Which it's a post about a band other than Underworld

I run very hot and cold on the Killers. They usually manage to come out with a single or two that seizes my brain ("Read My Mind" leads my iTunes library with 433 plays) and will not let go. But they have so much more that I'm very "enh" on, even a lot of their singles.

But then there's THIS:

The Killers and LOU REED! Outfuckingstanding.

Watch your back, "Read My Mind." Your record is no longer safe.


random linkage

I love that a secret nuclear bunker has a Web site.

There are some indications that the questionable-looking restaurant down the street from me might be a well-kept secret (yeah, it's in the Post, but not on Yelp) as opposed to just a very scary place. They just started selling sushi, too, though, which sort of seems to dilute their non-brand.

Speaking of branding, Apple is going to lose their counter-culture good-guys rep really quickly if they keep making asshole maneuvers.


How that stuff in turkey stopped my migraines

I read this blog post on the NYT site and really wanted to post a comment, but comments are closed. So I thought I'd come here and make a post that I probably should have done awhile ago.

After suffering migraines for several years, I stumbled into l-tryptophan (yes, the stuff in turkey) this year. It was banned from the U.S. market for many years, so it hadn't even been available when I first started getting migraines during graduate school. I took Imitrex on the advice of my very smart P.A., who diagnosed the migraines in the first place, and it was generally successful, but only if I took it right as I felt the migraines coming on. Well, that sounds simple enough, right? Why wouldn't I just take the meds as soon as I felt the slightest twinge of migraine? Well, the side effects are not so great. It caused a strange, almost burning sensation along my scalp, and I felt screwed up neurologically for several hours. It became difficult to do things like type.

So if I missed the narrow Imitrex window, which I sometimes did, or if the headache was really severe, I was stuck with a migraine that lasted anywhere from several days to an entire month. Mine aren't classic migraines -- the lock-yourself-in-a-room-with-a-towel-on-your-head kind, with the aura and everything -- they're more like a sharp stabbing headache on one side of my head, so that isn't quite as bad as it sounds. But walking around with a constant headache for weeks still sucks.

Anyway, as I said, I stumbled in to l-tryptophan this year. It's an amino acid that you're supposed to get through your diet through foods like milk and turkey, but many of us don't get enough. It converts to serotonin, melatonin, and niacin in your body (low serotonin levels are linked to migraines).

Now that it's available in the U.S., I stopped at Vitamin World one day and picked some up. The first few days were kind of difficult — I felt really tired and I got these really bad tension headaches. But that's how I knew I was on to something — I rarely, if ever, got tension headaches after I started getting the migraines (one cause of tension headaches can be when the blood vessels are opened too wide, which is why caffeine helps...migraines are the opposite, where the blood vessels are constricted, which is why caffeine is a disaster).

So I kept taking the tryptophan, and the initial symptoms stopped. So did my migraines. I would start to feel a migraine coming on, but instead of developing into the full painful headache, I felt a tingling sensation down the "path" the pain usually traveled. Eventually (sometimes it took a good night's sleep), the tingling and the pain went away, and there was no headache left.

Speaking of a good night's sleep, it's rare that I don't get one now. I'm assuming that's because I've given my body more of what it needs to make melotonin. Another, slightly more odd thing — I don't crave carbs like I used to. It used to be I couldn't make it through the morning without a bagel. I have read about a carb-serotonin connection, so maybe it's not quite as crazy as it sounds.

I take the recommended dosage, which is about the same amount one should get in one's diet every day. If I'm having a stressful day, I'll take an extra pill (the dosage is three). I don't claim to be a medical professional, or that tryptophan is a good idea or will work for everyone. All I can post about is personal experience, and mine has been very good.


Past pictures

If you check my Flickr account any time soon, you'll find that there are a ton of new old pictures. I have been trying to clean off my hard drive and I decided there was no reason to have a 2 gig My Pictures folder when I pay Flickr money to host my pics.

So there are various trips and weddings posted there now. Odds are many of you have been involved in some of them, or at least know people who were.

Old family pictures may come next. But I'm tired of posting for now.

I'd forgotten about this one...from our first time kicking ass in scavenger hunting.


See the suits

It's not out until October 16, but you can listen to the new Underworld album, Oblivion With Bells at download.com.

First impressions...Underworld has never been a group to play it safe, and this is no exception. There are sounds in here that are like nothing else in electronica, or music in general, new and completely unexpected sounds, and that, above all, is what I've come to expect from Underworld. Songs like Born Slippy and Two Months Off are as far from formula as you can get, and they shouldn't really work, but yet they do, so very well.

Some of the riskiest bits are when it gets downright dissonant — Karl Hyde, who is by no means tone deaf, kinda sorta sounds it at the beginning of Ring Road and Boy, Boy, Boy. They remind me of the vocals in Stagger, off Second Toughest in the Infants, but dialed up another notch. Like any Underworld album, you have to trust in the journey they take you on. And indeed, Ring Road rights itself artfully — it might be my favorite song on the album. It's an album that moves back and forth from harsh, angry sounds to lush, lovely lines, finally closing with my other candidate for favorite, Best Mamgu Ever, a sprawling, Second Toughest-esque epic with big, slow bass and impeccable little guitar bits.

It's always a little scary listening to the new album of a group you like this much. But it's clear Underworld haven't lost anything OR played it safe. Now I must listen to it again and again and get all the little details I've missed.


Mmm... Skyscraper I Love You

One more Underworld video...although I feel it's appropriate

Mmm... New York? I like you.

So here is the problem with going to New York for the first time ever to see an Underworld concert. The concert was so amazingly mindblowingly awesome that we got up on Saturday and went, okay, what do we do now? Because nothing New York had to offer was going to be as great as that concert.

So we moseyed over to Grand Central Terminal, which was really lovely. It was nice to see all the open space, as it hasn't been sliced into a mall like Union Station, as much as I love Union Station. Then we took the subway to where the subway construction started, and a shuttle bus to Battery Park, where we were going to pick up the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands.

A bit about the subway and our navigation of New York. MTA doesn't have a decent map posted of the New York subway. The one they have kind of looks like the London Tube map in the 1930s before they figured out that the linear map was the way to go, except they also try to put other geographical features in there to make it extra-confusing. We were able to find this one online which did enable us to get around, sort of.

On Friday, we decided on Josh's advice to walk to the concert in Central Park. It was quite a few blocks but it was a nice walk. We went past Rockefeller Center, stopped for dinner and kept walking. We passed the New York Library, with the lions in the front, as per Josh's instructions. Then we decided to stop for coffee right near the Empire State Building.

So if you know New York you know by now that we had been going in the wrong direction. For about 20 blocks, it turns out, starting somewhere after Rockefeller Center. I looked outside the window of the Starbucks and saw 33rd Street. We needed to enter the park at 72nd. Uh, whoops. Turns out there's more than one New York Library with lions in the front. We had thought it looked bigger in Ghostbusters.

We still had plenty of time to make it to the concert but we were not about to walk 40 blocks there. So we found a subway station and a train going in the right direction and got on. At about this point we're congratulating ourselves on our ability to find our way around a city via the subway, if not on surface streets. We take the DC Metro frequently, and have ridden the subway in other world cities as well. We are subway veterans!

