Sep 15

‘Kate & Allie’ go to Paris

Kate-and-AllieMy travel buddy Yiannis and I are both TV junkies so it was pretty much imperative that we had something to watch while we were in Paris. Because we were outside the U.S., we were limited in terms of what we could watch on the interwebs. Netflix (to my joy) was available although with different content.

For some reason I mentioned Double Trouble, that ‘80s show about teenage twins. It was absolutely awful (we watched one episode; it doesn’t hold up) but we sixth grade girls were obsessed with it. A few in my class even put on a “play” that was just an abbreviated version of the dance contest episode (you know the one, don’t pretend you don’t).

Anyway, I was describing it to Yiannis, who had somehow never watched it: “It was about twins named Kate and Allison…not to be confused with Kate & Allie,” which inspired Yiannis to look for it on YouTube and set us up for several nights of binge-watching.

I loved the show when I was younger, and maybe it, along with Madeleine L’Engle’s Vicky Austin series, made me want to go to college in New York. As for how it holds up, it’s way cheesier than I remember (and soooo ‘80s) although still enjoyable.

Something we kept noticing, aside from Kate’s insane outfits, were all the pre-famous famous guest stars. Here are five of the most memorable.

  1. Kelsey Grammer

The very first episode! Kelsey Grammer plays someone Kate goes on a date with, only to find that she’s not into him. Turns out he’s not into her either and prefers former Connecticut housewife Allie.

  1. Ben Stiller

In the one with the sit-in, Stiller plays a rebellious college student.

  1. Stephen Baldwin

The youngest Baldwin brother is a high school student in The Trouble with Jason, which introduces later soap star Ricky Paull Goldin as a guy who has a (rather stalkerish) crush on Emma only later — spoiler alert! — to date Jenny.

  1. Ricki Lake

Lake and her pal think they have a problem with Emma in Send Me No Flowers, but it’s actually a different Emma they have a problem with. I hate it when that happens.

  1. William H. Macy

What do you know, Kate has hurt her back and is in the hospital (really, the actress, Susan Saint James, was pregnant, which the show was trying to hide). Allie also checks in — in her case, to have a mole removed — gets doped up and runs away. Hilarity ensues! Trying to catch her are two orderlies, one of whom is a pre-Oscar nom William H. Macy.

And those are just the episodes I watched. Who knows how many more there are?

This concludes my 2015 series on Paris. Got time to kill? Read them all!

Sep 15

Paris 2015: Locks and luck

Kanal svetog Martina u Parizu / Canal Saint Martin in Paris

I’ve talked about French word nerdery, museums, amusement parks, and regular parks — and now, locks and luck.

Lotsa locks

Where we stayed wasn’t far from Canal Saint-Martin, which I didn’t even know existed before this trip. What’s especially cool about the canal are the series of locks used to transport les bateaux over parts that aren’t level. Basically, the water drains and the boat is lowered level by level. Yiannis said it looked neat so we thought a boat tour on the canal would be even more so.

The boat ride was nice (when is one not, given good weather), but who knew going down the locks would take so long and that there’d be so damned many of them. We thought the whole thing would take about 90 minutes, but I think it was more like three hours.

The best part was when we went under this mile-long tunnel, and not just because we were out of the hot sun.

Unlucky but lucky

Before we went on our boat tour, we had another (mis)adventure. The canal boat website said that tours were given at 10:30 and 2:30. We went with the earlier option so that we’d have time to hit the Musee D’Orsay, which was the tour’s terminus.

However, when we got where the tour was supposed to begin, we saw no one. No boat, no people, nothing. We asked a restaurant worker what the deal was (luckily he spoke English and was very nice) and he said as far he knew, tours were only at 2:30.

You should really update your site, Paris Canal.

So unfortunately we had a lot of time to kill — but that turned out to be a good thing because soon Yiannis realized one of his phones was missing. (Yes, he had two phones. I won’t get into why.) On the way, we had sat down on a bench to get our bearings. The bench was pretty far away, but Yiannis had no choice but to jog back there (did I mention it was warm and sunny?) while I waited with his stuff. Luckily I had a book.

When he returned, he was unfortunately empty-handed but, to his credit, remained calm. All we could do was wait for someone to call. Until then, we decided to check out the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Europe’s largest science museum, which happened to be right nearby.

But! The museum was closed. A worker told us it was for “safety reasons” but didn’t elaborate. Safety reasons? What did that mean? A terrorist threat? A bomb scare? Murder? Turns out it was a fire. I’m not sure why she just didn’t say.

We headed back and got some food at the restaurant where we had asked originally about the tour. It was a beautiful day so we had a very leisurely lunch outside (burger and fries, yum! French hamburgers are really good). At one point Yiannis asked our waiter if anyone had turned in a phone, but no one had.

