from which it was more than half a mile to the train that connects things to the real airport. And getting home from IAD was annoying as I could see an Orange Line train across the platform at East Falls Church when the Silver Line train arrived there. And I could see it close its doors and depart about 6 seconds before the Silver Line train doors opened to let me out. That meant standing out in the cold for 18 minutes for the next train.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have thoughtful brilliance to write, but this ain't it. However, I have done a few things lately...

Celebrity Death Watch: William Peter Blatty wrote The Exorcist. Alan Jabbour was a fiddler and founded the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Dick Gautier is best known for having played Hymie the Robot on Get Smart, but I want to note he was also Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway (and, in fact, won a Tony for that role.) Anthony Armstrong-Jones was better known as Lord Snowden, a photographer and the one-time husband of Princess Margaret. He was, by all accounts, better as a photographer than as a husband. Vicki Lansky wrote the cookbook, Feed Me I’m Yours. Brenda C. Barnes was the CEO of Sara Lee for several years. Loalwa Braz was a Brazilian singer-songwriter. Maggie Roche was a folk-rock singer, who performed primarily with her sisters. Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte were both baseball players from the Dominican Republic, who died in car accidents on the same day. Eugene Cernan was an astronaut and, notably, the last man to walk on the moon. Mike Connors was an actor, best known for playing Mannix. Bob Holiday was an actor and played Superman more than any other actor, including starring in the musical, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. John Hurt was an actor, most famous for starring in The Elephant Man. Mary Tyler Moore was an actress, most famous for her television roles (especially as Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show) but also on Broadway and in film. In Minneapolis, there is a statue of her tossing her hat in the air. Harold Rosen led the team that built the first geosynchronous communications satellite. Etienne Tshisekedi was the head of the opposition party in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for many years, including a couple of brief stints as Prime Minister. David Axelrod was a jazz / fusion musician, composer, and producer.

Professor Irwin Corey was an interesting comedian, parodizing a certain sort of intellectual and billing himself as "the world’s foremost authority." More importantly, he was on my ghoul pool list, so his death earned me 15 points in the game.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: John Shipman, known to many as Groot, passed away on January 31st after a short battle with an aggressive cancer. He was a kind and generous man, a lover of good music and good food, and proud of his influence on students at New Mexico Tech. I don’t get to Albuquerque often, but will miss having dinner and conversation with him when I do.

Storytelling: I told Border Crossings, a story about travel and weddings and the like last Saturday night as part of the Better Said Than Done show at The Auld Shebeen. It went well. You can watch the video and see for yourself.

A Visit to Lebanon: The most recent embassy event I went to (via my alumni association) was last Monday night at the residence of the Ambassador of Lebanon. The food was tasty, with a wide mix of dishes, including particularly notable fattoush. There were also good Lebanese wines. The talks were by the charge d’affaires and by the president of the MIT Alumni Association and were quite positive about the future of Lebanon. Good food, an interesting setting, and intelligent conversation always makes a nice evening out.

Business Trip: I went out to California last week for a meeting in San Diego. I took advantage of the trip to spend part of a day at the corporate mothership in Los Angeles, which was fairly productive, as were the discussions I actually took the trip for. The travel was rather annoying since it got set up a bit last minute, meaning I ended up with window seats, instead of my preferred aisles. (On short flights, I like windows, but not disturbing people in order to get up is a higher priority.) The flight to LAX was particularly cramped. And the wifi wasn’t working, so there was no entertainment. The drive to San Diego was not as bad as it might be, but there were some rough spots, especially since I left later than I’d planned to. Mostly, I got held up by an accident around San Clemente and then things just crawled through La Jolla getting to my hotel. The main result was that I concluded that the same person who designs United’s economy class seats designed the seat in the Kia Forte I had. That is, poor padding and no lumbar support. I flew back from SAN, with a connection at LAX. Actually, I didn’t fly back – I flew to EWR, since I had pre-existing plans in New York. About which more in a minute.

I was also able to get together on Thursday night with an old friend for dinner and a nice, far-reaching conversation.

Jewish Soul Food: Since I got to New York after midnight, I slept in on Saturday morning. That meant skipping breakfast and having an early lunch. The matzoh ball soup at the Second Avenue Deli is fairly good, though since when does chicken soup have dill in it? The half a tongue sandwich I also had was sheer perfection. Add in a full sour pickle and this addict got her fix for the next several months.

Milk and Honey: The purpose of the trip was seeing York Theatre’s mufti (i.e. semi-staged, street clothes) production of Jerry Herman’s first musical, Milk and Honey. I was familiar with only a couple of the songs from this show and concluded the score really needs to be known much better. It’s lively, very clearly Jewish music (since the object was to make a sort of Israeli equivalent to Oklahoma), and simply a delight. The performances were wonderful too, especially Alix Korey as Sylvia Weiss, the role originated by Molly Picon. I also really liked how they handled the parts of the staging that involved animals. The show is probably unrevivable for a number of reasons, but I still enjoyed it immensely. I’ve seen several shows at York and I continue to be impressed.

Not That Jewish: This is Monica Piper’s one-woman show at New World Stages. It is billed as comedy, but it’s really storytelling. I was expecting something of a comic rant about Judaism, but this was a more serious and deeper exploration of what being Jewish means if someone is not particularly religious. There are dark areas – failed relationships, parents dying, single parenthood, breast cancer. But there is a lot of humor along the way. And the piece got pulled together well at the end. Overall, I’m glad I saw it.

Trains: Amtrak was surprisingly efficient going home. The Washington Metro, not so much, as they had scheduled track work that shut down the Orange Line from Eastern Market to Foggy Bottom. Normally, I’d get off Amtrak at New Carrolton and just ride the entire length of the Orange Line, which is slow, but means I don’t have to shlep luggage. This time, I took the Red Line from Union Station to Gallery Place, Yellow Line from Gallery Place to Pentagon, Blue Line from Pentagon to Rosslyn, and then the Orange Line home. I’m exhausted just typing that. And the next Safe Track surge approacheth, sigh.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Pete Fountain was a jazz clarinetist. Joani Blank was the founder of Good Vibrations, the San Francisco store that made vibrators mainstream. Michel Richard was a celebrity chef and one of the people most responsible for making Washington, D.C. a major culinary destination.

Fyvush Finkel is probably better known nowadays for his television roles but, of course, he was a huge star in the world of Yiddish theatre. And he showed up in movies all the time – more or less whenever somebody needed an old man with a Yiddish accent.

Glenn Yarbrough was a folksinger and, in particular, the lead singer of The Limeliters. I grew up listening to their albums and some of their songs, especially some of the comic ones, were major influences on my musical tastes.

