Friday, December 25, 2009

It isn't Christmas without fire trucks and tractors decorated with pretty lights.

Since my pictures of the Santa Parade were so terrible, I resorted to taking video. It worked much better. These clips are all under a minute, but some of them are loud, what with the sirens and the microphones.

Happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Annual Post of Blurry Pictures from the Santa Parade

Once again, it was bitterly cold on the night of the Santa Parade. And once again, I came to accept that it is not possible to take a picture of moving lights in the dark without having paid significantly more attention to my camera's instruction manual than I have done. So they all look like this:

Look, Santa breaks the sound barrier!

Happily, after the parade, the fire trucks all park along the street and if you are willing to risk loss of limb to frostbite, you can take somewhat better pictures.

And while I'm at it: here's an incredibly tall tree with lights on it, a feat that impresses me not because I have a fear of heights (though I kind of do) but because I have terrible balance and could never have pulled this off myself.

This photo is by my mum, who did a better job of camera-wrangling in the dark than I did.

Next time, video! Hopefully.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

At Least I'll Have Health Insurance

Cory tells his nephew why Ivan wakes up at 3 O'Clock in the afternoon:

Monday, December 21, 2009

The goose is my favorite.

Cookies that are upside-down have no calories.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter Wonderland

first snow in the city called for a 5th Avenue outing
The Tiffany and Co. window display was stunning and while my phone simply doesn't do it justice, I hope some of the magic that is Christmas in New York City comes through. The Bergdorf photos I refuse to post because the displays just don't translate to pixels-- think giant horses made of leaves, mirrored dresses, pretty staircases, polar bear queens, silver lobsters playing violins and this little fellow hiding in an Alice in Wonderland inspired corner.
Happy Holidays -- Ivan

Thursday, December 17, 2009

One More Thing About York (Or, "Where shall I seek some food and the other half of my pants?")

Back in the day, York was a Roman fort called Eboracum. When I say "the day," I am referring to sometime between 43 AD, when the Romans invaded Britain, and about 410 AD, when the Romans left Britain to its fate (which was to be invaded three more times in the next 600 years). To be fair, the Romans had valid concerns about other, perhaps more vital areas of the empire, but I still hold their abandonment of Britain against them, as the native Britons were left in a rather vulnerable position and that must have been distressing.

But I digress. Back in the day, on the site where York now stands, Eboracum existed and it was full of representatives of the Roman empire who brought with them certain customs. These customs included bathing. Bathing in a ritualized way, not simply bathing, surely the natives already did that. I mean, what were they, barbarians? Oh wait. They sort of were. Well, anyway, the Romans bathed. Where?

Why, in the basement of the Roman Bath Inn in St. Sampson's Square, of course. Except at the time, there was no St. Sampson, no square, and no inn, and presumably it wasn't the basement. It was a nice, normal, above-ground bath house.

Nowadays it isn't looking so hot, but that will happen when you bury something for several centuries. This, I believe, is the caldarium.

Those square things are stacks of pilae tiles, which would have held up the floor, leaving a space for hot steam to heat it. The caldarium was the hot bath. The name suggests that it should be a cold bath, but in fact, the root word is related to scald in modern English.

That is the only picture I have that really gives an idea of how it used to look. Most of the rest of the site is covered up by the modern building. However, there was this highly professional display on personal hygiene.

We were told this was the origin of the saying about getting the wrong end of the stick, but I am highly skeptical about that, as getting the wrong end of this stick would seem to have less to do with misunderstanding a situation than with inadvertently getting dirty. However, the fellow who told us this was right about the strawberries in the market being perfectly ripe, so who knows.

ANYWAY. We are now coming to the ENTIRE reason that I am bothering to post about this at all: Apollonius of Tyre.

Long ago when I was taking Latin in college, we read approximately four pages of this gem of a story called APOLLONIUS, KING OF TYRE. It has everything: a beautiful puella, a fairly horrifying interlude of incest, a rigged contest between suitors, bizarre riddles, a faithful steward, travel by ship, the transportation of a lot of extra food and innumerable changes of clothing on said ship, the rescue of a starving city, a storm at sea, and a shipwreck. I'm not exaggerating, that really is only four pages or so. It goes on.

