White Winter

Winter goes on.  Denis was in town Friday to drop Carrie off at her school, and spent the night with us on the way back.  Went out for sushi, geeked out on board games.  Today Michelle went back to school, so it’s just us empty nesters again for a while.

We finally got some good snow last week, and did our first ski trip of the season on Saturday. Woo-hoo!  We went up to Catamount for afternoon/night skiing.  Seth met us at the base of the mountain.  Conditions were mostly good, but a little icy at times.  After it got dark there was some fresh snowfall, which covered up most of the icy patches.  But man, it was really cold.  So cold I bought a bank-robber-style ski mask when we went in for a break.  I was actually quite comfy after that and we ended up doing thirteen runs.

This is my second season on my new skis, and last year I wasn’t always confident on them compared to my old skis, and was still adjusting the way I skied on them.  This time from the first run it felt great, and was able to carve and go flat out with alot of control, even over ice.  In fact, I’d say they’re better skis than my old pair.  Jeannie got a brand new pair of skis too this year.  They’re Blizzards, very similar to mine, but in white.  She’s liking her new skis alot too, and had a great night.  And we’ve both been working out to get the strength up in our legs and knees, which seems to be paying off.  Of course Michelle was whizzing right past us all after a few runs.  Afterwards we went out to dinner with Seth and Cathy and Erin and her friend, which was very nice.  Haven’t seen Erin in a long time, and now she’s graduating college this spring.

In other sporting news, the Bills’ super bowl hopes are dashed yet again.  Still, it was a great game against KC, as is becoming tradition.  The Bills played some excellent ball, and have really come together as a strong team. But some players out with injuries and a couple small mistakes was all it took.  Kansas City didn’t give up any big plays, and was just a hair better overall, so in the end they won.  Ah well, here’s looking forward to next year.

Head Downtown

After the epic effort to finish of my last song, A Plague of Frogs, my new studio album Plutonium Dirigible is nearing completion.  I’m up to thirty-seven minutes of music.  I have another song, called Sisyphus’s Blues, a reworking of a song I’d recorded previously but not released, which will bring it up to just over forty minutes.  I feel like an album should usually be between forty and forty-five minutes long, so that leaves room for one more song. 

So I’m working on a new song called Head Downtown.  It’s coming together really quickly, and is alot of fun.  I only started tracking a couple weeks ago and it’s already half done.  I’ve had the lyric for a while.  It started as a bit of wordplay based on the observation that the terms for many body parts can also be used as verbs. From there it evolved in to a story about a down-on-his-luck kind of character, perhaps some kind of petty gangster or hard-boiled gumshoe, trying navigate the give-and-take of life in the city.  The music started of kinda jazzoid, with parts of the chord progression lifted from Duke Jordan and Horace Silver.  But as I fleshed out the arrangement the shuffle groove took on a sort of ska/reggae feel. I just finished the guitar part, which was very Andy Summers inspired, with the main sections being a minimalist atmospheric riff and a big chunky rhythm groove on the backbeat. Hopefully I’ll get this one in the can by the end of the holidays, and the album will ready for release early in the new year.

Meanwhile my jazz group Spacecats may have a record in the offing too.  Since our new drummer Rick joined us a while back, it turns out he’s a great songwriter and we now how have ten or twelve originals written by various members of the band.  There’s a great variety of sounds and feels, from swing to samba to funk, even a couple ballads, and from tightly composed and arranged to more open and free.  We may toss in one two interpretations of tunes by Bird or Trane to round it out.  We have a friend who is a sound engineer and record producer with a sixteen-track mobile rig who has agreed to record and co-produce.  We’re thinking of a live, one-day recording session sometime in the new year, and we’re trying to decide it it would be better to do it at our rehearsal studio, or at my house.  

Only thing that remains is to woodshed the tunes so they’re tight enough to be assured of capturing a killer take or two of each.  We were well on the way, but then a few weeks ago Rick brought in a new song that plays with the the meter in a fascinating way, four versus three.  It’s not an easy one to play, but it’s my kind of weird, so we had to spend some time to get that one together.

Origami Coast to Coast

Okay so, still trying to catch up with the story.  Before I dive in, I will say it’s the darkest time of year nowadays, and on top of that they changed the clocks last week, so I feel like it starts getting dark around two or three in the afternoon, and it’s a challenge to keep your energy level up and balanced.

Anyway, we got home from California two weeks ago Monday morning, and Monday night I finished my supply of elephants for AMNH.  Jeannie was working in the city the next day, so she hand delivered them to the the museum.  Since I’d given away all my recently folded elephants, including the golden one from my PCOC exhibit, I made one more during the week, this one from a 50cm square of red wyndstone paper.  Friday evening we were off to Boston to another origami event the OrigaMIT conference.  Our friend Adrienne, who we were hanging out with in San Francisco, recently moved back to Brooklyn from Texas, so we gave her a ride.  She was staying with our other friend Brian, so we got hang out with him a bit Friday night.  In addition to origami, Brian is into robots, 3-D printers, insect photography, anime and a bunch of other things, so his house is full of fascinating stuff.

