Thursday, March 12, 2009

An Amazing Breakfast

One morning this week, during our cruise through the Mexican Riviera, my friends Kitty, Susan (wife of Robert Lancaster aka and I were enjoying breakfast when Randi wandered by, claiming to be on the hunt for rich widows. None of us qualified, but he decided that, in a pinch, we would do, and joined us. As is usual with Randi, he held court, and shared stories of his adventures. However, the breakfast was amazing in that we actually got a word in edgewise! Most of the meal was spent making fun of the truly awful stage magician we had seen on the ship earlier in the week. Randi sat on the front row, unnoticed by “LaRaf”, and surrounded by his entourage. Many of our group are either amateur magicians or have seen enough of Randi’s demonstrations to know what to look for during a show, and even I was able to see the set-ups. As we exited the theater for dinner, we decided that being appalled really works up an appetite.
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Mexican Riviera

A beautiful place. One of our group, Jesus (not that one) is originally from the Meixican interior, and has been very helpful in negotiating with taxi drivers. Several us hired one for the day, and we're making our way into the hills of the city. I would love to come here and rent a villa for week, sit on a patio, drink cold frosty things, and let bougainvilla petals fall on my head.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

New friends

So my friend Kitty and I arrived in Los Angeles this evening, tired out from a long day of traveling across the continent, and went out for a quick bite with our friend Cleon. When we returned, the hotel parking lot was full of lavish dresses, all satin and tiaras.

We're so glad they're not going on the cruise. We did not pack enough clothes. Kitty is the one in the jean skirt, by the way.

Monday, March 2, 2009

New Foods

I'm sitting in a small restaurant, located in a strip shopping center at the edge of Conroe, Texas. It's a family-owned place, clean but sparsely decorated. I'm not sure what the theme is supposed to be. There are paintings of geishas and farmers in rice paddies, Chinese junkets and paper lanterns, the ubiquitous Buddha, statues of koi. The menu features hand-rolled sushi, sashimi, and a dozen varieties of pho. The bottled chili sauce is labeled in characters I can't read, with translations in English and French. The clientele is an even mix of middle-class white couples, Asian families, pierced college students talking about their church youth group, and a grey-haired man, sitting at the sushi bar in a Harley Davidson t-shirt, who is the right age to have participated in the Vietnam War. There are several dozen places just like this all over the Houston area. Heck, there are three near my office that we rotate for lunch.

I'm culturally Texan, even though I'm a military brat and lived in several states growing up. My dad lived in Japan, Thailand, and Guam while serving in the Air Force, and has talked about some of the food he ate there, but either he didn't bring back a taste for Asian foods, as many GIs do, or my mom wasn't inclined to learn to make them. I'm unaware if he even asked her. We ate typical Southern food with Texas influences – no turnip greens, but meat loaf and chicken-fried steak, fried chicken and mashed potatoes, stacked enchiladas, pot roast, casseroles. Cornbread and biscuits. Sometimes we had spaghetti, which bears almost no resemblance to authentic Italian-style pasta dishes, outside of the noodles (sorry, Mom, but it's true. Yes, I know you like it, but that doesn't mean it's authentic.) It wasn't until I left home and started traveling on my own that I was exposed to other cuisines: a French restaurant near my college campus, a trip to New Orleans that fostered a love of authentic Cajun foods, working with an Indian man who introduced the joys of curries and raita. Tapas (I'm never eating pancreas again, and you can't make me). Souvlaki and pirogues and really smelly cheeses. Persian and Thai. And suishi and Vietnamese noodle soups.

The coastal cities, the New Yorks and the San Franciscos, received most of our immigrants and got to experience the aromas of their foods long before Middle America did. Our soldiers brought back their acquired fondness for oregano and soy sauce, as the English military took home their taste for Indian and Chinese cooking. And barely 30 years after an ugly war in Vietnam, I'm surrounded by their noodle houses, breathing in the vapors of basil and lemongrass.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Baby Grows Up

I think I passed a milepost yesterday.

My youngest son called about some random thing, and we ended up in an hour-long conversation about skepticism, rational and critical thinking, evolution vs pseudosciences such as Intelligent Design and creation 'science', Fundies, and Life, the Universe, and Everything. We were able to relate the conversation back to our trip to the Amaz!ng Meeting last summer, and hearing Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson speak.

When your son uses terms like "ontological argument" and knows what it means, you feel that he probably won't end up his days delivering pizzas and voting for wealth redistribution.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Day in Arles, Ste Marie de la Mer, and Les Baux de Provence

Today we spent in the car. We drove to the Mediterranean this morning, to the small city of Saint Marie de la Mer. It's famous for having the actual bones of the mother of St James and St John,and the bones of the sister of the Virgin Mary, along with their servant Sara. Supposedly they were put into a boat after the crucification, without sails or oars, and ended up in this place 2000 years ago. A church was founded here in the 9th century, and miraculously their bones were discovered in 1448!!! Sara was an Egyptian woman, and is venerated by Gypsies as their patron saint. While we walked around the tiny place (and saw Sara's actual bones) there were many men and women lighting candles and praying before the shrine. It was very strange.

We then drove to Arles, where Van Gogh spent much time painting. We used my National Geographic guide book and followed a suggested route seeking the Arena and the Amphitheater. It so happened that the government of France is restoring these monuments. The Arena was half done...on one side, it was the gray and black decaying edifice, and on the other side, they have blasted it back to the original white limestone. It will be beautiful. We visited the Church of St. Triomphe, which (supposedly) contains a relic of St. Stephen, the first Christian matyr, as well as numerous relics from other maytrs. It was built over 1000 years ago. After a nice refreshment of sangria on a tree-lined medieval street, we then headed for Les Baux de Provence, where we climbed endlessly to the ramparts of the top hills. The quilt-patch photo below is of the orchards and vinyards that can be seen from the top. The original lords of Les Baux believed themselves to be descendants of one of the Three Wise Men, and generally reeked havoc and ignored the Pope and king of France right through the end of the Middle Ages. We spent over 3 hours wandering and climbing. Because we were tired, and the grocery markets close at 7 pm or so in France, we feasted on an egg frittata and pan-fried potatoes, all things we could find in the pantry.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

At the Pont du Gard

Sunday we had a leisurely breakfast of eggs, fresh melon and, of course, bread, we headed to the Pont du Gard. ( I have always wanted to see this magnificient Roman monument - what a testament to the feat of engineers. I did notice that the French are being dragged into the 21st century and now have English posted alongside French in their newer museums. That is certainly not the case with most sites, although you can sometimes sometimes find brochures in other languages.