Tuesday, October 31, 2006

life, in pink

If it is nearly freezing outside and you come across a rose bush still in bloom, you pause and marvel at the mere incongruity of it, of that tattered flower, and you think (even if it is about to be the dreariest of months) – there will be blooms in the days ahead. Surely there will be blooms!

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Only, they’ll be few and far between.

People seem tired in November (with the exception of the first of the month, when they are post-Halloween hyper.)

I’m not especially heading into it tired, but I am a little discouraged at how quicky I'm finding it to be unpleasantly cold and dark out there. These, to me, are the most unpleasant aspects of the early winter months.

But I am remembering a valuable lesson from last winter. On the coldest of February week-ends, I found myself up north, in Quebec. There, I could observe firsthand how the Quebecois embrace their unrelenting cold climate. Instead of hiding from an Arctic blast, they are out there jumping off cliffs on gliders, climbing up ice walls and lacing up skates. Forget the indoor arena: take out your blades and glide in the icy winds!

So this year I am vowing to embrace the dreary dark months of early winter. That’ll be me, extending my walk to and from work, flying out the door in spite of, nay, because of the piercing cold wetness that hits your skin then quickly finds the shortest route to the bone.

And because immersing myself in even more dreariness will only work to overcome my antipathy to it, I’ll head out toward places that are even drearier, darker and colder than Madison at this time of the year. Imagine, there are such places.

Welcome, November, December… God, you are such a challenge.

Monday, October 30, 2006

october warmth

You wont believe me, not any number of you, but this afternoon, looking up to see my red bike resting there against the frame of the local café was completely satisfying. Something about having a late October day reach warm temperatures…

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True, five minutes later I was retrieving my mail and it set me onto a spin and (not unpleasant) turmoil (the result of which appears on the sidebar to this blog). But for the minute that I looked over and saw my bike, waiting for me, I was at peace.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

halloween notes

I don’t think our climate up here in Wisconsin is well suited to all-night outdoor partying, especially if you’re determined to do it in some state of undress. And yet, each year people drive for miles just to hang out on State Street until wee hours on the last Saturday of October. How is it that we sold this night as a Madison must?

At some point, too many came and businesses balked. Something about having a drunken brawl on their doorstep, with 100,000 attending was off-putting.

And so this year, the city took precautions: even more police officers. Roped off access, with attendance limited to those who were willing to pay $5. And a nice dose of windy, cold air.

I live a mere handful of blocks away and so, wind and entrance fees notwithstanding, I convinced the ever affable Ed to come out and we paraded up and down State Street until I was simply too cold to continue.

I would have written that it was a tame night. The biggest fiasco on State Street seemed to be the occasional mummy whose costume would tear at the perforation.

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So many of the costumes were just so…cheerful.

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…And so many men joyfully padded their shirts and grew out hair overnight. Predictable stuff.

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The street was calm. There was even room for a romantic spin with your sweetie.

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All under the watchful eye of the police…

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In all, a kickass event…

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All was well until we left State Street. Closer to my home, we nearly tripped on a young man convulsed in a heap by the sidewalk. The tort prof in me says – walk away walk away. The uman being in me says it’s too cold to pass out on the street like that.

But the stupor was not caused by alcohol. Or at least not directly. The man had an ugly bloody gash in his head. When he came to, he was somewhere between nonsensical and mildly incoherent.

A police person had to be dragged in from watching the fun stuff on State Street to provide a service off off State. I’m not sure whether the victim’s rendition of what happened was altogether credible. You believe a mugging when the mugged has at least a wallet stolen and does not admit to partial intoxication. Regardless, it was a sad sight.

Eventually we left, grateful to the young college kids who had been partying in the house next door and helped us deal with this guy. Calling the police was not something they would have otherwise welcomed, given the nature of their party, the ages of some of the participants (I'm guessing here), and other irksome considerations of legality.

Blood on faces looks a lot better when it’s fake.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

regional seasonal

This isn't really a comment about food. It's on weather issues. What happened to the too-warm days of mid October? What happened to the Halloween where we sent out kids trick-or-treating without forcing them into mittens and caps?

Or is it me?

This morning at the market – the next to last one of the year, the farmers were one foot out already in their mindset. Ms. Bee-Charmer-who-also-sells-pumpkins tells me – why is today’s market dragging so much? Then: come on, don’t you want one of my pumpkins? They’re French, like you. Alright, load my French market basket with yout heavy ball of goodness. Sweet pumpkin soup made from the very French piece of squash, by the not very French Ocean blogger.

