Who knows

July 1st, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

Overheard earlier: “Are you sure she was stoned and not just post-orgasmic?”

Literary genius

June 28th, 2004 § One comment § permalink

I’m writing a book that offers something for everyone, from four-year-old children to adult fans of magical realism. It’s called If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler Gave a Mouse a Cookie.

Preorders, anyone?

Seventeen pounds of crud

June 25th, 2004 § Two comments § permalink

I had the bright idea of examining my blender’s blade to make sure all its nooks and crannies were clean. Suffice it to say that they were not. The blade is now soaking in hot, soapy water, where it will remain for about a thousand years.

You gave igneous rocks to your enemies? How magma-nanimous!

June 21st, 2004 § Four comments § permalink

Yesterday several friends and I visited one of the East Bay’s fine parks, the Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. Volcanic? It’s a trifle hard to imagine, but 10 million years ago, there were several active volcanoes in the East Bay. One of them formed a peak in the Oakland hills called Round Top. The park has several trails, one of which goes around the base of Round Top and another of which leads to smaller hills and meadows. As we walked the trails, my housemate Suzanne, who majored in geology, taught us about the different rock formations in the park. Even she had trouble telling rhyolite apart from basalt, though. (Here’s one thing I learned: “Basalt” is pronounced “buh-SALT,” not “BAY-salt.” Maybe everyone else knew that already.) Also, my brother’s housemate Lisa taught us about plants. I can now identify barley, wild oats, lupines, wild mustard, madrone trees, and the implausibly named sticky monkey flower (its leaves have sticky bottoms; I don’t know what monkeys have to do with anything).

On our way back to Berkeley, we stopped at the Gateway Emergency Preparedness Exhibit Center & Garden, although I prefer to think of it as the Most Pointless Thing in the Entire East Bay. It’s a small, expensive-looking structure, designed by survivors of the 1991 fire in the Oakland Hills, that’s been plunked down next to Highway 24—not exactly a prime location for a park. The structure has a deck big enough for 100 people, although it’s hard to imagine why even one person would visit. We stopped only because we were so baffled by its presence. A platform extends from the deck towards the highway, offering scenic views of, well, traffic, as well as a power substation. There are placards around the deck’s edge with tips on preparing for earthquakes and fires, including detailed instructions for bolting one’s house to its foundation. Presumably visitors are meant to take notes.

We quelled our confusion by visiting Crepes A-Go-Go, where I devoured a Nutella and banana crepe, and Mod Lang, where I found an Iron & Wine cover of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.” And that was my exciting Sunday. Today I am finishing Crime and Punishment and biking to Rockridge. Oh, the spoils of being turned down for all the summer internships I pursued.

Home

June 13th, 2004 § One comment § permalink

Ah, Berkeley. Amazing food; good friends; fantastic weather. It’s nice to be home.

Last night, I made my own contribution on the amazing food front by making a warm cannellini bean salad with mustard and tarragon dressing, served over greens, with goat cheese and kalamata olive crostini on the side. So easy, yet so delicious. I lucked into a bottle of white wine, spicy and unexpectedly floral, that complemented the salad perfectly. For dessert, we had fresh olallieberries with whipped cream.

The olallieberries came from the farmers’ market, which is bursting with the abundance of late spring. Frog Hollow had the season’s first truly brilliant peaches this week, to say nothing of their apricots. Apparently it’s a banner year for stone fruit. I am more than happy to reap the benefits.

There is nothing like a Dane

June 8th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

Hi there. I’m home now, but I’ll write a bit about the final destination on my trip, Copenhagen (or København, as the cognoscenti call it).

Unlike in France, where the simplest interactions with others require the use of words that reveal your terrible accent (cf. “bonjour”), it’s easy for an American in Denmark to pass as a native while shopping. Being white helps; blond hair is optional. Also, make sure you’re wearing something that might plausibly be owned by a resident of continental Europe. Don’t go crazy here–you’re not in Paris. Just leave the Bermuda shorts and fanny pack at home (which is good advice anywhere, actually). If you meet those conditions, just follow these three simple steps:

  1. When you finish shopping, go up to the cashier, say “Hi,” and place your items on the counter.
  2. Wait for the total to appear on the register, then hand over the appropriate number of kroner. If the cashier asks you if you found everything you needed, or anything of that sort, you lose. Your befuddled look will trigger the use of English.
  3. When you get your change and receipt, say “Tak” (thanks), which sounds pretty much how it looks.

My brother and I took a day trip to Malmö, in Sweden, and the rules are similar there–just double the “hi” and “tak.”

If, on the other hand, you’d rather just speak English in Copenhagen, go ahead. The Danes seem to have recognized that nobody else is going to bother to learn their language, so a ridiculous percentage of them speak English.

Denmark has a reputation for unhealthy living, and the enormous quantity of cigarette butts, broken Carlsberg bottles, and empty methadone bottles near the train station did nothing to undermine it. Nonetheless, Danish people are creepily law-abiding in at least one way: They simply do not jaywalk. Even on a tiny street with no traffic at midnight, if there is a light for pedestrians, Danes will wait for the light to turn green before they cross. I have no idea why this is, but I suspect pedestrian fatalities there are very low.

