Saturday, December 22, 2007

New Year, New Blog

It's a new year--and a new blog. Starting today, I’ll taking most of my blogging elsewhere: to http://saclights.com/blog/MargoOL. SacLights is a new Sacramento entertainment and lifestyle website published by The Sacramento Bee. I’ll be writing a blog called “Desperately Seeking Sacramento,” where I’ll more or less continue writing about what I always write about here on Skipping Town: exploring Sacramento and trying to figure out what life looks like here. It’s an exciting opportunity to be a little more aggressive in my search to understand the “real” Sacramento, and I hope you’ll visit my blog, leave comments, etc. I’ll still be posting occasionally to Skipping Town, but my Sacramento musings will all be on “Desperately Seeking Sacramento” now. Happy reading!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Book List, 2007

I haven’t kept very close track of the books I’ve read this year; that will change in 2008. Fortunately, I kept a partial list of books I read during my trips in Spain, and I have a bookshelf-full here to jog my memory. Here’s what I read in 2007, more or less:

Books Read While Waiting to Return to Spain After My Visa “Exile”:

1. Babel Tower—A.S. Byatt
2. The Sex Lives of Cannibals—J. Maarten Troost
3. The Secret Life of Salvador Dali—Salvador Dali

Books Read in Europe:

4. Sister Carrie—Theodore Dreiser
5. Perfume—Patrick Suskind
6. Notes on a Scandal—Zoe Heller
7. The Good German—Joseph Kanon
8. Winter in Madrid—C.J. Sansom (Madrid)
9. Exit into History—Eva Hoffman (Romania)
10. Gaudi—Gijs Van Hensbergen
11. City of Falling Angels—John Berendt (read after Venice)
12. The Country Girls trilogy—Edna O’Brien (Galway and Edinburgh)
13. The Sea—John Banville (Galway)
14. That They May Face the Rising Sun—John McGahern (Galway)
15. Dracula—Bram Stoker (read in preparation for Romania)
16. A Pound of Paper—John Baxter
17. About Alice—Calvin Trillin

Books Read While Lying on the Floor/Futon of Our Studio in Citrus Heights, Staving Off Despair:

18. The Historian—Elizabeth Kostova
19. Snow—Orhan Pamuk
20. The Mandelbaum Gate—Muriel Spark
21. Forever—Pete Hamill
22. Tortilla Flat—John Steinbeck
23. East of Eden—John Steinbeck
24. We’ll Always Have Paris: Sex and Love in the City of Light—John Baxter
25. Purple Hibiscus—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
26. The Seville Communion—Arturo Perez-Reverte
27. The Whole World Over—Julia Glass
28. In Cold Blood—Truman Capote
29. The Exception—Christian Jungersen (this book actually plunged me into deeper despair)

Books Read on Our Honeymoon:

30. Family Man—Calvin Trillin
31. Swim to Me—Betsy Carter
32. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets—Eva Rice

A Few Books Read in Our New Apartment, in a Much Better Frame of Mind:

33. Truth & Beauty (A Friendship)—Ann Patchett
34. Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul—Karen Abbott
35. Bridge of Sighs—Richard Russo

Monday, December 17, 2007

Singing and Strangers at the Mondavi Center

This weekend, in pursuit of some holiday spirit, Andrew and I went to the Mondavi Center, a wonderful performing arts venue in Davis, to see the a capella ensemble Chanticleer. Owned by the Mondavis of wine fame, the center hosts performances in theatre, dance, and music as well as film screenings and lectures. It was our first time there, and we were duly impressed: the venue itself is modern and airy, with a large auditorium and pleasant, window-encased lobby atrium, and the lineup from 2007 and for 2008 almost (almost) rivals what we would have found at the (much-missed) BAM. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company is among the upcoming dance entries; Azar Nafisi and Seymour Hersh spoke in 2007. I’m not sure if the Mondavi Center is up to hosting a performance from, say, the Ballet Preljocaj, led by the French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, which Andrew and I saw at BAM a couple of years ago and which featured, among much other strangeness, dancers with wine glasses affixed to their limbs; but perhaps I’m wrong. We shall see.

At intermission, as Andrew and I stood in the lobby and assessed the venue and the people around us, Andrew remarked, “This might be the only time we’ve ever been to a performance where there is no chance of our knowing anyone else inside.” It was true; in New York, in Barcelona, chances were good that we’d know someone else watching the program, even if our paths did not cross. But at the Mondavi Center, we knew, with close to absolute certainty, that we could look at every face in the theater and recognize not a one. It was a very strange feeling of having stepped outside of our lives.

Out of our lives, indeed, and straight into California: "Listening to this is like having an auditory massage," we overheard a woman remark.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Morning at the DMV

It’s official: I’ve changed my name. After spending the morning visiting the Social Security Office and the DMV, I’ve both changed my name and switched my driver’s license from New York to California. I’ve registered to vote out here as well. It was time-consuming to drive between the two offices (especially because—not surprisingly—I got hideously lost), but ultimately far less painful than my DMV experiences in NYC. In fact, I walked in at 11:00am, got a number, and was called immediately: no need to line up outside the office two hours before it opened. You might argue that this makes Sacramento superior to NYC. In this instance, I suppose you’d be right.

Well, perhaps not: California’s state-changing process required me to take a written driver’s exam of 36 questions. I passed. But if I hadn’t, it would have been really annoying.

So I’m now officially my new married self, though my credit cards, passport, and other sundry items still have my “maiden” name. I've made the name-changing choice, so, now that I'm a Matron, getting everything changed will be my first project for the New Year. (Trying to do it now is dangerous: my plane tickets for Christmas are in my former name, so I at least need my passport and frequent flyer information to match.)

Until today, I’ve been in a quasi-name-state, hesitant to give my new married name since it wasn’t really official. I’m still getting checks in my old name; my email is still my old name (I’ve set up a new one and may, at some point, try to switch—thank goodness for gmail’s automatic forwarding feature!). Now I can give my new name with abandon. Let the name-changing begin.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Weekend In and Out of Sacramento

Friday night, we nearly had a repeat experience of our hideous incarceration with the Wyndham timeshare presentation. Earlier in the week, Andrew called me from work and said, “I’ve done something you’re not going to like.” He’d gotten a phone call from a salesperson from the Sacramento Kings—the local NBA team, for anyone who, like me, drew a blank at the name—offering him free tickets to Friday’s game in order to learn more about season ticket packages. Andrew’s love of any sporting event led him to momentarily forget the consequences from the last time we’d accepted a “free” offer, and so we found ourselves heading to Arco Arena for a game against the Clippers. During the second quarter, a man in a suit introduced himself, offered Andrew a folder of information about ticket packages, and left. That was it. Whew.

This weekend, we also had a Sacramento breakthrough: we used public transportation, including the Sacramento light rail, and Amtrak train, and an Amtrak bus, to get ourselves from here to San Francisco. Granted, our breakthrough concerns our ability to escape Sacramento; but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that we were able to pack a toothbrush, hit the road, and spend a fabulous night in a big city—without troubling our Volvo at all.

San Francisco was sunny and blue-skied this weekend, but the Christmassy feeling was there regardless: in the big tree in Union Square; in the bustle of crowds laden with shopping bags; in shops’ decorated windows, particularly those from the jewelry store Shreve & Co., with small, ornately rendered fairies cavorting with nickel-sized gems. On Saturday, we arrived in time for lunch and headed straight for Chinatown, where we ate at a dim sum restaurant I’d read about on the super-food-snob website Chowhound. As promised, it was dingy, crowded, delicious, and cheap, and we were the only non-Chinese enjoying the shu mai and turnip cakes.

We spent the day wandering in and out of shops and taking in the city; that night, we went to see Margot at the Wedding (which, among so much else, will not be coming to Sacramento) and had dinner at a restaurant in North Beach. We had a drink later at Vesuvio, next door to the City Lights bookshop. On Sunday, we had a brunch of “little pancakes” at Sears Fine Food, then did a bit more shopping before sadly catching the bus that would lead us to the train that would lead us to the light rail that would lead us home.

Review

A review I wrote of the Nisbet Plantation, where Andrew and I spent our honeymoon, was just published on a new travel website called Vezeo, along with a couple of pictures I took. Check it out!

http://www.vezeo.com/2007/12/10/a-sophisticated-honeymoon-at-the-nisbet-plantation/#more-447

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Version of Winter

I feel like I've somehow slipped into the wrong season. Today, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the still-red leaves are sparkling on the tree-lined streets of our neighborhood--it's a perfect October day, warm enough for just a sweater if I decide to head out for a walk. The Northeast, meanwhile, has been pounded with snow, truly December-like; hats and gloves and scarves and boots are--I imagine--piled beside front doors, school delays are being hoped for, and lighted Christmas trees are framed in frosty windows.

Ah, the Northeast. I miss the winter. I miss walking through New York on cold December days, wearing my very silly fur-lined, ear-flapped hat, tucking my hair around my neck, beneath my scarf, for extra warmth. I miss the overabundance of radiator heat in my old Brooklyn apartment, which turned the rooms into cozy havens, warm protection from the icy wind outside. I miss seeing people toting armsful of shopping bags on the subway; the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center; the tourists crowded around the lighted windows on Fifth Avenue; the red-and-white awnings of the Union Square Christmas Market; the handsome Christmas tree sellers gathered mid-block or in corner lots, warming their hands around paper coffee cups. I even miss--to the extent that such a thing can be missed--the chaotic journey to JFK on the Long Island Rail Road, too-warm in a coat and overburned with heavy bags, trekking home.

Yet here I've said "Merry Christmas" to a Salvation Army Santa while wearing sunglasses and a short-sleeved shirt; houses have Christmas lights hanging from palm trees; and I don't see anyone walking anywhere, let alone with shopping bags or wintry fashions. This is not the same. It couldn't possibly be; I didn't expect it to be. But it is not the same.

We're making the best: tomorrow we're going to San Francisco overnight, to take in some city Christmas things--crowds and shop windows and trees, a good meal in a nice restaurant, perhaps even a bagel for breakfast. And we'll be headed Eastward in just two weeks.

