30 August 2007

This blog is not gay, this blog has never been gay

Does it make me a bad person to find Larry Craig's recent outing so funny? Maybe it's his vehement and over-the-top denial, which nearly made milk come out of my nose when I heard it this morning on the radio. Or maybe it's just the pleasure of seeing another anti-gay crusader hoisted on his own petard (in a Minneapolis bathroom, no less). Regardless, Larry Craig has clearly cemented his position alongside Ted Haggard in the closeted homophobe Walk of Shame.

I've got gay marriage on the brain because they're set to debate making it legal here in Vermont. And Larry Craig's little tryst made me think of another reason to support gay marriage. If gay marriage were legal, perhaps it would keep randy old senators from having to hang out in men's rooms to get some. I've flown through the Minneapolis airport, and the thought of getting cruised in the bathroom by Larry Craig is just icky.

Labels: , ,

24 August 2007


Beautiful! Amazing! Foodie paradise! Paris without the jet lag! With the string of superlatives that we heard before going to Montreal this week, it would have been hard for any city to live up to expectations. And while it might not have lived up to all the hype, we had a really fun couple days there.

We headed north on the train on Sunday afternoon, and our journey got off to a rather inauspicious start. The closest train "station" on the line between NY and Montreal is in Whitehall, which is a scrappy little town just over the border in New York. The station itself was a small shack with a cracked glass door in the hulking shadow of a boarded-up tenement, which made us a little nervous about leaving our car there for three days. In typical Amtrak fashion, the train finally showed up about an hour late, and we were off to the great white north. The train ride itself was beautiful, running along the western shore of Lake Champlain. In spite of a lengthy delay at the border, causing us to arrive about 2 hours late, we decided that it still beat driving to get there. Our first view of Montreal from the train was of downtown in the sunset across the St. Lawrence River. The compact downtown is right below the green hump of Mont-Royal, which makes a nice natural counterpoint to the development below it.

The central train station is probably the ugliest station I've ever seen. It's underground beneath downtown, and the platforms have all the charm of a dark, dingy parking garage. After meandering through the underground hallways connecting the station to the nearest metro stop, we were on our way to our hotel. I'm a huge public transit geek, and even though Montreal's metro isn't exactly the shiniest I've seen, I was really excited to be riding it. When buying our metro tickets, we also had our first foray into the French language. Luckily, I just repeated the phrase for "book of six tickets" that was printed on the ticket window, and the ticket agent happily produced them. It was a preview of the level of French that was going to be expected of us for the rest of the trip. Montreal is probably the first truly bilingual city I've been in. We did interact with a few people who didn't speak any English. But when we needed to do anything more complicated than buying a book of metro tickets or a bottle of wine, in almost every case, the other person offered to switch languages and then spoke to us in nearly fluent English. And there were a number of service people we interacted with who were anglophone, even in traditionally francophone neighborhoods.

Our first full day in Montreal was spent hitting some of the main tourist spots. We walked from our hotel at the edge of the Latin Quarter to Old Montreal, which has a lot of impressive old buildings and churches. The highlight is the Basilique Notre-Dame, which has a gorgeous interior. It's full of carved wood with an altar bathed in dim, blue light. The rest of Old Montreal was a treat to walk through and gawk at. It was a bit touristy, but touristy in the way the Latin Quarter in Paris is, rather than in a Fisherman's Wharf kind of way.

That afternoon we walked up to downtown, which was a bit overwhelming. There were some cool, old buildings on the campus of McGill University and in the nearby streets. But I needed to buy some teaching clothes, so we were obliged to head to Rue Ste-Catherine, the main shopping drag. The street is lined with shopping centers, popular stores like the Gap and Mexx, and big department stores, and we quickly discovered that it was not the type of shopping we were in the mood for. We grabbed a quick cup of coffee and a snack before retreating to the leafy confines of Parc du Mont-Royal. We ambled up into the woods and were quickly away from the commotion of downtown. We stopped and rested at the busy lookout in front of the Chalet du Mont-Royal with its panoramic views of the southern portion of the city.