The best part of this melodramatic and poorly-written story is the scene in which Apollonius, whom I picture as a kind of Disney prince (big chin, small brain), goes into a gymnasium in the city where he's been shipwrecked, and lays the smackdown on everyone in a brief game of Naked Oily Ball. This game was so named by my Latin professor after describing it to us as a sport played as exercise after one has been nicely oiled after a bath and happens also to be naked.

We all had a good laugh over this, especially as the professor went on to intuit Apollonius's thinking here as: "I have lost my ship of clothes but I am still one hot king." Honestly, it was one of the most entertaining classes I ever took, and it is the reason that I burst out laughing when I saw this in the display by the baths:

This is a strigil, used to scrape the oil and dirt off your skin after you've been bathing . . . or playing Naked Oily Ball. I think I'm holding it backwards here (shh, I'm left-handed, it's not my fault), but you get the idea. Anyway, now when I think of that truly strange scene, I picture it happening not in a Roman gymnasium but in the streets of modern York.

And THAT is the largely unsatisfying conclusion to this basically pointless post about Romans in York. I leave you with this moving and meaningful quote concerning the activities of the brave king Apollonius while in exile: "For he is on the high seas, eating wheat and changing clothes."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Handle With Care

It was only upon unpacking my suitcase that I realized why Jin Patisserie refuses to ship their macarons.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Old Friend, Yorkity York York York

Travel Buddy and I spent one day in York at the tail end of our British Adventure. I hadn't been there since June 2004, when I packed up my phone booth coin bank and my sheep-shaped doorstop, and went home after living there for nine months. Going back to York was not like going back to London, where I've been several times, but never for more than three days at once. York feels very much like home. London feels like a place you stop on the way to somewhere else.

So, here is a brief tour of my favorite parts of York. First, of course, the statue of Constantine the Great in front of York Minster.

I somewhat famously have the hots for this statue. Come on, check out the lion faces on those sandal-boots. Constantine is awesome. He was the first emperor of Rome who became a Christian, although he could hardly be said to have had undivided religious loyalties. Nevertheless, it was under his reign that most Christians stopped being persecuted. I say most because non-orthodox Christians were frowned upon. And if possible, killed. And he didn't like Jews that much. And, for reasons lost to history, he had his wife and son executed. So you see it is really better to venerate the statue than the man. I am totally normal.

I also really like Goodramgate (gate comes from gata, the Old Norse word for "street"). First of all, it has these striking half-timbered buildings with signs on them that say nice, friendly things like "cream tea" and "sandwiches" that make you feel somehow like Winnie-the-Pooh in a shop full of honey.

It also has, at the end of the street, a National Trust gift shop. I like nothing more than a National Trust gift shop. Everything in them is stamped with birds or ladybugs or green leaves, and if it isn't waterproof then it doesn't need to be, and whatever it is, it's 100% genuine and made from recycled paper, plastic, egg cosies, or whatever. In short, while you are in one, you fall under the welcome illusion that the world isn't all going to hell. I would live in one if I could.

One of my favorite places, hidden in plain sight, is the church of All Saints, Pavement. It is always open. It is always silent. It is always empty. It always has a blue ceiling.

It dates to the fourteenth century and is just to the side of the main square in the center of the city. It's small, especially compared to the Minster, but that just makes it feel less intimidating.

To be honest, I can't remember what this ornate wooden structure is because this is the only picture I took of it. That seems typical of my experience of this church. It's odd, in a nice way.

One can't talk about York without mentioning the Shambles, a short street parallel to the main square, which is very old and feels like it's going to collapse at any moment. Usually it's full of old ladies and tourists.

I walked through it once at Christmastime, at night. It managed to be both beautiful and creepy at the same time. I admire that in architecture.

Next to the Shambles there's an open-air market selling random things like belts, tea towels, and socks with stuffed cow's heads on them. Not real ones, obviously. They also sell fruit...

...and drawings of famous people.

