Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In the Rain Tonight

I haven't written here in a long time, but tonight's walk home was worth writing about and I guess I just didn't fancy keeping it to myself. As I pen the title I think - that's too much like the Phil Collins song, so trite, but hey, I love that song - so the title stands.

Its not often that one can rejoice in the fact that a big highway runs right through one's neighborhood, but tonight I was thankful - and to be honest I really wished I could've walked underneath its giant cement roof all the way home, but alas, for the other three hundred and sixty some odd days of the year, I'm glad there's an ebankment, and landscaping covering it so you can pretend that parts of it aren't really there.

Its been raining non-stop since before 4:30 this afternoon. And besides the solid drenching I received on the last 2 blocks of my journey, at 10pm, I can't really complain, we need it. I've enjoyed the sunny weather lately, but its been a long dry winter with hardly any rain. Perhaps that's why there was such a party on the sidewalk tonight. I would venture to say that all the snails in my neighborhood were out and about.

It was like a party, there were small ones and big ones, some just sitting there, others trucking along, some in groups of two or three, and after a few paces on the sidewalk from the train station I started to notice them. Actually it was the crunching I noticed first (eek, Gretchen snail killer!). In my defense they were everywhere and it was challenging sometimes to dodge one without stepping on another!

I started to be curious, how many could there really be, so I started to count. I thought of E.O. Wilson and wondered, he was such a scientist would he have been counting on every walk, always collecting data, or would he just be noticing and observing. With the pouring down rain and darkness under the trees I am sure my count was far from accurate - but for my lack of exactitude I did start to notice something else.

Snails like fallen magnolia blossoms. I'm not sure they like to eat them or even touch them, but they sure like being around them. The spans of smooth open pavement where there was no debris, nary a snail could be counted. The spots with some deformity, or twigs and leaves had a few, but where the magnolia blossoms littered the pavement, that's where the real party was. Like snail Mardi Gras with petals like confetti scattered everywhere. Its hard enough dodging all the little guys in the dark, but picking them out from the blossoms and the leaves to step around them, well, let's just say I crossed the street a few times to avoid the inevitable crunching.

By the time I reached my door: 52. I won't break your heart (or in the case you're a snail hater, make your day) by telling you how many of them I found with the soles of my shoes, instead of my eyes (sorry guys!).

My time with the snails reminded me of two things:
1. there's always something wonderful happening around you or nearby - even like this dark, wet, stormy night, when I wanted to just pull up the collar of my rain coat and ignore the world around me until I got home to my warm little house - there was wonder all around. What is unpleasant to some is a party to others. I am glad I noticed.
2. I've been having somewhat of a dry lonely winter in my personal life lately, but as I walked up the steps to my house I thought, well, if the snails can wait out their long dry winter to finally meet up on the sidewalk tonight...I can wait a little longer too. The rain will come.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Put your money where your mouth is

Driving with my friend Laurie to the 5-spot this morning (home of the best salmon scram in the world) I was mourning the death of one of my favorite bookstores in Seattle, Bailey Coy Books. While it was the death of a tradition...back in the days when I lived on the "hill" I would eat at one of my favorite haunts (Paggliacci's pizza or Angel Thai) and grab a coffee at vivace before taking in the books at Bailey Coy. I would stroll among the new release and staff recommendation tables, pickup and turn over the books in my hands, read the jackets covers or the back of many, before carefully choosing the 1-2 out of at least 5-10 I wanted, that I would in fact purchase. Deceptive for its size, it was the only really small bookstore that had the selection I liked that was both current but seemed to keep some of the classics I wanted.

Beyond the sadness I feel that I can no longer lose myself for hours or parts of days among the few stacks at Bailey-Coy Books, is a rising fear for other independents I love. This year in the Bay Area where I now live I am struggling to come to grips with the loss of Cody's in Berkeley and Stacey's in SF. It harder now to get to an independent bookstore to spend my money, and if they disappear completely then I will need to transfer my affection to one of the giants or the behemoth Amazon which is now more of an online mall than just a bookstore.

I will give Amazon credit it blows the doors open for people who didn't have access to books before - so now if you have an internet connection and a mailing address or a post box you can get almost any book under the sun.This I believe is a good thing, especially if you live in a place where the censor books.

but I digress...

