Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Showdown at the Lowes (Scontro di Butteros)

It was a a typical showdown in the old west town of Dallas. I was moseying out of the Lowes general hardware store with a 50 pound bag of mortar, and I looked up into the noon sun. Dabbing my brow, I knew summer was fixin' to be here whether I wanted it or not.

I started out into the open but busy street in front of the store, but a large white wagon lurched forward a bit catching me off guard. A middle aged Victorian lady was moving it forward, seriously, she looked like she could have been a LDS member. I figured she reckoned she could get where she was going fore I was all the way out in the street.

So I squinted and squared off with the wagon showing no fear, but the wagon just stood still like a hungry bobcat stalking a spring foal. The driver's eyes showed cold like death from a cold on a cold day. My foot twitched, then her hand went down to the gearshift... But then I just changed direction and walked around behind her to get to my car.

And not to bore with too much about my yard, but this weekend I proceeded to do some tile layout for the deck. Here it is some pattern layout pre mortar and leveling. Think of this like the paid advertising for the story above. In the afternoon sun the marble sparkles, it's like a monument or something :)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Different Type of Hedge Fund

In the interest of making the yard similar to the palace of Versailles in some small ways, I've recently aquired *many* shrubs. Despite some formal botanist training at an institute of higher learning, I worry that I'm putting the plants too close together. Sure, maybe they will be a bit uncomfortable, but that's what I've hired them for, to look good.

Unfortunately, the rain has been spaced out just close enough that it has been too muddy to dig. It's kind of like if you are driving your own car, and waiting for an opening in the traffic to pull out onto the main road, but every car is spaced out just the tiniest bit too close to each other to be safe about it. Well, it's not much like that, but you get the idea. And the mud. sticks. to. everything. After 30 seconds in Blackland Prarie clay based soil, you are clodhopping around with 25 kg sandals, sliding off the end of the shovel.

I know, I know... they have people called 'gardeners' to do this kind of thing, but I'm pretty much a do-it-yourself kind of guy. In fact, the step treads and faces in the image above were cut and hand chiseled by yours truly (I mean my image above, not the image of Versailles garden which is immediately above).

To digress, I don't always just go to the store and buy beer. Sometimes, I grow the barley, harvest the kernels, soak them, let them sit in the sun until the sugars of the grain malts, then I mash the grain, boil it, pour in the yeast and then let it ferment for weeks. Then go through an elaborate bottling and quality control process.

Sometimes if you want your plants placed too close together, you have to do it yourself.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Still Great After All This Time

Has it really been so long?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My Bologna (Comune di Bologna)

In Italy, there are two towns named after foodstuffs (or was it the other way around?) that I visited on my last trip. Quick, take a guess what they are! Ok, time's up, put your pencils down and read more. In some ways they were very similar, but in my quick first impressions, they couldn't be more different.

The first town was Bologna. As a food, I generally detest bologna, putting it somewhere between 'Spam' and 'Egg Salad'. But names aside, I met a great family from Bologna on the train from Rome. They were an upper middle class husband and wife travelling with a college age daughter and younger son. They commented on my GPS and I struck up a conversation with them, for a while in Italian, but then we switched to English. Being the cosmopolitan people they were, fluency in multiple languages was easy for them.

The Italian lady made her own sculptures which she showed me on her cell phone and I showed her some of mine which she graciously complimented. The husband was busy at first talking with his daughter who was just recently engaged to be married, yet you could still see he considered her his little girl because their family was super close.

Over the trip, we all talked Italian and US politics, art, business and what it was like to live around Bologna. And, that was before I even arrived in the city. By the time we were all there, I had made genuine friends with like minded people and was actually a bit sad to say goodbye. The city was clean, historic, and home to professionals and the affluent. As a generalization, it seems like people in the North are more career oriented and strive for a really high standard of living.

