(Last modified 20 March 1997.)

Wanderjahr: Week 30

Locations: Alexandria, VA; Chapel Hill, NC
Dates: 3/9/97 - 3/15/97

Sunday morning I packed up the car and hit the road. Returned the video I'd watched the night before, spent about five hours driving to Chapel Hill. Arrived, kinda dazed, just as Stephen & Nao were leaving for Morris practice; spent a welcome couple hours alone, recuperating from the trip (and posting a Words & Stuff column). In the evening we went to dinner and stayed up too late (for their early schedule) talking.

Monday Nao had the day off, so (after getting up earlier than I've gotten up in a long time) we ordered some tickets for an evening concert and then went wandering. Saw some way-cool Belties (think furry brown cows with a broad white band/belt on the middle third of their bodies), visited a nice bookstore. Picked up Beth B (Swat alum with whom I didn't overlap, former SWAPAn) for a picnic at Duke Gardens (on the University grounds). Lovely gardens, warm sunshine, good food, fun chat. Afterward, we went to Ladyslipper (which none of us had visited before); it was neat to finally see their office/store/warehouse after nearly ten years of being on their mailing list. Listened to a bunch of music in their listening room.

Nao and I drove around for a while (North Carolina is chock-full of trees! And lush green grass, too) until it was time to re-convene with Beth and Stephen for dinner and the evening's main event, a Cherish the Ladies concert at Duke. I'd heard of the group before but had never heard them. Lovely traditional Irish & Scottish tunes (on fiddle, pennywhistle, flute, bodhran, button accordion, guitar, banjo, and keyboard), accompanied in many cases by two fabulous Irish step-dancers, and/or the stunning vocal talents of Aoife (pronounced, roughly, "EE-vee") Clancy, daughter of Bobby Clancy. I wasn't quite willing to participate in the standing ovation at the end, but I did participate in the one after the amazing encore; those who know how rarely I do that will know how impressed I was.

Tuesday I spent the morning lazing around, catching up on the VRML mailing list, reading Sylvia cartoons, and generally doing nothing much. In the afternoon, browsed local bookstores with Nao and had a peanut-butter-and-chocolate milkshake at Ben & Jerry's (yum!), because it was a marvelous warm sunny late-Spring-in-California day. We came home and spent the evening listening to music and chatting. Oh, and I spent some time trying to figure out whether to get various computer upgrades and which ones.

Wednesday I lazed about some more, read some children's books, updated my journal (which I'd fallen a week behind on) and spent a bunch more time on the phone finding out about abovementioned upgrades and ordering three different items from three different companies (though all produced by Newer Technologies), all to be delivered the next day by Airborne Express. The people at Newer Technologies, btw, are wonderful: friendly, knowledgeable, helpful, and quick to respond. If their products are remotely as good as their sales & support staff, I'm looking forward to the upgrades. Nao and I (joined later by Beth B) sat in the sun outside, lazily chatting about weather and whatever other topics came to mind; we eventually moved back in and played some wraparound Boggle. When Stephen came home, we all went to dinner. Stephen and I spent the remainder of the evening playing with QuickDraw GX and the amazing font capabilities it provides. I also finally got around to sending a couple of items in papermail that I'd been meaning to send for several days.

(Note added 3/20/97: It seems to me that once upon a time I was capable of updating this travelogue more often than once a week... Oh, well.)

Thursday I spent most of the day reading and waiting for packages to show up. Airborne Express delivered them to the wrong address (or possibly to three different wrong addresses, it was never entirely clear) and had to go retrieve them. They finally showed up late that afternoon. That evening Stephen and I did a full backup of my hard drive (except, as it turned out, for the files on my desktop -- oops, good thing they weren't anything important), wiped the disk clean, and installed the PowerPC version of the MacOS. Then Stephen took the system apart and installed the new processor and memory while I kibitzed and read helpful bits from the manual. The installation went incredibly smoothly, and the system booted afterward, and everything worked fine -- very impressive. The improvements in speed for the things I do (no math-intensive stuff) are not earth-shattering, but I do notice 'em; and at some point I'll download the one VRML 2.0 browser for the Mac and try it out.

I spent most of Friday re-installing software and cleaning up and organizing my disk. In the evening, Beth B and a co-worker of Nao's came over and we had a brief mini-roundsing; went fine.

