Monday, February 28, 2005

I am sitting at a table, reading my text, waiting for the tires to be fixed…

…and I notice he is back. Have you ever seen him? He comes to the Borders Café with his computer. He gets a drink. He goes to the newspaper shelves and picks out a few fat papers from all over the country. He takes these to his table and he reads them. Then he folds them up (more or less) and proceeds to do his computer stuff. Hours later he throws the papers over to the bench, packs up and leaves.

I cannot stare him down into shame. And it really is none of my business. Borders can afford the loss of a paper or two. People (myself included) leaf through books. Why not newspapers?

Because what small pleasure remains in the reading of a paper is in the freshness of it, the smell, the neatly folded sections, corners uncurled. And he ruins it for the next person. Oblivious. It bothers me that he is so oblivious to it all.

In defense of good counting skills

Ann writes this in support of her position that Chris Rock inappropriately brought anti-Bush material to the Oscar podium last night and alienated with it a great number of viewers (bold emphasis is my own):

Actually, I think the people who voted for Kerry should be worried. But they'll have to get past their in-group enjoyment of themselves and their own imagined superiority and get some concept of how the people who didn't vote for Kerry -- AKA the majority -- respond to this sort of display.

True, the majority of the viewing public did not vote for Kerry. But nor did they vote for Bush. The crude statistics told us that 60% of eligible voters cast a vote in November. Of those, 51% voted for Bush (CNN). That would put a generous bid of 60,608,582 who may have been offended.

But wait. Current support for Bush in this country is a more relevant marker of audience disenchantment with the jokes. According to a 1/05 NYT/CBS poll , 56% say things are worse now than five years ago. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to Ann and agree that those who believe things are the same or better might be offended. That would be 44% of the viewing American audience. So perhaps it is more accurate to say that maximally, 19,140,000 were offended (based on New Yorker stats that about 43.5 million Americans, or about 15% watch the Oscars).

Assuming that none of them had a sense of humor. Because I, for example, would have laughed at a good anti-Kerry joke last night if Kerry had been our president. I would have been so tickled at having him there that I would not have cared that Chris Rock compared him to a clerk in Gap pretending that Banana Republic had tanktops. I’d say a whooping ha ha to that! So let’s reduce the numbers by a bit – Bush supporters at this point are a somber lot so assume that only 10% can be discounted for having a sense of humor. So, we are now at 17,226,000 of Americans watching offended.

Still more: what of the rest of the world? Assume none of them cared about the budget deficit joke, so all offense has to be taken with respect to the anti- Banana Republic (targeting the war, but with no countries mentioned) humor campaign. Assume that only a percentage of the audience, perhaps corresponding to the Coalition of the Willing would take offense (though I have to say, anti-Bush sentiments are growing even in Poland these days). But I think I can safely say that the international Oscar audience does not consist of many from the Coalition of the Willing. Why? Because 1. the vast majority does not have cable access and therefore does not carry the Oscars (see New Yorker article for more accurate analysis of this) and 2. Just about every one of them do not have a Gap, nor a Banana Republic and so that what meager audience is generated from Bush-supporting (Coalition) countries, it will not get the joke, thus being spared the offense (honestly, you cannot be offended if you do not get the joke). I think that just about leaves all foreign audience (the distributors of the show put it at “several hundred” million in the international category) unoffended. Conservatively, that’s 200,000,ooo unoffended on both sides of the ocean and north and south of our borders. Okay, I’ll generously throw in 5,000,000 offended just to show I am not skewing the numbers here.

So, Ann, out of a conservative audience of 243,500,000 (international + national), 22,226,000 (17,226,000 offended American viewers and 5,000,000 generously granted international offended viewers), or fewer than 11 % may have been offended. A humoirist takes his/her chances. These are pretty good stats in favor of the joke, in my opinion.

Blame it on your agent. Or maybe your lawyer?

Thanks to jwz for the link to the other awards: the Razzies (given by the Golden Raspberry Award Foundation on the night before the Oscars), where Halle Berry was named worst actress of the year for her appearance in Catwoman.

Showing up for the award, she offered this:

"I want to thank Warner Brothers for casting me in this piece of shit," she said as she dragged her agent on stage and warned him "next time read the script first."

