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Monday, August 30, 2010

Shonen Knife!!! In Osaka!!!

Before my first trip to Osaka in June 2010, I didn't really know too much about the city. What I did know, for example, was that it was located a short trip away from much of the old (historical) Japan areas like Kyoto and Nara. I knew that it is the third largest city in Japan. Most importantly, I knew that it was the home of super group Shonen Knife.

Who is Shonen Knife? They're a Ramon's-influenced, pop-punk band made up of three ladies from Osaka. They've been around since 1981 and I first saw them in West Hollywood (Los Angeles) in 1992. What makes them so good is that they're normal-looking "girls" from Japan who rock out punk-rock style. The story goes that they started out making music before they could even play their instruments and that they would take time off from their office jobs to tour. Since their grass-roots beginnings, they've gone on to put out over a dozen albums, open shows for Nirvana, and tour all over the world.

On Saturday, I was in the Amerikamura area of Osaka when I got a flier with a picture of the band on it. It was announcing a FREE (!!!) Shonen Knife show (!!!) that started in about 15 minutes (!!!) at a small record store (!!!).


What??? Shonen Knife??? At a record store??? In Osaka??? Had I died and gone to heaven??? No. It turns out that they were doing a record-release party at the store. The show ended up lasting about 30 minutes and they played about 6 songs or so. Here's one photo of the show:


Did I mention that they supposedly make their own clothes? They're a cute bunch. After the performance, they did a meet-and-greet. I was lucky enough to get this photo with the band (yes-it looks like I'm behind a cardboard cut out but I was really there):


This is a video I shot with my (not-so-steady) digi-camera of "On Top Of The World", which just happens to be one of my favorites. (The fourth girl, second from the left, is the original bassist who now lives in Los Angeles but was in Osaka so she stood in for a couple of songs.) Try to be unhappy after you listen to this:



Now that you've seen them and love them too, you need to visit their website and then buy some of their music on Amazon (or iTunes, which I couldn't figure out how to link to). If you're interested in seeing them live, they're starting a U.S. and Canada tour in about a week to support their new release. Go see them. They rock!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Checking Out Musical Paintings

While in San Diego I stayed with my friends Dave and Andrew in Andrew's house in Carlsbad. To say their place is a hub of creativity would be an understatement. Dave's (among other things) an artist, a webmaster, a budding musician, and an excellent writer. Andrew's a programmer, a master problem solver, a painter/artist, and also a musician. On any given day that you stop by their place, they might be: working on RF-controlled model planes, playing music, painting, practicing martial arts, and/or circuit bending. It's the intersection of a couple of these interests that grabbed my attention while I was there.

As you might know about me by now, I love places, events, and things where different elements intersect. I've written in the past about places where cultures intersect but I also enjoy when someone has fused together different ideas and turned them into something new. Andrew has taken his enjoyment of painting and circuit bending and has transformed these disparate things into this:


What you're seeing is a painting, which Andrew made, wired with a home-made musical instrument. Not only can you look at and enjoy his paintings, you get to play them at the same time. Here's Andrew showing the reverse view of the above painting:


Each painting/instrument is unique. Some are "free standing" in that all the music controls are on and in the painting. You control the sound experience by touching the painting itself. Others are tied into "real" musical instruments like an organ and/or pedals on the floor. One I particularly liked had a toy gun connected to it, which allowed you to pull the trigger to change the sound. You can see the toy gun on the keyboard in the above photo. Here's another painting with only a couple of visible controls:


Since you really need to see and hear the artwork to appreciate what they've done with it, I took some videos of random pieces of Andrew's performances. In this first one, Andrew is playing a three-piece painting that is connected to the organ he is sitting at.

video

The second video is of Andrew playing one of the "stand-alone" paintings:

video

Andrew and Dave are working on some ideas based what they've already done. I loved the ideas and hope that they can actually build them out. Thanks Dave and Andrew for letting me crash at your place. I had a great time and I love your creativity. Keep up the good work! :-)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Eating Paletas

I had lunch on Monday with my old coworkers and took the opportunity to visit my friend Steve on the way home...but I just couldn't show up empty handed. :-) Since I was in Escondido anyway and it was like 90 degrees out, I decided to pick up some paletas at my favorite paleteria, Paleteria Azteca (by the way, yes, this is another food post):


