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Wednesday, Dec. 28: Comedy of Errors, friends

We got to the Shakespeare theater about 11:40, thinking "The Comedy of Errors" was at noon, but it turned out to be at 2. So we wandered about Chinatown a bit, poked our noses into the MCI center, had lunch at Jalejo, walked through the Navy memorial, and visited the bead museum--a cute little museum with exhibits, library, and gift shop all crammed into one room.

The play was fun. The amplification was a little weird--most of it was unamplified, so the occasional amplification called attention to itself in odd ways. ("Where's that coming from?" I'd think; "is it live or pre-recorded?") For me, the definitive performance of The Comedy of Errors is the version done by the Karamazov brothers in the late 80's, which overflows with silly jokes and stunts. I've watched our tape of their Live at Lincoln Center broadcast so many times I feel like I have it memorized. So inevitably I'm caught up short when some line of Shakespeare isn't followed up by the Karamazov joke that I expect. And I still don't think this version could compete with that one for shear fun. But they had some interesting ideas--a few odd broadway-like songs, some wild sets, including a bit of odd fake topiary and a dali-like clock, and an odd comic treatment of the asides, where the other players would freeze and then be surprised to find the speaker in a different location at the end of the aside.

The play ended up with just enough time for a quick walk through the Natural History museum before hopping on the metro to Silver Spring to meet my high-school friends Darren and Evan at a local Starbucks. I got a heavy liquid chocolate drink there, then we went to a Thai place, where we had fun catching up.

My dad gave us a ride home, then we looked at Hawaii photos and stuff.

Tuesday, Dec. 27

After breakfast my mom went with Sara and me to the metro, which we took to her favorite shoe store, where she got me some new shoes. I think I wore my previous pair for at least five years and, except for a period of less than a year when I temporarily switched to some running shoes, they were the only shoes I wore. I got married in them and walked all over the world in them. Now they lack the comfy cushioning they once had, and the heels are noticeably worn down.

The shoe store was kind of dusty and old fashioned, and the two older guys working there were competent and knowledgeable. I liked the shoes I came out with, though Sara thought they were a little ugly.

Afterwards we met my dad for a nice lunch at a lebanese restaurant, then Sara and I went to the zoo.

The high point of the zoo trip was when the keeper threw a ball out to the Cheetah cubs (well, they were more like adolescents I suppose). They kicked it around and ran back and forth, their long tails waving above them.

We also saw one of the panda adults eating bamboo (what they spend 70% of their time doing, according to my mom), scratching, then sprawling out on some branches for a nap.

The panda couple had a baby recently, which rarely emerges. You can watch it on the "panda cam" if you'd like, but patience is required to catch it doing anything other than sleeping. Nevertheless, this has made the pandas an even bigger attraction than usual, so there was a large crowd oo'ing and ah'ing at the panda's every move.

We also saw giraffes, elephants, hippos, a capybara, beavers, and a wolf striking a classic pose on a rock and howling--a howl with no growling, yipping, or articulation of any kind, just a long eerie tone.

The zoo was fun, especially since neither of us had been to one in years, though some of the animals seem depressingly understimulated in their small enclosures.

At closing we met my parents then took the metro home. In the evening we played BuyWord, an interesting word game.

Monday: Christmas again

My parents do a big christmas-morning/present-opening thing, so they postponed it till today for us. It went fairly well, and afterwards we went to Sears and Ikea for a few (size- and color-) exchanges.

Aunt Nancy/Morgan had sent a collection of christmas carols "in the style of" various classical composers, which was extremely amusing. The liszt example (an extremely dramatic version of I forget which carol) was particularly over-the-top.

Sara, Helen, my mom, and I played a game of Bohnanza at night. Everyone seemed to have a pretty good time, though it dragged on it bit.

Christmas, PHX->BWI

Sara's mom had some tasty cardamom bread for us in the morning, so we ate that and opened our presents, then packed a little more of it for the flight.

As usual we allowed a lot of time to get to the airport and ended up much earlier than necessary. One advantage, though, was that we managed to snag exit row seats at checkin. Before that our seats hadn't even been together.

We had just enough time in Memphis to get a couple sandwiches before boarding the flight for BWI, where my parents met us at the airport.

Christmas Eve

One of the advantages of Arizona in the winter is that you can eat lunch outside in the backyard. Today we had portabella mushroom burgers with a bottle of pinot noir courtesy of Sara's cousin Sonya.

We went to the co-op for cardamom in the afternoon. In the evening we did the traditional neighborhood luminaria lighting, then went to the traditional post-lighting party. We stayed a little longer than usual and actually talked to some people.

Finally, we went to the christmas eve service at the Unitarian church. I have an extremely low tolerance for church services of any sort, but the music was pretty good, and I had some math to think about to get me through the rest, which was pretty short.

Friday, Dec. 23: birds, friends, pizza

We visited the Gilbert, Arizona Riperian Preserve with Sara's parents. The quantity and variety of birds was impressive, especially for such an urban (well, suburban, anyway) area.