The OrigaMIT convention is a one-day event that starts early Saturday.  It’s usually in the student center, but that’s closed this year, so it was in the engineering building.  It was fun to see a part of MIT campus I hadn’t been to before (been mostly to the student center and the Media Lab back in the day).  Brian showed us some robots he built for his thesis project that mimicked the movement of snails.  To get there we went down a hallway called the Infinite Corridor, but the name is an exaggeration; it’s just really really long.

In the morning I set up my exhibition, which had its own room this year.  I gave my talk on Single-Sheet polyhedra for the fourth time at four different conventions.  After this I’ll retire and think of a new topic, or at least wait a few years until I have an update to give.  The talk went over well and the discussion at the end was interesting, with a different audience wanting know about different things.  A group of us went to lunch we got to for a walk thru the far side of the campus and around Cambridge.  In the afternoon I taught my Octopus and Cuttlefish.  There was no document camera in the room, so I improvised a stand for my phone and hooked it up the the room’s projector.  This worked great for ten minutes or so until my phone went to sleep and I couldn’t get it to connect again after it woke up.  So I finished the old fashioned way, folding a model out of large paper and holding it up for everyone to see after each step. 

After that I went back the exhibit area, which was also the vendor area.  I ended spending a couple hours talking to Michael and Richard of Origamido.  Michael was fascinated by the single-sheet polyhedra thing so I gave him a short, personalized version of my talk.  Richard told us about a cool sculpture garden he knows of, not far from where I live.  Origamido paper, as you may know, is handmade by Michael and Richard in small batches for the purpose doing advanced origami, and widely considered the best in the world.  For many years I did not buy much of it because it’s very thin, which is not useful for my style of folding.  However, they’re now making thicker papers, including some duo-color ones made by laminating two sheets together, so I just had to buy a bunch.  I want to fold a bunch of photo-worthy models I’ve designed over the last few years, to update my web site and for my next book.

We drove home Saturday night, and Sunday we were not yet accustomed to the new clock situation.  It’s getting to the point were every time we have a nice day it might be the last one until next April.  It’s already too cold in the mornings for a big bike ride, so it looks like that’ll have to wait until the springtime to pick that up again.  I decided to take the mustang out, possibly for the last time of the season, and we combined it with a light hike around the sculpture garden Richard had told us about.  It’s at the Pepsi corporate headquarters in Purchase, NY, and indeed is a very pleasant stroll around some well manicured lawns and gardens, featuring an array of so-so to really impressive outdoor sculptures.

Finally this last weekend Lizzy was home for a quick visit after attending a conference for her work in Philadelphia; it was very nice to see her, and good that she’s doing well.  Then there was one last origami event, a Special Folding Session at the American Museum of Natural History on Sunday.  I taught my Octopus and Cuttlefish one more time, and this time the group was small enough I could just show them across the table.  More than half my class was extremely talented kids, with the youngest ones being in the fourth grade.  One kid in middle school brought a copy of my book and asked me to sign it, and said he was my greatest fan.  He seemed know know alot about my models and could fold many of them.  After my class was over I went outside for a walk around Central Park at lunchtime, from the Belvedere thru the Ramble over the Bow Bridge and back up past Strawberry Field.  I hadn’t been there in many years, so it was fun getting reacquainted with a place I used to know well.

Now finally we have no travel plans coming up, and no events or concerts or anything.  I’m looking forward a few weeks of cozying up against the cold and dark and making progress on some random tasks.  Of course random tasks can turn into a slog, with the darkness and all, but I’m carrying on. I’ll let all y’all know when there’s news about any big updates.

Dream of Californication

Just got back from a trip to PCOC, the Pacific Coast Origami Conference in San Francisco, and along with it a fantastic vacation in California.  Last time we visited the Bay Area was almost fourteen years ago.  Oh oh, what I want to know is, where does the time go?

Jeannie and I flew out from New York on Friday night.  Last few times we flew I’ve felt pretty anxious about the whole airport thing, but this time I’ve been so busy with work the last couple months, it was actually a big relief to be hanging around waiting for our flight.  

We stayed the first couple of days at a hotel on the peninsula that we knew from previous trips. It was a cute place with a courtyard and giant pots of succulent plants.  Saturday we met up with my friend Dazza, who lives in Oakland.  He took us to a park near his home with a lake and a very cool botanical garden with all kinds of plants you don’t see back east, and in the middle of that a bonsai garden with carefully grown miniature trees, some of them hundreds of years old.  We went back to his place, in a condo complex with all kinds of fun amenities, then out to eat at a really good oriental place with yummy dishes featuring great big rice noodle.  I must say, Oakland has become trendy and quite nice since we lived in the bay area in the ’90s, much like Brooklyn.  Or maybe I just never had been to the nice parts of Oakland before.

