Saturday, June 26, 2004

Who uses pay phones these days? Beaverton Posted by Hello

The Hell of Our Desire

I’m half way through Seven Pillars of Wisdom (SPW) by T.E. Lawrence. I read it for the first time several years ago. But after 9/11 the book has new meaning.

Lawrence was a scholar and simple map maker in British military intelligence who, through happenstance and a desire to make a difference, found himself leading a band of Bedouin in a guerilla war against the Turks. Lawrence had a belief that traditional British military strategy would fail in defeating the Turks in Arabia. He clearly understood the Bedouin could be motivated, and realized how the Bedouin could potentially defeat the Turks if only they could overcome their clannish tribalism and work together. None of his superiors believed it could be done. It is amazing to watch Lawrence pull together these tribal Bedouin by sheer personality and will.

An effective Arab culture ended with the First World War. SPW shows an Arab culture as it is first outpaced by changes in the world around them. What was an effective way of life was really outpaced by the Turks prior to WW I. Contrasted with today’s current events, SPW provides background and insight.

SPW is a classic in many ways; travelogue, cultural exposition and handbook for asymmetrical warfare. It’s clear that Lawrence loved the Middle East and the Bedouin who populates most of it. A stand-out of military memoirs, SPW is well written and a very entertaining read. The only weakness is a propensity to name these hundreds of Bedouin he meets in his travels, only to never be mentioned again.

This is a story by men about men. There are no women in this story, and are rarely even in the background as cooks and mothers in camp and distant wives while traveling. The relationships between men described in detail. It was surprising to read about the apparent acceptance of homosexuality between young unmarried men in Bedouin culture.

The descriptions of the landscape and daily life are richly detailed. From feast to near famine, the weather, landscape, life and death in the desert become very real. The book describes his military campaign and the politicking and diplomacy required to make it happen.

It’s very interesting to compare the Muslim culture depicted in SPW and the Middle East today. Similarities and additional background can be seen in SPW.

All in all, a very satisfying book on several levels.

Lilly pads, Mirbeau Posted by Hello

Mirbeau, the Auberge du Soleil of central New York

Skaneateles, New York is a destination for me several times a year. Mirbeau is at the primo end of the spectrum, with the Microtel and Holiday Inn of Auburn serving the dubious role of counterpoint. Mirbeau is a high-end spa and small hotel with 34 rooms.

Set half way up a hill, Mirbeau has a French provincial architecture. There is a pond surrounded by the hotel lobby and restaurant and two wings of rooms, one made up of 4 room cottages, the other rooms in a wing off the hotel lobby. The koi pond combined with the architecture brings to mind Monet’s Giverny. The sounds of about a half dozen bull frogs and some tree frogs punctuate the night.

I’ve only stayed in cottage rooms. They are quite and quite large. Each room has a gas fireplace, king size bed, and desk with 100 Mb/s Ethernet connection. Oh, there’s a TV too. Compared to the upper floor, the ground floor rooms have a patio and an additional window. The bathrooms are good sized with two sinks, a shower for two and a large claw footed old fashioned bathtub. The Mirbeau is quite generous with their water; the show has an old fashioned shower head that produces prodigious amounts of water. (None of those tiny air/water mixing shower heads here.) The bath is bisected by a diagonal wall unit with the sinks on one side and the toilet on the other, separating it from the rest of the bathroom. I only have two gripes about the rooms, the wall switch for the toilet area is hard to find (and its dark back there), and the desk chair is unpadded and thus poorly suited for more than an hour or two of work. Oh ya, and each room as a Boise Wave clock radio with remote. Usually they have the radio on playing classical music when you check in. The alarm clock is too complicated for me, I use my cell phone.

The main hotel building has two levels; the upper is the lobby with a small bar and seating area that overlooks the pond. The lower level houses the spa where they offer typical spa stuff; studies for aerobics and yoga, a weight room, etc. As I’ve never partaken in the spa services I won’t say any more other than they seem to have a very complete offering.

The restaurant appears to be very very good – quite the “fine dinning” experience. Dinner prices are very expensive but probably worth it. I’ve attended a dinner reception there that was catered by the restaurant and it was quite good. Yesterday I had lunch there and ordered off their Tasting Menu.

Quite good.

Breakfast is well done but typical breakfast fare. They do have a breakfast waitress who has the most striking blue eyes.

Their best desert, and quite popular, is bread pudding. A warm rich creamy sauce (sort of a custard with some areas firmly cooked and others runny) with chunks of 70% cocoa chocolate, and cut slices of croissant. Wow. Sadly they’ve taken their signature desert off the menu and replaced it with this chocolate thing about the size of a double high biscuit. The top half is chocolate mousse, the bottom is this greasy peanut butter/chocolate fudge with something like Rice Crispies mixed in it. This and crème brulie were offered as their replacements to the bread pudding.

You can also walk across the parking lot to get to Rosalie’s, a very nice Italian place that’s only a notch or two below the Mirbeau. Rosalie’s is considerably less expensive than Mirbeau as well.

Overall, Mirbeau is a great place to stay – beautiful and comfortable.

Mirbeau pond and Japanese bridge Posted by Hello

Night shot of pond in the rain at Mirbeau Posted by Hello

Blue Water restaurant -- sunny warm weather in central NY brings 'em out. Posted by Hello

Waiting in line for the E to B terminal shuttle at O'Hare Posted by Hello

Journeys with George

Whether you’re left or right, statist or dynamist, you can’t help but laugh at Alexandra Pelosi’s “home movie” shot during George Bush’s 2000 election campaign. Much like a contemporary video version of Boys on the Bus, Journeys with George captures well the flavor of the campaign trail and the role of the media in the campaign. I watched the movie on my laptop flying from Chicago to Portland. I laughed so much that my seat mate asked what I’d been watching.

Vignettes of the candidate, George W. Bush are the focus of the movie; capturing many unguarded moments, mostly goofy and funny. But the real story is what the grinding year long campaign does to the relationships among reporters and “shooters” (photographers) and between them the candidate and his staff.

This is not a pat movie with a strongly biased point of view. The portrayal of the principals is very straight forward. There is also ambiguity – about what kind of man Dubya really is, the role of media, and the biases that everyone brings to the campaign. The story seems to roll back and forth between an adversarial relationship between candidate and media, and one of shared experience and camaraderie.

And this is not just a political movie. There’s enough partying, romance, rumor and life to entertain even the apolitical.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

On the road again...

In upstate NY this week. The following from the first half of the trip.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Mall babe, Houston Posted by Hello

Hey, I'm no Raymi, but I can't figure out any other way to get a photo up for my profile... And no, I hadn't been drinking. Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 19, 2004

McMenamins Brewpub Posted by Hello

Dinner in SFO Posted by Hello

Creepy tea pot lid Posted by Hello

Chrysler Town & Country Posted by Hello