Monday, June 30, 2008

deerly beloved

You have to feel warm about this town. How many of you, out there in distant lands (sniff!), can lay claim to this scene on your way to pick up a cup of espresso?

Two deer, necking, in a field of corn… (go on, click on it for a close up if you don't believe me)

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And then another: a deer, looking at me from behind.

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It was a beautiful day. (Even though the mosquitoes were way too bloodstarved and the drill that Ed rented for the shed still did not have the force to make, well, holes…)

We watch the farmers spin their webs for the stalks that would soon give them the crop they so need.

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Beloved Madison. It’s a tough place for the grumps.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


What makes a day that? Not monstrously difficult, not high on anxiety, not any of that. But disagreeable.

I have a habit of eating a regular breakfast. So regular is it that I have been made fun of just on the issue of its never wavering content: granola, with berries and a café crème at the side. In good weather, I will eat this outside. In bad weather, I will eat it at the table, with all appended formality.

What can I say about a day where I wake up at sunrise, but do not get to this routine until well after noon?


There are good moments. I talk to all sorts of good people who are in less saucy states – including my dad (in Poland) whose birthday it is today. Happy birthday, tatek! (He doesn’t key in to the Internet; in this one way, my parents are alike: neither likes nor reads Ocean)

At dusk, I have no photo, no story, no mindset for a post. Ed comes over. We talk about dinner in between snarky comments about how difficult the other one is theoretically capable of being (you’re a handful gets tossed around for emphasis). Finally, we settle on an online recipe that promises health, fulfillment and cost effectiveness. We go to the grocery store. Still, no clue as to a post or photo.

On our way back, we turn toward the condo and to the right of the road, we come across … what, a Brittany sailor? A Normandy wind surfer? What? I am flooded with memories…

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He’s clearly practicing. Ed, get closer, please, get closer!

I think we freak him out, spinning there, behind him, in the Department of Transportation parking lot in Ed’s old and rusty Geo… I try to convey greetings and good cheer, but any words shouted from the Geo tumble into nothingness.

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We come back to the condo, Ed and I, and I fix the recipe for our simple meal. Ed watches the Last of the Samurai and I think how at one point I may have found it a fascinating movie.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

brilliant, and not so much

A brilliant Saturday morning. Buoyant. Blazing with sunshine. The Westside Community Market is totally about summer foods and flowers. And the merchants? All grateful grins and wistful gazes.

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It was a good morning.

After that? Well, there was the matter of the earth drill and it's incapacity (earth drills like only certain type of earth).

More. There was the matter of impending storms.

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…that quickly passed.

Ed offered to buy me a cup of coffee and that was lovely. In an American parking lot sort of way.

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Did I say basic? Our next stop was a discount store. Where you were supposed to be excited by the … leftovers.

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I wasn’t. I sat in Ed’s pick up truck and tried not to pay attention to the (dented) scenery before me.

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Back at the condo, people gathered on the roof to see if they could catch the biggest firework display in the Midwest, some miles north of us. Rhythm and Booms. I passed. But I did light my own stick of cold fire out on the balcony to see if it would remind me of childhood times. It didn’t.

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Friday, June 27, 2008


Preoccupied. Ed is contemplating how to reinforce the retaining wall at the eastern edge of the writer’s shed. I try to follow his reasoning on this, but I confess to being only slightly capable of distinguishing between earth rods and anchors. If truth be told, I want only this much: that the project not become too difficult for Ed and that whatever we choose to do will be effective, so that the shed does not sink down into the ground, with me in it.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking about my summer class already, knowing that before it begins (in three weeks) a lot will happen, but the combination of events is yet undetermined.

And I’m starting work on a Fall art show which will include (gulp) some Ocean photos. Selecting proper ones is impossible. I visit one artist’s display and I read how her camera just flies into click mode and she is then astonished and pleasantly surprised at what comes out. Me, I am with hope when I click and profoundly disgusted thereafter.

And before I know it, it’s evening. I bike to the library to pick out some background noise (meaning bad DVDs) for the late night. I pass the Community Garden where a mom weeds and a little girl waits.

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I can’t decide whether at the moment, I feel more like the mom, or the little girl.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

looking for fresh and honest

Longtime readers may associate the phrase with my favorite eating places. Today, it has double meaning here, on Ocean.

I left my office to take a look at the Union Terrace by the lake. Rumor had it that the lake stank (from a build up of algae for all the known high water reasons). So much so, that biking along its shore (my route home) would be down there with driving through New Jersey.

