For the past three years, I’ve taken the train to go visit my family in the summer and at Christmas time. It’s a 21-hour long ride. I’ve learnt through bitter experience that it is impossible to sleep until past dawn, and then only because you’re completely knackered. There always seems to be a character on board who compulsively needs a drink of water, the restroom, a visit to the dining car or a chance to stretch their legs, regardless of the hour.

I used to pack heavy reading in my carry-on, thinking that a long ride would afford me all the time I needed to finally get to grips with ____________. But serious reading requires serious concentration, and that person in seat 31 just got up again to stomp past my seat and to open the door leading to the next train car, letting in all the noise of metal wheels clanking over metal rails.

Some time ago I struck upon a different strategy, which is to read a couple of Harlequin novels I’d bought at the grocery store the day before my trip. This plan has worked out brilliantly. I am very pleasantly distracted from my surroundings, so that when the cabin attendant kindly comes by to hand out little pillows, I barely acknowledge him : “Attends un peu, le duc Pressé est en train de foutre Mlle Volontiers….;” By the time the sun is up and we’ve crossed state lines, I am fast asleep with a bemused smile on my face.

While I’ve recycled the novels themselves, I can’t quite do away with the book covers. Instead, I’ve trimmed and pasted them on to my bedside table. Pour vous faire plaisir, j’inclus cette photo:

Proceeding from the top row to the bottom and from left to right in each case, my collection thus far includes: “One Night with a Sweet Talking Man”, “Angelo’s Captive Virgin”, “The Tutor”, “His Mistress, His Terms”, “Mr. Cavendish, I Presume”, “Twelve Gauge Guardian”, ”Unlawful Contact” and “Bedded by Blackmail”. My table is a little less than half full, and I will be traveling again. Lurid covers and amusing titles are welcome if anyone can spare the thought.



Ezra, the question with which you end your post on food reminds me of Natalie Merchant, whom I saw perform two weeks ago on the last night of the West Chester Poetry Conference in Pennsylvania. There was an interview with her in the afternoon, during which she talked about her newest album, the one she sang from. Its lyrics are all poems (mostly all old-ish) and nursery rhymes, and the melodies (she says she can write melodies till the cows come home, but lyrics kill her) are catchy and varied. I bought the CD before the concert, and haven't regretted it; I've been listening to it on repeat for weeks as I prime backings and hang paintings and clean up leftover debris in our house from the art show that I just put up. I have a number of new poems to love from that CD, though they're hard for me to read now (I want to sing them). One of my favorites is this, by Ogden Nash (written for his daughter):

Adventures of Isabel

Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel, didn't care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear's big mouth was cruel and cavernous.
The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
How do, Isabel, now I'll eat you!
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry.
Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
She washed her hands and she straightened her hair up,
Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up.

Once in a night as black as pitch
Isabel met a wicked old witch.
The witch's face was cross and wrinkled,
The witch's gums with teeth were sprinkled.
Ho, ho, Isabel! the old witch crowed,
I'll turn you into an ugly toad!
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry,
Isabel didn't scream or scurry,
She showed no rage and she showed no rancor,
But she turned the witch into milk and drank her.

Isabel met a hideous giant,
Isabel continued self reliant.
The giant was hairy, the giant was horrid,
He had one eye in the middle of his forhead.
Good morning, Isabel, the giant said,
I'll grind your bones to make my bread.
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry,
Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
She nibbled the zwieback that she always fed off,
And when it was gone, she cut the giant's head off.

Isabel met a troublesome doctor,
He punched and he poked till he really shocked her.
The doctor's talk was of coughs and chills
And the doctor's satchel bulged with pills.
The doctor said unto Isabel,
Swallow this, it will make you well.
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry,
Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
She took those pills from the pill concocter,
And Isabel calmly cured the doctor.

Merchant's inspiration for this approach to an album came in part from raising her daughter, now seven, and I am delighted with it partly because it is a creativity so rooted in passing something on to someone, for the love of it. I'm asking your question, too, Ezra; who am I going to pass things on to? Maybe partly to memorialize myself -- but also just because the things are good! And there are so many of them, and they are so worth passing on. Maybe I will still have children; but if not, I want to make sure I live a life that is intentional about passing good things on. And for the record: I like your egg-and-cheese sandwich preparation approach. With a patiently unbroken yolk and the cheese melted open-face, it might be nearly perfect.



