Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

last week, the bf and i decided to take an impromptu trip to virginia wine country. going into it, we both held tainted views of va wine as being overly sweet and, well, just not very good. would there be anything to change our minds?

disclaimer: no matter how much i throw around words like "finish" and "overtones," i am not a sommelier. (see: mcsweeny's "terms used by the sommelier that indicate you should order a salad") i am a wine-snob wannabe who has convinced herself that i can indeed tell the difference between a $10 and $50 bottle, though more realistically i can probably delineate between a box of franzia and, well, anything else. but the matter is, i like wine for more than just its alcohol content. and wine tasting is more than an excuse for free cheese, crackers, and booze.

low key and with over 40 varieties, horton was a good place to refresh our memories on all the types of wines that are out there. though a lot of their efforts seem to be focused on fruit and dessert wines (not my personal faves), the dionysus portuguese red was great. they also claim to be the only authentic makers of port in the state. it seems that there is some debate on the issue of what can be labelled "port" (similar to the case of champagne); in the EU, only ports from portugual may be called such, but in the US this is not so. still, it seems that some winemakers in the US choose not to call their port-like products such and choose different terms out of respect for the real deal...i did try their signature XOCO chocolate dessert wine, after having gagged seeing the very same thing in the grocery store a few weeks ago. it tasted like, you guessed it, sweet wine with chocolate syrup in it. although, the scent alone was quite nice.

one of the wine meccas of virginia, barboursville is known for its vineyards, italian vintner, and one of the best restaurants in the region. walking into the barboursville winery is how i imagine many of the napa and sonoma valley sights to be like. but it's not all for show; the wine was hand-down the best of the day. i prefer red, but their pinot grigio was nice and the signature "octagon" blend (named for the central feature of the barboursville ruins house achitecture) was my favorite. bf and i decided that dinner at palladio would have to wait for a major life event, seeing as you need reservations weeks out and about a hundred/person to lay down for 5 courses and wine pairings.

definitely a change of pace after barboursville, burnley is small and cozy. it has a mom and pop feel and is without the pomp of barboursville. though the wines weren't outstanding, we had a nice conversation with the owner and i bought a bottle nevertheless. only later would i regret this decision - i bought a different vintage of the wine i liked the best, but upon opening it, i found it vinegary and undrinkable. guess that's what i get for not buying what i tried.

my list isn't quite as extensive as the people behind virginia wine time, my vine spot, or virginia wine dogs, so if you're planning on making any vineyard visits, definitely take a look at their reviews.
virginia winemaking is different from what i expected to be. one can find a bottle that's certainly as good as many california wines and those from farther abroad, while contributing to local, more sustainable purchasing. not to mention that the state's dry dry summer was bad news to most farmers, but great news to viticulturalists. draught = smaller, more flavorful grapes, so many of the people we talked to said that 2010 will be a good year for virginia wine.

other va wine resources:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

shackleton and cutting off your own arm

it happens to most bloggers, the dreaded break. life happens and somehow writing and the blog get put on the back burner. i think mine ended up in the garbage disposal. here's the part where i apologize for my lack of posts and list various excuses as to why i've been too busy to write.

on to the post...
"ordinary people doing extraordinary things" is how tales of survival are often described, even though i'd beg to say that there is a divide in the genre; there are stories of people who found themselves accidentally in terrifying circumstances (see: shipwrecks and plane crashes) vs. those people who more or less invite the adventure upon themselves, though they may not know to what extent their adventure will take them (see: explorers, mountain climbers).

in any case, however, it seems that under dire circumstances, people are able to do things they thought were impossible. many of these stories shouldn't be called "survival" stories, as that was unfortunately not the outcome for all involved.

