Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend

Was relaxing and fun overall. Saturday featured a PATH train ride into the WTC, followed by dinner with E, S, J, & L at Patsy's Pizza. Port Authority went to town with these cool neon lights over the escalator:

Here's a short clip of the ride alongside the WTC construction site:

Sunday, I went for a picnic in Central Park, skated from Bowling Green to 42nd Street around sunset, and still managed to catch an evening service at Redeemer that helped make up for the dirges and fluff earlier in the day.

Monday, I took an early yoga class, went for brunch, and skated from 14th to 81st and back - unfortunately this involved slogging through the Fleet Week crowds at the former site of the Intrepid. Ordinarily I take lots of pictures while rollerblading, but I didn't notice any remarkable new sculptures this time, and it seemed somehow discourteous to take a picture of a cute guy on rollerblades who wiped out as he was skating near me. So instead here are pictures of people taking advantage of FREE KAYAKING ON THE HUDSON:

And a modern day pirate ship (arrrrrr):

I was tempted to buy another pair of skates (because of course I need one at the office as well as one at home and one in Florida), but I resisted ... for now. The sales personnel made it easier by not asking me if I wanted to try on the skates I was looking at.

It was even easier not to buy an AirBook that was 10x more expensive than the skates and which I would primarily use for work. (The purchase would kind of make sense, because it is a lot cheaper than back surgery if I have to constantly lug around the clunky laptop provided by my employer. But I don't have to use a laptop at all during the summer, so I'll just wait 3 months and see what happens to the price.)

Of course now, looking back on it I feel a little unpatriotic because I really didn't do much to boost the U.S. economy, even with the extra day off. And I didn't stand around in the hot sun for Fleet Week either. But then again, I skated by dozens of military folk without knocking their hats off or whatever - surely that counts for something.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Narnia: Prince Caspian

I saw the new Narnia movie, Prince Caspian, at the "World Premiere" at the Ziegfield Theater -- a friend won four tickets to this event. Among the highlights for those who (like me) skipped the after-party was a close near-encounter with Tilda Swanson. She walked by us, about two feet away from me, as our group snagged some popcorn. I can report one thing: she's tall.

I liked The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, and I really wanted to like Prince Caspian as well. There were indeed some great moments, and fabulous scenery. Some of the characters (especially Reepicheep and Susan) were very appealing in their way, although Susan in particular was a little too modern in sensibility.

But I felt that the filmmakers were drawing too heavily on images from The Lord of the Rings and even to some extent Harry Potter. Even worse, I walked away from the film feeling like it was really pointless overall. I couldn't quite my finger on what was so unsatisfying about the movie, and it's been bugging me since then -- was the the source material? or the filmmakers' choices??

The Narnia books were part of my childhood, but only a few really moved me. (As a kid, I totally missed the unmistakable Christian allegory in The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.) The Silver Chair is the one that I liked best; in fact, I bought a copy of it many years ago and I've re-read it numerous times. By contrast, my friend Tina loved The Horse and His Boy, whereas I seem to recall that I disliked it -- even if I opened the book, I'm quite sure I didn't get more than a few pages into it. (I tended to take Tina's book recommendations with a huge grain of salt; I'm not sure why, since the recommendations I did follow were good - e.g., The Westinghouse Game. Maybe I perceived that she had a real weakness for stories with animal protagonists, which I did not share.)

In any event, Prince Caspian was never a favorite of mine, and I really don't recall the story. So I had no idea what the filmmakers had changed, or whether the changes were for the better or for the worse.

I couldn't find a copy of the book at the local library, but they had "The Official Illustrated Movie Companion" by Ernie Malik. Now I think I've found the answer:
"There's very little interaction in the book between [the children] and Prince Caspian. ... They don't really meet the Telmarines, the bad guys, until the end. ... What we wanted to do was stretch the two halves so that they overlapped, which results in getting the kids to Prince Caspian earlier, thus generating some sparks."
TOIMC at 20 (quoting Chris Markus, one of the script writers). I do not in any way disagree with the writers' instinct that the original story needed some punching up. But I fear that the stretching process resulted in overlap that was justified only by the need for overlap -- it wasn't driven by the plot or even the theological message or themes, and didn't really assist with character development either. Particularly the character of Prince Caspian, who remains a cipher throughout. Because he is never really on his own, we don't necessarily see why he is the rightful leader, or even whether he is much of a leader at all. Yes, his uncle is a bad guy, but that doesn't necessarily make Prince Caspian the proper choice to govern the Telmarines and/or Narnia. So the entire effort on behalf of Prince Caspian seems a bit pointless.