And then the train starts going straight through stops. A lot. Turns out we were on the express train and it didn't stop until 125th. We got off at 125th, took a closer look at all my subway maps, and got on a local train going back in the opposite direction.

So it was a relatively minor deal when the subway stopped earlier than it should have with announcements that there would be a shuttle to Battery Park. In addition to various subway issues, the other lesson learned from New York is that you can't just hop on a ferry and head over quickly to see Liberty Island and Ellis Island. The shuttles are three decks and take forever to load and unload. You can't go up in the Statue of Liberty because of security concerns, so we stayed on the boat and took pictures from there, then got off at Ellis Island, nosed around the museum there a little, and headed back. Somehow all of this took several hours, we were hungry, and our feet were still suffering the aftereffects of the Underworld concert (and walking 20 blocks in the wrong direction) so we decided to bail on plans to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and took the subway back to the hotel.

We had some dinner and then — after another hilarious subway ride in which I thought Melvin had gotten off the train for reasons unknown, when he had, in fact, moved to the seat next to me (I was engrossed in composing a text message that would not get sent until we got topside) — met up with Josh and Kelly for drinks at this very cool place called the Flatiron Lounge. The decor was perfect in every little detail, and they had lots of good jazz and swing playing, with lots of delicious, creative drinks (although expensive, of course). We had a few drinks there and then headed to an Irish pub type place that I cannot remember the name of.

Hanging out with friends was definitely the best part of our Saturday in New York. I guess that's the thing about it — most of the really touristy things are just really touristy, and I'd already seen them a bazillion times on TV and the movies. We had no desire to go to Times Square, for example, although the Empire State Building would have been good to do if not for my raging fear of heights. But New York does have so many great places for eating and drinking.

Which is good, because, if not for Josh and Kelly, we would have probably been better off continuing on to Boston for another night of Underworld.

Trip photos here.


Underworld in Central Park

And now for an extremely long and detailed post about the Underworld concert. There will be a later post on New York. Sometime.

So I posted earlier that the Underworld show in Central Park completely exceeded my high expectations. Most of the reason for that was Underworld, but part of it was the venue. We were at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, which was much smaller than I'd expected. Underworld isn't nearly as big in the US as in Europe, but still, they played the Hollywood Bowl for their Los Angeles show, and Paul Oakenfold opened for them, so they're not exactly small, either. They've been gravitating toward outdoor venues, so maybe that's the only place in New York that was outdoors and worked.

For whatever reason, it was a much smaller venue than I'd expected, and we were maybe 100 feet from the stage. So instead of watching an outstanding show where we could barely see the stage, we were close enough to see everything and really really feel the thump of the bass.

The thing — well, one of the things — that makes Underworld different from other electronic acts is that they do an actual live show, and they have an actual front man — Karl Hyde. There's nothing pre-recorded, and the setlist isn't set in advance (well, except everyone knows they're going to play Born Slippy), so Rick Smith, the other half of the duo, is up there piecing together little snippets throughout the show. In the pictures I link to later in this post, you may notice a third guy up there, on the boards with him — that's Darren Price, their DJ for the live shows. Add to that a huge video screen in the background, synched to the music, and you certainly have the makings for a hell of a show.

Here was the official setlist:

1. Luetin
2. New Train
3. Crocodile
4. Pearls Girl
5. Biro The Leggy
6. Two Months Off
7. Rowla
8. Glam Bucket
9. Rez / Cowgirl
10. Born Slippy Nuxx
11. King Of Snake
12. Jumbo

There's some confusion as to whether it was Biro the Leggy or Beautiful Burnout, off of the new album Oblivion With Bells. It sounds like Beautiful Burnout may be Biro the Leggy's younger brother. Here is an unofficial setlist, put together by someone who has better memory than me:

1. Luetin
2. Dark Train
3. "HMH Untitled-2" improv
4. Crocodile
5. Improv
6. Pearl's Girl
7. Improv
8. Beautiful Burnout
9. Two Months Off
10. Rowla
11. 5 Foot 5
12. Glam Bucket
13. Improv
14. Rez/Cowgirl
15. Small Conker and a Twix
16. Born Slippy .NUXX
17. King of Snake
18. Jumbo

Luetin was an interesting choice to kick things off. It's not one of my favorites, but with a slightly slower beat it gave the crowd a chance to warm up. Karl read the lyrics off of a music stand, which cut back on the energy of the piece a bit. It was the only sign all night that they were at all out of practice. Although, to his credit, Luetin doesn't really make any sense, so he can't really be blamed, except for writing it in the first place.

Luetin video

They followed Luetin with New Train, which is some variation (perhaps in name only) of Dark Train. It was a great choice, and one the crowd definitely appreciated. During Dark Train, the video screen behind them kicked into overdrive with a barrage of images, clipping through them at an incredible pace. The screen continued to change throughout the night, sometimes showing live video of Karl or Rick and Darren, sometimes filmed video of Rick and Karl, sometimes photos or other video, and even vintage Atari games — Asteroid, Space Invaders, and finally Pong.

New Train/Dark Train video — this is the cleanest video I've been able to find out of the concert, although you can't really hear the big Underworld bass.

Crocodile sounded great live. It was very danceable and the crowd responded very well to it. Definitely the next Big Underworld Dance Song.

Crocodile video

It took the crowd a little while to catch on to Pearl's Girl, but it still sounds as good as it ever has. I really liked the multimedia screen during this one — words in varying font sizes flashing across the screen so fast I wondered what Underworld was subliminally dropping into my brain.

Pearl's Girl video — this is the best one I could run back across but I feel like I've seen one that's less jerky and lets you see the video better. If I track it back down I'll replace it here.

Beautiful Burnout / Biro the Leggy was a little slower and a little heavy on the vocoder for my taste, but still definitely danceable. I'm very curious to hear how it sounds on the album. I think there were some layers that didn't translate well live, and some of my favorite Underworld songs are just too intricate to really work live. They play Dirty Epic rarely (although they did play it in Denver...Denver also got Moaner — so jealous) and I don't think Banstyle/Sappys Curry ever left the studio.

Beautiful Burnout / BTL video

Beautiful-whatever-it-was was well-positioned, because the next song was a huge, sparkling version of Two Months Off, which had the crowd jumping up and down and screaming, "You bring light in, to a dark place." It was sometime before Two Months Off that they busted out these giant inflatable air tubes to video of Rick and Karl messing around with them in a giant field. The air tubes seemed a little weird at first but they became part of the show, repositioned by the crew periodically and lit up to go with the music, and they worked remarkably well.

Two Months Off — The audio is really fuzzy, but you can see the air tubes and the bouncy crowd

When I finally heard where they were going after the improv period, I exlaimed "Rowla!" Talk about a song that translates well live — it lost the delicacy of the album but was driving, booming, and very danceable.

Rowla video

Glam Bucket was dense and experimental, something to sway to, which was good, because I realized at this point just how much my knee hurt. Normally, if Karl's on the guitar, it's just one of many layers of sound, but you could definitely hear it in this one. I love those little guitar moments in a lot of Underworld songs, so this is another one I can't wait to hear on the new album.