Bologna has been known for its superior universities and as knowledge center since the middle ages. Maybe long enough for all the smartest people's genes to have amassed more concentratedly in one location. Needless to say, I really enjoyed my time around the city of Bologna.

The other food named town, (Did you guess Pisa? It's not the same as Pizza...) was Parma, as in 'parmesan cheese' and 'parma ham'. At this point, I have to mention that I consider parma ham extremely gross as it is uncooked.

I'd been driving for quite a while on the highway after killing a large apple juice and bottled water in Milan. I arrived around Parma by car on Sunday afternoon on my way to Firenza, and had to go to the WC so bad my berries were about to fall off. So instead of going to an 'Automat', I pulled off the A1 and headed to the city center of Parma over by the museum (of course). I parked in the awesome parking garage and didn't find a public restroom there. So I headed in the direction of the museum. Walked up the stairs, but they were closed, on a Sunday afternoon. At 2:00pm...

Ok, so I thought it can't be that hard to find an open restaurant to order whatever so I could use the toilet. Well, it *was* that hard. I walked across the courtyard of the museum and down *several* long city blocks before I could find anything at all open. Along the way, there were sandwich counters and a few other things which had absolutely no restrooms. I must have painfully walked 2 miles in ever-widening circles like a Coast Guard pilot looking for a capsize accident survivor before I finally found a restaurant with the qualifications for which I was looking.

For this reason, I will forever have an unfair bias against the city of Parma and their evil 'shut everything down at 2:00 pm' ways. Where food named towns are concerned, I'll always go to the city historically more friendly, that is, to my Bologna.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Another Reason Why the U.S. Postal Service Is Lame (Il Servizio Postale è Male)

Today, I found myself needing to mail a letter at the big post office downtown in Dallas. I was ordering some glass pieces for more mosaic work, but needed to send some light samples in the envelope for color matching purposes.

With stamped letter in hand, I walked across the street to the large neoclassical building. The building itself is very impressive, and the classical influences are everywhere. From the thick marble slab covered walls (cippolino green and white I think), to the frescoed ceilings, it's how I would build a post office. Notice how even the grate in the photo below has the window pattern of the Curia Julia (ancient Roman senate house)?

Even the lamp post footings outside are inspired by furniture thousands of years old.

Instead of just dropping the letter in the slot for mailing, I wanted to get a weighing to make sure there was enough postage. Since I didn't have an extra stamp just to stick on there, I decided to wait in the short line since there are no more stamp machines. Things were moving along as the postal worker would say 'next please' after each quickly served customer. But at few people before my turn, a customer with a big shipping request delayed the guy at the window.

People behind me seemed like they were in a hurry, so I walked up to the window before the worker called out 'next please'. I think this filled the guy with an irrational rage, the likes of which in lies the phrase 'going postal'. He started counting money and doing other clerical work behind the counter as the line of customers continued to grow. Waiting patiently, I thought 'Ok, I will play your little game.' So out comes my phone, annnnd I'm browsing.

Well at this point some of the other people in line are getting very agitated, so they open a second window. Of course, by this point, I don't want to just walk over in front of the person behind me who has also been waiting for a long time.

Unbelievably, the guy continues to do other tasks without looking up, I can tell he's teaching me a lesson. He was also teaching everyone else in line what government bureaucracy is all about, and how things will be worse with more of it. The manager even walked over to the guy behind the counter and asked if he was ok!

Fifteen minutes later, he takes a personal phone call and walks away from the window... I had just finished reading one of Gwen's blog posts, so the next lady in line for the one functional postal employee offers to let me go first. He blinked first, I won! I think.

I hope that with government healthcare, I never have to wait at the window for an MRI or surgery or something. If I do, I'll wait for the guy at the window to fully say 'Next Please'.

Also, the irony is not lost on me that by the standards of some other countries I would like to live in, this is not a terrible bureaucracy (think utility companies in Italy). But, if we are becoming as bureaucratic as those nations, I would rather live and work around ancient history and beautiful scenery...