Friday, August 28, 2009

Art of the Table

Art of the Table - Kitchen
We’ve wanted to try the Art of the Table restaurant in Wallingford/Fremont for some time now and today was our lucky day. We called in the morning and were able to get a 4 person table for the evening. The meal and evening did not disappoint.

First, we’ll say it’s not exactly communal dining – the term supper club is a bit closer to the experience. There was one shared table this evening and the rest were spots for 2 or 4 people. However, this is a quibble, because it is more than enough intimate and there is ample opportunity to talk to your fellow dinners if you choose too. You are encouraged to get up and take a breather between courses and you’ll probably run into your fellow diners, maybe even in the tiny garden just off the kitchen.

The real star at the Art of Table are the preparations of fresh, local ingredients that the chef Dustin Ronspies whips up and then describes just before you dig in. Dustin is endearing as a host and his love of the food and sharing of that food with people is evident and infectious. Everything we ate this evening (see menu) was delicious. Special mention goes to a palate cleanser of summer carrot granita had us guessing everything but carrot as the main ingredient. We did the wine tasting flight (4 glasses) and were pleased with the pairing. If only every evening were like this!
Art of the Table - Menu

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Boston: JFK Library

JFK Library - Boston - Flag Hanging 

As part of our short stay in Boston, we visited the John F. Kennedy Library on Monday morning. This was the first presidential library either of us has been to so we didn’t know what to expect. There are just under 20 presidential libraries. Over half are administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the rest are operated by private foundations, societies, or state governments. The JFK Library is just a few minutes outside of Boston on Columbia Point next to the rather lonely-looking University of Massachusetts

The JFK Library was designed by I.M. Pei and looks a heck of a lot like the University of Rochester’s Wilson Commons

Once inside the library, you pretty much follow a prescribed route. You watch a 20 minute film about JFK’s life leading up to his decision to run in 1960. Then you exit the film and tour the exhibits walking chronologically through them starting with the campaign for presidency. Overall the library was interesting and informative, a definite recommend, even if you are Republican. (I swear our next presidential library visit is going to be of a Republican president, maybe Nixon.) 

The one thing that struck us the most was the part of the exhibit dealing with the campaign for the presidency and the battle between Nixon and JFK. There was an eerie “sameness” to the talking points between left and right used back then and what is used today. (Note, the library didn’t really portray one candidate in a better light – but just gave the facts.) Listening to clips of the debates and reading the campaign material you can’t help but get the impression that with minor word choices the same talking points could be used today. Oh, wait, they probably are.

JFK Library Floor Plan

Monday, August 17, 2009

Boston: Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca

Madonna del Soccorso 
By accident we stumbled on to this Boston, North End, Italian festival called the Fisherman’s Feast held in honor of the Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca. We had just finished eating at Taranta (a self-described Italian – Peruvian marriage of food) and were feeling very happy with our restaurant choice when we followed the noise and caught part of the festival. The festival has its roots in Sciacca Sicily dating back centuries. Since 1911, the festival has been celebrated in the North End by immigrants and their descendants from Sciacca every August. The Madonna del Soccorso (translated as “Our Lady of Help”) has its roots in a miraculous recovery of an Augustinian monk in the year 1300. The Madonna visited him and he was healed. That was Nicolo Bruno. Being in the midst of the festival with the smell of delicious food (even after just finished eating), listening to Italian being spoken, and feeling the party atmosphere was a good way to cap off the our only full day in Boston. The last night of the feast features an angel descending from a window to bless the Madonna. Past angel-flights can be found on You Tube.

Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

Isabella Stewart Gardner - Painted by John Singer Sargent 

Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) was an American art collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. Gardner’s collection, which began in earnest in 1891 and is housed at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, first opened to the public in 1903. The museum, designed by Gardner, was inspired by the design of Palazzo Barbaro in Venice where she regularly spent time. In fact, it was fun to walk into the museum, see that spectacular central courtyard and the layout of the rooms and feel transported back to Italy for a little while. 

The famous John Singer Sargent portrait (pictured above) of her hangs in the Gothic gallery on the third floor. It is one of two pieces of artwork in that gallery that are not gothic. The audio guide suggested a quasi-religious aspect to the painting with what almost looks like halos around here that is somehow in keeping with the theme of the room. Or maybe since this is the last room on the “tour” she is simple saying goodbye? 

The arrangement of the galleries and eclectic mix of artwork was stipulated by Gardner in her will so we are seeing, I’m guessing, the collection close to the way she would have wanted it to be seen. This includes several rather large and empty frames in the Dutch Room that used to contain paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer that were stolen in 1990. The paintings were never recovered but the frames were kept where they are partly to honor Gardner's stipulation and partly to raise awareness in the viewer. Keep alert, because there is a reward for information leading to the return of the stolen art. 

