The Other Side of the Ocean

Saturday, April 30, 2005

New York Interlude: Bouley’s 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, a few of the pictures. Apologies for the quality. This was not a place where I could take time, sit still and fiddle with the composition. Surreptitious clicking typically means you’re going to come home, download the photos and hit delete 99% of the time. Still, I promised food – here’s food. And thank you, gorgeous and brilliant daughters, for a magnificent birthday meal.
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 07:05:00 PM | link | (0) comments
Bouley Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 06:52:56 PM | link | (0) comments
Apples line the small entryway, giving off a fragrance that puts you in the mood for crisp, fresh flavors. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 06:50:41 PM | link | (0) comments
What tipped this into the la la land of the extraordinary were the shredded phyllo crust on the shrimp and the deep green herbal broth. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 06:48:13 PM | link | (0) comments
Breads: I chose the pistachio, the fig, and the sourdough, passing on the garlic, the olive, and the black pepper only because there wasn't room on the plate. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 06:45:50 PM | link | (0) comments
La vie en rose: note my spying on the two lovers: she was all over him. Did he mind? I'm not sure... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 06:43:54 PM | link | (0) comments
The detail in the venison dish was amazing. Under the slightly cocoa-flavored venison sauce lay a sprinkilng of pear puree. At the side -- a tear-drop of whipped potato. Chard adds a touch of bitterness and nicely folds the meat back into the blend of sauces. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 06:41:40 PM | link | (0) comments
When doing one of these, always, always start with the best possible chocolate. They did. The beauty of this lay in its utter simplicity and perfect execution. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 06:38:00 PM | link | (0) comments
a meal in itself: post dinner nibbles Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 06:35:35 PM | link | (0) comments

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

This afternoon I am to dine at Bouley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Chef David Bouley is the city’s top cooking honcho, being the only one to have ever scored a 29 in Zagat’s food ratings.
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 09:25:00 AM | link | (0) comments
these should be on my feet Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 09:19:00 AM | link | (0) comments
slick men's counterpart (tell me what guy in Madison has a pair like this?) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/30/2005 09:17:48 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, April 29, 2005

New York interlude: highlights 

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

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

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

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

I’m in New York now, in a contemplative mood. It’s quiet, no one’s around. I am tempted to spend the rest of the evening sitting in front of the mirror, thinking five year old thoughts. I do not much remember what I did or thought as a five year old, living in Warsaw, looking out at the ridiculously noisy tram station just outside my window. But I sure had the hair color of all colors, if Jason has it right. Life was simple, but oh so golden.
posted by nina, 4/29/2005 11:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments


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

Thanks, Tom, for fixing the broken link. Now, if you want this, you’ll get this, not, say, this.
posted by nina, 4/29/2005 10:15:00 AM | link | (0) comments

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

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

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

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

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

So he gets my vote of confidence. And if he and his pals find cool ways to play here while he’s in charge, how wonderful that would be. Yards and houses should not stand empty, not when there are so many out there who would know how to care for them and how to enjoy them.
posted by nina, 4/29/2005 08:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments
inch by inch, row by row: Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/29/2005 08:01:41 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, April 28, 2005

If it’s Friday, it must be…??? 

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

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

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

I’m ready for it. And so is Ocean.
posted by nina, 4/28/2005 07:40:00 PM | link | (0) comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it all moves very very fast. You’re waving your diploma and the next thing someone is taking you out to dinner because you’re now senior and full, though not quite full of yourself, because you know better: were it not for good old mother fortune, it could still be you, there with the “unemployed lawyer” sign, wondering which corner brings in the biggest loot.
posted by nina, 4/28/2005 09:45:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s short-lived. I am a product of a thousand + years of Polish history, where I am on safe ground again. There, I have enough tragedy and drama to help elevate my own angst to such levels that I need not ever fear drowning in an American white middle-class un-cataclysmic environment ever again.
posted by nina, 4/27/2005 10:30:00 PM | link | (0) comments

The tough part 

...of being a law prof is the grading of exams and finishing the last class of the Spring Semester, knowing that you will never see some of the faces again – some of them who have followed you from First Year Torts, through Second Year Family Law and now finally to Third Year Comparative Family Law. It’s 5:30, time to pack up and move on. God, I hope they do well and stay happy in their career choices.
posted by nina, 4/27/2005 05:35:00 PM | link | (0) comments

A European Identity 

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

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

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

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

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

But separately, there is the shaking up of a cocktail of behaviors that have the markings of the French, the Polish, the Italian, and incorporating them into your own routines. And perhaps in the process, there will be a Darwinian selection of the most servicible, delicious habits, so that the true European will find herself grabbing a café and a croissant on the way to work, reading the novel on the subway, pausing for a 90 minute lunch with a friend (I suppose a brat and beer would be favored by some), ending with a spot of tea at 5 and sitting down to an al fresco dinner at 10 pm. Wait a minute, is my idea of Europeanness mostly centered around food?? Chacune ses gouts.
posted by nina, 4/27/2005 08:40:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

So I was wrong 

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

posted by nina, 4/26/2005 05:05:00 PM | link | (0) comments

The thinking behind the reading 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naaah, she’s probably just writing about flowers. Who the hell can tell though. Such a pretentious and Polish thing to do: they’re all about allusions, never plain in your face text. Crazy! Tell it like it is next time.
posted by nina, 4/26/2005 02:30:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Bougainvillea blooms require sunshine, don’t they? 

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

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

It’s amazing how much can be accomplished through perseverance and tender care. Nurture won over nature in this one.
posted by nina, 4/26/2005 05:40:00 AM | link | (0) comments
against all odds Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/26/2005 05:30:50 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, April 25, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* "Living Will," by Paul Rudnick, this week’s New Yorker
posted by nina, 4/25/2005 05:30:00 PM | link | (0) comments
A Tom specialty: peanut butter mousse covered with chocolate Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/25/2005 05:25:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Playing tag with the clock 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I am very glad though that I only have one more morning class to teach this semester. I pictured myself many times explaining to the dean why I skipped class on a dysfunctional-five-day and I could not find sane-sounding words to explain it. By next semester I am positive I will switch morning games. It's not fun nor is it a challenge if it goes on too long.)
posted by nina, 4/25/2005 03:50:00 PM | link | (0) comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Why don’t men knit?]

The crucial question, I suppose, is how many hours in the course of any day do I devote to watching DVDs or sitting in a car and not driving? Not many. Not to worry! There isn’t a person I know who is in desperate need of a scarf at the moment. And who knows what life-altering events will place me (in a state of physical or mental incapacity) perpetually in front of a TV screen in the months to come. I am prepared. Plus I have the nifty little plastic tube if my other ones ever fail me.
posted by nina, 4/25/2005 11:50:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, April 24, 2005

My Sunday evening post 

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

* oh what did you think: Eastern European, of course!
posted by nina, 4/24/2005 11:15:00 PM | link | (0) comments

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

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

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

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

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

[BTW, has all this preservation technology made the idea of a buried time capsule obsolete? Or are we still stacking our little mementos and doodads into the bowels of the earth with the idea that some future incarnation of a humanoid will unearth these treasures and be pleasantly surprised with the Barbie dolls and Superman comics contained therein?]
posted by nina, 4/24/2005 09:30:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, April 23, 2005

What happens when… 

...You’re riding along the I-90 with a friend who is a terrific driver, accelerating powerfully after each toll gate? The problem: she’s a woman, driving a sporty Audi TT. She passes people. She passes men in their black-bullet Corvettes. They don’t like it. They then hog the left lane to block her way for hours on end.
posted by nina, 4/23/2005 09:40:00 PM | link | (0) comments
road hog Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/23/2005 09:37:29 PM | link | (0) comments
...You’re at a Chicago mall in the year 2005 and you enter a Sony video store with all sorts of movie making and movie watching technology? You end up being part of the display.
posted by nina, 4/23/2005 09:35:00 PM | link | (0) comments
starring Althouse and Camic Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/23/2005 09:33:44 PM | link | (0) comments
...You are at the same mall, this time in an Apple computer store along with five million shoppers wishing to touch with their own greedy little fingers the shuffle-pods and iPods and who knows what else-pods? And wanting to get rid of their squirmy children, so that they themselves can play with the new technology? You come across all the children, squirreled away in the corner of the store, where they have their own private little Mac attack (and then hit parents for the very computer or computer game they so enjoyed in the mall. Say as a stocking stuffer next Christmas).
posted by nina, 4/23/2005 09:30:00 PM | link | (0) comments
absorbed Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/23/2005 09:29:28 PM | link | (0) comments

I am a stranger in my own town 

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

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

Your Linguistic Profile:

60% General American English

25% Yankee

10% Dixie

5% Upper Midwestern

0% Midwestern

What Kind of American English Do You Speak?
posted by nina, 4/23/2005 10:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, April 22, 2005

Musical chairs 

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

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

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

Moral of the story: don’t chase sons of famous composers while crossing the ocean?. There is no other moral or point to the story, but I did think of it just now as my own daughter prepares to sing. She at least has the good sense not to show the slightest interest in Penderecki’s sons, possibly because she hasn’t met them and they would be well into their fifties should they even exist.
posted by nina, 4/22/2005 06:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Thoughts about cooking Polish-Russian food 

Hey, no one called an ambulance.

Would I do it again? I would!

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

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

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

Okay, it’s late and I have a hell of a clean up before me. I promised those far away a few photos from the evening. Here’s a sample:
posted by nina, 4/22/2005 05:55:00 AM | link | (0) comments
Festive beginnings: potato rounds with smoked salmon, sour cream and caviar Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/22/2005 05:47:36 AM | link | (0) comments
It's so good to have last minute help with plating foods... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/22/2005 05:45:53 AM | link | (0) comments
you have to have herring to nibble on before dinner. Here, it's tossed with apples, sour cream, onion and dill. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/22/2005 05:44:46 AM | link | (0) comments
the rewards of cooking: watching the faces of guests as they sample different foods (in this case, Jeremy reacts to the deep burgundy colors of borsch) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/22/2005 05:42:49 AM | link | (0) comments
wild mushroom pierogi, from start ... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/22/2005 05:38:21 AM | link | (0) comments finish. With sour cream and crispy onion bits. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/22/2005 05:37:26 AM | link | (0) comments
indispensible dinner companion: a camera, of course Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/22/2005 05:35:51 AM | link | (0) comments
almond-orange cake with bittersweet chocolate: some impatient person dug in too early Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/22/2005 05:33:57 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Running scared 

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

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

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

I’m sure they’ll eat the cake, it’s been pretested.
posted by nina, 4/21/2005 03:35:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Dear Mr. Schwarzenegger, 

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes for a hasty return to "acting,"

posted by nina, 4/21/2005 11:30:00 AM | link | (0) comments

April 21st rules! 

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

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

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

Disclaimer: Ocean posts in and of themselves are insufficient to establish a credible case of author battiness. More is needed.
posted by nina, 4/21/2005 11:15:00 AM | link | (0) comments


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

So, for Ocean readers, who suffer through the yellow and blue thing each time they log on, here's the best that I can do: a pretty bouquet, standing in front of a samovar (in line with tonight's theme for dinner: foods from Eastern Europe), with so much thanks!
posted by nina, 4/21/2005 08:35:00 AM | link | (0) comments
Ocean colors. Really. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/21/2005 08:31:20 AM | link | (0) comments


Say it suddenly turns April 21st. Say you don’t have a comments function on your blog where, after saying, hey, it’s my birthday, ten million people log on to say “happy birthday!” What then? Oh, come on, there’s always a way!
posted by nina, 4/21/2005 12:15:00 AM | link | (0) comments
oh yeah! Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/21/2005 12:11:21 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


In the early morning hours, I’m drowsy, awake, drowsy, awake – it has been that kind of a night. My last day now of a year that has had its share of bloggable and not so bloggable events.

