Monday, July 11, 2016

Bulgarian books in Oklahoma

Back in May we went on a long road trip to Oklahoma City to visit Erin's sister, Ivy Skinner, and her family. We had a great time with the Skinners, and also got to spend time with Brian Dunn and Ron & Crystal Phipps and their kids.

At a used bookstore in Edmond, the suburb of Oklahoma City where the Skinners live, I came across several Bulgarian books from the 1970s and 1980s:

The one on the left is Ray Bradbury's I Sing the Body Electric, and on the right is a collection called "Black Sun" with Karel Čapek's R.U.R., Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, George Orwell's Animal Farm, and Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

That's the title page of Ray Bradbury's I Sing the Body Electric.

That one is The Trip of Icarus by Bulgarian science fiction author Lyuben Dilov. The Wikipedia page about him says the story adds a Fourth Law of Robotics, extending the original three laws proposed by Isaac Asimov: "A robot must establish its identity as a robot in all cases."

Neat to run into them!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Buckskin Gulch

Last weekend Phin and I drove with friends down to the very southern edge of Utah east of Kanab, to hike a large slot canyon called Buckskin Gulch.

We camped at White House the first night. The next day we backpacked through, starting at Wire Pass, hiking about 13 miles on the first day and camping near the Confluence which on the map appears to be within a few feet of the Arizona border. Then on the second day we hiked another 8 miles or so back out to White House. There were 7 people in our group, and having two vehicles allowed us to shuttle ourselves between the starting and ending point.

It was a beautiful slot canyon with a huge variety of rock walls, and almost no way out, so we were glad no rain was forecast for days and the risk of flash flooding was very low. The temperature in the canyon varied quite a bit but was pleasant. Permits are required and a limited number of people are allowed in, so it was fairly quiet.

We had to carry all our water, about 4-5 liters per day per person, which was of course heavy. Much of the hiking was on very fine sand which made the hiking hard. I don't think I've ever tired out my hamstrings so completely. If I were to get a chance to visit the area again, I'd opt for a shorter day hike instead, and maybe explore one of the other canyons.

But we made it and it was worth the work to see such cool natural features. There's a nice green spot where we camped which was nice. Phin saw a rattlesnake, and the rest of us also saw ravens, frogs, mice (camp robbers!), and little biting flies.

Here are some of the photos I took with my mobile phone.

You can read more about it at Wikipedia's Buckskin Gulch article and at another site.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Duetto di due gatti ("Humorous Duet for Two Cats")

I've recently rediscovered this delightful piece commonly attributed to Rossini. According to the wikipedia page about it, it's actually a compilation by someone else, from a couple of pieces in Rossini's opera Otello and another piece. The Women's Choir at Teton High School sang a version of this several years ago, which is how I first heard it. Anyway, it's funny and there are lots of different interpretations on YouTube for your enjoyment, a few of which are below. If you watch a lot of them, your kids might make fun of you. Just FYI.

This is my favorite, although the sound quality is not very good. Two choir boys:

Two sopranos with attitude:

A baritone and a countertenor, also with attitude:

An a cappella arrangement for six men:

You're welcome.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

After visiting Montréal, Québec, Canada, Lillian and I took a train about 2 hours to Ottawa, Ontario, the capital of Canada. It was a beautiful train ride through mostly wide open farmland.

We stayed in a hotel near the train station, and on the first evening walked a mile or two in the park alongside the Rideau River, where lots of people were out walking, biking, running, and playing:

We came across a surprising church, the Melkite Catholic Church, labeled in Arabic and English:

As the monument explains, they tie their history back to the establishment of Christianity in the Middle East in Antioch, then in Syria. We later looked it up on Wikipedia, and found an interesting history in the article Melkite Greek Catholic Church.

An interesting first church to see in Ottawa!

The next day we took the bus to see Parliament:

Nearby was the American embassy:

And down the street from that we visited the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica:

Across the street toward the Ottawa River is the Royal Canadian Mint, where we took a tour, and got to lift a 28 pound gold bar currently worth around US $525,000:

Outside of the photo frame were two armed guards keeping a watchful eye on the gold.

This location of the mint is where they make bullion and collectible coins of precious metals (gold, silver, platinum, and palladium). The circulating Canadian paper currency (actually plastic as of a few years ago!) and coins are made elsewhere. This mint currently makes the highest purity coins in the world, some now being 99.999% pure, in contrast to the 99.9% and sometimes 99.99% purity that is common at other mints.

