Archive for August, 2007

Beer Review: Grimbergen Abbey Ale

Another selection from Charlie’s Kitchen.

Beer: Abbey Ale
Brewer: Grimbergen
Source: Draught
Rating: *** (7.3 of 10)

Comments:  I can’t find an Abbey Ale on the web, but I believe I tasted the Grimbergen Dubbel since it was brown in color.  Whatever it was, it was a darn fine beer in the Belgian abbey traditions.  In addition to the chestnut brown color and a thick creamy head, this gave off a rich beery aroma.  The beer has a crisp, dry taste that doesn’t linger on the tongue, but grows deeper in flavor as the beer mellows in the glass.  Very tasty.  I’d drink it again.

Mount Desert Island

Susan and I spent a lovely long weekend on Mount Desert Island in Maine for our summer vacation (or Babymoon as some people are callling it). We stayed at the Penury Hall bed and breakfast in Southwest Harbor. This was our second visit to MDI and the B&B, previously staying there in January 2003 during a blizzard. On that visit, the Penury Hall proprietors were at their other property in the Bahamas and we were hosted by their son Alden who taught rock climbing in the summer, and among previous jobs spent a summer flying kites on a beach in Oregon. So this would our first time meeting Gretchen and Toby, a lovely couple who provide a lovely place to stay.

See photos from Mount Desert Island at Othemts.com.

 

Friday:

We drove up on Friday morning after a filling breakfast at SoundBites in Somerville. On our previous trip we discovered a great show on Maine Public Radio called Down Memory Lane. Basically the DJ selects songs that debuted in charts in this week in 1917, 1927, 1937, 1947, 1957 and 1967. It’s a nice selection of music from across eras. There should be more radio shows like this.

We arrived at Penury Hall in the early afternoon and checked in with Toby who also made us reservations at their favorite restaurant Red Sky. Feeling car-lagged we went for a walk around the town and down all the way to the Coast Guard Station and Oceanarium (the latter a bit too pricey to visit for just an hour). On the way back to town we looped along another road and passed the Southwest Harbor Congregational Church with it’s spiffy shingles and examined an old burial ground across the street.

Stopping in back at the B&B for a nap, we then drove out to watch the sunset on the quiet side. En route we discovered the Seawall and got out for a walk along the cobblestone beach. Then we continued to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse where we again clambered around on the rocks and joined a crowed watching the sky turn pink as the sun disappeared in the distance.

We had a late but worth the wait seating Red Sky. A very tall waiter served us tasty food and beer (the latter for me alone). I ate the potato gnocchi and I believe Susan ate the halibut. For dessert Susan had blueberry pie and I ate the cheese course. Mmmm.

Saturday:

The next morning it rained cats and dogs with a howling wind. This reminded us of our summer vacation from last year where it rained all week. Toby assured us the rain would stop around 11 am. Apart from meteorology, Toby also does the cooking for breakfast. The much more chatty Gretchen joined us at the breakfast table and brought us up to date on Alden. Apparently he’s now at firefighting school in Colorado and spends up to six months a year at a research station in Antarctica. There’s a picture of him on the fridge with a penguin in his lap. Somehow we were the first ones up but the other guests soon joined us at the table. One of them cheerfully told us how she had injured herself once each day during her vacation and was expecting another daily injury today.

We decided to spend our first fall day exploring Acadia National Park via the Park Loop Road. We went to the Halibut Cove Visitors Center first in hopes that the rain would stop while we were there. We saw the introduction film (“Simple Gifts” on the kettle drums rocks) and purchased a park pass, but it was still raining when we left. Worse, we both neglected to bring much in the way of wet weather gear. So we went to Bar Harbor, found parking, and an outdoors store. Susan found a rain jacket and a rain hat right away but the store seemed short on men’s clothing. Instead we found a cheap poncho for me a tourist shop, their name and logo emblazoned across the chest “Cool as a Moose.”

Ready for rain we started on the road. First stop, Sieur de Monts Spring where a domed spring house from the cottage era of Mount Desert Island history stands as a monument to George B. Dorr who is responsible for creating the national park. We visited the nature center and followed a guided walk around the site which includes the Abbe Museum of Native American archeology and the Wild Gardens of Acadia. The woman who worked at the Abbe was very friendly and informative and was actually descended from the local Indian tribes (although she didn’t know that until she was an adult).

