The Halberts Take Manhattan

A week ago, Sam and I visited New York City, which was very exciting. Even though we only had two full days to run around NYC, we did our best to make the most of it. Kayla, our buddy who lives in Manhattan, was a big help in planning our time and in keeping us company.

FRIDAY
We arrived at LaGuardia airport to find cold and rainy weather, which is perfect nap weather. The best thing to do on your first vacation without a baby is to take a nap immediately. This weather was perfect. I was so excited. We cabbed it from the airport to our hotel, the Sheraton!

[Before I get too into the trip, I want to say a little bit about New Yorkers. The stereotype of the rude, loud, New Yorker did not match our experience on this trip, or my own experience in NYC a decade ago. People may be a little more impatient in NYC because of the speed of the city. For example, the response that you get from asking a question the first time in NYC is like the response you would get after asking it three times in a row in the south. Maybe rough around the edges, but helpful and direct. People were generally amiable and helpful. Also, they were very cool. Everyone dresses cool in NYC. Look down at whatever you are wearing right now. Just shake your head and roll your eyes at yourself, because you look like such a dork compared to literally everyone in NYC. Sam observed that the coolest person from everyone’s high school moved to NYC. Seems about right.]

The Sheraton is right around 52nd Street and 7th Ave, so we were very close to Broadway theaters (theatres?), Central Park, and Times Square. Our room was on the 43rd floor, so we had a nice view of the big Times Square screens, Rockefeller Center, and even Radio City Music Hall! We grabbed a quick lunch at Cafe Duke down the street. It is kind of like a mall food court plus convenience store rolled into one. Sam got a fancy turkey sandwich and I got shrimp tempura udon. Then, we took naps! Glorious, quiet, undisturbed naps.

That night, Kayla met up with us and we cabbed it over to Dylan’s Candy Bar for snacks and Serendipity for dinner. If you have seen the movie Serendipity, then you have seen the restaurant Serendipity. I would describe it as quirky comfort food, which is perfect for cold and rainy nights. The food and service were fun, and the dessert called The Forbidden Broadway merits a photo (which I didn’t take but linked): 

Dylan’s Candy Bar also merits a photo for being so colorful and fun. Samantha mentioned that her thoughts always look like the interior of Dylan’s Candy Bar, and I believe her!

SATURDAY
The next day we slept in, walked around, and ran into a member of the Brat Pack that I will not name because he lives there with his family and it seems rude to mention where they live. We also went to see A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which is a very funny, Tony award-winning musical. After that, we headed down the street to Lillie’s bar, which was very cool looking on the inside.

All of the bartenders were very exotic and cool, but we were even cooler than them: A Chick Fil A had just opened in NYC and one of the bartenders waited half an hour just try try it. We have Chick Fil A all the time! Point, Halberts.

I had been sick for a few days by this point, so we called it a night to rest up for the next day, which would be full.

SUNDAY
We got an early start on the day at Pret A Manger, which was a big sandwich place in the UK when I was studying abroad and is in the U.S. now. Sadly, the service was completely awful so that retroactively ruined my entire Oxford experience. Just kidding! Pret was pretty bad, though.

We jumped on the Subway (Sam’s actual reaction):

and headed to the Natural History Museum! It was very easy to spend three hours wandering the 40+ halls. My favorite was the Rose Center for Earth and Space. I love space! We’re all floating in space right now, if you think about it.

Next, we headed to the Union Park area to see a play called 39 Steps, which is kind of a Hitchcockian comedy. If you like Alfred Hitchcock and/or noir, you would enjoy this play. The set work in particular was very creative and fun.

We walked around in Central Park for awhile. We did not see Phoebe Buffay running around like a nut, which broke my heart a little bit.

For dinner, we ate at The Flatiron Room, which is a whiskey and jazz bar. It is the place that I was made to be. Behold!


For my cocktail, I chose the Lovely Kioto. It was made with Iwai Japanese whisky, plum tea, and lychee juice. Very good.

MONDAY
We slept in and cabbed it back to the airport. As much fun as we had in NYC, it’s always nice to be home!

The Nobility and Inanity of Work

I’ve recently been formulating a renewed underpinning of my work as a scientist: namely love. When I was in college I had rooted it in truth and the early Christian notion that Christ is the truth; and so somehow, mysteriously the work of uncovering scientific truth, was, for me, about coming closer to Christ.

