Sunday, October 24, 2010

#86 - Absinthe

Absinthe seems the most mysterious of alcoholic beverages.  It's made from wormwood.  There's a specific way of preparing it for consumption.  It was banned completely in the United States and many other countries for years, and the production and sale is still highly regulated.  It's said to cause hallucinations.

The use of it in films tends to reinforce these myths ... check out these two clips.  The first is from Moulin Rouge

The second from the 1992 version of Dracula

Wow, looks like this is some stuff!  I regret to say that my taste did not lead me to reciting poetry at the Moulin Rouge or reuniting with a sinister love from a past life.  Although just a few sips did make me tipsy ... not surprising as La Fee absinthe is 68% alcohol by volume - that's higher than almost any other drink, including whisky, brandy, vodka, tequila, and most varieties of rum. 

The first couple of sips I took were undiluted.  Here's what the liquor looks like
It tastes almost exactly like licorice pastilles.  And, although it didn't cause me to choke, the rush of heat that followed the swallow made me feel like I was going to spontaneously combust!  The traditionally diluted version of the drink was cloudier, tasted a bit gritty, and had an aftertaste of fennel that lingered until I brushed my teeth several hours later.

The ritual of preparing absinthe involves placing a special flat slotted spoon over the top of the glass, setting a sugar cube on the spoon, and dripping cold water over the sugar.  (The video clip from Dracula above shows steps of this preparation.)  Sometimes the sugar cube is set on fire before the water dilutes it.

Would I try it again?  Probably not.  I'm not a big fan of overpowering licorice taste; I even give away my black jelly beans at Easter time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

#6 - Exploring London Alone

I love to travel.  However, before this trip it has always involved either going somewhere with someone else, or going somewhere to visit someone, or work-related activities (which isn't really travel at all - just sitting in conference center rooms listening to speakers).  So, this trip was definitely a good stretching experience for me; rather than waiting for someone else to have the time and money to accompany me, I just went.
The St. Pancras train station was less than a block from my hotel which made moving about London very easy.
I found it interesting as I prepared that so many people said something along the lines of "how nice it will be for you to go alone and not have to compromise what you want to do or when you want to do things".  I guess that's not something that's been a problem for me in the past - I don't mind splitting up from a travel partner for an afternoon so that we can both see what we want - and, as a single person, it certainly isn't a novelty for me to do things alone when I'm at home.   I guess I should take those comments as a reminder to be mindful of the freedoms that I already experience.
I visited St. Paul's Cathedral on the morning of my first full day in London.
The trip itself was mostly packed with good experiences ... four West End shows, many major museums and art galleries, lots of walking through streets packed with architectural wonders, and time to think about all things I saw.  The last time I visited London, I was thinking about the Tudor and Regency periods, but this time I spent much of my time considering the Blitz and the Victorians.  I would recommend the story "Fire Watch" by Connie Willis to anyone visiting St. Paul's Cathedral; it makes climbing up to the outer galleries and thinking about December 29, 1940 incredibly powerful.
The Millennium Bridge is very popular around lunch time.

Some of this trip's "bests" include the following:
  • best visual effects in a West End show - tied between the animals brought to life by costumes and puppetry in The Lion King and the way Coney Island emerges from the shadows of the past in the first scene of Love Never Dies
  • best lunch - cream of carrot and potato soup with herb bread at Cafe in the Crypt, St. Martins in the Fields
  • best people watching moment - Asian tourists taking each other's photos in front of antiquities in the British Museum without actually looking at the display ... it was all about the photo shoot
  • best "it's a small world" moment - bumping into a high school classmate I hadn't seen in 20 years who was on my flight from Heathrow to Minneapolis
  • art that spoke to me the most- a medieval carved staircase with attached balconies in the V & A
  • best "touching history" moment - being able to actually hold 6 historical artifacts at the British Museum - a Stone Age hand axe, dolphin teeth necklace, 13th century Persian tile, pipe from Ghana, Greek lykthos (perfume jar) from around 400 BC, and a peg covered in cuneiform writing taken from the ziggurat at Ur around 2100 BC - I felt like Indiana Jones
  • The wonderful historian at the British Museum who was running the touch history station.
I really didn't have any truly bad moments in the trip.  A few frustrations included a shop (where I had hoped to buy some gifts for friends) that had moved,  a museum that I wanted to visit had closed (guess I should have gone when I was in London six years ago), and trying to get on and off the tube during rush hour as I hate pushing my way through crowds.  It was oddly peaceful being alone in a crowd of people.
The roses were still blooming in Hyde Park.