That afternoon we helped Dazza out on a very special beer run.  He had ordered several cases of a Polish porter, that apparently is very hard to get, from a wine shop in San Mateo back on the peninsula.  So we gave him a lift out there to pick it up.  After that we took Dazza for a drive around our old haunts in Silicon Valley in Palo Alto and Redwood City.  We went for a hike up to the radio telescope in Parcel B at Stanford, and then a drive-by tour of the office park where Interval Research Corporation used to be, right near the HP campus.  Strangely, there’s now camper vans and RVs parked all along Page Mill Road and El Camino Real.  One of the most rich and prosperous places in the history of the world full of people living in their vans.  At the end we went back to our hotel and Dazza shared a few porter ales with us and we talked on into the night.

Sunday Jeannie and I went up Skyline Road to Sky Londa intending to go for a hike at Windy Hill for a hike.  But as the day unfolded it turned rainy.  We did a short wet hike up to the summit the view obscured by clouds, and not the long winding one we had in mind.  Apparently it was the first rain of the fall.  The day before we noticed all the hillsides were yellow with dry grass, a hue you don’t see in the landscapes at home.  Since we were already up in the mountains, we thought we’d cross over and see the ocean, where it was not raining.  But, being the first rain of the season, there was an accident up ahead (apparently a very bad one, judging from the number of ambulances and fire trucks that passed us), so the road was closed and we had to turn around.  There’s only a few roads over the coastal mountains, so we went up to the next one twenty miles away, but it was backed up with traffic too.  So we decided instead to light out for our next destination, Lake Tahoe up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, one of our favorite places in California.  It was raining pretty heavy for most of the trip, all the way past Sacramento and a ways up into the mountains.  In case you’ve never been there, the Sierras are way bigger than anything on the east coast.  The pass over the mountains is above 7,000 feet, and the mountaintops are well over 10,000.

We stayed at a really charming hotel right on the beach, and since it was off season they upgraded us to a suite with a fireplace and view of the lake.  Very nice.  There was a restaurant in walking distance out on a pier with a view of the sunset over the lake.  We were still kinda on east coast time, so next morning we watched the sun come up over the lake from our hotel room.  We took a walk on the beach, where I found a massive pinecone from a ponderosa pine, which must have just fallen and washed up on the shore.  The main activity of the day was to hike up to Eagle Lake in the Desolation Wilderness Area, above Emerald Bay.  This is beautiful forest and mountains with great views.   It was a pretty big hike, over 3 hours, and 800 feet vertical, about 5 miles of very rocky terrain.  Afterwards we went into town to the area of the base of the Heavenly gondola, right near the Nevada border, which is all built up compared to last time we were there.  That evening we went to the casino, but the scene there was beat.

Next day we drove to Yosemite National Park, another one of our favorite places in California.  This was another long drive thru the mountains.  We took the back way thru Nevada, past Lake Mead where Kamasi Washington did one of his album covers.  The last half of the trip was into Yosemite via Tioga Pass, which gets above 10,000 feet.  We stopped at a scenic overlook where you could see Half Dome far away.  We have a picture from that spot with the kids when they were 10 and 7 or so, last time we passed that way.  After alot more driving thru winding mountain roads we arrived at Mariposa Grove, home of the giant sequoia redwoods.  These are the larges trees in the world, and grow over 300 feet tall and over 30 feet across at the base.  They’re thousands of years old.

We had expected to get lunch there, but instead things were under construction and there was no food, the road was closed, the parking was two miles away and the tram wasn’t running.  I guess it’s good that they’re redoing access to the area with an eye toward forest conservation, but it added 4 miles and several hundred vertical feet to the hike.  By the time we reached the area where the parking lot used to be, Jeannie was pretty tired and had to sit down for a while.  Luckily, we met some kind fellow travelers who shared some trail mix with us, and our energy rebounded.  We got to talking and the dude was a Consumer Reports super fan, and was asking me about the auctions they have for the used cars they test, and if I could get him in on it.  The redwoods themselves were amazing and the whole glade had spiritual vibe that reminded me of La Familia Cathedral in Barcelona.  The kind of thing you just can’t capture in photographs.  Overall the hike was about 4 hours, 6 miles and over 600 feet vertical, but not nearly as stony. 

We were staying at the Yosemite Valle Lodge, and the was another hour drive back the way we came (Yosemite is huge).  This is the first time we stayed in the park in a building with solid walls and running water.  By the time we got there it was dark.  Had excellent cocktails and steak and wine at the bar and restaurant there. The breakfast place had for some reason computerized kiosks where you order food instead of telling a person what you want.  However, some food was not on the menu, so when I wanted a banana they just gave me one cuz no one could figure out how much it cost or how to pay for it.  I can hardly wait for the fad of having computers everywhere in situations where human interaction works perfectly well breaks and starts to recede.

Anyway, the main hike that day was up the valley towards Vernal Falls and Nevada falls. Interestingly, the first mile or two of the trail was paved, which made it faster.  Last time we were here it was pretty natural, dirt with some stony sections.  The middle part was still like this.  The last part before the falls was a huge uplift that was mainly stairs made of hewn and stacked up natural rock, a serious Cirith Ungol vibe, but in a beautiful forest, not an orc-infested wasteland.  Naturally, going down was harder than going up.  This was the longest hike yet, over 7 miles and nearly 1400 feet vertical.  

