Archive for August, 2013

Roche Harbor 4: Ending on a Downer

August 31, 2013 Leave a comment
Roche Harbor

Roche Harbor

I still haven’t written Roche Harbor 3. When I do, I’ll describe our wonderful outing last Saturday in the waters of the San Juan Islands and the spectacular seafood feast during our break from boating. The outing ended with us being dropped at the Roche Harbor dock around 5:30 for our 6:00 Kenmore Air seaplane flight back to Seattle. (I took the shot above late in the afternoon, on our way back.) And what a beautiful flight it was, culminating as we swung from south to north by the top of the Space Needle and came in for our landing on Lake Union. We could see the faces of the people on the Space Needle observation deck. Well, Gail couldn’t. To my astonishment, she was looking at her iPhone.

Soon we were at the Kenmore Air Seattle dock, saying farewell to our companions, walking through the terminal, and out to our car. In my first Roche Harbor post I wrote about our arrival at the terminal the morning before:

Our flight was scheduled for 11:00 am. We arrived around 9:50 and spent some time parking. There’s a small free lot by the terminal, but it was full. The website spoke of a pay lot next door. We interpreted that to refer to the strip of public parking just off the street to the north of the terminal, found a spot there, paid for the day’s parking (Friday–it’s free Saturday), and checked in. I mention this detail because I will return to it in another post, the choice being a poor one.

The moment I spotted our car on our return, I knew something was wrong. It’s like the windows weren’t there. I could see right through. No tint. Gail’s reaction, as she would explain later, was different. She thought another car just like ours had parked next to our car and blocked the view of it. Sure enough, as we drew nearer, it was our car, and the windows were open. Or gone. Sunroof too. Once we got to the car, we saw that the glovebox was open and papers were strewn over the front passenger seat and floor.

Someone had broken in, obviously. But how did he (I assume he) open all the windows? Were the windows even there? Or had he carefully removed them all? Unlikely, but it seemed equally unlikely that he could have opened them all without starting the car. I suggested that Gail get her key out and start the car so we could at least verify that the windows were there. Which they were. Sunroof too. Everything was intact. Nothing was stolen.

I decided to go around and make sure each door worked. Only when I got to the final door, the driver’s, did I see that the lock mechanism had been punched out, with one piece on the ground. He must have hammered it in or broken it some other way, then gotten the door open. Did the alarm go off? Did he start the car to open the windows? If so, why not drive away in it? And anyway, why open them at all, unless the point was to inflict damage, in case it were to rain for instance? Or to give others access?

Anyway, as we relieved as we were that the car worked, that nothing was stolen, that the damage appeared confined to the broken lock, that nothing got wet, that no one malicious took advantage of the open windows and sunroof to vandalize anything, this was just about the most depressing sight imaginable.

Monday morning Gail called the dealer and prepared to drive the car up. I was talking to Bert, our remodel site superintendent and friend, about what happened when he mentioned that he knows some cars have a feature allowing you to (intentionally) open all windows at once. I went online to see how that might be done and read that you can hold down the unlock button on the key for 3 seconds to effect this. Maybe it’s hot and you want to get air circulating as you approach the car. Hold the button down and everything slides open. I went out and tried it on my car. Sure enough.

That made me feel a lot better. Presumably the miserable person who broke our lock didn’t intentionally open all the windows. Rather, his lock jimmying must have triggered the window-opening signal. He may have been taken entirely by surprise. Who knows? Maybe he even felt bad about it, wanting access to our belongings but not wanting the car left open to the elements.

Nonetheless, we had a broken lock. Gail drove the car out, got a loaner, ended up waiting three days for all the necessary parts to come in. She brought the repaired car home Thursday afternoon, just in time for our early morning departure the next day, yesterday, for New York, where we are now.

Categories: Automobiles, Travel

Roche Harbor 2: McMillin’s

August 31, 2013 Leave a comment


A week ago at this very moment we were just arriving home from our overnight trip to Roche Harbor, the first part of which I wrote about here. Now we’re in New York, on day two of our next trip. If I don’t say more about Roche Harbor soon, I’ll never get back to it. Here, then, a short follow-up post.

I left off as were were about to enter McMillin’s, Roche Harbor’s principal restaurant, for dinner with Russ and Tobae on Friday night, a week ago last night. A new menu was debuting that very night. Having not seen any previous menu, we weren’t well positioned to recognize what was new about it. The most significant feature was the plethora of small plate dishes. One heading explained that even the entree type dishes were served small, so that one could try several or a group could share several, though it further noted that those desiring more traditional sizes could request them. Thus, instead of a tiny halibut helping, one could have a standard halibut entree.

On the back page, though, was an alternative: McMillin’s classic 45-day aged prime rib. This was offered in three sizes, small, standard, and large. Gail, who rarely passes up a good prime rib, instead chose small halibut. The rest of us ordered prime rib. It was excellent. I ordered a salad with truffle oil dressing and the truffle oil was just too much for me. It overpowered any other flavor, except some fantastic tomatoes. Gail had a crab bisque, which I traded her for.

