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It’s been a busy summer.  What follows are some photographs from Quebec, earlier this summer.  I wrote some deep thoughts in my journal about our French neighbor while stowed away in a cabin up north, far north, as close to the Arctic Circle as I’ve yet been.  It’s an interesting place.  It’s a strange kind of nationalism that one encounters–a country within a country truly.  Our cities and states here in the U.S. seem like such distinct microcosms to us, but really they are not so much.  We Americans are more alike than unalike.

 

Saguenay Steps

In either case, the journey is what has been on my mind.  Thus the stone stairs and vista.  Deep, meditative spiritual stuff.  This is Saguenay Fjord.  A distant place, beautiful, sparsely inhabited, and largely unspoiled.  Hardy French northerners live here, and even the tourists are mostly fellow French northerners.  These smooth rounded peaks were gouged and polished by glaciers thousands of years ago.  The water of the fjord runs deep, as deep as the peaks that tower above it, and it is rich in iron, red ferrous tides sweeping throughout.

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I’ve learned a lot about being happy this summer.  Specifically the great cost of happiness for some of us.  I’ve learned in these sunnier days how to draw strong boundaries and place myself first and that escaping the cycle of bad habits has little to do with the habits themselves.  There’s this journey.  You cross boundaries and set boundaries.

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This is a hidden spot in the Montreal Botanical Garden, tucked away behind an Asian temple.  It has become one of my happy places, and I look forward to making it back there.  There are these times in your travels that you say to yourself, I will return.  Other places come and go, but some, a few–you just know you will be back.  This place was so.  I’ve been carrying it with me and look forward to returning as well.

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It’s a cool 62 degrees outside here in LA, although the outlook is anything but the typical sunny vista Los Angelinos are accustomed to. It’s raining like a mofo right now. There have been evacuations in some counties, as torrential mud slides are expected before the weekend is over. Coming from Baltimore, following blizzards, thunder snow, ice storms, tornado warnings and–yes–a few perfectly sunny days, I suppose mud slides are just another thing. If a wrinkled old mystic had warned me in recent days to avoid mountains, then I would have done well to listen.

Rainy downtown LA.

Rainy downtown LA.

 

Christine is off at a conference, some small gathering of academics trading discussions on the indigenous peoples of the Pacific. That’s how we ended up here, but we’re extending our stay to explore and visit with friends. It is for both of us a much needed break.

I’m in my pj’s in the hotel, trying to figure out how I can work in two lunches today, so that I can cross multiple food explorations off my list. Local institution Philippe’s is a few blocks away, and Roy Choi’s Chego a few blocks from that. Dinner is already planned at new local darling Alma. We made the reservations a month ago, and I expect to be impressed. I am quite disappointed that we were not able to fit in a trip to animal. Next time, LA, next time.

This excessive meal planning is par for the course for a food nerd like myself, and as you might imagine Christine is no different. Before I said a word, she already had a list of LA restaurants not dissimilar from my own. I really have no idea what to think about LA yet (I’m trying to reserve judgment), but at least when I come to town here I know there’s food of every kind to be explored.

I did get my first real sense of LA’s sheer scale yesterday. It was during a long $75(!!!) cab ride from the airport. I had understood LAX to be in LA, and I guess it is, but if you set the needle of your compass at downtown and extend the arm to the airport and it’s a sheer hour away… are we really in the same town? Or at some point did someone just say fuck it and decide the whole county was itself the city?

It seems to me almost immediately that when so many Americans say they don’t like LA, what they really mean is that they’re exhausted by LA. The town exacts a toll of mental fortitude, and payment is expected immediately upon receipt. No skipping out on this check. I haven’t had much time to socialize here, but the social aspect seems little different from what I know of it. Rigid pretentions and expectations about carved out personal identities. We’re a little less interested in that on the East Coast. Or maybe we just pursue it differently. A number of our personal rivalries are fought by proxy of our sports teams, for example, not by the make of our clothes or who we might know.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written in here, and there’s been a lot going on. I’ve actually had some health issues going on lately, though I’m not sure that’s anything I need to get into here. But my doctor has advised me to make some adjustments, and I think that journaling might prove an appropriate outlet yet again.

More posts this weekend, maybe. But they’ll need to be short. Typing at length on this tablet without my keyboard (that I left at home) is akin to squeezing the toothpaste back into the tube. Not exactly fun.

