I flew out on Saturday. These pictures and comments document my few activities of the day.
Friday was similar to Thursday. I went to work in the morning. (This time I got there by a direct bus.) I worked. Then I disappeared to meet my friend Brian for lunch at a tasty, distinctive pizza joint, Emma's. These pictures cover my lunch experience and a few other minor items from throughout the day.
After lunch, I explored the MIT List Visual Arts Center. Its current exhibit, Sounding The Subject, has many strange, experimental short videos.
I returned to work.
Incidentally, I don't have a walking map for the day because I visited roughly the same places as the previous day and thus didn't think it worthwhile to create one.
I failed to manage to coordinate to re-meet with N, the friend I met up with the previous night.
Around 5:00pm, I cut out of work to take the train to Harvard. There I grabbed dinner with Di Yin in Dudley House and then we joined some people to head to a free concert given by Juventas at the Boston Conservatory. It was a bit too much new music for our tastes, so some of us left at intermission.
We walked all the way back across the bridge, down Mass Av to Harvard, then home. It was a cold night.
Posted by mark at Sunday, December 30, 2007
I split Thursday between working and exploring MIT, which, although I'd visited a few times previously, had never done properly. I walked this route from the T to work to around MIT campus to work to dinner to the T. Although I documented the whole day's narrative in pictures and notes, I figure I should add a few high-level observations here.
I spent some of the day at the M.I.T. Museum. It had a number of exhibits with varying degrees of coolness:
- advances in the biological sciences.
- cool robots.
- holography. Very cool. I couldn't photograph anything in this exhibit. Some holograms change as one moves one's head. For instance, in one portrait, a man scratches his nose. The effect reminded me of the magical photographs in Harry Potter.
- kinetic sculptures by Arthur Ganson. This exhibit was awesome; I must've spent most of my time in the museum here.
- strobe photography. Has some neat facts.
- history of MIT education.
- stackable, lightweight small urban cars.
- sandscape. This small exhibit was simply a box of sand. One could push the sand around and the light projected onto the sand would change to make what appeared to be a topological map. Neat! I'm not sure how it worked. Like some other exhibits, it was not feasible to photograph.
- hybrid illusions. These holograms looked like different people depending on the distance one stood from them. Obviously, they're impossible to photograph.
Posted by mark at Saturday, December 29, 2007
Wednesday was a full day. I planned to visit the Gardner Museum, finish exploring the third of the MFA that I didn't get to explore previously, and attend a film festival screening. I took a smattering of photos during the day. This blog post describes most of my reactions to the sights I saw. The pictures simply augment it in a few areas.
Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is eclectic. Designed by the eccentric Gardner, its collection includes chairs (scattered around the museum), tapestries, sculptures, architecture, paintings, bas relief, books, and stained glass windows. Most artwork is European, though the museum also has some pieces from Greece, from elsewhere around the Mediterranean, and from Japan.
I don't lightly call Isabel Gardner kooky. Her will still controls how the museum is run and how and where pieces are shown. Indeed, she prohibited moving any object. She also requires that mass be held in the miniature chapel in the building on her birthday. Furthermore, some of the pieces are unlabeled because Gardner never recorded where she acquired them or from whom. Art historians have been able to determine the creator of only some of these items.
I didn't like the museum and ended up only spending an hour there. One major reason is that most items are presented without commentary. (I think that's part of her will as well.) I borrowed a guide from the information desk--it helped me explore the collection, but looking things up was a pain. (Incidentally, I think all museum information desks should allow patrons to check out collection guides to carry while wandering. It's a great benefit!) The only worthwhile feature of the museum is the stunning courtyard, modeled after a Venetian palazzo. But what a feature it is! It alone made my visit and the entry fee to the museum worthwhile. Sadly, cameras were prohibited in the museum and there are no good pictures of the courtyard on the web that I could easily find.
The museum had a few empty frames, accompanied by signs about stolen paintings. I asked the information desk about them and they gave me a little binder to read. The thieves dressed as Boston police officers and made off with multiple Rembrandts and Degas, and a Manet and a Vermeer. Knowing the particulars is neat; one normally cannot learn details about art thiefs. The information desk comes through again!
Museum of Fine Arts
After the Gardner Museum, I explored more of the Museum of Fine Arts. I went through its exhibits on Egypt, Greece, Rome (which has many busts), the Himalayan region, the Medieval period, and European masters (including many religious works displaying gruesome scenes). The Roman exhibit had an interesting video about how the museum restored an old Roman courtyard mosaic. I also finished my previously started viewing of the Chinese and Japanese exhibits. These covered a variety of eras. The Japanese exhibit surprised me by the quantity of its Buddhist content; I had forgotten Buddhism was popular there.
In addition, the MFA had a special exhibit on a Berkeley professor who experimented with textiles and basket weaving. I was amused I traveled across the country to see something that came from so close to home.
Since it was Wednesday, after 4:00pm, the museum became free and many students appeared. Most sketched.
Dinner and Movies
I had a light lunch and, despite having two mid-afternoon snacks, was nonetheless hungry at dinnertime. A short walk across the Fens brought me to Brown Sugar Cafe, a Thai restaurant with a number of re-imaginings of Thai dishes. After dinner, I walked back across the Fens to finish seeing the last few rooms of the MFA. I then killed a few minutes until the Turkish Film Festival screening began. (It happened to be conveniently located at the MFA.) I saw Forsaken Paths and The Housekeeper.
Posted by mark at Friday, December 28, 2007
Tuesday was clear and bright in Maine. In the morning, the wind gusted strongly. It was fun watching the leaves blow from inside the house.
In the afternoon, we saw sights; these pictures document our drives. Unlike Massachusetts, Maine's trees, aside from the evergreens, were mostly bare; the leaves on the few remaining deciduous trees with leaves were brown.
This part of Maine (and perhaps all of Maine) is very sparsely populated. It's mostly single family homes, spread widely apart. Many people refer to this type of area as the sticks.
A frustrating aspect of visiting Maine (or most places in the northern hemisphere) this time of year is the early sunset. If we start sightseeing after lunch (say, two p.m.), there's only two hours before the sun begins to set and three hours before it's completely dark.
Posted by mark at Thursday, December 27, 2007
I spent most of a rainy Monday in my parent's place in Kittery (Maine). In the afternoon and early evening, we left the apartment to see sights for a bit, during which time I took a few pictures.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, December 26, 2007
On Sunday, I met up with my parents again and we wandered among the bricks that make up Beacon Hill. (Practically every building and sidewalk is brick.) Beacon Hill is filled with federal-style homes. Many were done by Charles Bulfinch, a famous architect who effectively started Beacon Hill. Yet, after we saw houses designed by him, we realized many are less attractive than those designed by other people.
I led as we followed this route. I took these pictures of the day's sights.
After Beacon Hill, we headed up to my parent's newly rented condo in Maine. On the way, we passed through Portsmouth, at which time I noticed it had many major retail stores located conveniently close to the highway. Not only is it a nice town (as judged by my previous visit, it's a good shopping destination for normal shopping needs as well.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, December 25, 2007
The only touristy activity I did on this Saturday was exploring Back Bay and, to some extent, Chinatown. Aside from the cold temperature, which made walking around in the evening not as pleasant as it could've been, the weather was nice: bright and clear.
These pictures somewhat describe the day's adventures. Due to the early sunset, many of the pictures were taken after dark.
I'd seen the Back Bay district a bit previously. Today we took this route through it and Chinatown. Back Bay has many churches.
Dinner after the Back Bay was in Chinatown. Chinatown was small.
Posted by mark at Monday, December 24, 2007
On Friday, we took the ferry across the sound and drove north, eventually returning me to Boston after a long detour to New Haven for lunch. Here are the pictures I took on the way.
Posted by mark at Sunday, December 23, 2007
On Wednesday, my parents picked me up and we drove south through Connecticut to take a ferry to Long Island to see some cousins for Thanksgiving. We saw lots of nice fall foliage on the drive, many yellows and tans. Due to traffic, we almost missed the ferry; we arrived so close to the departure time that they canceled our reservation. Happily, they still let us on. Only four cars managed to squeeze on after us.
I took two pictures from the ferry.
Posted by mark at Friday, December 21, 2007
I spent most of the day at the Museum of Fine Arts. It was great: a world-class museum. (This surprised me; I had assumed the museum would be a mere shadow of the Met, two hours away.) Not only were there good explanations of the paintings, objects, etc., the museum was quite large, covering a huge expanse. I only made it through 60% of the museum in the three and a half hours I was there before it closed.
This day, I saw the museum's sections devoted to
- Japanese paintings (which I liked, and I usually do not like them).
- Japanese prints of sumo wrestlers. Feeling less technically sophisticated, I found them less appealing that the paintings in the first exhibit, which actually happened to be older.
- Japanese kimonos.
- Korean and Japanese pottery.
- Southeast Asian art.
- Indian sculptures. Some were not unlike what I saw in India. Yet, the density of high quality objects in the room dwarfed similar sights in India.
- Islamic manuscripts and pottery.
- Egyptian pieces.
- Greek pieces, including an impressive collection of coins.
- Etruscan pieces.