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I fill out the order form for a Blue Valley Thanksgiving turkey. The farmer asks -- can you stick around for a few minutes? I want to get a warm cup of coffee from l’Etoile.

It’s not just me.

At the tomato stand, a young girl helps her dad. She is protected from the wind. Sort of.

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There are shoppers, but not too many. The end of October. Red wagons are loaded down with pumpkins. Are they going to be peeled and seeded and roasted and served as soup? Too big. Little pumpkins taste better. These are doorstep material.

But the sun is there and everything is riper, brighter, better, more photogenic in its warmth.

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After the market, I drive briefly out of town just to see if the sun improves what little is out there at this time of the year. It does.

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Friday, October 27, 2006


Some weeks back, a friend asked where he and his partner should stay in Paris. I have known him for years and still this question was a tough one. He is one of those people who does not hide behind politeness. If I recommend something that he does not like, he tells me so the next time I see him. Which is as it should be, of course. The deeper issue is that I did not want to steer him wrong. First time to Paris, an entire week in the city, with a boyfriend who is a serious, artsy photographer – tricky stuff here.

I told him my newest favorite place on the left bank, they checked it out on the Net, liked the photos and booked their stay.

Yesterday I ran into him for the first time since his return.

Well?? Did you like it? What was the worst part of the trip? (the hope here is that he wont say straight off – the hotel.)
The worst was the food. Not breakfast, but the real meals. Too many snails and guts and stomach parts on your plate. Once we found the ethnic eateries, we were fine.
And the best?
Of course, everywhere, the desserts were fantastic. And the wine! Every glass we had was way better than what we have here. Oh and I loved the hot chocolate in the morning – poured melted in your cup with a steaming pitcher of milk… incredible.

So did you like the city?
Yes, of course. ..don’t know why people complain about the French. Everyone was fine. Busy, hurried, in the way people are in big cities, but just fine. You know, we really liked some of the touristy stuff. It was thrilling to be standing underneath the Eiffel Tower. We did the boat thing, we went to Notre Dame, the Arc and I thought the (
newly reopened!) Orangerie was magnificent. Not as good as MoMA in New York, but still incredible…

(ah, my Paris. I love this town. God, I love this town! Why am I not there?)

And how is it for a gay couple? Did you feel you could be publicly affectionate?
Yes, though often times we were not. It’s very much as the mood strikes. In Paris, like in big cities here, the gay scene is pretty sedate. You know, we’re in the decade where gay men are trying very much to blend into the straight world and straight guys are doing the metrosexual thing.
So did you do the gay bar scene?
We checked out a number of places. Weird, they’re playing the same gay music there that we have here. You want to ask – why are you doing this? But we did go to a concert and it was fun – people dance more there than they do over here.

It’s a long flight back, isn’t it?
What was worse was the customs inspection in Detroit. I got flagged. Don’t know why. They examined every piece of underwear, accused me of buying it there and not admitting to it, asked me three times why I had two medicines… on and on. It was so strange, I felt I had to go along and not challenge them, but they got hostile and in the end, left my suitcase unzipped, so that when I picked it up, everything spilled. I wanted to retrieve a shoe and a hat that went under the counter and they said no, absolutely not. So I came back with one shoe.

I read that these hostile encounters with our immigration and customs people at the border are one reason why so many foreigners will not travel here.
Definitely the low point of our return.

So… the hotel in Paris?
Good rooms! We liked it.

A sigh of relief.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


One of those days. So tight, so packed with obligations and commitments that nothing more could be made of it. Full, the day was full.

As I cycled from one appointment to the next I thought – yessss! I can make my muscles push the bike past other more lackadaisical riders and, ultimately, I can have understanding Ocean readers not question a late post about nothing.

A few hours of rest and I will resume. But I need those few hours of rest. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

about food…

I wrote those words in a comment to the previous post. I am sitting here now thinking about them while I eat. I have just finished an hour’s discussion with a neighbor about being a foodie. Today, a foodie is one who knows it all – not only how to fix a plate of edamame, but also one who can fire off in a second the nickname of the newest field-to-table chef in town. It’s a burden.
Ultimately, a person who cares deeply about breakfast, lunch, dinner (as I do), who thinks about waking up to the next meal and the next, is more than a foodie. Us types are obsessed.

And one has to wonder why and from whence it came. My mother was an awful cook. My grandmother was okay. Am I pushing family buttons here?

