Sunday, January 28, 2007

Passport Photo???

I hate it when I spend money poorly. It makes me sick to the core.

Understand, I have no problem spending hundreds (perhaps thousands) in a single shopping spree, but usually I'm getting my moneys' worth. Even when the expense is questionable, like the Playstation 3, there is some basis for the price ($650) and it's not a screwing.

But nothing has been more painful than getting some passport pictures taken at the local Ritz Camera.

Maybe it's just a brain fart, but I really should know better. I've been shooting since I was in seventh grade. My images have appeared in numerous publications, but nothing soothes the mind knowing that I've been had.

I'm heading to Ethiopia in a couple of weeks and need to apply for a visa. That visa application requires two passport pictures. And if you've obtained a passport picture over the years, you usually go down to the local photo store and they take your picture using a specially modified Polaroid camera.

The Polaroid camera costs just about anyone roughly one dollar per image. As far as images go, it's pretty expensive, but it's instant and for that convenience one must pay a price. And I was fully expecting to get a Polaroid passport picture.

I head down to the Ritz Camera and ask the girl for a passport pic. She tells me to stand next to the wall and whips out a Nikon digital camera and takes my photo. Then, she inputs it into one of those Kodak photo kiosks and spits out six passport images and charges me $15.30 (with tax).

Fucking Hell...

That's it? Just a fuckin' Nikon digital SLR against a white wall? For fifteen bucks???? What the Fuck? I'm a dumb ass for this one. I spent all this money when I could have done it at home for nothing. I haven't felt so sick about wasting money in a long time. It's like a kick to the groin.

So gentle readers, take note: if you need a passport picture, do it yourself with whatever crappy digital camera and inkjet printer you have at home. It's not rocket science (although I thought it might be). Use some good lighting and crop your head (including shoulders) into a 2" x 2" image at 300dpi and you will be fine.

It was an expensive lesson.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Ripped Off Q&A

Alright, it's been awhile and I've got a backlog of posts from my trips that are just burning to get out there. But I've been a bit busy lately so I thought I'd steal Capitol Swell's Q&A to pass the time...

1. Would you pose naked as art?

-Been there, did that. If you can find it, check out Honolulu Swingers Volume 23.

2. Favorite Chinese food?

- That chopped and wok fried dungeness crab at KJ Kitchen in Las Vegas. I covet that crab.

3. Who would win a fight between Captain America and Wolverine?

- Cap'n Wha? Who???

4. Why is Hugh Grant cool?

- Because he bedded down Elizabeth Hurley.

5. Capilene or wool?

- Capilene, because it maintains its' insulating properties when wet. And I like to get wet.

6. Iron Chef America - Tony Bourdain v. Bobby Flay. Secret Ingredient: Potato - who would win?

- First off, DEATH TO FLAY!!! Bourdain all the way!

7. Gills or wings?

- Wings, 'cause I believe I can fly. But it's hard to soar with Eagles when you're surrounded by turkeys...

8. Could you give up chocolate in all its' forms?

- Heresy! Absolutely not. Chocolate body paint is my fave.

9. Could you give up steak?

- Heresy Twice!!! DEATH TO YOU!!!

10. Heaven?

- Only if I can find the stairway.

11. Doors at the Hollywood Bowl or R.E.M. at The Cat's Cradle?

- Neither. I'd rather buy the DVD so I can sit at home, watching it through my PS3 BluRay player on my 65" HDTV in Dolby ProLogic surround sound, while in my boxer briefs eating a big steak with fries and a Coke.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007



The Jobs Showing Off The iPhone - Paul Sakuma/AP

Twenty-four hours ago my head felt like it was going to explode.

Steve Jobs, the celebrated CEO of Apple Computer recently maligned with a stock option backdating scandal, was giving his usual keynote speech at MacWorld San Francisco and shocking the world with news of the long-awaited iPhone.

Imagine that, a phone with video and music and Internet and seamless syncing with the Apple Macintosh. It was my wet dream and I wanted to cheer loudly in the shop to express my glee and joy in what seemed to be the end of a long journey. After work, I had my chauffeur rush me over to the Towson Apple Store to see what details I could glean on the iPhone and the iTV.

I wish the chaps at the Apple Store were a bit more enthusiastic and a bit more knowledgeable on what was going on. While Jobs announced that you could pre-order the iTV immediately, they knew nothing of the sort at the Apple Store. Is it too much to expect their own staff to know what's going on?

