Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Vince Vaughn’s character in Swingers is known for the phrase “Vegas, baby, Vegas!” It refers to all the great things he’s going to do there. He’s going to have fun. He’s going to break rules. Well, for us married, non-gambling, non-carousing types, the cheer might as well be, “Vacation, baby, vacation!” Vacation is where you do all the fun things you like to do. And even if they don't work out perfectly, in the stressless, anti-gravity zone of vacation, they can still be great.
For us that generally means lots of leisurely strolling, lovely views, good food and art. Based on that premise, Bar Harbor was a bit hit with us.
Vacation Planning, K-Style
As Toronto was the impetus for our vacation and we decided to take some time in front of that to do a lengthier trip of some sort, K's original idea of going to Bar Harbor was predicated on the idea that Mt. Desert is roughly parallel with Toronto, geographically speaking. So she thought we'd fly up to Bar Harbor (Bangor, really) and then across to Toronto. She's a serious optimizer, so progress must always be made in the predetermined direction of your final destination.
While we were still in this phase of planning, a further enticement tilted the scales towards Bar Harbor when we chanced upon a New York Times "36 hours" column via tripadvisor.com that bewitched K.
You see the Times piece mentioned a place called Reel Pizza Cinerama, a movie theatre that serves gourmet pizza. Its description mentioned couch seating and a bingo board that alerts patrons silently that their order is ready. Ooooooh.
You might wish to ask, "Can't you just do that at home?" Well, yes. And you might then remember the chronology of our vacation and note, "And weren't you going to a FILM FESTIVAL in just a few days anyway?" And we'd have to agree that you are - again - correct. We're just a little goofy, ok? We like movies. We like pizza. We like couches. There's no other defense forthcoming.
In any case, hypnotized by the Reel Pizza Cinerama concept we continued our Bar Harbor research and learned about the wonders of Acadia National Park. Acadia sounded like the perfect national park for couch potatoes. Lots of beautiful, relatively easy hikes. (A national park famous for a popover restaurant, for chrissakes.)
We set about trying to figure out where we should stay. Somewhere along the way, we became aware of The Bayview. A helpful visitor had posted a review on tripadvisor complete with photos. It looked quite promising.
Finally having committed our hearts, we began to look into booking our travel. Funny thing that. So yes, you could say that Bar Harbor is on the way to Toronto in that both are far north of The City. But when you go to book flights, it turns out that - as they say in various jokes - "Yah can't get theah from heah." You have to fly NYC to Maine. Maine back south to Boston. And Boston to Toronto. Oops.
Given that from an airtime standpoint it wasn't much of a hassle, we ignored our original premise and we went.
Bar Harbor Proper
We arrived at The Bayviewto fresh cookies. A recent hotel trend in the last few years that we enjoy and encourage. It was dark, so we had no idea what the view was like. When the sun came up, we were thrilled. The hotel is right on Frenchman's Bay and every single room faces the water. It is a terrific view. (This is the view from our room.)
We decided to spend our first day exploring the town of Bar Harbor. We located Reel Pizza Cinerama and checked the movie schedule. Natch. And we noodled around. As K. says, "Bar Harbor is a dopey little town in many ways. Lots of junky shops."
Which is true. There are a few art galleries, however. And me, being me, insisted that we enter nearly all of them. Good thing we did.
In the Cygnet Gallery, we met Ryan. Cygnet turns out to be a side venture of the Swan Agency, a local realtor, and Ryan is Swan's newest hire. As he is settling in, he is also working in the gallery. Ryan turned out to be a goldmine.
In addition to having an adorable dog that K. immediately adopted, Ryan has been wandering around the globe for eight years as an itinerant extreme sportsman. So he's hiked every last trail in Acadia and knows more about the park than anyone who works there.
He is also the sort of connector and maven who has learned pretty much all there is to know about the island. He was able to tell us what trails to do (given our sordid, slothful lifestyle), what restaurants to each in and generally everything we needed to know about the lay of the land.
We went back to visit Ryan several times on our stay, reported in on our successes, hung out...and, of course, bought a lovely little oil painting by Holly Ready. (My theory was that I was going to take it to work for my office, but K. became enamored of it and it's ended up on the walls at home.)
