June 6, 2009

Springtime Weekends

Trying to get some more pictures up while I still can. Randi, Scott, and Julia came to visit Memorial Day weekend. We spent Saturday walking around downtown, including Faneuil Hall, the Holocaust Memorial, and the Common and Gardens. We hopped on the T over to Kenmore to take in some of the atmosphere before the Mets/Red Sox game, and then grabber dinner at Boston Beer Works while we watched the game. We got back to JP after dinner just in time to see the momentous game-changing home run that Omir Santos launched against Papelbon, much to the chagrin of Dennis Eckersley.

We stayed close to home on Sunday, splitting our time between playing some Rock Band, watching the Mets, and grilling some chicken and hot dogs.

Check out the pictures of the Marshalls’ visit to Boston.

Today, after walking to the mechanic to pay the bill on a bajillion dollars of car repairs, we headed over to Home Depot to pick up a pegboard and cable ties of various sizes. Back at home, we took all of our network electronics—cable modem, wifi router, VOIP device, and NAS—and strapped them to the pegboard. We included a power strip and stuck the whole thing out of sigh behind our TV stand. (This is all originally inspired by Declutter Your Desk, which I’ve been jealous of ever since I first saw it a couple of years ago.)

One step closer to having a baby’s room instead of an office!

pegboard for network equipment

April 9, 2009

Pictures from Disney

I still have one day to write up from our February trip to Orlando. The short of it is that on the last day Lynn and I went to Kennedy Space Center before heading to the airport, and it was great. We saw the rocket garden, the museum of early space exploration, and we took the bus tour that featured views of the launch pads, an exhibit of a Saturn V rocket, and labs where modules of the International Space Station are being assembled. My main regret was that the more personalized tour was sold out. I would have liked to have tried that out. OK, so now I don’t have to write that up anymore.

I wanted to share my favorite pictures from our trip. Some of you have already seen them (e.g. on Facebook), but I’ve been playing with a new photo gallery on my Web site, so I wanted to encourage you to take a look at it and let me know what you think. I’m eager for any suggestions and feedback, whether positive, indifferent, or negative. Thanks!

And if you’re really interested, for comparison’s sake:

(Once I’m happy with the new gallery, it will be completely replacing the old one; all old links will continue to work.)

February 16, 2009

Disney Day 3 – Hollywood Studios

On our third day at Disney World, the six of us piled into our rental minivan and drove over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (nee MGM Studios). Perhaps the lack of lines at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot made us a bit lax, but we didn’t bother getting to Hollywood until well after it was open. So there was to be no avoiding crowds by getting there early. Despite that, we did everything we wanted with little trouble.

Oh, and did I mention yet that there were busloads of cheerleaders all over the place? Yeah, it was the Feigenbaums and the National High School Cheerleading Championships, together again for the first time.

It took us a bit to get going, and so we first grabbed a batch of Fastpasses for the Toy Story 4D ride. They were already going for the middle of the afternoon, so we started to plan our day around that. We then got on line so that Julia could—at long last—meet Daisy Duck, but Daisy disappeared and turned into Chip and Dale before we got to the front of the line. In my opinion, that’s a significant upgrade.

Finally, we hit up a ride:

  • The Great Movie Ride. There was no line for the Great Movie Ride, probably because it’s long since been upstaged by lots of newer rides. But the Great Movie Ride was one of my favorite memories of the last time I was at MGM, so I was glad to make it our first ride of the day… I couldn’t have been more disappointed in it. We ended up in the back row of the two car convoy, which meant half the time we were in a different room from where the action was going on. Add to that the fact that both our guide and our kidnapping mobster were both unenthusiastic and bad actors, and the ride was a giant disappointment. The Wizard of Oz room was still great, though.

We met up with Mom, who was feeling a bit under the weather, and she and I hung out in the beautiful weather while the rest of the gang went and saw the Little Mermaid show. Randi, Scott, and Julia then headed off to meet some characters, and Mom, Lynn, and I went over to the “animation courtyard.” The short film about Disney’s animation processes was cute, but the real highlight was:

  • The Animation Academy. We didn’t know what to expect, but Lynn was dying for the chance to do some drawing, so we waited fifteen minutes or so for the next drawing class. What we found was a 25-minute class in which a Disney animator led us through the process of sketching a Disney character—Jiminy Cricket in our case—from scratch. While it was a bit challenging to keep up with the pace at times, this was a ton of fun and we left with three impressive renderings of the little guy. (Well, ok, Lynn’s was really impressive, mine was not half bad, and Mom’s looked a bit like Jiminy’s aging father, but all three still exceeded our expectations.) Mom enjoyed it so much that she returned later in the day and drew Goofy.

We capped off a slow morning with a rather pedestrian meal at one of Hollywood Studios’s fast-food restaurants. We finished eating, squeezed past the street performance of High School Musical 3, and got on line for our next attraction:

  • Lights, Motors, Action! An old favorite, the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, was closed for the day so that the high schoolers could compete for glory and ESPN air time, so we made sure to go to this big time vehicle stunt show, imported from Eruo Disney. I thought that the show was pretty entertaining. It was a good mix of informative, amusing, and entertaining, watching high speed car chases, boat and motorcycle stunts, and a few explosions thrown in for good measure. Well done, and I’d go back.

We headed back to Toy Story 4D so that the other five could ride while I took a nap outside. I think that they universally preferred the Magic Kingdom Toy Story ride. Around now I was starting to get a bit frustrated that my relative efficiency was greatly lacking compared to the two previous days. Randi had agreed earlier to go with me on two of the park’s headliner rides—Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith roller coaster—so we headed over that way next to scope out the situation. Turns out that while there was a 30 minute wait for Tower of Terror and a 70 minute wait for the roller coaster, both had Fastpasses available. With the help of Lynn and Scott’s tickets, we picked up Fastpasses for both.

To kill the hour or so we had, Lynn and I wandered around and watched a “block party,” a bunch of cheery-eyed singing and dancing and shenanigans. It was loud and colorful, but not particularly mindblowing. We then met up with Randi and Scott and Julia once more, and Randi and I went on…

  • Tower of Terror. I’d never done this before, having been too scared when I was younger. This was fantastic. Easily the best attraction at Hollywood Studios, and in the same “heads and shoulders above the rest” category as Splash Mountain at MK and Soarin’ at Epcot. The atmosphere is creepy, the confined setting with 11 other screaming people is immersive, and the ride itself is fun. I ended up grabbing a new Fastpass when we left and riding it a second time a couple of hours later, and it was a mostly different experience the second time around. Who would have thought that a plunge in an elevator could be so much fun?

We split up once more because we had a few hours until our roller coaster Fastpasses. Lynn and I headed to the other side of the park where Lynn watched a bit of the cheerleading (lots of teenage girls in tears by this point in the day; no joke) while I checked out another old favorite.

  • Star Tours. The line was non-existent for what used to be the top headliner. Kind of sad, but the ride has held up pretty well over the years. It’s a straightforward, fast, and relatively smooth simulator. They don’t fool around too much with extra story, you just get on your spaceship and go. Terrific, still. (Far better than MIssion: Space, if you ask me.)

Lynn and I stopped by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences “Hall of Fame” to brush shoulders with some busts of Hollywood greats. We meandered back across the park, peeking in again at the cheerleading and stopping to watch a street comedy/improv show that was pretty funny. I ran off a bit before the end to ride Tower of Terror for the second time, and then headed a couple of hundred feet away to meet up with Randi.

  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Even with the Fastpass we had a 10-15 minute wait. Randi got a bit nervous as we got near the front, but not nearly as much as the poor girl whose friends/family were literally dragging her and carrying her onto the coaster against her will. This was a great roller coaster. The most intense part was the 0-to-60 acceleration into a loop right at the start. (We thought it was probably a loop at the time though we couldn’t tell; Wikipedia confirms that it is.) The rest was a very smooth and fast ride past all sorts of neon street signs. Way better than Space Mountain, but still pretty short. I just don’t quite understand why people wait on line over an hour for an 80-second ride.
  • Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage. An abridged version of the classic Disney movie. Excellent singing, dancing and production values for a show they put on a bajillion times a week.

We had dinner at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe, where, when my Mom complained that pot roast in the 50s never looked quite so professional, the waiter astutely responded that they didn’t have multicolored “glow cubes” in the drinks in the 50s either. Staying somewhat true to the theme I had the fried chicken, which was crispy and tasty if a bit greasy and a ton of food. Drove back to our hotel and retired for the night.

February 8, 2009

Disney Day 2 - Epcot

We followed up our day at Magic Kingdom with a day at Epcot.

We arrived a few minutes before Future World opened at 9am, and joined the crowd queued up to the right (west) of Spaceship Earth (the giant golf ball). The rope dropped, and we walked with the crowd over to The Land to start our day.

  1. Soarin’. We headed here first because we hoped that Julia might make the 40” minimum height. Luckily, she passed with flying colors and an inch or two to spare. Though we weren’t at the front of the crowd, our wait was less than five minutes. Soarin’ was tremendous: a super-smooth simulation of flying accompanied by dramatic scenes of California cities and landscapes. Really great.
  2. Living with the Land. Since we were at the pavilion already, we walked right over to the old Listen to the Land boat ride (now Living with the Land). No line at a “tier 2” attraction like this this early, of course, so we got right on a boat. I was disappointed that the tour guides of the past have been replaced by recorded narrations, but the second half of the ride—through the Epcot greenhouses—were tremendous. Super-sized melons, tomato trees, tiny wheat plants all made for remarkable sights to see.

Randi and Julia ducked off to meet Donald Duck and some other friends of his, so Mom, Scott, Lynn, and I crossed Future World to pick up FastPasses for the Mission: Space simulator ride. Scott and Lynn then killed some time while Mom and I went on the next ride together.

  1. Test Track. After much debate about whether we had been on this ride before (we hadn’t, as it only opened in 1998; we confused it with the former GM World of Motion ride), we got to the front of the ride and boarded our “test vehicles”. Several warm-up tests were followed by an exhilarating high-speed straightaway and turn. While the GM sponsorship of Test Track was a bit heavy-handed in some parts, the ride itself is still masterfully conceived and one I’d love to try again some time.
  2. Mission: Space. Lynn and Julia headed off to Innoventions to play video games, and the other four of us used our FastPasses to walk onto Mission: Space. Against her better judgment, Mom joined me for the more intense “orange team” while the other two tried the “green team.” I thought the ride was good but not great. It started off extremely intense with significant pressure generated from faux G-forces as our rocket launched into space. The rest of the ride was pretty intense simulator fare, but nothing out of this world. I’d pass on a return visit.
  3. The Seas with Nemo. Julia had sat out a couple of rides, so we headed over to ride with Nemo. While the ride was cute, it doesn’t really match up with the quality of kids’ rides like Peter Pan at Magic Kingdom. I took a bit of a nap. The best part of this pavilion was when Lynn and I scored 3 of 5 taking an “advanced quiz” about sea creatures—all in Spanish.

At this point it was time for the Marshalls to head off to their princess lunch at the Norwegian pavilion, and the rest of us grabbed lunch at the Seasons restaurant at The Land pavilion. (Decent, better than most fast food at Disney.) Deciding that lunch could serve as a useful logical barrier in our day, we headed over to the World Showcase. I don’t have much of a blow-by-blow for the country pavilions, but here goes nonetheless:

  1. Mexico. We watched a glass-blowing demonstration here and wandered through the bazaar. Mom picked up a beautiful wooden eagle to add to her collection.
  2. Norway. We rode the Maelstrom ride, one of Lynn’s favorites. I tried to convince her that the lead up to a backwards drop over the steep waterfall was the real deal, but failed miserably. I snoozed through the Norway travelogue film.
  3. China. Walked through it, skipped the film, though we decided we might return to it.
  4. Germany. Enjoyed a Spaten draft. Disappointed that the Clock and Crafts shop didn’t feature many clocks for sale.
  5. Italy. Enjoyed the replicas of the Doge’s Palace and the clock tower at St. Mark’s Square.
  6. U.S. Mom watched the film so that she could hear her favorite song (“America, Spread your golden wings”), but the rest of us skipped it. We did watch a five-person drum and fife corps outside the pavilion. They were pretty good, even though I think their leader and one of the fife players (fifers?) were jerks.
  7. Japan. Walked around, enjoyed a beer.
  8. Morocco. We wandered through the streets of Morocco, before stumbling upon the Genie from Aladdin greeting people for photos and autographs. After a small amount of arm twisting, I convinced Lynn to get on line to meet her favorite Disney character. To our pleasant surprise, as we joined the line, the Genie was joined by Princess Jasmine. The characters’ handlers heard Lynn softly singing some music from Aladdin while we waited, and after he told the Genie that he (the Genie) refused to pose for a picture until Lynn sang to him. Much hilarity ensued (for me, at least).
  9. U.K. We caught a bit of a performance by a Beatles cover band, but then headed off for dinner.

