The Other Side of the Ocean

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Bloggers are people 

…who like to eat. Take tonight. The monthly blogger symposium (whereby A, B, C, & F get together over dinner and compare horror stories from a month’s worth of bloggerlife) took place at GT. ABC&F live in fear of calling ANYTHING by its real name (a blogger trait I’m told) and so when they schedule a dinner, they dare not say more than GT – leaving it to the ingenuity of the others to figure out exactly WHERE they will be eating, which perhaps explains why B was late – she may have been thinking the rest of the bloggers were at Ginza of Tokyo, whereas they were, in fact, at Griglia Tuscany.

Example of topics addressed: is there a “Wisconsin Idea” lurking in these blogs and should it be capitalized upon, publicized, ignored? [No answers were given to any of the posited questions; perhpas the bloggers were so tired of expositing that they liked positing but avoided giving answers to pretty much anything.] And, more importantly, can we improve on the integrity of Russ Feingold? If not, is he someone one would want to marry (F stayed out of this round of the discussion)? And, is Woody Allen an acceptable alternative?

Because the symposium reached a stalemate on these and other issues, another date will have to be set in order to really address the crucial blogger questions before us. In the meantime, I do want to reiterate that bloggers are people… who like to eat. One photo of just one blogger attacking dessert (after a sumptuous tortelloni dish preceded by a monstrous fried calamari plate) says it all (I’ll leave it to the reader to guess whether we are dealing with blogger A, B, C or F; first correct answer wins honorable mention on this post, identity concealed with an initial, of course):

a blogger contemplates another challenge: dessert Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/30/2004 11:34:00 PM | link | (0) comments

What would I do without the holly and the email? 

My friend, let's just call her Holly, is one of the best sources of forwarded off-beat stories around. Occasionally, I think that there is the desire on her part to educate as well. (Why else forward pieces about punishments that befell those who did not treat their animals in a manner befitting royalty?)

Today, in keeping with the educational motif, she sent me a piece that truly highlights the interesting and intricate ways you can say things in English. Language puns are fantastic for people whose first language is not English (i.e. me) because they make us roll with laughter about the often befuddling inconsistencies between the English written and spoken word. Here's her e-mail:

1. Two vultures board an airplane, each carrying two dead raccoons. The flight attendant looks at them and says,"I'm sorry, gentlemen, only one carrion allowed per passenger."

2. Two boll weevils grew up in South Carolina. One went to Hollywood and became a famous actor. The other stayed behind in the cotton fields and never amounted to much - he became known as the lesser of two weevils.

3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

4. A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West. He slides
up to the bar and announces: "I'm looking for the man who shot my paw."

5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? He wanted to transcend dental medication.

6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer."

7. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain; they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds,"They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

8. The friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving that ...(are you ready)......Hugh, and only Hugh, can prevent florist friars.

9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him .... a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

10. And finally, there was the person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.
posted by nina, 6/30/2004 04:06:45 PM | link | (0) comments

A light ‘n airy summer blog gets political.  

I have been avoiding writing about politics for write a while now, but today I feel compelled to stand up to the accusations that are flying around the blogosphere (here), denegrading Chirac for stating that GWB’s comments on how EU should proceed with Turkey are inappropriate.

To repeat (from CNN and the well-intentioned but way-too-summarily-dismissive-of-Chirac blogger who cited it), Bush said this:

U.S. President George W. Bush has repeated a call for the European Union to admit Turkey, despite criticism by France's President Jacques Chirac that he was meddling in EU affairs.
...And Chirac responded thus:

Chirac took Bush to task Monday over his call for Turkey's admission to the European Union.
"If President Bush really said that in the way that I read, then not only did he go too far, but he went into territory that isn't his," Chirac said of a remark Bush made over the weekend.
"It is is not his purpose and his goal to give any advice to the EU, and in this area it was a bit as if I were to tell Americans how they should handle their relationship with Mexico."
Let me just note the following:

1. Bush has demonstrated repeatedly that he will pay attention to the EU only if it responds in the way that he would like it to with respect to American interests in Iraq and elsewhere. [Therefore, this newest statement may well be viewed as yet another American muscle flexing ploy. No one doubts that Bush is courting Turkey since the country is a crucial political link to his vision of foreign policy in the region. To the EU: start talkin’ Turkey, or else we will continue to treat you with the scorn that we’ve had toward you in recent years.]

2. Bush has also shown a singular lack of depth or breadth in his understanding of European history and, more importantly, of the current crisis facing the EU. This is disconcerting to say the least, because a stronger EU is not, as some say, a threat to the economic interests of the US. Quite the contrary (a point that has been argued elsewhere now for some time, one which is ignored by the current administration).

3. That lack of understanding has meant that the EU, in the midst of its current political crisis, has had little support from this side of the ocean. Indeed, many of the rifts between Great Britain and France and Germany – the three strongest member nations – may be directly attributable to our political machinations on the European continent. And, much has been written (in Europe) about the persistent cold American shoulder accorded to the EU even when the great leap toward the current 25 occurred on May 1st of this year. [Under these conditions, while GWB may have a RIGHT to expound on how the EU should now proceed, he certainly hasn’t earned the trust of the organization; greater diplomacy is definitely a prerequisite if he wishes to have his words count for more than just a suck-up lick toward the Turkish government.]

4. The problem of a Turkey membership is extraordinarily complicated, all the more so because the current group of economically-faltering, if not altogether weak, ten new member states has yet to be fully integrated into the EU. No one is blind to the fact that among the newest members, the unemployment rate stands at double digits and the countries are well on the way to being regarded as second class citizens within the EU – a fact that has lead to the current half-year impasse on the Constitution, with Poland leading the battle against French-German dominance in the Union. (A battle that is, perhaps ill-founded, given that Poland cannot afford to be viewed as the difficult one at a time when it needs the help and support of other member states.) Bush ought not be glib about pushing for yet another complicated accession – it only makes the US appear even more disengaged from the epicenter of the current EU crisis.

5. There are other states that should, perhaps, receive consideration even before the question of Turkey is discussed. I have blogged before about the forgotten Bulgaria. GWB seems to have turned his back on the plight of other Eastern European nations YET AGAIN.

Oh, enough. I’m sorry, I’m with Chirac on this one. I doubt that GWB has even a fleeting interest in the future strength of Europe. His focus this week has been NATO's role in Iraq and on throwing out American lollipops to the Turkish government. In so doing, he has plodded into political territory with his hefty Texan boots where soft slippers may have been more appropriate.
posted by nina, 6/30/2004 11:53:38 AM | link | (0) comments

In friendship 

In the last 24 hours I have heard the following two sentiments, both expressed by women: “this guy is such a good friend” and “men are the pits when it comes to friendship.” Now, I am sure that there is a great deal of material out there on the topic of gender and friendship and I don’t have any nuggets of wisdom to offer here, but I do have one observation: in my experience, friendships between members of the opposite gender on this side of the ocean are rare*. Maybe we can blame the inevitable TV culprit** for infusing tension into these relationships (so that only Will and Grace can be buddies, because we, the public, KNOW that nothing can happen between the two of THEM). But from my perspective, it is a shame.

I do not stand in opposition to same-gender friendship circles. I belong to two book groups, both have only women and both work well that way. Though I dare say, a mixed-gender book group of carefully chosen friends would also be kinda fun.

In Poland, both in high school and especially at the university, most (not all, Agnieszka!, but certainly most – like the next five in line) of my closest friends were men. The long walks, the deep, talk-all-night conversations one tends to have at that age happened with these guys; we exchanged dozens of letters in the years after I left; and we still treat each other now, 30 years later, as the greatest of friends, even though all have married, some have divorced, and the spouses have variously now been included in at least some (but not all) of the exchanges.

Come to think of it, in my earlier time in Poland, in first grade, my best buddy was Janek, the boy I have alluded to in earlier posts.

So is it me, or is it that in post-war Poland, girls and boys and later men and women regarded each other with greater camaraderie than I have found to be the case here, in the States?

I know I have gone over the top in posting pictures from my girlhood, but I can’t resist this one***, taken in 1957 (I was just 4), with my then best buddy ‘Johnny’– the rubber doll that would remain my favorite for its lifetime, which was not too long because within a few years the rubber surface sort of crumbled with age and decay, so that Johnny suffered an untimely death and I was forced to transfer my affections to some poor substitute made of plastic.

a walk with a friend, back in 1957 Posted by Hello

*I have heard men say that they remain close in friendship to women – at least until they themselves enter into monogamous relationships. So is it that women place barriers, reserving intimacy for exchanges with each other, feeling uneasy if men demonstrate that same capacity to feel close in friendship to others? (There certainly is a dearth of precedent here that would demonstrate how, indeed, such friendships can continue to thrive and not pose threats to existing relationships.) Or is it that men are satisfied with just one good friend (presumably their partner) and women are not?

**Of course I know very little about what goes on in the land of television since I have the inclination but not the time to watch it and in any event I only have basic cable, to improve reception, so I don’t even KNOW what’s out there, but still, if something must receive an undue share of the blame, let it be the old TV.

***No, I was not pigeon-toed. And yes, these were my favorite shoes. So “Poland in the 50s!”
posted by nina, 6/30/2004 10:10:17 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Blog links 

The pressure is on: everyone who is anyone has a blog link list. Moreover, some of my favorite bloggers have added Ocean to their lists – an honor that is humbly appreciated by me. [Readers will have noted that one of them, JeremyF, has, in my estimation, carried the banner of blogger stardom for some time, while still another, Dorotha – oh, I was bound to like her, given that she uses a name which, if you removed the h, would be identical to my Polish middle name – has a terrific blog as well, with posts that ALWAYS surprise.]

I know linking in this way spreads readership and allows others to taste a number of weblogs they would not otherwise be able to find. I know that revealing your blog reading material is a form of sharing, of participating in the Blog Community. I know all that.

However, ask me to announce publicly what my ten favorite movies are and I clam up. Similarly, ask me what my ten or even twenty favorite blogs are and I grow silent. I can talk about parents, work, neighbors, childhood fears and adolescent crushes, of bad days, good days, iffy days and in-between days. But a list of links? I wouldn’t know where or how to begin my public disclosure.

But, I move with the rapidly developing blog world out there and so who knows, perhaps one summer day I will sequester myself in my un-solarium and develop a list. One summer day. That means soon. Really.
posted by nina, 6/29/2004 05:27:09 PM | link | (0) comments

Family business 

UPDATE: I have done something I never do on the blog: I edited the post below. Let me explain. After writing and posting the first draft, I called my dad (whose birthday it is today) in Warsaw and had the following exchange:

him: Can you hang on, I want to get a pencil. Your nephew said the other day that you write things on the Net daily? What's that called? You know, where you comment on things?
me: (gulp)

him: So, hang on, I want to write down how to find it [my father isn't very computer literate].
me: Dad, let me send you instructions, or I'm sure my nephew [Chris, take your time, okay?] will pass them on. It's hard to dictate over the phone.

him: okay, I'll look forward to seeing this.
me: okay, well, you know, it's not much..

And so the magic eraser is up and running. One thing that is absolutely necessary to maintain in familial relations in the "Old Country" is a great deal of respect for one's elders. Words of respect, absent by unintentional omission, not by design, will now magically appear in the post below.

Today is my father’s birthday. Having neglected to send him a card, I can only retreat to the procrastinator's friend: the telephone.

Our phone conversations are a poor substitute for face-to-face encounters. For any number of reasons, I say so little about what my days here are all about. Occasionally, I have been known to tell either one of my parents something provocative, like “did you know that I represent parents who allegedly abuse and neglect their children?” or “in my spare time I work the ovens in a restaurant.” Shock value, that’s all.

Am I one of those adult children that has still to reconcile herself to her parents' multifarious eccentricities? I don't think so. I am more amused than troubled by them. I love them both, in the way that you love family members even though they so freely parade all their weirdnesses in front of you. And I don’t much mind switching the focus to them in our dealings with each other. Both my parents have led very interesting lives and both enjoy an audience. All you have to do is say “huh” every few minutes and you can fill an hour without any problem. Though they basically never visit, I do like visiting Warsaw (dad-land) and Berkeley (mom-land) has great potential as well for future years.

Would it be devilish on my part to post, on my dad’s birthday, a photo from the last time that my parents were together (taken on a visit to New York, 25 years ago)? He he!

mom and dad, January 1979 Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/29/2004 10:12:02 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, June 28, 2004

Now that’s Italian! 

Alright, so I am going to bake tonight. Though I must admit, I do not like to search out recipes that are geared toward the healthy eater. Baking something that is labeled as low-fat low-carb high-fiber low-sodium wheat-free etc etc sounds like a trip to the pharmacy, not the baker’s kitchen.

But there are recipes out there that beguile in their authenticity, originality and flavor and that are also, upon careful inspection, pretty healthy, or at least balanced.

One such beauty is the Ligurian Cake (from Desserts by Pierre Hermé). The very name! It’s from Liguria, a province of Italy that speaks of villages perched on cliffs and distant hills with olive groves, a place where the anti-carb mania must be regarded as some kind of a statement against humanity (they do love their pasta there) and yet, if you look at what it is that they do eat on a daily basis – well, we should all be so healthy.

The Ligurian cake is called that because in its original version, it is made with Ligurian olive oil. But any extra-virgin olive will do (the 365 Whole Foods basic olive oil is fantastic for this). And let me remind you, we are two weeks away from the beginning of the raspberry season, so this is the moment for this simple little gem.

Personally, I like it with my morning coffee. But you can whip up some sugared egg whites (beat into a stiff meringue), spread them on top, bake for five more minutes (to brown the meringue) and you’ll have yourself a splendid dessert. Tell your guests that there’s almost a cup of olive oil in it and watch their mouths drop.

I don’t post recipes here. Ever. But, with every rule there’s an exception and this cake calls for it. First, the photo that shows how totally fun it is to bake it:

batter and berries Posted by Hello

…and the finished product. It looks ordinary. It’s not.

fresh, honest, very Italian Posted by Hello

Finally, the recipe:

1 3/4 flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 c sugar
zest of 1 - 2 lemons
4 eggs, room temp (do a quick warm up in hot water if you forgot)
3 TBSP whole milk (it's only 3 TBSP, relax about the WHOLE milk)
1 TBSP lemon juice
7 TBSP butter (remember: in baking, stick with unsalted), melted but still warm
2/3 c extra-virgin olive oil (use the tame kind)
1 pint (or so) of raspberries

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and dust with flour 10 inch pan (I use springform).
Sift flour and baking powder together, reserve.
Place sugar and lemon zest in mixing bowl, rub together well with fingers, add eggs, beat unitl pale and thick (3 min.).
At low speed beat in milk, then sifted dry ingredients, then lemon juice, then butter, then olive oil, beating each only until blended.
Pour one third batter into pan, top with barries, pour the rest.
Bake 30 - 40 minutes.

