Archive for the ‘Tasty ‘n’ Delicious’ Category

Italian-American wedding. I was not ready.

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

I feel like, having lived in the diverse tri-state area for the all of my life so far, I have been exposed to many different cultures and their customs. I had not, however, been to an upscale Italian-American wedding. It was… intense. I’ve been to upscale Jewish weddings and I thought they were lavish but I was WRONG and INCORRECT. Let me give you some backstory: the couple is from Staten Island (Italian-American Mecca #1) and New Jersey (Italian-American Mecca #2). I’m surprised when they walk around, this music doesn’t automatically play in the background and the smell of fresh pizza wafts through the air.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UMbXxkWqPw

For the rest of this story I will give the bride and groom the pseudonyms JJ and Esteban to protect their identity. I went to the ceremony which was fine, standard Catholic ceremony, very sweet, the bride looked beautiful, parking in Hoboken was difficult, nothing out of the ordinary.

After that we drove into the wilds of New Jersey to the reception. Okay. I used to mock Esteban that his family made this commercial (pertinent part about halfway through with Scarlett Johannson):

http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/marble-columns/n12141?snl=1

So imagine my unbridled glee with we pulled up to The One And Only Westmount Country Club (that’s its name).

Here’s a better picture I found on the internet.

Guys. If I had to sum up this place with one specific description, it would be “rainbow-cycling LED uplights.” It was on the outside of the building. It was in the trees. It was in the entry hall. It was in the floors of the reception area and in the chandeliers.

After walking under this glorious castle-like overhang I was greeted with glossy veined marble stairs with uplighting between every stair and fifty small chandeliers that changed color (you can see some of them in the back part of the picture). My friend Børkke had to pull me aside and remind me to behave myself because OMG.

There were attendants passing out drinks and hors d’oeuvres, all dressed in long, t-shirt material evening gowns and elbow-length black gloves. There was a stack of champagne glasses with small amounts of colored flavored syrup and the attendant would pour champagne into them.

There were plenty of snacks in the hallway – an assorted meat cart, an assorted cheese cart, a big plate of fruits, little snakkies, ladies bringing festive drinks around – so I thought that was a light cocktail hour. It was not. It was TRASH. We were eating TRASH from a DUMPSTER compared to the cocktail hour. Eventually they opened the door into the cocktail hour and it was pure gluttony. It was so fancy and excessive I kept waiting for French revolutionaries to storm the building and execute us all via guillotine. There were, I kid you not, maybe fifteen stations. I’ll try to remember all of them. There was veal scaloppini, risotto, chicken tetrazinni, arancini, kale and white beans, prime rib, thick-cut bacon and a full suckling pig wearing a chef’s hat. Those were the hot station with servers. Then there was the seafood area, complete with a two-foot tall ice sculpture of a fish, and that had oysters and crab claws and jumbo shrimp. There were about twenty different salads and a huge pile of pickled vegetables, antipasto-style. There was a person with a fancy shiny silver slicing machine and he would cut you molecule-thin strips of prosciutto. There was cheese. There was a fruit platter the size of a baby stroller. And, I might add, that’s only the parts of the room that I saw. There was a whole lot of remaining room I did not explore. There was more. It was insane. I was not well-behaved. Esteban came over to say hi and thank us for coming to the wedding. Did I say, “You looked nice?” Did I say, “It was a beautiful ceremony?” No. What I greeted him with was, “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME IT WAS LIKE THIS?? I WOULD HAVE BROUGHT TUPPERWARE!!” Favorite picture of the night: someone offered to take a picture of our group of friends and said we should put down our plates and smile. I flat-out refused. Nothing interrupts Shrimp Time.

Eventually cocktail hour ended (why??? why did it have to end???) and in order to inform us that the proper reception was going to begin an otherwordly thing occurred. A bored, visibly pregnant attendant wearing the t-shirt evening gown and the elbow-length black gloves walked around the room like a spectre strumming a small set of chimes which sounded like when they have a flashback on a TV show. I feel like that’s what happens when you pass away in your sleep: a dead-eyed pregnant woman enters your dream slowly walking around in a stretchy black dress and fancy gloves making woobly-woobly sounds from a tiny percussive instrument. That’s your cue to get coins to pay Charon so he can ferry you across the river Styx. As soon as this apparition departed the lights dimmed and a curtain rose up to reveal the reception hall. At that moment I gave up all pretense of being a calm collected human being and started cheering and clapping. I was the only one. Everyone else was whelmed. I was flipping out. There were flowers everywhere and silver chafing dishes on the table and an 11-person band and swirly lights bouncing off of the giant chandeliers. I ended up taking a ton of pictures because the lights kept changing color and I couldn’t decide which color palette I liked best. After much culling of jpgs I’ve decided on this one.

The two bars in the back of the room looked like giant chrome spaceships. And there was a woman live-painting the party off to the side of the dance floor.

My only major complaints are, when announced, the couple did not rise up out of the floor and during the first dance there was no smoke machine workin’ overtime to create faux-mist. Way to drop the ball, Esteban. Other than that it was lovely. There was drinking and dancing and dinner, all of which was fine.

