The Other Side of the Ocean

Sunday, July 31, 2005

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

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

Sigh, our buying was so long ago…

Wait, return to the topic at hand: bras.

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

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

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

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

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

posted by nina, 7/31/2005 05:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments

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

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

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

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

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

So there.

posted by nina, 7/31/2005 03:25:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Rock rock rock around the clock 

(I've got mail: )

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

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

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

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

(other irrelevant details are exchanged, then:)

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

great, thanks. tshirt okay or are you upscale?

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

low scale.

(a minute later: )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(…and because of this: )

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

Madison July 05 385 for the wall...

…and this:

Madison July 05 382 for the coffee table...

…and this:

Madison July 05 381 for the ???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

that was classic!!!!

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

Madison July 05 369

Madison July 05 374

...while the stool looks on
posted by nina, 7/30/2005 11:55:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, July 29, 2005

A do widzenia for Jeremy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jeremy deserved a super meal.

To you, pal. Stay chirpy.
Madison July 05 355Freese again, positioned on a notoriously famous kitchen stool
posted by nina, 7/29/2005 11:35:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Deconstructing the day 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madison July 05 349
posted by nina, 7/28/2005 10:25:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

tasty blooms 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madison July 05 348
posted by nina, 7/27/2005 02:15:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Taking care 

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

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

hearty ppstock
...and I am grateful.

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

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

I feel that I cannot thank them enough for this period of feeding. Last night, after a supper of gazpacho and blueberry pie (because, of course, they would have picked up from my blog that I am all about blueberries) I biked home late, reflecting on this and I knew that the next blog post will be about the act of taking care: because really, if you have a friend who is resisting being taken care of, don’t take them at their word. Do it anyway. Being looked after, at least for short periods of time, can be awesome!
posted by nina, 7/27/2005 06:55:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Frumpiness then and now 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: In answering a reader's question I decided to insert the clarifier here as well. When I write about physical discipline and vigilance, I do not mean weight. I was careful to write the post in a way that focused on robust health and fitness. I know people are all about weight loss. To me, that is only a proxy for something far far more significant: strength, muscle tone, shapliness, stamina and zest, etc. -- attention to this creates a physical presence that is indeed attractive, knocking down physical frumpiness every time.
posted by nina, 7/26/2005 08:25:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, July 25, 2005

Celebrate we will Because life is short but sweet for certain 

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

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

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

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

Madison July 05 325 DMB

Madison July 05 343 enthralled

Madison July 05 337 rhythm and skin

Madison July 05 335a sea of fans

Madison July 05 347

posted by nina, 7/25/2005 11:25:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, July 24, 2005

(After Washington D.C.) daughters, redux 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DC July 05 083blueberry and peach cobbler: fresh and honest
posted by nina, 7/24/2005 01:45:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, July 23, 2005

(From Washington D.C.) getting it right 

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

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

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

DC July 05 047

The three place an order.

Question: What did the mother order?

Choice A:

DC July 05 048 bloody tasty

Choice B:

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

Choice C:

DC July 05 053 blueberry wonderful


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

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

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

After lunch the mother played with a parrot.

DC July 05 067

And across the Potomac, all contemplated a familiar sight:

DC July 05 058
posted by nina, 7/23/2005 04:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments

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

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

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

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

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

DC July 05 Union (not Terrace, Station) chairs
posted by nina, 7/23/2005 09:15:00 AM | link | (0) comments

(From Washington D.C.) 

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

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

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

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

It's all about taste. And color:

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

DC July 05 019 classic strawberry shortcake

DC July 05 024 espresso of course

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

DC July 05 026 he's just not into her

DC July 05 028 he's into her

DC July 05 025 window lights

DC July 05 037 window lights, two

DC July 05 039 Madam's organ at Adams Morgan

posted by nina, 7/23/2005 12:35:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, July 22, 2005

I love Madison, really I do… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* trained to pick up the pace by Madison’s speed demon herself, Ms. kef
posted by nina, 7/22/2005 10:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A quiet grin and a twinkle 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madison July 05 290 enter this way

Madison July 05 313 lofty inside

* The Comeback
posted by nina, 7/21/2005 10:05:00 PM | link | (0) comments

this day's storms 

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

Madison July 05 Madison July 05 289
before noon ... and after noon
posted by nina, 7/21/2005 05:35:00 PM | link | (0) comments

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

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

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

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

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

Incompetence, especially my own, bothers me. I like to believe that if thrown out into a lion’s den I will figure out a way to cope with the onslaught of big fangs and sharp claws. Someone recently told me that I do well with new things and places. They are right. The fact that I cannot deal with a new thermostat control is, therefore, so irritating that I swear it will prove to be the proverbial straw. If you next find me moronically sitting in a corner, chewing on a shirtsleeve and singing nursery rhymes over and over you’ll know why.
It was Mr. AC, in the parlor, with a control panel.
posted by nina, 7/21/2005 08:55:00 AM | link | (0) comments

...blackbird has spoken like the first bird 

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

Madison July 05 260 contemplating

Time to make even more changes.

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

Madison July 05 266 skeptical

did you take this one of the Ocean author?

Madison July 05 248 with a latte...

posted by nina, 7/21/2005 01:55:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Polish proverbs no. 4, 5 & 6 

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

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

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

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

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

After all, the saying goes:

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

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

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

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


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

So, too, a bad writer must explain and label things in a more coherent way. The Polishness of the proverbs isn’t throwing itself at you. I should do more to tie the words to the old country, so that you will indeed walk away thinking – now that’s Italian! I mean Polish. Sorry, sometimes it’s a little fuzzy for me as well.
posted by nina, 7/20/2005 11:35:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Polish proverb no.3 

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

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


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

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

Rate usefulness of discussion: ***** (too much of the personal, too little of the analytical)
posted by nina, 7/20/2005 12:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Polish proverb no.2 

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

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

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


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

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

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

Rate usefulness of discussion to your understanding of the proverb: *****
posted by nina, 7/19/2005 09:55:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, July 18, 2005

Polish proverb no.1 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, today’s proverb:

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

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

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

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

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

* source of grandiose claim: nlc
posted by nina, 7/18/2005 05:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, July 17, 2005

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

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

Madison July 05 201

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

Madison July 05 207

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

Madison July 05 215

Madison July 05 212

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

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

Madison July 05 221

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

Madison July 05 224

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

Madison July 05 232

The last time I took this trail was in July, 1981 – ergo, 24 years ago. I was very pregnant with my first child. Hope. It’s all about hope. I’d never in my life felt so hopeful as that month, back in 1981. I could easily say that today I was on a completely opposite slope. Isn’t it funny how one spot – a bunch of rocks around Devil’s Lake can leave such lasting impressions one way or another? Oh, and another thing: then, back in 1981, I was terrified of going into labor, right there, on the cliffs of Devil’s Lake. Now, in 2005, I felt terrified of … nothing.
posted by nina, 7/17/2005 09:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments

A long post about not jumping into the pool 

Say you have some major life’s changes in front of you that include, but are not limited to a move. Say nice neighbors convince you to go to the neighborhood pool party which is technically for pool members only, but nice friends get special permission from the board to allow you to come. (And no, it had nothing to do with the fact that the pres of the board is a former student of mine. Though you know you are getting along in your teaching career when the phrase “a former student of mine” keeps cropping up in all sorts of unusual settings, including at the neighborhood pool.)

Say you are in the kind of mood that makes you not show up for things and kind neighbors have noted this about you and so they come knocking at your door just before the pool party. And let’s assume you are sort of glad they did, as the alternative, sitting at home, will most likely lead you to be overwhelmed at all that needs to be done and steps that need to be taken and so you will do nothing but read a dumb book or, even more likely, stare at the computer screen wondering how many seconds have to elapse before the screen saver will require you to reach over and touch the pad so that the wallpaper, which is a pretty photo from Giverny, will reappear.

Say you head out and learn that there will be tons of food and bottomless margaritas and every neighbor you could think of will show up and that after a while, many will jump into the pool, sometimes with their clothes on, as the once staid neighborhood is getting a little more adventurous, -- though I would think that jumping in the pool is a thing that even staid people, even in places like stuffy Stamford, Connecticut do. In fact I know that they do this in stuffy Stamford Connecticut, as the family I au paired for when I was way younger had a pool there and it was not unusual for them to jump into it after drinking too much except, most often, they would take their clothes off. Ah, how the rich and famous love to play!

Say you nod and smile and think how nice your kind neighbors are to do all this for you.

And so you follow them along, with a deceptively sprightly step.

Now, everyone in the place knows you are moving. Why? Because you have a goddam sign in front of your house announcing it to the world. Maybe a dozen plus people have known the whys and whereofs and circumstances surrounding the move. But the rest do not. And of course they ask.

The first time you tell some condensed version of story. The second time you reach for the second margarita and hope they uncover the food soon as otherwise you will get way drunk on endless margaritas on an empty stomach and will be likely to jump in the pool before anyone else does, especially if one more person asks you why you are moving.

The tenth time your answer is way attenuated. It goes something like this: So I see you’re moving? Yes. Why and where? Downtown, because it seems the right thing to do. That usually causes people to launch into improbable and hypothetical ruminations about how that is just such a brilliant plan and they themselves would love to do the same because these big houses require upkeep and wouldn’t it be cool to be closer to State Street – all a ridiculous set of claims because you know they never in a million years would move downtown nor hang out on State Street. I’m not sure even I am likely to hang out on State Street, even though I work a mere minute away.

By the twentieth time you find yourself thinking that perhaps big parties where everyone in the world knows you are moving but few know the circumstances and everyone is eager to learn them, it being a slow kind of summer where no patio burglar has made the rounds and the hot drought conditions have been exhausted as a topic of conversation – maybe these events are not good for a person who tends to drink margaritas as if they were lemonade.

So I pretend I needed to use the facilities, and sneak out the back way and considered taking Mr. B out for a late night run, having with utter strong will and determination put a stop to the margarita drinking and having kept my clothes dry and my sanity about me. But then I think of peddling back home from wherever I would be heading and the vision exhausts me, so I go home and read a dumb book and stare at the computer screen instead.

Madison July 05 197
posted by nina, 7/17/2005 08:55:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, July 16, 2005

from Ocean to table 

Ann’s delightful post about my plunging sweet Hermione into boiling water last night triggered some requests for the recipe for the soup where Hermione reappeared, looking very much like a shark attacking the innocent:

Ann's photo

I am warning you, the recipe requires coordination and patience, though if you treat it like an assembly line operation, you wont fail.

It comes from Alfred Portale’s book (he cooks at the really cool Gotham Bar and Grill in NY).

Chilled Pea Soup with Lobster, Crème Fraiche and Wilted Watercress

Side-note #1: Don’t look for crème fraiche in the store, make your own! The day before, put a cup of heavy cream in a jar, add a tablespoon of buttermilk, cover with lid and leave it out. In some twelve hours you will have beautiful, silky, French cream. Refrigerate it once it gets thick.

Side-note #2: Okay, I substituted what should have been there – fresh pea shoots, which I can only get at the downtown market on Saturdays – with watercress. It works!

Side-note #3: I cheated again in terms of peas. The recipe calls for 4 cups of shelled peas. After shelling three cups, my sprained thumb was killing me so I used as a fourth finely chopped snap peas. Great taste, much easier. Shelling peas in the restaurant where I worked for a bit was always handed over to the very lowest person in the kitchen hierarchy. I actually think that the recipe would work with frozen peas (but only if fresh are out of season, please!) – though then you should reduce the cooking time.

Side-note #4: Here’s the line-up you should have to make it work smoothly: Have a medium bowl with a large fine mesh strainer over it, then next to it a blender, then another bowl set over an ice water bath.

Side-note #5: It says the amount will serve 4. I think it actually is enough for 5 – 6, though the portions of lobster meat grow smaller.

Okay, the recipe:

1 TBSP olive oil
1 onion, chopped
½ rib celery, chopped
1 qt of chicken stock or broth
4 cups of shelled fresh peas
salt and white pepper to taste
up to 2 TBSP unsalted butter

In stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring, 3 – 4 minutes, until softened. Add stock, raise heat to high, bring to boil.
Add peas, return to boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 12 minutes (until peas are tender). Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
Strain soup into the first bowl with the strainer. Transfer vegetables to blender and purée, adding only enough of the strained stock to make a fine, thick purée. Add butter and pulse or stir until it melts and enriches the purée.
Scrape contents of the blender into the bowl set in the ice bath. Add the remaining stock, a little at a time, until the soup reaches the desired creamy consistency (I used about ¾ of it).
Cover and refrigerate.


1 1 ½ pound live lobster

Cook it as you would cook a live lobster. For this dish I threw in a half a lemon into the boiling water and cooked the lobster for 11 minutes.
Then cool it under running water so that you can get at the meat.


½ cup crème fraiche
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
salt and white pepper to taste
1 cup lightly packed pea shoots or watercress
(caviar is suggested as an option as well. I omitted it. This soup is already expensive!)

Remove soup from refrigerator some twenty minutes before serving. It should be chilled, but not ice cold.
Whisk together crème, lemon juice and salt and pepper.
Cut lobster into big chunks and toss with crème.
Cook pea shoots or watercress in a small pot of boiling water for 15 seconds, just until wilted. Reserve some leaves for decoration before throwing the lot of them into the boiling water.

Then place a mound of the watercress in the middle of the soup plate, lobster on top of that, and ladle pea soup all around the little island. Garnish with fresh watercress leaves and swirls of crème.

You can also just treat this as a great chilled pea soup recipe without the lobster.
posted by nina, 7/16/2005 05:25:00 PM | link | (0) comments

food, candles and bells? 

It’s almost three, the last dish is either in the dishwasher or cleaned and put away. I have to keep the house immaculate for showings and so I cannot do my usual-- clean up the mess the next day.

In celebrating Tonya’s birthday here tonight I thought how very few things out there are as good as this: to be able to bring together people and create conditions (via food) whereby they (and therefore I) can let go of the stresses of the day and unwind and relax (and eat food).

[earlier this week, there had apparently been a wedding between these two, or at least so it is stated here and here; I admit to being a tad worried as I saw no bands on any fingers, but the photos clearly illustrate that these guys are in celebratory moods:]

Madison July 05 184 Madison July 05 193
celebrating and reaching out
posted by nina, 7/16/2005 03:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, July 15, 2005

If someone can write a beautiful poem about a lemon*, shouldn’t a blogger be able to write decent posts about pretty much anything? 

I have been engaged in a back-and-forth email exchange with a person who is supremely skeptical of blogs and blogging in general. I am getting the sense that she regards these posts as serious attempts to put ourselves out there for you, the readers and sometimes (oftentimes? just about always?) she finds them … lacking. And I don’t mean only here at Ocean, though Ocean I am sure also does not measure up. One of her (numerous) claims is that, being a daily event, a blog (like this one) has to be boring, because how many of us have interesting ideas to put out like this on such a regular basis?

Oh dear. It has never struck me that people are basically a dull lot. That we move through the day robotically, that our brains work hard just to keep us afloat as we navigate life’s hurdles. And that at the end of the day, we are spent. And if we then sit down to blog, we spit out garbage, exhausted and bereft of any creative juice (which, if we have any to begin with, has been expanded elsewhere, in some other fashion).

And so here we are, us motley crew of bloggers, forced to put down something, anything, and make a story of it, even where there is no story, nothing worth pasting into the blog, just endless simplistic worries or observations for you to waste time reading when you should be working or talking to people.

I have great faith. I truly believe that if we wanted to devote the entire day and every day to writing, we could flush out limitless numbers of ideas. Take that, you blog-doubting Thomas! If posts are bland and blogs are sloppy, they are that way not because people lack the juice to make something more of them but because, for whatever reason, they choose not to make it a finer expression. You can sketch ambitiously or you can just doodle on a piece of paper. So, too, on a blog. And in this world, there's enough space and time for both the doodlers and the artists and the vast majority that is nestled somewhere in between, to do their thing.

* ...a cup yellow
with miracles,
a breast and a nipple
perfuming the earth;
a flashing made fruitage,
the diminutive fire of a planet.
posted by nina, 7/15/2005 11:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments

What are friends for if not to humor you… 

You know you’re taken seriously when you post something about wanting to cap each day with a latte and your friend is on her way now as we speak, to drop over, just for that cup of coffee with you. Especially if that friend lives in St. Paul.

This friend is also the one who bought the condo from us when we couldn’t otherwise sell it (as I wrote in an earlier post), probably out of pity and not wanting us to be forever stuck raising a family in closet-like conditions.

And here’s another thing: she went along just to pretest the region of Brittany, France in the year that I had my food tours to France up and running and needed someone to scoot around the northern provinces with me. She even let me drag her to a farm where the woman made fresh camembert from Brittany milk. Predictably, she bought a couple of the cheeses even though she was traveling around after leaving France and couldn’t take them with her. Of course, she then gave them to me.

You don’t all have to go that far to take care of me. But if someday you’re residing at great distances and I say, man I would love company for a latte, follow her impulse. It can lift a soul up up up to have that spontaneous cup, out of nowhere.
posted by nina, 7/15/2005 06:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments


You haven't lived until you took the bumps on Mineral Point close to midnight on Mr. B, with only a Cateye to guide you along.

On the other hand, if I do that again, I may not live either. Next night ride: it'll have to be the South West bike path. Mr. B deserves to keep his heart at a steady pace. He's too old for this sort of thing.

Me, I'm scratched from the branches I knocked against in the block I decided to do via the sidewalk. Bloody hell (and bloody arm). People: cut your timber already if it overhangs public spaces!
posted by nina, 7/15/2005 12:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Allons enfants 

A national anthem should be music without lyrics. I’ve yet to come across one with words that I can embrace and sign on to. Saluting war, bombs (the American version), taking back what’s yours by force (that’s the Polish one) and the most brutal of all: la Marseillaise. Consider this:

…Against us tyranny's
Bloody standard is raised
Listen to the sound in the fields
The howling of these fearsome soldiers
They are coming into our midst
To cut the throats of your sons and consorts

To arms citizens
Form your battalions
March, march
Let impure blood
Water our furrows

Lovely little gem for little French children to learn and sing, isn’t it?

But the melodies are alright. Plain and to the point, one might say. So, on this Bastille Day, I’ll put on a French CD, drink some French Roast café au lait, and, instead of the cut throats and impure blood, I’ll think about only the first two words of the anthem – allons enfants (come, children).

The picture I like best to accompany this was taken by me in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, against a canopy of chestnut leaves. God, I love those gardens (and the museum contained therein, where one can get exquisite prints)!

Paris 04 002
playing to the chestnuts, beckoning to follow, in song
posted by nina, 7/14/2005 11:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments

the song of a wren 

How can you not smile when someone reads the last paragrpah of your post and sends you this message.*

Thanks, earthgirl!

* It struck me that maybe upwards of 50% of Ocean readers glance at blogs on the side, in their workplace. You guys maybe should not click on "this message."
posted by nina, 7/14/2005 09:25:00 AM | link | (0) comments

take good care of my… what? I do not have any babies... 

I’m hearing a lot of this: take good care of yourself.

I appreciate the good will in that missive, but I am wondering what it means. I imagine that women who take good care of themselves sit in foaming baths, with cucumber slices over their eyelids.

I never cared much about how my eyelids looked – possibly because I have never seen them – and I am not a great user of the bathtub, so what else is there?

Frankly, when I think of indulging myself, I think of two things, one good, one not so good: exercise to excess and drink wine (not to excess, but still, come on, this cannot be a regular activity). So should I do more of each? If I exercised more, I’d be one of those where AARP magazine will be asking for a photoshoot: look at her! Approaching ancient-hood and still not giving up on life! Eligible for membership (that happens, btw, when you turn 50, so get ready!), and still capable of pulling out a 6.2 5.7* mile run (yes, yes and I am proud of it). Look at her, apart from that bulge on her hip (will you quit asking me about the grapefruit in my pocket? It is my bruise. Bruise. Bruise. Sad but true. It will recede. So they say), she looks… fit.

So, I think I need a new definition of taking care of myself. Were you to ask me what I would want, I may say something like this: chirpy messages and visits, allowing me to pass you on the bike trail, hope, and every afternoon capped with one of these:

Madison July 05 179from yesterday

*Ocean is an honest blog
posted by nina, 7/14/2005 06:05:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

more on apt films 

My mother’s favorite movie would have to be Pollyanna. You know, the one about the young girl (Hayley Mills, actually; God, I loved her films when I was little – she was spunky; I did not much care for Pollyanna though), who went around town with these prisms and convinced everyone that seeing little rainbows gave you reason to laugh in the face of death, poverty and hatred. [Personally, I thought it was a misplaced message. If you’re sick and dying, you should not have to pressure yourself into laughing at little rainbows.]

Why do I link this “don’t worry, be happy” movie to my mother, the queen of melancholy, negativism and despair? Because her absolutely favorite point, one that she makes again and again is right out of the movie, or, more accurately a negation of it and the Pollyanna spirit.

Thus growing up, Pollyanna became for me a household fixture. I learned early on that it is absolutely imperative that we should all dissociate ourselves from this person of misplaced joy. Often I have heard my mother say with great resoluteness and a touch of pride: “I’m not going to be a Pollyanna about it…” (no you are not! you are so correct! not for you the prisms throwing dumb colors on the walls!)

As a reaction to the anti-Pollyanna fever in my household (kids are such rebels), I quickly became a very happy person, in spite of sickness and adversity and yucky post-war-baby lungs. I mean, I actually looked for cheer. And 3 out of 5 times found it (the other two times: I’d say one had to be thrown to blah nothingness and the other to horrible fear and anxiety, but hey, we’re talking two out of five).

I write this because my blogging overlaps with a period of time that produces more of the latter (we’re talking anxious times here) than the former (chipper and sprightly tones). And this may give the mistaken impression that if I were in a line up and the order was given for the real anti-Pollyanna to step forward, it would be me. I mean, I may step forward because of my dislike of the movie, but not because I don’t have tendencies to find happy colors on a day to day basis.

Let it be clear, I am not into gloom and doom. No matter how many posts will follow outlining the rapid disintegration of my befuddled psyche. It is not in my nature to wallow.
posted by nina, 7/13/2005 07:45:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Apt, part 2 

In reponse to the post below about movie titles that best describe my days, a reader writes:

Thinking about a title for your movie is interesting, but who to cast even more, maybe? Who would you like to play you?

Back in December, I was interviewed on a British blog (one of those "know your blogger" deals) here. If you click, you'll find my reponses to many questions, so don't. In any case, there are so many, that you surely wont even get to the pivotal one, toward the bottom, where I was asked this and gave the following answer (greatly improved, btw, by the superb editing job of a fellow blogger):

Q: Who would play you in the movie about your life?
A: No one who is already famous. Instead, I would be the breakthrough role for someone who looks smart and irrepressible on screen.

Also interesting on that List of Questions was the following, as well as my response to it:

Q: What is your most treasured possession?
A: Absolutely nothing material. My memories.

I wrote that before I knew I would be sifting through posessions in the summer ahead and letting go of so many of them. Why is it that we always sound so arrogantly confident in making statements about matters with which we haven't had much experience?
posted by nina, 7/13/2005 01:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Apt (and I don’t mean apartment) 

I woke up thinking that maybe I could face up to the creative challenge of coming up with a movie title that would best summarize the state of my soul at the moment.

People seem to like lists, so this morning, instead of staring into space and rhythmically, mindlessly crunching granola, I thought I’d run through some tried and true titles and see if they matched my mood. Of course, I should just make up my own, something like: And what have I done right lately? That would be fitting. But these guys are good too, with minor word changes where needed:

Stop the world, I want to get off

The Hunched-back of someone from Notre Warsaw

Staving off Private Cryin’

The (Small) Apartment

The Great Escape

Not the Best Years of My Life

La Grande Illusion

The Summer the Earth Stood Still

Lost in Transition

Whose Afraid of Getting up in the Morning?
posted by nina, 7/13/2005 11:23:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Today I got up and brushed aside any thought that I did not want the day to begin.

I did not begin the morning with writing a blog post.

I did not go for a morning walk. I ran instead and on a different path.

I immediately mailed a package that had to go out east.

I went shopping for a gift. You have no idea how hard it is to get myself to do that.

Thankfully, we have Little Luxuries on State Street. Still, what to get...

Madison July 05 166 the person is really into tea, so maybe these tea tiles?

Madison July 05 167 She's really in love with New York...

Madison July 05 168 ...and she has just come back from London.

No, I think I found something better. All wrapped up now. Only it doesn't quite fit in Mr. B's pouch.

Madison July 05 175
(BTW, I seriously think disloyal Mr. B has a crush on that red thing there, in the photo. He's looking all modest and shy, but really, I think it's all about her now. Ah well, he'll come crawling back when Ms. Crimson turns up her red nose and heads in the opposite direction)

The entire time I was in my office I did not turn on the computer.

On the way home I did not pick up a bottle of wine for dinner.

I took out all the mail from the mailbox, not just the stuff that looked potentially interesting.

I even opened mail that had little windows on the envelope.

I broke down with my habit breaking resolve when the afternoon light started fading. You guessed it, I biked down, as usual, for this:

Madison July 05 178
a late latte
posted by nina, 7/12/2005 05:25:00 PM | link | (0) comments

the competitive spirit and the edge of capitalism 

I would not make a good capitalist: I never caught that overwhelming desire to beat out the other guy in the marketplace. The more, the better! Oh, you’re better at this work stuff than I am? Good, good! Let me watch you excel! I’m all for excellence. I hate mediocrity in work life, social life.

But then we come to sports and games. Here, I play to win. If someone is likely to beat me, then I wont play, I’ll change sports, games, anything, but I will not sit there and watch someone overtake me.

It has been a struggle these past weeks dealing with the hot shooters on bikes who routinely pass me. With their bulging body parts tightly held together by a stretchy fabrics, they whiz by and leave Mr. B and me in their sweaty trail. I make a point of speeding when I sense one of them behind me, but on hills, I am a mere a shadow of their might. So I avoid hills.

I read Tonya’s account of playing War and I was with her all the way: do not surrender, no, keep at it! Beat the brains out of that little squirt (even though he is your sweet son).

Another one: when someone unfairly beat me at chess recently, I subsequently spent nearly an entire overseas flight figuring out my strategy, just in case in the next decade or so I’ll find myself again in a game of chess with someone.

And I read how the two blogging runners are now comfortable at five mile runs. Whaaat??? Damn! Gotta up my own circuit so that I am at 5.5. Never mind that I am almost twice the age of one and my leg length falls four inches short of hers and his (I pay attention to these things!), so that I have to take more steps. And I have post-war-baby-tortured-by-pneumonia lungs. Resolve: add more hills, walk less, run more, feel better.

What’s with me anyway? If I ski with someone, I wont admit that I don’t much care for black diamond hills – I’ll hit the ice-covered slope and close my eyes. I’ve broken my nose doing stupid things on skis and I gave my once-little girls a total Clue complex by always always playing to win and gloating when I beat them at it, even though they were like 5 and 8 and I was 36.

I’m sure it’s all tied up with my displacement, abandonment, and uncertainty about life. I’m sure years of analysis would not help. Somewhere along the way I must have concluded that if I don’t push myself, if I don't figure out a clever strategy, my plate will be empty while everyone slurps down the last bits of cake. I'll lie deserted in the gutter, feeble in mind and body and rot.

So, off I go to pick up that extra half mile. Oh, and I beat the crap out of a racing biker this afternoon on the South West trail.
posted by nina, 7/12/2005 03:45:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Monday, July 11, 2005

Jeremy, I am sooooo sorry! 

Last night I received an email from the daughter of my closest friends in Warsaw. She is a woman of great poise and intelligence. And tact. She writes this:

i z przerazeniem stwierdzilam, ze Jeremy propaguje mowienie "zzzzCoca", jak rozumiem za Twoja namowa. hi hi, nic dziwnego, ze moga sie wtedy kelnerzy patrzyc dziwnie. ogolnie przyjetym zdrobnieniem od coca-coli jest "cola", "coca" zas oznacza kokaine....

Oh shit! (forgive me for being crude, the situation calls for it)

For those who do not speak Polish, it reads more or less thus:

With great dismay, I concluded (from reading my comment to his post here) that Jeremy is encouraging the use of the term “zzzz Coca,” as I understand it, under your tutelage. [Jeremy, my fellow traveler to Poland, asked how to order “with coca cola” in a restaurant. Being savvy in slang, I said: ask for “z Coca"; “z” means with, and “Coca” is slang for Coca Cola.] He he, it’s not surprising then that waiters looked strangely upon him. The colloquial term for Coca Cola is “cola.” “Coca,” on the other hand, means cocaine.

Damn! I knew there was a slang term. But it’s been years since I had to order Coca Cola for anyone! Jeremy: I’m sorry for getting it wrong and for making you look like a cocaine junkie to all Poles you interacted with on your trip.
posted by nina, 7/11/2005 01:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments

How can you laugh When you know I’m down 

First of all, if you’re looking for a post detailing my own mental breakdown or decline – forget it. This ain’t it. I’m writing about a movie. A very funny movie.

I would have missed it but for Saul & Mel – the two who are ensuring that this summer I do not fall into a state of cultural nothingness. But they know how I feel about French films and so yesterday afternoon, there we were, sitting at the Hilldale theater along with 6 other people, all of them over the age of 80, all dripping with sweat under a broken air-conditioning system. A situation made to bring out the giggles, no?

Okay, here’s why I adored the film (which, btw, received a scathing review in our own Cap Times but was thrown many plump tomatoes elsewhere). Yes, I’m nuts about the French farce. I’m completely won over by films that have no story line, or an implausible story line and yet still manage to charm you. The acting has to be superb (as it was in this film) and the setting authentic (ditto here). After that – it’s one big pull into the saga that details the peculiarities of human nature.

Apart from my two partners-in-viewing, I was the only one laughing out loud. Maybe the rest could not keep up with the subtitles. Maybe they were napping. Maybe they were in it for the popcorn. But really, how many movies in the last five years have caused me to laugh out loud? Perhaps one other, except I cannot at the moment remember what it was.

What’s it about? Well, suicidal depression for a start. And helping another. This second theme is what causes critics to have a fit because the implausibility here is just outrageous. And yet, I’m thinking that it’s not. I can well imagine a situation where you find yourself spiraling into a giving mode, while someone, the beneficiary, hardly even notices your efforts on their behalf.

I’m not going to ruin the movie for anyone by even hinting at the tragic/comic (maybe none of the above!) ending. But here’s a big plug: most of the story takes place in a Parisian restaurant. I mean, even if you hated the movie, how awful can it be to sit for two hours and watch people eat French food?

The title: après vous
posted by nina, 7/11/2005 09:55:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Spying games 

I come back home and inspected the premises. Ah! They had spent some time in the master bedroom! A short pause in the living room, a peak at the other rooms. Good sign – they’d ventured down to the rec room.

I remember this kind of detective work twenty years ago when we were selling our little condo. [Oh yes, being city people, we thought nothing of making our first home purchase be a condo, even when there were only maybe two condo projects in all of Madison and everyone was so suspicious of that form of home ownership that we absolutely could not sell it when the time came to move. In the end my close friend from Law School bought it, I swear because I was bursting with babies and she felt sorry for me. It was a very small condo – smaller than the apartment I’m moving into next month.]

It’s the same now as we proceed with the sale of the house: I vacuum all carpeted surfaces and scoot out. Then I come back and study the footprints. Crazy, I know. Sort of on the same level as biking around the block and staring at the people who have come to look – evaluating them as potential buyers. Hmmm… they have a baby. That’s good, a baby should grow in this house – make it her home. A minivan rather than an SUV. Good, good. Why aren’t they saying anything about the beautiful flowers outside? Did they notice all my signs about this being a pesticide-free lawn? Have they kicked the Chemlawn habit?

What am I saying, they just came and looked. There’s no UHaul outside the door yet. They just looked. I’m still safe here. This place is still under my stewardship.

posted by nina, 7/10/2005 11:25:00 AM | link | (0) comments


I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately (mine are grown, living a thousand miles away).
On my long drive to the farm this morning, I was listening to NPR and they chose to play Edvard Elgar. Wow. My daughters played strings in the symphony orchestra not so long ago. The little one would sing Elgar with me in the car, I remember that.

Daughters. I did many shameful things in my life, but in terms of direct impact, one of the more shameful was that I found a daughter-journal and one day, I read an entry. I wish I had not, but I did. And then it tortured me. And I could not let it go. And finally I told her – right in the midst of her college tour! In the Admissions office of Amherst, I was admitting to her that I had snooped! And she forgave me.

Daughters. My other little one. You have never seen anyone dance like her. No, I mean it. For verification purposes, let me brag: she was Clara in the Civic Center’s annual production of the Nutcracker. Man, that girl danced! And then one day she did not. Because dancing is an all or nothing thing. You dance, or you do other things. She made that decision when she was a wee 13, being arguably Madison’s best of the best dancers then, to let it go. So that she could do other things.

Someone wrote in the most dunce-ish of emails received by me in the last month that children turn on you if you don’t be careful.

I know nothing of this.

My house is full of markers of how they grew up. As I get ready to let it go, I have to remind myself every minute of each day: it’s only a house. It’s only a house.
posted by nina, 7/10/2005 12:55:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, July 09, 2005

...Leaning into the afternoons I fling my sad nets to the ocean* 

I promise I’ll stop soon with the quotes. It’s just that there is some poetic thorn out there and once it wedges itself into your day, it’s hard not to let it drive your text (and drive the reader crazy, I’m sure).

Today, I was going to go for one last time to the Flower Factory – the place to get any kind of flower you may want to put in to your garden. The afternoon dry heat has done wonders in terms of diminishing Madison’s mosquito population, but it has had a miserable effect on my garden out front. Even though I am abandoning it soon and moving downtown, I can’t stand to see its sad little face. I feel it needs one small little pick me up.

But I lacked the oomph to set out. The afternoon came and went and what do I have to show for it? One Ocean post and a trip with Mr. B to the grocery store. [On the return trip, the additional grocery bag toting foods I could not fit into Mr. B’s pouch banged on the wheel with regular thumps and by the time I reached my house, there were great gashes in the bag. I suppose I should be happy that the cherries and Bunny Luv carrots did not leave a trail on the virtually level road I peddled down on.]

Earlier, I dug out my various ragged books of poems and was reminded that poets are typically even sadder than I am, which is saying a lot. True, my standards – Neruda, Szymborska, the Brits – they have at least as much admiration for Beautiful Things Out There as they have sorrow for when Things Are Not Working Out, but still, their voices swell and soar and you can usually cut out snippets that appear sad even if they are not totally intended that way.

You should see the stuff I did not use, for fear of appearing over the edge! I did store it in a Word document in case the malaise of today is only a small foothill on the mountain slope of misery. Not likely, it being such a beautiful Madison summer season, but you never know.

* Neruda actually writes “sea,” not ocean, but my blog is not nicknamed “sea;” I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded the slight adjustment.
posted by nina, 7/09/2005 06:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments

thus we salute thee with our early song* 

Oh so early, my song this morning was at the daybreak level of early.

Madison July 05 120
watching the sun crawl up between the branches

I know, Ocean appears to be obsessively geared toward irritating Tonya with coffee posts and photos, but how could I resist this one?

Madison July 05 117 coffee & corn

Madison July 05 119 corn close-up. with wild daisies.

Where am I? I returned to the farm where the old oaks grow on a kind invite to spend the morning there with my camera. The coffee on the deck made it almost impossible to hoist myself out of a blissful state of repose and head out into the fields. But I did, I did. The light beckoned.

Madison July 05 133 birches

Madison July 05 144yahara r.

The people who live there are working toward restoring some of these overgrown fields and returning them to prairie plants and wildlife. To me, the place is beautiful already, but I see the potential for a better balance. The invasive plants (whose names I always get wrong, so don’t even bother thinking you’re going to learn anything here at Ocean) clutch at the soil so ferociously that it’ll take many seasons to get them to let go. And move elsewhere. Like, to the suburban yard I am fighting to keep in order.

Madison July 05 132parsnip maybe?

Madison July 05 139 creating a path through canary grass

Under the orange sticks of the sun The heaped ashes of the night turn into leaves again**

The morning coaxed me into a better frame of mind, that’s for sure. So I am extremely grateful for the guided trek through fields and forests. Though, in addition to pushing through grass that threatened to swallow you whole, occasionally, you would come across sinister sights such as this:

Madison July 05 152 terrifying oak

I survived. And thrived.

P.S. Being late for the farmers market caused me to reconsider going downtown. Instead, I went to the westside offshoot. Damn it, I liked it! SO disloyal, I know. But the crowds were nonexistant and the prices were better, and even late in the morning, I could still pick up these:

Madison July 05 165
at a dollar a bunch, how cool is that!

* Milton, again.
** Oliver, again.
posted by nina, 7/09/2005 02:35:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, July 08, 2005

Why do I love you so? 

Because you are so pretty to look at?

Madison July 05 110 at jo's: sip it with the Times and a round of chess

Madison July 05 113 at jo's: sweeten it (no!) or drink it plain

Madison July 05 114 at jo's: outside, on a summer afternoon

I did the bold thing today. I bought my first latte at Jo’s. Jo’s Tazzina is the closest café to the apartment I’ll be moving to (in the Bassett ‘hood) and in a month or so, it will be my place of choice for a latte.

I have been reluctant to try a cup thus far. What if I hated it, what if the barista was without brewing brains? What if it just did not measure up?

But it did. And oh, are the colors good for camerawork!

[Tonya, I am like an unleashed animal around a latte - I cannot help myself with the camera. Ocean is but a vessel for my coffee-posting crazies.]

posted by nina, 7/08/2005 05:00:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Left to die 

Being a post-war baby in Poland can really cause you to enter the world not kicking and screaming, but coughing and gasping. I was not a healthy little number. By age two (and I mean 2 days), I seem to have been pegged as the one who couldn’t stomach life. By the next two (months this time), I managed to develop the dreaded pneumonia which, without antibiotics, and when added to the fact that I was not eating, was pretty much the kiss of death.

My mother likes to recount this as one hopeless situation. So what did she do? She took me to the village, left me with my grandparents and went back to work in the city (after all, she had one healthy one gurgling in the play pen already).

I have to believe that she shed many a tear, expecting (as she tells it) a little wooden coffin with the limp body of her baby, whom she had barely named some weeks earlier, there - waiting for her upon her next return to the village (they had no phones back then).

I always think that story, which is supposed to be ultimately upbeat (what do you know! On the strength of milk squeezed straight from the cow’s warm udder, you pulled through! -- I am told), is maybe a sign that abandonment works in my favor. True, I was not really abandoned, but I certainly was left to…well, die, actually (if I am to believe my mother’s chipper-ish choice of words).

So if you ditch me for one reason or another – I will surprise you and I will thrive. Fresh warm milk -- organic maybe? -- is all it takes. That is the most obvious conclusion to draw from this. It is, however, not the correct conclusion.
posted by nina, 7/08/2005 04:25:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Where there’s a will there’s a way; where there’s no will there’s no way. 

Sometime in the last 24 hours I realized that I have too much on my plate right now. Which then caused me to ‘fess up to myself that I am one basket case. And I have run out of steam. Normally, under such circumstances I am one to push the balls to the wall. I cut to the chase, go the extra mile and get things done. No lollygagging for me.

But it’s different now and I am making no bones about it. Each day this month I have been running like a chicken with its head cut off. Until now. Instead of putting the pedal to the metal, I am sitting here stumped and I know I’ll stay here thus til the cows come home. And I don’t even have cows.
posted by nina, 7/08/2005 10:25:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Eat ‘n run 

Ah, kef! How great it is to watch a person work so damn hard and then succeed!

Did you ever have one of those days where you think: okay, it’s just hours. Eventually three o’clock will turn into four o’clock and four will turn to five and so on and so forth. You write mediocre posts and you feel your day is greatly below mediocre.

Then, as dusk turns to very little light, suddenly you get swept up in a celebration of someone’s success. Kef was all about big time success, and tonight one could walk and eat and drink and walk and so on and so forth, and before you know it, her success rubs off and it begins to feel like it’s YOUR SUCCESS! – even though in this case, I did nothing more than walk and eat and etc.

Madison July 05 095 eat 'n RUN

Madison July 05 103 eat 'n run and DRINK

Madison July 05 104 EAT 'n run

Kef: congrats on your Ph.D.! And on so much more (and you know exactly what I mean, my friend).
posted by nina, 7/07/2005 11:25:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Revelation, part 2 

(10:00a.m. phone rings, my heart leaps)
It’s me.

Oh. Sigh... Don't mind me -- I am only reminding myself of days when I waited for the boyfriend to call. Now again I keep hoping it’s that certain someone…
A boyfriend??
No, a realtor with a house sale offer. Sigh…
Anyway, aren’t you teaching now?

In ten minutes…
You sound desperate! Don’t tell me! You want to meet up for another fix of …coffee* ??
(meekly:) …yes.

And so here we are again, in the late afternoon, only this time the size of the cup has grown. I’d say we have an addiction going here.

Madison July 05 092
*this same person threw out slanderous attacks against the java joes among us here.
posted by nina, 7/07/2005 05:25:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Oh come on! Everyone, just quit stealing my thunder! 

So I crashed on Mr. B three weeks ago. Immediately after, I learned that Lance crashed exactly the same time, on a practice run in France. Yeah, yeah, coincidence.

Then, yesterday, I get this email from a friend:

The leader of the Tour de France Dave Zabriskie fell today in the final minute of the team time trial as his team was trying to beat Lance Armstrong's team. His injury rivals yours (EXACT location!). He ripped his treasured yellow jersey, too. His team finished without him only 2 seconds behind Armstrong's. Unfortunately for Zabriskie, he has to get up tomorrow and ride day after day some 2000 more miles.

Yeah, yeah – coincidence.

I’m unruffled. These racing giants – they race, they crash, it’s their life.

But this evening I hear that the president, Mr. Geroge W, himself wants in on the limelight. While the G-eighters were most likely schmoozing, he was out biking in Scotland. And then he crashed. He ran over a cop! How stupid is that????And here, what’s wrong with this paragraph (from CNN)?
The president's bicycle was damaged, and he returned to his hotel in an SUV that
had been trailing him as he rode with a Secret Service agent, McClellan said.

Our president took his own bicycle with him on a trip to a G8 summit? No! It cannot be! And someone was driving an SUV in Scotland? I have NEVER seen an SUV in Scotland. True, I have not been to Scotland since they started manufacturing SUVs, but I can just imagine what the Scotts think of SUVs. Pretty much what I think of SUVs (mind you, I have rented one two times on family vacations just to see what the thrill was).

There are also a few words about our president’s embracing attitude toward the person he injured:

Bush "visited" with the police officer for some time after the accident and asked White House physician Dr. Richard Tubb to monitor his situation at the hospital, McClellan said.

Why the quotes around visited? Did he not really visit? Did it not go well? Did the officer resist? Is there a law suit brewing? And what’s with offering Dr. Tubb's services? Who even has a physician called ‘tubb’? And FYI, Mr. president, health care in the UK is readily available. So, your largesse is not needed.

Okay now, people, settle down with your bikes. Next thing you know I’ll be reading about the pope crashing during an afternoon spin for an espresso in Rome.

posted by nina, 7/06/2005 08:37:00 PM | link | (0) comments


I can’t believe it: there is a combination of roads that allows me to bike from downtown Madison to my house, without an incline steep enough to require even one single shift in gears. Today I finally mapped it out. I feel the joyous realization that I am now embarking on the easy life. Goodbye toned, muscled thighs, hello pleasure! And really, I never ever wanted to look like this.

[photo from]

More like this:

Another discovery: some people appear in their blogs to have great disdain for something, possibly hoping to elicit sympathy and kind words from like-minded readers, but all along, you know what they are? Closet java junkies!

Today, as I put my own cup down on the table, next to hers, I thought – what the heck am I seeing here? It sure is one frothy cup of tea from the professed lover of the brewed leaf. No leaf there: it’s a kissin’ cousin of my own latte!

Madison July 05 091
I don’t know why she drinks it with a straw. I don’t know.

posted by nina, 7/06/2005 04:25:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Zakopane and Paris: shared fate 

This spring, I had again returned to the mountain town of Zakopane in Poland. Less than 100 kilometers from Krakow, it nonetheless took over four hours by train to get there (something about the tracks being poorly designed). So I took the bus on my way out, cutting my journey by more than an hour, but adding a load of misery as the bus stopped and snailed its way on the winding narrow road.

This is the town that put in a bid for the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Poles hoped for a stunning upset of the frontrunner, Torino. What they got was a stunning kick in the pants in the first round of voting.

Paris & Warsaw May 05 478 Zakopane: still a favorite way of getting around

Today, as the Committee announced its selection of London as the 2012 Olympic site, I have to think that more than the substance of the package was being judged. It is said that this was all Blair’s doing and that has to be right. Even watching from the sidelines, I am often taken in by his speaking talents. My class would be so much better if it were taught by Tony Blair!

Still, I have to feel sad for the Zakopane that never made it past round one and the Paris that kept hanging in there until the end. My Paris photo is now but a sad reminder of how voting so often produces sucky, disappointing results.

Paris & Warsaw May 05 048
posted by nina, 7/06/2005 10:15:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Venting with a venti 

When you are dealing with a crazed person, it's best to not get yourself all hot and bothered. A confrontation isn't going to set things right, especially if you are in a tango with a big gun and you are only a wee little fish. I know that. I'm not going to use foul language and spit fire when the gun is pointing at my forehead. I'm going to be docile and wimpy and do a quick retreat.

But when I get to my computer, I can let loose.

Bottom line: I think it was entirely inappropriate for Miss driving-huge-SUV to blare her claxon at little me and Mr. B, just because she did not like the fact that I was leaving the parking lot, holding on to a latte with one hand, and steering Mr. B with the other.

I admit it isn’t optimal to be biking and looking after a steaming latte, extra hot, especially when you have a sprained thumb so that the whole experience causes you great pain, at the same time that the Whole Foods sack is bouncing around your rear tire because somehow it got loose on the ride up Mineral Point hill. But the distance is short and few things bring me as much pleasure these days as the thought that I soon will be home, sitting back and enjoying my long deferred afternoon latte.

And really, what damage am I doing to anyone? I’m careful. The ride from the café home is uphill, so it’s not as if I can speed.

But the irony, the irony: me on my little Mr. B – what’s our horse power? Maybe a quarter of a horse, an old lame horse at that? And the SUV? How many horses does that one have under its hood? So there she is, Miss driving-huge-SUV, talking on her cell phone and driving this monster machine with one hand and honking her horn at me, and screaming that Mr.B, my latte and me – we’re an unsafe combination.

The nerve.
posted by nina, 7/05/2005 05:15:00 PM | link | (0) comments

A tale of two sillies 

While the country was mesmerized by fireworks, the following conversation migrated from a Madison neighborhood last night:

Can I bring anything tonight?
For hacking away weeds and plants in my yard.

I have enough in my own.
I have more.

I have more.
(third voice pipes in): I have more.

Mine are out of control.
Mine are out of control.
(third voice pipes in): mine are out of control.

[Let's compare:]

Madison July 05 080 Madison July 05 082
Ocean front & Ocean back

Madison July 05 083 Madison July 05 085
TShow front & TShow back

I wish I lived in an apartment.
(third voice): I wish I lived in an apartment.
I am going to live in an apartment.

Lucky! I’m going to make the change soon.
(third voice) I’m going to make the change soon.
I am making the change. Soon.

posted by nina, 7/05/2005 08:55:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, July 04, 2005

I ain’t got no hot water and they shut off the heat Can you loan me some money for something to eat* 

Savannah oak interlude

On the way to Milwaukee’s Summerfest, I stopped at a farm where oak trees three times my age grow along the banks of the Yahara River.

The last time I was excited by something that grew in the wild on a Wisconsin farm was … I can’t think when. But yesterday I was shown wild cotton grasses and gnarly oaks, sweet blackberry brambles and black walnut trees, and the stream that eventually becomes the Yahara – all making me think that there's something to the words “take Manhattan just give me that countryside!”

Madison July 05 033 bridge over untroubled waters

Madison July 05 037

sizing up the oak trunk

Oh, the festgrounds were crowded..

Madison July 05 050
From there it was just a … two hour zip to Milwaukee’s lakefront Summerfest.

Do Ocean readers know about Summerfest? Advertised as the biggest music festival in the country (by what measure? number of performers? number of visitors? number of concurrent stages? number of beers consumed by attendees?), it is first and foremost a bargain! One fee ($12) and you’re in: see as many musical numbers as you want, stay as long as the bands are playing.

Okay, so you have to eat and drink and you can’t bring in your own stuff.

Think you’re going to see photos of your typical greasy fair foods? Think again. With jambalaya, corn on the cob, roasted chicken and strawberries dipped in chocolate, along with seemingly bottomless wine coolers, I had a feast. Of course, the feeling of “this is a bargain” quickly wears off, but hey, you're paying for the food, the setting, the noise, the people-watching!

jambalaya over beerMadison July 05 064

A Shocked Michelle

Almost forgot. The music. It’s all about who is singing, of course, but the show is also in the audience. Summerfest is 100% Milwaukee. Yeah, I know, the audience is from all over, but somehow Milwaukeeans set the tone. You get the feeling that after the show, they’d like to take off on their Harleys and head into the sunrise, muscle shirts wipping their torsos, barely covering the elaborate tattoos. I felt at home (because of the tattoo, not the Harley).

Maybe I exaggerate a small bit. And I don’t even have many photos to back me up here. I had been so taken with the Savannah oaks that I used up most of my battery life on the farm, leaving me wondering when oh when will I get myself a back-up battery. The benefit? The post will be shorter as a result.

Madison July 05 052

Michelle Shocked was one hell of a singer though and would have been great to take many photos of. The audience as well – especially the delicious views of several hundred Wisconsinites wiggling their butts on command (Michelle’s song demanded it).

Madison July 05 056 "turn away from me and shake that butt!"

What would you be like if three of your boyfriends were driven to commit suicide?

Maybe you’d be singing dark songs to a packed, adoring audience. Like Lucinda Williams did this night.
Oh no, I would not succumb to that kind of thing – where you stake out seats hours in advance just so you can be in the third row, literally at the singer's feet. No, I would not do that, would I? Peer pressure! My fellow Lucinda enthusiasts, like me, were willing to sit through an entire performance of the Hacienda Brothers (you’re kidding! never heard of them? where have you been?) just to claim good seats for Lucinda.

Madison July 05 071a I thought young people could take the loud music in stride. Or maybe she was just blocking the Hacienda Brothers and forgot to take the plugs out afterwards. BTW, cowboy hats are in at Summerfest!

Lucinda was awesome. You have to admire a true comeback, where a singer has a dismal beginning, then gets herself a Grammy in her mid-forties and is drawing huge crowds of young people (okay, and me – but that’s fitting) at the age of 51.

Is it the dead boyfriend thing that makes her face look so defiant? So steady? And is it her history of tough living that makes her look to the lyric book to jog her memory with many of the songs?

Madison July 05 073 Lucinda Williams singing songs from "World Without Tears"

Regardless, she had the audience on their feet. You could not stand still – her music went right from the stage to your gut. Probably the best concert I’d been to in years.
[Thanks, Saul & Mel, for insisting that I go, for driving, for the whole day!]

* American Dream by Lucinda Williams

posted by nina, 7/04/2005 08:55:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The day Ocean's author was rocked into silence 

I went for a run early this morning. I do that occasionally just to challenge myself, because between Mr.B and my walking partners, I have pretty much taken off my running shoes for the year.

How good a runner am I? If I take on a hilly terrain and brisk-walk it in 50 minutes, I can do the same at a jog in 40 minutes. So pretty lousy.

I was greatly discouraged. The rest of the morning was spent at locking myself up with lots of reading material and ignoring my physical self.

As a result, blogging was out of the question.

When I rejoined the world, my favorite phone caller was there jingling away. That caused me to hole myself up all over again.

I'm out again, but in a few minutes some kind folks are sweeping me away to Summerfest in Milwaukee. I was reluctant to go. NO ONE SHOULD REGARD ME AS GOOD COMPANY RIGHT NOW! But they persisted and so I'm off. A real post will follow. Tomorrow.
posted by nina, 7/03/2005 12:55:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Eastward ho! 

This morning I set out for the east side. You might think I was stalking this guy who lives out there, but no. I had another meeting at Mother Fools coffee house and I thought Mr. B might enjoy the adventure.

Madison July 05 018

Hey, what do Ocean and Mother Fool's have in common?

For non-Madison readers, let me summarize it thus: east side people have this thing where they are in love with their ‘hood. Willie Street to an east-sider is like the Black Madonna is to a Catholic Pole. East side people don’t typically like to admit to any great affection for west side people. Phrases like “stuck up” and “snotty” come up. “Homogeneous” is another. And the dreaded word: “suburban.” West siders are soooo suburban.

Within the west side bunch, you have near-west siders, who think they are more like east siders in their funkiness and then you have far-west siders. Near-west siders don’t like far-west siders. They want to distance themselves from the suburban image. And that funkiness complex, too: it comes up.

At this moment I live on the far west side. I got news for you, near-west siders: you’re not more funky than I am, you’re just more rich! Your house costs twice as much as mine.

Me – I like the east side just fine and today I absolutely loved it and felt a great deal of jealousy, verging on rage: they have one of the best bike paths running through it and it is level! No hills, no ups and downs, none of it: flat as can be. Mr. B and I were in heaven.

So there I am, wiling away the morning hours, when a familiar sight comes right into my field of vision:

Madison July 05 025
Oscar? Note the (empty) glass of iced coffee... It has to be!

If this doesn’t appear familiar to you, take a run through cyberspace here.

No, no, Oscar was not stalking me nor I him. It’s just that east siders, they like to band together in public spaces.

My Mo Fo morning made me very very late for the farmers market. So late that Anne of Fantome Farm no longer had any goat cheese left. How can one eat 6-grain crackers without goat cheese? The good thing about being kind to the farmers is that they give you the shirt off their back and, more importantly, their sample containers if they don’t have anything to sell you. Anne: you saved my crackers for the week to come.

Madison July 05 027
Mr. B was happy enough carrying the whole loot home. Uphill -- it being the tiresome west side.
posted by nina, 7/02/2005 02:25:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, July 01, 2005

Where Ocean’s author gets in over her head, in rough waters 

I recently met someone who is an extreme sailing enthusiast (in addition to being an in-his-spare-time Hoofer's instructor, for those here in Madison who know a Hoofer when they see one). When he found out that I’d been sailing only once in my life on some little nothing boat in Poland when I was maybe 18, he began coaxing me into coming out for a sailing lesson.

I resisted for a while, but finally and I admit this without shame – I thought: why not? It will at best be the adventure of my life and at worst: a terrific blogging opportunity.

So today I sailed.

I’m sailing away
Set an open course for the virgin sea...
(song sung by Ocean author at the last karaoke attended by her)

My instructor pal is terrific. Moreover, he may at some point log onto this blog and so I will not convey here the full passion of my (negative) feelings toward sailing.

Madison July 05 004 for the love of sailing

In truth: it was not his fault. He is so good at yelling at the crew to get their shit together. And he caught me when I almost was pulled by the rope and tugged viciously to the raging waters below.

Madison July 05 011
is that the Capitol? So far away...

And maybe my attitude was tinted by the weather: today was so goddamn windy that the choppiness I am sure would make a mermaid seasick.

Madison July 05 015 note his task: it was mine for 90% of the hours spent on the sail boat

I did not mind the heavy work either. The bending, hoisting, pulling, swinging down as the sail swept its way across the boat threatening to bang the hell out of anything or anyone in its way – all this reminded me somewhat of working in a restaurant kitchen (another one of those things that took my fancy a few years back) – except that it was like working on plating appetizers on a rocky, swaying floor, where if you did not grip tightly with your shoes, you would be thrown into the oven with the powerful force of a room that refuses to stay upright.

You know when I hit bottom? When I got off the boat, swaying my way in total stupor up the Union Terrace steps and realized that my Summer Without Car meant that I had to peddle Mr. B all the uphill way home.

posted by nina, 7/01/2005 08:05:00 PM | link | (0) comments

A Whole Foods moment, part 2 

Generally, I do not take over the counter supplements – of the type that are supposed to boost your everything, from the immune system to your sexual pleasure. It’s not that I do not believe in them. I’m sure turmeric, green tea, cloves and ginger really give a nice dose of anti to your oxidants, but when I last studied the ingredients of a leading supercritical antioxidant supplement (in addition to the above, it had parsley, peppermint, rosemary and, I kid you not, extra virgin olive oil and yellow beeswax), it sounded more like a list of salad ingredients than effective device for increasing your cell protective activity. Bottom line: I’ll focus on throwing together a salad instead. And anyway, there’s something grossly wrong about me paying money to counter free radicals. I was raised in a different political culture.

But yesterday I reconsidered. I had been talking to someone who is involved with pharmaceuticals and oncology and all those other important medicinal matters and he was rather shocked that I wasn’t blasting away at detoxification with greater force.

And then he said – I know you love wine. Surely you take milk thistle? I do not. I do – he tells me – at least once a day, I put it in my coffee.

Put something putrid in my coffee?? You have got to be kidding! My pricey latte should be bombarded with a foul seed extract that purports to counter the damage the caffeine (or wine) is about to inflict? No, it cannot be.

On the other hand, I had to admit that my rendition of a salad lately has been to open a bag of mixed greens or arugula and eat them straight from the plastic container. I don’t even take the time to give it a fourth rinse (believing all that garbage they write about it being already triple rinsed), I most certainly haven’t been putting any turmeric, green tea, ginger, parsley, peppermint or rosemary into it.

And, not surprisingly, I found that you can, these days, get everything in a pill. Everything. Forget about pouring putrid liquids into a great latte.

Okay, so now I have these pills that will save me from sure death by tomorrow. But just for July. After that, my life is all about purging and getting rid of things.
posted by nina, 7/01/2005 12:35:00 PM | link | (0) comments

A Whole Foods moment, part 1 

Are you one of those people that gives an honest answer when someone runs into you and says “how’s it goin’?”

Because you know you shouldn’t do that. People don’t want to know. 99.9% of the time the bump on your hip and the slump in your demeanor and wit will make them uncomfortable and they’ll quickly review their options for a hurried retreat.

Give them one. If you must unload, give them a chance to walk away. Throw out a gift of “oh, but you know, that’s just the way things are, so must get going now to experience some more of life’s bumps and bruises.” They’ll love you for it. Watch the big grin appear, the hand, poised, ready for a parting wave, relief, palpable relief evident in their entire demeanor.

I am puzzled though. If most people really do not want to know, why do they ask? After all, “hi there, how’s that blog of yours?” works equally well and generally one can say at least one honestly pleasing thing about one’s blog.
posted by nina, 7/01/2005 11:55:00 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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