Sunday, July 31, 2005

This post is about bras. Too racy or undignified for you? Move on.

A house showing is a big deal. The outcome can set the course for your entire month, year, nay – future. It is imperative that you do all within your power to make the place presentable. Good tips include such things as: eliminate clutter, put out flowers, turn on lights and vacuum carpets. If sellers had done any of these when we were on the market, we would have snatched many a house in moments of great indecision. We’re all shallow beings, easily taken in by fluff.

Sigh, our buying was so long ago…

Wait, return to the topic at hand: bras.

I cut it close with the house cleaning and organizing today (in anticipation of the open showing of the place by the realtor). A couple of hours before the set time I decided that, as a final touch, I’d change all the sheets on all the beds. To give it a crisper look and feel. In case what – you may ask. I mean, only bears try out beds. But still, omit no detail! – was my motto.

And I ran a load of laundry with the sheets, in case someone looked inside the laundry chute. It’s gross seeing a strangers’ soiled stuff lying in a crumpled mass. Omit no detail.

Having over the years shrunk more items of clothing than I would like to admit through the act of machine drying, I tend to hang certain delicate items out on a line in the street-facing, large and airy laundry room.

A sheets load takes certain delicate items that absolutely should not be shrunk and so I threw those in. And then hung them out to dry. A nice parade of dangling straps and cups. Mental note: take them down on way out. Because it’s just so unseemly. Embarrassing, I think, to reveal to prospective buyers what size you wear. They may infer something from it. Too big, too small – who knows, it may reflect somehow on the house. Woman with Hooters’-sized knockers lives here (or, the opposite -- I’m not sayin’).

Oh but you know where this is heading: I forgot to take them down. I dashed out at 1:01 and I forgot.


the reason why I am not over-the-edge stressed as weighed against the 100 suggested reasons as to why my house remains, as yet, unsold

First, a sampling of the proffered by others and imagined by me forces that are, almost a month after its entry on the market, keeping this spectacular house… still on the market:

1. There are way too many people out there wanting to shake up their lives and move on and out (thereby glutting the market with “for sale” signs);
2. It’s the dark wood exterior. People like light wood these days;
3. Yes, perennials are nice, but suburban types like marigolds and geraniums and not phlox and coreopsis and campanula, all growing in a crazily mixed up way;
4. Summer is the slow season because people celebrate the Fourth of July for a long long time;
5. It’s like wanting to and not wanting to get pregnant: you’re more likely to have it happen if you do not really want it to happen;
6. It’s Bush’s fault;
7. It’s the economy, stupid;
8. It’s the end of life as we knew it;
9. It’s the weather;
10. It’s weird.

So why am I calm?
No mystery here. I have stopped making lists of things to do. Instead, I am compiling a huge list of things NOT to do, on the theory offered elsewhere on the local blogosphere that one is more likely to not do things than to do things. My list of things that I will not do includes, so far, the following:

1. I will avoid turning on the AC unless there is someone else, other than me, in the house;
2. I will avoid using the aging car (this is helped tremendously by the fact that it now takes quite the number of minutes to get it started and typically only a loud and abusive “damn you!” will shake it into power);
3. I will avoid getting angry at anyone for any reason (this one is the easiest by far, as no one is especially making me angry these days; or maybe it is because I have fallen into a benign indifference to pretty much everything, knowing that once I crack the emotive door, I will be flooded with such violent reactions to even the smallest of annoyances that I will not be able to stop pounding and expounding until forced to do so by people from the local mental health facility);
4. I will not succumb to stress. There you have it – just like that. No more stress. Zip it out, turn it off, flick a finger at it – be gone, you devil!

So there.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Rock rock rock around the clock

(I've got mail: )

Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2005 18:51:54 -0500
From: Saul
Subject: what r u up to?
To: Nina Camic

[M] has the urge to go for a couple drinks.
Are you in the mood?
We can pick you and go some place fun.

Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2005 19:33:37 -0500
To: Saul
From: Nina Camic
Subject: Re: what r u up to?

Actually I was about to watch Mean Girls. Should I postpone it one more night?

(other irrelevant details are exchanged, then:)

Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2005 19:44:31 -0500
To: Saul
From: Nina Camic
Subject: Re: what r u up to?

great, thanks. tshirt okay or are you upscale?

Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2005 19:56:32 -0500
From: Saul
Subject: Re: what r u up to?
To: Nina Camic

low scale.

(a minute later: )

Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2005 19:56:18 -0500 (CDT)
From: ang
Subject: Re: Whoops
To: Nina Camic

Would you like to get coffee [tomorrow] at, like 8? And then we can go to the market?
I know the market's less busy earlier but I honestly don't know if I can
get up at like 5:30.

Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2005 19:57:22 -0500
To: ang
From: Nina Camic
Subject: Re: Whoops

Okay. Name your favorite place and I'll be there.

Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2005 20:00:05 -0500 (CDT)
From: ang
Subject: Re: Whoops
To: Nina Camic

Hmm. I usually go to Fair Trade - the one on the corner of State Street at
Gorham, across the street from Tellus Mater & the Jamba Juice.
They're nice there.

Date: Fri, 29 Jul 2005 20:05:19 -0500
To: ang
From: Nina Camic
Subject: Re: Whoops

Oh sure. I love to watch others flirt.
See you there at 8. I may show up a little earlier and jot down ideas.

(Bragger! But in reality, I showed up a few minutes late because of this: )

Madison July 05 367 Spotting a Cow at the Crystal Bar on Willie Street

(…and because of this: )

next door, I was shown some prize items for sale by the proud store owner, who opened up the place at around midnight so we could see, for example, this:

Madison July 05 385 for the wall...

…and this:

Madison July 05 382 for the coffee table...

…and this:

Madison July 05 381 for the ???

(…but no. it doesn’t end there; back at home – note the hour please: )

Date: Sat, 30 Jul 2005 00:43:55 -0500
To: Tonya
From: Nina Camic
Subject: Re: Re:

I just got home. Are you up? Probably not.

Date: Sat, 30 Jul 2005 00:48:01 -0500
From: Tonya
Subject: Re: Re: Re:
To: Nina Camic

I am up -- finishing my blog post about last night. Call if you want to talk.

(Then, this morning, reflecting on my level of alertness on the drive home after the Crystal night:)

Date: Sat, 30 Jul 2005 07:23:08 -0500
To: Saul
From: Nina Camic
Subject: Re: what r u up to?

I think I demonstrated what it means to fall asleep in mid-sentence last night!
Thanks again

Date: Sat, 30 Jul 2005 09:08:57 -0500
From: Saul
Subject: Re: what r u up to?
To: Nina Camic

that was classic!!!!

Hey, I did shop in the end. Flowers for the house showing tomorrow and lots of bags of food that is to turn into snacky things:

Madison July 05 369

Madison July 05 374

...while the stool looks on

Friday, July 29, 2005

A do widzenia for Jeremy

One could say that I will use any occasion to entice people over for a meal. Tenure decision? Birthday? My birthday? Spring day? Friday? – all good reasons to cook for people.

Jeremy, whom people mistakenly believe I met through the great blogging project, but who is really also sort of kind of a colleague and certainly every inch the greatest of great friends (even if those inches are dropping off rapidly), is about to take off for Cambridge MA. And of course, I needed to cook one last blogger meal before he goes out and punting, or rowing, or whatever it is that he intends to take up on and around the Charles River.

Or, was it that I just sipped wine at the side, while others prepared the food?

Madison July 05 350 Bozzo and Freese, making sure the rest of us eat

No, not exactly. In fact, there were so many dirty dishes after the meal that I had to wonder if in some drunken stupor I kept taking random plates and throwing junk on them just to see how many I could splatter with mush before the evening was done. Except that I did not get drunk.

I also did not take many photos – I was too busy. If you can believe it, I was so busy that I think I forgot to sit down and eat one of the courses.

Madison July 05 358a Brito, putting up with blogger-rations

But Jeremy deserved a super meal.

To you, pal. Stay chirpy.
Madison July 05 355Freese again, positioned on a notoriously famous kitchen stool

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Deconstructing the day

Face it: life, for the most part, is made up of a multitude of very tiny steps. Never is this more obvious than when you are cooking (as I am all day today). You organize your tasks (and there are a million steps that need to be ordered and followed) and you take a breath and plunge.

And then you deal with everything that does not follow the logical pattern that you set forth for yourself. You know, things don’t emulsify as they should, your Italian parsley is too bitter and so you need a different batch, the kiwi puree produced too much liquid.

And so you compensate. You turn on noise – for cooking, either a TV talk show or the radio will do; working in silence is a no-no. You cross out steps taken and add new ones to your list. You tell yourself that you are damn glad that you no longer work in a restaurant, because cooking for friends is fun whereas cooking for strangers is stressful. You look at the clock a million times and reprogram your tasks, piling more and more into the afternoon part of your grid, as the morning slips away on tasks that take longer than you would have anticipated.

At this point, the kitchen remains a place of ordered calm.

And the doorbell is ringing and you think – what the hell?? But you have made this deal with yourself that you will never ever not pause to talk to someone who stops by and as you drop everything to put on decent clothes (as opposed to the scrappy t-shirt you have on, along with something that resembled shorts twenty years ago but now could easily be mistaken for men’s underwear), the doorbell falls silent. You go out anyway and you see a neighbor’s 5-year old son (let’s call him Dennis – it’s apt) retreating. Ah. He has a habit of bringing my Times to my door and reveling in the heaped praise that is bestowed on him for his efforts. And when he does not reach me in time, he tosses the little blue sack aside, always missing the driveway, so that the paper habitually mauls what few blooms remain in my dry perennial bed.

