The Other Side of the Ocean

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

blueberry matters 

It is said that blueberries have great health value. I vaguely hear the words “antioxidant” bla bla bla and I imagine I am prolonging my life by ten years by sprinkling them on my granola. There are foods that cause such reactions in me: carrots, grape juice, salmon – I am convinced that if I only remember to ingest some I will have done my duty, thereby keeping screaming ambulances away for a few more years, lessening the anxiety of family members and loved ones.

Of course, the few times I have ridden an ambulance, food could not have stopped the episode leading to it, even had I devoured that day a pound of salmon liberally covered with shaved carrots and dried blueberries. Still, one likes to pretend.

About ten years ago, I had recovered from whatever emergency lead to the ambulance run and I packed up my family and left for a week on Martha’s Vineyard. We stayed at the Inn at Blueberry Hill. We dished out more money per night for two rooms than I ever remember dishing out before or after. It was not a complicated or posh place, but it was Martha’s Vineyard and Martha has got herself one pricey Vineyard.

Still, one evening, before dinner, I poured an aperitif for the adults among us – Dubonnet on the rocks, with a twist – and all four of us sat out on the deck adjacent to one of the rooms and we watched the sun sink lower and lower, until it gave that golden glow to everything and everyone.

The women among us painted toe nails and we all watched bunnies scamper in the way that bunnies scamper.

I thought then that it was a perfect moment: not even the day my high school boyfriend in Poland first put his arm around me felt as perfect.

A less perfect but significant moment was some 40 years ago, when I sat with my grandmother on a bench in front of her house, deep in the village environment of rural Poland and we picked through a bucket of blueberries together. I wonder if she would have answered questions had I asked them. She was not a big talker. A doer who loved through her hands.

In a few days family members are descending on the loft (spring break for them) and the blueberries will multiply. It’s not the season here, but it is in Chile and I always thought that airplanes are meant to transport food as well as people and the whole concept of eating “regional seasonal” foods was obviously invented by Californians.

Madison Feb 06 145
posted by nina, 2/28/2006 06:55:00 PM | link | (5) comments

Monday, February 27, 2006

blog me tender 

I had a phone call from someone who wanted to do stuff tonight.

Wanna play pool at the Union?
I’m not good at it, I am tired from the demands of the day, I don’t think so.
You don’t have to be good… you probably are good
(the suck-up statement of a desperate person who wants company playing pool).

I dunno… so cold outside… A DVD at home, me on the couch, sipping wine.. mmmm.
Have you done your blogpost for today? Do you know of the photo opportunities at a pool hall?

I’m thinking: you’re right. Let’s go.

Except tonight, more than any other night, I really do not want to play pool. It has as much draw as the lake out there with the half-frozen fishermen, sitting, waiting, hoping not to crash down under. There’s a pool for you, a pool of dirty post-winter water, just what I want. That or a pool hall.

No one on this planet really cares deeply if I post daily or not. No one. I do it for myself. And I will continue to do it in this way. Only the deal is such: I will not structure my actions to conform to blogworthiness. If my day does not produce a photo or an event, then I will reach within myself and blog about the clutter inside.

Comments have been disabled for this post. Tonight, it is a statement, not a conversation.
posted by nina, 2/27/2006 08:55:00 PM | link

Sunday, February 26, 2006

after dinner clean-up notes: palate cleansers 

It’s an excuse: I often make granitas and call them palate cleansers but really I just like the way they taste. Like the shaved ice that they are, subtly touched by fruit.

But not today. Today my palate cleanser, served between portabella soup, the stuffed tomato with salmon and capers, the chicken rolled with apricots and mushrooms and the desserts, there it will be, a celery salad with nothing more than flat leaf parsley, bits of cheese and lemon vinaigrette added to it.

I am tired of the sweet upon sweet. I want fresh and crisp and pungent.

Yesterday morning I was asked if all my sadnesses, the ones that show up here and there, if they have one source these days. I said yes. There aren’t many times that I can answer with a yes because days can shake out any number of thorns and waspy moments.

Is the idea that if I deal with this one source, then I will coast? My own plate will be clean of sadnesses and I will bask?

In the meantime, I stuff myself with good and interesting foods. They possess me and I them and truthfully, they temper that which comes to the surface now and then.

But in addition, I can keep trying out palate cleansers until I strike gold and I will not then taste anything but the dessert that follows. In this case, the celery salad wipes out traces of everything that came before it, making room for lemon soufflés along with the pine nut tart.

Madison Feb 06 139
fresh and crisp

Madison Feb 06 142
delicate and dreamy
posted by nina, 2/26/2006 05:24:00 PM | link | (7) comments

Saturday, February 25, 2006

ms. dilly-dally-the-time-away goes out to buy flowers 

All these people to feed tonight and what do I do? I spend the morning in conversation, then I search for candles and then I take the time to fiddle with flowers.

Thank God for last night’s Olympics. I became so agitated with those skiers and skaters that I had to bake. So at least I have one of the desserts, an almond tart with pine nuts, ready. Between it and the hot nuts for the r&r rounds (ricotta and radicchio), I am well on my way, no?

I would be even more on my way if I did not pause to blog. Cursed blog of mine, sitting there, tempting me in the worst possible way, like an indulgence, a puffed-out pastry. Oh! I have to get to those as well. Theme of today’s dinner: Sicily with elements of France, in celebration of my forthcoming travels.

Madison Feb 06 137
almonds and pine nuts and lemons and of course, the flowers
posted by nina, 2/25/2006 11:54:00 AM | link | (1) comments

Friday, February 24, 2006


A friend asked me this today:
Why do you like to cook?

It’s not a difficult question, but I was stumped.
So he persisted: is it the smells as you prepare foods? (no) the prettiness of the presentation? (no)

So I said: it’s because there is great joy in having people sit around a table in my home, laughing together, over dishes prepared in my kitchen.

But it sounded lame. I mean, if there is such “great joy,” then how come I haven’t done much of it in the past year? I have cooked for a bunch of people exactly once since I moved to the loft, October 2nd. Sure, there was my family during winter holidays, but I would cook for them whether I liked it or not. They’re worth it.

And the thing is, people have been food-nice to me. They have cooked for me, taken me out, all those things that would typically cause me to bring out my Polish apron and rolling pin in a flash. In the past.

