Sunday, August 23, 2015

What if the Premier League Moved to Texas?

Thanks to NBC, popularity of the English Premier League is at an all time high in the US.  A combination of novelty and favorable time zones means half of my co-workers enjoy the 7am kick-offs on a Saturday morning. I was trying to explain to someone the intense rivalries between say Everton and Liverpool and suggested that it would be like the Philadelphia Eagles moving to Fort Worth only a few miles from Arlington, home of the Dallas Cowboys.  He found the close proximity of the soccer teams incredible and that got me thinking, what if all 20 clubs were to relocate to Texas?

Houstonians and Austinites might disagree, but Dallas is the rightful capital of Texas, so the Metroplex gets all the London Teams.

Arsenal, being the best and deserving the best, get the shiny new JerryWorld stadium in Arlington as a capable replacement for the Emirates. Chelsea get exiled west to Fort Worth and TCU.  Spurs, wishing they could be with their basketball brethren in San Antonio, go north to Plano. West Ham get Garland [but play at SMU of course] and Crystal Palace head south to Oak Cliff.  Watford get sent north to Denton, almost in Oklahoma and play at the University of North Texas.

Liverpool being a port city, get Galveston, neighbors Everton get Pearland.  Man City and Man Utd get to fight the humidity and each other in Houston.  United get the old Astrodome for their trouble. City and their oil money fit in well in Houston and get the NRG Stadium.

Norwich being easterners head to Nacogdoches, Swansea being westerners go all the way west to El Paso / Ciudad Juarez.  Back down on the coast, it makes sense to have Southampton in Corpus [within easy distance of Man U and Liverpool when they sell their best players] and Bournemouth get lovely Brownsville for sun, sand and surf.

The midland teams: Stoke get Austin and the Longhorn facilities, even though Waco would make more sense for that lot but Palace already taken over Baylor's new stadium.  We sent Leicester to San Antone, figuring they Foxes would enjoy hanging out with coyotes in the Hill Country.

Birmingham rivals Aston Villa and WBA can never be separated and it is off  to Midland-Odessa for them. They can play under the Saturday Night Lights as the Permian Panthers and Midland Lee Rebels look on.

Finally, it is grim up north as Sunderland get Lubbock / Texas Tech and Newcastle get the all 72 oz. steaks they can handle in Amarillo.

Fascinating, no?!!!


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Go Set a Watchman – The Audacity of Hype

“To Kill A Mockingbird” is an undisputed literary classic published in 1960.  Author Harper Lee then decided writing was not really her forte and instead of using her God-given talent, went on a self-imposed 55 year hiatus.  Happens all the time, right?  Left.   Great writers just do not quit.  See Shakespeare, Dickens, Hardy, Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Wolfe.  The creative juices insist on output. This woman is not normal.  On top of the world in 1960, we are led to believe she abandoned her craft.  For what?  Booze in her basement?  Meth in the attic?  Who knows.  Speculation about her seclusion is pointless.  She became Boo Radley, the cuckoo in the nest and the shadow in the window.

Fast forward to 2015.   Ms. Lee's sister and caretaker has passed away and we are instructed that Harper Lee penned another novel. Not recently, of course.  She is incapable of working a TV remote.  No, this was written prior to Mockingbird.  Or so her lawyer and publicist would like us to believe.  Now those two wouldn’t have any ulterior motive to see Ms. Lee ca$h in on some dusty old manuscript.  The only surprising thing is these gold diggers did not wait until Ms. Lee croaked but either the will or estate taxes must have dictated otherwise.

The 60 Minutes segment was fascinating.  The fairy tale goes that “Go Set a Watchman” was hidden in plain sight in a bank deposit box.  Several times it had been opened for Sotheby-types to value the contents but they never noticed any “Watchman” manuscript.  The story goes that the box was opened in 2011 and that the lawyer left the valuations guys in the bank for a few hours and when she came back, magically, “Watchman” was there on the table in the bank in the middle of Monroeville, Alabama.  The only thing missing was Merlin and a few prancing unicorns.