And then you bike over to get the baguette and more kiwis and avocados (it’s green, I tell you – yellow and green on your plate today; and of course there will be flowers to eat as well) and you think to yourself – this day, made up of a thousand little details and a grand moment where it all (sort of) falls together – rocks.

Madison July 05 349

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

tasty blooms

Sometime in the middle of each semester I make my way downtown to teach a seminar at the Department of Justice. The seminar is always on Wednesdays, always in the mornings. There are many benefits to rubbing noses with real lawyers now and then, especially those who are representing you and me in the numerous cases filed against the State of Wisconsin. It's good to keep informed about these things.

A secondary benefit is that I get to go to the downtown Wednesday market on these DOJ days. It is scary how you can go with a list of two items and come back with a truckload of foods. What can I do… I am starting to prepare the Last Supper for this week-end, fittingly named (by me) because of a bunch of rites of passage to be commemorated then, though none of them quite as horrific as those about to take place on the heels of this meal (cunningly displayed on someone's lunchbox, possibly as a reminder that every meal could be, indeed, your last):

This post, however, is not about that. It’s about asking vendors for edible flowers. I need edible flowers and not many fit the bill. You can make yourself sick by eating the wrong kind of pea flower, for instance, whereas a nasturtium or a violet will go far to create a culinary masterpiece.

Unfortunately, most vendors are shocked when I press them on this topic. And most are suspicious when I say I only want one particular flower out a huge bouquet laid out there for me. And it is hard to explain the whys and what fors. Why do you want to eat flowers when there are so many truly wonderful other foods there for you, in stall after stall?

If I had to search out the reasons for why I do the things I do – it would keep me up all night and scare you away. Best to just assume that I get these notions and they stick and if an edible flower is one of them, then I will chase it down until it is positioned on the palm of my hand ready to be plunked into … the dish under consideration.

So, just one photo today, taken during a discussion of how I can have more of one kind of flower so that I can EAT IT. (In the end I bought the whole bouquet – so pretty, how can anyone resist...)

Madison July 05 348

Taking care

In this world, there are people who are destined to take care of you. I’m not talking about parent types. I’m talking about those who peer into your eye and notice that you are indeed far more grateful for that act of taking care than you let on.

I’ve never actually admitted to liking this. It is a rare person whom I will allow to tilt the balance so that I am not the one marmishly looking out for them. People with deep anxieties about life are like that – they appear fiercely independent and they can’t ever owe anything to anyone. I’m not saying this is good or bad and I’m not saying all good friends should assume care-giving tasks. All I am saying is that some have gently pushed aside the recently wobbly sign I find myself routinely hiding behind...

hearty ppstock
...and I am grateful.

Of course, it would be the case that much of taking care of another for me orbits around food and beverage. And indeed, there have been many lattes and Macaroni Grills and scrambled eggs in the past months that have been direct answers to my often unexpected and often pesty calls for company.

And then there have been these two who have taken the art of taking care to another level: for the past several months, Tom and Suzanne have taken to cooking dinners for me on a fairly regular basis – like just about once a week. And when I bike over there, I am, predictably perhaps, in some state of tumultuous anxiety. So that it takes more than one bottle of wine tucked into Mr. B’s pouch to get us through the evening. And they appear to not mind. Maybe they do mind, maybe they are doing this out of some vow that they made, in the manner of: dear deity (or whatever), if only you allow our hostas to grow, we promise we will cook regularly for any loser who comes our way in the months to come, maybe I wreck their routines – but they do not let on.

I feel that I cannot thank them enough for this period of feeding. Last night, after a supper of gazpacho and blueberry pie (because, of course, they would have picked up from my blog that I am all about blueberries) I biked home late, reflecting on this and I knew that the next blog post will be about the act of taking care: because really, if you have a friend who is resisting being taken care of, don’t take them at their word. Do it anyway. Being looked after, at least for short periods of time, can be awesome!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Frumpiness then and now

A long post on age and frumpiness, as written by a blogger who is older than 99% of the bloggers she links to and interacts with

Tonya writes about her weak enthusiasm for older men. Oscar comments that men haven’t the gall to publicly admit their lack of spark for older women (as he then takes himself out of that category, fearing the wrath of all his older women friends, I’m sure). Ehhh, men don’t have to admit it – we know it’s there. And I understand, because I am, unfortunately, equally tough, if not tougher, on older men.

And yet, I think Tonya isn’t completely forthright in her asserting indifference to this category of older guys, since she and I have counted off men we know who are significantly older and yet, by our standards, by any standards – they are damn attractive, both intellectually and physically.

However, the counting was limited to the fingers of one hand.