When visiting the museum, pay for the audio guide if you have no idea who Gardner was or what the museum is about. It is well worth it and it will slow you down so you can truly enjoy the museum spaces.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Brochure

Boston: The Freedom Trail

Bunker Hill Monument
We had two 1 full day and part of another day in Boston and the Freedom Trail was the top tourist attraction for us. Why? I guess I had incomplete memories of it having visited it in elementary school and I wanted to remedy that. In fact the only thing I can remember are the shops in Faneuil Hall. Nothing else. Was it worth it this time? Yes.

The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile walk from Boston Common to Bunker Hill Monument (across the river in Charleston). We walked it slowly in about 3 hours stopping for a quick lunch – at an Italian street fair nonetheless. The trail starts out busy (around the Visitor Center in the Common) and comes to peak in the food court of Quincy Market. After that visitors at least following the red brick (or painted) line seem to lessen. When the Trail crossed over the big dig into the North End it suddenly felt more interesting for us: food-wise (Italian!), crowd-wise (less people), and architecturally (interesting and human-scaled buildings). We skipped the USS Constitution in order to fit in the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. Bunker Hill Monument was more interesting than we expected. It is a refreshing place to sit and relax after walking the trail and climbing the 294 steps to the top of the monument. Admission to the monument is free.

The Freedom Trail Foundation Web site is worth checking out before visiting and there is a map you can download. Audio guides can be found here and here.
Paul Revere's Tomb

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Seattle Light Rail

On a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago we rode Seattle’s new Light Rail service from downtown to (almost) the airport. To sum it up, it was nice, clean and seemingly efficient, but I don’t think as a long term resident of the Fremont neighborhood we will ride it regularly or even infrequently to airport unless the price of getting there by other means rises a lot. We just live in the wrong neighborhood. Anyone living in a stone’s-throw-from-Seattle-neighborhood but off the north-south axis of all the major transportation routes in Seattle is probably in the same boat. Taking a connection to downtown Seattle to pick up the rail service doesn’t make much sense unless you have plenty of time and want to get to the airport for under 10 dollars. When the rail service extends further north, then it will be become more compelling for people living significantly north of Seattle.

There are good things about the rail service, even if we won’t use it: 1. People can park at the Tukwila station and take the train into downtown Seattle which is convenient and gets cars off the road. 2. The stations are reasonably attractively and intuitively designed. 3. People coming to Seattle for business or a conference in downtown Seattle are going to love the train (when the last leg opens between the Tukwila station and the airport).
Seattle Light Rail - Art in the Tukwila Station

Monday, August 10, 2009

California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences - Amazon Flooded Forest
So we only had one hour, but at least we got to see it: the California Academy of Sciences. We had just enough time to take in the Rainforests of the World exhibit and the Living Roof exhibit. The dome that houses the rainforest is interesting but surprising bare of plants. I was expecting more of a greenhouse feel with abundant foliage and that wasn’t the case. The exhibits and information provided were great, just that I sensed more concrete and glass than foliage. The last part of the rainforest is the Amazonian flooded forest and that was interesting.

The Living Roof was the highlight for us. It’s still pretty new, just about one year old this month but it looked great. It makes you ask why more buildings aren’t doing this. Yeah, I’m sure cost is a huge driver…but aesthetics should trump that, right? There are docents up on the Living Roof to explain how the roof is put together so make sure to ask them lots of questions.
California Academy of Sciences - Living Roof

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language

Front cover of "Lost in Translation" by Eva Hoffman.
Front cover of "Lost in Translation" by Eva Hoffman.

Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language is a memoir by Eva Wydra Hoffman. Hoffman as a teenager emigrated from Cracow Poland to Vancouver Canada in 1959. From there she goes to school in Texas followed by Harvard and then eventually settles into the New York literary world. As she describes this journey, Hoffman talks about place and belonging, about being different, about being in exile. And when she finally settles into her American “life” she encounters yet another sense of exile from her childhood friends from Cracow. One aspect about her story that foreign language students may find interesting are her observations about adopting a new language, expressing yourself in that language, and about “translating” yourself honestly in the new language. About two thirds through the book Hoffman writes:
I have to translate myself. But if I’m to achieve this without becoming assimilated – that is, absorbed – by my new world, the translation has to be careful, the turns of the psyche unforced. To mouth foreign terms without incorporating their meanings is to risk becoming bowdlerized. A true translation proceeds by the motions of understanding and sympathy; it happens by slow increments, sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase.
Anyone who has spent more than a few weeks immersed in a foreign language (in a country that speaks the language) can appreciate this concept. 

I found her style – particularly, sentence structure - a little hard to read at times. And, there were turns of phrases that I found myself having to research to puzzle out the meaning of (e.g. I Love Lucy is a TV madeleine – that is, something that evokes a memory, not a small cake). Perhaps I should spend more time in the New York literary circles? Anyway, I like books that introduce new concepts so overall the sentence structure and phrasing was not too big of a deal. What some readers may not find acceptable or appreciate are Hoffman’s critical descriptions of North American, and specifically, American culture. She does seem to come out a little negative, but, her observations are interesting and accurate enough to allow her the space to do it. It is her memoir after all.

Back cover of "Lost in Translation" by Eva Hoffman.
Back cover of "Lost in Translation" by Eva Hoffman.