[ updated 4 Jan 2014 ]
Found the flyer:
A couple of weeks back on Mother's Day, Lisa and I were driving back from my brother's and listening to Radiolab. The episode, titled Behaves So Strangely, included Diana Deutsch examining short fragments of speech. She noticed accidentally that when a few seconds of speech is repeated, its natural, tonal melody becomes more apparent and could be transcribed as a simple music motif. One of my favorite, lost recordings from college, Steve Reich's Different Trains, immediately came to mind. Reich takes interviews with people who rode or worked on trains before, during, and after World War II, and he transcribes short segments. Throughout the piece, the recorded interview segments are played over and echoed by a string quartet. As I was telling Lisa about the piece, I looked it up on Google and found that a string quartet was scheduled to perform it in Portland the following Thursday. We purchased tickets the next day.
Portland has to be one of the friendliest places we've ever visited. This was our first time visiting and the desire to go was never predicated on interest in seeing the city, but we would definitely go again. It's walkable and offers some good restaurants and, obviously, a strong art scene. And the friendly people!
(Pre-concert at SPACE Gallery and menacing dark tower afterwards)
The concert was at the SPACE Gallery: what appears to be ground zero for interesting artwork and, thanks to the musical program, a notable range of music fans. I can only imagine and envy what the 8-year-old thought of the performance! Music was: John Zorn's "Cat O' Nine Tails", local composer Beth Wiemann's premiere of "Minor blasts, some flurries", and after an intermission "Different Trains". Zorn's piece, written the same year as Different Trains, was madcap chaos. I can't imagine not having heard it live and if Zorn didn't exist, I don't think he could be invented. Very pastiche noise that had such physical humor that it was like few other compositions. Some Zappa works from The Yellow Shark come to mind but even he might not instruct the cellist to pantomime whipping the other musicians as they simulate ouching whines on their instruments. The Wiemann piece was a beautiful, palette-cleansing episode. It put me in mind of the clarity of Walter Piston's harmonies, another Maine composer. Finally, Different Trains. Like Einstein on the Beach early last year and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway last Fall, this was a rare opportunity that met all expectations.
Secondary culture visit was the superb Portland Museum of Art on Saturday. Many modern 20th century works on the first floor in the show The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism. 21st century stuff caught my eye up the atrium on the 3rd floor, so we hopped up there for some stunning pieces by artists I've never heard of (and should have written down). Down to the 2nd floor for a selection of Homer, Hopper, and other northern painters. Would definitely return for the modern works.
(These. Guys. Were. Everywhere.)
(The craggy coast of Kennebunkport. The dull-witted feeling you're sensing is President W's house off-camera to the left.)
Thursday, Petite Jacqueline the afternoon we arrived. One more reason why French restaurants are infallible, and the string quartet performers showed up as a bonus! I didn't interrupt their lunch, but instead stared and whispered. OTTO Pizza (before the concert) and Nosh (after the concert) for drinks and snacks. Friday, an extended nap after the four hour Maine Beer Tour, a lobster roll at J's Oyster, and drinks at Spread (hip space, drop-dead gorgeous bartender, yet inexplicably filled with what appeared to be Fox News-watching gay Republicans) had us reschedule Five Fifty-Five for the following night and instead go to the late-night Portland Pie Company (half pepperoni, half seafood). The beer tour is highly recommended. Again: friendly people and a chance to get some hyper-local beers that may never get to Atlanta. Saturday - brunch at Duckfat before a drive to Kennebunkport. Finally, the trip's fancy dinner at an upstairs table at the superb Five Fifty-Five. Sunday - donuts from Holy Donut for our drive back to Boston airport.
Another successful impromptu vacation!
Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! at The Fox on Thu 20 Sep. Panelists were Roy Blount, Jr., Faith Salie, and Mo Rocca and the sharp CDC Director Thomas Frieden. After was dinner at the new Proof and Provision in The Georgian Terrace building (along with everyone else from the show). The following two days were the second annual return of Music Midtown. Our Saturday brunch till 1 turned extended into much later, but we made it in time to see Garbage. Other highlights were Foo Fighters on Friday (covered Pink Floyd's "In The Flesh?" from The Wall), Adam Ant and his band's crazy get-ups, and Girl Talk. By then, we were too tired to stay for Pearl Jam, so we ended up at Gilbert's for drinks+food. Sunday was Lisa's b-day dinner at Il Localino.
The weekend starting Thu 27 Sep was in Chicago to continue our year of music with the Peter Gabriel So concert. Too much mayhem to relate, starting with this:
Curse you, gay bar above that Armenian restaurant! We made it to the concert afterwards, but it wasn't our most shining moment. The next day, Friday, was the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA!). Highly recommended and digestible in a single visit. It will be included in any return visits. Evening was science silliness with Radiolab's In the Dark show at a beautiful old theater. Saturday was a jog along the river where I did a 53-minute 10k--personal best! Later, walking along the Navy Pier (right next to our hotel) before seeing the National Theatre of Scotland performing "The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart" at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. This was an impulse event that caught both of our attentions and we struck gold: half of it read like lit crit cool and the other like a Three Stooges short. Five performers swapping roles and instruments as they tell a tale that both is a Scottish ballad and is about Scottish ballads. Hoping it comes on tour. Dinner at the amazing MK Restaurant. You are not as cool as us. Hell, we're not as cool as us.
