Obviously, 2009 was not my Year of Blogging.
A more comprehensive update will appear soon. Of note: I now live in our nation's capital, I turn 30 in precisely one week, there was a crazy blizzard yesterday (during which I nearly ate my weight in grilled-cheese sandwiches) and I have five more days of work 'til a week in Las Vegas.
Not even their best album, but this is certainly their year.
2. XX » The XX
If they could match this greatness with a live show, they'd be unstoppable.
3. Living Thing » Peter, Bjorn & John
(also: Re-Living Thing » Mick Boogie and Peter, Bjorn & John)
The former would have made it either way, but the latter just cements it for me.
4. Oh For The Getting And Not Letting Go » All Smiles
The best album you haven't heard. Former Grandaddy/current Modest Mouse-r Jim Fairchild.
5. Rain Machine » Rain Machine
Kyp Malone releases a solo album that's enough TV On The Radio to be slightly familiar and still different enough to be hugely refreshing.
6. Wilco The Album » Wilco
Honestly, Wilco has always been a bit hit-or-miss for me. Until this.
7. Humbug » Arctic Monkeys
Produced by Josh Homme, sounding a little darker, a little more grown up.
8. A New Tide » Gomez
Another instant classic; "Airstream Driver" on repeat.
9. My Old Familiar Friend » Brendan Benson
If live shows were taken into consideration, he'd shoot up past the Monkeys of the arctic.
10. Ignore The Ignorant » The Cribs
Sad to see Johnny Marr leave Modest Mouse; their loss surely is the Cribs' gain.
Honorable mention: Noah And The Whale, for the beautiful First Days Of Spring, which doubles as a 47-minute film.
A few notes:
1. I don't understand your obsession with Grizzly Bear, but more power to you.
2. Yes, there is no Animal Collective. I think "My Eyes" is one of the best songs of the year (maybe the best), but the rest was a little too meh.
3. Pumped for a full-album release by Free Energy in '10; the three-song EP alone nearly made it onto this list.
So, I try not to self-promote too much (one of my problems?), but I need your help with this one.
I just tossed an entry into the ring for this Name Your Dream Assignment contest. It's pretty sweet. You come up with your dream photo assignment, they give you $50k to make it come true.
This is one I've thought of for a long, long time, though I'd always thought of it a little less broad in scope. With resources like this, though, there is potential to truly canvas the globe.
Young at Heart (and at Sport): Sport is a universal language of sorts, but it carries considerably more meaning in some corners of the world. This project explores youth sports in every corner of the globe - and the impact (good and bad) it has on young lives. (Click for much more detail.)
All you have to do to help is click the "PIC IT" button on the upper-left of the page that loads. You'll have to register, but it's, of course, free, and only takes a few seconds. Please, please pass it along, if you're at all inspired by the potential.
I've never felt my world imploding around me more than today. With all the bad news from the journalism industry in the past few years, I've still managed to feel somewhat safe. Or at least in control of my own destiny. With the "We're closing. Tomorrow." news from Denver's Rocky Mountain News today, it all feels a little too real now.
I don't know if there's any kind of journalism that will save newspapers. But if there is, it sure as shit isn't the kind that's being practiced around me. Or around, I'm guessing, most of you.
1. New Year's Eve
2. Valentine's Day
Well. I successfully went without a proper internet connection for four days (using just the Blackberry's international data plan), but I've finally given in, to catch up with a little more quickness. If you've been following the Twitter feed, you've likely heard more about this trip than you care to, but here's yet more.
Christmas Eve: Got to Miami International three hours early, expecting the worst, and wasn't entirely disappointed. Continental had automatically rebooked my Miami-Newark-Heathrow routing and put me through Houston. Not something I particularly relished, as I'd secured the highly coveted reclining-exit-row window seat on both flights, and backtracking to Texas would mean an even longer flight to London. Nevertheless, it was probably for the best, as delays in and out of Newark exceeded three hours. My flights were all on time, and I managed an exit-row seat to Houston and a row all to myself to London. (By the way, one sleeping pill turns out to do very little for me. Two, however, knocks me rightthefuckout. Which is sort of what I was looking for.) I woke up just in time to snap the photo you see above, on our approach to London. And when I landed, it was . . .
Christmas Day: No proper public transport on this holiday here, so took the rail-replacement bus to Paddington Station, which turned out just fine, as it put me about three blocks from my hotel. Which didn't turn out all that fine. I will forgo a thousand details and just advise: Don't ever stay at an easyHotel. It's cheap (but not that cheap), but it's really just barely a step above a hostel, and without the friendliness. Took what was to be a brief nap, which turned into a five-hour midday slumber. I will say that in the three nights that followed, I didn't sleep nearly as well as I did that first afternoon. Got up, wandered around outside a bit, and settled on a nice restaurant in the neighborhood for Christmas dinner. Alas, right as I walked in, they were closing. Boo. The mini-mart next door provided my meal (chicken bacon sandwich, sweet chili crisps, mini baguette and Red Stripe tallboy) instead. Took it back to my room and watched a really touching documentary on Channel Four, "A Boy Called Alex," about an Eton student composer suffering from cystic fibrosis. (I was afraid it would end heartbreakingly, given his many health troubles, but instead he's now studying at Cambridge.) Also started to notice how much my ear was hurting, especially since the flight. Which brings us to . . .