After taking a brief rest, we walked down the east side of the "mountain" and headed into the Plateau. This neighborhood is one of the trendiest in the city, and forms the backdrop for most of the TV shows and movies set there. I knew next to nothing about Montreal before we left, but I could see why this neighborhood is so trendy just by walking around in it. It's made up of leafy streets with charming old row houses and lots of idiosyncratic little shops and restaurants. We meandered for a bit, then settled in for a delicious Italian dinner at Eduardo's (at the corner of St Denis and Duluth, if you're going). Many restaurants in Montreal don't have a liquor license, though if you bring your own wine, they'll happily open it without charging a corkage fee. Unfortunately, we didn't plan ahead, so we had to do without. We certainly didn't make the same mistake the next night. After dinner, we walked backed toward our hotel, stopping for a pint at a brew pub on St Denis near the U of Quebec in Montreal. That just about made up for not having the wine at dinner.

Our next day was far less ambitious, with the revised goal of getting me some good teaching clothes at a second-hand clothing store or boutique on the Plateau or the further-north, gentrification-fringe neighborhood of Mile End. Mile End was pretty fun, and impressed us in the way it wasn't quite as postcard-cute as the Plateau.

My shopping ambitions were met (at least partially) early on when we stumbled upon a store in the basement of an old warehouse that sold cut-rate jeans. The store (called Jeans, Jeans, Jeans, appropriately enough) was a confused jumble of pants, T-shirts, and sweatshirts. There were about a dozen people in the store (which is about 11 more than we'd seen on the street outside) and nearly as many employees to help guide them to the right pair of pants. I came away with two new pairs of jeans (luckily GMC is the kind of college where I can get away with teaching in jeans), and we were on our way to second breakfast, which actually became lunch because the pants-shopping was an unanticipated detour. Anne and I were both pretty hungry when we rolled into the cafe, so I was very excited to see on the menu the regional dish of Quebec ... poutine.

I've been wanting to try poutine (aka gravy fries) ever since I first visited Vermont in 2003. They were a bit harder to come by in Burlington than I was led to believe, so I had to wait until this trip to get it. Poutine first came to my attention when, during the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush was informed in a segment of a Canadian comedy show that the leader of Canada, Prime Minister Jean Poutine, was pulling for him to get elected. The president, even then demonstrating his iron grip on matters of foreign policy and diplomacy, thanked the prime minister for his kind wishes.

So there I sat, with a plate full of the fabled gravy fries in front of me, and let me tell you, it was even better than I could have imagined. Now I don't know if the poutine served up by Le Cagibi (nee Cafe L'Esperanza) is in any way authentic, but do I know that it was delicious. I was kind of dreading something that resembled biscuits and gravy, but with french fries substituted for the biscuits. What I got instead was a flavor explosion, with the requisite fries and gravy, along with vegetables, spices (rosemary and mustard stood out), and topped with cheese and grated cabbage. I think it was lacking in the required cheese curds, but that was just as well.

The rest of the day involved meandering through the streets of the Plateau, wandering into whatever store caught our eye (like the Mexican grocery!), and stopping off at little clothes stores to find me some nice slacks. (No luck, although I did get a cool hat made from Alpaca wool. And did you know that second-hand stores are called friperies? How French is that?) We went out to dinner that night in the Village, the "gay neighborhood" of Montreal. It stretches for about 15 blocks, full of clubs, bars, and restaurants, prompting Anne to comment that it "out-Castros the Castro." After an unrushed dinner (apportez votre vin!), we went to a jazz club then headed back to the hotel. Our train left around 10 the next morning, so we went straight from the hotel to the train station. The train arrived in Whitehall yesterday afternoon, again two hours late. We were quite pleased to find that our car was unharmed.

