Sunday, April 24, 2016

Artistic interlude

It seems like I'm destined to continue coughing and sniffling until the end of time. Rather than let blahdeblahblah languish entirely, I opt to share a couple of paintings that amused at the National Gallery a few weeks ago because, by gum, artists are sometimes jokers.

In support of this statement, I present two works by J.F. Peto:

Titled: English Breakfast

Titled: Breakfast

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Birds of the East. Also Trees.

White-throated sparrow, Prospect Park
Blue jay and eastern squirrel, DC
House sparrow, looking presidential, DC
As reported earlier, I saw some old friends that, sadly, I can't count as new birds since I'd definitely seen them before. These included grackles and blue jays. Neither bird is necessarily appreciated where they are common but for the visitor, they are handsome creatures (and made a welcome change from the ubiquitous house sparrows, fine though the gregarious weaver finch might be).

I refuse to feel bad about not birding in Central Park because, I tell you, I loved Prospect Park. I saw five woodpeckers there, including the extremely obliging downy hanging out on the cattails by the pot-smokers. Admittedly, I've not been to Central Park in more than a decade but I don't remember it having any pretence of a wooded area whereas Prospect Park does have a bit of faux woods that reminded me, oh so slightly, of the woods of New England. Scott notes that the woods of the East, in colonial times, had so little underbrush as to allow a person (a man, I'm sure) to ride a horse through them at a gallop. The woodlands of the East are just different from the fir-heavy forests of the West, what with the moss and the nursery logs and the like that we take for granted here. I felt an odd yearning, I did, when I saw those patches of sun-dappled trees from the train, and I insisted upon walking through the wooded area at Prospect Park. That it happened to contain a number of new birds was just a bit of frosting on the cake. 

The photos that follow are not particularly brilliant but, as I explained to Carl, I take a million photos so I can later identify what I've seen. And what did I see? Well!

New birds:
Cardinal (DC and Brooklyn)
Northern Mockingbird (DC)
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Brooklyn)
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Brooklyn)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Brooklyn)
Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker (DC and Brooklyn)
Eastern Phoebe (Brooklyn)
Pine Warbler (Brooklyn) 
Ring-billed Gull (DC)

Pine warbler, Prospect Park
Mourning dove, Prospect Park
Hairy woodpecker - Prospect Park
Brown-headed cowbird - DC
Northern mockinbird - DC
Owl, Adoration of the Christ Child, National Gallery, DC
Red-bellied woodpecker, Prospect Park
Ring-billed gull, DC
Mute swan, Prospect Park
Yellow-bellied sapsucker, displaying the yellow belly, Prospect Park
Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Prospect Park
Young American robin, Prospect Park
Red-winged blackbird, Prospect Park
Eastern phoebe, Prospect Park
Downy woodpecker, Prospect Park
Pine warbler, Prospect Park
Snowy egret, Prospect Park

Ruddy duck, Prospect Park
White-breasted nuthatch, Prospect Park
Cardinal at National Zoo, DC
Grackle at pond in Prospect Park
Other birds on the trip included:
American robins
House sparrows
House finches
White-throated sparrows
European starlings
Canada geese
Ruddy ducks
Mute swans
Snowy egrets
Blue jays
Red-winged blackbirds
Turkey vultures
Bald eagle
Mourning doves
Brown-headed cowbirds
Hairy woodpecker
Downy woodpecker

Conspicuously absent:
Hummingbirds of any variety
Chickadees, ditto
Song sparrow

Disclaimer and Apology: This post is something of a mess. Photos refuse to appear where I intend them to go and the text formatting has been occasionally challenging as well. God knows how many typos there might be. But hey. It's that bird post I've promised.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

End of DC and all of NYC

[[Final, time-delayed report of our exciting trip to The East Coast. See earlier installments here, here, and here. This post was written on the flight back to Seattle. By now, we've been home for almost a week and we both have the flu. Wheeee!]]

I suppose it’s not entirely surprising—and perhaps it won’t be a huge disappointment to the readers of blahdeblahblah—that on the fourth through sixth, or maybe even seventh, day. I rested, or at least failed to write daily reports. Now I’m even vague as to how many days it has been.

