june, 2002

Fresh lemon and transplanted ritual.

Thirty-eighth and Chestnut, sunlight in the afternoon window and on a church spire in the middle of University City. Abner's Cheesesteaks kitty-corner from this bay window in the main room. ("What's a cheesesteak?!" my sister asked incredulously yesterday, and I had to remember that I was mocked for my own ignorance of the term 'hoagie' when I got out to the East Coast almost three years ago.)

My room is through the wall to my right, behind the closet into which we've stuffed the academic-year tenants' Corona flags, Godfather poster, and pictures of them being frat girls. This is the room I theoretically lost through a coin flip, have since taken thinking it wouldn't be that bad, and have since then realized to be horrid beyond my worst dreams due to lack of natural light (it faces east, but the morning sun is blocked by the next building over, not six feet away and as tall as ours), and moved my computer to the main room bay window.

Already I have surrounded myself with ritual, clinging to disrupt as little as possible the flow of the Semantic Susurrus (you know, like the Mississippi) behind this necessary paradigm shift. As if it were photosynthetic, my computer needs light, as it had in my three West-facing window, Chester-side, purplified room in the Barn (walls; Daunendecke; Bach Dancing & Dynamite poster of psychedelic cool tones Bach from the summer of 2000) -- so much so there that I had to hang my (purple) lapa over the northmost window if I wanted to geek between the hours of four and six, daylight savings time depending. Here the window faces north, shadows of pedestrians falling to the right on the sidewalk opposite, and the maple tree to the left illuminated from behind.

Also providing continuity is Fritz's loaned plant, newly christened Hiroaki (from Stephenson's Snow Crash, which has now been recommended to me by at least four different sources within the past month or two, and therefore meets and exceeds the requirements for getting bumped to the top of my list -- I just ordered it from half.com for $3.30). I just repotted it unceremoniously -- lift, dump, pack -- into a slotted wooden plant pot that was hanging out on the rust-painted-green fire escape outside the Barn 3N, which Lizzie offered me gratis. Fits is new name and lends the necessary greenery, another life form to keep me and the Mozart (Temple Public Radio, 90.1) from the stereo in the other room company.

To remedy a dearth of soap in the apartment, I grabbed four bars of Ivory this morning, and my hands now smell like my mother's did for years. I'm smelling my hands, scented as they were last night at Marrakesh for Rae's graduation last night, doused with rose water from a small tin anointer, before and after the stomach-bogglingly good seven courses: sweet house white; grape leaves; couscous; carrots in some sort of garlic curry marinade to beat all carrots; sweet sweet sugar-saturated mint tea; honey-dripping baqlawa. And more. Low benches, tapestries hung all over the walls and the lights dim; the waiter who poured the water and tea from four feet up, swooping down to catch the last drops, who was ridiculously pleased that I was able to compliment the food in French at Joel's prodding -- all that was lacking was the belly-dancing harem. Mom would dig this place. I came back, belly distended with wonderfulness, to Swat, where I checked out Senior Greenbottle (the stories are true; it's quite the scene!) and got to sleep far too late.

sugar bowl Directly in front of the flat screen (to date the ebay purchase of which I am the most proud) sits my new sugar bowl, three dollars, a week or so ago from Crate and Barrel. Such a small price for such ridiculously huge amounts of happiness! I dragged Ari in (as I had over Winter break, when traipsing all over Madison for an oil-vinegar carafe for my mother) when I noticed an outlet in Cambridge, and he remembered my passion for housewares as I picked up every garlic press, tea strainer, and everything orange in the store in search of this bowl. My old functional sugar bowl -- the small drab-and-pink ricebowl present from Shin and Nana four years ago in Japan -- has graduated to granola bowl. The new clear one sits filled with sugar cubes, the handle-knob of its lid reflecting the cubic sugar quarry below and fronds of Hiroaki, awaiting the demands of tea.