I should note that I make no claim to be comprehensive in these items. They happen to have caught my attention for one reason or another, which is not necessarily correlated with how famous or how important they were. I usually write a little bit more about people who I felt more of a personal connection to for whatever reason, but there’s no guarantee.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: My evil twin, Holly Stowe, passed away last week. We got friendly back in the early usenet days largely over shared viola-associated trauma. (That is, the whole bit that lets you play only three notes every ten measures.) We met in person at a weekend event in Indianapolis that included a Halloween party in which we did a tandem costume as Velcro. Her death was not a surprise as she had been dealing with late-stage kidney disease for some time. But I’m still sad.

Another Death Story: I had a reminder that depression is all too often a fatal disease. It isn’t my story to tell, so I will not elaborate, but I will plead that if you are having issues with depression, please, please, please, do all you can to get help.

New York Gelato Tasting: I was up in New York over the weekend, primarily for Lollapuzzoola 9, which I will write about separately. In the evening, I went down to the Village to go to the theatre (which will also merit its own write-up) and, having asked for ice cream advice on facebook, sampled two places. The first was Victory Garden, whose gimmick is that they use goat milk. I tried a flavor called Black Magic, which consisted of a black tahini (i.e. sesame) and cocoa base with salted caramel and chocolate chips. It was quite good, with a nice creamy texture, but possibly a bit too intense in flavor. At any rate, I would certainly go there again and try other flavors of their ice creams.

I also tried a place called Cones, where I got a small cup with two flavors (and, also, sampled a taste of their mascarpone which also had some sort of berries). The two flavors I opted for, however, were the zabayone [sic] and ginger. I was a bit disappointed in the former, though that may have been the influence of their spelling failure. It’s zabaglione, damn it! The ginger was, however, excellent. (Bear in mind that I have a particular fondness for ginger, so may be biased.) I’m actually less inclined to go back there than I am to go back to Victory Garden, mostly because it wasn’t necessarily any different than gelato I can get at lots of places.

The Waldorf-Astoria: Due to some Hilton Honors promotion, it was actually cheaper to stay at The Waldorf-Astoria than it was to stay at a normal chain hotel like a Hampton Inn. So why not? In fact, they upgraded me to a room in the Waldorf Towers, which mostly meant that the room was huge. Given how little time I spend in hotel rooms for anything but sleep, that wasn’t significant. Anyway, it was perfectly fine, but if you are going to stay somewhere fancy in NYC, I preferred the time I stayed at The Algonquin. Even better (but much harder to get a deal at) is The Library Hotel, where they ask you "fiction or nonfiction?" when checking in.

Trains: I had good train karma getting up to New York with snort waits for both the yellow and red lines and Amtrak being on time. Although Union Station was its usual Friday night chaos, made worse by most of the info signs being out. (I now know they use Windows XP for their displays. That is not a reassuring thing.)

The train karma did not, alas, continue for the trip home. Amtrak was having various delays due to a train stuck in an East River tunnel. So we started out a half hour late. And then there was a power outage affecting signals in part of Maryland, so we were moving very very very very very very slowly. A 10 minute wait for the Red Line wasn’t too bad. But, of course, Metro had a screw-up on the Orange Line, so I had almost a 20 minute wait at Metro Center. So, overall, I got home too late to really do anything but collapse.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
There are some floors of the building I work in which require a key card to access. That is, people who are going to them need to swipe their card before they can press the button for those floors.

Almost every day, there is someone who presses the button several times without it lighting up, before going through their bag to find their key card. At which point, we are usually past the floor they were going to.

I can understand a new employee forgetting once or twice. But this happens so often that I have to wonder if whatever organization(s) is/are involved hires only people who fail an intelligence test.

In other news, Thursday is food truck day in Crystal City. Yesterday's offerings included an Indian place that smelled pretty good and advertised "fresh fast healthy." It took me over 15 minutes of waiting in line to order and another 15 minutes to get my food. I suppose "fast" was meant in comparison to a flight to Delhi. And, by the way, while the food was tasty, a couple of pieces of the paneer were charred to hard lumps.

I should have gotten a banh mi instead.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have, as usual, been too busy doing things to write much about them. I'll have things to say about storytelling and about theatre (well, after tonight, when I am seeing a play at Signature) and dinner / propaganda at the Saudi Embassy. I also have some long genealogy updates to write, including a very exciting find on my father's side of the family. (The short version is that I've verified a very speculative connection from some years ago. And identified a few more people from a list of names that my father had written for some unknown purpose.)

But, first, a few things that have amused me recently.


  1. I got an email asking for volunteers for the USA STEM Festival. Among the volunteer jobs, they requested "sign language interrupters."

  2. We are now back to the time of year when the Crystal City Business Improvement District tries to convince those of us who work here that it isn't an entirely soulless office environment, surrounded by soulless condos. (I have a few friends who live in those condos, but they do so largely because they like plane spotting from their beds. Don't ask.)

    Anyway, that includes Food Truck Thursdays. It's not like there is a shortage of places to eat around here, but it is a nice change of pace and, as long as it isn't pouring rain out, I'll go walk over and see what's on hand. There's a very popular Vietnamese one - rice plates, noodles, and banh mi, all of which come with a choice of chicken or pork. The catch is that the truck has a sign painted on it claiming it is halal.

    My father always said the person who invented kosher shrimp would make a fortune. He did not live long enough to see the invention of Mendel's It's Not Shrimp. I do not, alas, think Mendel made a fortune.

  3. Another production of the Crystal City BID is a Farmer's Market, held on Tuesday afternoons. Just now I was out running a lunchtime errand and I overheard two women who had just noticed the sign for it. One of them turned to the other and said, "Oh, I should go and get grapes there on Tuesday." Uh, the only fruit selection at a farmer's market in Northern Virginia in April is limited to apples (admittedly, several varieties of them) and maybe a few Asian pears. Grapes are not in season until maybe late July.


By the way, the farmer's market had a lot of ramps this past week. I would have bought some, but I realized I have absolutely no idea what one does with them. Maybe I will research that by this coming Tuesday.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch:Paul Terasaki was a notable scientist whose work enabled tissue typing and organ transplants. The personal significance is that I used to work for his brother, Dick. Paul Kantner and Signe Toly Anderson were both part of Jefferson Airplane. Bob Elliot was a comedian, half of Bob and Ray. Jack Elrod used to draw Mark Trail, the least interesting comic strip still around. Sir Jeremy Morse set Birtish cryptic crosswords under the pseudonym "Esrom." Apparently, Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse was named for him. Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon. Dan Hicks wrote the song "How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away." Margaret Forster wrote the novel Georgy Girl which was, of course, made into an unmemorable movie with a memorable title song.

Trivia: I got good feedback on my trivia game, with a few useful suggestions for minor tweaks. Now all I have to do is actually write the trivia questions.

