Wordplay and Cornell’s prince

I guess five hours is my limit in museums these days. Boy, I’m not even 30 and my stamina is shot to hell. 🙂 However, I found a couple of really cool things in the short time I wandered around.

Cornell's Medici prince, on display in the East Gallery of Washington's National Gallery.

First, Cornell’s Untitled (Medici Boy) is in fact on display in the National Gallery’s East Wing; it wasn’t there two years ago. They’ve moved it with the two works that were previously displayed to the second level—while I didn’t get as much of a cool feeling of exclusivity as I did in the days when you had to climb up to the tower to find them, the works are placed much more prominently.

Second, Xu Bing. Contemporary Chinese artist whose medium is calligraphy—but what calligraphy! A permanently installed three story mobile chains together the word for “monkey” in eighteen languages, each fragment shaped like a monkey. A flat plane containing three dimensional Chinese characters describing birds takes flight, as characters for “bird” become shaped into a flock of birds. A room is filled with scrolls, newspapers, and books printed with “Chinese” characters that in fact have no meaning. Walls are filled with a hand calligraphed speech from Mao — but the characters are English words written as though they were Chinese calligraphy. (This was a favorite—there were two indigo iMacs in the room running a Mac OS X program that took a typed English sentence and rendered it in this style of calligraphy in near real time. Okay, after 30 seconds. But the first few words of “The Waste Land” look really cool as neo-Chinese calligraphy.)

Gap replaces pig’s feet

Well! All in all, a surprising day. The first surprise was the lack of snow—though, given that it is Washington, DC, a city in which weather is as unpredictable (and boring) as a leaf in the wind, this wasn’t actually too surprising.

The gig at the Monastery went quite well. There were seven of us, so with me left as more or less a pinch-hitter, I sightread through the Mass and then relaxed and enjoyed singing the material with which I was familiar. I found sightreading much easier this morning, probably because it wasn’t 11:30 PM. Dim sum followed with Jim Heaney, his girlfriend Deb, and Skip and George. I regret to report that no chicken feet were consumed.

My next stop after Cheeselord Manor was to be the Littles. George was my neighbor at Virginia my fourth year, and when Lisa and I met Bethany with George at my five-year reunion we all hit it off tremendously. Bethany and Lisa have a lot in common—as Lisa points out, they’re both short Italian-American women with impeccable taste and fabulous hosting instincts. The plan was for them to meet me at the Monastery and to proceed from there. Unfortunately, through a snafu they couldn’t make it, and I drove from Chinatown to the Cathedral to plan the next move.

I went down the hill to Georgetown in search of a city map, as mine is currently locked away someplace. I found a good one in Olsson’s, but not before an unpleasant surprise. Au Pied du Cochon, which was a little hole in the wall that could be counted on for good single malt and bad cassoulet when my friends and I were hungry after singing the Tenebrae service at Georgetown, is no more. A Gap is in its place. My blood runs cold—my memory has just been sold: my bistro is a … true slime mold? [Note to self: get better rhyming dictionary.]

Afterwards I got in touch with George and Bethany and came to their house. Continuing in the same string of real estate luck that found them a townhouse complete with wine cellar full of 1974 Mondavis, they found a 3500 or 4000 square foot house up the street from the back gate of the Italian ambassador’s residence that was built in the 1940s and that they purchased from the original owner. I’ll probably have a few things to say about the house, but I’ll leave off now with the observation that the kitchen contained built-in steel pull-outs for foil and paper towels; the mostly unfinished attic contained a cedar closet previously used for minks; and the first floor powder room currently sports an intriguing combination of brown wood paneling and red and black lace wallpaper(!) that calls to mind some of New Orleans’ more notorious establishments. And a dog that likes cheese. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

The manor life

I just realized I described the “Cheeselord” part of Cheeselord Manor, but not the Manor part. The house that Skip and George own is best described as having a crumbling gentility. It’s situated on a corner lot in Northwest DC, measures about 20 x 60 on each floor, and has three floors, a finished basement, and a tower garret room. The “crumbling” part is due to the old roof, which Skip and George recently replaced, though they haven’t had the chance to fix all the interior damage yet.

