American Victory Ship

As one of the last trips I took as part of our Florida vacation, I went and visited the American Victory Ship in Tampa. You see, what had happened was that my parents recently retired and in a classic move went on down to Florida. Figuring my dad would need some hobbies, I got him a membership to this boat. Victory Ships are apparently like Liberty Ships except I guess just the next class down the line. The SS American Victory is in Tampa and I figured he could help out onboard or something. It’s apparently too far away for him to do that, but since I had gotten him the membership he decided to take me to see it.

The ship itself is pretty good! I mean look, I’ve seen a cargo ship before. I get it. The bunkrooms like, you know, exist or whatever. You can climb on up and get a pretty good look at the harbor, and admire the cranes and whatnot. As these sorts of places are wont to do, the boat had a bit of a museum right when you walked in and that was pretty nice. The neatest part was a full-scale replica of a German mini-sub, which reminded me of a North Korean mini-sub I saw once in South Korea. They also had other, smaller ship models, including one of the USS Saucy, which is a fantastic name for a ship.

One thing I appreciated about the ship is that they have tried hard to think through giving you a good tour. There is a proscribed path that walks you around, and they had a few regularly-spaced air-conditioned rooms to give you a break from the heat. This being COVID times, they also had handwashing stations, which more often than not were just the regular sinks that the ship had anyways, and I found that amusing.

The most exciting part of any given ship is of course the engineroom, but unfortunately you could only really glimpse this one. Since the ship is a working ship in that it goes out every once in a while, I guess the Coast Guard forbids them from letting the riff raff into the engineroom. You could walk across the top though and peer down and get a bit of vertigo from the fear of dropping one’s phone right into the bowels of the bilge. For those interested, however, they do have a video of an engineroom walkthrough, and that’s pretty neat!

After taking a lap around the boat and seeing the sights we had to kill some time, so we hung out for a bit with the volunteer running the booth. He was pretty nice! We all swapped stories the way that disparate Navy veterans typically do, which is tell various stories unrelated to each other (except that they happened on boats) because we don’t really have a solid clue what the other one is talking about (I can’t tell if the guy we hung out with is the same guy from the engineroom walkthrough video, or whether all these veteran volunteer types just start to look alike). Then, you know, we left. So yeah a good time. Anyways, if you’re in Tampa, it might be worth checking the ship out, especially if you’ve never seen one before. Just remember to hydrate! And also please enjoy this picture of a nautical steering wheel lock:

Savannah Part 2

Reading this week:

  • I Saw Congo by E.R. Moon

The first place we went to on our second full day in Savannah was the Pin Point Heritage Museum. The Pin Point Museum was fantastic and I’m gonna say it is a gold standard for cultural heritage museums. It is housed in the former A.S. Varn & Son Oyster and Crab Factory, which was for many years the major employer of the Pin Point community. The community of Pin Point was founded by freedmen after the Civil War, and became part of the Gullah/Geechee culture in the coastal region. One of the big claims to fame of Pin Point is being the original home of Justice Clarence Thomas.

The museum was founded and run in a close cooperation with the actual community. Our guide was Herman “Hanif” Haynes, who grew up and lives in the community and told us about his mother and grandmother working in the factory. He brought us through the story of the founding of the community and where the people came from. Then we learned about the fishing culture of the community and the history of the factory. They have a fantastic documentary to watch, and displays talking about how through its exports Pin Point was connected to the surrounding area. I’m going to say the museum is an absolute must-see if you are in Savannah. I always enjoy boats and crabs and the like but what really made the museum great is how it worked to serve the community it was based in.

Heading back into town, the next place we went was the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. I really liked this museum mostly because it is filled with ship models and that’s great! The museum focuses on the maritime history of Savannah. It’s housed in the William Scarborough house, who made his money as a maritime trader, and besides ship models in general it houses specifically a huge number of models of ships named Savannah, including one of my favorite ships ever the NSS Savannah, pictured above. That sucker was nuclear powered, and although all ships are beautiful, and nuclear-powered ships especially so, the NSS Savannah was meant to be beautiful and I think they pulled it off. Though, on that note, I noticed this time around the model features a tiny Confederate battle flag, which unfortunately does a lot to mar its appearance.

Knowing my boat obsession, my super amazing girlfriend gamely looked at all the models with me. The house itself is pretty neat too. Although it’s one of the historic houses of Savannah, and there are many, it’s not really presented as a house because it’s gone through so many changes throughout the years. One of those changes was serving as a school for Black children. It was, as a sign in the stairway notes, very inadequate, but it existed and at least that was something until Brown vs. Board of Education. After this museum we were pooped, and headed back to the hotel for the night.

Our third and final full day in Savannah was all about the Telfair Museums. This is a group of three museums and we bought the pass to go to all three. There are various different museum groupings in Savannah and I wonder what kind of inter-museum politickings there are. At any rate, we started off at the Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters. This used to just be the Owens-Thomas House, but a little bit ago they decided they needed to Do Better and made sure to incorporate the history of the enslaved persons that lived there. Overall I think the museum did a pretty good job at this, though my one criticism is that they were a bit self-congratulatory about it. Maybe it’s necessary to hype it up to get other museums to follow their lead, but it’s really sort of the bare minimum for a space like this. The above picture is the slave quarters themselves.

