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April 2018

Spring has gotten off to a great start, with surprisingly nice weather and plenty of fun in the city.

In terms of music, I still am absolutely obsessed with Japanese Breakfast, especially the song “Triple 7”, but there were a lot of great new records and singles out as well. A short mix:

  1. Trace Mountains – Adeline
  2. Kacey Musgraves – Space Cowboy
  3. Wye Oak – You of All People
  4. Wye Oak – Join
  5. The Tallest Man on Earth – Ocean
  6. The Tallest Man on Earth – Somewhere in the Mountains, Somewhere in New York

Trace Mountain’s A Partner to Lean On is a definite top 10 album of the year, with fresh and deeply melodic twists and turns from top to bottom. Kacey Musgraves has a fairly bland album overall, but “Space Cowboy” has the simplest and sweetest of wordplay and sound, and is my #1 country song of the year. Wye Oak’s new album is not as thrilling as Shriek from 2014, but the two songs in the mix above are some of their most beautiful tracks. Lastly, The Tallest Man on Earth is getting me really excited about his concert in November with a slow trickle of excellent singles, which have been on loop for much of the month.

I got to see two concerts this month. Fleet Foxes at the Greek was impeccable, and their playing of “Helplessness Blues” at the end of their main set threw me back to listening to that song in senior year of undergrad, in the way only live music can. Just a few days ago I went to see Phoebe Bridgers at the Bottom of the Hill, and much to our surprise, Mark Kozelek showed up to sing “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” and “You Missed My Heart”, which Phoebe covered on her album. She was better than expected and definitely somebody to keep following.

As for film, it’s been a solid month, with Ready Player OneIsle of Dogs, and Blockers all earning 4/5 from me, and A Quiet Place and Avengers 3 earning 4.5/5. But I have to give the highest praise to You Were Never Really Here starring Joaquin Phoenix at his best, with a stellar score from Jonny Greenwood and an impressive adaptation by Lynne Ramsay (especially clear after reading the original novella by Jonathan Ames). It deals with a really grim story but throws you into the experience with so much intensity and grace. It reminds me of Raw from last year, and Green Room from the year before.

The major event this month was a trip to New Orleans for the National Planning Conference, where I spoke on a panel titled “Building Equity into Resiliency Planning”. The conference itself was valuable for a number of reasons, but here I’ll highlight other things we did on the trip:

For the city’s Tricentennial celebration, a bunch of ships were docked along the Mississippi and available for tours, including a Navy carrier. I got to strap in to a Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, but more fascinating, I got to hop into a Humvee and press on the trigger of the big gun coming out the top. It turns out you basically sit in a small swing, and you have to press down on the trigger with your two thumbs.

In a similar vein, we got to go to the WWII Museum which was the venue for the conference’s opening reception. The exhibits themselves were pretty phenomenal, and a strange comparison to the WWII museum I visited in Tokyo, which told similar stories from a very different point of view. The highlights in artifacts here were a last-resort glove gun that literally had one bullet and a trigger activated by punching the dude you also want to shoot, and a shrapnel-blocking visor that was unpopular because of how impractical it was for anything else (at least until Ye showed us its true potential).

The highlight of the trip was definitely an afternoon and evening biking to the Lower Ninth using the city’s really convenient Blue Bikes. Max and I biked from the conference center through the French Quarter to Crescent Park (I wanted to see David Adjaye’s bridge and pier design), and then did a full circle around the Lower Ninth. It was worse off than I expected, and reminded me a bit of what I saw in Christchurch, NZ after their earthquake, with red-zoned single-family neighborhoods vacant and desolate. A small section had a series of eccentric homes built through Brad Pitt’s Make it Right initiative, which were intriguing and seemingly well-off, but the overriding feeling biking through the neighborhood is that it is haunted by ghosts.

As it got dark, Max and I headed to Mercedes’ Bar, which was featured on TAL, and found ourselves strange guests to the most turned up birthday party for a grandma I have ever witnessed. We were clearly not supposed to be there, but the bartender heated up some leftover food for us and made us feel at home. It’s strange and delightful experiences like having your birthday tips pinned to an old lady’s chest, and being invited to selfie twerk for black Snapchat, all the while taking in the love and heartbreak printed on banners and memorials on the walls of this community haven, that make traveling less about the miles logged and more about the human connections made.

New Orleans has a special place in my heart, from visiting as a kid pre-Katrina to busking in the French Quarter with my college a cappella group on spring tour (and losing my iPod at Stilettos which is a story that will never be committed to text), to now, seeing the bigger picture and the smaller details.

Last note for the month — I got to join Stanford to the Sea, a hike organized by the Bill Lane Center, and was the afternoon speaker before the group had dinner at the TomKat ranch. It was a gorgeous facility, and dinner featured some of the best garlic bread I’ve ever tasted, but more importantly, I learned about Left Coast Beef and got to talk to one of the managers a bit about their environmental goals of carbon sequestration and ecosystem resilience (and animal welfare). It’s the kind of operation that seems to satisfy my needs from an ethical eating perspective, and so I indulged in the meat courses… only to find that the vegetables and garlic bread and shandy were the best. It looks like Left Coast Beef is sold at the Mission Community Market in SF, so I’ll look to try more of it the next chance I get.

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