Next day we left the mountains and drove back to San Francisco.  This was the most adventuresome drive yet, another long and windy one, with one memorable section descending several thousand feet in just a few miles.  Had to go like ten miles per hours thru endless switchbacks.  I feel like this may be where they filmed the opening scene of It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.  We made it safely back across the central valley and thru the Livermore Pass (the windmills have grown quite a bit in the last twenty years) and finally over the bay.  We made another attempt to get out to the ocean and this time we were successful.  We went out to Half Moon bay, where we found a burrito place and got our lunch to go, and ate yummy California burritos on the beach.  We walked around a while and stuck our toes in the Pacific, then drove up the US 1 coastal highway thru Pacifica to San Francisco.  We dropped off our rental car and checked into the hotel for the origami convention, and immediately met some friends in the lobby.

But that’s a whole ‘nuther adventure.

Three for the Show

Sometimes things come in waves, and it seems everyone is on tour at once right now.  I’ve been the three concerts in the last week, with more coming up, and even more I’d like to see but don’t have the time for.

First off was Sting, a week ago at Jones Beach Theater in Long Island.  Jones Beach is a great place to see a show, a semicircular amphitheater right on the edge of the bay.  We had seats in the lower deck, just a few rows up from the floor, so a great view.  We went with Jeannie’s sister Mary, and before we went in, we had a little tailgate party with sandwiches and a bottle of wine.  It said there was no opening act, and when we got inside there was a guy who looked and sounded alot like Sting singing and strumming and acoustic guitar, accompanied only by a drummer.  I thought, wow, Sting looks great for a guy in his seventies, and he’s been working out, his neck is alot thicker.  But it turns out it was his son.  Sting Jr. had some great songs and a great voice, and looks alot like his dad. 

After that the real Sting came on with his band.  He actually does looks great for a guy in his seventies, and sang and played with lots of energy.  He played a fender P-bass with very little treble in the tone.  The band of course was great.  There were enough musicians to cover all the different sounds from his solo hits and a good smattering of Police songs.  The featured jamming instrument was a harmonica, and the dude was great.   Also some backup singers, keys, guitar; everyone in the band had a feature section, which was fun.  I saw Sting once in the 1990’s and the vibe of that show was musically excellent but down, with predominately dark, slow, introspective songs.  This time he still did his share of moody ballads about losing his faith in a used up world, but kept it balanced with upbeat and uptempo numbers.  As a special bonus Branford Marsalis on the saxophone came out and sat in with the group, and lifted things to a whole nuzzer level.  He was one of my saxophone heroes back in the day, and the way his playing complements Sting’s songs is just perfect.  We also discovered the right parking lot get out of there quickly without getting stuck in traffic.

Then over the weekend we went to the Outlaw Music Festival, again with Mary.  This was in the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, a really cool venue that I had no idea existed.  When I heard about the show I thought it was going to be in the tennis stadium at the north end of Flushing Meadow Park, but it was actually at the old stadium at the south end, part of the original tennis club.  It hasn’t been used the for the U.S. Open since the 1970’s but they still put on concerts there.  

Mary and Lou used to live in Forest Hills, and Jeannie and I not to far away in Woodside, Queens, so we before the show we got together for brunch with some old Queens friends, John and Mary and Larry.  That was lots of fun.  The show was a festival so by the time we got in it was already underway.  There were five bands. The main one I wanted to see was Bob Weir.  It’s been so long since I’ve seen the Grateful Dead I’d almost forgotten they existed, although at one time they were my second-most-seen band after Rush.  Bobby of course did mainly Dead songs, maybe not as stretched out as they used to back in the day and with a little more focus on the songs, but still with a few extended jams.  The band included a combination horn and string section.  One thing I liked was when he segued into What’s Going On? in the middle of Eyes of the World.

The headliner of the night was Willie Nelson.  For whatever reason Mary, who grew up in Brooklyn, is a big Willie Nelson fan (as is my cousin Peter from Ontario).  To me Willie is one of those guys who was always on the radio when I was a kid, and since then transcended his own long career to achieve living legend status, so I though it was pretty cool.  The surprise special guest in his band was Norah Jones on piano and vocals, a legend in her own right, who I guess wanted to tour with one of her idols.  There was also an excellent harmonica player.  Now in his 90’s, Willie can still play and sing.  Alot of his style is rooted in the great American songbook, and he threw in a good handful of standards as well as his own hits.  His set was pretty short because in contrast to the deadheads, Willie’s songs were all basically three minutes and out.  He might’ve skipped an encore cuz it was starting to rain.  

