Sunday, September 30, 2007

from Paris: traveling

The next twelve hours are in flight and so posting will be a touch delayed. But I'll come back to Sunday for sure, the minute I touch down in the States.

A hint -- on this day, I did what hundreds, nay, thousands of Parisians (and others) did. Picture it: a perfect, lightly sunny day in the Ile de France. Where might you go? What might you do? When might you eat?

Another hint: I kept seeing, intermittently, this:

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More later.

from Paris: different tastes

I never had the time to set the context for this trip. There’s the work part (trivial, consisting of one meeting, to the point that even IRS would not regard the hop over here as ‘work related’ and as far as I can figure out, the IRS is generous in its definitions). And then, there’s also the week-end part.

I’m not alone (no no, my occasional travelling companion regards this as a perfect occasion to stay home and do guy things – oh, like clearing barns and repairing crankshafts, so I am not here with him) and so I am looking at Paris through the eyes of others.

This is, by the way, an unusual time to be in Paris. France is hosting the World Rugby Tournament. It is a BIG DEAL event. I knew that when I booked a room way back in April. Prices are adjusted to reflect this golden moment in sports history. Uff! And there are banners and balloons and rugby t-shirts and special rugby menus in most places. And big screens showing the games.

So there’s that.

It is also fashion week. But I know very little about what’s at stake here. I have seen no model or designer of note and I say this in part because I would not really know how to spot one. All French women look to me like they have stepped out of a magazine page.

That’s the context.

A commenter asked for a photo of wine. I’m obliging. Here it is. Though not of our wine – this one is of a bottle shared by two, enamored with each other, on a quiet square in the middle of the island (Isle de la Cite) right there on the River Seine.

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And, while we’re on the subject of lovers – at a distance, and on the river Seine, here’s another shot, reflecting the pink of adoration and of a perfectly beautiful late September evening:

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These are unusual shots. They show off the quieter spaces of Paris. I’m going to flip over to the morning now, spent chasing one masterpiece after another. So, any idea why there’s a small crowd here?

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Sure, it’s too see the Monalisa. I did not take a photo of her. And you know what she looks like anyway. Indeed, you were not permitted to take a photo of her, though not a single person followed that rule. The guards shrugged. The sign had said the photo ban was there for the most popular canvases, so that everyone could contemplate them in peace. Right.

In another museum, next to another small masterpiece, a solo visitor had a chance to take his own private photo.

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And in the next room, a guard was listlessly staring into space. How much can you take of a waterlily canvas in a day?

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Outside, the streets were filled with late Saturday shoppers. Nothing draws as big a crowd as a bakery with the afternoon allocation of baguettes, or a pastry shop where you can pick up something for le week-end. I regard Pierre Hermes as the best of the best. So do others.

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A week-end in Paris. To be licked and savored and stored, so that on a more placid day back home, where it’s bike, work, bike, cook, work, sleep, I can think back to the taste of deep chocolate or cassis icecream.

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Or to thoughts of dinner, across the table from other traveling companions…

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…enjoying this gingered apple dish, with a crème brulee topping.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

From Paris: how many ways? (with a post scriptum on wi-fi and coffee)

…do you say I love you? And how many ways can you say it rained today? Some possibilities (in reverse-chronological order, for a change):

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dinner: dessert

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evening: sent to the store

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gray riverbank, turning leaves

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empty chairs

A post scriptum: Paris Notes

Why are the mayors of New York and Chicago visiting Paris this week? To study the launching of free Wi-Fi in all the major Parisian parks and other public spaces (at noon today). The service, according to Le Figaro, will be available until the closing of the parks each evening, except on Le Champs du Mars, where it will be available round the clock.

And so the empty chairs will not remain empty today (it helps that the weather has improved).

But it leads me to wonder -- where are the great public spaces in Chicago? Or in Madison, for that matter, where the launching of WiFi has been a bust, both for technical reasons and, well, because it was never to be free.

In another unrelated piece of news, I read that Starbucks has been a complete failure in Paris. Dubbed here the McDonalds of coffee, it is mostly shunned, scorned and ignored. No comment. Or, okay, one comment: who the hell needs Starbucks in Paris?

Friday, September 28, 2007

from Paris: landmarks

Too hard? The previous post was from the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. And the sauce in the second photo is, in my opinion, a give-away. Mmmm.

But, for the traditionalists, I'll throw in the photos that tell all. [Just photos for now. My meeting is about to begin.]

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fall trees

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sea of cars on the Champs

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bicycles tour and the Louvre

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city bikes

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in front of Les Deoux Magots

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woman and dog

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Paris metro

Thursday, September 27, 2007

from ?

So where am I this week-end? (You can't show off your superior knowledge if I happen to have told you in advance).

A hint (no, it's not Madison, shot from the Olbrich Gardens):


Still too hard? Okay. For dinner, as a first course, I had this (it's a mushroom and eggs dish):

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Give up? Come back later. I'm bound to spill all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

minimalism, continued

definition of minimalism: a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.

See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Expect minimalism here, on Ocean. Today and tomorrow. I have a long week-end away ahead of me and an endless number of projects that need my gentle touch before I leave.

