Sat Mar 6 18:20:59 EST 2004
Surveying the ends of the daylight around me, I find a ginger cake,
just taken out of the oven, its sour cream measure rounded out by
yogurt and lemon juice, its vanilla augmented by almond; a New Yorker
excoriating Nader in the most articulate and logical of terms; a
Bon Appétit presenting images of dream kitchens -- but I think
I'm switching to Cook's Illustrated, which has more recipes and
less glossy consumerism. I began the morning with scones, only six to
a batch to match my appetite (engorged over six months of marathon
training), feeding Claire and Philip off to a dog show, two Howard
students and prospective tenants waiting for the landlord in the rain,
whom we invited up to tea.
A peaceful grey, waking up with only reflected and cloud-filtered
light in my boudoir-orange bedroom. Rain intermittently throughout
the morning, thankfully vertical so we could keep the windows open and
the curtains (white) billowing, only turned into sun as I was leaving
for a massage after lunch. Only a tank top, no sleeves. Calvino in
my bag (slow reading; thick like poetry). The masseuse affirmed my
perception of my relatively high pain threshold for muscle massage;
calves and back relaxed with lavender oil unlike anything ever
possible in a circle of choirgirls loosening up before a concert in a
Madison church or Brazilian park, unlike even that of someone more
familiar with your body than a fellow alto.
This has been the pervading vibe of the past week -- Wednesday night,
cranking out code to supplement and wrap that which should have
arrived with the tools we'd licensed, visions of black bean soup and
frozen lime margaritas started dancing in my head well before I'd left
work. Beans had soaked since morning, then boiled a few more hours;
with the aid of my new blender (even without its slightly-too-skinny
plastic top insert, already sacrificed to its voracious blades), I
added tablespoons of cumin and teaspoons of cardamom and cayenne; let
Claire minister to the tequila and triple sec. (Some things must
remain a mystery; if I know about the Tooth Fairy, I at least don't
want to know about margaritas.) Swished like the billowing
evening-breeze curtains in my yellow graduation skirt.
Or last Sunday afternoon, just having run the marathon that morning.
My god, what a twenty-six-point-two miles! Eighteen were fine, beautiful even, with no
knee pain (thank you, tropical New Orleans deities!); around twenty I
started feeling a deep tissue bruise forming in my right foot. But I
was finishing, dammit. Lindsay and I crossed the finish line in the
Superdome with my watch reading 5:45, our ankle chips registering
5:57:21.8 -- then both limped the extra mile back to the hotel, she on
her girlfriend's arm, me on photographer-for-the-day Russell's. Coach
Fred just flabbergasted. Asked me over a half liter of beer that
night (on the upstairs level of the Crescent City Brew House! the
sadists) how I'd done it, and I think I just grinned and muttered
something about tenacity. That afternoon, however, I could barely
walk on my right foot -- hobbled the two blocks around the corner from
the Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street to Conti Street, to the only café
in town with a "VEGETARIAN-FRIENDLY" sign in the window
and a "VEGAN" sticker on a bike chained outside: La
Fée Verte. Spent that painful afternoon and the next drinking
white wine as the diaphanous green curtains blew in off the French
Quarter streets, writing postcards, eating sandwiches, reading the
Times (of New York, not Picayune). White wine on spring afternoons
... I need to remember that.
Martinis last night on Soussi's patio, watching the first warm Friday
night of spring roll by on Adams Morgan's 18 Street. Olives.
This afternoon in the waning sunlight, I crossed the block to the
Watha T Daniel branch of the DC public library, finally applied for a
library card, and found the small children's section upstairs where I
rediscovered Tomie dePaola, and checked out a book of Finnish fairy
tales for reading aloud. And now, two pieces of cake and my third cup
of black tea for the day. I deserve it; I've run a marathon.
Thu Mar 11 12:48:32 EST 2004
Though the sign still says "CAUTION: DEMOLITION IN
PROGRESS," they're finished destroying the building next door
to StreamSage. This means they've taken down the boards over the
windows that used to face the side of the abutting brick building, now
in rubble in the lot next door -- and that sunlight streams into the
south-facing offices (the founders', the adults', and the server
room). I wandered in to the room that Kirsten shares with the servers
around noon, as a patch of sunlight was making its way across the
floor, next to the new rack of SR servers. Curled up in it; took a
Reminiscent of the afternoon Steinway
in Lang at Swarthmore, how I'd curl between figured bass exercises
up on the quilted piano cover and doze in the pools of sunlight on the
wooden concert hall floor. And time to think, as I drifted into a
light nap, about how I miss the music.
