Dec. 28th, 2015 10:47 pm

Home again

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I wasn't so sure I'd make it home last night. Sometime during the night on Christmas Eve, it began raining in St Louis and it basically hasn't stopped since. In the past week, they've gotten 16 cm of precipitation--all of it as rain, too, because it's been much too warm to snow, just like here. Christmas night we had thunder and lightning, so by Sunday I was really worried about the state of rails. My father's story about being the last train let through before water submerged the railbed during the floods in the Great Plains some years back was at the forefront of my mind.

We had one slightly dicey moment, outside Carlinville near the junction of Shipman and Macoupin Station Rd. Water stretched away to both sides and lapped at the edges of the foundation. As we crept past, my seatmate pointed out a half-submerged electrical box. On the other side of the train I saw a street sign just above the surface of the water. The gregarious bear conductor who had to get out and flag the crossing (presumably because the electrical signals weren't working) told me it was seven foot high. But after that, it was smooth sailing; officially, we were only 16 minutes late. So in the end the greatest threat to my journey were the rivers of traffic for the Trans Siberian Orchestra concert at the Scottdale Center that I had to ford to reach the train station.

Union Station was nearly deserted, but in short order I caught a cross-loop bus. It wasn't one I was familiar with, so I asked about the route, and from this I think the guy boarding behind me assumed I wasn't at all familiar with the CTA. I kept expressing a preference for the express bus and yet he insisted I'd be better off taking the Red Line. Finally, he came out with, "You must not live here!" and I replied, "Only 25 years." He didn't speak a word after that, and I caught a northbound 147 within seven minutes of disembarking. As I sped homeward with whitecaps crashing on the shore to my right and the sumptuous lights of the Gold Coast on my left, I thought I hope he enjoys his trip through the sewers.

[livejournal.com profile] monshu had fallen asleep in the comfy chair waiting for me but perked to life when I walked in. So instead of waiting until this evening to fill him in on my adventures, I disgorged them in a marathon session that kept us up past midnight. Our tiny tree is now swamped with presents from the post-Christmas sales he hit and will stay that way until the big reveal in a couple days time. Meanwhile I've got to hold off the cold long enough to make it into work tomorrow, since some things just can't wait until the New Year.

Meanwhile, winter has at long last arrived in Chicago. We were predicted to get freezing rain turning to ordinary rain, but it did get up above freezing before sunset, so instead we were pelted with jagged bits of ice for the entire day. I went out to scatter salt in the morning, but it had basically no effect and the Old Man was back out in the afternoon to shovel. At least he got some help with this from the high school teacher in the other building. But the storm has passed through and the next few days should be mild and uneventful--and not just weatherwise.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
If the Winter Solstice were my holiday rather than Christmas, then I know just how I'd celebrate it: keep every light in the house burning to banish the darkness, invite a bunch of people over, and stay up until dawn telling stories. But destroying my sleep schedule is the last thing I need to be doing while dealing with the stress of travel and family. As it is, I didn't even get six good hours sleep last night. Will I be able to catch any z's on the train today? Who knows!
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
This really is the most beautiful time of year. I was trying to figure out what it was, over and above the lush greenness of the foliage that was making me think that. It's how perfect everything is. Until the midges arrived today, I'd hardly seen any bugs, so there's been nothing to much away at all the tender young leaves. And the weeds really aren't out yet--which is odd, because I attribute their success to getting a jump on more desirable species. But where the unsightly clumps of lambsfoot, plaintains, and trash trees that I'm used to seeing in vacant lots and along alleyways are conspicuous by their absence.

Things are happening in the garden. The spring clemates are coming into their own, and naturally ours is the most spectacular of all. At the same time, the woodruff hasn't ceased blooming yet and the lilacs in the gangway are just now peaking. Several weeks ago, because I wasn't sure what else to do with it, I sprinkled lettuce seeds all over the garden. Now it's so crammed with greens that the Old Man was able to assemble a salad yesterday with almost nothing but. When I got home, I seasoned it with several heads of blooming chives.

I've planted a lot already, and there's more to come. About a month ago, I constructed another hügelbett in the hellstrip. I went to Gethsemane to find things to populate it with and returned with wild ginger, wood asters, and Jacob's ladder. Then my buddy Fig invited me to come up to Wisconsin with him to hit a few nurseries and I returned with even more stuff: Pennsylvania sedge, Solomon's seal, maple-leaved alumroot, Chrysogonum, an oak fern, a Buglossides, and an aralia. Tonight, I supposed to head to the neighbours' to dig up and remove some of their native plants, then on Saturday, Fig is supposed to bring by some rejects from his garden.

The trip, incidentally, was a grand adventure, even if the weather was terrible--windy, rainy, and cold. The best that can be said of it was that it kept away dilettantes, so we had the nurseries basically to ourselves. The Prairie Nursery up in Westfield was kind of a bust: steep prices (though with significant discounts for buying in bulk) for small plants. But the Flower Factory south of Madison was tremendous. More than a dozen greenhouses with all sorts of beautiful plants. They had more varieties of daylilies than any place I've been and this was after they'd sold out more than half their stock.

The timing worked out so that we were passing through Madison around both breakfasttime and lunchtime. For the former, we stopped in at Sardine downtown. Not cheap, but then--despite Madison's amazing situation--there are surprisingly few restaurants in town which can boast a lakeside view. It was raining most of the time we were there and Lake Monona was so misted over it felt like we were in some remote resort town rather than in the centre of a city of a quarter million. It had cleared up by midday, although the wind was even worse. Fig wanted Culver's, so I managed to talk him into eating at the Tipsy Cow instead. Both of us would probably be better off in the long run not knowing that deep-fried cheese curds tasted that good.
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Jun. 16th, 2014 11:49 am

Back

muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I walked into the house alone, dragging both roller bags since [livejournal.com profile] monshu had stopped off at the market to buy milk and other absolute necessities and expecting the cat to meet me. He didn't. Some minutes later, as I was walking through the upstairs hall, I heard a plaintive meowing from the lower level. He was sitting just outside the master bedroom, where the old carpet gives way to the new, and didn't move until I scooped him up.