Annals of Acadia: Our Poor Sense of Direction Induces Unnecessary Exercise
After having dedicated the first day completely to being in town, we spent large parts of our subsequent days hiking in Acadia and returning to town for dinners.
We did a number of the recommended Acadia activities. We hiked along the shoreline around Thunder Hole (the hole itself being a non-event, as Ryan had warned us) and across Sand Beach to the Great Head Trail.
The Great Head Trail was our first serious hike and our navigational skills completely betrayed us. Minutes from the end of our adventure, we strayed from the Trail to skitter out to one of many cliff views. We knew we were close to the end because the trail is a circuit and we were facing Sand Beach where the trail began. On our cut back into the trail, however, we accidentally crossed paths and ended up somehow totally reversing our direction and doubling the length of our hike!
We hiked the Jordan Pond Trail - which is pretty easy, gorgeous and by far K's favorite trail. And no wonder as our hike there ended perfectly: with popovers at sunset at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant; sitting at a table on the lawn along the pond's shore.
We also walked the Eagle Lake Trail, which is very rocky and not for the weak of ankle. I felt terrible for the older folks we saw on the trail coming in the other direction. I’m sure had no idea what they were in for.
Another directional miscalculation extended our Eagle Lake adventure by several miles, but it was fun. We ended up hiking up onto one of the Bubble Trails which connects to the Eagle Lake Trail - where I snapped this 360 degree plus panorama.
Finally, no trip to Acadia is complete without a sunrise and a sunset on Cadillac Mountain. This is where the sun first rises on the eastern shore of the U.S. and it's a stunning view. After getting up for the sunrise, we decided to go back and do a sunset, too. Well worth it. Can’t you tell by our glowing faces?
Northeast Harbor: Gardens & Acquisitions
We ventured over to the town of Northeast Harbor, which is much smaller than Bar Harbor and thankfully without the touristy t-shirt shops.
Just before we left Northeast Harbor, we chanced into the two lovely gardens that we would absolutely have passed on were it not for a strange and garrulous clerk in the town bookstore. After she had been burbling on nearly schizophrenically for a good eight minutes, I thought my head might explode. We desperately tried to pry ourselves away. As she finally acknowledged our need to leave her presence she unexpectedly blurted out that there were too terrific hidden gardens we needed to see before we left. We weren’t sure if she was trustworthy as a tour guide, but thought there would be no harm in confirming a) their existence and b) whether they were worth seeing.
The first garden was the Asticou Garden and the other was the Thuya Garden. Asticou is a Japanese style garden with lovely details like this stone path through a stream. Thuya is also lovely little gem of a garden and it has some great views out over the harbor.
I have a thing for dragonflies. And at each of these little pastoral hideaways, I encountered a dragonfly of a different hue. The one in the Asticou was tiny, trim and had lovely blue eyes. The Thuya was heavier set and bright red. Both were kind enough to pose for my nifty, new Nikon.
Also in Northeastern Harbor, we discovered the Shaw Gallery. In addition to snagging some ear bling, the discovery of this store also led (after days of mulling) to our second painting purchase of the vacation. (Honestly, that’s an all time vacation record. I love buying art, but two in one vacation was really a fluke. I have to say that or K. will kill me.) It's a gorgeous piece by David Vickery (a rising Mohegan Island painter) which is very appropriately themed based on our time spent worshipping Maine sunrises and sunsets and which is now prominently situated in our living room.
Food & Flicks
Dining around Bar Harbor is pretty good. It's chock full of restaurants, given its size. Although a number of them seem overrated. I found the well reviewed Cafe Bluefish, for instance to be big on homey ambiance and a real dud on service and very disappointing in terms of the food itself. The same was true of the famed brunch at 2Cats. Hands down the best restaurant we found was Havana. Great food, great ambiance and - for those who imbibe - a great wine list. The other place worth noting for brunch is Cafe This Way.
