Lisbon from last Thursday through Monday morning to hang with Lisa on her recent business trip. When she had gone previously it was bad timing for me to join her. I had a new job and was busy with new work. This time I was 9 months into the job and felt settled enough to go.
Leave Wednesday night on Air France going ATL to CDG to LIS. As is tradition, I had pre-flight drink and food at Ecco in the international terminal. On the flight, I watched the first half of Game of Thrones season 5. Since the plane was full of high school kids headed to Paris I should have felt skeevy watching the wildly uncensored scenes but hey, they need to be prepared for Europe's libertine attitude towards nudity. Sadly, the Air France flight back didn't have the same selections so I didn't get to finish it.
After landing, security was quick since no flights outside of Europe enter Lisbon. 15 minute ride to the hotel and a shower before walking into the city proper. Go go go!
I'm on my own until early evening. First stop is Museu Calouste Gulbenkian where they have a collection spanning five millennia that includes Egyptian sculpture, Greek pottery, Chinese ceramics, Persian printing and weaving, and all forms of European art. Basically, my complete art history textbook excluding the 20th century. Notable were some of the Medieval carved miniature panels of scenes from the life of Christ, and the large-scale European landscape paintings from the 1800s. Many names I didn't recognize, and sadly I also didn't follow my lesson from the Uffizi in Florence and buy a guide... or at least write down the names. Maybe next trip!
Front of the museum with a wacky bird.
After a couple of hours, travel was kicking in and I started to pass-out-standing-up while looking at the later works. Left to walk the museum grounds then head back. Espresso and an odd-yet-delicious pastry--a light, sweet bread with gelled candies in it--at O Pao Nosso (Our Bread), then back to the hotel. Our hotel, the Lisbon Marriott, is a ~30 min walk north of the museum via the pedestrian unfriendly Avenida dos Combatentes. I decide to walk the opposite side of the street and soon ran out of sidewalk. 28-hours awake and running across six lanes of traffic is how my vacation didn't end.
Shadow selfie with some of the city's beloved graffiti.
Shower, zone out, and then reunite with Lisa, Alicia, Dan, and Rodney at the hotel bar. Taxi to the Baixa neighborhood (pronounced BI-shah, "Low", cf. "bass") to wander the shops and grab drinks and snacks at Cafe Nicola. More walking and we end up having dinner on the patio at Cafe Lisboa. They're situated next to a plaza where, IIRC, the symphony performs. We didn't get to a symphony concert but maybe next trip! Hotel then SLEEP.
My food porn at Cafe Lisboa is empty plates.
A week or so before I left for Lisbon, my cell phone contract expired. I impluse-abandoned many years with Verizon based on an Ars Technica article and went with Google's Project Fi. Nexus 5X with Marshmallow at $20/month + $10/GB including international calling and data. Perfect. One great feature is the admittedly-creepy Google Timeline that integrates GPS with map locations and photos you've taken. A long time in one spot probably means you stopped there. This makes remembering restaurants and such so much easier.
Where'd little Billy go all day?
Lisa and the gang had to work a lot more than expected, so Dan and I were on our own much of the day. It was decided that we'd tackle The Metro, so we walked to the Jardim Zoologico station and hopped a ride to Baixa-Chiado station. Five or so museums were mapped out, but we ended up at the Chiado National Museum of Contemporary Art. This is highly recommended. They have two locations, one was mostly closed for renovations and the other had an amazing selection of Portuguese art from the 1970s to the 1990s across many different styles.
Basically, the modern history I missed at the Gulbenkian on the first day I made up for here. After getting our modern art on, we headed towards St. George Castle to eventually meet up with the workers once they get free of their shackles. Stop for drinks and charcuterie at Le Petite Cafe on Largo Sao Martinho (excellent), then further up the hill to find whatever patio the paycheck slaves ended up at.
Enhance! Rodney, Alicia, and Lisa spotted.
We got to the castle and the line consisted of possibly the entire population of Lisbon. Maybe next trip! Plan B was to just walk around the exterior neighborhoods on the hill and take in the view. Odd area at the entrance to the castle had several large 3D sign letters spelling out random words. KOSMOS and VICTORIA were there with WINU and AM and a couple others that were--I found out later--part of an art installation called LIGHTCRAFT BELMONTE. These particular pieces were from Stefan Kornacki's "Things to Come (Inscription project)". From the catalog:
... years ago [these] were urban signs, topping buildings in the People's Republic of Poland. The irony is that, since these old symbols of innovation and progress were outdone by time ... they reappear now in the urban scape as absurd utterations. ... These 'signs' come from past. But we can look at them also as signs of the future, ruins, of all and any civilizations. Things to come.