It was so lovely and relaxing sitting there, we decided just to hang out until it was time for the tour. Luckily we did because as we were finishing, one of the restaurant workers came up to us.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said to Yiannis in English.

Turned out security had found his phone right outside the restaurant, and for some reason not only didn’t call the emergency contact (which was me) but had turned the phone off completely. However, we were extremely grateful to both security and the folks at the restaurant.

Needless to say, for the rest of our trip, we made sure Yiannis always had both his phones.

Okay I lied, I have one more post after this one, although it has only the most tenuous connection to Paris.

Sep 15

Paris 2015: Not always a walk in le parc

Parc des Buttes Chaumont

In my last post I wrote about Parisian amusement parks. In this one I’ll discuss the regular parks we visited.

Parcs, jardins, et bois — oh my!

So what’s the difference between a parc, jardin, and bois, you might be wondering? We visited all three types and they all appeared to be what we’d call a park in English. However, there is indeed a difference, and that difference is size.

According to the Paris Insiders Guide, places, or squares, are the smallest; parks are medium-sized; gardens are bigger (I’d assume gardens were smaller but I’m imagining people’s personal gardens); and bois, or woods, are the biggest, which would have been great to know before we ventured on foot in Bois de Boulogne.

But anyhoo, on with the show.

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (and Belleville)

Yiannis went running in this park during our last trip and told me about the cool rock formations so I thought it worth a visit.

The rock formations were cool, and the park seems like a nice place to hang out, but since the terrain was unfamiliar, I didn’t feel comfortable exploring it too much. What was interesting, as well as disturbing, was the part of town I walked through to get there.

Called Belleville, it has has a large Chinese population — and a lot of Chinese prostitutes. The first woman I saw, I wasn’t sure if she was. She had an a short skirt and was standing on the corner, but she was right across from a restaurant that looked to be about to open so I thought maybe she worked there.

But then on the next block I saw a few who were obviously sex workers, and then I felt both weird and awful. They were speaking Mandarin, which I associate with family and childhood, and except for their skimpy outfits, they looked like regular women. In the movies, prostitutes seem to be always played by models, but these women didn’t look like models. They looked any Chinese woman you’d see on the subway.

On my way home, I didn’t want to walk through that part of town again, and found an alternate route.

Parc de Bercy

This park in the 12 arrondissement was absolutely lovely and probably my favorite. Smaller and therefore easier to navigate, Parc de Bercy has several little ponds with plenty of water fowl and nice grassy areas where you can lie back and look at the trees swaying in the wind.

Plus it was right near a sort of outdoor mall so it was easy afterwards to get something to eat and catch a movie (American Ultra, if you’re curious, which was absolutely delightful).

Bois de Boulogne

This bois is described as being more than twice as big as Central Park. As a result, we, or at least I, imagined it being like Central Park. It wasn’t.

We did eventually find a nice lake, but until then we just sort of wandered around, which was no easy feat. There weren’t any paved walkways like in Central Park, just the road for cars and a sandy path that definitely required hiking boots, or at least sneakers, and not the sandals that I was wearing.

Traveling on foot seemed to be taking forever so I suggested getting bikes although the idea of it made me nervous. I haven’t ridden in a long time so I’m out of practice, and also I was wearing a dress. It turned out to be fine although wearing better shoes and pants or shorts would have made it easier.

Next up, the final Paris post: miscellaneous! I know you can’t wait.

Sep 15

Paris 2015: Amusement parks, or causing vertigo and bodily injury for all ages

disney_discoverylandBonjour! If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been yakking a lot about Paris. First it was word nerdery, then museums. Today it’s amusement parks, of which three — count ‘em, three — we somehow managed to visit.

La Fête à Neu-Neu

Unfortunately everything about this fête seems to be in French so I can’t give you much background except that maybe it’s named for Neilly-sur-Seine, which is a Parisian suburb, but we definitely didn’t go to a suburb so I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe it started there and now is traveling.

Whatever its origins, La Fête à Neu-Neu is a typical small-time carnival, except that all of the English is slightly off. For instance, there was a ride called Crazy Mouse, which may have to do with Mickey Mouse, but we weren’t sure. Also, the carnies didn’t seem too concerned about rules. You want to stand with your kid in the middle of a spinning ride holding onto nothing? Sure, go ahead!

First we rode the ferris wheel. The height made me more nervous than I expected, but otherwise it felt safe. The log flume was another story. You know how on most American rides, there’s a bar or harness that locks and holds you in? Not so on the Neu-Neu flume. As we settled in, the carny (roughly) adjusted my leg so that my foot was bracing on the tread. That’s when I realized that, as well as holding onto the railings for dear life, was all that was holding us in.

