Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Winter 2014-2015

Winter in the Boston area last year set new records for cold and snowfall. Over 110 inches of snow fell in Boston. And in the nearby suburbs, the amount of snow that piled up likely exceeded even that total.

When I was just a lad some 60 years ago, I remember a number of major snow storms coming one right after the other. Snow sometimes piled up to the window sill of our house. In corners of the yard, the wind created drifts that were taller than me. Such a bounty of snow created a winter playground for kids like me. There were forts to be built and tunnels that could be dug through the drifts. Yet even these wonderful white storms of the past paled in comparison to those of last year's winter.

My wife and I had wisely decided to visit her family in Malaysia in the fall of 2014. As our day of returning to Boston approached in January, our son recommended that if we could, we should postpone our return until most of the winter had passed because of the record snowfall. While we agreed that there was no reason to rush back to Boston, I had a hard time believing that the amount of snow was as serious as our son described. So he sent me a picture of our favorite roadside ice cream stand to give us a clearer picture of what we would face if we returned.

This one picture made clear that not only was snow up to the window sills, it even climbed up to rooftop level! While I've never shied away from shoveling out my walk and driveway, we agreed that over 7 feet of snow should be left for the skiers rather than the shovelers.

This is one winter that I was glad to have missed.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sonoma, CA May 2016

Last month, we had the opportunity to revisit Sonoma, California. Like most who come to this region, we intended to visit several wineries. In the end, however, we only had time to stop at Korbel. Established in 1882, Korbel has been America’s favorite Champagne for over a century. The tour offered at the winery provides an overview of the company’s history as well as an introduction to the process of making champagne. While Korbel is best known for its Brut and Extra Dry Champagne, a variety of other sparkling and still wines is available only at the winery. The sparkling Chardonnay, and sparkling Riesling that we tried were quite enjoyable. What we enjoyed best was Korbel’s Natural Champagne. has been served And where most wineries now charge for a tasting, Korbel still offers a free sample for up to four of their wines.

After our leisurely visit to Korbel we drove to the town that gives this county its name, Sonoma. While the region is famous for its many award winning wineries, the town of Sonoma should not be overlooked. Founded by Mexico as part of its Alta California empire, Sonoma is designed classically around a central plaza. Within the tree-shaded square a statue now marks the spot where California’s Bear Flag was first raised in a declaration of independence from Mexico in 1848 just before California’s gold rush.

Opposite the Northeast corner of the plaza is the Mission San Francisco Solano. Built in 1823, this was the 21st and last of the Franciscan Missions that still give California one of the strongest links to its history as part of Mexico. A visit to the Mission with the gracefulness of its traditional design, is both educational and a great opportunity for some memorable photos.

Elsewhere around the perimeter of the plaza are examples of Gold Rush era buildings and a wide range of home-town shops and restaurants. You can spend an interesting afternoon just strolling and exploring with breaks to enjoy a meal or a drink at one of the many restaurants and cafes that surround the square.

While Sonoma is most often associated with some of California’s best wineries, another famous product also comes from this region, Jack Cheese. In supermarkets across the country it’s easy to find a product labeled Jack Cheese. But such cellophane wrapped, soft textured, and bland products are pale imitators of the various varieties of Jack Cheese to be found here, particularly Dry Jack Cheese. Perhaps the best example of Dry Jack Cheese can be purchased at the famous Vella Cheese Factory. Here wheels of Jack Cheese are aged for 1, 2, 3 years or longer. These are as different in taste and texture as mozzarella cheese is from Parmesan. If you are a fan of aged Gouda, you will undoubtedly love Dry Jack cheese.

Ending an afternoon of exploring downtown Sonoma, it’s nice to sit across from the Plaza at one of the Sunflower Cafe’s sidewalk tables enjoying a glass of wine and perhaps having a grilled cheese sandwich made with the local Dry Jack cheese.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Multnomah Falls May 2016

This past May my wife and I were able to enjoy a mini-reunion with a couple friends from Cornell in Vancouver, Washington. One of the highlights of our visit was a trip along the Columbia River Gorge. The scenery there is as spectacular as we had imagined. It is not only the expanse of the Columbia River and its history that holds your imagination but also the setting where rocky heights provide a magnificent overlook to see up and down the stream until it vanishes around a bend or into the mist.

