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God Bless Canada

The family and I spent the past week north of the border in lovely Toronto. I was there for some work-related training and Dinka and Veronika tagged along to visit some friends and explore the city. Toronto is a terrific place and we were in the poshest, most fashionable neighborhood you could imagine. If we had arrived a week earlier, we would have seen the stars filing out of the Four Seasons on their way to screenings for the International Film Festival. My walk to work took me past a Rolls Royce dealership, Prada, Vera Wang and other similar boutiques that I will probably (and happily) never set foot in.

For me, just being in the city is entertainment enough, which is a good thing because traveling with a toddler prevented the rest of our plans from coming to fruition. Every lunch hour I would grab some food (report upcoming) and spend the rest of my alotted time just walking around and taking it all in--checking out different neighborhoods, people watching (ordinary not famous), soaking up the local flavor. At the end of a whole seven days, I'm pretty sure that I have perfected this art. Here are my guidelines for all aspiring citygoers and streetwalkers:

  1. Travel light. Confidence is key here and being laden with typical traveler's gear will not help. If possible, carry nothing at all in your hands. You would be surprised how having free arms will propel you down the street.
  2. Get the walk right. Again, it's all about the confidence here. When you're walking with nothing in your hands, there's no obvious places to put them and it's easy to start guessing yourself. Once that happens, it's all over. Your arms stop swinging naturally as if they had never functioned without your concentration. You wonder if you're legs are too far ahead of your torso. If this happens, just pull it together and try not to fall on your face. Your arms should swing but only slightly--more will indicate power-walking. Walk briskly but not hurriedly. When you encounter slower walkers, glide around them easily, twisting your upper body where possible instead of side-stepping.
  3. Wear some clothes you feel good in. If you're a man, try rolling up your shirt sleeves, it feels great. If you're a woman... I have no idea.
  4. Make eye contact. Shifty glances and ogling are equally bad, but friendly, confident eye contact catches people off guard and gives you an opportunity to see what kind of people (and a city) you're dealing with. Pay attention to the look on your face as you do this though. If your eyebrows are furrowed, you'll look agitated and people will not respond well.
  5. Wear sunglasses. The only difference between you and city people (besides that they're thinner, more attractive and have more money) is that they all wear sunglasses, and cool ones at that. Besides they will shield your shifty eyes.
September 27, 2004

What's Your Fantasy

A new (American) football season is upon us and for me that means two things: 1) an overwhelming urge to drape myself in green and gold, complete with a block of foam cheese on my head (for my Green Bay Packers, of course), and 2) the return of fantasy football. Along with the Madden video game franchise, fantasy sports have been my primary means of keeping up with the professional sports that I loved and obsessed over as a kid but have somewhat lost interest in or become disillusioned with over the years. Spending late nights poring over player statistics stirs up the same feelings that flipping through Topps football cards at recess in second grade brought.

My only disappointment with this undertaking is my varying degree of success. Occasionally my effort is rewarded and I succeed. These victories reinforce my secret hope that my research and uncanny intuition really are an unbeatable combination that make me stand out in the world of fantasy sports. The rest of the time the frustration is unbearable, like staring at an equation in which the two sides could never be equal (Skot feels my pain). I have two primary responses to this failure: despondent encouragement and frantic bartering. Early in the season, I refuse to give up on my prized draft picks and instead resort to trying to verbally rouse the troops. I think of myself like Selifan (of Gogol's Dead Souls) spurring the horses of his troika deep into the night with his drunken speeches ("On, you honorable beasts!", etc.). I compulsively check the live game scores and statistics, as if every page refresh acted as a whip to my team's back. When my players have disappointed me several weeks in a row, they begin to repulse me and I try to trade them away at any cost. Of course by this time they have lost most of their value and I become like Mitya Karamazov, trying to peddle my useless wares and investment opportunities to a cruelly grinning audience. I am no more successful at this than he was and it leaves just as disconsolate.

Some people say that I should stop playing fantasy sports. Others think that I should stop with the Russian literature already. One group is right but neither will deter me.

September 13, 2004

The Peat Moss Experiment

How could I not buy this?

