Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Would This Be a Bad Time to Talk to You About the Heifer Project?

I’m nearly done with my North Oakland survey. I’ve already covered the roughest parts of this ’hood, and now my last two walks have taken me into Rockridge, which is actually one of the tonier parts of the city. Nevertheless, I still managed to have an unpleasant interaction with some of the locals.

The two people who accosted me didn’t have any of the hallmarks of what I’ve come to recognize as North Oakland trouble. They weren’t both conspicuously wearing the same colors. They weren’t working on cars, or flagging down slow-cruising automobiles. They weren’t shaking hands at idiosyncratic intervals with people they’d just met, and they weren’t waving around money clips.

This was worse: These two, a man and a woman who both looked as though they need to seriously consider re-admitting fish, or at least dairy into their diets, were loitering outside a pet food boutique. They had clipboards and perky attitudes, and they were clearly after my money. Well, my charitable donation, anyway. I could just tell that if I said (truthfully) that I didn’t have any cash on me, they would steal something even more precious—my time—and probably shake me down for a signature on a petition, as well.

When the confrontation went down, it was far weirder than I imagined it would be. They both stepped out into the middle of the sidewalk, blocking my way. I had headphones on, but I could see that the woman appeared to be gesticulating grandly, and perhaps actually singing. When I got closer, I could hear that she was chortling in a faux-operatic voice, “YOUUUUU have the power to save WHAAAALES!”

Now, I’m not going to say I am blameless in what happened next. But I will say, in my own defense, something that I really thought everyone knew already, which is that it’s a really bad idea to bring up the subject of whales with overweight people.

Honestly, I can’t believe I even have to say this, but if you ever see a person of heft huffing and puffing her way down the street, and she’s minding her own business, just trying to keep her heart rate in the zone her trainer recommended (because, see, she’s working on the situation), please don’t get in her way. And whatever you do, do not invoke the image of an enormous mammal too ungainly to survive on land. Because believe me, this woman already has blubber on her mind, and now she knows that you do, too.

I didn’t really have time to explain about the heart rate needing to stay up, so I just barked that I needed to keep going, and dodged around them, in a manner that was perhaps a little more brusque than was called for. As I passed, I could see the two of them exchange an eye-rolling glance at each other, and I heard them snicker a little, as if to mockingly say, “Well, I guess Miss Thing is too busy for the whales today.”

Now enraged at these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed creatures, both 20 years younger and 30 pounds lighter than myself, I turned around and muttered, “I can hear you, you know!” And by “muttered,” I mean, “yelled at the top of my lungs,” because I was still listening to music and honestly could not hear anything well, least of all myself. And then I stormed off, because what else can you do when you’ve just created an almost entirely unnecessary scene in the middle of an upscale shopping district four days before Christmas?

All this is a fairly long way of explaining that I’m somewhat relieved to have the meanest streets of North Oakland behind me, but not as relieved as you might think. Because at least the drug dealers don’t make me feel fat and utterly depleted of my youthful idealism.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I’m still working on my exploration of Oakland on foot. Right now I’m in north Oakland, a rough neighborhood that, like every other part of town, does have some nice surprises.

One that I discovered recently is a storefront on Shattuck Avenue that I at first took to be a bakery—from across the street, I could see that it had a sign saying “Cakeland,” and there was what appeared to be an enormous cake in the window.

Closer inspection showed Cakeland to be an art installation by a local artist named Scott Hove, who specializes in large-scale pieces. The gallery is open by appointment only, so I didn’t go in. The part I could see through the window looked like what would happen if Louis IV and the Marquis de Sade had opened a patisserie together. There’s a lot of pink, a lot of rococo accents, and lots of little sets of fangs poking out of blobs of frosting.

I’ve said before that I like to give my thought process a little something to gnaw on when I’m walking, and I got it that day.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all my patient readers! I have not fallen off the edge of the earth, just out of the routine of posting.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a very happy and healthy holiday!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Plato Would Not Approve

When I go for a walk, sometimes I like to use it as an excuse to get some sunshine, listen to music, and empty my head for a little bit. Sometimes, though, my brain wants a little something to chew on. Often this is something I’m working on that needs to percolate in my subconscious, or else it’s something non work-related that’s on my mind.

Sometimes something presents itself to me while I’m walking. This urban koan is a good example. Not a quarter of a mile into a recent north Oakland stroll, I found this stump, which someone had taken a chain saw to and made into this pentagonal form. That’s intriguing enough—why would someone go to all this trouble to transform a dead street tree?

What really kept my mind turning during the next half hour or so was the graffiti on the stump, saying that, “Plato Would Not Approve.” What does that mean?

I took exactly one philosophy course in college. I didn’t really enjoy it, and didn’t give the readings as much attention as I did, say, lunch, which came right after (and sometimes during) this particular class. Consequently, twenty years later I tend to confuse what I think I learned in school and what I really learned from the Monty Python Philosopher’s Drinking Song . Which is a long way of saying that I don’t really know what Plato thought about much of anything except maybe whisky.

This didn’t stop me from trying, although like any good koan, there is probably no right answer, just possibilities.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

City Limits

Yesterday I had a good walk that took me through parts of three cities in 45 minutes. This probably won’t happen again, although if it does, it will be in the next week or so, while I’m exploring the extreme northwest corner of Oakland, where it meets the irregular borders of both Berkeley and Emeryville.

North Oakland is known to be rough, and it can be, but there are some good things happening in this part of town. I am right now typing this in a café that I really like on San Pablo Avenue, one that I never would have discovered if I had not been on foot in the neighborhood.

I’m also pleased to report—well, maybe “pleased” isn’t the right word; “secretly smug” is probably closer—that yesterday I noticed a distinct change when I crossed the border from Oakland into Berkeley. The Oakland side was fine and I felt perfectly safe and at ease there. As soon as I was in south Berkeley, however, I noticed a number of large men on small bicycles going nowhere and people working on cars on the street. I also witnessed one man ask another if he could buy a single cigarette from him. I see all these as signs of if not actual illegal activity, then at least a strong gray-market economy. I was relieved when my route took me back into Oakland, and the people out on the street all seemed to be on their way somewhere.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Elusive Tim Tams Spotted in Northern California

Word has it we’ve entered that most wonderful time of the year (October-March) when Tim Tams (Australia's gift to snackers) are available at U.S. groceries. So get down to your local store right away, but maybe not so much the little Farmer Joe’s conveniently close to my house because I think those ones are poisoned? You should leave them right where they are.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Naughts and Crosses

One of the many churches in north Oakland has been maintaining this display for several years, but I only just now discovered it for myself. Starting in January, the church puts up a cross for every Oakland homicide victim. It’s pretty sobering to see them all visually represented this way, and somewhat nauseating to realize that they’re actually a little short—I counted forty-some crosses but the most recent OPD count is sixty-seven murders so far in 2010.