You need to check for doneness with the toothpick -- err on the side of longer rather than shorter if you like a drier cake. But don't fret, the cake is often eaten moist, so if you are partial to it that way, know that you're just like the rest of Ligurians. Or, pop your piece in the oven for another 5 minutes to firm it up. In baking, very few things aren't salvagable.

P.S. Something with a name that is as poetic as the Ligurian cake should have a rose carelessly tossed at the side. This flower (from my yard) would work well next to the dessert. In any case, if you're not into baking, perhaps a photo of this very splendid rose will mollify you.

in the garden, a rose bush blossoms Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/28/2004 09:53:36 PM | link | (0) comments


I am at home, working at a desk that faces the front street. A young couple drives up in a sporty red car with an Illinois license plate. They get out, with a basic-looking camera in hand. They start taking photos – focusing especially on the house across the street (it’s not for sale, it’s rather standard suburban-looking, and they take several pictures of its ugliest feature: the huge, white garage door), of themselves, standing by it, of the lamppost just at the side.

I use this opportunity to go outside and pick up the mail. Surely they will engage me in conversation or at least explain their actions. Lots of smiles, no explanation given. I haven’t the courage to ask “what ARE you doing?”

They then walk around a bit, moving stealthily between houses, clearly aiming for back yards, camera still aimed to take shots. They disappear for a few minutes, reappear, walk up a few paces, back again. Finally, she takes out her cell phone, makes a call, can’t get a connection, he tries his, talks, they get back into the car.

In groping for his cell phone, he inadvertently places the camera on top of the car. Dilemma: do I wait until they pull away, repossess the camera and take a look at what the focus of the picture-taking was? (I can tell it’s a digital camera.) In the alternative, do I make a fool of myself by running out screaming and banging at their car trunk as they start to pull away, to warn that they are about to lose their camera, admitting, therefore, that I am sitting here like the prying person that I am, staring at their every move?

I choose the latter. As I shout, wave my arms, get them to take note, they stop the car, thank me, take the camera and drive off. No explanation is given, even though surely my antics should have bought me a slice of the truth. Damn these closemouthed types!
posted by nina, 6/28/2004 01:42:54 PM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, June 27, 2004


I should have baked today. I could have baked today. I virtually promised that I would bake today. Yet I did not. Normally, it is deeply satisfying to bake on a Sunday. It’s as if you are storing up for the week: here’s the bread (more likely cake) that’ll see us through in the tough days ahead. And by Sunday night all the reject croissants that I haul in from L’Etoile are pretty much gone. There is a breadbox in the kitchen, but it stands empty.

Perhaps this low/no carb era that we are living through is at the bottom of the baking inertia that has overcome me. I know and understand that the act of baking is sinfully bad and I am only providing unnecessary carbs for those who would rather see themselves with a steak and an egg than with a piece of raspberry tart with a dark chocolate crème patisserie or a flourless chocolate cassis cake (that has one third of a cup of the dark currant liqueur and half a pound of bittersweet Ghirardelli). So I buy the fresh currants for decoration, but I neglected to bake the cake.

I remind myself that the low carb craze isn’t new. Back in the 60s, during my first brush with ‘dieting,’ I picked up this booklet (for a mere $.35):

reading material from 1965 Posted by Hello

On the first page I read:

the motivating introduction Posted by Hello

Did people really once diet on sauerkraut juice? The fashion surrounding food consumption is truly remarkable. At least I know all this will pass. And in the meantime, I am definitely going to bake. Tomorrow.
posted by nina, 6/27/2004 07:36:05 PM | link | (0) comments

Sunday reading and zesty grinning 

Ann, my blogging compatriot, says (here), in between chews on yummy Espresso Royale caramels (I love those!), that she hasn’t missed a day in posting on her blog. I’m right there, too, but it hasn’t been without challenge. When I started this blog on January 2nd, I thought that the hardest thing would be to feel motivated to write on a regular basis (at least twice a day). In fact, finding motivation has been the easiest. But finding a hospitable environment for blogging has been at times trying -- there are so many pressures in each day to do everything but blog!

And so it is always inspiring to read a few good words on this Great Blogging Project in the blog of another (see post here). Truly, to know that something you wrote would give someone even the faintest of smiles is completely gratifying. (I read your terrific blog regularly too!)

This blogger uses the words “a good enjoyer” to describe a person who takes pleasure in things. It’s true, I’ve been accused for a long time of having a wildly happy approach to each day. When I was a kid, my parents gave me the mawkishly old-fashioned label of “ray of sunshine” (we were in the 1950s, the world was less jaded, it sounded even charming then). Throughout my younger years I felt like I should act in ways to give substance to the label. Too much pressure? Not at all! I liked the role, played it effortlessly and with a great deal of zest.

But I was a misfit in my own family. My mother was moody, my father was on his own cloud and my sister was a more brooding child (she was molding her own more artistic temperament to a family structure that would not accommodate it). So there I was, all grins and happy plans, without the enthusiasm of others to match my own.

Eventually I learned to temper it somewhat. But even the greatest feeling of frustration remains always just a passing phase for me. I’ll wake up and suddenly the list of possibilities is before me. The cloud passes. I’m the kid with the zesty grin all over again.

Here’s a photo from 1958 (I’m not quite 5 years old): I am in a dining room, in the Polish mountain town of Zakopane, feeling…happy.

just another day Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/27/2004 02:27:05 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Only in Madison can you get something this good… 

Everyone should rush next week to the Capri stand at the Farmers' Market (it's at the south central end) and coax Felix into selling his private cache of espresso goat milk ice cream. Throw a couple of Harmony Valley strawberries into the dish and you ‘ll get this fantastic dessert for dinner:

Goat milk espresso ice cream with strawberries Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/26/2004 08:22:11 PM | link | (0) comments

Market colors 

Of course, Saturday means L'Etoile market buying for me. Not much text today and just a small handful of photos. Why? No, not lethargy, my arms and fingers are still sore from my rooftop tree chopping of yesterday. The spoils of my labors:

so many branches Posted by Hello

I did take photos of the early morning sunshine hitting buckets of fresh flowers. I have always liked it when sellers put great masses of flowers in buckets -- it's the way I remember flowers being sold in the Old Country (I like the associations I have with the term the 'Old Country'). And the delicate early sun makes the pastels even more appealing.

in the early morning Posted by Hello

There is such wonderful variety in color at the moment. Even within the blue range, you can pick shades that are exactly perfect.

marching blues Posted by Hello

And the pairings -- how terrific to see irises against the puffy purple balls.

puffy next to slender Posted by Hello

Colors are fantastically coordinated, even in the food groups. During my first run I picked up the goldenrod tomatoes, red currants, yellow gooseberries, and yellow and orange carrots.

yellow orange red Posted by Hello

The day at the Market always ends for me with a bouquet for the kitchen table. This one will see me through the week.

a bunch for home Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/26/2004 02:34:38 PM | link | (0) comments

Do I have enough strength to pick up chopsticks? 

Tonight I went back to our pan-Asian restaurant of the moment, Firefly. First I had a ‘working’ meeting there in the lounge (how the momentum can change from day to day! Big projects? Yes! Bring them on! I am ready!), then I stayed for dinner. I have to say that it is a place that you love, or you don’t, depending on what you order. The tofu mushroom spring rolls? Yum! The kung pao seafood? Wonderful! Let’s leave it at that.

My table had the bottle of Firefly white Chardonnay along with the meal. Now that is unique! How many Madison restaurants are there with their own private wine label? (answer: none.) It turns out that these guys have independently found an Australian producer with the same name, willing, obviously, to sell at rock bottom prices. How clever, I thought. And then my cynical side kicked in: what if the restaurant proprietors (an enterprising lot as we know) first found the wine and then named the eatery? What a scheming bunch!

But, I am not cynical. I am reveling in the fact that you can have tasty fresh Asian food in Madison and wine to go with it and not walk away feeling that either 1. the chef desperately needs to sign up for one of those evening cooking classes around town, or 2. the kitchen has a pipeline to the MSG depositories of the world, or 3. the diner needs a secret investment to pay for the inflated tab that hits the table at the end of a lousy meal. [Big Bowl is in this same league of fresh and honest eateries and I do not mean to exclude it from my nod toward good Asian fare. But you have to arm-twist people of the Isthmus to go to a place such as Big Bowl because it is on the Far West side of town, whereas Firefly is homegrown and within spittin' distance of the Capitol and thus one of the emergent local heroes.]

Enough on food. The evening is getting on, I have to get up early for Market, and I haven’t yet begun my daily ritual of checking in on the various blog posts of the day. Instead, I am sitting here staring at my arm muscles, wondering why they buckled under the heave-ho of the saw this afternoon (see post below). Why am I so sore??
posted by nina, 6/26/2004 12:07:51 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, June 25, 2004

Tuscan rooftops 

Peasant stock! That’s what I say when something needs to be done that requires more than a modicum of exertion. And so today I shouted it out to the world as I borrowed my neighbor's high ladder and climbed to the top of the roof to survey the overgrown trees that were precariously suspending their loaded branches over the house. The branches had to be trimmed. Hearty peasant stock!

Five hours later I am dead. The peasant in me must have trickled out over the years.

Oh, but the view from the top of the house! Almost like Tuscan rooftops, no?

posted by nina, 6/25/2004 02:54:58 PM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, June 24, 2004


If you were to count the number of cloudy days we’ve had these past months, you’d have to believe that an evil spell has been cast over Madison. I walk out of my office tonight and I see the usual dark clouds and I feel the dampness of the day, the chill in the air and I think -- what kind of a summer is this anyway?? And then I pass the bike rack and I relax. For, wouldn’t it be lovely to coast on the bike, the first one in the rack --devilishly red, in-your-face bold... Fantastic! I’ll even settle for the blue bike in back with the purple basket. But spinning down Old Sauk Hill on the red one – wow! The world would be mine again.

the power of red Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/24/2004 09:32:51 PM | link | (0) comments

Thank you! 

It’s time to be grateful. And I am, I AM!

Thanks to Ann (here) who is supremely generous in her blog links. You write something even halfway relevant to the world out there – she’ll give you credit for it.

Thanks to MY STUDENTS for the moment of spring fever that lead them to write the lovely, lovely comments (I picked up my course evals today). YOU ARE ALL JUST TERRIFIC! I wish I had given out all 89s like I wanted, they MADE me revise and resubmit with a more normal distribution (no, it’s not true, I take full responsibility, go ahead and hate me for it). And I totally forgive the ones who said I move too fast through the material (do I?), don’t linger long enough after class (I’m shy) and don’t use the Socratic method in the way Socrates intended (help me here: what IS it that Socrates intended?).

Thanks to my blogger pal down south (Mother in Law, here) for one of the all-time nicest comments I am ever likely to get (EVER) on a blog. The feelings expressed therein are entirely mutual.

Thanks to chef Odessa at L’Etoile for calling me tonight and telling me I was a good forager in spite of my sometimes quirky input into the life and culture of the restaurant world (including my off-the-wall comments and suggestions, indicating how little I know and how quick I am to sound off anyway).

Thanks to all my pals who have been such great friends in recent months (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!).
posted by nina, 6/24/2004 08:10:18 PM | link | (0) comments

Café etiquette 

Should I tell the couple that is hogging TWO tables at the Café that this is not right? That they are disturbing my sense of fair play? That others, discouraged at the sight of a crowded Café are leaving while they are luxuriating in their kingdom of books and magazines (they need two tables to hold their stacks of reading material)? Grrr…

Sometimes one of them walks away (to get more books and magazines) and so then there is only one person at two tables. A customer comes up and starts to ease into the chair and it becomes like a scene from Candid Camera. “You can’t take that place, someone is sitting there” says the table hog. The customer stares at the empty place and the piles of books, puzzling over this and walks away. Eventually, hog number two returns with more magazines (bending back the bindings, making them look UNFRESH!)

I will not rant, I will not rant, I am NOT a ranter. I wish them no ill will. Just a few small inconveniences maybe. Ah, may his black nail polish chip before the day is over and may her computer crash in the middle of a long email. Too mean? If you spent the afternoon watching their greed dominate an entire area of the Café, you’d come up with some juicy zingers as well.
posted by nina, 6/24/2004 03:12:59 PM | link | (0) comments

Sticking to the sidelines 

1. I had a long, leisurely meeting yesterday with a colleague who has been at the Law School for quite a while. His experiences are such that he can remember fondly times when colleagues were more likely to have these long meetings, over a beer maybe, scheming, forming coalitions, building empires. We talked wistfully of a project that could have been implemented, but which is being dropped for want of a sufficient number of empire builders these days.

2. This afternoon I met over a quick Borders’ coffee with a ‘constituent,’ a woman who also wants to plan, propose changes, restructure the 'system,' though her focus is on family law and especially an area of it that recently has fallen victim to too much political tinkering. She is a grassroots-type person. She facilitates meetings and plans agendas. From my tired and jaded perspective, I see her chances of success as very small indeed. I tell her of what she is up against, but she is undeterred. I tell her others have tried (and failed at) what she is doing and she responds “so what.”

3. This evening I have yet another meeting, over a glass of wine, with yet another reformer, a colleague who is rebuilding a program at the Law School, introducing some much needed changes in a specific area of the curriculum. She is a friend to all, beloved by those at the top and those at the bottom. She works this to her advantage and she has everyone convinced that by tomorrow, nay by yesterday, we will have a better world.

So, here I am, having within 24 hours talks with three leaders, listening to three agendas, with three different approaches. And where am I in all this? A tired beer-coffee-wine drinking listener? The one who smiles patiently, benevolently and then says “it can’t be done?” Maybe I just need a long vacation – like about a year’s worth of days to recharge my enthusiasm for grand-scale projects. Because right now, all I can do is look at my to-do list and be happy if I cross off five items from each day’s allotment.
posted by nina, 6/24/2004 02:22:10 PM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Two bits from a busy afternoon 


I’ve written here upon occasion about my Polish high school crush of all crushes, the one that lasted years and years, where the person garnering my greatest affection became a chanter (of PRE-Gregorian music I believe) in later years. Today I got an email from him inviting me to “drop in” on a music festival that he is organizing in a godforsaken town in southeastern Poland next month. And you know, that is just like him to beckon in this way to his own performance. I feel honored, but I think I’ll pass. [The last email I got from him before this was also an invitation: to his son’s wedding. I did not fly down to Poland for that either.]


I asked for my usual latte at the Borders café. The person behind the counter brewed the espresso, frothed the milk and put the two together, fanning the air under her nostrils rapidly and wincing in disgust as she handed me the cup. Naturally, I had to ask: am I ordering something particularly repugnant? Oh no, she tells me. She just hates, positively hates the smell of milk. [They must have forgotten to ask her this during the interview.]
posted by nina, 6/23/2004 04:12:20 PM | link | (0) comments

Slapped down on the East Coast 

When I first moved to the Midwest people would tell me that they didn’t much care for the singular snootiness of East Coast types who never looked to the Midwest for anything distinctive or worth stopping for. I balked at that. I’d not heard anything slanderous said about Indiana or Wisconsin during years spent living in New York. Paranoid bunch, I thought.