Founding Farmers: I went to a Restaurant Week dinner with some folks from Flyer Talk at Founding Farmers in Tyson’s. It was not as great a deal as some other places since, even though you could order anything up to certain prices on the menu, their starter options did not include any of the soups or salads, just things like breads with spreads. The food was fairly tasty, but the service was abominable. The most egregious example was that one guy at our table had to ask for a knife for his lamb four times. So I probably won’t be going there again.

Used Bookstore Run: The weekend before last I finally did a used bookstore run. I got rid of about 50 books and acquired about 15 in trade. Which is, of course, going in the right direction, but ever so slowly.

Book Club: Our meeting got moved a week, due to weather. So it was this past Wednesday that we discussed Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller. Interestingly, this was probably the most divided we’ve ever been on any book, with a few people hating it, a few loving it, and a few in between. That does make for good discussion. Since I was the one who had suggested it in the first place, I was glad at least a few people enjoyed it enough to go out and get Fuller’s other books. Funniest moment of the discussion involved someone commenting on not having been to Scotland (which is where Fuller’s mother’s family originated) to which I responded, "It’s a lot like Zimbabwe." And, actually, in ways it is, both in terms of scenery (though Scotland has fewer kopjes) and tribalism.

Global Entry: I finally got around to getting Global Entry, which should simplify my travel life slightly. I did my interview late in the day at IAD, which was kind of a mistake because it meant driving directly into the sun. And after I had scheduled the meeting, I had a meeting come up in Chantilly, so I could have coordinated things better and not driven back and forth the complete length of two counties. But, oh well, it’s done and successfully so.

The Joys of Home Ownership: This weekend started with a plumbing emergency. My toilet needed to be reseated and resealed, as water was dripping from it into my downstairs neighbor’s bathroom. Plumbing is expensive. (I had heard water running, but thought I just needed to replace the flapper.) I will still need to reimburse my neighbor for repairs to his bathroom ceiling, too.

Genealogy Update: The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington has an Assisted Research session at their next meeting, this coming Sunday. I’ve been working on my great-grandfather’s brother, Chaim Wulf Sczwarzbord, later Hyman Schwartzbord. My maven has helped me find a bunch of info and I believe this has also identified a mysterious family photo of Cousin Ray (a woman, who I now believe is likely his daughter, Ray Ginsburg). The document that really opened things up was one for a death of a U.S. citizen abroad, as he died in Israel in 1959. There are still plenty of open questions, particularly involving the uncle named Kalman Lewidra who he listed as the person he was going to when he emigrated to New York in 1909, but this work added a huge number of cousins to my tree.

Monsters of the Villa Diodati: I had seen And the World Goes Round at Creative Cauldron a couple of months ago, so I was excited to have the opportunity to see this new musical there. It was written by Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith, who are familiar from Signature Theatre and is part of a series of "Bold New Works for Intimate Spaces." In case you don’t recognize the Villa Diodati, it was a large estate that Lord Byron rented on Lake Geneva in 1816. He was there with Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Claire Clairmont (Mary’s step-sister, who had an affair with Lord Byron), and Dr. John Polidori. Most of the show is from Mary’s point of view, though there are aspects from Polidori’s, mostly in the form of excerpts from his diary. (He was paid by a publisher to keep that diary.)

Of course, the famous thing that happened was a challenge to write ghost stories, which resulted in Frankenstein (and Polodiori’s short story "The Vampyre.") But the musical focuses on the complex soap opera between the people at the villa. Lord Byron comes across as a pretty terrible person, frankly, and there’s a nicely nasty scene between him and Mary with a song ("Monster") to show their enmity. Byron and Shelley have a complex relationship of their own, with definite sexual aspects. And then there is poor Dr. Polidari, who really doesn’t fit in at all. He has a particularly effective song ("Directions for John") about his life position.

Overall, this is an intriguing work. It was also well-staged, with clever set changes to move from Lake to Villa to boat and so on, making full use of a limited space. As for the performances, David Landstrom was excellent as Dr. Polidari. Sam Ludwig was alternately attractive and repellent as Lord Byron. Alan Naylor was a handsome Shelley and a good foil to the two women, Susan Derry as Mary and Catherine Purcell as Claire.

I’m looking forward to future shows at this venue (which is conveniently 10 minutes from my house) and, in particular, new musicals being developed there.

Whew!

Jan. 15th, 2016 03:13 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have been busy. I say that as if it will surprise anyone. But it always seems to surprise me. In addition to work, here's what I've been up to over the past week or so.

Celebrity Death Watch: Florence King wrote about Southern womanhood. William Del Monte was the last known survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Dan Hagerty played Grizzly Adams.

You don’t need me to tell you about either Alan Rickman or David Bowie. I would characterize both of them as having earned their celebrity – Rickman as an actor of impressive range and Bowie as having gone beyond just singing and writing songs to producing complex works of great originality. I am, however, a bit concerned about how much attention their deaths got. In particular, I think Bowie’s was reported almost as if he had been a head of state.

Going Away Luncheon: My former management finally got around to taking me out to lunch last week. We went to Jaleo, since it is my favorite place close to the office. The lunch special is an excellent deal – sandwich and soup, chips, or salad for 11 bucks. The mushroom garlic soup was amazing. The roasted lamb sandwich was also excellent. Given that it is just about a block from the office, I am amazed at how many of the group had never been there before.

Losers’ Party: As many of you know, I was very proud when I get ink in the Washington Post Style Invitational contest in 2014. I’ve got just one ink so far, but that was enough to make me feel justified in going to the annual post-holiday party this past Saturday night. It is always a bit weird going to a social event where I don’t know anybody, though a few people might recognize my name. (Name recognition would be because of the associated facebook group, not my single ink.) But it was fine. People were friendly and there was plenty of intelligent and amusing conversation. It made me more likely to go to some of the Losers’ brunches, if my schedule ever works out.

JGSGW: I finally got around to joining the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington and went to their monthly meeting on Sunday, which had a talk on DNA testing. That let me also do another thing on my genealogy to-do list. Namely, I bought a test kit, though I have yet to do the cheek swab and send it in.

Chinese Space: The MIT Club of Washington seminar series was Tuesday night. This month’s topic was The Chinese Space Program. The speaker (Dean Cheng from the Heritage Foundation) was entertaining and informative. Mostly, he emphasized that China sees space as essential to their role in the world. He was skeptical about prospects for international collaboration, which led to what I think was the quote of the night - "Hotlines work best when they are cold." His claim was that the Chinese just don’t answer the phone when things are going badly. Unfortunately, a lot of the questions were more general about the Chinese economy and not specifically space-focused. Still, the seminar series continues to be worth going to.

