Three things you don’t know about Iceland

Having just spent a few days Iceland, I have reaffirmed the fantastic advantage of travelling to a country to open your mind. With no more than 24 hours on Iceland’s sunny (if cold) shores, I discovered three things I didn’t imagine about Iceland. Arriving just after midnight into Reykjavik, I was welcomed by a setting sun (see below the nightscape at 1am). And yes, Iceland is home to the famous mid-summer white nights. But, you knew that.

Iceland sunset

A whale of a time

The first thing I discovered about Iceland was that they serve whale. Since I had never eaten whale, it had not occurred to me that the whale dish would be a meat dish. How naive! Would you have thought it so? Here it is:

Iceland dish

Had I not told you, would have thought this image was whale meat? I might add that it was very tasty. If you are interested, here’s a fine address to check out in Reykjavik: 3 Frakkar — which means Three French (a propos!) or Three Coats in Icelandic.

Icelandic naming device

Secondly, unique to Iceland, no child carries the father’s last name. They don’t even carry the mother’s last name. In fact, children carry a last name composed of: Continue reading

Happy spring and happy birthday grandpa! RIP NMD1

Today would have marked my grandfather’s 103rd birthday. Three years ago, we celebrated what would have been his 100th birthday with a magical 24-hour global social experiment!  Here was the result by the way…

Nothing quite as grand today. However, in a case of multiple things to celebrate, it’s also time to celebrate Spring and Twitter’s 8th birthday. Looking back at my very first tweet in April 2007, I was quite surprised to find:

Minter Dial @mdial first tweet NMD1

Glad to know that my first tweet was meaningful (at least to me!). It starts with purpose, I should say. In the realm of lessons learned along the way, I was missing a hashtag (e.g. #WWII) and a link! I can now add the right link! Here’s my grandfather’s story in case you haven’t read about it — in the Smithsonian magazine.

As a sign of appreciation, please do go like my grandfather’s page in honor of the greatest generation!

P.S. if you want to discover your first tweet, go here.

Food & Restaurants in Marrakesh Morocco – Part 2 of 3

The culinary experience of Marrakesh and environs

Al Fassia Restaurant MarrakeshMarrakesh.

We had to miss out on the famed Hotel Mamounia because it is [still] under refurbishment. We splurged on two “exclusive” dinners, one at the Jardins de la Medina, 21 Derb Chtoukah, Kasbah Marrakesh) which featured excruciatingly slow service and a waiter that told us that had we wanted a dressing for our salad, we should have spoken up at the beginning. That said, the cadre, inside this deluxe hotel, is attractive. The other “prime” address we visited was Al Fassia in Guéliz (“new” Marrakesh) where we had to reserve two days in advance to get a table. Owned and run by some Moroccan women, Al Fassia (+212 5 24 43 40 60) was well worth it; we gave it top marks for its service and décor and we particularly enjoyed the “pastilla de pigeon” (pigeon patty).
For more local fare in Marrakesh, we had a delightful Tajine at la Gourmandise (151 rue Mohamed el Beqal), also in Guéliz as well as tasted some fine local pâtisseries (Adamo, 44 bis rue Tariq Ibn Ziad, and Al Jawda, 11 rue de la Liberté). If there is one thing I learned here is that Moroccans don’t do good chocolate.
The other eating Marrakesh experience is of course at night in the Jamaâ El Fna square (picutred below). Once you get over the heckling, you can find a jolly good meal. Best advice: find the one where the majority of clients are Moroccan.
Jemaa el Fna Square Marrakesh Morocco

Ourika Valley.

