Saturday, August 30, 2008

Condo Developments, in a manner of speaking

Aside from our apartment being haunted (more of that in a moment) things are continuing to evolve here in the old Prata funeral home on Westminster street.

So far half of the ten units are sold and word is a sixth has just closed. That means a change of association board members, which we will probably undertake later next month (September). In the meantime the builder/developer, Bob Russell and his partner Peter Morsili continue to be the point men for all the minor aches and pains of a growing concern like ours. Before long those of us onsite owners will have to start sharing more of the day-to-day burden of running this place.

OK the haunting thing.

Well several weeks ago two drops of an oily, brown substance appeared out of nowhere on the baseboard by the closet door in the guest bedroom. They were space about 10 inches apart. No sign of anything leaking from the ceiling and certainly there hasn't been any equipment in there. It took quite a bit of scrubbing with GooGone to get ride of the two stains.

Well, like in Poltergeist, "They're back." And once again we have no idea how or why they appear nor what the substance is made of. Frankly the less I know the better. . .

Wish you were here -- maybe you'd know!


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Our 25th anniversary -- the return part

We had a leisurely morning, on Saturday, 9 August. Our flight out of Denver wasn't until 10:52am so we relaxed in our hotel room before driving the rental car back to Alamo. We hopped on the shuttle to the terminal, found the Delta check-in desk and I walked up to the nearest self- check-in kiosk.

A minute later I was informed, electronically of course, that I would have to speak with a check-in agent. Fortunately one was free, friendly and eager to help. And help we would need. Delta had opted to cancel our connecting flight to from Atlanta to Providence and had failed to inform us.

The agent said she could get us on a flight getting into JFK in NYC at nearly midnight -- we replied, uh, no thanks but that wouldn't work. She then booked us on a nonstop flight from Denver to Boston -- and since I had a pair of Boston MBTA train tickets in my wallet --leftovers from the Marathon this past April -- we said we'd take it.

The one glitch was that because we had changed planes and airlines at the last minute, we were singled out for secondary screening when we went through security. Ah America, land of the free and home of the incredibly insecure. Whatever.

The TSA people were surprisingly very nice and apologetic, explaining that it wasn't their policy but the airlines! Way to go Delta.

Aside form that tiny hiccup, the flight left on time and arrived on time. We got into Boston at about 4:30pm, took the Silver Line bus to Boston's South Station where we had a drink at the bar before catching a 6:45pm train to Providence. We still got home two hours before we would have with our previously scheduled Delta flights!

We dropped everything off, refreshed ourselves and headed downtown to Gracie's for a quick bite of dinner before bed.

Were we glad to be back? Maybe.

I can tell you that we leave in three weeks for Paris. What do you think?

Our 25th Anniversary -- the D-Bar part

After we found our way back to I-70 it was a short drive to Denver. The day was growing short -- although there was still plenty of sun we were becoming a bit hungry and so looked forward to the next leg of our journey: a stop at Keegan Gerhard's new dessert bar, the D-Bar in downtown Denver. (Although I'm not sure if "downtown" really has any meaning there.)

Some of you might know Keegan from the Food Network Challenge that he hosted. Joe Hafner of Gracie's told Susan about the D-Bar, he and Keegan worked a charity cookoff in NYC and Keegan even came to Gracie's once.

Anyway, we had the foresight to Google the dessert bar for directions and Susie called earlier in the day to make sure they were open.

We arrived about half past six, and only got turned around in the city once -- not bad we thought. Anyway, we found a parking place almost right in front of the bar, which is located right next door to Strings restaurant. But our focus was on light fare and desserts.

Our 25th Anniversary -- the Rachel part

After we left Doc Holliday and Glenwood Springs we hopped onto -- well drove onto -- I-70 heading east toward Denver. Cruising along the very brown and very turgid Colorado River on the lower level of the highway -- the westbound lanes are cantilevered overhead in the tight canyon -- we occasionally caught sight of kayakers/rafters seeking their own corner of adventure.

Driving up the dramatic Vail Pass and over the continental divided, after about two hours we reached our next turnoff: Route 40 heading north from Empire toward the fastnesses of Berthoud Pass. We were on our way to visit our niece Rachel -- her of Maine fame and Calvin College fortune -- who had been spending much of her summer working at the YMCA camp about 10 miles north of Winter Park.