The house was built in 1912 (as Skip puts it, the year the Titanic sank), and used to be offices for a nonprofit organization. These days, the front room sees a lot of Cheeselord rehearsals, complete with an upright piano that may be older than the house is and wood floors that have a tendency to slope in unpredictable directions (the last is notable as the Cheeselords have been self described as a “drinking group with a singing problem”).

Skip and George have known each other for years since Georgetown. Skip directs a diagnostic lab around the corner, used to be a monk, and sings countertenor; George has more muscles than I’d know what to do with and a deep bass voice, and composes music when he’s not doing medical things. I met the guys in the Cathedral Choral Society when Skip invited me to come over for dinner one night while they sightread the Tallis Lamentations of Jeremiah. As an old Renaissance music buff, I eagerly accepted, little knowing I’d spend some really amazing years with the group. We did a lot of music, from early medieval chant and conductus through Renaissance and Early American to late twentieth century masters like Arvo Pärt and John Tavener (and of course George). Today I’m singing with them at the group’s second home, the Franciscan Monastery in Northeast DC, which is best known for its replicated catacombs under a fairly magnificent sanctuary. I can’t wait.

Long day’s journey into DC

I would say I’m tired, but that hardly seems adequate. It’s been a long day, and a good one. I left my inlaws’ place in New Jersey this morning around 10 am and started driving south on the Turnpike toward Washington. On the way, I decided to call my mother at my grandfather’s in Leola, PA; the family Christmas party was to be on Sunday and I wanted to make sure she got in OK. “Oh,” she said, “it’s actually today, from 12 to 6.” I looked at where I was and decided to forgo an afternoon in DC — and spent a lovely time with my relatives in the church basement, catching up.

I’m now at Cheeselords Manor, where my friends Skip and George live. I used to sing with them in a twelve voice men’s Renaissance ensemble called the Suspicious Cheese Lords (it’s badly translated from the title of a Tallis motet, Suscipe Quaeso Domine). I’ll be guesting with them tomorrow morning at DC’s Franciscan Monastery. I feel humbled after running through the music–it’s been too long since I sang.

On the Road Again

Not much time for an update today, I’m afraid. I’m tired of there being no snow in Boston so I’m heading south to where the action is.

Okay, that was a little flip. I’ve been wanting for a while to see some of my friends in the Washington DC area, and I haven’t been back since July of 2000 when I left to come to MIT Sloan. It was a transitional time–I sold my car, hopped in a moving van, and dropped myself in the middle of Cambridge while Lisa started looking for a new job. I need to see what’s going on with my friends. And I’m getting a chance to sing with my friends in the Suspicious Cheeselords.

I will be stopping in New Jersey overnight to pick up my car. While I’m there, I hope to borrow my in-laws’ DSL connection to post the alpha release of Manila Envelope for general consumption. After all, I will have about five hours in the train to fix all the bugs. 🙂

So queue up Paul Simon singing “Graceland.” My traveling companions aren’t ghosts and empties; they’re a PowerBook G3 and an iPod. It’s time for some catch-up.

Don’t ask me about claptrap…

Thing #2: The moon in the mountains of Buncombe County, North Carolina, outside Asheville, is bright enough to walk by.

Thing #3: Buncombe County is the origin of the word “bunkum,” or “bunk.” Apparently Felix Walker, the representative from Buncombe County, started it in the US Congress by making a longwinded speech for show to his constituents while he was on the House floor. This may give you some perspective on some of the things written on the pages of webloggers. We tend to make a lot of speeches for Buncombe. 🙂

Christmas Catch-Up

I think this is the longest bloggus interruptus I’ve had in a while. Sue me; I was with family. I did make some notes along the way, though…

Saturday, December 22: So this is what holiday travel is like in the Brave New World. We had a 7:15 flight leaving Boston on the Saturday before Christmas. We bravely decided to take the train to the airport. Never mind that the first one left our station at 5:30 am, less than two hours before. Ah, the bravery of ignorance.

