Sunday, January 29, 2006

Celebrate the Year of the Dog!

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone. 2006 is the Year of the Dog.

In honor of the new year, here is my East-West horoscope from Tiger Beer:
You're an air sign, which rules the intellectual side of life and makes you every bit as thoughtful as your Gemini and Aquarius cousins. Still, your overwhelming propensity to find and keep a long-term partner is the stuff that legends are made of, most often noted before the keen mental skills evidenced by the astrological factors of your birth. When it comes to partnership, then, you're the sign that best understands how to make it fair and equal. You'll gladly "switch gears" when necessary to keep the balance between you and your dear one, at times being the leader, and at others being the follower. Sagittarians, other Librans, and objective Aquarians may make your best choices.

You're also quite well versed and knowledgeable in the fields of entertainment and recreation, and gifted with the discretion to know what quality is and what's not.

You have a love of entertainment that equals your appreciation of good company.
Well, there you have it, deep insights from Tiger Beer. They clearly take their social responsibilities seriously.

Just in case you were wondering, Rats and Snakes can be friends. (As a Dog, this is a matter of purely intellectual interest to me.) Yes, it has been widely reported that Gohan ("Meal"), a dwarf hamster, and Aochan, a rat snake, have been living together in harmony since October at Tokyo's Mutsugoro Okoku zoo. Perhaps this will be revealed as a fraud, or perhaps Gohan will make make Aochan angry (or hungry), but in the mean time, it's a great story.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


The Chacchoben photos are from my infamous Carribean cruise.

Approach to Chacchoben -- Chacchoben was only discovered in 1991, and was opened to the public 4 years ago. So far, it is about 40% uncovered. Apparently, on the Yucatan peninsula, all you have to do to find an ancient Mayan temple is look for a hill. According to our guide, there are absolutely no natural hills in the Yucatan. So it is a lot like Central Park, except with an ancient civilization playing the role of Olmstead?

First Temple -- There were several bus tours at the site, so I was lucky to get a clear shot....

Close-Up of Restoration Line
-- The buildings were heavily reconstructed; a thin metal wire marks where original foundation ends and guesswork begins. When you see this line less than a foot above the soil, it does not build confidence in the result -- how the heck did the archaeologists know it was supposed to be a pyramid shape, for instance?

(I always think of Motel of the Mysteries in these situations - a book which chronicles the discovery of a mysterious motel - its motto was "Toot 'n c'mon" - in the ancient land of Usa, the home of the Yanks. Naturally everything is wildly misinterpreted, in a way that not only spoofs archaeologists and museums, but also manages a few good jabs at our society in the process. For instance, one skeleton is found in the motel bed, facing the TV - and the archaeologists conclude the TV is the Great Altar....)

Overgrown Steps -- This was a cool area. I saw a bright electric blue butterfly, but couldn't get my camera out in time.

Tree Roots Digging Into Foundation Wall -- Thought this was interesting. I think the holding wall was originally an interior wall. (The rough, weathered exterior stones were removed by the rancher-landowner to build fences for the livestock etc.)

Second Temple: Corner View -- Naturally, at the time of the Mayans, there wasn't so much (or probably any) grass growing on the temples. These days, they have to mow it... and pretty much wage a full-out battle after each rainy season. The vegetation is just waiting to reclaim these structures.

Second Temple: Dead-On View -- I saw a guy (tourist) posing in front of this temple making various prayer type gestures. Looked made-up to me.

