Sunday, September 30, 2012

Birthday Weekend

It was wonderful to have my parents in town for my mom's birthday.

We took advantage of the Smithsonian free museum day to visit the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden (which is, somewhat counterintuitively, located in Manhattan).  It was apparently a place for city-dwellers to get away for the day from the hustle and bustle of the city proper.  The city has, of course, grown up around it, but it is still far enough east that the neighborhood is somewhat quieter than the main tourist spots.  We also got tickets to the Fraunces Tavern Museum, which we really liked.

After enjoying some green wine, we dined at Nanoosh and then went to  a  NY Philharmonic concert at Lincoln Center: Musorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto #3 in C major, and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade.  The pianist was Danil Trifonov, making his NY Philharmonic debut.  He was amazing - but also really young, maybe 20 years old.  Everyone applauded until he gave us a delightful little encore piece.  (He apparently did not do this for the Tuesday performance; I told my friend that he had most likely become jaded and cynical in the interim.)

In the program, they printed a few bars of music that represent Scheherazade and the Sultan, respectively, but my music-reading skillz are not what they could be, and I could not pick out those motifs.  However, I knew generally that some of the higher notes ("undulating phrases" from violins, esp. the concertmaster himself) were supposed to be our fearless heroine, while some of the lower notes ("low brasses and woodwinds, doubled by the strings") were supposed to be the Sultan.  So I finally stopped trying to discern the story and just let the music wash over me.

On Sunday, we explored the High Line from 14th Street to 30th Street.  Loved the cut-away sections where they've created little amphitheaters for folks to sit and watch the traffic roll on the street below.

It was so good to see them.

Friday, September 28, 2012


From Letters of Note:
[H]ow glad I am to have your book, and how highly I value it, both for its own sake and as a remembrance of an affectionate friendship which has subsisted between us for nine years without a break, and without a single act of violence that I can call to mind. I suppose there is nothing like it in heaven; and not likely to be, until we get there and show off. I often think of it with longing, and how they'll say, "There they come—sit down in front!" I am practicing with a tin halo. You do the same.
Excerpt of letter from Mark Twain (age 68) to Helen Keller (age 23).


At lunch time, I went home and crumpled to the floor, sobbing.  I'm fine, of course, there's just an ambient heaviness, a leadenness in the air, which hits me from time to time.

Monday, September 24, 2012


It's still light out late enough for me to sit on the window-sill and read when I get home from work, if only for a little while.

Reading the "Bladorthin Typescript" in 
The History of the Hobbit, by J.D. Rateliff.

In this very early typescript, the chief dwarf is "Gandalf," the wizard is "Bladorthin," and the dragon is "Pryftan."  The name changes are a little disconcerting.  

Self-Portrait II: Everything is lightly outlined in orange
"Bladorthin" strikes me as a most inelegant name.  I can only assume it is pronounced "blah-DOOR-thin" (as opposed to "bladder-thin," which is what I think of every time I see the word on the page).

But I must confess that I do occasionally have issues with some of Tolkien's names even further along in the Legendarium.  In particular, I get really distracted by names that look like they should spell something backward in English.  A name like "Erebor," for instance, always makes me pause and double-check.  (Hmmm, "Robere" - nope, still no hidden meaning.)

Self-Portrait III: Fade to dusk

Over the weekend, I submitted my first paper for the course (on the Bladorthin Typescript's predecessor, the "Pryftan Fragment").  I focused on changes to the character of the chief dwarf between the Pryftan Fragment and the equivalent portion of the opening chapter of The Hobbit.  I was particularly interested in how the chief dwarf's long-windedness and ineptitude as a leader were exaggerated to the point of caricature, creating (in essence) a leadership vacuum for Mr. Baggins to grow into.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Yankees v Rays

This was my first trip to the "new" Yankee Stadium.  It was a gloriously sunny afternoon up in the bleachers.  

I was secretly cheering for the Rays, but still loved this guy's cap:

Saturday, September 08, 2012


"The clouds were low and hairy in the skies,
Like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes..." 
          --Robert Frost, "Once by the Pacific" 

"The change of elevation had done nothing to alter her mood.  It was four o'clock of a sultry, overcast, oppressive afternoon, and sullen stillness had fallen on the world.  The heatwave which for the past two weeks had been grilling England was in the uncomfortable process of working up to a thunderstorm.  Shropshire, under a leaden sky, had taken on a sinister and a brooding air."  
      -- P.G. Wodehouse, Heavy Weather

"Dusk was closing down on the forbidding day.  Sue, looking out over her battlements, became conscious of an added touch of the sinister in the view beneath her.  It was the hour when ghouls are abroad, and there seemed no reason why such ghouls should not decide to pay a visit on this roof on which she stood.  She came to the conclusion that she had been here long enough." 
       -- P.G. Wodehouse, Heavy Weather  

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

A Cautionary Tale

Suppose, gentle reader, that you are traveling to Europe, and you wish to bring contact lens solution with you.  And let us further suppose that you have a choice between bringing the dregs of one small bottle of contact lens solution -- or a fresh new bottle of similar size.  And let us suppose that the lovely light purple design on the label of the new bottle brings you some indefinable sense of joy and pleasure.