The sun filling these rooms is, truly, wonderful. It's just the wrong time for it, that's all.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Fugitive

Today, our doorbell rang, and when I answered the door, I was greeted by a policeman holding a photograph of a fugitive. "Do you know this man?" he asked. "He's wanted by the police and gave this house as his address." I studied the picture but, not surprisingly, did not recognize the fugitive. "Sorry for disturbing you," the policeman said.

This incident would be unremarkable except for one thing: this is the second time that I've been confronted by policemen seeking a fugitive who'd given my apartment as his address. Long-time blog readers will remember that I was in Barcelona the first time this happened and had to give a lengthy statement to the Spanish police about who I was, who I rented the apartment from, who'd lived in the apartment before me, what I was doing in Spain--all in Spanish. I consider that the highlight of my brief Spanish-language endeavors.

And now, here in Sacramento--a world away in more ways than one--a fugitive has once again randomly selected our home as his fake place of residence. Is it me, or is something strange going on here? Could it be that I myself am the fugitive, a master of disguise, eluding the police in multiple countries for a medley of crimes I've committed and forgotten? Or--and a chill just went up my spine--could my husband be the fugitive? Who have I married??

Friday, November 30, 2007

Best of Sacramento

Last night, Andrew and I attended our first Sacramento event: the Best of Sacramento party, a benefit for the March of Dimes put on by Sacramento Magazine. We joined the crowds at the convention center and were given a wine glass, plate, and tote bag, then headed inside, where 300+ winners of the magazines annual “best of” competition plied their wares—which included excellent food, wines, desserts, music, shops, and services. We had Indian food; Greek food; Italian food; sushi. We had tiramisu and petit fours. We had some delicious wines, and local beer. Our hands-down favorite: the extensive cheese selections elaborately presented by The Firehouse Restaurant. The dance floor was packed by that time, but Andrew and I were content to look on, enjoying our cheese from the sidelines. There are few things more enjoyable—no matter where in the world we happen to find ourselves—than a cheese plate.

Newcomers as we are, watching Sacramentoans in action was as captivating as pursuing the food and wine. What is a Sacramentoan? It’s a question that’s been plaguing us—one we’re both interested in investigating, and writing about. Other cities have quickly identifiable characters (New York’s in-your-face attitude, Barcelona’s feisty Catalan spirit), expectations, dress codes, points of view. In some places, it takes only a few days to form a pretty clear picture of what makes that city unique: in Bucharest, for example, we knew within one weekend that the tension between the past and present had yielded what was clearly a jittery romance with new wealth; in Seville, the multi-generation families eating tapas at 1 a.m. told us all we needed to know about the city’s focus on family and food. But what of Sacramento?

We’re still searching. Last night, we saw fashionably dressed thirty-somethings wearing excellent shoes; we saw pairs of divorcees wearing surprisingly tight, short skirts. We saw a plethora of single older men wearing expensive suits, and teenagers in jeans and hoodies. There was a lot of politeness—excuse me’s when pushing through a crowd, I’m sorry’s when bags jostled bags—but rude line-cutting and harsh reprimands as well. The longest drink line we saw was for the Sac Brewing Company’s beer—a signal of something, or a result of the fact that the wine booths distributed only small tastings, while the beer was poured in full-glass servings?

We had fun at the party—hard not to, with so much food and drink and activity—and it was a good first step in our explorations. But we’re not zeroing in on anything yet. The search for the true Sacramento will continue. It’s our city now, and it’s time to start forming our own “best of” lists, finding the places that will truly make this city home.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Home Delivery

On January 10, 2008, or thereabouts, all of our belongings will be joining us here in Sacramento. Unbelievable! We’ve found a moving solution that will, hopefully, work out; and we’ll be packing up our wedding gifts and repacking all the other boxes in the attic after Christmas, in preparation for the move.

Among the things that will be arriving in a few short weeks are my books—the many, many boxes of them that have remained sealed since I left New York. The kitchen things I didn’t throw away or sell will arrive as well; I have very little recollection of what I actually saved. Will my blue bowl be in one of the boxes, or did I leave it by the curb? Did I keep or pitch my soup ladle? Blankets; lamps; my alarm clock—I know they’re packed away, somewhere, among many other things I can’t even remember owning.

It will be strange discovering all of these things again. They’re relics from a different life—my New York life, my single life. I’ve gone through two hefty rounds of belongings since then, in Spain (all, for the most part, thrown or sold or given away now), and now in California (just last week I purchased, again, the Ikea desk lamp I had on my desk in Barcelona). Looking around our apartment, I see that everything—from the books to the plates to the hangers in the closet—is new. We’ve acquired an apartment’s worth of furniture in the past two weeks. Every single book on our bookshelf has been purchased since we’ve moved to California (a surprising number, given that we’ve lived here only since July). All of the things in the kitchen have been purchased here, or smuggled back in suitcases after trips home for the shower and wedding. Not one thing in this apartment has been with us for a significant length of time—we’re literally building our life together, our nest, twig by twig.

That’s strange, to be sure, but in this moment I realize it’s also not entirely true. There, in the cupboard in the dining room, is the Scrabble board, the letter-tiles in a small LeSport Sac pouch. Finally, a thread linking the past to the present, linking New York to Barcelona to Sacramento. It’s been with us in all of these places, a true relic compared to the shiny newness of everything else.

Anyway. Perhaps all this newness is one reason why Sacramento has felt so unfamiliar all these months, why I’ve felt so ungrounded here, as though there is simply one thin layer of existence that is as easily dispersed as sand. Yes, the history here—what there is of it—is a far cry from the heavy roots anchoring Barcelona and even New York, giving them character and substance. But my personal history is lacking here, too. There are no pictures, no favorite mugs, no familiar rows of books alphabetized by author on shelf after shelf. There are no worn blankets, no drawers of odds and ends, no box of recipes, no unruly plants with crinkled leaves scattered on the floor around them. There isn’t even a stack of New Yorkers piled by the couch, pages dog-eared, covers wrinkled. Until last week, when we moved and bought all our furniture, we could have packed up and been gone at a moment’s notice. Just as no grand architecture or defining culture tie Sacramento to what I will perhaps always consider “real” life, no history, no family, and no belongings tie us here.

This is changing quickly, and will continue to change, especially on January 10. Our life’s things will finally settle into California as we have, from our books to our measuring spoons to our souvenirs from our travels. When our Venetian masks are hanging on the wall—when my familiar dishes are in the cabinet—when I can make a soup from my favorite cookbook—my view of Sacramento may, quite possibly, change as well. It already feels more like home, thanks to our move downtown and this new apartment. Now it’s high time to unpack.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wii Update

We did it: we found a Wii game I like for more than five minutes! It’s Guitar Hero III, and it is incredibly fun. After several days of experimentation, we've entered the Medium level, fumbling through songs including "Barracuda" and "Slow Ride." We’re making progress, definitely getting better; and it is far from the boring, exploratory drudgery that seem to weigh down all the other games I’ve tried. Hopes are high that this is the start of a renewed enjoyment of the Wii, and a glowing review in the Times of the new Mario Galaxy gives me hope that there just may be a second game out there for me as well...

Thanksgiving

It was our first Thanksgiving together—not the first we’d ever spent together (we spent a Thanksgiving together in Barcelona in 2005), but the first Thanksgiving for which we cooked an entire meal ourselves. The fact that we just returned from the East Coast wedding festivities three weeks ago prompted us to spend the holiday this year in Sacramento rather than fly cross-country yet again. Just because we weren’t with our families, however, didn’t mean we had to do without the traditional feast; so we set out to prepare it ourselves.

The bulk of our kitchen things are still in Pennsylvania, but over the past few trips we’d managed to squirrel away quite a few items, and with the purchase of a few extra necessities (a turkey platter, a carving set, a gravy boat), we were ready to cook Thanksgiving dinner. We bought the smallest turkey we could find (still twelve pounds), and everything we needed to make butternut squash, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, cranberry/pumpkin bread, and desserts—pumpkin pie and apple pie. And we spent the day cooking in our cozy new apartment.

The meal was a rousing success—many emailed recipes from our mothers, a few phone calls, and some intuition added up to a delicious feast, and this little nesty Thanksgiving was as lovely as we could have hoped.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Escape from Suburbia

We made it out! We’re free! I can hear traffic outside my window; there are non-chain stores and restaurants nearby; there was a crazy lady behind me in line at Target yesterday. Even more importantly, I can now walk from room to room—a studio apartment would be no problem if NYC was right outside the door, but a studio apartment in a suburban apartment complex was, to put it mildly, not really tenable. We now have a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and an office alcove—as well as a large storage room and a walk in closet. It’s a huge apartment, and beautiful—lots of light, beautiful details, great wood floors. Pure charm.

The bathroom and kitchen also have “charm,” in the form of the following: only one electrical outlet in the kitchen; no garbage disposal; and separate hot-and-cold faucets in an ancient sink in the bathroom. The character of the apartment makes up for these deficits in modernization, of course, and we’ve made the rooms pleasant and fully functional. But we will both be very happy on the day when we have our own home and can install top-of-the-line, luxurious kitchen and bathroom fixtures.

As moves go, this one wasn’t bad—we didn’t have too much stuff, and one Uhaul trip was sufficient. The most arduous part of the move was making the trips to Target and Ikea to round up some furniture; we’re now proud owners of a couch, a desk, a kitchen island, a side table, a TV stand, a few lamps, and sundry other things. We even bought a bed—a real bed, from a real furniture store—that was delivered on Sunday. Our nest-building has truly begun.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Honeymoon in Nevis

We hadn’t planned to take a honeymoon. Having spent the last year or so traveling, we decided we weren’t hurting for vacations and that we’d wait and plan a big trip once Andrew had been at his job a little longer. But it turned out that he was given two weeks off for the wedding—so we decided a honeymoon was in order.

Our plans started small—spending a few days in New Hampshire—but quickly grew larger. We went to a bookstore one night to peruse guidebooks for Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico. Fabulous as all of those destinations sounded, they didn’t say honeymoon. The Caribbean did.

