Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fifth Grade

A soundcloud blog post:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Matter of Size

Just playing with this one--

Let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Day, A Night and A Day In Miami: Two Gay Gentleman of Fort Lauderdale Venture Out

My partner and I now live almost full-time in Fort Lauderdale.  My partner is pretty much full-time, and I live here about two-thirds of the time, with the rest of the time in NYC (Park Slope, Brooklyn to be exact).  Despite having a home here for over four years, we have spent very little time in Miami, just a little time in South Beach, and one venture to the Design District.
So, having just had a nice vacation in Argentina, but being in the mood for more, we decided to take the half-hour trip to Miami and have an "overnight vacation".  It was a wonderful idea, and I have to credit my partner for thinking of it.
This is the summer-"out of season", and so incredible deals are available.  For those of you who are thinking "Florida in the summer??????", I've gotta tell you that having just come from NY, Florida is way-better--the ocean, the openness, the air-conditioning----way better.  At any rate, we were able to secure an incredible room through Hotwire at the Hyatt-Regency in Coral Gables for just $69 a night (a Thursday).  As might be expected, the room was excellent, the sheets magnificent, and the king-size bed fantastic.
On our way down, we had planned to stop at The Spanish Monastery,  but had paid scant attention to the posting on their website that said to call, as there is a possibility of it being closed for "special events".  Who thought of a special event on a Thursday in July in Miami?  Needless to say, they were closed for a "special event", but it still looks like a great place to visit, especially if you call ahead.
Not to be thwarted in our attempt to have our Miami vacation, we proceeded to drive to The Vizcaya Museum and GardensVizcaya was built by the International Harvester heir James Deering in 1916, and is an Italian Renaissance-style villa with over ten acres of formal gardens and looks out on Biscayne Bay.  Not having done much research prior to our visit other than to find that Frommer gave it three stars, I was intrigued to find a statue in the gardens of Ganymede,(unfortunately badly in need of a good cleaning) the mythological gay youth who was Zeus' lover and taken up by him to Mount Olympus to become cupbearer to the gods. I became further intrigued after discovering that James Deering was a "bachelor".  Indeed, James Deering was gay, as was the chief architect of Vizcaya, Paul Chalfin, who was fairly "out" for the era..  Despite the chastity implied by the single bed in James Deering's bedroom (guest rooms have double beds), it is certain that Deering hosted gay soirees, and it is likely that Chalfin and he were lovers.  John Singer Sargent, who was almost certainly gay and an intimate of Deering's,  painted a series of male nudes while staying at Vizcaya, using the African-American workers on the premises as models.  Gossip aside, Vizcaya, displays the opulence of the upper classes in the beginning of the 20th Century and is definitely worth a visit.
I guess all that opulence made us hungry, and we headed towards our hotel in Coral Gables for lunch.  Not enticed by the lunch menu at The Two Sisters Restaurant at the Hyatt,  we decided to take a walk in the neighborhood.  We stumbled upon Graziano's Market, and found just what we were looking for.  This casual but upscale market/winestore/restaurant selling Argentine and other Latin American specialties is a real gem.  There was a nicely varied menu for lunch, but we opted for simple--a pizza with artichokes, prosciutto, mushrooms and olives. It was the best pizza we had since our trip to Argentina.  The chief element of the decor was dozens of wine bottles, all for sale, ranging from inexpensive to quite high end, and specializing in Latin American wines.   The service was quite attentive, especially in view of the fact that we placed our order and then were escorted by the hostess to our table with a number card.  Once seated, the waitress was able to fulfill our request for more drinks.  By the time we got back to the hotel, it was time for a late afternoon siesta, and we took advantage of the opportunity to crawl into the king-size bed and re-energize.