The first hill wasn’t bad, but then I saw the second one. “I changed my mind!” I cried, but of course it was too late. “This is really dangerous!” I yelled as we went down.

neuneu_logflumeOf course Yiannis, that thrill-seeker, had a grand old time. I, on the other hand, had a sore neck from tensing up so much going down the hills.

Jardin d’Acclimatation

The Foundation Louis Vuitton is right on the edge of the Jardin D’Acclimatation so of course we had to take a turn.

For the life of us, we couldn’t figure out why the jardin had such a name. It used to be a zoo so our best guess is that a zoo is a place for animals — and at one point, people — to get acclimated to the local environment. In Australia apparently, there used to be a distinction between zoos and places for acclimatization, but then the Melbourne Zoological and Acclimatization societies were consolidated in 1861. Maybe other countries followed suit.

Anyway, the Jardin d’Acclimatation isn’t a zoo anymore but a small, you guessed it, amusement park. It’s described as a children’s park despite a potentially dangerous zipline, which of course Yiannis had to try.

Everything went smoothly although at one point the girl who went before Yiannis had trouble detaching her hook so that she could get out of the way for his, um, impact. There was a bit of panic since for some reason there was no one on that side to help her, but eventually she got unhooked and out of the way.

The food at Jardin d’Acclimatation was more upscale than at Neu-Neu (typical carnival food, including barbe à papa). There were a few eateries to choose from and went with Angelina’s Tea Salon. My go-to sandwich, jambon beurre, was good, as was my chocolate macaroon. I had wanted the chestnut, but the quality wasn’t satisfactory to the counter guy so he suggested a different flavor. Now that’s service.

Paris Disneyland

La mère of all French amusement parks. Since we had dinner plans that evening, I was little worried about getting in Disneyland and making it back in time. However, we quickly discovered my concerns were unnecessary.

While the park is typical Disney (i.e., well-run and clean), it’s much smaller than the one in Orlando. Their version of Tomorrowland, which they call Discoveryland, is very cool in a steampunk way, but has far fewer rides. Ditto the other “lands.”

On top of that, we both got nauseous from Space Mountain, our very first ride. The one in Orlando has hills and drops, but nothing spinny, at least not that I remember. The Paris Space Mountain has hills, drops, spins, loops, and at one point we swear we were upside down — none of it good for our vertigo (yes, we’re both prone to vertigo).

Afterward I was afraid that a) the vertigo would return, or at least b) that I’d feel sick for the rest of the day. However, after a couple of calm rides and some fried food and soda, we both felt much better.

Besides Space Mountain, we rode the Pinocchio ride and perennial favorites, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted House, and made it back to the city in plenty of time for dinner.

Next! Regular parks.

Sep 15

Paris 2015: Museums are my crack

As you may know, I had the opportunity recently to spend almost 10 days in Paris. While I’ve recounted some French word nerdery, I’ve yet to write a lot about what we saw and did. I was going to write one giant post, but have decided to divide it into more bite-sized parts. This part: museums.

As always, I visited a lot. While I didn’t see as many as I did in Spain — if only because I was in France for a shorter amount of time — I still saw quite a few.

Centre Pompidou

Despite this being my third visit to Paris, this was the first time I was seeing Centre Pompidou, also known as Beaubourg because of its location, and named for Georges Pompidou, who was president of France from 1969 to 1977 and commissioned the building.

A friend we met during our last visit told us to be sure to take in the view, which we did:

view_pompidouAs for the rest of the museum, it was fun and modern.

pompidou_world pompidou_discoball pompidou_chineseguyPlus the mini chocolate beignets in the cafeteria were to die for.

Arab World Institute

I never would have thought to visit the Arab World Institute, aka Institut de Monde Arabe, but Yiannis had read about it and I agreed it sounded interesting.

Originally built in 1987, the newly redone building was unveiled in February 2012 — and what a very cool redone building it is.

arab_exteriorApparently the metal shutters act as a “sophisticated” brise soleil, an architectural feature that controls heat and sun. The museum was indeed quite cool.

The artifacts themselves were lovely and fascinating, from paintings, to ancient scrolls, to traditional clothing for religious ceremonies. Of course before we went into the museum, as per tradition, I had to get something to eat at the cafe:

arab_foodI thought I had overdone it, but I ended up eating everything save for the chickpea ball, which was a little dry for my taste. Everything else, however, was delicious, especially one with a kind of tangy cheese and mint. Yum!

