Sunday, November 30, 2014

Where is the Mystery Spot?

After eating at our favorite Laili Restaurant in Santa Cruz, we decided to find out more about the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. I have always often observed bumper stickers on cars with "Mystery Spot" writing, but never understood the enduring fascination.

The drive to the Mystery Spot is not too hard, though the road is winding and one way in places. The day we explored Mystery Spot was quite rainy but luckily nothing heavy came down while we were walking.

The whole place seems to be built on illusions and there are experiments that are performed that try to show that things don't follow the normal physical laws here.

According to Wikipedia:
The Mystery Spot is a gravity hill, a tilt-induced visual illusion. The illusion experienced by visitors results from the oddly tilted environment as well as standing on a tilted floor. Inside the tilted room of the Mystery Spot, misperceptions of the height and orientation of objects occur.
Even when people are standing outside on a level ground, the slant of the building in the background causes misperceptions as humans judge the height of people using the slant of the roof rather than the true horizon.[1]

Our guide made the walk through the slanted homes memorable and entertaining. Here is a short video of some experiments:

The small shacks are built unevenly on a hill and everything is not built in proper proportion.

Alex could do some interesting walking on sloping walls.

It looks like he should be falling but he does not. Jane also had an interesting position.

The ball attached to the rope also behaves a bit odd.

One can do some interesting tricks here. Hey spider man!

There are some visual illusions that make people appear shorter or taller.

Well, it was a bit of fun (to try once).

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review: La Boheme for Families

Today, we went to see the 12;00pm performance of La Boheme for Families at the San Francisco Opera in the War Memorial Opera House.

We had great seats in the second row and enjoyed sitting close to the orchestra and the stage.

The production was well presented and the costumes and the sets were really exceptional. However, the singers, especially Rodolfo (sung  by Eric Margiore ), were a bit weak and did not have the strong voices necessary for these parts. I recalled many of the same songs sung by Luciano Pavarotti and these were not of the same caliber. The voices sung by the actresses playing the roles of Mimi (Julie Adams) and Musetta (Maria Valdes) were not bad at all.

I enjoyed the performance but I am not sure that this morose material is especially delightful to young children.


RoleVoice type
(Conductor: Dennis Doublin)
Rodolfo, a poettenorEric Margiore
Mimì, a seamstresssopranoJulie Adams
Marcello, a painterbaritoneJoo Won Kang
Musetta, a singersopranoMaria Valdes
Schaunard, a musicianbaritoneEffrain Solis
Colline, a philosopherbassScott Conner
Benoît, their landlordbassDale Travis
Alcindoro, a state councillorbassDale Travis
Parpignol, a toy vendortenorChester Pidduck
A customs SergeantbassBojan Knezevic
Students, working girls, townsfolk, shopkeepers, street-vendors, soldiers, waiters, children

According to Wikipedia, the opera can be described as follows:


Place: Paris
Time: Around 1830.[12]

Rodolfo's garret – set design for act 1 of La bohème for the world premiere performance.

Act 1

In the four bohemians' garret
Marcello is painting while Rodolfo gazes out of the window. They complain of the cold. In order to keep warm, they burn the manuscript of Rodolfo's drama. Colline, the philosopher, enters shivering and disgruntled at not having been able to pawn some books. Schaunard, the musician of the group, arrives with food, wine and cigars. He explains the source of his riches: a job with an eccentric English gentleman, who ordered him to play his violin to a parrot until it died. The others hardly listen to his tale as they set up the table to eat and drink. Schaunard interrupts, telling them that they must save the food for the days ahead: tonight they will all celebrate his good fortune by dining at Cafe Momus, and he will pay.
The friends are interrupted by Benoît, the landlord, who arrives to collect the rent. They flatter him and ply him with wine. In his drunkenness, he begins to boast of his amorous adventures, but when he also reveals that he is married, they thrust him from the room—without the rent payment—in comic moral indignation. The rent money is divided for their evening out in the Quartier Latin.