Imagine my surprise then when I found the Terrace by the lake chock full of people. And they weren’t choking. They were eating and drinking – a lovely scene that puts the Terrace up there with your favorite café-brasserie. Outdoor tables, mildly alcoholic beverages, lunch foods, by the fairly fresh waters of Lake Mendota…

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But the food! Chips? Buns with an unpleasant surprise? I’ll forgive the honey toned beverage – I know it to be yummy Wisconsin beer, with a hint of hop and touch of malt, etc. And I guess I understand the love of brats. It is an acquired taste and people do acquire it.

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You could argue that brats in white buns (and they are very white, once you get past the paper thin outside "crust") are no more grossly fatty than a baguette with Brie de Mieux, butter, tomato and arugula.

Still, I crave the latter.

But hey, let’s get some can do spirit here! You want that sandwich, woman, go make it!

I try. No Brie Mieux at Whole Foods, but a nice goat milk cousin of it is equally pleasing. No shortage of tomatoes or arugula. Let’s skip the butter. And finally… oh! Where is the good bread??

I remind myself that Ed takes pleasure in such uninspired things as tortillas and powdered refried beans. With raw onion. And so we take my dream-wiches, such as they are, to our ever friendly and accommodating café and settle in.

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A few steps away, we come across yet another Dane County market – this one in wild little Fitchburg. (Truthfully, Fitchburg is not wild. Fitchburg is a no-town. A satellite of Madison, it has no core, no center, no downtown, no personality. But is does have a market. And it is the postal address of Ed’s farmette.) Nice! Tomatoes, peas, berries...

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Max, the owner of Stella’s Bakery is also there.

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Stella’s is the winner of the best vendor award at Madison’s Captiol Square farmers market. Max grins when I congratulate him. If I am the number one vendor of the number one market in the US, that makes me the number one vendor in the US, right?
Oh! I see baguettes! They’re warm, too. And they look promising: crusty on the outside, not too rotund...

Too late. Still… Tomorrow, can I get these at your store?
I no longer operate a store. Just farmers market sales and some wholesale stuff.
Okay. You sell at my Westside Community Market. I’ve seen you. Can I get your baguette there next Saturday?
No, I don’t bring baguettes there. Too much demand for other stuff.
Fine, then at the downtown market?

No, not there either.
Okay. I’ll get them here in Fitchburg.
Can’t guarantee it. Sometimes.
Next week, please?
Alright. Next week.

Bottom line: lake’s okay, Terrace is business as usual, and good baguettes continue to be elusive on this side of the ocean.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


I never had much use for it. Perhaps because I recognized its shortcomings. It doesn’t push you to be a better person, I’d tell myself. It pushes you to feeling putrid about yourself and there are enough other forces doing just that, so you may as well kick guilt to the wayside.

But these days, now that I’m less anxious about keeping things rolling, both for my family and my career, guilt is pushing its way into my everyday.

Consider this, for just a wee small example:

Ed gets going on the shed project at dawn. A forecast of severe storms, along with the imminent (you never know) arrival of Amos, make him nervous. He is almost done with constructing the frame for the fill dirt. At sunrise, he gets to it. By noon, the first truck load of dirt is set to arrive.

I’m busy with my own chores, back in condo-land, which include a very pleasant stroll down to the Hilldale market. (Madison has a bunch of markets during the week – you just have to know where to find them.)

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By noon, I can’t stand the guilt. Ed is being ravaged by mosquitoes, he’s been working on MY writer’s shed since 6, surely I should help. And I do.

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So sprightly is our effort, that within an hour or two, we are ready for truckload of dirt number two.

Unfortunately, the truck with the second load gets stuck in Ed’s driveway. The load is heavy, the wheels sink into the chips and soil. It’s a no go. We try everything, including digging great basins around the tires, putting boards down, you name it. The tires spin deeper and deeper into the now completely damaged driveway.

The driver calls his company for help. Me? I leave to continue with my own chores. But without the light heart. I am consumed by guilt at so many levels, I can’t begin to spell them out.

One chore is to pick up a replacement plant for one that died (long and boring story). And as usual, I pick up an extra plant, because it’s just so pretty. But I load it into the car with guilt. Didn’t I just spend my salary on travel? And now a plant?

I guess there is value in beating up on yourself. It’s sort of like beating on a carpet to get the dust out. Besides, after you’re done with the guilt, you have such gorgeous flowers to enjoy on your condo balcony. That has to count for something.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

high gear

Amos, the co-builder of the writer’s shed, calls early. I’m ready to get on it now. I have the materials you wanted.

Ooops. We’re not ready to have him tell us that the structure is (almost) up and ready to be transported here. Leveling land takes patience and although Ed is known worldwide for his patience, he doesn’t much care for mosquitoes. And there are many, tons in fact, right now. So leveling land has become a monstrous chore and I am no help at all. Compare my role to his:

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We move into high gear. Ed puts on Deet and braves the bugs and I bike over with my work, staying mostly indoors.

