29 August 2007

I'm in a news release from Berea College about the summer carillon series. What's news to me is that I'll be broadcast on a video monitor. I'm still determined to wear my amazing new EMS gear for the concert, but I guess I'll have to find a dark corner somewhere to do a quick glamour change after the show.

25 August 2007

yellow skies

There's a rainbow arcing over the parking lot, perfectly steady as the wind rushes the trees. The atmosphere is unreal in color, a strangely intense yellow tinted with pink, much as it was at the end of the day in Cambridge, England. Today wasn't the first day of brilliant skies. Driving out to Batavia yesterday evening, Nicole and I swept through the most gorgeous New York scenery I'd ever seen, dotted with solitary barns and silos and lit by dramatic clouds of contrasting shapes and a fiery orb that looked ten times its normal size wrapped in clouds near the earth. On the way back, although we never encountered rain, we headed towards the most intense lightning storm I'd ever seen. I counted up to seven bolts per second, some that illuminated a quarter of the sky though eerily hidden behind clouds. Funny that I should have spent the summer talking about wanting to see a good lightning storm -- I got my wish without even getting wet!

Matilda and her boyfriend hosted a lovely party with varied guests -- composers, med school employees, a music ed instructor, and even a hamster. Nicole fell for the hamster immediately, and Jairo was positively a magician with it. It's good to have a slice of summer left to enjoy.

Today after Mex with Jeff and a surprisingly deft run at the carillon, I found myself in the Friends of Rush Rhees Library book sale, rifling through volumes ranging from 50¢ to $1.00. I must have unintentionally browsed for an hour, because suddenly a lady was handing out plastic bags for the final $3-per-bag clearance. I was beside myself in the mad rush to fill my bag. 17¢ per book later, I had a somewhat-full bag with treasures such as the Stinking Cookbook from my favorite SF restaurant (and straight off my wishlist to boot) to several volumes of poetry, literary history, art (including a massive hardcover volume of American art), Yale memorabilia, San Francisco memorabilia, almost-antiquarian mini-volumes in German, gifts... The literary bargain shopper's dream come true!

Pink is infusing the yellow light and this blog entry is coming to an end. As a contrasting last note I want to observe that the fashion for hoodies this summer has involved prints that are amusing because they don't work as prints. Said hoodies are also made of nearly useless thin material, and the only store that stocks properly warm zip hoodies seems to be the eternally overpriced A&F. It's infuriating to think that someone in Amsterdam is probably wearing my 5-year-old Urban Outfitters military hoodie with its fake medals and gloating. But maybe this book bargain is my payback.
I hate cheap knives. Especially cheap serrated IKEA knives that can't be sharpened. Everyone knows I'm perpetually daydreaming about my future kitchen with its space-age juicer and million-dollar kitchen knife, but can anyone even fathom the depth of my hatred for my apartment's kitchen knife today? It slipped off the onion I was chopping (an onion, of all things, should not pose a challenge to a kitchen knife) and straight into my left index finger. The bandage on said finger makes it rather hard for it to play just one note on the organ.

Cheap kitchen knives, die!

22 August 2007

mirror world ii: University of Cambridge (backblog)

Despite a late start, I made an afternoon of Cambridge, the English-speaking world's second oldest university and thus perhaps the closer sister to Yale in American collegiate history. Despite my hasty online research the night before, I was woefully unprepared to find my way, particularly as there were so many colleges and few were visible from the main thoroughfare leading outward from the station.

But first I meant to exchange my euros as drawing on my American account was getting very painful with the horrendous exchange rate. Owing to a block-wide power outage, a long queue of customers formed behind me at the bank by the farmer's market as I fidgeted impatiently. I was first in line for the longest time, but heaven knows what kind of transactions the two customers being served were closing. A third employee whose computer wasn't working was busily counting cash and piling it into a bag to hand to the Asian male customer, and the other fellow was trying to wire several thousand pounds to some middle eastern country. Oddly, they were both quite poorly dressed considering their transactions. Clearly the mafia was at work. "The British love to queue," Chip advised me later, making me hope this had been an invaluable cultural experience.

Even after purchasing a map at the tourist office, I was at a loss as to where to start amongst the thirty-one colleges. There wasn't even a university bookshop; there is a Cambridge UP Store (filled with decidedly unsexy-looking book jackets relative to my former employer Yale UP) but no Cambridge Bookstore, the reverse of the situation at Yale. Fortunately I eventually tailed a group of Japanese tourists into King's College (1441), the place to start if you're looking for magnificence. Its ceiling, the largest fan vaulting in the world, ensured that I would never be proud of Harkness Tower's singular fan vault again, despite its uniqueness in American architecture. I was also surprised by the presence of Flemish art -- Flemish stained glass glowed from the clerestory and Ruben's magnificent "The Adoration of the Magi" (1634) crowned the altar (lowered specifically for the painting, to some continuing consternation). The northern arcade contained an interesting exhibit that perhaps explained the silly entrance fee, but then I was sent out into the courtyard and experienced the déjà vu of walking into Christ Church at Oxford. (Apologies to all insulted.) The Gatehouse and Great Tom, the vast green courtyard, the overcast skies... At least to a dumb American they look very much alike. Very breathtaking, too.