Other winners: George W. Bush picked up a Razzie as worst actor of the year for his performance as president in Fahrenheit 9/11. I'm not sure who accepted the award on his behalf (given his need for a rest after his travels to Europe last week, I'm certain he had to send his personal regrets).

Good Monday morning to you, too

Starting the day with two flat tires is a good indication of where this week is heading.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

What will you say when the clock is ticking and you have only ten seconds of breath left?

If you are Hillary Swank (on stage at the Oscars and the trumpets are sounding), you’ll say --- wait! wait! I have been saving Clint Eastwood for last, don’t cut me off. Oh, but let me just say this: I want to thank the lawyers...

You're welcome.

Surviving, though not thriving...

A little one said this once and I drag it out on evenings like this one. I will be glad when the Oscars are over. Blogging about them proved impossible for a million reasons. This is as simul- as I get tonight.

To a better week!

This place is littered with good souls

A trashy day (weekend? winter?) made better by people sitting behind computer screens – you know who you are! But so that this does not become an inside story, let me acknowledge some of you in turn. Thank you so much for these messages today:

[On the subject of the Oscars, in response to this, from me: I am, however, dragging these days and so I'm guessing that I'll be reluctant to leave the house, let alone the neighborhood:] You should do whatever you prefer, whatever is more comfortable or fun…

[In response to my tattoo idea:] Anyway, if you weren't exaggerating for comic effect, I'd probably be compelled to drive over there and throw myself under the wheels of your van until the impulse passed.

[In response to my threat to come visit a certain blogger couple living in the Polish highlands this May and blog away from their family b&b:] Na pewno cos wykombinujemy. W najgorszym wypadku w moim starym pokoiku mozna sie podlaczyc do gniazdka przez modem. Czekamy na dalsze wiesci.

[And finally, the succinctly perfect one, in response to my own email saying this: I'm still up for a walk, but you may change your mind after you hear that I am not a little sullen all week-end, make that all week, make that all month:]
I still want to go. Sullen's alright.

In answer to the emails that ensued, after my tossed around idea about a tattoo (see post below):

Here’s why it wont happen: I would never be able to decide what piece of “art” I would not regret carrying with me for the rest of my life. Surely the choices are limited and snakes and dragons and astrological signs just do not do it for me. Now, if there was a Monet water lily, I may cave, but unless they got the colors precisely right, I’m afraid it’s a no go. If I am fussy about getting a blogroll set up exactly right, you can well imagine that I would be fussy about the creamy yellow tones to the petals of that lily. Body part hosting the tattoo? That’s easy: something perpetually covered up. Back of an earlobe maybe?
The one flower I would never get tired of: Posted by Hello

Promises, promises…

Okay, blogroll is in production but production has been stalled for reasons having to do with the technical incompetence of the production team (me). I will prevail. I WILL PREVAIL, but the project is on hold until I bribe someone to help me do this in the complicated way I want to do it. Ocean is fussy. It has to look minimalist and cool. Your patience is deeply appreciated.

[You can laugh at me behind my back if it makes you feel better.]

On this day, I should do something significant, like announce a major move or go get a tattoo or roll in the snow in my pajamas at midnight

Oscar night. So many things to so many people. I dare say, no one could treat this event more seriously than I do. It’s not the awards per se, it’s the evening of watching them being handed out, like gifts bestowed to nobility, jewels and crowns and promises of undying loyalty.

If life is one capricious frolic and tumble, then mine certainly can be said to have been given a jumpstart the day that Rocky walked off with the Best Picture/Director award and Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch hauled it in for their acting in Network.

It was the year of Great Changes for me and each Oscar night is a reminder of that, a celebration of sorts, except each year, it is a quieter celebration.

And finally comes 2005 – the quietest of them all. Tonight, I’m staying home. I would love to spend the evening with my friend and her son – they are as knowledgeable about the industry as people who were in the room with me watching back in 1976. They will open the door for me gladly, they’ll even let me watch and write, too. Or, I could simply go across the street to my sweet sweet neighbors who are also movie nuts, in addition to having hearts of marzipan and dark chocolate and gold.

I wont do either. It’s one of those things. It’s my time to descend into quietness.

