A study in working well together

melted_snowball and I left for NYC on Friday, returning late last night. He was the instigator, saying he really wanted to see Pippin, and after watching the Tony awards video (which you can see on that link right there ^^ ), I had to agree it was worth seeing on Broadway. So, in for a penny in for a pound, we also made plans for Kinky Boots, another Tony winner this year.

We had our next-door teenaged neighbour watch Rover for us, which worked out quite well, compared with boarding for the weekend- R. likes her routines, and our neighbour certainly likes Rover! (And now I notice that Rover has to sniff their door when she comes back from her walks... I think this may have something to do with bacon on the weekend...)

We got to Pearson and discovered our noon-time United flight had been postponed three hours. Well, indefinitely. Well, we might be able to rebook onto the next flight in three hours maybe. Instead of following the gate agent's instructions, I found us another United agent who instead put us and one lucky other guy onto an Air Canada flight at 3pm, and standby for an earlier flight. So the three of us trooped out of the ground-level prop-plane area to our waiting gate, and crossed our fingers, because 3pm was going to make it tight for us to get into the city and to our hotel and to Pippin. dan did his thing and got us from an unlikely standby to a much more likely standby flight- and lo, all three of us got lucky. And found ourselves on the ground at Laguardia just after 2pm. And we made it to our hotel in Hell's Kitchen, Midtown, in fine time.

At the end of this trip, I'm quite appreciative for the chance to run off and do things like this. We both really love Manhattan. We were idly talking about how great it would be to live there; perhaps when we both retire; perhaps for a short period on one of dan's sabbaticals. If this works, it will certainly involve a lot of planning- and being flexible, perhaps more so than with the flight rearrangements...

This was a full, but not overly full, trip.

We stayed in Hells Kitchen, the first time either of us had spent much time on the West Side. It was quite convenient to Broadway, our hotel was comfortable, and there were many good restaurants, including an eponymous Mexican restaurant "Hell's Kitchen" which had amazing fish.

Pippin was eye-poppingly neat. The acrobatics were the most awe-inspiring I've ever seen (see ^^ video). The first act is easily in my short list of favourite first acts of any musical. (Whatever that list is; I haven't given it serious thought except that the first act of "Sunday in the Park with George" is currently at the top. But I digress.) The story feels like it sort of unwinds in the second act. I hadn't seen the show before and wasn't prepared for a bit of storytelling where a certain amount of plot seems to be un-done in order to tell a completely different story in the second act- the story felt stapled together, and the main character AND the main actor started to grate on me a bit. I see from the wikipedia page that it could have been smoother in the second act. But the Leading Player/"Ringleader" character was wonderful throughout, including the very end where she offers Pippin a suitably glorious finale for his life aspirations. All in all, seeing this was my favourite part of the trip.

We had left Saturday mostly unscheduled, with an idea to get half-price tickets for an evening show, and a plan to see my Aunt who lives in Manhattan in the mid-afternoon. d. and I negotiated this one pretty well, also; I was going to see my Aunt while d. went downtown to buy us tickets. She accepted my sending his regrets about not seeing her, even though in advance she had said she would be very offended if he decided not to see her. Anyway, she and I got to visit, she got to show off her local Whole Foods and get me a mid-afternoon snack, and d. got to stay the hell away and do some clothes shopping downtown while ostensibly "on a line" getting us tickets at the TKTS booth.

But I get ahead of myself: In the morning we went to the Guggenheim. The main exhibit was by James Turrell, a Quaker artist and architect who works with light and shadow. In addition to designing a Quaker meeting house in Austin Texas, he's done other arts installations that have felt Quakerly to me, inviting contemplation and inner stillness. His big new work turned the seventy-five foot tall spiral atrium into ... Well, sort of the inside of a mood lamp, with gorgeous curves and subtle slow colour changes. Some 50 people laid back in the atrium looking upward at the colours. It felt meditative to me, even with the occasional conversation nearby. Though: it didn't feel like Quaker Meeting, not by a long shot. But it was at least as meditative as I could hope for in a crowd of New York tourists. I'm not sure what Frank Lloyd Wright would have thought about what they did to his atrium, but I'm grateful for the chance to see the exhibit.

There were also some great abstract art from the Guggenheim's collections, from between World War One and Two- including some great dadaist work, and some great Miró and Klee. These would have been a fine stand-alone reason to visit the museum.