The guard who took my admission fee at Trinity College knew where Rochester was, although he couldn't recall why. A fountain at the center of the courtyard was surrounded by a shock of bright red flowers that looked surreally luminescent beneath the grey skies, and I wondered if this was the gardeners' way of staving off the meteorological monochromaticism. I found some comedy in the magnificent dining hall; first was the contrast between the purely functional and slightly ugly cafeteria equipment and the stained glass and soaring open timber roof, second was the sign casually mentioning that the dining hall had been continuously used as such for six centuries. One finds this kind of history all over the place at Cambridge... one finds little from that era in the US; the Native Americans may have been around but they lived lightly off the earth and didn't endeavour to build their cantines as eternal monuments.

By the time I was done gawking here and there 'round Trinity, it was 17:00 and, I reckoned, too late to enter the other colleges as a tourist. Fortunately I had dressed the preppy student part just for this purpose ("Are you going sailing with that sweater tied around your neck?" Jon asked me in the morning), and strode confidently into several other colleges from the Backs (literally referring to the backs of the colleges on the Cam) without being questioned. St. John's became my absolute favorite, a veritable architectural wonderland of fairytale white spires, magical courtyards upon courtyards, quaint passageways, and the Venetian Bridge of Sighs under which tourist-filled punts were still floating.

After wandering Sidney Sussex, Naomi's alma mater, and taking a peek into one of its marvelous red common rooms of which Yale's are only an echo, I rolled up my sleeves in search of nourishment, finally settling into a busy Indian restaurant on Regent next to a table at which an educated middle-aged man was talking to two teenagers with classy accents. I found the place not without a great deal of wandering, intent as I was to get a feel for the city. My wandering nearly got me into trouble as I took a long way back to the station in hopes of spotting Lammas Land (just for the kick of being a TDer initiated at Llama Land), but I made my train with time to spare and returned utterly exhausted to Balham, where I went straight to bed.

P.S. While consulting Wikipedia's article on Cambridge, I chanced upon the origin of the Harvardian epithet, cantab. Somehow the term Cantabrigian, abbreviated in post-nominal letters as Cantab., found its way into our vocabulary for the Harvardian. Whether this is meant as pretense or irony is not yet known to the author.
The next obvious step after choosing to cook with what's in season is joining a CSA. This will have to wait until I have a home and free time in the evenings to learn to cook new things or devise recipes with what I have, but it's something to look forward to.

Finally went shopping at Ocean Garden for Asian groceries and scoped out India House. The latter is quite promising, if I can ever learn to cook Indian food properly (anyone want to give me a cookbook for Xmas? :), but I wish amongst their Tibetan bells and things there had been some colorful prayer flags to liven up my whitewashed place.

Speaking of making things interesting, why doesn't the Eastman School of Music have any decent photography on its walls? Besides the Music Ed floor, there's really nothing, and certainly no student space.

21 August 2007


Resonance No. 8Getting back into the swing of things. The Eastman organ department has a snazzy new front page featuring a newsletter for which I've written two articles (one misattributed in the current PDF). I've caught up with Joe and heard about the more colorful events of the summer series (including foreigners' predilection for the Dinosaur BBQ and its attendant Harleys), claimed my key to our dedicated and newly painted carillon practice room, and am working with him to get new mics in the belfry with Paul's help. I've got Henk Bading's "Aria Hexafonica" down pat after once practice session. Paul Takahashi's "Jumper Ralley" is proving much more intractable, however. And don't even get me started on "Een Aangename Voois." Nevertheless, I've submitted my rather ambitious concert program for Berea today, so there's only one way to go. Fantastic preparation for the EROI carillon concert, if you want to look at it that way.

20 August 2007

Sewing a bell-patterned apron while listening to Talk of the Nation on NPR. Oh, this won't last, but it's awful nice. I know I'm in a state of desperate procrastination, but often this equates with tremendous domestic productivity. So it's not all loss.

Returning to practicing organ was the cure for the demotivation engendered by my success in organizing my room and lack of sunlight outside (and until this morning, lack of a bicycle). I hope it always works that way.

the ESM hotcake?

bull.Bull. Did the Kaplan/Newsweek College Guide actually talk to more than one ESM student before selecting Eastman as the "Hottest Music School," in part for "students’ ability to take additional academic classes in the University’s College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering?"

Eastman is heaven for instrumentalists, but students also get to study at the University of Rochester, of which it is a part. It's perfect for aspiring musicians who don't want to sacrifice academics. That's why bassist Erin McPeck of Aurora, Colo., chose Eastman; she's now planning a scholarly career in music research while working as a physics teaching intern at Rochester and participating in Eastman's Institute for Music Leadership. Applications were up 10 percent this year, more than the national average.

