The Other Side of the Ocean

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Move over, moon, between the orange and the blue (see post below) we get a pushy sun burning through the early fog. 

Yet another Saturday morning foraging for L’Etoile…

Is it tedious to get up at dawn every week to go to the Market?
No. (I get to see the sun rise; see photo below.)
posted by nina, 7/31/2004 04:53:22 PM | link | (0) comments

a dramatic awakening Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/31/2004 04:52:41 PM | link | (0) comments
Is it lonely walking around and around the Square with that rickety old thing that some like to call a red wagon?
No. (I meet more people at the Market than I do all week elsewhere in Madison. The Square is overrun by faculty types. Students drag in as well, but they normally get there toward the close of the morning, when my own work is done.)
posted by nina, 7/31/2004 04:49:15 PM | link | (0) comments

Blogger "B" makes a Market appearance Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/31/2004 04:48:14 PM | link | (0) comments
Do I stock up on too many fruits and vegetables when I shop for myself at the Market (a common complaint)?
No. I stock up on too many flowers. I’ve encountered a lot of purple and yellow lately and so I was tempted by the flowers pictured below. But before I could even dig into the purse, I noticed that I already was the proud owner of another bouquet. Actually three.
posted by nina, 7/31/2004 04:46:08 PM | link | (0) comments

purple & yellow: definitely this week's colors Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/31/2004 04:45:08 PM | link | (0) comments

three vases for one table? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/31/2004 04:43:37 PM | link | (0) comments
There’s also the problem of too much honey. When I was told by Ms. Bee Charmer that she now had the “champagne of honeys” (made from the black locust flower) I could not resist. It can now join the others on my cupboard shelf: acacia honey, buckwheat honey, forest flower honey, lavender honey and rosemary honey. What do I do with all that honey??? Tory, L’Etoile’s Chef de Cuisine, suggested I make honey-based vinaigrettes. Okay, that will use about a spoonful a week. Chef Odessa pushed for honey with Darjeeling tea. Too sweet! My grandmother would pour honey over all the berries she served for dessert. That’s harder to do when you’re like me, nibbling your way, all day long, through the containers of fruit in the fridge. For now, let’s just say I have a wonderful collection of honeys to show off to visitors.
posted by nina, 7/31/2004 04:39:45 PM | link | (0) comments

Bee Charmer joins the n.c. parade of honeys Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/31/2004 04:38:14 PM | link | (0) comments

Even though the lyrics say that the blue moon turns to gold* in reality the orange moon was yesterday, the blue moon is today.  

Thanks to my reader pal who found for me the article in Sky & Telescope on the blue moon phenomenon –the modern definition of which is that two full moons appear in the same calendar month. It's likely that everyone but me remembered that the second of those is called the “blue moon.” [The lunar cycle is 29.5 days and so the event is rare; over the next twenty years, there will be a blue moon only 17 times. One such time is today.]

* Blue Moon,
You saw me standing alone…
I heard somebody whisper please adore me
And when I looked to the Moon it turned to gold

posted by nina, 7/31/2004 03:11:33 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, July 30, 2004

By the light of the orange moon… 

I am writing a post, but my eyes are riveted toward the window. Outside, a bright orange moon is staring straight at me. Why is that an enormous experience? It’s just a piece of rock suspended in the vacuous space. But it’s so beautiful! Am I programmed to believe that it is indeed beautiful? Or, was the day such that whatever I would see at this point would appear beautiful just because things felt so right?

I’ll not go back to the beginning of a good morning – after all, I WOULD THEN BE ACCUSED OF KEEPING A JOURNALISTIC BLOG (see post below). How wrong you all are, fellow bloggers, I DO NOT, DO NOT report on my days with any degree of detail, I DO NOT!

There, having set the record straight, let me proceed with a bit of a recount of the day.

…And jumping to the afternoon, I want to say a few words again about the foreign attorneys who are at the Law School for the Summer Program. I have grown to love this group as much as I love any group of students. It will be hard to let go of them next week as the Program comes to an end.

Today I arranged for a visit Madison’s Capital Brewery (rated no. 7 in the world and no. 1 in the country, or so the guide told us). I am posting a few shots from the tour because I know that a few families back home are logging in to check up on the participants. I could post more photos, but I am bound by my own slogan of “keeping it short and to the point.” I know, I know, nothing about this blog is short and to the point, but I do try.

The tour was especially interesting to the German attorneys because they learned that not a small number of ideas and ingredients are a direct import from Germany.

Afterwards, I took the two dozen or so of them to Hubbard Avenue Diner for the “typical all American dining experience.” Perfect. Listen, attorneys, this is what America eats! Yes, burgers, BBQ’d pork and PIE! [I loved how they shyly asked for doggie bags, having heard that this is the custom, though not one that is practiced back home.]

In a more serious vein, I spoke at length to the attorney from Colombia (he appears in one of the photos below). (I spoke to others as well, but I cannot expound on all that took place today.)
This man had a wonderful, wonderful perspective on his stay here (and his forthcoming year in the LLM program at Harvard). I asked if he would miss his family (mom, dad, brother – all attorneys like him) during his year away? Possibly, he told me. But he has said to himself that if he is going to do this, it will be with joy and an open mind. No sadness. No nostalgia. It is a challenge and a glorious one at that. I’m going to end this post on that thought – one which I’ve been mulling over for the past hour or two.

Okay, patience everyone else – let me have a photo run now:
posted by nina, 7/30/2004 09:48:09 PM | link | (0) comments

the excuse that brought us together this afternoon Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/30/2004 09:46:27 PM | link | (0) comments

special bonds Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/30/2004 09:45:32 PM | link | (0) comments

sample beer, sample friendship Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/30/2004 09:43:53 PM | link | (0) comments

these guys know their beer Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/30/2004 09:43:06 PM | link | (0) comments

it's just a rock, it was just a day... a lovely rock, a lovely day Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/30/2004 09:41:14 PM | link | (0) comments

A comment on the green-eyed monster play 

During last night’s dinner (see post below) the topic of what to do with out-of-town visitors came up. I was asked if I had taken my group last week-end to American Players Theater. I replied that I hadn’t because they were performing Othello and I didn’t much care for Othello.

Dead silence. You could hear the proverbial grease sizzle on a hot platter in the kitchen 1 mile away.

Finally, The Question sprang to the lips of one shocked listener: “You don’t like Othello? Is there something WRONG with Othello? What the hell is the matter with you??” (perhaps I only imagined that last part).

I couldn’t think of a reason for my anti-Othello stance. I quickly went on assure everyone that I did like Twelfth Night and Macbeth alright, and blog readers have heard me rave about Romeo and Juliet (a bit déclassé these days perhaps, but what can I say, it’s the truth), just so everyone would resume eating and the dreaded silence-after-a-bombshell would cease to be (or not to be).

This morning, still burning with shame I clicked through my favorite online presses and lo and behold, what light through yonder paper shined if not an article in the International Herald Tribune (here) on Shakespeare-hate.

The author describes the waning popularity in England for the works of William S.. According to the journalist, this is for good reason, which can be summarized thus: boring and incomprehensible.

I wouldn’t go that far. Listening to the poetry of Juliet’s speech to Romeo is, in my opinion, unbelievably moving. Tear-jerking, in fact, in its loveliness. And how about Macbeth’s words:
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Whoa! That’s positively chilling!

But I am with the IHT writer when he says this about professed Shakespeare-love:
"There are those who believe that to sprinkle his words into a conversation shows how smart they are. Discussing politics, you might hear someone say: "A peace above all earthly dignities, a still and quiet conscience." You know it's Shakespeare because you don't have a clue what it means. But you feel obliged to nod knowingly."

I feel empowered after reading this. Suddenly I feel no compulsion to suck up to the Othello lovers amongst you. Chances are you don’t much care for it either but are afraid to admit it. What's wrong with it? Plenty! It’s depressing, it’s long and it gives us the green-eyed monster label to a perfectly normal feeling that every person in the world experiences now and then.
posted by nina, 7/30/2004 02:01:15 PM | link | (0) comments

Convention notes: no, not THAT Convention! 

The monthly convention of UW bloggers (A, B, C and F) took place last night at L’Etoile, pulling together for me different strands from my days into one tasty package.

Though blogging about blogger digestion (indigestion?) is proving less compelling now (as opposed to after the first such meetings some months back), I did want to offer a comment about the effect of regular convening on one’s awareness of the passage of time. Weren’t we just toasting the end of  Spring teaching? Heavens! How did we move so quickly into (almost) August, with its odd mixture of vacation days and Fall teaching preparations?

Last night’s dinner meeting had many more serious elements than in the past. We returned to the topic of challenges facing bloggers again and again. Perhaps for this reason, all* but one of the bloggers (I’ll let the readers guess which one) chose to end the evening with  a rousing spin on the hip hop dance floor.

All conventions should end with such a healthy discharge of physical energy.**

* Those that hip hopped late into the night were impressive. Really impressive. It just goes to show that you can’t judge a blogger by his/her blogger image. Sedate? Staid? Serious? Sedentary? Certainly not. 

** I could not resist this plug at physical activity, if only to live up to the pronouncements made last night about this blog. It was determined that “Ocean” ranks highest (of the 4 blogs) in terms of spewing forth mantra about good, healthy living (what with references to long walks and market foods, it appears to read like a column out of “Organic Lifestyle” or some equally virtuous, health-oriented magazine). “Ocean” was deemed also to be the most chronologically journalistic. Though I disagreed vehemently with this latter description (come on, this post is the exception!), I was glad that at least it did not get the “weirdest blog” award. No such prize was granted last night, but since “Ocean” was, in terms of awards and characterizations, on a bit of a roll, I was worried.

posted by nina, 7/30/2004 08:03:02 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Food, grocery stores and idealism 

David Brooks, author of “Bobos in Paradise” and the more recent “On Paradise Drive,” has a way of tapping into the sore spots in my generation’s outlook on life, love and consumer goods. I was not surprised, therefore, to see him cited in this week’s Isthmus article on the Madison organic food market expansion.

Why do we shop at Willy Street, Magic Mill and especially Whole Foods? Well yes, because the food is damn healthy and tasty, and efforts are made by the stores to support small, regional farms that have respect not only for the food but for also the environment (meaning they practice sustainable agriculture). A win-win situation –but for the prices.

Enter the cheaper, but still trendy Trader Joe’s. Or – about to enter, since, as the Isthmus piece tells us,  no decision has been made as yet if it will occupy the anointed grocery spot on Monroe Street (EVERY grocer in town wants that spot which lays there waiting for the well heeled click click of Vilas – Edgewood area shoes.) The battle between Trader Joe’s and Willy Street to woo the developers is at the heart of the news story.

But I want to return to the Brooks comment, which addresses (ridicules?) our state of the mind as we enter the grocery store. We are indeed longing for that feel-good market shopping experience. And, ever since Whole Foods and before that, Magic Mill, moved to the west side, grocery shopping has become a happy experience for me. I hated grocery shopping prior to this in the same way that I still hate going to big malls. But is it only because of the better food that I am now happily throwing pricey items into my green cart? Brooks says that the “feel good” experience stems from something else. He writes:

“You get the impression that everybody associated with Trader Joe’s [fill in: Magic Mill, Willy Street, Whole Foods] is excessively good – that every cashier is on temporary furlough from Amnesty International, that the chipotle-pepper hummus was mixed by pluralist Muslims committed to equal rights for women, that the Irish soda bread was baked by indigenous U2 groupies marching in Belfast for Protestant-Catholic reconciliation and that the olive spread was prepared by idealistic Athenians who are reaching out to the Turks on the whole matter of Cyprus.”

Exactly! You mean all that’s not really the case????

I have to add, as a post scriptum, that Brooks doesn’t forget to throw a quick little punch at our restaurant culture. He writes: “the rule in these pedestrian-friendly town centers [nc: hello State street] is ‘Fight a war, gain a restaurant.’ You’ll find Afghan eateries, Vietnamese restaurants, Lebanese diners, Japanese sushi bars alongside dining options from Haiti, Cambodia, India, Mongolia and Moscow.” No wonder there aren’t any Polish eateries – America hasn’t had much grief with Poland in the last century or two. 

posted by nina, 7/29/2004 04:55:01 PM | link | (0) comments

Convention notes from someone who is still a bit mystified by American elections (even though these will be the 5th* in which I will be voting) 

Ann writes (here) that she doesn’t “want to watch the phony display that is a political party convention.”  Household preferences do force her to tune in, at least in the first days of the speeches. By the third day she prefers to retreat into a room where she can flip on “Amish in the City.”

I am less critical of the speechmaking. Where Ann sees Obama’s words as “banal” with perhaps excessive references to “hope,” I see them as a rather successful attempt by a novice politician to position himself as someone who can speak well to the general public. As for Clinton’s rapid-fire words delivered with his typical (and contagious) pleasure in being on the stage,  aren't they exactly what Kerry needs to buffer his own lackluster oratorical style? And Edwards? Half of the country is taking in that Southern accent, watching the aged parents in the audience and believing that the ticket represents more than just the viewpoint of the liberal Democrats of the Northeast.

A commentator on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday (believe me, if I remembered who it was, I would have said the name) noted the great transformation that has occurred in the last 40 years where politics have now become quite public. Before, politicians got elected, passed laws, waged wars, while the public watched performances of people belonging to the performance world. Now the two are intrinsically intertwined. We know that, like it or not, selling an image on TV is crucial. Who can deny that Gore lost in part because he could not shake the fueled-by-media accounts that he was two-faced? And how often did the media scramble to show us every instance of GWB misspeaking to reaffirm the idea that this man is basically illiterate? [In the end, it was argued that Gore ran the stupid campaign and GWB was the bigger liar of the two.]

In these times, then, the Convention is monumentally important. If GWB’s image is bolstered by the “performances” of the politicians who surround him, so, too, Kerry must enter on the wings of the best of the best, so that he can minimize his own particular shortcomings. And he has had a splendid crew. Clinton (whom Ann admits is an “engaging” speaker) roused the audience on the first night, Obama (whom I did not hear, but I did read his speech; Ann gave him high marks for his “delivery” and so I’ll go with that) delivered a speech that was rated A+ by a vast majority of the pundits and Edwards reeled in the unity theme with a number of well chosen and well stated sound bites.

I don’t even have to watch tonight (and I wont because of “blogger dinner” – more on that later). Kerry had his henchmen and women working hard to use the stage in the way that we have come to expect it to be used. Insofar as politics now belong on that stage, we had as good a presentation as we can get. Me, I’m saying a silent thank you to the openers -- Clinton, Obama and Edwards. Kerry can't carry the show alone. He needed their act and they served him well. Now we can all just sway and sing along to the well-known favorite songs.

* Presidential, that is (Blogger refused to let me insert a single other word into the title).

posted by nina, 7/29/2004 12:33:28 PM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The tears have got to stop! 

