Archive for July, 2010

milo’s song

Tyrannosaurus Rex!
He was the king!
But then he had a breast.

Has to run and hide!
Because if we don’t
We’ll all get died.

Oh, no! A meteor!
Oh, no! A leaf-eator!

Milo: I think that I will never ever write another song.

Me: Because this one is so perfect?

Milo: Yes.

nerdcore marriage & 2 kids

You need some back story, an essential piece of family lore which I have mysteriously never blogged. Once when Claire was very small, we made one of our regular visits to (be still my heart) the Monterey Bay Aquarium. A docent was introducing her granddaughter to the Pacific Giant Octopus. When the docent ran her finger in a squiggly pattern against the glass, the octopus followed her with a tentacle. In a voice aching with affection, the docent said: “He loves to interact.”

Now you are ready for my story. I have called my husband on the telephone. This is what ensues.

R: Can you stuff the girls’ sleeping bags into the big IKEA bag? And pyjamas for each of them? And a change of clothes for tomorrow?

J: Sure.

R: …with a pickle?

J: You don’t like pickles.

R: Hate ’em.

J: The girls don’t like pickles. NO ONE LIKES PICKLES.

R: Someone must like pickles.

J: Because they exist?

R: …yes, that was going to be my supporting evidence.

J: So someone likes neutrinos?

R: Not very often. And only in caves, far beneath Antarctica.

J: They like them. They just don’t like to interact.

can’t believe i am resorting to “five things make a post”

Item the first: When I fell off Bella I landed on the point of my hip. I was kinda stiff for a few days but mostly okay, and even had a riding lesson in the midst of it; but then I had an evening lesson with Dez and Dez was eeeeville; no-stirrups, trot over a crossbar and canter out from it evil. I could not do it. I can half-ass most things on a horse, but this felt like there was a pointy bit of metal jammed into my hip joint, so I had to opt out. Mehness, and likewise mehitude! I was actively limping all weekend, which suhuhuhucked, because that weekend we went to China Camp with the camping gang, who are all great fun and who love to hike. My hip was so hurty Saturday night that it took me forever to get to sleep, even in our lovely tent under the lovely trees.

Lucky J and I had dug some old Burning Man camping armchairs outta the attic, because I jammed myself into one of those Sunday morning and read books for a couple of hours while the able-bodied – including, humiliatingly, my four-year-old – circumnavigated Turtle Back Hill. This was follow-the-sun sloth, because I had to keep dragging my chair into new sunbeams in the woods at our campsite. Eventually the chair had little tracks behind it, as do rocks on Racetrack Playa. Anyway, enough rest and being lazy and I started to get the circulation back in my toes, and on Tuesday night I had a decentish ride on Omni, the big handsome black off-the-track Thoroughbred I have been riding lately.

Omni is item the second. He’s way dumber than lovely Bella but he’s brave and strong and gentle and wouldn’t harm a fly. He reminds me a little bit of Scottie in that you talk to him through his cadence, lengthening and shortening the rhythm of his stride. But Scottie was a big chicken, and Omni’s not afraid of anything. I am, you’ll be relieved to hear, not getting attached to him at all; when I secretly think of him as Black Beauty I am merely being ironic. The other day, when the message I was passing along the reins to him was “I love you, I love you, I love you,” was an inexplicable error for which the management apologizes; the relevant brain centres have been summarily fired.

Item the third is maps. One reason I adore China Camp is because it is surrounded by wetlands, so that the map of it always reminds me of the awesome map in Arthur Ransome’s Secret Water:

What made it even awesomer this time was reading Secret Water to Claire. We’ve been having a revival of Swallows & Amazons fever ever since Liz moved into a houseboat and Danny bought Daisy. I see that Liz has been doing some cartography of her own.

Item the Fourth: glory but I have been having a brilliant run of books lately. I can especially recommend The Little Stranger and The Haunting of Hill House, two basically perfect Gothic horror stories; The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, which succeeded in making me even more upset about the DPRK, which is quite a feat; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the first book of popular science to reduce me to incoherent sobs three times – it encompasses the whole spectrum of what I think of as My America, from Wired to The Wire; everything by Peter Hessler, whose books are an excellent complement to that awesome Yellow Gorges documentary we saw, Up the Yangtze; The Marketplace of Ideas, which I think lingered in the back of my mind all through this Cambridge jaunt until I had the first glimmering, a couple of weeks ago, of insight into the way the Oxbridge experience was intentionally watered-down and exported throughout the English-speaking world, so that what I was given was not a classical education in that sense but a colonial simulacrum of one, the University of Sydney as a branch of the Scouts or Pony Club – not a new insight at the intellectual level (sidere mens eadem mutato, after all) but actually *felt* this time around, and now having to be processed; and on an entirely different note, a novel that has stayed with me ever since I read it much earlier this year, Michelle Huneven’s remarkable Blame.