Friday was the travel day so after clearing out of our charming, but still wi-fi–challenged apartment, we dropped our luggage at the baggage storage at Union Station and then caught the red line to the National Zoo, which like most of DC’s federal attractions, is free. If I’ve not mentioned it in an earlier post, I’ll say now, DC is a fabulous spot for families and the budget-conscious because, once you’ve got a place to stay, pretty much everything else is free. Well, you still have to pay for your food, but museums, monuments, etc. are largely free—which maybe explains the crowds everywhere.

We didn’t have a ton of time at the zoo so we made pretty directly for the prime attraction: the
No autographs, please
YouTube star panda. There was no snow, but the adult enjoyed some bamboo on what was once the snowy hill while the youngster parked itself high in a fir tree. We also had a look at some of the other animals including the bison, the lions, and, thanks to some help from a zoo volunteer, the cheetah that I initially took for a log. All too soon it was time to get back to the station where I did my best to make us miss the train, or so it might have seemed to an outside observer.

Ring-tailed lemurs were quite frolicsome at the zoo
The train between DC and NYC has many stops but it was lovely to see the woods and the houses and buildings as we chugged along. There is a lot of water along the way as well. Penn Station, in NYC, was a madhouse, a word I somehow think I’ve used more than once in this travelogue. After a string of voicemails and texts (“Where are you? We’re on the first level.” “Go up the escalator.” “We went up the escalator and now we’re outside where it’s damned cold; where are you?” “Just stay there.”), we met up with the Wohlreillys and great was the rejoicing—as well as bitching about the cold. The sketchiness of this report is about to become ever so much more sketchy.

NYC is an amazing city and we had a fabulous time visiting the Frick (which was on the list; no photos as photography is not allowed there) and also Prospect Park (which I’d never really heard of before) and deciding to drop the plan to go to the Met (it seems that one can just be museumed out after a few days), and, sadly, not making it the Cloisters. Again.

The Wohlreillys know the most excellent places for everything so we had a lovely meal at Palo Santo on Friday and heard the most amazing band, Anbessa Orchestra, at Barbes Saturday night. Sunday, which would be last night, meaning that this must be Monday and Monday must be the seventh day, Sunday night we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge which is even more gorgeous at night than it is during the day, and we stayed up far too late drinking every drop in their place and talking about everything under the sun.
Frolicking on the Brooklyn Bridge
 This morning started late so it’s fortunate that Dizzy’s serves breakfast all day. We wandered a bit, hitting  Greenlight Bookstore and a bagel shop before stopping briefly back at the Wohlreilly condo to collect our luggage and then hurried along to the nearest Long Island Railroad station where, thanks to some masterful maneuvering during which I was a complete bystander, Scott and I caught the 3:56 train to Jamaica where we transferred to the train to JFK.  Maybe, Imaginary Reader, you ask why you’ve read this dull report. I assure you that this LIR to JFK travel tip is well worth wading through all the rest.

 I add as my final travel pointer that JFK’s C terminal is sadly lacking in decent fleshpots but that apparently no one is going to object if you drink a can of beer while waiting at the C45 gate. Which you would have been wanting to do yourself if you were me and realized, far too late, that your compression sleeve and glove were in that bag that was, by now, irrecoverably checked. Fingers crossed that this scarf I’ve wrapped around the delicate left will be more effective than seems likely.
View towards Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge

To come, maybe,  a post all about birds!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Final Day of DC report: Museums, 3 / Orioles 0

 [[Once more, this is a delayed broadcast. See here and here for the first two installments.]]

Alas, it had to happen eventually and last night was that inevitable night. When we staggered in after a long day of sightseeing I opted for bath, book, and tea over writing up the day’s adventures and of course first thing this morning we had to be packing up and heading out the door. It has not been until now that we’re safely aboard Train #94 north out of Union Station that I’ve had a moment to write this Day 3, DC installment and already it’s more difficult to remember yesterday than seems altogether reasonable. Bravely, I persevere.

