Archive for December, 2006

best day yet

Two thousand and bloody six is over, I am drinking pina coladas by the pool, Alex and Io are having a baby girl and I am crying with happiness.

julia’s first blogworthy remark

About eighteen months ago, when we finally decided to call our second daughter Julia rather than Zoë, I admitted to Salome that my last remaining objection to this (gorgeous) name was that it shared an initial with Jeremy. How would I abbreviate her name in records of her witty remarks on this blog? Salome suggested using Ja, and so I will.

R: There’s Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus and the shepherd and his sheep and the ox and the ass. Huh. There are only two wise men. We’re missing a wise man!

Ja: Uh-oh!

Baja continues beautiful and with the awesome food, although ask me sometime about the road to San Juan de la Costa. Uh-oh indeed.

news of the peace

It’s incredible that we can get on the Net here at all, so I can’t really complain about the limitations of our link (repeater won’t talk to my iBook, for some reason, so I have to sit right next to the satellite dish on top of Eberhard’s house. As this is a beautiful roof terrace with comfy chairs, a palapa for shade and a stunning view across Bahia La Paz, it’s a sacrifice I am willing to make.) Anyway, the real limitation is time, and I am taking advantage of a rare moment during which the girls are simultaneously napping (except that I think Julia has already woken up.) Blogging is a luxury and I appreciate it.

R: I have shared my views on Baja with the blogosphere!

Jonathan: Oh my God.

R: I’ve been here all of 48 hours. I should hire myself out as a consultant.

Jonathan (a consultant): Now you’re talking.

More news from La Paz, the city of peace: a chicken walking across the street downtown; an ugly tangle of power lines that would not disgrace San Francisco; SI VENDE signs everywhere; mangy, starry-eyed stray dogs waiting politely for the children to drop their food; fish tacos of a deliciousness that would make a gastronomically-inclined angel weep with delight. Dove-grey clouds have drawn a discreet veil over the relentless sun. Did I say that the Sea of Cortez is opal? It’s not, it’s more like blue topaz, lit from within.

Eberhard has loaned us his 1988 VW Fox, which I promptly christened Faustus (because he’s the fastest.)

Eberhard: How do you love my car?

R: I love him completely.

Today we drove out to the Playa Tecolote, a lonely Corona-ad beach facing the Isla Espiritu Santu with its red rock formations and sealion colony. There was a restaurant with a vaulted palapa roof, where we were sheltered from a boisterous wind. The ceviche was tart and juicy. People here seem to love children; even the waitrons are all smiles as the girls hurl tortillas y camarones to the floor.

Holidays are very different when you have kids. I can’t say I miss the before-time, because I never really miss it: I was unmedicated then, and desperately unhappy most of the time. But the work involved with children is endless – feeding them, washing them, washing their dishes, washing their clothes, changing them, playing with them, making sure they don’t drown or impale themselves or hurl themselves from great heights, answering their increasingly bewildering questions, tiring them out, getting them to sleep. And in case I haven’t made this perfectly clear, I am a very lazy woman. The big advantage of being here is that food, laundry, play and sleep are all within about thirty feet of each other, so we’re enjoying the change of scenery, and not having to walk quite as far.

But oh, the bewildering questions! Claire floored me yesterday.

C: Will the policemen in Mexico not kill us? Like the policemen in San Francisco want to kill us?

R: Whoa! Whoa. Whoa, back up a little. Jesus! Where did that come from?

J (peacefully): I’m guessing this is why people decide to homeschool.

tidings of comfort and joy

Since the post-Thanksgiving Season of Death, or SOD as I have taken to calling it, I have been volatile in a way that recalls my pre-Zoloft mood swingalings. Thus, Jeremy leaves my present on the train: “That’s it! Christmas is cancelled!” The engine driver gives it back: “You’ve saved Christmas!” We miss the dawn flight to LAX: “That’s it! Christmas is cancelled!” We get on our standby flight, sprint across the terminal and make our connecting flight to La Paz by the barest skin of our teeth: “You’ve saved Christmas!”

I swarmed over the Web before we came, trying to get a sense of what to expect from this part of Mexico, and it’s a measure of my failure that I hoped before the holiday was over to see a big, old Saguaro cactus. I must have seen a million as our tiny jet banked into La Paz’s miniature international airport. Remember the sagebrush-and-cactus desert from Warner Bros cartoons? Baja is just like that. I keep expecting Wile E. Coyote to appear with an Acme grenade launcher and a cunning plan.

