Monday, March 29, 2010
The picture above is Sturtevant Falls, the destination of this weekend's GLU hike. It was a great hike, scenic and shady, which was nice since it was a little warm this weekend. It also provided enough challenge--stream crossings--to make it adventurous. All together, we hiked 6.5 miles above Sierra Madre. Afterwards, we had a satisfying Mediterranean lunch at the Patio in Arcadia. I had the lamb chops, which were OK, but I really liked the halloum that I ordered as an appetizer. I probably should have just had that and some other appetizer.
By the time I got home I only had about an hour to rest before I had to head out to Long Beach. Preeti had invited me to check out the Earth Hour festivities she was putting together on the Queen Mary. She promised drinks and appetizers, so I couldn't turn that down. The trip to Long Beach, though, took too long. The Blue Line is only running every thirty minutes. I waited about fifteen minutes in a crowded, smelly car (thanks to a homeless guy) before it departed, but at least I had a seat. I worried that when I got to the Transit Mall I'd have to wait a while for a Passport shuttle, but one arrived just as I got there. Still, it was a two hour door-to-door trip.
The Earth Hour event was small but cool. The Queen Mary turned off all unnecessary lights for an hour and invited community groups to provide information about conservation. A local cycling group was there to demonstrate the amount of energy required to power one incandescent light bulb versus five fluorescent bulbs. The cyclists took turns riding stationary bikes that provided energy to light the bulbs. I was hoping to hang out with Preeti throughout the night, but since she was working, she was running around a lot. I explored the ship while I was there.
I left the Queen Mary at 10pm, and I was tired. I wasn't going to make it to Akbar for Alexander's celebration. I would not have made it to Akbar until after midnight, and since I was very tired I doubt I could stay very long even if I did go. So I went directly home instead and got a good night's sleep. I slept in until about 10 am on Sunday.
Sunday was relatively quiet. The goal was to clean my apartment, and I partially succeeded. I finally unpacked my suitcase, discarded junk mail and old magazines, swept the floor, and cleaned the bathroom. I was hoping I could tackle the kitchen too. Instead I opted for making dinner, which I'm glad I did. I love risotto, and a brief discussion of risotto during the hike made me crave it. I decided to make a beet risotto, and it turned out great.
I also went for my first run since last week's marathon, a six-miler. For the last week I've been allowing myself to be lazy--I just ran a marathon--but the afterglow of that feat is now diminishing and it's time for me to get back in the habit. And it wasn't a moment too soon. This run was a struggle. My leg muscles were very tight, especially my calves. I thought it would go away eventually, but the tightness stayed the entire six miles. One week of no running and I'm already out of shape!
Also, to wrap up the Los Angeles Marathon, I noticed a great feature on the race's website that breaks down statistics of the runner's run. It tells you your pace along various points and compares you to other runners. My favorite statistic is the note about the last 4.5 miles of the run. It says I passed 587 runners in the last 4.5 miles and only got passed by 30. I love that! 587 runners! Even though I had slowed down some at that point, I was still faster than 587 runners who were initially ahead of me. Not to brag, but that fact makes me feel happy.
I was also able to capture some pictures from the marathon of me running. I look good!
Thursday, March 25, 2010
02 "The Sweetest Thing" - Camera Obscura
03 "Stillness is the Move" - Dirty Projectors
04 "Kettering" - The Antlers
05 "Lisztomania" - Phoenix
06 "Choices" - Bettye LaVette
07 "Chanson Triste" - Carla Bruni
08 "Q&A" - Office
09 "All I Wanna Do" - Jamie Lidell
10 "Don't Watch Me Dancing" - Little Joy
11 "Sequestered in Memphis" - The Hold Steady
12 "Heroin" - The Velvet Underground
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
My tenth marathon is over and done with. Fittingly, the Los Angeles Marathon--the one that started it all way back in 2005--marked the event. It was my fifth L.A. Marathon, and thanks to a great new course it was the best yet even if it wasn't my fastest. I'm hoping the organizers can keep this course from here on in because it's just about perfect--scenic, diverse, challenging, fun, and never boring. As great as the course was, though, the event had some glaring flaws that hopefully will be corrected next year. I'll get to those in the recap.
I set my alarm for 2:30 a.m. on Sunday so that I could make myself a bacon and egg breakfast. I didn't physically get up, though, until 15 minutes later, but cooking the bacon and eggs didn't take long. I thought twice about eating bacon and eggs (and rice), but I was really craving it. I worried that I've never had a meal like it before a race and I wasn't sure how it would sit in my stomach. My craving, though, prevailed, but I compromised by cooking only two slices of bacon and one egg, a small serving of rice, and a cup of coffee. It was very satisfying. Whenever possible, I may just have bacon and eggs all the time before a marathon. Afterwards I showered, put on my gear, and I was out the door by 3:45 a.m.
