Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Would you rather...

...fall asleep at the appointed hour, in good spirits, having almost finished your crossword puzzle,


at the very same appointed hour, hear your husband say oh. my. GOD. upon going into the hall bathroom, to find that the ceiling has caved in and the room is full of insulation and soggy wall board?

Would you rather...

spend the day quietly working on your manuscript, fending off the ancient voices saying what is the effing POINT, instead finding the satisfaction in reconstructing the manuscript's narrative, its arc, its aesthetic, and whatnot,


do this same whole manuscript deal shut in the bedroom with your dog, who is quietly whining in a voice full of pathos because he cannot fully inspect the roofing guy, who is here, there, and everywhere, about to give you an estimate for which portion of your fortune you will part with so that your roof will not leak?

Sunday, May 29, 2011


The Wet Spring That Was is also occurring in Idaho. My dad called to say, a few hours ago, that a severe weather watch was in effect in eastern Idaho, with as much as a dozen inches of snow predicted for Island Park. Snow! This has put a serious crimp in the unrolling of my grand plan, which occurs in this order:
  • Finish the semester (check)
  • Finish grading (check!)
  • Go to L.A. (check)
  • Come home and cry a little (also check!)
  • See a dubious comedy @ Brewvies, with Dr. Write et al (hi Jane & Pam!)(also, hello Shroom & Swiss Gardenburger with fries!)
  • Gather my wits and be the happy genius of my house (in progress, but check!)
  • Drive up to Idaho with my folks to open the cabin and spend some quality time with them. (weather-related wrench in the gears!)
After that, there was to be, and still will be
  • Go to the west desert with singing son for a music weekend
  • Go to NoCal to see my oldest darling friend
  • Return to Zion, then drive north with the historian to Idaho
Well, time, fortune, and the weather will sort themselves out. One way or another, we'll be in Idaho, oh YES WE WILL BE IN IDAHO sometime in June.

But until then, perhaps a few pictures of the Glendale Narrows section of the Los Angeles River will cheer us all up. If we needed cheering up, which, around here, actually, we don't:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The visit.

I can't remember if I ever wrote about how, when we tried to go to the Watts Towers a year and a half ago, we drove around Watts with only the sketchiest of directions for awhile, an hour maybe, until, like, the third time we were driving through the housing project, our eyes cast upward, because we thought that surely those towers would manifest themselves because after all, weren't they towers, as in, tall? I said to the historian, you know, they're saying to themselves, "Those white people (in their Camry) are trying to find the Watts Towers."

We did not find the Watts Towers that day. But we definitely found them this time.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

To the desert:

Here, it is hot during the day, as one might expect. At night, it cools down. Here, in this house high on a hill, just north of Joshua Tree National Park, late in the day, we open the doors and windows to let the cool in. Because it's a house I'm not used to, I wake a few times in the night. The windows are uncurtained because the house is remote, and I can see the changing face of the sky. A three-quarter moon. An airy tree. At six, a sky all blue and bright with sun.

In this desert house, there is no television, and more, I need less diversion. Diversion from what? There are art magazines and books. In the past, when I've subscribed to art magazines, they often just felt like pretentious noise. This was especially true when what I needed more than anything was diversion. I am thinking about diversion a lot, because I realize, what I've been seeking to be diverted from is my life, my actual life. I thought the stress emanated only from the job, but that's because the job felt like it was my only life.

But that's done. Today, I wrote a million ideas. Not ideas for diversions, and not ideas for my job. Ideas for my work, my work and my life.

In the desert, like everywhere else, there is a history that lives in the layers of things. Today, we found out about the sea that covered the California deserts. There are artifacts left from the people who lived by it, near the Pinto Mountains. And all over the desert there are oases, where California fan palm trees grow. Yesterday, we hiked up Palm Canyon, outside of Palm Springs. Palm Canyon, part of a complex of canyons known as "Indian Canyons," are not too far from a golf course and resort. All of it is owned by the Agua Caliente band of the Cahuilla tribe. You can't believe how beautiful and how peaceful.

According to the tribe,
With our language dying, our ceremonies fading and the younger generation leaving the old ways, the death of our Tribal leader brought the past and future together in a momentous way. The elders determined that there was no one left among us to serve as the people's teacher, to preside over meetings, rituals, rites of passage, and wield the power of the Um na'a as had been done since the creation of the world. They came to the painful decision that no one would be named as our new net and that the traditional ceremonial house would be burned. As fire engulfed the structure, so went many of our ancient ways. It was time, they said, to look to the future.
I have been looking to the past, to try to understand my own and how it intersects with this particular landscape. Here, in a place where there are so many ruined houses, so many abandoned sites of enterprise and human artificing from every possible era, I'm laying hands upon a will, a desire to start again, an urge from which I will not be diverted.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lots of pretty people there, reading Rolling Stone, reading Vogue.

