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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Aging – Who Woulda Thunk It?

I made a new friend in Paris – a journalist who had dinner with me New Years’ Eve before we went to our separate celebrations.  He was fun to talk to, though, and we’ve stayed in touch in the month since, through email and the occasional Skype chat, where I struggle to speak in as much French as I can muster from my three years of high school training (despite the fact that his English is way better than my French; I’m stubborn enough to try).  The other night he Skyped me from his hotel room in the Dentelles de Montmirail, where he was on assignment – and insisted that I pull up Google and have a look at the mountains there, great jagged knives of granite towering over the Provence countryside.  He used to do a lot of mountain climbing there, he said.

“Do you still do that?” I asked.  He shook his head.  “Porquoi pas?” I asked – why not?

His answer, delivered with a shrug, cracked me up – “eh, these days I am more interested in enjoying wine and good beef.”

I’ve caught myself giving the same kind of shrug about other things recently, and I’ve caught it in my friends as we talk about how we’ve gotten too old for one thing or another.  I used to swear by youth hostels when traveling, sharing dorm rooms with strangers in exchange for dirt-cheap digs.  I had some great conversations, and some crazy stories of inter-room warfare (one of these days I’ll have to write about how an entire trio of Spanish girls stole my bed from me), but then a couple years ago I splurged on a private room in one hostel – and had an entire closet, bed, desk, and table to myself and the light got turned off when I wanted it to and the window was open just the way I wanted it and hey, why was I suffering with the dorm rooms again?….and ever since I’ve used AirBnB instead.

And when I was younger, I also joined a team of friends on a twice-yearly pilgrimage to Williamstown to compete in the college radio station’s trivia contest – a manic all-night affair which ran from midnight to 8 am, featuring pop-culture trivia, costumed skits, occasional singing, and the ability to break into one of the campus rooms and hotwire a phone to the school’s network.  We kept ourselves awake through adrenaline, copious bottles of Mountain Dew and the sheer force of will, and through praying someone else in the car would lose the coin toss to decide who’d have to stay awake and drive us all home the next morning.  Most of us have dropped away in recent years, though – with only our ringleader, a humor magazine writer who keeps oddball hours still faithfully playing online out of his living room.  But recently he persuaded the band to get back together, and a small knot of us gathered to join him.  And it was fun for a few hours, feeling that same thrill when you manage to figure out something completely obscure and having all your friends marvel at you.  But – at about 3 am, I started to feel my thinking going fuzzy; and instead of trying to grab a catnap in a side room, the way I used to, I thought about how my bed was only a subway ride away and I announced that “sorry, guys, I think I’m gonna go home.”  I got some teasing, but….I also got some sleep.

I’m older than I was, and that has something to do with how I’ve changed.  But age hasn’t taken away my strength, is the thing.  I could probably still have summoned the will to stay and keep playing trivia, and my friend could probably still climb the Dentelles, and suchlike.  But – we just don’t want to.  What I’m finding is that age isn’t bringing a lack of strength at all – what it’s bringing is a lack of nonsense.  I could still stay up late and put up with dorm rooms – but why on earth would I want to, when I can also do something much more comfortable?  Climbing a mountain is awesome, but so is a great steak, isn’t it?  Loud raucous dancing and concerts are awesome, but – so is a quieter concert where you can sit down and actually make a comment to your friends and have them hear you.  Or just watching the whole thing from your couch on pay-per-view.  The movie that people line up for on opening night is still the same movie you can see a week later when the crowds are gone and you have your choice of seats.

Realizing this makes me sound old – but it makes me feel smart.

There’s a song I’ve fallen in love with recently, by the folkie Greg Brown – “Who Woulda Thunk It”.  The lyrics are about this exact kind of amused reflection over how you’ve changed with age – “we used to say we could eat a horse, but it’s not true/we can’t eat a horse, because we don’t want to.”  But the last verse is my favorite – Greg talks about how he used to say he’d have a short and brilliant life and die young like James Dean, but that now “it’s too late to die young”.  But then he talks about he and his friends sitting together at the table, sharing wine after supper, all of them marveling over how they’ve aged and singing “who woulda thunk it?”  He’s not the only one aging – his friends are all aging with him, and they’re all just as amused at how they’re all changing together.

I’m sending a link to my friend in Paris, and translating the lyrics as well (I think the title would translate to “Qui Aurait Cru”…).

