Tuesday, April 29, 2008

We took a low-key (non Greyhound) tour of areas
devastated by Katrina this afternoon, including
the Lower Ninth Ward. All I can say, at this point,
is that I am profoundly silenced by what I've seen.
I also finished the Billy Sothern book, Down in
New Orleans, and feel beat up, and I have no right
to feel beat up. I enjoy a comfortable life, I have
a home, I am on vacation. When I started talking
to a gallery owner here about my experiences
this afternoon, she said, "Oh, don't be sad! I used to live
in the Ninth Ward. Did you see my house...."
And then she started to cry, wiped her eyes.
Our tour guide (who showed us her destroyed home)
said the best thing people like us ("us" meaning those 
in the van) can do to help is to spend money -- and lots of it,
in this town. Okay. That we can do.

Dinner at Antoine's

A short walk from our hotel, Antoine's first opened
its doors in 1840, and is "the oldest restaurant in the
United States operated continuously by the same family
for five generations." Paul was dressed de rigeur --
in jacket and tie -- or so we thought. A tradition that has
existed as long as Antoines's has been serving its nightly
Oysters Rockefeller has been swept out the door along with
the debris that Hurricane Katrina left on its doorstep.
Instead of turning down improperly-clad gentlemen
in the early post-K. days, Antoine's let tradition slide
and did away with the thirty varying-sized sport coats they kept
in case an unprepared guest dared enter its esteemed front doors.
I'm all for casual comfort, but Antoine's is Antoine's: I must
admit that the flip-flops, polo shirts and jeans were a major
disappointment for this Seattlite raised by an east-coast mother.
Rules are rules, but please, let's not mess with tradition.
Our over-the-top charming and most unpretentious waiter
tut-tutted along with us, and before long the maitre d' made
an appearance at our table, and with much wringing of hands
expressed his dismay at the loss of classic elegance
a coat and tie symbolizes.  Midway through dinner he appeared
again at my elbow, asking my first name, which he inscribed
in Antoine's Restaurant Since 1840 Cookbook:
"All the best always from the Antoine family and staff.
So very happy that the winds from the west blow in class
unlike the eastern winds."
And I haven't even begun to describe dinner!
As an appetizer I chose Ecrevisses Cardinale:
shrimp/crawfish tails in a white wine sauce with a hint of tomato.
Paul had Oysters 2/2/2: Oysters Rockefeller, Bienville & Thermidor.
(He was a bit dismayed that I didn't want to share an order
of escargot with him, but I've just never been able, inspite of being
the foodie that I am, to get one of those tiny slimy curls past my lips.)
(And don't tell me they aren't slimy!)
Salad was a mix of chopped asparagus, tomato, hearts of palm
and romaine with a lovely light vinaigrette, which didn't overpower
the delicacy of the asparagus and hearts of palm.
Paul -- ever the more adventurous, had alligator bisque.
My entree was a Pompano Ponchartrain, a white fish
sauteed in butter with a generous topping of lump crabmeat.
Paul's Filet de Truite aux Ecrevisse Cardinale was even more
savory than my pompano.  Accompaniments included steamed asparagus
in butter and their famous puffed potatoes, which are flat strips
of potato deep-fried, cooled, and then tossed back into the very hot oil
again, where they puff like souffles. We finished off the evening
with Baked Alaska, which unfortunately was not flambeed.
While extremely visually pleasing -- with "Antoine's" piped
in meringue on its flanks -- the flavor was just kind of bland
and frozen. Baked Alaska must be served hot from the oven!
After dinner we were invited to wander the restaurant's 15
dining rooms at our leisure. There were very large rooms with
floor-to-ceiling windows and sweeping chandeliers, like the one
where we had enjoyed our dinner, and smaller, even grander 
private dining rooms, all brightly painted, containing one long table 
elaborately decked out in silver and crystal for the next soiree. 
(Not unlike the private apartments of Marie Antoinette in La Louvre.)
In one empty room, we spied a nearly concealed door
at the opposite end. After hearing from our waiter about 
secret doors leading to drinking parlors that existed during Prohibition,
I couldn't resist opening this -- an walked head-on into a private dinner
of perhaps twenty people, who of course all turned to view
my ungainly entrance. If I'd had enough presence of mind 
and hadn't been so surprised I would've recited a poem 
from memory, bowed, then retreated back out the "secret" door.
We collapsed in laughter once I had made my exit and closed the door. 
(I don't think I've ever heard Paul laugh so hard.)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

