The Other Side of the Ocean

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Conspiracy theory  

I’m sure of it. This could not be a coincidence. Both the internet (notice the small “i” under the new Wireless guidelines of not capitalizing either the internet or the web) and the cable TV suffered a mechanical failure the night of the debate. In the swing-state of Wisconsin no less. Tell me that you believe it to be unintentional, that the CEO of Charter was not twisting the wires somewhere behind the scenes.

You are blogging now. How could you be blogging with an internet breakdown?
The internet was restored, cable TV is still down.

So you missed the debate? A shame…
Oh no, I watched the debate. I had another non-cable TV, one of those ancient miniscule sets, but it was enough. I saw it all. Kerry clearly "won."

Whoaaaa! How can you say that? Don’t you want to know what others concluded? Didn’t you watch any of the post-election analysis?
That’s the trouble with these debates. Your opinion matters not a diddly swat. It’s all in the hands of the media analysts. America will decide on the wrong candidate based on the fact that some crackola after the debate will say that GW sounded in control or whatever.

Isn't it diddly squat?
Don’t skirt the issue. The issue is that immediately after the debate, a CNN poll indicated that 81% of those who watched the debate believed that Kerry “won.” One hour later, that number was down to 79% and plummeting. Now, either the Bush supporters are delayed CNN-readers, or we have people backing down because some jerko pundit offered her or his profoundly annoying observation on how Bush timed his smirks exactly right. Say what you will, I am with JF (here) and his mom in Iowa on this: Kerry did all that he could and he did it well. Anyone who thinks differently – meet me on the front lawn tomorrow at 6:45 a.m. and we’ll fight it out. That’s the proper way, isn’t it? All fists and no BILATERAL negotiations. EVER. Except with Vladimir. Who’s first-pal. And Kvahshnievskee – did I get that right? You know, the top honcho in Poland? The country that wont kick ass (JF terms) but will kiss ass (NC terms) with any current and future leader of this great land?

BTW, to the Polish Australian who linked to my post yesterday – yes, yes, I can agree to disagree, but COME ON! You’re not that down-under! See the light already!
posted by nina, 9/30/2004 11:28:09 PM | link | (0) comments

Thirty-fourth street pre-election diary* 

posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:23:21 AM | link | (0) comments

what does it say? 34th & eleventh avenue or eleventh hour? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:22:36 AM | link | (0) comments
The great divide: if you follow thirty-fourth street from the Hudson River, beyond 11th avenue (does anyone ever step anywhere near 11th avenue? I saw not a soul), all the way east to the East River, you will see that indeed, there is nothing similar between the two ends of this important artery. (Note headline in today’s NYT: In Debate on Foreign Policy: Wide Gulf or Splitting Hairs?)

Thirty-fourth street: I come to it 34 days prior to November 2nd and on the day of the important debate on foreign policy.

Thirty-fourth street: so quintessentially American! The symbolism is amazing. On the Hudson River end I am facing the pier where ships, bringing immigrants from Europe, once docked. I came on one such ship way back, during my first crossing of the Atlantic in 1960. But look what has happened to the not-too-long-ago prominent United States Lines! Once a link to European nations, now a police outpost and depository for towed vehicles? Our connections to Europe are different now.

The day of the debate.

posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:18:38 AM | link | (0) comments

Not too long ago, this pier was a welcome sight Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:17:48 AM | link | (0) comments

Now that's depressing... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:16:16 AM | link | (0) comments
Forget about the Hudson River. Move along, past the cherished symbols: the Empire State Building, Herald Square and the Thanksgiving Day parade, even a lovely view of the Chrysler building.

posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:13:33 AM | link | (0) comments

Here's a symbol that does not offend. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:12:09 AM | link | (0) comments

"Give my regards to Broadway, remember me to Herald Square..." Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:07:01 AM | link | (0) comments

34th, in a different light Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:05:21 AM | link | (0) comments
And then, after hiking across the entire girth of Manhattan, I am at the East River. Here, looking up toward the Queensborough Bridge, I cannot help but catch the silhouette of the UN. It is in need of a facelift, they say. The building is getting old. I am not a flag person. But I do like the line up of masts standing before it, all 189 plus one, the one with the light blue background and a map of the world enveloped in a wreath of crossed branches of the olive tree.

posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:02:20 AM | link | (0) comments

East River, the UN, as seen from 34th street Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:01:59 AM | link | (0) comments

from the ode to the UN: "United Nations on the rise, with flags unfurled, together..." Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/30/2004 06:00:02 AM | link | (0) comments
I am not exaggerating the great drama of this day and of this street and of this period in history. Really I’m not.

(*see “forty-second street pre-election diary” post, September 22, for explanation of post title)
posted by nina, 9/30/2004 05:55:34 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Today is certainly the day for letters and calls: 

- to the reader who asked if “wiry” was a typo (in reference to the NYTimes story described in post below) that was meant to be “wired” – the answer is no;
- to my mother who has been calling all afternoon, probably wanting to know if I am literate enough to read the Times and to ask how come she did not know about the moonlighting thing – sorry, I’ll pick up the phone soon, I promise (she does not read the blog);
- to the Democratic campaign headquarters that confirmed my purchase of all sorts of Kerry paraphernalia, I want to ask – what good is a yard sign without the wire frame? I need it quickly, since my neighbor just put up his Bush/Chaney sign (he is outnumbered! Our block is looking red!);
- to the dean or chancellor or some such high-up official who asked that we not intimidate students by stating our political preferences, let me assure you that I never mention my political inclinations in class (we talk about pizza instead, see post below). Besides, some of my good friends are voting for Bush. Really. I’m having dinner with one tonight;
- To my favorite travel agent in the world – yes, I’ll still talk to you even though I am famous;
- To the sociology prof who asked if Apple followed me here from my own trips to the Big Apple: unfortunately no. I am a mere fleck of dust on the Apple landscape. I met him only once before this most recent visit to Madison. A couple of years ago, we were at a bar, Apple, Chef O and I, and it was loud, and Apple said to Chef O “I feel my Italian sucks” and she heard it as “would you feel my Italian socks?” Always up for an original idea, she reached over and... yes, well, it all ended in great mirth.
posted by nina, 9/29/2004 06:54:19 PM | link | (0) comments

A law prof's notes: 

FAQs by law students in class:
- Will it be on the exam?
- Could you repeat what you just said?
- When are your office hours again?
- Why can’t we have an open-book exam?
- Can I bring in my paper one hour late? One day? One week?

FAQs by me in class:
- Do you remember what the court said in (such-and-such a case)?
- Are you saying that you’d like to pass today?
- Are you saying anything at all?
- Are you alive?
- What’s so funny, over there in the back row?

Unususal Qs asked by students in class:
- Do you like us enough to buy us pizza?
- Would you mind if I brought my mom and dad to class?
- What’s a blog?
- Did you see Avenue Q (the New York Broadway show)?
- Can we have wine instead of beer at your party next week (we’re so sick of beer…)?

Unusual Qs asked by me in class (just this week!)(with answers!):
- Okay, okay, you’ll do. – who is a vegetarian? – two out of twenty four.
- Who read the NYTimes today? – one, but I don’t think he read it THAT carefully.
- If you saw a baby on the railroad tracks and an oncoming train, would you save the baby? – depends...
- Why are you waving your hand excitedly? – in support of beer over wine.
- Who remembers what it was like in Berkeley in the late sixties (this is a propos of the brutal murder of Tatiana Tarasoff in 1969, leading to the famous “duty to warn foreseeable victim” court decision)? How old are you all anyway?
– not old enough to remember what it was like in Berkeley in the late sixties.
posted by nina, 9/29/2004 04:34:21 PM | link | (0) comments

Thirty-fifth street pre-election diary* 

posted by nina, 9/29/2004 05:59:53 AM | link | (0) comments

35th and tenth: a place to take your broken yellow wheels Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/29/2004 05:58:56 AM | link | (0) comments
I could work the “fix it” routine to death in this post. The NYTimes alone has themes today that talk of Kerry coming in from behind, repairing a campaign that has faltered more than once, etc.

When I came upon this taxi repair place in New York among the empty lots of far west 35th street, I thought it was quite fascinating. There it was, this bright yellow splotch of awning, with, indeed, a “broken” taxi in front. Had I a folding chair, I may have sat down to watch. That’s the kind of dumb thing I would do in NY. And you wonder why I found myself out of time to visit a museum on this trip to the city!


And so now we know who, from the NYTimes, came to Madison several Saturdays ago to write a story on our Farmers Market. The piece appears in the paper today (here) and it is a beautifully written (of course) tribute to the farmers who lug their produce into town each week.

For the impatient reader who never clicks to the links, let me at least quote the line that succinctly captures so many disparate threads that run through my life. Apple writes:

After checking the list, (Odessa) slipped it onto a clipboard and handed it to Nina Camic, a wiry, Polish-born law professor at the University of Wisconsin who moonlights as the restaurant's "forager" or farmers' market purchasing agent, filling a little red wagon as she works the stalls.

Wiry. Yeah, that’s okay too. And he did in the end leave out the “personal shopper” bit. Purchasing agent sounds much more classy.

(*see “forty-second street pre-election diary” post, September 22, for explanation of post title)
posted by nina, 9/29/2004 05:51:34 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I cannot help it -- it's in my blood 

My sister forwarded an article yesterday where it is stated that, in terms of the number of blogs per Internet users, Poles are right at the top, surpassing American blogger rates two to one, and that’s not even counting those Polish blogs that are hosted on American domains, nor is it controlling for the disproportionately large number of Internet users in Poland as compared to elsewhere.

Why are we a nation of bloggers (I’m writing as a Pole now)? Why do we take to the Internet? Why do we feel the need to express ourselves in this way?

This is my chance to offer great insights into the Polish psyche. Caveat: I do not want my Polish friends/family members to jump on me for feeding national stereotypes in this post. I am not saying ALL Poles are this way, but I am saying that, errrr, some of us have, errrr, some, alright, a number, alright a GREAT number of these traits:

* We think we will all die tomorrow and so we feel compelled to hurry and put down every last word before the reaper comes knocking.

* We think we are a nation of poets; unfortunately, when we try our hand at poetry it doesn’t come out right and so we blog instead.

* We are a literate nation. We read a lot of news papers and magazines. We consume the stuff like our souls depended on it. Obviously all that reading makes us want to sound off about what we have just read.

* Our bloodline got mixed up with an Italian strain many centuries ago during years of conquest and royal travels. We are thus an expressive lot. Just like Italians. There, two stereotypes in one point.

* We have adventurous palates and we have ravenous appetites for trendy things. We’ll try anything that’s new and popular elsewhere.

* Vodka and blogging go hand in hand nicely. Have you ever tried writing a post with a chilled bottle of Wyborowa feeding a martini glass? No? Me neither, but it sounds enticing for a cold winter’s night. Or, to a Pole it does. With some pickles and maybe a piece of herring on dark rye. And cold stubby fingers sticking out wooly gloves.

But I refuse to accept the label of INSANITY levied not too long ago against those who blog or email obsessively. I put my foot down on that one. We’re passionate, but NOT insane. There’s a difference.
posted by nina, 9/28/2004 03:09:22 PM | link | (0) comments

Thirty-sixth street pre-election diary* 

posted by nina, 9/28/2004 06:36:37 AM | link | (0) comments

even the one way arrow is twisted, warped...telling you to turn around and head back Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/28/2004 06:35:47 AM | link | (0) comments
I’m writing from Madison now, but I’m full of New York images. The photo (above) contains three reminders for me:

First of all, we’re counting down, counting down, only thirty six days left ‘til November 2nd.

Secondly, I have come back to a messy house, yes I know it. Returns are like that – they point to omissions and deficiencies in your home and life that went unnoticed until you put some distance between yourself and them. Time to take charge and not repeat messes and mistakes of prior days!

Thirdly, yes, on so many levels, I admit that this show does stink: the election countdown, the unfinished stuff awaiting me back home, yes, indeed, it all is rather rotten.

It’s so nice to have visual reminders of failure and discontent.

Some trivial comments:

I traveled yesterday on a jet normally used as a charter for baseball and basketball teams (the words Knicks, Brewers and Bucks were mentioned. I assume I’m in the right ball park?). It was quite an experience to stretch one’s legs all the way, all the way and still not be able to come within a foot of the next row.

While our star athletes enjoy all that leg room, is this what awaits our young cadre of (high school? college?) graduates? Do they get to hang out here, on 36th street? (The glass reflects fabulous places in the garment district where they may find work; hey, at least two of the windows have an air conditioners; that’ll keep the sweat down.)

posted by nina, 9/28/2004 06:25:39 AM | link | (0) comments

where those with diplomas congregate? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/28/2004 06:24:41 AM | link | (0) comments
I came home to a pile up of newspapers on the doorstep (having neglected to put a stop on delivery). Though I’d been keeping up in NY with the headlines in the NYTimes, I had not checked my local paper for five days, thereby missing the following front page stories:

Fans may get a bit puckish (Thursday)
More troops to be needed (Friday)
Ex-Texas gov Richards: Bush simple in debates (Saturday)
Kerry’s all ears (Monday)

Now, I know it is tough to write clever front-page headlines. Still, maybe I could hire a small staff of ‘bright young things’ and together we could work to help our local papers? Send us your stories, we’ll pitch the headline. There we go: Polack’s Pitches. Another money-making idea!

(*see “forty-second street pre-election diary” post, September 22, for explanation of post title)
posted by nina, 9/28/2004 06:17:50 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, September 27, 2004

Thirty-seventh street pre-election diary* 

posted by nina, 9/27/2004 08:28:39 AM | link | (0) comments

37th at fifth: where east meets west Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/27/2004 08:27:49 AM | link | (0) comments
It is as if Poland and the Democratic Party are in cahoots, sharing space in prime Manhattan locations. For instance, on the corner of 37th and Madison you’ll find a building that houses the Consulate General of Poland. It was home to the National Democratic Club earlier in the XX century.

Thirty- seven days until November 2nd.

Oh, my life has become intertwined with these city streets! I pace up and down, finding links to people and places in the strangest locations. There are elements of me here, I know it! Indeed, in a godforsaken far-west block of 37th street, I am there, offering sweet things to the poor people who have to work in these dismal surroundings.

posted by nina, 9/27/2004 08:25:46 AM | link | (0) comments

don't forget the "..and more." Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/27/2004 08:24:25 AM | link | (0) comments
Do rough times and rough surroundings deserve a rough dialect? New Yorkers don’t mince words (see photo below). But in my opinion, the city has changed in recent years. Somehow the mean edge is turned inwards. People say “thank you so much” now, just like back in Madison. They make room for you at a Starbucks table (I have to go to Starbucks to post since my ‘second home’ does not have WiFi). They’ll hold a door open instead of slamming it in your face with a chuckle. They don’t walk as fast, they have more dogs, they pick up after their dogs, they bend down to pet the dogs of strangers.