(Let the record show that Claire and Julia survived the very stressful nine-hour journey south with astonishing grace and tenacity; so much so that when we touched down in La Paz, they were both peacefully asleep. This presented me and Jeremy with something of a conundrum, as our stroller was checked baggage and we had slightly too many bags to carry two sleeping children as well. Julia neatly solved the puzzle by waking up and toddling intrepidly across the tarmac, attached to my finger. The kid is awesome. Jeremy got a picture.)

So here we are at the Hacienda del Sol in La Paz; the house of the sun in the city of peace. Weirdly, the closest analogue in my experience is Turkey, another fast-developing tourist destination filled with Northern European retirees. Like Turkey, Mexico is startlingly poor. A lot of the houses have unfinished second storeys, waiting for more money to turn up, giving them crazy hairdos of cement blocks and exposed rebar. Huge lots are filled with building rubble like upturned puddings baked in a bowl. It’s easy to tell the unharmed desert from the waste land. Like Australia’s ecosystem, Baja’s is old and arid and obviously takes a long time to heal.

Yet yet yet! The wealth of it, the hummingbirds and pelicans and cranes, the honeyeater that just came to frisk me over for nectar, the opal Sea of Cortez, the bougainvillea and palm trees beloved of the retirees, the cactus! Eberhardt and Renata, our hosts, respect their cactus and have built around them, so the Hacienda bends to accomodate its ancient citizens. There’s a pool with tile mosaics and a centuries-old cactus on an island in the middle. There’s another pool with a concrete waterfall concealing the laundry. Staying here with Jonathan and Re, Knoa and Avi, Frankie, Tina and Noelle feels a bit like having a Burning Man camp in the middle of a tiny Hearst Castle. With tequila. And insane midgets.

A warm wind is blowing the winter fog out of my brainpan.

goodwill towards men

We’ve been together almost eleven years. I can tell he’s upset as soon as I pick up the phone.

“I left your Christmas present on the train.”

“Oh no.”

“I know.”

This is what it is to be married: I drive through the rain to Fourth and King, furious because he has been absent-minded again, anxious because we were trying to have a frugal Christmas, upset because a gift he bought me is lost, distraught because he is probably more upset about it than I am, secretly rather proud that I am being a good sport, then on the edge of tears because I am tired and hungry and driving through the rain.

I park and walk circles around the station. The ticket seller wants nothing to do with me, and it takes ten minutes or more before I find the kindly station agent with the lazy eye.

“My husband left my Christmas present on the train.”

He takes a step back. “Gracious! Follow me!”

We charge through the train. We interrogate the cleaner. I slow down as we go through carriage after carriage empty-handed, and hope fades.

“We’re all out of train,” he says, looking sympathetically at me with one eye and compassionately off to the left with the other.

We walk back up the platform in the rain.

“I’m mostly sad because my husband will be sad,” I confess. “I should go to a camera store and buy a replacement and tell him I found it.”

The station agent is amused. “There’s a great camera store on Second.”


“That’s the one!”

As we’re leaving we pass the driver. The station agent says off-handedly, “You didn’t see a digital camera still in its bag, did you?”

“I was going to drop it off in San Jose,” says the driver.

It takes me a minute to process this. “You found it?”

He produces it from the engine room. I hold it in my hands and stare. I am dumbfounded, elated. My joy makes everyone laugh. “Thank you all so, so much! You’ve saved my Christmas!”

infinite riches in a little room

Julia has moved into a crib in Claire’s room. As Jeremy keeps reminding me, it’s the girls’ room now.

I just went in to check on them. Delicate snores from both children. Bebe the demon cat, also fast asleep, is curled up at Claire’s feet.

why i read

Poppy Z Brite won’t remember me. I interviewed her for Geekgirl more than ten years ago, when Computer Associates flew me out to New Orleans for a junket. It was my overwhelming and confusing first US trip and I don’t remember much myself, just the scary cab ride out into the darkened burbs, and a house full of spooked cats, and the way her Louise Brooks bob framed her face. And how quickly she got bored with my dorkitude and stupid questions.

