Sunday, June 29, 2008

Alice Again

One of the fun things about blogging is that after you've done it a while, you'll start to notice patterns in your writing that you never would have expected. When I started blogging, I never expected that I would have so much to say about Alice Cooper. To wit, while walking around the shopping mall inside of Vienna's Gasometer a few weeks ago, I noticed that it had its own walk of fame. Since Falco and Ahnold are the only Austrian celebrities I can think of off the top of my head, I wasn't surprised that I had never heard of anyone in the walk of fame. Nor was I surprised to see that one person in the walk of fame that I did recognize was Alice Cooper. Normally, I might have a little pity for an aging rocker who decided it was worth his time to let a second-rate Austrian shopping mall immortalize him in their walk of fame, but I feel like Alice Cooper's enshrinement was more of a labor of love and whimsy than desperation.

We were driving home after our flight back from Vienna when I discovered that the local classic rock radio station is now airing Nights with Alice Cooper (only on Saturday nights, sadly). One of the deep cuts that Alice treated us to was one of his own, a song I had never heard before called "I Love America". It's essentially a less profane, cold war version of "America - Fuck Yeah!". It's not all that funny or clever, but it's distinctly Cooper.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Ice Harvest

After hearing about Gavin Weightman's The Frozen-Water Trade: A True Story shortly after it was published in 2003 and having my interest rekindled after noticing a small sign on an old warehouse in Charlestown commemorating the frozen water trade while walking the Freedom Trail in 2006, I finally got around to reading the book. The book is largely the story of Frederic Tudor, the man who was largely responsible for creating the ice industry prior to artificial refrigeration. Before I heard about this book, I had no idea that people ever harvested ice from lakes and rivers and stored it so it would be available during the warmer months. I had heard of icehouses and iceboxes but I guess I never really thought about where the ice came from. When I learned that Tudor shipped ice to the Caribbean, the American South, and even to India without artificial refrigeration, I was astounded and it was that astonishment that led to my interest in the book.

Once I was able to wrap my head around the idea that the ice trade, the book didn't really have much else to offer in the way of shocking realizations. The book devoted some space to one of Tudor's partners, Nathaniel Wyeth, who was responsible for most of the technical innovations that made it possible to harvest large volumes of ice from frozen lakes and ponds in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Once that was worked out, the ice business was like any other weather-dependent business. Tudor exploited the technical advantages that Wyeth provided to harvest more ice in less time at a lower cost than his competitors, but in the end, his success had more to do with the network of relationships he built around the world and his refusal to cede any ground to his competitors.

The most interesting thing about the whole story was not the supply side of the ice business; it was the demand side. The US was the first country where year-round access to ice in all climates was considered a necessity instead of an extravagant luxury. While there certainly was demand for ice in the tropical climes of the Caribbean and India, ice was still seen as more of a luxury good. Even today, American's attitudes towards ice differ from the rest of the world. Sit down at a restaurant anywhere in the 50 states and the first thing that you'll get is a tall, cool glass of ice water. American brewers have spent so much time and money trying to convince customers that their beer is the coldest that it's become the stuff of parody. The books doesn't offer any explanation for American's love of ice. It might be good old American exceptionalism, but I have my own theory. The climate of the eastern part of North America is a lot more variable than that of Western Europe. The average temperature in Philadelphia during the summer is about the same as the average temperature in Rome during the summer, but Philadelphia gets much colder in the winter. There's really nowhere in the eastern US that has comfortable weather throughout the winter and the summer, so it makes sense that in addition to the obvious demand for summer ice in sweltering American South there would also be more demand for summer ice in Northeastern US cities than anywhere in Western Europe.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin

I knew this morning when I heard that George Carlin had passed away that I would read many tributes in the blogosphere today. Certain deaths really resonate in blogging world. Generally, they feature men who did great or at least interesting things while living by their own credo and not worrying too much about what the rest of the world thought of them. I suspect that deep down, this is how most of us bloggers would like to see ourselves remembered and therefore, it should come as no surprise that we feel the need to mourn the passing of the great elders of the tribe to which we aspire.

I'm not going to eulogize Carlin because I'm not that familiar with his body of work. I liked the pieces of it that I managed to catch, but I never really sought it out. I will mention that I was just thinking about what he was up to and how old he was after his name came up in a conversation I had with some friends about Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (in which Carlin plays Rufus, of course) on Saturday. I'm not suggesting that the act of me thinking about George Carlin for the first time in a few years led to his passing 24 hours later, but it is strange how things like that happen sometime. Perhaps Carlin once did a bit about this phenomenon.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Das dritte European Impressions

I can't look at the tiles on the roof of Stephansdom without thinking of the Jamaican Flag. Apparently, it's a rather recent addition to the church.