some of my favorites (true stories):
  • alive (piers paul morgan) - the uruguayan rugby team's plane crashes in the andes
  • into thin air (jon krakauer) -a tragic ascent of mt. everest
  • into the wild (jon krakauer) - chris mccandless goes off the grid and into the alaskan frontier (emile hirsch did a fantastic job in the film version)
  • grizzly man - less survival, more strange man vs. nature. timothy treadwell gets a little close to his passion - grizzly bears. the film is great, although some (me) may find that director werner herzog tried too hard to let you know that he is god's gift to the documentary film world

more recently:
  • 127 hours - movie version of aron ralston's story of being trapped in a canyon in utah, where he amputated his own arm in order to escape. was a little underwhelmed by danny boyle's version (probably because i really like his other films), but the story itself is pretty epic.
  • the endurance (caroline alexander) - british explorer ernest shackleton plans to be the first to cross antarctica on foot; instead the team's ship becomes trapped in ice floes only to sink, leaving them stranded. the book has beautiful black and white photos of the entire saga. there is a made for tv movie version starring kenneth branagh that might be worth watching, haven't seen it yet.
future endeavors:
  • the long walk (slavomir rawicz) - story of soldiers' escape from a russian gulag in 1939 and their trek all the way to british india
  • skeletons on the zahara (dean king) - 1815 shipwreck and landfall on the edge of the sahara desert
  • adrift (steve callahan) - story of the only person to have survived over a month alone in a life raft
  • we die alone (david howarth) - espionage and escape above the arctic circle as a norweigan soldier attempts to escape nazi capture
  • rescue dawn - i'll give herzog another chance with his film remake of a previous documentary, little deiter needs to fly. a downed pilot's makes his way to safety across and laos and vietnam during the vietnam war.
in researching popular survival books and movies, i came across this man several times: alexander selkirk, who some say is the real-life inspiration for robinson crusoe. in 1704, selkirk was marooned on an island off the coast of chile for over four years. more selkirk details here and recent discoveries on his campsite here.
and in case you wanted some of those excuses as to why i haven't written in the past few updates:
  • have been all moved in to the new apt. for a few months now. no, it doesn't look like a swedish cottage, nor does it even look like an ikea catalog. no, i never had the housewarming party i hoped to hold. no, i still haven't found correctly-sized curtains for the bedroom. but it's home and it's cozy and the radiators are working quite well on this wintry afternoon.
  • grad school semester 1 is officially over. and yes, i still want to be a social worker.
  • have started training for the shamrock marathon in march. hello 12 miles at 8am.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

dreaming in swedish

it's that time of year again. actually, it's those times of year again. back to school, leaving a job,
moving. apparently, i've been following the dr. arnett guide to being a twenty-something as i have moved 8 times in the last 7 years (1 x per year each year in college, back home, to japan, back home, to richmond and the upcoming move will make #9) and had 5 jobs in the last 7 years (albiet i was a student for 4 of those 7).

anyhow, the next few posts will be about one of those transitions in particular - moving.

  • one empty apartment in the fan
  • two 20 somethings
  • hand me down furniture from friends and family
shake vigorously for the month of september in which we will be packing up 2 places and converging on the one.

because i have not actually begun the moving process yet (i.e. i have two empty boxes in the back of my car and am terrified of taking my target desk apart for fear of never getting it back together again), for now the focus is on the anticipation.

the apt. is in an old single family home in the fan, one that has been split into 3 separate apartments. even though the reality of decorating possibilities is limited by what stuff people are willing to give us and by shallow grad school pockets, let's take a quick moment to fantasize about the possibilities:

apartment therapy has been offering volumes of images of perfectly coiffed decors, providing page after page of inspiration (and more often, crushed dreams, as one such as myself realizes that she'd have to forgo paying tuition to make rooms look remotely as good as the ones in these pictures)

still, there are many instances in which we borrow from that which inspires us and transform it into our own. take a simple concept from a runway design or from the pages of a cookbook and use what you have to imitate. the same will have to suffice for us, seeing as we're not quite up to par with this munich loft or this sotheby's rental in portugal.

even when considering what i would do given unlimited funds, given a bigger place, and given the time to plan, i am stumped. how to combine all of the styles that appeal to me without making more boiled over sloppy stew than tactfully crafted melting pot?

after researching a number of styles, the squared edges and cool look of scandinavian decor is probably the most appealing to me. the designs are simple and modern, but often have a rustic, natural sensibility.