Of course, deep down, they still know that they are sharper, more with-it, more subtly tuned to life’s intricacies than those living elsewhere in the country. Yesterday, I went to see “Bright, Young Things,’ often referred to as a British “Great Gatsby.” It was quite a striking production and of course, I had to feel some sense of pride as the main character, Nina, was chased about all film-long and much desired in an obnoxious sort of way. But I thought the movie was at best trivial. Leaving the theater behind a set of New Yorkers, I heard one say “Oh, what an incredible movie! But you had to pick up the subtleties! I’m sure many will have missed the quirky nuance!” Was she attacking my emergent bold and in-your-face Midwestern sensibilities? Or was she only being a New Yorker through and through?

(*see “forty-second street pre-election diary” post, September 22, for explanation of post title)
posted by nina, 9/27/2004 08:20:30 AM | link | (0) comments

why be modest about it... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/27/2004 08:20:02 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, September 26, 2004

The edification of the immigrant continues* 

(*I was told this today in no uncertain terms. Yes, this blogger is, herself, an immigrant and yes, she is indeed learning to adapt to her new home country.)

posted by nina, 9/26/2004 04:10:56 PM | link | (0) comments

A Polish immigrant at Grand Central Station Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 04:09:56 PM | link | (0) comments
I do too know how to spell snooty! I do! (I just don't retro-edit. See post below.) Yes, I know there are shows to go to at night and I understand the concept of a city never sleeping! (I just haven't seen any.) Of course I like museums! Not all, but many. (No, not so far; maybe tomorrow.) But when I come to a city, I always am tempted by just the city itself. I mean, when you turn the corner and see this:
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 04:05:29 PM | link | (0) comments

a view within a view Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 04:04:56 PM | link | (0) comments

the new improved Columbus Circle Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 04:03:20 PM | link | (0) comments
…it’s hard to tear yourself away from endless walking and poking around and looking at ordinary people, going about their business. Like this guy:

posted by nina, 9/26/2004 04:02:10 PM | link | (0) comments

a man, a phone, an outfit Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 04:01:17 PM | link | (0) comments
Why use this photo in a post titled ‘immigrant edification?’ Because a lesson learned here is that nonconformity may be the best way to survive mediocrity (not to suggest anything about the stunningly colorful gentleman with the striped sock in the photo). How so? Well, I read in the Washington Post today that Bush, a weaker debater by far as compared to Kerry, may easily “win” the debate this Thursday. Why? Because he has developed his own style of debating, one that breaks all rules of traditional reasoned argument, but one that has indeed served him well in the past. The WPost notes that he has a love of using only one or two syllable words and he manipulates his expressive face maximally to win the audience. The news article suggested that the debates will ultimately push the undecided into one of the two camps. If they do, it will be a push based on style rather than substance. Now that is an interesting lesson for an immigrant like me to learn about the political process.
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 03:56:47 PM | link | (0) comments

Thirty-eighth street pre-election diary* 

posted by nina, 9/26/2004 07:11:10 AM | link | (0) comments

moving down the blocks... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 07:10:16 AM | link | (0) comments
A Sunday respite! Thirty eight days ‘til the election? Big deal! Thirty-eighth street garment district? Roll out those dresses!
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 07:08:08 AM | link | (0) comments

it's all about garments Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 07:07:41 AM | link | (0) comments
It’s morning. Nothing has happened thus far. But yesterday… Yesterday! I walked 5 separate and distinct districts: SoHo, Little Italy, Chinatown, Lower East Side and the Snootty district.

You’re begging to be asked. Start with SoHo.
No no. Don’t start there. I went there because I wanted to visit Café Café – I have a t-shirt from Café-Café and I am loyal to places of t-shirt-acquisition fame.

Did they welcome you again with open arms?
Err, they were closed for Yom Kippur.

So then?
I ate lunch in NoHo. Never mind that. Let me move on.

Move on then. Little Italy. You seem to love this place. You think it’s like being in Italy, don’t you?
No, without a doubt, today I felt I was on a movie set. It has been said that Little Italy is a dying community – that the vibrant Chinatown is encroaching on blocks that used to be full of cannelloni and amore. But scroll down to the San Gennaro procession below. Does it give the appearance of a dying ethnic community?
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 07:01:52 AM | link | (0) comments

enduring ethnic pride Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:57:15 AM | link | (0) comments

the Monalisa smile Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:56:20 AM | link | (0) comments
No, it looks like the scene straight out of the Godfather. And Chinatown? Does it look like a scene straight out of Chinatown (the movie)?

Actually, on a Saturday, it reeks of fish and other unidentifiable food stuffs. But oh, is it colorful!
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:55:06 AM | link | (0) comments

always the lanterns Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:54:32 AM | link | (0) comments

I like the name better than "Will-Kill" back in Madison Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:53:50 AM | link | (0) comments
Then you went down to the Lower East Side. Describe!
Well, first of all, these neighborhoods aren’t as distinct as you would imagine. The overlap is quite evident.

posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:51:09 AM | link | (0) comments

So which is it -- Jewish? Chinese? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:50:59 AM | link | (0) comments

Lower East Side views Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:49:43 AM | link | (0) comments
Secondly, guess what the worst day would be to visit Orchard Street, the commercial hub of the old Jewish settlements?

Yom Kippur?
You got it! Brilliant! I was there! All those pickle shops? Closed!

posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:47:14 AM | link | (0) comments

Closed, but one can imagine the varieties  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:45:26 AM | link | (0) comments

still a place to shop Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:43:44 AM | link | (0) comments

a new pride in an old way of life Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:42:52 AM | link | (0) comments

have these changed significantly in the last 150 years? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:42:04 AM | link | (0) comments

In the doorway of a Synagogue Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:36:14 AM | link | (0) comments
Okay, so you saw a neighborhood at peace. That can be rewarding as well.
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:36:12 AM | link | (0) comments
What’s the Snooty district all about?
Don’t make me sound off about the rudeness of people that live and shop in and around Madison Avenue between 59th and 79th. Just don’t make me go there. Even though I had to go there. To make an exchange of a bag (not mine!) purchased from one of the snooty stores.

Oh, they weren’t cooperative?
They looked at it and they looked at me and they didn’t they say it, but they were thinking: "oh, she would try to repair a broken bag rather than throwing it away!" The second snooty exchange I had was of a political nature. You can imagine how that went. Ah well. I am about to embark on a Sunday in New York. That, btw, is a movie title as well.

(*for explanation of post title, see first post from September 22)
posted by nina, 9/26/2004 06:31:30 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Thirty-ninth street pre-election diary* 

Moving from the forties to the thirties (to be precise: 39th street, 39 days) is disconcerting: the streets change character, the election is getting closer. We are in a gray and grave area of town and a gray and grave period in time.
posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:45:14 AM | link | (0) comments

somber tones, somber times Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:44:44 AM | link | (0) comments
“An 1881 New York Times article refers to a tenement on this block as 'Hell's Kitchen': "Vice in its most repulsive form thrives here, despite efforts of the police to root out the horde of vagrants, petty thieves, and utterly depraved prostitutes who make the locality their headquarters." The name seems to have spread from the tenement to the entire neighborhood.”

One notable difference between the economic policies of the two presidential candidates is that Kerry is adamant in pushing for a 36% hike in federal minimum wage. I am reminded of 1938, when President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, setting, for the first time a minimum wage for labor.

Variously called the fashion district or the garment district, you see store after store with rolls of fabric, button displays, sewing equipment.
posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:42:42 AM | link | (0) comments

store after store of wholesale and retail fabric Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:41:35 AM | link | (0) comments

an old-timer in the neighborhood Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:38:56 AM | link | (0) comments
Why are we still concerned today, in 2004, about working conditions and wage violations in the garment industry? Has it something to do with the fact that the recent administration has cut the number of federal inspectors, so that there are now some 800 wage and hour inspectors working for the Department of Labor, policing some 6 million sites? The DOL estimates that 4,500 of NYC’s 7,000 garment factories are sweatshops.

Diversions and excursions:

Everyone needs a break occasionally. A night at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy does the trick. Hey, what’s the difference between this and the Taste of Madison? Take a look and draw your own conclusions:

(*see “forty-second street pre-election diary” post, September 22, for explanation of post title)

posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:36:14 AM | link | (0) comments

now that's Italian! Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:34:37 AM | link | (0) comments

supremely sweet Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:33:55 AM | link | (0) comments

you gotta love that Italian sausage! Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:32:53 AM | link | (0) comments

what part of town am I in? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:32:01 AM | link | (0) comments

Italian sweets Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:31:13 AM | link | (0) comments

the best dessert! Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/25/2004 09:30:18 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, September 24, 2004

I heard it from the horse's mouth: I am NOT a New Yorker! 

I went to Grace's Market this afternoon. It's a great place: you want to eat right then and there most everything on display. I was standing at a counter that had lox and olives. Many varieties of lox and olives. It was a bit chaotic -- no one paid attention to order, people were pushing to get their requests in -- a typical NY scene.

I stood next to an older guy who was intent on explaining to the seller which lox should be sliced in what way. I asked him about his preferences and before you know it, we were talking abou his impressions of salmon and my take on the economic climate in Poland.

His final words to me: "you're not a New Yorker, are you?" I said no, not at all and certainly not anymore. But I chastised him for blowing my cover: first day in the city and already branded an outsider! Upon finding out that I was from Madison, Wisconsin, he said -- "figures: I pegged you as living somewhere between Minneapolis and Madison."

Can you understand the annoying stereotype here? Not that Midwesterners are friendly, I can live with that, but that they are more friendly than Poles! I have been the way I am before moving to "between Minneapolis and Madison." But this was never even considered.

Ah well, in truth, he'd never been to Poland or to the Midwest. Figures. New Yorkers are so provincial.
posted by nina, 9/24/2004 06:24:23 PM | link | (0) comments

Fortieth street pre-election diary* 

posted by nina, 9/24/2004 02:11:53 PM | link | (0) comments

East 40th Street Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/24/2004 02:10:35 PM | link | (0) comments
Forty days before the election and things are getting ugly. Did I really read that Deputy Secretary Armitage chose Warsaw as the place to announce that he, too, thought that “terrorists prefer Kerry?” Of course, it’s not the line itself that is repugnant (indeed, one may hypothesize how it could even, in a perverse and not-too-complimentary to the current administration way, be true). Rather, it’s the electrifying fear that grips the listening public, as voters struggle to assess which leader will best protect the country during the next four years.

Will I find a distraction in the Manhattan grid of streets?
posted by nina, 9/24/2004 02:09:49 PM | link | (0) comments

On 40th, you can still catch a glimpse of the Empire State Bldg. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/24/2004 02:08:19 PM | link | (0) comments
Walking along any city block, I stare at older buildings and wonder how many incarnations they have “lived” through. If you look on 40th street, not too far from fifth avenue, you’ll find the Daytop Village, which is the country’s oldest drug counseling service (founded in 1963). What was housed there prior to that? The building was the former home of the Republican Club. And, on the far west side of 40th, there stands the Metro Baptist Church. This used to be a Polish Catholic church, but it is now a progressive Baptist mission. Indeed, this is where Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter lived while working on their first Habitat for Humanity project. Poland, politics, presidents, poverty: the interconnectedness can be astonishing.
posted by nina, 9/24/2004 02:07:20 PM | link | (0) comments

Next to the United Nations Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/24/2004 02:05:36 PM | link | (0) comments
Is there nothing pleasing to the senses here on this narrow street that runs from the garment district on the west side to the smoke stacks on First Avenue? Money can, of course, buy the finest retreat into luxury. And here, on east 40th, I can take my Wisconsin-residing American Water Spaniel, Ollie, for a stay at the Ritzy Canine Carriage House. Inside, he can overnight either in Luxury quarters for a mere $65 per night (if he’d lose some weight, damn it, we could sneak him into the $60 per night category, but he’d have to shed 5 pounds and the dog refuses to take Atkins seriously, being utterly devoted to baguettes), or if I am feeling generous, I may let him stay at the Presidential Suite for $175 per night (there he’ll have custom bedding, toy chests, his own TV and VCR with a special selection from the video library).
posted by nina, 9/24/2004 02:04:02 PM | link | (0) comments

A luxury escape -- for my dog. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/24/2004 01:59:09 PM | link | (0) comments
I would be slightly concerned that Ollie, not used to TV, may not fully appreciate the options made available to him. Not to worry, they reassure me. He can have his own private dog massage. The cost? $50 per hour. I have to wonder how they manage to work over a Chihuahua for a full hour – is there enough ‘dog’ there for the masseuse to tackle? But Ollie’s not a problem. He’s got a tendency to puff out on all that French bread. And, a massage might do wonders for his sometimes nervous disposition.

Though there is a lot to be nervous about these days. Approaching the east corner (oh! This was my “permanent home address” for one year out of my life, back in 1974), I am so close to the UN, so close, but not close enough to catch a glimpse. There are barricades. You cannot walk within 2 blocks of the UN on any side. The General Assembly is still in session. Bush is heading for Crawford, Kerry to Wisconsin, but the heads of state from other countries are still meeting to discuss the future. Perhaps they should hold off for 40 days?

*see “forty-second street pre-election diary” post, September 22, for explanation of title
posted by nina, 9/24/2004 01:56:44 PM | link | (0) comments

Go ahead, take my picture. I’m retiring tomorrow! I’ve had enough of this job. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/24/2004 01:55:54 PM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, September 23, 2004

I am living a capitalist dream 

Not only did I strike gold with the Polack's Profiles idea yesterday --it'll make me rich! (see post below), but I found in my mailbox an envelope from L'Etoile asking if I would accept a 100% salary increase and a bonus. Would I accept it? Would I accept it? I gave myself a few hours to consider and then I said yes -- unfortunately I said this during the same phone conversation where I told them I would be a no-show this week-end. I explained that the Chef de Cuisine and I had cut a deal: he'll cover for me at the Market as forager (that is my job) and I will cover for him in the kitchen as Chef de Cuisine any tme he wants me to! However, I do fear that the management at l'Etoile was a little taken aback when I said "Thanks! I'll take the raise and now I am going to save you some money because I wont be there this Saturday."

Of course, I cannot work at l'Etoile this week because I am at this moment flying to my second home for the year -- in New York City.

