Friday, April 27, 2007

Just want to get a handle on that Händel

As I write this (late on the night of Saturday, April 21, 2007) I'm listening to a recording of Handel's Messiah by John Eliot Gardiner and company. I had completely forgotten that so many of the arias and choruses in it are so great. Furthermore, listening to an oratorio like this in English is quite different than listening to the Bach which I do on a constant basis. I can figure out the German (especially if I have an interlinear translation in front of me) but there's nothing like one's native tongue to make it just apparent.

I generally detest the over-use of the Hallelujah Chorus (which is to say, most uses of it) but listening to the whole oratorio, I appreciate it in the overall sweep of Messiah. Non-musicians (and inattentive musicians) reading this posting may be surprised to learn that the Hallelujah is not, in fact, the concluding movement of Messiah: that honor goes to "Worthy Is the Lamb", which, ah, is just about to begin as I type this.

My family celebrated Easter 2001 (or thereabouts) by inviting over a handful of friends for dinner and a pre-dinner sing-along. I don't remember what else we might have belted out, but I do remember being several times surprised to the point of exasperation as we sang the seemingly never-ending final chorus. I was sightreading and couldn't wait for the last of the endless page turns so we could sing our final I64-V-I cadence. But John Eliot and company do a much better job and I really have come to like it more. (Maybe it's just repetition, maybe it's them having rehearsed, and maybe it's the full orchestra with tympani, which we did not have. Though we did have a harpsichord.)

So happy third week of Easter! I think the liturgical color is still white or gold.

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Grammatical goody two-shoes

Obviously when writing for publication, it's desirable to follow grammar rules. But what about in informal writing (this weblog, for instance) or in speech? I've been very self conscious lately about speaking and trying to avoid ending a sentence a preposition with. If I do it, it sticks out very prominently in my mind as grammatically incorrect but if I say it the right way, it not only usually takes longer but (and this is where I'm not sure) makes me sound strange. As I think about it now, perhaps my desire to speak correct Spanish is transferring over to English and I want to demonstrate my understanding (as one of the Peace Corps Spanish teachers characterized it). So if you're one of my recent interlocutors and have noticed this and perhaps been put off by it, let me know. Or if you like it! That's fine, too.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ian's final thoughts on Japan

  1. Designer brands! You can't swing a cat in Japan without seeing someone with a Louis Vuitton handbag, a Gucci this or Chanel that. It's not the first time I'd seen those brands, but the first time in a while that it was probably legitimate, not a a knockoff bought on the street in San Pedro Sula. As I noted earlier about Houston, everyone but everyone has some kind of MP3 player. Many people's headphones are white-colored (earbud and cable), as if to emulate Apple's signature iPod earphones. I played a fun game while walking through various train stations and tried to spot actual iPod headphones as opposed to other-brand look-almost-alikes and the real deal were sort of hard to come by. That said, I have no doubt that the designer clothes and everything else were the genuine article. Browsing a department store in Tokyo's electronics district (where they have people in market stalls selling capacitors and miniature cameras like people in similar markets around the world sell tomatoes and beans), I came across the designer products wing, or as I now think of it, "More dollars than sense department." Really? Three hundred dollars to advertise for LV or Gucci? Really?
  2. Automation! Labor costs are high in Japan, especially compared to, say, Honduras. Nobody in Honduras has a lawn mower; it's easier to just pay some guy with a machete to hack your grass until it's under control. But not only do the Japanese have gadgets that would put the Hammacher Schlemmer section of SkyMall catalog to shame (I'm looking in your direction, combination heated toilet seat and bidet) but they also put all kinds of stuff in vending machines--tickets to major attractions, snack foods and strange beverages. They sell both hot and cold drinks in the machines (hot drinks have a red price label, cold drinks a blue one). There is a surprising (to me) variety of of tea-based drinks but also some ones I still haven't gotten over. See my musings on Qoo, below.
  3. Trains! The train system was great. They invariably arrive and leave exactly on time and run frequently enough to get to a pretty remote area, taking four trains (and two buses)without ever waiting more than fifteen minutes for a transfer. And they were clean and spacious and everything that trains are supposed to be. Bravo, Japan Rail!
  4. Languages! I don't speak Japanese. (I'll pause here for the collective gasp emanating from my readership.) But I was able to communicate with everyone I needed to about everything I needed to. Perhaps part of it was that I didn't see any "need" to discuss the latest developments in particle physics or Hegelian philosophy with the waitress at the noodle house, so my needs were easier to take care of. Many people (especially in the tourist sector) speak at least some English and signs in public areas are generally written both in the Japanese and Latin alphabets. Restaurant menus typically have pictures of the entrees or, as they do at noodle houses, have plastic models of the available dishes on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, and you order by pointing, nodding and smiling. And I found it interesting to note that at many tourist attractions, there were signs with an explanatory text in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean, almost always in that order. I guess those are the major languages of visitors. And kudos to me for being able to recognize consistently Chinese and Korean as Chinese and Korean.
Until next time, take care of yourself and each other.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Comments from the HMNS