This very much expresses the experience viewing them. It was a reference to intentionality that seemed to span multiple, defunct ages. Atlanta needs more urban installations like this.
Messages from the past (or future?!?) and an old apartment building nearby. KOSMOS!!1!
Next stop was lunch at Chapito a mesa: allegedly the 7th best patio in the world. So, of course, I got no pics but I did have many drinks and delicious food. In fact, as much as I love the new phone and service, its battery just cannot survive a full day of mapping and photos and web browsing: no photos after 7 PM. We continued the evening in the heart of the tourist area and browsed several different kiosk-filled streets. The great success for me was: (1) a bottle of 2007 Porto Reccua LBV and (2) a large link of smoky black sausage. The second item--it was assured to me by the butcher--was sealed so that I could get it back to the states without anyone noticing. I did, but only after wrapping it in several layers of plastic bags (which did not eliminate the smoky sausage smell), shoving it in the bag with my workout clothes (still smoky), and spraying down the whole kit with my Polo Black cologne (success). The flight home ended at the Hartsfield Jackson International Luggage Carousel. Immediately after I texted Dan, who was still in passport control, that I'd wait for him, several agricultural dogs started circling the room. Me + poker face exited quickly and now I'm happily ensconced at home with port and sausage!
More wanderings in the neighborhood: Museu da Cerveja where Rodney bough a set of glasses shaped like bottles, Trobadores Taberna Medieval where all things Renfest were happening. We had seen a couple of bars that had traditional Fado music, but needed reservations to get in. Plans were to go Saturday, but that fell through. Maybe next trip! Finally back to the hotel for late-night drinks at the bar.
Saturday! The good news: Lisa didn't have to go into work. The bad news: Lisa had food poisoning and, though the weather had been perfect thus far, the day turned cloudy and cold. No matter. Dan and I missed each other at the hotel breakfast somehow, then got a late start at Belem Tower for pics (another absurdly long line kept us out, maybe next trip!), and the Museu do Combatente. The museum had presentations for Portugal's role in WWII (less interesting) and for their colonial uprisings in Africa (very interesting). Apparently, Portugal defied the UN resolution on self-determination of colonies and did not allow it's territories to become independent. Rebellions broke out in Angola, Portuguese Guinea, and Mozambique starting in 1961 and continuing until 1974. Spoilers: those countries are free now. I knew Portugal had an empire hundreds of years ago, but never really considered its demise. Interesting history.
Protect the city, oh great Belem Tower!
We saw the changing of the guards at Aos Combatentes do Ultramar (Overseas Combatants).
Next stop was supposed to be the Jeronimos Monastery, but we passed by the Museu Colecao Berardo and decided that free admission to contemporary art trumps monks. The museum is in a complex that also has a symphony hall (performing John Adams' 2006 opera A Flowering Tree on the 6th) a theater and a couple of restaurants. In the museum proper we walked through a small installation of Nicolas Paris works called Four variations on nothing or talking about that which has no name, and twelve-or-so rooms of contemporary art from the 1960s to the 1990s. The Paris works were humorous and thoughtful and hard to describe. Tiny, delicate pieces that continued in variated forms. Cut paper; rocks; wires glass and plants. The larger show had some very major works and really nice pieces of minimalist sculpture. None of the pics turned out though! Very late lunch at the East West Pizza Sushi Cafe in the museum complex then Uber back to the hotel to meet up with the gang.
Long table with various contraptions by Nicolas Paris.
We zoned out at the hotel a little, back to the hotel bar, then dinner at the hotel restaurant with all except Sick Lisa. Pretty exhausted.
Last day so Lisa and I head out for fun in the sun. She's stir crazy from her Day of the Dead so walking is in order. Walk to the Metro--second and last trip on my 3-day pass did not make it a fiscally sound purchase--then down to Praca do Comercio and some pics of King Jose the 1st.
The king and his lazy, lazy subjects.
Another shadow selfie with Pac Man.
