Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another Year Wiser ?

As another year draws to a close, some personal reflections in verse form to give you something to smile, contemplate upon, or frown about. Enjoy!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

                             *  *  *  *  *

Alas, another year full o’ “treasures” we’ve ammased
(For some, a dreadful struggle… for some, a real blast…
For some, a happy “welcome”… and some, an ending “last”…)
. . .
Some liberties we took, or risks perhaps we passed;
“– Au contraire, mon cher” (some would frown, aghast).
And often times, without an aim we’d drift, as just
In stormy seas, a vessel with a broken mast,
Compassless and stranded in the infinite vast,
Not fretting that each moment could be our very last.
But still, we forge ahead, unweavering, steadfast,
Yet, in the minds’ dark shadows, where doubts are often cast,
There’s always something there to remind us of…
“The Past.”

A past that’s far, a past that’s close, or one somewhere…… halfway
Why do we really drag its burden, anyway?
Why do we let it change the black or white to gray?
. . .
It’s done.  Forget it; and move on. (forgive me the cliché)
“– Can run from it, or learn [from it],” Rafiki used to say
‘Cause in the end it’s nottin’ but an odd dream gone astray.
Yes… dwelling on that past, will always make one pay;
Would cause the soul to wither, the spirit to decay…
Then why, my dear friend, why not push that away?
For all we have to guide us, and blindly to obey
Is but a simple rule: let “light” show you the way!
So live a little “louder” this fragile little miracle we simply call…

Today it’s time to turn the page and tell the past: adieu
Plenty a chance you’ve had – I hope – its lessons to review,
And some of it (if you’re like most) wish that you can redo…
. . .
For life – they say – would be much simpler, the future if we knew;
If crystal balls would grant us that ‘travel-in-time’ view.
Yet “life” and “simple” go togheter like fire and ice do!
And “good” and “bad” will always hit you, straight out of the blue!
Stop searching for tomorrow, aimless and without clue.
“– But that’s what makes it worth it”, would claim a voice or two.
To them, I say: “– Live every moment… (knowing there are few)
As it’s the only memory you’ll one day take with you!”
So dive in the deep end, eyes closed, and thoroughly embrace
“The New”

Never forget this Past year, try to learn from it,
Cherish the birth of Christ, Today… let your soul uplift,
And make the brand New year knocking at the door, a trully happy gift!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ion Minulescu - Inner Dialogue (De vorba cu mine insumi)

In response to a recent challenge (or was it a "dare") from Mara Circiu - a dear friend who proudly carries the Romanian cultural heritage torch wherever she goes, in whatever she does - I took on Minulescu... Well, I must confess, this translation was a lot tougher than I thought; not only because poetry inadvertently loses meaning and content in any translation, but mainly because his symbolism leaves so much to interpretation...So how does one translate literary ambiguity? (Especially one that's an amateur in the field?).

Maestro, if you're frowning from above, I apologize... yet if you're smiling, I hope I did it justice.

... (a humble servant of the craft)...

De vorbă cu mine însumi

Vorbesc cu mine însumi, cum aş vorbi c-un frate
Întors rănit din lupta cu zilele de ieri,
Şi parcă tot nu-mi vine să cred că n-am dreptate -
Că El şi Eu nu suntem decât acelaşi frate,
Şi-aceeaşi rană-i doare pe ambii scutieri.

Armurile alt'dată pătate de rugină
Azi par mai sclipitoare decât oricând,
Iar spada,
Încrucişată-n luptă de-atătea ori,
E plină
De sângele netrebnic al celor ce cad prada
Aceluiaşi proteic şi veşnic Torquemada.

Vorbesc cu mine însumi şi-mi zic:
- De ce mă minţi
De-atâţia ani de-a rândul că tu eşti cel mai mare
Din toţi îmblânzitorii cohortelor barbare,
Că-n gestul tău palpită străvechile altare,
Iar vasta catedrală, zidită de părinţi,
Cu-ntreaga-i melodramă de Dumnezeu şi sfinţi,
O poţi schimba-ntr-o clipă,
De nu ţi-ar fi ruşine
De bărbile lor albe,
De mine
Şi de tine?