I think, like all things in life, my love of cooking for others has had to take a pause..

Not any more. For the next two months, while I am still on this side of the ocean, I want to cook. For you, you and you. For people who have fed me, food wise (and otherwise). I know, we are not even yet, but just you wait.

I begin tomorrow. About time, say those who have worked hard to make me food-happy this year.

Look: my beginnings, for you. Tomorrow, you get to find out what it is that I am playing with. All new foods, of course. I hardly ever repeat.

Madison Feb 06 135
hot nuts
posted by nina, 2/24/2006 08:00:00 PM | link | (7) comments

Thursday, February 23, 2006

notes from tuesday's flight home 

I have no moral fiber.

But come on, consider this: you are a lowly person who can never break into the inner circle of men who inhabit first class (on flights). But by some fluke and rather unusual circumstance (whereby you go so far as to travel to Japan via Paris, just to get the miles, and have several other overseas flights which you deliberately bunch in one calendar year), you get yourself for one year and one year only platinum plus status on Air France. The elite of the elite (and there are 5 gradations of elite status on Air France).

Then Air France merges with Northwest. Voila! This past week, I am flying with Ed to Canada on Northwest. On international flights, platinum plus bumps everyone and anyone. If the pilot wanted my seat, s/he could not have it. I am boss!

And so on each leg of the journey, I have been given first class seats. And each time I have said: no, if my companion cannot be with me up there in super stardom, then I will join the sardines in the rear of the plane.

Until this last, the fourth flight.

I mean damn, what would you do? Your super elite status is about to expire at the end of the month. You will never ever again be sitting among men who all wear conflicting scents of aftershave.

Would you not say YES! to that final upgrade, leaving your 6'4" traveling companion back there for the 56 minute flight to shift and squirm in the middle seat between two good-sized people whose extensions are more the side to side rather than up and down kind?

Still, I have such guilt. I am a weak person. I know that. As I sit in the first row, with what seems like ten drinks lined up for me to get through, I feel like an utter pig.

P.S. I have, this year alone (besides this Canada fancy), given up three business class upgrades on across-the-ocean flights just to be back there with friends. Does that gain me points?

I tell myself: if we crash, I swear I will give up my life to save those in the back. Fact is though, with all that alcohol, I wont be much use. Damn it. I am such a loser.
posted by nina, 2/23/2006 08:55:00 AM | link | (5) comments

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

notes from yesterday's drive to montreal: camera in hand 

If I drive, you can look at the world out there. I’ll stop if you want to take photos.

Generous words. Ed drives, I look. We take the side road. Rarely do we choose a highway over a back road. Snow flurries along the St. Lawrence. Much of the river is not frozen here.

Quebec Feb 06 351
ice fishing hut on sled runners; no ice here.

Quebec Feb 06 360
old but not without color

Quebec Feb 06 362
out for a morning run

Please, while I’m handling the camera here, can you put one hand on the wheel? I mean, life is short enough.
It’s a habit…
I see that.

Do you know where the airport is?
I saw a sign. Montreal airport. Take the exit at 15.
Okay… even though I thought we were departing from Trudeau…
Damn. Turn around then, we’re going the wrong way. Only not here: no u-turns permitted.
Signs are there to keep sign-makers employed.

My own bad habit: getting to the gate seconds before check-in closes. This time we have four minutes to spare.

Such are the issues that accompany travel. So many people have said that travel these days is a pain. Waiting, always waiting, managing bad weather, faulty reservations, security issues. Who needs this?

I do. Just to look at a place that is different from home. Wherever home may be.
posted by nina, 2/22/2006 08:05:00 AM | link | (3) comments

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

from quebec city: comfort in food 

I wake up, look out the window of the once-warehouse hotel. I seem to only inhabit century-old warehouses these days.

Quebec Feb 06 115

Looks cold outside. Back to sleep. Wake up again. Ah. They are serving breakfast here now.

Quebec Feb 06 117
in addition to the granola, I pick up one or two of these. I'll stay silent on how many my traveling companion can eat at a sitting.

A few steps outside and I feel I have earned the next round.

Quebec Feb 06 314
asparagus and cheese melted over a baguette

An aperitif in front of the fireplace at the hotel. It stirs the appetite. Dinner? About time.

Quebec Feb 06 248
warm goat cheese on a toasted baguette, mixed greens

Quebec Feb 06 325
snails over puff pastry

Quebec Feb 06 112
halibut with crab, over shaved fennel, in a lobster - tomato sauce

Quebec Feb 06 008
fried ice cream in maple sauce

A walk along the river at night is de rigeur. I mean, there is great comfort in fresh and honest food, but watching the bricks of ice on the river, shifting directions with the ocean tide, is even more calming. Truly, in the end, I did not even notice how cold it is out there in the Quebec air.

Returning to Madison today.
posted by nina, 2/21/2006 06:15:00 AM | link | (7) comments

Monday, February 20, 2006

from quebec city: do as the romans 

Walk the city streets briskly, pick up foods at the epicerie, follow the side streets home.

Quebec Feb 06 266

Near the old town, take out your blades (or rent some), turn your face away from the direction of the wind and skate. Then, because it is the ubiquitous treat around here, take a bag of maple syrup cones home.

Quebec Feb 06 277
who is this person? wonder if she keeps a blog...

Quebec Feb 06 297
a shack with skates and maple sugar cones

Quebec Feb 06 301
instead of ice cream

If it gets too cold, warm up at the local café, where they are serving hot mushroom soup. Or, just sip your espresso and catch up on the paper.

Quebec Feb 06 315

Going home, be careful. Snow removal is in full swing. Nearly every block has a guy on the roof pushing the stuff down. Step out of the way.

Quebec Feb 06 317

And for God’s sake, enjoy the food. Post on food will follow. Tomorrow. I am off now to enjoy the food.
posted by nina, 2/20/2006 05:25:00 PM | link | (2) comments

Sunday, February 19, 2006

from quebec city: sunday pleasures 

Just north of the city, the Montmorency river shoots down a cliff, creating falls that are taller than those at Niagra.

In the winter, the world around the falls freezes.

Crazy people go out and try to scale the ice walls created by the frozen mist.

