Monday, June 30, 2008

Hard copy.

Today, after having bagels with my daughter and grandson, buying overpriced hair product, and overpriced organic butter, I ventured (read: slunk) into my office to print my poems, so I'd be able to shuffle my work around on the physical plane. I don't have a working printer at home, you see, which is kind of absurd, for a writer. However, I do have a very good relationship with the people who work the printers up at my local Office Max. Recently, one of them let me print six copies of a poem for free. Talk about your poetic license.

I brought a ream of recycled paper with me to the office, loaded up the HP, and started printing. Because I couldn't be bothered to actually look at the documents I was printing, I'm sure I've printed several versions of the same poems, compilations I assembled for readings, and so on. A ream of paper later, I have the writing I've done for the last several years in a big pile of wow. Wow. A whole ream of it.

This is step one in starting to revise, organize, and assemble Imploding Elegy or Suburban Elegy or Suburban Ode or something like that. I think I might need to come up with some system for sorting through all of it first--what a nightmare/thrilling project. If I have to move it from place to place, I may need a llama.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Playlist for the end of June.

In the spirit of the blog "Living With Music," which my friend tuned me into, here's a playlist for the end of the first month of summer. Pour yourself a frosty beverage and listen to:

1. "Hope There's Someone," Antony and the Johnsons. I heard Antony sing for the first time in the documentary about Leonard Cohen, I'm Your Man. Ethereal, trembling, intimate in a troubling way. This song really gets into you: " Oh I'm scared of the middle place/Between light and nowhere / I don't want to be the one /Left in there, left in there." The pace is deliberate, the instrumentation simple, but the trembling voice vibrates inside you.

2. "Don't Talk," Beach Boys. I'm pretty sure there's been a lot written about the incredibly gorgeous song structure of this composition, as great a piece of popular music as has ever been written, in my opinion. But I just can't ever get over the stillness and sweetness of Brian Wilson's vocal. One of the essences of summer.

3. "Martha My Dear," Brad Mehldau. The White Album is one of my favorite recordings, ever, but this cover (from that album) by Brad Mehldau showcases the playfulness of the piece, but without words, because it's an instrumental. He plays it dry, without much pedal, so he gets a lot of space in the sound. It sounds like math, but with fizz.

4. "Romeo & Juliet," Dire Straits. It doesn't get much better than this, for little soap operas in song: "Juliet, when we made love you used to cry./ You said 'I love you like the stars above, I'll love you 'til I die'./There's a place for us, in all the movie songs./ When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong, Juliet?"

5. "Blue," Cat Power. "Blue" is one of the songs I worked out for myself on the piano when I was, what, 16? And it still retains its power to enthrall. I like to hear a cover that shows me something new about a song--for one thing, that shows me that the song is a song and not just a performance. Cat Power's dry voice, without the throatiness of Joni Mitchell's original (not that I would have said her voice was so throaty, but in comparison), shows the weariness of the song, powerfully and in a different way than Mitchell voiced it. So gorgeous, thrilling.

6. "Katmandu," Cat Stevens. Why, oh why does the Cat still have it for me? But he does. This song feels like a secret the singer is allowing only himself to hear. It's the very definition of lyric poetry--song that is overheard. The dark quiet of the song makes you understand why the singer needs to leave, to retreat to a high, isolated place.

7. "Sean Flynn," The Clash. I love the way this song makes a whole landscape in sound. Spooky, otherworldly.

8. "Everybody I Love You," CSNY. I dare you not to want to sing the harmony.

9. "The Last High," The Dandy Warhols. World weary, narcissistic, melancholy, I love this song.

10. "Suffragette City," David Bowie. The first Bowie song that made me understand what Bowie was all about.

11. "Human Nature," Michael Jackson. No matter what craziness MJ embodies, this song's longing still speaks. I love the spaciousness of the arrangement--its lushness isn't overdone, even for the 80s.

12. "Shake the Disease," Depeche Mode.

Here is a plea
From my heart to you
Nobody knows me
As well as you do
You know how hard it is for me
To shake the disease
That takes hold of my tongue
In situations like these

Understand me

Yeah. Just like that.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to wear boy ponytails.

Lord knows I love me some comedies, and the recent Baby Mama was a rather happy surprise. Despite the trailer, which gave every evidence of being one of those where you no longer have a reason to see the movie, actually the movie had plenty of comedic surprises, one of them being Steve Martin doing a hilarious bit as one of those eco-CEOs who swims with the dolphins and believes he can save the world by selling it back to us, one organic fairtrade mango at a time. And how does a movie signal to us that he's a type? As the Bible preaches it to us: by their ponytails ye shall know them, the graying hippie men who've found a kinder, gentler capitalism to purvey.

The iconic graying ponytail: what a sad, sad thing it is, turning otherwise pretty good-looking men into sorry stereotypes. You know who you are, late-night jazz talk hosts. You already have the good navy blue suit and you know how to rock the white dress shirt, so why don't you get a haircut already? Get a haircut!