Vorbesc cu mine însumi şi-mi zic:
- De-atâţia ani,
De când mă porţi spre-acelaşi sublim necunoscut,
De ce mă minţi cu-aceleaşi îndemnuri de temut
Şi-mi profanezi credinţa cu-acelaşi prefăcut
Surâs -
Citit pe buze de josnici curtezani?
De ce din armonia supremelor cântări
Azi nu se mai aude decât grozavul urlet
Al celor ce se-neacă în descărcâri de tunet
Departe,-n cine ştie ce profunzimi de mări!...

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Mă simt aşa de singur, c-aproape-mi este frică
Să mai vorbesc cu mine,
Şi-mi zic:
- Ascultă, frate,
Ascunde-ţi rana,
Uită c-ai fost rănit şi tu -
Tu, ce-ai strivit atâţia ce nu se mai ridică -
Te scutură de greul armurii-nsângerate;
Iar celui ce te-ntreabă de-ţi sunt sau nu-ţi sunt frate
Răspunde-i: "Nu".

Inner dialogue

I babble by myself, as talking to a brother
Who injured has returned from fights with yesterday,
And still, I do not doubt  that I am wrong, but rather -
That Him and Me are not but  the same brother,
And the same wound both squires hurts today.

The ancient armors, long’go stained by rust
Brighter than ever seem to shine today,
And crossed,
So many times in fights, the sword,
Was thrust
And drenched in bloody victims falling prey
To gruesome Torquemada’s autos-da-fé.

I babble by myself and I say:
- Why this deceit you knit
Year-o’er-year that you’re the biggest one (of sorts)
Among all tamers of barbarian cohorts,
That in your touch an ancient altar-flame resorts,
And that the vast cathedral, by forefathers built,
With all its melodrama of God and angels quilt,
In just an instant you could change,
Had you been not ashamed with guilt
Of their white beards,
Of me
And thee?

I babble by myself and I say:
- For all these years in a row,
Of guiding me to the sublime unknown,
Why lie to me with exhortations to atone
My faith profaning with that facetious-prone
Smile -
Which lowly, cheating scum would show?
Why from harmony of the ol’ gospel tone
Today I hear just the horrid screams and yaps
Of those who drown in noisy thunder claps
Afar, in murky ocean depths unknown! ...

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I feel so very lonely, that I am quite afraid
To babble with myself,
And tell me:
- Brother, listen,
Hide your scar,
Forget that you were hurt and thou -
Who countless souls to crushing death have laid -
Shake off the blood-stained armor’s heavy bother;
And to the one who asks whether I am your brother
Tell him: "No".

Notes and references:
Ion Minulescu:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Niagara Falls (among others)

An invitation from new friends made over the summer, coupled with an old desire to visit the famed Niagara Falls, plus the chance to reconnect with a high school pal 21 years later, and the opportunity to get out of the house once more before autumn hits, adds up to – you guessed it – a quick trip north of the border to Canada.  Southern Ontario, to be exact.

Just across the river from Detroit, the area around Windsor – the most southern city in Canada – claims to be the country’s automotive capital.  Sure enough, there seems to be a Ford, GM or Chevy assembly plant or parts facility at every turn.  And in tune with southern hospitality, we were very well received by our dear friends in Belle River, right on the edge of Lake St. Claire.  [by well received I mean pulling all the stops, all the way to the ‘best stuffed cabbage rolls’ my daughter ever had and fresh polenta (mamaliga) prepared at 4 AM;  true connoisseurs of this culinary delicacy would fully understand what a warm welcome this was!!].

Toronto barely noticeable in the background...
Next day, the 3.5 hour drive to Niagara Falls cut through Ontario Wine Country, which in my innocence [or ignorance, sure…] I knew nothing about.  Apparently, however, the area winemakers produce high quality wines (which makes sense, given the optimal climate).  The ultra-sweet Ice Wine (made from grapes frozen while still on the vine) is quite a delicacy and comes with a hefty price tag (due in part to the harvest conditions and the relatively reduced production).  Other varietals – red and white alike – can easily compete against the best of California, Germany or France.  Next time it would surely be worth a stop.

