Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Wednesday

One of the best parts about yesterday was that I never got dressed. I was in my bathrobe literally all day.

Possibly the best part was that I shaved my beard. I took the beard, the biggest I've ever sported, off section by section. Photo documentation is in a Facebook photo album. Check it out.

I also bought a new digital camera on eBay for almost half its going price and some new ear buds on Amazon.

In the morning, I made a list of things that I have to get done before going leaving for Stanford (today), mostly small logistical things, and I spent the day crossing off a few of them.

Of course, I also went through my Oxford prep routine - blogged, read about the Tudor age in Britain, and watched a couple hours of travel DVD about Scotland and Ireland (Dublin, West Ireland, South Ireland, and Scottish Highlands and Islands).

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Boring Day plus Bartering

Yesterday was mostly uninteresting. I woke up, read, posted, ate, ran errands, looked at cameras, watched Monty Python and the Meaning of Life, (discovered the meaning of life,) and not much else.

I decided I wanted to buy the Canon PowerShot S90, and it will be arriving at my house in a week or so.

The one interesting story of the day comes from running errands.

The right strap on my backpack is almost torn through. My mom tried to fix it with normal needle-and-thread work, but was unsuccessful, so my dad recommend that I take it to a shoe repair place. They would know how to sew things that get as much wear and tear as my backpack strap really well. I figured my black dress shoes could use some fixing as well, so I should see what the shoe repair places could do.

The first place I took my backpack and shoes is the shoe repair shop in the Golden Eagle Shopping Center (Petaluma). I go into this little place, not sure what to expect. After I walk in, a short, dark, mustachioed Indian man comes up to me, and the scene unfolds roughly as follows:

"Ah! Johnson and Murphy shoes! Very nice. Good quality. You need these shoes fixed? What is wrong with them?"

"Well, the sole is starting to come off on this shoe here. I was wondering if you could fix it."

"Yes, we will have to replace this half of the sole here. We take off the front of the soles and put in new leather. Your soles also need replacing. They are getting warn here and here and here. You need to replace them. You know, I could just stitch up this area here, but there are holes here. You know, I would stitch them and give them back to you and you would be right back here tomorrow with a broken shoe. No, we can put new soles in, and, if you really want to do a good job, we can put some nice new rubber on over the soles so they will last longer. I can do it for $85."

"Oh. Well I-"

"Normally 85, but for you, for you $80."

"For one shoe?!"

"No no no. For both shoes $80."

"Ok. Well I need to think about the shoes, but what I really need fixed more urgently is this backpack strap. Do you think you could do it?"

"What? You just want me to sew it here?"

"Yeah. Just so it's like this one on the left. How much would that cost?"

"Ah. Ok. Well, for you I can do it. $10."

"Ok. Well, I need to think about it. I will probably come back tomorrow. Will you be here tomorrow?"

"I can do these shoes for $80, and I can have them done for you tomorrow."

"Well, I really need to think about it. It's not really mine it's my parents'-"

"Ah! You're a student, yes? Well, for you I can give you a special discount. I can do both shoes. Tomorrow. $50. Usually I do $85. For you, $50 and the backpack for $10."

"I will think about it. I will probably be back in tomorrow."

"Well, how much were you thinking for the shoes?"

"Umm...I don't know. Maybe like $40."

"Ok. Well, for you, I can do that. I can do it for $40. 40 for the shoes, 10 for the backpack, $50 together for you. I can take them now, and you can have them back tomorrow. $50."

"$50 for both? Ok. I will think about it and probably be back tomorrow. Thank you!"

I took the shoes and backpack to another place over on the Boulevard. The guy there was a big, burly Hispanic guy who said basically nothing. When I asked about prices, he offered me $5.95 for the backpack, $48 for the shoes. There was no bartering. I let him do the backpack, and just figured the shoes weren't worth it. The backpack will be done on Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Last Day with Lawrence

Lawrence and I didn't do too much yesterday. We had kind of a lazy morning by ourselves, as my mom, brother, and dad all went to school or work (or both, in my mom's case).

