Saturday, January 28, 2012

Marathon Saturday

Due to a combination of this year's Krankheit Katastrophe (two weeks in and still going strong!) and general blog-posting laziness, this post is about fourteen days overdue. Math-savvy Freckle readers can deduce that "two weeks in" and "fourteen days overdue" both add up to the same date: January 14th. On that morning, I woke up early intending to watch the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, but instead woke up to two nasty surprises--1) the worst sore throat in recent memory, and 2) no Trials broadcast on NBC. Or anywhere for that matter. It took me about ten minutes in my congestion-addled state, but I soon figured out the following: NBC owns the broadcasting rights to the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. NBC decided not to broadcast the Trials. And because NBC owned the rights, no other network or organization could broadcast them either--not on TV, not live-streamed over the internet, not projected via any other visual, live-action means to anyone anywhere in this gargantuan, media market-rich country.
The Houston Course
To say that I was annoyed or frustrated by this turn of events would be an understatement. But my desire to wring the neck of that giant, rainbow peacock and those of all the suits who pledged allegiance to it with their multi-billion dollar exclusionary TV rights contracts was superseded by my need to find out what was happening in the Trials. Immediately. I flipped open my laptop and turned (virtually) to the one person I knew would have been up hours before me, her twitter feed at the ready: SR. She didn't disappoint. Through SR, I learned quickly what I'd missed: in the men's race, the field had been whittled down to a tight knot of Meb, Ryan Hall, Abdi, and Ritz, at a pace of about 5:00/mile. In the women's race, Flanagan and Desi were ripping into one another in a fight-to-the-finish-duel, with Goucher steps behind and Hastings hanging on in fourth.

In contrast to NBC, Runner's World and Running Times had joined forces and were live-tweeting/commentating on their websites and twitter feeds, so between the three--SR, RW, and RT--I soon had some sense of the action unfolding down in Houston. While the runners raced the last six miles, I made a few tangential observations. First, I understand that Olympics organizers want to design marathon courses with maximum spectatorship in mind--in the case of London this summer, it will be a circuit beginning and finishing on theMall--and that Trials courses inevitably follow suit (e.g. Houston's 2.2 and 8 mile loops this year, the Central Park circuits in 2007). Frankly, I think this sounds like hell to run; anything but a point to point course for 26.2 miles would be psychological torture for me, and even the improvised out and back at Big Sur last year felt strange (and I was only a relay runner!). I may be in the minority on this one, but I think all the Trials runners should be given an extra hour of post-marathon massage just for being forced to race past the same cowbells over and over again.
Pretty soon it starts to sound like a death knell
Second, I love watching and reading about Desi Davila run. Her "breakout" performance at Boston last year; the phenomenal Runner's World profile from a couple of months ago; her quiet tenacity and incredible self-discipline; you name it, I'm a fan. I like Goucher and Flanagan, too (and Radcliffe, and Kastor, and Lewy-Boulet, and a host of other remarkably talented female runners), and I particularly like seeing them all push one another to new running heights. But I have a hunch this might be Desi's year, and Desi's Olympics. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the woman from Chula Vista!

Third, Hastings' Cinderalla story is a headliner in and of itself--as SR tweeted, "omg hastings!". Kudos to an extremely talented runner for making her first Olympic team (and perhaps, if either Goucher or Flanagan heads instead to the track, her first Olympic marathon?)!
Meb, in Central Park, two miles from winning the 2009 NYC Marathon
Plenty of other blogs and articles have detailed the finish and results of both races better than I would, so I'll just summarize. Meb won--at 36, the oldest man to win the U.S. Trials--and I'm thrilled for him. One of my favorite marathon memories remains watching him race through the 24th mile of the 2009 NYC marathon in Central Park, on his way to victory, the first American man to do so in over thirty years, and while sporting a USA singlet to boot. Meb's story really is that of the American Dream, from Eritrea to San Diego to the Olympic medal stand in Athens. His humility and genuine respect for his fellow competitors make him a man to root for under any circumstances.

Shalane also won (and while running her second marathon ever), with Desi hot on her heels and Goucher (sixteen months after giving birth) only twenty-eight seconds behind. All three women broke 2:30, making the Trials the fastest day in the history of American women's running. It's incredibly exciting, and they all deserve a whole-hearted congratulations.

If only I could have watched it.
On the day they made history:
Desiree Davila, Shalane Flanagan, and Kara Goucher

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

A Very Happy Year of the Dragon to you, from the freckled rooster who writes this blog! Above is a blurry photo of Grant Ave in Chinatown, which I took from the cable car on my way home this evening. The street seemed subdued for New Year's--at least relative to the exciting/deafening Chinese New Year's firecracker celebrations that I remember from growing up in the Richmond District--but perhaps it's because it was still early in the evening. Still, I love the red lanterns strung across Grant (somewhat visible in this photo), and KP and I had lots of fun at the Chinese New Year flower fair in Chinatown last weekend. Furthermore, in just a few more weeks, it will be time for the largest Chinese New Year's parade outside of China! Now, if only my pig and snake siblings were here to watch it with me...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Oakland: An Ode (of Sorts)

I started working in downtown Oakland almost a year ago, but I'm still amazed that it's where I spend 75% of my waking weekday hours. Recently, I've been feeling a little guilty for giving it such a hard time--not that my displeasure is totally without cause, as anyone who reads a newspaper would surely agree--and so I've decided to focus on the aspects of it that I do enjoy. After all, I wasn't wild about Midtown Manhattan, either, and yet with the benefit of hindsight I now fondly remember lunch in Bryant Park, prawn sandwiches from Pret, the Treats Truck, the Naked Cowboy, and the screams of teenage girls outside the TRL studio, which were audible even in my 33rd floor office (okay, maybe not that last one. Or that second to last one). And so, Downtown Oakland, I won't wait to reflect on, and appreciate, your attributes. The following are my favorites:

Interesting architecture Downtown Oakland is home to some remarkably beautiful buildings. Whenever I have time to go for a walk in the afternoon, I like to stop and admire the green I. Magnin building at 20th and Telegraph; the restored Fox Theatre just around the corner; that cool building that reminds me of the Flatiron right where Broadway and Telegraph split apart; the storefronts on the "Historic Oakland" blocks; and the old Oakland Tribune tower.
Very, very good coffee I've always loved Peet's, and so would be happy even if the one across the street from my office were the only shop in all of downtown from which to procure robust cafe au laits. BUT, lucky, lucky girl that I am, there's also an incredible, independent, tiny coffee shop tucked just around the corner. In fact, Modern Coffee is so wonderful, the New York Times even deigned to mention it several weeks ago. Plus, it sells amazing pastries; between its koiugn-ammann and Peet's Semifreddi's almond croissants--and not to mention La Farine's frangipane, which are only two BART stops away--it's a good thing I'm still running 20< miles a week.

Used bookstores In this arena, Downtown Oakland really shines. I'm not a big shopper, but I've recently dropped more cash at Bibliomania, the Bookmark Bookstore, and De Lauer's (blast them for reliably stocking my kryptonite, Hello! magazine!), than I have even at that other favorite money pit of mine, the Village Market. Penury in exchange for funky $1 paperbacks of Lorna Doone and The Summer Game? I'll take it.

Guacachips The one junk food item for which I go truly weak in the knees (I consider croissants and ice cream to be distinct food groups, and thus don't count them as junk food). I've never been able to find them for sale in San Francisco. I have found them for sale in two stores in Downtown Oakland, both within 300 feet of my office. Commence upping of the weekly mileage.
El Chip del Diablo
Really good Mexican food Southern California-style shrimp veggie burritos (with extra guacamole) from La Calle, and featured in Sunset no less? Check. Baja-style fish tacos from Cosecha? Check. I've been making up for several years of East Coast-induced-good-Mexican-food-exile by eating my way through both of these restaurants.

Ratto's This place reminds me of Haig's, the international food section of Wegman's, and the Marin French Cheese Company all rolled into one. Hands down my favorite soup, sandwich, and Ritter sport spot.

Ferry commute Now that the evenings are getting light again, I can enjoy perhaps my favorite aspect of working in Downtown Oakland--taking the ferry home to San Francisco. I don't always have time to make the trip, but when I do, the fifteen minute walk down to Jack London Square, combined with the twenty-five minutes riding across the Bay to the Ferry Building, is a wonderful way to end the work day. Throw in a cable car ride to Van Ness and a two mile stroll home, and I return to the Inner Richmond in very good spirits indeed.
Best Part of the Commute
Keep impressing me, Downtown Oakland, and you'll make me just as wistful for your existence as 45th and 6th did!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Novels of Nippon

After I returned from Japan a few weeks ago, I immediately embarked on a reading course of Japanese novels. I realize that this might sound backwards, but it tends to be my MO whenever I take a trip: travel first, then read up on the destination. Aside from resulting in me asking my (usually patient) travel companion tons of questions that could have been easily answered with a little pre-vacation research--e.g. Why does that pagoda have golden horns? How come Kyoto's temples are all on the city outskirts? What do people mean when they say "Tokyo dialect"?--I find that my interest post-trip is so piqued that I end up learning and reading much more than I would have otherwise. Plus, lots of fresh reading material is a wonderful salve for the jet-lagged-induced crankiness that inevitably follows landing back at home.
Such was the case on this latest journey to Kansai. I've actually accumulated a fair number of Japanese novels over the years, but other than a couple by Mishima Yukio, hadn't read any of them. That all changed in the week between Christmas and New Year's, when I plowed through a veritable greatest hits of Japan's best twentieth century writers. First up, two by Kazuo Ishiguro, whose work I greatly enjoy, but whose Japan-based novels I'd never read: An Artist of the Floating World, and A Pale View of Hills. The former in particular was written in the enigmatic, almost suspenseful style that Ishiguro exhibited in When We Were Orphans and Never Let Me Go, and the latter had such a creepy, confusing final chapter that I subsequently went online to see if I'd misread it (apparently, this is not uncommon).
Next, I enjoyed the languorous, stately prose of Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters, which read almost like a 19th century English novel, but with the foreboding signposts of the 20th (Japan's Invasion of Manchuria, German neighbor children singing Deutschland uber alles, etc). Coincidentally, I gave my mother the movie for Christmas, and especially look forward to seeing it now.
And finally, I headed back to Mishima Yukio with his The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, largely because we visited Kinkaku-ji when in Kyoto, and the novel is a fictitious sketch of the monk who burned it down in 1950. The book is disturbing, to say the least, and reminded me of Mishima's The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave my description at that.
I took a short break to read Michael Ondaatje's latest, but am about to start Yasunari Kawabata's novel Snow Country. And I suppose at some point I'll finally read some Haruki Murakami...but after his lucid, makes-me-want-to-lace-up-my-shoes-and-hit-the-trails What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, surely his other books will be a letdown, right?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year, 2012 (and Au Revoir, 2011)!

2011 was a year of beginnings: new city, new home, new job, and trips to new places. 2012 promises to be even more exciting, and I look forward to seeing what the year brings. As tangerines are New Year symbols of good luck and health, I'm posting this photo of me and a tangerine tree in Nara, the first imperial capital of Japan, which I visited a couple weeks ago (I hope to see more of Japan in the near future). Happy New Year, and best wishes for 2012!