Monday, November 27, 2006

The Long Ski Journey

It was a full-day journey to Denver from New York, but at least we encountered plenty of entertainment en route.

Here is a sample of the unusual carry-on luggage at JFK airport, which I saw just after the X-ray machine. I think the owner was allowed to carry her dog through with her and just put the empty bag through the machine by itself. The dog was very cute and surprisingly well behaved.

We took a "direct" flight from JFK to Denver ... which stopped for an hour in Las Vegas. Why? Who knows. All I know is we didn't get mileage credit for the gigantic detour. But now I have been to Las Vegas. The airport was very exciting, with palm trees, slot machines, obnoxious bartenders, and the slowest fast food this side of Texas (at Chilli's, we were told it would be 55 minutes to get our meal). They made up for it, to some extent, with views of Egypt. (I guess my prescription lenses are stronger than I thought!) But seriously, there's a lot to love about this picture. Not only do we get a pyramid, sphinx and obelisk with a mighty mountain range backdrop and planes parked in the foreground, but there is also a helicopter hovering at the upper right corner of the hotel.

The pilot did eventually take us to Denver (with a little fly-over of Phoenix, why not?), so I suppose I shouldn't complain too much. Denver International Airport has long been a favorite of mine. One of the coolest things about checking bags through to Denver is that there is a series of sculpted paper airplanes to direct passengers to the baggage claim area. Here's a closeup of one, suspended from the ceiling and pointing in the direction of the escalator:
Here's a shot looking down the "up" escalator, with the airplanes pointing the right way:

And of course, who can forget the tent-like roof ... or is it a series of sails? .... of the airport. From the inside, it certainly looks like a mast and sail arrangement, complete with crow's nest:

Alas, all good things come to an end. We eventually had to pick up our luggage and exit the paradise that is Denver International Airport. On the way to Breckenridge from the airport, we had a lot of troubles with our rental car. Alamo didn't have the car we had reserved (a 7-seater SUV), and so they offered us a 5-seater instead. A 5-seater with no pickup on the highway through the mountains. So, as we drove 100+ miles to our destination, we entertained ourselves by contacting Alamo's Customer Service department. When we asked if we could have a whopping $20.00 off the week-long rental charge for the smaller car, Alamo's Customer Service representative told us we should be grateful they didn't charge us $250 more for the smaller car. She would not transfer us to her supervisor, and when we asked for her name she hung up on us. We called back and reached another Customer Service representative, who suggested that we could drive to Alamo's next nearest location (Las Vegas, perhaps?) to get a 7-seater. We told her that, much as we would ordinarily love to spend our vacation driving around aimlessly to see if Alamo might possibly have our car at some other location, we had actually planned this as a ski trip and would not have time to undertake a road trip as well. We also advised her of the lack of pickup -- at which point, she promptly transferred us to Roadside Assistance. We rehashed the entire story again for the record with Roadside Assistance, and then we also held up the phone in the car so she could hear the engine strain to go 50 miles an hour when we floored it.

As navigator during a slow trip down a highway with no turnoffs, I had plenty of time to record the spectacular scene though the windshield as the sun set. These heavy clouds seemed fitting during our rather surreal conversations with Alamo.

The sky lightened as our journey continued.

To some extent the sky opened up as the sun set.

The next day, we skied. Along with 20,000 other people. And Breckenridge (one of two resorts open in the vicinity) had only one peak open. Apparently, it was 70% of their maximum ski crowd ... with only 20% of the trails open. There were tremendous lines at all four of the operative lifts. At the Mercury SuperChair, it was as bad as European lift lines -- everyone jockeying for position before the actual line began.

This white guy stood out in the crowd, with his rasta hat.

Nonetheless, Breckenridge was serene.

The second day was much more overcast, but much less crowded. In fact, the lift lines were more than reasonable - just what you'd expect pre-season!

Some brilliant sunshine broke through the clouds now and then, though, as we rode up the lifts again and again.

