Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A is also for And Now…

I am suspending entries in Alphabird for now and moving over to an even-more-random blog, Route 153. Come on over for a visit.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A is for Animals

Slowly but surely, I’ve been working my way through the BBC’s Planet Earth series. I tend to watch an episode while I’m on my NordicTrack elliptical cross trainer. Although it may be dreary winter outside, I can spend an hour getting my heart rate up in the jungle or on the great plains or in caves or shallow seas. Even the Arctic—though it doesn’t psychologically warm me—feels more scenic than the now–soot-ridden snow along our roadside.

One thing I love about this series is all the types of animals filmed—animals I will likely never see in my lifetime, and ones I should never see if their habitat is to have any chance of survival. Most animals have bodies that are incredibly different from mine. The way bodies have evolved to succeed in their environments fascinates me.

At its heart, of course, this series is a brutal record of who-eats-whom.

Watching Planet Earth reminds me of how alike all we animated beings are, as everything for all of us is based on three things: food, territory, and sex. When push comes to shove (and it will), this is all any of us cares about. If we claim to care about other things, it’s only because somehow these three have sorted themselves out—and likely any of those “other things” we care about has roots in one of these three.

In other words, I know that I’m an animal. And I know that you are, too.

Monday, February 4, 2008

B is for Black-Crowned Night Heron

I’m home in Vermont now, but being in Portland and thinking of B put me in mind of the last time I saw a black-crowned night heron, which was in September in that fair city.

A most beautiful, exotic bird.

The first time I saw black-crowned night herons was many years ago at the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge. It’s a beautiful spot, but to a beginning birder, it’s heaven. You have the ocean and the brackish spots and the forest and the Wildlife Loop that is open only to pedestrians and bicyclists during the day—cars can circle at dusk.

I believe it was dusk when we saw them.

They were all juveniles, roosting in the trees for the night, just over a stream. There must have been at least a dozen of them. They looked like stocky little aliens sitting there, staring at us, just far enough away with the water between us that they seemed none too threatened. I felt like I was truly in another world.

Any time I’ve seen a black-crowned night heron, it feels like something magical has happened.

One night last September (it must have been September, as it was already cold), Tim and I finished up dinner, probably at the pizza place, and afterward he said, “You wanna walk out on the pier?” I usually do, but something of my old city self kicked in, as it was dark, and I wondered if we should be out there at this hour. There weren’t that many people around.

But, of course, we did walk out, and when we got to the end, there was a bird sitting atop a wood pile (or, as some may say, post). It took a moment for it to register that it was a black-crowned night heron. I hadn’t seen one in so long, and it was just sitting there, seemingly undisturbed by the few people who were around. We stopped not far from it and watched it. It watched us.

There were a couple of guys behind us who asked us what kind of bird that was. We told them. This started a long chatty conversation of some sort. I’m trying to remember if they were fishermen, which would be the most likely thing—it seems they moved around a bit to work. But a lot of this conversation is lost to me because I kept sneaking glances back at the night heron, who eventually disappeared.

S/he was soon replaced by another distraction, though: a voice, a laugh. Three people had come down to the end of the pier and were sitting there chatting away. I thought I recognized one of them. It can’t be, I thought. Ilaria? Of course, it could be. She lived in this town, although not nearby.

Ilaria was a stylist who had worked with Tim a long time ago. She’d worked with Roger more recently, before he joined Tim’s company. Roger had kept up with her, and when Tim and I and Roger and his family were all in Portland the previous spring, we’d met up with Ilaria and caught up a bit. She is a kind soul, and it was great to see her.

But was that Ilaria? Not enough light, and these guys—one of whom was from Pennsylvania, now that I think of it, as is Tim—were talkin’ up a storm. But Tim must have noticed too, because I think he nudged me and said, “Ilaria?”

We called over. Ilaria indeed.

Circumstances were sad. Her friends had lost a relative; they’d all just had dinner together after a memorial service. Again, these (possible) details are all swirly. Her friends had immediately walked off to let Ilaria have her reunion. It was great one. Such a strange moment in time, full of coincidences that so easily might not have happened.

It’s hard to know when to listen to those voices that tell you that maybe you should be afraid. Sometimes I have not listened to them and regretted it. If I had listened to them that night, I would not have had the magical evening of Ilaria and the Black-Crowned Night Heron.© But I would never have known that I missed it, just like all the things I’ve missed and don’t know it. Of course, this kind of thinking can make you crazy if you let it. I guess you just go forward in life knowing you’ve missed some good things and you’ve dodged some bad things, and you haven’t missed some good things and you haven’t dodged some bad things. And that’s how it’s going to go.

