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July 27, 2006

Are you a smoker?

Former NASCAR driver, Benny Parsons, is diagnosed with lung cancer:

"Needless to say this was a huge shock," Parsons said. "The first thing everyone asks me is, 'Are you a smoker?' The answer is that I smoked my last cigarette way back in 1978, and since then I've hated being around smoking.

As much as I wish that this were an exaggeration and the first thing that people really ask Benny Parsons is "How are you doing?" (or something to that extent), I know from shared experience that this is no exaggeration at all.

July 24, 2006

They win; they finally win!

This past weekend, Lynn and I went down to Jersey to spend some quality time with our families. After Lynn exerted her will through a five-hour drive filled with flash storms and miles of traffic, we met up with Lynn's Grandpa Sam, Uncle Mike, and Mom and Dad in Tarrytown. We ate Portuguese and Brazilian food at Caravela in downtown Tarrytown. (I enjoyed a decent braised veal dish served with some mashed potatoes that I suspect were not authentic but which I enjoyed very much nonetheless.)

On Saturday, the six of us who went to dinner on Friday were joined by my Mom and by Wing (who had been rendered plans-less by the immovable force of a girls' (and Jeff?) spa day) at Shea Stadium to see the Mets host the Astros. Now, if you've even read just a few weeks back in my blog, you'll know that Lynn and I have not had the best of luck recently when it comes to attending Mets games in person. And with the mysterious El Duque on the mound for the Mets against the freshly-back-from-the-DL Brandon Backe, I didn't know what to expect.

As we drove into Queens a bit after noon, it became clear that the one thing that I had not expected would be the one thing I was going to be guaranteed to get: rain. Lots of rain.

We met up with Wing and headed to our seats—but say several rows higher up so that we could be covered while we watched the tarp do its best imitation of a corpse until just about twenty minutes past scheduled game time. It was then that rain subsided, the crowd let out a roar, and we were treated to the dance of the grounds crew as they uncovered the field and prepared for the game.

rain delay at Shea    rain delay at Shea
rain delay at Shea    rain delay at Shea
rain delay at Shea    rain delay at Shea
rain delay at Shea    rain delay at Shea

Once the game got underway, our misery intensified as the Astros shelled El Duque in the first inning to the tune of three runs on two home runs. But after that, something miraculous happened: El Duque settled down, and the Mets bats came alive just enough to take a one-run lead on Xavier Nady's three-run shot in the fourth inning. And even though Wing committed baseball sacrilege by leaving before the game was over (OK, he had a good excuse and had warned me beforehand, for the record), Duaner Sanchez and Billy Wagner managed to protect the lead and give the Mets the win. Oh rapture, oh joyous day.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with the Marshalls, where I got a good fix of Julia time. (Julia time mostly consists of playing with a beach ball, staring at a Mets pin with glowing lights, counting to five (sometimes to ten, sometimes in Spanish) over-and-over again, and running around on the floor aimlessly. As I said on the drive back today, I wish more of my friends played the way Julia does.) We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in Queens which apparently serves delicious pasta—I wouldn't know because I tried the porcini risotto which was mediocre at best. I should have known better when the menu spelled it "porchini."

Sunday arrived and treated me to an emotional back nine at the British Open, culminating in victory and runner-up for the two (prominent) golfers who have lost parents in recent weeks. I think it's amazing and not inaccurate to say that I can empathize with Tiger Woods about something. As he said in his victory speech following the tournament, we all have parents and for almost all of us, they mean the world to us and we miss them terribly when they're not here.

In the afternoon we visited Grandpa and Millie along with Millie's daughter Audrey and granddaughter Sarah. After a couple of hours Lynn and I said are goodbyes and got on the road back to Boston. Lynn slept most of the way and I hummed to myself and noodled on ways to implement abstract syntax tree rewriting schemes in the SPARQL engine I'm working on at work. Clearly, fun times were had by all.

You can see more pictuers from the weekend, including some pictures of Julia, a puddle, and a reservoir, in my photo album.

July 22, 2006

Unfamiliar is...

Unfamiliar is having central-air installed in your childhood home years after you've moved away. All of a sudden, those vents that spewed only comforting, warm air for all your formative years now stare you in the face and emit cold air with nary a word of apology.

