Monthly Archive for July, 2004

Just Plain Big

just plain big waterlilies
I’m in no way a horticultural expert, but I appreciate a tree with a good, broad canopy where I can take my woman, a blanket, and a boxed lunch….with maybe a nice bottle of wine thrown in. We had that rarity in London on this Saturday past: a glorious, sunny day. So I took my girl and west of central London we went – to the Royal Botanical Gardens, otherwise known as Kew Gardens. It’s hard to imagine a better maintained garden with more variety of plant species than this one. Their Cactaceae(Cacti) collection alone makes your head spin with the number of latin names on display. Kew’s grounds are vast and everything is marked, although I’d like to have seen more common names listed alongside the scientific(Latin) name. The only real bad thing about it is that it’s directly in the flight path for planes landing at Heathrow, the 3rd busiest airport in the world, no less. Hard to nap under a beautiful willow tree with the noise of a jet landing every three minutes. My favorite part was probably the Waterlily House, hot and humid home to their giant waterlilies. I don’t know if the photo above does them justice, but these things are so large and strong that they can hold the weight of a small child. My good friends, Stan and Deb from Dayton, Ohio visited me here in October of 2001 and we went to Kew. It was a rainy, miserable day with not much in bloom. And they are real garden fans. There was a significant difference in my most recent visit. Hope they can come again soon.

Musicians of Terror

Liam’s most recent blog post on Hey Listen linked to an article that scared the crap out of me, so I had to steal it and post it myself. Actually, it will continue to scare me because I’ll be thinking about it every time I fly. As if I’m not paranoid enough already.

My husband immediately walked to the first class section to talk with the flight attendant. I might be overreacting, but I’ve been watching some really suspicious things…Before he could finish his statement, the flight attendant pulled him into the galley. In a quiet voice she explained that they were all concerned about what was going on. The captain was aware. The flight attendants were passing notes to each other. She said that there were people on board higher up than you and me watching the men….

It’s truly disturbing and reads like chapter in a Tom Clancy novel, with one unfortunate difference: The story is NOT fiction. Plus, it only happened a couple of weeks ago. Read it in it’s entirety.

I understand the concept that air marshals need to stay quiet unless and until something actually happens, but what about those lame stewardesses? Personally, I think Northwest needs to train their stewardesses better. They need to be those bitches-from-hell that we’ve all experienced on planes – the ones we’ve grown to dislike – that make you stay in your seat and don’t allow you to wander or stand around the cabin. Those same flight attendants may save your life in today’s climate where crazed lunatics are prepared to explode their bodies. I’d rather have a little(or even a lot if the situation warrants it) of that bitchiness, than the meek behavior of the girls on this flight. Scary stuff and some serious nightmare material.

I also must comment on the fact that there are airports around that don’t rescreen travelers after they’ve been in a terminal where there are food outlets using metal eating utensils. Huh? And possibly even gift shops with other sharp or flammable objects that can be used as weapons by members of the Religion Of Peace. I am baffled. Why isn’t something being done about this? 9/11 was going on three years ago. Have we not learned anything from it?

Oh, and two screenings maximum for potential terrorists if they happen to have the same ethnic make-up? Who are they kidding? Chances are they will have the same ethnicity, from what we’ve already learned. So, we’re rolling the dice and hoping we pick the right two to check. Brilliant! The ACLU can go to hell.

Help!….I’m a coffee geek

Doppio from SilviaI got turned onto espresso at Starbucks about 10 years ago. It’s been almost a cappuccino a day since then, with the occasional straight single shot or doppio espresso. Con panna is especially nice. I bought a Starbucks Proteo Grande espresso machine back in 1997 and have been pretty happy with it. I was always annoyed though, that the espresso never was very hot coming out and it never seemed to give me very much crema on my shots. Crema is the sign of a good pull(see attached photo). A couple of months ago, the machine started to act a little strange (steam coming out of the group head), so I decided to upgrade (It ended up just needing a good cleaning/de-scaling). I always loved the design of the La Pavoni lever machines with their gleaming chrome and old-world style. And I read that this was the most pure method for making espresso, so I ordered one from an Italian-based company on the internet. Well, to make a long story short….it was a bitch to use. They say you have to get the coffee grind, amount, and tamp pressure right, but this machine was ridiculous. The margin of error must have been miniscule because I could never get any crema. It came out hot and the frother was powerful, but the liquid was watery and weak. I read everything I could find online. Most said it is difficult to find the right combination of grind and tamp, but it was possible. There were entire web pages dedicated to the difficulties of the La Pavoni. There were also internet forums. Many tips and tricks were suggested and it gave me hope. I spent a good part of a weekend trying everything, but my patience was wearing thin. I attempted over 50 pulls and went through at least $20 worth of espresso before I finally gave up. My conclusion was that I may have gotten a lemon. For one, the little light that indicates when the boiler’s water temperature is right, never illuminated. Secondly, I discovered the temperature of water coming out of the group head, while hot, was not what it should be.

I ended up returning the La Pavoni. Sad, because it really is a beautiful machine. It’s like having a piece of art in your kitchen, but at this point I had a serious jones for a good espresso with a rich head of crema.

I had to find another machine.

I had a lot of time on my hands since AussieGirl was still in Australia. Surfing around the www, I found out that there are some serious coffee nerds out there. They astounded me with their knowledge of the bean and their dedication to quality. I was so impressed, and I now have the espresso bug so bad, that I added a whole new set of links to java pages on this blog. My favorite sites are CoffeeGeek, CoffeeKid, and WholeLatteLove. I’m seriously thinking of starting to roast my own beans, as well.

