Archive for October, 2012

iPhone 5

October 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Our iPhone 5’s arrived late yesterday. We ordered them four weeks ago, on the first day that Apple accepted orders, and dutifully waited. Not that there was any great urgency. Our two-year-old iPhone4’s work just fine. But we had paid off the AT&T subsidy for them many months ago, and that means part of our monthly payment to AT&T was pure profit for them. I’d rather it pay for the next phone, so we upgraded.

I spent last night setting mine up, then experimenting with it. This morning, my experimentation became more narrowly focused, as I put Siri through her paces. Impressions so far:

1. The iPhone 5 seems noticeably faster than the iPhone 4. That’s at home, on wi-fi, which is to say, the speed increase is due to the processor.

2. It also seems faster when I’m out of range of wi-fi and using AT&T’s 4G LTE data connection, which they made available in Seattle the day before the new iPhones were released. I find that I switch back and forth between LTE and ordinary 4G as I move around. I haven’t tried it out enough to get a sense of the difference in download speed.

3. I know the camera should be a significant upgrade, but again, I haven’t tested it enough yet.

4. Phone calls sound significantly improved in sound quality.

5. I like the feel — thinner and lighter. Yet, the extra height does make for unexpected awkward moments when I’m holding it with just my right hand. If I’m holding it high up, where I can reach the volume buttons with my index finger, then reaching down to the lower buttons with my thumb isn’t comfortable. One benefit of the extra height is that when I view the calendar with the phone rotated to landscape view, I get a five-day view rather than the three-day view of the iPhone 4. I will enjoy that.

6. Siri. I tried lots of requests this morning. Some worked, some didn’t. Like, who won the 1982 World Series? Nope. Doesn’t go back that far. Okay, so then, who won the 2008 World Series? No again. Who won in 2011? Success. And in an attractive way. Not only did Siri tell me that the Cardinals won over the Rangers, but also she brought up on the screen the summary scoring of all seven games, that is, the standard two-line list of runs scored inning by inning.

I asked for the capitals of Washington and North Carolina. She displayed information on each pulled from Wolfram Alpha.

I asked Siri to call “my wife”. One problem with this — in my contact file for myself, I didn’t list Gail as my wife. Siri asked if I wanted to edit my file. This evening, I’ve added wife, son, daughter, father, mother, sister, brother. I won’t have that problem again.

I asked Siri to send an email to Gail. That worked, but I didn’t speak out my punctuation and Siri didn’t offer any. Then I asked Siri to send an email to me, and I spoke “comma”, “period”, and “question mark” at the appropriate places. That worked.

I asked for temperatures in various cities. This worked well, as Siri brought up on the screen the data for the city that one would ordinarily see in the built-in iPhone weather app. Much easier than typing the city in. But just now I tried again, asking for the temperature in Los Angeles, and Siri has told me — twice in succession — that something’s wrong, I should try again. On my third try, just now, I asked for Honolulu. Same problem.

Which gets to the main defect I’ve been discovering: Siri’s unreliability. If she could do some things consistently and others not at all, fine. I can learn what works, what doesn’t, and act accordingly. But I can’t figure her out. She’s way too fickle so far.

Now she’s handling temperatures just fine. It’s 64 in LA, if you’re wondering.

Directions? So far so good. I ask how to get to X, she finds X in my contacts, finds my current position, and tells me what to do. Let me try something. Not so good. If I ask how to drive to my brother’s house, she doesn’t seem to figure out who my brother is, whereas if I ask for directions using his name, she has no trouble.

Texting is great. I just told Siri to send a text to Gail, then I dictated it. Siri offered me a perfect rendering, asked whether to send it, I said yes, and it’s sent. That’s much easier than typing the text.

And I’ll never be lost again. I’ve asked Siri, “Where am I?” She knows.

That’s it for now.

Categories: Technology

Other People’s Money

October 7, 2012 Leave a comment

In my post earlier today, I wrote about Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful, which I finished yesterday morning, as well as books I began in late August or early September only to put aside in sequence, one for the next. I’ve now worked my way through all of them but one, one that has gone unmentioned: Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money.

Jim Fallows mentioned the novel in passing in a July blog post, describing it as “a corruscatingly wonderful novel I’ve just finished.” That got my attention. I immediately headed over to Amazon to check it out, saw that it was only 260 pages, and thought maybe I could fit it in with whatever else I was reading at the time. A few weeks later I downloaded it, read the first 15 pages, but then abandoned it, probably in favor of the Lewis-Kraus book. With Lewis-Kraus done yesterday, it was time to return to Cartwright, and so I have.

Here’s the publisher’s description of the book, which was published a year and a half ago in the UK.