If it’s possible to find these attractive types, then why are we finding them so rarely? Because as people age, a significant number don’t find it worthwhile to pursue the war against frumpiness, natural proclivity toward obesity, to say nothing of intellectual and emotional slovenliness and self-indulgence.

And just to let you know: things don’t get any easier. Each decade it becomes a tougher war. Take the currently hot bloggers’ topic of body shape and size: I watch with amusement Jeremy’s and Ang’s discussion of how few food points they are allowed on their diets. When you pass age 50, your permissible “points” just to maintain a decent [meaning healthy] weight are so few that you have to admit that some degree of hunger will always be your bedfellow if you want to avoid the bulge that promises to make you look pretty much like the Michelin tire guy for life. Picture me on Mr. B huffing and puffing and looking something like this:

So often you conclude, however, that the struggle isn't worth it. Who wants to be constantly yelling at her or himself for looking with lust at a Twix candy bar. (A couple of days ago I watched my friend eat a chocolate bar in the car and I almost ripped the soft piece of candy from her hand – temptation is everywhere!)

In assessing the desirability of young people I’ll just say what everybody knows: sure, appearance matters some. Yes, yes, it matters a lot. Yes, there are those who hook up with women within minutes of meeting their object of attention simply because these beings are cute and bouncy and they never have a bad hair day.

But even if you are not in that category, even if you consider yourself living in a state of permanent bad hair days, you know that youth gives you a significant boost. Nature has done this for you, because we need to ensure that the human species will survive pop culture’s assault on physical imperfection. Nature has given you some combination of peachy skin and shiny hair and eyes that twinkle and hands that twist lids of jars without hesitation. It’s enough to get the job of finding a mate done.

There really truly is an old Polish proverb that states: men fall in love through their eyes, women through their ears. I don’t buy it. Men will pick out the woman who admires them to death even if she is not a looker. And of course, for women as well, in the context of youth – rarely is a guy’s appearance so totally off-putting as to have her walk away from someone who actually has something witty to say or holds some claim to a powerful position that is oftentimes more sexy than any muscle added during a gym workout.

But for me (and I am sooooo not the only one my age to be saying this) – oh, I am significantgly more fussy now. Significantly more! It comes as a surprise to most men that so many women my age would rather be alone than be with someone who doesn’t have both wit and some degree of physical presence going for him. Frumpiness may not have been as much an issue at age twenty or thirty, but it is now. We who have disciplined ourselves to maintain higher levels of mental and physical energy, we’re less and less interested in those who have caved in and let go. We were the caregivers, the conversation makers, the arrangers once, don’t assume that this is the role we are to take on yet again as you, men of my generation, find yourselves repeatedly in doctors offices or staring blankly with nothing interesting to entertain us with, because you were all about self- indulgence years ago.

So, note this please, you young bloggers: follow those diets, keep moving, and no less importantly: step outside your work boots and develop your interests, your ways of relating to people, to the Greater World Out There! Not because that’ll get you a desirable mate now. You’ll get her or him anyway. Do the above so that you will be an interesting human being when you are fifty or older. Or else you may find yourself spending even more time on then than you are doing now.

UPDATE: In answering a reader's question I decided to insert the clarifier here as well. When I write about physical discipline and vigilance, I do not mean weight. I was careful to write the post in a way that focused on robust health and fitness. I know people are all about weight loss. To me, that is only a proxy for something far far more significant: strength, muscle tone, shapliness, stamina and zest, etc. -- attention to this creates a physical presence that is indeed attractive, knocking down physical frumpiness every time.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Celebrate we will Because life is short but sweet for certain

What if for years you have used every conceivable strategy to get yourself auditorium seats at Alpine Valley for the Dave Matthews Band concert, with no success, and then, one March day when the summer tour is posted – bingo! – you get lucky? What if you were so crazy about Dave Matthews that you readily admitted that you’d give up most anything (maybe not your son, but pretty much anything else) just to spend an hour telling him to his face how spine-tingling wonderful he is?

I’m describing Tonya, of course. Tonya and I have been great friends for a while now and we have talked about every conceivable topic out there in the course of the years. But not one brings out as much passion, joy, animation in her as the mere mention of this walking god, with his intensely furrowed brow, his strong arms wrapped around a guitar, and a stage presence that makes thousands strain just to breathe the air that touched his countenance.

Last night I got to slide in on Tonya’s piece of heaven: I was there, standing with her in the auditorium next to these prized DMB concert seats (why do they sell “seats?” Technically, of course, there are seats, but I promise, my butt never touched the chair with the designated number – not even for a second. A good pair of flip flops will put you right in the groove for the three hours of standing and five miles of walking from the car park; oh, and don’t forget the exposed skin: bring lots of exposed skin as you will be surrounded by others who have lots of exposed skin – and it will be 100 degrees amidst all that youthful exposed skin, and after one beer, the hot summer evening will seem like a blur of skin, sweat and sultry jazzy pop rock notes).