This makes me wonder how useful any of Newsweek's claims are. Coincidentally, I'm listening to Jeff Brenzel's Yale podcast on "Undergraduate Admissions" with two insider POVs (being a former employee of the booming college admissions consulting industry and an admissions interviewer) and some recent grains of salt from recent reading.

eggplant take 2

My first success with eggplant: Linguine with eggplant. The olive oil-tomato-eggplant sauce was delicious, as I finally sautéed the eggplant with the proper amount of olive oil. Perhaps next time I'll try baking it. This recipe is simple and delicious; try it with less oregano and oil and use fresh garlic.

Why has it started raining now that I've retrieved my bicycle and want to ride to the carillon?

19 August 2007

the glory days

Observe that trams, cyclists, and pedestrians once ruled the roads of Rochester.

epodunk is worth a browse, not least of all because of its name.

And please don't forget The Refrigerator. Great collection of signs and roadside tours, including this retro pedestrian crossing sign in which the child seems to be running away and the parent is carrying a violin case or something else very long.

Rochester day 1.5

It's lovely to wake up in your own sun-drenched room after a long night of sleep. Especially if you have the Rochester Public Market to look forward to. By American standards, it is a pretty long-standing tradition -- in continuous (if itinerant) operation since 1827. This is young relative to my alma mater, but even the latter seems juvenile now that I've walked through university dining halls at Cambridge that have served continuously as dining halls for 600 years. In Dorset, I settled down with Naomi's latest copy of Cambridge Alumni Magazine and read and reread the final sentence on the back page: "And now for a literary return to 1350's Cambridge." For the new dean of a college to operate atop a stack of so many centuries of history, and to simply take it in stride and enjoy a fictionalized version of it at the end of a long day... does she not find joining such a vast academic family tree intimidating? At least in a post-Modern sense?

I digress. The post office is now issuing Louis Comfort Tiffany stamps, which I happily stocked up on in nominal vanity. The Rite-Aid pharmacy was next, but closed again -- in fact, shut on Saturdays until further notice. Lame factor doubled. After popping in cheerfully at the Little Bakery, I trekked out to the Public Market and emerged with a large backpack and two tote bags worth of fresh produce. But this wasn't my usual style of shopping. I arrived with no shopping list, only a mind determined to scope out what was in season and to buy it. It was a liberating experience, made possible by my experience of cooking with garden-picked produce in Belgium. And a better choice for the environment.

I can't say that the Eggplant Catalana recipe I dug up and tried to make with my fresh loot was quite a success, but that's because I'm still incapable of cooking the eggplant itself. The recipe should be worth a second shot.

John and I ran joint shopping errands and spent some time at the sample iPhone at the Marketplace Mall. EMS had some good discounts on clothing I may revisit if I somehow scrounge up the cash. As usual, the Wegman's there disoriented me a bit, but what disoriented me most was John's brief history of grocery shopping in Rochester. Neither of us buy into the Wegman's fan club or appreciate that its only city branch is on University. But Wegman's used to have stores in the center of town. Yes, in the center of town! But take a look at your average joe on the downtown sidewalk. He is the not person Wegman's is interested in serving. So although these stores weren't unprofitable, they were closed in favor of more educated, higher income populations in the suburbs--leaving us with nary a neighborhood grocery, as those couldn't compete when Wegman's was in town and don't have the capital to start up now. Trader Joe's was recently courted for the empty space across from RoCo by the parking lot, but wasn't interested in areas in which less than about 40% of customers have college degrees. Central Rochester's figure? Half that.

Assessed Values, Rochester NY
The "Crescent" is clearly visible.
Originally uploaded by Mikros.
All this informal history aside, no grocery store seems to think that opening in central Rochester would be profitable. There are plenty of models of successful city groceries. There's a Whole Foods on one of the hillsides by downtown SF. Exiting at Putney Bridge in London, I noticed that a good 75% of the business people were going home from central London with one or two Sainsbury's bags although they lived on the outskirts of town. Antwerp has a GB outside the station beneath the cinema complex and Wagamama, a stone's throw from the city's most exclusive fashion shopping, as well as an organic grocery off the Meir. People drive out to the middle of nowhere Rochester to buy groceries. What makes supermarkets think that they wouldn't drive into Rochester or stop in after a day's work in downtown? They've been buying produce at the Public Market for 180 years, and nowadays it's in a rather worse spot than the area Trader Joe's examined beneath premium condominiums.

Speaking of which, the tremendous traffic jams at the Public Market are entirely counterintuitive. The sale of local produce is just not the sort of operation that inspires visions of urban sprawl's worst problems. But there you go--no decent public transportation and nary a bicycle rack. The amount of fuel and energy you save by buying locally grown produce is pretty much offset or overwhelmed by the exhaust you release waiting in traffic and cruising around in search of a parking space.