And then I saw the fire.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man wheel what appeared to be a crucible filled with liquid metal into the middle of the dance floor. I blame Game of Thrones for this, but does everyone who watches the show remember in Season One when Khal Drogo gives Jerkface McBlondDragon a “crown” by pouring molten gold over his head? Great scene. Here’s a link. You can start it about halfway through.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Akl6OK2HUNA

So when this made an appearance I was like, “Oh no, someone did the family wrong and as a gesture of goodwill they’re going to kill that person in the middle of the dance floor! This wedding is amazing! And horrifying! I am awash in emotions!” Turns out it was an enormous baked Alaska and it signified the beginning of the dessert train. Following the baked Alaska was the wedding cake (which was small and tasteful and did not have white doves or a naked lady pop out, so meh), then there was a guy on a bicycle pushing a full gelato stand (holy crap), but the piece de resistance in my opinion was the giant shiny brass chocolate fountain that had milk chocolate on one side and white chocolate on the other and they cascaded down and around each other in twinkling gravy boats into a huge punch bowl with a partition in the middle so the two chocolates didn’t mix. After that came the full espresso / cappuccino cart but who cares because did you see the chocolate fountain? I now know how the wayward Israelites felt in front of the golden calf. I was obsessed with the chocolate fountain.

https://youtu.be/5gVs3iA-Ef4

And then there was more dancing and more frolicking and then it was over and we took some flower arrangements and went home. If you get invited to any event, a circumcision, a tax-filing conference, anything, at the Westmount Country Club, I highly recommend you go. Here’s a promotional video that has the chime ladies. And additional footage of the flaming dessert.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gMUnVMRuzo

Guatemala Part 3.

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Coffee beans! But first, chicken buses.

Chicken buses are one of the primary ways people get around in Guatemala. It’s called a chicken bus because people would tie baskets of chickens to the roof with the rest of their luggage. They are school buses from America that we’re done with. Guatemala buys them, paints them in the jauntiest of colors, gives it a name like “Esmerelda,” slaps some chrome and maybe some lights on there and uses them as mass transit. Not surprisingly, I loved them.

Type in “Chicken Bus Guatemala” into Google Images and scroll through that. It’s a vibrantly-festooned good time.

Coffee beans! I went to a coffee plantation in Costa Rica and a lot of the information is the same concerning how the plant grows and how its harvested, etc. Here’s a link to that:

http://design-newyork.com/blog/2012/02/28/costa-rica-2012-part-7/

Here is the enormous cement area where the coffee beans are spread out to dry.

Here are the beans dry before roasting.

These are coffee bean plants and a little pollinating bee. You go, bee! I’m proud of you.

 

Would you like to see the scariest roasting machine ever? Here ya go. If someone wheeled that into a room where I was being held captive I would immediately start spilling state secrets.

Teeniest church ever on the coffee plantation. Fits four parishioners max.

And gorgeous plants all over the property, especially the striped boo.

In the main house the owner had some coffee-oriented items. There was a collection of spoons.

And cups.

And a coffee advertisement from 1657. It looked like an olde versionne of a 1950s ad:  “Coffee puts pep in your step!”

There was a small museum on the coffee plantation. Similar to Mexico (which is not surprising since they share a big ole border) Guatemala uses those lovely paper-cut decorations on their ceilings.

And also, not surprisingly, there’s a whole bunch of spiritual non-Christian religious traditions that are still practiced. Here is a small costume worn in a ceremony. Common themes are mirrors and masks which you can see here.

There was a store in the city of Antigua (more on Antigua later) where they had a whole wall of these kinds of costumes and masks decorated with sequins and antlers. I wanted everything on that wall. It’s a good thing that place was closed most of the time because I would have laid my credit card down and asked them to fill up a truck.

While we’re here, let’s look at some random bits and pieces that relate to anything else specifically. First, geckos in light fixtures! I do love me some geckos in light fixtures.

A cemetery on a hillside. Vibrantly-painted mausoleums. I think that’s something we should adopt here, everyone should have their tomb painted the color they loved most. It tell you a little something about the deceased.

Every culture has a craft that they are excellent at. In Guatemala it’s thread-based. The embroidery / cross-stitch / loomwork / quilting / braiding is unreal in both its skill and diversity of styles. I bought some stunning bracelets using a popular pattern but different colors.

Here’s a Pinterest page that shows a pretty good sampling of the variety of threadwork. It’s pretty phenomenal.

https://www.pinterest.com/CasaAmarosa/guatemalan-embroidery/?lp=true

And here is something that made me laugh every time I saw it. In one of the hotels we stayed in there was a gift shop. No big whoop there. There was, however, a painted box on display. I assume the artist was trying to make a lovely tableau of Guatemalan items together, a themed still life. The only problem was there was an owl that looks like it had been sucker-punched in the back of the head while witnessing something profoundly traumatic. Every time I saw it I got the giggles.

Next entry: the town of Antigua.

I have charts in my heart for you.

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

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Nuggets of Interest.

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

1. McMansions. A blight on the eyes. There is now a website that explains why the architecture is so not great.
http://www.mcmansionhell.com/

Some helpful diagrams of the crappityness:

http://68.media.tumblr.com/0a36042f20db6d53ded10b73f0d48c3e/tumblr_inline_ogsoncC0vE1sppt0x_1280.png

http://68.media.tumblr.com/47c1b1c183099c7aa256c926d9a0b4ce/tumblr_inline_og2wcdHpM91sppt0x_1280.png

http://68.media.tumblr.com/ca0eda2a8c26bf39c7f922079e282928/tumblr_inline_ofeenzGhCV1sppt0x_1280.png

http://68.media.tumblr.com/f8dff9e65f22b732fc345de5b01741c6/tumblr_inline_ofef73vsHi1sppt0x_1280.png

http://68.media.tumblr.com/4cf3ea1e5379c82eb1791506a9668e1f/tumblr_inline_oeqv95rWjN1sppt0x_1280.png

 

