San Francisco top ten

You know what’s worse than your server getting hacked? When your back-up server gets hacked, too, while you’re waiting for the first server to get cleaned up. Thus the last two days of not posting.

On Monday night I returned from a long weekend vacation in San Francisco to visit a friend recently moved there from the District. This was my first trip to the Golden State and I enjoyed it very much. The weather was perfect, the views were spectacular, and the city has a thriving cafe culture. The people are friendly. They actually make eye contact on the street in passing and, my God, sometimes even vocalize a greeting. On paper, the city has D.C. beat hands down.

And yet… I’m not sure I could live there long before missing the ambition and hustle of the East Coast. For all of D.C.’s faults, I wasn’t quite as tempted to pack my bags for California as I thought I’d be after visiting.

There’s only so much that can be fit into four days of exploring, but we made the most of it and covered a whole lot of ground. In the spirit of Courtney’s S.F. post and in no particular order, here’s a highly subjective list of my ten favorite places from the weekend in San Francisco:

Blue Bottle by camera phone 1) Blue Bottle Coffee — What’s a vacation without a little espresso tourism? Blue Bottle’s roaster is in Oakland, but they’ve got a neat espresso stand tucked away on a side street in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. It sits in the front of a woodworking shop, just a La Marzocco machine, a few chairs, and a small bar where locals in the know line up for their daily fix. Barista Steve was great, serving up a delicious, super-smooth double shot and a Gibraltar, a small espresso drink just brimming with milky goodness. Check out the enticing Gibraltar photo on the Blue Bottle weblog, then this mind-boggling negative rosetta they posted. I could go on and on about this place, but bottom line: it’s awesome!

2) Dog Eared Books — This used bookstore in the Mission was the perfect place to waste some time and pick up a few books on my last afternoon in town. Eclectic selection, good atmosphere, and near lots of coffee shops and other bookstores.

3) Bombay Ice Creamery — With flavors like cardamom, rose, and chicku, this Indian ice cream shop is an intriguing departure from the usual Western menu. Sample a few, then go with the almond saffron pistachio. I also enjoyed trying a bottle of Thums Up, a strong Indian cola now owned by Coke.

4) Wente Vineyards — Wente is a winery in Livermore, a small suburban town east of Oakland with quite a few wineries. The staff in the tasting room were friendly, down to earth, and enthusiastic. The wines were some of the best we had all weekend and affordable, too. If you’ve got the time, Wente also has a restaurant and golf course.

5) Sonoma by car — On Saturday we rented a car and drove to Sonoma after Livermore. We were lucky to score one with a sunroof, making the drive through the beautiful wine country that much more enjoyable. Highlights here were walking around the grounds at Bartholomew Park Winery and popping into the numerous shops in the town plaza.

Sonoma from the car

6) Sonoma Wine Shop — This was one of our favorite stops in Sonoma. The tasting room in back offers 6 tastes for just $4, making it a good value. Plus their selection of about twenty open bottles to choose from offers the opportunity to try things a bit different from the usual chardonnays and zinfandels, like a California sangiovese or late harvest Riesling. Irresistible free samples from the sausage maker next door made the experience complete.

7) Ti Couz — This Breton-style creperie in the Mission is from Court’s list. It’s not the kind of place I’d usually pick out, but I’m glad we went. I never knew crepes could be so tasty and so satisfying.

8) Sausalito at night — It was a bit late for a visit when we went to Sausalito, but the night couldn’t have been more perfect for seeing the San Francisco skyline, the Bay Bridge fully lit, or the full moon reflected from a clear sky onto the Bay. I’m a sucker for waterfronts.

9) Caffe Trieste — The oldest espresso bar on the West Coast, it’s the most authentic Italian cafe I’ve come across in the U.S. The perfect spot to settle in for a cozy late night cappuccino in Little Italy.

10) Absinthe — We went here for dessert my first night in the city. A bit pricey, but the high quality of the food and drink and the helpful staff make it worthwhile. Rioja, tokaji aszu, and chocolate pot de creme added up as the ideal indulgences for kicking off the weekend.