Everything looks healthy (except the dill sprouts, which I didn't expect to make it) but none of it has taken off the way I thought it might during a week of good summer weather--plenty of rain and sunshine--in Chicago. Scooter was knackered, having spread most of the mulch (to a depth of four inches!) himself. He proudly took me on a tour of the beds himself. A plant may have been crushed here or there, but I'm hardly going to hold that against him on balance. The condo prez still has done nothing with his plot; it'll be solid catnip in a month if he doesn't do something.

Since it was too late for a nap, the Old Man and I made cocktails and sat on the porch. (I don't need to tell y'all how much he was savouring not having to go down fifteen floors for a toke.) After a while, I began to nod off, so I went inside and blasted tunes on the computer--something I missed almost as much as Internet porn. When he asked about dinner during the slog back from Midway (two changes and nearly two hours), I quickly came out with the idea of the local Thai restaurant. Even slapping together sandwiches sounded like too much work.

It was a decent travel day all told: twenty minute delay taking off, but they still took us out of the line at security and ushered us through the pre-check. [livejournal.com profile] monshu and I kept disbelieving that we didn't have to remove any articles of apparel and I didn't have to opt out of a scanner for once. We were through in ten minutes, giving me time to buy some water and then get into an engrossing conversation with a lovely greyhaired couple from the resort. (I'd befriended the wife hoping it would give me a crack at chatting up the hubby later, but it hadn't born fruit before we had to leave. Greek-American, ex-military, fills out a shirt nicely. Sorry, where was I?)

And now here I am, ten minutes to read the background e-mails before my first meeting. Feh.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Today was my recovery day. Even though the flight back from STL takes less than an hour, between getting to the airport two hours before departure in order to meet up with my parents, accompanying them to baggage claim afterwards, and a truly horrendous commute back through downtown (some CTA drivers should simply not be allowed to work downtown without additional training), my total travel time was only two hours less than the train trip down. Fortunately there was no agenda today except for eating the meal that [livejournal.com profile] monshu would've had prepared for me had Mr Smith not treated us to dinner last night (a post in itself). In honour of being almost back to rights, a list (in no particular order) of things I missed while at my sisters:
  1. Porn. 'Nuff said.
  2. My cookware. My sister has a beautiful kitchen--granite countertops (and lots of 'em), two ovens, storage space for days--but some of her utensils are simply crap. And it's always things I wouldn't expect so I get ambushed every year by, for instance, her lack of a decent meat fork. (It's so ridiculously stunted I can't ever find it in the utensil drawer.) How she bakes hundreds of cookies every year with that embarrassment of a pastry cutter I'll never know. And thanks to her flimsy little meat thermometer, the roast was ruined. (Luckily we had my parents' old one as a backup.) One good thing about my airport rendezvous is that it led me to draw up a list; she can expect a fat package in the mail for her birthday.
  3. Sleep. I think there was one night I got to bed before midnight. Sis was really really good about letting me sleep in (and the boys have gotten a lot better about letting me--one of the advantages of their Minecraft addiction), but I had trouble pulling it off due to the general air of excitement in the place.
  4. Restraint. [livejournal.com profile] monshu and I don't keep a lot of snack food and sweets around the place. That's deliberate. However, it also means we're not accustomed to having to ignore it. I cannot walk from one end of my sister's to the other without passing a dozen things I want to eat but shouldn't. Moreover, chronic tiredness makes me seek consolation in food and attention, though mostly food. I really don't want to think how many calories I ingested while I was there.
  5. Mobility. I've complained before about how walking to shops isn't really an option in their neighbourhood. Between being shuttled around by car and having more than enough to distract me indoors, I walked more just leaving the airport than I think I did in the whole five days. I meant to get out and see the lights on Christmas, but between one thing and another it never happened.
  6. Music. Even though I don't use my iPod any more, a couple hours of my day is spent listening to music on YouTube. In the past my sister has had something--a CD console, an MP3 player--in the living room or the kitchen to spin Christmas tunes on. Not this time. I took the liberty of playing some tunes on the computer in the family room, but it drew OGI like a fly to rotting meat and within fifteen minutes he was bored with animated carols and just wanted to logon and throw himself down mineshafts. In the car, the radio was always tuned to some bottom-of-the-barrel pop, so I heard more KeSha than Kris Kringle. Sad.
Some things you would think I would miss but I don't really include screen time (filling time isn't really a problem there), fine food (the family are actually raising their game), and my man. He's only ever come down with me once, so psychologically I just don't expect him around. Plus I'm constantly surrounded by people who love me, so it's only when climbing into an empty bed (when I'm too numbed by exhaustion to be much aware of my surroundings anyhow) that I really have a chance to feel lonely.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I suppose a day when my hay fever is raging is a good time to talk about what I saw blooming there and here, before and after I came back. For starters, this is the most topsy-turvy weather I can recall in ages. Every day I spent in St Louis was colder and wetter than the corresponding day in Chicago. Saturday, for instance, it was ten degrees warmer (6℃) here than there and mostly sunny as opposed to overcast and drizzly. When we went into the mine on Friday, it was warmer in there than outside. This wasn't true during the middle of the week, but that's when I was in Arkansas anyway.

