Sunday, August 30, 2009

the blog of Mar. 4, 2006 (1)

emergency broadcast

Friday morning I was driving up the Salinas Valley on my way to work... It had rained heavily the night before. I noticed more snow on the mountains than I ever recall -- not only on the Santa Lucias to the west, but the Gabilans and Chalone Peak to the east, which is rare. A camera could have captured the best-ever photograph of the big Kendall-Jackson facility, with a heavily snowcapped ridge behind it, and a sharp ray of morning sun landing on a large, tree-less, snow-covered expanse high up on the ridge. Those parts of the Santa Lucias that weren't blanketed in snow were a vibrant green.

As I approached Soledad, I noticed the sky in front of me was a dark, menacing gray. I was listening to National Public Radio when suddenly the shrill tones of the emergency broadcast system filled my ears. I knew it wasn't a test because it interupted the regular programming. For a few seconds I was gripped with the dreadful knowledge that something terrible happened somewhere. The post 9-11 world has conditioned us to fear the worst.

It was actually the National Weather Service with a severe weather alert. The Bay Area was experiencing lightening and hail storms, and the effects -- which included power outages, flood warnings, falling trees and dangerously large waves -- were being felt as far south as Monterey Bay.

I was far enough south and away from the coast that none of this really interfered with my commute. What the emergency broadcast did do, along with the idiot in the SUV who nearly hit me while crossing the 101, is give me a jolt of adrenaline.

Monday, August 24, 2009

the blog of Feb. 26, 2006

211 Front St.

After scrutinizing various maps and sattelite images, I have come to the conclusion that 211 Front St. was at the corner of Front and Beekman, not Front and Peck Slip. I might be wrong. The picture in the article looks right, but it's hard to say; the windows don't match my memory of the apartment.

Can anyone say for sure which corner our building was at?

Add South Street Seaport to the list of places to visit next time I visit. With my increased interest in maritime lore, I realize there is a lot there that I didn't fully appreciate when I lived there. Also, the wonder of returning to a place after a long time.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

the blog of Feb. 23, 2006

the heart of Sonoma

We left Santa Rosa via Route 12, which apparently is one of the major wine roads of Sonoma. Since I kept on seeing signs about the Valley of the Moon, I'm tempted to wonder if this valley is a geographic feature and not just a winery. I just don't know Sonoma County well enough, which was the underlying impetus for this trip. We passed many wineries, including the Blackstone tasting room in Kenwood, which I had heard so much about in Gonzales. We didn't stop though until we got to the city of Sonoma. It exceeded my expectations. I had read about the central square, but I didn't realize how big it was, and how many shops and restaurants there both along the square and down every side street. We bought sandwiches at the Basque Bakery -- which was so crowded I thought I was in New York City -- and ate them in the square, which is essentially a big park. Then we left. There simply wasn't enough time. But having tasted the heart of the Sonoma experience, I look forward to returning for further exploration.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

the blog of Feb. 22, 2006

bypassing the bay

We drove up to Sonoma County via the East Bay, the 880 freeway that goes through Oakland. I liked the idea of stopping in Berkeley for lunch, but neither of us were too familiar with the area. We took the exit for UC Berkeley and found ourselves in a rough looking neighborhood. I turned left at the first big intersection and we soon found ourselves in the city of Albany.

Downtown Albany looked agreeable enough with lots of great old neon signs and a Thai restaurant on every block. We parked and walked down an inviting street that led to a vegetarian-friendly Thai restaurant. We walked in and it smelled heavenly. Our meals were excellent. That was a good thing since I was starving.

After lunch we got back on the freeway, which shortly turned into the Richmond Bridge. I'd never taken this bridge, although I'd had dreams throughout my life of taking insanely long, scary suspension bridges. This one was very long and a little bit scary. It went up, then down, then up again, then down again, and then turned north into Marin County, passing by the San Quentin prison.

Friday, August 21, 2009

the blog of Feb. 21, 2006

Luther Burbank and the Yogi

Upon checking into the Hotel La Rose we learned that a new bike race called the "Tour de California" would be passing through town the following day.

The following day we agreed that rather than getting caught up in the race crowd, we would rather check out the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, barely a mile away. The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center with morphing Snoopy sculpture by Japanese artist Yoshiteru Otani would have to wait for another day.