And by the way, it is great biking weather. Mosquitoes can’t keep up with cyclists. And there are a lot of us enjoying the many super lovely bike trails around the city.

…and outside the city. This is the point 7.5 mile from my condo, on my way to Ed’s farmette (a mere 12 miles from my home, via bike trails). Shades of green!

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At the farmette, I check on our various plantings and retire indoors. I mean, the audacity! When the Wisconsin mosquito starts hitting on the French lavender, you know that it’s time to close shop and retire indoors.

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And still, Ed continues to build the foundation for the shed.
In the evening, Amos calls. You gotta love his pace. Which has slowed down again. I’m back to yesterday’s prediction: sometime this summer there will be some part of a writer’s shed, somewhere. You just can’t rush life. Or Amos.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Am I hiding? Avoiding Ocean maybe? No, not really. But it’s tempting. Like the nasturtium flower on my balcony. It’s sort of marginal. Shy all of a sudden. Letting the leaf shine and take credits.

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Some days it’s good to just not say much of anything.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

sunday noise

The sounds of a Sunday back home:

Mosquitoes. I’m at Ed’s farmette and the buzz is horrific. Maybe if I butchered some of the grasses and shrubs, where they wait before hitting on us, they’d be less pernicious?
I take the lawn mower out and hack away at the weeds and grasses at the site of the future writer’s shed. So, the sounds of Sunday include a lawnmower running wild over Ed’s property.

The tilling machine used by the Hmong farmers renting land just to the side of us. (Whom are they renting it from? Don’t know. The developer maybe? Because rumor has it that it’s only a matter of years if not months before these fields will turn into a subdivision.) Working hard on what traditionally is a day of rest. When the machine is quiet, you know they’re hitting the weeds by hand.

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Ed’s saw: he’s cutting beams to create the contours for the shed. The area is cleared now. (I took down the last tree that was in the way this morning. Ed doesn’t have the heart to take down trees.) But it’s not level. Our “co-builder” Amos is threatening to deliver the frame of the shed in a matter of days (which I translate to mean sometime this summer) and the ground is still far from even.

If you listen carefully, you’ll hear Ed’s five-pund hammer pounding in posts. I’m at this moment taking a break from digging holes for more possibly-dead roses.

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Coffee? Yes! The sound of the motorbike. Past fields of green, to a very pleasant place. Just down the road. Fields of green and skies of… increasingly, gray.

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So pleasant is this pause that we never notice the darker clouds taking charge up above. We race back with sounds of thunder and drops of rain chasing us to the shed. (The finished one, the place where Ed hangs.)

Meanwhile, somewhere in Paris, by the River Marne, you will have heard forks and knives clanking against plates as people settle down to serious Sunday eating.

Followed by a river walk. Shades of green.

Like ours? Just a little bit?

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Saturday, June 21, 2008


First day back. Ed and I run errands. The Law School first. I run into a friend.
That’s a French blouse, isn’t it?
Uh-huh. I’m keeping France alive in small ways.

Car shop next. Here I am, very Wisconsin, in spite of very French blouse (from a little nothing store in Normandy). No, no. I'm not into coke. That's a café crème in my hand. Okay, a latte, but I can pretend.

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At Ed’s place, I survey the progress on the Writer’s Shed. Not for long though. The mosquitoes are vicious. Hi, Wisconsin. Thanks for the reminder that you’ve got bugs.

Evening time, I am on the rooftop of my condo building. Big puffy clouds against the downtown, a sunset over the lake. Sigh... I’m wondering how the art show is going in the little carriage house somewhere in Paris, on the River Marne.

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In the morning, I am at the Westside Community Market. And now I feel I am home. People who read Ocean ask about the trip (so sweet). It feels warm and welcoming to run into friends.

And the vendors – here my heart goes out to them. Such a spring! Too little sun, too much rain and now the awful mosquitoes. Oh, but you weren’t here last Saturday. We had hail! The tiny apples, they couldn’t take it!

I feel the French vendors have it too easy, at least compared to our guys. The produce falls from crop, to the hands of willing and ever present buyers, at prices that make me wince. And this year has been normal there (weatherwise). Our guys are having a second tough year. The flooding has ruined May young crops. I am told the strawberries aren’t as sweet due to the absence of sun and that the peas are, well, not great. And that such staples as tomatoes and corn may not be abundant.

And yet, here they are, delivering the bad news and the stories of a tough month with a smile and with fistfuls of good things. I buy garlic scapes, peas, baby potatoes, tomatoes, oyster mushrooms, basil flats and a hanging basket of flowers for my patio. And more tomato plants. Only in part because I like the family of sellers (Ed and I have already planted 30 tomato bushes, but Wisconsin weather has made them... fragile.)