As soon as we left Empire we begin our climb, until we were wending through one switchback after another, and eventually reached the summit of Berthoud Pass, at over 11,000 feet. Naturally what must go up, must go down, and so we did, winding downward in an ever-increasing series of widening spirals.

Cruising through the ski resort of Winter Park and before long saw the sign for Snow Mountain Ranch, the YMCA camp. Although we began our search for Rachel in the wrong building, fortunately it happened to be one in which her roommate was working and she kindly led us to Rachel's primary hangout for work as assistant coordinator of activities, the registration building. Check out the short video of our lunchtime chat. Or watch it right here:

After sitting and chatting on the porch of the only dining game in town, the three of us strolled down the main street -- really ranch road of course -- while Rachel pointed out the primary buildings of the camp/ranch.

We had a grand time -- Rachel is always fun to be around -- and after saying our goodbyes, hoping we might see each other sometime this year, Susie and I returned to the car, pointed it back south toward Berthoud Pass and started off, once more for Denver. And one more piece of the travel plan before returning to the Eastern portion of the US.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Our 25th anniversary -- the Doc Holliday part

After saying a reluctant farewell to Margie in front of the Aspen airport terminal -- which looks more like a large registration office at one of the older resorts -- she drove off and we picked up our car rental (another Saturn but smaller). We stowed the bag in the trunk, climbed inside and pointed the car down Route 82, heading north toward Glenwood Springs and I-70.
Traffic was light -- the 4 lanes were much appreciated by us and probably lots of other folks as well -- and about 20 minutes later arrived at the residential edge of Glenwood Springs. We turned onto 14th street and followed Google's directions to the trail head for Pioneer cemetery, the lasting resting place of John Henry "Doc" Holiday, dentist turned gambler and gunman. He had come to the town for its allegedly healing powers for people suffering form lung ailments, and Holliday suffered from one the worst: tuberculosis, or "consumption as it was then called. He died in a room in the Hotel Glenwood, penniless and was buried in (then) Linwood cemetery, quite possible in an unmarked grave. The cemetery became city property in 1939 but by then the exact location of his grave had been lost to time.

The climb up the moist trail to the cemetery gave out onto spectacular views of both the canyon containing Route 82 as well as the city of Glenwood Springs itself. We couldn't help but remark to ourselves what the view have looked like when Holliday's body was carted up the steep mountainside in 1887.

After bidding adieu to Doc and all of our childhood memories of one of American's biggest western legends, we got back onto Route 82 through Glenwood Springs, a city of no small appeal to tourists: it sits not only at one of two entrances to the Aspen corridor -- the other is over Independence Pass and is closed for much of the winter -- but is still a favorite with people seeking thermal springs. Also it is located smack in the gorgeous and awesome Glenwood Canyon and not far from Hanging Lake (which were fortunate to visits several years back). Needless to say the city has certainly changed since Holliday slipped quietly into his last sleep and out onto the stage of western folklore.

But we had little time to hang around -- we had another appointment to keep and so quickly found our way to I-70 heading east toward Denver.

Our 25th anniversary in Colorado - the day after

Thursday, 7 August opened and closed with alternating weather patterns, the kind most Coloradans have come to expect with casual ease. Even amidst such meteorological uncertainty the four of us piled ourselves into the car and Stan drove us all into Snowmass village -- where we grabbed the one working chairlift -- which we were told was so old that Teddy Roosevelt used it to get to the top of San Juan Hill in Cuba before having it installed permanently in Colorado. Anyway it was a gorgeous trip halfway up the mountain with spectacular views.

Since there wasn't any snow the singular objective -- besides the beautiful scenery -- was the small but intimate Lynn Britt Cabin, tucked off to the side at the end of the chairlift station. There we sat overlooking the canyons below and Roaring Fork Canyon, Route 82, off in the far distance, and ate an incredibly delectable lunch -- Susie and Margie had pasta primavera, Stan had Elk and I had a Brat. The chef is German and at this time of the year is pretty much by himself in the kitchen, a space that was examined in some detail by Stan and Susie.