Next stop was at Schooner Head Overlook. Despite the motorist guide advising us to not visit the shore here, we went down anyway and enjoyed waves crashing against the rocks without a crowd. We also peeked into, but did not enter the Sea Anenome Cave. We also were getting very hungry, so we agreed to zoom ahead along the park road to a lunch stop. According to my guidebook, the tea and popovers at the Jordan Pond House should be required by law. So we ate lunch at this popular, scenic spot. The rain had really kept the crowds down, and even though the sun was coming out as Toby predicted, we were still able to be seated right away. And the tea, popovers, soup and salad were all very tasty, served by a lovely young woman from Charlotte, NC.

To work off our lunch we went for a walk around Jordan Pond, a long stretch of water surrounded by pines and hills and resembling a Scottish loch. Actually, it looks even more like Glendalough in Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains, the resemblance being somewhat eerie in some spots. On the far end of the lake are two round mountains called the Bubbles and we walked up and over South Bubble as part of our hike. Near the peak is a rock which appears to be precariously balanced on the edge of a cliff. We were amused by the other hikers who all posed for photos as if they were pushing the rock off the mountain. One dad told his kids that the entire roster of the New England Patriots could not push it over, although I’d like to see them try. Back down the other side of Jordan Pond, the trail follows a long set of bog bridges, or a “boardwalk” as the signs refer to it. Gretchen told us later that this is relatively new and the trail used to be marshy and hard to follow before the bridges.

Having climbed a mountain by foot we could justify driving to the top of Cadillac Mountain at sunset. Due to cold winds and crowds, we didn’t stay long, but did follow the circular path around the summit to take in the views. We also bought some postcards at the summit house. Back down the hill and into Bar Harbor we enjoyed dinner and a movie at Reel Pizza Cinerama, a movie theater with counters in front of the seats so you can eat pizza while watching the film. Lots of nice leg room for those of us with restless legs too. We ate “The Godfather” pizza and watched The Simpsons Movie.

Sunday:

After a delicious breakfast of eggs Benedict on English muffins, we walked to the town pier in Southwest Harbor. We arrived very early for the Cranberry Cove Ferry to the Isleford (a.k.a. Little Cranberry Island). While waiting a cheerful couple from Florida came down the pier and remained cheerful even when they learned that this wasn’t where they wanted to be. They told us about meeting a local teenage girl on the Island Explorer shuttle bus from Bar Harbor who told them that there are a lot of fights among the girls at her high school. This led to the quote of the week: “She says there’s a lot ‘drama’ at her school. In Orlando we call it violence, she calls it drama.” When the ferry arrived we were joined by a large number of tourists, children, and dogs for the hour-long journey to Islesford. The views of Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Isles were fantastic. We even saw eagles circling above us among the seagulls.

Islesford is a child’s paradise. Large troops of children roamed the island seemingly unsupervised playing baseball, riding bikes, dressing up as pirates, and jumping off the pier (after much posturing). I thought much about living on Islesford even though I wouldn’t make a good lobsterman, or artist, or independently wealthy person with a summer home. We ate a picnic lunch on the town green and then wandered the length and breadth of the island taking in scenic views and charming architecture. It wasn’t all walking as we napped on Gilley Beach and read books under the trees by the Islesford Historical Museum. Islesford is a beautiful, relaxing place and one I’d like to return to. They do have a library there so maybe I might just fit in after all.

Monday:

Our final day on Mount Desert Island came all too soon. We returned to Acadia National Park and picked up the stretch of the Park Loop Road that we skipped over on Saturday. Not that we planned to drive it, we wanted to walk it! We parked at Thunder Hole, so called because of a cave in the rocks that makes explosive sounds when air is trapped by waves. The viewing platform was crowded with irritating, pushy people but Susan managed to charm some senior citizens. From here we walked south along the coastal path toward the Otter Cliffs. Away from Thunder Hole there were fewer people, although the crowds increased whenever we reached a spot by a parking area. The path took us to Otter Cliffs, Otter Point, and Otter Cove. We didn’t see any otters but walked along dramatic coastal scenery that one couldn’t take for granite.

Returning to the car, we drove to Somesville, site of the first settlement on MDI and now a village with a charming footbridge. After crossing the bridge we visited the Somesville Library which was actually open. We had a terrific conversation with a library volunteer, a retired school teacher, who told as the history of the library and talked with us about children’s books. I never read children’s fiction as a child, so I was excited to see a large collection of biographies for children from a series I remember reading. Next door is the Port in a Storm Bookstore, a great place to while away the time looking at books and peaking out the windows to see Somes Sound, the only fjord on the East Coast.

Except for a long drive home, that was our summer vacation.

