Tuesday, January 1, 2019

My Books of 2018

I read 98 books in 2018, just a few more than usual, almost two per week. I can't stand not having a book going -- as soon as I finish one, I have to have the next one waiting. This year I had many books that I put on hold at my local library. Recommendations came from my daughter, my friend Pat and other friends, and random articles on-line.

Several of my favorite authors had new books in their series this year and none disappointed:  Alexander McCall Smith's A Time of Love and Tartan (44 Scotland Street), The Quiet Side of Passion (Isabel Dalhousie), The Colors of All the Cattle (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency), and The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse (stand-alone), were all enjoyed. How can this man continue to produce so many wonderful readable books? Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs has moved into World War II in To Die But Once. Lucinda Riley's Star Sister series book The Pearl Sister went with CeCe to Australia. This series is fascinating, the stories of seven sisters adopted by a wealthy man. When he dies, they each get clues to trace their backgrounds. Each book is part historical novel about the daughter's ancestors, part modern story of her connecting with her past.

I read very little nonfiction, but two books enriched my year: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot was a wonderful story about the woman whose cancer cells have been used in much medical research and A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa was a first-person narrative of a half-Korean, half-Japanese man who escaped from North Korea after many harrowing years.

Somehow I ended up reading several books set on ships, including Elizabeth Blackwell's On a Cold Dark Sea, about three Titanic survivors who reconnect after 20 years; The Last Cruise by Kate Christenson, a cook, a musician and a farmer's wife on a doomed cruise to Hawaii; Ruta Sepetys's Salt to the Sea, survivors near the end of WWII; The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, a murder mystery set on a small cruise ship; and The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White, set on the Lusitania.

My friend Stephen Alter had two new books this year, both very enjoyable. In the Jungles of the Night is about Jim Corbett, vignettes of three different times in his life rather than a standard biography. The Dalliance of Leopards is the second in a mystery series set in Mussoorie whose hero is spymaster Colonel Afridi.

I particularly enjoy historical novels. Some of the ones I most enjoyed this year:

•Thalassa Ali: A Singular Hostage, A Beggar at the Gate, and Companions of Paradise (1838 young Englishwoman in northwest India and Kabul becomes involved with native man)
•Lauren Belfer:  And After the Fire (Bach manuscript in Berlin, Weimar, and modern New York)
•Rhys Bowen: In Farleigh Field and The Tuscan Child (WWII in England and Italy)
•Camille DeMaio: The Way of Beauty (German and Italian immigrants around Penn Station in the early 20th century)
•Jamie Ford: Love and Other Consolation Prizes (1909 Seattle World's Fair, Chinese boy auctioned off)
•Charles Frazier: Varina (story of the Confederate First Lady)
•Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb: Last Christmas in Paris (WWI letters from a woman to her brother's friend)
•Sally Gunning: The Widow's War (1761 widow fights to control her life and property)
•Ariel Lawhorn: I Was Anastasia (telling the story backwards and forwards)
•Susan Ella MacNeal: Mr. Churchill's Secretary and Princess Elizabeth's Spy (young American woman gets involved in espionage in WWI London)
•Sujata Massey: Widows of Malabar Hill (Parsi woman lawyer in 1921 Bombay gets involved in purdah wives and murder)
•Susan Meissner: As Bright as Heven (family lives in funeral home, goes through 1918 flu epidemic)
•Madeline Miller: Circe (amazing tale of the goddess in her own words)
•Bradford Morrow: The Prague Sonata (possible Beethoven manuscript separated and lost through WWII)
•Paul Gill: The Secret Wife (Tatiana, supposedly murdered with her family [Tsar Nicholas], survived)
•Deanna Raybourn: A Curious Beginning and A Perilous Undertaking (intrepid Victorian woman becomes an explorer and solves mysteries)
•Aimee K. Runyan: Daughters of the Night Sky (Russian women pilots in WWII)
•Natasha Solomons: Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English (Jewish immigrant attempts to become the perfect English gentleman)
•Mark Sullivan: Beneath a Scarlet Sky (amazing story of Italian boy/man in WWII)
•Amor Towles: A Gentleman in Moscow (Russian aristocrat sentenced to life in a hotel after the revolution)