By now, you're wondering what happened to Reel Pizza Cinerama. Seems like we did an awful lot of hiking, eating and purchasing, right? Well, we did finally make it to a flick at Reel Pizza. The movie was pretty good (The Beautiful Country) and the BBQ chicken pizza was also pretty good, although the BBQ sauce was sweeter than I like it. But did that slow me down? Nope. Not for one second. Vacation, baby, vacation! Read the rest of this post...
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
I waited my turn then. And in junior year, I began seriously considering when and how to get it done. I mulled and mulled and finally a went into a classroom with some friends and one of the girls (Laura?) pierced it by hand. Using a safety pin as I recall.
Somehow, I neglected to mention this fact to my parents. When my father met me at the train station at my next vacation break, we hopped into a cab together and he was seated on my left side. "I see you've pierced your ear," he commented drolly. I kicked myself silently. I knew I had forgotten something.
I have to say, all in all my parents handled it quite well. Certainly better the mother of one my best friends who refused to actually speak to me for several years until the fact that we were roommates freshman year in college made it impossible to keep the cold war going.
I suppose I have to give her a break on that one. It was a bedroom community in Westchester County, NY in the early 80's and I was the first and only one of my immediate crowd from home to grow a tail and pierce an ear; then cut the tail and spike my hair. And finally to add the de rigeur leather and spikes. Damn I wanted to be Adam Ant. And then Billy Idol. And then Prince. But perhaps that's another post.
In any case, my earrings kept pace with my evolving style - from my original Idol-style dangling silver cross through a thousand different shapes, sizes and stone colors...that is up until about 10 years ago.
Sometime around 1995 - as I entered the corporate world - I gave up and went to one of three choices: nothing (i.e., the weekday choice since the bursting of the Internet bubble), a diamond stud Laura gave me (a year following the piercing ritual), or a small silver hoop. Recently, I decided that I wanted to investigate getting some groovier ear wear. But where to start? I'm not looking for a rock 'n roll style so the racks of cheap-o earrings on St. Marks street no longer hold any attraction.
Not surprisingly, I started with Google. But the vast majority of what I found was pretty similar to the generic silver stuff you find on the street. The only stuff I found in the "serious" ear wear for men category was in the U.K. Hmmmmm...
So then I thought to myself, "I know! I'll ask some cool hunters." So I pinged Josh and Josh. No dice.
Having failed online, K. and I went to 47th Street (The City's diamond/jewelry district) to saunter about and see what we could find. I found nifty single white gold hoop with diamonds up the front. Turns out that another guy had bought the first one, breaking the pair. I guess there are some guys are out there buying serious earrings besides P. Diddy. So that was officially Purchase #1 of the New Collection.
During our recent vacation on Mt. Desert we chanced into the Shaw Gallery where I snagged some more nifty earrings. Purchase #2 of the New Collection is actually a full pair that I can use - one shaped as an "X" and one as an "O". They are made with black diamonds and one single white accent diamond. So Purchase #2 of the New Collection therefore gives me two new earrings without having to break a set.
Purchase #3 of the New Collection is a small silver pair which is hard to describe - basically a medium weight silver disk with CZ's in the center. K. took a liking to those, however, and I've not had a chance to wear one yet. A hidden danger with pairs. Must play with with (Significant) Other.
One of the jewelers at Shaw is a guy named Chris who has pierced ears himself. So I took the opportunity to discuss potential designs for an earring I'd like. We'll see what he comes up with. He's anti-computer, so I have to wait for something sent via the actual US POSTAL SERVICE to see what his design suggestions are. That's like so...1993, right?
This past weekend, the hunt continued. And up at the Lyndhurst craft fair in Westchester, I ran into one of my favorite jewelers, Michael Alexander. If you're on the east coast, attend any of the major fairs, and you haven't met Michael and Andrea, you're in for a treat. They're so much fun to hang out with and Michael is incredibly talented. (The link above does not do his portfolio justice. But he's got to keep his most brilliant work on the down low lest others pilfer his best designs.) For those of you familiar with my "seven year ring" with the spinning, ladder-like center that I'm always playing with, that's Michael's craftsmanship you're admiring.
Being that I was on a mission of sorts, I seized the opportunity to ask Michael if he does men's earrings and he said he does. We looked at a few different options and now he's now busy crafting a groovy, industrial/mechanical-flavored earring somewhat reminiscent of an art deco ship's propeller with a sapphire in the middle. I can't wait to see how it turns out.