Vienna was full of European soccer fans while we were visited since it is one of the host cities for the 2008 Euro Cup tournament.

Of all the countries whose fans traveled to Vienna for the tournament, Poland had the largest and most vocal contingent.

I've never felt more connection to my Polish heritage than I did while riding the U Bahn with a horde of Polish soccer fans in full regalia on their way back from the stadium.

For a city that was packed with European soccer fans, there was surprisingly little rioting going on while we were there. Many of Vienna's more delicate landmarks, including the Burggarten, were closed to prevent them from getting trashed.

This was the first time I've ever visited multiple countries on an overseas trip and it was interesting to see the contrasts between Paris and Vienna that I probably wouldn't have noticed had I visited them on separate trips.

I didn't see a single street musician my entire time in Vienna. I was disappointed, but I chalked it up to the Euro 2008 tournament.

The grounds at the Belvedere Palace were not in very good condition and even if they were in good shape, they wouldn't have been anywhere near as impressive as the grounds at the Schönbrunn Palace.

The art museum in the Oberes Belvedere had a decent collection of German Expressionist paintings, but it was not as rich of a collection as I would have hoped for a city that was so important to that movement.

I'm better at passing as a European than I imagined. The flight attendants on our intra-European flights generally addressed me in German before English. Vendors on the streets of Vienna guessed that I was Polish, Russian, and German before American (as long as I hadn't said anything to them yet).

Saturday, June 21, 2008

European Impressions, Part Deux

The Musée d'Orsay has more famous and familiar paintings per square foot than any other museum I've ever visited. It's an astounding collection for any museum, let alone a museum that opened in 1986!

Regardless of what your Paris guidebooks may tell you, if you want to visit the street markets of Paris, you better go first thing in the morning and preferably on a weekend.

I've now seen three Statues of Liberty (NYC, Tokyo, Paris)

Hot dogs are much more readily available in Paris than I ever would have imagined.

One of the few American meals that I miss while traveling is a nice greasy breakfast. Fortunately, we were able to get one in Paris.

When visiting places with a lot of history, it's interesting to see what events and people they choose to focus on at their historic attractions. Most of the historic attractions in Paris focused on the revolution, of course. In Vienna, they seemed to focus on Maria Theresa and Franz Josef I, their most famous and last* monarchs, respectively. Marie Antoinette comes up quite a bit in both cities, since she was the daughter of Maria Theresa and wife of Louis XVI.
* Technically, Franz Josef I wasn't the last Habsburg monarch, but he reigned for 68 years and the monarchy was dissolved two years after his death

I've developed a fondness for Roman Ruins, no matter how unimpressive they are.

French coffee is stronger (and better) than Viennese coffee (Don't take my word for it, however, as I only had coffee one time in each city).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Some European Impressions

Paris is as beautiful as everyone says - but not in the way that I expected. It has a gritty, lived-in kind of feeling that only enhances its beauty, in my opinion.

Paris is more multicultural than I was led to believe.

The Paris Metro system is one of best public transit systems I've ever ridden. If we had to wait more than two minutes for a train, it was a long wait.

The only thing worse than the crowds at the Louvre were the people who were taking pictures of all of the paintings. I hope that the art museums of Paris (and the rest of the world, for that matter) start prohibiting all photography in their galleries. In the age of digital photography, it's not enough to just outlaw flash photography.

I was under the impression that the only kinds of stores on the Champs-Elysees were high-end luxury goods stores. It certainly had plenty of these, but there were plenty of shopping opportunities for those on more of a budget.

Even after taking into account the weakness of the dollar, drinkable wine is still very affordable in France.

The best part about worldwide theatrical releases of films is seeing how the titles get translated. What Happens in Vegas was Jackpot in France and Love Vegas in Austria. I guess the Greater Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau uses a different slogan in its foreign language marketing materials. (Note: this observation should not be construed as an endorsement of the film What Happens in Vegas)

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Who Shot Nice Guy Eddie?

In an ongoing attempt to turn my blog into the Internet's premier source of Quabbin Reservoir related news, I present this article from last Sunday's ProJo. It sounds like a nice place to do some hiking, biking, or just plain old relaxing, especially in the fall. I may have to make the trip up there sometime this autumn. If I do go, rest assured, you'll read about it here first.

The Cup is Raised

Welcome back to Detroit, Stanley.