Chicle Tree -- X's are to take the sap for gum (like "Chiclets"):

Technical comment: I tried the easy way (using links to Yahoo!photos) and found that didn't work. But it turns out that once I upload photos to Yahoo (which takes a while), it's really quick to redownload them to my computer and then reupload them to blogger. Go figure.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Ju Dou (1990)

So, the crowd gathered for Restaurant Week (at a place where the food was okay but not fabulous), and then adjourned to Starbucks. This time, no one was expounding on crazy theories about how he wanted to find a girl from a rural village in China with what he thought of as "traditional values" (i.e., stand by your man no matter what) -- a view which was actually a little scary given that these thoughts were apparently triggered by the movie Ju Dou.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Ju Dou stars Li Gong as Ju Dou, a young woman who lives in a rural village in China. Lacking money, education, transportation, integrity and guts, Ju Dou is trapped in a marriage with an evil, abusive older man. So she hooks up with a young man in the village, an employee of her husband, and the two lovers set up shop (so to speak) under the same roof as the cuckholded husband. They conceive a child together, who is wongly attributed to the husband. This "love child" grows up to be as evil as the husband, and he ultimately kills his natural father, thus sabotaging any last hope for happiness for Ju Dou.

To my way of thinking, the only "traditional value" that Ju Dou had in this movie was beauty. She lacked fidelity, courage, honesty and just about every other virtue I can think of as desirable in a spouse.

Moving on to happier topics. John (pictured below) was a chemistry teacher for decades at LaGuardia High Scool. He thought he was marrying one of his own kind (i.e., another teacher), but ended up married to the "enemy" -- his wife eventually crossed over to the dark side and became a principal! His wife has also retired now, so that source of friction has been smoothed over. Pictured with John is Carolyn, whom John and his wife took under their collective wing 20 years ago when she was a student teacher... and they mentored her so well that she left the teaching profession entirely. Oh well.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

If you're called by a panther, don't anther. (Same goes for broncos.)

Barbara Lundblad exhorted everyone today to become "divinity detectives". (It's sort of like becoming a "doctor of divinity", I guess, but without all the Latin and ancient Greek.)

Friday, I played mahjong back in my old stomping grounds in Battery Park City. Haven't played in ages, so that was nice. I lost every game, but luckily there was wine, home-made tandoori chicken (wow! it was delicious) and fresh, hand-made creme brulee truffles from Kee's Chocolates. (Ms. Kee Ling Tong is truly an inspiration; she ditched Wall Street for Thompson Street and now devotes her life to the good of humanity by making chocolate. QED.)

The next night I managed to catch a concert at Lincoln Center with a bunch of, er, metal afficionados. Usually Beethoven is a good choice for them. Unfortunately, the Beethoven work being performed was the Pastoral Symphony - all sweetness and light, hold the sturm und drang (note the HP reference if you follow the link). Oh well. At least it was followed by Liszt's Totentanz (dance of death), so that helped them wake up a little. Then afterward we drove around blasting Iron Maiden while looking for Curry in a Hurry.

But I digress. This year's annual "Who's going to the superbowl?" party was hosted by Flutie (or at least someone wearing his jersey) at Penn Station.

Using my intuitive grasp of the game, I backed the Broncos for the first game, and the Seahawks for the second game. As astute readers will note, I chalked up one "win" and one "loss". Statisticians inform me that this is the success rate they would expect for someone randomly predicting the outcome of two games, based purely on blind chance.

Well, with any luck at all, the Seahawks will beat the Eagles in two weeks. Or vice versa. The crowd was split -- D has money on the Seahawks NOT winning the Superbowl, while J needs the evil Steelers to lose (this is in the interest of cosmic justice, because the Steelers had the nerve to beat the Eagles 27-3 on Nov. 7, 2004, a day that would have lived in infamy had it been a month later). The only way for both J and D to be happy is if both teams get run over by a cement truck.

We interrupt our usual programming for a public service announcement: The topic of the scheduled 3-week discussion at FOCUS is not "Great Sex", but merely "Sex That Is Good".

Thursday, January 19, 2006

MLK Weekend

Well, I stayed away from the office all weekend. The entire long weekend. So that alone is reason to celebrate.

Friday, I tried the vegetarian sampler at Ghenet, an Ethiopian restaurant with nice vibes. It was an enjoyable place to hang out, but the food left a lot to be desired, which explains why the rave reviews are all from a few years ago. I also got dragged to see Syriana, which was more gruesome at times than I was in the mood for. For some reason George Clooney reminded me of Orson Welles playing Othello. Not good.

Saturday, we went for bubble tea and massage in Chinatown. Very relaxing.