Blame got me interested in AA, which turns out to have been heavily influenced by William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, a copy of which is also on my nightstand waiting to be read, which is not altogether surprising as both the Huneven and the James were recommendations from Jessa Crispin, whose taste is sometimes enigmatic but never dull. Oh! I am so very fond of books, and of the San Francisco Public Library, and I am so lucky to have them.

Item the Fifth: I want to tell you about two awesome things that Claire said; forgive me. On the second-last morning in London we took McKenze out for a large and stodgy English breakfast. McKenze was amused at having overheard Julia describe her as “bossy”; we laughed, and asked the children whether McKenze was bossy or nice. Julia stubbornly stuck to “bossy”, but Claire said with what was to me quite surprising judiciousness: “bossy and nice.”

Later she came up with an idea for an art project for this year’s Balsa Man. I said that this year we could stay back from the fire, so she wouldn’t have to be scared about getting burned, and she said something that absolutely floored me:

“I wasn’t scared I would get burned. I was scared for some of the other people, who were being silly.”

She’s only seven. She was six when this happened, and she got in such a right state about it that I had assumed for a year without even thinking about it that she was terrified on her own behalf. I’d no idea she had such complex modelling of and empathy for complete strangers in place already. Some days I think maybe I am doing a few things right. But really I can’t take much credit for her remarkable and complicated self; it is, after all, her self.

I guess I did have a lot to say, and didn’t need the artificial constraint of Five Things Make A Post after all! Let me go back and rewrite the segues! Nah, bugrit. You know I love you, right?

did i mention the apricots? god!

Um, and so. France was freakin amazing. I set up shop in the kitchen of the flat and cranked out words and words and words. Janny had a couple of friends with pools: Annette, with a walled garden on a hill surrounded by vineyards and wind farms; Ian and Jill, with a pool among prickly pears on the downslope of Villerouge. The kids swam every day, I think, which was lucky because temperatures were in the thirties, or hundreds, depending on where I am. We climbed the hill and sat in the window of the ruined castle. My God, France is just beyond gorgeous, the red earth and the ink-green forests and the vines in their lime-green lines. And yellow grass and the bronze-bright sky.

We had lunches in the cool dining room and dinners on the terrace looking out over a yellow field of grass next door. My God, the food. Tomatoes and cucumbers and greens and avocados and hard boiled eggs and black olives. Cheese! Creamy brie and nutty gruyere. Dense rich baguettes. Jesus God the stone fruit: nectarines so juicy eating them was like trying to eat a mango. Apricots jumping out of Jan’s tree, red-speckled and hot from the sun, intense as concentrate.

We didn’t do much else but eat and talk. I read A Place of Greater Safety, Hilary Mantel’s French Revolution novel – this after reading her Tudor novel Wolf Hall in England. Best holiday reading since Hemingway and Gertrude Stein in Paris. We bought a game of Carcassonne in Cambridge and found it to be great fun, like mah jongg; we played it for an hour every day after lunch. Jan took me to the market in Lezignan-Corbieres, where I bought a quilt for our bed that may be the most beautiful and grownup thing I have ever owned. It cost fifty euros.

McKenze and I were chatting so hard we missed the exit to Carcassonne airport. Being Californians, we assumed the autoroute was like the freeway and that we would be able to turn around in a few miles; in fact, it was 17km to the next exit… we made our flight, which was late anyway, and Jan and Jeremy were having fewer kittens than I would have expected. I would have had dozens of kittens, me. A tearful farewell ensued. Jan will be visiting us in San Francisco soon.

Ryanair is horrible. Stansted is miraculous and the express to Liverpool Street was at least fast, but then we were on the Underground in rush hour with all our luggage, and that blew. I remembered we could get out at Lancaster Gate and walk, and that saved us a transfer and four stops, which was good. Our hotel was expensive and our room was tiny, but very very welcome. Grant and Jo met us at a funny little Italian place around the corner and we had a very merry dinner.

Our one day in London was way too long and intense from my trying to pack too much in; but the girls got to see Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge, at least from a distance, and we met Cait and Nora and James and rode on the London Eye, and then Grant and Christian met us for lunch at Canteen and I had Eton Mess, which is always a highlight. Then we caught the bus to the British Museum and I showed the girls the Parthenon Frieze and the Rosetta Stone. And Kirsty and Chris met us in the Great Court for tea and scones. And then we went to Kensington Gardens and had a bottle of wine while the kids played in the playground there, so very civilized, and then we went to a Thai restaurant, and then I had to take the kids back to the hotel and collapse.

And then we came home. The flight was fine/awful. The cat is overjoyed that we are home and I have the scars to prove it. Monday was a public holiday, luckily, so I did two loads of washing and weeded the flower garden and went to the vegetable garden with Salome and Kathy and all the kids, and we harvested the arugula and had that for dinner last night. Yesterday morning I rode Bella, far better than I expected to, but we did have a parting of ways after she took a long spot at a fence and I lost my balance. Talk about coming back to earth with a crash. I’m a little bit gimpy but fine.