Tonight, at Red Rock before the movie, I saw yet another dejected ponytail on an aging man. (The ponytail itself looked forlorn, a coiffure adrift in an alien land.) He was wearing--wait for it:--black jeans, a mock-neck, short sleeved black turtleneck, a belt with some studs on it, and the 'tail. It was not good--so not good, in fact, that I was momentarily struck dumb, and my friends, that does not happen so often.

There oughta be a law, and if not a law, some absolute penalty: men, if you're too old to be sporting that ponytail, you shall summarily be shorn and made to wear golf shirts with tiny polo players embroidered at the breast, for a season.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The shopper reports.

The last ten things I bought:

1. loaf of pain au levain at Pierre's
2. shrimp pad thai
3. potato chips
4. frozen lemonade
5. walking shoes (gray in case you're interested)
6. black nightgown
7. set of drinking glasses, with one missing
8. embossed tin box
9. USA Today (for the crossword!)
10. packet of Poppycock

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Elementary.

If you find that your eyes are watering all day long, and that you're sneezing, and you feel kind of wiped out, why then, you might have allergies! Instead of assuming that the reason you look like hell when you happen to see your eyes in the mirror is that you're just getting old, you might think about dealing with the allergies, with a little thing we in the modern world call "medicine," the taking of which might result in a better day with no sneezing nor watery eyes. And in fact, you might even look quite a bit better, not to mention feeling better.

Yeah, the heat, I think it's making me stupid.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

La bufera infernal.

Here's what Dante had to say about today's weather:
La bufera infernal, che mai non resta,
mena li spirti con la sua rapina;
voltando e percotendo li molesta.

Quando giungon davanti a la ruina,
quivi le strida, il compianto, il lamento;
bestemmian quivi la virtu divina.

Intesi ch'a cosi fatto tormento
enno dannati i peccator carnali,
che la ragion sommettono al talento.

E come li stornei ne portan l'ali
nel freddo tempo, a schiera larga e piena,
cosi quel fiato li spiriti mali

di qua, di la, di giu, di su li mena;
nulla speranza li conforta mai,
non che di posa, ma di minor pena.*
Basically, translated, this means that hell is hot wind which never lets you rest. Which is what it pretty much was, hellish everywhere I went today.

Of course, the way to handle this is not to run around buying paint (Churchill Hotel Lace? Cream Cake? Buttermilk Biscuit? Cosmic Cream? Golden Fleece? Moonshine? Scottish Shortbread? all rejected in favor of Saffron Cream). In the case of hot windy weather, the first best thing to do is to go into your basement with a cool beverage and hole up until it passes. But since my basement is a construction zone, and we needed the paint, out I went.

The second best way to handle hot windy weather, after you've bought your paint, is to go into a lovely establishment for a glass of lavender lemonade, accompanied by a pastry. Thus refreshed, one can venture forth to complete the day's challenges.

The third best way is to go to a movie in the late afternoon with a delightful companion, such as my own, grown sun. Then to Rancherito's for a breakfast burrito for dinner. Delicious. At that point, hellishness will almost certainly have passed, or at least abated, and then:
. . . tanto ch'i' vidi de le cose belle
che porta 'l ciel, per un pertugio tondo.
E quindi uscimmo a reveder le stelle.*

*actual translations: from Canto V, Inferno: "The infernal hurricane that never rests carries along the spirits in its rapine; whirling and smiting it molests them. When they arrive before its rushing blast, here are shrieks, and bewailing, and lamenting; here they blaspheme the power divine. I understood that to such torment are condemned the carnal sinners who subject reason to appetite."

and from Canto XXXIV, also Inferno: "till through a round opening I saw of those beauteous things which heaven bears, and thence we came forth to see again the stars."





Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rethink.






Old DeWolf warehouse on the Bristol
waterfront, built in 1818. Sugar and
rum came and went here.


We're watching, at the moment, the P.O.V. documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. Here's a bit of the synopsis:

Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North is a unique and disturbing journey of discovery into the history and "living consequences" of one of the United States' most shameful episodes — slavery. In this bicentennial year of the U.S. abolition of the slave trade, one might think the tragedy of African slavery in the Americas has been exhaustively told. Katrina Browne thought the same, until she discovered that her slave-trading ancestors from Rhode Island were not an aberration. Rather, they were just the most prominent actors in the North's vast complicity in slavery, buried in myths of Northern innocence. Browne — a direct descendant of Mark Anthony DeWolf, the first slaver in the family — took the unusual step of writing to 200 descendants, inviting them to journey with her from Rhode Island to Ghana to Cuba and back, recapitulating the Triangle Trade that made the DeWolfs the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Nine relatives signed up. Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North is Browne's spellbinding account of the journey that resulted.
As a result of co-teaching the Radical America learning community with the historian, I have had some sense of the way that the economy based upon slave labor extended into the North, but I really had no idea to what extent. So, for instance, in Bristol, where the deWolfs based their monumentally profitable slave trading, every aspect of the town's economy was involved, from the people in the town who bought shares in the voyages, to industries like foundries, warehousing (for rum and molasses), everything.

