The irony of Christmas travel is this: precisely at the moment it is most important for everyone to arrive on time to their destination, the number of travelers wanting to do so causes them not to arrive on time.
Or chowder-thick fog in London causes it.
I am in Barcelona, and today I have visited the airport twice in hopes of finding my tall blonde family standing out like sore (jet-lagged) thumbs amongst the short chestnut-haired Catalans.
No such luck.
Yes, for some crazy reason they all decided to ship out--brothers, sister, in-laws, nephew, parents--, and instead of spending Christmas in idyllic snowy Vermont (remember Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas? yep, Vermont), they will be in sunny but cold Catalonia, in a big Catalan farmhouse, eating the local Christmas specials like escudella.
The series of e-mail subject headings from my father throughout the day should tell the story (of long delays, no one telling them anything, cancellations, getting a flight to Madrid instead, flight to Madrid delayed, still hoping for a Madrid-Barcelona flight)...
>Flight from London to Barcelona
>Dad and family still at Heathrow 7:00 am
>Re: Dad and family still at Heathrow 7:00 am
>Dad Heathrow 11:25am
>Dad Heathrow again
>Dad--flight to Madrid now, then on to BCN
>Travel on Friday to Madrid
As of 9 this evening we still haven't heard anything from Madrid and we're crossing our fingers that they'll make it to BCN before the rental car place closes. Bah humbug on Iberia.
The good news is, it's not Christmas yet, or even Christmas Eve, so there's a bit of leeway. And once they arrive, we're going to celebrate a Christmas like we've never celebrated before. It's going to involve Catalan Christmas traditions like logs that poop presents (yes, I will elaborate later, and no, I am not making this up), a little clay pooper to be found hiding in nativity scenes, and a man with 364 noses.
22 December 2006
The irony of Christmas travel is this: precisely at the moment it is most important for everyone to arrive on time to their destination, the number of travelers wanting to do so causes them not to arrive on time.
19 December 2006
Ages ago I started this series of posts, and if you are a careful reader and are obsessive enough to worry about lists that announce they are Three and then are only Two, you may be wondering, where did number three go?
Well here, careful reader, is #3:
There are many many reasons why one of my favorite parts of the day is crawling into bed, but here are the top three (more numbered lists! I'm not a list-making, linear thinker, oh no, not me!):
1. I'm good at sleeping. I'm a champion. I fall asleep easily, I sleep deeply, I can wake up and fall back asleep again. I could outsleep you any time, and fall asleep anywhere, promise. I like to sleep.
2. Yet, this ability to fall asleep is combined with a night-time alertness, because I am not what you would call a morning person. So, when I go to bed, I often read for long stretches, and since I'm trying to put a quarantine on non-thesis reading to contain it within before-bed reading, I look forward to it very much. What I am trying to say is that Thing #3, sleep, is related to Thing #2, books. (Dr. Seuss, go away.)
3. Sleep is ever so much nicer once a husband is obtained. Cuddles and warmth and that sort of thing.
15 December 2006
Happy birthday to Muriel Rukeyser! In her honor, three of her beautiful poems. Not coincidentally, I think, these three happen to be titled as if they are a showcase of the form, the bones exposed, iconic and austere. They employ their own poem-ness in attempting to connect.
The last one, I read at a benefit poetry reading for tsunami victims two Christmases ago. It seems to capture so precisely the distances in our world of wars and machines, and our desire for connection, both affirming the possibility of connection and calling us to "reach beyond ourselves."
My thoughts through yours refracted into speech
transmute this room musically tonight,
the notes of contact flowing, rhythmic, bright
with an informal art beyond my single reach.
Outside, dark birds fly in a greening time :
wings of our sistered wishes beat these walls :
and words afflict our minds in near footfalls
approaching with a latening hour's chime.
And if an essential thing has flown between us,
rare intellectual bird of communication,
let us seize it quickly : let our preference
choose it instead of softer things to screen us
each from the other's self : muteness or hesitation,
nor petrify live miracle by our indifference.
The world if full of loss; bring, wind, my love,
My home is where we make our meeting-place,
And love whatever I shall touch and read
Within that face.
Lift, wind, my exile from my eyes;
Peace to look, life to listen and confess,
Freedom to find to find to find
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other.
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
I just took the "which Star Trek character are you" quiz. (Yes I *AM* working on my dissertation, promise!) I am gratified to know that my high score ranks me as most like Geordi LaForge, because I have a real soft spot for Geordi. However, the description is: "You work well with others and often fix problems quickly. Your romantic relationships are often bungled." Yes, yes, and um, no.
If I had been forced to guess in advance who I would score as, I would have picked Beverly Crusher or Expendable Redshirt. If I choose who I *wish* I was like, it would be Jean-Luc Picard. So much more level-headed and quite a sight more intellectual than Kirk.
Geordi LaForge 65%
Beverly Crusher 60%
Deanna Troi 50%
An Expendable Character (Redshirt) 45%
Jean-Luc Picard 45%
Will Riker 40%
Mr. Scott 35%
Leonard McCoy (Bones) 20%
James T. Kirk (Captain) 20%
Mr. Sulu 15%
Take the quiz here. Which trekker are you?
14 December 2006
A macaron is a French confection, one which has little to do with the coconut macaroons that we Americans associate with the word (although the word derives from the French, and the cookies are related within several generations).
The thing is, for some strange reason, I had never yet tasted one of these delectable creations, but due to their cuteness, gracefulness of form--smooth rounded top! ruffled inner layer! satisfying symmetry!-- and compelling variations in color, I had been longing to try some. I had seen them in Paris and in Brussels, often in chocolate shops or in fancy cake shops, so I was guessing they had to be something special.
But perhaps subconsciously I was putting it off, because in my experience it is often the case that the pastries and cookies that are the best looking end up being the worst tasting, or too bland, or at least not what you expected. (Case in point: In Porto last week I bought a huge pastry dusted with powdered sugar--for only thirty cents!--that looked like it was going to be a fluffy chocolate thing, but instead turned out to be a dense Christmas-style gingerbread. Still tasty, but definitely not what I was expecting.)
So Sunday after church, when we headed to Au Bouquet Romain, a posh coffee/chocolate shop decorated in hot pinks and oranges, and I spied macarons in the window, the moment had come. We ordered four, each about the size of a dollar coin. One was an intense pink color, almost maroon (hah! a maroon macaroon!), another deep chocolate brown so there was no mistaking what its flavor would be, another a light brown, and finally a sorbet orange.
I thought they would be crunchy, like merengues or other cookies, but instead after the delicate crunch of the thin crust, the inside was dense and gooey, and then the filling even denser, giving the whole thing an incredibly satisfying texture. And the flavor! Each one was an intense double-burst of flavorings: rasberry, dark chocolate, mocha, and orange. Like gelatto, the flavor seem to be intensified by the texture, and probably the visuals had something to do with it as well.
I've looked into recipes for making my own macarons, but it appears that I lack the equipment: mixer, food processor, etc. Plus, I encountered warnings of how difficult it is to make them correctly. So I'll just have to be satisfied--oh, so satisfied!--with stopping by Au Bouquet Romain during the day when the store above the coffee shop is open and they give away free samples (and then buying a few to tuck into later).
13 December 2006
Amid the sadness of the loss of one baby this weekend, we received news of the birth of another; one of my dear college friends gave birth to little Henry this weekend. (And this on the heels of babies born to another friend, a childhood friend and then her sister-in-law, all within this past month.) And, I should add, born to their fathers. I wouldn't want to leave the daddies out of the picture!
There is something so exquisite about the moment of welcoming a new child into the world, something immensely heartening about the promise of what each might bring into the lives of everyone he or she meets, especially, in these cases, knowing the beautiful souls who are parenting them. As a song by Sweet Honey in the Rock says, "Babies are born in a circle of sun, a circle of sun on the birthing day." That circle of sun also extends to those of us who are far away, warming even our little cold corner of Brussels.
So, here is a bit of poetry/song/prayer to say to Henry, Asher, Cai and Joshua, "Welcome to the world!"
Crystallize into your skin,
chrysalis of sun surround you.
Glow your stained glass swaddling,
go into God's world around you.
Absorb the green of love and grow,
dig down in roots, reach up, fly true.
Planted, flown, the salt of earth,
light arrives, the dawn is new.
12 December 2006
They have something to do with one another; it must be about looking beyond, about being willing to be hurt, to feel fully. God in a firestorm, fear of the God hidden in the burning bush, but despite that fear, uncovering the eyes. Looking through fear, seeing that the bush does not burn up.
I had been thinking about these things already, collecting those quotes below and writing the above, when this morning came the news that the baby of a family I had just met a couple of weeks ago had died suddenly, in his sleep, this weekend. Inexpressably heartwrenching. Poetry is paltry, but better than prose.
Baby, you were born
into your death during the night.
Little pheonix, little phial of flame,
your bundled feathers at once took flight.
You have seen beauty and it burned
our eyes, but it burned yours into sight.
Bathe our eyes, bathe them with tears,
cry to us and sing to us, cradle us
with what you know of light.
I come down to the water to cool my eyes.
But everywhere I look I see fire;
that which isn't flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.
- Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)
Who, if I screamed, would hear me among the ranks
of angels? and even supposing one clutched
me suddenly to its heart: I would perish from the
power of its presence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of a terror we can hardly bear,
and it amazes us so, because it nonchalantly declines
to destroy us. Every angel is terrifying.
Voices, voices. Listen, my heart, as usually only
saints have listened: till the immense call
lifted them off the ground; but they kept on
kneeling, impossibly, and paid no attention:
so rapt were they. Not that you could bear God's
voice, far from it. But listen to the windblown,
the uninterrupted message that forms out of silence.
