December 09, 2008

Paperback Canyons in Witch City

As the weather turns nasty here in New England, my thoughts turn to hunkering down with a good book. Which reminds me: if you ever find yourself in Salem, MA with a sense of adventure and a few spare hours on your hands, there's a place you should visit...

I don't think there are any actual shelves in the store

The Derby Square Bookstore is an amazing place and an ataxophobic's nightmare. I paid for my purchase through a gap between the stacks and said "thanks" to the sliver of a shopkeeper briefly glimpsed amidst the piles, then quickly escaped to avoid being engulfed by an Oprah-approved avalanche.

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November 19, 2008

What I learned in Concourse B

I missed my connection in Atlanta, as my flight from IAH was delayed by almost 3 hours due to fog. This led me to pass the time--about 5 hours--in various crowded bars in Concourse B at ATL. The one positive aspect of being stuck at an airport when there are loads of delays, cancellations, etc. is the camaraderie that develops among the victims at the airport bar.

On my right at the "Sports Scene," was this enormous tatooed guy in a tank top who introduced himself immediately after noticing my Red Sox hat. He was from Saugus, MA and was trying to return home from Key West, where he went to watch the offshore boat races. Apparently, he went out on a catamaran with a group of people in the morning and stayed out on the water all day--drinking a ton and watching the races. He threatened to show me the pictures he took--reportedly all of the women on the boat took their clothes off at about noon--and then reminded himself to delete some of them before his girlfriend at home got ahold of his camera.

To my left was a chatty engineer from Hot Springs, Arkansas. He had one of those drawls that are so nearly unintelligible that you feel unAmerican every time you have to say, "I'm sorry, what was that?" Eventually, Saugus and Hot Springs started sharing their tales of travellers woe and I sat back on my bar stool and listened to the battle of terrible regional accents over a couple of Yeunglings.

Lone Star Miscellany

We arrived in Austin in search of good BBQ and found the city to be infested with grackles. It was kind of spooky in a Hitchcockian way, but we avoided being mauled by the shrieking flocks and continued our search for ribs and brisket.

My kind of Texas

Artz Rib House was a hole-in-the-wall BBQ establishment recommended by several Texans we met. They had live music (a decent folk/country trio) and cheap Shiner Blacks. We ordered nearly every BBQ item on the menu and the waitress brought plates stacked with smoked brisket, baby back ribs, country style pork ribs, and jumbo beef ribs to go with our beers and various side items.

A display case on the TAMU campus:
"Probably Late 18th Century"

We left Austin in the morning and stopped to get gas on the way to College Station. The gas station had huge tubs full of ice and Budweiser tall boys in front of the register--a strange and frightening impulse purchase for the highway.

At first glance, I thought this simply said:
"White Blood Center." Thankfully, "White"
was someone's last name.

After College Station, we continued on, through rush hour traffic, into Houston, where a creepy towel bunny awaited me in my hotel room. Sure, it looks cute enough, but it's somewhat unsettling to go to sleep with one of these buggers next to your bed.

I swear I woke up in the middle of the night
with this thing sitting on my chest

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November 13, 2008

"a liar, coward and a cur"

Inevitably, our asphalt wanderings led us to Waco, TX.

cue tumbleweeds

After peddling our wares to the students of Baylor University, we stopped at Ninfa's for crawfish enchiladas and margaritas. While I was in the restroom, my colleagues thought it would be funny to tell the server that it was my birthday (it wasn't). After being serenaded by the wait staff and eating my birthday dessert (some kind of fried dough-like thing covered in honey), we ordered another round of margaritas and chatted with our waiter, Ricky.

If Lord Byron is right, there aren't many liars in Waco

Ricky informed us that Waco is the most dangerous city in Texas--with about a murder a day. While, this information was later discredited by multiple sources on the internet (and Lord Byron was proven wrong), we were intrigued as it seemed pretty safe and, well, really dull. Ricky explained that there were a lot of drug-related murders about six-blocks from the restaurant and loads of prostitutes just over the bridge.

Only in Texas

The next morning, I got up early to check out the downtown area, specifically the Tornado Memorial and the Dr. Pepper Museum. We debated the idea of trying to find the former Branch-Davidian compound, but decided that it was too far out of the way and, well, kind of creepy.

I'm a Pepper, you're a Pepper, David Koresh was a Pepper, too...

So, we piled in our mini-van and headed South, toward Austin and beyond.

November 12, 2008

Signs of Life in Bleaklahoma

Oklahoma was mostly a blur of badly-maintained highways, roadkill, and bleak landscapes from the window of our white minivan.