As an aspiring scotch connoisseur, I am always looking for ways to acquaint myself with the world of scotch tasting and production. I believe that the bridge to this magical kingdom is paved with peat moss, fuel of the production process for centuries and the backbone of any self-respecting whiskey. A few months back, I read the transcript of a Slate online whiskey tasting in which one of the tasters lit some peat moss "to create ambiance for tasters." After reading this, I knew it was only a matter of time until I experienced this for myself. So when I passed the outdoor gardening section of Stew Leonard's, our local mega-grocer, and saw a giant stack of compressed peat moss packages (as seen above), all the pieces fell into place.

The choice of whiskey for this peat-infused tasting was an easy one--Laphroaig 10-year, one of the peatiest and a bold young whiskey. To give you an idea of the essence of Laphroaig, on my first taste I described the experience as thus: "I am drowning in a peat bog that is ablaze." The Slate tasters had the following to say:

DE: Now we're moving onto our final whisky: Laphraig, 10 yr...Laphraig, we're just getting into a different arena now. When you really heavily peat a whisky, you get this medicinal quality ... hospital bandages, what else?

MD: I get old ship ropes. Salty ship ropes.

DE: Old tar.

CL: Rusty.

MD: Seaweed, low-tide. Iodine.

(Brook sniffs the whisky and makes a face.)

DE: It's beautiful. I respect this a lot now, coming off all of these other whiskies. I have so much more respect for Laphraig. Some on the Fray say we should have also included the Laphraig 15.

DE: Laphraig's ad slogan is, I think, "Love it, or hate it." So they understand that people are ...

MD: I think it's delicious. It's a beautiful integration of all the seaside characteristics: the peat, the salt air, the iodine, that salt tang.

The first problem I encountered in my tasting experiment was that this compressed peat moss, most commonly used for gardening, etc., is not in a form that is conducive to burning. It's like trying to burn a pile of sand. After feeling foolish for a bit, I came up with an idea to redeem myself. With Dinka's reluctant approval, I took our colander outside and began to "strain" the peat moss, leaving only the largest pieces, but even these refused to be burned. As a last resort, I sprinkled a handful of the peat over some dwindling coals and finally got the peaty smoke I was looking for (no one should be surprised that this experiment coincided with some grilling).

Producing the smoke was hardly the end of the battle. Next up was the task of wafting the smoke gently towards me while tasting the whiskey, which was made difficult by being outside in a light breeze. I mostly failed at this, so I ended up sticking my head directly over the coals to make sure that I got a little smoke and instead got a whole lungful, the strength of which pretty much overwhelmed all other tastes and left my nose burning. To top it all off, the smoke mostly just smells generically earthy. While it does bring out a certain quality in the whisky, it is not an enhancement worth this kind of effort.

My advice to anyone thinking of burning a little peat to class up their next evening of scotch would be to leave it to the experts. In my case this means waiting to smell the glorious smoke billowing from the distilleries by the Islay seaside on my upcoming (next ten years?) trip to Scotland. In the meantime, does anyone know what to do with 3.8 cubic feet of compressed peat moss?

September 09, 2004 | Comments (2)

Kids Update

The kids in their secret fort

After having totally blown it last year, I have to take this opportunity to briefly wish Digby a happy 2nd birthday today and to comment on his remarkable transformation since moving to Connecticut. As you might have heard me mention here before, Digby used to be the embodiment of pure energy, a non-stop white and black blur accompanied by a piercing soundtrack of barking. He was basically the Tasmanian Devil for eighteen months. Then we moved and everything changed. After breakfast in the morning (at 6:30, the dirty rat), he jumps into our bed and takes a morning nap while Veronika has her morning bottle. When I put Veronika to bed at night, Digby lies outside the door and waits for me the whole time, ears perked up like the perfect guard dog. After 8:00 p.m. you can find him curled up on the couch by us, paws tucked it like a cat (I mean lion). He is still an energetic dog but it's nice to see him able to relax occasionally.

In other child news, Veronika is in light-speed growing up mode. First she was crawling as we were moving out here, then walking towards us a few weeks later, now she's walking entirely on her own, all the time, all over the place, like she's never known anything else. She shakes her head (well, really her whole upper body) in response to us telling her "no." She hugs and kisses the furry friends in the book we read before bed (especially the seal and polar bear). She is in the 90th percentile in height. It is amazing to watch this development in progress, even more so now because she's much more expressive and curious than before. I can see the thought processes and reactions that I had only imagined were going through her head before. And I have a feeling that the best is yet to come.

September 03, 2004