Movie Review: The Simpsons Movie

What can you expect from The Simpsons Movie (2007)?  After an extraordinary 18-years and counting on television (I can’t believe I was still in high school when I started watching The Simpsons)The Simpsons make it to the big screen.  And as Homer points out, we’re all suckers for paying for something we can watch for free.  Seriously though, I’m surprised that a movie didn’t come out around 1991 at the height of Bartmania.  It probably wouldn’t have been a good movie, but have Groening and associates benefited by waiting so long?

I’d say yes.  This is no masterpiece of a movie, and there’s nothing much to distinguish it from the tv show.  Sure, Bart does the full monty, Bart gets drunk (ironic since bootleg t-shirts sold showed the same thing back when I was in college), Homer flips the bird, and there’s some impolite language you’re not going to here on tv.  And yet the the tv show is one of the best on television, and even if the movie is just like watching three episodes back-to-back, at least they’re three funny episodes.

So don’t go in with high expectations other than to laugh and have fun at The Simpsons expense.

Favorite lines:

Santa’s Little Helper: I did things no dog should. They will haunt me forever.

Russ Cargill: There’s a couple of things they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School: One is how to cope with defeat, the other is how to handle a shotgun. I’m going to do both right now.

Previously:  I get Simpsonized.

Beer Review: Mount Desert Island Ginger Wheat

I love wheat beers.  I love ginger.  This beer is TWO! TWO! great flavors in one.

Beer: Mount Desert Island Ginger Wheat
Brewer: Atlantic Brewing Company
Source: 12 oz. bottle
Rating: *** (7 of 10)

Comments: The last of the trio of beers I experienced for the first time while on vacation in Maine is a beer locally made on Mount Desert Island.  The name of the beer pretty much sums up the flavor.  I’ve never encountered a beer with ginger flavor (except, of course, ginger beer), but I have to say the tangy kick of ginger does the beer well.  It also helps that this is a good flavorful wheat beer to start with.

Beer Review: Éphémère (draft)

How about them apples?  In Beer!

Beer: Éphémère
Brewer: Unibroue
Source: Draught
Rating: *** (7.9 of 10)

Comments:  I generally don’t associate Unibroue with draught beers as I’ve only seen their products in bottles.  Yet a fine restaurant in Maine offers this apple-sweet beer on tap.  Apparently the beer is filtered through pressed apples to give it its apple flavor.  And apple smell.  This beer is not coy about it’s fruitiness.  And yet it is not a cider either.  This makes a very good drink for summer nights and goes well with cheese and fruit.

Beer Review: Growstown Steam Ale

A fine brew from down east.

Beer: Growstown Steam Ale
Brewer: Growstown Brewing Company
Source: Draught
Rating: **** (8.9 of 10)

Comments:  This beer may originate from Brunswick, Maine but it tastes like it’s from across the pond in England.  This may be the closest I’ve had to a British pub-style Real Ale in the US.  It looks good, it smells good, and it tastes good.  It’s kind of like distilling all that’s wonderful about fresh bread from a bakery into a beer.

Elvis

I’m not a huge Elvis Presley fan (although I’ve been to Graceland) but I do like some of his songs. In honor of Elvis on the 30th anniversary of his death, here’s my list of my top five favorite Elvis songs:

1. Heartbreak Hotel
2. Suspicious Minds (the Fine Young Cannibals do a great cover)

3. Can’t Help Falling In Love (beautiful song no matter who sings it)
4. Hound Dog (although you just can’t top the Big Mama Thornton version)

5. Are You Lonesome Tonight – a live recording where Elvis cracks a joke and then laughs uncontrollably for several minutes. The backup singers are unfazed and just keep on singing.

More from Whispers in the Loggia: The Dormition of Elvis (which includes a link to Five Catholic Facts about Elvis. Who knew?)

Movie Review: Sweet Land: A Love Story

Sweet Land: A Love Story (2006) is simple, tender love story set in rural Minnesota just after World War I.  Inge (the lovely Elizabeth Reaser) is a mail-order bride from Germany who arrives to marry the shy and serious Norwegian-American farmer Olaf (Tim Guinee).  The plan runs into a snag when the local minister (John Heard) refuses to marry them because Inge doesn’t have the right immigration papers.  These papers prove hard to get due to her being German and the scare over socialism.  Inge and Olaf attempt to muddle through as best as possible, slowly falling in love, but meet with increasing disapproval from the town folk and then are expelled from the church by the minister.  When Olaf’s friend Frandsen (the comical Alan Cumming) house goes on the auction block, Olaf bids and wins the house even though he can’t afford.  Olaf’s bold motion wins back his approval from the town and the minister.