Crazy Wisconsin people go out to watch on this bitter cold day.

Crazy families take their offspring for a quick peek as well.

This kind of craziness is more than beguiling. It is thrilling.

Quebec Feb 06 181
the falls

Quebec Feb 06 126
scaling the frozen wall at the side of the falls

Quebec Feb 06 132
up close and personal

Quebec Feb 06 137
man meets iced cliff

Quebec Feb 06 169
from the top of the falls, looking down

Quebec Feb 06 184
from the top of the falls: looking at the next two climbers

Quebec Feb 06 148
sunday outing: bundled up

The Quebecois will not turn their back on a blast of arctic air. Embrace the cold! Windy? Great! perfect for kite-skiing on the frozen portions of the St Lawrence! I watch one such person soar and rise and twist until I am too cold to move. He has no problem moving, I, the Wisconsin wimp, do.

Quebec Feb 06 202
skiis, kite, frozen chunk of the st. lawrence

At some point, the little rented Kia is irresistible. Enough of hiking under, over and to the side of falls, enough of watching others face the winter without so much as a shrug.

We head out to the Ile d'Orleans, right there in the middle of the St. Lawrence, minutes north of Quebec City. The island is lovely. Deemed a historic treasure, it has no new development, just farms, fields, little villages, deserted now, because who the hell goes here in the middle of February?

We pick up an old guy who is thumbing a ride. I ask what he does here on the island. He rambles, but I can hardly pick out the words. The accent is too thick.

We do some Nina-things. We stop at a vineyard. Yes, they’re trying here! God knows why, but they are at it. It’s this attitude they have. Cold weather? What the hell. There’s a life, only one, and it can include this.

Quebec Feb 06 211
ile d'orleans vineyard

One village has a chocolate shop and a café. Come on. Would I pass up a latte? Okay, a cappuccino, in a place where the snow is piled so high that they cannot open the front door… (Side door works.)

Quebec Feb 06 230
island chocolaterie: snowed in

Quebec Feb 06 220

Quebec Feb 06 221
...and coffee

Inside, a little girl is explaining in rapid fire French why her brother has to order something other than icecream. Women, training the men to do the right thing. Starts early.

Quebec Feb 06 229
no, not like that

We drive to the tip of the island. Here, the villages and farms stand isolated, barren. It is how I imagine the outposts near the Arctic Circle to be. Scattered houses, farms, howling winds that make you grateful for that little Kia with the heater turned full blast.

Quebec Feb 06 233
up island

Quebec Feb 06 234
still blowing and drifting

Just before leaving the island I see a sign pointing to a cassis maker. I love cassis (black currant liqueur). I dump it into wine all the time as a dinner party aperitif. Cassis from Quebec would be sublime.

We pull up in front of what looks to be a private residence (with a cassis sign in front). I open the door to the vestibule. Hmmm. Looks exceptionally private. Boots strewn about, a rabbit in a cage. I walk to another door. I press a button thinking it to be the bell. Suddenly there is chaos. The garage door swings open, madame comes running out with curlers in her head. Oh! You have opened a door that will not close in winter! Oh! Ca ne fait rien, it’s fine, it’s fine! Oh! Ed, get out of the car and help me fix things here! It’s fine, it’s fine, be glad my husband is not home! (Men.) You want to buy cassis? Yes, yes, of course, I have some. I grow the currants and berries myself. You cannot see them now, they are buried in snow. Forgive me, we never have visitors at this time of the year.

Quebec Feb 06 243
island berry fields

Quebec Feb 06 241

This time of the year. The perfect time of the year to lose yourself in a place that never says no to the outdoors. Or to visitors who come breaking down your door to get a bottle of cassis.
posted by nina, 2/19/2006 11:55:00 PM | link | (9) comments

Saturday, February 18, 2006

from quebec city: ice 

A high of -2? Fahrenheit? With a wind chill that refuses to type itself here because it is so daunting? Interesting.

You read about how the Quebecois deal with winter and you try to copy them. Wear layers and embrace the cold. I think it’s a toss up if I embraced the cold or it embraced me, but we were indeed one today.

My answer to the question of how is it pleasurable to do a getaway to a place even colder than Wisconsin had always been – hey, I’ll catch up with my reading and writing and I’ll take a few photos in the 5 minutes I step outside and I’ll eat well. Good deal, no?

With only a short occasional pause to catch our breath, we spent four hours outside, Ed and I.

It was worth it: a search for ice pushed us to extremes.

Initially, I wanted to find the ice sculptures.

Through lower vielle ville streets, up the road to upper Quebec, sliding terribly on the planes of Abraham, peering out with tears freezing on the lids, Lara’s theme playing in my head, we search and find nothing.

Why would a city dismantle ice sculptures just because its winter festival has ended?

Quebec Feb 06 031
snow and houses and snow

Quebec Feb 06 033
where are they? where is anything?

Quebec Feb 06 052
out and about: embracing the cold

Quebec Feb 06 057
...but first you bundle up

Then came the brilliant plan to do the ferry crossing. The St Lawrence is traversable, even though the ferry has to crash through floating bricks of ice. It is nothing short of an awesome trip. The sound itself is tremendous.

Quebec Feb 06 044
the city spills into the river

Quebec Feb 06 099
ferries, passing each other

Quebec Feb 06 074
St Lawrence close up

Looking out we see canoers. Nuts, these guys are nuts. I found a bunch of people even more insane than I am! I watch them get in their boat, paddle furiously…

Quebec Feb 06 089

…and when the going gets tough and they can paddle no more, they hop out and jump between floating chunks of ice.

Quebec Feb 06 092
...and jumping ice

Standing at the helm of the ferry takes every last ounce of warmth out of my veins. The only solution, ONLY solution is to find a creperie and order something hugely satisfying. Maybe filled with apricot puree and roasted almonds?

Quebec Feb 06 106
hot and fulfilling
posted by nina, 2/18/2006 05:55:00 PM | link | (3) comments

from quebec city: whiteout 

Remember whiteout? How useful it was before it caked around the edge of the bottle and left clumps on your page, like snow mounds on a smooth road surface?

It’s gusty outside, the pilot says as he lands in Montreal. Are 80 mph winds gusty or are they more like a slap across the face?

Charming little Kia, waiting for us. Ed had been working all night, I had been working only half the night. I’ll drive, I say. CNN said expect snow, heavy at times, but the skies look star studded here in Montreal.

It’s less than 300 kms to Quebec City. We leave the airport at 6:30. The speed limit is 100. A breeze. In time for a late dinner. I turn on the radio. French music. Ed sleeps, I zip forward. The wind adds bounce to the drive. I’m up for it.

Fifty kilometers outside of Quebec it happens. Suddenly the car in front of me is flashing parking lights. So is the truck. A gust brings a sheet of snow from the side. Above, there are stars. Around me -- snow. I slow down to 5 mph, Ed wakes. It’s no use, I am moving randomly, I see nothing. The wind is coming from my left. Ed looks out his side. You’re too far to the left. The white shroud recedes. I am nearly off the road.

The next one comes, and the next. In between – nothing but the blown snow, now in clumps on the road. In front of us, a roll over. People get out to help. I can do nothing but move forward. The cars are crawling now. You hope each gust is the last. It isn’t.

And then, suddenly, there is the bridge, with the city on the other side. Snow-covered. Beautiful.

Almost 11 at night now. The hotel clerk guides me into the snow-covered lot. I do it for you, madame! He says and proudly spins the car into a spot. You drove today from Montreal? Brave! Bad winds.

At midnight, in a bistro across the street, pommes frites and moules, with crusty bread and Canadian wine. Heaven.

Quebec Feb 06 006
posted by nina, 2/18/2006 09:35:00 AM | link | (3) comments

Friday, February 17, 2006


Never say to me “we should go to Quebec someday.”

The word someday does not exist in my vocabulary. I have no patience for it.

A friend (I’ll call him “Ed” – two letters, easy to type) said someday to me a month ago and learned that someday for me is right now.

I wonder whether impatience is a cultural thing: we, Poles, seize that which may disappear soon.

Or, whether I should take personal responsibility for plunging the minute a rope swings my way.

In spite of Madison snows and frosty temperatures, I am heading north right now with Ed, the now biting his tongue Ed, for, having uttered the word someday, he is keeping me company as I head north today. Tonight, if the skies clear and the planes land, we will be in Montreal, driving up even further north to Quebec City, where the ice statues lay buried in snow and the temperatures will not pass single digits.

Waiting now at the Detroit airport for our (delayed) flight out, Ed turns to me and says: You’re the maturest 52-year old kid I ever met.

Personally, I don’t know why anyone would wait until spring to head north.
posted by nina, 2/17/2006 12:45:00 PM | link | (6) comments

Thursday, February 16, 2006


I don't really know you, a friend said today.

Oh, everyone can read me – I have a hard time hiding my pleasure and displeasure with the everyday.

Yes, that you do disclose, but I don’t really know even a fraction of who you are.

Nonsense. I write a blog, I talk to friends about my days.

But you lived in communist Poland, you were a Fifth Avenue nanny, you were in Leningrad when it was Leningrad…We here ate twinkies for lunch and took trips to Florida in winter and had chrome on our cars and thought we were damn lucky to be American, you know, ‘cause we’re better than everyone else.

So I don’t really know you. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up with questions in your head, with storms, with drama. Will you talk more about it?

No, I am not good at that. There’s Ocean and there are the smiles and sadnesses of the everyday. There is no pleasure in unraveling spins and dramas from the past. No pleasure at all. And the snow today, it's so beautiful.

Madison Feb 06 117
this morning, out my window

Madison Feb 06 127
getting to class

Madison Feb 06 129
finding a way to move along State Street

Madison Feb 06 131
pedaling. because it's Madison.
posted by nina, 2/16/2006 04:55:00 PM | link | (4) comments

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

going on rounds 

An evening early this week. My friend comes over and tells me about his rotten day. Okay, I want to hear about it. I want to be the kind of friend who can listen. So tell me.

I'll talk, but will you go on rounds with me? I’ve been stuck in a room with mean lawyers all day, I’ve got my work rounds still ahead.
Sure. Take me to the dark alleys off of rural roads, where men work late into the night. I want to see these places of metals and dim light.

Sun Prairie. We'll drive to Sun Prairie. I want Mike to balance xxxxxxxx..

I could never repeat what Mike is balancing, not because it’s dirty (though if grease = dirt to you then it’s plenty dirty) but because my mind cannot take in things that spin and make vintage motorcycles move forward. Indeed, as my friend takes apart what has to be some component of the spinning hickey of the clutch (flywheel, Nina, it's called a flywheel) I wonder why it has to have ten separate pieces to it. Like, why can’t it be just one?

Mike the machinist is brilliant in this, that I can tell. He has one of only a couple balancing machines in this county. Watching him drill out bits of metal to create a balanced doo-hickey is an exercise in patience. I want to say, oh let it go already. The thing will turn without that millimeter adjustment. But I know the two men in the shop would kill me if I offered this suggestion and since there are a lot of implements of death and torture within an arm's reach, I stay silent.

Designing tools, designing machines. Me, I take apart texts and opinions and oftentimes I have nothing to offer in their place. I design nothing but a thought process. Well, okay, I designed Ocean. But I am powerless to guide my hands to do anything out of the ordinary. Dabbling hands, I have dabbling hands that have strummed guitars and baked pastries and cultivated perennials.

And held a child.

And typed words and pressed shutter releases. Okay, I’m feeling better. But still, I am clueless about how most anything works and even more on how to improve our physical spaces. Completely clueless.

It’s a flywheel, Nina, it’s a flywheel.


Madison Feb 06 110

Madison Feb 06 115

Madison Feb 06 103
posted by nina, 2/15/2006 06:25:00 PM | link | (1) comments

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

be mine 

Yeah, be mine, sweet Valentine’s Day, be mine. Make it special. Got cash? Boil a lobster, pop a cork. Dirt poor? Shoot pool, go home, call a friend. Spend the effort. You are alone? No, wait, there are children out there who love this day full of hearts. Be with them. Or with a lover. Or an ex. Or with a pink cosmo and TV coverage of the Olympics, romanticizing winter and sport. Wake up, wake up, I am talking to you, don’t look the other way!

I asked in class today (50 bright faces, ready to learn even more about dissolving relationships, for that is what I teach): who is doing something fun and Valentiney today? One person raises his hand. Oh come on, you others, you’re lying! Shaking heads. He’s married – someone pipes in. Okay, how many are married here? Seven hands go up. Do six object to the Hallmark celebration of the passage of half of February?

This day, make it bright red and sappy. Remember when the girls were little and we had to help them make cut out hearts for their classmates? God, I hated that project, having no patience for crafts at all, me, who could not ever do scrapbooking because it all looks so painfully tedious and sticky. All those hearts.

And then, in the evening, out of their backpacks would come – endless little hearts, all made by Mothers Who Care (if you’re a father who made Valentine’s day hearts for the class, forgive me, we have not met). I note who made their child sign his or her own. I did. Stiff upbringing my girls had. Solid European manners. Sign the goddamn card already! I am surprised they did not grow up to hate this day. They don’t hate it. If they had been in my class, they would have raised their hands. Both of them, engaged in something fun and Valentiney.

Yesterday, on my way home from a meeting, I walked through our local zoo. I want to photograph polar bears, wrapped in each others’ fuzzy paws, just like I see on blogs and in valentine’s day cards.

But no. I see only one bear. He looks around. Dreamily. Is there a polar bear sweetie out there to eat kegs of fish with? No? Eyes close, he rests, basking in the faint sun that is February this year. Happy-looking. (Though what do I know about Polar bears, especially those in zoos.)

Do well by another and by yourself today. Half of February is over and done with. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Madison Feb 06 073
anyone want to eat fish heads with me?

Madison Feb 06 077
no? okay.
posted by nina, 2/14/2006 03:45:00 PM | link | (5) comments

Monday, February 13, 2006

have you ever seen a lassie go this way and that [or: how to succeed in getting your name in the paper without really trying] 

This is the honest truth: the above was the first song I learned in the English language. My mother taught it to me when we were still in Poland. I’m not quite sure why. Maybe she thought I was the type who needed to get excess energy out of her system by kicking her leg to the lyrics. You’re supposed to kick this way and that. So she said.

I was reminded of it when I read an article in the Wash Post today. There I am – gliding in on the coattails of another blogger, me, Nina, referenced by name in the Wash Post. Waddaya know… (C’mon. scroll down to the last page. Okay, so I am not easy to find. What did you expect??? We’re talkin’ Wash Post!)

The article itself picks up on the recent flurry of activity surrounding Ann’s post of many many months ago – a post where she cited an email discussion she and I had about blogging from the left (that would be me; at the time Ocean actually acknowledge the existence of politics) and from the right (or, from a centrist position, perceived as right-facing).

Now that Ocean is squeaky clean, preferring to write about places and foods and idle conversations, the amount of disgruntled emails in my Inbox has gone down. (Though it hasn’t entirely disappeared. I just had a million-word exchange last week with a person in Poland who was terribly bothered by a generalization I posted about Polish people).

It’s so easy to offend. Sometimes I understand why it might lead to a tightness in someone’s chest, sometimes I do not.

Sometimes I myself am offended when I read blogs. Sometimes I am just damn mad. What the hell, how dare they? Excuse me?

Okay. Those are troublesome times. But you know, the blogs that I read are all over the place. And so I am used to stances and positions and worldviews different from my own. In fact, it is safe to say that no one out there that I know shares everything --- age, worldview, writing style, eastern European angst – that I think are my small burdens. So hey, I can deal with most anything well presented and well argued.

Even if it swings this way….

Madison Feb 06 083
barbados sheep
Vilas Zoo, Feb.13

And that…

Madison Feb 06 068
barbados sheep
Vilas Zoo, Feb.13
posted by nina, 2/13/2006 10:25:00 PM | link | (5) comments

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Regalia culinaria musicale animalia 

In other words, a dinner party with hearty, festive eating, rousinging musical shenanigans and animals, eyeing each other, all evening long.

I’m telling it like it was. Last night. At Saul and Mel’s.

Madison Feb 06 054 Madison Feb 06 052

Madison Feb 06 019 Madison Feb 06 023

posted by nina, 2/12/2006 05:45:00 PM | link | (2) comments

Saturday, February 11, 2006

blue and yellow, sweet and savory 

At Fontana sports:

I’m with a friend who can help me sort through this stuff. I’m looking for a day-pack.

These are good. Note the additional waist band to shift the balance…
I like this one, over here!
Huh? What?
This one! Look, classy! Gray, with blue and yellow accents! It’s perfect!

Nina, come try this one on. It’s all in the fit…
Fit? You’re giving me one with black and red! I don’t want black and red!

You folks doin’ alright here?
I have never in my life seen anyone pick a back pack because of colors. Can you believe it?
Hey, I had a woman come in here and pick skis to match the color of her boots and ski jacket.
And what is wrong with that?
Just do me a favor and put this one on.
I can’t! That brand? My daughters used it in high school! It will make me feel like I am toting their high school packs! Besides, you’re not listening: gray blue and yellow – it does not get better than that.

(Stares from the two men.)

Would you not pick something according to color?
If it was puke-toned, if it fit me well, I would buy it.

(after visits to many other sporting goods stores) at Sacramento’s:

I thought of this panaderia when you posted a photo of the baked goods at Nogales.
These are great! Mexican and Nicaraguan?
Our family took over this place a year ago. We were farmers, we know food.
I see tamales, enchiladas, in addition to the sweet stuff...
You want a nice photo? Let me put together a selection of cakes and cookies.
Too many of those baked goods are going to go home with me, you know that. Good thing my favorite blue-with-yellow-trim backpack has adjustable waist straps.

Madison Feb 06 016

at Fontana’s:

I’m back! I looked the whole world over and did not find a nicer looking pack! I can’t wait to strap a baguette to its side and stick a bottle of wine inside…

(Only on State Street would a store clerk be patient with weird shopping behaviors of this sort, I’m sure of it.)

Madison Feb 06 018

posted by nina, 2/11/2006 06:05:00 PM | link | (5) comments

Friday, February 10, 2006


It could be said that I am in a prickly mood. In fact, it has been said of me and so it must be thus.

Maybe I had a jealous spark when I saw Tonya post photos of cacti. My cacti were last week. Hers are now. In general, I prefer pleasant things to be in the now rather than in the last week.

I wanted to throw pictures out to match hers – boulders (she had boulders up on her blog), or little close-ups of puffy headed plants (easy! we have plenty of puffy headed flora up north, especially since it snowed lightly last night), that kind of thing. But my photos were bleak and lacked spark.

Madison Feb 06 007

Madison Feb 06 006

Madison Feb 06 011
prickly and puffy

Then I got myself into a discussion about holidays with a person who doesn’t do holidays. People like that are as sanctimonious about their choices as are vegetarians who ride bikes for fun. Oh! He is in fact also a vegetarian who rides bikes for fun. So he’s got the sanctimonious thing down pat.

You've heard the argument: holidays are just a corporate commercial capitalist bla bla bla.

So I knew my chance of getting a humdinger of a celebration going on March 8th (you know, International Woman’s Day) was going to fall on deaf ears. No lip-smackin’ surprise in store for me on that day. At least not from this friend.

Still, I hardly think I was a bear today. Certainly not a prickly bear. Indeed, in my more mellow moment I decked a table with yellow tulips and actually smiled, on account of the Winter Games starting now. I know how to nip prickles in the bud. I’m fine. Yeah, totally.

Maybe I should have had a cosmo.

Not too late.

Madison Feb 06
mellow yellow
posted by nina, 2/10/2006 05:55:00 PM | link | (1) comments

Thursday, February 09, 2006


I haven’t done it decades. I wrote an email to someone just yesterday recalling how when I lived in Poland, my parents were, for a number of years, cash poor. Still, they wanted to revisit Italy and so we packed a tent and drove down and pitched it at a campsite on the beaches of the Lido. In the morning my mother said: leave me home the next time.

Independently, I camped. In Poland I kayaked with university friends and we would pitch tents on riverbanks and get cheese from local farmers and cook canned junk and always always boil potatoes – on the days we did not roast them. When I was in charge of supper I made sandwiches with bread and yellow cheese and I’d stick a flower on each sandwich. People thought I was crazy, but hey, Alice Waters did it at Chez Panisse a few years later and she got called the queen of the new American cuisine, how fair is that.

This morning a friend asked me if I would go camping this summer. At once I thought of laptop issues. No blogging? As I listened intently to descriptions of scrubbing the scalp and body with 32 degree water (from the spring) and of canned soup being made over a portable stove because, I was told, it makes little sense to build a fire when you are dead tired from hiking all day, my once rampant now dormant love of camping ...remained dormant.

Still, at lunch another friend described how his whole family gathers with tents and gourmet foods each year in the mountains and how they hike and cook and eat and sit around a campfire and suddenly I envisioned myself grilling things with garlic and olive oil out there in the vast emptiness, under stars and I thought: maybe it’s worth a shot, cold spring bathing notwithstanding.

Do any of the national parks have WiFi?
posted by nina, 2/09/2006 05:55:00 PM | link | (9) comments

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

nie nie nie, to nie ja* 

A friend send me a link to a CNN story which gave him pause. Is it her?

Sure, I have complained endlessly about My Busy Tuesday (=yesterday). My Busy Tuesday was made all the busier by a four-hour deposition, where I acted as an interpreter: English to Polish, Polish to English.

And yeah, I spilled the beans and told some of you that I was the interpreter in a case involving a Polish housekeeper.

And I am sure most everyone thought that the case noted on CNN must have been my case.

Sadly, no. I did brag that mine is a high profile case. But I was slightly exaggerating. You know, to make myself look important. Okay, the case is big by Madison standards. But it is not about stealing cameras from Candice Bergen or shoes from Robert DeNiro. Though, just to let you know, CB and RD, I am available, should your current interpreter prove inadequate. I'm good, I tell you!

* no no no, that's not me
posted by nina, 2/08/2006 05:45:00 PM | link | (1) comments

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

from tucson: exits 

Doors. So many posters I have seen! Posters of doors. Doors of Madison. Doors of Tuscany. Doors of Yale.

Doors as openings. Doors to historic houses. Adobe buildings of an older Tucson. Doors freeing you to paint them, admire them, photograph them.

Feb 06 Tucson 192

Expressing color. Why do doors into homes with a weaker sun over them (in Wisconsin, for example) shun color? Brown doors up north. Colorful doors down south.

Doors to friendship, doors to new interiors, doors to cafés where they serve strawberry lemonade. With a raspberry bar. Eaten outside under a strong sun.

Feb 06 Tucson 223

And don't forget about wrought iron gates and fences. Decorative: oh! that is so lovely. Or plain: I plan to paint every last bar of it, the owner tells me.

Feb 06 Tucson 213

Doors. Favorite ones:

Feb 06 Tucson 199 Feb 06 Tucson 191 Feb 06 Tucson 197

Feb 06 Tucson 204 Feb 06 Tucson 200 Feb 06 Tucson 202

Feb 06 Tucson 211 Feb 06 Tucson 208 Feb 06 Tucson 214

Doors for visual effect, doors that are functional. Barricades. Gates. Other gates. Boundary gates. So let’s extend a helping hand, across the Rio Grande… Let them out, let them in. Let’s see your card, step this way please.

Gates of entry. Of passage. The flight to St Paul-Minneapolis will be boarding from Gate 10. Weather in Minneapolis? The captain pauses for effect. A balmy 22 degrees.

Closure to the 78 degrees of Arizona. The cabin door is closed, turn off your cell phones. Thank you for flying with us.

Thank you, thank you. Thank you, hosts and friends and hummingbirds and suns setting and warm sunlight the next morning, waking me up even before the dog barks.

posted by nina, 2/07/2006 01:55:00 AM | link | (6) comments

Monday, February 06, 2006

from tucson: I mean, from mexico: like all good neighbors 

Before this day, I had never been to a Mexican border town. Fly in to Mexico City, move around the central provinces, fly out. That’s it.

Want to go to Mexico?

Less than two hours from Tucson. Drive through National Parks with vast stretches of arid land and you’re there. Leave the car at the border and follow the signs:

Feb 06 Tucson 107

It’s not unimportant that this is Super Bowl Sunday. Nogales is crowded, but with almost no Americans. How do you spot an American here? We are the buyers. We come here to poke through stuff brought up to this border town by people who want a sale. More so on this day of no Americans than any other.

I take off on my own. I quickly leave the center and head for the hills, camera dangling. Can’t help it, I am these days so often looking at places through a lens. It is a bigger addiction than the Internet. You have to be a person of great patience to walk with me. I stop frequently. My friends are happy to let me go off alone.

Feb 06 Tucson 110

Music. Where there are people, there is music. At one corner, five radios on full volume. Not American music. Spanish lyrics, Latin melodies.

When I was in third grade, back at the UN School, we sang this song. I remember every word:

Let’s sing a song of the good neighbor
Til it echoes o’er the sea
Si si amigo, wherever we go
Good good neighbors we will be

So let’s extend a helping hand
Across the Rio Grande
And help each other too
Like all good neighbors do – oo - oo.

So what happened? …here in this poor poor border town of Nogales?

I stand at the base of a hill, taking a photo of a blue house. There are so many colors, most faded but some still bright, up there on that hill.

Feb 06 Tucson 137

A Mexican man leaves his girlfriend and comes up to me.
Miss? You want a good picture? Climb up those narrow (crumbling) stairs. All the way to the top. You will see everything.
Thanks, I will do that.

Feb 06 Tucson 146

All the time I am here, I pass groups of people hanging out. Perfect words to describe it. Hanging out. Young people and even younger. Babies on the way to childhood, on the way to adulthood. Sometimes I cannot tell which is the child, which is the adult. These girls, I was going to label them “sisters.” But when one gets up I wonder if she isn’t the mother.

Feb 06 Tucson 117

In a back alley, halfway up the hill I hear the racket of a machine. I pause at the doorway and look.

You wanna come inside to see?
I step in.
We are making tortillas. Did you ever see them made?

My camera, my curiosity tell it like it is: I have never seen tortillas being made and yes, I want to come inside. I watch, she explains. She smiles at my picture taking. She lets me taste the warm soft pancake. Good. How can it not be?

Neighbors come here to buy fresh ones for supper. Fresh baguettes for the Sunday supper in France, fresh tortillas for the Sunday supper in Mexico. She is happy when I tell her I want some too, even though I have no Mexican family to feed. I will feed myself.

Twenty five for fifty cents. Two pennies per pancake. American pennies welcome. American pennies. We can use American pennies here. All pennies welcome.

Feb 06 Tucson 122

Feb 06 Tucson 129

I climb down again and rejoin the stream of people, Mexican people, no Americans, no Americans, they’re watching Super Bowl, that’s right.

I stop in front of a bakery, trying to understand the sweet inclinations of this community. Simple cookies and buns, puffed up, showing off their freshness. Someone comes up to me. It’s the camera. It is my question mark. People have figured out that I am asking, even as I say no words.

These, we like these, the person behind me prods my elbow to focus on the side of the shelf. He smiles as I turn my camera toward his choices.

Feb 06 Tucson 148

I cannot be like the Polish tourist that I half am. You know the Polish tourist in Venice? He comes with his family by bus. He takes pictures of his family on the main square. He enters the church, prays, goes outside. He sits with his family on the church steps and opens a plastic bag where he has packed (more likely his wife has packed) the breads and sausages (from Poland) for the afternoon meal. They eat. The plastic bag escapes with the wind. Ooops. He leaves, pushing the sinking city deeper into the lagoon with his tread, spends nothing, leaves his garbage and is out before sundown.

But I want nothing. No clutter back at the loft.

Still, as I dump my plastic water bottle in the trash can, the image of the Polish tourist haunts me. So I buy two green thick glass goblets. Simple goblets for simple country wines, the kind you might have with a baguette or a tortilla.

Feb 06 Tucson 154

At the exit point, the US official is old, kind-looking. Friendly. The stream of people returning to Mexico, WalMart bags full of toilet paper and who knows what else, move quickly. The stream of people leaving Mexico – less so. Our drivers’ licenses are inspected, but one look and it becomes a formality. What did you buy? I am asked. Two goblets. Two beautiful goblets.

posted by nina, 2/06/2006 07:55:00 AM | link | (3) comments

Sunday, February 05, 2006

from tucson: in the matter of water 

My host and I get out of the car at the foot of the Canyon.

Here’s a bottle of water for you.
Thanks. I’ll leave it in the car for later.

That snippet of conversation says it all. I am a desert hiking imbecile.

My host is not: take the water. It’s the desert.

Feb 06 Tucson 058

Feb 06 Tucson 050

Feb 06 Tucson 059

Feb 06 Tucson 064


What’s a watsu?

I ask this after I agree to subject myself to it.

I walk into a garden in the Catalina mountains. Rosemary bushes are in bloom. Humming birds descend for a swig of the sweet stuff. In front of me – a pool.

Feb 06 Tucson 076

She tells me to go in. The sun is piercing there over the water. Outside, it is 75. In the pool it is 96.

Floatation devices are wrapped around my shins. She leads me into the middle and forces me into a reclining position. She holds my head above water and moves me around, this way and that. For an hour she prods, pulls and kneads my limbs, my back, my neck. I go limp in the water as she moves me, snake like, across the pool.

It feels like sea weed, doesn’t it?

I want to be sea weed from now on. Forget law school, forget gray drizzly days. Leave me in this pool so that I can watch the humming birds circle the cacti. Hi birds, I’m here, I am the sea weed.

Feb 06 Tucson 085
posted by nina, 2/05/2006 08:55:00 AM | link | (1) comments

Saturday, February 04, 2006

from tucson: african art, carpets and cacti. and sun. 

It’s Friday, noon, the plane lands and people start undressing. The burden of toting an extra jacket or sweater is nothing compared to the burden of dealing with bad weather up north.

The pilot, having had his adrenalin pumped, I’m sure, while coping with the Minneapolis snow now says in a resigned way: the weather in Tucson? Sunny. It’s always sunny in Tucson (I swear, a yawn follows).

It is a dry place. The last rain shower came down in mid October.

Three of us arrive from different parts of the country. Our host picks us up. I am itching to shed the long sleeves. Oh, don’t be shy! We’re not modest here. I am not shy, but ripping off my shirt in the airport parking lot seems extreme. I wait until we get in the car.

It is getting hot. We pull up behind a Motel 8. Dust covers my old shoes. Two guys are grilling meats and corn in the corner of a parking lot. My groups is hungry and so we eat.

And suddenly I am in Africa.

Feb 06 Tucson 009

Feb 06 Tucson 006

Feb 06 Tucson 013
shea butter

People are heavily into rocks here in Tucson. It’s the second time I am in this town at the time of the gem exposition. It’s not enough that these stones are a really big deal, but the event spawns side shows, like the one here, behind the Motel 8, of African Art.

Feb 06 Tucson 011
carapets and me

Feb 06 Tucson 015

And lo! There is my guy from two years back, with his truck of Afghani carpets. I bought a runner from you! I’ll sell you an area rug for $1200! I don’t have $1200! Make it $200 then. Times are tough in Afghanistan.

Our friend who is hosting this reunion (four women, friends since the first year of Law School now exactly 25 years ago) lives among cacti and palm trees.

Feb 06 Tucson 027

Feb 06 Tucson 033
valentine's day hearts?

We stroll in the late afternoon, ready for the dessert chill that comes around when the sun goes down. On the back deck, she feeds us Brazilian drinks with lime juice and some potent something. Life is sweet.

Feb 06 Tucson 039
cacti and caiparigna coctails at sunset

Feb 06 Tucson 040
hairy cacti at sunset
posted by nina, 2/04/2006 08:25:00 AM | link | (2) comments

Friday, February 03, 2006


I woke up yesterday smothered by a dream that would not loosen its grip. In it, I was leaving an airplane. I could not gather my belongings. I would pack one item and two others would spill out. I was alone on the plane, struggling to keep all these items contained, but it was no use. I finally left, leaving behind God knows what.

It’s too obvious, I know, but there you have it: me trying to contain all that is with me, required of me, presented to me, failing in the end as it all scatters to my feet.

My flight this morning out of Madison was at an awful morning hour. I had had an argument last night (or, rather, someone found me argumentative and I argued the incorrectness of this assessment) and so I did not sleep well (at all?), being sensitive to disturbances of any kind these days.

Recently, I had been noting that our airport has only bars, plus a stinky stand of packaged foods and isn’t that just typical. Not anymore. Since my transit through here two weeks ago, it has acquired a food court. Can you predict what it has to offer? Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Quizno’s subs, the Great Dane Brewery. It’s sort of snapshot of middle-Madison, no?

I only wanted a strong coffee. Finding none, I went to the gate and tried not to sleep. I missed my boarding call, but I swear, they changed announcing agents. I had been listening for a female voice.

In Minneapolis, it is snowing. Hard. That’s fine, I expect that this is a city of snow. Snow in Minnesota, sunshine in Arizona. A stereotype I can live with, especially since my final destination is Tucson.
posted by nina, 2/03/2006 08:55:00 AM | link | (3) comments

Thursday, February 02, 2006

to lili, wherever one may find her 

Lili changed my winter days forever.

I never met her and for a while I didn’t think she existed. She is one of Ocean’s earliest readers. Every once in a while she will send me an email with comments on a post. Always encouraging, always generous, always crafted with word choices that make me wonder if she is a closet writer. Or a friend pretending to be someone living far away, painting canvases for a living, indulging my feverish desire to be admired, at least in a tiny way, by a Real Artist. (Lili is cringing at my choice of words here, I know it.)

When I could not pull off an encounter (she lives in Cambridge and I visited Cambridge last summer) I became convinced that she was not real.

Then, an envelope came, from Cambridge, addressed to the Law School, with a sketch and a note. The sketch was by her and of her.

But all this is background. One of the most memorable messages from her came last February, in response to photos I posted of sunlight poking through evergreen branches. There was snow on the ground a year ago and I had paused during a brisk walk, absolutely mesmerized by these streaks of light.

She wrote that as a painter, she always appreciated the subtle change in light that occurred in February. It was like no other, she wrote. Indeed, each year on the second of the month she heads out into the country, packing a picnic lunch and eating outside, with deep appreciation for the light that would be February’s gift to us all.

Until then, I heard nothing but scorn for this month of days that were still too short and weather patterns that tried our patience. Even now, as I read blogs from my sidebar and comments to Ocean, the themes of sadness, depression, frustration with this period in the calendar year come through with a vengeance.

A colleague told me a few years back that he never makes decisions in February. The month plays with our moods in the most unfavorable way.

Not for me, not any more. I did not have time to go out into the countryside today, not even to the park or to the lakefronts. But driving to the grocery store, I had to stop the car. I was passing, of all things, the cemetery and I saw it: a dazzle of mellow light, brushing the ground, the stones. Light that was steely blue, gentle and kind.

Thank you, Lili. For some twenty-eight days now I am enthralled. More than ever in my life, sweet tenderness appeals to me. In the most improbable places, I look up and I find it, this subtle, hazy face of February.

Jan 06 636
posted by nina, 2/02/2006 06:55:00 PM | link | (3) comments

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

art, animals, food 

This morning at the loft I watched my new fish move in the aquarium. Back and forth they swam, sometimes aiming for the top where their food generally appears, sometimes exploring the little cave-like formation.

My friend gave me this generous gift (because I helped her search for the perfect condo). I wanted to protest, but I am glad I accepted it. The only irritant is the gurgling noise of the water filtering system, but the tank reacts to a remote control I have. One click of a button and the sound disappears.

Jan 06 623

This afternoon another friend stopped by my office, also with a gift: a rooster, so fitting when you consider that I have a teeny collection of exquisite birds gracing my window. There, I’m placing him amidst the others.

Animals in art.

Jan 06 626

The only problem is that I am hungry. It is late. I would so love a nice warm dinner out – seafood maybe? Or, comfort food of a traditional sort, like roasted chicken? I cannot. Today, I have to be a vegetarian. It seems harsh otherwise, given my two lovely gifts.

[You too can bring this tank of fish into your space. The dvd is made by Lagoon Multimedia. In the alternative, you can purchase a disc depicting a crackling fire in a fireplace. No mess, no fuss. Just the sights and sounds we associate with a good old fashioned fire. Oh, I guess the smell isn't there. That may be a good thing when it comes to fish.]
posted by nina, 2/01/2006 11:45:00 PM | link | (2) 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.

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from