So I went to the exhibit on Imperial Rome at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences and had a pretty good time. After having visited the Vatican Museums and the Borghello and Uffizi, though, they are not the famous world-class pieces.

Anyway, I had three fun quotes from that expedition today, which I will share with you now.

  1. As you may know, Roman art had a large erotic dimension, and there were phallic talismans or other images prominently featuring sexual organs. And walking away from an area with a display case full of those, I overheard one guy say to another, "Talk about a conversation piece."
  2. Near the entrance to the exhibit there was a map of the various Roman provinces and vassal states, and there was an older, rather well-dressed man talking to a two or three other people as if he were a docent. I decided to listen in to glean whatever pearl of wisdom he might have had to offer, but concluded that he was just those people's friend after he searched the map and pointed to what is now Romania and said "Oh, here's Day-see-a." Um, Dacia, anybody, pronounced with only two syllables?
  3. The image above is of a 4th-century Christian sarcophagus said to feature Jesus and Peter. As I was looking at the item, two other guys leaned over and observed, as had I, that the central face had been chiseled out in what I might be characterized as a damnatio memoriae. They speculated that perhaps it was because someone hadn't wanted to create an idol with a depiction of Jesus, which was similar to what I had thought. (There was a glass wall about two feet high circling the sarcophagus, in contrast to many of the other exhibits which were completely encased in glass, so one was able to move in for a close look at the details.) So after having heard this reasonably intelligent commentary, I was quite taken aback to see one of them lean over and rub the chiseled-out face with his thumb. Allow me to repeat myself: he violated the prime museum directive: don't touch. And then the following exchange occured.
    [Guy touches the sarcophagus.]

    Me: (Gasp!) [Wide-eyed look at the individual in question.]

    Him: They left it open.

    Me: [Stunned silence with my best reproachful look.]

    Him: But they probably don't want you to touch.

    Me: (scornfully) Probably.

So I guess it was worth the $15!

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I was walking along Sunset Boulevard from the Village back to Phillip's house this evening and if you've ever walked it, there seems to be an interminable number of cross streets before I could get to my destination, Ashby Street. Or anyway, they seem interminable late at night when you have to go to the bathroom. (Phillip, by the way, deserves a special thank you shout-out for allowing me to sleep on his couch and monopolize a large corner of his living room for the past two and a half weeks, as well as give me rides and loan me his car, all above and beyond the call of duty.)

Anyway, I was walking and hoping that each successive street would be Ashby so I would be that much closer to my goal, but I would see landmarks (or the lack of landmarks) as I approached and conclude that "this isn't it." The street signs were obscured by the trees and the dark, so sometimes it was a mystery. But as I crossed my fourth (of six) streets, I couldn't see the sign, but I said to myself, "This is Hazard, I guess."

Hazard, I guess! Hazard a guess! How about that! It seemed funnier at the time.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Anyone know camera CPR?

Yesterday reminded me why it is that I so loathe shopping. I had a bunch of stuff to get (clothes, etc.) and yesterday (and this afternoon) was the time I had allocated to do it. If all the stores were in one place, that would be one thing, but as it is, I was driving all over the Galleria area, not able to park in the same lot for hardly any two retail destinations. Trying to do it as quickly as possible was especially stressful if I got turned around or goofed otherwise.

And then while I was inside one store, I was going to try on a shirt, so I had to take off my sweatshirt. I had my camera in the front pouch, and generally I have had good luck with things not falling out of it when I take it off. Not this time! After clunk and skitter across the floor, I try to power it on but it's not working. So, long story short, I'm now in the market for a new camera. Fortunately I have some gift cards and was able to consolidate two tech stores' cards last night. Alas, Nikon CoolPix 5600!


