Saturday, October 31, 2015

Spiral Jetty, part deux

So excited to visit Spiral Jetty at the Great Salt Lake for the second time.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Hopscotch in Oakland

Oysters with salmon roe and sea urchin gonads. Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket.

You are either with us or against us.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hello Hong Kong

I had the option of delaying my connection in HKG for twelve hours, and I took it. I've never been outside the airport before.

What do I think? I think I need to come back. Typhoon Mujigae has been buffeting the island all day with heavy rain and gale force winds. Sites were difficult to get to, and the legendary views non-existent.

That's okay. I took the airport express to Central and met my old friend Trac at the Apple Store (motto: bringing people together across the globe). We went to high school and college together, drove across Canada, starred in each other's plays and films, and got too drunk too many times in New York to count. He's now the point man for Goldman Sachs TV Asia, having just moved here with his wife Nicole and 20-month-old Julien. So we went shopping for dinnerware and refrigerators safely indoors.

But not before lunch. Spicy cashew shrimp, dan-dan noodle, soup dumplings, pork buns, jellyfish, fried rice and black fungus in Chinese black vinegar. Somehow, we ate 90% of it, likely because it wasn't Indian.

He showed me his new place in Happy Valley, then we went shopping for dinner. Half a goose, plus roasted and Chinese BBQ pork. Picked up some Chinese broccoli at the wet market. Back at the ranch he made rice and we got fatter with glee. Don't worry; they've got leftovers.

Caught the MTR back to the airport. Clean, fast, efficient. In fact, I'm struck that the whole city seems to operate this way. There wasn't a hint of litter; construction sites were orderly and well kept; the trolley was cute.

I hate to feel jaded having arrived from Earth's largest cesspool, but there it is: both were British colonies for centuries; both struggled for autonomy, though the circumstances were vastly different; one has more natural resources, but surveying the population, it's hard to argue one is more homogeneous. Perhaps it is size that matters; perhaps it is appropriate governance. But Hong Kong has built a city on a hill, while India struggles to build a single, viable sidewalk.

I'm going to go get on a plane now and dream of perfectly roasted geese and squandered potential.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Bye-Bye Bangaluru

Ram picked me up from the residence for dinner, but first we stopped at the new statue. It was fenced off, maybe the result of an earlier ceremonial unveiling. In either case, it's only the second picture I've taken in India that has no people in it.

Dinner was slim pickings. Any establishment serving alcohol was closed by law, leaving street counters and chaat bars. Still tasty.

Now I'm at the airport, waiting for the counter to open. Hopefully there will be no hassles, but it's India, so don't relax until you're on the plane.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

It's Quiet Today

All the government offices are closed, most businesses, and many shops. It's Gandhi's 146th birthday. I was looking for some weirdness, but except for a statue unveiling on the other side of town, there's not much going on. Even the traffic has been downgraded from apocalyptic to merely ridiculous.

It's just as well. I woke up yesterday with the traditional Indian upper respiratory infection and have been enduring the Trial by Green Snot. Maybe I'll take a nap. In 12 hours I leave for Hong Kong.

Stuck in the Indian DMV. Again.

This happened last time. With a day to go I find myself standing in front of a counter of surly public servants waiting for some magistrate to approve my exit form so I can leave. They require your passport, a copy of your passport, four passport photos, the signed original employment contract, a signed and stamped letter from your sponsor vowing for your good behavior, a signed and stamped letter of residency from your hotel, and a filled online form. When you fill out the online form, you have to print it, sign it and bring it with you. You also need to upload a scan of your passport photo and a PDF of the signed and stamped residency form. All to go home.

[Think about this: first, fill out and print the online residency form; then sign it and stamp it; then scan the signed and stamped version and convert to PDF, then reduce to 200k, the maximum size allowed, then upload it again, then make a copy of it. That's one form. Wash, rinse, repeat.]

How this is possible unless you're a) proficient in Adobe Creative Cloud and b) have access to photography studios, printers, scanners, and important individuals who possess official stamps is beyond me.

Once you're done with the online shenanigans, they give you an appointment. Mine was for Monday, but since I leave Saturday I needed a driver to take me to this state-sponsored form of limbo. They told me to come back Monday. I lied and said I had surgery scheduled for Tuesday. They sent me to the principal's office.

So this dude is hanging out with his buds watching cricket, but after hearing my plea he called his help desk lackey who gave me a note to take to the receptionist. That put me first in line.

