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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Home Cooking

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I ate really well in Paris.  I tried to focus on traditional food – even though I was in a neighborhood where I could get Thai, falafel, burgers, pizza, Chinese takeout, and Indian takeout, I steered clear of anything I could easily get in my own ‘hood; instead, I ate things like veal stew and quiche and a tuna salad on fresh greens and croissants and pastries and mackerel and vichyssoise and clafoutis; I made ratatouille from scratch, breakfasted on tartine au beurre et fruits et yaourt and once ate something in a salon du the called “tarte au choco crumble” which was like if chocolate mousse and Mississippi Mud Pie had sex directly on your tongue.

We’ve had a heat wave this weekend, and I spent the better part of the time stocking the fridge with cold soups and salads – partly to get on top of a backlog of produce, and partly so that I would have something to eat already in the fridge that would be healthy and fresh and cold.  Many of the things I made had a bit of a French accent as well, inspired by a lunch I had on an especially steamy Paris day when I discovered a little place that sold nothing but cold soups; you got a bowl of your choice of soup, a roll, and your choice of a side of salad, cake, or a little cheese plate.  I kind of did that idea for lunch today, grabbing a soup and a salad and huddling in front of the air conditioner to eat.

Then late in the afternoon, I got a craving – an overpowering, obsessive, get-out-and-get-this-NOW  craving – for pizza.  I got dressed and shuffled to the nearest pizza place – a spot by the Navy Yard with lovely pies and a brick pizza oven.  I studied the menu outside, trying to make up my mind whether I was hungry enough for one of their small pies, and then realized I wasn’t craving “pizza” in general.

What I wanted was a slice. Greasy, cheap, from a hole in the wall where there’s boxes piled up in the corner and you eat off a plastic tray on a Formica table.

For the past four days I’ve been feeling a little unsettled; I’d been chalking it up to jet lag or missing Paris.  After one plain and one Pepperoni slice and a can of Coke, though, I’m home.


Carpe Gaudium

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So I kind of have a good excuse for why I haven’t posted in a couple weeks – I was in Paris.

This was the second time I’d been ever, and also was the second time this year.  The first time was over New Years’, and fell so much in love with it that when my initial plans for July fell through and I was trying to think “where to”, I knew instantly where.  I didn’t post in here – but over on Facebook there are gushing posts about chocolate tarts and black currant sorbet and watching the Bastille Day fireworks from my window and exploring Versailles and Monet’s garden and wandering in a sun-dappled park and buying way too much at a cooking shop and nearly eating fish roe because of a translation mishap and bursting into song whenever I saw reference to the Marquis du Lafayette.

On my last afternoon, I went to a little cafe alongside the Place des Vosges and just had a dish of ice cream while I sat and people watched.  They brought it to me with a small wrapped cookie alongside.  I ate the ice cream, but – as is my habit – I put the cookie in my purse, to save for later.  I also went on a pilgrimage to the chocolatier Jacques Genin, where I bought one of their smallest boxes – it only held nine bonbons – and painstakingly selected my choices, the clerk forgiving my faltering French and carefully picking up “une des fraise….non, deux  des fraise….et deux de la menthe….” in her white-gloved hands and placing them in the box.  I also asked for four different pate de fruits which she carefully nudged into a small plastic bag.  They tucked everything into a small thermal bag to protect it all from the heat, because I had a half-hour walk back to my AirBnB; but even though they warned me it wouldn’t last much longer than that, I still decided to save it for later.

On the plane ride home, I finally dug into my bag to retrieve the chocolates and the cookie.  But those nine chocolates, nestled so carefully together, had started to melt.  The pate de fruits were all sticking together.  And as for the cookie – it had been a flaky thing, and had gotten so beat up in my bag that it was nothing more than a pile of flaky crumbs.

I realized I have a very, very bad habit of denying myself pleasure.  I don’t think that’s what I’m doing – I save cookies and delay gratification because I think I’m being virtuous and careful; I may not have this option later, so let me save it for leaner times.  But somehow I never get around to actually enjoying those delights until the cookie is broken, the chocolate is melted, or the chance has run out.  Or I get something and then never use it, and it sits there, waiting for me to actually let myself enjoy it.