In truth, I loved the concert. DMB’s music is supremely well suited for a live performance. The lyrics are bold and uncluttered and the jazzy instrumental jams are so good that I found myself thinking – wow, if this is what young America (average concert-goer’s age has to be in the mid twenties) puts at the top of the rock charts, then I’m going to give all that taught youthful exposed skin another chance. Maybe there’s some good stuff lurking underneath after all.

Madison July 05 325 DMB

Madison July 05 343 enthralled

Madison July 05 337 rhythm and skin

Madison July 05 335a sea of fans

Madison July 05 347

Sunday, July 24, 2005

(After Washington D.C.) daughters, redux

Saturday, dusk. The streets of Georgetown are crowded now. I pause a lot, looking at buildings, stores, people. Sometimes I take pictures, sometimes I just watch. They walk ahead, arm in arm, laughing at their jokes, looking back protectively, patiently, to make sure I haven’t been swallowed by crowds or run over by the meandering cars.

We enter a store and try on clothes. They tell me what looks dorky and what’s in. That looks great on you, they say. No, too bold. Come on, it’s fantastic! The one with the beads. Here, let me pick a top to go with it.

The sales are good. I watch them select things with such care – they are so attuned to the way things go together, often in funky ways, always with an eye toward novel styles.

We sit at a window table at a California-style bistro. Napa cuisine! It is very late. We stuff ourselves with grilled calamari and zucchini flowers filled with pecorino. At the end, we try a California desert wine: good! – says one. sweet! –says the other.

Georgetown at night. Weaving into its depths, we look at mansions and calculate what kind of income would make this part of town affordable. No one in my world could ever live here. Their world is more varied. They hang out for hours upon hours with the homeless in shelters at the same time that they know people who have horses and boats.

I leave their apartment before dawn today. They wake to say good-bye. I’ll see them again in three weeks. But there are never too many days that you can have with those you love. It was for one day really; it could have been one evening, one dinner and it would have been worth the travel, the hassle, the scheduling accommodations. Connections. Rare, beautiful connections to people who are the jewels in your life.

DC July 05 069 Georgetown at dusk: a Scouts' urban crawl

DC July 05 090 Georgetown at night: she belongs here somehow

DC July 05 070 Georgetown at night: Mr. B's soulmate

DC July 05 080 Georgetown at night: pan roasted grouper, baby summer squash ragout, sweet corn flan, in a pool of basil pan sauce -- a table with a view

DC July 05 083blueberry and peach cobbler: fresh and honest

Saturday, July 23, 2005

(From Washington D.C.) getting it right

Rouse yourself. Don't be a passive reader. Figure this one out:

A mother and two grown daughters have brunch in Alexandria, Virginia. It is a dazzling day by all accounts and Alexandria is totally charming.

The threesome choose this place for brunch. Why? For the important reason that the color of the exterior matches the top the mother is wearing over her polka-dot skirt.

DC July 05 047

The three place an order.

Question: What did the mother order?

Choice A:

DC July 05 048 bloody tasty

Choice B:

DC July 05 052 greens with celeriac and grilled shrimp over mango chutney

Choice C:

DC July 05 053 blueberry wonderful


The mother almost never eats lunch.
When she does order lunch, she rarely has anything apart from plain water to drink with it.
The mother loves blueberry anything.

The mother used to make mean bloody marys for brunches many decades ago.

Answer: Choice B.
The mother is having a 24 hour dazzling day (see first sentence). All rules are suspended.

After lunch the mother played with a parrot.

DC July 05 067

And across the Potomac, all contemplated a familiar sight:

DC July 05 058

(From Washington D.C.:) three “cities,” three train “stations”

Staying at the Georgetown Law Center in DC puts me two blocks away from Union Station. For many reasons then (Metro, latte, Metro, latte) I have become familiar with it.

Madison, of course, does not really have a train station. But it has a train. Driving to the airport yesterday, I crossed the tracks and noted a big cardboard sign saying “Trains depart at: 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm…” etc. I wasn’t sure where they were departing to, and you could hardly call it a station, but in Madison, that’s all you’re going to get.

Grand Central in NY has been splendidly updated, but it has, to me, a fatal flaw: apart from the downstairs food courts, it has no places to sit. Now, maybe there can never be enough seating anyway for the millions who pass through it daily so why bother, or maybe the Mayors Giuliani and at present Bloomberg want to keep the homeless from appropriating seats for their personal use, but given that most people actually arrive at stations more than ten minutes before their train is taking off – it is a nuisance.

At Union Station, seating is abundant. Most is straightforward, in the style of airport stuff, but in some hallways it is not only adequate, it is quite pretty. This morning as I was in hot pursuit of a latte, I saw it in its empty incarnation.