All six of us ate dinner together at the Rose and Crown pub at the U.K. pavilion. We timed our dinner reservation carefully so that we’d have a table outside in good position to watch the Epcot light show at night. What we didn’t take into account was how freakin’ cold it might be. Still, we had a great table and battled trough the chill to eat a leisurely-enough meal to stretch from a bit after 6pm to show time at 8pm. The food was nothing special (Lynn and I shared fish and chips and a “lamb two ways” dish), but the show was great and the pub did manage to serve me a flight of three single-malts after my meal.

We had chosen to go to Epcot on day 2 since it had three extra hours at the end of the day for Disney resort guests. We took advantage of this following the Illuminations light show by hitting up a couple of final rides:

  1. Journey into Imagination. I was expecting to be disappointed by the way in which they butchered the former ride, and I was. While I was glad that Figment now has even more of a starring role, the rest of the ride was pretty bad. And the trademark “Imagination” song was sung strangely—either off key or with some weird harmony that was completely unnecessary. Oh well.
  2. Soarin’. We ended the day the same way we started, back at The Land pavilion with Soarin’. It was great again. Two times riding it, two thumbs up.

All in all, another good day, and not very crowded. The longest line we waited on was actually about 15-20 minutes for Soarin’ at the very end of the day. We missed a few things: Spaceship Earth, the film at the China pavilion, the France pavilion, the Canada pavilion, the American Adventure film, and most of the U.K. pavilion, but we figured we could try to make some of that up on Monday. What doesn’t really come through in the play-by-play is how peaceful it is walking around Epcot for a day. I’ve gotta say, Epcot still shines in my mind as probably the top Disney World park.

February 5, 2009

Disney Day 1 – Magic Kingdom

We went to Walt Disney World in Orlando along with Mom, Randi, Scott, and five-year-old Julia. Some recaps and thoughts for posterity to follow. (Pictures to follow at a later date.)

It was freezing cold. When we set out to take advantage of the extra morning hour allocated to Disney resort guests, the ambient air temperature was an absurd 32 degree Fahrenheit, with wind chills another five to ten degrees colder than that. Add to this the boat ride which was the sole transportation option from the Wilderness Lodge over to the Magic Kingdom, and the day got off to a chilly start, to say the least.

But we quickly learned that touring Magic Kingdom on such a freakishly cold day was not without its benefits, as the early-morning competition to tour Fantasyland was practically non-existent. Without needing to run, elbow small children out of the way, or break a sweat we walked right onto all the headliner Fantasyland attractions:

  1. Dumbo. I didn’t realize adults can ride on this. It was a tiny bit better than I expected, but then again I didn’t expect much out of it and it was over before I knew it. Good to get it done with first.
  2. Peter Pan. Love the faux-flying and love Captain Hook in a state of being perpetually almost eaten by the croc. Just like I remembered it.
  3. Winnie the Pooh. Pretty good tale of Pooh and friends, though I didn’t really understand the trippy acid-inspired scenes in the middle. I am a big Tigger fan though, and he made plenty of appearances.
  4. It’s a Small World. Still a classic, still love the individually singing dolls, still a dramatic oversimplification of the world, and still a tune that gets stuck in your head for hours after.
  5. Carousel. I skipped this and took a few pictures. I’d already done flying elephants that go up and down, so I opted out of the horse equivalent.

At which point it was 8:40—only 40 minutes since we entered the park—and we were done with (round 1 of) Fantasyland! Remarkable. So on my insistence we headed over to Tomorrowland to see if we’d blown our chance to experience crowd-pleaser Buzz Lightyear without much wait. We took a brief detour so that Julia could take a spin on the tea cups, and then meandered over to Tomorrowland.

  1. Buzz Lightyear. No wait whatsoever. We rode it twice now, and once at the end of the day. Wonder why it took Disney so long to marry their unique ride designs with competitive video games? The formula works well, even if I was consistently outscored by tens of thousands of points by the rest of my family.
  2. People Mover (aborted). We got to the loading platform for the People Mover (Tomorrowland Transit Authority) only to have the ride break. Came back later.
  3. Carousel of Progress. No longer the GE Carousel of Progress, I was surprised to see this one open. Having both fond and maddening memories—we were once stuck on the 3rd scene for four or five consecutive tellings of it—we jumped at the chance to walk right in. The Carousel is still using the original theme song (A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow) rather than the 80s version (Now is the Time). It’s also a bit of a leap to go straight from the 1940s to today. Still, the animatronic family is entertaining as always.
  4. Space Mountain. Well, we hadn’t had a single line yet, so why not check out the real superstar in the area? Mom and I walked right onto Space Mountain without pausing for a second. This was my first time on Space Mountain, and I have to say, while it was fast and dark and fun, I don’t see what the big deal is. I definitely don’t see why people wait upwards of an hour at busy times to ride it. It was just ok. But quite passable for zero wait!
  5. Stitch’s Great Escape. Lynn, Mom, and I went on this without knowing what it was. In the end, what it was was silly. Cute story, dramatic atmosphere, and silly sensory execution. Glad we experienced it, but it wouldn’t make the top of my list on another visit.

At which point it was approaching 11, and we caught the tail end of a singing/dancing/fireworks show at Cinderella’s Castle. The girls then went off for a couple of hours of makeup and princesses, and Scott and I leisurely killed a couple of hours with:

  1. Haunted Mansion. The jokes are great, the ride is decent but not as amusing as I remembered, the ambiance is great. This was the first ride we had any sort of wait on whatsoever—about 10 minutes.
  2. Lunch at Liberty Square Tavern. Nothing to write home about. I had pot roast, and it was uneventful.
  3. WDW Railroad. Rode two-thirds of the railroad circuit, from Frontierland over to Main Street. The narration is entertaining, and the “behind the scenes” feel, such as Pocahontas’s camp site, make it worth the time.

We rejoined the rest of our group, spent some time browsing through Tinkerbell’s souvenir shop, and then Lynn and I walked over to Frontierland.

  1. Splash Mountain. Yes, it was cold. Yes, it’s not peak season. Still, I thought it was a travesty that there was no line for Splash Mountain at 1:45pm at Magic Kingdom. No line! Lynn waited outside with the camera while I walked right on and shortly thereafter remembered why this is by far the best ride at MK. Great story, great setup, great music, great head fakes, great climax, great end.
  2. Splash Mountain. Mom joined us, and I convinced her to go with me for a second round on Splash Mountain. Got a bit wetter the second time, but nothing too serious.

They had to close Thunder Mountain for one reason or another, so we met up again with the Marshalls and headed to Adventureland:

  1. Pirates of the Caribbean. I was expecting this to disappoint me, since I thought it had been completely neutered by the movies. It actually lived up to my memories of it almost exactly. Pleasant, amusing, but not spectacular. Still, it was peak time in the park and we walked right onto the ride. Still incredible.
  2. Jungle Cruise. Loved every second as our guide—Tre—regaled us with pun after pun after corny joke after corny joke. And all the computerized wildlife was as entertaining as ever.
  3. Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride. I sat this one out, as the Disney folk can’t quite fool me by taking Dumbo, moving it across the park, and changing the elephants into magic carpets.

We headed back to Fantasyland, where Julia and folks used their Fastpass for a second go-round of Pooh while we snacked on some pretzels. Randi, Mom, and Julia then headed off to storytime with Belle while Lynn, Scott, and I went back to Tomorrowland.

  1. People Mover. Oh man, still one of the best rides in the park. And when we went through Space Mountain, something was wrong and all of the lights were on, giving us a rare glimpse into the cavernous room and elaborate setup that makes the dark roller coaster go.
  2. People Mover. We declined the attempt by the Disney employee to solicit a bribe for us, yet he let us stay on the People Mover for a second time around nonetheless. This time it was properly dark when we traveled through Space Mountain.
  3. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. The rest of the group joined us for this as the afternoon waned. Wow did this blow away my expectations. What a hoot. And they used the joke that I text-messaged during the pre-show. Woo.
  4. Buzz Lightyear. Just for the heck of it. I got my butt kicked one more time.

At which point there were still a couple of hours left in the MK’s day, but it was dark and freezing and we had seen just about everything we wanted to see. We skipped the parade and the fireworks and headed back to the hotel. Need to rest up for Epcot tomorrow.

November 9, 2008

Obama in Nevada

Last Saturday in Las Vegas, Lynn, Lynn's Grandma, and I woke up at 5:30am to head over to neighboring Henderson for Barack Obama's last rally of the campaign. The rally was inspiring: I'd heard the words many, many times before, but I had never felt the electricity in person. We met a bunch of passionate and friendly people, each with their own story and their own reasons for wanting change.

I'm very proud of what America did this past week. I don't expect any miracles in the coming years, but I do expect a government that I can look at proudly and one from which I can expect accountability, honesty, and progress.

Please enjoy some pictures of the Henderson Obama rally.

August 20, 2008

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg

(That name is real.)

The local Cambridge Semantics gang--plus Jen and Josie--went out to Sean's shack in Webster last week. After we got through our requisite meetings, we headed out on the lake for some fun. Here are a couple of my favorite photos from the afternoon:

Joe wakeboarding    Ben wakeboarding at sunset

Check out this gallery to see these pictures full size as well as the rest of the photos from the day.

August 18, 2008

Picture Round-up

Just a few words to surround some pictures from this summer. Click on a picture below for a full-size version.

On a sunny Thursday in July, I wandered over to the Pond in the late afternoon to see if there were any sailboat races going on. I'm not sure if I did see any races, but I captured a few shots of an orange sun coloring the pond and the boathouse. (I saw some sailboats clustered together; I have no idea if they were racing.)

duck on the pond    JP Boathouse

That weekend, I was down in New York to see my old friend Josh whom I hadn't seen in years. On Saturday some of the usual crew and I headed down to South St. Seaport and checked out the NYC Waterfalls. My overall judgment? Interesting but not overly impressive.

Waterfall under the Brooklyn Bridge

On Sunday, Mom, Josh, and I attended the Sunday night Mets vs. Rockies game at Shea. We got there early and trekked up to the top corner of the stadium, where the well-textured sky and setting sun provided an opportunity for a couple of dramatic shots.

upper deck    clouds over shea

August 16, 2008

In Dublin

St. Stephen's Green

We stayed in Ireland the day after our full-day tour of Blarney, Kinsale, and Cobh, as the ship docked the next morning at Dublin. Disappointingly, we only had a short day in Dublin, as we needed to be back on the ship in the early afternoon. Our plans were to take the Royal Caribbean shuttle into downtown Dublin, and then take advantage of one of the city's hop-on hop-off (HOHO, for short) bus tours as a convenient way to experience the core tourist highlights of Dublin in a few hours.

As the shuttle bus snarled its way through Dublin's morning traffic, however, Lynn and I rethought our plan. It was a beautiful day out, and a trip that couldn't have been more than 2 or 3 miles took us at least 30 minutes on the bus. We had little reason to think that the traffic would disperse for the HOHO bus, so we opted instead to arm ourselves with a map or two from Dublin's main tourist office and set out to see as much as we could on foot.

(Map of our walking route.)

