Monday, January 21, 2008

Final thoughts on Vacation II

Fun times also included some where my dad misheard "car" for "cat" in conversation as we were driving along, and for the next half hour we had a laugh riot substituting the two words in every sign along US Route 13 in Delaware: "Cat wash." "Used cat dealership." And so forth.

Also, Davis, one of Ted's buddies, said "I wish coffins could tessellate," referring, I imagine, rather, to the irregular hexagonal shape of coffins, particularly as seen in old vampire movies. That was a moment of great hilarity.

Also, in Trader Joe's on December 28, I saw a guy who looked a lot like Paul David Hewson (aka Bono). He even had the glasses on indoors. I was going to take a picture of him with my camera phone but then I chickened out and didn't. I will, hopefully, be able to post a picture of a guy from San Manuel to whom I refer mentally as the "Bono of San Manuel." They don't have a lot in common, but he does always does wear sunglasses (every time I've seen him, at least) and, given the chance, he would no doubt wax rhapsodic on the need for fair trade for Africa to world leaders.

Also also, I thought it was really bizarre in Miami airport when everybody was speaking in Spanish around me. More strangely, I would speak in Spanish to them and I wouldn't get the "Wow, the gringo speaks Spanish" looks I might get in other parts of the world. One of the convenience stores was impossibly maddening because nothing was labeled with its price. I found the manager and asked her why nothing (candy, snacks, etc.) had its price beneath it, as you would find in every other store in the United States. She replied that you just had to ask one of the sales people because they knew all the prices. "But I don't want to ask about every stupid item, I just want to see the price and make an instant decision" I insisted, but she seemed to think the "just ask a cashier" was a satisfactory policy. It was like I was back in some pulpería in rural Honduras again, except here there were a zillion items and instead of me being the only person there, it was crowded and the cashier was fairly busy. The experience was more frustrating than it probably needed to be.

And again, until next time, take care of yourself, and each other.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Trip roundup


After New York, we bounced around the Mid-Atlantic region, starting in Baltimore-Washington and then migrating to Delaware. On Christmas Eve, we went to both the 5 p.m. at Brown Memorial Presbyterian in Baltimore, home of a ton of Tiffany stained glass windows. A family friend is the music director there and we actually sang in the choir--my first appearance in a robe in a while.

Then we rode the mighty I-95 down to Washington for the awesome, ticket-only 10 p.m. at the National Cathedral. It was great but no surprise to anyone who's familiar with the quality of their liturgies. This was my first visit there since they completed their new parking garage. Structured parking, I know from my time on the Rice University Parking Committee, is unbelievably expensive, and underground parking much more so than an above-ground garage, so driving under the depths of the cathedral close I was impressed at the scope of it. Clearly, at the NatCat they are subscribers to the theory of "If something is worth doing, it's worth doing right."

[A photo of the garage's elevator lobby--built itself on a cathedral scale--will be forthcoming.]

On Christmas Day proper, the family made its way over to my uncle's house in Delaware to exchange gifts and all that. We stuck around until December 27 for the memorial service for my grandfather at First Presbyterian in Smyrna, after which there was a reception and a long drive to Chapel Hill.

New Year's was fun in Chapel Hill, as my brother and some friends resurrected the long-dormant potato cannons my dad's cousin gave us a few years ago, so we rang in 2008 with some blanks, igniting bug spray into the night sky. Then I scrambled to try to get done all my shopping, and then before I knew it (as we might have heard in Little Italy, bada-bing, bada-boom) my three week visit home was over.

Now for the final stretch in Honduras! Sometimes I feel it'll be a sprint, other times a marathon. Eight months isn't that long, is it? (To quote a Mormon missionary some PCV overheard a while back, the days are like weeks but the weeks are like days.)

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Friday, January 04, 2008

The Quotable President

One of the many excellent Christmas gifts I got was the George W. Bush daily countdown calendar, each new sheet revealing a gem of a Bushism. Flipping through, there are hits and there are misses in the series of quotes, but the one for January 1 was good:

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.
-- 2001 Gridiron Dinner

Only 382 days left!


Sonnet for the first week

I had the (brilliant/stupid) idea to sum up each week or segment of my vacation with a brief sonnet (Elizabethan, of course), but naturally wound up writing only one. Here it is. (I wrote it in about 20 minutes, working on it off and on while helping Ted with that soup.)

As I step out of Yale's art gallery
The sun is long descended from my view
Is over now my second day of three
But still I find so much I'd like to do.

The snow, once ankle-deep, is swept away
What's left is capped with a thin sheet of ice.
When there I dare to tread my legs just splay:
The kind of stuff we never did at Rice.

The Yalies' shadows fall on ivied walls
In this semester's final grueling week
The books are cracked within these storied halls,
Upon the lavish tables made of teak.

Behold the busy students walking past!
My visit: not the first, and neither last.

