Monday, May 30, 2011

Planes, Time Zones, and Automobiles

I'm writing this from my trusty Hampton Inn-Olathe, Kansas. This marks the third time zone I'll be sleeping in in as many days -- I think Mountain Time is the only one thus far avoided. My body has absolutely no idea what the actual time is right now. Actual time is inconsequential...I think as soon as I finish typing this I'm hitting the sack. Maybe before I finish writing this.

This afternoon between packing and a violin lesson and before heading to the airport I visited Motorcars Honda -- they had found the Honda Accord Coupe in Belize Blue I wanted to test drive at a Columbus-area dealer and had it delivered while I was in California and today was the first day they were open while I was in Ohio. In short I -- and my ladyfriend who was along for the test drive -- loved the car. It felt comfortable, it looked great (I thought the color looked good in the showroom--even better in natural light), handled well.

When I got back to the dealer since the price had already been set it was a matter of getting the paperwork done. I'm a little peeved that they hung a 0.9% APR in front of me and then changed it to 2.9% due to a limited credit history (well, I have one credit card--no balance--and a mortgage, and that's it, so I can't really say I'm surprised, but I wish they would have mentioned that when they pulled my mid-800s credit score last week.*)... more paperwork... Wrote the biggest check of my life to date (my house down payment was a wire transfer), and...I am a new car owner, though I'm not actually taking delivery until I get back to Cleveland on Saturday.

On the flight from Cleveland to Kansas City -- a bit bumpy but otherwise uneventful -- read through the owners manual, warranty booklets, etc... and started to doubt myself slightly: While the Civic was a strong contender early on I pretty much stopped considering it but I can't really articulate a reason why as I can with every other contender that fell by the wayside. Did I make a mistake? Was the price difference between the Accord and Civic worth it?

I rationalized it by saying that the slightly larger engine and additional creature comforts of the Accord pushed it ahead -- my one complaint from Day 1 with my Mercury Tracer was that it did 0-60 in about 20 minutes, and I was determined not to repeat that with my next car. But still -- should I have at least test driven a Civic?

That train of thought was interruped by the horrendous sound of an Embraer ERJ-145 with well-worn brakes touching down and then applying maximum breaking force: If I thought my car's breaks sounded bad...

Landing in Kansas City, that question was unexpectedly answered: After collecting my bags from baggage claim and hopping aboard the rental car shuttle I wound up at the Hertz counter. The first car I was offered was... drumroll, please... a 2011 Honda Civic.

The interiors of the two models are completely different, but a lot of the adjustments are the same. In the 45-minute drive from MCI to Olathe I came to the conclusion that the Civic would not have been the car for me. The cockpit design just feels weird and I couldn't come up with a configuration that was comfortable (my attempts at adjusting the headrest have so far failed and I have a crick in my neck worse than any airline flight has given me). It does handle well and is pretty responsive -- though there was some hesitation with rapid acceleration, and uphill climbs seemed to take some effort.

The dashboard design is interesting -- I like the speedometer placement and size but I don't know that I could get used to the rest of it. And ultimately I just don't care for the cockpit geometry -- it's not horrible (see: Toyota Yaris) or even bad... it's just a tad too compact for my driving style.

At least I can put that one to rest.

Speaking of the Mercury... my salesman suggested (and I'm not supprised) that I'm probably better off donating the car to charity and taking a tax writeoff than trying to do a trade in where at best their offer would be in the low 3-digits. Hmmm...


*- I'm going to formally request a clarification of the reasons for the adverse action, but since it only amounts to a few hundred dollars over the life of the loan, and 2.9% still beats the best rate I could find on the open market...)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

eighth blackbird: Still Life (Cleveland Orchestra/Severance Hall)

Mazzoli: Still Life with Avalanche (2008)
Boulez: Derive 1 (1984)
Hurel: ...a mesure (1996)
Glass: Music in Similar Motion (1969)
Ades: Catch (1991)
Hartke: Meanwhile: Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays (2007)
eighth blackbird at Reinberger Chamber Hall, in Severance Hall
(Tim Munro, flutes; Michael J, Maccaferri, clarinets; Matt Albert, violin/viola; Matthew Duvall, percussion; Lisa Kaplan, piano)

While milling around the foyer before this afternoon's COYO concert a Cleveland Orchestra staffer asked me if I'd be coming back for eighth blackbird -- intentionally lowercase -- tonight. "I'm undecided" I think was my response -- I knew nothing of the group. "You should come". So I stopped by the box office to ask about the group and performance. I found out tickets were free...that changed things a bit.

So my ladyfriend -- who was working while I was gallivanting across the countryside, ahem, attending the COYO concert -- and I reassembled in the Reinberger Chamber Hall (under Severance Hall's main hall) for this evening's concert. I truly had no idea what to expect.

Opening the program was the interesting Still Life with Avalanche with a variety of energetic phrases on top of a constant, droning, bed laid by harmonicas. Boulez's Derive 1 was next up and quite different from Still Life. Throughout the piece the overall sound reminded me of a PBS network ident spot with a frustrated composer inspired by birds on power lines -- I wish I could give a YouTube link, but for the life of me I can't find it on YouTube. Rounding out the first half of the program, and I think my least favorite from the evening was Hurel's a mesure.

Throughout the first three pieces the common thread to me was that they seemed cinematic to me, apt selections to push the story of a film along, but it was my ladyfriend who observed that the lack of a discernible melody was largely what gave them that quality.

Following intermission, Philip Glass's Music in Similar Motion was my favorite with an ever evolving collection of instruments building on a repetitive structure with a generally steady and dramatic feel. It was intoxicating. The program notes remark that "as each new voice enters, there is a dramatic change in the music" -- I disagree. Change yes, but it's more of a natural evolution to the music than an seachange. Thomas Ades's Catch was an piece in which musicians were players not only of instruments but also games -- the clarinet as the outsider, could be found wandering through the hall at times.

Closing out the program was Stephen Hartke's Meanwhile: Incidental Music to Imaginary Puppet Plays. From the title, I really wanted to like the piece... and there were interesting sounds, but after Music in Similar Motion it didn't particularly hook me.


Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra 25th Anniversary Alumni Celebration Concert

Wagner: Prelude to Die Meistersinger (Gareth Morrell, conductor; music director 1993-97)
Brahms: Fourth movement from Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 (Jayce Ogren, conductor; music director 2006-09)
De Falla: Suite No. 2 from The Three-Cornered Hat (Steven Smith, conductor; music director 1998-2003)
Tchaikovsky: Fourth movement from Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 (James Feddeck, conductor; music director 2009-)

For the past two years I haven't missed a concert weekend from The Cleveland Orchestra's Severance Hall season... until this weekend where I had a slightly more pressing matter: My mother's masters' graduation in California. To "make up" for that miss -- and partially out of curiosity about the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra -- COYO -- I made my way to Severance Hall for this afternoon's 25th anniversary alumni concert.

Not knowing how the travel would affect me I hadn't purchased a ticket in advnace... but with a solid night's sleep (and the need to stop obsessing about the car buying process, see, e.g. this post from earlier today) I made my way to Severance hall.

The concert pulled together four of the six music directors that the orchestra has had over its 25-year history, along with nearly ninety alumni of COYO. Unfortunately the hall was sparsely populated.

The concert, while not billed as such, by taking individual movements from pieces almost qualified as a "greatest hits" piece. From my seat in box 10, the strings sound deeper and heavier than I prefer, though as a whole the orchestra sounded generally delightful. (I've previously found that the strings sound a little odd to my ear in the high even-numbered boxes such as 10, 12, 14, etc., so I'm not sure if my reaction to the strings today was due to the acoustics of the hall or an artistic choice)

All four pieces on the program were generally lively and full of personality. I think that Adagio from Brahm's Symphony No. 1 which embodied a range of emotions. A dramatic opening turned a bit lighthearted and from that point the drama and joy traded the spotlight before giving way to a wistful yet dramatic passage and a bold ending.

In Manuel De Falla's Suite No. 2 from The Three-Cornered Hat, I particularly enjoyed the flute and celesta in the first movement (The Neighbor's Dance), the other two movements didn't really resonate with me however. The adagio con fuoco Finale from Tchiakovsky's Symphony No. 4 had an impressively explosive introduction.

One thing was clear, however: The Cleveland Orchestra through The Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra has nurtured a lot of talent and growth over the past quarter century.


Guilt and Nostalgia

I think I've mentally prepared myself -- to the point of actually being excited -- about buying a new car.

Aside from the mechanical issues (a questionable oil problem, a "Check Coolant" light that's been on since I left Springfield Missouri on June 16th, 2005 -- driving Northeast from Southern California to my then-new job and unknown future in Cleveland, shocks and struts that are probably nearly 100,000 miles past their use-by date, a cassette deck (yes, cassette -- used for iPod playback) that's no longer functional [it stopped working one frigid night in the Cleveland Play House parking lot, I can only assume that a belt snapped], some frightening noises at high(er) speeds and in all honesty probably being time for a new set of front tires -- and I'm not sure how much life the breaks have left) I just think 12-13 years for a car that was bought new is probably a good run.

Yes, my 1998 Mercury tracer, purchased with 64 miles, now with 181,352 miles, has been a reasonably good car -- there was the serpentine belt about a year ago, a couple batteries, an alternator, a set of breaks (yes, only one), tie rod ends and more tires and oil changes than I care to remember -- and I'm conflicted as to what to do with it. It only left me truly stranded once (twice if you include the serpentine belt, but I think I could have driven it to safety if I had to)

On one hand, the most logical approach is probably trade it in -- even though the trade in value is (literally) "no value" -- because, practically, what use do I have for a second car and the hassles of insuring and registering it?

On the other hand, I feel a bit guilty turning my back on my first car -- a car that's been as loyal as an object can be (I wonder of Disney/Pixar films like Cars and the Toy Story trilogy have ruined me in this way). I may have promised it that it would see the Atlantic Ocean before I traded it in (or I might have just implied it). Since it's been from the Mexican Border to the Canadian Border, from the Pacific Ocean to Cleveland I had often thought about a weekend trip to New England to cross a few of those states off my list -- and get the car to the Eastern border of our country -- before I moved on to a new car.

But honestly -- running through the list of issues mentally -- I'm afraid I might be pushing my luck, and being stranded along the way doesn't excite me, but I don't want to spend any money just for that purpose.

Who knows I'd be so conflicted about an inanimate object?

Cleaning it out today just in case I do decide to go the trade in route, I found all kinds of memories, particularly between the back seats -- long forgotten fur from my childhood Golden Retriever, Goldy (creative name, right?), who passed away just before I moved to Cleveland -- business cards from people encountered along the way. A gas receipt from a 2005 road trip to Seattle (gas was $1.73 just before Christmas at the Seatac airport Shell). Some ticket stubs. It occurred to me that objects are more important to me than photos in remembering an event. As I looked over each document I remembered the associated events. Sigh.

Maybe that's part of the reason I'm feeling so conflicted about the car -- it's my first car. It figures prominently in so many of my memories, from driving it from the dealer to the home I grew up in, to transporting my first (and only) pet, high school, moving to Cleveland, road trips along the way...A horrendous downpour on I-94 in Michigan while I drove to Grand Rapids for work, etc., etc.

I test drive the 2011 Honda Accord Coupe tomorrow, and if everything goes well I'll be buying that car tomorrow to lock in the rate, and taking delivery when I get back from Kansas City. But I still can't convince myself what to do with the Tracer. Maybe I hold on to it for a few months and then sell/donate it? But do I want to deal with that hassle?


Saturday, May 28, 2011

La Jolla Playhouse: A Dram of Drummhicit

It seems that the La Jolla Playhouse has figured directly or indirectly in my theatrical life, a regional powerhouse with a track record for new play development (the one thing I feel is missing from Cleveland), at least two of my favorite musicals (The Who's Tommy, Jersey Boys) originated here -- for Jersey Boys I was in the house with director Des McAnuff and Frankie Valli before the show hit Broadway and I moved to Cleveland. For Tommy, while I never saw it at LJP one of the original cast members was involved in my high school's staging of the show. I could have sworn that I saw reference to Spring Awakening somewhere, but nonetheless, on the drama side one of the most moving I've seen -- Cleveland Play House's I Am My Own Wife -- workshopped and premiered at La Jolla.

That's not to say that there haven't been disappointments -- you can't hit it out of the park every time for everyone.

A Dram of Drummhicit wasn't the greatest offender in that category but it certainly seemed rough: The pacing and chemistry felt off, several characters felt overly stiff, and the script was full of tangential subplots that just served to obfuscate the actual point, if any. Add in some juvenile humor, and full male and female nudity and I was at best confused: Early in the play it seems that the plot to pay attention to is, essentially, dead bodies popping out of the ground, being stored in a church that no one attends, by a priest who claims that he has to hide them from the locals who just want to put them back in the ground. The locals, however, seem to have no such interest -- indeed, in the local pub the bodies are being used as coat hangers.