It rushes now from those who died young to you.
- Rainier Maria Rilke (the First Duino Elegy)
God circled her.
Fire. Time. Fire.
Choose, said God.
- Anne Carson (God's Woman)
If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.
- George Eliot (Middlemarch)
It’s not how we leave one’s life. How go off
the air. You never know do you. You think you’re ready
for anything; then it happens, and you’re not. You’re really
not. The genesis of an ending, nothing
but a feeling, a slow movement, the dusting
of furniture with a remnant of the revenant’s shirt.
Seeing the candles sink in their sockets; we turn
away, yet the music never quits. The fire kisses our face.
- C.D. Wright (Only the Crossing Counts)
10 December 2006
Something I had suspected is now confirmed as fact; people throw trash into our window well. I had wanted to believe that the wind blew it in, but now I know that is not always the case. As I stood in the kitchen making dinner, a passer-by casually tossed a freshly emptied beer can past the grate and at the window. With a clink a little dribble of beer, we now have a new urban sculpture to contemplate from the kitchen. At least the windows have been recently replaced, and actually open, so we can clean it out. Before, we just had to sit miserably and wash the trash pile up like snowdrifts.
Would you, if you were a passer-by, throw your trash at the window of someone's home? I think not. In fact, if you were a decent person, you wouldn't throw trash anywhere but a trash receptacle, period. Yet people seem to enjoy flinging it about towards cozy windows without a care in the world as long as the window is partially underground. Tsk tsk.
Oh, if you want to know the other 35 reasons not to live underground, just let me know. I won't bore you with the details unless you're actually planning to move into some such place, but let me just say that the list involves rats, insects, humidity, mold, allergies, darkness, and did I say rats? (That problem has been cleared up, mind you, or we really would be out of here by now.)
For, masochists that we are, we've decided to stay in this apartment at least until the renovations are done in Barcelona. Since we've heard nothing regarding the other apartment in Brussels we had pinned our hopes on, we're going to stay put and not try to attempt moving hassles and more expensive rent at the same time as we undergo the whole double-mortgage plus demolition derby thing. Ah, home sweet home.
08 December 2006
[Note of apology: On Friday, when I wrote this blog entry in the first flush of Dean excitement, I thought that I hit "save as draft" instead of "publish." Evidently, I hit the latter. Forgive its unfinished-ness if you read the earlier version, and please re-read, because I have now, I hope, added a certain level of coherence, fleshed out the ellipses, and added the meeting-Dean story. Plus: photographs! Also note that photographs have been added to some of the Porto entries.]
I just met Howard Dean!
Who would have thought, that instead of meeting him in Vermont, where we actually both lived for an extended period of time, I would have had the occasion to introduce myself in Porto, Portugal, of all places.
Dean is one of the special guests of the Congress of the Party of European Socialists, Romano Prodi being another not-technically-socialist who was also invited. I missed Dean's speech this morning, but he was clearly a guest of honor and it's a good sign that the Europeans and the Americans are stepping toward some sort of international alliance. Especially with Bush out of the picture in two years, and hopefully any of his cohorts, I have high hopes about a more useful American-European dialogue instead of the absurd intimidation and posturing that Bush has undertaken.
Indeed, looking at the printed text of his speech, this is what Dean emphasized, now that Democrats have won the mid-term elections. He said, "It is time for the United States to renew our relationships around the world. It is time we treat our allies with respect and honesty. The Democratic Party believes that America should return to consensus-building, multilateral relationships based on mutual respect." Take that, Mr. Unilateral Cowboy President.
I got here in time to catch the vote for President of the PES, and the subsequent acceptance speech. The vote was unanimous, since there was only one candidate, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark. His speech was compelling, contrasting the agenda of the socialists (the slogan plastered everywhere in all of the official European Union languages is: A New Social Europe) with those who have the cheek to call themselves a "people's party," i.e., the Right.
Yet what I always remind myself when listening to political speeches, is that the speeches of the "them" (of the us vs. them equation; in this case, the Right) will often, to a large degree, sound equally progressive, inclusive, and honest. For that is the nature of rhetoric, and the message is often simplified to a degree that it no longer necessarily means anything, especially in an age of media-politics and sound-bytes. For example, Republicans and Democrats alike will trot out examples of racial and gender equality during their convention. Everyone will promise things that sound pretty good to a lot of people.
At the end of the day, the important thing for a given political party is to back up such words with action, and the difficult thing for any constituent is to determine whose actions are in fact just, whose actions are in fact are progressive, inclusive, and honest. Most of the time, I find it difficult to know, because even when something might appear on the surface to be good (say, a law is passed that appears to benefit the average worker), when you look closer it might be rotten (that same law really is profitting big business at the expense of the average worker). It is a rare situation that gives us a clear indication of when actions have supported words. For me, one of those times was Zapatero's decision to pull Spanish soldiers from Iraq.
Of course, I am exaggerating when I saw that political speeches are only empty rhetoric. There is a difference--sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious--between a speech by Bush and a speech by Gore. That's what debates are about. Staking out difference. But it's frustrating that so many political decisions are made because of who looks good on camera, who sounds cleverest, most "American," whatever that means, who can spin things in the most positive light.
Dean knows this more than anyone, what with all the nonsense about his "scream" during the run-up to the elections. It seems to have affected his style of delivery, and I can't blame him for being more circumspect. But it is also interesting that in his speech today, he made mention of the contrast between words and actions that I'm thinking about here: "It is not enough to say that you believe in being inclusive and support policies that say so, if you then ignore people in the political process. To be blunt, that's what happened to Democrats in my country." Here he is faulting his own party for the disjunct between rhetoric (or theory, if you will) and practice. I'm taking that as a sign that things are changing--and by taking those words as a sign of action, I prove the point that it's impossible not to trust rhetoric to some degree.
OK, enough serious talk about politics; let's talk about how I actually met the guy and how I hope I didn't make a fool of myself but am not sure because, as happens when I am nervous, things sort of happened in a blur.
After the Rasmussen speech, it was time for lunch, and he called all the big shots up onto the podium for pictures. I stationed myself off to the side to catch Dean as he came down, amid a scrum of other people, most of them with cameras the size of my torso.
A couple people got to him first, and he had a long conversation with a French politician, and then a Greek parliamentarian, and in the meanwhile the photographers were telling me to get out of their shots and one actually physically pulled my hand back when I reached out. Finally I sort of wedged myself in. My brilliant, ahem, opening line was, "Governor Dean, I just wanted to say hello as a fellow Vermonter."
Nice guy that he is, he immediately took notice, and said "Another Vermonter!" I introduced myself, and shook his hand, and mentioned my father, and Dean not only remembered Dad and complemented him on the great job he's doing in his position at an important non-profit in the state (I suspected as much would ensue, since Dad is famous, on the state-wide level at least), he *also* remembered that my tall little brother is a fabulous basketball player (state championship) *and* that he went on to an evangelical college, and asked if he was still playing!
(This is why I could never be a politician. [In case there was any doubt.] I can't even keep straight the details of my own family members, much less other people's, as is proven by the fact that I responded with an unintentional lie, saying that my brother is still playing at school. He graduated last May. Forgive me, bro. It was the nerves.)
He asked what I was doing in Porto, and I explained that my husband works at the European Parliament, and then once again told me to say hello from him to my father, and tell him that he's doing a great job. And with assurances that I would, and I'm sure much dorkish smiling on my part, that was that!
M, meanwhile, was taking photos, and the photographers with the big cameras even had the nerve to try to shove him aside, and then, when resisted, ridicule his camera. But he stood his ground, and thanks to my heroic hubby, we have several shots of me and Dean. (I forgot to ask for the classic, fake-smile "me and famous person" photo.)
Here's me waiting my turn:
All of the photos from while I'm talking to Dean have funny-looking people in the background, and I'll post this one, because it's the funniest:
Later that night, after being caught in a series of major downpours while trying to do a bit more sightseeing, M and I were relaxing in the hotel and watching the news. And guess what? I saw myself on TV! I was just a little flash of purple in the corner, but they just happened to be filming when I was either waiting to talk to Dean or talking to him, and so the happy ending to this story is that I have now made a once-in-a-lifetime (I am quite certain that it is not likely to happen again) appearance on Portuguese television.
Today, having found internet access, I can publish those entries I promised. But I also managed to set it up so they'll actually publish on the day I wrote them, in other words, before yesterday's entry. So you'll have to scroll down to see what I was up to on Tuesday and Wednesday.
07 December 2006
Sorry for the bad pun.
I hope this works; I'm trying to post to my blog from e-mail for the first time ever!
I'm in Porto, and my optimism about having internet at the hotel was dashed to smithereens when we arrived and the rates were 20 euros a day to connect wirelessly. Why, at an otherwise luxurious hotel that offers every amenity, must they charge an arm and a leg for the most important thing? I know, I know. The answer is that precisely *because* it is important, travelers will generally pay an arm and a leg.
But, I'll have you know, I have written at least three full-length entries that are at the moment stored on my computer, and as soon as I have internet again I'll upload them.
At the moment, I'm sitting at a row of computers set up at the congress of the European Socialists, which is taking place at the huge Alfandega building, which used to be the customs house. When I arrived about an hour ago, after an afternoon at the contemporary art museum, I was told that Howard Dean is here! Hopefully I'll get to meet him and bubble incoherently about being a Vermonter, etc. The whole set-up for the congress is immense, and I joined M in watching a series of speeches in the big main hall. Everything is bannered in red, red being the color of the socialists, and there are hundreds of politicians and assistants milling about everywhere you look. Even though M tells me most have left by now.