Problems playing these files? See media help.
Marcello, Schaunard and Colline go out, but Rodolfo remains alone for a moment in order to finish an article he is writing, promising to join his friends soon. There is a knock at the door. It is a girl who lives in another room in the building. Her candle has blown out, and she has no matches; she asks Rodolfo to light it. She is briefly overcome with faintness, and Rodolfo helps her to a chair and offers her a glass of wine. She thanks him. After a few minutes, she says that she is better and must go. But as she turns to leave, she realizes that she has lost her key. Her candle goes out in the draught and Rodolfo's candle goes out too; the pair stumble in the dark. Rodolfo, eager to spend time with the girl, to whom he is already attracted, finds the key and pockets it, feigning innocence. He takes her cold hand (Che gelida manina – "What a cold little hand") and tells her of his life as a poet, then asks her to tell him more about her life. The girl says her name is Mimì (Sì, mi chiamano Mimì – "Yes, they call me Mimì"), and describes her simple life as an embroiderer. Impatiently, the waiting friends call Rodolfo. He answers and turns to see Mimì bathed in moonlight (duet, Rodolfo and Mimì: O soave fanciulla – "Oh lovely girl"). They realize that they have fallen in love. Rodolfo suggests remaining at home with Mimì, but she decides to accompany him to the Cafe Momus. As they leave, they sing of their newfound love.

Act 2

Quartier Latin
Prop designs for act 2 of La bohème for the world premiere performance
A great crowd, including children, has gathered with street sellers announcing their wares (chorus: Aranci, datteri! Caldi i marroni! – "Oranges, dates! Hot chestnuts!"). The friends arrive; Rodolfo buys Mimì a bonnet from a vendor, while Colline buys a coat and Schaunard a horn. Parisians gossip with friends and bargain with the vendors; the children of the streets clamor to see the wares of Parpignol, the toy seller. The friends enter the Cafe Momus.
As the men and Mimì dine at the cafe, Musetta, formerly Marcello's sweetheart, arrives with her rich (and elderly) government minister admirer, Alcindoro, whom she is tormenting. It is clear she has tired of him. To the delight of the Parisians and the embarrassment of her patron, she sings a risqué song (Musetta's waltz: Quando me'n vo' – "When I go along"), hoping to reclaim Marcello's attention. The ploy works; at the same time, Mimì recognizes that Musetta truly loves Marcello. To be rid of Alcindoro for a bit, Musetta pretends to be suffering from a tight shoe and sends him to the shoemaker to get her shoe mended. Alcindoro leaves, and Musetta and Marcello fall rapturously into each other's arms.
The friends are presented with their bill. Schaunard's purse has gone missing and no one else has enough money to pay. The sly Musetta has the entire bill charged to Alcindoro. The sound of a military band is heard, and the friends leave. Alcindoro returns with the repaired shoe seeking Musetta. The waiter hands him the bill and, dumbfounded, Alcindoro sinks into a chair.

Act 3[edit]

At the toll gate at the Barrière d'Enfer (late February)
Peddlers pass through the barriers and enter the city. Mimì appears, coughing violently. She tries to find Marcello, currently living in a little tavern where he paints signs for the innkeeper. She tells him of her hard life with Rodolfo, who abandoned her the night before, and of Rodolfo's terrible jealousy (O buon Marcello, aiuto! – "Oh, good Marcello, help me!"). Marcello tells her that Rodolfo is asleep inside, and expresses concern about Mimì's cough. Rodolfo wakes up and comes out looking for Marcello. Mimì hides and overhears Rodolfo first telling Marcello that he left Mimì because of her coquettishness, but finally confessing that his jealousy is a sham: he fears she is slowly being consumed by a deadly illness (most likely tuberculosis, known by the catchall name "consumption" in the nineteenth century). Rodolfo, in his poverty, can do little to help Mimì and hopes that his pretended unkindness will inspire her to seek another, wealthier suitor (Marcello, finalmente – "Marcello, finally"). Out of kindness towards Mimì, Marcello tries to silence him, but she has already heard all. Her weeping and coughing reveal her presence, and Rodolfo hurries to her. Musetta's laughter is heard and Marcello goes to find out what has happened. Mimì tells Rodolfo that she is leaving him, and asks that they separate amicably (Mimì:Donde lieta uscì – "From here she happily left"); but their love for one another is too strong for the pair to part. As a compromise, they agree to remain together until the spring, when the world is coming to life again and no one feels truly alone. Meanwhile, Marcello has found Musetta, and the couple quarrel fiercely about Musetta's flirtatiousness: an antithetical counterpoint to the other pair's reconciliation (quartet: Mimì, Rodolfo, Musetta, Marcello: Addio dolce svegliare alla mattina! – "Goodbye, sweet awakening in the morning!").