Then there was also a scene that bugged me - the doomed assault on Miraz's castle. Don't get me wrong, I loved the castle itself. It was absolutely stunning, and incredibly cool. But I didn't really understand why this raid took place. There was some sort of reason given during the movie, it just didn't convince me. And, as it happens, director Andrew Adamson states in TOIMC:
There's a scene we've added that's not in the book - a great raid on Miraz's castle where we've taken griffins and Minotaurs and centaurs and had them fight against human soldiers within the confines of a castle. These are the kinds of images we haven't seen before, so it was fun to get a chance to play with those.
TOIMC at 21.

I have passed up two additional opportunities to watch the movie again - once for free at a "regular" sneak preview, and once on a pay-your-own-way basis with some friends from my fellowship group. The centaurs were amazing eye candy, the initial transition into Narnia is very cool and the beach is spectacular, and I loved the way the kids gradually realize that the gorgeous ruin they've discovered is really Cair Paravel. But so much of the rest of the movie feels forced, I couldn't quite bring myself to see it again.

Urban Hiking - Part 2 (Views from NJ)

A junk passes by:

Posts echo the buildings on the other side of the Hudson:

Townhouses angled in greedily for views:

I think this was the view from Weehawken, near the dueling grounds where Aaron Burr mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton. (I told my fellow hikers about the "Got Milk?" commercial that cleverly drew on this incident.)

Stretching in Hoboken, as we enter the final stretch:

The hike ended in Jersey City, near the PATH train, with more good views, including a clear shot of our starting point (the GW Bridge) way in the distance upstream. Pretty cool, though I still prefer walking on soil and rocks out in nature. Barring the promised t-storms, I should get to try the Gunks next weekend. So stay tuned.

Urban Hiking - Part 1

My first-ever urban hike, billed as a "14+ mile saunter," was organized by a group called Shorewalkers. (I'm calling it an urban hike because we spent a lot of time on or near streets and highways, and NYC was -- by design -- in view most of the way.) I got up rather early to get to the bus terminal on the NYC side of the George Washington Bridge. I'd been told to be there at 9 a.m. SHARP, and I got to the area about 15 minutes early. It turns out that the "official" meeting time was 9:15 a.m. (Shorewalker members knew this, but the co-sponsoring organization gave me a false earlier start time. Grrr.) The hike leader said he "hoped" to get started around 9:30 a.m., but people were still showing up and signing in at that time, so we actually started moseying at 9:45. Not that I'm bitter or anything. But I could have slept another hour!!!

Thirty-eight of us started off across the George Washington Bridge. The bicyclists we encountered on the bridge were very territorial, and not at all understanding of our desire to walk side by side, stop and take pictures, or pass slower pedestrians. No, they somehow felt entitled to the half of the lane that was designated as theirs. (Compare this with the Hudson River Bike Path, where pedestrians and runners walk on the bike/rollerblade path and nobody complains. Of course, it's a little wider there, so easier to manoeuver. But still, there's a tremendous difference in attitude.)

Here's one of our first wistful glances back to civilization as we headed off to the Palisades:

I really love the architecture of the GW. It has a beauty of its own, an almost crystalline structure:

Maritime traffic went to and fro:

On the NJ side, we stopped first at a riverside park just north of the GW. This was, among other things, an opportunity to purchase bottles of water or take one's chances in refilling one's water bottle from the sink in the restroom -- they no longer give you the false sense of filtration by providing water fountains. While the rest of us snacked and chatted, one of the 38 took a cigarette break. (Only 37 of us completed the hike.)