2. There’s a psychotic piece of music out there that is impossible to play because, well, see for yourself.

11021421_681671089420_7955140733592948695_o

Yeah. Exactly. However, because human being love a challenge (stop climbing Mt. Everest! Seriously! You’re not supposed to be there!) someone figured out how to play it on a piano. And here it is. To me it sounds like the best video game music ever.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3Nc4iR7rGA

 

3. Google Maps was kind enough to find the saddest places on earth and collate them into helpful collages. Thanks, Google Maps.

sad-1 sad-4 sad-5

 

4. I can’t stop watching these cookies being painted. Who has hands this steady? Who? Where do these people exist? So phenomenal.https://youtu.be/Cs600U6OJJo

https://youtu.be/YZQiSEB60LM

 

5. The interwebs being amazing again. Someone posted this:

sub-buzz-12800-1476797742-18

The internet appreciated the mangling of “bon appetit” so much they made it a meme and it’s descended into madness and I’m enjoying it immensely.

bf999931267dc16c5e9f17ec842ab899 grid-cell-30979-1482108258-4 bone-teeth-pickles tumblr_ohtgo0jziy1vowx1wo1_500 tumblr_og5gxsroa31r9y691o1_500screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-3-10-43-pm czesdgdxuaaanzb tumblr_oijmfp9mXA1use6ffo1_500 bone-teeth-recipe 14566729_1165680456855624_6850527559298318336_n

My personal favorite:

screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-3-05-49-pm

6. And finally, another architectural thing. Thomassons. Who knew.

http://www.messynessychic.com/2017/01/18/the-inexplicably-fascinating-secret-world-of-thomassons/

Iceland Part 9, Iceland and done.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

In addition to gawking over the landscape all the time I also ate Icelandic food. No, I did not try puffin or whale. Puffin was not in season and whale is supposed to be gross so it was not a difficult pass for me. I ended up making a reservation for Cricket and me at an extremely fancy restaurant called Dill. Dill serves cuisine using authentic local ingredients and you eat what they’re serving. Five courses or seven courses. That’s it. I liked the scariness of no control but I trusted them. I was right to do so.

dill1

Cricket and I ended up with the five-course meal because we were going to see the northern lights later and the seven-course took two and a half hours to serve (!). Here’s the menu.

dill2

We missed out on the dung-smoked trout (the table next to us had it and said it was fantastic, I felt epic FOMO) and the 99% Omnom (Icelandic brand of chocolate). The little appetizers that are listed as a clump at the top were okay, I did not care for the chicken skin with yeast but the shredded wolf-fish with brown butter was yummers.

dill3 dill4 dill5

Then there was the monkfish cheeks (known to be the softest part of the fish) cooked with artichokes and dulse which is red seaweed. I could have eaten a soup bowl full of that.

dill6

Followed by Cricket’s favorite: pickled tusk (a white fish similar to cod) served with seaweed, black garlic and a splash of yogurt. SO DELICIOUS. Pickling and fermentation plays a huge role in Icelandic cuisine since they only have fifteen minutes of daylight a year. In fact, Dill’s front window is made up of pickled items in jars.

dill14 dill7

Then my favorite: shredded fermented rutabaga, toasted rye bread crumbs and cod chunks. It had a faint vinegar flavor and in my photo some of it is missing because I forgot to take a photo first and immediately started snorfing it down.

dill8

The last savory dish we had was the pork belly with cracklins on top and parsnip with honey. It was okay. I mean, it was really good but the other dishes were kind of amazing so it was difficult to appreciate it.

dill9

And finally there was the dessert which was a fancy smore – cake made from rye, malted cream and prunes. I watched them make it (we were right next to the open kitchen) and the only concern I had was when the chef used the creme brulee torch on the cream. Please note the scorch marks on the wooden plates. Methinks maybe not wooden plates in the future, eh, chef?

dill10 dill11

This place was so Icelandic-themed they even gave us the check in a knitted pouch. Iceland is big on the knitting because of the sheepies.

dill13

The other place Cricket and I ate was magnificent, recommended by Snorth (thank you Snorth!). It was called Ostabudin and it’s kind of like a high-class delicatessen. We got the hot-smoked goose salad (may contain pellets) and the meat feast (also may contain pellets).

ostabudin1 ostabudin2

They were exquisite. And now I can say I have eaten horse! It tastes like bison. Red meat, very lean. If you’re down with cured meats (and I very much am) the meat feast was where it was at. You can also see they substituted the blue cheese for what they said translated literally to “ugly cheese” and they had built a little house of baguette slices over it to shield us from its ugliness (which I thought was overreacting, it looked like brie). I uncloaked the cheese for this photo.

ostabudin3

On our last night in Iceland, Cricket and I decided to go to a performance at the Harpa. The Harpa is the large music hall similar to Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall. It was built to resemble the basalt columns and was covered in hexagons and lights. If you know me, you know my feelings about hexagons and lights (big big fan). So I adored the Harpa. I could not take an lame picture of it if I tried.

harpa12 harpa10 harpa6 harpa5 harpa4

It had a huge empty main space with several concert halls and theater spaces branching off from the primary area. There was a gift shop that sold your typical gift shop items, as well as some stranger choices. Like these books by the famous Icelandic cartoonist Hugleikur Dagsson.

harpa8

And then there were some Christmas ornaments and they were also pretty typical except for one. Listen to this description: it clearly was made from a model of Finding Nemo‘s Squirt the Turtle but painted as if it was a drag queen with a foil rainbow Christmas tree impaled into its head. Because that’s what the world needed.