And some modern novels I can recommend:

•Lisa Genova: Every Note Played (concert pianist dying of ALS, ex-wife takes over care) and Inside the O'Briens (Boston cop gets Huntington's Disease, family fallout)
•Jonas Jonasson: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (hilarious tale of a man who was involved in many 20th-century happenings)
•Julie Kibler: Calling Me Home (wonderful story of elderly white woman and her black hairdresser traveling to Cincinnati for a funeral)
•Mary Robinette Kowal: The Calculating Stars (alternate history where a woman wants to become an astronaut in the 1950s)
•Jojo Moyes: Still Me (Louisa moves to NYC, wonderful follow-up to Me Before You)
•Kathleen Rooney: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (writer walks NYC on New Year's Eve 1984, remembering her remarkable life)
•Marcella Serano: Ten Women (ten Chilean women describe their lives)
•Michael Zadoorian: The Leisure Seeker (she has cancer, he has Alzheimer's, and they head west in their camper for a last adventure, to the horror of their children)

If you like to read and want more recommendations, check out my daughter's blog at http://www.anjviola.com. She reads much more than I do and posts her list at the first of every month.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Christmas in Las Vegas

2018 has been an unusual year for us, including the fact that we spent our Christmas in Las Vegas. Our daughter and her husband had plans to go there for some time and they urged us to join them when our other travel plans didn't work out. We had a wonderful time, even if it was quite exhausting.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon. Anjali had arranged a downtown Las Vegas food tour for us, which helped us get through the early evening hours when we would have liked to sleep!

The food was good, although most of it not especially inspiring. The tour began at the Container Park, a really cool collection of shops and restaurants all made out of shipping containers. Outside the entrance was a giant sculpted praying mantis. At about 5:00 the show began -- fire shot out of the antennae with loud booms. The kids around loved it! 

I had heard about the Fremont Street Experience and thought it was something I'd like to see. It was interesting, but there was too much extremely loud music for me to ever go back! One of our stops was at a casino whose owner was a collector. On display was the largest gold nugget ever found. It was found in Australia; he paid about a million dollars for it and it is now valued at something like 22 million.

Another artifact was a huge piece of the Berlin wall. It is installed (under plexiglass) in a men's restroom behind three urinals.

We stayed at the Bellagio, a lovely Italian-themed hotel on the Strip. It is famous for its dancing fountains and a large Conservatory. For the holidays, the Conservatory had a fabulous display. The first photo shows the centerpiece and the second a corner area with playful polar bears.

Our room faced away from the Strip toward the mountains, which gave a lovely sunset view.

The lobby ceiling was covered with Chihuly glass flowers. (This is an unusual picture, because most of the time there were crowds of people everywhere.)

On Christmas Eve afternoon, Dan went with Anjali and Domingos on a helicopter tour into the Grand Canyon. I had done it some years ago with one of my sisters, so didn't participate this time. While they were away, I had lunch at the Patisserie -- a sandwich and key lime tart. Delicious!

Of course, we had lots of wonderful food. On Christmas day we had an early dinner at FIX, an in-house restaurant near the theater where we saw the Cirque du Soleil "O" show. They had a prix fixe pre-theater special.

Roasted tomato soup with incredible grilled cheese

Salmon entree with root vegetables

Surf 'n' Turf with horseradish potato cube

Doughnuts stuffed with banana, peanut butter and chocolate dipping sauces

On our final morning with Anjali and Domingos, we had breakfast at one of the in-house restaurants. The oatmeal was quite amazing! (and quite too much for me!)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Eating and Touring in Georgetown

Monday evening we went a short distance down the street to Mr. Shewarma. Dan had checked out several places earlier and thought this was a good one. They had street-side seating, as did most places, but we sat inside near the back where there was a fan and it was cooler. We had banana-strawberry milkshakes, which were absolutely delicious. They were more pink than orange, as they appear in the photo.