But what can you do? The night is magnificent! A clear sky, a setting sun and an evening Concert on the Square that is set to bring down the house (indeed, it was so crowded that people turned a bit vicious in overlapping their blankets on top of your own).

Tonight, the New Zealander, Hayley Westenra sang in her debut orchestral performance. The music was deliberately powerful: Bocelli’s “Time to Say Goodbye” from Romanza (download it, the version with Sarah Brightman, everyone! Guaranteed tears! Or is it me? I heard this song repeatedly on my very first visit to China several years back: I will always think of it as a mix of China where I heard it and Italy – the country where I secretly buried my roots way back when... more on that next month), and then a beautiful piece from New Zealand – Pokarekare Ana. Sob city! I could not stop bawling. My co-listeners shifted the blanket a bit to disassociate themselves, but it was no use, because the songs call for hugs and embraces and tears. Schmaltzy? No, not at all. Beautiful.

My pal, John, from the L’Etoile bakery crew was there, performing with the Madison Chamber Orchestra. That, too, was sad – he’s leaving next month to study in Switzerland.  I know he’ll be famous someday, especially if fame is determined by kindness and a good soul.

In the end, as I wrote in Japan, what you notice every time is the presence of the children. These little girls (see below) climbed up to the podium and swayed to the music. But then, so did the grownups. God, it was a beautiful evening. (And we got back just in time to catch the Edwards speech.)
posted by nina, 7/28/2004 10:41:54 PM | link | (0) comments

Concert in full swing: always, it's the children that inspire Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/28/2004 10:41:02 PM | link | (0) comments

you saw him here first: John Patek. Remember the name. Talent and kindness -- how rare! Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/28/2004 10:40:14 PM | link | (2) comments

Calling all blog readers: help save Pimbury 

You may have missed the short little story in the NYTimes today (here) announcing the sad fate of Mike Pimbury. It appears that he is the last of the living Pimburies, having never married nor produced offspring. After his demise, the name belongs to history. [And not much of a history at that, since a quick Google revealed few Pimburies of note that could potentially survive in our collective memory. Most of the Pimbury hits are news articles about Mike searching for more Pimburies, as in for instance the piece titled “Y a-t-il un Pimbury dans la salle?” – is there a Pimbury in the room? And so on.]

I have no similar sad story to relate, since my maiden name of  “Lewandowska” is about as ubiquitous in Poland as Smith or Brown are in this country. But simply because I am one of a million or more doesn’t mean that I cannot empathize. And so, I am issuing this appeal: if you are about to marry and are caught in the trap of having to pick a name (his? hers?) and a hyphen will no longer work because two generations before you have made a menace of your now multi-part names already, consider Pimbury. It’s easy, it’s classy, it’s short. Your offspring could be academics (Professor Pimbury) or cheesemakers (Pimbury cheddar) or book publishers (Pimbury Press) – it all sounds good. Maybe not gravediggers (“bury with Pimbury”?), but just about anything else. Give Mike Pimbury hope: keep his name going for a couple more rounds.
posted by nina, 7/28/2004 05:16:42 PM | link | (0) comments

Get out and smell the summer air 

Sometimes I cannot get off of the computer in the morning. Small tasks pile up and by the time I'm done, the day is half over.

I should have this cartoon pasted on my screen (or, not to point fingers, but there's a colleague or two out there who might find it fitting):

But today, I was restless enough to push myself out that door early. I went to Owen Woods (a mere 5 minute walk from my house) and now I have to say, if anyone wants to see a dazzling array of prairie flowers, they should go there right now, this week, this day

I'm  including a photo below to help set the stage. But the real display of prairie color is even more beautiful. My advice to every blog reader in the Madison area -- go take that hike through Owen Woods (Old Sauk Road and Old Middleton)! It's worth it.
posted by nina, 7/28/2004 11:03:52 AM | link | (0) comments

a walk through fields of color Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/28/2004 11:01:03 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Café chatter 

Oh my God, the woman at a nearby table is explaining to her professor the details of her nervous breakdown that lead her to not prepare for his exam. Does she know that all of us are only pretending we can’t hear?  I am tempted to jump in and say: you were so right to go to student mental health services! You sound like you are completely beyond the beyond. Get more help! And pick a more private spot to explain your suicidal tendencies. Twenty of us know too much and are now sitting at the edge of our seats, waiting to hear his response.

UPDATE: He’ll let her retake the (philosophy) class in another semester. She is pleased. Morbid thoughts are pushed aside, the future looks good to her again. Such power in the professorial magic wand (or in the student threat of mental collapse)!

UPDATE no.2: Ah! Having addressed one issue she is forging ahead with the next: “what about my GPA?” she groans. He cuts her some slack here as well. Incomplete this, drop that, do this and it’ll all work out. She is dripping gratitude. She is also stacking her other health issues on the table for him (and us all). Enough! The problem has been taken care of, move on, move on! He cannot also be expected to fix your eating habits! The professor, the god, the therapist, the healer, the dietician – how much is placed on the shoulders of this poor man... How bad he is at saying “I’m sorry, I only teach philosophy, nothing more.”
posted by nina, 7/27/2004 03:16:32 PM | link | (0) comments

Has no one noticed all the pretty little stop signs around here? 

I think I am an okay driver. I have been behind the wheel of a car since I was 18. I was in NY then and decided the time was ripe to learn and so I called a driving school that advertised its services on the back of a matchbox and asked for a couple of lessons. The instructor came over to where I was living in Manhattan, sat me behind the wheel and said “drive!”

Since then, I have logged in what seems like millions of miles on several continents, in bad weather, poor road conditions, amidst tractors, cattle and bicyclists, in the glare of broad daylight and in the middle of a pitch black night. I have never had an accident. My driving is so calm and predictable that it puts most passengers on long hauls to sleep. I stop for pedestrians on crosswalks and I try not to run over little critters on the road.

But I am at my wits end when I negotiate the newly constructed little curving drive that snakes past the west-side Borders in Madison. This stretch of road seems to defy even the best of the best. No one drivers correctly here. Drivers pull out of  parking lots (which, unfortunately, surround you on all sides) and side lanes without heed to convention or rules of the road, in the way that you would when you have no idea who has the right of way and you don’t care.

If I stuck to my guns and did what the good book told me (I mean the driving manual), I would be the proud owner of a pulverized heap of metal. So, in case you are reading this blog, let me send forth this little note:
Dear city planners and road engineers, 
You suck.

posted by nina, 7/27/2004 02:35:48 PM | link | (0) comments

Monday, July 26, 2004


I could not resist the London Review of Books at Borders. I was taken in not so much by the piece on Stephen Spender, but by this lovely sketch on the cover:

pleasant imagery Posted by Hello

Well of course, once I picked it up, I had to read it (good-bye productive afternoon at Borders). I spent far too much time on it, including on the last page with the listings of “personals.” I actually don’t much read personals, but recently I’d looked at those in the New York Review of Books and I was curious how these might be different.

For instance, in the NYRB someone had posted this:

IF LOVE TAKES, we’ll keep one NYC co-op and sell the other to establish a B & B upstate. You’ll garden, I’ll cook, we’ll write more books, play backgammon, embrace each other’s grown children. I’m a woman (62); you’re not.
That is some ad. It seems more of a quest for a lifestyle than for a partner. I wonder if there’s room for his input. Wouldn’t another game do, for instance?

So then there’s the LRB. More sedate perhaps? Well, consider this posting:
Not everyone appearing in this column is a deranged, cross-dressing sociopath. Let me know if you find one and I’ll strangle him with my bra. Man, 56.
Or this:

An inspired calligrapher can create pages of beauty using stick ink, quill, brush, pick-axe, buzz-saw or even strawberry jam. Pangrams of delight, but the worst sex you’ve ever had with a dumpy kibitzer (M, 41)…
Good grief. Suddenly the NYRB “wants to open a B & B” ad is looking like the winner of the lot. I suppose if there’s a guy who’ll go so far as to agree to sell a New York co-op and to dig trenches in some run-down B & B, he wont much mind a game of backgammon now and then, if it’s absolutely essential to her happiness.

posted by nina, 7/26/2004 04:24:30 PM | link | (0) comments

About rabbits... 

I rarely do Net quizzes. But something about Ann's post (here) tempted me. So what state am I? Never mind -- too many true insults lay burried in the result! Slightly less insulting and perhaps, therefore, less truthful is the result from "What book are you?" quiz, on the same website (here).

What am I? Blue Pyramid tells me:

You're Watership Down!by Richard Adams
Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits. (have they been reading my blog  here??)
posted by nina, 7/26/2004 09:02:39 AM | link | (0) comments


I remember the first time I saw the houses of Taliesin (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin residence, some 30 miles west of Madison) some years back. It was humbling, it really was. The scope of the project, the vision behind it – all a revelation to me. What did I know about architecture after all?

Organic architecture. It’s a term I heard quite a bit today as I once again walked the grounds of Taliesin (it’s a great place to take out-of-town visitors and this is indeed was the reason for a return trip there).

Of course, when you visit Frank Lloyd Wright places, you often find yourself asking the awkward questions – like, why is to damp and dank at Falligwater? Or hot in Taliesin West? Or, presumably, cold in the winters at Taliesin in Spring Green?

I do not really follow the discussions that would lead one to firmly articulate a position on the success (or lack thereof) of F.LWright in the arena of architectural innovation. But I can say this much: on a day such as this, nothing can beat a walk through Taliesin. The paths that work their way through fields of flowers bordering the corn rows, with undulating hills and patches of forest framing the scene, are a place of such breathtaking loveliness that it almost hurts. The FLWright houses are never a disturbance to the natural beauty here. That in itself is no small accomplishment.

posted by nina, 7/26/2004 12:05:36 AM | link | (0) comments

Organic architecture: house meets tree Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/26/2004 12:04:30 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Serious political commentary, continued: Democrats don't have as much fun as Republicans 

A survey conducted by the Washington Post (read about it here) confirms earlier findings suggesting that Republicans spend their leisure time in ways that are more satisfying, while Democrats fret and worry more and, in general, do less on the week-end that would lead to  personal happiness. (The paper notes: “a majority of Democrats said they wished they had more fun on weekends, a complaint expressed by fewer than half of all GOP partisans.”)

The WashPost commentator notes this about previous research on the politics of leisure and happiness:

Political scientist and wit Lee Sigelman of George Washington University, in a study he did a decade ago of national trend data collected over the previous 20 years, discovered that Democrats, on average, didn't live as long as Republicans, were less likely to marry, more likely to divorce if they did get married and more likely to commit suicide.
He also found that Democrats were less likely to say in national public opinion polls that they were "very happy." "Compared to respectable Americans, i.e. Republicans," Sigelman concluded impishly , "Democrats can be expected to inhabit a Hobbesian state of nature, a world in which life is poor, short, solitary, brutish and nasty."

posted by nina, 7/25/2004 10:09:18 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Some things that I am mulling over after this morning’s Market foraging for L’Etoile 

Q: What’s round and comes in colors of yellow, orange and deep red and goes well with an outdoor picnic or summer meal?
A: The food items in the first two Market photos (below).

Q: Is that a burst of stars over the word L’Etoile appearing in all items bearing the restaurant’s logo?
A: It’s actually a sketch of a flowering dill umbel, which, indeed, does resemble a starburst. (See fourth photo below – they were on my list for today’s Market.)

Q: How come the blue and yellow flowers look almost impressionistic in their fuzzy contours?
A: Because I was tired and didn’t bother taking a second picture – even though everyone knows that blue and yellow are my favorite color combination  and so I should have been extra careful with my photography when I came across this particular batch of flowers at the Market. Ah well, just think “Renoir” when you scroll down to the fifth picture below.
posted by nina, 7/24/2004 03:59:11 PM | link | (0) comments

sweet cherries from Door County Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/24/2004 03:58:53 PM | link | (0) comments

hierloom tomatoes Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/24/2004 03:58:28 PM | link | (0) comments

A burst of stars? no, a flowering dill. Really. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/24/2004 03:57:43 PM | link | (0) comments

dill umbel or a burst of stars? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/24/2004 03:55:54 PM | link | (0) comments

a "painting" I'd like to have in my study Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/24/2004 03:55:19 PM | link | (0) comments

Dancing revisited 

(A comment on an evening with friends doing something I haven’t done in years)

Okay, so we left before the club closed, but we’re talking minutes before. My two-word assessment of dancing (from the perspective of one who has lived through many trends and styles) – it’s great fun in its current incarnation. Tonight, the hip-hop deejay was running the show  and the place was electric! Also packed. So that when they played “lean back… lean back…” and you swayed back a bit (with an arm out for emphasis), you could actually lean comfortably into the person behind you, no problem.

I can’t write more – I have to be up in 4 hours to go to the market and I’m all danced out. I’ll end with a photo of the deejay. If you change the nose a bit, doesn’t he remind you of someone?

Stuck in my head now – “I like the way you move…thump thump thump… I like the way you move…” Fantastic beat. Really, amazing movement opportunities.

posted by nina, 7/24/2004 02:32:04 AM | link | (0) comments

from reggae to hip-hop Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/24/2004 02:30:40 AM | link | (0) comments

Friday, July 23, 2004

One afternoon, two reader comments 

A professor-type writes: “ [bla bla bla …amounting too ‘your blog is too critical’ bla bla bla] [It's] up to you, but ...”
A student writes: “…I will be a 1L at UW this fall. I am emailing you because I have been reading your blog for the last couple of months. I have thoroughly enjoyed the pictures of Madison and your commentary since I have only been to Madison once for two days…”
You can tell who your real friends are.
posted by nina, 7/23/2004 06:23:22 PM | link | (0) comments

Sadness is… 

…watching your dog willingly hop in the car, confident, unaware that he is on his way to Stevens Point for a 5-month stay because his owner, who has walked, fed, cleaned, scolded, loved him for 5 years cannot keep him during the rather hectic month and then Fall Semester.

If a dog bears the imprint of the owner’s personality, then, extrapolating from Ollie, I have to conclude that I am smart, persistent, loyal and peace-loving, though I make rude noises at strangers until they make the effort to pat me on the head. After that I am all over them, “climbing into their lap” (let’s hope this is metaphorical) whenever and wherever they “get down to my level.” I don’t realize that this is inappropriate behavior for a person my age/size. I do it because I trust them and like the comfy bonding that ensues. I don’t slobber and I like my own space, but I watch the comings and goings of people closest to me with an astonishing precision. I always know what everyone is up to and what mood they’re in. I tolerate the vicissitudes of their temper swings, though I sure would prefer a calm day. And I love food. I eat basically anything. 
posted by nina, 7/23/2004 11:41:06 AM | link | (0) comments

punky funky Ollie, with that concerned look that he and I share (note his furrowed brow) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/23/2004 11:40:39 AM | link | (0) comments

Ollie, this morning Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/23/2004 11:38:55 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, July 22, 2004

A light posting 

The house is near capacity – filled with out-of-towners, some experiencing the “Midwest” for the first time. Where to take them? What to do?