I had made up my mind to take the bus to Santa Monica in order to catch the shuttle from there to Dodger Stadium. Sunday morning, though, I had a brief doubts about the plan. What if I get mugged waiting for the line 20 bus? That would have been an ignominious way to start the race. Luckily, I wasn't mugged. In fact, the 20 was pretty crowded at 4 in the morning, and since there was no traffic, the bus zoomed along and I was in Santa Monica in half an hour, way before my scheduled 5:30 a.m. shuttle. That wasn't a problem, though. I just hopped on board the shuttle and I was whisked off to Dodger Stadium. I was at Dodger Stadium by 5:30, two hours before the race was scheduled to start. So I did the only thing I could do: I went to the port-a-potty and took a much-needed piss then found a place to sit and wait out the time while listening to some slow tunes.
Although there was no line at the port-a-potties when I got there, I could tell that the organizers didn't get enough of them to serve the 25,000 runners who have been hydrating all weekend long. This could be a disaster, I thought. I was sort of right. The lines were long, but when people need to piss, they'll find a place. I saw a lot of people clambering up the hillsides around Chavez Ravine for some privacy or simply going behind a dumpster. Some barely found any privacy but just took a piss anyway.
The two hours actually passed quickly, and even though it was a mild morning and forecasts were for a warm day, I got chilly waiting out there. So rather than check in my gear early, I just held on to it until just before the race was supposed to start so I could stow the extra shirts I brought. When I checked in the gear, I sensed another disaster in the making. The volunteer tagged my bag as they ought to, but when it was handed off to someone else to be placed in the truck, it was arbitrarily tossed into the truck--a truck whose number assignment was for runners with numbers 9001-12000 on their bibs, so potentially 3,000 bags will be stowed in that truck. Tossing a bag into a truck is not a system for handling 3,000 bags. Uh oh.
I didn't worry about my bag at the time, though. I had a race to run, so I headed off to the start line and realized that it was basically one big corral. The race was already late in starting. It was scheduled to start at 7:25 a.m. but they made an announcement that the non-elite runners probably won't be starting until 7:45 or so. As the wheelchair competitors started and saw where they were headed, I saw another problem. The first mile is a lap around Dodger Stadium, so the route swirls around the stadium. The organizers, however, had the amazing foresight to place the few port-a-potties they did order just outside of this swirl, which meant that if you were using the port-a-potties, you would have to cut across the course to get to the start line. Anyone who has been involved in at least one marathon would know that runners will use port-a-potties up to the last minute. Some even use it even after the gun has gone off. It's one of the luxuries of chip timing. Now, I don't know why the organizers didn't see the problem in this. Did they think everyone would stop using the port-a-potties before the race started?
Unfortunately, I became one of the victims when I decided that I needed to use the restroom and hoped that I could beat the start of the main group and get back to the start line with no problem. I didn't beat the start. As I walked out to go back to the start, an onslaught of runners was just coming around like a giant stampede. To cross would mean I'd get trampled. I considered just joining them and skipping the start line, but that would mean my time may not count. So, I walked away from the start line and jumped in with the runners who already started and slowly made my way to the left so I could get into the start. I succeeded, but I wondered how the others who were also stranded managed.
Since my watch strap broke a while back, I decided to run watchless for the first time at a race. I'm usually a slave to my watch during a race, dutifully marking each split, calculating my pace, and estimating my finish time. I will adjust my speed based on my splits. Without a watch, though, I'd have to base it on how I was feeling and the time provided at each mile marker. I'm good enough in math that I can probably do a quick calculation without it. To my shock, though, there was no clock at the start line, which meant I had no idea how many minutes after the gun went off I was actually starting. Not only was there no clock at the start, I didn't see one for miles one nor two. When I finally saw one at mile 3, it read around 45 minutes, which either meant I started about fifteen minutes after the gun or I was running really slow, which would not have been surprising because of the crowd at the start which required me to do some weaving and even occasionally stop in my tracks. I assumed, though, that I had started 15 minutes behind and tried to pick up my pace.
I didn't feel great in the beginning. My right shin had been tender for the last week or so, and I could feel it in the early runs. Not running much the last week also made my legs feel heavy and sluggish. I prepared myself for the possibility that I may have to drop out if my shin became a problem. I have yet to drop out of a race and I hoped I wouldn't have to now. But then, as I was climbing the steep hill on 1st leading up to Grand in downtown, my inner thighs began to cramp up. It was only three miles into the race and I was already cramping? This is going to be a lousy race, I thought to myself. Yet I kept going. I would just have to see how far I can go. By then the relatively mild morning was feeling like a warm, humid day. I usually don't take a Gu until mile 8 but I told myself I'll take one around mile 6. Better safe than sorry.
