Saturday, May 29, 2010

Le village de Gorgui

I am in Senegal. I've been here for nearly a week, and will be here until Monday night, when Lindsey and I go home via Madrid. I'll have much more to say when I get home, but I thought I'd mention one of the things we did on Thursday.  We were down in the Siné-Saloum delta, asking around our lodge for a place to eat lunch.  Most guests choose to eat all their meals at the hotel restaurant, but we wanted to change it up.  Palmarin was too far to walk, as it turned out.  But one of the employees, Gorgui, suggested that it was possible to walk to the nearby village where he lived.  He would be working at the hotel, but if we desired, he could arrange for someone to show us around and serve us lunch.  We enthusiastically agreed.

The next day we set out down a clay road, past salt flats and goats.  The hotel dog, Tite, chose to accompany us.  We walked about thirty minutes until we saw a village.  A man was waiting for us near the road: Lamine, Gorgui's older brother.  We met much of Gorgui's extended family, including his adorable baby Babou and his wife Maimouna.  They mostly spoke Serere at home, but everyone was well-educated and conversant in French.  We were taken on a tour of the village and a walk to the ocean.  We drank ice cold Fanta and Africa Cola in a shady room off the main porch.  Maimouna served a delicious two-course lunch on huge communal platters.  We were given spoons, but Lamine, Seleh, and Maimouna rolled the rice, fish, and vegetables into small balls with their hands and ate much more efficiently.  After looking over the two family photo albums and giving Maimouna a small token of our appreciation, we walked back to our hut on the delta, accompanied by Tite.  Not the typical Thursday schedule for me back in Wisconsin.

Friday, May 21, 2010

I'm with Coco

Back in Chicago so soon?  Why, yes!  On Thursday night, Sam and I had a date with Conan O'Brien.  We caught the second night of Conan's "Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television" tour stop at the Chicago Theatre, and it was well worth the drive on a school night.

I've seen Conan live twice before.  The first time during the week of Late Night shows he did at the Chicago Theatre in 2006, a run he mentioned more than once Thursday night.  In 2006, Conan brought pizza out to us in line, and his guests included Barack Obama.  The second time was a taping in L.A. during Conan's brief Tonight Show tenure.  I didn't blog about that at the time, but it was awesome.  Amazing seats, an encounter with Max (which sounds dirty but wasn't), a donkey, a python, an elephant, Wilco in Nudie suits (again, not dirty).  And of course, Andy and Conan being hilarious.

This third time showcased another incarnation of Conan the performer.  It felt like Conan's TV show, except with more music, a more personal focus, and a lot more swearing.  The sense of fun was still palpable, and Conan did his best to make a connection with the audience: by running through the aisles, by inviting a Conan lookalike up on stage in one of my favorite unscripted moments of the night, by urging us to collaborate with him on song lyrics via a lobby suggestion box held by a life-sized cutout of Conrad Bain.  The night contained a bit of everything, and it was clear that Conan was doing what Conan wanted to do.  The image of him relaxed and grinning on stage, guitar in hand, jamming to "Seven Nation Army" while wearing Eddie Murphy's purple suit from "Raw" is one that will stay with me for awhile.  (It's possible he wasn't wearing that suit during that particular song, but nevertheless ... the image is there.)

Tomorrow, I'll be in Chicago again.  Leaving for Africa.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fred, Jeff, and Jeff

I've again reached a schedule status of "if I don't write this now I will never make time for it," expected to be in effect for the next three weeks.  Between now mid-June posts might be anemic, but it's better than me forgetting everything!

After that tantalizing intro: on Sunday night I saw Jeff Garlin, Fred Armisen, and Jeff Tweedy at a benefit for Emanuel Congregation.  Last year's event also featured music and comedy, but this year the comedy component was more prominent.  I knew of Jeff Garlin going in, but wasn't familiar with his work.  It was a nice surprise that his participation (added after the benefit was announced) was a highlight for me.  Jeff Garlin is a funny man.  Between inappropriate airport stories, tales of the national anthem at Wrigley Field, and many Q&A answers (whether the Q was directed to him or not), I spent most of my time laughing when he was on the bimah.

