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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Fist Full of Fur, from Ummm Productions

Fist Full of Fur, from Ummm Productions

This is the coolest short film about a guy in a gorilla suit traveling through Boston one day that you will ever see. And it’s the only one to my knowledge that was assembled from thousands of still images. 5,205 still images to be precise.

Fist Full Of Fur from Ummm Productions on Vimeo.

Sooo good.

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Last weekend, Van Hammersley and I went to New York City to eat too much, drink too much, spend too much money, and look at all the beautiful people.  I’m happy to report we succeeded wildly on all counts.  On our first night in town we hung out in the East Village and the Lower East Side.  We endured bad service, overly loud jazz, and wonderful French food at Jules Bistro on St. Mark’s.  I had the mussels and pommes frites – predictable and tasty – and VH had hanger steak with a shallot sauce and asparagus risotto, which was also delicious.

Jules Jazz

We wandered around a bit after dinner and eventually found ourselves in the back room at Piano’s watching Wolff, slack jawed in utter amazement.  Wolff is, as best as I can describe it, an indie electronica/technorock tuba player.  He uses loops of tuba and vocal samples to create rich, layered, innovative songs that maintain a real sense of accessibility and beauty.

Wolff and Tuba

Wolff and Tuba

The lush music, combined with amazing background visuals from the movie Koyaanisqatsi (a precursor to the stunning Baraka, as well as the Planet Earth series), removed us completely from the frenetic Friday night city.  We found ourselves wrapped up in a totally visceral multimedia moment.  I could have watched for hours, but the night was still young at 1:00 a.m.

We moved on to the Back Room, a 1920s speakeasy style bar, complete with comfortable couches, fireplaces, and drinks served in teacups.  We were actually able to get into the exclusive back room of the Back Room due to VH’s little brother’s endless social connections and general awesomeness.  It was extremely exciting:

Rachael Ray's husband was here.

Rachael Ray's husband was here.

VH and I, used to our Boston 2:00 a.m. bedtime, headed back to Ft. Greene shortly afterwards.  We spent much of the rest of the weekend wandering around Williamsburg.  We especially enjoyed The Main Drag, a fantastic music store in which the friendly and helpful employees basically let us fuck around for well over an hour (me on keys trying to understand the intricacies of a rack synth, VH in a private practice room with an assortment of badass pedals and a beautiful guitar), and the (relatively) new riverfront park.

Play time!

Play time!

Information.

Information.

Hipster love.

Hipster love.

We had a beautiful South African dinner on Saturday night at Madiba on DeKalb in Ft. Greene after deciding to get adventurous.  VH had a mutton curry served in a hollowed out loaf of bread, and I had bobotie, a traditional beef meatloaf-like dish with a baked custard topping and sliced almond crust.  Both were served with an assortment of transcendent sauces, including marmalade, raita, fresh salsa, and my favorite, a creamy banana coconut.  It was easily our favorite meal of the trip.  Next time perhaps we’ll try the steak with monkey gland sauce.  Or not.

ny-exterior

The best part of the trip, though, was finally purchasing my dream umbrella at the Mini Mini Market on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg:

Nothing will ever be the same.

Nothing will ever be the same.

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Is Memphis America’s second most miserable city?

It sure is – at least according to a new report from Forbes.com, which says only Stockton, California is worse. But things can’t really be that bad for the Bluff City, right? Well, lets take a closer look. Hmm … shockingly high rate of violent crimes? Check. Sky-rocketing sales tax? Check. Widespread government corruption. Check. Their only professional sports team, “the Grizz,” are the proud owners of the lowest winning percentage in the NBA over the past few seasons. 

All signs point to fail. And yet, while on a recent business trip to Memphis, I somehow had a blast. What went wrong? 

For starters, my dad went to high school in Memphis, and he’s pretty much the best person ever. So that’s something. Oh and my dad’s next-door neighbor back then was Isaac Hayes, who was kind of a big deal. “Shaft” and “Chef” we all know about, but long before his life was destroyed by Scientology, Hayes and songwriting partner David Porter were cranking out timeless chart toppers like (Sam and Dave’s) “Soul Man” and “Hold On I’m Coming.” 

Speaking of music, Memphis is really good at it. The blues, rock n’ roll, gospel, “sharecropper” country, crunk (!?!) and other uniquely American genres have origins in Memphis. And Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and B.B. King – the “kings” of country, rock, and blues, respectively – kicked off their careers there. The city’s greatest musical legacy, though, is Memphis soul.

Stax Records

At the center of Memphis soul, was Stax Records, the groundbreaking label that gave us Hayes, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Booker T. & the MGs, the Staple Singers, Wilson Prickett, Rufus and Carla Thomas, the Mar-Keys, the Bar-Kays, and countless others instrumental in shaping the genre and bringing it to the rest of the world. In the segregated south, Stax was something of an oasis. Founded in 1957 by two white siblings – Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton – but celebrated for its output of African American music, the label featured ethnically mixed bands in a city where blacks and whites weren’t allowed to eat dinner together in public. Their recordings were emotional, raw, and less polished than the hits coming out of Motown, which were targeted more towards white audiences. The “Stax sound” was somewhat accidental – the studio was housed in a converted movie theater, and the slopped floor (where the seats had been) created an acoustic anomaly, resulting in a big, deep sonic quality. 

Really fascinating stuff, though it barely scratches the surface. If you’re ever in town, definitely check out the Stax Museum. Located at the label’s original address, it’s basically a stroll through the history of soul music, including a transplanted 101-year-old Mississippi Delta church, the Soul Train dance floor, and Hayes’ restored 1972 gold-trimmed, peacock-blue Cadillac El Dorado, displayed on a rotating platform in all its shimmering glory. Adjacent to the museum is Stax Music Academy, which provides at-risk Memphis youth with free music instruction, performance and scholarship opportunities. 

