Sunday, April 28, 2013

Home again

The Chicago trip ended this morning.  Everyone met for one last breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then packed off into waiting black cars that would take us to our various airports -- the Colorado folks flew out of Midway; the rest of us out of O'Hare.  Turned out that Will and Susan (Amanda's parents) were flying United, like me, and that their gate was next to mine.  So we got to go through security together and talk about travel and the church and whatever else until it was time for us to board the plane. 


No incidents on the flight home; now I'm sitting in my apartment feeling very much like I've had a wonderful break -- and like I've never been gone.  Which was precisely what I needed this weekend.  What a great way to start the week and the month of May!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Chicago - Stars! (both the Michelin and the Broadway kind)

There are only three cities in the US that have been graced with a Michelin guide.  Chicago is one of them.  Naturally, this means that Saturday night found Amanda and me seated in the swanky downtown dining room -- complete with snowy tablecloths and witch-hazel stick arrangements -- of the Michelin-starred and James Beard award-winning restaurant NAHA.

We had theatre tickets for later in the evening, so we weren't able to get the tasting menu. "Eight to ten courses," explained our waitress, "it'll take at least two-and-a-half hours." To which we replied, "Why couldn't you have opened at 4:30pm so we could do that and go to the theatre?"  Sigh.

Everything on the menu was enticing, and when our orders came we knew we were in the right place.  There's just something special about extra fine dining that makes everything right with the world.
Bread with cherries and fennel seeds.
Harvested Scallops from Barnegat Light, Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes,
Beluga Lentils, Granny Smith Apple and Hazelnut
Filet of Beef Tenderloin enrobed in Sofia Ashed Goat Cheese with Potato Mousseline,
Oyster Mushrooms, Grey Shallots, Horseradish and Thyme
“Gateau Basque” Custard Cake, Olive Oil Ice Cream, Bartlett Pears, Soft Polenta, Pomegranate

After dinner we made our way to the Oriental Theatre to see the new Broadway-bound musical Big Fish, which is based on the movie of the same name.  It was fun enough, though not what I'd call great.  There were some high-profile actors (including Norbert Leo Butz, a Tony Award-winning star in his own right) and some clever theatrical effects.  But some of the songs were boring and none of the tunes catchy enough to leave you humming them on your way out of the theatre.

On the way to the theatre, Amanda and I had had the foresight to stop at a chocolate shop to pick up a box of fancy truffles.  Chocolate party in the hotel room!


Chicago - Catching up with friends

Amanda instigated this trip to Chicago when she told me she was going with her family and asked if I wanted to join in the fun.  I wanted to see the city again, and I always enjoy travelin with her and hanging out with her family, so I accepted the invitation.  But I also wanted to catch up with a couple of other friends who live in the city, and who I hadn't seen in far too long. 

On Friday I broke off from the group and met up with Jennifer, a girl I met when I was in law school in New York.  Her real job was at one of the big investment banks, doing something currency-related, but I knew her as the spinning instructor at the NYU student center.  She's vivacious and smart and tons of fun, and she's been living and working as a yoga instructor in Chicago for the past few years (because that's what you do when your bank implodes during the economic crisis and you're dating a hot yogi who owns a studio in Chicago).  We met up at Milk and Honey Cafe and caught up over a tasty late lunch.
Lentil and quinoa burger with hummus garlic spread, tomato, romaine and provolone
on a pretzel roll, with homemade potato chips

On Saturday (after the disastrous visit to the aquarium), I met Vanessa and Stephen for lunch at Chicago Q.  The barbecue was fantastic (we were informed upon arrival that the chef was a "competitive barbecuer" and had "won the throw-down") and it was great to catch up.  I first met Vanessa and Stephen ten years ago in Rennes (she was a student at the IEP and took me under her wing; he was her American boyfriend-now-husband).  We talked about work (Stephen's a lawyer, too) and Vanessa's and my upcoming trip to Vietnam.  And all the while we ate and ate and ate.  By the time we left, I was so full of succulent pulled chicken and cornbread I nearly burst!

