"Don't bury me! I'm not dead!" (take two)

22 November 2008

For unknown reasons, I just lost the previous draft of this post, and so have had to start over. That includes a number of edits that made the text more coherent to read. Please bear wth me.

The reason I haven't been writing much lately is because what little time I have that isn't taken up by work has been spent running hither and yon, having what are popularly termed 'wacky adventures'. Things haven't slowed down much for Lyssa and I since we got married; in fact it's rare that we have an evening at home to ourselves that isn't taken up by cleaning or putting stuff together.

Two Fridays ago at PEN Faulkner Lyssa, Hasufin, Mika, Sarah, and I got together after work to attend a special reading given by Toby Barlow (who wrote the novel Sharp Teeth), Max Brooks (author of The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z), and Grace Lee (documentarist and filmmaker behind American Zombie). The reading and Q&A panel were chaired by author Matthew Klam, who somehow managed to keep everything on track that night. Each author read some of their work, or showed an excerpt from it in the case of American Zombie. Everyone had a slightly different take on the cultural phenomenon of the zombie: Brooks looks at it from the all-or-nothing post-apocalyptic survivalist view, Grace Lee wondered what it would be like if zombies were real but some were almost as functional as people, while Barlow completely bypassed the idea with a free verse novel about werewolves. Max Brooks is downright hilarious. If you remember the kid in elementary school who could crack everyone in the classroom up with a single word and get away with it and then aged him up twenty years or so, you won't be far off the mark with Max Brooks. He kept us in stitches the entire night with such quips as "Tongue in cheek?! No, tongue not in cheek. Serious as tongue hacked off with machete." when asked why he wrote the 'Survival Guide. Now, I'm not into the whole zombie thing as a fad/subculture but I do appreciate the sorts of creative thought that everyone put into their works, especially the sort of reasoning that goes into making a coherent myth. To his credit, Brooks went out of his way to research strategies that might actually work in a zombie apocalypse - weapons and attack strategies were carefully considered during the writing of both books. He says that he's more of a fan of shambling zombies (Night of the Living Dead) than the fast moving ones (28 Days Later), which really affected the way he thought about the potential problems detailed in the book.

After the reading was over, Pen Faulkner held a cheese and fruit reception in the lobby of the building, where the authors were signing their works. The line was halfway around the lobby, so we stopped off for a moment to raid the buffet before getting into the surprisingly fast moving line. Lyssa got her copy of the Zombie Survival Guide signed ("Don't give this away!"), while I got her copy of World War Z signed because I had nothing else with me ("Bryce - Your jacket is cool, but it won't save you!")

I should get around to reading them some day. You know, whenever I have some free time.

Sarah wore her World of Warcraft shirt to the reading, which got Brooks' attention immediately. Apparently, he's not a fan of the Horde.

Due to the fact that I'd had an utterly crap day and wasn't feeling as if I could act in a decently social manner around a larger group of people, we decided to pass on seeing Leyla dance a couple of blocks away. So, we walked back to Kramer Books in Dupont Circle to hole up for dessert and a beer until we felt that we'd best head home before the Metro shut down for the night and rode back to our usual neck of the woods.

Lyssa and I got up early on Saturday to drive over to Macy's to buy a new king-sized bed with our monetary proceeds from the wedding. Thank you, everyone!

It took us a couple of days to actually sleep in the new bed, mind you, because the folks at work passed the hat a few weeks ago and rented a condo for us at the Wintergreen Resort, about three hours south of Washington, DC and about three thousand feet above sea level. We drove up there late Friday evening after dinner and a supply run, just when the rain hit Virginia, and later when the fog rolled in off the mountain. In retrospect, getting a late start to the trip was probably not the greatest of ideas, because visibility was minimal and I was relying on caffeine and the thought of accidentally driving off the side of the mountain to a firey doom to keep me awake. After arriving at check-in we discovered that there had been a slight mistake in our reservations: we were supposed to check in on Saturday and not Friday night, so they couldn't find our reservations in either their database or the stack of dead trees under the counter. I don't recall whose idea it was to check Saturday's listings; technically, we arrived right on time, just earlier than expected.

The condo the 'Group had rented for us was more like a fully furnished apartment, with a fully equipped kitchen (it was only missing a coffee grinder; much to my chagrin, I'd brought beans and not ground coffee with me), a plush bedroom, complete with a mountain of blankets, sun lamps in the bathroom, and a ready supply of complimentary firewood for the fireplace in the living room, right next to the leather armchair and couch. Oh, and let's not forget the balcony overlooking the valley which afforded us an awe inspiring view of the mountains. I snapped lots of pictures while we were there, which I'll get around to posting some time in the near future.