We encouraged to lap up that “Watchman” was written before “Mockingbird” and the setting a few decades later.   Scout is back from NYC and Atticus Finch is now a kard karrying kharacter, who would prefer to see them coloreds stay in their place.  Give me a break.  This makes no sense whatsoever.  Who goes from fervently defending Tom Robinson to downpressing his kind?  How does the sequel get written before the prequel but the second book gets published 55 years before the first and the author cannot be asked what the heck happened to the one of the great models for civil rights because she hasn’t granted an interview since JFK was chasing Marilyn in the White House?  Wasn't this prequel / sequel time travel thing the basis for The Terminator?  Maybe Ah-nold knows what happened?

So is Watchman any good?  Well don’t look to the major US newspaper reviews for answers.  They are decidedly non-committal, i.e don’t get in the way of a good old fabricated story.  I went to my usual sources - The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times - and might as well have asked Siri for a review.  According the NYT "Students of writing will find “Watchman” fascinating", which is code for this crap makes no frigging sense.    The WSJ summarizes the story but shies away from a verdict.  No kidding.  The WSJ is owned by News Corp. who also own Harper Collins, the publisher of Watchman.  Don't expect any negativity where Murdoch's coffers are concerned.

Unperturbed I sought and found the truth in the Irish Times.  John Boyne writes: "It was meant to stay inside, locked away, hidden from the world. It was not supposed to be published. It was not supposed to be read. But when all the talk of the reclusive author has died down, and the inevitable articles about extraordinary sales figures have been consigned to the archives, Go Set a Watchman will quietly slip away, not forgotten but little more than an interesting side note to a work of literary genius..."

Sad to say, if you want the truth, follow the money. I will not be wasting $16 on this concocted half-baked tripe in order the line the pockets of leeches.

Monday, July 27, 2015

DC Landmarks at Night

A recent work related trip to Washington DC presented an opportunity to see some of the landmarks at night.  Although the evening brought rain, the sights were still wonderful.  It had been over twenty years since I was last in DC and this quick trip made me want to go back for a longer visit.

Marine Corps War Memorial 

"He was wonderful in Gangs of New York"
The Lincoln Memorial

Washington Memorial and Reflecting Pool

Korean War Veterans Memorial

The the sheer size of the Marine Corps Memorial takes you by surprise, it is unexpectedly larger than life.  The actual flag raising on Iwo Jima in 1945 was somewhat staged but remains an iconic symbol of victory in the South Pacific.

Similarly, the sheer size, scale and grandeur of the Lincoln Memorial is awe inspiring.  A fitting tribute to a truly larger than life leader.  On the walls either side of Lincoln the words to his two most famous speeches are inscribed: the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address.   

It was somewhat fitting that we visited the Korean War Memorial in a downpour.  The darkness and rain added to the eerie scene of 19 soldiers creeping through the jungle, aware that a wrong step or noise could end their lives.



Saturday, June 27, 2015

Buena Vista, Colorado

Despite never quite getting the hang of the pronunciation, we had a wonderful week in Buena Vista. Some say Bew-nah, others Bwee-naw and maybe the easiest is simply B.V.  Located on the Arkansas River and at 7,965 feet in the foothills of the Collegiate Peaks, it might not be the most famous town in Colorado, but those in the know love it.

View of the "road"to BV from Cabin
Entrance to Cabin - The Four Mile River Ranch

View of the Collegiate Peaks from the Cabin Front Porch
BV is several miles in the distance


The Log Cabin - our home for a week
 
Living Room and Kitchen

Cabin Close Up

The log cabin we rented for the week was about five miles from town, up a dirt road where we gave the potholes names like "axle-buster" and "transmission remover".  Our nearest permanent neighbor was probably three miles away.  The views from the front deck of Mount Harvard, Yale, Princeton - hence the Collegiate Peaks - was spectacular.  These mountains are part of the Sawatch Range of the Rockies and boast several peaks over 14,000 feet.  The cabin is set on 60 acres with state owned land either side, so the hiking opportunities were unlimited.

