Thursday, August 18, 2011

Formula 1 and Ferrari Racing

For the past two years, Brice and I have frantically thrown together last minute plans and attended the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Montreal.

This is always a great time for me, because I'm free to let myself be swept away into an alien culture (cars) and colonial splendor (Montreal) for what basically amounts to their biggest public holiday of the year, outside of the Stanley Cup. Oh, yeah, did I mention the final game in the series was being played that same weekend in Toronto, beset by many riots? It was a good time to be in Canada.

Other than the obligatory hours I have to spend behind the wheel for our crazy all-night road trip, it's a pretty relaxing time. We usually arrive at around 4AM, and then we get up early to watch the qualifying rounds and take photos of the track the next day. Mostly, I just keep an eye on our stuff while Brice runs around like a little boy in toy store, read on my Kindle in the sun, and enjoy a couple nights out on the town.

This year we were met with better track-side seats (awesome) and a massive downpour (less awesome). But, the race wasn't canceled, so I guess it was worth the soak. We drank our wine (Rose), cheered our driver (Kobayashi) and celebrated on the track when our team (McLaren) pulled a victory out the last minute over RedBull. There are other cars racing over the course of the weekend -- a whole series devoted just to Ferrari cars come to mind -- but if you want more details about that, check out Brice's blog.

I deal with 10 hours of flaring tempers and driving criticism both ways each spring for one reason, and one reason only: people watching. (OK -- two reasons; it's fun to hang out with Brice when he's not yelling at me to stop singing along with the radio.) F1 Racing is not NASCAR. It draws spectators from all over the world, from the extremely rich Euro-fans who fly across the Atlantic each year to the nearly broke native Canadians who shared their stolen umbrellas with us, F1 has some incredible characters and stereotypes. On the subway, for instance, we saw a herd of "REDBUL ROOOOOOOOOOOCKS!" Guys. And at the track, there were little clusters of "So Italian it Hurts" Men. But I think my favorite, bar none, are the Racing Wives.

Racing Wives are tan, in their mid 40s, and wear $800 sunglasses in the rain. They don't sit in general admission with the rest of us mortals, because that would be unpleasant, but they don't really sit in the grandstands, either. Somehow, they're constantly flitting back and forth between beefy men with binoculars and merchandise tents, keeping their expensive handbags clutched tight under manicured nails. I think they would be fairly boring if they didn't have such ridiculous social rituals and customs. When one Racing Wife passes another, she tosses her hair and looks down her nose -- just over the top of her aviators -- at the other Racing Wife, who has reciprocated by tossing her own hair and positioning her multi-carat wedding rings closer to the challenging female. I've yet to reason out what makes one Racing Wife Alpha and the others Beta, but I anticipate there will be future F1 race-days to work it out.

So thank you, Brice, for treating me to yet another ear-splitting, people-watching road trip to Canada. If we try this again next year, I might even know enough about the drivers to make small talk with you!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Not All Who Wander are Lost

So, when I'm not off traveling I spend most of my time being jealous of those who ARE traveling. In this case, my Peruvian backpacking cohort is exploring the rugged terrain, beaches and intellectual tourism of glorious Puerto Rico. As much as I wish I could be there with him, he is actually doing a pretty good job of updating his own travel blog for (what I imagine is mostly my and his mother's benefit) the general amusement of all. And, you know, the fact that I get to play travel guide for him once in a while when he turns up in a new city with no set itinerary and IMs me as I'm on my way out the door for work isn't really a bad deal, either.

He has all of his adventures posted at There and Back Eventually, and any daring introverts considering a truly independent backpacker's tour of the 51st state would do well to check his posts for some real pro-tips.