Eskimo Joe's in Stillwater, OK (do you want cheese fries
with that derogatory ethnic caricature?)

We started in Tulsa (where I did not see the "Golden Driller"), stopped briefly for burgers at a famous institution in Stillwater, passed through Oklahoma City (where I did not have the chance to visit the Beef Jerky Emporium), and finished the day in Norman--located in the bluest (but, still red) of Oklahoma's counties.

Can you believe that gas is under $2!

After Norman, we drove about 3 1/2 hours to Dallas--passing about 15 billboards advertising Robertson's Ham Sandwiches (and REAL beef jerky).

I never did have one of those ham sandwiches

Finally, we crossed over into Texas, which looks remarkably like Oklahoma.

The end of Oklahoma
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November 06, 2008

Adventures in Tornado Alley


On my way out of the Tulsa airport, I passed a couple of gentlemen in cowboy hats and two middle-aged women smoking skinny cigarettes in their PT Cruiser. The view from my room at the Courtyard by Marriott is of the setting sun reflected in the window of the Embassy Suites across the parking lot. More on this later...

November 05, 2008

November 04, 2008

Dr. Lechtenberg's Magic Pliers

I'm home from work today, sitting on the couch eating chocolate pudding, and watching movies--my faith in dentists (more specifically, oral surgeons) restored by Dr. Lechtenberg and his heavily-accented Eastern European assistant who needed only a few shots of novocaine and about 4 minutes to extract wisdom teeth #1 and #32.

breakfast, lunch, and dinner

5 years ago, a different oral surgeon spent the better part of an afternoon pulling, yanking, drilling, and breaking pieces of the other two wisdom teeth free, leaving me exhausted, sore, and vowing to cling to good ole #1 and #32 forever.

Eventually, on my (new) dentist's recommendation, I decided to give up the fight and went to see Dr. L. He told me ahead of time that I could listen to my iPod to help distract me, so I created an impressive playlist of songs that wouldn't make me freak out. While he only scheduled me for a 30-minute appointment, I prepared for the worst and had about 3 hours of music loaded. Truth be told: I have a very low tolerance for pain and, well, I'm kind of coward when it comes to things like this.

The Void

The first song ("Protection" by Massive Attack) was still playing when he said, "Okay, you're all set." Thank you, Dr. Lechtenberg. Thank you.

October 31, 2008

Meat is Murder...

...tasty, tasty murder (link borrowed from The Silver Fox)

hobo nickname: Petey Lambhands

I haven't been posting much lately and I realized this past weekend, while LSB took photographs of me molding a mound of ground turkey into a loaf, that we have captured quite a few of those meatful moments over the past year.

the creation of loaf

So, I figured I that perhaps this was something to reflect upon and celebrate--a montage of meat, if you will.

sweet, spicy, and earnest

So, above and below are various photos of me as we make meatloaf, rack of lamb, and the famous Brady family spagetti sauce.

A near-perfect meatball

This has inspired me: everyone will be getting "meat of the month" calendars for Christmas this year.

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October 30, 2008

24 hours in Durham

Sunrise from the Courtyard by Marriott

Just about the only noteworthy thing to come from my brief visit to the Raleigh-Durham area (specifically: Durham) happened at the airport the morning of my return to Boston. Prior to this: I arrived, had a mediocre pulled-pork sandwich for lunch, stopped at Duke for a poorly-attended grad school fair, had dinner at a Mexican restaurant in a shopping plaza, and stayed at a perfectly-fine-yet-instantly-forgettable hotel. However, this morning I was a bit early for my flight, so I had a typical airport breakfast (a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit and orange juice) and wandered about the terminal.

RDU is your average medium-sized airport with the usual variety of locally-themed gift stores (in this case, an Atlantic Coast Conference store offering sweatshirts, hats, and shot glasses from Duke, UNC, NC State, etc.), national-and-local chain restaurants, and cookie-cutter "newstands" selling gum, Doritos, postcards of things I didn't actually see, magnets of Carolina kitsch, travel items, and magazines.

After a few minutes of idle browsing up and down the Terminal, I spotted what appeared to be your average airport bookstore and decided to stop in before my plane was ready to board. Almost immediately, I noticed something unusual about the place. Instead of the tidy spread of shiny bestsellers and the obligatory table of Oprah-approved paperbacks, I noticed slightly tattered covers and random arrangements bordering on disorder. What is this: "Rare and Collectible?" Could it be true--a used bookstore in an airport!? In that one moment, Raleigh-Durham totally redeemed itself. Then it was time for Zone 3 to board...

