Archive for January 8, 2012

West Seattle Outing

January 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Bakery Nouveau

We don’t get over to West Seattle* much. It’s not all that far; it just feels that way. But from SeaTac airport to the south, it’s pretty accessible, and therefore we have developed a little tradition, when we drop someone off at the airport on a weekend morning, of stopping in West Seattle on the way home. Joel’s return to North Carolina yesterday gave us our first such opportunity since August 2010, when we saw our friend Kenny off to his Glasgow home.

*West Seattle is the part of the city that lies west of the Duwamish River. It’s basically the whole southwest portion, taking in several distinct neighborhoods and commercial centers. Puget Sound borders it on the west, Elliott Bay to the north and east, with dramatic views across Elliott Bay to downtown.

We arrived in West Seattle as their huge Bank of America branch on Alaska opened, allowing us the opportunity to take care of some business. Then it was off to the intersection of Alaska and California, site of Easy Street Records and Easy Street Cafe. (History here.) Breakfast at the cafe is always the centerpiece of our West Seattle visits. They had a 20-minute wait for a table, which we spent in the adjacent record space. CD space actually. If there are records there, I haven’t seen them.

Easy Street occupies what appears to have once been a fire station. The cafe side has two large garage doors, the entire space has high ceilings and a partial upper floor. A coffee bar counter divides the space in two, with stool seating on the CD side. We wandered around as various parties ahead of us were called for their tables. At exactly the 20-minute mark, our turn came. We got to sit right in front, at a two-top by one of the old fire station doors with a view out to the street. And we had the same waitress as we did two Augusts ago, a pretty lively woman.

I ordered the Horton Heat Hash: “Our fresh cooked hash with corned beef, bacon, onions, peppers, hash browns and secret spices. Served with 3 eggs any style and toast. Can you handle the Heat!?” Gail had the Billy Breakfast Burrito: “2 eggs scrambled with black bean salsa and cheddar, wrapped in a Spinach tortilla. Served with hash browns and sour cream and salsa on the side.” Mine was great. I can’t believe I hadn’t ordered it before. We have many fine restaurants within a mile of our home, but no classic breakfast place. We sure could use one. Easy Street is so good I don’t know why we don’t make a point of driving over there.

We were all set to head home when I remembered that we were intending to try the French bakery our architect Todd had told us about last year. In the meantime, two French bakeries have opened in our neck of the woods — the wonderful Inès Pâtisserie and Belle Epicurean — making it less pressing to get over to West Seattle to try it. But we were there. It would be silly not to visit now.

We couldn’t think of the name, so I had to search for West Seattle French bakeries on my iPhone. Bakery Nouveau popped up instantly, and it was just a half-block south of Easy Street, except that we were now a block north at our car. We doubled back and found it to be much larger than we had imagined, with a long counter (pictured above) on the left and table seating running the length of the bakery on the right. A line of people ran from the far end of the counter right to the door. We got on and took turns inspecting the goods. The offerings were far more diversified than I imagined: croissants, sandwiches, little pizzas, chocolates, jellies, pies and tarts, cakes, cookies. (Menu here.)

Had we not just eaten a late breakfast, we could have had quite a charming early lunch. Instead, we ordered a selection to bring home: Two twice-baked almond croissants. (Our classic croissant soaked in simple syrup and filled with delicious almond cream. It is topped with sliced almonds and additional almond cream.) One cherry almond pear tart. (Cherry and pear fruit layered over frangipan over a thin layer of raspberry jam in a pate sucre crust. It is finished with an apricot glaze and toasted almond slivers.) One strawberry macaroon with caramel filling. And two mango pâtes de fruit.

The croissants were warm. When I got home, I ate mine. Gail found hers to be somewhat on the heavy side. She’s probably right, but when she ate, hers was at room temperature. I loved mine. I ate the tart today. Good, perhaps not great. The pâtes were excellent. I never tried the macaroon.

One more stop awaited. Just a couple of weeks ago, our friend Russ had asked Gail where to find local smoked ham. For an answer, Gail turned to one of her former instructors at Seattle Culinary Academy, who directed her to The Swinery in West Seattle. On leaving Bakery Nouveau, we looked it up and found that it was up California a ways. Not in the neighborhood. We would have to drive about a mile north. We drove that and more, not realizing that The Swinery has the smallest storefront imaginable. We were more careful on the way back south.

There’s a big workspace below and behind, but the retail area is small, with two display cases and a freezer with pre-prepared items. We were third in line for the one woman running the shop, giving us plenty of time to review the offerings. Some are marked as coming from Zoe’s Meats, a San Francisco purveyor that has a branch here.

When our time came, Gail ordered a four lamb chops (the woman threw in the fifth and last for free), two spicy Italian sausage links, Zoe’s sopressata, and some goat cheese. Gail had the cheese today, said it’s wonderful, but the meats are still awaiting trial.

That was enough. We headed home, pleased with all the good food and hoping our next West Seattle expedition comes soon.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Mathematics: A Beautiful Elsewhere

January 8, 2012 Leave a comment

According to its website, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain was “initiated in 1984 by Alain Dominique Perrin, President of Cartier International at the time, on a suggestion by the artist César.” It is described as “a unique example of corporate philanthropy in France. Since moving to Paris in 1994, the Fondation Cartier has been housed in an airy building filled with light that was designed by the architect Jean Nouvel. In this unique setting, exhibitions, conferences and artistic productions come to life.”