Across the street is the National Gallery of Canada, a nice art museum:

Yes, there were even what looked like spider eggs in the sac of that spider sculpture. Lillian didn’t like me standing under that.

There were many great paintings, some sculpture and some multimedia. The one that made laugh the most was this painting by René Magritte from 1951, “Perspective: Madame Récamier by David”:

Lillian’s favorite painting was “Das Mißverständnis” (The Misunderstanding) by Daniel Richter from Germany in 2003:

The description reads:

“I am interested in more of a hysterical, paranoid view of the world,” says Daniel Richter, whose paintings are recognized for their evocative figures, often of conflicting scales, and vivid, saturated applications of colour. Issues of contemporary geopolitics and conflict are represented through allegorical references to the history of art. Here, a grey concrete cityscape sprawls under tumultuous skies, evoking an urban world on the brink of destruction. A tense, expectant atmosphere permeates the scene in which several figures in bright costumes approach birds perched in a tree that they mistake to be a threat. However, explains Richter, “the people do not see the cat. The cat is out to kill the birds, and he smiles knowingly at us. This is our drama. It’s called Das Mißverständnis.”

Behind the art museum is this sculpture, about which Lillian said on Instagram: “I’m not sure Canada knows how to do this street light thing...”:

Near Parliament Hill are these old steep canal locks:

We walked across the Pont du Portage Bridge back into Québec to the city of Gatineau, formerly called Hull. There we spent some time loitering in the large lobby of the Canadian Museum of History and walking around Jacques-Cartier Park, from where we had a good view across the Ottawa River to Parliament Hill:

Then we walked back across the Pont Alexandra Bridge to Nepean Point behind the art gallery:

It was great to finally visit Canada’s capital!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Montréal, Québec, Canada

After attending my company meeting in New York City at the beginning of October, Lillian and I took the Amtrak train "Adirondack" from New York Penn Station to Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was scheduled to be an 11-hour ride, but was delayed at several points (at least once, they said, due to stalled freight trains on the tracks), so it was about 3 hours late to arrive, making it a 14-hour ride total! It was a nice time to travel through upstate New York, especially along the west side of Lake Champlain. Here's one small town where we got to get out during a delay:

In Montreal we stayed at the YWCA (Y des Femmes) hostel, which allows men to stay there too. It was a nice place, where we had a private 2-person room, and were able to use the shared kitchen for meals. We immediately liked the nearby Mont-Royal, the hill the Montreal is named after, which is very broad and has walking paths all over it. I read that it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York's Central Park. It has a beautiful view of the city near a chalet:

The plaque notes the place where French explorer Jacques Cartier visited on October 2, 1535. Montreal's history of European exploration and settlement goes way back!

We saw several beautiful Catholic cathedrals, and one Anglican church:

We enjoyed walking along the waterfront of the St. Lawrence River (le fleuve Saint-Laurent):

That domed building across the river is Bonsecours Market (Marché Bonsecours) across the river in Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal). A few more views of its dome:

Old Montreal has cobblestone streets, some open market areas, and lots of interesting old buildings. This is the city hall:

The second flower arrangement to the right commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Armenian holocaust:

This church is nicknamed the sailor's church, and has little model ship candleholders hanging all around. We got to hear a mid-day organ concert there:

We walked through the campus of McGill University and took a break the field where students played frisbee and chatted:

We walked through part of a huge cemetery and found many graves of eastern Europeans, including many Armenian ones like this:

Next we took a long walk to St. Joseph's Oratory, the largest church in Canada. We read that some pilgrims ascend the stairs on their knees, and the middle staircase is reserved for them (and has smoother steps, not the normal rough concrete). It is a huge church, beautiful, and has interesting modern artwork:

Its view over the city at sunset was very nice too.

Lillian enjoyed (or at least tolerated) my intentionally overly-literal translations of French phrases. This street sign "Trottoir barré" I rendered as "trotter barred!", with a sidewalk being something people trot on (but in this case should not):

There were lots of barred trotters around town. We trotted elsewhere.

We found a shop with a name that fits a running family pun on eggs in words with the ex- prefix:

We left from the central train station (Gare Centrale), which had large socialist-realist type art on the walls above the words to the national anthem "O Canada" in French on one side and English on the other:

We really enjoyed our two and a half days in Montreal! We walked 8.2 miles on day one, and 14.5 miles on day two. There was a lot we wanted to see, and it was mostly adjacent, so it didn't make sense to take a bus or the metro most of the time. The weather was pretty nice too, so we enjoyed being outside.

Our next stop was Ottawa, which I'll write about later.