The rest of the tour is a fairly standard house tour, and this was the first house tour we went on to like, see the house instead of learn about the people or see a bunch of ship models. I guess the house tour was pretty standard overall, but in the basement they have preserved and put on display more of the infrastructure than usual. They have the ice well and cisterns on display, along with a shower room. They also have on display the kitchen, and put a lot of effort into further documenting the lives of enslaved persons here because it is in the basement that a lot of them would worked. This makes it a lot more interesting than the average house tour and I do recommend going.

After the house we went to lunch, and then after lunch we went to the Telfair Academy. We didn’t get a lot of time here because of how late our lunch reservation was, but it was a great museum and apparently one of the oldest in the United States. The above picture is of their very very large octagon room, full of both large pictures and tiny little ones. My super amazing girlfriend particularly admired a picture of a lady with a goldfish bowl, and since the gift shop conveniently had a print for sale I went ahead and bought it. Although I liked that one a lot as well, the below picture was one of my favorites because it displayed what is nearly my ideal future lifestyle:

Titled “Le déjeuner sous les bois,” the one thing it is lacking lifestyle-wise is of course my super-amazing girlfriend.

Upstairs in the museum they suddenly veered into fossils and some of the more old-timey stuff they had. By “old-timey” here I meant the sorts of things popular in old-timey museums, i.e. random collections of interesting things, which I think would make for excellent modern museums, but there are disagreements on this point. They also have some more sculptures upstairs, and although last week I accused my super amazing girlfriend of plotting to steal a spinning wheel, I too am a fan of textiles, specifically old ones, which I mention because they had a small collection that I found cool:

Also, the below statue was outside, but I took a picture specifically to make a joke about sandwiches:

After the Telfair Academy, we did run over to duck into the Jepson Center, but only got a few minutes in there because our day was running out. We were pretty pooped already, but decided to take one last walk along the waterfront to admire the sights. This was a Friday, and by this time the revelers were coming out in full force. It’s a very nice thing to look out over the river and just enjoy being in the place you with absolutely fantastic company. We had a great time in Savannah and hope to be back soon.

Savannah Part 1

Please enjoy the most stereotypical picture of Savannah!

While on our Florida vacation my super amazing girlfriend and I decided to take a vacation from that vacation and headed up to Savannah, GA. We wanted to get as much travel in as possible, see the sights, and explore exciting new cultures (new for her, because she’s from New England. I, raised a Marylander, am technically from the South). It was, overall, a lovely time!

To start, I want to say is that Savannah is first and foremost a city comprised of historical markers. This is how it seemed to me anyways. As we walked around the city I started taking a picture of every one we passed, and this still only represents a small selection because I never dragged us too far out of the way to take a picture. My impression is that most of the signs were put up in the 50s and 60s, so I had to ponder who was trying to shape what narrative. There were also a number of signs put up more recently. Still, it seemed to me at some point the city decided it was now Historical (as an aside, the city was founded a lot later than I thought, only dating to 1733) and went about documenting it.

Picture taken by my super amazing girlfriend.

The very first thing we did in Savannah was stop by the Savannah Seafood Shack to tuck into a lowcountry boil. We ate a lot of good food in Savannah, with other highlights including Treylor Park for their PB&J wings and The Pirate’s House so we could mark off an Atlas Obscura sight (I dragged us to a lot of Atlas Obscura sights this trip, though my super amazing girlfriend has started tracking her sights as well!). I used to live in Charleston, SC, and my only regret during my time there is that I couldn’t go to more phenomenal brunch places, so tucking back into some southern cuisine was a particular treat. On the way back from Savannah we also stopped by a Cracker Barrel so we could really round out the list of stuff-I-have-talked-up-during-our-relationship, but I was a bit disappointed they didn’t have fried chicken gizzards on the menu.

But now into the metaphorical meat of the trip, instead of the literal. Having tucked ourselves into bed after tucking into that lowcountry boil, our first major destination the next day was the Bonaventure Cemetery. The reason you visit the Bonaventure Cemetery is for the vibes. This destination was suggested by my super amazing girlfriend but I am anyways a fan of walking around old cemeteries. This cemetery wasn’t all that old, being only from I think the 1850s or so, but giant oak trees and plenty of Spanish moss made it clear it wasn’t exactly new either. The site was also previously a plantation, and had some revolutionary war history attached to it.

Since the cemetery is a major tourist site for Savannah, it’s got a whole list of popular graves to see, like that of Gracie Watson above. Again, I dragged us around looking for the ones on Atlas Obscura. I’m trying to think of what I liked about the place without just repeating the vibes line I used in the last paragraph, but no yeah the cemetery is in a beautiful location (though, as a former plantation, with a dark history), with a “bluff” overlooking the river and nestled within trees providing shade. And maybe the best part is just walking around with someone you love, thinking about beauty and other philosophical thoughts. After we were done with that, we went to lunch.

A portrait of Juliette Gordon Low
My super amazing girlfriend plotting to steal Juliette Gordon Low’s spinning wheel to add to her collection.

We began the afternoon of our first full day in Savannah at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace Museum. She founded the Girl Scouts, and the museum is now run by the organization. This was a pretty quick tour, but well done. Most of the museums we went to were having you do self-guided tours due to COVID of course. They typically had you scan a QR code on your phone which brought you to an audio tour you could walk yourself through with. The tour walked you through the house and focused on what inspired Juliette Gordon Low there to found the girl scouts. Besides her uplifting story of wanting to inspire girls of every race and class to better things, I also admired some very nice crown molding and some of her art collection.

