Thursday, November 26, 2009

bus drivers

I take the M4 bus quite a bit -- most week days to get to work in the morning and every so often on weekends. I don't know any of the bus drivers' names, or where they live, or whether they have families or not, but I know some of them by the way they say good morning, or don't, and by the way they smile, or don't.

It hadn't occurred to me that any of them would know me.

One morning not long after I shaved my head back in the spring of 2006, I got on the bus and the driver glanced up and a look of horror crossed his face. He was one of the friendlier drivers, a man I'd been exchanging good mornings with almost daily the previous year, but whom I had not seen in awhile.

He looked at me, aghast, and said, "Oh sweetheart, I am so sorry... are you feeling okay?" It took me a moment to understand, and then I quickly explained that no, I did not have cancer, but had merely shaved my head. He grinned, greatly relieved, and I grinned, somewhat embarrassed.

One year on Thanksgiving, Nathan and Chris and Jill and I were taking the bus down to Chris' parents' place for dinner. Traffic was backed up from the George Washington Bridge and the bus was crawling south on Fort Washington Avenue. The four of us were the only passengers and clearly frustrated. The bus driver, also clearly frustrated and probably wanting to get home to his family himself, went rogue. He spun a left on 181st Street, careening down the hill towards Saint Nicholas Avenue, gleefully exclaiming, "I'll get you where you need to go!"

His shift ended at 135th Street, but before he left I ran up and gave him one of the black-bottomed cupcakes I'd brought for dessert. He grinned, crammed it into his mouth in one fell swoop, and jumped off the bus. And we got to where we needed to go just in time for dinner.

I like taking the bus.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'it's a golden prison...'

"It's a golden prison. The light on my hair
cries for memory, for anything
to weigh it down. All this time
I've been hanging, the secret tides
of my body staying high."

(Larissa Szporluk, from Menace of the Skies)

this & that

This makes me hungry and almost (but not quite) wishing I had a cold.

Also my landlord in the news (again). (Thanks, Andrew!)

Also, this quote: "A good Roald Dahl sentence is a physical event: It can leave a child literally writhing with glee." -James Parker, Outfoxed

So very true.

shameless promotion

Need holiday gift ideas for your nearest & dearest? A couple friends of mine are doing some pretty amazing things.

Chris Beidel, former library colleague turned woodworker extraordinaire, makes beautiful and unique pieces at Pernt Studios.

Josh Siegel, dear friend and artist and musician, designs awesome "graphic mutant" prints, available for order here.

Jeof & Zach opened their games store a couple weeks ago at Bryant Park, but have also now gone online at The Games Place.

And of course there's always me, still doing that whole yarn thing.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

miso sweet potato soup

Erica brought me a bag of CSA goodies last weekend, which I put in the fridge and promptly forgot about until yesterday, when I was scrounging around at lunch time for something to eat other than the rest of the bag of Trader Joe's Thai chili cashews I've been munching on all week. This is what I came up with.

quick & easy miso sweet potato soup

coarsely chop 1/2 an onion and a few garlic cloves
cook over medium heat in some olive oil, along with a dash of red pepper flakes, until soft (10 minutes?), in a 2-quart saucepan
in the meantime, dice 2-3 smallish sweet potatoes and add to pot
stir in 1 tablespoon or so of miso paste
add enough broth to cover the potatoes and let simmer for about 20 minutes
blend with stick blender
salt & pepper to taste

I added a dollop of homemade yogurt to my first bowl, and a spoonful of coconut milk to the second bowl. Delicious both ways.

welcome to bahamas

Friday, November 20, 2009

tripping

I was listening to The Cure's Like Cockatoos on my walk to the subway this morning and feeling like a 16-year-old bad ass, until I tripped on the sidewalk and was reminded yet again that I have never been a bad ass at any age. Alas.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

pictures, scary people, long lost friends

Jessica was telling me recently about one of her favorite photographers: a war photographer, a photojournalist by the name of Ron Haviv. She was talking specifically about his Blood & Honey collection, a photo essay of the chaos that overtook Yugoslavia following the end of the Cold War.

Funny that she should mention him now, given the world's (and my own) preoccupation these last few weeks with the end of the Cold War. It is easy to forget that the Soviet Union and the Communist Bloc, for all their badness, kept certain horrifying nationalistic, ethnic-cleansing, tendencies in check. (Such a horrific term, 'ethnic cleansing.' Honestly I can't imagine a more horrific term, for all its mundane connotation of purification.)

