Friday, March 20, 2009

EllisIsland.org

I've been spending a significant amount of time lately working on my newest venture, MyTwoCensus.com, and that has inevitably brought the issue of immigration to mind quite frequently. For some reason, today I was compelled to visit EllisIsland.org and try to track down some relatives. I got my grandparents on the phone, live from Florida, and they spit out as many names as they could think of. Though there were several misspellings in the passenger manifests (after all, as Bill Bryson points out in his book Made in America, most of the people who worked at Ellis Island collecting data were recent immigrants themselves), I was still able to track down nearly every family member I sought. Who would have guessed that my passions for olive oil, wine, and seafood were in my genes? Apparently, Bitonto, Italy and Palo del Colle, Italy (two small villages a few miles from Bari on the Adriatic Sea) were where my ancestors emigrated from around the turn of the 20th Century? Some relatives were even listed multiple times, because they made trips to Italy to watch over business holdings, and then came back to America. As my grandpa put it, "Anyone with ten cents in his pocket could get on a ship in those days." I'm a history buff, so the site is pretty cool, especially because I liked viewing the info. about the specific ships that relatives came on. For instance, my great grandpa came to America on this ship:

Built for Inman & International Steamship Company, in 1889 and named City of Paris. Liverpool-New York service. World’s fastest ship 1889-92. Sold to American Line, in 1893 and renamed Paris. Southampton-New York service. Renamed USS Yale in 1898. Returned to American Line, in 1898 and reverted to Paris. Renamed Philadelphia in 1899. Renamed Harrisburg in 1917. Carried troops and supplies to Europe and then returned troops service. Known as USS Harrisburg. Returned to American Line, in 1919 and reverted to Philadelphia. Laid up 1920-22. Sold to New York-Naples Steamship Company, American flag, in 1922. New York-Naples service. Mutiny on first voyage and ship laid up at Naples. Scrapped as Genoa in 1923.


*On an unrelated sad economic note, the place where I won quizzo last week, SF's Valley Tavern, has discontinued quizzo, effective immediately. Shucks.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How to fix the economy: Pizza

Last night, I accepted an invitation from Evan Goldin to meet him at Goat Hill Pizza in SF's Potrero Hill. Admittedly, I wasn't in the mood for pizza, especially not all-you-can-eat pizza ($10.95, only on Monday), but I said that if Goat Hill Pizza received a four-star average rating on Yelp, then I would attend. And sure enough, it did.

I am not a snob, but I always tell people that outside of the New York Metropolitan Area, Italy, and other locales along the Mediterranean, there is rarely top quality pizza in this world. I have never had a slice in California that rivals any pizza in New York. If Goat Hill Pizza was in Oceanside, New York (my home town, and home to at least a dozen amazing pizzerias), it would be out of business in a heartbeat, and ostensibly receive a one-star rating on Yelp. Don't get me wrong, it's pretty good pizza by California standards, but come on, what century are we living in?

This realization makes me recall a time in 2007 when I drove from Virginia to Washington with Jared Flatow. On the ride, we listened to economist/columnist Paul Krugman (of Nobel Prize and New York Times fame) discuss British food before the 1990s. It was quite simple: The British were well known for having food that tasted horrible, wasn't fresh, and lacked variety. Krugman attributed this to the fact that not enough British people traveled abroad and tried other more delectable cuisines. Thus, there was no demand, or should I say no outcry, back in the British Isles for better food. Once the Brits started traveling abroad more frequently (and ravaged other nations with their boisterous stag parties in the process...) they immediately knew that their own cuisine was terrible. They demanded more than canned peas for dinner, and they were willing to pay for this. Soon, the competition got more tough, and today, Britain (at least in London) has many excellent cuisines. Don't get me wrong, British cuisine on the whole is still sub-par compared to the rest of the world, but if you've got the dough, you can get the best food in the world in London, and for everyone else, average meal is far better than it was 20, 30, or 50 years ago.

Such a change needs to happen with pizza in America. There's no reason why Oceanside, New York should have ten times better pizza than a metropolis like San Francisco. Will it take someone flying out pizza from Brooklyn every day to make West Coast pizza worthy? Perhaps, but this is the time for a Pizzapreneur to do just that.

Memory at the movies...

Within a 24 span I viewed Oscar nominees The Reader and Waltz With Bashir. Both films featured the concept of memory as a central theme. However, I came out of The Reader thinking that it was a terrible film, whereas I loved Waltz with Bashir. The Reader failed to create a single protagonist, and it lacked coherence as it told its story of love, tragedy, justice, and war. Waltz with Bashir succeeded in nearly every area that disappointed me in The Reader. Besides presenting a documentary in the most innovative fashion that I've seen in years, Waltz with Bashir analyzed the potential inaccuracies of memory in a most vivid and unique way. I am still shocked that The Reader was nominated for Best Picture while The Wrestler was snubbed, but that's another story for another day.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

One Trick Pony

It took me a while to get around to seeing The Wrestler, despite ridiculously positive reviews from Mr. Fiebach and Mr. Schaffer, but two days ago I succumbed. I went in with high expectations, but I loved it. It was long, everlasting love. My reason for not viewing holding out to see this film was simple: I hate wrestling. The closest I've ever come to professional wrestling was asking my mother to buy me a Ric Flair Wrestling Buddy doll, when, as a five-year-old, I sought to release my anger on something other than my baby sister. *Upon reading Flair's Wikipedia page, I am saddened to learn that he still wrestles at age 60...sounds like The Wrestler wasn't all fiction. Maybe I'm giving The Wrestler too much credit, but I saw many parallels between this film and Sunset Boulevard. I can picture Mickey Rourke saying, "I am big. It's the WWF that got small!" Now, having seen this movie, I am appalled that it wasn't nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Mickey Rourke better win for Best Actor, otherwise those old farts at The Academy should lace up their boots and fight me in the ring.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

GGP=The best of the best!