Elizabeth Ellis: Elizabeth Ellis was the featured storyteller at The Grapevine on Wednesday night. There was an excellent turnout. In fact, I think they even had to turn a few people away. She is known for her advice to structure a program as: 1) ha ha, 2) aha, 3) ah, 4) amen. Her mix of stories, ranging from being dressed for a video shoot by a professional with no idea of how to deal with a large woman to an historical piece about George Washington Carver to a lovely family story, exemplified the effectiveness of that technique. There is a good reason she is one of the premier tellers in the country.

I’ll also mention that the open mike preceded the featured teller this month. I took advantage of the Powerball drawing (which I did not win, alas) to tell "Why I’m Not a Millionaire." Ah, I do love inflicting truly atrocious puns on a willing audience.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder: I had really liked this musical on Broadway when it first opened, so I was happy to see the touring company at the Kennedy Center. I enjoyed it immensely, both for the staging and the performances. It’s not anything revolutionary, but it’s a lively and clever piece, with echoes of Edward Gorey and Gilbert and Sullivan. I want to particularly note Adrienne Eller’s performance as Phoebe, a role that could be annoying in the wrong hands (or voice, I suppose).

By the way, composer Steven Lutvak is going to be performing on the Millennium Stage in a week and a half and I’ll be very interested in seeing what else he might be working on.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Yes, it’s catch-up time!

Celebrity Death Watch: P. F. Sloan wrote "Secret Agent Man," "Eve of Destruction," and numerous other songs. Amir Aczel wrote readable books about mathematics. (I recommend The Mystery of the Aleph.) Holly Woodlawn was a transgender actress who was in a few Andy Warhol movies, but is more significant for being the subject of the opening verse of Lou Reed’s "Walk on the Wild Side." Dolph Schayes was a Jewish basketball hall-of-famer. He also had a degree in aeronautical engineering from NYU. Peter Dickinson was a mystery writer. Lillian Vernon ran a mail order catalogue emporium. Kurt Masur conducted the New York Philharmonic. Dickie Moore was a hockey star.

The Amazing Race: I realize I have not commented on this past season. Let me just say that I am happy with who won. I was, however, annoyed by the last leg telling them to fly to Long Island. I am pretty sure they flew to JFK, not Islip. Yes, Queens is physically on the island, but it is not considered part of Long Island by real Guylanders.

One Day University: This was actually before I went on vacation, but I hadn’t managed to find time to write about it until now. There were 4 lecturers.

First up, Tina Rivers Ryan of Columbia University spoke on The Genius of Michelangelo. She emphasized his sculpture, pointing out the particular challenge of working with marble (vs. bronze), though she did also discuss the Sistine Chapel (including the Last Judgement). Having been privileged enough to see the major works she discussed in person, I found her talk both informative and entertaining.

Next up was Austin Sarat of Amherst College on 4 Trials That Changed the World. This was my favorite talk of the day, largely because of his breezy lecture style. The four trials he discussed were the Scopes Monkey Trial, the Nuremberg trials, the prosecution for murder of O.J. Simpson, and the impeachment trial against Bill Clinton. I’d quibble some on his discussion of O.J. While it certainly raised issues about the treatment of celebrity (both among the defendant and various of the legal players), I think that the racial atmosphere in Los Angeles after the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots played a significant role that he neglected. (Remember, I lived in L.A. at the time. And I was called for jury duty downtown at the time the O.J. trial was going on, though I got sent over to traffic court to be bored waiting around for two weeks.)

The third speaker was Jennifer Lawless of American University, with a talk on Men, Women, and Politics (A World of Difference). Her primary thesis was that women are underrepresented in political office largely out of a lack of ambition. In other words, women don’t think they’re qualified, so there is a self-fulfilling prophecy. She had some interesting data (notably, about the negative effect of term limits on underrepresented groups), but I was not convinced overall. Or more precisely, I don’t think she got at the reasons why women might be hesitant to run for office. It would be interesting to see if there is similar research for things like high school and college student council elections and local things like school boards and such.

The final speaker was Mark Brackett of Yale on What is Emotional Intelligence? I found his presentation disappointing, largely because his attempts at being interactive didn’t work for me with as large an audience as there was. I also felt that it was a bit of a pop-psych advertisement, but I was expecting that, so it was less of an issue. His personal anecdotes were, however, interesting and, often, amusing.

Virgin Galactic: This month’s MIT Seminar Series talk was by Steve Isakowitz, the president of Virgin Galactic. He was a very entertaining speaker and actually made me wish I had a spare $250K to sign up for a suborbital flight. He also talked about Launcher 1, their small satellite launch vehicle, which will be dropped from a 747. When he told his mother he’d bought a 747, she said, "Good. Now you can come visit me."

I should note that I find Virgin Galactic fairly credible in the commercial launch world for the simple reason that Burt Rutan is the designer of their spacecraft. He’s always made a strong impression on me for his engineering and design skills. One question someone asked is what goes into making somebody such a good designer and nobody had a really great answer.

Three Holiday Parties: First party was at home of my former great-grandboss. Food was potluck and I went with lukshen kugel (noodle pudding). I discovered that none of the recipes I had for a dairy kugel had what I consider the key sweet ingredient, namely crushed pineapple. But it’s not like it’s the sort of thing for which one follows a recipe anyway. (I was mostly looking to see what people use as the noodle to egg ratio. 6 eggs for a 12 oz bag of noodles seems typical.) Anyway, it went over reasonably well. I also told a story. And we played a couple of rounds of Telestrations, a reasonably amusing party game. Overall, it was pretty nice as these things go.

Second party was the annual condo complex party. I remembered that I had to get there early to have any hope of getting food. They do heavy hors d’oeuvres and they’re gone in less than an hour. I chatted with a few folks, mostly about travel. Mostly, this is a "might as well get a meal out of my condo fees" event.

Third (and final) party was the holiday lunch at work. They cater mains and sides and do potluck appetizers and desserts. I did spring rolls because I am still trying to finish up the rice paper from a misunderstanding a while ago. (I assumed that saying the package made 12 servings meant it would make 12 spring rolls. But they defined a serving as an ounce. The package really makes about 100 spring rolls. I make spring rolls a lot.) At any rate, the ones I brought all got eaten, though I had leftover peanut sauce which I can toss with pasta for supper one night. That party also has a white elephant gift exchange. I contributed a Star Wars coloring book and colored pencil set. I got a bottle of wine. Consumables are actually a good thing to get, since it isn’t like I need more stuff. (Well, except books and yarn. One can never have too much of those.) One of the vice presidents got an Obama chia pet. This is something like the 4th year in a row he got a chia pet. He’s now announced his pending retirement.