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Right, so it’s a new year already.  Been meaning to make a new years/last year summary kind of post but haven’t quite gotten to it, and honestly wasn’t entirely sure what all I had to say.

Last year was definitely a year with its ups and downs, but all in all, I really managed to right things and pull onto an even keel, which is what I wanted.  It was on the whole a successful year.  I’ve always been a bit vague on here about the past two years, but suffice to say I dealt with a little more than a normal share of hardships and it was tough getting through some of that.  These past six months were about putting the last of that behind me.  And much of that meant just working my ass off, which I did, even if it meant not being around a lot.

So that’s the thing I’m looking forward to the most in the coming year: being around. Focusing on what I want to do as opposed to what I need to do. Life is good, and I’ve worked hard to enjoy it.  It really does change things, if subtly, when you know that.  When you’ve worked through that.

So, I’m not much of a resolution maker but here are a few things that I’m looking forward to in the coming months.  Perhaps I will bother myself to journal about them on this modest little page that I pay a tidy little annual sum to reserve.

1) Vacations

So far I’ve got a ski trip planned and a tentative Vegas trip, but it’s time to plan some more. Currently I lack a default travel partner, but whatever. I worked my ass off last year and took like two trips. This year there needs to be more, even if they’re just here in the U.S.

2) Dating

Yeah… I don’t really have anything to say about the break up I went through last year… and I don’t have much to say about the dating I’ve done since then.  The only woman I dated last year who I actually really liked ended up–in the end–making fun of me on her blog and basically calling me a homo. Because I like flowers. I don’t know if that’s a remark on my taste in women or a remark on the emasculating power of flowers, but I sure hope it’s not the former. And anyway, as a good friend of mine put it to me lately: “…well, we’ve got you as a +1 for the wedding.”  So I need to get on that.  I hate dating, I really do, but there’s no reason for me to be hanging back and getting made fun of for my homophilic love of flora in the meantime.

3) French and Motorcycles

I’ve been meaning to learn some French and learn to ride a motorcycle for a little bit now.  I could see me skipping out on the motor biking, but getting more and more into cooking has really made me want to learn some basic French.  I mean, just to pronounce and spell things.  I don’t expect to be great at French anytime soon, but I’d like to at least sound like a competent chef.  It seems that if you want to get serious about cooking, there’s just no side-stepping a little bit of French culture.

Which sounds fine to me. How about some French classes and then maybe a trip or two to Quebec? These are worthy and easily attainable goals.

I guess I’ll park it there and leave it at that. Three goals sounds good, and things all around are good. Also things are tired. It’s late, and I’ve a busy day tomorrow providing for my technicians.

Au revoir for now!

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I’m sitting at an airport gate, having arrived early for my flight for once, and killing some time.

This is the first time I’ve traveled alone in a little while, and it’s a bittersweet mix. Exciting because I’m getting back in to being single again, and yeah it does feel pretty good to be a bachelor on the go. But I do so miss having a traveling partner. I hadn’t even done a *that* much traveling in my last relationship, but we did get around to a few places. NOLA and that bed and breakfast ski weekend stand out as highlights. And we had been in the process of planning more when the relationship split. Such is life, I guess.

And that’s been a weird hold up for me in dating. I spent the better part of my 20s learning things the hard way, and I’m just now in the phase where things are good and I’m ready to travel. And, man, am I! I’m a homeowner now, so I have to be careful with money, but still, traveling is the thing at the top of the list. I want to get out there. See the world. Hell, just see more of the US. And I’m gonna do it.

But it can be a little weird when you’re on a date with some uber ivy league girl and she’s been to a dozen countries already. Cause she could be out on a date with some other guy, who’s been to just as many countries. And such is dating. I guess the dates where you’re feeling weighed and measured aren’t the good dates, and honestly they don’t phase me that much these days.

But it’ll be nice to find the girl who’s going through the same steps as me. Maybe I should stick to dating the liberal arts majors, for whom entering the workforce was a less than glorious experience and who had to survive on their wits for a bit before they started to find success? There’s folks like that out there, right?

Anyway, guess it’s food for thought.

For now I board a plane to San Diego to enjoy a couple of days at the beach with friends. It’ll be sweet. And then after that… on to the next adventure.