Or, I may get a tattoo. Body piercing is out of the question and the snow looks solidly iced-over. A move? I could, I suppose, conjure up an announcement of a major move, without necessarily committing to a physical relocation. Day is young. Possibilities are numerous.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

What can you say about an ostensibly close to you person who tells you the following on the phone?

You are home on a Saturday evening?
Yes, I have some writing to do. You know, work stuff.

You work at home??
Yes, I very often work at home.

Really? Like what kind of work?
[I pause and cosider the very real possibility that this person doesn't actually know what my job is.] Work work.

I’m surprised. Anyway, I just talked to [a young person, known to the two of us; in fact, a relative].

I enjoyed it. Unlike [a not too oblique reference to two grown women residing an ocean apart], he actually listens to me, is interested in what I have to say.

I mean, it’s a conversation stopper, isn’t it? Not to mention that I distinctly remember having like a ten hour spell of listening just a few days back.

More on tracking the size of an audience

Just remember, when they say tomorrow that more than a billion are watching the Oscars, it's not really true.

A post where Ocean takes on both the mysteries of the universe and jokes about garlic breath

As the health of the Pope makes headlines on an almost daily basis, stories about religion and Catholicism are trickling into blogs and bookstore lines.

For example, this Thursday I was standing in line at the University Bookstore downtown and a man was telling a quite funny joke about a Pope who needed a heart transplant (it’s about feathers and unwilling donors and garlic breath in Italy; really a nice little chuckle). A small group gathered and we had ourselves an impromptu discussion as to how Pontiffs get elected. I’d forgotten how long it’s been since there has been a change in the Vatican. Most students weren’t even born at the time of the last Papal inauguration (1978).

In the meantime, matchingtracksuits is posting about how difficult it is to admit to atheism in Poland (citing my comment on that blog about there being no reward for keeping an open mind to possibility of an absence of a God). I’d always felt that a lack of tolerance toward atheism should be especially pronounced in deeply Catholic countries. But is that really true? It is an accepted truth that an atheist would have no chance at political success in the States. The same cannot be said for Poland. Moreover, as matchingtracksuits points out, a Pole’s response to atheism is typically one of pity (“I cannot imagine living without God”). In the States, I think it breeds distrust (“So what else don’t you believe in? Democracy? Freedom? The American Way?”).

On the other hand, no one standing in a line in Poland would have thought the joke about a Pope’s heart transplant was funny. Rather than lingering, I would have looked for the nearest exit. It’s not safe to be in the midst of an angry mob.

Rolling around the blog, linking games and traffic updates

At the Wednesday blogger dinner, Bozzo and Oscar* cooked up a linking game, whereby they increase the number of links to each other, so that their blogs reach an elevated status in the ecosystem rankings, where such things count.

But count for what? If you reach a higher level for a day, for a week, forever, as a result of machinations and manipulations, what have you actually demonstrated except that your game was a success (which we already know will be the case)?

Again, the question has been raised as to why numbers – of links and readers – do not fascinate me as much. And it really is quite simple. Once I knew I had readers (and I do know, from emails that people write, which I absolutely treasure) I felt that I have an obligation to write for them, these real people who are already connected to me. Who cares if there are 100 or 500? What possible difference does it make?

Much as I like fashioning my own rules and sticking to my own way of doing things on Ocean, I will, however, give in to one recurring request: that I list the blogs I read on a regular basis. That will be my project for this week-end. And I want it to be an inclusive list, so if you have included Ocean on your blogroll and want to be mentioned here, please send me an email. Since I am not a checker, chances are I do not know about Ocean’s appearance elsewhere, if indeed it does appear elsewhere.

*Why am I on a first name basis with Oscar but not Bozzo in my references to them here? Because tradition has it that we’ve used last names in posting about blogger dinner attendees. Oscar muddled things up by giving himself the last name of Madison. It is too odd to refer to him as Madison. It’s as if I am writing about my home town. Thus – he shall be Oscar, while the rest of us will suffer away with our authentically honest last names.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Lattes and juniper berries

Some days are out of control. We all have them. They begin early, finish late, and you wonder what it is that took up all of that middle part.

