Restaurants come, and restaurants go. Barbacoa in Orinda’s Theater Square went the way of all flesh, and now there is The Fourth Bore Taproom and Grill. They’ve redone the interior, and added a large and attractive firepit in the outdoor eating area.
I think my friend Randy Corr needs to go here and give me his opinion, because the specialty here is beer. Lots and lots of beer, all specialty, different and interesting. Since I don’t drink the stuff, I don’t have much opinion about the quality of the selection, but there sure are a lot of them on tap.
We ate outside, so we could bring the dog. We always eat outside these days It was a trifle cool, but they claimed to be out of propane for their heaters. Maybe so, maybe they just didn’t want to turn them on in the daytime. In either case, it’s tacky to have heaters but not be willing/able to use them for your customers.
Is is wrong if an eatery gives you too much to eat? Gail and I both had this sandwich, and it’s really too much food. It would be so much better on a couple of slices of toasted sourdough instead of that big bun. There were more chips (house made, it would appear) than a person could possibly consume. I had the fries, and the portion was absurd.
There was half an avocado on each, sliced as though it was designed to be fanned out across the sandwich but not actually fanned, just one huge chunk in the middle of the bun. I’m not sure why it was my responsibility to get my hands all covered with some kind of sauce while performing the necessary construction on my meal. I never have to re-make my Big Mac or Whopper.
So how was the meal? Meh. The cod was pretty bland, the bread overpowering, the fries needed to be cooked in hotter oil and salted more aggressively.
Service was decent. My iced tea came with the lime I asked for, which is often a surprise. The kitchen gave us both chips, although I ordered fries–but then the waiter quickly brought me a humongous plate of them. Neither of us got tartar sauce with our meal, but the waiter quickly corrected that as well.
I wasn’t very impressed or excited by The Fourth Bore, but I imagine 3 or 4 glasses of exotic beer would have improved my attitude. A few beers would improve my attitude all the time.
Here’s the truth–when you’ve seen the first 10,000 penguins, you’ve seen them all.
But Antarctica is a lot more than birds that fly underwater. The scenery is mind boggling. We’ve had the good fortune to travel quite a bit, and there is simply nothing like this place anywhere else.
The mountains here are the tail end of the Andes, often thrusting straight up from the sea floor and covered in eons of snow that is slowly moving forward, breaking off and making ice bergs.
One morning we got dressed and piled into the Zodiacs just to ride around–no landing, no penguins, just icebergs and scenery.
There is lots of scenery.
There is drama in the lighting in every direction.
A mini-Matterhorn rising from the ocean.
And some wildlife–the is a leopard seal.
More of the magnificent ice bergs, and a chance for me to get creative with the processing. Take the time to click on the smaller images and look at them full size, they deserve to be seen big.
You might be wondering about the Zodiacs–where do they go when the ship is moving. It turns out there’s a fascinating ballet performed 4 time a day as they are launched and recovered each time the passengers go ashore. The boats are stored on the top deck of the ship, raised and lowered by crane as the ship is steaming ahead. The drivers jump off into the ship as they pass the 2nd deck.
The small bits of ice floating in the water are known as “brash”. They are immaterial to the ship, but the Zodiacs have to pay attention. Here is a flotilla of the small boats, with all their passengers in bright red company-issued parkas, maneuvering through as they go wandering about.
This piece of ice could be thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of years old. It contains air bubbles that were formed as snow flakes and tiny air spaces were compressed over the centuries, and now scientists are able to test that tiny time capsule to see how the concentrations of CO2 have changed over time.
Another seal, and a hint as to the origins of mermaid myths—if you had been on a tiny ship with only men for 14 months or so, this could look quite a bit like a woman lying on her side.
This is a real woman, Elsa, one of our expedition guides. Very beautiful, very French, and she knows just everything about the seals and the ice, the birds and the rocks and the climate.
The wildlife doesn’t much care if it’s land or berg. Here some gulls have taken up residence atop a large berg, and one is swooping out to go look for lunch.
Guides in yellow parkas, guests in red. Motoring through a gap between the rocks, heading towards a large iceberg with a center gap. This is the reason for going here–you can see penguins in zoos, but there is no scenery like this anywhere else.