View of the Falls from the hotel balcony
The Niagara Falls itself is a solid 10 on the “WOW” scale.  Sure, there’s all the cheesy, touristy stuff one would expect around this beautiful natural setting – after all, commercialism recognizes that after a few minutes the jaw retracts but the hand has to keep reaching for the wallet (back to that aspect later) – but the experience is definitely one for the ‘bucket list’.

By sheer magnitude, it is impressive.  And if it looks so from a distance, the effect is exponentially enhanced the closer you get to it.  And close to it you can get (all for the appropriate fee, of course).  Yes, the Maid of the Mist (the local 165 year old monopoly when it comes to navigating by boat right under the Horseshoe’s drop) gets you as close as you can imagine.  Plastic ‘raincoat’ and all, you’ll still get drenched no matter what.  And the deafening noise, the curtain of water dropping at an amazing 600,000 gallons/second, swirling wildly under the boat, leave no doubt about the fact that only a true miracle can save anyone that manages to be caught in the plunge.  Quite frightening, actually.  The ever-present rainbow, however, makes for a guaranteed Kodak moment.

US Side - American Falls and Bridal Veil
The Maid of the Mist against the Horseshoe Falls 
The Maid of the Mist venturing under the Horseshoe
That ever-present rainbow...
Skylon Tower
For those wishing to get even closer, or get a different perspective, there are other options as well: the Cave of the Winds walking tour on the American side (where every spring an intricate wooden structure of scaffolds and stairs is assembled, only to be dismantled in the fall – you’re right… ice would destroy it otherwise) gets you right under the Bridal Veil.  The Journey Behind the Falls, on the Canadian side, gives you access to a couple of platforms and tunnels behind the Horseshoe. 

From the ground level, only a few short feet and a railing that’s not much taller than the average 8 year old separate you from the raging 20 miles/hour current that is barreling down the 175 feet drop.  And then, there’s the top view from the 520-feet tall Skylon Tower… the Merry-go-Round… the multiple ‘Falls-View’ restaurants at the top of every hotel in the area… etcetera… etcetera…I’m sure they’ll think of many other ways to exploit the view in the near future.

Right under it all...

A "little" wet...
...or fairies?

Light show over the falls (from the Skylon Tower)
Despite all that, IT IS a pretty impressive natural monument!  Light-shows and fireworks at night add another dimension to it altogether.

At ground level again, there’s every tourist gimmick, trick and trap in the book:  Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Wax Figures Museum, Dracula’s Castel [yeah, that’s right!], arcades, mini-golf, water park (a big indoor one to maximize year-round revenue), cheap [meaning quality, not price] souvenir shops… you name it, it’s there.  All ‘loud’ (both to the ear and the eye), cheesy, overcrowded, chromatically uncoordinated, a distasteful [mad] man-created ‘cacophony’ of sound, color and style, in complete and utter contrast to the natural wonder on display only a few hundred yards away…

Every hotel and restaurant chain is present.  A couple of casinos as well, just to keep the adults busy.  You’d have to venture quite a bit off the beaten path in order to find some peace and food choices above par.  But that’s always good advice around any heavy tourist setting: wonder off a few blocks.  We stumbled upon such a place where an older Greek (her) - Italian (him) couple ran a decent ‘Mediterranean’ place.  Sandstone I think it was called…Yet, in the end, I’m not sure if it was as much the food (still very authentic), the wine (from the local Ontario vineyards I mentioned earlier) as it was the company: making new friends and reconnecting with a high-school buddy I have not seen in 21 years.  Pretty much one of those Master Card ‘priceless’ moments!

...and new!
Old friends...

21 years later ... on the other side of the world...
Earlier that day, the kids enjoyed the Marineland amusement park; with countless rides, dolphin, walrus, sea-lion, killer whale shows, a mini-zoo, the whole ‘nine’ , which proved to be a lot more fun than the ‘stupid waterfall’.  Case in point that the local entertainment-providers are hitting the right chords with a certain demographic.  After all, what normal kid wouldn’t rather play while vacationing in Niagara Falls?!?  And what adult wouldn’t rather contribute a few dollars to the Canadian economy while rolling dice, flipping cards or clicking buttons?  Need another clue?  No?  I didn’t think so!  ;-)

Miniature 'Davy Crocketts'
But with all that (or maybe because of it) people visit every year in millions; 28 or so last year alone.  And despite it all, it is worth the trip.  Once.