Act 4

Back in the garret (some months later)
Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti (1907 recording)

Problems playing these files? See media help.
Marcello and Rodolfo are trying to work, though they are primarily talking about their girlfriends, who have left them and found wealthy lovers. Rodolfo has seen Musetta in a fine carriage and Marcello has seen Mimì dressed like a queen. The men both express their nostalgia (duet: O Mimì, tu più non torni – "O Mimì, will you not return?"). Schaunard and Colline arrive with a very frugal dinner and all parody eating a plentiful banquet, dance together and sing, before Schaunard and Colline engage in a mock duel. Musetta suddenly appears; Mimì, who took up with a wealthy viscount after leaving Rodolfo in the spring, has left her patron. Musetta found her that day in the street, severely weakened by her illness, and Mimì begged Musetta to bring her to Rodolfo. Mimì, haggard and pale, is assisted onto a bed. Briefly, she feels as though she is recovering. Musetta and Marcello leave to sell Musetta's earrings in order to buy medicine, and Colline leaves to pawn his overcoat (Vecchia zimarra – "Old coat"). Schaunard leaves with Colline to give Mimì and Rodolfo some time together. Mimì tells Rodolfo that her love for him is her whole life (aria/duet, Mimì and Rodolfo: Sono andati? – "Have they gone?"). To Mimì's delight, Rodolfo presents her with the pink bonnet he bought her, which he has kept as a souvenir of their love. They remember past happiness and their first meeting—the candles, the lost key. Suddenly, Mimì is overwhelmed by a coughing fit. The others return, with a gift of a muff to warm Mimì's hands and some medicine. Mimì gently thanks Rodolfo for the muff, which she believes is a present from him, reassures him that she is better and falls asleep. As Musetta prays, Mimì dies. Schaunard realizes that Mimì has died. Rodolfo becomes aware that something is wrong. He rushes to the bed, calling Mimì's name in anguish, and weeps helplessly.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Relaxing at Wailea, Maui

Maui time!

We took the morning, 7:50am, flight from San Jose (aboard Hawaiian Airlines) HA45 to Kahului, Maui (OGG), arriving in Maui at 11:15am Hawaiian time. The flight lasted four and a half hours and went fairly smoothly. I was surprised that Hawaiian Airlines actually provided breakfast on the plane. Most airlines charge for food and only provide peanuts or crackers.

Once we landed and collected our belongings, we went to pick up our Budget Rental Car. We chose a red Nissan Altima, which has become a much larger vehicle (Inna's older 1997 Nissan Altima was much smaller). The Budget car rental was part of the vacation package we booked at Costco.

Since renting boogie boards and beach chairs can be quite expensive at Maui resorts, we stopped by at the local Costco to pick up a Body Glove boogie board for Alex and two Tommy Bahama beach chairs. It turned out that we could rent beach chairs and umbrella cheaper at the Marriott resort, so we ended up returning the unused beach chairs. We did pick up some Hawaiian chocolate covered macadamia nuts and taro chips to snack on. To save time, we ended up eating a quick lunch at Costco. Alex had a slice of pizza and I had a large hot dog.

From here, we drove to the Wailea Marriott Beach Resort and Spa, in Wailea, where we made reservations for 7 nights.

When we arrived at Wailea Marriott, our room was not ready, so we changed into swim wear and went to the pools, to enjoy the remains of the beautiful day.

After watching the beautiful sunset, we decided to have dinner at Cafe O'Lei in Kihei. I shared a "Ceviche" appetizer with Inna.

For my entree, I ordered a tomato salad with Buffalo mozzarella.