After the museum, we wandered off through Savannah, looking at sights including Forsyth Park pictured at the top. We admired more signs, more graves, and a collection of hats before getting a drink at a rooftop bar and tucking into dinner. Afterwards we head back to our hotel, and in my notes about the day I wrote down “lovely showers.” I used to judge events by how nice the shower would feel afterwards. After a day of hiking around Savannah and getting to know the city those showers felt very nice, giving the day quite a high rank indeed.

Edison & Ford Estates

Edison’s house and also my super amazing girlfriend.

While on our Florida vacation my super amazing girlfriend and I took the trip down to Fort Myers to visit the Edison and Ford Winter Estates. The two industrialists were classic snowbirds, and sensibly made the trip down to Florida to escape the harsh and grueling winters of Michigan and New Jersey, which is a notion I fully support. Since they were such buxom friends they got estates right next to each other so they could hang out and stuff. I went there once when I was a kid and I mostly remembered a very large banyan tree which I admired. I am happy to report the banyan tree is still there, still large, and that I still admire it!

The latex laboratory.

When you arrive, the Estates have two major parts. The first is the museum which tells the overall history of both Edison and Ford (with more emphasis on Edison). It’s got a variety of artifacts and man if you are into gramophones it is the place to go. This side was originally also a botanical research center from when Edison was trying to figure out a new source of rubber that didn’t involve the Amazon. I like that they keep the theme growing by selling plants, including fruit trees and a variety of decorative plants. This side also has the laboratory where they analyzed plants for their ability to produce latex. Across the street are the estates themselves, with the preserved buildings you can peer into.

Not a gramophone, but Edison’s last breath instead.

We started with the museum and I think overall it is pretty okay. Like I just said I think it winds up more skewed towards Edison, but that actually makes sense with the site. Although Ford gets top billing in the name of the site, it was Edison that moved down here first with Ford buying his neighbor’s estate when the neighbor moved out. Edison also had a whole research facility here, so it’s mostly actually the Edison estate with Ford the next-door neighbor. They have a lot of artifacts, including many dynamos, many more gramophones, and a number of cars. They got a whole display too about Edison’s fishing hobby, and in three different locations around the site they tell the same fish story about him catching a small tarpon.

The biggest weakness of the museum is that I don’t think they put a lot of effort into contextualizing the men. The most glaring omission, based on my knowledge of the men, is any discussion that I could find about Ford’s rampant anti-Semitism. My super amazing girlfriend spotted that they did sell the book Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate in the gift shop, so that’s something I guess. In one of the kitchens in the houses, the site is also eager to talk about Queenie Adams, the Edison’s long-time cook. I didn’t know these people, but the site is eager to make her and the Edisons sound like dear friends. Mrs. Edison chartered a Pullman car to take her home when she was dying, which isn’t nothing, but this sounds like a relationship ripe for a historical re-evaluation. Being more critical in analyzing these men would vastly improve the site.

Moonlight garden, looking at Edison’s Study. It’d be cool to have a study with a moonlight garden.

The estates themselves though I gotta say are pretty darn beautiful. Edison picked a good spot. They are right on the water and the grounds are planted with fruit trees and other plants. I really wanted to take a mango. Edison had a “Moonlight Garden” designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman which was gorgeous, and there was a pond next to the swimming pool that was being admired by a family of ducks while we were there. They had a riverside walk that was lovely to stroll by. The houses themselves were also pretty great, large but much smaller than mansions and Edison’s especially felt airy and comfortable and we were peering in from the porch. I would have very much enjoyed hanging out in the library overlooking the river through the coconut trees, I think.

An excellent if immature grove.

One of the funnier bits too was the orange grove planted over on the Ford Estate. Back when Ford was in residence there as a large citrus grove, and in recent years they have planted a new grove to represent the old one. The trees are still small but are interspersed with signs sponsored by Florida Juice that are downright bombastic about Florida Oranges. They really want you to know how juicy Florida oranges are. How juicy? Really juicy. Not like those California oranges, no. It would take way more than 1.7 California oranges to make a glass of orange juice. Pretty, despite the bombast, and since my dearest dream perhaps is to have a grove of tropical fruit trees it inspired both admiration and jealousy.

Our tour was briefly interrupted by a thunderstorm which forced us to seek shelter in the next-door restaurant. We consoled ourselves with oysters, crab Rangoon, and sangria. We were back at it though soon enough and got to admire the rest of the grounds at our leisure. Even if it could use a bit (a lot) more contextualizing of both Ford and Edison instead of just hagiography, the estates are lovely and an interesting place to read about turn of the century invention and industrialization and also fish stories. I’m excited to install a riverwalk and fruit tree grove whenever I get around to having an estate.

Leffis Key Preserve

Reading this week:

  • the joy and terror are both in the swallowing by Christine Shan Shan Hou

Look, by the time you read this I am going to be like a solid half week into a brand new career and I gotta build up a backlog of entries so I can do all the new-career things like figuring out where to get coffee and where the bathrooms are and also like, how to do the job. So that’ll be exciting! And also with that said, while on our Florida vacation my super amazing girlfriend and I visited the Leffis Key Preserve.