At night, I once again think of shutting Ocean down because I feel it is losing its entertainment value in the same way that I feel myself to be losing my entertainment value.

The less you ask that I entertain you, the more you accept my need to talk in other tones, the sooner I will return to entertaining you in the future.

Kathy, who is my oldest friend in town, has a sixth sense about Ocean and me. She lives quite far now, but she shows up at dawn with a latte. She has so little time, far less than any other person I know in town, but she shows up with a latte, to help pass this last morning of an eventful year.

She runs her words through the history of my life in Madison. She leaves a bar of chocolate and rejoins her own world of frenzied work demands. I’m here, with my bar of chocolate and Ocean, my email, my disconnected world of people.

The only thing that connects one person to another, one event, one stage of my life to another is time.

JP, a very early reader of Ocean – one of the first ever to comment on it in fact, has just sent a long email describing her life. I haven’t heard from her for months. I read it, fascinated. She has this gift of weaving her text in and out of events and moods that she has sharply, astutely picked out from Ocean. I am stunned at the beauty of her writing.

In the village where I lived my first years, time stood still. I know all about time standing still. It’s standing still right now as well, even as minutes move me closer to April 21st.

A neighbor writes and asks: where were you last night? We were supposed to knit together! I answer: I would not have been good company… Another time…

Ten years ago time was almost taken away from me. I got then one of the many gifts of time, even as I don’t believe in mystical forces and have to count it off as random. I drew a lucky number, someone else did not.

Time: handed to me, but with a warning: it comes with a great big eraser as it rubs away people from my life, some whom I have known forever and ever, all sorts of people -- not asking if I have a pencil to draw in replacements, or whether I even have the inclination let alone ability to do so.

Birthday gifts, gifts of time. The very best, the most demanding on my part, to be sure, the ones that require the greatest personal sacrifice, an ungodly amount of patience and generosity: to give time to a person who needs it. Again and again and again, over and over. And then, to sit back and watch the person take off. That’s it. No other compensation. Just their flight. Made possible by your generous donation. Not even tax deductible, no plaques, no honor. Just a nod, and a silent thank you.
posted by nina, 4/20/2005 02:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments
from me, to you Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/20/2005 02:54:29 PM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

a spirited walk 

A birthday walk today took me to the forest. No, no! Not my birthday! Karen’s birthday. Karen is perhaps my second oldest (by number of years we’ve known each other) friend in town. I should admit that she is also one of those rare people who can easily push me into laughter even if I am riding some wave of gloomish mournfulness. She is a lot younger than me – 367 days actually, and so I feel protective of her (she’s also a wee bit shorter, so I can hover and be a bear-like figure). When I am not laughing.

Now, all this is not unusual. Karen and I walk frequently. But today was extra special, what with her birthday and all. It called for a singularly special topic and we indeed found one: musing about our own funerals – who might show up, who would say what, who would have the greatest amount of remorse (forget about sadness – I am not into funeral sadness). Once you get going on something like this you can spin into all sorts of promising directions, like reviewing the aesthetic merits of the pope's casket, where to go for lunch after you've attended a downtown Chicago funeral, etc etc.

Such a spirited discussion! I'm wondering if she was as fully into it as I was though. Her mood may have been less funerally inclined. Hmmm...
posted by nina, 4/19/2005 08:43:00 PM | link | (0) comments
walk in the woods: the birches are green! terribly skinny, but green nonetheless Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/19/2005 08:40:53 PM | link | (0) comments
don't they look like upside down teeth? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/19/2005 08:38:43 PM | link | (0) comments

Moving along... 

The day is proceeding.

Rather than wallowing in the millions of things going wrong at the moment, I am clicking through these.

You really have to, have to go ahead and kill some minutes doing this (go to the "animals" tag). It's the kind of activity that will make you smile even as you realize the absurdity of spending any time picking out a snail out of the London Underground map (thanks, FistfulofEuros).

[The fish and the wallaby are perhaps the most clever, though at the moment, I'm partial to the pig.]
posted by nina, 4/19/2005 11:57:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Some people wake up, drink their coffee and leap into the day with wild enthusiasm 

This has not been my trend lately. In fact, I have to admit that yesterday, leaping anywhere was the farthest thing from my mind and I did not get around to drinking my morning latte (nor to posting, for that matter) until almost noon.

Anyone who knows me can recognize signs of great distress when that happens. My morning latte is a ritual that has such great significance that I am sure if the Titanic were sinking all over again and I were on it, I would pause to fix myself a latte (or at least a café au lait) before disembarking, if indeed it were a morning sinking.

One of the most bothersome aspects of flying overnight to Europe is that the flight does not recognize a latte craving. Air France, always my carrier of choice, does provide good coffee, but with it comes a little container of something called “milk-like” and so as I look out at the vast territory of Brittany below me (breakfast is served as we reach the tip of Brittany) I polish up my rehearsed little speech and with the widest possible smile I look up at the monsieur (it’s more often than not a man these days) and say: please please go back into the galley and search for a small container of the real thing! – all in practiced French to demonstrate the earnestness of my request. The nice monsieur comes back with real milk. On the other hand, the monsieur who has had no mademoiselle lately to sooth his ego, will look at me with scorn and throw a couple more of those “milk-like” containers my way with a “nous n’avons pas du lait” (we do not have milk) which is a plain lie because I know that in business they’ll offer you all the lait you want plus a cow to go with it if you’re in need of one.

Today I will try to charm destiny by posting and sipping a latte. Pots of gold don’t fall in your lap unless you position your lap in such a way as to make it an easy target for flying receptacles holding the loot. Will it work? I doubt it, but Near, far, wherever you are, I believe that the heart [and mind and soul and whatever else has been aching] does go on if the day starts well. With a latte, for instance.
posted by nina, 4/19/2005 06:13:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, April 18, 2005

The lonely only one 

There are so many things in bloom right now! With the Madison temp hitting 80 today, I am hardly surprised.

Determined to capture some of this bounty, I set off for a stroll this evening, camera in hand.

I got no further than the front yard.

For how can I not love this guy*? He grew out of nowhere and he tries to make a life for himself even though he is burdened by the overhang so that no rain quenches his thirst. His surroundings are… insignificant, to say the least. His closest friend is the faucet. He is imperfect, but so is the building behind him (wooden structures always look like they’ve outgrown their pants and their gray socks are showing). And the ugly faucet -- is it obvious that I lacked the strength and the power drill to finish screwing it in? (It is not wrong, therefore, to say that it looks like it's missing a screw or, even more aptly, that it has a screw loose.)

Life is not treating him well and yet he tries to pull out a smile. He calls himself the globe flower. A stunning specimen. A winner in my eyes.

* not all flowers have to be girls
posted by nina, 4/18/2005 05:40:00 PM | link | (0) comments
The best Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/18/2005 05:39:03 PM | link | (0) comments

Update on Frustration (see post below): 

I have received a number of emails from readers who felt I was directing my concerns at them.

Naturally, the ones who worried about this were NOT the ones I was frustrated with.

Remember: I have grown incredibly fond of those who correspond with me about my blog. The conversation is rich and there is, indeed, a dialogue.

I am also fond of the silent reader (this is YOU, my most recent emailier!) -- the person who tracks my blog and becomes taken with it so that they come to know me, even as I do not know them at all. I am such a reader myself. There are about five people whose lives I track through their blogs even though I have never commented on them nor written to them. I don't have the time nor inclination to comment every day or even every week on all the blogs I read.

So who is the target of my "Frustration" post? People who are supposedly near and dear to me but who are content to catch my posts occasionally as a substitute for real contact. And when they do catch it, they never engage me about it. They are like maggots, feasting on me, their fallen one. Well, okay, maybe not maggots, maybe not even day-old toast, but certainly they are the ones who make me feel small and insignificant -- worth only a click, nary a private word.
posted by nina, 4/18/2005 04:22:00 PM | link | (0) comments


I’ve been cooking since I was 13. My mother did a mental calculus in her head when we moved back to Warsaw (after our 6 years in New York): If one daughter cooked one day, the other daughter cooked the next day, the grandmother cooked on Sundays, we ate grandmother’s leftovers on Monday, and we all grabbed something at the Milk Bar on another day, this would leave her with only 2 days of cooking for the family. Or – one, plus leftovers. Good deal. And so the daughters cooked.

The daughters did not take this project seriously. They grabbed whatever was in the fridge, put it in a pot and let it stew for a while. Then everyone helped themselves to whatever was under the lid when they came home. Oftentimes it was so unexciting that various family members felt obliged to continue working or studying and not make it home in time to take advantage of the daughters’ “laboriously” prepared meal.

I did not take cooking seriously until I moved out of the home and traveled back to the States at the age of 19. And I did not prepare a whole meal for a group of friends until I moved into my own apartment as a grad student (I had been au pairing in someone else’s home in college).

I remember cooking that first meal for others. It was a Polish dish – stuffed cabbage. I thought it important that I emphasize my Polishness (I seem to do that a lot…). People ate it. The food stayed down, no one called an ambulance. I remember thinking – hey, this is not bad for stuffed cabbage!

That was also the last time I cooked Polish food for others. I don’t know why. It’s not that I think Polish food is uniformly awful. Yet, my attention has drifted.

Until this week. Something possessed me to check out the Eastern European regions in search of interesting dishes to work with.

Consider these ideas, lifted out of a Polish cookbook:

Beer Soup with Sour Cream and Cottage Cheese
White borsch with kielbasa

Rump of boar
Rump of deer Lithuanian style
Saddle of Mutton in Cream
Carp Polish style in gray sauce

Foamy nut Mazurek
Compote with prunes

I’m excited. Tune in Thursday – my designated Polish-Russian cooking day.
posted by nina, 4/18/2005 02:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments


Fact: I started writing Ocean with the idea that I would feel more connected to friends through regular posting.
Fiction: I feel more connected to friends through regular posting.

Fact: Putting up a post or photo that I do not completely hate takes time.
Fiction: I am despondent about the time it takes.

Fact: Posting has brought strangers to my email box – strangers who now are no longer strangers.
Fiction: Communicating with these people is an unimportant part of my life.

Fact: I read with greater care the blogs of people whom I know than the blogs of people whom I do not know.
Fiction: People who know me are more likely to read Ocean regularly, comprehensively.

Fact: People who know me well are the least likely to comment on the blog or give me (personally or through email) feedback on posts they may have read. Some have not said a word for months.
Fiction: I am happy as a clam posting away and I view this as a great way to maintain dialogue with those around me. We can all check in to see if each is breathing and move on. Sounds cool to me.

Fact: If the trends continue, and an increasing number of people who know me jump in on the “Let’s check in on Nina, let’s read her blog” bandwagon [update: instead of using the tried and true methods of people checking up on each other], I will shut Ocean down. Or, more likely, I will change the Net address and pass it on to everyone but YOU.
posted by nina, 4/18/2005 12:09:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, April 17, 2005

One day 

Q: What do you say when something or someone makes you feel stupid three times in one day?
A: Three strikes and you're out?
posted by nina, 4/17/2005 08:10:00 PM | link | (0) comments
Dusk, a baseball game, the willows along Lake Mendota. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/17/2005 08:07:29 PM | link | (0) comments
Boat at Giverny? No, boat at Picnic Point on Lake Mendota, with the twilight haze muting the Capitol in the background. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/17/2005 08:05:18 PM | link | (0) comments
Goose, watching the sun set. Or the truck. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/17/2005 08:01:15 PM | link | (0) comments

“A fear that without all the bells and whistles no one will pay attention…” 

The post title is straight out of the article “The Souped-Up, Knock-Out, Total Fiction Experience” in the Ideas & Trends Section of today’s NYTimes. It describes the maximalist style in American fiction writing currently in vogue, where the content (and presentation) overload is such as to send the average reader reeling.