This photo has been shamelessly stolen from his blog, and it covers part of an abandoned sugar mill on the Playa Grande lagoon tucked away off the mainland on the smaller island of Vieques. He has his own stories to tell about it, but apparently most of them star wild ponies and a handful of lizards, so I'm going to let the photo speak for itself. I can't imagine that my fat butt would have made the hike / bike trek out there, but I know I can't wait to look at the results when he finally comes back with a whole memory card full of new photos.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Cultivating Brick City

My good friend Laura asked me several lifetimes ago which was my favorite season. I pondered for a moment before replying "the new one." She found that suitably philosophical and grinned in that mischievous way she's mastered as we made plans to roll through the fall foliage together later that week. I'm unsure if we ever managed our autumn tumble amidst the scholastic jimjams and schedule clashes of academia, but I never forgot the sentiment our plans evoked. Something new lurked on the horizon, and we had all the time in the world to discover it.

That sense of eternal summer is fading now, along with many of my notions of "adulthood," but some things haven't changed as much as I expected. "The new one" is still my favorite season, and despite the abnormally cold spring we're having here in Brick City I am famously in love with the flooding river and half-barrels spilling daffodils around my block.

This move has been fantastic for me. I enjoy my work, at least as much as can be reasonably expected for a "social" job, and I have everything I wanted: an abundance of friends and my own one-bedroom retreat for solitude. I turned down an irresponsible (wonderful, temping, mind-bogglingly stupid) traveling spree to pick up this life of routine and bill-paying, and I can't say I regret it. Things are going very well, but I'm sure I'll miss Brice while he's off a-wandering without me.

At some point in deep-freeze of March I got the brilliant idea to start some seedlings for summer vegetables. My long-term project for this summer continues to be a low-to-moderate water usage container garden, but I've moderated the “vegetable” aspect slightly to include primarily herbs, lettuce greens and peppers with a few smatterings of shade-tolerant flowers. I'm fairly certain no amount of vigilant watering and anti-sabotage devices will allow me to grow heirloom tomatoes on a sunny Midtown sidewalk.

Two bags of potting soil, a few gallons of water, and half a dozen seed sachets later, I've got a window full of sprouts and an unfortunately cold spring during which to transplant them. I've been paralleling their development with my own in the recesses of my mind for a few weeks now – shiny new foliage, shallow roots and a nearly imperceptible list toward the sunnier side of life – and I'm finding that no matter how many metaphors I mix or Wendell Berry novels I read, there is just something fundamentally rewarding about cultivation. It escapes explanation, but all gardeners nod knowingly and embrace it.

I resolved shortly after the first few arugula sprouts popped up to grow my mind along with my plants, yet nothing I tried could convince my stubborn spinach seeds to germinate and I quickly lost interest in the metaphysical impact of gardening. But this weekend -- after my spinach finally deigned to push a spiky frond through the soil -- I dutifully bought a copy of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.

That sentiment would probably be improved with a bit of exposition: five years ago Dr. Jonathan Lauer gave his First Year Seminar a list of books from which to choose one the a focus for a short paper catching glimpses of the holy in contemporary fiction. I have since read all of those books, with one glaring exception: David James Duncan's The Brothers K. It's the last piece on that list of what has been an unabashedly pleasant bit of enlightenment, and I simply can't pick it up without the obvious precursor under my belt. I've laughed, cried, read and re-read many of Jonathan's picks, always richer for the experience, but these have undoubtedly been the (somewhat surprising) best:

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham (read Walden first)

Godric by Frederick Buechner (read Reginald of Durham first)

Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (read The Golden Ass [or at least Edith Hamilton' s Mythology] first)

I seriously doubt that Jonathan expected any of us to take his list of suggestions and run with it, and it took me a solid three years of doing English Major-type grunt work to fully appreciate a good book when I saw it. In fact, I was so fed up with Wordsworth (my least favorite lacustrine, loquacious poet) that I nearly didn't pick up any novel at all. Still, I was having a bad day and somehow I found myself wrapped up in the search for young Otters at dawn when the world suddenly melted away in a tragically short-lived spurt of transcendentalism. As it turns out, spinach spouts and books are never late, nor are they early; they arrive precisely when they mean to.