By the end of the first act, this thread has seemingly frayed and unraveled. A shame considering this was the most interesting part of the play and provided the most laughs. By the end of the play you're left unsure about the message, which parts were actually important, and to a certain extent the maturity of playwright and/or designers. I'll admit to briefly closing my eyes and nearly falling asleep a few times during the second act.

That's not to say that there aren't laughs: I chuckled a few times and there was a small contingent of theatergoers that laughed fairly heartily but they were the exception. The majority of the house was oddly quiet.

Not a show I have a desire to see again... but on the upside both the sound and scenic design were impressively cohesive. Also, Jersey Boys is returning to Cleveland's Playhouse Square in the not too distant future, if I'm not mistaken.


Friday, May 27, 2011

In California, My Mom's Graduation (Again), and Car Buying

I've spent the past few days in -- or at least close enough to my old stomping grounds of Southern California. The reason for this trip? My mother has participated in graduation ceremonies again -- this time for her Masters of Engineering Management at National University in San Diego. Though she hasn't officially graduated as yet (still needing to finish her capstone) it was an excuse to get In-N-Out, ahem, visit my mother, and see an aunt and uncle who had trekked down from Central California for the event.

The ceremony was, I think, designed to represent the sheer tedium that is the educational process in America -- assemble in a room about two hours, get up, move to a smaller room, see a bunch of strangers get their diplomas, Hi, Mom!, more strangers. Leave. The actual presentation of the diplomas was done quickly and efficiently, and of course, watching my mom walk for her 3rd degree (I have been there for all of them, though I don't really remember the first one!) was the best part -- the commencement address and presidents remarks weren't particularly inspiring (actually, rather depressing) but the achievement symbolized by the event was more important than the actual event.

Following, we wound up at Dick's Last Resort in the Gaslamp Quarter after walking around a bit -- for as long as I lived in Southern California I've never really spent much time in San Diego proper, let alone the Gaslamp quarter, but I can certainly understand it's appeal. Dick's on the other hand is was a little too brash for my state of mind (as my mother commented, "a nice juxtaposition against the formality of the graduation") -- with waitstaff that were openly insulting and degrading though fun. The food wasn't anything special, but it certainly was an interesting dining experience.

This morning -- as my aunt and uncle were hitting the road north to home, we stopped by the Orange Empire Railway Museum to grab a few pictures of the four of us in various combinations with my mom in graduation regalia for the benefit of my Grandfather. Growing up, I had visited OERM with both my mom and dad more times than I can remember but it's probably been close to a decade since I've been on the property -- it was amazing to see how much of it has changed and evolved and how much has stayed the same. On a future visit I'd really like to get back up there and spend the better part of the day wandering around (while I was there it occurred to me that I think I've heard of something similar somewhere in Northern Ohio and I need to look into that).

With my aunt and uncle on their way North we headed South and wound up walking to what was formerly known as Joan F. Sparkman Elementary School (now the Joan F. Sparkman Alternative Education Campus, combining a number of Temecula Valley Unified School District programs as well as select Cal State San Marcos programs), around the corner from my mom's new house and where my educational career began 22 years ago.

The prime reason for this visit though was curiosity -- the campus was built between 1988 and 1989. I started Kindergarten in 1989 (in the classroom near the center of the picture). I remember ever so vaguely in the first month or so of classes sitting for a tree planting ceremony near the main entrance, with a dedication plaque. I was curious what had become of that tree and the plaque. The tree is the giant green one behind the flagpole. The concrete post that the plaque was mounted on is still there, but it looks like the plaque was long ago removed -- so it seems like my curiosity about the actual plaque will remain unfufilled, however it's great to see the tree thriving 22 years later.

Tonight my mom and I are going to take in a show at the La Jolla Playhouse, and I'll have more on that subject later. Tomorrow I fly home, and on Monday I test drive the car that Motorcars has had delivered from Columbus just for me -- and if I like it, I buy then to take advantage of a 0.9% interest rate through the 31st, but won't actually take delivery until I get back from Kansas. I was nervous about my credit score since I have a mortgage, one credit card (with no balance), and that's it... but my score was even higher than I expected so I don't need to worry about being suprised with a higher rate at the end of this all.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Art Crawl

A few weeks ago I received an emailed invitation to the Cleveland Museum of Art's first Art Crawl, an after hours wine, hors d'oeuvres and conversation event open to members at the Fellow level and higher.

I wasn't sure what to expect but my ladyfriend and I eagerly RSVPed, and tonight was the night. At 6:30 pretty intimate gathering of probably fewer than 120 people met in the lower level of the Museum's north wing and were further into even smaller groups of perhaps thirty each for talks with museum staff and then wine and food nearby (but not in the actual galleries for obvious reasons!)

Our group had the following itinerary:

Icon of the Mother of God and Infant Christ (Virgin Eleousa) by Angelos Akotantos with Dean Yoder, Conservator of Paintings. Followed by Boutari Kretinos Red and White wines, Domas Yolandi (Grape leaves stiffed with herbs and rice, tzatziki sauce), Spanikopita: Sauteed spinach, garlic, feta cheese, minted greek yogurt)

Mr. Yoder's discussion brought light to the importance of this icon, how it came to be attributed to the artist (somewhat rare for works of that type from that period). Particularly interesting to me were the challenges of the condition for a painting that's nearly 600 years old and the techniques used to clean, stabilize, and generally conserve the painting -- something I've been interested in since I first became really aware of the art at a Cleveland Museum of Art Member's Appreciation Day two years ago, a Science Cafe event last year. As my ladyfriend's career goal is conservation, I've been slowly learning even more lately.

A View from Moel Cynwich: Looking over the Vale of Afon Mawddach and Toward Cader Idris by William Turner of Oxford. Heather Lemonedes, Curator of Drawings. Followed by Osbourne Amantillado Sherry; Cilantro curry and spinach dip, crispy pita chip; Smoked salmon "tartar", English cucumber cup, creme fraiche.

Ms. Lemonedes discussed her role as curator of drawings while standing in front of a magnificient watercolor. Seem nonsequeter? We learned tonight that the museum considers anything on paper to be a drawing -- including watercolors. Beyond that Ms. Lemonedes discussed the importance of this particular work, and her interest in expanding the museum's holdings of British drawings to compliment the already impressive collections of other nationalities. Particularly interesting was the social nature of art acquisition, and the respect Cleveland has in the art dealer world. Ms. Lemonedes's enthusiasiam bubbled over.