Glam Bucket video

Glam Bucket gave the crowd a chance to rest up, which is good, because Underworld was about to launch into an impossibly spectacular string of songs. Before I go into those, though, some general observations:

1. Underworld puts on a multimedia show. Granted, it's a multimedia show where the music is the obvious star. but between the music, Karl Hyde's crazy antics on the stage, the lights, the smoke, the glowy air tubes and the video screen, there's a whole lot going on. Combine that with dancing and I was in total sensory overload for two-plus hours, but that was part of what made it so oustanding.

2. Karl Hyde is awesome. I knew this already, but I finally got to see it in person. He looked like he was having an absolute blast up there, dancing around. If you saw him bust out some of the moves he pulls at a club, you'd probably stare and go, "what's up with that guy?" Because, let's face it, we're all a little reserved and always trying to make sure we don't do something uncool. But Karl Hyde comes out in front of thousands of people with his arms flung up in the air, dancing around like someone who doesn't care what anyone else thinks about his dancing. And he pulls it off with such joy, such willingness to just embrace the music, that you feel jealous, and then realize that you're released to do the same thing — throw your arms in the air and just go with the music. It's a very powerful feeling. Karl didn't stay in the spotlight the whole night, though. He generally hung back by the deck whenever he was playing the guitar, and sometimes went to the back of the stage and danced there. It made us focus on Rick, who was Very Seriously bent over the deck the entire night like he was doing surgery, and Darren Price, who kept darting around with a hand on his headphones.

So with that said, now it's time to descend into the brilliance that was the best version of Rez/Cowgirl I've ever heard, and I don't say that lightly. Out of a big booming improv bass-y piece, they pulled out the lyrics "everything, everything," over and over again, and it really seemed like they were going to play Cowgirl without Rez, which is pretty much sacrilegious. The loop slowed down and the lyrics distorted, and they slid in the twangy beginning to Cowgirl, and I thought, "wow, they really are going to play Cowgirl without Rez," and I honestly felt a little cheated.

Oh, me of little faith. Out of the twang came just the slightest few electronic pops, and then it slid perfectly into the beginning of Rez, at which point I started screaming and turned to Melvin and yelled, "You can't play Cowgirl without Rez!" with a giant grin on my face. The crowd was already super riled up at this point, and when the song hit that big Rez crescendo, which will never, ever, get old, they went apeshit, myself included. I didn't even consciously think about it — I just HAD to jump up and down and wave my hands in the air with the rest of the crowd.

The transition to Cowgirl was flawless, and Karl sounded great. The crowd was singing along with him — thousands of people yelling, "I'm invisible, I'm invisible." If it wasn't already, it was clear at this point that despite a long hiatus filled only with scattered concert dates, online-only releases and soundtracks, Underworld hasn't lost a thing (or a beat, if you prefer a bad pun). The crowd had huge energy, all the way through to the end, but how could they not?

Rez/Cowgirl 1 — don't turn the volume up on this one too high because it's pretty fuzzy, but it's the only one I've been able to find so far that has the Cowgirl tease at the beginning, through to Rez. I am so hoping that they release audio of this concert, particularly this song.

Rez/Cowgirl 2 — the Cowgirl half of the above video. Again, don't turn it up too high.

Rez with cleaner sound (although less bass)

I was a little sad when they started the opening to Born Slippy Nuxx, because I figured that was it, save maybe for an encore, and the concert would be over soon. But then it kicked into gear and I got caught up in the music, telling myself to just enjoy the hell out of what was left.

Some bands, I think, play their big hit with a little weariness, maybe even a little contempt, like they can't believe they have to trot out the damn song every night. There was none of that with Underworld. It was more, here it is, we're all having so much fun, we know you guys love this song, and it is what it is. And of course the crowd went nuts, jumping up and down, fists pumping the air, despite the fact that we'd all just expended so much energy during Rez/Cowgirl. It goes without saying that we all shouted "Lager! Lager! Lager! Lager!" when the time came.

Born Slippy Nuxx — the sound's about as good on this one as you're going to get, although every video I've found of Born Slippy looks like complete and utter chaos because the cameraman is getting jarred so badly.

Born Slippy Nuxx (different clip)— I mentioned smoke earlier when I was talking about multimedia, and you can see what I was talking about here. The smoke and the lights in time with the music look outstanding. Turn down your volume, though, because it's pretty fuzzy. Lager! Lager! Lager! Lager!

When Born Slippy was over, it quickly became clear that they still weren't done, and then, after a transition period, they brought out King of Snake, and the crowd went nuts again. It was an extremely high energy version, with the big I Feel Love bass line cycling around quickly, Karl spinning around in the back of the stage and the camera, like, Blair Witch close on his face. I was dancing on adrenaline at this point — the music sounded so good, there was no way I couldn't keep moving.

King of Snake 1 — The sound's reasonable on this one, and it's even pretty still.

King of Snake 2 — Second half of the above clip

They really did end it after King of Snake, although they were back quickly for an encore. It was Jumbo, which is actually my least favorite Underworld song. But I wanted the concert to keep going, and I actually liked the song much better when it was live and I was there, swaying and clapping with the rest of the crowd.

Jumbo 1

Jumbo 2

Jumbo 3

Jumbo wasn't nearly enough to unwind my brain. As we followed the stream of people out through the dark, tree-lined paths of Central Park, I felt stunned. My feet were so sore I could hardly walk, and I kept asking myself, "did that really happen?"

Hands-down the best concert I have ever been to. I thought that seeing them once would be enough, but if they come back to the US again, I am so definitely there. And if they don't, well, I can think of worse reasons to go to Europe.

Concert pictures on Flickr:


You bring light in to a dark place

Melvin and I, pre-concert.

So this weekend I did two things I've yet to do in life. One was visit New York (not sure how it came to be that I never made it there before now, but I didn't), and the other is see Underworld live.

So Melvin and I took the train up to New York, where we went to a concert that was AMAZING. I tried not to get my hopes up, because Underworld hasn't done much more than play scattered dates in the last few years, and because I thought that nothing could possibly live up to my expectations of their live show.

Turns out they WAY exceeded my expectations and completely blew my mind. There will be much more later, when I get my truly mammoth blog post done, but I wanted to at least get a post and a picture up now. Sadly, I didn't want to take my digital camera because I had visions of it being crushed or smashed underfoot, so I got a little disposable job. Despite 1000 speed film, most of my pictures didn't come out, and those that did are still grainy (I think I am done with film). Fortunately, I realized that out of all of those people holding up digital cameras in front of me, at least some of them were going to post their photos on Flickr. And they did. So there will be links, and lots of them.

For now, go listen to the new single Crocodile.


"The weather is never like this here"

We heard that a lot during our cruise, as we apparently rode a fine jet of globally warmed air throughout Canada and New England. No rain, a little fog, and a lot of sun (too much in Boston).

I've already posted 360-some photos, so I won't go too detail-crazy here, but I thought I'd post a little about each of the ports and the cruise itself.

Portland, Maine

My parents had already been here several times and they really like it. Our tour started with Victoria Mansion, which I don't have any photos of because nearly everything inside is antique or a painstakingly done reproduction, but this crazy-ornate mansion was really interesting to see.