If you're not familiar, paleta is the Spanish word for popsicle. Paletas are (mostly) fruit flavored popsicles that are popular in Mexico and the Latino communities of southern California. What makes these extra special are that they are usually homemade and they come in a ton of different flavors, most with chunks of fruit or some other filling. Some popular flavors are mango, coconut, strawberry, and so on. Here's a shot of one of the display cases:


My absolute all-time favorite flavor is called Leche Quemada (leh-chey kay-mada), which means burnt milk. I think of it like a slightly carmelly and creamy milk flavor. I picked up two of those, a strawberry, and a mango and headed over to Steve's house. Here's some more stock:


Yum yum! If you're in north county San Diego, run by the shopping center at the corner of Broadway and Washington streets in Escondido. The paleteria is kinda' in the corner by the oil change place. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Oceanside, California

Today's post is a little different than the usual because it's not about somewhere new or about an experience that I had recently. It's actually about a place I lived for 17 years. Oceanside California. I thought that it'd be interesting for all the folks that I've met recently and/or that have never been here to see where I'm from. (Yes, I was born and raised in Philadelphia but I answer Oceanside when asked where I'm from since I spent my 20s and 30s here.)

I had lots of fun running around taking the photos for this post because I approached it like every other story I've written, as an outsider seeing something for the first time. In other words, I was a tourist in my own town.

Oceanside is located about 35 miles (56km) north of downtown San Diego and is the northern-most coastal city in San Diego County. There are about 180,000 residents in what is the third-largest city in the county. The city itself was founded on July 3, 1888 but really started developing when the Spanish missionaries began building the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia in 1798. Here's the front of the mission:


On the northwest end of town, there is a small-boat harbor that is partially shared with the Camp Pendleton Marine base. The harbor has a bunch of restaurants and shops and you can rent kayaks, boats, and jet skis. They also have a couple different companies that do fishing trips. The highlight of the harbor is its New-England-style shops and lighthouse:


South of the harbor, and near the center of downtown, Oceanside has the longest wooden pier in the western US. It's over 1/3 of a mile long and has a restaurant at the end. It's widely used by fisherman as you don't need a license when fishing from a pier. This shot was taken from the street in front of the pier:


...and this one was taken from where the concrete and asphalt base meets the wooden part of the pier:


Along side the pier is an amphitheater that's called "the band shell" by locals. There are many different events held here each year ranging from Easter-Sunday services to sports events to big-name concerts. (You might recognize it from the movie Bring It On - okay, maybe you didn't see that one - but you should). What's really funny for me was that the first skateboarding video that I ever saw was a taping of a skate contest that was held here in the early 80s. Growing up in Philadelphia, it amazed me that skateboarding was big enough to have a contest in a location like this. What's even more amazing is that I got to live within five or six blocks of it for so many years.


Oceanside has what I consider to be the best climate of anywhere I've ever been in the world. Daily average highs range from 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18C) during the winter to 74 degrees (23C) during the summer. Oh yeah, it's a desert too...very low humidity!!! When I tell people this they can't believe that such a place exists. It's true. The weather is perfect year round. Obviously, the beach is popular with such good weather. Here's a shot of the beach south of the pier taken from the pier:


...and another one towards the pier taken from Tyson Street Park along The Strand (this one's got to be the "classic" southern California beach photo):


Just up from the pier is one example of the famous sites you find all over southern California. This house, located about four blocks from where I lived, was used as Kelly McGillis' character's house in the movie Top Gun. If you get the chance to see the movie again, just after they have that ab-show scene where Cruise is playing volleyball, he rides his motorcycle up a hill near the beach to arrive at McGillis' house. The house is now boarded up and is scheduled to be used as a coffee house in a new resort hotel being built on this site:


Moving up about four blocks from the beach, we come to Coast Highway, also known as "The 101" and/or Pacific Coast Highway. In Oceanside, it doesn't run along the beach like it does in some other areas of California. This shot was taken facing north at the intersection of Coast Highway and Wisconsin Avenue (you gotta' love the palm trees):


The Irving Gill inspired Oceanside City Hall and library are located on Coast Highway about three blocks from the pier


If you know me you know that I love, love, love, love, love going out to breakfast. A couple of my favorite breakfast spots in the whole world are along this stretch of highway. Here's the Longboarder Cafe across the street from city hall:


A little farther south on Coast Highway is the 101 Cafe. Built in 1928, it serves up a mean burger and great shakes. If you ever get the chance to stop in, make sure to say hi to the owner John. He is an O'side local and probably knows more about the downtown area than pretty much anyone else.


