Sunday, June 29, 2008

Old Photo Corner 1: Greek girls

Awhile back, my cousin scanned a ton of old family photos. I love looking at them, so I thought it might be fun to write about them. Like this one:

My great-aunt Irene and her friend Bessie, ca. 1925. Irene was the sister of my paternal grandfather. They were born in Wisconsin, but my great-grandparents emigrated from Greece in the early 1900's. (More on them later.) I love Irene and Bessie's outfits here. I wish I knew if they wore them for anything besides photo shoots such as this - celebrations? Ceremonies? Were the outfits hand sewn or store-bought? Here or in Greece? Did they pick out the aprons? What's the story with the prism-looking necklaces?

I guess I have more questions than comments about this first photo. It's times like these when I want to interview, in detail, every single older member of my family.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Peaches for free

Stuff from the past few days:

* Drove up to Asheville, visited the Biltmore Estate. I woke at the crack of dawn to get there when it opened, so I'd have ample time to explore before I had to be back in Greenville for work at 5:00 p.m. The house is just ridiculous, of course - 250 rooms. I really loved the grounds, too: the gardens, the winery, the farm, the trees and hills. Ahh.

* Mad kudzu in the Carolinas. Don't stand still for too long.

* Free wine tasting Sunday at the Biltmore Winery!

* There's a fancy-ass McDonalds just outside the entrance to the Biltmore grounds, but I didn't go in. I hear it has a grand piano, though.

* Some component of my room service breakfast on Sunday - either the seafood omelette, the grits, or the fresh fruit - caused me to feel progressively sicker throughout the day, culminating in my being nice and ill for my entire twelve-hour shift that night. Woo! I felt better by the time I woke up Monday afternoon, but not good enough to eat much more than an undressed salad over the next 24 hours ... so my first Carolina BBQ sandwich will have to wait.

* There are a bunch of roadside fruit and vegetable stands (many boasting hot boiled peanuts) between Greenville and Asheville. I stopped at one for a fresh peach, and they gave it to me for free. Score!

* Spent not even close to enough time in downtown Asheville after Biltmore. So much good shopping, so little time.

* The Shoeless Joe Jackson Baseball Museum and Library had its grand opening Saturday in Greenville. I didn't know about it until I read the paper on Sunday morning, or I would have gone.

* I was working or in transit for 35 of 48 hours between Sunday evening and Tuesday evening.

* I have this Friday afternoon and Monday afternoon off.

Now entering a stretch of three and a half weeks before my next scheduled trip. Time to enjoy summer in good old Wisconsin.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


This weekend finds me continuing my summer work tour of the U.S. - this time, the Carolinas. I've been to coastal SC, but never the eastern portion, which is where I am now. I'm not scheduled to work until Sunday night, but I wanted to get in Saturday so I'd have some time to explore. Downtown Greenville is very cute - Falls Park, in particular, was a nice place to walk around. I also spent way too much time in the Mast General Store. Tomorrow, I'm bound bright and early for Asheville and the Biltmore. New state! New state!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Raise your hopeful voice

Last week, I finally managed to watch Once in preparation for seeing The Swell Season at the Overture Center. The film piqued my interest long before it was in theaters, and after failing to see it on the big screen I even received the DVD as a Christmas present. But it seemed to take the impending concert to make me, you know, go that extra mile and watch the movie. Of course, I really enjoyed it. Not having time to truly familiarize myself with the songs, I wasn't expecting to know most of the material at the show - but at least I'd have some sort of context for it.

As it happened, I surprised myself. I think I would have enjoyed the concert even if I hadn't seen the film beforehand, but I was actually able to place quite a few of the Once songs with their respective roles in the movie. ("Oh right, Glen sang that in the bus!" "Oh, this is the song Marketa wrote lyrics for after Glen said they were giving him trouble!" Except in the film, of course, they weren't Glen and Marketa.)

I've never been a big listener to the Frames' albums, but I've always loved them live - Glen live, particularly. He's charming onstage, very engaging, and an excellent storyteller. I was glad to see these traits carry over to the Swell Season performance. It was a bit jarring at first to see Glen presiding over a sold out and dressed up audience at the Overture Center, when the first place I saw him was the tiny, smoky Annex about five years ago. There was no question, however, that he was up to the task. Mar was excellent on piano and vocals, and I hadn't known she played guitar, but it turns out she does.

As much as I enjoyed the Swell Season songs, I was happy that some Frames tunes found their way into the setlist. At one point the band and Marketa left Glen alone onstage for a few solo tunes. This led to one of the highlights of the night for me. Glen plugged in and prepared to play "Say it to Me Now," then changed his mind, unplugged, and stepped out in front of the monitors. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a good "sans PA from the tip of the stage" number.

Still solo, Glen gave a lengthy introduction for "What Happens When the Heart Just Stops." He began to sing, quiet words floating out over the hushed audience. All was perfect until, a few lines in, there came an abrupt noise. It originated somewhere near the front of the room, and although it was clearly seat-related (a chair scraping across the floor, perhaps) it also bore a distinct auditory resemblance to a certain bodily function. It would have passed without much reaction, but a smirk crossed Glen's face. As he strummed the guitar, you could see the internal "should I, or shouldn't I?" debate being waged briefly - and then he murmured, "Excuse me." The audience pretty much lost it, due to the juxtaposition with the song if nothing else. Glen grinned and kept strumming until the laughter finally died down. He opened his mouth to sing the next line, and then stopped. "I think I have to abandon this song, actually" he proclaimed. And he was correct. "What Happens When the Heart Just Stops" simply can't recover from a well-placed fart joke.