We decided to hang in the Quarter this morning/early afternoon,
keep an eye on the weather. It was hazy, warm, humid; black clouds
loomed in the distance. We discovered a bookshop --Kitchen Witch --
that specializes in new and vintage cookbooks: heaven, for me, 
at least. Many of the older books had recipes cut from newspapers 
slipped in between pages. Many of the books I have at home were here,
some in better shape than mine, others worn and food-splattered
from years in some cook's kitchen. The owner stood behind the counter
and explained how to make a good roux to some young Asian women.
There was a shrine for his recently departed cat, "Bob," on a kitchen chair
with candles, photos. His black lab, "Sophia," slept curled on an
upholstered dining-table chair, hanging off the edges, oblivious.
Here's an excerpt from The Virginia Housewife or Methodical Cook,
copyright 1860:
To roast a fore-quarter of shote: joint it for the convenience
of carving, roast it before a brisk fire; when done, take the
skin off, dredge and froth it, put a little melted butter with 
some caper vinegar over it, or serve it with a mint sauce.

Our next stop was Faulkner House Books, a lovely alley-of-a-store
with shelves all the way to the very high ceiling. Mostly new books,
save for a glass case of Faulkner early editions. I was delighted to find
a copy of my Seattle friend Peter Pereira's book Saying the World.
So nice to run into old friends when far from home!
We stopped for pralines: I say praw-leans, Paul says pray-leans.
I say that I'm right and he says that he's right. Don't ask why
we didn't ask the sales clerk how she says it...and we stopped
for PRAWlines twice. So.

The French Market was overflowing stall after stall with ticky-tacky
imported tourist crap: polka-dotted luggage sets (come with a guarantee
that the zippers will break first time you use them), faux African masks,
piles of voodoo dolls for $1 each, feathered masks, plastic mardi-gras beads
by the thousand. Peppered about were a few actual artists with
their own work, but few is the key word here.

We stood on the sidewalk for about 15 minutes and listened
to a teenage brass band -- two trombones, trumpet, tuba,
two drums -- as the clouds pushed in darker and darker
above us, finally to let out tremendous booms of thunder
and a few scattered raindrops which quickly increased
to a massive downpour. We ducked into Fiorella's
for some lunch. As two cockroaches flicked in and out
of the newspapers beside us on the counter, the storm outside
continued to grow until there appeared to be a waterfall
just outside the door, descending over the awning.
We moved to a table slightly away from the roaches,
and  when our food finally came, after a very long wait
(and the cook neglected to make my deep-fried dill pickles)
it was worth it -- fried chicken, red beans-n-rice, stewed cabbage
with a vinegar tang.  Iced tea. Paul had an oyster po'boy.
I took a long time to eat, tucked-in there from the storm.
Fiorella's (which has been open since 1936)
was a bit of a dive the last time I was there, in 2003,
and seems to have suffered post-Katrina. There were huge
water stains along one wall extending from the ceiling
to about halfway down, peeling plaster, chunks missing
in the plaster. Very run down, dingy.  But after a few bites
of that chicken, and those beans, and that cabbage, I noticed
nothing but what was in front of me. It was one of those
food moments where you exist in only food-time, shut off
from the rest of experience.  I made Paul wait as I savored
and chewed, the perfect blend of flavors and -- dare I say it -- grease!

I'm reading am amazing book: Down in New Orleans,
Reflections from a Drowned City, by Billy Sothern -- 
a transplanted New York attorney who moved to NO
four years before Katrina to defend death-row inmates.
I've already read a hundred pages....

