Monthly Archives: March 2007

Jonathan 2.0

Ruder. Brasher. Speaks his mind. A real New Yorker. At least that’s what I’m striving for.

Especially when I notice a sign at The Fairway grocery store (essentially a cheaper Whole Foods in Harlem looking out right on the Hudson River) display with several kinds of extra-virgin olive oil and some small bread slices for sampling. It read, “Please be considerate: dip your bread only once.”

“Why would they even need to post a sign like that?” I thought, lifting a piece of bread dripping with green, ripe oil to my mouth. As I took a bite of that full-bodied richness, I noticed the woman next to me with a piece of bread with a bite taken out of it. It all happened in slow motion: her moving the bread toward a bowel of olive oil. My thinking, “This can’t be happening.” Her dipping the bread, bite side first, into the smooth, thick liquid.

I was appalled. Horrified, more by her manners than by her generosity with her own cooties. As she walked away and I closed my gaping mouth, I realized that I missed a perfect chance for confrontation. She deserved public rebuke. It was my duty to perform the civil equivalent of a citizen’s arrest. “EXCUSE ME, ma’am!” (Ma’am can come off as a bit condescending in the Northeast) “I can’t believe what you just did! You are rude!” Her chastening would be completed by the sudden sensation wet liquid fat in her face–flung there by me–which would then drip down and stain her dress in great moist globs.

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Filed under Around town, Awkward moments

Niece & nephew

I talked to Roman (5) and Isabella (3) a few minutes each this evening. I’ve found it works best to ask Bella yes/no questions. “Did you go to the park today?” “Did you swim today?” “Did you reshingle the roof today?” At some point, the conversation became awkward when she stopped talking. I heard Shelley in the background trying to get the phone then, but then Bella didn’t want to relinquish it. Maybe she wanted to hear me practice some monologues.

Roman was excited to tell me that they were going to read more of Narnia before going to sleep. He told me about Peter and Lucy, and the White Witch. I asked him if it was Always Winter And Sometimes Christmas in Narnia. He said no. I may have provoked an existential crisis by asking if he would ever consider visiting Narnia. “I would have to talk to Mommy first.”

“But Roman, if the White Witch offered you Turkish Delight, would you take it?” I don’t think I got a straight answer from him.

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Nicolle’s nonwedding

3-23-2007

1630 Finish work for the day
1645 Arrive at home. Change, finish packing.
1700 Subway (A train) toward 59th Street
1720 Subway (D train) toward 50th Street/7th Avenue
1723 Subway (E train) toward Jamaica Center, Queens
1810 Air Train toward JFK. Going counter-clockwise within airport. 1st stop Terminal 1
1824 Intraairport Air Train going counter clockwise.
1830 Arrive at Terminal 9.
2030 Fly to California
2335 (0130 Eastern Time) Arrive at LAX
2355 Arrive at rental car agency. Wait in line. Painful.
2359 Wonder if Enterprise and Avis have such long lines and slow staff. Maybe it’s just Budget.

3-24-2007

0020 Sink into despair as person in front of me in line waits for fax from mother to give permission to use mother’s credit card. Next person in line returns shortly after being assigned a car: “There’s no key.” He waits several minutes before being helped. Next person in line returns after being assigned a car: “There’s damage on the car that’s not on the rental paperwork.” Painful. Painful. Painful.
0030 Front of line.
0032 Melissa arrives at rental car agency.
0045 On the road to Arroyo Grande
0430 (0730 ET) Arrive in Arroyo Grande

I arose to the sound of talking and laughing from the kitchen of Nicolle’s parents’ little house that looks out over a beautiful green valley in central California. We all sat around the island on barstools and sipped coffee and talked. Nicolle’s mom made the equivalent of biscuits and gravy. Very warm and hospitable family; not an ounce of pretension.

After a leisurely morning, Nicolle, Melissa, and I set out. First stop: Trader Joe’s. There we picked up supplies for our picnic on Nicolle’s nonwedding day.