Our table was at a window, with a view out over the harbor. A seal showed up at one point. Later we had perfect seats for the over-the-top flag lowering ceremony. First the Canadian flag came down while the Canadian national anthem, then the Union Jack and God Save the Queen, then the US flag and taps, all this blasted over a sound system that ended any dinner conversations.

But the evening highlight came later. We parted with Russ and Tobae around 9:45 and went up to our room, which looks down on the restaurant from across the path. At 10:00 sharp, the cover band started up. It was playing by the bar outdoors, which meant everyone got to listen. Forget sleep. They stopped a little before midnight. I had forgotten the email sent to us in early July with the good news that there would be live music at the bar every Friday and Saturday night from 10 to midnight. I hadn’t quite understood that this was to be understood as a warning.

We did eventually go to sleep. We awoke Saturday ready for the primary purpose of the outing: our boat ride in search of whales and our feast across the harbor on Pearl Island at the home of our hosts. More on that in Roche Harbor post #3. As a preview, below is a photo I took during our boat ride of English Camp, part of San Juan Island National Historical Park.


As partial explanation, from the park website:

When Great Britain and the United States in 1859 agreed to a joint occupation of San Juan Island until the water boundary between the two nations could be settled, it was decided that camps would be located on opposite ends of the island.

Shortly after the British and American governments affirmed Lieutenant General Winfield Scott’s proposal to jointly occupy San Juan Island, the Royal Navy started looking for a home for its British Royal Marine Light Infantry contingent.

Capt. James Prevost, commander of H.M.S. Satellite, selected the site on Garrison Bay — 15 miles northwest of American Camp — from among seven finalists. He’d remembered the bay shore from explorations two years earlier as a part of the water boundary commission survey of the island. At that time, one of his officers, Lieutenant Richard Roche, had commented on seeing abandoned Indian plank houses nestled among a vast shell midden.

Roche described the ground as “well-sheltered, has a good supply of water and grass, and is capable of affording maneuvering ground for any number of men that are likely to be required in that locality…” He added that a trail, 11 miles long, led from this area to the Hudson’s Bay farm at Bellevue.


The marines departed in November 1872, following the final boundary decision of Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany. They left behind a facility so solidly built that the Crook family (who purchased the site from the U.S. government) occupied several of the structures for more than 30 years.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel

NSA, the Cloud, and Profit

August 29, 2013 Leave a comment

The NSA's Utah Data Center

The NSA’s Utah Data Center

[AP/Rick Bowmer]

This site is great. (Hat tip: Jim Fallows.)

I suggested months ago that the NSA should go into business as the ultimate cloud service.

Isn’t it great to know they’re backing up all our email? And phone conversations too? … Why don’t they offer to charge us a fee for access to old data? … I would pay for this. Wouldn’t you?

(I know, I’m not the only one to think of this. But I’ll accept credit as an independent suggester, having written about it before seeing the idea anywhere else.)

And now, as an offshoot of the NSA’s PRISM program, there’s PRSM, which provides the very service I had in mind. Some highlights:

  • Unlimited Storage: With the world’s largest data center, share endlessly.
  • 320 million strong: You’ll find every person you’ve ever known. Even grandma.
  • Instantly upload trillions of megabytes of data.
  • Really big computers: Our datacenter can store up to 5 zettabytes of information.

And then there’s the list of key partners: Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo!, Microsoft, AOL, and AT&T. I recommend exploring all the service’s features.

Meanwhile, back in the non-parodic world, Craig Timberg and Barton Gellman write in today’s Washington Post:

The National Security Agency is paying hundreds of millions of dollars a year to U.S. companies for clandestine access to their communications networks, filtering vast traffic flows for foreign targets in a process that also sweeps in large volumes of American telephone calls, e-mails and instant messages.

The bulk of the spending, detailed in a multi-volume intelligence budget obtained by The Washington Post, goes to participants in a Corporate Partner Access Project for major U.S. telecommunications providers. The documents open an important window into surveillance operations on U.S. territory that have been the subject of debate since they were revealed by The Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper in June.

New details of the corporate-partner project, which falls under the NSA’s Special Source Operations, confirm that the agency taps into “high volume circuit and packet-switched networks,” according to the spending blueprint for fiscal 2013. The program was expected to cost $278 million in the current fiscal year, down nearly one-third from its peak of $394 million in 2011.

Voluntary cooperation from the “backbone” providers of global communications dates to the 1970s under the cover name BLARNEY, according to documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. These relationships long predate the PRISM program disclosed in June, under which American technology companies hand over customer data after receiving orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

In briefing slides, the NSA described BLARNEY and three other corporate projects — OAKSTAR, FAIRVIEW and STORMBREW — under the heading of “passive” or “upstream” collection. They capture data as they move across fiber-optic cables and the gateways that direct global communications traffic.