- American art, mainly pieces from New England, especially focused on portraits of America's founding fathers.
- musical instruments, including some I'd never heard of, let alone heard, before.
- jewelry, including some eclectic and novel designs, certainly unlike the pieces one would find a jewelry store.
- a modern art exhibit that included Japanese art and German photography.
- a special exhibit, Shy Boy, She Devil, and Isis, which is difficult to describe. This exhibit had three pieces I liked:
- Judy Kensley McKie's funky glass table, Chase Table, held up by two dogs biting each other's tail. (picture)
- John McQueen's life-sized statue of a man made from willow sticks, Mire, joined together with plastic clasps ("bundle ties"). (flickr picture)
- Tomas Hlavicka's Claire, a glass canoe with metal embedded. (flickr picture)
These pictures document in detail many of the interesting, beautiful, or creative pieces of art I saw. They also document what I ate for lunch and dinner, and neat things that happened while heading to the museum.
The day was a cold 38 degrees. I'm glad I spent most of it indoors. And I'm glad I brought my down jacket on this trip.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, December 19, 2007
My plane flight to Boston was fairly unremarkable. As my plane boarded and landed around the same time as on my last trip to Boston (1:30pm, 10:30pm), I decided to try the same eating strategy: a bowl for soup for lunch from the San Francisco Soup Company, and a sandwich for dinner around 8:30pm via take-out from Boudin Bakery.
My Mexican chicken tortilla soup was thicker and more opaque than I expected. As the person was serving my soup, another woman asked me, "What is that?" I replied, "It's supposedly chicken tortilla." It was marked low fat, a fact I found surprising until I realized they just add the fat on top later (tortilla chips, shredded cheese). In any case, it was fairly good. Sadly, it lacked avocado.
My sandwich, a turkey and avocado on croissant, wasn't very good, much worse than my previous trip's sandwich. This one was mostly sliced turkey without much avocado and hence was quite dry. I miss Stuffed Inn, the sandwich joint in Berkeley that makes great turkey and avocado sandwiches.
The rest of the day was also uneventful. In the morning, I found myself trying to find ways to kill time until it was time to catch the bus to the airport. It's sad when you're bored before you board the plane because it implies future boredom to come.
Posted by mark at Monday, December 17, 2007
I spent two weeks, from November 17, 2007, to December 1, 2007, in New England for a multitude of purposes: visiting friends in Boston and Cambridge, reconnecting with relatives in New York for Thanksgiving, and seeing my parents and their new place in Maine.
I don't have much in the way of summary statements to make about this trip. Boston and Cambridge felt the same as on my previous trip, only colder.
Posted by mark at Sunday, December 16, 2007
On Sunday, November 11, 2007, I went to a lecture on "Kosher Hollywood: Jews, Food and Film" by a UC-Davis professor, given as part of the Contra Costa Jewish Book & Arts Festival. It was neat. The audience questions were generally pretty intelligent too. I'm not going to bother to type up my notes. Ask me about it (when I have the notes around) if you want more details.
Posted by mark at Friday, December 14, 2007
My group at work got the magnificent reward of a four day trip to Hawaii, November 12th to 15th, 2007. It was great! I went consciously intending not to attempt to fill my days exploring. Indeed, unlike nearly every other trip I go on, for this trip I didn't research sights, hotels, or restaurants. I nary had to make any decision about what to do each day. Those days on which I had free time, I decided to not make a decision (and certainly not do any research) and instead lay on the beach by the resort, relaxing, reading, listening to my iPod, and occasionally swimming, wading, or running.
I took only a few pictures during this trip, mostly snapping photographs that captured the feel of being in Maui. I took so few pictures partially because my batteries kept dying, partially because I decided I didn't want to spend much time thinking about which pictures to take and what I would caption them, and partially because I didn't feel comfortable taking pictures at company events. Besides, I trusted others, all wandering around with fancy cameras, to fill up albums of our group’s trip to Hawaii. Sorry, but nearly all of these albums are private/password protected.
The temperature in Maui was comfortably warm except for when clouds blocked the sun. This happened more of the time than I’d prefer; often, it seemed as if the clouds weren't moving. For hours, at times, it’d be on the cooler side. Nonetheless, the water, especially when the sun was out, was delightful. The constant hint of humidity made the weather quite a contrast to India’s dryness.
On Monday, the day I arrived, we had a buffet dinner outdoors at the resort. I particularly liked the papaya seed salad dressing and the honey roasted chicken.
Tuesday I didn't really do anything. I met some coworkers for lunch at a restaurant in the resort. Near the end of the day, I had some pent-up energy so I went running down a path adjacent to the beach. I ran past many resorts similar in size and design to ours. On the way back, the sun came out--it was cloudy for most of the day--and I ran to my room to grab my camera to snap a few more pictures. In the evening, we had dinner of pizza and salad and a team building activity, which turned out to be much more fun than I expected.
Wednesday was busier. I chose snorkeling as my morning activity. A boat took us out to two snorkeling spots, one with lots of fish (some that practically disappeared when they turned sideways), and one with fewer fish, some coral, and a few turtles. I only saw the turtles from the boat, not while in the water. I enjoyed the first spot, Boomerang Island, more.
It was fun to be snorkeling for the first time in half a decade or so. I still find it difficult to pace my breathing when underwater. (It tends to change a bit, probably because I keep thinking, “oh my god, I’m breathing underwater.”) On my last snorkeling trip, it took me a few days to get used to it; I only had one day this time.
The snorkeling boat served burgers, mai tais, and white chocolate chip cookies: pretty pleasing stuff, and satisfying given the temperature and the exercise. It also provided breakfast snacks when we left the dock around 7:30am.
Once back at the resort, I went swimming a bit more, then relaxed on the beach.
In the evening, we were bussed to the Old Lahaina Luau for some Polynesian entertainment. Our group made up only a fraction of the people at the Luau. Judging by the hands that were raised in answer to the M.C.’s question, half the people there were on their honeymoon or celebrating an anniversary.
The luau mainly consisted of watching hula dancers, listening to drumming, and eating from a massive buffet. The hula performances were reasonably pleasant to watch, but I kept being disturbed by the women’s smiles. They appeared forced, immobile, and standardized, as if plastered on. As for the food, there were too many items to even list. I drank a number of funky cocktails, ate myself silly, then had four desserts, topped with a few snacks at the after-party. No wonder I wasn't hungry until mid-afternoon the next day.
Tangentially, I wouldn't recommend the resort for reasons of cleanliness. It’s not the silverfish in the bathroom (that’s not a big deal); rather, it’s the roach I spotted on one of the dessert platters at Monday night’s buffet and the piece of plastic wrap I found in my lunch on Tuesday.
On Thursday I flew home. Despite my complaints about United's food, I was hungry enough that I bought a chicken wrap on the flight. I was surprised to be decently happy with it.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, December 12, 2007
On Sunday afternoon, October 28, 2007, I swung by the Cardboard Tube Fighting League in Justin Herman Plaza for an hour or two to watch the excitement. It was fun watching the participants--a variety of ages from ten to forty--, some in cool costumes, have at it with cardboard tubes. The rules were simple: if your cardboard tube breaks (as judged by a dramatic bending or splitting), you lose. Some people used complex strategies, dancing around their opponent in an attempt to keep their own body between the opponents weapon and their own tube. Sometimes fights like this lasted several minutes, until the warriors realized they weren't getting anywhere, turned, and whacked like mad.
I'm not going to write more because the Chronicle's coverage of the tournament summarizes the event well.
I didn't bother taking pictures because I saw many photographers. The Chronicle article has some nice pictures and a good video, and many more pictures are available from the cardboard tube fighting league flickr stream.
Posted by mark at Monday, December 10, 2007
Traveling home was pretty uneventful with the exception of the adventure of getting me and my luggage to the train station, as expressed by these photos and anecdote.
The train to the airport shuttle to the airplane to the bus home was straightforward. Only one feature of the whole trip surprised me. In Boston, the silver line runs from a train station to the airport. Although it runs through a tunnel, it's a bus. It feels like they've built another train line, stations and all, but forgot to lay down the tracks. The bus runs on a narrow single lane road, perfect for a train.
I can understand why they don't run a train. After a few stops, the bus goes on surface streets. It has to obey stop lights. And, despite the bus having only two cars, it wasn't very full. And this was at rush hour.
Posted by mark at Saturday, December 08, 2007
Tuesday was mainly dedicated to exploring Cambridge and especially Harvard. My guide book warned me:
"Today ... the institution's accumulated wealth--architectural, archaeological, artistic, literary, and historic--makes a brief tour of its campus and museum impossible. Allow several hours, days, or years."I walked this route during the daytime. This blog entry is short because these pictures document the trip exceptionally well.
Fodor's Massachusetts 2003, p. 89
by Patricia Harris, David Lyon,
Anna Mundow, and Lisa Oppenheimer
Early in the day I attended the class International Financial History, 1700 to the Present (password protected). I was told, correctly, that the instructor, Professor Ferguson, is an interesting speaker: entertaining, and pompous (in an humorous way). Although it was the third lecture of the class, I could easily follow it. I liked the material and presentation style, and wish I could take the class.