And here’s that berg, the stone is behind it, not embedded.
There are grottoes and caverns along the sea.
This is just a small outcropping, yet it dwarfs the Zodiac. Kind of what I have been thinking about the entire trip. This place makes you feel insignificant. The rookeries with hundreds of thousands of birds, who will walk right up to you and not notice you at all. The unyielding cold. The massive glaciers, with millions of years of snowfall slowly moving towards the eternal sea. The unending winds and tides shaping the rocks, bouncing even the largest ships like they were toys in the bathtub. All conspire to make you realize that man doesn’t really matter much.
We’d all like to think of ourselves as honest, pure and upright. In reality, not so much.
In this new play at Center Rep in Walnut Creek, everyone is flawed, just like real life. On a simple stage designed like a swimming stadium, complete with water-filled pool, the story plays out in a brilliant new drama.
Ray (Max Carpenter) is an Olympic hopeful swimmer, though he is as dumb as a bag of hammers. Peter (Gabriel Marin), his brother, is a very fast talking attorney hoping to represent Ray on his rise to swimming superstar. He is talking very very fast today, because an ice chest full of performance enhancing drugs was found in the refrigerator.
Coach (Michael Asberry) need to keep his star on his team. He talks a good game about the rules, but when push comes to shove………………
And Lydia,(Rosie Hallett), Ray’s ex-girlfriend, is willing to bend the rules for a friend, and maybe help herself a bit, too.
All of this plays out in one 80 minute, uninterrupted act now playing at the Lesher Center. Written by Lucas Hnath, Red Speedo is a new play, premiering here. The director is Markus Potter, imported from New York for the occasion.
Everyone breaks the rules. Everyone can justify their own behavior. And each person’s weakness causes problems for the others, resulting in a vicious circle of crisis.
The acting here is wonderful. Gabriel Mann, as Peter, has enormously long speeches full of his desperation, deception, lies, justifications and scheming that will leave you stunned. Max Carpenter as Ray has the perfect smooth swimmers body clad only in his red Speedo, exhibiting perfect comic timing while seemingly stupid as a box of rocks.
Lydia wants to run away from her problems. Coach will do what it takes in the crunch. These people are all us, trying to get through life, bending, breaking and crushing the rules when they think they have to. Sometimes they cheat because they think (possibly correctly) that everyone else is cheating and they have to level the field. Nobody is perfect, nobody can resist taking an edge when the chips are down.
There is a lot to think about in this play, crammed into a brief, amusing, entertaining package. Sort of like a red speedo.
There’s a timeless quality to this kind of trip. You take the Zodiac ashore and see something, then go somewhere else that looks just the same and do it all over again. That isn’t bad, you just fall into a rhythm of dressing for the shore, going ashore, looking at little black and white birds that can’t fly, coming back to the ship, getting out of your shore clothes, then doing it all over again. And loving the entire process.
There are small differences. We saw three kinds of penguin.
And that’s the biology lesson for today. The Emperor penguins are much larger and more dramatic looking, but they live somewhere else and we didn’t get to see them.
It’s summer, so that’s when babies are born and raised. Each pair of birds mates for life and raises two chicks, if the food supplies are sufficient. These chicks were about 3 weeks old,
We were never onshore without our guides, who knew simply everything about the birds, seals, whales, plants, geology, geography and everything else you can imagine. They could answer any question I could come up with.
Some photos just present themselves. This one barely looks real, like it had been set up in a studio in the 50’s when color film was new.
Then we sailed to Port Lockroy, a British outpost with a working post office. People lined up to buy overpriced post cards printed in China and mail them to family who wouldn’t get them for 2 or 3 months. The place was staffed with idealistic young people who were living on a tiny rock 10,000 miles from their home so they could sell souvenirs
Port Lockroy dates from the time before people agreed that nobody would own the continent, and the UK though it would be wise to have a presence just in case ownership was an issue. It’s marvelously well preserved, and a fascinating look back in time.
The men who lived there drew some of their favorite women to keep them company.
Of course, there were penguins.