[Picture added at a later date. Would be too techno-fancy to send photos to my blog.]
In a short while, we're headed to a reception at one of the port wine bodegas, and so we'll get to taste more of the nice port that we've been imbibing over the week. Just now, in the room of booths related to the city, NGOs, and socialism in general, we had a taste of a reserve wine, made here, that gave me that almost meaty warmth in the back of the throat that tells me I have just had a truly good wine.
Well, I'll send this and see if it really appears on my blog. And then, maybe tomorrow if I come back with my computer and we get the password, I can post the other entries that were written on the trip. Sorry that all the chronologies will be messed up. You'll just have to exercise your mental reversal capacity, as if you are watching that movie where everything happens backwards.
I am sitting in our hotel suite (they ran out of regular rooms and so had to give us this one…what a pity!) at the Sheraton in Porto, surveying the buffeting winds and pouring rain, wondering if I’ll even venture out today. Perhaps I’ll catch a bus and go to the big contemporary art museum, where at least I’ll be dry.
Besides, yesterday and Tuesday evening I had plenty of time to explore the old city, and enjoyed it very much. In fact, I think I walked for something like seven hours yesterday! It’s a gorgeous city, built on steep hills overlooking the Douro river. All of the different areas I poked my nose into had their own charm, and the buildings everywhere you look are covered in the characteristic blue painted tiles, or colored with glowing yellows and ochres.
It is quite clean, and peaceful, and full of churches and palaces that suddenly appear when you top one of those long hills. The metro (really a tram) is fast and modern, and we’ve been able to get from the hotel to downtown pretty easily with it. From any vantage point in the old city, you can look over to the other bank of the river, where all of the port makers have their bodegas, with signs prominently displayed on the hills, lit up at night.
There’s a big, graceful bridge that crosses from one side to the other. I haven’t been over to that side, but I’m sure it’s possible to visit the wine cellars and yesterday I nearly went to the Port Wine Museum, but went to the photography museum instead. We’ve had port in several places, which is such a lovely, sweet and mellow wine. We also are liking the local “green wine,” which is a dry white wine that is perfect with all the seafood.
The photography museum was cool, in part because I was literally the only person in there besides a group of schoolkids. It’s in an immense, mostly empty palace, and on the ground floor was an exhibition of photographs made in the 1880s by expeditioners who traveled the entire coast of South America and even up to California, with their nineteenth-century butterfly nets and penchant for collection. There’s also a large library (also entirely empty), and on the top floor, an exhibit of hundreds and hundreds of cameras, from the earliest to novelty cameras of the 70s and 80s. The best thing was the view from up there; I had a great vantage point from which to see across the city towards the cathedral, and even the bridge.
Another cool place was the Lello bookstore with a beautiful interior and a fabulous staircase right in the middle. The exterior is amazing as well, done in a sort of art-deco white and gray.
It’s been surprisingly difficult to find places to eat, because while there are tons of cafés and bars and pastry shops, it seems that all the restaurants are congregated in one area, lining the river. So for lack of any insider knowledge about other places to go, we’ve ended up there for several of our meals, and they’ve been consistently tasty. Yummy local olives, salt cod, sardines, a sort of musky cheese, and other fish. Tuesday night M had a fish called “robalinho,” which was baked in a coating of salt and was unbelievably tender and delicious. Last night we dined on “seafood rice,” a sort of paella, at the Majestic Café, a nineteenth-century café in the grand style (probably built by the British port investors; many of the port brands have English-sounding names), covered in mirrors and gilt curlicues. The food prices in general have been cheaper than Barcelona and definitely cheaper than Brussels, although they tend to charge you for food that they bring in the beginning that you think is free, like olives, bread, and tuna paté.
Last night there was an Arsenal-Porto soccer match, which explained the presence of tons of burly British people that we had noticed the previous evening at the restaurant. What with the soccer game, and a five-day weekend holiday in Spain, the tourists seem to be predominantly British and Spanish, although I imagine there are consistently a lot of Spanish visitors. Most of the people we’ve talked to, waiters, etc., seem to speak Spanish, although as M pointed out it’s sort of a pity to expect them to be able to speak Spanish, since the reverse would certainly not be true. The doorman at the hotel told me there's also a big horse jumping event, and what with the two socialist congresses, and another conference, the traffic has been snarled like crazy.
That, so far, has been our visit here in Porto! We have the rest of today and then tomorrow, and Saturday we fly out at 6 am. Today M switched from one congress to another (they deliberately put them back-to-back, profiting from the fact that everyone was already here), and it looks like he’ll have less time today to join me for meals and wandering around the city. Tomorrow hopefully he’ll have some free time.
[Note: Instead of M joining me, I got to join him for a trip to one of the port wine bodegas, Taylor's. It was an immense and beautifully appointed place, and they bussed hundreds of socialist politicians there, across the river and through the narrow streets of Vila Nova de Gaia, to enjoy a massive spread of food, wine, and of course, port. Plus several local singing groups, called tunas, made up of either boys or girls with guitars and beautiful harmonies. A very lovely evening, and I guess I owe my thanks to the European taxpayers.]
06 December 2006
M’s friends had been asking for a Thanksgiving dinner for a while, and so after M got back from his trip to South America, we decided we had to do it. The clincher for me was when I found the cranberries: a Thanksgiving meal wouldn’t have seemed very thanksgivingy without it, and even just seeing those cheerful bouncy berries made me want to build a tableful of food around them.
I spent the whole day of the dinner party cooking, and shopping for a few cooking/serving items, as our kitchen at the moment, while supplemented with the wedding gifts I was able to bring over, consists of exactly six each of forks, plates, and glasses, and seven people were going to be eating. So I bought some extra wine glasses and back-up paper plates, plus a pie plate and rolling pin to make the pie, and two serving dishes, which were necessary if I wasn’t going to serve the meal out of pots and plastic bowls.
I had a schedule that planned out every single minute of the day, starting at 8:00 in the morning! Of course, several of the key recipes were coming out of the yellow Gourmet, with the addition of my mom’s cranberry-apple-pear relish, a back-of-the-box cornbread recipe that I had hung onto, and the green beans with almonds that didn’t really need a recipe. The difficult bit was sorting out what I would serve in lieu of turkey; I finally hit upon stuffing the stuffing into eggplants instead of the turkey, which although it involved juggling a couple of different recipes and hoping they would come out all right in different formats, was a smashing success.
Now, keep in mind that the guests were all Spaniards and Catalans, and the American-style Thanksgiving plate disrupts some of their firmly held notions about how a meal should be eaten. Namely, that one should not combine multiple courses onto one plate, and that one should never combine sweet and savory items, especially fruit-based items, which should be reserved for the fruit course after the main course.
Nevertheless, everybody was game and wanted to know about all of the various things they would be eating, until they got tired of explanations and wanted to dig in instead. Cranberries are difficult to explain; as far as I can figure there’s not even a translation for them in Spanish or Catalan. The word that is evidently used in American movies for cranberries actually refers to blueberries, and also a sweet, soft red berry that is picked in the mountains that sounds like it has little to do with cranberries.
Anyway, here is a photo, and a description of the menu:
Hors d’oeuvres (entirely purchased…I couldn’t have been that ambitious): rosemary crackers and mini toasts with an assortment of cheeses, three varieties of hummous, and a quartet of tapenades, as well as olives.
Cornbread with honey butter: Like I said, a back-of-the-box recipe. Buying the cornmeal was a little bit uncertain, because here it’s all labeled for polenta, with various cooking times. I opted for quick-cooking polenta meal, and it seemed to work well. This is not a familiar kind of bread in Spain, which is why I made it, and everyone was so intrigued by it, they ate it all up.
Cranberry-apple-pear sauce: This is the sauce that my family will devour gallons of around Thanksgiving and Christmas time. Just the right balance of sweet and tart. Plus, it’s just so darn pretty! Also very enthusiastic reviews from this group.
Green beans with roasted almonds: The name says it all. This was the least popular of the dishes, judging by what people left on their plates. Probably because the beans were just tender, still crisp, and my experience with vegetables in Spain is generally that they are boiled within an inch of their lives. Also, I added some lemon juice, and I think next time I would go for a different flavor, maybe thyme or rosemary, or just plain garlic.
Buttermilk mashed potatoes with caramelized shallots: What would Thanksgiving be without mashed potatoes? Yum.
Stuffed eggplants: This was the trickiest recipe, especially since I was sort of making it up as I went along. First, I halved and roasted the eggplants until I could gouge out the insides. Then, I made the “Classic herbed stuffing” recipe from the Gourmet, with the addition of sautéeing the cubed eggplant insides along with the onion, celery, herbs and bread (and I added carrot). Then, after the stuffing was done and cooled, I jammed it into the cavities of the eggplants, and roasted them again for about a half hour before dinner time. They were super delicious, very Thanksgiving in flavor, with a nice presentation. The only thing I might change next time is to put a bit of broth in the bottom of the pan, so that the bottoms of the eggplants don’t dry out, which they did a tiny bit.