I've been looking at these pictures (can't seem to stop looking at these pictures) and feeling a little overwhelmed by our capacity to inflict pain upon one other. They make me think of the Rwandan genocide, and how I was old enough in 1994 to have known what was going on, and yet I did not, any more than I understood what was going on in Eastern Europe. I was old enough that I should have known was was going on, but I wasn't paying attention. Five years later, during the summer of 1999, I was house sitting for a friend and read his copy of Philip Gourveitch's We Wish To Inform You. I spent much of the rest of that summer reading about Rwanda, trying late at night to understand the hatred and rage that must have been percolating beneath the surface of that country before the Hutus rose up, spurred on by Radio Rwanda, and slaughtered 500,000 Tutsis. (And not with the systematic, horrific coldness of the gas chambers, or even with the physical distance of guns, but rather largely with machetes. Can you imagine the force it must take to cut someone down with a machete?)

Looking at Haviv's pictures brings up similar feelings of not quite despair, but an incredibly uncomfortable mix of fascination and frustration, sadness and fury and impotence -- how is it that we continue to do this to ourselves?

And I've been thinking about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's pending arrival here in New York City, epicenter to his frightening hatred of this country I can't help but love. I've been thinking about Jerry, who until recently served on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, where Mohammed will be put on trial. I remember how, in the days following 9/11, the courts reopened and Jerry couldn't seem to shake a sore throat and a hoarse voice. I remember how this sore throat and hoarseness dragged on and on, after days and weeks and months of breathing in Ground Zero smoke and dust and ash.

And I've been thinking about our own homegrown extremists, the ones who begin to balance out the Khalid Shaikh Mohammeds of the Middle East, at least in rage and hatred if not yet in action. I'm remembering last August's controversial DHS report on the recent rise of rightwing extremism, and of the man who thought it was okay to bring a loaded rifle to a Presidential event, and of the man now sitting in jail after having gunned down Dr. Tiller in the foyer of his church, and of the hordes of teabaggers with their "Obama is a Nazi" rhetoric and their overblown sense of self-righteousness and self-pity. I'm thinking of the recent poll indicating that nearly 1 in 3 conservatives in New Jersey either believe or don't know whether they believe that Obama is the Antichrist. I'm thinking of the Secret Service's report that the number of death threats against our current president is unprecedented, and how when George W. Bush was in office and we left-wingers were fit to be tied, the most extreme of us was a bereaved mother camped outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. I'm thinking of Fox News and Glen Beck joking about killing our Democratic leaders. And I'm thinking about our current Republican leadership standing by these people with the guns, these people arguing that our duly elected president is not American or is the Antichrist or is a Communist, that he's going to steal our children and kill our grandmas, that his attempt at health care reform is another Final Solution.

I've been reading Chaim Potok's The Promise, and am reminded of Reuven Malter's rage against the extremists in his yeshiva, and his frustration that all extremists sound so much alike. And I am reminded of Rachel Maddow's recent interview with Frank Schaeffer, former rightwinger and religious leader turned apostate, during which he says, "What surprises me is that responsible Republican leadership and the editors of some of these Christian magazines do not stand up in holy horror and denounce this. You know, they're always asking, 'Where is the Islamic leadership denouncing terrorism? Why aren't the moderates speaking out?" Well I'd challenge the folks who I used to work with, and I would say to them, 'Where the hell are you? This is not funny anymore.'"

On another note, I recently reconnected with a girl I met in Paris twenty years ago, and for whom I babysat regularly during the months our families overlapped there. She was a wonderful girl, smart and adventurous and kind, and I still remember fondly recommending books for her to read, cooking dinner for us (boiled spaghetti and jarred tomato sauce and boiled broccoli, probably), listening to her practice the violin, spending New Year's Eve together with our families.

Turns out she's still smart and adventurous and kind, and a writer! This piece, published earlier this fall, moved me almost to tears.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

transfixed

Kathy's Famous Swope Bread

Back in the days when I was growing up in Mohegan Lake, a few families in the neighborhood decided to start a bread club. The breads were all so different that it was always a treat, and something I think it is safe to say that we all very much looked forward to. I can't remember now what everyone contributed, but there are three that I still find myself hankering after sometimes. Nate & Dad's cinnamon-raisin bread, Mom's oaties, and Kathy's quick bread. Kathy was kind enough to share her recipe with me a couple months back and I've been meaning to share it here ever since. (I'm still working on getting Mom's oaties recipe, and Nate & Dad's cinnamon-raisin bread, alas, may be lost to the ages forever.)

Kathy's Famous Swope Bread
(Makes 2 loaves)

4 cups unsifted whole wheat flour
2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 quart buttermilk (or 3 1/2 cups milk acidified with 1/2 cup vinegar)
2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two 9x5x3 inch loaf pans.