Today, the elation has worn off and Iwonder if this is what marriage is going to be like: that rush of getting hitched then the morning reality that all things aren't as shiny as you originally thought. Now that I've had time to ponder the iPhone, I'm feeling a little jilted - a little Rebecca, if you will (who will now become my new whipping post).

The features are cool. You supposedly can do full-screen Internet browsing as though you were on your laptop. It's running on Mac OSX. The widescreen will automatically work horizontal or vertical, depending on how you are holding the unit. It will play movies. It will play music. It will do all of this is a small-form factor.

It's going to do all of this on a maximum 8GB of memory?

Right now, I've got a four year old, 3rd generation 30GB iPod. It's completely filled. My contact list was nearing 2,000 contacts and I regularly shuttle episodes of Battlestar Galactica, Heroes and Ugly Betty off my laptop to my desktop because there's not enough space. Quite simply, 8GB is next to nothing in terms of usability.

But the most bitter pill of all is the price: $499 for the 6GB iPhone and $599 for the 8GB iPhone. I told "The Bob"® that I would be wiling to pay upwards of $700 for an iPhone, but the paltry gigabyte size and the TWO YEAR CONTRACT with Cingular makes me feel dirty, and a bit miffed.

It's the morning after and the euphoria has washed away in the tears of a jilted lover.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

PS - Why?


Sadly, not EVERYTHING comes in the box for $600.

Like I said, I was in Toronto for New Year's Eve and stayed with old friends Jules and Carm, and their four kids - along with Mike & Christine and their two kids, and Chuck and Anne Marie and their newborn. Maybe there were others but it's kinda blurry now.

Jules is a gadget freak. He's got just about every kind of techno wizardry under the sun, but I was disappointed that all he had was the XBox 360 and no Playstation 3. I told him the same. "Oh no, I've got the PS3," he replied. Where was it? Still in the box because Carm had placed a prohibition on the PS3. "Too many toys and too much money," was the reason. "Do you want it?"

I've got the PS2. But I didn't buy it until it had been out for nearly two years and you could readily buy it anywhere. When the PS3 was released in November 2006, it was nearly impossible to get. I figured I'd wait for another year before buying one. But this was a tempting offer, so I took it.

Now that I've had the PS3 for nearly a week, I wonder why? Why did I buy this thing? Was it to be hip and cool? Was it to pick up chicks? Was it because I have a penchant for gaming?

The only person who noticed the PS3 was the bellhop/doorman/bartender/cook named Felix from the Hotel Gault. Not exactly a chick magnet this PS3.

I don't play video games much anymore. Wastes too much time. Why bother playing basketball or football on the PS3 if it only makes me plumpier? Doesn't make sense. I need to hit the treadmill instead of the L3 button.

None of my friends that know I have the PS3 treat me with any more respect.

I brought it home, plugged it in and then realized that this High Definition PS3 doesn't come with High Definition cables. No HDMI or component cables. In fact, component cables aren't even available yet. What kind of rubbish is this???

Then there's the games. Of which there are almost none. Sure, it's backwards compatible with the billions of PS1 and PS2 games but I want the awesome, God-like, Octo-Uber-Super power of the PS3, not some over-priced PS2 simulator.

When it comes to gaming, I prefer something simple and easy. I don't want to battle on the racecar circuit winning prize money so I can hot rod some Yugo that I must start out with. I want to jump into the Koenigsegg CCR or Ferrari 430 and just floor it for a few hours. Or, I want to hit the streets with a devastating arsenal of automatic weapons and lay seige to the poor, hapless citizenry. After a long day of work, I want mindless gaming to ensue with lots of brigandage and car crashes to while away the evening.

So I started with Ridge Racer 7 and hated it almost immediately. It's absolute rubbish for a car driving game. All you do is drive some hypothetical vehicles around a course where the driving is completely unrealistic. Seems that you can't crash the vehicles and each turn is some sort of scene from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Utter rubbish.

My cousin in Vegas has XBox 360 and when I wasn't hitting the craps tables or having a meal at KJ Kitchen, I was racing on the streets of Vegas through Project Gotham Racing. It's serious. It's realistic. It's the kind of driving video game that I want for PS3. But there's nothing like that currently on the market. They say Gran Turismo 4 is going to be "The Bomb" but it won't be out for months.