I'm not going to include my notes from the class in this blog post--that would be silly. Nevertheless, I will include some of the amusing comments the professor made; they reflect his personality. To read/hear the flavor of these remarks, you ought to know the professor has a British accent.
- Ferguson was proud that the class had 180 people, much more than 30 people originally expected. Every lecture thus far had been in ever larger lecture halls. In reflecting on this constant movement, he said, the class will have been on a "tour of Harvard Yard" before it's through.
- As new course packets were being printed, he said they're "felling tar tracks in the Amazon."
- He remarked on some trouble with the course packets, saying he was involved in "complex, not to say obscure, arguments about copyright."
- Regarding students' ability to purchase his book, one of the course's textbooks, he wondered "whether there are sufficient copies in Cambridge, let alone the country."
- He said owning the textbook would be "as useful to you as financially lucrative to me." Hmmm...
- During the lecture, he asked students to take out a dollar bill to examine. That is, "unless Harvard students don't carry such small currency."
- He said he "asked [now ex-]President [of Harvard] Summers [when being hired] if [he] could hedge [his] contract ... and be paid in Euros."
- Commenting on another book used in the class, he said, "one of the things I like about [X]'s book .. is the tweedy, stuffy Oxford air. You can almost smell the snuff in the sitting room."
During my wanderings, I visited the Fogg Museum. Although I didn't finish exploring it, I saw enough to be impressed in the 35 minutes I was there: it contains pieces from famous painters, including Monet, Munch, Whistler, Degas, Picasso, Miro, Pollock, Pissaro, Van Gogh, Renoir, Mondrian, and Bierstadt. Harvard certainly has resources.
While exploring, I ran into Noam Elkies, a sharp mathematician I met at a conference in Banff. He made enough of an impression on me that I remembered him. He didn't remember me. :)
Just before dinner, I got snuck into Widener, Harvard's main library. It's a fairly standard, nice main university library.
After dark, I took a shuttle to Inman Square, ate at the Brazilian restaurant Muqueca, walked back to the Harvard-MIT data center, then walked home. None of this is part of the route map.
Posted by mark at Friday, December 07, 2007
I allocated Monday to walking and exploring everything along Boston's walking trail, the Freedom Trail, which winds past many historic sights. I dressed as lightly as I could--it was a warm but still comfortable day--and got going at 11am, much later than I'd hoped. As I walked to the Harvard T stop to take the train to my starting point, I could smell the lack of California vehicle emission standards. (During most of the rest of my visit to Boston, this effect wasn't so noticeable.) I didn't photograph anything while walking through Harvard because I knew I'd be back to explore it properly.
I walked this route along the Freedom Trail, taking these pictures along the way. The rest of this blog post only mentions things not mentioned in photo captions. The captions have much more detail and involve observations more interesting than those mentioned here (that, implicitly, I didn't think worthy of a picture).
Once in Boston Common, the start of the trail, I grabbed a bagel from across the street at Finagle a Bagel. Boston Common is like every city's traditional green open space, though a bit smaller than average. I was surprised that I didn't see people engaging in athletic activities.
The Massachusetts State House, the next stop of the tour, was probably the highlight of the trail. Besides amazing architecture (see the pictures), it has many interesting museum exhibits.
Later on the trail, I passed a store with a sign "Old Money Wanted." I know what they mean, but the second meaning, not inappropriate for the northeast, is amusing.
As I walked, I noticed Boston has a reasonable number of people on the streets, similar in quantity to some towns I was in on Sunday. Admittedly, Boston has more cars on the road than those small towns, yet nowhere near as many as New York or San Francisco.
Around two or three pm, I found myself at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. Faneuil Hall, a historic building, is a tourist destination/trap, filled with stores selling kitsch. Quincy Market houses a large food court which surprised me by how decent everything looked. Surrounding Quincy Market are longer buildings with many stores. Despite the high prevalence of chain retailers, the area feels classy. In the market, I spotted Durgin Park, a place I mention because of its sign: "est. before you were born." I also spotted a replica of the Cheers bar. After scouting the food court, I bought lunch--I always planned to get lunch from the market, though my late start delayed my lunch substantially past lunchtime--and walked to a park to eat.
Eventually (see pictures for sights skipped in this narrative), the trail brought me through the North End, a predominately Italian district that my parents would like due to the atmosphere and lack of cars, then lead me across the bridge into Charleston. The pedestrian walkway on the bridge is a simple metal grating, allowing one to see water beneath one's feet.
The USS Constitution Museum in the Charleston Navy Yard is quite cool. Technically it's made for kids, but that just implies the writing is clear and easy to read. Exhibits included diplomacy and war with Tripoli (and the barbary war in general), the war of 1812, assorted other historical events, and the life of a sailor. One placard describes how the USS Constitution had, at one point, a figurehead of Andrew Jackson. It was illegally cut off under the cover of darkness and given to a friend of the person who cut it off. It then disappeared for 166 years, reappeared in France, and is now in the Museum of New York. What a story of provenance.
Also, I like museums with entry by donation. (Yes, I donated.)
At the end of the day, I walked back to Boston and took a train to Cambridge, where I shared some fairly respectable pizzas at Veggie Planet.
Posted by mark at Thursday, December 06, 2007
I spent Sunday with my parents. Mostly, they showed me cute, small towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire that they liked.
I have no route map of our travels for the day, though I did take many pictures.
We started the day by visiting Clear Flour, a bakery west of Boston that came highly recommended. After selecting our goods, we hunted for a place to sit, eventually deciding (after entering it and leaving it once) to eat in the cafe part of Wild Harvest Market. Our chocolate croissant was perfect, easily on par with the best we had in Montreal. The apple tart was similarly terrific. We especially loved the crust. The morning bun and Gruyere cheese croissant were also pretty good. My mom was surprised she liked the latter. The scone was fine enough, like an ordinary corn muffin.
After breakfast, my parents drove me quickly through Beacon Hill, a neighborhood of Boston with which they are familiar from when they lived nearby. Beacon Hill has lovely narrow streets framed by brick buildings with big bay windows. I should see it at a more reasonable pace sometime.
I navigated when we drove in Boston--not an easy feat because of Boston's irregular street layout.
Heading north, we drove on route one past many miles of chain stores.
The first town my parents showed me was Amesbury. As we entered, we saw really great views of the river, including a condo building on an island. From Amesbury, we could see a well-forested state park. My parents tell me it was created by a rich man who donated a large chunk of land for precisely this purpose.
We drove through Amesbury's cute downtown. Within Amesbury, my parents showed me an old mill facing the river that's being converted into condos, and an old hat factory doing the same. The latter had lovely balconies. They both looked like decent places to live.
Then came Newburyport. We first drove down High Street and glanced at its many, fairly nice single family houses. They reminded me a bit of Atlanta, but these houses weren't as big or elaborate as Atlanta's. Perhaps I saw a similarity because both locations have houses flying US flags, often with thirteen stars.
We stopped and strolled in Newburyport's downtown. It is similar to Amesbury's with one notable exception: it was more crowded, and thus has a livelier atmosphere. It's not obvious to me why more people go here than there. Perhaps it's because everyone else goes here too? Or perhaps it's because the merchants have more decorative flowers in front of their shops? (But maybe those came simply because the merchants here bring in more income and therefore have more to invest in appearances.)
Before leaving Newburyport, we gawked briefly at a run-down synagogue (paint peeling) in the middle of a pretty neighborhood. I wonder why it's not better maintained.
From Newburyport, we took highway 95 to Portsmouth. 95's greenery was a nice contrast to highway 1's retail outlets.
Portsmouth is bigger than Newburyport. Its downtown is great, with many stores, some quirky, some ritzy, some elegant. The streets are dense with restaurants, including many overlooking the nearby water.
While wandering, we found a cool park with clusters of flowers of different varieties. For instance, it had a section devoted to all the types of coleus, another for peppers, another for begonias, and another for fluffy grasses. It's neat to see the wide range of appearances within each category.
We also spotted an old car: an Auburn Cord Dousenberg. I found it surprising, as in Amesbury we spotted a model T. I wonder if this area has a high density of old car fanatics.
After Portsmouth, my parents drove me along route 1B at sunset, passing many great water views, and then through New Castle. The town's narrow roads with closely knit houses make one naturally slow down while driving. Near New Castle, we saw some tremendous sunset views of water.
Hungry, we chose Portsmouth Brewery for dinner. For an appetizer, we shared a Caesar salad. Although my parent's didn't appreciate it, I simply thought it was light on the dressing. I tried some of my dad's Smuttynose Portsmouth lager; it was good. As for my entree, the chicken in my chicken pesto sandwich was slightly burnt, but I loved the focaccia. The fries were salty and good and hit the spot.
After dinner, we drove back to the Boston area and had ice cream at Christina's.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, December 05, 2007
On Saturday, I met some friends (Di Yin, Brian, and Emily: all academics :>) and we took a trip to historic Lexington and Concord. These pictures document the day; in the text below, I'm only going to present the outline of our activities--the pictures don't convey well how we got where when--and a few details that aren't represented by a picture. Sorry, I don’t have a map that displays where we traveled.
