Wednesday, October 31, 2012

City Limits Diner

Stopped by the City Limits Diner in Stamford the other day. Though it is not really fair to call it a diner.

A "diner" implies greasy food and greasy counters. This had a retro diner feel, but was beautifully designed, from fonts to colors.

And the food was absolutely delicious. I had the mac and cheese and Amy had the crab/lobster cake eggs Benedict. Yum.

Find out more in the Insiders' Guide to Connecticut!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Disaster Preparedness

Great post at Worn Through about the disaster preparedness programs and exhibits that the Barnum Museum has put on since the 2010 tornado. The wisdom Kathy Maher and the museum staff have acquired since then is legendary, and it's good to see a little shout out to their work.

As New York City prepares for a potential hit by Hurricane Sandy, many of the local museums and institutions have been reviewing their disaster plans to ensure that they are ready in the event of an emergency. Last summer on the very day that we were shaken by a rare earthquake, I sat in on a somewhat ironically, pre-scheduled disaster preparedness meeting at the Museum of the City of New York. Although admittedly, emergency preparation can be a tedious topic, the recent focus on emergency planning has reminded me of the creative and engaging programming that the Barnum Museum has put together since they have been in recovery mode from tornado damage to their institution in June of 2010...READ MORE.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Autumn Before the Storm

By next Tuesday, all these leaves will likely be gone, due to the impending Hurricane Sandy.

Thought I would record our beautiful October 2012 forest, before it disappears. We only get so many of these in a lifetime, and I plan to savor every one.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cattail Shelter

At mile 32 of the Mattabesett Trail you will find this amazing, privately owned shelter, the only designated camping location on the whole Mattabesett Trail. Called the Cattail Shelter, it is near the junction of Route 68.

If anyone has spent the night here, let me know how it is. I have passed it several times, but have yet to distance-hike the Mattabesett. However, I plan to, especially now that the New England Scenic Trail is open.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Barnum Museum Gala

I had a great time talking to people at the Barnum Museum Gala last Thursday. It was wonderful to see so many people committed to the renovation and revival of this Connecticut landmark.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Grading Papers in the Autumn

A few adjustments and the porch can be used all autumn long...a cup of tea, a stack of student papers, and the crisp autumn air...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Iron by Henry Rollins

Below is one of my favorite essays of all time, "The Iron" by Henry Rollins. Not just favorite essays about weight lifting, but favorite, period. Rollins is of course famous for being the lead singer of Black Flag and Rollins Band, as well as for his award-winning spoken word performances (I've seen him twice and have seldom been so entertained). But as anyone can see from looking at him, he lifts weights. A lot. And he speaks well about doing so. "The Iron" the best thing written about weight-lifting I've ever read, and I've read a lot. It is an inspiration when I am feeling sluggish in my new basement gym. I'm posting it in full here, because it is everywhere on the internet already. The original article appeared in Details magazine.

The Iron
Henry Rollins

I believe that the definition of definition is reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself.


When I was young I had no sense of myself. All I was, was a product of all the fear and humiliation I suffered. Fear of my parents. The humiliation of teachers calling me "garbage can" and telling me I'd be mowing lawns for a living. And the very real terror of my fellow students. I was threatened and beaten up for the color of my skin and my size. I was skinny and clumsy, and when others would tease me I didn't run home crying, wondering why.

I knew all too well. I was there to be antagonized. In sports I was laughed at. A spaz. I was pretty good at boxing but only because the rage that filled my every waking moment made me wild and unpredictable. I fought with some strange fury. The other boys thought I was crazy.

I hated myself all the time.

As stupid at it seems now, I wanted to talk like them, dress like them, carry myself with the ease of knowing that I wasn't going to get pounded in the hallway between classes. Years passed and I learned to keep it all inside. I only talked to a few boys in my grade. Other losers. Some of them are to this day the greatest people I have ever known. Hang out with a guy who has had his head flushed down a toilet a few times, treat him with respect, and you'll find a faithful friend forever. But even with friends, school sucked. Teachers gave me hard time. I didn't think much of them either.

