july, 2002

The heat wave finally broke, and I think it was due to Olivia's threats of making gazpacho. Murphy's law isn't in fact a nam-shub, and even though it shouldn't work backwards, my mom years ago figured out an axiom that states:

  1. Gazpacho is best when it's really fucking hot outside
  2. By Murphy's Law, we thus know that if you make gazpacho, it will stop being hot.

This in fact cheats the law, making it stop being hot so the soup's not perfect, which perhaps takes away that small bit from the enjoyment thereof, but without fail will kill that heat wave in its tracks. Works every time, and this time we didn't even have to follow through on the threat. We were just sitting on her couch in the air conditioned parlor in Haddonfield, having seen a parade that morning and a movie that afternoon, discussing food and the heat, and Olivia said she'd like to make the soup. The next day, having been given a top sheet by Trish so I wouldn't boil under my Daunendecke, I woke up to a deliciously cool apartment -- the box fans in the window, functioning only to spew hot air listlessly around the room in the recent hundred-degree heat, were churning cool air into the apartment.

We'd barely been moving this past week, pulling what shades we remembered and wearing as little as possible; ice cubes on our heads, cold beer and Pop-Ices; frequent colds showers. The walk to work around nine AM was still under ninety, but the rest of the day was unbearable -- practicing and running were utterly out of the question. Now yesterday a breeze was blowing through the city as if off a great lake, somehow gathering speed from whipping around corners and cooling the leaves along my resumed running route down Chestnut Street.

This morning, waking up in Swarthmore to a lovely pain-au-chocolat et café breakfast and a little PGP keysigning (now up to three great geek signatures!), Gabe drove me back to the city, stopping at the Indian grocery at 42nd and Walnut to get a cutting board, pry the tippy feet off it, label one side onions & garlic; and to drop into Utrecht to pick up a graphite pencil and sharpener (I'd forgotten how much I love to draw with graphite!), a few pens, a kneaded eraser, and 80-pound acid-free drawing paper for the beginning of my cookbook project. À la Moosewood, I've finally taken the hint from friends, relatives, and their friends and relatives -- all of whom keep demanding copies of the original Oda a la Cocina and telling me I should just publish -- and am drawing out the entire cookbook by hand (or at least something like it), will write to publishers to get permission to reprint recipes ganked from Joy and Julia Child (should I even bother with the recycled recipes?), and eventually publish this baby. Beginning with gravity's rainbow French toast, I stared at the drawing pad this afternoon before running down to the 7-Eleven on the corner for a bunch of bananas to use as a still-life. That and Joel-O's thai soup are now illustrated, twenty-two sheets left in this pad, and hundreds of recipes left. We'll see how this goes.

When I'm not dying of heat or drawing food these days, I'm having small existential crises about what to do after June 1, 2003. With a Swarthmore B.A. in hand, do I want to go to Zürich or Vienna where I have friends and in one case possibly lodging? To do what? On what money? Fulbrights, Watsons, all are being perused and thinked about, to my great apprehension. I can even run to dispel the angst, as it's not too hot now.

Stepping into Avril 50 this afternoon, surveying the eight or so different varieties of coffee laid out in pots before the biscotti and danishes, Mozartkugeln and Café Tasse chocolate bars, shelves of Gauloises and Djarum, walls of small art publications, food magazines, foreign journals and newspapers, I could have just bought a pack of cloves, a Der Speigel or Le Monde, and the cup of french roast (almost an entire packet of sugar; one half-and-half), and sat in a corner, at the folding tables outside on Sansom, smoking and drinking and reading the entire afternoon until the light disappeared around nine. Maybe I do have to move back to Vienna.

And then again maybe it should center around music, after all. Given Lisa and Oliver, there would be music for me to do there, but without, the Staatsoper isn't exactly looking for an extra Bratschistin, nor is the Wiener Philharmoniker. Zürich might be a better shot (they told me that yes, I would need to go to Switzerland to audition -- see if I can babysit up some plane fare?). And they have coffee, too.