But in my late college years, and after, my epistemological confidence was eroded; I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe some classes by Fred Aquino or Paul Morris, maybe reading Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, maybe just losing my first faith. In any case my impression of my nearness to truth shifted by a few miles. And especially in the realm of scientific knowledge, that distance has remained for me. It’s not that science is so often wrong, but that it is so limited. The assumptions under a particular scientific theory are always hidden from view until many decades or centuries later when, say, observations become precise enough the theory itself starts to break down. Take as an example the assumption that the earth was at the center of the universe, or that light must have been mediated by some substance call it ether, or that space was euclidean, or that the universe was stationary. I think these broken assumptions from the history of science severely dampened my drive to do it. My doubt killed my scientific motive.

Now a deeply-rooted motive is not necessary for me to keep moving in some particular choice of work. Thus I returned to study physics at the age of 25 simply because I knew I liked teaching science, and I liked the academic environment. Nevertheless, my mind is always searching for a deeply-rooted motive. And slowly it has begun to settle on a theological notion with kinship to truth, love. They are kin, but they are not on the same plane. Love lies down, down, down at the very bottom of everything. Love, I am coming to believe, is the fundamental principle of reality. What does this mean, fundamental principle? Oh, well, that I don’t know. I don’t know what these words mean exactly. Something like the defining characteristic of God, or the thing that makes all things go, or the reason the world is, or some such thing.

And love, I think, begins with the meeting of two persons. Not one person and one object, but two living, choosing, free personalities. Man and woman, friend and friend, man and God, God and creation, mother and child, man and beast, and then the ones that are a little off my map, man and wilderness, man and tree, man and river, tree and river. I certainly don’t know, but I like to speculate in a medieval sort of way that all creation is permeated with personality.

So love, I think, begins with the meeting of two persons. And then it is sealed in a covenant between them, some sort of promise to bend oneself toward the other’s good, no matter what the other does or does not do.

And then love, I think, is tested and deepened with knowledge, knowledge of the other. And this knowledge, of that other creature over there, is a limited sort of knowledge since it is knowledge of a wild and free person, not of static object. And it is a subjective sort of knowledge since it is housed in the hazy mind of another wild and free person. But it is also an essentially objective knowledge, because there really is a creature there. There’s a real being and a truth about who that being is. The good and the bad.

And finally love, I think, is actually exercised by releasing control, by giving up ones power over the other. The actual act of love toward which everything else is building, is a divine act of letting be. It’s the act of God toward the early Jewish nation as they took up worship of multiple gods, or set up a king over themselves, or massacred and subjected other tribes and called it holy. It’s the act of Christ toward the world as he took off the mantle of godhood and bound himself inside a body in Palestine at a particular instant in history. It’s the act of a father who sees his son make dangerous or erratic choices and lets him do it, lets the young man be. It’s the act of a mother who receives dart after dart of a son’s anger or shame and takes them into her flesh without flinging them back. It’s the act of a lover who sees her beloved’s sin and ugliness and still comes to him. It’s the act of a self-loather who looks boldly at the mistakes and wastes of his soul and says, ‘come home; you are my own self; I will learn to love you.’ It’s the act of the sustainer of the world letting each creature in each new generation choose and explore.

All of these acts of love require knowledge and right judgment, which is terrifying when its me being known, me being judged. As those who love me begin to know me more wholly more and more unpleasant odors leake out around my edges. More and more resons to reject me show up. But the true lover’s response to knowledge of the beloved is: ‘Nevertheless I will always love you.’

And that can be a motive for scientific work, knowledge of God’s good earth, so that I may love it, and set up a little man cave in it, and revel in it, and let it be. And not just me but everyone whose knowledge of the universe is helped along a little, nudged toward the truth by my work.

Okay, so now the inane part. That’s heavy. And truthfully I carry it around in my mind only on the rare morning that I’m thinking very hard about why in hell I’m doing what I’m doing. So what’s the motive for my work when I’m not thinking so hard? Many things, some good some bad: money, food, pants, acclaim, responsibility, to be near certain people, or just to make it through another day. One motive that startled and pleased me last week was the inane pleasure of solving puzzles.

About ten of us were sitting in Sukanta Bose’s general relativity lecture. He was laying the mathematical groundwork for the theory and had decided to explain some difficult tensor manipulations through examples. The examples ended up rather more difficult than he had thought. He got stumped on a few. And when this very smart lecturer got stumped every single sleepy-eyed physics nerd in the class simultaneously took a shot of cocaine and started mapping out his or her solution on whatever was at hand. We were all trying to be the first to get there. I saw a friend chewing his pencil furiously. It was a wonder to step back and watch my own pleasure in the puzzle, and that of my colleagues and of Dr. Bose. It was what drove us in that moment. Our motive to do physics, to learn this difficult mathematics, wasn’t some sweeping philosophy but a silly little pleasure in puzzles. We solved the problems and Bose moved on. But I paused and jotted down on the back of one of my pages: “The nobility vs. the inanity of work: physicists playing with problems.” Then I added: “what does inanity mean? google it.”