Then finally last night we saw Peter Gabriel at Madison Square Garden.  He and Sting are kind of next door neighbors in terms of their career arcs, with huge solo popularity and critical acclaim in the 80’s after leaving successful band to explore new sonic ideas, and then a long trajectory of more personal, artistic songwriting. Unlike Sting, Peter Gabriel now looks like an old man, bald and overweight compared to the smirking face on MTV back in the day.  He did two sets, the first being mainly new material, with a predominately dark, slow, introspective feel.  The second set was mainly his hits from throughout his career.  The band was great, and featured the inimitable Tony Levin on bass, as well as a combination horn and string section and backing vocalists, and other members joining in from time to time on flutes and pipes.  It occurred to me that he’s been perfecting the same ideas since Genesis in a sense, and the band was perfectly suited to replicate those mellotron sounds using natural instruments.  The show was great, and visual presentation too, with lighting and projected artwork and animation as well as the music.  And like Sting, Peter Gabriel has alot of great songs and really made the most of them.  I was a bit disappointed but not too surprised he didn’t play anything by Genesis.  I mean maybe not Supper’s Ready but at least a bit of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway would be nice.

Reach the Beach

We spent Labor Day weekend out on the beach in Maryland.  It was a chill and fun time.  I was feeling kind of tired and ill the day before we left, but Jeannie did most of the driving, so I got some extra rest on the ride, and was basically alright by the next morning. We did spend a good amount of time just hanging out in the hotel room sipping our coffee, or later on  in the day a beer, watching and listening to the ocean, which was nice and relaxing.

Saturday we went out to Assateague Island, where we did the classic Swamp Walk.  There were a few wildlife encounters we’d never seen before, including a pair of giant horseshoe crabs swimming along the shore of the bay, and a good-sized ray, as well as some gar and the usual crabs and fish and birds and wild ponies.  

One new thing we did this year was to bring our bikes, so after the hike we took a ride all around the whole national seashore.  It was a good day for it, not too hot, and we were able to get around to all the different places alot more conveniently than walking or by car, and explore a little more.  We checked out the various campgrounds cuz that’s something we’ve always been interested in doing, and concluded that the bay side would be alot easier than the ocean side.  We’ve been doing enough biking this summer that an eight or ten mile ride on (very) flat terrain felt easy and breezy. We ended the afternoon with a trip to the beach, then back to the hotel.  That evening we went out to dinner on the boardwalk and met up with our friend Terry, who just happened to be in OC the same time as us.

They allow bicycles on the boardwalk before noon, so the next morning we rode from our hotel up around 30th street down the whole length of the boardwalk.  The boardwalk is abut three miles long, and it’s always fund to see how its character develops as you get further downtown.  We took it at a leisurely pace, and when we got the end, we we explored a little bit around the inlet and harbor.  Another eight or ten mile ride.  By the end it was getting pretty hot.  We spent the afternoon on the beach in front of our hotel.  We went out into the water a few times, but didn’t get out past the breakers to do much actual swimming.  The waves were pretty rough and there were warnings up about severe rip tides and undertow.  We saw the lifeguards jump into action a few times.  Indeed it was a challenge to just to keep your balance in waist-deep water.

I usually don’t miss my kids when they’re not around, but as the weekend went on, a strange nostalgia for the time of my kids growing up times emerged.  We used to go Ocean City almost every summer from the time Michelle was four to Lizzy was in high school, and we’ve gone back only a few times in the years since.  So in my mind it’s sort of an end-of-the-summer happy place, just before back-to-school time.  It’s funny how some things never really leave your mind.  Those years coincided with the years I worked at MTV, and memories of old programming and business problems that was thinking heavily about back then began washing up into my consciousness like dead jellyfish on the beach.

The last day we went out for breakfast rather then lounging in our room, then went down to the boardwalk one more time and ended up in an arcade playing skee-ball and old pinball and video games. The ride home took a long time because of the traffic, but was pleasant enough because we there was fun an interesting stuff on the radio, mainly a countdown of (somebody’s idea of) the top forty albums in 1983, skewed heavily to AOR and hair bands.  In fact there was alot of classic rock in the air the whole weekend, and the band we kept hearing over and over, surprisingly, was Styx.

Truth and Soul

We saw Fishbone open for Parliament Funkadelic at the Capital Theater in Port Chester just the other day.  I’ve been a big Fishbone fan since the 1980’s and seen them a few times before, most notably at the Lollapalooza Festival of 1993, when I was working at MTV’s Electronic Carnival.  Their sound is a bit hard to describe, but I guess they came up as part of that L.A. ska punk scene, combined with deep funk and melodic vocals with great harmony.  And of course great songwriting that shows of all their strengths.  It looks like they still have their original bassist, singers and horn players, but the guitarist, keyboardist and drummer were younger looking guys.  They put on a fantastic show.  The lead singer also played a variety or saxophones, including an impressive black and gold baritone. He seemed to suffer some kind of wardrobe malfunction while crowd surfing; I’m not sure if it was part of the act or not.

Parliament Funkadelic were great too.  George Clinton is still out there doing his thing in his eighties, although he mostly sat in his chair, sang now and then, and conducted the band from time to time.  I could mention that I met George Clinton once in the ’90s when I was working at MTV doing music video games, and he wanted license his whole catalog to us to sample and use in a game. I thought that was a great idea, and worked on a bunch treatments and prototypes for a game in which you go around doing funk jams, and set up different beacons on different levels to ultimately call the mothership, and at the end a bug UFO comes down and the P Funk band jams with you. It would’ve been amazing! But alas, that game never got made.