I have been going to the Leffis Key Preserve for years when I visited my grandma and it is one of my favorites. It’s just this tiny little park that was built as a sorta artificial ecology center, that is they built up some islands (or I guess actually dug out some canals) and made a small hill and planted a bunch of mangroves and stuff and just watched as the ecosystem rolled in. Despite it being across from a usually rather crowded public beach, it typically has around zero people in it, so you can have the various trails and boardwalks all to your lonesome.

The biggest draw for me personally is the mangroves. I’m a big fan of mangroves. I’m not a fan of Crossing the Mangrove, which I had to read for a French class with an absolutely atrocious teacher, though maybe if I re-read it I would enjoy it a lot more, but the trees themselves I like both for being extremely friendly for the environment or whatever and also being cool and stuff what with all the fiddler crabs and stuff you get running around their roots. When in the preserve I mostly like just hanging out on the boardwalks they got going through the mangrove uh, groves and taking in feeling of it all.

While my super amazing girlfriend and I were visiting the preserve we also got to see a lot of wildlife. She spotted a little crab in a tree, which is I think typically not where crabs go but just goes to show the beauty and wonder of nature. There were also just a whole butt-ton of fiddler crabs, though I wondered why they all went for the fiddle instead of some branching out to electric guitar or the drums or something. Based on the two pictures above we also got to see some birds. I think (based on a sign we saw) that the top one is a Black-crowned Night Heron (though looking at that webpage maybe not?) while the bottom one is an ibis. We actually see a lot of ibises around here, eating I guess worms or something out of people’s lawns, but this one was special for eating in something that I assume is closer to its natural habitat.

So anyways if you’re in the area you should go to the Leffis Key Preserve. It’s a beautiful little spot and I wish there were more spots like that, except maybe bigger and taking up the entire coastline so we could restore mangrove ecosystems and also prevent seaside erosion. Carbon capture too? Things to think about. The boardwalks are well-maintained and get you real close to nature and stuff, as well as provide gorgeous views of the channel between the islands and the mainland. Plus you can see fish. What’s not to love?

Orioles vs. Rays

Reading this week:

  • Footsteps by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Back on June 12th, I went to a baseball game along with my dad and my super amazing girlfriend. The location was Tropicana Field in Tampa. The game was between the Rays and the Orioles (you can watch the highlights here; the Orioles hit a grand slam!). The occasion was Father’s Day. This is that story.

Look I gotta say I’m not all that into sports. I resent every single football game I was forced to go to as a Midshipman. I just can’t get all that into the action on the field. I usually reason this is because I have absolutely no effect on the outcome and thus can’t get involved in the drama, but then again I enjoy books, movies, and TV shows, so maybe that’s not it. There are some exceptions. I will watch the Army-Navy game when there are other people around. I am also an enthusiastic attendee of the Annapolis Cup when I can go, but I will also say I have been several times and I don’t think I ever managed to actually witness any croquet. Also Rowing Blazers sponsors the cup now???

The point is that although I don’t follow any teams or watch any sports on television, and probably wouldn’t ever buy a ticket on my own, I do kinda enjoy going to baseball games. The pace of action is just about right for my tastes. Football is too staccato. Soccer looks tiring. But baseball! Baseball is just right.

It might also be that once upon a time I had a dream of becoming a baseball star. This dream never made it very far, stalling in little league. The root cause is that I wasn’t very good at it. I don’t think I ever hit the ball when I was at-bat, mostly because I was petrified of being hit by it. I wanna say here that with the quality of the little league pitchers this wasn’t unfounded. I also never found a groove on the field. I long harbored dreams of being a pitcher. After many weeks of practicing I was finally given my big chance and I was pulled before I got through one batter. I had brief promise as a catcher, with an ability to sit in a squat, but please note several sentences ago when I said I was petrified of being hit by the ball which meant I took a dive on every single pitch. I was eventually relegated to the outfield, which given the quality of little league batters rarely got any action. I viewed this is a good thing.

I do remember the one moment that I was truly great. It was the last game of the season, and to I think the mutual benefit of all parties, I had decided to not return to little league the following year. In the final half of the final inning, our team was on the field and I wasn’t. I was giddy about this. No more practice! No more balls being thrown at me! No more baseball! But THEN: a crisis. Our catcher was injured. Taken right out of the game. He needed to be replaced. Who would step up to the plate, in this case literally what with this being a baseball scenario? I was the only option so I was chosen. I dressed in that dreaded catcher’s gear but for once I didn’t care; the giddiness had already taken over completely and wouldn’t be undone. So for this one inning, I was actually a good catcher. I wasn’t afraid! I think I caught the ball regularly even, and then threw it back and mostly got it back to the pitcher’s mound! It was a feeling of sports euphoria I wouldn’t re-achieve for a long time, if ever. It was great.