Shockingly, this is a slight improvement over last year, when 89 people had already died violently before Halloween.

Seeing this doesn’t really make me feel much less safe because the majority of these crimes are drug- and gang-related--they occur on the same streets I walk on but in different worlds. But it sure gives me something to think about while taking a walk on a nice fall day.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Imagine My Relief

This reassuring little piece of sidewalk art is in front of a café at the corner of Alcatraz and San Pablo, in North Oakland. This neighborhood is very close to the Berkeley border. It’s pretty gritty, but also surprisingly spiritual. There are quite a few churches, but it’s not just that. There is a concentration of yoga studios on San Pablo and there are several meditation centers within walking distance of this spot. This part of Oakland may not be perfect yet, but it is certainly working on self-improvement.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Good Work if You Can Get It

Would you like an all-expenses paid trip to Japan? Of course you would. Who wouldn’t?

Super sleuth Pipi just found an article suggesting that such a free trip is possible, courtesy of the Japan Tourism Agency. Unfortunately, the article is heavy on non-essential information, like why they’re doing this (something about wanting to know how to make the country more gaigin-friendly, to use an expression borrowed from an ex-patriot friend of mine) and light on what I really want to know, which is how do I get myself invited?

If anyone finds out, please let me know. You can have the window seat on the way over.

Friday, October 22, 2010

God Will Provide (But Bring Your Own Tissues)

I’ve been in China two weeks and it’s getting to me. Or maybe it’s just Beijing, which I’ve left only once in this time. Whatever the case, the novelty of being in China is beginning to wear off and the struggle to adapt to the culture is starting to wear me down. I’m tired of the spitting and staring, I’m tired of the effort it takes to make myself understood, I’m tired of people fighting each other (and me) like animals to get on public buses, I’m tired of squatting, and I’m tired of the gritty black dust that coats everything, including my nasal passages, which have been producing something the color and consistency of a mud slide all day.

This particular evening, I realize that I am not just homesick. I am physically ill as well. I’m in no shape to have dinner with anyone, but this is exactly what’s happening. I have quarantined myself as far as possible from other diners at one of the local dives catering to backpackers, but my isolation seems attractive to an Australian man in his late twenties who asks politely if he might join me.

I have always been under the impression that all Australians are Crocodile Dundee-sized loads of fun, so I say yes without hesitation. This one, though, has an odd idea of a good time. He tells me he is about to leave the relative comfort of Beijing for a stint working as a missionary in Mongolia. He says he’ll be arriving on the steppe at about the time of year when food is starting to run short and temperatures are beginning their plunge toward a constant -40. Adding to his list of challenges, he speaks not a word of Mongolian.

I wonder how he’s going to survive when I feel like this city of skyscrapers and running water is killing me. When I ask, though, all he says is, “God will provide.”

As if to underscore the fact that this kind of statement of faith invites no discussion, he changes the subject. “Do you have a philosophy?” he asks. I don’t. I have a cold. I’m blank. “Avoid cities,” I finally say, hoping this response makes me sound like I operate on a higher plane than I really do.

He tells me that his philosophy is that, “God made us, and we should do everything we can to serve Him.” I instantly feel like the most vapid creature in China. He continues, explaining that he is compelled to bring God to the people because, “God is very, very, very good, and people are very, very, very bad.” It’s just that simple. He says he doesn’t believe that people are capable of being good on their own, and that in fact, “Left to their own devices, they become worse.”

Kind of like a cold, I guess.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Silver Lining

Several months ago, I wrote an article for Curve magazine. Between my submitting it and it’s running, the magazine was sold to an Australian publishing firm.

This immediately seemed like good news from a reader’s perspective, because I know the magazine has been struggling financially, and lately, I’d been seeing ominous signs. For example, I noticed that nobody was contacting me to ask for an author photo, or bio info—and they always run that kind of thing along with feature articles. And the magazine abruptly cancelled an anniversary party, which seemed like a very bad sign. I really like Curve and so under the circumstances, I’m glad they found a new publisher because a sale implies that someone sees a future for the magazine.

Of course, regime change also means people lose their jobs, and that’s not good. I knew that the editor I had worked with lost hers, so I worried that my article would be ignored by the new team. Happily, I just had an email exchange with the new editor-in-chief, and she said she still plans to use it.

Even better, she said that she liked my piece, and that it “rang true” to her as an Australian. What a relief! If I’d thought months ago there was a chance my article would turn out to be me telling Aussies what Oz is like, I never would have pitched it in the first place.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Of Course, the Space IS Free for WWI Vets

I found this little memorial walking along San Pablo Avenue in North Oakland. I know it’s a little hard to tell what it is, partly because I forgot my camera and had to take this photo with my crummy cell phone, and partly because it’s a sad little thing that you have to get very close to to identify.

This monument turns out to be a memorial to Oakland residents killed in World War I. In the town fathers’ defense, it was dedicated in 1921, when it’s very likely that this plot of land was not yet a parking lot. (Or located in a slum.) But now it is, and the obelisk has to be fenced off from the rest of the parking places so no one will hit it.

Is this really the best we can do?

Friday, October 15, 2010

What Just Happened Here

Nothing much; yesterday’s posting was just me doodling around, trying to write down some of my memories from a long trip I took to China in 1992. For some reason, lately I’ve been thinking not just of things that happened while I was there, but of the people I met as well.

China in 1992 was not a destination for everyone. You didn’t just find yourself there because, say, your Eurorail pass allowed you a few days at no extra charge. Most of the Westerners I met had been driven there by fairly powerful forces, and just about all of us could be divided into those who were looking for something, and those who were escaping something. Gunther was a seeker. He was quite a bit older than I was (exactly the age I am now, as a matter of fact), and at that point in my life, I was not as receptive to his new-age spirituality as I might be now.