From the tourist office, we walked east along Nassau Street and past the grounds of Trinity College. We never did get onto the grounds of the college (e.g. to see the Book of Kells), but the grounds seemed quite lush and expansive. We turned right and wandered through a gate into Merrion Square and Archbishop Ryan Park. The park was set off from the rest of the city by extensive woodlands, making the greenery inside all the more peaceful and relaxing.

doors of dublin

Leaving the park, we continued southeast to Fitzwilliams Street, which--unbeknownst to us at the time--is one of the primary examples of Dublin's 18th century Georgian architecture, and, in particular, the many-colored doors of Dublin. My camera had a field day with the doors, and then we turned west and walked along the south side of Fitzwilliam Square and cut through an archway to head towards St. Stephen's Green.

We wandered into the middle of the park, where we saw a musical performance by arbitrary park-goers conducted feverishly by park entertainers. We wandered around the center of the grounds and then past a lake and out the northeast entrance of the Green.

Checking our watches, we still had plenty of time before we were due back on the ship, so we set out west to check out St. Patrick's Cathedral. Along the way, Lynn received a hug from an Irish lass, though I found the premise of strangers hugging strangers a bit... odd. (Call me cynical.) Anyways, we were a bit disappointed that upon reaching the cathedral the main cathedral tower was completely encased in scaffolding. Still, the grounds were delightful and the church mammoth, and we took in as much as we could by walking the full way around the cathedral.

We then headed north and took a short stroll into the courtyard of Dublin Castle. The main tourable parts of the castle were closed to individuals when we got there, so we relaxed in the courtyard a bit before heading up to the River Liffey. We walked along the river a bit, and then cut one block down to walk through the pedestrian-only area of Temple Bar. This is a lively area full of eateries, souvenir stores, and pubs, and I imagine that it's quite the popular hang out for both tourists and young Dubliners after dark.

Completing most of our four-mile loop, we ended up back near Trinity College. We hopped in a taxi cab and headed back to our ship. This was actually an important part of our day as well, as we had an incredibly friendly taxi driver who told us all about various aspects of the city, ranging from the concerts playing there that summer (Eric Clapton was in town when we were there) to the new tunnel that was built to ease access from the city to the airport to a discussion of development along the southern banks of the Liffey in an area that was formerly used for gasworks and only now is worth the cost of decontamination. Enjoy a small selection of pictures from our (half) day in Dublin.

July 29, 2008

In Blarney, Kinsale, and Cobh

view from Charles Fort

Our next stop after Cherbourg was scheduled to be Plymouth, on the southwest coast of England. Mother nature did not find this an appealing plan, however, and gale-force winds prevented our ship from laying at anchor, particularly since we would have been forced to use small tender boats to take passengers ashore. Instead, we spent that day at sea, with many of us trying to convince ourselves that the moderate-to-heavy rocking movement was all in our heads.

The next day, the weather had cleared and we docked at Cobh, Ireland (map). Based on recommendations from previous cruisers in the area, we had signed up to take a third-party tour of Cobh, Blarney, and Kinsale. We met up with our bus and headed off to Blarney Village. Thankfully, we beat all of the Royal Caribbean buses to Blarney, and so avoided a long line at Blarney Castle (there are two tourist attractions in Blarney Village: Blarney Castle and the Blarney woollen mills--guess which one everybody flocks to first). We strolled through the lush grounds, and entered the castle for the winding walk to the top of the tower housing the Blarney Stone. Along the way there are various bedrooms, kitchens, and other quarters to be seen, though to be honest if you've seen one unfurnished stone room, you've seen them all.

At the top of the tower, we were greeted by magnificent views of the surrounding countryside, as well as an extremely well-rehearsed operation to allow the hordes of tourists their chance to kiss the Blarney Stone, thereby acquiring the gift of eloquent speech. For those of you keeping score at home: Lynn, Marc, Louise, and I all kissed the stone; Ferne and Dave skipped it. We lingered at the top before heading back down, where our egos were warmed by the sight of the crowds gathering to form a longer and longer line to the top--a line that we had avoided altogether.

From Blarney, we drove south and stopped at Charles Fort, just outside the city of Kinsale. This was a British fort built during the reign of Charles II and used until the British left southern Ireland in the early 20th century. While we had no time to explore the fort properly, we were able to enjoy the picturesque views across the harbour to Kinsale and the surrounding countryside.

Cobh Cathedral

Onwards to Kinsale, the culinary capital of Ireland. Kinsale is a brightly colored, bustling harbour-side city, filled with narrow streets, gourmet restaurants, and plenty of traditional Irish pubs that appear more than happy to cater to traditional tourists. We ducked into a pub and scored a table on their back patio for lunch. A sandwich (not Irish) and ale (Irish) for lunch, a short stroll through some Kinsale streets (featuring some entertainingly named establishments), and it was back to the bus.

We wrapped up the day with a drive through Cobh up to the magnificently situated Cobh Cathedral. The cathedral is looms dramatically over Cork Harbour, and offers sweeping views of the harbour and surrounding developments. We walked inside the cathedral, took some photos in and around the church, and returned to the bus and then to the ship.

All in all, a broad but not particularly deep of several Irish highlights. I didn't feel that I learned a tremendous amount about any of these spots, but I did take some pretty pictures. Please enjoy them.

July 24, 2008

In Cherbourg


(Last time, we were in London.)

We were supposed to spend our first full day on the cruise docking at Le Havre, in France. From there, Lynn and I were going to hop on a bus down to Paris and spend the day in the City of Lights with our good friend, Jonah. Unfortunately, French workers--as they are wont to do--were on strike at Le Havre's port, and so we were diverted to Cherbourg for the day. Oops, there goes our day in Paris. (See map.)

So we made the most of it in Cherbourg. My in-laws set out to the Musée de Normandie (Normany Museum) in Caen. Meanwhile, Marc, Louise, Lynn, and I failed to find three scooters to rent, and so we settled for four bicycles and set off along the coast. We biked for several hours, stopping frequently to take photos, eat, and enjoy the scenery. Gotta love the French seaside-shack lunch of a baguette with shaved steak, melted cheese, and the most fried french fries I've ever come across.

We headed back into town where Lynn and I dropped off our bicycles and then walked back to the ship. The rest of the day was rather uneventful; oh, except for the part where Marc and Louise got engaged. Yeah, that was pretty cool.

Please enjoy a few pictures from our day in Cherbourg.

July 10, 2008

In London


Lynn and I recently returned from our 11-night cruise to England, France, Ireland, Scotland, and Norway. But before we even embarked the ship, we spent just about 24 hours in London. From what we've been told, we experienced typical London weather--roughly 74 degrees (Fahrenheit) and barely a cloud in the sky. No wonder those Londoners never complain about their climate!

After depositing our luggage (which consisted only of two backpacks and two carry-on suitcases) at our hotel (£29 for one night), we took the tube to Westminster for the highly-recommended Westminster & the West End London Walk. The tour guide was excellent, the weather perfect, and the sights classic.

Left the tour a bit early to meet up with Ilona, Lynn's college roommate who lives in London. We crossed the Thames and walked along the south bank of the river. We caught lunch along the way (nothing special), passed by the London Eye, and took a brief gander at the Tate Modern and the reconstruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. We crossed the Millennium Bridge (ugly as sin!) and wandered up to St. Paul's Cathedral. There, I formally introduced London to Lee Feigenbaum by taking a nap on the steps of the cathedral.

The rest of the day saw us tour the closing markets on Brick Lane, enjoy an excellent Indian-food dinner, and got assaulted by a very-confused or very-drunk pedestrian while walking along Liverpool St.

We loved our glimpse of London: it feels very modern yet with a weight and classiness that only comes with the passing of many centuries. I'm sure we'll go back. Please enjoy a small selection of pictures from our one day in London.

June 8, 2008

A Few Photos

In early May, Lynn and I went to Darcy and Todd's wedding in Worcester:


Over Memorial Day weekend we were at Cousins' Weekend 2008 at the Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook, NY. I took some pictures of the fun and games.


And finally, from Passover back in April, a mug only a son-in-law could love:

September 25, 2007

Bravo, Jerry Sanders, Bravo

A must watch.

August 12, 2007

Darts for the Bored

Brian and Marcy were visiting tonight, and after dinner at Tremont 647 (decent, but their Web site tricked us into thinking we could order off of the regular menu rather than the Restaurant Week menu which wasn't the case), we went to our local bar: Costello's (whoa,!) on Centre St. There, we followed the lead of the last folks to use the dart board and first played a game of baseball.

Following that game (won by Marcy), we invented two new games of our own:

  1. Golf. Different from other darts games patterned after golf, our game involved writing the hole numbers on the scoreboard, and then shooting progressively at each number. For the first hole, your score is the number of darts that it takes to hit the number 1 on the board. If you hit it on the first dart, you score a 1. If you hit it on the third dart, your score is a 3. If when you hit it you do so with a double or a triple, you get -1 off your score. The best part of the game though, is that if you miss the current hole with all three of your darts, you're forced to experience the walk of shame. Go up to the dartboard, retrieve all three darts, and try again! We capped the scoring after six darts (for a score of 7), but more sadistic (and equally untalented) individuals could go on indefinitely.
  2. HORSE. Just like the playground basketball game, our darts HORSE game involved one player calling an accomplishment (with three darts) and then attempting to make it. If they made it, each of the other players attempted the same feat. Anyone failing it got a letter of HORSE and was eliminated when they received all five letters. The types of feats varied from simple things like "one 18" (out of the three darts) to "a double 14 and a single 18" to "one dart on the white, one on the red, and one on the black", to "three darts forming an acute triangle." (The latter caused Brian to exclaim: "No more of this geography [sic] bullshit!".)

June 7, 2007

Doyle's Road Race, Redux

When I first wrote about Lynn running Doyle's Road Race, I promised that I'd shortly share the conclusion I came to while watching the runners finish the five-mile race. Now's that time.

As I watched the runners approach the end of their journey, as I witnessed them expending final bursts of energy and leaning towards the non-existent tape, as the sweat dripped from their brows and their sneakers pounded the pavement, one thing became clear: these people are crazy! This isn't a stroll in the park; they're not smiling broadly and whistling a happy tune as they wrap up their morning jaunt. Rather, they're experiencing all kinds of pain, agony, suffering, and just plain insanity!

If you don't believe me, just take a look for yourself:

May 8, 2007

Banff: Early Impressions

(For now in the personal blog, until I have some technical content to write about.)

Ben and I are in Banff to attend WWW2007 (and, in my case, the W3C AC meeting as well). We arrived yesterday after two ahead-of-schedule flights, only to have our car rental delayed because the online reservation system neglected to book the car we asked it for. Eventually we got on the road, except to get from the Calgary airport to Canada's Route 1 requires a lengthy trip through less-than-beautiful parts of Calgary (parts that include two Chili's and one Tony Roma's, among other things).

We finally reached the interstateprovince, and enjoyed the beautiful and imposing approach of the mountains as we drew nearer to the the Rockies. We got into town (Banff) around 4 in the afternoon, and headed out to find a bite to eat. After being turned away at a restaurant with a closed kitchen and no remaining reservations for their upcoming lobster dinner, we ended up at the Rose and Crown Pub. We ended up eating our first meal of the day on a second floor patio with sweeping vistas of the mountains surrounding the town. The sun warmed our faces as we inhaled both the cool mountain air and the hearty pub food. Spectacular.

We walked around town a bit, with Ben playing the role of the nagging wife (wanting to go clothes shopping constantly) and Lee playing the role of the Japanese tourist (wanting to take pictures of everything). (OK, that's one of the more stereotyped sentences I've ever blogged. But I digress.) We headed back to the hotel room for a nap, and then back out to walk around town more, taking advantage of the extremely late sunset. (Not quite Edinburgh in June, but close.) We met up with some W3C folks at their rented house and hung out there for a bit. We grabbed a quick bite to eat (not hungry enough for a full dinner), and headed back for the night.

Today, Ben went skiing and I've attended the first day of the AC meeting. All's well. Just wanted to update and share a couple of pictures. (They're processed with Picasa which I don't really know how to use, so nicer pictures will come once I'm back home.)


April 27, 2007

Doyle's Road Race

Last Sunday, we headed out to Doyle's in JP. Lynn had been talked into running the five-mile Doyle's Road Race. She runs a few miles pretty regularly, but not usually quite five, not usually in a giant pack of other runners, and not usually over a hilly course. So understandably, she was a bit nervous and excited.

