Friday, 29 June 2012

Domestic violence

I said I wasn't going to write any more about our gym, but things have changed.  We've been taken over!  It's more of a merger than an acquisition, as Forma Gym (formerly of the centre of the Creek) has shut down and everyone has transferred to us.  We have new machines, some with tellies built in, and old racketball courts have been knocked together to make a huge downstairs weights area.

We've also got lots of new people.  And they seem to be younger, and less Republican.  There is much muttering from the old timers in the locker room about how things have changed for the worst.

But they're wrong, because with new ownership and new people has come a new class, and it goes by the name of Aussie Kickboxing.  It's run by Monica, who is short and scary (those things go hand-in-hand with gym instructors) and antipodean.  Last night Hannah and I attended our first class.

I had, actually, done one other kickboxing fitness class, with Elliot.  That was a cardio exercise thing, with a (short and scary) Iranian instructor and lots of loud music.  It was good, but unless I'm mugged by someone pumping out 80s disco I don't feel it taught me any real moves.

This one was very different.

It seemed to start out tamely enough, with some skipping rope work, squats, etc. but then the gloves and pads were handed out, and we were told to pair off.  I made the foolhardy decision to partner with my wife.

Keep your hands up and your chin down, Monica told us, as she demonstrated the right jab and the left cross.  You have to keep one leg forward, and bounce around menacingly at the same time.  Trying to control all my limbs at once was more than I could take, but then we actually had to do it to someone.

It would have been easier to hit the "focus mitts" if Hannah could have held them up, but she was laughing so hard at my attempts to look cool and a bit fierce that the targets kept moving.  We got through it, and swapped over, and there is something rather unnerving about standing there while the one you love is, you know, trying to kickbox you.  Especially if she's baring her teeth at the same time, like Hannah does.

The night continued with left and right hooks, and then forward kicks.  Monica praised us for our precision, although I'm not sure why.  Five seconds into any exercise my coordination abandoned me and my martial prowess descended into some kind of strange slapfest.  Still, my gloves were a very fetching shade of blue.

During the stretch and warm down, Monica introduced us to Aussie slang.  "Tucker" was this week's word.  Please - if you've been brought up on a diet of Neighbours, Flying Doctors, Home & Away and other Oz soaps of which British television is so fond, then you know very well that tucker means food, even if you don't know that the jolly swagman put a jumbuck in his tuckerbag.  I didn't show my disdain to Monica, however, because she might have hurt me.

I left feeling pretty beat up anyway.  This kickboxing, Aussie or otherwise, is not for wimps.  As Hannah commented, it's taken 15 years of marriage for us to finally come to blows.  I think that's a pretty good record, but I may be too old and knackered to try again.

Me, after next week's class.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Migratory species

Shauli, Anat and Arbel are leaving us!  They managed to extend their stay in Uni Village for a (very impressive) extra two years, but all good things must come to an end.  They're upping sticks and moving down to the South Bay, where job prospects, fine weather and decent hummus are more plentiful than up here.

For an emotional goodbye, I joined Anat and Arbel for a day out at Oakland Zoo, where they hold a family pass.  As I wandered between the animals, I thought: they've got the right idea!  Living together in mutually supportive social structures, no need for employment, for possessions, for clothes.  And, in a way, we're all caged by capitalism and consumerism etc. etc.

A sun bear, with no worries.

Cheeky squirrel monkey having fun.

Arbel was less impressed by the animals than by things like the stream and the climbing frames.

A monkey, hanging out, relaxed.  Anat tells me this is a yoga pose, which just proves my point.

Mummy and baby tortoise.

A frog.  Do not lick.

I improved my Hebrew animal vocabulary no end.  Here are A&A looking at a pil!

Flying fox, enjoying himself.

Arbel attends to some goat brushing in the petting farm.

Giraffes, they've got the right idea.