Foundation Louis Vuitton

I had read that the Foundation Louis Vuitton was a new museum that’s a must-visit. Construction started in 2006 and the building opened in October 2014. The architecture, by Frank Gehry, is very cool —

louisvuitton_water— but the art was mostly head-scratchingly bizarre. A lot of weird videos, although I did enjoy the one installment of young British people dancing by themselves. I watched one of a white dude who was very enthusiastic and, as Yiannis said, bordered on actual dancing sometimes, but was mostly spastic, and another of a black girl who was extremely shy at first and barely moved, but then suddenly got comfortable and broke into a big smile as she danced.

The Foundation also has a couple of cool outdoor areas but no cafeteria, only an upscale restaurant. There was a long line so we didn’t even bother.

Musee de l’Orangerie

I’ve already written about the origins of the Orange Museum but not the museum itself. I loved it, although not necessarily because it’s all Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. It was on the small side compared to other Paris museums and therefore totally doable in terms of listening to most of the audio guide.

Plus the line wasn’t too long — I did happen to get there shortly after it opened — and it wasn’t too crowded even though most of the other museums in the city were closed that Monday.

And the jambon-beurre at the cafe was good too.

The Louvre

The last time I went to the Louvre was during my first trip to Paris 11 years ago. I didn’t go with Yiannis two years ago as I still remembered the crowds and couldn’t bear the idea of dealing with them again.

I didn’t expect to go this time either. Thinking the museum was closed, I planned on simply walking the perimeter of the courtyard. Then I saw some people go in a side entrance and thought, What the heck, and followed them.

Turned out the place was open and that particular entrance had almost no line, maybe because it was out of the way or because it was only machines. Either way, after not too long, I had my ticket.

It was a crowded as I remember, perhaps even more so because of the plethora of smartphone cameras and (barf) selfie sticks. (That was something new this trip: goddamned selfie sticks.)

I also don’t understand the purpose of taking a picture of every single piece of art. I just want to ask these people, What’re you going to do with all those photos? Have a slide show party? Frame them? I guarantee there are better photos that yours on the internet of these famous pieces of art.

Only worse is having one’s picture taken in front of artwork. Unless you’re doing something hilarious, don’t do it.

At the Mona Lisa, of course, it was a complete fucking madhouse.

louvre_monalisaEventually I had to escape to the basement with the Middle Eastern art that no one was looking at.


This was my second visit to Versailles — palatial home to the likes of Louis XIV, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette — and it was lovely.

versailles_chandelierThe chateau itself was crowded, especially with idiots who bunched up at the entryways, leaving vast open spaces elsewhere in the rooms, but the surrounding park were peaceful. Despite the intermittent rain, we took a rowboat out on the Grand Canal.

versailles_rowboatMusee D’Orsay

Yiannis and I agree that this is our favorite museum in Paris. We went on a chilly, rainy day, and every other tourist must have had the same idea because the line was hella long. Like through the museum courtyard, down the block, almost to the Metro long. But of course it was worth it.

This time I left the main floors for last, starting at the top and making my way down. On the fifth floor was a special exhibit, Dolce Vita, Italian design in the early 20th century. I really enjoyed it. Because it was a single exhibit, I was able to absorb a lot and to listen to all the audio guide entries. (I was going to get a guide for the whole museum, but the girl behind the counter was so rude, I said forget it. On the other hand, the Dolce Vita audio guide guy was cute and charming. Take my five euros, please!) The other floors had a similar vibe: art deco interior design but from other countries.

Another thing I love about the D’Orsay is that everywhere is beautiful, even the cafe —

dorsay_cafeThe only negative about the museum is that the food at the basement cafeteria (not the above pictured) sucks. The bread of my baguette was dry and chewy, and the chocolate muffin left much to be desired. It didn’t even compare to chocolate muffins from NYC delis, not to mention that one from the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona that I still dream about.

Next up, amusement parks! (That’s right, amusement parks plural).

Aug 15

More French word nerdery

I’m back from Paris! Eventually I’ll go into detail about the stuff we did and saw, but right now here’s part two in Parisian word nerdery. (And here’s part one if you missed it.)

An orange museum? One day I visited the Musee de l’Orangerie, and when Yiannis said, “The Orange Museum?” I realized I had no idea why the museum was called that. Did it have to do with the Principality of Orange in the south of France? Was it once swathed in orange like some kind of Christo and Jean-Claude exhibit? Neither as it turns out.

The name comes from the orangeries that used to be on the grounds of the nearby Tuileries Palace and were once considered fashionable to have. The structure was built to shelter the orange trees, and was used for everything from lodging soldiers, to housing sporting and musical events, to displaying exhibitions of animals, plants, and yes, paintings.

The building officially became a museum in 1921, and is perhaps most famous for Monet’s Nymphéas, his large panels of water lilies.

Who’s Sully? It seemed that everywhere I went in Paris I saw the name Sully, which made me think of Captain “Sully” Sullenberger who, as you probably remember, was integral to the successful crash landing of a US Airways flight in the Hudson River.