Texas Jack’s BBQ: I went to this new barbecue place in Arlington with friends from flyertalk. I’m not all that big on Texas barbecue, so I thought the food was just okay. It’s an order by the pound type of place and we got a pound of lean brisket, a pound of moist brisket, and a pound of pulled pork, plus fried potatoes and brussels sprouts. That was plenty of food for 6 people. I sure eat brussels sprouts a lot for somebody who refused to touch them until a couple of years ago.

At any rate, it was good to see some folks I hadn’t seen in a while and meet a couple of new people. And, of course, to talk travel (and miles and points and such.)

Bright Star: This is a new musical, written by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, and it’s at the Kennedy Center for a pre-Broadway run. The story revolves around two people – a young man aspiring to be a writer and the steely editor of the journal he is trying to sell his work to. The editor has a deep dark secret, involving an illegitimate child. The first act ends on a truly shocking note, but anybody with any sense of drama knows how the story will end, if not quite how it will get there. The music is pleasant, a bit more twangy than I might like, given that I tend to need subtitles once I get south of Richmond. (It’s set in North Carolina. There is a western North Carolina / eastern Tennessee accent that this northerner finds particularly incomprehensible.) There’s little actual dancing, with the exception of a drinking song (“Pour Me Another”) which is somewhat of a throwaway. It’s intended to contrast the big city girl going after our innocent young writer, but we all know he’s going to end up with the girl back in his home town, so that side plot doesn’t provide much real drama.
All in all, the show was enjoyable. But, other than being written by big names, I’m not sure I really see it as a Broadway production. It seems more suitable for a more intimate, smaller theatre. Roundabout might do well with it, for example.

This Past Weekend: I was hoping to get completely caught up on things at home. I didn’t get anywhere near done, but I did make a fair amount of progress. I also got out of the house for a bit to go to knitting group, which is always enjoyable.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Lots of catching up to do, not all of it in this one entry. But let us get started.

Celebrity Death Watch: Hal Hackady was a lyricist. In addition to Snoopy!!! The Musical, he wrote the lyrics to "Let’s Go, Mets." Of course, that’s the theme song from 1986 on and is not nearly as good as "Meet the Mets," but such are the times we live in.

Joshua Wheeler was the first American soldier to be killed fighting ISIL.

Esther Geller was an artist, who I only know about because my father lived with the family of another woman of the same name in Detroit when he first came to the U.S. and the Bostonian artist came up when I googled for the Detroit one.

Ted Ingram was the world’s oldest paperboy, dying at age 95. I would have thought that attaining such an age made him a paperman. Along similar lines, Edythe Kirchmaier was, at 107, the oldest known facebook user. Apparently, she had brought a few new wrinkles to social media.

Finally, the puzzle world has suffered yet another huge loss with the death of Henry Hook. He was one of the constructors who played a large role in the transformation of crosswords from memorization of obscure words to word play and the clever themes that lead to aha moments.

Out of Mourning: Yahrzeit for my mother was the 15th, so I am officially no longer in mourning. That allowed for the theatre-going binge which is one of the main things I have to write about. It would also allow me to go clothes shopping if I could manage to find some time to do so.

Theatre Binge, Part 1 – Moon Over Buffalo: I have a friend who is from Buffalo, New York. Therefore, she wanted to see a show called Moon Over Buffalo which was being done by St. Mark’s Players, a community theatre group on Capitol Hill. I should have done a little more homework before agreeing to come along. The play was written by Ken Ludwig, whose work is generally not to my taste. In short, I dislike farce and particularly dislike farce with theatrical settings (in this case, a repertory group on tour in Buffalo). And I really really hate humor that depends on a character being drunk. On the plus side, it was well-acted and I will give a particular shout-out to Lauren Devoll as Roz.

Sonoma: Before the farcical evening, we had dinner at Sonoma, a wine bar on Pennsylvania Avenue. They have a good happy hour deal, which would have been an excellent option. Except it is only available in the lounge and that was closed for a private event. So we ordered off the regular menu. I got a funghi pizza which had too much cheese and was too salty. We split an order of crispy Brussels sprouts, which were excellent. That used to be a vegetable I wouldn’t eat, but then a couple of years ago, I was coerced into tasting some and they’re really quite nice as long as they aren’t overcooked. But, overall, based on the pizza, I’d say there are better options for dining on the Hill.

USA Freedom Walk Festival: This festival is an annual Volksmarch / International Marching League event, which offers walks of varying distances (from 6 kilometers to a marathon) for three days in Arlington, VA and Washington, DC. I did the 12K walk on Saturday. The route was an excellent one, through Georgetown, up to the National Cathedral, and winding back on natural surface trails through Glover Archbold Park. I usually think I know the city pretty well, but this took me through parts of it I rarely or never get to, as well as some familiar ones (e.g. Embassy Row). I wish I’d had time to do one of the Sunday walks, but I had too much stuff to do at home.

Theatre Binge, Part 2 - And the World Goes ‘Round: My second theatre binge outing was to see this Kander and Ebb revue at Creative Cauldron, at ArtsSpace in Falls Church. What a lovely little theatre! And it’s only about a 15 minute drive from home. I was expecting this to be amateurish community theatre, but it isn’t. It was directed by Matt Conner, who is well-known (at least locally) as a musical theatre composer and the five cast members have all appeared with various local professional theatres. There were many familiar songs, but also some less so. Notably, I had not heard "Pain," a song about what choreographers do to dancers, before. The staging was also excellent. Overall, this was a delight and I will definitely go to future shows here.

Theatre Binge, Part 3 - Mark Russell at Fords’ Theatre: Next up was seeing PBS comedian Mark Russell perform at Ford’s Theatre. He’s been doing his mix of jokes and music parodies, mostly about politics, for a long time. The current crop of candidates makes for lots of opportunities for this sort of shtick and my only real complaint was that his show was rather disconnected. His best joke of the night was that Steven Spielberg is making a movie about Hillary Clinton. It’s going to be called "Saving Private E-mail."

By the way, as I was entering the metro to go home, I ran into an old friend, who had also been at the show. It was nice to catch up a bit as we waited for our respective trains.

Co Co Sala: Because of its proximity to Ford’s Theatre, we had dinner at Co Co Sala. We should have made appoint of telling the waiter we had theatre tickets, as the pacing was unnecessarily slow. I started with a glass of prosecco. The beet salad was disappointing, as it needed something more acidic. The tuna tartare was better, with a spicy dipping sauce. I ordered the cupcakes for dessert, not realizing this would be three full-size cupcakes. So I ended up bringing two of them home. Overall, it wasn’t bad, but I have had better meals there.

A Brief Note on Washington: I was at a symposium part of last week. Who knew it would be so much more complicated to get into the Commerce Department Building than it is to get into a Senate Office Building?

