Friday, September 30, 2011

In Which the Author Despairs of Mastering the Art of #Hashtags

It's true.  I'm a complete novice at twitter, and already I'm second-guessing my first 15 tweets and thinking  how much better they'd be if I had even the slightest clue how to use hashtags properly.

For example, my most recent tweet was:
What is Bella Swan doing in the movie Into the Wild?? Guess she ran off to a hippie camp just before she moved to Forks.
Even I can see there is tremendous room for improvement here.  There's a need for hashtags for Bella Swan and Into the Wild, at a minimum.  What kind of hashtag do you think people use for Bella Swan?  Well, I just did a quick search and found a bunch of tweets with #BellaSwan - so it's not too tricky in this instance.  And it looks like #intothewild brings up other tweets that mention Alexander Supertramp, so it can't be that far off.

So right away, we can see that the tweet could easily be improved as follows:
What is #BellaSwan doing in the movie #IntotheWild?? Guess she ran off to a hippie camp just before she moved to Forks.
But the tone and rhythm are still off.  It lacks that je ne sais quoi.  

Maybe something more like:
Amazing - #BellaSwan appears in #IntotheWild - did she run off with hippies before buckling down to Forks with her dad? #damnhippies
I think that's better, but it still needs a LOT of work.  So you can see why - as I feared - the deceptively simple 140-character tweets are ultimately far more of a time drain than an open-ended blog.  ("If I had more time, I'd have written you a shorter letter.")  

Alas, I'm still a nattering nabob of negativism I suppose - who seeks (maybe) to become a twittering typer of texts.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tenth Anniversary Walk (Little Blue Job)

Fungi, pine needles & acorns:

We saw many mushrooms that reminded us of sea creatures - I thought the one above looked a bit like a sand dollar.

The trail went through the woods and crossed some parcels of private property.

There were supposed to be some large rock reclining chairs at a scenic overlook, but we didn't see them where they were described (or anywhere else, for that matter).  So we stopped on a fallen log to enjoy some lunch.

I liked the shape of these tree trunks:

Bright orange, delicate lavender, we saw some amazing colors in the shrooms:

The view from the water tower at the first summit:

We decided to walk on further, carefully following cairns as instructed by the trail guide.

The trail descended into the forest, with some clearings.

To our surprise and delight, we discovered that some of the abundant blueberry bushes still bore tiny berries -- even this late in the season!

 A pond in the saddle between the two summits:

This frog unsuccessfully sought to hide under a blade of grass (it isn't easy being green):

There were a number of options for trails, but we knew the right general direction was UP to get to the top of the second summit.  We glimpsed a flag on the top of the hill ahead...

I started chanting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" as we approached.  I was half-kidding.

According to some folks who are frequent hikers in the area, there is not usually a flag here at the summit - this is special for this anniversary.  So sweet.

On the way back to NYC, I was moved to write an account of my experience on 9/11.  It's not a tale for the ages; I was neither a hero nor a victim, only a person who happened to be in the neighborhood. At most I showed some hobbit-like resourcefulness in my evacuation to Brooklyn -- and this still might be seen as a wild exaggeration.  But it was still good to reflect on the experience and put it into writing.

On my arrival, the Empire State Building was also decked out in red, white and blue.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hiking with Fungi

Although I'd just returned from the UK and my sleep was very much off, I went for a quick visit to my parents to avoid the anticipated madness and mourning in NYC.  I didn't bother bringing any hiking gear since I figured the visit was entirely too short.

But of course, I still wanted to go!  I bought some new hiking shoes Saturday morning, and my parents humored me by taking me on a hike in the afternoon.  We went to a state park that  features a forest and a lake.


It was gloriously sunny, and you could see the edges of the lake glittering - it really looked like twinkling, actually. 
On the road, we saw this cool green caterpillar (left).

My mom documented it.