The reasons for this particular trip across the ocean are not of importance here. I will say that there is very little work involved and what work there is will be most pleasant indeed, as it will be conducted in a café.

I have been asked if I mind the long journey for such a short, short spell over there, you know, where I’m going. I should mind, I know I should, but I mind it no more than I mind a ride on a cold bus or a night with too little sleep and too much casebook reading. Besides, fewer nights there means less spent on hotels. So it’s a bargain! Of sorts.

But really, there isn’t a lot these days that bothers me. Rudeness, meanness – the usual culprits, typically coming from the usual suspects. Other than that, days are filled with a mixture of gentle inclines and downspurts, like an a bikeride across the hills of south-central Wisconsin. All you can hope for is good weather and a huge supply of energy and recently, I have had both.

[Though today, the weather turned on me. That’s okay, I was working. At home. Inside, looking out:]

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Monday, September 24, 2007

from UP to UW: warm weather thoughts

Yesterday, having in complete laziness taken multiple hours to cross a small lake by canoe, I began to think that this cottage by the lake thing wasn’t such a bad idea. I pictured week-ends “up north,” summer, fall, even winter breaks up around here, maybe with snow shoe hikes and midnight skating on the lake. Berry picking, too. This is Michigan – land of the blueberry, right?

It has been said of me that I fall for things with reckless abandon.

Ed burst that bubble fast enough. Vacation home? That’s rich people’s talk.

He is, of course, correct. No matter. I had only been daydreaming about how to treat the million I’m likely to get for publishing my book. The one that I need time to write. The one that crawls along at a sentence a day. That one.

But a few hours out on a lake, two lakes in fact, joined together by this stream…

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… does funny things to the mind.

In the late afternoon, we turned off the electricity, the water, drained the pipes, locked the doors and turned south, following the long trail of cars home. With only an occasional pause, to let the important residents of this region get to the other side.

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Today, it’s back to the books. And the routine of bike, work, bike, cook, work, sleep.

I did note that I’m not the only one especially attached to my bike routines. It seemed this day was “take your bike to Bascom Mall” day. Who needs a bike rack on a day like this…

[That’s Bascom Mall for you: to the left, to the right, looking up, looking down. The first photo includes, of course, the buildings of our Law School.]

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It’s the persistently hot weather, I tell you. Can’t get tight about anything. Ride, rest, read, rest, read, ride. The patterns of a late September summerlike day.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

from the UP: the best of the best

Idea: if you want to take someone to a cabin that may or may not be up to her neat-freak standards, drive up near midnight, after a storm, and say things like “thank God we found the dirt road that leads up to this place.” She’ll likely collapse with relief and when she wakes up the next morning, all she’ll notice will be the beautiful lake and maple forest.

Clarification: no, I do not photoshop color into my photos, to make them look like the canvases they sell by the roadside at $5 a piece. With black velvet trim. I cannot help it that we chose the most perfect week-end to be up north. Deeply clear skies, maples, exploding with brilliance, I mean, what can I do – mute my camera?

Chicago, Detroit and the UP -- linked by big time iron and big name boys, zipping up here for a break from city life. The McCormick and Ford men, the Firestone boys – oh, the whole lot of them. They bought land and settled in and the ones with a conscience handed it over, eventually, to the government, so that the likes of us could download maps and make our way up here to admire the views.

Ed and I hiked the McCormick Wilderness (I read that moose were airlifted here from Canada and now there are hundreds roaming the UP; so how come I saw not a single moose hair, let alone moose paw print the whole while I was here?) – up to the remains of the McCormick retreat.

You could not imagine a more beautiful fall day. Let me stay silent on the details and put up a few photos from the day, shown chronologically.

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to the McCormick Wilderness

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stream to jump over

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Ocean author, getting into the Yellow Dog River falls

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at sunset: Marquette lighthouse on Lake Superior

Saturday, September 22, 2007

from the UP: chasing cranes, storms and a sunrise

Cranes? Pull over. There, in the wetlands.
A hard maneuver and still, no access road.

We abandon the little pink-striped Geo, pick up trails that go nowhere and smell, for the first time, the autumn air of the north.

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But we cannot get to the wetlands.

Loop around and let’s see if we can find a path from the highway.

Yes, they are still there. We try to get closer, but birds have this habit of flying away when they see my camera. Shy creatures.

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The skies cloud over. Rain. What rain! And lightening. And the winds, pushing us up toward the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

In Iron Mountain, just over the border, we look for one of the three traditional Italian eateries. It’s very Italian up here, in Iron Mountain.

Let me call. Maybe they’re closed because of the storms.
They’re closed alright. Burned down in a heap of embers not too long ago. Oops.

Discouraged, we head for the next – Fontana – and it’s hoppin!’ Becky, the owner (I would put her at around ninety), shows us to a table. All you can eat fish fry, if you want it. $8.95, she tells us. No, no – we want to pick up on the Italian theme.

Four women, in ages somewhere between Becky and myself, all with very poofy hair, are reviewing the day’s weather. We’re under a tornado watch. It's a mess out there, Edna.