Prohibition made me smoke

Cafe Saint-Ex, a popular D.C. bar, has recently taken up the fight against that most pernicious of negative externalities that has been plaguing our watering holes and sickening those of us who don’t partake in the noxious activity. I’m referring, of course, to popped collars.

It’s a moot point now, but the D.C. smoking ban has been a hot issue on the Vandy blogs lately (Zhubin, Joel, David, and I debate it here, here, and here). To the public health fascists in the group, I would like to point out that Saint-Ex instituted its ban on popped collars voluntarily, without pressure from the government. The city-wide popped collar prohibition that so many have called for is clearly unnecessary. The market speaks, norms evolve, and both the tools and the non-collar poppers find establishments that serve their preferences. I take this as irrefutable empirical proof that I was right about the smoking ban and demand a groveling concession from Zhubin within the day.

Unwholesome activities IThose of you who know me well know I’ve never smoked a cigarette and would probably find it comical to see me do so. If you weren’t at Reason‘s happy hour at Mackey’s Wednesday night, you missed your chance. As our merry group of libertarians gathered for drinks and conversation, I thought wistfully of how this would be one of the last times we could all get together without the smokers in the group having to excuse themselves to step outside by order of the nanny statists on the City Council. That made me mad. So mad that I walked up to my friend Eric and, to his great surprise, requested a cigarette and something to make fire with. I then proceeded to cross one more item off the list of unwholesome activities I’ve never experienced:

Sticking it to the man

I can’t say smoking did much for me. This protest cigarette was definitely my first and my last. One negative side effect I noticed immediately: within moments of lighting up, think tankers were approaching to “borrow” a cigarette of their own. These guys clearly don’t get paid enough. Positive side effect: Increased attractiveness and popularity, as shown by Nikki’s willingness to be photographed in public with me:

I was not this cool 30 seconds ago

Note that Nikki could have been standing next to libertarian rockstar Randy Barnett, who was also in attendance. Conclusion: smoking makes you cooler than Randy Barnett.

Bat blogging

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Bats are about the most common form of wildlife here in the Michigan U.P., but one doesn’t often get the chance to photograph them. They usually don’t come out until dusk, when you can catch glimpses of them against the sky or hear them swoop right by you on the sidewalk. This one happened to be hanging out on our house’s foundation yesterday evening.

Countless bats make their homes in the woods, attics, and eves around here. That’s good because of their impact on the insect population, but they do occasionally make it into the buildings. When this happens there are two options: try and guide it out a door or window, or pull out the tennis rackets for a rousing game of bat-minton. Option one is obviously the preferred and humane method, but it runs the risk of letting more bats in and isn’t always possible; we often end up having to practice our forehands instead.

Luckily, this usually only happens about once a year. A few years ago, though, our place was invaded by more than thirty of the creatures. This led to the one time in my life where I truly felt as if in a horror movie. I’d gone to bed knowing there was one bat loose somewhere in the house because it had been spotted earlier. Sure enough, I awoke an hour later to the feeling of a bat skimming very close above my face. I grabbed my racket, swung, and missed. Suddenly, a second bat revealed itself and joined the first in flying circles around my bedroom.

I decided to take a break from this and stumbled toward the door. As I pushed it open, I felt a bat brush against my arm (the first and only time one has collided with me). I groaned and stumbled into the pitch black hallway, assuming I’d gotten away from them. But I flicked on the light and was greeted with the sight of another dozen flying confusedly around me in this tight space. What the hell was going on here?

After a moment of panic, I awakened my grandparents and, rackets in hand, we dispatched of most of them. Then we uncovered the source of the problem. The bats had discovered a way in through an old, unused chimney. It’s opening into the kitchen had been sealed with a metal plate long ago, but the bats were apparently able to squeeze through it. We could tell because as we looked at the plate, trying to confirm that the squeeking noises we heard were really coming from there, creepy little bat hands darted in and out from behind it. See the rear feet in the photo to see what I mean.

