Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Romantically Restrained

As I continue on this wedding journey I try my hardest not to be irrational. Not to get carried away with lace and petals. And not to allow the dollar signs to cascade around me like large fluffy snowflakes as I spin in place with my face to the sky and tongue out to taste them. There are so many opportunities to get carried away and lose sight of whats important. But in my staunch rejection of flourishes of all kinds, ironically, I have lost sight of whats important anyway.

I have not let myself be excited because I am pretending to be too sensible for that.

I went to a wedding this weekend and was reminded of what matters in the few hours that we set aside to publicly celebrate our love. I remembered what should be enjoyed.

I love the unexpected conversation circles of friends and family that emerge and once you accept them, they are not stressful, they are what your life is made of. I love the exuberant life of the dance floor and the sparkling looks that are exchanged as the group undulates in all sorts of funny and surprising ways. I love the reflection that the ceremony brings out in almost everyone, the emergence of quivering tears of happiness.


There. I feel better already.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Little Reminders

I am off to sunny Florida


I will leave you with this: Precious little things that remind me of certain holidays, their arrival signals the arrival of the celebration, but unfortunately I dont really like them all that much:

Candy Corns- Halloween

Roasted Chestnuts- Christmas



I will return to blogging next Tuesday.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Word of the Day

Todays word of the day:


“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.”-Louis Pasteur (1822 - 1895)

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Painted Bride

I remember someone saying that you always get what you pay for when it comes to paint brushes. And alas! You can always touch the quality in your hand as its soft bristles, connected with inflexible strength to its reassuring handle, tickle your cheek. This tool is crucial and can make you a better artist. Paint acts differently and responds to the expensive brush as if to say, “I will submit to quality like the most materialistic bride.”

Quality costs money and almost no one is willing to give one without the other. If I were a business owner I would not want to either. But I am not, I am the quality seeking, spoiled customer who thinks she deserves better for no good reason really.

Today we went to talk to the music vendor for our wedding and I was very pleased with the meeting, they seemed to have a feel for what our style was, and what it was not. But the price is too much.

I just dont know what to do anymore, I should lower my standards and settle for something I know wont make a good painting, because I dont want to pay. But I am slowly becoming a victim of the New York wedding machine, it is pounding its forceful fist against me and repeating to me that what is beautiful and good is truth and is what I need.

But maybe its more about the painter than the brush.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Fever

We went to see a play called The Fever, that was written and performed by Wallace Shawn. It was a monologue. As he spoke in his most intense voice about poor people and material goods and the way we live, my mind raced. I cant remember all the things I was thinking about, but suffice it to say that it was thought provoking. Here are two things that I would like to mention:

One is a concept that was written in the play, not something I thought of. He said that all of his thoughts about things throughout the years could fill volumes of heavy leather bound books, but his actions were a mere thin paperback. It made me think about how if you turned off all of the sound in the world and stepped outside of it, like an objective giant, and you looked down at yourself and your daily activities on earth, what would you see? Walking a bit, getting the train, or driving your car, getting out, sitting, walking, going home and repeating. Now I know that people are capable of doing many wonderful things in that time that looks like a silent nothing, they may be saving the world person by person, but I just thought about focusing exclusively on action instead of words and how different things would seem.

He mentioned a lot about the poor. And I thought of how poor is such a negative word, and I know it is meant to be. But I wondered as he spoke of the anger of the poor, are their poor people who are content, I think their might be, but we will still call them poor. Maybe we should adjust our wording to say “no money” without saying poor. I also thought what if money was not such a divider in society, what if it was health instead. There are healthy poor people and unhealthy wealthy ones, so the hierarchy would scattered remains of its former structure. Because isnt health the measure of all things in this life anyway?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Couscous, Couscous Everywhere

Couscous has come into my life from all directions. It even felt like it was falling from the sky yesterday morning and pelting against my face, but that was tiny hail.

My maternal Grandmother was from Algeria, where couscous reigns supreme. Her father came to the United States and tried to start a Couscous factory. It was in New York and I always picture it as some dark wooden room with big hulking oily shifting machines turning out a shower of delicate fine golden granules. But whatever it looked like, the couscous factory failed. It was ahead of its time I believe.

