Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wasted At The Wine Festival

Last weekend we braved the icy pit that is post-Snopocalypse Washington DC to go to the D.C. International Wine and Food Festival. Held in the lobby of the Reagan Trade Center (ironically, the largest government office building in the district), there were over a hundred wineries pouring samples.

Knowing that I had no hope of remembering how many wines I sampled or even what they were, I took to videoing a short clip of me sipping each wine I sampled. Count along as I go through them:

As you can see, there was more than wine there. The food portion was on the balcony overlooking the main floor and was the most disappointing portion of the show. But the wines were the draw. Spain was the most prominent exhibitor with several tables and dozens of wineries.

Our favorite was Red Cat from Hazlitt 1852, a winery on the Finger Lakes. They served their wines over ice with a fruit garnish billing them as picnic or hot tub wines. I don't have a hot tub, but I will definitely hunt down a few bottles this summer.

And while I didn't feel any less sober after three hours of wine sipping, we did take the precaution of riding Metro back to our hotel. Definitely the way to do this type of event.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010


For about six months after I got married (and the three months before, shhh, don't tell my parents), my wife and I lived in the delightful Atlanta suburb of Doraville which was immortalized in song by the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Truer words have never been spoken than "New York's fine, but it ain't Doraville."

In Tom Wolfe's overwrought sprawling 1998 novel A Man In Full the Stoic (literally, he reads Epictetus) hero finds himself working as a dishwasher in a Vietnamese restaurant in Doraville. Wolfe goes into his trademarked level of detail about this Asian-American enclave. This came as a great shock to me since when I lived in Atlanta the only Vietnamese restaurant was a lonely outpost in Midtown. During the interim a thriving multi-ethnic corridor had erupted along Buford Highway.

Also, when I lived in Atlanta, the MARTA rail system had two lines, the East-West line and the North-South line which then ended at Brookhaven. Since then the North-South Line has been expanded and split to include a line north along the Georgia 400 corridor to Sandy Springs causing the original North Line ending in Doraville to be renamed the Northeast Branch. With there being another spur on the East-West Line, MARTA decided to ease the confusion with the compass point names and go with color coded lines similar to those used by Washington DC's Metro system or the Bay Area's BART.

Only when they picked the colors, they called the route ending in Doraville the Yellow Line, causing Asian-American advocacy groups to howl in umbrage. It seems the Powers That Be Were tone-deaf to the racial implications of the color. Other places haven't had this problem. For example D.C.'s vestigial and shrinking Chinatown is served by the Yellow, Red, and Green lines. But under a hail of bad publicity, the City Too Busy Too Hate has renamed it the Gold Line.

It's just funny to find my former little sleepy burb engulfed in such controversy. All I know is that when I am trudging down I-85 towards the Tom Moreland Interchange, aka Spaghetti Junction, I just can't keep myself from humming:
Doraville, touch of country in the city
Doraville, it ain't much, but it's home

NaJuReMoNoMo Wrap-Up

Large Winner Badge

National Just Read More Novels Month, or NaJuReMoNoMo if you like tongue twisters, had a great year and lots of people read tons of books.

It's very heartening to see so many people participating for the third time or more. The biggest boost this year seems to have come from J. Kaye's Book Blog who was phenomenal at spreading the word. I also seem to have inspired a much longer challenge called the 12 x 12 Reading Challenge which lasts all year with a different blog hosting each month. If you love NaJuReMoNoMo, I strongly recommend visiting these other fine blogs.

It has literally become impossible to keep track of all the participants, but here is a partial list of blogs I'm aware of that took part. I also want to recognize all the non-bloggers that take inspiration as well.

Book Dragon - 1 book
The Lost Entwife - 30 books
Bookwormygirl - 20 books
Diva With A Budget - 10 books
Sandra of Fresh Ink Books - 12 books
Jules - 10 books
J. Kaye - 15 books
Helen - 5 books
Sharon - 12 books (her third year and her second gold year)
Sharon's Garden - 12 books
Barbara Maller - 10 books
My Spring Snow
The Black Cell - 16 books
CMash - 7 books
Lab Cat - 4 books
Musings of a Book Addict
Reading Schtuff - 8 books
Jo - 19 books
Eating Y.A. Books - 13 books
Steena Holmes - 10 books
"Quote"topia - 6 books
A Chick Who Reads aka The Mistress of the Dark
New Century Reading
Vasilly - 20 +/- books
Veggie Mom of 2 - 6 books
Bibliophile By The Sea
The Book Zombie - 10 books
The Book Czar now at Review From Here

So until next year, keep up all the good reading.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


I survived the 2010 Blizzard but it was a lot of work. My yard already had a base on it of nearly a foot. The snow started about noon but nothing stuck until I got home from work shortly after 4 p.m.

I decided to take a photo out my front door every hour, or as close as I could get to it. The snow started slowly but built steadily. Just before midnight I decided to go out and give the drive a quick shovel so there would be less to do the next day. As soon as I got in the gale force winds kicked in. At about 3 a.m. I turned in for a few hours sleep.

