The Other Side of the Ocean
Monday, October 31, 2005
And I fully support the high praise and deferential treatment of the Althouse blog in general. After all, she writes about Very Important Topics, whereas I find myself commenting on such things as bed mites and fried bananas. So that words (found in said article from the Daily Page) such as "high profile blogger Ann Althouse" no longer faze me.
However, I must admit it's a punch in the gut to have a reporter pick out this comment from Ocean's Staid Street post:
UW law prof Nina Camic also noted the revelry, posting several photos from State Street. She wrote:
Most certainly, it was a crazy night. Leaving before 1 allowed us to escape the slight altercation between several hundred and the mounted police. I had to feel sorry for the mounted police. Everyone kept cozying up to their horses then cursing them as they dropped manure and people stepped in it.
Fine, so I noted the horse manure. It stood out for me, that's all. I remember the evening as a blur of costumes, bare flesh, mounted police and the steam rising from the pavement where warm horse droppings let their presence be felt. Or smelled. Or something.
Sigh... At least I can take comfort in the fact that my students are too busy with their work to be doing something as frivolous as reading prof blogs, or at least this prof's blog.
Sundays are house-cleaning days.
You clean your loft? I should have guessed. The day you opened the door and I saw that you had white carpet that actually was still white, I knew you and I inhabited different planets.
It’s not white and besides, I haven't lived here that long.
I’m serious now: what do you clean?
For example, I do the laundry – linens and things.
You are always doing the laundry. I swear, whenever we talk on the phone, I hear your towels doing their orbit through the spin cycle.
I do like having a washer and dryer close at hand. And I like clean linens.
Delusional. Let me read you an excerpt from Bryson’s “short history…”
You might not slumber quite so contentedly if you were aware that your mattress is home to perhaps two million microscopic mites, which come out in the wee hours to sup on your sebaceous oils and feast on all those lovely, crunchy flakes of skin that you shed as you doze and toss. Your pillow alone may be home to forty thousand of them. (To them your head is just one large oily bon-bon.) And don’t think a clean pillowcase will make a difference. To something on the scale of bed mites, the weave of the tightest human fabric looks ship’s rigging. Indeed , if your pillow is six years old, it is estimated that one-tenth of its weight will be made up of “sloughed skin, living mites, dead mites and mite dung,” to quote the man who did the measuring, Dr. John Maunder of the British Medical Entomology Center.
We are actually getting worse at some matters of hygiene. Dr. Maunder believes that the move toward low-temperature washing machine detergents has encouraged bugs to proliferate. As he put it: “If you wash lousy clothing at low temperatures, all you are getting is cleaner lice.”
Enough already! Besides, I use warm water. And I take very hot showers.
Have you worried that you’re one of those obsessive types that can’t ever go anywhere without a box of handi-wipes, preferably natually scented with lemons?
Go ahead and check. They're not in my handbag. Besides, you hadn’t seen my previous house or you wouldn’t be saying that. I am trying to keep this place together so that I never really have to clean it.
So you’re cleaning it to avoid having to really clean it?
Exactly. Mites, huh? Thanks, pal.
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Okay, let me roll back a bit.
I wanted to go to the State Street Halloween bash. We’re not talking about small, college-town party. We are talking about a big-time event where 100,000 show up and pack the street looking, to a large extent, very naked. In spite of the cold.
First, though, before setting out, one has to pad the stomach. You know, to protect it against possible attack.
Bunky's on Atwood
So we set out in a small group, all patiently indulging my desire to learn more about my new camera and night street photography. Yeah, that’s why I did it.
This morning, I reviewed the photos. I called a fellow blogger and got advice:
Do you suppose I can post an excellent photo of [costume where someone is engaged in an obscene and immoral act]?
NO! – she tells me.
How about a great photo of [costume where someone is engaged in another obscene and immoral act]?
Hell, I wasn’t serious.
Okay, here are some tamer shots then. I’ll say more once you’ve taken a look at a presentable handful.
Capitol: front view
Capitol: rear view
dancin' the clothes away
Well yes, you are correct. I realized that this morning. There seem to be no photos of women. Yes there were women. Yes they dressed crazily as well. I don’t understand it myself. The only decent and publishable photos are of half-naked guys. I don’t get it don’t get it don’t get it.
Most certainly, it was a crazy night. Leaving before 1 allowed us to escape the slight altercation between several hundred and the mounted police. I had to feel sorry for the mounted police. Everyone kept cozying up to their horses then cursing them as they dropped manure and people stepped in it.
This morning, at the Mifflin Street Co-op, I saw the occasional straggler, dragging in, still in costume. (One has to wonder why he would be looking at beer at 9 am, but hey, the young seem to have stamina for that sort of thing.)
Me, I preferred to spend some quiet contemplative moments talking about the days gone by while looking out at our totally cool skyline. And the geese, flying every which way.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
When I was in Vienna a couple of weeks ago, I came across a monument that expressed exactly how I felt: guilt-ridden, loaded down, hunted:
But today the burden has been lifted. My flaking out on Tori, owner and chef of Madison’s exquisite l’Etoile restaurant, was finally confronted as I ran into him at the Farmers Market. I fell to my knees, kissed his hardened-from-the-ovens knuckles and apologized to high heaven for not helping out this summer (this is what I hope I did; in the alternative, I may have been seen groveling, kissing, prattling and in general making an even bigger fool of myself).
My amends: I promised that I would add to their creamy, milky way of interstellar configurations by moonlighting at l’Etoile again next summer.
Interstellar what???? C’mon, what person reading Ocean does not know that l’Etoile is really the infamous square in Paris, so named because it actually is not a square at all, but a circle, fanning out in a million directions, sort of, well, like a star…
And, as of this week another star was added to l’Etoile’s A-list, as l'Etoile's Café became Soleil Café, which, as every reader of Ocean already knows, speaks to the issue of people needing and asking for more sex in their lives.
You think I’m making it up? Look at the t-shirts the crew at l’Etoile’s Café is wearing – they have engraved on them the new name:
Anyway, I am so glad Tori and I are friends again. The man is a genius and I hate getting on the wrong side of genius. I re-entered their warm spaces this morning and watched them laying it on: tray after tray of croissants, to say nothing of the brioches, the newly added tarts, the éclairs. Fantastic. I’m seeing sunny days ahead there. Yeah.
Friday, October 28, 2005
A gull. What thoughts does a gull have? Students, why do they row boats? Why do they leave mattresses on the lakefront?
The chairs, packed with every and any kind of person in the summer, empty now. Except for her and her loved one.
I am late. The sun is not a presence anymore. We go inside. Freaky wild! Portends of things to come. Tomorrow night. On State Street. The Mad City’s wild night: Halloween.
One man’s hot stuff is a woman’s freezer section at the local grocery store. The back of it, where they keep the Ben&Jerry’s ice cream.
I’m talking to a guy who claims female adornments don’t influence attractiveness.
I don’t much care if women dye their hair, wear earrings, etc etc. It’s not what I look for.
I don’t buy it. This is the kind of la la thinking that goes on in this town of overgrown hippies and Farm & Fleet frequent shopper card-holders. Only when the heat is on, their eyes follow the racy numbers rather than the androgynously dressed gray-haired unadorned types.
Okay, you’re on. I tell him. Let’s see how you react to the hotornot.com photos (where people post their photos and subject themselves to what would seem to me like an excruciatingly humiliating experience of being judged on their degree of hotness). I want to see if we are in agreement as to who is really hot. Or not. I bet we agree, I bet we both pick the classy types, tastefully dressed, with beguiling features and great hair.
We turn to the computer screen.
First photo flashes. It’s a woman. She is so palpably unattractive that I have to think some mean types sent it in for a laugh. This rating thing is ugly. Nonetheless, hot she is not and so I vote with a “1” (scale 1 – 10). My friend gives her a 5.
A five? What are you thinking?? Her hair looks like oil, of the dark, car engine type, has been poured over it, with no strand left behind. And a sweatshirt? Who sends a picture of herself to be rated for hotness, wearing a sweatshirt?
It’s insulting to give less than 5. It just hurts their feelings (average scores are posted with the photos).
Okay mr-do-gooder-overgrown hippie, I thought we were playing this game honestly.
Fine. Let’s move on. Here’s a guy. I can’t rank a guy for hotness. So I’ll just give him a 7 because he has a friendly smile.
A friendly smile. He looks like someone I’d want to sell me shoes. Three. At best a three.
A picture of miss hot stuff in abundance, spilling over, you know, in your face, suddenly appears. She’s leaning forward to entice the audience with her cleavage. She has painted hair (“dyed” is too generous a phrase) and eyes outlined with a one-inch thick black liner.
Nine, my friend says, but I know he is holding back. His mouth says nine, his racing heart says 10.
You are so full of crap! She is a slut and she is coming on to you in the most obvious and disgusting way!
Yeah, I know, but she looks hot. Like she wants to be spending time with me.
What kind of time? Are we talking about quality time?
I’m saying she is hot.
He is right. She has an overall score of 9.8. America agrees with this two-faced hippie boy who talks gray hair and no make-up and trips up the minute a glossy number is flashed before his lust-filled eyes.
We go through 50 more photos and we could not be more apart on every single one of them.
Except for the photo of this hot, really really hot looking guy who looks vaguely European with his dark hair, his trim body (is it my imagination or is he just wearing shorts, I mean the ones that are supposed to go under something else?)
Ten I say. Undeniably ten.
Ten my friend agrees.
I thought you couldn’t get into finding men hot?
I’m looking at him through your eyes.
The game deteriorates. The realization that these are real people looking for real dates overwhelms me. I look at my huge long list of ones, twos and my friend’ s more generous fives and sixes.
Nice people, all nice people (except the dude who bears a striking resemblance to a serial killer. Because of course, I know exactly what a serial killer looks like). Just not hot. Or maybe I’m just not primed for hotness. Maybe the command should have been: rank these in terms of their averageness. Because really, in essence, we are all rather average.
My friend looks at me and says: when you play this game, you cannot ask the person you’re doing it with what number they would assign to you. So don’t ask me, okay?
That told me gobs, right there.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
But this post is for Brando [hi Brando -- is your finger on F5 yet? No? oooooh, soon! so good! so good!*].
...because his post about his addiction to comments is the best. Ever. [hi again, pal!]
Brando (of One Child Left Behind fame, see sidebar) is one of my three favorite on this planet storybloggers. I aspire to be a storyblogger, but I see myself at level Z, whereas he is up there in the first letters of the alphabet.
But don't go there. Stay with me. My posts are shorter.
Today, though, be fickle and jump ship. It's that good.
* this is not an inside joke. read his post and you'll get it. get it. yeah!
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
I was going to try to lay on the passion, just to prove you wrong. But I have concerns about my students who may titter in class tomorrow.
Let me rifle through the porous storage tank (yeah, my in-need-of-major-overhaul brain) and pick something that I can infuse with some degree of agitation (does that qualify as passion? Pretend it does).
Recently I have wondered if, perhaps as a result of global warming and the confused patterns of bird migration (because if not that, then why?), we have lost our ability to manage the slight irregularities that occasionally crop up in human relations.
I could give you three brazenly beautiful examples of this right now, ones from my own stock of Important Moments To Remember Forever, but I wont. I mean, that would seem more manic than Ocean-anic.
And I am one of you! I also fail and falter and fumble. Daily it seems. I’m no exception – I am equally vulnerable, fully under the spell of those confused birds, migrating north instead of south, east instead of west. They have exerted their toll.
I do have to say one thing. We are in control here. We have the ability to reverse bad impulses and weird inclinations. I’ve seen it happen, even today, on this cold day with many birds flying every which way.
Anyway, I am agitated even if not very impassioned about all this. That’s the best that I can do right now. Maybe after a warm bowl of Bozzo soup tonight, I’ll come back and post. It’s easier to write about their great cooking passionately than about the real events that fill my days with strong feeling.
I hope so! Is that okay?
Oh yes, around 8.
Will you have eaten? Do you want me to bring some-take out? Do you mind that I have a heapin' bowlful of the newest in dramatic events to put out on the table along with the wine and possibly food? Shit, I really think I live in one big bubble of drama. Not always bad drama, mind you, but drama it is.
[no response to this last one yet, but I expect it will be something like: Nina, we are so used to it…]
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
A dizzying thought: to be paid to take trips and observe, write about and photograph people engaged in their various activities.
Unfortunately, Sarah's comment, Ann's email (above) and Brando's comment notwithstanding, a line with prospects hasn’t formed. But I will say this: if November offers up no concrete travel, I may have to use frequent flyer miles and camp out in Greenland or something. It should be cheap this time of the year when there is no light to speak of.
Of course, only if they have wireless Internet.
No, thanks, I’m fine with my jug of milk and tin of granola back home.
I’m picking up the usual [a list of “the usuals” follows], and of course chocolate.
What kind do you eat? Dark? Milk? With nuts?
Depends on my mood. I pick up a 3.5 oz bar, either milk, or with nuts. It lasts me a week to ten days.
There the conversation stopped. I mean, how can you email-talk to someone who takes a whole week to polish off a bar of chocolate? What kind of repressed, restrained, unimpassioned individual do we have here?
Amends were made when some was delivered to the loft, you know to butter me up some so I wouldn’t write this post. But I tell it like it is. Some of my friends are awfully tight about their eating habits.
This exchange was the final straw. It made a tough woman out of me. So good-bye sweet gentle kind request and hello tough Polish peasant stock momma taking charge and putting in some changes.
From now on, an anonymous comment without some reference to a name, pseudonym, nickname, blog name, any name – gets stricken by me. I don’t care how innocent, how praising and supportive, how generous the comment is – no name? no initials? nothing? Out it goes.
I take risks by publishing without the protection of anonymity. Sometimes I think I am about as dumb as a mule (are mules the dumbest animals ever? Googling this produced mixed results) to be doing this. But I think it gives me permission to ask that commenters at least take a half step and speak from behind some set of identifying symbols.
And no, contrary to what you may be thinking, I do not sit and count comments and I most certainly do not mold posts so that they would entice you to speak up here. To my knowledge I have twisted only one person’s arm to write comments. True, she now wears a sling and avoids me at work, but this is between her and me. For the rest? Well, I see Ocean as this neat little package of things percolating. Take part in it however you wish. Only if you write here, do sign in some way, or out you go.
Monday, October 24, 2005
Besides I am in mourning. I am inconsolable over this.
P.S. I'm in New York now, watching people walk with a step that can only be described as determined. It makes me appreciate my own back in Madison which, if I don't pay attention, withers into a crawl as I day dream and ponder Midwestern skies.
There, have I convinced you? I like Madison, damn it! I do!
Strong 'family values,' a return to a partnership with the Church, Euroskepticism, anti-gay, anti-taxes, anti, anti anti, but standing for moral renewal, for kicking the Germans, the Russians some -- economic interests be damned, let's bring forth a new era, conservative in the worst definition of that word. Kaczynski, the new president of Poland. Oh no!
Sunday, October 23, 2005
My parents weren’t into holidays much and so pumpkins were not an option. Cider, yes, we’d get cider too.
For the past several years I have been coming to Connecticut in the month of October and each time, if the weather is good, I take whichever daughter has time, up to the orchards north of New Haven. I have always wondered if the place we typically go to is the same that I stopped at some forty-five years ago.
In a complete turn around, the weather turned brilliantly lovely on the Coast (it will rain again once I leave tomorrow, but for now – the skies are magnificent). Red apples, orange pumpkins, blue skies – I could not ask for a better set up. Yet it is the kids’ faces that made me take out the camera most.
Of course, everything is more crowded in coastal Connecticut. At the Green’s, south of Madison, my friend and I were the only visitors last Thursday. Here, they needed someone to direct traffic.
I’m sure most of the kids running around the pumpkin patch were city kids. I could see myself in them. Me, kickin’ pumpkin ass, stuffing myself with apples, preferably covered with caramel (I had a sweet tooth). Me, wanting to take a pumpkin home. Me, loving the feel of the “country.”
bundled up for the brisk country air
a day in the fields; take a picture!
city brats, taking it all in, the apple trees, the rocks...
even the apple branch is crowded in this part of the country
The last photo is from the town square in nearby Guilford. But I needn't have identified it -- there are a million hints that this is indeed Connecticut: the colors and styles of the houses, the age and nature of the foliage, the suspended elctrical wires. Connecticut, aging gracefully in coastal towns, less so in the larger cities.
There is a danger in this. My friend is permitted to pour drinks, any drinks, for a buck to her closest friends and associates. I would be within that circle. I can, therefore, have any and all drinks for a buck anytime I am in New Haven and she is working the night shift.
Last night I did something I never really do in Madison. I sat on a bar stool and watched this bartender at her tasks. From 10pm, until closing time, I watched. Occasionally she would make me a concoction with names that mystified me as much as the combinations of liquor, juices and flavors within the glass. A buck for the drink, a buck for her tip jar.
I went away thinking that hers is a tough job. Not unlike cooking in a restaurant. Orders are flying at you, customers want service, everyone expects things done exactly to their taste.
And the bartender needs to have wisdom and compassion oozing out of her face. In the restaurant kitchen, life is all about your relationship to the ingredients and the tools you work with. The cooks at your side are part of your dance, but you don’t ever have to look in their eye, nor utter a single word except “behind!” if you are moving outside their field of vision and they are likely to careen backwards and upset the entire operation. And you never make contact with the customers who eat your food.
Bartenders, on the other hand, have their critics there, in their face, needing a drink, needing the attention, the wiped counter, the refill, the wise word.
Take it from a former line cook. These jobs are grueling.
Treat them well, the bartenders, the cooks, the people who fill you with drink and food. Treat them well. Boost their spirits as they boost yours. Give 'em a pat, a kind word, a wise nod. Make it a tango, not a solo performance.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Warm breezes, hot afternoons, scorching rides on Mr. B where are you?
Savoring the warmth… but of what? Oh, easy. This, for example:
...with fresh, poached peaches and raspberry maple syrup
We’re walking against the wind, my daughter and I, huddled under an umbrella. One latte and three pancakes later and I no longer mind the gusts, the rain, the East Coast bad weather blitz.
I come here so often, that I sometimes forget to look up. And Yale, mocked by those whose airs are all about being anti-airs, is indeed very pretty when you look up, especially in this season of very red leaves.
I have work to do today. And a drive to Hartford. The afternoon is gone.
Both daughters are here now. Screw the weather, we are on an Asian food roll. Last night Japanese, today Malaysian.
Besides, street lights look pretty against a wet windshield.
Wet pavements, umbrellas put to work, pant cuffs dragging in puddles. It’s hard to care. Warm foods, spicy dips, good coffee. And a fried banana, drizzled with chocolate.
We walk down to Miso. Sushi is an art here. [Even more importantly, it is fresh and honest.]
Next to us, at a long table, a dozen or so Japanese men are engaged in a lively debate over… I don’t know what. I am always at a loss around their language. But it is a welcome exuberance. We are insignificant next to it. We lose ourselves in our food and in each other.
It is late. The wine bottle has been studied and tested repeatedly for any last remaining drops. There haven’t been any for a while. A sip of tea and a last shared plate of food. The ultimate comfort food: a warm, drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with almonds, fried banana.
Friday, October 21, 2005
More blocks. I’m there. I want to see a special exhibit of photographs. Theme: Sub/urbia, the new city. Kind of strange to look for that in New York after having (gladly) moved from the suburbs this summer. In order to get closer to downtown Madison. Life is strange.
The exhibit is good. For example:
sub-urbia on display
But it takes only ten minutes to view it and I have paid $12 to be here. No matter, there’s always Edward Hopper.
looking at a Hopper, looking like a Hopper
The trouble is, once you have seen a roomful of Edward Hoppers, you begin to see Hopper-esque scenes everywhere. I take a cab to Grand Central, go down and find the train for New Haven.
a woman waits at the train station
commuter train: going home
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Kind words of the day (uttered by hosts): we understand.
4:30 a.m. wake up, hit the computer, read a few things. No inspiration. Too bad, hang up the key board, move on.
8:30 a.m. meeting number one.
Followed by: family law class (most likely, they were thinking: are you a math crazy person or what? Can you slow down with those child support calculations, please?).
Followed by: adorable Torts class (most likely they were thinking: if she moves through three cases today again, there will be bloodshed and a revolution, right here on the fifth floor of the Law School).
It’s afternoon. Many important emails to attend to.
(recent email): You want to go with me on Thursday to get some cider? These farmers have the best cider on the Saturday market (Green’s Orchard). And they’re pressing fresh cider that afternoon.
Okay. I’m all about field to table.
You are so driving in a circuitous fashion.
Yeah, I know you like to take photos…
pressing cider: a noisy operation
apples and orange
Listen, I am so late, I need to go, I need to go… Pinhead is cooking a meal and he is a spectacular cook…
morbier cheese and elephant garlic which, as it turns out, is closer to a leek than to a clove of garlic
wrapped in bacon and perfectly done
So, understand. Some days, it is nearly impossible to fit in the blogging. You can, however, try. If you’re out and about, you say this: please, it’s a Cinderella thing. I need to go home to blog. They’ll understand. Give ‘em a link to your site if you haven’t done so already. Then zip home. Maybe you’ll make it in time. I did. But just barely.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Grapes, at the outdoor markets of Vienna, plump grapes, yellow Muscats, green, red varieties, the kind that when you take a bite, the juice squirts in your mouth, the skin recedes, the flesh melts into sweetness.
Grapes, one strand taken by me from someone’s fridge early on Tuesday, stealthily, then openly. Delicious, firm, irresistible so that I ate them almost instantly.
A friend (is it okay that I call you that?) asked me to go apple buying next week, over at a nearby orchard. Sure, I said. Apples. It is the season. Still, the grapes remained there, firmly wedged in my mind.
I retrieved one photo from this Saturday, I studied it but could make no improvements. It shows them off as they are – plump, perfect.
This morning I am hoping to fill my head with competing images. I need to do my presentation downtown, I’ll walk up and down the streets of this neighborhood, surely I will pay attention to the colors of fall, to the pumpkins on doorsteps, surely I will focus on life around me.
I don’t think so. I am destined today to again return to images of grapes. I can tell.
[Is this post really about grapes? Oh yes. Though you could well substitute the word grapes for your favorite obsession and it would probably work.]
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
How interesting it would be to European-airport hop in a day or so and just take in that much of a city – the layover minutes!
Even those suck you into that country's habits in some small way. At the moment, you have to really really love those brief moments of Parisian air to route yourself through Charles de Gaulle in making European connections. With construction, not nearly enough gates and an insane terminal distribution, added to tight connecting times, you really get your adrenaline going just in the run across the airport to make it to your next flight.
Yes, I love Paris enough to perversely enjoy that run across this very French airport, past the cafés with the Illy and croissants, past the ads for the RER, past the TGV station, run, take a whiff, move on.
I am still in transit, suspended between Europe and Madison, though I will be back in town later today, to teach my adorable Torts section. In three days I am off again. No, not across the ocean this time. Maybe, though, I’ll stand by the water’s edge and stare wistfully, with a white hankie fluttering in my hand, sighing deeply, wiping the occasional tear, humming snippets of waltzes and mumbling random German phrases picked up off of menus and overheard at street corners … Maybe.
Monday, October 17, 2005
Did I hear a single strain of music during the three days I was here?
Only from street kids trying to pick up a Euro. Oh, and in the Opera gift shop where I was purchasing, somewhat stupidly, a magnet with a picture of a slice of Sachertorte for my fridge.
I hadn’t planned on attending formal concerts, but I expected to encounter music informally, everywhere – in cafés, out of church doors, in hotel lobbies. None of it – I don't think I heard a single note.
Vienna seems to me to be a quiet kind of city. Maybe people would think it offensive to hear classics as background stuff.
Most certainly, they treat concert performances seriously: I have watched them pour out of the great theater halls late at night after a performance and they all were dressed as if there’s no tomorrow, far more formally than most attending a concert in New York, for example.
But no, I have no post nor photo illustrating my musical encounters. There were none. Amazing, isn’t it?
My nod toward the greats? Okay, here’s Mozart himself playing in the park. Oh, and a dude fishing along the canal, which so many assume is the Danube, because, you know, Vienna and the Danube are supposed to be like pb&j. Follow the canal long enough, and you get to the jam. And to the hills, alive, though not with music. That would be in Salzburg. Next time. Today I’m flying back to the States.
P.S. My parting shots though have to be from the last great moments of food and the full moon that followed us around late at night. Weird, because quite coincidentally, in the days we were here, we depleted the supply of the young white, Weissburgunder: Der Vollmondwein at our favorite eating spot (Wiebels Wirtshaus). Translation of the label: Vienna full moon.
avocado mousse with Austrian goat cheese and baby shrimp
venison over chanterelles with potato cakes
Viennese nights with Der Vollmondwein
chasing the moon
chasing the moon, 2
chasing the Sachertorte (at the Café Sacher)
Here’s to that final slice of Sachertorte. And to the little one back home.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
At some point, oh say 100 years ago, they may have gone here:
The waiting room at Freud’s house on 19 Bergstrasse
I wasn’t really in need of a pick-me-up, but still found it a good place, really an extraordinarily fascinating place to head to on a Sunday morning.
Vienna, like Warsaw, pretty much closes down on Sunday (except for the coffee shops). Yet the people (like in Warsaw) go out in great numbers to parade up and down the main shopping gasse's and strasse's (the park is to the side and does not lend itself to parading up and down. You can dispense with it in an hour or so).
You would think one store at least would seize the competitive advantage and throw open its doors and rake in the Euros, but no. Sunday is Sunday. You eat and you drink and you eat some more. And stroll.
The Havelka: some describe it as Vienna's most bohemian, intellectual, literary, smokey, etc etc cafe.
fewer people, quieter spaces
It seems I ought not strain myself either on a Sunday. And I did not. I kept the camera in its pouch and, apart from the museum visit, I concentrated on strolling. And eating.
chanterelle mushroom salad
plum strudel -- hold the cream, please.
And in the very early morning, I amused myself by taking pictures in the mirror of a neighborhood café.
Everyone’s doin’ it
Taking the world by sturm: white plastic cups filled with young, fruity, purple liquid. Crowds packing the main square, standing, talking, sampling. The new wine has arrived!
the dark-haired young
the white haired older
the white-haired younger
to a new season
Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night.
When everything's a little clearer in the light of day.
But you've got some bait a waitin' and I think I might try nibbling
a little afternoon delight
Eating it up
Of course, it's not all in the drinking. Around the corner, the street foods are there for you and they don't lack crowds. It's all pleasure and indulgence. Looking for low-fat? Not in this neck of the city.
With or without whipped cream?
In the end, I want my now very late afternoon coffee. I have it in my mind that the day will not be complete without Austrian apple strudel.
I don’t speak German, but being surrounded by it makes it easy to start picking up words and phrases. Since I got the coffee thing wrong my first day here (too little coffee, too much whipped cream), I thought I’d work with the words on the menu and request something closer to what I wanted: lotsa coffee and lotsa milk.
On the menu I see: kleiner espresso mit milch and
grosser espresso mit schlagobers im glas.
Easy. I tell the waitress:
Grosser espresso but not mit schlagobers im glas; instead, mit milch in glas, danke.
She says (in German): ah. You want a latte.
the cream comes anyway. with the apple strudel.
And you know the night is always gonna be there any way...
Afternoon delights turn into evening pleasure
Vienna at sunset is outrageously beautiful, imposing, regal.
And really, it's time I tasted the traditional Viennese foods, prepared perfectly, with an eye toward freshness. I found what I was looking for.
[Okay, no I did not just look at foods, look at people eating, sit and eat myself, stand and eat, walk and drink and eat, no I did not do that. But it seems that way, doesn't it?]
to start with, a frothy pumpkin soup with pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil
followed by absolutely perfect Weiner schnitzel, updated with greens on scalloped potatotes
ending with poppyseeds. In a white chocolate mousse. with fruit.
Sky rockets, really, this day was all about sky rockets. Completely delightful.
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Markets. They are such a draw for me! I always gripe that Madison's market is crowded with out-of-towners. Sorry, Vienna, I am the one blocking tight spaces now, with a camera instead of a shopping basket.
My first errand took me to the old town with the cobbled streets. I think the Viennese aren't cynical about their buggy rides. I think many of them do this for a fun recreational little jaunt.
My morning coffee and croissant were postponed until after my errand. The first shots with the new camera were...of baked goods at a small, neighborhood coffeeshop.
In the same neighborhood, I came across a small market where some pumpkin growers were teaching the Viennese how to carve pumpkins. Yeah, there is a learning curve, isn't there...
this part was fun...
the young skeptic: sure you know how to do this, mom?
I'm thinking as well that the Viennese are better at carving this
though there are plentyof ready made ones available for purchase
while the band plays on
In the meantime, at the main Viennese outdoor market, I came across the crowds I am so familiar with on a late Saturday morning at the Madison market. Oh, there were other seasonal similarities. But here, in Vienna, the diversity of foods was striking. And for the first time, I found the influence of other cultures, other eating habits. Stalls of Turkish candies and dried fruits, numerous stands with stuffed olives -- things that spoke of migration from the south. My camera veered toward the regional foods though. Just a few examples:
fresh fish and a determined little guy
straight from the barrel
I envy them their fresh mushrooms
starchy lace and Muscat grapes
every few stalls there are opportunities for a swig at the barrel;
no, I did not, so there.
Instead, I limited my purchases to this store, where I went in search of something for the little one who could not come to Vienna this time around. Of course, the sales clerk knew how to work her spells. Here, try this on, I'll take a photo, it's perfect for you.
Fine, fine, I'll take both...
No, it's too beautiful outside. I can't take another minute for this post. Off I go, exploring.
Why does Vienna sometimes elude me? Is it that its past imperial might was so far reaching, so enduring that, though beautiful to witness now, it is also, at some level—face it – terrifying? Is it that it, to me, it stands for establishment rather than rebellion (painting aside)? So that the young and old never seem quite comfortable with one other?
Franz Joseph and maybe little Franz?
It is so astonishingly beautiful in the last rays of an October sun. The parks, the statues, the buildings, the open stands of sturm (young wine – really halfway between grape juice and wine) and sausages that capture crowds of those on their way home from work, the pastries, oh those damn fattening pastries – all this is magnificent.
late afternoon street food: sturm, pretzels, sausage
at the infamous Cafe Demel (looks a little like fried brains...)
And the food, updated to meet the new demands for fresh and honest, has pushed aside the reliable boiled beef with juniper berries and the breaded, fried (“to the color of a Stradivarius violin”) Weiner schnitzel. Witness: my more modern veal dish – with potato gnocchi and morels.
And yet, even at the restaurant, I see the tension. Two tables of older couples – one of them American actually, but comfortable with the silence, the decorum. At another, a somewhat younger set, with mixed ethnicities, lots of laughter, spilling over friendliness. Then, at the side, my daughter and I (she has work in Vienna and I am tagging along), lost in our own conversation. We get frowns from the older sets – they clearly think we are too lively, too animated. Not fitting with established ways, even though the restaurant is anything but pretentious.
In the end the younger table wins. They hail us over as we get up to leave. Now our conversation spills and floods the entire premises. The staid are swept to insignificance even as they refuse to acknowledge the sudden shift that has just occurred. Sure, we emerge triumphant. But the tension was there. Palpable.
At the door, we chat with the proprietor about this bullying presence of those who want so much to keep boundaries and hierarchies firmly in place. He shrugs his shoulders – an older man, trying to please both, favoring the young the animated, the joyous, but understanding that the other, the older have a firm clasp on Vienna’s soul. And pocketbook.
Brisk walking on cobble stones creates a loud echo at night. But the streets aren’t entirely empty and there is no misty rain. The moon is bright, the city looks beautiful even in the darker shadows. We close with more cakes, hot chocolate, and for me a delicious coffee enhanced with orange liquor (yes, and whipped cream) at the Café Central. It is said that Leon Trotsky planned the Russian Revolution from here. That’s so like Vienna – to speak proudly now of revolutions – that took place …elsewhere.
Friday, October 14, 2005
Whatever gripes I had with Vienna, I truly believed that in terms of baked goods it ruled the world. If I was going to take on the task of becoming a pastry expert (I had such exaggerated visions for myself once) I should learn from books that tracked the greats and the greats were all in Vienna.
And so I begin the process of teaching myself to bake.
I really truly (my family will verify this) started with Sachertorte. Dense chocolate, a layer of apricot preserves, all topped with a dark glaze – what could be more satisfying? I can follow instructions. I can grate, melt, mix, temper. I can do this. I can do anything!
The Sachertorte is the only cake I ever completely botched (my family will verify this as well). Blame it on inexperience, blame it on excessive bravado, blame it on the chocolate – I did – but the fact is, that first Sacher of mine was putrid. Dry, too dry, way way way too dry.
So what is the first thing I do when I arrive in Vienna? (Besides breathe great sighs of relief as I almost missed my connecting flight. Almost. I run fast across airports. It helps.)
Of course I get a slice of the original, the one deemed by the Austrian court in 1965 to be the only true Sachertorte, as presented at the Café Sacher.
It was also my first shot of Austrian coffee. There I have to play around a little. Because if I continue in this vein, I will truly need to develop a habit of chomping sausages after my afternoon pastry hits. Too much sweetness! The superb whipped cream, mounded on both cake and coffee truly causes your sweet tooth to collapse under the weight of it all.
So, there are other foods to admire, other pastries that will most certainly appear here on Ocean, but this post is devoted to the king of tortes, the Sachertorte. My introduction to Vienna today, to baking many decades ago.
perfect. not a thing wrong with it.
when people see me taking photos, inevitably they ask: do you want one with you in it? This one was taken by an old, beautifully dressed Viennese woman. Obviously she has a steady hand.
why stop at one Sachertorte when you can order...four more.
Irritating O’Hare Airport. Get rid of O’Hare. Raise it, graze it, bury it. It is not a place of happiness and joy. It is a place of inefficiencies and frustrations. I say start from scratch.
Hark! A computer with internet access in the Air France Lounge. I pick up some troubling emails but I cannot respond. I cannot cannot cannot. What goes in does not go out. Boil, what else can I do… Boil and steam and then say who the hell cares and board the flight.
The French crack lots of champagne bottles before take off. If we plunge into the ocean, we’ll all be giggling and singing songs from Gigi.
I hear Polish from passengers on the plane. Oh damn! Here comes the guilt, can’t stop it now. I am traveling within a stone’s throw of Poland and I am not entering my homeland. Hello Poland, there, just over the horizon. Sorry. (It’s like going to New Jersey as your kinfolk sit huddled in New York waiting for your gracious return. True, my kinfolk are not huddling nor waiting at the moment, but you get the point.)
Going home to Europe. So that I can take in a breath of this small, wee little continent before I return to my regular lofty existence.
Thursday, October 13, 2005
To the rest of you -- comment at your will. Of course, you should know that I print and paste every word onto my bedroom walls and fall asleep happily slurping it all in, repeating out loud each clause, adoring each comma. And if none appear I get drunk on Polish vodka (or cheap beer, Brando) and crawl under the bed weeping. But I believe in taking knocks in life.
It is now 1973. I am in New York, boarding a flight back to Europe. I am heading home. I have spent a year back in Manhattan. I’m working here and attending college. But I can’t seem to stay away from Warsaw. I go back at least three times a year.
Tired of always making a connection through waterlogged Amsterdam, overrun with what look to me, from my still very Polish eyes, like American potheads and drifters, I route myself this time through Vienna.
It is a mistake. I had traveled through Austria just a few years back and felt no pull to it then. It may be that I don’t speak German. I am not used to being in Europe and not speaking some words of the local language. It may be that I have evil thoughts about Austria, in much the same way that I have evil thoughts about the other bordering countries that took Poland apart bit by bit not so long ago.
And now, in the wetness of a cold spring Vienna evening, it may be that I am twenty and everyone around me looks middle-aged, stogy, lost in thought and most definitely ready to hurry home and close the door firmly behind them. Even though it’s barely 9 pm. And they are all wearing horrible, sensible shoes.
I go to the nearest movie house and see Butterflies are Free. With Eddie Albert Junior.
People on both sides of the ocean keep noting how lucky I am to be back in the free, democratic USA. I don’t feel lucky or unlucky. When I am in New York I miss Warsaw, when I am in Warsaw I miss New York.
In my young mind I take the words from the movie and mutate them so that they can be slapped onto my life with some kind of personal meaning. Butterflies are free. Only butterflies are free. No one else, just butterflies.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
It’s 1966 and I am returning to Poland. I have lived in New York for six years, a diplomat’s brat, a kid picking up ideas and habits off the streets of the city, left alone a good deal of the time, always happy to poke around weird neighborhoods, so different from the ones back home in Warsaw.
But now I am returning for good to the city of my birth. We (my sister, mother, father) all sense that it could be a while before any of us sets foot on “western” soil again. Poland remains a closed country, its western neighbors for the most part refusing to let in those damn commies who just want to escape their own land and deplete western resources.
A train takes us from Cherbourg, where our ship has docked, to Paris. I stand by the window and watch the green Normandy pastures, pelted by rain, beyond my reach now, disappearing before I can touch them. An old man stands next to me, there in that train corridor. He says in French – do you know how to bring yourself luck? Every time you see a white horse, spit on your thumb, touch your palm with it, and pound it with a fist. Comme ca! -- he shows me. At 52, when I see a white horse, I spit on my thumb, touch my palm and pound it with a fist. How else to connect this day with that one?
From Paris, we pick up a car and begin the road journey home.
Our last nights in the western world are in Vienna. I am thirteen. I am determined to find the Spanish Riding School and the White Stallions. I had recently seen the movie about the horses at the time of the War. In one scene, the actor Eddie Albert is there, a soldier in an Austrian tavern, singing the ballad "Just Say Auf Weidersehen."
I want to see the real Lipizzaner horses. I want to touch a stallion that was heroically rescued in the last weeks of the Second World War even though, reluctantly, I have to admit that this will not even be the colt of the horse that lived and performed in Vienna more than twenty years ago.
I drag my family to the Hofburg Palace. The luck of the spit! We come just in time to see the stallions rehearse. Oh God, put me into that horse’s saddle, have me take the reigns and control this one lovely piece of life! The stallions can prance on their rear hoofs, front ones in the air, they can do anything you ask them to!
We buy shoes. My mother says – who knows when next we can buy decent shoes. Consumer sales are in a bleak phase back in Warsaw. Store shelves carry colorless items that look like clothes off the back of someone’s grandmother. My Vienna shoes, brown, sturdy, with a brass buckle tightly crossing the front, last me all the way through the first years at the university.
Vienna, my first encounters with this city of solid shoes and white stallions.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
My walk to campus this morning was rudely interrupted by a massive car crash on Johnson and Lake. I was about to cross, when #%*&!!#@*&!! a red truck plowed into an innocent little station wagon, moving slowly in its own little lane.
The thing is, I saw it coming. And what do I do, do I scream watch out, watch out, do I run forward arms waving, staving off what surely is a huge collision in the making? Do I then quickly jot down all license plates, like a good lawyer should?
No, I do not.
And it was a hit and run. The pick-up driver had been talking on his cell phone when it happened. I can see his devil eyes looking over the damage and making the calculus. Obviously he didn’t like the numbers he was coming up with because he quickly drove off.
No one was hurt, but still, what kind of a dumb person am I anyway? Where is my sharp wit and quick impulse? Where is my camera??
Then, to add insult, I decide I better hurry off to class. I go up to the screaming-in-anger driver, mumble a few reassuring words and walk away.
Driver, if you read my blog, know that I was ready and willing to help but you seemed fine and on top of things.
Red pick-up driver, you are a slime-drenched piece of ...vomit. (I'm showing restraint here.)
By the book Camic obtained written permission to post from all herein so that I would not get a pounding on my door from some overseer of blog legality-propriety informing me that Ocean needs to shape up or ship out to sea.
So, here they are, a few One-Ls from my sweet and lustrous small section, ready to beat the pants off of any other university group engaged in the art of karaoke song.
Tonight I had to go out and get food. It was impossible to imagine that I would make it through the night with only a box of raisin bran and various configurations of chocolate tidbits. And treasured wine. [There is a "wine cellar" in the loft, if you can believe it. At least I call it that. Basically it is a cubby under the stairs and it contains my never-to-be-opened-because-they're-too-special bottles, acquired in years when French wine growers and I were tight. There were years like that.]
So I am about to enter Whole Foods and stock up and I run into a friend. Not just any friend. A person whom I love with all my friendship heart. A person whom I have not seen for well over a year, as she had been living elsewhere.
She has recently moved back to Madison and I had to say this t her – so…I had not heard from you. And she said: I read your blog, daily. When I need a break, I click on Ocean.
[Okay, one important addition: she is French. She is as French as can be. It is, therefore, unfortunate that every time I ever run into her I am wearing my guy’s grundy, discarded jacket and a pair of shoes with paint stains on them. She, on the other hand, is never unkempt. But that’s just an aside.]
I am so thrilled to see her. I cannot wait to sit down at a table with food (and wine) with her (and her husband) and talk about everything. Oh, and to see their sons, to spend a morning or an evening or an afternoon togehter. We have done any and all of the above. I miss it. But I admit that I cannot get together this weekend because I am soon departing for XXXXX. [I do not have a habit of disclosing destinations on Ocean until I am really up and running toward them, so if you want to know where XXXXX is, click on this week-end.]
Really? She says. So am I!
Now here’s the curious thing: I have not been to XXXXX for almost thirty years. It used to be a frequent enough destination for me in years that I lived in Poland, but recently it has faded, in much the same way that Freud has faded from evening hour conversation over very dry martinis. [Is that EVER a hint.]
And so there you have it: a recognition on my part that so many of my friends care about keeping up with me through my blog and through my blog only.
And, secondly, I have this to say: if you think that Whole Foods serves no useful purpose on this planet, you are so wrong. It is where I always run into my French friend. Without Whole Foods, we would have never realized that we are to be flying over to XXXXX together at the same time, albeit in different carriers. [n.b., I don't want to sound accusatory or anything, but why isn't she flying Air France? Don't the French believe in their own pilots, wine with fish notwithstanding?]
Monday, October 10, 2005
But no, you are wrong!
This was an insignificant smudge on my otherwise vice-filled days. Yet, it is for this reason that this weekly feature on Ocean is about to experience its last moment of glory. For, given all that I see and read about in the larger world (let alone in my own smaller one), it is impossibly difficult to lightheartedly admit to one’s own failings on a regular basis. They cease to be humorous – they read to me like the kind of vile excesses that best be dealt with during a process of meditation and internal healing, perhaps on top of some glorious mountain peak where all truth seems within reach and noble goals are easier to set.
So here, enjoy, for one last time, a littany of vices. I'll list, for impact value, the first fifteen, in the order that they spring to mind. Andiamo:
In the last week, among other things, I had evil thoughts, I ate too much, and I failed to accomplish work goals for this week-end. I bought way too many pairs of socks, I biked dangerously, I lied to people who called about the van, I refused to read some blogs and overindulged the reading and commenting on others, I did not call my mother and did call a friend – excessively. I drank numerous lattes, I refused to support sustainable agriculture as I skipped going to the farmers market and instead, on Saturday morning, I woke someone at an ungodly hour to fret about a blog issue. I went over the speed limit, I read poorly written books and I seriously considered spending money on a warm jacket that I cannot afford – to the point of having it set aside for tomorrow, even though I know that I will not be buying it tomorrow; indeed, I will never return, ever, and the jacket will be left hanging with the name Nina on it, ready, waiting with hope and expectation, only to be picked up in a few days by the salesperson at Karen & Co. and, like an unwanted orphan, returned to the rack where the smug others will laugh at it as it droops its shoulders in shame, forced to admit to being rejected after all.
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Let me start, though, with reflection. Because in the course of the last few days, I have wondered if I should perhaps take stock. And think about, for instance, this: isn’t it the case that academic excellence demands a high degree of concentration and rigor? An intellectual preoccupation with the Task At Hand, which most certainly does not include sidetracking in support of the karaoke trade and the booming tequila industry (no offense, t mockingbird…besides, I think you’ve fallen asleep), on a Thursday night no less? (In my defense, it was the only conflict-free night for the group.)
If so, then I most certainly should step back and engage in a deconstructionist-type* foray into my evening with my beloved Torts law school small section (I insert the word beloved in part because they are such and in part because I do not remember the number of the section, never having had to register for this class myself). For, what good is an author’s (mine, in this case) intention when a different (conflicting?) reality may be picked up from less generously interpreted renditions of the evening?
Let me review things, with aid of a photo or two (thank you, oh finder of camera!) though for now only of myself, as I believe in privacy rights and will not post anything with student faces unless I have their enthusiastic permission to do so.
Thursday. It seems ages ago. I arrived early at Casa B, making sure that the table was set with fine linens and china. In the alternative, paper plates and plastic cups. It’s all in how you read what’s before you.
I had taken a poll earlier on pizza toppings. I was relieved that the vote for pineapple could go unheeded as the unfortunate student-advocate of it fell victim to a horrible case of something or other and could not attend. What remained speaks for itself:
And really, that is the end of the text. The official evening is over, we move now to an epilogue, written by a dozen-plus hardy souls who were determined to pour out their sentiments about work, life and American Pie at the Karoke Kid. I offered to pay for all songs sung, so yes, I admit it, I was an enabler, the ghost writer, as it were. Of course, my European upbringing and exaggerated sense of politeness and protocol did cause me to say “yes, thank you” to beverages purchased by others. How could it be otherwise.
But now that I look at the entirety, from the perspective of time and with the aid of the pictures, I think it is principally my participation in the performance side of things that lacked proper decorum. Because otherwise, only one interpretation held true for everyone: they all behaved extraordinarily well. On the other hand, looking at the photos now, what can be said of a person who, while on stage, looked slightly twisted and off balance, like this:
What lessons then? Perhaps I can eek one out: maybe I should seriously contemplate toning down the exaggerated movements, the gestures, the wild eyes, the loud enunciation of words, ones which could easily be heard even in a less spirited rendition.
I’ll have to remember that when next I am on stage. At the Kid, or in the classroom.
*(independently, you must check out my favorite deconstructionist, who is, BTW, running a marathon today and who has engaged me on the topic of runners' sensitive body issues in the comments here)
Last night I endured the swipes at the thigh of passing vehicles that, I swear, did not see me & Mr. B in the dark, in spite of Mr.B’s bright yellow guards, a flashing strobe and a rear reflector. Because the distance was not long, I knew my survival odds were high. And I am proud to say that I managed to land some significant kicks at the sides of a few pretty impressive road hogs.
However, it’s the return trip that finally convinced me that midnight riding in downtown Madison sucks.
Why car-loads of loaded boys (I will not call them men, they are children in my eyes) would find it entertaining to come up close on the cyclist and then shout right in their face something that strikes them and only them as hilariously funny is beyond me, but such are the behaviors exhibited in and around campus after midnight.
So, for now, I’ll be cozying up to the neglected little number sitting in its little parking stall, reserving Mr. B for daytime adventures.
Still, last night’s brush with death, or at the very least dismemberment, was worth it. It’s gotten cold in this town. When you arrive at a house where the hosts have this percolating on their stove, you know you have faced danger for a good end result. Thank you, hosts.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Don’t sell it to another, I need it! He begs. (Why does anyone need a 1993 minivan with a torn seat and a broken headlight?)
The Charter person never shows. Thank you Charter person. I get in the car and drive to meet the potential van buyer. My van is parked off of Monroe Street, in a residential neighborhood, where it is unlikely to be damaged or bothered or disturbed in any way. I am already on Monroe and my cell rings. Are you coming? The potential buyer asks. On my way, on my way, I answer, weaving my way past slow moving cars.
Half a block from my destination I see the telltale blue and red lights flashing behind me. Shit. I do apologize for the vulgarity, but there is no other word for it. Crap might do equally well, I suppose.
The police man comes over and tells me I did a number of reprehensible things, the first one being my driving without an updated registration sticker.
I know, I know, it’s registered, I explain. It’s just that the journey from envelope to car license plate is a long one, oftentimes not taken by me. I am sorry!
And about your weaving in and out of traffic. Let me ask you this: have you been consuming alcohol?
At 8:30 on a Saturday morning??
Officer, I have not even looked at a something containing alcohol (unless you count the toner I now use on my face after being scolded for not moisturizing several weeks back). Last time I consumed an intoxicating beverage was at around midnight on Thursday at the Karaoke Kid. You can read about it here, officer.
I feel he is leaning in to see if a whiff of something mightn’t be found anyway. He seems disappointed as he leans back out.
Finally, you are speeding. Ten over.
Finally? Shouldn’t that be firstly? Indeed. I am going the speed of the car in front of me. That kind of an answer, of course, will get me nowhere. I hear my mother saying: if your friend jumped out the window would you do it as well? – a favorite question of hers, implying, at the very least, that I have suicidal friends.
The young cop takes my license and disappears with the reassuring words we’ll get you out of here and moving soon. Sounds like something you’d day to a person who already is sitting in jail, not simply waiting to sell a van off of Monroe Street.
He comes back and tells me: you have a spotless record. Yes, I know that. I have never had a moving violation in the 35 years I have been driving. I have traversed all continents (well, almost) without putting so much as a dent into any vehicle under my control. I have trucked tour groups around narrow lanes and mountain passes. I have navigated cars through storms, tornados, downpours, heatwaves and blizzard whiteouts and have come out unscathed. You do not need to tell me about my driving record. I am proud of it. And, sadly, it is about to be deflowered, right there on Monroe street, in front of Michael’s Frozen Custard.
I’m letting you go without a citation, he tells me. He hands over a brochure, put together by the Madison Police Department, with the assistance of the Michigan State University Police Department, the Miami University Police Department and the New Castle County Police Department in Delaware. An eclectic bunch, wouldn’t you say?
The brochure asks for feedback, of the “how am I doing?” sort. It is right for him to hand this to someone who has just gotten off without a citation. Even though I have never taken it upon myself to call those numbers on trucks that say “call and tell me how I am driving,” this time, I want to help the MPD. I feel warm and fuzzy toward them.
Except, well, except I think the brochure is all wrong. It outlines what you should do when you get stopped by a cop. It invites a recurrence. It does not have faith in my continued attempts at keeping within the boundaries of the law. So I wont comment. But I did want to use this opportunity to say thanks to the dear man patrolling Monroe, on the look out for signs of early morning corruption and depravity. My purity is preserved.
And again I answered: it's a writing exercise. In the same way that listening daily to language tapes is something you might do when studying a language, so, too, writing daily posts is something you might consider if you were seriously interested in the craft of writing.
It never stops there. The next line is predictable and it always comes soon after: Don't you find it hard to say something interesting on a daily basis? Why do you presume that you can keep a reader's attention with stories from your days?
And I say: I don't presume anything. I just write.
Next line (it is always like this): do you think it is appropriate to put yourself out there?
Here I stop and think about what the person is really after. Because in writing, just like in music or dance, you do reveal something. And whereas my views on politics, on the law, on corruption in Poland, on issues that typically make it into the press each day -- those pass the acceptability bar, writing about my own life is often called into question.
But I say none of this. Instead, I always remind the person that the day is long and a blog post is short and the relation between one and the other is small indeed.
Imagine: as an exercise for all you blog-doubters, take one day and jot down those events, minute observations, things that you see, conversations that you have -- jot down those that may lend themselves to a short paragraph. If your list is shorter than a thousand points then you're not trying. And think about all the important things you left out.
Are there risks? Oh sure. There is a reason why most known to me bloggers write under assumed names or identities. I do understand this, especially since I grew up at a time and place where so many lived in fear of having their words used against them.
And I know that for every person who warms up to Ocean, there is another who does not (I'm thinking of you, author of note to me from this morning!). I do listen, I pause, I consider the words and then I move on to write the next post, and the next, until at some turn I come to decide that what I am doing is worthless dribble, at which point I will pack my bags and move to a land far away where I can help dig ditches for those who need them. If I feel guilty about anything in life it is that I have not spent enough time digging ditches far away for those who need them.
Friday, October 07, 2005
So why was last night unusual? Because someone read on Ocean that I am not one to drink myself silly and indeed, haven't overindulged in any substantial fashion since I was an adolescent. (That would have been many many decades ago.)
And so, some devilish minds rose to the challenge of getting Camic drunk.
Bottom line: I won. It can't be done, I tell you. I have this deep seated line of propriety that probably dates back to my past stiff and prudish upbringing (is someone laughing at that?) and me getting out-and-out plastered in public is way below any line that I have (really truly) drawn for myself.
That is not to say that tequilla shots were not downed. You got me there, especially since, to the best of my recollection, I have never done shots at all ever anywhere at any point in my long and tarnished existence. (Trick is to eat many many cheesy fatty pizza slices beforehand and give yourself lots and lots of time in between those tiny evil glasses. There. My secret is out.)
I was, however, plenty silly and yes, I did allow myself to be dragged to the Karaoke Kid where the law school bunch dominated the evening with lots of unbelievably cool singing and dancing. Truly, punch me out for saying this, sociology students (with whom I have also gone to the Kid), but the law students were right up there with the best of the best.
I have to say, I loved the way they went about selecting songs. You would never think that future lawyers would want to gear their vocal talents toward inclusiveness, but indeed, it seemed to me that repeatedly they searched for songs that would have everyone on their feet and singing loudly enough to drive all non legal types out the door.
Just to give you an example, American Pie was a favorite and it was done several times, mainly because no one could get enough of that chevy being driven to the levy. Hey Jude – ditto. It’s those na nas that had everyone roaring (it cannot be described otherwise).
There was another first (besides those evil shots), as well as a second for me: the first was that some silly persons took over my camera and took lots of pictures of Camic looking phenomenally dopey and they did so with such energy and enthusiasm that, for the first time, the camera went dead from overuse.
The second was that I was so bent on fingering the tricky combination on Mr. B’s chain afterwards (was it really that late??) that I forgot my camera. It is under lock at the Kid (I hope) and so any picture posting will have to wait until they open up again.
Thank you, class. What I said earlier, when I gave you back your papers, is true. You are a magnificent and talented lot and your sense of earnest fun is phenomenally appreciated by me as well as, I am sure, by all your friends and future associates.
Have a great week-end. I recommend strong coffee and lots of water.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
I should be working on my dissertation proposal, but instead, I take a full time job as a lecturer in the sociology department at UW-Milwaukee. We need the money. Three times a week I commute there, riding the Badger Bus from the terminal on West Wash, the same terminal that is now a block from my apartment, the same terminal that I pass every morning on my way to work.
On the bus, I always sit with Elaine, a woman more than twenty years my senior, but quickly becoming my closest friend in Madison. She taught me how to disregard age in friendship. She is brilliant and extremely laid back – a fantastic combination. I am a wound-up spinning top next to her.
Each trip out to Milwaukee frazzles me. I have never taught before. I am given a class in social psych – 350 students with young-and-know-nothing me there on the stage, and a class in the soc of the family, with a mere 60 in it. I am sure I am a terrible teacher and a complete idiot. Temerity and chutzpah push me through each lecture.
I come home tired. My husband greets me at the Badger Bus station. In the three semesters that I do this, he is never late, not once. We go out those nights, eating dinner, often steaks and hash browns, ravenously hungry at the late hour that I arrive back in Madison.
Early on Elaine tells me she is going to die shortly. I tell her so am I. Except that I am just doing my Polish angst thing and she is not. She dies within eighteen months, from ovarian cancer.
Many people look at age 50 as some kind of a turning point. I am fucking fifty! – they seem to think that this somehow puts them in some pile of wasted human material.
My turning point came at 48, when I passed the age at which Elaine died. I can’t believe that I have now lived four years longer than she did. I never thought I would – it did not seem fair that I should.
The Badger bus plows back and forth between two cities that are as different as can be. I come face to face with the terminal at two periods in my life that are as different as can be.
twenty-six years later, still the same inside
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
I had been up since 4, agonizing over how many plusses to give to the paper grades I distributed to my first year law students and so you would think that by late afternoon I would be spent. Wrongo bongo!
I took Mr. B for a little 'pleasure trip' after class. I let him pick out guards for the winter (this post led me to believe I should in some way winterize my guy). He opted for yellow against his blue body. I thought it was a little garish (even though I am SUCH a fan of blue and yellow). I would have chosen the steely metal, but you know, you gotta let the guy preen and show off every now and then.
We did far far west side errands and then I took him to Borders on this warmest of October days. Bliss. A Maisie Dobbs mystery, a low hot sun, a latte and Mr. B and me.
Then came the hatchet. Mr. B, I expect service. I want respect for things that are important to me. I need you to carry your weight. To contribute.
The bags are there for a purpose. You are strong. At Willie Street Bikes they said you were built so well! Do your stuff. Carry my groceries for me, please.
I’m in for a period of moping. Indeed, Mr. B was in a reclining position when I retrieved him at my last rest stop. It was all pretense and high drama, I am sure. No matter. I’m firm. I need him to use his muscle. He and I are in this together, while the guilt-car gently weeps.
So, depending on which set of friends I was with – the goody two-shoes super achievers or the rowdy set – I stayed clear of the stuff or I puffed away with the whole motley lot of them, starting (on rare occasions) when I was 15 and finally saying good riddance to the pretence of enjoying it at around 22.
So, of course, then I proceeded to hate smokers. Take your putrid second-hand smoke elsewhere!
So, now I am past that. In France, Poland, Italy (places where smokers are not yet the devils incarnate that they are here), if they’re puffin’ away next to me, I hardly notice.
Still, it was weird for me to be moving into an apartment that had tobacco written all over its walls. Indeed, my place is in a building that once housed the warehouse where Wisconsin leaves rested, awaiting the train journey to North Carolina where they would be used as cigar wrappers – being too low-grade to serve as the stuff of Lorillard brand cigarettes.
I am looking at the brick walls of my loft, not too long ago covered with dirt and soot and I am impressed with their history, for it was a dirty one and dirty pasts bespeak of complicated lives.
I’ve been reading a lot about Lorillard since I moved here – about the company’s curious advertising strategies (even as it commanded a tiny share of the overall market with – remember these names? Kent, True, Old Gold…), about its origins (it is, in fact, the oldest tobacco company in the country, dating back to 1760) and I am, for once, satisfied with my city, for it recognized shades of gray in naming a street just this year after Lorillard – my street, tainted and tarnished. Just like so many of us living there now.
sign of the times: only native prairie flowers are used to surround the tempered brick walls; and there are to be no AC condensers, nor gas-based heating units; instead, an elaborate system of geothermal wells built under the parking lot provides steady climate control to the buildings.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Hey there, prof Camic? – she says, seemingly trying to match the face with one she has seen elsewhere. I think your loft is awesome!
This arrests me on the spot, even though I am terribly aware of the clock and of the fact that class should be starting in 7 minutes and I have yet to print out my lecture notes.
You know about my loft… You are a blogger yourself? – I ask, tentatively.
More like a voyeur. I read blogs. I read Ocean.
What can I say but: well now, ha ha! I keep it funny over at Ocean, ha ha! All about light 'n breezy entertainment, after all, ha ha!
Not always so funny, is it? – she counters. You can be very serious.
Ohhhh, is she referring to this post or this?
Ha ha, well, sure, right oh, yeah, well hey! (I mean, what else can one say?)
I move on. Knowing that around any corner I may find a person who knows that I last threw up from drinking too much when I was 15.
Listen, Ocean is just a lark, okay? Just a lark. La di da lark.
P.S. Why is it that when the chancellor of the university spoke last week at the Law School (I did not attend) and subsequently we, the faculty, received an email with basically the following: "chancellor’s missive: what we can do to uphold standards and fight moral corruption at the university" (or words to that effect), I automatically panicked, thinking surely it must be referring to faculty blogs, or more specifically, certain faculty who keep larky blogs, or, hey, one particular faculty member who regularly posts on Ocean?
Monday, October 03, 2005
You’re looking maybe for Ocean’s vice of the week feature? Ohhhh, just sit back and read. I have many up my sleeve.
Last night’s loft warming warmed my heart. People are way too nice and I do not deserve any of their goodness.
So why is it that I let them work for their grub? That’s a vice! At least a half a dozen literally finished off dish preparation for me and at least two actually cleaned up a pot or two so that I would not wake to the disaster that typically follows one of my cooking binges.
And another vice – sampling wine from practically every bottle that was opened (okay, only the whites!). And with twenty people, the last ones trickling out after midnight, there were plenty that got uncorked. Vicey!
But here’s the one I’ve been saving up for Ocean. It indeed is about uncorking, except, what is it that I uncorked????
So here’s the story: I got up early and began the usual clean up. I am a woman of great attention to detail. You would not know this about me, just reading my blog, but in the loft, everything is in its place. Very neat. Very orderly. And so of course I was going to correct some guest’s erroneous placement of a piece of paper in the recyclables garbage can. I reached in and was about to transfer it, when my evil curiosity got the better of me.
I unfolded the yellow sheet and read it. (Truthfully, I did worry that it was some important page that accidentally got trashed.)
It had four words on it, followed by a question mark:
Do you love me? Some female hand wrote stealthily.
Okay. There were five married couples here (random note: amazingly, only one out of the ten keeps a blog) and another that also belongs to the 'committed' category. Then there were seven without any Significant Other in sight. So it could have been innocent, right? Married woman asks her adored one, in a moment of drunkenness if there’s passion behind that cool demeanor.
But hey, wouldn’t she have waited 'til they at least got to the elevator? Rather than scribble it right there in the middle of chomping on a crostini with gingered beef and wasabi? The more likely explanation? -- a guest is reaching out to touch someone and that someone is not their spouse at all, but the spouse of another.
Too many permutations and possibilities for me to figure it out. Unless… I compare the handwriting with the cards I received.
Don’t worry. Your secret is my secret.
On to one more vice: a run of photos of, well, me (not always in the most flattering poses). Kathy, was that you working my camera? Okay, for once, I have a batch of photos depicting how absolutely insane I become at one of my own dinners. I have no shame. Here they are, interspersed with the sanity of others and, of course, food.
lofty dusk, stuffed figs, all is calm
why are three others working around me at food prep?
make that four others... (is that a tattoo??)
billed as chocolate cigarettes, but looking more like cigars
off goes the apron
still waters? maybe. maybe not.
I did say to the guests: you need only bring oreos. trust a therapist (not mine!) to be a good listener.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
So I decided to take myself to the Italian neighborhoods of New York. Pile on the cannelloni, the cannoli, but make it modern! Spice it up! And fuse it – bring in the wasabi, the Serrano and Fresno peppers, the lemongrass, the lavender.
I turned on the TV last night and there on Bravo, I hear the familiar music of the Godfather. Perfect. Let my work begin. Here’s the menu. Eight mains, four desserts, twenty people. Let’s see if anything comes of it.
Grilled figs with Fantome goat cheese, honey and rosemary
Crostini with gingered beef and wasabi flavored crème fraiche
Flatbread with assorted roasted peppers, hot chiles, scallions and mild cheese
Gougeres with aged Parrano cheese
Diced heirloom tomatoes with Chianti Classico olive oil, Balsamic vinegar and slivers of Parmesan
Cannelloni with grilled zucchini, shrimp and thyme butter
Puff pastry with caramelized onion
Grilled shrimp on lemongrass skewers with Asian lime sauce
Key lime tarts with toasted meringue
Orange cannoli with coffee mascarpone filling
Baked moonglow pears and berries, with lavender flower topping
always start with the dessert
Saturday, October 01, 2005
That life is boring.
I changed my mind.
Though anyone looking at this first October day may get the impression that I have simply joined the ranks of the Madisonians who basically love to do the Madison thing, all organic this and healthy that and actively engaged in the community, etc etc. and that’s it – what else could you possibly add to this basket of symbiotic perfection?
And I have indeed succumbed, to some extent. Pulling on some raggy clothes, last seen yesterday, on me, not bothering to even shower, I set out for the market this morning. I am only six blocks away. I can walk. I feel wholesome (if grungy). The sun hasn’t broken the city horizon yet. I am an early bird.
At the market I throw down several twenties in support of sustainable agriculture. I am with the land and the people who grow things on it. I talk to farmers and cheese makers. The moonglow pear guy uses words like epistemology. Or was it nomenclature? Or both? Not that I undervalue the intellectual inclinations of the men and women who till the land, but believe me, the average farmer in Poland does not muck around much with either epistemology or nomenclature. But hey, this is Madison.
eerily, they glow
much needed for tomorrow
I look at the kid who is part of the brood at Avalanche. She looks like the kind of waif of a child I would want to raise on a farm were I into raising kids on farms. That family is so together, so all about wool knits and cottons. And they’re doing well. I buy their stuff at Whole Foods all the time. It makes me happy to find and purchase their bags of greens. I feel like I am helping put the little ones through school. (Or – are they home-schooled?)
The flower family always throws in extras – they give you yellows if you want more yellows, they coddle you and infuse you with their own flowery joie de vivre.
I get a blueberry bar for my coffee which I have yet to consume. This is a morning run, a pre-breakfast thing. Wholesome, remember? The bar is additive free, wheat free, sugar free, gluten free and a bunch of other frees I have by now forgotten. It’s not free-free, but it is Madison-like free.
I pick up a latte and head to the loft.
Okay, so a little glitch here: I have a lot of food. And flowers. And a cup of coffee. And my wrist and thumb have yet to heal from my June bike accident, especially since I ignored the advice of the doc who told me to go do some hand therapy. (Hand therapy sounds sissy-like. I’m no sissy.)
I am struggling. I am thinking that I ought to get a backpack. Wait, I live an urban existence. I have never seen anyone in NY carry groceries in a backpack. Forget it.
On I go. I am about to cross the tracks to get to the loft (third, fourth and fifth windows on the top, from the left) and I see the construction vehicles again. I ask what the fuss is about. They have been grinding away at the space between the loft and the tracks for days. If there is some super highway going up right under my lofty windows, I want to know about it.
But no! This is Madison. They are putting in a new, beautiful bike path, linking the lakes with the city – and mainly, creating even more venues for Mr. B and me. Right under my nose! View remains undisturbed. I can take endless photos of the capitol from my loft. And I can go for wholesome rides everywhere.
So all this is what creates bliss, right?
Nope. Bliss lies elsewhere. But these trappings, they sure as hell make life in (downtown) Madison a good thing, they really do.
The Fraboni family knew my girls by name. They would say things like: Oh, they’re growing so fast! I’d indulge in an Italian nougat candy at the register. The girls preferred the cookies. We left happy.
the Fraboni's dude
And then I stopped going. I got busy, the daughters got busy and satisfactory gnocchi could be found elsewhere. One makes compromises.
The other day as I was telling someone how good it is to live downtown, I was asked about the grocery store situation. I hesitated on that one. I need a car for food shopping. Nothing within walking distance of the loft. Maybe when Trader Joe’s is up and running on Monroe (looks to be a half hour walk – just like shopping in Poland!), maybe then I can hike over…
And then, this afternoon, as I was making up a grocery list for my week-end of heavy duty cooking, I thought: there isn’t a place in town that will have this one particular item. Except maybe Fraboni’s.
I went there at dusk. I looked around – it had been years (decades?) since I had stopped by. The old discolored map of Italy was gone. The shelves were filled with many types of balsamic vinegars from Modena. The nougat candies weren't at the checkout counter.
But the family was still there. The son was now one of the proprietors. I asked him about the ingredient I was looking for – he called his mother to talk about it, to check whether my rather weird usage of it would work. I looked around at the cheeses, the sausages, at the shelves that weren’t exactly arranged, the ones that always, in their disarray and devotion, had a distinct taste of Italy.
A five minute walk from my loft, that’s it. My grocery store, just down the block.