Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Elephant's Trunk Nebula

Image (c) Paul Beskeen Astrophotography, 2009.

Wow. This is not a painting. This is the real thing, shot by my friend Paul, using the telescope in his back garden.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Things To Do In Florida When You're (Feeling) Dead

It's been an interesting week. Not what we planned at all. Last weekend we were supposed to go to Freda's place out in Kissimmee for JC's birthday party and camp out in her garden. As it got dark, we started to see the first flashes of lightning, and by mid-evening, we had a full-on celestial fireworks show. It was truly beautiful, but it was followed, inevitably, by the sky gods dumping about a hundred tons of water on us, flooding our tent completely. So we drove back to Orlando at midnight, and curled up in our nice dry house. Except that it didn't stay nice and dry for long. We woke up to find our hallway under a couple of inches of water. We spent the rest of the day clearing up, and still couldn't work out where it had all come from, even after ripping up the back closet and checking all the pipework. Still, it's all back now, and we're just guessing there was so much rain that the ground became completely waterlogged.

Then, towards the end of the week, I had a two-day migraine, the first in ages, and spent most of the time lying on a sofa feeling sorry for myself and wishing I could buy codeine over the counter like I can in England.

However, despite all that, I seem to have managed to fit a hell of a lot into the last seven days. We're continuing to work our way through the awesome collection of Southern Lady recipes, starting with a chicken and cajun sausage gumbo on Sunday, and ending with lemon pancakes and blueberry syrup for Saturday breakfast. We also took Mollie's totally scrumptious Strawberry Daiquiri pie and the utterly indulgent sweet potato gingerbread with maple pecan butter sauce to the party. (All, I should say, in the spirit of full disclosure, cooked by Anna. I've been rather delinquent in the kitchen this week, apart from cooking a Polish pork stew yesterday.)

Midweek we decided we needed comfort food, and went to the Thai House. It breaks my heart to say it, but The Wrestlers in Cambridge has finally lost its crown as my favourite Thai place. The Thai House's Tom Yum was just the pick-me-up I needed, and their Phad Panang (red curry) is simply, without a doubt, the best I have ever had. We will be back there. As often as we can afford it. Maybe more often than that.

We also got taken out to the Sanford Wine Company by the wonderful Robert Deck, and plied with extremely fine Pinot Noir, including an absolutely superb one from the Elk Cove winery in Oregon. Tomorrow, however, I expect to be the pinnacle of my foodie experience so far: we're going to the Food and Wine Festival at EPCOT, courtesy of the lovely Kal, and we plan to indulge ourselves as much as we possibly can.

Yes. I need new trousers. Pants, if you prefer.

In between eating, I've been watching Diary of a Foodie, again thanks to Robert, and drooling mightily. To counteract all that highbrow culture, I introduced Anna to Crossroads, aka The Karate Kid Plays The Blues, one of my favourite films of the 80s. The story's nothing great (New York kid goes South to learn Robert Johnson's lost song and learn about life, yadda yadda), but it has some damn good lines ("the blues ain't nuthin' but a good man feelin' bad, thinkin' about the woman he once was with"), Jami Gertz is still as cute as I remember her (and way cuter than she was in Lost Boys), and the soundtrack is one of my all-time top movie soundtracks. It's Ry Cooder at his absolute finest (though I wouldn't argue if you countered with Last Man Standing), and Steve Vai plays an absolute blinder as the devil's guitar champion.

We must have been on a real 80s kick last week, because we also watched part 2 of the 80s Patrick Swayze Civil War epic North and South and concluded that they were all (a) stupid (b) unpleasant or (c) both. It's cheesy as hell, but completely addictive, and now we're wondering whether we need to watch part 3. I suspect we do, if only to find out what happened to Miss Ashton, a superbitch to rival anything in Dynasty or Dallas.

To restore the balance (this week seems to have involved a lot of getting things in balance) we went out one mild day (in other words a mere 25C/77F rather than the usual 33C/91F) and visited some actual American history, in the shape of the Leu Gardens Museum House. It's a quaint little place, about 120 years old. I'm still trying to get used to the fact that in 1850, there was absolutely nothing here at all, just some empty swamp land. By 1880, there were still only a few houses here, and it wasn't until just over 100 years ago, when Henry Flagler built a railroad down to Orlando, this city even existed. It's like living in Sim City, where things really do start on Jan 1, 1900. We couldn't help it, though. We came away with a book of recipes from the 1900s, for which we paid a mighty $2.

Still on the historical theme, I also read another unmemorable book about Florida in the Civil War (no, really, dear historians, nothing at all of any significance happened, no matter how much you try and convince me that Florida was a vital part of the Confederacy), a book about the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Florida, Florida's Lost Tribes, and two books about the history of Winter Park, which were fascinating in the way that local history books always are: in other words, a load of instantly forgettable trivia that make you feel like you know the place a little better than you did before.

I also ripped my way through Stephen Fry's time-travel alternate history romp Making History, and gave up on both Beat by Amy Boaz and the DC comic of Michael Moorcock's Multiverse. I'm not sure when I stopped liking Moorcock. I used to read him obsessively in my teens, and could quote Elric pretty much chapter and verse. Then about ten years ago I picked up some of his newer stuff and found it unreadable. I'm not sure whether he changed or I did, but I just can't handle his self-indulgent bombast any more.

Highlight of the week, though was a book Darien has been bugging me to read since I got here, The Lightning Thief, a "young adult" book which messes with the world of Greek mythology. After the endless vampires and Harry Potters, it's a refreshing change to read something that takes classical archetypes, updates them, and makes a cracking good read. I've got book 2 by the bed, and am looking forward to reading that when I've finished The Moon Maid and Other Fantastic Adventures, by R Garcia y Robertson, which is a great collection of short stories.

Yes, I got a Winter Park library card. It's another stage in getting myself legal and proving I actually live with Anna, prior to filing all the immigration paperwork. We also have a joint bank account now, and the lease is in both our names. Next week's big job is to take my UK medical records to a local doctor who will, I hope, certify that I'm fit and healthy, and won't insist on repeating all my childhood immunizations. I don't fancy feeling sick for a couple of weeks, let alone go through the hassle of actually having more jabs, and I sure as hell don't want to pay $500 for a load of injections I don't need.

Oh, and let's not forget that we rounded off the week with not one, but two art shows. I've really started to like Vaughn Belak's work, and we ended up at his show A Little Bit Haunted, chatting about Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, and how he would look if Vaughn painted him. Here are just a few of his pictures.

Not bad for a week where we didn't do much, really.