The upper-crust, family-owned bank of Tubal & Co, in the City of London, is in trouble. It’s not the first time in its three hundred and forty year history, but it may be the last. A secret sale is under way, and a number of facts need to be kept hidden from the regulators and major clients. Masterminded by the bank’s chariman, Julian Trevelyan-Tubal, hundreds of millions of pounds are being diverted – temporarily – to shore the bank up until it can be sold. Julian’s aging father, Sir Harry, incapacitated by a stroke at the family villa in Antibes, would be horrified. He is still writing barely intelligible letters to Julian, which advise him to stick to the time-honoured traditions of the bank. Had his son taken his advice, the bank might still be solvent.

Inevitably great families have secrets; lovers, old partners, or retainers who resent not being part of the family, all have a habit of turning awkward. When an alimony payment from the bank – disguised as a charitable donation – to an abandoned husband, the penniless-but-heroic actor-manager Artair MacCleod, fails to arrive, the initial trickle of doubt swell into a torrent of catastrophe for the family.

Other People’s Money is a gripping and often hilarious story, an acutely delineated portrait of a world and a class. Justin Cartwright manipulates our sympathies effortlessly, unwinding the story with gentle satire and acute, beautifully phrased insights into the eccentricities and weaknesses of the human condition.

So far so good. I’d sure love to visit that family villa in Antibes. In the meantime, I have 80 pages to go, and I’m guessing the villa will have to be put on the market. That might present the opportunity to check it out.

Categories: Books

A Sense of Direction, 2

October 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Back in June, inspired by a short review in the New Yorker, I read the opening portion of Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful, the part available as a free download. However, I decided not to continue. In late August, the New Yorker review still echoing in my head, I downloaded the book in full and began reading again.

Here’s the review:

Lewis-Kraus moved from San Francisco to Berlin and then set out on a series of pilgrimages: Camino de Santiago, in Spain; Shikoku, in Japan; and Uman, in Ukraine. He makes the three treks–Catholic, Buddhist, and Jewish, respectively–as a secularist, hunting for clarity while nursing his blistered feet. … Perhaps by design, the writing–beautiful and often very funny–frequently mimics the setting: during the Berlin segment it’s restless, and, on the circular route of Shikoku, sometimes lacks direction. But on the Camino Lewis-Kraus weaves a story that his both searching and purposeful, one that forces the reader, like the pilgrim, to value the journey as much as the destination.

I was 90 pages in when I wrote a post on the book. About 20 pages later, with our trip to Nantucket coming up, I put it aside in favor of James Sullivan’s Island Cup: Two Teams, Twelve Miles of Ocean, and Fifty Years of Football Rivalry, which I had written about in July. The rivalry is that between the Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard high school football teams. I anticipated that reading it would give me a deeper insight into year-round Nantucket life. But early in our stay on Nantucket, Sullivan wasn’t holding my interest. With the Democratic convention underway, I decided the time had come to read volume four of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power.

Our first day home from Nantucket, at which point I was three-fourth’s of the way through the Caro book, Lee Child’s 17th Jack Reacher thriller A Wanted Man came out. I couldn’t resist, finishing it two days later.

I have since been making up for my infidelity by working my way back through the books I started. On completing A Wanted Man, I returned to The Passage of Power, a thriller in its own right, and quickly completed it. The football book was more of a challenge, until I realized I didn’t have to keep track of all its characters. High school kids would come and go, only to return in stories twenty years later in new roles as fathers and uncles of the current crop of players, or as teachers, assistant coaches, and coaches. The biographical details of all these people didn’t matter so much. The larger point was the fabric being woven of the lives of the two islands’ year-round residents, the difficulty of making a living there, or bringing a spouse back from afar to settle and raise a family. I got the glimpse into the richness of island life that I was hoping for, and I was happy to keep reading.

That left the pilgrimage book, which I still resisted, turning instead to Christoph Wolff’s study of Mozart’s last four years, Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788–1791. On completing that, I turned back at last to A Sense of Direction. It was slow going for a while. Lewis-Kraus spends a lot of time alone with his thoughts. I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to be alone with his thoughts.

A continuing theme is Lewis-Kraus’s relationship with his father, a rabbi (as is his mother) who left the family years earlier in favor of a boyfriend. I knew the author turns 30 during the course of the book, but only near the end found out how old his father is. Roughly my age. A couple of years younger. This was one of the oddities of reading the book, realizing as I did that I was of his father’s generation rather than his own. Not that people half my age don’t have interesting thoughts. (Joel, you know I always love to hear your thoughts.) But I had an on-going sense that I was on the wrong side of the book’s thematic generational divide.

