Thursday, January 29, 2009
However, Phoenix is lovely and warm, my flophouse includes an en-suite teddy bear, and I may even get up for the Pilates class tomorrow at 8 AM, since the studio is one long stretch of bay windows overlooking the red rocks that poke out of the city here and there. This act of contrition would help mitigate my sin of intent, the room service menu's "pancake napoleon": macademia nut pancakes interleaved with caramelized bananas and fruit compote. Yes please, I will take five.
[Update: After muzzily thinking through the timing, I skipped the pancake blitz in favor of relative frugality: yogurt, fruit, and a bagel. (The pancakes can be on Sunday morning.) The Pilates class was beautiful, not nearly as painful as the ones at Big Sexy Gym, and if every workout promised sightings of rabbits nibbling the brush just outside the windows, I'd be in much better shape. It was a little awkward later running into some of the conference attendees who had also attended the class; I try to present myself a certain way at work, and it does not involve a tanktop and workout pants. On the upside, hey! Conversational topic.]
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
6:39 AM: But I have a job. To the lightbox and then to the shower.
7:45 AM: Boy, it sure is pretty out here.
8:45 AM: It's even pretty snowing on the alley outside my office window.
12:00 PM: Oh, it's stopped. Please don't let it restart as wintry mix, please don't let it restart as wintry mix, please don't let it restart as wintry mix...
3:45 PM: Dammit.
6:30 PM: Conference call. "Well, I hope you guys get through it okay in Chicago and Cleveland. No, it's not snowing here. It's sleeting. During rush hour. Yeah."
7:30 PM: Brick sidewalks in the sleet. Who the hell thought brick sidewalks were a good idea?
10:30 PM: Well, maybe it'll all magically disappear overnight.
Today, 6:45 AM: DAMMIT. And the feds aren't closed.
6:48 AM: Radio traffic lady says, "Apparently horse manure melts ice, and we know that because a tractor trailer hauling a load of it has jack-knifed on the Beltway."
7:45 AM: I'll just wear my rubber-soled work flats and shuffle...oooh, skidding within five feet of my door, no I won't. Back inside.
7:55 AM: My trusty Vasques, what would I do without you? You look about as sexy as bricks, but a million times better than a busted rear.
8:00 AM: Wow, even with the chemicals and clompy boots it's horrible out here.
8:10 AM: By now I'm usually at the station. Eense-eense, shuffle-shuffle. This balancing act is taking my mind off the post-yoga pain (twenty minutes of sun salutations without a break was the warmup on Monday night, because Big Sexy Gym's teachers are paid to be sadists). All the cars have icicle goatees, and all the parking lots are slick black sheets of liability.
8:15 AM: Train! Heat! We shudder through a grayscale world before diving into the tunnel.
9:00 AM: Finally, the office. Does this mean I have to take off the boots? Noooo!
9:05 AM: It is echoingly quiet. Everybody who has to drive to a Metro station is late.
Tomorrow work sends me to Arizona, where with any luck I will thaw out and narf down some of the local border cuisine. If the gods are smiley, there'll even be a chance for a ride. Warmth, sun, and (possibly) horses: the perfect prescription for forestalling the February blahs.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Inauguration Day approached DC like the standard blizzard warnings, with nobody really knowing what to expect and a general sense of festive bracing-for-the-apocalypse, we're-all-in-this-together, contingency-plans-ahoy.
My contingency plans were scuttled: AFI ran out of its tickets to watch the whole show for free at the huge Silver Theater before IE and I could get ours, and IE got a last-minute ticket to the Silver Zone and canceled the brunch/watch party she was planning. La Mère and I agreed to avoid the Metro and to bus it down 16th Street instead, although I attached a contractual rider that I was out of the party if more than three buses packed to the gills went by.
To its credit, though, WMATA did really well with the buses, and after waiting maaaybe four minutes we shared a merry ride downtown with the previously mentioned Canuck cutie and about 50 other people before being dumped at M Street, where holy shit it was the many people. The local bike group was valeting madly away, and the vendors were selling every possible bit of Obama swag that could be pinned to, wrapped around, yanked over, or otherwise donned by the masses in public. We joined the river of humanity flowing along L toward downtown, and at some point—maybe on 18th?—I turned to look back up the hill, prompting the first of many startled exclamations that there were, in fact, more people than I thought lived in DC following us. And we were late, having not gotten out of bed until 7 AM; the really dedicated people were already ensconced on the Mall.
