Life is Large

“Life is large — bigger than the both of us.” So sing The Kennedys, the husband and wife folk duo I saw last weekend in New Beford, MA at Summerfest. Today, four days later, Dave and I were standing in the heat of midday New York in front of the Javits Convention Centre. We were done with MacWorld for the day and waiting for a taxi to take us back to our hotel. Given our nature, this also involved a lot of flitting around exploring various bus options at the same time, but finally we agreed that despite the punishing heat, we would wait for a taxi. And at that exact moment a minivan pulled up in front of us. I noticed it was driven by a skinny red-haired man with sideburns. Then I noticed a little statue on the dash. Then I noticed a funky woman in the passenger seat. Then I realized that I was staring at The Kennedys, now hundreds of miles to the south, and by some freaky coincidence driving in front of me. Life is large.

Later the same day. After a taci ride north and much needed rest at the Hudson, we headed out into the less hot but still hot New York streets in search of supper. Dave had identified our target restaurant, an Italian place called Gabriel’s at 11 West 60th. Being the de facto NYC expert of the group (having been here three times before), I unexpertly guided us to the very far side of Central Park where we discovered that the numbers on 60th St. West start on the opposite side of the Park. Magically, despite the heat and hunger, Dave and I managed to keep from killing each other on the steps traceback, and arrived, mildly exhausted, at Gabriel’s a half an hour later.

Now, ever since I went into a chi chi restaurant in Toronto when I was 18 and ordered a glass of Beaujolis Nouveau (which I can probably not spell to this day) and was laughed at, I have had a paranoia about restaurants that are north of the “family dining” space in chi chidom (I thought I was being laughed at in a “hah, you idiot, don’t you know the Beaujolis hasn’t been pressed yet” sort of way; it turns out I was being laughed at in a “hah, you idiot teenager, don’t you know that you are an idiot teenager” kind of way). So to enter Gabriel’s, from the name of which alone you can tell is going to be daunting to someone like me, required some pluck. Luckily my machismo prevented me from admitting any of this to Dave, so entered we did.

I need not have worried.

Our dinner at Gabriel’s was transcendent. The maitre’d was friendly and helpful. The server was a God walking among us. And the food was simply excellent. I had the best salad of my life (greens, walnuts, fresh dates, gorgonzola cheese), a very tasty pasta dish with garlic, tomato and Maine crab, and, perhaps best and most surprising of all, a cold plum soup with a lime sorbet for dessert. The kind of meal that makes you happy to be alive, and hopeful that you will eat this well again someday. Ahhh.

After dinner we wandered out into the still luke warm New York night. It was about 7:30 p.m. When we were planning the trip, we’d toyed with the idea of getting tickets to see the “21 Dog Years: Doing Time @Amazon.com” show, but had opted for the Ricky Jay show we’re going to see tomorrow night instead. On the spur of the moment, however, we decided to make a run for last minute tickets to Dog Years, and looked around for a cab. As soon as the urge for a cab occured to us, a cabbie walked out of a store and said “are you looking for a cab” and guided us to his cab parked right in front of us. It was at this point that we realized we had no idea where the Cherry Lane Theatre at 38 Commerce St. was, and so we placed ourselves in the care of our helpful driver. And started driving. And driving. And driving. When our driver learned that we were from Canada, he challenged us to name any Canadian province and he would name the capital. He batted 1000. He even knew about Thunder Bay, and what the capital of Greenland was. And driving. And driving. Finally, at approximately 8:02 p.m. we arrived at the theatre. We jumped out. Dave asked about tickets. “The show’s just about to start!” they said. “We’ll take two,” we said. Hussle bussle. We took our seats. The lights dimmed and the show started. We felt like we’d mastered New York City navigation.