There's a glimmer of sunshine in the street outside,
and we're keeping our fingers crossed that it persisists
long enough so we can see Irma Thomas, Al Green, Elvis Costello
and Beausoleil. I think that perhaps I should purchase
a voodoo doll in a cloud formation and load it up with pins.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

New Orleans. Torrential rain. Thunder. Lightning.
BUT IT'S WARM. We got rained out of the Jazz Fest
this afternoon after listening to Chief Iron Horse &
the Black Seminole Mardi Gras Indians and Hadley J. Castile
and the Sharecropper's Band. The food was amazing --
while not there long enough, we did have time to try
boudin balls and hot tamales. Oh oh oh. Yum.
The forecast for tomorrow is more of the same.
(Same food, same rain.) Plastic ponchos were sold out
at all the booths, but a generous man sitting at a table
with us gave me an extra one he had stashed in his backpack.
Paul -- ever the gentleman -- insisted that I have it.
He got soaked to the skin on our way out of the fairgrounds,
and we shared a cab back to the Quarter with four other people --
it was a sauna in there, with all those dripping bodies.
But there is plenty to do/see even in the rain,
which doesn't seem to stop anyone in this city.
Stepped into Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo tonight
to check out the chicken-feet keychains and skeleton amulets.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Heading off to New Orleans tomorrow where the temperature
is 83 degrees and god only knows what the humidity is.
On the agenda: New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival,
dinner at Antoines, beignets at Cafe du Monde, voodoo, a hotel on Bourbon Street, but no aligator for me. Nope.
We hope to get out of the city to see some of Katrina's devastation.
On one hand, it seems kind of voyeuristic to act the tourist
and snap photos of destroyed homes, obliterated neighborhoods.
But on the other hand, it also seems necessary.
More on this later.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Some statistics:

1. My old cat Alice has thrown-up on the average
about 1.5 times per week for the past 15 years.
This comes to 1,170 times. That's a lot of paper towels.

2. In the lifetime of my two sons (ages 22 and 19)
I have done approximately 9,152 loads of wash.

3. I have no idea how many times I've typed the word "the"
but I'm fairly certain it numbers in the tens of thousands.

4. Hillary Clinton carried Pennsylvania by approximately 200,000 votes.

New poem and newly sewn ensemble...feeling pretty damn good
in the creativity department!

Sunday, April 20, 2008


April snow descends
as I cross the parking lot

to the mall where nine harpists pluck.

The sun emerges — steam rises
in sinuous billows from the pavement:

I drift through clouds.

All along I've wanted to say 

that I reside in cumulonimbus, 

but it's too dreamy to admit, too flimsy.

Too much the poet.
But here, finally:
swirling evidence at my feet.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sewing, Redux

The tissue pattern is even more delicate than I remember,
and not that it was anything other than delicate, flimsy,
good for only one cutting. It's been so long, but muscle memory
is powerful, and I let my hands remember how to pin, how to
cut with scissors flush with the fabric. I love the skreet, skreet
of the blades as a pants-leg takes shape, a pocket.
The vocabulary: selvedge, pinking shears, bobbin, presser foot.
And the convoluted path the thread takes from spool
to needle: up, around, through, caught-on, hooked, left-to-right
and then: ready to sew. Everything inside-out, reversed,
like reading a book held up to a mirror.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I've taken the leap across the great chasm
between the PC world and the Apple world:
last week my little beloved laptop that my boys
gave me for Christmas a year ago (used, refurbished)
began its downhill journey to the computer graveyard.
Even Nelson -- the resident computer whiz -- couldn't
resuscitate it. So tonight Paul and I braved the sleet/snow/hail
and plunked down the credit card for a cute new Apple.
My only regret is that it didn't come in pink. Alas.

A question: why does the middle-aged female body
turn into a one-woman sauna???!! There must be a way
to harness all the energy being expended from me.

And....I think Apple should name their computers
fuji, golden, akane, pippin....