Over the years I revised my perspective. Having lived in Wisconsin since 1979, I am now certain that to those in the East, the Midwest is like a blimp, a hurdle one has to jump over on the way from New York to California.

Of course, one can quibble about whether indeed, apart from Chicago, there is a city that even comes close to some of the coastal greats in terms of cultural and demographic diversity. Fine, I’m not going to enter that discussion. I like New York and San Francisco and I understand their defenders.

But to have Wisconsin slapped down on the subject of CHEESE? In this day and age? Yet sure enough, today in the NYTimes (here) I read about the remarkable artisanal producers of cheese in New England (and they are remarkable, I have sampled their cheeses; even L’Etoile and Harvest occasionally feature a Vermont or Maine cheesemaker). And I read these two charming statements:
New England has become the most important center of American cheese craft east of California. While California has more sunshine, New England has better grass.
Are we forgetting a stretch of pasture land in between California and New England? And:
"The reason there are so many supermemorable cheeses from New England," Mr. Jenkins said, "is these cheese makers, more than those that come from any other state, including Wisconsin and California, are more Europe-oriented. Their cheeses have their roots in a 4,000-year-old tradition. They did their homework and understand the realm of cheese, the alchemy and science of cheese making."
Now that is just so insulting that one really wants to take Mr. Jenkins (who is in charge of cheese buying at Fairway Markets in NYC) and push his face into a goat manure pile. For, if you look at Wisconsin’s Fantome goat milk cheese (Ann, the cheesemaker, travels to France periodically to study the production of chevre at small farms there), or Felix’s sheep’s milk feta (Felix is European born), or Butler’s creamy sheep camembert, or Pleasant Ridge Reserve (which is patterned after the Alpine cheeses of Farnce’s southeastern regions) you would see that the traditions of old world cheese making are very much in places in Wisconsin and have been thus for many years now.

You want to hold our mass produced bricks of tasteless cheese against us? Look at your own processed Vermont cheddar. They’re in the same league.

Darn those East Coast snots.
posted by nina, 6/23/2004 07:40:28 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

'My Life' in Madison 

Who would spend an entire afternoon at Borders on such a beautiful day? Me. I have a lot of work to catch up with and oftentimes bringing stacks of papers to Borders forces me to actually move through them. It worked for me today.

Of course, I was keeping an eye on the activity up front surrounding the first day of sales of the Clinton book. My desire to present accurate information here led me to inquire at the counter about the strength of customer interest. Naturally, they lied and said that the book was doing very well indeed. Have you ever heard a business admit to lagging or mediocre sales? No, of course not.

I noted that one colleague was hovering near the Clinton books for a long time, much as if he wanted to buy the volume but couldn’t get himself to lay down the cash for it. I also saw a TV camera recording the non-action (there were no people buying nor even looking at the book at that moment). And I saw a blissfully empty café. No readers and few shoppers here today. All this reinforced the belief that in Madison, the rush to purchase “My Life” is NOT on.

In any case, this is the kind of town where people wait for paperback editions to come out. Or at least for the week-end Borders sale for state employees (that would be 75% of Madisonians... okay, a slight exaggeration) to kick in. Second-run movie-houses (at $2 per viewing) are also popular. And the used books store, ‘the Frugal Muse,’ is a hot place to run into People You Know. One could say we are a frugal sort.

A photo of the Clinton display at peak evening rush hour:

buy me, buy me! Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/22/2004 04:47:20 PM | link | (0) comments

It is in my blood… 

It is barely 7 in the morning. The phone is ringing. Not to worry, I know who it is – it’s my walking buddy catching me again for an early morning hike. We go through spurts, she and I, walking sometimes daily for weeks on end and then retiring into our own worlds for weeks, months even, exhausted perhaps by our own feverish intensity.

Oftentimes there is A Topic that gets dissected and thrashed around and today we started in on being cold. Or not. She says this about herself: “I come from Siberian great grandparents on the one side, and hardy German stock on the other. I can’t help it that Hitler forced my grandfather to leave Europe and settle in a land that places high value on the thermostat. I need my gusty Siberian winds and breezes! I need to breathe deeply each night! My blood churns with the tundra.”

Okay. I am empathetic. I, too, like open windows at night and I have a great disdain for air-conditioning unless the temps climb well into the nineties and beyond. But her significant other, the guy who shares her space, what of him? “He was born with cold fingers and toes. There’s a condition that keeps him from ever being warm enough. So I tell him, on your side of the room, keep the windows closed. On my side, they stay open.”

I ask if her breeze migrates to his side of the room. “Sure,” she says. “That’s why in the summer he wears flannel pajamas. And a night cap. It’s very cute, he pulls it down low, and he huddles under a warm blanket. What can I do? I tell everyone they’ll have to drill holes in my coffin otherwise I wont be able to breathe! I need the cool air. It is in my blood.”

I envy her. She is a woman that is not afraid to state her needs. And her partner in life? “Oh, you mean the guy who felt compelled to set up a digital camera studio in our older daughter’s bedroom, forcing her to sleep downstairs in the basement when she visits? He does fine.”
posted by nina, 6/22/2004 01:11:23 PM | link | (0) comments

Monday, June 21, 2004

The longest day of the year 

Every year I conclude that this day is under-appreciated. In terms of celebratory oomph, it definitely trumps New Year’s. There, we’re talking about paying attention to calendars artificially constructed around fictional time periods. But summer solstice is for real: it’s all about the sun’s position and minutes first being added to the day, then being taken away. For a person like me who loves long hours of daylight, summer solstice should be heralded in ways that make all other celebrations look feeble.

I seem to remember something from my youth about setting wreaths, with candles in the middle, to sail on rivers, as the night finally closed in on daylight. Or is that in my imagination? How do you place candles in a wreath’s center? Isn’t that where the hole is?

Google-to-the-rescue revealed so many sites on summer solstice – it would take the rest of my longest-day-of-the-year to go through them. But the very first one that had celebratory notes attached to it (from a website here for “pagans and those practicing nature spirituality” ) did offer some promising ideas for today. I read the following:

Celebrate Solstice time with other Pagans -- take part in the Pagan Spirit Gathering or some other Pagan festival happening during June. Keep a Sacred Fire burning throughout the gathering. Stay up all night on Solstice Eve and welcome the rising Sun at dawn. Make a pledge to Mother Earth of something that you will do to improve the environment and then begin carrying it out. Have a magical gift exchange with friends. Burn your Yule wreath in a Summer Solstice bonfire. Exchange songs, chants, and stories with others in person or through the mail. Do ecstatic dancing to drums around a blazing bonfire.

I’m not sure that writing a blog post on solstice with a vague recollection of possibly imagined floating wreaths qualifies as “exchanging stories with other persons through the mail,” so I should consider some of the other options. Welcoming the rising sun is out the door – too late, of course. True, I could well imagine myself doing a crazed dance around a bonfire, given the right amount of spirit (of the digestible kind). Absent that, I’ll just make a pledge to continue my support of the earth by writing periodic checks to Green Earth, my organic lawn care service. Such an act seems to me to be a bit anticlimactic, perhaps not what I would count as sufficiently thrilling, but if that’s what the Pagan worshipers out there want me to do, so be it.
posted by nina, 6/21/2004 02:39:50 PM | link | (0) comments

This morning, I read the following... 

I’m a sucker for blog posts that are poignant, troubled, heartfelt, sincere. Unfortunately, there aren’t many who attempt to do this and even fewer who pull it off well. However, this morning I read one that was so profoundly touching that it literally forced me to swallow twice. I’d tell the blogger directly, but she lists no email address and so I’ll substitute the message with a link here (even though I rarely link to other blogs for numerous reasons, all too irrelevant to mention – clearly I do not play the blogger game according to the Rules Out There).
posted by nina, 6/21/2004 09:11:44 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Generations of fathers 

I don’t ever recall celebrating a Father’s Day in Poland, nor Men’s Day. Mother’s Day – most definitely and Women’s Day too. One could guess that the women’s holidays were guilt-driven. If you’re going to dump paid work, household chores and childrearing on the women, you may as well give them flowers twice a year to acknowledge their efforts (virtually all women I knew worked; the concept of ‘housewife’ did not exist in the Poland of my youth).

My father’s job in the foreign service meant that he traveled a lot. He was gone when I was born and I rarely saw him in my first years when I lived with my grandparents in a rather isolated village in northeastern Poland.

I knew several things about him as I went through my childhood years: that he lacked a formal education as a result of the war (he retained an unhealthy disrespect for academics forever after), but that he was damn smart and could knock down my little-girl existentialist fears in a minute.

He was also (and still is) an expert practitioner of the art of “out of sight, out of mind” (there’s a small soliloquy delivered in the movie “Cabaret” by Sally, at the point where she receives a telegram from her father – if you know the scene, I can tell you that those exact words could have been said by me).

The two men of my childhood, my dad and my grandfather (on my mom’s side) were both public servants of sorts, committed to socialist-communist ideals –in my grandfather’s case, until his death in the early 1970s. Privately, they were intractable. But there were ways to get at their sentimental side – through music, for instance. I went with my grandfather to see a movie about the Polish folk group (“Mazowsze”) and he sniffled and snorted throughout the whole sappy thing. My dad, too, could get worked up over music and things associated with it. In fact, just about the only time he ever shouted at me was when I, as a young girl, messed with his precious hi-fi. That was definitely his baby and I could not be trusted to come within ten feet of it.

Otherwise, I saw both of them as the calming forces at home. To me, they were the men of reason, the peacemakers. As a girl, I loved their calmness in my oftentimes chaotic family (much later, I was assured that my images of their even-temperedness are mine alone).

In reality, neither of them obsessed much about the family. They came and went according to their own schedules. My dad was (and is) a great talker but a terrible listener (dad, for twenty two years you have been misspelling your granddaughter’s name: I promise you, there is no “z” in it). My grandfather was the storyteller. But I heard far too little from either of them when I was growing up.

It is surprising that they are together in so much of this post since they didn’t especially like each other. My grandfather was a common man’s friend: he built houses for peasants in the Polish village and organized workers into political coalitions. My father was a quintessential diplomat (though they say he lost his diplomatic tone when he left his last post and retired). But both, in their own circles, loved to weigh in on topics of a political nature.

I see my father once a year when I travel to Poland. I see him get spiffed up each day, always dressing with care, often wearing one of his ancient ties, dousing himself with cologne in the way European men so often do. He lives in our old apartment and that, too, is faded, unpainted for years, drapes hanging as they were hung when we moved in many decades ago. He is always so excited to see me, pleased to have my ear again, happy to pour a cup of tea or a glass of wine with his shaking hand. Then I leave and more often than not, I do not hear from him again until my next trip.

My dad has a standard comment that he inserts, always with a grin, at the end of a story or an observation. He’ll say in his accented English: "life is curious… and it gets curiouser and curiouser every day."

A photo of my dad and me, taken during my first vacation away from Poland (in 1959, to Bulgaria):

Nina, 6; Bohdan, 33 Posted by Hello

And here's one from the village where my grandfather was born. It is taken also around 1959. My sister and I are visiting old relatives. It is, I think, the only time I've seen my grandfather wear a tie. Maybe he borrowed it for the occasion.

Eliza (6), Wojciech (approx.70), Nina (5) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/20/2004 04:04:48 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Purple blooms, cows, & remembering Babcia 

It took six hours to finish Market buying for L’Etoile today. Three comments on the foraging: too much, too long, too windy.

This is my one day to go nuts with color on the blog and today anyone could tell that purple colors dominated nearly every flower stand.

a bucket of purple Posted by Hello

purple in every bunch Posted by Hello

a rainbow -- with purple Posted by Hello

a great pairing Posted by Hello

What’s with the cow? It was THE Saturday to bring cows to the Square and so the moo motif was evident in many side stands set up to promote dairy products.

pinch the cow Posted by Hello

And the line, is it the beginnings of a queue for the Tuesday sale of Clinton’s memoirs? No, just the typical Saturday crowd waiting patiently for a L’Etoile croissant.

worth the wait? Posted by Hello

The season is shifting rapidly: this was the tail end of the asparagus; even the strawberries will start to taper off soon. But we have the cucumbers, summer squash and beans now making an appearance.

baby cukes Posted by Hello

Since the berries are so sweet this week, I bought several dozen pints for home use. There is always a part of me that wants to do the entire bit of wintering-over fruits purchased at the peak of the season. But I regret the impulse the minute I get home. Washing, trimming and storing all that I buy will take the better part of the evening.

My grandmother ("Babcia") would have filled shelves and shelves with her own fruit preserves and syrups. What a woman. I wouldn’t have the patience. She, on the other hand, always seemed comfortable working long hours in her very primitive country kitchen. Definitely your picture-book classic Eastern European grandmother. Because I moved away, I stopped eating her food – her blintzes, pierogi, poppy seed cake and strawberry compote – they’re all just a memory now.

Here’s a photo from my last visit (almost 30 years ago) in her Warsaw apartment (to which she moved when she could no longer look after her country house and garden). She deserves a separate post singing her virtues, though this buried little paragraph seems more fitting with her shyness and overwhelming modesty.

Babcia, 1976 Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/19/2004 04:01:02 PM | link | (0) comments

In the dog house 

In “My Life,” Clinton admits to sleeping on the couch for at least two months after confessing to his wife that he had had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. A reader asks – “How small is the White House anyway? You mean to tell me there are no spare beds to be found in the entire building, so that the guy has to retire each night to a couch?”

Bill Clinton has always been just a regular kind of guy, making do, like you and me, with whatever is available. Breakfast at McDonald’s, a month or two on the couch. With his dog Buddy keeping him company through it all.
posted by nina, 6/19/2004 05:22:58 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, June 18, 2004


A friend coaxed me out for an early morning walk. No, that is so incorrect. “Coaxed out for a walk” cannot be used in the same sentence with “me” in it. No one has to coax me to walk. I don’t think I have ever turned down a walk offer in my life. At most postponed it. And it would have to be for something of the magnitude of a wedding (I may not even decline for a funeral).

This walk was a bit absurd because I had a pile of work that JUST HAD TO BE DONE TODAY (n.b. it did get done) and I had already promised my flowering-into-eternity inner something-or-other that I would revisit the Yoga people at their early morning encounter with sweat (why does it have to be exactly 98 degrees there?) and pain today.

But I went for the hike anyway. (I’m serious. I never say no.) My walking partner (who is just a year younger than I am) talked about taking Argentinean tango lessons and going next month to language camp. I heard about trips to off-beat places where there were crushed pineapple smoothies and salsa dancing late into the night.

Energy. Others assume that it is just there for some. It’s not. It takes as much rigor to fight lethargy as it does to post in a blog on a regular basis. But the rewards! Oh, the rewards!