Combine flours, sugar and salt. Combine buttermilk and baking soda; stir into flour mixture. Turn into prepared loaf pans.

Place in oven. Turn down heat to 350 degrees. Bake 1 hour 10 minutes or until done in center when tested with toothpick. Remove from pans and cool on rack.

Kathy notes that she uses cider vinegar, and that she mixed the milk and vinegar at the beginning to give it a few minutes to "sit."

I didn't have buttermilk or regular milk when I made this batch yesterday so I used just under 4 cups of homemade yogurt with a little vinegar. Turned out deliciously, and I've been munching on it ever since (though I've tucked away the second loaf in the freezer, as apparently this bread freezes well and even I probably can't get through two loaves in a week).

Friday, November 13, 2009

odds & ends

I happened to be in Anacortes for the town's annual Shipwreck Day this past July (basically a town-wide rummage sale) and bought an absolutely scrumptious Fidalgo Rain Shampoo Bar from a lovely local lass. (Now that I've got hair again I can indulge in such things -- a forgotten bonus of going all girly.) Turns out she's got a website! If you, like me, have lots of people in your life who appreciate a delicious soap, consider checking her out for holiday gifts: Ancient Dragonfly Soap Company.

And what I want for Christmas? Other than world peace and all that stuff? Blocking tools. Seriously. Wires. Pins. Mats. A ball winder. Maybe another set of stitch markers. And a comprehensive lesson in chart-reading, which apparently I am incapable, thus far, of doing. That's it.

No more stretching things out on towels and hoping for the best:


And on another, different, note, there was a piece in the New Yorker a couple weeks back, on the eve of our mayoral election, that seemed to sum up my somewhat conflicted feelings about Mayor Mike:

"In broad outline, New Yorkers know all this. We know that we’re bought and paid for. We know that there is something unseemly, even humiliating, about submitting ourselves to be ruled by the richest man in town. We know that the muscling aside of term limits, whatever the law’s merits, was a travesty. We know that the Mayor’s campaign this time has been puzzlingly, pettily negative. Yet we will, most of us, troop to the polls on Tuesday and pull the lever for Mayor Mike. The truth is that Michael Bloomberg has been a very good mayor. The record is mixed, of course, but the mixture is largely positive...

If Bloomberg had been satisfied with two terms, he would be leaving office a beloved legend, a municipal god. He’ll get his third, but we’ll give it to him sullenly, knowing that while it probably won’t measure up to his first two—times are hard, huge budget gaps are at hand—it’ll probably be good enough. The Pax Bloombergiana will endure a while longer. But then what? Will we have forgotten how to govern ourselves?"

Sunday, November 08, 2009

ruminating on the wall

I've been thinking about Germany lately, and the 20th anniversary, tomorrow, of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the ensuing demise of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union and the Cold War and the world as we knew it, that world of the Evil Empire.

Slate Magazine ran a fascinating piece the other day on the mundanities behind the initial border openings (missed phone calls, misread government memos) on November 9th of 1989.

The New York Times ran a Then & Now piece today, and a small collection of poems, Berlin poems, Wall poems:

"Then the inspiration to build walls facing in!
Reservation, concentration camp, ghetto,
finally whole countries walled in, and saved were we
from traitors who'd dare wish to flee our within."
-C. K. Williams

"When the wall came down I was distracted. By what?
A man I loved and longed for?

A self integrating so slowly most days I hardly knew who I was?"
-Marie Howe


Ten years ago, in the spring of 1999, I was working at the University of Pennsylvania Bookstore and semi-surreptitiously reading as many books as I could. One that's stayed with me all these years, the one I perhaps found most haunting, was Tina Rosenberg's The Haunted Land: facing Europe's ghosts after Communism. She wrote compelling stories of resistance and dissidence in Poland and Czechoslovakia and Germany, and how that resistance played out, became integrated into a post-Communist world, once those Eastern Bloc regimes collapsed. But even more compelling, to me at least, were her stories of how easy, how seemingly necessary, it sometimes was to be complicit in one's own repression. These post-war Eastern European countries, unlike most dictatorial regimes, demanded of its citizens full political participation, whether that meant attending endless political rallies and marches and meetings or spying on relatives and friends and neighbors. As Jane Kramer wrote in The Politics of Memory, "With 300,000 informers, the Stasi was not so much a mirror of East Germany; to a large extent, it was East Germany."*

My family was in Berlin for Christmas a month and a half after the Wall first opened. My father regaled us with stories of JFK's infamous "Ich bein ein Berliner" speech and took us off to see Checkpoint Charlie and the opening of the Brandenburg Gate and took a sledgehammer to the Wall. I have a notebook somewhere, or perhaps not any longer, with pages full of the graffiti I copied down from the western side of the Wall that December. The eastern side was blank, empty, the people of course having been kept away from it by armed guards. We brought back to New York a bag of chunks and chips of the Wall to give to friends and family, though this bag, too, has probably gone astray in the twenty years since.