Apple pie: I used an all-butter pie crust recipe I found online from Bon Apetit magazine, and the apple pie recipe from the Gourmet. Sooooo good! I was nervous about the crust, since I had never made one just with butter, and there are dire warnings about melting the butter with your hands or overworking the dough, so I was constantly shoving the butter and the dough in its various stages back into the fridge (the kitchen was broiling, what with all the cooking). But it turned out beautifully, melt-in-the-mouth and crisp on the outside. I totally botched rolling out the bottom crust, because it stuck everywhere when I tried to transfer it, but I just sort of patted it into the pie plate, and since it was the bottom it didn’t matter. When I did the top crust, I worked faster and it turned out fine. The filling was a combination of granny smith and gala apples, which was a good mix, just the right level of sweet/tart mixed with the lemon juice and zest, sugar, spices and flour. With the guests, a total hit, and when M and I got to share the last slice the next day, I think it tasted even better.
So there you have it, my first solo flight for a Thanksgiving supper.
05 December 2006
I’m on a train somewhere in Belgium or France (in these days of the Schengen agreement it’s hard to tell when you pass from one to the other), and I’m contemplating how pleasant this mode of travel is. Compared to a plane, there is so much leg room, the windows are so big, and there’s a big fold-out table in front of me, on which my computer can comfortably sit. We are on our way to Porto, and our Air France ticket includes a leg on the train from Brussels to Paris. This seems like a good way to do things, and we’ll have to keep it in mind for the future. It was less of a hassle to hop on the metro and then hop on the train bound for Charles de Gaulle (and hour and a half) than to the normal process of getting the bus, then the airport train (a half hour), then stand in line at the airport….
I’m also thinking, as I watch the eternally gray sky, green fields, and tidy villages roll by, with my reflected face superimposed on the scene like a pensive ghost, what a horrible place—or perfect place, depending on how you see it—Belgium was to have a war. The never-ending damp, the depressing gray, the mud up to the waists of the men in the trenches—this is either a sadistically awful or gruesomely appropriate setting for war.
Reading Paul Fussel’s The Great War and Modern Memory last year, I got a chilling sense of the utterly debased way that modern warfare was practiced. After the cheerful flags waved them over the English Channel, the poor boys sat in mud next to the decaying corpses and bits and pieces of flesh of their comrades. Fussel’s whole point, and that of many critics who have followed him, is the impact of such an experience on our general cultural fabric, how much our collective memory is shaped by such horror.
But looking at these serene green fields, I wonder how much we have forgotten, as well. Belgium is no longer the symbolic victim of Teutonic rape; it is Europe’s capital, known for chocolate and beer. It’s hard to imagine the scenes of the Great War happening here. Sadly for us, however, we have new, even more horrific images of war and destruction from around the world to replace the old ones.
It is ironic in some ways that my thesis has a lot to do with how we respond to war and the images we make of it. Ironic, because my own experience of war is limited to the televised and sanitized versions in the media, and perhaps that one day in Washington, September 11, 2001… And also because I hate war, am by nature pacifist, and have more unresolved questions than answers about the interaction of such a technological and brutal exercise with the rarified world of poetry. But my antipathy toward and limited experience of war is also somewhat appropriate, because as my area of study is literature, my concern is precisely with representations of war. How was the Spanish Civil War written about and pictured both by those who were there and those who were not? For many in the late 30s, Spain was something like what Iraq or Darfur is to us now, a distant reality, filtered by representations even if our concern is pressing.
Anyway, this wasn’t really what I meant to write about at all while shuttling across the fields of northern Europe in a high-speed train, but there it is. On this trip, I have brought my computer along in hopes of getting some work done, so that also means I will be able to blog from time to time.
And that means you’ll hear about my impressions of Porto, and Portugal. I’ve never been to Portugal before; although in 1999 I was on my way there with two girlfriends during term break from Oxford, when we aborted that plan and on a whim headed to Algeciras and then Ceuta instead (the only time I’ve set foot on the African continent).
Making up for the missed opportunity, I plan to enjoy lots of seafood and drink port and maybe absorb a little Portuguese. Anyway, I’ll be sure to write again in the near future, and post this entry as soon as I find an internet connection.
Editor’s Note: I was obviously far too hasty in my optimism about internet connection.
04 December 2006
No, I didn't get tangled in the fake christmas tree's wiry branches, I just have been going nonstop the last few days. It seems like my life lately is alternating between long, quiet stretches of slothful "getting work done" (aka blogging and/or cooking), and manic periods usually involving travel to other countries in which we cram in as many possible meetings and family activities as possible.
This recent spate of activity involved having a Thanksgiving dinner party for a group of friends from M's work, and then flying to Barcelona to show the apartment to possible renters, sign the rental contract with our new renter (hurray! she wanted to move in right away!), shop for Christmas and birthday presents, have a mini birthday party for our niece who turns four on Tuesday, get a haircut (now have bangs, am still undecided), meet with the contractor, and take an excursion to a 6,000 year-old mine. I'll explain more later; but for now I'll say that the mine thing was cool because I didn't know that our neolithic ancestors even knew how to find minerals underground, much less make jewelry out of them, and here they were hanging out in Catalonia and digging several hundred football-fields' worth of underground tunnels to dig out precious metals with their stone axes.
We flew back this morning, and I went directly to French class to take an exam, and in a bit I'm headed out again for a Christmas party at the home of M's boss. It promises to be a fun evening, and we're doing an exchange of gifts called the "amic invisible": invisible friend, where you get a present but never find out who it's from.
I'll let you know what I get, but I can't let you know what I gave, because you never know who might be reading...
And I promise to tell you about the Thanksgiving that I made, the first that I have ever made on my own and away from home. It got rave critical reviews, albeit from people who had never had a Thanksgiving dinner in their lives.
thoughts thunk by Robin at around 17:51
27 November 2006
M arrived safely home on Saturday morning, and we spent a quiet weekend at home.
We put up our Christmas tree! Our plastic, 15.99, comes-in-a-box Christmas tree! But you know, it's still magic the moment you switch off all the lights and let the tree twinkle and glow.
I have now figured out how to upload pictures to the blog, if that mess of code that just appeared above these words means a picture will appear when I click "publish."
I saw the sun today for the first time in a long time.
And, just now, at the grocery store I found gold: a bag of cranberries! It was sort of tossed into the corner, and it was the only bag that I could see anywhere, but I snatched it like it was the holy grail. Now I can go make some cranberry sauce.
25 November 2006
The following is, unedited, what I scribbled down the other morning after waking up:
dream about losing glasses--
unfamiliar university campus
sewage end, Luke Skywalker-like
Many many bl & red glasses
but none were mine.
Snuck into library (which was sewage plant)
Though it might pass for avant-garde poetry, it's not really my style and I wouldn't want to read this all printed up pretty in a book.
Instead, these are, as it were, cliff's notes to my dream of that night's sleep. I shall interpret the cliff's notes, and then you shall help me interpret the dream, OK? Sorry about the memory-holes. Happens with dreams.
So, in the dream, I was with my brother Dan visiting (purposes unknown) a huge university campus. We toured the library and looked at the reams and reams of books (some stuff happened there that I can't remember), exited via a metal gangplank thingy towards idyllic green grass just as they were closing, then drove around in a rattly stick-shift looking for some sort of event (can't remember what it was). As it was getting dark, I realized that I had lost my glasses, my new black-and-red glasses. Maybe I left them in the library?
I went back to where we had parked the car, a strangely European-like tiled plaza, and drove around convinced that I was going to break the car. Couldn't find the library. Found myself on a huge hill at dusk with wide-laned roads that overlooked the city, but I couldn't see the library. I asked a student-like guy (cargo pants, sticky-up hair), who hopped in the car, and instead of driving me there, drove to find another student, a girl (busty, sorority-type), whom he then convinced to drive me to the library.
When we got there, it was dark and not just closed, but boarded up and covered in plastic sheeting. The girl took off. I pried open the plastic and plywood and jiggled a door on the gangplank part until I got into a sort of entryway. Then, there was someone coming! I tried to hide, but he saw me. It was a janitor, but he turned out to be friendly. He led me through windy windy passageways and up some stairs into a series of plush offices (wait, is this reeeally a library?), where he rummaged in a drawer and pulled out a pair of glasses.
Yes! Those are mine! Delirious with joy, I grabbed them, and then...realized they weren't mine. They were little kiddy plastic sunglasses with red frames. He proceeded to pull out black and red glasses of every shape and size, but none were mine. He told me I could look around, and disappeared, so I roamed the library-that-wasn't-a-library, and then stuff happened that I can't remember, but I didn't find the glasses, and suddenly I fell through a trap door into some sort of trash chute and things started getting sinister.
I was flushed out the back end of the library into a bay, and there was trash and noxious green stuff, so I knew, intrepid investigator that I had become, that the library was up to no good and that the EPA should be notified. I was hanging tenuously onto a piece of the trash chute that closely resembled the scene in Star Wars where, after his hand is cut off, Luke is dangling on a skinny antenna-thing at the bottom of the trash chute and by telepathy gets Lea and Hans to come pick him up in the Millenium Falcon.
My brother came to pick me up, and that's the last thing I remember from the dream. I guess I never got the glasses back.
Now you come in. Does this dream:
1. Represent my anxiety about working on my sewage-like PhD while very far from my home university/library and maybe never finishing ever?
2. Indicate that deep down I think I would look better in different color glasses?
3. Show how during the 80s my brother and I were into Star Wars?
Choose one, or fill in the blank:
4. Other _______________.
I'll be eager to hear what you think.
24 November 2006
In French class on Wednesday, our teacher actually grabbed my notebook and held it up for all to see, exclaiming that THIS (pointing at my homework, written in obsessively neat lines and paragraphs, with space for her to write corrections, and without any crossouts or scribbles) is how everyone should write out their devoirs.