I spent a lot of the morning responding to emails I just got. The day before, I posted a notice to the Bronfman Fellowship Alumni listserve saying that I was going to Oxford. I got about ten different responses from people telling me about what I should do there or asking to meet me while I'm there or telling me how to get in touch with the Jewish community there. It was awesome and helpful, but required a lot of time to respond to. Now I know three people I have to meet up with there, not counting the Jewish chaplains, Rabbi Daniel and his wife Hannah, who I am now in touch with. I also have some ideas for cool things to do and see in Oxford and invitations to sedarim for the first two nights of Passover.

After I took care of all that, Lawrence and I went to one of my favorite Mexican places for lunch, Mi Pueblo. We followed our burritos up with a nice hike in Helen Putnam Regional Park, one of my absolute favorite places in Petaluma, or the world for that matter. After days of rain and gray weather, it was sunny and beautiful out, as it should be. The park was gorgeous. All the spring grasses are up and bright green. The hawks were out, looking for food, I suppose. The horses and cows in the surrounding farms were out eating the new, fresh grass. The California Poppies have blossomed. In Helen Putnam they are a perfect orange color. We hiked all of the main trails (the park isn't too big), and so did a dozen other people we saw. Yesterday was definitely one of the busiest times I have seen the park. We had some incidents with a flooded trail on the way out of the park and possibly some poison oak, but we got through it fine (I think - the poison oak rashes may not have shown up yet). All around, great hike, though. I wish I had pictures to post. I think I'll go camera shopping today.

Wine Tasting with Kyle and Lawrence

Lawrence is visiting Sonoma County, so he needed to drink some wine. Lawrence is leaving for Paris in less than a week, so he needed to drink some wine. Lawrence just turned 21, so he needed to drink some wine. Lawrence couldn't remember what wine tasted like, so he needed to drink some wine. Basically, it was a moral imperative for me to take Lawrence wine tasting.

I found a few coupons for free wine tastings at some Sonoma Valley wineries (If you want some recommendations on Sonoma County wineries to taste at, let me know). I called up Kyle (McCormick) because I knew he was around and had just taken a whole class about wine last semester. He came over, and we started driving east around 1 or 2 pm. 

Our first stop was Valley of the Moon Winery. I had been there before, and knew it was a nice place to visit. It was one of the first wineries in Sonoma Valley and has some great old buildings. Some of their wine making facilities are still housed in their old barn-like building. It was built in the 1800s and has been refurbished since. We also saw some of the old vines, which probably date to the early 1900s. 

Their wines are quite good. In particular, I really like their Syrah, and Kyle tried an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from one of their sister wineries that he really liked. Of course, their Pinot Noir is very good, which is to be expected in the Sonoma County region. We also got to try their 2001 Cuvee de Lune, which I had never had before and which they don't even sell (so I'm not sure why they gave it to us). It was really really good - super smooth and almost juicy. Their Chardonnay, however, was nothing special, despite being from Sonoma. 

The best part, though, was watching Lawrence try all the wines. We told the lady pouring for us that this was Lawrence's first time really trying wine, and she helped him through a couple tastings. She started him off with a sparkling white wine and reassured him when he started getting frustrated with not being able to pick out the "correct" words for describing the tastes. Nonetheless, this continued to be as source of frustration for Lawrence throughout the trip. Of course, as an almost total amateur, I too have much difficulty describing the wines I taste, but I've pretty much moved on to just enjoying the wine and slowly getting better at describing it. 