harpa13 harpa14

Anyway, the show we saw. The only thing being performed during our stay in Reykjavik was a electronic dance band called… The Vagina Boys. I wish I was kidding. I am not. There were signs all over town.

harpa1 harpa2 harpa3

So Cricket and I bought tickets and we went. It took place in an enormous black box theater and because we got there at 7:50 when the show was supposed to start at 8:00 (it didn’t start until 9:00, Cricket and I are extremely cool and “with it”) we got to claim a small patch of floor and camp out on it.

harpa11

We were waaaaay older than all the other people there. It was mostly high school kids. And I do love me some electronic dance music but this sounded like 21 Pilots sung in Icelandic. The Vagina Boys were predominantly mixing behind a musician named Kef Lavik. I found some of the music to give you a taste of the experience.

https://soundcloud.com/vaginaboys

Cricket and I lasted about an hour and then we were both like, “This is very nice mellow uninspiring music and we’re good.” The next day we packed up and headed back to the U.S. A few things in the airport I noticed:

In addition to the giant dragon’s egg sculpture there is also a sculpture of the end of the rainbow. I thought that was pretty cool.

airport2

And two massive beautiful stained glass windows at either end of the interior space. Very Chagall / Picasso-esque.

airport3 airport4

That’s my trip to Iceland. I would love to go back, possibly in the summer when the sun is out all the time and the wildflowers are blooming. We shall see if that comes to pass.

Iceland, Part 5.

Friday, January 13th, 2017

I was so super-excited to go to swim between two tectonic plates. Remember? Remember that? How could I have known how depressingly south it would go for me?

Before delving into that sadness, let’s look at some other things.

“Coconut” is “Kokosnoot” in Norwegian. I vote we all move there solely based on this.

kokosnoot

Can anyone identify this meat? I’m guessing reindeer but I have no idea, really.

meat

The city closest to the basalt columns was Vik. I should have posted a picture of Vik earlier but I’m doing it now.

vik1

You’ll note the church on the hill. Just about every single church in Iceland looked like that. Plain white building, one steeple, red roof. Here’s someone else’s picture showing a) how freakin’ small the town of Vik is, and b) how close it is to the beach with the amazing structures and the homicidal ocean.

http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get2/I0000aGd276FisUA/fit=1000×750/Vik-church-beach-Iceland-1975.jpg

And look! The volcano that ruined air travel back in 2010! Notice the big divot in the top.

volcano1

Alright, let’s tell the sad tale of how Jessica almost drowned in a truly sad manner. I was beyond psyched to go to where the plates came together. The video looked so enticing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qd1mv-wH5Pc

We arrived pretty early in the day and met up with the truck in the parking lot that had our dry suits. What’s a dry suit, you ask? It’s a suit designed for swimming in cold water. First, you strip down to your long underwear. Then you put on a pair of overalls made from sleeping bag material, so it’s puffy and warm. Everything was fine for me until the next step. You put on the dry suit. The dry suit is made out of a pretty rigid thicc-as-hell waterproof buoyant material so it is profoundly difficult to move your arms and legs. It’s also very heavy, so it’s like wearing a restrictive suit of armor. Mine was a tad too small so I could not exhale fully. In addition to being heavy and movement-resistant, there are TIGHT rubber gasket-like things around the wrists and neck to prevent water from leaking into the suit. The wrist ones were fine but the neck one made it hard to breathe. Like, to inhale. On top of that, mine was apparently a little too loose so the guy in charge put a RUBBER BELT around my neck to make it TIGHTER. I’m not making any of this up.

silfra10

At this point I’m beginning to panic very slightly and I think rightfully so because it was hard to breathe between the NECK BELT and the slightly-too-small suit. I had to consciously think about my breathing. We had to toddle over to the metal staircase into the water and it took me forever because I would immediately become out of breath. They put masks on us and flippers and we got into the water. The element most people were worried about was their exposed faces freezing from the 35-degree water but it was no problem, your face went numb after about thirty seconds. I floated pleasantly face down in the water and then I realized I was lagging behind the rest of the group so I attempted to catch up. This is the moment that changed everything. My snorkel got some water in it but because the suit was so rigid and buoyant I couldn’t flip myself upright to empty my snorkel and the guide said don’t touch the rock walls because they were covered with algae and touching them would dislodge the algae and cloud up the view. So I’m gurgling and trying to thrash (but I can’t) and I can’t take deep breaths and the neck belt is strangling me and that was my experience for the twenty minutes. I missed looking at everything because I was trying not to die. I finally had to be towed to shore by our guide because I was too pathetic to continue. If you’re wondering what I looked like this is a very accurate representation. I am the crocodile in this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsRKYN8TeUg

And these are other pictures from the experience. I vaguely remember seeing this as the blackness took over my vision.

silfra11 silfra3 silfra4 silfra1 silfra2 silfra5

The scenery was absolutely stunning. I loved how the rock still showed the folds of the lava.

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However, the whole day was not disappointment for me. I got to go to a indoor tomato farm! That was super cool. We went there for lunch.

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The menu is very limited and contains only tomato products but everything we had was absolutely delicious. Since electricity is pretty much free due to the volcano juice they can run those crazy grow lights twenty hours a day. This particular tomato farm supplies 18% of Iceland’s tomato needs.

Each table had a basil plant (also grown there) with a wee pair of scissors and a vessel of cold water that had two cherry tomatoes in the bottom.

tomato-greenhouse4

To start I got the “Mary Christmas” (all the drinks had the word Mary in them, based off of the Bloody Mary) which was a very sweet breed of tomato mixed with wine and mulling spices and served warm. It tasted almost exactly like spiced cider with a little alcohol. It was delicious and wintery.