Or, is it that I learned from people out there in very far away places, that all important events can be lived and relived around a table? So that I, too would want to create a table, an enticement, a facilitating device?

Let's just say that I care that people eat well.

Tonight I booked a 21-course meal for Thanksgiving week-end and I thought nothing of it. After, I took out ten pots and pans and cooked up a classic for my daughter who is in town. Excess? No. Simply a never ending curiosity about… food.

The dishes are finally cleared, the pots scrubbed. Only now can I retire to post.

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for the risotto

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

covered with plastic

It’s the significant commercial event of the decade: Trader Joe’s has opened a store in Madison. And maybe it’s a great match: so much organic at such minimal prices. It suits us Madisonians in all ways. We are all about the fresh and the frugal. [We care, we care, it’s just that so many of us are state employees. Our salaries rarely go up much and when they do, they just barely catch up to the inflation index of ten years back. On a personal note, Trader Joe’s seems especially well suited for a state employee who counts the hours and the Euros ‘til her next trip across the ocean.]

And yet…

This morning I get an email from the president of the board of our local food cooperative, the Mifflin Street Co-op. Food for the people! -- reads their slogan. I am a member, though a reluctant one. I cannot get myself to spend good money on wilted produce and their produce is more than just mildly wilted. No matter. After so many years of service, they are shutting down. Something about unpaid taxes, mismanagement, etc etc. The usual.

And so I go to Trader Joe’s. Might it become my neighborhood store? I do love shopping at Whole Foods, prices notwithstanding, I do! Will I love shopping at TJ’s?

No, probably not. I walk back to the loft with two heavy bags filled with various foods. Thirty minutes along the most ugly and boring stretch of Madison roadway and I think: buying food has to be beautiful. Returning home with it along the ugliness that is Regent Street (or, in the alternative, that ugly snippet of the bike path) takes much beauty out of the expedition.

And the plastic. For decades, we have suffered a disassociation from out food sources. Plastic has separated us from the meats and produce that we eat, so that we have conveniently permitted outselves to forget about tending to our gardens, our herds. And here we go again: most everything at Trader Joe’s is bagged and wrapped. I bought eight roma tomatoes even though I only needed four. I picked up chocolate covered banana chips, neatly wrapped and ready to throw into my cart, even though I needed none.

Oh, I appreciated the prices. If I am going to buy mediocre wine, I am happy to spend only $2.99 for it.

Still… I walked home from Trader Joe’s thinking how passive we are about navigating ugly scapes and indifferently presented foods. My best visuals for the day? A clump of seed pods and, further down the block, the reflection of the sky in the windows of the Kohl’s Center. I wish there was more to say about it all, but there really isn’t. Sigh...

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Monday, October 23, 2006

back in the west of the midwest

At a certain point in time, things that once look gorgeous and sublime begin to show their cracks. Red leaves, once they hit the pavement, often look... brown. And that’s okay. Cracks are normal. Crevices are to be expected. Brown is a variant of red.

My older daughter is visiting this week and I took her to the old neighborhood, the place of her childhood.

I have been back in recent weeks a number of times. For no good reason. I don’t stop, I do not talk to friends and neighbors, I just drive by and, well, marvel at the way wheels spin.

Tonight we note that this west side spot has a microclimate – it hangs on to the cold. Sure enough, the fallen leaves haven’t the glory of Connecticut’s blushing bunch. Brown, wilted, they rest in heaps at the curb. The amazing thing is that here, not anywhere else in town, just here, they are covered with snow.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

from new haven: blushing red

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It would be impossible not to notice the presence of Fall in Connecticut. The winds are strong but the skies are clear. Sparkle and glitter on the ocean waters, a splash of vibrant red and a Halloween orange elsewhere.

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I am noting all our references to autumn as a season of old age. The brittle, spent leaves, the creviced faces of old people. Why is one worth a premium and the other passed over? The beautiful autumnal display. Maps, telling you where you should be on each day to see the leaves at their greatest brilliance.

Fall, the exhilarating, spirited season. And why not? It follows sultry days of heat and nights of impassioned storms. Not unlike the heated tumult and excess of younger years. Where are the maps urging us toward the beautifully textured faces, with each line in place, the best ones that are both delicate and wise?

The blushing, stunning look of Fall.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

from new haven: impossible

I cannot post right now. Imagine: I am spinning with topics, issues, I am full… yet, I cannot post.

See you tomorrow.

Friday, October 20, 2006

from new haven: rambling

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For the eighth (and final) time, I am making an October pilgrimage to New Haven to check in on a daughter in college (no, she did not take eight years to finish; there are two daughters with two consecutive college experiences).