Okay, actually, I still think the whole “hot stomach” thing is a little weird. But I did like the guy, and his words of advice on dealing with frustrating situations you have little hope of changing have stuck with me all these years.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, the photo that ran yesterday is an actual photo of Gunther. He and I and a number of other backpackers I was traveling with at the time had just gone for a camel ride, and we were now playing on the enormous sand dunes that exist on the outskirts of Dunhuang.

Funny, I remembered him as being bigger.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Once Upon a Time in Gansu Province

Gunther is a vegetarian, and I wonder if that explains why he is in China and not at home in Germany. When I ask, however, he tells me he’s here among the sand dunes in Dunhuang to learn about traditional Chinese medicine.

Gunther tells me a lot of things; for a guy who is not speaking his native language, he talks a lot. Some of his stories are strange, like the one about the time he broke the veggie faith, ate some pork, and immediately became afflicted with what he calls “hot stomach.” That meal ended when Gunther found himself compelled to leave the table and run into the nearby hills, stripping off clothing as he went, “because I had taken on the characteristics of the pig I’d just eaten.”

Our conversation turns from food woes to the ways traveling in China can try your patience. I ask how he copes with common frustrations like being overcharged, or lied to by ticket vendors.

“In those situations," he says, "You can let it go without saying anything, and then you have nothing.” I nod, thinking of the times when nothing is exactly what I had to show for whole afternoons spent at train stations.

“Or, you can make a scene and try to get your way. But you’ll probably still have nothing." He pauses.

“And now, you’re angry.”

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Can I Buy You a Sugar Coma?

The chocolate fountain was a serendipitous find, but it wasn’t the chocolate we’d come to Las Vegas for. We’d come to Las Vegas for chocolate from Max Brenner.

Max Brenner, in fact, is probably the only force that could get a shade-loving creature such as myself to the desert in August. I would not have picked a mid-summer date to launch a chocolate store in Sin City, but Max did, so off we went.

The Las Vegas Max Brenner is only the third such store in the United States, the other two being in New York and Philadelphia. We were so excited to have one opening in our own time zone that we got there the a day early, and were in line as the store opened the next morning.

The American store is different from, but just as good as the ones we remembered in Australia. The Las Vegas store had savory food on the menu, but vacations are too short for that. In spite of it being before noon, we had a chocolate peanut butter crepe, and hot chocolate, followed by the most intense sugar rush we’d had in years. We had to do a few laps around the Caesar Forum shops to walk it off.

The next night, we went to see Max after dinner and had magic drinks. One had Chambord and liquid chocolate straight out of a spigot as its active ingredients, and the other was a white Russian made using melted white chocolate instead of cream.

To our great excitement, Max himself was there that night, celebrating his opening by ordering dessert-drink shots for the house. He also recognized Pipi and me from the day before, and sent a plate of chocolate truffles to our table. This was, of course, the very last thing we needed that evening, having barely recalibrated our blood-sugar levels from the day before. But how could we resist? I’ve never been the kind of person who receives drinks and treats from men across the room. But in the fantasy land that is Las Vegas, chocolate runs in the taps and I am that kind of woman.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Dream Come True? Or Just a Dream?

Here’s a good example of the kind of surreal thing that seems normal in Las Vegas. It’s a two-story high fountain running three different kinds of liquid chocolate, all encased in glass. Why? Who knows. Probably because they can. (Found outside a candy store in the Monte Carlo casino.)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Break With Reality

We were in Las Vegas. Never mind where, because the weekend was such a blur of flashing lights, shimmering heat, and synthesized slot-machine noises that I can’t always remember what events took place where. (And I’m not exactly trying to recall something that happened in my childhood. This was less than a month ago.)

I think we were at the Bellagio Casino. It was somewhere between New York, New York, where we’d picked up some theater tickets, and the Mirage, where we wanted to see the tigers. We were attempting to get from the South Strip to the Mid-Strip without taking a cab and without dying of the heat. (The TV news said it was 106 that day, though Pipi talked to a local woman who said that the news lies all the time and that her car thermometer read 115. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I am a complainer, so I believe it.)

At the probably-Bellagio, we passed through a courtyard full of fanciful plants. Some were clearly real, like the palm trees that shaded the area. Some, like the giant wooden mushrooms labeled “fungus humungous,” were obviously pretend.

But a lot of the shrubbery fell somewhere in between. In the middle of the space, for example, there was a large bed full of what looked like very short sunflowers. Each one was exactly the same shape and barely a foot tall. They were growing (if that’s the right word) through greenery so thick I couldn’t see the ground they were planted in. They looked live enough, but each flower was so uniform, and the roots seemed so deliberately hidden, that I’m still not sure if I was looking at a real field of bonsai sunflowers or an elaborate hoax fashioned from trimmed, store-bought stems.

But Vegas is kind of like that. It strips you of your ability to tell fact from fiction. (Also inside from outside, male from female, and appropriate from inappropriate. It’s perhaps the least binary place I’ve ever been.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

New Passport

I received a puzzling, official-looking envelope in the mail today. In it, to my surprise, was my new passport. I’d renewed it long enough ago that it wasn’t at the front of my mind, but not so long ago that I’d begun to worry about it.

I’ll miss my old passport, which had some really cool stamps (Mongolia!), not to mention a very fresh-looking photo of me taken 10 years ago. But the new passport appears to be made a little more durably, and has some interesting new design features. The frontispiece has a quote from “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and a facing page reproduces the preamble to the constitution, for the benefit of citizens who didn’t commit it to memory watching Saturday-morning television as children. Later pages have watermarks including patriotic quotes from all the usual suspects and some I didn’t see coming, like the Mohawk Thanksgiving address.

Best of all, the last page notes that, “This document contains sensitive electronics.” I’ve been chipped! Knowing this makes allows me to work up a good head of liberal paranoia while still feeling like I’ve got the latest gadget everyone’s talking about, a real Bay Area perfecta.

My new photo’s not great. I think I look a little haggard (especially compared to my old passport picture). But doesn’t everyone look a little rough after an international flight? I expect to breeze through customs for the next decade.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why Did the Chicken Cross The Road? Maybe to Get to Kragen.