Since the storm, Brite’s Livejournal has been a must-read, and I finally got around to picking up her latest novels. Horror fandom has given her a lot of stick for moving off into foodie-thriller territory a la Anthony Bourdain, but I like her newer books far more than the old ones. Soul Kitchen has two moments of piercing beauty. In one, a character we have written off as a homophobe comes back with one final shot: “It’s not the same,” and dammit if she isn’t right. In the other, a character confesses to a terrifying weakness, and his partner, rather than being appalled, is filled with tender pride at the courage it took to confess.

Both scenes cut me to the quick, and that pained surprise and sweetness is what I read for. The comically overpraised Prep had nothing to come close, and is so profoundly unremarkable that it took me ten minutes just now to remember what on earth I had been reading on the flight to New York. Still, there was a mildly entertaining overlap with an early section of Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Father, where the young Obama is packed off to a prep school in Hawaii.

Dreams was obviously written well before Obama considered running for office (he might have glossed over the pot and coke otherwise.) As such it’s far more revealing than most of the turgid pap ground out by political publicity machines. The section that gripped me most is his account of his work as a civil rights organizer in Chicago, facing daunting odds, very slowly learning to listen to the people he is working with and to achieve modest results.

The methods he learns are surprisingly similar to those laid out by the authors of Peopleware – not so much organizing or management as enablement, if that word didn’t already have negative connotations. Obama can only organize politically when he listens to what the people are really asking for, and finds ways to help them get it. Sumana is trying to acquire these kinds of skills in New York, and finding it an uphill struggle. I wanted to encourage her (but couldn’t find the words) because it seems to me that this is an extremely rare yet essential set of tools, applicable to a broad range of goals. And women – well, people generally, really – have a very long way to go, and we need all the skilled enablers we can get.

The last section of Obama’s book deals with his journey to Kenya to meet the rest of his father’s family. It’s an extraordinary story that I won’t even try to do justice to here. I mention it only because when I came back to the biography James Tiptree Jr I noticed with shame that Alice Sheldon’s parents might have been the whites on safari who gave Obama’s grandfather such a scalding reference.

Sheldon struggled all her life with the tension between her formidable intelligence and the limited options available for mid-century women. In these respects the biography sits alongside those of Rosalind Franklin and Katherine Graham as reminders to me of how far women have come (and how precarious our gains may be.) But Obama’s memoir belongs in a far richer and stranger group, with Rory Stewart’s books and with the amazing An African in Greenland, all of which illustrate the extent to which my race and class trump my sex. A straight white man’s life is not the default human experience, and the rest of us are not measured by the extent to which we deviate from that norm. We share that much. Beyond our fraught relationship with white malehood, though, we have wildly different challenges and unimaginably different lives, and a great deal to learn from one another. Doc Brite is right: It isn’t the same, at all.

Oh that we could all meet somewhere in the middle. American Born Chinese is a lovely, lovely book (in a year of stellar graphic novels) but one scene in it will haunt me until I die. Tripitaka is taking the three demon kings into the West in search of wisdom, right? Well, they arrive, and it turns out wisdom is the illegitimate child of two unwed homeless Jews. We pan back to see the nativity scene with the star of Bethlehem blazing above it and Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy the three wise men.

Peace on earth, y’all.



Originally uploaded by Goop on the lens.

j got a camera for christmas


Originally uploaded by Goop on the lens.

pokes head up over the parapet

Is it safe to come out yet? No more gut-wrenchingly sad things happening, other than, you know, the usual Iraq and North Korea and human condition crap? TOUCH WOOD.

Spent the weekend napping on the sofa and watching Jane Austen adaptations on DVD. Thanks to everyone who took the kids.

happy birthday sweetheart


Originally uploaded by dob.

Dinner at La Ciccia. The wine was goood.

julia plays the blues

Multimedia message

Originally uploaded by Goop on the lens.


So today’s post was supposed to be about how delighted I was to see Matthew and Kathryn and Sumana and Leonard again, and the amazing meal we shared at WD-50, and how even when you love your coworkers as much as I love mine, a little volitional human company can do wonders for the rigors of a business trip.

But it’s not. You remember how I said that Leslie Harpold and James Kim were both friends of friends? Funny story about that! And by funny I mean achingly sad. Leslie Harpold has died as well.

R: So I was at the conference in New York when I found out, and I went blundering out of the room in tears. And my colleague X was the one who came after me, and when I’d stopped crying I remembered to ask about his wife, because, did I tell you she had thyroid cancer?