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Tomorrow I will be leaving my home state for a brief sojourn on the west coast, and I couldn’t be happier.  With everything going on, I’ve needed a vacation.  I will be dipping my toes in the Pacific, along a beach that looks just like this one:  

Jogging along the surf in the morning is one of my favorite things to do, and for the next several days that’s just what I’ll do.  My friends I’m staying with live south of the city, and in past visits I would jog every morning down to the estuary that is the last piece of American thing along that coast before the hill slopes upward and Tijuana springs from it–crammed up against the fence and spilling down the hill into the sea.

It’s intensely calm standing on the boarder like that, another world just beyond your reach.  Everything is behind you in a moment like that–your home, your people, your life, your past–it is all quite literally behind you, and for a moment one can forget everything and simply behold another world.

And I’ll need some peace of mind like that after these past few weeks.  I seriously am having a hard time getting my head around the good, good things and the bad, bad things that have happened.

The long term relationship I was in ended, rather suddenly, when my ex decided she was moving to another country.  And of course, only then did I realize how I felt about her, and as much as I tried to figure it out and express it, there was nothing to be had in the break-up for me but heartbreak.  It sucked.  But life moves on…

I got promoted at work.  Again, finally, only this time the pay grade is permanent.  And there’s more buzz on that note that I don’t want to get into yet, but I’m optimistic.  I’m in a leadership position now, finally officially, and I love it.  My work is challenging, and my days go by quickly.  Perhaps I have more thoughts on this that I should sort out… especially since the road to this promotion was not, for me, a straight one.  I endured some ups and downs, and I really think they made me, frankly, more of a man.  I do not feel young anymore, and I do not approach my problems like a young man.  Which is interesting, because I still look like a young man.  I really want to shave this beard off, but people give you shit when they think you’re a twenty-something know it all.

There are family issues going on as well, and they are not good.  I’m not sure if I’m even ready to type about that here….

Life at home couldn’t be better… when my power’s on at least.  The storms knocked out power for the better part of a week, and we had to toss out all our food.  But things with my roommates right now are great.  In fact I was crashing at my roommate’s girlfriend’s house while the power was out.  It’s good to have good people in your life.

So there’s a lot for me to compress and file away while I’m relaxing and jogging and swimming at the beach the next few days.  It’ll be nice.

Oh and speaking of compressing things…. I’ll be compressing a few of these bad boys.  Burgers at Hodad’s!  Can’t wait!

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Here are some current things…

Current Obsession:  This song, by Burial.

Current Thing I’m Most Lazy About:  Cheese.

I subscribed to this magazine not long ago called Culture: the word on cheese.  I have two subscriptions to two magazines in the whole world, one of them a regular dude sort of magazine, and the other a magazine about cheese (I keep putting off subscriptions to a few music magazines).  And anyway, what I wanted to do was start maybe something like a food diary and make cheese something of a true hobby, but I haven’t really gotten around to it.  I do love cheese more than most things in life, but truth is I just haven’t had time to cook much this summer.  And that means little time to visit my local cheese monger.  This is another thing I must rectify.

Current Most Excited About: New Orleans.

The girlfriend and I have been anticipating a New Orleans trip in a few months, probably just after the holidays.  She’s never been.  I’ve only been once, but I can’t wait to introduce her to it.  Just thinking about it… there truly just is something about that city.  I think she’s gonna fall in love with it as quickly as I did.

Current Whatev’s: Gears 3.

I had been jumping up and down anticipating Gears of War three for not only months, but years now.  And then it came, and then I finished the campaign with a friend just last night, and…. man I’m kinda over it.  I think I must feel the same way about Gears that some folks feel about Halo these days.  I never got tired of Halo, but by the time this last Gears rolled around I had simply had my fill.  The campaign is on rails… which at first felt so innovative.  The game played like a cinematic theme park ride.  But now it just feels overly scripted to me.  The characters were always pretty thin to begin with, and seriously, it was three games of fighting the same damn monsters again and again.  (And having said all that, it really truly amazes me that I never tired of Halo).

Current Obsession Bordering on Religious Fervor: George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series.

I never thought I’d get roped into these, but after seeing the HBO serious I just had to have more.  There are only two salient facts when it comes to George R.R. Martin:  1) his fantasy epic is pure, unfiltered nerd crack; 2) George R.R. Martin is a motherfucker.  This man giveth with one page, and he taketh away with another.  I almost screamed, tore at my clothes, and then ran into the streets like a lunatic when I read “the red wedding” chapters.  That son of a bitch author is just downright cruel sometimes.  But oh how I can’t quit him, how I can’t….