The weather down there could hardly have been better: highs in upper 70s (mid 20s Celsius), clear, and dry. We never turned on the AC in our room, we just propped the windows open (no mean feat since there were no counterweights) even though this meant letting in a surprising amount of road noise. The only night this didn't really work was the last and paradoxically the coolest; apparently, it was also the most humid, and the fans were doing a terrible job of bringing in outside air, so it got awful stuffy.

Dad complained about the inaccuracy of meteorologists but they got one thing absolutely right: a week and a half beforehand, they predicted that a massive "pneumonia front" would push in on Thursday, bringing plunging temperatures and lots of rain, and that's just what happened. The high that day didn't even reach 50 (10℃) and visibility went to hell. On our way to the Cliff House for breakfast that last morning, I feared we wouldn't see a damn thing out the windows, but it was far enough down from the summit that at least you could cast your gaze upon the valley.

As you'll recall from my whining, when I left Chicago, we were finally seeing spring arrive: daffodils, forsythias, and hyacinths with tulips, magnolias, and bluebells on the verge. In St Louis, most of the flowering trees--particularly pears, cherries, and redbuds--were already finished, but to my delight there were still plenty of dogwoods (both pink and white) to be seen. Also lilacs and azaleas, with iris and peonies in the bud.

Given the difference in latitude, I expected the Ozarks to be as far out ahead of St Louis as St Louis was relative to Chicago. But the difference in altitude (258 m for Jasper vs 142 m for St Louis) must've made a difference because there were still dogwoods to be seen in the wild, although obviously past their peak. Dad thought we'd be coming during a lull between the forest flowers (which are early spring bloomers) and the prairie blossoms, but there were actually plenty to be seen: mostly phlox, but also wild iris, pussytoes, fire pinks, jack-in-the-pulpits, spring beauties, honeysuckle, violets, rue anemones, and several species that we weren't able to identify at all. (Dad forgot to pack his field guides.) Also one mayapple still in bloom and one columbine just opening.

The gardens in town were dominated by Dutch iris. One house in particular had at least a half-dozen showy varieties in full bloom. (We returned with camera in hand, so hopefully Dad will post his pictures.) We also saw azaleas and pinks and the first of the roses. Most impressive of all, perhaps, was a massive rosemary plant in the inner court of the inn, with its tiny purple blossoms. Hard to imagine that the day after we left, it was barely above freezing and the weather service was reporting a "wintry mix" for town and actual accumulation to the west--particularly seeing as it was one of the more pleasant days Chicago'd seen so far this year.

The warmth and sun combined with the weeks of rain before really paid dividends when I returned: tulips filled all the borders and cherries and pears were at their peak in Ping Tom Park. Forsythia which were only just starting before I left are fading and leafing out. On my street, the bluebells are in full bloom along with the kerria and the viburnum is starting. The sorrel in the garden is huge, as is the celery plant left behind by the Other Gay Couple; soon we'll have purple clematis and I need to get my act together if I'm to make woodruff syrup again before it blooms.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
I guess it's a sign of a good trip when you're so wore out by it it takes a couple days recuperatin' 'fore you're ready to talk about it.

It was a really good trip. Parts of it were excellent--and not like the vicar's egg either. If I had to pick a low point, it was navigating through Park Hills in the pouring rain and the worst that led to was one angry outburst which immediately led to a refocus on the problem, fixing it within five minutes. Given that this was after five days straight of poor sleep and continuous togetherness with my father, it qualifies as something of a minor miracle.

In the end, this was the itinerary:
  • Day 1: Arrive St Louis. Dinner with Dad & Stepmom, sleep chez Sis.
  • Day 2: Sister's At Home Day. Dinner with Dad & Stepmom, sleep chez eux.
  • Day 3: Depart for AR. Take rooms at the Arkansas House Inn in Jasper.
  • Day 4: Hike portions of the Buffalo National River.
  • Day 5: Float portions of the BNR.
  • Day 6: Depart Jasper. Dinner and accommodations with Dad in Chesterfield.
  • Day 7: Day trip to the Missouri Lead Belt (Bonne Terre, Park Hills, Desloge). Sleep at Sis'.
  • Day 8: Lunch with Mom. Depart STL, dinner with [livejournal.com profile] monshu at home.
Parts of it got made and remade during the stay. Initially I talked about going shopping (and presumably doing dinner) with Mom when I flew in, but there was a mix-up at the airport and it didn't work out. I would've reattempted this the next day but I woke with a cold and wasn't sure we'd be able to leave on Monday; thanks to my zinc supply, it was nearly gone by then.

We never made it to the Ouachitas after all; Dad figured there was enough to see in Newton County that we didn't need to go further south this trip. Day 6, when the weather turned, we proposed heading to Harrison or Eureka Springs, but with the weather due to get much worse, I decided I'd rather just get back to St Louis. I think this was the right decision; Eureka Springs in particular deserves several days of its own, I think. My concession to Dad was the day trip on Friday, which looks a little insane in retrospect. I was going to stay with Mom that night to make up for blowing her off early in the week, but of course she wasn't able to get the place ready in time.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
Okay, starting to get that mixtures of anxiety and excitement that typically hits a day or two before a trip out of town. Hope it subsides soon so I can get some damn sleep. I chatted with Dad a bit and it sounds like we're mostly on the same page. I'm relieved to hear that we're only looking at five hours travel the first day. That sounds like too little to me (how long did it take to reach Ha Ha Tonka? wasn't it at least three?), but I still want to get an early start so we'll have plenty of time to scout out motels before nightfall.