There has been some kind of settlement here since whaling days, and there are still chains and cables left from that time.
I’m not done yet, but I’m tired and you’re bored. More to come.
I’ve been dithering for days about how to write about our trip. How many of my hundreds of photos do you really want to see? Can I remember all, or any, of the names of the places we were can I remember? Caught in a loop on indecisions, I’ve done nothing. That can’t continue: I have loyal readers who want pictures of penguins. So I’m just going to start.
After Buenos Aires, we flew to Ushuaia, billed as the southernmost city in the world. I’m pretty sure they define city as anyplace exactly as big as Ushuaia or larger: there are certainly settlements, villages, towns and communities to the south, even with airports and commercial air service. Nonetheless, Ushuaia continues to proclaim itself the one.
The air terminal in Ushuaia looks like nothing so much as a giant ski lodge, all stone walls and steep pitched steel roof. Considering the frigid weather, I guess that makes sense.
Because we landed about noon and weren’t to be allowed on the ship until 4, they loaded us on buses and sent us out to the national park. The far south of Argentina is beautiful, mostly unspoiled and overrun with beavers as the result of a failed attempt to start a fur trade.
History is a living thing here. The Malvinas are what Argentina calls the Falkland Islands, which they still claim.
I saw this poster in a tiny post office billed as “The End of the World” where you could buy and send postcards and get your passport stamped for $3.
We had lunch in the park, drove around the stunning landscape, and finally made our way to the ship.
Our cruise was on Le Soleál, a 175 passenger ship of the Ponant cruise line, based in France. Everything on the ship was French. The staff spoke English, mostly. The food was French, with a marvelous cheese board at every meal. The expedition guides were French, which occasionally led to communications difficulties, but nothing we couldn’t overcome.
The cruise was put together by a travel company who chartered the entire ship and then sold it through association groups. We went with the Commonwealth Club, and the otherers wer from the Harvard Alumni, the Yale Alumni, Duke Alumni, Bryn Mawr Alumni and more. This was an educated crowd.
Sailing out of Ushuaia, we were treated to sunset.
Crossing Drakes Passage to Antarctica takes a day and a half, which we spend doing clerical duties like getting fitted for our parkas and boots, learning the rules of going ashore and talking about being seasick, which nobody was because the passage was calm as a lake–for a rare and pleasant easy crossing. The meals were good and the excitement was building for our first onshore excursion, at Deception Island.
An extinct volcano, with the caldera open to the sea through a narrow passage to form a large protected bay formerly used by whaling companies, Deception Island is a common stopping point for expedition cruises like ours.
The time arrived and we loaded onto Zodiac boats for the short hop to shore. The crew loaded us carefully both on and off–there was even a man in a wet suit prepared to go into the freezing water and snatch up anyone who slipped and fell.
And there we were!!! On land, surrounded by zillions of penguins, all just alike.
The expedition guide were ashore, of course. Here Fabrice reached into the water to find a krill, the small shrimp-like creature that penguins, seal and whales all feast on.
First day on shore, first seal sighting.
He’s just laying on the ice, digesting his lunch. There are no land based predators, so he’s totally unconcerned with the people crowding around taking his photo–and the guides make sure we don’t get too close.
One of the great things about a cruise is the chance to meet other people with similar interests. This is the group leader from the Commonwealth Cruise, Colleen Wilcox. I suspect you’ll be seeing more of her, we all fell in love.
That’s enough for the first installment. More to come.
We’re off on an adventure. San Francisco to Dallas to Buenos Aires to Ushuaia to a ship taking us to Antarctica. I’m going to see the penguins.
We got to Buenos Aires (big time travelers call it “BA”) Friday morning, and slept most of the day away. In the evening, we went to a tango show, just like all the other tourists. There are 175 people on our tour, and 70 or 80 of us took this little jaunt.
We went to Cafe los Angelitos, which makes a hell of a good living getting tour groups in and out with military precision. We filed in, were herded into seats in long rows of tables and the food, orders were swiftly taken and the food proceeded to race out of the kitchen.