The main thing we noticed throughout the hike was the glorious profusion of fungi.  A wide range of colors, shapes and sizes.  They were everywhere - apparently, it had rained a lot the previous week and they were taking full advantage.  We actually didn't cover a lot of distance on our walk since we were stopping every few feet to marvel and photograph them:

I especially liked these (left) because they looked like cross-sections of a tree.

My dad took the prize (if there was one) for wildlife-spotting.  He pointed out a dragonfly with a bright red body.  I don't think I've seen one like this before:

And also two turtles on a rock, which although not quite as unusual, were not easy to spot at first: 

It was a very pleasant afternoon.  Afterward my dad went to a picnic to do some networking, while I went off with my mom to get more suitable hiking pants (tight jeans are not the way to go) so we could go again tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Day 6: British Museum

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I knew I wouldn't have a lot of time at the museum, so I got there at 9 a.m. to buy my ticket for Treasures of Heaven to grab the first possible admission at.

That worked out well, so I spent an hour looking around the courtyard and gift shop and the one open exhibit, called "Living and Dying," until the museum officially opened at 10.

The Wellcome Trust Gallery

The room included some interesting artifacts and exhibits.  One display consisted of two long pouches of pills, symbolizing all the medications one modern British man and one modern British woman consumed during their respective lifetimes.  I think they said the man consumed as many medications in his last decade as he did in the first five or six decades all together.

The room also contained an Easter Island statue - one of the smaller ones, but still cool.  (It's #70 in the Museum's History of the World in 100 objects.)

I love the eskimo parkas, made of seal intestines:

This crystal skull, purportedly an ancient Mexican object, was actually a forgery that fooled quite a few people:

The Museum apparently acquired it from Tiffany & Co. in New York back in 1897.  

Back in the Great Court:

This is a detail of one of the two totem poles in the Great Court:

Stela of Ashurnasirpal II:  The Assyrian king worshipping gods and recording his achievements:

This sculpture is identified as Prince on horseback, possibly Caligula, Rome, 1 - 50 AD:

I loved the detail on his sandals:

Treasures of Heaven:

I spent two hours poring over the exhibits.  Welcoming us was the bust reliquary of St. Baudime:

This mosaic is identified as a Hinton St Mary Mosaic Roundel (AD 350):

According to the exhibition notes:
"This is believed to be the earliest surviving depiction of Christ from Roman Britain.  He is shown clean-shaven in the manner of a Roman emperor. ... The mosaic combines pagan and Christian images."   

In the early portion of the exhibition, the organizers emphasized similarities with prior pagan practices.  For example, they grouped items that showed people with various protector gods along with similar-looking Christian equivalents.  It does seem clear that Christianity (like other religions) does not typically uproot older customs, practices and traditions entirely; instead, these things are often transformed and adapted as the believer's heart changes.  So ultimately, I don't think the similarities or adaptations necessarily prove anything about the greater truths involved - though I suppose it is evidence that can be part of a number of different arguments.

This epitaph, with the inscription "SEVERA IN DEO VIVAS," caught my eye (as it did for another blogger, who has a nice meditation on the image):

This has been translated as "Severa, may you live in God."  (The verb appears to be the 2nd person singular, active, subjunctive form of VIVERE, in the present.)

The reliquaries themselves were quite diverse - a wide range of materials and philosophies underlying their form and appearance.  Should it be simple, plain and severe, perhaps with secret compartments?  Over-the-top in opulence and reflecting the most ornate and complex craftsmanship?  Is the beauty and expense really for God's benefit, or for humans, or both?  There may be a fine line indeed between a desire to show off one's power and wealth and a sacrificially humble desire to offer the very best to God (knowing that even the best is far too little).