Melinda and I stood outside in the hail this afternoon
with our mouths open, heads tilted back. The tiny ice balls
clung to my hair, my sweater, and a few actually made it
into my mouth in spite of my laughter. The flavor was cold.
Bland, in need of a little vanilla. A grain or two of salt.
Adequately chilled, though. The perfect diet food.
Mid-April and there's talk of snow, here in this temperate rainforest
where ferns cling to the sides of maples and moss is abundant.
The one day of warmth so far this year is going to be cancelled out
by a blanket of white fluff. O sun come back to us.
(But I don't want to write about the weather! Or last night's dinner!
Which, incidentally, was an artichoke, asparagus and fontina lasagna
made by Leslie Mackie of Macrina....)

Perhaps some year I'll return to poetry readings. Just can't bring myself
to do much more in that world now but attend my writing group.
Meanwhile, it's National Poetry Month and the city is alive with
the spoken word, with friends and fellow-poets on the stage.
So much in my universe changed four and a half years ago --
such a dramatic shift, so many desires have slipped away,
so many things have no meaning any more.

Nelson brought me the painting of a pear he painted in his class
at SSCC....this is the first art of any kind he's done since his father
passed. Prior to that, he played the flute, painted, sculpted, acted.
Perhaps it's just an excess of maternal pride surging forth, but allow me
to say that the depth of emotion contained in that single yellow fruit,
with its underlying layers of black and red, nearly brought me to my knees.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It's quarter to ten and Paul is politely suggesting I close this computer
so we can go up to the gym and lift weights. It's not enough that I do
packing and shipping at work, which = weight-lifting. Not so glamorous
as at the gym, alas. He's been putting me through a particular kind
of torture since our trainer has been out for surgery. And after three
months of this four-or-five days a week strenuous output of energy
one would think that at least a few inches would be shed from
this half-century+ body. Well. No. Not at all. I'm convinced
that muscles weigh more than fat. Yes? Please?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Every winter it's the same: I convince (or attempt to convince) myself that
this omnipresent grey is okay -- there are myriad variations of tone,
the bare landscape is elegant in its simplicity, darkness is a comfort.
And it works, for the most part. I do love the rain -- water falling from
the sky is like living under a perpetual waterfall. And the drama of wind
exhilirates me with its possibility for change. Cold foggy mornings
feel like swaddling: cozy, secure, the larger world shut out for a time.
And then there is a day like yesterday -- nearly eighty degrees
and it's as if every tree and bush is beside itself trying to leaf out --
and the new growth is nearly fluorescent in the surprise of sun.
The world feels opened out, limitless, infinite.
And I think: how did I possibly endure the eternal grey of a Seattle winter?
How does anyone?
And this I know: it's the contrast that is necessary.
Yes, I love it here. Indeed I do.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I had intended to go over to my Seattle house today
and do some serious work in the basement, really plunge
into the subconscious of ghosts which inhabit that
underworld, rout them out. I dreaded it. I do realize once it's done
and cleaned out I won't have to do it again, so there
are advantages. But. Nature handed me a reprieve
in the form of sun: we've been buckled under
with lingering winter, but today blossomed and unfurled
in total sun, so who in their right mind would go underground
instead of digging and clipping and trimming? Certainly pas moi.
Nelson and I worked for a good two hours
and accomplished more than I've ever done in that garden
in a single day. There is more incentive when I don't live there
anymore; not exactly sure why. The lemon balm is doing its best
(and competing with bindweed aka morning glory) to TAKE OVER.
Bindweed is insidious. Lemon balm is tenacious.
The yellow tulips (and one pink one) are close to blooming.
One of the grape vines is weeping sap where I pruned
a branch I missed a month ago. The kiwi is winding its tendrils
in crazy spirals up to the upper floor balconey.
Nelson, (who is 19) was completely into it, for the first time
in his life. He's started basil and cilantro from seed, little peat pots
lined up on a sunny sill.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Being Green