Then came Mr. Pepperman, my advisor. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class. Once one kid did and Mr. P. lifted him off the ground and pinned him to the blackboard. Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no.

He told me that I was going to take some of the money that I had saved and buy a hundred-pound set of weights at Sears. As I left his office, I started to think of things I would say to him on Monday when he asked about the weights that I was not going to buy. Still, it made me feel special. My father never really got that close to caring. On Saturday I bought the weights, but I couldn't even drag them to my mom's car. An attendant laughed at me as he put them on a dolly.

Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.'s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn't looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing. In the gym he showed me ten basic exercises. I paid more attention than I ever did in any of my classes. I didn't want to blow it. I went home that night and started right in.

Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn't know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.

Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn't say s--t to me.

It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn't want to come off the mat, it's the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn't teach you anything. That's the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.

It wasn't until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can't be as bad as that workout.

I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn't ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you're not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.

I have never met a truly strong person who didn't have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone's shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character. It is the difference between bouncers who get off strong-arming people and Mr.Pepperman.

Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.

Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body.

Everything in me wanted her. So much so that sex was only a fraction of my total desire. It was the single most intense love I have ever felt, but she lived far away and I didn't see her very often. Working out was a healthy way of dealing with the loneliness. To this day, when I work out I usually listen to ballads.

I prefer to work out alone.

It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you're made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it's some kind of miracle if you're not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole.

I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke. They need the Iron Mind.

Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind.

The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it's impossible to turn back.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you're a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ballet Without A Programme

Some would argue that ballet and opera are no longer living arts. That is, they do not affect the cultural landscape in the same way films or other media do. To be sure, a new and excellent ballet can and does affect a number of people and change them, but not society as a whole. It does not seem to be something that the modern mind connects with. Nevertheless, on my honeymoon I went to see a ballet in the amazing 1875 Paris Opera House, the Palais Garnier.

My wife had given me these tickets during the previous Christmas and we were both excited. Neither of us had ever seen a live ballet before. Unfortunately, it turned out that the two seats she was able to score for that night were not adjoining, or even in the same "box." We split up inside the beautiful old opera house, promising to meet at intermission. I was immediately struck by the enormous six-ton chandelier, ornate gold facings, and plush red seats. This was what I expected from a ballet in Paris, an ancient ritual in a domain of flamboyant riches.

The ceiling, painted more recently by Mark Chagall, took my breath away. Yellows, reds, blues, and greens swirled around scenes of Dionysian revelry. Couples embraced and I thought of my wife, and vainly tried to peer down and around to where I thought her box might be. Meanwhile, a French family entered the box, and their young daughter complained that she couldn’t see. So, being the polite gentleman I like to think of myself as, I let the small girl take my seat. Immediately, I knew I made a mistake. My view of stage left became partially blocked by a pillar, though if I leaned out over her I could see more clearly.

The ballet of the day was Paquita, apparently a typical 19th century production. As the music struck up, I realized that I did not have a programme, and even if I did, it would be in French. I certainly had not read up on the ballet, did not know the libretto, and as the dancers appeared I realized that I was going to have no earthly idea what was happening.

I could appreciate a few things immediately, of course. The costumes were bright and colorful, made with care and extravagance. The dancers themselves performed athletic spins and twirls and jumps that put pro basketballers to shame. A barbarian like me could wonder at these marvelous skills, even while remaining in the dark about the story.

Rather than let myself be swept away by the music and dance moves, I decided to try to fight my confusion and figure it out. Gypsies, bullfighters, and soldiers mixed on the stage, all seeming to fight over one Bohemian girl. The company stood on the edges watching the performance like the chorus in Greek theater. Groups of children ran across the stage in several scenes and I wondered how much they understood of what they were doing. I had always enjoyed the symphony, but here it seemed tangential rather than the primary attraction. Having attended operas and musicals, I kept expecting the dancers to burst into song, and their silence baffled me.