The next 30 minutes I spent sitting there as all the paperwork was reviewed three times, answering dumb questions, and eventually writing a confession explaining silly details. They told me to come back in 90 minutes.

Now I've been sitting here for two hours while they process the paperwork for what must be half of Rwanda. The view's not bad, though, and it gives me plenty of time to concentrate on writing cranky blog posts.

The best part is where, on the drive here, you pass a coliseum-sized wedding cake of a building, over the entrance of which is inscribed "Government Is God's Work." I always knew the guy was kind of a dick.

Addendum: Around 5pm, the principal came back into Indian DMV wearing his yellow and black gym attire plus a lot of gold chains. He picked me out (it's not hard) and yelled at one of his lieutenants something to the effect of "Why is the white dude still here? Fix this! He's going to blog about it!" Ten minutes later everything was in order and ready to go. I get to go home.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

It Ain't Coffee and Donuts

Breakfast came to us this morning: masala dosa and chutney. Spicy as usual, and delicious. I found this particular dosa a bit heavy, almost pancake-like, but who's complaining?

The Food

I'm sorry I have no pictures. I left my phone in the room when I wandered down to the kitchen to grab a Kingfisher from the fridge and caught a meal in the making. A viscous white liquid bubbled in a very large pot, while the wok next to it simmered furiously, a collection of vegetables and chili and ingredients not unforeign to MacBeth. Green lentils stood by. Around the counter something seethed in a pan, obscured by an ill-fitting lid, steam escaping. Upon reflection, I think that was the point. A black cat wandered through, complaining loudly.

I've never eaten this well in India. After yesterday's rava dosa, and the following dinner (can I talk to you more about those prawns? and the pepper mango swathed in the devil's own chutney?), today's lunch combined the known—murgh makhani, onion pulao—with the unknown—a red pickle of sorts coated with sesame—to my favorite thing of all: tava keema.

The tava is a sort of Mongolian grill, but smaller. It's a barbeque on a plancha, ridiculously hot cast iron over a flame. Lamb shanks on one side, and seriously marinaded, seriously hot ground lamb on the other. Wrap that stuff in a paratha, dump some raita and salad on top, and you've got what I call an Indian taco. It is easily the best taco on the planet, though I got some funny looks for the innovative assembly.

Speaking of which, there's a market for good Mexican street food here.

Anyway, my hosts are most gracious, and they humor me. I want to learn everything, and the one older gentleman who speaks limited English put up with my inquiries: they purchase 4.5 pounds of red chili powder every month; 12 onions each day is normal for four people; all the burners use individual propane because you can't trust the power; and, oh, what's under that pan with the ill fitting lid?

I caught a peek. I got a bite, or five, but not until I'd examined the scaling, the scoring, the seasoning. Salt, red chili, and lime. That's all. In an old cast iron skillet, in a quarter inch of sunflower oil. It must be sunflower.

River fish. Small, maybe 8 inches long. They pulled one out for me because that's the kind of people they are. It was perfect. It was glorious.

I tend to write a lot about food because I regard the planet as one enormous buffet and I've tried nearly everything on the menu, but this fish, from this little faculty residence, managed by a small family with one very cute kid, there is no comparison.

Monday, September 28, 2015

To Reassure Karen

That I'm not just off playing Lawrence of Arabia (Michael of Karnataka?) and really am working. Ice breaker dinner. Mangalorean food. Spicy from the pit of hell, but I like that. The prawns were delicious.

I suppose I should offer some explanation of this endeavor. Ram Nidumolu, a fellow professor at Woxsen, has been running business innovation courses for various companies here and invited me to join him as the design guy. He's got the morning classes; I take the afternoons. Day 1 starts in 30 minutes. We'll see how it goes.

In the Kitchen of Hotel Rajesh

Nothing like a little stand up, street side dining. My associate Ram pointed me toward this place and it didn't disappoint. One rava dosa, please. 40Rs (about 65 cents).

We'd been talking about Bay Area South Indian places last night. While we're both fans of Madras Cafe, he stated that while good, the flavors just weren't the same. And he's right. The dosa here are smaller, lighter, and spicier, with some other flavor going on. Good sambar, too.