In college my friend and I were in an advertising class and we were able to pick the product for our campaign, she picked Near East, which is a brand that makes couscous. I remember sitting on the floor of my dorm room trying to come up with something that rhymed with couscous, its already a cute and funny sounding word as if a rhyme was the only viable solution. My friend said “couscous caboose!” in a eureka moment, and in that late hour it was the funniest thing I had heard in a long time. Our laugh was like a long train that just kept rushing by, car after car of endless quaking motion.

But couscous is far from a joke for me, my mother often made it at home and when I make it for dinner now it comforts me in its starchy familiarity. It makes me feel like I am taking good care of myself, like my particular metabolism was made to process this fine food. And I think about my Great Great Grandfather and how he would have been pleased that I am still living off of this seminal semolina.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bird Man

Its aroma fills the street and changes peoples dinner plans upon first whiff. It sits in the window all warm and turning, glistening with humble goodness and flavor that will transform your house into a home. It is smaller than a breadbox but much cuter than a ham. It is the roasted chicken cooked a few doors down from the apartment. The meat jumps off of the bone and dissolves in your mouth in a bite of astonishing juicy perfection.

The restaurant is called La Embajada and the price is $7 for a perfectly roasted chicken. Every time we go in, Joe tips the man generously in smiles and dollars.

This weekend we went in and as we waited for our bird we told the man who works there, and who probably owns the place, how much we love his chickens. We gushed on and on because we wanted to and because we meant it.

He leaned over the counter and looked at us straight in the eye with an intense serious stare and told us in his softly lilting English, “Yes our chickens are the best, but they are no miracle, they come from hours of hard work. I have to watch my cooks carefully so that they do everything right.”

And there I stood loving his description and his gleaming poultry pride almost as much as I loved the chicken itself.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Orchids in our Sink

In our lab we have five orchids on the window sill. Two are currently blooming and the other three are not. They are spectacularly beautiful and most people who come into our lab comment on them. Whoever is receiving the compliment usually gives a slightly smug thank you, as if to take some credit for their loveliness. But really there is one person who worked in our lab who took care of them.

She is now working in another place and the responsibility to care for the orchids has been bestowed upon me. She wrote a very detailed protocol on how to care for these plants, but I am convinced that there is actually more to it. Since she was so good at taking care of them there were subtle, silent things that she did that were not written on the list because maybe she didnt realize she was even doing them. Those orchids just flourished uncontrollably under her reign. They have each flowered several times already and the blooms last for ages on the stem.

The other night I was watering the white Phalaenopsis that is in bloom. After I was finished watering it I let it sit in the sink to drain, this particular pot does not drain well. Then I went back to the computer, shuffled a few things around and then locked the door and left.

As I got off of the train at 14th street it hit me that I had left the orchid in the sink, which would have been okay, but the faucet leaks. The faucet leaks so much that one night I put a 4000mL bucket under it to see how much it would fill, and in the morning it was overflowing. So I panicked, I didnt want to be the one who killed the orchid. I called my boss, who I knew was still there and left a near frantic message about the orchid and could he please put it back on the window sill.

During dinner I could not concentrate so I checked my email using my phone and there was a message from my boss that he only received my message when he was at home and that it would probably be fine overnight. But I knew it wouldnt.

I convinced Joe to take a cab back to rescue the orchid. As I walked into the lab I found the orchid sitting quietly in the big black lab sink and the faucet dripping persistently, drip drip drip, but not into the pot, about one merciful inch away.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Fiction Fridays: The Scarf

It was gray and woolen. It was soft and fuzzy. It had unusually long fringes that jumped in a staccato merriment when tossled. She always received compliments on it, but she didn’t need any really. Its warmth was enough.

Winter was cumbersome though, she always wore several layers of clothing and peeled them off slowly when inside.

She sat on the edge of the orange subway seat talking to her friend, they were in a lively conversation about chickpeas, a.k.a. garbanzo beans or channa. They were on a long ride, so some winter layers were taken off. They almost missed their stop.

