August 10th, 2004 § Two comments § permalink

The move went as well as could possibly be expected. I still need more furniture, particularly a dining table and chairs, so that guests will have somewhere to sit.

I have an Internet connection again, plus a few hundred emails to read. Ah, Nigerian spam, how I have missed you. Yes, Mr. Allan K. Daramy, I would like to help you get your $66.5 million into the US. Thanks for asking!


July 31st, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

I won’t have Internet access at my new apartment until Thursday at the earliest, so if you send me email next week, don’t expect a prompt reply. Call my cell if it’s important or if you’re inviting me to do something fun (which is definitely not to say that having fun is unimportant).

Lest I be accused of insufficient thoroughness

July 31st, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

Wow, I’m not doing very well at keeping everyone up to date on my latest exploits. To make it up to you, I’ll suffocate you with details about the past week or so, in reverse chronological order by day and in a dashing tuxedo by night.

Today I had lunch with a couple of friends and debated whether one of them should get cable. The potential acquirer of cable said that she wants to become more familiar with popular culture. I argued that most popular culture is a brain-deadening waste of time, and besides, doesn’t she already have an active social life and more than enough work to keep her busy? We didn’t reach a consensus. Later, I accompanied my housemate Elanor to Target, where I bought stuff for my new apartment, and to Whole Foods. She drove to both places and didn’t crash the car even once. I also ate a honeydew nectarine, which is a strange and interesting fruit—green like honeydew, but with a flavor that hints more at green beans than melons. Presumably something called a “nectabean” wouldn’t sell very well, though.

On Thursday, I met with one of the good folks at the San Francisco Planning Department to discuss the professional report I’ll be writing to complete my masters. I’ll spare you the details; those of you who are the least bit interested will probably hear way too much about it once I start working on it.

Wednesday was another planning happy hour, this one at Amnesia in San Francisco. The bar is a combination of hip, shabby, and cozy, which works better than it sounds. Lots of great beers, including Delirium Tremens on tap, which I haven’t seen before. Intense conversations were had.

On Tuesday, I had lunch with a friend and soon-to-be almost-next-door neighbor. We sat on the new grassy patch behind Wurster Hall and talked about the joys and travails of moving. I must have done some other stuff that day, too, but I’ve forgotten what.

Monday was box-acquiring day. Elanor and I raided some of Cal’s cardboard dumpsters and found some excellent moving boxes. We also discovered thousands of punch cards, many of which were older than I am, that had been tossed in the recycling bin. I can’t even imagine how many hours of work they represented. Some bundles of cards had stickers on the front indicating whether they’d been processed successfully and how much the computer time had cost (55 cents, in 1977 dollars, on one bundle I saw). I wanted to take some of them and use them as scratch paper, but they all had too many holes.

I helped paint the planning students’ lounge on Sunday morning, along with three other students. The job went surprisingly smoothly. Two of my fellow painters brought pastries from La Farine, making me giddy with delight. Or perhaps that was just the paint fumes.

My brother and I went to a furniture store in San Francisco on Saturday morning, then visited the Target in Colma. Yep, two Target trips in one week. I’ve been mooching off of other people’s dishes and cookware for a long time, and I needed a lot of stuff in order to live on my own. (I still need furniture, curtains, and some other odds and ends, but never mind that.) Anyhow, we also got Indian pizza, an intriguing novelty, at a restaurant on Mission.

I don’t know what I did on Friday, so we’ll skip that.

Thursday was my 26th birthday. Hooray! I had lunch with some friends, and my housemates, Elanor and Suzanne, made baked Alaska in honor of the occasion (that being the birthday, not the lunch with friends), which is pretty damned cool if you ask me.

In between all that other stuff, I talked to people on the phone, ran errands, and packed sporadically. There’s still a lot of packing to be done, and I move on Monday morning. Packing is one of those things I detest so much that I absolutely can’t do it until the last possible second, once it’s become urgent. But I am very much looking forward to my new apartment, and I hope to be more or less settled in by the end of the week.