Have you ever seen a chicken trip over a spark plug? Neither had I until this morning’s walk through the Temescal neighborhood. I was on a residential street and I startled two hens pecking at something on the sidewalk. They got flustered, as chickens will, and went careening into a driveway. That’s where one of them ran right over the car part that someone left lying on the asphalt. She squawked and flailed and seemed to remember in mid-air that she could sort of fly, so she flapped once or twice and tried to look like she’d meant to do that. It was funny, and strange, but just par for the course in this green, gritty city where people practice both animal husbandry and car maintenance in their front yards.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Now That You Mention it, I Am a Little Obsessed With the ’80s

I have always believed that all blogs are equal, but that some are more equal than others. If that doesn’t sound like an entirely original thought on my part, I can’t help it; I just write like George Orwell.

No, I do; it’s official. The website I Write Like told me so. I gave it a couple of hundred words that I wrote for the Dallas Morning News on Mongolia, and it diagnosed me as sounding like the Animal Farm writer. I can live with this. I liked Animal Farm, loved the language in 1984, and have to admire a guy who has been down and out in both Paris and London.

So who do you write like? Try it out and see for yourself.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I’m Not Alone

Here’s an interesting article about another compulsive person walking all the streets in a Bay Area city. This guy walked every street in San Francisco, which has 1,200 miles of road, over the course of seven years.

The mileage of San Francisco’s streets surprised me, because I thought I’d read that Oakland, which covers a much larger geographical area than San Francisco, has only 800 miles of road. Oakland is much less dense than San Francisco, however, with streets less tightly packed together, so that probably explains it.

Interestingly, this man employed a trick I’ve heard from other walkers, which is to tackle bad neighborhoods in bad weather. Apparently thugs don’t like to get wet or cold.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Mission Accomplished

Fueled by a steady diet of Tim Tams and adrenaline (Why did I think June had 31 days? Why did I not realize my mistake until June 30?), I managed to get my article on Alice Springs, Australia submitted to Curve Magazine on time. This is a relief. If all goes well, look for it on a newsstand near you in October of this year.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Separated at Birth?

Somebody once told me, or maybe I read it, or maybe I made it up completely, but in any case, I used to believe that Hong Kong had the largest concentration of Rolls Royces in the world.

I visited Hong Kong in 1989, not long after I learned (or imagined) this statistic. I wasn’t there long enough to confirm anything, but I did notice an awful lot of the luxury cars around, far more than I’d ever seen in my life up to that point.

I wouldn’t have guessed that slightly downtrodden North Oakland had anything in common with the capitalist theme park that was Hong Kong back in the day, but it does: The neighborhood also has an anomalous number of Rolls Royces. Last week I saw two in one day, one under a tarp, and one cruising the streets. That’s at least one more Rolls Royce than I had previously ever seen in one day in any part of Oakland.

Coincidence? Well, obviously, but it’s always interesting to discover the odd things that radically different destinations can have in common.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On the Not-So-High Seas

One other interesting thing about North Oakland, which is separated from the San Francisco Bay by the city of Emeryville, is that a large number of residents seem to own boats. I don’t know if there are really more watercraft here than in other parts of the city. It could be that the boats, usually parked in driveways, are just more visible for some reason. In any case this landlocked neighborhood seems to have an unusually strong nautical bent.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Discovering North Oakland

I’m still working on my walking project. I’m in north Oakland right now. Usually when I mention this, the person I’m talking to will ask what the neighborhood is like, although I think what they really want to ask is if I feel safe there.

The safety question is easy enough. The simple answer is yes. If I were part of a gang, or a sex worker, or there to buy drugs, I’d probably feel differently, but my experience so far has reminded me of west Oakland: I leave trouble alone and it ignores me, too. (Of course, I keep my eyes open and my cell phone handy.)

As for what the neighborhood’s like, that’s harder to put into words. It’s not the city’s prettiest enclave. It has a few Victorians but most of the houses are boxy little post-war bungalows. There are some abandoned houses, and for some reason, there’s more litter than in any other part of the city I’ve seen yet.

But it’s far from bleak. There are pocket parks, and community gardens, and chalked hop-scotch courts on the sidewalks—all signs that people aren’t locked in their houses.

So what’s it like? Kind of like this photo, which shows a tiny patch of flowers that someone planted and then made a protective fence around at the base of a no-parking sign: kind of rough and gritty, but not without surprise little slivers of beauty.

Monday, June 21, 2010

R.I.P. Erik Fitzpatrick

Here’s something interesting that I found recently in Oakland, where we’ve raised the impromptu street shrine to an art form. Anyone can put together a soggy collection of flowers and teddy bears for a fallen comrade. In the East Bay, we do it in style. This is one of the more original offerings I’ve ever seen.

This shrine is on MacArthur Boulevard, the commercial strip nearest my house, implying that while I never met Erik, we may have been neighbors. I do feel I know him a little now, judging from the idiosyncratic things mourners have left as offerings, including chalk, vodka, bubble soap, and a dead, flattened turtle.

I don’t know what happened, but I note that he died quite young. (He was, in fact, the same age as my sister, which will probably always seem way too young for bad things, even when I’m 100 and she’s just 95.) My condolences to the family of Mr. Fitzpatrick, and to anyone who cared enough to put together this creative tribute.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Here’s a travel site I found out about recently through a former co-worker of Pipi’s. It’s called NileGuide. The site is more of a travel planning site than a place to book tickets, and it features lots of content. At Travelocity, we used to dream about getting to write about travel without having to worry about selling anything, and NileGuide seems dedicated to doing just that. Best of all, they use a lot of freelance help, and I’ve been talking with the editors about contributing. It looks like I’m going to do some work on spec (publishing-speak for “without any promise of payment”) and if they like it, it may develop into something more regular. (And paid.) We’ll see how this turns out. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a great holiday weekend!

Friday, May 21, 2010


A few weeks ago, I pitched an article on Alice Springs, Australia, to Curve magazine. Today, I heard back from them and it was good news: They want me to go ahead and write it.

I’m not exactly going to retire on the commission from this piece, but I’m excited about it nonetheless. I really do like Curve, which I’ve been reading since the magazine and I were both new on the scene. The editor also seems to share my general ideas about length, content, and tone, and gave me a generous deadline, so I’ve got a good feeling about the project.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Travel Anxiety Dream

I have travel anxiety dreams a lot, or maybe I should say that when I have anxiety dreams, they usually have to do with travel.