Just to make sure I've covered all the good food spots, this is the Hill Street Cafe. It gets its name from Hill Street, which is what this stretch of Coast Highway used to be called. What started out as a coffee house has become so much more...really good gourmet food at reasonable prices. The place is currently owned and operated by a husband and wife that also own the sushi place next store. Their deal is that they want to serve super healthy, organic-when-possible food at good prices. They kick butt and take names in doing so.


Finally, this is a shot down one of the residential streets just east of Coast Highway where I used to live. It's like something out of a story book. Nice, old-fashioned, reasonable-sized, simple houses that were built in the early 1900s. I was lucky to have had the opportunity to live in the neighborhood for so long.


It's great to be back in the "O" once again. I've gotten to travel to some amazing places in my life. I know I'm biased, but there's definitely no place like home. Woooooooooo!!! Oceanside!!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nifty Fifty's (Philadelphia)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I worked at a 50's-themed restaurant called Nifty Fifty's in Philadelphia. They have five locations in the Philadelphia area but the one I worked at was on Grant Avenue in the northeast:


It's basically a hamburger joint that's decorated in the 50's style and has 50's music playing on a jukebox. Here's one interior shot:


and one more:


Nifty Fifty's is a fun, family restaurant. They have burgers, fries, shakes, and a decent breakfast among other things. My typical order when I go is a cheese burger, spicy cheese fries (with Cheez Whiz), and a peanut butter and jelly milkshake (vanilla ice cream with peanut butter and grape syrup added - trust me - it's amazing).

What makes Nifty's particularly special for me is that my brother, sister, sister-in-law, and I all worked there at some point. We all still share the common lingo and can give each other that "Nifty's look". I remember it as being a pretty fun place to work. It was relatively easy too because the food is served in baskets (light weight), people are generally there to have fun (fewer cranky people), and the tables turn over quickly (more people - more tips). Here's a shot of my dad, brother Kevin, sister-in-law Zahra, and their son Rory on our recent visit:


Since I don't the chance to be in too many family photos, we stopped and took this one of me with my brother and his happy family as we left:


Thanks again to all the Philly folks for making my latest visit lots of fun. It was great to hang out with everyone and I can't wait to come back and do it again soon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Philadelphia's Italian Market

Back in 1976 the movie Rocky came out. If you don't remember, it was about a small-time boxer from Philadelphia that got the opportunity of a lifetime to fight the heavyweight champion of the world.

Rocky ended up being a big hit here in Philadelphia for a couple of reasons. For one, Philadelphia LOVES to root for the underdog and this movie is the classic underdog story of the little guy who gets to take on the man. The other reason is that, throughout the movie, there are scenes showing the city, especially when Rocky is training for the big fight. The most memorable is, for sure, when Rocky runs up the steps of the art museum. Another scene that showed a well-known area of Philadelphia is when he runs through the Italian Market:


I was in the area this past week so I thought I'd stop by to check it out. The Italian Market is America's oldest outdoor market and is located on south 9th street just past the original boundaries of the city in what was, and still is, a largely immigrant neighborhood. This photo shows what the market looks like today. As you can see, it's been cleaned up a bunch since the movie was filmed here.


The "market" is a combination of outdoor stands selling fruit, vegetables, and household items as well as a series of (indoor) stores that have meat, cheeses, and other foods for sale. These are some of the outdoor stalls:


This is one of the inside of one of the shops that now sell gourmet food:


The area has always been an immigrant neighborhood, first populated by Italians (thus the name Italian Market). More recently the face of the neighborhood has started to diversify. You now have Mexicans/Latinos, Vietnamese, Koreans, among others. In my opinion, it's made it even more interesting. Here's a Mexican Bakery and food store that I saw that looked good:


At one end of the market is a giant mural of Frank Rizzo, a former mayor of the city. If you're not from Philadelphia, you've probably never heard of him. If you are familiar with him, you'll know that he's either loved or hated by many. To be honest, I was too young when he was in office but, even today, I find it funny, but not surprising, that he is in this mural. Like Rocky, he's a beloved native son.