There were probably twenty musicians on stage including horns, multiple singers, two bass players, several guitarists and just one guy on keys.  The whole thing was one continuous stream of songs, jams, segues and solos.  At one point, when they just finished playing Give Up the Funk, it looked as if they might end the set, but instead they moved into a slow, sparse bass pattern.  The one by one half the guys in the band took an extended solo: trombone, synthesizer, bass, alto sax, guitar, it went on for like a half an hour on the same minimalist groove, and it was amazing.  The alto player in particular had that searing wailing altissimo sound, and cut above everyone else.  The band brought it up after that and did two more songs, another half hour at least.  

Last week was the one and only five-day work week in August for me.  Over the weekend I took the Mustang out, caught up on the yardwork again, this time mainly the north side of the house, plus the neighbor’s willow tree and weeding under the hedges.  We got back into going on bike rides on Sunday morning.  I did fifteen miles this time.  Went out to Long Island for a visit before Michelle goes back to school.  That’s it.

Italy, Part III – Florence

Maybe it’s a good time to circle back and mention the hotels.  We stayed at smallish, European-style hotels. The place in Rome was well over a hundred years old, as was the whole neighborhood, on a narrow one-way street paved in flagstones, with a sharp right turn halfway down the block and a steep slope down to the main street.  Our room had a little courtyard garden. And as I mentioned it had a lovely rooftop bar.  

The place in Naples was a similar building, but the lobby was in a modern style with a lemon theme, and the bar was in the lobby. The air conditioning was a little stronger, or maybe the heat wave had subsided to normal hot summer weather. It was about a block off the main plaza where the train was, and again the whole area was older buildings, with narrow streets paved in flagstones.

All the hotels we stayed had breakfast, and it was pretty similar everywhere. There was usually scrambled eggs and Italian style bacon, a.k.a. prosciutto which had been pan-fried, and various local cheeses. Also fresh cantaloupe, and peaches and pears in syrup (and in one place even plums) like I used to have as a kid. Also various pastries and croissants, juices and coffee. Some places would put a pot of coffee on the table, others had advanced coffee machines that would do espresso, cappuccino, etc. if you could figure out what buttons to press.

Anyway, the last night in Naples was the halfway point of the trip. We checked out, wheeled our luggage back to the station, and got on the train to Florence. This was a trip of over 300 miles, but the train was really fast and we got there by lunchtime. The hotel and the neighborhood were similar to the others, but this time we were on edge of the old renaissance-era downtown, which is now a high-class district of shopping, restaurants, churches and museums. Our first stop of the day was the Uffuzi gallery, home to lots of great renaissance paintings and sculptures including many renditions of the Madonna and child with assorted saints, which this kids dubbed “ugly baby” paintings, and they weren’t far from wrong. Also featured were a myriad of Greek and Roman mythological gods and heroes including Botticelli’s famous Venus on the halfshell. Impressive stuff. I think my favorite painter of that ilk is Donatello.

After that went to see the Duomo, which is a very elaborate cathedral skinned in ornately carved multicolor marble slabs. We were too late to go inside, so instead we sat in a cafe on the piazza and enjoyed more Italian food and drinks. Afterwards we went around shopping. Florence is famous for it’s leather goods, and it turns out the girls had their eyes on various wallets and handbags. I was really impressed at the variety of bags, purses, cases, etc., and even though the dictates of fashion prescribe that such things are not manly, started to devise various pretexts in which I might put to use a really awesome leather handbag. Baroque scientific instruments, material components for spellcasting and that kind of thing. In the end, Jeannie bought me a really nice leather jacket, which amazingly they had in my size. The shopkeeper called me Rambo, and I had to explain to him Stallone is actually a short guy.  It was way too hot to do more than try it on, but I look forward to wearing it in the fall. We ended the night on a medieval bridge over the river, full of gold and jewelry shops.

Next day we stopped by the Duomo again, but the line was way too long get in. We spent the morning at the Accademia Gallery, which featured more paintings and sculptures, and a cool collection of antique musical instruments, including the world’s first piano and a bunch of related instruments. The inventor lived in Florence. The centerpiece of the museum the famous David by Michelangelo. It was really impressive at about twelve feet high, and really beautiful, rightly renowned as a masterpiece. I was a bit disappointed there was no matching Goliath.

In the afternoon we went on a wine tasting tour in the Tuscan countryside. We went to two different places, the about and hour’s bus ride out of town. The first was a charming villa in the countryside that did smaller batches of bespoke wines in large wooden casks. The wines were excellent, served with salami and cheese and a backstory for each one, in a cool dining hall in the middle of the wine cellar. The star wine was a chianti, so we learned what made that special to Tuscany. They had several other varieties, including a great desert wine. The vibe of the place reminded me of what I’d seen in Hungary. In addition to grapes, they also had olive orchards and pressed olive oil. The second place was similar but bigger, and also did industrial scale winemaking with three-story high metal tanks. The tasting was out in a shaded patio, and again several different wines with meat and cheese and bread. It turned out the people sitting next to us were from our same home town in the States, and live only a mile or so away.