Usually these dreams involve scenarios that start out plausible but quickly compound. In these dreams, I haven’t just forgotten to pack something important; I’ve neglected to pack at all, and I’m not just having trouble getting a ride to the airport; I am, for some reason, attempting to get there on foot. (Good thing I never have any luggage.)

So last night’s dream came as somewhat of a relief, if only because I managed to create an entirely new problem for myself.

First of all, I was on a flight to Australia (it’s always Australia!) that included a stop in Iceland. That was stressful enough. But then, to make things more interesting (it was a very long flight, after all), I took it upon myself to clean all the ovens in the galley. They were all self-cleaning, and almost as soon as I turned them on, they started to smoke badly, which really upset my ungrateful fellow passengers. I decided that the only way to deflect suspicion of my involvement was to fake sleep, so I did, and interestingly, that’s when I finally woke up.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

L.A. Times

In the spirit of “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” I just sent an article on Australia to the Los Angeles Times. They are notoriously picky and selective, but the worst that can happen is rejection, which is not the end of the world. In my experience, rejection, Times-style, comes mercifully quickly, and it puts you in excellent company. We’ll see what happens.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Happy Mothers Day…

….Or “Moters Day,” as we call it in the 510, where everything is just a little bit grittier. Here’s wishing all the moms out there breakfast in bed, a nice bouquet of fresh flowers, and a big, new can of 10W-40.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Another Way of Counting

Speaking of country counts, here’s an interesting (and by “interesting,” I mean “borderline crackpot”) web site for a travel club based in southern California. It’s called the Travelers’ Century Club, and it is for people who can say they’ve been to 100 countries. That sounds like a lot, but the way they count countries, you probably went through two or three on your way to work today.

For the TCC, the U.N.’s official list of 192 countries is just a starting point. According to the TCC, if a region is separated by geography or culture from its official country, then it counts as a separate place. Alaska and the continental United States, for example, are counted as two different countries.

According to the TCC, there are six countries in North America, seven in Antarctica, 51 in Asia, and 67 in Europe. Worldwide, they reckon 320 total countries. By this count, you have probably traveled abroad without even knowing it. According to this group, I have been to 28 countries, which isn’t so much more than my U.N. tally, but does include accounting irregularities that would not have occurred to me, such as separating Russia from Siberia, and calling St. Barths a sovereign nation.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

How Many Countries Have You Been To?

It sounds like a simple question, but it isn’t always. The answer really depends on the definition of a country, and that’s not always straightforward. My personal rule of thumb is that if a region produces its own stamps and coins, then it’s a country, but obviously not every person would agree with me. (I’m not even sure every coin and stamp collector would agree with me.)

Things get complicated when countries split up or reunite. If I’d been to Bonn in the 1980s, for example, I could say I’d been to West Germany, but could I say I’ve been to Germany? I’ve never been to Bonn, so that’s purely hypothetical in my case, but consider Hong Kong. I was there in 1989, and it felt like a country to me. But it was an English colony then, and now of course it’s a Chinese city, so I’m not sure how to count that. (Taiwan’s problematic, too. I feel like I’ve been to three separate Chinese-speaking countries, but there are those who would argue that bitterly.)

Then there are countries that attain their independence (or something akin to it), such as is about to happen to several islands in the Caribbean.

All five of the islands (or parts of islands, in the case of Sint Maarten) that make up the Netherlands Antilles have recently voted on the issue of independence. Two islands voted for “status aparte,” which as I understand it is something just short of complete independence from Holland. Two voted to move closer to the mother country, and one, little Sint Eustatius, decided it likes things just the way they were and doesn’t want to break up the Antilles.

This causes all kinds of problems for country counters. Were the Netherlands Antilles a country before? Do the separate islands count as sovereign nations now? It’s confusing, and I think you could probably check with several different authorities and get several different answers.

The only thing I know for sure is that if someone asks me how many countries I’ve been to, all I can say is, “Not enough yet.”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pitching to Curve

In addition to pestering the Chronicle, I also pitched an article on Alice Springs, Australia, to Curve magazine. Curve is a lesbian publication, and Alice Springs is, for some reason, a lesbian magnet, so I think it’s a good fit. We’ll see. I haven’t heard back yet, but that might be good news. The last time I pitched to Curve, I got a rejection back within the hour, so I’m going to hope they take their time on this one.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Keeping up the Barrage

Undaunted, I’m sending more stuff the Chronicle’s way. You know how they say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take? Well, then I’m just going to keep booting articles at the Chronicle. Eventually, one will get by.

I just sent a long article on Australia, specifically on the Indian Pacific Train. Let’s hope my timing’s better on this one.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Shanghai Surprise

I got an email from the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle rejecting an article I’d submitted about Shanghai. Two things lessened the sting, though. The first was that it was a very nice note. I’m used to not hearing anything from editors at all, so to get a note that is not just polite, but in fact mildly encouraging, seemed remarkable.

The other thing that made it easier to take is that I knew it was coming. Just a few days after I sent the article to the Chronicle, the paper ran another piece about Shanghai. When I saw that, I knew they wouldn’t feature the city again any time soon. So the printed article was effectively a rejection notice, even though it was of course intended in no such way—I doubt the editor had even seen my article yet.

Monday, April 26, 2010


I wish I could say I thought of the word “volcation,” meaning, “A trip extended by Eyjafjallajokull.” But I didn’t; I read it somewhere.

I am reminded of the word because Pipi and I actually met someone over the weekend who was on a volcation. At the Pyramid Brewery in Berkeley, we met a man who’d been killing time in the Bay Area for almost a week because he had been completely unable to get a flight home to Sweden. He didn’t seem to be too upset about the delay, but he told us he was hopeful that he would be able to catch a flight Sunday. I don’t know if he did or not, but it looks like as long as his flight didn’t stop in Iceland, he’s probably home by now.

I hope our Swedish friend made it, and that there aren’t too many other stranded travelers still flipping through guidebooks, trying to find more things to do in northern California.

