march, 2005

Wed Mar 2 19:20:00 PST 2005

Topography! I think I yelled at Emily a few days ago, maybe my first here, upon seeing the hills to the east. Not rolling little hills like I've always pictured English moors must be, but a huge cascading wall blocking off all view of the rest of the country.

And today, actually up in them, running with Laurel in Tilden Park, I had to stop and stare before we even got started. Hills -- but the word to me means things smaller, and more infrequent, like the hill on which I grew up, ascending monotonically from University, past Regent, and peaking past the telephone company. Or Magill Walk, the line from the train station at the base of campus to Parrish at the top, old-oak-lined and verdant or hollow-branched and snowy. Those, to me, are hills: just one, and independent of others.

Marin Avenue should have given me an idea -- the street (on which Laurel's mother and artist-grandmother, in whose beautiful house she's staying, refuse to drive) ascends in a forty-five-degree angle directly into the park. The way up only made me nervous that Laurel had learned stick two months previous; I held my breath (and only half because of the stunning view of the Bay it provided) as we squealed down the vertical slope in first.

I don't think I've ever understood landscapes before. El Greco's depiction of Toledo which I saw in Vienna nonwithstanding, looking at hills on canvas never made sense. Even in movies, filmed far away from the glacier-flattened Wisconsin or featureless DC, in which the only hill besides 13th Street on my bike ride to work had a capital 'H', I never really put together that those places must be real. The closest analog in my own life is my half a day in the Alps -- but even they were so much bigger, and in snow.

Tilden was, in that respect, completely new. Since it was too cold to stand in a t-shirt and gawk, we ran five miles and change, over cattleguards, past ravines that dipped down to the San Pablo Reservoir, only to bounce back up without a significant tumble. Winter is apparently green season, says Laurel, and the setting sun throws long shadows on the pathways the water has carved down the sides of the hills.

My first run in California. I'm slowly learning that it's all true -- this place exists, is in my own country, and I live here. Between the Berkeley Bowl's strawberries and the blindingly gorgeous pathways through Tilden Park, what reason would I have to leave? Laurel, booked for a plane back east on Saturday, is asking herself that right about now.

Mon Mar 7 24:22:47 PST 2005

Had a brief worth-my-salt moment today (though in today's market, it might be "worth-my-cocoa-powder"), wandering downstairs for tea and cookies after a pleasingly productive phone conversation (damn you, VerizonWireless, for the crap reception you deign to award me in the Bay Area! that I cannot get you on BART, nor anywhere in my house, save curled up next to the heater downstairs, trying not to sneeze at the old burlap couch!). I'd been anticipating the last of the vegan cookies neighbor Dana had brought over a few days previous ever since I remembered them yesterday, sprawled after the Urban Iditarod on the grass in Fort Mason Park, our yapping and woofing turned into the whoops and hollers of a campus on spring break, the last of the shopping-cart kegstands winding down, and green clouds accenting the verdure of the grass (in March! where am I, again?): as the sun got warmer and closer to the horizon, and as my skin turned ever so slightly pinker (in March! though, I suppose I've been burned in this month before), I hungrily recalled the cookies sitting on our counter. Four hours and four dollars' worth of Vietnamese later, much as my ravening brain still wanted spicy made-from-a-hexagon hot chocolate and dessert, my hand couldn't bring my gut to ingest any more.

And so today, having been thinking of these cookies for upwards of twenty-four hours, I was unhappy (though unsurprised, having mentioned them to fellow canine-runner Gina while sunnily supinating the day previous) to find them gone.

So, what's a vegan to do, when it's [long past] teatime, with no sugar in the house, no vanilla, and only the beginnings of a stocked pantry? Make up her own recipe, of course. Out came the maple syrup, the egg replacer, the remnants of someone's bag of chocolate chips, the Ghirardelli cocoa powder Laurel, Emily & I had picked up Wednesday previous with the intent to make hot chocolate in addition to the surprisingly-easily-veganized peppermint brownies (three cheers for flax seeds!). Into the one Pyrex casserole dish we have they went (my one mixing bowl is still at Rosemont, a couple thousand of miles hence). Remembering Laurel's variable cookies, in went warm spices; remembering Scott's mole cookies (think salsa, not the rodent) of this year's More Cookies Than God party, in went cayenne. Suzy made faces as I only loosely followed Gina's Moosewood's chocolate chip cookie recipe that I'd propped open on new-roommate Sara's french press, but then didn't hesitate to lick the batter when I emerged, two wooden spoons, one spatula, a food processor (for the almonds), and one whisk later, triumphant.