Having gotten a taste for opulence at Vizcaya, we thought that The Biltmore Hotel would enable us to experience it first-hand.  Built in the 1920s, this hotel is magnificent.  After doing a bit of strolling around the grounds, cocktail time called, and we went into the smaller of two bars, the other being taken up with a "baby shower" (another Thursday special event!).  The "secondary bar" was wood-paneled, with comfortable chairs, and two handsome and engaging young bartenders.  We were not disappointed. The vodka martinis were quite generous, and there were complementary crackers, cheese, and fruit available as accompaniments.  Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves.
Needing a little exercise prior to dinner, and wondering what the hotel would look like at night, we decided to take a stroll to see what the pool, reportedly a favorite of Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams, was like.  We regretted that we had not brought bathing suits and/or that the pool was not "clothing optional".  The pool experience must be exceptional, as it is extremely winding and beautiful.
At 9:30 we left The Biltmore and went to Talavera Restaurant for dinner.  Talavera is an upscale Mexican restaurant, with reasonable prices, named after 16th Century Mexican pottery.  Quite modern in decor, but with pottery pieces perfectly placed, the atmosphere is simple but elegant.  This is not Tex-Mex, and be warned that if you are doing research on this restaurant, do not go to their website which seems to have a very incomplete menu.  We started our meal with a chopped Mexican salad with green and red peppers--simple, flavorful and subtly dressed.  My partner had a seared tuna "huarache" which was perfectly seared and rare  (it can be cooked to order) on a cornmeal bed.  My duck mole was incredible--juicy, tender, and rare (the chef's and my choice) and accompanied by rice.  We shared a flan for dessert which couldn't have been better.
The next day we had planned a trip to the Rubell Family Art Collection located near the design district.  Again, we should have done our homework, as the museum has sharply curtailed hours during the summer, and we were there at the wrong time.  Our alternative plan was to go to Lincoln Road and look at the shops down there, with a visit to CB2 (after all we would do a little decorating exploration on our trip to the Big City).  On the way, and looking to escape the South Beach summer heat, we serendipitously found the Peter Lik Gallery.  Peter Lik is an accomplished landscape photographer, originally from Australia, who currently has twelve galleries around the country devoted exclusively to his work.  His photography captures the excitement of nature, the photographs pop, and the curator of the gallery was quite friendly and informative--definitely worth a visit.  After one more search to find the "perfect chair" for our livingroom, it was time for lunch.
We got to Michael's Genuine Food and Drink Restaurant at about 2 pm.  Michael's was packed on this Friday afternoon in the summer, but we were lucky enough to secure seats at the bar.  Michael Schwartz, the chef/owner says he "set out to create a neighborhood place that feels like the real deal - where there's always something you want on the menu and what goes into the dishes is simple, fresh and pure" and he has accomplished his goal.  We had stumbled on Michael's a few years ago when it opened and had been quite impressed, as had The New York Times which had listed it as one of the top ten new restaurants of that year.  It has maintained excellent and fresh food quality and great service in a very happening but homey atmosphere.  My partner and I shared the Tuna Nicoise with pickled red onion, fingerling potato, heirloom tomato, green beans, hard boiled egg, greens, balsamic vinaigrette & saffron aioli and the House Roasted Sliced Turkey Breast Sandwich with cave aged gruyere cheese, lettuce, local heirloom tomato & herb mayo and french fries.  The Tuna was $16 and the Turkey Sandwich was $12, both well worth it.  Both Brooklyn boys, we were thrilled to find that the restaurant had Brooklyn Summer Ale on tap, this light beer being a refreshing accompaniment to our lunch.
We returned to tranquil Fort Lauderdale in the late afternoon, happy to have ventured out, with plans to do it again. We promised ourselves that next time we would do our homework just a bit more thoroughly, but I must confess that we were very pleased with how lucky we were.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Costa Rica - A Paradise for Gay Men and Others