The menu is, shall we say, compact. You can get steak or chicken or some veggie plate. I’ll bet they can predict withing 2 or 3 plates how many of each to prepare every night. There are endless bottles of white or red wine–no wine list, just white or red. If you try to put water in your glass you confuse the system.
My appetizer was gravlax, with some potatoes covered in a spicy mayo. Yes, I pushed most of the mayo aside.
I think everyone in the photo is from our tour group. There are sub-groups from the Commonwealth Club, Harvard alumni, U Washington alumni, Duke alumni, Bryn Mawr alumni, Yale alumni, and some others. It’s a wildly over educated and well traveled group, and should be interesting as hell.
Dinner pushed through in record time for South America, the show started about 10. There were 5 couples of dancers, plus one premiere couple, 2 or 3 singers and a 5 piece band centered on the bandoneon, a Latin variation on the concertina or accordion. The dancing was fast and furious, the music was relentlessly uptempo and the show moved along nicely, except for a couple of musical interludes to give the dancers time to change costumes and catch their breath.
The opening act was a period piece showing the origins of tango among the poorer and lower classes of Argentine society 100 years ago.
The stars with a solo performance
You couldn’t really have a show in BA (he says, trying to sound cool) without a nod to Evita. The lead singer came out to a marvelous production of the song Buenos Aires, where Evita is a young woman coming to the big city and telling it she’s going to be a star.
The band is on a ledge over the stage, and for this number the female dancer starts on their level and then oozes herself down to stage level.
I was impressed by the choreography and the strong graphic elements of the staging and the dance. Here is the opening of a very modern number:
The show had both a male and a female singer, of whom I thought the woman the stronger. Again, beautiful costuming and dramatic lighting combined to make a first rate experience.
The show was long–we left the hotel at 8:30 and didn’t get back until almost midnight. 20 minutes less would have been fine with us, but you can’t say we didn’t get our $115 dollars worth.
Saturday morning Kate and I took the city tour–Gail slept in and Brad went swimming.
Buenos Aires is a city of 4 million, with 10 million more in the surrounding metropolitan area. it has a long history of money and glamour–remember the name Argentina comes from the silver that was so abundant when the nation was a province of Spain. There are huge mansions that once belonged to silver barons and owners of immense ranches exporting beef to the world. These mansions are now often embassies and museums.
We visited La Recoleta Cemetary, home to hundreds of magnificent marble mausoleums dating back over 100 years. If your family can’t afford the upkeep and rent, you can sell the family crypt to someone who will change the name and perhaps completely redesign it. You have to take the family bones with you, though.
These are the final resting places of the very rich and famous, with impressive sculptures and rich materials.
This immense crypt belongs to a family of Catholics who found out their ancestors were Jews fleeing the Inquisition, so the building has both crosses and a menorah.
This sculpture is of a young woman who died in 1970 in an avalanche. Her dog’s nose is polished bright by the hundreds of people rubbing it for luck.
And finally, the most noted crypt of all, that of the family Duarte, whose most famous daughter was Eva Peron. She was laid to rest here years after her death and an amazing journey in which her remains were moved and hidden and buried in Italy. Now she is home with her family.
Coming out of La Recoleta Cemetery, we found this vast ficus tree, whose branches stretch for more than 100 feet and have to be held up by steel stanchions or this piece of statuary.
Driving down the street, I saw something amazing–a Citroen Deux Chevaux touring car. Everybody has to have a gimmick, I guess, and this one is pretty interesting. I’d take a day tour in it.
Our final stop was the Boca, a very touristy district that once was where the poor people lived and made their homes of scrap metal painted with any color they could get their hands on. Now it is very artsy, with dozens of artists and artisans selling their colorful wares on the street. Even on man with no hands who paints with the brush in his mouth, right there on the sidewalk.
For some reason I never learned, the Boca is marked by three dimensional caricatures of the famous and the infamous, mostly on balconies overlooking the pedestrian streets. Here’s a gallery of them.
Later in the afternoon, we went shopping on a pedestrian mall near the hotel. I had to buy a pair of shorts in the first store I saw because it’s so damned hot and humid here. Silly me, I didn’t think I’d need shorts on an expedition to Antarctica.