In any case, Lynn received the very lucky number 1072 (2 * 7 - 0 - 1 = 13) and had at it. Her goal was to finish within 55 minutes and she bested that easily, crossing the finish line somewhere around 53:30 after she passed the starting line. I was (and am) quite proud and impressed. Way to go, Lynn!

lynn before the start    lynn at the end

I went through the hundred or so pictures I took at the race, and as I flipped through them a conclusion slowly dawned on me about the people who ran this race. I'll blog about it soon, but I need to put together some pictures first. For now, a sneak peek of my favorite runner (second to Lynn, of course) approaching the finish line.

runner 1438

Please enjoy a small helping of the pictures I took at the race.

April 19, 2007

How Not to be an Effective Volunteer

Just got a call from a volunteer from Barack Obama asking me for money. I like Obama, but I'm wary of his lack of executive experience, and, more importantly than that, I feel like I know next to nothing about his the policies he would implement were he to be elected. The volunteer asked me for a "small donation of $200" (whoa!), and I declined. He asked if it was for financial reasons and I explained that I hadn't chosen a candidate to support, and I would like to learn about Senator Obama's policies before supporting him.

At which point the volunteer hung up on me!

Obama  -1
Field   0

April 17, 2007

To the zoo!

This past weekend, Lynn and I headed down to the city to see Julie, Shayne, Jess, Pete, and, of course, the Della Torre newlyweds. On Saturday afternoon, Lynn drove into New Jersey for a bridal shower, and Julie, Brian, Marcy, and I took advantage of the beautiful (but chilly) weather to head to the Central Park Zoo. The $8 admission brought us a couple of hours of sea lions, penguins, puffins, seals, polar bears, a sea otter, a red panda, turtles, monkeys, and tropical birds and flowers. It was excellent. How could anyone not enjoy seeing penguins and polar bears?

We had picked this activity over some other possibilities mainly because I asked to go somewhere that I could use my camera, so please enjoy some of the pictures that I took at the Central Park Zoo.

Passover 2007, Part Two

After getting back from our New Jersey seders, we held a third seder at our place in Brookline on the eighth night of the holiday. We've had a few friends over for seders the past few years, and we wanted to continue the tradition. It was great: Passover was bracketed by love and joy shared with our family and our friends, and in my mind, that's what the holiday is all about.

Jess at the Seder     Jeff and Wing at the Seder

April 6, 2007

Passover 2007

I've got a lot of thoughts about Passover this year. Mainly, the thoughts relate to the fact that these were the first seders that Lynn and I have been to in New Jersey since Dad died. The corollary is that these were the first seders that I've ever led in Glen Rock. As I said at the seders, this is something that I never wanted to have to do. But if life teaches us anything it's that we need to be able to make the best of (really) bad situations, and with that outlook I was proud to lead the seders. People at both seders said that I did things a lot like Dad did. Of course, that's no coincidence; I learned everything from him. He was the best though, and all I can do is try to live up to his high standard.

There's a bunch more thoughts here about the composition of our seder crowds--about what's changed and what remains the same. But for now, I'd just like to share some of the pictures I took over the weekend. (I'm still learning my new camera, so the shots aren't as crisp as I'd like, and my post-processing leaves a lot to be desired. Apologies.)

Lynn and cousin Rachel     Julia

Enjoy all the pictures from Passover 2007.

March 6, 2007

Brian and Marcy: Together Again, For the First Time

Life is easy when you're around people you've known and been friends with forever. You've seen each other's best, and you've seen each other's worst. There's nothing left to be embarassed about and nothing worth boasting about. Nothing surprises and nothing disappoints. Old friends are comfortable; they warm the soul, and they soothe the spirit. Around them, all is laughter, reminiscence, and togetherness.

And when two old friends marry each other, it is a noteworthy occasion indeed. To be sure, it is a most joyous celebration, the likes of which we see far too rarely as we beat back the often dreary days of our lives. But more than that, it is special in its normalcy. It is normal to have these people in our lives, and to have them wedded is as comfortingly normal as to share a beer at the local bar. There may be a name change, but there's no sea change. We cry and laugh and celebrate, but we remain unchanged as fast friends, and we anticipate the next special moment of normalcy that we will share, together.

together again for the first time

Brian and Marcy: many happy returns, for all of us.

Enjoy all the pictures of Brian and Marcy's wedding weekend.

A Summertime Visit from Julia (August, 2006)

I have many pictures that have languished unseen for far too long. For the moment, enjoy these pictures (mostly) of Julia from the Marshalls' visit to Boston last summer. A few tastes:

Julia poses    Lee pushing Julia in a swing

Enjoy all the pictures of Julia's visit.

February 3, 2007

Not Quite the Same Thing

(I bet he thinks I forgot to post this. Well, I didn't!)

While at lunch with my coworkers the other day, I was explaining to Sean that while I finished one of my bottles of limoncello, I had picked up a new bottle over New Year's, and so I still had plenty in stock. Wing pipes up:

Wing: Yeah, you need to finish it by April, right?
Lee: Hmm?
Wing: You need to finish it by Passover?
Lee: What are you talking about, Wing?
Wing: Wait: what's the name of what you drink at Passover?

Yes, that's right, gentle reader, Wing had mistaken limoncello for Manischewitz. Quite the case of mistaken identity.

limoncello    Manischewitz
Limoncello and Manischewitz: Definitely not separated at birth.

October 29, 2006

Italy - Day 5 - Sunday, August 14

(If you haven't already, check out Day 4 before reading this entry.)

Siena: A Medieval Masterpiece

We awoke on Sunday morning to find a beautiful Tuscan day awaiting us outside. Perhaps this is an appropriate time to mention the weather. We vacationed in Italy during the middle of August. Everyone (ranging from the real people that you talk to in real life to the authors of travel guides to all those imaginary people who exist only inside my computer) agrees that August is the worst time to travel in Italy. Tourist attractions are crowded, prices are high, and popular restaurants and shops are closed while their Italian owners take their holiday. And perhaps worst of all, the heat can be oppressive. Time and time again we were promised hot, humid, and even stormy days. Circumstances being what they were, we rolled the dice and took our chances in August. And...

Attractions were crowded, yes. Some restaurants we wished to visit (especially in Rome) were closed, yes. But the weather! Were I but a mediocre poet during the days of the Roman Republic I would devote my days to composing odes to the magnificence of the weather in Italy from August 11 to August 28, 2005. Day after day, the skies were blue with fluffy clouds. The sun shined, but the temperature never climbed beyond the mid-80s. We only saw rain on two of our eighteen days, and then only for two hours or less. Bright and warm daytimes regularly gave way to clear and comfortable evenings. Beautiful.

A Pit Stop at Pienza

We planned to spend most of Sunday visiting Siena and witnessing a trial run of Il Palio. (More on Il Palio below.) We managed to get off to a decently early start and, with Lynn driving and me navigating, headed off west and then north along twisting Tuscan roads towards Siena. As we were still working on empty stomachs, we took advantage of the signed turnoff towards Pienza to spend a short while investigating the nearby hill town.

After a brief stop to take pictures of the surrounding landscape and the proverbial-but-oh-so-accurate city on a hill, we drove up to Pienza. Finding parking near the centro storico proved to be difficult, so we drove about half a mile down the road and walked back towards the old part of town. We were intending primarily to grab a bite to eat in Pienza, but almost immediately after walking through Pienza's gates, we were drawn to Pienza's main square, Piazza Pio II. We took in the classic Renaissance architecture of the Palazzo Pubblico and Pienza's Duomo, both constructed in the fifteenth century when Pope Pio II (Piccolomini) had his birth town recast in his honor and towards his vision of a città ideale. From there, it wasn't long until we wandered off to the right of the piazza, where a street to the side of the Duomo's bell tower offers vast vistas of the Tuscan countryside below.

The view from Pienza

We ate breakfast at Dolce Sosta, a pasticceria along Pienza's main way. We bought at the bar and—after making sure that pasticceria didn't mind—sat at a small table in the back while enjoying our food: a pasta (pastry) and a cappuccino for Lynn and a pasta and orange juice for me. Even in the height of the tourist season, we were very pleased to discover that the small bars and caffés seemed to be filled with local residents going about their day-to-dayy activities rather than mobs of visitors. Authenticity is in the eye of the beholder while traveling, I suppose, but we enjoyed our chances to sample small slices of Italian life.

Dolce Sosta in Pienza

Following breakfast, we walked along Pienza's main street and ducked into one of the many shops selling fresh pecorino cheese. We purchased a block of cheese, and I unwisely answered in the affirmative when asked if we'd like the cheese to be vacuum sealed. Do you know how difficult it is to undo a package of vacuum-sealed pecorino cheese with no scissors and no knife? We didn't know either, until a bit later that day in Siena.

To Siena

After one more look at Pienza's Duomo and the landscape beyond, we headed back to our car and resumed our trip north towards Siena. I had trouble helping Lynn navigate the signs along the way as my eyes were constantly drawn to the breathtaking and picture-postcard quality landscapes through which we were driving. We did stop once during the hour ride to Siena to fill up the car's gas tank. The gas station we chose was fully automated, and when we found ourselves with no cash other than 50 euro notes, I remembered that I had read a bit about Italian gas stations in my research beforehand. The advice that I had printed out from SlowTrav indicated that self-service stations in Italy do not give change. As we did not need nearly 50 euros worth of diesel and could not find a likely spot on the pump that would dispense change, we decided not to experiment with the accuracy of the SlowTrav advice, and so we pressed on.

As we neared Siena, the next quesiton was where to park. I'd done a fair amount of research on this question as well, and (once again primarily due to SlowTrav advice), we decided to follow the signs for P. Il Campo. This led us to a large garage much nearer to the center of the city then some other parking options we passed along the way. Highly recommended to anyone approaching Siena from the south.

Leaving the garage we headed towards the center of the city and Il Campo, and we immediately were taken with the narrow, bustling streets, the hilly terrain (as with Rome, Siena was built on several hills), and most of all the bright flags of Siena's seventeen contrade (neighborhoods). Sienese residents are loyal first and foremost to their contrada, and this loyalty reaches a head twice a summer during Il Palio, a manic horse race around Siena's central Piazza del Campo (Il Campo). We'd timed our visit to Siena to coincide with one of the several trial runs of Il Palio that take place in the days leading up to the actual race. We arrived at Siena a bit before noon and the trial race would occur at seven in the evening; this left us with seven hours to experience and learn what we could about the history, the art and architecture, and the people of Siena to better appreciate what we'd see that evening.

Il Campo and Beyond

In its history, Siena and the smaller towns around it were often involved in a bitter rivalry with Florence to the north. At different times, this rivalry took the form of disputes over religion, politics, architectural superiority, and, of course, direct military conflicts. Siena reached the height of its power in this back-and-forth struggle during the late medieval period (13th and early 14th centuries), but any further hopes of glory were dashed when the Black Death took the lives of almost half of Siena's population in 1348. While Florence would emerge as Italy's great center of Renaissance art and architecture, Siena remained frozen in time, its art and its architecture a testimony to the devastation of the plague.

To begin, we headed to Il Campo to orient ourselves. We saw the packed sand track encircling the shell-shaped piazza and the throngs of tourists milling about and dining at the cafe tables set out on the sand. Heading a block or two away from Il Campo, we came across a street vendor selling inexpensive and brightly colored wares. After a bit of bargaining, Lynn purchased a lightweight, woven red scarf and an over-the-shoulder baby blue bag. The bag would become a favorite over the course of the rest of our vacation, and once we returned to the States it would earn its own remarkable story.

Wandering through various contrade, we visited a small and crowded alimentari and purchased some salame, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of water (mistakenly acqua frizzante, much to my chagrin) to go along with the pecorino that we had bought that morning in Pienza. Leisurely walking several more blocks through the neighborhoods of Siena, we came to a small opening dominated by a beautiful church. We thought at first that we might have stumbled upon Siena's famed Duomo, but we soon realized that the church was "just" the cathedral for one of Siena's contrade. A truly gorgeous church, and it was but one of seventeen neighborhood chiese in the city! (When we figured out that this was a contrada church, it reminded me that I had read that on the day of Il Palio, each contrada brings its horse to its local church to be blessed before the race.) We joined a score of other people relaxing on the steps outside the chuch, and set about opening up the vacuum-sealed cheese. Via a combination of our Sant' Antonio key, Lynn's teeth, and pure, unbridled desire, we managed to free the delicious cheese and were able to eat one of the many incredibly satisfying bread, meat, and cheese meals that we would share while in Italy.