I'm committed to embracing the roadtrippiness of it all. When's the last time I just got into a car and headed off to someplace I'd never been before just to see what it was like? Well, basically never. I don't drive, my partner doesn't drive, and I only seem to date planners anyway. It will be Broadening. It will be Good For Me. And, with any luck, Dad and I will still be on speaking terms afterwards.
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muckefuck: (zhongkui)
It wasn't my original intention to book an afternoon train to St Louis. Even when flying, I always try to travel in the morning. That way, if something goes pear-shaped, there's plenty of time to sort it out. And when you're talking about a trip which takes six hours minimum, you want as much time to spare as you can get. But if there's anything that will trump my sense of caution, it's my cheapness, and this was the most reasonably-priced option available.

Of course, it's not without its advantages. For instance, I'll be able to do something completely novel and meet up with [livejournal.com profile] monshu for lunch before I head to the station, which is only a couple blocks from where he works. And that still gives me the whole morning to pack, play with the kitty, make chai and Irish oatmeal for breakfast. But of course, the most luxurious benefit of all is getting to sleep in.

I always sleep badly when I have to get up early; paranoia about oversleeping just permeates me until I'm worriedly checking the time every time I open my eyes. Not to mention the fact that I was up until almost midnight checking and rechecking that I've assembled everything I might want to go into my baggage. It's especially annoying because I don't sleep well in transit and it's immensely frustrating to have all the time tailor-made for getting some reading done and not being able to keep one's eyes open.

Not this time: I was in bed by 10 p.m., asleep shortly after, and I laid there until 8 a.m., hoping to drop again but only dozing. And yet? I still feel too sleepy to read.

Conclusion: I am just a whiner baby who always wants a nap.
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muckefuck: (Default)
I'm exhausted but I'm so pleased. The weekend went better than I had any reason to expect. Seriously, [livejournal.com profile] monshu was in a great mood all day--even though the day consisted chiefly of (a) waiting to get on a train to Chicago; (b) taking a train to Chicago; or (c) recovering from six hours on a train to Chicago. I've been up since 5 a.m. (The cab wasn't due until 6:30, but anxiety got the upper hand.) I'm so tired, I weave when I walk. But I'm thrilled.

It helped that we ended on such a high note, sleeping in all of Sunday morning, going to the Art Museum with my parents, and then going out for dinner with my sister and her husband and NO CHILDREN. I mean, I love them and they were wonderful this visit, but it's so amazing to actually be able to finish a sentence without being interrupted by a rugrat or having to censor yourself halfway through. They were still up when we got back to the house and they were so sweet: the youngest burst into tears when we told him I couldn't stay with him because I had to go pack and the two oldest made me promise to wake them up in order to say goodbye the next morning.

But the absolute best part was that the GWO honestly had a good time. Who can blame him for being sceptical going into things? But he was actually able to relax and enjoy himself, and said things like, "Next time we'll have to go down a day earlier. When I used to visit my mother, we wouldn't plan anything the first day because I'd spend it sleeping." (He was fine on Saturday, but it caught up with him on Sunday, thus the sleeping till noon.) I used to think that the only event that might draw him down to St Louis was the funeral of one of my parents. Now I can add milestone birthdays to that very short list.
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muckefuck: (Default)
Family weekend survived; details to follow.

Last challenge left: return trip to Chicago. [Involves both a cab ride to the station and the unpredictably of boarding an Amtrak train arriving from two states away.]
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muckefuck: (Default)
The first leg of our gonzo family vacation took place on the Jersey Shore, half an hour's drive from Atlantic City. I can't tell from the resort's webpage if they still have power after the weekend's derecho, but Atlantic County was apparently rather hard hit ("Worse than Irene" according to a local source) and there's a 9 pm curfew in effect. Really puts the downpours we had to drive through to get to Boston into perspective.

As mentioned before, I was sick my last two days in Boston. I checked into the Milner Hotel on Tuesday night and almost literally collapsed onto the bed. Fortunately, I was feeling rather better by the time I had to head off to Logan the following evening, but I still took a sick day on Thursday. Then, just when I'd found my feet again, I came down with a mild case of food poisoning in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Between the loss of sleep and dehydration I was woozy well into the next day and for a while it was touch-and-go whether I'd be joining [livejournal.com profile] monshu at the Gold Coast Art Fair in Grant Park.

As annoying as it was being laid up on Saturday, all I could think about was what an immense comfort it was that this was happening at home and not on the road. There was a moment, lying on a hard twin bed in my tiny dreary hotel room, when I began sobbing, I wanted to be home so much. Some people in this world are natural travellers; me, not so much. I am a soft boy addicted to my comforts.

Up on Miss Cleveland's balcony yesterday evening I was singing the praises of Chicago, telling everyone how I'd made a point of descending at Roosevelt to catch a cab north so I could have the pleasure of viewing the skyline from across Grant Park. It may not be my hometown, but it is home.
muckefuck: (zhongkui)
By happenstance (mainly because I really like looking at maps), I ended up being the navigator for our arrival in Boston. Unfortunately I was working from a set of unhelpfully overdetailed driving directions printed off from GoogleMaps and got us off the Pike an exit too early. Dad turned on his GPS and we began following him instead (although not without me obsessively consulting the fold out map to ensure he wasn't being led astray). We reached our hotel only to find that the plaza out front was actually a one-way street--going the wrong way, natch. Dad didn't give a shit; he made an illegal turn. But the BIL turned to me and asked:

"This is a normal block, right?"

"There are no normal blocks in Boston."

"Still, I can go around and come in the other way, right?"

"I'm not seeing any one-ways on the map."

I couldn't see them, but they were there nonetheless. Instead of taking two lefts, the BIL took to rights--and suddenly I had no idea where I was. In any sane city, we would be heading directly away from our destination. Not in Boston. Sure, it was night and we were all exhausted after a full day of driving, but I have a great sense of direction and was watching attentively the entire time with a map in my hand. We found ourselves right back in the same dilemma. Our driver tried one final time to approach the lot legally, but then resigned himself to imitating my father with the words, "Well, we gave it the old college try."