The documents offer a rare view of a secret surveillance economy in which government officials set financial terms for programs capable of peering into the lives of almost anyone who uses a phone, computer or other device connected to the Internet.

Although the companies are required to comply with lawful surveillance orders, privacy advocates say the multimillion-dollar payments could create a profit motive to offer more than the required assistance.

Journalist Friendly Fire

August 27, 2013 Leave a comment


[Ted Rall, August 22]

The responses of government officials and prominent members of the press to this summer’s Edward Snowden revelations and the trial/sentencing of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning offer me once again the opportunity to discover how far removed my views are from the mainstream. Just two days ago, for instance, I was astonished when I read Providence Journal syndicated columnist Froma Harrop’s latest piece, which the Seattle Times carried. She sure has it in for Glenn Greenwald.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner was detained at London’s Heathrow Airport for nine hours — no waterboarding or electric shocks, just pointed questions and confiscation of David Michael Miranda’s computer gear. That prompted Greenwald to threaten Britain with more of his writings.

“I think they’ll regret what they’ve done,” he said. Miranda, meanwhile, accused British authorities of “psychological violence.”

Greenwald has enthralled paranoids on the right and the left with torrid tales of government perfidy. He’s a skilled enough communicator to leave the impression of revealing, or being about to reveal, appalling truths without actually delivering the goods.

But at some point even his ardent fan base will have to step back, take a look at the sweaty denunciations, the self-dramatization and the “opera buffa” plot, and conclude that this story is ripe for rapid deflation. Some critics call the style “outrage porn.”

Huh? This is both inaccurate and lazy writing. But regardless, is Greenwald really the story? Why not what we have learned from his reporting, and that of the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, among others? For example, Gellman revealed ten days ago that the “National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.” Isn’t that more important?

Which brings me to David Carr’s superb piece in the NYT yesterday.

It’s not surprising that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who brokered the publishing of Private Manning’s documents, and Glenn Greenwald, the columnist for The Guardian who has led the Snowden revelations, have also come under intense criticism.

What is odd is that many pointing the finger are journalists. When Mr. Greenwald was on “Meet the Press” after the first round of N.S.A. articles, the host, David Gregory, seemingly switched the show to “Meet the Prosecutor.” He asked, “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”

Jeffrey Toobin, who works for both CNN and The New Yorker, called Mr. Snowden “a grandiose narcissist who belongs in prison.” This week, he called David Miranda, Mr. Greenwald’s partner who was detained by British authorities for nine hours under antiterror laws, the equivalent of a “drug mule.”


What have Mr. Assange and Mr. Greenwald done to inspire such rancor from other journalists? Because of the leaks and the stories they generated, we have learned that in the name of tracking terrorists, the N.S.A. has been logging phone calls and e-mails for years, recorded the metadata of correspondence between Americans, and in some instances, dived right into the content of e-mails. The WikiLeaks documents revealed that the United States turned a blind eye on the use of torture by our Iraqi allies, and that an airstrike was ordered to cover up the execution of civilians. WikiLeaks also published a video showing a United States Army helicopter opening fire on a group of civilians, including two Reuters journalists.

In the instance of the stories based on the purloined confidential documents in the Manning and Snowden leaks, we learned what our country has been doing in our name, whether it is in war zones or in digital realms.

Blame the messenger.

Carr concludes:

If the revelations about the N.S.A. surveillance were broken by Time, CNN or The New York Times, executives there would already be building new shelves to hold all the Pulitzer Prizes and Peabodies they expected. Same with the 2010 WikiLeaks video of the Apache helicopter attack.

Instead, the journalists and organizations who did that work find themselves under attack, not just from a government bent on keeping its secrets, but from friendly fire by fellow journalists. What are we thinking?



[Tom Tomorrow at Daily Kos, August 26]

Categories: Journalism, Politics

Roche Harbor

August 25, 2013 Leave a comment


[Mural at Roche Harbor, Annie Howell-Adams]

[By the way, this post is long. If you get bored, you may wish to skip to the photos at the bottom.]

Last April, at the annual auction dinner for my favorite museum, we successfully bid for a day trip to Roche Harbor on San Juan Island. San Juan is the most populous and second largest of the San Juan Islands, which lie between the northern Washington State mainland and Vancouver Island. Just north are the Gulf Islands of British Columbia, with the US-Canada border snaking in between along a route settled in 1872 by international arbitration after years of dispute between the US and Britain. Roche Harbor sits to the northwest of the island, with Henry Island just to the west and beyond that the border, no more than three miles from Roche Harbor. Thus, it is just about the northwesternmost point of the lower 48 United States.

The San Juans are beautiful. I’ve observed over the years that they aren’t all that well known across the country, which is fine with us. Even though we do know and love them, Gail and I never get up there often enough. One reason is that it’s such a chore. Drive ninety miles to Anacortes. Get on a ferry, possibly after a multi-hour wait, then take another hour or two to get somewhere.

