Saturday, September 29, 2007

...gang aft awry.

After a late night, I didn't expect to get an early start to my day, but looked for a while like I was going to be able to make a 9 a.m. yoga class. In fact, I had a grand plan for the daylight hours that involved yoga, a trip to Target, the library and the farmers' market, a quick load of laundry and housecleaning, capped off with a 4 p.m. soccer game. Let's just say that only certain portions of this plan materialized. Even though I left my apartment at 8 a.m., I didn't make the 9 a.m. yoga class. Or the 10 a.m. class. Or even the 1 p.m. class. Oh well.

The journey from Manhattan to Brooklyn across the Manhattan Bridge:

Manhattan recedes further into the background:

The fountain near Grand Army Plaza, in Brooklyn:

Black Toes

Three of my toes came back from Scotland battered and dark purple (under my toenail polish). This was likely due to (a) failure to lace up my hiking shoes properly and/or (b) failure to cut my toenails before the first day of hiking. It may also have been exacerbated by (c) the ill-fitting pair of hiking shoes I wore the second day of the hike (which I switched about 5 miles into the walk and then threw out that night after they gave me bad blisters).

RunnerNYC said I would lose the blackened toenails in about a month. I, as a know-nothing know-it-all, begged to differ. The toenails were not black (said I), and I would escape the law of cause and effect by embarking on a program guaranteed to eliminate all pressure on the nails. Specifically, my feet would be shod only in sandals until my toes were fully healed.

I immediately put this excellent policy into effect. I carefully bandaged my toes for the first week or so to protect them. I ran only once (during a scrimmage soccer game 2 weekends ago) and was careful to wear the right sneakers laced up the right way. Other than that, I have only worn closed shoes on two occasions, during part of the day, when I needed to make presentations for work.

So today, just 20 days after my return, when I took off the most recent coat of polish, off came the middle toenail on my right foot. Ick. I couldn't quite bear to let it come off, so I left it in place to protect the naked skin beneath.

The only consolation I have is that so far, it is not at all painful. And the other two toenails (middle left toe and big left toe) are still hanging on. They don't seem loose - though I'm obviously not going to start tugging on them.

Boy, this sure has been a lesson to me. In the immortal words of my high school physics teacher (whenever someone gave a right answer), "Does anyone ever listen to RunnerNYC?"

BEFORE (September 9):

AFTER (September 29):

Of course, now that I KNOW that I've lost a toenail, I'm starting to feel something (sort of a tingling sensation) on that toe. Talk about psychosomatic!

I don't mind being wrong on occasion, and I don't mind giving others their due when they are right and I am not, but I really would have liked to be right on this one. Ugh.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

NH Highland Games Part 3

Finally, let's take a look at the athletes!

In the first video, a strong man casually tosses a 56-lb weight 15' in the air and hardly bothers to move aside as it descends.

Here, an athlete tosses the "light" caber* (only 115 lbs) in a qualification round. The caber must reach a full 90 degrees before it falls over.

In this clip, the spinning weight toss technique** is used to launch a ball and chain:

In another event, the athletes have to lift five 300+ lb concrete balls (of increasing weights) and place them on top of boxes ranging from 3' to 5' or so, all within a minute. After each round, the non-athletes work in teams of two (even with the assistance of gravity!) to bring them back down for the next contestant.

FN *: Not to be confused with a "light saber".
FN **: Not to be confused with a weight loss technique.

NH Highland Games Part 2

N1 enjoyed watching the dance contest, though she didn't entirely understand the concept. (She was unclear on why there was a long line of girls in kilts waiting alongside the stage, for instance.) I think she liked the fact that there was a lot of jumping around and she could be up close to the action. Unlike the "strong men" contests, which were pretty far away and involved a smaller range of motion.

She may also have appreciated the girls' kilts of many colors (by contrast, the men basically wore a yellow t-shirt and generic kilt). In response to my query, N1 informed me that orange is her favorite color, but I'm not sure this is her final answer. It could be influenced by the upcoming holiday, for instance.* I'll quiz her on this again when she turns 4.

A few of the competitors graced us with smiles:

More typical was a look of intense concentration, like this girl:

Note the bagpiper with the cool shades, standing unobtrusively in the corner. He was there throughout, playing the same tune over and over so that the competitors all had the same opportunity to perform the "blue bell" dance.

The dance required spinning around and getting some air:

The dancers really got into it:

There were up to 8 competitors on the stage at a time, usually in a straight line, but now and then a dancer would step back and create a second row. This picture makes me think of Shiva:
(You might also want to check out a recurring theme in modern America relating to the dancing Shiva.)

It was a weekend of new concepts, so we also tried introducing N1 to tic tac toe. I think she understood more or less - but she clearly didn't want to be constrained to 9 squares.