National Civil Rights Museum

While we’re talking museums, this one is truly a must-see. It’s also impossibly dense, so if you’re like me and get all weird and OCD about reading literally everything, you should give up now. I was unlucky and picked a day the place was absolutely flooded with spastic children, including one kid who kept shrieking at his mom to move her “stupid butt” to the Rosa Parks bus. Housed in the former Lorraine Motel, where MLK was assassinated, it chronicles the African American struggle in amazing detail, and ends with you standing by the balcony where Dr. King was shot. Erie and powerful. 

Memphis Cuisine

Changing the subject completely, lets talk about food. Turns out those bastards at Forbes struck again in 2007, calling Memphis out as one of the least physically active, most overweight city’s in America. After sampling some of its mostly lard-based (and delicious!) local cuisine, it’s easy to see why. 

Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken 

This is one of those dive-y, hole-in-the-wall places that actually backs up its “world famous” claim. And for good reason. For many, like my roommate in Cambridge, a native Memphian who spent most of his life in the city, it borders on a cult-like devotion. When I asked him what to check out during my visit, he could think only of Gus’s. We started with fried green tomatoes and fried pickles. Next up was the chicken, piping hot and spicy, served with slaw and white bread. And for desert, sweet potato pie. The meal was so good my heart raced all night. This really started to worry me after a few hours. 

Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous 

Memphis is the home of the world’s largest pork barbecue cooking contest and is famous for its chopped pork “barbecue sandwiches” and its ribs. The Rendezvous supposedly offered the creme de la creme in dry rub ribs. As someone who takes pride in talking to locals to avoid tourist traps, I felt like a sucker for falling into one my first night in Memphis, but it was well worth it. First, the servers all look like they’re pushing 70. And they’re mean to you (well, at least our guy was). Not like those assholes at Dick’s Last Resort, but in more of a it’s-insane-the-amount-of-ribs-we’ve-seen-in-our-lifetime kind of way. Now, I’m no connaisseur, but these ribs were pretty fantastic. Simple yet effective, with amazing seasoning, and served with slaw and white bread (which apparently comes with everything in this city).

The trip’s most surreal moment came when my dad told me via phone that Charles Vergos, yes, he of the Rendezvous, has a brother named Nick, who is my godfather. Confused? Me too, still, I think. I had two immediate thoughts: I have a godfather? And could he hook me up with more ribs? Before I left the city, I felt a brief sense of shame for not seeing Graceland before remembering I don’t give a shit about Elvis. There’s lots of other cool stuff, of course – Beale St., Sun Studio, the Memphis Zoo – but I’ll spare you since I think I’ve already shattered drvorhees’ record for longest TLOS post, a record I’m sure he’ll attempt to re-shatter before the end of the week. 

Sure, Memphis has its problems. But the city’s musical and cultural contributions are undeniable. So, for the suits over at Forbes.com: I prescribe for you a large order of Gus’s fried chicken with a side of Booker T. & The MGs’ “Green Onions.” Miserably awesome is what that is.

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I visit New York City fairly frequently.  I have some beloved family and friends in the big city, Brooklyn in particular, and am often in need of an escape from Boston.  Ever since I was introduced to the Merritt Parkway I’ve shunned the Fung Wah and the Lucky Star and driven myself.  This last trip was especially fun.  I went to a DIY loft show/benefit in Bushwick, spent Valentine’s Day listening to an acoustic show at the Postcrypt Coffeehouse at Columbia University, celebrated my cousin’s birthday at Union Square Cafe, and ate lots of brunch.

Brooklyn’s pervasive and overwhelming hipster aesthetic makes for truly excellent people-watching.  I know this is a generalization – I just go to the especially hip areas, naturally.  Every trend and soon-to-be-trend and not-even-a-chance-of-becoming-a-trend is on amazing and vibrant display (I DID see some white Ray-Bans – I think they’re still hip – see Brenda’s post).  Strange and hideous 80’s glasses, fedoras, neon American Apparel sweatshirts, retina-destroying thrift store combinations, ironic mustaches, general ironic dishevelment, and lots of these guys, are everywhere.  The armchair socioanthropologist in me was thrilled – as was the gastronome, the musician, and the shopaholic.

In no particular order, here are some of the new places I enjoyed for sociological research, food, and shopping.

The Postcrypt Coffeehouse

This is a strange and lovely little acoustic listening room in the basement of a cathedral on the Columbia campus (which I realize has nothing to do with Brooklyn, but whatever). There was an enthusiastic and attentive built-in crowd, which made the performer very happy.  They also responded well to being plied with heart-shaped cookies.  Musician friends – this is a very good way to get people to sign your mailing list.

Whisk

I almost had a heart attack wandering around Whisk.  I wanted every adorable (yet useful! and not overly expensive!) kitchen item in this place.  I’m sure that having a kitchen store this nice in Williamsburg is some kind of sign of the apocalypse or whatever, but fuck it.  Sign me up.

Mast Brothers Chocolate

Beautiful people making beautiful chocolate.  Their factory is soon to be open regularly on weekends for tastings.

Aurora

I can’t speak to the dinner menu here, but the brunch was incredibly cheap – $8 for amazing eggs Benedict with the best Hollandaise sauce I have ever had.  It was fluffy, somehow.  I don’t know if that sounds appetizing, but I assure you – it was delicious.

Cheryl’s

Another totally awesome and not-overly-expensive brunch place, this one in Prospect Heights.  Best quiche Lorraine ever.

So go!  And let me know how you like some of these places, and if you have any other suggestions.  I am DEFINITELY absolutely undoubtedly going to write about food in Boston/Cambridge soon, it’s just a question of narrowing it down.

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