Fall, 1973, my own last semester in college, my last autumn in New York. I'm thinking: I have to get out. My parents are suddenly a presence. They have packed their trunks, closed their eyes to Warsaw (for the time being) and returned to New York. The U.N. is their turf again. And so I must switch from being an au pair for strangers, to once more being a daughter. The Fall daughter. The fall-from-grace (eventually) daughter.

Take me away!

Last semester in college... I fill out applications to graduate school. I bypass New York universities. I apply to schools in Berkeley, in Chicago, in Ottawa for God’s sake. Who ever applies to study sociology in Ottawa? I do. I pick my schools in terms of distance from New York. And then I recoil. Berkeley is too far from Europe. Dear Berkeley: I do not wish to go there after all. Dear Nina: Call us right away. We’re not sure we understand your reason for this. In the alternative, we think you’re crazy.

I will be spending next fall in Chicago.

Thanksgiving, they say, is the best New York holiday. We, in my family are too Polish to know what to do with it. I’m not sure my parents ever learned how to do anything proper with this or any other holiday. Oh, eventually they find their gig. Movies. Proclamation: henceforth we will walk to the moviehouse, briskly, for the exercise, up second avenue, down third, on each and every holiday, laying to rest fears that Christmas, New Year’s and Thanksgiving will not be properly celebrated.

I need to leave, I do not want to see turkey and pilgrim images. Shouldn’t there be snow up in northern New England? There is no snow. No white capped firs, no fireplace for defrosting cold limbs, no frost, bare trees, restless limbs.

Shouldn’t I rush to the arms of my man of the season -- Chris, the artist, the one I met at college because he crashed a college party? He has a dog and paints ugly canvases and he drives around Manhattan in a truck. I do not especially like Chris – he is my third choice. But my first choice, a music professor, is married. (This was before the days when the first part of that phrase, the fact of his professorship over me would have laid to rest any hopes of forming a meaningful connection.) Indeed, I suffer. I sit in the music class and take copious notes on Mahler – a bigger punishment than the previous semester spent on Bach.

My second choice? He is available only when his real girlfriend is out of town. He, too, teaches and he has years on his side. I am just twenty and years are an asset.

I do not want to spend Thanksgiving with Chris. I never want to see Chris again. Good bye Chris.

It strikes me that even though I attend college for two years in New York, I never date a college boy. American college boys don’t get me, of that I am sure, although I am uncertain as to why I prove to be so difficult for them, their young eyes looking past me, in the same way that I look past them.

A long Thanksgiving week-end at home? No, I cannot. I fly to an island far north, in the middle of the ocean and watch day turn to night all in the space of one hour.

And here I am, boarding a flight, chasing my daughters to New England. Can’t even wait until Thanksgiving. No snow in New England, just apples and trees and walks past covered bridges. Tired limbs, outstretched arms, long meals, listening to stories of what it’s like to spend a last Fall in college. Because her days, their years are so refreshingly different than mine.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

time will tell

I am watching sappy movies and packing for a trip out east tomorrow.

See you there and then.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

more on travel…

Others pop quantities of mood-altering meds, or pray for better days. I am not criticizing their choices. Me, I'm elsewhere. For example, I spent four hours this evening searching for a perfect place to stay in Istanbul on the night of June 4th, 2007.

If you know me, I mean really really know me, then this will come as no surprise to you. I can indeed lose myself in this kind of task. Were there no real constraints to my days, I could easily disappear into web comparisons of the finer points of hotel linen thread counts. For days. Weeks even.

It is not that I deeply care where it is that I reside on June 4th. Were I to spend a night at the Istanbul airport, stretched over three chairs, covered over by a sweater with my nifty red purse serving as pillow, I would not mind.

But when I need a distraction, thinking about firm mattresses, good showers and spiffy lobbies elsewhere does wonders.

(p.s. I do expect to be in Istanbul for one night and one night only on June 4th, so this search is not a complete fiction or fantasy. But it is, I admit, ridiculous. Unless you know me and then you will know that I am capable of doing just this, in exactly these circumstances.)

Do you want to go to Waukesha this evening and check out a very specialized metal supplier?
Normally I would say no. Waukesha holds no promise for me. Besides, I have an email request for a few Paris tips. Weigh this, please: stay home, listen to French music and write about Paris, or go to Waukesha.