It’s the perennial problem: Madison is a great place to live in, a harder city to show off to an outsider.
Today’s plan was simple: a tour of the campus + home. Simple? Maybe not so much. The last of the visitors, arriving today, was to occupy a room that is rarely used. In freshening things up, I noticed that the light switch was temperamental: sometimes it produced light, sometimes it stubbornly remained oblivious to my prodding. I called the electrician and this morning she arrived. Yes, she. Aside from the 1960s TV ad featuring Josephine the lady plumber, I have not seen a single female in any of the service rounds I’ve had to schedule with plumbers, electricians and the like. Not even in Poland. Actually there were no service rounds in Poland, but the Ukrainian whom you hired on the side and paid under the table to resolve your electrical issues was never a female either.

“Josephine” came and took three hours (really) to assess the problem. Ultimately she deemed it unfixable, short of rewiring the entire lower portion of the house. Our last guest was scheduled to arrive this evening. I said “go for it!”Many hours and hundreds and hundreds of dollars later the problem was (sort of)  fixed (even though it was only 'sort of' a problem to begin with): the light is now 75 % un-temperamental, so that on the rare, once in a decade occasion that someone actually uses the subterranean room (for lack of space elsewhere), they now have fairly reliable light.

Many things are spinning through my mind. Such as – did the house really need to be rewired (given that the light success rate has risen from 35% to only 75%)? And am I doubting this because she was a woman and therefore, in my conditioned eyes, somehow less electrically savvy? Was it worth almost taking out a second mortgage for this project, given that our very easy-going guest could well have adapted to the couch upstairs? And finally, now that this project is over and done with, how else may we amuse all these  people that are passing through?

Just so you know, I don’t pamper guests. Today I forced all three to go out and gather fruits and berries for their supper. As a result they got me to bake the cake that was a household favorite for many many years. It’s called the F.B.I. cake (in honor of J.Edgar, who loved it) and it comes from Maida Heatter – all chocolate, freshly whipped cream (skip the sugar! Good quality cream rarely needs sweetening), and backyard berries. A tiny photo for the blog to commemorate a remembrance of things past.

posted by nina, 7/22/2004 10:29:06 PM | link | (0) comments

chocolate, berries and cream Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/22/2004 10:28:18 PM | link | (0) comments

What should be moving – the earth under my feet or the feet on the dance floor? 

I am to join friends tomorrow for a night of clubbing and dancing. I have a concern. I have always thought myself to be a bit of a wild dancer. We’re talking about the height of my dancing activity – late 60s through 70s. Perhaps the label was given because I arrived back in Poland at a time when couples were still twirling each other in traditional rock ‘n roll movements. I didn’t even KNOW the traditional spins and twirls and so I broke loose. Eventually things evened out because Poles, too, started waving, jumping, swaying and generally making spectacles of themselves on the dance floor, just like their American counterparts. Still, my energy level being on the high side, I think I was rather excessive.
These days I never dance anywhere except in the privacy of my own quarters. But others who have observed me have noted that I dance in the “70s” way. What does that even mean, I want to know? I have been told that jumping from foot to foot in little steps is just not DONE and hasn’t been done for maybe two decades. Well, fine, I can contain myself, but then, do you mean you lose all that leg motion? Dancing with feet glued to the floor? What sense does that make?
So this, then, is the dilemma – dance like I once did and have people smile benevolently, or adapt to the new, feet-glued-to-the-floor mode (so far as I can tell) and get the hips to take over? It’s all very nerve racking.
Oh, for the easy days of the Polish dance floor… [Below is a shot from my Warsaw high school senior prom in the spring of ’69 so I am a fresh and eager 16 year-old; frankly my partner and I look whacked out – like we’ve tangoed our way through the gates of hell; I think I forgot that this was supposed to be a sedate and more formal event.)]
posted by nina, 7/22/2004 12:05:18 PM | link | (0) comments

yes, yes, they had senior proms back in the Old Country (spring, 1969) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/22/2004 12:04:57 PM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

“Go to sleep my weary travelers..*” 

A blogger, who has been working hard to develop an “equilibrium theory of anonymous blogging” (espoused here), suggests that juicier posts are the product of blogs that maintain greater anonymity. As I understand the theory, less juicy post are an eventual outgrowth of the blogger’s inevitable acquiescence to the demands of popularity: the shedding of the protections of anonymity, ergo, leads one to become boring.
If his theory is correct (and I have every reason to give him the proverbial sociological benefit of the doubt – or is it the benefit of the sociological doubt?) then indeed, you, the reader might as well just scroll to the bottom and check to see the one or two photos and then kiss the blog good night, because I operate under no pseudonyms. Indeed, I am the only one of the UW fac bloggers who hasn’t even bothered to create a separate EMAIL account to capture those illicit, torrid and lascivious  EMAILS that must surely come if you just dare yourself to be RACEY enough.
And so here’s the truth: most of my posts are not even PG13. They are above the Disney standard of violence and potty-mouth language. And there’s no sex. In fact, I dare say I implied quite recently that I thought a conversation between two people with high chemistry (movie: Before Sunset) was more sexy than a visual undressing and explicit groping and touching.
Still, I am all for truth in advertising and so on the days I remember to do this, I will post the rating that correctly classifies my immanent paragraphs. I start (and with my memory of late, possibly end) with tonight:
THE POST THAT FOLLOWS IS APPROVED FOR GENERAL READERSHIP OVER THE AGE OF 5 (under 5 – well, you really don’t want them up late enough to understand what a sunset is). 

Post now unfolds:
It should have rained tonight (100% probability – the main weather website said this; yet, how can it be 100%?). But it didn’t rain. Oddly it didn’t. So the organizers of Wednesday Concerts on the Square got it right when they called the shots at 3pm today announcing that “the show will go on.”
The clouds were ominous, then less so, less so, until finally, just around intermission, I looked up and saw the sun declare its victory.  What a lustrous, tantalizing night! (No visuals -- it's all in the mind, for God's sake, it's all in the realm of the imagination!)
* from “A Hobo’s Lullaby” – rated G
posted by nina, 7/21/2004 11:08:21 PM | link | (0) comments

the first and last rays today Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/21/2004 11:07:58 PM | link | (0) comments

Reports from the trenches 

A Madison reader and fellow blogger writes:

State Street has free wireless Internet! yes, it does! I am at Steep and Brew, outside, and ONLINE. if there was any doubt about this street's permanent utopia status...
In the same hour I read (today's WashPost, here) that every incoming freshman at Duke U will be receiving a free ipod in the first days on campus (though 'free' is a term that has to be regarded with a degree of skepticism given that Duke has one of the highest undergrad price tags in the country).

It all seems a bit overwhelming to me. Today I went to the Law School with my laptop JUST IN CASE I would feel compelled to post a photo (I cannot do that from my office computer). I turned around half way there because I realized I'd forgotten to pack my camera-attachment cord (needed for photo transfers). I was late for an appointment (only by 5 minutes!) because of this (the traffic was unusually slow, I'm telling myself). Cords are dangling from my bag, my D-link card is an essential item, my camera is getting travel fatigued.

The Q is -- should I take my laptop to the Concert on the Square tonight? To catch up with blog reading? Will they steal my shoes (read about it here) if I click click click at the sidelines? What am I saying, what has become of me, I'm one of the listeners! I go for the music! Still.. music, blogging, blogging, music.  Temptations in your face... Free wireless, eh?
posted by nina, 7/21/2004 03:54:41 PM | link | (0) comments

Serious political commentary: On the campaign trail 

From the Washington Post (here) I read about the sophisticated strategy employed by the Bush team to win over the media:

posted by nina, 7/21/2004 08:47:45 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


The thing that I love about University Food Services is that they can really put on a good party. For instance, you tell them “picnic for 30 foreign attorneys + hosts” and they really go all out. The food: yummy chicken parts, brats (boiled?), imitation-meat burgers – on white bread buns, with pudding pies for dessert.
And the setting. This is one green town. Perfect for a picnic. So take a look at our beautiful environs (below).
Yet, this is all trivial. It’s the company that makes or breaks a party and this group is up up up up there in terms of greatness.

We talked about the work week for a lawyer in Japan, the US, Brazil and Germany. Work to live, live to work – a familiar theme. The Japanese lawyer is expected to bill 3000 hours per year. 3000 hours!! (In a top NY firm you’re closer to 2500 which is insane; in Madison it’s around 2000.) In Brazil, the partner in one of the top branch offices of a US firm tells us that you could not get away with setting the bar at over 1500. The Europeans and South Americans praised their stars for the sanity which prevailed in their practices.

Excuse me, I need to pause and get something to eat. The veggie burger sucked, even with all the condiments (available choices: sauerkraut (why??) and yellow mustard), all you could taste was the white bread.

posted by nina, 7/20/2004 08:47:23 PM | link | (0) comments

reveling in the beauty of the place Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/20/2004 08:46:34 PM | link | (0) comments

Facing reality 

I have been avoiding my office for many weeks now in the way that one would avoid disturbing encounters with people who are going to cause one's mood to plummet. It’s just not fun being there anymore. Everything is significantly out of control.

I know, everyone has stacks of unread papers, but mine look like a monumental groundswell had caused all books and papers to rise in uneven formations on top of every available surface. And the problem is that I hate it. I hate working in conditions that are symptomatic of a chaotic lack of control, like an announcement to the world : “hey, there’s no captain minding this ship!” Indeed, when things get this bad I begin stacking books outside the door hoping that someone’s ignoble impulse to steal will make them disappear. (They never do.)

What to do? Here’s my game plan: Spend the afternoon dumping EVERYTHING on the floor and putting it back into newly developed and defined spaces. No leaving the office until entire project is completed. File cabinets are spared the overhaul (after all, I can’t see the clutter there), but everything else gets inspected and, if at all possible, trashed.

Today is the day. I’m a little late getting started, what with this blog and a few friendly exchange with colleagues who had mistakenly concluded that I was on leave (I am usually much more present in the building than I have been recently). Now, just one quick run to State Street to see what’s new there, maybe a hasty cup of coffee to pump the adrenaline a bit and then I’m getting right to it.
Okay then, first State Street.

posted by nina, 7/20/2004 01:58:28 PM | link | (0) comments

Monday, July 19, 2004

Traditional dress and a p.s. on language 

There was a pleasant surprise in the mail today. My sister, ever encouraging of my linkage* to my home country, sent a colorful little text on Polish folk culture.

From the point of view of an American, I suppose folk culture is quaintly foreign. I don’t even know what it means to recognize American folk culture – I would probably associate it with Woody Guthrie folk songs and Old World Wisconsin Outdoor Museum, though that’s a cheat since much of the folk traditions on display there are direct imports from European countries.

But for a Pole, folk culture has rich associations: it’s Highland music and dance, colorful religious processions, painted houses and wooden carvings. It’s sculptured gingerbread, thatched cottages and delicately designed Easter eggs. And it’s traditional regional dress.

You have no idea how much I loved my very own Polish outfit. I wore it at every opportunity – anytime you were asked to wear a costume or dress up, there I’d be, dressed in my full flowered skirt with a ribboned apron and my beaded vest over a starched cotton blouse with puffy sleeves. [The shoes were never quite right, but I’ve already posted about the odd shoe choices of my youth.] It was a long time before I understood that this was perhaps not what was expected for Halloween trick-or-treating.

I copied just one or two pictures of traditional dress from the Folk book and I appended my own photo from a 1959 party in Poland. It is a forerunner to the clash of cultures that was to be mine in a matter of months. My friend Janek is the cowboy. Me, I’m proud as anything to be in my own little heaven of  lustrously shiny beaded flowers and ribbons. Bliss.
* A famous blogger recently deplored the use of “linkage” and “signage” in everyday speech (here), arguing that they provide no additional benefit that would cause one to abandon the old stalwarts, links and signs. Having learned English later in life than 95% of the people reading this blog, I have to say that my hypersensitive-to-nuance understanding of it (fueled by the late-bloomer complex) leads me to respectfully disagree.  And I am using linkage here to exactly demonstrate my point. Linkage, to me,  bespeaks of a series, a system, with a common thread running through it. The same can be said of signage. It’s not just signs, it’s the signage in a given town or along a certain path. It’s the signage, not the pavement or the trees that grow by the roadside. This is a classic case of a word having an almost identical meaning but setting for you a different idea because of the context. In my sentence, nothing works as well as linkage – not links nor link. They would be okay, but linkage tells more – it emphasizes the system of links that I have to Poland. Or at least that is what my slow and shade-sensitive learning leads me to envision for the words under fire.
posted by nina, 7/19/2004 04:48:46 PM | link | (0) comments

a display of color during a religious procession Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/19/2004 04:48:17 PM | link | (0) comments

Polish wedding in the mountain town of Zakopane Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/19/2004 04:45:29 PM | link | (0) comments

traditional dress: East meets West Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/19/2004 04:44:02 PM | link | (0) comments

Happiness is less wealth and more leisure time 

This morning the IHT (here) returns to one of my favorite comparisons between Europe and the United States: what is the value of leisure time on either side of the ocean?  
Europeans work shorter weeks and typically take two long vacation periods during the year (it is my impression that the summer one often extends upwards of a month). Yes, the reduced work time translates into reduced wages. On the average, Europeans are 30% poorer than their counterparts in the States. But it is a relative deprivation. Consider these points from the IHT article (boldface is mine):   
...This image of a casual West European work ethic tends to be viewed with something just short of scorn among the world's other wealthy economies…

… Is Europe, which has about the shortest workweeks and longest vacations in the world, doomed to lag behind, a victim of its penchant for ever more leisure and an overly generous welfare state?
One response: If the answer is yes, then so what? 

Rather than a failure to catch up with its more industrious competitors because of faltering productivity growth, Europe's more modest income level mainly reflects a series of policy choices that have tended to put a premium on leisure and equality at the expense of greater wealth.
…But for all the bad press the European economy receives, it is so far not performing that poorly. 