I had read about the horticulturalist Luther Burbank, his gardens, and his deep bonding with plants, in the book "Autobiography of a Yogi". The folks in the Santa Rosa visitors bureau were quick to blow Burbank's horn, showing me pictures of him hob-nobbing with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. But when I mentioned his association with Paramahansa Yoganada, they were completely clueless.

By the time we set out for the gardens, Santa Rosa was in the grips of police barricades and bumper-to-bumper traffic. We parked amid the quaint bungalows adjacent to the gardens. I thought that perhaps with an "event" going on, the gardens would also be busy; on the contrary, they were almost completely empty. It was therefore a very peaceful place. The gardens were small, and not a whole lot was in bloom; nevertheless the house and setting were idyllic, and the signage and displays were well done. Here was a man whose religion was plants, whose garden provided him with every spiritual need.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

the blog of Feb. 20, 2006

chocolate banana martini

For Presidents Day weekend we took a long overdue trek up to Sonoma. We stayed at the Hotel La Rose in Old Town Santa Rosa -- all very nice and even the weather cooperated. I found the place on the Historic Hotels of America website, which is linked to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, of which I am a member. The Old Town also has some cinematic history, having appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 film "Shadow of a Doubt".

In addition to being historic, the Hotel La Rose is solid, medium-sized, and cozy on a slightly chilly February night. We decided to dine in the hotel at Josef's, a Swiss-style restaurant & bar. The complimentary house wine was quite good. The food was only average for us since the only veggie option was some sort of pasta concoction. The most original items were on the dessert menu -- chocolate martinis.

Lisa brought the chocolate martini to my attention, and I wondered how on earth they could pull that one off. I looked a little closer and saw a Heath Bar martini. Unbelievable. Here was a list of the most unusually appealing martinis known to man. When I saw that they served a chocolate banana martini, my jaw dropped. That for me is a holy combination.

I don't normally drink mixed drinks, especially martinis, but I was curious about these. She got the Heath Bar and I got the chocolate banana and astonishingly they tasted exactly like what they purported to. The drinks were clear and colorless with chocolate sprinkles on top. So I drank my dessert which tasted great and sent me into a fuzzy and wobbly fog.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

the blog of Feb. 18, 2006

John Cale again?

What's this? Another John Cale album? That's what I thought when I saw "Black Acetate" in of all places the music store at the Gilroy outlet mall. It took him almost a decade to come out with "Hobo Sapiens", then in only a year or two this thing appears. I was suspicious, but the reviews were all pretty good.

It's hard to assess the album since it's still slowly growing on me, but my initial response is not bad, but not on par with "Hobo". "Acetate" seems more uneven. "Hobo" is uneven, but evenly uneven. On the new record, the track "Woman" sticks out as the best toward the end of the album. "Wasteland", the track after that, is also good. But I've had this CD for a month and I'm still digesting it -- a strange phenomenon, and not necessarily a good one.

When Mr. Gazpachot said he saw Mr. Cale perform at Amoeba in L.A., I bet he (Mr. Cale) was promoting this newer collection of strange songs.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

the blog of Feb. 15, 2006

the Life of Pi

Just finished "The Life of Pi" by the Canadian writer Yann Martel, and it was just about everything I could ask for from a popular novel... The book lived up to and maybe even exceeded its really cool cover. But the story leaves me with a million questions. Did this really happen? Did some guy in a cafe in Pondicherry really bring the story to the author, or is that the creation of the author?

If anything even remotely similar to this story actually happened, that is amazing. And if it's just a story, what a great story. Either way this one is worth checking out.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

the blog of Feb. 11, 2006

bromelain & papain

A few years ago I went to a nutritionist, who put samples of my blood under a microscope that was hooked up to a live TV monitor. Then, based on the shape or movement of the cells, and whatever else was swimming around in there, she would recommend all kinds of supplements and remedies -- mostly herbal and plant based.

One of the first was something called "Bromelain & Papain". These are enzymes that occur naturally in pineapples and papayas respectively. Both are good at breaking down proteins; not surprisingly they are also used as meat tenderizers. Apparently, based on the stickiness of the red blood cells, I needed some help breaking down proteins. The cells tended to adhere in large clumps.