I don't think they get many white guys, though.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

It’s Raining in Bangaluru

I was able to send that last post right before everyone had to turn off their phones, and then…Cathay Pacific doesn’t offer in-flight Wi-Fi, so goodbye world. I did get caught up on my Pixar/Disney movies however, and here’s the deal: Pixar rocks the world; Disney kinda sucks. Inside Out is easily one of their best, Big Hero 6 has nothing for the adults, and I can’t even remember what else I watched.

Anyway, HKG is always delicious, but the plane left late (they waited for a straggler, which I’ve never heard of; must have been a Person of Some Importance) and we got into India an hour behind schedule. At least I had the row to myself.

Speaking of India, customs almost didn’t let me leave the airport. Though my visa is valid until the 16th, I didn’t seem to have the right tax documents prepared. Then they cautioned me that I would require an exit visa and handed me a piece of paper they claimed to contain the address of the appropriate office, but actually contained instructions for my hotel to register me as a guest. But they let me pass, meaning I needed to go through security again to leave the airport. Welcome back to the subcontinent.

BTW, the hotel, it turns out, is not a hotel. It’s the faculty residence of the Indian Institute for Human Settlement. It’s lovely, really, kind of like a college co-op meets the ambassador’s villa. Only problem was that I got in at 2:30 am, woke up at seven to the sound of howler monkeys and the morning call to prayer, couldn’t find anyone, had no Wi-Fi password, and didn’t know where I was. Then the power went out (it seems to do that every morning from 7:30 until 9:00), so I went and played in the traffic.

When I got back the power was on and the resident den mother was making breakfast for all the interns. Fantastic. And all veg, which is how I try to eat over here. The chicken is…of questionable provenance.

Then the sky opened and a significant portion of the world’s fresh water poured out for the next 14 hours while the god of light and magic threw a tantrum. At least it keeps the bugs down.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Right, More of This

Please take your seats as a representative sampling of humanity boards your aircraft. Make some new friends; there's time. It's only fifteen hours to Hong Kong.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

So We Came Home...

I love the hummingbirds, thus I put out a feeder and bought the Audubon-approved, no-boil, fruity mixture. They loved it, and showed up in droves. Only problem? I read the instructions wrong. It calls for three teaspoons per six ounces of water, and I've been using three tablespoons

Now I've got an armada of diabetic, cracked-out, twitchy little airborne dinosaurs who regard me as some kind of pollen god. All things considered, it could be worse.

Friday, July 31, 2015

My Second Favorite Market

We hit this last time, and it obliterates anything in the US. The only better market I can recall is the one in Barcelona, and that has to do mainly with churros, chocolate, and several hundred tons of pork products.

Not that this isn't the case here. The west end is dedicated to flowers and herbs, the center a massive homage to all things vegetable, picked that morning and making a strong case for never setting foot in a grocery store ever again, and an east end dedicated to crêpes, fromage, foie, and saucissons. Not to be missed is the meat-on-a-stick vendor, who is right where he was nine years ago, but has innovated and now offers seven different sausages on one skewer for your dining pleasure. That and a crêpe and you'll be good to go for the next few hours. (Remember how Karen left me to my own devices while she went shopping? I ate 19 oysters before she showed up and helped me out. I'm approaching seven dozen in the past week. C'est magnifique.)

One other note: I'm uncertain if this is a new thing, but cidre de glacé (ice cider) is everywhere. If you're familiar with ice wine, you know the process: wait until the temperature drops to -8C, then harvest and immediately press the fruit for a sugar-rich juice that yeast loves to gorge on. The result is a low-alcohol (10%) digestif that's like drinking a caramel apple. I've not seen it in the states, but I have a plan to fix that.

Cathedral as Mullet

It's all formality and conformity up front, but it's brutal in the back. We missed Notre Dame de Montreal last time, but ducked inside during one of the city's epic downpours. So you got your Death Jesus, your Mary Queen of Heaven, your banner-bearing lamb-Jesus, a lighting design meant to evoke both sunrise and sunset, your gold-plated rococo apostles, and on and on. But back behind the original alter, there's a 60s era chapel with blond wood paneling and dear lord who got the commission to create a giant, brutalist monolith replete with starving peasants, suffering children, and the queen of heaven having a really bad hair day?

Personally, I prefer the Latin American version of Catholic iconography as it favors demons and chupacabras and all three Jesuses (man-boy-lamb) in the same frieze, something that's not kosher in the European tradition. 

When the aliens finally arrive they are going to be so confused...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

One more art post

From the David Altmejd a giant owl pellet, but with wolves and crystals...