Lexington is a fairly cute town, filled with many single family houses. Although filled with multiple antique buildings and houses that offered tours, we decided to only explore the most famous one, Buckman Tavern.
The tour, at just under an hour, surprisingly long for a house with fewer than half a dozen rooms, was nevertheless fun because the guide knew his history. As photography was prohibited, here's, in writing, some of my observations and some things he mentioned:
- He described a dirty, nasty drink the tavern served, made with various alcohols, a heated steel rod, and a raw egg.
- He pointed out how the owners chose the dimension of the floorboards due to how the British taxed them. The different tax treatment came about because the British wanted to ensure large lumber was available for building its navy. I forget the details, and can’t easily find additional information on the web.
- When cooking in the tavern's brick oven, the cook puts "baker's cake" (cracker) flour underneath the other food to prevent the other food from burning. One could eat the crackers later, if one so desired.
- We spotted a hefty sausage squeezer.
- The beds have a "sleep tight" rope nailed to the wood. Its purpose was to prevent the mattresses from falling into the hay, hence avoiding bed bugs.
- He repeated an often alleged relationship between the expression "mind your Ps and Qs" and the bartender keeping a tally of how many drinks of each size a patron drank. I know, however, many other stories of this expression’s origin exist, and there’s not much historical evidence with which to decide what’s true and what’s false. Here’s more information.
After lunch, we went to Concord. Concord's downtown is definitely cuter than Lexington's, though I can't comment on it much because we only drove through it on our way to Concord's most famous site, the North Bridge (part of Minute Man National Historic Park). We looked at the bridge and wandered around the vicinity, then drove south to Walden Pond.
Walden Pond was quite crowded: not with tourists, but rather with beach-goers. Not only does the pond have a beach and allow swimming, it also has the associated amenities such as an ice cream stand. Many people took advantage of the beach knowing that this was likely the season's last gasp at summer.
After Walden Pond, we returned to Cambridge. Di Yin and I had been given tickets to the performance of the China National Peking (Beijing) Opera Company. We got in the T and immediately headed to it. Here’s the route we took this evening, starting from where we got off the subway.
The show was analogous to how the SF Opera does promotional performances: a series of excerpts from famous works. I enjoyed the show. Admittedly, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more if I understood what the singers were saying. (There were no subtitles.) I’m told that, for many songs, due to the type of language used and the way words and sounds are elongated when sung, even native speakers do not understand what is being said.
Some singers were tremendous. Some were still in training. Even without understanding the words, I could easily identify the variation in quality. The best singers were world-class.
The audience was mostly old Chinese people. It was clear the opera company is a government agency reaching out to this populace. Near the end of the show, they sang “I am a citizen of China” and encouraged people to visit the new China (with the changes that are taking place due to the Olympics). Incidentally, the show was presented in a large auditorium that felt like it belonged in a high school.
After the opera, we ambulated for an hour through the Back Bay and Cambridge, passing MIT, until we made it to Punjabi Dhaba, a cute Indian restaurant, for a very late dinner/snack. We then headed to a famous ice cream place for dessert but were disappointed to find it closed. This wasn't a major loss: I got to try it on another day.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Before boarding my flight to Boston, I grabbed a cup of soup at the airport from the San Francisco Soup Company. However, I mis-estimated my timing, and needed to eat it so fast I burned my tongue. Ah, well.
My timing was off because I took time to buy a sandwich to eat for dinner later on the plane. This strategy worked out well--I should do it again--, allowing me to avoid United's horrid wraps. The turkey cranberry sandwich I chose from Boudin survived well until I was ready to eat it.
Other than being slightly uncomfortable because a big guy was in the seat next to me (not obese, just naturally large), the flight was pretty uneventful. Upon landing, I had a long trek of bus to train to (short) walk to shuttle to get to where I was staying the night.
Posted by mark at Monday, December 03, 2007
I visited the Boston area from Friday, September 21, 2007, to Wednesday, September 26, 2007.
I got to explore a sizable portion of the Boston-Cambridge area, more than I expected. That's not because I had more time for sightseeing or was remarkably efficient, but rather because Boston had less to see than I thought. I feel like it's an easier city to come to understand than larger cities such as San Francisco or New York. It’s a substantial city with a smaller town feel.
Perhaps the feel comes from the ease with which one can get anywhere. Not only is the city very walkable, but the metro system is both efficient and reaches every part of the city (or at least every part of the city to which I wanted to go).
Furthermore, Boston has a walking trail, The Freedom Trail, which, at several miles long, passes by many of Boston’s historic sights. It’s clearly marked. More cities should have such trails! Not only does it help guide tourists, it also makes one feel as if one truly understands what a city believes is important about itself. All this, with less than one day of sightseeing.
In addition to Boston’s transportation system and compact feel, the quantity and quality of its food choices appealed to me. The restaurant scene’s competitiveness and diversity, spanning the culinary spectrum, is due, I’m sure, in no small part to all the students with taste and a limited budget.
Incidentally, the northeast seemed to be packed full of Dunkin’ Donuts. What’s up with that?
During this trip, the northeast, if anything, was a tad too warm (mostly 80s, warmer than the bay area!), a bit surprising given it was September. Still, hints of fall appeared. Some trees’ leaves were turning. Overall, it was a great time to visit.
Posted by mark at Sunday, December 02, 2007
Posts in this blog generally fall into one of two categories: festival report or trip report. In the past, I've keep each category in chronological order, for instance holding up a festival report until I've posted reports for all festivals I attended before that one. I haven't previously cared about the relative order of trip reports and festival reports. For example, I posted about my fall 2006 trip to Montreal in the middle of posts about festivals I went to in the summer of 2007.
I'm now trying a new policy: I won't even post trip reports in chronological order. For instance, I'm about to post my entries from a September 2007 trip to Massachusetts despite not having finished writing about my June trip to Washington D.C. In short, I'm tired of having to postpone posting certain trip reports simply because I haven't gotten around to finishing trip reports from earlier trips.
For now, I'll continue posting festival reports in chronological order.
I welcome feedback on the new policy. Feel free to use the comments section on this post.
Posted by mark at Sunday, November 11, 2007
After Atlanta, I stopped by Chicago for a day (March 30 to 31, 2007) to visit my parents and one set of grandparents. I don't have much to report; I didn't do any touristy things. I simply had a few quiet meals and conversations. It's nice to see relatives I don't visit often.
Posted by mark at Saturday, November 10, 2007
Although scheduled to fly out of Atlanta in early afternoon, I didn't have anything remaining on my list of places in Atlanta that was itching to see. Hence, I decided to have a lackadaisical morning.
While getting up, I happened to turn on the television to the movie Something the Lord Made, probably a third of way into it. It caught my attention and I ended up watching it to the end. Something about the movie struck me as quite Southern. Perhaps it's simply the topic of discrimination. Here's my reaction.
After the movie ended, I went to brunch at Thumbs Up Diner. Here's my review. The only pictures I took this day are of this diner.
After brunch, all I had remaining to do was return the rental car and get to my flight. As I did so, it started drizzling. This was the first rain I saw anytime during the trip, a fact that's a testament to the good weather I enjoyed throughout my trip. Still, the person driving the shuttle from the rental car place to the airport had the same comments as the radio personalities I'd heard earlier the morning: they were all happy about the rain; it would knock pollen out of the air, thereby helping people with allergies and saving cars from changing color.
They also said I was leaving just in time to miss two major tourist events: the NCAA finals and the Masters golf tour.
Posted by mark at Friday, November 09, 2007
These photos document the day's sights, especially the botanical garden.
Thursday morning I decided to grab breakfast at my budget hotel. I wasn't expecting much. And I was not surprised. They had a selection of packaged bagels and mini-muffin, all clearly store bought, and juice from concentrate provided by a machine. I selected a blueberry bagel, toasted it, and spread it with butter. It sufficed.
Fueled, I attempted to go to the Atlanta History Center. My lack of a good map of the area around my hotel in Smyrna, northwest of Atlanta, led me to get lost for roughly eighty minutes! This part of Atlanta, far from any area I've commented on previously, is fairly nice as well, though has some cookie-cutter houses. The Defoors, Northside, Moores Mill Rd, and West Paces Ferry are all quite nice areas. The latter is as nice as Ponce de Leon, which I previously wrote about and photographed.
Eventually, I made it to the History Center. Its exhibits covered:
- the olympics. The message seemed to be "look at us; we hosted the olympics; we're great."
- the civil war. A respectable, detailed history of the war. One sign stuck out, asking, "could people in one region dictate to all Americans what their rights would be?"
- folk and agrarian arts, including farming, pottery, cooking, woodworking, textiles, and music.
- Bobby Jones and golf. (Echoes of the guy I talked to at the cemetery the previous day. Atlanta's proud of Bobby Jones.)
- quilts. Some nice designs.
- the history of Atlanta and its sprawl. Interestingly, the part on the KKK was next to something on Gone With The Wind.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. This special exhibit had countless drafts of sermons. I'm not sure how I'd feel if, say, drafts of my old college essays were displayed in a museum. The exhibit also had his report card: mostly Bs. This must've been before grade inflation as, nonetheless, he was still the top in his class. In addition, the exhibit showed what books he had on his bookshelf. It's amazing how much one can learn about people and judge people by the books they own.