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Then we all got the never-ending soup bowl with bread which was a brilliant decision because YUM.

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And I insisted on getting all three desserts because they all had tomato in them and I needed to understand how they worked. And they were all served in flower pots! There was apple and tomato cobbler with corresponding whipped cream pot, ice cream with candied green tomato and two kinds of tomato syrup, and cheesecake with green tomato jam.

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I took this picture of the ice cream so you could see the candied green tomato embedded in there.

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It all tasted wonderful. Tomato is very versatile.

After I had gorged on all the tomato wonderfulness I walked around the facility. Since tomatoes are not native to Iceland, these are from the Netherlands. And in order to pollinate the plants there are imported Dutch bumblebees! They live in filing boxes with their queen.

tomato-greenhouse7 tomato-greenhouse8 tomato-greenhouse9

It was so nice to see how to make food without putting too much stress on the earth. And this was the definition of farm to table. The tables were in the farm. I highly recommend the Iceland Tomato Experience.

 

OITNB, GOT and Stranger Things.

Monday, August 15th, 2016

As you may know I looooooove me some television. I watch an absurd amount of it, especially while crafting my crafts and working on my work. Recently I watched the latest season of Orange is the New Black (season 4) and Game of Thrones (season 6). First, GOT. Good season, great season. You know how all the previous seasons it was, I don’t know, a bit rape-heavy? Like, all the time with the rape? Well, this season, almost no rape! Lots of political chit-chat. Oh, and women having power and getting stuff done! Loads of women empowerment.

An example: Daenerys, the blonde lady with the dragons, gets captured by a giant Dothraki horde. In previous seasons we learned she’s immune to fire. All the men meet in a big ole wooden building filled with torches to discuss what they should do with Daeny. Of course, they want to violate her in a gazillion ways. She’s like, “Nope,” pushes over the torches and burns the place to the ground, killing all the Dothraki leaders and then walks out naked (cuz her clothes done burned off) like “WHAT NOW, MOTHER-EFFERS? SOMEBODY GOT SOMETHING TO SAY?? DIDN’T THINK SO.”

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In addition to that one tough broad’s story, we follow the story of Cercei, Marjory, Marjory’s awesome sassy grandma played by Diane Rigg, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark (who has turned into quite the badass), and Yara Greyjoy (who is an out lesbian and commands an entire army; The scenes with her and Danerys where they have sexytime glances across the room are delicious). There’s also the Dorne women, Brienne of Tarth and a new girl, Lyanna, she’s ten and she commands a whole freakin’ house, House Mormont. And she does a good job too. Lotta ladies bringing the goodness.

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Now, don’t get me wrong – the show is still very violent. This season had an large amount of people getting eaten alive by large dogs. There’s a battle sequence with all manner of death and maiming. But… little to no rape, so that’s nice. This was probably my favorite season. Because there’s only two truncated seasons left the producers and writers realized they need to start wrapping up all the loose ends of plot rolling around like yarn balls so instead of there being seventeen story lines it’s all starting to come together into one cohesive end game. I have hopes and dreams about who gets to sit on the Iron Throne and rule all the kingdoms but I’m psyched to see what actually happens. Three things I can be sure of: It’s going to turn into The Hunger Games, everyone is going to die vying for the throne, and I can’t wait.

In addition to GOT I watched the whole season of Orange Is The New Black in, like, three days. I adored the first season of OITNB which took the viewers on a journey through the initial stages of prison: checking in, meeting other prisoners, establishing your place in the pre-existing pecking order, etc. Now after watching Season 4 I’m really struggling. It’s gotten very sitcom-y. There are conveniently-timed wacky antics which I think is unnecessary. Warning: I’m going to throw some spoilers out in the next paragraph but they all happen in the first two episodes so they’re relatively benign:

A new guard shows up, but surprise! He’s actually sent by the drug king that one of the characters ratted out in court and while the “guard” is trying to strangle that character the schizophrenic inmate helps kill him and then what do to? Well, obviously you chop up his body and bury him in the prison vegetable garden! At the same time, a woman modeled after Martha Stewart checks in to serve her time, what’ll happen there? A new CO is hired and he’s mean and scary and clearly has some kind of backstory! Since the prison is now for-profit, a gazillion new inmates show up, oh no, where will they sleep? One of the characters is Jewish and one of the new inmates is Muslim and they fight over floor space like they’re fighting over land in the Middle East! Get it? Wackiness!

See what I’m saying? And there are three other plot threads I haven’t even touched upon. It’s too much and too convenient. I would think the day-to-day situations in prison would be plenty enough material without all this extraneous plot fluffing. However, despite my reservations, Snorth said I really should check it out, so I did. It’s worth it for episode 11 (out of the 13). There’s usually one episode per season that rips your guts out. Last season it was the one with “compassionate release.” This season’s saddest episode dealt with mental health and how they are dealt with (or not dealt with) in the U.S. prison system. Brutal stuff. It’s no surprise that in the U.S.’s overcrowded prison people dealing with mental health issues are treated poorly and often tossed away. Again, head’s up, episode 11. Difficult.