Even though I was having a lousy run so far, I did enjoy running through Echo Park and Silver Lake. However, I was disappointed by the lack of hipster support for the race. I was hoping the area would be teeming. Then again, it was still early on Sunday. I did find a few hanging out at the usual areas, enjoying their coffee at Cafe Tropical and Intelligentsia. The crowd grew thicker, though, as we entered Los Feliz and East Hollywood, which was a convenient spot to cheer because of the Vermont/Sunset Red Line station. I took a Gu at this point, and I think it made a huge difference in how I felt and gave me a nice jolt.
As I entered Thai Town, I was feeling better. I didn't feel my shin any more and felt more upbeat about my prospects. My time calculations also showed that I was speeding up, which helped boost my confidence. I saw Prame from GLU as I ran through Thai Town and said hi. After that, I found more people I knew. Manny and Mary Lou were right in front of the Hollywood/Vine station, but I almost missed them and they me. I knew Jane would be at La Brea and Sunset, and sure enough she was. She took the picture of me above as I ran towards her. I'm probably saying, "JANE!" in the picture. I'm always grateful for friends who come out to cheer. They wait and wait only to see someone they know for a few seconds and soon they're off. Cheering is really a lot of just waiting but it is also fun to cheer on strangers and to take in the scenery. Still, getting up early on a Sunday morning and braving the crowds is a lot of work, and it means a lot to see a friendly face in the crowd, especially when you're feeling not so fresh. I didn't expect to see Katie at mile 21, for example. It took me a second to realize it was her I was so delirious, but she helped pep me up in that difficult part of the race. So did Sonia, who ran with me for a few minutes.
Miles 10-16 from Hollywood through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills were my best miles. I felt great and thought I was running a great race. I was basically running the whole thing without taking walk breaks like I usually do. The only time I would walk was to drink. As soon as I had finished drinking I would run again. Even if this wasn't my fastest marathon, I can mark it as the first marathon I ran (almost) completely through. Running through West Hollywood was great, and I wondered how the Christian runners, the ones with Bible verses written on their jerseys, will react as they run through a gauntlet of men dressed as nuns handing them water and not to mention the go-go dancers.
At Century City, with a gradual hill making things tougher, I began to tire. Not as bad as I would have thought earlier, but the race was starting to become tough. Still, I maintained my pace. The worst section was the mile through the Veterans Administration grounds. My legs just felt heavy and it seemed warmer there than at any point in the race. The sun was breaking through the marine layer and there was no shade to be had in the grounds. I was grateful, though, that they didn't make us run up the difficult hill on Federal to get to Brentwood. Instead we had the more gradual hills through the V.A. but even those were tough.
Having run on San Vicente before, I knew not to expect it to be easy. The first part was a gradual incline and then only after you peak do you get that wonderful downhill portion all the way to Santa Monica. I still had to get through the uphill portion. Somewhere on mile 21, though, I made the mistake of grabbing an oversized pretzel that someone was offering to runners. I had been taking just about everything spectators were offering me, mainly oranges and banana, with the hope that it would keep the cramping at bay. It seemed to work. No cramping, just hints that they were coming. However, that pretzel became a small problem. It's not the spectator's fault. At that point in the race, eating something so thick and starchy probably wasn't a good idea. The pretzel soaked up the saliva in my mouth and I couldn't swallow it. The mushy pretzel just sat in the pockets of my cheeks. I needed water. I couldn't even spit it out! As you would expect, when you want something you can't find it. It seemed like ages before I came across a water station. Thankfully I didn't choke on the pretzel and I was able to spit it out.
Mile 24 through the end was downhill and it felt great. The view of the ocean was a great sight telling me that I was almost done. The cooler temperatures and thicker marine layer also helped as I got a second wind and began picking up my pace a little the last two miles. When I turned on Ocean Ave. I could see the finish line in the distance and throngs of people lining both sides. So beautiful. This was one reason why I love running the L.A. Marathon, seeing the community out there cheering on strangers and just being supportive. The crowds were thick everywhere, even areas where I thought residents would be unsupportive of the new course. The people seemed to embrace it and it's such great motivation to be cheered on as you're struggling for one last push.
I crossed the finish line with the clock reading 4:12. My estimated 15 minute lag time turned out to be right. My chip time was 3:57:01. This was my fourth fastest marathon and the fifth time I finished under four hours. I passed Andy at mile 24, but he wasn't too far behind me at the finish. I waited for him and I ran into David too, who ran his first marathon. He posted a great time for his first and beat me by 43 seconds. I almost caught up to him!