And damned if they weren't just what the matriarch ordered. Loose darjeeling in my newly-arrived teapot with a tiny ewer of soy milk completed my ritual (it's like Christmas all over again, opening all my boxes of kitchenware!). At the same time as I maintain I left DC to break out of a routine, for something different (though not, I think, to "find myself," as I was accused of this morning -- I've got a pretty good idea of where I am), my creature comforts are highly important -- and of them, tea and cookies paramount.

(This, of course, pushed dinner back until ten. That, of course, is not the point.)

Thu Mar 10 23:51:23 PST 2005

Finally, in a bed and a room of my own. Not that I've been living elsewhere than home (as I suppose the Goat House must now be called), but rather, crashing on half of Emily's boxspring, missing the futon I had to leave in DC, working under the assumption that it would have cost more to ship out than to re-buy. Turns out, might have been equivalent. Sigh. And now, a new viscose-foam crazy molding-to-your-shape futon, so far from its original Japanese etymology as to not really merit the title. But squishy ("I call this the 'ooh! aah!' futon," said a salesman up on University and Sacramento, "because that's what people say when they sit on it."), mine, and in my now-purple room.

Yes, the trim needs doing. Yes, the white may need another coat. But damn, it's about time to move in. shoji lamp So, my new Japanese shoji lantern I bought from the first first futon store illuminates the thin linen curtains that used to hang down onto Joanne's stolen couch in the DC apartment, now jerry-rigged up on nails until I finish painting the trim and can conceive of a more permanent solution.

I'm enjoying, I think, this frictional unemployment. It's the first time in my life I've been able to take time off -- not just summers; not just weeks of vacation; not just weekends -- unstructured, unagendaed, leisure time. It's deeply refreshing, almost unexpectedly so. Yes, I'll find a job soon (hmm, must call temp agency), but I don't expect to hop back on the career track just any of these days. It's lovely to have projects to fill the mental space: the room, which began an unexciting and ill-executed dark red, is now a deep, blue-y eggplant on more exciting planes than the previous poor excuse for an interior designer had seen fit to cover, the white surfaces a warm linen. The kitchen needs a massive design overhaul, as could my résumé. I need to start playing again.

But all on my schedule. Nowhere to be; no one to answer to save myself (and my wallet, eventually). And no end in sight but the sun, lambent into the bay.

Tue Mar 15 16:27:46 PST 2005

In Nomad, again -- lovely Nomad, with its strong, free wireless, environmentally sound composting and recycling, cushy chairs, vegan cookies, and unobtrusive-yet-hip music. Coffee. Emily's tutoring a table away, walking a high-school junior through the SATs; I've just returned a six-foot stepladder to the only-in-Berkeley tool-lending library, shouldering the linear beast four blocks north, next door to where Joanne and Annaliese and I had an early Thai brunch Sunday morning, admiring the koi and the food.

It's nice to get out. Not that I've been cooped up recently, but rather occupied enough with home-bound tasks

Thu Mar 17 23:44:54 PST 2005

Standing outside IKEA (conveniently only a ten-minute drive south, as opposed to the schlepp-across-the-Beltway, 40-minute hike to the one outside DC), guarding new shelves, nighttables, and baking staples containers as I wait for Emily and Gina to pull the car around, I remember that, in all the day's excitement (a good three hours at a temp agency, earning some ridiculous, Microsoft-certifiable score on a PowerPoint exam -- a piece of software I've never even touched; scoring a miserable forty-eight words per minute on a typing exam because they couldn't figure out how to switch the keyboard layout to Dvoark for me; feeling all the while like a fraud because my fast-fading-orange hair is pulled back and I'm wearing one of the two pairs of "nice" pants I own -- in short, looking like a respectable, employable adult) I haven't had dinner. Simultaneously (but perhaps a split-second later, triggered by hunger?), I remember that I've just purchased a jar of the best thing IKEA sells -- not cheap chairs (which would require one big jar!) or the excitement of setting up a new living space (which would be hard to bottle), but lingonberry jam.