Lunch on the steps of a contrada chiesa

Il Duomo di Siena: Ambition or Hubris?

After lunch, we walked a short distance up the street to Siena's Duomo. The white and dark-green striped marble Gothic cathedral was constructed during the thirteenth century and dominates the crest of one of Siena's hills. Yet in the ongoing struggle for cultural, religious, and political dominance in the region, the Sienese wanted to worship in the largest and most grand cathedral of any in the region. They planned and began construction of a Nuovo Duomo which would be so large that the nave (long, center aisle) of the existing cathedral would be the transept (cross-piece) of the new cathedral! The Sienese began by building the facade of their magnificent new Cathedral in 1339, but the arrival of the plague less than a decade later halted all constructon efforts, and the largest cathedral in Tuscany was never completed.

Today, the base of the facade of the unfinished cathedral hosts the Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana. The museum boasts an impressive collection of Pisano sculptures and paintings and tapestries from a variety of Italian artists. We spent our time admiring the art as we worked our way through the four floors of the museum, and then we headed up a set of stairways to the glorious panoramic view of Siena from the top of the Nuovo Duomo facade. We lingered atop the tower for a while, enjoying the summer breeze and the views of Il Campo, the Tuscan landscape, and Siena's neighborhoods. After perhaps twenty minutes of relaxing and enjoying the view, we headed back down and got on line to enter Il Duomo.

Siena and beyond from the facade of Nuovo Duomo    Sienese rooftops feature appropriately-colored satellite dishes

The line to enter Il Duomo took perhaps fifteen minutes, and once inside we enjoyed the dark marble environments. It was crowded inside the church though, and it was difficult to spend much time admiring the specific artwork contained within. Our favorite part inside the cathedral was the line of sculpted popes' heads running from column to column and staring down at the visitor who happened to glance skywards:

Popes' heads in Siena's Duomo

We strolled back to Il Campo where we grabbed some water and soda and a break from the hot sun while watching a man begin to hose down the sand track surrounding the piazza. Next, we trekked uphill towards the northwest part of town. Along the way, we caught our first glimpses of the children of several of the contrade dressed in the colors of their contrade and marching through the streets while chanting, singing, and carrying candles. The atmosphere was at once both festive and combative, and we could feel a small bit of the importance surrounding Il Palio as tourists and residents alike stopped in their tracks to watch the contrada children go by.

Further away from the center of the city, we came to the Dominican church dedicated to the worship of Saint Catherine of Siena. Far simpler than many of the other cathedrals and basilicas that we'd seen so far on our travels, the Chiesa di San Domenico nevertheless is a beautiful chuch that houses beautiful artwork. Inspired by the surroundings, Lynn and I passed a while inside the church sharing philosophies of life, religion, and death. Outside again, we indulged in the acrobatics of some Italians on the nearby grass, and also drank deeply of the dramatic view across town to Il Duomo.

View across to Il Duomo from Chiesa di San Domenico

Il Palio

Walking back from the Chiesa di San Domenico, we share a cone of vaniglia gelato and ducked into a small store to buy some breakfast bars for Lynn for the rest of the week. We still had about two hours left before the trial run of Il Palio, and skimming through one of our guide books we saw that a cinema in P. Tolomei features a 20-minute film on Il Palio. We headed over to P. Tolomei, but found the cinema closed during the days leading up to race day. Alas, all was not lost as we got to take in another delightful contrada chiesa and see the children of yet another contrada parading through the streets. With that, we headed back to Il Campo.

When we arrived, one-third of the shell-shaped piazza had fallen into shade, and that third was already beginning to fill with tourists and residents awaiting the trial run of Il Palio. Lynn and I staked out a position directly on the inner rail of the track and sat down to wait. Our spot was still bathed in sunlight when we began waiting, but it was strategically chosen as to be quickly to fall into shade as we waited for the race. And so the minutes passed, and Il Campo filled. Slowly at first, and then more and more quickly as the time of the trial run approached. Residents of the contrade began to fill the (high-priced) seating ringing the outside of the track, and other Sienese residents appeared on balconies around the piazza. With forty minutes still remaining before the Palio trial race, most of Il Campo was filled. With twenty minutes to go, Sienese police cleared the track of stragglers, and they were followed by a cleaning crew removing debris and smoothing the sand. As race time rapidly gew near, members of opposiing contrade exchanged taunts and songs and cheers and jeers from one section of the stands to the next.

The race began, and we were pressed against the rail as the crowd strained for a close view of the thrills of the two-minute race. The jockeys, decked out in the bright colors of the contrade they represent, spurred their horses around the track once, twice, three times. The horses careened around, digging against the slope of the track take the curves as tightly as possible. And in the end, there was excitement, there was celebration, and we had no idea which contrada won the trial run. But somehow—;for us, at least—the winner didn't seem to matter at all. It was being there—even for just a trial race—that counted.

60 minutes before Il Palio trial race    10 minutes before Il Palio trial race
contrada members in the stands at Il Palio trial race    During Il Palio trial race

A Quiet Evening

As the tidal wave of spectators receded from Il Campo, we made our way back to the parking garage, paid (about 12 euros) for our parking, and got on the road south back towards Montepulciano. As we had broken our 50 euro notes into smaller denominations during our day at Siena, we pulled off the road to fill up our gas tank on the way back. Lynn pulled up to the pump and I got out to pay for the gas and use the pump. We realized that the car's gas tank was on the other side of the car, and so Lynn started maneuvering the car to turn it around so that the gas tank faced the pump. Meanwhile, an elderly Italian man had pulled up to another pump. As he saw Lynn pulling off a many-pointed U-turn to re-align the car with the gas pump, he gave me a big smile and engaged me in conversation. Despite the fact that I didn't understand a single word that the man said beyond buona serra, it was still perfectly clear to me that he and I were having a blast of a time teasing my wife as she struggled to reposition the car. The words didn't matter one bit; the smiles, hand gestures, and laughs coalesced into a very friendly and entertaining conversation.

As it was only around 8:30pm as we neared Montepulciano, we decided to postpone dinner a bit longer and swing by the Chiesa di San Biagio just outside the old city walls. The Renaissance church was striking in the moonlight, and while we couldn't go in at the late hour, we strolled around and admired the church from all angles. Finally, we headed towards Sant' Antonio and stopped at the restaurant Il Covo di Obelix which Nico from Sant' Antonio had recommended for casual dining. Dinner was fantastic: caprese, carpaccio, pizza margherita, tiramisu, and, of course, vino.

Exhausted from our day out, we retired to our apartment at Sant' Antonio and slept very well indeed.

Next time: relaxation, and we travel east where Lee falls in love with a town; also, sagra della bistecca in Cortona!

Please enjoy all of the pictures from our fourth day in Italy in my photo album.

October 10, 2006

Columbus Day Leaf Peeping

Lynn had off yesterday. Lynn, Wing, and I (Jen had to stay home and study) headed west to look at the purdy leaves. Despite my protestations that there weren't nearly enough bright red or blue leaves, the foliage was rather impressive. We ended up heading west on the Pike, and taking routes 117 and 62 through Stow, Clinton, Lancaster, and Princeton (probably others I missed as well) and ending up at Wachusett Mountain.

There we experienced a down septic system, a surprisingly steep hike to the summit, and a tasty lunch thanks to Wing's grilled chicken. We hiked down, and headed back east, stopping at a ridiculously crowded cornfield maze on the way. A nice day indeed.

Wachusett Reservoir    Leaves and Sky

Enjoy all the pictures from our outing at Wachusett Mountain in my photo album.

September 13, 2006

Italy - Day 4 - Saturday, August 13

(If you haven't already, check out Day 3 before reading this entry.)

A Brief Note on Yesterday

I forgot to mention in my recap of Friday that on the advice of one of our travel guides, we stopped at the Rivoaltus handmade leather-bound journal shop on the Rialto Bridge on our way back to Locanda Orseolo in the afternoon. The quality of the journals was spectacular, and I picked one up for myself. A year later and I haven't yet figured out what to use it for, but I don't regret the purchase in the slightest.

Traveling South

We awoke fairly early on Saturday so that we could get an early start on picking up our rental car and heading from Venice to Montepulciano in Tuscany, where we'd be spending the next week. We packed our bags, glanced out our window at the courtyard below one last time, and said farewell to Stenterello, our room in Venice.

As we finished our meal and headed to the next room to check out, Barbara caught our eye and asked us how our stay in Venice had been. We told her all about our previous day in Venice and thanked her for the remarkable hospitality at Locanda Orseolo. Seeing that we had just finished breakfast, she asked us how we had enjoyed her husband, Matteo's specialty—chocolate-chip crepes. Sheepishly, we admitted that we hadn't indulged in the crepes at either of our two breakfasts. After Francesco had processed our paperwork and we had said a fond goodbye to him as well, we browsed through the Locanda's guest book before leaving an entry of our own. Emphasizing the magnitude of our oversight was the fact that almost every single testimonial in the guestbook raved about Matteo's chocolate-chip crepes. Alas!

So long, Venezia

We bid farewell to Locanda Orseolo and stopped at a kiosk near the post office to pick up a newspaper to check on the Mets. (For the record, the Mets went four games over 0.500 during our time in Italy.) Along the way, we reflected on our brief yet memorable time in Venice. We had walked innumerable calli and traversed as many ponti. We ate gelato and drank prosecco. We experienced four distinct forms of Venetian transportation: alilaguna (water shuttle), traghetto (canal-traversing gondola), vaporetto (water bus), and gondola. We toured St. Mark's Basilica, the Doge's Palace, and the island of Murano. And we met magnificently friendly people, not the least of which was the staff at Locanda Orseolo. Even as we reached Piazzale Roma to depart, we already knew that someday we'd be returning to Venice.

About three months before our trip, I had reserved a rental car through the Auto Europe, a car-rental broker that deals with several car-rental agencies in Europe. They reserved for us an automatic-transmission Mercedes A180 from Europcar for seven days for a total rate of $450 (very reasonable, especially considering the scarcity of automatic-transmission rentals in Italy). I must admit that before picking up our car, I was a bit nervous that we might not actually receive a car with an automatic transmission. Lynn can drive a manual... but just barely. In fact, this tiny anxiety of mine manifested itself in a dream I had a week or two before our vacation:

Lynn was driving along a classic Tuscan road in the nighttime, and I was in the passenger seat. The headlights illuminated cypress trees, sunflowers, and the uphill, curving road ahead of us. Apparently, we'd had the rental car for several days, but somehow had yet to negotiate much of a turn. As the car approaches the upcoming turn, Lynn begins to twist the wheel, but realizes that the car lacks power steering. [ed: do any modern cars not have power steering?]She cries out in alarm, and I reach over to help wrestle the wheel along the curve of the road. We fail, and the car flies off the curve... which point I woke up. Suffice it to say that I was relieved when we received the car after a short fifteen-minute wait, and it was indeed an automatic.

Following a U-turn near Piazzale Roma, we were headed across the Ponte della Libertà and onto the A4 autostrada. Barely two minutes past the bridge, a small rock flew up from the road at our windshield, causing a booming noise and a tiny crack. Thankfully, that would be just about the most "exciting" mishap to occur on our vacation involving our rental car. We took the A4 west to the A13, turning south until we reached the A1. After an hour or so of driving, we pulled over at a rest stop to buy some water (sin gas, of course) and use the rest room. And so, just as I've done many times back in the States, I let myself into the (immaculately clean) rest room, emptied my bladder, and flushed the toilet.

And then I couldn't figure out how to get out of the stall.