Overall, I had a great time in Montreal. It was a bit smaller and lower key than I imagined, but in a good way. I felt like the scale was closer to Seattle or maybe slightly larger, but certainly nothing like Paris, and it was a very walkable and attractive city. Nearly everyone we interacted with was friendly and nice, and didn't mind that our French is abysmal. I think part of the reason I feel so positively about our trip was that I was desperate for some "city time," since it's been a little over three weeks since we left the Bay Area. We did a lot of the things we like to do that are hard to come by around here like ogle cool architecture, eat ethnic food, and see live jazz. I was, however, reminded of how much cheaper things are here in Vermont while we were away (and the fact that the US dollar is tanking against the Canadian dollar was no help). Hopefully we'll be heading to Boston once Matt, Cascade, and Caden get settled and we need our next city fix. But we'll definitely be going back to Montreal before too long.

Labels: , ,

17 August 2007


Effective yesterday I joined the ranks of those without health care in this country. My coverage from Berkeley expired, and my insurance from my new job doesn't start up until September 1. And no company offers short-term insurance in Vermont. Believe me, Anne and I both searched high and low. So that means I go without, because signing up for insurance with another company will take 30 days to take effect, and then I'll have to pay for coverage for at least two weeks longer than I need. For those of you savvy health insurance consumers who might be thinking "can't you just COBRA your Berkeley insurance?" I say "think again!" Berkeley's student insurance doesn't offer any continuing benefits. So I just need to make sure I don't get sick between now and the end of the month (or if I do, make sure it happens while we're in Montreal next week), and everything will work out fine. Keep your fingers crossed for me....


11 August 2007

A New Car!

Friends and long-time readers may remember that Anne and I went carless a while back. As you might guess, moving to a rural area has made that lifestyle choice untenable, and one of the first things we did on landing in VT was to go car shopping. As it turns out, there are very few cars that meet the criteria we were looking for: small, decent gas mileage, all-wheel drive, manual transmission relatively inexpensive. In fact, now that Toyota no longer makes the Matrix with AWD (and never, it turns out, made it with a manual transmission), we were left with only one choice. I'm pleased to announce we're now the proud owners of a Subaru Impreza.

We wound up buying it new because 1) it was the end of the model year, so we got a good deal, and 2) we didn't have the luxury of doing a lot of shopping for a used car that we liked. I realize that new cars lose most of their value the minute you drive them off the lot, but if past experience is any guide, we're going to own this car for a long time so it doesn't seem like too big of a loss.

As much as I rail against car ownership, I have to confess that our new car is really fun to drive! A few revelations after upgrading from a 1983 Toyota Tercel: it has a fifth(!) gear, it doesn't rattle at speeds over 60 mph, it has cruise control AND air conditioning. And unlike my Jeep, it doesn't overheat under certain operating conditions like driving forward or backward. I feel like an oil tycoon driving my fancy new car.

We're still going to apply some of the approaches we developed while we were carless, like walking more and taking public transit. Well ... we're going to walk more. Transit is a little hard to come by around here. It's not like the Yorkshire Dales where you can ride in the back of the mail truck if you need to get somewhere. We live close enough that I can walk or bike to work (as long as it's not snowing), and we're trying to get as much food as we can locally so we don't have to drive to far away grocery stores. Luckily Vermonters are really into the buy local ethic, so we should be able to do it once we get a routine. I feel like I'm certainly compromising my values a bit by getting a new car that doesn't get very good gas mileage (24/29 mpg according to the sticker). But I think we'll be happy to have all-wheel drive in the winter, and if we treat it well, we should be able to get around in it for a long time to come.


10 August 2007

The Woolite Cooler

Four or five years ago before a trip abroad, I bought some travel-size packets of Woolite. The packets were in a bag that was stapled shut by a small cardboard label used to hang the bag on a display rack.

When I got the Woolite home and pulled off the cardboard tag, I discovered a hidden drink recipe. I don't know who wrote it or how it got onto the inside of my travel Woolite label, but it was quite a serendipitous find. However, as much as I was intrigued by the mystery recipe, I was reluctant to try it because it included raspberry liqueur. I wasn't sure it was worth buying something I was sure would taste like cough syrup just to make a drink I found on a package of Woolite.

