Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mexico 5: Odds and Ends and Krugman Too

Although I never dined with the Air America broadcasters, I finally had a meal with one of the two invited guests, Paul Krugman, who was just off a plane from Tokyo bearing a cold. Though I tried to sit far enough away not to be infected, I brought it back to Canada with me.
I asked him if he was as surprised as we were by our country's soaring dollar. He said it was because of the "oil shale." Actually, his country has oil shale, Canada has oil SANDS. Different stuff, but perhaps his cold was interfering with his brain. In the seminars, he complained about Obama's health care plan and over dinner, and spoke of the need for instant health care in the US. I gave him and the rest of the diners a capsule history of our own system. As a native of Saskatchewan, I told him how our beloved premier Tommy Douglas fought for 17 years to get it in our province- it was hardly an overnight sensation. He mentioned that Truman tried it in 1947, with the Republicans blocking it then, as now. Thankfully his ignorance of Canada wasn't as contagious as his cold.
Rachel Maddow is my favourite Air American and she finally showed up the 2nd half of the cruise. From the opening night, I'd been part of a conspiracy to promote the re-hiring of her former comedy partner, Kent Jones (whose segment was called Kent Jones Now-hence her shirt). At the opening party, Air America's boss said they couldn't afford him. Hopefully they will be able to afford the Firesign Theatre.
Not long before Rachel took the microphone here, at a seminar about how to make Air America a better network, I stood up and gave a short speech answering that question by suggesting they hire The Firesign Theatre to do some comedy for them. I had been mentioning The Firesign Theatre to various people all week, and when I said "Firesign Theatre," many people applauded and Lionel said, "Cat, they'll be on my show." I hope this actually happens.
At the final party, many people thrust cameras in my hands and insisted I take their picture with the goddess. Someone even volunteered to do the same for me. Her jean jacket did a lot more for her than my black suit did for me.

Every night, I returned from dinner and the usual party in the Crow's Nest to find yet another towel animal atop my bed. I couldn't figure out if this was supposed to be an anteater or an elephant. Maybe Bit would have found it cute, when she was a kid.

The amuse bouche for the final meal. We had dinner every night in a spacious two-story restaurant called The Vista Restaurant on the 2nd level, the same level as the the Vista Lounge where all the seminars were held. The seminars were much, much better than the meals.
The best meal was said to be the Dutch national dish, brisket and mashed vegetables and it was better than anything I ever ate in the Netherlands (Ok, that's not saying much.). I also enjoyed the chicken mole- even though it was supposedly made with a primitive form of chocolate, it wasn't at all chocolaty, thankfully. The surf and turf: lobster and filet mignon, was a disaster. I also remember some crab which was edible, at best. I had other stuff but remember it not. The soups, which looked great on the menu, were immensely inferior to the store-bought soups I'm used to in Vancouver.

For some reason, everyone at my table for the final meal had the duck. It was pretty good.

I avoided deserts throughout the cruise and am particularly glad I avoided this one. Called a Baked Alaska, those who ordered it said it was hideous. Pretty on the plate though.
I didn't come on the cruise to eat. I came to plug the Firesign Theatre and attend some seminars with people I'd been enjoying listening to on the radio for the past several years. Whales, shrimp and dolphins were also greatly appreciated.

Mexico 4: Puerto Vallarta

The 3rd Mexican excursion I'd signed up for was the Dolphin Encounter in Puerto Vallarta. This involved a bunch of glowing white people getting in a pool with two dolphins. The mother let us touch her stomache, which felt like a kind of living rubber. In the next part of the pool, a baby dolphin came over and "kissed" us as the photographer snapped away. The other folks complained that this dolphin spent more time with my face than theirs. Must be the beard.

While some of the group ate, I followed some iguanas. Probably trained to sniff dollars.
It seemed fitting, in the town made famous by the movie Night of the Iguana.

A sleeping sibling.

Lots of flowers. It is after all, Mexico.

The restaurant I'd made a reservation at told me (through a $35 phone call from the ship) that I had to wear long pants and a long shirt. Wandering around PV with such massively inappropriate clothing was quite painful in the intense heat of the city. The statues along the waterfront looked like they were having more fun than me. I had the long sleeve shirt in my bag and walked the city wearing my T-shirt with a picture of Bit on it, as she had spent a week in this city 12 years ago and I wanted to show it to her again.

I saw a Canadian flag on this bar called No Home and went in. A sports bar, full of memorabilia and good vibes. I had a couple of Dos Equis with slices of lime inserted in the bottles. After walking around for two hours in the hideous heat, they tasted miraculous. Did Bit ever drink in this bar? I killed the last hour before my 6:00 dinner reservation.

The restaurant, which the web indicated was the best in PV, is called Cafe Des Artistes, was not surprisingly, surrounded by art galleries.

Looked nice enough from the outside. Once inside, I had the choice of dining inside or outside in the "garden." Who could guess from outside there was a pocket forest inside?

