A compilation of random and interesting things, musings, musics, videos, and more. Brought to you by a UChicago student with a penchant for procrastination.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Poland: Day 5

Going abroad is a time to discover new ways of life and exciting foreign cultures cultures. Part of this grand tradition therefore, is the discovery (or in my case, re-discovery) of great food staples. What comes to mind when one thinks of authentic Polish fare, however, has been completely shaken with my latest food discovery.
Lay's Potato Chips - shaped like French fries - and seasoned with a ketchup flavoring.

They're Ketchup STIX and they're sensational!

Now hear me out. I was skeptical too ... at first. I usually don't even go for regular fries with ketchup. But pop a handful of these in your mouth and you'd swear they were topped with the most spot-on ketchup you'd ever be likely to find, but with no goppy mess. I just couldn't get enough. They were so perfect - and they made you come back for more just to see if the flavor would still be 'soo right' (it was). This was seriously one of those finds, the kind of thing, which - like Pop Tarts or a certain brand of soda - might truly become a staple of one's pantry.

But of course there would be a problem ... why in the world do we not have these in the US!?
It would only make sense, wouldn't it? We're the country that invented McDonald's. We're the one's enamored with junk food and fast food. So why in the world would a combination of the two PLUS ketchup, not be an instant hit?

Now, I understand that Polish people love their ketchup too. We even put it on our pizza when no one is looking. So, this whole thing could just be a marketing ploy honed on to Poland as a target demographic.

But surely - Idaho - the potato state - which is more than likely even bigger than Poland could at least act as a gateway for the States? Is there no hope? What can one do? I need some stix really bad. Maybe you can order them online? The label on the top left corner does say "new" so maybe I just missed this hitting the local supermaket? Is there a slim chance it really is around? Have you seen this product!?


Seriously though, if you've seen these around - let me know. I'll probably be bringing back half a dozen bags with me (unless I find a different addictive snack that'll take priority). They're just that awesome. Oh - and if you haven't noticed - see that blue stripe running down the bad vertically? Well, the bag opens on the side as well, for easier access to the fried-chippy goodness. Seriously, this snack has everything!

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Poland: Day 2

It is day two now, isn't it?

Well, at any rate, I've decided to re-purpose this blog for a bit and begin to use it as a way of keeping my thoughts and experiences of living "abroad" out there. Unfortunately, apart from the fact that I'm in Poland I can't say that my sleeping excessively for the past 24 hours can be counted on as exciting. But either way, hopefully neat things will come.

I did manage to take some photos during the 9+ hour direct-flight to Krakow and apart from keeping me sane during said flight, they do make for some interesting post fodder.

The plane I was on was a roomy Boeing 767 - a staple of the LOT airline fleet. There's a photo of it right there. Pretty nifty, no? Well - while the interior of the plane wasn't that revelatory and I was a little dejected by the fact that it would be such a long flight with no entertainment apart from back-to-back screenings of Wild Hogs and The Astronaut Farmer, there was one major perk to booking early.

That would be the emergency exit as seen from row 19B.

While the responsibility of keeping my fellow passengers safe in a moment of emergency was certainly a perk - I do have to admit that the INSANE amount of leg room granted to me for the sole reason that the space in front of me would be an exit route off of the plane - well, that was pretty swell.

The only downfall I could think of, apart from potentially being trampled if anything requiring emergency evacuation did arise was the fact that being in proximity to such an exit felt like sitting next to a refrigerator that could dip to a negative 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately a double set of blankets was nice (the seat next to me was completely vacant), add to that my iPod, and the flight wasn't too bad overall ...

Aaah - comfort.

The view from my double-seat emergency exit window was also really nice. As our plane collided with the creeping sun there were some pretty good views to be had.

It's a shame that the photos don't really do it justice.

The whole effect was really much more luminous and well worth sneaking the window covering back up, even if it resulted in some annoyed glances from other passengers who were trying to watch the aforementioned films - blerg.

Also weird - there was an army of arrows out there on the wing. I understand it's an emergency exit, but do you really need all those arrows? Oh well, at least they weren't as bad as that gremlin hanging out a little further out. It was mocking me the whole time. You do see him right!?

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Friday, July 20, 2007

The Decemberists & Grant Park Orchestra

One of a set of great free summer concerts happening across the nation, the Decemberists playing at the Jay Pritzker band shell in Millennium Park with the Grant Park Orchestra provided an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. With a slew of web-publicity (thanks Facebook) and the support of Metro – celebrating 25 years of amazing music – the turn out promised to be grand!