I'd like to try to remember the symbols of the four evangelists for future reference:

  • Matthew - man - reason
  • Mark - lion - royalty / courage / resurrection
  • Luke - ox - strength / sacrifice
  • John - eagle - sky / heaven

Other highlights from the exhibit:

  • A "griffin claw" from the shrine of St Cuthbert, which is actually an ibex horn from the late 16th or early 17th century.
  • Depiction of St Christopher bearing the infant Jesus made me think of Hagrid bearing the infant Harry in the JK Rowling story.
  • Learned that St. Lawrence was burned on a gridiron and is therefore the patron saint of chefs and cooks... 
  • ....and that the UK has at least two homegrown saints and places of pilgrimage, i.e., Thomas Becket (Canterbury) and Cuthbert (Durham).  I knew of Canterbury as a place of pilgrimage from the Canterbury Tales ("And specially from every shires ende of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende"), but it didn't occur to me there was a specific saint associated with the place. 
  • Head reliquary holding fragments of the skull of St Eustace (I never knew that any Eustace had been canonized, and this tickles me because of the way C.S. Lewis introduces a character by that name in The Silver Chair: "His name unfortunately was Eustace Scrubb, but he wasn't a bad sort.")
  • Foot reliquary of St. Blaise was really cool - I'd seen arms before, but not feet.
  • In the post-reformation section: a ring with a secret compartment showing portrait of Charles I (presumably so that the wearer could reveal his/her support to fellow sympathizers) reminded me of Suzanne Collins' book, Catching Fire.  There is a scene early on where the head game-maker shows our heroine Katniss his watch ... which has a secret mockingjay symbol on it.  

A Quick Run Through the Upper Floor:

I went through the Mesopotamian galleries on my way to ancient Egypt.  I liked this demon mask:

Like everyone else, I flocked to the mummies.  This ares was very crowded.

It was interesting to see the different ways the feet were depicted, with differing degrees of verisimilitude:

Alas, all too soon I had to leave for the airport.  I skimmed through Ancient Greece & Rome and Clocks & Watches on the way out.  I got to see the Lewis Chessmen (#61) and the Warren Cup (#36).

I have to say it's been quite a while since I've spent any time in London.  Even though I was really just passing through, I have to say it was such an incredibly positive experience and a great way to end my trip.

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Monday, September 05, 2011

Day 5: Cardiff

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After luxurious spa treatments (an hour-long massage for me and a massage/facial combo for Sarah), taking advantage of a very limited discount offer which just happened to coincide with my visit, we saw the sights in downtown Cardiff. This included a stroll through Roald Dahl Plass (plaza), the little Norwegian church, and the harbor area generally. We attempted to go out to a sort of bridge area (known, I believe, as the Barrage) for some great views, but we were buffeted - dare I say barraged? - by wind and rain as we started picking our way through the maze of construction fences. We took that as a sign, and sure enough when we gave up and headed back, the weather calmed again. Hmm.

The Wales Millenium Centre was nice and glittery, a very beautiful color in the direct sun, although the overall architecture of the area struck me more as in the soviet/utilitarian school.  Clunky and modern, but with no love or appreciation of the space, and no lofty aspirations beyond mere improvement of the proletariat.  I'm not saying that's what was intended, but it's what I felt.

We had lunch at Kemis Cafe, which was a pleasant, airy space with good food.  Sarah went for the salad feast; I tried the sweet potato quiche with simple garnish.

In the afternoon, I caught the train back to Paddington and headed to Russell Square for my night's lodging at the Celtic Hotel.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect, actually, since it had recently changed hands.  But it was absolutely perfect for me - I had a small single room on the top floor (it's a walk-up).  The furnishings were spare, but clean, and there was a shared toilet in the hall.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Day 4: Offa's Dyke North

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Once again, we crossed the bridge over the river Wye to head north, but this time we followed the Offa's Dyke path.

The clouds were impressive:

The path was mostly well-marked and easy to follow, although there were a few unexpected turns.  We went through fields and crossed a brook, then came out into an area where the grasses and flowers were a bit overgrown.  This meant that we got a bit soaked, even though it wasn't raining.  Grrr.  We went up a short incline to a gate that led onto a road.  The gate was not well-designed for north-bound walkers, because you are standing downhill from the gate (it's a little steep right there) and the gate opens in toward you.  Very awkward.  (But of course very easy in the reverse direction.)