The Seed likes to state that the PS3 is the "cheapest Blu-Ray Disc player on the market" and it even includes a copy of Talladega Nights but what does that matter when the PS3 doesn't come with HDMI cables and HD component cables aren't on the market yet?

So far, I've got a six hundred dollar DVD player that looks cool.

And not a chick to share the second controller with...

Monday, January 08, 2007

Espresso Toronto

Spent the waning hours of 2006 in Toronto, Canada where Barista Matt took me on an espresso tour of the city.

Like most East Coast cities, Toronto is plagued by generally poor coffee quality. There are the big chains (like Tim Horton's) and the specialty chains (like Starbucks and local grown Second Cup), all which serve the usual suspect coffee. However, like it's U.S. counterpart, Toronto's coffee scene is starting to rumble like New York Citys'.

Located at 682 Queen Street East, Dark Horse is the newcomer to the Toronto scene. It's a hip and fashionable place, nicely done up with a very large community table forcing normally introverted Torontonians to get to know each other. There's a big Elektra espresso machine which will, no doubt, force ghasts amongst the La Marzocco/Synesso elitists of the Third Wave.

The espresso was nice. Rich, dark, slightly astringent but relatively pleasant.

Just down the street a few blocks at 915 Queen Street East is Mercury Organic. These guys are pretty serious about their coffee and their commitment to sustainability and all things organic - to the point of re-using the materials left over from the previous tenant to create their new interior. However, that same commitment to all things green stumbles a bit when you hear their tale about why they cannot choose alternative roasters: because of the petroleum impact on the environment caused by shipping roasted coffee.

But Odd Things Green are not what we're interested in talking about. We're interested in coffee and the espresso was quite enjoyable. Dark, mysterious and quite bright. So bright that it reminded me of Stumptown's Hairbender. While I'm not a fan of bright espresso, I found Mercurys' shot to be quite tasty - and with good mouthfeel.

Like I've discussed in previous posts, I prefer to remain relatively incognito when visiting coffee shops where I don't know the people. Same went during this trip. I'm just another average customer coming in for a shot of espresso and a little chit-chat. Alex, the owner, was very friendly and open to discussing all things coffee and all things Mercury. It's nice to meet passionate people in our industry.

An odd thing happened during our discussion. Alex mentioned that he really wanted to try this drink he had read about in Barista Magazine. A drink where the barista mixed coffee and tobacco...

To be honest, I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was my drink he was talking about. I just didn't know how without it coming off as braggadocio. I just made some soft suggestions on preparation, recalling what I had read in the article. It was a funny, humorous and humbling experience, especially since I find it an honor that anyone would want to recreate one of our drinks.

A short distance from the East Side, where the Third Wave is taking root in Toronto, to 89 Granby Street is Bulldog Espresso. Bulldog is the home of Ross, the Central Region Canadian Barista Champion 2005. It's a cool little shop that's nicely decorated and features a large gold tone espresso machine that dominates the room. Things look well thought out and remind me of Espresso Vivace in Seattle. The bulldog, of course, is the central theme and I loved the logo and wanted one of their t-shirts to send to my brother in L.A. (they've got two bulldogs). Unfortunately, Bulldog doesn't accept credit cards so I was unable to purchase a t-shirt.

This was New Year's Eve and while I hate to make excuses, it was just about closing time for Bulldog when we rolled in so perhaps they were tearing things down and the espresso-making wasn't at their 100% game. That said, I found the espresso to be definitely sour and astringent, to the point that it was almost undrinkable but I consumed it anyway. Of the three, it was the toughest to drink and I certainly look forward to going back on another trip to Toronto when they're at the peak of their day to get a proper espresso.

Barista Matt is a hardcore kind of chap. To the point that he's got a Clover 1s set up in his condo. That's right, children, I said "in his condo." Not satisfied with something as pedestrian as a French Press, aeropress, or God Forbid, a drip brewer, Matt's got the Real Deal Clover 1s with 220volts of power and a Ditting grinder to match.

Veterans of the Podcast. and The Forum Which Shall Not Be Named know that I'm kinda skeptical about the Clover replacing drip in a busy cafe environment. It's considerably expensive (about US$11,000) and slow (when compared to drip speed), which makes it a hard choice and I'm looking forward to how the twin Clover setup at Cafe Grumpy's Chelsea location performs.