An old tram downtown Toronto:
a throwback to Romania, circa 1975
A little over an hour north, around the tail end of Lake Ontario you’re in Toronto – the biggest city in Canada, the economic engine of the country.  I can’t provide much commentary since we barely passed through, with the obligatory stop at the CN Tower and a nice early dinner at a very authentic Chinese restaurant.
The city itself has a very European metropolitan feel to it.  High-rise apartments (expensive from what I hear), plenty of attractions and the proximity to the water give it a nice character [I’m partial here, since - for me - even a ‘dump’ that’s by the water has character] …

Driving into downtown Toronto
The CN Tower: you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all:  whether it’s almost and identical copy (Space Needle in Seattle) or giving you a similar perspective from up high (Sears Tower, Empire State Building, etc.), every major city has a similar tall structure that allows vistas from the top.  This particular one just happens to be the 5th tallest in the world (and apparently tallest in the western hemisphere).     Still, it’s another one of those places where once is enough… apologies to our friends for making them ride up with us (I feel for people in the Toronto area that have to do that every time friends are in town ;-)

There.  Southern Ontario in a [small] nutshell.  A nice place to visit, but not sure about living there.  Not with the current gas prices, expensive booze and sub-zero temps [nearly] year-round.  Kudos to all of you who have adapted to those conditions!
PS: a million thanks to freelance photographers Laura and Mari who have enhanced the visuals for this posting.  For additional video footage check out these links:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Destin, Florida

Don't adjust your screen settings...the sand really is THAT white!

About this time last year we spent a few days on the Florida Gulf Coast and I put down a few impressions about Panama City Beach (  This 4th of July, we drove another hour west, to Destin – a place we’re frequenting at least once or twice a year, since it’s relatively close to ATL.  

Aerial view of the Destin Harbor
I will not bug you with too many details about the place.  It is a nicer vacation spot than PCB, equally crowded, equally pristine beaches and emerald waters, with a slightly more upscale feel to it (not quite as trashy in  my opinion) and a bit more enhanced restaurant scene [albeit, not by much].

Nor will I publish too many pictures, for I don’t want to put myself in a position where I’d have to hire legal counsel to defend my actions… or incriminate myself more than I have already done in the past [in straight English that means we went with a bunch of friends, rented a house for a week, consumed exorbitant amounts of distilled or fermented ‘beverages’ and filled a few pages worth of ‘stories for the grandkids’.  In short, we had a blast – Romanian style!]

The Sandbar just under the Destin bridge is where everyone drops anchor and parties under the sun (yes, those spots in the picture are watercraft of all shapes and sizes)

So, Destin... 

From Ft. Walton Beach [where we stayed a couple of times at the Sheraton on the beach] to Miramar there’s a thin stretch of land that’s been overdeveloped in recent years and fell just as rapidly during the current real estate bust.  Yet, it’s a nice place to visit, plenty of ‘after-hours’ spots [after beach-hours that is] and a few elegant places as well (primarily the complex at Harbor Walk [more touristy] and Baytowne Wharf in Sandestin [a bit classier and well worth a visit]).  On this occasion, however, we didn’t venture out much; only left the house once or twice – except for the girls, who saw plenty of credit-card action at the local outlet mall J

A couple of highlights worth noting in this particular trip: the Big Kahuna Water Park [mandatory day trip on Sophie’s birthday] and a boys’ outing 45 minutes offshore in search for some fresh red snapper.

Years ago we took the kids to the local amusement park.  Bumper cars, mini-golf, rides going in circles, the usual… This time, the water park next door was on the agenda.  For the owners, it’s gotta be a veritable cash cow: fairly expensive [for what it has to offer] and by the looks of it none of the gate fees makes its way back into improving the place.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen an amusement park with so much rust, peeling or faded paint, and inefficient layout.  Not to mention the lack of organization or capacity control… But the kids have fun, and when one’s on vacation, these little things are easier to overlook.  I do have to say one thing though [in typical direct Adrian fashion]: if your body ‘volume’ completely stops the flow of water down the tube, or once seated a small crane is required to lift said body out of the inflatable ‘raft’, one should seriously reconsider their choice of beachside entertainment…

