Monday, July 23, 2012

The Return to the Land of my People

A couple weeks ago we made the semi-annual pilgrimage to the land of my youth, my tribe, my people.  I'm talking Baltimore, the land of the Orioles and Jim Thome (argh!), the Bay, Natty Boh, some football team named for black birds that say "Nevermore", "Hon", and oh so much more.  We loaded both kids, (the son in law having to work) into the back seat (they are 30 and 25, and actually quite capable of loading themselves, truthfully).  And off we went on a Sunday (travel pointer: Do not head in toward an East Coast destination on a Sunday evening in the summer.  Understatement: You will not be alone on the road!)

We only hung around for two full days, but packed a lot in.  We visited with friends and hung out with relatives, staying at the comfortable and frog-guarded home of my sister; also saw my Dad and had the requisite dinner at the Double T Diner.  I am not sure why we always go out there.  It is just, as Tevye points out in 'Fiddler on the Roof', TRADITION.  The cuisine is more than ample, and not bad, quality-wise, but perhaps we ought to expand our culinary horizons a bit.  

Well, we did get to the G&M crab cakes before we left.  A trip to Baltimore does not even count without consumption of one of those.   

Anyhow, on Day Two we got downtown to the Inner Harbor.  There are two schools of thought about the Inner Harbor.  People from out here in the Midwest who visit it say things like "I had no idea Baltimore had such a wonderful area by the water, with museums, shopping, the aquarium, the sports venues..."  Then people actually from Baltimore say "aw, it's a big tourist trap and nothin' like the real Bawlmer".  

My opinion is somewhere in the middle.  The real Bawlmer is doubtless seedier and a bit more scuffed up.  This Baltimore's well-scrubbed best face.  Regardless, I like it.  The picture I've been featuring up top  is Baltimore's Inner Harbor, taken from atop Federal Hill, on the opposite side of the water from where I usually hang out when down there.  Here are a few more shots form our day in the city. 

 The ship is the USS Constellation, a sloop-of-war constructed in 1854.

 Most of what you see in this picture below is the Aquarium. 

 This shot is looking up North on, I think, Charles Street.  I used to see that gold top of the old "skyscraper" on the left (always was named for some bank) from my bedroom window, if I craned my neck a bit.

 We toured the Museum of Visionary Arts, which largely celebrates the work of artists who were not formally trained, per se, but just called to be artists for a variety of reasons.  Photography is prohibited inside, but here a re a couple things one can see outside.  This large overgrown weather vane of a sculpture has many moving parts and would make Rube Goldberg proud.

Son William poses in front of what could be the Who's magic bus for all we know... 

 I have no comment about this piece.  It is what it is.  Does kinda evoke the whole "freedom" gestalt, don't it?

 I mentioned taking pictures from Federal Hill.  This is a shot looking over at Federal Hill.   

A nice example of what the planners call "adaptive reuse".  All these uses - a Hard Rock Cafe, Barnes and Noble bookstore, and now a seafood restaurant, in a former power plant. 

This is a shot looking over at the city skyline via a game of hoops, at the base of Federal Hill. 

Another exterior museum shot.

And finally, I cannot complete a trip to my sister's without at least one frog shot and, for a bonus, a dragonfly.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cleveland: City of Light, CIty of Magic, City of.... Fish?

We were looking for a fun day trip when the kids were home, so we hit the road for Cleveland and the newish Cleveland Aquarium.  While it does not boast the features of aquariums we have visited in Baltimore or Gatlinburg, it was a fun time and the fish world was well represented.  Here are some shots of our trip to the aquarium.

First, some of the occupants of the aquarium, including this turtle whose shell was being repaired with epoxy.  
 Avoid these when swimming.  A piranha.
 The aquarium has a "touch tank" where visitors can experience the joy of touching rays as they swim by.  Evidently the rays like it and are more than happy to swim up close to get the touch treatment.  Here my daughter displays the correct "two fingers, wrist deep only" technique. 
 Now we are in the realm of "interesting looking fish, but I have no idea what they are".  I liked the color.  I suppose it would blend in around the proper colored coral.
 I have no idea.
 Indeed, I should have caught the name of this spectacular species. 
 These are likely sand sharks.  They are kind of humorous, the way they just hang out on the sea floor. 
 My favorite feature of the aquarium is the "sea tube", where you walk through a totally glass "tunnel" through the large shark 9and others) tank, thus getting a sort of 360 degree view of the fish swimming around and above you.  So you get scenes like this guy coming right at you.
 Then once outside, and rid of the sharks, we took in the Cleveland skyline across the river, and its distinctive Terminal Tower. 
 Inside Terminal Tower and Tower City Center.  The tower was built during the skyscraper boom of the 1920's and 1930's, and was the second tallest building in the world when it was built.  It was the tallest building in the U.S. outside New York until 1964.  
 A couple blocks down the road, we found this "back street" brimming with restaurants and pubs, and found a place to eat.
 A last look at the distinctive tower that still rises above its neighbors.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Long-time readers know of my affinity for progressive rock music, that anomaly where you just can't quite dance to the music because it is in 7/8 and you unfortunately have two legs, not seven.  Proficiency on the instruments scores more points than getting people out of their seats and clapping along.  I make no apologies - I am a nerd for this stuff and have been since about 1969 when the Moody Blues, King Crimson, and Procol Harum were pushinging some boundaries.  Anyhow, at the risk of boring you, here is a round-up of what was heard in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania at the Zoellner Arts Center on the campus of lovely Lehigh University last weekend.