The rest of the tour was totally disorganized, although kind of hilarious. It consisted primarily of the woman who was our tour guide trying to decide where to go next, and then telling the bus driver when it was almost too late for him to do anything about it. She was all, "Turn here! Wait, no, turn left there!" We kept waiting for the driver to turn down a street and get stuck, thus having to back out. That didn't happen, but he did run a red light, and at another point the tour guide actually shushed my sister, who was not talking loudly at all. The whole thing did beg the question — hadn't they done this tour before? And if not, why didn't they plan it out in advance.

Portland, though, was very nice, despite our chaotic route through it. After the tour, we walked around and did some shopping. I bought blueberry wine, which I've yet to drink, but I find very intriguing. One thing that was really cool about Portland is that most of the shops and even the restaurants allow dogs. As a result, there are dogs EVERYWHERE. Most of them were very quiet and well-behaved. It's too bad we didn't have Rex for this portion of the trip. I told my Mom she'd just have to bring him back.

Bar Harbor, Maine

There had been a little bit of fog heading in to Portland, but nothing like what we woke up to heading in to Bar Harbor. It was solid fog, and the ship was sounding the fog horn regularly. The fog was so bad that when we got there, they had to delay the ship's tenders (Bar Harbor was the only port where the ship couldn't dock). We had an early tour and it was canceled because no one could get to shore. No, I don't have any idea why they didn't just delay it.

Because we still had tour tickets, we were able to take the first tender once they started running them, and got on an Ollie's Trolley tour of Acadia National Park. The Park was really beautiful, and we were lucky that the fog lifted enough for us to go to the top of Cadillac Mountain (which is really more of a hill, but is still apparently the tallest point on the east coast) and see.

After the tour, we went to a little sandwich stand for lobster rolls. I believe it's called the Lobster Claw, but I could be wrong on that one. If you're ever in Bar Harbor, definitely go. It's not much in the line of space or decor, but it reinforces that theory that the best seafood is in the the places that look like a hole. We got the rolls that are just fresh lobster on lettuce and bread, with some butter on the side to drizzle over it. Definitely the best lobster I've ever had.

Fortified for shopping, we did just that. Bar Harbor is a small but really charming town. It reminds me of a cross between Key West and Put-in-Bay.

Saint John, Canada

So, in hindsight, an error in strategy. My Dad, sister and I, as the family beer drinkers, had pegged the city highlights and Moosehead beer tasting tour as something we wanted to do. Tour + beer = good.

So the tour starts with us going over to the Reversing Falls. Now, the Reversing Falls is a really interesting phenomenon, caused by huge tide changes, but you apparently have to see it several times in one day (at high tide and low tide) to really get the impact. When we went, it was slack tide, which means we just saw a big boring body of water. Also, what we didn't realize about the Reversing Falls is that on the opposite side of the river from the viewing platform is a giant factory, which was dumping something into the river. I have no idea what that something is and if it's okay or bad for the environment, but the whole thing is not very picturesque. Does Canada have an EPA?

After the Reversing Falls, we drove around some and then the tour dropped us off at the market. The market is extremely old and was built by a wooden shipbuilder (the ceiling is just like an upside-down ship). It was bigger than Eastern Market in DC and definitely bustling.

Then it was time for the beer tasting. I'm all for beer tasting, but I think we all agreed by this time that we would have been better off just skipping the tour and going to a bar and drinking Moosehead. Perhaps with a trip to the market or some more fresh lobster.

Halifax, Canada

We did a hop-on, hop-off British double decker bus tour here. I originally thought this was going to be on British-style double-decker buses. But they actually turned out to be old London buses, complete with Transport for London stickers and the driver (and exits, somewhat dangerously) on the wrong side for Canada. Awesome.

I like hop-on, hop-off better than standard tours, because if you like things, you can stay as long as you want, and if they're lame, you're not stuck there. Our first stop was the Citadel, and it was actually the best one. The Citadel is a fort on the top of a hill, and it vaguely reminded me of a smaller Tower of London, except with no crown jewels. There were "soldiers" (all of them were actually civilians) drilling in kilts, and a series of mini-museums in the walls of the fort on various aspects of Canadian and British warfare. It was very well-done.

Our next hop-off was the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which had a lot more hype — maybe more than anything could have stood up to. It was still nice, though. There was a signal ship, the CSS Acadia, that you could walk through, and a series of exhibits. One of the exhibits was on the Titanic (Halifax was instrumental in the rescue effort, and many of the dead are buried there). People were quick to point out that none of the items in the museum were pulled up from the ship — they're all things that were found floating during the rescue effort. I personally was hoping there'd be a little more of a British bent to things. Maybe I'll have to go to Greenwich some day for that.

We finished our day shopping at Pier 21, which was where the cruise ship docked. It was a major immigration center for Canada.

Boston, Massachusetts

It was HOT in Boston — we heard it got up to 100 degrees, and I'd believe it. If it hadn't been so hot, I'd say that the tour we took was not the way to go. Boston, like any major city, has major traffic, and our tour bus spent a lot of time navigating that traffic and not actually covering a lot of ground. But it was air-conditioned, which was a major bonus.

Our first stop was a Trinity Church, but only briefly. The tour guide said that if you'd seen any of the major churches in England, it wouldn't be very impressive, and he was right. After last year's London trip, I felt pretty eh about it.

The tour went over to Cambridge to the Harvard campus. The campus itself, at least the old portion, wasn't as expansive as I thought it was going to be. My sister wondered why it looked so much bigger than the movies. Memorial Hall, though, was very impressive — it looks like a church, but was built as a memorial to alumni who died in the Civil War. In addition to the memorial, it houses more pedestrian things like a cafeteria.

The next stop was at Old North Church, where the church sexton hung a lantern on the night of Paul Revere's ride to warn everyone that the British were coming. At that point it was the highest place in Boston. The inside of the church is still much as it was then, and although it's not as large or grand as even Trinity Church, I enjoyed it because it had such a role in history and was so well-preserved.

We got a glimpse of the USS Constitution before the tour dropped those who wanted to get off at Quincy Market. We opted to get off there, and grabbed some lunch. There was going to be some definite shopping involved after lunch by my mom and sister, but as I'm a ship nerd, I wasn't about to pass up a chance to see the Constitution, so I walked over to see the ship. It was HOT, but it actually felt really good to walk on land.

The Constitution was hands down my favorite thing from the trip. It is the oldest floating commissioned ship in the world, at 209 years old, and it is just amazing to me that something that old not only floats, but actually goes out for the occasional sail, and even has her guns fired occasionally. I did the guided tour, which meant we got to go down to the gun deck and the berth deck.

Seeing "Old Ironsides" is probably the most literary geeky thing I've ever done, but I am so glad I went. The ship is contemporary to, and even part of one of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels, and to actually stand in it and get an idea of the perspective of the ships already so well described by O'Brian was awesome. That aside, it's a huge part of United States history, and really a miracle of preservation.

The cruise ship

We were on the Grandeur of the Seas again. We previously sailed on that ship two years ago to go to the Caribbean (it sails out of Baltimore, so it was convenient then, and was even more convenient now).