Boxing Day: Woke up to terrible pain in my right ear and jaw, and a particularly windy, bone-chilling day outside. Had tickets to see Reading-Cardiff, but knew almost immediately I wouldn't be up for that, as rail services were taking an extra holiday off. (I'd have had to take the bus back to Heathrow, another bus to Reading, leave just after halftime in order to catch another bus back to Heathrow, then a further bus back to Paddington. Instead of, you know, the usual 20-minute train ride.) Woke up a bit and decided I needed to get the ear business taken care of sooner than later, so as to prevent the rest of my trip from being miserable. As luck (?) would have it, my hotel was a block from a hospital. I meekly asked the receptionist if there was someone I could talk to about my ear, and she sent me right to the emergency room, which seemed overly dramatic. But off I went, was seen very quickly by a nurse, who then made an appointment for me with a doctor on-site for an hour later. Long story short: yes, you have to pay for medical care in the UK if you don't live here (I'd always sort of wondered); to say they are efficient compared to U.S. doctors is an incredible understatement; and I have an ear infection, which I don't think I've had in 20 years. Good times. Then set off on a very long walk in search of an open pharmacy, took my fancy new British drugs and made my way to Oxford Street for the biggest shopping day of the year. In. Sane. Didn't buy much, but made a few good finds at Selfridges, among the masses, hundreds of which were lined up outside just to get a chance to buy an £800 Gucci handbag. Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, recession?
My Birthday: Ugh. The big two-nine. But, 'twas a very good one, once I got past the number. (The, this-is-the-last-glimpse-you'll-have-of-your-twenties number.) As Kenney pointed out in a previous comment, the great thing about traveling alone is that you can do whatever the hell you want, and not worry about anybody else. (Yes, I'm selfish like that.) So, I'd decided early on that I wanted to see Billy Elliot the Musical for the tenth or dozenth, or whatever, time, and also have lunch at Flash (above), a "pop-up restaurant installation" at the Royal Academy for the Arts that I'd read about in the NYT. Went to the Victoria Palace, bought a day ticket for both the matinee and evening show (front row, center), and then made my way toward the Royal Academy. Found it in plenty of time and warmed up in a Starbucks with the Guardian.
Went back right at noon, quite hungry and ready for awesomeness. Flash delivered. It's a shame you won't be able to experience it (its last night is Jan. 18), because it was truly a top-five-all-time dining experience for me. A pianist playing just-recognizable-enough versions of old pop songs (Beat It, included), an incredible wait staff and an even more incredible array of food. I started with the Dorset crab served on avocados, spinach and grapefruit slices and finished with an amazing duck confit with wild mushrooms and mustard sauce. Crazy-good. And so were the two cocktails I downed too quickly for it being noon. The "Ten Tom," which I'll be trying to re-create: Tanqueray 10, lemon, elderflower, mint and fizz. Delicious. I left stuffed and smiling. Perfect.
Then back to Victoria for the Billy matinee. It'd been over a year since I last saw it, with some major cast changes beyond just the Billys rotating in, so it was more fresh than I'd expected. For my show, Billy was the adorable Tom Holland, who, while perhaps not the most polished actor, gave a delightful performance unlike most of the others I'd seen. By the time I left, though, I was starting to get a headache, and stupidly made my way back to Oxford Street, to buy myself a few birthday gifts at HMV... where, of course, it only got worse. So I bagged the second Billy performance and made my way to Yo! Sushi and then back to the hotel. Good thing, as I slept like crap. But all in all, a very happy birthday indeed.
Today, Dec. 28: Had to check out of the easyHotel by 10, which was fine as I had to catch my train to Manchester (or so I thought) at 10:44. Made my way with luggage to Kings Cross, grabbed a bite and waited. And waited. Of the dozen or so trains that left after I arrived, only mine was delayed. So I went up to ask if I could use my ticket to Doncaster on another train and was told that, uh, not only could I not use it on the other train, I couldn't use it on any train. Hmm. Despite Virgin Trains' web site selling me said tickets for my trip to Manchester, two different Paddington ticketing agents said that it wouldn't be valid. They directed me to the St. Pancras international terminal across the street, where instead of taking the glamorous Eurostar to Paris, I settled into a crowded Great Midlands train to Sheffield.
What would normally have been a two-hour trip, somehow took three, and then the train from Sheffield to Manchester was... you guessed it! ... not operating today. Rail-replacement service again. A bus. To Manchester. Fun. Of course it was packed, and of course I sat directly across from two of the most annoying, self-important uni students I've ever had the displeasure of listening to TALK NONSTOP for an hour and a half about all their time spent in Spain, and in Thailand (of course), and in Prague, and how they were heading to Germany for New Year's, and then debating whether they should take jobs in South Korea or China or go for a Masters or whether the one would get a fancy job in systems with BAE, and how he didn't even really want it unless they let him travel to, you know, Dubai or New York, because, you know, he's in international business, and what good does that do if you can't TRAVEL INTERNATIONALLY? EFF. I wanted to slap his face right off his face.