Nonetheless, my little league career was over. I was still, however, a baseball fan. I think maybe I was mostly a Cal Ripken fan. My childhood was his era, man. I remember the “Got Milk?” posters vividly, displayed in our elementary school gym. Of course the Orioles were our hometown team, since I grew up a bit south of Baltimore (a bit north of Annapolis, really). One time I insisted that my parents buy me a whole kid-sized Orioles uniform and then was too embarrassed to actually wear it to the game. The Orioles were my dad’s team, too. Now dad, dad is actually a baseball fan. He listens to games on the radio. He falls asleep in front on games on the television. He knows who the players are. He is a fan! Which is why we went to the Orioles vs. Rays game for father’s day. He asked for the tickets, my mom bought them for him, and my big responsibility was to go. My super amazing girlfriend gamely came along too, to her very first major league baseball game, despite being even less of a sports fan than I am. I think we all had a good time! She was particularly amused that they actually sold Cracker Jacks at the ole’ ball game.

I think we all had a pretty good time. We showed up a bit early and walked around. The groundskeepers provided some amusement. I couldn’t decide if the notion of them watering fake grass or them watering dirt was funnier. I realize why they water the dirt. The amount of effort that goes into dirt when it comes to baseball is stunning when you think about it, really. In the other part of the photo above, they’re smoothing out the dirt. The little bag behind the pitcher contains very special dirt. Dirt! Exciting stuff.

I took the above photos to comment on the COVID precautions in the game. There weren’t really any, except that the umpires and coaches went through a whole elaborate fist bump routine I assume in order to minimize human contact while still pretending like it’s a thing. All well and good until I noticed Mansolino just up and shake hands with the third baseman there. Double standards!

And, uh, and that’s all I really have to say about the game. It was as entertaining as baseball ever is. We snacked on peanuts (no Cracker Jacks) and my super amazing girlfriend even had a hotdog. If only we had baked an apple pie when we got home, it would have truly been an all-American day. (I realize now this will be published on the 4th of July. ‘Merica.)

Harry Potter World

Just yesterday (as I write this), my super amazing girlfriend and I went to Harry Potter World!!!! It was quite the adventure. It was also very hot.

My super amazing girlfriend, who features prominently in this story and of course also my heart, had wanted to go while we were on vacation down here in Florida. She is a big Harry Potter fan (I have read the books, and as of writing this, I have watched most of the movies) and had last visited 11 years or so ago when there was only one Harry Potter World, which was Hogsmeade over in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. She wanted to visit again, and so we did. Along with many, many other people.

We started the day driving the two hours or so to Orlando and made our way first to Islands of Adventure. My super amazing girlfriend had mapped out a bit of a strategy which involved trying to get in line for one of the more popular rides first thing in the morning as soon as we could in order to beat the crowd. This strategy went the way most did in contact with the enemy. The park was CROWDED that day. Super crowded. Packed. A seething mass of humanity desperate for butterbeer and chocolate frogs. And we went on what we thought was going to be a “slow” day. Next time we go, it’s going to be in January or something and we’re splurging on the Fast Passes.

Nonetheless we approached Hogsmeade and we were quite impressed! The Hogwarts Castle is really impressive, I think, with its forced perspective and detail making it look pretty big. It housed the first ride we went on, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.” This ride was a lot of fun. I didn’t really understand the storylines for most of the rides, but the conceit with this one is that the Harry Potter gang want to take you somewhere, and the best way to do that is to make the suspiciously ride-looking set of chairs they have fly. I looked out during the ride and it seems the way this one works is having you on the end of a big robotic arm that is on a track, and it moves you around. A lot of the action comes from moving you around in front of these big screens to give you that 4-D ride effect of feeling like you’re flying around. The strategy of having you jostled around in front of screens in the midst of a roller coaster was used a lot through Universal, in this ride to great effect, though with less success (in my opinion) on most of the other rides that used this technique.

With that complete we headed across the path to “Flight of the Hippogriff,” which was a pretty small coaster, but was fun with a payoff commensurate with its (relatively) short line. At this point we were growing increasingly startled at the inexorably lengthening wait time estimates for all the other rides provided by the Universal App thing they had. We decided to poke around the shops, which were also very crowded but had some neat trinkets. The only souvenirs we picked up through the day were two lapel pins for me and a Ravenclaw bookmark for her. Then we tried to get a snack. In retrospect, I don’t know what the best food strategy would have been. My super amazing girlfriend was excited to try butterbeer, so I got in line. After waiting for ten minutes or so, I took the picture below. You can see the butterbeer stand in the middle, off in the distance:

You couldn’t do anything in the park with a less than 30 minute wait, and this included getting a refreshment or snack. And it was HOT. This is not surprising, given that it was Florida in June, but man Universal needs to invest in some awnings. The wintry-wonderland decorations of Hogsmeade started to feel a bit mocking. We did eventually survive to the front of the line and obtained our butterbeer (we tried every butterbeer-flavored thing they had in the park, as far we could tell, and frozen butterbeer is the best), but our dreams of snacking on various Harry Potter themed treats were a bit dashed. During one of the many times I was whining about extremely slow food service, my super amazing girlfriend pointed out that Universal might be suffering from the same food service hiring troubles that is affecting the rest of the industry, but I hope they get that sorted soon.

Fortified with butterbeer, and with lines having died down from their 2.5-hour peaks, we opted to wait in line for “Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure.” This was the best ride we went on that day. It’s a roller coaster, but with more cool features. It’s got drops and you go forwards and backwards and all that stuff and it was awesome. Highly recommend. From there we went over to the Jurassic Park section in an overly optimistic attempt to get some lunch without dealing with the Harry Potter crowds, and then hopped on the Hogwarts Express to go over to Universal Studios to see Diagon Alley.