The third pilgrimage, to Uman, is undertaken by Lewis-Kraus jointly with his brother and father, joining the thousands of Hasidic Jews who celebrate Rosh Hashana there each year in a tradition begun by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov two centuries ago. The book builds toward this opportunity for Lewis-Kraus to reconcile with his father, and I didn’t want to miss it, which is why I picked up the book again and kept going. However, to my surprise, and notwithstanding the comment in the New Yorker review that the portion of the book on the Shikoku pilgrimage lacks direction, I enjoyed that the most. It is the one in which Lewis-Kraus is companionless, and at his most reflective.

Lewis-Kraus does have this odd habit of quoting people without any reference to the source of the quote or any explanation of who the quoted writer is. For instance, out of the blue, a section begins with a quote from Paul Elie: “Contemporary culture makes pilgrimage impossible. Experience is always second-hand, planned an described for one’s consumption by others in advance. Even the rare, authentically direct experience is spoiled by self-consciousness. We’re doomed to an imitation of life.”

Do you know Paul Elie? I didn’t, and L-K chooses not to help me out. It turns out that Elie wrote The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, a 2004 study of four great mid-twentieth-century Catholics: Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy. And just two weeks ago, his second book appeared, Reinventing Bach. The re-inventors are Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Casals, Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney, Glenn Gould, and Yo-Yo Ma. (Both books appear to be worthy additions to my reading list, with the second a perfect complement to my recently finished Mozart book.)

The short section that begins with the Elie quote was a good one, as Lewis-Kraus reflects on the notion of choice. Here’s a bit of his follow up:

Of course, life is never an imitation of life; life is simply life. And no experience is any more or less direct than any other one. But the point of view Elie offers is worth considering, more for its assumptions than its shoddy lament. Being self-conscious about an experience means, to Elie, standing at a remove from it. This remove is created by the fact that we all know, at any given time, that there is an associated cost, that we could be doing something else. Being self-conscious means recognizing that whatever we are doing is something we have, for the most part, chosen to do … Anything we have chosen to do invites the specters of all that we haven’t chosen–this is the real misery of choice … .

This goes on for a while, with a reference to David Foster Wallace thrown in for good measure. Maybe not the ultimate in profundity, but within the context of the book, it works.

And in that context, a traveling context, it struck a chord. For we have chosen in recent years to end our summers with a trip to Nantucket, and I have come to recognize that the principal cost of this decision is exactly what Lewis-Kraus highlights: that we could be doing something else, and aren’t. All those places we hope to visit some day? When we’re in Nantucket, they’re not getting visited.

Yet we continue to make this choice. Which ties in with other themes of Lewis-Kraus’s book: pilgrims versus tourists, authentic experiences, that sort of thing. By returning each year, we imagine ourselves participating, albeit in a tiny way, in the life of the island. We’re not, you know, mere tourists. But what are we? Not residents, clearly. Not like the people in Sullivan’s book about Nantucket football. Nor like Jack Welch (whose tweet on the Friday job numbers almost prompted a post in which I was going to argue that the island isn’t big enough for the two of us). We’re just passing through. Nonetheless, with each return visit, we build the illusion that Nantucket is an alternative home base, and we choose to pay the cost for this illusion by not going elsewhere.

I finished the book yesterday morning. Slow going at times, like Lewis-Kraus’s walks, but I’m glad I did.

Categories: Books, Travel

Wales Story

October 7, 2012 Leave a comment

The NYT has a story today on two women who have lived for 28 years in a rent-controlled apartment in the Hotel Wales. I might not have paid attention were it not for the fact that I’ve stayed at the hotel several times in recent years. I had no idea it accommodated long-term renters. Which it doesn’t, that being the reason there’s a story.

Twenty-eight years ago, Habiba Ali moved from the Y.W.C.A. into Room 320 in the Hotel Wales on Madison Avenue near 93rd Street, with few illusions of grandeur.

“It was a dilapidated old building,” she said the other day. The rent was $225 a week — more than she could afford, but the neighborhood was tranquil, and she would be close to the American woman who had been like a mother to her since she arrived from Pakistan. The ceilings in some rooms were falling down at the time, she said. Her neighbors were mostly older people living on fixed incomes.

Ms. Ali, who reluctantly gave her age as 60, sat on a creamy leather-upholstered chair in the hotel’s elegant second-floor Pied Piper room as jazz played softly in the background. Gone are the old mattresses, broken furniture, sinks and bathtubs that filled the room when she first moved in; gone are the old neighbors, too. Gone, even, are several generations of renovations.

But Ms. Ali and her roommate, Pamela Downing, who came to “crash” with Ms. Ali for a few weeks in 1985, have remained. In a hotel that has spiffed up, changed clientele, changed ownership several times, changed décor about as often — where various owners have offered them tens of thousands of dollars to leave and once, they said, tried padlocking their door — they have been a rare constant, coexisting in peace or disharmony in the unrenovated 450 square feet for which they now pay a rent-stabilized sum of $1,135 a month, utilities and weekly linen service included.