Needless to say, the Parisian Sully isn’t that Sully. So who was he? The Duke of Sully, otherwise known as Maximilien de Bethune, Henry IV’s “faithful right-hand man” who had a role in “building a strong centralized administrative system in France using coercion and highly effective new administrative techniques.” He also has lots of streets and at least one hotel named after him.

What’s a grisette? Where we were staying wasn’t far from the Grisette statute, which we passed every day. But who — or what — is a Grisette?

According to this blog post at Invisible Paris, the Grisette, along with the Lonette, were two female myths that emerged due to an 1830 “influx of males to the city from rural areas attracted by work in the new industries.” Such an influx caused a drastic change in the female to male ratio — 90 women for every 100 men — and subsequently, a shift in power. Women now had the upper hand and “intended to make men pay.”

On the surface, the Grisette (the word originally referred to the “cheap gray dress fabric” worn by such women) was a working class girl or young woman, but she was also someone with “easy morals” who, as Invisible Paris puts it:

spent more than she earned, but who had an elder male ‘friend’, a shopkeeper or wholesaler who would pay her debts. Her other male friend, a much younger painter or student, was the weekend friend, her passion and the one who would take her to fashionable balls and restaurants.

A Lorette, on the other hand, was a woman “supported by her lovers,” and who devoted “herself to idleness, show, and pleasure.” (The name comes from the church of Notre Dame de Lorette, near where apparently many Lorettes lived.)

As for the Grisette statue, it was made by sculptor Jean Descomps in 1909, and features one bodacious woman bun.

An apple of love? The French seem to have the coolest words for junky carnival foods. First, there was barbe à papa for cotton candy. Then at Disneyland (yes, we went to Disneyland), I noticed caramel apples were called pommes d’amour, or apples of love.

It’s obvious where barbe à papa comes from — cotton candy kind of looks like a dad’s long (pink) facial hair — but what do caramel apples have to do with love? Short answer: I don’t know. I couldn’t find anything explaining the connection, although there are a couple of theories as to why pomme d’amour also refers to a tomato.

One theory is that it’s due to the former belief of the tomato’s aphrodisiac properties. Another says that pomme d’amour may be a corruption of the Italian pomo de’Mori or Spanish pome dei Moro, both of which mean literally “Moorish apple.”

Aug 15

Word nerdery, the Paris edition

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

In case you didn’t know, I’m currently vacationing in Paris. My travel buddy, Yiannis, and I have been doing lots of Parisian stuff, including a visit to the Centre Pompidou; hitting a carnival where we rode the Ferris wheel and (dangerous) log flume (how dangerous? the only thing keeping us from flying out of the log were physics and hanging on for dear life); a boat tour of the Canal Saint-Martine; a visit to Parc de Bercy; and seeing American Ultra (at least the subtitles were Parisian).

But as two language buffs, we’ve also been noticing and wondering a lot about words.

Puce. When Yiannis went to use his credit card, the sales woman instructed him to put it into a different slot in the machine since his card had a puce, or microchip. That got him wondering about the word puce, which in French also means “flea.”

We guessed a chip was is so-called because it’s tiny like the blood-sucking insect, but then I wondered if the English color word was related too.

“Maybe it’s the color after you smash a flea,” Yiannis joked.

He turned out to be pretty close. The English puce does indeed come from the French puce meaning “flea-colored; flea,” which comes from the Latin pucilem, “flea.” The Online Etymology Dictionary goes on to say, “That [puce] could be generally recognized as a color seems a testimony to our ancestors’ intimacy with vermin.”

Bateaux-Mouche. While we were sunning ourselves along the Seine, we saw several boats called Bateaux-Mouche. From my high school French – and context clues – I knew that bateaux meant “boats,” but I didn’t recognize mouche.

Yiannis looked it up and saw a meaning of mouche was “fly” so we thought maybe it meant that the boats were fast (although they’re not). I dug a little a deeper and found that mouche also means “patch, beauty spot”; “bull’s-eye” (faire mouch means to hit the bull’s eye); and that a bateau mouche is an excursion or pleasure boat.

However, that mouche has nothing to do with a fly, beauty mark, or bull’s eye. Bateau mouche was a registered trademark and referred to where the boats were once manufactured, namely “the Mouche area of Lyon.”

Barbe à papa. At the carnival, Yiannis noticed a sign for cotton candy that read barbe à papa. “What does that mean?” he wondered, and looked it up: papa’s beard.

That got us curious about how cotton candy is referred to in other languages. According to this BBC forum, in British English it’s “candy floss”; Australian English, “fairy floss”; and in Dutch, suikerspin which translates as “sugar spider.”