We stopped first at the rather touristy Pismo Beach with a big pier, seagulls, and a cold wind blowing off the water. Even spotted a sea otter! (After a kid nearby on the pier yelled, “Mom, look, a sea otter!” I probably would have seen it anyway.) Then we moved on to the more secluded and less touristy Avila Beach. Being sheltered a bit more, it was warmer. There, we enjoyed our organic, whole-grain lunch of hummus, soy & flax seed chips, pico, grapes, trail mix, and sushi


Back to Nicolle’s house, where I met some of her family in town for the nonwedding. Aware I was with the womenfolk, I ventured out to where Nicolle’s dad and brother were working on designing a pump made out of simple PVC for Nicolle to take back to Mozambique. I felt like I gained some credibility after making a couple suggestions; one of which was to fashion a ball-and-cage valve. I got the idea from studying artificial heart valves.

1810 Leave Nicolle’s. Stop by Trader Joe’s for a host gift for LA hosts.


1825 Heading south on the 101
2000 Emergency Starbucks stop.
2215 Arrive at John & Kathryn’s in Whittier–a suburb of Los Angeles. We visited for a couple hours before retiring.

2-25-2007

Church with John and Kathryn in the morning. Kathryn gives a ride every week to Betty, and elderly woman with one leg. Betty has very precise times to be picked up and dropped off.

We went straight from church to LAX, where I managed to get an earlier flight to JFK rather than Newark as scheduled. The lady at the counter informed me, politely yet firmly, that I was responsible for my own transportation. I stared at her, trying to make sense of her comment, since the airline has yet to deliver me to my door. I think she was assuming I had a connection, or that I was actually trying to get to Newark. (Shudder!)

1330 Leave LAX
2145 Land JFK
1000 Walk through airport. Air Train to Howard Beach Station.
1015 Arrive at Howard Beach Station.
1020 Wait
1030 Wait
1040 Wait
1045 Manhattan bound A Train.

3-26-2007

0008 Arrive at my stop in Washington Heights. My times may be slightly off, but I’m pretty sure it was about an hour and a half on the subway to go from Queens, through Brooklyn, and then up the length of Manhattan.

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Filed under Friends, Traveling

"Bad hair day"

This is another picture of my parents’ new puppy. She’s shampooed and dried, but, according to Mom, is having a bad hair day.

She’s getting pretty good at rounding up the cattle when Dad needs them moved out of a pasture, but she was caught the other day with a chicken in her mouth. (The dog, not Mom.)

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My best day in London

Now that I’m back in the real world, after hitting the ground running I have a break on this post-call day to catch up on a few things. I wanted to finish my series of posts on my London trip.

Friday was probably my favorite day of vacation. I set my alarm clock for 6:20, and not long thereafter I was out in the early morning jogging along the Thames. As I ran, I couldn’t help but remember all the miles I logged on the running trail behind my apartment complex in the Texas city I called home for five years, and I couldn’t help to compare the plain foilage and buildings of that path to my present surroundings–one of the cleanest rivers of Europe on my left hand side, impressive buildings–both ancient and modern–on my right, and the sunny English morning sky overhead.

For those of you who surmised I started my run on the north bank (according to my last post, I was staying near St Paul’s), you now know that I was running from east to west, or upstream. Just as I reached the tower of Big Ben where I’d decided would be my turn-around point, the gigantic bell struck 0700!

After a quick shower and breakfast at the lodge, I set out for the second time that day for the City of Westminster. Being still before 0900, I sat on the riverbank and read for a while before touring the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. I really liked seeing the British command post for operations in World War II, left virtually untouched since 1945.

I took a stroll then in nearby St James Park and sat on some steps for another hour or so to read. Lunch was excellent and inexpensive–coconut milk soup and pad thai. I made a quick tour of the National Gallery–which just so happened to have a free special exhibit on the Impressionists, and read a few pages in Trafalgar Square before realizing that I needed another nap.

Better rested and refreshed, I went to Westminster for the third time that day, this time entering Westminster Abbey for the daily Evensong service as the chimes struck five o’clock. This was definitely a highlight of the trip–worshipping in a church that’s nearly 1,000 years old. The nave is only 35 feet wide, but the ceiling towers nearly 100 feet above the floor! The boys choir was in top form that day (a few second reverberation time in the ancient space surely can’t hurt), and I appreciated the simple but beautiful Anglican liturgy.

My last evening was peaceful, spending a few hours in the common room–you guessed it–reading and drinking tea.

