Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Ride: St. Mary's Century

Remember how I signed up to ride a 100-mile bike race today?  And do you also recall how I predicted it would be a complete train wreck because (a) I knew I would end up working so much that I wouldn't have time to train, and (b) I had tickets to a 5-hour opera the night before the race that would prevent my getting any sleep? 

Well, congratulations to me, because all of that happened exactly as I predicted.  It's like I'm freaking Cassandra and I'm cursed not to listen to my own prophecies.  Seriously, I have ridden my bike all of twice in the past six weeks, which is hardly what you'd expect from someone training for a century ride.  I've been working crazy hours at the firm, to the point where I haven't been able to clean or go grocery shopping or do any of my design class homework for several weeks now.  And by the time I got home from the opera, went shopping for food to eat on the bike, and prepared all of my gear, it was 1am -- which meant that I got exactly 3.5 hours of sleep before my alarm went off at 4:30am and I had to get up and drive to the starting line in southern Maryland. 

Ridiculous, right?  Right. 

Only here's the thing:  Everything went absolutely perfectly.  Like clockwork.  In fact, it was one of the best rides of the entire summer.  I felt fantastic and was able to ride hard and long through the gorgeous, lush farmland of southern Maryland -- and with a finish time of 6 hours and 11 minutes, I was right on target with what I'd hoped for. 

On a ride this long, you need to have a good stock of fuel.  I figured this would get
me through the day.  Fortunately, thre were way-stations with additional food along the way.
7:30am in the parking lot at the starting area (my car on the right)
The view from one of the more scenic way-stations.  The weather was chilly and cloudy most of the day, with spells of bright sunshine.
Around the 90-mile marker.  I had just finished leading the group and had fallen
to the back to draft and take a break from the headwind.
Selfies on a bike are way easier than selfies on a camel.
St Mary's Century
Just over the finish line.
(Also, seriously? why does every single stranger need a lesson in how to frame a photo?)
When you burn 5,000+ calories in a morning, you can eat pretty much whatever you want for lunch.

Now, of course, I need to jump back into real life and figure out the rest of the work train wreck that is brewing.  Hopefully I'll be able to repeating these quasi-all-nighters...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Night at the opera

Last fall, the Washington National Opera announced that it would be opening its 2013-14 season with a production of Tristan und Isolde, with Deborah Voigt (a major opera star and one of the leading Wagnerian sopranoes) singing Isolde.  I marked my calendar for the day that tickets went on sale, called all my opera-going friends, and figuratively camped out to buy tickets (I kid you not -- the tickets went on sale at 10am; I was on the website at 10am).  It's rare that the WNO pulls in talent like Deborah Voigt (I've only seen her at the Met Opera in New York), and I wanted to be part of it. 

Which is how I ended up with tickets to a 4.5-hour opera on Friday, at the end of a crazy-busy week of work (with too much still to do), on the eve of a 100-mile bike ride for which I was completely unprepared.  Oh, the things I do for a good opera star.

Only the opera star wasn't there!  DV withdrew from the production a few weeks ago under mysterious (to me) circumstances, and so the role was sung by some random British soprano.  It was super disappointing -- as in, I probably wouldn't have bought tickets if I'd known DV wouldn't be singing (and certainly not at the price level I did).

Oh well.  Such is life.  At least I could be confident that it wouldn't be worse than the production of Tristan I'd seen ten years ago in London, which was horrible and dark, full of stomping and stout women in combat boots and apparently unwashed hair.

In fact, I enjoyed it very much.  Since that first time in London, I've seen a lot more opera, especially Wagner, and read all of the original legends surrounding Tristan and Isolde (they're roughly the same vintage as the King Arthur legends, with a number of different variations having been handed down through the centuries).  So I went into it better prepared to appreciate it. 

Instead of darkness and stomping, all was light and airy, with the action taking place on a clear glass platform suspended over a black pool of reflective water, framed on all sides by billowing white sheets.  It was a clean and elegant look.  True, the women were still stout (heck, everyone was stout), but there was nary a combat boot or stringy lock of hair to be found. 

And the singing was perfectly fine.  No, it was not at the same level as we would have had with DV or the other major stars, but still, everyone did a fine job.  Wagner's music is powerful and full of magic.  I would not describe it as generally accessible, but it you pay attention to what he's doing, it's incredible and deeply moving.  Also, to watch these singers perform for nearly five hours with almost no breaks other than the intermissions (of which there were two), was to witness a remarkable feat of endurance. 

For me, the highlight comes at the very end of the opera, when Tristan has died and Isolde, too, succumbs to the power of her yearing to be with the man she loves.  She sings an aria that is so tender and beautiful -- and if you listen to the orchestra, you hear it build and build in tension until you can hardly bear it, and then IT NEVER RESOLVES because, apparently, that sort of passionate longing can't be resolved or fulfilled; it just subsides and lets her pass to the other side to rejoin him. 

