adventure time: something to report

Our trainers organized a little jump club in our covered arena. It was a ridiculous amount of fun, with the cheery horse show atmosphere of special occasion but without the flop-sweat terror of serious competition. The light was spectacular for the early rounds:

I rode later, after the sun had set. Sam was in great form, keen and forward off my leg. We jumped a nice clear at 80cm and Toni asked me if I wanted to step up to the 1m class. I said that I did. The whole time I was waiting to ride my second round I second-guessed myself, but there hasn’t been a better horse than Sam or a friendlier setting in which to step up.

We jumped a nice clear in the 1m class. They start to look like proper fences at that height. I wasn’t scared. I was excited and happy.

not much to report

It’s been a long year. The kid and I went to a concert. That was pretty great.

I was in the lobby of an office building when these quilts caught my eye.

The sun shines out of this city, if you ask me.


I started listening to Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History (having finished up Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering, which traces the American way of death back to the Civil War, and is excellent.) Mukherjee’s Emperor of Maladies made me cry buckets and also gave me an inkling of insight when it described “cancer pathways” – specific sequences of gene mutations that lead to specific conditions.

I couldn’t wait for The Gene to come out and so far it’s even better than Emperor. He talks about his paternal uncles, Rajesh and Jagu, who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and how the trauma of Partition exacerbated their illnesses. This immediately after I read Timothy Knatchbull’s From a Clear Blue Sky about the Mountbatten bomb. The consequences of British imperialism run through both families like another inherited trait.

Mukherjee made me laugh out loud when he described Darwin resolutely ignoring the theological consequences of his research as the idea of evolution dawned on him, calling this “the separation of church and state of mind.”

I first encountered Darwin as a teenager in my Dad’s Stephen Jay Gould and Dawkins books, which sounded every bit as self-satisfied as the religious books I was reading at the same time. Darwin came back around later, long after I’d lost my faith, when I read Janet Browne’s wonderful biographies of him. She described how seriously he took his reading, and in response, I started keeping my own log of the books I had read.

As a devout Christian and then as an angry atheist, a lot of Darwin was lost on me. If you refuse to engage with the central struggle of his life, between his faith in meaning and what his observations taught him, you miss so much. I see in Darwin now what I saw in La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona: that this world is more beautiful than it needs to be; that even when you understand its underlying principles, its glory can bring you to your knees.

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

22 hours in new york

6pm: wheels down at JFK

6-8pm: stuck in UN traffic with an elderly bearded white taxi driver who plays country music and tells me the mileage on each vehicle he owns and exactly what happened last time he went to the DMV. When his credit card reader turns out to be offline, he locks all the doors and demands to know how I am going to pay. When I am released I go to an ATM, thrust the cash at him and flee.

8pm: I am an hour late for dinner but Leonard is still waiting for me, because he is delightful. We talk about technology for libraries and strategies for writing science fiction novels. I have the pork saltimbocca and a tiramisu of unusual size

10pm: stress about my talk

11pm-6am: wake every hour on the hour to make sure I haven’t overslept

7am: realize I have overslept

7:30am: rehearsal. Everyone is delightful. I am filled with terror

8am: in the speaker’s lounge. Too late to back out.

9:30-10am: I give my talk. I flub half the lines, but people say lovely things about it both to my face and on Twitter

11am: coffee with the lovely Fintan. We talk about containerization

12noon: lunch with the wonderful Francis and the amazing Gus. I have the moules marinieres and an excellent tarte tatin. We talk about word puzzles and technology for Doctors Without Borders and San Francisco high school choices and I have to tear myself away

1:30-2:30pm: taxi ride to JFK in which nothing goes wrong and I do not fear for my life. I leave an excessive tip

4pm: wheels up!

horse show

We did good.

death fugue

My friend Erik died of an antibiotic-resistant infection last month. I’ve been reading dispatches from his widow, the amazing Talor, as she rebuilds her life. She’s intuitive and attuned to her subconscious, which is probably why I noticed this morning that I was singing Björk’s “Black Lake” over and over in my head. It was the song I had on constant rotation after Dad died. Today was Dad’s birthday.

We went to SF Moma and I ended up sitting in front of Anselm Kiefer’s painting Margarete, a response to Paul Celan’s poem “Death Fugue”. To me, it’s about the suffering of complicity and of helplessness. Dad died and there was nothing I could do even to comfort him. I’ve barely cried for him. Even now, you’ll notice, I can’t talk about it. I can only point to Erik and Talor and Björk and Kiefer and Celan. My father’s death is the event horizon.


Sorry for the radio silence, but we landed and instantly started or restarted new jobs (me and J), new schools (smaller J) and/or searches for new schools (C). It’s been busy!

We sure did miss our various critters. (Taking this adorable goober to a horse show in a coupla weeks; stay tuned.)

