february, 2004

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 continue.

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 solitary dinner.

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 dancing.

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 about me.

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 my hands.

all this ©nori heikkinen, February 2004

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