So you go with that brand-new bottle.  It is small and cute.  It fits in your resealable clear plastic bag along with all other liquids you wish to bring along.  Your step is light, your heart is carefree, as you go through the wonderful security theatre of the modern American airport, for which you are well-prepared.

After your short trip, you begin the return journey.  While others are frantically throwing out gigantic bottles of a wide variety of liquids, and stuffing anything small enough into the baggies handed them by laconic security guards, you smugly step forward, holding your own resealable clear plastic bag aloft.

But what is this? The security guard is asking you about the bottle of contact lens solution.  How many milliliters is it?  he wants to know.  All you know is, it is 4 oz.  It came from America, passing safely and without remark through the security screening.  And you want to bring it back with you.

And now, as instructed, you look carefully at the printing on the label.  It is 118 mL.  A full 18 mL over the limit.  The eagle-eyed security guard correctly spotted the menace.  Danger! Danger!  It is apparently too dangerous to reimport back into the United States.

Sadly, you jettison the beautiful new container, which you have used for four days.

Postscript: Afterward, you check the TSA website.  The limit is 3.4 oz, not 4, even in the United States.  So you were doomed.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Day 3: Mevagissey to Par (via the Lost Gardens of Heligan)

N.B. This is the last of four posts about my trip to Cornwall to walk a portion of the South West Coast Path. 
Cornwall Navigation: [Prior Post] - [Start of Trip]

I am happy to report that the Lost Gardens of Heligan are no longer lost; in fact, we were able to get there by bus from Mevagissey.  (We were going to walk there, in a big detour from the South West Coast Path, but our hostess came up with this very enjoyable alternative.)

The name of the gardens of course reminded me of the immortal words of the great poet:
A wonderful bird is the pelican;
His beak will hold more than his belican.
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week,
But I'm damned if I see how the helican!
We began our walk around the Gardens on a path marked with dire warnings of steepness.  We commended ourselves to heaven, and braved it.  

The trail began through some trees, and soon took us by a very cool mixed-media mud sculpture:

Mud Maid

We circled around and approached the Jungle area from the far side.  There were giant rhubarb plants (far taller than a person) and lots of jungly and exotic looking plants in the area.

In other areas, we saw more typical plants and animals, including a very chubby and seemingly quite tame robin and rabbit.

They have a "hide" shelter, where you can watch birds right outside the windows (we saw lots of finches, some with a cool red spot on their head) and through strategically placed remote video cameras.  Yes, you can move the cameras and pan around and feel kind of stalker-ish.

 Some of the flower gardens were just spectacular:

In the vegetable garden, we saw this nice scarecrow named "Diggory" -- a name familiar to me mostly from British literature (Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden [1911] [gardener's son]; C.S. Lewis, The Magician's Nephew [1955] [headstrong hero - but spelled with one 'g']; J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire [2000] [the bona fide Hogwarts champion in the TriWizard Tournament]).

Meet Diggory

If they were in fact inspired by literature, I would assume that they were thinking of The Secret Garden, which was published during the time that the Gardens were initially developed and maintained (1766-1914).  

According to the official  timeline, the grounds and house were conscripted for the war effort in 1914, and many trees were felled.  The gardens fell into neglect and were "lost" until 1990, when the derelict gardens were (re)discovered by two men (one of whom was a descendant of the aristocratic family that had lived there).

Water Lily in the Italian Garden

Another mud sculpture
Before we left, we enjoyed some of the local produce and home cooking in the garden cafe.  A delicious vegetable tart (like a really deep-dish quiche, without the crust).  They grow some of their own produce, including fruits and vegetables and honey.  I was disappointed to see that the apples on sale in the gift shop had stickers indicating they were imported from New Zealand.

Finally, we began the day's walk: back to the South West Coast Path and on to Par.  We went kind of the long way, as it turns out, because we missed a turn-off to continue on the pedestrian path and ended up on a cycle path.  Oh well.  It was still a pleasant journey, and we got to the official Path in the end.  There were a few steep ascents and descents to welcome us back.

I took fewer pictures on this stretch, but a few things stood out.

After yesterday's roasting, it was nice to have the clouds back for atmosphere

I fell far behind while I was watching a few of these spiders.  They were so cool!

We got to a place called Black Head (why not "Acne", one wonders), an optional spur away from the official path.  I decided I must see the sights.  What if it was really super-amazing?