The essence of bergamot in Lady Grey has been from last Wednesday until this morning too strong, as I tried to prepare chai as Chuck's roommate Sujay suggested, but forgot that Rebecca had taken all the loose black home with her, so I dumped in some loose Earl instead. Eve insisted it wasn't horrid and she doesn't lie to make people happy, but suffice it to say it was not chai. But darjeeling has been keeping me happy, that and the barn sandwich I recreated at 3818 Chestnut Street Apt. A-201 this afternoon. Now, realizing the need to hydrate once in a while instead of just drinking slightly caffeinated black teas, I've sliced into a fresh lemon bought this afternoon and dumped it with ice and water into a familiar dodecagonal-pyramidal glass, courtesy of Rebecca via the Barn.

Bought a Times yesterday, and one this afternoon. I love reading it; it's become an addiction over this past semester of Barn-delivery. Crosswords with the sandwich and tea when I have the leisure; glancing at headlines and shuffling through the front section when I don't. So many ideas, sound bytes, happenings come out of each issue, that they keep me thinking. Listening this morning at Commencement to honorary degree recipients Denis Halliday and Josef Joffe (Swattie '65; editor-in-chief of Die Zeit) reassure the graduates that the liberal arts education never stops, to paraphrase, and urging them to change the world (again, a gross paraphrase) and wondering how, with my eclectic majors and minors and lazy ambition, as Eve put it over lunch, to just sit around and be a rich housewife (or, my version, to toy with beautiful things -- sugar bowls; plants -- and play Brahms) -- the Sunday Times answers those questions, or at least reassures me. This is something Madison's Capital Times or Philadelphia's Inquirer never have communicated to me, and this is why I'm going to continue to be a newspaper snob and purchase the Times daily (just subscribed today for the summer, woo-hoo!).

This all boils down to transplanted rituals: a computer in the sun; gustatoric and lectural amenities; all of which mean a relatively easy transition from the end of my junior year at Swarthmore to the beginning of a summer in Philly. Much less angst-ridden than it could have been, perhaps the mental turmoil it raises linked linearly to the distance moved (the thousand-mile trek back to Madison always is a huge schlepp, mostly mentally). Graduation this morning in the gorgeous, verdant amphitheater conjuring memories of last year's ceremony, during which time I felt things strongly, physically, in the left side of my chest, during which time I would look into the mirror and see two people peering out of my eyes; during which time my body just tagged along after my floating head and heart, until I left abruptly and crash landed over the course of the next five months. Being single this semester has been so good for my psyche, my mental and physical well-being, and also my grades. Full unpacking is yet to come, Jenny's not even here yet, and there's a random girl who's been in Greece moving in today? tomorrow?, but I have my computer in the sun and a sense of continuity. And a few fresh lemons.

Music slightly electronic; ambient and down-tempo, with repeated French clips. Mark's astounding guacamole and Jenny's allegedly orgasmic mushroom bread warring peacefully in my belly, piquing my appetite but not satiating it. The two flavors are each of themselves wonderful but neither one is compatible -- I'm tasting both, not the two together. Humid evening, the threatening rain hanging in the sky not breaking, and the corner window of the three bay ones is open, admitting stagnant water, a few flies, and a slight breeze. A mostly complete Tuesday crossword that Jenny and I just almost finished. Black beans and rice promised for dinner once Laurel gets here. A focal point for my mind-wanderings has been kicking around the majority of my skull these past two days, from when I took the early commuter train back into the city, post games of Chinese Checkers and Celebrity Password with people I'd known partially, a little, and never; beer, champagne, Eric's piece thick like his dreds; my new-that-afternoon button-fly jeans; the Portuguese banter of just-graduated Brazilian Swatties naming soccer players; and my relinquishing of designated-drivership to Eve early on; and going with the flow of things. The Death And Rebirth Of Human Agency is a quintessential Swattie major, especially compounded with a concentration in the ineffable Interpretation Theory. Would have liked a chance to talk more, standing next to the open freezer ("a typical Brazilian air conditioner") ice cubes clinking in our glasses and my hoarse voice. No matter what our diverse backgrounds and microcosmic social circles, we're not afraid to ask questions about adverbial and adjectival clauses in the strangest contexts to each other; and no matter how small the clique, we're in each other's Mind, Body, Machine seminars, have champagne at each other's apartments; make new friends with plural names shortly before they graduate and fly off to Taiwan for a year. It's likely just as well, but learning Portuguese the same way I learned German would have been fun.