I pick Waukesha, but only after I am promised a laptop connection for the (90 minute) drive there and a boom-box plugged into the old wreck of a car, so that I can listen to Patrick Bruel. Oh, and a dinner in one of Milwaukee’s western suburbs. And WiFi somewhere along the way. And back in time for the finale of Project Runway. And a discussion of my great Paris idea for 2007.

I’ve had a rough week after all.

The metal supplier’s warehouse is visually fascinating. Shelves of metal, in every configuration.

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looks like NYC to me -- or, am I city deprived?

The WiFi is right there in the parking lot. I while away the time writing about Paris, right there in back of a specialized metals warehouse.

But I have an idea that is percolating – something new and different for 2007 and I gain energy from it, because it is freaky strong and it involves Paris.

Late in the evening, our business with the metal guys over, Ed and I head toward the town of Hartland. Sounds Midwestern. It is Midwestern. A Milwaukee paper recommended a restaurant there (the Bark River Bistro).

I order the surf and turf. I have not had a surf and turf in decades. It’s the all American dish, no? It is okay surf and turf, not great, but very very good. And the waitress, half my age, calls me hon and the fried mushrooms actually have the flavor of mushrooms rather than of grease.

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Having a vision for the year ahead is so important.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Oh for God’s sake, surely you do not expect me to write something deeply personal and/or of general interest here on Ocean every single day!

Here, contemplate this chalkboard that I happened upon on my walk home:

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Do you even know who your boss is? Have you hugged him or her lately? Given her or him flowers? (If I gave my boss flowers, it may make front page news: lowly faculty member caught sending flowers to the dean, the provost and chancellor; all three claim that they haven’t a clue as to what went into the thought process behind this.)

I like the way you have a choice. No? No flowers to bosses? How about your sweetheart then? (As a sort of afterthought). Flowers for her (him)?

That is one damn hopeful flowershop.

And just to spice up your reading pleasure, let me assure you that no one will be sending me flowers on Saturday, October 21st. For one thing, I will be out of town. For another, I have never in my life hung out with someone, anyone, who would acknowledge sweetheart’s day. Sad, isn’t it?

Monday, October 16, 2006

two trains

Walking to work this morning, I pass two trains: an active workhorse and one that has been put to rest. It functions as a gift shop.

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But I like to go places! Not going anywhere makes me unhappy.

You have out-traveled me. I cannot keep up. I am happy here, in my small space in the country, my past traveling companion tells me.
And I like my loft just fine. That’s not the point.
Anyone who has witnessed your excitement at booking a flight out will understand that your enthusiasm for where you live is, at best, tame.

Why does everyone question my love of Madison when, in fact, I spend more days in Madison than out of it?

If you could, you’d switch that balance of days.

I am so glad that my friends understand me better than I understand myself, for I would not have, myself, made that claim.

So where are you going this month? – my mother asks me this in the middle of September. I am terrified of telling her that, within a week I will be in France. The terror is rooted in past revelations of this sort. It’s sort of like admitting to crack addiction to your parent. You know they will wish that you were locked up. Normal people do not do crack. Normal people do not go away for a week-end in France.

For you, it’s natural. For me, for most people living here, it’s decadent. This from Ed again.

Is that true? Is it the case that most Americans would view frequent travel (and I include here not only ocean crossings, but also such things as weekends in the northwoods) as decadent? I am willing to forgo a lot to support my ramblings. I am willing to not own property, nor a car, I am willing to recycle clothing, to work extra, I own no jewelry and my CD collection sucks.

So why do you never invite me for dinner?
You’re never here.

Ah, we are at the level of excuses. I am with my lover – my passport, it grabs me away from the arms of friends and family, it makes me inaccessible. Or so the story goes.

You travel a lot. Admit it! You’re thinking of the next trip before you finish a current one.
No, I think of the next place and the place after even before I board the plane.

Me, I like travel, but I am always so glad to return home…
Me too, me too! I have great Internet at home! I like my work, I like the farmers market! And I like my trips.

A dealbreaker: what kind of traveling companion are you if you do not share my passion for travel? Or, at least you do not wish to indulge it?
I share some of it…

But in fact, most times I travel alone. If I count up the days away, most are without anyone across the dinner table, or over a café crème and a croissant. I am used to it.

Still, I want to ask this, work and finances permitting, would you not choose to get up and go? Bear witness to life elsewhere? Or is it just me and Johnny Apple?