We ordered a shwarma set which included two plates. One had chicken pieces on top of a thin bread like chapati with french fries. It was definitely not photogenic. The chicken was good, though. The other plate had cole slaw, another veggie salad, hummus, and I think baba ganoush. I'm sorry I didn't get the picture until we had already dug in!

Walking along the street in the early evening we see dozens of food carts, everything from burgers (Old Wafford style and crispy chicken) to a variety of things I don't recognize. Noodles are popular all over Asia, of course.

This cart had quite a variety -- and yes, those are octopus tentacles on the far left.

Tuesday morning we decided to get on the free bus that circles the inner part of the city that is a UNESCO heritage sight. We had seen a good bit of it last year on the Hop-on Hop-off bus as well as Monday on our long ride back from Penang Hill. At one of the stops there were a couple of ricksha drivers waiting for customers. Notice that unlike India, these drivers sit behind the passengers. This driver was relaxing in the passenger seat while waiting.

At the jetty bus stop we again had to get out and get into another bus to continue the route. I noticed this sign yesterday and caught a quick shot today. Yes, it is a good idea:  "Do Not Chase After Moving Bus."

Tuesday evening we went a bit further down the street, near the entrance to Little India, to a biriani restaurant. It was cool and comfortable and not at all crowded (3 other customers). Dan had the mutton and I had the veggie biriani. We both ordered garlic naan and lassis as well. My veg biriani came on a thali with some dal and several vegetables as well as some raita.

The garlic naan was on a thali as well, with a sweet yogurt concoction, coriander chutney, and a red chutney. The naan was a bit thinner than we are used to, but that was a good thing. I've never seen such large chunks of garlic on naan! 

Dan's mutton biriani came in a clay pot, also with some side dishes -- dal and raita. And a hard-boiled egg.

Dan's Thai visa arrived in the afternoon and we are heading to Batu Ferringhi, the beach area, on Wednesday around noon.

Monday, February 26, 2018

A Visit to Penang Hill

Monday morning after a great breakfast we headed out to catch the local bus to Penang Hill. It is the area where the British established a hill station when they were colonizing Malaya. The oldest building is from 1803. From the early 1900s there were several attempts to establish a tramway to the top of the hill, with success in 1924. The funicular was completely overhauled in 2010 and is very modern and feels safe, even with the steep angle going up. I went up last year when I did the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour, but didn't really see very much. Today we decided to walk the Summit Road, which did a loop coming back on the Upper Tunnel Road. There were paths cutting down from Summit in four places, but two of them were blocked off because of landslides. In the end, we did the complete circuit, going down Byway D and back up on Byway A, which took us right to the station area. It turned out to be a longer walk than I expected. In many ways, it was reminiscent of walking the Chukker in Landour, but with lots of tropical vegetation. Fortunately, much of the way was shady.

We walked about three blocks to a major bus stop where we caught the 204 bus that goes right to the Penang Hill ticket area. As we waited, I noticed this Coke machine nearby. It's good that I didn't want one!

There are two types of tram tickets -- Normal and Fast Lane. We went ahead and got the Fast Lane tickets, and were glad we did. We had to wait a while to board, but got in and got seats before the "Normal" ticket holders were allowed in. Here is a view looking up from the station. There is one spot where the track splits into two so that there can be two trains going all the time. The track is about 2 kilometers long and it takes about 10 minutes.

As we began walking along the road, these lovely flowers were blooming. We saw lots of flowers all along the way.

I'm not sure how well you can tell from looking at this photo, but this private road heading off to the left has been washed away. It ends suddenly. Along the Summit Road there were frequent benches and shelters for picnicking or just resting.