There’s an alternative: Kenmore Air and its fleet of de Havilland seaplanes. They fly out of the south end of Lake Union, just north of downtown and only three miles from home, landing in harbors through the islands (and Victoria, BC, too). We have never availed ourselves of this service—why, I don’t know—though cost and fear of flying in small planes certainly have something to do with it.

The day trip we bought was to consist of a flight up to Roche Harbor, an outing on the hosts’ boat, lunch at their cabin on Pearl Island just a few hundred yards across the harbor, then another outing, with the possibility that we’d see an orca whale pod along the way, the day ending with a return to the Roche Harbor docks and the flight home.

Since we so rarely get up that way, we decided we’d fly up the day before. Our companions, Russ and Tobae, agreed to do the same. Since they live a ways north of Seattle, they would drive down to Kenmore Air’s home base in Kenmore, at the north end of Lake Washington, and board the flight there. (Many flights to the islands originate there, make the short hop to Seattle, then head north.)

Our flight was scheduled for 11:00 am. We arrived around 9:50 and spent some time parking. There’s a small free lot by the terminal, but it was full. The website spoke of a pay lot next door. We interpreted that to refer to the strip of public parking just off the street to the north of the terminal, found a spot there, paid for the day’s parking (Friday–it’s free Saturday), and checked in. I mention this detail because I will return to it in another post, the choice being a poor one.

We were surprised by how crowded the terminal was. Why became clearer when they began to announce boardings for Friday Harbor (on the other side of San Juan Island), Friday Harbor again, Eastsound on Orcas Island, then Victoria. There must have been half a dozen flights leaving in a 15-minute period. I suppose this is typical of summer weekends, but I had expected us to be leaving early enough to beat the peak. With so much traffic, they were able to fill the plane in Kenmore with Roche Harbor-bound passengers as well as a flight out of Seattle, so Russ and Tobae flew there directly rather than coming to Seattle, which meant they arrived just about the time we were taking off.

I would have paid closer attention to some of the terminal details if I weren’t spending 40 minutes on the phone participating in a bi-weekly teleconference for a committee I’m part of. Gail was a little concerned that we were going to miss our plane. But they actually call out passenger names one by one when boarding time comes, so if we don’t hear our name, they don’t want us. They have planes of varying sizes, the largest being de Havilland’s DHC-3 Otter, and that seats ten. It’s what we boarded a little after 11:00.

Up front in the Otter is a small cockpit with room for the pilot and one passenger. Behind are three rows of two, a seat on each side by the windows. Then there’s the door on the left and a window seat on the right, and behind that one more row of two seats, with a small cargo space to the rear where bags are stowed.

Seats are small, legroom minimal. There’s a strict 25-pound weight limit for all belongings and a length-width-depth limit for each bag as well. When you board, the pilot and an attendant first get all the bags in the back, then board us, with seats unreserved. Gail sat in the seat behind the pilot, with a partition in between, and I sat behind her. The pilot got on last, stood in the doorway, and raced through a safety speech, pointing out also that earplugs were available in the seat pockets in front. I opened a bag and put in a pair. Soon we taxied out.

And taxied and taxied. Had we been taking off to the north, we would have taxied out and gone straight into our takeoff. Instead, because we were taking off to the south, we taxied all the way to the north end of Lake Union. It must have taken close to 20 minutes. Interesting views of the city from the middle of the lake, but I was eager to get in the air. Which suddenly we were.


I don’t think we ever flew above 2000 feet. What views! We were in the air maybe 40 minutes. Once airborne, we cut to the west with downtown just outside our window to the left, then Elliott Bay, then we turned north, with Bainbridge Island across Puget Sound in full view. We know the island well enough now that we could pick out many landmarks. Indeed, there were familiar landmarks a good ways up, culminating in a fantastic view of Port Townsend and Fort Worden. Then we were over the open waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait, with Vancouver Island in the distance to the northwest. In a few minutes, we could make out the city of Victoria, as well as the southern end of San Juan Island. We began our descent, turned over Henry Island to line ourselves up for a landing to the south, and came down over the narrow channel that separates Roche Harbor from our destination the next day, Pearl Island.

Roche Harbor has an extensive dock system, the outermost dock of which is for Kenmore Air’s use. There’s no one there to greet the plane. The pilot pulls up, opens his door, jumps out onto the dock, and ties up, just as a boat pilot would. We got off, the bags were passed out to us, and Russ was standing amongst the outbound passengers waiting to greet us. There’s no terminal. Just the dock. The plane comes in, people get off, people get on, it takes off.

It’s a five-minute walk through the docks to shore, where Tobae was waiting. We walked up the hill to our hotel, checked in (Russ and Tobae were too late in booking to get space there and were instead staying in Friday Harbor), checked our bags—the room not due to be ready for a few hours—and walked down to the island shuttle bus to ride to Friday Harbor. The bus filled up another two stops down the road. It was hot, crowded, uncomfortable, and probably a poor choice all around, since four bus fares were almost equal to a taxi fare. But that’s what the woman at the hotel recommended when we asked about taxis, so that’s what we dutifully did.

