Tuesday, November 20, 2012

House of Air

Last year Nika asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I told her I'd like something we could do together. Brilliantly, she gave me an invitation to a place called House of Air. It's a trampoline park, but not exactly what I had in mind.

The last time I remember bouncing on trampolines, I must have been in college. I went somewhere that had a few trampolines lined up side to side and we jumped up and down until we got bored. This time was completely different. These guys are to trampolines what Turkey is to baklava. After our safety briefing, Nika and I bounced into the Matrix, a huge room with a 4x7 matrix of trampolines on the floor and more trampolines angled against the walls all around.

I stepped in and bounced up and down, which worked about the way I remembered. Progressing, I tried to jump from one trampoline to the next, but landed on the padding between them. I succeeded, more or less, the second time but landed poorly and wanted to stop bouncing, which I had forgotten how to do. Failing, I fell down. Nika reminded me that I could stop by bending my knees as I landed, so I felt prepared to do tricks.

My favorite trick in childhood was the seat drop, but I didn't do so well with my first efforts. I should have been doing more stretching, because I had a hard time coming down with my torso sufficiently vertical. Knee drops came more naturally, but by the end of our hour I was doing combinations and even flips.

House of Air offers variety, however, and we migrated onto the dodgeball court, where adolescent kids pummeled us with big foam balls. After a few games we began throwing the balls more accurately and dodging more successfully, but the kids always ended up winning. Not that we cared. We were having lots of fun. Nika even thought to take pictures of the festivities, but I had hidden her phone so well that she couldn't find it. You'll just have to imagine me flying around like Batman. I should really go back, with a camera. Maybe next trip.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Driving to Hana

A couple of days ago we took Peter and Elena on a road trip. I really like to go to Hana, more for the process of getting there than for the destination itself. But it's a long drive on a narrow and winding coastal road, Alla's afraid of heights, and there are parts of the road that freak her out. It's worth it and we keep going back, but this time we decided to make it easier by finding a place to stay overnight in Hana.

On the way down, we took the usual stops at waterfalls, high coastal overlooks, rocky shores, sandy beaches, an arboretum, and a barbecue. The barbecue was special. A Hawaiian fellow set up a big open grill at one of the turnouts where we happened to stop. We had a picnic lunch with us, but the cooking chicken smelled really good. I don't remember what kind of wood the man was cooking over, but it's Hawaiian and he told us that it imparted a mesquite-like flavor. He offered me a plate of a dish called huli-huli chicken. I'd never heard of this, but I trusted the aroma and bought a half chicken. I'm glad it was half of a big chicken, and we all wished we'd bought a whole bird.

We took our hot chicken down the road to a YMCA camp. Unable to find anybody to give us permission, we sat down anyway at a picnic table overlooking taro fields and the ocean and feasted on fruits, a few cold cuts, and huli-huli chicken. We really loved the chicken, and I found a recipe online when I came home. I think it's worth trying on my own. Can we buy frozen concentrated pineapple juice in Boston? I sure hope so.

Come to think of it, my major triumphs on this trip all had something to do with food. Knowing that there aren't many restaurants in Hana, I bought some delicious chili at a roadside restaurant a few miles before town. Nobody else wanted to eat yet, and I felt pretty well off when we discovered that a good dinner would cost more than we wanted to pay. I had eaten enough to skip dinner altogether, but I didn't have to.

I'll skip the details of a long story, but Peter disappeared on the way home from our restaurant reconnaissance trip. Once it became clear to Alla and me that we wouldn't find him soon, we ran off with the money Elena had in her pocket and went looking for a grocery store. There are two stores in Hana, but neither sold anything we'd be willing to call dinner. I explained our predicament to the cashier and asked her if there weren't anyplace in town where we could buy some fish. She sent us down to the baseball field, where she said we could buy grilled ahi. Indeed we could. We introduced ourselves to Captain Brad, who had caught the fish that day and was cooking it over a gas grill. We spent all of Elena's money and came home with five beautiful pieces of fish and some salad. When we finally got to our apartment, we found Peter and Elena reunited and we enjoyed a delicious dinner together.