I happen to (sometimes) capture the essence of things by having my trusty non-rusty camera throughout. This is what I came up with:
Breakfast: But where's the food?? Posted by Hello
Lunch: What can I say, I was pressed for time and M., my eating companion, was willing to call this lunch. Posted by Hello
Dinner! Focus in on the juniper berries. Whew! Some kind of wonderful... Posted by Hello
Late in the day: Angel Fluffs hit the spot. Posted by Hello

Watching snow melt

Back from California on Tuesday. Found lots of snow on the ground. Nice neighbor had shoveled sidewalk. Driveway and walkway remain covered. Was lazy. Remain lazy. Decide not to shovel any of it. It is February 25. How long can it last? Will watch it melt. Will report when the last trace is gone. Neighbors realize my lazy streak. Probably feel sorry for me. Snow is awfully deep. Ah well.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Tonight, as I sipped and ate dinner downtown with two attorneys (former students of mine) who do not mind being blogged about, habits and all, it struck me how different the world of the law prof is (the average one, or at least me, I am not intending to generalize, so do not tell me that this is not your experience) from that of, say, the social science prof with respect to our conversations with students (for the most part, I know that there are exceptions, do not write and note for me the exceptions, yes yes, you are unique, I am not writing about you, only about me). In graduate school, the profs are fixtures for an extended period of time in the life and professional development of the grad student (six years? more?). As students slowly progress toward faculty status, the divisional lines starts to blur. And in anticipation of that, they actually blur quite early. Students wont admit this – they tend to distinguish between THEM and us (remember, I was once one of you, I speak from experience) – but all this is a pretence, because in reality, grades and letters of recommendation notwithstanding, boundaries are not clearly defined, in the domain of social interaction, between THEM and us.

In Law School, they are. I have to say this: no matter how stern my demeanor on the first day of class, the law student will quickly figure out (google and find the blog, for one thing) that I am one of the more approachable law profs around. Some call me “Nina” from day one (you could not do that to everyone). I understand. I like the prof title, but I shrug with indifference at those who choose to bypass it. Yet, in spite of thes degrees of informality, I know better. For example, bonded as I am to my small classes (we tell stories on break, we comment on each other’s eating habits – yes you, I am talking about the macaroni pizza you munch on each Wednesday, which makes us jealous and wistful), we would not, I don't think, go out to karaoke together. Somehow doing this with law students seems wrong (even though I did, smoke my one and only cigarette in the last 25 years with you guys out on the balcony this fall).


… then comes graduation. And my wonderful students become lawyers. And they write to me and call me and we have dinners and drinks and they report on the professional shenanigans out there and most of all (and this is so different from grad students), so many of them stay in town. I watch them surpass me in their ability to quickly provide a service and I AM SO PROUD! I ask them questions and even though they are half my age (just about, really!), they are my friends, suddenly, unequivocally.

God, I love my job.
holly, nina, sara -- lawyers in pink and black Posted by Hello

Teaching on a roll

Sometimes I come into class and I have my materials set before me and my lecture notes and texts marked with post-its. My seating chart is ready, my first page of notes is underlined properly, drawing attention to the important points that need to be emphasized before the day is done. And then a student offers an interesting (and provocative) observation and the notes suddenly seem redundant, unimportant, because the burning issue has just been framed in exactly the way you want it to be framed and the discussion takes off. And it is a worthwhile discussion because there are strong arguments to be made on both sides and suddenly I hear students making them. And they continue to make them after class.

Today was such a day.

Blogger dinner: tying up loose ends

[Posts below explain cast of bloggers]

It wasn’t billed as a karaoke night, but if you put Brito and Freese in the same room for more than five minutes, one of them will mention singing. And the other will surely oblige.

Oscar and I complained bitterly about the absence of cool music, but in the end we could not resist a moment on stage. Oscar even played the guitar (though he could have been playing row row row your boat continuously and no one would have noticed; occasionally when someone would look up, he’d mumble something about the guitar being grossly out of tune). Bozzo’s humming turned into out-loud singing. The “I’m going to go along with the whole odd lot of you” moment belonged to Althouse, who tried hard to Get Stuff Done in spite of the noise (I cannot call all that we belted into the mike singing). Oh, and a door prize to Brito who enticed me to dance along in the moments when I wasn’t the back-up girl to their music. Ooooo, weee, dooo dah DAH!