And then we hit the Armory for "WS", a retelling of Snow White by Paul McCarthy. This, like the Turrell, was large-scale, covering the stadium-sized Armory (we once went to an art-sales show there, which took many hours to get through). Unlike the Turrell, it was loud, edgy, and quite profane, and I'm quite surprised they weren't sued by Walt Disney's estate. Every staff person we asked what they thought of it, said they couldn't wait for it to finish- which it was to do the day we saw it. In retrospect, I would have been fine if it had closed just before we were there.

After we met up after my Aunt, d. and I walked down to the High Line, the multi-mile linear park which used to be an elevated train-line. I wanted to like it, as a floating-park-in-midair. But there were too many people, too many rope barriers telling us what was off limits, and too few comfortable benches. All it needed was a roof and it would feel like the train- in the end I think it didn't escape far enough from that which it once was. I hope that it can gradually shift into something more than that, over the decades. Maybe a few exits into adjoining buildings? That would be spiff.

Dan's ticket find for the evening was "Phantom of the Opera", which neither of us had seen, though 20 years ago I listened to the CD quite a lot. Now in its 25th year, it was exactly like the CD, not a note different from what I remembered. And the music, instead of being a fond reminisce, sort of felt late-80s cheezy. Upsides? The costuming was great- particularly, I loved the spectacle of the masquerade ball. I guess it's good to finally see this; just as later this month I'm finally seeing Cats (in Toronto). I hope I like Cats more.

On Sunday, we walked to the Hudson River Park, just a few blocks from the hotel. Now this, this is how to redevelop an urban park. It was less manicured, more varied, and most importantly, not cramped. There was also free kayak instruction and consequently lots of people *in kayaks on the Hudson*. Which felt a bit weird to me, since I always considered the water there to be too dodgy to do anything with. For that matter, the ducks we saw next to the water looked a bit scruffy.

We did quite a lot of walking: after the Hudson park, across midtown to Central Park, lunch near Lincoln Center, and back down Broadway and down to 42nd street to see Kinky Boots. Which was great fun, and deserved their Tony wins. I might buy the album; it felt like a Cindy Lauper CD but in drag. (Which is possibly the same thing).

And then we retrieved our luggage and headed for Newark airport for our evening flight home. And we returned to Rover in our house, which was the best return ever.

Is this thing on?

Hello people!

It's been too long since I've posted. Lately I've been writing in an off-line journal, but I decided I would like a longer-form record of our most recent trip to NYC, for friends, and this form works better than the pile of facebook check-ins plus comments plus photos.

It's been long enough that when I said to myself, "Yes. I'll make a livejournal post," my fingers then started typing "face.." Augh! No! Bad fingers!

A precision operation this is not

- took dog out, picked up newspaper.
- back upstairs, opened newspaper bag and said, "Did they reuse a headline?"
- realized I took *yesterday's* newspaper for unit 710 (the only other unit that gets the Globe and Mail)
- decided I'm not really awake yet, therefore I shouldn't beat myself up about the confusion. After all, there were two bags; the other one said 710, so I took ours, right?
- back downstairs, swapped newspapers with the Saturday newspaper, which is much thicker. There is only one of these, saying 710, also in bag, but I assume they took ours.
- traded pleasantries with cleaning-person for the second time of the morning, who is amused.
- in the elevator, composing LJ post in my head, titled: "This is my life now."
- back upstairs, opened newspaper, which turns out to be 710's Saturday newspaper, and our Saturday newspaper, in a bag. together.
- returned 710's newspaper downstairs. Avoided cleaning person.

anti-DOMA and anti-Proposition 8 "friend of the court" filings to Supreme Court

Hey- I've been sitting on some really cool news for the last ten days.

Law firm Kramer Levin has just filed a pair of amicus briefs on behalf of religious organizations.

The US Supreme Court will be hearing challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 on March 26th (Prop 8) and March 28th (DOMA). The DOMA case being appealed is United States v. Windsor, in which a lesbian couple who married in Toronto, lived in New York (which recognized their marriage), and then had to pay $363,000+ in federal estate taxes when one spouse died in 2009. If they had been a heterosexual couple, they would have paid no estate taxes.

At the gathering of Friends for LGBTQ Concerns this month, in Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, our group was asked if we might be added as friends of the court. We had received a letter from the law office just weeks earlier. A small group studied the draft filing (so amazingly well-written!) and recommended that we do add our name to the brief. Our Business Meeting then discerned this was part of our witness, and so we sent back our "yes" along with a few minor corrections- and additional URLs. ...And they cited our webpages! Our collection of Marriage Minutes are cited in a Supreme Court filing! The webpages which were put together by fyddlestyx and myself!
(Though I want to make clear that other Quaker bodies wrote these Minutes on the subject of same-sex marriage. We just collected and shared them.)



