Other preoccupations have taken up our time and energy which, unfortunately, has led to some neglect of the blog. Fortunately, I hope to amend that in the coming weeks (and years) hereafter.
We had a busy weekend filled with a mix of sadness and celebration.
Bad news first. One of my friends from high school, Brian Love, passed away and his wake was on Friday. Having attended the funeral of one of my best friends only two years prior, it was difficult to separate the emotions. It was tough to get through, but one of the most beautiful tributes that I have ever attended.
The funeral home was filled with his image: smiling, his arms around friends, family, and lovers, building houses, exploring the great outdoors hiking and camping, sailing, and performing martial arts. It is difficult to describe Brian to anyone that never met him. Heidi and I commented that he seems more a legend than a mortal, having accomplished and done so much in his (too) short life. But he was a person, and a great one at that. He carved a unique path for himself through his intelligence, perseverance, and a ceaseless wonder and questioning. Saying he could do anything he set his mind (and body) to is no understatement or exaggeration with him. I wrote a short personal tribute here.
Aside from the numerous images, there were all manner of the objects and things everyone who knew him at one time or another associated with him. Masks, a carpentry belt, necklaces, his “BeLove” flag, and his novel were just some of the accoutrements. It was an exhibit carefully arranged that honored a truly unique force of nature. Some people picked up and admired some of the items. They seemed too powerful for me to touch or grasp and I was satisfied to admire them with a personal reverence.
Following the wake, we had to pull ourselves together and allow ourselves to be inspired by Brian’s fearless spirit to play what was essentially our first true gig as Junkyard Heartstrings at Pub 32. We have played numerous times in public, getting our start with through frequent visits (though regrettably becoming less recurrent these days) to Open Mic at The Stomping Ground to get our start on stage and in front of crowds. We’re extremely fortunate to know good people in a local band, Static Cherry, that play acoustic shows and have let us sit in on their intermission with an 8-10 song set. We played with them a few times towards the end of last year, before we finally committed to purchasing our own equipment and bringing Junkyard Heartstrings out on our own.
We played an afternoon gig with a full set (36 songs) at The Stomping Ground about a month ago, but used their in-house system which didn’t require us to transport or use our sound equipment. Pub 32 was our first gig where we hauled our speakers, mixer, and stands, set it all up, and then had to finely tune our own sound levels. I think we were both anxious about it. We have confidence in our musical ability, but we’re also people who at times have to adapt to the mishaps and failures of technology in the classroom. We practiced setting up all the equipment in our living room and playing for our empty couch so we were comfortable with all the cables, knobs, and buttons. It was also the first time we would load all the equipment in my car. Fortunately, everything fit. Unfortunately, it was snowing that evening.
Anyone living in New England needs no reminder of the brutal winter we have been enduring. The timing for our gig seemed right: the vernal equinox marking the beginning of Spring, along with a total eclipse, and a supermoon. Although none of this was visible with the white precipitation that all of us have brushed, shoveled, and trudged through for the past months. It wasn’t terrible or derailing, but made for a hurried packing and slow drive to our destination. Pub 32 is located near the UConn (University of Connecticut) campus. Fortunately, we made it. Unfortunately, it was also Spring Break for the college.
The staff was very supportive and thankful for us making it out there, but it was a slow evening due to all the aforementioned factors. We decided to make the best of it and entertain who was there with as many songs as we could do. We began playing a little before 9pm and finished after 12am. No breaks. 47 songs. The people who braved the weather were amazing in their support and taking some time to chat with us (and even buy us a beer at the end!). It was a great test for us and we were proud that we came through and our listeners really enjoyed our tunes. We’re looking forward to our next gig at The Crossings Restaurant & Brew Pub on April 3rd.
Gigs obviously make for a late night which makes for a late start the next day, but I don’t think either of us has slept so well in months. Surely exhaustion through performance is the cure for my persistent insomnia. We decided to have a nice day out to celebrate a bit. Plus, I badly needed some jeans.
I hate shopping for clothes. I despise shopping in general. I have a few things that I buy/collect: vinyl records and posters. The list ends there. So, I try to avoid malls and any kind of place where the spending of money on other items is prevalent. However, after years of wear and tear (I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought pants), the inevitable came. We went to Providence Place Mall because it has a variety of stores, but also a lot of room and space to walk. Given the lengthy winter, our walks have taken a protracted hiatus. It became a good excuse to get some exercise.