…Contrary to conventional wisdom, West European productivity growth actually outpaced that of the United States over the past 30 years… Some countries, including France, now have productivity levels exceeding those in the United States.
If Europeans are still poorer than their American counterparts, it is because fewer of them hold jobs, and those who do have gradually reduced the time they spend at work … Americans have been much more hesitant to work fewer hours, keeping the tally virtually unchanged over the past 10 years despite strong growth. The result: They [Americans] work 18 percent more hours than Europeans.
The Atlantic, it seems, separates two radically different philosophies of life.
Polls show that Europeans are by and large happy to pay high taxes in return for social services, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the concept of well-being in Europe is less linked to material wealth than it is in America.
"It's a different mentality," said Kenneth Rogoff, an economist at Harvard University and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.
…Giuseppe Roma, who conducts society studies at the Rome-based research group Censis, said European shoppers were increasingly turning away from status-quo purchases to spend their money on lifestyle products. The new attitude, he said, is to care about the "real quality of life," meaning, I may not buy Prada, but I will buy organic olive oil.
…According to surveys conducted by the World Database of Happiness, which is run by Ruut Veenhoven, a professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, citizens in many European nations are more satisfied with their lives than Americans and other more hard-working nations, like Japan, where people have been clocking up even more hours than in the United States. More significant, happiness in the United States and Japan has been flat over the past 30 years but has risen in most West European countries.
…"The main difference with the U.S. is that we spend more time enjoying life," he said.

I go back to this idea over and over again.  When I came to the US as an adult I was stunned to learn that many Americans did not really take a vacation. I remember talking to a friend early on who told me that out of two weeks paid leave time (two weeks??)  she would use one week to catch up with chores around the house; the rest would be spread to lengthen a week-end here and there. This seemed unreal to me.
And the guilt! When I hear people bemoan time wasted here, it is always a complaint that runs in the vein of "I didn't get enough work done." Here, the word "procrastination" is thrown around as an admission of sinful behavior whereby one is working less than the amount of waking hours in a day. As friends and colleagues in Europe stretch time spent on the pursuit of leisure, here, "leisure time" appears to be a quaint notion,  associated perhaps with the rich and idle. Sometimes I truly think that in the States, there are only three categories of time: work time, chore time and wasted time.
Because we hide our desire to indulge in leisure, it is not a concept that deserves review or open discussion. Thus, rather than having a creative engagement in the structuring of leisure, we snatch hours of it here and there, feeling guilty and doing little to extend it into something truly magnificent.
Yes, this article is a reminder to me that not all habits of one's adopted country can easily become one's own. The denigration of leisure time is something that will always feel foreign to me. And I'm happy that this is so.

posted by nina, 7/19/2004 08:15:49 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, July 18, 2004


Unlike most campus bulletin boards, the one at Borders is a model of orderliness. The signs and ads are neatly tacked, they are organized by whether they offer services or announce performances. But of course, the quality of the notice itself depends on the author. Here, I am fascinated by these, right at my elbow: 

Located in the fabulous Hilldale Community, this spacious room provides you with your own private entrance. There is space for a semiprivate bedroom and a TV room with your own spacious bathroom.
[nc: so, you can move in with your own rooms, but if you bring in a bedroom, you have to share? And there’s space to haul in a spare TV room plus bathroom? Fabulous neighborhood, fabulous room rental!] 
Or, here’s another: 

Would you like increased vitality, better concentration, and more health, harmony, and happiness in your life? Through the practice of breathing techniques, sounds, gestures, and body positions you will learn how you can find relief...
[nc: well now, that’s misleading. I thought “breath” is all you need. But there are gestures and sounds to master as well? Ah well, if all this will lead to better health, harmony and happiness, we should all sign up.] 
There are also announcements that, while not wrong, are still slightly off. For example: 

Let us record your speech for 15 minutes and get paid $15!
We are looking for healthy people to participate in our studies of how neurological disorders sucha s ALS, Parkinson's Disease, MS, storkes, traumatic brain injuries affect how people are able to speak and communicate.
[nc: is it that you could participate if you are healthy but have a neurological disorder? Or healthy in all ways? Or are these examples of trivial little abnormalities, not rising to the level of “unhealthy?”]
Of course, as I sit here mocking people's gallant efforts at posting announcements, I am probably committing significant errors at a rate of ten per blogging minute. Oh well, I'm sure I give readers plenty to laugh at.
posted by nina, 7/18/2004 05:25:16 PM | link | (0) comments

It’s none of my business but… 

If a parent beats a child repeatedly for misbehaving in a grocery store, would you say anything? Even though many would consider this to be egregiously offensive conduct, most (and I don’t know that I am different in this) would say nothing. (Offered justifications: it wouldn’t help, they may only hit harder, they may in fact hit YOU, it’s not our child, etc.) 
Lighter offenses, however, inspire me to frown at the offender. And lighter still gets me to speak up. 
I’m sitting at Borders and watching a fellow café patron read through the Sunday paper. Many have grunted already about people (for example this guy) who sit at cafés without ordering something. That’s just irritating – though in a bookstore, I suppose the idea is that these tables are also places to sit at and leaf through books (and not blog on laptops perhaps?). My tolerance thus should be greater. 
But watching this patron pick from the stacks clean Sunday editions of various  newspapers, take them apart, read them, put them back together, replace them, then move to the next paper and the next just hits at the gut. He gets my evil glare for his efforts. 
Mostly, though, one wants to be helpful. A time to interfere is when a woman gets up and walks out the door forgetting her purse. The desire to chase her down outside is overwhelming. The reward? Why, it’s the feeling of doing a good deed (a tame good deed, but good nonetheless). Or, is it that you finally get to slide into the now unoccupied spot at the table?
posted by nina, 7/18/2004 04:37:55 PM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, July 17, 2004

BEFORE and AFTER, redux 

The peak of the blueberry season. Fresh berries are so phenomenal in a tart: a flaky crust, a thin layer of crème patisserie, a heaping mound of berries, currant jelly and toasted almonds. It’s really a perfect midsummer dessert. And so I made it.  
Eventually it had to go back in the refrigerator.
Except that it took a detour. Sadly, it can’t be mended. The bright side? It slipped out of my hand after the first tasting. And, the dog had a field day with the gloppy floor.
posted by nina, 7/17/2004 08:26:43 PM | link | (0) comments

I spent an afternoon on this.. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/17/2004 08:26:02 PM | link | (0) comments

a blueberry up-side-down tart? Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/17/2004 08:24:38 PM | link | (0) comments

Running on niceness 

Market notes:
   *     To Bill of Snug Haven for discounting my 6 pounds of tomatoes by 75% and, so that she wouldn’t feel less loved, for discounting the next customer’s tomatoes 75% as well; 
   *     To blogger pal Dorotha, who looks just like her blog, for taking the time to chat at the Market and for introducing me to her friend [it is always surprising and disheartening when you are not offered this basic courtesy, as if a rude absence of introductions is supposed to be an inconsequential act of forgetfulness – which it almost never is]; 
   *     To the photographer who followed me around the Market today, for knowing how to give instructions without insult, and for showing me the wonders of his fantastic camera; 
   *     To Artesian Trout, not only for the whopper discount, but for being willing to float me the sum until next week, just so I wouldn’t have to walk to the other side of the Square (for my tenth orbit today!) to use an ATM;
   *     To Bill again, for letting me write a check in excess of the amount so that I could pay back the nice seller at Artesian Trout;
   *     To Felix of Capri cheese for making a small amount of espresso ice cream each week because he knows I like it (he doesn’t typically sell it, but if you ask, he’ll save you some); 
   *     To Ruth of blueberry fame who waited and waited (after she’d already finished selling her very last berry) until I had a moment to run back and get the correct checkbook to pay her for the flats of fruit [Ruth is a schoolteacher who supplements her income by growing and selling blueberries; she tells me that this is what teachers do these days  – she was not surprised to find a colleague filling cars at their local gas station]; 
*        To the bakers who prepared for me a box of croissants and spice girls to take home; 
Thank you all. It means so much to have this much niceness charge my early Saturdays.

posted by nina, 7/17/2004 04:03:13 PM | link | (0) comments

In the early hours, the sun is barely able to burn through the morning fog Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/17/2004 04:02:40 PM | link | (0) comments

the lens is wide enough to reach the blue and white striped overhead umbrella Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/17/2004 03:58:54 PM | link | (0) comments

croissant bakers John and Dave (yes, I saw you too, John, playing the violin on Wednesday, in your real life as part of the Madison Chamber Orchestra) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/17/2004 03:57:34 PM | link | (0) comments

the first week of tart cherries (Poles prefer these to the sweet cherries we're used to here) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/17/2004 03:54:30 PM | link | (0) comments

some of these went home with me at the end of the morning Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/17/2004 03:52:58 PM | link | (0) comments

Paddle & Portage day today on the Square; this guy is one of those who did NOT drop the canoe. Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/17/2004 03:51:42 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, July 16, 2004

“A French grad student meets an American boy on a train between Budapest and Vienna.” So goes the description of a movie I saw some 6 or 7 years ago (“Before Sunrise”). My reticence about revealing favorite films on the blog notwithstanding, I do admit to having liked it. One person called it a meandering nothing. Perfect!  The characters take part in a sensual little adventure, stimulated more than anything by the ongoing conversation that they have with each other. And chemistry. It is a lovely little film (kind of a culty thing, with a very loyal following). 
Today the sequel comes to Madison. I was buying tickets hours in advance. Just in case.  
In the previous film they set a time and place to meet again. We now find out that one of them doesn’t show. Many years into the future they come across each other again, in Paris, where he is on a book-signing tour. They have only a few hours. How does anyone use such a short circuit of time?  
The 9:30 Madison showing (opening night!) is almost completely empty (the film has been well received elsewhere and the movie houses have been full). That kind of cavernous atmosphere makes the movie seem tentative, fragile somehow. 
But it is subtle and sweet and she (Julie Delpy) is so splendid looking! The conversation between them is playful, spontaneous, informal and therefore enthralling. The movie is just that – an 80 minute chat through the back streets of Paris. And in this time, the audience understands more of the physical tension between them than if they had had explicit sex before close-up cameras.  Wonderful.
posted by nina, 7/16/2004 11:29:41 PM | link | (0) comments

Whomping the yak and beaming the gadget 

Looking over Dave Barry’s column today in the IHT (here), I was dismayed that I am gender neutral by his analysis. [Because if you have one count of manhood and one of womanhood, what could you possibly be if not stuck in a gender warp of neutrality?] 
Barry makes the familiar point about male/female differences in shopping. He traces male goal-directedness (enter store, zero in on item, purchase, leave store) to prehistoric times where man would draw a piece of meat on the cave wall (a yak perhaps),  go out and whomp the yak (“making the purchase”),  come home and eat it.  I am just like that. I despise malls and am anxious when the first store doesn’t have exactly what I want. I want my yak to be there and waiting for me to whomp it. 
But there is his second point – about the manhood of acquiring  gadgets that are about as necessary as  a spare tire is for a tricyce. Barry describes his experiences with using a fancy new cell phone ineffectively (since men don’t read instruction manuals. Ever.). The goal? To beam an email message to his pal standing two feet away (who attempts then to beam one back).
My history with gadgets is terribly dysfunctional, which, I suppose,  places me in the category of a stereotypical woman who prefers to work her dough with her hands and talk to people directly rather than through gadgets. Not only do I avoid gadgets, but when I buy them I don't use them. I acquired  a palm thingie back in November. I set it up on my desk in the study just to remind myself how stupid that purchase was. I hereby admit that I never even studied  all its special features.
So perhaps when I was getting my hair cut today I should have taken into account my newly established gender identity: half and half. Hmm, maybe I’ll start using more gadgets. Why is it that men have the better set of stereotypes in this equation?

posted by nina, 7/16/2004 05:23:54 PM | link | (0) comments

Squelch rumors before they form 

It is absolutely not true that I am having “my hair done” today because a photographer will be following me around the Market tomorrow. I am not vain and I do not care that the sun has made my hair streak with every conceivable shade of brown. Irrelevant. Glossy magazine coverage of my L’Etoile foraging activities does not phase me. I am above and beyond such trivialities. [I was scheduled to have my hair attended to today way before I knew of tomorrow’s Market plans and if you knew how hard it is to get an appointment with my man Jason, you’d understand that last minute requests are, in any event, out of the question.]
posted by nina, 7/16/2004 07:37:26 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Working late 

Although I’ve completed my formal teaching in the Summer Program in American Law (for foreign attorneys), I am not done with the Program in its entirety. For instance, tonight we had a meeting to go over the finer details of the separation of ‘powers.’ It was clear that the issue of gender was uppermost in the minds of men, women, and children. I am still worn from my marathon teaching. I strayed from the crux of the discussion in order to keep company with those who had a strong concern with what food was in the offering.

A snapshot from an evening of hard work:

posted by nina, 7/15/2004 11:13:20 PM | link | (0) comments

a contemplative moment Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/15/2004 11:11:36 PM | link | (0) comments

...pursuing happiness Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/15/2004 11:10:56 PM | link | (0) comments

the one who will ultimately change the world Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/15/2004 11:08:10 PM | link | (0) comments

The crazy lady was right -- sort of. 

The other day I described getting lost in the neighborhood  just behind Perkins on University Ave. I’m sure everyone thought I’d given myself poetic license when I described the directions given by one seemingly loony resident: “find the tunnel that leads from University Ave. to Old Middleton Road,” she said. Ridiculous? Not at all!  
Today I went back to the scene of the near tragedy (dehydration, overheating, foul mood leading to who knows what level of violent behavior) and I found it!  
True, one cannot say that it stretches from Old Middleton all the way to University. And, the inside of it is hideous: it has a massive amount of broken glass, as well as a dampness to it, reminding you that you are in an unhealthy environment. Thankfully no one was selling drugs there during my explorations, but I think that’s because I hit the post-lunch sleepy hour.

posted by nina, 7/15/2004 05:48:41 PM | link | (0) comments

a creepy way to get to Old Middleton Rd Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/15/2004 05:46:27 PM | link | (0) comments

A message from a bleak and barren solarium 

On days like this, I wish I were living at some future time period (say the year 2036), when we’ll all have had our fill of ‘natural’ and are ready to accept this basic truth: natural can be a nightmare.

I struggle with plants, outside and in, because the insect and beast is mightier than the Nina. Outside, all is ravaged by animals, inside, the sickening white flies are again attacking my passion flower and are greedily eyeing the rest. Since I live in 2004, I have to fight such avarice with concoctions that will eventually make botanists reel with laughter: natural soaps, fox urine, egg whites mixed with cayenne – I mean, come on, do people have success with any of this?

I’m about to walk my sticky plant outdoors, not because it’s dead already, but because I can’t stand to watch the vultures fly off the leaves, leaving sappy residue behind and mocking me and my natural remedies all the while.

My study is losing its greenery: it’s becoming naturally bare, naturally ugly in its purity and wholesomeness. I know, I know, I am protecting the environment. I‘m only saying that if we are about to revert again to synthetics and chemicals, let’s do it NOW, so that I can enjoy again the splendid things nature has to offer and not lose them all to species that Darwin may have scorned and labeled inferior, but I myself find tougher than the wimpy human being (me) who can’t deal with a dumb rabbit or a stupid fly.
posted by nina, 7/15/2004 01:46:01 PM | link | (0) comments

After the tempest, a musical evening 

It’s hard to explain the Concerts on the Square to a non-Madisonian. The basics are simple enough: a weekly summer outdoor event for which thousands gather; a concert, a bring-your-own-picnic, a spread-blanket-on-the-grass and sit-in-comfy-beach-chair-that’s-no-more-than-six-inches-off-the-ground (that’s a rule) event. There, it’s starting to get complicated. Bullet time!