So, our market...

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garlic scapes

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grown in tough times, sold with a smile

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good, but sourdough

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for the condo balcony

No, it’s not a French market (where are the multiple varieties of cheese???). But its simplicity is beguiling. It’s like the little company that tries so very hard, that you want to put your heart and money into its efforts. Because you know they’re doing it right and against all odds.

In the afternoon, Ed and I plant roses. Bagatelle roses. Olivier and Aurore roses. Well, not either, really. Ed roses.
Nina! – Ed is calling me in France. They’re selling roses at a $1 a plant! Should I get some? They look dead, but still, so cheap!
Get some. I am dying for roses back home – climbers, grandiflora, floribunda, hybrid, any and all, mixed in, in abundance.
How many?

Ed buys twenty and they do indeed look dead. We work with awful clay soil, improving it as best we can. It may be futile, but it’s the American way, no? Bad soil, mosquitoes, and these bundles of paralyzed sticks that would make a Frenchman shudder. But it’s what we have to work with. And the deer will eat them and pests will invade them but hey, we will plant again and maybe the next time it will be better.

Look, I’m trying.

Friday, June 20, 2008

from somewhere in Paris, by the river Marne, and Paris, and finally, Madison

So what will I remember most, now that I am heading home? Oh, the two little girls, of course!

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…and their parents, Olivier and Aurore.

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…and the music notes coming from the house. A trill of oboe notes. That would be Olivier. And piano… is it the older girl? Yes, yes, and don’t forget the paintings and the pictures and the chirpy voices calling out hello!

They bring me cards with ponies painted on them and sweet, sweet messages for me to take home. I open the refrigerator. It’s all that I have to offer. Don’t forget to take some cherries and strawberries! The youngest has an insatiable appetite for both. A fistful of red fruits, a wave, and a bientot! And joyfully, that bientot happens quickly, because they are back again and I see their smiles and the day is made fine by them.

Aurore and Olivier, you have such fine daughters!

And then there is Paris.

It is my last day and I choke when I think about it. The city where no number of days suffices. Here, see this and this and this! Take a look! And stop a while! Take a minute to just sip une noisette or a café crème -- because that one takes longer. Share a breakfast pain au chocolat with someone from the neighborhood and watch the sun pour honey rose colors on the buildings around the Place des Vosges, the oldest of the Parisian squares.

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I gave east Paris my last day. The walk was one that I have taken dozens of times and each time I like it immensely: from Bastille, through the Marais (with some museum stops, but gentle ones – nothing hurried), windowshopping, oh, all right – one little something purchased here – but so many things passed over, can’t spend, can’t spend.

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Yes, but the colors! Rose colors, rosé colors!

And there they are again, the roses of Paris, there in the garden of the Museum of old Paris, and in the garden of the Picasso Museum? No not there. Just art. Just art! Let me take a pause.

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Then, through the old neighborhood, on to the Centre Georges Pompidou, where everything is lumped into one scene -- the old, the very old, the new, the art, the French, the public spaces...

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And now, close to Les Halles, looking into all those restaurant stores in the back streets (Nina, you must stop saying Les-alles, there is no s sound before an “h”!)… (“they will restore Les Halles again, Paris will reclaim its arcades!”) and then I cannot stand it – ten days of not setting foot in a restaurant and now I break my rule because I want to sit at a sunny table and eat something, just an omlette nature, with salad and a rosé, not more, but ohhhhhh, is it good!

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Finally. I cross the Seine on the buffed up Pont Neuf to my Paris, the Paris of Luxembourg Gardens and the Odeon. It feels odd to walk through it without it being home; the bakeries, the markets – they’re not mine this time, I am a visitor. I have a different neighborhood that’s home – it’s by the River Marne and it is beautiful! But I remember you – you are my classic Paris, the Paris to which I always, sooner or later, return.

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I have a few small errands and then I know I must wind down. I know, I know, it’s my final walk and my steps are as they always are – up past the tip of the Gardens, waving to the boy with the flute, down to the RER and off, not toward the airport, not just yet, but to Champigny, for one last night by the River Marne.

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I am at the airport now, missing my own not-so-little daughters, happy to be seeing my family soon, Ed imminently, happy to be home.

But I close my eyes and think back… she comes in running. Her sister is on the doorstep too, smiling. Hello! Hello! And Olivier is asking – how was your day in Paris? Aurore is pouring tea… Misty eyed scene of Paris, the other Paris, the one of another family and the pleasure of sharing the everyday.

A bientot, for sure.

[If you want to stay in the coach house, or recommend it to a friend, look for it at here (it’s no. 00142), but please, only give the address to good people, okay?]