Mon Feb 2 12:23:01 EST 2004
February on the East Coast has been (at least in my five years'
limited experience) deceptively warm. With only a down vest over my
sweater this morning, and not regretting my hatlessness (this
sprouting, spiked hair needs a trim!), I walked the comfortable mile
and some to work today, over a dripping doorstep that turns nightly to
an icy welcome mat, across melting trodden-down sidewalks of compacted
snow. New grass on 16th Street. Birds chirping if not singing
through my yellow curtains as I woke up later than I'd intended and
basked in the early vernal sunlight bouncing off my orange walls (ah,
Monday mornings; hard to wake up early, even for tea and a bagel in
the new toaster, having slept in the day before!).
Deceptive, however, as this must turn back into ice before a real
Spring comes. (Mustn't it?) Every night, Celsius dipping below the
x axis; I'll regret not having coat-sleeves after dark. The
grass is too early to stay. It's too early to melt. But yet, it does
this every year ... a teasing thaw, and I can't yet tell if it's
anomalous; can't remember if the crocuses that sprout early then die
in the subsequent frost that would be ineluctable in Wisconsin; am
never prepared for it.
The one part of my body that really wants spring to come, however --
not my head, which doesn't want to capitulate to these weak
Southerners' cavilling at these temperatures; not my skin, which likes
the just-been-sledding (and putting gashes in my knee, running into a
tree while tubing down a slope with Chad on Tuesday) glow -- is my iliotibial bands. Our outdoor run
cancelled this Saturday due to ice on the Arlington trail, I borrowed
Russell's [building's] treadmill and did my twelve miles indoors --
amazingly, pain-free. Approaching mile five, six, seven, and
still no sign of the familiar lateral knee pain, I started drawing
connections. All the hot fall and warm November, no pain; early
December, soreness; the coldest day we ran,
I bailed the earliest. Puzzle pieces clicking into place. A good
thing this marathon's in temperate New Orleans! Now I just need to
finish my training, increase twelve miles to twenty-six, in the
remaining four weeks ...
My legs hurt as a result. But it's a good ache, the kind that means
my muscles are reknitting themselves, stronger than before. Here's
hoping this February's warmth won't be deceptive.
Sat Feb 7 14:08:58 EST 2004
It was just breaking dawn this morning when I answered my alarm, only
in enough time to suit up (layers upon layers of Patagonia and Nike)
and put a steaming teakettle's worth of pungent tea in Claire's travel
mug, rushing out the door to the Metro. Garnering half-asleep,
sidelong glances on the train, as early commuters sleepily wondered at
my running tights and headbanded spiky-haired head. Stared down my
reflection before the doors slid open at Waterfront -- sixteen
miles, no problem. You can do this.
It's all psychological, this marathon. Which is not to say that the
frictional ligaments in my upper legs are a psychosomatic
manifestation! -- just that they, my lungs, and my aching quadriceps
comprise a surprisingly low percentage of what it takes to finish.
And today I had the right mindset for it. Yesterday's icy slush
and rain didn't bode well for the morning weather, and I doubted that the
forecast could one-eighty overnight. But by the time I had climbed
the escalator from the Metro and emerged into the sunlit parking lot
by the water, all qualms were dispelled. Sunlight. I put on my
lunettes and prepared for a great run.
Coach Fred hadn't received my belligerently optimistic email about
running the full marathon, and was surprised when I outlined my plan
for him. Widened his eyes. Said, "well, it's been done ..."
Paused, took a step back, raised his sunglasses, and said, "you're
insane, you know that?" I grinned broadly and told him that's
what my undergraduate academic advisor had said every semester when
I'd come into his office with a crazy schedule, but that I'd done it all anyhow. He
shrugged; he had no choice.
My team was shivering, and nervous about their first twenty-six miler.
The sunlight and beautiful weather had gone straight to my head like
the microbrew I'd had Thursday night, however -- On divague ; on se
sent aux lèvres un baiser / Qui palpite là, comme une petite
bête... -- and the resultant perkiness was unstoppable. A smile
slowly grew on my face as we walked past Arena, then started running,
growing as we turned onto the Mall -- at the iced-over reflecting pool
and the birds standing on it; at the blue skies (Elizabeth started
singing); at the running water breaking through the ice over the
Capital Crescent trail. Even the caffeinated energy gels we usually
grimaced to eat tasted good.