Driving to breakfast with Laur I shared an idea I've had to fundraise for independent bookstores. Public schools are doing it now - because the public money that used to fill the coffers is too thin to give every kid the current books and materials for learning, and in wealthier districts the parents raise even more money. They actually seem to want their kids to be able to have a library, history and physics classes - not just NCLB's math and English - and things like field trips - fancy that. Libraries are doing it too - in San Francisco we have the Friends of the Library Foundation - go figure.

So while I understand my idea flies in the face of most concepts of capitalism, I would've put down 100 or even 200 dollars last year to if it would've saved Bailey Coy - and I don't even live here anymore. Why you ask, would I do such thing? Because I think Bailey Coy made Capitol Hill, more interesting, it opened doors to knowledge and exploration, it started conversations and lines of inquiry. Its curators carefully selecting great books for people to not just buy, own, or turn over in their hands, but to experience, to take home, to learn from...to stop people in their tracks and exclaim in their heads (or sometimes out loud) "Wow, I never knew that!" I understand I have a deep and abiding love of books, which some - most - people do not share, but I have laughed out loud in the middle of Bailey Coy, and then usually had to explain myself to other shoppers, and more than once I've cried because a line or a subject so touched me, I've sat on the stairs in back, hoping passersby wouldn't notice, as I remembered a sadness, a love lost, a moment found, something beautiful enough to give me pause. Books move me, what can I say, except that they do.

So why wouldn't I pay money to keep a beautiful place like this in existence. If we live now in an economy where the "unnatural selection" that occurs through open markets and competition doesn't allow for places like this to exist, why not fundraise? I know its silly, they need help making enough profit, and capitalists would argue that their business model needs to be updated. I don't know much about that, but I know I love books and I hate thinking that in my lifetime I will watch all the good ones die. Like opera, symphony, ballet, art museum, are there no powerful benefactors that just want the model or a small bookstore to survive. There's something that happens to people when they walk inside, when they start the conversation about some book they see, its and experience worth saving, and frankly its one I'll never have online at Amazon.com.

I find myself now in the many varied stacks of another Seattle favorite - Eliott Bay Book Company - in its new location. When I heard they moved from their fantastic old location in Pioneer Square location, I thought "Oh no! there just one step away from their own demise...no way this can be good." but now that I am here I am less afraid. It feels like a smaller location, but I do not sense they have lost any of their books - there are still shelves upon shelves, section upon section, and I am now lost. I am astounded now by the number of books that have been published about reclaiming the food chain on the heals of the slow food movement and Food, Inc.

I sit now upstairs at a long table trying to decide which books to buy. I had said I wouldn't buy any books here, because I didn't want to have to shove them in my luggage and carry their weight home with me...but there is no good place for me to get them anywhere near my house or work in the Bay area. So as I ponder which Julia Child biography to buy, and whether I really want the latest installment from Tracey Kidder (Mountains Beyond Mountains being one of my all time favorite books) I remember my conversation in the car.

Some of my friends, those who know I have a "problem" buying books, would say I am simply rationalizing my next big purchase. I share my affliction with Nick Hornby (who has actually published three books on the subject) who puts it best: I suffer from buying far more books than I can ever read. Affliction, sickness, overindulgence, selfishness, or simply a love and passion for book - whatever you label it - I want these beautiful places to stay alive in the world. So today, I put my money where my mouth is.

In the spirit of Nick Hornby:

Books purchased this month (some in SF):
Strength in What Remains - Tracey Kidder
Julia Child: A Life - Laura Shapiro (gift)
My Life In France - Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 - Julia Child, Loisette Bretholle, Simone Beck and Sidonie Coryn
Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel - Alice Walker
Mom: A celebration of Mother from StoryCorps - David Isay (gift)
Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance - H.H. Dalai Lama and Paul Eckman, Ph.D.
The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway
The Passport - Herta Muller

Books read the month:
If the Buddha Dated - Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D.*
The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom - Suze Orman*
My Life In France - Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme*
The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway*

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


you know that feeling when someone you love is gone
like all the air has been sucked out of the room
and there are no words to describe the feelings
...despair, anger, sadness...
that accompany the loss

i think it was Steve Martin in LA Story who said
we never know precisely when love starts,
but we always seem to know when it ends

all i know is
it doesn't matter what city you woke up in
what continent you're on
even what time zone or season you're in
there's still no air
it's hard to breathe
and there aren't words for this