I had the opportunity to sample the original Clover 1 during its' debut at CoffeeFest Seattle 2005. The coffee it produced was remarkable but it's that price point that always makes me pause. But here was the chance to see the 1s up close and personal with someone who has been on the leading edge of Clover brewing since it's release (Matt previously worked as a barista at Elysian Room in Vancouver, BC - a major promoter of Clover).

We spent a few hours just making cup after cup, with a variety of techniques and comparing Clover brewed coffee to that of pressed (the method we use at Spro Coffee). Compared the same coffee at different parameters (i.e. brew temps, brew times, etc) and I have to report (although it may seem late in the game to some) that the Clover is very impressive. I'm tempted to go out and buy one straight away. Unfortunately, that desire is quelled by the Clover's price tag.

So there it is, I'm a Clover fan. I dig what it can do. I dig the coffee it can produce. I love the ability to control the parameters for the coffee. But I'm no fan of the US$11,000 price tag. At $4,000 it would be nearly a no-brainer and I'd have sold one of my La Marzoccos to finance a Clover, but alas it will have to wait until another day.

Ce la vie...

In closing, I found the coffee scene in Toronto to be very promising. But about the espresso...

I found the espresso scene to still be in its' infancy stage. While the espressos I tried were decent, none of them were stellar and I think this has to do with blend of coffees that they're using in Toronto. Like the rest of the East Coast, the scene and development of coffee is about ten years behind Seattle. They're working hard and trying but it's going to take some time for things to develop and mature. When it comes to espresso, I prefer rich body, complexity, chocolate, fruits and a bit of nuttiness - a deep, complex coffee to appreciate. Their time will come.

Another interesting thing I found was the dominance of Elektra espresso machines. They're heat exchangers and can pull some tasty espresso. Alex remarked that he's looking forward to jumping on the Synesso bandwagon but I'm not sure if that's absolutely necessary.

Overall, I had a great trip to Toronto. Got to see some old friends. Hung out with passionate coffee people. Visited the distillery tourist district, saw a very wild-looking BMW dealership, drove 140kph on the 401 and ate Douglas Fir truffles (very tasty, but don't ask). Thanks to Barista Matt, Alex, Deanna and Michael Empacher for giving me a tour of the Fresh Coffee Network and Merchants of Green Coffee. A good trip and I look forward to returning.

Sunday, January 07, 2007



A Fine Woman, Fine Foie & Steak Frites - What more can a man ask for?

Montreal is a pretty city filled with French-speaking people, French things and, presumably, tasty French food. Montreal is a city known for its' food and its' people who have a fanaticism about good food. Heck, even the plain Sealtest butter is better than what we have in "The States."

Readers of this blog know that I'm a fan of French brasserie food with my frequent visits to Washington D.C.'s Les Halles. With that in mind, N. decided that I would enjoy L'Express.

L'Express has been noted as "the heart and soul of Montreal." Like Bistro du Coin, it's a busy place. Packed, usually. One needs reservations because it's so busy. Located in the Latin Quarter at 3927 Rue Saint-Denis, L'Express is decidedly red. If one imagines what a French brasserie is like, it must look like L'Express. Marble tables, old chairs, string lights, a long bar, stark walls that resonate audio, making it a noisy environment. The only thing missing are people puffing away on cigarettes and cigars (thanks to American-style Gestapo Lawmaking).

The menu is wide and varied, but a little odd for this American. They offer you two sheets of paper. The first has a litany of menu items that are listed in column order. The second is a handwritten menu with prices. At first, I didn't know what was going on. Was it like those diners back in America that have everything under the sun? That's when N. told me that the printed sheet had "all" their menus and the handwritten one with the prices was tonight's actual menu. I guess they're tempting you for future visits.

Like our Les Halles excursions, I wanted to go ballistic. "Bring it on!" I wanted to tell our waiter, but I didn't want to scare N., so moderation was the theme of the evening. But oh, how I wish I could have brought a large group and ordered everything on the menu. The steak tartare was so tempting. As were the mussels. In the end, I stuck with something a bit more sane: the foie gras and an order of Steak Frites.

Service comes and goes at L'Express. I wish they came by the table more often but the water glasses were kept relatively full and the orange wedges with my Coca-Cola were a nice touch.