The amuse bouche, fennel crème with bruchetta, mushrooms. Yellow leaf not pepper surely. Its quite satisfying. Satisfying isn’t really what I want. It’s quite hot here. I’ve been wandering around for a couple of hours here with long cords, however rolled up. Now I’m here and there are other men in shorts. I’m one of a number of men here in t-shirts (with long shirt unbuttoned on top) and it’s already 6:00. I begin with a tiny bottle of Orange Widow, a perfectly Firesonian way to begin my invocation of trying to get the Firesign more attention (the staff of Radio Now drink it in the magnificent Firesign album Give Me Immortality, or Give Me Death.)

Serious presentation here. Little dribbles of jewels known only to this chef cast upon the bowl for our instant visual enjoyment only, then subsumed by an ocean of pumpkin/prawn soup, doled out of an actual pumpkin as a speciality of the house. Fumiyo, and many others make an excellent pumpkin soup, and I’m in the land of prawns, so how can I go wrong? Well, first by not telling the server to stop after a single ladle full. First sip hits me as a chocolate, and then it becomes a pumpkin flavour. Nouvelle comfort food, if there is such a thing.
The water is not cold enough. I request more ice cubes, At first they seem not to know the word.
It’s a flat San Pellegrino I’m drinking (between wine pairings)and it goes so much better with enough cubes. A subtle comfort food, it is so filling but I refuse to fill up on soup.

Looks like ceviche. Not as bad as I feared. I ordered a white wine, and it was kind of buttery, not what you’d expect from a saugivnon blanc. Is it paired poorly with the ceviche salad dressing? They don’t mind taking away 97% of what they just brought me. Or at least pretend not to really well. I hope they feast on my inability to. Most people have big appetites The fact that I’m not one of them, doesn’t faze them. The fact that I avoid all raw fish like the plague and would never have ordered it is no longer relavent. An amuse bouche BETWEEN courses is a novelty our restaurants should consider.

It’s a chard after all. The sauvignon blanc shows up next and is the real palate cleanser. Endive and goat cheese, a fine combination.
The lemon foam the sea bass is bathing in is exquisite. Reminds me of the sea bass at Caruso’s in Sorrento, with the wonderful lemons from its volcanic soil. This lemon foam lacks the bite of Caruso’s limoncello sauce, but that’s not a bad thing. The scalloped potatoes don’t taste like potatoes at all. The chef has invented a new flavour for potatoes. Does he get to be prime minister of Ireland? That’s good cooking: you see something on your plate and you know what it is, but you can’t recognize the taste. The mini ice bucket, to keep my glass cold, not just the bottle. What a great idea! I dread the green cone may contain avocado and rejoice to discover, instead, it tastes like the wonderful Stauffers spinache soufflé I used to enjoy decades ago. Actually it doesn’t work well with the potatoes, magnifies the starchiness. You don’t want bland waves overwhelming the subtle flavours of the potato-bass combination. The flavour begins to fail as the fish gets cooler too. I marvel at the cheapness of one of the best fish dishes I've ever eaten and take a cab back to the ship, where I watch my tablemates feast on something nowhere near as good at dinner. My fondness for Mexico has been magically magnified.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mexico 3: The Ms Oosterdam

The best part of the Air America Radio seminar cruise, was not surprisingly, the seminars. Usually two a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, though sometimes more. I hope at least a few of them are broadcast on the network.
After the first seminar, I attended a lecture about Miro, given by the ship’s art gallery which is also selling Miros and others. Even my tour of the Miro Foundation in Barcelona in 2002 wasn’t as educational as this talk. We are shown a Miro and asked what it looks like. One person said “Snoopy.” I said “an amoeba” and the lecturer said yeah, the biomorphic resonances abound in the painting. On understanding Miro, she told about how when she first saw this ship, she wondered how it would have enough fuel and carry enough food for all the passengers, whereas a child would look at it and says “big boat.” That’s what Miro wants us to think about art, at least His art. I remember taking Bit as a child to art galleries in Tokyo and learning from her how to look at art.

At the opening party, I saw Jim Hightower’s towering Texas hat and made my way over to him. I gave him an Adbusters, and told him how much his commentaries inspired me when I was writing articles in the mag’s beginning.. He remembered having Kalle on his long format call in radio show in the 90s. In general, a wondrously warm individual, just like on the radio and in his books.
In a seminar, when someone mentioned getting Democrats to agree was like herding cats, Jim said, “anyone who thinks you can’t herd cats has never tried a can opener.” Although I’d rather be Cat than cat food, the metaphor was apt.