 We woke to rain and while it wasn’t too bad as I dashed the short block to the nearest provider of  morning pastry, by the time we were leaving the apartment officially for the day it was seriously pouring and we were half-soaked in the few minutes it took to reach the nearest Metro. Nonetheless, I was pleased to see the rain since it made it a perfect day for museum-visiting which was the order of the day. As it turned out, the weather was changeable all damned day, with it showering ever so lightly on arrival at the National Gallery so we walked through another part of the Outdoor Sculpture Park. There we saw some old friends: a giant eraser, a metal tree, and, most unexpectedly, a Parisian Metro Station.
I confess I had been a bit worried abut what Vermeers the  National Gallery would have to offer since their website didn’t seem to make much of it. I needn’t have worried; Scott pointed to the banners on the side of the building and asked, “Isn’t that . . . ?” Much to my embarrassment, I didn’t think it was. There are times when I don’t care how provincial I might appear to be so I freely asked at the information desk what they had in the way of Vermeers and where to look. It turned out that while one was on loan somewhere, they still had 2.5 on display; the “.5” is because it’s a painting “attributed to” rather than necessarily “by.” It was nice, regardless of who painted it, but my favorite was the middle painting, “Women with Balance.”

For the less Vermeer-obsessed, I note that the Gallery also had a decent selection of RembrandtsAnd, if Dutch painters aren’t exactly your thing, you might like the Degas, the Monet, the Manet, and Renoir. But maybe, like us, you’ve been to Paris recently enough that you’ve seen enough impressionists to last you a while. In that case, I’d recommend the rooms with the Turner, Whistler, Homer, Hopper, et al.  We gave short shrift to the Italians, aside from seeing “the one DaVinci painting in North America,” and, to be honest, we skipped a lot ofther stuff as well. Schedule to keep, don’t you know, which no, did not prevent us from stopping by the Vermeer room a few more times.
My new favorite Van Gogh
Oh, and the National Gallery also has half dozen or more Van Goghs, a few of which did less for me and one of which I quite adored.

The thing you don’t realize while you’re in the art museum is that groups of children being subjected to painting and the odd sculpture are relatively quiet. Once they get to the Natural History Museum, their lungs really open up. It was a madhouse there so we kept that visit pretty short, limiting ourselves to the Hope Diamond (it seemed a shame to snub it) and a lot of animal skeletons, including what they had to offer in the way of dinosaurs (because, yes, what we really wanted were dinosaurs).
T-Rex at the Natural History Museum
  On fighting our way out of the Natural Science Throng, we found that it was seriously bucketing down. Talk of finding a nice hotel restaurant in which to have a civilized and restorative cup of tea was forgotten and we hurried across the mall to reach what I insist upon thinking of as the Aeronautic Museum when I’m not calling it “like the Museum of Flight.” (Officially it’s the National Air and Space Museum.) Here we found ourselves fully understanding why the Smithsonian is called “America’s Attic.” The Spirit of St Louis” is heaped atop a practice Lunar Landing Capsule while my father’s Piper Cub is in danger of crashing atop Amelia Erhart’s Lockheed Vega.  By this time, we were both pretty weary so we sat and admired the real Wright Flyer (they are very proud about having the true original and all the signage stresses that what you’re looking at, yes, okay, what is on display has new canvas but it’s the original, not one of the many replicas out there so be impressed, damn it.) We were impressed, but we were also tired, and, for readers of Mona in the Desert, it lacked the personal connection of the American Airlines stewardess school requirements. (Are you an unmarried white woman, aged 21 to 26, weighing not more than 135 pounds, with two years or nursing school or college and just short of Hollywood gorgeous? Then you could be eligible for acceptance into stewardess training!)

 Do I remember anything like that level of detail about the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo Missions? Not so much. Mona has a lot to answer for.

 As above, so full a day of culture absorption led to a quiet night in. Obabakoak continues to charm.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Washington DC, Day 2 - Buildings and Birds

 [[Again, this post was written a week ago. See "yesterday's post" for Day 1.]]

According to Scott, there is no internet. One assumes that he means there is no connection to the internet from our charming Washington DC address and not that the internet itself has been wiped out but how would we know? How odd, really, that something that didn’t exist a few dozen years ago should have become so central to existence.
  Our second day in DC—or our first proper day—was downright exhausting and after returning to the apartment and having a restorative cocktail, I took to the bathtub with some bath salts purchased at the L’Occitane outlet at Union Station which was quite the bustling spot—the train station, not the tub, which was as peaceful as one might wish. In the bath, I read this fine bit from Obabakoak:

Hunting has always seemed to me a cruel pastime and my habit of giving names to animals—something I’ve done since I was a child – prevents me ever doing harm to any creature, however repellent. Imagine, for example, that you have a cockroach living in your house and one day it occurs to you to christen that cockroach Jose Maria, and then it’s Jose Maria this and Jose Maria that, and very soon the creature becomes a sort of small, black person, who may turn out to be timid or irritable or even a little conceited. And obviously in that situation you wouldn’t dream of putting poison down around the house. Well, you might consider it as an option but no more often than you would for any other friend.