Paul Oakenfold in the Times this morning. They referred to a trick of his that I first encountered simultaneously with the genre, a favorite of the duck I knew a year ago at Swarthmore who threw parties in Upper Tarble with lights enough to short-circuit Lang:

... to ingrain a beat so deeply into listeners' heads that he can take it away almost without anyone noticing. It's an aural illusion: when the rhythm drops out, the only sounds left are whispery and atmospheric, but the crowd keeps dancing, obeying a pulse that's no longer there.

Vienna has that, I know. Pulses beating out onto the Danube from under the Augartenbrücke; throbbing under the cobblestones from between whose cracks the people younger than Kaiser Franz Josef emerge on certain nights if the moon and coffee are right.

Vienna also has opera, and at five times cheaper than the clubs -- two Euros pro Stehplatz. It has Sachertorte and Hagebuttentee, plush benches and Wiener Werkstätte chairs, coffee on silver trays with water, Frau Hawelka's Vanillabuchteln, weißer Gespritzt, pool tables. And people I know.

Given a few creeping vines of philodendron, blue and white tiles to put under them, high ceilings, the new wooden cutting board I just purchased from the Indian grocery down the street -- given this along with people, coffee, and a daily paper, I could go anywhere. Just so long as it's Vienna or Zurich.

I think it was Olivia who recently heard a program on public radio detailing a trend among bachelor's-holding twentysomethings to get a job, hold it for a few years maximum, then grow bored of it and switch to something completely different, repeating the process for who knew how long, they assumed lifelong. A worried caller telephoned the show, saying she had a young son and she didn't want this kind of life for him -- what could she do to prevent it? The advice given her: don't send him to a liberal arts college.

Kneejerk and overgeneralized as that may seem, there's some truth to it. Not that I've even graduated yet, or that I'm planning on being an itinerant dilettante, but with one year to go and me still trying to synthesize my interests into something meaningful and coherent, be it a triple major or simply kicking my brain in the right direction by fulfilling my last social science PDC with Psych 1 this fall, I'm not exactly sure how to avoid that. Reading (of course) Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy (not about raves) which John recommended to me a month or two ago. Taking the third or fourth recommendation as a sign, I got it from half, and have been fascinated as far as my non-fiction attention span will hold me. It's a broad survey of many topics -- at one point I laughed out loud, realizing Jourdain had summarized five semesters of music theory at Swat in two paragraphs -- but goes deep enough into all of them to send me running to Cornell for books Bjorn's recommending on SLUG, to Pearson to borrow Chomsky from the Ling profs, to my shelf to queue up A Generative Theory of Tonal Music as next non-fic on the list. And to prod me to wonder, as did Peter Norvig of Google at the talk he gave at the Association of Computational Linguistics on Thursday, what possible application of all of these topics might qualify as interesting enough to spend my years after Swat on.

Or non-synthesis. The biggest challenge of Swarthmore, I guess, or any liberal arts college, is after you graduate: deciding what to do with all the classes you've taken and knowledge (factual or otherwise, and the latter is half the fun of the four years) you've gleaned from the place. That likely accounts for the crises I've seen many recent graduates go through. I can't imagine that many of them will be where they now are after two years, proving the radio man's hypothesis. But they'll know more for it, and likely where they were wasn't looking for an employee for life, either.

On a more present note, I'm slightly burned. It seems no matter how much sunscreen I put on, after a day at the beach, I will show color. And I was damn scrupulous about it yesterday! Eve, Jenny, Corey, Rachel, and I went over to Atlantic City, a place I've never been and could really deal without ever again visiting. The beach itself was nice, though the recently Costa Rican Jenny disparaged it in comparison, but the boardwalk and casinos were unbelievable. I hadn't quite had an impression of what is was going to be like -- my first thoughts driving through the anterior casino-dom was that Snow Crash and Neuromancer (why must all these staple sci-fi novels be so violent?!) had come to life in the form of Caesar's Palace, and whatever other monstrosities leered about us. Ugh.