The sherry was a bit too strong in both taste and smell for me, barely surviving two sips, but the cilantro curry and spinach dip on crispy pita was great. My ladyfriend and I both thought it had a hit of something familiar but couldn't quite place it.

The Age of Bronze by Auguste Rodin. William Robinson, Curator of Modern European Art. Latur Ardeche Chardonnay, Latour Valmoissine Pinot Noir; Micro baked bire, apricot compote, baguette; Duck confit, apple chip, sour cherry puree.

Topping the previous curator's impressive enthusiasm, William Robinson was clearly a curator passionate about his work. Though the Age of Bronze was the center of the discussion, it ultimately included the museum's relationship with Rodin while he was living: The casting of the Age of Bronze in Cleveland's discussion was overseen by Rodin personally and the last casting while he was living -- the patina was chosen specifically to be a "crushed grape" look unlike the patina of the same piece in the Met's collection which was overseen by the French government and Rodin felt was all wrong. Interestingly, unlike many other collections, the vast majority of Cleveland's Rodin holdings were cast while the artist was alive; many other museums collections consist posthumous castings.

While I didn't really love any of the wines, the Latour Ardeche Chardonnay was my favoirte from the evening, being farily light and not overly dry. Disappointingly, this stop's food offerings were the ones I was most looking forward to--but they had completely run out by the time my group made it to this stop.

Bringing Forth the Fruits of Righteousness From Darkness by Damien Hirst. Paola Morsiana, Curator of Contemporary Art. Menage a Trois Red and White. Trio of soup sips: cantaloupe, avocado, strawberry rhubarb.

At the peak of enthusiasm, Curator Paola Morsiani jovially declared herself the queen of the contemporary galleries and discussed Damien Hirst's monumental Bringing Forth the Fruits of Righteousness From Darkness -- a triptych made up entirely of butterfly wings arranged to resemble stained glass windows in a Gothic church -- from an angle I hadn't previously considered: The commercial nature of contemporary art, and how Mr. Hirst is aware of the business of art, and the art is a product of that business environment... in other words, he knows how to make money from his art.

Like the other curators, Ms. Morsiana eagerly and happily answered questions following her brief talk, and I took the opportunity to enquire about how a work of that scale -- on loan from an anonymous collector for 5 years, and Ms. Morsiana is not bashful about admitting that she'd be thrilled to have the collector donate the piece -- gets loaned to the museum.

Reception with Director David Franklin and Membership staff.

Following the conclusion of the groups, everyone assembled on the lower level of the East wing for a light reception and even more conversation: Perhaps most interesting all of the curators who had given their time throughout the evening seemed to remain for the reception and were just as eager to continue answering questions.

The longer I live in Cleveland and the more time I spend both in my "home" galleries and of those of museums I encounter in my travels along the way, I'm increasingly appreciative of both the strength of Cleveland's collection (and reputation) along with the pure passion of its staff at all levels.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Emanuel Ax Performs Haydn and Stravinsky

John Adams: Guide to Strange Places
Haydn: Piano Concerto in D major, HobXVII:11 (Emanuel Ax, piano)
Stravinsky: Capriccio (for piano and orchestra) (Emanuel Ax, piano)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
Franz Welser-Most, conductor.

The rapture (or lack thereof) seemed to be the prime topic of discussion before tonight's concert. In the box next to mine, a prominent Clevelander was overheard remarking, "If there is going to be rapture, I can think of no place I'd rather be than at The Cleveland Orchestra" -- probably not the kind of endorsement you're likely to find on a postcard, but apt nonetheless.

The rapture-spurning concert began with John Adam's thrilling Guide to Strange Places which had a strong sense of adventure and a nicely rapid pace, though the middle was a bit bog-ish -- both in tempo and evocative feeling. At any given point in the piece, the sheer number of things happening offered intrigue for both the eyes and the ears, though the first roughly half of the piece was that which I found most interesting and the easiest to relate to. A musical embodiment of the discovery of new places, the uncertainty of if something will be bad, good, or indifferent until after it has been encountered--even the rush of a crowd of people in an unfamiliar train station. In other words, the emotions it evoked were a very good fit for the emotions I felt while exploring Chicago just yesterday.

Next on the program and standing in stark contrast, Haydn's Piano Concerto in D-major which from the first notes was unmistakably classical -- you could tell that they had come from different centuries. My perch in Box 3 gave me a straight view down the piano's keyboard, where when watching Mr. Ax's fingers dance it was difficult to not picture the rapid flap of a humming bird's wings. And the sound was scrumptious. The first movement was lively but dignified with a delightful series of recurring notes, the second a bit more introspective and calmer, and the final movement was cheerful.

The two pieces following intermission didn't grab me as firmly as the first two. Just as the Haydn was unmistakably classical, Stravinsky's Capriccio, was unmistakably of a different era. I've generally found myself to be a fan of Stravinsky -- The Rite of Spring, A Soldier's Tale, the Divertimento from The Fairy's Kiss being among my favorites, I didn't really care for the Capriccio. Likewise, I didn't find Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 particularly endearing with my thoughts being the that piece was generally emphatic and repetitive. I felt the second (allegretto scherzando) movement would have made for some beautiful dancing, while the third movement -- Tempo di Menuetto or speed and style of a minuet -- evoked no such feelings.

Next week is my mom's graduation for her Masters' program so unless I can figure out a way to change my all-day Saturday SNA-IAH-CLE* flights on Continental to something like a late morning LAX-CLE nonstop without giving up an arm it seems I will miss my first Cleveland Orchestra concert weekend in two years--and the end of this Severance season. It seems like it was just last week that the season got kicked off... and Blossom is just around the corner.

*- Or Santa Ana (Orange County/John Wayne) - Houston (Bush Intercontinental) - Cleveland (Hopkins) for those who don't speak fluent Airport Code

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lincoln in Chicago: Day 2

So I woke up this morning and took the day very leisurely -- waiting until about 8:30 (Central, 9:30 Body Clock) to become perpendicular to the floor, taking a shower, and packing up and checking out of my room at the Hilton Chicago and storing my luggage for my later departure from the city.

Walking out of the hotel, I ventured across Michigan Avenue and then followed the shore of Lake Michigan to Chicago's "Museum Campus" -- home to the Field Museum of Natrual History, Shedd Aquarium, and Alder Planetarium. Though I considerd throwing caution to the wind and ignoring the faded "no swimming" markings on the sidewalk, I figured damp clothing may crimp my plans for the rest of the day.