  • design*sponge has a great collection of scandinavian interiors, not to mention it's an all-around interesting blog with design guides to tons of major cities worldwide.

  • etsy blog the storque offers how-tos on putting together different danish-inspired collections.

  • emma's deisgn blog offers the swedish perspective and lots of eye candy from a range of different swedish styles (some lovely, some too avant garde for me)

not that i'd want my place to end up looking like the inside of the latest ikea catalog either. it's important to mix in elements from other styles, especially if those things that don't necessarily "match" hold meaning to you and have stories behind them.

in any case, it's all just stuff. stuff that we'll be putting in boxes and taping up and moving across town and unpacking and placing and one day repeating the process all over again.

Friday, July 30, 2010

pet peeve of the latest lexicon

disclaimer: the following post is sexy.

as of late, i've heard a particular word being used in a wider context than ever before. hooray for artistic freedom and bending grammatical and lexical rules for creativity's sake, but boo for creating a bandwagon that removes all meaning from a word because it simply becomes trendy to use it.


the evidence:

  • jeff goodall's incredible and disturbing article about the gulf oil spill in the latest issue of rolling stone. from the poisoning: "...BP has favored the use of chemical dispersants in the Gulf: Skimmers are slow, dull and prone to breakdown. Dispersants, on the other hand, are fast, sexy and usually delivered by specially equipped planes..." i will refrain from making a lubrication joke. the whole article is here: the poisoning

  • a ny times article on advanced degrees in statistics quotes google's chief economist hal vairan as saying, "I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians and I’m not kidding.” lucrative? yes. rapidly developing field? indeed. sexy? umm...

  • there's a nonprofit organization called sustainability is sexy. sexy people can have sustainable lifestyles. but can sexy people put their sexy corn husks into sexy compost heaps to create stinky, nutrient rich, sexy soil?

  • an alternative energy news source declaring that "...sooner or later all automobiles are going to be either hybrid, electric, or hydrogen-powered. The one the overall appeal of the cars. Very few models that are being put out are really all that attractive...That is about to change in a big way. BMW has recently hit the board with their prototype that is just flat out sexy." sexy like you want to have sex with the car or sexy like it reminds you of someone you want to have sex with? or both?

what is sexy anyway? sexy lingerie? strike a sexy pose? sexy sadie? obviously the most common definition has to do with exuding sex appeal, being risque, or arousing. much to my dismay, however, the dictionary lists the final definition as "excitingly appealing; glamorous," making all of the cases in point above technically (albeit still questionably) correct.

the (over)use of sexy may be closely linked to the "(non-sexual topic) porn" phenomenon. basically it extends the use of porn to describe tantalizing pictures of things that are not intended to be sexual.

examples include (and these are definitely safe for work, though i don't advise trying to search for different kinds of non-porn porn online):
i guess i can deal with a dose of non-sexual "sexiness" every now and then. amateur linguistics geeks can easily accept the fact that many words assume different meanings over time. for example, awful used to mean what it sounds like, "full of awe." the daily kos provides some theories behind how and why words change meanings over time along with a thorough list of changed words. sexy is being transformed right now, but will it lose some of its inherent allure as more and more nonsexual things are labeled as such?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

wild wild west part VII

lucky #VII - vegas to RVA

we headed into vegas on a saturday morning, making our way through traffic on the strip. the vegas mix cd made some of the traffic bearable as frank and dean steered us in the right direction. the strip loses much of its allure in the daytime and i was looking forward to dusk and the start of glittering neon vistas. i couldn't get the ocean's movies out of my head as we crawled our way past the bellagio and its famous fountains. we finally reached our hotel, the aria resort, which is part of "city center" - a new complex of hotels and an extremely high-end shopping mall, sandwiched between the bellagio and monte carlo.