Still, we were lucky. After waiting the better part of an hour in line, they had pity on all of us who hadn’t planned adequately and pulled us to the front of the line. Then we got to jump in the fast line for the security screening. There was that last line at the gate for a seat (if they weren’t handing out seat assignments at check-in, why was the line so backed up?), but then we were on the plane.

I think, though, that our luck is about to end. We just heard from the flight attendant that we’re landing at A terminal in Atlanta but have our connecting flight in C terminal. Given that we have half an hour to make the connection, that’s akin to a death sentence–or at least an invitation to reprise Run Lola Run. But fortunately we made it OK–they haven’t set up security checkpoints between the terminals yet. When we got in, we found out we had narrowly missed meeting the whacko who tried to give himself a hotfoot with a shoeful of plastic explosives and had caused his plane to make a forced landing at Logan. Should be a lot of fun when we get back on Saturday.

Sunday, December 23: Lisa and I cook dinner for ten, with dancing. We make a small dent in my uncle’s game collection, cooking some quail (both in risotto and grilled), some chucker (a large bird in the pigeon family), and some venison. Much merriment. Much sleep thereafter.

Monday, December 24: A last minute discovery: My dad’s beige G3 has no USB ports. This is a problem as we have bought him a scanner with a USB connection. A quick trip to Best Buy later, we have the problem in hand. At night, I do a quick read through the service music so I can sing with my dad at Christmas Eve services. I later joke that it’s the first 100-meter freestyle sightreading exhibition I’ve done. Good music–the director, Eric, is a great musician and has impeccable taste (this is not to be taken for granted in church music).

Tuesday, December 25: Christmas starts with a light breakfast and family presents. In addition to the scanner for Dad, we took up a collection so he can buy a barbecue grill for the new house. Mom got a nice tennis bracelet, gold with diamonds (well done, Dad!). I got a Diesel Sweeties t-shirt (“I’m a rocker. I rock out”), the Peanuts art collection, and from my wife, an iPod. They are killer little toys. Christmas dinner was unusual: a “fresh” (uncured) ham, brined in Coca-Cola and spices and baked. Afterwards settling back to digest in peace. I was able to watch my new DVD (Blazing Saddles) on my laptop, but only with much difficulty. I don’t know whether the DVD was flawed or if my player is having problems, but I finally settled on a sequence of playing a CD in the drive first, then putting another DVD in, then putting the Blazing Saddles DVD in before it would work.

Quick updates

Too long a day yesterday to do any blogging. I’m catching up a bit now.

Sitting in Sea-Tac, using a paid wireless connection. It’s amazing how quickly that comes to seem acceptable. I used one in Starbucks earlier.

Word of advice–if you are in Seattle, on the way to the airport, and have a choice between paying for access at Starbucks or at the airport, use the airport access instead. It’s 6.95 for a full day, as compared to $2.95 plus 20 cents a minute…

Not a lot going on. Just getting some work done. Trying not to think about the little insanity that happened in the air over Chicago a few days ago. Or about congressmen finding out that security rules apply to them too.

Or people pulling the comic strip Boondocks because the cartoonist is calling the Reagan-Bush Republicans for supporting Bin Laden during the Afganistan conflict with the Soviet Union in the 80s, and then claiming it’s because “it’s more appropriately discussed in news and opinion pages” than in comic strips.

Getaway in Maine

Sorry about the cryptic message that was on the site over the weekend. I was trying to demonstrate the workings of this website to classmates of mine and I inadvertently flipped the homepage. I figured that, rather than leave it blank, I would put something up temporary and change it later. Shortly afterwards I hopped in a car and we drove to Maine. 🙂

Lisa and I were in Bar Harbor over the weekend. It’s a gorgeous little village on a small island off the mid-coast of Maine. We got there about 9:30 pm on Friday and all was dark, cold and windy. A pint of porter from the local brewery took some of the cold away and we enjoyed some excellent mussels and clam chowder.

In the morning, I was astonished to see how close the water was all around us. A quick breakfast followed by some driving and we were at the top of Cadillac Mountain, a huge outcropping of pink granite rock at the center of Acadia National Park in the center of the island. We walked around the top of the mountain and continued on the park loop road to the Sand Beach.