Anyway, back to my quest….

After narrowing down my choices to the Pasquini Livia and the Rancilio Silvia, I decided on the Rancilio. I ordered it from the very nice ladies over at Sweet Maria’s. The Pasquini sounded impressive, but $1000+ is probably a little more than I wanted to spend. It’s practically commercial quality and I may graduate to it, or something similar, in the future. But I thought it was too big a jump going from my little, underpowered machine. Sort of like going from a Pinto to a GTO. The Rancilio sounded pretty damn awesome anyway and it seems to have a loyal, cult-like following. I received it in the mail two weeks ago and it’s been pumping out the black gold with a guiness-like head each day since (again, the proof is in the photo). I’m really happy with it. Anyone want to buy an old Starbucks machine?

Do You Believe in Miracles?

Greece Wins
Sikosete to Gamimeno

OK, I stole that title line from Al Michael’s classic call at the end of the unlikely 1980 USA Olympic Hockey team’s gold medal win over the powerful Russians. (If you want to know what the photo caption means, read the linked article, written before the match). Tonight’s triumph by the Greek National Soccer Team was just as, if not more, remarkable than the 1980 USA win. You must consider the fact that this is the sport the world plays and these were some of the best players in the world trying to win the most prestigious (outside of the World Cup) international sports trophy for their country. Greece had to run a gauntlet of great teams – Portugal, France, Spain, and the Czech Republic. Add in the facts that they were playing in Portugal and no one can probably name a single Greek player….and I’m not just saying that because their names are hard to pronounce. What I mean is that the players are totally unheralded and pretty much unknown outside of Greece. Most of them play in the local Greek leagues and the ones that have made it on Premiereship(UK), Bundesliga(German), or Italian league teams usually languish on the bench. Lastly, this is the same team that less than a month ago had yet to win a single match in a major finals.

This championship was huge and showed the heart and soul of the Greeks. I for one know that my pride as a Greek-American has peaked. It seems this team was destined and let’s all hope that this segues into a safe and successful Olympic Games in Athens next month. Perhaps it will give everyone a boost of adrenaline to get everything ready in time for the 13th of August.

Na zisete, Ellatha!

Uhhh…..they loved it in France

You’ve heard the one about the elephant in the room? Symbolic of a problem that people refuse to face for so long that they’re no longer able to see it right in front of them….as big as an elephant. The 2003 movie directed by Gus van Sant, entitled Elephant, is inspired by the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999.

“We should be able to pick them off one-by-one,” says one of the boy assassins to the other on the way to school. “But most importantly, have fun.”

On the one hand, Elephant was a disturbing movie to watch and evoking feelings is usually the sign of a good movie, whatever the emotion. But in this case, I think the viewer’s emotions are all coming from their memory of what they know of the terrible murders at Columbine and drawing parallels between the real life event and the film. In other words, you knew what was coming in the movie and it was chilling because something similar really happened. The film, on a stand-alone basis though, tells us nothing more. It’s very cold and detached. We see stereotypical high school kids – jocks, nerds, the vacuous popular girl clique, the outsiders – and we see them mostly from a distance. The camera follows them as they stroll through halls. In some cases, the same scene is played from different camera angles and perspectives. Very “arty”. It didn’t win no Palme d’Or at Cannes for nothin’.

Besides being totally void of content and emotion, it doesn’t really “end”. Thus, most people won’t like this movie. A couple things that lost it some credibility with me was the ease with which it depicted the purchase of guns over the internet. An assault rifle was delivered to the door by a UPS guy, who signed it cheerily over to the school-skipping teenagers. It can’t be that easy. Further reading tells me this is highly implausible. Maybe Michael Moore can lie to…err tell… us all about it. The other thing, and this came totally out of the blue, is the (now seemingly standard) homoerotic twist. Right after one killer plays Beethoven’s Fur Elise on the piano while the other plays a violent video game, they watch a documentary on Hitler, then take a farewell, pre-massacre shower together. Bizarre. And there’s a scene earlier where a group of kids in school discuss whether or not you can tell if someone’s gay just by their appearance. It seems every movie has to inject some gayness into it, even if it’s inexplicable. In this case, the director can’t be blaming homosexuality, since I’ve read that he’s openly gay. I’d like him to explain his reasons. Maybe he did it for the French audiences.

Greece Wins! (again)

Keep believing in the dream. The Greek national football team just eliminated the heavy favorites, the Czech Republic, in Euro 2004. It was a 1-0 shock win with a goal off a corner kick in the closing seconds of the first extra period. Not many gave them a chance in this one. Hell, not many gave them a chance to advance past the group stage. They now advance to the final, where they play the host team Portugal. It’s a rematch of the tournament opener, another upset authored by the Greeks. If there’s any justice, Greece will take it since Portugal really was eliminated by England in the quarterfinals. A blown call by the referee robbed them of the game-winner. Hellas-England: now that would’ve been great.

This gutsy Greek team just keeps surprising people. They’ve been getting great support from their fans, who’ve been loyal and loud throughout the tourney. The singing of the Greek National Anthem was shaking the house before the match today. That kind of backing surely helps. Maybe it’s destiny – this being the year of the return to Greece of the Olympics. Maybe it’s their German coach, who instills in them the discipline, teamwork, and even-temperament that they, as hot-headed Greek men, need. Maybe it’s their fitness level, their great man-to-man defense, and the fact that they play for 90 minutes (105 today). I don’t know what it is, but it’s a real cinderella story and I’ll be watching the final this weekend. GO HELLAS!!