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Not so fast (re: speaking too soon)

So we had Beer-Run after all, but I had a great time. I ran really fast (or it felt fast to me, at least) and really enjoyed it. Hanszen didn't win (Will Rice took first for the ladies and the Brown men came in first, before penalties) but it didn't matter. Darrin Gershman told me three rules for a successful Beer-Bike which I liked and agree with:
  1. Hanszen doesn't come in last.
  2. Will Rice doesn't sweep.
  3. Jones doesn't win anything.
I'm not married to point 3, and I also appreciate if nobody (especially me) gets hurt, but it seems a pretty good summary of the situation.

Yeah Hanszen!


Spoke too soon!

The weather has cleared up and the radar image bodes well for an actual Beer-Bike. And I got back to sleep, eventually. I don't think I am over jetlag yet, but I am well on my way.


Sleeping ills

So Friday night I went to a campus production of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead at Brown. It's sort of a weird play, and was all the weirder because I was drifting in and out of consciousness. Sorry, Brown Theatre, but jet lag is like that.

Anyway, I thought I would be able to sleep easily afterwards, but I awoke on my own at around 1:10 a.m. CDT. It looks like Beer-Bike is going to get rained out (again) and Beer-Run is just not the same. So I am feeling weird and not so good, (1) about being messed up time-wise, (2) about Beer-Bike being screwed up again, (3) about my awesome vacation coming to a close, (4) about not necessarily being able to see people I want to see because they've got stuff to do, and (5) this is probably the last hurrah for me in terms of visiting Rice while it's still a very familiar place, which is depressing me a bit. Plus I've got a headache and am working through some sort of gastrointestinal situation. Oy vey!


Friday, April 13, 2007

Hour 26

I've now been up about 26 hours, and I have not keeled over from fatigue yet. And that's after several Diet Cokes, a large "Good Morning Chai" at the Rice Coffeehouse and lots of water. I don't think I'll have a problem getting to sleep tonight.


Blogging for Soup

Troy Aikman has me back! Willie Nelson has me back! NASA has me back! The Bush twins have me back! Pantera has me back! And Blue Bell has me back! And I've got a premonition that I'm going to sign a Beer-Bike waiver.

Duh, but this is fun.


No flatline on the IDL

Back after my flight to Tokyo, I wrote about the weirdness that is the International Date Line. (Bill Bryson writes about it as well in his In a Sunburned Country, a hilarious account of his travels in Australia; though as I look at it now, I do take issue that he treats the past participle of a derivative verb of "to burn" as regular, rather than "Sunburnt.")

Anyway, let me tell you that crossing back to "La Usa" (as it is sometimes known in Honduras) from Japan is weird, time speaking. Here's how my day was (has been so far):

7:00 a.m.: Wake up
8:45 a.m.: Have breakfast at our airport hotel.
11:30 a.m.: Flight AA 176 leaves Tokyo Narita airport.
8:15 a.m.: Have breakfast on the plane.
9:00 a.m.: Arrive at DFW airport.
12:25 p.m.: Flight leaves DFW for IAH (if I don't sit in this lounge too long and miss it).

I also had two sunrises today. The sun did what it is known for doing in Japan while I was lounging in bed, then our plane flew into the darkness and emerged from it again about 800 miles east of San Francisco, when we came into the daylight once again.

Two sunrises in the same day! The same day! And two breakfasts! Although I have done that before. For me, today will have been 38 hours long! (The regular 24 plus the 14-hour difference between Japan time and CDT; please also note the use of the future perfect.) Even if it is Friday the 13th. (I think if I were doing this again, I might not choose to extend my day by 58% on an unlucky day. Then again, I might just.)

My dad maintains that it's not really the same, and he has, on occasion, been right about various things in the past. (Full disclosure: more than just on occasion.) But right or wrong, truthiness dictates that it was in fact just one day, and no weirdness about the IDL will dissuade me.

And while I'm thinking of truthiness, Beer-Bike! I am biking tomorrow! How awesome is that! I can't stop using exclamation points! Again!


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Disappointments with Japan

  1. Bullet trains don't actually look like bullets.
  2. The pusher guys on the Tokyo Subway never had to cram me into an overflowing car--I never even saw one!
  3. Where is Godzilla? Hello?
  4. Only four kinds of marble in the lobby of the Hilton Tokyo.