Friday, April 3, 2009

cosmic ping pong

ideas cascade
conversations intersect
ideas, thoughts, inspirations
flow together like streams
ever widening towards the river
then the sea

my mind buzzes
with thought and feeling
color, like sky
wire, taking form
stones, like those small weighty
bits of ourselves that hold us down
when we might just float away

voices intermingle
with bits of each other
where your idea ended
and my thought began
is unclear
like cosmic ping pong
pieces of myself knocked free
bounce around the room
for all to touch before coming back to me
while others float or fall away
uncovering the mystery beneath

I am moved
past mere words
or thoughts or feelings
to a place simply connected
to the beauty that surrounds

----- ----- -----

I recently attended an art show of my long time friend Laurie Fronek in Seattle. I wrote this piece in response to the creative energy and sharing that resonated between the art and the people present at the show. I was inspired and the evening reminded me how beautiful it is when we can care for, foster and love the ideas and creative impulses we hold inside so that we bring them into being. Much like when a blossom breaks open, there is a sharing of the beauty and light we carry within ourselves, and it is both beautiful expression and a gift for those who are allowed to share in it. Thanks to Laurie, and all the artists in the show, for opening those windows into themselves and letting us peer, if only momentarily, inside. I am moved and changed by it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

in transit

Buenos Aires didn't seem so different this morning as it did when I arrived, just past 5 am, the streets quiet but for a few stragglers from late night parties the night before. its a bit surreal actually - still dark, the streets seem to disown me - was I really here - coming and going in stealth while everyone was sleeping - I long to be home and yet stay at the same time - and don't feel quite like I belong in either place, but somewhere in between the two. between the north and the south - east and west - the summer and the winter - the known and the unknown...between the darkness and the dawn. it still feels so unknown, mysterious, barely seen - is this the city I walked in, dreamt in, sweat and drank coffee in or is this some surreal place in my imagination - not really part of the trip - like bookends, that hold the books together, but aren't really part of the library.

my head is fuzzy, from not enough sleep - much like when I arrived - what have I forgotten, left behind, and will I need it where I am going? as the countryside slides by in the warm morning air I remember thinking how often it is on journeys such as this that the internal journey we take is somehow further than the external one. still 5 time zone and opposite latitude - different hemispheres - in some small way this place became like home. a home. In many ways I am looking forward to being home. Currently without job and a number of things in flux - it will be nice to get started on things undone, and yet at the same time I know this afternoon I am going to miss the delightful girl at the hotel who would hand me my key always with a smile and buen dias...and the guys at the cafe on the corner - not know if I would have another coffee or cerveza. they were excited to hear even my english telling of the futbol game the other day - again for a minute I felt like a rockstar - they got something special out of talking to someone who was actually AT the game.

I'll miss their quizzical looks when I would attempt to ask something more complicated about the menu - and the way they always took good care of me.

From Lima - I have the briefest of notes about the croissant (I know - enough with the damn croissants already!) - it has been confirmed - while the Peruvian croissant is served warm and with a smile and good coffee - all good things - it is in fact just bready dinner roll dough hewn into a shape roughly resembling that of a croissant. hmmm - maybe I'll go to tartine in the morning for coffee (mmmmmmm cofffeeeeee) and one of their ham and cheese dreams.

Speaking of food - I now find myself in San Salvador - about to board a plane for the last leg of my journey home - and I miss La Taq, or better yet El Farolito....hmmm perhaps there is a midnight super quesadilla run in my future.

I did peak my head into a bar here in the airport - aptly called "The bar" and thought what the hell I'll have a papusa and a beer. not so great. but when is food you get INSIDE the airport ever that good anyway. maybe they have to irradiate or do something special to all the food that makes it past security so it just has no real texture or flavor.

what I for more than a proper croissant or a late night super quesadilla - is for the impossible - for my best friends to meet me at the cafe on the corner and then make our way to gran bar danzon, patagonia sur, miranda, sucre, or some other new foodie place in BA, and have a couple bottles of wine - a few good steaks and other things we've never tried before (and celebrate my birthday).

cheers to you all - I look forward to catching up with you soon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


today was my last day in BA - I went to the futbol museum - and finally made it to the Museo de Nacional de Belle Artes (MNBA) did a little shopping for last minute items and ate another delightful meal at Gran Bar Danzon - and am sitting here - having one last cerveza at the corner cafe next to my hotel - it has been my own little home base - for the past few days the guys in the cafe wave if I happen to walk past but don't come in. i'll miss seeing them for coffee in the morning- and while they may miss me too - one thing I'm sure they won't miss is the fabulous way that I butcher their language - every. single. day!

anyway - there's a lot more to write about - so I promise to try to go back and post things that are partially written - before I get all caught up in the goings on of home again.