On the flight over, I was getting into the groove by reading New York Magazine and by dollar-bill-golly, I had another Capitalist Cacophony go off in my head. Amy Sohn's column described the miserable "friendship scene" in the city. It appears to be difficult, nay, impossible for new transplants to NYC to find friends. If you think you'll make friends just because you are social and nice -- forget it! And if you are the shy type -- pack your bags and go back to your friends back home, because you wont find any here. The only way, THE ONLY WAY anyone will consider you for a friend is if you pack a good "friendship resume" with something that marks you as a standout.

Where there is a need, there is a service that will cater to it and so if you are a New Yorker, you can indeed sign up for friendship-searching services. But those can be expensive. charges $1,275 just for the initiation fee. After that, it's $600 per match. If the friendship falters -- you do NOT get your money back. A user complains in the article that she is out the initiation fee and two $600 shots an has yet to find someone who'll munch popcorn and watch a DVD with her on a farily regular basis.

Worse off are people past their twenties: their friendship pool is quite limited as people in the more "advanced years" are either married and not particularly interested in meeting strangers, or searching to be coupled. No one in that demographic wants to waste time on being your friend.

A 35-year old newcomer to NY states:
I thought it would be easier to make friends here than in Chicago...I was completely wrong. Now I go back home and when people ask how it is, I say 'Love New York. Have no friends.' And I'm not even shy.

So here's my pitch: I move to New York and offer my services. I will be a friend to all the 'losers' who have failed to secure one. I'll be good for a bunch of emails per week to check up on things, a call here and there, and then a meet-up every so often, to do dim sum and maybe go to a movie. I'll listen to whiners, I'll tell stories from my varied past, I'll even do karaoke if the need arises. At, say, a $500 per friend per month fee and a six month commitment on my part, I'll be better than the going rate by a mile.

Now, if only I could think of a good name. Polack's Pals maybe?

posted by nina, 9/23/2004 08:47:10 PM | link | (0) comments

Forty-first street pre-election diary* 

A student at the U of Warsaw wrote this about politics and the Polish immigrant in the early decades of the XX century:

The early Polish immigrant … had little opportunity to participate actively in local politics. They were handicapped by their lack of knowledge of the English language and especially by their lack of American education. ...most of all, they were strangers to the American system of government and did knot know or understand American politics.

I feel for them. Now, 100 years later, I sometimes do not comprehend how or why politics proceed in the way that they do here as well.

Back then, Poles established a bridge of sorts – The Polish Democratic Club. The purpose? To help with the election of Democratic candidates. They were successful, too, from what I can tell. If you walk along the far west blocks of 41st street in New York, you’ll pass the building that was once the home of the West Side Polish Democratic Club.

Leafing through the stories in the news...

I read today’s papers and the attention is still on an analysis of whether Kerry has turned the corner. In 41 days we will know. In the meantime, is anyone else paying attention to the fact that we have a hefty 150,000 troops in Iraq while the next biggest force – from Britain – is even now being cut by a third from its paltry by comparison 7,000 (acc. to the London Observer, cited in the NYT)?

In what has to be a moment of perverse gladness, I was pleased to see that the second most e-mailed article from the NYTimes in the past 24 hour hours was the one about how the current administration is seeking cuts in housing aid to the urban poor (okay, the third most emailed article was about the new mozzarella bar in Rome; I almost emailed that one to a friend as well! Yes, we are clinging to our colorful diversions and distractions!). We need to be reading this! Housing projects… Walking toward the east side of 41st street, you hit Tudor City – a residential community that was built before the days of the United Nations [United Nations – that’s the number one emailed article from the Times – the one about how Bush yesterday issued a scolding to the UN, a scolding, at a time when the US desperately needs to be reaching out to the international community]. When Tudor City went up, there wasn’t a UN there, on the other side of the street, just slaughterhouses and glue factories. It was an area of such ugliness that most of the buildings in Tudor City don’t have windows facing east, to avoid the then horrid view. In the Times, Dowd again refers today to the Bush administration “castrating the flaccid UN.” I want to ask, is the next step a return to the slaughter-houses? It would be an interesting statement to make, from peace to slaughter. Or, have we made that statement already?

I’m off to New York this afternoon. Obviously the city is much on my mind – I see the grid of the blocks and I count down the days. Forty-one to go.

*see “forty-second street pre-election diary” post, September 22, for explanation of title
posted by nina, 9/23/2004 06:15:13 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Forty-second street pre-election diary, part 2  

(see first post today, below, for explanation)

The President hates the campaign hoopla already!

A reading pal sent me the clip from the Wisconsin State Journal (here) describing the reaction to Kerry’s impending visit to Spring Green, where he will spend some time preparing for the forthcoming debate.

I just want to say to the President (okay, of the Village of Spring Green) that even if a Republican candidate were coming to my town with his entourage to prepare a speech, I would have the good grace to show courtesy and politeness and I would not go on record and say things like this:

Spring Green Village President Greg Prem was less enthusiastic about Kerry's visit. He said he's already overloaded by all the political commercials and campaign appearances hitting Wisconsin - and the election is still six weeks away.
"I guess to be perfectly honest with you," Prem said, "I'm kind of burnt out on the whole race."

After all, his visitor may be the next president of the US. No cabinet post for you, Mr. Prem!
Besides, it’s not that your town, Mr. Prem, is such a gem to lodge in for all those days. Taliesen, APT, the River – that’s fine and well, but my friend, who is not especially fussy, says this about the place where Kerry will be residing (having herself stayed there):
“the "resort" they chose is that one on the golf course… It's okay but not especially great. The campaign people must have been reading too many glossy brochures.” And the food? She writes: Where will they eat? The restaurant there is blah. That round barn restaurant is worse. There is always the A & W drive-in in Mazomanie.”

An eye-to-eye exchange

Minutes ago, I went walking in Owen Woods. I am going to be in NYC tomorrow and so I need to take in the smell of dry grass and forest before I face an onslaught of that ‘stale NYC air.’

Just at the edge of the prairie, I met up with a deer. She stood, not more than ten feet away, looking at me. I stood. She stood. I waited for her to run, she did not. Maybe she was captivated by my bright yellow “Museum of Soy Sauce Art” t-shirt. I said to her:

“Why don’t you vote on November 2nd? Don’t you realize that your habitat is being endangered? You have a high stake in this!”

I thought I heard her say:

“I cannot vote. You have to do that for me.” Of course, she’s just a deer.
Doe, a deer, a female deer. [So why the whiskers and beard-like hairs on her chin if it’s a female deer? Animals are strange.]

She stood a long time, unafraid. Eventually she turned and ran. So I ran too. Except not as fast. Obviously. I felt like I was a character that should adopt an Indian name, like “Tries to Run with Deer but Fails Miserably.” (A reader gave me an Indian name just last week; what was it?)
Close encounters with deer always make you feel like something profound has just happened. Or like you’re on the stage perhaps. Yeah, on the stage of 42nd Street (forty-one blocks away from the off-off-off Broadway Theater of the Absurd). The count-down continues.

posted by nina, 9/22/2004 06:07:58 PM | link | (0) comments

People, take stock! We are becoming a nation of eating eccentrics! 

I would bet that these days, for the 294,338,341 Americans (confirmed here), there are 294,338,341 ways to cook dinner right and an infinite number of ways of doing it wrong.

In the last 24 hours (I promise, no blog exaggeration here) I have had the following exchanges with readers and friends, through email, phone and otherwise:
Responses to my question – “can’t talk now, but do you want to have dinner sometime?”:

- oh yes, but keep it informal; formal dinner parties scare us away (you know who you are!);
- oh yes, but we don’t do more than 1 or so per week otherwise we get cranky (you know who you are!);
- oh yes, so long as it’s not in restaurants; haven’t you read Kitchen Confidential (you know who you are!)?
- oh yes, but not in any week where I have work deadlines, for chrissake… (and you especially know who you are!)

I have to add these to my lists of vegans, pescatarians, vegetarians, Atkinsians, lactose-intolerants, and all sorts of food-dislikes -- ohh, it's all swimming, swimming... I know I have stored this information somewhere… yes, I'm sure of it...

But where? Where did I put all these, collected over the years food fears and fancies?

Eureka! Capitalism is rubbing off and onto my once-socialist-Eastern European shoulders! I have discovered an entrepreneurial opportunity and niche! This is how it will work:

I will collect and store your food profile for a flat fee. You can update your own profile anytime. If you get invited to someone’s house I will send them YOUR profile, to warn your future host of your peculiarities and preferences. Or, if you yourself are having a dinner party, you can, for a fee of course, request profiles on potential candidates for the evening. That way, if you really want to cook fish and serve it on Aunt Cristabelle’s gold-plated china or left-over-from-Labor-Day-picnic-paper plates, you can check first if your potential guest will be repulsed before you invite her or him.

I will add this bit of nostalgia to my “It is different now” Monday post. Because I remember the days (these may have been back in Poland) when a dinner suggestion was a gift, a source of delight, and whatever the hosts did was fantabulous and the evening was never long enough, and if it glittered with silver –that was great, and if it was on folding chairs –who cares, and if it was take out –hell, so what?

I WANT THOSE DAYS BACK! In the absence of which, I’m setting up my newly created and hereby copyrighted (maybe not in the eyes of the law but in the eyes of blogdom) “Polack’s Profiles.” Catchy name, huh?

posted by nina, 9/22/2004 03:06:10 PM | link | (0) comments

Forty-second street pre-election diary 

[While friends and colleagues are engaging in a pre-election pundit-o-mania, replete with predictions, ballyhoos and attacks on the Enemy Candidate, I thought I’d retreat to the sidelines and comment on what’s it like to go through this process as a non-pundit. More than ever before, I believe this election to be a defining moment in history and I want to remember what it was like in the days immediately preceding it, in the same way that historians now analyze what it was like in Poland on the days before September 1, 1939. How was it then, when we still had Hope?
The way to identify my pre-election posts is to look at the title, of course. It will always have the name of the street which actually also happens to be the number of days remaining before the election.]

Today, I am on 42nd street. The day started off with great equanimity. A friend down the street has organized an election day party for Democrats only (hey, if you can arrest a person wearing an anti-Bush t-shirt to a Bush rally, you can hold a Democrats-only party, right?) and he sent forth invitations early in the morning. That may have been the high point. Immediately after, I get this email from another friend who writes that the state bearing my initials (NC) “now appears certain to go for Bush.”

Thanks, pal, for the note of cheer.

Not to despair. I am on 42nd street. Didn’t this place get a face-lift not too long ago? Still, it’ll always bring to mind the days of seedy movie houses. Which reminds me of another upbeat moment (yes it does!) from this morning. I read another email from a friend who refers me to his most recent post (here), all about strange bedfellows. Notice in it a plea for sanity in the way we pick our leaders. Of course, it recalls for me of my own post before the primaries when (on February 3rd) I wrote the following:

How can you explain the slanderous reporting that blasts away at the warm and fuzzy traits of tall people?? The NYT today says this about Kerry: “He will still never be cuddly. He is too tall, too gaunt, too lantern-jawed, too serious for that. His Iowa caucuses victory speech was solemn and windy, and he sat watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night with a band of firefighters from Fargo, N.D., whose union has endorsed him, tapping his right thumb and forefinger nervously against his teeth without making much effort to converse or connect.”Is there an expectation that he should have been warm and cuddly with the firefighters?

Already I am thinking, those were the good old days when one bickered about Kerry and Edwards and Dean and Clark and Sharpton and Lieberman and… who was that other guy? Kucinich! Once so memorable, now so forgotten.

Such Nostalgia!
I’ll have to end with another nostalgic recollection from the Ocean blog, this one from January 23 when I wrote:

(from a list of important presidential traits identified by the voting public):
He must be someone most Americans would enjoy having over for dinner. [Time after time I have this conversation: “why don’t you like him?” I ask. “I don’t know, he’s just not someone I would feel comfortable with; I wouldn’t enjoy having dinner with him” goes the answer. Is this an outgrowth of viewing this country as a land of opportunity? For the record, Americans please take note: 99.999999999999% of you will NEVER HAVE DINNER WITH THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. 99.98 % will never even see him eat on national television.]

The day is bright, so bright, great weather. But it can turn nasty pretty quickly. After all, look at what seems to have happened in North Carolina.
posted by nina, 9/22/2004 09:40:13 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Finally, I am special 

Today I got my super exclusive rouge elite card stating that I have risen above bleu medium elite status and have now joined the ranks of the super exclusive elite members of Frequence Plus, Air France’s frequent flyer program. This is not surprising. I use Air France for everything outside of this country. If I go visit family in Poland – it’s on Air France. If I have to go to Japan for work purposes – it’s on Air France. I will take Air France to hell and back just to rise to the top of the elite heap of flyers. And today I made it.

This is what I receive in exchange for my loyalty (and I quote, in their order of priority):

You have access to an exclusive reservation service (don’t people use Expedia, travel agents, or, among the exclusive set – their secretaries?)

Air France ticket offices are waiting to serve you (only me? They turn away others? That doesn’t seem fair…)

Choose your seat before your day of departure (oh come on, even Polish Airlines let you do THAT!)

We give you priority for your vaccinations (now halt right here: is there a line? Does ANYONE wait until they get to the airport to get vaccinated?)

Oh sure, then there are pages and pages with what I really want to see: that the rich get richer! Yes! Now I get 50% more miles each time I fly economy, just by being elite and wealthy in miles already, and even more if I fly upwards of economy! And my luggage gets special plastic coating to protect the Gucci leather (?) from the bumps it would otherwise receive from lesser bags. And it will roll out first on belt, and there’ll be lounges all over the world where I will rub shoulders with other super super elite members, just like me.

Now if I can only afford another ticket so that I could reap all these super elite benefits (they only last a year; cheapskates!) and, of course, cash in on my priority shots.
posted by nina, 9/21/2004 03:57:17 PM | link | (0) comments

At the bottom of the Ocean 

In a few minutes, law students are meeting with several blogging members of the faculty to talk about the phenomenon of weblogs. I’ll be there, but I’ll probably lay low. Because I’m not sure I want to reveal the truth behind Ocean. Nor do I want to tell them that a certain blogger with deeply embedded European roots, residing in Madison, Wisconsin, regards keeping a blog as akin to dancing a complicated tango or taking a photograph of a Thanksgiving dinner: it’s not all as it appears to be.

Raised on Polish literature that developed the art of allegorical writing to the highest standards, I can’t help but take that devious layering right back with me into the blog. That Saturday post about freezing tomatoes? Maybe a person or two recognized that it wasn’t really about tomatoes. I was involved in a writing project over the week-end and I got perversely stalled – frozen, as it were. Hence the post.