the inside of the aria was stunning. in the end i much preferred our non-themed hotel/casino and its subtle yet plush interior to the over-the-top usual suspects. once we dropped off our luggage at the room, we stopped by todd english's faux-britpub to catch the second half of the US's final game against ghana in the world cup. too bad US.

we made a small loop on the strip on foot, checking out the inside of several casinos and tourist spots. neither of us are big gamblers, so we decided to wait and take our chances in the evening when the mood seemed more appropriate. excalibur was perhaps once grand in the heyday of gaudy-faux casinos, but it seemed stale and somehow a bit sleazier than the rest. new york new york and paris have true theme park feels with miniature versions of their namesakes inside. there was something about the MGM grand that i liked inside, it was dark and bold, though i didn't much care for the whole lions in a glass cage thing. dan and i both really liked the tropicana as well, as it's one of the oldest casinos on the new strip, complete with a beautiful art deco ceiling in the main area of the casino. finally, there was the obligatory stop to the bellagio to see the venetian glass ceiling sculptures.

las vegas practices what it preaches. their ad campaign of "what happens in vegas stays in vegas" comes to life every single day, as it has created a facade of reality for visitors, a disney-esque park whose themes are money and sex. it just is what it is. the facade is so blatant, however, that it's amazing how many people get so caught up in it. for all of the deconstruction of las vegas you can handle, las vegas: the social production of an all-american city is available in its entirety online.

the heat from the electricity and concrete and lack of greenery started taking its toll on me as we walked around, so we headed back to the room where i dosed up on cold meds and fever reducers. i wanted to at least be able to feel well enough to head to fremont street later that day.

after scouring our guidebooks for buffet reviews, we decided that the buffet at the main street station hotel/casino on the old strip would be the best bang for our buck. perhaps its wasn't the $35 selection of french regional cuisine available at paris, but for $15 i'd say dan and i both enjoyed ourselves making the rounds like kids in candy stores. we selected samples of mexican food next to steamed shrimp and oysters, antipasta next to spring rolls, and bread pudding next to coconut cake and soft serve ice cream. the goal was to not overdo it on any one item, as there were so many we both wanted to try, an exercise in self-control to reach an end goal of gluttony. since we've been home, there have been several times in which i've had sudden cravings for a vegas buffet. strange?

we wandered around the old strip where casinos like the gold nugget, golden gate, and four queens have withstood the test of time, and provide more character and depth than any places on the new strip. we ogled cheap souvenirs, saw people pose for photos next to showgirls, watched the light/sound show on the covered walkway of fremont street, and tried patiently to get clear photos of the old neon signs on display. i even had my palm read. we patiently watched blackjack tables, trying to work up the nerve to play, but our beginners' jitters got the best of us and we both ended up playing video poker instead. i did get lucky and won about $10, and after a few rounds, we came out $2 on top between the two of us. could've been worse.

here is a chapter from the anthropology text hosts and guests: the anthropology of tourism, which goes into great detail on gambling as a tourist attraction.

the next day we walked to caesar's palace where the plan was to watch the argentina vs. mexico game at the sportsbook, but by the time we got there, all of the seats were taken. so we settled in and watched at a cafe/bar instead.

it took over an hour to get back and get our car back from the valet at aria and we headed to another guidebook suggestion for lunch - the cafe heidelberg. believe it or not, there are plenty of choices in german food for the non-meat eater (even though i've yet to see a veg version of weinerschnitzel...richmond, i'm looking at you. though i did find a recipe). cucumber salad, spƤtzle (sans gravy), rye bread, among other things. unfortunately, i still wasn't feeling up to drinking, and had yet to imbibe since we left the grand canyon, so no german beer for me.

by the time we got back to the hotel, i was exhausted and hoped to feel better after a nap. not so. the rest of the day was a wash as i just didn't have it in me to go out. fortunately i had a caring travel companion who went out in search of meds and food. the flight out was early the next morning (we had to be at the airport around 5:30) and i knew i wouldn't make it past 10:00.

before we knew it, we were back in richmond by 6pm the next day, smacked in the face by the humidity upon exiting the airport. welcome to virginia!