Walk the coast and stop for drinks at Monte Mar restaurant on our way to a complex of bohemian galleries and restaurants called LX Factory. Walking and getting lost on the way ate up time, so many of the shops were closed there. Lunch at the wonderful A Praca where I had maybe my most Portuguese meal: cod fish cake. Delicious.
Lisa tags an LX Factory building with graffiti and plots a SmartCar Getaway.
We should have taken the trolly back to Baixa but instead just taxied. Maybe next trip! Once back in the hood, we queued in the first and only line during our entire time in Lisbon: the Santa Justa Lift. Completely worth it for the view that we got.
It was cold, thrilling, and the exit several stories up at the top took us to the coolest neighborhood in the city: Bairro Alto (high neighborhood, cf. alto vs. baixa, high vs. low). Just as LX Factory was like the Goat Farm or L5P in Atlanta, Bairro Alto was like Soho in NYC. So many great, small restaurants and wine bars, we first stopped at Wine & Pisco in the middle of a small plaza where we had wine and I had a shot of pisco. Pisco is basically Perivian grappa and it will blind you just as easily as grappa. Drink. With. Care. Further wandering brought us to The Old Pharmacy which had an excellent wine selection and an equally excellent soundtrack playing The Rolling Stones performed a la lounge music. We made it back to the hotel around 9? or so and I hung until 11?? so I could get up at 3! to leave at 4!! for a 6 AM flight. No surprises and the sausage made it home (phrasing). Return movies were newly viewed The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (3/5) plus previously viewed Trainwreck (4/5) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (4/5). Home; jog in the perfect weather; grab a calzone from Vinny's.
Off to Prague to meet Lisa and Danice and Theresa after their week in Croatia. First international travel alone in, ever? Oddly nervous. While weighing my luggage at home, I found out I weighed twenty pounds less than a few months ago. Weird, if true. This trip should change that.
Atlanta to Paris to Prague. Ended up going through a different security area and am not sure how. Being alone sets you on different routes for even the simplest choices. Lunch at Ecco: Gruner Veltliner and chicken panini. Read: "Charlie Hebdo and the previous question" (brilliant examination of racism, heroics, and humor), "Love songs, RIP" (rap is killing the love song), "The happiness industry" (uninspired rant against policies that nudge people into better behavior). The Charlie Hebdo article pointed me to the hilarious/informative site Understanding Charlie Hebdo cartoons. And, of course, sitting next to French travellers waiting for the flight to CDG. Gate F12 Paris; gate F14 Knoxville.
On the flight, sat next to Roberta From Tampa and, as I leafed through my Czech language book, we realized our destinations were the same. Her friend's daughter is in cinema school in Prague and she planned to stay a few days then meet her husband in Bologna. She's Italian with absolutely no accent.
Watched: Jupiter Ascending (all it had to offer was spectacle, so an airplane screen was the worst possible option), Project Almanac (childish, avoid unless you have a desire to see Piedmont Park), and Episodes (recommended by a coworker, good).
Follow the crowd off the plane to the only possible destinations: ATM and luggage. English signs everywhere, yet airports are confusing in their base genetics. Eventually made my way to the bus stop and was given 24Kč by a Kind Stranger to get a train ticket since I only had large bills. After several false starts I eventually joined the last people remaining. No ticket needed, it appears to be only circling the airport. Rats. Finally, it ended up at an entrance to the underground Metro. Success!
Drop the bags early at Hotel Josef with Filipe who had an awesome Gant watch that I Simply Cannot Find Available Anywhere. Snack and coffee at cafe Opapa waiting for room 114. Unpack, sleep, shower.
Dobre rano, Hotel Josef!
Girl-free until tomorrow night, so today is museum day. First stop: as 20 minute walk to Veletrzny Palac at The National Gallery. Started on the 4th floor and went down. Czech art from the 1850s on, then European art from the same time, then late 1900s and 2000s Czech art. Czech cubist artists would quote Picasso, Cezanne, impressionism to the point of plagiarism. I was kindof shocked. Beautiful late-romantic large-scale canvases. Very good 60s and 70s minimalism and the there was good balance in the present-day styles, presented with "what's next?" uncertainty. I recognized very few of the artists throughout the exhibits. Big mistake not taking notes. Rushed through the Kokoschka exhibit due to tiredness and I'm not that big of a fan.