Reverse culture shock. It's back.

16 August 2007

departu/re/turn part 1

It’s a cool morning as I stash away the last of my belongings. Standing in the door in pajamas, Jon and Al see me off, and I wonder when and where we’ll next meet. Jon tells me I’ll arrive in plenty of time, so I worry about getting bored at the airport.

I’m pleased to find the train ticket to Gatwick more reasonable than that from Stansted, and am doubly pleased when I catch a train leaving conveniently from the other side of the platform, though it’s not suggested in my online itinerary. But when I stride into Area B of South Terminal, I find myself ensnared near the end of a mind-bogglingly long line and try to shake myself of it to seek out Air Transat. I follow a Canadian family with the appropriate luggage tags around, but they eventually find their way to priority check-in, leaving my to fend for myself again. Finally, a staff member directs me to the very line that was in my way when I first came in. It’s easily over a hundred people long. I remember Chip’s comment about the Brits' fondness for queuing. I decide that this is my final cultural experience.

The regulations at Gatwick are even stricter than at JFK, so I stow more things away as I wait, amazed that they all fit into my almost carry-on-sized red luggage. Half an hour later, I think I’m near check-in, but beyond the double doors a line of equal length appears. As it zigzags, I get a look at the people queuing behind me. In general they are less dressy; you can pick out the Londoners from the North Americans. One lavishly dressed woman draped in a bright yellow woolen scarf is wearing delicate three-inch designer pumps. I wonder who she wants to impress on the plane and whether her feet hurt.

After an hour of queuing I am at the security point, which takes another fifteen minutes. There is a spare currency donation bin in line, at the worst possible place as everyone tries to squeeze their purses into their carry-ons according to the “one bag only rule” and otherwise stresses over draconian security measures. I find the bin’s unfortunate placement a bit offensive; who relegated it there and how am I going to donate my spare change now?

After a quick dive into the Clarins boutique (an exciting discovery for me), the tacky Harrod’s gift shop (curses that they also sell tea there), Ted Baker because I didn’t know it was a line of clothing and accessories, and a busy coffee shop for fruit salad and an all-natural juice (ingredients: apple juice, vitamin C), I am hurrying to my gate and arrive just as passengers start boarding. So much for arriving three hours early and being bored.

The Canadian staff is open and friendly in a matter-of-fact way, and I relish hearing yet another accent after all I’ve heard this summer. The drink service is too infrequent, however, and when I ask passing flight attendants if I can buy a drink, they only tell me yes, and when I find another attendant in the back, he’s taking his lunch and says he’ll come by in five to ten minutes, which he never does. I resolve to put my extra currency towards the Canadian Children’s Wish Foundation, for which we’re all given envelopes, rather than allow Air Transat to profit off my thirst.

Although I must admit I’m very tempted by the Inniskill ice wine, sold by the bottle or miniature bottle, offered in-flight. This is the Canadian way to fly.

13 August 2007

London day 6

I stated that the color of London is black. I still hold this to be true, but with one slight emendation: the other color of London is pink. It's not just Jon; an inordinate number of British men wear tailored pink shirts with their (mostly striped) suits. In fact, one of the major retailers on Jermyn Street is Thomas Pink. It carries an inordinate number of women's shirts with French cuffs, which makes me greatly regret the fact that I have neither the money nor the occasion to own one. Nevertheless, the British toiletries shops may warrant a return on Wednesday.

I spent the morning putting together a BRAT diet for Jon's queasy stomach and then found the charmingly colorful, hidden, and happily alternative Neal's Yard. Both were accomplished with much wandering around and backtracking. The matter-of-fact man at the takeout counter had a South American accent to match the bright, un-Londonish colors of the triangular yard. While awaiting my tremendous and affordable portion of scrumptious vegetarian food, I got to talking with a certain James and his partner, who were moving to France. Soon we were chatting over scalding hot vegetarian chili, gluten-free basil bread, and free juices as part of the deal -- mine was cashew, a juice whose existence I had to consume to believe. Definitely a place to which I will return.

St. Martin in the Fields was closed for renovation and St. Paul's choir was on vacation from Evensong, so I was out of luck church-going-wise in London. Fortunately Naomi had made up for it this weekend. So straight I went into the Tate Modern, where I shelled out for the Dalí and Hélio Oiticica special exhibits. I was a bit Dalí-ed out by the end of the first exhibition, especially after seeing his puzzling and slightly gruesome films and then topping them off with the (in comparison) saccharin Destino, with its anachronistic early-20th-century soundtrack and modern animation. The swinging bell tie-in had lost its magic since the Boijmans van Beuningen, which somehow managed to display all of Dalí's works more imaginatively. Nevertheless, I was pleased to have examined "The Persistence of Memory" and a number of other chef d'oeuvres up close, and Oiticica's work turned out to be pleasingly informed by Klee, Malevich, et al, yet blown up into strikingly spatial cosmic systems of warm tropical colors. I might still give in and get that Tate timeline... to think I'd never heard of Oiticica before! My late arrival left no time to see the most exciting avant-garde exhibits, and those are free, so obviously I must go back.

