This weekend, I made good use of my time. On Friday afternoon, immediately after work, I helped my in-laws move boxes from their old house into a trailer for two hours. After that, I met Jodi for dinner at the Doner Bistro in Leesburg (and drank Aventinus).
On Saturday, I woke up at my normal time of 5:30, made a quick breakfast and went to 8:00 rowing practice (it is, unfortunately, an hour drive to practice). Practice ended at 10:45. I then picked up a quick lunch and drove to McLean to play boardgames with people I had never met (the company's boardgaming club). From 12:00 to 5:30, we played Seven Wonders and Railways of the Eastern US. This was the first rail game I had ever played and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After going home, I watched "The Living Daylights" on television where Jodi joined me for parts of it and then went to bed.
I woke up later on Sunday (6:30), had breakfast, then went to the grocery store to pick up food for Jodi's birthday celebration cookout. I did putter away time after grocery shopping, but I did make hotel reservations for the upcoming gaming convention Guns of August. From 2:00 to 5:30, my father-in-law and I grilled and fried food. We were doing a fish fry and grilling vegetables. The experience was more stressful than it needed to be because I did not plan it out correctly. It takes more than two people to run the grill, prep food for frying, and operate the fryer. The results, though, were delicious. I also spent some of Sunday afternoon unloading a trailer of boxes (the ones packed on Friday) and finding new homes for them in the house. We ate dinner, of course, sang happy birthday to Jodi, and had dessert later in the evening. I read a little bit in bed, then went to sleep. It was a good weekend.
With our hotel located inside the walls of the old city, we walked through the old city several times during our three days here. Bars, restaurants, and gift shops line some of the streets as you would expect of any tourist destination. Some of the businesses operate in buildings originally constructed in the 17th century. This morning, however, we walked along quiet residential streets of buildings one after the other that reminded me of small towns in Sicily.
Eating in Quebec is expensive. One person's meal and drink easily costs $25. The best deal, and my favorite meal, of our stay was lunch at Aux Anciens Canadiens. For $20 each, we got soup, a main course, sides, a glass of wine, and dessert. The restaurant, housed in a former residence built in 1674, specializes in game but I remember the dessert the most. I had maple syrup pie which was sweet like pecan pie, but it consistency was a little more crystalline
People interact with foreigners differently here than they do in Montreal. As an anglo, when you speak French to someone in Montreal, he or she will switch to English pretty quickly. When you speak French to someone in Quebec, he or she will continue to speak French until you get the goldfish look on your face from a lack of understanding or from not knowing what to do next. I also determined that I need to pay attention more to people when they speak French so that I can better understand what they are saying to me.
Quite by accident, we visited Quebec at a great time. We came during the beginning of the Festival D'ete de Quebec, a summer music festival. The festival spread over several venues, some requiring passes and others being free. The free shows included several scheduled performers traveling down Rue St. Jean, which was two blocks downhill from our hotel. The two performances we saw were a less than serious performance protest march whose signs I couldn't understand and a zany group of musicians called Musicabrass who were our favorites. Musicabrass is a French improv group whose performances draw in onlookers to dissolve the divide between performers and audience. They wore outfits constructed from upholstery fabric, some played unusual instruments such as a baritone saxophone, and used props such as scrub brushes, signboards, and yarn to energize their act. We saw them twice and laughed, clapped, and enjoyed ourselves.
We spend a night in Montreal, hopefully seeing fireworks from a fireworks competition that is held here on Saturday nights in summery. Tomorrow, we journey home.
I believe this outdoor life comes from embracing the warm, fine weather after being cooped up for months through a long winter. Jodi reminded that people here aren't really caged by winter, though, because there are many things to do outside: skiing, sledding, hockey.....all I think of is shoveling snow. Still, something brings them out.