DC July 05 Union (not Terrace, Station) chairs

(From Washington D.C.)

One tiny plane now flies alllllll the way from the wee little city of Madison directly to DC. Shocking, isn't it?

I enjoyed sitting in the last row (that would be row 12) and counting the number of times people used the restroom in the course of a 90 minute flight. Repeat offenders were especially scrutinized.

How humid is it here? So humid that you’d think DC was built on a swamp. (And so it was.)

How good is the food? I’ll just give you the beginning and the ending, bypassing entirely the moulard duck breast with coriander cassis sauce, sweet potatoes and spicy orange ginger marmalade.

It's all about taste. And color:

DC July 05 015 chilled cucumber with cilantro, chilies, lime and shrimp salsa

DC July 05 019 classic strawberry shortcake

DC July 05 024 espresso of course

Finally, some photographic musings on amusing scenes from an evening walk around Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan.

DC July 05 026 he's just not into her

DC July 05 028 he's into her

DC July 05 025 window lights

DC July 05 037 window lights, two

DC July 05 039 Madam's organ at Adams Morgan

Friday, July 22, 2005

I love Madison, really I do…

…it’s just that it’s small. I figured out that in the fall, it will take me something like ten minutes to walk over from my apartment to the Law School, and I will have basically passed the edges of the entire downtown area. I may be a fast walker* but still – not only is the area to be covered not vast, it offers few distractions. And I think I figured out that I can walk the entire distance, cross at legitimate intersections and pass no more than one or two stop lights. That tells you something.

So it’s small. I read with some amusement that Middleton (Madison’s suburb really) was on Money Magazine's list of top ten even smaller towns in America this year. There you could cross the entire downtown in three minutes and you will have passed … not much of anything.

Middleton is where you move to if you want to escape Madison’s urban tempo. You know, because it is so fast-paced in downtown Madison.

So today I got an email message from one of my daughters (both are spending the summer in DC) asking me to select a place for dinner there tonight (I am going for a quick, very spontaneously arranged visit). She submitted four choices. All in one neighborhood. All having menus that leap out at me in their originality. All reasonably priced. Damn! Can’t we go to all four?

I am starved for a neighborhood where people are eating dinner until 2 a.m. on hot summer nights. Places from which I get another note telling me this: we are planning out your day – which of these things would you like to do? – and then follows a list of some ten categories of choices.

I know, I know, Mr. B is grumbling at my side, letting me know that no way would he feel comfortable whizzing around DC’s traffic (as if he was such a safe ride in slower-paced Madison!). And the market, and the lakes, and the green spaces, I know I know. I love my little town, I do I do. Sort of.

But this evening I hit the big stuff. More to follow. From D.C.

* trained to pick up the pace by Madison’s speed demon herself, Ms. kef

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A quiet grin and a twinkle

Are people thinking they clicked on to the wrong blog? Hey, you, over there! Seen Ocean lately? Yeah, same old, same old… No no, really, check it out today: the post title is: a quiet grin and a twinkle.

So it’s been pretty much that kind of a 24 hours, what can I say.

In anticipation of my leaving Madison tomorrow, I got things done today – that in itself deserves a ten minute standing ovation, because it has been rare this summer for me to get things done.

True, the show that y’all had me watch with you tonight was sort of kind of sad, rather than funny (sorry! okay okay, I’ll give it another chance! I understand the subtleties, I do, but it was still sad*), and there were storms in the morning and bills had to be paid -- all ready ingredients for a curl-up-and-sob moment.

But I’m sifting and sorting through the hours and they come out on balance in this direction: ahhhhh (rather than ohhhhh).

(Not a small part of it has to do with the fact that tomorrow I will be with my daughters out on the east coast.)

I also did head out to check on the apartment that will be my home in just a few weeks. I think they are making progress! I do! Like, the sink is in, the spotlight lamps are dangling from the old beamed ceiling, the graffiti on the outside has been (pretty much) blasted away.

Tobacco lofts. That’s the name of the place. Me and tobacco, tobacco and I. A funny and clever combination. Yeah.

Madison July 05 290 enter this way

Madison July 05 313 lofty inside

* The Comeback

this day's storms

What a difference a cloud (in one's day) makes… For example:

Madison July 05 Madison July 05 289
before noon ... and after noon

Where a highly competent individual who has managed complicated moves and even changes in citizenship cannot figure out how to set the AC in her house

Because I am away from the house at times when it is sometimes opened up for a real estate tour, I need to not only keep it immaculate (bummer! though it never fails to impress anyone dropping by – so clean! – they say, at once telling me that they themselves live in slovenly rat holes because it is not that off the charts tidy). I also need to keep it cool.

As I am continuing with My Summer Without Air Conditioning and Without Car, I do not normally resort to tampering with their mechanical configurations and idiosyncrasies. I basically ignore them and they ignore me right back.