Just look at that set list!

When I arrived at the park at around 4 in the afternoon, the place was already filling up fast. Without blanket or picnic basket and wary of the rain forecast for that evening I decided to take my chances in the line curving around the green which promised entry into a 2,000 person public seating.

From what I heard the seating can actually hold 4,000 but half of those spots were already reserved for performance season ticket holders. Fortunately though, the line didn’t seem too bad and once things got moving getting in was pretty well organized - though it didn't quite look it!

As our line moved closer towards the seating the opportunity was ripe for people watching. Everyone and anyone seemed to be excited about this event. Apart from web saavy teens, bored college students, and your garden variety Indie kids there were a lot of “young professionals” enjoying the day, as well as parents indoctrinating their young kids to the joys of the Decemberists. Then, of course there were the people who had season passes for the Orchestra. Although you wouldn’t expect it, smartly dressed retirees apparently make for pretty avid Decemberists fans.

Two really funny things soon stood out as a mainstay of pretty much half of the people in the crowd. First of all, the number of people wearing Threadless shirts was insane, it seemed that every other person you passed sported another shirt from their endless online shirt catalogue. (I was glad I had worn mine the previous night instead of that day) What’s more, with the Harry Potter book release coming up fast, you could be sure that at least half a dozen people around you were toting a 600+ page book! They seemed just about as commonplace as any iPod – though hardly as portable … at least my copy of The Order of the Phoenix was already battered enough to withstand a day out on the town.

Well, getting back to the show, the seating that we managed to get was actually really decent. For what they had opened to the public we were just a couple of rows in and had a great view of the stage. Better than the people who were out in the grasslands, anyhow ...

The wait for the show wasn’t too bad either, by the time we had gotten our seats there was about an hour left to wait and that time soared by pretty fast. Again people watching moved things along rather briskly, and listening to the P.A. system kick in to say things like: if the music moves you to dance.

The show kicked off promptly at 6:30 PM – and after the orchestra had taken their seats and the Metro introduced the concert, the Decemberists came out to a roaring crowd.

Unfortunately that was about the same time that the rain started to come down. First it was a light drizzle, then the sky began to spark, and finally a little ways into the concert the sky just opened up!

Then the umbrellas came out … which provided the catalyst for one of the most annoying moments in crowd history that I can think of!

As the crowd started getting into the music it was rather unsettling to see everyone just sitting in their places. The ticket-holders seemed to set the standard, acting politely throughout the entire show. Yet pretty soon a couple of errant fans in the public seating would get up and start dancing – no one really seemed to mind. But then – as the umbrellas went up – more scattered groups began to stand in order to get a better view of the stage. Obviously, as this proved problematic for the people trying to see the stage behind them, loud jeers and cries of “sit down” became commonplace. As the rain kept coming down and the set progressed further and further in, the annoyance of these people could not help but interrupt the show.

I'm assuming that woman is thinking "what in the world"

Thankfully, after a bit the Decemberists themselves prompted everyone to stand as a particularly rousing song came up. With everyone in the crowd standing and clapping all animosity seemed to melt away. And then, as Colin Meloy himself ran through the aisles hi-fiving people, awesomeness was restored!

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Blurry awesomeness!

Afterwards people generally mellowed out and began to enjoy the show once more, though the rain would come in periodically and the grumbling of thunder would add its sound to those of the orchestra. Once both the band and the orchestra got into the effect of the combined sounds were really something magnificent. The last part of The Tain was especially amazing - I managed to snag a clip of Tain V below - and as The Decemberists came to the conclusion of I Was Meant For The Stage the lighters even came out!

The Tain, Part V

Then the Decemberists died --

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-- but were instantly reanimated with the call to abandon all seating arrangements
and rush towards the stage for the last two songs!

The result of this post Orchestral addendum was amazing. There are plenty of videos to document this change, but the crowd - which was previously seated and somewhat muted - erupted in the glee of a true Indie concert event. The last two songs: 16 Military Wives and the Mariner's Revenge song were completely animated and the Decemberists fed off of this energy, even getting the crowd to participate in a hearty back and forth of LaDeeDaa's and getting everyone to scream as if eaten by a giant whale - indicated by Chris Funk's running up and down the stage opening and closing his arms.

16 Military Wives

Oh, Colin Meloy ...

... the crowd loves you!

Introduction to The Mariner's Revenge Song (With Arm-chomping action below)

I don't know what's going on here ...