After the History Center, I swung by Buckhead to give it another attempt at finding the cool part. I instead discovered a nice shopping district, but one that isn't made for people on foot.
The Atlanta Botanical Garden was my next destination. It's pretty. There was a special exhibit of glass flowers by Fräbel. These were amazing; I took a ton of pictures of them! There's also a frog pond and exhibit, warm tropical and southern hemisphere greenhouses, and a display of orchids. Other than those attractions, there's nothing too exciting.
After the garden, I went to the adjacent Piedmont Park. It's Atlanta's version of Central Park but is not quite so central. (Still, it isn't a bad park.) In getting to the park, I had to parallel park on the left side of a street--it was one way-- in an unfamiliar car. This was easier than I'd have thought.
For dinner, I drove aways north to get barbecue at Swallow At The Hollow. It was a unique place and quite an experience. Here's my review.
Posted by mark at Thursday, November 08, 2007
I was all over the place on Wednesday. Given how my day was filled with driving, exploring for an hour or two, driving, exploring, driving, exploring, ..., I didn't attempt to make a map of my route for the day. I do, however, have pictures.
To begin my day, I grabbed a quick, functional breakfast in my hotel. Of the fairly wide selection, I picked a satisfying raisin bran, a fine cinnamon swirl, a not yet ripe banana, and some orange juice, clearly from concentrate.
First, I went to Sweet Auburn to explore the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site and its nearby historic buildings. The center played recordings of some of his speeches; Dr. King was quite a speaker. Also, it's stunning to think these events and the segregation that preceded them only happened forty years ago.
I took a tour of King's church. The tour guide was great. One thing he described was how the church will look when it's finished being restored.
After touring King's house and the neighborhood, I tried to stick my head in a museum, the African American Panoramic Experience. The door was locked. Although there was a sign about ringing the bell to get the door opened, I took it as an omen and continued on.
For lunch, I headed to Six Feet Under, a casual seafood joint. At first I went into the wrong building. When I read the menu, I realized I was in the wrong place, left a buck or two to make up for the glasses of water and utensils they'll have to wash, and left. Once in the correct building (next door), I ate. Here's my review.
After lunch, I drove a few blocks to the main entrance of the Oakland Cemetery. The cemetery is actually across the street from the restaurant (but behind a wall). There I met an old guy who knows a lot of history. I ended up talking and walking with him for a while. Our speed in both of these activities reminded me life in Georgia is slow. He thought I might be in the cemetery to visit the grave of golfer Bobby Jones. I said no, but didn't have the heart to tell him I didn't know who Bobby Jones was. The guy was very much a local history buff and clearly proud of his town and state. I didn't want to disappoint him.
Incidentally, the cemetery, with all its criss-crossing paths and symbols on graves, would be a good site for a Game clue.
Then I went to Georgia Tech's Paper Museum. It's small, cool museum. I especially liked the exhibit about how watermarks are made.
I glanced around Georgia Tech, noticing many brick buildings. I was also amused to see some Greek houses actually have Greek architecture (columns, etc.). Nevertheless, some of these Greek-architecture houses are made of brick.
Since I had still more time, I decided to return downtown to visit a site I never made it to but wanted to see: Underground Atlanta. Underground Atlanta consists of several blocks of Atlanta over which wide bridges were built to improve traffic flow. Shops moved to the upper level. Several decades ago, the lower level was revived. From reading many guide books, I observed that the more recently a book was published, the more explicitly the book mentions that the area has gone downhill, becoming both shady and gentrified. It now has many cheap chain stores.
I took a short, enjoyable, historic walking tour of the underground.
Underground Atlanta could've been cool, plaques and all. But it simply didn't feel right. I found it hard to put my finger on why. It might be because of the stores selling schlock. It might be the way the plaques are put to the side, as if trying to hide the interesting history of the place. It might be simply that it needs better lighting. (As it was, despite bright sunlight outside and lit lanterns and lamps underground, it felt dreary.)
The Coca-Cola Museum, located (when I visited) next to Underground Atlanta, is moving/has moved. That means Underground Atlanta will have even fewer visitors in the future.
Because Underground Atlanta is adjacent to the central/main MARTA (subway) station, I decided to peek inside it. It seems like a station in any other subway system -- nothing distinctive. I'm a bit sad (but not too sad) I didn't have an excuse to ride it this trip; it would've been good to experience.
I headed to the Virginia-Highland district for dinner. It's another nice, yuppie district with houses, trees, and cute stores. Although the retail portion is only on one not very long street, I nevertheless liked the neighborhood. It has character from many pubs, coffeeshops, hairdressers (yes, it has a surprising number), and more. I was amused to see one coffeeshop was the SF Roasting Company.
For dinner, I ate at Surin, a Thai restaurant. Here's my review.
Just south of this area is the neighborhood Little Five Points. It's a bohemian, funky area that looks much like SF's Haight (though for some reason felt slightly safer, not that the Haight is really unsafe). I spotted the type of stores one would expect: small, independent music stores, offbeat pizza places, and bars.
Incidentally, I thought about going to the Center for Puppetry Arts today. I was too busy to visit at a time when it had a performance I wanted to see. (I'm told it's not worth visiting at other times.)
Posted by mark at Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Tuesday morning began with more Dekalb leftovers: a ham and cheese croissant (which survived the night well), a tomato, a nectarine, more leftover yogurts, and a dried-fruit cake.
I took a goodly number of pictures this day.
After breakfast, we headed to the Atlanta State Farmers Market. I wanted to see what it looked like when it was actually open (see pictures). There were plant, tree, and sod dealers, and sellers of fruits galore.
After dropping Di Yin at the airport, I headed to Midtown. In Midtown, I walked this route as I explored.
My main Midtown destination was the High Museum of Art. The High turned out to be a respectable but not notable museum, mostly containing modern art. I appreciated that many pieces of art had signs with stories. The museum was very paranoid about visitors: not only did I have to sign a contract to allow me to bring in my camera, it prohibited pens (and hence I had to take notes in pencil), and it (as many museums are wont to do) forced me to check my bag.
A special exhibit on loan from the Louvre included instances of decorative arts such as busts, chairs, candlesticks, tables, and rugs. There were also a few paintings from artists such as Rembrandt; most were none too exciting. One exciting one was a painting by Morse (yes, the guy who invented Morse code wanted to be an artist): Gallery of the Louvre. The painting includes images of many other paintings. What a game great Game clue it'd make!
As for the High, its collection spanned a wide range. One neat exhibit displayed photographs of things in motion: pendulums, bullets, dynamite caps, safety glass cracking, two balls colliding, etc., some with multiple exposures overlaid. Other exhibits covered folk art (including face masks), statues, glasswork, furniture, sketches by Matisse & Picasso, and American Art from the late 1800s. In terms of paintings, I spotted a Mondrian rip-off by Diller and a number of paintings, including some Monet Houses of Parliament (these are everywhere) and a Pissarro. I definitely liked the impressionist paintings (in particular Hudson River paintings, which I knew I like) and the landscape paintings done by the Barbizon school. (I wasn't aware of this inclination. I'd never even heard the word previously.)
After I left the High, I walked a bit more (as documented in the photos). Midtown seems to have very few pedestrians. Eventually I found myself at the Atlanta Federal Reserve, another place that prohibits cameras.
The Fed was pretty darn cool, one of the coolest places I visited in Atlanta. In addition to having general, interesting, detailed exhibits on the history of money, monetary systems, U.S. monetary policy, it had four things I want to point out. One, in the back of the building, behind a glass wall, was a hallway in which machines moved. These machines looked like black filing cabinets the size of refrigerators. These machines, I read, carried cases of money. No one was allowed in the hallway. The robots moved automatically. Doors opened and closed for them when necessary. Interlocks prevented two doors from being open at the same time. Only when a machine was in the correct room with the door closed did its cabinet unlock, allowing employees to get and process whatever was inside. This is how the Fed safely shipped money within its building. I wish I could've seen more of how the system worked and what each group of employees did.
The Fed also displayed 10k and 100k notes. Although not in general circulation, they're used to transfer money between government agencies.
Near this exhibit was an interactive one that asked visitors to identify counterfeit bills. Even the supposedly easy ones were pretty hard for me. The hardest ones were well nigh impossible.
In addition, the Fed had a neat map of the U.S. in which each state was made of its special issue quarter. No, I don't mean a map of the U.S. in which each state had a spot for the state's quarter; I mean a map where each state's geographical area was represented by a bunch of the state's quarters in the appropriate shape.
Finally, I returned to my car, drove a slight bit south, and walked this short route to see the few remaining sights I wanted to see in Midtown.
For dinner, found myself at Mezza, a Lebanese restaurant in a nicely forested district. Here's my review.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, November 06, 2007
These pictures accompany the day's narrative.