An historian in the film quotes John Adams, who said, "Why should we shrink from the fact that molasses was intimately involved in this country's independence?" The historian said, "He should have extended that sentence to say, 'molasses, sugar, and the slave labor that produced it.'"

I don't know about you, but I don't think I had quite put it to myself that way: that the economic power of the colonies, a prerequisite to the viability of the colonies' independence, was utterly dependent upon the slave trade and slave labor.

One more fact: the deWolfs, who were supporters of Jefferson's presidential campaign and who had contributed money to it, drew a political favor from him. Much of the time they were trading in slaves, the trade was illegal in the U.S. Jefferson appointed a member of the deWolf family as the customs inspector in Bristol.

I'm not sure if or when the film will air again, but take a look at the material on the web. Riveting and mind-blowing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Adding on a room.

I recently visited my wonderful friend, my oldest friend, who lives in the Sonoma Valley. We had a splendid time doing everything under the sun. One bewitching thing about her life is the garden she's made, like a vestibule--you enter a gate, and the entryway to her place is filled with small trees, vines, big and little pots, a wicker chair and an Adirondack chair, a little metal table and chairs (very French!), hanging baskets . . . we ate our breakfast there each morning, her little black cat, Sido, prowling the premises, it was just magical.

I am crazy about this space she made. It occupies my thought and I aspire to it. So today, I went to Home Again to see if there were consigned pieces of furniture that might allow me to approximate the lush, quiet spirit of my friend's garden. Ours is a very different kind of yard, but here's what happened, for my efforts.

This afternoon, after I'd set everything up, I sat out there, under the cherry and the apple trees. It's shady until after three, and in the evening, with citronella candles, it's rather heavenly. But back to the afternoon: the sky was blue with some clouds, spitting a little rain but not too much. The wind was moving in the trees, a kind of meditation.

Tomorrow, I plan to plant some lavender in some planters--I've got a lot of it planted in the ground all over the place, but I loved my friend's, growing in big pots, buzzing with bees. And tomorrow, I will be taking my breakfast in the garden.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tofu: an inquiry.

The other night, the historian and I were in East-West Connection, a restaurant I like very much, in part because of the mint they put in the Bun Cha Gao, which is mmm delicious. For a starter, we ordered the vegetarian Imperial Rolls which featured "Julienne of vegetables, rice noodles and tofu strings, rolled in soft rice paper and served in a rich bean sauce."

Now, I'm not quite sure why I consented to this, because you guys, I really am not a fan of tofu. It all started when I made a salad from one of the Moosewood cookbooks, which are wonderful--I highly recommend them. I was something of a smarty-pants graduate student, and I'm sure I thought I was about to blow everyone's mind with the expanded culinary horizons and whatnot. The recipe was some upstate-New-York-in-the-1980s version of a Vietnamese salad; it called for all manner of stuff I didn't have, however, and it was my very, very first experience (of not too many, as it turned out) cooking with tofu. I sliced, I diced, I chopped, I assembled, I dressed this salad, and I set it forth.

This was back in the day, and my then-husband took just one bite and then could go no further. And I don't blame him, not one bit: the dish had not only tofu, at which I was inexperienced, and therefore it had only its own sorry, spongy nature to draw upon, but the whole dish had an unhappy, and no doubt excessive, dose of dark sesame oil. It was a dark, dark day in the megastore kitchen, let me tell you: the food that went to waste! the horror of the spongy and the pungent!

In fact, "not a fan" is really not accurate. On that dark day, tofu became anathema to me.

Lest a thousand vegetarians descend upon this blog like a wolf upon the fold, let me pause to note the following:
  1. one bad tofu experience is surely inadequate evidence for declaring tofu "anathema."
  2. I should give tofu another try.
  3. flash-frying! flash-frying!
  4. with tofu, it's all about the context.
I will concede that I have since had better tofu than the horrible Vietnamese-styled salad of the dark days of yore. Yet I feel that tofu has never--not once!--shone its glimmering light upon my palate so that I can find it in the least bit enjoyable. Endurable, yes. I can see how you might stumble upon the idea of turning beans into curd (what? curd?) and then eating it as a humble yet hearty sustenance. But enjoyable? Delightful? No. Not even. The most thrilling flash-fryer of tofu, who then bathes the tofu in the most heavenly of sauces, accompanied by a soupcon of herbs and a lightly crushed peanut, cannot take the curd out of the tofu, and I say unto you, tofu is for the birds. I shall not eat it.