Penelope jumped up and ran out of the subway after her friend, scarf trailing behind her attached to her bag, sort of, but definetly not around her neck. It caught in the closing subway doors, but they didnt open up to release it. The subway took off with her scarf blowing around wildly like a frantically waving relative who was going away. And she was just as sad to see it go.

The subway was elevated at this point and so the scarf released its last tentacle from the doors and careened down into the street below. It fell fast, because it was heavy and substantial, hence its warmth.

Below stood a man and his two daughters. The scarf came tumbling down on one of the girls heads. They thought it was a riot of course, being that they were 4 and 6 years old. The father immediately picked it off of her head and started to throw it away, but the girl wailed in sadness “Noooo! Daddy Noooo!”, she cried, with her arms outstretched. So he was convinced to take the scarf home and get it washed and take it from there. And so they did.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Stress for Success

Even though in our society we try to squelch it with meditation or medication, the stress response is really a practical one. What if a lion were chasing you, a good strong adrenaline rush would be just what you needed to escape. Pity the human who is dull and slow to respond to this sharp toothed stimuli.

Stress is similar to allergies in the sense that it is an overreaction to something benign. And since I have a hearty helping of both anxiety and allergies, I know that it is not pleasant to endure a rash of violent sneezes or a heart pounding and hand quivering moment. But it means that your system, be it immune or nervous, is working and is so sensitive that it can sense a pebble in the shoe of the person next to you.

I know that anxiety and stress can be paralyzing, I know it very well actually, but in the right amount it can be a catalyst to progress. Think of the paper you wrote that took all night and had you pacing the room after each paragraph, but then something good emerged. Think of the speech you gave that turned out well. Think of the stress you were under in the interview that was a success, or the day that you aced the SATs. They were all stressful times, but you rode the wave of adrenaline right into the drivers seat of your life. Without that push, where would you be? A lions lunch perhaps.

Monday, February 5, 2007


My father sat at the breakfast room table eating his warm blueberry pancakes as the sun streamed in on a cold Sunday in February. His face is worth a thousand words, he is a complicated man and he finds it funny to feign disinterest and ignorance about topics he really knows and cares about. He wants us to agree with what he says, because he doesn’t believe it. Then he will know that our disagreement with him is pure and not obfuscated by just wanting to disagree with him. I cant imagine getting pleasure from this type of gentle manipulation, but I know he does. Above all he is a sensitive and sentimental man who loves nostalgia, but he tries to hide it. Probably because it hurts too much.

He talked about how old photographs are not worth keeping if you don’t know who the people are in them anymore. I couldn’t disagree more, which probably means I really agree with him. At the time, I didnt come up with a cogent response as to why it is important to keep old photographs of almost strangers, so I will attempt to now:

I particularly love how ordinary days that are photographed ripen over time. Sometimes you can remember having the picture taken and thinking, why did you do that? there was no occasion to capture, its just a day. Then you realize your life is a string of just days. Think of how you will feel about that photo when the other people in it are gone and then think about yourself being gone and that very photo making its way into a pile that is thrown away some day. Think of your mother and how she tried so hard to raise you and how then you tried hard because of that. And think of how someday someone, who still has her genes and maybe her eyes, will think of her as a stranger. Its just the saddest thing I can think of really, that we will all be forgotten some day. Photographs were a tremendous innovation in history and in how we remember the past. We arent just snapping away for nothing. They tell us things that nothing else can. They are often sentimental and sad or funny or mysterious, but they are never ever worthless.

But, with his drawers and drawers full of softly fading albumless photos and endless rolls of silent and quick old movies, I am sure my Dad already knows that.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Interpretation Ocean

There once was an English teacher who spoke with enthusiasm and authority about the symbolism of the name of a road in a story. The name was Gun Hill Road and it was obviously named that in the story to foreshadow the pain and death that loomed ahead in the plot. A bright young student with tight curly hair and who sat in the back looking on with skepticism raised his hand to deflate the teachers statement. He said that Gun Hill Road was really the name of a road in the Bronx, where he was from and that maybe it was named that in the story to make reference to an actual place, rather than a fictitious literary symbol that represented things.