On Sunday, I got together with friends for dumplings at Ricksaw Dumplings. The chocolate dumplings were amazing. It's basically a fast-food place, but the kitchen is kind of cool and gleaming:

Monday I went for a walk in the park, then saw Fun With Dick and Jane -- funny and pungent. (The "Special Thanks" section didn't really do it for me, though.) I have to say that, although I enjoyed the movie while I was watching it, Fun With Dick and Jane really left a sour aftertaste. We are supposed to celebrate the comeuppance of the CEO when the money he stole from innocent employees is (against his will) restored to them on national TV, and we do. But the innocent people victimized by the hero and heroine are left uncompensated; there are no consequences for the beautiful people. (Not that Jim Carrey is beautiful, but I think you get my drift. It's okay for him to rob people, but not for Kenneth Lay to do so.)

In honor of Martin Luther King day, you should go check out some important news about New Orleans, from Army Corps of Engineers Calls Chocolate City Unfeasible:
Days after the Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, predicted that New Orleans would soon be a “chocolate city” again, the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) poured cold water on those plans, arguing that building a city out of chocolate was “unfeasible.”

Harland DeBellis, a spokesperson for the USACE, said that the agency had given plans for a city constructed entirely out of chocolate the thumbs down only after engineers painstakingly built a scale model of New Orleans out of Hershey’s bars and found the results “problematic.”

--Reported by Andy Borowitz 1/20/06 on

In other news, I learned that Regena Thomashauer (aka Mama Gena), who taught the flirting class at which I proved so abysmally inept, is in the midst of divorce proceedings. I am sad to hear it, although I have no doubt she will land on her feet.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Tulum I

My grandfather -- ever an adherent to the "mountain coming to Mohammed" school of family reunions -- announced that the only thing that he wanted for his birthday was for his family to join him on a Carribean cruise (leaving from a port convenient to him, on a cruise line chosen by him). So we did (only from the California and Massachussets folk declined this fabulous offer).

Thus I embarked on my second-ever cruise. (The first one, about 10-12 years ago, was also my grandfather's idea.)

It is no exaggeration to say that I was dreading the cruise. And in many ways it failed to live up to my rather low expectations. The crew on Royal Carribean's Rhapsody of the Seas did a very good impression, for instance, of never having previously figured out how to debark 1500+ passengers from a cruise ship before. The captain did little to instill confidence in us either: he came on the intercom to tell us "I don't take orders from the dining room staff about weather conditions and ports of call. I get my orders from Miami." (Um, Mr. Captain, aren't you in a better situation than the doughnut-eaters in Miami to make determinations about your weather conditions at sea?) Not to mention the lousy food and annoying service, and the three days of propaganda (on a six-day cruise?!) about whom and how much to tip.

We departed from Galveston, a grim industrial port baked in Texan sunshine.

Amazingly, however, I saw 3 or 4 dolphins frolicking in the port area. Here is a little splash from one of them, sorry I couldn't get a better shot. But it was really cool and made me think (correctly) that there would be some redeeming aspects to the cruise, after all.

Okay, here's another one, which is even harder to see:

The highlights of the cruise were, in no particular order: (a) the dolphins in Galveston, (b) playing with my 8-year-old second cousin, Dierdre, (c) hanging out with my parents, (d) parasailing, and (e) the Mayan ruins in Chacchoben and Tulum.

I didn't take any pictures of my family, so there is (for instance) no photographic record of my many races against Dierdre across the dance floor -- each time, a different method of locomotion (e.g., crab-style, bear-style, and frog-style, to name a few). On reflection, that is probably a good thing. Most people wouldn't do what we were doing unless they were drunk. But we had a great time sans alcohol. (Her mom, my cousin, bought me a gin & tonic to thank me for playing with Dierdre, but I was too busy racing (and inventing new races) to drink it.)

However, I'll share some pictures of Tulum here, because it was really spectacular -- a beautiful park-like setting overlooking the Carribean Sea, with light that changed over the course of a glorious afternoon. (Totally unlike New York City where it is raining today, with one of those constant "don't bother getting out of bed" rains.)