And finally, Stranger Things. It’s a eight-episode series on Netflix. If I had to describe it, it’s a love letter to the Stephen Spielberg / Stephen King movies of the 80s. I did particularly like those movies (E.T., The Goonies, Stand by Me, etc.) so I did not anticipate to like this series very much. I think that helped because my expectations were very low. In the beginning it was a bunch of tweenage boys being annoying and bicycling around their neighborhoods which I had no interest in but then a weirdo bald girl shows up with limited conversation skills who clearly escaped from somewhere and stuff gets interesting. People are smitten with Stranger Things and I totally understand why. Winona Rider is in it, she plays a distraught mother. They didn’t really give her a lot to do, mainly she has to shriek and spazz out and have crazy eyes, I feel like they could have given her more depth. But the kids are great actors, especially the escapee girl. Look for that actress in future projects, she’s gonna be big. The monster (there’s a monster) made me laugh, though. It was supposed to be terrifying but it looked like the designers took a skinny muscular man, gave him one of those daisy headdresses they make little kids wear in school plays, covered it with teeth and said, “Great, good, done.” That, that’s not scary, people. Also when you’re finished with the series you are going to want to buy all the christmas lights in the world. In the major conflict scene I found myself wanting Indian food because the christmas lights. You know the Lexington Avenue Indian restaurants? If not, here’s what I’m referring to.

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See? LIGHTS.

Christmas: The Super-American All-Inclusive Deprogramming Holiday of I Think I’m Their Hostage Now.

Monday, January 4th, 2016

Christmas! A holiday I never really had much to do with. I mean, I watch the stuff on TV and the movies and I’ve seen what it’s like, but it’s never really been something I’ve been immersed in. I don’t even think we did Chinese food and movies as is the way of our people. We went one step lower, doing “whatever’s in the fridge” and “what’s on PBS today?” So when I decided to spend the holidays with my friend Ness in San Francisco I was excited to see what the other 97.8% of Americans do December 24th and 25th. I was not disappointed. Let me give you a bit of backstory. All the people in my family are very very smart and very very useless. My father is a rabbi with three doctorates all in cerebral pursuits like theology and Hebrew letters. My mother is an art historian who speaks three languages fluently and five more not fluently. Our dinner parties are not for the weak of spirit. You know how you are not supposed to talk about politics or religion in polite company? That’s ALL we talk about, and any religion or any country’s politics is up for debate. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say something like, “Yes, but that is due to the rift caused by the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913. If the Ottoman Empire had blabittyblah blah etc. and blah.” Lots of clever and intelligent. However, between both my parents they cannot manage to use a cell phone. They didn’t clean the filter of their household water supply thing in the basement for a decade. A DECADE. (It’s astonishingly easy to replace.) My father prefers a broom and dustpan to a vacuum because a vacuum is a bit too much technology for one man. My point is anything technological or manual labor-y is beyond them. When the apocalypse comes they will be the first to be eaten because they are the human equivalent of kobe beef. Ness’s family, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. They are all in law enforcement of some kind, except for the hair dresser/Zumba teacher. They drink alcohol for fun, not only for religious ceremonies. They can fix things. They like sports. They embrace technology. They don’t watch the news four times a day. I didn’t see them watch the news once, actually. They put those “Love, Laugh, Live” letter cutouts over their couches and have tons of pictures of their families on display. We are not the same. But I imagine the rest of the country is far more like them then they are like me, an effete New York Jew, so I relished the opportunity to experience what life is like for just about everyone else.

Okay. It felt a bit like when someone gets out of a cult and they need to be reacclimated back into society and they have to be strapped to chair and immersed hard. First, Ness insisted on only Christmas music. I heard that epically crappy song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by BandAid about four times. Don’t ask me how many times I heard Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” A million, give or take. Then, Hallmark Christmas movies. Ness DVRed about ten of them. I watched five from beginning to end. I would like to deviate now from my trip to talk about the Hallmark Christmas movies if I may. They all have the same plot structure and here it is:

“Hi! I’m a woman, a single woman, and I have a promising career in medicine / dress design / business! Gosh, I’m well on my way! Reaching for the stars! Oh no, I’ve been stranded in Garland, Alaska on my way to my fellowship in Boston due to weather, or maybe my father passed and I need to return to the rinkydink town of my childhood from L.A to take care of my father’s affairs. Whatever reason, I have to leave whatever major city I was heading towards or living in, the major city where I’m going fulfill my potential. No biggie, I’ll only be here for a short while. But what’s this? This charming local man who is a woodworker / elementary school music teacher / fireman. His smile, it causes me to swoon and melt right into my mom jeans. What to do, what to do? Give up on all my career goals, ones I might have had since I was a child, to stay here with Mr. As Hunky As Hallmark Could Afford whom I barely know?”

Let me save you some time. They all stay in Flyover Town USA and devote their life to the dude. Each and every single one. I want to listen in to the Hallmark Christmas Movie meetings. I feel like they sound like this, “We must keep the women of America who got pregnant at 19 and couldn’t go to college placated, put out another movie that convinces them that careers are meh and true love is only found in rectangular states to keep them from poisoning the Sloppy Joes and fleeing to a coast. That should do it.”

Sorry about that. Back to the trip. Ness likes to plan lots of activities so on the first day I was in San Fran we did tourist stuff. I went to the Cable Car Museum. We walked around Little Italy. We met a former co-worker for dinner. Normal stuff. Day two is where things got fascinating. I was invited to an Oakland Raiders football game, complete with tailgating. I have been to one other NFL game (read this for a recap of that magical experience) and this time I was excited to have someone with me to explain the finer points of the sport. Ness and her aunt decked me out in appropriate regalia and I sat quietly in the parking lot and watched the other tailgaters do their thing.

