Wednesday, April 30, 2008

India pictures

Mrs. VFR and I recently spent a few weeks in India. There will be much written about the trip, but here are a few of the pictures for starters:

These cats were fired up when I started taking pictures of them playing cricket. They followed us around the ruins of Talaquabad in Delhi quite a bit after that.

Amjer Fort in Jaipur. It reminded me of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

The Taj Mahal.

Two women working exchange a basket while working in Talaquabad.

The Arabian Sea on the shores of Varkala, a hippie beach town in the southern tip of India.

Papanasam Beach from the North Cliff, Varkala.

Fishing boat.
More reminders of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Mom and Baby elephant.

We spent a day on a bamboo raft trip in the Periyar Wildlife Reserve near Kumily in the southern state of Kerala, and passed one of the locals returning home with his day's catch.

"Care to buy a car, comrade?"


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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tampa tidbits

For those of you keeping track of my whereabouts, you know I had a tough decision to make last week while in Tampa, Fla.: Should I extend my trip to accommodate the one-night postponement of Springsteen's show or should I pack it in early and come home?

It was a tough decision. Staying the extra night would cost me a day at work and also cost some bills to rearrange flights and hotels.

Ultimately, I imagined myself reading the setlist in my office Wednesday morning. If I wasn't there, I knew I'd be pissed that I'd missed something cool.

So I stayed in Tampa the extra day. And it was absolutely the right call.

This was the first show since the death of E Street organist and accordion player extraordinare Danny Federici. As noted in my last post, I didn't know if Bruce could rally. But he did, and put on a hell of a show. He unearthed stuff from his early catalog and paid tribute to The Phantom.

Some highlights:
  • Atlantic City and Tenth Avenue Freeze-out. The former is my favorite Springsteen song; the latter is one that topped my dying-to-hear-live list.
  • The band took the stage with its back to the crowd and watched, along with everyone else, a video tribute to Danny as Blood Brothers played. They opened the show with Backstreets. A spotlight highlighted a vacant organ with an accordion placed at its base. Bruce screamed the line "We swore forever friends, on the backstreets, until the end."
  • For the first time in a while, Bruce The Storyteller emerged. He opened a story by saying "Here's one more fairy tale" and then gave us a speech that went something like this: "There we were, on the highest hill in ... Flemington, New Jersey! (I pictured Tillman getting fired up). Bruce continued: "Just the two of us, and we could see all of Flemington. And the preacher said ... I stood stone-like at midnight..." and we got a wonderful throwback in Growin' Up.
  • One song before Growin' Up, Springsteen invited Roy Bittan off the piano and handed him an accordion. He said, "You better make it good, Roy. Someone's watching." The band played Sandy, a song that always highlighted Federici's accordion acumen. At the end, Bruce and Roy had a tearful embrace.
  • A five-pack kicked off with Sandy, then followed with Growin' Up, Atlantic City, Because The Night and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Nils shredded his solo at the end of Because The Night.
  • We also got back-to-back gems in Racin' In The Street and Brilliant Disguise. Roy worked some prolonged magic on the ivories on Racin'. That followed with Badlands and Out In The Street to close the first set. Usually Bruce does one or the other; it was a tremendous two-fer connected by a thundering Max Weinberg solo, in which the cat came unglued unlike anything I've seen from him before.
  • Other highlights included my second appearance on the Magic tour in the pit. I was one of the lucky 300, and claimed a perch about four rows in front of The Big Man.
  • Fellow pit denizens included former New York Knicks coach Pat Riley, who stood about 10 feet to my rear left for the entire show. He rocked out.
  • A little Squawking VFR trivia for you: I have seen nine Springsteen shows in five states. They are: Colorado, New Jersey, Minnesota, Michigan and Florida.

Some other thoughts from the greater Tampa area:

I caught a game between the Chicago White Sox and the team formerly known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays one night at Tropicana Field.

It is the most bizarre place I've ever seen a baseball game.

Outside, the greeters are a little too cheerful. I heard "Enjoy the game!" too many times. The barrage of faux happiness conveyed a minor-league vibe. But it was quaint, and didn't really bother me. The experience soon went sour.

We entered the stadium and got lost on the way to the field.

I wish I was kidding, but that's the truth.

We walked straight into the same entrance as others, but quickly found ourselves lingering outside the executive suites. We weren't the only people making this mistake. There weren't any signs pointing us in the proper direction, so we continued to meander for a while.

After some theorizing, we went back outside and entered through a different gate, then started walking around a giant, red subterranean concourse. There were a few stores hawking T-shirts, some crappy fry pits and that's about it. Sort of felt like a shopping mall. No sign of the field.

We rode an elevator upstairs - the operator was sure to tell us "Enjoy the game!" - and finally caught a glimpse of the field through a curtained door when we stepped off the carriage.

Rather than walk out and see a green-sodded cathedral built to honor Abner Doubleday, we entered what felt like a small gray warehouse. The turf on the field was in tatters. Patches were missing.

No more than 3,000 fans filled the stands on a Friday night, and the majority rooted for the Sox. Foul balls bounced off the bleak-gray roof.

In short, The Trop is a dingy warehouse inside of a shopping mall. I can't possibly see Major League Baseball surviving in Tampa.


Tampa itself is an underrated city.

Good eats abounded. Not only do you get excellent pizza-by-the-slice and classic New York delis thanks to all the snowbirds in the area, but you also can find pockets of Cuban food that provide balance to the off-the-track Old Florida fried seafood shacks that I loved.

Never pass up fried grouper bits.

Not far south from Tampa, across the historic Sunshine Skyway, lies Anna Maria Island. An old friend was kind enough to take me kayaking around the island's teal-blue waters. Kamikaze pelicans bombed into the water four feet from our boats.

The kayaking day was most relaxing I've had in a long time. Considering the whole Florida trip was something of an unexpected surprise, I couldn't have asked for anything better.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

A dark night on E Street

On his current tour, Bruce Springsteen has closed almost every show with American Land. It's a joyful folk song about the beauty of the American Dream told through the context of the Irish immigrating to New York City.

On the previous tour, he closed with Land of Hope and Dreams, his grand vision of an inclusive America.

This train carries saints and sinners
This train carries whores and gamblers

This train carries lost souls


Tomorrow they'll be sunshine
When this darkness will pass

For decades, the story arc of every Springsteen concert concludes with these celebrations of life and hope, friendship and love.

That script could change Tuesday night when he plays the St. Pete Forum.

As you may already know, Danny Federici, one of E Street's pillars, died Thursday of skin cancer. Federici recruited Bruce into Child, his first band. That began a collaboration of music and friendship that spanned 40 years.

No one has been alongside Bruce for longer.

In a man whose ultimate mission is to celebrate a world "lined with the light of the living," how will Bruce play mourning this death?

If Bruce got on stage and couldn't sing a word, I'd understand. I don't know what to expect Tuesday night, but it will be the saddest Springsteen show I've ever seen. Maybe it won't be going to a concert as much as it is attending Danny's funeral.

Friday, April 18, 2008

RIP, Phantom

Music lives forever.

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