Monday, July 6, 2009

Bees and Blasts

Too many people who know me are aware that I am not a lover of bees. No apiary on my land, thank you. I know that our agriculture depends on them and that their sudden decline may leave farmers in a hum but I just have never cottoned to them around me. I don't like anything flying that stings, so that includes wasps, hornets and yellow jackets too, but I don't think they have any big cheering squad, except maybe the last at Georgia Tech or University of Rochester. (And yes, there's some Wasps rugby team in England, too, and the Charlotte Hornets, so don't get on me.)

So we're sitting in these nice seats on the Toyota Terrace as it is styled of Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, on the day of the game against the Houston Astros, a day prior to the Return of Manny on this same site. Now we have a ballpark named for people who sell dog food. Not that I mean to slight the sushi and Anthony's Fish Grotto version of my beloved Manhattan clam chowder that we were enjoying on said terrace overlooking left field. The Padres were not impressive against the Astros so at the top of the 8th we began to depart the premises, only to hear on the monitors as we moved around the park to the first-base side that play had been suspended and the "swarm delay" lasted 52 minutes.

A swarm of bees invaded left field and landed largely on the jacket hurriedly abandoned by the fleeing third-base line ball girl. First various security types displayed their customary ineptitude in real challenge situations and finally (by this time I was listening in the car to the sportscasters firmly into rain-delay time-killing mode) an actual beekeeper in uniform emerged to deal with the swarm and play resumed.

Saturday night we went to Long Beach City College stadium (home of the 49ers and the Dirtbags baseball team) to watch the old-fashioned fireworks show put on by the fire department there, complete with displays by canine crusaders against crime-- although their ability to seize frisbees may or may not confirm their overall prowess. The fireworks blasted wonderfully right over our heads and there was plenty of patriotic music. Every time I hear the start of The Stars and Stripes Forever, I see Clifton Webb in the title role of The Story of John Philip Sousa opening the score he is about to conduct.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Paradise

Paradise tends to be an overused word. Now when I was quite young, the stars lighting up the ceiling of the old Loew's Paradise on the Grand Concourse near Fordham Road were impressive. And we did spend our honeymoon on Paradise Island, Nassau, which has now come back into fashion after lying fairly dormant for the intervening years. Vasco da Gama's famed tenor aria from Meyerbeer's L'Africaine, "O Paradiso", was one of Caruso's favorites.

But the first part of this week found us at the part of Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State known as Paradise. It's almost as far in elevation, 5400 ft., that you can drive into the park and it's where the principal hostelry, the Paradise Inn, where we stayed, is located. There are lots of things you cannot do in this particular Paradise. For starters, there's no TV, radio, cell phone reception, or Internet access. This includes Crackberries--they give you that pleasant "No Service" message.

There's lots of snow still on the ground, even on July 1. But there are no ski areas or the place lacks that apres-ski ambience. You can hike on snow-covered trails in boots or running shoes or whatever, with poles or alpenstucks; there are also many wonderful trails that are now snow-free. Many people come to the park to climb the titular mountain, which was uncharacteristically visible every day this week, with no mist or fogor cloud obscuring the peak from view.

In the evening the park rangers give talks at the Paradise Inn and there's a long list of games (dominoes, Scrabble, etc.) you can play, along with cards. The talks we attended included one very ambitious one about the mountain as a sacred place and invited you to conjure up your own sacred places, along with investigating the flora of the park; other talks featured the ravens that are found in the park, along with a reminiscence about a woman who visited the park for the first time in 1915, came back many times thereafter, and turned out to be the ranger's grandmother.

The dining room's menu was classically American, with a generous dollop of sauce Alfredo on quite a few main courses (like most other places in this country, they call main courses "entrees" but we all know that entree in French--and on a French menu--means introduction, or first course). I'm a good target for anything that includes huckleberries any dish that describes itself as hash, generally a lowly item, but here the salmon hash was good, and the prime rib hash acceptable.

The rooms had no closets or phones, of course, and the full-size beds compare unfavorably with the queens and kings you now find in most hostelries. If you bring a large suitcase, be prepared to lug it up or downstairs without benefit of elevator. And when we needed to check out very early one morning, we left a request for a knock on the door, lacking a travel alarm or the aforesaid phone. I happened to wake up ten minutes before the appointed time. No knock followed. When we asked the man at the desk what had happened, he blandly apologized for not remembering. It was very hard to get angry at anyone because they are all very nice.

So you might wonder, what makes this Paradise, other than the name? Well, you are constantly facing mind-blowing vistas of mountain ranges, tall conifers, and some snowscapes. The air is a bit thin and clear and crisp. The trails are generally demanding--most in a mountain area run up and down--but almost inevitably lead to an impressive waterfall or other natural wonder.

You gradually stop thinking about what awaits you once you return to the online world, or the world of cell phones and plasma TVs, or spectator sports, for that matter. You have a chance to read, ruminate, converse, exercise, and just continually savor the delicious scenery. Every evening before dinner there's a cocktail pianist who plays stuff unfamiliar to me but very pleasant. They also put tea and scones or cookies out in the late afternoon. These days, all this may be closer to whatever paradise they may be than anything else I can imagine.