The path followed the road briefly and then turned in and up again on the other side.  We had our eyes on the clock since we had a taxi scheduled to pick us up back in Hay-on-Wye, but we picked up the pace a bit, in hopes of reaching a waterfall that was marked on the map.  We got to the area in the forest where we thought the waterfall should be, but we didn't see one.  We did stand on a mossy bridge and look down on a small stream running over some rocks... but I don't think that counts.  Oh well.

As usual, the return trip was much quicker than the outbound journey.   We decided to look for a scenic spot to rest and enjoy the view.

I liked this tree stump, which seemed to have been chopped down and struck by lightning.  Perhaps not in that order.

After a while, we sat down on the bank of the river Wye, near some sheep:

As we chatted idly of this and that, we gradually became aware of a strange croaking noise in addition to the rush of the river.  No, on second thought, it was a grinding noise.  I looked over.  Sarah was right; it was the sheep.  Chewing.  They'd edged closer and closer as we sat there with our backs to them...

As you can guess, we did make it out of there alive.  I'm almost sorry about that; it would have been a much better story otherwise.

We took the taxi to the bus to the train to Cardiff.  Sarah set up the recorder for Dr. Who, and we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Juboraj Lakeside.  I'd just like to recognize this establishment for a truth-in-advertising moment.  Usually a restaurant which is practically beside a lake would be called "Lakeview" ... but here they could not get away with it since the lake is nowhere in sight.

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Saturday, September 03, 2011

River Walk West

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We came back to Hay for Crabbie's ginger beer and lunch at the Kilvert's Hotel.  We paid for everything, and got our Crabbie's immediately.  But my steak and ale pie, and Sarah's dish, were to be delivered to us out on the patio.  Perhaps 45 minutes later, we flagged down the waitress to see what had happened.  They'd forgotten our order.  Completely.  Sarah was quite cross with them, and wanted to take our custom elsewhere, but I was feeling lazy and also we'd presumably have to wait longer to eat if we first had to track down another restaurant that was serving lunch at that hour.

They did give us a second complimentary Crabbie's, with their apologies, and my pie was delicious, so I was inclined to forgive them.

Flowers at our B&B:

Grape vines with real grapes at our B&B:

We headed back to the river, passing by tonight's dinner location, the Three Tuns.  I loved the color of the house next door:

Speaking of doors, as we wended our west-bound way along the Wye, we passed this old green wooden door in a stone wall:

For some reason, it made me think of the door at the back of the school in C.S. Lewis' The Silver Chair - even though that door must have been far more solid, since the children despaired of it being open.

We never actually made it to the Wye River Walk pub, though.  As we got within striking distance, it was growing close to the time we needed to turn around to make it back in time for our reservation at the Three Tuns.  With all the time we'd lost at Kilvert's, even if we reached the pub, we wouldn't have time for a drink.  And then the skies opened up, just as we were about to ascend a steep slope.  A slope that would likely be turned to mud.  Discretion being the better part of valor, we pulled our hoods around us and began the return trip.

The folks at the B&B helped us dry our clothes, and we started watching the latest episode of Dr. Who, The Night Terrors.  Despite myself, I got very, very curious about what was going to happen.  This presented a dilemma, since we had dinner reservations for 7:30 pm.  What to do?!  First, we tried changing the time of the reservation; they very kindly agreed to let us push it back 15 minutes, but they warned us we really couldn't arrive any later than that, because a large party was coming in at 8 pm and would essentially commandeer the kitchen (they put it more nicely than that, of course).  Still, I was dragging my feet to eke out every minute I could, until Sarah had a brain wave - we could see the re-run on Sunday night! 

So we made it to the Three Tuns for a delicious dinner.  We were upstairs, where it was less noisy.  I would definitely go back there again.

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