Not even rolled in delicate rice papers along with julienne of vegetables and rice noodles, accompanied by a very, very wealthy bean sauce. Tofu is tofu, and we have made an uneasy truce: I will allow that it has its virtues as long as it never tries to press any claim of deliciousness on me. It stays on its side of the table, and I stay on mine.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gray.

Within recent memory, I declared to anyone who reads the sidematter on my blog that I would buy no more gray clothes forever (earlier in the sidematter: gray is the new black, in case you needed to track the twists and turns of the style advice from me). So it will no doubt surprise all readers to hear that I have, within the last several weeks, purchased
  • gray flats
  • a gray and white striped tee shirt
  • a gray skirt
  • another gray shirt
  • another gray shirt
  • gray espadrilles
  • a sheer gray sweater, and
  • a scarf that is striped black and white, which two colors, as any student in a seventh grade art class can tell you, when mixed together, turn into . . . gray.
I don't know what this says, except that gray--so pearly, so silvery, so moody, so very like weather, one thing and then another, so not black and not white but possessing the loveliest qualities of each--calls my name. It is, apparently, my neutral. I'm not even sure I understand why I decided no more gray in the first place. Why not gray? Why not an all gray, white, and black wardrobe? with only silver jewelry?

Because in addition to having a gray fetish, I am also a fool for colors, that's why--lately, navy blue and yellow. However, I feel the world has only recently caught up with my gray madness--lovely gray things everywhere I turn. If you run into me, the chances are very good that I will be dressed like a cloudy day. Like a cloudy day, about to rain. I sort of hope, however, that if you run into me, I am not shopping. Like style advice, my stance toward shopping sparkles and fades a little.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Some things never change.

A passage from the I Hate to Cook Book, by Peg Bracken (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1960, illustrations by Hilary Knight), for your edification and delight:

The Problem of Falling in Love. You often do, when you hate to cook, fall in love with one recipe which seems to have simply everything: it's fast, it's simple, and the whole family likes it. And so, like impetuous lovers since time began, you tend to overdo it. You find yourself serving the little gem three times a week, including Sunday breakfast. Your problems are solved. You're serene. Oh, you love that little recipe!

But no recipe can stand such an onslaught. After a while, it just doesn't taste as good as it did the first time. You begin to wonder what you ever saw in it. Presently, you stop making it. Eventually it's lost in limbo, and that's the end of that love affair.

Two things are responsible for this all-too-common occurrence: first, you overdid it, and, second, you probably started to kick it around. You felt so safe with your own true love that you began taking it for granted, not exactly following the recipe, using vinegar instead of lemon juice, or canned mushrooms instead of fresh mushrooms (because you had some vinegar or canned mushrooms). Soon, without your being aware of it, the recipe has undergone a sea change, and become something rich and undoubtedly strange, all right, but not at all the same recipe you started with.

The moral is this: Instead of going steady, play the field. When you make proper contact with a recipe, don't make it again for an entire month. Keep it warm and cozy, your ace in the hole, in your card file, or checked in your recipe book, while you try some more. Presently, you'll have several aces in the hole, which is a very delectable state of affairs indeed.
When I read this in the car, after having found this book in a great coup of good luck at a flea market, it was as if I were transported from the present day to my teens, when I first read this book. I often think about the role that various cookbooks played in shaping my culinary life, starting with a birthday card my parents gave me when I was about 9, a birthday card that was actually an adorable pink pamphlet comprising several cookie recipes (lost to time, so very sad!). The gender relations embodied in Peg Bracken's book are like a perky version of Mad Men, which makes it an interesting historical artifact.

If you could take a peek, however, at the kitchen diary I kept when I was a young wife, you'd see that the basic advice here--don't cook the same thing over and over--was embodied in my own planning. I often planned shopping and meals for two weeks out (don't ask), with nary a meal repeated, except perhaps spaghetti, which remains a go-to option for me when the cooking seems almost too much to bear (sob, collapse). You don't want to wear out a recipe's welcome. Except spaghetti, which is like a very, very good friend showing up on your doorstep with a covered dish, and in the covered dish is spaghetti, thank God.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Surprise.