A Trip to Italy, Part I – Rome

Just got back from a long, long trip halfway around the world. We’ve had alot of pent-up energy from not being able to travel much for the last three years.  Around Xmastime Lizzy asked if we could do one more family vacation together this summer and Jeannie happily agreed.  We brainstormed some possibilities and decided to go to Italy. 

Our flight left NYC at midnight Saturday night and arrived in Rome Sunday afternoon in the middle of a heat wave.  We stayed in a hotel right in downtown Ancient Rome, walking distance from the Colosseum.  The first evening we took a short walk down, and seeing the Colosseum in real life just knocks you out.  We had dinner at a restaurant right across the way, wonderful Italian food, pasta and wine, and the girls started a long streak of drinking Aperol Spritzes. After walking around a while more, we went back to the hotel and cranked up the AC.  Let me tell you, European air conditioning is not up to American standards.

The main event the next day was a tour of the Vatican.  It was a hundred degrees out.  We were part of an organized tour that met outside the Vatican walls, so we arrived early had lunch nearby, drinks and desert.  The tour itself was quite interesting, first of all because the Vatican is somehow technically it’s own country, separated from the rest of Rome by a medieval castle wall, so there’s this customs and security checkpoint.  Our tour guide called it the world’s richest and weirdest country.  Inside of course it’s all about the renaissance artwork, numerous galleries of sculptures and paintings and artifacts, with a big focus on Michelangelo and his muscular nude men, languidly posed and casually yet precisely composed.  Honestly to modern eyes it looks pretty strange and festishistic, and not always exactly spiritual or uplifting.  Kinda made me want to hit the gym rather than contemplate God.  

Still there’s something impressive and admirable about the talent and vision behind it all, the scale and technique and craftsmanship, the dramatization of characters and scenes from the bible freely mixed with ancient mythology, and the whole renaissance project of revitalizing and connecting to the aesthetic of an civilization that’s been gone for a thousand years.  I studied art and architecture in college, and had seen alot of this in books.  Still, it’s something else seeing it up close and in context at real life scale. Everything is so visually busy, the art, architecture and sculpture all merge into one giant system.  The famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel looks kinda like a comic book, telling a story in a set of panels with bright primary colors.  That doesn’t really come across from the photographs.  I must say the Pieta was genuinely beautiful and moving.

The last thing on the tour was St. Peter’s Basilica, which is just absolutely massive and incredibly ornate, with probably thousands of statues and paintings and other ornamental items, all rendered in carved marble with a few mummified old popes as well.  My favorite thing there was the window behind the alter, which wasn’t stained glass, but rather different kinds of stone in different colors, cut so thin as to be translucent.

We took a cab back to our hotel.  Air conditioning never felt so good.  Later when the sun began to sink toward the west, we went up to the bar on the roof of the hotel and enjoyed some drinks and the view of city.  Then we went out to dinner on Tiber Island at a very charming restaurant.  Afterwards we walked along the river and checked out the shops and the whole scene.

Next day it was even hotter.  The main item of the day was a tour of ancient Rome, starting with an area containing the ruins of the Forum, the temples of Jupiter, Saturn, and other important temples and public buildings.  Next, up the hill was the former palace of the Emperor.  The guide gave us alot of interesting info about the history of the place, how it was built of over time, then fell to ruin, and later excavated and to some extent restored or at least made worthy for public display.  Alot of active archaeology still going on.

The last stop was the Colosseum, and we got to go inside.  This was truly impressive for its massive scale and its ancientness, but also how its conception and layout as a sports arena still feels very modern.  One side of it is standing relatively intact, while the other side partially collapsed in an earthquake centuries ago, and the stones were hauled across town to use in the construction of St. Peter’s.  So it was with alot of structures after the empire fell.  The floor of the arena had been excavated and partially restored, and we did epic battle with the sun god while our guide explained the history and various used of the place throughout the ages.

Afterwards we retreated to a nearby Irish pub, because Jeannie had read that the Irish pubs in Rome tend to have good air conditioning.  Well it was okay by European standard but not actually cool.  Still it was much better than outside, and the drinks were refreshing.  The food, nachos and chicken fingers, was pretty terrible, but we weren’t that hungry anyway.

We finally mustered the energy to walk back to the hotel and took another break.  That evening we went to the famous Trevi Fountain, which was wrought with statues of Neptune, very beautiful.  Lizzy posed for pictures.  Dinner at a nearby restaurant, then more checking out the shops.  Jeannie bought a bobble head of the pope.

Party Like It’s 1999

Had another great weekend.  Continued excellent weather, and for once no big yardwork chores.  All caught up for now; next comes weeding under the hedges.  Saturday we had a barbecue and Nick and Lisa Martin and Kathleen and the kids came over, it was a great time.  