I’m in agreement there. But why limit it to literature and music? Such demands are now placed on us routinely as we struggle to enjoy and savor even the simplest of pleasures. Take eating and drinking. Sensory overload to the max! It’s not enough to chomp down the food, smack your lips and move on to the next item – you have to read about it, study the presentation and admire the many ingredients. Then you test yourself to see if you can indeed distinguish and appreciate all the elements. And if you can't create complicated flavors, you can at least complicate the description by adding these bells and whistles to a basic “meat and potatoes” dish:

(from a certain Madison restaurant:)
Local Grass-Fed Highland Beef from Fountain Prairie Farm, [restaurant name] Mashed Potatoes with Amish Blue Cheese Compound Butter, Blue Moon Rainbow Chard and Red Wine Jus.

Or, in wine drinking, the stunning sensory overload is now expected when we open a bottle of Pinot Noir. Complicated wines are seen as good wines. A $35 bottle of Pinot will buy you this:

(from the Sherry-Lehmann catalogue:)
This Pinot Noir was grown on the upper Martinborough Terrace section of the Te Muna Road Vineyard (NZ). It is a unique vineyard site that offers an excellent soil profile. The result is an aromatically complex Pinot Noir with fine hazelnut aromas of oak with intense violet and black fruit characters. Silky, with a palate driven by warm, ripe black cherry and plum flavors…

I should trot over to Borders and flip through a few books on physical intimacy. Have things grown complicated and cluttered there as well? I’d love to know what the current wisdom flying around in those pages is all about. (Only it will look like I’m trying to gain some insights for my own private use. How embarrassing.)

Ah, the added layers! The overkill, the extra words, the indelicate musical scores, the blogs we read -- filled with the clutter of visuals and the clutter of unnecessary audacity! The foods we eat, no longer simple, the wines we drink, no longer simply pleasant, the everyday -- no longer pleasant in its simplicity.

When do we revert to minimalism? How long do these cycles last anyway?
posted by nina, 4/17/2005 12:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Paris Blogue-t-il? 

Who would you say is more of a social being, a Madisonian or a Parisian?

Just to give you a hint: our blogger dinners are typically for about a half dozen high-livin’ bloggers. In Paris, a blogger dinner can draw a couple of hundred.
posted by nina, 4/16/2005 03:40:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Conversation with a friend 

For no good reason, this morning I recalled this little exchange from a little while ago:

I would expect you to tell me if I had a piece of food stuck to my tooth. Would you?
Maybe, I don’t know…

You wouldn’t? How about if I smelled or had bad breath? Aren’t friends supposed to tell each other these things?
I most definitely would not tell you if you smelled or had bad breath!

This is so disappointing! How am I ever supposed to know?
[Resolved: pack in more tic tacs and up the deodorant application, just in case]

And here’s the quandary: why wouldn’t one tell? If it’s a correctible issue, why make the person suffer a form of silent humiliation?

Recently a student told me of a physical “defect” a professor had – entirely correctable! – that caused her, the student, each time to look away out of piteous embarrassment. Obviously the student couldn’t say a word. But shouldn’t a friend point it out?

Or, in this particular exchange, was the friend really saying “I wouldn’t tell because, actually, there is a certain staleness about you that I can’t quite put my finger on…”

That would be nasty. I come from a country where body odor is a real problem, especially in tight spaces on hot days. Like the child who is a victim of excessive spanking and who resolves, therefore, never to swipe a hand over a kid’s rear end (a resolve that all, btw, should have), I have my own resolves here and I wont venture out in public without a morning shower (too many of my fellow country men and women do).

But supposing that the interaction between Tom’s of Maine natural stick and myself was no longer a successful one, I would expect a friend to pull me aside and suggest change. I’d be embarrassed, they’d be embarrassed, we’d slap each other on the back a few times and I’d scoot out to the store and try a new one.

Would I be equally honest? No, Poles don’t have to be honest here. Poles talk in innuendos all the time anyway. I’m spared a reciprocal obligation. It’s a benefit of being foreign-born.
posted by nina, 4/16/2005 03:05:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Where Ocean is promoting a great way to have people over, serve food and drinks and spend no time preparing for any of it. 

Simply call it a happy hour. It’s a new thing, started by a small group of people in my neighborhood (first banded together over pre-election debates). We want you to come over, at the end of the week, after work and we’ll make some martinis. So said the email invite some months back. Since then it’s become an institution.

Last night it was at my house. Some dozen people, squeezed around the kitchen table (since it’s not a meal, you don’t have to worry about the fact that a dozen people do not really fit around your kitchen table), eating whatever snacks I could throw together in the half hour that I had before they came (no excuses needed when I shamelessly take off the lid from prepared Whole Foods salads, or slice up a loaf of bread and throw it next to a St Nectaire cheese, or dump precooked on-sale shrimp with store-bought dipping sauce).

Oh, the stories that are told when it’s tight like that and you have to stand up to recount what happened when Laura Bush came to the hospital and mistook you for one of the mentally-challenged patients (you can really build that one after a round of martinis, bringing tears to people’s faces).

All you need is a kitchen table. Even without a meal on it, it is the draw. Happy hour becomes happy many hours.

To those who were here last night: thank you for the anticipatory cake and good wishes! You totally flooded me with your good hearts.

To readers who have yet to be told repeatedly by me that somewhere in the week ahead I am flipping a digit – sort of like springing forward with the clock, except there is no reversal come next season – yes, my birthday is coming* and yes, I take it very very seriously. Simply put: I love this pseudo-reflective and hopeful day of the year where every mistake can be erased and life can start all over, on a better track.

* John Muir, Queen Elizabeth and me. It used to be Hitler too, but recently, historians peg him as being born the day before my day. Thank God. I hated sharing any space with Adolph even if he may have been an okay-looking baby.
posted by nina, 4/16/2005 11:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments
Focal point: always the kitchen table. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/16/2005 11:02:45 AM | link | (0) comments
Awesome! And chocolate, too. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/16/2005 11:01:38 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, April 15, 2005

An Ocean tip: where to find the free stuff 

A conversation with a chatty barista:

Everyone is in such a good mood! Beautiful outside, isn’t it? [leans out of drive-up window, inhales with pleasure – I wish my car fumes weren’t so in his face…]
Don’t you have people grumbling about taxes?

Took forever this year! I couldn’t believe it! Last year it was so easy!
You’re telling me…

You know, I don’t know if you remember about the Boston Tea Party? [how old do I look anyway??] Well, we’re offering tea free today – our calming brew. You know – taxes, tea, get it?
I get it.

But no one has taken us up on it yet. All day! Free calming tea!
I’ll spread the word. I still need to stay tense, however. A few more forms to go over…

Here’s your latte! I hope you have a splendid week-end!
Yes, well, sure, me too. I mean you too.
posted by nina, 4/15/2005 02:45:00 PM | link | (0) comments

A dinner of bloggers and various and sundry others 

You just never know what people are thinking sometimes. You have an image. You think to yourself – this guy’s funny, she’s witty, he’s clever, etc. Good thoughts, kind thoughts.

But is it always thus? Do our minds sometimes spin in directions that are imperceptible to the others? Studying some of my photos from last night’s delicious dinner (prepared by the author of Marginal Utility and his wife), I got to thinking – man, I’d give a lot to know what was going through these heads. Consider just a handful of random shots:

Author of JFW: he’s plotting something, isn’t he? Pensive, but you can almost see the train of thought spinning in some unknown to the rest of us direction.
posted by nina, 4/15/2005 09:26:00 AM | link | (0) comments
Jeremy Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/15/2005 09:25:56 AM | link | (0) comments
Wife of Marginal Utility: maybe she’s wondering: should I open all three and let them get drunk as hell, or should I hide these and pour grape juice? And will they even notice?
posted by nina, 4/15/2005 09:23:00 AM | link | (0) comments
Suzanne Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/15/2005 09:21:58 AM | link | (0) comments
Author of Marginal Utility: [thinking] See this pie? It is indeed a yummy pie. What if I just raised my pitching arm, reached back and let it fly right into the face of [insert name of person who is secretly irritating the hell out of him– perhaps the person with the camera?]
posted by nina, 4/15/2005 09:19:00 AM | link | (0) comments
Tom Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/15/2005 09:14:54 AM | link | (0) comments
To the author of JFW: No, Jeremy, no! You’ve made your point about feral cats! We know – they kill baby lambs and birds too! Down with feral cats! Only – this isn’t a feral cat! [BTW, are we all clear on the definition of a feral cat? Do they have to be ratty and bony and menacing, or is it enough that they are just out there on the loose? Does a feral cat do more damage than a regular “I belong to someone” cat?]
posted by nina, 4/15/2005 09:12:00 AM | link | (0) comments
Jeremy: Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/15/2005 09:11:03 AM | link | (0) comments
Author of the Tonya Show: She must be thinking – they are all so hopeless! I can’t think why I hang out with them…
posted by nina, 4/15/2005 09:08:00 AM | link | (0) comments
Tonya Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/15/2005 09:05:51 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Arboretum revisited. By me and only me. 

I have tried so hard to get friends and family members excited about walks in the Arboretum. They say they like it. They agree it’s beautiful. They gush. Next time I ask, they say no, maybe not.

Maybe it does not catch Madison’s hip crowd. Today, for example, the few people that were strolling among blooming trees all had those plastic glasses you wear just after you have cataract surgery. Some used binoculars to look at buds.

But there are paths that really probe the wilderness (okay, the guy I passed in the woods was creepy, but I could outrun him!). And there are seasonal changes to observe. The place rocks!

I went there today to celebrate the end of tax computations and to do a little trot of appreciation for a good day. [My class this morning caught me up so completely, that I can honestly say it was one of my favorite teaching moments ever.]

The crowds don’t come to the Arboretum on weekdays. And few people know that the third week of April is magnolia season. By contrast, the place is packed in May, during peak lilac blooming days. But today it was (with rare exceptions) only me, and of course, this:
posted by nina, 4/14/2005 05:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments
what, not beautiful enough? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/14/2005 05:50:59 PM | link | (0) comments
no words for it: Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/14/2005 05:49:48 PM | link | (0) comments
looking up from the trunk Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/14/2005 05:48:55 PM | link | (0) comments
a wild stalker... (of the gobbling kind) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/14/2005 05:47:28 PM | link | (0) comments
Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/14/2005 05:45:42 PM | link | (0) comments
He can lose himself in the burnt prairie. Except for his red belly. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/14/2005 05:44:41 PM | link | (0) comments
I finish the trot with a look at 'Magnolia Ballerina.' Fitting name.
 Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/14/2005 05:41:45 PM | link | (0) comments


I look up from my usual Thursday morning lecture work and see this perfect dapple of morning light on the rabbit as he rests, loving (I can tell) the needle bed under the white pine that I planted, basking, this time, in the first warmth of the sun -- and I melt. Good morning, rabbit. Have a nice breakfast. Go ahead, choose your flower.
posted by nina, 4/14/2005 07:25:00 AM | link | (0) comments
delightful, delovely, (forget about the delicious) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/14/2005 07:24:30 AM | link | (0) comments

Do you ever find yourself sitting across the dinner table from someone and staring at their hands? 