Good surprises:
  • finding a copy of the Betty Crocker Cook Book c. 1975 at a flea market in eastern Washington.
  • finding a copy of the I Hate to Cook Book, c. 1960, which my mom had and which I read with great amusement when I was a kid. (It's ironic, of course, that my mother had this book--she doesn't hate to cook and is in fact a wonderful cook--but the book had its day, and as a piece of humorous writing, it is great--and the recipes are quite hilarious in their own right. But that's another post for another day.)
  • finding three dollars in the pocket of my just-washed white jeans.
  • finding the shoes that I passed up at DSW three weeks ago (because I had imposed upon myself an absurd two-pair limit), a pair of slate-gray Clarks flats, at the Nordstrom Rack a few days ago.
  • coming home from a trip to find that the roses I pruned in March are taller than my head and blooming their heads off.
  • discovering that chamomile and lavender together make a lovely and refreshing iced tea.
Bad surprises:
  • I have more books than I have shelves (technically, this isn't a surprise).
  • cat vomit on the floor of my study.
  • can't sleep, too hot.
That second bad surprise was a bit grim, certainly, but as of right now, 11:18 p.m. on an evening mid-June, the good surprises outweigh the bad. And a bonus: because I found the Betty Crocker Cook Book, which was the cook book of my youth and young wifehood, and which at some point drifted out of my possession, and which for a very long time ruined me for cook books that didn't have glossy photos, I can finally fulfill my dream, if I still want to, of making the Black Forest Cake, oh cake of my dreams, cake I aspired to as a young wife and never had the wherewithal, such as the ingredients or the correct pans, to make. Also, it is the source of my most reliable yellow cake recipe, the Yellow Whipped Cream Cake, which, in its title, speaks for itself, I believe.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Paterfamilias.

Happy Father's Day to:
  • my dad, who helped me pass my math classes in high school by helping me to learn math, and who helped me learn a little bit of trigonometry over the phone in college, and who wanted me to go to college so much that he never made a big deal out of it, just made it an underlying assumption for me and my brother and sisters, so we all did. And for being so proud of me and for loving me for my whole life.
  • my kids' dad, who is a great, big-hearted, loving father and an all-round terrific person.
  • my husband, who loves his kids like crazy and is a stalwart, always-on-your-side dad to all of them, and who loves my kids, too, which if you do the math, is a lot of kids to love that he didn't have to, but he did, which is one of the zillion reasons I love him.
  • all the rest of you dads out there. More power to you for being the man who finds it in him to love and nurture a kid.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

I'm home. It's hot.

When my niece and I left Portland this morning at 7 a.m., it was clear and nice but it was cool, because hey, it was 7 a.m. We drove all day along I-84, which meant the Dalles and the forested corridor along the river, and then through the fruited plains and hills of eastern Oregon. Farm, farm, farm. Farming community. Farm, farm, farm. Tree farm! Farming community. Etc. until Tremonton, and then it's the I-15 corridor. I was home by 8 p.m. or so, at which point the historian and I inspected the front and back yards (verdict: so gorgeous, you guys, you'll freak). And then I laid down in front of the television, because that was the exact medicine I needed. The Magnificent Seven was on, and the most important thing I can tell you about that movie is that the young Steve McQueen, the young Charles Bronson, the young James Coburn and the young Yul Brynner were all adorable.

My hell: the last few weeks have been ultra-drive-y. Not that I didn't sign up for it, and not that I didn't have a blast everywhere I/we went. But I'm very glad to be home and to contemplate doing homely things, like making breakfast and doing laundry and reading whilst lounging and perhaps organizing my vast new library of new books. Also, contemplating how soon we can turn on the swamp cooler because it's time. It wasn't summer yet when I left Thursday morning, but it's summer now on Saturday night and summer equals swamp cooler. Categorically.

The pleasures of a long day driving: listening to music galore. Regina Spektor's Begin to Hope is, I can say, and my niece agrees, also categorically, after today's listen, a brilliant and gorgeous recording. I know I have listened to it before and liked it, but I don't think I really heard the whole thing until today.

And now, I am again going to watch television for awhile, because that's the exact medicine I need.



Hot Air Balloon Festival (this morning, as we were leaving).


















Another great thing about Portland.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Stop the bleeding.

Today, Powell's, and we were there for several hours which means I did some damage, book-buying-wise. I have recently purchased poetry in several bookstores, so for those of you who are interested, here's some of what's on my poetry reading list, coming up:

Li-Young Lee's new book Behind My Eyes
The Endarkenment, by Jeffrey McDaniel
I Remember, Joe Brainard
In the Western Night: Collected Poems, Frank Bidart
Divagations by Stéphane Mallarmé
a collection by Nazim Hikmet
Translations from the Human Language, Terry Ehret
some translations of Euripides by Anne Carson (Grief Lessons)
Spell
by Dan Beachy-Quick
a Selected Poems by Mahmoud Darwish
a collection of Paul Celan's poems (never read him!)

I am in the situation of having a whole lot of books--a whole lot!--so I feel I must establish a reading agenda. This means sorting and arranging the books. I feel it coming on, the sorting and the arranging. And then the reading. My sister-in-law bought me a wonderful book called A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. I started to read it in the car on the way home from Powell's. Maybe I need more of a plan than "read the next book that falls into your lap, as long as you finish the book for your book club on time."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Northwest redux.

Today I arrived in Portland, aka Portlandia, to . . . overcast skies and cooler than average temperatures. By noon-ish, though, there was actual sun, and it felt warm but not hot. Perfect, in other words. I understand that something like this is happening in the S.L.C. Boo ya. Summer, you guys.