A human: happy.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Neighbourhood watch

San Francisco is a city of neighbourhoods.  From The Castro to Russian Hill, through Noe Valley and Sunset, the place is divided into over 100 (according to Wikipedia) districts, departments and developments.  We tend to stick to a few major ones whenever we go to visit, but today decided to branch out and see Glen Park.

Conveniently it's on the BART line.  The stated reason for going was to meet Elliot (currently lonely, with his family on the East Coast) as it's about half-way between WC and Palo Alto, but the real reason was Gialina Pizzeria, which Hannah had heard about and wanted to see if they matched her homemade efforts.  How could they?

Before stuffing our face with pizza we hiked up through Glen Canyon Park, a massive green swath left undeveloped right in the heart of the neighbourhood.  It is ringed by obviously expensive houses, and has a certain Jurassic Park feel with signs warning of coyotes.  The closest we came was a dog that looked like Lassie.

We kept ascending, and eventually found ourselves at the Sutro Tower, the huge three-pronged aerial that dominates the SF skyline (and always sits above the fog).  By now we had strayed from Glen Park into Clarendon Heights, so swiftly retraced our steps and rendezvoused with Dana, Amir and Ayal, stopping off on their way back from the city to their hotel in Cupertino.

As for the restaurant, it did not disappoint, with the Yukon Gold Potatoes and the Pesto pizzas being the stand-outs for me.  Hannah claims that their exemplary crust is due to a wood fired oven - no guessing what she'll be asking for this Christmas.  I'm not sure our rental agreement allows for that, but we'll see.  Anyway, we left the South Bayers to travel down there while we returned north-east, having added another destination to our tour itinerary for the next time you come to visit.

While the cat's away, Elliot does crazy things like come out for coffee.

Into the urban wild.

At the top of the hill.

Looking down on the city, and Market Street carving everything in two.

The tower.

Unspeakably cute!  And Ayal.

Gialina's new advertisement.

Father and son.

While I distract Hannah and Dana by taking a photo, Elliot takes advantage.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Seattle outlook

Excitement arrived!  In the form of Dana and Ayal, who are down visiting from Seattle for the week.  They popped over to the Creek for the day, but unfortunately brought the Seattle weather with them.  I had planned to take young Ayal for a swim but even I went off the idea under grey skies and with a temperature drop of around 15C since Wednesday.

Instead we wandered downtown, stopping off at the library, the park, and enjoying some ice cream in between, because it's never too cold for ice cream.  We spoke of the old country (Uni Village) while Ayal bounced around being super-cute in the way that Israeli babies seem to do better than anyone.  And what's the point of super-cute babies if not to fill my blog with photos?  So here you go.

Playing and singing.

You can't keep cuteness caged!

This is as close as we got to a swim.  Sensibly.

Down at WC library.

The favourite book: Where's Spot?

At the park (I was enjoying myself on the climbing frame).

Smiling, because a) he's on the swings, b) the sun's finally out, c) he's always smiling!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Slow news

Wow, a week without blogging!  I'm sorry about that.  I haven't had anything particularly exciting to write about (that's never stopped you before, you may comment).  We babysat Arbel on the weekend, but as every other post here has pics of him I thought I shouldn't repeat myself again.  I bought a big new backpack in the North Face sample sale, and some new shorts too.  It has been very hot here recently, and like that new record supercomputer I need to be cooled to low temperatures to function efficiently.

One thing we did do was go on free Chevron tickets to watch the SF Symphony Orchestra play with Natalie Merchant.  She was big in the 90s with a band called 10,000 Maniacs, and she sang very well and danced in an aged hippie manner.  Strangely all her photos on the posters, in the program, etc. were taken at least 20 years ago.  Hmmm.

Not much other than that!  I've just made an aubergine and courgette ratatouille, and discovered I don't know how to cut up a butternut squash.  More exciting things will start happening again soon.

Here she is!  You see, very nice, although she had a lot more grey hair on Monday night.

I always feel at home going to see the SF Symphony.