Sunday, October 15, 2006


…from blogging, from the world, actually. Here, I took a drive to the old neighborhood and I took a photo, one solitary photo in Owen Woods out on the west side of Madison. It is fitting: not profound, humorous, edgy, it just points a lens at a bunch of trees and says – you, you’re it for the day.

See you tomorrow.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

...as apple pie

I need to get some cider. Want to go?

I met Ed a year ago under these exact circumstances. He needed to get cider. He had read Ocean and thought I might want to come along and take some photos.

We should celebrate! It’s been a year since we met.
Celebrate? Don’t scare me. I don’t do celebrations. Let’s just get some cider.

Yes, but…

Such a brisk October day. It's morning, I am at the market. Shivering. Vendors stamp feet and blow on mittens. Scarves are drawn tight. Caps cover heads.

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I think I should stock up. My grandmother had a cellar, back in the Polish village. Wooden shelves, with apples arranged neatly. There must have been other things, but I only reemember the apples.

Run down and get me some apples, she tells me. Creaky ladder steps, smells of earth and apples, small apples, something for her to peel and slice and turn into apple cake. Thick on the dough, but a good dough. She was a baker once, in her years in New York (yes, she had a stint in the States before she returned to her village life in Poland) she worked nights turning out the breads and apple cakes. She knew her dough.

Ed and I drive out to Ski Hi, an orchard just north of the Wisconsin River.

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Ski Hi no longer sells at the market. It used to, Ed tells me. And occasionally I would buy their pie. And eat it all in the same day. He says this munching cheese curds and honey crisp apples, all at the same time.

My sister writes me this email today: I am going up to the village to shut off the water for the winter.

No apples in the cellar there now. My grandmother died fifteen years ago, in Berkeley. Maybe she had nightmares about the cellar. More likely she had nightmares about the furnace in the old house. That thing needed loading for the night. Heaving coal. Some bedtime routine! I pick up Gopnik’s book and read about New York before turning out the light. She heaved coal.

There are a number of others who drive out to Ski Hi today. But no one had a cart that looks like this:

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Making apple wine? I am asked.
No, Ed simply likes cider.
Others like pie and caramel apples and the Badgers.

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In the orchard, the branches create sweeping arches. Don’t trees grow up? Toward the sun? If, as a kid, I had the assignment to draw an apple tree, I would not draw it like this:

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My grandparents had fruit trees in their yard, but they pretty much ignored them. The cherries, we picked the cherries. But the pears and apples fell to the ground and turned into soil the next year, for all I know.

Babciu, can we eat the apples off the tree?
No, no good. Forget about those. Pick the berries instead. Here – go and find some wild strawberries. Diversionary tactics on her part.

But my little room in their village house looked out over the orchard, so how could I not think about all those apples, there on the tree and then somehow gone? Not to the cellar, no, not there. Gone to the compost pile or given to any passerby who would want shriveled little apples.

At Ski Hi, the apples are big and beautiful and the colors are of autumn.

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Apple cake, your grandmother has sent us apple cake again. My mother says this in an exasperated voice. Too much dough? Is that her worry?

I eat it silently. It is such a familiar taste.

Apple pie at Ski Hi is absolutely perfect. These people know how to grow apples and turn them into wonderful tasty beverages and sky-high pies. I take a forkful. Another.

It’s a different country out here, in central Wisconsin. The apples grow, the people come and take them home by the bagful. Make pies, press cider. Year after year.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

what does it take to woo an educator?

It is telling that I am spending the second evening at Borders Books, enthralled with their bi-annual Educator Days.

They know how to drag me in. Yesterday I was here for the discount. Today I am hoping for a free café latte. They don’t quite have that, but they are generous with snacks. It is a shame that I do not really care for late-day snacks. The day I am that desperate for food, I should hang up my passport, stay home and pay the bills.

Twice a year I do enter their drawing for a gift basket. I don’t otherwise gamble or buy lottery tickets and I think the whole thing is bogus anyway. No one I know has ever walked away with a Borders gift basket. I think it has a handful of low-selling books that they want to clear off the shelf, with some chocolates thrown in. Educators like to think of themselves as addicted to chocolate.

I don’t want to be saddled with uninteresting books. After all, they just lured me in to empty my wallet on stuff that I really like. But I feel bonded with educators the world over by filling out one of those entry cards and dropping it into the big fish bowl. We swim together!

Of course, this educator stuff is all rather suspect. I am standing in line today (yes, I’m buying, shoot me for it.) and I whip out my faculty ID the minute it is my turn to fork over the cash and I hear the teller next to mine ask her customer – are you and educator? And he answers… yeeees… with the greatest of hesitations. I mean you should at least follow up with something like – really? -- to show that you are serious in asking. But the teller does no such thing. Okay! – she beams. 25% off all your purchases today!