We followed the crowds onto the Washington Monument grounds, which has enough of a hill that we could see most of the Mall and get a good view of a Jumbotron (the only way most of us saw or heard anything). Finding a place was a bit like being a fruit bit dropped into jello: We moved until we couldn't go forward any more, and shortly thereafter the crowd behind us solidified.
It was of course a very partisan group, with the "hey hey, goodbye"-ing to former President Bush and huge cheers for the Clintons and the Obamas. There was some quiet grumbling about Rick Warren (whose dreary presentation added little to the show and who should've been supplanted by Reverend Lowery), though the most eloquent reaction I saw came from the couple behind me, who silently raised a gauze rainbow scarf about their heads. And when the John Williams piece was played, my God. Who would have thought so many people could be so quiet?
The sound system was drastically out of sync with the visual, so there was some lag to our reactions relative to those further up the Mall. Cheers during Obama's speech were enthusiastic but short, since everyone wanted to hear as much as possible; the closed captioning was a nice gesture but not easy to read. Big cheers for the line about restoring science to American life (about damn time), huge cheers for the one about not sacrificing our values for security, and a murmur of surprise when "nonbelievers" were included in the list of citizens. Around this point I realized that my feet were slowly freezing solid—the morning's coffee was also a reality, but the prospect of portajons in 20-degree weather was sufficient to make me think of England—and as soon as the address was over we joined the throngs fleeing the inauguration poem. We were not alone.
The oddest part about this mobscene wasn't that it was ethnically heterogenous, or incredibly warmly dressed, or even that it didn't have any protesters; it was how gentle everyone was with their neighbors. People whose flags obscured the view of the monster screen were asked politely to put them down once the ceremonies began; they apologized promptly and did so; people who sat down to cram new heaters into their shoes didn't find their places usurped; when La Mère stumbled as we left, a stranger steadied her before moving on. Given the cold, the poor instructions for exiting, and the sheer masses of humanity, I'd expected at least some grousing, but no. "There's a look," said La Mère as we left. "Heavily dressed, tired but pleased, and doggedly trudging." The evening's dinner and pints at a local Irish bar went down very gratefully; being chilly and excited for that long takes it out of you.
I had teased La Mère that she was so bent on joining the throngs because she hadn't gotten to the Election Night parties. "No," she said firmly. "It's one thing I did and another I didn't. When the Iran hostages were released, they took them on buses from the airport to DC, and people lined the route to cheer for them. I was there for that, and I've always been glad I did. But when Pope JPII was in town, I didn't go, and I've always regretted it. So this is a case of not wanting to regret this, and if you don't want to join me, that's fine. But I live next to something that people are flying across the country to see, and I. Am. Going." And so we did.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
I am not a Valentiney person in general—not that I'm given to spending the day moping around in black, I just don't much care for dealing with the logistical hassles of sharing a day of affection with so many other people—but sometimes I make exceptions. The year there were Lord of the Rings valentines I went to three WalMarts in search of them, because nothing was going to keep me from giving out scruffy Aragorn "be my honey" cards. Another year I ended up dancing at a Last Train Home show at the Barns of Wolf Trap, spinning across that gorgeous wood floor under the mirror-ball lights, at a show that only happened to be on Valentine's Day (and for which frontman Eric Brace very kindly got comp tickets for Sunflake, who was suffering the effects of a wretched breakup and in no mood to stay home alone on a Saturday V-Day, sold-out show be damned). Other years, I've found the least romantic and therefore least crowded bar in town and solved the world's problems over drinks with friends.
This year the trouble will be deciding whether to give these cards away or to frame them for keepsies. If you're lookin' for romancin', give some thought to picking up a few of Sparrow's cards or naughty tickets for your sweetie.
- Predicted high temperature: 35 degrees F.
- Actual high temperature: 27 degrees F.
- Clothing summary: Boots, hiking (1 pair). Socks, thermal (1 pair). Heaters, chemical, for the feetie regions (1 pair). Heaters, chemical, for the chilly paws (1 pair). Long johns (2 pair). Jeans (1 pair). Cashmere sweaters (3). Fleece pullovers (1). Wool camping shirts, likely bulletproof (1). Down vest (1). Windbreaker (1). Fingerless glubs (1 pair). Fingeréd gloves (1 pair). Knit hat (1). Enormous long wool scarf (1).
- Time spent waiting for bus: 4 minutes.
- Approximate period from disembarkation to severe shivering: 3 hours.
- Time from departure of Mall to arrival at local pub for restorative protein and pints: 2.5 hours.