Monday, July 12, 2010

wild wild west part VI

part IV - tusayan, az to las vegas, nv

though we hadn't decided where we'd be staying the night we left the grand canyon, we planned on making as many strange stops along the way as possible. the first was the flinstones' bedrock city, a sort of life-sized reconstruction of bedrock. though we didn't pay the admission price to get in to the actual attraction, the giant fred flinstone sign outside and flinstone-mobile was enough to sate the immediate need for roadside kitsch.

en route towards las vegas we decided to take old route 66 for as much of the trip as possible. it only passes through a handful of small towns now, but these towns thrive on the fact that passersthrough are trying to recapture the nostalgia of the old route. many of these places reached near death when the interstate bypassed them, but many are holding strong to their ability to offer a piece of almost-gone roadside americana.

the most fascinating story comes out of seligman, arizona. though we were both pretty unfamiliar with the town's history, the tale slowly unfolded through the places we visited and the people with whom we talked. perhaps you've seen a little pixar/disney film cars? we discovered that seligman was an inspiration for the story. but i'm getting ahead of myself...

many of the places in seligman and similar towns have the same outward appearance - an abundance of 50s signage, vintage gas pumps, and elvis and marilyn memorabilia. we ate at a little crazy diner called "delgadillo's sno cap," a take-out burger joint. though the vegetarian fare was sparse, and dan said the burger was just okay, the entertainment factor and the role that this place and its owners have had in the community made the visit worthwhile. the staff heartily plays jokes on customers. for example, dan asked for a straw and received a piece of hay, one employee asked if i wanted mustard and squirted a fake mustard bottle of yellow string onto my shirt, and another patron asked for a small coke and received a thimblefull of soda. the chocolate malt was delish and we would soon find out how the ower's family, the delgadillos, were perhaps known as the saviors of seligman.

we made our way down the tiny strip of souvenir shops and went into one that had a small annexed room with a solitary barber's chair inside. dan had mentioned getting a haircut and shave and after we inquired at the shop counter, a quick phone call was made and we were told to wait for a few minutes. soon enough, an older man arrived and asked around for who wanted the haircut. just before dan made his way into the room, two older japanese tourists asked to have their photograph taken with the barber. strange, we both though.

angel delgadillo's shop walls are plastered with business cards of people who have visited his shop and newspaper articles about him and seligman from all over the world. who was this witty old man who was trimming dan's scruff into a james dean-like coif? we asked him questions and he readily answered, describing his father's role in the town's commerce, following in his father's footsteps and becoming a barber, his brother juan's opening of the sno cap, and sitting down to talk with producer john lassiter about seligman's history and how it could be translated in the movie cars. the gift shop website has a great history of the family written up here and this site has a lot of good photos of the town.
after leaving seligman, we made our way west, reading burma shave signs aloud as we savored the last miles on 66 before we would turn northwest towards vegas. unfortunately that afternoon, i started feeling a little ill, so we skipped making an extra loop to check out a few ghost towns and kept going towards the hoover dam. we didn't stop to do a tour, though i did keep thinking about the griswald vegas vacation, "welcome everyone. i am your dam guide, arnie. now i'm about to take you through a fully funtional power plant, so please, no one wander off the dam tour and please take all the dam pictures you want. now are there any dam questions?"
i got my first taste of stale casino air when we stopped just inside the nevada border for a bathroom break. welcome to nevada. we decided to stay in boulder city, nevada, about 45 mins. outside of vegas for the night and found a great hotel, the boulder dam hotel. though we thought boulder city might be a bust, it turned out to have a nice little downtown. but the next day we didn't spend any time there, as it was time to make our way to the mecca of facades...