I’m off for another walk. Someone just suggested one. No weddings to attend tonight, and the sky is absolutely gorgeous.
posted by nina, 6/18/2004 08:08:40 PM | link | (0) comments

Urban “noise” of a different kind 

It has long been the practice in Rome to fund restoration of monuments by putting up scaffolding and selling advertising space on it (read about it here). The benefits are obvious: they say that Rome these days is looking cleaner, spiffier and that such ads are covering 100% of the costs of the facelifts. The downside? It appears to offend many a Roman to see gargantuan faces of models plastered over their beloved monuments. Moreover, some are beginning to suspect that scaffolding is staying up longer than necessary. Indeed, the need for some facelifts may be exaggerated so that additional revenue may be generated.

New limits are being placed on the type of ads that are appropriate and the amount of space they can take up. The city governing body is, of course, spending a great deal of time debating whether a face of a model is more offensive than, say, rusty scaffolding and a green cover net that would be otherwise in place to shield ongoing construction or restoration.

Can’t you just see the Italians arguing with great passion about which photo of a beautiful woman is more appropriate for the cover to the Spanish Steps? Of course, there is a peculiar subjectivity to the entire debate. One person’s rubble may be art in its purest form to another. Wasn’t there a famous New Yorker cartoon depicting the American troops’ entry into Rome during World War II, where one of the soldiers looks at the Colosseum and says something like “Damn those Nazis! Look at the damage they did to that building!” ?
posted by nina, 6/18/2004 07:55:45 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, June 17, 2004

In full public view 

The squirrel that zonked out during last week's warm spell on the branch of the apple tree outside my window, came back today to clean herself up for a big night out. She has no shame. Really, anyone could see her go through her routine!

posted by nina, 6/17/2004 05:17:31 PM | link | (0) comments

Street music 

Today’s Isthmus describes the tribulations of the Library Mall Orange piccolo player. (He wears all things orange, always). He’s been cited for his playing before (too loud, too long --say the street vendors) but a court hearing exonerated him and the city of Madison had to pay not only court costs associated with the proceeding (it went all the way to a jury trial), but reimburse him for his legal expenses as well.

Last week the city issued another citation (no res judicata, they say: it’s a new offense). Apparently the vendors (and the city) are willing to let him play for an hour, but will not permit the two and half hours he feels he needs to get by (he lives solely off of his earnings from the street music).

The issue of the right to silence on city streets is a curious one because, of course, a certain level of noise pollution is constant. I am sitting at home right now, hating the loud lawn mowers that never stop, especially on week-ends (sometimes I am the one pushing one around and so I am equally guilty of creating noise). At some point the din downtown could get to such high levels that even I’ll rally around citing the offenders. But are we there yet? I expect city noises in and around State Street. A quiet downtown would seem to me to be more disconcerting than a noise-filled one. And in Chicago, I always give money to the street saxophonists – they never fail to lift my spirits.

It constantly surprise me how easily (and vehemently) annoyed people get at small irritants (if his playing is indeed an irritant, because he obviously does have a sizeable following).

It never struck me, in fact, that our downtown was exceptionally loud, even though during my 4 – 5 hours at the Farmers Market each Saturday, I of course hear many musicians, politicians, performers. Last Saturday, the Madison Police Department, along with other rescue squads and organizations were putting on a show for young kids all morning long. These same police officers may have at some point taken a break and walked to the other side of the Square to issue a citation to the piccolo player. Odd world.
posted by nina, 6/17/2004 03:56:03 PM | link | (0) comments

Tuning out on myself 

Not once but twice in the last 24 hours I have recounted lengthy stories only to forget, in the midst of telling them, why I launched into those particular details to begin with.

I am reminded of my work in Japan with the aid of a live translator. Every few sentences I would have to pause while the person translated what I had just said. The biggest challenge was to stay tuned, engaged, ready for the next idea or question. Allowing myself to drift off in boredom destroyed the progression of the interview or lecture.

When I tell a story here, I am often accused of not getting to the point fast enough. I make too many embellishments, holding off on the punch line for as long as possible.

I have, I think, reached a point where I am boring myself with the length of my own stories. Like during translations, I am tuning out on words, only this time they are my own words.

Reforms are in order: my tales henceforth will be shorter. I can’t afford to lose myself as one of the listeners. At the very least I should be able to stay interested enough to get to a story’s end.
posted by nina, 6/17/2004 11:31:44 AM | link | (0) comments

What stands out 30 years after getting my B.A.? Bach, photography, and the African Queen. 

“Careful: this person is not used to free choice.” That’s the warning that should have been pinned to my coat when I landed as a student on the American academic scene. But this post isn’t yet another run at nostalgia. It’s about breadth versus specialization.

I was looking yesterday through a stack of black and white photos I had taken some 30 years ago. The stack is large because at the time, I had enrolled in a photography class at Columbia and the requirements had us work through many darkroom assignments. Here’s one that I am fond of now – taken on the lower East side of Manhattan:

Lower Manhattan, 1973 Posted by Hello

Why photography? Was it a filler class to ease an otherwise heavy load? Uh -- no. After my first two and a half years at the University of Warsaw, where the curriculum had been set and included such heavies as Advanced Calculus, Multivariable Analysis, Theory of Logic, Linear Algebra, Programming, Political Economics, Economic Theory, History of Economics – yes, truly, all the classes were like this – I landed in NY and the first thing my academic advisers told me was that I should let loose and develop a liberal approach to education. Explore! – they said. Go for classes you’ve not tried before!

You could say that I listened to this advice with vigor. In the remaining two years in college I took Photography: darkroom techniques, The study of the African Queen (this may have had a sexier title, but that is what we did: we analyzed the African Queen all semester long), Italian 1, 2 & 3, Metaphysics, J.S.Bach, Cultural Anthropology, Renaissance something or other, Introduction to Psychology, Twentieth Century Music, Urban Landscapes, and then a handful of basic sociology classes to fulfill my new major requirements. I have to say, none of these classes could really be labeled as “fluff.” They had their own built-in rigor that was oftentimes more challenging than my run through higher level mathematics (well, perhaps not Cultural Anthropology: I haven’t a single kind thing to say about that class).

One could ask “what’s wrong with that”? Nothing perhaps. Though for years I’d thought it merely to be great training for cocktail party conversations.

Comparing the two curricula may lead one to conclude that a balance might have served me well. Yes, that’s the easy answer. But isn’t it significant that from this assortment of disparate courses each stands out in some way, having left a strong mark on my educational memory? (Again, all general comments here have absolutely no application to Cultural Anthropology: that deserves a special spot in a pile of refuse along other items best forgotten.)

In the summer before going to Law School, instead of brushing up on my lackluster knowledge of the American legal system, I signed up for a UW class on Marcel Proust and his French contemporaries. And again, I remember just about every one of those very excellent lectures, not even so much for the content but for the passion that the professor (Elaine Marks) brought to literary analysis.

Quite obviously, the directive to explore was more than a push toward the unemployment line. And what of the need to specialize? Back in graduate school, one of my professors boasted that there isn’t a subject out there that he couldn’t in two months master well enough to teach to a roomful of students. It’s not an unfair statement. Substance is the easiest thing in the world to learn (it’s also the most easily forgotten) and more often than not one has an entire professional lifetime to learn it in. When law students come to my office, agonizing over class selection, I like to tell them that I was hired by the Law School to run a clinical program and to teach Family Law, having myself never taken a clinic or Family Law when I was a student here.

I’m mindful of all this now, some 30 years after my own college days, when I am again picking up old photos and other little bits and pieces of those other classes, and recognizing their odd presence in a variety of areas of my life.
posted by nina, 6/17/2004 10:12:04 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Yoga for breakfast 

I wrote in a post yesterday that I’d do yoga and so early this morning I went to a yoga class (there was some egging on taking place from a friend who clearly has been doing this long enough that she could actually twist into pretzel shapes and look great next to my sweaty misaligned form).

How would I rate the experience? Level of difficulty: 10. Niceness of classmate who asked me later if I was sure I’d not done yoga in recent years: 10. Patience of teacher with new students (meaning me): 10. Degree of joy when the clock reached the ending time: 10.

If I were to issue one constructive comment I suppose I’d say that it’s not necessary to tell us to flower into infinity. The idea of being at one with infinity is kind of freaky to begin with, and I cannot wrap my mind around the notion of flowering into it. And I don’t believe that the mere act of breathing out deftly will get rid of many of the toxins within. But those little quips notwithstanding, I am willing to admit that it is a strengthening, health-promoting activity. We’ll see if I can get myself to do a rerun. Just thinking of it makes my muscle groups shake.
posted by nina, 6/16/2004 12:33:03 PM | link | (0) comments

A blogger’s delight 

It has been said that blogging opens doors, brings people together, creates new bonds. Indeed. Yesterday I had dinner with three people that I met entirely as a result of my entry into the world of weblogs. Mother-in-law came up to Madison and she brought with her a friend whom she met through the Internet (the friend lives in Le Havre, France) and we were joined by Mother-in-law’s REAL mother-in-law. The frosting on the cake was that we ate at L’Etoile, thus I could reap direct benefits from my market foraging of 25 pounds of snap peas (they were floating around my piece of halibut) and two crates of mushrooms (they were frothed in my amuse bouche) and several flats of strawberries (they were in the chantilly meringue dessert); and I could make life difficult for the unlucky waiter (sorry, James) who had to endure my ridiculous but sincerely motivated questions about the source of one ingredient or another (he’ll get me for that one day in the kitchen, I’m sure).

I don’t typically put in photos of the “here I am against the background of X” sort, but this one deserves to be the exception (though I’ll let the reader match faces with blogs, in laws, and French guests) as it is proof positive that blogging may lead to many smiles and warm encounters. And good meals.

blogger meets blogger & co. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/16/2004 08:22:37 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

To be honest... 

I came across the following comment the other day: Blogs are places where you can make yourself look better than you really are.

Now is that fair? I could equally posit the opposite: in an encapsulated story from your day, little irksome events and traits may receive greater prominence than they deserve. You may be significantly better, nicer, less odd than in your blog.

Still, in the spirit of balance and fairness, I do feel compelled to admit to some rocky moments from my past. Let me do it through the eyes and words of others.

A good place to poke around in is in my ancient report cards. Did I imply that I rushed through school tripping over my own excellence? Consider this report card from 3rd grade (at the UN school, barely a year after arriving in New York as a shy little thing from Poland):

first semester:

Third grade, second semester -- any improvement?

Silly? Rambunctious? Alright, let's skip ahead a few years. Sixth grade, first semester:

One more try. Sixth grade, second semester:

I did want to balance the red circles with something not quite so...undisciplined and so I inserted a few purple circles to indicate that I did have a small cheering squad out there that gave pats on the back for my exuberant and energetic approach to school (and life in general). Still, you'd think with my initially imperfect English and my unpopular at the time Polishness, I'd be meeker, more to the sidelines, keeping QUIET, at least in the presence of teachers. I seem not to have known how.
posted by nina, 6/15/2004 03:21:03 PM | link | (0) comments

Take charge! Load on the good stuff 

In an attempt to turn the tide and create for myself on a more positive, cheerful stretch of days [after my morning epiphany that I was slated to tumble into an abyss of gloom if I kept on writing depressing posts on the EU and Poland (see below) each day], I decided to update my “to do” list by inserting some cheerful, buoyant and inspiring activities and eliminating some disagreeable ones.

Here’s what got added:
1. inspiring: yoga with friend who is convinced that this is absolutely the most incredible thing you can do to your body (tomorrow)
2. innovative: dinner with person tonight whom I have never met before, except through blogging
3. consumeristic: a new book, of course, to add to my stack of unread ones
4. indulgent: writing some nice, long emails again, much to the chagrin and consternation of those on the receiving end (I am cheering MYSELF up, not them)
5. so simple I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before: baking something extremely difficult that no one will eat because everyone I know is on some kind of diet, and no diet that I know of permits baked goods
6. requiring physical exertion: painting a room comes to mind, or chopping down some trees in the back yard.

Here’s what got deleted:
1. scheduling dental checks – (last week I told the dentist he was my least favorite person in town; he failed to see the humor in this)
2. a reading of the morning headlines (replaced by reading more blogs, especially upbeat ones of which there are many)
3. going to my office tomorrow or the next day or the next day and facing clutter (of unread papers, catalogues, journals, etc.)
4. thinking about having to teach a workshop in several weeks on a topic that’s pretty much a mystery to me
5. writing thank you notes: I have a pile to do, but the list is so old that I am sure those in need of the thanks have resigned themselves to my rudeness by now (I may reinstate this one later on; even as I write this, I am engulfed in a sea of guilt)
6. Doing chores. Period. No more chores. I am staging a boycott of chores. A long boycott. I have HAD it with chores. I quit.
posted by nina, 6/15/2004 09:35:52 AM | link | (0) comments

Hope Does NOT Spring Eternal: Facing a Disappointing Election to the New European Parliament  

In the Alternative: Quit Reading Newspapers and do Yoga

An informed and astute reader from Poland writes: "The politics of this country are really something... Yesterday were the elections to the European parliament. So far some of the most backward, right-wing, religious (e.g. Liga Polskich Rodzin [nc: the League of Polish Families, which, n.b., opposes Poland’s participation in the EU] - the name says it all) groups are in the lead, with record-low attendance. Why, oh why does Poland have to be the laughing stock with its religious crusades that are so outdated and comical at times?"

Why indeed. I don’t understand why religion and governance create a conservative unity in the way that they do for Poland. Though perhaps it’s to be expected. Poland has always been isolated, torn apart, divided, left to its own. That kind of history invites allegiance to a strong institution that can pull its people together, doesn’t it? Neither the government nor its neighbors have provided certainty or stability. The church authorities have been astute enough to seize every opportunity to fill a void created by the unfortunate alliances that have stood in the way of peace and prosperity for Poland. How ironic that in the end, the church can offer neither peace nor prosperity. Its conservative base will not permit anything but a restatement of tired, archaic principles. How many more decades must pass before Poles realize that they have been had by the church as well?

In the meantime, the European Parliament continues to disappoint those who saw the governing potential of this unique institution. Politicized, filled with under-qualified members and without the popular support of member states (most don’t understand what it is that this institution can accomplish and quite a number are rethinking about the wisdom of EU membership), it is more likely to move slowly, erratically, inconsistently through the maize of reforms that will come before it in the next several years and even the first hurdle – the adoption of the Constitution – again appears insurmountable.

I know, these kinds of reflections are not a healthy way to start a morning. Even the title of the post should be wiped out and given a somewhat more cheery spin. [Note addition of subtitle just now.] There is a reason why I left politics out of the blog for all those weeks. If only I'd stop reading the headlines and commentary coming out of Europe... Skip the morning press, do yoga, look at green trees. Maybe tomorrow.
posted by nina, 6/15/2004 08:07:34 AM | link | (0) comments

Monday, June 14, 2004

To tell or not to tell: musings at knife-point 

This morning I was at the UW hospital for a needed medical procedure. Obviously it’s not anything debilitating as I am home now blogging energetically.