When we got to Byway D, we headed down the hill. Again, we could have been in Landour.

The Upper Tunnel Road was nearly deserted (there were frequent golf carts and cars on the upper road). It wasn't very wide, but it was nicely finished.

We saw a lot of landslides. The ground is very sandy, so it erodes easily. I think the plastic cover is to prevent further erosion in the next rains. I'm not sure how much pushta-rebuilding goes on; we didn't see much evidence of any. (Pushtas are the retaining walls that are constantly being rebuilt in Mussoorie.)

Unfortunately, the view of Georgetown was quite hazy. This is the best photo I got. The land in the distance is the mainland of Malaysia. There are two bridges connecting this island to it.

And a few more lovely flowers.

When we arrived back down, we were happy to see a 204 bus at the stand so we got right on. Unfortunately, it didn't go back the same way it came (one-way streets interfered) and we thought we'd just stay on until it came back around. But when we got to the large bus stop at the jetty for the ferry, everyone had to get off. We were able to get on the 201, which went right past our hotel, after Dan went to buy a drink to get the change needed for the bus fare. A wonderful day, but exhausting!

Off to Penang

On Saturday we finished our packing up -- my suitcase for heading home, Dan's two suitcases and odd items to leave with a pickleball friend, a bag to leave at Smith Suites, and Dan's backpack for the trip to Penang. We got everything sorted out, deciding which household-type items Dan would want and which ones we should leave at Smith for next year. We left our old fan in the room for the cleaning people -- it is on its very last legs. We'll get a new one next year. Dan took his things, including the motorbike, to the friend's place (not all in one trip...). We ate dinner at Max on the next street over from ours. We went there once last year. We were the only customers, but the food was good.

Our flight was at 9:00 Sunday morning so we went downstairs at 6:00 with my suitcase and our backpacks. While we waited for our Uber driver to arrive, we said goodbye to the night watchman and the groundskeeper. They had our deposit to return to us ($500 in cash; we didn't want to miss getting it back!) and we turned in our room keys.

The traffic was pretty light as we headed to the airport, but we had to wait quite a long time at the corner by the Airport Plaza Mall. There must have been a marathon; we saw hundreds of runners passing on the other side of the road. I know this picture isn't very good, but it gives you an idea of the sight. I couldn't find anything online about a marathon for that day.

At the airport, I always enjoy looking at the shops (after our breakfast of tea/coffee and spinach pie). They sell a lot of dried fruit and other delicacies. It makes me sad to see this display of skin whitening products. They are popular here in Thailand, as they are in other parts of Asia.

Our flight to Kuala Lumpur was about 3 hours and uneventful. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turning in the airport and went through regular immigration (very long line) and out into the baggage claim area. We had to find our gate area and go through security all over again -- lots of walking! I think last year we went through an international transit hall that was much less complicated. But I did get to see where I will come out when I leave Penang to head for my flight home.

We found our gate with no trouble and boarded only a few minutes behind time. We taxied out toward the runway and then turned around and headed back to the gate. The air-conditioning system wasn't working properly. We were all unloaded and sat around at the gate waiting to see what would happen. Eventually they came around and gave us all a bottle of water, which helped. After a while they announced a change of gate (only two away) and we all moved. When we got loaded onto the new plane we were almost exactly three hours late. I guess it could have been much worse. We got a prepaid taxi at the airport (about $11) and got to our hotel around 8:30. Dan went out to the visa agent nearby to see what his hours were and found him still open. He got all the paperwork done and his visa will be submitted today and he'll pick it up tomorrow (Tuesday). Wednesday we move to the beach hotel for a couple of nights.

I took this picture of a tree against the darkening sky on the drive into the city. There were many high-rise apartment buildings, open-air restaurants, and lots and lots of traffic.