Pulled pork sandwich with honey-butter cornbread
The sauces (from left):  The spicy one, the mustardy one, the one that actually tasted
like traditional barbecue sauce, and some sort of vinaigre

(Just think -- the next time I see Vanessa we'll be in the airport in Seoul, Korea, en route to Hanoi!  can't wait.)

Chicago - Flowers and fish (and tiny little dinosaurs)

Saturday morning dawned clear and beautiful.  What better way to enjoy a perfect spring day in Chicago than by visiting a flower show at the Lincoln Park Conservatory?

Their spring gardens were exquisite with their foxgloves and lilies . . .


and astilbe, geraniums, daffodils and hydrangea.


The orchid room was a valiant attempt but couldn't hold a candle to the orchid room at the Smithsonian's Botanical Garden back home.
At some point koi are just too big and become scary.
My favorite thing was the obvious sense of humor that was on display in the fern room. Someone on staff clearly understands what would make walking through a bunch of plants fun for a three-year-old!

They weren't kidding about "small" dinosaurs . . .
(a mastodon, on the other hand, it completely anachronistic here -- come on guys)
After the conservatory, we headed down Lakeshore Drive to the Shedd Aquarium.  I had originally been excited to see the aquarium, which claims to be one of the best in the US and vaunts itself as Chicago's top attraction, but was appalled at the size of the crowd in the ticket line (which, to be fair, arguably wasn't the aquarium's fault) and the outrageously incompetent management of said crowds inside (which was entirely the aquarium's fault). 


After waiting in line for nearly an hour to get inside, I spent ten minutes wandering through the darkness feeling lost and crowded and wondering where the fish were.  I'm pretty sure that's not the sort of experience I was supposed to have.  Adding up the horrendous crowds, the poor layout of the space, and the astonishing admission price (most tickets ranged from $25 - $40), I would definitely not recommend the aquarium to anyone -- unless, maybe, you were someone who loves fish as much as this guy:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Chicago - The Joffrey does Othello

The Chicago cultural scene has more than just fantastic architecture.  It's also got one of the leading American ballet companies, the Joffrey Ballet, and we were thrilled to discover that our trip fell during their run of Othello

We got to the theatre early and settled into our seats . . .
moi, Amanda and Rachel (her sister and ballet connoisseur)
admired the cavernous concert hall . . .

complete with allegorical frescoes that, apparently, were painted by some guy
who beat out Louis Comfort Tiffany in the contest to get the commission

and enjoyed the show, which was based on the same tale of jealousy and murder as that on which Shakespeare based his tragedy.  Lar Lubovitch (about whom I've written before) did the choreography, so it was very modern and full of gorgeous and unusual lifts.  Here's a preview video:

The first act showed Othello's marriage to Desdemona and, frankly, was kind of boring.  Like Shakespeare, I probably would have cut it -- after all, a happy newlywed couple can only hold your interest for so long when you know it's all going to fall apart in the next act.  Act Two, when it finally came, was amazing.  The men dancing Othello and Iago were both fine dancers, and Lubovitch had some wonderful passages that explored the power dynamic between them.  The act ended with one of the most alarming ballet fight scenes I've seen (those drums!).  The narrative in Act Three felt weaker again and dragged a bit when we got stuck with Desdemona dancing around her boudoir with a crucifix.  But then it picked up again when Othello showed up and murdered her at the end of a breathtakingly beautiful pas de deux.  Rachel complained the pas de deux was too loving to plausibly end in a murder, but I decided I didn't care and just soaked up the beauty of the dance.

Chicago - Grandma and the bean

Millennium Park is a great outdoor public space that sits between Lake Michigan and a pack of high-rise buildings that stretches out from the city center towards Indiana.  One of it's more memorable features is a giant sculpture called Cloud Gate.

