May 29, 2005

36 hours in Chicago

Chicago's the kind of place where just living your life for a while can sometimes make you sit down and tell yourself that you must be one of the luckiest people alive.

This morning I woke up and went running along the lakefront from the Navy Pier to what I suspect is the Oak Street beach. The sun was warm, the water was calm, and there wasn't any traffic noise at all. That's because Lake Shore Drive was closed to cars, and instead was packed with bicycles in both directions. Bikes are much quieter than cars. Lucky me -- apparently this was the morning of the annual "Bike the Drive" festival, and it was an amazing thing to see.

On Friday night we ate cod emulsion and horseradish mousseline (among other things) at Everest. Saturday we wandered through Millenium Park and checked out the Pritzker Pavilion and the Bean. Then we wandered into Symphony Center and picked up some reasonably-priced student tickets for the CSO that same night.

I'd wanted to see the CSO for years, and all of a sudden we were in the front row (if all the way to the left). Let's just say it's an amazing experience to hear Peter Mattei sing Mahler when you're close enough to see the spittle flying from his mouth (sitting on the far left has its advantages). Watching Daniel Barenboim conduct the orchestra was even more amazing. You really don't need to be familiar with the symphony (Bruckner's 9th), or with classical music at all for that matter, to appreciate Barenboim's intensity. He gestures, leans, scowls, sways, mops his brow with a cloth from his pocket, closes his eyes, points at people, clenches his fist, and occasionally exhales so loudly that even if you're sitting at the very far left end of the first row, you can hear it. He didn't seem to lose his focus for even a second.

Whew -- ll that, and there's still two more days left in the weekend. I suppose I'm pretty lucky to be here.

Posted by Carey at 10:30 AM | Comments (2)

May 25, 2005

raw meat in new york

I've heard a lot about how the French eat raw meat. Last weekend I finally got to try some myself.

I was in NYC for an emergency medicine conference, so I had a great opportunity to eat at Anthony Bourdain's "kick-ass" (as he puts it) restaurant, the Brasserie Les Halles. Not wanting to waste the moment, I tried to order a kick-ass dish. What could be more kick-ass than raw meat?

So I ordered the steak tartare. Never having had it (or even seen it) before, I assumed I was going to get something like a bloody t-bone on a plate. But no. The waiter wheeled a little cart over to my table. On it was a bowl containing what looked like raw ground beef; a set of small bins filled with things like mustard, chopped onions, capers, tabasco sauce, and other goodies; a raw egg; and a fork. The waiter cracked the egg into the bowl with the meat and spooned in a healthy portion of all the goodies. Then he mixed it all together thoroughly with the fork, dropped it on a white plate, and garnished it with parsley. Voila, steak tartare at Les Halles.

It was kick-ass. Very flavorful, very easy to eat--it had the consistency of thick oatmeal--and not excessively filling. I had room for a whole plate of frites (french fries), fromages affine du jour (the daily cheese plate), and an incredible white dessert wine that cost an arm and a leg but which was thoroughly worth it.

All the while, the couples on both sides of my table were carrying on conversations in French. The background noise was pretty loud since the place was full and there weren't any carpets or draperies anywhere. Through it all you could hear this funky jazz music with a real strong, steady drum beat. This was a fantastic place to eat.

So, please everyone, forgive me for not posting on this blog in so long. I've been traveling a bit, and when I've been stationary I haven't had reliable internet access. Hopefully that's changed now, so I can post about trail running in Colorado and foggy sunsets in downtown Chicago. Stay tuned...

Posted by Carey at 10:20 PM | Comments (4)

May 13, 2005

Thank you, big government bureaucracy!

Today I received the best service from anyone since I dined at Charlie Trotter's back in 2002. Did I eat at another fine restaurant? Did I spend through the nose at a snobby, exclusive private business? No. I mailed something at the Post Office.

You see, I have this little plant, a Spanish Ivy, that was severely injured last September when I left it in the cab of a rented moving truck in the parking lot of the hotel where I was interviewing with law firms. It almost died from too much heat and sun. Luckily, we were able to save a few leaves, and we kept them in a glass of water all year so they could sprout new roots.

I needed to sent the sprouts off to Chicago so I could care for the plant over the summer, so I wrapped them in wet paper towels, stuffed them in a Ziploc and headed for the Post Office. I bought a small box, stuffed the Ziploc inside, and stood in line. When I got up to the clerk, I said I wanted the box sent by priority mail. What I should have said was, "overnight" or "express mail." This being Friday, the plant probably wouldn't be delivered until Monday or Tuesday with plain old priority mail, but I wasn't thinking too clearly. I smiled and left.

Walking home, I realized my mistake, and started to mourn for that poor plant. An extra day or two stuffed inside a dark Ziploc would probably kill it. And after all it had already been through! "Fuck mourning," I said. "I've gotta go back to the Post Office."

I waited in line, sending a bunch of people through ahead of me so I could get to the same clerk I'd talked with before. Her name was Anita. I told her I'd goofed, and asked if there was any way to retrieve the box. She asked what city it was addressed to, and then she went off to look for it.