Me and my velo!
Today we saw no cockroaches. No, we walked and biked (hurrah Capital Bikeshare!)

 and then walked a great deal more about The National Mall which turns out to be a lot more extensive than I’d realized. We wrestled with the problem of getting the Washington Monument to fit into a frame when I’d brought only my long lens on today’s expedition, and we were somewhat moved by the Lincoln Memorial where I was exceedingly taken with a particular bit of the second inaugural address (see below) and Scott noted that Mr Lincoln likely wouldn’t be altogether comfortable with the Roman empire touches to his statue. We had as good a look as one can get at the White House and learned we were too late in the day to get into Congress and we admired the size of the Library of Congress and considered the bulk of the Supreme Court building. There are, it is to be noted, a lot of very large edifices in DC. It was comforting to find my old friends the Seven Burghers of Calais hanging out in the Outdoor Sculpture Garden.

Those pesky burghers
And, hey! Along with about a million American robins, two million European starlings, and three million house sparrows, I saw some new birds. One cardinal kindly put in an appearance as did a handful of what we finally identified as northern mockingbirds.

Cardinal--not as bright as I'd expected but I think it's a male
We saw an astounding number of some old childhood friends, the grackle, as well as a trio of what I’ve always considered to be “proper” blue jays. There was a fine example of a white-throated sparrow in the Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the old Smithsonian Castle, as well as a pair of mourning doves, and a great many brownheaded cowbirds. Flying over the Mall we saw a pair of what we’re currently classifying as a pair of golden eagles though I’m not entirely confident about that ID. So, two new birds, two old friends, some seen-them-before-but-not-often birds, and one somewhat dodgy ID with no photos to work with. Sadly, a dip on the Baltimore oriole. Scott says they’re on the road; I say, “Maybe tomorrow.”
White-throated sparrow
Northern mockingbird
 Tomorrow, however, is to be given over to museums, like as not, assuming our feet don’t go on strike after today’s endless march. Today’s epiphany, which maybe doesn’t count as an epiphany since it’s something Scott said over breakfast: Washington DC is a southern city. That’s why everyone is so damned nice and no one seems to be in a hurry. (Sadly, the latter remains true of the connection to the internet.)
My favorite bit of the second inaugural address

I end with a shot of today’s purchases:
Just a few of life necessities, rye and pistachios and bathsalts and a coffee press
 and today's constant companion:
Washington Monument over the Reflection Pool (as seen from the Lincoln Memorial)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Day One: Washington DC

Scott and I managed to get up and out the door in time to catch our flight to Washington DC this morning [in truth, a week ago now; this is a delayed broadcast] which, frankly, is the sort of thing that always impresses me when it happens. Oh, we didn't hear them announce the flight so were among the last ones to actually board, thus ruining the day of the woman who thought she'd have all three seats next to the toilets to herself but the important thing is that we did get on board. (The C gates were packed at Seatac for some reason, so we had to sit some distance away from our gate. We're not so oblivious that we'd miss everyone else getting up and getting in line to board the plane.)

The flight was just what a flight should be: unremarkable. We noted, for the first time, the way clouds cast shadows on the land below. Montana, which doesn't offer a lot of other things to notice from however many thousands of feet above, allowed us to observe things like the shadows clouds cast. I also noticed that on a cross-country flight Alaska Airlines doesn't offer a whole lot in the way of free snacks. Last time we went to Boise, which was about half a year ago, there was complimentary beer and wine. This flight, not so much. And, yes, it's not like anyone needed liquor, free or otherwise, on a mid-day flight. I was glad I'd purchased crackers and chevre at the Beechers shop near the gate, however.

 Washington DC is damned cold, as it turns out, and we're regretting not having packed gloves. I don't know why I didn't bring a hat. But our little pied a terre is pretty darned dear, lack of places to hang clothes notwithstanding. It does have a tea kettle and some sweet bay windows. There's even a copy of Antonia White's The Lost Traveller on the shelves. Combine that with the gas oven and, well, you have a spot to die for.