Thank you, Brito, for the dinner. It was a supremely wonderful meal. Each work day should end like this.
Yummy chicken with tomatoes, olives, ricotta... and she only had two hours to cook dinner for us Posted by Hello
How many bottles of wine on the wall, how many bottles of wine... Posted by Hello
Eyes closed, mikes held tight, melodies bursting forth with passion and...nerve. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Blogger dinner, continued

Why am I not a fastidious simul-blogger? Why have I not risen to the challenge? Because I think these fellow bloggers are all wonderful nuts – like the type you purchase in a specialty store for no good reason, except that they are a pleasure in life.

Brito is singing right now. Oscar is trying to appear at ease. Althouse is sweating her MSNBC post. Freese is absolutely relaxed – this is his forté after all. Bozzo is cool and willing to hum along. Me, I am just loving the relaxededness of it all. I can't quite follow the lyrics about it being hot in here and taking off all your clothes, but maybe it's just my age. Oh oh, Freese is picking up the mike. So far it is absolutely for visual effect only. The two of them look Now Freese is complaining that HIS MIKE DOESNT WORK (and yet he claims that he can PROJECT). Yes, assuredly he can. Yes. He can. Oh my. He can. Brito keeps repeating " hot.. take my clothes off.." but she doesn't mean it.

The water. It's all in the Madison water.

Let them eat blogs

I know I have new readers who are possibly unfamiliar with the idea of a blogger dinner. Then there are those living far away who have read accounts in the past and have wondered what substance ran through the water pipes of the city to make us act in this rather bizarre way.

It’s simple, really. A year ago, a handful of blogging law and soc profs came together, perhaps to counter aspersions that blogging promotes solitude. Faces and personalities were matched with blog pages (you’d be surprised at how much the blogging persona may not fully represent the wonderful complexity of any given blogger). Eventually we moved from restaurants to a home setting and the inevitable happened. Someone brought their computer. So did the others. Simul-blogging the dinner itself was born (where all participants write about the event simultaneously, as it is unfolding).

Now, thus far I have always hosted the at-home blogger dinners. Therefore, I have never participated in simul-blogging. I have been too busy filling plates to ever bring a computer into my kitchen. Perhaps as a result of my abstinence, some pretty shady-shifty aspersion were cast, as I endured the jokes of those who knew that retaliation was not about to take place.

Tonight I have my moment. The blogger dinner has moved to Brito’s. I am simul-blogging alright. In attendance: Althouse, Bozzo, Brito, Freese, and a newcomer – Oscar. I’m sharpening my fingers in anticipation. No more “Camic is burning the crostini!” or “Camic has turned up the heat to a hellish 130 degrees!” None of that. Sweet, sweet revenge, about to happen. Tonight.

Putting the good spin on being back home, at work, in the middle of a cold spell

Things that Madison has that Californians can only dream about:

* Clear skies and sunshine in February, strong enough to melt 12% of the snow that accumulated in my driveway during my California absence (thank you, neighbor, for clearing my sidewalk and sparing me the ticket that the snow cops hand out at this time of the year);

I’ll add to the list as soon as another idea strikes me.

In the meantime, the wet hills and fields of flowers in the Wine Country left an indelible mark on me. And the people: northern Californians mix and match in ways that are refreshing! Age-wise, politics-wise, otherwise – the groups that I hung out with were at ease in these various configurations. And the honest teasing about differences was completely enlivening.

Wait, I’m straying into California-adoration. I’m in Madison now. It’s good to be home. Yeah, it’s good to immerse myself in work, to catch myself (how pathetic) rereading my own posts about California ramblings.

And it’s great to hear from Mary, issuing an invitation for the next trek out west. There’s Anderson Valley to visit, the North Beach to walk through, a spa morning at Cinta, a MoMA afternoon... she writes.

I wonder if my Berkeley mother needs another visit from me. I’m sure she does. Take heed, all you adult readers with aging parents! Ocean is going on record in its support and encouragement of intergenerational family visists. How lucky that for once, for once, someone in my family has kindly chosen a place to live that is intensely exciting to explore.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Romantic Comedy

Some people (me for example) like watching romantic comedies. I frequently hear this: when I go to a movie, I like to forget about the reality waiting for me back home. I want to be happy along with the couple on the screen.

It struck me that increasingly, this blog is turning into one romantic comedy. Like the movie form, it is not especially funny, but it stumbles along hoping to entertain – myself if not the reader.

Anyone who knows me, knows also that this has been a rather tough winter for me. I’ve a lot going on at work and just about at every front and I find most of it very trying and unamusing. Ocean goes through phases and it has definitely hit a level of inconsequentiality that is astonishing to a reader who may have logged on prior to the elections, for example.

This morning, at the Denver airport, I wrote tentatively a post on a more serious topic – having to do with the EU. I used to love writing about things having to do with the EU. Not anymore. I read my own post and deleted it. It struck me as wrong for the here and now.

I know there is a danger: one of these days I will slide into writing about something so trivial that it may as well appear as a blank page on the computer screen: it will say absolutely nothing.

For now, I am running with my own inclination. Martinis, truck stops, hair color, barnyard manure if I come across any that strikes me as amusing. Nothing serious. Not this month or next, for sure.

P.S. to the kind reader (click onto his cool new blog here) who suggested that perhaps I should have purchased the whoopass t-shirt (see last night’s post here) and worn it to class this week, let me assure you, the students may have laughed, but some of my senior colleagues would not have been amused.

Where I announced to a full flight of people that I add color to my hair

Though we are a noisy nation (no problem picking out Americans abroad – they talk ten notches louder than everyone else; it is a vast country that we inhabit and we have trained ourselves to shout in order to be heard from Maine to California), on planes, people for the most part tend to be quiet.

They were quiet when we were settling into our seats. And very quiet when I took out my cell for a quick call to my man Jason who was to work on my hair this afternoon were it not for my complicated layovers and missed return connections. And they were super quiet when I said to the Salon receptionist: what do you mean you cannot find Jason?? I need to beg him on my knees to take me this week. I cannot stand the color of my hair another minute! He’ll do this for me, I know he will! Please go find him!

And they continued to be quiet as I said, while getting up to disembark, right into my reconnected cell: well if you cannot find him go search for Robyn, his assistant. You do not understand, this is a color emergency!

Everyone heard, everyone smiled with understanding (after all, they had full view of my head of hair). But I had to do it anyway. I was past being embarrassed. I needed action.

[BTW, have I said this before? 70% of women past 40 color their hair and 17% of men do. Just keep that in mind as you next scan the heads of people in an audience or an airplane.]

Denver Airport: I used to laugh at people like me

There was a time when passengers, overloaded with carryons, brought out a little secret smirk in me. I would embark smugly on a nine-hour flight with a novel in hand and a dainty purse swinging from the shoulder and that would be it. Crazy people, those who think they need every piece of entertainment on board, or who load themselves down with souvenirs and travel purchases. Plain nutty.

That was then. This trip is reason enough to feel regret at my past smugness. I am loaded down by projects I want to work on but don’t have time for back home. I am burdened by a computer that was purchased when lightweight was not an option. Burnt by too many instances of lost luggage, I have all important items stuffed into the computer bag. My handbag has life’s essentials, which, as of this morning, appear to include a lifetime supply of tictacs and my growing collection of coffee cards. And on this leg of the journey, I also have a little crate of wine purchased in Sonoma and Napa. Oh, and the gorgeous pear apple vinegar from Sebastiani.

The United cart, the one that transports elderly and disabled travelers, stopped and asked if I would like assistance. I accepted. During the ride I made all sorts of promises to myself about dainty purses and novels for the future.
The very distant future.

In Aurora, Colorado: good morning! breakfast is now being served

A treat from United (the airline that is making this little Colorado getaway possible, as explained in the post below): I have two breakfast options: a full, warm breakfast at the Crystal Inn, or the use of a $4 coupon for breakfast anywhere at the airport.

Which would you choose?

True, the Crystal Inn breakfast has its advantages: the shuttle bus driver could not praise it enough: and they give you warmed up sausage patties or bacon with your cereal and toast! But then, this was the same guy who highly recommended the frozen sandwiches at the truck stop, easily reheated at the communal Crystal Inn microwave.

But a $4 coupon? A latte alone is $3.65. What a snob, you’re thinking, she has to have a latte while the rest of America struggles with watery coffee. And there’s your answer: the rest of America struggles with watery coffee. Go ahead and struggle. I prefer to shock myself into existence in the early hours of a day.

The decision is made: I’m heading for the airport.

Monday, February 21, 2005

In Aurora, Colorado: what can I say about a late night dinner of iceberg lettuce and BBQ sauce “purchased” at a truck stop?

This post is dedicated to Mary in SF, to an old man staying in a trailer at a truck stop in Colorado, and to United Airlines, the best care in the air (but not on the ground).

Say what? Are you home or not?

What happened??
Long story. Bottom line – the cheese made me do it.
A nice morning. Mary and I went grocery shopping outside Palo Alto. She swore I could fit in a half bottle of Murphy-Goode Reserve Fumé into my suitcase. We eat California rolls for lunch at her place. So California! She takes me to the Oakland airport. A hug and I am on my way.

Oops – a two hour delay in departure to Denver. United rep asks: would you like to chance it? The Madison-bound flight may be late as well. I know better. The Madison connection is never late when I need it to be late and always late when I need it to be on time. Besides, I have this aritisanal Monterey Jack cheese that Mary thought I should take back home. Eh, just assume that I cannot make the connection and put me up in Denver. Ship my suitcase there as well – it’s got a cheese that requires refrigeration. And after all, YOU, my dear United, are paying (the cause of the delay: the crew did not toddle in on time on the arriving flight).

Yay! You got a free overnight in Denver and probably a yummy meal too?
Correction: I got an overnight at the Crystal Inn at Aurora, Colorado, which is as good as it sounds. Meaning – it’s in the middle of nowhere.

…And the meal?
Yes, the meal. I got a $9 coupon from United to buy myself a dinner at the adjacent truck stop. This in itself deserved a glass of wine or at least a beer to make it all go down, don’t you think?

So you had your beer or wine.
It was a close one. I asked at the lovely Crystal Inn (where you can book a Romantic Getaway Package for two…DON’T!) if a glass of wine was within reach. Answer: no. Okay, I have my own supplies. Many a passenger on the delayed Oakland flight coveted my box of wines picked up at Sonoma and Napa. Do you have a corkscrew? No, but maybe you can purchase one at the truck stop, where you can also pick up $9 worth of free dinner, courtesy of United.

There you go! A solution, right at hand!
Not really. At the truck stop shop they had the following items available for purchase:
a little gift for your beloved? Posted by Hello
A fashionable t-shirt maybe? Posted by Hello
a gift for your loved one back home.. Posted by Hello
But no corkscrew.

So no wine for you?
Not the end of the story. Remember, there’s still the part about the guy in the trailer.

Oh boy…
I was deliberating between these mouth-watering options:
each one looks yummier than the next! Posted by Hello
…And decided I should chance it on the salad with BBQed something or other (I cannot say it, it makes me feel ill). Total price of said dish: exactly $9 (it was one of their splurges).
When it was ready, the astute cashier shouted: Crystal Inn order ready, charge it to room #406! Great. Let every trucker know that a helpless older damsel is staying by herself at the Crystal Inn, room 406. Robbery about to happen.

But then I ask again – I really cannot borrow a corkscrew for even a minute?
Answer: no.

A grizzly-looking dude comes up and says: I got one in my trailer. You can have it.

QUESTION FOR THE AUDIENCE: Would you follow a stranger to his trailer just because he offered you a corkscrew?
ANSWER: Of course not!

Still, this was safe. He explained about having just come from California with his wife and how they had to purchase a corkscrew because their friends gave them wine… and besides, he was parked right outside the store.

And so that is how I find myself typing away in Aurora, Colorado, with a disgusting dinner, locked in a Styrofoam box (unmentionable content inside), sipping away at a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc from a half-bottle picked out by Mary, opened by the fanciest, plushest Kitchen Aid corkscrew.
dinner at the Crystal Inn Posted by Hello

In California: Sonoma, Napa – it’s all a blur of hills and vines, misty skies and mustard greens

It’s not like it once was, they told me. The big S is blasted out of Sebastiani and it’s all about quality now. The producers care. The vines are getting older, the yield is smaller and the wines are magnificent.

Yeah, sure. Show me.

And they did. Winding through the Silverado Trail I thought maybe we were transported. In California’s brief green season (it lasts two months), the countryside looks vibrant and refreshed.

They also corrected me about Sideways (as did a number of readers who, unlike me, actually saw the film): that movie is about south of SF, not north, where Napa and Sonoma rule.

It helped to see the Wine Country in brooding weather, almost as if it wanted to mock the ancient stereotypes. I compare the wines of Sebastiani with those of the smaller Robert Sinskey Winery. I’m impressed.

A visit to Copia in Napa is a must. Copia is a nonprofit, established to further our understanding of foods and wines. Julia Child was a primary instigator here and we ate at Julia’s Kitchen, then walked through a garden filled with already burgeoning veggies and herbs. In an exhibit on “What the world eats” we could compare the eating habits of some two dozen countries around the world. Predictably, the French spend the most on food, followed by Japan and then the United States. Oh, and here’s another LKF (little known fact): did you know that 92% of all wine is consumed within 2 hours of its purchase?

We ended the day at St Helena, eating the hours away at a Napa cuisine classic, Tra Vigne. I was indulged. Mary and Tom treated me to the in-season Dungeness crab. You want to see pigishness? Imagine me digging into the monstrous plate of food shown at the bottom of the photo run.

Tomorrow (make that today, I’m posting Monday morning) I return to Madison. I have tons on my plate there and none is as lip-smackin’ as the crab dish. But the tight grip of people who care and who keep me steady is always there. I appreciate it so much, at every turn.
It's the month of blooming mustard greens... Posted by Hello
California vineyards? Looks more like Ireland... Posted by Hello
Julia's Kitchen: this day is thanks to my pals, Mary and Tom.  Posted by Hello
Sautéed Dayboat Scallops, sunchoke puree, pomegranates and chestnut jus Posted by Hello
The Copia garden: in full swing. I'd never seen chard look Posted by Hello
I'd never seen a pepper tree before. Posted by Hello
Sinskey Vineyards - breathtakingly beautiful  Posted by Hello
Garlic roasted dungeness crab, balsamic glazed cipollini onions and aioli Posted by Hello
Ta Vigne: one last look at a wet, but oh so lovely, night scene. Posted by Hello

Sunday, February 20, 2005

In California: heading sideways into the vineyards

My hosts have set aside this day for a Napa romp.

I have been asked by numerous folks here if I have seen Sideways. Each time the movie comes up everyone trips over the other to recall a scene that was exactly right in flavor and tone. It's like talking to Americans spending time in Japan and hitting on moments from Lost in Translation. Sideways is the northern Californian's little tale about heading into the wine country.

Of course, I missed the movie. That was the day I was to see it with my Madison pals and they decided to have a head-on car crash instead. And I haven't been to Napa since the ASA meetings of some fifteen years ago, when I dragged my little ones to check out the landscape north of San Francisco. Perhaps they didn't get that much out of it, but I did. It was my first visit to wineries and I suppose my love of exploring vineyards was born then.

Mary (my friend here in California) and I have traveled together recently on a week-end escape to the Burgundian countryside. She and I are compatible when we are on the road: we pack in as much as humanly possible and we eat tons. Today promises to be in line with our usual style. But a warning: unless they have a Starbucks (with a WiFi connection) in the middle of Napa, I may have to wait with a post until tomorrow morning.

The weather? I guess it could be worse.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

In California: not too sunny today

It’s not that you need good weather for the SF Ferry Building Saturday morning market. It would be interesting to stay dry, but not necessary. What’s SF without a few dripping clouds over the Bay, over the streets, over the tables where you could eat crab cakes and scrambled eggs off the Embarcadero…

And you don’t need good weather for the Grace Cathedral, or lunch at the Big 4 or a nibble here and there on Nob Hill. Not needed at all. Still, it would have been interesting to stay a little dry. I mean, my group of SF-ers didn’t seem to mind, but they did tell me that maybe next time I could keep my humid, wet weather in my notoriously harsh-climate home state. I reminded them that humid damp weather is not what we are known for in Wisconsin in Feburary.
Not a good day for eating your crab cakes at the Bayside tables Posted by Hello
it's all about Meyer lemons here, even in the bread  Posted by Hello