Perhaps I see so many people out because Montreal is such a large city. My mother in law compares it to New York. There are obviously size differences, but Montreal possesses a large, dense urban core. We have been staying inside that urban core in the Quartier Latin. Imagine Norfolk's Ghent on a huge scale with everything out in the open. We are near a university and, most importantly, we are less than a block away from a Metro crossroads of three lines.
We have done well with the Montreal Metro (given that I love heavy rail, it's not surprising at all). We have each purchased three day occasional ride cards, where we are able to ride the metro an unlimited number of times over three consecutive days. We have ridden all over Montreal using the Metro. The frequency of trains has been convenient and the location of stops has enabled us to do well without a rented car. The Metro includes the storied Underground City and numerous works of art in the stations (although the artwork pales compared to what I have heard is in the Moscow subways). I have had a dim appreciation of the Underground City. It amounts to a large mall tucked underneath the streets. I imagine it would be a wonderful respite from snow and cold, but in the summer it just separates you from the sunshine.
We started roughly with the Metro. We arrived at about 8:00 PM Sunday with no Canadian currency. The banks and exchange centers at the train station were closed already (how did I not think of that before we got here?). We soldiered on out of the station to find the nearest metro stop, hoping that we could use credit cards to purchase fare cards – our American currency certainly wasn't going to get us there. We wandered around a bit looking for a Metro sign. Rain and thunder threatened as we circled a block and a half before finding a Metro entrance. Nearing the entrance, we find two doors: one covered in yellow caution tape, I pressed upon the other...and found it stuck. Nuts. We continued around the corner. Jodi suggested walking into the atrium of the large office building we were circling. We did, and found an escalator down to the Metro.
We weren't through yet, though. We approached a fare card kiosk which took credit cards (hurray!) and I started pushing buttons based on the numbers indicating instructions (everything was written in French). In my haste, I missed the “for English” button, but Jodi found and pressed it. I input my credit card. It was refused. I tried it again, refused again. Irritated and trying to think how we were going to get to the hostel, I tried our everyday credit card (we have a separate card we use on travels, and one that Jodi informed the credit card company that we would be using it in Canada). The everyday card was also refused. I tried using it as a debit card. It was refused again. Jodi counseled that we ask for help from the station attendant (you can get a sense of how we travel).
This is where my nervousness over my lack of French came in. I had visualized in my mind of first using French when we checked into the hostel. I didn't have a plan for what to say here, and I didn't know how to say, “my credit card isn't working at the fare kiosk”. So I smiled and used English. The station attendant was extremely helpful and friendly. She came out of her booth and tried to help us use the fare kiosk. It turned out that we were doing everything right, it was just that the machine was refusing both of our credit cards. We explained to the attendant that we only had American currency and had no way of getting around. The attendant offered to exchange small amounts of our American currency on a one to one basis (which is actually a great exchange!). We traded eight dollars American for eight dollars Canadian in order to get the farecards for the evening.
We were though, almost. By now, I had completely lost my concentration and wasn't looking closely at situations around me. I tried to run the farecard through the entry gate in the same manner as the Washington Metro. It spit it back at me and beeped a rejection tone. I tried this three times, each time holding the card a different way: magnetic strip on the left, then right, then reversed. The attendant then instructed me to swipe the card on the pad atop the gate (there are two types of cards to use: one that feeds through the turnstyle and one which you swipe on top). Jodi did swiped her card on the next gate and walked through. I swiped mine in a back and forth motion that created another rejection. At this point, I don't like a terrible traveler defeated by a Metro station. It was quite funny. The attendant helped me again and manually opened a turnstyle and instructed me that I only needed to hold the card over the turnstyle and it would accept my farecard. Since then, I haven't had any troubles at all in the Metro!
In terms of speaking French, I haven't been completely hopeless. I have actually assembled enough vocabulary to exchange money at the bank, purchase tickets for a museum, and get seated at restaurants. One difference between language here and language in India is this: in India, people looked at me and assumed (correctly) that I didn't speak Kannada and would start speaking to me in English. In Quebec, as Jodi pointed out to me, I look like everyone else so people start speaking French to me. As the conversation progresses, my French skills quickly run out and the other person seamlessly switches to English.