For lunch on our trip through the Ourika valley, south of Marrakesh and a Berber heartland, we aimed to eat at a well-regarded spot recommended by the Guide du Routard; but, apparently, there have been too many Marrakeshis (and tourists) visiting this establishment, so the owner left to seek refuge and rest at a nearby 4* hotel. Clearly, the crisis has not dropped the shoe down here. Our attempt to go to nearby Dar Piano was thwarted as it too was closed, so we hit a lively, open air spot overlooking the river, in the buzzing town of Oulmès. Being the only non-Moroccans, we were the entertainment for the Moroccan patrons of the restaurant. We enjoyed in turn watching nervous Moroccan women wobble across a shaky wooden bridge. As with virtually all local meals, you can have a full family meal (for four) for around 150 dirhams or 15 euros ($20). Tajine (or couscous) is sold for between 7 and 35 dirhams (70 cents to 3.50 euros) depending on where you are. If the prices are not printed, you may end up paying at the higher end of the scale, but for a maximum 3.50 euros, a tasty tajine is still a great deal. In this particular restaurant in Oulmès, we got to learn that people still use the old rials to calculate prices (much like the old French franc). For the record, you need to divide by 20 to get from rials to dirhams.

Tahanaout, Route to Asni.

We took the children to Terres d’Amanar (on the route to Asni, near Tahanaout, about an hour due south of Marrakesh) on the one dismally rainy day of our holidays. The Terres d’Amanar is a large natural reserve featuring a resort hotel and a number of rough and tumble activities such as all-terrain bicycling, tree climbing, hiking, etc. We had made a reservation, but upon arriving, found no one at the welcome desk. Apparently, they didn’t expect us to make it through the drizzle. The kids played for twenty minutes on the wet slides, etc., before returning to the car satisfied for having invested an hour of driving time to get to the destination. The kids’ park is rather small. This is more for people (especially adults) wanting to do a full day of outdoor activities. It looked nice enough, other than the rain!

Ouarzazate.

Another day trip was out on the much less frequented eastern route toward the oasis town of Ouarzazate. We stopped off en route at Aït Ourir where we were fortunate enough to hit the weekly (Tuesdays only) souk. Unplagued by tourists, the vendors were decidedly less pushy and cloying. We profited by picking up some local fruit (tomatoes, chickpeas) as well as a local [crushable] hat for 10 dirhams. We ate a savoury lamb tajine at a local pitstop for the whopping price of 40 dirhams. The route to Taferiate provided for a few pittoresque moments, but beyond, the road desintegrated in quality.

Some advice.

When you want to eat at the local restaurants, the key is to check the food before sitting down. That means asking to take the lids of the clay pots to make sure that the food looks fresh and smells good. Generally speaking, on food, there is not the same threat of having to negotiate. That doesn’t mean that you won’t necessarily get a little tourist taxation, but prices are often printed.

Great Values in Hockey…even when it is professional

Don’t you find that too many professional sports smack of too much money & poor values?  Below is an email that has been circulating since the end of last year. It is a great story, with a “mostly true” rating from Snopes. The event occurred November 23, 2008. It was first posted on this NHL Home Ice blog back on Dec 8, 2008.

Ice Hockey Stick Colour Fan Collection

“In the middle of a grueling six game road trip where a very young hockey team is away from home, the third game of the trip ends late on a cold Canadian Saturday night. This is the only break on the trip and the three days between games allow them the only break to get back home in their own beds for a couple of days before going back on the road. A scheduled commercial flight waits for them at Toronto’s International Airport for the short flight home; they could be home by midnight. This plane departs on schedule, but without a single member of the hockey team.

Back in the locker room a vote is taken after the game was complete, and a unanimous decision is made by this young team to skip this flight and stay one more day. They make arrangements to check back in the hotel and on a frozen Sunday morning charter two buses that have no heat and begin a journey two hours straight north into a sparsely inhabited Canada, but where hockey is its passion. They arrive at their destination to the surprise of the teams general manager who is there attending his fathers wake.

After a few emotional hours, this team boards the buses and head back for a two-hour trip back to Toronto. On the way they ask the drivers to stop in a tiny Canadian town because they are hungry.