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Their thing is THOROUGH. I’ve been to weddings less organized than some of these camps. Giant tents. The most insane food being cooked – prime rib, lobster tails, king crab legs, deep-fried turkeys. Not only did people bring their own sound systems, they brought their own DJs to spin their desired tunes. All of this was happening in a parking lot. People brought entire bars. The smell of weed was pungent and copious. (Is nothing illegal in California? Where are your mothers?) I was told that since it was Christmas Eve there were far fewer people than usual, normally the whole giant parking lot is full.

Look, proof! Lobster tails:

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A DJ for a group of about six people:

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Lest we forget it’s San Francisco-adjacent, dirty hippies!

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And some guy’s small school bus that he decorated both inside and out:

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Finally after about four hours we wrapped up the light debauchery and headed into the stadium. I would like to say I watched the game with rapt attention and can tell you all about the different players and what they did. I wish I could say that. The truth is I only watched three things: the big screen (Kiss cam! Pop and lock dancing!), the cheerleaders (did you know they’re out the the entire game freezing their components off?) and the hover-camera. That hover-camera, which I originally thought was a drone, tapped into something really primal for me. It’s a camera that looks exactly like a A.I. version of a black shiny hornet and it zips around on three cables tethered to the top bits of the walls of the stadium. It zips extremely quickly and did I mention it looks like a giant robot wasp? We were right behind the goalposts so whenever it bzzzzzed with great alacrity over to the touchdown area I would scream. I could imagine it breaking free of its moorings and killing everyone. That’s it. That’s all I paid attention to the whole time. SPORTS!

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I had heard the Oakland Raiders fans are the scariest in the NFL. They were fine. Charger fans would walk through the parking lot fully decked out and the Raiders fans would boo at them, then offer them snacks or wave goodnaturedly. There were 30,000 fans there and I saw one fight break out. It was quelled before I could even turn around and get a good look. Fine. Everything was fine.

The next day was Christmas. We watched the Warriors vs. the Cavaliers (basketball). We wore festive red and green garb. We ate cheesy potatoes and ham and green bean casserole. We opened seven thousand presents, four thousand of which were sports-related socks. This may not sound that thrilling for you, but I’ve never done these things. I must have looked completely daft watching Ness’s family like they were part of a scientific research project. I imagine this is what it must be like when people come to our house for Hanukkah. It’s neat to be on the other side.

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I spent most of my time chilling with the cat on the couch. I love that damn cat so much. SO. MUCH. I have spoken of this love before.

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The last few days there we went to Muir Woods were there are old giant pine trees. It smelled amazing.

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I must have said, “Look at that tree!” fifty times.

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Not gonna lie: hugged a lot of trees.

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There was a massive crack in one of the trees where people were taking pictures.

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Here was our version.

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On my insistence Ness also hugged a tree in her own way.

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I highly recommend Muir Woods. Especially if you wish to protest something. They have an area for that.

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It was a magnificent trip and Ness has already planned activities for my next visit. I’ve never been to Alcatraz and I want to ride on the double-decker bus, so we will do that.

South America Part 14 ‘n’ done.

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

The equator! What Ecuador is named after. The equator runs right through and I got to visit it. It was weirder than I expected. We did some scientific stuff standing on the actual line and things did not go how I anticipated. But first, some Quito pics.

A tree in the giant park in the middle of town. The parks were lovely. There are artists along one whole edge with all different styles of paintings for sale.

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We went to a market that the locals shop at. It was intense. Everything was out and the meat and fish were fine (meaty and fishy, to be expected) but the vegetable and fruit section, I could have hung out there all day.

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There were giant piles of fresh herbs. There was a lady who only sold potatoes. She must have had fifteen or twenty different kinds. And, as with most places in the world that are not the United States, you could bring your dog in with you.

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We also went to a authentic sorbet maker. In the olden days a donkey would carry down ice from the tops of the mountains that would be put in a large tub with salt. Now they use regular freezer ice but the rest of the process remains the same. A big flat-bottomed bronze pan with two handles is placed on the ice and fruit juice mixed with sugar is poured in. The the sorbet-person uses the handles to spin spin spin the bronze pan and uses a wooden spoon to move the juice mixture around the bottom. Eventually all the juice freezes and boom, sorbet. The one we saw being made was from local blackberries. It was delicious.

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Okay, the equator. It’s actually part of a whole teaching space sponsored by the Ecuadorian government. We learned about the cultures that lived around there. We saw a human shrunken head and a sloth’s shrunken head.

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And in the same area was THE WORST TAXIDERMY I HAVE EVEN SEEN. EVER. I started laughing so hard, I felt bad for the guide. I tried to explain that it had nothing to do with him but I couldn’t breathe and had to go sit down for a minute. Here, allow me to share some of these magical creatures with you. The two most incorrect ones were the ocelot:

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And the anaconda. Oh dear Lord, the anaconda. Are… are those eyes hot-glued on?

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The sideshow creatures were the only sub-par element there. Everything else was beautiful. The landscaping was particularly lovely.

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We were shown an ancient sundial which told you only three times a day – morning, midday and afternoon. It was scary how on point it was. It was almost exactly 4:00 in the afternoon and look, the shadow is right on the 4. Amazing.

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I didn’t know much about the equator.

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I’ve mentioned this before but in high school I took Biology for Football Players and Poets in my senior year. My STEM skills are weeeeeeak. So every experiment the guide did was like a miracle for me. For example, he had a sink that wasn’t hooked up to anything, it simply had a bucket underneath. When he positioned the sink and bucket six feet to the left of the equator (in this case it was in the Southern hemisphere) and poured water into it, the water swirled in one direction. Then he moved the bucket and sink six feet into the Northern Hemisphere, repoured the water and it swirled in the other direction. Finally, he positioned the sink and bucket directly on the equator and the water went straight down. The next experiment we did was balancing an egg on a nail head. You can do that on the equator you know. (I did not know.) My niece Drea was the only one with the steady hands to do it. We were all very proud.