We stayed at the Chulia Mansion last year and loved it, so we came back. Their breakfast buffet is wonderful, with an egg station; Malaysian dishes along the wall; fruit; salad; small pastries and puddings; a corner with croissants, toast, and dumplings; and two coffee/tea machines. Oh yes and muesli and other cereals (no porridge!). 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Last Week in Chiang Mai

We are on the countdown to our departure on Sunday. In spite of my setbacks with health and knee, the two months here have gone by quickly. Sunday morning we fly to Penang, where Dan will get his next visa in Georgetown and then we'll enjoy a couple of days at the beach.

This morning I went to a print shop near my tai chi school to get our boarding passes and a few other things printed. (We couldn't get the Air Asia passes to come over electronically.) I was surprised to see that they were draining the section of the moat nearest us. When I got a bit further along I could see a digger scooping up the mud, but I didn't see where they were putting it. Traffic was backed up, as the road was reduced to one lane in that area.

Graffiti on a lamp post. I'm not sure if the perpetrator wanted us to know that he was "bad," or just wanted to write something randomly.

I like this street sign:  "Share the Road." Indeed there are cars, trucks, buses, motor scooters and bicycles everywhere (not sure how I happened to catch this road with almost no traffic, though!). Thailand is a pretty laid back place and there seems to be no sense of road rage. I think I heard a horn beep three or four times in two months. (Not quite like India!)

Earlier I posted about a new Ganesh temple, and today I finally went inside. There is an open area with a sign that there is a gathering at 8:30 every evening. The golden Ganesha is attractive.

There are niches along the entry way walls with different Hindu gods and goddesses. And of course there is a shop at the front selling lots of small idols and baubles.

This is a typical produce seller along the road in front of the Tesco Express where I regularly shop. Today I was looking for pomelo, but no one had any. I hope I can get it once more before I leave!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Belated Valentine Post

For Valentine's Day lunch we went back to the River Market, a nice place we found last year when Anjali and Domingos were here with us (well, Anjali found it!). We had wonderful curried chicken roti rolls to start. Dan had the Burmese curry (again) and I had the eggplant tapenade with barbecued shrimp (again). All wonderfully delicious.

Tuesday afternoon I was surprised by these beautiful roses Dan brought from a florist near his massage place. They are fully open now and won't last too long -- it is quite warm.

Yes, in fact, it is getting hot. The weather report says it gets up to 95 during the day and it feels like it. The water in the pool was noticeably warmer today than yesterday. I have run the A/C in our room a few times in the afternoons. There is a pretty good breeze in the morning, especially if we leave our door open to increase the flow.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Weekend Update

It's been a quiet week. I met up with Marti again at the Grill of India for lunch on Wednesday (the baigan bhartha was very good). On Thursday evening we tried Aum, a vegetarian restaurant highly recommended by Hope and David, a Canadian couple who swim almost every afternoon when I do. It is near our old favorite, the Doo Dee. (We haven't been back there since our first disappointing visit under the new owners.) We had the fried spring rolls to start.

I had the wonton soup, which was delicious.

Dan had the kaow soi, which was also delicious. However, he prefers meat to tofu.

One evening I decided to get creative in the kitchen. I boiled up a carrot, an apple, a potato, and an onion. Then I sautéed more onion and added the vegetables. When they were ready, I added beaten eggs and some chopped-up cheese (we don't have a grater). It made a very satisfying meal. And Dan picked up fresh strawberries that day -- they are super flavorful!

I have been fascinated every year by the shrubs that are in pots beside the pool. The leaves sprout only from the ends of the branches and the flowers bloom on long stems, also from the branch ends. Right now the white one has one bloom and the pink one has four. Neither has very many leaves.

After my lunch on Wednesday, I detoured through the Chiang Mai Gate Market on my way back. Most of the vendors are gone before noon. This man was taking advantage of the tables to have a nap.

The space between the old wall at Chiang Mai Gate and the road has topiary shrubs. They are always nicely trimmed.