If you're interested in natural beauty--environmental, fauna, flora, and male homo sapiens, Costa Rica is for you.  Volcanoes, rainforests, and beaches on two coasts , make it an exciting place to visit.  We visited Costa Rica at the end of April, just at the end of the "high season" which runs from the middle of November till the end of April.  Our trip was relatively short, just about a week, with just an overnight stay in San Jose, the capital, and the rest of the time divided between Arenal and Manuel San Antonio.
Colours Resort in San Jose was our first stop in Costa Rica.  Extremely friendly and attentive staff is the primary asset of this very comfortable gay hotel.  Rooms are simple but comfortable, but don't expect Palm Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Provincetown or Key West.  There is a small pool, as well as nice patios conducive to meeting and getting to know other gay travelers.  We were fortunate enough to meet two other gay couples, with whom we had lunch just down the street at a very local establishment where the food was surprisingly excellent.  Although the hotel is located in a safe and fairly upscale neighborhood, with many embassies within easy walking distance, you wouldn't know it, as all the houses are walled, topped with barbed wire, and barely visible to the casual stroller.  I may not be doing San Jose justice, but we found it to be a very unpretty city.  However, the men were nice-looking, not homophobic and cruising (illustrated by a more experienced San Jose visitor) fun.  However, we were not looking for a sophisticated city scene when we chose Costa Rica as a destination.
So, after a day and a night in San Jose, we took NatureAir to Arenal to see the volcano and experience the hot springs.  Our choice to fly was a good one.  The small plane truly gave us a "bird's-eye view" of the Costa Rican countryside.  The roads in Costa Rica are not good, and what was a half-hour flight would have probably taken over four hours by car.  NatureAir is relatively inexpensive, especially if booked in advance.
Our destination in Arenal was Tabacon Grand Spa.  Our feeling was that this resort, although not cheap (check the rates on their website) was well worth it.  The room was quite well-appointed, the service was five star quality, and the resort was quite beautiful.  Our surprise was how terrific the food was.  The food was impeccably prepared and the service was top-notch.  The dishes were prepared with an awareness of Costa Rican cuisine, but the emphasis was truly on preparation of gourmet quality meals.  Not only was this true of dinner, but breakfasts were an unbelievable treat, with choices of Costa Rican as well as "English Breakfast" fare.
Visitors to Tabacon are entitled to free admission to the Thermal Hot Springs.  The Hot Springs extend over several acres in an incredibly beautiful setting, with pools varying in temperature.  There is a restaurant, as well as a "pool-bar" that has been constructed but is fed by the natural springs.  You can sit on bar-stools in the water and order drinks and sandwiches.
Of course visitors come to Arenal to see the volcano.  Unfortunately, the volcano is often covered in clouds, with visibility difficult. I have tried to research the best season to see the volcano, but really believe it is more a matter of luck than anything else. Although we were unable to see the volcano at night, we were able to get a feel for it during the day, when we were able to see the smoking lava slide down the side of the mountain.
Eco tours and hikes are quite nearby the resort, and rides provided by the resort are readily available.  We took a nearby hike in the rainforest with an incredible guide who was not only knowledgeable about the rainforest, but whose powers of observation were so acute that he was able to hear a "poison-dart" frog which was only about an inch long and point it out to us.
 We also were lucky enough to spot a coral snake, a very unusual occurrence, but he had apparently come in from the forest and was visible in a field.  However, as exciting as these events were, they were surpassed by our visit to Manuel Antonio.
We took NatureAir again from Arenal to Manuel Antonio.
Our hotel there was The Falls  which had been a "gay" hotel, but is now "gay friendly".  We did not find this to be at all problematic.  All the guests were quite friendly as was the manager.The bar was a great place to congregate and the drinks were great as well.  We met two nice couples there, one, a straight couple from Canada, the husband of which had a gay older brother, and a young lesbian couple from Philadelphia who were bright and friendly.  The room at The Falls can best be described as "Tropical" in decor, roomy, and adequate--the air-conditioning was especially welcome.  The resort is in a portion of forest, and so there are plenty of birds, and occasional monkey visitors. 
Of course, the highlight of any visit to Manuel Antonio is the national park.  The park encompasses both the rainforest and the beach.  Guides are readily available and are well worth the very nominal fee.  The flora and fauna are extremely varied (as you would expect)  Sloths are in abundance although not that easy to spot, but of course the biggest attraction are the monkeys.  After a hike in the rainforest the beach is a great place to just relax and cool off.
To our surprise, the food in Manuel Antonio was also excellent.  We did not expect to be eating Thai food there, however, on the recommendation of other guests at The Falls, we wound up eating at KapiKapi one of the best Asian fusion restuarants restaurants I have eaten at, the fare apparently prepared by an ex-pat California surfer and chef.  Fortunately, for the visitor to Manuel Antonio, KapiKapi is not the only good restaurant there--every restaurant we ate at was both reasonably priced and good and the service was always friendly towards two middle-aged non-Spanish speaking gay men.
No trip to the warm waters of Central America would be complete without a boat and snorkeling experience, and in an effort to ensure that our trip would be complete, we took a sunset cruise from Quepos which is just down the road from Manuel Antonio.  The sailboat cruise was excellent, with food and drinks, as well as snorkeling equipment provided.  It was a perfect end to our Costa Rican adventure.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Swimming for Fitness and a Sense of Well-Being