The hero of the story is Bernard Goldberg, who bought the building in 1988 and turned it into a boutique hotel. He moved everyone else out through offers of money and help finding alternative apartments, but Ali and Downing stayed. “There’s a certain elegance to them,” he explains. “They’re very gentle and cultured. Maybe their clothes are not as expensive, but they were always well groomed. It was really nice to have them. They’re the only guests that I really miss.”

The Wales is on Madison and 92nd, if you’re looking for a place in the neighborhood. Guests receive (or they did) a free breakfast in the large sitting room on the second floor that is pictured above, with fruit, yogurt, bagels, bread, pastries, and beverages. It’s a relaxed, low-key place, sitting atop two excellent restaurants. For those looking for a fuller breakfast, there’s Sarabeth’s East, which also offers a full dinner menu. And around the corner, with an entrance on 92nd, is the Italian restaurant Paola’s, of which Gail and I are especially fond. I must have written about it before. Yes, here.

Across the street is a shop that makes an appearance late in the NYT article.

When asked about changes in the neighborhood, they both mentioned the flower shop and grocer on the corner, in reminiscences as different as the women themselves.

Ms. Ali said she used to go there on midnight ice cream runs, where she would see Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward buying coffee.

Ms. Downing remembered not the customers but the smell of cut flowers wafting from the store into their suite. “Then they boxed it all in with plastic,” she said. “Now we don’t get the smell anymore.” She added, “I don’t like the improvements for the most part.”

We’ve shopped there. Never saw Paul and Joanne, but we know the plastic.

Categories: Life, Travel

Change We Can Believe in, XXXIV

October 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Dismantling the Great Society

Okay, maybe I exaggerate. But still. Couldn’t he work a little harder to defend the hard fought achievements of presidents and legislators over the last half century that have moved us toward a more just society?

One of the pleasures of The Passage of Power, the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography (which I read last month and wrote about here) is the account of Johnson’s success in having Congress pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The story of Johnson’s further legislative successes, such as the 1965 Voting Rights Act, must await volume five, perhaps a decade away. And what a fascinating volume that will be, as Caro also confronts Johnson’s simultaneous destruction of his career and the country in dragging us into expanded war in Vietnam.

Nonetheless, on the positive side of the ledger, Johnson did achieve the seemingly impossible, enacting legislation that made our country more just and humane. This is, of course, the very achievement that the modern Republican Party is set on erasing, and that Obama chooses not to argue for.

A week ago, Mark Lilla’s Sunday NYT lead review of Charles Kesler’s I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism received a lot of attention, understandably so. Here is its clever opening:

Once upon a time there was a radical president who tried to remake American society through government action. In his first term he created a vast network of federal grants to state and local governments for social programs that cost billions. He set up an imposing agency to regulate air and water emissions, and another to regulate workers’ health and safety. Had Congress not stood in his way he would have gone much further. He tried to establish a guaranteed minimum income for all working families and, to top it off, proposed a national health plan that would have provided government insurance for low-income families, required employers to cover all their workers and set standards for private insurance. Thankfully for the country, his second term was cut short and his collectivist dreams were never realized.

His name was Richard Nixon.

The review is well worth reading in full. I’ll quote another passage, with a line (highlighted) that brought me up short.

Whenever conservatives talk to me about Barack Obama, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. But what exactly? The anger, the suspicion, the freestyle fantasizing have no perceptible object in the space-time continuum that centrist Democrats like me inhabit. What are we missing? Seen from our perspective, the country elected a moderate and cautious straight shooter committed to getting things right and giving the United States its self-­respect back after the Bush-Cheney years. Unlike the crybabies at MSNBC and Harper’s Magazine, we never bought into the campaign’s hollow “hope and change” rhetoric, so aren’t crushed that, well, life got in the way. At most we hoped for a sensible health care program to end the scandal of America’s uninsured, and were relieved that Obama proposed no other grand schemes of Nixonian scale. We liked him for his political liberalism and instinctual conservatism. And we still like him.

I clearly don’t fit Lilla’s self-description as a centrist Democrat.

And neither does Kevin Baker, Harper’s political writer and crybaby himself, who chose to respond the next day. He quotes Lilla’s assessment that “the Great Society’s liberal architects vastly overreached and overpromised, destroying the public’s confidence in active government and threatening the solid achievements of the New Deal and the Progressive Era,” then asks what Lilla has in mind:

Just what part of the Great Society does Lilla believe represented vast overreach and overpromise? He doesn’t say, which can only leave us to guess. Could it be the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, or Fair Housing Act, which ended the system of legalized “Jim Crow” segregation in America once and for all?