There are a bunch of videos of this Liebestod ("love death") on YouTube, but for some reason none of them permit embedding.  So here's a link to a video of Waltraud Meier singing the Liebestod.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Theatre season begins!

I can't believe it's already that time of year again:  the air is cooler, the days noticeably shorter, my weekend evenings suddenly full of theatre dates.  While I don't love everything about fall (why can't it just be warm all the time?), that last bit makes up for a lot. 

This theatre season got off to a pleasant start on Friday, with the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of Measure for Measure.  It snuck up on me by surprise; things have been so busy at work that I'd forgotten all about the play.  Fortunately I got a calendar reminder just in time to hit "pause" on whatever I was working on and run out for some pre-theatre dinner at The Shake Shack.
I got the "SmokeShack" burger (with bacon, peppers and cheese)
with a side of fries.
And lest you think my dinner choice too low-brow, I ate it while reading Irene Nemirovsky's Suite francaise, which I started some time ago and only recently picked up again.

Nemirovsky was a well-regarded Jewish writer who lived in Paris at the time of the Nazi invasion.  She and her family fled the city and, essentially contemporaneously, she started a novel about the exodus from Paris.  She was eventually captured and put to death by the Germans and the novel was never published -- at least, not until a few years ago.  It came out while I was in law school and all the literary types in New York were buzzing about it.  That's when I picked it up the first time.  I didn't finish it, though, because sometimes I have these allergic reactions when people around me start getting unbearably pretentious and, in my annoyance with their pretensions, I start to hate the object of those pretensions (in this case, the book).  Plus, it was kind of boring. 

So why start reading it again?  Well, for one thing, pretentious people have stopped talking about it.  And for another, last week I was on the beach with Amy, who was reading a history of the cultural life of occupied Paris, which reminded me of Suite francaise and made me think I might as well give it another try (and, really, if Victor Hugo gets a second chance, then EVERYONE gets a second chance). 

Not that I did all that much reading anyway -- hamburgers don't really lend themselves to leisurely, cafe-like dining and reading.  So I headed outside thinking that I'd read some more on the steps of the museum near the theatre.  Only it turns out there was an awesome brass band rocking out on the street corner, which clearly took precedence over fine French prose.  (My favorite part?  The band leader's hollering during his trombone solo breaks.)

After soaking up the fun street music, I finally made my way into the theatre . . . or should I say into an cabaret of loose morals in inter-war Vienna?  Because that's what was happening on stage.  Bustiers, fishnet stockings, men in drag (and an unfortunate woman who looked like a man in drag), and lots of bawdy jokes and dance numbers that might have been inappropriate for mixed company (at least, in a pre-"Miley Cyrus twerking" era).  Apparently sex was going to be a theme in this show, and they wanted to get it on the table (literally) right away. 

I probably could have gotten that message
from the posters, if I'd looked at them...
Which, as unexpected as it was, actually worked really well as a framing device for the play.  Measure for Measure was all about sex -- or, rather, the hypocrisies and crimes and repressions and freedoms that have so troubled Western civilization when it comes to sex.  The gist of the plot is the Duke of Vienna (this is Shakespeare's only play set in Vienna) decides to leave town and place all power in the hands of another guy, Angelo.  The Duke felt that he'd been too lax in enforcing the laws, and he knew that Angelo would take a firmer approach.  Which he did by sentencing to death everyone who has sex outside of marriage -- or, at least, one guy named Claudio who got his girlfriend pregnant.  Fortunately, Claudio had a sister, Isabella, who could plead his case with Angelo and, failing that (turns out Angelo was perfectly willing to negotiate if Isabella would just let him rape her, which she wasn't keen to do) orchestrate an elaborate scheme of mistaken identity (she lures Angelo into the bedroom at night, then has Angelo's old fiancee step in and sleep with him instead) and then ultimately save the day (she and the fiancee publicly denounce Angelo) before running off to a convent (where, natch, she and her chastity can live happily ever after). 

I had fun watching the play; it isn't often that I see a Shakespeare play that is totally new to me, and I loved the feeling of wondering what was going to happen.  My primary critique was the director's choice to cast Angelo as a Nazi.  While it was an effective, shorthand way to condemn Angelo's repressive tactics, I regret how evil and Nazism have become sinonymous.  Yes, Nazism is evil, but so are many things that are not Nazism -- including many things that seem familiar and comfortable (maybe event good?) to us.  It would be nice to explore the darker recesses of worlds and societies that aren't so obviously condemnable.  On the other hand, to be reading a book about the Nazi invasion of Paris, and then to see a representation of Nazism so quickly thereafter, was pleasantly surreal.

I also enjoyed the coincidence of seeing the play on the same day as the Pope's encouragement to the Catholic church that it shouldn't be so fixated on sexual morality that it loses sight of the bigger project of Christianity).