As Colin and I talk around each other, getting to know each other,
questions come up to which I don't have good answers. Such as the
perennial: If I love music so much, if it always tops my list of
things I need to do for the rest of my life, then why am I not
pursuing it actively? And I don't know. This has been a question
up through college, when I was unsure what to major in, and able
to keep putting off plans of music school or more serious study until
the great After College. It was never a conscious decision to focus
on one side of my brain or the other until senior year, when it became
apparent that I needed to just finish my majors, but I was still missing it. I even got to play last spring -- sidelining it
in favor of two-thirds of the CS major and a thesis, but rationalizing
it into a corner with the excuse of the impending B.A.
But now -- the past nine months, all of a sudden -- I'm here.
Graduated, with no excuse to not be doing what I love. And why does
my viola only come out once or twice a month, to play some Bach, or
when I meet a fiddler from a
bluegrass band? The comfort level, the ease of my current
situation, has a lot to do with it. But at what point does it become
imperative that I follow my purported dreams, and do it now?
* * *
(That's not quite fair, I realize after a few hours' thought.
Privileged to have had the education I have, ensconced in academia and
all things left-cerebral, it's not an easy decision to reject all that
in favor of a unilateral right brain existence. What I need, and what
I've had relatively comfortably up until graduation, is a balance
between the two -- a perilous and frustrating, yet ultimately better
than either-or, seesaw.)
Mon Mar 15 14:01:23 EST 2004
The boy makes me think. I like that about him. Can't tell if,
grand-scheme, it's indicative of the age gap (seven years eight months
exactly), some delta in perspicacity, or merely my relative unsurety
about the five existential W-questions; i'm not yet too worried about
the disparity of who's asking whom what.
Draws distinctions, such as: when mentally occupied at work, I stop
thinking about running away to conservatories; when not, I chafe and
keen over lost Bach.
Hits nails on heads -- mentally posing me sipping Mediterranean
breezes and coffee in Cinqueterra; eating avocados and playing viola
in San Francisco. Tells me places he knows I'd like.
And, ironically, it throws into sharp relief just how transitory of a
town this is, how itinerant its denizens. Including me. No idea
when I'll be going, or to where, but with a timestamp and expiration
on everything within ten square miles, it seems inevitable. Could
never settle here, anyhow ... met a girl drinking wine at a gathering
of science fellows and friends Friday night who'd gone to UW-Madison.
Something about her which I failed to accurately pinpoint reminded me
very much of Madison, and contrasted starkly with the East coast. I
can't live at this pace forever -- mentally, yes; with this kind of
hamster-treadmill ethos, no. Makes me wonder what the West is like.
Music leads starting to come in, from me having extended feelers out
as far as I know how (squeaky wheel ...). Met a flutist at a brunch
two weekends ago; a co-worker's housemate plays chamber music locally;
a violinist Colin knows ... I'll follow them up and see where this
Despite being sick this weekend, I utterly failed to eliminate dairy from my diet. Quite the
opposite, actually -- Jaime (with whom I haven't spent any quality
time in far too long) and I put together my first venture into the
Kaffeehaus cookbook I'd gotten in September, a
Mohngugelhupf, poppyseed bundt cake, with three-quarters of a
cup of ground poppyseeds secreting their oils into the batter. Oh my.
Slice of Vienna.
Cheese, in the theme of my sick-but-non-vegan weekend, smothering a
galette at one of those lovely partially-French establishments
on the Adams Morgan strip Sunday morning, sharing a cappucino and
hefe-weiß with Colin. My body taking over my brain, reällocating all
available processing power to deal with combatting sickness, emitting
a nominal fever, not leaving much for conversation, leaving a slight
imbalance in the interaction. Tonight, curling up on a couch.
Sun Mar 21 10:30:51 EST 2004
I don't usually do the shoe thing. This means I do not have
seventeen pairs of heels in my closet, one for every color in the
rainbow and day of the week; I do not usually derive pleasure from the
pursuit and purchase of a new pair. Oh, I've got some -- enough, I
would say: my Birkenstocks (the one sandal I've worn for years); my
clogs (after the leaky Naots
became unusable (they're still unpatched), the one cold-weather shoe
I've worn since their acquisition
last winter; the so-called "clunkers" that my mom had for years
when I was little, that I
re-purchased two years ago in orange; pink tennis shoes gotten ostensibly for a Paul van Dyk
show which I now wear everywhere; three pairs of running shoes.
But I feel justified in the last, since I ran a
That's a reasonable closetful, I would contend. But there's one
significant omission -- anything respectable to wear. To concerts, to
events, to anything where people Dress Up. Usually, I'm on the
performing end of things. I've had a pair of china flats in my viola
case for years that I would just slip on right before the show. (They
too are now broken; I suppose I need to invest another $4 in a
replacement pair.) But I have this idea in my head that "respectable"
somehow means "heels." I could be wrong, but that's what Jaime wears
to her hot-shit NTI job, and if anyone I know is a bastion of style,
So Wednesday, when Colin called me to invite me to a low-key shindig
on the Hill, I ended up declining, due to lack of things to wear.