Europe definitely gave me new eyes for the beauty and fun of our home.

Feeling a zillion times cheerier and more energized than when I left. Mark of a proper vacation.

adventure time: so that happened

homage to catalonia

Last year it was lovely Lagrasse that granted all our wishes; this year it was Barcelona’s turn to give us the bathroom, parking space, wifi and hotel printer for which we collectively yearned. Mister Christopher was waiting for us in the hotel cafe, and he whisked us away to lunch at a nearby taverna, a meal that immediately eclipsed anything I had eaten in France (Vichysoisse, melon cream with jamón Ibérico, duck confit on mashed pumpkin, Crema Catalana.) Afterwards we walked to the Arc de Triomf, with an extended layover at a playground on the way and a pause to obtain excellent ice cream; through the park to El Born, the cast-iron-and-glass Victorian marketplace with Roman ruins in its basement (a long argument for Catalan nationhood); swiftly through the gorgeous Gothic Quarter to Flax & Kale for a very good dinner.

Today we met up with the Moores and visited La Sagrada Familia (another long argument for Catalan nationhood). I last saw the building in the 90s when it was roofless and bare, and I fell instantly and hopelessly in love with it. Since then it has been roofed over and consecrated. I walked through the doors in the Nativity façade, stopped dead and pretended I wasn’t blubbing. The rainbow stained-glass windows, the soaring, branching vaults, the curvilinear forms. It was like the first time I saw redwoods, or the kelp forest. A choir sang in my mind: O Holy Night, Gloria in Excelsis.

We spent hours in the basilica, climbing the towers in the Passion facade (Rowan: “Woah! This is AWESOME! Claire, Julia: look down!”) and exploring the museum in the crypt. I have to learn more about Gaudí and about the Catalans. When we had finally exhausted ourselves, we found a fantastic Extramaduran place around the corner for lunch (jamón Ibérico, tortilla de patata, pimientos de padrón, more paella than we could possibly eat). Christopher met us there and said: “So how was the cathedral?”

“It was okay.” I said, and we all looked at each other and started to laugh.

dear paris

O Paris, my friend.

You continue to be outrageously beautiful and interesting.

See you again soon.

ashes and air

The unexpected highlights of Paris this year were Sainte-Chapelle and the Pantheon. At the top of the servant’s stairs into Sainte-Chapelle I stopped for ten seconds, struck entirely dumb. A jillionty tonnes of stone are transformed into a soaring volume of space, filled with the rainbow light of stained glass. I knew the first part of the story from Waugh’s Helena and the True Cross: how Constantine’s mother had travelled to Jerusalem to find the relics of the Passion. I hadn’t known that Emperor Baldwin went broke and sold the Crown of Thorns and assorted True Cross bits to Saint Louis in the 13th century, and that Louis brought them to France. In doing so Louis was trying to combine spiritual and political power, heavenly and earthly crowns, and so the Sainte-Chapelle has the hybrid vigor of a place both sacred and imperial.

So too does the Pantheon, but the other way around. It was originally conceived as a church but consecrated, in the end, as a secular memorial to great men of the Republic. It has become another way for France to assert what it believes itself to be in the durable languages of stone and human remains. We took a tour around the dome and the view of Paris was beyond anything; between the Eiffel Tower and the Tour Montparnasse we saw a Montgolfier-style tethered balloon levitating its tourists. Down in the crypt we all separately found Marie Curie and were, to our mutual surprise, moved. She was interred there on her own merits, the first woman to be so honoured.

It’s what I meant when I talked about choosing our own ancestors: in my case, Saint Jane Austen, Saint Harvey Milk and Saint Octavia Butler. The future is a nation we build with our hope and the work of our hands. It derives its power from our beloved dead.

grand tour

I realized just before our flight that we would be landing half way through the matinee for which we had tickets; proof if proof were needed of just how badly I needed a break. I called Grant and woke him at 1am to explain, and somehow by the time we landed he had cajoled the theatre into exchanging our cheap-ass matinee tickets for tickets to the evening performance. Grant’s impossible to describe. He’d be one of my favourite people on earth even if he hadn’t introduced me to Jeremy; as it is, he is responsible for most of the great joys of my life.

Our hotel was a stone’s throw from St Pancras. Grant met us there and took us to one of the restaurants on Battlebridge Place, the newly developed expanse of public space between St Pancras and Kings Cross. Miss Jo came to meet us and so did Kirsty, so there I sat in the warm evening with my kids and some of my dearest friends, my Mardi-Gras-and-Burning-Man-crossover friends, bewilderingly happy. Kirsty and her friend Sacha joined us for the show, Lin-Manuel’s other musical, In the Heights; great fun.

As we walked back to our hotel we stopped at the large birdcage covered in rainbow LEDs, and Julia swung on the swing inside.