I suppose I just need to realize that I am much more taken with small domestic pleasures than most people. After I announced that I was in love with the neon translucent yellow glows-in-blacklight butter dish that Lisa had lent me for the summer, Jenny commented tonight that I (along with Laurel) was one of the few people that she knew who had such strong feelings about small objects, mostly domestic. Eve said a very similar thing a week or two ago as I was rhapsodizing about my then-new sugar bowl.

My short list of the moment is my ten-ounce metal travel mug, in which I took to all my 8:30 CS22 classes as soon as I got it, in which to have chai with Claire during the break before her Insect Bio and my hour of Abject Lounging, and in which I've now taken to bringing darjeeling to work every morning; my sugar bowl; the tea-and-whatever strainer I got yesterday; this new butter dish. I'm not quite as swept off my feet by the muffin tin I purchased at the overpriced yet snazzy (the building, Karina tells me, was intended for Sundance use) Fresh Grocer at 40th and Walnut, but even the bestickered muffin holder made a lovely tart mold this afternoon, and will see muffins proper this evening.

I'm conjecturing that this also holds true for food, and the small yet soulfully satisfying pleasures to be derived therein. Sun, too? (I am heliotropic and appear to perform a rudimentary, non-green form of photosynthesis.) The more I move, and the more people with whom I live, the clearer a picture I establish of what exactly I want in an apartment and in a living situation. A kitchen. Lisa loves the layout of this apartment, the way you walk immediately into the kitchen -- "the most important room of the house," said the girl who subscribes to Saveur and wants to apprentice herself to a French pastry chef. Sunlight. I'm so passively unhappy with my room that I haven't really unpacked into it yet, and I'm treating the main room as my space. Food. The earliest I ate this week after coming home from work at half past five was maybe 8:30, taking time to make myself a curried carrot soup from the Vegetarian Epicure (Book II) which I just acquired from the leavings of the Barn, or cook something Thai with Mark from the new 3-bowl American Zen cookbook I just used Christmas Borders money to buy, or be gustatorically lavish in some other way. Lemon tarts with six lemons, six eggs, six tablespoons of butter, as Lisa and I put together tonight.

And some people just don't thrive on that, and need only a tuna fish sandwich for brief sustenance before moving on to more important matters. My resolve for these next twelve weeks, barring the one I'm in Madison, is to run after work, fix dinner somehow (on the foodie side of tuna fish, but on the banal side of a nightly epicurean feast), and practice. And read.

It feels like summer camp here, and smells like it in the stairway above the mailboxes. I opened an account at Commerce Bank yesterday. I receive weekly paychecks. My subscription to the Times starts tomorrow. I work nine-to-five. I have no homework. I just got a raise. The reality of what I'm going to do after I graduate is becoming less and less in the far-off future, as I watch the dozens of my friends in the class of 2002 (many hung over from the previous night's Greenbottle) process their way into Swarthmore B.A.s, and realize that in a year that will be me. Life in The World is not bad, hey, but being a student gives life such purpose, and I'm going to need to create that externally next year. This summer even. Oodles of free time on weekends and after work must be spent wisely or I will feel like a Slug in body, mind, and soul.