Other than that, everything was great!


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Christus surrexit!

Happy Easter! This was my first Easter celebrated at a Buddhist temple, which I did at Koya-san, where my family had stayed the night. This year, Easter coincided with Buddha's birthday, though
at the temple I didn't notice any particular mention of this, though not speaking Japanese, I'm not sure I would have anyway.

Today started at 6 a.m. with a Buddhist chanting morning prayer service. You should not be surprised to learn that it was performed neither in accordance with Rite I nor Rite II. It was a long series of chanting in Japanese (presumably; Ted says it was unintelligible, to him at least) but I had the happy thought that they had might as well be chanting the Exultet or Victimae Paschali Laudes for all I understood (though I didn't hear any Alleluias, which are generally the same in any language). It got a little long and to keep my mind from wandering too far, I ran through the Pascha Nostrum a few times in my head, in keeping with the day. They then gave us breakfast, which was, to say the least, unlike any other breakfast I have ever had and unlike any I am likely to have again. On the whole, it was certainly a different experience.

I'm heading into Tokyo Wednesday, but will be in and around Kyoto for the next while. Lots of temples in this area. Here's a hint: red (vermilion) means Shinto and brown means Buddhist (remember the B's are linked and you've got it down).



Not that I know of, but I was amused to see that Don Everhart was the sculptor for the new series of presidential dollar coins. Hooray for last names!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Things I've noticed about Japan

  1. This place reminds me a lot of Germany. Perhaps because it's the same time of year that I went on a trip to Germany in 2005, or the similar climate, or the public transportation, or that there are, seemingly-inexplicably, loads of Germans here, but it feels a lot like lieber Deutschland.
  2. I do not speak Japanese. Duh, you say, and so do I, but it is very noticeable that wherever I go. Unlike on other international trips I've taken to places where I do not have a complete grasp of the language, Japanese is very different from any Indo-European language with which I have even a passing familiarity, and I am unable to even make educated guesses at what things mean most of the time. That said, most signs have English transliterations and many people speak English, so it's not actually that tough to get by.
  3. Public transportation is great. A trip to the small, small town of Koya-san, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, has near-constant train service. With a Japan Rail pass, trains all throughout the country are no problem, and buses in Kyoto are frequent, convenient and well-used by the populace.
  4. Japan is expensive. Again, no news here, but things cost a lot. Because of an extremely low crime rate, people often walk around with substantial amounts of cash on them, which is interesting and somewhat jarring to think about. Also, the smallest bill in circulation is the ¥1,000, meaning that for ¥500, ¥100 and smaller denominations, you deal with coins. Take that, dollar bill.
  5. They sell some very weird things in vending machines. There are vending machines on nearly every corner, mostly selling drinks (both hot and cold) but also cigarettes and other items, though I haven't seen that to date in Kyoto. Among the beverages are some typical American/international brands (Coke, etc.) but also some product lines not found in North America. Among the ones I've found interesting to contemplate are Pocari Sweat (just a bizarre name) and Qoo, a carbonated citrus-milk beverage.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Dateline: International

They used to say that "The sun never sets on the British Empire," and with outposts like Bermuda, the Falklands and Diego Garcia, I suppose it's still true. For about 24 hours yesterday (was it just yesterday?) I was living the British Empire experience, in sunlight from 6:00 a.m. Monday morning (Central Daylight Time) until 7:30 or so Tuesday night (Japan Standard Time; 5:30 a.m. Tuesday CDT), flying first from Houston to Dallas and then onward to Tokyo. Alas, I couldn't see much out the plane window--it was cloudy over almost the entire route--but got to look over some of the Canadian and Alaskan Rockies.

I've been trying to wrap my head around the International Date Line (metaphorically) and though I thought I understood it, it is confusing in practice. Long story short, this is going to be the shortest Holy Week ever, and for me, Lent will have had only 39 days, or something like that.

Anyway, I was pleased with myself that for my first 20 hours in Japan I was able to remain relatively awake, defeating jet lag as it were, but this afternoon when returning to my hotel room, it fell down on me like a ton of bricks, and I had a serious siesta. Turns out I'm not immune to 14-hour time zone shifts, but I am pleasantly surprised with my level of functionality. Let's see how long this lasts.