I wavered, in the space of those thirty seconds, back and forth from giddy pride at how well I had done (at writing on lined paper--yes, we are reverting to second grade, aren't we?) to sheer embarrassment at being the goody two-shoes in the room. Then relief when she handed it back, then more embarrassment when another student grabbed it and my notebook was passed around the room (more, I think, to
copy study my answers than to admire the straight lines of writing). Grown-up students are just as inclined as kids, it seems, to not doing homework and then copying it or scrambling to do it at the last second (even after class has started). This is a practice that annoys me to no end. I did my homework, why do you get to freeload off of me? Now I am being a goody two-shoes.
(Note: After a brief search, I just discovered that the phrase "goody two-shoes" comes from a "rather twee" 1765 children's book. The main character, named Goody, only has one shoe, is given a new pair, and then acts all show-offy about it. Source. Ain't the internet grand?)
Speaking of classroom embarrassment, I am reminded of a time in first or second grade when I raised my hand to say that I couldn't find my crayon (our teacher had passed them out for us to work with). Everyone laughed at me, because I had somehow twisted the crayon up into my hair and then forgotten about it. They, meanwhile, could plainly see it hanging there in my white-blond hair. I had evidently been doing the "very very shy + absentminded girl with long hair twisty around finger (+ crayon, in this case)" thing: this was a long-lasting epoch of my life. I was mortified.
You know, I didn't even remember that I remembered that. But there it is. And so, the lesson that I learn from this brief detour into memory lane is that, although I was embarrassed the other day, nothing can compare with the mortification of a shy childhood when one twists one's crayon into one's hair.
23 November 2006
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
It's not very thanksgivingy around here since this country does not generally celebrate the holiday, and I'm just here by my lonesome today, but I plan on calling my family in medias res (where "res" = turkey-baking), and I got to talk to M in Honduras via a very wobbly skype connection. This weekend when he gets home (after he finishes up with the--and these are direct quotes of today's agenda items--"lunch with the central American ambassadors" and "meeting with the president of the congress") I'll cook up stuffing or some such in order to reprise the holiday on a smaller scale.
And anyway, when I was in Vermont on Halloween, my mom and my sister and sister-in-law and I made a thanksgiving dinner, so that I could have a taste, albeit while trick-or-treaters were ringing the doorbell and grabbing fistfuls of candy, or, if they were little enough, standing stock-still in wonder that you were actually offering them mountains of gleaming sugar-bombs. For them to take. And then eat. And their parents were letting them, in fact, urging them on. My little nephew, cutest of said little trick-or-treaters, in a leopard costume, got the hang of it after only a few houses despite the tender age of fifteen months. They catch on quick, those kids. Especially when it involves candy.
Looky here, I've gotten on a tangent about an entirely different holiday than the one I started with. Back to thanksgiving. But I guess if you think about it, it's not hugely different than halloween. It's like putting all the candy on the nice tablecloth and the special china and then eating it all at once, to show how thankful you are for the abundance of candy in your life. And I am, to be sure, very thankful for all the candy. Even when I wish we could spread it around the world more fairly, so everyone could have their very own stash.
Here are some of the other things I am thankful for, in no particular order:
(Not such an original list idea on thanksgiving day, but unoriginality will not stop me oh no it won't. Also, my dad usually makes us go around the table and say what we're especially thankful for this year, so here's my contribution from afar. And since it's on my blog, I get to say as many things as I feel like.)
1. Babies. My friends and family keep having them, and I am loving those babies, and wish I could get to know every single one of them. This fall alone, five girlfriends have had babies, or are going to have them very shortly. I feel lucky when I get to spend time with the babies, like the week with cute nephew in October, or weekends in Barcelona with cute nieces, or getting to know a friend's little boy when we were the only Vermonters of our acquaintance to be living in the boondocks of Indiana. Keep them coming! (My sister is pregnant, so she's doing a good job. And the baby is due on my birthday!)
Here's a weird but true fact: In the past two years (well, maybe my memory doesn't go back that far accurately, but at least in the last year) ALL of our American friends and family have had boys. ALL of our European friends and family have had girls. Coincidence? I think
2. This is related to the babies. I'm thankful for the people who are making those babies, i.e., friends and family. And even people who aren't making babies at the moment, or aren't making them any more (i.e. our parents). I know that wherever we are living in the world, it is a beautiful thing to have the love and support of friends, and the love and support of family. Those people who know you inside and out, and so when you describe something in an e-mail or on the phone or online, they can imagine you doing it or thinking it. Because they already know.
3. Being married. These past almost-five months have been so incredibly great, and I feel blessed not only to have found the sweetest and smartest man ever, but, by God's grace, to have married him to boot. And after so long of living an ocean and substantial amounts of solid landmass apart, it is so cheering and lovely to see him every day, and share our lives even more deeply. Even when one of us departs for a trip, the good news is that we always get to come home to each other. Also, this year I am thankful for our wedding day. That it was beautiful and home-spun, and sunny and simple and singing and sweet. When I want to feel happy, all I have to do is think about the details of that day, and how I married the man I love, and how the people I love were there to send us off into weddedness. (Have I used enough superlatives, with a dash of alliteration, in this paragraph?)
4. Technology. OK, that's sort of a geeky and surprising thing to say after all the hearts and flowers of the previous paragraph, but what I mean by it is that technology makes it possible for this whole living-really-far-away from family and friends to be endurable. Witness A: this blog. Witness B: skype conversations with M, and, only moments ago, my family in Vermont, who were about to sit down to a breakfast of eggs and homemade cheese braids. Witness C: airplanes that ferry us back and forth from Brussels to Barcelona to Boston to Burlington (yes, I have already taken note of the fact that the important cities in my life all begin with B). Witness D: e-mails like the one that contains pictures of little nephew and my dad and sis at the computer into which I am talking via skype that just popped into my in-box.
5. I am thankful for a whole lot more besides, but those are the basics. If you would like to know about other things I am thankful for, I can refer you to other blog entries, where I wax cheesy about books and food and travel and language and music, and indicate thankfulness for the big yellow cookbook, the new apartment, the old one, for my job, for M's job, and more of the things I mention above.
6. I am also thankful for a pretty poinsettia, which is sitting on the mantle. I'm getting ready for Christmas.
A friend came over tonight and I made her dinner, because I wanted to try out more recipes from the big yellow Gourmet, and it's no fun making fancy food for oneself, now, is it? (This is why I miss the House of Love. Making Food x People Squared [i.e. people to make it and people to eat it, not Square People] = Good Times.)
Here is what I made, and it was goooood:
Fresh mushroom soup (I told you I would make this again! And I'm going to make it again after this. This time I substituted all-soy products for the cream, and it tasted just as good if not better.)
Roasted beet and pear salad (This salad was both colorful and amazingly flavorful. It had fried almonds on top that I fried myself. Yum.)
Israeli couscous with roasted butternut squash and preserved lemon (Although it was very tasty, it was a tad bland. Maybe because I left out the preserved lemon. Because preserved lemon involved another recipe, and that recipe involved five days' worth of preservation. Maybe this should be a lesson to moi même: never leave out something that is in the title of a recipe.)
Individual molten chocolate cakes (With ice cream. And whipped cream. Molten. Chocolate. Cakes. Need I say more?) (Yes: I would like to add that I love the word "ramekin.")
If you want recipes, just ask! I will send them to you, special delivery speedy fast.
21 November 2006
You may have noticed some changes around here. Thanks to the sage advice of my brother-in-law to switch to blogger beta, I can now do fancy things like label my posts and organize them in a more clever fashion (drop-down arrows!). My little loves-to-align heart goes pitter patter at these possibilities.
In addition, the posts are now correctly time stamped with the moment that it is here, i.e., the six-hours-different netherland called Europe.
Eventually, when I have time (today I have procrastinated enough with this little blogging machine), I can add a list of links and photos, and all sorts of other interesting things. And I can change colors and fonts and page arrangements on the blog. So if you strongly object to any given format aspect of my blog page, please feel free to leave me a note, and I'll consider your input.
Plus, I have the power to delete comments, and I now receive them in my e-mail inbox, so I don't have to neurotically check my own blog to see if anyone sees fit to respond to the words I am sending out into the wind.
I'm no doll (in fact, I object to the phrase "dolled up," because no woman is just a doll nor should she be seen as one). Yet, I like to put on a dress every once in a while, and pull out sparkly earrings and that totally cute but useless (it's not even big enough for my wallet) tiny sparkly purse. Especially now that I'm working at home and not teaching, there's not even an excuse to put on a sharp shirt and dressy pants and boots.
Plus, I got new shoes that make even my humongous feet (yes, humongous: size eleven, wide, high arch) look sort of perky and petite, with a peep toe and a little bow. And the bonus is that they're from Payless, so were cheap, but in Europe no one will know they're from Payless.
All of these items were packed in my suitcase last weekend, because I planned to wear them to the opera. But my plans were foiled, because we had to rush from our meeting with the contractor right to the opera house, although I seriously considered a pit-stop back at iaia's that would have involved running at full tilt up and down at least four blocks and throwing on said items in a mad hurry. As M pointed out, part of the point of getting dressed up for the opera is enjoying the ritual, and if we were going to do it in such a slapdash way, that effect would be lost.
So I showed up at the opera in jeans and a sweater, and I felt kind of frumpy and peered around to see if anyone else was wearing jeans. Of course there were some people wearing jeans, but there were also people wearing what amounted to ball gowns. (I suppose if you pay over a hundred euros for a seat, you're going to dress up to match.)
But the nice thing was, M told me I looked beautiful as I was, and then I felt beautiful, reflected in his eyes.
Last night, falling asleep at around 2 am (for no good reason other than that I kept deciding not to go to bed because M wasn't here and it seemed boring to do so without him), I thought up some really excellent lines of poetry.