Later I thought maybe this is common to us all. Is it? Does the careful lawyer working for the purpose of justice also get a kick out of the minutiae of judicial history and the precision of language? Does the artist working in the service of love or courage or truth also delight in a particular combination of colors or in the way her pencil feels just so? Does the counselor working to secure shattered lives, working in the service of love, does she also forget her emotional fatigue because of the complexity and interest of a human story? Does the mother who works to bring vulnerable children to strength and peace, who gives of herself for the future of the world, also take a silly pleasure in her child’s whimsies or in the new discipline structure she has invented? Does the farmer who works for my daily bread and husbands the good land wake up excited for work some days simply because he knows and loves the intricacies of his tractor?

If so, isn’t it a wonderful gift that these inane pleasures drive us to work, to make things, to survive together? Thinkers and philosophers may formulate meaningful narratives which uncover work’s purposes, and I may reflect on these purposes at the start of my day, and I may thank God and be the larger for it. But then the bell chimes and I lean into my work and I am small again, a little creature in a big world, solving a set of happy little puzzles, chewing my pencil.

Juliette Listens To Country

I grew up in the South, but I’ve never called myself a fan of country music. I’ve never NOT liked it, and in fact, for the majority of my life, I’ve had a best friend or roommate who loves it, but I can’t say that I personally know a whole lot about it. But the past few weeks, I’ve found myself lingering on the country station. I think I enjoy it because if I listen to it all the way to or from work, I feel like I’ve listened to six or seven mini audiobooks. That’s probably my favorite thing about country music– the fact that it tells a complete story in less than four minutes.

So I heard this first. It’s pretty quintessential Texas Forever. Somebody should make a Friday Night Lights montage with this:

Next, I heard this song by Chris Cagle. I didn’t love it– but thought it was catchy, for sure, but I tend to read too much into these things some times and I found myself thinking “It doesn’t matter what kind of gone it is! Quit decidin’ between beer and whiskey and go woo your woman back!”

Speaking of that– let’s talk about how this song made me all teary in the car. And again when I got home and played it for Todd. I mean– it’s awesome.

If you can find me a woman who doesn’t want to man to say those things to her, I’ll eat  a ten-gallon hat.

Finally, there was this song. It was actually the first song on the country station that caught my attention, because while it’s not often I can sing a Josh Turner song and absolutely relate, this song happens to be the perfect explanation for why I’m walking away from my well-paying, enjoyable, room-for-growth-ful job in three short months.

That’s right folks, you heard it here first… come December, I’m gonna be a stay-at-home mom. 🙂 Then maybe I’ll have time to write blogs about things other than what I heard on the radio this week.

Maybe.

2012 Summer Movie Crushes

The summer movie season is coming to a close.

A list like this was inevitable.

You’re welcome.

Chris Hemsworth as The Huntsman, “Snow White and the Huntsman”

Boom shaka laka, y’all.

Hemsworth as Thor is definitely the more obvious choice, but I much preferred his portrayal of a gritty, less-than-perfect protector of Snow White. I don’t even have anything else to say here, other than the man can swing an axe.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake, “The Dark Knight Rises”

No, you make MY dreams come true.

I have eternal, undying love for JGL, so this is kind of a no-brainer. But JGL as a cop? A caring good guy? Who gets things DONE? I’m in. I am in, and he didn’t even have to sing or dance or make wing-flapping arm motions. I’m ready for another Christopher Nolan film featuring JGL, for sure.

Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, “The Bourne Legacy”

Don’t bother him! He is doing manly things!!!

Oh my gosh, you guys. This is a MAN. A man scaling houses, wrestling wolves, rescuing damsels, riding motorcycles down handrails, and shooting ALL THE THINGS. I wouldn’t call myself a huge Jeremy Renner fan or anything, and I wasn’t particularly excited about “Legacy.” But once I was in the theater seeing Renner kick massive amounts of tail, I was sold. When my jaw wasn’t on the floor, my arms were literally extended into the air in triumphant HECK YEAH fists. And by the end of the movie, our entire row of females was basically fainting all over the place over Jeremy Renner and his supremely capable man hands. Good gracious.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki, “The Avengers”

RIGHT???