This time, though, I actually got seasick for the first time in six cruises. It was on the day I was walking around in the heat in Boston, which may have been a contributing factor, but my sister got sick as well. We were both sitting "backwards" at dinner, and the more the ship moved and the more I ate the more I felt like I might throw up. Generally I have no problem with rough seas -- I didn't get sick at all on the Century when we went through a storm with pretty big waves for a cruise ship to handle. But in this not-very-rough sea, the ship had this weird side-to-side vibration thing going. Normally the thing to do if you're getting seasick is to look at the waves and the horizon, but the waves and horizon weren't in synch with the motion of the ship. Ugh.

Although I've had a lot of fun during the cruise portion of our previous cruises, I think this was the one that reinforced that land-based vacations are really more my thing. Royal Caribbean, at least on this ship, is a little light on entertainment, particularly decent music performers. Unlike on land, you can't just go to a bar and drink. You can just go to a bar and drink on a cruise ship, but you'll have to listen to the easy-listening duo cover "I'm just a gigolo" for the 405th time. Uh, pass on that. I don't know why more cruise ships don't do what the S/S Norway did, which is to create an actual club and play actual good music during hours that make sense. The Norway's club didn't have any windows, and it actually looked like a club — you really felt like you were in a real land-based club.

The food was generally good, but there's always a certain point in a cruise where I actually get tired of eating. Except dessert. Heh. This is actually one of the things that amuses me about Royal Caribbean, though. You see their commercials and it's all, "You're exercising! You're jet-skiing! You're climbing a rock wall! You're walking on glaciers! You're not a normal cruiser!" And then you get on the actual cruise and people are all like, "What time is the midnight buffet?" This is actually a legitimate question, although cruise directors never fail to make fun of it, because the midnight buffet NEVER ACTUALLY STARTS AT MIDNIGHT. Anyway, maybe the people on Alaskan cruises are more active or something.

There were definitely some enjoyable things on the cruise itself. The Grandeur had a very good Beatles cover band (I think they make a loop on the Royal Caribbean ships in the area) the last time we were on the ship, and they played again. A Beatles cover band is a great idea. There should be more. But only if they don't suck. I didn't read quite as many books as I'd brought, but I got through quite a few, often in the "Solarium," a very nice enclosed pool, or in a lounge chair on the lower side deck.

So, all in all, a great trip. Now I need to start planning a new one. At this time last year I still had London to look forward to. Guess I need to get back to work on learning to speak Italian.


I'm back

So if you were thinking to yourself, "I think Carrie's family cruise is coming up soon. Maybe I'll get a postcard from her." Well, you were partly right. The cruise was last week, however, no postcards because I am a lazy slacker. Sorry. Heh.

BUT I do have so many pictures.

Words later. It has taken me several days just to get through the pictures and get them all posted.


Midwest musings

Okay, how glad am I that this didn't happen while we were in the arch?

Seeing that article reminded me to post about something else, though. For whatever reason, lately I seem to have been involved in a lot of conversations as to whether or not Ohio is actually in the Midwest. At the time, though, the only other option for Ohio was to be in the East. Ohio is definitely not in the East. I lived there for 26 years and now live in Maryland and, yeah, definitely not the East. At the same time, there are clearly a lot of states in the Midwest that are way more Midwestern than Ohio

So I have been doing some thinking about this and I think the issue is with trying to take Ohio as a whole state and stick it somewhere. Because really there are two parts to Ohio.

There is the area up around the Great Lakes. Let's call it the Great Lakes Area of Demarcation, or GLAD. It actually extends pretty far south, even into the Akron area, which is where I grew up. I would venture to say that the GLAD extends west at least into Michigan, if not through all of the Great Lakes border states. Chicago is definitely in the GLAD.

There are some easy ways to tell if you live in the GLAD. If you get lake effect snow, can see seagulls, and know at least 25% of the words to "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," then you live in the GLAD. You get extra GLAD cred (and possibly cancer many years from now) if you have not only been up to the lake frequently, but have also swam in that nastiness.

The GLAD helps explain things like why everyone in Northeast Ohio thinks the state stops below Canton. Also, why only some people in Ohio will get it if you make a joke about the gales of November coming early.

So that leaves us to work out the rest of the state. That part I would call the Southern Midwestern Unidentified Shit, or the SMUSh. I am taking suggestions for something better that starts with Sh.

If you live in the SMUSh, you definitely not in the GLAD, or the Midwest, or the South. You are in some odd middle ground that has characteristics of each, but no true identity. Cincinnati falls squarely in the SMUSh, but the SMUSh extends south through Northern Kentucky, until you get into the true South.

The only part of this theory I can't really reconcile is Columbus. Columbus is a freak.


If you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a jacket

Especially if you are me. Because I am cold all the time. Why am I going on all these vacations to places colder than where I live?

So it's occurred to me that if I don't get to blogging about San Francisco, I may never get around to it, with trip #2 (family cruise) approaching rapidly. So here are the highlights that come to mind.

We kicked off (after a trip to Whole Foods for wine and Smartwater) things with a boat trip that took us under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was nearly open ocean and the boat was rocking pretty good, which was fun. I've only ever seen the bridge in pictures/video, so it was really cool to be so close to it. I love art deco, so San Francisco was just full of eye candy. We also rode past Alcatraz, which was really just enough Alcatraz for me.

We ate a lot of really good food while we were there, but one of my favorite things was sharing a loaf of super-fresh sourdough bread after the boat trip. Combined with espresso, it was yummy. Side note: I have to love a city where you can get an espresso every 10 feet.

We went to a Giants game the next day, had lots of beer and food, and watched the Giants win like 13-0. AT&T Park or whatever corporate sponsor it's named after now is really beautiful, but the giant Coke bottle in left field really bugged. Kind of ruins the classic look...

This was the night we went to Cafe Vesuvio and drank too many shots of Fernet. Eileen had read it described as like drinking Robitussin and getting punched in the nose. I think that was pretty accurate. Cafe Vesuvio was really cool, though, and we managed to write some haikus (previously posted) while drinking.

On Monday, we drove out to Berkeley to visit the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory. I was feeling a little funky from the Fernet, but massive amounts of chocolate samples definitely helped with that. There were hairnets involved, and I spent a whole lot of money on chocolate at the gift shop.

After Scharffen Berger, we had planned to go to 826 Valencia (aka the pirate store), but they were closed for inventory. Arrrrrrrgh! So we went to Lombard Street instead, where Eileen and Josh serenaded us with their rendition of "Mr. Jones" as we drove down the crazy-crooked street. I have video but I can't seem to get it to work with any program on my computer. One of these days hopefully I will post it. Then we ALL proceeded to rock out to "Electric Avenue" as we drove through Nob Hill. That probably sounds totally bizarre if you were not there, but trust me, it was freaking hilarious. Sadly, no video of that.

We then went to Haight-Ashbury for patchouli smelling, record buying, and drinks at yet another awesome hip bar that Eileen had heard about (how does she DO that?). Turns out, a friend of Josh's was working there, and he invited us out to karaoke that night. It was a totally random thing to do, but we are totally random people. There was much singing, including Eileen's first-ever karaoke appearance to ring in her 30th birthday -- with a shot of Fernet in hand.