Even though I never made the drink, I've kept the recipe all this time on the off chance that I would eventually make it. Last night, Anne and I were strategizing our post-move restock of the liquor cabinet, and we decided now would be the time to try it. So I bought a bottle of raspberry liqueur on the way home from my office this afternoon and we made it tonight to celebrate another day of diligent unpacking.

The drink, which I have dubbed the Woolite Cooler, was pretty good. It was a bit tart, and it would probably be better with a homemade sweet and sour mix, but overall it was a keeper. Yes, it tastes a little like cough syrup, but in an "I could drink quite a few of these" kind of way. I think it's a keeper, and I'm glad I held onto the recipe for so long.

So if you want to make your own Woolite Cooler, here's the recipe:

1 shot white tequila
1 shot raspberry liqueur
1/2 shot sweet & sour
1 shot cranberry

My label didn't have any directions for mixing/serving the drink, so I mixed it with ice in a shaker then strained into chilled martini glasses. I'm curious to hear any variations you might try. Enjoy!

07 August 2007

First week in Vermont

We've been here for close to a week now, and things are starting to come together. The house we're in is cute, if a bit small. It is, however, half-again the size of our apartment in Oakland, so I can't complain.

So far my general impressions of Vermont and Vermonters are very positive. I'm particularly happy to report that the stereotype of Vermonters being cold and aloof has been completely untrue. Everybody's been exceptionally friendly, and some folks are even quite chatty. I think a lot of the friendliness has been what you might expect from a small town, but it's gratifying that we're finding it in a place with a reputation for being reserved. One particular example -- when our moving truck arrived on Sunday, our neighbor showed up and helped us unload it, then later that afternoon while we were starting to sort through the boxes and assemble furniture, he showed up at our backdoor with dinner for us. (BBQ pork sandwiches, potato salad, and zucchini cooked with onions. Mmmmm.) I thought that was really nice and welcoming.

One other experience I'd like to relate, which I'll file under "quintessentially Vermont" only because nothing like it has ever happened to me before, happened earlier that same afternoon. We walked down to the store to get a veggie to go with our dinner (this was before we knew our neighbor was going to surprise us and spare us from cooking). There's a grocery store in town, but we live about three quarters of a mile out, so we were going to stop at the little market on the highway that's closer to us. When we got there, we were sad to see that the store is closed on Sundays (welcome to living in a small town!), so we were going to have to walk all the way to the grocery. But then we noticed that some people across the street from the market had a produce stand set up in their front yard with all sorts of veggies including some tasty looking greens. We walked, but there was no one around so we weren't quite sure what to do. Then we noticed a dry erase board on a table with the prices listed, and next to it, a cardboard box with "Make your own change" written on it. Sweet! We gathered up our selections, paid our couple dollars, and headed back home. I don't think I've ever seen a produce stand on the honor system before, but it showed up at the right time for us. Anne called it the Produce Stand of Requirement.

In general, things are going well. We're slowly unpacking boxes, and I started to get moved into my new office yesterday. It'll be nice to finally have my own office! (If you've seen pictures of the campus, I'm in the building with the bell tower.) A couple days ago, we took the plunge back into car ownership and bought a Subaru Impreza. (The Subaru is the state car of Vermont, we've been told.) We need to drive into New York and pick it up today, then drive down to Albany to return our rental car. Grocery shopping is one area where Vermont, at least the part of Vermont where we are, falls short, so we've also mapped out our ethnic grocery options in Albany. We'll be well stocked with masa and fish sauce after today!

Overall, things are going well. I've been busy enough that I haven't had much time to miss the Bay Area. I'm sure I will, but Vermont has been pretty cool so far.

04 August 2007

We're here!

Just a quick post to say that we've arrived safely in Vermont. We got here late Wednesday night (actually Thursday morning, east-coast time), and we've been getting settled in since then. The truck with the rest of our stuff arrives tomorrow. We just got our DSL hooked up, so I thought I'd write a quick entry to tell you all we're here. I promise more (including pictures) soon!