Saturday afternoon I took a break from disk cleanup and Nao & Stephen and I went for a picnic in the woods. It got a bit chilly when the sun moved, and we had to fend off various pet dogs that wanted to join our meal, but fun anyway, and pretty surroundings. I think the thing I like best (besides my friends there, I mean) about North Carolina -- and much of the rest of the East Coast outside of big cities -- is the trees. Lots of them, everywhere. This time of year most of them have bare branches, but that has its appeal too -- though most of the East-Coasterners I talk to look at me askance when I say this, I think many bare-branched trees are lovely, especially in stark outline against a rich blue sky or white clouds. I was amused to note that I spent more time outdoors during this week in North Carolina, in March, than I usually do during any given month in California, even at the peak of spring. Well, okay, that's not quite true; I do bicycle to work often, so I'm outdoors for that. But I too-rarely remember to just go sit outside, to read or nap or just bask in glorious sunshine on my skin. A lesson to bring back with me.

After the picnic, we were considering going to a movie but ended up at the Durham (?) science museum instead. (I got in free 'cause of being an Exploratorium member.) Nice place; not quite as hands-on as the Exploratorium, but heading in that general direction, and definitely more of a connection to nature: a zoo-ish area containing various animal specimens that couldn't survive in the wild (snakes, birds, raccoons, some others), and a big outdoors playground-type area with lots of giant-xylophone-like setups of metal things to bang on. Beyond the playground was more zoo, including a huge fenced-off area containing four black bears. On a smaller scale, we just had time before the museum closed to look at the microbe exhibit, with the coolest microscopes I've ever seen: the part you look through is about six inches across, so you never have to squint or jam one eye up against the viewpiece to try to see what's going on.

That evening we listened to Thistle and Shamrock on the radio -- it's been too long since I've heard Fiona Ritchie's lovely voice -- and eventually went to sleep; Sunday was going to be a long day.


Movies, Books, etc.

The Sheep of the Lal Bagh, by David Mark (ill. by Lionel Kalish)
Cute 1967 picture book about an artistic sheep in India, and what happens when a lawnmower is brought in to take the sheep's place.

Captain Boldheart & The Magic Fishbone, by Charles Dickens
A pair of fun and silly stories for kids (in a 1964 picture-book edition with nice illustrations by Hilary (Eloise) Knight), the former supposedly for boys (about a daring pirate lad) and the latter supposedly for girls (about a sensible princess). I personally enjoyed the latter (which I'd read before) much more than the former; silly and thoroughly charming.

The Prince of the Pond, by Donna Jo Napoli (ill. by Judith Byron Schachner)
Cute retelling of the Frog Prince story, from the point of view of another frog; mostly fun, but the focus wavers between providing educational facts about frogs and being a magical fairy tale (though I suspect the kids it's aimed at wouldn't mind the dual focus a bit). From this premise, I'd have probably written a short-short story, but it wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining as Donna Jo's version.

Through the Mickle Woods, by Valiska Gregory
Lovely, sad, and moving picture book about a king dealing with the loss of his wife. Highly, highly recommended.

The Daughter of Time, by "Josephine Tey" (Elizabeth MacKintosh)
Fascinating murder-mystery-style treatment of the question of whether Richard III really did kill his nephews -- I thought that description didn't sound terribly interesting when I first heard it, but I ended up enjoying the book a great deal. It's unclear how much of the evidence is real and how much Tey fabricated (she clearly made up a historical novel which the protagonist reads at one point), and the book suffers from certain odd ideas about how criminals look and how intelligent they are and so forth; but it's a good read nonetheless (and the attitudes deserve a little slack considering the book was written around 1950).

How Tom Beat Captain Najork and the Hired Sportsmen, by Russell Hoban (ill. by Quentin Blake)
Delightfully silly picture book about Tom, a boy who likes to fool around, and his stern Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong, and the dashing sportsman Captain Najork. The book has an internal logic all its own, and (like most of Hoban's other works) bears no resemblance to most of Hoban's other works.

A Near Thing for Captain Najork, by Russell Hoban (ill. by Quentin Blake)
A sequel to the above, not quite as marvelous but still a lot of fun. (And where else would you find a mechanical frog powered by the opposing forces of anti-sticky and jam, or a pedal-powered snake complete with a lounge?)


Jed Hartman <logos@kith.org>