We had planned to fly fish on the Arkansas but due to a late winter snow season and some occasional summer thunderstorms, the river was a boiling raging torrent running at close 5,000 gallons per second.  Lemons to lemonade: what makes for poor fishing makes for great white water rafting.
The Crew of SS Rubber Dinghy
Taking on the mighty Arkansas with Matt at the helm

Fly Fishing Near Cottonwood Pass

Kevin - Master of the lake trout

Not that we did not fish, we found several lakes where the trout were hungry and if they were not taking the spoons on the boys rods, they were hitting the flies on mine.  We pan fried the biggest and they made a tasty dinner.

On our first full day we were treated to a small town rodeo.  We found snow high up in the Cottonwood Pass at 12,126 feet and straddled the Continental divide.
Team Roping

June in Colorado

A side trip to Denver to see Belle & Sebastian at Red Rocks, easily the best venue I have ever been at.  Next day we had great seats for an afternoon Rockies game.  On the way back to BV we stopped at the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs but failed to find the Air Force Academy.
Red Rocks Arena with Denver in the Background
Coors Field - Home of the Denver Rockies

Garden of the Gods - Colorado Springs

On our last full day we made a quick trip to Fairplay to see their fine collection of frontier buildings and hit Salida on the way home to see FiBArk, their annual whitewater competition.
Downtown Fairplay

Contestant on the Arkansas in Salida

A word on the cabin.  It was perfect.  Solid log construction, no electricity, phone, or TV.  The lights and refrigerator ran off propane gas and there was a solar panel to provide power to outlets if needed. We played board games every night and I have developed a love for Monopoly.  The well had some of the best water I have ever tasted and the Eddy Line Brewery in town makes some very good beer from the same source.  Our only disturbance was late one night when we thought we heard a mouse scratching - the footprints on the deck the next morning revealed it to be a coyote.  Deer were everywhere but we do not see any of the elusive mountain goats, bighorn sheep or elk - although there was plenty of scat all around the cabin.

The cabin was heaven on earth in June - be interesting to see what it is like in January.  I get the feeling winter could be a rough at about 9,500 feet.
Representin' at Royal Gorge

On our way to BV we stayed in Santa Fe, NM and made a side excursion to the Great Sand Dunes National Park.   They have to be seen to be believed.  On the way from Taos, we got to see that everyday sight of a peacock, in a cage, on the roof of a Fiat 500, going about 55 MPH, on the highway...
Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

Every Peacock should own a Fiat

Our last day consisted of a 780 mile 13.5 hour drive from BV to Southlake through the glorious - not - panhandle and the flat plains of of Texas.  Always good to be home though!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

May 2014

With apologies to Neil Young:

I've been to Dubai, I've been to Mumbai
I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold

Better late than never, a quick recap of the May 2014 trip to the Middle-East and beyond.

DFW to Dubai is a 15 hour flight.  That is an energy sapping, play with your head time-zone buster. We left Texas in the evening and got in late the next the day.  Twenty-four hours evaporated aboard a tin can, although I did catch up on several good movies, like (somewhat appropriately), American Hustle... great film by the way.

The airport in Dubai is massive and was curiously empty.  It is like they built it with the year 2200 in mind.  That was the case for much of the city's structures: large, imposing, modern but cold and under-utilized.  Our hotel - the Sheraton on Sheikh Zayed Road - was comfortable and well appointed and despite the jetlag we slept fairly well but woke at all hours.

On our first full day we tried to see the Burj Al Arab - the cool building that looks like a dhow or sail boat.  Fail.  That one is private.  Next we checked out the famous Emirates Golf Club and we could have played around - but it was already close to 100F at 10am and hardly anyone was there.  Instead I opted to buy a golf shirt as a souveneir.  We ditched our non-English speaking cab driver for the Metro.  Super clean, quiet but brought a moment of awkwardness when I boarded the car reserved for women and children and an Arab female was quick to usher me out before some sort of public beating was meted out.  I did not like being separated from Fiona but when in Rome...