Call it what you will, it looks like a giant bean.  A very large and reflective bean, but a bean nonetheless.  And, as one does with giant beans, we wanted to have our picture taken in front of it.  I handed my camera to Amanda's grandmother, Rosina, and discovered that 80-year-old French women and iPhone cameras don't necessarily go together -- unless, of course, you're going for a series of candid shots that capture you at every moment other than the one when you actually think you're being photographed.

Fortunately Rachel and Susan were standing by with cameras of their own and were able to supplement Rosina's collection with a few more composed shots.



Chicago - City of architecture

Every time I come to Chicago I think, Oh man, why don't I live here?  Then I remember the horrible winters and my hankering to move to the Midwest dies down -- but doesn't go away completely.  Because just look at that skyline!  Any city with architecture like Chicago's merits special consideration.

In my opinion, Chicago is the best city for architecture in America.  In past visits my attempts to educate myself about that architecture were foiled due to thunderstorms and demanding work schedules, but this time we scheduled an architecture tour first thing -- and everything went perfectly.  At 10am we boarded our boat on the Chicago river; ninety minutes later we disembarked, new-minted experts on the various species of Chicago skyscrapers. 

I don't remember the names of any of the architects (a heresy for sure, because they're all so famous) and the years of construction are muddled in my mind (lots of 1920s and '30s; a surprising number from the 1980s and even the 2000s), but here are some photos and a few snippets of what I do remember:

The Tribune building:  An example of art deco style (note the strong
vertical elements) topped with a gothic "cathedral" with fake (i.e., non-
weight-bearing) flying buttresses.
The building on the left, which I basically missed, was given as an
example of the classical style, with its columns and perfect symmetry
Far left: The four "temples" on the corners used to house water tanks. This building has a
drive-in elevator that enabled a tenant jeweler to drive right into his shop and avoid robbers.
Far right:  The United Airlines building with a modern take of the Parthenon on top.
The "corn cobb" building; designed by architects who didn't believe
in right angles.
Built in the 1980s; the tour guide called this the "grey flannel building".
The two blue/green glass buildings on the left are "contextual" in the
sense that they were designed for that specific location, to mirror the curve of the river
and reflect the colors. The one on the left put all the mechanical apparatus on the bottom floors
(rather than on the roof) to insulate tenants from the noise of passing trains. 
More art deco. A 1920s ordinance required that any tower taller than a certain height not
occupy more than 25% of the plot; hence the lower portions below the tower.
Another building by that guy who didn't believe in right angles.
The building is meant to operate as a self-contained city, with schools and shops and
condos and boat docks below.
Left:  The Willis Tower (nee Sears) formerly the tallest building
in the world. Supposedly built to resemble a stack of cigarettes that
had been partially shaken from their packaging.
Right:  A newer, round building made of Texas pink granite and blue
glass intentionally designed to contrast with the Willis tower.
A moment of sunshine on an otherwise chilly and cloudy morning.
Later in the day, and in keeping with our architectural theme, we ate dinner at Le Cafe des Architectes.  The food was great, and the restaurant surprisingly accommodating of a group of eight with one toddler.  In a stroke of perfection, we had a French waiter who bonded with Rosina (Amanda's French grandmother) over the pleasure of good wine, and who flirted shamelessly with Lois (Amanda's American grandmother) by serenading her with a full-on rendition of "La Vie en Rose" on bended knee.

Tuna tartare with avocado puree, caviar, sturgeon roe and sweet potato chips
Amish chicken ballentine with boursin polenta, black truffle jus and maitake mushrooms
Miniardises consisting of pistachio macaroons, lemon bars,
dark chocolates and marshmallows


I'm in Chicago!  It's just for fun -- a mini-vacation to break up the holiday-less months of spring.  Amanda and her family (parents, sister and nephew, two grandmothers) flew in from Colorado, Utah and California.  Two friends of mine from college and law school days already live here.  I flew out to join the party.