We chose Nevis, a tiny island that’s part of the Dutch Antilles, with a population of around 10,000. Far from touristy, it’s a true tropical paradise; wild goats, sheep, and pigs wander about, and there are “monkey crossing” signs along the roads. Getting there required a long series of flights (Pittsburgh-Charlotte-St. Maarten-Nevis), with the final flight to Nevis on an old, tiny propeller plane so small we couldn’t stand upright, with no door blocking the cockpit from the passengers. We could hear the pilots shouting coordinates to each other as they descended—“Three hundred feet…Two hundred…”

We stayed in a cottage at the lovely Nisbet Plantation, where we had four days and five nights of blissful, sunny relaxation, with nothing to do but bask in newlywed happiness. We spent each day on the beach, reading and occasionally ordering a Ting and Sting (a local drink made with a grapefruit soda called Ting and rum) when a server wandered by. We each made it through a couple of books, though Andrew got stalled with his mammoth, hardcover, 800-page biography of Alexander Hamilton—in my view, neither a suitable beach read nor a practical book for traveling, but Andrew seemed to be enjoying it. (One of Nevis’s claims to fame is that Alexander Hamilton was born there—a historical fact that Andrew, not surprisingly, uncovered before we traveled there.)

One afternoon, we took a catamaran trip towards St. Kitts, where we planned to snorkel. This activity was a bit of a personal challenge for me—the last time I was on a boat or snorkeling was over seven years ago, and I not only got hideously seasick but actually panicked at being amidst some very large fish. The idea of snorkeling still appealed, however, prompting me to give it another try. And this time, it was wonderful—I didn’t get seasick at all (though I declined the rum punch served on the boat, just in case), and the snorkeling was amazing. We saw all kinds of colorful tropical fish and a few strange fishy creatures in the coral reef where the boat left us off; there was even a small, curious fish who followed me and Andrew for a very long time, actually bumping up against our arms and masks as though trying to get our attention. We celebrated a successful trip by going to the beach bar Sunshine’s for Killer Bees—a notoriously strong, secret-recipe island drink.

On another day, we rented a car to explore the island—not a very time-consuming activity, though driving on the left took a little attention—and visited Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace in Charlestown, Nevis’s main city. Away from the our breezy beach chairs, however, the temperature was stifling, and after a quick stop at the Caribbean’s oldest church, we returned to the Nisbet for a few more hours of reading and swimming.

Each night at the plantation, we dressed for dinner at the Great House, where we had wonderful three-course meals—usually seafood or an island-inspired dish like curried lamb or conch stew. Thursday night was the plantation’s weekly seafood barbeque, where a huge buffet was set up poolside, with an abundance of fish grilled fresh—mahi mahi, red snapper, shark, wahoo, shrimp—as well as steak, spare ribs, and salads.

It all ended much too soon, and on Saturday we found ourselves once again hovering in the air in an alarmingly small plane, journeying home. We spent the night in Pittsburgh; met my parents for lunch on Sunday; then continued on to Sacramento. (We took a total of ten flights in two weeks—definitely a record.) It was a perfect honeymoon, an ideal way to celebrate (and recover from) the wedding. Sad as we were to leave the island, it wasn’t meant to last forever—and our return to our new “real” life doesn’t seem so bad at all.

Wedding Weekend: Part II, The Wedding

It was exactly what we wanted, and much more than we expected—that’s the only way I can describe our wedding. It’s perhaps too soon to write about it; it doesn’t seem possible that our wedding was actually our wedding. It also doesn’t seem possible that it was only a little over a week ago—it was all such a whirlwind.

The day of the wedding someone said (or perhaps I said) that the day would be like a runaway train—once it started, there’d be no stopping it; anything that hadn’t been done would just have to remain undone. And it was very much that way. Early in the morning, after the bridesmaids’ hair appointments, we began setting up for the ceremony and reception. Determined not to see Andrew until the ceremony, he, the groomsmen, and assorted spouses handled the ceremony room; the bridesmaids and I handled the reception room. I was pleased that the hundreds of pinecones Andrew and I had shipped from California added the perfect fall touch to the tables. Everything looked splendid, true fall bounty: the leaf-bedecked favor boxes (each holding a river stone Dad had sandblasted with a marriage-appropriate word); the fall-colored tulle holding Jordan almonds; the fall-colored menus. The flowers arrived; the cake arrived; the band arrived to set up. All of our abstract plans were spinning out before our eyes.

Soon it was time to get dressed, to take pictures, and then to wait. And then it was all happening—waiting in the hallway while the bridesmaids processed; walking down the aisle with Dad; then joining Andrew, listening to the poems we'd chosen as readings, saying our vows, exchanging our rings, being introduced as “Mr. and Mrs. Littell.” We were married!

The reception was as happy and fun a celebration as we could have hoped, with a band that kept everyone dancing; lots of food and cookies; and more people to talk to than was humanly possible. Dad, Molly, and Andrew’s best man, Jon, gave wonderful toasts—Dad’s was complete with a mathematical equation proving that Andrew is, indeed, my necessary and perfect match. Andrew and I needed bride and groom clones to take it all in. As we were dancing together at one point, Andrew said—“Can you believe we’re dancing at our wedding?”

The night did have a surreal quality—this was it. Our wedding. Our life together didn’t necessarily begin from scratch on November 3—life was pretty real and pretty together before that. But our life as Mr. and Mrs. Littell did, indeed, begin—married life—and our send-off couldn’t have been any more perfect.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wedding Weekend: Part I, The Rehearsal Dinner

After a manic gathering of boxes and bags and suitcases and cookie trays, we managed to get ourselves to The Summit on Friday afternoon. There was just enough time to unload everything into our rooms before we had to get dressed, speed through the rehearsal, and head to the rehearsal dinner. The dinner was held at Caileigh’s, a restaurant in Uniontown inside a beautiful historic home. The dinner was organized around a Spanish theme—tapas-style appetizers, Spanish wine, and a steak/shrimp dinner. The tables were named after Spanish cities.

The dinner was lovely, and the perfect kick-off to the weekend—I had the sense the whole time that we were embarking on a kind of wedding adventure, and that this was the first big piece of it. My acceptance into the Littell family was solidified during Andrew’s father’s toast, when he bestowed on me a beloved Red Sox baseball cap—how far Andrew and I have come since those very first Yankees games he took me to!

Gathering back at The Summit’s bar was the perfect end to the evening. There were more arrivals—some of Andrew’s IESE friends had gotten lost on their way from the airport; more of our family members had arrived as well—and everyone chatted in the bar and the Summit’s beautiful, fireplace-adorned lobby/lounge.

For the Bride, the evening ended rather early. There was sleep to be had (or at least a lot of tossing and turning) before the big day ahead.

The One-Man Band

On the Thursday before the wedding, after a big gathering at the Orlando house, Andrew, Molly, Ian, Katherine, Barbra, Chris, and I went to Lynn’s for a beer. It’s a great little place, but it doesn’t see a lot of new faces; every head turned when our group walked in, not losing much interest even when we were settled at a table. We ordered drinks and settled in to enjoy the night’s entertainment—a one-man band.

Ah, Connellsville. You never know what to expect when you visit a place like Lynn’s. In this case, it was a true spectacle: a man singing, playing guitar, and playing drums simultaneously, using his right hand to both strum the guitar and hold his drumstick. Ian began craning his neck, explaining later he was trying to identify the source of a cowbell. A wild-haired woman materialized at his ear. “You lookin’ for the cowbell?” she asked in a low voice. “Look at his foot.” Indeed, there it was.

Our bill was delivered; it was $14, for 7 beers. Our amazement at the low cost drew yet more attention to our table. Ian handed the waitress a tip; she shook her head, unwilling to take it. “Where are we—Europe?” Ian said.

Leaving Lynn’s later, we were halfway out the door when Andrew heard someone at the bar say, “Margo and Molly” in a quiet, sinister voice (perhaps I made the sinister part up). We didn’t look back to see who it was; but it made a fitting end to our night at Lynn’s.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Final Week of Planning

Andrew and I returned to Pennsylvania on Saturday, October 27, to begin preparing for the big day. Foolishly, we thought we’d spend much of the time packing up our voluminous belongings that keep building in the attic to prepare for the big move West in the next couple of months; little did we know how much wedding work remained to be done. Really, for being more or less organized and staying more or less on top of things over the past few months, the sheer amount of things to do was staggering. Of course, a lot of the work was self-inflicted—like the multi-step process that went into assembling all the little details, including the escort cards, cookie name labels, guest hospitality bags, favors, ceremony programs. It took a small village, gathered around the kitchen table, to get it all done. But it was all worthwhile—things turned out beautifully.

My birthday fell amidst all the craziness; I was surprised anyone remembered it at all. Indeed, Andrew baked me a cake, seizing a rare minute when the oven wasn’t being used by Mom for cookies; and we went out to a celebratory dinner of wings at Lynn’s, a small neighborhood bar/restaurant.

As the week progressed, Connellsville began gaining visitors. Molly and Ian arrived; Barbra and Chris arrived; Andrew’s family arrived. There were carloads of things to bring to The Summit; there were deliveries to make; there were last-minute errands to run. And then, Friday morning, we were all on our way to The Summit, the rehearsal dinner only hours away—it was time for it all to begin.

Return to Real Life

So much to catch up on! It’s been a whirlwind two weeks, and now, back to real life, it’s hard to believe it’s all over—the planning, the wedding, the honeymoon. All of these months of details and ideas and errands led up to an absolutely perfect event. On to married life now. My husband (!!) and I are both back at work; and we’ll move this week to our new apartment. In the meantime, I’ll work on catching up on my blog…

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Weird Offer

I came across this Letter to the Editor in the Times yesterday, and wanted to share it. As the writer says, this event is absurd in a way that seems somehow particularly California. Here's the letter, copied from the Times website:

To the Editor:

It was evening of the third day of fires whipped by the infamous Santa Ana winds. It felt like sunset on another planet as I saw a truck drive slowly by with a driver staring up at the palm tree in our front yard.