We went to the Mall of the Emirates - largest in the world, complete with indoor ski-slope and all the main European and American fashion houses (Versace, Cartier, Ralph Lauren, etc.).  Again, modern, big but almost desolate.  We happened on a good book store where I bought - what else? - "Revolt in the Desert" by T.E. Lawrence.  Their section on how the UAE has become modernized was impressive to the point of being propaganda...  Also picked up a pocket Qur'an for good measure.   Next was our appointment to the top of the Burj Khalifa - tallest structure in the world.  It is an imposing spire of glass and steel and a pain in the rear to find the actual entrance but well worth the effort.  The view of the desert to the southeast and the man-made Palm Islands and The World to the west was incredible.

That afternoon we battled the heat - even Texans will admit is was fierce and tried to find an elusive souk or market in the old part of town.  Our quest was in vain.  We found a tourist trap alley where we were harassed by hawkers but did stumble upon a cool public art gallery near the Al-Shandagah watch tower by the Dubai Creek.   When we emerged into the sunshine an Imam was calling the denizens to prayer and the few men - no women anywhere - that were out were hustling to the mosque.  We had no business left so we we went back to the hotel.

I don't recall much of our second day, we flew to Mumbai that evening.  I was happy to leave. Usually I am enamored by new cities, new countries and cultures.  Not so Dubai.  We never felt welcome.  We got either looks of suspicion or disdain.  For all its wealth and grandeur, it lacks soul.


View from the Burj

Himself and Herself

Art Gallery Fare

Burj Khalifa Tower



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Flying into Mumbai gives a good feeling for the vastness of the city and also the dichotomy that exists.  There are gleaming glass and steel high rises butting up against tarp covered shanty towns. The first surprise was the level of security.  Ever since the terrorist attacks in 2008, the ante has been upped.  Just on the quick jaunt to our hotel, we encountered barricades, armed guards, a search of the taxi, etc.  Not a minute out of the airport we were treated to several quintessential Indian experiences: beep-beep horns, crazy drivers and of course, a small cow in the middle of it all.  We loved it.

Our hotel, a Hilton near the airport, was perfect.  Food was excellent, staff so friendly.  From our room was a view of a four lane thoroughfare and I swear, I got up early in the morning to watch the chaos that is Mumbai traffic.  It is a veritable free for all - and yet no accidents!

The morning of the wedding, we made a quick trip to a local mall to find Fiona some native dress. Not a full blown sari but close!  The wedding was beautiful, in an old Catholic church.  That is what was so surprising about Mumbai - Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, Bhuddists... all inter-mingled everywhere.  Not saying they all get along but it is certainly a melting pot.

The wedding reception was terrific, especially when the distant cousins, their acquaintances, villagers and others began to show up late in the evening.  We met so many warm and friendly people. Unfortunately by about 10pm we were exhausted and had to hit the hay and no doubt missed most of the action.  It went on well into the wee hours!

Next day we took a whirlwind tour of the city and visited Mani Bhavan, the home of Gandhi from 1917-34.  We saw the most expensive house in the world, Antilia, valued at $1B plus - 27 floors and a staff of 600 for four residents!!!  On the other hand we saw the Dhobi Ghat, a huge outdoor laundromat but a model of efficiency. We went to a magnificent Jain Temple, the Shoe House in Kamala Nehru Park, seen the Taj Hotel - still under repair after the aforementioned 2008 bombing - and the Gateway to India arch.

The highlight of the day was Elephanta Island and the cave sculptures.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the caves were carved and tunneled into a massive rock hill between the 5th and 8th centuries. It is a huge complex of rooms, each with ten to sixteen foot stone carvings of Shiva, Parvati, Yogishvara, etc. in various poses with all kinds of watchful guards and animals.  It is simply extraordinary.   Most of it is in great repair but some of the massive stone carvings are missing chunks - 17th century Portuguese soldiers used them as target practice.  The island itself is typically chaotic.  Huge crowds visit, hawkers abound and the monkeys are brazen.