A low layer of fog was hovering over a portion of the lake, but the day was otherwise beautiful and I followed the sidewalk to it's end at a sandy beach. Cutting back I passed Alder Planetarium (eh, planets and stars don't really hold my interest) and decided to pass on the Field Museum for this trip (I haven't ever really loved a natural history museum, but the Field has such a reputation I feel that I owe it at least one visit).

I can't say what particularly compelled me to visit the Shedd Aquarium -- though I hate seafood -- there's something beautiful about the fluidity of aquatic life. Unfourtunately it was not a meditative experience, the facility was literally overrun by poorly chaperoned school groups making a horrendous amount of noise. Though the layout was quite sensible, navigating the acquarium without stepping on a 10-year-old proved difficult. Once you made your way through the mob, though the exhibits and variety are beautiful. The varieties of size, color, habitats, and native environments were amazing.

I'm quite partial to penguins, and polar bears, dolphins and sea otters -- and three of the four are well represented (and I'd probably be slighthly disturbed if an aquarium started hosting polar bears) -- one penguin in particular was quite playful swimming right at the edge of the glass, diving, then surfacing. Two sea otters were locked in what appeared to be a spat of sibling rivalry, looking quite like two dogs fighting with each other under water. The "aquatic show" left me wanting, but having grown up with Sea World San Diego and the outdoor shows, seeing dolphins perform indoors wass unique.

I had planned my second attraction of the day to be a visit to the top of the Sears, ahem, pardon me, Willis Tower just because, you know what, I'm playing tourist. So I left the aquarium and headed that direction, arriving in the lobby with about 90 minutes before I figured I needed to be back at the hotel to collect my luggage and head towards O'Hare. The gentleman in the street-level lobby indicated that it would be a 30 minute journey from that point to the top. Upon arriving in the basement to purchase tickets, I found that he had neglected to include the estimated 35 minute wait to purchase tickets in that time. Now math isn't my strong suit, but 35 to buy + 30 up + 30 down leaves -5 minutes to enjoy the (slightly foggy) view from the top. So I passed for this trip.

I walked back to the hotel via an inland route and just enjoyed taking in the sights, though my feet were starting to act up. Along the way and about two blocks away from the hotel I stumbled across a CTA Red Line station. Mental note made. I got back to the hotel, retrieved my luggage, and checked the CTA route map on my phone.

Hilton's official directions for mass transit from O'Hare are to take the CTA Blue Line from O'Hare to Jackson, then walk six tenths of a mile from Jackson to Michigan and to the hotel -- which is the route I took when I arrived in Chicago, and it's not bad, but when you've already done a few miles of walking in dress shoes you start to look for ways to avoid doing it unnecessarily. With an extra hour and a half of time to kill I figured as long as the Red and Blue lines came together at some point I could use a few more minutes off my feet.

And, it turns out the Red and Blue lines share the Jackson station. So I walked from the hotel to the recently-discovered Red Line station hopped on the next train going in the right direction, and I found my next stop being Jackson. A lengthy subterranean tunnel walk later I found myself on a Blue Line platform waiting for an O'Hare Bound train. Settled into a seat with my luggage for the hour-long ride back to Ohare.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful, but the Continental agent at the next gate in O'Hare over was obviously having a bad day based on her snippy public address announcements; I would have hated to actually need help from her.

Generally I like Chicago... it doesn't have quite the energy of Manhattan nor is it a hipster as San Francisco can be, but it has the "real city" feel that I crave... I want to come back, but at least so far it's not a city that I crave a return to, like Manhattan*--in that regard, it's really not different enough from Cleveland.

* - I've often said that there's only one city besides Cleveland I could see myself living in if I could afford it, and that would be Manhattan. If I ever win the lottery a pied-a-terre in the city that never sleeps would be at the top of my list.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lincoln In Chicago Day 1

For as much traveling as I've done and as relatively close as Chicago is to Cleveland some may find it surprising that I've never been to Chicago before. Sure I've been through Chicago a handful of times, but it's never been the destination.

I think a large part of the reason for that is simply I haven't had a reason -- I've realized that no matter how much I may be interested in visiting a place -- be it London, Boston, or even Cincinnati -- unless I have a compelling, time-sensitive reason to overcome my travel inertia I'm unlikely to spontaneously go. I think, given my disdain for specifically planned vacations having that one thing assures that the trip will not be wasted.

When that reason for traveling happens to be work-related, there's the added advantage of the travel costs being $0. That is the case with this, somewhat abbreviated, visit. A project that I've been intimately involved with has the prospect of being a perfect fit for an incredibly large potential customer who is headquartered in Chicago. Today was our first in person sales visit and demonstration. I think it went well--what was scheduled for an hour turned into two with some very enthusiastic questions. I also think my job title changed--but I'll wait for new business cards before I get too excited.

Ok, so enough about me, me, me. Kinda. The hotel I'm staying at is the beautiful -- and huge Hilton Chicago. Until the fog rolled in this afternoon, I had a beautiful view across Grant Park to Lake Michigan. It seems that the location is good for being touristy -- I could see the Shedd Aquarium, to the south, from my room this morning, The Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park are a across the street and a bit north, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Orchestra Hall is practically within spitting distance.

After our meeting adjourned this afternoon, I walked the 1.2 miles back to the hotel through Downtown Chicago -- skipping a visit to the Sears Tower for now because, although on the way, I didn't really want to deal with having my laptop hanging off my shoulder any longer than I had to. Excising the laptop, I made my way back north on Michigan Avenue until I hit Millennium Park and the giant reflective bean -- properly known as Cloud Gate. I had promised my ladyfriend that I would seek it out and take a picture of my reflection on the bean which I did. The Northwestern edge of the park was bustling with activity, but the Eastern and Southern sections of the park were quite quiet and perfect for reflection.