We started the day eating a breakfast of Dekalb Market leftovers in our hotel room. We had: focaccia, a chocolate-coconut macaroon, a cheese danish, tiramisu, an almond date cake, and some grapes. Everything we had yesterday tasted the same as I described yesterday; the only notable difference was the focaccia, which smelled strongly yet still tasted the same. The almond date cake was new: it was sticky and had a fun liveliness like a slab of dried fruit formed into a bar, then with added nuts.
Grant Park & Cyclorama
After breakfast, we headed to Grant Park. Along the way, we passed through another area of nice houses. Once in Grant Park, we walked this route to the Civil War Museum and its cyclorama, the centerpiece of the museum. A cyclorama is a large cylindrical painting. (The paint is on the inside; people stand in the middle.)
Due to a recent change of policy, the museum wasn't supposed to be open on Mondays. However, the museum staff specially opened the museum for a class field trip. Even though the students never showed (!), the staff decided to be nice and keep the museum open for us few tourists who happened to be around.
Before seeing the cyclorama, we examined the tiny museum, filled with photographs, diagrams of battle plans (Grant Park was a battlefield!), and the train from the great locomotive chase (the actual event, not the movie).
Then we entered the platform in the center of the cyclorama.
Seeing the cyclorama, The Battle of Atlanta, was quite a theatrical experience. The room began entirely dark. As a narrator (actually James Earl Jones) told the story of the history of the cyclorama, parts of the painting were lit up. The audio used surround sound well: for instance, in discussing a battle portrayed in the painting, I could hear the sounds of horses and gunshots from behind us.
I learned some interesting facts about the painting:
- It's a big oil painting on linen, standing 42' high and 356' around the circumference. It's supposedly the world's largest painting.
- Although a fad in the nineteenth century, only three cycloramas survive in the country. There's only twenty left in the world. I was in Quebec last year. It turns out one of the few remaining cycloramas, the Cyclorama of Jerusalem, in North America was nearby.
- It appears 3-d because of a 30' deep diorama in front of the painting, including model figures, dirt, and railroads. The diorama blends well with the painting. The diorama used to be made of dirt, tree stumps, and so on, but they had problems with rodents and insects so it was redone with fiberglass.
- The cyclorama was commissioned by a military officer who participated in the battle as part of his political campaign. It portrays how Atlanta burned in the Civil War ("War Between The States") during Sherman's March to the Sea. He wanted to show the role he played in the battle.
- Since it's a circular painting, an entrance was needed to get the public inside and out. To solve this problem, the painters painted a wagon door in one segment of the painting and cut out the canvas from inside the door. We, however, didn't get to enter through the door; rather, we walked beneath the painting and climbed some stairs up into the center.
- The landscape, horses, and people were all done by separate artists. Perhaps this division of labor--in which each person does only and exactly what he or she is good at--should be tried with modern pieces of art, whether large or small. It might improve the quality (not that I'm claiming art not done in this way is bad quality). We might live in a too individualistic time, however, for artists to be willing to share the task of producing art.
We then drove downtown and strolled, walking this route. Sometime while walking we spotted a piece of art made in the pointillist style using fragments of newsprint. Neat. This might've been in the lobby of the Atlanta Insurance building: it displayed some artwork.
We walked through the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, a historic district. Although it had some plaques, I was generally disappointed with it. In general it doesn't look very historic--in fact, it looks pretty shoddy. The old Cocoa Cola old plant, seemingly located in a house, wasn't worth photographing. Later I learned the important, historic, pleasant section of Sweet Auburn was further east. I visited it on day five.
Our walking took us to the Sweet Auburn Curb Market in time for a late lunch. It's a little market with some freshly cooked and some prepared foods. It's certainly no Dekalb, but it's still decent.
We gathered food from a variety of stalls.
- Roasted chicken: very good, moist.
- Collard greens: very good. Puts the ones from last night's visit to Colonnade to shame.
- Cabbage: fine. Di Yin likes.
- Flattened corn bread (johnny cake) - more like a corn muffin.
- Crab cake: good, though a bit fatty.
- Berry smoothie.
We walked past the Capitol, but didn't have time to explore the museum inside.
In front of the capitol was a solitary man wearing a noose and shackles. It wasn't obvious to me what statement he was making. Later in the week, I saw the local news interview him. Apparently Georgia legislators are considering a bill to apologize for slavery. He was lobbying in favor of the bill.
The Coca-Cola Museum was neat: a comprehensive history of the evolution of the drink, the company, the brand, the advertising strategy, and more. I particularly enjoyed the exhibits showing how the brand's colors and advertising artwork have changed over time. Supplementing this exhibit was a theater showing television ads. It's interesting to see how Coke advertises itself differently in different countries, and how those ads have changed over the previous several decades.
They had various tasting rooms. One room included many of the drinks the Coca-Cola company sells all over the world: dozens upon dozens of these specialized drinks for particular tastes. I had no conception of the sheer number of such products. Some I spotted and decided to write down: ginger beer, krest ginger ale, fanta tropical, smart watermelon (sold in China) (I tried), fanta passion fruit (I tried), smart apple (sold in China) (I tried: good, not too sweet; wish I could get it around here), and lift apple (sold in Mexico) (I tried: more cidery than China's version).
Sometimes it's interesting to see the sorts of objects for sale in a museum shop. This museum's offerings included sprite, tab, and hi-c t-shirts (all reasonable product ideas, though I've never seen anybody wearing one), and coca-cola shot glasses (huh).
From the Coca-Cola Museum, we walked through a sketchy area with people hawking electronics (this is an adjunct to Atlanta Underground, which I'd formally visit later in the week), passed the Atlanta Journal-Constitution building (wholly unremarkable), passed the State Bar of Georgia building (with an unusual monument out front--what does it signify?), and arrived at the CNN Center. Next to the CNN Center was a restaurant, Golden Buddha, which advertised Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Sushi. I guess people in Atlanta aren't usually any more specific when they go out to eat than simply saying they want Asian food. I'd be surprised if this place were any good.
The CNN Center, world headquarters of CNN, offered tours. Cameras weren't allowed. After going through a metal detector and bag inspection, we got to see one news room (usually used for weather reports) with a green screen. I learned that the teleprompter displays 150-175 words per minute, with only three or four words per line in order to minimize eye movement. The prompts are read via a mirror so the telecaster's face isn't directly lit by the teleprompter. The teleprompter uses symbols to direct the telecaster to make dramatic gestures. For instance, a circle means push, as in push the clouds away for a weather forecaster.
We were shown the newsroom. It's a big room with no walls. Everyone works there: producers, directors, affiliate processors (i.e., they read the newswire), writers, copy editors, main desk, weather. Normally there's 75-100 people in the room. During major breaking news, the number can grow to three times that.
During the tour, we walked by a memento from Saddam's Airport. (I think it was the "M" from the airport sign.) It felt somehow wrong for a news organization to collect pieces of the news (i.e., items owned by a foreign, fallen government).
Something else on the tour also made me think: the televisions showing competitors' channels. While it's good to keep track of the competition, the guide said the monitoring is partially to "keep the news in line", which I take to mean both in line with what stories they're choosing to report and in line with the facts they're reporting. It feels almost like implicit convergence/consolidation of the media.
Turner Broadcasting owns not only the large CNN family such as CNN Espanol (whose newsroom we saw), CNN Money, and CNN International, but also channels I never associated with it such as the Cartoon Network and Court TV.
Some questions answered during the tour were clearly dodges, such as the third frequently asked anchor question. Also, I found it interesting to hear about the jargon that's evolved in the control room.
This time, the attached gift shop had shirts with important messages worth remembering: "find the facts" and "hold people in power accountable."
Leaving the CNN Center, we walked through Centennial Olympic Square/Park. There were many strange numbers embedded in the ground; I wonder what they mean. Regardless, the site would make a good Game clue.
In the evening, we returned to one pleasant district, Ponce de Leon, to go running among all the unique houses. We jogged this route.
For dinner, we revisited the Dekalb market for supplies. We then headed to our new hotel room in the Best Western in College Park and ended up eating:
- tomato basil soup: thick, with whole leaves of basil
- pasta and artichoke salad: standard)
- woodstock water buffalo vermont black currant yogurt: weird; solid like cake frosting though not as sweet
- redwood hill farm cranberry orange goat milk yogurt: quite good
- seaweed salad
- smoked turkey leg: fine
- focaccia: still the same leftovers
Our new hotel had a microwave and living room, yet was cheaper than our previous one. If only we had known about the microwave, we would've bought different food.
Posted by mark at Monday, November 05, 2007
These pictures and movies record the day's adventures. They include at least as many observations as this blog entry.
We decided to begin our visit to Atlanta with a stop by a farmers market followed by a picnic in a famous park. It was a simple plan, but events didn't go simply. Our guide books didn't have great maps so we had a little trouble getting to the highway and figuring out which highways we needed to take. Then we ran into worse trouble: a marathon closed many roads. We tried dodging this way and that. In the process, Di Yin noticed many swings on porches. Eventually we got out and walked around a bit, partially to release some frustration from running into the marathon repeatedly, partially to enjoy the perfect weather.
Back in the car, we eventually made our way around the marathon and soon drove down a lovely street, Ponce de Leon, with interesting houses and pretty "new green" trees. At some point, Di Yin commented on the radio station we happened to have chosen. "Are we really listening to Christian reggae?"