The texts and subtexts of a blog – so deliciously evil in their veiled meaning. Song lyrics thrown out to ones who may remember their import many years past, allusions, references, all nicely tucked into a plain text of a story. For there has to be a story as well.

Is it always like that? Is it one big inside joke? Of course not. For me, the greatest challenge in writing this (and elsewhere for that matter) is to find and develop a reason for writing any particular entry. There may be anger, passion, hope, joy, remembrance – all have prompted a post at one point or another. But it has to be a really dry day before I succumb and write anything, just to get something posted.

So, this is what I wont reveal to the group this morning. I appreciate everyone’s sudden desire to post thoughts about the political process, interspersed with comments on daily life. But for me, blogging is all about story writing. I take it seriously. It is hard hard hard to put forth something twice a day (that is my goal) given that it is only a hobby, to be sandwiched into all the other things that need to be attended to. The product may appear at times crude, insufficiently edited (I fired my staff of editors and fact-checkers -- oddly, they wanted to be paid, refusing to work for the sheer glory of it), lacking in grace and wit and humor, but it is here that I practice the craft of writing and story telling. Between you and me – and not for the audience today – that is what Ocean is all about.
posted by nina, 9/21/2004 07:49:17 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, September 20, 2004

It’s different now.. 

I had begun clipping favorite lines to post from Cohen’s article yesterday in the Times about the “Good Old Days,” until I decided, in the end, that the tenor of the piece was not one I could endorse and so then I dropped the project. But today, driving in to work, my mind started spinning. Gosh, there were some innocent moments way back when! I have no desire to go back to those days for all the political and social reasons that are so obvious as not to require enumeration, but gosh! Do you remember when one could actually say gosh repeatedly and not seem weird (or “strange” because as Cohen says, one didn’t used to say “weird”)?

Much of what is now only nostalgia can be said to have been lost because we’ve wizened up a bit. And so I notice that any list of revered past icons and habits and expressions, contains a salute to ignorance. And how much of what we do now will one day be lost because we will understand that it is causing everyone, ourselves included, great harm?

Everyone should occasionally sit back and recall a thing or two that was wonderfully sweet and benign – for a period in time. I remember when I could pick up a doughnut and a cup of coffee on the way to class and use the term “clogged artery” only to describe traffic congestion… I say this as I eat some disgustingly healthy whole grain-bar, rushing to write this so that I could meet someone for a ‘healthy’ spin around the neighborhood. Yes, sweet innocent treats of the past – joining the Union of Socialist Youth in Poland during the 60s to save our future, thinking that “going all the way” meant holding hands with a boy, kicking a soccer ball around with kids of many ages and stages amidst cow dung on the meadow where cows grazed and later gave us milk for the supper table, with plenty of buttered bread to go around. Sweet days indeed.
posted by nina, 9/20/2004 02:59:44 PM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, September 19, 2004

The word's just in: they got the sound right! 

This afternoon I spoke to friends who had attended the opening night performance at the Overture Center for the Arts. After reading rave reviews all morning, I was not surprised to hear them say that it was “beautiful” “spectacular” “etc” “etc.” And, they said “the sound is magnificent!”

I am glad about that. It would be terrible, terrible to invest so much in this project and not get the sound right, even though it was a gift and you can more readily forgive a gifted Center that turns out to be a clunker, in the same way you can forgive a calendar that you get as a gift for the New Year that has absolutely the worst possible motif running through it (say cats, and you hate cats, or a-joke-a-day and you fail to laugh a single time for the 365 times you turn a page).

Of course, I marvel at the ingenuity of it all: to know in advance of such a construction project that you will get the sound right. I was sitting with a group of people last week and we were marveling about things that are incomprehensible to us – like sending a fax or writing a WiFi message (choosing to ignore the fact that, of course, sending a fax is more imaginable than creating a baby that has your horrid jaw out of invisible-to-the-naked-eye genetic material) – but I think this, too deserves inclusion into the world of marvels.

Or, maybe it was tested as it was being built? Perhaps someone was hired to drop a needle every so often to see how it echoed as it fell to the concrete. Or, better yet, an opera singer came in during construction and belted out a few lines of an aria to see how it was going. Maybe the ceiling had to be tilted differently again and again until Nessun dorma! sounded exactly right – how do I know, I’m no sound expert.

And herein lies the sad truth: neither are most of the people who attend the performances at the Arts Center (unless after you pass into some strata of refinement you develop audio-sensory skills that the rest of us down there haven’t even aspired to). But I want to find out: how DO things sound in the great new hall? Does it bounce of the walls? Does it resound? Is there an echo? I am a music buff. I have attended orchestral performances since I was a pipsqueak. But I could never tell if Alice Tully Hall was an improvement over Carnegie Hall or not. It struck me as the same.

The odd thing is, it can’t matter to the younger-than-me generation of concert goers. They have their ear drums completely warped and distorted through years of attending rock concerts. And if sound mattered so much in the Orchestra Hall, why does it not matter at all at the conerts where it’s all about Volume rather than Quality? So perhaps this new Orchestra Hall is not only for those of refined pocket book, but also of refined age. I almost qualify there!

In any event, I am looking forward to listening for the new improved sound and I hope I can tell, at least as much as all these enthused non-musician patrons say they can tell. I do not really remember what it sounded like before, but famous guest artists kept coming anyway and I suspect the capacity crowds they drew couldn’t tell how horrid the sound was, marveling obtusely at the gifts and talents of the performing artists instead. How odd of us all to have done so. Now we know better. Or – at least we think we do (I’m sure I will too!!) and that’s good enough, isn’t it?
posted by nina, 9/19/2004 04:04:49 PM | link | (0) comments

Frozen solid: nc - yes; the tomatoes - no. 

Yesterday at the market I bought a box of stunningly gorgeous Harmony Valley Roma tomatoes. They are in a moment of perfection, just waiting to be par-boiled, skinned and zip-locked into the freezer for winter use. My freezer already boasts bags of Ruth’s blueberries, Blue Valley asparagus, Harmony Valley strawberries, plus organic white peach slices for the future moment when I just have to make a batch of Bellinis for a crowd of people.

Here is a twenty-four hour photo-blog progress report on the tomato project:
posted by nina, 9/19/2004 10:49:02 AM | link | (0) comments

Waiting for inspiration. Hoping for some such moment to arrive today. So far: not yet evident on the horizon. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/19/2004 10:48:10 AM | link | (0) comments

Little boxes, all the same 

I’ll just put forth a few quotes from an article in today’s NYT Week in Review and try hard to refrain from commenting. I am aiming for a cheerful day. No need to start a downward spiral with writing paragraphs upon paragraphs about what’s wrong with this world, or at least with what is described as our world.

(From “Kerry’s Lesson: Lambeau Rhymes With Rambo”)

The key interview in this year’s presidential campaign was not with any of the big national newspapers or newsweeklies. It was for the October issue of Field & Stream magazine. John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, gave the magazine a half-hour phone interview. [well okay, big deal] President Bush went further, granting a private tour of his Texas ranch, and a long sit-down to the editor, Sid Evans. [oh brother.]

The candidates are…courting the newest niche demographic: the rod-and-gun voter. [great.]
(They are also) after something much more basic: proving their manliness. [that just thrills me no end.]

The Republicans are working hard to portray (Kerry) as.. a “girlie man.” It seems to be working. Sports Illustrated readers overwhelmingly voted Mr. Bush the better athlete and sports fan [dumb dumb dumb readers, for this reason:], a conclusion the magazine’s managing editor, Terry McDonell, finds baffling. “Clearly Kerry is the a much much much much better athlete,” he said, noting that Mr. Kerry has long played competitive hockey and also regularly snowboards, Rollerblades, windsurfs and kite-surfs. “Kite-surfing…is the hardest, most radical thing to do…” Mr. Bush, in contrast, was a cheerleader, and not, Mr. McDonnell notes, the kind that did flips.
[then we have this long stretch of writing about the Lambeau field thing again; enough already!]

Mr. McDonnell puzzled over what all this shooting and fishing had to do with being leader of the free world….Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers (says) [watch now, here come the boxes, little boxes, And they're all made out of ticky-tacky, And they all look just the same] “Bush wants to be seen as masculine…because masculinity is associated with assertiveness and competence and judgment and team-playing and a host of traits that men aspire to and women adore.” [No comment. Really, I just can’t. Grrrrr.]

posted by nina, 9/19/2004 09:52:45 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Signs of the Times 

So, another Saturday of foraging for L’Etoile at the Farmers Market. You’re lookin’ pretty tired!
No, not exactly (yawn).. and this week was spectacular: lots of activities at the Square and at L’Etoile (yawn).

Oh? What about L’Etoile?
We had a visit from a former NYT bureau chief and now food writer for the paper…. I’m not sure I should be so open about who he is and what he said…

Just give him a blog nickname…
I would use one of the letters of the alphabet, which actually belongs to his initials -- W, but I was told recently that even in Wisconsin, if you say W, you mean GWB. I am greatly miffed at how the letter has been hijacked. Today on the Square I saw a sign that said (against a background of an American flag) “W stands for Women!” I was pretty infuriated by it actually. So, our great writer cannot be referred to as W. He has been called “larger than life” in a recent piece in the New Yorker, and if you scroll down below where I’ve included a photo, you may indeed believe that this not an inappropriate characterization. Why don’t I call him Johnny. Most of his friends do, even though J does not appear in his monogram. That way I can equally pretend he is my friend, forgetting about the fact that this is not the case.

So, you chatted with Johnny?
Oh yes. I can tell you this much. Johnny does not regularly read the blog, JFW, because he said: “You know, I love being here! Only in Madison Wisconsin would you have the front page headline of the paper be about bike locks!” I mean, if he read JFW, he would not be surprised about this very important story, detailed in a post here.

You talked about bike locks?
No, he was actually taking notes for a story and so he asked about my work for L’Etoile. In trying to fully understand the duties of a forager, he said “so… maybe I can refer to you as Chef O’s personal shopper?” I said if he did, he would be dead meat. Watch him do it anyway.

You know, he’s written quite a number of pieces a few years back predicting an Iraqi quagmire. Did you talk politics at all?
When he and I were at the Market, he told me that he was impressed how the Asian farmers have influenced the type of food that is being sold at the Market. He talked about the various places he lived in in South East Asia, Europe, etc. He said he has always told his children that they have to spend time in different cultures – it is a prerequisite to moving forward intelligently today. In this context he said that one of the things he cannot abide about GWB is his lack of knowledge about and indifference to the countries outside the US.

Larger than life and fascinating… So, other Market news?
This post is getting long, but I did want to mention a few things:

** Today was the day that marks my 5-year involvement with L’Etoile. As Madison was hosting another “Food for Thought” Festival, I was reminded that it was during this Festival 5 years ago that I approached Chef O. and told her she should hire me as a cook.

** During today’s Festival, I listened to Eliot Coleman speak on behalf of the small family farm. He’s a brilliant organic farmer from Maine. (I am a big-time champion of small family farms, preferably organic, and so this was a happy hour of listening for me). After giving up on academia, he bought some rugged gravel and forest-land and turned it into something he could cultivate, just by using the residue nature provided: clam shells for calcium, sea weed, manure, etc. He is phenomenally successful at growing things, with very limited use of fossil fuels and against all obstacles. He told of how he recently traveled to Iowa and proclaimed: my God, you guys actually have SOIL here – 6 feet deep! In Maine, there is none.

** Gifts: The Artesian Trout farmer gave me a gift of a smoked trout and Fantome Farms gave me a gift of pepper chevre. They suggested that I play around with combining the two and create a heavenly mousse.

So, how could I ever get tired of the Market when the people I encounter inspire with their generosity and teach me to fight rocky soil with seaweed rather than give up and move to Iowa? There’s nothing wrong with Iowa, mind you, but one should never move there just for the easier life and good soil.
posted by nina, 9/18/2004 02:45:03 PM | link | (0) comments

Cef O. at the Food for Thought Festival today, unchanged from when I first cornered her here 5 years ago. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/18/2004 02:41:59 PM | link | (0) comments

Johnny at the Café, taking notes, enjoying the people and the food. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/18/2004 02:40:10 PM | link | (0) comments

Purple cauliflower and romanesco. What’s romanesco? Chef O. describes it as “cauliflower on acid.” Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/18/2004 02:37:49 PM | link | (0) comments

Maybe the most rewarding thing about getting up so early is that you can look up and see this sky.
 Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/18/2004 02:35:49 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, September 17, 2004

Parking lot effervescence  

I am in my truck, about to turn on the engine, ready to leave the parking lot of Whole Foods when I hear, coming from the car alongside mine, a pounding on the window. An old old man with a substantial beard is obviously asking that I roll down the window. I do so. And so we talk:

u: Excuse me, but I just wanted to know. You have a sticker on the back of your car with the letters MV. What does it stand for?
n: It could actually be many things: Mini Van (for it is indeed a minivan), Mercury Villager (it is that as well), Martha’s Vineyard..

u: Naturally. It could also be Moravia.
n: Are you from Moravia (there is a tinge of an accent there)?

u: Me? Moravia? No, no.. so which is it? What does it stand for?
n: I picked it up long ago on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. So where are you from if not Moravia?

u: Italy. But I have lived in Madison for 46 years. But I am from Milano.
n: I love that place, you know! Just got back from a trip there this summer..

u: Yes, but you would go nuts if you lived there. Here, in America, you wait two months to get your tax refund back. In Italy? Maybe three years. If you’re lucky!
n: But you have now had a prime minister in place for longer that at any time since World War II -- two years!

u: And he’s a bastard! Listen, I don’t travel there anymore because it is so humiliating to go in a plane these days. I don’t like it. They treat you like animals.
n: What’s your name, btw? I’m nc.

u: I’m uc. (we shake hands through our car windows) I am the only physics professor on the faculty here who does not have a Ph.D.! Of course, I am now retired..

And so it continued for a long while. I could hear myself laughing louder and louder. I thought of inviting him to dinner some day. God, Italians are friendly.

posted by nina, 9/17/2004 05:13:52 PM | link | (0) comments

Notes from the tail end of a summer season 

One evening, many realities:

I am amazed at my previous posts. Newspaper links? With political overtones? What has become of this Ocean blog? Let me compensate by flipping the channel back to the here-and-now of this particular blogger’s take on life: I had in a five-hour evening stretch no fewer than five encounters (email and face-to-face) that positively shook me to the core. And so, to deal expressively with the onslaught of drama, I decided to look on the Internet for a translation of a genuinelly mournful Polish poem. I did not succeed, but trust me, it's beautiful and full of pathos and drama, in the truest Eastern European fashion. Searching for poetry on the Net is a good distraction -- I would recommend it to anyone in the (momentary, because if it's enduring, go see a shrink instead) depths of despair.