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Beach camping (Part II)

Waking up to a clear, late-summer morning on the beach is a glorious thing.  Especially when your earplugs and sparkly Moroccan blanket made for a long and deliciously comfortable night of sleep.
Amy kept laughing at all the jingling.  It was a little like Christmastime...
The metal grocery cart is another trapping of my "urban camper" getup. 
It may sound ridiculous, but I was the envy of everyone who saw me carting things to and fro.

While Amy made herself a pot of coffee, I walked out onto the beach, which was resplendent in the morning light.




As I walked along the morning-fresh sand, I started noticing signs of local nightlife.  Tiny footprints everywhere . . .  

Sand crabs
That's when I noticed just how much higher the beach was than last year when I'd come.  Hurricane Sandy had piled up the sand so that it buried all but the top few inches of the otherwise normal fence designed to help keep the wild horses out of the campsites.  Fortunately Amy had noticed this the night before and remembered to horse-proof everything.

I got back to camp and found Amy cheerfully bustling about.  Breakfast consisted of fresh pears, granola bars and an almond danish.  We thought about cooking up some eggs, but the beach beckoned . . .

. . . so we struck camp and headed out . . .


. . . to claim a spot amongst the other weekenders. 


What we wanted to be doing:  Eating cheese and crackers while sunbathing.
What we actually did:  work
Amy was reading a reply brief in one of her litigations; I was reading a sports media contract.
Finally the time came to go home.  On our way out of the park we came upon a group of the wild horses fighting on the side of the road.  By the time I stopped to take a picture, they had calmed down and were pretending to be cute and nice (they're not: the park rangers post signs of people who forgot that these are wild animals and were kicked and bitten).

And, of course, we timed our return trip perfectly to stop at Jimmy's Grille for dinner. 
Fried clams with tartar sauce (white) and cocktail sauce (red)
Chicken cordon bleu, lima beans with dumplings, and cucumbers.
Crab cake
Coconut meringue pie
Amy was brave and ordered the "strawberry pretzel salad"
What a great way to finish the summer!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Beach camping (Part I)

Okay, so, last weekend.  I told you it was a fun one; now I finally have a minute to get it down in words and photos. 

It started with a long bike ride on Saturday.  At that point, I was two weeks away from a 100-miler, and my training was woefully down.  There were plenty of other obligations and distractions, but I knew I needed to get in a good long ride (and it's a good thing I did, because I certainly didn't get any riding in this weekend).  I got up early and rode 70 miles in the brisk, clear air.  The weather was gorgeous, and the completely unexpected cramping in my thighs that forced me to stop and stretch a few miles from home didn't last long.

Once off the bike and freshened up, I threw a bunch of things in a bag and headed out for Assateague Island.  Amy and another friend of hers had reserved a campsite on the beach and I was anxious to join them for one last summery hurrah. 

Well, not so anxious that I'd pass up a chance to eat lunch at Jimmy's Grille.  This place has been a beach-trip favorite of mine for years.  A trip to the beach just wouldn't be the same without those piping hot dinner rolls and the waitresses whose every other word is "sweetheart" and "honey." 

This waitress clearly did not understand that two rolls wasn't going to cut it.
Grilled pork chops with new potatoes and cucumbers.
Pecan cheesecake pie.  Rich enough to kill a horse.
This woman took the concept of "doggy bag" to a whole new level.
I think she was actually doing her weekly grocery shopping.
Between the bike ride, lunch at Jimmy's and some unexpected traffic, I didn't get to Assateague until dusk.  Just in time for some lovely color over the water.

I had three mosquito bites within 30 seconds of getting out of the car.
After pouring approximately seven liters of pure Deet over my body, I moved through
Nature as though surrounded by a force field.
By the time I got to the campsite, it was pitch black.  Discovering I had no flashlight, Amy was kind enough to lend me her headlamp.  She was also lending me half her tent.  While she and Eric started cooking dinner (grilled sausages with asparagus), I set up my sleeping quarters.
Yes, the sequined blanket is mine; I don't have a sleeping bag. 
That's what happens when you blow your shopping money in Morocco instead of at REI.
Dinner was delicious (too dark for photos) in the way that camping dinners so often are:  there's just something about eating food freshly cooked over an open fire outdoors that makes it taste just that much better.  After dinner we carried our stack of firewood down to the water's edge and built a bonfire on the sand.  We warmed our toes, burned roasted marshmallows for s'mores and gazed at the fantastical constellations overhead as we talked into the wee hours.  It was wonderful. 


Stories to tell . . . later

Had a fantastic weekend, and I've got lots of photos and stories to share (spoiler: there are beaches and sequins and pecan cheesecake, among other things).  But it's late and I'm tired -- and, since I spent the weekend (mostly) playing instead of working (as much as I should have), I'm going to need to get an early start in the morning.  So, more to come. 