Was it the Job Corps, the Food Stamp Act, Legal Aid, or the other programs of the War On Poverty, which sought to directly aid and empower the urban poor at the astronomical cost of $3 billion spread over three years?

Was it the massive aid to education at all levels? The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which equipped low-income schools with supplies and special-education programs, including Head Start? Was it the Teacher Corps? Was it the Higher Education Act, which brought us Pell Grants, and the other college scholarship and loan programs that made it possible for so many young people from middle- and working-class families to fill the seats in Professor Lilla’s classrooms?

Was it the Wilderness Act? The Endangered Species Preservation Act? The other environmental laws that constituted the first significant clean-air and -water legislation in our history?

Was it the Consumer Protection Act, which made cigarette companies put warning labels on their lethal product, or the National Traffic and Motor Safety Act, which still saves the lives of tens of thousands of motorists every year?

Was it the Fair Labor Standards Act, which extended the minimum wage to another 9 million workers? Was it the Wholesome Meat Act, or the Truth-in-Lending Act? The support for the arts and culture that gave us NPR and public television, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Kennedy Center, and the National Art Gallery?

Or . . . could it have been Medicare and Medicaid?

The Great Society was a group of long-overdue reforms that brought basic justice and opportunity to many millions of Americans, greatly spurred our prosperity, and probably avoided a race war. What truly undermined confidence in government among some whites at the time was the extension of full civil rights to black Americans and, much more lastingly, LBJ’s misadventure in Vietnam.

Baker’s further analysis must be why I couldn’t bring myself to watch the presidential debate two days later. I knew Obama would disappoint. And he did. Here is Baker’s diagnosis of the failures of centrist Democrats.

Centrist Democrats like Lilla know this full well. What they are really trying to construct is a posture, a pose, a brand label that will allow them to pursue a certain political agenda today. For “centrists” everywhere in the West now—in America, and in Europe—this depends on maintaining that no complaints from the right or the left have any validity. It is absolutely required that the “center”—that is to say, the status quo—be the only viable alternative, even as millions of Americans lose their homes and languish in the unemployment ranks, and as the people of Greece and Spain strike, and riot, and comb through trash bins for food.

The past, then, must be sacrificed to maintain this aura of reasonableness. Lilla doesn’t actually object to the real Great Society. What he feels he must object to is what has become the popular perception of it: that because of “overreach and overpromise”—Poverty wasn’t eliminated in the space of seven years! It was only cut in half!—the entire program must be sacrificed on the altar of moderation.

The trouble with this strategy is that it never works. All of the Democrats elected president since Lyndon Johnson ran as populists but governed as centrists—the very formulation of which Lilla seems to approve. And under each of these presidents, Democrats suffered their greatest losses in local, state, and congressional elections since the 1920s, opening the door again to increasingly radical right-wing Republicans and their wealth-destroying policies.

It has become a defining characteristic of the centrist Democrat that he never stops saying he’s saving you, even as keeps shoving your head back underwater.

Like Obama saying during the debate that he and Romney have “a somewhat similar position” on Social Security. Not to be a crybaby or anything, but this isn’t what I had in mind when I voted for him four years ago. I think I have the right to ask for more.

Categories: Politics

A Typical Weekend

October 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Or not. I’ve been way behind in blogging, partly because of the start of school a week ago, and partly because of the whirlwind of events going back to early last week, which peaked on the weekend.

Back in April, at the annual fundraiser for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, we successfully bid on two outings: the Walla Walla wine tour about which I wrote at length (starting with this post) and a single-day outing on Puget Sound. The second outing was scheduled for this past Saturday, which was also day two of the biannual Ryder Cup golf competition between the US and Europe. Had we been aware of this conflict, we might have passed on bidding. But we weren’t aware, we did bid, and we won the trip.

Last week, a more pressing conflict emerged. Perhaps it’s as well not to go into the details, but we found ourselves with a most unwelcome event to attend that would take precedence over the boat outing: a memorial service. When we found that the service would begin at 3:00, and not far from the marina where the boat would drop us off, we realized it would be possible to go through with a truncated version of the outing and then make it to the service.

A further complication was that Gail had offered to help with a post-memorial reception, which meant she would spend Friday cooking, we would drop some food off early Saturday morning, board the boat, return to shore, go to the church, attend the service and the reception at the church, then leave the church reception in time to set up at the house for the smaller family reception. Sunday we would have free to catch up on the Ryder Cup, watching the third and concluding day of golf.