Past the nine-mile turnaround, I realized that my sunglasses were
blocking the full spectrum of light, and took them off. Held them in
my hand for a mile as I let the ultraviolet to infrared play on my
eyelids; opened my eyes as we ran through joyously muddy puddles
(easily wetting toes through the mesh shoes), seratotin flooding my
brain as the full-spectrum light glanced off every residual snowflake,
every floe in the frozen river along the wooded trail. My poor pupils
irised closed as best they could.
The sun smiled off the gold-leafed wings of the Pegasus on the bridge
at thirteen miles, foregrounding the Lincoln memorial like a burnished
penny. (I asked for a coin to put in my pocket as mnemonic.
Seventeen and a half miles and a cup of hot chocolate later, the small
flat lump against my hip reminded me to record the morning's jubilant
heliotropism.) Small lakes on the warming Mall were surrounded by new
blades of grass. I pointed it all out, wide-eyed, providing a willing
scapegoat for my team's fatigue-induced grumpiness. (Elizabeth
acknowledged as Lindsey, Drew and I peeled off at sixteen miles that
my attitude had helped.)
The coaches met us at a balloon-strung finish line in purple feathered
hats and Mardi Gras beads, stringing a medal around each of our necks.
I protested that we'd only done seventeen and a half; they protested
the idea that that constituted anything less than an accomplishment.
And even with a sore right knee, sipping a hot drink as I walked the
length of the plaza to stretch, I marvelled at the distance we've
come. Must be the weather. Must be the sunlight. Must be spring.
Tue Feb 10 13:07:06 EST 2004
Listening to »Erbarme Dich« on WCPE, I'm hit with a
visual image of my oblong chorale book, required reading for freshman
theory (Music 11/12). Probably bought it in the bookstore on one of
those exciting, first-day-of-semester sprees with parents' credit
account (and later, my own earnings) in the tiny shop of a Bookstore,
stuffed floor-to-ceiling with everything I could hope to make a dent
in during four years -- ebullient about the upcoming term; wide-eyed
at the idea of actually learning the contents of four hundred dollars'
worth of books. The optimism always wore a little thin by the eighth
week of the semester, as we learned which parts to skim and which
books could be skipped entirely and re-sold to next year's eager
freshmen, advertising unreads via hand-drawn signs tacked onto the
bulletin board opposite the store.
The one exception to this was the chorale book. Blue and rectangular;
German lyrics and titles I'd try to decipher before I learned the language.
Instead of retiring to a shelf, it lived half-time in my music locker
(bright yellow locked cubby in the direct sun; Oliver's cello and
Lisa's violin both cracked as a result during their time at
Swarthmore), and came out when I was tired of practicing the Eccles
sonata that Joe de Pasquale had given me, the Bartók
Mikrokosmos Tony had assigned, or realizing Gerry's figured
basses or trying to play the pieces
he gave us to analyze. With luck, Hollis would be around, and if
choral momentum sustained past a two-voice rendition of the rondo of
Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, we'd open to a random page of two staves,
four voices, and plunk out two parts on the piano (uprights in the
small practice rooms; baby grands squeezed into the others -- barely
enough space to think from the lowest A to highest C) while singing
the other voices.
(Or maybe I'm deliberately mis-remembering. Talking to grad student
Kristen on the Saturday morning run about
psychology and memory, she affirmed that the process of recollection
actually re-writes the memory in your brain. As this hypertext memoir
evolves, so will my memory of my life -- especially those parts of it
I never bothered to record the first time 'round.)