I will leave off with two questions for Evangelistas and Evangelistos who may feel like sharing:
1) Do you have any good sources of men's earrings?Read the rest of this post...
2) What sorts of unlikely interests or obsessions have resurfaced in your life of late?
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (**** 1/2)
We started off our festival with a bang, literally. KKBB is rollicking good fun. A meta-noir thriller in the tradition of the great Elmore Leonard adaptations Out of Sight and Get Shorty, KKBB stars Robert Downey Jr. as a small time thief forced by chance into a masquerade as a Hollywood actor and Val Kilmer as a gay private eye assigned to teach him the ropes. Naturally, they stumble into a real case.
Played for laughs and suspense all the way through, KKBB manages to send up film noir conventions while delivering a damn good and kooky noir thriller of its own at the same time. No mean feat. Downey is at his best, Kilmer delivers scathingly funny banter all the way through, and newcomer Michelle Monaghan fills in the love interest role without impeding the true professionals.
Don't miss it!
Takeshis' (** 1/2)
Takeshi "Beat" Kitano is the art-house Clint Eastwood of Japan; his films revolving around Dirty Harry-type plots. This film is his Fellini film, where the director has decided to confront his alter ego "Beat" Kitano with a bit-part actor (also named Kitano) who fantasizes about being "Beat" Kitano - both played by Takeshi Kitano. And so Takeshis' follows the lives of both characters: "Beat" himself, and Kitano, a mostly silent cashier at a convenience store.
Takeshis' is a film driven by dream logic and so each character's day dreams are presented throughout the film creating a yielding a continuously unfolding funhouse mirror experience. While non-Kitano fans such K. and me can appreciate the obvious talents of Kitano as an actor and as a filmmaker, this flick is truly only of interest to "Beat"-niks.
Three Times (***)
Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-Hsien has quite a reputation in film circles, although he's largely unknown to the average American moviegoer. Three Times shows pretty clearly why both things are true.
Three Times relates the story of two souls striving to connect in three different tiem periods, 1966, the 1911 and 2005. The lovers are played by the same two actors - the gorgeous Shu Qi and Shang Chen - in each vignette. In the 60's, she's a pool hall hostess and he's a young man called up for military service. In the 1900's, she's a courtesan and he's a married political agent fighting for Taiwan's independence from Japan (this story is shot as a silent film with placards to fill in the dialogue). In the present, she's an epileptic singer and he's a photographer. In every time, they struggle with their identity and their culture to make a lasting connection. Only sometimes do they succeed.
Beautifully shot and glacially paced, Three Times is only for those who can derive meaning for themselves. There are many who will feel that each vignette is flawed or unfinished for various reasons. I enjoyed the first two stories a lot, but felt the final one was inconclusive and failed to take advantage of the many opportunities presented by the plot.
To me, Three Times is a simultaneously a great example of what can be great and what what can be unsuccessful in Asian cinema today.
L'annulaire (*** 1/2)
Compulsively peculiar and watchable, this is the story of a young woman who cuts her ring finger bottling lemonade in a factory and finds new employment with a man who "preserves things for people".
Featuring the gorgeous Olga Kurylenko as the protagonist, L'annulaire is beautiful, erotic and far too strange to summarize. There are sexy red shoes that possess, an abandoned school that is now a laboratory, people who might be ghosts, and hot French sex in an antique basement pool.
Based on a novel by Yoko Ogawa and it plays as a fusion of weird Japanese eroticism with a European blend of surrealism that resembles the best of the collaborations of Jeunet and Caro.
Sisters in Law (*** 1/2)
SIL chronicles two remarkable women in Cameroon. One a judge and the other a prosecutor, the film documents their struggle to help, support, give succor to, and ultimately gain some measure of justice for the women and girls in their country who are systematically wronged. Following four heartbreaking cases of two girls and two women, Sisters in Law clearly demonstrates that while all may not be achieved in the battle for equality in the Western world, African countries like Cameroon are in a terrifying state.