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Finally, the guide asked us to walk heel to toe along the red line. None of us could go more than three steps. Apparently that is because when you are in the Northern or Southern hemisphere and you walk like that, you only get pulled in one direction so you can self-correct. One the equator you are being pulled very gently in both directions, enough so that your balance is quite compromised. Science!

There you go, the end of my trip. It was scary and exciting and thrilling and wonderful and I’m glad I went. If you wish to do the same trip, here is the company I went with.

https://www.oattravel.com/trips/small-ship-adventures/south-america/machu-picchu-and-the-galapagos/2016?icid=global:ouradventures:southamerica:mpg2016

South America 2015, Part 12.

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Sea and sea-adjacent creatures! But let us begin with a random selection of Galapagos pics.

A drink consisting of coconut water in said coconut with rum in it. You would think it would be delightful. You would be wrong. It tastes like something a doctor would make you drink before a procedure so your liver will glow or something. No delicioso. Unpleasant and medicinal. Take a pass on it.

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The sign in the airport bathroom. Short version: the toilet water is recycled so it’s a weird color but that’s totally normal.

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Our phenomenal guide Luis with a ginormous cricket on him.

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He wore the equivalent of a balaclava while we were traveling around because he is very concerned about sun damage. We looked like hostages being taken around by a terrorist. See for yourself: here’s a picture of us in front of one of those “Yorkshire pudding” islands I mentioned.

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Okay, sea creatures. First, one of my favorite creatures, one I was very excited to see, the Sally Lightfoot crab. Another name for them is “abuete negro” which I originally thought meant “black grandma” (I do not know Spanish) but when I looked up the definition of “abuete” I got a website that asked me what it meant to abide in Christ so I gave up. Sally Lightfoot crabs are vibrantly colored and I took about 700 pictures of them. I am a bit obsessed. Here’s what the famous author John Steinbeck had to say about them (from Wikipedia):

Many people have spoken at length of the Sally Lightfoots. In fact, everyone who has seen them has been delighted with them. The very name they are called by reflects the delight of the name. These little crabs, with brilliant cloisonné carapaces, walk on their tiptoes, They have remarkable eyes and an extremely fast reaction time. In spite of the fact that they swarm on the rocks at the Cape [San Lucas], and to a less degree inside the Gulf [of California], they are exceedingly hard to catch. They seem to be able to run in any of four directions; but more than this, perhaps because of their rapid reaction time, they appear to read the mind of their hunter. They escape the long-handled net, anticipating from what direction it is coming. If you walk slowly, they move slowly ahead of you in droves. If you hurry, they hurry. When you plunge at them, they seem to disappear in a puff of blue smoke—at any rate, they disappear. It is impossible to creep up on them. They are very beautiful, with clear brilliant colors, red and blues and warm browns.

Man reacts peculiarly but consistently in his relationship with Sally Lightfoot. His tendency eventually is to scream curses, to hurl himself at them, and to come up foaming with rage and bruised all over his chest. Thus, Tiny, leaping forward, slipped and fell and hurt his arm. He never forgot nor forgave his enemy. From then on he attacked Lightfoots by every foul means he could contrive and a training in Monterey street fighting has equipped him well for this kind of battle). He hurled rocks at them; he smashed at them with boards; and he even considered poisoning them. Eventually we did catch a few Sallys, but we think they were the halt and the blind, the simpletons of their species. With reasonably well-balanced and non-neurotic Lightfoots we stood no chance.

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Look! Little brown youngins!

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We got to witness the congress of two crabs. They approached either other and very slowly the female slid upside-down under the male where they hung out for a while. I have to say I may be pushing anthropomorphic qualities onto this but it totally looked like the female didn’t want to go through with it and the male was pressing down hard on her shoulders like, “Shhh, you’ll like it, get down there, don’t be a prude.” I was considering pulling the female out from under him and then chastising him (“No means no, Crab!”) but I decided not to meddle in the affairs of the Grapsus grapsus.

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Sea birds! Specifically pelicans and boobies. I learned that they plow into the surface of the water at crazy speeds because they dive-bomb into it. They have a gasket around their eyeballs to prevent damage from this intense impact and when those gaskets eventually fail, the bird goes blind and dies of starvation. Because Mother Nature is a mean beeyotch in case you had forgotten (see above crab rape).

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One of our first stops was a small blob of lava where a school of sardines had swum by so everybody was hanging out there. By everybody, I mean egrets, cranes, blue-footed boobies, pelicans, penguins and fur sea lions. It was amazing.

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Another place all the sea creatures were hanging out was at the small fish market on the main island. This poor woman was trying to run a business and she has this big furry sea lion begging like a dog and a group of giant demonic-looking pelicans watching her every move. Other sea lions hung out nearby but took the opportunity to nap at the feet of other tourists.

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Fur sea lions! They swam around us all over the place. They are actually light blonde but look dark brown when they are wet. You can tell how long they’ve been sitting on the beach sunbathing by how much of them is blonde. They are charming but judgmental. I was snorkeling at one point and a fur sea lion swum up to me, looked at me, made a gesture like, “Nah,” and swam away. I was like, “Hey, you don’t know me, I have many redeeming qualities if only you’d get to know me nevemind you’re gone.”

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A penguin parent guarding his penguin baby. It might help to know the penguins are a foot tall. They are super-wee and precious.

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Next entry: the end of my trip to the Galapagos.