Not only do I want music in DC, I want
people to sing chorales with. Like Lela, with whom I opened up the
chorale book at one of Eve's drunken bring-your-own-instrument,
carolling-for-yourself Christmas parties in Bond, and proceeded to
sight-read through four or five. Like Alana, to whom I can give a few
anchors (tonic, dominant), and we can stand in the blue cement
stairwell in Lang (now painted white in my absence!), resonating out a
two-part Sacred Harp like we've been known to do from the tops of
crags at Devil's Lake (and been offered record deals by passing
hikers). Like Hollis, at whose and my duets in the wooden atrium
George used to fulminate. Like John the Swarthmore choir director,
who thought he was beginning a rote audition when he gave me some
music to sight-read my freshman fall, and upon my perfect execution of
it, took up the bass line under me; who then shared my elation as we
read through most of a motet together.
How lovely, in other words, to have the luxury to major in music. I
am done with college, it's true -- but I need for aspects of it to
Fri Feb 13 17:14:55 EST 2004
New co-worker David and I took a field trip halfway through the day
this afternoon, to the Middle East
Institute's library. I'm taking Arabic there -- so far with mixed
luck, as classes get cancelled because of snow days and instructors'
broken feet, and dealing another student who should have learned a few
social mores in middle school -- because of which I'm a member, and
entitled not only to browse the library, but check books out. I
started to feel pleased with myself that I was using my resources in a
way I never perhaps fully did in college (well, Underhill, certainly
-- there wasn't a CD nor a score I didn't touch in that library; but
Cornell I avoided like Eve does the Guggenheim: just because she's
never been in it), until I reminded myself that I have yet to get a
library card for the branch of the public library across the street
from my apartment. Which, frankly, is ridiculous. It was one of the
first things I did to establish myself in the city upon moving to
Philly the summer after junior year. I used to have my Madison Public
Library card's barcode memorized, so often did I use the telnetted
interface to place book after book on hold. A passing interest would
turn into a hold list three screens long; Harry the Automated Library
Vo-eece would call my answering machine to inform me that my books
were in, and I would crease into smiles like I would have at the sound
of a lover's voice.
I suppose it has a bit to do with money, and a bit to do with my new
bookshelf. Who was it -- Erasmus?: "If I have a little money, I
buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes."
Stencilled on the wall of Canterbury Booksellers in Madison, the café
of which used to serve hot white chocolate in bowls as big as the
French use for their cafés au
lait to me and Alana, malingering there before we had anything
from which to malinger, only Rimbaud to memorize and paint on closet
doors. Now that I have the salary to, if I want a book, I buy it. So
lovely. My mother's daughter.
And it's even more apparent these days, the filial connection.
Watching my hand moving from right to left in class, trying to mimic
the script I've seen on her jars of Lebanese bulgur; listening to the
pharyngealized Saad and Daad in my own voice that I've heard in her
throat these many years, I feel it even more.
She would love the tiny library at the Institute into which I ventured
this afternoon. It's a freestanding little garden house in the middle
of a courtyard, in one of those incongruous little bucolic walled-in
gardens in the middle of cities. Three stories; flooded with
sunlight; pretty metal ewers with fantastic scripts etched into them
on shelves above the central staircase; wall-to-wall references on
Middle Eastern languages and culture. A large table on the top floor,
on which we strewed half of their grammars and pawed through,
reminiscent to me of my voracity
last spring for German grammars. David got animated and started
explaining his first-derivative theory of inflection in Thai to me;
the archetypally prim librarian shushed us.
Linguistically edacious, ever. More reasonable this time than mooning
over the language reference section in the old Madison Borders,
soaking up what tidbits I could in an effort to rerun my putative
Chomskian linguistic mechanism on every idiom I could find, to
reëncode my brain in French, Italian, Hebrew, German, Arabic ... at
least I have a better excuse for tackling this Semitic language than
dating an Israeli for a month freshman year, and picking up enough pidgin Hebrew over winter break!
He then told me I embodied the word 'psycholinguistic'. Perhaps
salaried now, but no less crazy ...