FN *: The upcoming holiday is Halloween, of course. N1 has already started wearing her jack-o-lantern jammies (hand-me-downs from C1) in anticipation of the festivities. And she has made it perfectly clear that, unlike Little Pea, she likes candy.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

NH Highland Games Part 1

The 32nd annual NH Highland Games were held in Lincoln, NH at the Loon Mountain ski resort. This was a good way for me to get my Scottish/Irish fix without leaving the country. (I needed a driver's license, but not a passport, to get through airport security. Sweet!) We arrived Friday afternoon, shortly after the conclusion of the sheepdog trials.

Rumor has it that the sheepdog trials are the most popular event of the festival, but that does not explain why they were scheduled to take place during the day Friday. We listened to the guitar-playing singer Jim MacDonald, who was quite good, then headed off to the Gypsy Cafe for dinner.

Saturday, we saw many traditional "strong man" events - with a number of twists unique to this festival. The unique twists permitted us to see many "world records" being set. It was a little odd to hear the announcer consistently refer to these strong but rather heavy men as "athletes", since they do not have the traditional athletic physique:

The athletes all wore shorts under their kilts, which was probably a good thing. One of the first competitions we watched was "weight for height". Each competitor would lift a kettle-bell-shaped weight (I think it was 56 lbs)...

...and try to throw it over a yellow pole at specific heights. They were very nonchalant about the toss itself and the risk of the weight landing on themselves or some of the bystanders. Surprisingly, there were no injuries.

Although there were a number of scheduled performances at specific venues, including the talented Brigadoons (guitar, singers, fiddler and percussion) and a celtic rock band whose name I forget, everywhere you turned, there was another piper band. In fact, the bagpipers played incessantly. They didn't wait for anyone else to start or finish, nor did they worry about interrupting or playing over anyone else's performance. They just kept at it. Luckily they all seemed to know the same tune.

This one struck me as a very typically American bagpiper band. They were standing off by themselves near some of the concession tents, practicing for an upcoming contest:

This band was marching together around the parade ground all by itself, apparently as part of a competition:

Later in the day, the bands queued up to join all the other bands en masse on the parade ground (for an event known, shockingly, as the "massed bands"). This band's drum major could win a prize for most elaborate get-up:

A boy watching the bands assemble on the parade ground toward the end of the day:

In part 2, I'll share more of the athletic events, including the famous caber toss, and the dancing competition. Competitors in the "athletic events" were men; competitors in the "dance competition" were female (mostly girls). All wore kilts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

More Travel

An overnight business trip to another city - just 27 hours door to door, with no time changes - has left me completely drained as if I had been gone for a week. And yet the conditions were as favorable as they could be, with pleasant companions, good weather, a very successful program, and no logistical difficulties with taxis, hotel, or airports.

I have a day in New York, and then I'm off to see the Scottish Highland Games. In New Hampshire, for a change of pace.

The DNC List

For a while, I was deleting guys from my cell phone when they crossed a certain threshold of annoyance. This was helpful in certain ways (it ensured that I wouldn't call them out of habit or undeserved courtesy), but I ran into a problem when they would suddenly call or text me weeks or months later - I couldn't tell who was calling. So I'm experimenting with a new technique. Instead of deleting the entry, I'm just editing the name so it will start with the letters "DNC". It will be easy to identify the caller, but a nuisance to look up the number. Evil? Perhaps, but I hope not.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Harry and The Potters

What pop star is gracing the front steps of the Brooklyn Public Library, obscured by mobs of adoring fans?

Why, "Harry and the Potters", naturally. It wasn't entirely clear at first who was "Harry" and who were "the Potters". In fact, both of the singers claimed to be "Harry Potter" - from Year 7 and Year 4, respectively - and they both wore the red and gold Gryffondor tie. But apparently they are Paul and Joe DeGeorge, not true Harrys at all.

The drummer (presumably their friend Ernie) looked a bit more like Ron Weasley, and he definitely stayed in the background, letting the Harrys take all the glory. He was talented, but it seems that he is not a regular member of the band.

Each Harry was in love with Ginny, so I can only hope she is twinned or time-warped as well. The band was sort of pop/punk, a bunch of college kids having a good time and spreading the good news about Harry Potter.

Many of the songs were very short and high-energy; the audience (mostly a college crowd) knew quite a few of the words and felt free to sing and jump along. Some songs involved hand gestures, particularly one about Hagrid (a self-hug, followed by a heart sign, followed by snagging fingers, followed by hands on each side of the chin).

This Harry played keyboard and saxophone - even both at the same time for a song or too:

One of the best songs was "Phoenix Tears" (the matter-of-fact/deadpan style makes it really funny):
"We work hard, all week long. Or at least, Hermione does. When the weekend comes, we just wanna have fun. We need something that will make us strong. Something that will last all weekend long. Something that will make us the life of the party. We're gonna drink phoenix tears."