Part of this, I’m sure, is a fear of scarcity. I do get to travel, but that’s only because the rest of the time I live super-frugal; making all my own lunches, counting change to make the subway, calculating the exact best date that I can send my bills in the mail so that they won’t beat my paychecks.  I can’t be as free-and-easy with my money as I’d like, and that means that the splurges have to be now and then.  I can’t be frivolous, I think; these are investments, and I have to make them last.

But that doesn’t explain why I’m also that way with the things I get for free.  Those cookies were free alongside the ice cream.  I could have had them right away.  I even already had more cookies at my flat that I was already going to have to bring home on the plane.  And yet I put them in my purse, not letting myself enjoy them right away.

I thought about that a lot.

I met someone in Paris my first visit and saw him again this time.  My…friend (sure, yeah, let’s call him that) is an almost stereotypical French romantic – rhapsodizing over wine, swooning over the ratatouille we had for our lunch, gushing about les fleurs in Monet’s garden and exhibits in les musees.  At some point I joked about how much money I’d been spending on shopping, and on how indulgent I’d been at some of the patisseries; and he just chuckled.  “But this is Paris,” he said. “You have to indulge!”  Let yourself actually enjoy pleasure, is his watchword; spend money on yourself.  Be good to yourself.

He showed me a recent indulgence he’d given himself – he’d selected five or six pictures he liked, famous photos or paintings, and copied the images from online and brought them to a print shop to have high-quality prints made, simply so he could hang them up in his apartment.  He showed me each one, explaining why he liked each one and pointing out that he really wanted good quality prints and that this was the only way to get them.  “I could not get them framed,” he added with a shrug, “so I will just make the frames.”  I nodded – thinking that I was going to be doing something similar, but realizing that I was just going to hit up the color printer at work.  Investing in good prints, I had to admit, would make a difference.

Letting myself enjoy pleasure will make a difference.  I have to be frugal in my daily life, but there’s a difference between being frugal and feeling deprived.  I have things I can use and enjoy.  I get opportunities for pleasure all the time.  But I don’t use them.  If I used them, perhaps I would feel the sting of frugality less – and perhaps I would enjoy myself more.  Because even though I squirrel away moments of joy, afraid that another one won’t come soon, they always do.  The only way I miss out on moments of pleasure is by not experiencing them.

Everyone knows what “Carpe Diem” means; sieze the day, don’t let the opportunity slip by.  But perhaps I need to focus on something a bit different; what I need to work on, I think, is siezing the joy.



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New York City, God-damn.

Less Than 24 Hours Later

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Fresno, California, God-damn.

Kansas City, God-damn.

For Alton and Philando

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This is what democracy looks like.

Union Square, New York City, about 6:40 p.m. on July 7 2016.

Back To The Front Lines

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The last time I was in any kind of political protest was in 2004.

I used to be a little more active – not hugely so, but I was in a few marches in the 90s and early 2000s; something about unemployment in ’92, an anti-war march in October of 2001, another couple more in 2003.  In 2004, I joined the big march outside the GOP convention organized by the group United for Peace and Justice.  Most news about that particular march noted that it was one of the biggest such marches ever; and that it was largely peaceful, except for one little thing.  As Wikipedia notes:

“The only major incident during the march occurred when some individuals of unknown affiliations torched a large dragon float between Madison Square Garden and the Fox News building. The float turned into a huge fireball, and the march was halted until firefighters were able to clear the street of debris.”

As it just so happened, I was twenty feet away of that dragon float when they set the fire.

I was there with my friend Colin, who’d joined a loose group of fellow Green Party members.  We’d all noticed the dragon float in the crowd as we’d been marching – it was a huge papier-mache sort of puppet thing, beautifully decorated, carried by a group of about 20 people dressed all in black.  But it was one of a lot of other things we’d been looking at as we marched, and didn’t pay it much mind.  The march had started down on 14th Street and we’d just made it all the way north to 34th, Colin and I making a point of looking for a news camera and hollering towards it as we passed.  The crowd was thinning out just after the convention center; the route turned east and then continued back downtown at that point, but a number of people were dropping out. Colin and I had gotten separated from his friends and were discussing how to find them back at Union Square – the march’s end point – when we started smelling smoke.