I don't have any of the Wall anymore, though I remember poring over the pieces we took away, hunting for the perfect one, the one with the brightest bit of colored spray paint (sea green or stormy blue or a deep firey red), the one with the most legible fragment of writing (ghosts of this demarcation point between two worlds).

"They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I'm coming now, I'm coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

I'm guided by a signal in the heavens
I'm guided by this birthmark on my skin
I'm guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin"
-Leonard Cohen, First We Take Manhattan

Other interesting reads:
The day Checkpoint Charlie came back to haunt me
Berlin Wall's fall inspires us still
Berlin Wall as a piece of history: too-good riddance?


*The Stasi was East Germany's version of the Secret Police. After Germany's reunification in 1990 legislation was passed that opened up the Stasi files to the public, so that people could see their own files and possibly learn who had been spying on them. Turned out pretty much everyone was spying on pretty much everyone else -- 300,000 informers, in a country of a mere 16 million people.

Friday, November 06, 2009

'there was the cove and the smooth shallow water...'

From Chaim Potok's The Promise:

There was the cove and the smooth shallow water with the tall trees of the shoreline breaking the force of the wind and Michael lying on his back reading the clouds. There was the cove and the birds high overhead and the clouds white against the deep blue of the sky and the whisper of the wind through the trees, a loud whisper that was a roller coaster roar, and the sensation of dropping into the night.

"We are at war, friend. Didn't you know we are at war?"

Danny said nothing.

"The enemy surrounds us. The evil forces of secularism are everywhere. Look under the bed before you say the Kriat Shma at night. Look under the bed before you pray the Shacharit Service in the morning. And while you're at it check the books on your desk and look in the typewriter and close the window because they come in with the wind. Did you know they come in with the wind?"

"All right," Danny said quietly.

"The hell it's all right. We become like dead branches and last year's leaves and what the hell good are we for ourselves and for the world in a mental ghetto. The hell it's all right."

Danny said nothing. There was a tense silence.

"I'll survive," I said.

He was quiet.

"If I can have another cup of coffee."

He smiled then and got slowly to his feet.

"One derives great moral strength from a cup of coffee," I said.

"Kosher coffee," Danny said.

"Yes, of course. Kosher coffee. Of course."

We talked over the third cup of coffee, about ourselves, about the past, and there was silence and more talk and silence again and more talk. That was the best cup of all, that third cup of coffee. It took us a very long time to drink it.

Then I was putting on my coat and hat and we were standing at the door.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

'these streets will make you feel brand new...'

I came home to an empty apartment tonight, at least aside from a particularly grumpy feline greeting me at the door. Last year, a year ago today, I came dashing home after closing up the library to throw on a pot of soup, get beer in the fridge, and open up my door to a cohort of dear friends. We spent the evening trading voting war stories, exalting in each other's and the world's excitement as the night wore on and Obama pulled ahead, some of us brought to tears when his meteoric rise to the White House became official.

This Election Day is different, of course, and somewhat less exciting in terms of the political world. I assume Bloomberg won handily though I have not been watching the incoming election results. I am waiting to hear about Referendum 71 in my adoptive home state of Washington, and Maine's Question 1.

I headed out a little early this morning, voted before work (still love those old voting machines we've still got here in New York, and was pleased that the little old ladies manning the sign-in table for the 77th Election District found my name with a little less prompting than usual this time around).

I came home tonight to an empty apartment and a grumpy cat, but also to a bouquet of flowers (shades of orange and pink and cream) waiting cheerily for me on the kitchen island. I came home missing an incredible man who has recently become unexpectedly central to my world after years of being somewhat peripheral, on the far side of the country, and who left for Europe today with an open-ended ticket.

But I also came home thinking how lovely it is that this man seems to have grown fond of my adoptive hometown and the small life I've built within it. This city of mine, prone to its fits of quirkiness and beauty and tolerance and frustration and violence and resiliency, has been for many years now central to me, and rediscovering it through his eyes, in all his newness to this place, has over these last weeks made me love it, and him, all the more.

And just for the record, as in years past, New York remained last year one of the most Democratic cities in the country:

NYC 2008 General Election Results
Total votes: 2,641,669
Obama/Biden:
2,073,915
McCain/Palin: 524,774
Other: 42,980

"I am them!"

Best article ever, bar none.
(Thank you, Marti!)