From the Tate I made a beeline to Savile Row to peek into London's dearest haberdashers while there was nobody else around to notice. They were all doing the two-button thing (only Chip would know the proper term and context for it), and to my delight I could even see tailors busy at work in the basement of one of the stores. To my amazement, they all offered "bespoke tailoring" -- in other words, clothes made to order without a pre-existing pattern. Definitely British. Of course I ended up outside a giant Brooks Brothers once I turned back onto Regent Street, but not far past it was my ultimate evening destination -- Ramen Seto, home of the cheap bowl of noodle soup.

The ramen was actually mediocre and the soup overly rich, but anyway it was merciful on my wallet and allowed me to time hop into Harrod's for a look at the tea selection. I'd had a difficult time imagining the department store to end all department stores, but I finally found that it was a Disney-like fairyland made of course to much more sophisticated standards than any Disney attraction and filled with a mind-boggling amount of designer merchandise, but nevertheless Disneyish in its extravagant existence outside of any practised interior aesthetic. Still worth another trip -- I am not, I repeat, not coming back from England without tea.

Every year Euge becomes more glamorous, and she was dressed to rival any Londoner when I found her outside the Ritz. We were met with much more resistance trying to get into the Landsdowne Club without a printed letter of introduction, and I wonder if the lack of a white male in our presence had something to do with it. But finally we earned our time to catch up, and discovered that she's been living in another branch of the apartment/hotel residence that I stayed in with Josephine and Victor. Big city, small world!

Afterwards we wandered about the club, but other than the lovely ground floor and swimming pool, the club didn't offer a fraction of the luxuries of the Yale Club of New York City. In fact, none of the reciprocal clubs I've visited can hold a candle to it. But I have yet to make it out to Stoke Park. They're bound to make me eat my words. In any case, the deal I have with the Yale Club as a non-NYC-resident/full-time graduate student is unbelievable. I suppose most in my position don't do so much traveling, but as it is I get access to exclusive clubs for a laughable annual membership fee back home. Euge is raking in the money, but for this week I have the posh deal in London: club-hopping. A great sport if you can pull together the look and a bit of spunk.

Incidentally, while everyone finds it funny that ancient rivals Oxbridge share their turf at the Oxford & Cambridge Club by St. James', I just learned from Wikipedia's article on the Yale Club that our 22-floor James Gamble Rogers-designed facility also plays host to the Dartmouth Club, the Virginia Club, and the DKE Club (presumably not for your typical frat party).

12 August 2007

England days 3 + 4

Naomi rushed into the train station to meet me a few minutes after I arrived, although to be honest I'd been dallying around and figured I was probably the one keeping her waiting out front. She'd had several appointments in the morning, but what kept her was the alarming news that John had not just been ill, but experienced a minor heart attack at some point over the past couple days, and neither of them had put all the symptoms together. Nevertheless the perfect hostess, she made lunch and tea for me at John's place and afterwards let me amble around town while she made the first of several visits to John in the Yeovil hospital.

I was utterly taken by Sherborne Abbey's golden-hued Hamstone and vast and varied fan-vault ceiling, lingering the better part of an hour wondering and reading while someone provided a soundtrack on the organ. A brisk walk up Cheap Street (the oddly-named main shopping thoroughfare) turned up no florists still open as I'd forgotten the time in the abbey, but finally I came upon a delightful music shop at which I could buy a gift for John to ease his time the hospital. I chose a new Joseph Jongen/Flor Peeters album to make the connection a bit more personal and ensure I wasn't doubling something in his extensive library.

The drive to Naomi's parents house in the 200-person town of Dewlish sped by as we talked and enjoyed the countryside, and her vegetarian parents fed me a veritable Turkish feast. It was one of the best (and most lavish) meals I'd eaten all summer. A peculiar combination of being at the exhausted end of my tour, relaxing into the countryside after the oppression of otherwise delightful London, knowing I was taken care of and had no schedule or priorities whatsoever, and going into food coma put me straight to sleep, though I'd promised to be up in ten minutes for more socializing. I woke up in exactly the same position on top of the covers nearly ten hours later.

Nell and Naomi took me to the hilltop ruins of the 1000-year-old Corfe Castle, where many children were running around during the "birthday celebration" of some 1950's British children's author whose books had been banned from certain libraries in the 80's for not being PC. Obviously the stories were good enough to stand the test of censorship and time and even Harry Potter. A walk around the town with its traditional stone roof tiling proved that the 21st century had even penetrated to here: a gallery sold USB keys in the shape of various animals. There was also a lavender bunny whose removable tummy you could warm up in the microwave and which would release the aroma with each squeeze, but this seemed a bit extravagant and anatomically weird.