(A quick word about the history of the park: Bar Harbor used to be a home for the rich and famous. To prevent overdevelopment of the island, the residents, including some Rockefellers, donated the bulk of the eastern half of the island to the US government to create a national park. The park is encircled by a loop road, reminiscent of the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland.)

From Sand Beach we hiked about 1.5 mi south to Otter Point and were treated along the way to spectacular views of the water and the rocks. Returning to Sand Beach, we climbed more or less straight up a rock face to the headland protecting the beach. More spectacular views, some aching muscles. We headed back for dinner and some sleep in town. Sunday we had an excellent breakfast on the (somewhat heated) front porch of the 2 Cats restaurant and inn (featuring a note from Martha Stewart by the cash register!), and began the long drive back.

We made only one stop on the way home–the Apple Store in the Northshore Mall in Peabody, Massachusetts, where I picked up my copy of Mac OS X 10.1. I’m using it now and it’s spectacular. All the rock solid performance of the original version (maybe more so), great DVD playback, and fast. I’ll write some more notes about the new OS tomorrow. For now, I’ll just say: drive to your closest Apple Store or CompUSA or order your copy on the online store. You’ll thank yourself for doing it.

The long goodbye

Well, I’m experiencing a little more of the Pacific Northwest than I had planned. It’s about 10 am Pacific time and I’m sitting in SeaTac blogging this over the airport’s wireless network (after a summer of blogging over dialup, I love blogging with a fat pipe!). It’s a classic good news, bad news scenario. The good news is that SeaTac has wireless broadband everywhere now, with a one time connection charge of only $6.95. The bad news is that it’s economically feasible for me to pay that charge, since I’ll be here another three hours. Yep, more travel blues.

I had a pretty late night last night at the Owl ‘n Thistle. It’s a nice little club that my fellow interns and I had gone to the first Friday night we were all in town. With the company and deep conversations about our futures, it was 2 am before I got into bed.

Then the unthinkable: my alarm clock failed to go off. I rolled over, realizing it was light out (a problem since I had set the alarm for 5:15 am), and saw my clock. 7:24. My flight was supposed to leave at 8:10 am; I was at least a half hour drive from the airport; and I had a little last minute packing, garbage disposal, etc. to do. Not only that, but I had to drive downtown to drop off the keys to my apartment on my way out of town. I wasn’t going to make the flight.

I called Lisa to let her know I was coming in later than I had planned and that I’d have more details in a bit. Then I loaded up the car, dropped off my keys and got on the interstate. When I finally got to the United counter (after having to wait ten minutes to return my rental car), I told the guy behind the counter that I had missed my flight and needed his help. He replied, “Oh, the 8:10 through Chicago? That was cancelled. But you do need my help: we booked you on an 8:50 on TWA, but you’re not going to make that.”

Eventually, we got it sorted, and now I’m waiting for a 12:50 pm flight on American. But the news isn’t all bad. It’s a direct flight that will only get me in about three hours later than planned; the only seat they had was an exit row window (my favorite!!!); and I’ve got broadband. You know, this travel thing really isn’t so bad.

One last thing: a tip of the hat to Doc Searls, who pointed out that blogging over a fat pipe is hard to beat. Of course, he was naked at the time… [Note from the editor: Please see my clarification of this comment.]

Gougers! United: The Untold Story

After some fun, I’m back in Seattle. An observation: when United Airlines calls your cell phone, tells you that your original flight was cancelled, and offers you a different flight at no charge that gets you to your destination earlier, and it seems too easy… it probably is.

Update: Here’s the full story. Not an atypical travel story, I suppose, but it’s unusual in my experience in the number of things that went wrong in one day.

Boston, Sunday, 3:35 pm. I get a call on my cell phone telling me that the first leg of my flight back to Seattle, through Washington, DC, has been cancelled. However, they can put me on a flight routed through Denver that gets me to Seattle about half an hour earlier. As noted above, it sounds too good to be true.

Boston Logan Airport, 5:30 pm. The airport is packed and I find the flight departure has been delayed twenty minutes, to 7:00 pm. No big deal so far…

Boston Logan Airport, 8:00 pm. Having finally pushed back from the gate at 7:30 pm, we’re waiting in line to take off. And waiting. And waiting. I start noticing other planes going around us… The young kid in the row behind me kicking my seat and giggling doesn’t help my mood.