The free-for-all at the end of the river rapids ride
A day earlier, Captain Rocky took six of us on a 4-hour deep sea fishing expedition aboard the ‘Sure Thing’ out in the Gulf of Mexico.  The weather was perfect, and the water surface calmer than I’ve ever seen it before….which was a good thing, considering that any ‘choppiness’ coupled with the amount of booze ingested the night before would have been counterproductive to say the least…

Trolling for mackerel or bonito was not a viable option (too hot near the shore) so we went further in for red snapper.  Within a couple of hours we had 12 reds [overfishing the species limits the daily catch to 2 16-inch-or-longer per person] 3 scamps [a type of sea bass], one yellowtail and a rare black snapper.  Not too shabby, especially since only two of us experienced this type of fishing before!   Dinner that night was amazing…

So there.  Three or four days in Destin would always give you plenty of options.  For us, it’s always nice, since we have a few close friends who live in the area.  Watching the 4th of July fireworks from the beach, along with another 40+ friends who made the drive south was a nice added bonus on this occasion!


Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Weekend in Boston

Aaaah…. Boston.  Beantown.  The Hub (of the Universe).  The Cradle of Liberty.  The Athens of America.  The Walking City.  Whatever name you choose to go with, there’s certainly a character to this metropolis that entices anyone from history buffs, to sports enthusiasts, foodies and scholars… pretty much anyone with an appreciation for how America evolved (and in this case conserved) over the years.

It seems like “the first”, “the oldest” is still present around every corner and well blended in with the new.  There are 17 and 18 century buildings and churches still standing tall (and well preserved) among modern structures.  Newbury Street – Boston’s answer to Rodeo Drive – is a prime representation of this, with essentially every luxury retailer, elegant cafés and beautiful churches lined up in a harmony of color and style.   Then there is the Old Town, where skyscrapers – although clashing here and there with the old edifices – bring a sense of continuity to it all…

 Newbury Street - shops and old churches

The neighborhoods are just as unique, yet well-blended into the city’s canvas: from the North End (where it seems you’ve instantly left the States and are deep in the heart of southern Italy), to ‘old-money’ and affluent Beacon Hill, or the equally vibrant and upscale Back Bay, to ethically-mixed South End, Chinatown (although not one of my favorite when compared to San Francisco, LA or NY), the Financial District and the Waterfront, it just seems like you’re visiting seven cities at once, although most often you’re just rounding the corner only to be surprised by an entirely new perspective!

 Beacon Hill
 South End - Union Park
Old State House with downtown skyscrapers in the background

Did I also mention the water surrounding the city on 3 sides?  Charles River and Massachusetts Bay, tying it to the Atlantic?  The city claims the oldest industrial and fishing port in the Western hemisphere.   Anchored in the Boston Inner Harbor, in Charlestown, USS Constitution is the oldest (1797) – and still active – vessel in the U.S. Navy.  The cadet giving us a tour didn’t fail to mention ‘her’ 32-0 undefeated record in battle (outstanding when you compare it with similar records from the likes of the Bruins or the Celtics… hi,hi,hi).

 Boston Harbor
 USS Constitution
...the galley

And just down the river, in Cambridge, the oldest and most famous higher learning institution: Harvard University (1636).  Beautiful campus, I might add.  With MIT just minutes down the street (and a few other top-notch schools in the area) Boston attracts the brightest minds (and ‘fullest pockets’) when it comes to education.  The pedigree extends way back to 1635 and the oldest public school in America: Boston Latin School, which among its alumni counts the likes of Ben Franklin [whose statue is erected on the site of the old wooden school], Samuel Adams and John Hancock. 

Harvard - welcomes you with open doors (if you have the money or the brains)

Other notable “oldest or first” sites in Boston:
  • The subway (opened in 1897)
  • The Public Garden (1837) – oldest public park (also containing the world’s smallest suspended bridge)
  • Fenway Park (1912) – oldest sports arena in the U.S.