S: Right, that’s one of the curable ones, right?

R: Yeah. Most of the time. But not for her. So they’re trying to decide what to do, and they have an eight year old boy, and they get him a dog so he’ll have something to love while his mother is dying, and – get this – the dog dies.

S: No.

R: Yes. And I said, ‘You need to get him a robot.’ And X said ‘It’d just malfunction.’

S: God.

R: Right. So I went to get the taxi to the airport, and I shared it with a stranger, right? And he was really sweet, and I said ‘I’m so glad of the company’ and told him what had happened, and it turns out his next door neighbor just hanged herself, and her ten-year-old son found the body.

S: You’re joking.

R: Wish I was. And I’m thinking that the common thread through all this is that it’s just unbearable when little kids have to grow up without their parents, or parents have to bury their children.

S: It’s enough to make you want to put a bullet in your head.


R: …or not.

S: Right! That’s what I meant.

also known as glory

Add another item to the list of astounding things these eyes have seen (my newborn daughters, Newgrange, fire devils at Black Rock); flying over Long Island this afternoon I was dazzled by rainbow reflections off windows far below, and after thinking about it for a bit, realized I was looking at an urban specter of the brocken.

life and plenty of it

Seems as good a time as any to mention the vision I had last week. Hedwig was still in the shop so I had to take Claire and Jules to swimming class and to the dentist on public transport. Luckily the pool and the pediatric dentist are only half a mile apart, so though it was all very stressful, we managed to pull it off. (Claire has perfect teeth. She loves going to the dentist, the little freak, because there are TVs above all the chairs and small terriers making the rounds, and the nurses are lovely and shower her with stickers and toys. My efforts to prevent her from inheriting my dental phobia seem to be paying off.)

So we’re heading home on the 24-Divisadero, and Claire is asleep with her head on my lap, and Julia is standing on my other knee gurgling at the passengers on the seat in front, and I look at my girls and say “I am so lucky” as I try to do every day or two, and when I look out the window again I see the Tree of Life. It’s the sign for some business or other, a nice piece of ironwork hanging out from a corner shop; but its branches and roots are open to the light and there’s a circle around the whole thing. It’s Yggdrasil all right.

In less time than it takes to draw breath, I realize that I am the tree and my daughters are my roots and my branches are my mother and father and their parents and their parents’ parents, all the way back to the beginning of life (I know that’s sort of the wrong way round, but that’s how it appeared to me); and that my improbable decision to have children at all was the moment at which I began to participate in my life instead of just observing it (obviously not true for everyone, but true for me); and that the idea of a species is as artificial as the idea of a nation-state, and that my loyalty properly lies not with Australia and humanity but with Earth and all living things.

I have these little epiphanies from time to time. I won’t vouch for their intellectual merit, but there’s no denying their emotional force.

San Francisco is painfully beautiful at the moment, all humane residential architecture and damp Indian-summer flowers bowing in the first rains.

no happy ending

My heart goes out to the family.


San Francisco geek circles are actually smaller than you might think. I don’t know Leslie Harpold, but we have four close friends in common. In the same way, although I’ve never met James and Kati Kim, I’m sure I know at least half a dozen people who have. Their disappearance swept across my RSS feeds like a spark across a dry field.

The Kims live a few blocks from me; James is my age and his job is very similar to mine; their two daughters are the same ages as Claire and Julia. It could have been us driving out of cell phone coverage, into the dark and snow. The thought of it is a knot of pain beneath my solar plexus. I cried with relief when Kati and the children were found safe yesterday. I lay awake last night thinking of James, as if by the force of my will I could keep him warm and lead the searchers to him.

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.

Ah how hard to say what a harsh thing was
that wood savage and rough and hard
that to think about it renews the fear!

poo bagel

Longtime readers of this blog have heard this story, perhaps many times over, but no matter: Poo Bagel, or, the best Christmas ever is today’s personal memory at Leslie Harpold’s Advent Calendar.

And yesterday’s was Yoz!

mama has a new imaginary boyfriend

Oh yes, Casino Royale has made me want to lick Daniel Craig, and I do not believe I am alone in this. I would have preferred to watch an entire film about M, though. I’m 35 years old and have crow’s feet, so is it any wonder I crave depictions of older, competent woman? It’s a big part of why I adored The Queen (the other part is that it’s All About My Mother for neurotic half-English Protestants like me.)