The People On The Edge Of The Night

This is going to be, as it turns out, a David Bowie memorial without very much David Bowie in it.

I was not a Bowie “fan” as such.  I was aware of him, sure; but I grew up during the Let’s-Dance/Modern-Love/Tin-Machine era, when he was known mainly for duets with Mick Jagger and coffee commercials.  I may have actually heard Peter Schilling’s song about Major Tom before I heard Space Oddity. I know, to my shame, that I heard Vanilla Ice before I heard Under Pressure.  I didn’t even see Labyrinth.

But he was in the ether enough that even then, I understood he was something of a Rock Elder Statesman, a titan of a pioneer and a trailblazer.  Unusual and innovative enough to sing about spacemen and suffragettes; confident enough to wear makeup and tight pants one minute and elegant linen suits the next just because.  “In” enough to duet with someone as admittedly hokey as Bing Crosby on a Christmas song and have it not be seen as weird.  Or, maybe have people fall for it because of the depth of its weirdness. Drop Bowie’s name and you had cred, and a lot of doors opened for you.

And I did get my Bowie education, in time – I finally did hear him and Freddie Mercury properly, and laughingly agreed when some pop-culture show referred to “Under Pressure” as “Totally. Freaking. Transcendent.”  I finally heard the whole of “Space Oddity”, I heard Heroes and Fame and Young Americans.  I recognized the line from “Changes” when someone quoted it in my high school yearbook.  But as for being a fan….I can’t honestly call myself one the same way others can.  He always seemed strangely out of reach – he flew so high and stood so far outside the pale that ultimately I was a little too afraid to follow, and retreated to the comparatively safer musical territory of Talking Heads or post-Genesis Peter Gabriel.  Oddballs, but….accessible ones.

respected him, though, absolutely.  And so that is why this morning, when I glanced at the BBC news page upon waking, I shouted “What?” when I saw the news of his death; it is also why I dipped into iTunes at work to rectify my not having Bowie on my iTunes library (“you’re kidding me, I don’t have Heroes?  Good Lord….”), and it is why I stopped into my local bar on the way home tonight, hoping to hear their in-house radio tuned to an all-Bowie playlist.

And I didn’t. What I heard, as I sat there with my one cocktail, were songs by Simple Minds and Tears for Fears and The Cure and Talking Heads.  Even when a rather drunk woman came up started talking to me and insisted that I sing something for her, I went with my usual fallback of Dusty Springfield rather than busting out “Space Oddity” or something.  After my one drink I paid up and went home.

But I realized something as I was paying up.  Each and every one of those other artists I heard owed their career to Bowie in a way – simply because there was now room for them.  He had flown so high in his tincan and pushed the landscape so far, there was now room for the Scottish New-Wave dreaminess of Simple Minds, room for Roland Orzabal to do orchestral pop songs about primal scream therapy, for Robert Smith to dress in gothic drag and sing about love on Friday and Peter Gabriel to sing about monkeys and David Byrne to set Dada poems to music.  There was even room for German and Dutch one-hit wonders about post-apocalyptic fantasies or Mozart, or even synth-pop covers of Gerswhin.

I didn’t get to hear much of Bowie’s music tonight, and I didn’t explore much of it while he was alive.  But I have lived in a world he created and paved the way for, and that is a fine and fortunate thing.

Lagging

Okay, let’s try that again….

Yesterday’s post, I fear, was under the influence of some heavy fatigue.  I’d had a huge list of things I wanted to do yesterday, but only got as far as “go shop at the fancy cooking store you got a gift certificate to” and bringing my stuff home before I started getting sleepy – at four in the afternoon.  I pushed myself to stay awake and complete just one more task before going to bed at only about 9.  My head is a lot clearer today, thank goodness, and it’s a rainy, yicky day perfect for doing the puttering around I was going to do yesterday.

And part of that puttering is indeed going to involve cooking.  I came home from Paris with a renewed interest in cooking, spurred by the most perfect carrot soup I’ve ever had and an introduction to really good creme brulee.  I even made some creme brulee from scratch my second night back and got all excited when it actually worked.