Best of all was our picnic and walk along the seaside cliffs. The landscape was basically untouched because, ironically, it is used by the military as training ground. Signs everywhere warn you not to step off the path lest you get shot or step on an unexploded mine, but dogs seem to wander freely ahead of their owners and blackberries are just starting to ripen. Gentle and yet close-set hills of green and cliffs set against a remarkably blue ocean made for the loveliest walk I've taken all summer, through a foreign yet familiar verdant and dramatic landscape. The place names here are exotic to me. Some are also amusing -- Affpuddle and Blandford?

Naomi left for Yeovil to see John and stayed in Sherborne overnight, and I enjoyed a rice dish Naomi had made for the dinner party made by the person she'd learnt it from. Her parents talked animatedly of their big band and about Nell's amazing vegetarian farmer uncle, but I was getting comatose again, so ended the evening watching the beautiful film "Girl with a Pearl Earring". Every scene had been composed with the care of a Dutch masterwork, the gorgeous colours straight out of Vermeer's own palette. The storyline was restrained, never veering into the sex or violence that most films think they need in order to make it big. If only the characters had been better developed -- time to read the book. It's remarkable how many books Vermeer, one of my favorite artists, has inspired. And I'm fonder of this painting than of the Mona Lisa. She's more beautiful, more luminous, more hypnotic, more alive (I know this is sacrilege), and her gentle yet acute gaze will follow you wherever you are in the room in which the painting hangs (the Mauritshuis in The Hague).

I slept like a baby once more, again not disturbing the covers at all or even all the things piled up in a corner of the bed. My dreams were strange and vivid, but I couldn't be bothered to remember them. Something about hurrying to keep up with a schedule. You can never quite escape who you are, can you?

08 August 2007

London, take 2

"It's that time." I drag myself out of bed at 6 am and rush to get ready to catch the TXL bus. To my surprise, my luggage is significantly lighter when I finally close it and pick it up, although mostly what I've taken out of it are small items weighing far less than a kilogram each. Proof that all the junk really does add up. This morning my luggage weighed in at 14,1 kg rather than the 18 kg it had been the day before.

I'm afraid the RyanAir lady has ripped me off further by not reserving a baggage ticket beforehand, but either she has or the check-in lady is too much in a hurry to bother, because I get through without a problem. The German immigration control officer examines my passport in more detail than I've seen before, and stamps it with equal conscientiousness within the proper box on the page. And although all the non-EU citizens in front of me at passport control in London Stansted seem to get questioned extensively--in a friendly, almost bantery manner, if you can believe that--I get sent on my way coldly with no issues or curiosity at all. Either I appeared extremely harmless or extremely boring or extremely rich, as the young Chinese couple in front of me had to show their credit cards to prove their solvency (in truth, they probably have much more money than me--she was carrying a Galeries Lafayette bag). Probably the first two and not the latter, as I was traveling in my heaviest clothes, whether they matched or not, to reduce the weight of my luggage.

Black is the color of London. When I step onto the Northern line, what should I see but an entire left row dressed entirely in black and toting all black bags and accessories and an entire right row that bursts with color. Pity my camera was already full of pictures. though even it hadn't been, I probably still wouldn't have snapped. Where do photographers find the guts to shoot everything, and why don't people in the pictures usually look back.

To be continued... (starting to intersperse my English with German)

05 August 2007


If yesterday was the day of symphonic organ concerts followed by Russian discos, today was another day of the uniquely Berliner brand of stark contrasts that occur so organically in this old new city. Last summer, I missed getting the last ticket to Berliner Unterwelten's tour of the stunning Flakturm and settled for the Dark Worlds tour of bomb shelters instead. This time, I was behind schedule again but managed to get tickets for the 13:00 tour. To pass the time, I wandered into a lovely rose garden (thereby fulfilling my annual rose garden summer dosage) and climbed the hill beside it to find myself on the roof of the Flakturm itself, intensely fortified as if enemies might come charging up the hillside at any second, although suicide jumpers seem the likely problem. The fascinating view of outer Berlin merged not long after I arrived with the sound of swinging bells from several directions ringing in the noon hour. Campanological life in Europe is good.

Smoked salmon is cheap here. The Deutsche Bahn convenience store carried Lachsbrötchen for 1,90 EUR. In fact, sandwiches are super cheap and relatively healthy here, a most welcome relief from the generic paste-filled sandwiches that pervade the Low Countries. Peach drinks are also popular, although a stalking wasp forced me to gulp mine down faster than I'd intended. For the few moments I had the drink to myself, however, perched on a bench on the wide concrete expanse of Gesundbrunnen soaking in the sun and idly watching the people idly drinking their German beers, I reveled in the delight of being utterly free to do whatever I wanted with my time. Without my tools for work and with extensive public transportation, I'm bound neither by a schedule nor by my mobility. My Tageskarte allows me total spontaneity. It's heaven on earth.