We got a lot of skiing in on day 2 - much more than a usual day - because the lift lines were so short! Had to take an extra-long lunch... and then snuck in 5 or 6 green runs at the very end of the day as the few remaining skiers trundled off home. I caught one of the last 10 chairs up the slopes before they closed the lifts.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ode to Joy

So much to be thankful for: friends, family, swingsets, laughter, peace, abundance, and courage - wherever and whenever they are found.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Disorganized Religion

I remember about a dozen years ago, I was telling a friend of mine that I had decided to go to church - which I had not done in a while - and had even signed up for choir so I would really have to attend. She just said: "Well, you know how I feel about organized religion." I was thrown for a loop; I'd had no idea that she had strong feelings about "organized religion" (much less negative ones). In fact, I'd thought she was Catholic.

Not sure what brought this incident to mind - maybe the organization of American Catholic bishops and its efforts to "welcome" non-practicing homosexuals to the Catholic church? - but it makes me wonder what is the alternative to "organized religion".

I see the following choices:
(a) atheism,

(b) agnosticism,

(c) private "arrangements" with God (likely to slide into category [a] or [b] above because they are uninformed by the learning and experience of theologians and holy persons through the ages ... and unsupported by a community of believers), or

(d) "disorganized religion" - which could mean anything from
[i] poorly planned worship services that never start on time, lack necessary supplies/equipment, run too long, and consistently miss the point to
[ii] small, loosely aligned groups of fanatics making independent decisions about how to reveal their "faith" to the outside world (think warring Sunni/Shiite factions, Al Qaeda, Heaven's Gate, etc.).
For now, I think I'll stick with organized religion, thanks.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Stranded in Skin and Bones"

I spent 6 hours on Saturday listening to U2 songs, reading their lyrics, and watching their videos as a part of a class called "Stranded in Skin and Bones." This was allegedly a theology class at my church. It was somewhat enlightening on the topic of U2, the band and the phenomenon (rather than on God or any religious doctrine). I'm not sure that the members of U2 are exemplars of pure Christian living in all respects, though they seem to have the social justice thing down pat.

The thing that was most interesting to me in studying their lyrics was not so much any insights into Christianity or God etc., but how often they draw on phrases or images from the Psalms, Revelations, and (to a lesser extent) the Gospels. It's easy to miss, and of course most of their songs can be enjoyed (or endured, if you don't like them) without knowledge of this. I was surprised to learn that "When Love Comes to Town" was not by Huey Lewis and the News, and that "Mysterious Ways" was not by Tears for Fears. And also that "Gloria" was not necessarily about a woman named Gloria (the line I'd always heard as "Gloria / In the darkness" is actually "Gloria / In te domine"). Oh well.

And U2 is quite a powerful force in some Christian subcultures, apparently - there are "U2charists" (celebrations of the Eucharist in a worship service structured with U2 songs), and collections of U2-based sermons, and a number of theologians have taken U2 seriously enough to spend gobs of time and money studying them and publishing books about them.

The U2 sermon book pushed by the Episcopal priest who led our class was apparently published by a bunch of monks. She really had to talk them into it because they were sure no one would buy it (after all, theyhad never heard of U2). Apparently it is now the best-selling work ever issued by the monks' publishing house! The next time she visited them for a spiritual retreat, they assigned her to a 92-year-old monk. Her disappointment at being stuck with an old fogey was alleviated when he told her he insisted that he be her mentor because of that book - he has apparently become quite the U2 fan.

So of course I went on a music store binge Sunday and bought 18 songs from the likes of U2, Sting, Neville Brothers, The Church, They Might be Giants, and Talking Heads - basically replacing songs I've not listened to in years because I have them only on cassette tape. Without a car to drive, I don't end up listening to cassettes very often. Especially since my stereo system - which dates back to the late 1980's - is in my guest room, where I don't really hang out.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Life in the Winter Limbs

Sequence 1

Sequence 2 (look carefully):

Did you see it? Way in the backgound?? Here's a close-up:

Seeing the bird and the plane "in" the tree of course reminds me of the Kingston Trio's joke: "It's a bird! It's a plane!! It's -- Super Skier!!!" (beat) "No, it's a bird."