Then the bad thing happened. We had been warned repeatedly to beware of thieves, but failed to take proper heed. I heard a scream, turned, and found that Coleen, a member of our group, had been attacked and her Rolex stolen right off her wrist, and the thief was racing down the street to jump on a waiting motorcycle and make a fast getaway.
The good news is that she has insurance, she has money and she isn’t hurt. By chance there was a police car along in 30 seconds, so she went to the station and gave a full report. It won’t get her watch back, but may help to catch the bad guys.
Now I have to hit the sack so we can leave for the airport at 6 am for Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world where we catch out boat. It could be worse–some people have to leave the hotel at 3am.
They promise some sort of wifi on the ship, so I’ll post when I can.
It may seem a bit late, but life’s been a bit complicated lately.
I was sick for a week before Christmas. The day after Christmas, great pain in my gut took me to the ER. Turns out you can have a gallstone even after they take out your gallbladder.
Two days later they let me go home. On Saturday night before New Years Eve, Gail and I went to Metro for one of the finest meals of my life. We had the carpaccio, then I enjoyed the Avocado Poke and finished it off with a torchon of foie gras. A meal so great it put me right back in the hospital–my pancreas was still inflamed from the gallstone, and the high-fat meal sent me right over the edge into acute pancreatitis. We had a few people over to see the new year in, and I left them in an Uber headed to Kaiser.
Two more days later, and they let me go home again, with strict instructions to follow a very low fat diet and no alcohol for at least a month to let my innards get back to normal. Oh joy.
Things you learn the hard way. Most of the IV bags in the US are made in Puerto Rico. Or were, until there was a hurricane which left the island devastated and without power. If the residents of the territory were white and voted red, perhaps Trump would be making and effort to get the place back up and running. Since they are brown, and vote blue, there is virtually nothing happening and the US is suffering a shortage of IV bags. Your government at work.
We went to the regional in Monterey, as always. Clearly our favorite tournament of the year. Wish I’d played better.
Things are turning around. Tomorrow we are off to Buenos Aires and thence to Antarctica. I’ve got a fortune in thermal underwear and a super telephoto lens. Gail promises to never set foot off the ship, preferring to sit on deck with good binoculars and a glass of wine. Stay tuned, it should be a wild ride.
You know that old saying about the difference between men and boys being the price of their toys? I suppose it’s true.
I don’t have, or particularly want, a $20,000 wristwatch r $100,000 car. I get to wear nice shirts, but not $10,000 Brioni suits. But I do have some pretty high class photo equipment, which i justify by needing to have great illustrations for this blog. Yeah, right.
Preparatory to our trip to Antarctica in the new year, I’ve added a super telephoto lens to the arsenal, a Tamron 150-600 mm.. Can’t wait to get shots of the penguins whiskers (do they have whiskers? I guess I’ll find out).
Gail and I went to Santa Cruz last week so she could play cards with her cousin Mary. Her sister usually scrapes up a partner for me, but nobody drew the short straw this time, and I had no one to play with. That seemed like a sign from God that I should take the new big gun and the dog and go walking around practicing. It wouldn’t do to get 11,000 miles away from here and not know how to work the thing.
The plan was to walk around Neary Lagoon, listed online as a great birding site. Sadly for us, one of the ways they protect the wildlife is to prohibit dogs, even cute red ones, even on leash.
Google to the rescue, and we found the duck pond in riverside park, then walked a mile or so up and down the river, noticing the enormous homeless encampments. Modern day Hoovervilles for people who wouldn’t know that name.
Later, we went to the Crow’s Nest, on the beach, to meet with Gail and the rest of the family for a drink and appetizer. When the sun went down I rushed out for the sunset photo above, and the seagulls were a bonus.
I have to say I’m stunned with this new lens. It’s more than I would ever have imagined. It had just been released when we went to Africa a few years ago, and I could not lay my hands on it at that time. Can’t wait to see what I can do with it in Antarctica.
Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
Last Monday, as we were moving into the last round, the director announced that for the entire week, all the games would be ACBL Charity games, with the Contra Costa Bridge Center paying the extra dollar for the players.
The previous week, the club had donated half of the table fees to SHARE, the food bank that lives in the same church where we play cards. The donation was over $1600, a number to be very proud of.