It's not just the shoes -- I have maybe one outfit that I can wear
outside of my apartment, my normal life, and StreamSage, which I
bought for interviews at the end of senior year. And the pants don't
even really fit anymore, after this marathon and my eating to match!
But I managed to boil it all down to that, rationalize that, if I had
a pair of decent shoes, I could have gone.
So, in response to my I'm-feeling-lonely call yesterday, Jaime helped me put a cake in the oven, and then took
me shoe-shopping. The goal, of course, was to come away with either a
better idea of what I was looking for, and/or a reasonable pair of
shoes. Instead, I happened into a pair of orange, close-toed,
heeled Nine West sandals. So sexy. So not what I was
looking for. But they -- or, let's be fair, getting out of the house,
and chilling with a good friend -- actually perked me up.
Walked all over town last night in my new heels, to Emi's
sushi-and-champagne birthday party, stopping to admire the hems of my
jeans hanging down to just the right length over them, and gawk at my
reflection looking at her shoes. Who have I turned into? Jaime
coaching me on how to walk, where to place my feet, how to move my
hips. Whole fucking new world. And this morning, I've got blisters
to show for it. This on top of my deep-tissue bruise from the
last eight miles of the marathon, that which caused me to hobble from
café to brewery in New Orleans and through airports on the subsequent
days; on top of the stupid injury incurred while running across a
street in my clogs after a pint of Yuengling at an Irish pub with
Jaime and Claire, post an amateur but still powerful Vagina
Monologues at Georgetown Law Thursday night -- the opposite foot
of course, and I haven't been able to run since the 26.2 miles.
Endorphin low and I'm not taking it well.
How do women do this? Why do women do this? Argh, but they
look good. I'm such a girl.
Sat Mar 27 16:03:14 CEST 2004
There's probably not enough caffeine in my system, and I know there's
certainly not enough in Mom's; she's dozing in what is clearly her
chair in this Cairene apartment near the American University that she
shares with Maha: rickety elevator reminiscent of those original-installations in Vienna
manned by a cheerful Mustafa, impressed (or at least pleasantly
surprised) by my sabah an-nur response to his two-p-m morning
salutation today; water heater you plug in and turn on; gas stove with
matches to light the burners, on which Mom has already twice made me
Tunisian mint tea that she learned from a Tunisian ex-boyfriend, whom
she apparently dated in Paris on her first Fulbright (she's now on her
third), and about whom she's already twice refused to tell me
anything. Or I could still be tired from having taken a train to New
York yesterday, eaten a green shake (bananas, almonds, soy milk, and
spinach) and fantastic seitan at the très chic gobo with Anna,
flown overnight to Zürich, from there to Cairo, waded through an solid
wall of people at customs to obtain a visa (hey, I didn't realize I
needed one of those!), been stuffed with food, crashed, and then have
been touring the Citadel all morning. That or the lack of caffeine.
Mom's friend's sister's husband A'atif picked me up at the zoo of an
airport, drove us back in a seatbeltless car in the zoo of traffic
into a tiny zoo of a neighborhood not even on my Cairo map, to a tiny
but well-furnished apartment shared by him, his wife Minaal, and their
daughter Hadir. Minaal had prepared more food than could feed an
entire Mumlak army at an iftar, and plied me and my mom with
stuffed grape leaves and stuffed what-I'm-guessing-was-okra, fresh
strawberry juice (the Arabic word for which I recalled from Stephen
Hatfield's Ya Faraoule), homemade chips, fruit salad, and more
kinds of baqlawa and general halwa than I had any idea existed.
And only then came the Turkish coffee (an Egyptian specialty, but
prepared differently than Mom learned in Lebanon, on her second
Fulbright), tea, cake, and crème caramel.
I'm embarrassed that I don't know more Arabic than I do. This is the
first time I've been such a tourist, unable to even ask for water if I
had to (hm, should probably look that word up) -- even in Japan with
WYSO six years ago, I crammed enough of the syntax (and, more
importantly, lexicon) into my head to manage the niceties; here, I'm
lost. The eight weeks I had at the Middle East Institute were
useless, the instructor without much formal knowledge of his own
native language and no idea of how to run a class -- and so here I am,
and I can say "good morning," "thank you," and "nice to meet you," but
not "goodbye" or "excuse me." Laughable, really. So yesterday,
A'atif drilled me on numerals, I learned how to say kwais awi
("very good," which I used on everything they fed me), and I almost
wanted to sign up for more semesters of the language (but this time
maybe at the USDA!). But I settled for consuming a plate of grape
leaves and all the baqlawa I possibly could, smiling, and repeating
shukran. A little gets you so far, really. My eager
ahlan to everyone Mom introduces me to has earned me many
kwais awis already, and it's clear they like to see someone
trying. But I'm the one who picked up most of German in six months!