So, got to Manchester finally, spent a half hour walking around searching for my elusive Travelodge, and finally I'm here. The room, even at half the price, is twice as luxurious as the easyHotel. Which isn't saying much, but which I definitely appreciate. I can walk around all three sides of the bed! Without stepping over luggage! And there's a counter! And a bathroom with a door that opens all the way! Huzzah!
And with this internet connection, I got my ticket all sorted for tomorrow's Manchester United-Middlesbrough match, where I'll be, rain or shine, cold or no, ear throbbing or not, tomorrow night (8 p.m. kickoff; yikes).
Belatedly, I had a great time for Thanksgiving week back home in California. (Why is is that wherever I'm living is never "home," but California always will be?) Saw great friends, spent quality time with my mom, spent a disappointingly-snow-free few days in Tahoe, drank a ridiculous amount of alcohol in the span of two days in San Jose... and all that was marred only by relatively mild gambling losses and the unfortunate results of a pre-airport trip to Jack in the Box. Won't do that again. Never even got to the deep-fried tacos I stashed in my carry-on. Sad.
My return to Florida (note: not "home") was followed quickly by Tribune, the parent company of the Sun Sentinel (and the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune, among others) filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. So that's always fun.
But just a week and a half from now, I'll be jetting to London on the night of Christmas Eve, and spending Christmas Day around what sounds like it'll be a deserted city center. That's fine. I've got Boxing Day tickets to see Reading play Cardiff City, and a few days later, I'll sit three rows off the pitch at Old Trafford to see Manchester United take on Middlesbrough. I'll spend my birthday watching Billy Elliot in the West End. And New Year's Eve either in London or Windsor, where I'll stay.
I'd liked to have started off this post with a photo of picturesque California in the autumn. That'd be impossible, though, as I took nary a single photo, despite lugging my camera and three lenses back home. Funny how documenting good times take a back seat to experiencing them.
I'll part with this, which made me think while reading today's New York Times. In Deborah Soloman's interview with the author Jonah Lehrer, this is the second-to-last exchange between the two:
DS: How old are you now?
JL: I'm 27.
DS: How nice. You have your whole life ahead of you. I hope you use it to make good decisions.
Which made me wonder how many people consider my being on the verge of 29 as still having my "whole life" head of me. I often think quite the opposite. It feels like I've lived an entire life already, and I can't say I've ever been very happy with any of it, save for the wonderful friends I've made along the way.
So to look at it from the other perspective is refreshing, even a little jarring. Maybe there are great things ahead. Hopefully, at least, there are a lot of years. I hope I use them to make good (or at least better) decisions.
There's an interesting post over at Gadling, one of the travel blogs I subscribe to, about traveling solo.
Now, anyone who knows me knows this is generally my method of travel, not so much by choice as necessity. Without a significant other with whom to globetrot, it's nearly impossible to find a travel companion for something longer than a weekend. There's funds to coordinate, vacation time to reserve, destinations and sights to settle on... but still, given the choice, I'd much rather go through that hassle than go it alone.
I guess what struck me most about the Gadling post was how... factually... it was presented. Brenda writes:
That's a nice notion, and the commenters, so far, seem to agree. But I guess I don't. I live at home alone all year long; I travel alone at least a few weeks out of every year. And with the prospect of spending nearly two weeks (encompassing three rather Big Days), I'm a little nervous that loneliness will set in. Perhaps it won't; and I'm sure that even if it does, I'll still adore my surroundings, but... it seems impossible to just write off the possibility of feeling alone, no matter the venue.
What about you? Surely there are other solo travelers out there. I've done it plenty, but never really manage to make connections with other travelers (or locals). What are your secrets?
A few links worth following as I catch up from all this downtime:
- Vince Laforet got his hands on a Canon 5D MkII and went nuts. This will change photojournalism.
- Billy Elliot opened (above) on Broadway to rave reviews. In all the time it's played in London, I never read something as negative as this piece. I love me some Gawker, but I think this is a testament to an American sensibility vs. a British one. Brits may have their favourites (as I did), but leave it to Americans to turn a career-maker into a "sad" event for two talented kids: "What's sad for the fey American boy and the sternly pretty Soviet bloc chap who play Billy in rotation with Alvarez, is that their Cuba-fro'd counterpart has actually already won."
- I made a mix CD of what I deemed "Comfort Music" the other day -- mostly bands or songs I hadn't payed much attention to in recent years -- and couldn't get over how much I continue to love Ugly Casanova, the Isaac Brock side project from some years back. I saw them at Slim's for one epic show before they disbanded and returned to their day jobs bands. But the record remains outstanding. It was something of an indie supergroup, if you really get down to it: Modest Mouse, Califone, Holopaw, Red Red Meat, Black Heart Procession.
OK, that's that. Back to your Google Readers and your Twitter feeds and whatnot.
Pieces of a far too ordinary life.