Saturday, September 29, 2012

Junot Diaz Writes Another Dominican Winner in The New Yorker

I have no doubt that Junot Diaz is one of the top contemporary fiction writers. His Dominican street-smart casanova language makes me feel like I'm back on the streets of that country, where I had such a great visit a year-and-a-half ago.

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao is a modern classic, and Diaz's latest short story in The New Yorker, "The Cheater's Guide to Love," is a similar tale. It's about a guy named Yunior (a thinly disguised confessional story, it's been rumored), who lives in Boston and is suffering from years of depression after a breakup with the love of his life, whom he had cheated on about 50 times while they were dating and engaged.

Yunior tries running, yoga, dating other girls, and other pursuits as he tries to forget her. Nothing much works, and it's a sad and hopeless story. But the way Diaz writes makes the pages turn rapidly and I really couldn't wait to discover what would happen next.

****1/2 out of ***** stars

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Best New Albums: September 2012

This is a new monthly feature recently introduced. You can stream all the albums mentioned here for free at this Spotify link, which I keep updated.

Best Album of the Month
Pujol - United States of Being
Tennessee garage rock that is obscure, but should not be and probably won't be for long. This is high-spirited party rock n' roll, like an even better Kings of Leon or Black Keys. It's all good, but I especially like "Keeper of Atlantis" and "Each and Everyday," which sounds like the best of every decade merging together into one rollicking Foo Fighters number.

Best of the Rest
Shintaro Sakamoto - How to Live With a Phantom
I have no idea who this guy is or where he came from, but it's very Japanese Brazilian tropicalia-ish. It makes me very happy whenever I play it. Samba beats, groovy beach guitars, and soothing backing harmonies. "In a Phantom Mood" is like the great lost Os Mutantes song.

Wussy - Buckeye
This month seems to be filled with semi-obscure recommendations. However, this band has been around for several albums and this may be their best one yet. Male and female vocals run throughout a diverse range of rock styles and sounds, probably best described as a mix of punk and alt-country. It still keeps growing on me after several listens.

The White Wires - WWIII
More 60s AM radio garage punk. This must have been my late-summer theme. These new kids on the scene, from Ottawa, have two records out this year. The first one was called, you guessed it, WWII. Not sure what happened to WWI.

Various Artists - Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac
This is an unusual tribute album in that it's really good and interesting. It helps that the Mac's songs are so strong, but groups like Best Coast, The New Pornographers, and Tame Impala shine on original takes.

Hacienda - Shakedown
This is a warm, organic, funky band from San Antonio that wouldn't normally be my thing, but the boogie woogie going on throughout most of this is just too darn difficult not to recommend to just about anyone, even the most hardened and jaded hipsters.

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes
This is my favorite Ariel Pink release yet, and I'm a little angry I missed their recent show at the 9:30 Club. It must have been weird. There are a lot of obvious Frank Zappa comparisons, but it has been updated to fit in even better into our current era. There are also beautiful interludes of pop majesty throughout, meeting somewhere between Brian Eno, Of Montreal, and Todd Rundgren.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Hipster Invasion at the H Street Festival in DC

Originally published at Mobility Lab.

While visiting the H Street Festival northeast of Union Station in Washington DC last weekend, it was apparent that hipster culture is booming and that many sideline hipsters like myself are more than open to exploring the hipster part of town. Rumor has it that the festival expanded from 35,000 to 65,000 attendees from last year to this year, although I haven't seen that verified anywhere yet. Travel & Leisure magazine has taken note, placing H Street in 6th place among "America's Hippest Hipster Neighborhoods." The top 5 are:
  1. Silver Lake in Los Angeles
  2. San Francisco's Mission District
  3. Brooklyn's Williamsburg
  4. Chicago's Wicker Park
  5. Portland's Pearl District
The magazine measured hipness by walkability, coffee shops, food trucks, farmers' markets, locally owned bars and restaurants, artistic community, and various ways how people talk about the neighborhood. Many of these variables are the same ones we're seeing again and again in measures of the most valuable real-estate markets of today and the future.  Photos by Paul Mackie

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Banff and Jasper in Photos: A Hard-to-Beat Vacation

My brother Tim with Jackson, overlooking Banff from Tunnel Mountain
I guess one thing we know about starting a new job (which was actually about four months ago) is that it makes your personal blogging suffer.

My hundreds of blog posts per year have dwindled to more like dozens in 2012. But, alas, that's OK. Half the battle of running a blog is updating it at least semi-regularly and not letting it die, as happens to 99 percent of blogs.