Tuesday, my last full day in San Francisco, was hangover day for quite a few of us, but not me. I have my mild disagreement with Fernet the day before to thank for that, I think. It made me take it a little slower. Heh. We went on another tour this day -- this time the Anchor Steam Brewery. It was cool to see a brewery on an entirely different scale from Budweiser. And the samples, again, were excellent.

We did make it to the pirate store again, and this time it was open. I like to think that I showed good self restraint in only buying as much as I did. Heh.

We wound down the day with a delicious birthday dinner for Eileen, and yummy drinks up on the top floor of our hotel.

It was an awesome trip, and once again made me grateful to have friends who like to do things like fly to far-off coasts to party it up and rock down to electric avenue.


Out of the Fernet fog

In today's installment of the San Francisco catch-up, I give you...pictures! I'll explain what's actually in the pictures later. Maybe.

And haikus written in Cafe Vesuvio amidst shots of Fernet by various members of our troop:

You want a haiku?
Here's your fucking haiku, bitch
Sorry, that was mean

Fernet shot hits my nose
Wow that really packs a punch
Let's have one more round

Arnold's in the 'Nati
There's no air conditioning
That's a damn bitch, dude

We're out of haikus
I throw a flag on that play
Get rhyming, bitches


The Ballad of United 218

I am back from San Francisco, and it was outstanding. There will be photos and haikus and all sorts of other awesomeness shortly, but I decided to begin with the end. It is freshest in my mind. Also, photos are going to be uploading to Flickr for like an hour because there are A LOT. I'm sure that comes as a surprise to you all.

So the first four hours of my flight back were pretty uneventful. Well, except for realizing that the BART doesn't start running until 8 a.m. on holidays, and that was not going to be an option to get to the airport for my 10 a.m. flight. I ran back to the Marriott all, help!, and they directed me to the Super Shuttle, which was only $16, and left shortly thereafter, so that was not too bad. (Dearest blog readers, if any of you are going to SF and want a $5.15 BART card, send me an email and it's yours...first come first served).

So I got to the airport with plenty of time to buy the refrigerator magnet I had not yet managed to buy, and also some post-security wine (I was not about to pack wine in my checked luggage). And all is well until right before we should be landing, when the captain announces that there are storms over Dulles and we can't land yet, so we're going to circle around about 70 miles away.

I am sitting in the aisle, because I have in my United profile that I prefer aisle, and United almost always delivers. It is about at this time that I began to want to smack the woman in the window seat of my row. She asks the guy next to her, whom she's traveling with (brother? husband?), what happens if they circle so much they run out of fuel.

Yes, you know, it really sucks when they just let the planes run out of fuel. It's why you read about them dropping from the sky all the time.

So after we've been flying in circles for awhile, the captain announces that we will indeed be going to Pittsburgh for refueling. We land there and taxi over to a gate, and wait for the refueling truck. It takes awhile for it to get there, but it does eventually, and we get fuel.

We were actually at a gate, and it was my understanding that we could get out of the plane and go shopping in the Pittsburgh terminal, which has a full mall. I opted not to, because with my luck I would have missed the flight. We took on a bunch more passengers whose flight to Dulles had been canceled.

We sit there for a long time. The captain announces that they're having a hard time restarting the right engine. They are going to get a mechanic to come along and do a "stick start", which apparently means they will stick some part into the engine and wiggle it around and start the engine. I am mildly concerned about flying back to DC in this plane, but I figure they know what they're doing. The woman in the window seat is pissed and whines a lot. Dulles is still at a ground stop, so we are not really losing any time that could be made up.

Somebody asks about food, and the United attendants come around with another round of pretzels and water. The mechanic shows up, and doesn't have the right part.

The mechanic comes back, and still doesn't have the right part. I do not fully understand how they do not have the right part for a Boeing 757, but since Pittsburgh isn't a hub for them I don't think United regularly flies anything this big in to that airport. Dulles is still at a ground stop.

The woman in the window seat begins whining in earnest. I really really really want to tell her off but I bite my lip. Seriously. They EVACUATED THE CONTROL TOWER at Dulles due to the tornado threat. Regardless of what is happening with our plane, the amount of chaos that had to cause is not going to be something that airport recovers from quickly. It's going to take time to get planes going again and work out priority for who takes off.

The captain announces that they've borrowed a part from US Air. Ground stop at Dulles is lifted. We make the 35 minute flight to DC, and all in all we lost about 3 hours.

The fight attendants ask the people who are trying to make connecting flights to raise their hands. They ask everyone on the plane to look around at the hands and let these people get off the plane first. I specifically asked the guy next to me if he's trying to make a connecting flight. They're not.

The plane lands and comes to a stop. The connecting flight people start pulling down their carry-ons and rushing out of the plane. Window-seat woman suddenly decides that she has been on the plane too long and cannot wait another 5 minutes to get off. She says she's been sitting there this whole time and she wants off this plane NOW. Sitting there that whole time is her own damn fault, since I've gotten up multiple times, and guy with her has gotten up, and she's never asked to get up, which I do not mention.

Instead I just stand up and open our overhead bin and pull out my wine and other bag of souvenirs very very slowly, primarily to piss her off. Then I sit back down and wait as the connecting flight people continue to file out.

But window seat woman is GETTING OFF THIS PLANE RIGHT NOW. I try to tell her that I'm trying to let the people with connecting flights try to make their flights, but she barges through her traveling companion, and I have to pull my legs up onto the seat so she won't bruise past me, too. She cuts in front of the connecting flight people, yanks down her giant carry-on suitcase, and leaves.

I was kind of totally flabbergasted by that level of assholishness. I took heart in the fact that she has damaged her karma so significantly that at some point in her life she WILL miss a connecting flight and will probably end up sleeping on an airport floor, miserable and no doubt whining the whole time.

I thanked the flight attendants as I left and told them they did an excellent job. They did as well as they possibly could, particularly as people got cranky. A lot of people were mad at United, but it's not United's fault there was a thunderstorm.

I did learn some important things during the whole ordeal. One is that they're not kidding about being prepared to sit on the tarmac for a long time. We were at a gate, but I was still very very glad that I had bought a water before I got on the plane, and that I had a nice supply of Kashi bars and other snacks. I was also very glad that I had thought to pack an extra book, even though I wasn't sure if I'd finish the one I was reading. I did, and I ended up reading a good chunk of the extra book while we were sitting there, which may be one of the reasons why I was much less cranky than some of my fellow passengers.

The other thing that was reinforced for me is that if you cannot easily lift your carry-on over your head and keep it in control, you should not be carrying it on. Aside from window bitch, I've seen a number of people struggling with massive carry-ons. It's bad enough when you're just trying to get off the plane with no huge rush, but if you are in a situation like the connecting flight people, being able to whip your carry-on out in seconds and start walking helps you get off the plane faster, not to mention the people behind you.


Massive update

So it has been a very long time since have blogged, and that is primarily because June was crazy. I suppose it is time for an update.