Used bookstore in Terminal A
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September 27, 2008

Summer Breeze (Makes Me Feel Fine)

It is pouring rain this evening and the leaves are starting to change. Cambridge smells like earthworms. Seems like a good time to open a bottle of Primitivo, make some meatballs, and look back at August...

Overexposed lighthouse in Boston Harbor

(Cue slideshow music by Seals and Crofts)

See the curtains hanging in the window
In the evening on a Friday night
A little light a-shining through the window
Lets me know every thing's all right...

LSB and I paid a visit to Heather, Jamey, Libby,
two dogs, a cat, many chickens, and thousands of hippies.

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

Berries at the ByWard Market in Ottawa

LSB likes Canada

A big pile of Canadian corn

Adam is serious about cucumbers

See the paper laying on the sidewalk
A little music from the house next door
So I walk on up to the door step
Through the screen and across the floor

Sailboats on the Charles (sigh)

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

A picnic on the Esplanade with LSB,
a wedge of bree, and a thermos full of rosé

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine's in bloom
July is dressed up and playing her tune
When I come home from a hard day's work
And you're waiting there, not a care in the world

A view of Boston from the Harbor Islands

See the smile a waiting in the kitchen
Food cooking and the plates for two
Feel the arms that reach out to hold me
In the evening when the day is through

The dark 'n' stormy's were tasty here, too.

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

(Soundtrack inspired by an ironic/eclectic compilation CD created by Hugh for my birthday)

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September 18, 2008

Breakfast in Brazil

SP, from space (a cool setting on my digital camera)
I managed to go a full 9 days in South America without making a serious mistake. I avoided dangerous areas, kept most of my money & valuables in my hotel safe, and was not tempted by street meat from the appetizing food stands and carts throughout the cities I visited. However, on the morning of my final day in Sao Paulo, I let a false sense of traveler's confidence get the best of me. Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let me start over at the beginning...

There was a live person inside this inflatable suit, I swear.
He/She waved at me.

I left my group of fellow admissions travelers in Lima, and arrived in Sao Paulo alone. It was cold and overcast, much like the other cities I visited, but this time it was cloudy in Portuguese--harsher and more intimidating.

I have no idea
Sao Paulo is a big city that looks like most any other big city--many tall buildings, crowded streets, crazy traffic. Suffering from severe travel fatigue after too much time in hotels, taxis, airports, and airplanes, I decided to wander around the Paulista area of the city, looking at people, shops, and restaurants.

Only 59 more beers and I win a Heineken 5L mini-keg!
It was the travel fatigue that led me to the mall and the travel fatigue that made me choose Japanese food over Bob's, but it was the food court sukiyaki that made me feel kind of ill. While it was interesting that the one thing that would make my stomach uneasy after over a week spent eating guinea pig, raw fish, and unidentified pastries from the hotel breakfast buffet, was simple Japanese food from a mall, this was not my mistake.

On my first night in Sao Paulo, I had a nice, simple steak with a delicious horseradish sauce. On my second night, I went to a mediocre Churrascuria near my hotel. They had a meager salad bar and you had to go over to the guy at grill with your plate in order to get your meat. On the third night, I went to an awesome Churrascuria--the type where they walk around to your table and slice many different types of meat (mostly beef on giant swords) onto your plate until you tell them to stop. I had way too much meat in Brazil, but this was not my mistake. Not exactly.

I awoke early on my last day, as I needed to pack, find someplace to have coffee and a quick breakfast, and get back to the hotel in time for a few last meetings. I had intended on going to "Bella Paulista"--a bakery/bodega/restaurant down the street from my hotel where I had eaten 2-3 meals over the past few days--but instead I stopped at pastry shop/cafe on the corner, as I was in a hurry it looked less crowded.

Brazil in giant Legos
I looked at the pastries behind the glass counter and noticed, what I confidently assumed was, the doughnut-like thing I had eaten the previous morning--a doughy cylinder covered with cinnamon and powdered sugar. As they were small and I wouldn't be able to have lunch until after 2 PM, I ordered two--by pointing enthusiastically and giving the peace sign--and a cappuccino. All was well with the world.

Sao Paulo Museum of Art (MASP)--I even went inside
Then, I took a bite. Have you ever put salt in your coffee accidentally or consumed something you expected to be sweet when it was really savory? Have you ever bitten into something without filling, only to discover that your expectations had tricked you and it was full of jelly, cream, or something else? Have you ever taken a bite of a cinnamon covered doughnut only to realize that it was actually a Brazilian corndog? Coated in a thick layer of dough, deep fried and covered with something that looked like cinnamon (but, I assure you, was not cinnamon), was a hot dog...and I had ordered two. That was my mistake.