Any information about the brief was to remain private until after it was filed; it's been tough to sit on this without telling anyone. The anti-DOMA brief is so very well written! How great is this...

"It appears that what those other amici want is not protection for their own free speech and free exercise rights, but rather immunity from disapproval they may face by those who affirm the rights and relationships of lesbian and gay people."

"[The preceding] belies the claim of certain amici favoring reversal that American religions speak uniformly or overwhelmingly in opposition to marriage equality for same-sex couples. To the contrary, American religious thought and practice embrace a rich diversity. No one view speaks for “religion” – even if, contrary to the Establishment Clause, it were appropriate to give weight to religious views in evaluating and applying the Constitution’s secular promise of equal protection."

"Were the federal government to start recognizing the lawful civil marriages of same-sex couples– as it does interfaith marriages, interracial marriages, and re-marriages after divorce – religions that disapprove of such unions would remain free to define religious marriage however they wish. They could withhold spiritual blessing of such marriages and
indeed bar those entering into them from being congregants at all, just as they are now free to do so on grounds of faith, race, prior marital status, or any other characteristic deemed religiously significant. Amici urging reversal fail to explain how their religious practice would be burdened by the fact that
other people are afforded equal marriage rights by the state. For example, the brief of amici Liberty, Life
and Law Foundation and North Carolina Values Coalition scarcely even touches on the actual legal
consequences of recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples. Instead, it focuses on fears of having to
“endorse or facilitate” marriages of same-sex couples [...]"

And it keeps going.


It was a minor miracle of timing that the law office asked us to sign on just a few weeks before our gathering; and the deadline for our decision was three days after the gathering ended. A few weeks in either direction and we would have not been able to sign on as a friend of the court, since our group only meets twice a year.

And a final note: This law firm, Kramer Levin, has been a strong supporter of LGBT rights and cases for almost 20 years. melted_snowball pointed out to me that one of the three founders, Arthur Kramer, was a character in his brother Larry's autobiographical play, The Normal Heart. The two brothers had an enormous falling out in the mid 80s when Arthur Kramer would not lend his name to Larry's anti-AIDS activist group, Gay Men's Health Crisis, only offering personal support of his gay brother. Larry saw this as a cop-out; in the play, they remain estranged until Larry's death (though it seems that in real life they had some limited rapprochement).

And so this is a small part in a long story. And it keeps going.

Making spirits bri- OUCH

I went to the optometrist for the first regular checkup in many years. They did the pupil dilation thing, which was sort of annoying and now I remember how much I didn't like it the last time. I probably should have used the cheap sunglasses they gave me, but I didn't. On an overcast day, on the walk back to the office, the white lines on the road were blinding me. Yeesh. My pupils looked, and still look, like an animé character's.

Night fell shortly after I got back to the office, which was convenient. And from then until now, everything is brighter than I expect, and point-source lights have pretty auras around them.

I walked roverthedog through the big park, which has been decked out in Christmas lights.

Wow. Pretty. Very pretty.

The strings of lights in the trees each looked like thick cables, bright but not quite painfully bright. Again with the pretty auras. If I could have turned off the streetlights, it would have been perfect.

I'm not sure I would recommend this as a way to get into the Christmas spirit, but hey, as long as I've got weird vision, might as well take advantage of the few unexpected benefits.

Porto, 2 of 2

Yesterday we took an all-day excursion up the Duoro River, 100km into the wine-producing areas. While the temperatures in Porto during the day in October were around 20°C, and nearly always humid, we were told that during the summer in the Duoro it often reached 35°C+, and there were cacti growing on some hillsides. But there were also lots of grape terraces, and we were told the conditions are perfect for the hardiest of hardy grapes.

So the grapes are grown there, they are picked in September and processed (one cellar claimed they preferred the traditional foot-stomping method because it doesn't crush the seeds along with the fruit; the other said they only use stomping for sentimental reasons. Who am I to say? Except if I were more investigative, it might have been the perfect opportunity to find out for myself, since they had JUST finished picking at the beginning of this month). After crushing, they are only fermented a day to a few days, and then they are housed for a year or two before they are trucked down to Porto to the appropriate producers where the wine spends many years aging in oak barrels or 40,000-liter (!) vats. They call the cellars "caves" which is sort of accurate, though they appeared to be actually damp, dark, stone warehouses. Built into the side of hills. Oh, and I did see a bat in the one. (So  OK, caves.)