Yes, more art please

So incredibly happy with such amazing contemporary art in Montreal! The Contemporary Art Museum had an amazing solo show of work by David Altmejd in their vast and stunning galleries and DHC Foundation featured a great show of work by Yinka Shonibare in their two separate spaces. But the endless Arsenal was a true highlight, with some extraordinary large-scale sculptures and installations by artists from Canada and beyond.

Montreal heat wave

We arrived in Montreal just in time for a heat wave, which essentially means sweltering heat and 70% humidity punctuated by periods of torrential downpours. Thankfully our air b&b has a balcony, from which we could escape the heat and get a great view of the weekly fireworks show.

Best Man Couch Ever

First, for those among this blog's four readers who don't know what a man couch is, it's that plush, leather piece of furniture in women's boutiques that exists to relieve man ass during the 2-3 hour period your wife/girlfriend/sister/sister's cute friend will spend shopping in this store alone. It is usually accompanied by books on tying your own fishing lures or the proper attire for riding along on a fox hunt outside Nottingham, and it is highly prized by those who get laid, or plan to, or once did but still believe. 

But I challenge you, dear reader, to imagine a man couch with oysters and libations. Even better, it's across the street which means not having to answer questions like, "What do you think?"

Side note: forget about "Does this make me look fat?" (Nothing could make you look fat) and "Do you like this?" (It really complements your eyes/hair/nail polish/sparkling personality). It's the open-ended questions expressing doubt and uncertainty that must be avoided like a plague-ridden Africanized bee colony adjacent to a field of unexploded land mines. What was I talking about?

Today's special is a dozen Beau Soleils for C$18, which is about $14 in money that doesn't look like it was printed by Milton-Bradley. And that's awesome considering Karen's not back yet. I could inhabit this particular man couch indefinitely.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Veal

I signed up for this trip expecting mainly lobster and foie. Truth is, I didn't eat that much of the former (despite all the photos, I ordered it twice; the rest was Karen). What surprised me was my renewed love of oysters and the ubiquity of veal.

Pictured is the latest: bee wax poached sweetbreads. Not that I'm keeping score, but I am. Of the six remarkable meals we've had:

Eventide: oysters
Grace: oysters and foie
Primo: oysters and veal heart tartare
Légende: oysters and foie
Laurie Raphael: veal tenderloin tartare
Laloux: foie and veal sweetbreads
(Many other oysters gave it up for the cause along the way; they make for a delightful afternoon snack.)

I count at least five dozen oysters and the heart, loin, and thymus glands of a baby cow--or, more accurately, three different baby cows. Am I a bad person? Is evil still evil if it's delicious? My understanding is they were happy, frolicking little calves until I ate them. Doesn't that count for something? And what of the humble oyster? No one puts their likeness on a protest sign. Of course, scaling up an image of an oyster to 36x48 would be pretty gross, and wouldn't win your cause any support. Is the cute and cuddly held in higher esteem than something that looks like a snot?

Anyway, I've been sleeping really well.

Navigation Offline

The symptoms seemed severe: anxiety, confusion, disorientation, paranoia. Strangers approaching our vehicle were regarded with contempt or suspicion. Even the streets seemed to be conspiring, always going the wrong way...if they were even there at all. The parking meters were not to be trusted either, or even consulted.

My navagatrix went offline after leaving the comfort of the US Cellular Data Sector. Distances and directions evaporated, and no longer was there a soothing voice advising a right turn in 400 meters.

Fortunately I navigate terra incognito like a pacific salmon in heat navigates the cool, refreshing waters of Cascadia, so once Karen agreed to relax and look out the window, all became right in the world.

Stuffed animals at the Musee de Beaux Arts

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Quebec City is crafty

Our visit to the City was timed perfectly with the annual Québécois craft-a-thon, featuring more than 100 artists affiliated with the regional guild. Silver, glass, wood, and clay galore. Thankfully, a first aid tent was provided for those unfortunate folks who may have been stricken by a craft attack. The craftaganza was not Michael's favorite, but he did find entertainment in the Quebecoise regional food tent, where he was able to taste all things foie, cider, and maple.

Les Passages Insolites

Quebec City commissioned 12 artists to create temporary public pieces in an attempt to encourage community members to see their city in a new way. We encountered several in our own exploration of the city.