The next morning we hit in quick succession the British Library Reading Room (pages from Leonardo’s journals, the Magna Carta, Jane Austen’s writing desk and Persuasion in her handwriting), the Wellcome Collection (Napoleon’s toothbrush) and – our overwhelming favourite – the Grant Museum of Zoology, with its quagga and thylacine skeletons and its dodo bones.

Still jetlagged, I dozed off on the Eurostar and woke having no idea what country I was in; southern England looks a lot like Northern France. I had slept through the Channel tunnel! Arriving in Paris by train is infinitely preferable to flying in. We took the Metro from Gare du Nord and walked from Odeon to our apartment.

We travel like such nerds. Picking up where we left off last year in the Louvre, I noticed myself noticing things. Last year, feeling crosser, I was outraged at the self-congratulatory imperialism of places like the British Library and the Louvre. This year, humbler and more grateful, I thought: Yes, and; England and France robbed the world but in their museums, we-the-colonised can look at the things once kept only for our foreign kings. I love palaces made over into public spaces. I love the children in the Grant squealing over the jar of moles, and the black women among the Egyptian antiquities, their hair in cornrows exactly like the people in the friezes.

grounding devices

Dark times etc. Here’s what’s working right now to keep the panic attacks at bay (note effectiveness may cease at any time without warning):

  1. Following beloved institutions on Booky McBookface: Cal Academy, Marine Mammal Center, Monterey Bay Aquarium, SF MOMA
  2. (Making plans out past election day like there’s going to be a future)
  3. I know you think your cats are cute but my cats are super cute okay, I’ve given the matter a lot of thought
  4. The new Mexican place around the corner is full of natural light and delicious food that everyone in our family will eat
  5. I’m still starry-eyed as fuck about this city, man it’s beautiful

alive, alive oh, by diana athill

…the only way individuals can become sane about race is by plodding stubbornly on through the insanities.

hope in the dark, by rebecca solnit

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

alice has foots

Also, her belly is floof. Consider:

o negative

I have rare blood, O neg, the universal donor. After Orlando I went to give blood and was turned away because my heart was racing (it was the day Jo Cox died; I wanted to say “Haven’t you read the news?” but the poor nurse was just looking out for me.) I’ve since had an EKG and everything’s fine with the ol’ ticker except, of course, that it’s broken. It was broken before Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights and Dallas; it’s shattered now. God in whom I can’t believe, please help this suffering country.

At the same time, I’ve been flattened by a vicious cold. All I can read is Helen Garner and Joan Didion and Diana Athill and this NYer piece on hospice, and all I can watch is Angels in America. It feels like 2005, when the black water drowned New Orleans, or 2003, when Baghdad burned. Baghdad’s still burning. I cling to these words of Roxane’s:

We have to do better than all this “the world is coming to an end.” The world is not coming to an end. The world is changing.

In whatever small way I can work towards justice and peace, let me work.

friday five, but on a monday

  1. Have I really not blogged in three weeks? Oh well it’s not like anything of local or world-historical importance has happened HAHAHAHA dear god
  2. I can’t really bring myself to say anything about Orlando or the assassination of Jo Cox except that AR-15s and high-capacity magazines should have been banned years ago, and all the lobbyists and politicians who have prevented this are little better than murderers themselves.
  3. While I was trying to have a Saturday afternoon nap, much interrupted by sirens, a fire took out most of a block in the heart of our neighborhood, including our beloved local hardware store. We used to shop there even before we moved to Bernal. Several times a day I look at something that needs fixing around the house and have a muscle-memory of buying its replacement at Cole Hardware. All our neighbors got out in time, which is a great mercy.
  4. I had an almost-perfect day at work on Thursday, then came home only to grow increasingly distressed over Brexit, which broke my Judtist heart. David Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum now replaces Bush’s invasion of Iraq as the most appalling error of judgment committed by any English-speaking politician in the course of my adult life. Europe is important. Bureaucracies may seem boring and idiotic but they are inexpressibly less boring and idiotic and catastrophic than the world wars that they occasionally, through the great efforts of many kind people and with considerable good luck, replace.
  5. All of this and a lot of other stories that are not mine to tell have made the last few months very difficult, but there have been fierce joys as well: Hillary and Warren campaigning together; the enduring wonderfulness of Ginsberg and Sotomayor; the memory of my mother pouring out all her tremendous capacity for love in her last days, and the knowledge that her example will be with me for the rest of my life.

adventure time: mountain climbing

As a fan of sunbeams and meadows, I am very much in favor of Mt Tam.

Some of our short roommates share my enthusiasm for these landscapes.

Others find the whole California thing kind of tacky and overdone.

big dead place, by nicholas johnson

…the primary national interest is physical occupation, and science is the loophole through which the necessary infrastructure can emerge.