• You have to know that to get anywhere within viewing distance of the “stage” (really, the SE entrance of the Capitol), you must put your blanket down at 3 p.m. to claim a spot. Not earlier (that’s a rule), not later (others will fill the spaces). The concert starts at 7, but you don’t have to stay with your blanket (and chairs if you’ve brought those as well) because this is Madison and things remain where you leave them.

• If it’s windy, your blanket will flutter away in your absence unless you weigh it down – but you can’t use stones (that’s a rule). Some years ago people (including me; hey, everyone was doing it!) looted stones from around the Capitol to weigh down blankets and after the show they would take their things and leave the stones behind (not guilty on this one) so that it looked like it had hailed boulders that evening.

• You can eat, read books, drink wine or beer, play cards or board games, do pretty much any quiet, low-to-the-ground activity, using the music as an excuse to be there. Listening to the music is an option (about 75% do listen), but not a requirement.

• The rules of concert going go out the door (no pun intended). People applaud after movements, or in fact before movements even finish (ey harriet? The dern thing finished yet? Sounds like it should be done. Clap clap clap).

And so on.

Tonight’s theme was “classical hits.” You would think that this would be boring to the thousands who gather (last week’s polka theme seemed more fitting for the carnival atmosphere), but no: the crowds will swell no matter what and for the most part, people listen.

The sun moves behind the Capitol dome in the course of the first hour and the concert ends in the pallor of early dusk. You stretch your legs, chomp away at your edibles and feel at peace with the evening (or, if you’re like me, you get a tad weepy at the first strains of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto; it’s so beautiful, and it’s been a long day; one can get emotional like that and no one will notice).

looking up from the blanket Posted by Hello

napping is also an option Posted by Hello

intermission Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/15/2004 05:37:17 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Craziness of a sort 

A feisty reader and blogger who herself has a record of dropping days upon days from her blogging obligations asks why I have had no posts today. Heavens! This day is one big mudslide into cardiac arrest, it has been that busy.


First of all, there was the last lecture to deliver -- three hours on the important civil rights Supreme Court decisions of the century (and which ones would you choose to include here?). Did anyone else notice that Charter crashed access to the Internet between 3:30 and 6:30 a.m.? Was anyone else frantically clicking away waiting for it to come back on so that they could finish last-minute scavenging for updates and information?


Second of all, I once again misestimated distances and so what was to be a one hour walk turned into one hour and forty minutes (and the friend I walked with is a speed demon!).


Thirdly, yes I did blog about not celebrating any holiday of a country where I am not currently residing, but when a friend told me he was making Vichyssoise for dinner today in honor of Bastille Day I got jealous. Of course, not having time to do anything in the kitchen, I limited my celebratory measures to picking up a bottle of the French aperitif, Dubonnet. (Does it matter, do you suppose, that it was really bottled in the US? And why is it that I imagine every clebration of things French should include a wine-based beverage?)


Fourthly, I came home and found a thick packet in the mail from my California out-of-the-ordinary mother. Among the items:

one book is autographed -- to compensate for not getting Clinton's signature in his text when he was in Berkeley Posted by Hello

an article about a very tall bridge; don't ask -- I don't know why Posted by Hello

For the first time in a long time, I wont even read blogs until late tonight. The day's not over yet. I'm keeping the car engine running as I write this. Thank God I haven't time to be tired.
posted by nina, 7/14/2004 05:03:45 PM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


Q: If you’ve lived in Madison for 25 years and have a pretty reliable sense of direction, is it possible to get lost while walking within a mile or two of where you live?
A: Yes.

Q: Is it possible to ask 6 separate people directions to Old Middleton Road when you're stuck on some godforsaken street called Brody Drive and get 6 separate wrong answers?
A: Yes.

Q: When you finally decide to go back to University Ave and you miraculously see the Perkins American flag just a few feet away, can you still face great obstacles like wire fences and prickly thistle before you can reach it?
A: Yes.

Q: Are there bloggers out there who cannot transfer Mapquest pictures onto their blog without taking a photo of the computer screen?
A: Yes.

Q: Does the red star on the map below indicate the place where the author of this post first got lost?
A: Yes.

the scene of a foul mood resulting from overheating, dehydration and being lost Posted by Hello

If you can figure out how to get from the red star to Old Middleton Road, please email me. One woman swore there was a secret tunnel that took you underground right from University Ave to Old Middleton by Knoche's grocery store. If you know of it, I will PAY you if you tell me where it is.
posted by nina, 7/13/2004 05:42:02 PM | link | (0) comments

Understanding Ariel 

Ariel and I don’t speak the same language. Oh, we both use English words, but our meanings don’t coincide. She works behind the counter at Borders café and I am a frequent customer. I do tip her for the small latte I get, but perhaps she has figured out that once in a while I withhold the quarter and only throw in a dime (I like to keep a quarter around for parking reasons). Or something. She appears sanguine, yet she is completely areal in her approach to her job.

Ariel, I’ll say, the tables really need a wipe. Ariel gives a concerned look and hands over a wet rag. Ariel, a small skinny latte please. She takes the cash, forgets to punch my card, makes the coffee and carries it over to the opposite end of the counter and shouts out to the public “small skinny latte!” I sigh, go over, take my drink, come back to the cash register, give her my card, she punches it.

I have many such Ariel stories, all trivial and all part of my routine now. Someday I’ll have to work out good responses to her, as soon as I figure out why she always does that which, while not wrong, is not right either.
posted by nina, 7/13/2004 01:19:17 PM | link | (0) comments

Monday, July 12, 2004

A prof’s crisis (it was not my fault!) 

I am, I admit, rather a last minute person. I want to work ahead, but more often than not I prepare classes in the amount of time it takes, right before the class itself. If I need 10 hours to write up lecture notes, I will do it 10 waking hours prior to class. Risky? Not really. I give myself generous amounts of time so in case a tooth falls out and I have to detour to the dentist – I can accommodate that.

But I cannot accommodate what happened today.

I was to give lectures for three hours this morning, tomorrow morning, and Wednesday morning to the 30 foreign attorneys attending the Summer Program at the Law School. It is the first time that I’ve been asked to teach in the Program and so brand new lectures needed to be produced. By 6 am this morning, the first one was ready (yes, yes, a significant portion was written just yesterday).

I walk into the Law Building at a leisurely pace (I have an hour to spare! I am cool!), pick up my mail, leaf through it, think about reading blogs when suddenly, RED ALERT!! What’s this? A schedule of the Program that has me in addition slated to teach this afternoon?? Several more hours of lectures to give TODAY??

Naturally, I assumed that it was my fault, my oversight. But mostly I assumed that I would die of a heart attack and that would be that. Because I don’t HAVE my next set of lecture notes. Those were supposed to be generated this afternoon and evening.

In control, in control! Where is that Polish grit? I can do this!

I used every spare second, every bathroom break (for them – no such luxury for me – the caffeine and water had to stay in me until the ordeal was done with), the lunch hour, to produce the next batch of notes.

I never taught with such passion before. Passion replaced fear. Have you ever heard anyone pace and rave about the beautiful complexities of the Common Law tradition? Give spectacular examples of statutory interpretation? That was me! Brilliant it was not, but I doubt they noticed – they were too shocked that anyone would CARE that much about the law. (In fact, today I only cared about surviving.)

Two postscripts:
1. When I got home I retrieved the original schedule and noted that I WAS RIGHT! I hadn’t been in the original program for the afternoon. Small consolation.
2. I also noticed that I had neglected to remove the laundry tag from the back of my skirt and so the attorneys must now think that American profs wear red tags pinned to their clothes for decoration.

What a day.
posted by nina, 7/12/2004 05:32:46 PM | link | (0) comments

The ultimate complement or the ultimate insult? 

I was speaking to an attorney last night who works at the law firm where I once worked. He was with two other people (“I came to the reception with my family” he tells me) and I quickly realized that the young man was his son who was currently an undergrad and aspiring to be a lawyer someday. The other, a woman, said “I’m Y and I am the non-lawyer here, I teach dance.” I was about to say “and I assume the two of you aren't the parents here?” [Because there were some little tikes running around, belonging to some young couple, but typically, a college guy was not going to be the dad, even if he did marry early.] My Q was preempted by her next comment. She said “…and my kids, of course keep me busy, though X here (pointing to the college guy) is pretty much on his own by now.”

Whom would I have embarrassed more – the son, in an Oedipal sort of way, for my suggesting that his mother was his wife? The mother, for linking her romantically with her own son? Or myself for being so clueless as to the approximate age of a person?
posted by nina, 7/12/2004 06:58:16 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, July 11, 2004


I’ve just come back from a reception for the 30 participants in the Summer Program at the Law School – a program that teaches the basics of the American legal system to foreign attorneys and those seeking to further their legal education in the States. Thirty people, many from Asia, some from South America, a handful from Europe, including one from Poland, all here to take part in this intense course of study. Most are in the States for the first time. One lawyer from Korea is here with his entire family – wife and two adorable children; another lives in Berlin and works in a town that borders with Poland. And the Polish participant – she’s here after just barely finishing her legal studies in Poland. She lives in a small town outside Wroclaw. Most Americans have never even heard of Wroclaw. (She was shocked when I came up to her and started speaking Polish.)

I am impressed with the lot of them. To travel to a different academic setting, halfway around the world is difficult. [Been there, done that, and I never had the language issues to worry about.] To leave people behind in the close communities that you grew up in, be it Berlin or Tokyo is nearly impossible. I can guarantee that this evening will stand out for them for a long time, perhaps forever. The first 24 hours you spend in a completely alien setting is like that. You are alone, completely, utterly alone where no one understands anything about your life, your culture, your home. You are here for a purpose, but in the initial moments you can’t quite get a grasp on what the purpose is. You feel like you are totally out of your element.

Sometimes those impressions come back to haunt you even when you are no longer a new transplant. In later years, even when you know how to pretend otherwise, you understand that you are not part of this world, you are an outsider.
posted by nina, 7/11/2004 11:17:15 PM | link | (0) comments

Sunday rain 

A summer rain on a Sunday afternoon... What to do?

1. Work on my lecture notes.

2. Listen to Ann on WHA radio talk about blogging (check her blog here -- she said on the radio she took pictures of the studio and so I expect a post any minute now) and give very good responses to caller comments!

3. Make use of yesterday's Market berries (see below). Chocolate is such a good companion to fruit.
posted by nina, 7/11/2004 04:07:29 PM | link | (0) comments

strawberries put to good use Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/11/2004 04:02:39 PM | link | (0) comments

Low tolerance for good things? 

For some time now I’ve been worried that people are liking “nice” less and less and “rotten” (at least in small doses) more and more. [I am not worried that I am too nice. I am worried that the rest of the world will get off the niceness kick and turn more and more icky.]

I have two examples just from this past week. I was discussing the weather yesterday with a friend and he said “it’s too sunny and nice.” I responded with something not so nice, like “you are out of your mind!” But he countered with: “I’m not the only one. I was at a store where the clerks were commenting that they didn’t want to go downtown to the Art Fair because being out in this nice weather was no fun at all.”

In another instance of something that I think is quite related, I heard an NPR interview with an expert on classical guitar. He was talking about Andres Segovia’s charismatic playing and how much it had transformed that instrument into something that could be used in the classical context. I was listening to this with a good deal of interest since I am a fan of Segovia and have a scratchy, much overplayed record of his music.

The person commenting on classical guitar said, however, that in many ways, Segovia has been surpassed; that this generation of classical guitarists plays with a precision that Segovia lacked (if you listen to Segovia, you’ll inevitably pick out the “woosh” oh his shifting hand or the tweak of a string vibration that shouldn’t be there). The NPR person responded – “but that’s no good; isn’t it better if there is a demonstration of human imperfection, so that the piece doesn’t, in fact, come out flawless? There is such a thing as being ‘too good’ at something.”

Of course, my scratchy record hid Segovia’s flaws from me. But I would actually like the scratches not to be there, and listening to snippets from the young guitarists, I liked their ‘overkill on the perfection thing’ just fine. And I like bright weather, nice words and good designs, or at least attempts at getting as close to them as possible.
posted by nina, 7/11/2004 04:00:51 PM | link | (0) comments

So uncomplicated and so beautiful 

Tomorrow is the 100th birthday of the late Pablo Neruda, perhaps the most beloved and widely read poet in the world. I am certainly a fan. From his simple odes to his love sonnets and everything in between – I like it all. I wanted to pick a favorite for the blog, but I have no favorite. It is the entirety that is, to me, so appealing.

“No theme would be beyond my orbit,” Neruda once said. And indeed, his collections are a testimonial to his remarkable versatility. In his “Odes About Everything” he describes what inspires him and what he puts down on paper:

of all
hues and sizes,
seraphic, blue
or violent,
to eat,
to dance,
to follow footprints in the sand.

I might mentions that there is a Slavic connection to Neruda – for one, he adopted his name in honor of the Czechoslovak poet, Jan Neruda; for another, he was intimately associated with Poland’s Czeslaw Milosz – at least until their falling out over Neruda’s persistent support of communism.

Today, the Washington Post has an article by Edward Hirsch on the life and work of Neruda. It is well worth reading (here).

Ahh, Neruda would have been a fantastic blogger!
posted by nina, 7/11/2004 09:24:17 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Saturday: point by point 

Trivial points are exactly what a Saturday needs. Interspersed with Market color.

1. A visitor who had not been to Madison for a number of months flew in last night. As I pulled into the driveway (having picked her up at the airport) she looked out and said: “wow, what happened here?” I looked surprised and then concerned. She answered “the flowers! They’re a jungle! You can’t see the house, they’re so tall!” I explained about the spring rains, I pointed out that in daylight she would see a proliferation of color and texture and it would amaze her. “Can people make their way up the path to the front door though?” She asked, seemingly bewildered. Yes. I provide a hatchet and clippers. Jeez!

And, speaking of flowers, take a look at today’s, at the Market (yes, less wild than mine… hey, there’s room on this planet for all kinds):

orderly, kempt, colorful Posted by Hello

summer gold Posted by Hello

2. I have an internal alarm that I do not understand at all, it makes no sense, it is irrational. But I trust it: I always wake up just a few minutes before I have to get up (meaning before the alarm would sound if I were to set the alarm). I know many people recount similar experiences, but I think mine is an extreme situation because indeed, even if my waking time varies greatly (as it does depending on whether I’m teaching, or working at L’Etoile, or traveling in other time zones) I will always wake up about 5 minutes earlier. I’ve had this internal alarm for as long as I remember.