As I recall the supplements did actually help and subsequent "bloodcasts" showed the red blood cells floating freely throughout the plasma.

And I must admit that "Bromelain & Papain" has a certain ring to it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the blog of Feb. 4, 2006

American Asshole

So I'm walking to the UPS store, thinking that it's good to walk to the store and not always be driving. Immediately upon having this thought a car drives by, a guy leans out of the passenger seat window and gives me the finger, and yells out something ("asshole" or some such thing).

Now I've had this experience before but not in a long time. I actually associate it more with the east coast and the rampant stereotypical rudeness of suburban Long Island and New Jersey. I always thought it had something to do with the reduced status of pedestrians in an automobile-centered society.

I find myself asking, through what mechanism does this kind of thing happen? Is it supposed to be funny for the people in the car? The guy was sort of a beefy white beer-swilling frat boy type, not necessarily a local cowboy but maybe some idiot who got off the freeway to buy Cheese Doodles (it was near the entrance ramp to the 101).

If anyone has figured any of this out, please contact me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

the blog of Jan. 30, 2006

the Protestant Holy Land

The hard work and bloody battles of the Protestant Reformation took place in sixteenth century Continental Europe. It's principle hero was Martin Luther, and the origins of modern Protestantism can be traced to Lutheran protesters at the second Diet of Speyer in 1529. The Catholic church reneged on a pledge to tolerate the minority, upon which all hell broke loose. Thus to be Protestant is to be willing to challenge the status quo, and to have the courage to buck a system steeped in its own bullshit.

The struggle of Martin Luther and the Lutherans really can be compared to that of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in the twentieth century. In both cases a poorly treated minority stood up to a very large, very corrupt institution; in both cases the minority held the moral high ground; and in both cases the struggling minority won.

Luther opened the door to religious reform in Germany, at the time loose collection of principalities. The movement spread through the continent as other reformers -- Zwingli in Switzerland, Calvin and D'Etaples in France, and many others --laid the groundwork for the new churches. Since the Scandinavians were geographically removed from the front lines of the struggle, it was easier for them to recreate themselves as nominally Protestant, independent states.

Britain is a unique case, since its break with Catholicism was grounded more in politics than theology. The Anglican church occupied a middle ground between Luther and the Vatican. Of course, many Britons wanted full reform on the continental model, which led to decades of political turmoil, civil war, and the exodus to America.

Besides being an expression of raw imperialism, America was intended to be a sort of Protestant Holy Land. And for most of its history, it was exactly that. Remember, the original generation of reformers fought bitterly against the Catholics, and as often than not paid with their blood. America was the place where Protestants of all denominations could live and prosper in peace. In fact, the country was open and welcoming to anybody not intending to ram a Holy Roman agenda down anyone's throat.

I think if the founding fathers could see twenty-first century America, they would be struck by the rampant Catholicism of our times -- the preponderance of Catholic schools, Catholic institutions, Catholic judges, Catholic lawmakers. In keeping with a basic Protestant precept, the founders intended the United States to be inclusive and tolerant. But I think they would be disturbed that their Protestant Holy Land should be usurped by the very thing the nation was built in opposition to.

In the centuries following the Reformation, the intellectual refinement of Protestantism continued to develop in Continental Europe. Some of the most rigorous and independent thinkers in the western world were Protestant theologians: Hegel, Weber, Schleiermacher, Nietzsche, Jung. It would appear that Europe has benefitted from such a wealth of heavyweight thinkers. One can only wonder how America, the Protestant Holy Land, became so disconnected from its theological roots. Where are the great Protestant scholars? Billy Graham? Too churchy. Pat Robertson? Give me a break. The best ones we have are Bill Moyers and Jimmy Carter, and even they are not universally recognized as such.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

the blog of Jan. 29, 2006

our hijacked heritage

The late pope was a great man. He was a champion of human rights, and he opposed the war in Iraq. He was a proponent of European unity, and openly admitted the wrongs of western civilization, past and present. Not being Catholic, I must admit that his legacy of good work meets or exceeds my expectations from the pope, from any pope.

