jack_calls_dances: (Default)
On my way on the train from DC to Boston....just left NY Penn Station. The few times I've gone in and out of Penn have all been since I read Conquering Gothem, a fabulous history of the building of Penn Station and, even more impressively, the building of the tunnels to get there. (If you want to read some reviews, of it, have a look at Amazon.

The engineering knowledge that went into building the tunnels that just took me from NJ to Penn just blows my mind. The tunnels were designed to "float" in the sandy, wet dirt under the river so that they actually move up and down slightly depending on the tide.

At the time, there was great debate about what should be done. Do you tie the tunnels down and take a chance that they would shear right off from the stresses caused by the tide, or allow them to "float" and have much less control over their motion. In the end, they made the decision to let them float, and, close to 100 years later, they're still carrying trains.

Then, there's the station itself. The original Penn Statioin was designed as an awe inspiring temple to railroads and transportation. Marble, vaulted ceilings massive columns all around it. I really wish I could have seen it in person, instead of in pictures. (If you've never seen pictures of the building, check out google images or your favorite image search)

Unfortunatetly, though it was designed to be a monument for the ages, less than 50 years afterr it was built, it was decided that the street level property was entirely too valuable. So they tore down an amazing building, and in it's place built....a box (otherwise known as Madison Square Garden.)

I love trains....have for most of my life, and don't get to ride them as often as I would like. I also love seeing old train stations that have been saved. Durham's is long gone. For most of the time I've been in Durham, we've had the "Amshack" -- a "temporary" building, that lasted for something like 10 years. Now Durham has opened a new station in the back of the old Liggett & Meyers tobacco buildings, in the final section of West Village. If we cant' have the original station, I figure having a new station in an old building is a close second.
Greensboro restored it's old Southern Railway station a few years ago. It's definitely in the marble column style of architecture, and it looks great. Salisbury has also restored it's original station, complete with central tower, and Richmond's Main Street station can be seen from the interstate, just to the east of the overrpass as you come into downtown. Three very distinct styles of building, but all easily identified as train stations. It's a style of building that really isn't being built anymore, and it's too bad we don't have more of them left.

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So... I started calling contra dances about 8 years ago when I was in Knoxville, TN, but didn't start calling full evenings until after I moved to NC, and since then have been calling on a pretty regular basis. Tonight, I got a chance to call back in Knoxville. It was good to see some familiar faces, but the dance left me feeling kinda run down. For some of the first half, I really wasn't in best form -- more flubbed calls than I would really like. We were having some issues with the sound, and that had me somewhat distracted. The band was also tired and a little low energy -- the music was great, but the fiddler had been teaching all day and I think really wanted to be done with playing.

Both of those things aside, though, I think there's something about calling for a smaller group of mixed level dancers. I seem to get sucked into problems on the floor instead of the overall pattern. When I'm calling for a big group, I'm less likely to focus in on individual dancers and get sucked into the problems that one couple or hands four are having. With a bigger crowd, I've got more dancers that I can watch be in the right place at the right time. Also, with smaller groups, I've developed the habit of moving around more -- suspect it would help me keep more of an overall perspective if I stayed up on the stage and had a little more distance.

However I'm feeling about it, I think that folks had a good time, and in the end, that's the main thing that matters. And now I can look forward to dancing in Winston Salem tomorrow with Adina calling and the Figments playing! Gonna be great.
jack_calls_dances: (Default)
Note: I apologize in advance for the long post. I tried to do an LJ cut, both in the editor and by hand, and it wouldn't take either way. I already had everything typed though, so here it is anyway. Grrrr.

I've been doing a lot of traveling recently, but haven't managed to get much writing done. Earlier this month, I had a fun trip up to Virginia, DC and Maryland. The original reason for the trip was calling for the Glen Echo Friday Night Contra Dance. Added to that was some time playing tourist in DC, and then trips out to do some wine tasting. B wasn't able to travel with me this trip, because she had a big family reunion (that was announced much after I had already booked the calling gig.) It was disappointing that she didn't get to come up and see J, A and L, but I suspect that she also enjoyed the quiet time at home.

National Cathedral from the Bishop's GardenOn the way up, I stopped off in Fredericksburg to visit J, a friend from college. Friday morning, we drove up to DC, and ended up parking at National Cathedral, wandering around the gardens and having a picnic lunch. Even though it was already early October, the gardens were still beautiful and the roses, and many of the other flowers were still in full bloom. They also had some of the most impressive crops of various herbs that I've seen, including thyme with branches over an inch thick. (while most of our herb garden at home is doing well, the thyme is looking pretty spindley.) If you've never wandered around the gardens at the cathedral before, it's well worth the time. Besides the bishop's garden, there's also a beautiful wooded approach up from Saint Alban's school.

