Monthly Archives: July 2010

I’m Not In Love

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Ever wondered what makes an all-time classic song? Maybe it’s three-part harmonies and some tricky guitar work — or maybe it’s 16 tracks of vocals set up to be played like chords, a Moog synthesizer, and the office secretary. Via Boing Boing, check out this fascinating little story of the making of 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love.” (Not least for its clever use of images.)

Beaver rampage!

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Peebles Island

Image by carljohnson via Flickr

Had a splendid evening paddle yesterday out on the confluence of the Mohawk and the Hudson. Put in at Waterford, a village that knows how to exploit its waterfront (something much bigger cities around here don’t seem to be able to figure out), and paddled around the lovely channels, up to the foot of the last little waterfall on the Mohawk, played around in the current for a bit and then headed back. Gliding along, I was surprised to hear what sounded like a bowling ball plunging into the water – far from where anyone could have tossed a rock, and it would have had to have been a hell of a rock. So I hung back for a minute to see if I could figure out what had made that noise, thinking perhaps I had come upon the Carp of the Apocalypse. Then I saw the little head, pointy ears, beady eyes: castor canadensis, Monsieur Beavair. Then the descendant of many splendid hats decided to threaten me again with a splendid thwack. I backed away but, being a man, did not leave. I was trying to figure out where his little house of sticks was. Then the furbearer, whose ancestors were more valuable than money just a few miles south and four centuries back, gave me a third and fourth warning. I decided he’d had enough and I was late for dinner so I had to leave the channel. But let’s be clear: I did not back down.

It happened that I was having dinner with not one but two people who, if they were doing their jobs, would take responsibility for the outrageous threats of this toothed water marmot. One chose to ignore my plight entirely; the other rolled her eyes and said “Peebles Island,” clearly familiar with the transgressions of this threat to our way of life. Did they do anything? They did not.

Monsieur Beavair? I’ll be back.

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Broke a spoke

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Green Island bridge and me

Image by carljohnson via Flickr

One minute I’m time-trialling like Fabian Cancellara, head down on long straight roads without stop signs or lights, barreling along a sweet flat stretch of uninterrupted pavement, rare around these parts. True, there was my personal Mur de Huy, a solid wall of up that came as a surprise to legs now acclimated to about 40k of flat, and which I couldn’t get up without a granny gear and a red zone. But up I did go, and from there back into a nice low time trialing position. Even the streets of Lansingburgh and north Troy barely slowed me down (and, to be honest, north Troy is about the only place where I ignore red lights for my own personal safety, ’cause the ‘hood ain’t for the spandexed). Then as I started to bomb across the Green Island Bridge, ready to burn up the last dozen k in high style, I was suddenly transformed from Fabian Cancellara into Andy Schleck, hearing an awful noise and suddenly realizing my tour was over. In Andy’s case, a slipped chain at a bad time; in mine, a broken spoke. But in nearly the best place possible, for as fate would have it I was only short blocks from beloved wife’s place of work. There are few women who will serve sag wagon duty (and I really should say camion balais, because “sag wagon” is just not complimentary to women of a certain age), so I am especially blessed. Just glad it didn’t snap up in Hemstreet Park, because her response to that possibility was, “There’s a Hemstreet Park?” There is, it’s home of the Mur de Hemstreet.

Complications involved dropping her at work, getting back to where my truck was courting a parking ticket (commuters are filling up the Corning Preserve boat launch parking lot, leaving no room for people who are actually using the recreational facilities. This is causing me much anger). Drove home, deposited the broken bike, pulled out the backup to ride back to the car, so I could drive back up to the Collar City and pick up faithful spouse. Turns out riding two bikes with VERY different geometry in the same day: not a good idea. Thighs hurt. But it was mostly downhilll, and solved the logistical problem. I even got across the Dunn without a flat!

Now, a swapping of wheels, driving to the bike shop, and continued disappointment from a shortened ride that was otherwise just bliss.

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This is what happens in July

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Because some people in this house are too consumed with the Tour de France each night to be bothered with common housework, there is precisely one clean cereal bowl in the house this morning. It is handpainted and marked as “Mom’s Bowl,” but I am using it despite this possessive proclamation. There are, however, two clean spoons (and, if absolutely necessary, titanium sporks).

Stupid web tricks

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MapMyRide has been a bit of a thorn the last couple of years — I loved being able to map my bike rides, but it was painfully slow, hard to correct, and the interface was sub-great. But they’ve got a much improved site in beta, it works beautifully (and of course now I have a screamingly fast computer that can handle it), and now they have a stupid web trick that I can’t help but love: fly-over video, courtesy of Google Earth, of my bike routes. It’s like having a helicopter flying over my route, and the imagery gives me features of the terrain that I never see from the bike. Stupidly cool.

Check it out here:

Jobs that aren’t there any more – Bill Poster

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City Bill Poster Troy 1895.png

I suppose that in some of the big cities there might still be the staple-gun crews that run around tacking band flyers to telephone poles, but they are merely diluted descendants of the mighty bill poster of the 19th century. The phrase “Post No Bills” seemed only a curious  relic to me as a youth, something I saw in cartoons and old movie backgrounds but could make little sense of, the old usage of “bill” or “handbill” as a sheet of advertising having all but vanished. Once there was a thriving business in advertising through posting of bllls, advertising sheets that were glued to buildings, fences, and just about anything that would stand still. This ad is from 1895, when Mrs. M.E. Dundon of Troy proclaimed the power of pasted-on advertising: “The Brush A Power In The Land.” And, more to the point, “Cash Buys Paste.” Indeed it does.