But I once again confronted the following issue: should I tell the surgeon that, oh by the way, not only am I a lawyer, but I teach torts, which in common parlance is really the same as personal injury law and yes, we devote a good amount of time to medical malpractice?

The benefit of such a revelation: I am sending the message that if there is an iota of greater care that can be expanded, go ahead an expand it now, because I am one of those people who is very comfortable with the courtroom. But that seems rather selfish, doesn’t it? I do have strong communitarian principles engrained in me and these let me know that my medical care should be the same, not better not worse than that of the bloke next in line. Oh come on now, that’s great reasoning in the abstract, but as the surgical team is sharpening the blades, such good collectivist ideology quickly hides under the warm and cozy blanket.

The down side of disclosure: once I tell them I am a lawyer, I can never ever pinpoint them on anything. Questions such as “am I going to die tomorrow?” or "why are you sweating so much and taking four times as long as you had implied for this?" will no longer be answered. It’s too risky. What if they err in their judgment and I turn lawyer-nasty and cause them professional hardship? So they clam up.

Still, the blades are turning my way and in a moment of weakness I tell all.

Unanticipated consequence: this personal revelation cracks a barrier and the team turns chatty. So, the doc working the blades explains how he himself wanted to be a historian but he hated history grad school here at UW and oh, I also teach family law, do I? Why, his wife died young and he became a single father and so he knows what that’s all about and one son is now in Iraq serving in the Army and yes he WANTED to go there and incidentally have I heard of this lawyer he knows since yes, she does practice personal injury law, ha ha ha, some of his best friends are indeed personal injury lawyers… and so on. Whatever benefit I accrued from the “greater care given to the person who might sue,” I lost because he was now entirely focused on his own recollections.

And the technician was no better. Directing a machine, a teeny wrong movement of which could lead me to have permanently damaged vital organs, she informs me that her son is applying to Law School and could I speculate (how, please tell me? You are in my neck area, I dare not move for fear of being slashed in the wrong places) what his chances might be? He got this on his LSATs and that for his GPA, and he comes from a line of UW grads and then there's his sister…

I have always been told that there is something about me that makes people talk and tell their life’s story. I had, up until today, fancied that to be a talent of sorts. I believed that it was my gently persuasive and caring manner that instills trust and confidence. Now I know better. Today I did not cajole gently. I did not encourage this flood of story-telling at all. What they were obviously reacting to was this feature that I have: it is a Concerned Frown that I have had for years and years, which stays on my face no matter what, even if I am laughing with abandon: the Concerned Frown is always in place. Since the team was up there working in its vicinity, it is clearly what inspired the revelations. If you don’t buy it, please consider this:

Wouldn’t you spill your life’s story to a person who looked at you in this way? (I should note that The Concerned Frown was especially pronounced this morning because I was also quite concerned that they would all stray a bit and hit the wrong connective tissue and I would thereafter no longer be connected.)
posted by nina, 6/14/2004 03:27:34 PM | link | (0) comments

A P.S. on our very fleeting interest in faraway places 

In commenting on my Walesa post (Saturday, below), a very open minded reader writes the following: “I'm always very interested to hear perspectives on the fall of Communism from people who were on the receiving end.” She may be in the minority on this.

I have to say that mine was a strange personal history, since I criss-crossed the ocean too often to fully feel the impact of life under any system – capitalist, communist, or post-communist. My greatest emotional connection (to a country or a system) came during my adolescent years and all those were, indeed, spent in Warsaw (under communist governance). But I thought my 6 years of childhood in New York (during the 60s) were also significantly impressionable, especially as I experienced the American reaction to me (and to my family) at the time.

We were an anomaly in those years. Tourism between Poland and the US came to an almost complete halt after the war, since the US would not grant visas to Poles who hadn’t a plausible connection to someone in the States who could vouch for their financial solvency (and Americans were fearful of traveling to a country “behind an iron curtain,” as if, indeed, there was a real curtain and Poles held the key, to be used randomly for locking in visitors from the West). Of course, there always was that trickle of Polish immigrants, but we weren’t like them: we were regarded with suspicion because we weren’t seeking asylum. We intended to go back to Poland after my father’s work at the UN was finished. Why would anyone want to return to a country like Poland --was so often the unspoken question.

Or spoken. Because I did get this query upon occasion. The antipathy here toward all things associated with communism or socialism was unbelievable. Even at the UN school, of all places, I remember a classmate asking my teacher: “why do people hate communists?” and the teacher answering “how would you like it someone took away all your money?” Those were interesting times.

The end of Communist Party rule in Poland is a welcome relief, of course, greeted there with euphoria and incredible optimism (tainted now by the 20% - 25% unemployment rate and the collapse of the welfare safety nets, though flickering again with Poland’s entry into the EU). The sense of relief on this side of the ocean is palpable as well. Not so much because we (I speak now as an American – I flip flop in this way constantly) have such great empathy for the political climate of insignificant small states far far away, but because the imaginary threat they once posed has suddenly vanished and they again can become insignificant and irrelevant, while we focus our attention and interest on places that have greater economic linkages to us here.

The one final comment I have for now is that I think Americans would be surprised at the great love that Poles have always felt for this country, regardless of its political make up du jour, regardless of the on again off again interest that Americans have in Poland’s future. In this sense Lech Walesa was absolutely correct: Poles loved Reagan because for a moment, Reagan made them feel that the love affair was not one-sided. Few presidents before or after have given Poland and Eastern Europe more than a second glance.
posted by nina, 6/14/2004 09:01:21 AM | link | (0) comments

Meet the flake 

There are few events that tug at me more than “meet the author” gigs and book-signings. It’s not the signature-in-text per se, it’s the little talk that precedes it, where the authors comment on their ‘creative process,’ recall a little anecdote maybe, and read a bit from their most recent volume. I have been to quite a number of these around town and each has been good, even when the audience has been small and I could see the embarrassment and disappointment on the writer’s face: travel all this way for 5 people?? -must be every author’s nightmare to draw really small crowds.

I was looking forward to tonight’s reading/signing at Borders. I’d even bought a copy of an earlier book by this guy. I was psyched. A friend who’d accompanied me to a couple of other readings in the past was going to meet me there earlier so that we could stake out seats, just in case it was packed.

Of course, I got off to a late start and so I careened to Borders at the speed of a maniac, arriving just seconds before 7. I noted that the parking lot was not overflowing and I was glad, therefore, to be adding my body to the possibly emptyish signing, though I was surprised at a low turn out since the author had been a National Book Award Finalist. These kinds of honors usually bring out the celebrity-seeking types. Not me, I thought, I applaud even the unheralded authors. I’m all about giving praise to anyone who manages to spit out a final draft, send off the completed manuscript for publication and then get an invitation to talk about it all at Borders.

Inside, all was quiet. No friend. No author. At the information desk I am reminded that today is NOT June 12. That was yesterday. So was the book signing.

[The sad thing is that I must have 'flake' spelled out on my forehead these days, so that my friend was not even surprised yesterday when I did not show up. It’s as if one can’t expect better of me, as if asking me to keep a calendar straight is laughable, as if I belong to the tormented, harrowed sort that cannot even show up anymore at the right time or the right place.]

I couldn’t get myself to ask if the signing had been well attended: a ‘yes’ would have filled me with regret, a ‘no’ would have filled me with shame.
posted by nina, 6/14/2004 03:49:18 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, June 13, 2004

First grade friends, career choices and an email from my sister 

I got an email from my sister (who lives in Warsaw) telling me about a recent conversation she had with Janek. (In an earlier post I describe him as the first ever to announce that he and I will someday marry; the announcement came when we were buddies in first grade.) Apparently he was trying to locate me last week to arrange an impromptu meeting between him, myself, and our old school chum, Monika (who is briefly in Warsaw). Of course, my sister had to say I was not there and so the effort failed. Still, the reemergence of Monika was a jolt.

Monika is the daughter of a famous Polish economist. But I didn’t know that when I was six. She was a pal simply because we picked each other out in our first grade class (Janek was our buddy as well).

It’s interesting how there are circles that form in one’s life, bringing together fragments, creating continuity out of seeming chaos. Monika’s father died (1965) before I returned to Poland (I lived in the States between 1960 and 1966). But reading his last published work, The Introduction to Econometrics, lead me (in 1969) to choose econometrics as my field of study at the University of Warsaw. He was one of those economists who moved from west to east, both in terms of residence and economic theory. Once a prominent economist at the U of Chicago (he was there prior to World War II – he was an ‘older’ father to Monika), he returned to Poland after the war and aligned himself with the socialist government, calling himself a Marxist theorist and a champion of the state-run economy. I knew little about his work except for this last book on the emerging field of Econometrics which I did think was cool and worthy of further academic study.

It would have been a fantastic reunion. Poles have a strong attachment to their school friends. Most continue to live in the same city and so following the vagrancies and vicissitudes of former classmates is not hard. But our particular once-tight little circle has become fragmented: Monika now lives in SF, I live in Madison, Janek is still in Warsaw. Maybe next year we can better coordinate our reunion.

In the meantime, I am trying to pick out Monika from my first grade photo below (taken in 1959; click to enlarge). Only one of the faces seems potentially fitting. Circled also are the faces of Fela (post from last Friday on ‘Politics at the Personal Level’), Janek, and myself (the school ‘monitor’, of course!).

Warsaw Elementary School no. 43, first grade Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/13/2004 10:11:23 AM | link | (0) comments

You THINK you’re in a sea of strangers… 

I ran into someone at the store this afternoon. I know this person, I thought. I know quite a bit about him. I know something of his family life, his travels, in fact I know where he ate dinner recently. On the other hand, he knows me not at all. If I introduced myself, he would not recognize my name. He would stare blankly at me and say something like “sorry, I don’t believe we’ve ever met.”

It’s odd that there are these imbalances of information out there. Because on other days, the flip side of this must happen too – where I am in ignorance of the fact that the person standing next to me knows all sorts of details about me as I innocently go about picking strawberries or granola.

With so many former students remaining in Madison after Law School, the probability of someone recognizing me and me not them is high (it happened just today at the Farmers’ Market). Still, prior to the blog, the amount of information that they would have about me would be limited, for the most part, to what I said in class or in my office. Though not always. It’s a small town and people pass all sorts of stories about others. Teachers are a good target for this kind of talk, I’m sure.

But today was different. I was the one tipping the informational scale. In the end it felt strange to say nothing and so I did introduce myself as one who knew him in this odd one-sided way. Which freaked him out completely. Next time, I think I’ll just grin knowingly. At worst I’ll appear excessively friendly, perhaps deranged even. But I wont cause such great discomfort as I did today, when I said “you don’t know me, but I sure know YOU.”
posted by nina, 6/13/2004 04:09:48 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, June 12, 2004

How a Country Defines its Heroes, then Changes its Mind and then Changes its Mind Again 

There was a time when Lech Walesa was every person’s good guy. In Poland, he was, of course, the symbol of change, the leader of the quiet revolution, the one who linked different factions to form an effective, cohesive movement, transforming the country, transforming the continent of Europe. And that’s not an overstatement.

Then he became the President of Poland. That was tougher: skills that he had brought into Solidarity weren’t necessarily ones that would benefit him as the leader of the reemerging democracy. Poles were less generous with their praise for the Walesa of the 1990s.

Eventually, Walesa lost much of his political clout and now he is just one of many voices commenting on the political and economic climate in Poland. His words no longer astonish, nor are they even on par with the voices of other commentators who are far better educated, well-read, critically sharp in their insights. Still, Poles are tolerant of maverick voices and they have a special fondness for this one – especially now that it no longer is sounded from a position of authority. As memories of his governance fade, his stature as history’s great man again begins to be felt.

Yesterday, Walesa publicly expressed his views on the Ronald Reagan era. Myself, I wish he’d sit quietly and say less. I am not so enamored with people who fail to recognize that current events have moved rapidly forward, leaving them permanently at the margins of the new political reality. Perhaps that’s a cruel way to dispose of heroes. But it is the special confluence of events that favored Walesa’s rise to prominence. And it is the ordinary progression of events that has pushed him aside. That’s the way things work in political life, isn’t it?

Walesa’s letter eulogizing Reagan (reprinted yesterday in is a great example of one man without a clue about the complexity of events commenting on another who once held an equally limited grasp of the entirety. How telling that Walesa, in this article, also includes in the handful of great world leaders such progressive ‘visionaries’ as Margaret Thatcher and John Paul II. Reagan, Thatcher and the current Pope. What a club!

Generous that I remain toward Walesa of the 1980s (and I am very very generous), I cannot stomach his comments on these figures from the past. Marveling at Reagan’s commitment to such values as basic human rights, Walesa writes:

I often wondered why Ronald Reagan did this, taking the risks he did, in supporting us at Solidarity, as well as dissident movements in other countries behind the Iron Curtain, while pushing a defense buildup that pushed the Soviet economy over the brink. Let's remember that it was a time of recession in the U.S. and a time when the American public was more interested in their own domestic affairs. It took a leader with a vision to convince them that there are greater things worth fighting for. Did he seek any profit in such a policy? Though our freedom movements were in line with the foreign policy of the United States, I doubt it.

Not grand enough yet? Consider this, then, further into the article:
…(Only one group of politicians is) convinced that there are values worth living for, and even values worth dying for. Otherwise they would consider their life and work pointless. Only such politicians are great politicians and Ronald Reagan was one of them.

And a reflection on how a Pole would regard a cowboy:
Cowboys in Western clothes had become a powerful symbol for Poles. Cowboys fight for justice, fight against evil, and fight for freedom, both physical and spiritual.

Really, enough already. Bringing back heroes isn’t always such a good thing. I am forgiving of Walesa’s missteps as President, but only if I don’t have to hear him speak now, because his words only serve to remind me that greatness can be easily lost if we keep on talking when we no longer know what we are talking about.
posted by nina, 6/12/2004 06:42:15 PM | link | (0) comments

The World of Markets and Restaurants, continued 

If these colors don’t send you into a state of ecstatic rapture, you are one tough reader to please.

It was one of those days where the lazier you were, the better off you wound up being. Early marketers had the gloom, the chill, the fog. Late risers had the sunshine, the music and plenty of foods and flowers left to choose from.

I filled L’Etoile’s cart several times over. The best part? People watching at the Market. The worst part? Let’s just say the chilly wee early morning and let it go at that.

I did also hang out for a bit in L’Etoile’s kitchen. At this time of the year, even standing in the walk-in cooler is pleasant – the little refrigerator-room smells of everything that’s fresh and wholesome. (In the later months of the summer, the walk-in is greatly loved for another reason: it’s a place of respite from the horrible heat of the ovens conjoined with the horrible heat of the season. Did I say this before? L’Etoile is the only high-end restaurant I know of that does not have air conditioned kitchens. It is HELL there during the summer.)

