Tuesday, June 30, 2009

RIP Ali Akhbar Khan

Ali Akhbar Khan died last week. One of the luminaries of Hindustani music:

His father, Allaudin Khan, trained him, Ravi Shankar, and Nikhil Banerjee. I had the privilege of seeing him in concert a few times. He started a music college that some of my friends have attended in San Rafael; it has always been in the back of my mind to go out there for some lessons if time permits.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa

Last year's Vampire Weekend CD was fantastic. One of the standout tracks is "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa". Bringing afro-pop back to indie rock:

The chorus starts "It feels so unnatural/Peter Gabriel." So who would you pick to cover the song? With the fantastic Hot Chip, the man himself:

Vampire Weekend, at its heart, only had the afrobeat thing on loan. So when Esau Mwamwaya, a Malawian musician, releases his side project, The Very Best (which features Ezra from Vampire Weekend on the very good "Warm Heart of Africa"), he takes the Kwassa Kwassa right back to Malawi.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 4

Our stuff arrived yesterday, so there was no time to blog. What with 150 odd boxes and bunk beds and cribs to reassemble. Much thanks to granma and my wife who have led the way in blitzkrieg unpacking and organization. We are only about 30% through, I think, but it's been less than 24 hours. And, the main stuff needed for life is all done.

Here's the end of the voyage.

We woke up at around 7:30 AM in Reno. Lisa gave us a call slightly thereafter asking very politely to please please please please please try to move it so she wouldn't have to rent a car in Oakland when she got there. Well, neither of us felt like playing more baccarat, so we hopped in the car and started driving west. 202 miles to our destination.

We quickly were over the last state line:

There was lots of road work on the Donner Pass and the Donner Summit. We kind of got holed up in a bit of traffic, but it was at least nice to be able to enjoy the scenery. Snow on the peaks, giant trees, beautiful mountains and streams. I was a bit peckish, and Paul began to look a bit appetizing.

We breezed west, with a stop for gas in Sacramento. Then Davis, and the western fringes of the Bay Area. All too quickly, we were almost home.

A few turns and we pulled up in front of the new house.

This was the first time for me here. We rummaged through the crammed back of the car to find keys. We walked in at around 11:30 AM and appreciated the fine tartan carpet and the spiral staircase in person.

(the carpet is scheduled to be replaced)

Anyway, we rapidly unloaded the crammed minivan, and then got in the car. We were just pulling up to OAK when Lisa phoned that the plane was on the ground. Paul ran in to help with the bags, and then we were all reunited in sunny (well, overcast and cold) California.

The original plan was to head home but boneheaded me made a wrong turn and we ended up on the Bay Bridge.

So we marked Bay Bridge to Bay Bridge a little sooner than I had hoped (and I didn't really start at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, because Paul's plane was late). We had lunch at the Embarcadero and then headed home to start laying out our new household.

I'll be posting updates from California in the future. Tune in!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 3

We set out from the oil town Casper, WY onto a Wyoming state road and headed towards the Utah border. We quickly found ourselves in TMOFN again, and there we stayed for many hours.

We passed amazing scenery and slowly the land started to dry out as we went into the high desert. We never really got real honest to god bone dry desert, as I suppose it is spring and everything was really quite green. But you could tell that come 3 months it was going to be hot and dry.

During one of the brief times where we had cell service, I got a call from my mom. She asked what it was like, I said a bit like the Klein Karoo. My father asked if there were bokkies. There were bokkies:

Hundreds miles of awesome scenery and absolute remoteness:

To Utah. Snow on the mountains and some imposing rain, hail, and even sleet greeted us in the mountains above Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City, with a quick exit to drive by Temple Square. It was desolate on the Sunday mid-day when we came through.

And we continue on west, past the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Salt Flats.

We cross into Nevada, and traverse the Great Western Desert.

Crossed the continental divide, and of course obligatory TMOFN.

We kept driving until we got to our endpoint for the night -- Reno. The joke is that Reno is so close to hell you can see Sparks (,NV). Well, it wasn't Vegas. At our hotel-casino, the Eldorado, instead of the usual magician/tiger tamer/Cirque du Soleil, they were playing "Menopause: The Musical." Shit you not. Anyway, we had some fun, ate some dinner, lost some money on roulette, made some on blackjack, and crashed for the night. 200 miles from our Western Terminus, to be handled on Day 4.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day 2, part 2

We have arrived in Albany, CA, safe and sound. Children and wife and M-I-L all here and suitably exhausted.