Wasn't I supposed to be at least telegraphic by now? Ya'nii,
but that was Indo-European, a common sound system, and familiar
alphabet. Maybe I'll have to do more Arabic, if only for
Dinner with Paul tonight. I'm looking forward to more fantastic
Tue Mar 30 22:35:03 CEST 2004
Going to an opera in Cairo was probably a silly idea, but what with
six Egyptian pounds to the dollar and tickets for Tosca at 25
pounds, it's almost as cheap as standing room in Vienna. Nowhere
near the caliber, though, as I would have anticipated had I thought
about it any more. Anticipating the vacation, it had felt like a
familiar point in an unfamiliar week; after three days in the city, it
felt silly to be putting on a sleeveless dress (not wanting to attract
any more attention than I already do here, I covered my arms),
borrowing hose, and donning my new orange
heels for a walk through the uneven pavement of the island in the
middle of the Nile. And the production itself was kind of silly -- a
mixture of locals and Italians, none sang convincingly enough nor
acted with any feeling at all. The orchestra wasn't always in tune.
Never quite out, but not always on. The tenor fat and fatuous, and
overdramatic, ruining even the glorious E lucevan le stelle.
Oh well. Supertitles only in Arabic, of which Mom understood more
than she did Italian. Alhamdulileh for program notes; I got
almost none of the Italian, and amused myself reading the
transliterations of the protagonists' names on the supertitles.
In contrast, Mom & I made it to the baiti 'oud al-arabi to
hear the graduation concert of a Jordanian 'oud student
studying under Nasser Shama. Despise the ambient Arabic rock music
from a wedding reception outside, he played admirably -- and
apparently his jury thought so, too, publicly awarding him highest
marks after he'd finished.
Other than music in Cairo, Mom has been taking me all over the city --
mostly in cabs that cost anywhere between three and 10 pounds ($0.60
to $1.80) from Midan Talat Harb (near Mom's flat, and near
El Abd, the fantastic bakery from which I've been stuffing
myself with baqlawa) to anywhere in the city. Ludicrous.
Mosque after mosque, covering my head with my jacket this evening as
Mom talked us into the closed-for-evening-prayers, 9th-century
Al-Azhar. Striking up a conversation with every cabbie, the felucca
operator on the Nile this afternoon, every salesman from whom we
consider buying, every shoe-taker at every mosque -- which often seems
to get us in where we wouldn't otherwise, and gets us prices still
higher than than an Egyptian might be offered, but definitely less
than would initially be offered a complete foreigner.
I'm also being introduced to all Mom's teachers and fellow students at
the AUC, all of whom love her. Such a good student, they exclaim!
and they're so happy to meet binti Noori, about whom they've
hear so much! (Makes me wonder what kind of family laundry gets aired
in conversation class ...) Met her colloquial teacher today, who's
apparently one of the first people anywhere to be teaching Egyptian
spoken Arabic via a systematic and linguistic approach, as opposed to
a jumbled set of changes from the fuSHa, so-called "standard"
Arabic, which is what everyone is -- illogically -- first taught.
Almost makes me want to get a Fulbright to come over here and help
Sharifa write the first linguistically complete grammar of
the spoken 'ammiyya.
But I could never live here, I think. The role of women alone drives
me crazy -- the ratio of men to women walking alone on the street; the
head-and-neck-covering hijab and the less-frequent face veil;
the yells I get on the street; what I can and can't wear. The pure
harassment is not more than I get on the streets of DC in the summer,
but the stares are worse. You'd think they'd never seen a woman
before -- and to some extent, I suppose they haven't. Mostly the
comments come from behind, as I pass them: You look like a movie
star -- What do you want to buy, my heart? Will you buy my heart?
(this from a teenager keeping shop at the Khan al-Khalili) --
I have never seen anything as beautiful as you -- I like your
sunglasses, very nice -- and the benign, yet from a group of
twentysomething men, as I passed looking at my watch -- Ehh .. can
you tell me what time is it?. Since they can't see my face at
that point, I usually just crack up and keep walking.
But between that and the unending stares! And I'm dressed as
modestly as any Egyptian girl. I can't deal with it; it makes me
want to not even venture out on the street, knowing I'll be on display
(and my life in danger, what with this damned traffic) every time I
do. I vacillate during the day from complacently ignoring it to
wanting to scream in the face of the next man who asked me a question
or comments on my damned sunglasses. So far, the latter impulse has
always passed by the time the next boy who thinks he's Allah's gift to
women says something in my direction, but I could never live here for
fear that I'd punch one of them and get in a street brawl with people
twice my size. The West, for all its flaws and subtle sexist cultural
mores -- however much I may be a prisoner in a much more insidious
form or institutionalized repression -- is never this infuriating, or
at least not on a daily basis.
all this ©nori heikkinen, March 2004