All in all, I enjoyed the race. The course was beautiful. Too bad it was marred by the flaws I already mentioned. However, the worst part was the debacle that was bag claim. As I suspected, it became a big mess. The volunteers couldn't find bags right away and it seemed as if the bags were just thrown into the truck haphazardly. The runners were annoyed and the volunteers were becoming stressed. I had to wait at least half an hour to find my bag. It was aggravating. The worst part was that I had asked Andy and his girlfriend, Lisa, for a ride home, so they had to wait for me as I tried to find my bag. Bag check had never been a problem for me before. Hopefully this will be addressed next year.
If the organizers can keep this course, I don't see why the L.A. Marathon can't be a world class race, one that people everywhere would flock to run. It really serves as a great running tour of Los Angeles. You see all the tourist sights in one day, and you witness the diversity of the city. From downtown to Echo Park to Silver Lake to Hollywood to West Hollywood to Beverly Hills to the Westside to Santa Monica--the course was a great snapshot of the area.
For my post-marathon meal, a conversation about burgers with Andy got me hankering for one. After a nap, I persuaded Jane to join me for burgers and beer at Umami. I capped it off with a shake from Milk.
Then I slept some more.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
I couldn't have picked worse weather for my first trip to New York. I'm actually surprised that my flight wasn't cancelled or delayed. We landed almost on time, which is great especially after hearing about the ordeal passengers on a Virgin America flight had to endure. The only scary part was landing. It seemed we descended ever so slowly and experienced a lot of turbulence. It was scarier when we actually broke through the clouds and I saw that we were about to land yet the plane was still banking left and right. Sitting next to the wing also didn't help allay my concerns; I'm always amazed how those wings never snap off. Ultimately, we landed safely--or, rather, we plopped down safely much to the delight of all the passengers.
Thanks to the weather I think I got a realistic New York experience. I was going to take the NJ Transit train to Penn Station but was told that the trains weren't running because of lack of power. I had to take a bus, which actually delighted me. I get to go through the Lincoln Tunnel! Along with airplane wings not snapping off, tunnels are another source of fascination, especially when they run beneath bodies of water. Imagine all that water just above your head--it's incredible!
The bus ride wasn't long at all. The train probably would have taken just as long. I got off at the Port Authority Bus Terminal where I could catch the A, C, or E train. At the time it wasn't raining. I bought a weeklong pass since it cost almost as much as buying three individual day passes. When I got to the platform an E train was waiting for me. Lucky me, I thought. I got in and waited. The train just sat there. After a few minutes an indecipherable announcement was made but I understood enough of it to hear that the train wasn't going anywhere. I had to lug my luggage back up the stairs and snake my way through a crowded tunnel, up and down some stairs, to get to the Times Square station to catch the NRQW, which were actually better since it would dump me closer to our hotel. I didn't wait long, but the train was, of course, crowded, which made me wish I didn't have my bags with me. When I got off at my stop, the weather had gotten worse. It was pouring and it was windy. I could have handled the rain, but the wind was too much. It kept messing up my umbrella and just blew water everywhere. The hotel was only a couple of blocks away but having to walk in the wind and the rain made it seem so much farther.
Alice's hotel room was tiny, which I guess was to be expected in New York. She and her friend, Jessica, were getting ready to head out to dinner. I just decided I would stay in my wet clothes since I was likely to get soaked again on the way to the restaurant. In fact, the weather got even worse. It rained harder and it got windier. The restaurant was a tiny establishment with not much waiting room space. We had to squeeze ourselves in the tiny, tented entrance. To avoid having to squeeze between people, Amy, another friend of Alice's, and I stood on a bench and waited. We waited about another hour. The place was tiny, like a small room, and it was crowded. Thankfully my meal was great. We finished at around midnight and we walked down Houston before catching a cab back to our hotel and then we walked around some more and checked out an underground club. I was proud of myself for staying out so late. I hadn't slept much the night before and had traveled all day, yet I wasn't too tired.
We turned in at about 3 in the morning and slept in a little. Jane, whose flight was cancelled, had to catch a red eye and was set to land at 6:30 a.m. However, even that flight got delayed and she didn't land until after 9. When she got to the hotel we headed off to get some dim sum. We were in Chinatown, after all. The dim sum was good, but nothing I couldn't get in L.A. The rest of the afternoon we mainly shopped in SoHo. I hadn't planned on shopping, but I actually did buy quite a few things. No tax! I particularly loved UNIQLO. It's now my favorite store. I got a few shirts, which were very inexpensive. I wanted to check out their jeans but was overwhelmed by the crowds and the lines to try stuff on. I hoped to maybe come back another day but we didn't. We grabbed pizza later in the day at Lombardi's and some delicious rice pudding at Rice to Riches in Little Italy.