This was my introduction to Boston's famously confusing street network.

For the record, I don't put any stock in that bromide everyone repeats about "cowpaths". As [livejournal.com profile] bunj points out, "It reminds me of London." And it reminded me of Freiburg, Basel, Prague--basically any city I've ever been in which can trace its origins beyond the 19th century. This includes St Louis. Sure, downtown is laid out on cardinal-points grid directly inspired by Philadelphia's, but so was every satellite town up and down the river--with the important difference that (a) the main drag was always parallel to the course of the river and (b) the river curves. A lot. The result is a half-circle studded with a dozen incompatible grids which have all grown together and been chaotically extended by long streets which fan out radially.

Sound at all familiar, Bostonians?

The big difference is that, except right along the waterfront, we didn't have to make any land. So the street grid was never cut off by the stranglehold of the Boston Neck and then fleshed out later on the back of former tidal flats. I passed through that stranglehold, by the way; it's located just past East Berkeley (formerly Dover) on Washington Street--the only thoroughfare connecting Old Boston to the mainland in the early days.

Fortunately, I never got as confused walking on foot as I did riding in a car that first night. Twice, in fact, I navigated myself to places I'd only glanced at on maps. The first was a bar called The Alley on account of being located on Pi Alley in Downtown Crossing. If I'd only gone a little further on Washington, I'd've come right to it, but instead I ended up detouring a couple blocks east and then doubling back. No matter; I was fully prepared to accept missing it completely and heading back to the hotel abashed.

The other time, I had a brief and disconcerting reprise of my original confusion: I strode out of the Forest Hills station and realised I had no idea whatsoever what direction I was facing. (The sky was unhelpfully overcast at that moment.) But I went back inside, consulted a directory, set off again, and made it all the way to Nemuci's despite having only located it on an online map a week before and not remembering the exact address. (Or rather remembering it but distrusting my memory.)

This is where the lack of through streets becomes an advantage to the walker: If you know the street name, chances are you can find your destination without an exact address. Nemuci's street, for instance, is three blocks long. By contrast, the street just south of my home extends (with a couple of breaks) thirty miles to the west. This is how the closer for our first refinance found herself nearly an hour's drive away the night she was supposed to bring the documents.

Name changes, on the other hand, are a serious obstacle. At least the city has abandoned its quaint old custom of only providing signage for the lesser of two streets at an interchange and now labels them all without prejudice. Still, it's disconcerting to find yourself on Kneeland when you want Stuart only to find that Kneeland becomes Stuart at the next crossing. [livejournal.com profile] my_tallest ascribed this to the city's storied history. "Every place has layers of names," he told me. That's how he (and most resources I consulted) can consistently and clearly distinguish Back Bay from South End while a Boston native I met at the Alley can insist me, "Back Bay is part of the South End." Or how Bay Village can also be South Cove, the Church Street District, or just a corner of Back Bay to some people.
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muckefuck: (Default)
  1. Boston Chowda (Quincy Market) Located in the middle of a charmless tourist-choked mall food court parachuted into the heart of one of Boston's oldest institutions whose sole advantage is that it we could just about spit on it from our hotel. (That and my sister's rambunctious youngsters could drag each other screaming across the floor without calling any attention to themselves.) [livejournal.com profile] bunj used the power of social networking to steer us here for not-too-dire bowls of 60¢/oz. clam-flavoured cream; I took one look at the mayo-choked hotdog buns they were calling "lobster rolls" and literally walked a mile to buy one elsewhere.
  2. Elephant Walk (Porter Square) After five days of mostly convenience meals in the company of family, I pined to eat somewhere stylish, so when [livejournal.com profile] keyne said "How about French Cambodian?" for our dinner out on Saturday, I very nearly wet my jeans. The menu was intriguingly divided into "Traditional Cambodian", "Original Cambodian", and "Original French"; I concentrated my attention on the middle section. Although the pork dish on the specials menu caught my eye, it seemed cruel to order something my companions coveted but couldn't eat, so I went for the crevettes amrita instead and got my pork fix from the nataing appetiser. I also tasted from the avocat Kanthor (a fresh salad of raw tuna and avocado) and dipped my bread into the steamed mussels [livejournal.com profile] keyne ordered.
  3. J P Licks (Davis Square) After that feast, I was hardly in the mood for dessert, but when I saw that their blood orange frozen yoghurt was marked with a special symbol for tanginess, I couldn't resist--and I'm glad I didn't. Not to dive into the Boston Ice Cream Wars or anything, but this was a fun funky place for a treat on a warm night.
  4. Tremont 647/Sister Sorel (South End) More a place to be seen than a food destination, which explains why we took seats out front even though they were in full noonday sun. (I asked [livejournal.com profile] my_tallest if we could switch halfway through so I would burn both sides of my face evenly; I wasn't joking.) I didn't expect to order a cocktail, but they had a concoction of green Chartreuse, lime juice, and cava that proved irresistible. The crispy prosciutto Benedict was salty for my taste, but the barley salad was refreshing and together they gave me energy for a manic walking tour of the South End with a hyperknowledgeable local guide.
  5. The Boston Sail Loft (North End [on a technicality]) When the family returned to Quincy Market for dinner their last night in town, I balked and said I'd just get a lobster roll from Dog N Claw on the pier while they went for ice cream at Emack & Bolio's but it was after 7 p.m. and they had shuttered. Undeterred, I took off for the Sail Loft, a hot tip from a cabbie that everyone had benefitted from the night before except for me. It was worth it. Big chunks of (underseasoned) meat were literally rolling off the lobster roll I gobbled down in Columbus Park. Everyone raves about the chowder, however, so I got a bowl and ate it the next day. More potato than clam, but the dill kicked it up.
  6. The Cheese Shop (North End) Unless you count tasting the aged provolone which the owner upsold me on, I didn't actually eat here; I took my insanely-piled sandwich (soppressata, salami, mortadella, and two kinds of capicola) over to North Square and polished off as much as I thought I could (Bostonians do not make half subs, it seems) in the face of impending rainstorms, leaving me with more than half a sandwich for lunch the next day.
  7. Phở Pasteur (Chinatown) Tuesday night was slated for dinner with Nuphy's daughter Nemuci in Jamaica Plain, but after I checked into my tiny hotel room and collapsed on the bed, I knew no way in hell was I taking the T anywhere else that night. I wanted comfort; Nemuci mentioned noodle soup, and it reminded me that my favourite dinner when I was feeling crappy at my old place was a big bowl of phở or hủ tiếu, so I cracked open the Yellow Pages and looked for the Vietnamese place recommended by my BIL's uncle ("'Phở' plus the name of some French scientist"). It was three blocks away, right across the street from Boston's Penang, and it was just what I needed.
  8. Hei La Moon/囍臨門大酒樓 (Chinatown) The next morning--my last full day in Boston--I thought I was feeling a bit better; the moment I hit the pavement I knew I was mistaken: the day was picture perfect and I still felt like death warmed over in a faulty microwave. But I was determined to suck a bit more marrow from my trip and set off in search of Nuphy's favourite dim sum place. It turned out to be both on the opposite end of (a small and shabby) Chinatown and worth the walk, even though I didn't feel like ordering more than congee, because it was the best damn congee I've ever had. I felt obligated to try something else so I ordered the shrimp dumplings and was favourably impressed. Also, I got to do something that normally doesn't happen at dim sum places when you're a gwailo--I got to specify my tea (Tit Kwon Yum).
  9. Sandella's (Park Square) I wasn't so lucky with Nuphy's favourite sandwich place in Jamaica Plain--it was closed. Nemuci warned me that Terminal E at Logan was sparse on choices, so before reclaiming my luggage I stopped in at the sad little food court in the City Plaza mall and headed for the least horrifying choice, which turned out to be this little flatbread shop. Amazingly, it was still warm when I unwrapped it a couple hours later and not at all half bad.
Also Rans
  • Right around the corner from my (second) hotel was Jacob Wirth, a Boston institution and that rarissima avis, a good German restaurant in an American city. It pained me to walk by it--I even hatched a desperate plan to eat dinner there before running off to the airport--but I knew in my heart I was in no shape for a sit-down dinner, however hurried.
  • North End bakeries (Bova's, Mike's, Modern) are deserving of a separate post because of all the folklore around them.
  • Canto 6 is the name of the sandwich shop convenient to the Green St stop on the Orange. What would possess someone in that kind of location to shut down at five p.m. for an all-evening baking course?
  • After settling for Tremont 647, it turned out we could've probably gotten into Beehive after all, which looked much more lively.
  • No Name Café was the one Boston restaurant we showed up in town knowing the name of because my stepmom had heard it was the best place for cheap lobster. But it wasn't exactly convenient to us and she seemed perfectly happy with the sea bug she got from Sail Loft.
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Mom sure is keeping things interesting by going more than thirty-six hours without answering her phone less than twenty-four hours before we're supposed to rendezvous in Philly. Where will we meet? How will she let me know if she and my brother miss their plane and come out on a later flight? Has she rented us a car yet? All will be revealed in time!