Going over to this side of the park was especially exciting because my super amazing girlfriend had never been there so we were able to check it out for the first time together (awwww, very cute I know). As impressed as I was with the castle, we were even more impressed with Diagon Alley. It looks super cool! Also a large section of it has an awning to keep the sun from beating down on you, and it has a super cool Knockturn Alley section, and overall the tall walls mean the sun just isn’t quite as oppressive. It had some neat shops and I made sure to check a good chunk of them out.

The big (and only) ride on this side is “Escape from Gringotts.” We took advantage of the single-rider line despite being a very cute couple, my super amazing girlfriend and I, and briefly chatted with a kid who must have been like 10 and had been to the park five times already. Tired of our conversation I suppose he just up and left the line at one point however. The ride itself was so-so with a storyline I didn’t get at all but which they really tried to sell you on via screens and 3-D glasses and all that. There were some cool sections in the dark, and the payoff was again commensurate with the shortened single-rider wait times. One thing I have noticed about Universal though is these guys are into fire. A lot of the rides incorporated fire and pretty close. We went on “The Mummy” ride eventually and like, they had the whole ceiling on fire. The dragon atop of Gringotts also breathed fire at intervals, and you felt it when you were anywhere in that courtyard. I got what I think are some pretty cool pictures of the dragon:

Having ridden all the big Harry Potter rides, we did take some time to venture out into other sections of Universal and ride some other coasters. I personally wonder how often Jimmy Fallon thinks about the fact he has a whole Universal Studios ride and gift shop dedicated to himself. They were pretty neat but we preferred the vibe in the Harry Potter sections and as a final big thing got dinner in the Leaky Cauldron (standard but good English fare), having earlier gotten some ice cream at “Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour.” Universal was closing but we then dashed back over to Islands of Adventure to jump on two more non-Harry Potter rides to round out the day and then make the long trek home.

Harry Potter world was a lot of fun! My mood soured while waiting for slow food service in a very hot sun, but overall I had a really good time and there were lots of interesting things to do and see. I’m looking forward to next time, when we’ll have a better strategy. That strategy will be to go in the off-season and also get a fast pass.

Ringling Museum

Like last week, both in blog-time and in real-time, my super amazing girlfriend and I are on our fantastic Florida vacation. We’re down a bit south of Tampa, and there are plenty of things to do in the region. We’re at my grandma’s house, and since she has been my grandma for quite some time and has lived here for quite some time, I have visited many times in the past and I have gone to most of the places that my super amazing girlfriend and I want to visit. This is good! This is good both because these places we are visiting are interesting, and also because it gives me a good chance to blog about them in order to maintain a constant production for the content mines! This blog post is about Ringling Museum.

A large banyan tree on the grounds. I’m a big fan of banyan trees.

The Ringling Museum is situated on the grounds of the former home of John and Mable Ringling. John Ringling is of Ringling Bros’ Circus fame, and apparently that old-timey circus money used to be real good money because this dude was rich. He was also the last surviving of the Ringling brothers and lived out his retirement down here in Florida. The museum is really three museums, or maybe three and a half. There is a Circus Museum, all about the circus, an art museum, which John and Mable collected art to be viewed by the public, and then a house tour of their very nice crib. There are also a pretty large and landscaped grounds, which got me my half in three and a half.

The first place we went upon entry was the circus portion of the museum. This in turn is split into two buildings. The second building mostly serves to house a variety of circus wagons and other large artifacts, including John Ringling’s private railroad car which seemed pretty nice. The first building tells the story of circuses and the Ringling circus specifically with a bunch of different displays and old posters and all that. One of their major displays is a gigantic scale model of the whole circus operation, built over 50 years by a very dedicated dude. The above picture is of a bandwagon housed in the main part of the museum. It is a wagon for the band, and it is included because I had never before considered I think that a bandwagon was an actual thing. Learning about the logistics operation of the circus was pretty interesting, and they have a huge section on circus advertising showing the importance of getting your message out. They also had some displays where you could sorta try out being a circus performer yourself, which is why I am expertly riding a horse in the top image.

The thing my super amazing girlfriend was especially interested in seeing, however, was the house, pictured (kinda poorly) right above. They had named their house “Ca’ d’Zan,” which is just Venetian for “House of John,” which makes sense but wow okay I guess we’ll just ignore Mable, huh? Anyways from the fact they named it in Venetian I hope you can guess that they were going for a Venice vibe, and not ever having been there I can’t tell you if they pulled it off but the place is pretty nice! In large parts it was a sorta standard rich person home, and the biggest feature I remember is that they made sure you could move some furniture around and expand the ballroom, because they were into ballroom dancing. They also named this room the “Court:”

They had apparently managed to get rich at just about the right time (or stay rich anyways) and bought a lot of furniture from the homes of formerly rich people who were foolish enough to invest in stocks before the great depression instead of cornering the market on acrobats. Nice! The place is right on the water overlooking the bay between the mainland and Longboat Key and is utterly lovely. The water-side of the Court is all colored glass giving the place a permanent rainbow appearance. Nice lifestyle if you can swing it. Last time I visited they had a full guided house tour, but due to COVID this was self-guided on only the first floor, though they did have an audio tour on your phone if you were patient enough. I’m excited to see what kind of house I build if I become extravagantly rich.