From the park, I really liked the way it looked like the GW ran right into a primeval forest:

If you look carefully, you can see a hawk circling over the cliff. I tried to get a picture where the hawk's shadow showed up on the cliff face, but alas I wasn't quick enough.

Raptors were not the only airborne creatures that morning. Presumably in honor of Fleet Week, we were treated to a mini air show:

No, they weren't mosquitos! Here's a closeup of one of the helicopters:

A more mysterious closeup:

At our next rest stop, the guide let slip that the 14+ mile hike was actually going to be 17 miles. Destination: Jersey City.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sunday, May 18, 2008

More Highlights

Why bother with furniture?
Climbing up:
And climbing down:
Mountain laurel:

The Long and Short of It

Playing tough (but you're not fooling anyone, you love the attention):
Safe and secure:
Showing off:
When you really master meditation, you set your inner child free:
A long way to go on the monkey bars:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

New Horizons in Lilac Appreciation

First lilac of the day:

A flower in the hand is worth 10,000 in the bush:

Dance of the clouds:
My favorite variety was called "sensation" - I love the crisp white border on each petal:

New Horizons in Scientific Understanding

Independent experts agree that breakfast is one of the three best meals of the day:

Umbrellas - the new full-body exercise toy (dry weather only):

Finally, a solution to America's dependence on oil:

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Entire State Building (Kroy Wen)

Historians have never satisfactorily explained why this building is known as the "Entire State Building." In fact, to my knowledge they have never even considered the issue. To fill this much-needed gap in our state's proud history, pseudo-historians have speculated that to alleviate the great sense of depression that he felt coming on, former governor Alfred Smith may have joined forces with the architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb and Harmon to create a building that would house and employ the entire state in the 1930's.

Alas, this noble dream was doomed to failure. The Entire State Building employed only 3,400 workers during its construction (out of a population of approx. 13,000,000 at the time).

Even now, the space appears to be underutilized, with a mere 21,000 transients occupying approximately 2,768,591 square feet on a part-time basis.

Rumor has it that these 21,000 transients host a truly staggering number of paying guests every day - apparently entertaining dozens at a time on an hourly basis, many of them getting quite high in the process - but it would be more proper and respectful, I believe, not to dwell on such regrettable activities.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Saturday: A Day in the Sun

We started out with brunch at a ramen noodle place, although I don't know if the characters behind us have any meaning.

On the way to Union Square, we admired the architecture on the roofs:

And even noticed new details on Union Square West:

We wandered among the stalls at the market, including this one which featured items carved out of Tibetan salt slabs (if memory serves):

A butterfly posed for us incongruously amidst the bustling merchants and shoppers:

We went to a chocolate shop (of course!), a travel boutique, vintage jewelry shop, and the City Bakery ... and then RunnerNYC had to split off for Mass. U-chan and I went shopping the rest of the afternoon (grand total: $20 for a fabulous set of supersized bling earrings) then caught a meal at the Galaxy Diner. I had thought it was only 5 p.m. because it was so bright out, but it was already 7 p.m. What can I say? Sunshine makes me so happy.

The Northwest Passage

I am proud to report that I have single-handedly re-discovered the Northwest Passage. It is not quite as arduous as the history books would have us believe; Roald Amundsen is guilty, I fear, of some unwarranted exaggerations. The passage is, in fact, rather well-marked and freely accessible -- although perhaps (to give Mr. Amundsen the benefit of the doubt) this may be the result of global warming.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Run Away!!! Er, I mean Retreat...

This weekend, 40-50 of us retreated to the Poconos. The theme was "an ancient faith in a post-modern world" - an interesting topic, and one that could have been approached from quite a number of angles. There was clearly not enough time to cover all of them -- or at least, not without depriving people of the opportunity to relax, unwind and socialize.