Later, there was a knock on the door. I answered. It was the truck driver. He offered to buy the palm tree in our front yard.

There was an eerie silence as I stood there in the orange smoky haze, ashes falling like snow on Mercury, and blinked two or maybe three times.

By motivation, this had absolutely nothing to do with the fire — it just seemed like something that would happen in Southern California.

As I quietly closed the door, I thought about Joan Didion; she would understand this.

Tom Impelluso
San Diego, Oct. 24, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Beneath the Surface

There's a secret menu at the In-N-Out Burger, the ubiquitous California fast-food chain. Andrew and I have been there a couple of times; and last time we noticed people eating things that we certainly hadn't seen on the very short menu board. I remembered reading somewhere about a secret menu--perhaps it was in a Calvin Trillin book, perhaps not--and a Google searched proved this to be true. There's a whole list of things you can order--provided you know enough to ask for them.

Obviously, we must now visit In-N-Out and use our new knowledge. But for me, there's more to it than this; my intrigue extends past the idea that I can have an interesting meal. Andrew and I have been to In-N-Out--yet we've been missing out on the "real" experience. A whole world of In-N-Out was there, right in front of us, yet we couldn't see it; we were outsiders, not privy to the larger joys, the greater satisfactions. As I read through the secret menu that Andrew had printed out, I thought--Could it be possible that California itself is like this? Are there hidden layers here that we just aren't seeing, hidden things to truly love? For the first time I thought--maybe. Maybe there are. Maybe we just haven't been looking in the right places.

To be certain, Citrus Heights is not the right place to look. Yesterday, at around 4:00pm, I found myself leaving the Sunrise Mall and walking across an empty parking lot in unnaturally bright sunlight. The noise from the traffic on Sunrise Avenue seemed dull and distant as I made my way across the wide expanse of concrete; no one else was in sight. I'd finished my work for the day and had walked to the mall to run some wedding errands, a legitimate excuse for the trip; yet I felt unmoored. Where am I? I thought suddenly. What is this place? Though there were plenty of cars on the busy road, I felt like I'd dropped off the face of the earth. The feeling of unreality was so strong, and the disjunct from the much richer, deeper worlds I know are out there--I've lived in them!--so intense, that I almost lost my footing.

This is technically our last week in suburbia--when we return from the honeymoon, we'll be moving to our lovely new apartment in Sacramento. I am genuinely looking forward to moving into our new home; even our brief visit was enough to make me certain that it holds the potential for just the kind of depth and reality that suburbia is lacking. The neighborhood is charming; there's an organic food co-op nearby; and there's not a mall in sight.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fuss and Flurry

Immersed as we are in the final two weeks of wedding preparations, I’d like to take this time to remind everyone involved—parents, groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and myself, the Bride—of their roles and responsibilities. To guide us is one of my favorite and most indispensable resources, which I found years ago at a thrift store: The Bride’s Book of Etiquette, published in 1948.

First, I need to remember that since I will be 31 by the time we get married, I must not get carried away: “A Bride who is not quite the young girl she once was would do well to temper her wedding with an informal spirit. You may wear white and even a piece of old lace on your head, but you won't go in for a voluminous veil and a bevy of bridesmaids….As your Groom-to-be is probably marrying you, in part, for the grace and charm your added maturity has given you, it is never wise to let him down by girlish and kittenish display. You are not a middle-aged woman by any means, but you are not quite the jeune fille.” I think I have an old dishtowel that just may work for my “veil.”

It bears reminding that Andrew is actually a very relevant part of my, the Bride’s, day. He must focus on his own tasks at hand, which, fortunately, basically involve simply doing whatever I want: “The Groom is the other half of the raison d’etre for all this fuss and flurry. He may feel completely out of things and very confused with all of the feminine running around that goes on. However, he is a most important personage…No matter how hectic things may seem to him, he will try to observe every little tradition and courtesy dear to the hearts of women.”

My bridesmaids apparently shouldered an unnecessary burden last weekend, when they planned a fabulous shower for me—travel-themed, complete with small suitcases for favors, postcard-printed wrapping paper, travel-focused games—since “Your bridesmaids are purely decorative. Unlike the ushers and the Best Man, they have no real duties other than adding to the beauty of your wedding picture.” Perhaps Molly would not have hand-made the shower invitations had she known.

On the big day, the bridesmaids come into their own: “They are privileged to be as pretty as pictures. They are privileged to dance their shoes thin at the reception.”

Mom would do well to keep in mind that “She is the hub around which all wedding festivities revolve” and that “Her poise and her grace set the mood for the whole wedding.” Because Dad is, as the Father of the Bride, completely uninvolved, “She will keep her husband well posted on all the wedding plans.” She should also remember, no matter how many errands she must run or how many cookies she must bake, that “She is privileged to have a daughter.”

And Dad? Dad must wear appropriate attire, “no matter how much he may balk.” He, too, is “privileged to have a daughter…a daughter he gives in marriage to the man of her choice.” He has no other duties other than a long list of things he must pay for. Tasks like designing invitations and favors and creating endless calligraphed items are nowhere to be found in The Bride’s Book of Etiquette.

As for me, Bride’s tells me that I have a few privileges of my own: “It is your privilege to look as lovely as you know how. You are privileged to have all eyes center on you.” My obligations include throwing copious luncheons, visiting my clergyman, and giving gifts like gold cigarette lighters to my bridesmaids.

With two weeks to go, there are still many things to do. For instance, I must figure out how to arrange my gifts if I am not “having a professional service from a jewelry store arrange my presents for display.” I must think carefully about this arrangement because “Everyone enjoys looking at the Bride’s presents. Most usually, the presents are shown off in some special room in the house or even in two or three rooms.” I must also consider hiring “a detective to guard them.”

A Bride is almost overwhelmed with so many details. For example, my monogram: “A monogram should be worked with care. It is your personal cipher and it should be so used. Occasionally, a Bride will not realize until it’s too late that a combination of initials spells a word, which can be pretty ludicrous. For example, consider the conjunction of ARM on a bath towel.” Should Andrew and I do as Bride’s suggests and monogram our possessions with my initial, Andrew’s initial, and our shared last initial, I now see that our monogram will be MAL—bad in Spanish. These are just the kinds of things that can sneak up on a Bride.

Eleven days to go.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Home on P Street

We found a new home this week--in downtown ("downtown") Sacramento, on a lovely street in a popular neighborhood called Midtown. There are non-chain restaurants and shops nearby, an organic food co-op, and--best of all--lots of beautiful old Victorian homes, each one unique. Being in a city, even a small one, will be a relief after these months in bland, cookie-cutter suburbia. We love the apartment: huge, with wood floors throughout, lots of windows, and amazing leaded-glass cabinets along facing walls in the dining room. We have a private laundry room, a garage, and a little balcony/roof area. It has charm and character to spare--it will really be a home, especially when we have our things moved over!

The landlords, an older couple from Brooklyn did a sneaky thing: someone else had been scheduled to see the apartment a day ahead of us; but after talking to Andrew, the wife called back and asked if we could come a half hour BEFORE the other appointment. I think she wanted to be very fair about letting the first viewer have priority, yet Andrew had made a good impression on her (of course!)...so she slipped us in. They clearly had "ideal tenants" in mind: the husband told us we'll find it to be the only four-plex in Sacramento with 2 Ph.D.s as tenants.

We feel very lucky and can't wait to move in--which we'll do after the wedding and honeymoon. Only three weeks to go!!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Biggest Little City in the World

This weekend, we headed north to Reno and a little dose of history. Our destination: the Cal-Neva Resort in Lake Tahoe, a casino/hotel that was built in the 1920s and was owned by Frank Sinatra from 1960 to 1963. The Cal-Neva straddles the border between Nevada and California: in the ballroom, a painted line down the middle of the floor marks the state boundary; in the swimming pool, you can swim from Nevada to California.

We’d come to the Cal-Neva to cross Reno off of our weekend trips list; and though we love, love, love Lake Tahoe, we need not return to Reno. Reno is a strange city. It’s nestled in the mountains with little around it, and the city’s sudden explosion of huge casinos, all-you-can-eat buffets, neon signs, and trashy entertainment is jarring and unsettling. Renoians, whether they’re wandering through the annual Italian festival (surprisingly large, we discovered) or dealing cards in a casino, have a distinctive look about them: weathered, jaded, cynical, eyes that have “seen too much.” Some cities have their seedy areas. Reno’s distinction is that it’s all seed.

We were content to leave after a quick lunch at the Italian festival and head to quieter, more beautiful quarters at the Cal-Neva and our room’s spectacular view of Lake Tahoe—and a good helping of ghost stories. When Sinatra owned the Cal-Neva, he was in the habit of shuttling in members of the Mafia, and we took a tour of the Cal-Neva’s secret tunnel system, which the gangsters used to make quick escapes when the police showed up. The tunnels, however, were not used only for swift exits. Outside the main Cal-Neva complex are cabins—lovely cabins with porches looking out over the lake—where celebrities including JFK and Marilyn Monroe regularly stayed. In Marilyn’s cabin—number 3—our guide pointed out her extra-large closet: it once held a trap door, leading to a tunnel, leading to JFK’s favorite cabin. Scandalous—and spooky, as Marilyn’s ghost, along with others, has been known to skulk the tunnels and cabins of the Cal-Neva to this day.

Andrew and I both tend to appreciate these sorts of ghost stories, and if we don’t exactly believe them per se, it’s difficult to discount them entirely. We both had a very palpable sense of history and creepiness at the Cal-Neva that persisted even as Andrew won a few hands of Texas Hold ‘Em at the poker table, even as we had drinks at the Circle Bar. Some places really do seem haunted. And the Cal-Neva, despite its copious slot machines, despite the white-dress-adorned brides standing with their families at the Blackjack tables, despite the end-of-the-road Renoians boredly dealing cards and serving drinks, is one of them.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Weekend in L.A.