Friday Harbor is home to the ferry terminal, which naturally is where the bus lets everyone off and which is nowhere near Russ and Tobae’s hotel. It was 1:00 and we decided to eat lunch, which we did at a bar and fish place looking out over the water. Then we walked a half mile or so to their hotel, they checked in, we all walked back into town, and wandered around. After an hour of that, Gail and I called a taxi and headed back to Roche Harbor.

We were in our room at about 4:00 pm, with three hours until our dinner reservation at McMillin’s, the resort’s principal restaurant. I suppose I should explain that unlike Friday Harbor, which is a real town, Roche Harbor is a privately owned marina and resort. There’s no downtown. No town at all. Just the marina amenities. One building has a large grocery store that was packed when I walked around the neighborhood at 5:30 or so. Also in the building is the main breakfast and lunch place, the Lime Kiln Café. It’s casual. You order at the counter, grab a booth or table, they bring the food to you. A post office. Public bathrooms with showers that you put coins in to buy time in. This building is right at the entrance to the docks. Off the docks is the historic Hotel de Haro, where we checked in, with a store on the main floor near the front desk, filled with the usual stuff–sweatshirts, t-shirts, hats, candles, knick-knacks. A newer building has a fancy home furnishings store, the spa, and guest rooms above. Then there’s the building we stayed in. It was the old McMillin house, moved a short distance to this site and divided into four suites. Beyond that is the chapel, higher up on the hill overlooking the water. Our suite was long and narrow, with an entrance on the end far from the water, then an entry area and bathroom, a closet, the bed, and a living area with table and couch, beyond which is a sliding door leading out to a wraparound balcony that looks out over the harbor. Between us and the water, as already noted, is McMillin’s, which is the more upscale dinner restaurant, and down below in the same building is the bar.

Photos would help. I’ll put some in. Keep in mind that if you click on any of them, you’ll get a much higher resolution image.

First, the building with the grocery store, restaurant, showers, etc. You’ll notice (especially if you click for the better image) a wedding rehearsal underway by the side of the restaurant.


Here’s the historic hotel.


The spa building, with a corner of the hotel over to the left.


Our building, with our room on the lower floor with the entrance to the front and the side of the wraparound balcony towards the rear to the left and the harbor in the distance below.


The restaurant and bar, viewed from the water side, with our room on the lower floor of the building straight above. See the upper row of windows running from the left to just right of center? We ate dinner at one of those, probably the third from the right.


Here’s a shot, a little too dark, of the harbor.


I have yet to explain Roche Harbor’s rich history. It was a company town, the business being lime, as you might guess from that first photo if you clicked on it. The largest lime works west of the Mississippi, as is written on the building’s side. The island had imestone, forests with wood to burn, bricks brought from Vancouver Island brick makers, kilns, a harbor for boats to bring the lime down the coast. The lime was used in the rebuilding of San Francisco after the earthquake. There are some excellent history signs throughout the resort, from which I learned what little I know as I walked around before dinner.

One sign below (just click and you’ll be able to read the text clearly).




And this one tells of the building we stayed in.


Take a look again at the first in this sequence photo. You’ll see that the building pictured there has a mural on the side. Here it is:


And here is the credit:


I took all these photos while wandering around in the late afternoon. Then Russ and Tobae arrived from Friday Harbor, we all sat on our balcony enjoying the harbor view, and when 7:00 came, we proceeded across the way to McMillin’s for dinner. I’ll save the details of that for another post. Our activities yesterday can be the subject of a third post, with more photos. Eventually.

Categories: Travel

Cafe Parco

August 25, 2013 Leave a comment


I wrote about Cafe Parco two Januaries ago, opening with

Gail and I had dinner last night at the newest restaurant in the neighborhood, Cafe Parco. It was our first visit, and we anticipate returning often.

and closing with

It’s a beautiful restaurant … . We will return soon.

Well, that didn’t happen. It took over nineteen months. We made it back last Tuesday, joined by my college classmate Larry and his wife Sharon.

I never actually knew Larry in college. I thank classmate Marion for meeting him. I didn’t know Marion either, not until after our twenty-fifth reunion. The reunion led to the establishment of a class list serve. Soon after, with Marion due to come to Seattle for the first of two summers singing in Seattle Opera‘s production of Wagner’s Ring, she took to the list serve to ask locals about activities for her two children. I responded with advice, leading her to get in touch on arriving. Later that summer she hosted a get-together of classmates, including fellow classmate and Ring performer Peter, in town from New York, and all the locals she could round up.

One such was Larry. I discovered that he lived in the eastern suburb of Issaquah with dancer wife Sharon, practiced medicine, and more: he had published mysteries and was an expert on dancers’ medical issues with a book on the subject.