Philadelphia's Italian Market is not quite as scenic as the La Boqueria, but it's definitely a cool little piece of history in a city full of history. I especially love how the immigration mix has changed over time and that the market reflects those changes. If you find yourself retracing Rocky's training routine, make sure to stop by the market for some snacks before your run up the steps at the art museum.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wildwood, New Jersey

Yep...back in the the ole US of A again visiting with the family before setting off on my next adventure. This week we find our world traveler in none other than Wildwood, New Jersey. I had the chance to visit my old summer-time stomping grounds with my dad, sister, brother-in-law, and my three nieces.

My earliest memories of Wildwood are probably from sometime in grade school. We would load up the family car and make the 90-mile trip from Philadelphia. In those days, it would take us like three-to-four hours to get there because the Atlantic City Expressway hadn't opened yet. Now, it's more like 70 minutes or so. What always amazed me then, and what I really appreciate now, is that no matter what the financial situation was for my parents in a given year, they always made sure that we had that one-week vacation "down the shore".

Upon arriving, we'd check into one of the many fine motels in town and spend the next week going to the beach, swimming in the motel pool, playing mini golf, "walking the boards", going on rides, and generally just being in vacation mode as a family. Looking back, they were some great times.

I also have some fond memories of times that I went down with my friends. One week that was particularly fun was Senior Week. During Senior Week, all the recently-graduated high-school seniors descend on Wildwood for one last hurrah. Umm...it was a fun time!

Well, times have changed. Now, instead of staying in some random motel, we get to sack out at my dad's condo, which is right across from the beach. It's way cleaner, well stocked with food and alcohol, and in a great location near both the beach AND a Wawa!

The gang started out our first day with some quality beach time. Wildwood probably has some of the widest beaches in the whole world. I actually burned my feet walking across the hot sand this week. Here's a photo down the beach with one of the boardwalk piers to the right and the ocean to the left:


Of course, there's always the "bury-your-family-member-in-the-sand time". Here's one of Cori burying Brynn. I think they traded places about five minutes later.


No beach day at the shore would be complete without buying some ice cream from the "Fudgy-Wudgy man". The Fudgy-Wudgy man walks up and down the beach all day yelling "fudgy wudgies" while hawking his ice-cream treats that have been frozen to temperatures that are colder than the surface of the dark side of the moon. Here's when I know I'm old...in the past, the F.W. man had to carry his heroin-like treats in a big cooler on his back. Today, with OSHA rules and regulations, he gets a swanky cart. Here's Kasey, Cori, Brynn, and my sister Jackie (with kid #4 in the oven) buying snacks:


Wildwood's not really known for its big surf but you will see some people out. My niece Kasey is currently working on her form (my goal is to live my life as happy as she looks in this photo):


After hanging at the beach and then getting a nice pool swim in, we headed up to the boardwalk for dinner and some rides. Wildwood's boardwalk is over two miles long and has restaurants, shops, and amusement piers with rides and games. This is a shot facing south just after sunset:


One of the most (in)famous things on the boardwalk is the "Tram Car". This trackless train travels up and down the boardwalk all day and evening with its speaker repeating over and over and over and over and over again "watch the tram car please". If you've ever seen/heard it, you understand.


As I mentioned, the boardwalk has a variety of thrill rides you can go on. Here's a shot of my dad and Brynn on one of the roller coasters:


When you're in that vacation mode, your usual diet of grilled-chicken salads, a variety of fruit, as well as the whole-grains sometimes goes out the window. The boardwalk is a great place to indulge your vacation needs. Here's one of my favorites, Curley's Fries, where you can get some of the most amazing, fresh-cut fries around:


After you're done with your fries, you probably are going to need something sweet. Kohr Bros. has been around forever and is a great place to get some soft-serve ice cream. I can remember many nights as a kid when our last stop would be here.


With dinner and our boardwalk fun behind us, we headed back to the condo to put the kids to bed and have some much-deserved adult beverages. My dad was the bar tender this time and he served us up some mean coconut rum and diet cokes. Thanks dad!