Andrew and I spent this weekend in L.A., and, contrary to my expectations, I really liked it. It’s a giant—in our few short days there, we didn’t even begin to crack the surface—but the little we did see showed that my preconceptions about L.A. were wrong. Far from being filled with would-be celebrities, cookie-cutter model-types, and intimidation, the city seemed fun and eclectic, full of all the usual urban suspects—tourists, hipsters, families, creative types. I’m not sold on the idea of living in L.A.—the driving, clearly, is a deterrent. But from the passenger seat, there was very little not to like.

Andrew had a business meeting Friday morning in Beverly Hills, so I set out to do a little window-shopping and people-watching on and around Rodeo Drive. It was a good introduction, made pleasant by a stop in a café for coffee and a croissant, a soccer match on the TV above the counter. (The stop was made even more pleasant when I was able to nip into the restroom to remove, and then reinsert, my contact lens, which had been bothering me all morning because, I finally realized, I’d put it in inside-out—oh, the joys of being a contact lens novice. Needless to say, I was not, blinking and grimacing as I was, ready for my close-up.)

In the afternoon, Andrew and I had lunch at Kate Mantalini, where we sat in a high-backed window booth and ate sandwiches. I felt like we should be discussing a movie deal; instead, we continued hashing out our Wyndham timeshare-sales-pitch nightmare.

Later that night, we had dinner at El Coyote, a fun Mexican restaurant Andrew had been to before with some friends from L.A. As we ate, drank some very strong margaritas, and ranted a bit more about Wyndham, the restaurant erupted in cheers and applause—we looked over and saw a man down on one knee, proposing to his very surprised girlfriend amidst some very surprised friends.

Saturday—culture. Culture! We spent the afternoon at the Getty, taking in the beautiful complex, the gardens, and the wonderful collection. Then it was off to the Walk of Fame and Hollywood Boulevard for some lower-brow culture. We saw the Hollywood letters in the distance, had a hot dog, browsed in a couple of vintage stores. We found Frank Sinatra’s handprints in front of Mann’s Chinese Theatre and dodged a large number of people in elaborate costumes.

We headed to Little Ethiopia for a dinner of vegetarian and meat stews, reveling in our delicious meal and wondering whether we’ll find anything at all like this when we move into Sacramento. Somehow, as we ate, I felt more comfortable in L.A. than I have in Citrus Heights all these months—something about being back in a big city, I suppose, that feels like home.

Sunday, we explored the Farmers’ Market, where we had bagel sandwiches at a little deli counter, then went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for yet more soul-nourishing art-browsing. A stroll down Melrose Boulevard finished off our L.A. weekend.

I was surprised to like L.A. as much as I did—and since it’s only an hour-long flight to get there, we’ll definitely go back. Little excursions like these help make living here more than just tolerable; these are truly fun and interesting places that are, for now, within easy reach.

The Sales Pitch

Maybe it was because my mind was fried after an intense few days of discussions about staying in California. Maybe it was because I’d been at home all day by myself and was just happy to hear a human voice. Whatever the case, when my cell phone rang and a man said, “Congratulations—you’ve won a trip for two to Las Vegas! All you have to do is come and pick it up, and you’ll just have to listen to a short presentation about vacation condos,” I said, “Great!” (Good thing I didn’t receive an email on this particular day from Nigerian royalty promising a million dollars if I’d only just send my bank account information. What kind of mood was I in??)

“Are you serious?” Andrew said when I called to tell him we’d be heading to a presentation after work.

Overcome by greed and, for some reason, missing my usual critical faculties and skepticism (maybe I’ve already been in California too long), I said, “But it’s a free vacation!” Andrew, because he is loving and forgiving, agreed reluctantly to go.

This is how we found ourselves sitting in a small, crowded room last Thursday evening, with tropical music playing at an unnecessarily loud volume, responding to a saleswoman—our “host”—who asked questions about our vacation habits. It took approximately three seconds to realize we were in for a long, horrible evening. We answered her questions reluctantly, inwardly sighing at the shock that crossed her face as we explained that we’d lived in Spain, had traveled widely, and would love to visit Thailand as a honeymoon. “No one’s ever said Thailand before,” she said. We were, to put it mildly, not the company’s target audience, and this was not the passive hour of watching a promotional video that I’d naively thought it would be. No, we were for much, much more.

“Well, we have a lot of properties in the West,” she said, pointing at a map of the U.S. “There’s a great area in Arizona called the Four Corners—” she studied the map, her finger drifting over the area. “I’m not sure where it would be,” she said.

“I think it’s here,” I said, indicating the four corners.

“No,” she said. “That’s not it.” She indicated the confluence of Arizona, Utah, and Nevada, clearly three corners. “It’s here.”

“Ah,” Andrew and I said. We said nothing more, awkwardly avoiding each other’s eye, as she was obviously struggling with her job and was clearly a very nice lady who was simply not the sharpest knife in the drawer. My heart sank. Guilt washed over me. We were her hope for a commission that evening, and she didn’t have a chance in hell of selling us a thing.

We were ushered into another room, where a frighteningly Botoxed, tanned, and peroxided woman delivered a pitch meant to disarm us—“Now who came tonight to get the free gift?”—try to win us over—“All we ask is that you keep an open mind”—and convince us that this was the deal of a lifetime by making some clearly inaccurate vacation-cost calculations that had my newly minted MBA fiancé writhing in his seat. “Now how many of you have stayed at the—the—what is it—Seven Seasons?” she asked. Seven seasons. Winter, spring, summer, fall, and three dismal and endless seasons of sitting in sales presentations because of a very stupid lapse in judgment. The evening yawned ahead of us, dark and foreboding.

After the presentation, we were seated down once again with our “host,” who began a very confusing, very involved sell for the timeshare-type properties, the actual concept of which neither Andrew and I could fully understand. “Now how much do you think an investment like this would cost?” she asked. Andrew and I exchanged glances. We had no idea what we were looking at. “Three hundred thousand dollars,” I said. Her eyes grew wide. “That’s the highest number anyone has ever guessed,” she said in awe. Dramatically, she wrote down the figure: twenty thousand. Of course, today was a deal: eleven thousand, never ever to be offered again.

“That’s crazy!” Andrew said appreciatively. “That’s so low! Can you believe that?” He turned to me, his face open and enthusiastic.

“Um, it’s great,” I said.

“And another great thing is that the company is debt-free,” she said, writing “debt free” on the brochure.

Andrew primped his MBA feathers. “Well, I’m sure that’s not true,” he said. “I’m sure the company has debt. All companies do.”

She looked at him blankly. “We’re debt free.”

“It’s not—” he stopped. “Okay,” he said. Like the four corners, we let it go.

It was time for the hard sell. Our host’s manager came over to explain financing options, offering us a free week of “time” for our honeymoon. “Our interest rate is 17.5%,” he said. “Isn’t that great?”

“Not really,” Andrew said. “That’s really high. I’d like to call my bank and explore some other options.” He looked at me, nodding, assuming my approval.

The pitch droned on. There were options for lower interest, options for lower down payments. “This all sounds really great,” Andrew kept saying, nodding and asking questions. “We could do that. This sounds like something that will really work for us. We love vacations. This is a really great deal.”

“Well,” I said again and again in various forms, “I actually really don’t think we’re interested at this time even though you’ve made us EXTREMELY interested in timeshares. They sound FANTASTIC. Vacationing in condos sounds exactly like what we want. In six months we might really want to go forward with this.” It was becoming very clear that we were never going to get out alive, that we were going to have to buy the timeshare to escape the building. There was no way out—and Andrew seemed more than happy to be swept along.

“I think the whole thing sounds great,” Andrew said, leaning back in his chair, pleased. “This is a really amazing deal. What do you think?”

I looked back at him in horror and confusion, my eyes silently screaming What is wrong with you?? “Shall we start the paperwork?” the man asked. “Or do you two want some time to discuss this privately?”

“Yes,” I said.

The salespeople walked away, and I turned to Andrew. “Are you crazy?” I hissed. “Are you seriously interested in this?? For eleven thousand dollars??”

Andrew smiled, squinting thoughtfully into the distance, then turned to me, quickly dropping his act. “Of course I’m not interested!” he said. “But you got us into this. And I’m going to let you get us out of it.” He patted my hand. “Good luck.”

“I can’t do this alone,” I begged. “I’m trying my hardest. I need help.”

The salespeople returned. “I couldn’t convince her,” Andrew said sadly. “We’ll have to say no for today.”

“Timeshares sound FANTASTIC,” I said. “Really. I really really want one. This sounds so great. Just not tonight.” Please please please let us go, I silently begged.

A tray of champagne flutes adorned with small umbrellas went past our table. “When you buy something tonight, you get champagne,” the man cajoled. Andrew and I looked over to the couple who had agreed—on this random Thursday night, at this nondescript building in suburbia—to fork over eleven thousand dollars with a 17.5% interest rate for a product whose actual description was so vague that it should have been setting off the alarm bells of everyone in the room. The sad truth is that there was simply no possible way this couple could afford this, and I began feeling really, really full of self-loathing for having anything to do with this dark little world at all. “Smile,” someone called, and snapped the couple’s picture.

We didn’t buy a timeshare, obviously. We refused and refused and refused and when finally—finally, and not without a struggle—we were released, with our hateful and dirty Las Vegas trip certificate that I now feel too implicated to even use, I looked at Andrew and whispered, Run.

“Allow me this,” Andrew said when we were in the car, breathing in our freedom with the doors locked. “I get to make fun of you for this until we go on that vacation. And since I don’t think we’ll ever actually see that trip, I can make fun of you for this for the rest of our lives.”

“Agreed,” I said contritely.

It’s been a few days since our brutal sales experience, and it hasn’t yet released its grip. “That’s another reason why we’d hate a timeshare,” we remarked now and then this weekend as we explored L.A., seeing an article about an out-of-the-way place or shuddering at the thought of the vacation-condo lifestyle. Our protests, made only to each other, are more aggressive now than we’d been able to muster for our “hosts”: “We’d have to go only where they have properties! They don’t even have properties in Spain!! Eleven thousand dollars and we haven’t even seen a property—who would do that?” The whole concept seems utterly absurd. And even more clearly so the longer we have to think about it.

