Archive for August, 2006


Met extraordinary people. Had ideas. Waved hands in air. Came home, collapsed exhausted on couch.

Nursed baby. Nursed baby. Nursed baby. I think she’s planning to double in size again.

fast foo

I am in my tent at Foo Camp. It’s what Burning Man would be like if you held it in an office complex. This morning over bagels, I got to thank Kevin Kelly for starting Wired and changing my life.

It’s five to eleven. I can hear the contractually obligated drum circle (for it is written that, whenever two or three Californians come together, they will form a drum circle.) Julia is peacefully asleep. The only light comes from the screen of my iBook.

Ubiquitous Wifi is da bomb.

the rachel wears prada

Four cheers for off-price department stores! I found black, square-toed, chunky-mid-heeled dress shoes by Prada for $99. They are the awesome! Also topical, as Kathy and I took the little ones to see The Devil Wears Prada in Japantown on the weekend. Julia and Martha, world’s most splendid babies, slept all the way through. San Francisco must be the best place in the world to see that film: when Meryl said “Everyone wants to be us!” the entire audience burst out in honest mirth.

Other recent treats: Chez Panisse with the Richardson-Harihareswaras (crostini, egg drop soup, souffle, figs); An African In Greenland.

not that i missed him at all, but

…Jeremy’s plane has begun its descent into San Francisco. How do I know? I have had a Java applet open on my desktop all day, tracking his progress across Greenland and Canada.

I am lame.

ETA: I called him just as he turned his phone on. So there you have it. My husband survived the great hair-gel aviation disaster of 2006.

the shire is so third age

[15:29] mizchalmers: do you think if tolkien were alive today, hobbits would live in the unitary authority?
[15:30] phatfish50: they would be at war with the wombles
[15:30] mizchalmers: LOL
[15:30] phatfish50: madame cholet would be galadriel
[15:30] mizchalmers: great uncle bulgaria and gandalf face off
[15:30] mizchalmers: tobermory would kneecap legolas
[15:31] phatfish50: right. its got blockbuster written all over it

quicksand, offal

Jeremy survived his flight. I know, shock. Now he’s only facing the usual risks of a traveler in Cambridgeshire: quicksand, offal, disgruntled undergraduates.

Extreme tiredness has prompted a phase of reading first fantasy (some Kage Baker, some Emma Bull) then several old favourites. The latter inspired me to write my novel in the style of each. When I picked up Gertrude Stein the other day, I decided Anne’s voice would be all run-on sentences in lower case. Pnin rebuilt my plot in short-story blocks. Now I have my hot paws on Jessica Mitford’s Hons & Rebels, I’m working on a brittle aristocratic comedy of manners.

Yet another reason I love living in San Francisco: my copy of Hons & Rebels is inscribed to “Randy” from “Decca”, which was Mitford’s nickname. She lived and died in Oakland, so it’s almost certainly her handwriting. Took my breath away.

I gave up on both Crystal Fire (so badly written I couldn’t bear it) and The End of Faith (tweaked my anxiety over Jeremy’s flight). A History of Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, was a big success. The author Madawi al-Rasheed is descended from the Rashids, the only emirate that seriously challenged the Saud-Wahhabi hegemony in the Nejd, so the book is that rara avis, history told by someone other than the victors.

The chapters on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries helped me sort out the dramatis personae and their shifting alliances – Rashids, Sauds and Hashemites all playing off the Ottomans and the British for an edge in local politics. Social fissures everywhere – between oasis and tribes, town and countryside, Sunni and Shia, religious and political authorities, emirates and empires – presented substantial opportunities to the ambitious young man.

As the Ottoman Empire crumbled, Britain sent guns and money but opted for a hands-off managerial style. Eventually Ibn Saud took a haphazardly-federated Arabia (Najd, Hijaz, Hasa, Asir) while the Hashemite sons Abdullah and Faisal got the freshly-minted, largely fictional nations of Transjordan and Iraq.

Al-Rasheed made a very good point about the Shia farming community in Hasa, despised by the bedouin for being Shiites and fellahin and for not knowing their tribal genealogies. She argues that loss of genealogy does not necessarily indicate a foreign or non-Arab origin: it may be just another consequence of sedentarism, settled people tending to lose their stories. This ties nicely into the pictures Anne and Thesiger tend to paint of nomads wrangling amicably for hours over the lineage of their cousin or camel.

he is a very good sport

Shannon Lee: I used to have a business card that gave my title as Jedi Knight.