So when I finally was forced to preset the AC timer so that it would miraculously flip on and spread its icy nets over the cavernous expanse of the house in my absence, I was surprised that it made no sense. It is a new timer, put in just a handful of month ago. I set the day. The hour. The temperature. And when the day and the hour come around, it automatically, out of spite I guess, flips up to 85 and stays there.

Normally I would not even notice. 85, 75 – what’s the diff. So long as it is not 65, I am happy. But people touring the place may think that it is a tad on the overheated side. And I definitely want to place them in the buying mode, not the frying mode.

Incompetence, especially my own, bothers me. I like to believe that if thrown out into a lion’s den I will figure out a way to cope with the onslaught of big fangs and sharp claws. Someone recently told me that I do well with new things and places. They are right. The fact that I cannot deal with a new thermostat control is, therefore, so irritating that I swear it will prove to be the proverbial straw. If you next find me moronically sitting in a corner, chewing on a shirtsleeve and singing nursery rhymes over and over you’ll know why.
It was Mr. AC, in the parlor, with a control panel.

...blackbird has spoken like the first bird

It is so late… So late that it is no longer Tonya's birthday;

Madison July 05 260 contemplating

Time to make even more changes.

Let’s begin with a new photo for the sidebar. Ann,

Madison July 05 266 skeptical

did you take this one of the Ocean author?

Madison July 05 248 with a latte...


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Polish proverbs no. 4, 5 & 6

Okay, SLC, you are not doing a convincing job: there are skeptics who are questioning the authenticity of some of the proverbs contained in the posts below!

Why this cavalier attitude in throwing out the proverbs and sayings? Why aren't I citing sources, providing links? Perhaps because of this:

"Musi to na Rusi, w Polsce jak kto chce" -- meaning:

“You have to” is for Russians; Poles do as they please

So I did, here on Ocean, as I pleased, figuring I do not have to document the Polishness of anything. I’ll just put it out and move on.

After all, the saying goes:

"Wolnoć Tomku w swoim domku" or, in other words:

Thomas, you are free to do anything you want in your own house!

But then, sure enough, in pops an email message saying: That last quote? Not Polish!
The hell it isn’t!
Okay, so maybe others have embraced it as well, but it’s Polish, I tell you! Google it – you’ll find confirmation
here and elsewhere.

But actually, I must admit that many Polish proverbs borrowed ideas from German sources and when those sources ran dry, they dug into the Bible, being rather Bible-leaning to begin with. And so there is overlap.


A good painter need not give a name to his picture; a bad one must.

So, too, a bad writer must explain and label things in a more coherent way. The Polishness of the proverbs isn’t throwing itself at you. I should do more to tie the words to the old country, so that you will indeed walk away thinking – now that’s Italian! I mean Polish. Sorry, sometimes it’s a little fuzzy for me as well.

Polish proverb no.3

Yes, another day of SLC trying so very hard to convince you that in Polish proverbs lies the truth about life. So, another one, to give a special boost to Ocean readers:

Even a clock that does not work is right twice a day


I love this proverb! Go ahead, mess up – it tells me. You’ll still hit it right a couple of times, just by virtue of being on the face of the earth.

I already hit it right in the middle of this night: I went on and booked a flight to DC to see two very precious beings (I'll take off in a couple of days). Now all I have to do is send a birthday message to the author of this blog and I will have cleared two strikes. Chances are I’ll zip through with a couple more, so in effect, I’ll be even better than the clock that stands still: I will be moving, albeit at a very slow pace.

Rate usefulness of discussion: ***** (too much of the personal, too little of the analytical)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Polish proverb no.2

Continuing on with SLC’s ambitious goal of making you aware of the vast array of proverbs available to enrich and enliven your days, here’s an oldie but goodie, straight from the archives of the Best Polish Proverbs Ever:

When the bitch gets off the wagon, horses have an easier time

(Polish version: “Baba z wozu, koniom lżej” – note that a baba is slightly gentler – somewhere between a woman and a bitch – but I can’t think of another word that captures the derogatory flavor of it, so in my translation it remains bitch)


So often the older proverbs have a certain folksiness to them, with references to pigs, horses, wagons.
But why is this one not gender neutral? Or why aren't we celebrating the departure of that bastard?
Who knows. Fact is, though, that in Poland, two thirds of divorces are initiated by women. [Though you can’t infer much about marital bliss from crude numbers, nor from the very low divorce rates, since the divorce procedure in Poland is complicated and courts will oftentimes not grant a divorce if the judge, in her or his divine wisdom, opines that the children will be better served if the couple stays together.]

Maybe this proverb was born out of a need to console the guy whose woman flew the coop. But I’ve heard it used in a broader context: it’s tantamount to saying “good riddance!” Except that the saying “good riddance” came to us from Shakespeare himself (Troilus and Cressida), whereas this proverb is… well, straight out of the shed where horses and wagons are kept.