If you are still stuck here, though, I recommend skipping the Pyramid tour. Pyramid makes good beer, but the tour consists of peering into a series of empty stainless steel tanks while struggling to hear the waifish tour guide over the roar of several hundred bottles a minute rattling off the assembly line. If you really want to learn about American beer, your volcation time would be better spent at a barstool on a self-directed course of education.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It’s Not Just You

Nobody knows how to pronounce the name of that volcano in Iceland.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

No Need to Panic

Cost Plus sells a cookie called Arnott’s year-round. These cookies are, to my Yankee tongue, indistinguishable from Tim Tams, and because Arnott’s is the name of the Australian company that makes Tim Tams, I think they are the same, just branded differently for some reason.

So if your local grocery store is sold out of Tim Tams for the year, and you live near a Cost Plus, you’re going to be okay. If you don’t, though, you’ll need to stock up now. Tim Tams freeze well.

Or so I hear.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Big T—Time is Running Out

No, not taxes. Tim Tams.

Every year, between November and March, Pepperidge Farms imports Tim Tam chocolate cookies from Australia and sells them in grocery stores all over the United States. Yesterday, I saw a stack of them at my local Lucky being sold at clearance rates, reminding me that the Tim Tam window has closed for this year. Get yours quickly! (And cheaply—yesterday’s were going for just $2.99. Allegedly.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Cal Neva Closes

Here’s a news item that made me a little wistful: The Cal Neva Casino, in Stateline, NV has closed.

All the articles I’ve read about it say the closure was inevitable because the place was so run-down and its time had so clearly passed. That may be so, but to me, the place had its charms and I’m a little sad to see it go.

The Cal Neva was once owned by Frank Sinatra, and served as a hangout for the Rat Pack and associates (including, allegedly, J.F.K and Marilyn Monroe). The place coasted on that reputation for a long while, but all that was a bit before my time, so I can’t say it was any lingering ring-a-ding-dinging that attracted me to the place. Nor was I pulled off the highway by the architecture, a mix of ski-chalet A-frame and faux Native American kitsch that passed from “retro” into the territory of “somewhat embarrassing” decades ago.

No, the Cal Neva’s charms were, for me, subtle and twofold. The first thing I loved was that the building lay right on the state line separating California from Nevada. Just outside the gaming area was a large room with a fireplace and a silver-and-gold stripe running along the floor and up the wall, straight through the fireplace. This line represented the border between the two states, and just about everyone who visited got a photo of themselves straddling it. (I was traveling alone the last time I went, so my picture just shows my two sneakers on either side of the line—but I know it’s me.)

Geographical quirks aside, I also loved the fact that the casino had real old-fashioned slot machines, the kind where you pump in real coins and pull the handle to set the reels spinning. Every other slot machine I’ve seen recently (which is admittedly not many) has been credit, not cash based, and most seem to be activated by tapping a button, not pulling a lever. I guess I’m old-fashioned about such things because I love the tactile sensation of jingling a tumbler full of coins in one mitt and shaking the bandit’s hand with the other.

After my first such session, during which I managed to make several handfuls of nickels last all evening, I looked at my grimy hands and realized for the first time how literal the phrase “filthy lucre” can be. So I fully understand, and on some level approve of the trend towards electronic funds. But I still love pawing through buckets of coins. Once I did find a real treasure—a minor one, but a treasure to me nonetheless. Looking through the rolls of nickels I’d purchased (no, I’m not exactly a high roller), I found a buffalo nickel. It was so worn I can’t be sure of the date, but I know it can’t have been minted any later than 1938, because that’s the last year they made that kind of nickel. I had a few in my collection already, coins I’d either purchased or been given, but this was the first and so far the only time I’d ever found one in change.

So there you have it—two highly personal and idiosyncratic reasons that I will miss the Cal Neva casino. Will I get over this loss? Yes, pretty quickly, I’m sure. I’m not even up at Lake Tahoe very often. But the next time I am there, the experience will be a little bit tidier—and a little bit less colorful.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Iron and Silk Road

Several years ago, I took a train from Beijing to Moscow. It took about two weeks, although I did make a few stops along the way. If I’d gone express, it would have taken just about exactly one week.

People always ask me if I found seven days of train travel boring, and the answer is that I really didn’t until the very last day. I’m not sure if that’s because the trip really was one day too long, or if I just didn’t allow myself to get antsy until I was within sight of the finish. In any case, I can safely say that for me, the idea of taking a week to travel from the heart of the Middle Kingdom to the edge of Europe is pretty reasonable.

Which is why I have mixed feelings about this article, announcing China’s plan to build a high-speed train that would cover the distance between London and Beijing in about two days. I can see that this would be an amazing feat of technology, and would really make life easier for people who can’t afford to fly and who don’t have the luxury of two weeks to spend on a round-trip.

But two days? That’s just too fast. Imagine sleeping through all of Siberia, or blinking and missing Poland. You’d get almost all of the disorientation and jet lag of air travel, and little of the scenery gazing and platform pierogi breaks of train travel.

(And if you think I’m indignant, imagine how horrified an actual ancient Silk Road trader would be. They’re probably already upset that the trip can now be done in a week, without even a stop to barter for fresh camels in Samarkand.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

They Loved It, But They’re Not in Love With It

Sometimes when I submit a piece to an editor, I get a nice personal rejection. Sometimes it’s more of a form letter. Sometimes I don’t hear anything. And sometimes, like yesterday, the news is delivered with all the subtlety of an eighth-grader trying to break up with someone.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent an article to the Chronicle about Shanghai. On Sunday, I opened up the travel section, and it was all about Shanghai. I wasn’t in it, though. Probably this is just bad timing on my part. Or maybe they’re just not that into me. Either way—ouch.

Friday, March 05, 2010

One Thing Down

I did get one article sent off. Not the Australian train article, although I did do enough of what I call “un-writing” (and which most people call “cutting hundreds of unnecessary words”) that I think I got that one back on track. So to speak.

No, what I sent away for publication is an updated service piece on Shanghai. I sent it once before to the San Francisco Chronicle, and never heard a peep about it. Normally, no response means “no,” and pressing the issue will only annoy the editor. But there’s been a regime change since I submitted it last, so Shanghai will be new to the current editor. Let’s hope he’s more of a fan of urban travel than the last guy was.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

I Think I Can…

The Broken Hill story would be a good companion piece to a story I’m working on about the Indian Pacific train, but I seem to be stuck on that one. Does this ever happen to any of you? The more I work on the train piece, the more it just gets longer without getting any better.