I have always thought the above story was a funny and telling one. And I have always had a dark place in my heart for English teachers, for their baseless claims, for their grammar concerns that I never managed to follow and for their ability to accept and praise innovation only when it had been done years and years before. But in their defense, I have always had bad English teachers and I am assuming that there are wonderful, inspiring ones out there like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.

I have spent years silently scoffing at people who claim that there is one way to interpret some form of art, be it a story or a painting. Undoubtedly, I have arrived at this feeling because I never seem to see it the way the class or teacher sees it.

Recently, I was talking to someone who was reading my blog who interpreted something I wrote and we talked about how it applied to her example. I admit that I am sometimes purposely ambiguous in my posts, so as not to offend and to get to the purity of the issue without it being weighed down by particulars. But when I wrote the post I hadnt really thought of it the way she had. Now the great part about this was that someone read what I wrote and used it positively and practially for another issue.

Then I thought of how every time someone reads anything that anyone writes it is like a ship is launched going off in its own direction, and this can end up foolhardy and shipwrecked or it can discover new lands, but no one misses the boat.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Fiction Fridays: The Memory Tooth

My Dear Petri Dish,

I am sorry that I have neglected you this week. You cannot possibly be hurting as much as I am from our separation. So, lets leave off on a good note and beckon the gods of Fiction Fridays back to your empty pages in waiting.

It was half the size that it should have been. It was like something that belonged on a tiny doll or a child. On the X-ray it showed up as opaque as a bullet would have, but it was a tooth. It was smaller than anyone had ever seen of the wisdom kind, denser than a diamond and living unassumingly in the back of my own embarrassingly unexplored mouth.

The lanky and gregarious dentist broke all the privacy rules that I had just read and signed 40 minutes prior and he called his assistant, the receptionist and a priest who was sitting in the waiting room, into the room to see it. They leaned around the X-ray screen and guffawed and joked and pointed and took turns snapping back into serious error laden speculation about what it really could be. And I sat there with my mouth ajar, uncomfortably drooling and worrying all over my blue paper bib. My eyes rolled over to the screen to look again and then back to the off white wall with a pipe running down it in front of me and then up to the grey and white poc marked ceiling, no view comforted me.

When I was 3, I came to the United States with my mother who died 5 and a half months after we reached our promised land. I always like to imagine that she died of sadness, because my father was not with us, but it was probably more likely the pneumonia that the doctors diagnosed. I only remember her from pictures or stories so I live each day of my life inventing and altering the illusion of who my mother was. To not know someone who existed so close to you is a powerful gaping hole of possibility. Pictures and stories cant recreate the gestures or voice or secret things about a person, so my mind has the pleasure and pain of filling in the gaps.

The Wizard of Oz like collection of people in the dentists room dispersed after a few nosy, chatty minutes and got back to what they were doing, probably not thinking ever again about my quiet tiny tooth. The dentist half-heartedly apologized for the commotion and shook his head while marveling again at my tooth. The session wrapped up with some serious no-fun talk of other teeth and I went home.

That night I had a dream about my mother. I dreamt that she was in the waiting room at the dentists office and when called in to inspect the curiousity in my mouth, she smiled knowingly.

Even though we werent pulling into New York harbor on a crowded boat into a depressed society, we were immigrants. The same infinite awe and bottomless fear clutched us tightly as we landed in JFK as had when throngs of people arrived via Ellis Island at the turn of the century. Our belongings were slim but important and our hearts strong. My mother wore a bracelet strung with alternating ivory beads and scarlet wooden ones. I pulled and plucked it as I fidgeted in my seat. Beads went spilling all over the asile and I laughed and laughed while my mother frantically tried to clean them up and not draw any more attention to us. A few beads were still in my hand and I promptly gobbled them up, as any 3 year old would. As she scooped up what seemed like hundreds of beads from the thin and industrial airline carpet my mother glanced over to see my newest attention getter and without hesitation she stuck her fingers in my slimy mouth to get them out. She got two out, but there were three that went in.