To the shock of the patrons and workers at this small hockey town McDonald’s, a professional team walks out of two rickety buses and into the restaurant, which just happens to have pictures of two members of this team on its wall. The patrons know every single one of these players by sight being fanatic fans of hockey in these parts. One can only imagine their amazement of the locals seeing and entire professional hockey team sit down and have a meal in their tiny little town in the middle of a hockey season. After a while they board the buses and catch their same flight 24 hours later, giving one day to their general manager.

Chicago Blackhawks NHL Ice HockeyHave I made this up, is this an excerpt from some fictional book? No, this a true story of the Blackhawks last Saturday night and they decided to attend Dale Tallon’s fathers funeral. Its amazing that such a good story can be found nowhere on the internet, and not even mentioned in the Chicago papers. Had one of the Blackhawks got into a fight and punched some drunken loser in a Toronto bar it would be plastered all over papers and the television. This being said, its hard to imagine any professional football, basketball or baseball team doing this, but the members of the Blackhawks claim any “hockey” team would have done this. This is one reason I continue to be a big hockey fan, and another reason I am excited about this Chicago team.

I thought I would share as this story appears to have gone unnoticed.”

Here is the Yahoo News version, printed on Christmas Eve.

The story is a testament indeed to the solid values in hockey. And, as far as the Blackhawks go, their brand value — as in lovemark, although they have yet to be nominated there — just went through the roof. Moreover, the team is the youngest in the league (average age of 25.5 years) and is positioned 4th in the Western conference. I wish them all the luck.  And, I would certainly like to know of any other sports teams that have that kind of heart.

The Amazing Internet – Guest post by Victor Dial

The Amazing Internet – Guest post by my father, Victor Dial

I know it’s a cliché, but isn’t it amazing what you can find on the internet? Two recent occasions come to mind:

The first was when, some days ago, I happened on a web site concerning the family of my paternal grandmother, whose maiden name was Josephine Minter. We called Josephine “Jou-Jou” (probably Josephine was too difficult for young children to pronounce, or remember). Jou-Jou’s mother’s maiden name was Fannie Dodson Ramseur. Fannie came from a prominent North Carolinian family, and she married Joseph Minter, also from North Carolina. The Minter family web site (wiki.abulsme.com) laconically indicates that Joseph had originally intended to marry another lady, but that the bride-to-be had died on her wedding day. This must have been a terrible tragedy for Joseph, but was fortunate for me, because by marrying Fannie, he begot me, as well as many other distinguished descendants. Fannie had six children (one of whom was Jou-Jou, of course) and, while pregnant with a seventh, died tragically while trying to save her youngest daughter whose dress had accidentally caught fire. The daughter died that day, 14 March 1881, and the mother ten days later, aged 36.

Jou-Jou married my grandfather, Nathaniel Barksdale Dial, a man born and bred in Laurens, South Carolina. They produced four children (two boys and two girls), one of whom was my father (Nathaniel Minter Dial, called “Minter”), also born in Laurens.

In reading about Fannie (Ramseur) Minter, I saw that she had a brother named Stephen General Stephen Dodson RamseurDodson Ramseur (wikipedia writeup on SD Ramseur). Stephen was an early graduate of West Point (1860), and when the Civil War broke out in 1861, he promptly joined the Confederate Army as a Captain. Two years later, at age 25, he was appointed Brigadier General, and one year after that, Major General. In reading more about the history of my great-great uncle, I discovered that his closest aide was another North Carolinian, named William Ruffin Cox (wikipedia writeup/Secretary of the Senate), previously a lawyer by trade. When Ramseur was promoted to Major General, he handed over the troops under his command to Brigadier General Cox. When shortly thereafter the gallant Ramseur was killed in battle (in 1864), Cox again took over his command. Clearly, the destiny of these two men was tightly intertwined.

Why is this somewhat lengthy story of interest, you might well ask?

In 1928, my father (“Minter”) was accepted at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. Southern gentlemen typically tended to stick together, and my father soon met most of his compatriots. One of them was a North Carolinian named William Ruffin Cox, who would become one of Minter’s life-long friends, and my beloved god-father. The two descendants of Minter’s great-uncle and of Ruffin’s grandfather were soon destined to become comrades in arms in a great war, once again.