- Regrets: 0.*
*Well, okay, one regret: I chatted up an adorable Torontan on the bus into town and yet failed to get his digits. "Next time we make history, let's do it someplace warm, like Miami, okay?" quoth the feller. D'accord, mon ami; I'll be the one who looks 30 pounds of puffy clothing lighter.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
And boy, having savvy fressers in town is just the bestest thing. We started with Friday dinner at the sadly misnamed Hong Kong Palace ("More like Chengdu Closet," said Seesterperson), where the waiter remembered spilling nearly a full bottle of wine on Herr Professor and where Auntie A native patois-ed up a banquet of allium-enhanced deliciousness that we were forced, out of defensive politeness, to nearly finish. On Saturday, there were cupcakes and pizza and I lost my gaming cherry to a long round of Shadows Over Camelot (as Sir Tristan, adding Iseult to injury).
Herr Professor has a regrettable work ethic and didn't join us for dim sum (as in, I'll have some of dim, and some of dose, and def'nitely some of dese) at Hollywood East this morning. Weebat called him to lament that he was missing out on a table-straining variety of yummies, including chicken feet, shrimp-and-seaweed dumplings, two kinds of roast pork bao, and the best egg custard tarts outside of China. "We haven't eaten like this since Taiwan," moaned Auntie A. "They offer dim sum every day. We could come tomorrow!" For the sake of fitting into my pants on a regular basis, I cannot afford to know that this place is within three blocks of a Metro stop. But for this week, when Tuesday means patient standing in the chill, a few extra lipids aren't a bad idea. (It's warmed up, too; quoth La Mère, "After Friday, temps in the 30s make me want to run around naked outside." The neighbors are probably not prepared.) After that, if I were to take a few weeks off eating little more than carrots, it might be wise.
A little nostalgia for us all in the last few days before PEBO loses his E:
Someone quotes Cromwell, beautifully.
Mocean makes us a promise.
And Senator PEBO makes a few more.
Friday, January 16, 2009
(Whew. The cold makes my sentences run together. And I did go to Pilates, a whole hour of it, at the Big Sexy Gym. Which has a plasma TV in the women's dressing room, because you might swoon if you missed an ort of CNN while you were pulling off your layers? I don't know. I do know that it was the same when I left as it was when I got there: "Plane still in river. Cause still birds. Still no terrorists involved. Still nobody dead. STAY TUNED FOR MORE DETAILS." Thanks, I'll...be over here, gasping my way through the Hundred.)
But no, it's gonna be fun: We're going to have Renegade, Renaissance, Radiance, and Rosebud, concrete evidence that the Secret Service bad-asses have secret marshmallow fluff compartments for hearts; an epic party or seven no matter where in town you are; and mebbe a few more Hello Cupcake! Very Berry Obama treats (multi-berry cakes of surprising tastiness, topped with cream cheese icing laced with real vanilla and bedecked with stars-and-bars sugar pellets and a little American flag). Worth getting up for.
The contrast with the previous inaugurations is stark. The Bush swearings-in and -at were a pretty bitter time for most DC locals, who vote Democratic in overwhelming numbers, and it felt like the revelers were a hostile occupying force, which in retrospect makes dark sense. This time around, the locals are basically expecting a logistical meltdown that not even the cheerily efficient Obama-style organizing crews can do more than mitigate, and yet most of us who are not in Virginia are doing our grumbling without real rancor. I'll be hosting La Mère, a NoVa refugee who wants to make an effort to get downtown on Tuesday, and we hope to avoid WMATA's planned failures by taking the bus into town. We've already agreed on a strategic retreat to my office, which isn't too far from the Mall, should we start feeling the need for heat, bathrooms, and keys-only access; should the weather be too parky or the crowds too horrible, we've got the option of crashing IE's watch party.
And if it turns out that Barack is the twelfth Cylon, frak it. I for one will welcome our new mechanical overlords.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Speaking of chill, what do you do with horses when the temps drop? Pierre of the North, the inimitable leader of the trip I did up in Canada this summer, is something of an expert on the subject, and he had a lot of interesting horsemanship tips, some verging on genius and others on the weird. He admitted that he was largely self-taught, coming to horse life in his 20s as a pickup jockey on the harness-racing circuit (I looked through his pics, and hoo boy, nobody knows the mullets I've seen), so in a way he may've become a better horseman than he would have otherwise; he had to figure out everything from first principles.