The Dog Years show was quite entertaining. It’s an hour and half long monologue, with no intermission, by Mike Daisey about his hiring by, work for, and resignation from Amazon.com. He gave an energetic and interesting performance and I’m glad we caught it. It also make me feel a little like the mill workers must have felt like going to Ibsen plays about the plight of the mill workers (assuming, of course, that Ibsen did did write plays about mill workers): it was a theatrical commentary on my industry and its capacity to suck out your soul. I’m sure I will feel the after effects.

Speaking of which, last night I had the worst sleep of my life. I think it was the combined effects of being over-tired, having injested too much ice cream and peppermint-gumdrop infested muffins earlier, and a certain unease with the large collection of feather pillows on my bed. Also, there’s a very intruding air conditioner in my room. And the knowledge that I had to get up at 6:10 a.m. to be able to get a seat for the Steve Jobs keynote.

As a result of this sleep depravation, I had very weird dreams. The first one involved a secret laboratory run by Ann Thurlow in which she was cross-breeding pigeons and chickens. The second concerned an escapade in which Dave stole a London double decker bus and drove it madly over sidewalks, with Catherine and Oliver and I in the back, in a hurry to get to MacWorld. Read into all of this what you will.

After Dog Years we wandered aimlessly but, as luck would have it, directly to the Christopher St. subway stop, where we caught a subway to 42nd St. and then walked north through the bright lights of the Big City to our hotel.

I now must try and recover from the lack of sleep from last night with a healthy dose tonight. More MacWorld tomorrow, perhaps a visit to the new Apple SoHo store, and the Ricky Jay after dinner. Friday it’s home to the Island.

Happy Birthday, Linda

It was Linda’s birthday on Friday.

I met Linda, and her husband Greg, and their wellspoken collection of Harry Potter-obsessed daughters only this evening, so this was all news to me.

My attendance at Linda’s impromptu birthday party was a last minute kindess extended to me at the end of the day by Linda’s friend (and my coworker) Sherin. You don’t say no to Sherin, I have learned. And it’s hard to reason how spending an early evening alone in the Peterborough Diner could compete with the prospect of ice cream and burgers at Kimball’s, an ice creamery of such reknown that everyone at Yankee has exclaimed to me, at least once, “oh you mean you’ve never been to Kimball’s?!”

Greg and Linda and their Mugglets live atop a beautiful hill in a beautiful yellow house surrounded by a beautiful rock hewn landscaping project. Their house has many bleached wood columns on the inside. The have several dogs, many of which struck me as small, curly and scrunched. Except for the lone wolf type dog named Rosie or Rosa or Rosalyn: sleek, black and barky that one.

As the young daughter collection was responsible for looking after Alex and Jamie’s cats while they were in PEI, Alex and Jamie will be responsible for looking after their dogs in return when they go off to Iowa on Thursday. As a result there was much chaotic instruction about garage door openers and outside taps and how to properly measure the dog food. Alex and Jamie’s mother, by the way, is Sherin.

As I said, it was Linda’s birthday on Friday, and so the plan was that in various cars we would make our way to Kimball’s and gather in celebration.

Kimball’s is a site to behold. Every summertime mecca like Jaffrey (which is near Dublin, which is near Peterborough) has a place like Kimball’s. I remember Hamblin’s in Lakefield. Or Easterbrook’s in Aldershot. Or Hutch’s on the beach near Confederation Park in Hamilton. Or that french fry place in Orillia that bought the old bridge to the CN Tower and put it over Highway 11 so that people wouldn’t be killed running over the road to get their fix. And of course there’s the Frosty Treat in Kensington, PEI.

Common features: outdoor ordering through a window to happy mostly female staff (Sherin says it’s because teenage girls are more reliable than teenage boys at that age); expansive menu offering a variety of fried and deep fried items; large portions; paper plates; pick up your order when you’re number’s called; lots of napkins. And ice cream to finish.