We went there (I brought us there) of our own (my) free will, but we feel defensive—and corrupted somehow, man-handled, and a little uneasy about all the hapless souls who can’t see through the “deal of a lifetime” pitch to the high interest, limiting exclusions, and overall ick factor of the whole thing. Eleven thousand dollars—gone in an instant, a looming specter of sure financial difficulty or ruin, because of a sales pitch that wasn’t even any good. I know sales is a job, but it just seems—awful. Strong-arming people into something clearly inappropriate to make a commission.

I know Andrew and I are lucky people. And I have a lingering sadness and unease from seeing so many less lucky people tricked—yes, that’s the right word—into buying something that seems to promise endless perfect vacations, an instant pathway to a better life. All at the low, low interest rate of 17.5%. Just sign here, and hand over your credit card. Your champagne will arrive shortly.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

We're In

We’re in. We’re staying. A week of talks and lists and pros and cons—and it added up to a decision we know is the right one. It’s a good job, and we’ll move to a nicer apartment, buy furniture, and move our stuff—all of it, every last book—at last. I’ll set up a real work space rather than a haphazard takeover of our dining room table. It will feel more like home. If we had tried to write a job description for the ideal job for Andrew post-MBA, the perfect job to demonstrate clearly his move from editing to business, it would have been this job. It supports what his MBA and his summer internship suggested—that he’s serious about changing paths. This makes it more than just a good faith effort—someone has given him an amazing chance to actually do it. We couldn’t pass it up.

We celebrated over a big sushi dinner at a restaurant in Roseville—actual good sushi right in our little suburbia. A bright spot, certainly.

We’re in L.A. this weekend—Andrew had a business trip and I joined him—and I like it here a lot. It’s a big, crazy city, with lots of things I can’t afford, more cultural activities than we could possibly do in a year, things to see around every corner, tempting restaurants and cafes on every block. I don’t hate California—our weekend trips have made that clear (even though we have no doubt that this is a 1-2 year move, no more). Our decision to stay here means that we just have to work a little harder—a lot harder—to give Sacramento a chance.

We’re Californians. Who would have thought?...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kiawah Island

The East, the East! The Atlantic Ocean—the real ocean! It was such a short flight—just 4 or so hours to Atlanta—and there I was, back again on the side of the country I consider home. Even the air felt more substantial, heavy and thick with muggy heat, unlike the thin, dry atmosphere of California.

I met Michelle at the Charleston airport Friday afternoon, and we spent the day walking around the city. Charleston has a lot of charm—beautiful old homes, cute shopping streets, and lots of excellent restaurants serving seafood and Southern specialties. When Rachael and Barbra arrived, we went for dinner at Coast, a great seafood restaurant, then headed to our bungalow on Kiawah Island.

I’ve always loved South Carolina’s beaches, and Kiawah was wonderful. It’s a private island, unspoiled by development, and there were broad expanses of sand and perfect water temperature. The weather, despite the forecast, was ideal, sunny and hot, and we spent the day swimming and chatting on the sand. We had local Southern cooking for dinner, sitting on the restaurant’s broad front porch.

Sunday lunch was at Jestine’s in Charleston, with more excellent Southern cooking, followed by a tour of the historic Aiken-Rhett House—apparently inhabited until 1975, a fact made hard to believe by the peeling paint, faded wallpaper, uneven floor, and seeming nonexistence of a kitchen.

It was a fast weekend—a bit of stolen time together—and just a taste of the East Coast that, soon enough, I was leaving behind. It was late when my flight arrived in California. Andrew met me at the airport, and we made the long drive from San Francisco to our apartment, together once again in this version of home.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Return to the East

....but only for the weekend. I'm heading back to the East Coast tonight, on the redeye to Charleston, SC, to spend the weekend with Barbra, Rachael, and Michelle--the first time I'll have seen Michelle in a year and Barbra in nearly as long. I'm very excited to see them AND to be back in a normal time zone--being 3 hours behind is far less fun than being hours ahead, as we were in Spain. It will be wonderful to swim in the warm Atlantic, to have a sense of history, of depth. To actually walk around a city and sight-see. But it will be strange to take such a long flight and find myself in the same country. And who knows: my return on Sunday may be very short-term. Or it may begin a more extended commitment.

Strangely, it's chilly outside here, a lovely fall-type day following last night's rainstorm that sent Californians into a confused panic. (Clouds? Rain? Here?) It's fitting: fall always signals transition for me, and this time is nothing if not transitory. Answers, soon. Surely.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I'm Dog, the Big Bad Dog, the Bounty Hunter

Against all odds, Dog the Bounty Hunter has become my favorite television show. Ordinarily I have no patience for reality shows, but Dog is somehow in a different category. Dog is a bounty hunter, hunting down fugitives along with his wife Beth, his sons Leland and Duane Lee, his brother Tim, whom he calls Youngblood, and his daughter, whom everyone calls Baby Lyssa. Each bounty-hunting member is all but indescribable. Leland and Tim both sport partially shaved heads with long, ornately secured rat-tail style ponytails. Beth is a shockingly voluptuous, shockingly big-haired blonde. Duane Lee looks like your everyday thug. And Dog: with his generous assortment of heavy chains and leather wrist-wraps, constantly worn wraparound sunglasses, and his own shockingly long, big blonde mane with a regularly changing selection of clip-on hair ornaments streaming down either side of his weather-worn face, he is a character who proves that real life trumps fiction every time. One of the most remarkable aspects of the bounty hunters’ get-ups is that the men wear bullet-proof vests without any shirts on underneath. Everyone is generously tattooed.

There’s never a dull day for Dog and his crew, and when a bounty call comes in, they swiftly propel themselves into action. They call the bounty-requester on the speaker phone and listen as a mother, husband, wife, or sister pleas for Dog to save their loved one from their own self-destructive ways. “We’ll do an intervention, honey,” Dog promises. Dog is always full of love and reassurance. To his family, he grins and says, “It’ll be a good chase.” They then gather in the parking lot for a prayer, holding hands in a circle, and pile into two enormous vans driven by Beth and Tim to chase their bounty.

And chase they do—shouting and running, yelling at one another to run, run, as Beth follows, cursing, in her van. They always catch their fugitive, who always seems ready and willing to reform. In the back seat of the van post-capture, Beth and Dog sit on either side of him or her, lecturing about love, family, hope, and the promise of the future. Before bringing the quarry to prison, they take them back to the office for more heart-to-heart, and perhaps a teary, promise-filled phone call to the fugitive’s family. Beth and Dog always hug the quarry just before releasing them to prison, saying “I love you,” and “Call me.”

There’s nothing not to love about Dog the Bounty Hunter. It is just pure outlandish fun, made more so because it’s actually real. Dog is scary, with such a dark, ex-convict past as well as some genuine sad family tragedy (a daughter died the day before his wedding to Beth), yet so nurturing. But my favorite thing about the show is that it takes place in Honolulu, a fittingly random spot. I started watching Dog the first week we moved to CA—we stumbled onto it in our room at the Hyatt—and I think what I like most about the show is that I recognize something about this world they inhabit, this strange, distant Hawaiian world. Who lives in Honolulu, really? What kind of life could one possibly have there? Watching Dog, intensely hunting his bounty in a city that seems more make-believe than reality, I recognize the strange, distant world as similar to my own. Who lives, really, in Citrus Heights? It’s an un-real place, dramatically separated from everything I know. And there’s not even a Dog here to redeem it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wii Update

I’m getting frustrated with the Wii. Andrew has brought home several more games in the hopes of finding one that will finally unlock the mysteries of Gaming—that is, in the hopes of helping me understand just what the attraction really is. So far, after stints with various sports games, Mario Party, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Zelda: Twilight Princess, and Surf’s Up, I am perhaps even more baffled than I was before.

Here’s the thing: for me, the games are boring. With Metroid and Zelda, I actually fell asleep while Andrew was maneuvering the characters through dull, seemingly endless rooms and paths with absolutely no clear understanding of what the characters were supposed to be doing or looking for. In Zelda, if you toss a pumpkin against the ground, a green emerald comes out. But so what? What’s it for? Who cares? In theory, I could enjoy exploring the “worlds” of Zelda, but I couldn’t seem to maneuver my horse without just running head-long into trees and stone embankments. Surf’s Up was more entertaining, but I lost interest quickly while Andrew developed a quiet obsession with obtaining more and more points.

I remember my first experience with Gaming: our original Nintendo, with the original Mario game. That, I loved. Running at high speeds through different levels, killing clearly defined (and often cute) enemies, collecting coins, growing to a super-sized Mario or a tiny Mario, dodging fireballs. And Mario 3—the water world, the ice world. Those were fun; those were suspenseful; I remember wanting to play them for hours. So what’s changed?

Andrew explained it this way: the current world of Gaming must cater to super-advanced Gamers who want far more than what the early games had to offer. They want elaborate worlds that require total immersion and dedication to crack. These new-generation games require vast knowledge of “cheats” and “codes” in order to unlock the game’s mysteries. Clearly, any Gaming tendencies I have or had rest exclusively with games that no one, in these Gaming days, has any interest in.

Andrew’s livelihood currently lies within the world of Gaming, and so I’ll continue on, trying more games; but for me, even though the Gaming world is closer now than it ever has been or ever will be again, an understanding of this subculture remains stubbornly out of reach.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Countdown?

It’s hard to believe, but we could very well be headed back East in as little as 14 days. This time, we’d actually be making the trip by car, driving our new (old) Volvo cross-country with our suitcases, a random assortment of plates, and piles of pinecones, taking our time to see some of the sights as we make the long journey. Our destination: undecided. My shower and our wedding will initially lead us back to PA, but we’ll essentially be homeless once again, adding more things to our already voluminous collection in the attic and re-packing our suitcases with the fall clothes currently buried in boxes. Where we’ll go next is anyone’s guess.

Or we might just stay here, swallowing our dislike for our suburban existence in reluctant exchange for an excellent business opportunity for Andrew that will, surely, lead us back to New York or beyond in the not-so-far future. Just as we were on pins and needles pretty much until we boarded the plane to fly to CA in July, we are putting off plane ticket purchases and any sort of planning until we know what’s going to happen.