It turns out that the so-called educator is actually a librarian. I suppose it counts. Though I personally would hesitate to show up for his librarian days at Borders, where they to come around. But it did deflate a little the feeling of solidarity I had had in plunking my name into the fishbowl. I was probably in there with a bunch of librarians, baristas and computer geeks.

By the way, I want no more complaints about lawyers stretching the meaning of words.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

when it snows

So immediately after writing here, yesterday, that I have blocked all thought and recollection of the nightmarish garage sale and move of last year, so that even my subconscious cannot recall it and I, therefore, have no vivid dreams about any of it, I proceeded last night to have a beastly nightmare just exactly about The Move.

I am back in the suburbs, sneaking stealthily into the old house, now inhabited by the newer, younger, richer, better ones. I am inside now, cleaning out heaps of family belongings that I had left behind and I am hurrying, hurrying before the new owners show up (they are gone for the week-end). I try to leave no trace, I turn out lights and fold the toilet paper in the bathroom just as they had left it, but I take too long and lo, just as I am leaving with the last armload, I see HER pull in, the new owner in her new Smart car, the Smart car that is environmentally friendly and that I rent in Europe but cannot afford to own here.

No, no, do not make me get up. I know I have an early class, but I have to finish this dream so that it is forever purged!

I am unhinged after that. I get up, turn on the computer and find an email from an old friend in the old ‘hood, mentioning the regular meetings of the book club that I no longer attend because I do not have time to read books. No, excuse me, I read books, but I do not finish them. I used to not finish books that I did not adore. Now I adore them and yet they get the half way mark, no more, because, well, because there are too many books and besides, I blog and writing each day takes time.

…And so I am not surprised to also get an email from Brandon – one of my favorite story bloggers of all time – explaining that the reason he is giving up One Child in a few months is that he lacks the hours it takes to be blogworthy.

To remedy my reading deficiencies, I rush to Borders after work because today commences the educators’ discount there – everything, EVERYTHING is off by 25% and I love so many books right now that I want to have them here next to me, so that they can collect dust and I can dust them off fondly and recall days when I did not blog.

I leave Borders late, except that I cannot leave, because two cars proceed to have an accident in the back of the car I am using and the police ask me to kindly wait until they have resolved their differences. I stand dumbly with my stack of books and watch snowflakes fall.

In the evening, I write to my good friends from the old ‘hood and tell them that I desperately want to see them before I die and preferably this coming week. I insist on driving out there, to the suburbs, to the place I had condemned over and over and over again here in the blog but never in reality. Not fully, that is.

In the meantime, as I am firing emails and making plans for a trip, for it is a trip, back to the ‘burbs, my sister writes from Warsaw and I have not heard from her either, for ages and ages and she tells me of deaths of friends and of singers who came to fame while we were teens. I suppose you could call these dudes Communist-regime balladeers because they sang in spite, yes in spite of the totalitarian regime. And we loved them then and still love them now for their music and for the era where it was actually okay to be a kid. Totalitarian regime and all.

It’s been a long time since I have been out in fancy places drinking cosmos. When WAS the last time I even had a cosmo?

Tonight. I have a beautiful glass with blue swirls on the outside and pink cranberry stuff on the inside, along with the citron vodka and lime juice.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

odd tidbits and unexpected utterances

[Prologue: A little over a year ago I had a moving sale. A total hell. So awful was it, that I refuse to even have recurrent nightmares about it, in the way that I do about being unprepared for exams, for example. And so when a friend said -- I have an old wooden desk to get rid of, I did not immediately recommend the garage sale. Sell it on ebay or give it to St. Vinnies -- would be my inclination. Ever on top of Internetty things, he put the desk up on Craig’s List.]

People now sell junk on Craig’s?
There’s a whole section with just furniture.
I thought the desk was a piece of junk.
I listed it at $35. No one has even called to inquire about it.
It's ratty and old.
You know that and I know that, but if I list it for less, people will think it’s a piece of junk.
It is a piece of junk. It’s not worth $35.
Right. And so when they come over to look at it, I’ll accept $15.
Why don’t you just put it out on the curb with a sign saying FREE.
I couldn’t do that. It’s embarrassing.
I have seen you appear in restaurants with torn shorts and ratty t-shirts. But you think putting out a desk on the curb is embarrassing?
I have a German friend who told me in Germany they would never even contemplate garage sales because it puts on display your private life, with all those knick knacks and lotion jars for 50 cents...
This is America, everyone does curb-side sales!