Then I started wondering if the Japanese cream puff chain, Beard Papa’s, has anything to do with the French phrase. I didn’t find anything definitive, only speculation that the name is probably a literal translation.

And to complicate things further, cotton candy in Japanese is watakashi, which translates as, well, “cotton (wata) candy (kasha).” In more watakashi trivia, Amaicho Watakashi is a “character” associated with Utau, a Japanese singing synthesizer application.

Apr 15

Beantown Birthday

This past week or so I’ve been on my annual east coast birthday trip.

While I usually visit New York, this time I felt like doing something different, namely visiting my pal ES in Boston.

Getting There

While I got my tickets to New Jersey pretty early, I hemmed and hawed for the longest time about how I’d get to Boston from NJ. Flying seemed inexpensive but I hated the idea of going to the airport so many times within a 10-day period. The bus is super-cheap, but my back hurts if I sit too long. That left the train, which is pretty expensive and takes as long as the bus.

But then I hemmed and hawed for so long that the plane tickets ended up being too expensive, and I took the train anyway.

The four hours didn’t feel long at all. It helped that I had no one next to me so I was able to spread out; that there was free wifi that worked (well, mostly); and that we actually got to Boston on time.

Since it was only about three, I headed over to ES’s workplace. Our other buddy, AY, had come in the night before so she was already there. While ES finished up some work, AY and I snacked, spaced out, and browsed our phones.

After we headed out, we almost immediately we ran into one of my must-sees:

Hello Mr. Poe #edgarallanpoe #boston

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

When I saw the statue from far away, I admit I was a little disappointed that it was “small.” But actually upon closer inspection, I loved that it’s street level and person-sized.

Me and Mr. Poe #edgarallanpoe #boston A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

Next we strolled through the Boston Common and then down Newbury and Boylston Streets, eventually ending up at the marathon finish line.

At the finish line, pre-race #boston #bostonmarathon

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

I wouldn’t be going to the race so I was glad to at least see where it ended.

That night we had a yummy Italian dinner at this place called Vinny’s in Somerville. From the outside it looked a little hole-in-the-wall-ish, but the food was really good. We shared a few dishes: a calamari salad, the stuffed calamari, the Sicilian rabbit, and a side of angel hair pasta. Everything was delicious but I especially liked the rabbit (very tender and not gamey at all) and the angel hair.

Museum, cider, and ramen

The next day was packed with activities. We spent the morning visiting various food shops (two bakeries, a Greek grocery, and a cheese shop) before heading out to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which, AY, found out, was free if it was your birthday, which on that day it was.

It’s been many years since I’ve been at the Isabella Stewart. I was glad to see the new wing — isabellastewartgardner — and the old courtyard, as lovely as always —

Courtyard #isabellastewartgardner #boston A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

After the museum, we hit a couple of hard cider tastings. I’ve never had hard cider before, and it turns out I like it. The first was at at Bantam Cider


— and the second was at Downeast, which was out on the docks. After a bunch of cider, I was feeling sassy:

Being sassy at the cider bar #boston #downeast

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

We capped off the day with a late dinner at Santouka Ramen in Harvard Square, another AY find. Apparently Santouka is a well-known chain in Japan. I got something with a little kick:

Long spicy noodles for a long spicy life.


On Sunday we drove up to Ogunquit, Maine.

While it was freezing (luckily ES had a winter coat in her trunk for me to borrow), it was absolutely beautiful. We took a walk down the rocky shore —

Rocky Maine coast #maine #ogunquit #atlanticocean

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

— and had a seafood lunch. AY and ES had lobster rolls and lobster stew while I had clam chowder (I also had an excellent hot dog when we first got there). We also saw a lighthouse:

Cape Neddick Light #maine #capeneddick #lighthouse A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

It was so lovely just to walk around, get lots of sun, and breathe in the fresh salt air.

By the end of the day, we were pooped. We had dinner at a Mexican place near ES’s — shredded pork, yum! — and then crashed.

And back home

The train back to NYC was a bit more crowded and about 15 minutes late, but I managed to get some work done in between dozing off. An upside to getting into Penn Station was that I could just run across the platform to catch another train back to my parents’.

Since Monday I’ve been catching up with work and being a lazy bum. On Thursday I head back to San Francisco.

Mar 15

Hiking, Softies, and Searching for Mr. Pointy

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to visit my college pal JM in Seattle, and in true blog fashion (at least this blog), I’m writing about it late.

Right around this time last year, I went to Seattle for AWP and saw JM all too briefly. This time, we got to hang out for a whole long weekend.

Rain, Softies, and fry bread

The great thing about Seattle is that the flight from SF is so short: just two hours. Even better when you have an aisle seat in the exit row with no one in the middle (except for my seatmate’s jacket and backapck, go right ahead) and on Virgin. Aw yeah!