I was wondering aloud to John the other day about my slow adjusting to the new working schedule, my extreme tiredness when I wake, subsequent morning acuity and productivity, and later extreme afternoon slump (a visit to Avril 50 for chocolate biscotti and some blend of coffee, perhaps even decaf). He not only answered that women are supposed to need nine hours of sleep per night, but also that he thought I would adjust quickly, given how he perceived my lifestyle -- active, with friends to hang out with, events to attend, exercise, food to make and consume, &c. I like that impression of my life that I've given. I thought at the moment that it was a litte far-fetched, but then that afternoon I ran two miles, and then chilled with Karina; and the events of this weekend have also fit the bill quite well (for both that ideal of living and filling the oodles of free time mentioned above). It was Lisa-ful, as she came down late for twenty minutes of PYO rehearsing the Piston (2, for our concert on Thursday) on Saturday morning, and then accompanied me to play tourist in my own (but admittedly newly owned) city, on a gorgeous afternoon to buy a tea strainer, ogle the food in the Indian grocery at 42nd and Walnut, poke through a feminist bookstore on Spruce. We took a picnic and the bus back into Center City to buy tickets off a scalper to see the Verdi Requiem at the Kimmel Center (fantastic), and retired to Monk's afterwards, joined by Gabe, Seanius, and Mark, where Lisa's krügel of Weihenstephaner Hefe Weiß smacked so strongly of my time in the pool halls and beer gardens of Bavaria, but after half of that and my Leffe, I was too drunk to remember to cry about it. The incredibly flavorful beer made me recall that I will be carrying a fair amount of emotional baggage around for a while, however. This morning was a lovely Sunday Times to share, as I can't possibly justify a whole one by myself, with the subsequent aforementioned lemon tarts, a failed (in that it was closed) trip to the Italian Market (note to self and all who care -- it, along with Reading Terminal Market, is closed Sundays), but unfailed in that I did get three pounds of fresh linguini from the Superior Pasta Co., and then ten pounds Kokuho Rose from Chung May up in Chinatown (and of course, mochi). Bubble tea for Lisa from the girl who makes it perfectly on tenth street, which of course made her sick. I have discovered the laundry machines and have purchased dishwashing liquid for our dishwashing machine, so I have a huge amount of clean things. All boils down to these small objects that, clean, please me even more.

i can't decide between
que sera sera
vouloir c'est pouvoir
all i know is i want more pastry and more music and more lovin'
and the best coffee in the world
and a sexy foreign language
woudln't hurt, either.
my latest plan is to move to vienna after i graduate
with my violinist and cellist
and play trios all day long
with the nights open for anything.
que sera sera?

vouloir c'est pouvoir, non?

I can't tell if it's just that I'm getting older, that my active consciousness extends back further every month, or that this archive of ramblings has helped me to codify bits and prime the rest for remembering, but that which used to be an infinitely long stretch of time is now quite bearable and even fathomable. Years are now rational units of measure.

Listening to this Joni Mitchell, which I haven't heard in an easy year or so. Still know all the words, can still sing along to the words which I've internalized to the point I only recognize them as syllables when I pay attention to the music as language, just as I sang French and German songs a long time before I learned either, and only now can translate the words I've had memorized for year.
Let's go down to the Mermaid Café
and I will buy us a bottle of wine
and we can laugh and toast to nothing
and smash our empty glasses down

Monk's last night was packed, as usual, and more so than I'd expected on a Thursday night. The nice thing about being unconsciously and uncardedly twenty-one is that Chris and I sat down at the bar while we waited for our table and had a Weihenstephaner Hefe-Weiß and an on-tap Chimay (first outside of Belgium), and their twice-cooked fries, beginning one of the slowest meals I've had in a long time. Perhaps time was elongated like the half-liter high glass my drink came in, but it took hours, the perusal of the bible of inimitable imbibables, decisions of how hungry we actually were, the three miniscule corners of veal I had, caramelized leeks and bleu cheese garden burger, a salad starring goat cheese and cranberries, a Belgian dark and a Duchesse de Bourgogne, almost a wine, which my mother would dig (Mom, I'm bringing you here when you come to the city). Slow food with a person who was capable of fully enjoying it, and did -- the lemon tarts Lisa and I made last Sunday, the bottle of almost-Tokaji I have waiting on my shelf: these things for some reason turn to oreos and grape juice on some people's palates, or the circumstances distract them from their mouths. More often with such food, my mouth distracts me from the circumstances. The veal -- the smallest bits, and I'm not sure I could ever eat any again -- was an entirely different world of food, or perhaps not even classifiable as food, because as animals have been completely absent from my diet for the past nine years, I have forgotten their effect on the body and psyche.

This is a better model of time, then, than my previous linear version. The large picture goes so fast (I've already been in the city, working, for two weeks), but the smaller instances stretch out and expand into their hours in perfect yeast-like risings. I haven't seen Chris much since I met him over two years ago, but we've been in and out of touch, and always friends. The years don't so much matter when we're eating the slowest meal of our lives. I understand how my mom can not see one of her best friends for over thirty years, and then come back together in Munich over Bavarian sausage and beer on the way to visit her daughter in Vienna.