But it’s all better with birds.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

C is for Cava

So, I’m in Portland again, and last night Tim and I go to one of his (and OK, my) favorite little restaurants. Seats just twenty, including four at the bar—the bar not being a real bar, per se, but a little counter up against a half-wall topped with wine bottles. One might feel restricted at the bar if the food (creative northern Italian) weren’t so damn good. It’s where we sat last night.

We walk in and were greeted by Sara (I’m guessing on this spelling), who notes that we hadn’t been there in awhile, and it’s true—not since September. Somehow we missed a visit here in December. She sits us down and says that they are so happy to see us, and would we like some sparkling wine? Tim is already eyeing up the wine list, and I don’t think he gets what I think she’s saying—“on us”—but I, being a lover of all things sparkly and Champagne and Prosecco and dry, say that of course I would love that, because I would, and which one does she recommend? She likes the Cava. Bring it on.

It was lovely. It was perfect. It did not appear on our bill.

This is not the only place in Portland where staff remembers us. In December, for his birthday, we took Tim to his other favorite spot, very pricey, and again, it was all how-have-you-been, it’s-been-awhile, really-a-year?-it-doesn’t-feel-like-that-long.

Yes, I know that this is part of what good service is. Yes, I know people are doing their jobs and need the high tips that will come their way. But in these couple of cases, I know they are not pretending to remember us. They remember us. (And if they don’t, please don’t shatter my illusion.)

We live five hours away from here.

This morning at a breakfast place, I saw a hint of recognition cross the waiter’s face. (He no doubt placed me when I ordered four pounds of their granola to take home to Vermont, although this time they couldn’t accommodate the request. Oh yeah. Crazy Vermont chick.) He got my order wrong, but it was something I’d always been tempted to try anyway. It’s the kind of hippie place where you can’t imagine that anyone working there could actually be a morning person.

It’s a short stay this time, and we’re scheduled to leave tomorrow, but a snowstorm is a-brewin’, and I think we’ll wait til Saturday morning. This suits me fine, as it means I can go see Persepolis, which starts here tomorrow and will probably never play anywhere near me. I just spent the last two days completely absorbed in the book (after my work hours, of course), trying to finish it before presenting it to a birthday girl at her party tonight.

And I just started The Invention of Hugo Cabret, this year’s Caldecott Medal winner, which I bought for my mother’s birthday (shhh!) because she collects Caldecotts, and I make sure that she owns every one. This is unlike any previous winner, at 530 pages of mixed illustration/text. It’s phenomenal. I’ve been loving the graphics in my reading this week. I’ve been loving that I’ve been reading this week.

So how’s this for a stream-of-consciousness post? That’s what Cava will do to you. Who cares what you post? Just post something! Spread the sparkly!

One other thing: I went roller skating Tuesday night—hadn’t been in eight years. The first ten minutes were tough, but it came back to me. I’m not quite ready for derby. But the disco ball is utterly trippy when you’re taking the corners.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

D is for Deloney

A click of the mouse and suddenly I’m on the Danforth, tumbling onto the street like Alice down the rabbit hole. Sometimes it’s hot and steamy there; sometimes cold and gray. Always there is the smell of good food and a many-accented murmur. It’s good to be on the street, but it’s also lovely to take in the view from the window of Deloney’s apartment, the smell of onion and garlic comforting even that which thought it could not be comforted—and Fanny rubbing up against me, purring a bit, pushing a bit, whispering, “Move. That’s my sill.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

E is for Eric

22 August 1974–25 May 2007

366/365 Apparently, you weren’t just my cousin. You’re someone I would have liked: reputedly hilarious. We were in the same room only a handful of times, that last at your father’s funeral. You were seventeen, and I was shy. Now I feel so cheated. This sucks.

Monday, January 21, 2008

F is for Frustration and Fridge Freakouts

Sometimes it’s the little things that feel like really big things. Stupid things, things we’ve gotten used to as relatively rich first worlders, and when these little things don’t work the way they should, we are just so put out.

Near the end of November, just about the time several other appliances/vehicles were deciding it was time to break down, my water heater stopped heating water. (It was the best of times.)

Pretty quickly, the guy from the gas service came out, replaced a small part, and voilĂ ! Hot water again! All for only $110! ($10 part, $99 service call.)

On December 19, there was no hot water.

We got service that day. Bad part last time, apparently. No charge.

On January 3, we were again hot-water-free. This time the guy seemed to think they’d gotten a batch of bad parts.

When I made the next call on January 16, I was told that another part was on order for us—the part they suspected was making this tiny little part die every few weeks. No one had told me or Tim that this new part was being ordered. (I’m guessing that maybe it hadn’t been—they were covering, and they were going to order it now.) No one came out on the 16th. No one came out on the 17th, because they still hadn’t gotten the part. “I’d really like some hot water for the weekend,” I said on the 17th. “Could you at least send someone out with the temporary part?”