We’re both incredibly torn. I love the idea (obviously) of leaving CA behind and starting up a cozier, more culturally rich life back in familiar territory. The downside is that there could be months of limbo-time, living-out-of-suitcases time, while Andrew seeks the right opportunity. The downside of staying here is obvious—we hate it. I have the strange sense of missing out on something, of being outside of real life, of being in a no man’s land thousands of miles away from anything that’s meaningful to me. The upsides are that this job really is perfect for Andrew, it could lead to great things for him, and, once we know we’re staying, we’ll move all our stuff out and actually live here. Surely, that will help this feel more like a home.

And so we wait, setting up elaborate “if this…then this” scenarios and trying to decide exactly what will make us most happy. There are potentially 2 weeks to go. Much could happen any day, at any time.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Wine Country

Wine, livestock, a geyser: an unlikely trifecta that shaped our first foray into wine country. This Labor Day weekend, we road-tested our Volvo by driving about three hours north to the Anderson Valley, a stunningly beautiful wine region that’s much less famous (and expensive) than Napa.

First stop on Saturday: the Ceago winery, where we sampled a few tasty wines then strolled through the beautiful grounds and garden, lush with lavender bushes, wispy dill plants, rosemary, squash, melons, sunflowers, and many acres of grapevines. What better way to follow up this serene peacefulness than attending a livestock auction?

We’d planned to stop at a local county fair on our way to our hotel in Ukiah, and, seeing “LIVESTOCK” marked on the fair map, were intrigued. A huge pavilion was crawling with 4-H kids, rabbits and turkeys and roosters huddled in cages, and pens full of goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle. A steady stream of visibly proud kids were leading their prized pigs and cows to the auction platform where, we were horrified to realize, they were selling off their animals for slaughter. “Half a beef,” the auctioneer said at one point. “Anyone for half a beef?”

The serenity of more wineries was much needed after that, and, fortunately, Anderson Valley has no shortage of them. We drove past many more than we could possibly visit, through acres and acres of lush vineyards, and did what we could in the time we had left; we stopped at the Brutocao and Parducci tasting rooms as the afternoon waned.

Along the way, we were shadowed by our firm belief that THE “CHRISTIAN RIGHT” IS NEITHER. “You put that bumper sticker on?” a man asked us at the Parducci winery, as his group crossed paths with us at the winery door. Andrew and I froze. It’s an impossible question. “We bought the car used,” we hedged. “We were admiring it as you drove by,” he said. We sighed in relief. We were fortunate, this time.

Ukiah, where our hotel was located, was a charming place with a cute little downtown. After a nice dinner at a brewery, we headed back to the hotel—where, that night, there was a total power outage. “You have electricity?” people began calling to one another from their doorways. The parking lot was pitch-black. A flashlight swept over the cars. Someone turned their headlights on; we could hear confused and angry murmuring. It was more than a little creepy, and we settled into an uneasy sleep.

We started our Sunday in a grove of redwoods at the Hendy Woods State Park. Amazing—the trees are endlessly tall, and many have enormous trunks. Some are hollowed-out at the base, as though some sort of woodland creature has carved out a home. We hiked along a trail through the forest, utterly silent, and cool thanks to the treetops blocking the sun. It was a beautiful place.

Souls refreshed, we began our wine exploration in earnest. First, the Roederer Estates, where we tasted a few sparkling wines. Then onto Husch Vineyards, our favorite of the day—the small tasting room was in a rustic wooden room, and we made small talk with another taster who told us she moved to San Francisco from MA and took 5 years to adjust. “I’m sorry,” she said when we told her we lived near Sacramento. The good wines took the sting out of our predicament, sort of.

After lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, we continued on, choosing wineries more or less at random as we drove along the winding roads: Navarro Vineyards, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, Handley Cellars, Scharffenberger Cellars. Over dinner at the Bluebird Café in Hopland, we discussed what we’ll name our vineyard when we purchase one of the lovely expanses we saw for sale, and congratulated ourselves on our fledgling wine knowledge—nowhere near fluent, but definitely a little better than before we started out.

Monday, Labor Day, we rewarded the labor of a local bakery by having breakfast there, then headed towards home—stopping along the way in Calistoga for picnic supplies, then eating at an oak-shaded picnic table at the Cuvaison Winery in Napa, where we indulged in one final tasting.

We ended our trip by visiting a local geyser, apparently one of only three “faithful” geysers in the world. We waited for a very, very long time for the geyser to go off, staring at a small steaming opening in the center of a pond in what felt like the middle of nowhere. There was a distinct shady-carnival atmosphere, a bit of the grotesque, as we walked along a rickety wooden walkway past a pen of “fainting goats” towards the pond. Eventually, the geyser did go off, and everyone snapped pictures. And kept snapping pictures. The geyser continued to spew. We dutifully watched, but finally felt we had to get on our way.

It was a lovely weekend, perhaps my favorite weekend trip so far in CA—the area is just incredibly peaceful and beautiful, worlds away from our strip-mall-dominated home.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Wii

For anyone who likes video games, Andrew has an amazingly cool job. For people like us, unversed and uninvested in the world of gaming, his job is interesting from a business perspective but that’s about it. What would be extreme perks to others are simply amusing diversions for us. For example, last night Andrew brought home a Wii. We played a game of tennis, then bowled, our movements unrestricted by furniture. Andrew played a little golf and baseball. It was fun, but after about an hour, we were done with the Wii. This is what people have been paying so much money for, waiting on waitlists for? I’m missing something, apparently. Perhaps I’ll understand it a little more when Andrew brings home a Mario Brothers game, which I always liked playing on our old Nintendo system many years ago. Wii shall see.

Chitchat

Californians are friendly. In grocery stores, the cashiers strike up conversations, smiling and scanning my food. It’s off-putting; I’m not used to small-talk, not least because usually I’ve just spent an ungodly period of time alone in our studio apartment, out of reach of human interaction. The conversation is usually prompted when I show my driver’s license, required whenever we buy beer or wine. “You’re a long way from home,” a Trader Joe’s cashier observed recently. Or, the more common comment: “What brings you out here?” They ask how long we’ve been here, if we like it, how it’s different from back home. These questions are sometimes complicated, especially if Andrew presents his FL license. Sometimes we talk about FL as though it’s a home we’ve just left, remarking on the difference in humidity and other such chitchat.

A couple of weeks ago, the cashier at the large grocery store Raley’s studied and studied my license, getting a handle on my name, which she used throughout the rest of the conversation. All this attention to my license is fine, I suppose, but it’s also unfortunate that what they see on my license is the Lobotomy Picture. I’d waited outside the DMV on 125th street for over two hours the day the picture was taken; it was a time of desperation, of fruitless DMV trips, attempting to replace my PA license (stolen, along with my purse) with a NY one. Terrible. It had been a freezing-cold morning, and a strand of windswept hair had positioned itself at a jagged angle across my forehead. In the picture, the hair, along with my crazed eyes and forced smile, suggest—no, assert—lobotomy patient.

Our car has generated a bit of friendly CA-style small talk as well. This week, Andrew and I went to the mall and were accosted in the parking lot by an aggressively friendly older couple who wanted to know how we liked our Volvo. We were skillfully swept into an extremely lengthy conversation—the husband pulled Andrew over to one side, while the wife chattered over the car to me. “What’s your name?” I heard the man ask Andrew. And then the woman, to me, moments later: “What’s your name?” It seemed eerily choreographed. The conversation resulted, for Andrew, in an exchange of business cards and the suggestion that there might be a job available at the man’s consulting firm. Though Andrew does indeed have the admirable gift of being able to inspire genuine affection and good will instantaneously, this was not, I’m quite sure, one of those fortuitous encounters where careers are magically propelled ahead. On the contrary, we speculated on the way home whether we’d been targeted as possible converts to some sort of religion, and our suspicions were deepened when a Google search turned up no mention of either the man or his company.

Perhaps we’re just cynical New Yorkers; perhaps my under-stimulated imagination is just desperate for a little drama here in bland-as-oatmeal suburbia; or perhaps this won’t be the end to this story at all.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Weekend in Suburbia

We did it: we survived our first weekend together in suburbia. This is actually the third weekend I've spent here--once when Andrew went to a bachelor party and once when he was on a business trip--but those weekend I filled with on-my-own things, extra work and writing and renting DVDs. We faced this weekend with a kind of puzzlement. What, exactly, were we going to do all day? We'd already gone to see a movie this week--Superbad (our high expectations were disappointed); there are no museums or parks to go to; and there's nowhere to go strolling or exploring. We waited to see what would happen.

Somehow, the time passed, and we managed to actually have a nice, if fully suburban, two days. Friday night, after we bought the car, we celebrated at a nice Vietnamese restaurant. Saturday, we went out for breakfast then drove into Sacramento to--finally!--return our rental car. This involved my first solo drive on the freeway, and though there was a very close call with a lane change and complicated exit (I almost crashed into Andrew), I survived. We then went to Target and Barnes and Noble. We grilled hamburgers for dinner, read, watched TV. Saturday.

Today, Andrew made breakfast, then we headed to Roseville to check out what Andrew had heard from co-workers was a good flea market and farmer's market. We heard Deborah Garrison read two poems on NPR before we parked the car in the huge lot, which was a nice way to end the drive. The flea market itself was a mish mash of cheap new junk and dusty old junk, though we did find a couple of books. We looked at a big cooking pot, and Andrew pulled his hand back in pain--the sun had heated the metal to a ridiculous degree. We began backing away warily when the seller launched into an explanation of why the sun makes metal hot--something about electromagetism and the sun not actually heating the metal but the air around it....There's always a whole lot of crazy at a flea market.