Theatre Binge, Part 4 - Beautiful: The final stage of this recent theatre binge was seeing Beautiful: the Carole King Musical at the Kennedy Center. I’m not a big fan of jukebox musicals and probably would not have chosen to see this on my own, but there was enough of interest this season for me to do a Kennedy Center theatre subscription. The book is pretty thin – teenage pregnancy leads Carole King to marry songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin. Their marriage goes wrong, but her career works out. There’s a parallel line on the relationship between their friends and rivals, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The main thing is that the show is full of music that is sure to bring a nostalgic smile (and maybe some silent mouthing of words) from pretty much anyone of my generation. Let’s just say that every 50-something woman I know owned a copy of King’s album, Tapestry. There were earlier pop songs, some of them of the "I didn’t know they wrote that" variety. All in all, this was enjoyable fare and I was able to forgive it the lack of depth, e.g. a bare hint at the issue of white songwriters writing for black musicians.

More to Come: I made a trip down to Norfolk and Virginia Beach last weekend, but this is long enough already, so that will wait.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Candida Royalle was a porn star. Jack Larson played Jimmy Olsen in the 1950’s Superman television series and later became a playwright. Moses Malone was a basketball player. Max Beauvoir was a biochemist who became a high-ranking Voudou priest in Haiti. Herschel Silverman was a beat poet. Jackie Collins wrote trashy novels, the most successful of which was Hollywood Wives. Daniel Thompson invented the bagel machine, leading to the proliferation of the bland, soft, bagel-shaped rolls which destroy the name of that noble treat. Robert Simon founded Reston, Virginia, a planned community where I have been known to spend time (some of which is mentioned below.)

Two pitchers the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League died on the same date, September 13th. Jane Jacobs played almost all of her career for Racine, while and Emma Bergmann moved around teams a bit more, but most notably pitched no-hitter for Muskegon in 1947.

Unetaneh Tokef 1: I should have mentioned an insight I had on Rosh Hashanah. I usually think of Unetaneh Tokef (the most dramatic prayer in the High Holiday services) in terms of the physical fate of people, i.e. "who will die by fire and who by water" and so on. But it does also refer to psychological states. "Who will be serene and who will be tormented" is another aspect of the possibilities for the year. I’m not sure why I never noticed that before, but I find it oddly reassuring at a time when so many people I know are dealing with various types of mental struggles (their own and other people's).

Unetaneh Tokef 2: I keep playing with science fiction and fantasy ideas for people’s fates. Stuff like "who by aliens and who by dragon’s fire." I am sure somebody must have written this poem already.

New Story: In retrospect, signing up for a show without actually having a story on the theme may not have been a great idea. The show in question was a Better Said Than Done benefit for the Nature House in Reston. I figured I could come up with something on "Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire," in the course of several weeks. Well, I did, but it was somewhat pointless and not as funny as most of my stories. More significantly, I was stressing out over it and tweaking things until the last minute. Overall, it went okay, but it wasn’t as much fun as it should have been. On the other hand, it was a good challenge.

Pricy Beer: I had dinner with flyertalk friends at Fireworks Pizza last night. I continue to find their beer list intimidating. They have something called Tart of Darkness which goes for $44 for a 25 ounce bottle. I went for the Evil Twin Imperial Doughnut Break at $10.75 for a 10 ounce draft. Which is still more than my pizza (the tartufo, which is mushroomy goodness) cost. The beer was interesting, with almond and coffee flavors and a very slight sweetness. I would drink it again.

Presidential Candidates: Oy.

Who Buys This Shit?: There is someone on Etsy selling glitter pills that are supposed to turn your poop all sparkly. This cannot be healthy for either you or your plumbing.

Other Stuff: Knitting group was Sunday, also in Reston, and was (as always) fun. My calendar is a complete mess, but I need to find time to schedule a couple of other things. My house is also a mess and I need time to work on that, too. Plus ca change …
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Judy Carne was the "Sock It to Me" girl on Laugh-In, and apparently had a rather traumatic life of addiction after the show. Jean Darling was an actress, starting as a child star in the Our Gang series in the silent movie era, with her career peaking when she played Carrie in the original Broadway cast of Carousel. She also had over 50 mystery stories published. Martin Milner was a television actor, best known for Route 66 and Adam 12. For some reason, I seem to remember that either he or Kent McCord visited my school when I was in 5th or 6th grade, but it’s all very vague.

Birthday: I turned 57 on Friday. So when exactly am I going to feel like I’m an adult?

Travel and Weather: The other thing I was doing on Friday (in addition to working and aging) was flying to Albuquerque. I had a rather shorter connection in Denver than I would have preferred, so when I saw that there were weather holds in my area, I called up United and changed to an earlier flight (via Houston) with a longer layover. That meant a taxi to the airport, which worked fine, but was pricy. We boarded more or less on time, then got held because another plane in line to take off had smoke in the cockpit. And then came the weather. In the end, my hour and a half layover at IAH turned into about a 6 minute connect time. I did make the connection, but it was stressful.

I also had a bit of a complication when I arrived. Picking up the rental car was straightforward enough. And I could see the hotel. Figuring out where to turn to actually get to it was another matter. It didn’t help that the rental car people had said (incorrectly) I needed to turn before the freeway. So it took me, um, about 45 minutes to drive maybe a bit over a mile.

Old Town / Downtown Albuquerque: I started my weekend by doing a volksmarch in Old Town and downtown Albuquerque. I’d actually done an earlier iteration of this walk several years ago, but they have rerouted it, presumably to highlight some of the newer downtown architecture. It is also possible that they didn’t reroute it, but I have a lousy memory. Anyway, there was a point where I ran into a group being led on a tour by a couple of people from the historical society, who insisted I needed to check out the interior of the Kimo Theatre, which they described as "Pueblo deco." That is, it is art deco with Pueblo themes. It is, indeed, worth a look. I also went through the Holocaust Museum because it was there. Most of what they have are photos, but there are a few artifacts. The museum also addresses various other genocides, though it misses some (e.g. nothing about Cambodia). All in all, it was a good walk, though the section between Old Town and downtown is fairly bland.

Adobe Wonderland: After my morning walk (and a stop for lunch), I drove up to Santa Fe. I stopped by the visitor information center and picked up the map for the Capital volksmarch (which I would do the next day). Then I drove over to Kakawa Chocolate House, which had been highly recommended by friends. The rose almond elixir was a spicy blend of chocolate, almond, rose, and chili – quite tasty, though a bit chunky as hot chocolate goes. I also bought a couple of chocolates to eat for dessert later that evening. Then I drove to my hotel and took a nap before getting dinner (and eating those chocolates).