When I awoke the next morning, it was as if I had never shoveled at all. The snow had drifted and blown to create a perfectly level surface across my entire yard. So I changed strategies. I decided to wait out the storm. About 3 p.m. things were tapering down so I give it my first try. I dug a path to the curb and cut some markers side to side so I could find the edges of the driveway.


Sunday morning the shoveling went faster than I expected and I had the driveway clear to the curb within about an hour. Some neighbors were digging a walking path to the garage door of our local elderly lady, so I helped out there. The single mom next door to us threw in the towel and got a guy to come over with a snowblower.

Next up was digging my SUV out of the parking lot. It was nearly completely buried. Once I got in unburied, it was time for a nap. My strategy all weekend was to not shovel anything in the street in hopes that a snowplow would come through and clear the ice dam at the bottom of the drive. At 3 p.m. I gave up and cleared enough of the slushy goop to get my car into the driveway.

Within a half hour of finishing that, a snowplow did come by and iced me in. I guess I have to pick up the shovel again tomorrow.

So here is a bonus video of a Bobcat clearing snow from my street.

Monday, February 01, 2010

BooksFirst - January 2010

Books Bought

Books Read
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
The Confusion by Neal Stephenson
The Doll's House by Neil Gaiman

For National Just Read More Novels Month, I decided to go for quality over quantity. The goal was to read the best books I could instead of just the most.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo doesn't count towards NaJuReMoNoMo since I started it way back in October. This book by the now deceased Stieg Larsson is huge word-of-mouth hit. At least part of it is the oddly exotic Swedish setting. Another factor is the slightly kinky narrative and the titular OCD fantasy girl.

A disgraced business journalist, Mikael Blomkvist, is lured into investigating a decades old disappearance. As with most murder mysteries, there is more to the tale than what first appears. The original title translates from the Swedish as Men Who Hate Women and there are plenty of them in this novel. We are talking some world-class brutal misogynists in this book. The creepy sado-masochistic scenes are more than disturbing.

I'm not quite sure what really explains the runaway success of this book. While it is a thriller, it is hardly taut. There are sub-plots that go nowhere. Blomkvist and the tatted up researcher don't cross paths until half-way through the book. Among the major characters are dozens of similarly named red herrings floating around. The novel could easily be a hundred pages shorter and not lose much. It was a good book, but didn't quite live up to the hype. Perhaps I am missing some clue, but I'm just not seeing what everybody else does.

Recently I have been running across lots of greatest science fiction lists and one of the books that kept coming up was Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. I'm not a big fan of military science fiction so I've never given this book a shot, but in a way it's the anti-Starship Troopers. Rather than glorify combat, it emphasized the random futility of warfare. Written in the Vietnam era, it has remains just as relevant today, if not more so. The edition I read has much longer, bleaker middle section than the original novel and it adds much to the tone.

Only now do I realize how much other novels owe this book. The relativistic time dilation that made the gap between Ender's Game and Speaker For The Dead plausible was in here. The detailed spaceship battles of A Mote In God's Eye resemble the maneuvers detailed here. I imagine nearly every book with a hint of interstellar combat owes it some amount of debt.

The book is not without its flaws. The sexuality is painful even when it is trying to be hip and open-minded. The minor characters are flat and often have a whiff of red shirt on them. But overall, this book is thought provoking. With a canvas of centuries, it paints an interesting panorama. It's a haunting book. One that drifts back into your periphery even when you think it's gone.

The real goal of the month was to make it all the way through the middle volume of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. Taking place just after the events of Quicksilver, The Confusion follows the separate exploits of Jack Shaftoe and Eliza as they maneuver through pirate infested waters and the courts of Europe respectively. Tying it together is a MacGuffin load of mysterious gold.

For an eight-hundred page book that deals with banking and international commerce, the narrative is riveting and compelling. About half way through the book when I realized where the narrative arc was going, I became fascinated with the epic scope of the tale. Way more than a picaresque tale, it became a dissection of the world at a specific moment in time. There is real ambition here and for the most part, Stephenson pulls it off. It is more than a compliment to say that the undescribed interstitial episodes are probably more fascinating than other entire novels.

Despite being the middle book of a trilogy, it has very satisfying conclusion while still setting up the conclusion. After racing to the end I had to face the grim realization that there are nearly another nine-hundred pages in the saga. It won't take me until the next NaJuReMoNoMo to tackle them.

Having completed The Confusion a day earlier than planned, I still had time for one more book if picked the right one. For a fairly johnny come lately fan of Neil Gaiman (goth-lit rock god), it is perhaps surprising that I am unfamiliar with his magnum opus, the Sandman series. I read the first two volumes from the library but hit a dead end. Since then I have been picking up later books at locally run comic-book stores when I am near them.

The second true volume, The Doll's House, except for a single interesting sidebar story, tells of Morpheus hunting down some of his wayward minions. Along the way there are plenty of disturbing nightmares about abuse and torture and obsession. In the middle there is also an odd meta-swipe at the delusions of the traditional superhero type. Visually dense, the story requires careful attention to track the imagery and symbolism that are as important as the words.

NaJuReMoNoMo books

So my final count is two novels and a graphic novel, so I'm giving myself the triple winner badge.