Is it just me? I notice hands. I remember so well my high school boyfriend’s long fingers, the shape of the nail – everything. My grandmother’s hands were thick. How else to describe them? Her skin was coarse – dry from years of washing, cleaning, scrubbing with her own hands. Brutal stuff. But they were nimble, too. I kid you not, this image is real: I see her all the time pinching the dough of pierogi, quickly, adeptly with her fingers: pinch, flick, pinch, flick... My father’s fingers are stocky, but I remember admiring his nails as a kid. Many men, I used to think, had very unattractive, grimy nails. Not my dad, I noted with girlish pride.

My own hands are peasant stuff: they're small but tough. I should think a child (anyone perhaps) would feel proptected by them: I wont let go, I'll clear the bushes and bramble and make the road safer... They have burns from restaurant work, scars from an indelicate childhood followed by a period of obsessive gardening. They are darkened by the sun, and the nails could never have the shape that a manicurist would aim for. Not that they’ve ever seen a manicurist. They are fearless hands, “we’ll try anything” hands. There’s no timidity to them. They mask the inevitable weakness that lurks within. Only an obsessive hand watcher would notice, as I would notice in another, their unstillness: the paper napkin rolling, the straw paper folding, the uncertaintly in moments of repose.

It’s not that hands set a standard, that they classify people for me, that they repel or draw me to someone. But I always notice them.
posted by nina, 4/14/2005 06:15:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

More about death and taxes, with a note on sainthood 

If last night was a 1040 hellhole, today, New York tax law proved to be the hatchet that came crashing down on my withered and shriveled form, hunched over papers and open applications, screaming to no one in particular that it was just not fair to expose one suffering soul to the atrocities written by vermin parading as tax code experts. May rodents gnaw at their heels and vultures swoop down and peck off their slimy typing fingers. May they squirm in helplessness, may they feel the trauma of having absolutely no control over what happens next.

I admit, these were not kind words.

For reasons known only to divine beings, none of them friends of mine, I am sitting filling out not only Wisconsin tax forms (easy!) but also New York ones. Even as a scrawny little non-resident, I have had to wade through oceans of papers worksheets and forms. I am spent.

And I also had a seminar to teach.

I am back from class now, and I have gained some perspective. True, the work for tonight is elephantine indeed and there may not be the hours to accommodate it all, but still, there were positive aspects to this day:

What brilliantly glorious weather (can we notch up the thermometer a bit tomorrow?)! I cannot believe how beautiful it is. Drop-dead gorgeous!

Then there was Jessica (her real name, though hereafter you may refer to her as Ste. Jessica). My note to you:

Dear Jessica,

Was it the uncontrollable pain in my voice over the phone that tipped you off? Was it the spiritual decline that you sensed was taking place in my home over the past 24 hours? Whatever made you do it, know that I am grateful. That you should fly down in the middle of the day from campus, deliver into my hands a calculator AND a hot cup of skim latte is beyond-words wonderful. Thank you. I will recover and someday repay this kindness.

May I also offer a piece of advice? If H&R Block ever calls and asks to have your business, give it to them.


posted by nina, 4/13/2005 06:35:00 PM | link | (0) comments
Helleborus in my front yard: pushing through cold soil, opening to the sun. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/13/2005 06:31:35 PM | link | (0) comments
Tracking the willow: an explosion of leaves Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/13/2005 06:28:09 PM | link | (0) comments

Grumblings about death and taxes 

When the pope dies, the news cameras head for Rome to take in all the chanting and grieving. When April 15th approaches, the cameras focus on us and our hatred of the 1040.

It’s all sadly inevitable. For more than a week we watched and read about the v e r y s l o w process of moving the pope from the state of being freshly deceased to being placed in his “eternal” “resting” spot at St. Peter’s (both words are of dubious validity here, but it is what one says, out of respect I suppose). That took more than a week. As of yesterday, the rituals were still paraded before us as I watched the Cardinals file past to say their final goodbye and then hang a red ribbon on the door of his chambers – another ancient ritual for a deceased pope, though I have to believe that the ribbon will someday be removed and the chambers made fresh for the new pope and oh by the way, no I do not think it will be the cardinal from Milan nor any other of the Italians. No bird told me, I have no inside track, but as long as everyone else is speculating, why can’t I?

With the 1040, it’s more complicated. I have been struggling with figuring out the tax system here since I landed on the paved-with-gold soil in 1972. My parents never paid American taxes when I was a kid – a privilege for those affiliated with the diplomatic corps. When your own government pays you your salary, you fill out their 1040, not the American one. Of course, Poland in the 60s scoffed at such concepts as taxation and I no longer remember from my days of reading Lenin if there was a reason for it, but in any event, under communism there was, therefore, no April 15th nightmare for Poles.

But once here on my own, I began the struggle. No one ever explained anything to me – I did not get a little note as I crossed through passport control in New York – no one said: from this day forth, you will be made to feel small and worthless because you will make repeated mistakes throughout your life as a taxpayer.

Mistakes I made aplenty, even after I was licenced to practice law, which in itself is sadder than sad, since I received a rather excellent grade in Tax while in Law School. This tells you something about the 1040. And predictably, as I noticed last year, the IRS only tells you about the mistakes that are not in their favor.

Yesterday, I finished my 2004 1040. And I am proud to say that it only took me about 10 hours and 40 minutes to do, as opposed to the national average which is more than twice that amount. Moreover, since my calculator broke and I only at midnight found out that every computer has a built in counter, I added and multiplied the old fashioned way – carrying the ones and twos and mumbling my times tables as I went along.

But halfway through, I realized that somewhere in the year there must have been some dreadful mistake whereby the wrong formula was used to withhold because in spite of only a two digit figure in the 9a line, this year, I was going to owe owe owe.

That, perhaps, was the wrong time to open a bottle of wine and yet I felt I owed owed owed myself at least that. What with the long day, the muted TV throwing images of Jon Stewart making grotesque faces, stacks of penciled-in papers, the decreasing level of liquid in the green bottle next to me, I would say it was one rough set of hours and at the close of the day, my inner peace, insofar as I had any to begin with, was shattered. I apologize to everyone I talked to or wrote emails to between 8 pm and midnight. I do not really hate life, the IRS, the Vatican, you, none of the above. But I’m not too crazy about the April 15th ritual. There must be a better way.
posted by nina, 4/13/2005 07:15:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The ruling party, part 2 

I cannot believe I just missed an opportunity to pick up $50,000. Five minutes of work, fifty grand richer.

No, it’s nothing illegal, cruel, risky, untoward. All I would have had to have done* was write a different kind of post for my rabbit story (see Ruling Party post below, from earlier in the day).

Of course, it would have been parroting someone else’s gimmick, but so what. It’s not as if he’s got a patent pending on it.

A reader clued me in on my folly by providing the following link. For those who do not click, it’s quite simple:

A man rescued a cute bunny rabbit. Called him Toby. Nursed him, fed him, took many beautiful pictures of him. And now he says he will eat him by June 30th (recipe provided at the bottom of his page) unless, through donations and otherwise, he will raise $50,000. As of yesterday, horrified readers sent in to PayPal close to $25,000. With the publicity the story is generating, it is expected that he will exceed the targeted sum.

It could have been me, sharing my instant wealth with family and friends, building a beautiful little home for the bunny who brought me this bounty. But no. I had to let every Ocean reader know: I am a mere peon in the rabbit’s life – he is the one in control. Sigh.

[Having written this post I am actually quite shocked that I would even suggest in jest taking my backyard rabbit to the butcher. So sorry, bunny rabbit. Blogging drove me to this. I hate your eating habits, but you're safe.]

* see, this is exactly the kind of verb tense construction that drives Poles, with their three tenses only absolutely insane when they study English.
posted by nina, 4/12/2005 05:00:00 PM | link | (0) comments

True Story, part 2 

So, you’re off and running again…
I have to Get Stuff Done! Taxes, lecture tomorrow, that sort of thing. But how are you?

In one word or less? Fine.
Oh! I’m so sorry! I swore I would not become like one of those who comes across as Too Busy for Words! I’m the one who always sighs and rolls her eyes when friends say they can’t pause because they are So Behind!

It’s okay…
No, I’m really so sorry (I am: you know who you are!!). I’m the one who suggestively passed on the cartoon from the New Yorker some while back where a guy says to his preoccupied professor friend: “you know what you are not going to say on your deathbed? 'I wish I had worked harder to get another article published'…”

Nor will they carve it onto the tombstone: here lies Martha Miserable*, who contributed so much, though we can't remember what exactly where or why…
Or: here lies Morris Murdock*, unavailable in life, unavailable in death. Did I say this already: I'm very sorry... And btw, I’ve always thought that each of us will be remembered for the small things we did that we had no idea meant a lot to someone at the time.

You know, I already decided what my tombstone inscription is going to be:
Anna Wanna* up and died
Will you miss her?
You decide.

I’m going to post that right now!

* Of course these are made up names. Of course. But the story (with some wording adjustments) is true. It happened just minutes ago.
posted by nina, 4/12/2005 03:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments

True story 

Professor: Well, you could not counsel her to do that now, could you? She would be, what’s the American expression? About a foot or something?

[Several very helpful students shout out correct expression said foreign-born professor was searching for.]

Professor: Yes, sounds right – she would be chewing herself in the foot. I mean, think about it: she is arguing that her ex is incompetent to meet the legal standard set forth in the joint custody statute at the same time that she wants to portray herself as a cooperative player under the physical placement statute… nibbling right there at her own heel, or, as you say, chewing her feet.

[Lecture continues, professor wonders why student in front row is holding hand out in the shape of a gun and shooting at her. Professor decides to tolerate weird student behavior as it is early in the morning and he may not have had his cup of coffee yet.]

Class ends, student with weird hand gestures approaches professor and says:
I was trying to tell you: not chewing. It’s shooting yourself in the foot.
posted by nina, 4/12/2005 11:50:00 AM | link | (0) comments

The ruling party 

I want to ask this: who’s in control of my yard, him or me? Sure, I’m still holding on to the house, but he’s certainly ahead in two branches: the front and the back yards. He’s taking it easy, waiting for the right moment before he and his pack start hackin’ away at all that I hold dear out there. It’s no use fighting him. He’s got numbers on his side. And teeth. Past terms have shown me that he moves quickly and decisively. He gets things done.

Damn rabbits. What I wouldn’t do for a couple of jackasses or a herd of elephants to chase him out. Though I’m betting he’d get the support of the Green Party and make things really difficult for me here in Madison. Basically I’m about as effective as the slow-moving lame duck that occasionally crosses my yard. The whole thing is one big farce. It’s his show and he knows it. I just wish he wouldn’t be so in-my-face obvious about it. Just look at him:
posted by nina, 4/12/2005 05:30:00 AM | link | (0) comments
basking Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/12/2005 05:27:38 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, April 11, 2005

Step aside, sakura swooners 

There is no need to parade this week-end as the time to be in D.C. for the cherry blossom display, when here, in Madison, we have Magnolia blooms doing their own great imitation of a water lily:
posted by nina, 4/11/2005 03:09:00 PM | link | (0) comments
outside my window: Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/11/2005 03:08:32 PM | link | (0) comments

Babciu, babciu, dziura w kapciu! 

So goes the little Polish ditty, rhyming „grandma” with „slipper” and coming up with nonsense.

April is such a “grandma” month for me! My grandmother’s birthday came now (had she lived, she’d be 104) though it is one of these unfortunate things that in all the years and summers I spent with her, I had never seen her eat a piece of cake baked in her honor.