Upon a little reflection, I’ve realized some key elements that make for a successful vacation, Jonathan style:

  • Interesting things. (1-2 hours at a museum is interesting, 4-5 is not.)
  • Walking interesting places. Parks. City streets. Seeing a city as someone who lives there does.
  • Sleep. Should be ample. Option for naps is a plus.
  • Plenty of leisure reading.
  • Alone time. Maybe a vacation by oneself in another country is a bit on the introverted end of the spectrum, but I think I need a little solitude to feel recharged.
  • Nature. I really like seeing different parts of the world for the differences in terrain, rather it’s hiking through a meadow in western England or enjoying a forest in Pennsylvania.
  • Leaving the house tidy before leaving.
  • Most importantly–a day or two buffer upon getting home before returning to work. An otherwise good vacation can be simply ruined by flying in the night before returning to work.

On all counts–except for leaving my room tidy–this was a successful one.

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From Bath to London

Confident? Sure. Brave? Perhaps. Arrogant? Probably. It took me nearly two months of living in New York before I ventured out without a map, with the exception of the most routine trips to work. Tonight, however, after being in England less than a week, but also after logging perhaps 20 miles of walking in the city, I left for the evening with no bag, no camera, no map not even my coat since the evening is mild. Travelling light, I have only a book to read on the Tube.

I spent the last couple of nights in Bath, and I just arrived back in the city ~2 hours ago at Victoria Station. After checking in to my lodging, I decided it was time to see what was to be seen for the evening. Bath was a welcome diversion from the busyness of London; all the same, the energy of the city is still exciting to return to.

Upon arriving in Bath on Tuesday, I strolled the streets and took a few pictures. As someone who loves maps, I’d studied the drawing depicting the town center in my Rick Steves’ London 2007 guidebook. And even though I could probably reproduce a fairly accurate reproduction from memory, it’s still amazing (or obvious?) how actually being somewhere makes it come to life.

I went from a 4-star hotel north of Hyde Park to a youth hostel in Bath. It was easy enough to find, and I checked in at the pub on the first floor. I commented that this was my first time to check in at a bar, and the girl behind the counter looked at me quizzically and asked, ”Have you not stayed in a hostel before?” Oh. So much for pulling off the air of a young, hip, experienced traveller. At this stage in my life, I feel like I’m teetering at a certain balancing point, after which it will become exponentially harder to pretend I’m in my early 20’s and backpacking through Europe; instead I will book more and more nice hotel reservations well in advance, perhaps take a cab rather than lugging my bags through the Underground, order appetizers and something to drink besides water with my meals, and perhaps even consider a sport coat and loafers ”casual and comfortable attire”.

Ah, youth. But I digress. I climbed the steep stairs to my bunk room and deposited my bags before wandering around the city a bit more. I had a burger in the pub, and then explored another part of the town. In the evening, I climbed to the attic on the fourth floor where the ”Chill Out Room” was situated (Why can’t they just call it a lounge? Den? TV room? ”Chill Out Room” annoys me. And I’ll take some sparkling mineral water with my calamari, please.) I spent the evening writing a blog post which you’ve probably already read and did some leisure reading.

My sleep from 2230 to 0630 should have been invigorating. I shared the room with 5 1/2 empty bunk beds. Slightly springy bunk beds. Not springy as in bouncy, but springy as in you can almost feel the springs through the mattress. My sleep was interrupted, however, by to Asian girls loudly entering at 2330, and spending 30 minutes talking in foreign tongue and unpacking their luggage which seemed to consist entirely of crinkly cellophane by the sound of it. They arose at 0530 and spent another thirty minutes repacking their cellophane and were gone by the time I climbed out of bed at 0630.

At 0830 I was at the town square in front of the abbey and ready to board my tour for the day. There were 15 of us, plus the driver, a middle-aged man named Keith with a large gut and a slow English drawl. Also on the tour were a young couple–probably about my age, two middle aged women (I now consider middle aged 50’s to spry 60’s), two early 20-something girls from Calvin College–Laura and Stasia–, a computer engineer about my age named Jessie who’d up and moved with his wife and two young children from Seattle to Bath just to try something different, a man and his son who was probably about my age, and a family with three sons who appeared to be about college age. All three were unshaven for probably more days than I’d been away from the States, somewhat sarcastic, and the oldest had a few earrings, a leather coat, and wore his cap rotated about 30 degrees off center.

First, though, we stopped at Stonehenge and took some pictures, saw another ”henge” at Avesbury where I got to try ”dousing” for metal or water with two rods. Nothing. When I returned the rods to Keith, though, I pulled a pound from my pocket and told him it worked pretty well. Surprisingly, he fell for it.