In the morning, I did the Capital walk, which took in most of central Santa Fe, including the capitol and Canyon Road, as well as the Plaza. I’m not really a fan of adobe and things were rather too crowded, but it was still a pleasant walk. I also appreciated that the directions pointed out a few details I might not otherwise have noted – e.g. the plaque to Billy the Kid across from Burro Alley. And, especially, the triangle with the tetragrammaton carved into an arch over the door of the cathedral.

There were a couple of art shows and a large crafts fair, possibly in connection with the upcoming Fiesta. I wasn’t intending to buy anything, but I saw a salt cellar I couldn’t resist. It’s shaped like a bathtub, with the shower head forming the spoon. I also got a bowl of cashew mole for lunch (and sopapillas, of course). And I decided it was hot enough out by then that I needed to go back to Kakawa and try their ice cream. I went for the citrus pistachio, which I thought would be more refreshing than chocolate.

I drove back to Albuquerque, where I had a light supper and a nice conversation with [livejournal.com profile] slymongoose. My flights home (again, via IAH) were fine, with no weather drama. All in all, ir made for a nice weekend excursion.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Kyle Jean-Baptiste was a theatre actor. Wayne Dyer wrote self-help books. Marvin Mandel was a former governor of Maryland, whose tenure in office was marred by his conviction (later overturned) for mail fraud and racketeering. Personally, I think the more interesting scandal is the one in which his wife refused to move out of the governor’s mansion when he took up with another woman and filed for divorce.

Wes Craven was a film director, best known for horror films (e.g. Nightmare on Elm Street). Oddly, he died of natural causes, though brain cancer is a pretty horrible death as I understand it.

The death I most want to highlight is that of Oliver Sacks. To say he was a neurologist and a writer is inadequate. His writing spanned a range of topics, but I think the key is that he always focused on the humanity,, whether writing about neurology, travel, or his family. I was privileged to hear him give a talk at Sixth and I, as well as to read several of his books, which were always informative and highly readable. His death was no surprise but was still a major loss.

Kin Davis: For anybody who has been living in a cave for the past couple of weeks, Ms. Davis is the court clerk in Kentucky who is refusing to issue marriage licenses because she has religious objections to same sex marriage. My take on this is that if one has religious objections to doing one’s job, the only proper response is to resign from that job.


I do want to note, however, that I am disturbed by the people who are citing her hypocrisy because she has been married 4 times. Her statement is that she converted after the divorces and I find no reason to doubt that, especially since this was apparently due to a deathbed wish. Her past is not relevant to the current situation and I believe it is not appropriate to harp on it.

And, of course, the people who are criticizing her based on her appearance (and, specifically, her hair – apparently her church does not permit women to cut their hair) are also way out of bounds. The point is that she does not meet one of the basic job requirements (that is, willingness to comply with the law on issuing marriage licenses) and should, therefore, not be in the job.


Plymouth (Michigan) Volksmarch: I have to admit that I had not actually heard of Plymouth, Michigan until a couple of weeks ago. I was flying into Detroit for a trip to Toledo and had time to kill during the day, so looked for nearby Volksmarch events that would satisfy some of the special programs I am trying to complete. It was an easy drive to Plymouth and the walk proved quite pleasant. The downtown area has a number of attractive historic houses (as well as some interesting specialty shops, though there is the creeping chainification that one finds everywhere nowadays), while the second half of the walk followed a path along the Rouge River and around what they called a lake, but I would consider a pond. I wouldn’t say there was anything essential from a tourist perspective, but it was a good way to spend my time.


Toledo – the Corporal Klinger Tour: For those who remember M*A*S*H, Corporal Klinger (played by Jamie Farr) was from Toledo (as was Farr). That led to some ad libs that immortalized a couple of Toledo institutions to those of us of a certain generation – namely, Tony Packo’s Café and the Toledo Mud Hens, the AAA minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. I love baseball, so when I saw plans for a Flyertalk Do that would involve both of those, I figured it was worth the trip. I flew to Detroit late Friday night, spent Saturday morning doing the volksmarch mentioned above, then drove to Toledo. It’s an easy drive, but there was a lot of road work. Anyway, I went to my hotel, rested a bit, then headed downtown.

We were actually not at the original Tony Packo’s, but at the branch by the ballpark. The food is Hungarian and runs to things like chili dogs and dumplings and such. Not exactly light fare, nor are what they call dumplings what I think of by that name (i.e. not like either knaidlach or Czech bread dumplings, but more pasta-ish), but the food was tasty enough (especially some sort of potato side dish) and the atmosphere was great. The Great Lakes IPA was more bitter than I prefer, so was just okay. There was, of course, plenty of flyertalkish talk, i.e. frequent flyer miles and tricks associated therewith.

We walked across the street to the ballpark and found our seats. And rain. Fortunately, the delay was not very long and the game was on. It was an exciting one, with some decidedly questionable calls (in my opinion). After being behind for most of the game, the Mud Hens did win in the end. By the way, we had very good seats (in the club section) and I thought it was a nice little ballpark. I liked that they had everyone sing the national anthem, instead of treating it as a performance piece. (People were, alas, considerably more pathetic for the 7th inning stretch. My treatise on the relationship between the decline of Western civilization and the failure of people to sing along is available on request.) Anyway, the fans seemed reasonably into the game and I thought it was worth the trip.

I had vague plans to do another volksmarch on Sunday morning, but the weather was dreary and I was tired, so I just had a late and lazy morning. For complicated reasons (less money, more miles), my flight home was via EWR so I got to spend some time rereading the index to Dante’s Inferno to figure out which circle of hell Newark Terminal A is.

Speaking of Transportation: If you change the route of a shuttle bus and, in the process, eliminate a stop that has been in use for at least 10 years, it might be helpful to put up a sign at that stop to let people know.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Yvonne Craig was an actress, most famous for playing Batgirl. Melody Patterson played Wrangler Jane on F Troop.

The death I most want to note is that of Merl Reagle. He was the first crossword constructor who I was ever aware of as a constructor. His penchant for puns and wordplay made his puzzles immediately recognizable – and infinitely more pleasurable than the earlier style which relied entirely on knowledge of obscure words. It’s hard to imagine what Sundays will be like without Merl’s puzzle in the Washington Post magazine section.

Del Campo: I went out to a restaurant week dinner with flyertalk folks at Del Campo. Organizing the reservation was annoying, because people drop out last minute and we went from 6 people to 10 to 8 to 6 – and then one didn’t show up. I do understand people having to travel last minute, but I really hate no shows.