Much can be written about my grandmother. Really, tons and gobs. And I am sure I will come back to her in this blog, as I tend to, when I get in one of those pensive-about-my-childhood moods. But today I had a bit of an epiphany about my life and times in her home and I just want to note it here, while the thought is fresh.

People in this country give greeting/parting hugs; in Europe they kiss each other’s faces. But my grandmother really did neither. Instead, at least to me, her youngest grandchild (and I dare say to my sister as well) she was available with her giant bear embrace that literally enveloped me in her body – which was ample and warm.

That embrace was so comforting that I still regard that as one of the greatest gifts anyone can give to another. I would give a lot to lose myself in ampleness* in the way I did then.

It was not unusual for me to get scared in the middle of the night. The Polish village where she lived was so quiet that you could hear the wind mess with the branches and the power of that breeze often sent my running to her room. She’d make room in her huge bed and I’d stay there for the night, wanting nothing more than to be by her, protected and safe.

There was force in her arms. She was used to shoveling coal daily into the kitchen stove. Holding on to a little girl must have been easier than easy for her.

Petite Anglaise wrote a beautiful post about her elderly neighbor in Paris, who had problems turning on the TV and had to (laboriously) come down to ask for help. It made me wonder about whether the neighbor has grandchildren and whether they ever had the benefit of their grandmother’s wrap-around arms.

Octopus arms, open arms. I wonder if their usefulness is still there. Must be. I noticed One Child uses the term to invite comments. I wonder if he had a grandmother who taught him how to use arms to comfort another.

* Ampleness is a state of the mind as much as the contour of a body. Sure, my grandmother had an ample chest and eiderdown pillow shape. But she was very short and grew down almost as rapidly as I grew up. Nevertheless, I always found myself enveloped by her. It was in the way she took me into her fold.

posted by nina, 4/11/2005 02:16:00 PM | link | (0) comments

When a fellow blogger pal asks a favor, Ocean delivers! 

Who am I to question why a certain Michelle wants to be a storm chaser or if her credentials are legit? I read that this is her dream on JFW, I like JFW, I trust the author of JFW knows what he is doing and so I support Michelle with my vote, pushing her that much closer to a life as a cloud chaser.

More: I am going to direct you all to the voting place here and urge you to do the same! Why should Howard Dean capitalize on the community of bloggers’ willingness to band together in support of his candidacy way back when, while poor Michelle struggles alone to realize her own stormy dream?

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if votes came pouring in from Japan (cashing in: remember when I wrote out the recipe you wanted so badly last year?), from Poland (bribery: I’ll buy you a round of drinks when I’m there in May), from France, Washington, Arizona, Florida? Yes! All for the good of Michelle so that she can rise to new weathering heights.

I say when a woman feels passionate about clouds, we stand behind her. Got a blog? Create a link and get others to jump on board the Michelle weather wagon.

Voting ends on 4/14 so get to it.
posted by nina, 4/11/2005 12:37:00 PM | link | (0) comments

So that a hike through the suburbs doesn’t have to be like a walk through a chemical plant in full production mode 

posted by nina, 4/11/2005 10:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments
...and so that this little guy eats a healthy breakfast Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/11/2005 10:03:46 AM | link | (0) comments
...every yard should have this: Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/11/2005 10:02:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Spring is soon over, it will not stay; Let us be up and on our way; Sunshine to greet us, come out and meet us, All the world’s joyful this April day* 

Perhaps to compensate for my wayward driving yesterday (see posts below about detours to Chicago), today I walked. To food stores, bookstores, woods and beyond, I walked, like a woman possessed, clearing my mind of “yes but what ifs” and “I don’t know how evers,” I paced the streets of this town for hours, until the clock forced me to retreat.

I took with me a $5 bill, a credit card (hey, Linus had his blanket, I have mine) and a camera.

What do I have to show for it? Well, a friend asked me tonight to swear on my life that I did not go to a tanning salon (easy: I swear). And I did put the $5 to good use: one pear at Whole Foods, and a latte with biscotti from Borders. But the camera? That is one sad story: in the miles and miles of terrain that I covered, I remained photographically uninspired.

“This town defeats me” – a friend once said to me in a somewhat different context. Well it defeats me too. For one thing, behind its slightly unphotogenic façade lies this truth: there is a certain predictability to it (at so many levels) that can be really exasperating.

But in spring, everything is beautiful in spite of any harshly suppressed reality. Here, I have three photos that speak to this:

* Czech folk song
posted by nina, 4/10/2005 10:45:00 PM | link | (0) comments
Last week's willow was all about yellow against blue; today it's already light green. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/10/2005 10:38:22 PM | link | (0) comments
Exceptionally beautiful Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/10/2005 10:36:54 PM | link | (0) comments
In Owen Woods Park they are getting ready for some spring planting ritual. But what? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/10/2005 10:33:03 PM | link | (0) comments

Say, I can see, I just don’t understand how it all works 

There has been a lot of discussion about how wrong/right it is to have American flags at half mast to honor John Paul II. I haven’t been following any of it. My position on this became quickly and rigidly fixed with the reading of this post and I have been repeating it rather indifferently since. It’s a symbol and though I recognize all sorts of slippery slope issues in our dealings with symbols, I am just not that bothered about this one.

But I noticed today on my walk that the flags were still at the half point even though the pontiff has been deceased for more than a week and so I wondered how the rules are set on American flag displays and if everyone who has a flag is obliged to follow them. I could have googled in search of an answer, but not owning a flag made this less of a burning project (and yes, I do know you’re not supposed to burn the r,w&b).

Thoughts of flags pushed aside, I was almost home and then I reached my neighbor’s house and I couldn’t help noting that their flag was fully hoisted to the tip. My neighbor is not one to make a counter-federal government statement, especially when the elected leader of the country is one of his choosing, so I wondered what instruction pamphlet he was following in his own flag-hoisting machinations.

And just one more thought: if one doesn’t have google to assist one in the pursuit of knowledge, how does one find out flag rules? Do flags come with instructions? Don’t let it touch the ground, don’t let it get rained on, don’t burn it, lower it at sundown – I remember these well from New Jersey Y camp days where I was terrified that I, the sole communist-land camp attendee would be the one to break The Rules on flag handling. (And have these changed? What gives? If one can’t allow the rain to drip on a flag, how is it that we can run flag-designed shorts through the wash cycle?)

In Poland we do not have rules that I am aware of concerning flags. Which should not be regarded as a statement of that country’s laid back and toned-down attitude toward nationalism because, due to our skirmishes with invading neighbors, we have, unfortunately, rampant and fierce national pride, far in excess of what any healthy nation needs.
posted by nina, 4/10/2005 04:40:00 PM | link | (0) comments

A post on what I have in common with the writer Ha Jin 

An interview with Ha Jin in today’s NYT Magazine ends with this exchange:

Q: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A: I often tell my wife and son that the best life for me would be to get up in the morning and go to a café and have coffee and meet friends and read the newspaper.
[He then goes on to say: But you can’t do it every day, because if you did, your life would be effortless. And an effortless life is a meaningless life.]

For me as well! That, or to sit back over a café latte and listen to others exchange a quick story or a comment on some event or other.

I am precluded from doing this because no one here pauses in the morning. The café baristas are busy then, but they are for the most part filling endless take-out cups. The few people who pause, do so to read. The American café in the morning is one dull place.

I have said this before – perhaps my very favorite part of a vacation on the other side of the ocean is the fifteen morning minutes spent over a coffee and roll at a café, especially on a weekday. No kidding. Watching people come in, banter for a few minutes, then move on with a handshake or a kiss and a swipe at the last crumb of croissant or other carb-loaded piece of bread is bliss. It adds spring to my step for the rest of the day.
posted by nina, 4/10/2005 11:01:00 AM | link | (0) comments

A P.S. to this day: 

It’s rare that I get to drive from Chicago on a highway empty enough for me to be able to photograph it without risking my life and the life of the ancient van.

Just one photo and then I’ll sign off for the night:
posted by nina, 4/10/2005 12:25:00 AM | link | (0) comments
Madison lies to the northwest of Chicago and so each return home at the end of the day means a drive straight into the suset.. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/10/2005 12:21:39 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, April 09, 2005

New Ocean game revisited 

Remember the rules: I post a photo of a dish I had for dinner and you guess the place, or if you are not a Midwesterner -- mull over what the dish may be. Today I'll give the answer right away -- it's only fair.

So, where am I and what am I eating?
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 06:45:00 PM | link | (0) comments
Answer: Creole shrimp poor-boy on french roll with tomato, red onion and zesty remoulade.  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 06:33:29 PM | link | (0) comments
Good place to get something to eat: outdoor tables (nippy, but they do have heat lamps) and a sign proclaiming that it is an EXCITING restaurant. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 06:32:05 PM | link | (0) comments
You know you're finally unstressed and enjoying yourself when you find beauty in the refelction of a cab in the wine glass. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 06:30:22 PM | link | (0) comments

What's driving me? 

Q: What happens when you pick up a book-on-tape and you stick it in your car radio and lose yourself in the story?

A: You end up not wanting to stop driving, so that instead of winding up in your local Whole Foods (3.2 miles from home) you suddenly find yourself in Chicago (150.5 miles from home).
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 06:18:00 PM | link | (0) comments
Though I did not intend to photoblog this daytrip, I can't resist a few shots. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 06:17:38 PM | link | (0) comments
outdoor reflections Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 06:16:08 PM | link | (0) comments
Windy city classic Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 06:15:10 PM | link | (0) comments

The small section program: lightening the load of law school 

I remember the first “small section*” of first year law students I ever taught. Two and a half years ago they were just starting. Now, in a few weeks, they’re out the door. Law school moves fast.

On this Friday night I again had a chance to see them as a group. We ate fried bread and taco fixings and there were Margaritas and Corona beers. Yes – Corona beers (has the world gone mad? Yes, alright, I, too, brought a six pack, how could I not, given my earlier post). We played games and I got very competitive (as I usually do under such circumstances).

This post is to you guys. Thanks for tonight and for the years of class time, the splendid reenactment of Mrs Palsgraf time, and of course, the office time, get out the tissue and cry on me time (see? it worked out, job-wise, otherwise!), take a walk through the Arboretum and give-my-dog-a-bone time. I can tell – you’re different today than you were in September ‘02.

For one thing, you beat me at nearly all the games we played tonight. Totally not fair. You’re more confident than I am!

* to those outside the legal world: each incoming student starts law school with a mandatory set of classes. One of these will be taught in a small section of around two dozen students. Naturally, by having class daily, the professor comes to know the small section students well and more importantly, they come to know each other. One of the most rewarding aspects of the small group program is facilitating the development of that bond (in the course of classtime and beyond) and then watching it take off and grow strong as the years progress.
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 07:30:00 AM | link | (0) comments
On the way to the small section get-together, I pass the Union Terrace and, off to the side, oddly, a campfire. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 07:26:14 AM | link | (0) comments
Part of small section no. 7: I am hovering over them, for one last time. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 07:24:02 AM | link | (0) comments
From reenactments and blackboard sketches to a moment at the pool table at the end of the third year. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 07:22:19 AM | link | (0) comments
Oddly, Corona seems to have made its way into each portion of this day. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/09/2005 06:53:55 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, April 08, 2005

Madison links 

Life is curious. As my friend sits in his office up Bascom hill, groaning about being cooped up late on a gorgeous Friday evening as whiffs of beer make their way through his corridors, I am half-way down Bascom hill working away in mine, about to take a break, to see if other Madisonians are having a better time of it.