We stopped at lunch at a town called Lacock where we had lunch at the George Inn, which has been around since the 1300’s! There I tried my first English ale–cellar temperature and noncarbonated. Perhaps it will be my last English ale. Jessie, Laura, Stasia, and I formed a ”Tour Alliance” over lunch, and wandered around the town for the next 45 minutes. They, like me, had noted the interesting family dynamics with the aforementioned sons.

Kristin C will be interested in Lacock for two reasons. Harry Potter and Pride & Prejudice. Pictures and explanation to follow. We finished the tour in the Cotswolds village of Castle Combe which is virtually unchanged for the last, oh, 500 years or so. Very charming. Pictures to follow.

Another night at the hotel, thankfully quieter than the last. This morning I toured the Roman baths which had been recommended by just about everyone, including my parents and others on yesterday’s tour. I had a bad feeling about paying £11 to see some old baths, but on the other hand how often am I in Bath? Soon after paying the equivalent of nearly $20, I regretted it. Perhaps I’m sick of being a tourist. Perhaps I don’t appreciate history like I should. In either case, I enjoyed the next few hours waiting for the bus much more than my tour, during which time I had a latte, did some leisure reading, strolled around the picturesque town a bit more in the cool sunshine, did more leisure reading, had lunch at a Nepali restaurant near a bridge (with a glass of French white wine, no appetizer) , and did more reading at the bus station.

I arrived back in London around evening rush hour. I’ve realized an inexpensive way to manage food on vacation (and still enjoy it) is to have one sit-down meal per day (which, if I’m lucky, I can find for £7 or 8), and have a sandwich and fruit for the other meal (~£2). Of course, there’s still room to splurge (like my wine). That being said, I picked up a sandwich and a couple bananas at Victoria Station–which, packed with commuters–seemed like a less busy Penn Station, before riding the Underground over to St Paul’s neighborhood.

That just about brings me up to the present. I’m back at the £1 per hour internet place near Trafalgar Square, and the man sitting next to me reeks heavily of cigarette smoke. And to write quotation marks, I have to hit the apostrophe key twice. There, dear readers, you’re on the cutting edge of my life.

Sorry for the long and wordy post, but it’s just as much for me as for you. And I promise pictures soon when I get back to New York in a couple days. Tomorrow’s agenda will be a morning jog along the Thames, Churchill’s underground war rooms, and a trip to the National Gallery. And plenty of leisure reading sprinkled in between.

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Highlight of my trip

I’m in Bath now (close to Wales in western England), and goodness, I’m paying £1 per 20 minutes of blogging, so I need to be concise. (That sentence just cost me 5 pence!)

I got up early yesterday morning and checked out of the hotel and left my luggage downstairs. I took the Tube to St Paul’s Cathedral in the business district and was there by 0830 when it opened. I felt especially conspicuous as a tourist during morning rush hour when everyone else was wearing suits and ties.

The cathedral is 550 feet long (read–massive) and 250 feet wide across the transcept. I like the nave a lot more–it was decorated according to Sir Christopher Wren’s plan of elegant simplicity, whereas the choir ceiling glittered in a cacophony of colored glass mosaics, evidently to Queen Victoria’s liking. Understated and inspiring it was not. I enjoyed wandering around and seeing various monuments–Sir Wellington (who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo) and Lord Nelson (who defeated the French navy at sea). Britain’s history as a nation is so tied in with St. Paul’s Cathedral that secular monuments such as these have found their way into the ancient church.

The absolute thrill, however, was climbing a few hundred steps first to the Whispering Gallery above the transcept at the very base of the dome, then to the Stone Gallery (outside, just before the dome starts to narrow), and finally to the Golden Gallery (outside, nearly 400 feet above the street below). There, I beheld London in the cool morning, with clouds streaked above the Thames. In the distance I could see the Houses of Parliament, and below men hurried to work and buses navigated the narrow streets, but up above the city lay in the peace of the morning.

My next stop was the British Museum where I saw many old things that were conspicuously missing from my parents and my tour of Egypt, as well as a good part of the Parthenon’s art. I’m so glad it’s here in London instead of all in Athens, so that more people can see it. It’s really for the world’s advantage.

I worked my way to Victoria Station and caught a three-hour bus trip to Bath, which I will write more on later. Suffice it to say that, although thankful to know now what it’s like to stay in a hostel, I now better appreciate a non-springy bed, complimentary towels, privacy and such.

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