Why anyone would want a drawing of Cristiano Ronaldo is beyond me. I hold him responsible for kicking England out of the Euro Cup in 2006, and it is because of him that I can now never go to Portugal. As for David Tennant, this is the second time he's turned up in one of my posts for no good reason, so I'm not really in a position to mock the fangirls who would probably buy this.

Other features of York include:

1. Obscenely charming storefronts like this:

2. A rawther nice defensive wall for when the Scots finally decide they've had enough:

3. Peculiar decorations everywhere you look:

4. And (I am assuming this is universal) bed and breakfasts offering the best free comestibles ever: shortbread biscuits, Yorkshire Tea, and . . . UHT milk!

You don't see UHT milk here in the US. UHT stands for "ultra high temperature" and is a way of sterilizing food. UHT milk lasts much longer whether opened or unopened, but it comes in unappetizing-looking boxes, like juice, and I guess we Americans don't like that. I never noticed any difference between UHT milk and regular milk, so my excitement was purely based on the fact that UHT milk means YOU ARE IN ENGLAND and usually also YOU ARE HAVING TEA, and that's always nice.

Anyway, after two solid weeks of sleeping in grungy hostels with eight to twelve snorers and unreliable access to basics such as refrigeration and silverware, I was as happy as an octopus under a coconut shell when I sat down on that clean bed, turned on the telly, and had a nice hot cup of Yorkshire Tea.

York knows what I like.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gray in LA

One of the perks of a rainstorm in Los Angeles is the 24 hours or so of clean air that follows. I was lucky enough to get to The Getty after the downpour last week and it was oh so pretty.

upon seeing the snowy peaks I exclaimed "beautiful! Who knew we had mountains in the distance?!"

Friday, December 11, 2009

Edinburgh: Miscellany

Here's all the stuff that didn't fit into the other posts. First of all, a picture I have been dying to share since May.

I think this gives the unfortunate impression that the infected persons have been let loose in the city, and any minute now, thirty members of the aristocracy will come thundering through the streets in their hunting pinks, shouting TALLY HO and shooting people. Needless to say I was glad I didn't have the flu.

Next, the rhubarb tart from the cafe in St. Giles'.

It's a good thing we spent most of our time walking, or we wouldn't have been able to fit in our airplane seats on the way home.

Although this, to be honest, would be hard to fatten up on. To begin with, it's called Cullen Skink, which doesn't inspire confidence.

"Cullen" is a town in Scotland, and "skink" is a word that has evolved to mean "soup." It's basically potato soup with onions and fish (in my case, haddock). Since I only eat fish in foreign countries, and I was in the mood to try something extremely Scottish that wasn't haggis, I decided to be brave and order it. I rather liked it, but I probably couldn't eat it in more than small doses, as it was quite fishy (literally).

I got the peculiar fishy-soup here, at Deacon Brodie's Tavern, which I had always wanted to go into.

The downstairs is a pub and the upstairs is a restaurant. Upstairs it was dim, and the ceiling was low, and there was tartan carpeting. And they set down the Cullen Skink in front of me, and I was like, "I AM IN SCOTLAND NOW."

One thing about Scotland which is sometimes delightful and sometimes not is how much daylight there is in the summer. I took this picture late in the evening, maybe around 10:30.

At the end of May, the sun rises around 4:30 and sets around 9:45. However. Twilight starts at least an hour earlier than that in the morning and ends an hour later at night. Meaning I woke up every morning at 3:30 because there was light on my face. That was also an "I AM IN SCOTLAND NOW" moment, but a less pleasant one. The late sunset is quite nice, though, because it means you can walk around right up until bedtime.

What I particularly enjoy about Edinburgh is that, like York, the very streets are ornate. I suppose that's true of practically anywhere in Britain. Or Europe. Or anywhere in the world. Well, I like it, anyway. Particularly these:

There's probably a name for them, but I don't know what it is. Perhaps at some point they served as signs for the illiterate.

I also enjoyed this mural on the side of a pub called The World's End.

Distressingly, I did not have an opportunity to work in anything about Dorothy Dunnett in my last post, and I don't have much this time. There was a "Semple's Close" somewhere on the Royal Mile, but for whatever reason I didn't take a picture. (Semple is something of a significant name in both the Lymond Chronicles and the Niccolò Rising series.) But that was exciting. For me.