In desperation, I called my sister and she said she'd reached her last night by calling her home phone (Mom often hangs out at her place to use the computer since I think she still doesn't have connectivity at home) and just letting it ring until Mom picked it up. So I called earlier and sang "I Talked To the Trees" into the answering machine for like half a minute. Just now I called back and sang "Surrey With a Fringe On the Top", but I don't really want my sis and BIL to come back to an answering machine filled with nonsense and no room for important messages.

WHEEEEEE!
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Jun. 16th, 2012 11:30 pm

Soaking

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Game Night busted up early--the apartment was in the throes of renovation and the host had inexplicably neglected to turn the AC on--so I'm at home giving the ground flour an airing. A front came through in good Midwestern fashion and dropped the temps fifteen degrees Fahrenheit (though sadly this has only raised the relative humidity). There may have been a little rain as well, but I suspect I will still need to give the garden a good soaking before I leave town.

Incredibly, the GWO has been unwavering in keeping the airconditioning shut off chez nous. Every time I think I'm about to see him break (e.g. this last monster muggy Monday), he manages to push through to the next cool-off. But with a week in the 90s [30s] coming down the pike, I can't see him continuing to hold the line after I'm no longer around to humour.

Tonight's gathering was a hop and a jump from Gandhi Marg, so I convinced [livejournal.com profile] monshu to join me for dinner at Uru-Swati. My plans to eat light before the temptations of Bear cuisine were foiled by a sada dosai that was both twice the size we'd remembered it being on our last trip and unexpectedly filled. Between that, the dahi vada, and the malai kofta ([livejournal.com profile] monshu's new favourite), I also ended up unexpectedly filled.

Inspired by the Old Man, I picked up pisco at La Unica and initiated the host and one of the guests into the delights of a pisco sour (and had one myself, a choice I might soon come to regret). The Madison Bears were there in all their perspiration and introduced me to WordStreet, a game of spelling words "by committee" and Shadow Hunter, which shows all the signs of having been adapted from some anime. It devolved into a grudge match between me (the last hunter) and the last Shadow that, I am sorry to report, did not see me triumph.