We didn't eat so well on the way home, but we finished with a beautiful sunset over numerous surfers. You can see the last rays of the sunset below:

Monday, November 5, 2012

At the beach

Alla and I took our friends Peter and Elena to Kapalua Beach, our favorite of the ones nearby. I remembered that I liked it, but didn't remember all of it's good points until we got there. We knew it would be pretty, the water would be calm and warm, and the sand soft and wide. I forgot, however, how much is happening under the water there. I spent far too long trying to inflate an air mattress, and when I finally went for a swim I rediscovered a wonderful world of colorful fish swimming around the coral just off shore. I swam back and forth in swim goggles, fascinated by the variety of life underneath me. I don't know much about what I was looking at, beyond broad categories. Fish, of course, in many varieties, and sea urchins and two kinds of sea cucumber. I stayed in shallow water because I haven't got any snorkel gear with me and couldn't dive to investigate the deeper stuff. I'll rent some snorkel gear tomorrow.

As I swam slowly back to my starting point, I lifted my head out of the water to check my bearings. Just ahead of me, I saw a black hump above the surface. At first I thought it was a swimmer in a wetsuit. Then I decided it might be a seal because it didn't move like a human. I put my face under water to see if I guessed right, and discovered that I was looking at a sea turtle. We looked at each other, about an arm's length apart. I didn't want to crowd the guy, or scare him, so I stayed still. The turtle put his head down and swam lazily toward me. As he approached, he submerged to stay just out of reach but he was close enough I could estimate his length. I think he may have been about four feet long, or 2/3 of my height. I watched and watched as the turtle doubled back and settled himself on the sea floor under an outcropping. Once he settled down there, it's unlikely I would have noticed him had I not known where to look.

I returned to shore. We had just settled down in a shady spot with our books, when Alla noticed that a couple of young women near us were speaking Russian. I looked and listened. Presently some others came to join these Russians, and there were four attractive young women and one lucky guy. I came over to ask him how he got so lucky to be the only guy among all those pretty women and learned that these were a few of a group of people from Ekaterinburg who had come to a destination wedding. They had arrrived a day ago after spending about 24 hours en route. I chatted for a while, returned to my book, and came back to chat some more. I particularly enjoyed talking with Svetlana, a Deacon at a major economic university . She wondered if I might be qualified to come as a guest lecturer, but I am not academically qualified. Peter, however, may be, and he's definitely got some interesting insights to share. It's too bad he doesn't speak Russian, but Elena offered to come along as his translator and we are all hoping for the best. At least we're having a great time imagining it.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Actually, I've been pretty relaxed. We had a huge hurricane last week, but where we live there's no chance of a tree falling on our house and we're nestled among a bunch of buildings about the same height so the wind mostly went over our heads. As the storm whipped itself toward its peak fury, I decided I'd better buy a bottle of milk before the store ran out of the stuff. Alla begged me not to leave home, certain that I'd meet my demise on the street. I went anyway, but her concern heightened my awareness of the tall trees twisting and turning overhead as I walked toward the corner store. I wondered if I could really run away from a falling branch if I even noticed it breaking off, and decided that maybe I didn't need to go down to harborside at high tide after all.

I'm grateful to say that we sustained no damage (beyond some already-weathered furniture covers on our roof deck.) Friends weren't so lucky, but all things considered I think Boston made out much better than cities in coastal New Jersey and New York.

I did look forward to relaxing, however, because Alla has been a little wound up. She doesn't like travel nearly as much as she likes being at interesting destinations. Right now we're en route to Maui, in the Hawaiian Islands. Alla packed her suitcase two days ago. Somehow she finds it difficult to decide what not to bring, so she likes to start early in order to have time to reflect on her luggage and add important things she remembers later. This means that she never forgets anything important, but sometimes things get doubled up or lost underneath something that proved to be extra and unused. I tried to stay out of that process as much as possible, but I can never steer completely clear.

Anyway, here we are. We might be the only people on the plane with no affiliation to Microsoft. Everybody else, as far as we can tell, is receiving this vacation as an award from that company. They all seem to have those fancy new Surface tablet computers and/or Windows Phones or at least some sort of computer running Windows 8. One wife of a Microsoft employee confessed that she uses an iPhone. I'm using an Android tablet. There are plenty of Kindles on the plane too. Apparently it's not heretical for a Microsoftie to have a Kindle.

Anyway, everybody is feeling jolly. When we get off the plane, we'll have warm, sunny weather and warm starry nights. And at least most of us won't have to work for a few days. It sounds pretty relaxing indeed.