Sometimes when a project isn’t going anywhere for me, I give it a rest. Usually that helps. That’s what I’ve done here. Having not thought about the train story consciously for a few weeks, I feel ready to sneak up on it and do some real writing (and probably a fair amount of un-writing) on it now. I’ll let you know when I finally get it ready for publication. (I say this mostly for my own benefit—I’ve said I’m going to finish it, so now I have to!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Oh, I Should Have Mentioned…

…That the honorably-mentioned story in question is an essay I wrote about the fading mining town of Broken Hill, Australia. This is a story that started life as a blog post written soon after my visit, which then got cleaned up and polished into something I was happier with. Now I’m emboldened to try to get the essay published.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Finishing Just off the Podium

In this Olympic season, I’m pleased to announce a minor award of my own: I earned an honorable mention in the 2010 Solas Awards travel writing contest.

Certainly it would have been nice to be one of the top three in a category, but we can’t all be Apolo Ono. Somebody has to be Turkish figure skater Tuğba Karademir, happy just to be there and to have not taken a pratfall on the big stage.

And, unlike the Olympics, the Solas Awards happen every year. I’m going to start training now for 2011.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Possible Use for Twitter

They say that Twitter is very good for complaining. We’ll soon see. I’m unleashing the power of Twitter on Comcast, who have so far been unresponsive to every form of direct communication I can think of short of semaphore. Perhaps a little public shame can get them to call me back.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I’ve been meaning for a while now to mention a pretty cool website called It’s a way to self-publish books, and to sell them as well. If I wanted to, I could technically claim to have had a book published, because I used the site to create a book about my trip to Australia last year that is officially for sale on the Blurb site.

Had I really intended to sell any of these books, I would have done a lot of things differently, including making the book shorter and smaller in size. The format I picked is the most expensive. This choice drove the price of the book up so far that I don’t realistically expect anyone to purchase it.

Still, the idea is great. It’s possible to create and sell very affordable books without putting any money down. Posting your book file on the site is free, meaning you avoid all of the costs usually associated with vanity publishing.

The way it works is that whenever anyone orders a copy of the book, the site prints one up and sends it directly to that person, meaning an author also avoids a lot of the logistical problems associated with self-publishing, like basements and car trunks full of inventory.

In my particular case, I also expect to avoid typical author hassles like keeping track of earnings, because I don’t think there are going to be any. If anyone should order the book, though, the site would send me my profit directly. Best of all, I get to determine how big that profit is. The site sets a base price, and I, as the author, get to say how many dollars extra I want them to tack on—I get to keep that.

Believe it or not, I actually set a very modest profit margin for myself. I just made the mistake of picking an expensive layout with a high base price. But I don’t really regret it, because I’m very happy with the coffee-table quality scrapbook I now have of my adventure.

Monday, February 22, 2010

City of Thieves

Coincidentally, I am not just snacking my way through Russian memories at the moment. I’m also currently reading an excellent book about the country: City of Thieves, by David Benioff.

This novel takes place in St. Petersburg during WWII, when the Germans were laying siege to the city. It’s a dramatic story, but the book is also very funny in a deeply dark sort of way. I’m really enjoying it, all the more because the author is a college classmate of mine. (I don’t think we ever even met. I just feel possessive of classmates who’ve done well for themselves and I feel the need to give them a shout-out.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dining-Room Chair Travel

It’s well documented that you can travel vicariously through travel literature, but who else is with me on virtually traveling the world by snacking?

Pipi and I recently found a great place for this. It’s a strange little store called the Euromix Deli on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. Although there are some western European products, most of the inventory is eastern European, and most of that is Russian. Recently Pipi picked up a mix of chocolate candies that reminded me of what a weird, wonderful place Russia is. They’re not great chocolates—Russians apparently like hazelnut (and wax) a lot more than I do, but I’m really enjoying the eccentric wrappers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Twit, Maybe?

What do you call one who uses Twitter? Someone who doesn’t know the answer to that question probably doesn’t have any business using the service, but I’m not letting that stop me. I have belatedly entered the Twitterverse, and you can follow me at (You don’t need to be a Twitter member yourself; you can always just go that URL on any computer for updates.)

I don’t post very often—to be honest, I haven’t really taken to Twitter yet, and at my age, Tweetspeak will probably always be a second language. But I invite you to follow my fledgling efforts anyway. I promise, no tweets about what I had for lunch, no deliberate misspellings, and, if I should ever owe anyone an apology for anything, you won’t see it there.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Last Warning

Comcast has one more day to get back to me, and then I’m going all Twitter on them.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dawning Realization

I just don’t think Comcast is that into me.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Also Spotted

On the same walk where I spotted the demolished building, I also saw a sign in someone’s yard next to a beautiful lemon tree in full fruit. The sign said:

“To the lady up the street who helped herself to a whole bag of lemons, they weren’t yours to take.”

“We’re still waiting for our lemon bars.”

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

I’ll Take the Stairs, Thanks

I took this picture today while walking past a construction site (actually a de-construction site) at the corner of Piedmont and MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland. I find the elevator sign perversely amusing.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Your Call is Important to You

I spoke to Comcast on February 3. When I did, they strongly implied that someone would get back to me within 48 hours. That didn’t happen, so for fun, I didn’t call them for a few days, either, just so they’d know how that felt.

Oddly, when I did call to check on my trouble ticket, they almost acted like they were hoping I wouldn’t call at all. Some companies play hard to get, I guess. The person I talked to promised to spend the next 72 hours thinking about my problem so hard that he will almost certainly not find the time to catch up with me before Thursday.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Oxymoron That is Comcast Customer Service

I’m starting to think I’m the only person on earth who uses the personal web page feature on Comcast. I don’t get the feeling any developer has looked at this function in years, and no one in tech support has any idea how to help me.

I chatted online with three different support personnel. Two of them had me call phone numbers that they swore were lines dedicated to helping people with their personal web pages. (The third person’s only suggestion was to restart my computer.) Each time the phone number I was given turned out to be the Comcast main switchboard--the same number I’d call if I had trouble with my cable TV. Nobody could help me. In fact, in both cases, the people I reached on the phone told me web page issues could only be handled via online chat. Of course, the chat people wanted me to use the phone. Needless to say, my problem did not get resolved today.