[ updated 4 Jan 2014 ]
October involved Lisa travelling for LSU games, so I went out a lot for soft-serve ice cream from Checkers down the street and took pics of my feet on Marta:
More social events included Silversun Pickups at The Tabernacle w/ Lisa&Mason and the L5P Halloween Parade with Tedra&Bill. My first Halloween parade; there was so much craziness and fun that it must become a habit.
November has continued our Year of Music with the long-awaited Quadrophenia at Gwinnett Civic Center. The show and spectacle were outstanding, and we had the bonus prize of running into two of my coworkers. How random. Julia visited for a weekend and we nearly got kicked out of The Vortex (not really (well, maybe a little)). And the Monday after we late-in-the-day bought impulse tickets to Asia performing their first album at Variety Playhouse. We were wiped out but the battle of regret vs. exhaustion found us with the rest of the old folks once again in L5P. A week before, I swore that Quadrophenia was the last classic rock concert of the year and that the only thing that would change my mind would be if Genesis reunited and restaged their Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour. Cut to the Variety Playhouse lobby with posters advertising the Genesis cover band The Musical Box's upcoming performance of LLDoB the 12th of next month, sanctioned by Genesis and Peter Gabriel. Tickets purchased. You win, fate. Post-concert was the L5P Vortex where we chatted with the bartender who caught me trying to leave the Midtown location with a beer in my jacket two evenings prior. Yes, I am 14 years old.
London last weekend for the Barbican Center's production of Einstein on the Beach. Planned a couple of months prior.
Before we get on our flight, we realize that the tickets are to Gatwick instead of Heathrow. Derp. The change was pretty harmless, and we just had to pay a little extra for an express train in. Slept maybe 30 minutes on the flight. In London proper, we passed by Battersea Power Station. Because it's used on the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals, this was actually a scheduled destination for Sunday. Instead, I snapped a pic from the Monday morning train ride on our return to Gatwick.
Check in at The Metropolitan across from Hyde Park. Quite posh. We scored an amazing deal at Hotwire (but made up for the savings by closing every evening at the hotel bar). Late breakfast at The Breakfast Club; an excellent bohemian restaurant that gave me beans with my breakfast. Beans?! Our first hint of foreignness in a city that felt at first like New York. After was our shopping trip around Carnaby Street which has a bunch of hipster/Mod clothing shops. Lisa spotted a shop called The Face (Mod slang for the coolest of the cool kids) down a side street. Jacket purchased there with matching shirt from a Ben Sherman down the street. Hour 26 of our first day and my EotB outfit was achieved!
Just watched The Who's Quadrophenia on YouTube to relive all that was the Mods. Brilliant!
Prepping for our trip, Verizon told me that my new phone (HTC Rezound) wouldn't work in the UK, so I got a temporary HTC Incredible 2 for Internet and photos. Sadly, it had no SD card to store said photos, so I had to grab one at the local Vodaphone shop. Vodaphone?!? More foreignness! Vodaphone guys get the honor of IMAG0001:
Next stop: London Eye, delicious street vendor ice cream, general walking and gawking, plus our first pub of the trip: The Camel and Artichoke. A perfect little neighborhood spot that quickly filled up with end-of-the-work-week locals and presented us with our first pub questions: How do we tip the bartender? What are all these beers I've never heard of? And why do they all taste flat? More foreign madness.
Top of the world! Battersea is visible right above the British flag.
All of this walking wiped us out, so a 60-minute power nap brought me up to 90 minutes of sleep by hour 30 of our first day. Dinner was French cuisine at a two-star Michelin restaurant The Square; a short walk from our hotel and still in the Mayfair district proper. The three-course meal was insinuated with what seemed like dozens of amuse-bouches. The portions were appropriately small and the flavor was subtle and varied. We have never done wrong with French restaurants and this was the pinnacle. Walk back to the hotel with closing drinks at the bar where the more acrobatic bartender spun a bottle upside down in the palm of his hand. In bed at hour 36 of our first day, right well exhausted.
This is the day. Everything revolves around Einstein on the Beach.
First, a trip out of Mayfair and up Audley Street towards the Sherlock Holmes Museum, prompted by my interest that started seven (!) years ago. Breakfast of pastry and coffee at The Richoux on the way. The museum was three floors of miscellany and wax figures of major characters.
Left: Trying but not buying. Right: Sherlock's violin!
Nearby was our second pub of the trip: The Volunteer. Glasses were replaced with plastic in anticipation of a contentious football match later in the day. After drinks, a quick walk to The Beatles Museum a few doors down then the underground to a walk through Green Park and Buckingham Palace.
Change of the guards, change of key.