For entrees, we split an order of Macadamia crusted Mahi-Mahi.

After dinner, we drove back to our Marriott Wailea hotel and went to bed.

Sunday, November 10, 2014

After getting up early in the morning, we went for a short walk along the shore. Afterwards, we ate breakfast at Mala restaurant in Wailea Marriott. Although the waiters and waitresses at Mala are friendly and attentive, I did not like the selection or the quality of the food at Mala. Overall, it's acceptable, but does not compare favorably against the selections in Duo (Four Seasons) or Fairmont Kea Lani. Since we had the included breakfast package, we ate there because of convenience only.

After finishing breakfast, we went to the beautiful Wailea Beach and enjoyed swimming and boogie boarding in the waves.

After a few hours, we went back to our room and then walked to our favorite spot for lunch - Ferraro's Bar e Ristorante in Four Seasons.

Ferraro's has delicious pizza and freshly made lemonade. The quality and service are always top notch, but the prices are also very high.

I had the "Gazpacho" cold tomato soup, while Alex enjoyed his pizza.

After lunch, we went to play ping-pong and foosball in Four Season's game room. Inna played really well and beat both Alex and me.

Alex played foosball with me and won two times.Afterwards, he played some PS4 racing game in the next room. After resting a bit, we went back to our hotel room.

Later on, we went back to the Marriott pools, to enjoy the beautiful sunset.

The sun set around 5:30pm and was beautifully reflected in the pool and the ocean.

Inna went for a short swim in the Infinity pool and enjoyed the sunset.

After sunset,we walked to the main pool, where Alex and Inna swam and enjoyed the hot tubs.

For dinner, we decided to try the Tiki Lounge in Kihei and it was a fairly decent restaurant with reasonable prices (especially for alcoholic drinks).

Monday, November 11, 2014

As usual, we woke up early in the morning and did our normal stroll to the Fairmont Kea Lani hotel, along the beautiful beach side trail. We reminisced spending our honeymoon here in October, 2001. The Fairmont hotel has changed a lot and has become more luxurious.

Fairmont Kea Lani has many beautiful fountains, flowers, and gardens, and we stopped there to take a closer look. These fountains were new to us.

The gardens had many beautiful flowers blooming and I took a few photos.

After the walk, we had are usual uninspiring breakfast at Mala in Wailea Marriott, and then we rushed to the Wailea beach to enjoy the waves.

After boogie boarding, we went to Ferraro's Bar e Restaurante in Four Seasons for lunch.

After lunch, we spent a relaxing day by the infinity pool in Wailea Marriott, and enjoyed another gorgeous Maui sunset.

Tuesday, November 12, 2014

In the morning, we did our usual routine of going on an early morning walk along the shore. We saw a lot of stand up paddle-boarders (SUP) doing yoga on the water.

We enjoyed another beautiful Maui morning and breathed in the humid air. Mornings are the best time to walk or run, before the temperature gets too hot in the afternoon.

After breakfast at Mala, we went for another day at the beach. I decided to work out in Wailea Marriott's gym before lunch while Alex and Inna enjoyed boogie boarding and swimming.

The gym in Wailea Marriott is indoor and well cooled. I worked out for about an hour, doing the elliptical machines and then weights. Afterwards, I returned to the beach for a quick swim and lunch in Ferraro's.

Alex ordered another pizza - he never got tired of these!

Inna ordered a wrap, which was deliciously prepared, as usual.

I had another bowl of delicious Gazpacho.

After lunch, we played ping pong in Four Season's game room and relaxed by the pools. We also stopped by Lappert's Ice Cream in the nearby Shops at Wailea for Maui's favorite ice cream. Our favorite flavors were  Kauai Pie and Heavenly Hana.

I wanted to finish my Coursera Class - Python for Beginners. I had to complete my asteroid game - Ricerocks to get full credit. Happily, it was not too difficult and I got it working while sitting in Starbucks. You can play it now by clicking on the above link.

We always enjoyed watching the sunsets. After all, how many sunsets does one experience in one's life?

For dinner, we decided to try the local Pita Paradise. It has moved to a new location and we wanted to try it out.

Wednesday, November 13, 2014