But today, I woke up 5 minutes AFTER I was to get up. This is so unnerving that I’m wondering if I should have a talk with a medical person. [But what do I say: I need an appointment to check why my internal alarm was 10 minutes off today?] I truly do not know what to make of it.

I made it in time to pick up (for myself!)the first blueberries of the season and the first Wisconsin corn. And these huge, flavorful strawberries – perfect for dipping in chocolate:

everyone should get a sixpack Posted by Hello

how many ears per person? Posted by Hello

SO impresssive. eat with chocolate! Posted by Hello

3. Tory is the Chef de Cuisine at L’Etoile. Within the restaurant hierarchy, that puts him just below Odessa. If you eat something absolutely delicious on your night there, chances are it had Tory’s mark in some way. He is a fantastic, conscientious cook. He turned 29 today and it is remarkable that he has developed such skills at his young age. He told me that he first started cooking in his grandparents’ diner in Racine. He did his training at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, then, for seven years, he apprenticed at a wonderful assortment of New York restaurants. But he didn’t care for the people who came to the eating establishments in NYC and so he moved back to Wisconsin, just to catch his breath.

I just have to say this about him: Tory is a supremely kind person. I suppose it doesn’t matter if you’re eating there – you could very well love the food prepared by a mean lowlife. Still, I’ve seen staff come and go at L’Etoile and Tory is right up there, at the top of a select handful. Working with him, as a result, is total pleasure. And no, he does not read my blog, so I am not sucking up in any way. But if you do go to L’Etoile to eat, look for him (he’s there every night)and tell him that you heard he is super nice. Here’s a picture from today, just so you know who your man behind the stove is:

happy birthday, Tory Posted by Hello

4. No, L’Etoile is not the only place to grab a nice bakery item on the week-end. Since I am not paid to stay loyal and advertise its unique virtues I can say that my eyes do stray often to other baked goods at the Market. These blueberry scones looked wonderful:

with a latte, with hot chocolate, with anything! Posted by Hello

And in the end, I went with my out-of-town guests to Marigold Kitchen. How can you resist blueberry pancakes with orange butter and cinnamon granola? They’re not too sweet (you have pure maple syrup for that) and the taste is heavenly. Highly recommended.

5. I will not blog about Art Fair on the Square. I could say, I suppose, that for me, it made for a trying day because as a result of it, the Market had to downsize and move to Wilson Street. A shame for the framers because these weeks are their absolute peak in terms of produce.

Yes, I walked through the Art Fair briefly and yes, it has beautiful pieces and ugly things and all ranges in between (Ann, c’mon, cave in and blog about it!). Most people go just to look and on a gorgeous day like today, the Square was packed. Am I the only one that finds the prices, for the most part, insane? Much as I’m in favor of supporting struggling artists, I’m not sure these guys are struggling. And yes, I know that lawyers charge more for an hour of dribble than these artists do for an hour at the easel. One insanity, however, doesn’t justify the other.

(from the Art Fair) the glass is greener elsewhere Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/10/2004 03:44:19 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, July 09, 2004

On a scale of 1 to 10, how thrilled am I with this? 

The NYTimes has an article today (here) about the expansion of high speed internet access. Yes, its availability is expected now in hotels, cafés, airports. But trains? Planes? Automobiles?

The article addresses the difficulties of establishing Internet connections in moving vehicles with metal “skins.” Still, I think the expectation is that soon, the world will be one big hot spot.

Do I welcome these developments? Hard to say. I am thrilled that I can now work on my computer at Borders bookstore. But why is that so? It’s a bookstore, darn it, why do I feel compelled to take my work or my Internet surfing to a bookstore? Shouldn’t the ethicist speak out about this? Am I in any way contributing to the sales of books? And how about cafés: I like taking my computer there as well. But wait: what if my favorite cafés in France had a row of laptop users pounding away. Here, take this photo (below, taken just last year) and use your imagination. Place Parisians with computers at all the sidewalk tables. It’s WRONG!

Yet, just me sitting there blogging about the joys of people watching in Paris – I can make an exception for that…

I’m inconsistent. I want the options for myself but I want the rest of the world to take heed: laptops on long flights? Maybe. But not in French cafés. Please, let there be a few sacred spots in the world.
posted by nina, 7/09/2004 09:44:31 PM | link | (1) comments

Paris now, before Wi-Fi Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/09/2004 09:39:42 PM | link | (0) comments

A seasonal adjustment 

Sometimes when I post something here, I cannot wait to post again, just so that the previous post does not stand out with its atrociously glaring title. Now is such a moment. Christmas on the blog is significantly out of place when I am chasing mosquitoes as I walk. So, just to appease my inner sense of balance let me post three pictures from this morning. They were taken in a place that is a five-minute walk from my house (Owen Woods). Whenever I groan too loudly about life in the suburbs, I am reminded that I have Owen Woods while New Yorkers have trees growing out of concrete slabs every thirty blocks and then I become quiet. [Until my next unhappy suburban moment.]

The prairie restoration project at Owen Woods is wonderful enough, though I think I want to set limits on what in the prairie I want restored. For example, the Black-eyed Susan and Echinacea are just fine, but the bugs – oh the bugs! They are obnoxiously intrusive and if I remember correctly from reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books, they caused one of the girls in the “Little House on the PRAIRIE” to go blind. So, yes to prairie restoration, but can we please do it with an eye toward plants that are repugnant to insect life? [Is that even possible?]
posted by nina, 7/09/2004 04:54:51 PM | link | (0) comments

prairie flowers and grasses (and bugs) Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/09/2004 04:54:29 PM | link | (0) comments

only in nature does this pairing of colors work Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/09/2004 04:52:32 PM | link | (0) comments

happy looking Susans Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/09/2004 04:51:06 PM | link | (0) comments

Christmas, communism and the return of the kid with the classy shoes 

BoringAng is blogging about Christmas imagery and JeremyF is linking to Christian websites that warn against associating with atheists (might that include Communists? Do these websites see them as overlapping sets? Probably). Putting the two posts together reminds me of the FAQ that came my way (though not recently, and not in July): how did we deal with Christmas in Communist Poland? Given the prevalence of Catholicism even (or especially)in postwar Poland, was it celebrated? Repressed? Berated? Condemned?

Though as I have said before, my non-Catholicism kept me out of the churches during the holidays, I certainly did not mind otherwise horning in on Christmas celebrations. And Poland did (still does) Christmas in a big way, centering it mostly on feasting, but with music, tree-trimming and St. Nicholas thrown in as well (though St. Nick does a disappearing act after St. Nicholas Day early in the month, so as not to detract from the birth of Christ theme around the 24th and 25th). The churches appeared to me crowded year-round and so repression of religion has to be viewed as being somewhat at the level of abstraction. And governance, of course. Government offices had no religious iconography or ornamentation and I never saw a Christmas tree anywhere near the Communist Party headquarters. [Contemporary Poland seems to now scorn the “quaint” idea of separation of church and state.]

I do have to say, though, that I was a jaded kid. Did I “believe” in St. Nick and his sack of presents? My mother tells me I stopped when I was 5, immediately following the visit to the Warsaw Department store where my sister and I had this picture (below) taken. You can see the “yeah, sure” look on my face (I’m on the right). I am told I went up to “St. Nick” afterwards and told him loudly “you are SO not real,” much to the dismay of the children in line. I am quite ashamed of this now – what a spoiler. Note, as well, the postwar Poland haute couture. I don’t think I realized that people wore shoes for reasons other than protecting the feet from mud and sharp objects until I traveled to the States at the age of 7.

Warsaw, Poland, December 1958 Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/09/2004 02:33:00 PM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, July 08, 2004

A musing 

Occasionally, in a moment of musing about your past, you google a memory. Indeed, this is what must have happened, as I got the most remarkable email today from someone who reached this blog by googling the lyrics to the “United Nations” song that I used to love so much back in my elementary school days at the UN International School.

The reader writes: I googled "United Nations on the march" and found the lyric at your site. As a youngster at a bungalow colony day camp in the Catskils in the 1940s we sang the song. Sadly, I haven't heard it since.

This, then, is the power of the blog. It allows you to get close to people over “blogger dinners.” It allows for friendship to grow exponentially. And, it allows you to talk to someone who, 20 years before your own elementary school days, was belting “Take heart all you nations swept under!” at a camp in the Catskills.

Happy bloggerversary to JFW, the blog that gave me a leg up on this blogging business.
posted by nina, 7/08/2004 11:53:17 PM | link | (0) comments

This has happened to me! 

I opened the New Yorker this afternoon to the following ad from a credit card company:

(nc: poor Glenna -- she takes the plunge and then gets mocked for it by a credit company!) Posted by Hello

Alongside the photo were these words: It didn’t seem right to us, either. We thought it a little odd that Glenna from Duluth would spend $282 at the Screaming Needle in Hollywood. With Fraud Early Warning, XX can recognize unusual spending and stop it.

Now wait a minute! There is a clear insinuation that a 50 + (okay maybe a bunch of pluses) woman living in Duluth is staid and priggish and that she lacks an irreverent side that would cause her to hop on a plane to LA and get herself a tattoo.

Maybe. I don’t know Glenna. But then, does XX Company? And what else do they know about Glenna? Is there a person who goes through her every receipt and says “Yep, that fits, that’s Glenna!” or “No way would she buy something so gauche, so risqué, that Glenna, she’s no spring chicken now is she? And from Duluth, too.”

I’ve had my card rejected in places and so I know the feeling. I have been warned by operators whom I have frantically called to avoid the embarrassment of being arrested for non-payment, that next time I would be well advised to call ahead, to warn the company of impending odd expenses in weird and out-of-the-way places. It’s for my own protection, after all. What, from myself??
posted by nina, 7/08/2004 04:43:30 PM | link | (0) comments

Cost – Benefit Analysis 

Last night I attended a blogger dinner: five bloggers (representing Boring, Bed, SirEP and Ocean) sat face to face and talked about the trials and tribulations of life in the big league (of work? academia? blogging? all of the above). Why call it a blogger dinner? Why not just dinner with friends? Because this, like my dinners with Mother In Law and with A, B & F, would not have happened were it not for our blogging. Indeed, in this case, I would never have met the people at all. There is unquestionably a sizable social benefit to this blogging thing.

However, there is also a cost. I have noticed that one side effect of blogger dinners is that people feel terribly anxious about posting something about the event afterwards. It’s as if we have to be especially witty and clever and insightful, we have to stretch ourselves beyond our normal boring selves. In other words, we have to put out a spin that exceeds our capacities.

Well NOT ME! I will not let this become a permanent liability, a cost, a burden, I will lead by example, set the pace, storm ahead with a DUMB POST ABOUT THE BLOGGER DINNER!

Keep that in mind as you read my not especially profound observations about last night:

1. It was one of those interesting situations where you’re sitting there waiting and only one other person shows up. Many minutes pass and still it’s just the two of you. You wonder, have I posted something recently that offends? Did they all get pulled over by a police car and are now talking themselves out of a jail sentence for speeding? What? [ans: the latter.]

2. This was a sober bunch. It’s been a while since I’ve been out with a group of people where the dominant and most popular drink was water. I did not cave in to peer pressure. I stayed with my rule that if it’s a dinner where the entrees cost more than $5.99 per plate then there should be wine.

3. Talk fast or be prepared to move when the waiters start putting up chairs on tables, hinting that you’re overstaying your welcome. It’s Madison: the chairs on tables routine begins at 10. What would this town do without the Barnes & Noble café, which stays open until 11…

4. My devious subtle testing revealed that the bloggers have been reading Ocean. They knew, for instance, that I had misspelled “hardy peasant stock.” [it appears as “hearty” in the blog – something that I affectionately preserve only in part because I don’t retro-edit posts that are more than a day old.] Or, they were good at faking it.

5. The bloggers I met are terrific. They are witty and smart and funny and cool. The lesson: if your blog is good, you’re no dork.

6. A photo. There must be a photo. The Ocean rep took it and so she is missing from the pack. The rest-- here they are, the whole boring, beddy, sirepy bunch of them:
posted by nina, 7/08/2004 10:20:33 AM | link | (0) comments

closing down Barnes & Noble Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/08/2004 10:19:03 AM | link | (0) comments

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

too much text, too little color 

In late winter, I would post spring updates here, pulling photos off the web to illustrate where my garden was heading. Then I stopped. There was so much color elsewhere that I did not need to sprinkle the blog with garden photos. But today I noted paragraph after paragraph of blog text and decided it was time to jazz it up some with flowers from my garden. They thrived this year on neglect. I hardly tended them. Reliably, they came back to show off their true spunky grit and spirit.
posted by nina, 7/07/2004 05:25:09 PM | link | (0) comments

they climb like mad Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/07/2004 05:24:44 PM | link | (0) comments

fiesta rose Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/07/2004 05:23:59 PM | link | (0) comments

lemon-green daylily Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/07/2004 05:22:48 PM | link | (0) comments

unkempt flower pots Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/07/2004 05:21:52 PM | link | (0) comments

orchid? no, daylily Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/07/2004 05:20:12 PM | link | (0) comments

Why I stopped going to yoga 

Some of the reasons:

1. working out in 98 degree heat was so…toasty.
2. my “all you can yoga in a week for $14” deal ran out.
3. because I have a suspicious nature and I look dubiously at meditative exercises that you can do with your dog. No, not a mistype. Dog. In a BBC article that I picked up off of someone’s blog (sorry, I can’t come up with the link to the blog, but here’s the link to the article) I read that people are now bringing their dogs to yoga classes. The dogs seem to love the various yoga positions and do them effortlessly, almost, in fact, as well as their owners.

Ridiculous? Yes! Especially the part where they all breathe together and hold paws. Read this:

The dogs did most of the things that the humans did. "At the end we were even encouraged to get them to hold their paws together so that we could recite a specially adapted concluding prayer.”[-- this from one of the owners.]

I am willing to see well-behaved French dogs in restaurants with their owners, but somehow extending the imagination to canine yoga is too much of a stretch. Really.
posted by nina, 7/07/2004 04:28:29 PM | link | (0) comments

A long post that spans such topics as Croatian Rockefellers, the Medicis of Florence, Nobel laureates and Polish restaurateurs 

Over the years, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists have left their home countries to travel to places where labs are well funded and opportunities to prosper are numerous (mostly in the U.S.). With respect to men and women of science, today’s IHT describes the phenomenon (here) thus:

The world's scientists are like a flock of flamingos that migrates from briny lakes when they dry up and returns only when the lagoons are replenished.

Not surprisingly, many of the home countries, including Poland, are now trying to woo the successful scientists back to their homeland. In Italy and Croatia large-scale research centers are being established to entice those who have left. And the successful expatriates who have made their wealth abroad are being asked to donate large sums of money to keep the centers competitive with their counterparts abroad.