Anyway, the caves were earlier in the week. Back to the tourist boat from yesterday. 

We started in thick fog, with six or so other participants in the tourist company we were using, and a 75-member party of Portuguese taking the same boat, some who knew each other, many of them boisterous. Dan suspects it was a wedding party, but I didn't see any hallmarks of wedding, only large-group tour. Anyhow, they sang along with some of the traditional songs piped over the speakers, and were very jolly. I would have enjoyed having a bit of the language, but the few times I said something in English to someone, they tended to give a friendly smile and reply in Portuguese. 

We chatted with a British couple, but mostly each did the social introvert thing and sat quietly looking at the world.  From the top deck, watching the coastline speed along at close to 20kph was fun. There were a few very pretty towns and vineyards we passed. For me another high point was passing through two locks, one raising the boat over 35 meters, which turns out to be the highest lock in Europe. 

From the arrival at Regula town at around 5pm, we spent 45 minutes in a regional wine museum, which was interesting enough for the local growing history; and had a port sample, and then walked with our tour agent to the train station for the two-hour trip back to Porto. There wasn't really a plan for dinner. The train station had a cafeteria, where dan got a ham sandwich (contents: a bun; a few slices of ham). The tour agent (OK, technically "guide" since she did tell us to follow her; just not really why or where to) bought us tickets and made sure we knew what to do when we got off the train.

The train had the grungiest smelliest seats of any train I've been on. Here's a thought- if your paper head-rests are YELLOW you should probably change them! Oy.

But we made it home, and today had a morning to wander around a bit and then head to the airport. The good: dan discovered a food-market near the old stock-market building, and we then discovered a restaurant above the market that was really tasty, and the scenery was nice too. A pleasant finish to the trip. And then we caught a cab to the airport.

The bad: our flight is delayed three hours, which means we arrive at 9:30pm, aka 2:30am body-time. But  there are worse  airports to be stuck in, for certain- I've found  a quiet corner to write this and and I'll use 30 minutes  of free boingo wifi to post this and catch up on mail. 

Samples of port tried: 14. Ones that I liked: about 2/3. Ones that I *really* liked: 3 or 4, including a 20-year-old tawny from Taylor, and a 10-year-old white port that we're bringing home with us. Ways I don't like port: as port-and-tonic, and part of sangria.

We are both feeling rather travel-worn, and looking forward to our own bed and seeing Rover in the morning. But I'm glad I came on this trip, even if one visit to Portugal turns out to be the right number. And hey, my brain may end up merging the Porto transit system and rabbit-warren buildings into my standard "lost in the New York City transit-system" dreams... 

See you on the flip-side!

(no subject)

So, Porto is a funny city. It's more ramshackle by far than I expected; sort of faded glory, architecturally. Presumably this is partly due to the UNESCO heritage requirements: if a building's roof falls in, it must be rebuilt to historic style, and all the construction work I've seen here looks fairly labour-intensive (all brick and cobblestone).There are a huge number of seemingly abandoned apartment buildings in the 3-6 story range, sort of chock-a-block amidst everything visible from the many high vantage points.

I'm not as fond of the omnipresent ceramic tiles as many people apparently are- and the old-church styles are less architecturally interesting to me than elsewhere in Europe (though I've not yet been to Spain to compare). The tourist sites are somewhat meh- with exceptions. The stock exchange building was amazing- photos and more details to follow, hopefully. The port caves were spiff. As was the port itself.

It's hilly. The tourist areas are amazingly steep; it's unremarkable near our hotel to enter a building, go up two flights of stairs or escalators, and exit on a ground floor. If there were more whole-block buildings one could imagine the same for five or more floors. I have photos of some regions that are charmingly densely packed- looking from one intersection, there is a tunnel through the hill in front of you, with rock face topped with either four floors of housing or an ancient town wall / barricade, topped with the main city cathedral (beyond a setback). Out of sight next to the cathedral there's a two-level bridge across the Duoro river, some 50 meters between the top level and the bottom. Just off to the side by the tunnel is an alley which was not easy to find- but it led us to Kyodu, an amazingly good sushi restaurant we ate at.

Streets connect plazas, at all sorts of angles, often with at least five coming out of an intersection; and often what you think is a blind alley turns out to be the one road that gets you where you want in a straight(ish) line. And other times they are blind alleys. And a few of the named streets I've found are stair-cases.