Keeping horses in an area where it snows up to the eaves of a second-story house in one go presents obvious challenges. Horses stay warm in the winter not so much by growing insulating hair (though that helps) as by digesting high-fiber hay, so it's key to make sure that they get enough to eat. If the horses are turned out in a pasture with deep snow, they don't keep all the area neatly flattened down any more than we would. Instead, they tend to make and then use paths to and from food, water, salt, and shelter; given a single site for each of those, they may let the paths get narrower and narrower, to the point where the horses can barely move as the snow deepens around them. Suboptimal. Pierre's solution is a total PITA for him, but it works for the four-feets: Every day, he takes the hay to a different site, crushing down the snow a bit and also forcing the horses to keep a variety of paths open. He rarely feeds in the barn, although as he put it in his fantastique Quebecois accent, "Sometime I know it's a bad storm coming, because the horses are all standing by the barn door with a look: 'We are not staying out there tonight, Pierre; are you nuts? It's gonna be cold!' So then I let them in. But otherwise no."
The other problem that can keep horses from getting enough to eat is herd dynamics: boss hosses can try to exclude lower-level herdmembers from the food until the higher-level horse has finished eating. Pierre's approach to that particular issue is to teach his horses that most interhorsinal debate tactics are fair game (though he does pull horses if it escalates to serious kicking), but that everyone gets to eat. It must work fairly well; we never saw his horses even flick an ear at one another, though like all herdmates they must have occasional differences of opinion.
Given that as perspective, it's wimpy of me not to ride tonight, when it'll be in the balmy 20-degree range. But I'm snorfling still (though my lymph nodes have stopped pulling their Willy Loman "attention must be paid!" routine) and would be much a-grouch, so Pat advised me to stay home and have a hot date with some tea and a blanket. At this rate the national strategic tea reserves will be exhausted within a week.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
For the entertainment of the fragile invalid, medical authorities recommend that reading materials of an undemanding but uplifting nature be applied. The acid in Dorothy Parker being deleterious to the soft tissues during the early stages of the patient's infection, far to be preferred is the humor of a Don Marquis, liberally applied before and after the patient ingests another snort of consolatory tipple. The poor creature is sick, after all. Now where is that blasted bell?
Between the years of ninety-two and a hundred and two, however, we shall be the ribald, useless, drunken outcast person we have always wished to be. We shall have a long white beard and long white hair; we shall not walk at all, but recline in a wheel chair and bellow for alcoholic beverages; in the winter we shall sit before the fire with our feet in a bucket of hot water, with a decanter of corn whiskey near at hand, and write ribald songs against organized society; strapped to one arm of our chair will be a forty-five caliber revolver, and we shall shoot out the lights when we want to go to sleep, instead of turning them off; when we want air we shall throw a silver candlestick through the front window and be damned to it; we shall address public meetings to which we have been invited because of our wisdom in a vein of jocund malice. We shall…but we don’t wish to make any one envious of the good time that is coming to us…we look forward to a disreputable, vigorous, unhonored and disorderly old age.
(In the meantime, of course, you understand you can’t have us pinched and deported for our yearnings.)
[ETA: Iiiinteresting: Eating a meal appears to stimulate the body's production of gamma interferon, which cues the immune system to attack cells that have been invaded by pathogens, such as the cold virus. Fasting, OTOH, appears to increase the body's levels of interleukin-4, which attacks extracellular pathogens, such as bacteria. "Feed a cold, starve a fever" may then be further proof that preindustrial observational medicine got it right sometimes. How perfectly fascinatin'.]
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Chilly rain and raw winds notwithstanding (and, come oooooon, if it's going to be cold and precipitating, can we not get a little snow around here?), Christmas was lovely. The folks had decorated the tree to a fare-thee-well, though La Mère had to requisition a bunch of replacements for the gold origami cranes that I made several years ago, and there was festive food of the dairy and carnivy varieties. I went to the early service, while Il Padre served the later one, so Seesterperson and I whiled away the wait for him by replacing key words in carols with "cheese." Our soulful "Christmas Cheese, O, Christmas Cheese" is destined to become a classic.
As has become tradition, La Mère declared that we'd be giving and getting very few presents this year, and as usual her plans were scuppered before they were announced. The living room was awash in wrapping paper and bows, because while we are firm believers in recycling gift boxes (Il Padre was taken aback to get a gift card and a "A Wok for All Seasons" pot holder in a holographic Bath and Bodyworks box), we don't have much truck with ironing out the paper and ribbons for reuse. It's somehow more satisfying to have to rummage around a pile of wadded-up paper to find, say, the box of marzipan fruit, while Il Padre hangs candy canes off his ears and Seesterperson belts out, "Christmas Christmas cheese is here, Time for love and time for beer!" or La Mère interprets, "Hogswatch is coming, the goose is getting fat. Please put a dollar in the old man's hat. If you haven't got a dollar, a penny will do; if you haven't got a penny then murfleflrurblmf!"