That same part was replaced on the 18th. We had hot water all weekend long.

Today, after my workout, I filled up the tub for a bath. It was cold.

I called again. There is no word on the part. The woman said that W—’s, their distributor of parts, hadn’t shown up yet, and that she would check. I asked her to call me back today. As she has never called me back, I expect to hear nothing.

That no one seems to be very aggressive about finding this part-on-order makes me feel they are lacking a bit in the customer service department. (The guys who show up to work on the water heater are always nice, though.) The fact that I am calling them all the time should be motivating them to find this part, fix the thing, and shut me up. They can’t be happy about these repeated free house calls. (They better be free.)

I drove a mile to my sister’s and took a bath. I am lucky that I have this option.

It could be much worse. I could have no water. I have water. That’s huge. But it’s winter. It’s too cold for cold showers. I am a spoiled American who has become used to hot water.

Grrrr. Argh.

And speaking of frustrating bourgeois problems and the letter F, I had one of my Fridge Freakouts this weekend (what with actually having hot water, my anxiety had to land somewhere). These occasional panic attacks tend to happen when the refrigerator is very full and when I realize how much of this fullness has to do with jars and jars of condiments.

This may sound strange, but a too-full refrigerator causes me way more anxiety than a near-empty one. (If I were living in poverty, this would not be true. I am aware of the craziness here.) A too-full refrigerator means I can’t see what’s in it. A too-full refrigerator means that in all likelihood, we two people who live here are going to end up throwing food out. I hate throwing food out. It feels wrong.

A too-full refrigerator reminds me of the cluttered home of my family of origin. Let the hyperventilation begin.

The other night, I wanted to cook up some broccoli in hoisin sauce. I searched the refrigerator for this condiment. High and low. Didn’t find it. Opened a new jar, then put that jar in the refrigerator. Hard to find a place for it, what with all those jars.

How much horseradish do we need? (I don’t eat it—we have three open jars of various styles.) How many jars of jam need to be open and kept cool at any one time? When do we eat jam? Well, we better start, goddammit.

I began doing an inventory. The last time I fridgefreaked, I remember being upset by three open jars of capers and five jars of mustard. I am happy to say we are down to no capers and two jars of mustard, but one of them is honey mustard. I hate honey mustard. Tim likes honey mustard, but not enough to eat it, obviously, because it’s still here. I’m sure it’s one of those five from last time.

With some of these condiments, we are talking years.

On the top shelf of the refrigerator: olives, mole sauce, my newly opened hoisin sauce, tropical mango mild salsa, tomato-basil jam, yeast, a tube of concentrated pesto, an open jar of tomato-basil sauce, and butterscotch syrup. In the door: jalapeno jelly, black bean sauce, pepper jelly, chocolate syrup, mayonnaise, lemon juice, lime juice, vegetable broth, Rose’s lime juice, apple butter, lemon-pear marmalata, an unmarked purple jam, tamarind concentrate, butter, Thai peanut sauce, hoisin sauce (hello! there was an open jar after all!), raspberry teriyaki, Tabasco, three salad dressings, maple syrup, tamari, Szechuan spicy stir-fry sauce, prickly pear cactus syrup, those three jars of horseradish, maple chipotle grille sauce, green peppercorns, la tartufata, those two mustards (one grey poupon, one honey), minced garlic, and some unmarked glass jar that Tim opened, sniffed, and declared “some sort of ginger something.”

He did make himself a piece of toast and finish off a cherry jam at the beginning of my freakout, god love him.

Of course, some of these condiments are essential to have around at all times. I just wish that if we opened something, I could have some sort of confidence that it would be used up within a few months or we wouldn’t bother opening it to begin with.

Now I feel I have to be on a mission to eat some of this stuff—to plan my meals around these f#%*ing condiments. I want some order. I want some breathing room.

I want a drink. Those never seem to last long in the fridge.

Monday, January 14, 2008

G is for Giraffe

At last, there is a giraffe in my bathroom.

One wouldn’t think it would fit. I have, after all, a very small bathroom—one that barely fits me, let alone me and a giraffe.

Me, a bunny, and a giraffe.

I met the giraffe at an art party last summer. Sioux and Aidan painted it together. I had to bring it home. It stands on one of those circus stands that elephants often stand on. I don’t think this is normal behavior for a giraffe.

Normal or not, I wanted that giraffe in my bathroom, black tongue and all.

You can’t see the black tongue.

Sunday we finally got it in there. There was a hammer involved. Sometimes one has to be firm with a giraffe.