I do have one complaint about the condos at Wintergreen, and that is that they don't have wireless net.access, though every doss does seem to have a DSL modem in the kitchen. If you want to get on the Net in any comfortable manner, either bring your own wireless access point or be prepared to disconnect stuff, uncoil all of the cables, reconnect stuff, and sit at the dining room table. There is also minimal cellular coverage on the mountain, but then again that could be just what you're after.

On Saturday we trundled down the mountain to the foothills and had lunch at a little restaurant called the Sparrows Cafe' (80 Mosbys Run; Roseland, VA; 22967; phone 434-361-0054). The inside of the Cafe' is done in a modern rustic style, with lots of exposed wood and knick-knacks on the walls and shelves next to a few digital picture frames that I couldn't stop looking at. Breakfasts there are geared toward skiiers, so go hungry. My usual benchmark for diners, eggs over easy, bacon, and home fries, was cooked to perfection. They have excellent coffee, also, and their steak and cheese sandwich is simply amazing.

After breakfast we drove around a bit, visited the Wintergreen Winery, attended a wine tasting and bought a couple of bottles to put away for a rainy day, and then headed back to the condo to curl up for a while, watch the sunset and the clouds roll in, and check our e-mail. Dinner that night was at one of the resort's restaurants, The Copper Mine. Big bucks. Big, big bucks, but the food's incredible so long as you keep in mind that they specialize in steak and not much else. Two people could easily spend $90us on dinner. Not being much of a fan of steak, I will say that the crab-stuffed shrimp is excellent, and the sea scallops were fresh and cooked to perfection. Side dishes are ordered ala carte, but each will serve two or three people. Dress is casual but a little on the nice side; I got away with jeans and a turtleneck. Rating: half a flaregun. Save up and pay them a visit for dinner, but I recommend making reservations at least eight hours, and probably a day in advance to ensure that you'll be seated in a reasonable period of time.

Due to the rain and generally damp weather all day Saturday, we had a difficult time getting a fire started in the fireplace. Lyssa had thoughtfully asked me to bring a couple of loads of wood in to dry in the rack next to the fireplace, which helped somewhat, but ultimately a little luck and a lot of skill were required to get the logs to catch. It was at this time that we discovered that fireplaces these days really aren't designed to provide heat for the room they're a part of, but they do look pretty. You really don't get much in the way of radiant heat until the wood burns down to cherry red coals, anyway.

On Sunday morning, Lyssa made breakfast for us with the provisions we'd brought with us - cornbread, eggs, country bacon thick enough to make some paperback books look worried. Sunday was supposed to be a low-key day - we were going to hang around the condo, relax a bit, catch up, you know the drill. We wound up driving back down the mountain to explore a little more, however, stopped in at a curio shop called Foxfire Gifts built out of a converted house (which, oddly enough, doesn't accept charge cards for payment), got lost once or twice, and explored the shops at the ski lodge a bit. They're about what you'd expect - lukewarm coffee, comma, crappy; skiing-related pro shops; woodsy arts and crafts stores in which a nicely carved wooden box will set you back about $50us. In short, not much, really.

Adventure came in the form of an exploratory trip back down the mountain to find dinner late Sunday evening. This proved to be a bit of a challenge, in that the maps in my GPS haven't been updated in a few months and most of the route wasn't actually programmed in. The route took us down the far side of the mountain and into Charlottesville, a trip of about an hour, maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less. The Indian restaurant we eventually found was called Milan Indian Cuisine (1817 Emmet Street North; Charlottesville, VA; 22901; phone 434-984-2828). Lyssa and I split an appetizer platter (chicken tikka, vegetable samosas, and vegetable pakora). I ordered the vegetable thali platter (a cross-section of their best vegetarian dishes). Lyssa ordered the lamb rogan josh (spiced, ground lamb in curry). Both of us agree that the food there is excellent, though at times their medium-hot was nearly too much for me. If you like Indian food in particular or spicy food in general, be sure to pay this place a visit if you happen to be in the mountains of southern Virginia. I give it one flaregun.

After sharing such an awesome dinner with Lyssa, it should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that we got lost trying to get back to the resort. My GPS unit wasn't able to plot a return course, probably due to the mountain roads not being mapped all that wall. In fact, it lead to a freakout in the parking lot of a K-Mart across the highway from Milan until Lyssa figured out a return course to route I-64, which then is a straight shot back to the resort, more or less.

Note to self: update the Tom-Tom's map database.

On Tuesday night Lyssa and I had to forego a relaxing night at home to recuperate because we had tickets to see Who Killed Amanda Palmer? at the 9:30 Club. If you're not a fan of the Dresden Dolls, this is a rather macabre side project of Amanda Palmer, who is one half of the Dresden Dolls, in which a heavily fictionalized version of her has been killed in an unspecified but gruesome manner by persons unknown, which somehow lead to many urban legends being told about the ways and means because nobody really knew what had happened or why... At any rate, it was also an early show (1800 EST5EDT) so I had to race home from work, change, and then snarf down a sandwich while Lyssa got ready. Unfortunately, Laurelinde wasn't able to go with us, but Rialian happened to be in town so we gave him the spare ticket.