July 19, 2006

I hate him so much

Bush vetoes stem cells bill

July 18, 2006

Italy - Day 2 - Thursday, August 11

(If you haven't already, check out Day 1 before reading this entry.)


The Arrival

Years ago I promised Lynn that I'd take her to Italy within ten years. Years of waiting, months of planning, a law school graduation, a bar exam and two plane flights later, Lynn and I landed in Venice and savored a day full of firsts.

To begin with, we used our first ATM in Italy, without incident. The next puzzle was to find our way from the airport to Venice's main island and, in particular, to our hotel. From my research, I had decided on the Alilaguna water shuttle as the best combination of price and convenience to reach Venice from Marco Polo Airport. While researching, one particular account of a man and his wife's arrival in Venice had caught my fancy:

I was nervously awaiting her reaction as we departed Florence on the 8:39 am Eurostar, 2nd class. As we journied east, the clouds we had managed to avoid now cast dreary and somber shadows over the passing fields as we drew closer and closer. Not the grand entrance I had envisioned. As we exited the train station at 11:30 and headed for the vaporetto stand, the sun suddenly burst through and she lay before our eyes in all her glory. A huge smile swept across my face as the brillance of the Grand Canal and the multi-colored frescoes shone brightly. Ah, Venezia, it's been too long!! My wife was in awe. Such majesty she had never seen. I knew then that she, too, had fallen under her spell.

For us, there was to be no sudden parting of the gray skies upon our arrival. Yet as the Alilaguna pulled away from the airport dock and we saw our first views of the expansive lagoon and the slowly approaching islands of Venice, I knew that it did not matter one bit. We held each other tight and soaked in the sights and sounds of a new world as we enjoyed the hour-long ride past Murano and Lido before arriving at Piazza San Marco in Venezia.

Locanda Orseolo

Due to the many glowing reviews I had seen in my research on Slow Travel, we were staying at Locanda Orseolo for our two nights in Venice. While little more than a stone's throw away from P. S. Marco, the family that runs the hotel had provided us with detailed directions to navigate the steps, street, iron gate, and courtyard that led to the tucked away gem.

Unfortunately, I cannot remember exactly which family member greeted us as we walked hesitantly through the unnmarked entrance, but we were welcomed like long-lost friends finally returning to a home-away-from-home. Over our brief stay at Locanda Orseolo we met Francesco, Barbara, and Igor, and they could not possibly have been more friendly or more helpful. We highly recommend Locanda Orseolo to anyone looking for a jewel of a place to stay while in Venice.

After being greeted and checking in, we were shown to our third-floor (European floor) room where we took advantage of the opportunity to change into fresh clothes and relax—but only briefly. Before embarking on our first day of Venetian exploration we marveled at the bright colors and vibrant mural of our room:

Lynn in our room at Locanda Orseolo    Our room at Locanda Orseolo

On the advice of the Francesco, we headed to a small caffé barely a stone's throw away Locanda Orseolo to grab our first bite to eat in Italy. The bustling place—whose name I unfortunately do not recall—was clearly quite popular as it was completely filled with Italians enjoying their lunch. Lynn and I pointed to a couple of paninis, handed over some euros, received some change, and all-in-all navigated our first transaction in Italy smoothly.

We had borrowed a friend's GSM phone for our trip, and so our next stop was to a small Radio-Shack-esque store to purchase a SIM chip for the phone. During our trip the phone came in handy in several situations, and especially when we were driving around less populated parts of the Tuscan countryside we were glad to have it. Cheap, effective, and highly recommended.

The Ghetto

With the preliminaries of food (there were very few meals in Italy that I would deign to describe as a mere 'preliminary,' but still recovering from the flights and in a hurry to begin our touring, this meal was exactly that) and communication squared away, we began walking through some of the city's sestieri (sections)—San Marco, San Polo, Santa Croce, and finally Cannaregio—to visit Venice's Jewish ghetto. Now, while discussing what to pack for our vacation, I had told Lynn that based on my research I didn't expect to see any rain in Italy. Accordingly, we refrained from bringing any sort of rain gear at all with us. And so naturally, after about 15 minutes of walking amidst the calli (streets) and ponti (bridges) of Venice, the skies opened up and rain fell with a vengeance. We hastily found a nearby souvenir shop and picked up an umbrella, and then found a covered alley looking onto a small canal in which to wait out the storm. This would be almost the only bad weather that we'd experience for our entire trip, and in retrospect I'm glad it happened: Standing with my arm around my love and watching rain drops pelt deserted streets and dissolve into a Venetian canal will always remain a small moment in my life when I could simply pause and breathe in the sights, scents, and sounds around me. And once the rain had subsided, Venice sparkled.