The initial Metro struggle makes for a good story, but is very different from the other experiences we have had in Montreal. We have visited cool museums, enjoyed a fun concert, and walked about the city. Jodi even bought a new backpack (which is notable) from a Roots store. We plan to go to Parc du Mont Royal this morning and then catch an afternoon train to Quebec City.
According to the thermometer on the car, the air temperature on the ridge at Shenandoah NP was 32 degrees when we set out. Sitting inside, you might know the air was cold until you stepped out. Happily, I had remembered to pack enough layered clothing to keep warm. Once we started started downhill, as is the course of many trails at Shenandoah, we got out of the wind and was able to strip off some of the layers of clothes. The weather held steady throughout the day with clouds creeping late to create the kind of dusk painted by Baroque artists: clouds opening beams of light that shone down on farms or highlighted a bend in the river. On the drive back, the car thermometer indicated that the temperature had dropped to 31 degrees. I was glad not to be camping out.
The Hull School and Thornton River trails were close in hikes. From Skyline drive we descended into a hollow where I almost immediately missed the trekking poles I left at home. The fresh fallen leaves coated many loose rocks that shifted with most of my steps. There was no abandoned school at the end of the Hull School Trail, but along the Thornton River, we did see several waterfalls. The river trail also necessitated several stone hops to cross the river, which was more properly a creek. We also saw a rusting car from the 1930s. We couldn't figure out how it got down there. Did someone try to drive it down the mountain, or was this a failed revenuer's attempt to investigate moonshining, or perhaps it was pushed down the mountain to cover up a crime? We followed the ridge along the Appalachian Trail for the last section of the hike, which revealed a few vistas east and west, the best looking miles to the east from the Byrd's Nest #4 picnicking shelter. We also saw a couple of deer on the trail and one bear that lumbered across the trail in front of us. The bear was the second one I had ever seen at the park.
All three of being at least six feet tall, we were able to stride through the downhill and level sections. On the steepest uphills, though, we were reduced to trudging. My training regimen of laying on the couch before going hiking was woefully inadequate to prepare me for the trail. The joints at the top of my legs paid for that -- they still hurt today, too. The uphills at the end of the day were the most difficult.
I enjoyed the hike. Getting home last night, I was sore, but I had a good level of energy: I felt alert. On the trail, I enjoyed the sound of footsteps on the trail and water running over rocks. As is my habit on the trail, I occasionally imagined AD&D encounters. Most of the time, though, my mind followed the trees swaying in the wind.
Today we visited the quietest place I have been to in India. The Nandi Hills lie east and north of Bangalore. It is a hill station, a place of sufficient elevation to provide some respite from the heat. At 4500 feet above sea level, I could notice the difference in temperature when we stepped out of the car. I still noticed the humidity, although Jodi sensed it was dryer than Bangalore and Mysore. Yhe weather mixed of sunshine and clouds in equal measure to make for pleasant walking.
From the top of hill, I could see for miles in several directions. To the south, a flat plateau dotted with farms, villages, and towns stretched into the limit of vision. To the north the a series of other hills, mountains really, marched toward the horizon. Near at hand, copses of deciduous trees sheltered us from the sun. Even on the open rock faces, which were a kind of cement looking limestone, cool winds counteracted the rays of the sun.
Monkeys dominate the top of the Nandi Hills. Years of feeding from humans have created a nuisance from them. When we sat on a bench to east some snacks, it took only a few minutes to draw a monkey to us. The fearless creature jumped right onto the bench on which we were sitting and seemed prepared to reach right into my backpack and grab stuff. While it hopped onto the bench, I got up and Jodi fled. I tried to shoo it away, but all it did was open its mouth full of yellow teeth. Snack time was over.