But it was lovely to spend a day in the sun (and eat cheese fries and funnel cakes; play driving games like in a certain Munich arcade), and the burns aren't terrible; they'll develop into a few tanlines within a few days. Having used a lot of sunscreen (just mostly washing it off, boogie-boarding in the waves with Jenny), this is in stark contrast to last spring break at the beach in Florida, when Alyssa got a little color on her nose and I burned my legs and back lobster pink, making it painful to sleep, shower, or even sit. When I came back three days later, I had healed enough that Martin didn't even see the worst of it, but nonetheless he recalls putting bottles upon bottles of aloe on my utterly scorched skin. Maybe we learn to burn ourselves less year by year. Maybe not -- I put the butter with its foil wrapper in the microwave yesterday, and was stupidly surprised when the latter sparked and lit aflame -- I'd automatically assumed if it was a butter wrapper, it would be waxed paper. Also last night (a day later, as it's now Tuesday), I made singapore noodles for me and Jenny, forgetting and for the third or fourth time rubbing my nose after having crumbled the hot pepper. My face burned for the next hour.

In considering what to do after we graduate, and in pushing ourselves to get over the initial inertial hump and start thinking rationally, start applying, writing grants, and synthesizing what we've done in college for the past three, soon-to-be-four years, I'm considering some options that might spark like metal in a microwave, burn like dried hot pepper on your face. Maybe if I bring enough sunscreen ...

Thunder cracked almost over my head today, fractions of a second away, and I unplugged my computer but forgot to close the windows -- rain is vertical, I reasoned, and so managed to soak the carpet in here. But all is forgiven, as this has broken the recent heat that crept over a hundred today. I finished work until next Tuesday on Wednesday afternoon, and went to Swat to work out in the air-conditioned Mullan Center with Alyssa, who related her latest gossip, and then stayed on for a trip to Friendly's for beer, pizza, and pool (Gabe and I each lost a game; neither one won -- clearly we need to practice more). Blueberry pancakes waked and baked chez Mark in the morning, and I caught an early afternoon train back to the city.

Since then, however, I have been doing nothing but taking cold showers and trying to alleviate heat-induced headaches, sleeping poorly and being bored during the day as it's too hot even to practice. As of last Tuesday or so, I've been thinking my best post-Swat option may be to take a year off and practice, then audition for conservatory entrance in the fall of 2004 -- but right now it feels like such a long shot, as it's too hot to practice, and the fall will be all but too busy. I'm eating frozen grapes sprinkled with sugar; even my mom's gazpacho remedy didn't work last night and the heat held until just now. Too hot even to wear clothes. Contemplating (not seriously) chopping off my hair because it's too heavy and too hot for this peak of July. The box fan in the window lazily spinning hot air from outside into the hot air inside, doing effectively nothing but humming. Even the coffee shop Jenny and I tried to find last night ended up being terrible, everything that I hate about the American idea of the coffee shop, its only benefit being air-conditioned. The cappucino came (as I knew it would, and knew I would complain about) in a cup bigger than a salad bowl, not even with the porcelain heft something that size should have had, but thick, seamed white plastic. Teenagers in tiny shirts and huge amounts of eye makeup at a table diagonal; logo-emblazoned t-shirted workers mass-producing panini behind a counter. University City certainly has its style, and it's not mine. Remind me to live in Northern Liberties if I ever end up in this city for longer than three months.

And I hope not to ... it's not bad, but I just can't picture anything in the States that's not grad school after I graduate. The tacit idea being, here is where you learn, Europe is where you live.

I bought Swiss cocoa powder to put in the triply chocolate biscotti I made Sunday night in near darkness, three out of three miles-high lightbulbs blown. The resultant twice-baked cookies were wonderful, and John of Avril 50 even made decaf Viennese Roast on Monday, unconsciously to celebrate. Hot chocolate the next night (before the heat wave hit) while Jenny read aloud from Diane Ackerman was the best I've ever had of the non-Spanish variety -- two tablespoons cocoa; two teaspoons sugar; warm milk; Tia Maria. Pancakes without sugar; cocoa from real powder -- the German knew what he was talking about.