In any event, feel free to use the proverb anytime a student drops your class or someone leaves you for another, or you're washing your hands off of some sticky situation. Just shout out after them: when the bitch gets off the wagon, horses have an easier time! Give a smug grin and a dismissive wave and go on with your day.

Rate usefulness of discussion to your understanding of the proverb: *****

Monday, July 18, 2005

Polish proverb no.1

In an effort to break away from writing morose posts these days, the author of Ocean is handing the blog over for a while to the newly established Silver Learning Center ("SLC"), which operates with the slogan: All that glitters is not gold.

The spectacularly unoriginal slogan should clue you in that the SLC is all about aphorisms and proverbs. In its vast and detailed archives, it contains a number of interesting (and authentic) Polish sayings.

Poles are known for their proverbs. Indeed, paremiologists have recognized Polish and Yiddish proverbs as comprising the bulk of the Great Proverbs Out There.*

Sometimes the proverb presented in Ocean will bear some relation to the day at hand. Sometimes it will be of a more general nature. Sometimes it will be accompanied with text (the SLC and I are striking a contract as we speak, detailing its obligations to the blog). Sometimes only with a photo.

FAQs about SLC’s cooperative relationship with Ocean and blogs in general:

Q: How long do we have to endure its presence on your blog?

A: Each day may be the last day (or not), so you really have to check. I am not revealing the terms of the contract. It is going to be a sealed, secret document.

Q: So the readers basically don’t get to follow the progression of your life while SLC is in charge?
A: Whatever made you think that you are following any progression to begin with? The only person that follows my life is me and trust me, there is no progression.

Q: This isn’t like the dreadful kep thing in your June posts all over again, is it? (this question appears less frequently than the others, but is included here for its value as a minority position)

A: I said nothing about kep. I’m talking about a worthwhile organization that will bring you closer to the spirit of Poland and perhaps, inadvertently or advertantly, to Ocean’s author.

Okay, today’s proverb:

A hippo does not have a sting in its tail, but a wise man would still rather be sat on by a bee

Discussion (all participants are Polish, so please view this as a genuine attempt at interpreting their own proverb):

So something can sting but be quite harmless, right? Harm ought to be measured in other ways, correct?
I believe that the proverb misses the point. A sting can go to the heart. Size and choice of poison is irrelevant. Death is death. Bees can spell evil.
I think you are wrong in your interpretation: it simply is telling us that there are greater evils than a mere sting.

Do they even have hippos in Poland? I never saw one. Ever. Not in Warsaw, not in Krakow. How can this be a Polish proverb if there are no hippos in Poland?
Don't be patronizing. We all have seen hippo pictures. We know they are huge and can squash the guts out of you. And we certainly understand bees. They sting to protect themselves. They also bring honey.

Rate usefulness of discussion to your understanding of the proverb: *****

* source of grandiose claim: nlc

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Yes, well, I have no oomph to write this post, so make of the sentences in between the photos whatever you want

A lawyer, an artist and a law prof set out for Devil’s Lake State Park. It was 100 degrees outside. At least. The artist was tired, the law prof was completely out of sorts and the lawyer was raring to go swimming.

Madison July 05 201

At a table next to ours we encountered a group of Poles from Chicago. How did I guess they were Polish? Well, the language, of course. And the swimming Speedos on the men! We chatted for a while. It felt like home. Safe. Like, get me out of this world and take me to my homeland. But then, where is my homeland?

Madison July 05 207

The lawyer and I took a canoe out. We left the artist to do his thing. The lake was spectacularly cool and calming. It should have calmed me. It should have.

Madison July 05 215

Madison July 05 212

Back at the shore, we found the artist…. Reading.

Oh sure, he did some watercolor stuff as well. But no big canvases for him today. I knew exactly where he was coming from.

Madison July 05 221

I suggested ice cream. The servers were two Polish students, picking up some money during a summer in America. They hated their employer. Why? The first day on the job he told them: basically, I hate foreign workers, but I have no choice but to hire you. Downhill after that.

Madison July 05 224

At this point the lawyer wanted us to go swimming, but the law prof said no. The lack of oomph was catching up. The idea of changing into swim gear, then out again, was overwhelming. So the swim was scrapped and the great hike took place.

Madison July 05 232

The last time I took this trail was in July, 1981 – ergo, 24 years ago. I was very pregnant with my first child. Hope. It’s all about hope. I’d never in my life felt so hopeful as that month, back in 1981. I could easily say that today I was on a completely opposite slope. Isn’t it funny how one spot – a bunch of rocks around Devil’s Lake can leave such lasting impressions one way or another? Oh, and another thing: then, back in 1981, I was terrified of going into labor, right there, on the cliffs of Devil’s Lake. Now, in 2005, I felt terrified of … nothing.