1. Eileen and Jeff came out to visit over Memorial Day weekend, and much fun was had. I finally got to meet Melissa in person, which was v. cool, and Melvin joined us for our Baltimore adventure. The Orioles and seafood were involved. That's all of us there in the picture. Photos on Flickr

2. Not long after that, it was time for the second round of visitors. My parents brought my grandfather out to see the World War II memorial and the rest of the city. We did Tourmobile, and my dad and I got off at the Vietnam memorial. I hadn't been there since I moved out here, and had only been there once in 8th grade. It definitely has a different emotional resonance at my age than it did in 8th grade. If you are like me and haven't seen it as an adult, I definitely recommend it, but be prepared to cry. We caught up with my mom and grandfather at the World War II memorial. All in all a good trip, and my grandfather said he really enjoyed himself. Photos on Flickr

3. Pretty much immediately after they left it was time to turn around for another visitor — my friend Tanya, this time. It is amazing, despite having so many visitors in such a short time, I really did almost entirely different things with everyone. Tanya and I hit a ton of museums, including some I hadn't yet been to, so another v. fun visit. Photos on Flickr

4. Now it is time for ME to travel (although my parents are in town again at the end of next week because my dad has a work thing). Up this weekend — San Francisco, for Eileen's transcontinental birthday bash. Then at the end of July it's time for the annual family cruise. This time to Canada/New England, which should be fun. I'll get to go to both San Francisco and Boston for the first time this year, and...

5. I am going to see Underworld!!! They are playing in Central Park on Sept. 14, and Melvin, Katherine, Eric and I all have tickets already. I am crazy excited for this. I have never seen them live and have always wanted to so so much. And, oddly enough, I have never been to New York, either (which is really inexcusable now that I am a 2-hour train ride away), so that'll be another major U.S. city crossed off the to-visit list.

6. Putting a slight damper on San Francisco is a mystery leg problem I seem to have developed. Last week I looked down at my calf and there was a giant bruise that I couldn't remember getting. No, I hadn't been drinking. Much. The bruise kept going down in size but over the last couple days I have been experiencing odd random pains, tingling and numbness in my leg. Sometimes it feels like a shin splint. Sometimes my knee (this is, of course, the leg with my bad knee) hurts. So today I went to the doctor and he wasn't too alarmed, which I took as a good sign. I did have to get x-rays but they won't send them to the doctor until I'm already in SF. So hopefully I will not get a call on Monday telling me that a legkillerapede has burrowed into my calf or something. Fortunately, I can walk on it pretty well. It's actually sitting and standing that it hurts the most.

7. The good news that came out of the visit to the doctor today is that my cholesterol, which had come back as absurdly high for someone my at my age and fitness level, has dropped 90 points. Or they screwed up the test in the first place. Being that I've done little different except eat less meat and more blueberries, and I'm taking a B vitamin, I'm going to go with the screwup. Either that or Trader Joe's B vitamins are miraculous.

8. Is anything from China not contaminated with dangerous things?


Excellent news

Some little items instead of the usual long-winded blog post from me.

Firstly, my sister, who's also graduating next Saturday, is engaged! So many, many congratulations to Jessica and Mike!

And happy belated birthday to Kelly and Kari!

This weekend is the first weekend in awhile where I'm not totally jam-packed. So I get to think of something fun and DC to do. And maybe also spend time planning my two July vacations — San Francisco and the family cruise to New England/Canada. Yes, not exactly the best spacing that my trips are at the beginning and end of July, but I look at it as I am going to have one rocking July.


Sunny Sunday

So today was the first really nice day that I also didn't have anything scheduled and didn't have to work. Since it was also Earth Day I decided I should bum around DC in the sun and not take my car anywhere. It was a pretty good plan, until I got back exhausted, hit Google Maps Pedometer and realized I'd walked about 7 miles, combined. Needless to say I am skipping the exercise bike today.

First I went to the National Art Gallery to catch "Paris in Transition" before it leaves next week. I love black and white photographs, particularly of urban scenes, so I'm really glad I managed to get down there.

I had myself a little picnic by the tidal basin, which is quite possibly my favorite place around here so far. Even with kids screaming and whatnot, it feels peaceful to me. Guess it must be the water. The only bad part was that my allergies were going berserk, so I couldn't stay long.

I did need to get some produce, so I went to check out Eastern Market. It is much smaller than I expected, and I'm not a fan of flea markets, but I did get some good-looking, cheap fruits and veggies, so I can't really complain.

I had to lug my fruits and veggies around my next stop, the National Zoo, so that was not necessarily good planning, but at least some animal didn't attack me and steal them. The National Zoo is big, free, and looks to be very well kept up. I didn't see an enormous amount of it — I just wanted to check it out and get some idea of what was there. And apparently I was not the only person who thought "it's warm, it's a great day for the zoo!" So it was pretty packed.

Here are pictures from the day.

All in all a fun day, and I am going to sleep so well tonight. My only complaint is that I had to buy a day pass for the Metro. I have a SmarTrip card, which you load with cash and then swipe per journey, which is much more convenient to use than the cards, which you have to stick through a slot. London's subway system uses something similar, called an Oyster card, and they guarantee that the max charge per day on the Oyster card will always be less than a day pass. DC Metro makes no such guarantee, and as a result, you get charged per journey all day if you use it for a lot of stops. So I had to buy the day pass, and I'm standing there at the Smithsonian Metro like a touron trying to get my card in the slot because I haven't used one since, like, my first week here. If Metro really wants people to use SmarTrip cards more because they're faster and less wasteful, they need to start putting a cap on the daily maximum on your card.


The breath-catching weekend

So my double weekends of crazy traveling are done. Cincinnati for a most awesome St. Patty's day weekend and then Las Vegas for the IA Summit, which was excellent.

Vegas would not be my first choice for a trip (or even in the top 10), but I still have fun there. It didn't hurt that I left up about $25 on the slots. High roller me puts in $5 or $10 a night, so there was really a range of leaving up $25 or leaving down $25 that I could have fallen into.

It also helped that I went with my friend and fellow IA Katherine. The last time I was in Vegas was for her wedding, so that was weird but also kind of awesome.

The conference was very good (so. many. ideas.) and I do really enjoy walking the strip and gaping (this time I wore sandals that normally stand up to anything, but my feet haven't had time to toughen up for sandals, and we did a TON of walking, so I had bloody stumps Saturday night), and Vegas people watching is the best. Also the scariest.

Highlight: On Friday night we went to the Vegas Hofbrauhaus. Which means that I did indeed to go two of the three Hofbrauhauses in the world within one week. I feel like that's some kind of accomplishment. Now I just have to get to the Munich one...

I have to say, though, I prefer the Newport Hofbrauhaus. It is cozier and less sterile — it's designed to be a place you go to reasonably frequently, whereas the Vegas one looks like it's set up so you can go in, have your German beer hall experience, and never come back. The lager was still Hofbrau tasty, but the menu was totally different (no pretzels and bier cheese!!!). And the biergarten was not actually outside...it had one of those Vegas cloud-painted blue ceilings. So, uh, go Newport. Man, I miss the Hofbrauhaus already.

But anyway, photos are Flickred.

After all the crazy traveling, it was time to kick back this weekend. I did do way extended happy hour Friday, and went to see Madeleine Albright speak at the Rockville Borders. Still getting used to living in an area where Madeleine Albright can just drop into the local Borders. Heh. Aside from that there has been much cleaning of my disaster area apartment. Yuck.