One of the best known sights in the region is Multnomah Falls. This is a double waterfall which has a scenic pedestrian bridge between the upper and lower falls. While it is an easy walk from the parking lot to the bridge with its view to the upper falls, getting to the top of the waterfall is a much more difficult hike.

Walking past the bridge, the path weaves steeply upwards through the woods over numerous switchbacks. As you continue ever higher along the path you get even closer to the falls. Now rather than viewing the waterfall from the bottom, you begin to see the where the flow crests over the ridge and can then follow it with your eyes from the heights into the pool below. Fortunately, there are several rest stops along the pathway to the top where you can catch your breath while taking in a view from falls and across to the Columbia River. As the climb to the top of the falls can take over an hour I was only able to reach the halfway mark before my phone rang to remind me that the rest of the group was waiting at the base of the falls as it was time to move on to see other sights.

I guess my climb to the top of Multnomah Falls will just have to wait for our next trip to the Northwest.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Singapore Metamorphosis

To understand the visual transformation of Singapore from a colonial entrepĂ´t to a global financial center and a tourist destination, compare these photos taken from the top of Circular Road. The first is from the late 1970s while the image at the bottom is current via Google Maps. What had been a busy commercial street of shop-houses that were part of Singapore's import-export trade close to the godowns along Boat Quay, has given way to a tree-lined walk where tourists stroll past cafes and boutiques. Back in the 1970s, the only skyscraper downtown was the OCBC bank building. Now there many office towers competing for space throughout the downtown financial district.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dar El-Hajar January 2011

In January 2011 I traveled to Sana'a Yemen on a work assignment. On the weekend, however, I was able to drive outside the capital to Dar El-Hajar, the famous summer palace of Iman Yahia (1911-1948). Dal El-Hajar is also known as the Rock Palace because it rises 5 stories from a base atop a rock outcropping.

The palace is located in a lush valley called Wadi Dhar. From the palace's upper stories there are wonderful views of the valley and the steep cliffs of the surrounding mountains.

The interior of the palace has been maintained with much of the original artwork and furnishings of Iman Yahia. There are many photos from the 1930s and 1940s showing scenes from the life of the last traditional ruler of Yemen.

In contrast to Sana'a with its bustling streets and markets, the palace in Wadi Dhar and the nearby village are quiet. Here there are no political demonstrations attracting global headlines. From the palace rooftop, you look out over a scene hardly changed since the early years of the last century. At Dar El-Hajar, it is still easy to imagine a Yemen from years gone by, remaining in spendid and peaceful isolation from the rest of the world.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

JFK House August 27 2009

"He was a man with, among other things, a great gift for friendship. He was a guy born with a lot of advantages, and then maximized his ability to use them on behalf of other people. He was a very powerful, wealthy guy who would reach out to help others in ways that are really very unusual in politics — politics tends to be a kind of jealous business — and Sen. Kennedy really was above that in ways that almost nobody else was." Representative Barney Frank

On my way back from work last week I decided to stop by the house in Brookline, Massachusetts where President Kennedy was born. Even though it was about 7:00 PM and this national historic site had closed at 4:30, a National Park Ranger was still there to greet people who had come to leave flowers and sign a condolence book for the family of Senator Ted Kennedy.

I spent some minutes talking with the Ranger about the Kennedy family. I was somewhat surprised that a family which touched the world started their journey from a small house in a modest residential area. The Ranger noted that this was the first home for President Kennedy's parents. They lived here until 1920 but moved to a larger house after four of the children were born. John Kennedy was born in the house in 1917.

Although, Ted Kennedy had never lived in the Beals Street house, this was a place where neighbors from near and far came when they learned that Senator Kennedy had died after his year-long battle with cancer. Like many others who arrived here after hearing the news, I was drawn by a sense of both sadness for the loss of a great man and gratitude for a family who never looked on their wealth as way to wall themselves away from others. Instead they offered a life of service for the nation and the world.

As I stood on the porch, I wrote down my thoughts in the condolence book about our favorite senator and what he's meant to me over the years. Here at the Kennedy house on Beals Street there were no crowds; it was a peaceful way to remember Ted and the family that has given so much for our country.