Jackson scampered up a steep rockpile at the start of Moraine Lake, near the famed Lake Louise
Moral of the story: Better late than never. I just realized tonight that I never posted part two of my Canadian Rockies blogs. It was a great family trip to celebrate my brother's 50th birthday. And I reported on my afternoon in Calgary, but I never wrote about the actual best part of the trip, which was a week in and around the beautiful ski town of Banff.
A surprisingly impressive, but very crowded, hike up Johnston Falls, not far outside of Banff

Taking a long hike up near the glaciers of Jasper on Wilcox Pass
Here are some of my photo highlights.

The drive from Banff to Jasper was beautiful the whole way

Heading up Sentinel Pass, which took us up terrain that was Kilimanjaro-like at times and ended with steep switchbacks and a view of "10 peaks"

Thursday, September 6, 2012

NFL Kickoff: Ranking Football’s Most Accessible Stadiums

Republished from Mobility Lab

I love going to NFL football games.

Going to the Ravens' stadium to see my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers is something I do nearly every year. Getting there from anywhere in Baltimore is easy by transit, and the parking lots south of the stadium are located in a way that I can get right onto the interstate and drive back to DC without having to sit in any Baltimore traffic.

On the other hand, heading out to FedEx Field to see my also-beloved Washington Redskins is typically a very-long ordeal, including either a long walk to the stadium at the end of a long Metro ride or, much worse, a traffic jam on the Beltway to get to parking that is nowhere near a stadium that is built in the middle of nowhere.

But I digress, Sports Illustrated has published a really interesting ranking of stadium accessibility for all 32 pro-football teams. Not surprisingly, FedEx Field is ranked near the bottom, at #30, with Giants Stadium keeping the New York Giants and Jets at #31 and #32, respectively. M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens, is ranked as the second most accessible. It must be really easy to get to Municipal Stadium, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, which is the top ranked. SI's computations look pretty thorough and ask just the right questions:
  • How would you rate the traffic to and from the stadium?
  • How would you rate the availability and cost of parking at the stadium?
  • How would you rate the public transportation options?
Respondents then gave an answer of either poor, below average, average, above average, or excellent. Denver, Green Bay, and Tennessee round out the top 5. Some other somewhat-surprising ranks include the #28 Dallas Cowboys, who have the league's premiere facility, which happens to have been located at complete odds with smart and current urban-design best practices, and the New Orleans Saints, way down at #18, which seems like it would be pretty accessible to anyone coming to the game from downtown or the French Quarter.

Check out the full NFL stadium accessibility rankings here.
Photo by Joe Slabotnik

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Two Takes on Cirque du Soleil in Washington DC and Baltimore

My favorite part of Totem was the bowl-flipping unicycle girls.
Cirque du Soleil has always been on my bucket list of things to do. I finally got the chance yesterday to see its Totem show under the big top by National Harbor in DC.

It was certainly enjoyable, and most of the feats performed really made you marvel at how humans could do those things, but I can't say I was floored quite as much as I thought I would be.

My main beefs: the story of apes evolving into cavemen and into modern humans was mindless, the Italian stereotype character repeating pizza, mamma mia, and eyeyiyi over and over was borderline offensive, and many of the skits went on too long.

Perhaps this is just one of the lesser shows in the Cirque series. I give it *** out of ***** stars. For a more appreciative take, my sister-in-law Madeline Comoglio wrote a tremendous take on a recent show in Baltimore and how she enjoyed it with her daughter Julia. Here's and excerpt and you can read the entire article at (cool) progeny.
A date night with my 6-year-old daughter sounded like the perfect evening before she started school next week … and perfect it WAS!
Back track a few years ago: I decided as a Mom I was going to stop giving my kids traditional gifts for special occasions (toys to add to their pile of toys they don’t play with, clothes they beg for but refuse to actually wear – you know where I’m going with this), and I would give them the gift of an experience. Since then I’ve had many Mother-Daughter dates with my Julia. We’ve done the countless Disney on Ices, a day at the art museum, The Lion King at the Hippodrome (amazing!) and, most recently, the American Idol Concert. I have to say that our date to Dralion is now at the very top of the list – right up there with the Lion King. A must-see experience!
The acts in Dralion are none like you’ve ever seen. The talent is beyond what you can imagine, the costumes are exquisite, and the music and orchestra are enchanting – you feel like you are watching a Broadway production, a ballet, a circus, a thrill show, a symphony, and an opera all at once.
It was an absolutely pleasure from start to finish. Honestly the perfect family treat!