The second occasion–as to why the internet is so amazing–came when I randomly checked to see whether the web was saying anything new about “Dial”. As usual, I found references to my grandfather, who served in the US Senate from 1919-1925. Then, I was amazed to stumble on a series of photographs of the Senator and the Senator’s children (example of one below), taken in May, 1922 in Washington DC by a photographer working for the National Photo Company, whose business it was to supply photographs to newspapers and magazines of the time. The entire collection of the National Photo Company was recently acquired by the Library of Congress (go to this link and type in DIAL), who then posted them on the ‘net for all to see.

Minter Dial Sr, Fannie Dodson, Dotty Dodson and Joe DialSo here I found a number of long-forgotten photographs of my two aunts (aged 15 and 13), my father (only 11, but looking a lot older), and my uncle (8), posing variously with bicycles, tennis rackets, speedboats, and cars. (For more, see here a ‘100 year old photo blog’ called Shorpy.com; or Fannie getting ready for a debutante ball or on zazzle.com)

Gstaad, August 4, 2008

August Rush Film Review (2007)

August Rush film reviewIf you are a Stanley Jordan fan [as I am], you will undoubtedly enjoy the music of the 2007 film “August Rush”. Of course, most of us have a fibre that will appreciate the musical link between the various separated members of the family. As the last line of the film says, “…the music is all around us. All you have to do is listen.” (Reminds me of a Grateful Dead song: “When you get confused, listen to the music play…” (from Franklin’s Tower).

Among the more interesting roles is the less-than-perfect character of Maxwell “Wizard” Wallace, played by Robin Williams in a role that echoes the role of Fagin in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

It is cute film, that fuses the prodigal kid (at the Julliard School) with an Irish rocker (think The Commitments) along with a classical cellist. A fine little film (at least for a long flight) directed by Kristen Sheridan whose father, Jim Sheridan, did “My Left Foot.” The ending, I must add, is entirely predictable and soppy.

Main Actors other than Robin Williams: Freddie Highmore (Evan Taylor or August Rush) and Keri Russell (Lyle Novack, the mother), Jonathon Rhys Meyers (Louis Connelly, the father, who also performs two of the songs himself). Note that the special August Rush guitar playing was handled by Kaki King. The film was nominated for an Oscar in 2007 for Best Original Song.

Worldometer

Check out Worldometers, a live feed that supposedly tabulates as it happens a whole slew of events and activities in the world, including a host of ecological stats on food, water, energy as well as numerous health issues. I was passed this link by François (merci) and literally spent minutes glued to the numbers ticking over. When you observe the number of deaths or births happening as you watch, you tend to feel a little like you are participating. Yesterday, the 23rd January, was a special day because my sister in Guam delivered a 5kg son to the world. BRAVA biggrin and welcome Nathaniel Broderick. Meanwhile, today, it is our son’s birthday… another year ticks by. Happy Birthday Oscar! razz

Regarding Worldometers, it “is managed by a team of developers and researchers with the goal of making world statistics available in a thought-provoking and time relevant format to a wide audience around the world.” As my friend Jean-Marc reinforced in a recent brilliant presentation this week: check the green and blue lines (in the google search) and [especially for any www information] check your source. Worldometers’ site presents its sources as the most reliable out there. These include UN, WHO, etc. and certainly, without double-checking, that seems official enough.

Worldometers starts with a stat du mois, this month it is toxic chemicals released by industries worldwide into our air, land, and water this year (tons).

Other categories include Education and Media, Government & Economics… And among the list of numbers you can watch ticking over, there are the “cumulative hours waited for web pages to download this year” (which surely is a misleading number because it will have difficulty to account for the geometric surge in high speed lines). But otherwise, the site is appropriately thought provoking.

Others who have blogged on Worldometers include Vicar in Yeovil, Saravanan in Singapore, Prathiba in Chennai India, the Gaol House Blog (UK)… Certainly garnering worldwide readership!