How Menands got its name

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(A version of this was previously published at All Over Albany.)

So, what is a Menand?

Well, the question really is, who was Menand?

For the answer, you’d have to look back to the late 1800s, when
everyone from well-to-do collectors of exotic flora, to prosperous
homeowners with gardens, to cemetery visitors who wanted to pay tribute
to a loved one — would go to Menand’s.

Louis Menand.jpgLouis Menand was
the son of a gardener in Chalons, Burgundy, France. As early as he could
remember, he was fascinated by horticulture. “I was eight or nine years
old,” he later wrote, “when I began to try to grow plants from
cuttings. I have always been fond of cutting, properly or figuratively
speaking, except cutting my fingers.”

Eventually Louis became an estate gardener in Paris and later in the
Champagne region. In 1837 he came to New York and went to work at
nurseries in Halett’s Cove, which would later become Astoria. There he
met a young piano teacher from Albany named Adelaide Jackson. They
fell in love and were married in her family home on Park Place in
Albany, and soon took up residence in what they called “the haunted
house” on the Albany-Troy Road (Broadway). Louis began selling
plants. After a rough first year (“more than modest, that is to say
meagre, I might say miserable!!”), things began to pick up.

Menand had a fair collection of “hardy perennial plants,” which had
become pretty popular in the Albany/Troy area. Later he sold Norway
spruces, balsam firs and other popular trees and shrubs. In 1847 he
was able to buy several acres of land on what is now Menand Road, where
Ganser-Smith Park is now located, for his greenhouses and nursery.

Louis Menand Home

He cultivated plants that, no doubt, had never before been seen in
this old Dutch town — camellias, palm ferns,
cacti, and orchids, among others. Forty years later, an article in The
Gardeners’ Monthly and Horticulturist would proclaim:

“It is Mr. Menand’s aim to exhibit at least one specimen of
every known variety ; and whenever a new one is produced in any quarter
of the world, it will not be long before it may be found at Menand’s.
Thus it often happens that persons who search in vain for rare specimens
in New York and elsewhere, are generally directed to ‘a crazy Frenchman
at Albany,’ where they are sure to find what they want and carry it
away, provided their purse is long enough. In fact, it is Mr. Menand’s
aim to furnish anything from a strawberry to a tree.”

He was noted for importing exotic plants from Europe, and commanded
an impressive price for his best camellias: “a little plant four inches
high would sell for $25.”

Menand won significant awards for his plants through the years, and
continued to grow. He bought 31 acres near the entrance to Albany Rural
Cemetery, where he set up his son with a half dozen hot houses devoted
to growing cut flowers, roses, carnations, pansies, geraniums and “an
almost endless variety of other species suitable for cemetery
decoration.” These included all manner of shrubs, which no doubt still
influence the scenery in the cemetery.

His greenhouses were so popular that the Albany and Northern Railroad
added a stop there in 1856, named “Menand’s Crossing,” which the
succeeding Delaware and Hudson Railroad renamed “Menand’s Station.”

Louis set about telling the story of his life in an autobiography,
with the snappy title, Autobiography
and Recollections of Incidents Connected With Horticultural Affairs,
Etc., From 1807 up to this day 1898 With Portrait and Allegorical
Figures. ‘By an ever practical wisdom seeker,’ L. Menand. With an
appendix of retrospective incidents omitted or forgotten

The title is about as direct as the rest of the book, originally
published in 1892 and then updated in 1898. The ramblings of this
“crazy Frenchman at Albany” shed very little light on the actual events
of his life but give an incredible sense of the energetic character of
Louis Menand. There are exuberant paeans to his wife Adelaide (whom he
calls “Phanerogyne,” meaning “remarkable woman,” who died in 1890.
There are rambling thoughts on the various revolutions and republics in
France, a scathing appraisal of his arrival in a free land “where
slavery was flourishing as carnations,” and tales of intrigues at flower
exhibitions, all told in the least linear style imaginable. (The
version available here on Google Books includes several handwritten
notes by Louis.)

Louis Menand died in 1900 at the age of 94. It wasn’t until 1924 that
the apostrophe-free name of Menands became official, when the village
was incorporated.

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Not lacking topics

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Tour de France

Image via Wikipedia

Just lacking time. The Tour de France starts tomorrow, f’cryin’ out loud. That means that all laundry, household maintenance, and general chores have to be done or forgotten about for the next three weeks. Movies we’ve been meaning to watch for months have been mercilessly erased from the DVR in order to make room for the taping of the Tour. Most exercise will be taken on the floor, directly in front of the television, and that’s not a bad thing — July is traditionally my best month for abs.

I had set a goal of biking every day in July, a goal that a very very sore throat already thwarted for the first day of the month, and we’ll see how realistic it is for the rest of the time. The Tour is inspiring, and yet watching it takes up time that could be spent biking — one of life’s little paradoxes.

On with the Tour!

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