Next stop was Arrowood Winery, which I had not been to before. This seemed to be a smaller winery than Valley of the Moon, and we had to wait to get a spot at the busy bar. When we did, a nice, retired lady poured for us. Some of this wine was clearly nicer than anything we got to taste at Valley of the Moon. Kyle tasted a Pinot or a Zinfandel, I forget, and then three very nice Syrahs. Lawrence had a more standard tasting. The first, though, was probably the best Chardonnay I can ever remember tasting. It was really smooth and had, if I remember right, a nice hint of vanilla. The others were also quite good. At the end, Kyle asked if we could taste their late growth desert wines. I hadn't had tried anything like these, but they were basically like drinking less viscous honey or super-sweet nectar. They were pretty excellent. 

Our last stop was Kenwood Winery, where I had also been before. They are one of the largest wine producers in the area, so their prices are cheap, but many of their wines are not too memorable. The Jack London wines were very good, but they're not too cheap to buy. We tried a particularly delicious Jack London Zinfandel. Even better and even more expensive are their 2005 and 2006 "Artist Series" Cabernet Sauvignons, so called for the art that is commissioned for the front of the bottles every year. The man pouring for us was quite entertaining, and I could tell that he enjoys his job. He certainly enjoyed talking to us, anyway. I forget his name, but let's call him "Ken."

The first good story he told us was about an older couple from Texas who was in the tasting room about a week ago. The story came up when he was trying to teach Lawrence how to aerate wine by swirling it.  The couple clearly did not know a whole lot about wine when they came in, and they were not swirling the wine properly before drinking it. So Ken shows them how it's done - you have to really swirl vigorously. Well, the wife took right to it, really spinning the shit out of the wine. The old man, however, was just lazily rotating the class, which just doesn't do anything. Ken tells the man that he has to swirl it a bit harder and faster for it to work. Ken leaves them alone for a little while so that they could taste the wine. When he comes back to check on them some minutes later, the wife is still spinning the wine, and this old man is still just slowly moving the glass around. Ken says to the man, "You need to swirl the wine a little more than that. Swirl it harder and faster. Take a look at how your wife is doing it. You have to do it harder and faster." The wife just looks up at the server and says, "Honey, he's not going to listen to you. I've been asking him to do that for years, and he doesn't listen."

The second story he told us came up when Lawrence was again expressing frustration over not being able to describe the wines correctly. When Ken was younger and knew less about wines, he came to Sonoma County and tasted some of our famed Pinot Noir. He didn't like it at all; he thought it was gross.  then he took a trip to France. When he got there, he went to a wine dealer and bought some Burgundy. He really loved that wine, and he kept going back, always buying some great French Burgundy. After three weeks, he is very happy with all his wine, and he goes to talk to the wine dealer. The wine dealer talks to him, and asks him where he is from [comment: I am taking some liberties with telling these stories, and I am sure they are inaccurate]. Ken tells him he is from Sonoma County. The wine dealer says, "Oh. They have great Pinot Noir there, you must love it." Ken says, "Actually, I have tried it, and I don't like Pinot Noir at all. It just doesn't suit me. I really prefer the Burgundy you've been selling me. It's much better." The wine dealer just looks at him and cracks up. Ken, confused, asks, "What's so funny?" The dealer says, "You've been drinking Pinot Noir for the last three weeks! I've been selling you Pinot Noir!" And that's when Ken learned that in France, they name wine after the region, Burgundy, not the grape, Pinot Noir.

After Kenwood, we meant to go to the Hop Kiln tasting room in Glen Ellen, but it was closed for some "special event" for the day. Sad. And that's the end of my story. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Shopping with Lawrence

Today will be an exercise in selective journaling. By that, I mean that I did not do much yesterday other than play Civ IV and read, so I will leave out the more minor occurrences of the day and focus on one part of the day. The main story is Lawrence coming up to visit from Palo Alto, which follows.

I called up Lawrence (my freshman year roommate, for those who don't know) yesterday afternoon just to see how he was doing and what he had been up to since he left my house earlier this week. Since he booked his flight to Paris out of San Francisco, he is just hanging out in the Bay Area, bouncing between my house and a friend's house in PA, for spring break. He didn't sound like he was doing too much down at his friend's place, so, when I invited him to stay with me again, he started driving north almost right away.