This puts me two days behind on updates. Mostly due to lack of 3G coverage in the AT&T network as well as the obvious fact that casinos don't give you free wifi in their rooms as they don't want you to be in the room.

So, I left off when we branched off of I-90 for the 35 mile Badlands loop in South Dakota. You come out of the Badlands loop at around Exit 110 on I-90; we backtracked to Exit 116 to see a Minuteman III missile in a silo:

"That thing will suck the paint off your house and give your family a permanent orange afro!"

Anyone who's ever been to South Dakota will know about Wall Drug. As I mentioned, South Dakota is filled with national monuments and tourists traps wanting to be national monuments (Sturgis, Crazy Horse, the aforementioned Corn Palace, etc). Perhaps the epitome of the tourist trap for tourist trap's sake is Wall Drug. There are literally thousands of road signs for this store.

It is ostensibly a drug store, but it has expanded to be a veritable shopping mall crammed with all of the tchotchkes and Westernalia that one could ever want. Of course we stopped by, bought a trinket or two, split a burger, and we were on our way.

At Black Hills, we came upon the vast Ellsworth Air Force Base and branched off to the southwest, into some ominous looking clouds. Through some mild thunderstorms. About 30 minutes southwest, we came across the next tourist trap:

It started to rain as we left, so we made a dash to the car and got some nice pictures of Rushmore getting wet.

From Rushmore, we could navigate directly to our destination in California, no more off-course waypoints or big detours or such. The nav pointed us southwest onto a South Dakota state road and soon we were in the middle of nowhere, headed towards Wyoming.

The one thing that had started to become clear is that vast swaths of this great country are The Middle of Frickin' Nowhere (TMOFN). I'd say that it dwarfs more common designations, such as the Eastern Seabord or New England or California. We had tasted bits of the TMOFN in South Dakota, but from South Dakota, through much of Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, we may have well been in the high steppes of Kazhakastan or Mongolia. Sheep, antelope, cattle, a few fences, and not much else. I'd almost started to expect some Bactrian camels. I know it sounds city-slicker cliche, but it was impressive to watch 3G in Minnesota drop off to EDGE in most of South Dakota, to only occasional GPRS as we went further west. It's amazing to see how dependent we've become on a technology that we didn't use 3 years ago. For most of the time past the Badlands, we were lucky to have any signal on either AT&T or Sprint. If the car had broken down, we would have had to walk our ass -- imagine that!

Anyway, we drove and drove, through impressive thunderstorms including a hailstorm. Shortly after punching through the storm line, we stopped for gas in Lusk, Wyoming, and made it a night in Casper. We could have gone longer but we were unclear about the weather, and we knew that we had another 200 miles on state roads ahead of us.

Day 2 was probably our best day on the trip in terms of stops, scenery, and overall driving enjoyment. The South Dakota and Wyoming TMOFN would certainly be a nice place to return and spend some time. Just don't count on cell data service.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 2, part 1

We just pulled into Reno safe and sound. 922 miles. We're gonna find a cheap prime rib and take some pictures and maybe play some blackjack and crash.

Here's the first part of day 2.

In Rochester everyone at the hotel, it seemed, was there for medical related reasons. Conversation at check-in and at breakfast rotated around spots on lungs and heart failure. The clerk had just finished discussing CT scans with the dude in front of me.

The Odyssey in the Odyssey would continue west.

Well, we escaped without any questions about the survivability of stage IIB lung cancer. A quick jaunt into downtown to see the object of everyone's pilgrimage:

And then on the road. More farmland through southern Minnesota, including impressive wind farms. Quite a ways to go before our big waypoint, Mount Rushmore.

Eventually, we reached South Dakota. We tried to get a picture of the Minnesota sign because we passed into Minnesota sometime late at night the night before.

South Dakota is filled with national monuments, striking scenery, and tourist traps. These often overlap. But there are quite a few notorious tourist traps. We just drove past the first one, the World's Only Corn Palace.

More farmland until we crossed the Missouri River in Mitchell, SD. From there, the landscape began to break into more rolling hills.

From there, we made our detour into the Badlands. We took too many pictures there to post here, so I put them on Facebook over here.

I'll post part 2 in a bit.