Tomorrow morning we have a Bear brunch at M Henrietta and then it's laundry and packing for me, since there will be no time for either Monday morning--not with a 9:30 a.m. departure from Midway. I've only recently begun to think concretely about the imminent vacation so it was only today that it dawned on me we'll be landing in Philadelphia at noon not ten minutes' drive from the birthplace of cheesesteak. I'm praying for a little detour before we get on the Atlantic City Turnpike...
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So I finally drew the short straw in the security line. That is to say, I'd made it all the way to the front, my belongings where in the machine, but before I could walk through the gate, the guy manning the full-body scanner called me over. I was fairly annoyed, since I'd specifically chosen not get in his line and he probably wouldn't have noticed me if there hadn't been a hold up in both my line and his.

Naturally, this happens to me not, say, on my trip to St Louis, where I arrived at Midway with an hour to kill, but my trip away, where my ride failed to show and I was dropped off by my brother-in-law right before my flight began to board. (No surprise there, really; I flew a half-dozen times with an expired ID once and STL was the only place where anyone noticed.) So as I stood there listening to Sargent Gruff bark into his walkie-talkie over and over "I've got a male opt out here" with no sign that anyone was heeding him, it was a strain to keep a civil tongue.

Then the guy they finally got was a terrible mumbler, which is bad because part of the full pat down process is to explain every step before it happens and--apparently--obtain consent at critical points. I say "apparently", because soon I was saying "yes" to whatever came out of Officer Mumbles' mouth just to move the damn process along. He was as professional about it as possible, but there's no getting around what an invasive procedure it is; I can see how it would be intolerable for anyone with any kind of physical violation triggers.

I was literally the last paying customer to board the airplane (right after me was a pilot flying standby) meaning I was squeezed in between a large fleshy man and a polite sleeper who also hogged the armrest about six rows away from my second carryon. All the more reason to take the train next time I have to go to St Louis. Terrorists have attacked them, too, but you could still carry on a duffel bag of explosives if you wanted to.
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I don't know why I always sleep badly the night before a flight, but I do. Usually, it's not a big deal since I'll have a mid-morning departure. Once I get where I'm going, the anxiety dissipates and all I feel is the fatigue; if I'm lucky (and I've planned well) I can even get in a midafternoon nap.

Normally by this time of day, I would've been where I was going for hours already; instead it's hours before I leave. Today is a work event that I've been helping to plan for a year so I thought it would be bad form to skip out on my colleagues. At the same time, I didn't want to get up at the asscrack of dawn tomorrow and have to go directly to the funeral mass bleary and crabby. I'd rather feel like that here.

At least my sore foot responded well to naproxen so I hopefully won't have to limp my way through Midway. Bob only knows what I did to it--pulled muscle? Internal bruise? Invisible gangrene?--but it's an order of magnitude or two more painful than it was yesterday and I've got this damn garment bag to wrestle onto the plane. Hope they don't make me check it.
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One of the places we considered visiting during our last trip to Door County was Washington Island, which lies across the hazardous strait known as "Death's Door" (a.k.a. Porte des Morts) that gives the county its name. Except in the winter, Ferries leave every hour, but only between 8 and 5. And they're pricey--$15 for a vehicle and $12 for each adult inside, round trip. That struck as too steep for a couple hours of driving around, so instead we went to the shingle and skipped stones as we watched the boat load up and depart.

This time, we came at midmorning on Saturday prepared to spend the day. Traffic was heavy, so they were doing multiple runs, which worked at well for us since we were too far back in line to make the first run. Our boat going out was the Arni Richter, which has room for eighteen cars plus bikes and motorcycles--and there were plenty of those making the journey along with us. In fair weather, it took about half an hour. We skirted the south and west coasts of Plum Island, an uninhabited wildlife reserve, and privately-owned Detroit Island, before mooring in Detroit Harbor in the far southeast corner of Washington.

Originally we had talked about renting bikes for the afternoon, but Dad surprised me by proposing we go to Rock Island instead. At just under 1000 acres, it's barely a 15th the size of Washington Island. Not even bicycles are allowed and aside from the seasonal ferry, the only way to get there is your own boat; the tourist literature calls it "the most remote state park in Wisconsin". Mentally, I had written it off because I thought Dad wouldn't be up to that much hiking since he hurt his foot a couple weeks back and it's healing slowly, but I was delighted to humour him.

Between the two ferry ports, we changed plans again and ended up staying overnight on Washington. (More on that shortly.) This was good, because it meant we were able to catch the earlier ferry on Sunday and take our time. Dad's pace was even more handicapped than I expected, so had we started at 1:15, making the 4:15 ferry back--the last of the day--would've meant a mad rush back to the boathouse. Instead, we had time to tour the lighthouse at the northern tip, see the oldest surviving structure in Door County (an outhouse!), and chat at length with the Ranger Randy Holm. It also meant I had time for runes.

At one time, most of the island was the private possession of Chester Hjortur Thordarson, an Icelandic immigrant who made his fortune in electrical transformers. The centrepiece of his sprawling personal estate on the southern end of Rock Island was a massive boathouse with a fireplace you could stand in and a great hall suitable for the Alþingi to meet in. His dissolute sons either sold (according to the brochures) or gave away (according to the ranger) the handmade furniture he had made for it; amazingly, all but a handful of pieces have been donated back. Each is engraved with a scene from the Elder Edda with a caption in runic script.

Near as I can tell, the version used is the younger futhark with modifications for a fuller range of contrasts (although it still doesn't cover all the phonemes of Old Icelandic). This put me as something of a disadvantage, since the Germanic system I know best is the Anglo-Saxon. I was struggling to understand the divergences until I successfully IDed this ugly feller, which gave me equivalents for n, r, and u. But the real key turned out to be the fireplace itself, which was inscribed with a quote from the Hávamál; crucially, the park service had added a transcription. Armed with this, I was able to identify all manner of mythic scenes, from the assassination of Baldur to the loss of Tyr's hand. I was also able to confirm a hunch about old Thordarson, namely that his "middle name" (gleaned from a tombstone) was actually his birth name. In his office, there was a small vessel with a bilingual dedication and the name on that turned out to be "Hjörtur Þórðarson".