After a relaxing lunch it was back down the mountain -- and since we had forgotten to bring the mountain bikes or hiking shoes we figured we would just take the chairlift back down.

That evening we at fish, drank Kistler chardonnay and just talked the evening away. We couldn't have imagined a better way to spend a Thursday evening. Tomorrow we would have to leave but right then and there Friday was a world away. . .

What a fantastic and rewarding time in Colorado. Our minds put at ease, our appetites sated, our spirits renewed.

Our 25th anniversary in Colorado

On August 6, 1983, Susie and I were married at the home of Bob and Margie Berry in Roanoke, Virginia. The wedding was short but very sweet and Susie looked incredibly beautiful -- pretty much how she still looks today in fact but without the dramatically white dress.

Twenty-five years later that day found us at about 9,000 feet in Central Colorado, relaxing amidst the quiet of Mt. Sopris. The weather alternated between one thing and another. Anyway, we had little inclination to do much of anything except hang out with Stan and Margie.

We did go in to Aspen, or nearly so, to drop our rental car off -- a Saturn "Aura" whose brakes kept us on our our toes -- literally -- coming over Vail Pass the day before. The four of us then swung away from the uncertainties of AspenWorld and headed back north to Carbondale for the local Farmer's Market. It was our anniversary and we were fixing dinner that night: grilled pork tenderloin, green beans and mashed potatoes with a red pepper sauce folded in.

What a way to spend an anniversary, any anniversary, or any day for that matter. But that day was pretty special for the two of us and so were these days:

Wish you had been there -- in Colorado and in Virginia.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Our 25th anniversary -- the Basalt part

Late last Tuesday afternoon Susie and I found ourselves sliding our rented Saturn carefully off of Route 82 onto Emma road, just across the busy highway from the abandoned old livery and general store where "Emma" reportedly operated a brothel on the second floor, and pushing ever further up into the canyons heading for Mt. Sopris.

We stopped short of climbing Mt. Sopris -- at over 12,000 feet and no road it would have been a challenge to say the least -- and settled instead for Stan and Margie's home.

The trip was over. The journey was about to begin.

We hadn't seen Stan and Margie since last fall, before we went back to Paris in September and so we spent the rest of the evening sipping wine and catching up on all the news.

Stan and Margie fixed a grilled flank steak salad with roasted yams and Susie and I just slid off into the quiet dark of the night, soft music in the background, concerns about past and future dimmed in the peace and ease of the present.

Our 25th anniversary in Colorado - the going part

We returned last Saturday evening from our whirlwind trip to the wilds of Central Colorado where we spent our 25th wedding anniversary with our friends Stan and Margie. They live a few miles outside of a small town called Basalt, just off of Route 82 between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, and about 9,000 feet closer to heaven.

Now some of you might be familiar with Glenwood Springs -- besides being located in the stunningly beautiful Glenwood Canyon, off of I-70, it's known for its thermal baths and "vapors," and has been a point of retreat for folks suffering from lung ailments since the 19th century. In fact, John Henry Holliday, better known as "Doc" Holliday since he was a dentist before becoming a gambler and gunman -- spent his last days in Glenwood Springs. Suffering from advanced tuberculosis, known in his time as "consumption," Holliday died alone and virtually penniless in the Hotel Glenwood. He was reportedly buried in the Pioneer Cemetery (known at the time as Linwood Cemetery). Anyway, I'll have more to say of Doc Holliday later along with photos.

So, a week ago Monday Susie and I packed our bags, called a cab and headed for the Providence train station.

Now I remember coming into this station in the fall of 1987, shortly after it was built -- and the bathrooms haven't been cleaned since. Like so many other aspects of our infrastructure it is tired, worn and in sore need of repair.

Anyway, we took a very chilly Amtrak regional train down to Newark airport. Along the way had the privilege of listening to a woman -- apparently a therapist from the Metro Park area of New Jersey -- counseling her patients by mobile phone for nearly the entire trip. Except for the last half hour or so when she was yammering on about how she had recently visited a NYC jewelry store to check out used Rolex watches and was shocked at the watch she wanted cost $33,000, yada yada yada.