Your Dekalb Farmers Market
Once at the Your Dekalb Farmers Market, we explored, and bought a huge amount of food. It's not a farmers market in the traditional sense because all the stalls are owned by same company. Rather, it's more, as one person described it, an "atmospheric grocery store," a bit like Berkeley Bowl but bigger. It's definitely impressive; I wish we had a store like it in California. NPR's All Things Considered produced a cute profile of the market.
The market seems to be run by black muslims, judging by the quantity of middle eastern foods and spices at the market and the relatively little amount of pork. Di Yin observed many employees appeared to speak French with a Haitian accent. Perhaps this is related to the observation that nearby parts of town seem to have more Caribbean restaurants than one would otherwise expect.
I observed one fact that made me happy: this market doesn't mislabel pasilla peppers, as most markets in California do.
We also observed one consequence of being in a conservative Southern state. No alcohol is sold on Sunday.
Stone Mountain Park
We drove to Stone Mountain Park and drove around it, discovering how pretty it is, while looking for a place to picnic. We found a pleasant one where birds were chirping. We ate:
- ham and cheese croissant - good. sharp cheddar makes a difference.
- lamb chile - remarkably good and meaty. Also has beans and three types of peppers.
- marinated mushrooms - I'm definitely a fan.
- lamb samosa - oily fried skin. all meat interior. simply unpleasantly overwhelming.
- focaccia - a little oily.
- cheese danish - soft, sweet cheese. I think we liked it.
- tiramisu - "wow." "wow." It was all rum and expresso, no cream.
After a short walk in the park (sneezy for some, as everything was in bloom), we got in the car and headed downtown. Once again, we drove through Decateur, one particularly nice area of Atlanta. After debating about where we should actually go when we arrived downtown and fighting a bit of traffic, we ended up at the Georgia Aquarium.
Originally, I was planning to skip the aquarium, just as I planned to skip Six Flags (which the tourist books also make a big deal about). Aquariums are usually the same everywhere--just fish--and rarely excite me. I'm glad I was traveling with Di Yin, because she convinced me to go to the aquarium. And I'm really thankful I did. Built two years ago, it's the world largest. And boy is it impressive. I realized I could make an awesome Game here, not only because of the "can you spot these fish" handouts it provided when we entered.
The pictures and movies capture most of my experience at the aquarium. Everyone was nice (nicer than in many other cities) about getting in the way of pictures -- if they did, they apologized and quickly moved on. The most awe-inspiring exhibit was the transparent tunnel under a huge tank filled with giant groupers, hammerheads, sting rays, and whale sharks. I have videos of it. Part of the awe comes from the reaction of the other visitors; when we returned to the tunnel later and it was less crowded, it didn't seem as impressive and moving.
There's many aquatic creatures I didn't photograph, including senorita, halfmoon, horn shark, rainbow seaperch, seat otters, octopus, longnose gar, and razorfish.
I'd guess the clear material the aquarium uses as walls for its tanks is six inches thick. At first I thought it was glass, but learned it's actually acrylic. When I was reading about the material, I finally realized why we had to pass through metal detectors on the way into the aquarium: so people don't bring in a weapon and break a tank open--that could be disastrous.
There's an exhibit describing how the fish get from the other side of the world to the aquarium: UPS. UPS uses uses a 747. (UPS is based in Atlanta so I guess it's natural they provide the shipping.)
One exhibit allowed visitors to touch an anemone. Another allowed touching of a cownose ray. One of these had limited times (fifteen minutes every hour); the aquarium didn't want the creatures to get stressed.
To kill some time before dinner, we headed to Buckhead. Buckhead supposedly is Atlanta's hip, trendy neighborhood, full of fancy shopping boutiques and cutting edge restaurants. The cool part of it is reportedly so crowded, so much like Mardi Gras, with so many people on the streets, that's it's difficult to drive.
We couldn't find this part of Buckhead. We found the intersection of Peachtree Road NE and Wieuca Road, which had three shopping malls on the corner facing one another. Perhaps the cool section was in the little streets by the malls?
In any case, we gave up and headed for the nearby outlet of Chapter 11 books, a small, local, supposedly good chain bookstore. We couldn't find it! We had the address, but it wasn't there. I even booted up my laptop to check the address online. It was correct. I guess that outpost of Chapter 11 Books filed for chapter 11...
Bookless, we headed to Colonnade Restaurant for our first meal in Atlanta of true Southern cooking. Here's my review. After dinner, we had a tasty dessert back at the hotel of chocolate covered crystallized ginger. Mmmm.
Posted by mark at Sunday, November 04, 2007
Getting to San Francisco airport on Saturday was a piece of cake. I'd normally take the CalTrain-BART-AirTrain connection, which is actually much more efficient than it sounds. Instead, however, I remembered getting a card in the mail announcing SamTrans had started a new express bus line that runs past my apartment, connected to other CalTrain stations, BART, the airport, and San Francisco. Since the announcement came with a free ticket and the schedule looked slightly nicer than my series of trains, I decided to take it. It worked great. The bus was on time to the minute and went, effectively, directly to the airport. And I saved about four dollars. :) (My series of trains cost four dollars; SamTrans would normally cost just under two, but I rode free.)
My flight, direct to Atlanta, was equally nice. In fact, I couldn't ask for a better seat -- I sat in the window seat of an exit row (and hence had lots of leg room) and had an empty middle seat next to me.
The flight’s stewardpeople spoke with a slight Southern twang. They also said “yes sir” quite often. It was a pleasant feature which helped me get into the mood for this trip.
On the flight, I ate a turkey, cheddar, asparagus, and sun-dried tomato wrap. It was fine.
Atlanta’s airport is bland. I knew it was one of the world’s busiest airports and therefore I’d hoped that would mean someone spent the time to make it interesting. I was wrong. Also, it didn't seem busy to me, though that could be simply because I landed on a Saturday evening.
After landing, I picked up my rental car, briefly explored the Atlanta State Farmer's Market (at which I took two pictures), and returned to the airport to pick up Di Yin, the friend who’d explore some of Atlanta with me. The farmers market was supposedly open twenty-four hours but, as you can tell from the pictures, it really wasn't.
We headed to our hotel, a Marriott Courtyard. When we found it, we were told there wasn't a reservation for us, and that perhaps we had intended to go to the other Courtyard another two miles up the road!
After checking in to the correct hotel, we went out for dinner, ending up at a Waffle House. Here's my review.
Posted by mark at Saturday, November 03, 2007
I took a vacation in Atlanta, Georgia from March 24th to March 30th 2007. A friend and former apartment-mate of mine, Di Yin, came for part of the week; the rest of the time I was left to explore on my own.
Here's a summary of my overall impressions of Atlanta.
People in Atlanta are friendly. On day three, Di Yin asked, "Are people here friendly, or do they just like you?" And I think people here are simply friendly. Their body language and expressions are more open than in other parts of the country. They're more willing to have conversations. And the effect is contagious. By the end of my trip, I found myself more willing to start and continue conversations with people I didn't know.
Although it wasn't obvious to me whether any particular person I met was very religious or extremely socially conservative, it was obvious the preponderance of the media was. Many television stations that my various hotel rooms received broadcast preachers. Multiple billboards advertised radio or television stations that were "safe for the whole family." And the AM band was filled with conservative talk shows. (Of course, this might not be uncommon; I never listened to AM radio in other states.) But even on one such a show, I was still surprised to hear the extreme positions I did. One host encouraged people to "breed" in order to "fight Islamo-Naziism" (or "traditional Muslims in general"). That's pretty extreme. (It might have even been extreme for the host, as he got and took lots of calls disagreeing with him.) Another host advocated for denying bank accounts to illegal immigrants. In addition, one morning I woke up to a (Christian) television show explaining why embryonic stem cells shouldn't be used for experimentation, and interviewing scientists making progress doing research with other types of stem cells. It's possible all these conservative perspectives are to serve the communities outside Atlanta, as about half the people I talked to within Atlanta had moved there from somewhere far away that's not known for having similar social attitudes (Seattle, Los Angeles, Phoenix, etc.).
In a possibly related note, I found I could only get limited reception of Atlanta's NPR station. In some parts of the city, I couldn't receive the signal well enough to comfortably listen.
On day two, we drove through the east side of Atlanta on Ponce de Leon. We were struck by how pretty everything was. Mile after mile had mansions, ordinary single family homes, and rolling green parks. Every house was architecturally distinctive. We presumed this area must be special. However, as I drove around the city throughout the rest of the trip, I realized most of Atlanta is filled with equally beautiful houses, all appearing unique. Many were in the style of neoclassical antebellum houses. I never saw any neighborhoods made predominately of cookie-cutter houses like one sees often on the outskirts of cities in California.
Getting Around / Is Sprawl Bad?
Atlanta surprised me with the size of its interstates. Some has six lanes in each direction. In fact, I think the interstates are on average larger than those in Los Angeles, but with one important distinction: many interstates, even the ones that travel through Atlanta proper, are well forested. As such, they're very pleasant places to drive. (Yes, they become slow during rush hour and that makes them less pleasant at those times.) I can easily see why people are willing to live far out of town and commute to work (i.e., why there is sprawl). Indeed, it makes even more sense when one considers that the house one goes home to is not the typical image of a sprawl house (i.e., cookie cuter) but rather is distinctive and individual.