Friday started off with Aranis, purveyor of "chamber rock" from Belgium.  Yes, the lineup consisted of violin, upright piano, drums (capably handled by the ubiquitous Dave Kerman), upright bass, accordion, and flute.  Some great sounds emanated from this band.

Aranis were followed by the venerable Van der Graaf Generator.  This band has been around in England since maybe 1970 or so.  Three of the original members got back together five years ago or so, and they have resumed putting out great new music.  Yes, Peter Hammill's (no relation to the New York writer; trust me) voice may be an acquired taste, but I have acquired the taste.

 Saturday kicked off with the USA's oddly named Helmet of Gnats.  These guys produce a sort of fusiony, sort of jazzy instrumental sound.  As a particular fan of the keyboard, I always like to check out the players' arrays.  This one seems especially full of things to push, twist, and otherwise get sound out of.  Oh, you may have noticed.  A lot of these musicians are not exactly millenials or Generation X'ers.  They have been around the block a few times.  Suffice it to say, there was not a lot of Bieber Fever in the room.

Here's the full Helmet, with pretty lights on the curtain. 

Break time!  So we walked around campus a bit, taking in the flowers and towers.  Here are a couple buildings we passed along our walk.

Back to the action, and the next band (above) was Twelfth Night, from England.  The guy in the middle with the guitar was pretty talented, and fluctuated between his guitar and the keyboard back on the left behind the stripy guy.  They were pretty good, in a sort of dated, accessible way.

OK, I mentioned that I was a keyboard fan.  The picture below depicts how to make me salivate.  Take two remnants from the Keyboard Past, circa 1970.  A solid Hammond B-3 organ, and a Mellotron.  The Mellotron is almost THE symbol of progressive rock.  When you touch, say, the middle-C key, the thing plays a tape loop of an orchestra playing middle C, or a flute playing it, or a chorus singing it.  Amazing - and really, really antiquated by today's standards.

Those keys were from the band Anglagard, from Sweden.  They actually had three - count 'em - THREE Mellotrons on stage.  You can see two of them here.  Why three?  Why not? And check out that drum "kit"...

Headlining Saturday was the ol' Brit band Renaissance, fronted by "the lovely" Annie Haslam, she of the five-octave range.  And after a couple shaky songs, she found all of that range and sang wonderfully.  This band actually had moderate fame back in the early 70's.  You might have had or seen their records - Prologue, Ashes to Ashes, Turn of the Cards, Sheherazade...

 It's a vibe-off!!! Nah, not really, it is two players from the Swedish band, Gosta Berlings Saga. 

And here is the full band

Another break - and we checked out the old Bethlehem Steel Works.  The locals have preserver the old works and plunked down a cultural center, park, and even venue amidst all the old boilers and extruders and ovens and whatever else steel works have.

Back again in time to hear Italian band Il Tempio Delle Clessidre, fronted by venerable singer Stefano "Lupo" Galif.  Gotta have at least one Italian band in one of these fests. 

Here is the full band...

 The penultimate act was the amazing Mike Keneally band.  Mike plays guitar and keys really, really well, and sometimes both at the same time!  

 Here's Mike's full band, with a cool picture on the backdrop. 

The fest ended with a performance by British band UK, led by keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson, and bassist/vocalist John Wetton.  Eddie has a strict "no photography" rule at his shows, so this is a fuzzy stock photo of Eddie and John saying howdy to some other crowd.

So that was it.  The final NEARFest; they called it NEARFest Apocalypse.  Two of the guys who have organized this show are college professors during their day jobs, and they have simply burned out doing this, as much as they love it.  They decided to put on one last show (which sold out its 1100 or so seats almost instantaneously back last winter), and it was a great time.  I will have to replace this annual event with another fest; there is on in the spring in Gettysburg which is quite enjoyable.  

But the important thing is this: prog lives on.