From the Newark airport station we hopped on the air train to the terminal and then caught a shuttle to our hotel in Elizabeth, NJ -- we had an early flight out of Newark on Tuesday so thought we would be well-rested and ready to go.

After we checked in to the Renaissance Marriott -- and "Renaissance" is not exactly the word I would use to define that place -- we headed downstairs to the restaurant for a sandwich. We walked into the dining room and were confronted by three banks of more than two dozen TVs! Several different channels going at once, although thank the gods there was no sound. Still it was bizarre and stupid. And the food was mediocre and grossly overpriced -- but hey Tony Soprano has to eat too, ya know.

A good night's rest and we were out early the next morning for our connecting flight to Atlanta -- and a nice bumpy ride it was too, thank you very much Delta.

While waiting for our connecting flight there was a young family of four, husband, wife, son, daughter and what appeared to be two grandparents sitting just a few feet from me. They were all waiting for a flight somewhere else other than Denver.

Anyway, I watched as the father pointedly, completely and utterly ignored his children. He was all decked out in a fishing ensemble, as was his son, and carrying a special backpack designed to tote fishing rods as well -- and I watched in amazement his apparent complete withdrawal from his family. When his 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter came up to him to hug close, he showed no warmth, not even a sign of acknowledging their presence until one of them asked him a question and he gave the tersest of answers. No affection, no love, nothing -- nor did he show the least interest in his wife or his/her parents. But they soon boarded their plane and were gone down the jetway.

Atlanta turbulence notwithstanding we had a relatively bump-free ride west and were soon in hot n' brown Denver hurtling off in a shuttle bus to Alamo rental.

About four hours later were were pulling into Stan and Margie's driveway. The weather was wonderful, the air -- what little there was of it -- was crisp, clean and full of promise.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Susie's birthday at Gracie's

Well they did it again -- Stan and Margie I mean.

They arranged for a bottle of champagne chilled at the table when we arrived at Gracie's for Susie's birthday dinner.

Let's back up a bit. Saturday morning Susie went in to Gracie's -- she still had to do plenty of prepping for her week off and of course get desserts ready for a wedding that Gracie's was catering that evening. While she slaved over a hot mixer I plotted the remaining moves of the day -- particularly for the evening.

She had made me promise not to buy her anything for her birthday -- our trip to Colorado next week would be our gift to each other for both our 25th anniversary and for her birthday. I said, sure, "I promise not to buy you anything." And of course I went out and promptly bought her an iPod Nano so she could work on her French lessons while rolling dough.

Arranging the dinner at Gracie's was a last minute idea -- I was planning on fixing food at home, you know, having a quiet birthday dinner. I stopped for a moemnt -- slapped my forehead and said "What a knucklehead!" Life is short. Go to Gracie's, have a special night out, relax, eat some really good food. So Saturday afternoon I took not one but two bottles of wine to Gracie's for our "surprise" dinner -- naturally Susie learned of the whole affair but no matter in short order. I was on a roll.

What I did was: I brought a regular 750ml bottle of 1990 Brunello for dinner and a 5L (that five liters or about 7 bottles worth of) 1989 Chianti Classico. We had been saving this for the right occasion and I had the idea to share our good fortune with a roomful of strangers. The plan was about a half hour or so after we arrived Anter -- the wine guy at Gracie's -- would pour a glass for everyone in the restaurant.

Which is exactly what happened.

The Big Bottle seemed limitless -- and it was a rush for us to watch the reaction on the faces of all the people who were taken quite by surprise by this glass of old Chianti that appeared out of nowhere. Curiously, the reaction we heard -- and experienced ourselves in fact -- was that the wine tasted rather like beef bouillon. A very nice beef bouillon, too, I should say.

I told Anter to make sure there was plenty left for the staff after the restaurant closed. He said not to worry.

And we didn't.

For the next several hours we relaxed, sipped wine -- beginning with a champagne compliments of Stan and Margie - and just chatted about how our lives have changed so very much in the past three years -- sea changes to be sure.