Waiting impatiently, which is hard when I'm on a computer connected to the world and can put my new mad bash-fu and php-fu skills to work looking at information off local servers. Like pressing the Degauss button on a Sun and watching the image on your screen explode shaking, colors vibrating wildly and spectrally around a central pixel, finally clicking satisfactorially -- after which you have to wait for the shadow mask to again build up magnetism, pressing the slashed-through U every five seconds, impatiently waiting to press it again with the same reaction as the initial vibrancy.

Come to think of it, that's quite an accurate analogy.

In the meantime, I run. I went to an African dance class Saturday afternoon at the Community Education Center, 3500 Lancaster, a few blocks northeast of my apartment. Free, and I wasn't even the worst in the class. The warm-up alone that Mbimba led us through was a more rigorous workout than Kemal ever gave us -- shoulders and bent arms, splayed fingers pronating ever faster to the beat of the two drummers at the front of the old wooden room with the ripped-up floorboards, a bronze lamp theatrically bejeweled hanging next to a window, small brown three-year-old girls in pint-sized lapas darting under their mothers' flexing legs. I went to Swarthmore last Wednesday and worked out with Alyssa, three miles indoors on the air-conditioned treadmill as we watched the weather on the track through glass cycle stop-motion style through a vigorous heat, rainstorm, and breeze; weights on machines raising the muscles of my upper back and triceps; the bicycle machines with a bookrest for Snow Crash. A sprint for the train from the Banana House was fruitless, except as a last element of the workout. Yesterday, the afternoon heat not having yet risen and me too moony to do anything with my brain, I threw on the Chemical Brothers, turned them up as far as I thought the neighbors could stand, and stretched to the pounding beats all in ninja black while filtering a liter of water through my body. Ran through Drexel, past teenage punks who greeted me, over broken glass over the Schuylkill, and down to twenty-third, where I doubled back, working twice as hard as I did in the climate controlled Mullan Center. Feeling the shoulders still aching from African on Saturday. Feeling whatever Degaussian impatience building up in my brain drain into physical impatience, running it off as a purely exothermic process, as if it were that easy.

I distract myself with abstract art. The museum at the top of the Ben Franklin on Sunday morning, Gabe's pains-au-chocolat and the Torreo coffee caffieneing me through rooms of jumbled "European Art, 1850-1900", the Gebrüder Thonet's twisted fin-de-siècle chair backs thrown under German impressionism, next to Toulouse-Lautrec's La Danse au Moulin Rouge. The Rothko I noticed which grabbed me by the hair (it was orange), pulled me into the room and sat me on the bench opposite, while I spent the next half an hour contemplating its bleeding edges of color, uneven hues and utter abstraction, paint for paint's sake, suggesting to me not a vase or portrait but my own thoughts, and how much I don't know about the the subject of either. The Mondrians at the end of the wing with which I seem to have made peace, the abject minimalism making me smile instead of scream.

Thin lines of color splaying out like my fingers in a dance and humming fast, finally to tick into place. I am utterly insatiable; I have to go running after work today or I will think too much. I am waiting to press the Degauss button again.

The word "home" has meant many different things to me recently, and in defining it I feel like I'm doing a paragraph-long composition exercise for my Fortgeschrittene Eins German class at the University of Vienna this past fall, defining »Was bedeutet dir 'Heimat'?« But it's an appropriate question this week. I'm home in Madison. The sentence needs that prepositional phrase at the end of it. Without it, it just means:

  • This summer: I'm done with work for the day, I have left my air-conditioned cocoon and am now either getting ready to run or preparing dinner or practicing.

And that only with the most recent context. Last semester it would have meant:

  • Spring 2002: Classes and rehearsals are done for the day, fellow Barnies, let us commune, cook dinner together, play scrabble and complete crossword puzzles, and carp about our respective situations until the wee hours!
  • Summer 2001: German class is over, and I have nothing to do except count down the days until I visit Germany (and my German visits me) before Vienna.
  • A year ago last spring: I have emerged from ML and the Sun Lab, and am home to the Lodge to make peanut sauce and scare my roommates with Linux!