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The Biggest Apple

Frank Sinatra's song suggests that if one can make it in New York, one "can make it anywhere."
(I feel that way about living in San Manuel for two years.)

You can never see everything there is to see in New York on a single visit, but we tried. Starting at the Museum of Modern Art where I scoped out the work of a fellow Schenley High School graduate.
From there we went to St. Thomas' to hear a performance of the Britten Ceremony of Carols and Messiaen La Nativité du Seigneur, both of which were wonderful (we don't go to anything that's not good). The craziest thing was that we had to get there a half hour in advance to hear this (free) concert. That means there are some 800 people in metropolitan New York City who are interested in hearing a performance of these two semi-obscure pieces. Madness!

The next day we mostly wandered downtown, seeing one thing or another (including the J&R electronics store, which rivals the Electronics District in Tokyo for tech overload. From there I went with my dad and brother to the NBC studio tour which was worth it, even if they made it seem that NBC were the only network of any importance in the history of television. (Though, to be fair, if you asked me to name mega-hit TV shows, the ones that would come to mind are ones like Seinfeld and Friends, which were NBC projects, and I would be hard pressed to name many coming out of CBS or ABC.)

And of course there was a gift shop at the end, and while I didn't buy any of their overpriced merchandise, I did take a picture with some sample items from my new favorite NBC show.

The next day I did a tour of Central Park on my own and then met the fam at FAO Schwartz, home of the Big Piano. (It remains unclear to me whether this is simply a commentary on how large the piano is, or whether it's the Big Piano, named after the 1988 Tom Hanks comedy.) In any case, the two saleswomen/musicians/dancers seen here performed a brief "recital" which was a lot of fun. (Only $250,000 to have one custom installed in your home!)
From there we went to the American Museum of Natural History, which, I was surprised and pleased to learn, is in large part a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. TR's great achievements are commemorated in murals in the main entry hall (his Nobel Prize-worthy peace negotiations in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War and supervising the construction of the Panama Canal), and also awesome is the impressive similarity of the entry hall to Rome's Pantheon--someone smart was definitely working on that project. (The exhibits themselves are, of course, also marvelous.)

I was about to write that the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh could hold its own with respect to the dinosaur collection, but was outgunned on the murals, but than I remembered that good old Andrew Carnegie is painted in as the black knight of industry at the Oakland museum. And there's another room which is like an inverted (atrial) Parthenon. Pretty good for a little town like the 'Burgh, I think.


Trip summary: New Haven!

After arriving in the U.S. on December 13, I arrived in Chapel Hill after the interment on December 15 and spent two tranquilo days at home, mostly reviewing the 18 months' worth of mail and other assorted junk I hadn't had a chance to look at since June 2006. Then I flew off Monday morning for New Haven to hang with Ted a bit.

Compared to Texas, North Carolina is somewhat in the North, and within the territorial limits of the People's Republic of Chapel Hill, the ambiance feels very culturally northern, but crossing the 40th parallel reminds you what it is to be a Yankee, especially when there's snow on the ground.

The New Haven Green might more properly have been renamed the New Haven White, at least temporarily, for the 2-3 inches of snow that had fallen and the thin layer of ice that had frozen over. I had a great time talking on the phone with various people while faux-ice skating (skittering on the icy layer in my sneakers).

I crashed at my brother Ted's room at Yale, which was lovely but, um, cozy (not to say cramped), especially with me taking up the couch. His roommates all seemed like terrific guys and tolerated me well, given that it was a tight fit as is and it was finals time. One night Ted took me to the Saybrook basement and cooked up some delicious Japanese-inspired soup. On other occasions, I ate at local eateries and at the Saybrook dining hall, which memorably featured a waffle iron that would inscribe a big Y on your breakfast. Deliciously Ivy League!

During the days I mostly wandered around and appreciated the urban infrastructure and architecture.

I also saw what exhibitions and museums were open on that, a week with a low density of events. But the Peabody Museum and its dinosaur collection were great as ever.
Then it was time to get the train to the city.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

To-do list for the next two days

What's on my agenda before I head back to Honduras:
  • Shop for new clothes
  • Restore Thunderbird data from backup CDs circa July 2006
  • Get iPod headphones replaced (hopefully for free) at the Apple Store before the cord snaps
  • Review and upload photos from Philadelphia/New Haven/New York/Washington/Delaware/everywhere etc.
  • Print photos of my Educatodos students at Wal-Mart or similar place
  • Write more for this blog, including post the sonnets I was going to write to sum up each week I am here
  • Help make reservations for mom and dad's trip to Honduras in April
  • Download podcasts re: Iowa results!
  • Call various friends while I'm still in USA cell phone territory.

Happily done already:

  • Sketch out itinerary for 4/08 trip
  • Eat way too much
  • Sit on the Internet for hours on end