There was a beautiful arrangement of flowers on the table waiting for us (see the photo above if you don't believe me) -- table 10 in case you need to know -- compliments of Ellen and the Gracie's guys and dolls. Chef Joe's dinner was incredible: seared scallops for starters and a delicious beef ribeye with the cap cut off and both parts prepared side-by-side, followed, with fresh veggies cooked just right -- I mean when was the last time you had fresh peas?

Afterwards we headed home. It was really that simple.

Today, Sunday the air cooled as the humidity dropped; Susie went back to Gracie's for one last, one final prep session. Before she left the two of us thought back on the recent events of last evening. We remarked how we had made the very right decision way back in the winter of 2005. It was in January of that year that I began this blog as we began this adventure as we got ready to head off to Siena and two months of language school.

And the journey continues: soon it's off to Colorado for our anniversary, back for two days and then it's off to NYC and Gracie's dinner at the Beard House, ten days later a quick trip to Maine and in early September back to Paris.

Il viaggio, le voyage, the journey of a lifetime. No, make that two lifetimes.

So here's thanks to you all for wishing us well on this journey. I'm amazed that you still want to hear the stories.

Wish you were here,


Friday, August 01, 2008

August in Providence

July of 2008 is now a historical fact; although for us in Providence and for many others as well, the month was hot, steamy, sticky and muggy. I know, an odd selection of words used to condition a particularly unpleasant condition of relatively high humidity. Still, it works for us believe me. (photo, l-r: sisters Betsey, Bernice and Marian.)

This past week and indeed much of the month has come to a curiously pleasant conclusion. The hot and humid weather aside, work has gone well for both of us and Susie is winding down while gearing up, prepping things for the week we will be gone to Colorado. (More of that later.) Lots of long days for the baking ninja but she's generally in her element: flour and butter, cream and dough stuff in general.

As for me, the Johnson & Wales website continues to take shape right before my eyes; it's pretty exciting been a part, even a small part, in the evolution of a web presence as broad and deep as JWU's will be. The effect of the new site is of course unknown, but from what little I've seen so far it's going to be enormous and substantial.

So as one month ended and another began, we were witnesses to at a coupe of twists to the coming of August.

Earlier in the week Susan's Aunt Betsey and Uncle Jack D. from Michigan called us to say they were going to be in our neighborhood and wondered if we could get together for dinner. We said of course!

To see any of Susie's aunts or uncles is always a special treat. And Jack and Betsey literally define the concept of a "cute couple." And they do it so naturally, without even trying. Aunt Betsey is one of the kindest people I have ever known -- and is rivaled only by her sisters and in particular the one whose daughter I married almost 25 years ago (which we will be spending in Colorado -- see I told you I'd get back to that).

And Uncle Jack -- that's him up there -- well, he has spent much of his adult years shuttling back and forth between the furniture business and making his own travel videos. You can't go wrong with a movie from Jack D., they are fascinating and remind me of the old travelogues one would see at the library years ago. And he tells the best stories. . . .

So we planned to meet in Providence -- and Aunt Betsey contacted her brother Frank in Boston so he and his wife Cathy were also going to join us.

What a pair those two are -- Frank will sit listening intently to each and every conversation and then pop in with an appropriate observation, or more often than not a joke, which is usually followed by his breaking out in the one of the most incredible laughs and grins, from eye-to-ear as they say. And Cathy -- she is one of the wittiest and funniest people I have ever had the good fortune to come across.

And rounding out the evening was a real treat, particularly for Susie: her cousin Jack Jr. and his wife Wilma were also joining us. Susie gets to see her cousins so infrequently -- so many of them are scattered in every direction, and they all seem to have such fond memories of each other growing up. And Jack is another one famous for the wall-to-wall smiles (you can see it for yourself down below). His wife W. is so full of life and her eyes become intently animated when she talks, which is usually with her hands, almost as if she were signing. Incredible.

We met the group at Broadway Bistro for an early dinner -- everyone had some driving to do that evening, except for us of course. What a grand time it was too. Great food and lively conversation -- as always with those guys. The time flew by -- and we were sad to see them drive off, particularly when we noticed they were going in the wrong direction to get on I-95 south. . . .

And this was just the beginning of a pretty grand weekend. Stay tuned!