The cook was working on the Vesuvius dessert prep. More precisely, it is the ‘Chocolate Vesuvius with Dark Chocolate Truffle, Red Currant Cassis Coulis and Vanilla Crème Anglaise.’ Many places these days make a Vesuvius-type dessert (including Chili’s!), but L’Etoile’s really is at the top – though only if the morning cook remembers to grease the forms well enough so that the final product slides out and doesn’t create a crisis for the sweating, harried night cook. Nothing, NOTHING flares the temper more than one stuck Vesuvius, at a time when all other desserts are ready to go.

nice and greasy Vesuvius forms Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/12/2004 02:23:17 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, June 11, 2004

Politics at the most personal level: Living through something you do not fully understand 

Sometimes I think we don’t use the words “I’m not sure” often enough. We have too much confidence, too much belief in our own choices and interpretations. We think ourselves to be above malice (‘it’s everyone else, never me’), above repression (‘I like differences, in theory’), to be generous and peace-loving (‘I avoid conflict, it’s everyone else that invites it’), believing in what we want to believe in (‘I’m incapable of being unkind; war is necessary; my country does it right’).

When I was very very young, I went to a birthday party of a classmate (this was in Warsaw, Poland). It wasn’t a well planned event (American families put lots more effort into children’s parties) and so the kids got restless. Soon, the activity of choice was to search in the flower pots for bugs and to transfer them into the hair of Fela Fastman. Why pick on Fela Fastman? Why indeed. Many many years later, it was suggested to me that she was often made fun of because she was different. She was Jewish.

In high school, I had a close friend named Malgosia. She and I recently found each other through email. She writes this about her last high school weeks (roughly translated): Do you remember our end-of-year prizes? How the teachers gave me mine and Felek his behind the scenes? How the principal would not recognize us publicly because we were Jewish?

I did not remember. In fact, I had not even known that Felek was Jewish. Malgosia said that she hadn’t known either until that last day of school.

In the turbulent political climate of the late 60s, I joined ZMS, which was the Union of Socialist Youth. Among liberal Poles, I later found out, it was considered a repressive organization, parroting the party line, avoiding all the difficult questions. I did not know that when I joined. I thought it to be full of energetic idealists, the doers, the movers, the ones that wanted to work together to accomplish worthy goals. I un-joined later.

One spring, I walked home from high school (in Warsaw) by way of the School of Engineering. I’d heard there were students out in the streets, marching in protest against recent government decisions. I knew by then that the students were on the side of reason. I knew. As I got closer, I noticed that it was no longer a peaceful march. I did not know that my very presence there put me in danger and so I did not see the police running toward me, I did not anticipate being repeatedly clubbed and beaten by them (so much so that I needed a hospital visit).

Not to know, not to see, to live in political and personal ignorance, not to engage in questioning, to accept as hard facts what you’re told by friends, politicians, those around you. To hang on to your own implacable vision of the world as if it could never be improved on. Or changed.

Adam Michnik, perhaps the most influential former Polish dissident, wrote an impassioned article in the New Yorker a few years back questioning the complicity of Poles in the anti-Semitism that has haunted the country for many decades. The occasion for this was the publication of a book by Jan Gross that detailed the massacre of fifteen hundred Jews in Jedwabne during WWII, not, as was originally believed, by the Nazis, but by the Poles living in this northeastern corner of Poland. Many Poles found the accusations to be slanderous and reprehensible. (For more info on this, see this website.) But the evidence is compelling.

In the article, Michnik implored everyone living in the 50s, 60s and 70s in Poland to look back and accept responsibility at the very least for the ignorance that was ours during this period – ignorance about our present and about our past.

It seems so much of this still has application, here, everywhere. Because we still live as if we know, even though we know and understand little. We act as though we are moral and just whereas oftentimes we’re neither. We don’t waffle, we don’t admit to errors, we don’t search out new evidence. And we don’t accept responsibility for our ignorance. We don’t even recognize it as such.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. It’s been weighing on me.
posted by nina, 6/11/2004 06:43:38 PM | link | (0) comments

What my mother thinks I should know about 

My Berkeley clipping service (aka my 80 year old mother) sent me a thick batch of newspaper articles this week. Among other items I find a piece on Sedaris (that makes sense – he is the hot author of the moment and my clipper wants to make sure I’m up on the new literary icons), an article from the Sunday Times on Warsaw (even though she knows I get the Sunday Times, so how could I have possibly missed it?), a piece on the Bush daughters and Chris Heinz (she is of the generation that loved tracking political families), and then the following two cuttings:

important information Posted by Hello

On the left, you see a new design for a Vodka bottle. On the right is a woman dressed in some youthful garb (it comes with the scribbled note ‘funki clothes from S.F. boutique’). What hint is there in this? That I am too conventional? Or that I live in a part of the country where people would not have the imagination to dress in this way? Or, oh my God, that this is the new style of clothing that she has come to adopt for herself? And the Vodka bottle – I don’t much care for Vodka, but it is Polish after all. Should I buy it? Praise it? Show it off to others? Looks like a perfume bottle to me… What was my mother thinking?
posted by nina, 6/11/2004 11:07:06 AM | link | (0) comments

Weblog, not wobble, wabble, bulg or bloop 

This morning I went for a long, wet, buggy (there's no escaping it) walk with a friend whom I hadn’t seen for many months. In catching up with our lives, I naturally felt compelled to tell her about blogging. ‘What’s that?’ she asks. And so I describe it in the usual manner: I explain what it is NOT. No, it’s not a journal. No, I never skip a day. No, no, I am the sole author of it, no one else weighs in. Though they do in other blogs. Sometimes. And so on.

Why is it that Merriam-Webster online offers so little help here? Look up ‘weblog’ and you’ll be redirected to wobbling or wabbling. For ‘blog’ you may be told to switch the spelling to blob or bloop. Wonderful.

How is it that such a vast majority of the computer-using public knows nothing of blogging? Trends emerge, some disappear of course, but typically there is great fanfare surrounding them. Clothes, gadgets, we KNOW what’s capturing the collective imagination. Bloggers, on the other hand, reside in a self-sustaining world. Sometimes I forget how contained within our own circle of readers we really are.
posted by nina, 6/11/2004 10:22:21 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, June 10, 2004

So many books, so what… 

If it rains, then coffee shops fill and you have to look creatively for a spot to sit. At Border’s I found myself by a stack of books that I typically wouldn’t seek out. One volume in particular caused me to put my work down. This text, “Genius Moves,” explores icons of graphic design. I spent a good bit of time looking at the page where the letter “O” is used in designing ads (for example, in this one, promoting Women’s Day magazine):

…As well as at the page where the authors remind us of the power of the pointing finger. I like the way that the guilt inducing visual graphic here crosses all continents. Whether it’s Uncle Sam or the Red Army, the message is clear, they want YOU to join up.

Okay, those were the books in front of me. On my left, I have “Full Catastrophe Living” and on my right I see several shelves of intelligence and espionage narratives.

I can’t come back to this spot. How do you reconcile the search for stress reducers, with the need for lies and deception used ostensibly to attain a political equilibrium, and then read about the machinations that lay down guilt-trips so that you’ll purchase something, or worse, commit an entire life to a concept?

Forget this place. Next time I’m back with the cinnamon buns, scones and biscotti at the coffee shop. If I stand over someone long enough and point a menacing finger, maybe it’ll guilt trip them into relinquishing a seat. Eventually.
posted by nina, 6/10/2004 08:57:16 PM | link | (0) comments

That Polish Spirit 

In a recent (and as is typically the case for this blogger, both funny and sagacious) JFW post I am referred to as having the old Polish make-do?-can do!-spirit. Well yes, true enough. I tend toward the belief that if you poke that stick around the riverbank, you’ll let loose a stream of inspiring possibilities, all within reach, just a tweak here and you got it! You’re coasting! Yes, even if you're stumbling, it’s all doable, yes yes, no need to hold back!

But that spirit is embedded in an equally Polish trait: we are a contemplative lot. We take our promenades through parks and forests seriously. We know how to search out moments of calm. Here’s mine, learned at an early age (though what’s with the two fingers? must I always invent my own convention?).

posted by nina, 6/10/2004 01:07:51 PM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, June 09, 2004


I read today (Gourmet Magazine, May issue) that it is now illegal to kill lobsters in Reggio Emilia, Italy, by thrusting them headfirst into a pan of boiling water (a regulation to that effect was passed this March and it holds true for both the home cook and the restauranteur).

I hate cooking lobsters because it is the only food preparation that requires me to actively participate in causing a living thing to cease living under my guidance. I tell myself that the lobsters are living an existence in their tanks that has to be tantamount to hell, but it is a small comfort.

Still, I have long reconciled myself to not being a vegetarian. But I am a meat-fish eating person who wants the food I consume to be treated in a humane manner prior to my consumption of it (absurd? Maybe, but I am absolutely committed to this) and so I eat only free range poultry and meats and I avoid farmed salmon unless I know it’s farmed in ways that are in accordance with principles of sustainable fishery practices.

So where does this put me with lobsters? Do we KNOW that it is less humane to plunge them into the pot headfirst? If so, I will stop doing this immediately (on the rare, rare occasion that I cook lobsters). But what is the more humane alternative? Should I ask the governing officials of Reggio Emilia? Does it matter that they are a landlocked municipality? How is it that they deal with their pork and poultry?

Ah, the Italians! So often they govern with their hearts! Consistencies be damned.
posted by nina, 6/09/2004 07:25:01 PM | link | (0) comments

It’s good to move things around every once in a while 

Another round of applause for the talented Mr. F who can now do blog template tricks efficiently and well. Redecorating the blog has never been easier. Especially for me, who has done little beyond issuing directives. Sometimes it’s good to know nothing about something.
posted by nina, 6/09/2004 04:44:49 PM | link | (0) comments


Is it every girl’s wish here to be like the others? I just read a student blog that made me go back to this and think more about the pressure to conform. Because in truth, I do not remember this about my own past. My best recollection is that I was not bothered by my Polishness here (even at the height of the Cold War period and even though it meant that I came from a very poor country), about my years of spunk-verging-on-tom-boyishness, about my non-Catholicism back in Poland, etc. I’m still not particularly bothered by being outside of the mainstream in a number of my daily orbits. It may strike some as odd that I moonlight in a restaurant or write mini-essays in a blog (which does not aspire to be a blawg) or think it cool to clean my own gutters and watch cheesemakers form perfect rounds of Camembert or to hang out with people that are age-wise or otherwise different from me, like, for example students (with whom I have pretty much nothing in common) from the conversation class at the Kanzaki Cultural Center in Japan. I don’t aspire to oddities but I certainly don’t run from them.

Yet, sometimes I wonder if I am completely honest here. Because I do notice differences. For instance, in the last week of first grade (in my Polish elementary school), the girls were told to come to school dressed as fairies and princesses for an end-of-year celebration. My mother was not one to indulge little fantasies of gauze and petticoats and so she told me to just wear my best dress. Let me not count the number of ways in which I stand out in this photo (down to the odd way that I am holding onto my skirt). On the other hand, I do not recall being bothered at the time.

Sometimes I think there is a funny reversal of attitudes toward conformity here and in the Poland of my youth. Here, the preoccupation with individual rights is completely evident at every juncture (whereas in Poland, the collective good was, of course, at the forefront of political discourse). On the other hand, I notice that the vast majority of kids fight individuality and favor conformity all the way through their growing years in the States. To stand out appears to be the kiss of death. Only if you feel yourself to be beyond hope do you then jump ship and begin to intensely accentuate your strangeness.

I can’t say that I remember this to be the case in my Polish environment. It’s as if our collective conscience was saturated and we privately valued independence and uniqueness. Kids (yes, even girls) that stood out in high school because of their smartness or talents or peculiar backgrounds or interests weren’t shunned for it (I’m going to exempt religious diversity from this gross generalization – the specter of anti-Semitism in post-war Poland is a topic I intend to address in a later blog).

Even at the very basic level of appearance, tolerance for the odd was high (for instance, I had several years of skin issues that would cause anyone here angst to the max yet I was extremely socially active; friends had body odor since levels of hygiene were mixed and deodorants were unavailable; others had lousy clothes; one girl was extraordinarily obese for medical reasons yet for a long time she dated one of the hot guys in our class and btw, he was ‘hot’ even though he stuttered).

My high school had some of the more together students as it was right in the city center and many families living there had deep urban roots with an above-average commitment to education. Yet, perhaps at a deeper level, we all understood ourselves to be losers as well (Poland is a country with one huge complex, broken down into a thousand other, smaller complexes) and so our empathy for the tainted trait in another was high.

As for our forays into the world of nonconformity -- perhaps our similarities bored us and our streaks of individuality provided an excitement and a diversion. It was not a bad way to move through adolescence.

This week means graduation for all of Madison’s high school seniors. Such privileged students they are compared to my Polish peers from the class of 1969 (that would be 35 years ago: gulp..)! But really, I can’t say that we had the rougher go of it. We were bonded, down to the last misfit in our class. Is there a better way to survive the school years?
posted by nina, 6/09/2004 10:22:01 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

It was so warm today... 

...that you just wanted to wrap yourself around a tree and collapse.

posted by nina, 6/08/2004 06:38:32 PM | link | (0) comments

Conversation from earlier in the day 

kr (kind reader): Why wont you go with us to the Simon & Garfunkel concert in Milwaukee? I thought you liked Simon & Gurfunkel.
nc: I do like them. I just don’t like concert crowds.

kr: Wait a minute! Didn’t you say you enjoyed Lilith Fair? Dar Williams? Indigo Girls? Didn’t I read something here about you and the Rolling Stones?
nc: That was then. Now, transport all that music, any music for that matter, into a nice atmospheric café or music club and you’ll find me there. But not at a mass concert that draws millions.

kr: You are inconsistent! You say you like to be around people. You talk all the time about looking for communities of people!
nc: I mean by that a manageable group of people, the numbers of which don’t tax my counting capabilities.

kr: But you go to non-pop music concerts in large halls..
nc: It’s civilized in those halls. Sometimes too civilized. As in fall-asleep-civilized. But civilized nonetheless. At pop music concerts I feel everyone is poised to attack – the singers, each other, anything in the line of fire.

kr: You never struck me as the nervous nor the quiet type.
nc: Correct, I am neither. But those places can be TOO LOUD and that can make me NERVOUS.

kr: You have again managed to make so sense.
posted by nina, 6/08/2004 04:58:29 PM | link | (0) comments

Uttering something in a “bombastic declamatory fashion” 

I don't think I am much of ranter. I know, you’re supposed to rant on blogs. Everyone does it: I read funny rants and serious rants, rants about spelling, about politics, about cigarette smoke, about verbose cab drivers, about life. Yet, I find myself sidestepping this form of blogging. It’s as if I can’t get into the swing of it, which is a shame because reading a rant is inherently more provocative and funny than reading a description of something without the sting of a critical edge.