Images from the Public Garden with George Washington on a horse and the famed swan boats 

But enough with the intro and stats.  Is a weekend enough to take in the city with all it has to offer?  Barely.  Unless you travel with me and brought a good pair of walking shoes!  So let’s go:

Tourist ‘traps’ abound – of course – but it’s part of the deal.  Union Oyster House – the oldest restaurant in the States, which opened in 1826 – is one of those.  The Kennedy clan frequented it (JFK allegedly had a booth there) and Louis Philippe – king of France – lived upstairs while in exile here in 1796.  The building itself dates back to 1704.  But one can avoid the long lines and find better food elsewhere.  Ditto for Faneuil Hall.  Souvenir carts and shops, food stalls, the whole ‘tourist-friendly’ arsenal…  But too crowded for my taste.  Maybe it was just the light drizzle who prompted everyone to run for shelter…   

... and back in the day
The Union Oyster House today...

Faneuil Hall

Across the street, another busy setting around the Aquarium on the waterfront.  Tour boats of all sizes and shapes, a few more restaurants and gift carts.  At the Chart House (another 1700’s building that had a musty and faint barn-like ‘aroma’) we did finally ‘break-down’ for a big lobster, amazing bisque and excellent chowder.  When in Rome…

Another 5-10 minutes’ walk from the Long Wharf and you’re in the North End neighborhood.  They might as well call it ‘Little Italy’, for everything on Salem and [especially] Hanover Streets screams ’Italian’.  Quaint little restaurants opening onto the sidewalk [where patrons often wait for an open table], authentic cafés serving the best Italian espresso and gelato, and the ever-present ‘nonni’, puffing on cigars and acting like they own the place.  This is the oldest neighborhood in Boston, and although many ethnic groups claimed it as their ‘home’ over the years, the Italians clearly define it today.  Sunday service in Italian at St. Leonard clearly attests to that.

In terms of restaurants, they are all highly rated and I imagine the kitchens are run by old Italian ladies who put a lot of soul into their cooking.  We were drawn to this area every day, had some great pasta dishes, but the pizza at Antico Forno was just simply phenomenal.  Very close – if not better – to what I had at John’s on Bleecker years ago in NY.  And for desert, Mike’s Pastry – a Boston institution in its own right – seemed to be “the” place, judging by the line that perpetually stretched around the corner, regardless of time of day.  But the wait for the best cannoli I ever had was well worth it.  No wonder everyone was walking around with a string-tied box of southern Italian goodies.     

Check out the line outside the pastry shop... and the guy's smiling at the cannoli pictures on the wall!

The only slight regret was not being able to get into Neptune Oyster – a tiny restaurant that claims the top spot for bivalves and lobster rolls.  The no-reservation policy coupled with the hour-and-a-half wait didn’t sit well with the hunger pains at the time ;-) … as an alternative, B&G Oyster (this one, equally small but in the South End) was on the menu for late lunch next day.  The oysters were very fresh with a dozen different options available, but the lobster roll did not live up to expectations.  Average at best :- (

Paul Revere and the North Church
But back in the North End for a second.  Paul Revere’s house is up there (which I didn’t really care for) but we did swing by the North Church, where they hanged the two lanterns announcing the arrival of the Red Coats.  Now, call me ignorant, but this Revere guy is considered such a hero of the Revolution when all he did was ride up to Lexinton to bring the bad news.  Two others [William Dawes and Sam Prescott, the latter being the only one who actually made it to Concord, where the militia arms were stored] had similar journeys, bearing the same news, but since they weren’t immortalized in Longfellow’s poem, they barely receive any historical credit for their efforts.  So with all due respect for the likes of Samuel Adams, John Hancock and the American Revolution, I just can’t get into the whole Paul Revere deal… If it wasn’t for him, any of the others would have brought the news to Lexington anyway.  Oh, and of the 3 mentioned above, Paul revere was the only one captured… ‘Nough said…   

Regardless, as I mentioned earlier, history buffs would have a field day – literally and figuratively – in ‘The Cradle of Liberty’.  Everyone else would enjoy it equally, for it has so much to offer.

 The Public Library
Capitol Building
Downtown and the Theater District
An Episcopal church on Newbury and The Trinity Church
 Downtown view from across the Charles River
 The Liberty Hotel - a former county jail - provided an interesting stay...

...and a couple more views from the harbor: