Saturday, April 30, 2005

New York Interlude: Bouley’s

In truth, I am not easily won over by restaurants. I mean, I like a lot of presentations at a lot of eating establishments, but mostly I think they are less splendiferous than the hype around them would suggest.

Still, through odd and fortuitous circumstances, even though I do not run with the crowd that routinely plunks down wads of cash for dinners out, I have been fortunate, through sometimes devious and sometimes insane methods, to eat at some pretty extraordinary places. And I have paid my share of cash to try to get near a chef whose food I have read about. I am willing to take out a second, third, sometimes fourth mortgage to chase down a meal someone tells me is worth the gold needed to pay for it. I have also scraped the bottom far more often than I care to remember, with dishes and dining experiences that are worth writing about because they have been so unbelievably bad.

Mostly, I like the middle range. I like family run places outside metropolitan areas. Places with a regular clientele of locals. Places where waiters complain if you leave something on the plate. Places where the diners’ ages run from 3 to 93. Where people dress up slightly, but not too much. Where the food is good and honest and fresh and flavorful.

But every once in a while I will come across a star that is listed as a superstar and it winds up having enough shine and glimmer to light up a whole galaxy with its radiance. Bouley was it. Truly one of the best ever. Because every dish was a surprise and nothing was less than it could be.

I went for a late lunch and chose the tasting menu – six sampling courses, plus three others thrown in by Chef Bouley, possibly because he likes to be generous, possibly because I was assiduously taking notes and photographing everything. As if I were writing a story. Which I am. Because Ocean is as good as an NYT review, right?

I really cannot list everything -- too tedious and dull to read, especially if you can’t run your fingers across the words and lick them in appreciation. Okay, just a smattering: a tomato gazpacho over shredded grilled shrimp, served in a martini glass; the phyllo crusted Florida shrimp, Cape Cod Bay Squid, Scuba Dived Sea scallop, Sweet Maryland Crabmeat in an Ocean Herbal Broth; the baby skate with capers and baby greens with pineapple vinaigrette; the Nova Scotia Halibut with fresh porcini mushrooms, Georgia corn, Asparagus and a Corn Shoot Sauce; the Venison with poached Bartlett pear, Swiss chard and chocolate sauce (you heard it here); the white chocolate flan with green tea glaze; the fresh chilled Rhubarb soup with cassis sorbet, sour cream ice and Beaujolais granite; the hot Valrhona soufflé with maple, chocolate and vanilla ice cream; the chocolates and cookies and espresso – they were all over the top fabulous.

Complaints? None. Oh, alright: I could have kicked the waiter’s shins a few times for the poised manner with which he delivered wrong info when pressed on some of the dishes. Advice to all the waiters who have pesky diners bugging them with Qs: go back to the kitchen and get it right, from the cooks that know what they’re plating. Please please please don’t bluff it. Cassis and sour cream do not taste, look or smell the same and they cannot be folded together and come out looking white. It just can’t be done.

But the Russian runner was disarming, and Mr. Bouley was awe-inspiring. I wish I could shine his shoes daily, just so the glow of stardom would rub off onto my fingers and everything I thereafter touched in the kitchen would have his magic.

I do fall in love with good cooks and good writers, I admit it.

Okay, a few of the pictures. Apologies for the quality. This was not a place where I could take time, sit still and fiddle with the composition. Surreptitious clicking typically means you’re going to come home, download the photos and hit delete 99% of the time. Still, I promised food – here’s food. And thank you, gorgeous and brilliant daughters, for a magnificent birthday meal.
Bouley Posted by Hello
Apples line the small entryway, giving off a fragrance that puts you in the mood for crisp, fresh flavors. Posted by Hello
What tipped this into the la la land of the extraordinary were the shredded phyllo crust on the shrimp and the deep green herbal broth. Posted by Hello
Breads: I chose the pistachio, the fig, and the sourdough, passing on the garlic, the olive, and the black pepper only because there wasn't room on the plate. Posted by Hello
La vie en rose: note my spying on the two lovers: she was all over him. Did he mind? I'm not sure... Posted by Hello
The detail in the venison dish was amazing. Under the slightly cocoa-flavored venison sauce lay a sprinkilng of pear puree. At the side -- a tear-drop of whipped potato. Chard adds a touch of bitterness and nicely folds the meat back into the blend of sauces. Posted by Hello
When doing one of these, always, always start with the best possible chocolate. They did. The beauty of this lay in its utter simplicity and perfect execution. Posted by Hello
a meal in itself: post dinner nibbles Posted by Hello

New York interlude: setting out for a lunch to whip all lunches off the charts in terms of wonderfulness

This afternoon I am to dine at Bouley.

I should be thinking ahead to the tasting menu. I want to learn, get inspired by the great chefs of the city*. But right now all I keep thinking of is my entrance into this renowned Tribeca eatery: one look at my apparel and I know what table they’ll seat me at. I’ll just have to be careful so that I wont get banged by the door as the runners zip dirty dishes past me on the way to the kitchen.

I really do not love the fact that tasting the best of the best requires dining in opulent surroundings but I am willing to make the sacrifice occasionally.

Still, the dressing up part can dampen my humble cotton-leaning enthusiasm. I do not want the hosting person to immediately sniff financial failure (or at least on the failing side of great affluence) when she or he sees me entering the room. And they can tell, just by looking at my shoes.

Today will be a disaster in the shoe department: I am forced to wear something weather appropriate – not quite snow boots, but something that wont make icicles out of my toes. I have avoided purchasing pointed stilettos thinking – dear God, this style has to pass soon so that sanity can again prevail.

But it hasn’t happened yet. And in the meantime I suffer the indignity of knowing that whatever piece of leather or cloth will be strapped to my soles is inferior and plain wrong for the fine carpets at Bouley.

Ah well, if I wanted to tromp in with kick-ass shoes, I’d have to get some kick-ass dress to go with them and now we’re talking four digit prices, just for lunch.

Between my attire, my chickening out on the
sophisticated hair-cut and my blogging camera, I am going to be like a duckling bobbing in a sea of plumed swans. But the food – oh! the food will be spectacular!

*Chef David Bouley is the city’s top cooking honcho, being the only one to have ever scored a 29 in Zagat’s food ratings.
these should be on my feet Posted by Hello
slick men's counterpart (tell me what guy in Madison has a pair like this?) Posted by Hello

Friday, April 29, 2005

New York interlude: highlights

My man Jason, color specialist, the guy who can tell by just looking at me the shade of hair I had as a five year old (“it is the peak of hair color for everyone; after that it’s downhill all the way”), the guy whom I trust so much with hues and tones that I listen even when he tells me which nail polish to buy for summer sandal weather, was chatty today. He isn’t always, but today we were both in the mood.

One topic was my hair: is it time to go sophisticated (rather than fun)? I mean, I am 52 and I am heading for Paris next week. Is this the day to do the blunt little number that is so tres gentil that gentlemen start buying you un petit verre du vin?

Oh I was tempted. Really tempted. But I said to him: next time. Even though my next Jason moment will be after Paris and the only petit anything that anyone in Madison will buy me will be a spotted cow – how sophisticated is that, damn it: can I buy you a spotted cow? Much less deserving of a special hair trim.

Still, the Jason halo held. It’s as if I were with a golden spoon rather than just a few five-year-old-like golden strands. My evening flight to Chicago left 15 minutes early and I was on it, the Puck’s sandwich at O’Hare was superb, and the bar lady took one look at my hair and asked for an ID before serving me wine (honest! her eyes bypassed the entirety: I am certain that the only thing she even glanced at was my hair). Obviously she was momentarily thrown off. Had she not looked beyond the scalp, I would have been denied my glass of Chardonnay.

I’m in New York now, in a contemplative mood. It’s quiet, no one’s around. I am tempted to spend the rest of the evening sitting in front of the mirror, thinking five year old thoughts. I do not much remember what I did or thought as a five year old, living in Warsaw, looking out at the ridiculously noisy tram station just outside my window. But I sure had the hair color of all colors, if Jason has it right. Life was simple, but oh so golden.


I do not often link back to Ocean posts when I make references to them (horribly unnice of me but there you have it) and so it took me a year to notice that my links have not been working. Possibly ever. So that, when, say, an author of another blog found a fetching photo of himself on Ocean and wanted to draw the attention of the world to his stellar good looks, he found that all he got for his efforts was a link to whatever latest Ocean post was on display. It is a problem when you think you’re linking to this, and instead get this.

Thanks, Tom, for fixing the broken link. Now, if you want this, you’ll get this, not, say, this.

Oh the flowers I have planted here: by the hundreds! The hours I have worked here: by the thousands! Now it's time for someone else to step in.

It’s good to move out of ruts and move ruts out of your space. When you need help, why stick with the ordinary sources of support when you can reach into fresh pools of extraordinary people?

That was my reasoning when I handed over my yard to a nine-year old. He will make sure no one sprays poison on my weeds (he is quite the econut). He will every once in a while take a sharp blade to the one or two strands of grass that make it through the dandelion patch. He will be the caretaker, the observer, the hawk.

Why him? Oh, maybe I see myself being nine again, loving the yard in my grandparents’ house. I see myself tending flowers there, next to my grandfather’s, picking cherries and fraises de bois, I see myself buying an American skateboard (remember those?) and taking it for the summer to that Polish village, only to find that it does not work where there is no pavement!

I see myself not weighed down by burdensome decisions that have to be made later in life, like forty-three years later. I see myself smiling with friendship toward people I meet – even older neighbors, age meaning nothing, friendship meaning doing things for someone and then dousing them with a water pistol.

So he gets my vote of confidence. And if he and his pals find cool ways to play here while he’s in charge, how wonderful that would be. Yards and houses should not stand empty, not when there are so many out there who would know how to care for them and how to enjoy them.
inch by inch, row by row: Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 28, 2005

If it’s Friday, it must be…???

I realized today that I will be spending each of the next five Fridays in a different place and only one of those will be Madison. Tomorrow I am off to New York again where I will be preparing myself for an important event this Saturday: the consumption of a spectacular lunch.

That I can spend two days thinking about a spectacular lunch says tons about me (that my days are indeed structured around stuffing food into my face). And that I am happy to be roaming this month says even more.

A friend said just this past week that for her, knowledge and insight came from things she read and observed in her immediate environment. I argued the opposite: for me, displacement creates the necessary agitation to shake things up and throw out some new patterns for the brain to interpret.

I’m ready for it. And so is Ocean.


Two nights ago, a neighbor took me out to dinner in honor of my promotion. Now, you could say that it was a little premature, since the i’s have not been dotted and being rather pessimistic about linear progression toward happy outcomes, I am certain that the entire thing will derail and I will be left unemployed with one of those cardboard signs saying “I am a lawyer without an income; feed me.” (I do realize that I may get rotten tomatoes in my tin rather than real cash with that sign, but one has to be honest.)

The reason I am writing about this now is that after protesting and saying “you don’t have to do that” about a dozen times, it struck me how momentous this step up really is. Because after it, there are no more promotions left for me: I will have reached the final stage of career advancement and all that’s left is to be booted out (you never know), rather than up.

Some might regard this as tremendous success. I am 52, I interrupted my career climb many times and here I am, now forever stuck at this same level of my professional status until I retire or kick my own tinny little bucket.

But it has not been an effortless ascent. I changed career paths three times in the course of my studies. And once I settled on law, the kiddies came, each choosing her birth date to coincide with the beginning of a new semester of law school. With my law degree, I still hop scotched around the profession, switching from practice, to teaching how to practice, and finally to “just” teaching.

Job security has also been elusive. Until the last decade, much of my work was funded by grants written by me to agencies and foundations that I felt sure would reject my projects, my work, my life, throwing me out with the heap of paper rubbish that routinely accumulates on their desks. I will never forget the day I traveled to DC to meet with a rep from the Department of Education concerning my most recent grant proposal. She clearly did not understand the project. Not any part of it. It was a nightmare in the making. I swear she heaped money on me in the end just to shut me up already.

Or, the interview with the nun from a Chicago foundation that was considering funding my AIDS Legal Services Project. Up to that point they had funded things like the Crane Foundation up in Baraboo. How do you make the leap from long-necked birds to AIDS? Here I was, trying to convince the nun that helping gay men (at the time AIDS was mostly about gay men) straighten out their legal messes was the way to go. We spent the entire time talking about how men got infected with HIV to begin with. I swear, up until that moment, she did not know.

My point: as I wave a fond farewell to yet another cohort of law students, I want to say – I know all about the anxiety of work v. no-work, about liking your work v. dreading each day of it, and change: most of all, I understand change. Gone are the days when you land your first professional job and you stay with it til you die (for women, I doubt that those days were ever in the offering).

And it all moves very very fast. You’re waving your diploma and the next thing someone is taking you out to dinner because you’re now senior and full, though not quite full of yourself, because you know better: were it not for good old mother fortune, it could still be you, there with the “unemployed lawyer” sign, wondering which corner brings in the biggest loot.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Where the author of Ocean and Camille Paglia find themselves to be odd bedfellows, united in the belief that Americans need more angst to write well

Much can be said about Paglia’s appearance at Borders tonight. Much. I took notes, if only to document this point of much-ness. [For cool photos and a more thorough analysis than you’re going to find here, check out Althouse.]

But I knew instantly which statement of hers would compel me to write an Ocean post, the minute she spit out the words (and if you ever heard her talk you would understand the appropriateness of my word choice here), for the woman doesn’t really talk: she throws sentences out in a cascade of fire and ice so that you’re at once entertained, enthralled, repelled – depending on your own personal inclination.

Here’s how it went. We were at the Q/A phase of the evening. Someone asked what she thought of the multitude of creative writing programs out there.
Her words (on this one point), crudely paraphrased by me: Can you make good art in the school context? Shouldn’t it come out of life itself?

And as she was about to say the above, I wanted to raise my hand and ask this of the questioner: Can you make good art in the school context? Shouldn’t it come out of life itself?

Before I could applaud wildly her insistence that one must live the adventurous life to be able to write the next great American novel, she moved on to an elaboration of this theme:

The trouble is that middle-class white America has never had anything happen to them and so really, it has nothing to write about.

And as she was saying this, I was thinking of all the Europeans (Poles especially) who fully believe that the trouble is that middle-class white America has never had anything happen to them and so really, it has nothing to write about.

We then witnessed Paglia stage an expressive portrayal (all gestures and sentences quickly delivered, darting at you from the podium) of where American novels have been forced to tread: forty years of writing about pills and suicide and mental breakdown and stepfathers making passes at stepchildren and divorce and AIDS and cancer and chemotherapy and prozac! Personal dramas detailed in horribly graphic ways until you cannot stand it anymore! [Not that some of these may not deserve the high drama status. Her point: an encounter with personal drama of this nature does not in and of itself spur great text.]

Of course, I can be guilty of this as well: guilty of exploiting (in my writing here, for instance) the internal sagas until I make myself retch. I am so adept at picking up the malaise of the moment, the personal tragedy du jour from my immediate environment!

But it’s short-lived. I am a product of a thousand + years of Polish history, where I am on safe ground again. There, I have enough tragedy and drama to help elevate my own angst to such levels that I need not ever fear drowning in an American white middle-class un-cataclysmic environment ever again.

The tough part

...of being a law prof is the grading of exams and finishing the last class of the Spring Semester, knowing that you will never see some of the faces again – some of them who have followed you from First Year Torts, through Second Year Family Law and now finally to Third Year Comparative Family Law. It’s 5:30, time to pack up and move on. God, I hope they do well and stay happy in their career choices.

A European Identity

It’s emerging quietly, slowly but steadily: a sense among those in Europe of being European rather than remaining tied to any one nation. (The IHT describes this phenomenon here.)

And I agree. It’s not that taking on this identity requires shedding layers of, say, Polishness. Rather, over time, you find yourself incorporating a growing number of habits and inclinations whose source lies outside the borders of your own country.

In recent years I have oftentimes referred to myself as being European and only after saying it would I catch myself and add quickly – I’m actually Polish.

Is the EU at the root of this shift? Some say indeed, it is. With the loosening of trade, travel, work and study between nations, multiculturalism is now a requirement of professional -- and personal -- success. Rather than homogenizing the continent, the EU has created an expectation of feeling at ease with a diverse set of behaviors that are multinational in nature (not the least of which is the expectation of familiarity with at least 3 European languages).

There are two forces at work here, I think: the adherence to values that are thought of as essentially European at the moment. The IHT article lists these as a belief in social democracy, in quality of life issues (as opposed to an unwavering commitment to a strong work ethic), in a rejection of armed conflict as a means toward achieving political objectives.

But separately, there is the shaking up of a cocktail of behaviors that have the markings of the French, the Polish, the Italian, and incorporating them into your own routines. And perhaps in the process, there will be a Darwinian selection of the most servicible, delicious habits, so that the true European will find herself grabbing a café and a croissant on the way to work, reading the novel on the subway, pausing for a 90 minute lunch with a friend (I suppose a brat and beer would be favored by some), ending with a spot of tea at 5 and sitting down to an al fresco dinner at 10 pm. Wait a minute, is my idea of Europeanness mostly centered around food?? Chacune ses gouts.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

So I was wrong

I posted yesterday about my new (and very-slow-moving, given time issues) interest in knitting. I wrote "men don't knit" over and over again. Ah well, what do I know. Another instance of a reader straightening out the writer. Check out and the picture of the guy in his tight-fitting handknit duds. And here's another thought -- do they let women sit in on men's knitting groups? You know, just for balance... (Photo courtesy of the site.)

The thinking behind the reading

I can imagine what an average Ocean reader has to contend with: a blog that isn’t all that enigmatic but isn’t all that clear either. Say a reader clicks on to Ocean this morning. Isn’t it likely that s/he would have this reaction to the post (immediately preceding this one)? [Assuming that s/he would have time to kill. Though remember, it takes longer to read/write something than to think it.]

Oh! She posted early. Or did she adjust the time on the post? No, she’s always posting before dawn on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Hmmm, something about a flower. In her house. Boring, boring, boring! Jesus, can’t she find something interesting in the media to comment on if her life is so prosaic?

Pretty picture though. A little blurry, impressionistic sort of. But the carpet kills the image. Why do people have off-white carpet? So passé.

Wait, maybe she’s not really writing about the flower. Something about it blossoming even though it’s not supposed to. Nature, nurture… Now what's that all about?

I suppose she could be saying that if you don’t nurture something it dies. You know I had a boyfriend once. Loved him to pieces. Separated from him, didn’t see him for twenty years, saw him again – felt nothing. For me, the love died. It was sad, actually.

So is this the opposite? Tending to something makes it vibrant and healthy and alive, even against all odds? What a bunch of clichés!

Naaah, she’s probably just writing about flowers. Who the hell can tell though. Such a pretentious and Polish thing to do: they’re all about allusions, never plain in your face text. Crazy! Tell it like it is next time.

Bougainvillea blooms require sunshine, don’t they?

In the northern corner of the house there is a room that is supposed to be a plant room. I have written here in the past that unfortunately the room has almost no sunlight and therefore few plants ever produce any noticeable blooms. Green leaves? Plenty. But no blooms.

This year, however, my Bougainvillea (which I keep indoors for the winter) went nuts. Defying nature, defying my posts here about this being the dumbest plant room in the world, what with no sunlight, it threw out a profusion of blooms.

It’s amazing how much can be accomplished through perseverance and tender care. Nurture won over nature in this one.
against all odds Posted by Hello

Monday, April 25, 2005

If I am unable to recognize or interact with friends or family members, I still expect gifts.*

Well of course! Gifts, candles, cakes, especially in April.

Okay, please do not tell me I am overdoing the birthday thing. It’s not that I am fiendishly obsessed with April 21st. I did not even post about the day this week-end where I just happen to mention to the Nitty Gritty wait-staff that it indeed was my birth…week (they asked!), which resulted in an additional round of singing, clapping and, most importantly – a gift of a Nitty mug and unlimited free refills on beer until midnight. It is too bad that my dining friend was pressing to leave (embarrassed by this apparent birthday fixation? maybe) – I may have been tempted to raise a toast – one at a time – to all the wonderful people on the planet who also enjoy a birthday on April 21st.

Seriously, what I think I have to note here is that my life is one big disconnected heap of vignettes and disparately positioned people who barely know of each other’s existence. And so the fact that I have so many kind souls taking it upon themselves to wish me a happy day is largely a sign of how pathetic I am – in need of this kind of pat on the back – and also how separated my spheres of orbit are.

Tonight, one sphere is certainly shining through. Tom and his wife, Suzanne, baked me a b’day tart and I have to say this: in all my decades upon decades of life, I have never ever had anyone bake me anything for my birthday. Ever. Not even my mother (who is no cook and has possibly never baked anything in her entire life, which is a good thing). No one in my immediate family has ever cracked an egg and mixed batter, ever. Not even into a cake mix.

And so – a big thank you is in order: it is a first, and knowing their baking skills, worth waiting for.

P.S. It is over now, correct? I mean, no more birthday posts?
Wrong. One more, whereby the two most brilliant and gorgeous (I swear!) women in the world are picking up the tab on a lunch next week in New York at a restaurant of my choice. It can be any place! Will I make a fool of myself and escort my camera into a fine dining establishment in New York just so I can photo-post about it later? Is the Pope German? And please, if you have had a most decadently wild and wonderful meal in the city recently, write and tell me where so that I can call and try to get a reservation. I already know what I will wear – just not where I will wear it to.

* "Living Will," by Paul Rudnick, this week’s New Yorker
A Tom specialty: peanut butter mousse covered with chocolate Posted by Hello

Playing tag with the clock

Of all the bizarre quirky things that I do these days, perhaps the very weirdest is my “get up on the five” rule. I will not get out of bed unless the digit 5 is displayed on the clock. Why that particular rule should be in place is so insanely nutty as to not be worthy of mention here. I am sure not a single reader would come back to Ocean if he or she knew how twisted and convoluted my thinking on this is.

Also notable and considerably less crazy is my internal alarm clock which always has me wake up seconds before the anointed get-up time for the day. Sometimes I wake up a good deal earlier, but always, always, all my life, even when I was a young parent and totally sleep deprived, I would wake up at 6:29 if the get up time was set for 6:30 that morning.

Of course, given my “on the five” fancy, these days I would not get up if I opened my eyes and noted the 6:29. I would wait until the digit five appeared and so I would allow myself a doze until 6:35 made its presence known.

But sometimes I miss it by just a few seconds and just as I am about to throw back the quilt, the clock hits 6:36 and then I know I can (have to?) go back for a quick snooze because it will be another nine minutes before I see the saintly 5.

It’s easiest to start this at 5:00 a.m. because then I can cheat and tell myself that there is indeed a five and then I can get up whenever I damn please, at least for the next 59 minutes. It's like the Sunday of wake up times -- I am given the gift of procrastination within that hour.

Am I superstitious? Of course not! Science rules my life and thoughts and I haven’t made bargains with mystical forces ever in my entire life.

So why don’t I wean myself of this fancy for the five? (It has happened that I will have missed so many rise-at-five opportunities in one morning that I make myself dangerously close to being late for life’s important events.) I don’t abandon the silliness because it is a challenge and it is fun. That’s it. Some people turn on the morning news and wallow in all the tragedies that befell the planet in the hours when they slept. Good for them – if it helps push them out the door. I choose the self-amusement track.

(I am very glad though that I only have one more morning class to teach this semester. I pictured myself many times explaining to the dean why I skipped class on a dysfunctional-five-day and I could not find sane-sounding words to explain it. By next semester I am positive I will switch morning games. It's not fun nor is it a challenge if it goes on too long.)

Where the author of Ocean takes up knitting in a desperate attempt to feel connected to the world around her

So everyone knits these days. My neighbors all knit. Students knit. The world knits. [Admittedly, men do not knit. Why don’t men knit?]

I taught myself how to knit some decades back but I have only once completed a knitting project and it was more than two dozen years ago. I was brooding, the skies were dark and full of ill will, it seemed the thing to do in a Madame Lafarge sort of way.

Why knit now? If others are telling me “you should try it” and it’s legal, there aren’t many things that I would say no to, at least for a one shot deal.

So I bought some fancy needles that have a plastic tube connecting them, making it all look like a feeding tube which definitely has weird connotations these days, but still – that’s what I was told to buy.

And I bought yarn – little balls in many shades of purple green and taupe.

And yesterday afternoon two very patient neighbors came over and showed me what to do. I will, hereafter, be knitting a scarf when I am watching a DVD or sitting in a car and not driving. Because I am all about finishing impulsive projects.

[Why don’t men knit?]

The crucial question, I suppose, is how many hours in the course of any day do I devote to watching DVDs or sitting in a car and not driving? Not many. Not to worry! There isn’t a person I know who is in desperate need of a scarf at the moment. And who knows what life-altering events will place me (in a state of physical or mental incapacity) perpetually in front of a TV screen in the months to come. I am prepared. Plus I have the nifty little plastic tube if my other ones ever fail me.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

My Sunday evening post

…should run like this: the author has written and then removed two posts from the “saved drafts” section of this blog. One was trivial and silly the other was full of e.e.* angst and distress. That a day should contain elements of both – why so be it. But Ocean readers don’t have to suffer through such indignities. Back tomorrow with a clean slate.

* oh what did you think: Eastern European, of course!

Now that we have the capability of recording and preserving everything (in sight and sound), shouldn’t we think about what's best left forgotten?

The Smithsonian, as reported in the NYT Week in Review, tells of efforts that are underway to preserve some of our aural history: “Since the sounds of ancient Rome are no longer available to us…, what should be recorded today? The answer, says Sheehy [director and curator of the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings], is pretty much everything."

Really? Why? Movies and films give a sampling of the range of sounds we are now exposed to. I suppose the argument can be made that one cannot predict what information will benefit future research (within the natural or social sciences). And so we should save everything? So that we may all implode and bury ourselves in some garbage heap of irrelevant fact?

Noises and sounds that I am sure will never benefit anyone and therefore should be obliterated a.s.a.p,:
- the cacophony of sound at a suburban mall, especially in a food court, on a Saturday afternoon;
- anything in and around Langdon Street (frat row) in Madison on a Saturday evening;
- I know it’s too late, what with there being a recording already archived to torture anyone in the future, but could we nonetheless try to erase a number or two from the Sound of Music? Getting consensus on this will be a synch.
- I would seriously like to erase the sound of the Polish word for “whore.” In the alternative, I would vote for legalizing prostitution just so the enchantment with this word will quickly disappear. Right now, its usage seems at an all time high. It’s reason enough to move around with an iPod stuck in your ear to block it out.
- Etc.

I can hardly stop myself – there’s so much that could be added. Noises, all of it noises, tolerable in their transient state, unbearable if preserved forever.

[BTW, has all this preservation technology made the idea of a buried time capsule obsolete? Or are we still stacking our little mementos and doodads into the bowels of the earth with the idea that some future incarnation of a humanoid will unearth these treasures and be pleasantly surprised with the Barbie dolls and Superman comics contained therein?]

Saturday, April 23, 2005

What happens when…

...You’re riding along the I-90 with a friend who is a terrific driver, accelerating powerfully after each toll gate? The problem: she’s a woman, driving a sporty Audi TT. She passes people. She passes men in their black-bullet Corvettes. They don’t like it. They then hog the left lane to block her way for hours on end.
road hog Posted by Hello
...You’re at a Chicago mall in the year 2005 and you enter a Sony video store with all sorts of movie making and movie watching technology? You end up being part of the display.
starring Althouse and Camic Posted by Hello
...You are at the same mall, this time in an Apple computer store along with five million shoppers wishing to touch with their own greedy little fingers the shuffle-pods and iPods and who knows what else-pods? And wanting to get rid of their squirmy children, so that they themselves can play with the new technology? You come across all the children, squirreled away in the corner of the store, where they have their own private little Mac attack (and then hit parents for the very computer or computer game they so enjoyed in the mall. Say as a stocking stuffer next Christmas).
absorbed Posted by Hello

I am a stranger in my own town

Peering in on the blogs of others, I came across this little speech test over at SamplesConnection. Of course I am going to be sucked into doing the test. Of course! I want to be rated, ranked and categorized, I want to know why everyone around me thinks I use words singularly, in ways that aren't wrong, but aren't exactly common either. I want to know where in this country, linguistically speaking, I would best fit in.

I wish I hadn't found the answer. My new label: foreign-born linguistic misfit in her own town. Because it is a small wonder people in the Midwest look at me strangely. Here's my speech profile:

Your Linguistic Profile:

60% General American English

25% Yankee

10% Dixie

5% Upper Midwestern

0% Midwestern

Friday, April 22, 2005

Musical chairs

Tonight, my daughter is singing on stage under the direction of Krzysztof Penderecki, the world-renowned composer from Poland. That is unquestionably the closest anyone from my family – extended over all known-to-me-generations – has ever come to performing alongside musical greatness. So it is fitting that it should be a Pole right there, on the same platform as my girl (who is no longer really a girl… sigh…). But she is on the East Coast and I am in the Midwest attending to work and dishes (not even in that order) and so fate has pushed me into the shadows as she sings in probably achingly beautiful tones (okay, she is in the choir, but still, her voice I am quite certain will be the achingly beautiful one).

This event does recall my own brush with Polish musical greatness, though not on stage and with less flattering overtones. I was on a ship, crossing the ocean, returning to Poland. I was thirteen. Really, I think appearance-wise, that was my worst year. I cut my own bangs and my sister said I looked like a pope – all straight across, like a papal beret. More importantly, teens like myself should not have had bangs to begin with because they never looked good, even fresh after a shampoo. Then, too, though I was athletic and fit, I think I really had some gawk gene that reached peak maturity at that age, before I learned to suppress it.

It happened that Leopold Stokowski was also on the ship – along with his juicily attractive two adolescent sons. We hung out. Or, rather, most likely, I chased them. As I recall, they showed less than zero interest in me and my being 13 made me even less of a hot prospect, as they were firmly into their high school years. But I chased them nonetheless. I did not have a crush on either, but I was in love with the idea of a shipboard romance and so I tried.

Moral of the story: don’t chase sons of famous composers while crossing the ocean?. There is no other moral or point to the story, but I did think of it just now as my own daughter prepares to sing. She at least has the good sense not to show the slightest interest in Penderecki’s sons, possibly because she hasn’t met them and they would be well into their fifties should they even exist.

Thoughts about cooking Polish-Russian food

Hey, no one called an ambulance.

Would I do it again? I would!

I like the way the foods on my menu sounded Russian and Polish: blinchiki, pierogi, caviar, borsch, uszka -- in addition to the staples such as herring, trout, nut cake..

Two recurring ingredients: mushrooms (I used the dried “porcini” type that I brought over from Poland) and sour cream. Practically every dish had one or the other.

Advice: always always eat with people who are good sports about it and shower the meal with appreciative (and critical, where it’s warranted!) words. I know we should all rise above compliments and comments, but when you cook all day long, the pleasure comes in seeing people eat and react. One reason why I stopped moonlighting at the restaurant is that I felt disconnected from that last stage of the process: when I let the plate go from the kitchen, I never saw how it was received. You evolve as a cook, I think, by keeping an eye on people’s faces as they eat. Not all dishes work well and you learn what people pick out as the truly exciting and what they appreciate on a smaller scale. Last night, my group was expressive in all ways. Putting out plates of food was, therefore, a joy.

Okay, it’s late and I have a hell of a clean up before me. I promised those far away a few photos from the evening. Here’s a sample:
Festive beginnings: potato rounds with smoked salmon, sour cream and caviar Posted by Hello
It's so good to have last minute help with plating foods... Posted by Hello
you have to have herring to nibble on before dinner. Here, it's tossed with apples, sour cream, onion and dill. Posted by Hello
the rewards of cooking: watching the faces of guests as they sample different foods (in this case, Jeremy reacts to the deep burgundy colors of borsch) Posted by Hello
wild mushroom pierogi, from start ... Posted by Hello finish. With sour cream and crispy onion bits. Posted by Hello
indispensible dinner companion: a camera, of course Posted by Hello
almond-orange cake with bittersweet chocolate: some impatient person dug in too early Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Running scared

All I did was say things like “I am cooking up some Polish-Russian food tonight” and I started getting the emails: “I’m excited, but are you serious about the boar?” When another evening invitee stopped by in the afternoon, most likely to check up on the food prep, he proceeded to make every excuse under the sun to avoid returning in the evening (I was busy cooking, but something about crazy internal aunts was at some point mentioned).

Now really! This is the kind of continental provincialism that drives me crazy! Eels, boars, pigs knuckles – these foods have been staples, I’m sure, for hundreds of years!

Never mind, I am proceeding, if I have to eat all the courses myself, with the rest calling for take-out pizza on some excuse or other.

I’m sure they’ll eat the cake, it’s been pretested.

Dear Mr. Schwarzenegger,

Okay, I have issues with you. Anyone can tell I am not a fan. But you know, California is not my state and so I stay out of the discussion.

But today you irritated the hell out of me and you stepped on MY toes, so I feel I must react.

You said the other day that the way to deal with the immigrant problem in this country is to close the borders. Yep, that’s what you said – I heard you. And so did others. Many thought that perhaps these were not kind words, coming from an immigrant like yourself.

Now, I am sympathetic to your language issues. But when today I hear you say you misspoke because English is not your first language, I bristle. Because you know damn well that “close the borders” sounds nothing like “secure the borders.” Close, secure – nope, no similarity at all.

So please fess up: you misspoke because you speak foolishly oftentimes and you don’t really have all your political wits about you at all times. It is NOT a language thing.

Best wishes for a hasty return to "acting,"


April 21st rules!

You really are shamelessly obsessed with your birthday, aren’t you?

Did you have to write on the blackboard in class today “don’t mess with me, it’s my birthday?” Isn’t that unprofessional or something?
Unprofessional, shmeshional. Besides, it was point number three on a list of factors regarded as significant in determining jurisdiction for a modification of a custody order. I thought I’d lighten up their fare a little.

Every post has been about your birthday thus far. Every one. And you’ve put up three and it’s not even noon.
I’m about to do a fourth.

Disclaimer: Ocean posts in and of themselves are insufficient to establish a credible case of author battiness. More is needed.


In Poland, when I was growing up, it was the birthday/nameday person who brought treats for friends, classmates. People stopped by with wishes, but it was up to the celebrating person to dish out the goodies.

So, for Ocean readers, who suffer through the yellow and blue thing each time they log on, here's the best that I can do: a pretty bouquet, standing in front of a samovar (in line with tonight's theme for dinner: foods from Eastern Europe), with so much thanks!
Ocean colors. Really. Posted by Hello