I'm a parks guy. I love parks. This obsession started with trips to Oceanside Park (walking paths, marine nature reserve, tennis courts, and hockey rink), Baldwin Park (great slides and sprinkler systems), and Lido Beach Town Park (old school wooden beachfront playground) as a kid. By my teenage years I found myself frolicking in my favorite domestic (Central Park and Fairmount Park) and foreign (Phoenix Park - Dublin) and Park Guell - Barcelona) municipal parks. However, just two days ago, on my first "run" (read: stop-and-go-waddle-jog) around SF, I immediately headed five blocks south from my Inner Richmond enclave to Golden Gate Park. I was quickly blown away with this place. In my opinion, Golden Gate Park has the best landscape architecture and facilities of any park that I've ever visited. Plus, the fairly new frolf course - I only learned of the existence of this phenomenon when I noticed a "Beware of flying discs" sign - is off the hook. I don't use that phrase lightly. It's so off the hook that I noticed a foursome out with their advice-dishing caddie and a pushcart that held multiple Frisbees. Anyone up for 18 holes?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Don't call it Frisco!

I was advised by my dear friend and former colleague Evan Goldin, a life-long Bay Area resident (except for his 4 years at Penn) to never refer to San Francisco as "San Fran" or "Frisco." Only "the city" or "SF" are legitimate abbreviations for this town. This took me by surprise, as Jack Kerouac called it Frisco no less than six dozen times in On The Road, and he seems like he'd be an authority on the art of nomenclature. But since I can't consult with Jack from beyond the grade, I guess I'll have to listen to my former editor instead.

Linguistics aside, I left the City of Angels two days ago, and arrived promptly in SF's Inner Richmond district by 1:30. The trip up the I-5 was smooth and uneventful, save for my early inability to keep the trunk of the RSX closed at the start of my journey and my two near-heart attacks when California Highway Patrolman quickly entered the road from the median immediately after I passed, each time to nab some other hardened speedster, and thankfully not me.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I love the Bay Area. It is everything that L.A. is not. Less pollution. Nicer people. Better weather (for my liking). Shorter commutes. Good public transportation. All in all, it's a great quality of life.

I moved into the apartment of my good friend from Birthright, Mike Fiebach. The apartment is great, because it's just 1.5 blocks from Geary, a wide boulevard that runs the length of the city that's filled with my three favorite urban necessities: shops, eateries, and people.

Some of you may know that I recently contemplated teaching English in China. I no longer have this dream, as I now live half a block from Clement Street, which is a pan-Asian enclave in the middle of SF. I can literally walk out my door and find myself with a choice of 500 Asian restaurants, bakeries, markets, and specialty shops. I already went on a dim sum crawl, trying small dishes at a half dozen of the places at my doorstep.

Immediately after my arrival, I did a Masta Cleanse of the room that I'm living in, as it had enough dust to nearly kill me. Other than these particle issues (and the fact that the security conscious dude I'm subletting from keeps a shredder, ax, and massive doorstop in his room for protection), everything was perfect. Soon, this will be home.

Friday, January 23, 2009

My thoughts on the Oscar nods...

I have some major criticism of this year's Oscar nominees, or rather the people who selected them.

Here are my thoughts:

1. As a political film buff, I think Frost/Nixon was disappointing. It was not Ron Howard's best work, and I thought it lacked suspense and drama. It does NOT deserve a Best Picture nod. Frank Langella does deserve his Best Actor nomination, but that's about it for this flick...

2. The same goes for Milk. The plot was sub-par, especially during the repetitive first half of this movie. This should NOT have been nominated for Best Picture or Best Original Screenplay when a future classic like Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona, which is written with much more originality, was far better. Sean Penn definitely deserves his nomination for Best Actor, but that's it for this one.

3. The Best Animation category is silly. Wall-E should DESTROY the competition. Perhaps it should have been nominated for Best Picture rather then Best Animated Flick...

4. Javier Bardem deserves to be nominated for SOMETHING for Vicky Christina Barcelona.

5. The Dark Knight should have been nominated for Best Picture. Yup!

6. In a typical year, Phillip Seymour Hoffman should easily win the Best Supporting Actor award for Doubt, but he won't this year because Heath Ledger is competing against him. Hoffman should have been placed in the Best Actor category as his role was more than just "supporting."

7. After taking tremendous risks by filming on the streets of India, my boy Danny Boyle BETTER win Best Director.

8. Happy-Go-Lucky was a great film...why was it only nominated for one award? Sally Hawkins deserves a Best Actress nomination.

A very well written op-ed, considering he's a dictator...

As I was scrolling through some New York Times op-ed pieces, I was surprised to see one written by Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan "leader" (read: dictator) who was shunned as a terrorist by America for many years only to have diplomatic relations become more normalized within the past few years. While Qaddafi's ideas are articulated with good logic in this piece, I disagree with his view that the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts can be resolved by creating a one-state solution. My fear is that if a one-state solution ever comes to be, radical Islamists will do everything they can do destroy the Jews who live in the region.