But I was too lazy to turn on the light (it's not, as it should be, at the side of the bed, it's at the foot of the bed, so involves getting out of toasty duvet covers and lunging down the length of the bed (it has to do with outlets)), so I just lay there and told myself that I would write it down in the morning, and fiddled around with the line breaks in my head, happily (delusionally) confident that these words were indelibly written into the gray matter.
But now, in the cold light of morning, do I remember a word of it? (You knew this was coming, clever reader, didn't you?)
I do not remember a word of it.
I think *maybe* it had something to do with clouds. Or matchsticks. But it wasn't cheesy, it was brilliant. It had rhyme, even. Clever rhyme, and subtle undertones of political commentary, and literary complexity that would have any New Critical scholar rubbing her hands together with glee. All this in just a few short lines.
It would have taken the literary world by storm.
19 November 2006
OK, so I'm going to cheer myself up by recounting the happy events of this weekend.
First, one of those weird maybe-coincidence things: On Thursday I arrived in Barcelona airport and as I was walking toward the train, a man with an Irish accent neared and explained that his luggage had been stolen and that he needed to get to the Irish embassy and could I spare him five euros?
Now, usually I don't just hand out money, but while he was talking I was thinking that his face looked vaguely familiar. While rooting around in my wallet--no five, had to be a ten, I couldn't very well ask him for change--I asked where he was from, where his bag was stolen, etc. He was very nice and grateful for the money, and as I walked off, it dawned on me: He said his bag had been stolen in the Sants train station! When I was in Sants the previous weekend, I'm almost certain that I saw him leaving the police office with his arms around a crying woman (which is why they caught my attention). Is it possible that I was there when a guy's bag was stolen and then, after a quick trip home to Belgium, was there to be asked for money by the very same person? I wish I had run back to ask.
Then, after dropping my bags off at iaia's house, I got to spend the evening wandering around the center of Barcelona with a big smile pasted on my face, just because it felt so good to be there. First I stopped off at the glittering opera house to pick up the Lucia di Lammermoor tickets for the following night.
By the way, that was the surprise I referred to in an earlier post, my gift for M for his saint's day: yes, you heard right, Spanish people basically get to have two open-presents-and-celebrate-me days. Like a half-birthday. This was, however, a belated present, since I had totally forgotten the day, which had fallen on the previous weekend along with the town festival in M's hometown (because the town's patron is the same saint), involving street food, fair booths, ponies, a Mozart concert at the century-old church across the street, exhibition openings, and "correfocs" (a highly scary Catalan tradition involving people dressed as dragons and dancing around with loud bangs and fire-spouting sticks and deliberately running towards the crowds; I'm always more scared than even the children and am convinced we're going to get set on fire). So every year, if he's home, M gets a sort of double celebration. I forgot about it entirely because we unlucky Americans have only one birthday-like day and do not, unlike Spaniards, carry around mental files of which saint is commemmorated on any given day. For the record, it was my first "doh! bad wife"- feeling moment. Forgot the saint's day.
Back to happy meanderings in beautiful BCN. I strolled up Las Ramblas, admired its graceful curve toward the Colom pillar, even benignly tolerant of the souvenir shops and tourists, paused to admire the candy jewelry in the window at the modernist pastry shop, Escribá, and stopped at the Boqueria market to buy some fruit--couldn't resist the gleaming piles of produce and hearing the fruit ladies call me "reina" when it's my turn to order.
Then I headed right towards my favorite bookstore, La Central, which has a great selection of English books (I've always wanted to compliment their buyer), and a huge inventory, including literary studies and poetry. I found three brand new anthologies of Spanish Civil War poetry, including a reprint of Rafael Alberti's 1944 collection of Romanceros de la guerra civil. Score! I also bought Cynthia Ozick's Heir to the Glimmering World, since I've wanted to read one of her novels for ages. (Finished it this morning: I liked it, but found the main character/narrator strangely cold/absent, especially for a first-person story; laughed when I read a back cover blurb that described her as a "plucky heroine.")
I spent several hours browsing and reading, and then headed to one of my favorite restaurants for solo dining, MamaCafé, right around the corner from the contemporary art museum and the Camper hotel. I wowed and astonished the waitress with my Catalan ("m'has deixat parada!", said she--literally, you've left me stopped!) and enjoyed a delicious meal that ended with--surprisingly tasty--rosemary ice cream with pomegranate seeds, and a chat with an American kid who sat at the table next to mine.
The evening only improved when I headed back to iaia's (M's grandmother's) to meet M upon his return from Strasbourg via train to Paris and plane to BCN (no, Strasbourg is not what you could call well-connected).
Saturday was noteworthy because, drum roll please, we signed the mortgage and the bill of sale for the new apartment! It doesn't quite seem real that we are now in possession of yet another apartment, and that we are total innocents now headed into the project of creating a kitchen and bathroom--we also had a meeting with the contractor, who seems to be very reliable and considerate of what we want (we'll see where that stands five months from now...).
We celebrated by heading off to the opera. The seats were bad (15% and 10% visibility were the best I could find at the last minute), but at the intermission we switched to fabulous, expensive seats. The principles all had exquisite voices, and the Lucia (Patrizia Ciofi) carried off the notoriously difficult mad scene to perfection. I love the interplay with the flute in that aria, as if she is chasing a chimerical happiness, the Edgardo that only she can see. Also, I hadn't remembered how beautiful the harp solo in the first act (?) is. M and I agreed that the costumes were a little clichéd (doesn't every production these days clothe the singers in drab, vaguely world war I or II uniforms?), but that the set, despite its severe gray squares, was really quite effective in conveying the sense of the mounting opposition that backs Lucia into the corner of her murder and madness (from a fem-crit perspective, the inevitable result of her father, brother, and even lover's patriarchal negotiations, reinforced by law and religion, that proscribe her actions from every direction).
After the opera we went to a restaurant we've wanted to try for a while, called Organic, which serves, um, organic food (very tasty). As we paid, the woman who owns the place wanted to know all about our vegetarian-non-vegetarian marriage. She told us about her "awakening," and that she could never marry a carnivore, so she insisted to M several times that my love for him had to be "amor verdader," true love. It was an odd moment to hear a wide-eyed stranger pronounce upon our marriage, but we couldn't argue about the "amor verdader" part!
The next morning--yesterday--we got up at 5 am to fly back to Brussels, so that was it for our very quick trip, but it was a lovely one, and we even ran into a good friend of ours, who we hadn't seen for a while, in the line for our plane. A good end to 36 hours in Barcelona!
This is the time of the year when everything begins to get dark at 5 pm. At 5 pm, there is still a lot of the day to be lived, but the world seems to be telling you: "Listen, punk. Time to slow down, curl up, and forget about your ambitious plans for the evening. The natural light is gone. Your best option is sleep."
I try to remember that in other parts of the world it is still morning: I'm streaming Vermont Public Radio on my computer, and there, the Sunday morning programming is still on! Also, dear husband is at this very moment flying to Nicaragua, where it is still light out, and warm! To no avail. Darkness has settled over the earth. Or at least my patch of it. Plus, the aformentioned fact of dear husband's departure for South America--a five am kiss goodbye in the depths of my sleep--has left me feeling not so chirpy happy.
Winter has hardly even begun, and I'm already wishing it would end.
15 November 2006
One of the prized wedding gifts (thanks, friends at the House of Love!) that I lugged back to Brussels from Vermont in my bulging bags was the big fat yellow tome that aspires to contain every recipe you'll ever need. It's called the Gourmet cookbook, a compilation of the best of the best from the Gourmet magazine.
The reason that this was the one cookbook I chose to put on our wedding registry is that the chief editor is Ruth Reichl. I will follow her recipes to the end of any yellow brick road, because her funny and food-infused autobiographical books (Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires) have made me believe that she is someone who knows and loves tasty food. Must be some sort of calculus in there: honest words sine cotangent derivative root blip blop blippety (can you tell how much attention I paid in calculus?) equals honest food.
Since bringing it home, I've been trying to make something from the Gourmet every day. (I kind of wish the title weren't so posh. There are no pictures, and while it has fancy schmancy dishes, it also has the basics. I'd even say more of the latter than the former.) I usually eat my cereal in the morning while poring over it to decide what delectable foodstuff I am going to prepare in the afternoon or evening. Even on the days I don't actually make something, I still fantasize about making something.
Here's a partial list of what I've made so far. Almost all of it yummy, only one thing burned (in my defense, instead of being labeled with sensible numbers that are actual temperatures, our oven has a preschool-style knob labeled from 1 to 9). Almost everything was made with substitutes and uncertain equivalents due to not being sure if French and/or Flemish labels were what I was looking for. For instance, baking powder proved difficult to find. Had to make do with flour that includes certain rising agents that I hoped were basically baking powder. Also, haven't been able to figure out which cream product is most like half-and-half.
(Ooh, while we're on the topic of why it's exciting but mostly frustrating to cook in a foreign country: it's fall, and I'm craving pumpkin, cranberry, and maple syrup, and I can't find any. I did find one store that sells cranberry juice, which is good, but not the real thing. I found a place selling "pumpkin soup" and snapped it up excitedly, but it was really only squash soup. Tasty, but disappointing when one was hoping for glorious pumpkin. I want to make pumpkin maple pie, and I want to make cranberry sauce, I whine, stomping my feet. Will it help if I whine louder?)
Raw apple muffins: This was the first thing I made because I had to try out my cool new silicone muffin forms. Squishy silicone is so much easier to carry in one's luggage than large muffin pans. M liked the muffins very much, and it was cute when he called them magdalenas.