What ties the day together for me, therefore, is work, sunshine, the colors of spring, and a Corona beer truck. Here's how the day meanders between the greens and yellows, finishing with the blue waters of Lake Mendota.:
posted by nina, 4/08/2005 07:30:00 PM | link | (0) comments
In the early afternoon, I have a meeting at this coffee shop. As I wait in line for my latte, I look up and see the spring colors of the Corona truck, on its way to make a delivery. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/08/2005 07:11:57 PM | link | (0) comments
On State Street, the stores let their dresses out to tempt the winter-weary strollers. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/08/2005 07:10:20 PM | link | (0) comments
At six, I take a break, walk down the hill and witness a Terrace moment: late afternoon sun, a dreamy gaze, a cup of beer. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/08/2005 07:08:52 PM | link | (0) comments
Hey dude, lost your table? Here's my cup, pour me one! Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/08/2005 07:06:47 PM | link | (0) comments
She's trying so hard to concentrate, but the Corona (thanks to the timely delivery) works its magic... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/08/2005 07:05:43 PM | link | (0) comments
Are these guys having a better time of it? untouched by the sun, oblivious to any Corona trucks, as the sailboats drift in the background. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/08/2005 07:04:17 PM | link | (0) comments

Lights out in Poland in honor of the Pope? You've got to be kidding. 

Let it not be said that Poles march silently and obediently in any solemn procession, even if it is to honor their fallen hero. Always the mavericks, they like nothing more than to be obstinate when asked to get in line behind some else’s idea.

I read this morning the appeal made through the media:
let Poland grow dark for five minutes tonight at 21:37 as we mourn the loss of our Pope.

Here are some responses (again crudely translated by me), from the
Gazeta Wyborcza’s chat room:

That’s a very dangerous thing to do! Unplug your computers because our electrical system will not withstand the sudden down-surge and the upsurge in use!

This is sheer lunacy! Such an absence of restraint in mourning helps no one.

I’m not turning out any light! I’m going to be reading a prayer for John Paul II.

Okay. I understand. We’ll light candles and stand by the window. Only what does sitting in darkness have to do with giving respect to John Paul the Great? It’s a little sick…

This is absurd! I called the electrical company! Nothing will happen!

People are expressing their respect just for show. All we need is to tape us doing it. What good will turning out the lights do anyone... We should carry him in our hearts – much better than doing something for show, just like everything else that we do in our country.
... ...

The comments go on. And on. And on. And now I really do want to check back in an hour to see who, if anyone, has complied.
posted by nina, 4/08/2005 01:37:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Clearly stated? 

Where my knowledge of Polish helps propel me to knew heights of verbal perspicuity

Morning email exchange:

You don’t think [known to us person] is kind of [equivalent of cool]?
A little phlegmatic, but otherwise okay.

Just to be certain, I had to look that word up in the dictionary. Here's the definition: Not easily excited to action or passion; cold; dull; sluggish; heavy; as, a phlegmatic person.
Precisely. It's because the Polish counterpart, "flegmatyczny," is more commonplace than phlegmatic is here, that I feel so comfortable in flinging it around, labeling those who are indeed cold dull & sluggish as phlegmatic. [XX] is phlegmatic.

On how I have once again agreed (sort of) to hunt, slash and burn (literally) food in a restaurant

Morning phone exchange:

So how come you're not hanging out at [name of Madison’s great restaurant] these days?
Busy. Gone a lot. But hey! Congratulations on your new proprietorship! And Chef, all in one!

Thanks. So how come you’re not saying you’ll hang out in our kitchen?
I did not say that. I said I’m busy and gone a lot.

Come and help anyway. Any Saturday any time. I’ll give you some comps.
Is that a job offer?


It is the most undefined offer with the most noncommittal response I have ever articulated. Perfect. I’ll see you soon. Maybe.
posted by nina, 4/08/2005 12:20:00 PM | link | (0) comments

New Ocean game, part 2 

By the time I turned on the laptop this morning, two brilliant responses (to the challenge posted below) demonstrated how knowledgeable we are about our local eating places (or, how paltry the selections – thus all easily identifiable).

But I will stump you one day, surely I will! [Again, for out-of-towners: you are allowed to limit your guessing to the plated foods. Dimly lit you say? But of course! What, I suppose you want the menu next to it with highlighted selections? Gotta make it a little tough, no?]

Here is the first prize winning response:

that place next to cafe continental, no name on the blasted door, i always miss it, it's japanese fusion (?), new york atmosphere and sadly new york snotty service too. but the fish is awesome, looks like you had fried squid. they have lots of small dishes and you have to have a couple to make up a real meal, it'll cost you but it's worth it. sorry, i have no idea what the restaurant's name is, we call it "That new japanese place on the square."

Yup. It’s calamari, with a sushi roll in the background.

Runner up:

I like your new game, but have little idea where it is -- I see chopsticks and a bottle of Macon-Villages, so I doubt it's someplace I've been. Is it Muramoto (still haven't been there yet)? Could there be another upscale Asian place answering to "delicious" that I don't even know of?

Correct! And brownie points for noticing the finer detail – of a friend holding chopsticks, of the wine…mmm…so good. All the more so since (in response to first reader’s concerns) I wasn’t paying.
posted by nina, 4/08/2005 09:30:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, April 07, 2005

New Ocean game, part 1 

I have an idea – something to add spark and excitement to the everyday:
I show a photo of a plate of food. You guess either the name of the restaurant (Madisonians, this one’s for you) or the type of food on the plate(s). If you are correct, you get the honor of knowing you are correct! If you think my game is getting too easy, feel free to take me out to dinner at a new and fascinatingly different place and you will see the resultant photos displaying the exotic fare.

Tonight I ate this, somewhere in Madison:
posted by nina, 4/07/2005 11:19:00 PM | link | (0) comments
hint: it was delicious!  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/07/2005 11:18:39 PM | link | (0) comments

Ode to baristas everywhere: 

12 oz
extra hot*
no foam**
that’s it
it’s not hard
get it right

Bottom line, there are a number of baristas around town who would not have a chance at this.

* If I don’t say this, chances are four to one it will be lukewarm. Actually I prefer just plain old normal-hot, not McDonald’s-scalding, but please, not lukewarm.

** I like foam just fine: why else bother frothing if not for the foam. But if you start messing with foam, you get carried away and stop pouring milk, like, after the mid-point. I have connivingly figured out that this instruction will keep you from muckin’ with the milk level.
posted by nina, 4/07/2005 03:15:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Poles hanging in (the line to the Vatican) and hanging on (to the hope that the Cardinals will send back something of John Paul II) 

I read the Pope’s Will and Testament – the whole text, written first in 1979, amended over the years.

It is interesting to read the will of a person who had no property to dispose of. Or, what he chose to dispose of (his private notes), he willed to have burned. [A legal Q: can you read as you burn?]

As to the disposition of his body – initially he stated that the Cardinals, in consultation with the Poles should decide. But then he changed his mind. In 1985 he wrote (I’m paraphrasing now) – about that “consult with the Poles" bit? You don’t have to. Did he sense that there would not be agreement? That Poles would not, could not let go of the possibility of having him “return” to Krakow?

If you read the entire text, you will come to the last paragraph (a tautological statement if I ever saw one!), in which John Paul II remembers his early life – his parents, school friends, his days as a laborer during the German occupation. Perhaps Poles will feel gratified that his last written words were about his home. In search of symbols, maybe in this text they’ll find some to take back with them from Rome. For they seem to all be there: Poland appears to have emptied out and traveled south this week. Thankfully the Italians saw what they were up against (who understands passion better than the Italians...): even though they were forced to close the line to view the Pope (at 14 hours of waiting time, it was bumping into tomorrow’s funeral: you don’t want to finally get there and find the Pope gone), the Poles are being allowed through.

As a new commentator said this morning: the Italians know what they’re doing this week.
posted by nina, 4/07/2005 01:45:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I just made some major scheduling decisions for the next half year or so and now I am fully convinced that I do not know what I am doing 

Brandon, I feel for ya. Who knows how blogging is supposed to fit into this life of ours. Sure, if I could stand the quick, dirty, unpremeditated, then I'd be able to just slash and burn any old post and let it fly. But I can’t. I think about it. I imagine places and schedules I have to accommodate and I worry about writing – how will it fit? When will I get to it?Smug types have looked at me with (contemptuous) pity: it doesn’t matter, they say. Skip a day, skip a week, write trash – who the hell cares?

I care.

So, my next six months are supposed to allow for everything – time for work, time with my distantly located family, with friends, time for trips across the ocean which I seem to need more frequently and more desperately than in the past, all of it. Leaving no one satisfied, of that I am certain.
posted by nina, 4/06/2005 08:54:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Nothing today. Nothing yesterday. Tomorrow -- maybe tomorrow. 

Such beautiful photographic ideas being presented by photobloggers, yet I remain uninspired. In Madison, I can hardly take my camera out anymore. I mark the progression of spring by noting flowers that pop up, that’s it.

This week-end: I’ll go elsewhere, I’ll shoot shoot shoot, taking in garbage cans if I have to.

Even if I am forced to push the old van out of the garage to make it go, I’m taking it for a spin outside this town. [The van is spoiled. IT likes being within the territorial boundaries of the city.]

In the meantime, imagine. Imagine that you are not tired of daffodils and crocuses (that’s all I am seeing thus far). Imagine that they form partnerships and communities of happy, robust life. Here, take a look, from this morning:
posted by nina, 4/06/2005 07:59:00 PM | link | (0) comments
a little like a mommy with her little one, no? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/06/2005 07:58:59 PM | link | (0) comments
crowded, pushing to be heard and seen Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/06/2005 07:57:46 PM | link | (0) comments

A convergence of blog posts and emails set me thinking about roads 

Scott writes a touching post on why his blog, Home Sweet Road, may remain at Home Sweet Home next year as he and his wife adjust their road trip plans. And at Matching Tracksuits, Gary writes about the challenging conditions in Poland at the moment: the corruption, the sagging infrastructure, the inadequate highway system. Meanwhile, my sister emails from Warsaw, describing a grief-stricken nation, feverishly holding on to the hope that the Pope’s written statement (to be read today) reveals a desire to have some part of him returned to Poland (she writes that this would mean so little to the rest of the world and so very much to Poles).

And then she writes, in answer to a question of mine, that the train that passes just a few miles from the Polish village where I lived for a number of years and many summers with my grandparents, is still chuggin’ along, even though the old East Warsaw train station from where it departs is now a shopping mall. But why not drive there? Why take the train?

Because the trip by road is, for the most part, not an easy one.

Roads traveled, roads not followed. Trains and roads, or rather no roads.

It struck me that people here probably don’t know this about Poland: there are very few roads in the countryside. Oh, there are roads alright – dirt roads, with ruts made worse each spring by rain, sandy, muddy roads, uneven, ungraveled, more suitable for the furmanki (horse-pulled wagons that still move people and merchandise from one place to another) than for small cars. Roads – such a basic thing.

The reliable trains pull through pastoral scenes of farmsteads and small towns just miles outside Warsaw. The few roads (and almost no highways at all) are crowded, so crowded as to lose their appeal, so that the images held by Scott – of empty roads beckoning, make no sense in Poland.

The road trip: it’s an American concept through and through, belonging to a vast land where you can travel for 365 days within just one state and never repeat a road.

In Poland, roads don’t beckon.

But places do: the forgotten outposts, off the beaten path because there is no beaten path, the villages where dogs bark at you, unused to strangers, unused to traffic of any sort. It’s quite a stretch of land, linking these places with Rome, with the Vatican. Tomorrow, I expect most villages will be linked with Rome not by roads but in other ways, as schools and businesses close so that people may follow the procession in the Vatican.