Judging from where I went, public transit appears of very limited use. Many people seem to drive. That said, I didn't use public transit, so maybe I missed the secrets.
I was amused to find many roads with Peachtree in the name. It's a popular and prestigious address, and apparently multiple times businesspeople have asked, successfully, that the local government change the name of a street to Peachtree so that their business has a better address. In other street naming oddities, I found a road simply named Boulevard.
I'm might as well drop this remark here, as it doesn't seem to go with any particular day: the rental car I used began beeping the instant I opened a door, and started the car alarm if I didn't get the keys into the ignition soon after. Only when I'd really hurried did I make it before the alarm triggered. When I failed and it went off a few times, I received some inquisitive looks.
Atlanta doesn't have the quantity of cultural attractions of truly metropolitan cities like Montreal, San Francisco, and New York. Nevertheless, I had enough stuff to see to fill up the five full days plus change I was there.
An International City?
Near the end of Di Yin's visit, we discussed whether Atlanta was "an international city." She observed that it tries to be. (Case in point: see the series of pictures of flags on day three.) It needs more diversity (besides whites and African-Americans) to be truly an international city.
Atlanta has a growing food scene. You can find what you want if you look for it. Usually you do have to look. I was surprised and a bit disappointed to find myself agreeing with Frommer's complaint that, with the increasing incursion of international food into Atlanta, traditional Southern cooking is becoming harder and harder to find. Perhaps the diminishment of Southern cooking (which usually involves lots of frying) is a recent event or is limited to the restaurant scene (as opposed to home cooking)--people in Atlanta run on the large size. Di Yin observed at one point that big can be beautiful and that, in fact, some of these women wouldn't look good small/thin.
One guide book described a restaurant as "spicy but good." The little things, such as the choice of a conjunction, can reveal much about the attitude and expectations of the writer (and perhaps Atlantans in general) toward food. (When spicy food is edible and tasty, it's surprising?)
Peach cobbler was the only item on my list of dishes to eat in Atlanta that I did not get to experience. Georgia (and Southern Carolina, but that's another story and interesting battle) is famous for its peaches. Nevertheless, I couldn't find peaches or cobbler anywhere. I guess the season wasn't yet right.
During my visit, it was unseasonably warm, but not uncomfortably so. Usually the highs this time of year are in the upper 60s; this week was more like low 80s. In fact, the weather supposedly went directly from winter to summer, making spring come at all once and causing everything to bloom simultaneously, which was pretty stunning. Pollen hit record levels. It made the local and even some national news. Surprisingly, it didn't bother me. Di Yin, on the other hand, sneezed quite a bit. In another weather anomaly, it didn't rain any of the six or so days I was in town. Thus, pollen remained in the air, irritating lungs and settling on cars, sometimes so much so as to change some car's (like mine's) color.
The first sentence of one guidebook's section on Atlanta is, "A warm embrace greets visitors to Atlanta." As I stepped out of the airport, I realized how true it was. (And, as I mentioned in the friendliness section, it's figuratively true as well.)
Neat Historical Facts:
Guide books often have neat tidbits that I wasn't aware of:
- Georgia borders North Carolina, not just South Carolina.
- Georgia was expelled from the United States in 1869. (Obviously, it rejoined later.)
- Slavery was banned in Georgia until 1750. The guide books claim the ban was primarily lifted for economic reasons.
- Georgia's been invaded by kudzu, a hardy Japanese vine. (Yet, I looked for it during my trip and didn't spot any.)
- The Appalachian Trail was made in the 1920s and 1930s. (I thought it was much earlier.)
Posted by mark at Friday, November 02, 2007
"Hot! Behind! Hot Behind!"
One of the first things I learned on my day (September 20, 2007) helping out in the kitchen of Google's Cafe 7 was not to step back when someone's yelling this. Not that I did, but I was warned almost immediately after starting that "behind" meant someone was walking behind you, "hot" meant someone was carrying something hot, "heavy" meant someone was carrying something heavy, and "corner" meant someone was coming around a corner and anyone on the other side should be careful. It's a cozy, compact kitchen and these warnings came in handy. Perhaps the reason one finds few overweight people in food service is because working together in a tight kitchen is difficult, and head chefs hire people who are easier to get around and work with.
I learned a lot during my internship. For instance, I learned that having the right tools makes everything easy. When I made and wrapped sandwiches, the plastic wrap had a fancy slicer to make cutting it much easier than the usual struggle it is at home using a serrated metal blade. Similarly, spreading peanut butter and jelly with a huge spatula that fits inside the containers is effortless. I also learned the handiness of having extra utensils everywhere. If you drop one or need a different one, just grab it. Don't stop to wash and reuse the old one. In short, everything in the kitchen is about efficiency so food can be prepared quickly and at scale--much like Google, I have to say.
I also got lots of practice putting on latex gloves. It's not as easy as I thought. Although the kitchen didn't require gloves, some people wore them. I certainly felt more comfortable assembling messy dishes when I didn't have to worry about the uncomfortable feeling of gooey stuff stuck to my hands. I actually needed to swap gloves a number of times: e.g., I didn't want to get jelly in a ham and cheese croissant, nor did I want to leave chocolate fingerprints as I plated bon bons.
During my internship, I helped out in three main areas of the kitchen: the deli section, the pastry/dessert section, and the food serving line. At each, I chatted with the cook-mentor as I did my best to help.
- Deli Section. Here, I helped Tony M. Google is his first job after graduating culinary school in this area. (It was an externship which turned into a job offer.) He loves the bay area, despite the high cost of living. When he started, he was mostly filling in at other stations; thus, he knew a lot about how things worked and was happy to share. He was very friendly, helping alleviate my nervousness as his station was my first of the morning. We chatted while I helped make ham and cheese croissants, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cleaned and marinated portobello mushrooms, and cut bread for make-your-own sandwiches. I was impressed that he made peanut butter and jelly from scratch, including roasting peanuts and even knowing how to fix it when the peanut butter consistency looked a little wrong. Kudos to Google for making peanut butter in-house. Also, kudos for using Acme Bread.
- Pastry Section. Here, I helped Elizabeth K. Basically, she did all the hard work. I added fruit compote (macerated berries) (which she made) to slices of a rosemary olive oil cake (which she made) and plated or boxed the results. I also dipped bon bons, which took a lot of practice and, even with practice, didn't look as perfectly symmetrical as hers. While I assisted, we chatted. She came to work at Google from a fancy restaurant, Viognier in San Mateo, following Scott G, the executive chef, when he left to join Google. She told me most culinary professionals switch jobs every year to get a variety of experiences and acquire knowledge; she's similar, holding six jobs in the six years it's been since she graduated culinary school. She's worked at Google for a bit more than a year, saying, almost apologetically in explaining her longer presence, that she likes this job the best of all the ones she's had. Cooking since she was a kid, she wants to open her own pastry shop eventually. Right now, she's still living in San Mateo, commuting to Google, and becoming a vegetarian. We spent a while chatting about restaurants in San Mateo, and how she's become snobby about food when going out to eat.
- Serving line. I and the other culinary intern at Cafe 7 helped serve googlers entrees and vegetables. It was a lot more fun than I expected. I was worried I'd be awkward and uneasy interacting with all those people I didn't know. Instead, I enjoyed knowing my role and being helpful. A few coworkers who didn't know I was interning happened to come to Cafe 7. They did double-takes. The best comment I heard was, "thinking about another career?"
The lunch crew arrives early (6am?). Because I was only assisting and because I guess they didn't want to scare us off, they asked me to arrive at 8:30am.
When I arrived I changed into the special non-slip shoes Google bought us. Apparently some kitchens have slick floors, and people wearing regular shoes have had difficulties (accidents?) in the past.
I also changed into the white chef's coat Google bought me. It even has my name emblazoned! This has got to be the best piece of Google schwag I ever received. I'll show it off when cooking at home with friends. In the cafe, however, it made me feel a little uncomfortable--although all other workers had similar coats, mine was one of only a few that had its wearer's name emblazoned, making me feel a bit uncomfortably privileged. (Nevertheless, I certainly wouldn't trade my coat for a nameless one.)
I asked how the cafe plans its menus and orders its food. They always run out of food, often simply by putting leftovers out on snack trays in mid-afternoon. Meals are scheduled a few weeks in advance. According to the pastry chef, generally pastry is the only station that can and does things occasionally at the last minute due to surprise offerings from suppliers of fresh ingredients (e.g., peaches). Often the sous chef plans the entire (non-pastry) menu. For instance, although the person running deli makes the sandwiches, he only gets to give some input into the sandwich selection, not making the final decisions himself.
Addendum: I'm told, "The majority of kitchen staff do not have their name on a coat because the logistics of washing monogrammed coats and returning them to the right person are too complicated. With plain -- unnamed -- coats, the laundry is much simpler to do."
Posted by mark at Thursday, November 01, 2007