In a different mood, signs of life in the leafless limbs remind me of Galway Kinnell's poem, "When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone," exploring the bleak thoughts of an isolated man who is growing aware of his need for companionship and sex and love. The signs of life in nature around him seem to provide both solace and aching self-awareness. Perhaps the most poignant is Stanza 4, but this is a G-rated blog,* so I will quote only from Stanza 6:
When one has lived a long time alone
and listens at morning to the mourning doves
sound their kyrie eleison, or the small thing
spiritualized upon a twig cry, pewit-phoebe!
or at midday grasshoppers scratch the thighs'
needfire awake, or peabody birds send schoolboys'
whistlings across the field, and at dusk, undamped,
unforgiving chinks, as from marble cutters' chisels,
or at nightfall polliwogs just burst into frogs
raise their ave verum corpus... one hears them as inner voices,
when one has lived a long time alone.
(*Stanza 4 is rated PG-13.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Week in Review

This has been a long and short week at the same time. Two days off in a week - wow! And the end of the voter guide preparation madness, with election day - super wow! And yet, the three days at work this week just seemed WAY more difficult to get through than I anticipated. There are some relatively minor issues to address, I think, and I'll certainly address them... next week.

Outside of work, this has been a great week (other than a deep sense of fatigue and sleepiness that stole over me from time to time). I saw a presentation by Russell Jackson, a long-time "text advisor" to Kenneth Branagh, on Monday night - "Filming Shakespeare with Kenneth Branagh." (The Big Cheese himself was invited, but fobbed us off with a generic "thank you for the honor and buy my soon-to-be-released product" video; supposedly he recorded it just the Thursday before, but I noticed he was careful not to customize it by referring to New York, or the Shakespeare Society). The presentation was interesting, with clips from Henry V (my favorite of his films) and Much Ado About Nothing (my favorite love story, and a good film), as well as Hamlet (an oddly surreal and largely unsatisfying film) and Love's Labour's Lost (which I have not seen and will not now that I've seen a sample of its awfulness). He also showed us the trailer for his upcoming HBO release film, As You Like It. It felt like a "Masterpiece Theater" production, but I would probably watch it if I had HBO. And a TV/VCR.

Tuesday, I played hookey from my Psalms study group and went to see the opening night production of Twelfth Night at BAM Harvey Theatre. It was well done and interesting, to be sure. It was done in Russian, with English subtitles, by an all-male cast minimally dressed in black and white. Lighting largely substituted for scenery and props. The production tended toward overt physicality (to make up for the language barrier), although I didn't find the interpretation particularly novel in its insights. Ever since Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, it has been a fairly standard interpretation to play the tricksters/pranksters as clumsy michief-makers whose success is due solely to the self-absorption (obliviousness) of their dupe/target. (Here, the trick is played on Malvolio alone to make him think Olivia loves him; in Much Ado, the trick was played on both Beatrice and Benedick to convince each of them that the other loves). One slight novelty in this production (more "cute" than anything else) is that Malvolio at the end is dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase or something when he stands alone and expresses his desire to be revenged on the lot of them - he is clearly contemplating legal action. That got a cheap laugh (which it deserved).

Yesterday, I saw Cirque de Soleil's "Delerium" at Madison Square Garden. It was basically a rock concert with cool lighting and special effects (recreating water, fire, gardens, jellyfish, etc. using ribbons, screens, and projected patterns), plus some gymnastics/dancing. I love the dancers who flip over and over like a slinky. They also did the expected showing off (e.g., one-armed handstand on another guy's head, human trampolines, etc.). Very cool, but I have to confess that the intense drowsiness I felt (maybe due to the lack of oxygen at the top tier?) interfered with my full enjoyment of the piece. The "story" - Guy Has Dream - didn't do it for me either. One of my favorite images, however, was a pile of gymnast/dancers who were being slowly moved off-stage: they were dappled with light, making it look like a giant blobby creature (e.g., jellyfish or sea monster) slowly moving away.