Tomorrow it's Powell's and another book-buying extravaganza. I intend to find a big fat used copy of Lady Murasaki's Tale of Genji. In a conversation with middlebrow yesterday, I heard about his plan for reading, what was it? Large Literature? Big Fat Books? I don't know--he's reading Tom Jones right now, then moving on to Tristram Shandy. I will be reading Lady Murasaki this summer. Along with piles of detective fiction. Also lots of poetry, of which I acquired a bunch in Seattle and will be combing the Powell's shelves for more.

In a related development, we plan on building some more shelves at home.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello.

The travels, completed and forthcoming:

1. Seattle.
2. Portland, OR: visiting my brother and family, then driving back to Utah with my niece in her new car!
3. Bay Area, visiting my bff in the greater Rohnert Park area, where we will tear it up, Sonoma-style.
4. Idaho, the navel of the universe.
5. Dublin, where the Scotlands will meet the historian and me for a global summit.
6. Boston, to converse with college daughter, aka The Nanny.

Somewhere in here I will settle down and start, I don't know, writing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Score: 10 for 10.

Downstairs walls, sans panelling, mudded, sanded, ready to paint? Check.
Plants all survived and even flourishing? Check.
Bruiser alive and well? Check.
Raging parties thrown at our house by the dogsitters whilst gone, yet house in order? Check.
Dishes clean from said parties? Check.
Boston proving it in L.A.? Check.
Clothes already washed from trip? Check.
Milkman coming in the morning? Check.
Agenda in place for tomorrow? Check
Feels good to be home? Check, check, and check.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Megastore: the return.

This morning, not quite as early as we'd said we would but also not as late as we might have, we took off from Seattle, the Emerald City, and headed east. Once you get up into the mountains, through Snoqualmie Pass, past the lakes and streams, you're back in a little part of the world I like to call "Idaho." As in, past the coast, everything--eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and of course Idaho itself--is Idaho until you hit the Rockies. But it's beautiful, of course, and kind of nice, at the end of a good trip, to be heading home, with a long drive ahead of you to relive the highlights and think about what awaits you. To wit:
  • a sprinkler system that decided to malfunction the morning we left
  • mulch to put down under the plum tree
  • a possible amendment to the front yard project (curving the line of the existing sod instead of the straight line we started with--feng shui, you guys)
  • a painting project in the basement
  • a wedding present to buy
  • a father's day present to buy
  • a couple more short trips ahead
  • laundry, of course
  • a dog who has been hanging around with teenage boys and hard-working young men, but who--singing son assures me--has voiced the fact that he's missed us.
Well, we've missed him too. See you all soon.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Richard Serra, mon amour.

At the new-ish Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park, a truly magnificent place that is unlike any other outdoor sculpture installation I have ever seen, one major piece is Richard Serra's Wake. Here is what the guide has to say about it:

For Richard Serra, space is a substance as tangible as sculpture. He uses materials and scale to alter perception and to engage the body. The towering, curved-steel forms of Wake were achieved with computer imaging and a demilitarized machine that once made French nuclear submarines. Wake is composed of five identical modules, each with two S-shaped sections positioned in inverted relation to one another--gently curving serpentines of convex and concave parts that suggest tidal waves or profiles of battleships. Wake's powerful silhouette belies a complex configuration of parts; the whole cannot be known at once, but can only be experienced with movement and over time.

Here are some photos of Wave, being outside of and then in and among the forms. It was amazing.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

This vacation brought to you by:

  • running son's friends, who have stayed at our house and hung out with Bruiser.
  • singing son and his friend, who have been ripping out the heinous paneling of death downstairs, thus preparing our next project for us--painting and making the downstairs, in general, an exemplar of sweetness and light.
  • my colleague Jamie, who lent me two excellent detective novels, including the highly satisfying one I am reading right now.
  • my friend Ann, who lent me another great novel to which I have referred earlier.
  • bookstores everywhere in Seattle, which allowed us to buy even more reading material than we can possibly finish.
  • my public library, which furnished copies of Ian Rankin novels, the always reliable Scots police procedural guy.
  • my colleague Dr. Write, who suggested that we go to Serafina, which we went to tonight, and it was wonderful.
  • my old friend Susan, who showed me her neighborhood, Green Lake.
  • the historian's daughter and her partner, who showed us a swell time and in general, gave us recommendations to pursue, including a local maker of salt caramels, which are amazing.
  • unforeseen difficulties, which sharpen the sweetness of happy moments.
  • the new tires on the Camry of Power.
  • La Grand, Oregon, which, because of its paucity of restaurants, made the embarrassment of riches, restaurant-wise, in Seattle more resplendent.
  • my camera, which allowed me to snap self-important photos of everything.
  • my friend Jen, who recommended the Seattle Underground tour, which, though we did not actually take it, inspired us to ask: "What about Seattle? And what is this 'Underground' we hear tell of?" which made for a tidy bit of conversation.
  • the rain, which made it cool-ish and rather pleasant to walk around the unfamiliar city.
  • summer, which needs no further explanation.
  • the United States's system of interstate highways.
  • the internet, which has allowed me to tell you all what I ate in Seattle, and even though I've heard it said that no one is interested in what you ate for lunch, your comments on my dinner posts have proved that at least some of you are interested in what I ate for dinner (tonight, at Serafina: seared scallops atop a ragout of fresh peas, pancetta, and something else delicious--yeah, a zucchini timbale; for dessert, an almond cornmeal cake with a lemon verbena semifreddo and a strawberry-vanilla syrup!).
  • our MasterCard, God bless it.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Mathematical.