No one at the office was excited about the prospect of visiting the Nandi Hills. Jodi compared it to our own attitude toward visiting the beach back home: it's nearby, we have been there before, and we usually don't desire to go there again. The Nandi Hills, however, are worth at least one visit for travelers. It collects temples, Tipu Sultan era fortifications, and gardens atop a mountain that is part woods and part open rock. We walked quietly among hand holding couples – who varied from “Hotel California” listening people in jeans, to Muslim couples with the women wearing full face veils, and everyone else in between -- and enjoyed the long, calm views.
Walking up the street through the Devaraja Market in Mysore, a man started talking to me. He started with the question I get constantly: “where are you from”? Most times, the conversation ends with, “I am from the U.S.” and a response of, “ah, America”. This guy continued talking and described the three products for which Mysore is famous: silk, sandalwood, and incense. He was obviously a tout. I have mixed feelings about these guys. On one hand, I know that a tout's goal is to somehow sell me on something – something I most probably had not hand a mind to buy. There is also the chance, which I believe to be very small, of something more sinister. On the other hand, interacting with these people is part of the experience here and it does provide the opportunity to see things off of the main roads.
In this case, It provided us the opportunity to watch a woman making sticks of incense by hand at a home sized incense factory. In a bucket, she created a dark grey paste with water and dark colored flour like powder. She plucked the stiff paste from the bucket and flung it onto a board in front of her. She then took a stick, which was cut from bamboo and with one hand rolled the stick in quick back and forth motion through the paste. In a about four rolling motions, the rolled the bamboo out of the paste and it was now coated in the incense paste. Next, she would lay out the sticks on the front stoop to dry in the sun for several hours. The incense sticks don't have any scent to them at this point. They have to be infused with oils that grant them their scent and color. We saw the bottled oils in the back which included cinnamon, champa which was a honey smell, lotus, jasmine, and others.
The point here for them was for us to purchase sticks of incense. The owner of this place invited me to sit down (which I declined), mentioned several times how his products were exported to the United States and sold at The Body Shop, and thrust into my hands a handbill describing the different scented oils they used. I politely and firmly refused, the owner made a polite good bye, and we left.
Before going to the incense factory, the tout also led us through what he described as the old city market where people sold piles of spices, fruits, and other foods. I towered over the locals that were here and had to duck constantly to pass under the tarps hung everywhere at my chin level. Jodi said afterwards that the market was the type of place Anthony Bourdain would go through (albeit with his camera crew of 10 people and a fixer he trusts).
This was a Mysore highlight for me and was part of what turned out to be an exhausting day in the sun. I did too much walking and it caught up with me. I rode the train back to Bangalore with a splitting headache and slight nausea, while Jodi suffered no ill effects. I still feel tired today and am glad we don't have any running around planned.
I have been in India for two weeks now, which is the longest time I have been outside of the United States since 1983. I have been out here for work, which has been productive and successful. It is a follow up trip from last year when I interviewed and hired 10 people to join my team. This time around, I was conducting reviews, facilitating training, and building the relationship with my people with face to face interaction. I had originally booked time to conduct interviews, but I have had no turnover in a year
Besides working, I visited Mysore again last weekend with two work colleagues. I went this year during the Dasara festival (spelled Dussehra everywhere else but Mysore). It is a nine night festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. I was in Mysore during the second night. The Mysore Palace is lit up for several hours and it played stage to live artistic performances. That night the performers were Hindustani musicians playing the sitar, tablas, and other instruments, followed by traditional dancers who, I believe, were telling the story of the goddess Durga's slaying of the demon Mahishasura. The Palace grounds were packed with people. Hucksters sold all manner of party favors including light up devil horns, horns of the type you see at kids' birthday parties that roll out when you blow on them -- except these were over seven feet long, and LED lit items similar to the kind at the last Dakoween.
In addition to the festival, we visited several places to which I had never been, but was actually reading about in Sharpe's Tiger: the Tipu Sultan's summer palace and the Gumbaz mausoleum in Srirangapatna, along with a 13th century temple at Somnathpur. I get particular delight in reading about places that I am visiting or just visited. In oneexample, the book describes a painting at the summer palace that shows a British defeat by the Mysore army, and I thought, "I just saw that painting yesterday!"