So I’m pretty mad at Comcast right now, and I still can’t get my web page updated, which seems like it shouldn’t be a very difficult thing to do. (The page is live online, but I can’t edit it anymore--and I think we can all agree that it needs help.) I guess it’s time to look into another web host, although I have only the barest idea how to go about that.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Utility Futility

Has anyone ever tried using Comcast’s personal web page feature? And did you find it to be the single most frustrating thing you’d done in months?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

If You Really Want to Hear About It….

….J. D. Salinger is dead, and that makes me a little bit sad. I know he was about a million years old, and a difficult man, but I’m still sad. The Catcher in the Rye is one of my favorite books of all time. It was the first novel that made me see that literature could speak to me on a level other than pure entertainment.

Before discovering Salinger, I’d always liked reading stories, but I don’t think I understood until then that a book could be expected to have something to say about the human condition. The realization that I, as a girl growing up in small-town New Hampshire, might be thinking some of the same thoughts as a boy wandering the streets of McCarthy-era New York City, was mind-blowing.

If that seems like a banal thing to cause a mental meltdown, please note that I was only about 11 or 12 at the time. I also ask you to remember what it’s like to be that age—just old enough to start to suspect that people are not always as they seem, but young enough to believe that you might be the only person who has figured this out. Think how much you might have appreciated having a streetwise older brother figure to assure you that you’re not imagining it; that people really can be phony sometimes.

I’ve re-read The Catcher in the Rye several times over the years, and I take a little something different from it every time—which is not surprising considering that I was Holden’s little sister’s age the first time I read the book, and now I’m old enough to be his mother. At the age of 12, I thought Holden was a very cool, wordly guy. Later, I realized that he’s kind of a brat. Eventually, I began to understand that he’s very troubled, and maybe even a little insane.

The thing I keep coming back to every time, no matter how I’m currently feeling about the protagonist, is gratitude to Salinger for having been the one to show me how literature is supposed to work. I’m also grateful to him for having created the remarkable character of Holden Caulfield. Though Holden, like Salinger himself, was not always completely likable, he is memorable.

The news that the author of The Catcher in the Rye has died makes me sad because in a way J. D. Salinger’s death is also Holden Caulfield’s death. Though no one really expected a sequel after all these years, now all hope of ever seeing Holden again is completely extinguished. It’s always sad to lose someone who was important to you when you were young, even if they were troubled, and even if your feelings about them have changed over time.

Rest in peace, you goddam madman genius.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Girl Can (Day) Dream

Here’s something kind of fun: Frommer’s is having a contest designed to solicit travel photos to be used on the cover of their guides. So I spent much more of the afternoon than I should have going through vacation shots. That was a nice way to procrastinate!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Everyone Loves the Sound of a Plane in the Distance

I’m a little over the rain. I know we need it, but after what seems like weeks of gray skies, I’m ready for the precipitation to fall somewhere else, like maybe right into the Hetch Hetchy Resevoir. I think it’s more important that the rain fall somewhere useful, rather than on my already sodden lawn, which is starting to look like a music festival just happened there.

Still, there is one silver lining, so to speak, to all these clouds: When the weather is bad here, airplanes fly very low over our house. I secretly love this. Today was one of those special days when the weather was bad enough that planes used the foul-weather flight path, but good enough that the clouds didn’t hide my view of the aircraft. It was ideal plane-spotting weather. Most of the airplanes I saw today were little 737s, but I caught a glimpse of a few bigger ones, which I imagined to be international flights headed to SFO.

That’s a large part of what I like about these massive pieces of machinery roaring over my neighborhood. I like to speculate about where each plane has come from, where it’s going, and who is on it. Is it someone’s first time on a plane? Is anyone on board going to start a new life when they get where they’re going? Who’s on a dream vacation, and who’s coming home after way too long? Why am I standing in a muddy yard when I could be on that plane, having some kind of adventure myself?

It occurs to me that the whine of jet engines a few thousand feet up is like the train whistle of the 21st century. It’s a harder noise to write a blues song about, but on a moody day, airplanes in the rain inspire some of the same lonesome longing you get from a freight train in the distance.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Whole Day….

…And two bombs in one week? That’s unthinkable, but it actually happened to Tsutomu Yamaguchi. In August of 1945, Mr. Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima for what I think can safely be described as the worst business trip ever. On the day he was supposed to leave Hiroshima, Little Boy exploded over the city. Mr. Yamaguchi made it home a few days later, but unfortunately, home was Nagasaki, and he got there just in time for the second bomb. He survived both blasts and lived on to a ripe old age, although when he did die—just recently—it was of a cancer that may well have been linked to the blasts.

Interestingly, Mr. Yamaguchi is officially recognized by the Japanese government as the only double-bomb survivor, although there are known to have been others. Now that he is gone, I don’t know if another nijyuu hibakusha will take on the mantle of iconic survivor. Surely no one will allow these events to be forgotten in any case. Rest in peace, Yamaguchi-San.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chocolate, a Love Story

This morning Pipi mentioned that she had received an e-mail from her boyfriend, and I wasn’t a bit worried. I knew exactly what she meant: She’d gotten a marketing message from Max Brenner. Yes, we love the wholly fictitious Max Brenner so much we want to marry him, and if imaginary marriage is ever legalized here, we just might.

In the meantime, we have our love, and this amazing book, to keep us warm. Chocolate A Love Story is one of the most sensuous cookbooks ever written. Perhaps you never realized how fine the line between the cookbook and bodice-ripper genres is. I know I hadn’t until I skimmed the table of contents and saw recipes like “Kinky Pavlova” and “Love and Hate Doughnuts.” This book is like a soap opera, a cookbook, and a love note all rolled up into one. It’s that good, people. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mo’ Brenner

The year has started with fabulous news on the chocolate front: Max Brenner will double the number of its U.S. locations in 2010.

Currently there are two American Maxes, one in New York, and one in Philadelphia. I just don’t get to either of these cities very often, so I was very happy to recently learn that by the end of the year there will be a Max Brenner in Boston, a city I like a lot; and Las Vegas, a place I can take or leave but which is just a quick non-stop flight from here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

We’re Back

I hadn’t intended for my Christmas break to be this long, but a little vacation felt good. I hope everyone had a good holiday, and that the new year has been good to you so far.