Among all the performance highlights, last night I realized for the first time what a terrific-sounding room the Overture is. I saw Wilco there last fall, and I thought the sound was just okay - but for the Swell Season, after the first couple of songs, it was fantastic. This type of performance seemed to be what the theater was made for. I'm glad that one side effect of all the accolades and the Academy Award is that the Swell Season wound up there, because I can't think of a venue that would have suited them better. It was also perfect for the solo violin tune by Colm Mac Con Iomaire late in the show. His CD was already sold out by the time I arrived that night - perhaps it sold out earlier on the tour. Good for him, but a shame for me.

Luckily, the entire show can be downloaded from in about a week for $6.00 (with a coupon code.) I'll be doing that.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Milk, juice, or pop

Recently, I was struck by the powerful urge to take some pictures at my old elementary school. It was kind of odd and out of the blue, but there was no denying it once the idea took root. I even knew exactly the shots I wanted to get. So the next time I was in town, early one sunny Sunday morning, my camera and I took a walk.

Maybe it's because I could count the number of times on one hand that I've returned since sixth grade graduation, but walking around the school playground took me back in time. I was the only person there - not surprising for 6:45 a.m. - but I heard echoes. I remembered walking up the path with my neighborhood gang, bursting with pride when I started first grade and no longer had to veer to the right toward the kindergarten playground. Big kid land: I had arrived. How impossibly tall the tires seemed. Playing four square and locked games of double dutch. A music class in kindergarten when we all went outside and banged wooden sticks together on the blacktop. Lining up after recess on our room numbers. Perching on the monkey bars with a group of "cool" girls in fourth grade, gossiping about boys and singing songs. Pushing friends into the Love Box and proclaiming they loved the ickiest boy in our grade, then blocking the Hate Box so they couldn't reverse the spell. Standing in the Love Box myself to declare my adoration of Jordan Knight, infinity plus one, and then upping it to infinity plus infinity after Jodie tried to claim him for herself. Tossing a rock into the funnel ball chute in lieu of a ball, until Heidi got beaned on the head. Climbing the mountains of snow created by plows on the blacktop's perimeter in winter. The feeling of being a kid, which you sometimes forget was a very distinct feeling, until a certain expanse of pavement and some familiar brick walls erase twenty years, and there you are again.

The photos turned out well, I think. Below are a few; the rest are here.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hey, baby, are you having fun?

Of all the bands I currently like, R.E.M. holds the record for staying power. I've probably been aware of U2 for longer, but I became a bona fide R.E.M. fan when "Out of Time" came out - so, I've been a fan since I was eleven years old. I took a mini-R.E.M. vacation coinciding with the release of "Around the Sun," but their albums have never really left my rotation.

After working nights and then flying back right after a shift on Friday, I hadn't originally been planning to attend the R.E.M. show at the United Center. But Paul came through with an offer I couldn't refuse (free ticket)! And the company promised to be good. So Friday night found Sooz and me perched in the first row of the 300-level, more or less above the stage. We didn't make it in time for The National's set, but did catch Modest Mouse. They seemed pretty good, but I don't think watching a band scurry around below you like large ants is the best live introduction one can have.

R.E.M. was a good time, though, distance be damned. I last saw them from the front of Red Rocks amphitheatre in Colorado back in 2003, so this was a slightly different perspective, but watching Michael Stipe cavort below us had its own charms. "Man on the Moon" and "Find the River" were both played, and as two of my favorite songs, I was really happy about that. However, the highlight for me came when Michael started introducing a song, and I figured out it was "Ignoreland." I'd never seen that one live, and always wanted to. So Friday night I got my wish.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Jazz can be somewhat hit or miss for me. While I nearly always appreciate it, my sheer enjoyment of a sustained jazz set can vary from "I love this!" to "that was ... interesting." I can now officially say that the Nels Cline Singers belong firmly in the first category.

Nels brought his free jazz trio to Madison and Chicago earlier this week. It was another case of the further-away show going onsale before the hometown show, and I soon found myself with tickets to both. Nels rarely disappoints, however, so I was up for a Singers double header.

In fact, by the end of the Chicago show, I would have been up for a Singers triple, quadruple, or quintuple header. I loved every minute of their sets at the High Noon and at Martyrs'. From quiet to loud, melodic to discordant, it was all good. My ability to intelligently review a show like this is nonexistent, so I'll leave it at that. But if the Singers come back to my neighborhood again, you can bet I'll be there.

(I'm in Kansas City right now, and there are supposed to be strong storms tonight with a chance of hail and tornadoes. It may be a fun night at work!)

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hello deer

Bright and early this morning, I went for a walk. After taking some photographs at my old elementary school (feature to come), I took a brief detour down 21st Avenue before heading back to my parents' house. Twenty-first Avenue is where my mom grew up, and where my Nana and Grandpa lived for more than fifty years. I had just passed their house when an unusual sound disturbed the stillness. The sound of hooves clacking across the pavement. I looked up into the brilliant sunshine across the street and saw a deer galloping through the neighbor's front yard. I stopped in my tracks. So did the deer. We stared at each other for a few seconds, and then I fumbled for my camera as the deer high-tailed it the rest of the way across the block, disappearing down 76th Street. It was an interesting way to start the day.