We made it to downtown DC and parked just in time to catch the final song of the first opening band, a cabaret outfit called Vermillion Lies, who I'm not really familiar with to be honest with you. I will say that they looked like they were having a hell of a time up on stage, and they kept us in stitches singing about global warming and having to build freezers for polar bears. Such is rush hour traffic in the nation's capital. Following them was another group called The Builders and the Butchers, who I'm hard pressed to describe to you. They had two drummers pounding away on a makeshift drum kit at the back of the stage, two people playing accoustic guitars with pickups attached to them (including their front man), and a third guy at stage right playing what looked to me like a mandolin that had been outfitted with its own set of pickups. If you listen closely you can hear a faint old-school country influence mixed with some blues and folk. Their website doesn't much help to sort them out, so I suggest that you hit that link anyway and listen to the songs they have up.

We ran into Q- and Q-'s friend Kirk in the crowd around the same time that the Butchers and the Bakers took the stage, and their front man began singing through a 1920's style director's megaphone... that should tell you a little something about the night we had.

The supporting performers on this tour are a performance art group from Australia called the Danger Ensemble, who acted not only as Masters of Ceremonies (particularly Steven from the Ensemble) but dancers for Amanda Palmer when she finally took the stage. Her part of the show began with a recorded telephone call from Neil Gaiman eulogizing Amanda Palmer and the highly irregular circumstances of her death to the audience as the mourners (the Ensemble) slowly walked on stage and raised a shrouded female figure before the keyboard... Palmer mostly played stuff from her solo album, which I highly recommend whether or not you're a fan of the Dolls. About halfway through the show she broke out of the expected routine and stood at the edge of the stage with the Ensemble, who were dressed as school kids to sing Guitar Hero - if you've ever seen the music video their performance wasn't that far off, and you'll find out in short order what, exactly, Palmer had in mind when she wrote this song. The song opened with her violinist on tour (whose name I forget - Lyssa?) reading off some of the names of the kids who died during the Columbine school shooting in 1999 and then launched into the rest of the song with a guitar in her arms. A few songs later she broke the fourth wall by interacting with the audience, answering a few questions, and setting up an e-mail list for the DC area by asking everyone to send a text message with their e-mail address to a certain telephone number.

Near the end of the show, Amanda called her father (who lives in Washington, DC, we were told) on stage to sing a duet with her, an old Leonard Cohen song that they were both fond of. Their combination of smoky tenor and well-honed alto voices all but brought the house down. Palmer also sang a song that she and Neil Gaiman worked on together, their tribute to Internet stalkers called I Google You.

Palmer closed out the show performing a few classic Dresden Dolls songs, like Half Jack and Coin Operated Boy, which had everyone in the audience laughing their guts out when she sang the original lyrics that we all know and love.. the night closed out with the entire stage emptying onto the dancefloor, where all of us were standing, as they played a happy hardcore remix of Coin Operated Boy by the Hands Up Squad (music video or it didn't happen), which I discovered that you can buy a download of from here, incidentally. Unfortunately, the show ran overtime due to another concert scheduled later in the evening (the Eagles of Death Metal), so the 9:30 Club abruptly cut the show short to give the roadies time to set up for the other bands. As one might expect when hearing someone cut the power on their favorite band, this left the fans very unpleased.

As it turned out, the Danger Ensemble flew all the way in from Australia to tour with Palmer gratis to make names for themselves overseas, so they passed their boots after the show for donations from the audience. Lyssa and I dropped the last of our remaining cash into someone's boot (the tall, androgynous, bald lifeform with the platform boots whose name I do not know) and then went upstairs to meet Amanda Palmer and get autographs. After waiting in a line that stretched around the entire balcony of the club (which moved amazingly fast, might I add) Lyssa got her grey hoodie signed, while I got my concert ticket autographed so that I could add it to my collection. Our thanks given and deed done, Rialian, Q-, Kirk, Lyssa, and I trooped out of the 9:30 Club and down the block to a little el Salvadoran Restaurant called El Sol de America for a late dinner of tasty South American food, which happens to be all over the place in downtown DC if you're not averse to trying little hole-in-the-wall restaurants. After dinner and dessert, the five of us hiked back to the TARDIS; Kirk took the Metro home while everyone else piled into my car and we drove home. From there, Rialian drove Q- back to Maryland because Q- lives along the way, and we called it a night.

ADDENDUM: I've been writing this post offline for over a week now. Work's been taking up most of my energy, and what little I've had left has been spent driving home, or between client sites. I hope to write more in the future but I don't yet know when or how often that will be. Certainly, it'll be after I get a good night's sleep.