I can see clearly now

After too many years of squinting and watery eyes, particularly when reading at night or looking at highway signs, I can see again. It turns out that not only had the vision in my left eye declined substantially (from a -6.5 to a -7.75, according to my contacts prescription), but my astigmatism is finally bad enough to merit correcting.

And man, these new astigmatism-correcting contacts rock. I can see my laptop screen clearly from a distance of two feet. I can read small print without squinting to keep the letters from swimming and jittering. I can see street signs before I’m right up on them. (All of which should start to sound alarming to people who have ridden in a car with me recently. I certainly am a little alarmed to realize how bad it had gotten.)

It’s a bit like the first time I got glasses. I went to an optometrist in Hampton when I was a kid, off Mercury Blvd. in a “high-rise” office (read: more than three stories). When I got that first pair of glasses on and looked out the window, I was thrilled that I could see the outlines of leaves where the trees met the sky. It had always been a fuzzy blur before.

(This, of course, is probably funny to my more conservative readers who may be itchy to make jokes about short-sighted liberalism. Let it pass, kids.)

Salumi lives up to its reputation

As promised, I finally made it (after two years) to Salumi, and finally got around to posting my writeup. It’s easy enough to find, being right across the corner from the intersection of 2nd and 3rd Avenues South. —Yes, I know, but it’s Seattle and here parallel streets are allowed to intersect. Even at 2 pm the line was out the door, so we decided to get our sandwiches to go.

The physical set-up for the restaurant is like something out of the North End. Long and narrow—just wide enough for one table for two to be separated from a four-foot-wide counter service area by a low wall, and just long enough for a counter with a window area and seating for 12 in the back. Curing salumi hung in a walk-in cooler next to the counter inside, where three different sandwich guys struggled to keep up with the line.

By the time we got there, they were out of tongue (which I was dying to try) and a few other things. But I got the culatello, which came on a crusty roll with a little olive oil and basil and some marinated onions, and was transported immediately (well, after I waited in line for half an hour and then paid) into ecstasy. The meat was lightly salted, almost sweet, with a soft mouth feel followed by a massive flavor explosion after a few bites. Unbelievable. I also picked up a hot soppressata with homemade fresh mozzarella for my drive south to Portland, which was similarly impressive—alternately hot and sweet with an assertive slightly salty body.

I once complained that there were no sammiches to be found in the Seattle area. I hereby retract that statement. There are sammiches, and world class ones, but only between the hours of 11 and 4 Tuesday through Friday in a little storefront restaurant run by a retired Boeing engineer.

(Oh, almost forgot: I had a brief conversation with Armandino himself. He asked if I was enjoying the experience, and I told him how thrilled I was to finally be there after two years. I also mentioned that I had dragged all my co-workers along so I wouldn’t be missed. He asked, “How many?” I said, “These nine folks.” He looked significantly up and down the line—at that point there were at least fifteen people waiting inside the store—and said no more. I think he was genuinely bugged to have such a big crowd, because he disappeared to the back after that exchange. —Oh well. As someone once said in another context, he doesn’t have to be the most personable host. His product speaks for itself.)

Sonic Youth, Showbox, Seattle, July 14, 2004


The Sonic Youth show in Seattle on Wednesday night was ear-splitting goodness. The show, which was a last-minute booking after Lollapalooza collapsed, was at the Showbox, across the street from Pike Place Market. The venue is small (“intimate,” I suppose, is the polite word) and lively; it’s the first place I’ve been in a long time that there was honest-to-God moshing, and where people actually remembered how to mosh in a non-destructive way—even lending a hand to take care of a geezer like me who didn’t move quickly enough out of the way.

(This brings me to parenthetical aside #1 about this show. I was smart enough to wear earplugs on the floor, just like Tom, but the complaints coming from my lower back (not new) and my knees (very new) after the show suggest that I may be getting a little old to be going to these clubs. Bear that in mind as you read the rest of the review.)

The set was very different from the 2002 Bumbershoot show. That show was heavy on hits and long, and though they engaged with the crowd they seemed a little above the fray. The Wednesday show drew almost exclusively from their last two albums—Sonic Nurse was played almost in its entirety, and Murray Street was represented by “The Empty Page” and “Rain on Tin”—though there were a couple of crowdpleasers scattered throughout the rest of the set, including a blistering run through “White Cross.” The new material came across largely as it did on the record, alternately intricate (almost REM-jangly in some places) and squalling.

One thing I noticed this go-round is that Jim O’Rourke seems much more a part of the band now. He’s still very much a quiet contributor behind the scenes, but his work on Wednesday was rock solid where two years ago he seemed a little lost in the mix. And his solid foundation, particularly on bass, left room for Kim Gordon to really step up to the mic.

In fact, it was clearly Kim’s show, from the opening vocals on “I Love You Golden Blue” through “Pattern Recognition” (which was really intense) and “Dude Ranch Nurse,” all the way through into “Kool Thing.” Nice start on the latter song, too, with the band hitting the drum and guitar chord that is held prior to starting the massive double guitar chromatic hook, all except for Thurston, who started doing some kind of two-handed fret-tapping free noise that built and built over the chord until Kim yelled something to get his attention and damped the strings with her foot in a move that was almost a spinning side kick. Then the massive double guitar chromatic hook. Since the Yoof now have a whole song on the new album to goof on Mariah Carey (the aforementioned “Mariah Carey and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream”), the Mariah rant that filled out the middle section in 2002 was replaced with a succinct and pointed W rant.

All in all the show was brilliant—a lean, mean, athletic romp through some really solid new material. The only thing that had the potential to spoil the night, which started with a burger at the Pike Place Market, was almost not being able to retrieve my car from the garage in which I had parked it. I had missed the very small sign that indicated they closed at 1:00. Fortunately, the guy in the booth cut me some slack and let me in at 1:40 to retrieve my car. It would have been a long walk home.

Peace in Portland

sky over pioneer square portland

After a really good lunch at Salumi (about which I’ll blog shortly), I drove down to Portland on Friday afternoon to spend some time with Shel and Vik. Friday night was pretty relaxing, just hanging out at the McMenamin’s Rock Creek Tavern and then swapping music recommendations until late at night.

Saturday was spent first looking at some interesting properties up on Bald Peak, then down checking out some wineries in the Willamette Valley. The big winner was definitely Laurel Ridge, whose wines (ranging from Pinots to Champenoise style sparklers to fine ruby ports) were all spectacular, full flavored, individual and wonderful.

After the afternoon’s tasting, we took a brief pause to rehydrate and then headed out to dinner at a “conveyor belt” style sushi restaurant, followed by Kill Bill Vol. 2 over beers at the Laurelhurst.

Sunday was a little more leisurely, dim sum in Chinatown followed by a quick stroll through downtown, ending (as it always does) at Powell’s, where I escaped with only one new volume, a hardback 1958 printing of Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. I then had a long, long drive back, with stop and go all the way from two miles inside the border until Tacoma.

I got some interesting pictures along the way. The album from this weekend starts at Salumi and then heads straight south, including both phonecam and CoolPix photos. In some cases, I shot the same scene from both cameras to illustrate the difference between the cameras (my new two fisted camera technique is unstoppable!). Obviously the CoolPix has the edge on resolution, by a large margin, but there’s still definitely a place for the weird, high intensity colors and impressionistic smudginess of the phonecam. Take a look at the four pairs of comparison shots.