Since the Unit Vice-President (who was president last year), Ann Hollingsworth, was at my table, I asked her what the Unit was doing for charity. She brightened right up, and said they were doing quite a lot.
“The Unit is paying for all the food at the Unit Games. And we paid for food at the Sectional last weekend” she merrily chirped.
Discerning readers will notice immediately that paying for the food at our own parties isn’t charity, a fact I mentioned to Ann. I suggested that people with self respect or the slightest charitable bone in their body don’t behave that way.
“Our bylaws don’t require that we give anything to charity. We’re keeping the money for the bridge players”, Ann said.
Resisting the urge to get myself life in prison, I asked if the bylaws said we had to be selfish assholes. She said no, the money was for the benefit of the players.
Ann then told me that they would discuss local charitable donation next year, because in the course of this entire year there just hadn’t been enough time. I think I may have stopped being polite about there.
This is reprehensible. We are a wealthy group of people, surrounded every day by the poor and homeless coming to the food bank at our own club. To think that we are going to sit on roughly $35,000 so we can smugly go swimming in it like Scrooge McDuck in his vault is an abomination.
In years past, our unit has proudly made an active point of contributing to local charities. I spoke with two past presidents and learned that our board traditionally had a specific charity chair whose purpose it was to locate local charities and recommend donations to the board. Not anymore.
When did Unit 499 become useless, heartless, uncaring Philistines? Why? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I’m better than that, and you are too. The current unit board, at least the president and vice-president, not so much.
The ACBL donates money to charity. District 21 donates. Contra Costa Bridge Center donates. Only Unit 499 remains stingy and uncaring, due to an absolute failure of leadership. It’s time that stopped.
I urge you to call any and all members of the unit board and tell them we are not heartless cretins. The list is on the unit website. Tell them that we should be contributing members of society. Tell them that you want our unit to make regular, reasonable contributions to worthwhile local charities. We have to do better, this is intolerable.
I don’t understand vegetarians.
I get the idea that one doesn’t want to eat meat, or anything sentient, or anything that has a face. Not my choice, but OK fine, if that’s what you want.
What I don’t understand is how much vegetarians seem to want to eat something that looks and tastes like meat, it just isn’t. I see “vegetarian chicken” on menus, but it makes no sense to me. Every burger place around offers a veggie patty, made from various and sundry vegetables and mushrooms. They don’t really taste like good beef, but people seem to want them for the illusion.
I like meat, but I sure don’t have any interest in a “carrot” made of beef to experience veggies without having to eat them. If I want a carrot, I’ll have one. I think if anyone wants a piece of chicken, or a burger, they should just go out and have one.
All this is preamble to having dinner last week at The Counter, a marvelous custom burger joint on California Ave. in Walnut Creek. They’ve been advertising the new “impossible burger”, a manufactured slab of wheat, soy, potato protein, coconut oil and something called heme. It is supposed to look, cook, taste and bleed just like real beef. We brought our friend Reed, who eats chicken and fish but not red meat, as the official tester.
I have always liked The Counter. You get to create a burger to your taste, with dozens of options and thousands of possible combinations. Big patty or small. 5 kinds of bun, or put it all in a bowl with lettuce. Beef, turkey, fish, vegetarian patty, and now the Impossible Burger (which is $3 extra–so-called “ethical eating” isn’t cheap.) They have great fries, sweet potato fries, onion strings, and thick malts. It’s kind of noisy inside, but you can’t have everything. Go when the weather is warm and you can eat outside.
Back to the Impossible Burger. The damned thing is good, real good.
Reeds Impossible Burger was excellent. Seared and crispy outside, red and tasty inside. Looked, smelled, chewed and tasted like beef. It’s everything a non-meat eater could ever want in a burger. You could easily be fooled by this–you just would never think it wasn’t real.
The Holy Grail of fake burgers has been found. This one is the real thing. If you’re a vegetarian who still craves burgers, head out to The Counter and have one. Heck, even if you’re not a vegetarian–it tastes so good you’ll enjoy it and not get any of that nasty cholesterol.
|Visit this group|