Leaving Veletrzny as Roberta and her friend Sue were entering. Ha!
Light-filled atrium at Veletrzny Palac. Unrelated, but equally awesome, Mr. HotDog (coming soon).
Next: back near the hotel to the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia. Hard to find even with GPS and Google Maps. There are no two streets that are parallel. The current show is Medieval Art in Bohemia and Central Europe. Painting and sculpture from 1350s to 1450s with notable transitions to the international style. Nice complement to the moderns at Veletrzny.
Late afternoon and time for drinks and mussels from Nadeem at the bar at Chez Marcel. One of the many times I'd get a bonjour instead of a dobre den.
Brain reset and got a recommendation for a local kavernu for beer and Czech food. Ended up at VKolkovně ("v" is "in" and I'd see it sometimes with street names or locations; usually street signs will start with "U" which is short for "ulice"/"street"). Sausages in gravy with onions and peppers and a basket of heavy bread and Pilsner Urquell. Manhattans after at the bar at Tretter's. Minor people-watching and reading as I wind down (The Vorrh by Brian Catling).
Late start and finally get out at ~10. The nap did nothing! Coffee at Opapas (again). They serve coffee with a small shot glass of water. Not sure if Viennese or Czech tradition. The morning itinerary is walk around the old city squares. I see: Church of Our Lady Before Týn and Prague Astronomical Clock. I avoided tours since I wasn't sure what the girls would want to see. My mistake because I never got to go to the top of the clock tower. Wandered old neighborhoods randomly and saw many cool things that I would never be able to find again because of the aforementioned non-parallel street chaos. There were several instances of "oh, I was here before!" later in the week.
Church tower: stack it to heaven, I say!
Approaching the old city square.
Lunch at La Veranda (bonjour!). This was included in a list of recommendations the hotel concierge provided when I emailed them before the trip. I actually made reservations just because. French. Sauteed calamari, pea risotto with scallops, limoncello ice and espresso. Very nice wine recommendation. Even the nicest restaurants are so inexpensive here.
Jog. The weather is perfect and continues that way throughout the week. The hotel provides a jogging map with three routes. Neat! I take it and promptly get lost on the first turn. Again, non-parallel streets. I get back on track and wend across bridges and through parks and through the city. It's a nicely joggable city. I'd been worried since Lisa S. went for a jog in Rome and said it was unpleasant. Prague reminds me of Florence for its mix of age modernity and its narrow streets. Lisa S. had a good jogging experience there.
Back and clean up and then drinks and reading at Vino di Vino (ciao!). Picked up bottle to take home to Atlanta (yes, we eventually drank it in the hotel). Amazing wine cellar.
Throughout the trip, Lisa and I had been using an IM account via Trillian to talk. Alternately, she and the girls used WhatsApp to chat when they went their separate ways. The world needs a unified IM protocol. Anyway, at VdV she messaged that she was in the room. After meeting up for drinks at the hotel bar we wandered around the city and ended up for dinner at an Italian restaurant (ciao!). Completely forget the name. I had roasted pork knee with mustards (traditional Czech), Lisa grilled pork with hot peppers and mushrooms. The knee was a complex combination of bones and fat an very, very tender meat. Drinks at Tretter's (again).
Crossing the Charles Bridge to get to Prague Castle.
Looking down at the small people from on castle high.
Detail of the solid silver tomb of John of Nepomuk inside the cathedral.
After castle, met back up with Danice and Theresa and stopped at V Laznich traditional Czech restaurant after we saw pretzels hanging on wooden stands at each table. Neat. Had sausage and potato pancakes. Then further wandering in the area to see Lennon Wall filled with graffiti with both peaceful and trolling, war sentiments, and the Memorial to the Victims of Communism.
Dinner at the Michelin Starred Alcron. Four courses with wine pairings. Excellent. At the end of the evening the chef created an elaborate food painting for newlyweds at their table.
Meet Theresa and Danice at Cafe Louvre. Their tour guide Marcus had given them a 2 hour tour in the morning, so he joined us for a late breakfast. Vienna sausages and horseradish. Although very knowledgeable about the city, Marcus answered a question of greater importance: the cartoon character we had been seeing all over the city is the lovable Czech mole Krtek! The rest of the day involved walking around the Nove Mesto area to see the Dancing House and the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius and Upside Down St. Wenceslas (first Czerny of the trip).