I spent the whole time listening to downloads of my new obsession, the Stuff You Should Know podcast (which deserves its own post), and playing Shanghai Mahjong, and before I knew it we were there.

Of course it was raining, but not too much, and JM was kind enough to pick me up at the airport. The moment we met up, it was non-stop talking. We had a lot to catch up on. Back at her lovely house, we snacked and chatted some more before heading out to nearby Kirkland.

I should say JM doesn’t live in Seattle itself but a suburb highly populated by “Softies,” or people who work for Microsoft. In my short visit there, I found that Seattle and the surrounding area had a very different tech feeling than the Bay Area. Less start-uppy and more old-school Big Tech. But I could be totally wrong.

It was drizzling as we walked around, but again not too bad. It wasn’t even worth the effort to use an umbrella. Kirkland has a lovely lakefront that was still lovely even in the cloudiness and mist.

For dinner we ended up at a Mexican place, where I tried Native American fry bread for the first time. However, there was so much stuff on it, I couldn’t really tell what it was like. My drink was definitely yummy: a combo of some kind of liquor, ginger beer, and lime.

I can’t remember when we got back. No later than 10, but I had gotten up early that morning, and between the flying and the drink, I was ready to conk out.

The search for Mr. Pointy

We spent the next day walking around downtown Seattle. We did a tiny bit of shopping, then for lunch we had delicious pho, which was perfect for the damp and chilly day. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the restaurant. I know: I’m useless.

Then we were off to the EMP/Science Fiction Museum. I’ve been there before but that first time somehow missed the whole science fiction part of it. Needless to say, this time around I was nerding out pretty hard, especially because of the Star Wars costumes exhibit.

But before that there was the “fantasy” section, which included stuff from The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, and The Game of Thrones:

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

And of course the Star Wars exhibit was great.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

But what I was really on the search for was Mr. Pointy. I saw it advertised outside, along with other “horror artifacts.” Obviously the vampire-killing stake Buffy inherited from Kendra wasn’t going to be in the Star Wars section. I walked around the fantasy section twice before poking my head out and asking the young hipster guard, “Is it in here that I would find Mr. Pointy?”

He stared at me blankly.

“You know from Buffy,” I said. Then it hit me. “You have no idea what I’m talking about do you?”

He admitted that he didn’t, and that he had only seen the movie. Then he said that besides the music section, there was just fantasy and Star Wars, and I have to say I was a wee bit disappointed.

JM and I were walking out when I saw the sign again about the horror exhibit. I had seen signs for it inside too, but for the life of me couldn’t find it.

JM was kind enough to accompany my obsessed ass back in (although she opted for the museum store instead), and the guard was kind enough to believe me when I said I had just left (having the receipt helped) but completely missed the horror. He gave me a new sticker and pointed me in the right direction.

I love fantasy and SF, but I love horror even more. When I saw that the exhibit was rated PG-13, I was even happier.

I saw the alien from Aliens

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

— this guy —

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

and — duh duh duh duuuh! — Mr. Pointy:

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

Yup, it’s a stick. But Buffy fans will get the importance of this stick.

I also enjoyed a short video about Ringu and The Exorcist. Eli Roth talked about how when he was six, he was about to watch some scary movie (I forget which), and his father said, “You want to see a scary movie?” and showed him The Exorcist.

“That messed me up for years,” Roth said.

When I was nine, I had a similar experience, which I’ve tried writing about before but not yet to my satisfaction. Maybe it’s time to try it again.

After I was done, I found JM in the cafe, and after downing a refreshing apple soda, we headed back.

That night we had dinner at home, then checked out a winery not too far away. We thought it was going to be a wine tasting, but it wasn’t. It was just wine, bad music, and worse dancing.

I kind of wished I had Mr. Pointy then.


The next day we went hiking, which was super-fun.

The last time I went hiking was in college or high school. We were on a family trip in Yosemite. It was me, my dad, and my brother (my mother wisely decided to opt out), and it was August. In other words, hot. For some reason Greg had all the water, and since he was on cross country, effortlessly jogged all the way up to the top. He met me and my father — sweating and huffing and puffing — on the way down, and at that point we gave up.

This hike was much easier, partly because I’m in better shape but also because it was cloudy and cool, and I had plenty of water and snacks.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on


A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

The hike was about four miles total, and was actually easier than my walk back from the grocery store at home. In that case I’m carrying up to 10 pounds of groceries uphill in the sun. Doing that a few times a month for several months has been good practice.

After our hike, we had a delicious barbecue lunch at a place nearby called Rhodies Smoking BBQ.

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

After we got back, we pretty much just bummed around for the rest of the day. Had leftovers for dinner, then started to watch a movie. But neither of us were too into it, and I was pretty tired. The next morning I flew back to San Francisco.