Making my way south I found myself at the Art Institute Chicago. As a Fellow-level member at the Cleveland Museum of Art, which offers reprocicity with IAC, so I avoided the $18 admission fee and got to the galleries. Honestly I found the gallery configuration a bit confusing, disorienting, and overwhelming, For some reason it seems lately I'm only visiting art museums when my feet are already tired -- but... the visit was well worth it. Some particular notes:

Jan Steen's 1666 painting Family Concert seems so eerily familiar that I could swear I've seen it or something just like it before, but I can't say where. That one will probably bother me for a while, since it looks like both Cleveland and Nelson-Atkins have Steen works in their collections, but they aren't close matches. Alex Katz's Vincent and Tony has a textural quality that pulled my eye and instantly reminded me of a work on prominent display in Cleveland's contemporary galleries -- it turns out, for good reason, as it's the same artist's Impala. Neither photo really does the actual art work justice, but seeing them in person there's something that screams "these were done by the same person". On that vein, Carl Andre's Steel-Aluminum Plain is an unmistakable sibling of Steel-Magnesium Plain at Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum, though the guards in Chicago are far less enthusiastic about patrons walking across the art than those in Kansas City, who actively encourage it.

While I'm mentioning ties to other museums, one of the more compelling sculptures at the Walker Art Center's Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is a large square of granite benches, each with a quote engraved upon it, most make me chuckle. In Minneapolis they're well worn -- they've been used, they've stood up to the elements. They're there, and they have context. Entering the Abbott Gallery today, I found one of the benches -- completely out of context (I think a patron would have been violently assaulted had they had the temerity to sit on it -- when a patron looked as if she may be reaching for a camera, the guard on duty nearly tackled her while screaming "Special exhibition! No photography!" -- immediately followed by "Too close! Back up!").

The artist is Jenny Holzer, and this bench is "You should limit the the number of times you act against your nature, like sleeping with people you hate. It's interesting to test your capabilities for a while, but too much will cause damage." -- though the inscription isn't my favorite* the contrast between the same inscription in a weathered bench in nature versus the gleaming, pristine clean granite under careful lighting in an environmentally controlled gallery.

Lastly, as Fernand Leger's The Aviator has always had a special draw to me in the Cleveland Museum of Art's galleries, it was interesting to see a fair number of other examples of his works in the Art Institutes's collection. The same goes for Piet Mondrain who is, to borrow the label copy's description "best known for his non-representational works" to see an actual landscape painting.

With my feet killing me and my time limited, I decided ot head back South on South Michigan avenue towards my hotel. Along the way I stopped in for a visit at the Museum of Contemporary Photography -- candid photography always attracts my eye -- anything that captures an accurate representation of life at that moment (Lee Friedlander is a favorite) or gives hits of the way things were or have evolved, particularly as far as technology and infrastructure are concerned. And the current exhibition, Public Works was right up my alley.

Earlier this afternoon, I had toyed with the idea of sneaking in a performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but on the basis of time and how much screaming my feet were doing, I opted against it on this trip. (Pros: Seats available "behind" the stage which looks like they'd allow one to actually see the conductor's facial expressions; Cons: I couldn't get myself excited about a trumpet-heavy program, and when I heard the CSO at Carnegie Hall in New York, I didn't love the sound... but that could just as easily be the hall's fault) -- maybe next visit.

I still haven't decided on plans for tomorrow yet... Based on how long it took to get from the airport to the hotel, with a 6:05 PM flight it looks like I have to be en route no later than 3:05 PM to allow adequate time for all of the formalities (unless I decide to spring for a cab...), so I don't have a ton of time. I think the aquarium is a strong contender... Or I might just use some more of my CTA unlimited ride pass.

*- I think my favorite of the collection is "Some days you wake up and immediately start to worry. Nothing in particular is wrong, it's just the suspicion that forces are aligning quietly and there will be trouble"

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Adventures with the Violin & Car Buying - An Update

So Saturday, May 14th was my 27th Birthday, and my gift from my ladyfriend made me realize (after I finished marveling in the detail) that I haven't posted anything about my adventures in the violin in a while.

But before that -- marvel in the detail (I think if you click the photo you should get the larger version) but this foot-tall violin playing robot is constructed entirely out of paper and has operating joints -- the violin is equipped with strings, tuning pegs and even actual F-holes cut through the top of the hollow violin. The torso has rivets along the front seam and a jet pack on his back... needless to say I'm impressed -- the more I stare at it the more subtle little details I notice.

Now as for my violin playing... my recent spate of near-incessant travel (seriously-- instead of blogging I should probably pack for my trip to Chicago tomorrow right now) has certainly not helped... I feel like I've basically been treading water since the end of March. But at least I'm not slipping backwards, and my teacher has been very understanding. Awhile ago I moved on to Suzuki Book Two and have been feeling generally pretty good about my progress. The piece that I've been stuck on for essentially the past month (but really only about 2 weeks once all of the travel is excluded) bothers me -- I feel like I'm making The Two Grenadiers more difficult for myself than it needs to be... playing some of the notation still doesn't feel quite right and I think my tempo is rather random, add in some wandering intonation and you have a recipe for frustration.

Needless to day, the professionals make it look much easier than it actually is. On that note, my ladyfriend and I were talking about future paper musicians-- we're thinking a paper Cleveland Orchestra may be a bit overwhelming (not to mention require a bit more space than I have!) but a quintet or septet may make for a nice grouping -- any votes for the next instrument to be represented? :)

Car Shopping
My travel hasn't allowed much time for real car shopping -- and I'll freely admit that in the free time I've had it hasn't been at the top of my list. Picking my dad up from the airport, though, an new urgency was imparted with "Has it always made that noise?" "Shouldn't you be concerned by that noise?" and similar questions forming the foundation of my dad's conversation.

I think, stylistically, I've narrowed it down to a Honda product, if for no other reason than Motorcars Honda is only about a five-minute walk from my home. Some of my early front-runners (the Subaru Outback in particular) got dropped both due to cost and EPA mileage estimates. Toyota was an early casualty on aesthetic grounds -- no matter how hard I tried I couldn't (and still can't) get myself excited about driving any of their models.

While I find myself attracted to the styling of more than a handful of hatchbacks (the previously-listed Subaru Outback, and from Honda the Accord Crosstour, CR-Z, and the Insight) I realize my vehicle-ownership style is probably a poor fit for a hatchback. I keep tools for work in my trunk the vast majority of the time -- out of sight and out of mind for anyone who might be thinking about breaking in -- a hatchback essentially leaves those out in the open.

Though my dad tried to to talk me into "big engine" V6 (instead of an inline 4 for what? To sacrifice fuel economy on my daily 16-mile round trip surface-street commute for a bit more power on the monthly-or-so long-distance freeway drive? Remember, I'm driving what is essentially a Ford Escort now) I've resisted that temptation.