When I talked to Lawrence on the phone, he had mentioned that he wanted to buy a nice winter coat and some new shoes for Paris. I told him that I knew some places around Petaluma where he might find a good coat or some shoes for a nice price. So, almost as soon as he came through our door, both of us went back out, headed first to Burlington Coat Factory up in Rohnert Park.

Walking in to the store, I started looking around for some coats but simply couldn't find any. I've seen plenty of different coats, different sizes and styles, and I was looking all over. I found suits and tuxedos and shoes and shirts and sport coats and vests but no plain, normal, keep-you-warm coats. Eventually I found an employee and, a bit embarrassed, asked him where the coats (at Burlington COAT Factory) were. He pointed me into the corner in the women's section and behind the racks of shoes, and I didn't feel too bad about myself. It was a totally illogical place for what seems like it should be the centerpiece of the store.

I started searching through the pretty pathetic selection of off-season coats while Lawrence started trying them on in front of a mirror. We found some decent leather jackets, but they weren't too cheap and weren't really Lawrence's (or my own) style. There were few others, and nothing very good.

The selection of warm medium and large jackets was just puny. If Lawrence could have just put on a hundred pounds or so, he would have been set for sure. The selection at this store was a pretty good testament to the sheer size of the common American. Large was one of the smallest sizes they offered! I wonder if anyone in Oxford or Paris will be wearing 4X...

Needless to say, Lawrence didn't find anything worth purchasing.

Next stop was Ross. It took about one minute to see that they had absolutely no coats. Being that it is Ross, that wasn't too surprising. We looked at some cheap shoes for a bit. The best looking shoes for Lawrence had American flags on them, which he didn't think would help him blend in among the Parisians too well. We left.

Lawrence needed a pitstop at Baja Fresh for a couple tacos before we headed back south.

I was determined not to fail Lawrence in helping him on his quest to find a winter coat at the end of March in California. I knew it would never be easy. My last hope was the Petaluma Outlet Mall.

We get there around 7 or 8 pm, and I was afraid all the stores would close before we could find anything.

It was a sign that things were looking up. At the first store we go into, Vans, we look around, and go to the back wall, the clearance wall. We see an employee put a pair of shoes back on the rack in the 10 1/2 section. Lawrence looks at it, and in the shoe box our a pair of black, high-top Converse-type shoes, just like he had said he wanted. He tried them on while I went to check on the price. Price check says that the pair is under $20, pretty good for exactly the pair of shoes he had been looking for. He tries them on, they fit nicely, they feel good, he pays, and soon we were out of there. Lawrence had some good shoes for a nice price.

Finding a jacket, the last task, was still daunting and prospects looked grim. We checked the Gap, Banana Republic, Tommy Hilfiger, Brooks Brothers, and a few others I forget, all to no avail. And then we saw, in the small window of Wilson Leather, a giant blue and white sign saying "LIQUIDATION SALE." The place was full of jackets, and not only leather ones. Once we were in, I was pretty sure we weren't going to find anything better. There were tons of really nice jackets - leather, cotton, polyester, wool - and many of them ridiculously discounted. It took a lot of taking things off racks, trying them on, and putting them back before we made the perfect find. In the back of the store, on a jam-packed rack of liquidation jackets, between a dozen leather jackets was a sleek, long, black, button-up, collared Guess winter coat for 78% off. He tried it on and it looked perfect. Stylish enough and warm enough for Paris. I gave him a few more to try on just to be sure it was the best, and it was. He bought it along with some water-resistance spray to protect it, and we were done.

In all, the excursion was 3 hours, but that's just how long it takes to find black, high-top, Converse-style shoes and a nice, black winter coat at the end of March. All at really good prices.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Second Post

The careful among you may have noticed that I only just posted the last post. I wrote it yesterday and posted it to the second blog I accidentally made yesterday, By the time you read this, I will probably have deleted it, since I never meant to make two and I prefer livininspires. 