Sixty-years old now, I've been swimming for a long time.  My usual routine is to swim a mile of crawl.  A younger friend, age 46, a tennis player, and all-around athlete, asked me how I could stand it--didn't I find it very boring?.  We didn't even discuss the fatigue element--I don't believe it is that much of a problem for him.  As I understand it, his major difficulty is that it is boring, and that you're not visibly accomplishing anything.  The major reason he is swimming is that after years of playing tennis, his knees can't take the stress of activities that have put major stress on them, especially running and jumping.  So, here are my tips about swimming.  I'm assuming here that you can swim well enough to swim the length of a 60 foot pool and that you are able to breathe at least minimally while you're swimming. Here goes:
1. Gear - Swimsuits- I prefer to swim bare-assed.  However, as this is hardly ever possible, I suggest wearing Speedos.  If this is not possible, I suggest that you wear any bathing suit that won't slip off while you're swimming.  Currently, I usually wear "board shorts" bought in Target for about $20.  I initially swim the length of the pool and back and then retie my bathing suit which usually then stays put for the rest of my mile swim routine.  Goggles- Goggles are an essential item.  Speedo makes various models.  I usually spend around $20 for goggles as well.  It's really not necessary for most people to spend much more.  Make sure they're comfortable, that adjusting them is easy, and that they have a good "suction fit".  I find that tinted goggles are really nice if you are swimming in most locations, and especially nice if you're swimming in a sunny location.
2. Attitude - You need to focus on the fact that you are doing this for you.  You are competing with nobody.  You do not have to swim perfectly.
3. Breathing - I've assumed that you know how to breathe in the water at least minimally.  If you're having difficulty breathing in the water I suggest that you try and remember that the primary thing you need to concentrate on is blowing the carbon dioxide out.  You can tilt your head just enough, and for a short enough period to get more than enough air for one stroke.  If you've blown out the carbon dioxide, this will be an easy and natural process.  I absolutely never concern myself with getting enough air while swimming.  You only need to relax and tilt your head and suck in air very gently--if you have blown out the carbon dioxide, this will occur with very little effort.
4. Counting - I count every length that I swim and I say the number of that length to myself every time I breathe out.  With the breathing and the counting your swimming approaches meditation.  Counting every length keeps you focused.  If you lose focus, and this happens, you can usually catch yourself because you are saying and even or odd number to yourself when you're swimming what should be an odd or even length.  This too is okay.  Just make the adjustment.  In a 60 foot pool I usually count till I finish 22 lengths, which is about a quarter of a mile.  I've found that counting above 25 gets more difficult.  So, for a mile swim, I count to 22 four times.  In different length pools I count to different numbers.  I attempt to have only four "segments", but in a smaller pool, after 100 lengths I count out another segment for the appropriate number of lengths.
5.Swimming - As my Zen teacher said "When you swim, swim".  You need to do nothing but swim.  This in itself can feel liberating.  As you're swimming and counting, thoughts will inevitably enter your mind.  Let the thoughts come.  You will probably not realize that you are "thinking" instead of "swimming" right away.  However, the counting will eventually help you realize that this is happening.  When this happens, just say to yourself "thinking about ....." and then go back to your counting.  If your arm begins to ache or you are feeling something else, just say to yourself "feeling my arm" and then go back to the counting.  The counting, the rhythmic breathing, and the physical activity are all working to help you feel "in the moment".  When you are done swimming, you might, if you remember them, review some of the thoughts that came to you when you were swimming.  For instance, today when I was swimming I thought about writing this article, I also thought about my late friend and Zen teacher Madeline Ko-i Bastis.
5. Speed - Swim at a speed that is comfortable for you.  While you are swimming, you may "trance out" and slow down.  Again, the counting will help you maintain focus and you will probably get a message- "slowed down" as you are swimming.  You can then accelerate back to your comfortable speed.  When I was younger, I used to swim the mile in about 29 or 30 minutes.  Now it's about 38 to 40.  Try to keep a pace that is under an hour for a mile.
6. Distance - When I first began swimming as an adult at age 32, I really had no idea what a work out should consist of, and I was just going to use the swimming as an aerobic.  I believe that at first I swam 16 lengths, which was the distance required when I went to camp that allowed you to take out a canoe by yourself.  I had the good fortune, however, to have a lifeguard, Susan, at the Y who encouraged me to go for a mile, and by the second week of swimming I was there.  If you are relaxed and breathing properly a mile is not a long distance to swim.  Most people get tired from swimming because they are struggling to breathe.  When you breathe properly it's only the actual physical activity that will tire you out.