Making gado-gado from memory at the oh-so-beautiful Banana House Wednesday night, I noticed again the inspiration behind my last dreamings -- the blue and white tiles aligned in a ridge behind the sink, on which were the soaps and sponges. Added to my ideal living space is now a surface -- the top of a bookshelf, some ledge -- of these blue and white tiles, puttied in, supporting potsful of philodendron leaves. In my apartment in Zürich, to go with the cocoa?

green teacup

green teacup

I think of it as green tea in a mug or teacup, the small blue-and-white porcelain ones I picked up for a few dimes each in Chinatown last spring, or the heavy Japanese one gleaned last weekend from the giftshop at the Philly Museum of Art: hefty and handleless (like the one my dad made the mistake of complimenting when in Japan and has owned ever since), glazed green only on the inside and top inch of the outer lip.

But I think of it as grüner Tee clear in a glass, filtering the liquid through the small tea strainer (the biggest expenditure I permitted myself at Kitchen Kapers while ogling culinary domesticities with pastry-chef-to-be Lisa), into the transparent octapedal whiskey-on-the-rocks glass. Like Jenny never realized the color of Granny Smith Woodchuck wasn't actually green, I never consider the hue of green tea -- even against a white porcelain interior it looks different than suspended in a test tube of a glass. It looks like its essence, what they put in the Grüner Tee Mädchenseife I used last fall, and how it made me smell to myself.

Making it uses at least three if not more of these small domestic objects to which I have recently been noticing my disproportionate (to their size, at least) attachment: my new Japanese mug; teaball; and tea strainer. The mug conducts just enough heat if you don't fill it more than two-thirds of the way full, and retains the heat like a small kitten to curl in your hands, or against your sternum, when the tea is gone. I appreciate these fist-sized possessions more through their separate acquisition -- the teaball makes me happy for two weeks, and still does when the mug feeds my nesting instinct. Getting and perceiving them all at once might have been overloaded, might have turned me abacadabra into a suburban, minivan-driving soccer mom of four. God forbid.

This tea which I perceive differently in each of two languages smells the same in both: dry, leafy, and like fine powder. The green in this room corroborates the taste, from the dragontree plant next to the currently-Rachmaninov speakers, to the philodendron-in-chianti-bottle on the windowsill whose functional double-convex lens shows every car that drives by upside down and backwards, Rebecca's baby, and Eve's rescued little sprouting thing. Tree leaves out the window on Chestnut Street reflect the chlorophyll.

Taking pleasure in the greenery, das grünes Aussehen, while I can barely type and can't play viola due to wrist pain these past few days. Considering the Dvorak layout and ergonomic keyboards; am icing and taking breaks and precautions. Drinking tea when I can't do anything but cry.

It all boils down to a question of leisure.

During the school year, despite all best intentions, there is never time to really learn. Articles, if we've read them at all, have been read once and partially understood. Discussions bog down in lack of preparation, as we all have other classes with equal amounts of work. Classes can seem self-indulgent or pointless, no matter how inherently interesting the material. And if you get sick, well, there goes a week of valuable time.

During the summer, though -- at least this one -- I've had time to deal with these things as they come up, and completely. I'm researching sequence comparison these days, scrutinizing articles found in books and online, taking the time I need to read through them once, glossing over the numbers and graphs, and then again, mentally parsing through the algorithms until I understand them, the abstruse indices on graph-theory realizations of these sequences, and fully comprehending the algorithms used therein. Instinctually wanting to code them in Perl, as I did all spring semester during my discrete math course, which was ultimately why I did less of that homework than I perhaps should of (why what I did do took me so long), and why my final paper enveloped not only graph theory and Perl, but also musical serialism. (Ah, synaesthesia.) Being paid to read the articles and books that closely, and then to code them into something workable! Perhaps turning it all into a thesis before the summer's out.

And, when a cold hits me out of the blue (it's summer, which is hot -- why do I get a cold now?), I have the leisure to stock up on ginger to make honey-lemon-ginger infusions, vitamin C cough drops, TheraFlu, more kleenex, tomato soup, and fresh peaches with which to coddle myself until I can ride this thing out. I'm missing no classes or work (lucky it came on a weekend), and when I'm not sleeping, I'm boiling ginger in water, reading children's fantasy chapter books, and listening to everything Tangerine Dream ever did -- I retain mp3s of it all on my computer, one of the many gifts from a German obsessed with electronic music.

all this ©nori heikkinen, July 2002

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