Here is the layout of Tulum. "El Castillo" is the biggest building, and it is perched on a cliff overlooking the Carribean (which is the long blue-gray thing on the left edge of the map). Hmm. The words are a bit hard to see, but El Castillo (which is not a castle) is on the same level as the USTED ESTA AQUI circle, just all the way to the left.

This captures El Castillo as well as several of the other buildings:
Here's looking across the corner of El Castillo down to the sea. (This is the side where you have access down the cliff to the beach. Well, technically there is always access, but they have stairs here so you don't need to rappel down or jump off the cliff.)
The Templo del Dios Viento (temple of the wind god) is on the other side of El Castillo, also on the edge of the cliff. (I liked the way you can see the sky though the arches at this angle.)
Another building with columns, cleverly named Casa de las Columnas, in front of El Castillo. The incongruous bid of thatched roof is there to protect a crumbling relief of the descending god (in whose honor this complex was apparently built).
Here is a bit of a closeup of the descending god carving, although you can see that the head has been mutilated by vandals (I think the guide said these particular vandals were Spanish Catholics, the same ones, presumably, that burned all the Mayan books on astrology, medicine, etc., although I'll take that under advisement):

(As you can see, Part II of this post has been given an earlier date so that it can be read in the right sequence.)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Tulum II

The Templo de las Pinturas has large faces carved into the front corners. You can see some vestiges of color on the carvings (the red seems to have survived somewhat better than the other colors, if you look into the more deeply etched lines). Note the face is broken up with two lines, one above and the other below the nose, dividing the face into three separate bands. Intriguingly, the eye is in a separate band from the eyebrow. I'd tell you more, but our guide had nothing to say about the banding (or any other topic of interest), and the signs at Tulum were devoted to items such as speculation about what the Mayan and Spanish leaders might have thought at their first meeting.

Over at the nearby Casa de las Columnas, there are columns visible on three sides. You can see one column in the foreground here, and the top of another one on the far side, through the doorway. It's a bit difficult to see stone against stone, but this and some other views made me think of Ireland for some reason. (I haven't been there yet, but I'd like to go on a walking tour.)

On the "back" (non-columned) side of the Casa de las Columnas, the Mayans made up for the lack of columns by setting some nice X's into the wall, along the top.

Alas, all good things come to an end. We eventually had to reboard the Rhapsody of the Seas.

Fortunately, we got a break from the cruise ship's incessant musical motif (get it, the "rhapsody" of the seas, as in music?) in a room called the "Solarium". Or rather, it was named the Solarium, but we called it the Egyptian Room. This Egyptian-themed room was not only a lot more interesting (and less dingy) than the rest of the ship, it was also an oasis of calm with no organized activities. The saltwater pool and jacuzzis in the Egyptian Room were also (mercifully) restricted to kids ages 16+. The columns were carved with what appeared to be genuine hieroglyphics (although I cannot vouch that they were arranged in a meaningful way), and the sculptures - including painted (presumably plaster) mummies, "stone" falcons, and a cast metal scarab - were pretty cool. I also liked the retractable clear glass roof. This is where I spent most of my time on board.

Here's a portrait of the crowd I ran with on the cruise (as opposed to the madding crowd, which I largely avoided):

And a portrait of my second cousin, who learned to play Scrabble on the trip (and did really well as a nearly-nine novice against hardened Scrabble afficionadoes; we didn't win more than a few days' lunch money from her):

(Only teasing, of course. Mere honor, not money, was at stake. We try to wait until kids are at least 10 before we introduce them to gambling.)

That's about it for now. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Fireworks & the Gang: Welcoming 2006

Still under construction, but updated.

The gang:

Three of the five munchkins:

O.B./Gyn. and Esq. at the hotpot:

G.P. + daughter (with unrelated pointing twin):

Pediatrician (a/k/a Harry Potter fan and Lemony Snicket devotee):

Two doctors in foreground, with aquarium middleground and football game background (Nemo partially obstructing the action):