7. Playing - As I approach my last two lengths, I get into "playing".  Sometimes I swim as fast as I can for those lengths.  Sometimes I see how far I can still swim on one breath.  The "play" begins to bring me out of the state I've been in during the swimming.  After I'm all done, I usually just swim underwater a bit, do a bit of fantasizing, do some bobbing, and tell myself how terrific I am and how wonderful life is.  And it is!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tel-Aviv, Israel Great Place for Gay Men Over 50

He who desires to see Rabbi Johanan's beauty, let him take a silver goblet as it emerges from the crucible, fill it with the seeds of red pomegranate, encircle its brim with a chaplet of red roses, and set it between the sun and the shade: its lustrous glow is akin to Rabbi Johanan's beauty.
Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 84a

While this particular Hasidic Prince will probably not be available to you when you visit Israel, there is a chance that someone like him might be.  It is more likely, however, that you will meet one of the thousands of more secular gay men that live there.  There are many beautiful men of all ages in Israel, and one only has to look around to see them.
Despite the theocratic influence of the Orthodox in Israel, legal rights for gay people are among the most advanced in the world.  Common-law marriages between same-sex partners are recognized, as well as legal same sex marriages performed in other countries.  The age of consent in Israel is 16. Of course, in a country so dependent on its army, there is no such thing as discrimination against gay people in the military, and discrimination is prohibited against gays and lesbians by law.  A number of gay men I have spoken with had their first gay sexual encounters in the army.  If you're interested in a gay army romance, I suggest you watch Yossi and Jagger.

The gay capital of Israel is, of course, Tel Aviv. Located on the Mediterranean, Tel Aviv has a great beach, Bauhaus architecture, great cafes, museums, and nightlife.  It truly represents that amalgam of Middle Eastern, Jewish, and European cultures that is Israel.  Accommodations range from the very expensive to the more moderately priced.  I usually stay at the Deborah Hotel, from which this picture is taken.  I advise you to both shop the websites for accommodations, as well as call the hotels.  Rates are generally negotiable.  The highlight of any stay in a hotel in Tel Aviv are the free breakfasts.  Fruit, smoked fish, yogurt, salad, hummus, and pastries are generally served without limit and are a great way to start your day.  I recommend that you find a hotel that is close to the beach and North of Bograshov Street but not too far North of Sderot Nordau.  The Eastern boundary should not be too far East of Dizengoff.  This will give you an easy walk to the beach.
The beach itself is wonderful, as is the boardwalk.  The most gay friendly area of the beach is what is referred to as "The Hilton Beach" near the Hilton Hotel.  This is where the "boys" tend to hang out.  Looking down on the beach is Independence Park, which is a major cruising area, with sex taking place in the bushes, especially at night.  The park is safe.  However, I would not recommend embarking on such an adventure with your passport or very full wallet.
No doubt, whatever your activities at the beach, at some point you're going to get hungry.  The Boardwalk has many restaurants and you can get a good idea of what Israelis are about by sitting down at any of them and enjoying the scenery.  Nighttime is party time along the Boardwalk and there is music at most of the restaurants and clubs--some live, some djs.
For those interested in gay saunas and the activities that usually take place in such establishments, Sauna City is a good place to go.  There are a variety of men there, it's clean, there are private rooms, and it's generally upbeat.  For the older gay man, there are often admirers.  By the way, the visitor who is expecting to find only the circumcised in Israel will be surprised to discover the uncircumcised as well--due largely to immigration from the former Soviet Union.
Getting around the city is easy.  Buses are plentiful and inexpensive.  They are supplemented by Sheruts, vans that follow the bus routes and are somewhat less expensive.  Taxis are also plentiful and metered.
And you are going to want to get around the city.  One of my favorite places is Neve Tzedek, a charming neighborhood, filled with little boutiques, stores, the Suzanne Dallal Dance Center, and good restaurants. The Carmel Market and the Flea Market are both great places to visit.  The Carmel Market will give you a wonderful sense of the abundance and variety of Israeli fruits and vegetables and is just great fun.
 There are a number of museums in Tel Aviv.  I especially recommend the Museum of the Diaspora.  Located on the campus of Tel Aviv University, this museum is basically a Jewish history museum, which traces the history of the Jewish people.  Of course, it has its propagandistic elements--the culmination of Jewish history being the establishment of the State of Israel, but there is a lot to learn here and the exhibits are terrific.  The location of the Museum on the Tel Aviv University campus give you an opportunity to glimpse Israeli young people.  You will also probably be surprised, as I was, at the number of Arabs, and especially Arab women in attendance at the university.  There is also a really good cafeteria at the University with prices to fit the budgets of both students and budget-conscious travelers.
A visit to The Bauhaus Center is a must.  This museum will not only provide you with information about the city's Bauhaus architecture, but also has guided tours available.  Bauhaus Architecture, brought to Tel Aviv prior to World War II, is ubiquitous in Tel Aviv, and this museum will really help you to appreciate it more.
There is so much more to write about Tel Aviv, let alone the rest of Israel.  But that will have to wait for another post.