Jumat, 30 Mei 2008


Wednesday's Dining Out section of The New York Times had an article ("A Tiny Fruit That Tricks the Tongue") which delighted me because it was strange and interesting and provocative, and because it was about a fruit, Synsepalum dulcificum. I like learning about new fruit. And this is a wacky one. According to the article, the berry "rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy." What a thrill to find an (apparently) harmless fruit that messes with our expectations. People are having flavor-tripping parties. I think I'd like to go to one. If a berry from West Africa can alter our palate, are there nuts from Brazil or coffee beans from Central America that could rewire the way our ears perceive music? If vinegar can taste like apple juice and goat cheese becomes cheesecake, could Philip Glass sound like Arnold Schoenberg? If I could only find funding, I would set sail on a tall-masted ship in search of this. I would bring scientists and musicians with me, and crates of oranges for the crew. And the Synsepalum dulcificum, which I would ration like rum.

Rabu, 28 Mei 2008

Garden Ghosts

Chilly nights here, so I covered the basil last evening and will again tonight. The stripes were for the neighbors. I hated to think of them waking up and thinking we'd had isolated snow showers. That sheet also happens to be flannel, so I spent some time thinking about which specimens needed the coziest cover. A lot of thought goes into gardening.

Rabu, 21 Mei 2008

Goodbye to the Unicycle

For a few years, I've wanted a unicycle. My interest spikes every year just before my birthday. A unicycle just seems like such a grand present, and though I don't generally hope for grand presents, the unicycle is my exception. May seems like a good month for cycles of all sorts, and I am intrigued by the portable versions of most things. I like things that fit in my pocket -- harmonicas and jack knives -- and I like tents and backpacking stoves. The allure of a cycle with one wheel instead of two is huge. I could carry my transportation right into the library instead of locking it! I could hop off of it, sling it over my shoulder like a knapsack, walk into a coffee shop and come out with a warm brew in one one hand and a newspaper in the other! Today I stopped by Velocipede Peddler and asked some friendly guy how hard it is to learn to ride one. Hard, he said. In support of this opinion, he mentioned that he rides hands-free on his bike for great stretches and turns corners no-handed all the time, but he can't ride a unicycle. I always figured that was the prerequisite -- the hands-free test -- and sensed that I was well prepared for the unicycle experience. He said if I could pop a wheelie and ride on my back tire (only) for a long way, I might be able to ride a unicycle. I can pop a wheelie and ride on my back tire for about the length of a sidewalk square. It was enough to impress Tommy a couple of years ago but I think he stopped noticing, or I stopped modeling that behavior for my sake and his. I broke my collar bone doing this many years ago, and landed by a curb in that part of the street where trash sometimes collects. I may have landed on an empty coffee cup tossed away by a unicyclist. They seem like the sort of folks who travel light. I don't think I want a unicycle so much anymore. It's a shame to come to terms with how easily I can be discouraged. You might wonder if the friendly bike salesman talked me out of the unicycle so easily, what did he talk me into? A tandem bicycle with a sidecar? No, I walked out hands-free. Which is not the same thing as riding a unicycle, apparently.

Minggu, 18 Mei 2008

Art's Carbon Footprint

I walked up to the East Lansing Art Festival yesterday and again today. I bought a necklace from an artist in Pennsylvania and a barrette from a woodworker in Pentwater. I am not sure what this does for the "buy local" movement, but all movements get tipped upside down every now and then, even by those who believe in them. The barrette is wood, except for the clasp, and it has a beautiful grain. It's Kingwood, from Brazil. I hope it is not the last of its species. I think I'll know if it is. The weight of it will slowly tip my head, until I am either gaping at the sky or bowed in guilt. I had sweet potato chips and lemonade from the Flats Grill stand, lentils from Altu's, and a brownie from Mongolian Barbecue. The Festival is great, and the convergence of artists from so many towns and so many states is part of the fun. I like meeting these people, and returning to see some of them each year. I suppose they drove large vehicles many miles to peddle their wares, but they are artists and artists need to do these things. Is it fair -- or even worthwhile -- to consider the carbon footprint of art? I don't think so. Give me local apples, but let art have a large free range.

Selasa, 06 Mei 2008

May 6

Tommy is working on a....contraption. It' s a cardboard box he brought home from school, it's in the driveway, and it is somehow going to be used at the cottage next winter, though I haven't completely deciphered the details. He is applying tinfoil to the base right now, in preparation for something. There is also a ball of yarn, a roll of tape, and an empty shampoo bottle involved. I am sitting on the porch. We had hoped to visit my Grandpa, who is 103 today, but as it turns out I don't have a car. I got a flat on my way home from work. I had a flat tire in February, and one in April. I think I should be all set now until June.

I am sorry to miss out on a trip over to my Grandpa's, but it is a beautiful day and being carless is one letter away from being "careless," which, if thought about in the right sort of way, is being without cares, or "carefree." The afternoon feels restful and calm. I pulled out a collection of Linda Pastan's poems and read, among others, "Dreaming of Rural America." It made me think of "Sweet Land," which we rented recently. It's a great movie: slow and deliberate, with grand, sweeping shots of Minnesota farmland. The Norwegian bachelor farmer (not, actually, a Garrison Keillor character) is the sort of farmer Wendell Berry might write about. It is time for me to return to some of Berry's work, and to his imagined community of Coulters and Feltners and Beechums and Catletts. "Sweet Land" features a wrenching farm auction scene, redeemed, in the end, by the Norwegian bachelor farmer, who says a few times, "farming and money don't mix." Oh, what a movie. Here is some of Pastan's poem:

I want to enter the ticking heart
of the country and in a rental car
drive for miles past fields scored
with the history of wind; past
silos, those inland lighthouses,
where corn smolders to golden dust.
I want an RD number and a tin mailbox
filled with flowers instead of letters.
I want to bathe in a porcelain tub
under a ceiling sloping towards heaven,
and farmyard smells will drift
through the window like notes
of pungent country music.
When I am scrubbed clean,
let a child who has searched
the barn for the perfect egg
offer it to me on her open palm
as if it were the gift of a jewel
on a velvet cushion. In the dream
of rural America, farmers have lost
the knack of despair.

The knack of despair! And there I stop and think of my Grandpa, who is 103 today, and who, to my knowledge, has never shown despair. My Uncle Stan remembers bringing in apples on a cold October night, after dark. My uncle was young -- in high school, I suppose -- and he was worried about the harvest that might be lost. He told my grandpa the apples were starting to freeze, and my grandpa listened, looked out at the orchard and up at the sky and the moon, and said, "Well Stan, it's a beautiful night."