The tour got off to a slow start, and our tour guide spoke German at such breakneck speed that I reluctantly tuned him out for most of the time, choosing to read and reread the posters on the walls rather than deal with the linguistic mayhem caused by this auditory hailstorm. But just as I was tempted to leave, he led us into the massive corridor of concrete pillars and ceilings that had nearly collapsed under their own weight and the weight of time and neglect, and I knew my time had been well spent. BU's not-advertised policy of forbidding photographs, however, seems utterly contrary to urbex ideals.

Lacking the time I'd hoped for to race home and change into true summer clothes (the depths of the Flakturm were chilly), I hurried instead to the Haus der Kulturen der Welt and joined a crowd of thirty or so intent listeners for Jeffrey Bossin's electroacoustic carillon recital, which ended with a truly glorious klang. To have heard two electroacoustic carillon concerts within two months is really not bad. Afterwards I met the staff from Studio TU Berlin and two composers on DAAD grants, rushed home to change into the summer clothes I'd been waiting since June to don, and met Jeffrey for Mövenpick ice cream.

This left me too little time to rush through the Deutsche Guggenheim, so I opted to hop on the S-Bahn and hop off wherever I fancied, which proved to be the Hauptbanhof. After wandering its glassy corridors and grabbing a veggie wrap, I went in search of the artificial beach I'd seen from the rails and instead found sand sculptures, which I skipped, and further down, concrete things mounted in the ground on the Spree on which many young things were sitting, drinking beer, and enjoying the sunset. I sat down, snapped up my wrap, and snapped away with my camera, hoping to catch the surreal moment. Under the spell of twilight, it seemed as if the ultra-modern, clean glass monolith of the DB was the only building in a world whose borders ended at the other shore of the Spree. Beyond that shore was simply endless sunset, the only inhabitants us young'uns sipping and eating and watching nonchalantly in our sunglasses as the orange orb of the sun disappeared beneath the edge of nothingness.

And then the sun set and we suddenly felt colder, so we went on, and I went on and found the source of the distant drumming I'd been enjoying. I gave the man some spare change and took a picture of him at his suggestion, only to realize that he was asking me to use his camera, which I tried unsuccessfully to do as the camera did not cooperate. Giving the cold shoulder to obnoxious tourists and easily discouraged Germans on bicycles, I sauntered eastward along the Reichstagufer and found myself on the surreal Band des Bundes, with its icy skyward winding Paul-Löbe-Haus (footed by a surreal shubbery) and Kahnian Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders Haus, one of the absolute most beautiful modern buildings I've seen in ages. A massive flock of birds kept sweeping dizzily over me from one side of the Spree to the other, and the beautiful colors of twilight made this incredible feat of architecture a drug for the rest of the evening. It must have taken me a good half hour or more just to walk the three blocks that constitute the Band des Bundes.

P.S. for Head 2: Same giant spiders proliferating here as in Hamburg. Need bag of peanuts and good aim on the double! Also, although Friedrichstraße seemed sketchy on the side we wandered into last year for Starbucks, the other side is the theater district and bursting at the seams with classy cafes (and someone doing a fire show). The mosquitoes are everywhere but do not find me appetizing at all, again a welcome relief from the Belgian mosquitoes who could never, ever, ever get enough of me.

03 August 2007

Berlin Day 1

I have the hallway of the JETpak hostel to myself. At 2:00 on a Friday/Saturday night, all the young'uns (and even the older ones who feel out of place) are partaking of Berlin's famed nightlife. I get all the bandwidth, but more importantly, I get the privacy I've been missing otherwise. It's been a long day of culture and cuisine, and my hopes lie tomorrow with the things open during business hours.

The morning began with a two-hour breakfast--more specifically, a two-hour hunt for breakfast that finally led me to the organic grocery just three blocks away. But in the meantime I discovered Lindt's chili chocolate at another grocery store with a strangely cheap looking exterior and yet classy interior complete with olive bar. I also got to know the neighborhood better on foot, so no time was lost.

What followed was a stop at the Sony Center and the alarming discovery that my camera batteries had died. I gave up people-watching over a frozen mocha as most of the people were tourists (excepting perhaps a middle-aged punk mom) and instead shamelessly pored over my lonely planet guide to Germany, knowing I was clueless in good company.

The Musikinstrumenten-Museum, which I'd promised myself I would visit when I passed by en route to the Bauhaus Museum last summer, was a stone's throw away. The structure and interior decoration were delightfully neo-Bauhaus, a strange setting for musical instruments from the middle ages to the present. Each instrument seemed to double my excitement; some were strange takes on things I knew, some were enormously elaborate, some were simply ridiculous. I enjoyed the collection doubly because I could now appreciate the countless historical keyboards and also make a point of examining the horns. Saturday's Wurlitzer performer entertained us with a rehearsal fraught with a persistent cipher, providing a strange soundtrack for my journey past 18th-century clavichords (if only I could have played one!) and lutes lined with scraps of medieval parchment. I never imagined I'd learn so much about the organ from this museum, but a 16th/17th-century collection from a church in Naumburg of everything from zinks to 8-foot schalmeis revealed the mysteries behind these eponymous pedal reed stops based on instruments totally alien to us today. Even the Wurlitzer was fun to examine, with all of the pipes, vibraphones, cymbals, etc. visible and clearly labeled. A wild section on computer music made me laugh and want to run out and buy a vintage synth for my own home, while a mock piano-making studio taught me about the manufacture of spring strings and other mysteries. I made off with eleven postcards and many free brochures and posters a good three hours later, having forced myself to rush so I could catch lunch by 15:00.