It’s been a week of lasts—the last time I’ll return to this house from the gym, the last dinner I’ll eat with my housemates before I leave, the last free load of laundry I’ll do for a while. I can’t wait for next week and a whole bunch of firsts.

Man about town

July 20th, 2004 § Two comments § permalink

My housemate Elanor and I biked to Emeryville yesterday on the Bay Trail. Somehow, in more than a year of bicycling, I’d managed to avoid the trail almost entirely. That’s a shame, because it really is spectacular. (It would be even better if I-80 didn’t run next to it, but never mind that.) We saw panoramic views of the bay, got blown around a bit by salty winds, and passed groups of men fishing from rocky shores and spits. Then we went to Ikea and made obeisance to the great gods of particleboard and birch veneer.

Later that evening, I went to the Albatross with both of my housemates, plus my housemate Suzanne’s boyfriend. That bar grows on me more every time I go–it’s hard to quibble with a place that has a relaxed atmosphere, a wide range of unusual beers, games for its customers to play, and all-you-can-eat popcorn for just twenty-five cents. I had my first sidecar ever, taking advantage of the Albatross’ policy of not using junky liquor for mixed drinks. Elanor introduced me to the glories of Berliner Kindl Weisse with raspberry cassis. She also helped me realize that playing Connect Four defensively is usually the best strategy.

After stopping for gelato at Gelateria Naia, we dropped Elanor off at home and moved on to Schmidt’s Tobacco Trading Co. and Pub on Solano Avenue. Schmidt’s is in an old house, and the seating area is essentially a big living room, with a bar and tobacco sales counter where the kitchen might once have been. It’s exceptionally quiet and well-lit–the tables have individual lamps. There’s also an assortment of large, cushy, beat-up armchairs encircling low-slung coffee tables. I’ve been looking for a place where one can both do some serious studying and have a decent pint, and I think I may have found it.

Today has been less exciting but still perfectly good. I dropped my bike off at the shop so that what little was left of my brake pads could be replaced. To get home, I took Channing, my usual bicycle route; on foot, the trip feels weirdly elongated. I had more time than usual to admire the pruning of Berkeley High’s plane trees. Their branches point more or less upwards, then curve out gracefully at the tips, like a fountain of water turned into wood and leaves.

Okay, time to get some work done. (Research work, that is. I am still trying to pretend that I don’t have to pack up my stuff in order to move.)

A benevolent conspiracy

July 9th, 2004 § 15 comments § permalink

Yesterday, I found an apartment for myself in Oakland, an exquisite studio in a carefully restored Mission-style building. The sinks and paint will be new; the stove, a Wedgwood, will be old. The window in my living area looks out on a landscaped courtyard. I’ll live closer to most of my friends from school than I do now. To ask for anything better would be inexcusably greedy.

Tonight, I saw The Third Man at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. I knew I loved that film, but I had forgotten why. It was a joy to be reminded: Orson Welles, still elegant and young, cocky enough to own the world. The beautiful ruins of postwar Vienna, which must have summoned painful memories for the movie’s first audiences. Quick, tense cuts. That zither music.

On the way home, as my BART train emerged from the Transbay Tube, the conductor made an announcement, his voice like a showman’s. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have once again made it safely across the bay under the weight of millions of gallons of water.” We stopped at the West Oakland station, then departed. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll direct your attention to the window on the left side of the train–that’s my left–you’ll see…fire.” The Fire Arts Festival was in full swing. Flames shot out of elaborate metal contraptions and radiated from spinning wheels. “They must be having a barbecue down there or something.” Pause. “We take our barbecue seriously in West Oakland.” And after we pulled into the next station: “Ladies and gentlemen, ladies and gentlemen, ladies…and…gentlemen. This is the station I’ve been bragging about all night long. Twelfth Street/Oakland City Center, where you can transfer to the Richmond-bound train. It’s waiting on the opposite side of the platform. Its doors are wide open, and its seats are already warmed.”

I’ve been using the word “swimmingly” a lot lately. Everything is going just swimmingly.

Who knows

July 1st, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

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

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.


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.

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