Today, now that I've been out walking in the park, opened all the windows to let sunshine in, and got some of my shopping done, my mission (should I choose to accept it) is to clean up my apartment for MJ tonight, deal with the retirement plan from my old firm (it's about time, eh?) and cook up a storm. Yippee!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Chinatown Feast

As my mom would have said (had she been speaking with marbles in her mouth): "Eat your vergetables!" Numbers 132 and 142 look nice, but if you've skimped on showering recently, #133 is really the way to go.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

NYC Marathon: Winners!

Pre-race carbo-loading at Jing Fong's dim sum palace:

Garden-variety marathoners, doing their best after training hard:

The medal!

Congratulations to all the winners - men and women of every fitness level who made the commitment to prepare for and run the race to the end.

Our heroine, George, did it in 4:42, after extensive training - and extensive setbacks - and without the aid of a tag-team of professional runners accompanying her to coach and encourage her during the race. Also, significantly for this post, without whining.

...and Whiners

Excerpts from “In Under Three Hours, Armstrong Learns Anew About Pain and Racing,” by JULIET MACUR in the New York Times (Nov. 6, 2006):
The marathon was Armstrong’s first major athletic endeavor since retiring from cycling in 2005, and he said he had not prepared for the race as he should have.

Armstrong said he was able to run only about 45 minutes a day, squeezing workouts among appearances for his cancer foundation and jaunts to Los Angeles, hanging out with celebrities. * * *

For the first 10 miles, Armstrong was paced by the former marathon champions Alberto Salazar and Germ├ín Silva. They gave him his split times and cups of water. * * * [Joan Benoit] Samuelson [the 1984 Olympic women's marathon champion] took over as his pacesetter at 10 miles. Two miles later, she said, Armstrong began complaining about his shins. As each mile grew more daunting, she said she gave him focus points to go after — like a man in a red singlet ahead of him, or a brick building one block ahead. She told him just to make it to Mile 20, then it would become easier. * * * Hicham el-Guerrouj, the 2004 Olympic champion in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters, joined Armstrong and Samuelson with about six miles to go. At that point, as the clocked ticked closer to three hours, Armstrong said he wasn’t thinking about the time. He just wanted it to end.

“I was so tired, I just didn’t care,” he said.

At the finish, he doubled over. After his news conference at the New York Athletic Club, he limped out of the room. “I’m a cripple,” he said, needing a boost into a waiting van. * * * “I wasn’t kidding when I said that I’ve never felt this bad, ever,” he said. “My legs are killing me. My back doesn’t feel that great, either. I’m really suffering.”

When he arrived at his hotel, Armstrong hobbled out of the van, looking stunned as he walked through the lobby and into an elevator. He got off on the floor that has the spa.

“Which way to the hot tub?” he said as the spa’s door closed behind him.
Armstrong is to be congratulated for his strong finishing time (just under three hours), and for sticking it out to the end of the race. But he lacked the grace and style of the tens of thousands of less-athletic marathoners who prepared for this race much more rigorously than he did. And I wouldn't say he made any particular effort to "keep it real."

Go, George!

She just started running a little over 2 years ago, and has set her eyes on the prize with her usual determination. This year she qualified and trained for the New York Marathon.

Steely self-discipline over the course of the entire year allowed her to continue her training despite running injuries, illness, an unbearably long commute to the start of every race, and - most disturbingly - a serious car accident in the last month. Coddled Olympic medalists could learn from her example.

Here's hoping she makes all her P.R.s with style and grace. GO, GEORGE!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Update: New York City Transit Bites

So, I got an envelope in the mail this week from my friends at New York City Transit. They declined to give me any credit for the $24 I put on a MetroCard and have not yet used, stating that they were
"unable to replace any value/time on your MetroCard(s) because more than one year has past [sic] since the expiration date of the MetroCard(s). ... As a result, we are returning the original card(s) that you mailed into this office."
Not sure what they want me to do with the original card, on which they have placed a sticker stating their policy of stealing unused money from their customers.

Incidentally, the expiration date listed on the card is July 31, 2005 -- I had my "unlimited ride" MetroCards coming in from WageWorks by mail every month up through May 2006, at which point I was out of the country for two months.