I sort of can’t believe I said that. I am advocating apple pie and garage sales.

I stop at Borders and contemplate purchasing Ann Tyler’s most recent novel about a family where the woman, after some thirty years of living in America, still has trouble viewing herself as American. My kind of story.

But today I am wondering if something has shifted within. You have to wonder about a person who advocates apple pies and garage sales. I mean, what have I said on behalf of Poland here in recent times?

In the late afternoon I pull into a parking lot and listen to the news of the day. Since I drive a car now at the rate of once or twice per month, I no longer listen to news much. I am, therefore, so caught up in the recount of world events that I hardly notice the clouds.

There’s white stuff pouring forth from those clouds.

A minute later I am taking a photo of something I could use for a winter greeting card. Happy October to you. From Wisconsin, na zdrowie!

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006


If you use any version of a photoshop-esque program for your digital shots, you will have the option of correcting a handful of standard photo problems. (No, the biggest – poor framing and the wobblies cannot be corrected, but many others can.) One that I always check in on is brightness/contrast.

Contrast can set a story. By analogy, consider my two dining experiences from yesterday and today.
Yesterday, I sunk into a leather couch and watched the waiter bring this to the low, wooden table:

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In contrast, today I sat upright and swirled bubbly stuff in a tall glass, through which I could see up and down State Street.

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Brightness, too, can oscillate. Sometimes it can be so poignantly sharp that it hurts. It reminds me of a committee I’m on at the university. We meet maybe three or four times a semester (this afternoon we had one such meeting). I am funny there. I make ‘em laugh and laugh. This is not a goal of mine, nor do I consider myself especially prone to witticisms of the type that make you totter under the table because you just can’t stand the humor of it.

But there, at the meetings, I am John Travolta, coming alive on the Brooklyn dancefloor. I am Clark Kent, shedding his staid attire in favor of the skintight suit. I am somebody else.

I recommend this to anyone who is just bored with their take on a given exposure. Fiddle with brightness and contrast. Go ahead, give it a try.

Monday, October 09, 2006

forest walk

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I know, I know, you’ve seen it all. One more blog photo (here or elsewhere) of a splash of orange and you’ll quit blog surfing forever.

(It’s not going to happen. You wont quit.)

But I drove three hundred miles up and three hundred miles down just to walk through Wisconsin's northwoods on a nice autumn day! And so you are going to stare at fall colors here on Ocean, or bust.

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Maybe you live in Texas and actually get all misty eyed at the sight of Autumn colors. I never thought I’d say this, but Texans, this post’s for you!

But actually, I did my postings of orange trees yesterday. Today you get a little drama with the dish of dried leaves.

(The drama is not significant drama. A little drama should raise no expectations of me being shot at in the forest or something equally thrilling. Okay, I’ll do the spoiler: we got lost and it rained. It seemed big then…)

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The thing is, most people do not get lost in national parkland. The trails are marked. Go this way, you dunce. And then here, come on, follow the little blue diamond like a kid following the crumbs of Hansel & Gretel, come on, deeper and deeper into the forest and suddenly ha ha ha, no markers here anymore ha ha ha.

And so you take the wrong path. Not because you’re stupid. You apply all your fantastic much coveted reasoning skills to the situation and you come up with the wrong answer. Happens all the time, no?

Anyway, take a look at one more.

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And then this one, when we came to the lake, looked up and noticed the clouds.

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I don’t mind getting wet. I take showers, I dance in summer rains (once I did. You don’t want to hear it. I was young). Wet is okay by me.

But my new camera! The one that put me over the top in credit card debt! It says in the long info booklet which I read cover to cover – do not get the damn thing wet! It says so in ten different languages. I understand the message even in languages that I’m not sure come from any authentic, U.N. recognized country. NO WETNESS EVER! THIS IS A SAHARA (or Gobi or Mojave, whatever your language) LOVIN’ APPARATURE! KEEP IT DRY.

So I huddle with my camera under my tight little shirt (I want to look good there in the forest, for the squirrels and deer, in case they care).

And lo & behold, my camera appears to have survived. My shirt is stretched, every last part of me was wet wet wet, but the camera – she be dry as a desert flower.

(I had to test if she was okay in the end, so here, a photo of leaves. Wet leaves. At least they’re red, not orange. You’re welcome.)

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