I turned around and saw the flames leaping out of the crowd behind me about three or four stories high. “HOLY God,” I blurted out as Colin turned to look too. It was the dragon puppet we’d seen at the start of the march. A number of cops peeled away from the barriers and ran for the fire. People were all asking each other what happened. “They set it on fire!” one woman exclaimed, running past us, and I first thought she meant a counterdemonstrator attacking us. But Colin said he’d seen the people carrying the dragon suddenly crouch down and cover themselves over with a whole bunch of umbrellas and banners; “I figured they were up to something,” he said.

We were drifting around the corner, eyeing the crowd carefully. I looked back to the path ahead of us, and suddenly saw a flying wedge of cops in riot gear heading right towards us — while Colin, blissfully unaware, was looking back at the fireball and chanting, “THE ROOF! THE ROOF!  THE ROOF IS ON FIRE!”

OH sweet JESUS.

“Okay – Colin?” I barked, grabbing his arm. “Colin? Come on. This way. NOW.” I tugged him away from the cops, further up the street. I let go once the cops passed us; then even more cops in riot gear started coming up through the crowd behind us, joined by the rest of the crowd finally breaking out of their daze and starting to stampede away to safety.  I started a run-walk up the street myself, wanting to get out of the way but not wanting to lose sight of Colin either, and finally broke and ran myself. Someone ran past me hollering, “The edge! Head for the edge!” and I took his advice and moved towards the sidewalk (even in the midst of my panic, I was gibbering “pardon me, excuse me” to people as I passed them). I slipped through a gap in the barricades just under one of the awnings for Macys and huddled there with three other strangers, catching my breath. I waved Colin over when I saw him again, walking calmly but briskly away from the chaos; he chided me a bit for running, but then apologized when I saw how freaked out I was.

We waited there a moment longer until we saw a crowd of at least 20 people heading back towards the cops, legal-aid advisors in green baseball hats and marchers with black bandannas covering their mouths and noses. A team of riot cops was heading up the street towards them, another couple of black-bandanna’d marchers running alongside and catcalling them. Behind them, another team of cops was repositioning the barricades to bar the rest of the crowd from moving onto the block. Colin had already started shepherding us up the street as the two groups met in the middle of the block, and then further on again as team of mounted officers suddenly swept into the intersection behind us, shutting police barriers behind them with a clang.  A couple of Colin’s friends found us at that point, and we completed our share of the march together, the five of us walking down an eerily-deserted stretch of Fifth Avenue as the police held everyone back behind us.  Colin had proposed getting ice cream after the march, but I left as soon as we got to the park, heading straight for home – staring up at a quote by Yeats on the bus:

“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

I did not join any march of any kind after that.  I’d been invited to – Colin asked me along to several – and there were several causes I supported which held them.  But I’ve always bowed out, and if pressed, I always explained that this was why.  Starting a bonfire in the middle of a huge crowd of people is a tremendously stupid and fucking dangerous thing to do.  I’d rather keep myself safe, thanks, and since protests are clearly going to draw the kind of people who do think torching dragon puppets in the middle of crowds is actually a good idea, the best thing would therefore be for me to keep myself away from protests.  QED.  I once got a scolding from someone who said that they’d heard about the incident and that it was a police-operative undercover double-cross sort of thing; I didn’t care, I said, because who did it, and for what cause they did it, didn’t so much matter as that they did it.

So at first when I saw a march was starting up tonight, in support of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, my initial reaction was to think “good, but I’ll sit it out.”  Best to go home and stay away from an unsafe place.  And then it hit me that – I have the luxury of having safe places.  Sterling probably thought he was safe where he worked, and Castile probably thought that his own car, with his wife and child, was also a safe place.

Or maybe they didn’t.  My workplace and my car would be safe places for me – but they weren’t safe for them.  My “safeness” is only due to the color of my own skin.  My sitting out the march tonight is only going to underscore the fact that I have the privilege of having a safe place inside my skin, whereas Sterling and Castile – and Treyvon Martin, and Mike Brown, and so many others – have no safe place.

So I’m going to be joining the march tonight.  It might be dangerous, but not as dangerous as it was for Alton and Philando to be black men in the United States.  I can’t not be there.

I Thought I Was Done With These…

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but then we get a two-fer.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, God-damn.

Floral Heights, Minnesota, God-damn.


Edited to add: A conversation with a co-worker this morning.

A: (as she is coming in to work) So, did you guys hear about the shooting?

Me: Which one?  And I can’t believe I have to ask that.