There was a button, so I pushed it. There was a handle, so I turned it. There was still a handle, so I turned it in the other direction. There was a button and there was a handle, so I turned the handle and pushed the button at the same time. Despite my most clever machinations and visual inspections of the lock, the door remained steadfastly shut. I paused and looked around, contemplating my situation. There walls were down to the floor, so there would be no stall-to-stall escape. The stall was well-ventilated, mainly because of the openings near the fifteen-foot-high ceiling, to which I would never be able to climb. I returned my attention to the door. Button—no luck. Handle—no luck. Handle and shove—no luck. Shove, button, button, handle, shove—still no luck.

Finally, after what seemed like ten minutes of frantic attempts and rising panic, my latest shove on the door was met with some Italian words and an answering pull on the door from the outside. The door opened, and I stumbled outside, gratefully thanking the kind Italian woman who had freed me. Realizing that she worked at the rest stop, I left her a small gratuity, mumbled my thanks once more, and meekly treaded back to Lynn at the car, glad to have survived my first encounter with an autostrada rest stop.

Back on the highway, we continued south. Lynn did an excellent job in her first experience on European roads, staying in the right lane except to pass and yielding to faster traffic when in the left lane. We drove past a variety of landscapes, up and down hills, and through tunnels. A few hours into our trip we stopped at a famed Autogrill rest stop. Two sandwiches later (buffalino for me, rustica mediterranea for Lynn) and I slid behind the wheel for the final leg of our drive to Montepulciano. We pulled off the A1 at the Valdichiana exit where we waited in unexplained traffic for 20 minutes. (This turned out to be the most traffic we'd experience in our week in Tuscany.)

Using a combination of maps, directions printed off our destination's web site, and the ubiquitous Tuscan village signposts on which we'd learn to rely over the next week, we navigated the several miles from the highway to Montepulciano. A missed turn led to us almost driving the car into the restricted (to motor vehicles) area of the Montepulciano historic center, and another missed turn at the foot of the hill just south of Montepulciano forced us to seek directions at a gas station. Minutes later, though, we arrived at Sant' Antonio.

Sant' Antonio and Montepulciano

Although we had considered some other places in Tuscany, when we read the Slow Travel reviews of Sant' Antonio, we knew we'd found a terrific place to stay in southern Tuscany. We drove up the driveway with olive groves to our left and stopped at the small office where we met Sant' Antonio's extremely professional and friendly proprietor, Nico, as well as his kind and generous employee, Susanna. Sant' Antonio consists of various apartments and cottages on the renovated grounds of an old Franciscan monastery. Nico greeted us warmly and told us about the amenities available at Sant' Antonio, as well as about his restaurant in nearby Bagno Vignoni. Susanna then showed us to our apartment—the Brunelleschi apartment.

The apartment was spacious and furnished simply but comfortably. After unpacking some of our clothes, we heard a soft knock on the door. I opened the door, and a gray and black striped cat came bounding happily into the apartment! He (she?) leapt onto the chairs, tables, and sofas, acting very much at home. He played with Lynn's purse strings for a bit, and then I held him in my arms as Lynn prepared to take a picture of us. Unfortunately:

  1. Lynn's not well-practiced at using our camera with the flash, and
  2. I'm not well-practiced at holding a cat
In combination, this meant that the cat soon got tired of my poor attempts to cradle him, meowed softly, scratched my arm sharply, and scampered away. This wasn't the last we'd see of our feline friend during the week.

our house guest

Not long thereafter, we gathered ourselves together and headed back towards the old hill town of Montepulciano. We parked in a lot outside the city walls and entered through the giant stone Porta al Prato. With the daylight fading, we strolled leisurely up the steep Corso, Montepulciano's main street. We savored our first views of the a multilevel Tuscan hill town, filled with crooked streets, narrow alleys, below-street-level restaurants, archways, and sweeping vistas of the countryside at dusk.

We doubled back up another street to check out Montepulciano's Piazza Grande and its Duomo (cathedral) but found the way blocked by a screened off blockade and a sign announcing a performance of Ginevra e Lancillotto, an opera telling "la storia dell’amore sfortunato fra Lancillotto del Lago e la Regina Ginevra". (Apparently, this was part of the annual summer theater festival known as Bruscello.) Too hungry from our long drive to consider buying tickets for the show, we instead walked around the town a bit more, searching for a restaurant at which to eat.

Near Piazza Grande (on Via S. Donato), we found Ai Quattro Venti. With a handful of tables outdoors, we chose to dine there, hoping to enjoy a good meal and perhaps catch some of the opera at the same time. Reality more than lived up to these hopes. We began our meal with crostini con creme funghi and bruschetta. For our primi, Lynn loved the gnocchi con norcina, and I feasted on the tagliatelle con funghi. Both pasta dishes were fresh and booming with simple flavors. We shared a secundo of scallopine (veal?) which, while very good, was not as impressive as the pasta dishes. Meanwhile, the opera had started and our taste buds were serenaded with beautiful Italian love songs. I couldn't tell you how many times Lynn and I looked at each other during the meal and smiled, hardly believing that we were eating a fantastic meal on a warm summer evening in a Tuscan hill town while listening to a local performance of an Italian opera. Seriously, what more could you possibly want out of life?

We finished our meal with dessert—sharing a tartufo biancho and a chocolate mousse. We sat at the table for another twenty minutes or so before reluctantly rousing ourselves and walking slowly and contentedly back down the Corso and back to the car. We'd return to Ai Quattro Venti later in the week, and in retrospect it was probably our favorite restaurant of our entire week in Tuscany. Delicious.

A five minute drive back to Sant' Antonio and our apartment, and we were happily asleep before midnight. We'd had just a small taste of what Tuscany had to offer, and yet I knew already that I would be surely be smiling for the entire week to come.

the Corso    view at dusk from Montepulciano

Next time: we discover pecorino cheese and travel to Siena where we picnic at a church and experience Il Palio!

Please enjoy all of the pictures from our third day in Italy in my photo album.

August 28, 2006

Italy - Day 3 - Friday, August 12

(If you haven't already, check out Day 2 before reading this entry.)

Venice in a Day

On Thursday we had whetted our apetite for Venice. But for the most part we did not wander far and wide and much of our time was spent acclimating ourselves with our Italian surroundings. And as Saturday would be the day we left Venice to head to Tuscany, that left us with only a single option: Friday. On Friday we would see Venice; we would experience Venice; we would capture Venice in our hearts and in our memories, so that in the future we would be drawn back to this magical city.

We awoke refreshed on Friday morning and headed downstairs to have breakfast at Locanda Orseolo. To be honest, I don't remember much from breakfast except that it was plentiful, varied, and delicious. Lynn reminds me that I have one important observation to make about breakfast on Friday morning:

We didn't eat the chocolate-chip crepes.

You'll have to tune in to the next entry to find out why this is important.

Palazzo Ducale

A month or so before our trip, I had made a reservation for the Secret Itineraries tour at Palazzo Ducale (the Doge's Palace), and so we headed over to the palace immediately after finishing breakfast. We checked our bags (including the camera bag as photographs were not permitted inside the palace) and awaited the start of the tour. Our guide was a veritable fountain of information, regaling us with tales of architecture and art, palace intrigue and civil servants, crime and punishment. We were treated to artwork including Veronese's depiction of the mythical Rape of Europa and the sixteenth-century Scala d'Oro. We marveled at the grand chamber in which Venice's powerful Council of Ten held court and which is now dominated by the imposing sight of Tintoretto's Paradise. We squeezed into the tiny offices of the Venetian republic's bureaucrats, on our way to the armory, torture chambers, and prisons at the very top of Palazzo Ducale. Here, our guide paused to tell us of the life and times of Giacomo Casanova, world traveller, socialite, and renowned lover. Casanova was thrown into the palace's most secure prisons (the Leads) on charges of witchcraft, and his legend only grew stronger when after a year in prison he used his charm and wits to engineer a daring escape.

Besides these highlights, the Secret Itineraries tour taught us about terrazzo marble-chip floors, the extra-secret and extra-powerful Council of Three, and the palace's interrogation room. Following the tour we spent some time exploring the rest of Palazzo Ducale, including the Doges' apartments and the map room. I snapped some photos in the palace's courtyard, and we headed back out to P. S. Marco to wait on line for the Basilica.

in the courtyard of Palazzo Ducale    in the courtyard of Palazzo Ducale

Basilica San Marco

As told by our travel guides, Venice's main cathedral was built, destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again before being built and consecrated as Basilica San Marco in the late eleventh century. A sanctuary for the remains of St. Mark (said remains having been smuggled out of Alexandria, Egypt while encased in raw meat) and a centerpiece of the Venetian republic, the Basilica was expanded and collected more and more treasures over the centuries.

While experiencing a quite reasonable fifteen minute wait, Lynn went ahead and stashed our backpack in a cubbie hole around the corner. Once we reached the front of the line, we witnessed several disgruntled visitors being turned away to stow their bags or due to their inappropriate clothing. Score one for being prepared. Inside, we were blown away by the magnificent cathedral. There was no one part of the Basilica that caught our attention most; instead, we marveled at everything from the marble floors to the gilded mosaics that scale the walls and domes of the Basilica. We viewed the Pala d'Oro (golden, gem covered altarpiece) up close (recommended) and the tesoro (treasury, containing assorted relics and treasures—not so impressive). We climbed to the galleria on the second floor, which afforded us a birds-eye view of the cathedral and an amazingly detailed examination of the golden mosaics forming the Basilica's walls. We went outside to the balcony, where we enjoyed views of the piazza to the west and the canals to the south. We left the Basilica fully understanding the grandeur of the most famous of all Venetian landmarks.

Lynn, with P. S. Marco in the background    Lee, with the canals in the background


Leaving P. S. Marco, we strolled lazily through the streets, alleys, and bridges of the Castello sestiere, eventually finding ourselves walking down Fondamenta Nuove towards a vaporetto (water bus) stop that would take us to Murano. Thinking I was being clever and preparing for the trip back, I asked to purchase four tickets for the vaporetto. Instead, of course, I ended up with four round-trip tickets—oops. We arrived at Murano after the short vaporetto ride and by this time it was about 2pm and we were very hungry. We didn't stray far from the Colona vaporetto stop before we found the tourist-heavy Gran Cafe Laguna, where we shared a pizza funghi (decent but overpriced) and drank a whole lot of water at an outdoors table.

For many centuries, Venice has been widely renowned for its beautiful, colorful glass. During the thirteenth century, the frequency and danger of out-of-control fires from glassmakers' furnaces caused Venice to exile the glass artisans to the island of Murano. Following lunch, Lynn and I spent a couple of hours wandering along the Rio dei Vetrai. While somehow we missed out on the various glassblowing demonstrations that our guide books speak of glowingly, we did see magnificent glasswork ranging from tiny beads to vases and decanters to life-size sculptures. In one factory we bought a small glass dolphin (for me) and in another shop we bought a blue pendant and beaded necklace (for Lynn).

Perhaps even more beautiful than the variety of colors and shapes of glass items was the island of Murano itself:

a clocktower on Murano    colorful Murano buildings

Italian staples: gelato, gondolas, and dinner

We returned to Venice's main island in the late afternoon. Back on Fondamenta Nuove, Lynn enjoyed a gelato (vanilla), and we headed back towards our hotel. Along the way, we passed a vacant fish market and saw several churches in Castello, including Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo. Back at Locanda Orseolo we recharged with a short nap (lesson: naps are highly recommended!) and then headed out once more...

We'd read the travel guides and the message boards. We'd seen numerous professional and not-so-professional writers advise visitors to Venice that gondola rides are overpriced. We'd encountered multiple sources suggesting that a traghetto ride across a canal accomplished the same effect for less than 1/30th the price. We'd even already fulfilled a small bit of our gondola lust at The Venetian in Las Vegas. And so, after our nap, Lynn and I stuck our collective tongue out at all of these well-meaning people and walked over to a gondola stand around the corner.

For 80 euros, we expected greatness. We expected a romantic tour of the grandest canals Venice has to offer. We expected to be serenaded with authentic Italian love ballads. We expected a glorious sunset that would paint the sky with pinks and oranges and purples and reds. Instead, we got Paul McCartney.