In a way, we shopped longer than I would have liked. Alice and I did get to walk around TriBeCa a little and saw the Ghostbusters firehouse. We then took a train up to Washington Square Park and walked around a little until it started pouring again. I wish I got a chance to walk around the area more. I wanted to see hipsters! Then again, I probably should have gone to Brooklyn for that. Dinner was supposed to be Italian but by the time we headed out a lot of the places were closing down. So we went to another recommended pizza place and was a little disappointed by the food.
The next day was the longest day, which was also the best day. Jane and I were out from 9 in the morning until almost 2 in the morning. We started off with breakfast at Balthazar in SoHo. It was a little pretentious but the food was decent. We then walked over to Bowery so I can get a picture of the new New Museum building. Along the way we came across a pile of umbrellas and, of course, we had to get a picture of it. In fact, all weekend it became my habit to take pictures of all the dead umbrellas I came across. Do people just dump their broken umbrellas where they are?
After the New Museum we took a train to City Hall so we can walk on the Brooklyn Bridge. I would have liked to walk across the whole thing but we only got halfway. It was just too cold and windy and we had a lot of other things we needed to do. I had a list for the day and not surprisingly we didn't do all of them.
Next after the Brooklyn Bridge was the Museum of Modern Art. Alice was given free passes, which was a godsend. Jane and I didn't have to wait in a long line. We wound up staying at MoMA longer than scheduled because there was so much to see. I really liked it but as usual I got tired and raced through some of the galleries. The Tim Burton exhibition was crowded but interesting. There was also an exhibition of Marina Abramovic's performance art--naked people galore! I loved seeing the Jackson Pollock pieces. We stayed so long at MoMA that both Jane and I complained of feeling cramps in our calves.
We were starved afterwards and we were behind schedule. We headed out and grabbed lunch at Grand Central Station so we can kill two birds with one stone: eat a good New York lunch and take pictures of the station. I went with a gyro and Jane got a chicken plate. I think the lunch did the trick because we were both rejuvenated and no longer felt the weariness in our legs. After taking pictures of Grand Central we hopped back on a train to the Upper East Side to walk around and take pictures of the Guggenheim Museum and then walk through Central Park. It was drizzling a little and definitely cold. Central Park was muddy but we walked through the middle section, around the reservoir and along the Great Lawn and cut across to the Upper West Side. We were going to hit up the American Museum of Natural History next but by that time it was near closing time. We still went in and spent about a half hour. We decided to come back the next day.
At 6 we were supposed to meet up with Jane's brother-in-law's brother. I don't know if that makes him a stepbrother-in-law. We met him for Happy Hour at a sushi place in Midtown not too far from the theater where Jane and I were going to see "Next to Normal." My friend Corey was also able to meet us there and we enjoyed some drinks. The sushi, though, was terrible. I'm sure there are better places in New York.
We then walked over to the Booth Theatre, an old theater built in the early 1900's, to see "Next to Normal." It was a great, powerful show. Jane was crying through most of it, and I could hear sniffling throughout the crowd. I definitely recommend it. After the show Alice met up with us and we grabbed another slice of pizza and walked around Times Square and checked out the sights around there. It was late, so everything was closed. But we walked by Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the Empire State Building. The best vantage point to see the Empire State Building is really from a few blocks away. Standing next to it, it didn't seem all that tall. It's not until it's in the context of the buildings around it that you realize how tall it is. We also walked through Koreatown but it really pales in comparison to L.A. Our Koreatown beats their Koreatown!
The next day Jane and I still had a few things that we wanted to get to do, and we had most of the day to do so. Jane wanted to go shopping and I wanted to check out Chelsea and the High Line. Unfortunately we got a late start and had to rush through things. We grabbed bagels at H&H Bagels and walked over to the Museum of Natural History. We again had to rush through it because we needed to get back to the hotel by 1pm to check out. We were hoping to get some shopping in before then but really didn't have time. After check out we went to get lunch in Chelsea. We went to a place recommended by Amy, a place called Elmo. My chicken fried chicken was good and some of the waiters were pleasant to look at. It was after lunch that Alice, Jane and I separated. They had to head back to catch their flight at JFK. I had a couple of hours until I had to leave so I walked around Chelsea a little. I really wanted to see the High Line but my guide book misdirected me. It marked its undeveloped terminus at 31st Street as "the High Line" but the part I wanted to see was all the way down on 14th Street. Realizing the goof, I hopped on a train to 14th Street and had about 45 minutes to walk around. I was really hoping I would have time to just soak up the sun like the other beautiful people there. After two days of rain and gray that last day was actually gorgeous. However, I only had time to walk up and down and take some pictures. It's definitely a great use of space and already a popular attraction. Los Angeles needs to consider doing something similar with unused public areas.