The next morning, we headed out early to do some crabbing at a nearby inlet. For as long as I can remember, my dad's been taking us out to catch crabs. My guess is that it started out as a way to keep us busy since crabbing is much easier to get the hang of than fishing. You basically tie a piece of greasy fish to a string with a weight attached, throw it into the water, and let it sink to the bottom. You wait about a minute and then super-so-slowly bring the bait back up to the surface. If you're lucky, wait, skilled, you'll have a crab or two on the line. Here's my dad schooling us on the correct form:


And finally, here's the whole gang (minus sister who's taking the photo) having fun crabbing:


All in all, a great time. They say you can never come home again. Actually, I think that they might be right but it is definitely fun to visit. Thanks to my family for a fun weekend!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Catalan Nationalism

By now, if you've been reading my blog about my time in Barcelona, you'll see that I frequently talk about Catalunya, even more so than Spain. Catalunya (Catalonia in English) is a region of northern Spain and southern France that has its own language and, in many ways, its own culture. It wasn't until I visited southern France recently that I really understood how strong the Catalan traditions and culture are. While there, I was surprised that I saw the same Catalan flags on display and the people were speaking Catalan and French in the same proportions that people in Spainish part of Catalunya speak Catalan and Spanish. In other words, a lot of Catalan...

The term Catalunya started to be used to describe the region in the 12th century with Catalan culture developing during the middle ages. Starting with the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand (The Catholic Monarchs) in 1469, the power and influence of Catalunya seems to have started its gradual decline mostly losing out to the central Spainish government over time. There was an outright ban on using Catalan, including giving Catalan names to children at birth, during the rule of Franco. It wasn't until his death in 1975 that Catalunya regained a great deal of its political and cultural independence.

Today, the Generalitat of Catalunya is the local government agency responsible for managing the day-to-day activities of the region, including education, health, policing, culture, and so on. In many ways, Catalunya is separate from the centralized Spanish government. Note the "in many ways". The ways in which it is not, including things like taxation, that are like a splinter for the Catalan residents.

One of the things that I am most interested in with all of this is the somewhat common desire to have some sort of Catalan nation. This "movement" ranges from being proud of the Catalan culture all the way up to desiring an independent Catalan nation that is separate from Spain and France. As with any movement, symbolism plays a big part in the identity of the group. What follows is a collection of photos showing the nationalist sentiment.

The first photo is a sculpture of Sant Jordi (Saint George in English) slaying a dragon that is on the front of Casa Amatller in Barcelona. Sant Jordi, the story goes, saved a town by slaying a dragon that had been terrorizing it. The imagery is particularly strong for the Catalan people because the dragon is seen by many as the central power in Madrid and Sant Jordi is freeing Catalunya.


Right next door to the Amatller house is the Casa Batllo. During the remodel of this house by Gaudi, he added what looks like the side of a dragon to its roof line. There is the belief that this is the same dragon image and the four-sided cross that is used in many Gaudi projects is actually the end Sant Jordi's sword sticking out from the slain dragon.


The next widely used symbol of an independent Catalunya is the Catalan Donkey. While in Spain, I've heard many stories of the donkey including that it was used by the United States during a war because of its strength and stamina. It seems that it has become such a strong symbol for Catalunya in response to the popularity of the image of the Osborne bull (Toro) in central Spain. This photo is of a T-shirt with the donkey in front of the Catalan flag:


This is a photo of another T-shirt showing the Catalan donkey kicking the Spanish bull:


The donkey image can also be found as a sticker on many cars in Catalunya much as the Toro sticker in other parts of Spain. (I never did figure out what the sheep image represents as it's also found on many cars.)


The next photo was taken at a rally/demonstration in Barcelona that was protesting a cut in pay for government employees. All the flags and other images on display were Catalan.


Finally, all over Catalunya, you can find graffiti and signs expressing the opinions of whoever placed them there. The first is one I found taped to a pole near the beach in Cadaques:


The next one is probably my favorite graffiti. I've seen in all over and this one is near the Formula1 track in Montmello outside of Barcelona. Note that in both cases that they are written in English.


Thanks to Pili for telling me what you know about St. Jordi and Casa Battlo in particular. Also, I'd like to apologize to my Catalan friends if I've written anything that is incorrect or even outright offensive. (Please let me know if I have and I will update this post.)