I'll miss the summertime - I'll miss the good coffee (even in the worst cafes the coffee is still really good here), the desserts, the sommeliers, the medialunas (croissants), the beef (omigod the beef!), the fancy ladies always in their high heels and sparkly things (can you say bling? not better than a porteno lady) and so many other things I can't quite think of right now.

well, my taxi comes for me at 4:30 am tomorrow - so I'm off to finish packing and get a couple hours of sleep. the moon is beautiful on this my last warm and balmy summer night in Buenos Aires. Good night.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's super--...no wait, its just dessert

...well not any ordinary old dessert mind you, this is another mind altering - ass kicking - fantabulous - I am completely at a loss for words to describe what it is - dessert!

ok - so I have a few new food rules - which I promise to describe in more detail in another post - but 2 of them apply here.

1. If you are in a nice restaurant (in BA in particular) and you ask the waiter/host what he thinks the best thing, i.e. his favorite thing, on the menu is - and he tells you - just go with it. IT. WILL. BE. GOOD.

2. If you are in a nice restaurant (in BA in particular) don't load up too much on the bread (though the bread is amazing - and there's a whole post coming - I hope - about the wonderful diversity of bread baskets across the city) or appetizers and try every once in a while to save room for dessert. YOU. WILL. NOT. BE. DISAPPOINTED.

ok - so tonight - I was at yet another restaurant - Gran Bar Danzon - which Lonely Planet doesn't do justice - they make it sound like its just a great place to do some wine tasting - or have a good cocktail - but they make it sound like the food is just so-so. Well, perhaps they didn't vote Sebastian onto their island when they reviewed the place. Sebastian - as it turns out - not only knows the menu (though I am not sure how he is SOOOooo thin) - but has impeccable taste...as my friend Tauni would say (mom, please excuse the french I'm about to use) - this guy's not fucking around!

so tonight - I save room for dessert. {sidebar -last night I showed up at gran bar danzon for a caipirinha, or two, since they have GREAT 2 for nearly-the-price-of-one happy hour specials, and being tired (oh the blasphemy) of eating beef (i know, i know, what. is. wrong. with. me!) I opted for the salad Sebastian recommended - and then the pork loin (breaking rule #1 above, by not just going with Sebastian's first recommendation of the rib-eye, but instead, his admitted second favorito, the pork}

Sebastian recommends "the block" which, when I read the menu sounded vaguely like a foodie take on the brownie sundae...I resist...I think "how many times can this guy be right?"...and then I remember how good all his other recommendations were (EVEN the squid, yes, it was squid salad...don't ask...it too was one of the best things I've ever eaten - and I don't really like the squid!) and then I remember the new food rule #1 - JUST.GO.WITH. IT. (it. will. be. good.)

(and no that is not me agreeing to marry anyone...well the dessert maybe?!)

so - there is something else I should now confess - if you follow food rules #1 and #2, in Buenos Aires the result - based on my limited amount of experience, there is a very good chance that you will find yourself eating a dessert that is like having sex. Yes it happened again. and no - I am not talking about any run-of-the-mill, i-think-i-might-be-getting-a-headache-cause-i'm-not-sure-i-really-want-to kind of sex. I am talking about the world melts away, words are useless, you forget all rules of conduct and physics, thought gravity seems to still work - but everything else - wow, where did it go? - kind of sex. You know like when...ok wait, we're not talking about sex, we're talking about DESSERT.

I had one bite - the room began spin (and no I wasn't drunk - even on the perfect...no really, I do ACTUALLY mean "perfect" dessert wine that Sebastian recommended to go with the, sex...er the dessert, but at this point they're sorta the same thing and I am still fumbling about for words) and there was no more restaurant, I forgot my name and where I am from and what I do for a living - and who my friends were - it was just me - and this big white plate with 2 beautiful blocks of chocolate/caramel with peanuts inside, covered in dark chocolate...see the words just don't even come close to describing the perfectly sweet, smoky, nutty, caramelly, fudgey heaven that i experienced when it touched my tongue. (kind of like that scene in the movie "Ratatoille" where all these little swirling fireworks go off when Remy feeds Emile the mix of cheese and fruit and the tastes combine in a lovely explosion in his mouth.)

it was warm...and silky...and...and...does anyone have a cigarette?