A leafy, green park near MASP


Later that evening, as my Japanese-Brazilian taxi driver blared samba music and talked about Obama, McCain, and China, my stomach was still uneasy (I had taken only a few bites, but I hadn't completely recovered from the early-morning hot dog surprise). Churrascurias lined the highway to the airport (along with everyone's favorite place to buy pets, the "Marginal Pet Shop"), their neon signs taunting me with their promises of more meat and no disguises. No, not this time--I already gave you three nights. The fourth night belongs to my fish and vegetable-loving wife.

September 14, 2008

The Earth-Maker Is A Stick


Lima is huge. Apparently, the population swelled in the 80s, as people from the countryside fled to the city in order to escape the terror of the Shining Path. It is also mostly poor, too, as, among other things, the economy has never been able to handle this massive migration.

The Pacific Ocean
Oblivious to this reality, I stayed in a posh hotel in the Miraflores (literally: "view of flowers") district of Lima, which is right on the coast and is pretty (it reminded me of California), safe, and affluent—all of the things that the rest of Lima is not. Someone told me that Lima is possibly the most dangerous city in South America, but I spent most of my free time wandering around Miraflores, riding in taxis, and visiting pre-Incan ruins just outside of town.

"Friar's Leap" (there's a story here, but I won't go into it)

On the first evening in Lima, I had some time to kill before meeting the others for dinner, so I wandered down to the hotel bar. Turns out it was Happy Hour—which, did not mean cheap drinks as I had thought when I ordered my first Pisco Sour--Peru’s signature cocktail. As soon as I finished my Pisco, the bartender quickly replaced it with a new one and informed me that Happy Hour means 2-for-1.

Maybe it was just the sense of adventure upon arriving in a new city, or perhaps it was the extra alcohol, but I thought it was somehow important that I order cuy for dinner.


It was actually pretty good—though a bit on the salty side and full of little tiny bones. It was very crispy and tasted a bit like rabbit or chicken. I finished it all and was quite thankful that it didn’t come to the table as I had initially imagined--sprawled out on a tiny platter with a grape in its mouth.

The next morning, energized by little beast’s blood, we hired a van and guide to take us to some ruins about 45 minutes outside of town. The route took us along the coast, through a poor suburb of Lima (an endless jumble of unstable, tin-roofed shacks sprawled out near and on top of enormous sand dunes), and eventually joined the Pan-American Highway.

Our destination was Pachacamac, dusty, pre-Incan ruins that are still being excavated.


The story of Pachacamac, the city, is complicated. Apparently it was first built by one group of people, then another group took over and added to it, then the Inca’s stopped by and added a little something to it, before the Spaniards arrived and, well, did what the Spaniards tended to do in this part of the world: ruin everything.

Basically, from what I remember, Pachacamac was considered the “Earth-Maker” and he lived in a pyramid. People would travel great distances to consult the oracle of Pachacamac to get advice about elections, politics, agriculture, war, etc. However, only a certain group of elite priests could consult with P. They would take hallucinogens, wander into the dark room where he resided, and ask his advice.

The Sun Pyramid, I think

They would also sacrifice all of the pretty, noble and smart young girls in town in order to win his favor. Apparently, if you only had 2 of the 3 characteristics, you became either a wife to one of the leaders or a teacher. I never found out what happened to the ugly, dumb, and classless girls, but I bet it was better than being bludgeoned, quartered, and decapitated at the top of a pyramid (though there was a pretty view from up there).

It's a good thing that I'm only 1-for-3 on the sacrificial scale.

At any rate, this went on for a while, until Pizarro—Francisco’s brother—arrived and demanded to meet the Earth-Maker. Eventually, the priests gave in and let him in the pyramid. Well, Pizarro decided to enter P’s house with a clear mind and a candle, so he soon discovered that Pachacamac was just a stick. A cool, carved stick with 2 faces, but a stick, nonetheless.


(At one point in the visit, Ryan, one of my companions on the trip, turned to me and said, “so basically, they got hopped up on drugs, crawled around in the dark, talked to a stick, and then elected their leaders?” I wondered whether or not we've regressed politically.)

One of the many accomplishments of the Inca was the invention of the
stewardess. Did they have overhead bins back then?

So anyway, the conquistador’s brother ruined it for everyone by breaking Pachacamac in half and all of the people--surprised that their god didn't unleash his vengence--converted to Christianity. I may have missed a step or two, but you get the point.

Pachacamac Petting Zoo (I did not eat the llama nor the ugliest dog ever)

Well, that was yesterday. Tonight, it's raining in Sao Paulo and I need some sleep.