Or so we thought, until Gail’s old high school friend Randy emailed. He lives in Albuquerque and is a member of the Jemez Pueblo. Thursday night he wrote to say he’d be passing through on Sunday on the way to Alaska. She hadn’t seen him for over 30 years prior to our 2008 New Mexico trip, when we had the good fortune to reconnect and spend time with him, his wife, his sister, his father, and children. They turned what would have been a wonderful trip into something even more magical. We were excited at the prospect of seeing him again, and we soon learned that the timing would allow us to watch the conclusion of the Ryder Cup before meeting up.

Everything had fallen into place. Oh, there was also the 70th birthday party of an old friend on Saturday night, if we could fit that in. Our weekend would be full.

We had a quick takeout dinner Friday in order to allow Gail to concentrate on her cooking. Just after 8:00 PM, I was sitting at my desk contemplating writing a post when Gail came in to announce, with deceptive calm, that we needed to go to the emergency room. She had cut her finger while doing some prep work. Off we went. Five stitches and two-and-a-half hours later, we were home. So much for cooking. Fortunately, while in the exam room waiting for the doctor, we had come up with an alternative plan for the hot dish. We would order enchiladas from El Ranchon, one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, near both the church and the reception home.

Saturday we loaded up the car and headed to Elliott Bay Marina. (Downtown Seattle sits on the eastern edge of Elliott Bay, an inlet from Puget Sound. The marina is on the north side, at the bottom of the Magnolia neighborhood where we would be spending the latter part of the day.) We met up with the other guests and our two Burke Museum hosts — archaeologist, museum director, and friend Julie plus Native American art curator Robin. Soon Bruce, the boat owner who had generously donated his boat and time for the day, moored the Escapade, came ashore to greet us, and brought us on board.

At the south end of Elliott Bay is the Port of Seattle and the mouth of the Duwamish River. The plan for the first half of the cruise was to head south across Elliott Bay parallel to downtown, enter the Duwamish, cruise upriver for a ways to see the industrial and archaeological sites that line it, reverse course and return to Elliott Bay, then turn southwest, cross Puget Sound, and arrive at Blake Island, home of a state park and Tillicum Village. As explained at the Tillicum Village website,

the island was named after Captain George Blake, commander of the US Coast Survey vessel in 1837. Blake Island State Park was an ancestral campground of the Suquamish and Duwamish Indian Tribes and is believed to be the birthplace of Chief Seattle. The island is densely wooded with many forested walking and hiking trails and 5 miles of beaches. Vegetation on the island includes native Northwest trees and shrubs. Wildlife on the island includes deer, chipmunks, otters, squirrels, mink and many types of birds. As a state park, the island also offers the opportunity for camping.

Also on the island is the village itself, a commercial venture normally acceptable from the downtown waterfront by boat as part of a package tour:

Begin your 4-hour escape with a narrated cruise from downtown Seattle, Pier 55 to Blake Island State Park. Upon arrival to Tillicum Village, you are greeted with steamed clams in nectar. Make your way into the longhouse and watch as whole salmon are cooked in a traditional Northwest Coast Indian style. Enjoy a fabulous salmon buffet meal followed by a show that highlights the Coast Salish tribes through storytelling and symbolism. Afterward, you’ll have free time to explore the grounds and gift shop before returning to Seattle.

Tillicum Village

We would cross in Bruce’s boat, tie up more or less when the tour boat arrived, and join the crowd for the meal and show. On leaving the island, we would have time to cruise as we saw fit, suggested routes being circumnavigations of Bainbridge Island or Vashon Island. This is where our truncation plan came into play. We anticipated staying at Tillicum Village for lunch and the show, leaving mid-show if necessary, and heading straight back to Elliott Bay Marina.

That was the plan. Now the actual outing.

On boarding the boat, we were treated to a tour of its various levels, cabins, and amenities. You can perhaps get a sense of its comforts from the photos at top and below.

Then we were off. I have often left or come into downtown via ferry, a treat in its own right, but riding parallel to shore from north to south offered new perspectives and astonishing views. The Olympic Sculpture Park. The Space Needle. Jessica’s condo building. The cranes of the port looming in the distance, slowly growing, then rising above us. The stacks of freight containers. As we approached the Duwamish, Julie gathered us in the pilot room, opened up some maps, and gave us an overview of Seattle geological history, with special attention to the Seattle Fault and the earthquake circa 900 CE that explains so much of the local topography. She also discussed some of the important Native settlements and archaeological sites along the Duwamish. Up we cruised, past the port, under the West Seattle Bridge and the 1st Avenue Bridge, barges, industrial sites, industrial wastelands, occasional residential homes, boat moorage. Then down we cruised, back out to Elliott Bay, turning to port and heading west, then southwest, past Alki Beach, Alki Point and off toward Blake Island.