We arrived at the Museo Ebraica di Venezia and signed up for the tour of the museum and three synanogues that would be leaving shortly. Before the tour began, we treated ourselves to a pastry and an espresso in the museum's gift shop.

On the tour, we learned that the Venetian ghetto was the first ghetto in Europe. It was founded in the early sixteenth century when the Doge ordered Venetian Jews to live in the city's foundry district. As explained to us on the tour, the Venetian word for foundry was getto (pronounced jet-toe), but the many of the Venetian Jews, being of Germanic heritage, pronounced the word with a hard G—get-toe. When transcribed back into Italian, this pronunciation is spelled ghetto, and the word we know today was born. (Interestingly, the actual etymology of the word seems to be an unsettled question.)

I can't tell you much about the three old synanogues that we visited on the tour, and here's why not: By the time we got to the third synanogue—the third warm, wooden, small, standing-room-only synagogue—jet lag was catching up with me quickly. So quickly, in fact, that as I listened to our tour guide's melodic voice presenting the history of the synagogue, my eyes slowly closed and my body slowly leaned backwards. I awoke with a start and with Lynn's hand reaching out to me barely moments before I would have toppled to the ground in the centuries-old chapel. And so our first adventure in Italy concluded with me faint, shaken, and having hardly a single memory of anything we learned during the tour. Things could only get better from that point on, and they did.

Who goes to Italy to see synanogues, anyway?

Feeling a definite overabundance of Judaism in ourselves given our surroundings, we headed back towards the middle of the city to see some churches. Along the way, we passed by the Ca' d'Oro, one of the most beautiful and most famous facades along Venice's Grand Canal. As the facade can only be seen from the canal, we took this opportunity to hop on a traghetto (for one euro apiece) and view the Ca' d'Oro as we were ferried across the canal.

We strolled back through San Polo until we came upon the Campo dei Frari, home of the Basilica dei Frari, a large Gothic church and the resting place of the artist Titian and several of his works, including the remarkable Assumption. Aspiring art critics that we are, Lynn and I also took note of the various works within the church which featured a multitude of rabbits scattered amongst the religious personalities. At the time we just thought it was a mixture of strangely unexpected and adorably cute, but according to various Internet sources the rabbits represent anything from a gentle and timid faith in the Christian church to the purity of the Madonna to the possibility of virgin births. Go figure.

Outside once more after our first foray into the art and architecture of Italy's churches, we walked to the far end of the Campo dei Frari where we came upon a street cellist. After sitting on the steps of a church for a few minutes and enjoying the music, we headed back towards our hotel, stopping briefly nearby to share our first slice of pizza in Italy. Delicious, but the best was yet to come. As we walked through P. S. Marco on our way back, we took advantage of the short line and decided to detour to take the elevator to the top of the campanille (bell tower). The observation deck at the top of the reconstructed tower, although no longer the site of public hangings, still awed us with some magnificent panoramic views of the city below us.

a street cellist in Venice    a view of San Giorgio Maggiore from the campanille in Piazza San Marco

And dinner, of course

After changing clothes back at Locanda Orseolo, we set out for dinner at Osteria Antico Dolo, just over the Ponte di Rialto into San Polo. (We chose this restaurant on the advice of Barbara at Locanda Orseolo, who also made the reservation for us.) We arrived unusually early for an Italian dinner (still recovering from the flights, after all), and we were surprised and pleased to be greeted by name! We shared carpaccio for an appetizer, and then Lynn had gnocchi for her main course while I had branzino (sea bass). We enjoyed two complimentary glasses of Venetian prosecco and a half litre of the house white wine, placed our first or many orders of water sin gas, and rounded out our meal with lemon gelato (her) and tiramisu (me). The meal was delicious, and despite our fatigue we lingered for awhile before leaving. We walked back past the quiet Rialto Markets and paused atop the bridge to soak in the magic and splendor of the moonlight shining on the Grand Canal.

Back to Locanda Orseolo and to sleep. Our first day in Italy was truly special, but it barely scratched the surface of some of the memories that had yet to be written.