All that said, I think I'm leaning toward the Accord Coupe LX-S in Belize Blue Pearl with an automatic transmission, MSRP $24,330. I'd like power seats, and despite my normal protestations against leather, I like the black leather interior... but to get power seats or leather you have to jump to the EX-L trim line, and with a $3,500 jump in MSRP I don't think it's worth it. Plus we go from That's a lot of money and I'm not really comfortable, but... ballpark* $25,000 -- $28,000 pushes me into the OMG! Have I lost my mind? Panic! ballpark.

Oh, and by the way my car -- with 182,000 miles -- has no trade in value whatsoever. I'm not surprised. But it still kind of hurts.

The two things that are left are figuring out the total cost of ownership, in this case, particularly, what it will do to my auto insurance rates, and monthly payment.

For the first, Allstate is making that difficult to figure out and I'm tempted to give Progressive a whirl since they are headquartered right across the street** from my office and see if they come up with anything competitive.

For the second, I had hoped to avoid the whole buy-a-car-thing until I had finished repaying my dad the money he lent me for the down payment on my house-- I'm really trying to avoid increasing the amount of my pay check each month that is pre-committed (mortgage+utilities+insurance+taxes), but if I cut my monthly payments to my dad--with his blessing--and make a substantial down payment, I think it can work.

But the prospect of debt scares the bejesus out of me. Aside from my mortgage (and parental loan) I have none, and I'd prefer to keep it that way. But I know I can't, realistically. Ugh. Plus the really great 2.9% financing offer that Honda is running on the Accord family ends on May 31st. I don't think I'm going to be in any position to actually buy a car by the 31st, but I'm afraid of what will happen after that -- some of the rates I surveyed from banks over the weekend are nearly double that.

I want to have my cake and eat it too. Sometimes I hate being an adult.


*- I know it's MSRP and no one pays MSRP, but psychologically...
**- If you include "Interstate 271" in the definition of "street". But, hey, they do lease space in our building for storage.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cleveland orchestra: Franz Welser-Most Conducts Bruckner's Fifth

Berg: Violin Concerto (Julia Fischer, violin)
Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major
Franz Welser-Most, Conductor

I found myself at Severance Hall tonight rather than my normal Saturday concert evening because my dad is coming into town for to celebrate my 27th birthday on Saturday -- and as yet I've not been successful in convincing him to visit Severance Hall or hear the Cleveland Orchestra (though I have succeeded in getting him to Blossom at least once).

After a long day in the office -- with a few, ahem, challenging discussions with clients -- it was nice to arrive at the hall and start to settle in (birthday wishes from the box office, of course, made the settling in that much nicer). Once at my seat I found that I was sharing the box with another mid-May birthday and several people I've met before and seen often.

The concert began with Alban Berg's Violin Concerto, and the program note declares that "This is music that refuses to confirm to the stereotype that atonality despises beauty, that its mood is one of unrelieved angst". While I wouldn't begin to call it "ugly" or say that the angst is completely unrelieved, but I can't say that I'd call it beautiful nor angst-free. In the first movement I was struck by the feeling of a struggle between Ms. Fischer's solo as an individual, and the remainder of the orchestra as society. (Interestingly, according to the program note, around this time Mr. Berg's works and atonal music had been decreed a "musical communism" by the Nazi party) The second movement turned more mournful and seemed to be a struggle angst the self, with an Ms. Fischer playing to and with the Concertmaster as the remainder of the section violins folded in.

Following intermission, I had a hard time really sinking into the first two movements of Bruckner's 5th -- while demonstrating the Cleveland Orchestra's impressive dynamic range (during the quiet moments the breathing of the person in the next box over was literally louder than the sum of the barely audible but still musical orchestra) the slow portions of these two movements seemed timid and lethargic, though the faster portions displayed no such hesitation.
In the second movement I found myself amused by some humorous notes given to the flute but ominously echoed elsewhere. The third movement, a scherzo, was my favorite of the evening with no timidity and beautiful flow. I particularly enjoyed the soaring strings of this movement, before returning to a somewhat less lethargic feeling in the finale before concluding on a bold blast.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: C.P.E. Bach and Haydn

C.P.E. Bach: Sinfonia No. 4 in G major, Wq. 183, No. 4
C.P.E. Bach: Cello Concerto in A major, Wq. 172 (Steven Isserlis, cello)
(Unannounced encore for solo cello) (Steven Isserlis, cello)
C.P.E. Bach: Sinfonia No. 1 in D major, Wq. 183, No. 1
Haydn: Symphony No. 98 in B-flat major
Ton Koopman, conductor.

Going into Severance Hall this sunny Sunday afternoon I had high hopes based on last weekend's fireworks. I left feeling kind of ambivalent -- on the whole I neither liked nor disliked, loved nor hated the concert. Had this been a normal concert I would have been delighted to hear Mr. Koopman's remarks from the podium, however billed as a Musically Speaking concert they seemed a bit light and insubstantial (on the other hand I found Mr. Koopman's accent posed a bit of a challenge for my overall comprehension)

Opening the concert with a rush of notes and a hint of the effervescence from last weekend's concerts, and the energetic fist movement from C.P.E. Bach's Simfonia No. 4 was among my favorites from the concert, though the second and thid movements didn't really stay with me.

Before beginning the second piece on the program, Bach's Cello Concerto in A major, Mr. Koopman and the orchestra demonstarted a passage from the slow movement played as scored for cello, harpsichord, and flute, each with orchestra and I found it interesting how differently it sounded -- the cello seemed almost whiny, the harpsichord struck me as indifferent, and the flute conjured feelings of wistfulness and longing.

Continuing the marathon of C.P.E. Bach -- J.S. Bach's second son for those who are curios -- I quite enjoyed Mr. Isserlis's cello playing for the Cello Concerto, I didn't get any emotional buy-in for the first two movements; the thrd had a slightly punctuated recurring theme that caught my ear.

Following the conclusion of that piece Mr. Isserlis performed a fantastic unannounced encore with great energy and clarity -- entirely in pizzicato. During the ovation his instrument took the bow which added a nice bit of levity to the afternoon.

Concluding the C.P.E. Bach marathon and the first half of the progrmam was what turned out to be my favoirte piece, Sinfonia No. 1 -- which seemed quite familiar and was almost entirely captivating (though I did start to wander a bit during the second movement (largo). I particularly enjoyed the bold yet punctuated recurring statement made by the cellos, eventually breaking through and developing and enveloping the entire orchestra. Nagging me throughout the piece was the sensation that I know I've heard it before but I can't put my finger on the where, when, or context.