As we embarked on our gondola ride, we drifted past a tourist-packed canal-view restaurant at which a piano player was hard at work on a rendition of "Hey Jude". Taking his cue admirably, our friendly gondolier spent significant parts of the rest of our 45-minute ride whistling both "Hey Jude" and "Yesterday." Lest I convey the wrong impression, this was surely one of the most glorious settings in which to enjoy some Beatles music. In the end, we missed our expectations but were better off for it, and as a result we would definitely recommend a gondola ride to lovers experiencing Venice together:

  • Instead of Italian love ballads, we got Paul McCartney: Now we have a new and wonderful association with music we hear frequently, rather than an Italian song we'd likely have forgotten by dinnertime.
  • Instead of grand canals, we got small canals bordering the backs of buildings: On our gondola ride we experienced cozy, sunstruck canals only reachable via other canals. We saw small and large boats moored at the backs of buildings that we otherwise would never have encountered. Our gondolier also pointed out the high water mark of the canals along the backs of the buildings.
  • Insteadof a glorious sunset, we got a moonrise over Venice: OK, OK, so my timing in when to go for our gondola ride was a bit off, but the moonrise was beautiful in its own right:

moonrise over Venice

Following our gondola ride, we walked to Cannaregio where we dined (again on suggestion of Barbara from Locanda Orseolo) at Al Fontego dei Pescatori. After entering under a series of arches on a side alley abutting a small canal, we were seated in the small garden behind the main dining room. We began our meal with a first course of anchovies and baccala. For our main course, Lynn had a pasta dish with scallops and zucchini, and I had grilled monk fish. We shared the house white wine, and for dessert indulged in a pumpkin tart and cherries in vin santo. The food was fresh and good, but expensive compared with many other meals that we enjoyed in Italy. The surroundings in the garden at Al Fontego were fantastic—at once both a peaceful dinner in the warm summer evening and also a scene of several larger groups of people clearly celebrating their meal together.

Another leisurely walk through several sestieri followed back towards P. S. Marco. While walking along the arcade that lines northern edge of P. S. Marco, we bumped into Kevin and Jamie, two fellow travelers and fellow denizens of Locanda Orseolo. We headed back to the hotel together, and in the course of chatting discovered that, like Lynn, Kevin had just finished taking the Bar Exam (Pennsylvania, in his case) and, like us, they were on a post-bar-exam extended vacation. An all-too-familiar conversation ensued, filled with talk of torts and civil procedure, constitutional law and contracts. Heroically (well, heroically to myself), I did manage to steer talk towards more interesting topics (in this case, the other places in Italy which Kevin and Jamie were visiting on their vacation). After thirty minutes or so of talking in the courtyard outside Locanda Orseolo, we turned in for the night.

All in all, a day filled with a taste of many things Venetian. We experienced the politics, art, craftsmanship, cuisine, history, and religion of Venice. And we did it all while surrounded by one of the most unique cities we've ever seen.

Next time: a departure and an arrival; dinner and an opera; and Lee almost meets a quite untimely and embarassing end at a rest stop off the Autostrada.

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

August 9, 2006

Definition by Example

Waste of Time

Receiving a notice of a certified letter waiting for me at the post office. Heading to the post office before going into work. Waiting on line for 35 minutes because no one is at the letter pick-up window. Waiting an additional 5 minutes while the postal employee retrieves my letter. Finding out that the certified letter was from Shalom Hunan Shalom Beijing Zoe's Chinese Restaurant, informing me that they had recently applied to receive a liquor license.


Pardon my French, but I don't give a flying fuck! I want my 40 minutes back.

August 5, 2006

Anniversary Gift

For our fourth anniversary, Lynn's gift to me was a bright orange traffic cone.

Feel free to use whether or not you realize how great a gift that was for me as a yardstick of how well you truly know Lee Feigenbaum.

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 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

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.

April 20, 2006

Next time, I'll take the stairs

You'd probably think, dear reader, that the five-minute trek from my office to my car at the end of a workday is not worthy of a blog entry. And on most days you'd be right. But not this evening, dear reader; not this evening.

With the endless construction continuing on the first floors of the parking garage, I had parked on the fifth (actually, between the fourth and the fifth) floor in the morning. As I walked down the hallway leading to the garage, I faced my first moment of truth. Do I trek up the stairs to the fourth or fifth floor, or do I hop in the elevator? Simultaneously preaching to myself the exhaustions caused by a six-hour workday in front of a computer and asserting my lazy-bastard personality, I chose the elevator.

I was joined on the elevator by another IBMer, a surly-looking fellow who stationed himself squarely in front of the elevator buttons and punched the three with vigor and also the five once I meekly stated my destination. Seconds later, the third floor beckoned, and my companion walked out of the elevator, started, and joined me once more. "Wrong floor," he grunted, "sorry about that." He pressed the four, with even more assertiveness than before.

We reached the fourth floor without further incident and my elevatormate left without a word. I contemplated getting off myself and walking up the ramp to my car, but decided to stick to the original plan. Two seconds later, as the elevator eased into the fifth floor it happened: the elevator plunged three, maybe four, feet, and then stopped.


The lights were still on. The doors were still closed.

But the elevator was decidedly stopped. Door open? No effect. Other floors? Fully inoperative.

Faced with this rather unexpected situation, I examined my options. The elevator panels presented me with a somewhat bewildering choice of alarm buttons, So instead of closing my eyes and choosing one, I whipped out my phone (haven't I always been a proponent of cell phones?) and gave Wing a call.

I think he thought I was joking, at first, but I quickly convinced him that I didn't see any possible escape route that didn't involve popping out a ceiling panel and scrambling on top of the elevator car.

To make a long story short, the next ninety minutes featured:

  • Wing summoning help from the building staff
  • The building staff summoning help from the elevator company
  • The building staff wondering why they couldn't hear the elevator alarm bell (which they taught me how to use) before figuring out that they were at the wrong bank of elevators
  • Wing coming up to the fifth floor of the garage and chatting with me through the closed doors
  • Me deciding I wasn't going anywhere quickly, taking off my backpack, and making myself comfortable on the floor of the elevator
  • Mike&mdahs;from the building staff—showing up and chatting with Wing about summer internships, college educations, and teaching English in China
  • A failed attempt to get a wireless signal while stuck in the elevator
  • Some light reading
  • A nap or two
  • Playing some computer hearts
  • Sending SMS messages to some friends

It wasn't nearly as entertaining as in sitcoms. There was no pregnant woman giving birth. No suspected terrorists or corporate spies. No frightened children, beautiful women, or smelly men (sorry, Sabow). After 90 minutes of confinement, the doors cracked, and a massive, heavily-tattooed man freed me.

So, what did I get out of my adventure this evening? Well, a few things:

  1. I got a blog entry (with pictures!) out of it, even if there wasn't any wireless signal in the elevator to enable me to blog from there.
  2. I can muse on whether I'm the first person ever to play hearts on a computer while trapped in an elevator. And if not, how many others have there been? I've never been very good at these ludicrous consulting-job interview questions.
  3. I finally had a legitimate reason to use doGooder. Thanks, Wing!
  4. Oh, and I took two pictures:

April 6, 2006

The Ultimate Fantasy Sports Team

Last Friday night at White Horse, Matt, Dodzie, Vanessa, Lynn, and I conducted a rather eclectic fantasy sports draft. It started as a guideless fantasy baseball draft, but quickly became unhinged. Without further ado, here is my unbeatable team:

  1. ARod. (round 1, pick 5 of the baseball draft, throwing all morals out the window)
  2. Roy Halladay
  3. Derek Lee
  4. Roy Oswalt
  5. Miguel Tejada
  6. Miguel Cabrera
  7. Carlos Delgado
  8. Brad Lidge
  9. Todd Helton
  10. Mark Buehrle
  11. Vijay Singh (round 1, pick 4 of the golf draft)
  12. Ernie Els
  13. Rocky Balboa (round 1, pick 3 of the movie sports characters draft)
  14. Roy Hobbes
  15. Sanka
  16. "kayak" (round 1, pick 2 of the palindrome draft)
  17. Link (round 1, pick 1 of the video game character draft)
  18. Snoods (all of them)
  19. Sonic
  20. Billy from Double Dragon
  21. Adam Morrison (round 1, pick 2 of college basketball player draft)
  22. Joakim Noah

Look out, world.

March 10, 2006

Scenes from the South of France

We discovered beforehand that Elias prefers the aisle while I yearn for a window seat. I could tell this would be a good trip.

With family, tourism, and a SPARQL calendar demo looming, naturally the plane flight from JFK to NCE featured dialogue on religion, morality, and child-rearing. While I demanded a "short nap", Elias attempted to watch the movie. Not a coincidence that against past trends, Elias slept, too.

Touchdown and touring. Twilight and a short hike through darkness, guided by Elias. On a hillside on the French-Italian border, a Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, and two Ecuadorans dance to Latin American music.

Artists on a hilltop evolve into souvenir shops on a hilltop. English-speaking French playing bocce1 on the sand. Handwritten menus and dinner conversations stretching into the night with a German banking Chairman, his wife, a Jewish grandmother from Long Island, and her husband. Complimentary mandarin grappa and heavenly chocolate cake. Feverish sleep.

Carnaval de Nice. The king burns; the sky awash with color; the rocky beach kissed by the waves. German beer at an Irish pub. Mint tea at a Moroccan bar. Live Brazilian music, American whiskey, and French youth dance Samba late into the night.

Semantic-web believers from Scotland, England, Belgium, Holland, and Paris-via-Japan-via-Maine share an elegant French dinner, resolve to rest for a year, and enjoy pizza in the village of Mandelieu.

In Nice, a lightweight tripod can commandeer aircraft.

1OK, so it was probably Pétanque, but I didn't realize that at the time.

December 13, 2005

It Happened At Dinner

Lynn took me to Caffe Umbra for dinner for my birthday tonight. Amidst a tasty meal (mixed olives, chicken liver mousse, fish stew, porterhouse lamb chop), the following two noteworthy events took place:

  • Lynn's water glass was empty. The waiter comes by, pours about an inch of water and ice into the glass, stops, and walks away. He wasn't out of water (he went and filled some other lucky soul's glass), and Lynn's glass was still mostly empty. Strange.
  • As Lynn was finishing up her coffee and I my beer, and as we waited to pay the bill before leaving, a couple joined the large party at the next table over and set their little baby on the ground in her car seat, facing us. She slept for a few minutes, but then she began to wake and stretch her tiny arms and finally opened her big brown eyes. She stared at Lynn for awhile, and then at me, with no intention of looking anywhere else. We waved at her, and she waved back. (Well, at least, she blinked and murmured to acknowledge our actions. After we paid the bill and thought we had completed our conversation with our new friend, we got up to leave. As we traversed the fifteen feet from our table to the door, the baby started talking more and more loudly, before finally bursting into tears that could be heard restaurant-wide. Poor little girl. I'd cry, too, if Lynn and I were leaving my life forever!

December 8, 2005

Heard Today at Lunch

Stephen Evanchik, on idealist vegans:

As long as there're lions in Africa eating meat, I'm going to continue eating meat.
Lions; like this one.

December 6, 2005

A Tardy Thanksgiving Report

The problem with trying to maintain a blog is that sometimes you just don't finish entries in a timely fashion. Exhibit A, your honor:

We enjoyed a gastronomic feast at the Zuckerman's home in Wyckoff yesterday on Thursday the other week, featuring:

  • Assorted crackers with blocks of Swiss, cheddar, and Monterey Jack cheese
  • Tortilla chips with a cheese-salsa dip
  • Assorted veggies with a southwestern ranch dip
  • Baked Brie
  • Other dippables: hummus, baba ganoush, and tuna & cannellini bean dip
  • Chicken wings
  • Eggplant rollatini
  • Oven-roasted turkey stuffed with an onion and herb stuffing
  • Gravy from pan drippings
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Spinach soufle
  • Sweet-potato pudding
  • Homemade corn-bread stuffing
  • Sweet and sour meatballs
  • Cornish hens
  • Ribollita
  • Steamed asparagus
  • Apple crisp
  • Pumpkin pie
  • Strawberry-rhubarb pie
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Assorted candies and cookies

Following the food and festivities, the fine folks at CSI treated us to a Thanksgiving Day episode specifically designed to make us regret every single ounce of chow that we'd spent the day enjoying. The episode featured a poor man who suffered from Prader-Willi Syndrome, who escaped from his (temporary) caretaker and literally ate himself to death. The show, of course, shunned explanations that Prader-Willi goes hand-in-hand with levels of mental retardation in favor of gruesome autopsies and montages of the victim gorging at a buffet, competitive eating contest, and in the dumpster where he lost his life. Truly an hour of television carefully scripted to air on Thanksgiving night. I caught a re-run of a season one or two CSI episode a few days ago, and what struck me as surprising was that the team was investigating two run-of-the-mill murders. There were no rare diseases, no insect evidence, and no kinky sex acts involved. Somehow, investigation, forensics, and deductions (not to mention the requisite musical lab segment and eyestrain-inducing lighting) managed to create an engaging and entertaining episode. I do think that CSI is still one of the best shows on television today, but it's a bit of a shame that any subtlety or simplicity has long since been thrown to the wind.