Our last day full day in Mumbai was spent with Sheldon and Limora and we took in some of the more fashionable parts of the city, including Bandra and Juhu Beach, home to the many stars of Bollywood.  Which reminds me, we loved their TV.  It was either crazy Bollywood movies, cricket or politicans yelling at each other.  Prime Minister Modi was sworn in while we were there and the general feeling of support for him was very evident.

We loved Mumbai and being only a slice of India, means I would love to see more of the country. The history and diverse culture with influences from Europe, the Middle-East and Asia is simply staggering.  It would be incredible to get out into the country, travel by train and see the small towns and other regions. We loved the food and the people were so friendly and welcoming.
Stylin'

Dhobi Ghat

Yield to the Cow!

Entrance to the Elephanta Caves

Shiva?

Jain Temple

Inside Gandhi's home in Mumbai

Sheldon, Limora, his mother and grandmother

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spring Hath Sprung

Some color from the garden, no doubt encouraged by our wet spring.




Enjoy it while it lasts!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Concert Review: Sturgill Simpson

Our man from Jackson, Kentucky is the current darling of the "old school" country circuit and anointed by many to be the savior of the genre.  And he may well be. It was fitting then that we got see Simpson & co. on Good Friday at that venerable bastion of of all things country, Billy Bob's Texas, the self-proclaimed "World's Largest Honk Tonk".  Coming in at 127,000 square feet, there is little doubt there could possibly be a bigger country bar elsewhere.  Whisper this in Texas (in fear of being branded a heretic) but bigger is not always better.

Such has been Sturgill's meteoric rise that Billy Bob's could have been renamed Silly Mob's.  The joint was packed to the rafters.  It took us, no kidding, probably 15 minutes to negotiate the 150 yard walk from the main entrance to our reserved seats, crossing packed dancefloors and lengthy lines for beer, t-shirts, bathrooms, ATM's and so on.  Half of Dallas and most of Fort Worth was there. Thankfully we had a place to sit.  The General Admission crowd were tighter than "hawgs in a chute" but that did not dampen their Shiner fueled spirit one iota.

Sturgill took the stage at precisely 10.30pm and did not let up until around 15 after midnight, so value for money was never in doubt.  He has perfected that twang, that country-bluegrass-rockabilly-gospel sound but it wasn't really until half-way through that the soundboard at Billy Bob's got the mix right. Early on, Sturgill was drowned out by the yokels yakking and milling around the twenty (not a typo) bars that are scatter around BB's.  It was estimated by 1310 AM The Ticket there was 6,000+ in attendance and remember, Billy Bob's is not an arena, it was formerly part of the cattle pens in the stockyards.  How the heck the sea of humanity at the back could hear or see anything is beyond me.

Sturgill has a great voice.  Somewhere between Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. He is unassuming, low-key, dressed like he shops in Wal-Mart. His band, especially his guitarist, is terrific. Laur Joamets, an Estonian who only recently came to the US, is a former metal-head and has absolutely perfected the country electric slide guitar. What Sturgill lacks is a little rapport with his audience.  He does not speak much and when he does, he mumbles... now that might partly be due to the cavern he was in and maybe some intimidation.  The crowd was raucous and as the night went one became louder and were hootin' and hollering' with appreciation at every opportunity.  The amount of beer consumed was impressive, every table jammed with empties. The waitresses could not keep up the pace.  Orders came by the dozen in galvanized buckets.  Wonderful stuff.  It almost felt a bit like the Rawhide scene from Blues Brothers at one stage.

Ironically. Sturgill's biggest cheer was for a song he did not write, an '80's snyth-pop ditty "The Promise", which he has truly made his own.  "Life of Sin" and "Turtles All The Way Down" had the crowd on their feet, hats and bottles in the air, rodeo-style.  It was such an experience!

Minor complaints about the sound aside, the show was really good.  Not the best I have seen at Billy Bob's (see post on Dwight Yoakam) but I would slap down my hard earned cash in a heartbeat to see Sturgill Simpson again, especially at a more intimate venue.