Among the angles that Rev. Rock did explore involved showing a Black Eyed Peas video and then impressing FOCUS into service as (basically) a bunch of focus groups on how to make FAPC more relevant/popular in NYC. Unlike most focus groups, I suppose you could say we actually paid for the privilege of offering our insights ... but then again we got a lot out of it as well, I think. We tried putting together all the kinds of things we had brainstormed about in our focus groups for the self-organized worship service on Sunday morning. It was really moving, and also very funny at times. (We can't help it; we all have a strong humor/sarcasm/irony circuit in our wiring.) It was nice holding hands for prayer - that seemed to amplify something for me. A lot of us got really emotional when R described how he'd started getting involved in the church three years ago. It seems that early on he told some folks that he did not in any way believe what they believed. At many churches, people would have shunned him. Or they would have openly prayed for him to see the light. Or they would have tried to win him over through argument and convince him that he was wrong. He was prepared for any of those responses. Instead, he got the first of several great shocks on his faith journey when he realized that he was still entirely welcome to continue hanging out with this group and wrestling with sticky moral and theological issues as a confessed atheist/agnostic. And I gather that he started to see, over time, that perhaps the god in which he disbelieved was too small. Another very powerful part of the retreat was the music. Singing reaches me as few other things do. We had at least three professionally-trained musicians in our midst, and a number of very strong amateurs. We sang sacred and profane songs, sometimes in parts with harmony, sometimes a capella, sometimes accompanied by guitar, keyboard or even (around the bonfire) sound effects.

We also enjoyed nature walks and played games such as Scattergories and Apples to Apples (both new to me) and foosball with an electronic scoreboard. Very fun. For pictures from the retreat, try this link.

On my return to the city, I went rollerblading around the park (overcoming my dread of the hills, little by little). And then tonight, I caught up a bit with some old friends. It feels good.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ce Mois de Mai

April was busy - looks like May will be as well. Just played Scrabble with some folks who get together for this purpose every other week (once a month will probably be as much as I can manage) and did pretty well. I definitely got a lot of cool words, including ORIOLE, GAMINE and EXTOLLS. If I may put in a request or two: More S's, please! And no more of this AAAIIEE or HNCVMJT nonsense!!

Geoffrey Chaucer (approx. 1343-1400) in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales puts a bit of a spin on the old saying that April showers bring May flowers:

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licourOf which vertu engendred is the flour;Whan Zephirus eek with his sweethe breethInspired hath in every holt and heethThe tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,And smale foweles maken melodye,That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages....*
Antoine de Févin (approx. 1470 - 1512) (first verse) picks up the notion that songbirds get busy all night long in the month of May:
Il fait bon aimer l’oiselet
Qui chante par nature
Ce mois de mai comment qu’il soit
Tant comme la nuit dure.
And then Clément Janequin (approx. 1485 - 1558) takes the theme a little further, suggesting that maybe songbirds aren't the only ones itching to be frisky:
Ce mois de mai, ma verte cotte je vêtirai.
De bon matin me lèverai, ce joli mois de mai :
Un saut, deux sauts, trois sauts, en rue, je ferai,
Pour voir si mon ami verrai.
Je lui dirai qu’il me décotte!;
Me décottant, le baiserai."

(Attempt at semi-literal translation: This month of May, I will put on my green petticoat. /Early in the morning I will get up, this beautiful month of May: /I will make one jump, two jumps, three jumps, in the street, /To see if my friend will see. /I will tell him that he de-petticoats me!; /De-petticoated, I will kiss him.)

(Attempt at a more modern alternative: I will wear
my green dress this May. I will get up early, this lovely May: I will jump once, twice, thrice in the street, to see if my friend will see.... I will tell him he un-dresses me!; Undressing [me], I will kiss him.)

[Comment Feb. 2, 2014: I'm pretty sure that the verb baiser had primarily the meaning of kissing in medieval French - see Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330-1500), available at if that link doesn't work.   Nowadays, of course, although the noun form (un baiser) remains standard usage, it's probably better to use the verb embrasser to avoid confusion with the "vulgar slang term."]

Footnote *:

When April with its sweet showersHas pierced the drought of March to the root,And bathed every vein in that liquorWhich causes the flower to be generated;When [the wind] Zephirus also with his sweet breath,Has in every wood and field inspiredThe tender shoots, and the young sunIs halfway through the Ram [zodiac period - i.e., Aries],And small birds singAll night as they "sleep" with open eyes(So nature creates this urge in their hearts); --
THAT'S when people long to go on religious pilgrimages!