To my relief, because my record on gifts for her is about 50-50, Seesterperson liked the Loyal Army shirts I got her in San Francisco; poor 5*joe had looked agonizingly uncomfortable as RockNinja and I rifled through the store's stacks of cutesy shirts, gamely holding our bags and not bolting out of the shop to Amoeba Records. We did go to Amoeba eventually (RN: "Lots of stores have a world music section, and some even have an African section, but I don't remember being in one that had a Senegalese rap section, so...WIN!"), whence Il Padre got a collection of all sorts of Georgian music. La Mère liked the deerskin purse I got her, though she did correctly suss out that I'd bought it largely because I'm worried that she'll steal the one I've carried for the last few years (Potomac Leather, for all your fine tanning needs). I had to dig my own self out from under a pile of excellent gifts: Lush bath goodies, L'Occitane unguents, a HappyLite, cupcaking supplies sufficient to induce instant sugar shock, a book on piracy, and various small candy treats. Fun was had by all.
Unfortunately, I'm too old to believe in Santa, so I'm 90% sure that the cold germs that are now manifesting themselves were really from Il Padre. Bah snorfle.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
As for the seasonal affective cures she proposes, I admit that I do not yet have a sun lamp, despite annual protestations that I'm totally getting one this year, and that I got the dilute Slavic genes, since my winter-blues high-proof straight potable of choice is Macallan rather than vodka or some other white samogon. Good scotch is sufficiently engrossing as to make conversation unnecessary, rendering it the ideal drink for sipping as you meditate on whether a good bonfire might help bring back the sun. This is when a trip to the High Atlas starts to sound extremely appealing.
[ETA: Santa brought me a sun lamp. Whining does work!]
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Understand, my mother was geek before geek had chic. Seesterperson and I learned to read chapter books with Robert Heinlein juveniles, and we learned the dangers of transgressing the alpha-author system if we mucked with the carefully organized SF bookshelf in the basement. But somehow Il Padre remained above it all. I think at some point in the 70s he picked up an Anne McCaffrey book and was thoroughly put off; suggestions that he might like something in the genre were invariably met with sniffy comments about preferring books where the characters' names weren't seven consonants followed by an apostrophe. (Presumably he also disdains Welsh literature.)
After he retired, he spent several years reading yet more clergy lit: lives of the saints, liturgics, missals, antique histories. By now we had all long resigned ourselves to the alien in our midst and didn't bother. Different strokes and all that.
Step one in his metamorphosis, oddly enough, was picking up the Patrick O'Brian books, which God knows aren't easy reading but which are rich and beautiful and which had kept La Mère sane on a trans-Pacific flight. "Huh," he said to La Mè, "These are actually pretty good." She forbore to whack him in the head. "What else would you recommend?"
With the careful slow movements of a hunter drawing a bead on a twenty-point stag, she proffered Guards! Guards! Glomph. A month later, the entire Pratchett oeuvre to date satisfactorily digested, Il Padre sat back and said judiciously, "Well, not everything he's done is great. Those early books are not up to spec." No, we agreed, and notice that we'd started him with one of the later titles. "Anyway. What else is good?" We were off and running.
By now he's spent several years getting through the good stuff, the cream skimmed from the 90% junk that Sturgeon's Law so accurately predicts, and we've ended up wracking our brains for ways to keep the beast fed. I was gleeful to remember an old favorite, Poul Anderson's shimmering Three Hearts and Three Lions, that he of course adored; La Mère watched in shock as he finished the entire Cordwainer Smith collection. We were running low on stock, and he was no neophyte. It was time.
"You should try Gene Wolfe. He's good, and you'd probably get some of his more obscure Catholic references."
"I've tried. I can't."
"Well, he's not easy. It took me three good runs, but it's worth it."
"Nope. Can't do it."
We had variations on that conversation every few months; I had basically given up. We knew he would like it, but the learning curve with Mr. Unreliable Narrators FTW is admittedly steep. But leading a horse to water and all that...you can't really force someone to read something they don't like. Can you?
"Hey, kiddle. So guess who has been sitting on the couch for the last week, spending every free moment snarfling down the Severian stories?"
"Holy shit! How'd you do it?"
"I left the books lying around, and when he asked why I hadn't put them away I told him I was trying to lure him."
"And he went for it! What's his reaction?"
"He says it was unkind in us not to warn him that it's really just one long book."
"Hee. So very doomed."
"I know. So then I told him that not only is it one long book, you have to reread it afterward to figure out what the hell went on."
"True, true. Aw, our little grasshopper."
"Yup. Now he is the master."