Bicycles are insanely popular in Copenhagen. The city is ridiculously flat, which helps. Also, all major streets (and many minor ones) have wide, grade-separated bicycle lanes between the sidewalk and the traffic lanes. Both bicycle and traffic lanes seem to be eight feet wide in most places. That’s almost implausibly narrow for traffic lanes, though, so my pace might have been off. (In the US, by comparison, traffic lanes are often 12 feet wide, and even narrow lanes are usually at least 10 feet if they are striped.)

I had other things to say about Copenhagen, but since I don’t remember them at the moment, I’ll just add that we took a day trip to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, up the coast from Copenhagen. They had a terrific exhibition of work by Jørn Utzon, the architect who designed the Sydney Opera House. The museum itself is lovely as well, with a painstakingly landscaped sculpture garden and panoramic views of the sea. Its incongruous name comes from the fact that its construction was financed by the “Louisiana Foundation,” whatever that is.

I would write more, but there are clothes to be washed, groceries to be purchased, and jobs to be applied for. Ah, the aftermath of a two-week vacation.

He’s got the look

May 31st, 2004 § Two comments § permalink

I completely forgot to mention the funniest thing that’s happened on my trip. At the Dublin airport, an Irish woman looked at me as she walked past, then turned to her friend and said, “Maybe they did land us in France after all.”

There’s a grammatical construction in the UK that throws me every time I see it. For singular nouns that refer to a group of people (“Oasis,” “Corporation of London”), the British conjugate verbs as though the noun were plural (“Oasis are drunken sods”). I believe Rolling Stone does the same thing with band names, although the Corporation of London probably wouldn’t rate the same treatment.

Exploring

May 30th, 2004 § One comment § permalink

Some more fragmentary observations from my trip.

London is an excellent city to wander through with no destination in mind. I set out from Charing Cross last night intending to get a pint at whatever pub seemed the most inviting. For a while, I walked through the West End, which is utterly mad on warm Saturday evenings in May. Crowds thronged in the streets, people pushing past one another and going around the fences at the edge of the sidewalk, which are meant to discourage jaywalking. I spent several minutes trailing a parade of Hari Krishnas, some of them dancing, others playing cymbals or saxophones. The crowd lit up as they walked by. Quite a few people joined in the dancing, generally ignoring the flyers that one of the Hari Krishnas kept trying to hand out.

After several detours, I wound up in Soho at the Toucan. Some bars in London, including the Toucan, are licensed for sidewalk drinking, so I stood outside with my Guinness for a while, watching couples walk by and utterly failing to work up enough nerve to talk to any of the locals. I wandered around for a while longer after that, then returned to the hotel. The only time I got lost was once I reached Trafalgar Square and started actually thinking about which direction I needed to go. (I suppose that’s little more than a truism; one can’t be lost if one isn’t trying to go anywhere in particular.)

Today we visited the Tate Modern, which I wandered around for several hours. Long lines and my own impatience forced me to skip the Edward Hopper exhibit. Perhaps I’ll have time to return before we leave. In lieu of that, I discovered Cornelia Parker’s remarkable Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (which, sadly, the website does not do justice), enjoyed John Curran’s Honeymoon Nude for, I think, the third time in person, and sunk very deep into several Mark Rothkos. Then I wandered around the city for a while longer, got caught in a rain shower (joyous!), stopped at my hotel, and now here I am, back in the easyInternetCafe, waiting to meet my family for dinner.

And now a quick British vocabulary lesson:

  • Instead of “for here or to go,” you say “eat in or take away”
  • The word “scheme” does not connote nefariousness; there are signs everywhere about “road improvement schemes” and the like
  • To my continual frustration, the word “centre” should not be pronounced as it would be in France
  • French fries are called “chips”
  • Chips are called “crisps”
  • Crisps are called “tarts”
  • Tarts are called “saucy wenches”
  • Saucy wenches are called “French fries”

Somehow I’ve managed not to eat any Cadbury’s Creme Eggs yet. I must set about rectifying that.

London calling

May 29th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

Hi, everyone. I’m in London right now with my family. We’re staying at a very posh hotel above the Charing Cross railway station. Within my first 20 minutes in the room, I had managed to break a wine glass, cutting my hand and scattering shards of glass all over the carpet. I feel like such a rock star.

Before coming to London today, we spent several days in Dublin, which was okay; I would have enjoyed it more had I not been sick for almost the entire time. I will say that they pour a mean pint of Guinness at the brewery. The River Liffey runs east-west through the city, dividing it into south Dublin (the more fashionable half) and north Dublin (the down-at-the-heels half). North Dublin really is rather grotty. Lots of cheap council housing, lots of streets with utterly demolished sidewalks. The Spire of Dublin is on the north side, and on account of its location, it’s referred to as the “Stiletto in the Ghetto.” Dubliners have clever names for all their statues.

Oh, my time on this computer is running out. What other random Dublin facts should I mention? The streets are torn up all over the city–as they have been for years, apparently–because Dublin is building a light rail system. The cars look pretty slick, but my understanding is that the system is years behind schedule and way over budget. Sound familiar, my American friends? Also, not that anyone cares, but the storm gutters run down the middle of the sidewalk on most streets, which struck me as odd.

Okay, I’m going to go drink a pint of something cool and foamy. Like water from the Liffey, perhaps. Ew. We’re staying a stone’s throw from an Internet cafe, so perhaps I’ll post more while I’m in London. Otherwise, see you all in Copenhagen or stateside.

Textless

May 22nd, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

Find out how the public realm would look if it were devoid of text.

Where am I?

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