After walking the grounds a bit, the final part of the museum we went to was the art museum. Most of it is the art John and Mable had collected, which was largely Renaissance and pre-Renaissance art from Europe, if I recall correctly (I could look it up but that’s boring and un-exciting). Honestly I don’t really dig all that stuff so much but they did have a very nice collection as far as I could tell. There were some pictures of boats which I always like and also some very very large pictures, the content of which I wasn’t so into but the scale of which I admired. For both me and my super-amazing girlfriend, however, the part we liked the best was a whole section of Asian art, collected more recently than John and Mable’s time. This stuff was more our style anyways, and I think was overall more colorful and interesting.

The picture above the previous paragraph is of a goat they had. In museums I’m actually usually most drawn to the oldest stuff, because I like to think about the ancient people that made the art. I think it really connects the past to the present when you can see the brushstrokes laid down by a person that lived in such a dramatically different time and environment. This particular goat is from the Han Dynasty, somewhere within a century of year 0. That’s a two millennia-old goat. That goat and Jesus were contemporaries. It’s a pretty nice goat! I just like thinking about the Chinese person from so many centuries ago who sat down and made a goat, and now it’s sitting in a museum on the gulf coast of Florida. Wild, right?

But with that, having admired all the components of the museum, we head out and went back home. It is a very nice museum, and I am excited to go back when my super amazing girlfriend can get the whole house tour. Hopefully they get some more Asian art too.

Mote Marine

Reading this week:

  • Child of All Nations by Pramoedya Ananta Toer
  • The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

A lot has happened, faithful reader(s), since last week’s post about New York. Sort of anyways. We’re in blog time now, which has only a tenuous grip on events as they happened. In our blog timeline, only last week my super amazing girlfriend and I were in New York, spending some time before graduation to try to enjoy our New England environs. In between that blog post and this one, we have both graduated from Yale University. We have also packed up our apartments, loaded them onto a U-Haul without any help besides the two of us, driven that U-Haul to her parent’s place, dropped all that stuff off, hung out for a few days, gotten a bus to Boston, and there gotten on a plane to Florida, where we are hanging out at my grandma’s place. We are hanging out at my grandma’s place not only because she is the world’s greatest grandma (I think I gave her a relevant mug one time to prove it), but also because she has a guest room in her house which is in turn located VERY NEAR indeed to the beach. We are on a month-long beach vacation to imagine that like most of my family at this point we, too, are retired, before plunging back into the world of reality and work, luckily for the both of us in government employ.

You are now caught up to speed! One of the first places we went (besides the beach) here in Florida was the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. Mote Marine is a special place! I have visited somewhere between several and many times before, given that it is fairly close to where my grandma lives and also a pretty neat place to go. This visit, however, is the fist time I visited since learning that it was founded by Eugenie Clark. I learned about Eugenie Clark when I picked up at a used bookstore her book Lady With a Spear. The book is about her early life and career as a trailblazing marine biologist. I enjoyed it very much and then put it on my bookshelf. Some time later, I started dating my super amazing girlfriend. For much of her youth, she too wanted to be a marine biologist. I was therefore excited to give her my copy of Lady With a Spear, hoping very much she would enjoy it. She did! Turns out my super amazing girlfriend had also owned for years Eugenie Clark’s second book, The Lady and the Sharks. My super amazing girlfriend had obtained this book when she had visited Mote Marine some years back. We (she) at some point had put all the pieces together of our connection with Eugenie Clark and Mote Marine, and were excited to go back on this visit.

Mote Marine is a pretty nice place! It is split into two parts in two buildings. The main building is more of a traditional aquarium sorta thing. When we approached on this day we were sternly warned by a very nice employee out front that we might want to start with the other building. The main building, she explained, was currently overrun with a collection of kids from a summer camp, and she suggested avoiding them for the time being. So we went to the second building.

The secondary building at Mote Marine had long been their more animal rescue-focused section. You’ll note from the name Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium and it’s founding by a world-renowned shark researcher that the raison d’etre for the place was really animal research and then also marine animal rescue. Since I was at Mote Marine last, the secondary building, as far as I can recollect, as become a lot more “slick.” It used to have I think a much more utilitarian vibe, but now the animals feel more on display rather than just being housed. But you can get rather up close and personal with some rescued sea turtles (see above), and since I was last at Mote they’ve also gained some crocodilians and some aggressively cute otters. The picture at the top is of one of the two manatees they have this side. Given how much they eat maybe it wasn’t so special that we got to see them eat, but I did enjoy watching the manatee shove cabbage into its mouth with its flippers.

Having given the summer camp ample space to get their fill of fishy sights, we head over to take in the main aquarium. They got all sorts of fish, and for a long time the main draw for me was Molly the Mollusk, an at this point long-dead but well-preserved giant squid. It was pretty amazing to me to think about how much we’ve learned about giant squids between the time I first saw Molly and now. Now they film these guys in the wild pretty regularly, you know? My super amazing girlfriend’s favorites however, much like Eugenie, are the sharks. Mote Marine has a rather large shark tank where you can observe sharks swimming around from both above and below. I guess gifs are just my aquarium thing now, and instead of recording the sharks in the shark tank I recorded the school of fish swimming around in a mesmerizing circle:

I was also excited to watch the octopus they had in its own tank. We must have caught it around feeding time, because this guy was way more active than I usually see them in exhibits:

All in all a lovely day. We saw plenty of fish and other animals, got to hang out at the place Eugenie Clark founded, had a lovely lunch at the aquarium’s café, and avoided being totally mobbed my hordes of summer camp kids. Not a bad time!