I'd never heard Lionel or Jon Elliot's radio shows but really enjoyed their seminar contributions, and promised them I'd listen to their shows. Air America's resident radio goddess Randi Rhodes was as entertaining in the seminars as she is on her afternoon show I usually listen to. I talked to her for a few minutes at the opening night party, about her dog and my dog and when she started talking about her passion for gardening, I wanted to continue that thread but she was whisked away by the 400 other Air America cruisers who demanded her attention. After the humour seminar, where perhaps she shone because of the humourous company, including one of America's funniest and wisest men, Jim Hightower, I told her that was the funniest I'd ever heard her- and she always tries to be funny on her show and usually succeeds. Laughter can create a better world than the one we have now.
I had an omlette prepared to my choice of ingredients at the "Omlette Station" on the Lido Food deck on Sunday, then opted for a room service omlette to save time before boarding the whale watching boat in Cabo on Monday morning. This "room service" meal, my only one of the cruise, was far better than the one made to order for me on the "food deck." The rosemary potatoes were restaurant quality, and I mean the restaurants I go to (see the entire rest of the blog). Most (but not all-the fish was edible only with lots of $9.00 a glass wine) of its food was edible, if your standards are quite low.
The Crow's Nest, on the 10th floor, was the scene of the continuing Air America party that began every night at 10:00. Sometimes it was a race to finish dinner and get there while seats were still available. The bar was quite minor league in terms of drinks it could prepare. My throat was usually so sore from talking to dinner companions, I'd order a hot toddy and they had to go to a different part of the ship to get hot water for it.
This chamber is supposed to put you in an alpha state. Darkness, magic fingers, new age music on headsets= the alpha state? Most interesting to me was the rocking of the ship when combined with the other effects. Worth $100 for 5 half-hour sessions? The ship was relentless in trying to separate you from your money.
I signed up for the yoga class given in this gym, before discovering that by taking it, I was missing the first half of the first seminar, given on Sunday morning. Yoga seems like a good thing to pursue, and well worth $11.00
The 9th floor is called The Lido Deck, where all the free food is, along with the pool and the only place on the ship I could breathe real air. Most of the air on the ship seemed less healthy than the average airplane's air. I never entered the pool, but appreciated its existance, if only because it was surrounded by fresh air.
Our 2nd Mexican destination was Mazatlan, where I'd signed up for the shrimp feast. 3 kinds of shrimp and numerous local beers in the garden of a rich person's house, overlooking the many poor, not quite disguised by the flowers. The most enjoyable part of the feast was talking with a lunch companion, who'd been a soldier in Mao's army, first against the Japanese and then against Chiang Kai-Shek. When Mao took power, he realized that he was even worse than the others he'd fought against, and fled to the west. For all the political savy of the Air America folks, they seemed like smart kindergarteners next to this old guy.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Mexico 2: Cabo San Lucas, Whales, Sea Lions and Pelicans

The music for this is called Sailing Wonder by Masuo. I rented an album by a fusion guitarist I was fond of, Larry Carleton, in the small Japanese city where I was living in the early 80s. When I got the record home, there was this Masuo disc inside, instead of the Carleton. I couldn't complain.
My family went whale watching in Baja, California when I was 11. It was a magical experience that has kept me fond of marine mammals ever since. This was a kind of booster shot for that long ago experience.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging

A vacation from my cruise. Our cat Jazz also likes reflections.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Mexico Trip #1- San Diego

As soon as I heard the radio station I've listened to every day since it went on the air a few years ago, Air America, was having a cruise to Mexico. I signed up. Although I had no interest in cruises (my parents once cruised the Caribbean, to no enjoyment whatsoever) or that part of Mexico, the opportunity to plug The Firesign Theatre to a bunch of people who could put them on the air for several million listeners was not to be passed up. Maybe I'd get some good food too.
The ship, the Holland America ms Oosterdam, had to boarded by Saturday at 1:00. It was difficult to get a flight to San Diego from Vancouver early enough to gauarantee I'd board on time so I went the previous day. I booked a motel near Old Town, which proved a perfect introduction to Mexico. Cute old builldings, touristy trinkets (I bought a much needed hat) and some fabulous Red Pepper Soup at O'Hungrys fortified me against the surprisingly chilly weather. I didn't know it ever got chilly in San Diego, just chilis.

Wandering around old town, full and happy from the amazing soup, some lovely flowers around a fountain that seemed lifted out of The Alhambra in Spain demanded I take their picture.

I searched the internet for the best restaurant for fine dining in San Diego and was directed to Bertrand at Mr. A's. The lobster strudel was a signature dish and sounded fantastic, on paper.
I’ve been looking forward to eating this Maine Lobster Strudel since I saw it on the website. As I begin eating it, it’s not nearly as good as I was expecting. The cognac lobster sauce is rather abrasive. I scrape the lobster out of the filo, but it doesn’t improve. The wine is an excellent pair, but the strudel isn’t really edible.
The Pan Seared Dover Sole Goujonnette, sauce Vierge, vegetables Provencale & Pommes Nouvelles is served with a fine Chablis that is supposed to cut the acidity of the Mediterranean ingredients. The server goes on and on about the Dover Sole, how it’s cooked differently than the usual way (what that would be isn’t explained). Well, I’m here for this great chef. His strudel sure didn’t impress me, now let’s try his fish. I get a great sommelier and a great view, do I need great food too? It’s more than I can eat, unfortunately. I’d damaged my stomach’s capacity with the strudel and the fish is superb. Olives and cherry tomatoes invoke the Mediterranean without all that worrisome acid. I evade desert and stroll out onto the balcony to savour the view.