I am here for another week, but I have finished my work. Jodi is on her way here to join me even as I type this. Her plane lands just after midnight local time. We have a place to stay in Bangalore, although we are spending a few days in the ruined city of Hampi and will visit Mysore (which is actually an interesting enough place that I am happy to revisit). Fourteen or fifteen hours and I'll get to see her!
Over the next two days, we looked at half a dozen places for refrigerators and were stung by the price tags. Refrigerators comparable to what we purchased seven years ago are 30 to 40 percent more expensive. On day three, our hand had been forced. The fridge stopped working, we paid Ted Jones $49 for the service call and we went to Southland Appliance (originally on unit_9 's recommendation) where we found the refrigerator we wanted. I liked Southland, it reminded me of Suffolk, which is a good thing, in that it looked like a 60 year old business with laid back staff. The refrigerator we wanted was comparable in price to the ones we saw at big box stores (within 30 dollars), and they would deliver a loaner refrigerator to use until the new one came in. This last bit was particular important because all of our things were in coolers. The loaner refrigerator was free, and its delivery was included in the delivery charge we were paying for the new fridge. Southland gets high marks in my book for this.
Southland delivered a new refrigerator yesterday. We had used the loaner, which was also a new refrigerator, for a week. It served its purpose, but we had been excited about getting the new fridge. A new Maytag now sits in the kitchen. Jodi called me yesterday, though, to tell me she discovered that it was the wrong refrigerator. It turns out that Maytag sent out the wrong refrigerator. The model numbers are nearly identical having only one number different: a two versus a five. That one number difference, however, means that it is a larger refrigerator that lacks several of the features we were looking for. Jodi was suspicious of the large size when they delivered the refrigerator. Two minutes after the delivery truck left, she confirmed her suspicions when she saw the differences on the fridge insides. Southland is straightening out the situation. We use the wrong refrigerator until they get the correct one.
This refrigerator is gigantic. We can't even get into the pantry next to the fridge, because the space is now too narrow. I think of Helmet's version of the Gigantor them whenever I open the refrigerator.
Having waited for table seating at the Bier Garden before, Jodi called ahead to make reservations only to find that they were already booked. People going to the Earth, Wind, and Fire concert had booked tables through the evening so that the earliest available table was at 9:00 -- way too late for dinner. We booked dinner at the Montgomery Grill instead (Chris gave me grief about us going to a place called the Montgomery Grill, "you mean we traveled all of the up here from Montgomery, Alabama, just to go to a place called Montgomery Grill". The restaurant is actually named after the plat of land created in the 1700s that the building sits on).
We gathered at our house and decided to walk downtown to the restaurant. While it had been a hot day, the growing evening had cooled down things to a pleasant walking temperature. We arrived at the restaurant, had a good meal, and decided to walk back to the house to store leftovers and then decide about darts.
It turned out that dart throwing didn't happen -- and after Jodi bought new darts today. We looked into Griff's to find it packed full of people (we're old fuddy duddies, what I can say). I looked into Paddy O'Brien's, but no dice there either. We considered driving down to Greenbrier, but that meant 40 minutes of driving back and forth and it was getting late already. We went back home, had ice cream, and talked later into the evening.
I miss Amy and Chris, and their kids (who were not in attendance last night). Chris was his usual hilarious self. His honest stories and jokes had us laughing and rolling our eyes. It was good to see and talk to Amy in person, although having her around is yet another person -- in addition to Jodi -- who can see through BS. She games with our Monday night group over webcam -- she is our decker in mikailborg 's Shadowrun game. Being together reminded me of how much fun was our old Sci-Con/Technicon/gaming group.
It was a good time. This morning I realized that we have not been walking nearly enough this spring, when I awoke to sore legs. I need to make this summer a walking season.