Last night we went to a high concept restaurant in downtown Seattle called Qube. There were four of us, only one of whom (the historian's daughter) had been there before. It's a fusion restaurant, the cuisines being fused French and Asian; the main idea is 3-course sets. Each set has small servings of three dishes, all based on the same main ingredient--so it's 3 x 3, three courses, each consisting of three. Have I made that clear? Because it's kind of math-y for me. But the food was rather amazing.

It's one of those restaurants where the service consists of lots of explanation--the waitstaff has to serve as curator and docent of the menu. "Now, what's this sauce?" you ask, even though you have previously pored over the menu like a scholar, because it's just one component of several in the little dish--which is, in turn, just one dish of three. And: "Our flatbread tonight is topped with a cardamom salt, with ground almonds, and the dipping oil is infused with cloves and cinnamon." Yes, our flatbread was, as the historian's daughter noted, a kind of savory coffee cake. And it was delicious.

It's brainy food, but also fantastically good-tasting. For instance, the salmon course I had consisted of a gorgeous and extremely fresh-tasting tartare, along with a piece of salmon poached in olive oil; the piece de resistance, however, was the seared salmon, served with creamed white corn, and huitlachoche atop an herb salad. (I totally had to consult the website, because I couldn't remember how to spell "huitlachoche." And what's huitlachoche, you ask? Well let me tell you, my darlings, with the help of Wikipedia:
Corn smut is a disease of maize caused by the pathogenic plant fungus Ustilago maydis. U. maydis causes smut disease on maize (Zea mays) and teosinte (Euchlena mexicana). Although it can infect any part of the plant it usually enters the ovaries and replaces the normal kernels of the cobs with large distorted tumors analogous to mushrooms. These tumors, or "galls", are made up of much-enlarged cells of the infected plant, fungal threads, and blue-black spores. The spores give the cob a burned, scorched appearance. In fact, the name Ustilago comes from the Latin word ustilare (to burn).
Yes, huitlachoche is corn smut. It is a disease. However, this disease is sometimes actually cultivated and in Mexico it is considered a bit of a delicacy, since its "flavor [is] described as mushroom-like, sweet, savory, woody, and earthy." And it was very, very tasty with the salmon and the corn. The whole dish was fantastic.)

For dessert the available sets of three were based on peaches, bananas, or pineapple. The historian had the peach set. The peach granite had cinnamon and lime in it; the peach cobbler was topped by a Thai basil gelato (odd and also wonderful). I had the banana set:

Fried Empress Spring Roll
Banana & Lime Salad, Toasted Coconut
Tamarind & Lime Crème Brulee

Each of these was good, but the spring roll was the best, because it came with a dipping sauce, a fresh caramel sauce infused with star anise. It was so good! When I had finished my spring roll, and therefore the reason for the sauce had, as it were, expired, we all had a little turn at finishing it up.

The whole experience was inspiring--I'll think about that salmon dish and the idea of infusing spices into all kinds of things for my own cooking. Also inspiring, as in a sharp intake of breath when the bill came.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Rem Koolhaas's Seattle House.

Today, after buying a pile of books at Elliot Bay Books, we spent a couple of hours in the Central Library of the Seattle Public Library. It was pretty amazing. I think the Salt Lake City Library is a more beautiful building, but this Koolhaas-designed space is more interesting. (I took tons of pictures--here's my flickr set, if you're interested.)

What mesmerized me--I could have watched it for an hour--was a functional digital installation by George Legrady, "Making Visible the Invisible." There are six plasma screens behind the research librarians' desk on the 5th floor. At different times, the screens display streams of information that are constantly changing: the titles of books being checked out; a "Dot Matrix Rain," which is the Dewey Decimal categories of the books in a digital fall; key word map attack, which is the key words associated with the titles, blooming forward and fading out; and the vital statistics for the day so far. (We talked to a research librarian, who said that so far on most days, books win out over other media--it's close, but books usually win. That's one for you bibliophiles.) Here's a little video to give you an idea.

video

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Foreign languages, or The French Open.

Overheard on ESPN2 this a.m., during the Ferrer-Monfils match:

Announcer 1: What was it you said about this match before it started, Announcer 2?

Announcer 2: Announcer 1, I said,"In this match, a Spaniard is going to make a Frenchman cramp."