Naturally (because there's always something when I fly to or through the midwest), my flight was not without incident:  We were delayed in Washington for a little over an hour due to equipment problems.  But that's better than the last time I tried to do a long weekend in Chicago with Amanda, when my flight got diverted due to massive thunderstorms and I ended up spending the night on the floor of the St. Louis airport.

I got to the hotel before the Waterhouse clan, so while I waited for them to arrive I went down the block to grab a piece of iconic Chicago pizza. 

Sadly, pizza was not to be had at 10:30pm (at least, not readily -- they would have had to start from scratch), so I just ordered a salad and meatball sandwich covered in melted mozarella. 

Thus commences a weekend of extravagant eating!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Who in their right mind signs up for this on purpose?

Today's workout:

Yes, it was every bit as horrible as you might expect.  Well, as horrible as you might expect if you had the non-existent fore-arm strength that I do.  If you looked like someone -- anyone -- drawn by Arnold Friberg, then you wouldn't have anything to worry about.

And if you weren't sure what to expect because of all those weird terms, here's a mini glossary:
  • Double-unders = Jumping rope, where the rope goes under twice for every jump
  • WOD = workout of the day
  • AMRAP = as many reps and rounds as possible within the specified time
  • Handstand pushups = do a vertical pushup while in handstand position
  • Hang clean = pulling a barbell with weights from approximately knee-height to your shoulders
  • Burpees = those things where you go from a pushup to a standing jump to a pushup, over and over and over again
  • Kettlebell swing = swing a kettlebell from between your legs up over your head
What a way to start the day!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Not myself

Okay, so here's a weird thing that my family (or, at least, I) learned about my grandfather recently:  He apparently gets migraines but doesn't feel them.  I mean, he can tell they're happening and all because other symptoms (like the aura) occur, but he doesn't feel any pain.  Which is kind of cool, like a quasi super-power or something. 

And I've been thinking lately about whether I've got any quirks like that.  Not because I want to have migraines or anything; mostly because I resemble this grandfather in a lot of ways, and in some ways I think that understanding him better might help me understand myself better.

So far I haven't come up with anything -- I'm pretty normal.

But lately I've been wondering:  If painless migraines exist, could there also be depressionless depression?  Is it possible to be depressed (or something like it) and not actually feel depressed, even though other symptoms are happening?

Now, I realize that by asking this question some of you might get worried about whether I actually am depressed.  So let me just say that I'm fine and there's no cause for alarm. 

But here's the thing:  Earlier this year I learned that a certain performing arts center was looking to hire a new lawyer.  Miraculously, everything seemed to align:  The job description seemed to have been written for me; I had incredible connections and glowing recommendations.  If, as people say, landing a job is as much about "who you know" than "what you know", then in this case it seemed like I had both the "what" and the "who" in the bag. 

All that notwithstanding, I didn't take anything for granted.  I spent a ton of hours crafting a knock-out resume and strategically activating my professional network.  When those efforts resulted in my getting a call to interview (from among hundreds of applicants), I spent another 36,000 hours preparing for the interview -- researching the organization, reviewing my own experience, doing mock interviews with friends. 

But it wasn't enough.  A couple of weeks after the interview, I got an impersonal email notifying me that someone else had been hired.  Heartbreaking news.  I mean, here was my dream job, for which I had been calculatingly preparing myself ever since I started law school -- and, frankly, for which I was very well qualified -- and it went to someone else.  It felt wrong.  Objectively wrong -- as if the universe had made a mistake.  I've wanted other things before, and worked hard for them, and when I didn't get them I felt disappointed, but nothing has ever felt wrong like this before.

Boo-hoo.  C'est la vie.  Get over it.  I know.  I know -- and I will get over it.  As time goes on, I'll get more perspective and other opportunities will arise, and (maybe) I'll look back and be able to say (and actually believe) that things worked out better this way. 

In the meantime, though, ever since I realized that I wasn't going to get the job, I haven't really cared about anything.  I go to concerts and plays; I buy new suits; I plan cool vacations; my sisters have babies; I go to work and church and hang out with friends.  But I don't really care.  I procrastinate the important stuff.  I blow off everything else.  I don't look forward to doing things I normally enjoy, and when I do them anyway I come away thinking, "Meh."