While in Cambridge to attend our thirtieth reunion, Gail and I ran into Larry in the bookstore. He wasn’t in town for the reunion itself. Rather, he was on leave from his practice on a road trip, which coincidentally brought him to Cambridge to visit his daughter just in time for the reunion. We talked some more and learned that he was open to new career options.

Some time later, I learned that Larry had moved to Boston to practice medicine again and teach at Harvard Medical School. He began work on a short history that would be honored with a listing as one of the must-read non-fiction books of 2012 by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Just last month, his latest novel appeared. [I have now bought the e-version.] When his older daughter got married, moved to Melbourne, Australia, and had two children, he began spending time there. Oh, and he and Sharon still have a place in Seattle’s eastern suburbs, which means Larry moves around a lot.


Last weekend, Larry got in touch to say they were in town, which I already knew from following all his comings and goings on Facebook. We agreed to get together. I suggested they come to the house and we’d find a place to eat in the neighborhood. So it was that we went to Cafe Parco.

We had a splendid evening. The weather was beautiful, so we sat in the courtyard outside. Gail and I had never talked with Sharon before. We got to learn all about how she left Portland, Oregon, decades ago for New York with the plan to dance with the Martha Graham Dance Company and proceeded to do just that. Larry was taking a year off between internship and residency at the time to do the research for his dancers book, which is how they met.

Between stories, we ate. To start, we shared three appetizers.

  • Crespelle with Summer Mushroom Ragu: Italian crepes filled with lemon braised mushrooms and radicchio scented with coriander. Drizzled with balsamic and lemon chutney.
  • Bruschetta with Fire Roasted Tomato: Crusty thick slices of bread toasted with Italian cheeses and are topped with pesto drizzled Fire Roasted Tomato.
  • House Salad: Chopped romaine, radicchio & tomato bacon crumbles and bacon vinaigrette.

The crepes were the big winner, and I hadn’t even plan to eat them. I just wanted the salad, which was excellent as well.

I’m always such a sucker for Carbonara. Once I saw it on the menu, I knew I couldn’t resist, even though the other pasta was tempting as well. Gail went with that other pasta. “Italian Sausage and Meat Sauce: Enjoy the bold flavors of Italian sausage with Chef Celinda’s traditional Ragu alla Bolognese, a slow simmered sauce of tomato, Painted Hills natural beef, oregano and Sangiovese.” The Carbonara is described as “Fresh Angel hair pasta tossed with Italian bacon, fresh shaved Parmigiano and a hens egg for an elegant, yet simple dish.” I’m forgetting what Larry and Sharon ordered. One had fish. I had eyes only for my Carbonara, which was even better than anticipated.

We shared a bottle of Chianti with it, selected by the chef after we proposed a general type and a price range. The meal was sufficiently filling that we passed up dessert. Almost three hours after we arrived, it was time to go, with a full moon rising over the buildings of Madison Park.

Cafe Parco does takeout. It’s bad enough we don’t eat there regularly, but why not at least take out? We’ll change that. And, as I said the last time I wrote about Cafe Parco, we will return soon.

This time I mean it.

Categories: Restaurants

A Wedding and a Homophone Pair

August 18, 2013 Leave a comment
Rowing Home, Winslow Homer, 1890

Rowing Home, Winslow Homer, 1890

[The Phillips Collection]

The summer of limited blogging continues. Between work, remodel, and social events, I see little room for improvement. Prior to the past week, we’d been to four weddings in a two-week period, plus a sixtieth birthday party. This week brought a retirement party and a wedding tripleheader: rehearsal dinner Friday, wedding Saturday, post-wedding brunch Sunday (today). All of which was wonderful, but not conducive to blogging.

The bride is the daughter of good friends, and the officiant was Gail, which put us in the middle of the action. Gail anyway. Me, not so much, though I did get to observe, and to meet a lot of fascinating people on the groom’s side whom I may not see much of again. But for three days they were constant companions.

There’s the groom’s aunt from Fort Worth, and her husband, who runs the business side of a large university down that way, which means—when we found ourselves sitting side by side at the wedding reception last night—that we ended up having a lot in common. Especially beef, as it turned out. They’ve given it up mostly, in favor of fish, chicken, and a healthier diet. But they talked about ribeye steaks and barbecue in the most enticing of ways. I had previously wished to visit Fort Worth in order to see the Amon Carter Museum. Now I want to drop by their place for the ribeyes, the barbecue, and steak fajitas.

Also for a piece of golf history, as the uncle took golf lessons in his youth from the famed golf pro atColonial and lived near Shady Oaks, where Ben Hogan ate lunch and played golf for decades. Plus, the aunt’s storytelling. She’s quite the monologuist. At the rehearsal dinner the night before, she gave such detailed descriptions of Fort Worth summers that I was sweltering.