All in all, a good day at the library.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

24 Hours in Edinburgh

Afternoon: Downtown Edinburgh

East Princes Street Garden:

View over the north walls of Edinburgh Castle:
In the castle's Middle Ward, just around the corner from Foog's Gate (entrance to the Upper Ward):
1970's bio/chem/nuke hazard suit and early WWI-era gas mask hood, in the castle's Military Museum:

St. Giles Cathedral, perhaps the "mother ship" for FAPC, had an interesting but depressing exhibit about modern-day slavery (called "Slave Britannia"), and also a wall of visitors' photographs of their favorite aspects of Edinburgh (with footnotes explaining their signifcance).

View of Calton Hill and the National Monument (?) from the North Bridge:

The flag proudly waves:

Evening and Morning: An Expedition to South Queensferry (the Burbs)

Oddly, as I was preparing to take this picture, 3 different hand-holding couples strolled by, blocking the sign. How annoying. I had to wait for them to clear the frame.

When you get to the historic heart of South Queensferry, you can see lovely old buildings like the Ferry Tap. Portions of it date from 1674, other portions date from 1683. You have to shake your head about this long-standing obsession of property owners to expand and modernize.

South Queensferry is on the Forth River, near its mouth (or "firth"). By an amazing coincidence, I learned that very night that the BBC ranked the Firth of Forth Bridge as #5 of the Top 10 bridges in the entire world. So I had to go see it in the morning. (Although their rating system ranked the Brooklyn Bridge #6, so it may not be entirely reliable.) This trains-only bridge, aka the "Forth Rail Bridge", was officially opened in 1890, but was built to last. According to wikipedia, the bridge
is 2.5 km (1.5 miles) in length, and the double track is elevated 46 m (approx. 150 ft) above high tide. It consists of two main spans of 1,710 ft, two side spans of 675 ft, 15 approach spans of 168 ft, and five of 25 ft. Each main span comprises two 680 ft cantilever arms supporting a central 350 ft span girder bridge. The three great four-tower cantilever structures are 340 ft (104 m) tall, each 70 ft diameter foot resting on a separate foundation.
It does look rather impressive:

The Forth is actually spanned by two bridges, but only one of them made the BBC's Top 10. (The other one is known as the Forth Road Bridge.)

As I explored neighborhoods near Dalmeny Rail Station for additional glimpses of the Firth of Forth Bridge, I came across this rather menacing scene. Is it a roller coaster in the background? Or the spiny scales of a gigantic monster?

After that, it was good at last to return home to the gentle lines of the Brooklyn Bridge and yes, even the Verrezano Bridge:

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Day 6: Grantown to Aviemore

Navigation: First Day

The last day of The Walk was 17 easy and flat miles, although we ended up walking a bit further thanks to the organizers of the Speyside Way.

We saw cornflowers en route - an unusual blue hue rather than the more typical Scottish purples.

This stretch of the Way was more built-up. For instance, rather than loose planks thrown on top of soggy ground, we had a bona fide boardwalk with handrails to allow us to overlook a grassy marsh without muddying our boots or needing to pull each other out of bogs.

There were two dragonflies on the railing of the boardwalk. They may have been engaged in a G-rated wrestling match. Or they may have been attempting to increase the number of dragonflies in the world. You decide.

We saw a fair amount of wildlife today, including 2 red squirrels and a small red deer. Also bears (OK, maybe the bears don't really count).
The old railbed path took us within easy access to the renovated Strathspey Railway. The steam engine was reconstructed along with a new rail track for tourists and railroad buffs. The station is in operation (it sells rail tickets and gifts), and features a picnic table suitable for walkers. But the most distinctive part of the experience is the vintage advertisements posted around the place.

No offense to Rowntree's, but when I hear "Pastilles", I think "Puking Pastilles" (as per George and Fred Weasley):
RunnerNYC might be able to use some Rodine on her early morning subway excursions....

I also liked this modern hotel sign:

Alas, lunch time came to an end and we picked up the trail again as the steam train started its i-THINK-i-can rhythm, faster and faster until it was a collection of clickety-clacks in the distance.

Today's trail again went through grassy forest....

...and finished in a light track through a glorious field of heather ringed by mountains.

When I say "finished", however, I mean only that the Nature part of the trail finished. We had another 2 miles to go as we trekked on past some giant seed-themed sculptures...

...then circumnavigated a half-built housing development, and then trudged into town where Bill and Frank treated us to ices. We continued on, down the main drag, looking for the trail end markers. We eventually found a map of the Speyside Way near the Aviemore public toilets, but no trail markers. They just petered out. Nothing. We asked around, even at the Tourist Information office, and learned that Aviemore had no official markers for the start/end of the trail. Curses, foiled again! We should have posed with the "end" stones in Buckie on the first day, after all. Grrrr. For what it's worth, the official Speyside Way web site claims that "[t]he Way ... finishes at the car park by the [Aviemore] Police Station."

We settled into our final B&B, nursed our wounds and napped (or, in Bill's case, explored the town), then got together for our final celebratory dinner.

My companions reached the 80-mile mark in 6 days; I completed a more modest 67 miles in 5 days. We all basked in a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie, aided and abetted by 3 (?!) bottles of wine.

Navigation: Postlude