As good custodians of the earth, we use recycled packing materials
at my job whenever we can. Craig's list is a good resource, and M.
knows of various businesses who are delighted for her to pick up
giant garbage-sacks full of peanuts. This week she picked up about
a dozen bags from a home on Capital Hill....apparently the homeowner
was a packrat of sorts, as the yard was piled high with stuff.
I've been doing the lion's share of shipping lately, so I dug in
to these bags with my usual gusto, and discovered that they were
indeed green. These bags contained not only peanuts
but a hornet, multiple spiders, worms, slugs, and cedar twigs.
My packing was accompanied by constant yelps and shrieks.
After about 3 1/2 hours of this nonsense I had a mini-breakdown
and laughed hysterically for a few minutes. M. very kindly brought me
a delicate little glassful of single malt Scotch. Later on that evening
I was cooking old-fashioned macaroni-n-cheese and when I poured
the cooked mac. into the baking pan I jumped back and let out
yet another screech: the pasta resembled a wad of decomposable
packing peanuts that have come in contact with water: pale, shrunk,
shriveled. But I was in luck: there was no evidence of vermin
of any kind, not arachnidic, not apiatic, not gastropodic.
Miraculously I managed to eat my dinner, even though my brain
kept wanting to envision something larval and jiggly on the plate.


Blue with envy: three Stellar's jays
on the railing outside, one holding a peanut.
Wrap me in those feathers and let me fly....

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

My book group tonight: we've been meeting almost regularly
since 1991, and three of the original members are still members.
We discussed The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
by Dinaw Mengestu, about an Ethiopian immigrant
living in a run-down neighborhood of DC.
A quiet book, gently eloquent. The tragedy that is
the protagonist's life eases itself in, no fanfare,
no bells or whistles. Recommended.
We dined at Shanghai Garden on 6th in the ID -- OMG go there
(if you live in Seattle) and order ANYTHING with the green barley
hand-shaved noodles. Spectacular: bright green,
tossed with yellow scrambled egg and orange carrots
and snow peas and bok choy and mushrooms. Not to be missed!
New book: The Inheritance of Loss.
And then Sex Wars by Marge Piercy.
It's National Poetry Month (NaPoMo)and I'm reading fiction
like a damn fiend. I'm renaming it NaFicMo.
(There must be something wrong with me.)
Last night I finished the magnificent The Story of Lucy Gault,
by William Trevor. Heartbreaking, evocative, with a complicated
sentence structure that seems to wind around and through itself.
Highly recommended.

Now this is ridiculous: imagine hosting a dinner to a dozen pre-teen
Fundamentalist Christian boys and girls. You are trying
to make macaroni and cheese (from scratch). Everywhere,
someone is in your way, the water won't boil for the pasta,
no cheese grater. When you finally put dinner on the table
it's ten o'clock and all the children have fallen asleep
with their faces in their plates. You wake them up!
Eat, children! Afterwards, they all get in
an enormous bathtub together. You're a bit concerned
with the nudity and close proximity of wet bodies, etc.,
in light of their conservative natures
but when you start handing them towels
you realize that they are all still wearing their underwear.
Then.....you wake up from this dream,it's 3am, and when you finally
drift off again, just before 4, there it all is once more,
except this time you're watching it on super-8 film,
the projector making that little click-click-click sound.
(note to Mr. Pereira: you and D. were also guests at this dinner....)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Driving home at 5pm, east over the bridge,
whitecaps on the water like crisp meringue peaks,
cumulo-nimbus clouds stacked up against the Cascade
foothills, scattered & assorted blue patches.
The shifting of the season now inhabits my brain
and with it there surges again that old desire
for change, for creation, for all things
beautiful and inspired.