One of the Fondation Cartier’s current exhibitions looks like it should be awfully exciting for us mathematicians, and an opportunity for non-mathematicians to discover the beauty of mathematics. It is Mathematics: A Beautiful Elsewhere, created “with the aim of offering visitors, to use the mathematician Alexandre Grothendieck’s expression, ‘a sudden change of scenery.'”

The Fondation Cartier has opened its doors to the community of mathematicians and invited a number of artists to accompany them. They are the artisans and thinkers, the explorers and builders of this exhibition.

A large number of mathematicians and scientists contributed to the creation of this exhibition, and eight of them acted as its overseers: SIR MICHAEL ATIYAH, JEAN-PIERRE BOURGUIGNON, ALAIN CONNES, NICOLE EL KAROUI, MISHA GROMOV, GIANCARLO LUCCHINI, CÉDRIC VILLANI and DON ZAGIER. Representing a wide range of geographical backgrounds and mathematical disciplines, they work in areas such as number theory, algebraic geometry, differential geometry, topology, partial differential equations, probability, mathematics applied to biology…

They were accompanied by nine artists chosen for their exceptional ability to listen, as well as for their great sense of curiosity and wonder. All of these artists have exhibited at the Fondation Cartier in the past: JEAN-MICHEL ALBEROLA, RAYMOND DEPARDON AND CLAUDINE NOUGARET, TAKESHI KITANO, DAVID LYNCH, BEATRIZ MILHAZES, PATTI SMITH, HIROSHI SUGIMOTO and TADANORI YOKOO, as well as Pierre Buffin and his crew (BUF). They worked together to transform the abstract thinking of mathematics into a stimulating experience for the mind and the senses, an experience accessible to everyone.

The list of participating mathematicians is extraordinary. Take my word for it. Plus, David Lynch! Patti Smith! Is that cool or what? However, I haven’t gotten far yet in my explorations. I downloaded the iPad app, only to find that it’s overly complicated, not easy to navigate, and crashes. (Yes, there’s an iPad app, “designed to complement the exhibition Mathematics: A Beautiful Elsewhere. It features the contributions of the exhibition’s scientists, as well as those of its artists, and includes videos, images and texts from their past exhibits at the Fondation Cartier.”) Maybe I should wait for the exhibition catalogue, which is due out May 1.

You may have better luck. I suggest you take a look at the website, try the iPad (if you have one) app, and discover for yourself the beauty of math and the artists’ takes on it. I’ll keep trying.

Categories: Art, Books, Math

Change We Can Believe In, XXVII

January 8, 2012 Leave a comment

[Mr. Fish, Harper’s Magazine, January 6, 2012]

I saw this two days ago and couldn’t resist adding it to my Change We Can Believe In series. Perhaps it should become the new graphic for future installments. I was slow to warm to Mr. Fish, but in the last half year I’ve become a big fan. You can find more of his work by following this link and selecting the “Creator of” tab.

Categories: Cartoons, Politics

Design and Culture of Parking

January 8, 2012 1 comment

It won’t be news to regular Ron’s View readers that Gail and I love Nantucket. Imagine my delight, then, when I came upon a photo of a Nantucket parking lot last night in a NYT slide show illustrating the good (Nantucket) and bad (Disney World, below) of parking lot design. The slide show accompanies Michael Kimmelman’s article, the front page story in today’s Sunday arts section. Kimmelman begins with the premise that

we ought to take these lots more seriously, architecturally. Many architects and urban planners don’t. Beyond greener designs and the occasional celebrity-architect garage, we need to think more about these lots as public spaces, as part of the infrastructure of our streets and sidewalks, places for various activities that may change and evolve, because not all good architecture is permanent. Hundreds of lots already are taken over by farmers’ markets, street-hockey games, teenage partiers and church services. We need to recognize and encourage diversity. This is the idea behind Parking Day, a global event, around since 2005, that invites anybody and everybody to transform metered lots. Each year participants have adapted hundreds of them in dozens of countries, setting up temporary health clinics and bike-repair shops, having seminars and weddings.

Disney World

[Yann Arthus-Bertrand/Altitude]

Kimmelman continues with several interesting examples. The article is well worth reading. He also draws attention to ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking, a book due out in March by MIT professor of landscape architecture and design Eran Ben-Joseph. The Nantucket photo that drew my attention in the slide show is credited to Ben-Joseph, so I assume it makes an appearance in the book, which I have just now pre-ordered from Amazon. Here’s the book’s MIT Press blurb:

There are an estimated 600,000,000 passenger cars in the world, and that number is increasing every day. So too is Earth’s supply of parking spaces. In some cities, parking lots cover more than one-third of the metropolitan footprint. It’s official: we have paved paradise and put up a parking lot. In ReThinking a Lot, Eran Ben-Joseph shares a different vision for parking’s future. Parking lots, he writes, are ripe for transformation. After all, as he points out, their design and function has not been rethought since the 1950s. With this book, Ben-Joseph pushes the parking lot into the twenty-first century.

Can’t parking lots be aesthetically pleasing, environmentally and architecturally responsible? Used for something other than car storage? Ben-Joseph shows us that they can. He provides a visual history of this often ignored urban space, introducing us to some of the many alternative and nonparking purposes that parking lots have served–from RV campgrounds to stages for “Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.” He shows us parking lots that are not concrete wastelands but lushly planted with trees and flowers and beautifully integrated with the rest of the built environment. With purposeful design, Ben-Joseph argues, parking lots could be significant public places, contributing as much to their communities as great boulevards, parks, or plazas. For all the acreage they cover, parking lots have received scant attention. It’s time to change that; it’s time to rethink the lot.

I look forward to learning more.

Categories: Automobiles, Books, Design