I find the idea of returning in some way to your base, aligning yourself again with your home country, infinitely fascinating. Radman, a Croatian scientists who heads a 25-person lab in Paris, has taken it upon himself to secure donations from fellow expats for the Mediterranean Institute for Life Sciences on the Adriatic Coast. In the article, I read:

“I'm trying to tempt them to play the role of Croatian Rockefellers or the Medicis of Florence," he said. The sales pitch isn't flowery: "What will you get in return? Nothing. Just the glory."

I think there are two types of success stories out there – the Martha Stewart types who do much to camouflage their heritage, even changing their names to Americanize their image (I suppose the title “Martha Kostyra Living” lacks a certain pizzazz; and in all fairness, she was not born in Poland and so her associations are a generation removed from her roots), and then there is the very large second group whose members cannot or will not break with their past. In it we have the musicians – the Chopins and Paderewskis who left and died abroad, but went back again and again in their work to their homeland (Poland); or, we have the “fathers” and “mothers” of disciplines who returned to Poland in significant ways in their scholarship: there is Florian Znaniecki, author of the “Polish Peasant,” a work that I think, can fairly be described as creating the foundations for empirical sociology; Oscar Lange, who, after a successful career in economics at Chicago, went back to Poland and lay the groundwork for the emergent field of Econometrics; or Marie Sklodowska Curie, who named a newly-discovered element after her homeland (“polonium”).

The last I counted, there were some two dozen Nobel Laureates who are either Polish or of Polish origin. Of course, everyone knows about Walesa, Milosz, Szymborska, or even Singer (all Nobel laureates), but does anyone know that the following are also Poles by birth? – Begin (Peace, ’78), Peres (Peace, ’94), Rotblat (Peace, ’95), Agnon (Literature, ’66 – maybe the fact that Poland was partitioned during his childhood caused him to not think in terms of having a homeland), Grass (Literature, ’99 – he, too, said nothing about Poland in his Nobel prize acceptance speech; even in speaking of his childhood and early influences he managed to skip any references to things Polish) and a host of scientists that are not household names here or in Poland. None of these are significantly focused on their country of birth.

On a less grand scale (and belonging to the group of returnees), I met this winter a Polish-French woman who married a French chef and convinced him to open (along with her) a restaurant in Krakow (even though he speaks hardly a word of Polish). She relocated her family to Poland (she had left the country when she was a child), excited at the idea of riding a wave of success there. She told me she wants to be part of the newest “Polish renaissance.”

It’s all intriguing to me – the story of the returning Pole, in spirit or otherwise, the one who can’t quite let go of the past.
posted by nina, 7/07/2004 10:50:11 AM | link | (0) comments

Update on the V.I.P.P. 

The missing very important piece of paper (VIPP, see post about it yesterday) is still missing. One moment it was on the counter, the next moment it’s gone.

A reader writes:

you have to stop looking for the VIPP. it's time to give up.
a concerned friend,
Tonya B

p.s. did you look in the car?

My response:

I know I have to stop this! But what if it was important? It looked SO important! I checked all cars. The last (and not altogether impossible) theory is that the dog ate it.

p.s. Just in case, I’m not letting go of the garbage today (it’s garbage pick up day on my block). I’m going to dump it all on the driveway as soon as the weather improves and go through it that way. Next, I'll recruit others to help search. They may see something I missed. I may do a dinner party around this theme…It’s here SOMEWHERE, just give me a little more time before I settle for the dog theory.

p.p.s. thanks, too, sir ep for your words of concern.
posted by nina, 7/07/2004 06:54:27 AM | link | (0) comments

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


I have been asked this quite a lot: “which language do you think in, Polish or English?” Possibly I have had this query levied at times when it has been painfully obvious that I was not born into an English speaking environment (so that, after listening to me, or reading something I put together in my awkward foreign-person way, a person is tempted to ask “so…do you ever at least THINK in English?”)

When I was a kid I would give this serious consideration. I would go into my head and attempt to pay attention to my thinking process. I wanted to catch myself: “ha! Wasn’t that Polish? No, I distinctly pick out an English phrase there…”

But over time, I came to believe that it can’t be done. If you think about thinking (can one do that?) you come to realize that you are always envisioning yourself in conversation with some entity. The minute someone asks which language I think in, I rivet to the language of the inquirer.

And what of the times when no one is asking? How do I, how do multi-language people in general think? It is still the case that thinking about it forces a language, typically of the environment one is in. I dare anyone to take a moment now and contemplate with some detachment how thoughts spin inside one’s head. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

There is only one worse question out there and I get this one as well: what language do I dream in? Typically, when asked this, I just make up an answer. I’ve learned that this is far more satisfying than my convoluted diatribe on how it is impossible to recreate thinking about dreaming in the abstract.
posted by nina, 7/06/2004 11:17:38 PM | link | (0) comments

A missing V.I.P.P. 

Next week, between Monday and Wednesday, I have what amounts to a nine-hour series of lectures to give on a topic that is not within my typical lecture orbit. But neither is it an impossible task, since it is on a topic that is not especially difficult for a law prof of any field to speak on. All I need is time. I am a rather meticulous lecturer. I never go into a class without comprehensive lecture notes. I don’t read them while presenting, but anything and everything that I ever say is in some way contained in the sheaf of papers that I bring with me to class. For the hours of teaching that I have before me next week I calculated that I would need 45 pages of single-spaced lecture notes.

Today is Tuesday. I told myself that I absolutely had to begin putting together my 45 page security blanket. But early in the day, I was arrested by a disconserting realization: it struck me that yesterday I left a piece of paper on the kitchen counter. It was a very important piece of paper, folded into an envelope-like enclosure with perforations on all sides. Why do I believe it to be significant? Because it came in the mail this week-end and it had “very important” written all over it. Not literally, but in the presentation. It looked so important that I pulled it out of the stack of mail and placed it on the counter as Something I Must Not Neglect.

Tonight I was attending to paperwork and I could not find this V.I.P.P (very important piece of paper). I looked through the week’s garbage three times, piece by piece, rotten piece of food by rotten piece of food. Nothing. I went through every room in the house, every stack of papers, every drawer of irrelevant trash. Nothing.

I could not stop myself. When I didn’t find it in the first round, I did a more thorough second round. Then a third. Fourth. I’m pausing before my fifth to blog, but a fifth is around the corner.

It could have been vital to my existence. Or, maybe I was wrong. Maybe it just looked important. Maybe it was an invitation to apply for yet another credit card.

As a result of this paper chase I made no inroads on the 45 page single-spaced packet of notes. I can’t decide which is more disconcerting: the fact of the missing slip of paper, or the time lost searching for it.
posted by nina, 7/06/2004 09:11:01 PM | link | (0) comments

Daily life 

Normally if I ask someone in an email “how’s it going” they respond that they are exceedingly busy and overworked and behind on their projects, etc etc. But one friend writes the following:
“we moved cows from one pasture to the next… I am going to plant june berries underneath the aspen trees…we lost our vegetables to frost last night…” and so on.

How is it that people develop these skills? Do you read books on herding cows and then just do it? What are june berries anyway? And what place in continental US has frost in June? Does it hurt the june berries?

It struck me how during the majority of my days I move within a five mile radius of my home, my actions are limited to the same ones, day in and day out and they do not include moving cattle from one pasture to another. Just as I start to feel competently self-sufficient, I am reminded that I’ve given up on growing my own vegetables because I know the local farmers do it better and I pick up few new skills from season to season.

Thank goodness we have travel to take us out of the ordinary. Daily life can leave you with a rigid tunnel vision and atrophied observational skills, to say nothing of stagnant coping abilities.
posted by nina, 7/06/2004 01:52:23 PM | link | (0) comments

Monday, July 05, 2004

Czy chcesz pizze? 

Tonight’s dinner was pizza. With all the trepidations surrounding the painting job (see post below), I didn’t have the mind nor the muscle to think about food preparation. So I went to a local pizza place to pick up my order (I am the only one in town, in the country probably, who has never in her entire American life (they don’t do pizza delivery in Poland) ordered a pizza delivery; one quick drive will get me a pie fresh from the oven, so why would I opt for a delivery?).

I wore my “Prawa kobiet prawami czlowieka” t-shirt tonight. Most people pick the next clean t-shirt in the stack to throw on. I choose mine deliberately. I wear the Polish one whenever I miss my connections to that country. [the translation of the words is “women’s rights are people’s rights.” The shirt comes from a friend who works at the Center for Women’s Rights in Warsaw and if you knew how incongruous it is to talk of women’s rights in the Polish context, you’d appreciate how much this t-shirt means to me. It is fading considerably from overuse.]

As I claimed my pizza, the young man said to me “ty rozmawiasz po Polsku?” He had a slight American accent, but he was otherwise quite fluent (translation: you speak Polish, don’t you?).

It turns out that he is a Wisconsin guy who had decided, while in college at UW-Stevens Point, to learn Polish. Eventually, he spent his junior year in Poland. Okay, so he is now dishing out pizza – not a great ad for choosing Polish as you major. But I’m sure he’ll move on to bigger and better things any day now.

I have, until this day, in my many years in this country, met only two people who had had no connection to Poland but had decided to learn the language nonetheless. Both were sociologists who chose to do research in Poland. This young man today will make it a pack of three who will have deliberately studied Polish.

I asked how it could be that he spoke Polish so well. The language is exceedingly hard for Americans, in part because of the conjugation principles (you conjugate nouns as well as verbs, so that if you say “I sit on top of the table” or “I sit under the table,” the word “table” will take on a different form; this additional grammatical idiosyncrasy drives English speaking people completely nuts). He answered simply “jestem bardzo inteligentny” (=I am very intelligent). Indeed!
posted by nina, 7/05/2004 08:49:58 PM | link | (0) comments

This was supposed to be quick and easy 

I have been repainting some of the rooms in the house this year. My study got the greenish-yellow treatment this winter and today I attacked a room that is mostly used as a bedroom for visitors (one such person is coming later this week). It hadn’t been painted for more than 15 years and there is an entire area where it looks like someone was systematically checking to see how many footprints could fit in a small space underneath the window.

First step: get a nice creamy-toned paint. I did that back in March (it was to be a Spring Break project).

paint's ready Posted by Hello

Second step: tape the window frames, doors and baseboards. Done yesterday.

Third step: patch holes in drywall. Yep.

Fourth step: move furniture around. Here I encountered a major snag:

wait a minute, it's not supposed to look like this Posted by Hello

As you can see, the bed completely fell apart (actually in several places). True, it was one of those Danish teak things that isn’t terrifically sturdy and it had some years on it, but it had seemed perfectly content sitting in its spot for years and years. No one knew it had a problem until it came time to move it. Then it just sort of collapsed.

Of course, this, in the end, is a good thing. It would have been a source of great embarrassment and consternation if it had decided to fall apart while visitors were, er, sleeping on it.

Still, the painting project got interrupted by the need to purchase a new bed. All Rubin’s stores were visited, a bed was finally found. (Sixth step will have to be bed assembly; it comes in many smallish boxes; I am dubious that a full-size bed fit into these, but I am told that indeed, once the pieces are slapped, glued and nailed together, a bed will emerge.)

Fifth step: Pick up the pace with the rollers and the brushes! I am rushing to finish before the day runs out on me. I am speckled with creamy dots and dribbles (how do professional painters stay so clean when they paint?) and I anticipate at least two more disasters. Just a few minutes ago I stepped on a carelessly placed painting utensil. It took a half an hour to clean that little problem up.
posted by nina, 7/05/2004 02:21:08 PM | link | (0) comments

Is dad listening? 

George W. Bush came to Cheney’s defense today. Amidst speculations that, but for the threat of the lost conservative vote, GWB would be better off dropping Cheney from the ticket, George W. responded: “Dick Cheney is the best vice president this country has ever had.” Are we witnessing a family rift in the making? Is there a lapse in memory, or a punch at dad, or what?
posted by nina, 7/05/2004 12:29:00 AM | link | (0) comments

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Do I celebrate the 4th of July? 

Though I am not a fan of nationalism of any sort, as far as holidays go, I do as the Romans do. I live here and if Americans grill things and say “happy 4th of July” to each other, why so will I. I draw the line on flag waving though.

When I lived in Poland, I celebrated the 22nd of July, but now under the new political system, that holiday is disfavored and a Constitution-related day has been labeled as THE national holiday. I go with the flow. I know that celebrating the national holidays of other countries is odd when you don’t live there and so I stick with the local stuff. I’m sure I’d celebrate Chinese New Year if I lived in Shanghai.

When I was in my twenties, I tried moving beyond parochial festivities: I made a habit of having parties on Bastille Day (I got the idea from Gourmet Magazine, of all things), but that was just odd. I would prepare French food and people would eat it, but it was otherwise a non-holiday and so in time I let go of the entire silliness.

Okay, so what does a July 4th celebration look like at the home of this Polish transplant who is not a flag-toting type and hates the bang associated with firecrackers? Well, I grill (stuff from yesterday’s market, for example). And I always make a tart. There is no reason for this except maybe one time, to be cute, I baked one with the red/white/blue concept (doesn’t everyone do this at some point in family life? How convenient that we’re in the midst of blueberry season…) and the tart stuck even if the concept went out the door.

Today, I used the berries from yesterday’s market. And the currant jelly, melted over the entirety. The colors may be more Polish (red and white), but the tradition originated here, on the 4th of July.

A strawberry tart with creme patisserie and warm currant jelly Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/04/2004 08:07:58 PM | link | (0) comments

On my way to becoming a bump in the parking lot... 

I don't think of myself as ever having gloomy thoughts and worries about where it is that I'm heading with my life. In my mind, I leap from one spirited (if not necessarily inspired) idea to the next and I don't especially worry about there being a shortage of ideas to wake up to. How is that, when cleaning up some old papers, I came across this little saved, torn-out cartoon? I was in graduate school then. Judging from the dates, I may well have been studying for my prelims. Or escaping from them, since the clipping is from the International Herald Tribune, a paper that was not available to me in either Chicago (where I was attending graduate school) or in Poland and so I must have been in transit, on my way back to a spring break in Poland. Confident about the future? Uh, doesn't look like it:

the only cartoon I ever saved Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/04/2004 02:33:25 PM | link | (0) comments

The art of reading Alain de Botton 

Look at me with incredulity if you wish, but I have to admit, I am a big fan of the books of Alain de Bottom. I foisted his “How Proust can change your life” on many people (who now never ask me for book recommendations, feeling that I failed them profoundly the first time around). And I adored his “The Art of Travel” (thankfully that had a slightly larger following among my associates and book groups readers). AdeB is inordinately creative and clever, so that I forgive the little lapses here and there. No, actually I don’t even spot the lapses. And I refuse to be bothered by the labels that have quite unfortunately placed his books sometimes on shelves having the questionable “self-help” designation. (Borders knows to stick him in the Literature section where he belongs). You don’t read AdeB to improve anything – you read him because he is funny and perceptive and uses words masterfully to convey original, oftentimes quirky ideas.