But this is the only reason we can afford tickets...

I'll finish with a fine photo that Gen sent me, taken on Santa Monica pier.  Reasons to love America #684.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Old dog performs new trick

My friend James is older than me.  This is why, at school, he was better at...well, everything.  But one area in which neither of us excelled was sport.  True, I did once win the summer fair Donkey Derby, and we were both in the King Edward's School Under-13s Hockey 2nd XI, ably coached by Mr Gay the biology teacher, but our only moment of fame was a 0-14 defeat by a neighbouring school that was so bad we were featured in a local paper.*

So imagine my surprise when, just after his 36th birthday - see, a lot older - he announced that he had embarked on a Couch-to-5K running plan.  Yes, in a few scant weeks he was going to transform himself from someone like me, to whom playing the Wii counts as a sizable workout, to someone like a person who might run in the Olympics or something.

I am therefore very happy, deeply impressed and quite bemused to report that on Saturday Jim finished the Downtown Anaheim 5K in 29:30!  That's minutes and seconds!  This placed him 440th out of more than 1000, although he did admit to being beaten by three people in the 75-99 age category.

Wow.  I'm not sure how I'm going to compete when I turn 36 in...a while, but I can only hope my existential crisis leads me to be as productive as James.  Turning to booze and gambling is more likely, but we'll see.  Well done Jim!

* Just to note that, although the team we were playing was an Under-12 team and therefore a year younger than us, they were a 1st team and we were a 2nd team, so really they should have been playing our 1st team.  The newspaper article was actually about how well they'd done all season, although they did list our particular match as a "highlight".  Also, 12 of the 14 goals were scored in the first half, and I came on as a second half sub at left-back, and only 2 more goals were scored after that.  James was on for the whole match, I believe.  But, whatever, it doesn't matter.

Everyone getting ready to explode out of the blocks/off the couch.

Crossing the line!  Possibly next to someone in the 75-99 category who beat him.

Still alive, and looking younger than ever.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Final day in the Second City

We have done everything in Chicago!  We pottered into the centre again this morning and picked up an InstaGreeter at the tourist information.  This is someone who just turns up and shows whoever is interested around The Loop and other central Chicago areas.  It was ok, not quite as informative as some of our other activities, and no free cookies.

But we were given the top tip of trying Toni's Patisserie and Cafe for lunch.  It's pretty genuinely French, even though we were served by an Irish waitress.  We enjoyed baguettes, salade, and lovely chocolate and raspberry gateau.  Somewhat classier than caramel-cheese popcorn.

We thought we'd try to get into the Shedd Aquarium, where they have the world's oldest fish in captivity, but the Sunday queues were crazy.  Instead we walked slightly further and onto a Lake Michigan beach for a paddle.  Then, thoroughly worn out, we returned to our hostel via The Art Institute and Color Jam, Chicago's largest ever public art installation.

So that's it!  It has been a thoroughly entertaining, very hot, food-filled, amazing few days in this great city.  I can't recommend it enough, although if you're Vegan your eating choices may be limited.  Thank you Chicago - relocate to the West Coast some time, then you'll be perfect!

Where I enjoyed my morning latte.

Hannah in front of some art at the Chicago Tourism Center.

Heading out with our InstaGreeter.

The Chicago Temple Building, with a Methodist chapel at the top!

Picasso's famous untitled sculpture, although he never visited.

Busy at the bean.

A fine representation of the "dragged through the garden" style of a Chicago hot dog.

What Chicagoans do in a public fountain on a hot day.

Hannah has hard choices to make at the patisserie.  Qu'est-ce que tu veux, mon petit chou-fleur?

Passing through the blues festival, and I didn't take much money.

At the a-queue-rium.

A man who really likes fish.

Down on Lake Michigan beach.

Buckingham Fountain.  You weren't allowed in this one. 

Hannah, unimpressed by modern sculpture...

...but most impressed at Color Jam.