Catch lunch I did -- in the area around Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, a neighborhood of which I would happily become a denizen, had I reason to move to Berlin. Just blocks away from the courtyards of the Hackescher Markt, this trendy run-down neighborhood united Maura's requisite "a bit of sketch" with delicious cheap eastern eateries, cheap haircuts in chic salons, hip hop and eastern clothiers, and boutiques carrying stunning futuristic pieces to break any fashion-hungry girl's heart or budget. Monsieur Vuong himself reseated me from the bar as soon as a table became available, and my request for "some vegetarian noodle" quickly brought me an asymmetrical bowl of the best Asian noodles I've eaten in ages. I was blowing my nose with at least three others in the restaurant by the end, feeling thankful for my bowl of artichoke tea. The best meal (paling in 't groen excepted) I've had so far since arriving in Europe -- cost me 8 EUR.

After poking my head into the various shops, I hopped into a salon and enjoyed a shampoo and cut (blowdry and apply salon products of your choice yourself - fun!) for 11 EUR in an industrial-turned-Beaux-Arts concrete cavern. At this point, with my new favorite shirt (a black cotton sleeveless turtleneck that, with my gorgeous 'A' necklace, makes me look like a million dollars), billowing grey Urban Outfitters skirt, and b/w-striped arm warmers, I looked like an authentic Berliner. I love the fashion here. It's too broad to pinpoint (although prison stripes for gals and aviators for guys are definitely in), too wacky to find in one store, and thankfully bears no resemblance to the frill-fraught neutrals of Belgian female fashion that, to my dismay, have hardly changed since last year. Berliners aren't afraid to make fashion statements, and overwhelmingly the most favored one is the statement made in all black.

Thoroughly taken by this neighborhood, which despite its relative peace and quiet is minutes from the bustling elegant courtyards and stilettoed girls of the Hackescher Markt and nearly in the shadow of the Fersehturm, I found my impatience growing for something new and also non-intellectual to relieve all the effort I'd spent in the MiM. So into the gleaming hallways of KaDeWe I sped, half affronted at the fact that it was a department store and half in heaven helping myself to samples from the near-complete lines of Aveda, Clarin's, L'Occitane, and Crabtree that I love and can't afford. Feeling better-versed in Breitlings after poring over two tall cases of them while trying not to look suspicious, I ascended through women's clothes and electronics, all of which I scorned, to the food court for a bite to eat.

A few steps in and I already felt faint. By the time I reached the tea department (the size of an entire store and with all teas in teacups for the sniffing), I was nearly in a swoon. So many fine foods, so many smells and sights! But where was dinner? I was preparing myself mentally to find nourishment elsewhere as closing time neared, when I reached the end of the aisle in one of the fish departments (spotless and magically lacking in any fish odor whatsoever) and found 4 EUR sandwiches. Not just any sandwiches--mine was filled with a generous amount of smoked salmon, not the oily thinly sliced kind but the thick chewy kind. I savored it and took notes on the experience, still unable to believe my luck.

The bathroom on this floor was tremendous, and it just happened to have one of the best views of Berlin in the area, framed by long windows looking out on the curiously undulating façade of the building across the way. The setting sun made for a doubly brilliant scene that evaded my battery-starved camera. And I managed to walk out of the store with the least dignified item one could ever imagine purchasing at a high-end department store -- a 4-EUR box of Ballastoffreich (fiber-enriched) Kellogg's cereal. This store is serious in its claim to sell everything. My only regret was that the Eiswein they carried was quite fine: 30 EUR. In other words, 30 EUR too much, especially as I have nobody to savor it with.

I must admit ZARA pulled me in for the next hour, as KaDeWe sent customers pouring out of its doors towards other Ku'damm-area stores at 20:00. One romantic white dress with a wide black band really caught my fancy, but it was a special item and thus sported an impossible price tag of about 130 EUR. To my surprise, I really have found no substitute for the J. Crew summer dress at Zara or Mango. American fashion does follow its own route, but the rarity of this cut of dress really is a surprise to me. Anyway, it's time to think of winter clothes. And I've found the perfect knee-length woolen coat to keep out the Rochester cold this coming winter. Rochester, aren't you excited to be my catwalk in September?

And so I'm back at JETpak, planning tomorrow out and wondering when the rest of my roommates will arrive. Gute Nacht.