Thursday, April 26, 2012

road trip: california, north to south

Road trips are magical; somewhere in between the changing scenery, radio stations fading into static, and the open road stretched before you, there's a point where you realize that this is the way to travel. None of the stress of flying, cramped in a tin can. No, if you have the time and the tunes, the highway is the only way get from point A to point B.

I rented a car last week and drove from Palo Alto, down the California coast to San Diego, with a stop in LA for the LA Times Festival of Books. Round trip, it was just under 1,000 miles.

highway 101 as the sun sets

the la times festival of books

desert landscape north of la on i-5

The trip spanned only a few days, but it was a chance to visit friends who I haven't seen in two years (one of whom was graduating from law school, congrats Hannah!).

And then there was the LA Times Festival of Books, a two-day literary celebration with authors, booksellers, and readers of all ages. I was fortunate enough to see some really amazing panels with some really brilliant authors, including Lev Grossman, Anne Rice, and John Scalzi. As someone who considers reading a valid lifestyle, this was a 'can't-miss' festival!

It was also a good test for an upcoming road trip: in just under a month, I'll commence another adventure. This time, I'll be working on a ranch in southern Wyoming for four months! I'll drive from Texas (where my car is stored) to the ranch, a trip of about 20 hours-- to be spread over two days, thank goodness!

(my phone was wiped halfway through this trip, so I unfortunately lost a few pictures... you'll just have to take my word on it, the trip was beautiful!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

washington d.c.

Only a week and a half late!

There are only a few major cities in the U.S. that I've never been to (Seattle, Boston, Indianapolis, Washington D.C., and Baltimore), but I can scratch one item off of that list now! I spent a few days last week in our nation's capital, seeing the sites and catching up with a couple of friends who live in the area.

the capitol

D.C. is majestic. That's really all there is to it. The city is white marble and granite, Doric columns, and beautiful domed ceilings. It's art and history and sweeping parks. Even if you're not interested in the government and political part of D.C. (though it's hard to ignore!), the architecture alone is more than worth the trip.

And the museums! If you're interested in something, Washington has a museum for it, and it's probably free. The Air & Space Museum was definitely my favorite, although I missed the arrival of the Space Shuttle Discovery this morning (link to National Geographic's beautiful photos of the shuttle's arrival at Dulles airport).

I was short on time, so I did my best to pack in as much site-seeing as I could.

cherry blossoms in front of the capitol

This spring marked the 100th anniversary of the gifting of the famous Cherry Trees that line D.C.'s parks and buildings. My first full day in the city began with a parade for the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

And then it was off to the monuments. It was a beautiful day, and I spent it walking from one end of the city (the Lincoln Memorial and surrounding war memorials) all the way down to the Capitol.

lincoln in all his majesty

the beautiful and serene WWII memorial

the national monument; cracks can still be seen in the side from last year's quake

And then I was lucky enough to get on a tour of the inside of the Capitol, which was not only beautiful, but blessedly air conditioned.

the inside of the dome of the capitol

My second (and last) day in the city was spent in museums; specifically, the Air and Space Museum, and the American History Museum. As I mentioned before, the former was amazing, full of famous aircraft (almost all of them originals!). A tour guide took us from the beginning of flight (the Wright Brothers original flyer) to the first passenger planes, early rockets, and moon landing rovers.

the lobby of the air & space museum, with a fighter jet and rockets looming above me

an original wright bros. plane

This trip definitely wasn't long enough to see everything that I wanted to see, so I'll have to come back some other time to see the rest!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

literary challenge: the orange prize

For the most part, literary awards mean very little in the US, unless it's an Oprah Book Club sticker on the front cover1. Most Americans can't tell you who won this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction2, or what the Man Booker Award is3. Even most self-proclaimed bibliophiles (and by 'most', I mean most that I've encountered) have read surprisingly few literary award winners.

I have been informed that things are different overseas. Book awards in the UK, for instance, have more impact, and a nomination for short-list can be enough to propel an unheard-of author into the spotlight.

With the recent announcement of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winners, I've begun to realize my literary short-comings. It bothers me, a bit, that there's so much amazing fiction out there that I've passed over in favor of "bubblegum" lit: fun, but of no real literary value.

Since I'm currently unemployed, I've decided that I have the time to read more. And with that realization, I've set a goal to read an entire list of award winners. And after a lot of thinking and researching, I've decided that the list I'm going to work through is the Orange Prize for Fiction.

There are two reasons for this:
1. The award is only given to female authors.
2. It's only been around since 1996, so there are a lot fewer books to read than, say, the Man Booker (est. 1968) or the Nobel Prize for Literature (est. 1901).