At Rockn Fish, in Manhattan Beach. We are sitting on the patio; the historian has his back to the door, which means I am in precisely the spot to observe the comings and goings:

Me: You can't see the exceedingly well-groomed people coming in and out of here.

The historian: Really? (continues eating his artichoke.)

Me: Yeah. Like, just now: tall guy, eyebrows clearly professionally groomed, airbrushed tan.
Velvet blazer. Very well-fitted.

The historian: That could be me.

Me: ...yet tragically, it is not.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Today, after we got up, ate breakfast, returned to our room with every intention of going down to the beach to contemplate the vastness of things, but instead took a little post-breakfast nap, we then got up in time to pursue part 2 of our agenda, which was getting in the car and driving to the Miracle Mile, aka Museum Row, aka the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, aka LACMA, and it was so great.

Reason 1 it was great: I have apparently become expert at navigating the Los Angeles freeways and byways. So we drove to the LACMA like it was our job, and we just got merit pay for doing our job very very well.

Reason 2 it was great: upon arrival, we ate at Ray's, which is kind of a fancy restaurant for a museum. But lucky you, I have taken extensive notes on our dining experience for your delectation and delight. We saw some other great stuff today, believe me, and I wouldn't say this lunch trumped them all. But this lunch was damn good.

First of all: we love to eat at museum eateries. On this we agree. But it turns out that the historian prefers a more democratic eating experience at museums, whereas I like all kinds of eating experiences, but if pressed, must admit that I often enjoy a fancy lunch. This means that, when we both say, "We love to eat at museum cafes," we have different experiences in mind. This is a lesson, by the way, in the instability of language. Woe!

So when we walked in and it was clearly an order-from-the-menu, sit-down type of experience we were about to have, if we decided to stay, the historian briefly demurred. But I clearly had the tragic air of a person about to be denied her heart's desire, so instead, we sat down.

The first item I saw on the menu was this: "Foraged Lettuces."

I said, "Look, we can mock the menu."

The historian said, "No, this is fine," because he had made up his mind to enjoy it no matter if he would rather have had a lovely sandwich with perhaps a fancy bag of chips alongside. And though I felt mildly guilty for my fancy preferences, I thought, oh what the hell. So we turned to serious menu-reading, after ordering drinks (iced tea for me ["We have two kinds ice tea. Plumberry--it's black--or green, it's ginger and peach."] and water for both of us ["Sparkling or flat?"]). See? Fancy.

When they brought my iced tea, they also brought this:

The people, that is four kinds of sugar. FOUR. And all of a sudden, I knew this lunch was going to be awesome. So here is what we had:

The historian ordered a cold artichoke soup, with goat's milk yogurt, fried mint, and some food item that started with a "v" that I can't remember, sadly. It was tart and beautiful. He also ordered a flatbread for us to share, which turned out to be a pizza, a very very delicious pizza, made with taggiasche olives, what must have been the freshest ricotta in the universe, some broccolini, and black pepper.

I ordered an albacore salad, which was a variation on a Nicoise. It had cannelini beans with a little bit of broth, rare seared tuna, haricots verts, chopped piquillo peppers, shaved red onion, and--wait for it!--black olive aioli. That aioli was so good, it just about blew my mind.

Also, that iced tea was just about the best iced tea I've ever had, and that's with no sugar added. The sugar was just iced tea scenery. It was iced tea ambiance, and a very good ambiance it was, as it turns out.

So our guy, who is about the most charming waiter known to man, says he hopes we've saved room for dessert. Fat chance, we say to ourselves, but he is charming. So we say, sure, we'll look at a menu. And on the menu, under the name "Citrus," is this:

That is, for your information, an orange marmalade cake, with grapefruit curd, then a little meringue, topped with thinly sliced mandarinquat. With a little fancy sugar. And by its side, a suave spoonful of bergamot sorbet. BERGAMOT. I am not kidding you. It was without peer, and I say this as a person who has made lemon verbena ice cream which is, up until this afternoon, the best ice cream I ever tasted. Also, this is a video because I forgot to set it on a photo setting, and it is sideways because I don't know why. Just accept it, okay? Bergamot sorbet, for crying out loud.