Next time: we learn what a real Casanova's life is like, wonder if Paul McCartney really meant to spell his name 'McCartni', and discover that no matter how far from home you travel, you can never really escape the law.

Please enjoy all of the pictures from our first day in Venice in my photo album.

July 11, 2006

Meeting Halfway

For quite some time, Mom has been advocating spending a day somewhere in Connecticut halfway between Glen Rock and Brookline as a reasonable substitute for seeing each other when we can't make a full weekend work. I've admittedly been a bit hesitant to put such a plan into action, not least of all because the first time we tried this we ended up spending several hours at a crafts expo—not exactly my first choice for spending an afternoon. My other reservations came from what seemed to be Mom's primary method of figuring out where we would meet: find a point such that the driving mileage for both of us would be identical.

But for this past Sunday, not only did Mom suggest Farmington, but she also had done a good amount of research on activities in the area. And the weather looked promising. So as Lynn and I headed out west at 9:30 in the morning, I was cautiously optimistic. In retrospect, I should have dropped the "cautiously" altogether, as the day turned out to be fantastic on all fronts: weather, activities, food, and, of course, company.

After meeting up at the West Hartford Reservoir, we headed into West Hartford Center and ate brunch (eggs benedict for me, a veggie omelette for Mom, and New England red flannel hash for Lynn) on the roof deck at The Elbow Room.

After six of my eight TXT message correspondents helped me locate the phone number, address, and directions for Farmington River Tubing, we headed there. We enjoyed a peaceful two hours floating lazily down the Farmington River, at the end of which I did my part to repay Lynn for her courage the week before. You see, when we began, the only instructions we were given were that the end of the route was marked by a tube hanging from a tree, at which point we should head to the left bank of the river and climb up to the road (where a shuttle bus would take us back to our car). About 100 minutes into our tubing, Mom and I were quietly chatting and floating together, while Lynn floated slowly 15 yards behind us. We slowly came to the point of disembarkation, at which point Mom and I detubed and Mom climbed to the road while I waited for Lynn.

The thing is, Lynn was drifting extremely slowly on the far side of the river with her head tilted back and with no signs of any intention of heading towards left bank. After waiting in the thigh-high water for a few minutes, I decided that Lynn must have been fast asleep and started calling to her, at first quietly and then more and more loudly. When my sweet nothings failed to rouse her, I began to trek across the river after her. Eventually I caught up to her before she had floated much past our destination, woke her up, and towed her safely to the exit point. But if not for me, I have very little doubt that Lynn might yet still be floating in that tube somewhere out in the Connecticut River or Long Island Sound.

Once at our car, we headed back to the West Hartford Reservoir with a brief detour at a small farm stand to pick up an apple and some vidalia-onion tomato-basil dressing. At the reservoir we walked a brief ways to one of the many actual physical reservoirs on the territory, took a few pictures, and headed off to dinner.

Lynn at the reservoir Mom at the reservoir

We ate dinner at Ann Howard's Apricots, a restaurant and bar overlooking the Farmington River. We arrived early enough to have our choice of tables outside, yet late enough that as dinner progressed we were able to savor the beginnings of a beautiful sunset. The food was fantastic. Mom enjoyed a salmon filet grilled on cedar planks; Lynn savored the Chatham cod atop lemon (?) flan; and I devoured a strip steak served with a peppercorn sauce, mashed potatoes, and haricot verts. The coup de grace was the warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, which Mom and I both decided very well may have been the single best dessert either of us has ever had in our lives. (Coming from someone who is not a big fan of overused superlatives, that's really saying something.)

We said goodbye to Mom and headed home, content, relaxed, and happy.

Enjoy all the pictures of the West Hartford Reservoir and the dinner view at Apricots.

July 10, 2006

He's talking to *you*, Mr. Torres

I started reading a blog known as Waiter Rant recently. Today part of one of the posts sounded very familiar to me:

“Our sous chef’s full of crap,” I groan. “He only gets interested in soccer during the World Cup.”

“Well,” Celine huffs, “You get all baseball crazy during the World Series.”

“That’s different.”

“It’s the same thing.”

“No it’s not.”

“Now you’re the one who’s full of shit.”

“Maybe,” I reply, returning to my paper.