Finally I had to head back to the hotel, grab my bags and catch the NJ Transit back to Newark. It was all very convenient, but by the time I headed to New Jersey it was rush hour. I had to squeeze through people in suit to catch the train.
I wish I had an extra day to do some of the other things I wanted to do. I really wanted to see and walk around Brooklyn, and I didn't even get to check out Greenwich Village or Columbia University. They will have to wait until my next trip. Actually, I just realized now that I didn't even think about seeing the Statue of Liberty. What a bad tourist am I, not to mention a bad American? It was an excellent trip nonetheless. Next time I'll try to go on a nice spring or fall weekend.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
I was able to get my mind off of food enough to finish the run with little trouble. My right shin is still tender, but hopefully the lack of running in the next few days will help it a little. It doesn't give me any problems running but it is tender to the touch. I'll have to get it checked out if it doesn't go away.
Since it was late by the time I finished, I grabbed a breakfast for dinner at the newly opened Novel Cafe. The food was decent, but I think the place could afford to be cozier. If it were, it would be a great spot to read a book and hang. So far it seems to cater to a primarily Korean clientele, which surprises me even though it is Koreatown after all. I thought it might attract the growing number of hipsters living in the area, but maybe in a few weeks they'll come out of the woodwork.
With about a week left until the marathon, I thought back to how I felt at this time during my first marathon. Then I was so nervous. I was terrified and excited at the same time. Now, though, this is almost routine. I don't get nervous as I used to, maybe only a few hours before, and it's no longer as daunting as I once imagined. The marathon is still hard, but having run a few now, I've demystified it. It's a challenge but one I can handle. Hopefully I haven't jinxed myself.
Friday, March 12, 2010
I wish Blogger gave Helvetica as an option so I can write this review of Gary Hustwit's documentary, Helvetica, using that typeface. I'm surprised it's not an option since it is so ubiquitous, and it is Helvetica's omnipresence that Hustwit dissects in this documentary. Helvetica is everywhere even if you don't realize that the typeface you're looking at is Helvetica--American Airlines, Crate & Barrel, American Apparel, Target, Staples, and countless more--all use Helvetica. The film charts Helvetica's fifty year history, from a Swiss font and a favorite typeface of Modernist designers to its rejection by Post-Modernists to its modern day resurgence as designers reinterpret the uses of the font.
To do so, Hustwit interviews quite a few designers, who I assume are legends in the field, and they discuss their relationship to Helvetica. Some embrace it as a versatile font that suggests sober efficiency when used one way and cool stylishness when used another. Think of its usage on IRS tax forms and subway signs and then compare it to, say, an American Apparel ad or some art poster. Others, though, mostly designers who came of age during the Vietnam era, view Helvetica as a "corporate" font, a typeface devoid of identity and meaning. They point to the fact that corporations overwhelmingly use Helvetica as proof that it's fascist and needs to be overthrown. One designer only half-jokingly correlates the use of Helvetica to sponsoring the Vietnam War. Then Helvetica comes roaring back as designers find ways to give it new connotations and uses. And with more self-taught designers, it has again become ubiquitous. The thesis of the film is that Helvetica may well be the perfect font. It is simple, clean, and versatile. Even those who hate it do so because of its usefulness.
Helvetica is a very enlightening film and it's fascinating to realize that things we barely give any thought to really convey a lot, that the visual medium is so strong, prevalent and effective that a quick glance is enough to send us a message. Signs, signs, everywhere a sign! The film stretches itself to be a movie, though, and at times its editing style borrows too much from the essence of its subject--too cool and placid. Still, it's an interesting topic and I can't wait for the sequel. Times New Roman? Comic Sans?
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
After two months in my possession I finally got around to watching Arnaud Desplechin's "Kings and Queen." Finally! Was it worth the wait? Yes, but its rewards are something the viewer has to work to earn.
There is usually a point while watching a highly acclaimed foreign film that I have to remind myself that I'm supposed to like the movie. "This is good," I tell myself, "you have to like it." More often than not I do like the movie, but other times I'm just bewildered and made to feel like I somehow missed the point stupid American that I am. This internal dialogue occurred early on during the two-and-a-half hour running time of "Kings and Queen." What exactly was the point of these two parallel stories? We have Nora's story, a seemingly glamorous and luminous woman, who discovers that her father is dying, and we have Ismael, Nora's ex, who is confined against his will in a psychiatric hospital. Nora's story is all pathos, while Ismael's is madcap. We assume that Nora is our heroine, whose fortunes we are meant to care about, while Ismael is the character we find entertaining but ultimately dismiss as trifling. Eventually we'll see the two confront each other and we expect Nora to be triumphant.