New York Part IV

I was once again in New York! Except this time the weather was much better! The purpose of this expedition to New York was to see New York. You will recall there has been a pandemic, and so despite spending two years only a very short train ride from the Big Apple, neither me nor my super amazing girlfriend had spent much time there. In the free time between finishing all of our final papers and graduating we decided to head down there and see what there was to see!

The first major thing we went to go see was the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I had visited both back around Thanksgiving of 2019, but my super amazing girlfriend had never been. Besides the patriotic fervor that of course burns in her heart, she had relatives that came through Ellis Island and wanted to investigate the origins of her family’s American adventure. I, too, have relatives that came through Ellis Island, but she actually knows who her’s are and was therefore much more equipped to gain deep insights from the experience. Visiting the two islands was very nice and made for a lovely day out, and the only disappointing bit was that the area where you can actually research the people who came through Ellis Island was closed for COVID, seriously knocking the knees out of our attempts to investigate people who came through Ellis Island.

One thing I saw this time that I hadn’t seen last time I was on Ellis Island is a section about more modern-day immigration into the United States. This section had me in my feelings because while it wasn’t exactly jingoistic it didn’t quite reach the full level of reflection that I think the immigration paradigm needs these days. A particular example is the sidebar above. I’ll only bother to link to one random article on the perils of international adoption (which doesn’t even touch on the cultural components that need to be reckoned with), but man that sidebar only bothers to note some minor difficulties before firmly coming down on the side of believing adopting “orphans” from other countries is always a good thing. The National Park could do a lot better than this!

Every time I pose like this I think to myself “why do I always pose like this?” and then I pose like this.

Having gotten a satisfactory fill of American history, our major excursion the next day was up to The Met Cloisters. I am bad at researching the places we go to, especially when my super amazing girlfriend selects the destination, so I didn’t know what to expect. It was nice! When we went they had set up a one-way path through the whole museum for you to go through. When we got to the first cloister (which is a courtyard sorta thing), I took lots of pictures because I was like “I like courtyards so I better document this courtyard, which I assume will be the only courtyard we’ll see, what with most locations in the world only having one courtyard if they have any.” But then we came across several more cloisters and suddenly I understood the name!

Frankly I’m not all that much into medieval art (maybe I mean early modern?), so a lot of the art-art wasn’t totally doing it for me, but I liked The Cloisters a lot. First off, I am still stunned by the concept that you could just go over to Europe, buy loads of bits of old churches and stuff, and then just cart them to the US and use ’em to build a museum. I suppose the Benin Bronzes wouldn’t be surprised, but still. I am also unclear if the various sarcophagi they had still had dead people in them, or if they didn’t where those dead people wound up. The architectural bits were in fact very pretty though! And I like the overall philosophy of just stuffing as many courtyards into a place as you can. We also liked the unicorn tapestries they had, one of which I am doing my pose again in front of above. The Cloisters is nice!

After we finished up at the Cloisters, we took the subway back downtown and wanting to fill our afternoon with something else we decided to go to the American Museum of Natural History. This was nice! I liked the bits about Africa the most. I mostly take photos of very niche things however. The photos above are of some dioramas I found particularly interesting, showing various ways that people had to raise water up. These might have been handy back when I nominally taught people how to fish farm for a living. They had an Archimedes’ screw, which I knew about, but that counter-balanced pot thing on the left would have been a lot easier to build.

I am also a particular fan of reed/grass baskets. This is mostly because back in Zambia I would wake up in the morning and watch my host mom use a winnowing basket in order to winnow, and then go to the Moto Moto Museum and see those exact same baskets in a museum, and I find that funny. The bottom three baskets in the picture above are from various places in Africa, but the basket on top is actually from the United States, woven by the descendants of enslaved persons. I own a very similar one I bought in Charleston, SC. I am writing this blog post from the ~future,~ so I will have even more pictures of reed baskets to show you in follow-on posts.

The various halls of various animals in the museum are a particular bounty for Atlas Obscura, including the gorilla diorama above. I particularly liked it because I have been pretty much literally in the exact spot the diorama shows, which Mt. Nyiragongo in the background. Pretty neat! That’s um, that’s all I have to say about that.

The rest of our time in New York, when not at museums, was very fun as well! We looked around and saw the sights! We met up with a friend of mine for dinner, and also had dinner with my aunt and uncle, and also had dinner with my super amazing girlfriend’s friend! It was great! We had New York Pizza and looked in at least one bookstore! Very nice! All in all a very nice time. On our very last day, as we were walking to the train station, we also got to see “Ghost Forest” by Maya Lin. I thought it was pretty funny that people were just using the trees as like, regular trees, lounging among and against them. On the one hand, maybe that is a pretty blasé way to face climate change and the inhabitability of large swaths of the planet, but on the other hand it’s nice to see people interacting with and using public art, you know?

And so that was our New York adventure. A pretty nice time!!!