Time passed. I knew she'd never find it. Anita came back once without the box in her hands, and my spirits sunk. But she had only come back to make sure she'd looked around her station at the counter, and she quickly returned to the bowels of the post office again. More time passed. Another employee came out and said that it was probably at the very bottom of the big bin where all the Chicago mail was piled. I had visions of Anita wrestling huge boxes to dig down to the bottom. And what if she didn't find it, after all that work? My plant would die, and Anita would get a herniated disk...

Finally, though, she returned, holding my box and looking smug. I asked if I could send it overnight, and she gave me the express mail form to fill out. She could have berated me for being stupid, but instead she just mentioned that it was Friday the 13th and who'da thunk that anyone would ever find that box again? She asked me if I wanted to waive the signature requirement so that if no one was home the carrier wouldn't keep the box and try again the next day, the way UPS always does it. She credited what I'd already paid for priority mail against the charges for overnight mail. Wow.

People like to say that government-run agencies don't give good service, but that's essentially bullshit. Everything depends on the human being that's serving you, and great people like Anita work at the USPS just like they do at a place like Charlie Trotter's. Kurt Sorenson couldn't have done any better than Anita did today. Thank you, big government bureaucracy!

Posted by Carey at 05:23 PM | Comments (5)

May 06, 2005

I killed him

I finally did it. After hours and hours of procrastination during finals, spent trying to kill Dr. No and sabotage his reactor, and getting killed again and again, I finally did it.

He's dead. And I'm moving on...

Posted by Carey at 03:35 PM | Comments (1)

May 03, 2005

Two disconnected thoughts

Ian Ayres lists the top six reasons why Connecticut's civil union rights for same-sex couples are substantively different from marriage rights. I don't know what this says about me or about my legal education, but my eye was caught by the lurking presence of my favorite (or not) federal statute, ERISA. Here's Ayres' #2:

2. The civil union statute may allow employers to deny benefits to same-sex couples who are joined in Civil Union but unmarried. "[B]y calling the status a “Civil Union,” a self-insured employer (and that includes most large employers) will have to amend its plans to include Civil Union spouses whereas married spouses would automatically be covered under self-insured plans that defer to a state-law definition of who is married." If the marriage exclusion were abolished, it is more likely that an employer would be prohibited from discriminating between same-sex and different-sex married couples.

Whatever virtues ERISA might have, providing common-sense regulatory outcomes is probably not one of them. Why, really, should the question of whether an employer is required to offer health insurance to the same-sex partners of its employees turn on whether its health benefits plan is self-insured or not? There's really no functional reason that I can think of.

Moving on: anyone who at any time in their lives has ever liked Rush, but who has rejected the group for whatever reason (succumbed to peer pressure, became a eunuch, or whatever) should check out some of the songs on Vapor Trails.

Earthshine is magnificent.

Posted by Carey at 10:05 PM | Comments (3)

May 02, 2005

May 2

Happy birthday today to my brother -- I hope it's a good one!

Btw, I'm almost done with Salvatore's Dark Elf Trilogy. You're right; he writes hand-to-hand combat better than anyone else I've read. The first book was actually pretty bad, but I'm liking the last two thirds of the trilogy, everything after Drizzt goes to Blingdenstone (ack! those names!) with the deep gnome Belwar.

Posted by Carey at 12:55 PM | Comments (1)

Caesar's Bath

Heidi and Julie have passed me the Caesar's Bath meme: list five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can't really understand the fuss over. To use the words of Caesar (from History of the World Part I), "Nice. Nice. Not thrilling . . . but nice." Unlike Heidi, I take the nice-but-not-thrilling part seriously. None of these things are thrilling, but they're all nice.

1) The Beach. I never really understood why so many of my peers love the beach. Sure, there's the ocean, and sometimes sand, or tidepools with little sea anemones and crabs in them. Nice, all of that, but for real thrills I'll always head for the mountains.

2) Liberals. The nicest thing about liberals is that they don't like Tom DeLay or George W. Bush, and vice versa. So they're OK with me. Liberals miss the boat on too many issues, though. The liberal position on consumerism, for example, amounts to the belief that nothing so fundamental to human happiness should ever be restricted to the rich alone. This is why the liberals haven't been able to make any compelling stands against the homogenization and bureaucratization of society, or against globalization's destructive effects on local comunities. To the extent that these things improve efficiency and boost production, the liberals must concede that they're intrinsically desirable, and they must confine their criticism to questions about implementation. If I want to be thrilled, I'll take Wendell Berry or Russell Kirk over the liberals any day.

3) Spicy food. Nice, but above a certain level of spice you stop tasting your food and merely feel it.

4) Golf. I think golf is too sedate. Besides, if I'm going to do something sedate outside, I'd rather not do it in a completely artificial landscape where every hill, lake and tree has been plotted, built, and planted by some guy who wears polo shirts.

5) Polo shirts. Nice for wiping the grime off your mountain bike after a long ride in the hills.

I'll pass this one on to Sarni and the Ulterior Epicure.

Posted by Carey at 12:26 PM | Comments (6)