So naturally I was happy beyond happy to see his newest book, Status Anxiety, on the Borders must-read table. I worried a tad about the title (I don’t think much about status anxiety in general and the topic struck me as dated), but I picked it up with enthusiasm nonetheless. AdeB can overcome even poor subject matter. He is THAT good.

I leafed through it and my one phrase summary is that it is better than it sounds, but not as good as it should be.

I did find one page slightly disconcerting. From what I could tell (I was “reading” the book standing by the table at Borders), AdeB was attempting to portray us as a consumerist society. Okay, so maybe he’s a little dry in the “original ideas” department. We all have slow phases. There was a day when I was forced to write a post about pink flamingos because nothing else came to mind.

But even more troubling were his examples of our rising expectations with respect to personal gratification. They misrepresent what, to me, is a more complicated reality.

Here, take a look at his little chart where he lists what we regard as necessities these days (30 years ago they were obscure goods and services, belonging, for the most part, only to the privileged):

a so-what table Posted by Hello

Yes, okay, more of us can’t live without the AC. But think how much we have let go of, how lesser our expectations are with respect to other items! I can create a list too, flooding the reader with examples of what we have lost:

1970: 76% expected doctors to make housecalls when kids got sick
2000: You’re joking, right? 0%

1970: 82% of the faculty at a state universities expected to get salary increases that not only kept up with inflation but also paid for such things as family car trips to the Grand Canyon.
2000: 1% expect increases, the rest expect nothing and are happy if their departments aren’t eliminated during budget trimming exercises.

1970: 64% of school aged kids expected a twinkie every once in a while in their lunch sack.
2000: 2% of delusional dreamers still look for that twinkie. The rest have suffered a 50s-like indoctrination about the evils of these and other Hostess treats. We once feared communism, we now fear twinkies.

1970: 99.4% of travelers expected their intact suitcases to travel with them on airplanes.
2000: 17% expect to see their unscathed black upright on the conveyor belt after a flight (in Madison, that statistic goes down to 11%). For the rest – it’s time for a conversation with the voice-activated robot who will do nothing, absolutely nothing to assist in the search for missing and inevitably damaged luggage. [Those perverse Samsonite lifetime warranties! Does anyone keep the original sales receipt and then dutifully MAIL the damaged suitcase to the manufacturer for a refund?]

And so on.

But I forgive this table, I forgive all. AdeB is like the best of the best bloggers. You read him for the cleverness of the presentation, for the way he looks at the bland and spins it into the sublime (a word which figures prominently in his Art of Travel book). In fact, you could take his cited Nietzsche quote from the Art of Travel and throw it right back at him. Nietzsche writes “…we are in the end tempted to divide mankind into a minority (a minimality) of those who know how to make much of little, and a majority of those who know how to make little of much.” In my mind, AdeB is at the epicenter of that minimality.
posted by nina, 7/04/2004 08:54:43 AM | link | (0) comments

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Where did you get those raspberries? Uh, sorry, I took the last ones… 

Very early in the day, you could go to the Morren’s Fruit Farm stand today at the Market and buy these:

first raspberries of the season Posted by Hello

My L’Etoile wagon was the foe of the people today as I moved around with it and wiped out many a supply: of the raspberries, of these carrots, too:

rainbow carrots Posted by Hello

Though I passed on these exquisitely toned beets – not on the menu yet.

rainbow beets Posted by Hello

It was a humid day and the Square was packed with out-of-towners (here for the holiday week-end). You can always tell – they dress differently and they buy things that don’t need refrigeration. And they always comment on the L’Etoile wagon. “Oh that’s from that French restaurant.” (French?) Or “What are you serving tonight?” (Me personally – nothing. In fact I’m not even cooking tonight, at the restaurant or at home, but I feel compelled to rattle off some menu items and give some general ideas on how shell peas or snap peas may appear on the dinner plate.)

I noticed that we are now fully into the July market. That means more yellow blooms:

pure gold Posted by Hello

a yellow thistle? Posted by Hello

Though I still favor the buckets of flowers, like for instance these:

nice! Posted by Hello

During my rounds, I had a number of visits with Anne Topham, the Fantome Farm cheesemaker (see site here). Taking over a croissant from the bakery (she loves these treats), I stuck around for a while and listened to her talk about her newest experiments in cheesemaking. I am so in awe of a person who doesn’t rest on her successes but continues to play around with new ideas.

Anne of Fantome Posted by Hello

She showed me the brand new labels they were using on the cheeses – each has a picture of one of the kid goats. Adorable!

note the kids Posted by Hello

If I may give a face to another big cheese person, here’s Felix, the goat feta guy who is now fiddling around with the goat milk ice cream. Felix talks with such gusto that you truly believe he is onto a spectacular new product that will revolutionize the food industry.

Felix of Capri Feta Posted by Hello

In the middle of the morning, an anti-war demonstration passed through the Square. Not surprisingly, this guy caught my eye:

justice takes to the streets Posted by Hello

In the end, I spent close to six hours at the Market. The last one was for myself. I picked up, among other things, several jeweled jars from this stand. One, of currant jelly, I will put to good use tomorrow. Check in then to see how indispensable a jar of jelly can be.

gems  Posted by Hello
posted by nina, 7/03/2004 05:12:57 PM | link | (0) comments

Friday, July 02, 2004

A summary of a walk 

It was, weather-wise, a near-perfect day. It took 50 minutes to walk from my home to Greenway (Madison’s newest shopping place, where I had a quick errand to do). It took another 1 hour and 40 minutes to walk from Greenway to Borders. During this extensive afternoon of walking (and head-clearing) I saw the following:

• 3 other pedestrians (yes, that’s right, in close to a three hour period of pedestrian biways, I encountered only three other walkers; they were in it for the exercise -- frankly, I was in it for the walk);
• 1 mailman;
• 1 woman jogging and pushing a baby stroller at the same time;
• more than 50 American flags gracing private residences (I have to admit, I am not much of a flag person unless we’re talking about the flags of all nations, strung out in front of the UN);
• a man stirring something ominous in a cauldron in his driveway. I asked what it might be. He told me he was making beer. Interesting.

I think we need build no more sidewalks in this town. No one uses them.
posted by nina, 7/02/2004 08:27:41 PM | link | (0) comments

I should be in Poland right now... 

...I have an invitation to deliver lectures at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow; I have a sister and father who would welcome me; and I long to take a walk through the Lazienki Park in Warsaw on a summer day. I must say, completely objectively now (yes, really, it is not my bias speaking here), that it is the most beautiful city park in the world.

Just two “photos of photos” I took in the park last time I was there during this season, 4 years ago (no digital camera then):

Chestnust shade Posted by Hello

Lazienki Summer Palace and buttercups Posted by Hello

However, yet again, I am stalling. I find it hard to fit in a Poland trip now. My family here, my extensive Asia travel that took a large chunk of time, my summer teaching, all these factors weigh against trips to Warsaw and Krakow during the spring and summer, thus for the last three years I have indeed been taking walks through Lazineki Park, but during times when it looked like this (in January):

a winter stroll, Lazienki, 2001 Posted by Hello

Lazienki in the winter, 2001 Posted by Hello

One of the biggest regrets (in switching to winter travel) is that I have been missing out on visits to these old highlanders (their names are Anna and Stanislaw):

Anna, in her Sunday best Posted by Hello

Stanislaw and his flock, 2000 Posted by Hello

…who live here:

the valley of Rynias, Poland, 2000 Posted by Hello

I could go in the winter, but it’s a hard hike in the snow (their house is about a two hour walk from the nearest paved road) and I’ve grown more reluctant to use a wash basin and an outhouse (they have no indoor plumbing) in the dead of winter. Did I say hardy peasant stock? Maybe not so much…

I first met Anna and Stanislaw some 30 years ago during a trip to the Polish highlands. I have stayed in their place numerous times since, but I noticed that my last hike there was now four years ago. These days I just send them a card once a year (they always eagerly look for a few dollars in it – they have no steady source of income; they live off the land and tend to their sheep and they are getting very very old), but I have great regrets that I don’t visit more often. The cluster of houses (which includes theirs) in the middle of the Alpine valley is possibly the most peaceful spot I know of. You can think great thoughts and scheme ambitious plans in the early morning hours while sitting at the edge of the forest, watching the three families who live there go about their morning chores. The smells are as important as the view: the pines, the pasture, the smoke from the chimneys and the brilliantly crisp mountain air – it is always a heady moment when you take it all in and exhale. It defines peace.

I am telling myself that my next trip to Poland (at some yet to be determined time this year) will include a hike to see Anna and Stas no matter what the season. I’ll come away with a sack of dried mushrooms that she will have picked. More importantly, I’ll fill my head with all those ambitious plans and great thoughts. I need a dose of both.
posted by nina, 7/02/2004 11:17:04 AM | link | (0) comments

Thursday, July 01, 2004

NO NO NO, I am not a Martha Stewart wannabe (especially these days), even if she and I share Polish roots 

However, I do want to give just ONE more plug to a cake recipe. This is the easiest, the best the most unusual, the most impressive little piece of chocolate indulgence you’re ever likely to come across. I mentioned it before: it is a flourless chocolate extravaganza with a great deal of currant liqueur in it. The recipe calls for covering it with a chocolate glaze and preparing a crème anglaise to pour on the bottom of the plate. I do neither. I serve it naked, with just a few currants (available at the Harmony Valley market stand this month) sprinkled on top. But you don’t even have to include those.

When my friends in Poland asked a couple of years ago if I could bake them something I was especially fond of, I baked this. Anyone with a passion for chocolate will love it. Promise. The entire deal takes very little time and it is terrific.

Tonight’s finished product:

bittersweet chocolate and currants Posted by Hello

Recipe (from Bon Appetit Magazine, 1994):

Flourless Chocolate-Cassis Cake

10 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (Ghirardelli is great for this)
1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter
½ c unsweetened cocoa liqueur
5 large eggs
1 c sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Butter 9 inch springform pan (with high 2 inch sides), line bottom with parchment (wax will be okay too) paper, butter that as well, dust the whole inside of the pan with flour.

Melt butter with chocolate in medium pan on low heat, stirring until smooth.
Whisk in cocoa and cassis.

With electric mixer, beat eggs with sugar in large bowl until it almost triples in volume (about 6 minutes). Add chocolate-butter stuff and fold together.


Pour batter into pan, bake 40 minutes, take out, let stand for 5 minutes, run knife along sides then release springform, turn upside down onto rack and peel off paper. It may look gloppy and floopy – no matter! Kind of push together any crumbs that have fallen apart, or let them be, it’s all cool!

I love this cake warm, so I eat it right away. You probably should refrigerate (covered) whatever you don’t eat. But do take it out before the next eating session and bring it around for a couple of hours to room temperature. Oh, what the heck, it’s good in all ways. One guest likes to dribble heavy cream around the bottom. Another likes to take the currants off the stem and eat them together with the cake. It is so good, you will certainly find your way to enjoy it.
posted by nina, 7/01/2004 08:53:04 PM | link | (2) comments

To the reader who asked about my sister: 

When time permits, my sister checks in here and reads these oddball posts. Why are they odd? Because her life in Warsaw could not be more different than mine here in Madison. I must appear nothing short of eccentric, writing about Ligurian cakes and blogger dinners. But she skims over this voluminous material nonetheless, because she is a kind person and because she cares, even though there is this great distance between us, a whole ocean and half a continent on each side.

She is a year older and a few inches shorter. From early in my childhood, I have regarded her as stunning to look at. She has the olive complexion, the chestnut hair, the delicate frame that catches your eye. I keep telling my mother that we must have gypsy blood running through because how else do you explain these very un-Slavic features? My mom used to agree, but for some time now she pretends she doesn’t know what I am talking about. I guess gypsy blood is no longer something that she wants to flaunt to the Public Out There.

When I felt inspired as a child to dance wildly around the house, I would make everyone tear-up with laughter (I didn’t intend to be funny, it was my best imitation of ballet). But Eliza* had grace. There were times when femininity was a desirable label for girls. Eliza oozed femininity. I ran (I still often run if I am in a hurry), she floated. I rode bikes through puddles and dug holes on the river beach; she sat back and watched with her beautiful big brown eyes. I filled pages and pages of numerous notebooks with rambling journal-like notes. She painted sunsets and birch groves and buttercups with delicate stems.

A reader asked me just yesterday if it’s hard living so far away. Most definitely. When I visit once a year, she gives me her room and always puts small bunches of flowers on the night table – great fistfuls of lilies of the valley in spring, pots of primroses in winter. We often drive to the village where my grandparents once lived (and we did as well, during our pre-preschool years) and where she is now trying to restore, with the help of her son, Chris, the house that my grandfather built. It’s slow going. But she is patient. I’m not. She is.

This photo of the river (with the terrific sandy bottom and waist-deep waters) that runs past my grandparents' house in the village of "Gniazdowo" was taken by me in 1973; obviously it was not a crowded landscape then or during my childhood. It still isn't.

River Liwiec, north-east Poland, 1973 Posted by Hello

Here’s a photo of the two of us (possibly the last one taken where she is still taller than me; soon after I shot up while she stayed petite). We are at the Baltic Sea. I am 5, she is 6. I am cold (according to me, it is always cold by the Baltic Sea), she is not. Gypsy blood, I tell you.

Eliza & Nina, 1958 Posted by Hello

*Her name is Eliza, and anyone who pronounces it E-lie-zah will have to withstand a glare from me, because this is NOT how she appears to me. She is E-lee-zah.
posted by nina, 7/01/2004 03:29:13 PM | link | (0) comments


Sometimes you come back from giving a lecture and you think to myself -- wow! It worked today. The class was listening attentively (or so it appeared), your energy level was high, the topic was both complicated and fascinating, the questions were excellent. You begin to dream: maybe it can always be thus… Maybe, over the years, your lectures will have long waiting lists as students trip over themselves to sign up. And their children will want to attend law school just so they, too, can share in that great lecture experience… Maybe publishers will start calling, jostling for rights to your notes… Maybe.

But am I spinning too much here? Course evaluations provide just one tiny piece of information. What are people saying on the sidelines? How are students reacting to my teaching in general?

I had a rare chance to hear some behind the scenes comments. Because I am an honest sort, I’ll link to these very private observations. Straight from the mouths of recent grads. Are they nearly tripping over to attend my classes? To listen? To watch? Well, in a manner of speaking… (link here)
posted by nina, 7/01/2004 01:53:12 PM | 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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