Life is a long journey full of peaks and valleys, and we all learn at different times to appreciate the peaks and to weather the valleys. Life knocks us down and we get back up swinging; life lifts us up and we strive to cherish the moment. This year, though, I'm thankful for all those days when life simply looks the other way. The weeks when I wake up next to my wonderful wife, go to work with intelligent and witty people who are also my friends, create good times with high school and college friends who I must have known since ages past, watch my niece learn to say "boobies," and share in the warmth of two loving families. It's easy to celebrate the momentous occasions, but it's more important to learn to love the mundane things that make life worthwhile. Happy December, everyone.

November 15, 2005

Joseph and Us: Together Again for the First Time

My Mom visited us this weekend. While here, she told us about the beginning of Dad and her infatuation with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat:

When [Dad] was on WXPN, the original Joseph record came across his desk; he played it and loved it, and at the time he only knew it as this record. In 1973, when he was in Philadelphia for IRS training, he called me all excited that there was going to be a performance of Joseph in a park in Philadelphia. He went and saw it by himself and called me up extremely excited; I went back down to see it with him days later, and that started the tradition... We saw it at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the whole love affaair had begun.
Those showings inclusive, Mom and Dad have seen almost 50 productions of Joseph apiece. Randi and I were not excluded from this addiction, as each of us has seen around 15 different productions of the show, ranging from high school musicals to community theaters to Broadway. The attachment does not cease at nuclear-family boundaries, either, as Aunt Charlotte and the rest of the Spectors—especially my cousin Lynn—share in our love of Joseph

Thus, it was only natural that with Mom in town for the weekend, with Lynn Spector in her senior year at Brandeis and her brother Dan living almost directly above Crossroads, the five of us would rendezvous Saturday night at the Colonial Theater during the two-week run of Joseph in Boston.

The production was excellent. As several reviews observe, American Idol contestant Amy Adams belts out the narrator's role with a beautifully powerful voice while Patrick Cassidy continues the family tradition of capturing the essence of Joseph's pretty-boy character. But with the level of exposure (some might say obsession) my family has to Joseph, we lay claim to a slightly deeper understanding of the subtleties of this particular musical. And as regards such subtleties, this production is among the best I've ever seen. So without ado, I present the compiled wisdom of the Feigenbaum-Spector families to any future director of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat:

  • The show is fun. Given the choice between a somber portrayal of dramatic events and a carefree display of ebullience, go with the latter. Sure Joseph may languish in prison having just finished a soul-searching rendition of "Close Every Door", but that's no reason to skimp on the comedic nature of the butler and baker or the festivities of "Go, Go, Go Joseph." Cheerleaders and pom-poms? Sure, why not?
  • Play up the genres. From country hoedown ("One More Angel In Heaven") to Elvis ("Song of the King") to French ballad ("Those Canaan Days") to Calypso ("Benjamin Calypso"), these numbers are all meant to emphasize—even caricature—the parody. This production got them all right until skimping on the Calypso. At least they threw in a quick game of limbo.
  • Get the small details right. OK, so this category is more subjective than others, but as I said I claim my right to be subjective in this arena. Some small details are key to my enjoyment of a Joseph production;
    • Hide Pharoah's front until he begins his song. Check
    • The chorus repeats the word "stupid" after both of the first two lines at the end of the first verse of "Song of the King":
      Well you know that kings ain't stupid (stupid)
      But I don't have a clue (stupid)
    • Pharoah speaks rather than sings the first lines of "Stone the Crows". Check
    • Give Joseph his coat at the appropriate time in "Any Dream Will Do". Check

Other minor details like actually giving Jacob a dozen sons (this production didn't) and inventing an overture and entreact (this production did) can be overlooked. All in all, an excellent show.

I think that we were all somewhat apprehensive to see Joseph for the first time since Dad died. As my Mom1 said, Dad started this entire tradition over thirty years ago, so naturally everything Joseph related is inextricably linked with Dad in all of our minds. Yet, except for Randi and Scott not being present, we managed to band together to face this small piece of a much larger loss together. I find it of utmost importance to stare down challenges in the face of tragedy and to live life without ignoring, avoiding, or neglecting those areas of life in which Dad shone most brightly. Consider something like this a baby step in the right direction.

I'm glad to finally have sated the appetite of everyone who reads my writings here and has been eagerly awaiting an entry all about Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Next on my agenda is a foolhardy attempt to codify the ever-perplexing rules that govern what Lee Feigenbaum roots for (and against) in the world of sports. Stay tuned.

1 I know that I'm not suppoed to capitalize "Mom" or "Dad" after a possessive pronoun, but for a long time now I've chosen to ignore that rule. Just for the record.

November 8, 2005

Work, Eat, Triumph, Sing, Climb, and Fail to Conquer the World

Elias complained a while ago that I haven't yet posted any Happenings, despite the presence of the category. Thing is, I usually find it much more engaging (formyself) to write on sports or amusing web links or transient musings. And I'm guessing that reading about the mundane activities of my day-to-day life won't enthrall anyone reading my blog. Yet, years from now, I'm sure that my memory will appreciate a bit of electronic assistance. So without further ado, here's what I did this weekend:


Sean, Wing, Rouben, Matt, and I worked late into Friday evening preparing and polishing a demo that Sean will be presenting in Washington to members of the NIH and to CViT investigators. As always, it wasn't until Friday that all of the pieces that comprise the demo fell into place, but when they did, they certainly encourage me that overarching goals of the systems we're building are both reachable and commendable.


But because we were late at work, Wing and I were late for dinner at Chef Chang's with Lynn, Jen, Jeff, Serge, Nicole, Sara, Russ, Nick, Ceida, Cy, Jess, and Jess's friend .We were also so exhausted when we arrived at dinner that we did little more than mumble hello, nod off, and devour the Peking duck that had been (generously) saved for us. In fact, I blame my state of exhaustion for not knowing Jess's friend's name.

After dinner Lynn and I met up with Eugene, Vishal, and Sabow at Jillian's. but before our name was called for an available alley, it became more than apparent that everyone except for Lynn might fall asleep in the act of bowling the ball. As such is often considered a dangerous state of affairs, we chose to can the bowling and call it a night.


The week after a disappointing homecoming-weekend loss to Michigan by the never-play-to-expectations Northwestern Wildcats, Lynn pitched camp in our living room to cheer on the 'Cats in another Big Ten matchup: Iowa. As I pursued other activities (see below), the development of Northwestern's 24–7 halftime deficit was told to me via a series of agonized groans, screams, and pleadings emanating from the living room. The Wildcats scored a quick touchdown to open the second half, but remained uncharacteristically silent on offense as the shadows grew long across Ryan Field. But—also uncharacteristically—the 'Cats' defense stepped up to the plate, and with the ball in Iowa territory, Northwestern was down 27–14 with three minutes remaining in the game. Northwestern punched in a touchdown several plays later, to draw within six points with 2:10 left. With no timeouts left, Northwestern rose to the challenge and executes a flawless onside kick, popping the ball just over the Hawkeyes hands team and leaping past the receivers to recover possession. Two first downs, a personal foul, and 90 seconds later, and Lynn's groans had turned to grins as she celebrated a 28–27 triumph by Northwestern.

Two less savory points emerged from the thrilling victory:

  • Northwestern is now once again a ranked team (25, I believe). This, of course, means that they will lose next week. Unless the fact that they're playing a higher ranked team (The Ohio State University) throws a wrench into the system.
  • Star Wildcat quarterback, Brett Basanez, had these comments following the game (remember, Northwestern won):
    They were trying to get us out of our game by grabbing facemasks, hitting guys late, hitting you in the head, I mean, if that's how they teach football down there ... I was kind of disappointed in their sportsmanship.
    Now, I'm not exactly sure what Mr. Basanez's ellipsis signifies ("then I'd never want to live in Iowa"? "then no wonder they lost the football game?" "then they deserved to lose that football game?" "then I'll whup their ass next time I see them?"), but I am pretty sure that he had no business saying that. Basanez let his feelings speak volumes on the field, so why did he feel the need to gripe in the lockerroom as well? If he has a legitimate complaint, he should take it up with his coaches—that's what they're there for. But to make an unsubstantiated accusation of systemic problems with Iowa's system strikes me as a bit childish. Us academic elitist sports fans expect better from athletes at the 12th ranked university in the nation.


After a delicious dinner of grilled salmon with a horseradish cream sauce and pan-roasted asparagus, Lynn and I headed downtown to see Ben Folds (along with bandmates Lindsay and Jared) at the Orpheum. We arrived a few minutes late and missed the first opening act, but made it to our center-aisle, third-row seats (keywords: forgetfulness; frustration; ebay) in time for the second opening act, The Fray. We both thoroughly enjoyed The Fray's short set; Lynn found them reminiscent of REM, while I was enthralled with their Denver origins and with the fact that their lead member is a keyboardist. Of course, it should come as no surprise that they're touring with Ben Folds, given the name of their drummer and Ben Folds's fondness for others who share his name.

Anyway, Ben and band hit the stage after a brief break and played a rocking set of about 25 songs, touching on ballads, lyricless recent compositions, and, of course, with a heavy dose of rocking piano music. My observations:

  • I find it completely worth the marked up price for seats so close to the stage. Considering my poor vision, it's only when I'm very close to the action that I'm able to notice the small details that—above and beyond the enveloping and all-consuming auditory nature of the music—separate attending a live show from watching a recording of one.
  • For the record, I think that Gone and One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces are two of Ben's absolute best live songs... and he played both of them on Saturday.
  • After the show, Lynn went up to the stage to ask for one of the musicians' copies of the setlist that were laying about the stage. With the help of member Tequila, she managged to snag one of Lindsay's drum sticks. Tequila got a setlist.
  • After a two-hour concert, a drummer's drum sticks are incredibly beat up. You could get splinters just looking at this thing.

After the show, we enjoyed the beautifully mild night weather as we walked to catch the T over at Hynes/ICA.


We awoke early Sunday morning to head rock climbing. After picking up Dodzie and Vanessa, we headed up to picturesque Arlington, MA where Joe presided over an imprompty knotting, belaying, and climbing lesson for the beginners. Around 11:00, we drove over to Metrorock and, after Dodzie, Vanessa, and Lynn had all successfully passed their safety tests (keeping intact Joe's perfect record), we climbed for a couple of hours. My personal goal for this winter is to go rock climbing at least semi-regularly. I'd very much like to go at a frequent enough rate such that I improve both my rock-climbing abilities and my overall fitness. We'll see, but I figure that with many potential climbing partners (including Lynn, the best (and most convenient) of all), I've got a good shot at reaching this goal.

Fail to Conquer the World

The parts of the weekend not otherwise covered herein, including the rest of Sunday after getting back from rock climbing, was filled with Civ 4, Civ 4, and more Civ 4. Playing on Prince (the fifth difficulty level out of nine) I'm finding the game to be a significant (but balanced) challenge, and am enjoying it tremendously. Most recently, my blossoming Russian Empire was cut short when an ambush by the devious French coincided with a cultural "attack" by my allies, the Mongols. The brief era in which Moscow flourished as the home of both Taoism and the Chichen Itza came to a disappointing end. Happily, another game awaits just around the corner...