Boston Logan Airport, 8:30 pm. We’re back at the gate. The pilot announced that there was a mechanical problem with one of the instruments that would prevent us from taking off. Then the ground crew chief came on and said, “Passengers going to Denver and those continuing to San Francisco, we will get you there tonight, either on this plane or another. Passengers connecting through Denver, you will probably all miss your connections. Please come and see me at the podium…”

Boston Logan Airport, 9:20 pm. I finally get through the line at the podium to find that I can get on a flight to Los Angeles, and then take a flight to Seattle first thing in the morning. That gets me to SeaTac Aiport about 9 am. The only catch is that “at this point there’s no way your bag is going to LAX with you, because the LAX flight leaves in 15 minutes and your bag isn’t off the plane yet. You’ll need to file a claim as soon as you get to LAX so that your bag can be delivered to you in Seattle.” But he promises I can get a voucher for a hotel room in LAX.

Boston Logan Airport, 10:20 pm. We take off finally for LAX.

LAX, 1:10 am (Pacific Daylight Time). We land in LAX. I ask the customer service crew about my hotel voucher and am told to proceed to baggage claim. I ask the baggage claim personnel about my bag claim and am told, “Since your bag is checked to Seattle, you’ll need to call this number to file the claim.” I have to ask twice to get the voucher.

LAX, 2:10 am (PDT). After I wait for 25 minutes, the shuttle for the Aiport Hilton pulls up and stops one lane away from the curb. I try to make eye contact with the driver to see if he’s going to bring it to the curb, but he revs the motor and drives away as I’m waving at him (empty shuttle). I end up paying the Ramada driver $5 to take me to the Hilton.

LA, Airport Hilton, 2:45 am (PDT). I finally get in my bed, until…

LA, Airport Hilton, 5:10 am (PDT). My wake-up call. I need to be back at the airport for a 6:30 flight.

LAX, 6:35 am (PDT). We take off on time (amazingly). So far Monday is much better travel than Sunday…

SeaTac Airport, 9:10 am (PDT). I deplane and head for baggage claim. When I speak to the personnel about my bag, she says, “Your name rings a bell for some reason. I think we may already have your bag.” She and I walk over to a stack of luggage from another flight, and there’s my bag!!!

Redmond, 10:10 am (PDT). I arrive at work smelling not too horrible in yesterday’s clothes (no time to go home and change). Another travel horror story survived.

The scariest part

The most frightening thing about this whole story is that virtually the whole story happened to me before… in 1995, when I was traveling for AMS. From Dulles, we couldn’t take off for LA because of mechanical failure… we missed our connection to Inyokern, CA and had to spend a night in the Airport Hilton… our bags were lost and then found… and it was all on United. So Mike Stopper and Kevin Mitchell, I was thinking of you guys last night as I tried to dial a local access number for my company in LA only to find that the room didn’t have an active outside line. “What a bunch of gougers!”

What’s your story?

Post your travel horror story in the Discussion section. (Comments are now closed.)

World Travellers Part 3: See Pompeii and Die!

From Rome, we drove the Autostrade to the Amalfi Coast. Our first stop was originally to be Naples, but we decided that the hazards of taking a car into Naples outweighted our desire to see the city. We accordingly gave Naples a miss and (after some maneuvers because we missed the exit) got to Pompeii.

After Rome, which was clean and had its antiquities tucked away into well-defined corners, usually in pretty bad shape (the Forum is nothing but broken blocks and chunks of marble), our first view of Pompeii was a surprise. The city is both more and less well preserved than one might imagine. After reading National Geographic articles about the discoveries from this excavation, the initial reality of the site is a let-down. It’s extremely dusty and has been utterly stripped of ornament—all the good pieces went to museums, mostly in Naples.

However, as we started looking closer and entering some of the dwellings (some of which have intact ceilings, most of which had intact walls), we started to be blown away. Many of the dwellings had gorgeous frescoes on the walls; some had incredible mosaics.