Next morning, looking to others:

I visited the blogs of people I know who live in far away places. One such person resides on the Virgin Islands. She hasn’t posted in the past few days and I would be concerned that she has suffered as a result of the hurricanes, but on the other hand she comes in and out of contact, occasionally sending messages such as this:

*Apathetic While On Liquor
Okay.So I've been drinking instead of posting for the last month.

An ordinary person might worry when they see a note like this. Not me. She explained that rum is cheaper than water on the islands and so life sometimes takes her in that direction. Hmmm. Not exactly a cheerful route, but definitely interesting.

I also got some interesting mail from my pals in Kyoto who had been traveling in the US this past month. They write: “Thank you for telling us about American air conditioning. I took a warm shirt. My friend did not and had to buy one it was so cold.” See (Tonya!), it’s not only me. Others find this to be a chilly nation as well.

Finally, looking outside, I am in love with the bright crisp fall day. By contrast, someone said this yesterday about living in New York: “the air is so stale that even if I open all doors and windows I cannot get enough of the fresh stuff.” Now, I happen to like the particular smell that belongs to New York. It’s a combination of subway-air-creeping-up-through-the-grillwork, food stands, vents from air conditioning units and the East River. But, looking out now at the Madison sky, I am thinking that I am not appreciative enough of the Fall season in the Midwest. So, count this as a note of deep appreciation and great joy at being able to go out and sit in my favorite outdoor spot and look at the fall flowers and take in a whiff of that clear crisp air (I will choose to ignore the fact that this particular neighborhood is less than pristine as it rests on a landfill, but whatever you want to say about the garbage of the previous generation, all those additives and preservatives certainly have made the trees grow with great abandon).
posted by nina, 9/17/2004 09:30:50 AM | link | (0) comments

Each year these come back to liven up the end of the summer Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/17/2004 09:27:31 AM | link | (0) comments

In contrast to the busy bee, this one is so lethargic, she can hardly find the center of the flower. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/17/2004 09:24:10 AM | link | (0) comments

At least two people I know will remember this poem: "..the rose is out of town." Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/17/2004 09:21:25 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Behind the Times 

Yes, I admit it, I did not read this op-ed article in the NYTimes until today. I am certain most regard it as a dated thing of the past (it is from the week-end), but in case you, like me, are behind in every aspect of life at the moment, you may have missed the Brooks-ian analysis of who is voting D versus R this year. What is neat about reading with a delay is that you can immediately click onto responses (full text here) to the article. I am including fragments of the Brooks piece and snippets from the four letters published a few days later. Emphases are my own.

From Brooks:

There are two sorts of people in the information-age elite, spreadsheet people and paragraph people. Spreadsheet people work with numbers, wear loafers and support Republicans. Paragraph people work with prose, don't shine their shoes as often as they should and back Democrats.

C.E.O.'s are classic spreadsheet people. According to a sample gathered by PoliticalMoneyLine in July, the number of C.E.O.'s donating funds to Bush's campaign is five times the number donating to Kerry's.

Professors, on the other hand, are classic paragraph people and lean Democratic. Eleven academics gave to the Kerry campaign for every 1 who gave to Bush's. Actors like paragraphs, too, albeit short ones. Almost 18 actors gave to Kerry for every 1 who gave to Bush. For self-described authors, the ratio was about 36 to 1. Among journalists, there were 93 Kerry donors for every Bush donor. For librarians, who must like Faulknerian, sprawling paragraphs, the ratio of Kerry to Bush donations was a whopping 223 to 1.

… Accountants, whose relationship with numbers verges on the erotic, are now heavily Republican. Back in the early 1990's, accountants gave mostly to Democrats, but now they give twice as much to the party of Lincoln.

…[as for academics:] University of California employees make up the single biggest block of Kerry donors …All but 1 percent of the campaign donations made by employees of William & Mary College went to Democrats. In the Harvard crowd, Democrats got 96 percent of the dollars. At M.I.T., it was 94 percent. Yale is a beacon of freethinking by comparison; 8 percent of its employee donations went to Republicans.

Readers’ comments:

[from Mass:] … It seems to me that the statistics show a correlation between education and political support regardless of numeracy or literacy. The fact that corporate chief executives and accountants are more likely to support George Bush is consistent with this observation: they are probably best educated that a third of his tax cuts go to the richest 1 percent.

[from a Yale astronomy prof:]… David Brooks classifies professors as "paragraph people." But even here at Yale, an institution known for its focus on humanities and arts, the majority of the faculty are scientists, medical doctors or involved with economics or business.

Our non-teaching duties involve fund-raising, personnel management and gigabytes of data, not unlike other "spreadsheet people."

Why, then, is the professoriate so united behind John Kerry (far more so than we were for previous Democratic candidates)?

Perhaps because teaching and research require open-mindedness, reasoning from facts rather than from ideology, nuanced interpretation of complex situations, and the ability to change one's mind - all traits that the Bush team has displayed less of than any administration in my lifetime.

[from a sociology prof and a management consultant:] While "spreadsheet people'' may be Republicans by and large, George W. Bush is not a spreadsheet person; his fiscal policy cannot withstand a quantitative analysis.

Nor is he a paragraph person - one could not find the prose to justify his conflation of Iraq with the war on terror. So what is President Bush?

David Brooks's framework leaves out an important group, what we label the PowerPoint or bullet-point people.

Bullet-point people traffic in the meaningless business-speak of the management consultant, language that eschews equally the nuance and hard numbers of reality...

[from Atlanta:] ...Academia is full of very smart people earning very little money relative to what they could earn. They are curious people, dedicated to pursuing the truth and teaching others.
Business is full of very smart people whose sole responsibility is to make money, for stockholders and themselves. The first group supports Democrats. The second group supports Republicans. Draw your own conclusion.

posted by nina, 9/16/2004 04:16:07 PM | link | (0) comments

W on doctors...and love 

Thanks to the pal who send me the following clip. After this morning's press tirade about Kerry and the Packers (see post below), this is a welcome antidote. Do click on it -- it's not a propaganda piece, just a little slice of a real newsclip.

From MSNBC (give it a minute to load after you click on it and choose movie media setting if a screen doesn't automatically pop up or else you'll miss the wonderful moment of stunned confusion on the part of the newscaster):


posted by nina, 9/16/2004 01:04:12 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, September 15, 2004


Here I am, in the middle of the month, in the middle of the day. Perfect time to respond to some emails, especially from those who are forever doubting the veracity of some of my statements.

1. Re: Fiona Apple: I now know who she is! No need to make fun of me there. I’ve known for a while, actually. Someone once gave me a CD of hers in one of their many attempts to educate me in the music of the last two centuries.

2. Re: On where to throw your money if you have no idea how to spend money and still want to show your support of this free blog: when I proposed “Save the Goat” I meant it! And I would not have suggested it had I myself not done things to support the Goat. Alright, so initially I got interested in it because of the quirky name. I like goats. I like several people who call themselves goats. Goats are good. Then, having inquired about saving THE Goat, I found that it is a legitimate effort to create a protected area out of the Goat River Valley in British Columbia. Studying the literature has instilled a great urge in me to go there and explore it myself. What’s stopping me?

- There’s quite a bit of logging going on there (hence the problem), but there are limited blogging opportunities: the region doesn’t seem to have WiFi. I’m not sure it has much in the way of electrical outlets either. The amazing red cedar trees appear to be completely unwired.

- Bears: the materials state: “As this is bear country, hikers should educate themselves on bear safety and practice bear-safe camping to avoid confrontations.” CONFRONTATIONS? What does that mean? Further, I read: “Hikers can camp on gravel bars along the river. A few sites have bear poles with hoisting poles.” What on earth is that all about? You hoist bears on poles? What?

- Safety issues in general: The whole thing sounds fraught with dangers. For example, I read: “After crossing a logging bridge over the Milk River [‘Goat’ and ‘Milk’! How cute! No wonder I was initially charmed!], the trail follows the Goat River upstream for 4 km, where a cable car ferries hikers across the river. Use the cable car at your own risk; it is potentially hazardous.” And if you get hurt? “The Goat River Valley is a wilderness area and access to emergency services is extremely limited. Hikers must be self-sufficient…”

Does anyone else think that this sounds positively terrifying? Still, it’s the Goat…
posted by nina, 9/15/2004 04:13:54 PM | link | (0) comments

My correspondence with the Goat people up in B.C. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/15/2004 04:12:29 PM | link | (0) comments

Let’s count the number of ways this article insults Wisconsinites 

Possibly in anticipation of Kerry’s visit to Madison today, the Washington Post ran a story (again!) on Kerry’s fumble over the name of the Packer stadium. Perhaps you should skip this one (here) if you do not want to suffer acute frustration and anger at the paper for feeding into the Wisconsin stereotype with such gusto:

This is a place where Packers jackets often outnumber sports coats in church [WP emphasis] and thousands of fans wear a big chunk of yellow foam cheese atop their head with the pride of a new parent. President Bush's warning to terrorists is apropos to the passions of Packers fans -- you are either with 'em or against 'em.

I got news for the news writers: I’m neither with ‘em or against ‘em, in fact I don’t know much about ‘em. And I doubt that I stand alone [n.b. the article states that the race is so tight in Wisconsin that even a few thousand votes may make or break a candidate (remember 'a few thousand in 2000'? That was our final count in favor of Gore)].

And here’s another paragraph that just packs it in to Wisconsinites:

Not only did he [Cheney] speak to the biggest issue in the state -- the Packers [nc emphasis]-- he did so with Bart Starr, the Hall of Fame quarterback, by his side. "I've never been around someone I was more impressed with," Starr said of Cheney.

I suppose that I have to take heart in the final paragraph (forgetting the fact that, by inserting that last little jibe at the end, the paper plays right into GWB’s desire to make big of something so trivial), which throws it all up to the stars – both the ones on the field and the ones up above. Here is the key predictor of who will be the next president:

In the end, it's the Packers' score -- more than the Packers vote -- that could determine Kerry's fate. In the past 18 presidential elections, if the Redskins lost or tied the last game before the election, the party in the White House lost, too. The Redskins' opponent Oct. 31: the Packers, but not at Lambert, er, Lambeau Field.

posted by nina, 9/15/2004 06:59:11 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

A Personal Call from the Democrats 

There was an urgent message on my machine when I got home: "Tomorrow: Kerry! At the Alliant Center! He will be there! We would like to know if you can come. Please give us a call so that we can coordinate.”

Coordinate what?? Is this a personal invitation? Is it like being a delegate to the convention? Do I get to be in the front rows, applauding wildly (is it because they heard my loud cheers on Karaoke night yesterday?)? Do I act as a protector of the Kerry spirit, boo-hissing loud protesters, interveners and disrupters of the democratic process? Do I act as body guard too, jumping up to shield him from rowdy types that occasionally leap to the stage (did they read my post of outrage at the Barrymore for not carrying out a rowdy type from last week’s concert?)? How SPECIAL am I anyway?

Not very, I’m afraid. I’ll go there and I will be just one of thousands. They will have called every listed democrat this side of Milwaukee. I did this for Clinton and Gore when they rolled into Madison. I was a face in the crowd.

For a minute, I had believed that I was on their hot list. Then I remembered the size of my contribution to the party and reality set in.
posted by nina, 9/14/2004 09:15:18 PM | link | (0) comments

The Kid in me 

There are a number of bloggers who will provide excellent recaps of last night’s gathering of sociologists and tag-alongs at the Karaoke Kid (later in the day you may check here, here and here). I will not be one of them. I am about the last person on earth who should ever write about Karaoke. I never pay attention to rock groups and artists any more and it took me a long time to understand that a reference to Fiona Apple was not a comment about a brand of fruit from the Farmers' Market. But since I pick up songs easily, even as I am not listening to them, I do know words and melodies to the strangest collection of songs and so the urge to join up at the Kid is always strong. But no summaries: I do not know who sang what and when – it’s all a blur of TV monitors and different combinations of people standing up, sometimes falling down and dying (yes, there was a reenactment of a death performed with painful accuracy by the author of JFW), often singing with eyes closed as if their (okay, our) life depended on it.

So how is it that this pop-cultural ignoramus gets herself to the Kid so faithfully and shamelessly each time the trumpet sounds? Well, isn’t there an ancient song out there about Fools Rushing In Where Wise Men Never Go?
posted by nina, 9/14/2004 08:40:13 AM | link | (0) comments

Two bloggers and a blogger mom Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/14/2004 08:36:15 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, September 13, 2004

Meetings, meetings, more meetings 

I have been asked to chair a university committee (I’ve sat on this committee for a number of years now). I have never been asked to be chair of a university-wide committee before. I will be leading the group into making important decisions affecting dozens of students and costing the university hundreds of thousands of dollars each year (judging by the age of the retiring chair, this job is FOR LIFE!). I was expecting to be flown out for a retreat and training session – perhaps to Colorado? Don’t universities do that for people who will be making very important decisions affecting the lives and budgets of so many? I have looked daily in my campus mail, but no such invitation has been forthcoming. Only my schedule of committee meetings. Tomorrow afternoon I begin my official duties. I am thinking that my first action as chair should be to upgrade the snacks and food provided for the afternoon. The beverages in Styrofoam cups have to go! And no more packaged cookies either. Let's set some standards here. We are not just a rinky-dink school; we are part of a world-class university. We need to start learning how to display our worth!
posted by nina, 9/13/2004 01:33:35 PM | link | (0) comments

Running from running 

I’d fallen into the habit of saying “I no longer run. You know, it’s not very good for you, especially once you’re past your twenties and thirties.” Walking briskly? Yes, I can get fanatically committed to a daily trek around town. But rare is the day that I run, even though less than a year ago, I would enjoy the runner’s high as much as the next young marathoner out there.

Today I no longer can justify my running abstinence. The papers are reporting the findings of a Yale study (for example here) that whips my excuse right out the door. It appears that older runners (past 50 – I qualify!) are even more likely to improve their running performance during training than younger runners (take THAT you baby sprinters!). The researchers are concluding that whatever innards you have that are conducive to running (the article uses more medically precise words, such as musculature, oxygen absorption, etc etc) do not deteriorate or atrophy as a result of aging. They wilt and wither because people do not use them. In simple words: we get lazy.

One researcher notes:
“You can maintain a very high performance standard into the sixth or seventh decade of life.”