We get drinks, we get menus, but Becky makes no effort to take our orders. Becky isn't feeling warm toward us. Possibly we did not show excitement at the mention of fried cod. Oh, to be liked by the head of the Italian family that has served food here for generations! Ed shrugs, but I smile at her, a big toothy grin, everytime she looks our way (which is rarely).

We’re hungry. We ask the bartender for a plate of sautéed mushrooms. People have those with steak, you know, with dinner. That’s fine, but could we have some anyway? We have given up on the elusive intractable woman in control.

But eventually she comes over, poised to write down all that we ask for.

I ask my usual. I don’t mean to be difficult, it’s just that I really really care about these things:
Where are the shrimp from?
She looks at me over her thick glasses.
Randy’s distributor, like all our seafood.
I’ll have the Canadian scallops over mushrooms, with a side of gnocchi with marinara sauce.

We’ll seat you at your proper table when the salads are ready.

Ah, so there is a procedure. I see that the four women with poofy hair have made their way to the second room. In another hour or so, we are there as well.

I’m ready to eat anything and everything, even very average food.

Except that the food is not average. The homemade salad dressing, pungent with olive oil, is perfectly herbed, the scallops are picking up the flavors of the garlic mushrooms, the gnocchi are clearly home made.

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Welcome to the UP.

It’s very late as we make our way down the dirt road to Little Squaw Lake. An A frame cottage at the water’s edge. We fall asleep in the utter quiet of the woods.

And in the morning, as the sun throws its first light on the trees across the water, we push the canoe out onto the lake and watch.

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Friday, September 21, 2007


..a blurr of fun last night (with students -- truly a brilliant bunch!)...

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...and out the door I go this afternoon, heading north. With a smiling traveling companion. And Lysol.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

on a day like this...

...late in September, no less, I mean, really, who can blame them?


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

tell me more, tell me more…

It was the kind of day where every living being in Madison wanted to take in those last warm rays.


Me too. On my balcony, my work in my lap, squinting against the sun.

Looking up from my text, though, I could tell: these are autumnal colors. And I don’t mean the turning leaves. Every month has its distinctive light. This tree has late September written all over it.


[Yes, bingo! Correct. A day of work and a bike ride home and then more work. You expect a longer post? Something tells me that the week-end will offer material. But not until then.]

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

one man’s dream…

So, my friend has this house up north…
(translation: a pal who professes not to see dirt, ever, has recently purchased a summer home from a very old couple whose eyesight and physical stamina were such that they could hardly care for themselves let alone a place they hung out in occasionally; said house is a good five hour drive up from Madison)

…and he’s letting us use it for the week-end!
So what state is it in?

Says who?
Well, I visited there last month, as did his son, as did another buddy of his…
(translation: four guys, none of them ever noticing any dirt anywhere, as opposed to me, who notices it even where it doesn’t exist, recently went up and had a good time hangin’ out in a shack which probably has not seen the likes of Lysol in the last, maybe forty years)

Has the bathroom ever seen the likes of Lysol?
What’s Lysol?
(case in point)

So anyway, we could hang out there and you could write…
(translation: I could write if it didn’t get too cold or if the animals and/or bugs that have probably taken over in the absence of a human scent don’t absolutely get to me, and I could then post things on Ocean about it all, only not while there because, nat, there’s no Internet)

…and we could go swimming in the lake and take some hikes up there and we could take nuts and stuff…
(translation: there’s no store within miles and not only would I need to take provisions, which I then would not cook because I don’t even want to contemplate the state of the kitchen, but I would have to take coffee and that means milk and of course, the refrigerator is likely to be turned off, possibly taken over by a family of mice because it’s warm and comfy and snug in there, when it’s standing empty and turned off)

Are there linens and towels?
Linens and towels?
(here, my occasional travel companion, Ed, pauses and rubs his chin, trying to recall his very recent visit there) I’m sure I slept on something and wiped myself off with something…
(translation: one of the guys had a towel and they all used it and then “forgot” to wash it, most likely)
…Anyway, we can wash up stuff there. And take Lysol.
(translation: said week-end will require a half-assed cleaning job, of the type that leaves the strong smell of cleaning product on your hands)

So, I said no to the idea, right?

Oh, but the sun is warm outside and Ed is so eager and excited about this quick jaunt into the northwoods. I imagine that for him, staying up in his buddy’s cabin is like me spending a week-end in Paris. I’m not that unkind.

In the meantime, I’m reveling in the weather and appreciating, while I can, a nice skim double cappuccino. Outside. At a café. In a clean cup, with a yummy scone. You appreciate the things that are soon to be in short supply.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

from d.c.: food and water

Is there anything as important? Okay, love. Warmth. Yeah, I need a warm abode.

But as it’s well documented that I am rich in the latter two, so let’s just focus on food and water. My twenty-four hours had so much of it! Let me go back to Saturday night’s dinner and run through the next twenty-four hours, chronologically:

Corn bisque with a shrimp

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French toast

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fresh and honest cupcakes

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The C&O, again. This time running through Georgetown

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taking water from it

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The Potomac, again, at the end of the day

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…and back to the C&O

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ending with a berry pavlova