Maybe I like the idea of this blog being more like the French film without plot, the character development without the slap, the stick that pokes around the tall reeds that grow at the riverbank rather than poking at the ribs of some hapless erring idiot. If there is zest to be found, it wont be because I’ll have swung out at the multitude of things that can (and do) annoy in the course of the day.

Still, may I make an exception?


Oh, how I dislike this side of the ocean’s love affair with the AC unit! The close-the-windows attitude of shutting out air, putting a halt to the outside breeze that is so gentle and sweet and summery. We sit in chilled restaurants, shop in frigid stores, all of it COLD, really cold, as in I-am-soon-going-to-have-to-pack-up-my-belongings-and-get-out-of-here cold.

Please, let the summer work its warm charm. It all comes to an end soon enough.

Okay, now to get my stick back into the gullies and the riverbanks.
posted by nina, 6/08/2004 04:31:34 PM | link | (0) comments

A Very Long Post On How Camp Can Make You Leaner and Meaner 

A neighbor is sending his daughter off to camp next week. Camp. I went to camp four times during my childhood. They all get mixed reviews. What could I eek out of each experience?

1. Camp Robinson Crusoe: My first camp was thrust upon me when I was freshly on the shores of this country. I’d just turned 8 and was sent off, along with my sister, for the entire two month period. My sister balked. She was sure my parents were dumping us so that they could enjoy romantic clambakes on some Cape Cod beach without us. Give me a break, my mother is so not the romantic type.

Why were we sent there then? New Yorkers are always looking for ways to off-load their kids to places with ‘fresh air.’ And, my parents were anxious for us to get our English speaking skills up and running. Why that particular camp? I’m sure they heard somewhere that it was liberal enough to be generally accepting of Commie kids.

You could say that I got into the spirit of things at camp. I was so active that the counselors worried I would return scrawny-looking and so I was put on a regimen of double milkshakes, force-fed daily in the infirmary. Milkshakes in the clinical setting don’t taste as good as, say, at an ice cream shop, especially when a stern camp nurse (didn't any of them read Cherry Ames books and pick up tips on how to cultivate the saccharine side of the profession?) is staring at you to make sure you finish every last drop. And you have to wonder what else they put into it – maybe a dose of cod liver oil, that era’s dreaded cure for all kid ills.

2. Kolonjia Ruskaja: My second camp experience came several years later, when I was 10, still living in New York. My parents thought I needed to learn Russian and so I was sent to a camp run by the Russian Delegation to the UN. Several hundred Russian kids, squeezed into a compound somewhere on Long Island.

What I learned in Russian camp:
- I learned to count up to 19 in Russian (because in the morning line-up, which was according to height, I was always number 19. After shouting out “dzievietnatsat!” I could basically tune out).
- I learned to say SPA-SI-BA (thank you) very loudly because if you got up in the dining hall and shouted out ‘spasiba,’ you could retire to the dormitory room (each room with 20 beds, all in a row) for ‘naptime,’ even if you didn’t finish the godawful food.
- I learned something else – this from the one other Polish child at the camp. Oh, this girl was way ahead of me in her vocabulary. With my freshly expanded word-base, I returned home and said to my sister: “get your f***ing feet off my chair!” My parents’ idea of discipline was in line with the early 60s: swift, irrational, no Qs asked, no explanation given: no TV for a month and no more visits with the poor Polish kid who had, after all, only wanted to introduce me to the ways of the world. At least I escaped the slap on the behind – another 60s favorite.

3. Camp McDonald: My third camp experience was two years later, at a YMCA camp in New Jersey. There I learned that girls in the ‘tweens can be mean. What they did to each other was beyond the beyond. Still, chocking down fistfuls of candy late at night was great fun, as were the lethargic horses that we could ‘ride’ and the murky pond we could ‘swim’ in during the day.

4. Kolonia Mlodzierzy Katolickiej: My fourth camp experience was back in Poland. I was then 16, and the love of my life (or so I thought, for far too long a period of time) was trying to get me to understand his relationship to God and the Catholic church and so he convinced me to go with him to a teen camp for Catholics. What did I get out that experience?
- I witnessed what today could land the priest in charge in jail on child molestation charges.
- I did not learn a lot about my boyfriend’s relationship to God, possibly because I was far more interested in cultivating his relationship to me, so the church part was a wasted effort.
- The camp also confirmed my minority status in Poland: as I was the only non-Catholic there, I was always asked to mind the tents while everyone went into the woods to pray, sing and do all sorts of Catholic camp type things. [Though I did conspire with a friend to sneak off one very early morning so that we could watch the first shots of the American moon-landing on some village community center TV. Awesome (especially the sneaking off part).]
posted by nina, 6/08/2004 02:36:28 PM | link | (0) comments

Monday, June 07, 2004

La la la la la la, it’s a small, small world. 

I looked at Ann’s blog photos from NYC (you MUST check them out here) and I couldn’t believe it. There’s a shot from her hotel window. Oh, oh, now doesn’t that look familiar! I could not mistake that view. That is a photo that, if curved slightly to the other side, could be labeled: “Nina’s view from her window when she moved back to the States in the middle of her college years.”

The next obvious question is how could a college student from an Eastern European country afford a view that looked out on Fifth Ave. and the Metropolitan Museum of Art? The answer -- I was taken in by the S’bergers (I feel pseudo-protective of their privacy) of NY Times fame to look after their daughter and work as an ‘au pair’ for the family in exchange for room, board and college expenses. I did this for two summers and the months in and around. Clearly they could afford a Fifth Ave apartment.

Why was I lucky enough to land in this terrific position? Simple. I had 3 basic qualities that got me far: I was energetic, I loved kids, and I belonged to the .00001% of college students that came out of the 60s and had no interest in drugs (reminder: I did come out of the Polish college scene).

So there I spent my college years, looking out the window at the steps to the Museum feeling oftentimes that the world was too big, too cold and too strange a place to call home. But the S’bergers were wonderful and their daughter was the sweetest kid on the planet – outdone only by two other sweet girls that I got to know even better. Much later.
posted by nina, 6/07/2004 09:48:47 PM | link | (0) comments


Who can forget these? The Great Communicator. The Teflon President. The 9 to 5 President. The Gipper. A Made-for-Television President. Author of Reaganomics and the Reagan Doctrine and Star Wars.

Quote of the day from the NYT and IHT (attributed to Former Speaker of the US House of Representatives “Tip” O’Neill):
"I've known every president since Harry Truman and there's no question in my mind that Ronald Reagan was the worst. But he would have made a hell of a king."
posted by nina, 6/07/2004 09:39:13 AM | link | (0) comments

The Revenge of the Killer Bugs 

It came a month too early this year: my turning a back toward the little Giverny that is my yard. Why? Why? Why walk away when colors like this are just beginning to take hold?

la vie en rose Posted by Hello

evening primrose Posted by Hello

I’ll tell you why. It’s the bugs. Bad enough that a walk through the Arboretum yesterday felt like I was battling the insects and reptiles of a steamy Amazon jungle (yes, turtles in the path, flying arthropods colliding with me at every turn). But worse, here at home, I woke up to that telltale buzz in the ear. Odd, I thought. There are brand new windows everywhere and I just installed the screens for the summer season.

This morning, I look up at the kitchen ceiling and I see that we are at war and I am outnumbered. Twenty of them, one of me. Not only that, but these guys fly with super speed.

My conclusion: just as new, hardier strains of bacteria have evolved in response to antibiotics, so, too, there are now new strains of mosquitoes that are screen-resistant. They are able to downsize their bodies to fit through even the fine mesh of new Pella window screens. And they fly faster than the swat of a human hand.

I have no great desire to be out there among the foliage flapping at bugs around me. Am I giving up too soon? I am not entirely abandoning everything, I am just stepping aside and taking stock, assessing the maliciousness of their intent and the strength of their battalion.
posted by nina, 6/07/2004 08:50:28 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, June 06, 2004

More reader comments… 

A reader not favorably inclined toward blogs wrote the following email yesterday:
“your blog (appears to) overshadow(s) too much else…” I take that to suggest a certain amount of excessiveness.

I feel compelled to respond: true, yesterday’s post cost me several hours of frustration. So that I was blog-occupied for the better part of the late afternoon (rather than training for a marathon like a friend was, or cutting the lawn like my neighbor).

I have always imagined that some would be inclined to scribble two words on my tombstone should necessity force that circumstance: “too much.” Then, on the less visible, external side some would prefer to write “too little.” When the time came, a line of mourners would form (presumptuous of me to think that perhaps) and walk by the “too much” side and nod their heads in agreement – “yes, she traveled too much” (recalling especially my graduate school years and perhaps more recent times), “..emailed too much” (no comment needed here), “frolicked with the children too much” and “..blogged too much” (a new 2004 addition), etc. On the other side, another (smaller?) line would form -- a trail of mourners who would recognize the other two words. Nodding their heads they would say “yes, she slept too little” and “worried too little” and “followed the straight and narrow too little.”

Wherein lies the truth? It depends on the mourners as much as on the mourned, doesn’t it? Their “too much” may well be my “not enough.”
posted by nina, 6/06/2004 02:57:11 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Reader Comments 

Thanks to the reader who suggested adding the CD “Story of Chanson” to a list of these French classics. I myself also like “Paris After Dark.” But what is really terrific about the “French Café” CD I wrote of in yesterday’s post is that the songs are fresh. I’d not heard any of them before. But all these CDs are worth their weight in French gold.

And, to the reader who admitted to not reading the bill board correctly either – thank you as well. That makes two dummies who aren’t ashamed to recognize human frailty.

Finally, to the reader who is now inspired to start a family blog – yeah, go for it. Can’t wait to see the sparks fly as Uncle Joe admits to not really liking Aunt Minnie’s mashed potatoes and little Lucie ‘fesses up to having gone out for a puff at the curbside rather than sitting through another boring class of English Composition. And it’s not only the revelations that are potentially interesting. I find that people do not like being described by others in a blog (unless it is in a string of complements). They are always wanting to make corrections. So, my pal, do let me know how your family-togetherness-through-the-blog idea works out.
posted by nina, 6/05/2004 06:47:24 PM | link | (0) comments

My Stupidity is no Longer in Question, it is a Given. 

Q: Why did it take you so long to post something to your blog today?

A: I am so mad. I do not even want to answer that. Okay, briefly: the new Blogger photo program creates a new post with each photo you submit. So, any fool would understand that if you post 11 photos, they will appear on your blog from the last, meaning most recent one you submitted to the first of the bunch. As will your text. Anyone who may have been cruising around blogs in the recent hour and happened to come across ‘Oceans,’ would have had the pleasure of reading my blog backwards. To correct this, I had to go back and delete one file at a time, while saving the text into the original file. And republish everything at each step. It took FOREVER. I wont even bother explaining why the photos are on the small size. Retrofitting photos that are already on the blog would take, under the spiffy new Blogger program, even more time. Not worth it not worth it not worth it! If I never see another one of those 11 Market photos from today again, I will not be unhappy (a triple negative for emphasis).
posted by nina, 6/05/2004 04:36:33 PM | link | (0) comments

Market Watch 

Today was a classic! The sun brought out thousands, thus it was fortuitous that I started my L’Etoile foraging early.

The Madison market succeeds for many reasons. One is that it is scenically located around the Capitol and there are enough stalls to make it worth your while to go downtown. And, the farmers are there themselves, with the commitment and earnestness that displays their passion for their work. Felix, the renegade Swiss businessman started making goat feta a couple of years back. This week he is introducing his goat milk ice cream – it’s fantastic, worthy of his enthusiasm and that’s saying a lot. Rainbow’s End herb growers are giving us lime thyme – if you taste it, you get an immediate bite of lime followed by the savor of thyme. Blue Valley’s asparagus is exceptionally flavorful and they are so proud of it. They have an old woman who has been trimming it for them for years – she shows up each year and reclaims the cutting blades. Kim from JehnAire Farms has a handful of recipes to distribute along with her chickens. Anne at Fantome speaks of her young goats as if they were her kids. Yes, okay, that was lame, but if you talk to the farmers, it is like that: each has a story and a new idea for the season ahead.

By comparison, I read recently that the Green Market in New York is floundering. The sellers show up with cigarettes dangling from their mouths, knowing nothing of the foods they are attempting to sell. Discarded produce rots at the side. The visual impact is strong. You don’t enjoy being there. It is just another grocery store without a roof.

Today’s sunshine added new light and glimmer to the foods.
The jars of honey had a jeweled amber glow:

sunny honey Posted by Hello

Even the radishes looked sunbeamy bright:

bright radishes Posted by Hello

And the gourds danced in buoyant celebration:

dancing gourds Posted by Hello

Of course, the flowers now are extraordinary. I am limiting photos here, but it is hard because the colors are just so intense that you want to preserve them forever:

blue and purple Posted by Hello

poppies Posted by Hello

For one seller, there could never be enough displays of flowers:

hairstyle of the day Posted by Hello

…Though the colors are everywhere in the Market, not only in the blooms. The sheeps’ milk camembert rounds look milky white against the blue basket:

blue and white Posted by Hello

What’s new this week? The strawberries are now appearing in numerous places, and for the first time, I see the baby potatoes:

dozens of new babies Posted by Hello

Back at L’Etoile, the bakers can hardly keep pace with the lines outside. Here, Olga is putting the finishing touch on the sweet apple croissants:

the final step Posted by Hello

Outside, the drummers bang out the happy rhythm of the day:

energy Posted by Hello

And an off-the-square vendor lures buyers to invest in Madison-like clothes for the young:

peace Posted by Hello

It really is a brilliant day. I did not mind making 6 trips around the Square with the L’Etoile wagon. I could have done a dozen more.
posted by nina, 6/05/2004 03:23:48 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, June 04, 2004


Nostalgic yet progressive. Diverse, creative and multicultural. Gipsy jazz and musette. Rich in poetry, satire, drama and emotion. The example of Edith Piaf. Born and raised in the cafes and music halls of France. These are words used to describe French chanson. The best compilation I’ve come across thus far is in the Putumayo recording entitled “French Café.”

I am listening to it constantly. Interspersed with a reader’s recommendation of Martina McBride’s “How Far” – an extremely sad song for me, for the lyrics alone. I should add a Polish retro recording, like “Yellow Calendars,” by Szczepanik (so, you Americans out there, how do you pronounce THAT, huh?) and also “the Peace of the Prarie” (only one reader could possibly get the inclusion of this) but my cup at this point runneth over.
posted by nina, 6/04/2004 09:13:35 PM | link | (0) comments

Trains, Trams and Automobiles (Nostalgia run, part 3; what’s with me this week??) 

I walked along the railroad tracks today and predictably, they reminded me of how much I love things associated with trains.