Sarah wisely decided to go to the half-way point, a nice grassy area that is entirely flat (no climb!) and has a nice view.  She stayed there with the map, resting, while I trudged up to see what I could see.  The climb wasn't steep, but it was longer and higher than it had looked!  Oh well.
The map!!!  (Or rather, one of two maps needed for the Walk)

We had hoped for a seasonal beachside refreshment stand at Porthpean, but a guy who was three sheets to the wind explained that the stand had been closed years ago.  He also told us that it would take us 45 minutes to walk the one mile to the next town, where there was a pub.  We verified the accuracy of his first statement, but found ourselves somewhat skeptical of the second.

The beach itself is perhaps not quite as welcoming as one might hope for:

The sign also warns, in large letters:
There is no lifeguard
service operating

There were several families there nonetheless attempting to enjoy the beach despite the tides, falling rocks, slipway, and other dangers.  The children were very young, and half-clad (tops only).  Older families (without children) tended to be further back from the water, taking advantage of a sloped concrete wall as backrest.

Fortunately, it didn't take us an entire 45 minutes to go the remaining mile between us and the next pub, in Charlestown.  After some refreshments, we skirted the harbour, where we saw

tall ships
patriotic shipwreck & heritage centre

View out from the Charlestown Harbour
(Unfortunately, Dr Who was not filming in Charlestown today.  That happened in 2011 for the Space Pirates episode.)

We continued on to Par from Charlestown.  More climbs, and more blackberries, awaited!!

More blackberries!!!
Finally, as we got to the "home stretch", I saw the most extraordinary flowers I've ever seen.  Sarah knew what they were, and was not impressed.
The passion flower, I believe.
The bizarre cut-out configuration of the pistil and stamen
made them look like an alien species to me.
Sure enough, Sarah had reserved the best accommodation for the last night.  Very luxurious.  My room was quite nice, and I was very happy with it.  Sarah got upgraded to a room that would have been suitable for a party of five -- but the greatest thrill for her was a beautiful deep bathtub to soak in!  The owners were very kind and thoughtful, and I wish them the best of luck in their endeavors.

We enjoyed a curry at a local Indian restaurant, located in a former diner.  Our cab driver was very snarky about it (apparently he likes the "feeling" of being in an Indian restaurant, which he gleans from particular decor and the appearance of the waitstaff, etc.), but the food was good.

Although we made our last day a bit easier with a bus ride to the Gardens in the morning and a taxi to and from the curry place, we still managed a respectable 15.7 miles on foot over the course of the day (including about 3 miles of exploration within the Gardens).

The following morning, we packed our bags and caught a train heading toward Paddington.  It was a really fun trip, though all too short!

Cornwall Navigation: [Prior Post] 

Monday, September 03, 2012

Day 2: Veryan to Mevagissey

N.B. This is one of four posts about my trip to Cornwall to walk a portion of the South West Coast Path. 
Cornwall Navigation: [Prior Post] - [Next Post/ End of Trip]

In today's bright sunshine, the inaccessible beaches and turquoise waters looked like a tropical island paradise... as if this were indeed (as First Great Western would have it) the "Cornish Riviera"!

Just past this castle, we stopped at a beachside cafe for water and cold desserts by the seaside
-- and picked up cornish pasties for a picnic once we made the steepest ascent of the day. 

Nope, this wasn't the top.  Keep climbing!

I liked this stone formation.  Could it be...  a turtle in front of his computer?   (Go Terps!)

Almost at the top!

We made it!  Sarah takes a break in The Matrix

A view down from the end of the headland
Even in the hottest part of the day, on the highest part of the headland, dew drops linger on a spider's web.

This one seems to show a tunnel for the spider - how cool is that?

X marks the spot for our picnic lunch.
The pasties were still hot. And delicious.

Ho hum, another gorgeous but inaccessible beach.

Sarah kidded around that we would each end up eating our weight in blackberries.
I took this on as my personal mission.  Hey, you need to have goals, right?

I was curious what kinds of birds or animals
live in these two holes in the cliff face.

We crossed a few more pastures....

At last - Mevagissey!

Working our way through the non-grid streets of the town.

It was a long and challenging day in the hot sun.  So when we got to Mevagissey, we could hardly wait to find our B&B.

We now know something we did not know before: On a walking holiday, before booking your accommodations, be sure to inquire how many meters they are above sea level.

Yes, this turned out to be an extra climb up through the meandering streets, up, up, and up into the hills on the far side of town -- then after a wash and change of clothes, down, down, and down into the centre of town for dinner -- and then, you guessed it, the B&B sent a helicopter to collect us... No, gentle readers, I cannot lie to you.  We had to re-climb the hill again after dinner to get to the B&B.

So, my pedometer clocked us at more than 16 miles for the day.

Fortunately, the dinner at Roovray's was very nice (Algerian chicken ratatouille, plus we sat near the hikers we'd met before so got to chat a bit), and so were our accommodations.  Zzzzzzzz.

Cornwall Navigation: [Prior Post] - [Next Post/ End of Trip]