Fred Armisen did many impressions: drummers by request (including Keith Moon, Glenn Kotche, Neil Peart), guitar players (Prince, John Lennon, Nels Cline), and then anyone at all (Jon Hamm, Barack Obama, Bjork) ... even some audience members (Magee!).  Seeing Fred play drums was a treat, and he accompanied Jeff Tweedy on performances of "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "Theologians."  Jeff Tweedy's responsibilities Sunday evening were relatively light: four and a half songs (if you count the Waffle House song), a few impression assists, and the night-ending Q&A.  It was fun to see him (and of course Susan played a huge part in organizing this event, as usual) but it was nice to see the spotlight on the comedians.  A true variety show!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Eating NYC

What do you do after working two overnight shifts in New Jersey, finishing at 6:30 a.m. Friday?  You sleep for a couple of hours, get on a train, and head to New York City.  Why go back home when a glorious three-day weekend beckons?

I had a jam-packed and thoroughly excellent time in the city.  Allison was kind enough to serve as my hostess.  Via her recommendations, suggestions from other friends, and a little solo scouting, we crafted an ambitious plan of attack.  I've spent some time in NYC before, so I wanted to dig a little deeper.  Or, at least, make a slightly deeper scratch on the surface of all the city has to offer.

Our schedule included too many activities to cover here: lots of walking, exploring various neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan, street fairs, flea markets, a farmers' market, Prospect Park, a marching band performance, two terrific Martin Rivas shows at the Red Lion and Rockwood, The High Line, the fantastic Whitney Museum for the 2010 biennial.  But there was one thing our weekend really focused upon.  And that, my friends, was food.  

The centerpiece of the weekend's eating was an amazing dinner at Restaurant Daniel on Saturday night with Allison, Mart, Patti, and Paul.  Can I even pick out highlights?  The sautéed foie gras of my appetizer was rich, melty, light (yes, light!) and bursting with flavor.  The red wine braised short rib on celery root purée was a revelation.  When our waiters brought out warm, freshly baked madeleines toward the end of the meal, I nearly begged for mercy.

Daniel was incredible, but it wasn't the only highlight.  I am proud to present to you this list of places (or vendors) from which, over three full days in the city, I managed to either eat, drink, or buy something:

Sundaes and Cones
Luke's Lobster
The Red Lion
Café Angelique
Brooklyn Greenmarket
Gorilla Coffee
people's pops
Billy's Bakery
Restaurant Daniel
Buttermilk Channel
Roebling Tea Room

It was a successful trip, to say the least.  This only leaves a thousand or so places on our "want to go" list for my future visits!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The best thing

On Saturday, my friends Gina and Ryan got married in Chicago.

I was one of Gina's bridesmaids, along with her sister and maid of honor, Andrea.  It feels like I've been planning a long time for this, so I can imagine how it felt for the bride and groom.  The entire weekend seemed to pass in a happy blur.

Friday was the rehearsal, dinner at Gibson's, and drinks at LuxBar.  Saturday, the pre-ceremony hair, dress, and makeup preparations took place in my room (with refreshments provided by Andrea and Gina's mother.)  Ryan and Gina were married in the gorgeous Bond Chapel at the University of Chicago.  Afterward we took many photos on the university grounds and elsewhere around the city.  The somewhat officious limo driver furnished two DVDs for our riding entertainment: ABBA Number Ones, and 1980's Kylie Minogue.  Awesome.  The reception followed at the Newberry Library.  I'd never been before, but loved the overall atmosphere of the building.  All the details made it a great night: lovely flowers, delicious hors d'oeuvres and dinner, cake both beautiful and tasty, excellent DJ, and a bunch of people who were ready to celebrate.  Special kudos to Gina for booking the Chicago Cubs Dixieland Band for the lobby cocktail hour.  A traditional hotel afterparty followed the reception.  Finally, there was a big Sunday brunch with family and friends.  Everything went wonderfully, but I felt like I drove down to Chicago and met Ryan and Gina Friday afternoon, blinked, and found myself in the Maggiano's dining room full of frittata and banana french toast.  Not a bad place to end up if you're going to lose time, I have to say.

Gina and I have known each other since high school, and have been close friends for nearly a decade.  Being part of her wedding, culminating in this big weekend, meant a lot to me.  Seeing her and Ryan so happy together means even more.  Right now they're in Kauai, probably drinking mai tais or frolicking in a waterfall or something.  Seems like a pretty good start to me.