One can always talk about food. One can always talk over food. One can always let oneself not-talk when one is eating.

I have just finished reading "Letter from Istanbul: The Memory Kitchen" in the April 19, 2010, New Yorker. Though I work in a restaurant, I have at no point seriously entertained making food my life. I mean that I haven't really thought about becoming a food writer, nor have I thought about pursuing any more formal training in cuisine than my current work. I'm not about to head off to culinary school, and I'm certainly not going to pursue a degree in food sociology. I won't even move to another restaurant to learn another cuisine.

And yet I am moved by the idealism of many chefs. In this case I have in mind Musa Dağdeviren, the subject of the article I've just finished. He argues that good cuisine, interesting cuisine, reflects geography (as opposed to ethnicity, e.g.). He argues that it reflects culture. His three restaurants in Istanbul serve dishes as they are made elsewhere in Turkey; and when he travels to buy gathered herbs or female turkeys, he asks people what they serve at weddings, what they serve at funerals, and so on.

These questions are part of what caught my attention. What is the scope of my own eating? I can answer easily about love for diner food and the ritual breakfasts I have with friends at different establishments, but the more revealing answer would reflect what I do in my own kitchen, even if I don't gather my own ingredients or often bake my own bread.

Tonight I melted butter in a pan and put two slices of (bought) whole wheat bread down to brown. I poured pre-shredded cheese onto the slices of bread, then put them together. I put the sandwich in my toaster oven to melt the cheese through, and in the hot little pan I fried a single egg, which I later put in the sandwich. The whole process was inelegant. I had to pry the sandwich open after melting it shut, and I wasn't patient enough with my fried egg: I accidentally broke the yolk. Yet the result was mine. No one has ever taught me to make and egg and cheese sandwich just that way.

Whom, if anyone, will I teach?


Bad Accent, Good Gag

Courtesy of Theresa. And no, I did not ever think this was actually Werner Herzog...

M. C. Hammer Slide, XKCD


She Seemed Slightly Unnerved to Discover Me in the Trash

In Oregon, the lilacs are blooming; in Ithaca it snowed two days ago. My friend Steve Froehlich told me about the snow, and added that he had been dumpster-diving in it. In response to my asking whether he’d converted to freeganism, he told me the story below. Sheryl is his wife; he himself is a Presbyterian minister, six feet tall and broad-shouldered, with a mop of reddish-brown hair and pale blue laughter-filled eyes. And Karl is a mutual friend, the perfect straight man.

“Sheryl stopped by the recycling dumpster at the apartment complex up the street yesterday morning to make a contribution on her way to work. Somehow... somehow... (talk about straining a brain to figger out)... she threw in her Garmin super watch GPS computer exercise calculator that calibrates data from her heart monitor and bicycle to create holographic charts of her workout sessions all to the accompaniment of Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto. Yes, it's expensive. Yes, she's quite attached to her little digital friend. Yes, she was undone. So, she called me from the office to explain her plight, and I immediately set out to retrieve it. It was snowing -- weird wet glooppy snowflakes that had managed to get the contents of the dumpster cold and slackered together. I saw no alternative but to get into the dumpster to look for this lost treasure. I pushed my way through cardboard and lots of other things that are not easily mistaken for paper products but were in there anyway. With the wind blowing proudly, it was like I was trapped in a windtunnel with all the trash sucked up by the wind and swirling all around me.

After an hour of unsuccessful hunting, I gave up, but not before a woman walking her dog came up to make a contribution. She seemed slightly unnerved to discover me in with the trash. When I stood up, doing my best to be cheery and nonchalant, I started to explain that we'd lost something and I was trying... but she turned and walked away before I finished -- clearly she wanted no knowledge of my presence to trouble her consciousness.


Karl is of the opinion that I now have enough chips to cash in that will last me well into next year.”

[Note to the curious: Steve went back for more systematic diving later, and after fully clearing the second corner of the dumpster, discovered the Garmin.]