It was also my first time there since they built the new parking garage under the cathedral grounds. Coming up from the parking garage, the view from the stairwell makes for a dramatic entrance to the Cathedral grounds.

While we were there, I also got to see one of the chapels in the undercroft that I hadn't ever seen before. All of the artwork in the chapel is done in mosaic. I really wasn't crazy about the ones on the walls, but really loved the one over the altar. I suspect that part of what I liked about it (and didn't like about the others) was the choice of colors. The other mosaics were all in reds and oranges rather than the blue of this one. You can see a few more pictures from around the cathedral on my flickr account.

After visiting the cathedral, we walked down to the metro and headed downtown to meet L at the Smithsonian to go and see the Jim Henson's Fantastic World exhibit. It was an amazing exhibit of Jim Henson's work -- both muppet related and non-muppet. I don't know that I had really known about some of his non muppet related work, and I had completely forgotten that he had done the Dark Crystal (I need to see that again....along with Labyrinth. Haven't seen either of them in a really long time.

As far as the dance goeBeginners Sessions, it was my first time calling there, and I had a great time. We had a little over 200 people there, and they had two pretty good lines for the beginners session. Speaking of which, they do a fabulous job on the beginners session. It actually runs from 7:30 - 8:15, and they teach three dances and have them dancing for most of the session. It covers all of the basics -- everything that I would normally cover -- but gives them much more time of actually doing contra dances (rather than just trying to go through as many new moves as possible in 30 minutes).

I was really happy with how the dance went -- I was able to do a nice variety of dances, including getting a contra corners dance in. The music was amazing, and the dancers seemed to have a good time.

The rest of my Barboursville Ruinstime in Virginia was spent tasting and drinking wine. Lots of wine. J and I went to the Fredericksburg Wine Festival and met up with some other friends of hers. We got to taste (and buy) lots of wine. Sunday afternoon, we went out to Barboursville Winery for the Barrel tasting festival that they were doing. Before the actual wine tasting, we headed up to the ruins of the Barboursville house (designed by Jefferson) to have lunch. 

Besides the regular tasting, it was a chance to try unfinished versions of the varietals that go into their amazing Octagon blend, and then to try the 2005 Octagon to see what they all taste like together in the finished product.   We also met up with A, a friend of ours from college towards the end of our time at Barboursville, and headed over to taste more wines at Horton (right down the road).

Horton has an amazingly large wine list -- if you plan to taste everything, also plan to stay there for a while, or have a DD to carry you out to the car and drive you home. Their prices are great, though, and they have some really wonderful wines. After that, it was outside to sober up, and then back to Fredericksburg.

After all the touring and wine drinking, J and I spent the evening watching a couple of episodes of the West Wing, and the next morning, I headed home to return to the working world.




jack_calls_dances: (Default)
For any of you folks between the VA/NC line and north of DC, Becky and I will be coming north to see folks and for me to call the contra dance at Glen Echo Park, north of DC. We'll be down at Lake Gaston Friday night and Saturday morning, and then coming to Northern VA Saturday early afternoon, probably stopping at some wineries on the way -- anyone want to meet up at a winery? We'll be staying in the DC area Saturday night, and then up to MD sometime in the afternoon on Sunday. I'm calling for a family dance from 3-5, and then calling the evening dance from 7:30 - 10:30. I'd love to see some familiar faces out on the floor. For directions and more information, check here:

http://www.fsgw.org/

I'd love to get together with some folks while we're up there, so drop me a note if you've got time! I'm going to screen comments, so if you'd like to get together, leave me a phone number! I might even bring some of the cider from our first batch.

And now, I'm going to go fall into bed and become unconscious for at least 8 hours. 9 would be even better.
jack_calls_dances: (Default)
I had it all planned out. Take the train up to Fredericksburg, VA to visit a friend, who would then give me a ride down to the contra dance I'm calling in Richmond tomorrow, go visit Virginia wineries on Sunday afternoon, and then take the train home Monday.

I had even dealt with the fact that the trains weren't running Saturday (when I had originally wanted to go up.) Then what did Amtrak do? The managed to have the train leave Durham on time! Dammit. Of all the days for Amtrak to leave on time. Even 10 minutes late would have been enough (not to mention the 45 - 90 minutes that the train going the other direction in the evening tends to run). But no. I got to drive up -- the train was still there -- go into the station, put down my bags to get my ticket from the machine and then watch the train pull out of the station right in front of me.

Sigh.

Now to figure out whether or not to drive up tonight, or just drive up tomorrow and meet Jennifer in Richmond. Becky's students just had their exam, which means that Becky will be stuck in the office grading exams tonight (and probably tomorrow and some of Sunday). Suspect that I'll have some lunch here and head on out.

I was really looking forward to a nice, relaxing train ride up. I could read. Or sleep. Or go through my dance cards.

Sigh.

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