(Sham)rockin' weekend

So my St. Patty's day in Cincinnati was super-super fun, as I thought it would be. Not much time for lengthy blogging, but it included some of the things I have really missed since I left:

1. My Cinci friends
2. AOI's spicy tuna roll
3. Hofbrau lager

There was also Irish breakfast, our annual tradition. And many, many hours of drinking Guinness. A total winner of a weekend, if you are Carrie.

There are photos up on my Flickr.

I do have to note two airport fouls at BWI, though:

1. The TWO people behind me who tried to get big liquid items through security in their carry-ons. Have you been living under a rock for the last 6 months? Were you completely oblivious to the 800,000 signs EVERYWHERE?

2. The TSA screener on the machine who told one of them "You're gonna go to jail" in a taunting, sing-song voice. Just because they are dumbasses doesn't mean you need to act as unprofessional as possible. Do us all a favor and watch the freaking x-ray machine.


Poor old 'Lady'

This is a prodigiously long blog post, but it's something I've been meaning to write about for awhile.

So, my family likes to cruise. It's been our family vacation every year for many years now, and as a result I've cruised on four different lines — Norwegian, Celebrity, Carnival (blech) and Royal Caribbean. We've largely gone to different areas of the Caribbean, although last year we went to Bermuda, and this year we're doing a New England/Canada thing.

When I mention this to people, they often ask what my favorite cruise was, or what was my favorite place to go. Favorite cruise, hands down, was our first, on the SS Norway:

Doesn't look like your usual McMegaCruiseShip, does it? That's because the Norway was built as the SS France, one of the last (along with the Queen Elizabeth 2) Transatlantic ocean liners.

The France, which for a long time was the longest ship in the world, didn't have a very long career as an ocean liner. By the time she came out, flights had become a more popular way to cross the Atlantic. By the mid-70s, the ship was mothballed, until it was resurrected by Norwegian Cruise Lines to serve as a Caribbean cruise ship, and rechristened the SS Norway.

While the ship doesn't look like one of those giant floating plastic things that run laps around the Caribbean now, it was HUGE for a cruise ship in the 1980s, and pioneered those mega ships. It was built super long so that it could sit on the crest of three ocean waves at once, and the photo above was taken, I believe by my mom, from a tender, a smaller boat used to get from the ship to shore at many of the Caribbean islands. The ship needs a deep water port to dock — think New York, not St. Thomas — and it was so big it carried two boats that were oceanworthyin themselves.

While the ship had undergone a lot of renovation, and had even had decks added, to make it more suitable for cruising, there were still lots of places where you could still see that ocean liner — in the dining rooms, certain lounges, and its glassed-in promenade (nobody spent much time outdoors crossing the Atlantic). I love old things and ocean liners, so I thought it was super cool.

When we cruised on the Norway, in 2002, despite her age and lack of rock-climbing walls and ice skating arenas and other such things in the newer mega ships, she was still the second most popular ship in NCL's fleet. In 2001, she went on what was supposed to be her farewell voyage, a last Transatlantic trip, including a last stop in New York, in early September. The ship was at sea on September 11, and not long after, NCL decided to keep her in service in the Caribbean.

But in 2003, one of her old steam boilers exploded as the ship came into the port of Miami, killing eight crew members. After the tragedy, NCL had the ship towed to Germany, to assess whether it could be repaired. Repairs were deemed too expensive, and NCL announced that the ship would never sail again.

I think it's really sad that they didn't make an effort to keep one of the last ocean liners going — replacing the old boiler with something more safe, to prevent another tragedy. But what happened to the Norway is even worse.

The ship was built at a time (1960) when asbestos was a commonly used material, and it is full of it, and other toxic materials. The ship should never have left Germany for the purpose of being scrapped, because the toxic materials, under European law, should not have been exported.

The ship was towed out, though — possibly under the auspices of being turned into a floating casino somewhere. Instead, though, she was towed around the world until she ended up at Alang, India, to be scrapped. Prior to that, there was a stop in Bangladesh, which wouldn't let the ship enter its waters to be scrapped due to the toxic materials.

Improperly dismantling a ship full of toxic materials isn't legal in India, either, and the ship, now rechristened the SS Blue Lady, is now part of a battle in the Indian Supreme Court over whether she can be scrapped there. She has been beached, and much of the hull has been out of the water. Even if the Supreme Court rules that it can't be scrapped, it may have to be, if it can't be moved without expensive dredging. And because the ship has been out of the water so long, the hull may be compromised, so that she can't float.

The ship could have been properly scrapped in Germany, which is equipped to handle the materials. But it would have cost far more to do it there, and safely, with no impact to the environment.

This site shows pictures of the ship as the France, and the Norway, and finally as the Blue Lady, beached at Alang. Apparently there are some groups out there looking to buy the ship, saving it and turning it into a floating hotel. NCL could have done right by history and the environment and pushed to find a buyer that wanted to see the ship preserved in the first place. Now, even if someone comes up with financing and the breakers sell the ship, it may not be able to float.

So all in all, a terrible story. The last great CGT ocean liner, the former flagship of the French Line, left rusting away in Alang, on Greenpeace's watch list.

I know she's just a ship, but she's also a piece of history, and I think the poor old "Blue Lady" deserved more than this.


The new camera rules

Now if the memory card would just arrive so that I could take more than six photos at a time, that would be awesome. But I did take six, and I love this thing. The buttons and menus make a ton of sense, it really did very well in fairly low light, and it's ready to shoot within like a second of turning it on.

I went to the Aveda Institute near Gallery Place this morning for my annual drastic shocking haircut (six inches...they asked if I would donate the hair they cut off to the Institute so they could practice dyeing it or whatever...hee!). It looks really good and now I reek of lovely Aveda smell from all the product.

Then since I was only two metro stops from Union Station, I went there to take some pictures. It was a good indoor place to test the camera out. Also, I checked out the Express there and learned that they still had a ton of stuff on clearance. BAD. BAD.

So here are my whopping six Union Station pictures.


New camera

So after letting it sit in my Amazon.com shopping cart overnight, this morning I finally pulled the trigger on a Fugifilm FinePix F20.

As Eileen and Jeff would probably attest, I spent entirely too much time in London fiddling with my camera, and taking pictures by placing it on the floors of old churches, Tube stations, and other miscellaneous places around London. It's a wonder the thing didn't get punted, thus forcing me to buy a new one sooner. Things looked like crap if I used my flash, but it took five years for the camera to gather enough light to take a shot sans flash, so I had to put it on something solid to make it stable enough to take a clean picture.

Hence the FinePix, which is supposed to be super good in low-light situations. I only knew about this after doing some research. My initial liking of the camera was based on playing with it at Target (sorry, Target, you know I love ya, but it was almost $50 cheaper on Amazon) and liking the ergonomics and the menus. But it turns out it's a good camera, at least according to all the reviews I read. Its brother, the f30, is more widespread, but aside from the LCD on the back, the only differences between the two are things I don't even understand, and the f20 was much cheaper.

So now all I have to do is wait for it to arrive. That would have been the advantage of buying at Target. Expect a big Flickr update when it lands and I wander the DC metro area with it.