Desplechin, though, is far too sophisticated for something so banal and predictable. Halfway through the film, he coyly pulls the rug from beneath the viewer's feet. He does so quietly but powerfully. We discover things about the characters that make us question their morality and sense of obligation. As the film goes on, we realize that Nora isn't the put-together, empathetic character we might have presumed and Ismael has more depth than we gave him credit for. "Kings and Queen" isn't a story about the conflicts between these two but rather we view their plights in parallel. Nora and Ismael's fortunes don't rise and fall in unison. Instead they move towards opposite poles. We soon view Nora as selfish, an egotist prone to using the men in her life for her gain, and that includes taking advantage of her father's affection for her. The film does not depict Nora as evil or corrupt, merely that she is a woman with moral flaws beneath her seemingly perfect existence. Ismael's development moves him toward a deeper understanding of relationships, family, and what it means to need people in your life. Nora marries a rich but dull man she clearly doesn't love out of convenience, while Ismael erratically pursues happiness. Desplechin doesn't judge who's right or who's wrong, only that this is how it is. Life is full of compromises because sometimes that is the only way it can be made bearable.
At two and a half hours, "Kings and Queen" is too long. It moves deliberately and takes its time to develop its characters and their motivations, and in the end, it works in giving us hot-blooded, real characters and situations. The characters played by Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric are complex creations. They don't play types; they inhabit real people. Although "Kings and Queen" may be a chore to watch at times, it is also a fascinating film, beautiful and complex. I liked it.
Monday, March 08, 2010
To paraphrase an Of Montreal song, everyday should be like Sunday, yesterday in particular. Not that there was anything especially spectacular about it, but the day just felt complete.
I started with a 14 mile run with the gang at the Rose Bowl. The weather was perfect--clean, fresh air and spectacular views of snow-covered mountains. Afterwards, I grabbed coffee from Jones and picked up ingredients from Whole Foods for the risotto (see picture above) I was going to make as my Oscar dinner. I'm shocked to discover that Whole Foods doesn't sell shrimp with heads on. For shame! I needed the heads to make a broth. Luckily I live right by a Korean market that does sell whole shrimp--and it was on sale for $2.90/pound.
Before heading home I stopped by FJ's to get some new music. Man, that guy has quite a collection. I'll need to come by again and get some of his 1,000 cover songs.
By the time I left FJ's house it was too late to make myself a breakfast or lunch, so I just stopped by Heirloom in South Pasadena and got an open-faced egg salad sandwich. When I got home the Oscar preshow was starting.
I began making the broth for the risotto just before the Oscars started and it perfumed my apartment with the smell of shrimp broth, which is a good thing. Out of the context of being with my family, it reminded me of growing up and my Mom cooking dinner.
Cooking risotto takes some time, but it's not difficult to make. The ingredients are few and simple to prepare. I think I prefer making things that take a while to make. Like a lot things I prefer pacing myself instead of rushing. I can prep the next ingredient while the others are simmering. If only I always had a couple of hours to cook, and when you're starving, taking two hours to cook something is out of the question. The risotto turned out great. The fresh shrimp broth really makes a difference. I paired it with the pan-fried bell peppers I liked so much last week so that I had a truly Venetian meal.
As for the Oscars themselves, there were some suprises. Unfortunately, they were bad ones. Precious for adapted screenplay? And as much as I like Sandra Bullock as an actress and person, she was easily the least of the five nominated performances. She now has the distinction of winning a Razzie and an Oscar in the same year--the worst and the best.
The show was one of the worst ones I recall seeing in the 20 years I've been watching the Oscars. The hosts, though, were terrific. Steve Martin has been my favorite Oscar host, and I hope he comes back again. However, for a show that ran long, there were no memorable moments, but there were a lot of awkward segments. I like John Hughes but he does not warrant an extended tribute. All in all, I was underwhelmed.
To close out the evening I decided to watch Kings and Queen, a DVD I've had from Netflix for almost two months now. But after an hour, the activities of the day and just the lack of sleep the last couple of weeks caught up with me and I started falling asleep. I turned the movie off and turned in. It was the earliest I've gone to bed in some time. It was great, and I woke up today feeling refreshed. Actually it took me some time to realize that it's Monday.
Another work week coming up and a fun weekend next week.
Sunday, March 07, 2010
With just a few hours until the start, here are my last minute Oscar predictions. I always plan on posting these sooner, but I always fail. This year's race has been very predictable, but who knows, maybe the Academy will throw some surprises. The closest race is in actress where Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep duke it out. I'm hoping Streep wins. One surprise that I won't be shocked by would be if "The Blind Side" wins. With ten nominees and a new voting system in place for best picture, it's quite possible that "The Blind Side" may sneak in for the win. I hope not!