Well, I don't have much to write today. I'm feeling proud of myself for waking up in the morning and going straight to write in my blog. Hopefully this becomes a habit. 

One thing I forgot to mention about the reading I did yesterday was something I learned and found interesting. (I also want to get in the habit of observing and recording interesting things I see and learn around me every day. More on this later.) My interesting bit of knowledge from yesterday was that henges, like Stonehenge, are actually scattered all around England and actually have nothing to do with the stones. "Henge" is a term used to refer to any of the roughly similar neolithic earthwork constructions where there is a circular or ovular bank with a concentric ditch inside. They are not known to serve any practical purpose. Having the ditch on the inside of the bank would not be useful for defense. So people figure they must have served some sort of ritual or social purpose, the details of which are long lost to us now. 

In the case of Stonehenge, it is likely then that the henge came first and the iconic stones second. The purpose of the stones is unknown, though the author of the book I am reading seems to agree with common knowledge in that the stones may have been designed to align with the positions of celestial bodies. He said that it would not have taken any knowledge of science or math to come up with their arrangement, just simple observation over some long period of time. 

Well, that's my interesting thing for the day. I might continue this habit of writing in the morning about things that happen the day before. That will force me to reflect on the previous day and pick out what is most interesting or relevant. Also, I think mornings are one of the few times I can easily and regularly keep for myself. Nobody ever really expects me to be social in the mornings. 

Last thing - general feelings for the day. I am frustrated that it is still raining and miserable outside. I am proud of myself for doing all this research into Oxford and the UK. I am excited for Oxford and the UK. I am excited for Edden's bar mitzvah in a few weeks. I am excited to play more Civ IV. 

That's all for now. 

Post the First

Reader, if you seek his memorial - look around you.

And, Reader, if you are looking for a blog that will always be well-written, organized, and coherent, I suggest  looking elsewhere. This blog will mainly be for me and those select few I feel like telling about this blog's existence. But mainly for me.

The first line of this post is a translation of the Latin message on the floor of St. Paul's Cathedral. "His" means Sir Christopher Wren's. Sir Christopher Wren was the great English, 17th- and 18th-Century architect who spent decades of his life designing the most recent of the five St. Paul's Cathedrals in London. Though he is buried at the Cathedral, along with many other historical luminaries, there is no memorial set up explicitly for him, as there are for the others. This, however, this simple sentence. And I thought it was cool, interesting, and almost inspiring way to start my first blog. I know I'm not as dead as Mr. Wren and that this is not as much of a monument as St. Paul's Cathedral.

On the note of inspiration, I felt that today was as good as any to get going with this blogging/journaling/chronicling thing I want to keep up in Oxford, the "city of dreaming spires." (Hence, the punny, cheesy name of my blog.) After getting some of the best Old Chicago pizza ever (three toppings: garlic chicken, sun-dried tomato pesto sauce, and onions) with Sandra, Robert, and Kyle M., I stopped by the library to get some Oxford preparation materials. I checked out six DVDs for tourists of the UK, two travel guides, and two fat, comprehensive texts, each covering the entire history of Britain. I watched two of the DVDs - one a tour of London, the other, "Visions of England," a narrated helicopter tour of all the main sites of England - and read the history of neolithic, pre-Roman conquest Britain. Through all of it, I started a collection of notes on what are some of the most interesting-sounding things so that I will have a place to start when I want to plan some trips around England.

That's all I've got for now. In the coming weeks, I am planning to keep up this journaling thing, as boring as it may be, to try to get in the habit. I do not anticipate letting people know about the blog at this stage, because it will probably be boring for the next three weeks. It won't have much to do with Oxford or the UK, anyway. I'm going to go make salad for dinner and then, hopefully, play some Civ IV.

Yours truly