It's great to be back home, but I can't wait for my next trip...with or without a companion.
By Trafalgar Square ... this is the only photo of myself that I have from the trip; I exchanged cameras with a British couple there, and we took photos of each other with Nelson's Column in the background.

#63 - Wicked - or, What Makes a Good Witch?

Every year when I was growing up, The Wizard of Oz would play on television sometime during the winter.  And, each time, my best friend and I would spend the evening at her house watching Dorothy defeat the wicked witch, enving Glinda her fabulous bubble travel, singing along, and generally having a fabulous time.  I remember practicing the special step they used to travel down the yellow brick road until I could do it perfectly.

However, I never was interested in reading more than just the first book (either as a child or later in my life).  I did try them, but never was very enthused about what else happened in Oz.  Oz was about finding friends in unexpected places, good witches that appeared in bubbles, defeating wickedness with a bucket of water, and listening to Judy Garland sing about going over the rainbow.  But - despite the apathy towards what happened after Dorothy left - there was always the nagging question of "Why?".  Why did Glinda help Dorothy?  If the Wicked Witch of the West was so horrible, why hadn't someone already thrown a bucket of water at her?  Why was the bucket there if it was so toxic to her?  Was Oz really so wonderful when it seemed that so many characters there were unhappy?

When Wicked by Gregory Maguire first came out, I expected to find the answers to these questions.  But, again, I just couldn't get into the story ... in fact, I never made it to the part where Elphaba leaves for school and meets Galinda.  This time, my lack of interest in the story had to do with the writing style and the incredible amount of time that Maguire spends on Elphaba's infancy.  Then, Wicked was made into a musical, and I thought it was the perfect way to find out why Elphaba became a bad witch in under three hours.

I saw Wicked as part of my recent London trip (which will be the subject of my next post) at the Apollo Victoria Theatre.  It had some great comic moments, and, yes, those "whys" were answered.  The scene where Galinda gives Elphaba a makeover made me think about some of the friendships that I've had.  The origins of the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow were explained in a logical fashion.

However, the stunning costumes were my favorite part.  The ensemble scenes featured each cast member in a unique costume with interesting shapes - especially effective with some of the lighting design.  The accessories - hats, glasses, even cigarette holders - added to the overall glamour of the design and gave a slightly steampunk flavor to the production that reinforced the clockwork dragon and wizard's mechanical head contraption.  I hear that the US touring companies have equally compelling visual design, so if you like unusual fashion, you might want to see this production for the costuming alone.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

#92 - Things I Do Well

This list came from a number of inspirations.  One was a list that I kept during a particularly dark period of my life where I wrote down each day something that I liked about myself - not necessarily things that I excel at, just good that I saw in myself.  Another was a revelation that a friend shared with me that she reached a point in her life where she realized that just because a particular task came easily to her did not mean that everyone shared that ability.  And, yet another is the continual surprise of working at a public service desk and realizing how different people are from one another.

So, here are 25 things that I think I do well:

  1. Establish healthy routines for myself – morning walks, journaling, cooking real meals, etc
  2. Stack books (to amazing heights)
  3. Pet sitting
  4. See both sides of a situation (this has its drawbacks)
  5. Fire starting with one match
  6. Organize stuff
  7. Grow tomatoes – why do I keep planting them?  I don’t even really like them and I always get tons
  8. Read – high speeds, good retention
  9. Take standardized tests – doesn’t effect my life as much as it used to
  10. Come up with analogies to help explain things
  11. Plan ahead and follow through
  12. Show up on time (or early) for meetings, etc.
  13. Find / make meaningful gifts for people I care about
  14. Can visualize the final result of a project (in 3D) that I am just starting
  15. Give awesome backrubs
  16. Fierce loyalty to the people that I claim as friends
  17. Can make perfectly swirled soft-serve ice cream cones
  18. Read body language
  19. Honor small home-grown traditions/celebrations of the little things in life – for example, first snow doughnuts
  20. Problem solving
  21. Match colors
  22. Remember my dreams which are fabulous, colorful, and could be used as plots for feature movies
  23. Give book recommendations that match the interests of the reader rather than just my own
  24. Pick up the ability to do crafts competently in a short time period
  25. Bake cookies