Also, does anyone know the history of the wack scoring system of tennis?

Roger Federer, in my opinion, basically cannot be bothered, most of the time, to concentrate on the first set. Thereafter, however, he is statistically most likely to annihilate his opponent (today, the Swiss made the Spaniard cry).

As it turns out, during the summer, most of our vacations involve watching a little bit of Grand Slam tennis. The historian played, so he is an avid and knowledgeable fan. I, however, did not, and have to be reminded about the scoring, etc. My learning curve is long and slow. Fun, though.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Expensive dinner.

Today was a rainy day in Seattle, and I wasn't feeling so well, so we mostly stayed in, which has its own pleasures within a vacation context. I'm reading a very interesting book (published by Felony & Mayhem Press, how great is that?), and I also just bought and started that book called French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States. Both the historian and I subscribe to the philosophy of vacationing that allows for chilling out in the vacation location, as opposed to the "you can read that book when you get home" philosophy, the "action-vacation" philosophy.

Anyway, around dinner time, it was raining pretty hard, so we decided to go across the street to one of the restaurants right on Lake Union. That's alert one, by the way, if you're trying to decide whether a restaurant is expensive--is it right on the lake where there are a bunch of yachts harbored? (Alert two: just look at the prices on the menu, of course.) But we went in anyway, and were seated in a really lovely dining room looking directly out at the lake, where the water was rough and the rain was falling with some intensity, and there was also a Tuesday regatta going on--sailboats, wind, rain, perfect.

The menu was expensive. As in, Ex.Pen.Sive. As in, it kind of made us laugh. But we decided to stay and eat, and ultimately there were some good things on the menu and lots of exquisitely prepared vegetables and salads, not to mention things like mussels and clams in a green curry broth. Not that that hasn't been done before, but it can be done well, and at this restaurant, it was. The salad was made of beautiful local lettuces--truly gorgeous, a purple lettuce that was almost black, with a lemon vinaigrette. It was pretty much a perfect salad, not overpriced, the kind of thing a certain type of restaurant can do impeccably. This was a crab house with a side mission of expensive steak. Anyway: we ordered our food, it was all very good, maybe overpriced by about 20%? Maybe 25%?

But the most hilarious thing about this place was the service. Lots of servers, and a hierarchy of servers and staff, all of whom were very serious about how good your dinner is and that you think so. We had a main waiter, who was excellent. There was a water guy, and then other servers who filled in as water guys when our glasses were emptying. There was a maitre d' host, and then another guy whom I would have pegged as the maitre d'host, except the other guy was clearly that guy, so maybe the intermediate guy was, like, Quality Control. Sort of an entrepreneurial, "is everything at Nirvana level?" guy, an independent source of information. At one point, in the space of about two minutes, we had like four people come by to check on us.

Also hilarious: with the awesome sourdough bread that is ubiquitous at seafood restaurants in Seattle, they brought out a tiny square plate with a triangular slice of sweet butter, over which was sprinkled pink Hawaiian sea salt. I laughed (only after the waiter had left), but it was kind of delicious, and don't think I won't copy it sometime when I feel like being extra fancy at some dinner party of my own.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Me, too.

Ever the copycat, I am borrowing this book meme. Which is, here's a bunch of books picked by someone else (it's the "Top 100 Books Marked as Unread" on Library Thing), and I am telling you that:
  • I read the bolded ones,
  • I read the underlined ones, but I read them for school, and
  • I only started but did not finish the italicized ones.
Books without formatting I did not read at all.

All that said, I am not sure what this demonstrates. Like that other list--the even longer one--this list is partly "sure, that makes sense to be on a list of agreed-upon books" and partly "what? why that and not this?" But I do sort of enjoy this kind of thing, because it reminds me of things like, I really want to read Love in the Time of Cholera and I might want to tackle a monumental gap, like Moby-Dick or most of Virginia Woolf.

So: whatever. I've read books, some books, some of them because I was told to and some of them because I wanted to. As a side note: no poetry on here except Homer, which just goes to show that people read so little poetry that it doesn't even show up as a phenomenon like "I bought this book but I haven't gotten around to reading it." Yes, people: a literary art that no one reads, that's my art.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
Catch-22
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Ulysses
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
Emma
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha (started reading this in a bookstore)
Middlesex
Quicksilver
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
Middlemarch
Frankenstein
The Count of Monte Cristo
Dracula
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
1984
Angels & Demons
Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Dune
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
Cryptonomicon
Neverwhere
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Dubliners
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Beloved
Slaughterhouse-five
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion is this
There is Confusion
Lolita
Persuasion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

Sunday, June 01, 2008

La Grande, in pictures.

Last year when we took our epic journey in the Northwest, continuing on down to Mendocino, we drove as far as La Grande in eastern Oregon, where we stayed. We were kind of charmed by this little town, home of Eastern Oregon University. Here are some pictures from our current trip through the same territory.

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