Will: The Hurt Locker
Should: Up in the Air
Will: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Should: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Will: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Should: George Clooney, Up in the Air
Will: Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia
Should: Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Will: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Should: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Will: Mo'Nique, Precious
Should: Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Will: Inglourious Basterds
Should: A Serious Man
Will: Up in the Air
Should: Up in the Air
Will: The Cove
Should: The Cove
Will: A Prophet
Should: N/A - Haven't seen any
Should: Fantastic Mr. Fox
Will: The Hurt Locker
Should: Inglourious Basterds
Will: The Young Victoria
Should: N/A - haven't seen any
Will: The Hurt Locker
Should: The Hurt Locker
Will: "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart
Should: "The Weary Kind"
Will: Star Trek
Should: Eh, only saw Star Trek
Saturday, March 06, 2010
Marisela and I met up at Mo-chica for dinner and some girl talk. I was hoping to cross off another item from Jonathan Gold's "99 Things to Eat in Los Angeles Before You Die" list, but sadly they were out of ceviche. I'll have to come back another time.
In place of the ceviche I ordered the causa del dia, which today was filled with spicy albacore. This was great. It's a very generous serving, and just about filled me up.
For our entree I went with the arroz con mariscos. It was fine but not the spectacular treat the causa was. Mari had the fish special, an Atlantic cod served on a quinoa risotto. What I had of it was quite good, and Mari seemed to like it a lot since she finished the whole thing--except for the skin. Apparently Mari doesn't like fish skin, which I found out when she recoiled after seeing me pop the entire thing in my mouth. She had to ask me if I was done chewing it so she can look at me again.
Friday, March 05, 2010
I had not gotten approval from work yet yesterday, but today I got it. No takebacks! I actually got my ticket yesterday before I got the vacation approved, so that was a bit of a risk, but now I'm excited to go. I have to do some research on places to eat, of course, and some prep work on public transportation, but I'm really just looking forward to walking around the city, checking out the scenery and taking loads of pictures. I hope it's not too cold.
Since I'm sure to be eating a ton next weekend, I better be good about eating and running this week. Unfortunately I'm off to a bad start today. I got home from work and just felt too tired to run. Oh well.
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
And all the times I had the chance to
Talking to you girl is like long division
Life is sad
Life is a bust
All ya can do is do what you must.
You do what you must do and ya do it well
The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It's a sunny September
The colours are bright here
And the birds sing of beautiful places
While you are just ringing in my ear
and that's not all
ooh-ooh, there will be snacks there will
there will be snacks, there will be snacks.
All these people drinking lover's spit
They sit around and clean their face with it
And we'll collect the moments one by one
I guess that's how the future's done
And I thought you were the moon in the sky,
but it turned out you were just a streetlight.
My chosen one,
Why look at me?
Why wake me up
After bad dreams?
Why lie beside me?
Why lovely eyes?
Why lovely sides?
Oh no, God damn
I missed the last tram
I killed the party again
God damn, God damn
All the other girls here are stars-you are the Northern Lights.
They try to shine in through your curtains-you're too close and too bright.
I don't know why I'm a one man guy
Or why I'm a one man show
But these three cubic feet of bone and blood and meat are all I love and know
Are you heavy enough to make me stay
I feel like I might blow away
I'm so tired
And I wish I was the moon tonight
And your mom would stick a fork right into daddy's shoulder
And dad would throw the garbage all across the floor
As we would lay and learn what each other's bodies were for
God speed all the bakers at dawn may they all cut their thumbs,
And bleed into their buns 'till they melt away.
These weeks of running, though, is starting to take a toll on me. My right shin has been a little tender lately. It doesn't bother me and it's not painful, but I do feel some tenderness when I touch it. It doesn't help that I run on sidewalks most of the time. They just have no give, so my legs just get pounded. All I can really do right now is just monitor that it doesn't start to hurt and maybe rest a little and ice the area. This shouldn't keep me from running the race in three weeks.
I've also had a sore left shoulder the last couple of days. The hypochondriac in me tells me that I'm having a heart attack. I've even imagined myself collapsing at work, dying from a massive heart attack. All that running for nothing! The most likely culprit for the soreness is the hours of bad ergonomics sitting in front of a computer. If only someone could yank my arm really hard I think that would make it feel better. My shoulder just needs a good popping--or a massage.
Monday, March 01, 2010
This slow-cooked, pan-fried bell pepper and onion dish is so simple yet so good. Finished off with some balsamic vinegar and I had a delightful dish.
I paired the peperonata with a tabouleh salad. Still haven't perfected the ratio of the ingredients in a tabouleh salad, but I'll get there.