This movie manages to be sentimental without being hokey.  A couple of scenes remind me of other movies.  When Inge and Olaf are thrown out of the church it’s similar to a scene in The Field, albeit less justified in this case.  The town folk rallying to raise the money to help Olaf pay off Frandsen’s mortgage is of course reminiscent of It’s A Wonderful Life, except these restrained Minnesotans don’t join in singing Christmas carols unlike those rambunctious New Yorkers.  The film includes a double framing device and it could do without both of them.  First, Olaf and Inge’s grandson is mulling selling the farm after Inge’s death in modern day, then he flashes back to when Olaf died in the 1970′s for some wisdom from Grandma.  The main story is great though, and so beautifully filmed.  I almost want to travel to Minnesota this summer.

Movie Review: Wattstax

The documentary film of the 1972 concert Wattstax (1973) was re-released in a special edition a few years ago, but I didn’t get a chance to see it then. Spurred by my recent trip to Los Angeles and a review of a PBS documentary on Stax Records, I decided to request this DVD from the library. I was not disappointed. The film is a powerful social document of Black Pride in America in the 1970′s and captures some amazing musical performances.

For the uninitiated, Wattstax was a music festival in August 1972 featuring some of the top recording artists of Stax Records to commemorate the 7th anniversary of the Watts riots. I had imagined it as a street festival (and there was a parade and festival in Watts) but the actual concert took place in Los Angeles Coliseum. With over 100,000 people in attendance, the event has been called “the Black Woodstock,” and the name and logo of Wattstax plays on the comparison. The crowd includes many older people, children, the nattily dressed, and ordinary looking folk, and as far as I can tell every single person in attendance was black. I can’t imagine an event like this happening today when even the most militant rap act will attract a large crowd of suburban white kids. This may be a good thing, reflecting an easing of racial tensions in the US, but on the other hand the Black Pride movement seems incomplete.

Surprisingly, the vast majority of this film is not concert footage. A good portion of the introduction and between sets is dedicated to on the street interviews in Watts and shots of urban street scenes. The people interviewed talk about the riots (which are viewed as bringing about positive change), religion, unemployment, crime, identity, men and women, and adultery. These interviews are tied in thematically with musical performances so that gospel numbers surround the religion discussion and the discussion of adultery precedes Luther Ingram singing “If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to be Right.” These interviews by Richard Pryor telling funny stories to a group of people off camera while in a club.

Even some of the musical performances don’t take place at the Coliseum. The Emotions sing “Peace Be Still” in a church. In a segment resembling a (very good and effective) music video Little Milton plays “Walking the Backstreet and Crying” while sitting in a derelict urban setting by a burning trash barrel. Another scene is set in a club where customers in stereotypical pimp outfits watch Johnnie Taylor sing “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone.”

The actual concert begins with the National Anthem while the camera pointedly scans the audience to show that no one stands. Jesse Jackson takes the mic and inspires crowd and leads them in a call & response recitation of his poem “I Am Somebody.” Then he introduces the Black National Anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” performed by Kim Weston. I didn’t even know there was a Black National Anthem, but it’s good to learn new things. During the performance the audience stands with fists raised and images from civil rights history are displayed. Very powerful stuff.

The concert is full of great performances by The Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays, Albert King, Carla Thomas with the most beautiful smile, Rufus Thomas, and the show-stopping finale by Isaac Hayes. I’ll have to confess once again that I had no idea how great a performer he is and how popular he was in 1972, but damn he put on a good show. Another thing I never knew is that a great number of the spoken words by Jesse Jackson and the performing artists have been sampled on other recordings. This is particularly true of It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back by Public Enemy, one of my all-time favorite albums. Now I finally know where “Brothers and sisters, I don’t know what this world is coming to!” and “Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude” came from and heard them in context.

This is a great film that documents a place and time, and as an added bonus contains some kickass music.  Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Mets Review in Haiku

I’ve given up the burden of trying to make weekly posts about the Mets, and I’m sure that there’s no one out there dying to see my comments and players of the game.  So expect my Mets commentary will be much more spare for the rest of the season.  Here’s a summary of the series played from July 23-August 12 in verse.

John Maine hits one deep
LoDuca makes the Bucs weep
But the Mets can’t sweep.

I just can’t see how
The last place team from DC
Can split with the Mets?

Tom Glavine on the mound
Win 300 on the line
Oops! Bullpen blows it!

Deadline comes and goes
Omar works the phones and gets
Luis Castilo

Wrigley Field is not
Foreign when ten years a Fish.
Joe Morgan is dumb.

The second place team
Looks much better than the Mets.
I hate Chipper Jones

Runners left on base
The bullpen is a disgrace
Fish take two of three.

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