At least this gives me an excuse to put off training for a few more months or even years. What’s the rush? I can still improve my running time a quarter of a century from now.
posted by nina, 9/13/2004 06:48:03 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Travel stories 

Some people are lucky enough to have NYT travel stories coincide nicely with their time of travel to a featured destination. I had friends who were like that – perhaps even with an inside track to the desk of the main travel editor, because the minute they said they were going to, say, Kenya, bingo! The next week you’d see a story on Kenya in the Sunday paper.

My luck runs in the opposite direction. The minute I come back from a vacation, it is featured and described in loving detail, with supporting references to restaurants, museums and recent important events. Indeed, today I see that the Sophisticated Traveler is featuring Orvieto in Italy. I went to Orvieto in Italy in August. I blogged about it. I took inept pictures of it. [I say inept because even though I thought them to be decent at the time, they were nothing, NOTHING like those in the Times today. Curious? Check this link.] I suppose I can have the satisfaction of saying "hey, I picked it first!" -- as if anyone's listening. I guess that's what blogs are for.

posted by nina, 9/12/2004 08:47:47 PM | link | (0) comments

Did I really eat three dozen desserts? 

In an earlier post, I asked what fool would take on the judging responsibilities in a dessert-making contest in one’s neighborhood. Of course, in the end, I did agree to do it and, along with two co-judges, I picked what appeared to be the all-around best entry.

Reactions from the non-winners? One neighbor came up and explained that hers was an old and treasured recipe, passed on through generations, and it was okay that it didn’t win since it had already received accolades and praise and recognition elsewhere. Another wondered if I had had a chance to sample all layers of her creamy concoction, since there were surprise elements throughout, all the way to the delicious bottom of the dish. Finally, a child asked if my name card, which said “Hi, I’m Nina” with the scribbled line underneath “I can be bribed” was for real or whether I was joking (I assured him that it was for real). Unfortunately that attempt at humor was severely tested when it turned out that I had picked as number one (a cheesecake with a yin-yang fruit jelly design) the dessert made by immediate neighbor, a person on whom I rely for countless small favors throughout the year.

Other highlights from the evening include finding out that my block is less politically mixed than I had imagined. There’s hope! And yet another surprise – yes, there are others who think it great fun to sit on plastic chairs in the middle of a (blocked off) street until 2:30 a.m. speculating if we were doing in life what we had, in our youthful dreams, imagined we would want to do.
posted by nina, 9/12/2004 09:05:35 AM | link | (0) comments

Thanks, J & J, for holding them back so that we could give time and attention to this very serious matter  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/12/2004 09:04:53 AM | link | (0) comments

Third prize: obviously cheese and berries did well in this contest Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/12/2004 09:01:22 AM | link | (0) comments

Second prize: chocolate, with raspberries from the back-yard Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/12/2004 08:59:21 AM | link | (0) comments

First prize: an airy cheesecake with a lovely fruit finish Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/12/2004 08:57:53 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, September 11, 2004


I may be the only blogger that has yet to do a poll on the blog. It’s not that I do not CARE what readers think, but I am drawn to the privacy of email for back-and-forth chats.

But I do think it’s time to be a little more interactive and so, in the spirit of active rather than passive reading, let me suggest a “match the comment with the speaker” game. All the comments were made this morning and as you know, I spend my mornings for the most part foraging for L’Etoile at the Market.

Answers are provided below the photos, for those who are non-players at heart, or lazy, or game-challenged.


1. I spent a year at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. No, I don’t really speak Polish. I haven’t been back since before the change to a market economy. I think it must feel different now.

2. If I had two chocolate croissants in front of me I would not be able to put one away until tomorrow.

3. You would like me to pick up some 50 pounds of nice apples at Weston’s Orchard stand? Like, literally pick them up and then carry them up all those L’Etoile steps? After or before I am done carrying this sack with 5 dozen ears of corn? Okay, so I can save bringing in the 32 pounds of Hickory nuts until later? Gee thanks.

4. Would you like a part time job this week picking pears?

5. I wanted to demonstrate my patriotism today so I asked for this red white and blue face paint job.

6. Can I practice the song at least once before singing it at Karaoke on Monday?

7. There are quite a number of Republicans these days who come to the Market in search of organic foods. I just want to ask them how they can have concern for what they eat and be so indifferent about damage to the environment, which will surely affect their children and grandchildren? I tell them – if you hate the Democrats and refuse to consider a vote for Kerry, could you at least vote for Nader, to send a message that you care about the world you pass on to the next generation?

The people behind the words:

A. Willie of Bleu Mont Dairy
B. Debbie of Carlanna pesto
C. Mrs. Harried, Dorotha’s mother
D. Ocean blogger
E. Selena of Future Fruit
F. My neighbor at the block party (not all conversations were had at the market)
G. Jeremy of JFW
posted by nina, 9/11/2004 04:30:51 PM | link | (0) comments

One of the first stands I see each Saturday Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/11/2004 04:28:38 PM | link | (0) comments

some people come to the Market to shop, others to gossip about karaoke (pictured: two bloggers and a mom) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/11/2004 04:27:39 PM | link | (0) comments

the beginnings of a block party Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/11/2004 04:26:04 PM | link | (0) comments

morning sunlight: a photographer's dream Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/11/2004 04:25:02 PM | link | (0) comments

pesto, Poland and Grisham Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/11/2004 04:23:49 PM | link | (0) comments
Answer key:

posted by nina, 9/11/2004 04:20:20 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, September 10, 2004

Welcome back, CNN 

It's been a long time since I linked to a CNN story, but today I had to interrupt the long silence because one of the headlines linked to a picture of the new stamps that are being issued early in October (and if everyone is as sick of the little antique cars as I am, you will rejoice along with me at this fresh page of self-stickies).

Here, admire them along with me. [Does anyone else have the habit of reserving the less pleasing ones for bills to companies that you despise -- as if anyone, ANYONE at Mobil/Exxon, let alone the CEO, noticed that they routinely get the loser postage!? I'm already segregating them in my mind: dark clouds, lovely sun-tinted clouds -- so many allocation decisions...]

posted by nina, 9/10/2004 01:32:51 PM | link | (0) comments

They are described as you-had-to-be-there comedians 

Next time you’re feeling humorless, you should check out what’s playing at the Barrymore. Like, last night they had these dudes performing live comedy and singing and generally making crazy jokes sound, like CRAZY!
I was there.

You were not! I scanned the whole beatnik-humor loving audience and believe me, I did not see you. You would have stood out. You know, you’re rather conventional-looking.
I was there for the 10:30 show.

You are ****ing crazy! Like, how did you deal with all the, you know, naughty words and jokes about Ben Franklin smoking weed and letting lightning strike his kite, and German shepherds sniffing suitcases and the 1% of hardy germs that stay after 99% are killed off by Listerine and the songs about altar boys and *special* Ed and the birth of his first ugly baby and having bad profs hitting on their students --- does that type of humor appeal to you ??
I like most humor that is well done. 50% of theirs (it was Hedberg and Lynch, with a Rob Cantrell preshow) was terrific, mostly because of the delivery. I mean, you had to see these guys to know how you can make a five-minute joke out of Swiss Cheese.

Dude, I don’t remember that one! Like ****, give me a ****ing example of Swiss cheese humor!
If I say it now, I guarantee you wont laugh.

So, is there anything that you didn’t like, besides the other ****ing 50% of the jokes that didn’t work?
They may have worked, but Hedberg’s style is to play around with the mike and let his hair get in his way and the beer splash all over his face and so you lose some of the words.
What I didn’t like was that a few people in the audience were…out of control.

I heard that a guy jumped on the stage and did pushups with his own beer cup in hand.
Oh, he was funny enough. I was thinking about the one in the back who kept shouting every two minutes that someone was gay. If I had been on the Barrymore staff, I would have carried him out. Most of the audience, though, was cool.

So how is it that you knew about these dudes coming to Madison?
They were given a big plug in the Cap Times. I learned the other day that I should, from time to time, open the paper that comes to my house each evening.

You ****ing freak me out!
We are now into the next day. You should clean up your language already.
posted by nina, 9/10/2004 07:37:48 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Open the door and let me in! There’s a mean world out there! 

Just around dinner time, a well-dressed man came around ringing my doorbell. I thought he was selling Jesus paraphernalia or distributing “free” (nothing’s ever really FREE) Bibles – I mean nothing by this except to say that the only well dressed strangers that ever show up on my doorstep are of this métier. I opened just ONE of my two big front doors and I looked inquisitively but with suspicion at this guy.

He said that he knew me to be a friend, having seen my sign in the laundry room window that faces the street [it says: “it’s up to the WOMEN; elect X & Y” – I do not want to reveal my political bias at the moment; I’m sure you have NO IDEA whom I will vote for on Nov. 2 and I am somewhat baffled as to the message on my sign; someone gave it to me at the Farmers Market and it looked cool, so I put it up – though I am ready to concede that any number of things in this world are up to women, so it can’t be all bad]. I let him in. “Oh thank you!” he tells me, weary of rejections, I’m sure.

“I support all your candidates; what else do you want from me? Money? I donate! I do it all, even post signs in the window at the risk of waking up to splattered raw eggs the next morning” (I live in a politically “mixed” neighborhood; it may be the only one in Madison, but it certainly appears “mixed.”).

He asks: “Will you need absentee ballots for November 2nd?” Megosh! Yes!! Two from this household will have secured them for sure, but the third member, scheduled to be away that day – I’m not so sure… [Do NOT rob this house thinking it to be vacant on November 2nd. I am planning a mega election thing and we will all fight off burly criminals who interfere with the event.][Does that sound convincing and like a proper repellant to criminal-types? I’m not actually sure I am planning a mega event , but MAYBE!]

And so I filled out forms and signed papers and secured an absentee form and it was time to say good bye to the fine young man in the crisp chinos and blue oxford-cloth shirt. [I’m sure he was breaking down stereotypes and making a statement, like maybe: hey, *they* are not the only ones that dress up when duty calls!]

“Thank you!” he tells me.. “Thank you so much for being our friend!”

Now I ask you: would the OTHER party have treated me this well?
posted by nina, 9/09/2004 08:11:57 PM | link | (0) comments


Of course, the newspaper only confirms what we already know: the rift between the US and Europe is increasing. Consider this, from reputable studies, summarized today (here) in the IHT:

76% of Europeans disapproved of current American foreign policy
47% of Americans disapproved of the way GWB was handling international relations

Both unions – the European and the American one – agree that terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are a major threat facing societies. However:

28% of Europeans believed that military strength is the best way to ensure peace
54% of Americans believed that military strength is the best way to ensure peace

When asked whether a war can be just:

41% of Europeans said yes
82% of Americans said yes.

And yes, Poland was part of the European sample, otherwise the divide between the US and the EU would have been even greater.
posted by nina, 9/09/2004 03:29:10 PM | link | (0) comments

Working away… 

Today marked the first day of intense teaching. My schedule keeps Mondays and Thursdays loaded with back to back classes and places less of a strain on the remaining days where I have only one class to prepare for.

The interesting challenge is to rev myself up for switching the substantive mindset midstream – from a morning hour and a half on Family Law, I sail forth and plunge into the first year Torts class. During the in-between half hour, I sit in my office and try to put myself into that body of Tort law, so that I can live and breathe the stuff by the time I am in class.

Several conclusions:

It is SO COLD in my office that I have a space heater going full blast, which of course makes it nice and toasty, as a result of which any prolonged period of sitting leads to a nice healthy morning or afternoon doze.

I am SO TIRED after the double teaching that I am all the more likely to fall asleep after the second class (it happened today).

I am SO SCARED that I will go into prolonged slumber, missing appointments, generally making a nuisance of myself when people stop by.

I am SO DEPENDENT on my afternoon cup of coffee to wake me up that I have set up this elaborate brewing system right in my office. But this, in turn, contributes to an atmosphere of complete peace and serenity, what, with me, my workspace and my cup of latte – as a result, I again am tempted to nap.

I wonder if having a jail cell with a concrete floor, a steel desk and a single suspended light-bulb would be more conducive to getting things done. Sometimes I think I have managed to make myself too comfortable. [now in the old country…]
posted by nina, 9/09/2004 02:44:43 PM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Will they throw rotten tomatoes at my house after this week-end? 

I came home to a message on my phone telling me that I was invited to be a judge in a neighborhood dessert competition this Saturday. After the glow of flattery had worn off, I began to consider my future in the community. They don’t hate me at this point. True, I missed the boat on the old-timers. I was one of the few women who had a full-time job and so I just didn’t get into the fun and games and gossip then. Round two is passing me by as well. There has been a significant turn-over in my block alone. I am one of the oldest now, having lived here since 1988. They all have kids, mine are up up and away.

But I like this new wave of fresh faces, even if I don’t always partake in their games and gatherings. Does anyone remember my post on the flamingos across the street (I’m talking February; please don’t look for it, it’s meandering and inconsequential)? My kind of people! Who else would have stuck the skinny plastic birds in all sorts of weird positions and then left them there until the snows began to melt?

So I want to show my thumbs up on the whole lot of them. I think well of so many of the individuals here; I don’t want to make enemies.

But now this judging thing has come along. How long will I survive if I reject someone’s famous apple pie? Or chunky chocolate chewies? It’s a no-win situation. I walk around, I sample, I look at the eager faces and what do I say, “it’s all good!” ??

It wont work. After showering praise on everything, I have to vote and select: number one and number two and number three. I know, I know, it doesn’t quite rise to the level of a Sophie’s choice-type dilemma, but on the other hand, people do get really invested in their baking. And to the non-winners I get to say –> not good enough. [Oh God, you don’t suppose I have to award the boobie prize as well, do I? And are there kids with fragile dispositions standing behind their goopy entries? ]

There is also the problem of eating it all. If I go to a winemaker and taste ten wines, I can spit nine out and walk away sober. It’s expected. I’m sure I’ll be allowed no such privilege here. Marshmallow madness with grape jelly? Bring it on! Peanut butter pumpkin pie? Yes, place it right here in front of me! I have to eat everything.

Oh, but how can one say no…I’ll survive this, I know I will. I am almost looking forward to the gluttony and the sugar high. And I’ll be sure to post afterwards. And hope that no one in the neighborhood reads my blog.
posted by nina, 9/08/2004 05:28:05 PM | link | (0) comments

Deja vu 

I tell myself that I will not start each day with a romp through headlines about the forthcoming elections and then, like a true addict, I wake up and click “display” rather than “delete” when I see a title that promises to put yet another spin on what November 2nd will bring about.

It is especially frustrating to subscribe to E-headlines from both the NYT and the IHT, because oftentimes the IHT will rerun an NYT story under a different title, so that not only am I depressed one day after reading it, I am, secondly, depressed again, based on the same content. How stupid is that?