Robin stepped in at this point to tell us a bit of the history of Native settlements on Blake Island, and the background on Tillicum Village. We were behind schedule, but it turned out that the tour boat from downtown was even later, so that we arrived on the island 15 minutes before it. This gave us temporary free run of the village, its exhibits, and its gift shop. Once the other boat docked and guests began coming up the hill, the staff handed out mugs with clams in broth, instructing us to eat the clams then drop the shells on the ground and crunch them underfoot.

Once we were invited to enter the dining room, we went straight to our table, in order to stay on schedule. The dining room/theater is a sloped room with the stage in the front below and buffet tables on a level floor behind. We were seated near the buffet tables in order to escape easily. The food was excellent. Salad greens with a variety of vegetables, dressings, and toppings to add according to taste. Rice. A stew of beef, venison, and bison. Slices of the Tillicum bread featured in the gift shop. And the salmon cooked on the open fires outside the dining room.

Drinks are served at the table, then once the plates are removed, an apple pastry is brought to the table. Once we finished dessert, departure time had arrived. We would miss the show in its entirety, since it was apparently running behind schedule due to the late arrival of the main boat. But we were content. We had quite enjoyed lunch and were ready to move on.

Once out of Blake Island’s harbor, we were presented with a dramatic view of Mount Rainier, the upper half of which was rising dramatically above some lower clouds. The masts of Elliott Bay Marina boats were visible across the Sound in the distance, making steering easy for us amateurs, whom Bruce allowed to take turns at the helm. I say easy in the sense that one always knew where to head, but at least when I was in charge, I had to keep correcting and overcorrecting. A little to port, back to starboard. Oops, port again. Starboard. Port. Starboard. I never did get the hang of it. Bruce and I discussed what I was doing wrong. Basically, the boat just isn’t as quick to respond as a car, so once one turns, one needs to be ready to straighten up, even before the boat appears to have found the proper heading.

I gave up the helm in time to go below deck and change into my memorial service attire. Bruce handled the final navigational chores, bringing us into the dock in plenty of time. Heartfelt thank yous and goodbyes, back to the car, and off to church.

As for the rest of the weekend, all went to plan. El Ranchon had 80 enchiladas waiting for us. The reception guests enjoyed them, even complimenting Gail on her cooking. Sunday we saw our Albuquerque friend Randy. I had suggested dinner at the venerable Seattle restaurant Ivar’s Salmon House, primarily for its convenient location to the north of downtown, easy to get to from the airport, from our house, and from the homes in the northern suburbs of Gail’s high school friends who would be joining us. I did have some trepidation that dragging a Native to a mock-Native restaurant might not be so wise. But on arrival, Randy couldn’t wait to tell me how thrilled he was by the choice: his favorite Seattle restaurant, and one where he worked during high school. He and I both ordered the Alaskan Salmon Sampler: King, Sockeye, and Coho. I know I was happy, and he seemed to be as well. As fascinating as the dinner conversation was, I had to head home early to get ready for Monday’s class.

Meanwhile, Gail’s finger continues to heal. Stitches out next Monday. I didn’t even mention how fascinating our Friday night emergency room outing was, with the many people we got to meet and chat with. The health care staff, that is. Not that I would recommend this as a way to widen your circle of acquaintances, but if you have to spend the evening in the hospital, you may as well enjoy what you can. And we did.

This weekend we’ll aim for something quieter.

Categories: Culture, Travel

Ryder Cup 2014

October 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Gleneagles, Scotland

With the the 2012 Ryder Cup over yesterday, I turn from my post about it to a look ahead. In 2014, the competition will be held at Gleneagles, the Scottish golf resort about 18 miles northeast of Stirling. Our friend Carol wasted no time after yesterday’s European win suggesting that we come over and join her. Well, she didn’t put it all that politely: “Want to come and see your team get beaten (again)?” I might have said yes if she phrased it differently.

Maybe we will. The end of September is generally bad timing for me. Some day timing won’t be an issue, and when that day comes, we’ll be there. At a Ryder Cup, if not at Gleneagles. Then again, Gleneagles in 2014 certainly sounds more enticing than Hazeltine (outside Minneapolis) in 2016. Why wait?


A closing note: the Gleneagles website offers a tale suggesting that the Ryder Cup grew out of a competition there.

When the Ryder Cup matches come to Gleneagles in 2014 you could say that the tournament is returning to the place where it all began. Oh sure, history remembers that the event didn’t begin officially until 1927, when Walter Hagen’s USA trounced Ted Ray’s Great Britainat Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts. But what about 1921 at Gleneagles? You don’t know about that? You haven’t heard about the first time a USA team set foot on Scottish soil to play the best we had to offer? Well, listen up, because this is a quite a story.