There are some minor flaws with the film. It gives its audience no context, for instance, until the very end of the film when one of the women lectures a university class and we come to more fully understand what we have been witnessing. That said, Sisters in Law plunges you into a world about which good citizens of the world need to know a great deal more and that is time well spent.
I'm so natively sympathetic to a film like Neverwas that I feel bad coming clean about its failures. It has a first time writer-director, an excellent cast (Sir Ian McKellen, William Hurt, Nick Nolte and Jessica Lange!) and a story that's tailor made for childhood fantasy geeks like me.
The scion of a famed children's book author who has lost a fatal battle with mental illness returns to the scene of his father's initial dissolution - an institution with kindly, unorthodox techniques. He sets out to help its patients and to uncover his father's hidden history. And to ultimately find the creative wellspring of his father's greatest success, an endlessly popular children's fantasy called "Neverwas".
Unfortunately, director Terry Gilliam and (then) firstime screenwriter Richard LaGravenese staked out this emotional territory long ago. That film was called The Fisher King. And it is far, far superior in so many ways.
Poor Neverwas falls prey to treacle at every single turn, erasing nearly all of its attempts at magic. Scored within a hair of being a DeBeers commercial by the strangely shameless Philip Glass (who knew minimalism could do fake emotion so mercilessly?), each and every actor is in desperate need of someone to warn them against the frequent Movie of the Week emotional sandtraps of a script. This is a text that needs to be played against not with. It's written like a Hallmark card and its only chance of not being laughable might be to try playing it with the gravitas of Pinter.
I wanted so desperately to like it. Unfortunately, Neverwas was so desperately needy for me to like it that it quickly wore out its welcome.
The Heart of the Game (*****)
GO SEE THIS FILM. This is 2005's Murderball!
A gripping doc about a girls' high school basketball team in Seattle and their menschy coach (who will be played by Paul Giammatti someday I guarantee it), The Heart of the Game chronicles how one man makes a tremendous difference in kids' lives by giving them 150% every single day.
A college tax professor made head coach, Bill Rensler brings a CPA's detailed diligence to his focus and care for the kids. And he brings an hysterical competitiveness to the game. Simultaneously creative, hystericla and bloodcurdling, he models his teams on being "a pack of wolves" one year, a "pride of lions" the next and a tropical storm another year. Each time he uses metaphors from nature to teach teamwork, tireless competition and commitment.
I hate sports. I hate silly competition. Go see this movie. I loved it.
We Feed the World (***)
A quiet documentary that packs an extraordinary punch, We Feed the World shows how global food production is making misery globally. Without beating you over the head, this film shows you, step by step, how chickens are raised and slaughtered, how seemingly healthy soybeans are being used to destroy the rainforest, how commercial fishing is raping the ocean and destroying economies, and how Western farming subsidies create starvation worldwide.
It's not a gross or shocking film visually. It's just terrifying. It's like Supersize Me with a supersized intellectual impact - minus any of the entertainment. Ouch.
Lie With Me (**)
Softcore from one of Canada's most esteemed directors. Real male erections, too. If you need a Gen X 9 1/2 Weeks, rent it.
Sketches of Frank Gehry (*****)
A simply womderful time in the cinema, Sidney Pollack's first documentary is a joyful and curious exploration and meditation on creativity. Made with the full participation of architect Frank Gehry (including the participation of his therapist), Sketches combines interviews with Gehry, colleagues, fans, friends and critics alongside engaging discussions between POllack and Gehry about being creative in their respective disciplines. Frankly, I can't wait to see it again. There is much to absorb.
Smell of Paradise (**)
I felt badly for the filmmakers after the Q&A. They have a lot of important knowledge to share with us and it's absent here. A series of interviews made over 10 years with leaders of Islamic jihad around the world, Paradise offers unprecedented access to many men you would never want to meet. Unfortunately, the lack of context for the content of their interviews makes the experience more bewildering than enlightening.
Full of great premises on which it repeatedly fails to deliver, Kinetta occasionally seems to be a story about something that we might interesting. But we'll never know. After we walked out (something I have NEVER done EVER), I had K. read the summary in the festival guide. Her response was, "HOW THE F!(K WAS ANYONE SUPPOSED TO UNDERSTAND THAT THAT WAS WHAT WAS GOING ON?"