It happened this morning when I read about the "stalled Kerry" in the IHT (here). Hey, it’s virtually the same story as the “On Labor Day, candidates have work to do” story from two days back (here), just doctored a little because we are no longer on Labor Day. And if you get to the end the second time around (and I did, just in case I missed something on first reading of it two days back) you get the same dismal line:

Republicans and Democrats say the biggest problem for Mr. Bush is the sense among Americans that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Why dismal? Because if you believe that the country is completely off track, heading who knows where, and you STILL want to vote for the incumbent (as most, at this point, do), what hope is there in this world?

I’m rethinking my strategy. Tomorrow: no headline clicking. Unless it seems really important. Or optimistic. Or something.
posted by nina, 9/08/2004 06:45:29 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Rugged individualism: my kind of thing! 

Isn't it ironic, ISN'T IT IRONIC, that on the same day (September 3rd, see post below) that my mom was complaining about my absence of notable pursuits in life, the AP was running a story on its feature wire that included references to my various involvements with the kitchens at L'Etoile?

Did I even know? Of course not. But Doug Moe picked it up yesterday in the Cap Times (here), and I eventually picked up my copy of the paper LATE yesterday, threw it away (does anyone ever read the paper they subscribe to? Okay, okay, I do as well. Usually.), only to be told (more like teased) today at work that I am HOT STUFF (perhaps not quite that hot, perhaps not even lukewarm, but mentioned nonetheless).

The phrase that stands out for me is not the mention of my cooking activities at L'Etoile or my foraging, but my picking out Odessa due to my attraction to her rugged individualism. In truth, I just wanted to work for the best chef in town (why kill yourself for lesser beings), but it sounds cool -- like I am a rugged type myself.

To reiterate a phrase that I have used repeatedly in the last months, not knowing of its potentially irritating qualities, it's all good.
posted by nina, 9/07/2004 01:31:06 PM | link | (0) comments

A face from the past. Maybe. 

Yesterday, in the evening, I was walking home from Whole Foods (it’s an hour’s hike each way if I am fast about it), when a car passed, halfway up Old Sauk hill, honking wildly, with the driver waving in the most enthusiastic way. He pulled over by Crestwood School and I paused alongside.

“Wow, it’s been a long time! It’s so good to see you! How ARE you?” He asks.

He’s about my age, in gym attire and he looks vaguely familiar. Vaguely.

“Good, good…just walking home from the store…” I say.
He takes stock of my bags --“Oh, I see you have groceries.. Do you want me to give you a ride home? Where do you live anyway?”
I tell him vaguely “Just a few more steps up, around the corner. It’s fine. I’m in it for the exercise.”
“As you can see, I just came from the gym…” Yes, I can see that – he looks a bit ‘sweaty.’

Anyway, our chat ended soon after. Of course, even if I had been tired beyond tired, I would not have gotten into the car of a virtual stranger who obviously was not someone close enough to even know where I lived and may well have faked the whole “it’s been a long time” bit. I come from Eastern European ancestry that is steeped in dark suspicion and distrust of even the closest neighbor (Germany, the former Soviet Union, etc..). That’s not the point.

The point is that I probably did know him and should have recognized him. ‘Haven’t seen me in a while…’ -- Who? A judge from the Dane County courts that I once frequented? A lawyer representing the “other side?” A public school teacher? A parent of a child? Who? The guy was extremely gregarious – a trait that is not common among the men I know and one that typically makes me take note of the person exhibiting it. You would think, therefore, that I would recognize the bearer of the wide grin and booming voice. But no, I could not place him at all.

The question that I have is this: how do you find out without appearing completely rude? I could not say “you know, you do look a touch familiar, but who the hell are you?” I had hoped that prolonging the chat would have caused him to reveal some fact that would have solved the puzzle, but no such luck. What might have I asked?
posted by nina, 9/07/2004 07:29:18 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, September 06, 2004

My colleague is about to become a millionaire and it was my idea! 

Ann of Althouse blog fame has posted (here) that she will now accept donations to her blog, given how much time and effort she devotes on a daily (hourly?) basis to the project. She notes that in the last several days her readership has been higher than high and perhaps some would now like to show financial appreciation for her work (example of a sacrifice made: toting her computer to a dinner party last Thursday, to loyally continue her simul-blogging of the convention). Imagine, if one tenth of the current 250,000 gave even a dollar, she’d be able to upgrade her little VW to a sporty car with one more letter thrown in (BMW).

Here’s the thing: I got her started. Really. She admits this. Without my words of encouragement, she may still be sketching faces during Law School faculty meetings rather than blogging for bucks. I think it is not unreasonable to remind her of various ways people have been compensated in the past for jumpstarting a business venture. Maybe 10% of the first million and after that it’s all hers? Fair, isn’t it?

The question may arise if you should dole out a buck to Althouse rather than to a political campaign of your choice this year (the Democrats are the needy ones, so let’s even it out a little, shall we?). There is something to be said for supporting our champ of pundits, the self-proclaimed moderate and shrine to the entrepreneurial spirit of success who even as I type is launching a patriotic campaign to make “Closer to Free” the Wisconsin state rock song.

If you’re a Republican and you slip her the greenback, it wont make you or break you and it wont make or break the Republican campaign either. I am certain you’ve written that with ten zeros after it in the last month alone. If you are a Democrat, you MUST support her so that she understands that you are reading her as well and that your hard-earned pennies are being handed over to ensure that she pays equal attention to your electoral needs.

I say go right ahead then: write the checks and include a note stating that at least part of the donation is to be targeted to the one who poured the concrete onto the Althouse foundation.

P.S. “Ocean” remains free. Donations honoring its content can be made to any number of worthy places. Just as an example, lately I have become fascinated with the Save the Goat Campaign. I’m full of ideas.
posted by nina, 9/06/2004 03:57:55 PM | link | (0) comments

What are you, a New Yorker? A Virginian? What? 

Last night, during a congenial after-dinner chat, I reiterated my idea (from an earlier post here) that perhaps the way you choose the place with which you identify is by looking to where you had your first serious crush. Mine, having been a wallop of a crush, was definitely in Warsaw and so even though I lived an equally large number of years in NY, I still consider myself more of a Varsovian and not really a New Yorker. Several points were made in response to this and I am posting them here because they offer us a chance to look critically at our younger years:

* Most report having strong crushes at very young ages and they view this as a poor marker of identification with a community. It was suggested that the better phrase may be “had a serious crush and could act upon it in a significant way.” But what does that mean? Kissing? Hair-pulling? Hand-holding? Or are we talking about an out and out act of physical errrr… embrace?

* One person said that even though he moved early on from NY to Virginia, his parents were such New Yorkers to the core (hey, New Yorkers always see themselves as “to the core”) that it was without a doubt a family identity that got passed on to the kids.

* Another said that if you lived your entire childhood years in one community then EVERYONE who came in later (moved there and joined the school in fourth grade, for example) was an outsider. They may CALL themselves a Yonkers dude, but they WEREN’T perceived as such by TRUE Yonkers-types.

* To which someone added that they are ashamed of themselves for the treatment they bestowed on true outsiders. This person, whom I would regard as pretty high on the kindness continuum, admitted to circulating a petition to “get [newcomers] X & Y out of the school NOW!” She reports being relieved to note during a recent high school reunion that this did not appear to leave any permanent scars on either X nor Y who, it seems, are among the more successful of the lot [yeah, sure, after years of therapy…].

* And then everyone tripped over each other in their recollections of real "formative years" behaviors: the unintentional (and admissions were made of intentional as well) hurts bestowed upon other classmates, all arising out of bending to “peer pressure.” It was said that if you cannot recall a single incident of (not necessarily deliberate) unkindness perpetrated by you during your school years then you are not being honest with yourself.

So am I a Varsovian because it is there that I offered no protest or defense of poor Fela during the birthday party prank of looking for bugs to put in her hair? Is the true place of affinity that, where you made a menace of yourself? Somehow I like my “fell in love with someone” dimension better.
posted by nina, 9/06/2004 08:52:37 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Post scriptum 

I received some pretty inspired and inspiring comments from readers responding to my European Dream post of yesterday. Rather than quoting them all here, let me just say thank you, in the “European” way – globally. And let me add a plea: save the tone of hope and approbation for your sons and daughters too, please. Do NOT tell them that you think they have lead trivial lives, no matter how much, deep down, you view them as life’s losers. One reader wrote “I believe that each person is of infinite value.” Is it too obvious to also add that measures of value are infinitely and wonderfully diverse?

Jeez, it could be that by one measure (possibly my mom’s?), I already peaked, perhaps in 7th grade (I had a great year then). Yet I still may expect of myself a life’s commitment to finding new and unique paths toward providing some small iota of good stuff to the community in which I find myself. I am hereby giving a loud hoorah for all our ongoing efforts at providing value, until the last nail is pounded into each of our coffins! [That’s a lot more optimistic than it sounds at first blush.]
posted by nina, 9/05/2004 06:16:13 PM | link | (0) comments

Feeding the mind and body 

Two separate (and at first glance insignificant) articles in the NYT caused me to sit back and reflect this morning: the back-page essay of the Travel Section (on reading multiple books during vacations) and the Food piece in the Magazine. What do they have in common? Both pieces hit below my guilt belt.

The first describes a family that travels everywhere with a suitcase full of books. I have to admit that I am the opposite – I read the least number of novels when I am on a trip. A day begins early for me – almost always at sunrise – and it ends with a late late dinner. True, in recent months I have traveled with my computer and I have found time to blog often late into the night, but by then, typically I am in a dazed stupor brought on by a bursting-at-the-seams day of walking, viewing and eating. It’s not a conducive state for picking up a Russian tragedy, for example. [The Hartmanns – the family that is the subject of the NYT article – must have a lackluster sightseeing agenda and certainly they cannot be drinking wine with dinner or they’d be equally zonked at the end of the day. It is not possible to pick up Anna Karenina after a three hour Italian dinner that ends at midnight.]

Do I at least read on long flights? Rarely. Most people regard this as somewhat bizarre, but during periods of time suspended in the air I frequently just sit and think. Only during solitary walks do I ever have such beautiful chunks of thinking time. On my last overseas flight, the passenger next to me was nearing the end of his copy of Ulysses. I, on the other hand, was on page 50 of a rather good novel that I had begun on the outbound flight, but I quickly put it down because I realized it was cutting into my thinking time.

This explanation for my poor reading habits during travel does not diminish pangs of guilt for being so illiterate during periods of what is essentially “free time.” I think I should be plowing through a book or two per day, just like the NYT Hartmann family.

As to the article on food – specifically on creating one’s own version of the French Salade Composee (which is a salad that is good enough to serve as a meal) – I am impressed. I have been struggling to come up with ideas on how to make terrific meals this year without resorting to the frozen foods section of the local grocery store and here I have it: bingo! An artfully created salad with yummy tuna, good quality olive oil, and a number of compatible, seasonal vegetables. Why didn’t I think of that myself?

Oh the merits of reading the Sunday Times! In a creative year of “accomplishing something” (see post below), I am certainly keen on the idea of moving around town (though not on a trip to distant places – never then) with a suitcase full of books (you never know when a moment to read will arise) and ending each day with a salade composee.

[I also have a few projects in mind for the year, but these will not be revealed until (unless?) they are accomplished.]
posted by nina, 9/05/2004 11:23:51 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, September 04, 2004

What you might pick up at Madison’s Farmers Market 

At the market this morning (while fulfilling my foraging duties for L’Etoile) friends and farmers answered my call for advice on how to embark on a “worthwhile” endeavor this year. I was told yesterday that this was my “last chance” (see post below) to do anything remarkable. Bereft of ideas that would be worthy of labels such as “great” and “worthwhile,” I turned to those around me for suggestions on what direction I should follow. [Nota bene, the farmers at the Saturday Market are always more than willing to talk and lest you think they have little to contribute to lofty discussions, let me just say that Dane County has the most degree-laden agricultural community in the nation, a fact which, though not dispositive of loftiness, certainly speaks to a willingness to engage in speculative discussions of this nature.]

Here are some reactions:

“Read a book!” [Okay, I did take this to be a bit of an insult: I have a year to reach for great heights. I should read a book?]

“Write a book!” [Better. I had, not too many years ago, begun work on a novel. Don’t we all have author pretensions at some point in our lives? After months of agony and miniscule progress I switched to short stories. I do enjoy writing short stories, but maybe I should contemplate a novel again? Is one year enough for one’s first (and necessarily ‘great’ or else it doesn’t count) novel?]

“Join a few book clubs!” [I belong to two. How "great" is that though? In any case, I am a poor team player – if I don’t like the book, I just read the first and last chapters.]

“Do you have a TV?” nc: yes… “Unplug it.” [Yes, okay, and then what?]

“Learn a language!” [Whatever my other deficiencies, knowing too few languages is not one of them. Though I suppose if I learned Greek or something reasonably esoteric, I might be proud of myself. I don’t think it would mean beans to my mother though. Still, I am only in part pandering to her directive.]

“Start a salon.” Now, this peaked my interest. It sounds pretentious and not at all something my mother would rally behind, but still, it is intriguing. nc: How do you start a salon? “First, get a subscription to UTNE Magazine.” nc: Salon thoughts are put aside for a while. A digression follows:

UTNE and the European Dream

During blogger dinner on Thursday, one of the attendees asked me: “Do you like living in America?” To my knowledge, I have never complained about living here. Indeed, I CHOSE to live here. Most of my family, including my sister and father, still live in Poland. I do not. Moreover, I did not come here for political or economic reasons. I came because I wanted to attend the university here. I stayed for personal reasons.

However, there are aspects of life that I find personally excruciatingly difficult to adjust to. I have mentioned these in the course of blogging, but to fully understand my ambivalence (and I have to immediately underscore this: ambivalence means exactly that. It does not mean disfavor or antipathy. It means ambivalence and mine is founded on certain premises that I understand are part of the American reality), one could look to an article recently appearing in UTNE. It’s the best thing I’ve read in recent times that pieces together the fragments of my own personal ambivalence and my frequent longing to find or recreate here what I think lies at the core of my own European experience. Read it here if you wish, or at least consider the excerpts posted below.

The author, Jeremy Rifkin, wonders if one can still speak of the “American Dream” and if most living here still subscribe to its premises. Further into the article he juxtaposes it to the emerging “European Dream.” [If you read the article to its conclusion, you will understand that the mere existence of the European Dream does not guarantee its future success. Its potency lies in its core elements and the author is quick to point out that the European personality, unlike the riddled-with-optimism American archetype, has perhaps too many depressingly pessimistic strains to allow for sustained commitment to something that is difficult to attain (a dream by definition is a dream, an aspiration – not by any means a reality).]