My grandparents’ home, secluded in a northeastern Polish village, was accessible from Warsaw for many years only by train and even then you still had a hike of about an hour from the train station to their house. (Is a one room shack with no attendant on duty most of the time really a train station anyway?) I didn’t mind. Even as kid, I liked the ride and I liked the hike. Every once in a while, when we had more luggage than reasonably could be carried, my grandfather would get a farmer to come to the station with his horse and farm wagon and take us home. Such comforting smells! From grease spilt on tracks to horse manure and scratchy wool blankets, I liked it all.

As I grew older, my parents made friends with a man who had a car, and once or twice he would drive us to the village. I groaned on those occasions – maybe because his car was an old VW bug, and there were four of us plus him, the driver, that would have to fit into the ratty old machine, along with assorted bags and containers of foods. And since car travel was so rare for me, inevitably we’d have to make stops so that I could settle my young, inexperienced stomach at the side of the road, to the disgusted eye-roll of my sister, who somehow held her food better during car trips. This was reason enough to favor a train over the automobile.

Oh, but those great, powerful trains with their steam locomotives! When we were young and reckless, we’d go with friends to the tracks and place coins before an oncoming train. The flattened result was worthless, of course, but it was cool to compare the oddly shaped shards of metal that the train left behind.

But the biggest form of bravery was to stand on the wooden train bridge that spanned the river at the same time that a train was passing through. Technically, there was enough room for the train and for pedestrians, but the bridge was old and it shook violently as the train moved along. The terrifying rumble was something you could never quite get used to, but feeling myself to be a spunky kid, I had to be up there with the rest, shaking along with the rattling bridge, defiant, invincible.

It is interesting then, that the city trams, which cross Warsaw at the modest speeds of 25 – 30 mph scared me more than the country trains. Perhaps all city kids had a healthy dose of fear instilled in them by their parents, for trams killed far more pedestrians than trains ever could. And, on top of this, trams were crowded. One of my earliest memories has me riding in a tram with my mother, squeezed tightly among dozens and dozens of others. “We’re getting off now,” I remember her saying. But I lost her hand and to me it seemed at that moment that I had lost the world or at least my place in it. Amazingly, the tram spit me out onto the platform with a host of others, like a rejected sardine who had to be let go because the tin could hold no more – spit! –I’m out, lying there on the tram stop, crying, crying for my lost mother who finds me quickly enough and groans at my soiled coat. God, I hated those trams!

Madison’s trains are more of a nuisance than a big factor in anyone’s life. They slow down traffic on the rare occasion that they pass through the city. Still, they get my fondness vote. I can’t look at a train and not like it and I can’t walk along a track without thinking back to the years of squished coins on railroad tracks.
posted by nina, 6/04/2004 12:33:54 PM | link | (0) comments

Nostalgia run, part 2 

A curious reader asked about the Polish first grade experience. A photo is worth a thousand words in this case. Here we are, in the first month of my first year in school. It’s 1959, I’m six, the rest are seven and the teacher looks to be not quite 30 as she ‘teaches’ 40+ kids to recognize words in a book. “Point to the word “las”!” she instructs, and we all point. (The young man in the first row is either cheating, or checking on the intelligence of the braided lass behind him.)

Such disciplined kids we were, with nothing to distract us from the task at hand: bare walls, navy uniforms (white collars had to be changed daily), and badges indicating the school number. No badge stitched on that morning? No entry into the building. The blog author, btw, is recognized by the arrow. The band on the arm signifies “monitor” status. We took turns being monitors – keeping order during recess, etc. I’m sure I was quite effective against all those kids with pent up energies.

God, reading lessons were boring!
posted by nina, 6/04/2004 10:04:14 AM | link | (0) comments

Test your smartness against my stupidity, part 2  

Am I the only one who read this at first (and second and third) glance to say “New! No Low-carb Options!” ? I know, I know, there is indeed an “&” in there, but when you’re driving by, does it throw itself at you*? No it does not. At least not at those with less than average intelligence which is, Prairie Home Companion notwithstanding, 50% of the population.

Madsion road sign Posted by Hello

*Comments about my distance vision are inappropriate. And they’re misguided as I have perfect distance vision, hence the fallback option of low intelligence, though it can’t be too low since when my very intelligent Polish friends and I were playing “guess the next symbol,” the answer did indeed throw itself at me. A stroke of luck perhaps.
Here’s the game, for the Mensa types out there: what symbol should come next in the following sequence?

what's next in this sequence? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/04/2004 07:47:23 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Rosie in the Morning, Rosie in the Afternoon 

For as long as I have lived up Old Sauk hill, I have passed Rosie* in the morning as she helps cross school children to the other side of the street. I asked her today how long she’s been doing this and she said “40 years!” Amazing.

She has a smile and a wave for me each time I drive by – the same smile and wave that she gives to virtually anyone who may be in a half-familiar car. Of course, she knows me not at all by my face, but by my old truck (excuse me, sore subject: van]. But she has a smile and a wave even as I’m walking. And a pat on the back for the little kid traipsing off to school. Why can’t everyone be that friendly? [The crossing guard on Gammon, by Jefferson Middle School banged my car once with her stop sign because she thought I had pulled out too soon. Rosie would have never done that!]

*Technical update: not all photos are uploaded under the nifty but more cumbersome new Blogger system. No hand appears over the photo? No logo underneath the photo? That's a sign that I'm shortcutting to my old method of posting and you cannot thus get any enlargement. Shucks, right?
posted by nina, 6/03/2004 05:49:31 PM | link | (0) comments

Nursery School and the Law 

The side stairwell in the Dane County Court House smells like my state-run nursery school did back in post-war Poland. No one here can confirm this because I am 100% certain no one in Madison ever was within ten miles of my Polish preschool, especially during the 1950s. But it is true. When I worked on cases with my law students, I’d pause in the stairwell and breathe deeply to allow myself a reel back to the old times. I’m sure others thought me to be unfit, needing to pause and catch my breath every ten steps like some chain-smoking 90-year old, but I did it nonetheless.

The two years at my nursery school are a half-pleasant memory because when I was old enough to attend (4), I could finally move from the village where I lived with my grandparents, to the Warsaw apartment where my adored mother (and father, but I hardly noticed) resided. And the preschool wasn’t too bad. I had a little cubby with a picture of a little black African boy over it. I am sure it came from some horribly racist story that we listened to, but I liked him anyway, he looked after my outdoor shoes and coat and was much more imposing than the red mushroom over the cubby next to mine.

[Here is a photo of me in the nursery school. My mother had said over and over that morning: “don’t forget to comb your hair, DO NOT forget to comb your hair!” and so I remembered to comb my hair, but I forgot to take off my black flannel outdoor pants on that cold cold winter day and since the kid-teacher ration was I’m sure something like 40 to 1, no one seemed to notice, hence my odd attire.]

I liked my teacher, too, and I sucked up mercilessly, making sure that I was in place to grab her hand for park walks, transferring all my love and affection onto her during the day before I could have my adored mother in the evening again.

When I ‘graduated’ to the next level of preschool and lost my prize teacher, I fussed so much that my mother finally pulled me from nursery school and enrolled me in regular school even though I was too young. My mother is a forceful woman and usually gets her way in these matters. There began my odd educational climb, during which my parents placed me in random grades they believed were suited for me, regardless of what the Ministry of Education or any principal would tell them. By the time I finished high school in Poland, I was three years ahead of my peers and I had gaping holes in my schooling, knowing little of the history and literature that my classmates had spent time learning. No matter, my parents had lost interest by then in the education project and anyway, I made up for my rush through schools by having the most protracted university climb of anyone I know. I meandered my way through colleges and graduate schools between the years 1969 and 1987 when I finally did finish my last degree – that of the JD – which then, of course, lead me to the court house with the stairwell that smells like my old Polish nursery school.
posted by nina, 6/03/2004 05:17:09 PM | link | (0) comments

Iris mania 

I am continuing with my efforts to learn more about the tricks and gimmicks available to me for blogging purposes. Blogger has new photoblogging systems in place and this post is merely an attempt to take a photo from this week and run it through their program. There's a nice new feature: the reader may now click on the photo and enlarge the image -- a great option for the otherwise eye-squinting reader, or one who wants to study the minute details of a fried grasshopper, for example (see Nagano post last month).

It's the season for irises and these, against the ripples of a pond are reason enough to launch a new photo post.

Madison irises Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 6/03/2004 11:49:18 AM | link | (0) comments

One Bicycle 

I went for a walk last night. I roamed the streets of the neighborhood – something that I don’t often do since it is basically a suburb and I find suburbs very boring to walk in.

Inevitably, I passed the public elementary school. John Muir Elementary. It is only a block away. My daughters, grown and living elsewhere now, both went there and though my work was at the Law School, much of my off-hours energy went to the school. I was the PTO pres for two years running, I lobbied hard for capital improvements before the school board. I set up and produced with the kids a school newspaper for 5 years running (do you know what cut and paste layout was like before computers??). One May 10 years ago, when I was very very sick, the school teachers, staff, parents basically offered to take care of my family, because I could not do it myself.

Then, suddenly, it ended. My youngest child graduated from fifth grade and our attention focused on the next stage and the next cycle of people, events.

Life is that abrupt. Nothing lasts. People come and go. I am born in Poland. I live in the States. My mother lives in Berkeley, my father lives in Warsaw. I live in the Midwest, my daughters live on the East Coast. I have life-long to-die-for friends in Warsaw, Singapore, Madison, Minnesota, Texas, Arizona. All once were but a few steps away and now so many are accessible only by use of more complicated technology.

I mention this because for me, the last week of May has almost always been (coincidentally?) the period of tough and often unexpected changes. And I mean more than just adjustments in the blog template. The turn of the calendar, from May to June has had a penchant for drama, and I mean drama: illness, death, police brutality (in Poland), relationships beginning, ending, all have had their end-of-May moment.

So I suppose I should be grateful to have survived this year’s crisis-prone season. A knock here, a bruise there, but still tripping along.

And last night? Last night as I walked, now at the end of this period of high velocity, I saw one lonely bicycle standing forgotten outside the school building. One lonely bicycle. Let it be reclaimed, I thought. It should be at home, safe, protected from the elements.
posted by nina, 6/03/2004 08:03:17 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Aren’t Reunions Supposed to be an Occasion for Partying-the-Night-Away? 

So how do you explain this email that came to me today:

Please join us at the Annual "All Alumni/ae and Teachers Reunion"
June 18, 2004
6:00 - 8:00 PM
UNIS Manhattan, Third Floor Library
Kindly RSVP by June 11th to

I am a UNIS (United Nations International School) alum. A great many of us are spread now all over the world. I live in the Midwest, but a former classmate may well be receiving this same email in Cairo or Helsinki. Would they book a flight and travel (even from the Midwest) to a two-hour reception at the school library, for Pete’s sake? How fun can that event be? And how many can fit in between stacks of children’s books? They can’t be anticipating a huge turn-out. Wonder why…
posted by nina, 6/02/2004 04:37:08 PM | link | (0) comments

Happy Blogbirthday!  

Six months ago** to the day ‘Ocean’ was born. And here it is, with a new look* and a bouquet of irises fresh from the Market to commemorate the day.

I have loved the rigor of posting frequently. I have been inspired by the posts and comments of others. I have fretted through dry spells and rushed, pushing aside anything in my way, just to post while an idea felt hot (or at least lukewarm).

A few days back I said I would revisit the slant of the content and assess where it is that I am heading. My decision is to keep it loose and uncommitted. I have no introductory description and I want to keep it that way. There are no links, there isn’t even a blogroll. That may change in the future, but for now, I like the clean and simple look. Uncomplicated. Because everything else about each day is so horrendously confusing, that visiting this blog should offer relief from clutter. It’s an invitation to browse, rather than dart the courser.

And ultimately, if it’s not in some way entertaining, then it doesn’t deserve the reader’s time. That, then remains the goal. For the next six days. Maybe six months. Maybe longer?

*The blog is forever indebted to F for his patience and suffering yesterday as he helped this technologically challenged blogger redecorate ‘Ocean’ (“no! no! too bright! Tone down that yellow!....oh, that’s way too mustardy, how about a touch lighter? Can’t you change the link color? The nickname? The size of the font?” on and on and on..).

**UPDATE: Even though it has been said that students decide on law school because they can't do math or science, that was NOT MY reason for selecting the legal profession. Indeed, after a rigorous Calculus program at my Polish high school, I went on to become an Econometrics major. I have no idea why, then, I could not count well enough to recognize that January 2 - June 2 is five months and not, as stated here, six. Happy five-month-birthday anyway.
posted by nina, 6/02/2004 01:57:19 PM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A Morning Without Rain? 

Could it be? No thunder? No need for buckets to catch the overflow? No wet two-foot-tall grass in the back yard? Could it be? We are done with the deluge?

On my way to work I stop at the Centennial Gardens to celebrate the end of the wettest May on record (in Madison). The peonies are terrific.

So are the irises.

But wait, this yellow gem is pictured against the background of the pond. That would be yellow against the blue waters. Why isn’t the background blue? What color is the sky anyway? Looking up I see this.-->

I wont celebrate the end of The Rains until we’ve gone through an entire day without so much as a drop of water from above.
posted by nina, 6/01/2004 03:17:12 PM | link | (0) comments

Why Are the EU Parliamentary Elections a Lackluster Event? 

According to today’s IHT (here), many think that the candidates are ill-suited to the job and so they inspire little political passion among the voters. Ill-suited? In what way?
"It doesn't attract the right people," Crum said of the Parliament. "There are a number of people who get a seat in Parliament who simply shouldn't be there. They lack qualifications and only add noise and disruption."

Candidates in the coming elections include a sprinkling of nonpolitical personalities: an Estonian supermodel, Carmen Kass; a Slovak ice hockey star, Peter Stastny; the race car driver, Krzysztof Holowczyc; and the pornography star, Katerina Bochinckova, also known as Dolly Buster.
Wait, this is a concern to voters? Just goes to show how much more tolerant Americans are of their candidate’s diverse backgrounds and past lives. You learn on the job, don’t you?
posted by nina, 6/01/2004 06:00:55 AM | link | (0) comments

Test Your Smartness Against My Stupidity 

I heard on NPR that the last widow of a Civil War (Confederate) soldier died yesterday. Hmm. That seemed remarkable. Wasn’t the Civil War in the early 1860s? How old was this woman anyway?

A fine example of how quickly your mind can warp as you drive along same old, same old streets, engaged in passive listening. Of course, she was 'only' in her 90s. She had married the guy when she was just 21; he was then 81. Figures (on so many levels).
posted by nina, 6/01/2004 05:17:08 AM | link | (0) comments

Today is THE day 

Yes, it is June 1st. Yes, a new blog is being born. Yes it still looks like the old blog. June 1st ends at midnight tonight, doesn’t it? I WILL USE EVERY LAST MINUTE OF THE DAY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN!
posted by nina, 6/01/2004 05:15:52 AM | link | (0) comments

I'm Nina Camic. I teach law, but also write (here and elsewhere) on a number of non-legal topics. I often cross the ocean, in the stories I tell and the photos I take. My native Poland is a frequent destination.

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