But this is coinciding nicely with my annual impulse to Rededicate Myself To Brown-Bagging And Healthy Eating that comes after the holidays each year.  The indulgence of holiday food – all the cream, the butter, the sweets – peters out, and gives way to craving vegetables and simple stuff – lots of salads and clear broths, simple soups.  This year there’s a second reason to commit, and that reason is the number that was on the scale that I stepped onto by accident in that cooking shop (there’s a panel in the floor, I think it was some kind of industrial place first).  And that’ll also go along way towards the never-ending quest to Actually Use Some Of The Stuff In My Pantry.

But simple and veggie-heavy does not mean it won’t be good.

One of the things I picked up at the cooking store was a bag of beef bones from their in-house butcher, which is right now on its way to becoming a big pot of beef stock.  There’s already a couple jugs of vegetable stock in the fridge from last night, and I’m prowling all my cookbooks for their salad recipes – there’s one that’s nothing more than arugula, a couple slices of fried pancetta, and dressing.  And then there’s this standby of mine, in which every recipe seems to have the unwritten rule to “start with the broth, then cram as many vegetables into it as you can”.   A bowl of any of those soups, a salad, and some bread and cheese or sausage to round things out and I’m more than satisfied.

Because There Are People Starving….

So I’ve been thinking I need to get organized cooking-wise.

I have an entire bookshelf entirely devoted to cookbooks.  I belong to a very active CSA, and just brought home 2 pounds each of carrots, beets, potatoes and onions – among other things – in my latest box today.  I am skilled in the kitchen, I have a full batterie de cuisine, and I just came back from Paris where I became the proud owner of an actual pair of herb scissors.

And yet when it comes to mealtime, when I get home from work and am hungry and looking at everything, my brain goes into total vapor lock and I don’t know what to do.  And that doesn’t make any sense at all.

It’s the kind of thing I really, really think I need to do.  Especially since “use your kitchen more for God’s sake” is one of my New Year’s Resolutions, along with “use some of the shit you have”.  This weekend is going to be devoted to a bit of pantry-clearing and kitchen work, since my roommate is going to be safely out of the apartment for the bulk of each day and since I’m going to be going on yet more cookware splurging as a result of a gift card for Christmas.  Surely, if I make a bunch of stocks and grate up some carrots and roast and dice some beets or something, I’ll be able to throw things together without thinking at night, right?

We’ll see about that.

Starting again

So, yeah, that was a long silence.  Sorry.

I spent most of December feeling kind of worn out anyway – trying to prepare for Christmas, trying to catch up on sleep, trying to just keep my head above water.  Nothing bad is going on, really; just a bit of a mismatch in my day job, I think, which I’m already trying to do something about.  I come home too tired on a mental level, and that’s not the kind of life I want.

But then, speaking of coming home…

I’ve just returned from a week in Paris, my first trip there ever.  And thank god, while I was there it felt like something sort of re-set for me and I’m a bit more inclined to write more frequently.  I wrote in my travel journal every day, and I also forgave myself for the days that I wanted just to go back to the Airbnb early and have a picnic dinner there rather than trying to hit up a restaurant.

But I’m back home now – I wisely came home on Saturday, allowing Sunday as a re-adjustment day before jumping straight into work.  I got in about 4 in the afternoon yesterday, but only stayed awake for another four hours as I was still on French time.  I woke up at about 2, but managed to get back to sleep again for a bit – but now it’s about 6:45 and I know I won’t be able to stay asleep any longer.  And I managed to mess up the apartment tremendously in only four hours – I’d brought home some chocolate, but somehow it had migrated to the bottom of my bag and I “unpacked” to look for it by just tossing things aside, and so right now it looks like Paris threw up in my living room.

But I’ve got the whole day to put that to rights, and generally settle back in home.  Send the laundry out, and give the fridge a good clean.  Find a place for all the funky little treasures I got – the bouquet garnis and the ras al hanout from that funky spice shop, the box of super-sized sugar cubes that the guy in a shop near my flat upsold me on so charmingly, the fancy herb scissors that I asked about in French (“Pardonez-moi, m’seur – c’est ci pour couper des herbes?”) – and send out gifts I got for friends (the fautas from a tiny shop in the Marais which will be perfect for a friend who uses a lot of tea towels, the t-shirts for my niece and nephew).

There also must be a food reckoning; the fridge is half empty, and some of the things in it aren’t in good shape.  I’m going to have to go out to a market at some point.  And if some French cheese happens to make its way into my basket….well.