Purchased two yards of ecru 100% linen
and two yards of black/ecru pinstripe linen/rayon blend.
Unfolded the pattern and studied the cutting layout,
each a-b-c step. Wondered: where in Heck
are all my sewing notions? (I know quite well
where all my other notions reside, and it's nowhere near Heck.)
At the other house, ferreted away in the garage,
most likely, in a box marked "useless sewing stuff."
It's been at least ten years since I stitched anything
other than the simple line of a cotton tablecloth
(fabric purchased at the foot of Montmartre).
And then it was probably a costume for one of the boys:
wizard, dinosaur, scarecrow.
Now suddenly this old lovely ache
of putting fingers to fabric, feeding it
inch-by-slow-inch under the machine's insistent needle.
A garment assembled inside-out, right-side-in,
all parts exposed, unraveling, clipped.
A dangle of thread. Seam-ripper, hopefully, neglected
in its green tin box marked New Home.
Yesterday on my walk I brought along my new camera
to document the new spring growth in the little patch
of woods that borders on the local Tech Giant.
The air was ripe with the scent (yes, scent!) of skunk
cabbages: they rose elegantly from the soggy earth,
so brightly green and yellow they were nearly painful
to look at. There were thimble-berry blossoms, ferns
clinging to tree trunks, young nettles just waiting
for a bare ankle.... Though the prize of the day
was a single trillium beside the path. When I returned
home, I enlisted P.'s help in loading these images
onto my computer (I am SO tech-challenged it's pitiful.)
And he said, take out the film. I said, where's the film?
And then, what film? Isn't this all digital??
(The film was still in the package.)
No photos. No trillium.
(The film is now in the camera.)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Today's cake: Boston Cream Pie. And yes,
it really is a cake. Rich yellow layers
sandwiched with pastry cream, glazed
in chocolate. For R. for his birthday
(two days late!) This was a favorite dessert
in my childhood home, and few people I knew
had ever heard of it. My father was born and raised
in Boston, my mother in Providence, so our east coast
culinary roots were well established.

1856 - The Parker House Hotel (now the Omni Parker House Hotel), claims to have served Boston cream pies since their opening in 1856. French chef Sanzian, who was hired for the opening of the hotel, is credited with creating Boston cream pie. This cake was originally served at the hotel with the names Chocolate Cream Pie or Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie. This was the first hotel in Boston to have hot-and-cold running water, and the first to have an elevator.
from www.whatscookinginamerica.net

Friday, April 4, 2008

Living with an elderly cat is like living with an infant:
don't wake her up! Every pillow-rustle, sheet-twist,
every voiced exhalation (let's not mention snores)
and she's up and demanding food. Can't leave the food
dish filled up as the plump younger cat is dieting.
Can't close the bedroom door because younger cat
will scratch and meow, excluded. So. Awake awake awake.
Meow meow meow. Coupled with middle-aged hormones
the result is scattered dreams and sleepus interuptus.
Pulled my sludgy self from the bed this morning
to make breakfast for P.. I shuffled into the kitchen,
slippers flapping-half-off, bathrobe belt askew,
and sat down at the kitchen table and laid my head
upon its oak surface. Ooof. Fuzzy brain.
I was a veritable feast for my new husband's eyes!
(Perhaps the honeymoon is over....)
Fried up some peppercorn-bacon and eggs, over easy,
toasted two slices of oat bran bread. Made tea.
Made coffee. Poured Cheerios. Poured milk.
Ate. Went back to bed.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

R.'s birthday today. Twenty-two. Yikes.
How is this possible. A rather disappointing dinner
at Salty's on Alki -- fabulous view, of course,
but the dining room was so cramped and so noisy
I couldn't hear a thing my boys were saying.
R. took one bite of his food and proclaimed
that he had a stomach ache. What? How old is he? Two?
So. No dessert. For anyone. Clang clang clang
went the forks and knives and plates and glasses.
R. suggested that we walk along the beach, so we did,
as the sun slid into the clouds, and the Olympics
showed their snowy peaks. Suddenly chilly, we crowded
into N.'s Honda, cranked the heat up, drove home
with talk of Alpha Centauri and the speed of light.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I was a mouse, and there was a Mouse Emergency,
so I scurried down to the den of Mother Mouse
and Uncle Mouse, to alert them and get their advice.
Their hole into the earth was concealed
in spring grasses, and both Mother Mouse
and Uncle Mouse were sleeping peacefully,
their little mouse noses and whiskers barely visible.
Mother Mouse woke slowly and with good cheer,
stretching her stiff little mouse legs.

(This was a dream.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What do you call it when it's not exactly
snowing, or raining, or hailing, or sleeting,
or freezing rain?

Heezing Row?
Sneezing hlail?
I call it sheeeee-it.