As the film wore on, it became mostly interesting as a socialogical experiment. After a while, people began laughing because while Kinetta is short on dialogue what the few verbal exchanges that take place are inscrutable and laughably bad. Then they began to get up and huff out the door in droves. We joined them. Read the rest of this post...
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
This is obviously not an ideal situation. It means that furniture must do double duty, i.e., sofa+bed and desk+dining table. I really want to swap out the futon sofa bed because I think it's not incredibly comfortable as a sofa - which is what it is 99% of the time. And I'm not really crazy about our our desk/dining table because it's a desk 99% of the time and a) it's not a very good one and b) I'm not sure since we use wireless laptops how necessary it actually is.
So we began to reconceptualize what the room might be. I decided to start with the idea of eliminating one of the functions (dining, sleeping, working) and see what the pros and cons were.
Eliminating the sleeping function got an immediate veto from K. Where would our friends/family stay?
Eliminating the dining function is an option since when we convert it into a dining room, it doesn't work particularly well anyway. It's cramped and the table legs get in the way if you have enough people to actually warrant the hassle of putting the leaves on the desk and making it a dining table.
Eliminating the working function created some interesting side effects. Does that mean that you lose the table? If so, have you lost two functions, i.e., working and dining?
I decided to reconceptualize what it meant to work. We don't need a desk, after all. It's a LAPtop. Why not put it on your lap? Then what do you get? Well, the table could become a coffee table and the sofa would become a nicer, more comfortable sofa.
So far, so good. But then again, one of the virtues of the futon is that it's a very comfortable bed. How to find a comfortable sleeper sofa?
It turns out that you have four choices. (Or at least, I was able to find four choices after quite a bit of legwork.)
Choice #1 - Traditional sleeper sofa
This is NOT an option we were willing to consider. We had one of these years ago and we were mortified to ask anyone to sleep on it. You know the problem. It has that thin mattress that all sleeper sofas seem to have and those nasty bars underneath it dig right into you as the mattress (inevitably) bows under your weight. Add a second guest in the bed and then it turns into a human salad bowl. YUCK.
Choice #2 - American Leather Comfort Sleeper(R)
American Leather has patented a fantastic sleeper sofa mechanism. It is hands down the most comfortable option I have ever found. The sofa is essentially chunks of mattress that fold up. No bars. And it folds and unfolds quite easily. Great! Problem solved, you say.
Well, there is a hitch. American Leather's design sensibility in sleeper sofas is rather...conventional. It doesn't make for much excitement in the couch department. And remember, that's primarily what a sleeper sofa is.
Choice #3 - New & Groovy Folding Couchs
There are a number of companies doing these now. I particularly liked Bo Concept's version. It's remarkably inexpensive and comfortable as a couch and a mattress. If there's a downside, it's that you have to shift it around a bit to make it into a bed. There are legs hidden in the back that you reveal and then fold it down. All in all, a pretty great option all around.
Choice #4 - Commission a Carlyle
I knew there had to be a place like this. I just can't believe it took so long to find it. Carlyle is the place that can build your sleeper sofa pretty much to spec. You tell them what arms, what fabric, how big and they make it happen. Their designs run the gamut and it's hard to tell from the photos on their website, but you can really get some great sofas designed there. AND their patented sleeper mechanism is pretty darn good. It's not up to par with American Leather's, but it's remarkably good, especially considering the relatively close relationship between the design of their mechanism and a traditional one. They've made several improvements however, that make all the difference. Moved the bars away, beefed up the mattress a lot, and created a better web mechanism to support the mattress. Makes a tremendous difference.
The catch? A Carlyle will set you back a pretty penny. Several thousand dollars in all likelihood.
The question you're asking now is probably which route we've decided to go. The answer is...I don't know yet. Once we started talking about refurnishing the guest room/office/dining room, we began to "wander off the reservation". Now we're considering doing some construction in our apartment. And we're also examining other apartments in the neighborhood...
P.S. - Yes, we're in Bar Harbor. Yes, the weather has been FANTASTIC. On to Toronto tomorrow. Read the rest of this post...