There are other giraffes in my house, but not many. They are not usually obvious, but they will come out for a party. One lives on a coaster. Two are camouflaged in glassware: one on a beer mug, one on a shot glass. (Those two traveled all the way from Kenya with Alison just to be with me.) They do not like to come out when there is a hammer in sight. Even hammered people make them jittery.

The giraffe in my bathroom is learning to nose the faucets on and off. I’m happy for this show of independence, as it’s all I can do to keep up with feeding it 140 pounds of leaves and twigs each day. I have to keep up, though, to keep it out of the cotton balls, Q-tips, and tampons. Replacing those items can get really expensive.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

H is for Highland Games

Overheard at the games at Skye in 1997, just as the weight-over-the-bar event was getting under way:

Little girl: Is he a strong man, Mummy?
Mummy: We’ll see.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I is for Italy

Yesterday we placed a phone call to Italy.

A decade ago, Tim’s job was such that he would make biannual trips to Verona to check color separation on the catalog. On four occasions, I was invited to come along. By invited, I mean that the company in Italy invited me. They bought my plane ticket and treated me as their guest, complete with weekend trips to Venice or Florence.

I know it was business, but in the end, it was more than that. Proprietors Pier and Sergio were good to us beyond business. Their kindness and generosity—their personal interest and time—exceeded anything they had to do to make the client happy. And without them, it’s possible I may never have gotten to Italy.

After maybe a half-dozen years, things changed—the economy, the technology—and Tim’s company stopped using the Italian separators. Pier and Sergio were close to retirement age and would soon be moving on themselves; still, it was a sad ending.

They call us every Christmas.

This year, Pier called while Tim was away, so I was the only one to get to talk with him that evening. (Did he later call Tim at work? I think so.) Pier had a small stroke a couple of years ago and is doing well now, but he’s given up golf, a passion of his, because he can’t play at the level to which he’d grown accustomed. (Those frustrations await all who live long enough to enjoy them.) Pier lives near Milan, and now that he and Sergio are retired, they rarely see each other.

Sergio recently sent a Christmas card (the Piazza Bra and its holiday star) and included photos from his 70th birthday party. There he is with his wife Anna and his four grandchildren—Francesca, Alice, Alberto, Giovanni—and they are standing in front of his new house, the one he and Anna were planning ten years ago. It is a happy, beautiful picture.

We went away for the Christmas holidays, and I left a detailed message on the answering machine as to when we’d be back, knowing in my heart of hearts that Sergio would call while we were gone. And he did, within a couple of days of our departure. He said he’d call again January 2, the day I’d be back in my office. We beat him to the punch.

Tim always calls, and Anna always answers. Tim doesn’t speak Italian, and Anna doesn’t speak English, and it always works out fine. Sergio was home, and we had a wonderful conversation, catching up just a little, hearing each other’s voices. Sergio may visit the states this year. I so wish we could get to Italy.

I am ridiculously fond of Sergio. He is a lover of life and humanity. He is devoted to his loved ones. I used to think I would name something after him were I ever to have occasion: a child, a pet. We recently drank a bottle of Prosecco called Sergio, which I had bought because of its label. I kept the bottle.

I realize this post is beginning to sound like “I is for sergIo,” so perhaps I should reiterate that I is for Italy. Italy is Verona: the Piazza Bra, the Arena, and their beautiful shooting star and markets at Santa Lucia. Verona is the Porta Bosari, Piazza delle Erbe, Juliet’s balcony. It is Castelvecchio, the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore, and Sant’Anastasia. It is all the hours I spent alone, walking and exploring while Tim worked. It is Pier and Sergio each time wondering if my unfortunate delicate traveling constitution was actually a pregnancy. (It never was.)

Italy is Venice, where I felt I must have lived a previous life: It felt so familiar and right to wander the streets and bridges. Italy is Florence, where the art overtook me and the marble Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore astounded me and where I climbed the campanile. Italy is Siena, where Sergio and Anna took us one day to wander the beautiful streets and see the piazza and have a pastry in a famous café. Italy is northern Italian pizza, the most perfect in the world. Italy is my daily fix of gelato (more often than not of the nocciola variety).

In fact, in all this time that I haven’t been posting, I’ve been planning to write “I is for Ice Cream,” a topic I expect I could go on and on about. One of the stories I would have told had to do with Sergio, although, sadly, I was not there to witness it. One hot July day, Tim was with Sergio and Anna, and I believe they were in Verona, near the Arena. They stopped for gelato, and Sergio ordered “three balls” of it. This proved to be too tall an order, and the balls toppled onto him. “Cioccolata disastro!” he exclaimed. It is an expression Tim and I use to this day.