R: Please don’t tell people that. They’ll think you have a really small light sabre.

a physical as well as a moral idiot

Jonathan threw another excellent party, this one for the kids. The drive up was hellish, as we caught the Friday afternoon traffic for each of Palo Alto, Oakland, Berkeley, Davis and Sacramento on the way; but the place was completely worth it, one of three former summer camps in the pinewoods around a tiny Sierra Nevada lake. Lilypads, frogs, fish, rabbits, reeds. A lovely group of people, essentially the Berkeley Montessori School mafia, and so delicious food – Korean barbeque, cold soba, portobello mushrooms, salad with feta, pecans and cranberries, that kinda thing.

(Jeremy and Claire just came out of the bathroom saying: “Look!” Claire was on Jeremy’s shoulders and both were brushing their teeth. Matching grins of triumph.)

Yesterday afternoon both girls were simultaneously asleep, a world-historical moment, so I got in one of the canoes and paddled out on the lake. I only did it because Recheng looked happy and tranquil out there on a kayak. I remember canoeing from Camp David – not the one of the Peace Accords, but the dodgy Anglican summer camp we used to attend down on Port Hacking. The Georges River is brackish and tidal and canoeing was extremely difficult, another of the cold and painful and frightening and ultimately unrewarding experiences that summed up that part of my life.

Of course I am twice the size now and far stronger, and what amazed me yesterday was the simple pleasure of being out on the lake, dipping the wooden paddle into the golden water, propelling the aluminium canoe exactly where and how fast I wanted it to go. It occurred to me that my species of Christianity had made me a physical as well as a moral idiot. My oar strokes created long-lasting vortices so that there were ironic air-quotes of whirlpools around my wake. Huge blue dragonflies monitored my passage.

This morning I had to take Jeremy and Claire out as well, and as soon as Jeremy sat down in the front I realized I had never been allowed to sit in the back and steer before. I offered to swap but Jeremy said he liked being in front, and that is all the metaphor anyone will ever need for my relationships with my husband and the church. Jeremy noticed that the temperature of the water changed as we went over the weeds, and that you could feel the warmth in the soles of your feet through the aluminium shell of the canoe. Claire said that the weeds were like space.

“You mean like stars? Like daddy’s movie?”


The drive home was far more straightforward. We missed the Ikeda’s in Auburn but stopped at the smaller one in Davis for excellent tamales. Between Davis and San Francisco there is not very much of interest.

“Vacaville Commons. I guess that’s the tragedy you hear so much about.”

“Vacaville is literally cowtown.”

We found a parking spot right in front of the house, and Gilbert and Shannon Lee and Ada hanging out around the new garden, having just hung the drapes. Ada had an EFF party she needed to go to, but Gilbert and Shannon Lee came up for guacamole and rack of lamb and rhubarb pie and caramel corn and coffee. We talked about systems administration and death. Shannon Lee has an excellent story about pecan pie and death. You should ask him about it.

All in all I am feeling much feistier and more sardonic, by which I mean that the meds have kicked in. All you have to do is stare Death in the eye, and eventually he has to look away. Besides, I was kidding: I look awesome in black.

i find my lack of faith disturbing

The disclosure of the London liquid explosive plot coincides with Jeremy flying to the UK for a week and me forgetting my meds. I spent the day inside the Schwarzschild radius of a snit so dense that no fun could escape from it, always an odd thing in San Francisco with the bright sky pouring golden light generously onto one and everyone on Kearny Street looking ridiculously huggable and hip. I convinced myself that Jeremy would never come home and I’d have to raise the girls alone and I’m going to make an awful widow, bitter and hopeless and never just letting it go.

Of course the reason I am writing this is because, now that I have written it as if it were a joke, I can’t believe the universe would be ironic enough to let it happen. You sell your damn soul to reason and the scientific method and testable hypotheses, and one cold glance from Death has you scrambling for the magical thinking you fondly imagined you had thoroughly excised. My religion is Atheist In Foxhole.

i heart trendy vicars

Shannon Lee: The New Zealand Prayer Book is the hot new liturgy!

still here

Researching virtual machines and the Urabi Revolt. Julia can crawl and cruise, and is having a growth spurt. Claire is reliably peeing in the potty. She wants to be an aircraft mechanic. Bebe has achieved nothing.

Edited to add:

J: Poor Bebe.

R: Huh? Oh.

J: She can draw!

R (skeptically): Bebe can draw?

J: She can draw blood!

the continuing adventures of husband-man and wifey

R: This baby is always laughing! Doesn’t she know the world is a cruel, cold place?

J: Nope.