Current Project: a Deadmau5 head.

I’ve dithered like crazy wondering do I call it a Deadmau5 mask, helmet, what?  I dunno.  A Deadmau5 head thing.  The girlfriend and I had the dubious task of choosing between The Black Keys and Deadmau5 at Virgin Freefest.  I love The Black Keys to death (as does she–it’s her fricking ringtone), but we were both so glad we opted with the Canadian mouse man DJ.  His stage was this gigantic all LED installation that just blew everyone away.  One of the things that was so cool about the show was how many folks turned up with their own Deadmau5 heads on.  I knew right then and there what I wanted to do for Halloween.

As of now though…. I haven’t lifted a finger.  I’m giving myself about a 50/50 chance of following through on this one.  A lot of folks have posted their how-to’s online, so there are plenty of guides.  But some of them get a little pricey ($200? shit!)… and plus I just had this clear idea of how I wanted to do it.  No idea if I actually can though.  I guess we’ll see.  I promise to post pics.

Current Bummer: Missing out on Wild Flag/Eleanor Friedberger tickets in DC.

Sad face. 🙁

Current Best Decision Lately: Getting rid of cable.

This was a group decision, actually, by me and the roommates, but so glad we did it.  I had gotten into such a routine.  And understandably so, I mean, those shows on HBO and Showtime are so fucking good these days, not to mention all the other channels with their own pet shows.  But our bill went up to around $180, and we were like just fuck it.  Basic cable isn’t worth it, IMO, and the roommates were happy to cut down a monthly expense.

I haven’t missed it, I’m so happy to say.  Been catching a few things on Netflix, but for the most part just changed up some of the routine.  God my ass off the couch.  I’m sure I’ll have it again someday, but I hope that day is a ways off.

Current Thing I Should Be Doing instead of Writing This: Going to bed.

Good night!

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Ah, Philly. I did miss you. It’s been awhile. But I found that not too much has changed. Your downtown is still pleasantly walkable. You still have more punk rockers per capita than homeless people. And you still exalt in your steaks and your cheeses.

I managed to swing by Pat’s at lunch hour. Most of the folks that I know love to rant about how much better Pat’s is than Geno’s, although I have to be honest the difference has never seemed that stark to me. What I do love about Pat’s is the non-assuming David it plays to Geno’s Goliath. Geno’s has all kinds of crazy bullshit going on around. It might as well be a night club. Pat’s, though, it’s just a sub shop. Which is all I want it to be.

It’s gotten me thinking, though.  The cheese steak I had was fine, but as I was eating it I couldn’t help but wonder, “what’s the fuss about?”  I’ve had this moment a number of times while ordering cheese steaks in Philly.  I mean, look at the sub.  Most of those ingredients are canned.  And I can’t honestly say much love went into it.  The meat is cooked in a giant pile and slapped onto each sandwich somewhat unceremoniously turn by turn.  It tastes good.  But does it taste amazing?

Not really.  And it had me wondering about famous hometown foods.  How many famous hometown foods are exceeded by leaps and bounds by their hype?  For Baltimore, this is sort of a hard one.  We have crab cakes, and crab cakes aren’t exactly fast food fare.  If you’re getting one, it’s almost definitely not cheap.  And the quality usually starts at okay.  You have to travel out of the region to get a bad crap cake.

But how do other cities stack up?  I’ve never had Buffalo wings in Buffalo.  Nor deep dish pizza in Chicago.  I’ve had good wings around here, though.  And good deep dish too.

So where is the best place to get a cheese steak in Philly?  Everyone you ask will tell you something different, but I wonder about those folks who swear by places like Pat’s and Geno’s.  Give me some fresh peppers and fresh mushrooms before you tell me something’s gonna blow my mind.  But to Pat’s credit, it is loved by the locals.  Maybe there’s just something there I can’t taste.

Yesterday I threw some steak on the griddle and veggies on the stove and made my own cheese steaks.  These were just kinda dashed together, and I didn’t get fancy with the ingredients.  I mean I didn’t even chop any garlic up, that’s how dressed down these were.  And they were still amazing.  Sizzlin steak and fresh veggies all the way.

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