We kept them at bay by shining a bright light above the plate for the rest of the night, then sealed it better the next morning. Many of the bats were still loose in the cottage, however, and we kept coming across them over the next week and a half. Sometimes this happened memorably, such as when one came crawling out of an oven mit hanging on the wall. Other times it was completely casually, like glancing up to see a bat hanging above the refrigerator when reaching for the milk. By the end of it all, we’d become surprisingly nonchalant about the presence of these ugly buggers. Ever since, their occassional appearance indoors has been greeted without alarm, though not always without tennis rackets.

Bats don’t do it for you? If this photoentry hasn’t given you the warm fuzzies, my old flatmate’s new puppy surely will.

Roman Holiday

Greetings from my last day in Rome, where even the Chinese restaurants have espresso machines!

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Photo courtesy of my new friend Jim’s handy camera phone.

Back to D.C. and regular blogging on Tuesday night…

My life in pictures

Thanks to Mr. Gintis, this website now has a very useful photo gallery to replace the hand-coded page I used to use. I posted a whole lot of new photos this weekend, so check them out here if you’re a friend, family member, curious reader, and/or stalker.

“Hey, that’s great, but when are you going to post a substantive update to your blog again?”

Lay off, man, I’ve been busy!

Take me north, take me home

Every time I revisit my mind fills with memories
Of the sunsets sails and campfires of a childhood so carefree
And Iím blessed to have known and experienced so much
And so fortunate today that the islandís still untouched
And so fortunate today that the islandís still untouched

Mary Gerwin, “The Shores of Les Cheneaux”

The lyrics above are from my auntís song ďThe Shores of Les CheneauxĒ from her new CD of the same name (full lyrics; listen). The song resonates with me and with many others who have histories in these islands of the Michigan U. P., a number of them moved to tears by how well it captures their experience.

This year I could only spend six days there, compared to my usual three to four weeks. Such a short stay reinforces the importance to me of being able to take some time off to go up there in the summer. On this trip I tried to take some photos to illustrate why this native Texan needs to become a Yooper each July. The pictures canít fully convey the cool breezes, cold waters, fresh air, and woody smells that accompanied their taking, but they can at least provide a sample of the visual beauty that has drawn our family back for four generations.

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This is my favorite photo from the trip, taken on a sunset ride in our boat. The sunsets here often feature spectacular hues of orange and pink. This one was more subdued, but somehow the Sun, its reflection, and the curl of the wake came together perfectly for this shot. (Large version.)
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Independence Day photos

My parents gave me my choice of a reasonably priced digital camera as a graduation gift. A few weeks ago I decided on this model from Kodak that comes with 10x optical zoom. I’ve been wanting to try it out and last night’s display of ephemeral, distant, fast-moving flashes of light was a great chance to put the camera through its paces.

Here are my favorites from the night. The first four were taken from the Georgetown shore of the Potomac, overlooking the Kennedy Center. The last is the city at night as seen from the Key Bridge.

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No animals were harmed…

After nearly cruelly dispatching my dog in my rejection letter from home, I should mention that he is safe and sound now that I am employed. To make it up to him I’ve posted a few pictures. These were taken by my sister last summer at our family place in the Michigan U. P.

Divot, a.k.a. Seamus McDivot of Muirfield, Div, D, and Digger, is a wire hair fox terrier. He enjoys long walks on the beach, chasing tennis balls and mink, and romantic kibble dinners. He is single and neutered.
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Last Rites

There’s nothing I look forward to more at Vanderbilt than Rites of Spring, the annual three day outdoor concert that comes at the end of April. It’s non-stop music, food, and drinks right on my beloved Alumni Lawn. Most importantly, it’s the ideal time for Aerobie: the throngs of people provide the added challenge of not bonking innocent by-standers in the head with the astonishing flying ring. My friends and I train all year for this event to keep the sorority girl and other soft target casualties to a minimum (of course, hitting a Tri-Delt still counts for 10 points).

This year it looked like this, my last Rites, was going to be washed out in thunderstorms. Luckily, the sky has cleared and the weather couldn’t be better for spring time ring tossage. Here’s my view of the Lawn, in a photograph from about this time last year:

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Enough blogging. Time to play outside!

Rubber Band Angels

Me, Jean-Michel, and Michael, expert rubber band marksmen of the office, do our best Charlie’s Angels impersonation. The movie deal is in the works.

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