And that is what's weird.  Because normally I care a lot about that stuff.  Heck, I care a lot about pretty much everything.  That's why I'm the neurotic, perfectionistic, driven person that I am.  It's the source of all that crazy enthusiasm I have for things like running up mountains and sitting through six-hour operas and working crazy hours at the law firm and planning multi-continent travel adventures.  But now?  Not so much.

Which is why I've started to wonder if it's possible to be depressed without actually feeling depressed.  Because I don't feel depressed, just apathetic, and isn't that a symptom of depression?  Google searches say yes, but who am I to diagnose what's going on inside my head?

In any event, I'm not sure what to do about it.  For the time being, I'm just going to give it time and try not to beat myself up over it.  I'm also going to focus on the change of the season.  This winter has been full of cold and concerts and work (and the endless Les Miserables, which merits another post in and of itself).  As we move through spring and the theatre season ends, maybe it will be good for me to have a conscientious change of pace:  get outside more, find different ways to socialize, set new goals and priorities, plant some flowers.  Find new things to care about.

The Ride: Spring and Sting

Those of you who read this blog and live in DC know just how cold and horrible this spring has been.  Months of rain and gray and cold; the cherry blossoms delayed so long they basically missed the festival.  Seriously, we might as well have moved to Minnesota.

But the past week and a half, or so, has been wonderful.  The sun came out, the warm air moved in, and all that pent-up springtime energy has sprung forth in the riot of flowery color that makes this season one of my favorites in DC. 

When the flowers come out, so does my bike.  Yesterday morning dawned bright and breezy (and kind of chilly), and I was eager to get out on the road and log some miles -- and see how well my winter-time training paid off.  Thanks to relatively light work demands, I managed all of the above.  I did a nice 35-mile loop up the Potomac River into Maryland through some lovely woods and posh estates.  As for my wintertime training -- let's just say that spin class, however rigorous, is just not the same as pushing around a real bike over real terrain (even if that bike is a ridiculously light all-carbon frame).  I definitely benefitted from the winter workouts, but by the end of the ride my legs were ready to be done!

So was my face.  Which is a weird story. 

Around the 30-mile mark, I was rolling along at a good clip when a bug hit my face and got stuck under my helmet strap.  Annoyed but not worried, I reached up to brush it away when I felt a jabbing pain into the side of my head -- the damn thing was stinging me!  My "brush" turned into a decisive "smack" that ended the days of that unfortunate bee and nearly caused me to lose my balance. 

At first I thought I'd just push on through (no sense in ruining my ride time by lamenting a bee sting), but as I continued on my way I could feel the wing brushing around the stinger and whatever remaining bee parts were sticking out of my head.  And the pain kept getting worse, as if the stinger venom was still pumping into my head.  Not cool.

So I pulled over at the first business I could find:  A shabby dry cleaner where for some reason the entrance of a be-spandexed cyclist with a narwhal tusk sticking out of his head didn't merit any sort of acknowledgement.  I looked around and decided no help would come from anyone there, so I left.

Fortunately, just around the corner was a little hair salon.  Mirrors!  Perfect. I went inside and asked if I could look in the mirror to extract my assailant's body part, and all the old ladies just smiled and nodded their heads (I'm pretty sure none of them spoke English). 

Sure enough, there was the stinger and the remains of the bee's abdomen sticking out of the side of my head.  I gingerly pulled it out and, natch, snapped a photo for blogging, Facebook and press release purposes (because clearly EVERYONE deserves to know about this). 

And that's basically all there is to the story.  I finished the rest of my ride -- which ended a bit earlier than I'd intended; nothing like a bee sting in the face to take the wind out of your sails, if you know what I mean.  The sting didn't hurt long, but there's still a nice goose-egg welt on the side of my face.