A split-second after that, I remember the one implement I always carry with me: a spoon. This one, in the pocket of my vest (this quickly-acclimated-to-the-local-climate ex-Wisconsonite seems to think it's chilly at night out here), came from a box of tea I got in Egypt, pocketed while Mom steeped mint into the tea and refused to discuss old lovers -- and is perfectly sized for the diminutive lingonberries. I break the seal and then break the smooth skin of the jam, feeling a rush of salivation as soon as I see the first berry surface. They taste like Thanksgiving at Sankt Ägyd, at least for the first bite.

But the sensation necessarily diminishes with each bite (I've now eaten away almost the entire surface, leaving a pocked berry minefield instead of the a placid fruit pectin sea that greeted me). Disregarding the hour (it isn't too late out East yet), I call Chris, as I must for any transcendent food experience. This is not quite the level of the vegan gelateria that six or so roommates and crashing guests (Annaliese from high school in from Cleveland; a college friend of Gina's; housemates) trooped up Shattuck for on Monday night, when, at 10:30 PM, having just bit into a strawberry-and-hazelnut gelato cone, I would have disregarded any time zone in the world to convey the pure Italy on my tongue -- again, and dairy-free! Only in Berkeley.

The lingonberries have now lasted through several pieces of toast with vegan, non-GMO, non-partially-hydrogenated margarine (thankfully not only in Berkeley, EarthBalance is a nationwide brand!), reminding me that I can have butter and toast and jam like I'm five, except with very grown-up jam, and through the assembly of my new nightstand. Would that I could have kept the black bedside table I found in the hallway of the townhouse/apartment building in DC -- one drawer; a runged shelf near to the ground; ample surface area -- but, like so many things, the shipping just didn't make sense. Woe. It was one of the few pieces of furniture I, blissful in my ignorance of just how much stuff actually had to move how quickly, left up until the bitter end: Colin and I downed take-out Chinese on it, balancing be-pagodaed cartons on the papaya placemat on it, as well as one piece of stemware for Jaime's going-away champagne (he belligerently drank from the bottle), with the added clutter of my iBook, then being used to click around maps of my new home-to-be. My keys and important papers stayed in the drawer; I didn't empty it out until the last possible minute.

Now, again I have a surface for my new lamp, picture of my mother, alarm clocks, odds & ends. Under it, a shelf for a basket-drawer; under that, places for the million books I always end up reading at once (currently: Persepolis 2; A Suitable Boy; Le Petit Prince; Calvino's Cosmicomics -- though the last two might have to wait a week and change, for the arrival of a specific someone to read them to me). I managed to get out with under what I think I've ever spent at a first visit to a new IKEA, purchase no new teacups, and have filled most of my needs. The lingonberry jam is perhaps frivolous. But for pocket change (even for this unemployed, eating-avocados-on-the-porch-swing girl), and for preiselbeeren, why should I resist?

Sun Mar 27 18:35:38 PST 2005

I haven't actually celebrated Easter in years. Christmas is the only one of the Christian holidays that have stuck from my Wisconsonite, Lutheran upbringing (Halloween's a stretch, that really having stuck closer to its pagan roots than its papal annexation). I never gave anything up for Lent; Mardi Gras only figured large in my mind last year, when I ran my first marathon soon thereafter, and had to avoid plastic-bead debris in the streets of the French Quarter on the way there before dawn.

Easter, I haven't celebrated since I was, oh, twelve or so, up in Ironwood, Michigan at step-grandmother Mildred's house. The grownups played bridge; my sister and I ate the sugared cereals we weren't allowed to have at home; the snow drifts in March came up past my head. Easter, we would put on pink dresses and go to church -- or, we must have; I remember the dresses, but not any actual service -- just the coming home and having Easter baskets full of chocolate eggs, and my mom's hot cross buns.