Ha Pi Ho Li Daze 2008

Happy Holidays 2008I admit that [my] using the email to send out holiday greetings still seems a little tacky (even if I tried to spruce it up). I would love to hide behind the ecological zeitgeist, but facility, timing and economics are all part of the “excuse.” Meanwhile, I was quite taken aback by the deluge of the Happy New Year messages I received via SMS this year. And the messages came throughout the day and night from all around the world (Sydney to San Fran via Iceland).

As you may now realize, I like to tabulate…things. This post is about tabulating the latest holiday greetings’ media.

SNAIL MAIL As a family, we received the dinkiest number of Christmas cards in my memory (which in this case likely means in my lifetime). I have found a grand total of 22 cards sent by post to our home (I exclude professional cards). No woe is me in this stat, especially since I barely got out any cards myself. Updated Jan 6, 2008: Since we live on the 6th floor and our elevator is closed for renovation [for two months, yikes], our mail it turns out was being held by our concierge. I just spoke with our concierge who handed me a sack of mail, including another 20 or so Christmas cards… so snail mail isn’t dead yet!

ELECTRONICA There were 10 Happy Holiday e-cards, 4 “spam” i.e. non personalized mailings (like mine cited above), and a good number of replies to my spam (I didn’t count, but I would have to say near 40 return hello’s). Naturally, on Facebook, there was the barrage of x-mail and 12 super wall messages.

SMS Holiday Greetings GaloreTELEFONICA You still get the phone calls from the nearest and dearest (including a few Skypers). Then, there were the 34 SMS messages that I received on my cell. Wow. I get the feeling that the phone companies will not be complaining about that!

So, what will the 2008 Happy Holidays landscape look like? Facebook up or down? SMS more and more? Skype’s the limit?
Galette des Rois
For as long as I am allowed, I continue to wish you all ha pi ho li daze (that’s the second time on this blog, for those of you counting). And, am glad to usher in the wonderful period of the Galette des Rois

Mr Rogers speaks to US Senate

Got turned on to this via a twit from my pal Mitch. The Youtube video is Mr Rogers‘ talk with a US Senate sub-committee, in a meeting chaired by the notoriously “cold” Senator John Pastori, on May 1, 1969. It is worth watching the full 6 1/2 minutes of this video, even if you don’t have children. Beyond content, it’s about emotion.

I was particularly interested by the words of a song that Mr Rogers wrote, called “What do you do?”:

What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…
And nothing you do seems very right?

What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag?
Or see how fast you go?

It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead
And think this song:

I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a woman
And a boy can be someday a man.

To-date, just 200K views on YouTube… more to come!

“One of the first things a child learns, in a healthy family, is trust.” A very true line. I would love to have a read of the script of Mr Rogers’ “philosophical” treatise.

Others blogging on the topic:
New School Network
Don’t tell the donor
Milk and Cookies

While I’m on a Mr Rogers theme, (1 1/2 minutes) — and I’m not going to polemicise the mertis of everything he did…. But, try this one out too, it’s one of the last (if not the last) public TV appearances he made before expiring (2003) :

WWII Hellship Memorial – Philippines


This is a photo of the Hellship Memorial that has just been inaugurated in Olongapo Bay, Philippines, in honor of the many thousands of victims of the infamous Hellships. My grandfather, Lt N Minter Dial, after whom I was named, died on one such ship, the unmarked Oryoku Maru, on Dec 15, 1944. Anyone thinking of going to visit the Philippines, there are many interesting historical sites to see, specifically concerning the WWII. Highly recommend visiting Corregidor and Bataan (scene of the Death March, note that this wikipedia article is currently being disputed for its lack of neutrality). And, for the courageous, go to the west side of the Bataan peninsula and you will find this memorial pictured above! If you are interested, there are several sites dedicated to this story, including the ADBC, scrap book.

And, I’d especially invite a look at the Google Earth shot of the sinking of the Oryoku.