Ranger Holm made Chester sound like my kind of fella, one who put into practice Erasmus' dictum "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." Supposedly he spent $1 out of his $4/week salary winding armatures in Chicago on books; upon his death, his collection of 10,000 volumes--housed in the great hall of the boathouse--was sold to UW-Madison for $300,000 (a steal giving some of the rarities it contained) and became the nucleus of their rare book collection. Several years earlier, he'd invited several professors up to take a look at it. Having had no more than a seventh-grade education, he was intimidated as he walked around, pulling books off the shelves and handing them to the visitors. Apparently he was able to cite page, paragraph, and line in each volume when asking them to take a look at the text and tell him what they thought of it. Two hours of this and it was the professors who were intimidated.

Unfortunately, the island wasn't as interesting ecologically as Washington Island, which itself held fewer wonders than the modest county park on Ellison Bluff I was able to hike on crutches last year. The most curious thing was the lack of an understory; there were low plants--chiefly lower-than-average wild sarsaparilla--and there were some very impressive centenarian trees surrounded by their youthful offspring, but nothing really in between. Several of the older specimens had toppled over (apparently there were severe storms the weekend before which knocked out power to most of the county), which impressed on us the thinness of the rocky soil.

So though initially we thought we'd have lots to discuss at the end of the day with Paul King, the kindly old coot of a naturalist, but that didn't really turn out to be the case. When I came up on him chatting with Dad, he handed us a couple of "wild leeks" (probably what most of us know as "ramps") which I chopped and added to the prepared sauerkraut I fixed for dinner that night. Perhaps a spring visit would be more rewarding? Or maybe it's the dry summer they had which is to blame, though frankly the ferns in the low centre of the island didn't seem so bad off (although not anywhere near as impressive as Paul promised us they'd be).

So I don't know that I'm aching to get back there, but I'm certainly thrilled we saw it. A week later and we wouldn't've been able to--they shut the park down on Columbus Day. The only visitors after that are hunters who get there under their own power.
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It's a damn shame that the worst three hours of the weekend getaway came at the very end. [livejournal.com profile] monshu can testify to what a mood I was in when I walked through the door. I'd hardly said a word to my father for two hours of stop-and-go highway driving except to give directions.

Playing navigator for Dad, incidentally, is particularly exhausting because you can't give him directions like a normal person. Saying, "When you come to the interchange, you want to take 43 southbound" does you no good, because by the time you get there, he'll have forgotten the highway designation or the direction or both. You end up having to do you best imitation of a GPS. When it came time to exit 94, I didn't even bother telling him "Take "Touhy". I just read the signs and translated them: "Your exit is in two-and-a-half miles." "You're exit is in a quarter of a mile." "This is your exit."

Unfortunately, it took missing our turn for STH 42 to remind me of this. Cutting back on a rural route would have been pretty simple--if we'd had a decent map handy. (Of course the last thing I wanted to do is take a chance on a unknown road and ending up losing an hour on back roads and dead ends.) It meant missing out on Cherry Lane, where I'd hope to by some dried or frozen Montmorencies for [livejournal.com profile] monshu, and on a lakeside route through some picturesque towns. Annoying, but not a big deal.

No, what cemented my bad mood was inexplicably missing the turn for 43 southbound outside Green Bay and not realising this until we were well on our way toward the city centre. I plead the effects of sleep deprivation coupled with a killer combination of Norwegian labskaus, lefse, and bock beer at the Sister Bay Café for lunch. That left me with no choice but to sort through Dad's disaster of a map drawer ("Is there any order to these?" "There was at one time.") until I found a Wisconsin map with a pathetic inset for Green Bay.

Given the aforementioned challenges, simple trumps speedy when it comes to course changes, so I had us stay on Dousman clear through to the other side of town where we could catch 41 south and then backtrack on the beltway. So that was at least half and hour pissed away, guaranteeing we'd arrive at Milwaukee in the middle of rush hour--on a game day--which meant no hope of making it home in time for dinner. I prepared for this eventuality, so we had food in the back of the truck. But Dad was dismissive when I tried to explain why I needed to eat before we got home, so out of spite I refused to ask him to stop so we could go get it.

If nothing else, the silence allowed to reflect on how much I have and haven't changed in thirty some years. When I was a snotty teenager, the silent treatment was a way to punish someone for not showing me due consideration. But yesterday it was just a sense of calm futility that kept me from speaking. Even with full rest and goodwill, I don't know that I could've explained exactly why I was in the funk I was.

Thinking about it, it was probably the cumulative effect of Dad's puzzling and sporadic incommunicativeness. I'm okay with flying seat-of-my-pants for some things, but not others. If I wait too late to eat dinner or eat the wrong things, I will be up all night; this is a fact I know about my body and which I am frankly exasperated with having to explain over again to people who have known me for a long time. If I miss sleep, I will be slow on the uptake and emotionally oversensitive; I don't mind getting up early for good reason, but rushing to leave only to be forced to kill an hour because we just missed the 10 a.m. ferry isn't sufficient. I was probably exaggerating when I told Dad I'd asked him "four or five times" whether it was his plan to get an early start; but I had asked at least three.

We chatted again just tonight--he blew out a tire on the way back to St Louis and I had to see he was all right--but about everything except the recent unpleasantness. As I said, I don't know that it would have helped. At 69, he's the man he's going to be until the end. Either I'm willing to learn to work around his foibles in order to enjoy those aspects of him which are truly extraordinary or I'm too inflexible and shortsided.
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