Rifkin writes this about what makes Americans and Europeans so different in their life's aspirations (I added emphases):

“That difference is reflected in the American and European Dreams, which at their core are about two diametrically opposed ideas about freedom and security. For Americans, freedom has long been associated with autonomy. An autonomous person is not dependent on others or vulnerable to circumstances beyond his or her control. To be autonomous one needs to be propertied. The more wealth one amasses, the more independent one is in the world. One is free by becoming self-reliant and an island unto oneself. With wealth comes exclusivity, and with exclusivity comes security.

The new European Dream is based on different assumptions about what constitutes freedom and security. For Europeans, freedom is found not in autonomy but in embeddedness. To be free is to have access to many interdependent relationships. The more communities one has access to, the more options one has for living a full and meaningful life. It is inclusivity that brings security -- belonging, not belongings.

The American Dream emphasizes economic growth, personal wealth, and independence. The new European Dream focuses more on sustainable development, quality of life, and interdependence. The American Dream pays homage to the work ethic. The European Dream is more attuned to leisure and "deep play." The American Dream is inseparable from the country's religious heritage and deep spiritual faith. The European Dream is secular to the core. … The American Dream is wedded to love of country and patriotism. The European Dream is more cosmopolitan and less territorial.

Americans are more willing to employ military force to protect what we perceive to be our vital self-interests. Europeans are more reluctant to use military force and instead favor diplomacy, economic assistance, and aid to avert conflict and favor peacekeeping operations to maintain order. Americans tend to think locally while Europeans' loyalties are more divided and stretch from the local to the global.”

How does this affect quality of life?

“When it comes to wealth distribution -- a crucial measure of a country's ability to deliver on the promise of prosperity -- the United States ranks 24th among the industrial nations. All 18 of the most developed European countries have less income inequality between rich and poor. There are now more poor people living in America than in the 16 European nations for which data are available…

Europeans often remark that Americans "live to work," while Europeans "work to live." The average paid vacation time in Europe is now six weeks a year. By contrast, Americans, on average, receive only two weeks. Most Americans would also be shocked to learn that the average commute to work in Europe is less than 19 minutes. When one considers what makes a people great and what constitutes a better way of life, Europe is beginning to surpass America.”

And let me just make a quick reference to the emerging European Constitution. Does it not give you hope? Again, from the perspective of a person living here, the answer is no. Rifkin writes:

Much of that 265-page document probably would not be acceptable to most Americans. Although many passages are cribbed largely from our own Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights, there are other ideas and notions that are so alien to the contemporary American psyche that they might be considered with suspicion or even thought of as somewhat bizarre.

To begin with, there is not a single reference to God and only a veiled reference to Europe's "religious inheritance." Strange, on a continent where great cathedrals grace the central plazas of most cities and small churches and chapels appear around every corner. Many Europeans no longer believe in God. While 82 percent of Americans say that God is very important to them, less than 20 percent of Europeans express similar religious convictions. God is not the only consideration to be given short shift. There is only one reference to private property tucked deep inside the document, and barely a passing mention of free markets and trade.

Just as striking is what the constitution does emphasize. The EU objectives include a clear commitment to "sustainable development . . . based on balanced economic growth," a "social market economy," and "protection and improvement of the quality of the environment." The constitution would also "promote peace . . . combat social exclusion and discrimination . . . promote social justice and protection, equality between men and women, solidarity between generations, and protection of children's rights."

The constitution's Charter of Fundamental Rights goes far beyond our own Bill of Rights and subsequent constitutional amendments. For example, it promises everyone preventive health care, daily and weekly rest periods, an annual period of paid leave, maternity and parental leave, social and housing assistance, and environmental protection.

The EU Constitution is something new in human history. Though it is not as eloquent as the French and U.S. constitutions, it is the first governing document of its kind to expand the human franchise to the level of global consciousness. The language throughout the draft constitution speaks of universalism, making it clear that its focus is not a people, or a territory, or a nation, but rather the human race and the planet we inhabit."

Okay, if I reprint anything more, I’ll probably expose myself to copyright infringement.
Still, the short answer is that my formative years were spent in a climate where personal autonomy was not at the top of the heap of human values.

Was this post about the Farmers Market? Indeed, yes. Just a few photos now to offset the large amount of text. If you read this far, you must be having a really slow day! Thank you, though. In so far as this blog ever gets personal, it did so today.

posted by nina, 9/04/2004 02:26:08 PM | link | (0) comments

the colors of late summer (or early fall?) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/04/2004 02:25:19 PM | link | (0) comments

apples take over the market Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/04/2004 02:24:14 PM | link | (0) comments

brilliant & alive Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/04/2004 02:22:34 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, September 03, 2004

Nice talkin’ to you 

So, a perceptive reader may have noted that since the beginning of the semester, evenings (with the exception of last night) have been … quiet, of the type where you listen to the clock for an hour and then finally, in resignation, turn on the TV, even though you have no intention of actually watching anything. Just for the sound of the human voice. [nb, thanks to KF and KO for dragging me out for walks to ease the transition to “quiet-dom.”]

Tonight I broke down and called my mother. I owed her a call. What with all those periods of travel, I had “missed” talking with her since the beginning of August.

I wont go into details of her Great Unhappiness – something that she has been toting for I think about 4 – 5 decades – but I do want to offer for speculation her parting words. After an hour of idle moroseness, she tells me “good bye and use the time to do something great and worthwhile; it’s your last chance.”

Now, I do understand that my own mother doesn’t believe that anything I have done or continue to do on a daily basis is worthwhile. Indeed, were she to miraculously discover my blog (God, tell me that she hasn’t sprung forth this miracle!) and read yesterday’s post, one could give her some credit for intuiting my lack of “worthwhile” endeavors.

But assume she hasn’t read it. What now? How might I not disappoint her? Here I was, trudging along, thinking that my trilogy of work, family and friends is indeed worth singing grateful songs about – I love all three, after all. I may even add to that pile things that truly keep me bubbling away in a state of near-euphoria (most of the time).

But are any worthwhile?

Perhaps not. And so I am again asking for email suggestions. What might I do to satisfy that maternal desire (on her part) to see a daughter pull it off in life? It seems I haven’t struck gold yet. Any ideas where I may next channel my efforts?

BTW, happy anniversary to me.
posted by nina, 9/03/2004 07:55:04 PM | link | (0) comments

How is it that this word has become so metro-golden? 

I am sitting at Borders sipping a coffee, paying bills, snarling at myself for having missed the deadline for my Visa card payment (you get a reprieve if you call customer service, but only once; alright, so I used my freebie last month; both times I have an excuse – I was AWAY, darn it! Can’t you tell by the locations from which bills were being charged??), when I heard it again, at the table next to mine – “he’s soooo, metrosexual!”

It’s as if the word was waiting to be born and having arisen from some quirky etymological roots it now stands triumphant, ready to be dished out to all those deserving men who thus far had nowhere to turn to, remaining stuck in some multi-word characterization, such as “he dresses and cares for himself as if he were gay and had a queer eye, but really he is directing it onto his own most likely straight self” which certainly was a clunker. Not anymore, suddenly, all sorts are labeled “metrosexual.”

Now, I think we’re being carried away by word-euphoria here. I even checked to make sure I was correct in my understanding of who was indeed a true metrosexual and I think I can say with a straight face that most men labeled as metros are maybe accurately depicted on the sexual front but certainly there is nothing that would lead me to believe that they look, for example, like this.

And then there are others who are likely to be slumping off into the depths of depression, realizing that they themsleves could never be subsumed into this devilishly cliquey group (ah yes, I’m thinking of you!).

So here’s a plea: let’s not get carried away with these terms. Metrosexual-schmexual. I DON’T want to hear it ten times within each twenty-four-hour period. There are NOT that many well-kempt types around, let alone ones who are obsessive about it. Really.

posted by nina, 9/03/2004 05:42:28 PM | link | (0) comments

The morning after 

The blogger dinner ended without so much as an incident. All (for an enumeration of who came and links to sites, see Jeremy’s post below; pay no heed to his comments on the consumption of cognac – indeed, everyone sipped with great responsibility, which I have found almost always to be the case when you serve large amounts of food – people thankfully stay sober, a fact that is especially nice if you are the cook and want everyone to take note of what has been prepared) blogged and ate and some even sang.

Now, if the house would be thus filled with people every evening, I would be happy.

[My one complaint: the great blogger dinner must necessarily be followed by the great clean up; I am restraining myself from posting a photo of the disarray in the kitchen, but I am keeping this post short so that I can get to the tidying before the working day -- gulp -- officially kicks in.]
posted by nina, 9/03/2004 06:55:58 AM | link | (0) comments

The writer over at Althouse, contemplating the dinner, the great blogging experiment, the convention and life itself Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/03/2004 06:54:21 AM | link | (0) comments

Procrastination Central author expressing herself through music Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/03/2004 06:51:16 AM | link | (0) comments

the author of JFW could not believe what he was witnessing (for a detailed account, check out his blog, linked in the post below) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 9/03/2004 06:50:01 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, September 02, 2004

pinch-hitting for nina... 

This is Jeremy. I'm posting for the first time on NinaNet because she is busy drinking cognac. The whole time she was rushing around cooking, it wasn't a big deal that there was no update to her blog, but now that she's kicked back and guzzling alcohol, she believes her blog has to be updated NOW. Note that this is our great experiment in simulblogging at our monthly Blogger Dinner--see Ann's and Tonya's and mine here.

Update, 10:10: For whatever reason, Nina insists that I post an update to her blog. "Whatever you want, just update it," she says. And so, um, okay, here.
posted by nina, 9/02/2004 09:33:31 PM | link | (0) comments

An interesting day  

Two law classes this morning, one faculty meeting and a blogger dinner. No ennui issues today.

Notes from my first class (family law):
* In the room next my class, the instructor chose to show fragments of Gone With the Wind (their course: Real Estate. The connection to the movie? Oh, I can imagine…). Introducing Family Law to the strains of GWTW theme music was peculiar;

* The class, conflicting with typically hot second year courses – evidence, con law II, tax, real estate – is smaller than usual with 99% 3rd-year students. My December grading arm is grateful already.

Notes from my second class (torts):
* Although my primary area of interest has been family law for years (the intellectual challenge of developing legal processes that will help determine the optimal placement for a child in a split family household is fantastic: basically there is no good solution and all you can do is poke holes in the existing legislative and judicial models that keep replacing each other every few years), I do LOVE teaching first semester law students (ergo: torts). Something happens to them during winter break following the first semester so that they become… well, like the rest of us. But in the Fall, they are ON BOARD and the project of studying the law is like one big hike into some stellar mountain range – absolutely thrilling.

Notes from my faculty meeting:
* A colleague sitting next to me played this game of pointing out to me the times when the presenter (whomever was up there, in command) went to the trouble of repeating almost exactly what had just been professed by someone from the floor. It was amusing. The repetition and rephrasing also ensured that the meeting would go on forever. I left after 90 minutes. I don’t think they were even half done and there wasn’t much on the agenda. Lawyers!

Notes from the blogger dinner:
* In addition to piling on info earlier in the week about what my lustrous bloggers would not eat, a heated email discussion ensued as to the appropriateness of bringing laptops to my house and to the table (two for, one against, one neutral – you guess which of the four – Ann, Tonya, Jeremy, myself – voted which way). I am hoping the bitterness, rage and disappointments have abated and no hidden resentments spring forth after the wine is poured (it usually takes a glass to unleash these kinds of things). You may want to check in later tonight. Or maybe not, depending on your tolerance for melodrama.
posted by nina, 9/02/2004 03:33:29 PM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Second evening at home 

So, how successful is my second end-of-day back home? The night’s young, but I’m sitting thinking that perhaps a life’s change, in the nature of packing up and moving permanently across the ocean to some community that is not split between the TV and work each evening is a terrific idea.

I am heading out for a walk now, but after that, I fear that I will start surfing airfares, just for the heck of it.

P.S. Thanks to the reader who offered this suggestion for tomorrow’s dinner menu: “let then eat cake” she writes. Indeed. I once had a guest for dinner who said she ate everything except for butter and milk products Suddenly, in my review of menu possibilities, everything, EVERYTHING I wanted to make had either butter or milk and most often both. So, too, all my ideas for tomorrow’s dessert bring forth recipes with huge amounts of the forbidden coffee. Really.
posted by nina, 9/01/2004 08:11:35 PM | link | (0) comments

Ennui and anomie 

My first six hours back in Madison were spent:

* Cooking an elaborate meal for myself in an effort to counter the notion that women only like to cook for others. However, the meal had no natural ending. I kept adding courses. Dessert was particularly long lasting. [resolve: beginning September 1st, I will get up and leave the kitchen after consuming what seems appropriate for one sitting – perhaps one tenth of what I ate last night.]

* Watching the Republican Convention on public television (it could not have been more boring) from beginning to the end. [resolve: beginning September 1st, the kitchen TV is being unplugged and the CD player is going to have a revolving stack of classy music playing non-stop from the moment I enter the house.]

* Writing emails to random service providers complaining about inadequate service. [For instance, at the Detroit Airport yesterday, the Internet connection was intermittent. As a result, a blog post that should have been written in 15 minutes took much longer, as it kept getting lost. In the end I never finished putting up the post and boarded the Madison-bound plane 3 minutes before take off, much to the disgruntlement of EVERYONE on board the full flight. The Internet provider got a long email detailing my issues. I did get a lengthy response this morning. Perhaps we have the beginnings of a stimulating email correspondence.]

* Calling/writing people and asking what they ate for dinner. [resolve: I wont call or email anymore; too pathetic. I will use the evening hours to learn a new language.]

It is hard going from months of having many willing conversationalists around you (in and out of the house) to being stripped of the opportunities to talk. Had I been, say, in Italy last night, you would have found me at the local piazza, sharing a meal and catching up with the locals. Here, the locals are all behind their locked doors, themselves watching the Republican Convention or doing who knows what. Every part of me rebels against this mode of being at the same time that I realize I am fighting a losing battle. Still, it is the first of the month. Surely I will hatch a plan that will transform this frozen universe into something more sociable and friendly. Surely.
posted by nina, 9/01/2004 06:37:07 AM | link | (0) comments

I'm Nina Camic. I teach law, but also write (here and elsewhere) on a number of non-legal topics. I often cross the ocean, in the stories I tell and the photos I take. My native Poland is a frequent destination.

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