Coconut macadamia banana bread: This is what burned. But it was still tasty, and I brought a loaf to Barcelona and everyone liked it, even my sister-in-law who doesn't like bananas. The silicone bread pans, also carried in my luggage, were the reason I endeavored to make bread, and they work great except it's much more dicey to carry a wobbly rubber, instead of rigidly metal, thing full of mushy dough to the oven. Much more likely to do backbends when you least expect it, risking the deposit of said dough over kitchen floor.
Beef(less) stroganoff: I just left the meat out of the recipe, didn't have to change a thing, and the mushroomy-ness and the sauce was deeelish.
Roasted cauliflower with garlic: Yum for roasted vegetables. Easy as pie. (But pie is not easy.)
Chipotle sweet potatoes: Though I continue to go pumpkin-less, at least the African markets in our neighborhood carry sweet potatoes, and I made them spicy and good.
Fresh mushroom soup: Made this week, the first night by myself after flying back from Barcelona alone (M in Strasbourg). I think I could eat this soup every night for a month, it was that yummilicious. I will make it again for M when he's back, and I will make it again after that.
Sesame spinach with ginger and garlic: Was kind of a no-brainer, and I could have made it without a recipe, but still. Glad it's there.
Tahini sauce: I bought tahini at the Oxfam store today, and so wanted to cook with it. This fit the bill, and was so rich and creamy put over my rice and vegetables that it was almost too much. Next time, maybe I'll eat it more like a dip.
OK, that's all folks. It's time for bed, and I'm still so stuffed from the tahini-rice-vegetable thing I made that I'm not even getting hungry from describing food. Tomorrow I fly back to Barcelona, for the second weekend in a row, and I'll meet M there, who is flying back from Strasbourg, at his grandmother's apartment, where we're staying for just two nights before flying back to Brussels. Dizzy yet? He flies to Guatemala on Sunday, so we just have time for relaxing on Saturday before it's goodbye again, blech. Although in Barcelona we barely have time for various meetings regarding the apartment we're buying and renovating, the good news is I have a little surprise up my sleeve...
09 November 2006
Despite the obvious reasons not to like flying (lines, lost luggage, crowds, delays, cancellations), I still can't help but enjoy the method of travel that enables me to get my feet off the ground and fly above the clouds. Every time, there is something magical about the fact of hanging in the air, about seeing fields, cities, and mountains from so far above. It feels like a pause in normal space and time (especially long trips, which do actually make hours appear and disappear).
Take off and landing, despite being theoretically the most dangerous parts of the trip, heighten that sense of space, rising and descending as the real world turns into a toy set and back again. Some of my favorite landings include Barcelona during the day--incredible views of the city's landmarks from the direction of the water--and Boston during the night--zooming right into the heart of the twinkling lights.
And I love airports. Granted, not every airport. I have a particular distaste for Heathrow and its buses, which seem to take you through every inch of the ugly gray bowels of its maze. (Of course--Murphy's law--the connecting airport I most often wind up visiting is this one.) And Boston during the Big Dig was no great shakes either.
Yet, there is always something magical about suddenly being in a different city, with the character of the place humming beneath the bland carpeting and bustling crowds. In London, there's Harrods and Boots. In Boston, a good clam chowder. In Philly, I buy a couple of soft pretzels. I love landing in the south and suddenly hearing twangy accents, or in Amsterdam and hearing the strangely English-like rhythms of Dutch. The smaller midwestern airports are neat and tidy; the airports in Naples and Larnaca feel patched together with mediterranean swagger. In Barcelona, you know you've gone south because there are palm trees outside the glass walls.
I also love the feeling of a vast mechanism at work, and being a little cog inside of it. The complexity of getting all of those people, bags, and planes in and out at the right place and time is always a little bit of a miracle. In fact, I'm sometimes amazed that my bags aren't lost *more* often. (Don't quote me on that.) And many airports, or at least parts of them, have a cool, modern feel that makes me feel like the world of the Jetsons has come true maybe just a little bit: moving sidewalks, huge curving architecture, brightly lit shops, hi-tech screens.
Plus, airports make for excellent people watching. Since air travel has become a relatively affordable way to move around, you can find all stripes and styles. Everyone from Mr. matching leather luggage set to Ms. first time flying, from Mr. baseball cap to Ms. sari-wrapped is there, and the real democracy of it is that even those first-class passengers have to wait in line and take off their shoes and belt when they go through security.
This last trip on my way home to Brussels, we stood in a security line in London for over an hour; there was literally no end in sight as the line snaked down an interminable hallway and then hooked a right into another room. I amused myself by watching the people around me (admittedly, I had the luxury to be amused since my flight wasn't for another two hours)--psychology at work. It was fun to watch the reactions on the faces of people as they entered the hallway and were told, yes, this is the line you have to go to the end of. Shock, jokes, anger, resignation... Even some of the BA people walking from the head of the line to the end were astonished by its sheer length. Still, one eventually makes it through the line, and reaches the other side, albeit without any liquids in an amount larger than 100 ml.
And the best thing about flying? It means that you are arriving somewhere, the anticipation of being in a new place or a familiar place, of seeing new or old faces. This trip was especially happy because when I flew to the US, my family there was awaiting me. And when I flew back, my new family--my husband--was awaiting me here. The exquisite joy of knowing that our long-distance days are behind us, that the return trip will always mean flying back into his arms.
30 October 2006
This morning I am awake far, far earlier than I ever get up in real life, thanks to jet lag. It's making me feel virtuous for getting a jump on the day, for making the most of the precious few hours we have on this planet, for being an alert and cheerful Morning Person, for being, in sum, the very person I am meant to be. I am even--let the word ring forth!--awake before my one-year-old nephew.
Sadly, I know the effects of jet lag are temporary, and that the return trip will create an extreme inverse of the situation, during which I prolong the post-sunrise sleep to the point of embarrassment. But just for now, let me glory in the early-morning blue sky, solitude, and undeserved sense of virtue.
In other news, Sibling Weekend is drawing to a close, and what a weekend it has been. Saturday it poured rain the whole day, so we stayed in and played a large number of games, between bouts of eating and vying for the laughs of the nephew. His laugh, evidently, will drive any of us to do just about any old absurd thing.
He is talking in the very earnest way that children have whose words still don't quite match up to our preconceived notions of English syntax, but whose cadences, syllables, facial expressions and hand gestures look and sound so legitimate that you are sure you just need to concentrate, or clean the wax out of the ear, in order to catch their drift. He will inform you in detail, with a concerned look on his face, shrugging of shoulders, and spreading of hands, about something that is clearly important and that you should Take Care Of immediately, if only you understood what it was.
He is such a mimic of sounds: my brother-in-law, while driving, muttered a "hmmm" when trying to decide which way to turn. With a comic's sense of rhythm, from the carseat in the back pipes a higher-pitched and heavily nuanced "hmmmm." Cute little smirk on hmmm'ers face.
The sentence we do successfully understand is, "Where'd it go?" Used regarding anything from raisin lost in high chair cushion to ball lost under coffee table. This corresponds with the kind of game where he covers his face (mirthful eyes peeking between the fingers) and we wonder aloud, where did he go? Because clearly, if his face is covered, we cannot see him.
Today I drive with my sister, nephew, and sister-in-law to Vermont, which should bring more opportunities to carry on this backbreaking and highly important work of adoring the adorable.
25 October 2006
Today in French class we had a test. I already know that I messed up some of my answers: For example, I wrote "Je fais de tennis," which is WRONG, instead of "Je fais du tennis" (RIGHT; although strictly speaking, this sentence is not true; I do not play tennis, nor do I plan to in the future). Gee whillikers, there are so many things to remember, all at once: verb conjugation, proper usage of preposition, and proper combination of preposition with definite article (this is where I strayed from the flowered path).
Still--here my nerdiness rears its bespectacled head--I rather enjoyed taking the test. There is always a part of me that loves the moment when an exam is placed in front of me and I get to see whether I know the answers. It's one part drama (will our heroine remember that the second person plural form of "faire" ends in s and not z?), one part suspense (will the exam cover unstudied material?), and one part an elementary school thrill, which continues to persist, derived from filling in the blanks on a clean page.
There is another reason that I tend to do well on tests, a reason that was brought to my attention when a friend of mine came to stay with my family for Thanksgiving last year. My siblings, parents and I were being our usual holiday selves, which means being game-gluttons: Scrabble, cards, Trivial Pursuit, Scattegories, you name it, we play it. This friend, noting our penchant for the friendly games, out of the blue asked (though it was more like a statement), "You do well on tests, don't you?" Pertinent note: she is a teacher, a rocking good one, in New York City. She went on to point out the link between a game (ooh, a challenge!) and a test (ooh, a challenge!).
So there you have it. I'm good at school, in part, because of those winter afternoons spent playing Nertz and Boggle. Thus, in the future, I plan to play lots of games with my children. (Yes, I am aware of the futility of making statements about what I will or will not do with as-yet-unborn children, because according to every parent, everything you ever said you would or wouldn't do is but naught in the face of the realities of child-rearing. Still. Games!)
23 October 2006
M left for Strasbourg this morning. Husbandless, Robin is. Momentarily (see glad news, below).
He'll be back sooner than usual! Perhaps as early as tomorrow.
AND: This American Life is now available on iTunes podcasts! For free! Now, instead of paying Audible for the privilege of downloading a show onto my iPod, I am subscribed to the show and every week the new episode will quietly download itself onto my computer. Like magic.