Fri Feb 20 10:26:11 EST 2004
Seasons roll on, despite having skipped winter (it's the one reason I
can think of that I might not love California). Claire'd been taking
the Metro to work the days I walked in without a hat (mine's wool
anyway; I'm allergic to it -- not that that stopped me from buying a
small sneezy orange sweater on U St. last weekend). With the mercury
now flirting with the fifties Fahrenheit, both of us now end up
leaving the house around the same time -- me as I forget six things;
she as she combs the hair down to her hips -- and walking in. Today,
as Fourteenth came into view, Claire commented that it was just about
getting to be perfect weather for sitting in some outdoor café. Like
Sparky's, I noted, three blocks north from us, and with outdoor
tables. Pregnant pause; glance at each other (like right before we
bolted in tandem up the down escalators at Gallery Place two weeks
ago). She asks what time it is. Ditch responsibility for half an
hour and veer north, lattes with a green scarf in the sunlight outside
the cafe. Spring. Not yet weather for dresses, but I've promised to
break out what skirts I have when it is. Measuring out mornings in
coffee spoons, which I keep in my
pocket. Newspapers and passers-by. Daydreams of flowers. And the
lush strings singing Peer Gynt on the radio, the lush clarinet
in Brahms' quintet over an earlier breakfast still fresh in my mind,
as I whistle the wind part walking the rest of the way in to work --
caffeinated, anticipatory, sparkling.
Fri Feb 27 17:47:00 CST 2004
I've never been good at foreign cities by myself. And by "foreign," I
mean those on which I have no handhold, those in which my sole
function -- or primary descriptor -- is that of "tourist." (Being
here to run a marathon is consoling -- this afternoon in National,
someone asked me what all the Mardi Gras beads were about, his
expression morphed rather quickly from cynicism to respect when I
mentioned the race.) I think, to date, Seattle was the one I've done
the best in -- found coffee and a local CityPaper; tracked down a
vegetarian Malaysian joint upon seeing an ad -- but that was still
only an afternoon, pursuant to my seven hours of technical interviews
at Amazon last May. I was so
pleased with myself for having come that far in the interview
pipeline, being flown out and on an expense account, that my
self-congratulation flavored the coffee and carried over into my
There had been geeks at the table next to me, in that restaurant in
Seattle. I could have struck up a conversation. Is it a sign of my
inherent extroversion that I need to be with people to enjoy a city,
or rather indicative of my inherent introversion that I couldn't seem
to talk to them?
Jaime does cities well, or so I infer. Dropped everything and went
off to Dublin for a few days two weeks ago; ended up getting taken out
to dinner by an Irish boy, and making a group of friends while out
Compare & contrast: it took me several months in Vienna before
Daniele from my German class befriended me.
Russell walks in; kvetches about his all-day travel ordeal with a
nine-hour layover in Charlotte; we discuss the evening's plans. I've
already gone out to dinner at the Acme Oyster House with Lindsay and
her girlfriend and another couple -- which reminds me what I'm missing
back up north. He calls; I express frustrated solitude; he affirms
that we differ on this point. Not too hard to intuit, that about him,
what with his stories of Thai bars, riding elephants, breathing fire,
scaling Alaskan mountain faces ... says one of his favorite things to
do is to get lost in an unfamiliar city. It seems to surprised him
Maybe it's all context. Had I just moved to New Orleans, I'd be out
at a restaurant or at least strolling about. (A lovely crutch of an
excuse I have here, this injunction to not walk around much before the
marathon on Sunday, to rest our legs and retain calories!) Like I did
upon arrival in DC, three days (two, even?) after this June's graduation. He
marvelled too that I'd jumped right into the working world, no time
off backpacking in Europe or at least sipping mélanges at Hawelka and
dancing until dawn at sub-quay clubs lining the Danube. I began to
second-guess myself; the tentative conclusion is that he's just more
peripatetic than I. Recall that one of the polysyllables I taught the
German was "itinerant," imbued with as much opprobrium as I could
muster. And DC is just that -- a city which, by its very nature, is
itinerant. It's already worrying me.
Maybe it's partially the delta t between us that's made him so
-- the seven or eight years between him and his B.A.; the seven or
eight months between me and mine. (How is it that I once again end up
on the younger end?) Guess time will tell.
But extroverted or introverted, wanderlust or wanderless, I'm here to
run a marathon, eat beignets, and drink hurricanes. And I've got a
bunch of friends with me with whom to do it all. And for tonight, I'm
happy with a French Quarter saxophone beneath my window and a book in
all this ©nori heikkinen, February 2004