After the mall (I won’t go into the details of denim trying and buying), we decided to refresh ourselves with a stop at Doherty’s East Avenue Irish Pub in Pawtucket, RI. We had never been there before, but with 80 or so beers on tap it seemed worth a little ride. It was a friendly and welcoming place with great service. No complaints from either of us. We enjoy taking some time out for a drink, but also as a chance to talk to each other. Given the pace of Friday it didn’t leave us a lot of time to process Brian‘s wake, our performance, or what was coming up for us. I’m not one to advocate any kind of relationship advice as every individual and coupling is unique and there is no ideal model or system, but I think taking some time out to talk over a drink is a great way to get in sync. Not a meal with large plates and a preoccupation with consuming food with utensils, but just two glasses (or mugs) between you. We spent quite a while chatting and needed to turn our attention to eating. We felt like making the occasion special and we don’t often have the opportunity to indulge in Spanish food.
One of our friends recently started bartending at Bocado in Providence. It was a revelation for us to learn that Bocado had a location in Providence. We’ve been to the Worcester location a few times and always left full and satisfied. Consuming paella and tapas seemed to be in our best interest so we headed over there. It’s tucked away in amidst brick warehouses in an industrial-looking section of town. After a short circle to debate parking (I could write a book on my parking philosophy, and I know Heidi loves me for tolerating the insane amount of thought and introspection that goes into where I believe one should temporarily leave their vehicle), we entered the restaurant. It is a beautiful space and very popular as our late dinner plans were met with a packed house. Some free seats at the bar instantly diminished our wait. Plus, the bar had the added benefit of not only having special “toothpick tapas” that allowed us to eat more at a reduced rate (is there anything better than saving money on delicious food?), but we ran into our friend as a result of sitting there. We ordered paella because frankly I don’t know why you’d get anything else at a Spanish restaurant (except for Iberian ham, that I understand). We even ordered dessert which is incredibly rare for us. Especially for Heidi who declines sweets and chocolates. She ordered the flan and I, not being one to advert my mouth from chocolatey goodness, proceeded to have the churros y chocolate. The bartender was especially friendly and brought over some smoked sea salt and recommended sprinkling it on the churros. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received in my life. In case it’s unclear in the blog articles we’ve posted thus far: we love food. I don’t think we thought this blog would revolve so heavily around dining, but here it is again. I can’t recommend this place or Spanish food highly enough.
Following all of this activity we spent Sunday at home. Although it wasn’t without its own charm and adventure. I had found some corn tortillas the other day at the store and bought them confident that Heidi could make something amazing with them. Fortunately, I was right. Unfortunately, well, I have nothing this time around. There is a great Mexican place some distance away from us in Willimantic, Tacos La Rosa. They hand-press their corn tortillas. We usually get some no frills steak tacos there that are incredible. They are made up of a small number of ingredients and massive (hot!) flavor aided by tomatillo sauce. Because of the distance and being in possession of corn tortillas, Heidi decided to try to make them at home. Perfection. Though store-bought tortillas can’t compete with skilled hands, they were amazing. It went much better than our last taco-related adventure (fish tacos) that resulted in great disappointment. I guess I have this one: Unfortunately, we still can’t make good fish tacos. But you can’t have it all.
Continuing this Mexican theme, we watched THE BOOK OF LIFE. It’s an animated film that centers around the Mexican celebration of Day of the Dead. Heidi, being a Spanish teacher, was excited, especially for something she could potentially use in class and would be a fun treat for her students. The film was different than we expected, but by no means was disappointing. It is a kids’ film after all and we don’t watch too many of them so who are we to know what the youngsters like to see?
The animation, created by Reel FX Creative Studios, was gorgeous. It might be one of the most beautifully crafted animated films that I’ve ever seen. The bold colors and sophisticated detail, especially on the main characters who are represented by wooden figures, were breathtaking. The studio has only two other feature film credits to its name, but I can’t wait to see what else they produce in the coming years. Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks often get the bulk of the animation credit and mainstream visibility so I hope they become a future contender with those powerhouses.
It was also nice to watch a youthful film that didn’t try to sell anything aside from culture and entertainment. There weren’t any product placements, it wasn’t based on a toy (THE LEGO MOVIE), or on an established franchise (SHREK or TOY STORY). It simply relied on a rich culture and the traditions associated with the Day of the Dead. Though the story and some elements were flawed, it had some wonderful touches with its marigold flowers (the flower of the dead) surrounding the main protagonist’s mother when he meets her in the underworld. Filled with similar intricate details (look for the morion, the helmet associated with the Spanish conquistadors), it more than makes up for any complaints about anything else in the film. If you want more solid character and storytelling than those are the departments where the larger animation studios triumph, but I’ll take more engaging formal elements, such as the visual composition, any day of the week.
This film was a pleasant way to round out the weekend. It was reassuring, given the beginning of the weekend, to be reminded that though some around us have gone, they are fortunately with us in our memories and actions.