Following intermission, I didn't really get anything musically from Haydn's Symphony No. 98 -- it did move, at least, quickly. Outside of the music, I found it interesting that Haydn was traveling and intent to meet CPE Bach -- only to arrive and find out that he had died several years earlier. As Mr. Koopman noted from the podium, news traveled a little slower in those days.

Slightly unusual for me, next week I'll be hitting the Orchestra on a Thursday instead of my usual weekend -- my dad is coming to visit for the weekend of my 27th birthday and as yet I've been able to convince him to join me in Severance Hall.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Back from Minnesota

My project in Rochester was officially and sucessfully finished yesterday... a good night's sleep and a slightly lazy morning found me heading North.

Instead of the straight-line route, I diverted myself through Red Wing, Minnesota -- apparently home of the shoes by the same name, and amusingly in Goodhue County (get it, Red Wing, Goodhue?) -- I'm not sure if it was a tongue-in-cheek decision from decades ago or just plain coincidence, but I'll admit to chuckling when I passed Goodhue County Road 3 and made the connection. Passing through downtown Red Wing, I crossed the river into Wisconsin for my second "visit", and followed Great River Road north, passing back in to Minnesota just outside of Saint Paul.

The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, was my stated destination -- it's one of my favorite museums and with my level of membership at the Cleveland Museum of Art and a reciprocity agreement admission is free which makes it even that much more enticing. I parked in the garage adjacent to the museum. Before entering the museum I wanted to take a few moments to peruse the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Which I did. I noticed today there were more people in the garden today than I think I've seen from all of my previous visits combined. Contemplating that I realized that I think this was the nicest day I've spent in Minneapolis.

One corner of the garden hosts a pedestrian bridge (the same bridge where I had one of the strangest conversations I can recall, mixing classical music, relative rankings of orchestras, with an offer of weed and public consumption of alcohol). Enjoying the nice afternoon -- and being a bit hungry -- I figured I'd see what laid on the other side of the bridge. I wound up in a park.

I wandered some more. This is, as I've said before, one of my favorite ways to explore a city... just aimlessly walk about. This walking, however, wasn't completely aimless: I was seeking food. I was just about to admit defeat and return to a place I had glanced near the park when I stumbled across what I now know is Nicollet Mall. I had lunch in a pub with wonderfully attentive service -- there were three waitstaff for the 5 people at two tables in the corner I was seated in -- but completely unremarkable food.

Cleaning my plate, I resumed my walkabout. Instead of turning toward Walker, I pressed further away a bit more. I realize I'm just a block away from Orchestra Hall, home of the Minnesota Orchestra, and by extension just two blocks away from the hotel I stayed at on a previous trip... I had never realized the spatial relationship between these two locations and Walker.

I stumbled upon Target's Headquarters at 1000 Nicollet Mall and did a lap around the building -- the lower windows are covered by artists interpretations of the Target Logo. Deciding it was time to return to Walker, I started heading back. A stone's throw from Orchestra Hall I find in a hoodie playing a well worn violin on a street corner; steps away from her a disheveled gentleman in a top hat sits against the wall.

She stops playing for a moment, I ask her how long she's been playing "A long time" she answers. "Have you seen all the bad stuff on the news?" she asks, not waiting for an answer "We've all got to stick together. I'll play you a happy song." and she launches into an Irish jig, which after a few minutes turns Scottish and then grows some classical influences. Certainly fun to listen to. A small audience has formed and I drop a few bucks in her case -- it's not clear if that's her goal, but others followed. I ask if she minds if I take her picture, she doesn't, I do.

If I had been feeling more creative (and had the foresight to have camera with better control of depth of field with me) it would have been great to capture her free-form playing on a sidewalk -- not necessarily somewhere you expect to encounter a violinist -- a mere thousand feet, give or take, from the formal confines of music known as Orchestra Hall...and you can see the Target logo through the window across the street.

I make my way back to Walker, though via a completely different path. I find a couple automated where passers by can, it seems, rent bicycles. I'd love to see something like that in Cleveland.

My visit to Walker's galleries was largely uneventful -- the collection on display seemed to include a larger number of multimedia pieces than previously, and I have a difficult time connecting to those (not to mention that an impending flight notwithstanding, I don't have the attention span to completely take in a 74-minute film that consists of a blue screen). The more museums I visit, the more I realize how each's collections help me to understand the others and the artists in the collections.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Meeting The Other Side of the Family

I've never known much about my dad's side of the family -- my nearest cousins were fare enough apart, both age and distance, that I didn't really know them growing up, and barking up the family tree -- excuse the terrible pun -- I'm completely clueless about anything beyond my grandfather on that side of the family.

I get the sense that on that side of the family relationships tended to be strained and awkward, or at least those whom I know... I don't know if it's normal or not, but anyway...we don't seem to be a overly social bunch in general.

Part of my last name is unique enough that I've always assumed that if I ever met anyone with the same last name the odds of it being a relative would make for a virtual certainty. And when I've Googled the name, in addition to the handful of cousins and relatives, I've come across others who share the same surname but who I've never heard anything about, and certainly not met.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota is -- as I've noted before -- one of my clients -- and I've spent the better part of this week in Rochester for a project. Based on my schedule thus far (and the woeful tendencies of museums to be closed on Mondays) I haven't really hit any of my cultural favorites in the state yet -- I'm planning on seeing a few sights before my flight out tomorrow evening, but I digress.

While I had this trip on my mind I happened to Google my surname and I was reminded that someone who shares the name also works at the Clinic.

I don't do well with introductions, particularly complete strangers, but figuring I had nothing to loose I sent a very awkward "Hey, I don't know you, you don't know me, but we have the same last name so we might be related... and Oh, by the way I'll be in your city in a few weeks". A response and some correspondence later, I'm slowly learning about the "other side" of the family.

The gentleman who I "discovered" is my Dad's cousin (their fathers were brothers), though they've never met and grew up essentially on opposite sides of the country.

We met for very quick coffee when I got into Rochester on Monday afternoon, and compared notes...a very nice gentleman, and nowhere near as awkward as I thought it could be.

Last night he and his wife opened their home to me for dinner and conversation where I also met one of their children (I think, technically a 2nd cousin, but that gets kind of foggy for me). I also met his brother's son (also, I think, technically a 2nd cousin) originally from New York, who happens to be passing through Rochester this week as well. Dinner and desert was great, but the conversation -- learning about a side of the family that I wasn't really conscious about, and comparing some of the traits that seem to be present in my branch of the tree was a lot of fun.