... no one did ...

... then it all made sense?

... and then The Decemberists died again.

At this point everyone in the crowd seemed amazingly satiated. Colin Meloy hopped a piggy-back ride off of the stage as the crowd cheered on. Then as the crowd gradually parted ways and in the momentary hubb-bubb everyone forgot that it was crazy and raining and dark outside. But even once the rain really started to pour the feeling of "it was totally worth it" remained - yay, fun story.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Harry And The Potters

July is clearly the month that Potter mania reigns supreme. With everything from the fifth movie to the new book (COMING OUT TOMORROW) there is no better time to be a wizard-enamored muggle! Case in point, everything even remotely connected with the books is receiving a magical boost in hype.

The music scene is definitely one that seems to be the most interestingly affected. Taking a cursory glance at myspace reveals a plethora bands spouting lyrics about the boy wizard and the magical world at large.
Draco and the Malfoys, The Whomping Willows, The Parselmouths, The Moaning Myrtles, The Remus Lupins, The Ministry of Magic - they're all real groups which have all sprung up in the wake of the series' popularity. With genres ranging from techno to rock and 'other' they all share a common comedic core that transforms the tribulations of life as a wizard into songs like "Voldemort can't stop the rock!"

Another factor which connects all of these niche groups is the fact that they're getting A LOT of attention. All of the groups listed above are currently on tour at venues all across the nation.

But who would have these Potter-obsessed groups? Well ... In a classic example of synergy bookstores and libraries are more than willing to grant these bands exposure in exchange for bringing in the rabid Potter crowd! The fans are happy, the bands sell merchandise, and the purveyors of books will hopefully have fans coming in long after the Potter hype has died away.

Harry and the Potters, one of the groups at the forefront of the musical mania, was just at the Harold Washington Library two nights ago with a free concert. Performing on the ninth floor atrium, home to events like Chicago Metro History Fair competition, the re -purposing of this space was not to be missed. The fans came out in full force, completely maxing out the 500 person capacity of the venue.

My friend and I arrived just a half an hour before the performance was about to start and were met with a long line of fans sitting along the wall of the ground floor marble hallway. Apparently tickets were needed for this event and some people had been waiting since the early hours of the morning to reserve a spot! Well ... not having realized this beforehand and sans-tickets we decided to investigate anyways ... lets just say that by a stroke of luck and probably a bit of magic we got our hands on two tickets!

Now able to get past the guards and get our hands stamped for admission (there were awesome Lightning bolt stamps) we rushed in just as the crowd was getting ready to welcome the Potter duo. With handmade wands at the ready, and even giant foam hands the crowd was REALLY into it. The librarians had put out activity packets on each of the chairs, consisting of crossword puzzles, potter tattoos, and even DIY Hogwarts ties that you could color in, but those were put aside as soon as the prompt to rock was put forth!

Who here tonight feels like a muggle?

The Potter duo, consisting of Paul and Joe DeGeorge, Harry Potters Year 7 and Year 4 respectively, were clearly enjoying themselves on stage, and the crowd reception could not have been better. For all of the high school and college kids in the crowd no one was too self-conscious to participate. Indie kids and 7 year olds alike sang-along to songs like "Hagrid is full of love" and most everyone felt free to indulge their inner book nerd (who wouldn't with lyrics like "This book is so awesome!")

Here's an animated image of everyone getting into a particularly rousing song!

I have no idea who that guy with the glasses and the tattoos is (on the far right),
but he was probably the most into-it of the lot. He was totally rocking out up front.

A better view of the stage and of the entire group.

That has got to be one of the coolest guitar straps!

The two would stop between songs and talk for a bit. The younger brother was definitely excited about all of their songs and would build up the crowd before each one.

See them jump and interact with the crowd for the SPEW song!

Joe right after the show, before the signing session.

Stef and the drummer. I really wish I had caught his name!
He was super nice and even got my friend one of their drum covers for her birthday!

When he said that "it's been through a lot" he wasn't kidding.
Is it me or is that blood on it?!

Getting my Harry and the Potters shirt signed.

This photo came out sort of weird. But it's all good!

All in all it was a night of fun music, Harry Potter, and supremely good luck! Afterwards we couldn't help but go see the fifth movie in theaters again. If you get a chance to see these guys live or any other tribute band I highly recommend it. While the books are really great of their own accord, the feeling of being involved with this magical community is really neat - especially when you can see the sorts of things that come from it.

If you want any more information on the group you can check out their webpage.

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