Well, that's about it for Edinburgh. Without going into truly agonizing detail (and doing a lot more research), I don't have much more to say. So I will leave you with two images of the city, one in a close-up of the decorations on one of the gates by Holyrood Palace, and one from Greyfriars Kirkyard, at the start of one of those long, long twilights.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Edinburgh: Indoors

This post shall be about things that are indoors in Edinburgh. It shall include only places I dared to go into (the Children's Museum is the scariest place on earth and you couldn't pay me to go there again - who needs a ghost tour when you can wander alone on the third floor of a deserted museum full of decaying, hundred-year-old dolls staring at you with their beady little eyes?), and of those, only places I was allowed to take pictures. So I will not be showing you the crown jewels. Sorry.

Being in Scotland, there was of course a lot of plaid, especially in the Tartan Weaving Mill & Exhibition. Here's the mill part:

And here's the exhibition:

This proves that terrifying mannequins are universal. Their outfits were quite nice though. I fancy the tartan tights. Well, not really. I just wanted to use "tartan tights" in a sentence.

The Museum of Scotland is full of cool stuff. For example, glass models of exotic sea creatures!

They were made in the late nineteenth-century by Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka for natural history museums throughout the world. There were a lot of them and they were incredible.

And bottles, for no special reason.

I didn't take a picture of the caption, so I guess they were only pretty, and not intrinsically interesting.

This is a picture I took specifically for Simon P., because we had been talking about Fresnel lenses (six months ago). I don't remember why. And from this picture I can't tell whether this actually is one.

Anyway, interesting fact: this display is all about Robert Stevenson, who was not only an innovater in the use of Fresnel lenses in lighthouses, but ALSO the grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Now, the moment you've been waiting for since I mentioned them a couple of posts ago... the Lewis Chessmen!

They are from the twelfth century and were found in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. Like real Vikings, they are very cute. Look at those little hands! And those bulging eyes! They're just like bad-tempered babies! And that's all I had to say about them. When I said it was going to be really interesting, I lied. That's called marketing.

I was somewhat surprised to come face to face with Dolly in the middle of the kids' area of this museum. First of all, I forgot she was Scottish. Secondly, I didn't know she'd been stuffed.

Stop me if you knew this, but the reason some people think Dolly only lived to be six is because her "mother" was already six when she was cloned. So Dolly was basically born at the age of six. Which would explain why she got arthritis when she was only five. That, if I may say so, sucks. Poor Dolly.

They also had a robot that could spell your name in blocks. It was mesmerizing.

And the rest of the time we were outside.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle

I have made you read a lot lately. Here, have some pictures with restrained commentary.

This is Edinburgh Castle.

It's neat because you can see bits of rock poking out of it. It was built on what was left of the rock inside a volcano after the volcano itself was eroded by glaciers. Or something like that.

As I've mentioned before, we had spectacularly good weather on this trip. The low-lying part between the castle and the street contains the Princes Street Gardens, and, farther toward the water, the train station. You can also see the Walter Scott Monument, which really does look like a Gothic rocket ship, as Bill Bryson once said.

This is the one o'clock gun. It goes off every day at a quarter to four. Just kidding, it goes off at one.

This isn't a bullseye. It's a map of the sort used to help people set their clocks to the gun. As the caption said, "Sound travels a long way, but it travels quite slowly. So to set their clocks accurately, listeners at a distance had to take this delay into account." For some reason I think that's terribly interesting.

The varying levels on which the castle is built makes it very well-suited to be the setting of a steeplechase in someone's book. Whose book, do you think? One of Dorothy Dunnett's, of course. I WILL WORK HER INTO EVERY POST THIS WEEK.

For some reason I have a lot of trouble wrapping my head around this castle. I just cannot get a handle on it, and my pictures are therefore of random things that don't really give a very good idea of what it's like. It's immense and intricate and extremely solid-feeling (that part probably goes without saying). It also contains the most moving and impressive war memorial I've ever seen, the crown jewels, and the National War Museum, among other things I've forgotten. Unfortunately...

...they don't let you climb on the gun.