Bread and butter is the mainstay of any restaurant experience and the butter was warm and ready to spread over the crusty and slightly crispy baguette. Soon, a large jar of pickeled cornichons appeared with wood tongs. These little cornichons are just perfect: slightly crispy without being soggy and nice and vinegar-y.

The first course was Foie Gras with prunes. I was expecting a sauteed dish but this one was a cold slice of foie gras with prune gelee. One can claim to "love" foie gras but it's the eating of cold foie that separates the lovers from the pretenders. Rich in its' fatty excellence, cold foie is not something that you can eat en masse or very fast. Served with toasted bread rounds, it's a sensuous experience, but too rich to eat in one sitting. I reserved a large hunk for my drive home the next night.

In seemingly no time, the main course arrived: Steak Frites. The cut of onglet was different than that of Les Halles. At Les Halles, their cut is butterflied creating a seemingly larger cut that (I think) cooks slightly better. The onglet was a simple preparation with salt, pepper and butter and served with perfectly fried Frites and a side of seasoned butter for topping.

N. hit the nail on the head. The food was wonderful. It was as good, but different, than eating at Les Halles and I can't wait for another trip to Montreal.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

James Martin Cachero, 1965-2006

James Cachero

JC on Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia with his women - the way I prefer to remember him.

Received a midnight call almost two weeks ago from Ray Ray in Honolulu. Even with the time difference it seemed like an odd time to call - especially since I was lying in bed awaiting dreamland. It wasn't Rays' usual cheery voice greeting me that night, his voice was ashen. I knew exactly why he was calling. I just didn't know who.

James Cachero was an old friend. And he is dead. Evidently killed in a car crash in San Diego. Details are spotty at best. He was 41 years old and a 1983 graduate of Farrington High School in Honolulu.

I met James when I first got into cigars back in 1994-1995. He was one of the regulars at the original Don Pablo Smoke Shop in Kona Street behind Ala Moana Shopping Center. Every afternoon around 3pm (sometimes all day) a group of us would gather for a cigar (or four) welcomed by Ray Ray's warm hospitality (he was the manager at the time).

It was a good group of guys. Gary F. a sea mariner who had captained ocean-going vessels and was then preparing for a lengthy legal battle representing himself against an insurance company (he would later win), Andy A. would breeze in a few times a week in his jacked up Jeep and with his assistant Juvy in tow. There was also John S., a brilliant intellect who preferred shorts, t-shirt and slippahs and whose family had some sort of pulse on Hawaii politics. Kamu K. swept into the scene by eating a lit lighter. BobEsc had just started his humanitarian work at MAC Cosmetics. Gene P. was a social worker who spent his mornings helping local people and his afternoons puffing on extremely large cigars. Joe K. was the crazy plaza security guard who hailed from Detroit and shared funny tales about Karmann Ghias and used porcelain toilets. Dale N. was the other manager who had a funky obsession for Filipino women and was obsessed about pipes. Ben M., a Honolulu police officer as handsome as Duke Kahanamoku, drove a bad-assed custom Harley. Frank O. shot photographs in the daytime while moonlighting at Alfred Dunhill and deejay at a local strip club.

It was a motley crew of great people - many of whom I still consider friends today. Mixed in with everyone was James - a strange if not lovable sort of Filipino who had a penchant for "The Colonies" dressed in caucasian sailing attire (is there anything other than caucasian sailing attire?), a taste for blondes, shot photographs for an unspecified photo agency and regaled us with dubious tales of adventures from around the world.

One was never sure on the authenticity of these adventures, but the stories were as entertaining as they were fascinating. Many times, the rest of us would wonder whether or not they were true. But unlike most made-up stories, Cachero's stories never changed: the details remained the same. One just never knew for sure if they were absolute fact or the work of a brilliant storyteller.

There was the story of James joining a crew in San Diego then sailing to Honolulu in something as audacious as four days (when the current record was seven). Or traveling the world to photograph the Gulf War when all we ever saw were photos shot in and around Honolulu. Or the time he flew back to Honolulu from Indonesia in the time it took me to fly from Baltimore. As the years would pass, James would take flight back into the world of photojournalism and every once in a while one would receive shrouded calls from places like Russia, Indonesia, or some other Eastern Bloc country under politico-social reform. One was never sure if he really was in Belarus or hanging out at Long's Drugs.