I could continue running through all the people we met and what I learned from them, but maybe I shouldn’t. There is of course the bride’s aunt, whom we’ve met before, and uncle, whom I talked with last night (as I did last September) about their vineyard. It turns out that tomorrow is the day that Quilceda Creek Vintners up in Snohomish makes their latest releases available online for purchase, so I especially enjoyed getting his insight into them and Washington wineries in general. Plus—small world and all that—today I talked shop with their daughter the math grad student and her boyfriend the fellow math grad student. I don’t see mathematicians at too many weddings. Well, except weddings of mathematicians.

Speaking of small worlds and coincidences, we got to talking with the groom’s father towards the end of the rehearsal dinner at his home Friday. Well into the conversation, when he asked about our kids, it emerged that the groom and Joel were born the same day, a couple of hours—and a few states—apart. They even went to the same school, but not at the same time, the groom leaving before Joel arrived for middle school.

This is where the homophone pair enters. Dinner consisted of an orzo salad that the father’s wife later told us is from The Herbfarm Cookbook, a fruit salad, some other things I’m forgetting, and excellent salmon cooked over a large grill. The bride’s father had mentioned earlier that he had been out fishing with the groom and his father the day before, but caught nothing. Now we learned from the groom’s father that he and his son had in fact caught the salmon we ate earlier.

I imagined them in a powerboat, but as the father began to describe the outing, he said they they “rowed out.” I had to change my image from powerboat to tiny rowboat, with father, son, and bride’s father squeezed in. Next he said “in the car.” They “rowed out in the car.” Huh? Not powerboat or rowboat but car? This image didn’t work. Something was wrong.

Time to re-parse. Ah, they “rode out in the car.” That’s it. They weren’t in the water yet, they were on their way. That made more sense.

I found my confusion sufficiently interesting that after the father finished his story, I shared my confusion with him, Gail, and the bride’s mother. Now I’m sharing it with you. I may as well get one post out of this weekend.

The wedding? It was beautiful. But that’s another story.

Categories: Language, Life

More Dahlias

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment


Three weeks ago I wrote about a problem with my newly arrived camera that somehow solved itself, illustrating the post with a photo of a dahlia in our frontyard. Here are photos taken on Sunday of two more dahlias, from our backyard.


I suppose that’s all I have to say. One of these days I’ll take the camera on a trip and have a wider range of subjects to display.

Categories: Photography

Building the Moroccan Court

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment

I laid the groundwork for this post a week ago, but then ran out of steam. Let me see if I can resurrect it.

To start with, quoting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s description of the galleries for Islamic art in their online gallery guide,

On November 1, 2011, the Department of Islamic Art reopened its fifteen galleries after an eight-year renovation. The new galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia were renovated and reorganized in accordance with current thinking in the field and with modern museological practices.

I wrote a post the previous April describing a visit to the Met during which we were fortunate to get “a sneak peak of a small new room with wooden ceiling and walls being carved as we watched by Moroccan craftsmen. This will be a must-see when the space re-opens near the end of the year.”

Unbeknownst to me, the NYT had given this new space extensive coverage just two weeks earlier, with an article, a slide show, and a short video. From Randy Kennedy’s article:

When the Metropolitan Museum of Art makes a big curatorial decision, it tends to do so with the kind of grave deliberation that goes into a papal bull. Gut feeling is not a prized consideration. But in the spring of 2009, in a dust-covered basement workshop in Fez, Morocco, a young curator in the museum’s Islamic department sat among a group of artisans — workers in traditional North African tile, plaster and wood ornament whose roots stretched back seven generations in the trade — and asked the company’s chief executive yet again why the museum should enlist them for an unusual mission.

The executive, a boyish-looking man named Adil Naji, reached over and took hold of the wrist of one of his younger brothers, Hisham. He hoisted the brother’s rough, callused fingers in front of the curator, Navina Haidar, and, with a climactic intensity that wouldn’t have been out of place in “Lawrence of Arabia,” exclaimed, “Look, this is my brother’s hand!”

As Ms. Haidar recalled recently, back in the much less cinematic confines of a museum construction site: “It was a very powerful moment. It made up our minds because we could see how close he was to the tradition. And we wanted to see that hand on our walls.”

She and her colleagues had gone to Morocco in search of help for a kind of project that the Metropolitan, which generally concerns itself with the work of dead artists, has rarely undertaken in its 140 years: to install a group of living artists inside the museum for the purposes of creating a permanent new part of its collection.

The last time such a thing happened was in 1980, when Brooke Astor underwrote the re-creation of a Ming dynasty garden courtyard, made by more than two dozen master builders from Suzhou, China, who spent four months on the job within the museum’s Chinese painting galleries, working with hand tools unchanged for generations.

Almost 30 years later the museum was embarking on the most ambitious rethinking and rebuilding of its Islamic art galleries in its history, a $50 million endeavor. At the heart of those galleries, which will open in the fall after being closed six years, it dreamed of showcasing the defining feature of Moroccan and southern Spanish Islamic architecture: a medieval Maghrebi-Andalusian-style courtyard, which would function in much the same way such courtyards still do in the traditional houses and mosques of Marrakesh or Casablanca, as their physical and spiritual center.