Anyway, the deal is a three course dinner for $35. The restaurant had a reasonable menu – 3 choices each for appetizer and main, 2 for dessert. The mushroom empanadas were good, but didn’t blow me away. For the main, I got the short rib, which also came with chorizo and a marrow bone, as well as a surprisingly bland potato puree, with its only sign of the promised jalapenos in its color. The meat was quite tasty, however, and was the highlight of the meal. I chose the carrot cake for dessert and it was okay, but not nearly as good as my own. I also got a cocktail called a gin joint, which had grilled grapefruit juice and smoked simple syrup (as well as more normal things, like gin). It was interesting enough, but a bit sweeter than I would have preferred. Overall, I’d give the place a B to B+. I’ll also note that the service was very good, but it was awfully noisy so I felt like we were shouting at one another all evening.

Stoshvzihl Rrwvhuw: I happened to read a science fiction short story recently, which reminded me of why I don’t read a lot of certain types of science fiction. Namely, there is actually nothing wrong with a character being named Tim or Mary or the like. And, if you are going to invent some alien species, you are actually allowed to use a normal combination of vowels and consonants in its name.

When I Rule the World: There should be sensors at the entrance to metro stations which detect excessive fragrance and soak the offender with water and (unscented) soap.

Also, people should not be allowed to chew juicy fruit gum in the office.

The Height of Absurdity: I thought that the toaster I saw in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog which imprints your toast with a selfie was going to win this category. But I was in Bed Bath & Beyond recently (a store which I have deeply mixed feelings about, primarily because of its missing commas) and I saw a device intended to cook ramen noodles in half the time. In much of the world, that dish is known as "two minute noodles." Are people really that bloody impatient?
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
This past weekend included a Saturday in August, so it was time for Lollapuzzoola 8. This is my favorite crossword tournament, because the puzzles are just that much crazier. I will keep things spoiler free here, since there are still folks solving at home.

I can write about the gimmick of the first puzzle (by Patrick Blindauer), since it is right there in the instructions. Namely, there was a sound effect to signal "stop," requiring everyone to put down their pencils until the next sound effect let us "go." The puzzle itself was not particularly difficult, but the stop and go aspect slowed things down a bit.

Puzzle 2, by Anna Schechtman, was my favorite of the day. The theme was tricky enough to be interesting, without being impossibly difficult. While I enjoyed puzzle 3 (by Mike Nothnagel), I thought it was possible for somebody to solve it without completely grasping one aspect of the theme. I’ll note that I managed to solve the first 3 puzzles cleanly, which is always a big part of my goal.

I went out to lunch with a group of folks. Or, more precisely, we got take-out (sushi, in my case) from a nearby store and came back to the room to eat it. Lunch was followed by an entertaining, punny group game by Francis Heaney.

And then came the reckoning. Puzzle 4 at Lollapuzzoola is the equivalent of Puzzle 5 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. It’s the puzzle that separates those who are big fish in their small ponds from the leviathans of the puzzle world. Joon Pahk’s puzzle was subtle and clever and proved that I am, comparatively, a minnow. (In addition to a challenging theme, I completely failed to make a dent in the middle left part of the grid. And that was with the use of 2 google tickets to get answers.)

Fortunately, there is puzzle 5 to redeem the day. I found Doug Peterson’s contribution pretty straightforward. But its theme was the sort of thing you might well find in a conventional puzzle venue, so it was less exciting.

While we waited for results, there was another punny group game. There was also a meta-puzzle suite, which I would say was more of a mini-extravaganza. My table didn’t get hung up on the puzzles, but had difficulty with the idea that we needed a team name.

The finals featured a puzzle by Kevin Der. The local division clues (i.e. for humans) were challenging enough. The express division clues (i.e. for the top solvers) were impossible. In fact, for a while it looked like none of the 3 finalists would finish, but Frances Heaney pulled it out at the last minute. Trip Payne was oh so close, however, and it was really painful to watch him fill in the last couple of letters, erase them, fill them in again, erase them – and run out of time. I will admit that it took me damn long after seeing the correct answer to figure out what the clue meant. There was a recent list circulating of the trickiest crossword clues ever and I think 35A in this puzzle would almost certainly qualify.

I needed to rush off at that point, so didn’t stay for the awards. If you really care, I finished 95th out of 194 contestants. That puts me at the 51.0th percentile. For comparison, I was at the 42.6th percentile in 2012 and 44.6th percentile in 2013. So last year, when I finished at the 57.6th percentile, was an anomaly (albeit a positive one), and I can think that I’ve been improving, be it ever so slowly.

The reason I needed to rush was to get to a flyertalk wine dinner at Virage down in the East Village. I’m not really much of a wine person, but this sounded like fun and it never hurts to learn a bit. The basic idea was 11 people, 15 bottles of wine, and a lot of food. It started with bruschetta accompanied by what I think was the house rose, which was definitely the least memorable wine of the evening. We moved on through various appetizers (a chopped salad, tuna ceviche, a delicious and unusual combination of figs with goat cheese and olives, fried calamari, fried artichokes, lamb meatballs), accompanied by three different bubblies. My favorite was the NV Krug Champagne Brut Grand Cruvee, but the 1996 Pierre Paillard Champagne Brut Millesime Grand Cru (of which we had a magnum) and the 2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut Rose Vintage Reserve were also eminently drinkable. Somewhere around the calamari, we moved on to the white wines, with a 2013 Schollum Project La Severita di Bruto Farina sauvignon blanc and a 2013 Grand Boulay Sancerre La Cote. The latter was my contribution, though it was from our host’s cellar, and I was quite pleased with it. There was a viognier (2007 Domaine Yves Culleron Condrieu Les Challets) and two chardonnays (2013 Fisher Vineyards Chardonnay Mountain Estate and 2013 Fisher Vineyards Chardonnay Whitney’s Vineyard) to take us through the lobster bolognese pasta course. The chardonnays were decidedly oaky and really not my thing, as it feels to me like drinking trees.

The reds came out with the main course, for which I chose the lamb kebab, served with rice, salad, and hummus. This was also excellent - and I didn’t hear anybody complaining about their choices. We had one syrah (2008 Bedrock Wine Co. Syrah Lauerbach Hill), which I liked quite a lot. And then there were four cabernets. The 2008 Lewelling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon was the last of them, though still decent. I liked the 2008 EMH Cabernet Sauvignon Black Cat better. The final two – 2008 Black Sears Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Estate and 2008 Outpost Cabernet Sauvignon True Vineyard – were quite similar, though I preferred the Outpost a bit.

The dessert choice was an easy one. I can’t resist fresh berries and that was one of the options. They were served with cream. And, of course, wine. In this case NV Pride Mountain Vineyards Mistelle de Viognier. That was fine, though I doubt that I will ever prefer dessert wines to liqueurs.

There was also, of course, plenty of lively conversation – primarily about wine and travel. So it was a lovely evening, overall, and well worth the minor exhaustion the next day. Thanks so much to Erez for his organizing the whole thing.

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