I may visit Seattle again before my move back to the east coast. It’s so close and the flight prices don’t seem to change much. Plus I’d love to go hiking — and eat barbecue — again.

Aug 14

The flight home

I was stressed about getting to the airport, but YP found out about the express bus and it was super easy.

Getting through airport security was another story. I didn’t realize I had to take out ALL my electronics, including plugs, chargers, and my headphones. I had to go back through the scanner twice more. However, luckily they didn’t make me go to the end of the line, and plus this nice American kid explained it all to me, having experienced the same thing himself.

Going to my departure area was also a pain. Between a tram ride and the walk, it was over 20 minutes. This woman approached me asking a question in Spanish. I said in English, “Are you going to the U.S.? Then you need to go to area U.”

“U?” she said. “Like you and me?”

At first I laughed, but then she wouldn’t get away from me. She stood RIGHT next to me on the escalators. Like she was pressed up right against my backpack and kept saying stuff like, “You and me, we’re the same.” She held up her passport but it was EU, not American so I had no idea what she was talking about.

Maybe it was mean of me but I totally wanted to ditch her. It was hard enough to figure out for myself where I was going. At first I went the wrong way, and when I turned around abruptly she was right on my heels. Then I walked off really quickly, knowing she wouldn’t be able to keep up.

I made it to my gate with about an hour to spare. I had time to go the bathroom, get something to eat, and pick up a couple of things from the duty-free shop. (I wanted to use up my euros but I wasn’t able to.)

Compared to my airport experience, the flight itself was a dream. It was Iberian Airlines and really nice. The plane seemed new, and each seat had a fancy entertainment center. There were so many free movies. On top of that, in a row of four, it was just me and one other woman, both on the aisle.

I didn’t sleep at all but watched three and a half movies: Veronica Mars, American Hustle (much of which was censored so parts of it felt disjointed), Captain America 2, and part of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The only uncomfortable part of the flight was after we landed. We were told many times not to get up until the captain told us it was okay to do so. Two airport officials with surgical masks came on and questioned this family (I’m guessing they were Afro-Spanish). At one point a stewardess, also masked I think, took away this water bottle that was stopped up with a paper towel. The family, which had two little boys, were escorted off the plane first by the masked officials.

All I kept thinking was Ebola, but maybe one of the kids was sick (one of the bathrooms smelled really bad and then was out of order) and because we were coming in from another country, that was just standard procedure?

It was weird. But I guess they would have told us if it was anything serious.

The next leg of my journey was tough. The only good part was that I had ended up not checking my suitcase. The woman in the Madrid airport warned me that I’d have to pick up my bag and get it through customs before getting on my connecting flight. I don’t know how I would have made it. I had to get through customs, then schlep to another terminal, then go through security AGAIN. At least this time I knew the drill.

I made it to my gate about half an hour before boarding. I had time to pee, get some food (this fruit cup really hit the spot), and be surprised that everyone spoke English.

I don’t know why I ever thought O’Hare Airport was nice. It’s shitty and not air conditioned well.

I thought the flight 4.5 hour to my city would feel endless but I was so exhausted I fell asleep several times. We landed on time, 7 PM, which was 4 in the morning Madrid time.

But my journey still wasn’t over. I still had the subway, and it was during that 45 minute ride that I felt REALLY exhausted and kind of sick. But at least it wasn’t hot, my car wasn’t crowded, and when I got to my stop, I caught the one cab waiting at the cab stand. By 9 PM, almost 24 hours since I left Madrid, I was home home home!

I was so happy to be back in my own place, my fatigue didn’t even bother me anymore. I washed up (thinking about that gross bathroom), set an egg to boil for a late dinner, and called Mom. We spoke very briefly.

I had lentil soup with an egg for dinner (it tasted particularly flavorless after two weeks of salty food) and watched a bit of Midsomer Murders. By 10 PM I was losing consciousness.

I fell asleep fast and at one point woke up and had absolutely no idea where I was. I even had trouble finding the bathroom. I was feeling around in the dark: is this it? No, that’s the closet. Crazy.

I was pretty awake around five this morning. I did my favorite morning routine: have a nice strong cup of coffee (Spanish coffee from the airport, which was really fucking good, wish I had bought more) and PBJ toast, and read. Then I caught up on work emails and worked out. Ten minutes on elliptical and then a three-mile run after one of the treadmills became free.

The early morning walk to the gym was so nice.

I thought about going into the city, but it’s already three now so that’s not happening. Maybe I’ll go tomorrow, or at least the grocery store. I have enough regular food but not enough snacks.

I’m pretty tired now. Think I’ll watch the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special and then have an early dinner.