Here is the complete list of Orange Prize finalists:

2011: The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht
2010: The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
2009: Home, by Marilynne Robinson
2008: The Road Home, by Rose Tremain
2007: Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
2006: On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
2005: We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver
2004: Small Island, by Andrea Levy
2003: Property , by Valerie Martin
2002: Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett
2001: The Idea of Perfection, by Kate Grenville
2000: When I Lived in Modern Times, by Linda Grant
1999: A Crime in the Neighbourhood, by Suzanne Berne
1998: Larry's Party, by Carol Shields
1997: Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels
1996: A Spell of Winter, by Helen Dunmore

I haven't read a single Orange Prize finalist, and I've only read one of the short-list selections (Oryx and Crake, Atwood, absolutely fantastic read!), so this should be a good challenge!

1 I don't understand why this is, because I disagree with most of the books Oprah selects, and also the senseless fervor that surrounds her selections as millions of housewives flock to the bookstores.
2 No finalist was selected for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction award.
3 I'm not actually sure what it is either, but Wikipedia informs me that it's "a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe". This is the next award list that I plan to tackle.

Friday, April 13, 2012

in transit, looking back at nyc

There is something incredibly soothing about sitting on a train, listening to good music (fun., if you're curious), and watching the beautiful northeastern US fly by outside your window. After a week in New York City, I'm excited to be heading somewhere new: Washington D.C., one of the few major cities in the US that I have yet to visit!

But since the train has wifi, I suppose I should use this time to be productive.

The last few days of New York were action-packed. Okay, maybe just plain 'packed'. Whether it was uncovering amazing new bits of my family tree (genealogy research was a big reason I came to the City this week), seeing friends from Antarctica, or getting lost in Central Park, every day has been full to the point of overload.

Here are a few pictures from the last few days, in no particular order:

the high line, a section of abandoned elevated train tracks that have been turned into a park

a t-rex in the museum of natural history

central park

a giant wildfire rages on long island

the new world trade center

a nerdy side-trip to watch 'doctor who' film in central park

Next up, the nation's capital!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

randomly delightful moments

You're walking through the City on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It's almost 3:00, and you're on your way to catch a train back to Long Island. You think, "I saw a park nearby earlier, I should cut through there." So you go to the park, and there you notice something strange.

It's not the crowds that are strange; it's a nice day, and people are enjoying it. No, you realize, it's the sheer, overwhelming number of people. People wearing funny costumes. And rabbit ears. And every single one of them has a pillow. "What on earth," you wonder, "is going on here?"

The clock strikes three and you get your answer. In unison, hundreds of people thrust their pillows into the air en masse, give a mighty war cry, and proceed to pummel the ever-loving snot out of each other. It is, you realize, a pillow fight in the middle of Washington Square Park.

It is randomly delightful. And that's really all there is to it.

a crowd gathers

some people are more prepared for the looming battle than others!

the call comes, pillows are thrust into the sky...

...and the fight begins!

feathers, feathers, everywhere

what a wonderful day in the park

Thursday, April 5, 2012

in the big apple

New York City is, to me, like that older cousin you looked up to when you were young. When you're a kid, it's magical and big and it can do no wrong. As you get older, you realize that it has its flaws; you still love it, but you start to notice the rudeness and the way it always seems to busy for you to just stop and relax and say "hi" to it.

Okay, possibly I'm taking this metaphor too far. The point is, I'm shocked by how much my opinion of the city has changed over the years. I was twelve the first time I came to Manhattan , wide-eyed with the naivety of a child who has never been in a big city before. But now, alas, the magic is gone. Which isn't to say that I don't still love this city; just that it no longer shines quite as brightly.

Some people are born to love New York City with all their soul. I'm not one of them. It's the crowds, and the buildings, the constant traffic and honking of cars. The guys hawking their goods on the street, and the smell of exhaust. It's the people and the attitude. It's the noise, which you can't escape. I don't mind playing tourist, but I can't enjoy the city the way I did when I was younger.

I have a lot of memories of NYC though: seeing my first Broadway play; eating a slice of pizza the size of my head; seeing a concert at Madison Square Gardens; getting lost in a bad part of town after dark with a friend; breathing in ash and crying at the WTC site shortly after 9/11. New York is a part of my history like no other city I've ever been in.

In fact, New York is a part of my history in another way: my family comes from here, going back to the 1800s when my ancestors first came over from Europe. And this is why I'm here this week. Some people go on vacation to see the sites; I go on vacation to sit in libraries and dig through musty old books and reels of microfiche, and to wander cemeteries.

This week is also Passover, so I'm happy to be able to join my family on Long Island for the holiday and to see cousins who I haven't seen in years.

Since I felt it was wrong to come to NYC and only sit in the library, I took today to walk around the city and see a few landmarks. Mostly I wandered Central Park and read in the sun, though... you can take the nerd out of the library, but she'll still be a nerd!

the empire state building

the ceiling of the new york public library

times square

grand central station