The girl in my assigned seat blew her nose loudly and the mother hit her on the shoulder. Nevertheless, she did it again, louder. I tried to ignore her and concentrate on the plot. The gypsy girl has a falling out with a gypsy man. A soldier is much nicer to her and seems like the hero. The gypsy steals a locket from her. A bald guy in red hangs around the background, and I surmise he is the devil. The second act is easier to understand. The gypsy goes to kill someone in a bar. The bald guy, who appears masked and certainly must be the devil, encourages him. They invite the soldier in to the table and are going to get him wasted, and then stab him.

Of course, the girl who loves the soldier isn’t going to let this happen. They set the table for pasta and meatballs, which I find to be an odd choice in what I thought was Spain. The gypsy and soldier eat, and the girl sticks around, even though the gypsy doesn’t want her to. She switches the glasses, and breaks the bottle "accidentally" so no one can drink more. The gypsy king drinks while the girl dances around, providing entertainment. The gypsy keels over, and drops the locket. The girl and soldier grab it and escape through a magical passage in the chimney.

At intermission I share my interpretation of the events with my wife, who looks a bit confused herself. She has been focusing on the technique, the beauty in the dance, and the music. She mentions the dozens of movements happening at once, the nearly mechanical wonder of the performance. I shrug. "I still wish I had the libretto."

After intermission I can’t locate the right box and only by peeking in through various curtains to look for the little girl in my old seat do I find it. A ballroom scene full of soldiers follows. I use my powers of literary analysis and peg this as "the hero’s return to his world." The girl accuses the bald guy in red, who is not the devil, but some rival or other lord of the solider. He is dragged off, looking quite put out. The parents of the hero accept the gypsy girl, and this has something to do with the locket stolen earlier by the other gypsy. Perhaps she is not a gypsy after all, and by some 19th century logic is acceptable in their polite society.

The story is over but the dances continue, all fairly similar. The music spins like a carousel, round and round. The last few dances lose narrative coherence and seem completely extraneous. At this point I realize that the entire story was only an excuse for spectacle, that Paquita did not strive for emotions like opera, but rather worked as a feast for the eyes and ears. Was it only this piece? Or do all ballets work this way? Does that make it better or worse?

Regardless, I had been entertained trying to figure out the plot, even if it wasn’t important. The performance also challenged my ideas of what to expect. Don’t those two characteristics combine to make the "living art" that society needs? Maybe I wasn’t such a barbarian after all. Maybe there was a place for ballet in the modern mind. However, as I got up to leave, I noticed the parents of the little girl in my former seat shaking her. She had fallen asleep.

First published at Hackwriters.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

First Hike of Autumn

We've been biking most of the summer, and using our new basement gym. So it was with great pleasure and a little surprise that I enjoyed our first hike of autumn so much last weekend.

We only hiked about four miles, stopping on a traprock ledge for a lunch of ramen before heading home.

I'm looking forward to more hikes through the Connecticut forests this fall!

Friday, October 12, 2012

First Church of Simsbury

Passed this wonderful church in Simsbury on a recent bike ride. It was built in 1830, replacing a 1740 church, which in turn replaced a 1683 one. Find out more here.

We take these wonderful churches for granted too often, especially sinners like me. But in these democratic meeting houses America was founded, and built, one parishoner at a time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Black Cats are Good Luck

Especially when they are sleeping on the path at Harkness Memorial State Park...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Drinking It In

The History of Connecticut Wine is mentioned in this month's Connecticut Magazine. Check out the article "Drinking It In" by Maria Lapiana here. They call the book "cheerful" and go on to describe the comprehensive taste test they did on Connecticut wine. The results are quite positive, as Amy and I knew they would be.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Clinton Antique Center

Great antique stores come in all sizes. But the Clinton Antique Center looks small from the front, but continues to go back and back, and as you can see, up. Find out more in the Insiders' Guide to Connecticut!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Newtown Arts Festival

Had a great time the other week at the Newtown Arts Festival...wonderful shopping, food, and fun.

Amy's poem, "Still Life with Parsnips and Snow" had won an honorable mention in the Newtowner contest, and she accepted her award.

The judge (blind judging of course) was Dick Allen, the poet laureate of Connecticut, and a good friend, so we were quite happy that he chose Amy's poem as one of the worthies.

Personally, I liked Amy's poem more than the one that won first prize, but of course I am quite partisan when it comes to that.