I know, okay? I KNOW. I’ve been getting grief all summer for my crush on Hiddleston’s deliciously evil Loki, so I KNOW. But gosh: that evil, knowing smile he gave to Bruce Banner. His comedic time. That line delivery. How do you NOT love that?

Okay but also:

Like a boss.

and most importantly:

 

Like I said: You’re welcome.

Good Music: Kevin Olusola & Karmin

It’s no secret that in addition to the growing laundry list of pop musicians that I loathe, I am not a fan of talent show tv. However the two that I have made allowances for in the last year are The Voice and The Sing-Off.

The Sing Off in particular showcased some of the most remarkable vocal talent I’ve EVER seen/heard. Dani gave them props in her blog too, but I’d like to take a moment to give props once again to Pentatonix. Scroll down to Dani’s last entry and watch the 3rd video for a great rendition of Gotye’s hit single, and then do yourself a favor and feast your ears on the solo work of one of their beatboxers, Mr. Kevin Olusola:

America does indeed Got Talent. But it isn’t anywhere on that show. Anyway, Kevin is brilliant and does a bang up rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Baby” too.

Speaking of Biebs, he is not on my aforementioned list. We are an an unabashedly pro-Biebs household who do enjoy mindless pop in reasonable doses, including the Jepsen Anthem and these crazy talented people: 

I love them. I can’t help it. If you’ve somehow never seen them sing “Superbass” or “Look At Me Now“, watch them immediately. Nicki Minaj and Chris Brown should be fired on the spot.

Now that I’ve forfeited my indie hipster card, please excuse me while I purchase tickets to the Pentatonix show at The Old Rock House.

Film Diptych: Our Daily Bread & Babette’s Feast

Sometimes two good films are made even richer held side to side. Here’s a film diptych about food.

Watch Our Daily Bread first. It’s a German documentary without any words or music. The film makers got access to several of the big agricultural businesses in Europe and simply filmed them doing what we pay them to do (grow food, process that food). Have you ever seen the Discovery Channel show How it’s Made? I think it’s hypnotizing. Our Daily Bread is a little like that. But shot by an artist.

Frankly the film is haunting and horrifying. It’s also beautiful. When I squinted my eyes every frame was beautiful, the colors and the lines and movement. In fact there are a lot of scenes dominated with lines, long straight lines.

I was startled by how mechanical the food industry has become. I mean I knew it was highly mechanized, but this is so very sanitized and efficient! There are no smoke smudges or drops of sweat or caterpillars. There are just long straight lines. And many strained, scowling faces of workers. In order to not develop a horrified superiority complex throughout the film remind yourself that these are your factories, my factories.

Then watch Babette’s Feast, a really fun little light-hearted comedy about a strict puritan village somewhere in Scandinavia.

The purist of the puritans, two sisters, take in a french widow, displaced by war or some tragedy. Turns out Babette (that’s the Frenchwoman’s name) is a master artist of french cuisine. Babette, to the confusion and discomfort of the sisters, decides to prepare a single amazing feast in honor of the sisters’ dead father. This is truly uncomfortable for the sisters and all of their disciples because their father preached strongly against sensuality in favor of strict simplicity.

Watching the preparation of that feast, in a 19th Century kitchen with a wood stove and cast iron crockery, is a delight. Here watch a little:

This is bare knuckled cooking. There are lots of smoke smudges and sweaty bonnets and feathers. At the end, the strained faces of the puritans maybe just maybe bend a little into shy smiles.

[ODB images from http://www.ourdailybread.at%5D

Good Music: The OC

Aside from classical music and the occasional Carly Rae Jepsen or boy band hit, I tend to listen almost exclusively to music that I’ve discovered through movies, musicals, or TV shows. Pop culture tends to be my music curator, and a song just becomes that much more meaningful to me once I can associate it with a beloved show or movie. And a particularly influential show for me has been The OC.

Whatever your personal feelings are about The OC, it really can’t be denied that the music was solid. They released six popular mixes of songs featured on the show, and several notable bands (Modest Mouse, Death Cab, The Killers) actually made appearances in episodes. And ‘Barnes & Noble said that there was “probably no other show on television today where music is as important as it is on FOX’s hit drama The O.C.“‘ (Wikipedia)

All that to say, here are some awesome songs that I discovered and now love thanks to The OC:

Something Pretty, Patrick Park

Hello Sunshine, Super Furry Animals

Song for No One, Ian Broudie

Popular Mechanics for Lovers, Beulah

Good Day, Tally Hall

Life is a song, Patrick Park

And of course…

California, Phantom Planet

Right back where we started from…