Taxi to Barbican via Fleet Street for pre-concert late lunch early dinner at Vinoteca. I had mussels and Lisa had their special of the day: hot dogs. Walk to Barbican, pick up tickets at will call, find our seats.
EotB opens with the female "leads" simultaneously reciting a different block of text, sometimes intersecting with homophones or bouncing with accidental call and response, overtop a choir singing numerals to the meter. Prior to the official start, they sat on stage intoning their parts without choir. My heart was racing for the moment and when the choir started, starting the opera, my throat constricted with the feeling that I could hardly believe where I was. 5:30 PM to 9:50 PM. At around three hours in, I finally looked at my watch and decided that an intermission wasn't necessary. There were too many moments that were genuinely unique and varied to express without the mundane "you had to be there." Music, dance, and theater. I have little sense of the meaning of the opera, but the beauty and humor and structural brilliance were enough. I may go again this fall in Brooklyn; I recommend you do too.
After was our third pub of the trip: Two Brewers just up the street from Barbican. We chatted with the owner, his wife, and the bartender after the owner playfully mocked my mod, mod Carnaby jacket. They were, perhaps, the friendliest people we met during our entire London trip, and we'll definitely go out of our way to return during our next London trip. Underground back to the, now very packed, hotel bar and final drinks. The bar was filled with young Euro-punks, flashy dressers, and families (?!?). Female DJ was awesome.
The Tate Modern is obviously a product of the same architect that did Battersea. Good omen. Inside was enormous. The Hirst show contained a stunning collection of every style that he's worked in, beginning with a reproduction of his first gallery show (although, that was the weakest piece). Photography was not allowed because--I'll safely assume--Hirst is a manic businessman when it comes to marketing his art. The most stunning pieces were The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (i.e. the shark piece), A Thousand Years, and Black Sun. A Thousand Years consists of two glass boxes. One contains a smaller white box in which flies hatch from maggots. The other contains a decomposing cow's head which the flies fed on. Above it, a bug zapper. Oddly, the the boxes appeared to be sealed directly against the wood floor of the museum so that the head bled and rotted on the same floor the visitors walked across. We were safely separated from the cycle, yet a shared surface transported us into the piece. The tactile aspect was more moving than expected. Black Sun is a 12-foot circle six-or-so inches deep, jarringly black with an undulating texture. It is made from layers of dead flies. The concept is disgusting, but the result is beautiful (much more so than its images suggest). For the Love of God was impressive but, much like the Mona Lisa, difficult to separate image from icon. The most humorous pieces were his hundreds of "facsimile pills" which were replications of actual pills, to scale.
After was a walk next door to tour the Globe Theatre. No chance for a guided tour, but we walked through the museum and discovered that an American actor championed the effort to rebuild the theater. After walking the Tate and the Globe, we were ready for our first meal of the day at around 4 PM. We ended up at our fourth pub of the trip: The Ring in Southwark (pronounced SUTH-erk, you tosser). Nothing remarkable, but I had the cottage pie and now have ambitions to make it at home. At one point, the music playing was Carol King's "I Feel the Earth Move"; lyrics used prominently in EotB.
There was some further wandering around the city, resting at the hotel and packing, then a long walk through Middle Eastern neighborhoods to dinner at our fifth and final pub: The Windsor Castle in Marleybone. Thai food! Hotel bar, early morning express train, and arrival home at 6 PM Monday night. Plans to return next year during The Proms.
Dinner at Parish on Friday with Tedra and Bill. Food was just OK, good-not-great, but the decor and ambiance was perfect and the staff was friendly and entertaining. Very much worth a trip. Aaaand, Alicia and Dan had dinner at some Mediterranean restaurant down the street and stopped by our table afterwards. Downstairs Parish has coffee, wine, and a variety of desserts with various brick-a-brack for sale a la Cracker Barrel (though not so hayseed). We bought a Doodle All Year coloring book for one of the nieces; it has drawings of various people with the scenes missing ("where is this car going?" or "draw someone who likes cold weather and someone who doesn't..." amidst breezy trees). Neat-o.
Saturday was a failed attempt to de-clog the dryer vents (professionals are coming this Wednesday) and a successful attempt to replace the kitchen faucet. The latter included cleaning out from the water trap the most disgusting congealment of protein goo I ever had the horror to gag over. I don't know how it got there, or what it was made of, I'm just glad it's gone.
Late lunch at The Vortex where we got sucked in to Women of Ninja Warrior on G4 along with a majority of the bar. Guilty pleasure (check out Ayako Miyake kicking Ninja ass). Home, clean up and off to The Seen gallery for a wine tasting and some Pete The Cat artwork that we originally saw at Summerfest. As a bonus, they had some crazy robot art by Travis Smith. No purchases were made. Post art wine at Palate right next door before going to dinner at Wisteria. Excellent eats; only the second time we've been there.
Lazy Sunday (for me) until the afternoon when we went to a cookout at Danice and Mason's. We braved the heat, ate too much food, and then stopped at Pint and Plate after we got home for late night drinks and (oh god why?) more food.