Euro Disney

With its cobblestone streets and historic buildings, Quebec City is adorable. Its old city is also a UNESCO world heritage site. But the area is also reminiscent of Disneyland--swarms of oblivious tourists, a castle, and even costumed performers.

I Miss These

I'm not sure why the west coast lacks a diner culture; they're cheap and delicious, and once you pick your diner, that's your seat at the counter, those are your friends, and your waitress knows your order. And they've got homemade pies and those thin little diner burgers, but I almost always go for the ham, egg, and cheese on white. Order that in California and you'll get ham and eggs with toast and hash browns. Put it in a sandwich, people! That's where the magic with the cheese happens. Oh, and a large diet coke, please. Breakfast of champions.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Not Lobster

Sundays and Thursdays are oyster nights at Primo in Rockland. You should go; they're a buck each. I had a dozen. Karen got these insanely good warm dates stuffed with gorgonzola and anointed with honey and brandy. There was a pizza involved, and the best steak tartare I've ever had (the secret is in the thoughtful application of anchovies and veal heart).

It's the old farmhouse setting, however, and its weird cast that make it unique. The staff is wonderfully attentive, serving up drinks while you wait on a table (25 minutes at 7pm on a Sunday in Rockland), and one dude checks every five minutes to make sure your name is still Moon (really, he kept asking "Are you Moon?"). Once seated, it only takes a minute to realize that the table to one side is occupied by obnoxiously drunk sorority girls who haven't seen each other in 25 years ("Grand Marnier! Woot Woot") and the table to the other hosts a family who just wanted a quiet evening and keeps trying to stare them down over your tartare and holy crap did you just see that guy eat three dozen oysters?

Reservations recommended.

In Maine, everyone is a potter

As we drove around Maine, it appeared that every town on the coast was dotted with pottery studios. On Deer Island alone, there are hundreds. Which of course leads me to question, did the potters come to Maine, or did Maine make the potters? Regardless of their origin, resources have emerged for these artists, including Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, which hosts exhibitions and artists in two-week residencies. It's a stunning building, beautifully integrated into the rustic and remote landscape.

It's All Homemade

The entire state of Maine. Lobster traps, campaign signs, cranberry wine, ice cream, the lawn, and warnings about slow chickens.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Getting our lighthouse on

Permaquid Cove rates high on the Maine-o-meter, with its remote location, cute white lighthouse, and rocky shoreline. Our first lighthouse on our last day in Maine

Food, without the sea

So excited to eat something other than seafood! The lovely hamlet of Belfast offers Chase's, a farmstand and veggie restaurant that provides a welcome respite from the nonstop lobster-fest that is Maine.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Of Popovers and Panoramas

We left Stonington early this morning in search of Karen's coffee. Though the farmhouse up the road left a thermos and a request for $1.75, it didn't satisfy. Fortunately, 45 minutes north in Ellsworth, The Maine Grind proffered the Brain Gravy. Karen also had a scone. I ordered a hot chocolate and a croissant. This will be important in a bit. Stay with me.

Forty-five minutes later we reached the outskirts of Acadia National Park and tooled around a bit looking at mega-yachts and the cleverly concealed estate entrances of the hyper-rich before finally entering the park. First stop? The Jordan Pond House Restaurant, where Karen had heard amazing rumors of their popovers and tea. So that's what we got. The order includes two straight-from-the-oven popovers, choice of tea, butter and jam. Karen devoured hers; having just consumed a croissant I yielded mine after a few bites. She ate that, too. Then the popover girl came back to inquire if we would like our second. I demurred. Karen had her third, then declared, "I'm ready to climb the mountain in our car."

Our car, by the way, is the new Chevy Spasm, which has less power than my 40-year-old BMW. This tells you everything you need to know about the universe.

Anyway, the park is stunning, as you can see. A Maine version of Vietnam. Nice little ecology museum, a Native People's exhibit...I was about to ask a ranger which of the park's animals were the most delicious before Karen stepped in.

More lobster rolls for lunch, a trip to the aforementioned ice cream studio, the misadventure at the winery, and we're on our way back to Stonington.

Early night. Not much going on here.

Did someone mention ice cream?

They love it here. Every town has at least one roadside shack selling it. But Mount Desert Island Ice Cream in Bar Harbor is very special, with a seemingly endless list of obscurely delicious and seasonal flavors. We had salted caramel, cereal milk, and fig. Note satisfied customer in lower shot.