But Kimball’s is a particularly remarkable example of the genre. Firstly it’s huge: perhaps a dozen ordering windows and an indoor seating section that goes on and on through a collection of strung together buildings. Secondly they have a uncommonly large variety of novelty menu items like “green pepper rings” (which I was afraid to try, although I did sample their onion rings, which were excellent). And finally their ice cream range is, well, almost infinite. I had “coffee oreo” for example, one of perhaps a hundred flavours on offer including ones with words like “kahlua” and “peppermint gumdrop” in them. And, oh, one more thing: my “small cup” of ice cream was nigh unto a pint in size and almost killed me; even as I write this, several hours later, my brain is coursing through a bizarre dairy + coffee + oreo jangle which might take expensive street drugs to achieve otherwise.

In an absurd attempt to counter the ice cream orgy I knew was bound to come, I ordered a vegi burger, waffle fries and watermelon for dinner; not a dietician approved meal, perhaps, but relative to where I could have gone it was almost granola in stature.

During dinner I learned that Linda once hitchhiked from Key Largo to Miami with a Great Dane, and that Greg works with a company called Tri-Med (which should serve me well if the Island is ever struck by flood or famine, as they’re in the “you’ve got problems, we’ve got logistics” business). Also I learned that Greg prefers his iced tea unsweetened, which means he’s on the right side of that debate.

During the ice cream social that followed dinner, which mostly involved Sherin and I, as the adults had obviously been through the ice cream ringer before and knew better, the highlight was a daring maneouver I completed which involved somehow catching the much-too-large ice cream from the cone of young Haley (one of the aforementioned daughters) as it teetered on the brink of gravel. The mass of ice cream I caught was approximately the size of a regulation sized softball. And she’d already been eating for 10 minutes.

At the end of the evening we all retired to our separate vehicles: Linda and Greg and daughters headed home to do the laundry in preparation for the trip to Iowa. John drove me in the luxury Tiptronic Acura to Carr’s Store to pick up my rental car, and Sherin drove home alone, no doubt allowing her time to recover a little from the ice cream of it all before having to bundle Alex and Jamie to bed.

Happy Birthday Linda.

New Bedford Summerfest

It’s amazing how much travel compresses reality. A normal day for me is something like “Wake up, eat lunch, work, eat dinner, work, watch Seinfeld, sleep.” This routine is interspersed with Oliver wrangling and the odd meeting here and there.

Today I awoke in my bed in Charlottetown, and spent the afternoon on the New Bedford, Massachusetts waterfront. In between I flew from Charlottetown to Halifax to Boston, rented a car, and drove the hour south. Whew!

New Bedford Summerfest is what the various icky pretend festivals that Charlottetown holds every Canada Day and Labour Day weekend could be if there was less tourist pandering, more creativity and a larger spirit involved in their creation.

Every July the historical downtown of New Bedford is taken over by this three day festival of the arts. There are three main components: a huge collection of artisan booths strung along the closed streets north of the water, a collection of musical venues ranging from the small and intimate to the slightly larger music tent on the water, and a huge dining tent on the State Pier where fresh seafood (really fresh seafood) is served.

The music is folk roots celtic. It’s like Grassy Hill Radio, but live. This afternoon, for example, I went to a workshop in the small Customs House Tent featuring Garnet Rogers, David Jones, Ellis Paul and Scott Alarik. The theme of the workshop was “Left Her Heart & Lost My Own: how men sing about love.” This was followed by a workshop called “I Love the Ground Whereon He Goes: how women sing about love” that featured Lucy Kaplansky, Susan Werner, Sally Rogers and a weird Scottish duck full of energy named Ray Fisher. It was all wonderful music in a delightful setting.

Tomorrow I’m going to return for more of the same, finishing off with a concert by Livingston Taylor.

There are several great things about the way the Summerfest event is organized. Admission to the entire weekend is only $7, and you pay for this by simply buying a button when you arrive. There are no giant wooden fences around anything — it’s all done on the honour system. There’s no big huge concentration of people overwhelming one area of the downtown; the event is nicely distributed across a wide area, and the musical venues are all low-key and low-amp, so for the residents of the downtown it’s not like having The Who over for the weekend.

All in all a very pleasant if jam-packed day.