Cross the city to visit the National Monument in Vitkov to see the gigantic sculpture of Jan Zizska on a horse. Met Samuel on the way who gave us directions. He moved from St. Louis to teach English a year and a half ago and is now drawing caricatures. Fun fact: you don't need to know Czech to teach English there. Photos and drinks at the top floor cafe. Off in the distance, Babies Climbing the Radio Tower (second Czerny).
Communists really know how to build a monument!
No selfie-stick necessary.
Return walk stopped at U Medvidku for X33 beer and bought a bottle to take home (drank it with Matt and Tedra and Bill at Meehan's after Mad Max the Sunday after our return). Stopped at the small Cafe Bar Archa U Prokupku: calimari and my first Staropramen ("old spring/fountain") beer. Hanging Freud (third Czerny of the trip).
FInally, the reason for this whole trip: Smetana's Ma Vlast performed by NDR Philharmonic at Municipal House. Champagne beforehand with what seemed like every nationality on Earth represented. Languages everywhere. People dressed from jeans to tuxedos, we were casually in between. The hall itself was more ornate than pictures suggested. Excellent concert and the first time I had heard the cycle in it's entirety. Perfect.
Nearing the end of the trip, so Danice and Theresa split off for independent studies. Lisa and I went to Chez Marcel (again) for dinner. Hanger steak and gratin potatoes for monsieur, rabbit confit for madame.
Who's a swank traveler? You are!
Nina our tour guide for the day picked us up early for a day trip to the fantastical city of Cesky Krumlov. Nina grew up in communist Czechoslovakia and experienced it turn into the democratic Czech Republic, so she had many stories of the social change. During the 2-1/2 hour drive, she regaled us with history and such. My only notes:
3 regions: Siletia - north west, industrial; Moravia - south east, agricultural, wine country; Bohemia - central and western (and what else?).
Drove past Archduke Ferdinand's castle. It was renovated for his wife Sophie who was not a noble, so the other nobles looked down on her. He was very traveled and educated, and so made it the most modern castle of Europe. Plumbing, electricity, the works. Nina was worried if we visited that we'd be upset by the many animals from his hunting trips mounted on the walls. She seemed very apologetic about it.
Later, she told us about Ruslan and Ludmila from Ukrainian history. Theirs is a well known love story that I knew from some Russian opera but neither of us could remember at the time (it was an opera by Glinka).
No CGI required.
Josef Vachal and Egon Schiele exhibits at the Egon Schiele Center. Excellent museum. Needed two hours and we had 20 minutes.
Open Vino di Vino bottle back at the room.
Last day rush rush rush. Jewish synagogue and cemetery. Late breakfast at the Kafka Snob Cafe: croque monsieur. Museum of medieval torture instruments at one end of the Charles Bridge. Across the bridge for beers with Lisa at Hergetova Cihelna near the Franz Kafka Museum. Piss sculpture (fourth Czerny?) in front, sadly w/out working piss.
Kafka Museum. Grew up in Prague, worked as an insurance adjuster. Overbearing father and combative family cook. Four canceled engagements. Thanks Max Brod! On the Amsterdam layover back home, I purchased four paperbacks to binge-read in the coming months (Schocken, 1998 editions).
Residual obsession from Prague arrived: set of books by their favorite son, K. The next few months will be weird. pic.twitter.com/8Iysff5zmk— Scott D. Strader (@sstrader) May 20, 2015
Is anyone else paranoid right now?
Drinks at Malestranského (mala strana, small side) Hostince (inn). Baroque concert for organ and soprano at St. Nicholas church. Amazing acoustics. [ updated 5 Jul 2015 ] Flyer for the concert: front and back. Final dinner at Paris Cafe near the hotel.
Taxi with Lisa to the airport in the early AM. Separate flights, mine was Prague to Amsterdam to Atlanta. Watched: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (w/ Kramer, very good), Taken 3 (entertaining enough), Leviathan (beautiful, depressing film with cinematography that needed to be seen on a good screen. Deals with ideas of a corrupt government and a complicitly corrupt church, echoed by Pussy Riot's closing statement. One scene has PR on the TV in the background), Louis CK (his younger daughter thinks she's always dreaming). Home and laundry and a jog to sweat out the exhaustion and flight and Marta.
[ 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.