The problem was that, while the museum owns entire blocks’ worth of historic architecture, it did not happen to have a medieval Islamic courtyard sitting around in storage anywhere. And so after months of debate about whether it could pull off such a feat in a way that would meet the Met’s standards, it essentially decided to order a courtyard up.

Which is how a group of highly regarded Moroccan craftsmen, many of whom had never set foot in New York, came essentially to take up residence at the Met beginning last December, working some days in their jabador tunics and crimson fezzes (known as tarbooshes in Morocco), to build a 14th-century Islamic fantasia in seclusion high above the Greek and Roman galleries as unknowing museum goers passed below.

One week ago, the Met released a 17 3/4 minute video (embedded at the top of the post) telling the story of the courtyard. The video’s blurb:

In 2011, The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia, which house the Museum’s renowned collection of Islamic art. A vital part of the installation is the Patti Cadby Birch Court, a Moroccan court built by a team of experts—from curators and historians to designers and craftsmen—over many months. Complementing the works on view, which span the past fourteen hundred years, the Moroccan Court provides an experience of space and architecture, and demonstrates artistic traditions that still thrive in the Islamic world. This video documents a marvelous journey from Fez to New York, and the creation of a twenty-first-century court using traditional, fifteenth-century methods.

Next time you have 18 free minutes, watch it. You’ll be glad you did. Among some of the highlights is the sweet moment, after the NYT article quoted above had appeared, when the craftsmen arrive at work as local celebrities.

Categories: Art

World Championship Blackout

August 12, 2013 Leave a comment


I have long been puzzled by the oddity of millions of Americans becoming rabid fans of track and field, swimming, and a host of other sports on a quadrennial basis. Heck, we’ll watch anything if it’s held under the Olympic banner. Rhythmic gymnastics? Sure. Don’t want to miss that keen competition between the Russians and the Belarusians.

But odder still is our lack of resistance when these sports disappear in the intermediate years. I imagine it would be a surprise to many Olympic fans to learn that the participants in these sports don’t just spend those years practicing, waiting for the next Olympics to roll around. In fact, each year brings a rich family of major competitions. Some sports even have world championships, drawing the best from around the world to participate in competitions every bit as fierce and prestigious as the Olympics. Not as rewarding financially, but just as difficult to win.

Speaking of which, the International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF, is holding the 2013 World Championships this very week in Moscow. All the usual stars are there. Usain Bolt just won the 100m yesterday, though you might have missed it. Kirani James, who won the 400m world championship two years ago and the Olympic gold medal last year, will be aiming for another win tomorrow. If this were the Olympics, we’d be glued to the TV.

Time zone difficulties aside, I would gladly spend this week glued to the TV. I had a bit of a conflict over the weekend, what with the PGA Championship taking place at Oak Hill in Rochester. The extraordinary golf clinic Jason Dufner put on yesterday kept me entranced. Last night I shifted my focus to track and studied the broadcast schedule, ready to program the DVR for the overnight events so that I could watch them later each day.

Which of our hundreds of cable channels is NBC’s Universal Sports Network anyway? Having failed to find it in a search through the guide on the TV, I logged into Comcast on my laptop and searched. I still couldn’t spot it. So I went to the Universal website, which has a link at the top to “sign-in with cable/sat provider.” Cool. This would let me find the channel, and also permit me to stream the events on the computer.

But Comcast didn’t pop up. In fact, hardly any cable companies do. How can this be? Doesn’t Comcast own NBC? Wouldn’t they put all the NBC channels in their cable package?

It seems the situation is more complicated. An article from two Januarys ago in the LA Times with the title “Universal Sports channel didn’t disappear, it just seems that way” offers an explanation.

[Universal] was not technically a cable channel but instead was a digital broadcast channel. Locally, KNBC-TV provides some of its channel capacity to Universal Sports for distribution purposes.

Now, Universal Sports wants to be paid by distributors for carriage and is being offered as a stand-alone cable network. So far, satellite broadcaster DirecTV [and now Dish as well] is the only multichannel video program distributor to have cut a deal with the channel, but its officers say they are confident that they’ll be in 15 million to 20 million homes by the end of 2012. Previously, the channel was available in about 40 million homes.

Unlike many sports channels, Universal Sports is not asking distributors to carry the network on their most popular programming package, typically known as expanded basic or digital. Instead, it is seeking to be part of specialty packages that consumers pay extra to receive if they want the channel.

Great. So, no world championships for me. NBC has limited weekend coverage. Universal has exclusive coverage of all events otherwise.

Worse, no world championships for just about anyone in the US. What a way to kill interest in the sport, making the biennial showcase invisible! Maybe track really doesn’t exist in non-Olympic years.

Categories: Television, Track