In the meantime, here are a couple of photos that I took last weekend as I was leaving Boise.  I love how our farewells involve hugs and kisses and family photo shoots.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Design class: Floor plan

Today lesson in interior design class:  floor plans and elevations. 

We practiced basic drafting techniques with a simple living room floor plan and an elevation of the wall with the fireplace. 
Then we had studio time to work on the first draft floorplan for our projects.  In my case, this entailed my taking the blueprints that Amanda sent me for her condo and redrawing them with pencil and paper using a 1/4 scale.  Fortunately, the drafting skills I learned back in high school came right back and I was able to finish the draft within the studio session.

Oh, and lest anyone think I'm proposing that Amanda double the size of the master bath, I had to expand it for purposes of the assignment. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

In which I do not die of cancer (or, My beautiful toes!)

A few months ago I noticed a small dark dot on my left big toe.  It was right before the trip to Vietnam and I didn't think anything more of it, other than to wonder whether the Vietnamese would judge me for wearing sandals with an ugly toe.

Before:  ominous dark spot
But last week, when I was at my parents' place in Reno, my podiatrist father saw the dot and instantly expressed concern.  Essentially, dots like this could be melanoma.  "And if it is," he said, "you'll lose the toe.  If not more."  Woah.  It's one thing to wear sandals with an ugly toe; it's another thing altogether to wear sandals with no toe at all.  This was getting serious.

So, with my future summer footwear options at stake, I visited a podiatrist in Boise who had been recommended by a friend of Dad's.  He looked at the toe and agreed that it was worth taking a closer look -- and by "closer look" he meant "punching through the nail to see if the discoloration continued into the flesh below and, if so, sending a sample of that flesh to the lab for a biopsy."  Fun!

The good news is that we didn't end up doing any punching or biopsying.  The pre-punching shaving of the nail revealed that the discoloration was only in the nail, and that the flesh below was perfectly healthy.  No need to do anything more.  So now I have a hole in my nail, instead of a dot, and my future prospects for summer sandal-wearing look bright.  Whew!

After:  all clear!
So, for those of you who are counting, this brings my tally of potential-cancer-scares-with-happy-endings to a grand total of two. 

The first instance, you may recall, was back in college when I was performing in Westminster College's production of Spinning Into Butter (and yes, those are photos of me!).  I had been cast as the play's only character who was a person of color, and the director had asked me to get a dark tan and curl my hair -- you, know, so I'd look more ethnic (which, btw, wasn't awkward at all for a play critiquing the way white people expect minorities to look and act the way whites think minorities should look and act).  One day I woke up and saw a dark spot the size of a dime in the middle of my forehead and was instantly convinced that I'd caught cancer from all the tanning.  In a panic, I started the most effective cancer treatment method I could think of:  I grabbed some of that apricot pit exfoliating face wash and started scrubbing as hard as I could.  It hurt like hell and brought me to my senses.  The dark spot was not cancer, it was just a curling-iron burn I'd gotten the night before while curling my hair for dress rehearsal.  Relieved, I put the exfoliator down and stuck a note on the bottle to remind myself not to exfoliate for cancer again until the burn had healed. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Mudslides and peach cobbler

On Friday morning Mark and I drove up north to go hiking around Blue Lake and have lunch in McCall, Idaho.  He didn't have class or work, and the weather was perfect; I was looking forward to a fun day in Nature with my brother. 

Only we didn't get there.  Roughly half-way between Boise and McCall, we encountered an unfortunate "road closed" sign.
Mudslide road closed 2

The reason?  Mud.  EVERYWHERE.  Apparently the torrential rains that had so persecuted me on my ride up the mountain the day before had triggered a mudslide a few miles up the canyon, shutting down both lanes of traffic.

Mudslide 1

Not much you can do against a mudslide.  The only alternate route to McCall would have been to backtrack to Boise and then swing out, far to the west (practically to Oregon) and then drop down into McCall from the north.  It would have turned a half-day excursion into a full-day adventure.  We had plans with the others later in the day, though, so we turned around and headed home. 

As a consolation prize, though, we stopped along the river and took a few pictures.  Mark assured me that this part of the canyon wasn't as spectacular as what we would have seen farther up, but I guess some nature is better than nothing!

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful.  We ran some errands and basically just hung out at the house.  I was tired and took a nap.  Then got on a conference call for work.
But in the evening things got fun again.  Heather and Jordan called a babysitter to watch their kids; Mark and Erin came by.  We all headed out for a "grown-ups only" dinner at The Stuffed Olive, a local favorite.  The food was hearty and delicious, and our waitress was cool.  It was a great time with the siblings and in-laws!
Chicken parmigiana with penne and marinara sauce
Fresh peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream
Our waitress got a little creative with the photo process...
(it was hilarous)