 We haven't done much other than acquaint ourselves with the Metro system, buy a few groceries, and have dinner.  We had to ask at the Dulles Airport but now we know that you go down the ramp at Door 4 and cross the street to get to 2B to catch the 5A to DC, which 5A will cost you $7 per person. The directions lose something without the accent of the volunteer who gave them to Scott. The driver of the 5A kindly explained to me that they don't give transfers anymore and that we should buy a Smarttrip card at the Plaza d'Enfants station where we'd be transferring to the green or yellow line. Okay, so he didn't tell us about the green or yellow line; that much we managed on our own. We did require help to buy the damned cards, however; seriously, I should just have a neon sign that flashes "TOURIST" on my forehead.

 The Giant Food was perhaps the highlight of the evening. For one thing, I'd assumed the Utz brand of potato chips had been an invention of the "Mad Men" writers but, it turns out, not so much. The checkout was very slow, allowing me to appreciate the cover of the March issue of Washingtonian magazine which offered, "In Defense of Washington: America loves to say mean things about our town. Here's what to say back." I had no idea that DC felt picked on by mean bullies like me. Perhaps that's why I wanted to be extra nice to the checker who was, admittedly, quite nice back to me but who also blamed us for the lousy weather DC has been experiencing this year. We just got here this afternoon, you know? (I can't help noticing as I write this fascinating little update, however, that the internet connection at the room sort of sucks. Maybe that's one of the mean things people say about DC.)

En route to dinner (which was at Room 11 and was pretty darned excellent. The risotto and salad was fine; the burger, I'm told, was proficient; it looked pretty bloody. The drinks were good and despite the young urban professsionals at the next table, the ambiance was lovely. I'm in a parenthetical, aren't I?) . . . en route to dinner we had the pleasure of seeing a rodent dart across the sidewalk to disappear under a trash can. It was, we agreed, a rat of an agreeable size; not one of those Norwegian Blues that you see in Ballard. That the bathroom of the nearby Room 11 had bats on the wallpaper was, I am sure, just an amusing coincidence.

Now it's late, for those on the East Coast, and we hope to explore the Mall and maybe the zoo if the weather is decent tomorrow or, if it's not, check out the Vermeers at the National Gallery. In short, it's time to find out if the bed is as comfortable as one would like.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A pollinator with a bad reputation

Public Enemy #1?
 You might think I'm talking about the slackerly mason bees who, as far as I can tell, have not yet woken from their slumber. Well, Scott has peered into the bee house and thinks that possibly two of the cocoons have opened but I haven't witnessed any exciting coming and going and, believe you me, I have been watching.

 Meanwhile, I've been noticing some other pollinators buzzing about, and not just the attractive avian ones either, though there have been plenty of those. No, this morning I was out front (quite frankly, admiring the tulips because they're particularly gobsmacking this weekend)

and I noticed an odd little fuzzy bug that wasn't quite bee but also wasn't quite anything else. It had the oddest way of snapping its wings into position when it landed, making me almost wonder if it was a bee drone robot. It was a fascinating little creature and seemed determined to work over the forget-me-nots so I raced into the house to fetch my camera so I could get some photos. One of these days, I tell you, I'm getting a macro lens. For now, it's a long lens and standing a ways back.

This evening I've had a chance to google and, surprisingly, quickly came up with what seems like a pretty positive identification. My little front yard pollinator is a bee fly, which the feds would have you believe is an insect with some bad habits. It seems it likes to lay its eggs in the nests of bees, and, of course, not satisfied with forcing another bee to provide for its young, those young devour the larvae of the original bee. So, maybe not so nice, but assuredly hardworking if my visitor this morning was anything to go by. (Now, perhaps, I pause to wonder if my mason bees were, in fact, replaced by these bee flies.)

And it's getting to be the time of year that I first saw the house which means I like to think in terms of "then" (from the original real estate listing):

(Okay, so this is clearly a winter shot)
And "now":
(Addition of cat is always a good move)
And the view in from the side gate:

Because, really, I love it so. The world is in no better shape than it was a week ago, but when the sun is shining in Seattle (two loads of laundry successfully hung out to dry today!), it's much more difficult to maintain a gloomy outlook.