AND: I finally sent my family the link to this blog (hello, family!), so I can at last imagine that someone out there is actually reading this little blog o' mine. Polite clapping of hands.
AND: M and I got free tickets to an Ojos de Brujo concert last night. Half an hour before the show, we got a call that we could pick them up at the door (our friend's brother is some sort of roadie for the band, I think, and another guy couldn't use them because he had to watch the Madrid-Barça game), and so our evening very suddenly veered from tranquil Sunday night reading, crossword-puzzling, and Prairie Home Companion-ing to a raucous, energetic mix of flamenco and hip hop. Neither for the better or for the worse.
AND: There are only four days until I fly to Boston! Since all of my (four) siblings (and a brother-in-law, a sister-in-law, and the cutest nephew ever) live in the Boston area, we are going to have a Sibling Weekend. This is going to involve some or all of the following: food, playing games, playing with my cute nephew, movies, museums, playing with my cute nephew (oh, did I say that already?)... Sibling Weekend is going to be so awesome. And after that, things will continue being awesome when we drive to Vermont, where I will see my parents, and be in Vermont!
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love to read. I am the classic bookworm, the girl who could read through an earthquake. When I leave the house, I always consider whether or not, given the route I am taking and the kind of place I am going, I can construe a possible scenario in which I will have a chance to read. If I can (as you may imagine, often the case), I bring a book. I was always the little girl with her nose buried in a book, no matter where we were (say, at a Phillies game at Vet Stadium).
I'm not terribly picky when it comes to reading material. I love the highbrow, but I'm also content with a newspaper or a magazine, or the back of my box of cereal. I will read mail-order catalogs cover to cover, and have been known to read entire books in a bookstore or library. Give me novels, short stories, travel books, poems, biography, even history (although history books are usually what M goes for and I'm happy to leave him the territory), and I am a happy camper.
As a sample of what I'm reading these days, here's a list of my book purchases over the last few weeks (most of them come from the Brussels Boekenfestijn, where a huge exposition hall is filled with rafts and rafts of books in Flemish and English):
On Beauty, a novel by Zadie Smith: I liked her Autograph Man, and this is even better. Questions of race and authenticity, art and aesthetics, marriage and family, the academic and the non-academic. Based on the structure of Howard's End.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a novel by Susanna Clarke: Fluffy and fun. Theory vs. practice of magic. Harry Potterish.
The Forging of a Rebel, an autobiographical Spanish Civil War trilogy by Arturo Barea: These three books are beautifully written (and translated--by Barea's wife), and give an incredible insider's view of the roots of the war and the experience of living through it. Gave me some invaluable ideas regarding my thesis, especially regarding propaganda and radio (Barea was a news censor and regular voice on the radio), and is a useful corrective to the utopian idea that the arrival of foreigners in Spain was always appreciated.
An Unexpected Light, an Afghanistan travel narrative by Jason Elliot: I was completely absorbed by this book. Elliot has a great sense of the long sweep of history in this crossroads country, and it helped me understand the background to what is happening there today. He makes sensible criticisms regarding Westerners' reporting of events in the region, and is always attentive to the beauty and warmth of the people, their culture(s), and the landscape. However, I think he employs the same tactics that he usefully critiques in Western charicatures of Islam by reducing Christianity to an absurd fundamentalism.
The Rare and the Beautiful, a biography of the Garman sisters, by Cressida Connolly: I'm halfway through this one, and although the writing is less than compelling, I'm hoping to glean a few details regarding Spain in the thirties as seen from the milieu of the Garmans, several of whom lived in Spain. One of the sisters was married to Roy Campbell, a South African poet who proved the exception rather than the rule among thirties intellectuals in his support for Fascism and Franco (his views can be found a tedious long poem that I wouldn't recommend to anyone).
Still in the "to read" pile (cause of much anticipatory glee):
Cloud Atlas, novellas by David Mitchell.
Ravelstein, a novel Saul Bellow.
The Poetess Counts to 100 and Bows Out, poems by Ana Enriqueta Terán.
Spain: The Root and the Flower, a history of Spain by John A. Crow.
Enola Gay, poems by Mark Levine.
Most of these are bring-along or bedtime books (a little bit of reading before falling asleep) as they do not strictly have anything to do with the thesis. But sometimes I get so engrossed that I have to keep reading...
Still, because I love books, I count myself blessed to be doing what I do. I read books, and I teach students about books. What could be better? In order to write this dissertation that is hanging over my head like a cartoon anvil, I have to read many many books, and for that I am thankful. In order to translate books, I (duh) have to read them. See, isn't life good? I have to read. That is why books is #2 of what I love about every single day.
22 October 2006
To read a very familiar text in a new language means to make it unfamiliar again, which freshens understanding and provides surprising new perspectives.
For me, this is never more true than when reading the Bible in a different language. Stories that have long since lost the cutting edge of newness suddenly regain the ability to pierce the mind and heart.
However, sometimes the new version leads in rather unexpected directions. Today, seeing the text "Jacques et Jean viennent auprès de Jésus et lui disent..." conjured up a vision of Jesus followed by two guys in berets, scarves and skinny pants, and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. Jacques is carrying a baguette under his arm and Jean, a copy of Le Monde.
I'm sure Jesus (or, I should say, Jésus) wouldn't mind, doubtless without prejudice when it comes to middle eastern robes vs. western european hipster outfits.
20 October 2006
I am a big breakfast fan. This was not always true; in college I was known to skip breakfast frequently. But now I can't imagine a day without it. In fact--I am somewhat chagrined to admit this--sometimes I even get up purely because I am looking forward to eating my cereal. (I have a good friend for whom this is true as well, so I know I am not alone.)
I am above all fond of crunchy cereals, of the kind that do not wilt and mush wimpily when introduced to just the right amount of soy milk (no drenching, as this would counteract crunchiness). My choice of crunchy cereals tends to adjust to where I am living. To wit: when I lived in Boston's North Shore region, I bought amaranth flakes. Then I moved to Indiana and alas, in Indiana, amaranth flakes were no more, so I turned to Heritage Flakes, beautifully crunchy and slightly sweet. I also, from time to time, enjoy other more widely available varieties of cereals such as Grape Nuts (oh so crunchy, delicious with craisins) or Cheerios (can't beat that nostalgic taste, great with banana).
Now that I live here, the cereal options are drastically reduced, because I think it is mostly the expat community that eats cereal for breakfast. I keep hopping to and fro, trying to find a type that fits the criteria, among which I tried first fruit-n-fibre style flakes with raisins and other dried fruits and nuts. Sometimes OK, but the flakes often wimp out and there are too many raisins. Then, there are the Special K varieties. Same complaint, minus the raisins. The most satisfying options thus far are the "crunchy meusli," sometimes with the added bonus of chocolate (example: Leader Price Muesli Chocolat)! For which I feel guilty, but not guilty enough to desist from purchasing.
Flying in the face of my love of crunchiness, I am currently also enjoying hot oatmeal in the morning from time to time. And from there (since this is a post about what I love every single day, not only the days that I eat cold cereal), I could wax poetic about American breakfast foods: bagels, eggs in every form, fakin-bakin, pancakes, waffles, breakfast burritos, and the majestic yet humble home fry. And then, a veritable rainbow of pastries, including the genial American muffins and cinnamon buns, and that wonderful French invention, croissant au chocolat (see above re: breakfast foods and chocolate bonus).
Last semester a friend and I met once a week for breakfast to critique poems and for general encouragement on our MFA theses. I suggested that we try a different breakfast place every week, as I was acutely aware that my last months in Bloomington were dwindling down. I highly recommend this practice to anyone, as we became acquainted with many breakfast places and ate some truly delicious food. Plus, breakfast is usually the best way to eat both heartily and cheaply.
Before I go, one more thing. I think the topic of coffee (and the question of national coffee habits, the joys and challenges of adapting to them) should be reserved for another post, but it should be noted that coffee is also one of the reasons that "Breakfast" is #1 on the list of things I love about every single day.
I thought that, if I am going to be a blogger, I should review what other people are doing on their blogs. This was a good idea, because it gives me many ideas for my own. And I learned some things about blogging in general.
First, by randomly looking through Blogger blogs, I found out that a lot of people set up their blog and then abandon it completely. They have zero entries, and their profile is the only thing that makes their blog exist. Or, they have maybe a handful of entries and the last time they wrote was, say, two years ago. I also discovered that there are many blogs written by people who are ages that end in -teen, and that those blogs are often (not always) filled with boring things like "I am going to class now. I just ate a candy bar. I need to lose weight." or excruciating things like "u R 2 cute!!!!" (in general too many exclamation points and too much unfunny self-loathing).
Then, I struck upon a different strategy, and followed links from blogs I already decided I liked, or have been reading on and off for some time now. This worked much better, and although I didn't like all the blogs I was led to, many we were interesting, well-written, or funny. Sometimes all three.
I learned a surprising lesson, however, as much from the boring blogs as from the great ones. Bloggers like to write about being sick, especially of minor illnesses such as colds, and often describe in disturbing detail the coughs, sniffles, achy heads and snot-production resulting from said cold. I have several theories regarding this widespread obsession:
1. Bodily excretions are thought to be funny.
2. In real life, face-to-face conversation, it is not considered polite to detail how many tissues you fill with your schnozz mucus, thus driving people to save it for the blog.
3. As the bloggers are not at work because they are sick, they have more time to blog, and as they are sick, they blog (about being sick) for a greater ratio of time than they blog (about other things) on the non-sick days.
My response to the sick-blogs is this:
I hereby promise to NOT bring undue notice to my personal snot production in future blogs.