Sound like anyone you know? ☺

Fare thee well, Mr. Gas-station-attendant-with-whom-I-actually-talk

He's from Colorado originally, and so we met when he realized that I'm a Denver Broncos fan. He's doing coursework out here on digital imaging, and he never seemed particularly happy working at the gas station. He had a one hour commute from Watertown, and sometimes I'd find him chatting with a friend while he pumped gas.

Today, seeing him for the second time in as many days, he let me know that he was in a tremendous mood: today was his final day at the gas station! He's gotten himself a job learning a trade—interior lighting—in Coolidge Corner. It'll give him flexibility on the weekends to pursue disc golf and enough money to travel home to Colorado for Thanksgiving break, perhaps with a side trip to Arizona and Utah.

My tank filled up, and he handed me a receipt with an amiable "have a nice day." I smiled and replied with a hearty "good luck!" and went on my way to work. There's a chance I'll see him wandering around Coolidge Corner at some point in the future, but I'm not counting on it.

It was nice knowing you, Mr. Gas-station-attendant-with-whom-I-actually-talk. Good luck and godspeed.

July 8, 2006

Italy - Day 1 - Wednesday, August 10

At the Airport(s)

Our travel plans called for a direct flight from JFK airport in New York to Venice, but before we could do that we had to hop on a shuttle from Boston to JFK and then endure a five-hour layover before boarding our flight.

Of course there's not much to tell from a travel day. We did meet an extremely friendly cabbie on the way to Logan around noontime; he bemoaned how crowded the streets of Boston become in August due to the influx of U-Haul trucks. Lynn and I exchanged knowing glances and our upper arms thanked us for scheduling our vacation when we did. At Logan, the security checkpoint in Terminal A featured explosives-checking "puff-of-air" machines, which I had never encountered before. My favorite part was the twenty or so seconds after the machine has blown air around my body and before the door in front of me opened—I felt like an animal on exhibit in a zoo. Next time I'm in one of those machines, I'll put on some sort of show for the onlookers.

In an effort to prepare ourselves adequately for the culinary delights that awaited us in Italy, our travel day contained a lunch of a Wendy's spicy-chicken sandwhich (me) and a bag of Puffins (Lynn), followed by a dinner at Chili's.

I've got no notes from what was basically an uneventful flight in which we both managed to get a decent amount of sleep, and I only have a single photograph from the first day of our trip. But it's a photograph of which we were inordinately proud. We set ourselves a goal of packing as light as we reasonably could for the two-plus weeks we'd be in Italy, and we think we definitely succeeded. Our total baggage? Two carry-on suitcases, a backpack, and my camera case.

our four bags did not take up much space at all

Next time: Our arrival in Venice: first churches, first food, and Lee learns the origins of the word ghetto and almost doesn't live to tell about it.

Wishful Thinking

For almost eleven months, my top-priority project outside of work—at least in the abstract—has been to write up the fantastic trip to Italy that Lynn and I took last August. I had grand visions of a stirring narrative that detailed the sights, sounds, and tastes of our 18-day vacation, accompanied with pictures and full of information that would be useful to future travellers in Italy.

But I never did it. I started it—multiple times—but never got beyond writing about the planning stages. I'm saddened by my lack of execution in this matter, but I'm ready to throw in the towel on my vision and instead write up what I can. So over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about our trip to Italy one day at a time. Maybe I'll even include some pictures. I hope you enjoy it

July 4, 2006

Thought of the Night

If I were ever responsible for orchestrating a fireworks event, I'd be sure to choreograph one part of the show to the Gummi Bears theme song. It'd be great.

On my day off

On my day off, I went and visited Lynn at work. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see her in action, and was not in the slightest surprised at how professional, prepared, well-spoken, and competent Lynn is at work. While the highlights of the hours that I spent watching Lynn (and her fellow ADAs) in the first session (arraignments) included a habitual tresspasser having his bail revoked and being led away in handcuffs despite his protestations, an alleged victim dropping a small blue bag of marijuana on the floor after talking with the judge, and the most introverted attorney I've ever seen (the wife of a defendant in a drugs case), I was most taken with thoughts of how Lynn's work environment and the legal system in general could be improved via the application of semantic web technologies. So I wrote about it over on my technical blog in what I'd term a mildly-technical entry. Some of you might enjoy it. (In the end, I'm just trying to find ways that Lynn can leave work earlier and spend more time with me. ☺)