That being said, there are some funny things going on with religion in the United States that have already fully subverted the intentions of the founding fathers. Part of the problem lies in the self-imploding nature of Protestantism, and another part has to do with the exploding populations of groups that don't embrace birth control. What we are left with are the worst parts of Protestantism (short-sighted greed, arrogance, inflexibility and the 40-hour work week) and the worst parts of Catholicism (unreflective conformity, misogynistic paternalism, deviant sexuality and reproductive irresponsibility).

Today in America, hordes of Evangelical Christians, Mormons and Catholics share a misplaced pseudo-righteousness that goes against the original charter of the nation, and has effectively destroyed it.

The vast majority of the original American colonies, with the exception of Maryland, were Protestant safe-havens, refuges from the abusive excesses of the Catholic and state churches in Europe. Colonies such as Pennsylvania and Rhode Island advocated tolerance of all faiths, and it should be noted that this kind of tolerance is a hallmark of Protestantism, not Catholicism. It's true that the Puritans of Massachusetts were every bit as aberrant, autocratic and closed-minded as the papists they so opposed. Puritanism is the evil downfall of the larger Protestant movement, and is actually the reinvention of Catholicism. The same must be said of the Mormons. It is up to the more clear-headed branches of Protestantism -- Lutherans, Methodists, Unitarians, Episcopaleans, Quakers, and so forth -- to keep the deviant strains in line.

Monday, August 03, 2009

the blog of Jan. 21, 2006

Speaking of Africa...

Speaking of Africa, last night we watched "The Constant Gardener" which was mostly filmed in Kenya. On the one hand the film was a long, ponderous adaptation of a no doubt long and ponderous John Le Carre novel. I worried that it would test Lisa's patience, but it didn't. She had been laughing out loud at Robin Williams, who was the guest on "Inside the Actor's Studio" and had slipped into his comedy routine at the moment I slipped the DVD into the player. Suddenly we were watching this humorless, semi-foriegn film and I felt bad like I was James Lipton sucking the life out of the room.

All of that aside, it was an extraordinary film. The footage of east Africa alone made it worthwhile. There were great shots of Lake Turkana and the desert outpost of Loyangalani, as well as Nairobi's Kibera district. There was also some good acting from Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, and a nice assortment of African and expatriot British characters that one might expect to encounter in Kenya.

The film also delved into the evil shenanigans of the multinational pharmaceutical industry, the limited success of humainitarian aid efforts in the region, and the generally tragic condition of Africa. I was left with the same helpless and stupid feeling I got from watching "Hotel Rwanda".

All in all an amazing film, directed by the Brazilian who made "City of God", and supplemented with talent of every kind. I will go so far to say that as impressive as this film is to watch, it was probably more fulfilling to be involved in the production of it, to have spent time in Kenya interacting with the culture there while at the same time having accomplished some meaningful and semi-lucrative work.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

the blog of Jan. 18, 2006

the powerhouse from Benin

The other day I listened to Angelique Kidjo's "Oremi" album -- my "beST" choice for music in 2003 -- and I am still blown away at what a great album it is. She is the powerhouse from Benin who sings in English, French, and "Fon". This is some of the best African or Afro-European music I know of. Yes, I know, the album is now eight years old -- but it's aged well, which is to say not at all.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

the blog of Jan. 17, 2006

Burgundy vs. California

The last best new wine I had that I can recommend is Camelot Zinfandel. I thought it had rich berry flavors and Lisa thought it was peppery... Whatever the case is was close in taste some of the better Blackstone reds. Someone might come along and say, "but all these wines taste the same!" To which I would say I don't mind, because it's an agreeable taste.

All the same the old winemaker from Burgundy featured in the "Mondovino" documentary would probably call these wines "tricksters", industrialized wines for a mass market. I found his comments fascinating. He somehow indicated that these wines are horizontal while the traditional Burgundies are vertical. Strange as that sounds, it made sense when I recently tried the Gachot-Monot Beaujolais Paul bought us for Christmas. It was a strong wine that hit you in the side of the head with a two-by-four.

With all due respect to my Burgundian forbears, I think one's pallette for wine is no different than one's taste in say, books -- meaning that it all depends on where you're at in your life journey. There's no right or wrong apart from what's right or wrong for you.

The old Burgundian winemaker makes me think of the Zen masters who slap you in the face for the sake of enlightenment. The California wines just taste good on their own terms.