Lastly, although actually this was more like firstly, the utensils and napkin were contained in this manner:

In conclusion: the people, why not go to Ray's?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

With a side of carbs, please.

At Mangiamo's, after a long day of driving:

Server: ...and another appetizer special, sweet potato gnocchi, in a sage butter sauce, with roasted garlic, and finished with asiago cheese.

Us: We'll have some of that...

Me: ...and I'll be ordering from the special pasta menu--carbonara.

Server: ...and for your salad?

Me: [puzzled. Please to explain?]

Server: I don't know if you knew this, but since tonight is special pasta night, you also get a salad, like a dinner salad? or a Caesar?

Me: Caesar!

The historian: I'll have the puttanesca. With the dinner salad, and bleu cheese.

Server: So, with those salads, do you still want the gnocchi?

Us: Sure!

Server: And how about bread?

Us: YES.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Signs of life.

Sunday, Mother's Day, we had a big gaggle of family over for a barbeque in the rain. To prepare for this, we mowed the backyard and did a ton of yardwork in the front, so that we could all mill around inside and look out. At the rain. It was so much fun.

Monday, the day after Mother's Day, I took my son to the airport. Then I came home to the quiet of the house, to grading. We ate leftovers from the party.

Tuesday, yesterday, I stayed home all day, grading. I made dinner, with lots of vegetables. I finished my grades and prepared for the next day's meetings.

Today, I had meetings all day. I came home and started a batch of bread and made soup. I took a nap. I baked the bread and we ate it with the soup. Outside, the light is perfect. The hydrangea, daisies, geraniums and pelargonia, lemon verbena, lavender, rosemary and basil we planted on the weekend gleam in their pots.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Open letter to the vegetarian option.

Dear The Vegetarian Option,

Because there was no fish option, which is what I usually opt for at the occasional institutional dinner event, you and I met again last night, The Vegetarian Option, at the round table on the far edge of the room, the giant ballroom filled with dignitaries and rich people and a bunch of us employee types, who were there to season the conversation and decorate the event. I keep thinking that things have changed--that "vegetarian" is actually a cuisine, maybe, at this point. I know I've eaten vegetarian food that has the imagination, the inventiveness, the je ne sais quoi of cuisine, that still fits the criterion "vegetarian." I cook this kind of food all the time.

But not you, The Vegetarian Option. No, there you sat in the bowl, all overcooked penne and saucy sauce, and cut up green-and-yellow summer squash and the occasional incongruous carrot chunk.

First of all, penne pasta: you are not optimal for this non-optimal dish. You are hefty where you should be subtle, and you are tubular and in general, suitable for other treatments, such as baking in cheese. Al forno, penne pasta: you are optimal for that.

Second of all, green-and-yellow summer squash: you are not currently seasonal, and you are in fact usually tasteless. You are a veritable place-holder of a vegetable. Not even the fancy decorative cut-outs in the shape of leaves with leaf-vein divots on the tops of them can address your deficiencies, vegetable-wise.

Thirdly, carrots? I love carrots. But a carrot, particularly in chunk form, is not--how shall we say?--relevant to this dish.

But most of all, The Vegetarian Option, you are lousy with thoughtlessness, rife with lack of care, with I'm-just-here-to-fill-a-dish-ness. You imply that the vegetarian, because she does not care for meat, does not care about food at all. I am taking it personally, The Vegetarian Option. From henceforth you are my nemesis and I shall not rest until you, The Vegetarian Option, behave like actual food, rather than the fodder you actually are.

I mean it,

lisa b.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Guided Tour

At the Tastee Treet, Home of the Space Burger, at the south end of Pocatello, ID:

Guy at the counter: Will this be to stay or to go?

Me: Actually, we're waiting for a friend, but can you explain some things on the menu?

Counter guy: Sure thing.

Me: What is a Space Burger?

Guy: You take a piece of white bread, then you put this burger, like, with potato and onion in it, and like lettuce and then [hand in cupping/capping motion] you put another piece of bread on it, and then you cut off the crusts and you [hands come together] grill it in the Space Burger Machine, and it looks kind of like a . . .

Me: . . . flying saucer.

Guy: . . . UFO.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Publication Studies class.

Condiment says:

Please file a report on your bookmaking class, please, and show examples, if copyright allows.

In lieu of a full report of the Publication Studies class, I offer this documentary, made by awesome students Megan Weiler and Jason McFarland, of the chapbook project:


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