Right now, though, I'm on vacation in Madison. Just because I know the map of the city wired into my driving muscle memory (never mind that I took Alexis and me on the most roundabout route possible between libraries and grocery stores yesterday), just because I recognize the smell of hot summer fresh-cut prairie grass that grows around the track at my high school, just because my room was painted last summer with orange trim, doesn't mean I have roots here for now. I'm on vacation. My obligations consist of drinking chianti with my mother, teaching my sister HTML, cooking dinner for my dad. I'm making a purple shirt to wear to his wedding. I have plans to chill with a few friends, to paint flowerpots with my sister, and to read more of Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy.

I am home, but I am obligationless.

That's kind of paradoxical, non? For the first time ever, I'm in Madison without any obligation to get a job, and with barely time to bake a rhubarb pie (I saw stalks of the juicy red things in the grocery store today, and rationalized my way out of baking a pie that I wouldn't have time to eat). All I need to do is eat Bagels Forever poppyseed bagels with Philadelphia cream cheese, and enjoy the non-air-conditioned house I grew up in. I rather like it. And truth be told, I was not particularly looking forward to coming home -- having just fallen into a routine in Philly, enjoying working, the dictionary I'm scripting together, the dailiness of running, New York Timesing, being with roommates, free weekends, had begun to feel like a lovely home. Not that it doesn't, now, and that is not to say that I feel any special desire to move back to Madison in the near future, but the realization that I am on vacation helps the idea that I'm here, sleeping on orange sheets that remind me so much of my last summer of taping Muppet movies, drinking Rosemont traminer-riesling, and waiting.

Now back to that chianti.

For some reason, even though it's above ninety out, edging ever higher in the thirties Celsius, the still heat baking sidewalks and smearing tar between the street cracks, I'm drinking tea. The bottle of half-and-half is sweating on one of the doily-like cup-placemats Mom's been crocheting -- her domestic impulses merging with creative ones and a manual fixation -- its cold completely condensed in droplets on the bottle's external walls. I'd thought of going running this morning, taking the only flat path on this side of town halfway down Glenway -- the paved-over railroad tracks that just got torn out last year, over which Herr Ente and I did some kind of bike circuit (when I still entertained thoughts of finishing Gödel, Escher, Bach before he'd read it five times through), likely as prelude to a bottle of the previous year's Rosemont traminer-riesling and a muppet movie, fan directed at the couch, mom laughing over her one glass of white. A brief foray to the Regent Market this morning in jeans and a tank top, however, for which I even drove the four long blocks and parked twenty feet away from the tiny coöp, showed me that I would have to be insane or a total fanatic to run in this heat. I haven't seen this kind in Philly yet, though I'm sure July and August will make up for the early summer that made the President's Lawn bloom in February and a relatively mild June.

Perhaps it has to do with humidity, though, or even with the physical space it's baking, or our associations with that. Energy is a measurable physical quantity, but it is to heat as a few compound sines waves are to sound -- dependent on our perception of it. Coming out of air conditioning at my job as a legal secretary two summers ago, the broiling days were welcome; wallowing yesterday under a tree in Yellowstone Lake State Park for my dad's wedding to begin or moving slowly down to the coöp this morning to find cream for your coffee in endothermic jeans is the kind of heat that makes your eyes roll. A fan dissipates it all and is even the kind of beer-in-hand, nachos-with-homemade-salsa (with Ari and Stoll two nights ago), front-summer-porch welcome impossible in air conditioning. Maybe the specific timbre of scorch at the corner of Regent and Franklin here, contributed to by the no-uphill-stop and glancing gravestones across the way, is unique in the same way a clarinet's resonance chambers differ from the viola's, or the different ways I acclimate to a daily pace in Madison, Philadelphia, Swarthmore, Munich, Vienna.

I think right now I prefer the heat in Philadelphia, as this stillness and indolence in Madison are nice for vacation, but existentially upsetting on a larger scale. Nice as it's been to be be here, my job, my apartment, running down Chestnut Street, a bigger and more immediate to-do list than rehair bow (check); design and sew shirt (check); attend wedding (check); eat bagels (check), make the temperature more of a physical reality more than a metaphysical thermometer. Vacations do that to me, or at least have started to within the past year or so. Back to Philly tomorrow.

all this ©nori heikkinen, June 2002

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