In May ’21, the RMS Aquitania, built at the John Brown shipyard in Clydebank and one of the Cunard Line’s grand trio of ships along with the Mauretania and the Lusitania, pointed her way out of New York Harbour and set sail for her homeland of Britain. On board were 10 golfers. Not just any golfers. Famous golfers. Legends. Some Americans and some transplanted Scots who had sought to make a nice life for themselves in the new world in the early part of the 20th century. There was Hagen out of New York and Wild Bill Mehlhorn from Texas and alongside them, wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, were Jock Hutchison from St Andrews and Freddie McLeod from North Berwick.

This was the USA team coming to Gleneagles to take on a storied British side that had at its heart, James Braid, Harry Vardon, JH Taylor, Ted Ray and George Duncan. Icons all. They had 20 major championship victories between them. Duncan was the reigning Open champion, Ray the holder of the US Open.

Go to the site for more.

Categories: Golf, Travel

Ryder Cup 2012

October 1, 2012 Leave a comment

The first post on Ron’s View, just over four years ago, had the 2008 Ryder Cup as its subject. I wrote the post in the evening after the three-day competition ended. With this year’s edition ending yesterday, it seems only appropriate that I return to the subject.

The Ryder Cup competition takes place every two years, between a US team of 12 golfers and a European team of 12. You can read the history in many places. The short version: competition starts in 1927, matching US and British players. Along the way, Northern Irish and Irish golfers are added. After World War II, the US always wins. People lose interest. In 1979, the GB&I team is expanded to include continental Europe. Suddenly, the competition heats up. Europe begins to win, thanks to a new generation of golfers who are at the same time winning their share of the four annual major tournaments. Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, José María Olazábal, Colin Montgomerie (well, he never won a major, but he came close, and was a strong Ryder Cup player). The European team typically doesn’t have the depth of the US team, but they keep finding ways to win. Interest expands. TV coverage increases. Fanatical fans show up. Rowdiness ensues. It becomes a major international sporting event, attracting the interest even of people who otherwise pay no attention to golf. It’s a happening. People dress like morons and hoot and holler. Along the way, some extraordinary golf is played.

Why is it so exciting? I’d say the format. Not that I’m striking out into new territory with that suggestion. But it’s the correct explanation.

First of all, the scoring is match play. In any given match, you count holes won, not strokes played. That makes each hole a mini-match. Second, on Friday and Saturday, the players compete in teams, two against two, four matches each morning and four each afternoon. One daily session consists of foursomes competition, surely the coolest golf format in existence. Each pair alternates playing a ball on each hole. If you’re my partner, you tee off on hole 1 and we alternate until one of us gets the ball in the cup. On the next hole, I tee off. Then you, then me, etc. The other daily session features fourball — each of the four players plays his own ball and the best one of the four, if there is a best one, wins the hole. This opens the door to one player taking risks while another plays it safe, introducing additional opportunities for strategy.

There’s nothing like Ryder Cup Sunday. The twelve players on each side get matched up and go out in singles matches, one against one. Twelve simultaneous matches are played, each having its own drama of as many as eighteen mini-matches. (I should explain that in match play, if let’s say you arrive at the 18th hole having won 6 holes while your opponent has won 4, with 7 holes drawn or “halved” 7 holes, then you are 2 up. There’s no point playing the 18th. The match is over and you have won, 2 and 1, which is to say you are 2 up with 1 hole to go. In the most extreme case, if you win the first 10 holes, your opponent can’t catch up and the match ends there, with you having one 10 and 8.)

The excitement of the last day is intensified because the overall team score can shift back and forth in the blink of an eye. One team may have 6 players ahead, another 4 ahead, with 2 even, but the margins may be just 1 or 2 holes one way or the other in each match, so that in half an hour perhaps the status of half those matches can flip. A missed put here, a dramatic chip in there, and the overall complexion changes instantly. Which is pretty much what happened yesterday.

Just one example. In the match between Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose, Mickelson was up 1 on the 16th hole and poised to go up 2 unless Rose could sink a hard putt, which he did to halve the hole and keep himself just 1 back. On 17, Mickelson thought he sank a devilishly difficult chip from off the green, which would probably win the hole and match, but it didn’t go in. Rose then sank his 40 foot putt to win the hole instead and draw even. The ever gracious Mickelson smiled at Rose and applauded. Then, on 18, Rose made another great putt for birdie to win the hole and, in fact, the match. It was that kind of day for Europe, which came from way back to win the cup.

An extraordinary day of golf. But not one I can celebrate openly, unless I’m looking to move. Gail isn’t as charmed by the greatness of the moment. She’s in mourning mode. I must tread carefully.

For the closing word, I turn to Taiwan’s Next Media Animation, or, which in its inimitable way put together a video that captures the excitement of Ryder Cup 2012. I’ve embedded the video up top. (Hat tip: Geoff Shackelford. I have written previously about NMA’s work here.)

Categories: Animation, Golf