It's unsurprising that the latter is what I should remember the best, given my sense of taste and my gustatory memory. But making the hot cross buns this morning for Emily's Easter brunch -- throwing ingredients in a silver IKEA mixing bowl in the twenty minutes between emerging from the shower, giving an appreciative Colin a tour of the Goat House, new avocado-colored living room and all, and running off in a sunny morning to Thai Brunch with him and Rupa, Scott, Clare, and two never-met-before Swatties -- the specific combination of spices (cloves from the box I just unpacked last night) and currants in the yeasted dough (displeasingly risen -- I think my hairline temperature perception has atrophied since my sophomore-year bread-making spate, and the smell memories it engendered) triggered the olfactory recollection of Easter dresses and chocolate. Only having a certain kind of food on one day per year, and one day only, will do that right quick, I suppose. But to create a tangible space in which you can, if not step back in time, then at least peer up through glass more transparent than through the thick fog of a quotidian, null scent: one greased bowl with a towel over it, sitting on top of the humming dryer, slowly rising, is a direct wormhole to all my Easters past, before conscious memory set in. What a valuable portal!

My sense of smell has been so highly exaggerated, here in the floral West. With the right crosswind, I can smell the jasmine on the corner of Adeline & MLK as I cross back over from a trip to the Berkeley Bowl, wafting across to meet me. New scents of new flowers drift around the ether, asking me to relax my nostrils in a degree of comfort impossible in large cities, in which I quickly learn on which blocks to breath through the mouth. It's unlikely that my sense has suddenly sharpened, though it seems, at first blush, the only possible explanation for my sudden noticing of these scents -- not only the flowers' perfume, but the bleach of the curtains Gina whitened a few weeks ago, lingering on my hands after I twist them up in the mornings; new green paint in the living room; currants and nutmeg/cloves/cinnamon in this afternoon's hot cross buns.

All piled around the sectional couch we got off Craigslist for $25, drinking sparkling mango mimosas and with platesful of blood-orange-and-strawberry fruit salad and tofu scramble, I bite into one: Easter.

And more holidays than that this weekend! Purim on Friday (well, Thursday, but Dave was up from L.A. only at the end of the week), and, in addition to the tofu/leek, pine-nut crusted, mushroom-topped quiche, the red-cabbage-and-cranberry side Mom and I made in our Christmas cooking spree, we pulled off vegan hamantaschen, complete with a poppyseed filling and one of dried peaches marinated in port with brown sugar, good wannabe Jew that I [apparently still] am.

And now, post-brunch, in which fourteen of us (two boyfriends; one boyfriend's grad-school classmate; five housemates; two parents; a high-school friend and his roommate; two McCormicks; and three girlfriends (with some overlap, of course)) appreciated the hot cross buns and being inside from the Sunday-afternoon rain, and post an Easter egg-and-tofu hunt coördinated by the ever-cute Emily, a quiet peaceful time of full bellies. Unstressed and unstressful: the boy's arrival last night could have been way more awkward than it was, given the recent and soon-to-be intervening distance between us, but instead, even given a lost bag at the airport and not departing from his rescue until near midnight, Rupa and he and I met the belligerently-drunk Jasper (of the ultramarathoning fame) and Robin (of the moose-steak-eating fame) for yet more beer (R's first! a sub-par hefeweizen, which lovely mondegreen of "half a bison" she recalled at Thai brunch this morning), and drunken frisbee golf on the Cal campus until four AM. A tour of the house this morning only cemented the idea in his mind that I've found my natural habitat here, and when I came down for breakfast in a loudly-striped sweater, he had to laugh at my utter lack of proper DC clothes, all of which even border on the conservative side here. In short, on the surface, nothing has changed. And come what may, I love that.

Back to Google tomorrow for a second round of interviews -- in the excitement of their having found me on and a set of technical interviews on-site on Thursday, I've scarce found the time to record it all, just to jump up and down and try not to count my chickens before they hatch. To sum up: eep!

And for now, the most pleasant rainy Sunday evening I can conceive of. Friends; family; lovers: all present, happily satiated, quiescent. Surrounded by the things and people I love.

all this ©nori heikkinen, March 2005

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