The first few days of being a tourist involved getting quite lost. In this modern world, I was able to fix that with an app on my phone of walking tours. $5 well spent. Also, I bought two days on a hop-on hop-off tour bus, which helped get me a lay of the land. And got me out to see "Castle Queso": Cheese Castle, to the west of the city centre, built like half a round of cheese (to protect merchants from brigands in the 18th century).

Off to lunch and then the airport. To be continued..

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The Azores

So, as I mentioned, going to Portugal was just as cheap including a stopover in the Azores, so we did that last Thursday through Sunday before dan's conference in Porto this week.

Recommended vacation? Yes! It's the most tropical place I've visited, though it's only in the subtropics. It's amazingly green and alive. Nearly every rock face on the island is covered with moss, and most of them are then covered with grass or something flowering. The island we were on, São Miguel, has about 140,000 residents (half the population of the 9 islands) and it's been lived on continually since the 1400s. Stone construction is common; just about all the wood we saw was in some stage of mossiness and I can't imagine wood structures last long.

From the airplane, you can see these green tall fences that look like shrubbery, and that's what they are- to keep larger animals in or out, including people. There are a lot of farms on São Miguel- besides tourism, the economy runs on fishing, dairy, and livestock exports to the mainland. Driving around the island for three days, we were stopped a few times by cattle being driven down the road, just enough times that it was still charming; especially when one driver tried to pass around them in the other lane and was promptly stopped by a few strategic cattle (I suddenly imagine a Critical Cattle demonstration, mooing "whose streets? our streets!")

Renting a car was the right idea. There were tour-busses, but dan was happy to drive us all over, and the roads are usually well-signed (except they really need a few more "steep road" signs, maybe including one or two "don't even try it"). The island is 65km by 15km, and we were able to tour most of the bigger towns and attractions in three days. It would have been even nicer if we'd had Thursday to tour as well, but Hurricane Nadine would have made things difficult for us even if we had landed, so three days of visit is all we got.

There is a new superhighway from Ponta Delgada in the south-west to Nordeste in the north-east. It means a traveler could make a day-trip out of visiting all of the towns along the north coast, returning on the highway instead of having to turn back just halfway. We took the winding and twisty roads along the coast, which had so many gorgeous views (more dramatic than Cape Breton- don't take away my citizenship for saying that, Canada!) After making it to Nordeste, and an ill-conceived attempt to view a lighthouse down a steep road, we headed back to Ponta Delgada for the night.

There are beautiful (and free) attractions all over the island, that are kept in remarkably good condition given the amount of work it must take to trim back all the aggressive greenery. My favourite visit was to a roadside waterfall and park called "Ribiera dos Caldeirões" near Achada in the north, with lots of beautiful flowers, old water-mills and many levels of stone aqueduct.

There was also Furnas, a town centered around hot springs and bubbling pipes coming out of the earth. DId I mention the Azores are situated on volcanic mountains? They are at the union of three continental plates, which are moving outward very slowly. It's amazing that the only net effect on the surface today is a few hot springs; apparently in the 1800s somebody discovered a brand new island, which he claimed for England; only to have the next explorer report that it had disappeared underwater again. Fun. Anyhow, Furnas had outdoor hot springs which were awesome, and there were claims of three indoor springs to go and bathe in, only two of them were closed and the third one was empty and creepy, so we didn't bathe in it.

And there was a neat little hike at Calderia Velha, around the middle of the island where a waterfall and hot-springs-warmed water coincided in a pool. Again didn't swim, but it was a nice hike.

We spent a morning driving to the west corner of the island, up Pico da Cruz, only the weather was foggy enough that we could see nothing but white mist. We descended into Sete Cidades, a town centered on three lakes (gorgeous views from above- or so we're told) and then had a lot of twisty roads back along the coast.

The city of Ponta Delgada would have perhaps been more interesting if we had been there on a different set of days: Friday was a regional holiday, and many shops are closed on weekends, so we mostly only visited restaurants. There were a few museums that weren't open. We went to a pineapple greenhouse, which was a "must see", but touring dozens of nearly identical greenhouses wasn't so exciting. There was pineapple liqueur, though. Oh! And Sunday afternoon, I came across a 4x4 truck rally, which was really great for people-watching.

There were also requisite visits to cafes, where we had some tasty sweets though I fear I didn't do nearly enough lounging in traditional Portuguese style. But I tried. I think will try for more lounging in Porto, where we are from Monday through Sunday.

I hope to post photos once I've done some processing, which may happen after I am home again.

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