You really don’t need roads to go places.
posted by nina, 4/06/2005 08:15:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Enough time has passed… 

…that I can at least make a semi-oblique reference to the other side of the Pope story – the side that no one on the other side of the ocean wants to hear about right now.

The Guardian bluntly runs the headline: “The Pope has blood on his hands*” In the article that follows, Terry Eagleton has this to say about the reasons for selecting Karol Wojtyla to the papacy (emph. my own):

The Catholic church had lived through its own brand of
flower power in the 60s, known as the Second Vatican Council; and the time was
now ripe to rein in leftist monks, clap-happy nuns and Latin American Catholic
Marxists. All of this had been set in train by a pope - John XIII - whom the
Catholic conservatives regarded as at best wacky and at worst a Soviet

What was needed for this task was
someone well-trained in the techniques of the cold war. As a prelate from
Poland, Wojtyla hailed from what was probably the most reactionary national
outpost of the Catholic church
, full of maudlin Mary-worship, nationalist
fervour and ferocious anti-communism. Years of dealing with the Polish
communists had turned him and his fellow Polish bishops into consummate
political operators. In fact, it turned the Polish church into a set-up that
was, at times, not easy to distinguish from the Stalinist bureaucracy. Both
institutions were closed, dogmatic, censorious and hierarchical, awash with myth
and personality cults.
It was just that, like many alter egos, they also
happened to be deadly enemies, locked in lethal combat over the soul of the
Polish people.

And guess who won.

Earlier, in my first postings following the death of John Paul II, I suggested that with his passing, maybe Poles could at last examine without guilt the role of the church within their borders. It bears examining.

This true product of postwar Poland, the Pope was conservatively positioned within the church hierarchy, yet he held progressive ideas on everything from the death penalty to positions taken on war and the opression of workers. It is interesting to watch the world unite in their respect for him, given that during his life, neither the right nor left wanted to claim him as their own.

* This refers to the Pope’s was adamant opposition to condom use, even in regions where they would have prevented the spread of AIDS.
posted by nina, 4/05/2005 02:19:00 PM | link | (0) comments

In fifteen minutes a bus is leaving for Chicago and I should be on it. 

Why? Well, I have a lot of work on my plate for the next forty-eight hours. I could do it on the bus more readily than in a car. I could return in time for tomorrow's afternoon class, happy happy, my reading done, my lectures ready. All because of the four plus hours spent each way on the Van Galder bus.

What’s the draw – a meeting? Conference? Museum? Weather? None of the above. Simply a desire not to be in Madison right now.

I like Madison. I am happy to be here. I like the people, the university. I like spring days and summer nights.

But sometimes, this place just gets to me and I want to take the next available piece of locomotion (in this case a bus, so that I can indeed work; and besides, I fear my old truck of a car would not make it past Beloit and then I would be stranded in Beloit until I could purchase a replacement), out out out, where streets are crowded and you can be in that crazy rushing mass of people and lose yourself completely. Nice!!!!!

Why am I not on the bus then? Because it does not get into the city until 6:10 which would be pretty much past the rush hour. Emptying streets are a sad thing when you're in search of a crowd.
posted by nina, 4/05/2005 01:45:00 PM | link | (0) comments


Someone recently told me that the bad thing about spring is that you cannot sleep well with all the bird noises in the morning.

I thought that this was the sorest excuse for waking up early and lapsing into a state of insomnia I ‘d ever heard. Blame it on the birds. And I suppose Not Getting Things Done is also their fault and so is credit card debt.

Still, this morning I cracked the window even more, to enjoy that delicious morning air that makes you pull up the quilt against the chill but revel in the freshness of the breeze. After all, it being Wisconsin, tomorrow it may snow. You never know.

The birds are loud. Really loud. If I screamed like that under their nest, they’d call the police on me for creating a disturbance.

The only thing is, it’s a kind of “loud” that fills you with pleasure.
posted by nina, 4/05/2005 06:38:00 AM | link | (0) comments

The road from grief to anger appears to be short 

Two of the blogs I regularly link to in Poland have been tampered with, and in one case erased by an angry reader who has not liked the tone of the author, particularly following the death of John Paul II. I'll refrain from linking just now, though sometimes I think it's only a matter of days before I wake up one morning and find Ocean gone from the screen as well.

At the risk of repeating myself -- changes in Poland have not been as easy or wrinkle-free as many here would like to believe. The death of the Pope is a milestone here -- on par with the death of any prominent political figure. It is an entirely different matter in Poland.

The coupling of major events such as this one with great economic insecurity is not a good one. Perhaps it'll take the rest of the week for Poles to shift their attention away from the Vatican. I'm hoping it will only take the rest of the week for this to happen.
posted by nina, 4/05/2005 04:38:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, April 04, 2005

Heart and soul 

Five FAQs about the Polish habit of separating the heart from the corpse upon burial:

I heard that Polish people, when told that John Paul II will not be buried in Poland, are asking for at least the heart to be extracted and taken to Krakow. True?
Yes, but do not view this as a Polish thing: it was the custom until the late 19th Century to bury the pope's heart separately (according to a BBC report).

Still, you have various great hearts dotting the Polish landscape, don’t you?
Excuse me, Americans decided to keep a heart as well, when president GHBush agreed to return the body of the famous composer and pianist, Ignacy Paderewski to Poland, but without his heart – which remains in Doylestown Pennsylvania. Of course, this is what Paderewski had wanted.

Others: there are others?
You’re thinking of Chopin who wished his heart to be buried in Poland. Chopin composed in France but had a deep love for the country he left behind. Polish officials believed there to be a similarity to the Pope, who was, of course, substantially devoted to Poland.

So why no heart?
Well, here we are facing the issue of health care and burial directives all over again. The Pope never indicated in writing that he wanted any part of his remains to be returned to Poland. So technically one could say that the Vatican is simply following what are believed to be his preferences – to stay solidly there under St. Peter’s along with a number of other popes.

So, about these hearts of the deceased – can you visit them?
I don’t know what Pennsylvanians have done with Paderewki’s heart, but you sure can take a trek to the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, where Chopin’s heart is entombed, right in the wall, next to the heart of the Nobel Prize winning author, Wladyslaw Reymont. It’s a tourist draw, I hear.

posted by nina, 4/04/2005 12:58:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Difficult transitions 

My imagination is serviceable enough for me to understand what it is like in Poland now. Even if you can’t read in Polish, take a look at the front page of the daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, here (typically, it looks not unlike the online version of the NYT or the BBC).

Gary, an American living in Poland has reflections here, describing what happened when he and his Polish wife first heard that the Pope had died. Gary has previously written about his lack of religious affiliation and yet he touchingly describes the profound desire to be in a Catholic space immediately after the news reaches Poland.

Earlier, I compared Poland to a young bird, the Pope – to its hovering parent or protector. I am hearing now more about the doubt that is gripping the nation. Can we manage without him? Poland will be so much worse off now…

I should not be surprised (though it is painful to read these kinds of expressions of self-doubt). I don’t think Poland’s current state of crisis is widely understood here. For those who do not follow Polish politics, the equation is simple: communism fell, a democratically elected government is now in place, rest easy. Not so! The rate of unemployment will not reverse its upward trend and the political corruption is unbelievable: it infiltrates every sector, at every level. The people appear discouraged, not ready to believe in a better future. The loss of John Paul II comes at a difficult time.
posted by nina, 4/04/2005 08:28:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The ridiculous and the sublime 

I witnessed the following during an afternoon walk:

A picnic on a blanket in a backyard

Three children in swimsuits tempted by a wading pool

My next-door neighbors raking away last season’s debris

(Of course, that last takes the *ridiculous* cake. I myself am *reading* my textbook outside in a first encounter this year with a favorite: my Adirondack chair.)
posted by nina, 4/03/2005 03:05:00 PM | link | (0) comments
this yellow weeping rainshower against the blue sky definitely ranks as *sublime* Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/03/2005 03:02:42 PM | link | (0) comments

Tripping over ceremony 

They have to be the most expensive parties most people ever throw: the classic American weddings. There’s a (comforting, I suppose) predictability to them, down to who walks down the aisle when, the cutting of the cake, the toast made to a roomful of people, seated at carefully considered places.

I’ve been to weddings that step out of that mold. Perhaps the most beautiful outlier was the wedding of a friend who took us all (a little more than a year ago) to Minnesota, by Lake Superior, where she and her husband-to-be exchanged vows, right there in the middle of a lupine field. Later, we ate salmon fresh off the grill and listened to the night sounds coming in from the pine forest surrounding the large log cabin. Magic.

Yesterday I went to a Madison wedding where the couple put on a jazzed-up production and walked down the aisle to the lovely strains of “..and when two lovers woo, they still say I love you…” Beautiful!

If I were to plan a wedding now, would I follow convention? I’d be asking for trouble either way. If I planned it in the lupine field, I’d probably forget to clear the area of poison ivy and people would walk away splotchy and irritated. And it would rain. I had once thought that marrying in a meadow would be cool, with maybe an ocean near by. I could see it -- my delicate, simple freeform dress would ripple with sea breezes and wild flowers would push to fill spaces between chairs where a small group of loving and supportive friends gathered to cheer us on.

What was I thinking? How many improbabilities within that can you find? A dozen? A hundred?

My take on weddings is more jaded now. There is a disconnect between the ceremony and the marriage that follows. One hardly supports the other and the expense does, for most people, create instant credit card debt to wake up to on the day after.

Still, wouldn’t it be great fun to fly a plane-load of people to an orchard or vineyard in southern France where tables would be set under ancient trees and wisteria branches? Whiffs of lavender would be coming in from hilly, distant fields and the olive oil on the tables would be cold pressed, extra virgin, extra wonderful.

And probably there would be bees and a heat wave and the cook would forget to bake a cake and the next day I would certainly wake up to great credit card debt.

Maybe one should have a quiet, simple wedding, followed by a huge party ten, twenty, thirty years later, if things are rolling along comfortably between the husband and wife (money-wise, emotion-wise).
posted by nina, 4/03/2005 12:15:00 PM | link | (0) comments
With layers of raspberry jam. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/03/2005 12:14:40 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, April 02, 2005

So now it really is John Paul II, 1978 – 2005 

I remember when he got elected. I had left Poland to finish my studies here, in the States and I had just married an American, forever sealing the answer to the question that I could never otherwise resolve: where shall I live, in Poland, or the States?

You could say that the Pope was an expat as well – living at the Vatican. But with an eye toward Poland. The difference? His eye was golden.

I listened to Zbigniew Brzezinski (National Security Advisor under Clinton) talk this afternoon about the Pope’s role in stimulating the peaceful revolution in Poland a decade after his ascent to the papacy. Brzezinski explained that it really was that first papal trip to Poland that transfixed the nation, allowing the people to think of themselves as united (ostensibly over Catholicism, but also over the desire to improve the political climate in Poland), with the courage to rally and oppose – something that not many believed they possessed just a short while earlier.

Brzezinski, of course, hated communism and he ascribed today those same feelings of loathing to Poles. Most, he argued, wanted badly to experience life in the fullest possible way, preferencing spirituality over the constant struggle for material goods. The Pope, by telling them not to be afraid, gave permission for those feelings.

Is Brzezinski right? The fact is, neither he nor I lived in Poland during the eighties and nineties.

Looking back, I honestly think that the symbolism of the Polish Pope was as important (perhaps more important?) to Poland as the man himself. If we had had a jackass of a pope instead of this erudite and calm voice of profound reason, would the people have resisted the opportunity for change that suddenly arose toward the end of the last century? Oh, the symbolism of it all! I am certain John Paul II understood that his worth lay as much in his mere presence in Poland, as in the words he offered.

[There is the flip side though: it has been quietly whispered that it will take the death of John Paul II to make the nation take a leap forward and untangle the complicated and not always positive relationship between the church and the state.]

Brzezinski was right in saying that of the 35 million Poles, 30 million realized, with that first Papal visit, that they shared a voice. But I don’t think it was a voice of utter hatred toward communism. It was the voice that every impoverished and dispirited person has within them – whispering that somehow life should and could be better. And if you asked Poles which they believed to be more crucial in their ultimate push for change – the quest for spiritual freedom or economic well-being, I’m not sure I could readily tell you how they would respond, though if I had to place money, I’d go with the economic well-being.

Here’s the thing: not being a Catholic, I never paid close attention to the Pope’s religious writings. I knew that I disagreed with much of what he said on the subject of theology. But, like most Poles, I feel like it is an end of an era. I feel sorry for Poland for losing the protection of having arguably the most visible world spokesperson on the planet be a Pole. At the same time, I feel like the country is like the bird that has been pushed out by the parent (perhaps many parents) and forced to fly. The parent bird dies, the little one continues, with all the uncertainty that makes up its future.
posted by nina, 4/02/2005 10:38:00 PM | link | (0) comments

A mossy spring or a springy moss? 

This morning, thinking it to be later than it was, I walked through Owen Woods. Even then (especially then?), the light was sublime. But you had to keep looking down to catch signs of spring. The often overlooked moss has that enchanting early spring green growth that we’re all searching for.
posted by nina, 4/02/2005 11:35:00 AM | link | (0) comments
How does the saying go? The early sun catches the moss?  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/02/2005 11:31:10 AM | link | (0) comments
Take a closer look: Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/02/2005 11:29:40 AM | link | (0) comments
I'm such a fan of yellow and blue that I could not help taking this photo, even though it is antithetical to the "colors of spring" theme of this post. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/02/2005 11:28:17 AM | link | (0) comments

Is the Pope Polish? 

I suppose it’s tough for the Polish press to write objectively about the events transpiring at the Vatican. I picked this up from this morning’s reading of the Gazeta:

[Commenting on the perhaps overly hasty depiction by the Italians of the Pope as a person of the past, the Gazeta article states:] His in every respect beautiful, colorful photograph carries the signature “John Paul II, 1978 – 2005.”

What’s interesting, too, is the attention given by the international news agencies to the fact of the Pope’s Polishness. Of course, everyone knew that the Pope is Polish. But in searching for stories to fill the week-end hours, the media coverage takes us back again to the days of Karol Wojtyla, hiking the Polish mountains and writing poetry and playing soccer, all placing him right back in the context that Poles have all this time been well aware of, but others have tabled in the course of the long Papacy.

Not surprisingly then, the media has converged on the Vatican and on Poland this week-end – to Krakow especially. As I read the stories, I am reminded again and again of why Poles, for a few decades, felt that their tiny complexed voice could be heard through this man and why they suffer the loss of their spokesperson, because really, in their eyes, this leaves them alone and vulnerable on the map all over again. And if you think I am exaggerating, listen to the spot TV interviews with Poles and the recurring themes: “other countries noticed us” “we felt protected” “he gave us courage” etc.

Yes, of course, the religiousness of the nation comes through. But it would be wrong to view this particular transition as important to only the devout Poles. History has created a pained nation. Not many world leaders pay much attention to this anymore. The Pope, of course, did, during all his years at the Vatican.
posted by nina, 4/02/2005 10:32:01 AM | link | (0) comments

Where have all the hours gone… 

I woke up thinking – an hour lost today. That’s okay, an extra hour of sunlight is worth it. On the computer, I noticed the time: 5:30. I should turn off the computer so that the time would reset itself.

I respond to an email from a friend: you’re up early, she writes.

I look at all my automatic news emails – the regular daily dose of NYT, IHT news, and the travel dispatch from both, also the book update. Week-end stuff.

I go out to pick up the Sunday Times from the driveway. It’s not there. Did I forget to restart the subscription?

Back in the kitchen I move all the clocks forward. I turn on the TV to get news of the Pope. It’s odd how we track these stories that are really one sentence stories. Wait, where is the news? I thought it began at 7. Eventually I find it on CBS and I watch, enchanted with scenes of Krakow on a sunny spring day. I hear interviews with young people out on the square and am reminded how attractive young Poles are – they take such care with their appearance! Lovely scenes, sad faces,

I have my home-made latte. I’m fully awake now.

Wait. It’s not Sunday, is it? It’s not daylight savings time yet either, is it? It’s not 7:30 right now, it’s 6:30…

It’s pitiful enough that I can’t fool anyone on April Fool’s, but to fool myself the day after is really dotty.

posted by nina, 4/02/2005 06:38:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, April 01, 2005

In Poland it's Prima Aprilis, in France it's Poisson d'Avril 

Most April Fool’s jokes are pretty transparent. But this one had at least half of the commenters believing. And maybe they should. Petite runs an honest blog. Still, caught blogging on the job… It could not happen… A threat from a senior colleague… No, not in my experience… (are we still within the parameters of April Fool’s?)
posted by nina, 4/01/2005 09:33:00 PM | link | (0) comments


Right now, my adult daughter’s old high school friends are in the living room. They’ve gathered here, traveling from very distant places back to Madison for a wedding tomorrow. Maybe a dozen of them, all leading lives that I could not have anticipated for them, nor they for themselves.

Time is often measured by the stages your children march through. I forget that, now that my daughters both live more than a thousand miles away from me. Tonight, I am back in their high school days, though with a twist. I hear laughter and it is much more the laughter of adults.

When did the change happen?
posted by nina, 4/01/2005 09:15:00 PM | link | (0) comments

No April Fool's, part 2 

And for the tail end to my April Fool's post from this morning:

The second six statements are TRUE as well:

7. The first boy I ever had a passionate crush on appeared to have no last name.

Michael Charles. Judge for yourself.

8. When I was a kid, all states (except for Georgia) placed extensive restrictions on where, within their borders, I could travel, even if I was just passing through, without spending the night.

I posed a threat, no doubt about it.

9. The Polish authorities would not permit my mother to give me the name of Nina.

I blogged about this once. The “rule” was that you had to use names of saints who were in the name-day calendar (Nina was not listed). Yes, in “communist” Poland.

10. When I came back to the States as an eighteen year old, the sudden exposure to American junk food caused me to gain 40 pounds in 6 months.

The stuff was addictive! (It took a lot longer to lose it.)

11. For six years of my life, my next door neighbor (in an apartment building) was a spy whose sole occupation was to listen in on conversations that took place inside our unit.

My sister and I were warned not to talk loudly about sensitive subjects. I’m not quite sure what I understood to be a sensitive subject, but I suppose the fact that our Polish babysitter took flight and asked for asylum for herself (were we little monsters? no, it was all very political) might have been one of them…

12. I was once engaged to a bartender who lived on the remote Greek island of Samos.

He certainly thought so. We had language issues.

Another April 1st passes and I fool no one. The story of my life...
posted by nina, 4/01/2005 05:56:00 PM | link | (0) comments

April notes 

Someone who is visiting from New England remarked yesterday – my, not much green to be seen around here yet!

Obviously, she was looking up. I should have noted the blue skies and reminded her that there are torrential rains today in the region from which she came.
posted by nina, 4/01/2005 04:30:00 PM | link | (0) comments
A slow wake-up... Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/01/2005 04:26:55 PM | link | (0) comments
Had she looked down, she might have seen this promising little patch in my front yard:
posted by nina, 4/01/2005 04:25:00 PM | link | (0) comments
Yes, I know, I did not rake much last fall; but note bud -- a day or two short of a yellow explosion. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 4/01/2005 04:23:29 PM | link | (0) comments

No April Fool's, part 1 

I promised a response to the post immediately below this one. I'll write it in two parts.

All first six statements are TRUE:

1. The only person who ever noticed that I have a crooked smile was a Russian doctor, in a remote town by the Black Sea.

The scene: Sochi, in the Soviet Union. We must inspect the health of all who travel here. You, the youngest one – your face is not working properly. One cheek ees deader than the other! (gulp) One hip ees higher than the other! (gulp) Eat more!

2. The very fist TV show I watched was the Mickey Mouse Club. I watched it repeatedly while in an orphanage in Poland.

I watched while in the orphanage, but when not watching, I myself was not in the orphanage. The place was in the Polish village where my grandparents lived. They wouldn’t have had me any way. They only took boys.

3. I went to a New York elementary school in a building that had a separate stairwell for boys and a separate one for girls.

New York (then, as now) had such tremendous respect for the United Nations that, when asked to offer up space for the UN International School (where I went), they could only come up with an old, condemned (no April Fool’s there!) public school building, built in the previous century, where boys did not mess with girls. At least not in stairwells.

4. The first three years of my life were spent in a house that had no electricity and no indoor plumbing.

We had a fine well outside and a very clean outhouse. Eventually we moved up to a hand pump that I learned to work, so that water would splash out in spurts into the kitchen. The pump built strong arm muscles! I have no virtuous words to offer for the outhouse.

5. I had a violent confrontation with the police when I was barely fifteen.

The Polish police and I had a run-in during a student demonstration that I was watching at a tender age, trying to understand what the hell was going on in my country in 1968.

6. I was on the Mike Douglas show with Virginia (of “yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” fame).

Mike Douglas wanted to have a few token red commie kids on a Christmas TV special. My sister and I were plucked out of our school, which probably had the highest concentration of commie-country kids in the States (all of five maybe). The goal was for us all, at the close, to sing Silent Night in our different languages. I gave it my best shot, but then I noted during the airing of the show that they muted our singing. Maybe they thought I was vocalizing Polish profanities or worse, anti-capitalist slogans. Even though I was such an angelic child! Okay, a touch spunky at the edges. Okay, maybe not so angelic.

to be continued...
posted by nina, 4/01/2005 02:32:00 PM | link | (0) comments

April Fool’s? 

This post tests your knowledge of a certain blog author. You read Ocean. Do you know anything about the person who writes it? April 1st suggests that this is a joke. Maybe, maybe not.

So, of the dozen points below: which are true and which are false? (Tune in later for an update, with answers. Impatient? Send me an email and I’ll explain. No foolin.’)

1. The only person who ever noticed that I have a crooked smile was a Russian doctor, in a remote town by the Black Sea.
2. The very fist TV show I watched was the Mickey Mouse Club. I watched it repeatedly while in an orphanage in Poland.
3. I went to a New York elementary school in a building that had a separate stairwell for boys and a separate one for girls.
4. The first three years of my life were spent in a house that had no electricity and no indoor plumbing.
5. I had a violent confrontation with the police when I was barely fifteen.
6. I was on the Mike Douglas show with Virginia (of “yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” fame).
7. The first boy I ever had a passionate crush on appeared to have no last name.
8. When I was a kid, all states (except for Georgia) placed extensive restrictions on where, within their borders, I could travel, even if I was just passing through, without spending the night.
9. The Polish authorities would not permit my mother to give me the name of Nina.
10. When I came back to the States as an eighteen year old, the sudden exposure to American junk food caused me to gain 40 pounds in 6 months.
11. For six years of my life, my next door neighbor (in an apartment building) was a spy whose sole occupation was to listen in on conversations that took place inside our unit.
12. I was once engaged to a bartender who lived on the remote Greek island of Samos.
posted by nina, 4/01/2005 07:25:00 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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