I don't take pictures systematically, to document things; I just like to do it every now and then when it seems like fun. For some reason I took a bunch of pictures at the preserve. Not of the birds, though--they weren't necessarily that far away, but they still would've looked like specks with no telephoto lens and an old low-resolution digital camera.

We got back just in time to leave again to meet some more of Sara's high school friends, Melissa and Clint (with three kids), Tim and Dawn (with one kid), and Omo. We met at Peter Piper Pizza. This turns out be a sort of kids casino, dealing in at least two proprietary currencies--tokens, which can be bought with cash, possibly as a package deal with pizza, and tickets, which are spit out by the various video games and can be redeemed for various stuffed animals, small toys, etc.

So while the kids generated tickets and trinkets, we ate some pizza and had a pleasant chat with the parents. Melissa and Clint had been having a somewhat trouble-frought vacation, with sicknesses, misplaced keys, and work emergencies. Tim and Dawn seemed preoccupied with, and somewhat exhausted by, their kid. Omo was fresh from a shopping exhibition with the goal of finding his mother an outdoor fireplace.

The pizza, which we ordered with jalapenos, wasn't that great, but even bad pizza is OK, so we were happy enough.

Thursday, Dec. 22

Sara's parents had some yummy biscuits for us for breakfast, then we met Sara's high-school friend Mike and his wife Lisa at the Coffee Plantation in downtown Tempe. I got a copy of the New York Times while I was there; I don't usually buy the paper, but the front-page domestic spying stories caught my eye, and I looked forward to doing the crossword.

For dinner Sara's mom made a great pizza with walnuts and gorgonzola.

Wednesday, Dec. 21: DTW->PHX

Our flight to Phoenix went fine, though I had a bit of a runny nose and feared I might be coming down with a cold. It took a long time for our checked luggage to arrive at the luggage claim, but when we finally got it we took the shuttle out to a parking lot where we met Sara's parents.

Later we went to Sara's dad's Wednesday-night jam session at Encanto park. It was fun; some of the individual performers (there were three of them) were particularly good. They tend to be older guys who deliver engaging performances with deceptively minimal music. It's a sort of geriatric punk--they're not trying for any musical or vocal pyrotechnics, but they've got a lot of style anyway.

I particularly liked the first, who sang a lot of train songs. The last performer mentioned something about another band of his called "one foot in the grave". Sara remembered that as the name of a Sun City punk band featured in Andrei Cordescu's "Road Scholar", so she asked him about that afterwards. He seemed pleased that someone asked.

I was more sleepy than a bit of jet lag would explain, and by the end I was dozing off while people played.

Tuesday, Dec. 20: last-minute preperations

Today I made a last-ditch effort (mostly a failure) to clean up some loose ends at work, then did some christmas shopping and ran a few pre-trip errands.

Snow, retail economics, munchkins

The snow, especially when it's just come down, is really magical to look at. It doesn't really show up that way in pictures.

Thursday night's DVD-with-dinner was "Robbert Gibbs Discusses Retail Economics and Downtown Ann Arbor Business". A reall thrill ride! No, actually it was pretty interesting. Mostly it was about applying to downtowns what mall designers know about maximizing retail sales, the goal being to attract business into downtowns. Some claims:

  • Traffic volume and parking availability (yuch) are big factors; when traffic is routed out of or around downtowns, business moves out to the freeway interchanges (where the traffic is). Most pedestrian malls don't work.
  • Visibility and accessibility are important; hence storefronts should be glass (without paper or blinds covering it), have lots of entrances, and should be close to the street and the sidewalk. Stuff like trees seem to be a frequent point of contention--citizens' committees will always ask for them, but they have to be placed carefully so as not to the block the views of stores.
  • Small independent retailers have a very hard time generating enough sales to support themselves. They often can't afford to hire someone to mind the store for them, hence can't stay open after working hours, which is when many of the sales are. (People often want to be able to stop by on the way back from work.)
  • Big "anchor" stores attract so many people that they can demand hefty incentives. But they provide advertising and bring enough customers to support lots of smaller stores nearby.

I came home Friday by way of the library, and stopped a few minute to watch the 18 & up Mario Kart tournament. Why is the library into these video game tournaments? I have no idea. Anyway, it was amusing to watch, but 18 & up seemed to mean, well, about 18, so I felt a bit out of place.

I also stopped by the co-op and picked up a few things, then we had a late dinner and watched "Numb3rs", the crime-fighting-mathematician TV show that Sara likes.

When I get up on the weekend and look out at the snow my first thought is usually just to stay home in my bathrobe and maybe read a book. But somehow I managed to get myself outdoors this morning. We went to juggling for a couple hours, had dinner with the jugglers at Banditos, then came back to our place for a game of "Super Munchkin". Which isn't anything special as a game, really--the fun part is the silly twists and cartoony artwork.

We sat around and chatted a while afterwards. When we'd resorted to showing them Hawaii pictures, they were finally driven off.

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