I debuted my summer playlist, as is tradition.  This year the theme was eighty-one favorite songs form the nineties.  This follows from last year’s seventy-seven songs from the seventies and eighty songs from the eighties the year before that.  I must say the 90s seems to have alot more random song and genres from bands the came and went but have not endured so much as bands from the 70s and 80s.  Also not alot in the way of new and interesting jazz.  Maybe it’s because I worked at MTV in the 90s, or maybe it reflects deeper changes in the music industry, technology and popular culture.  Or maybe it’s just that I went thru alot of changes in the 90’s.  I started as a college student, moved across the country several times and lived in three different cities, went to from zero to sky-high to dotcom crash in my career, and ended as a new parent.

Sunday I did a bunch of stuff including take the Mustang for an evening ride due the the long hours of daylight this time of year.  Also switched up my workout to Sunday Tuesday and Thursday this week, since the origami convention starts Friday.

Monday went biking on the Ocean Pathway at Jones Beach.  Nick came out to meet us since he lives nearby.  I did fifteen miles, out to Giglo Beach and back.  Jennie and Michelle made it as far as Tobay Beach.  It felt much easier than last year, when it was only my second or so ride of the season.  I’m up to about ten already this year.  Going for twenty miles next time.  Unfortunately, due to getting a late start and other complications we didn’t go swimming in the ocean.  Ah well, next time.

Lots of origami nowadays too.  I re-folded my stellated icosahedron after ruining the last one my wet-folding.  Just the closing up to go.  Also practicing my spider.  I revised the folding sequence to eliminate the sink of doom and make it teachable, focusing now on the sculpting, especially the legs.  Fun fun fun.

Eighty-One Favorite Nineties Songs

They Might Be Giants – Flood/Birdhouse in Your Soul
Sinéad O’Connor – Nothing Compares 2 U
Jane’s Addiction – Been Caught Stealing
The Sundays – Here’s Where the Story Ends
Black Box – Everybody Everybody
Nine Inch Nails – Head Like a Hole
Digital Underground – The Humpty Dance

Bonnie Raitt – Something to Talk About
Tuck & Patti – Dream
Blues Traveller – Onslaught
Rush – Roll the Bones
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Suck My Kiss
The Sugarcubes – Hit
Right Said Fred – I’m Too Sexy
Liz Phair – Flower
Prince + the NPG – Gett Off

Alice in Chains – Them Bones
King’s X – Black Flag
Snow – Informer
Barenaked Ladies – My Box Set
Neil Young – One of These Days
Nirvana – Come as You Are
Ice Cube – It Was a Good Day
10,000 Maniacs – Candy Everybody Wants
En Vogue – My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)
Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back
House Of Pain – Jump Around
Megadeath – Sweating Bullets
Ozric Tentacles – Yog-Bar-Og

Sheryl Crow – Solidify
Fishbone – Servitude
Ace Of Base – The Sign
Sting – She’s too Good for Me
Donald Fagan – Snowbound
Frank Zappa – G-Spot Tornado (The Yellow Shark)
Billy Joel – River of Dreams
Phish – Rift
US3 – Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)

Soundgarden – The Day I Tried to Live
The Offspring – Self Esteem
The Revels – Comanche
Soul Coughing – Is Chicago Is Not Chicago
Material – Black Lights (Hallucination Engine)
Dead Can Dance – How Fortunate the Man with None
Seal – Kiss from a Rose
Steely Dan – Book of Liars
King Crimson – VROOOM
The Bobs – Spontaneous Human Combustion
Herbie Hancock – Dis is Da Drum
Beastie Boys – Sure Shot
Animaniacs – All The Words in the English Language

No Doubt – Spiderwebs
Alanis Morissette – You Oughta Know
Everclear – Santa Monica
Weezer – Say It Ain’t So
The Beatles – Free as a Bird
Macarena – Los Del Rio (Bayside Boys Remix)
White Zombie – More Human Than Human
Annie Lennox – Something So Right
Medeski Martin and Wood – Friday Afternoon in the Universe

Beck – Devil’s Haircut
Wallflowers – One Headlight
Geggy Tah – Whoever You Are
Know Your Chicken – Cibo Matto
Cake – The Distance
Sneaker Pimps – 6 Underground
Space – The Female of the Species
The Beaux Hunks – Powerhouse
Michael Brecker – African Skies
Oasis – Don’t Look Back in Anger
Johnny Cash – My Wave

Might Mighty Bosstones – The Impression That I Get
Steve & Edyie – Black Hole Sun (Loungapalooza)
Chumbawamba – Tubthumping
Foo Fighters – Everlong
The Verve – Bittersweet Symphony
Sarah McLachlan – Building a Mystery
Smash Mouth – Walking on the Sun
Ben Folds Five – The Battle of Who Could Care Less

Cher – Believe
Fastball – The Way
The Seatbelts – Tank
Brian Setzer Orchestra – Switchblade 327

Weird Al – The Saga Begins