Whatever the reality, James was always a friend. He had crazy stories but he was always a good friend. I can't say that I was always as good a friend to him as he was to me.

In the late 1990s, Roy C. decided that he would put a little journalistic focus on James' stories by compiling what they called "The X Files" - a dossier of collected stories and sightings. At first, I found it humorous and interesting that there would now be a repository for all the great adventures. In time, the focus changed, becoming aggressive and more than a bit mean-spirited. I was no longer living in Honolulu so I didn't participate in the information gathering, but I didn't do anything to discourage The X Files, which probably makes me worse. Unlike me, Ray Ray would have nothing to do with The X Files. To him, it was disrespectful and disloyal to a good friend. Personally, I used the excuse that I lived away so I couldn't do anything about it. I could have. I should have. I just didn't. Which makes me more of a sonofabitch than the rest.

Unlike the FBI, the X Files came to light with Roy confronting James with the "evidence." I wasn't there but it couldn't have been good. Betrayed by those who he believed were his friends, James relocated to Southern California.

I didn't see James much since he moved to SoCal. Every once in a while, I would fly into L.A. and James would always make time to drive in from wherever he was and hang out - into late hours of the night. He introduced me to the crazy scene at Tommy Burger at Beverly and Rampart. We hung out in Westwood where he met my old friend Lisa G. He came down to the wilds of Inglewood to take my brother and I to Best Buy during a 12 hour stopover coming back from Manila.

As much as we may pretend that it's not true, our friends influence us. As individuals, we take what we like and incorporate that into our own profile. That was true for me with James. His profession in photography renewed my interest. His love for sailing encouraged me to explore that sport and find a love for it of my own. He helped me gain membership into the Waikiki Yacht Club (of which I am still a member today) and his taste for khakis, button downs and deck shoes fueled my own sartorial pursuits. With all my friends, there's something in them that I respect and admire, and it was true in my friendship with James.

I'd like to think that this transfer of passions worked both ways. While James had always been a staunch still photo person, I'd like to think that it was my work in the film business that helped encourage him to pursue that field. As the years would pass, James would call to tell me that he was finding more work in Hollywood, from small indie shoots to episodic television shows like Veronica Mars. The Seed worked with him on a couple indie shoots while living in L.A. and reported that James made some mistakes on the set, but as anyone who pushes their craft knows - when you're pushing your craft and learning new things, you are bound to make mistakes. Otherwise, you just never learn.

I hope he found happiness and love in his life. He only hinted that he was once married to a blonde. He never said much, but it didn't sound pleasant. In later years, he would imitate me by chasing a younger woman in Indonesia. Don't know whatever became of that but I hope he found someone because I think it's a bit sad to live a life worth living and have no one to share it with.

The last time I spoke to James was in November when he called me at work. I was working the bar at Spro Coffee and had to put him on hold a couple of times while I attended to customers. He was telling me about a recent shoot where they were forced to work 36 hours straight on 7th Heaven. It sounded crazy. It sounded dubious - especially for a union show. But it was grand and James always had a flair for the grand.

Back in 1996, James came out to Baltimore to spend Thanksgiving with the family. Back then, we had extended group gatherings of which I think James enjoyed immensely. Since it was close to Thanksgiving again, I told him that if he had the time to fly out he was always welcome to stay.

That was the last time I spoke with him. According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the Honolulu Advertiser, James was killed on December 12, 2006 in San Diego, not long after we had spoken.

It's a weird thing when your friends pass before you. It's sad. You're glad it's not you. You hope that when your time comes, there will be people to remember you and allow the spirit of who you were live on. James is gone and that's a sad occasion. We'll never share a smoke together again. I'll never find out if the stories were real but he lives on and through Sybercouch where he has reposited a series of photos that quash many of the questions of The X Files.

There's always the thought that if you had the chance to see that person again, things would be different. If I had another chance to sit down with James, would anything be different? No, I don't think so. I can see it now: James, Ray Ray, John, Frank and myself sitting down with Cuban cigars at a resurrected Havana Cabana and nothing would be different. The stories would still be the same. We'd still sit around wondering how much of it was real. We'd wonder why James was so secretive about his passport.

But the truth is that no matter how many questions there may have been, we don't really want to know the truth. That's not what's important. What's important is our friendship together. Our camaraderie together. A friendship that has transcended time and distance and maintains a tight brotherhood regardless of what's happened through the years.

James' funeral services are being held right now as I finish writing this. 9:30am at St. John The Baptist Church in Kalihi and internment at Valley of the Temples. His family will be there - a family none of us has ever met, but hope to someday. All the glitz, glamour and wild storytelling has come down to these final moments - a verifiable event in a friend's life that has been anything but verifiable. I can't make it because of schedule and the cost of airfare ($1700), but the truth is: this is the one story that I don't want to believe is real.

Aloha e James.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Marching at the Marche

Just when I'm starting to think that I'm getting a grasp on this foodie thing, I do something foolish: like visiting Montreal.

Spent about 42 hours in Montreal this week on a quick stop after the New Year's festivities in Toronto to see N. She's doing well and while she spent her days recovering from illness, I spent the day wandering around the city trying not to say too much because my French is just horrible (as in hor-ree-bleh).

My tour of Montreal brought me to Marche Jean-Talon. It's one of, if not the, biggest open-air markets in the city and nestled in the heart of Little Italy - although there were more than a fair number of halal shops and Thai markets.

I fancy myself someone who knows about food. Someone who can apprciate life's finer appointments. A man who has sampled life's delicacies. I fancied myself glitzing around the market and choosing basketfuls of pates, cuts of meat, cheeses, breads and other fanciful foodstuffs - a veritable orgy of "the good stuff." My vision had me choosing a wise variety of jams made from clementines, bilberries, apricot, bitter oranges, plums, melons and being labelled un vrai connoisseur de confiture by an attractive female mademoiselle who would pass me her phone number because she was so impressed with my culinary prowess.

That vision was shattered as I toured Marche Jean-Talon. I had been served.

All those meals at Les Halles and books on French cuisine does not aptly prepare one for a shopping excursion at the local marche. It was a dizzying array of foodstuffs, in a language I could barely understand and I was the hapless guy trying figure out what was going on.

Every shop I entered was filled with tasty goodies but since I had no foundation in the finer points of olive oil, jams or cheese, I was lost and swimming. Just what do those grades of amber in Maple syrup mean? I don't know. White honey - huh? Look, a patisserie and they have that opera cake they're calling l'opera - and the boulangerie with French Bread (baguette).

After wandering around and familiarizing myself for a little while, my hyperventilation started to slow and I started to enjoy the marche shopping experience. Most importantly, I started purchasing!

I started at the pommes dealer with a large jug of #1 Maple syrup and a jar of golden honey. "Bonjour, merci" I mumbled trying to remain incognito. I could complete a sale but the problem was that I didn't know how to say "how much is this?"

After a quick bite of a beef and pork pie with leek soup, I was ready to hit the aisles again. Behind me is a crepe stand, over to the left is the egg expert, to the right is an immensely large cheese shop, next to that is an olive and spice shop, two doors over is a coffee roaster, and around the corner is a florist and a fresh pasta shop.

But, oh my gosh - what is that over there??? A pork store??? Alright, now I don't care what the Bible might say, but the French are God's Chosen People.

One of the biggest problems of shopping in this kind of environment is United States Customs and Agriculture. While those langoustines look absolutely fabulous and those eggs look incredibly edible, they'll probably be confiscated at The Border and I'll be S.O.L. This reality unfortunately tempers ones' shopping excursion.

In the end, I left with sacks filled with honey, maple syrup, bleu confiture, porc confit, truffle pate, confit du canard, dried cherries, baguettes and rabbit pate.

How glorious!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Visions For A New Year

It's New Year's Day and I've awaken from my slumber surrounded by the cacophy of children playing, infants crying and so-called adult males cooking up a storm while the women attend to the children and exchange happy gossip.

A new year has dawned in Toronto where it's pretty cold outside and Christine has some interesting news. Turns out she's never dreamt about me until last night. In her dream, all of us are together and I'm with some beautiful Asian girl. Since she's never dreamt about me, she's sure that this girl is "The One."

"The One" is supposedly beautiful, which leaves me with a few choices from my current array of casual dates. She's also supposedly really nice - which eliminates R. from the aforementioned group. Outside of those details there's little else. No facial descriptions. No names. No other clues to help me figure out this puzzle.

So I grab my computer and start pulling up images of potential "The Ones." Nothing.

In her dream, "The One" and I are together and it's our interaction that tells Christine that she's "The One."

Hmmm, I wonder: Which One?