The farmer's market, however, surpassed all expectations and I can say honestly that it is the best market I've ever been to besides the Boqueria in Barcelona. Stand after stand of vegetables and fruits that must have come straight from nearby farms, all being sold at ridiculously cheap prices--four pounds of peaches for a dollar, for example. There were many things we'd never heard of before, or, at least, had no idea how to cook--wide cactus leaves, prickly cactus fruits, jicama, pacilla peppers, tomatillos; and bins and bins of chile peppers of all sizes and colors. Absolutely everyone was speaking Spanish. We loaded ourselves down with fruits and tomatoes, thrilled to have finally found the quintessential CA market that we knew had to exist somewhere.

We rounded off the day with stops at Target (yes, again) and Trader Joe's, and now we're here for the evening, with the Times to while away the remaining hours. Not a bad weekend, this. It's no Spanish beach or Central Park or walk down Passeig de Gracia, but we made the most of what suburbia had to offer.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

THE "CHRISTIAN RIGHT" IS NEITHER

We are officially car owners. It’s crazy. Yesterday we paid, in full, in cash, for a used ’98 Volvo in excellent condition that Andrew had found listed on Craig’s List. We’ve been searching for a car for weeks now, intent on getting rid of our money-sucking rental, but nothing has been quite right: too expensive, too sketchy, an armrest that looks as though it had been chewed on regularly. We found an Audi we liked but decided against it out of fear for expensive repair work. We met a Passat seller, convinced we were going to buy it instantly, but were disappointed to see that it was definitely the worse for wear, and that the seller works at the local prison. The Volvo felt right immediately, and the sellers, a middle-aged couple who’d just bought a brand-new Lexus, had lived in both Pittsburgh and near Cornish in New Hampshire, and had a fat file folder full of painstakingly compiled information on the car’s history, inspired trust. I actually felt more wary of carrying around all that cash than I did about handing it over.

This is the first car either of us has ever owned, and we felt quite happy and proud driving around last night. We also felt aggressive and belligerent because our car sports a bumper sticker reading THE “CHRISTIAN RIGHT” IS NEITHER. Though we of course like the sentiment, we’re going to try to remove it or cover it up; we already feel a little conspicuous about being New York transplants here in the suburbs, and I don’t think there’s any need to flaunt our liberal views. This is neither the time nor the place.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Monterey

Seals, whales, otters—the promise of dramatic sea life was one of the things that drew us to Monterey, and our weekend did not disappoint. Saturday afternoon, when we arrived, we headed to the Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch and spotted seals sunning themselves on rocks around the harbor. We sat outside to eat—fish and chips for Andrew, clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl for me—and even saw seals swimming in the water just beneath our terrace.

There were more seals, as well as large pelicans and many other birds, in view as we made the 17 Mile Drive along the coastline. The wildlife, cypresses, and dramatic sea were almost overshadowed, however, by the extravagant mansions lining much of the drive and the overwhelming abundance of ridiculously expensive cars. There is a lot of money in Monterey, and even as we ate breakfast on Sunday morning at a little café in town, we saw Lamborghinis and Porches and Ferraris drive idly by. Even a few of the cars in the parking lot of our lovely overnight abode, the EconoLodge, were carefully covered up for the night in heavy car blankets.

We did a little writer’s-ghost-hunting this weekend, walking around Cannery Row, the setting for several Steinbeck novels. Andrew had bought a few used Steinbecks as a little getaway preparation on Friday, and now I can read Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row with their settings (well, versions of them) clear in my mind.

As we left Monterey behind on Sunday, en route to Santa Cruz, we drove through Castroville, the self-proclaimed Artichoke Capital of the World. Fields of artichoke plants surrounded the town, and we were disappointed that we’d already eaten and missed out on the Giant Artichoke restaurant, whose door was flanked by, yes, an enormous artichoke. We walked around town just a bit, clear outsiders among the Spanish-speaking crowds. So close to Monterery, this town was a different world, almost a different country. When we got on our way, the farmland continued, field after field of cauliflower and strawberries and squash.

Our final stop was Santa Cruz, where we were found ourselves on a true beach boardwalk. Roller-coasters soared over our heads; large spinning saucers raised screaming riders high above the sand. The water, sadly, was too cold for swimming, so we walked along the pier and did some seal-watching.

And then we were homeward bound, away from the Lamborghinis and back to our slightly less moneyed neighbor, the Sunrise Mall.

Return to the MDPOE

This weekend, Andrew and I found ourselves once again fighting panic and existential despair at the MDPOE. A friend had flown in from Pittsburgh this weekend, preparing to relocate with his family in a few weeks, and I helped him house-hunt Friday. It’s very nice to see the occasional friend from the East Coast (more or less), but strange, too; our life here feels somehow more real when someone familiar enters it. In any case, he had booked a room at the MDPOE for Friday night, not realizing that it is a place of hellish misery; and Andrew and I, intent on cutting down our travel time for our weekend trip to Monterey, were committed to the MDPOE as well thanks to Priceline. This time, our room had 5 forks. Nate’s had 2. He also reported that his room had what appeared to be a blood stain under the window. I don’t know what it is about these places—this was actually a different branch of the MDPOE—but they are simply awful. Almost determinedly awful. Nonetheless, everyone survived the night.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Rocky Road to Romance

Over the past week, Andrew and I have managed to acquire the following:

---TV
---DVD player
---Futon
---Daily delivery of the New York Times
---Printer
---A copy of The Rocky Road to Romance by Janet Evanovich

One would think we were—at last—getting settled. And indeed, it would appear that way. The last time I had cable TV was—never. I have never subscribed to cable in all my years of living as an independent adult. In Spain, we had cable for approximately one month; but Spanish cable boxes and the television sets that accompany them are complicated to a degree unknown to the rest of humankind, and I never learned how to turn the TV on once everything was installed. This is not an exaggeration. We moved to a new apartment shortly thereafter and didn’t bother signing up again. I can’t lie: it’s nice, very nice, to have TV. I can watch Everybody Loves Raymond as I clean up dinner and watch Iron Chef America before going to sleep. On weekends like this one, when Andrew is away for work, I’m especially happy to have it.

And it’s fabulous to have the Times. And its attendant subscription to Times Select. And the ability to print things without emailing them to Andrew’s office.

But some distance remains until we’re as settled as we can be without any of our things here with us. For example, one would think we’d be happy to no longer be sleeping on an air mattress on the floor. Yet we’ve somehow succeeded in upgrading our sleeping arrangements to something even more uncomfortable. The futon mattress sags in the middle, and until we shore it up with strategically placed pillows, it will continue to kill us. We got it from a nice couple from Craig’s List, mainly because it met our main criteria: it was cheap enough that we won’t feel compelled to move it back East whenever the time comes, and the seller agreed to deliver.

I thought we were being given a sign of something on Thursday, in the midst of all this settling in, when Andrew opened up his package from a Half.com seller. He expected to see a Chicago guidebook he’d ordered for his business trip, and instead pulled out a romance novel. The swirly, heart-festooned cover of The Rocky Road to Romance was a surprise. “What did you order?” I smirked, as Andrew went on about it being a “shipping error.” Whatever. I felt sure that some greater meaning awaited us in this chirpy, oh-so-domestic piece of supermarket fluff, that a clue lurked within the pages of this book where, according to the “Dear Reader” section from Janet Evanovich at the front, “[t]hey all fall in love, they outsmart some bad guys, and they eat a lot of dessert.” I was hooked. Alas, about a half-page in, more satisfying reading (the cereal box, the cable bill, a Pizza Hut flier) beckoned, and the mystic sign, if there is one, will, I fear, remain undiscovered.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lake Tahoe

It’s funny how our experience of living in CA is being sullied by the fact that we live in a suburban void. What our weekend trips have shown us over the past few weeks is that this is an incredibly beautiful state—and we are, oddly, perfectly situated to visit some of the most stunning parts of it with minimal effort and time.

This weekend, we drove a mere hour and a half and found ourselves at Lake Tahoe. The largest alpine lake in North America, Lake Tahoe is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide; the water, in some places, is 1,645 feet deep. There are 71 miles of dramatic, pine-lush shoreline. The lake is in a basin within the Sierra Nevadas, and the high altitude was palpable—walking across a parking lot was enough to make me short of breath. And the color—Lake Tahoe is an otherworldly blue, deep and rich. Set as it is against the pine forests and mountain ranges, it is a breathtaking sight.

Thanks to Priceline and a strategic upgrade, we stayed the night at the luxurious Resort at Squaw Creek; we had a suite with a mountain view, with a fireplace in the living room. Indescribably cozy. When we arrived on Saturday, we reluctantly left our bags and set out to explore. We drove north from Squaw Valley, along the lake, stopping now and then to admire the views, walk out on a pier, sit on the sand. Dogs played in the water. A breeze rustled through the pines. The sun was warm, but there was a coolness in the breeze. The sky was a clear blue. It was truly a mountain paradise. We stopped once along the way and walked along a road high above the lake, collecting pinecones—large cones from Jeffrey and Ponderosa Pines; there were so many along the road and in the woods that we could have scooped them up with a shovel.

We’d gotten tickets for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival’s performance of Romeo and Juliet that night, so we set out for Incline Village. The performances take place at an amphitheatre that has Lake Tahoe as its backdrop. We sat in the “upper gallery,” on a sandy hill; everyone rents low beach chairs to sit on. People who bring their own, too-high chairs stand and call “Shovel! Shovel!”, and a theatre worker comes over to dig a trench in which to nestle their chair. We brought a picnic and a bottle of wine; and as the play—which was very well done—went on, and the sun set over the lake, we drank the wine and listened to the rustling pines and, during scene changes, looked up at thousands of stars in the clear sky.

The man sitting next to us, also a former New Yorker, said he was sure we’d realize that we’d arrived in a place far superior to Brooklyn and everything else we’d left behind. Sitting there, overlooking the lake, we couldn’t agree with him, of course, but it was easy to see why his conviction was so ardent. Perhaps we’d feel the same if we, too, owned a home in Tahoe.

There was a long line of traffic leaving the parking lot after the play, so we turned on the headlights and scavenged in the woods for more pinecones while we waited out the rush.

Sunday, we sadly left our alpine retreat and headed south, ready to round out our Tahoe experience by going to a casino. We soon crossed the state line into Nevada and were confronted by two mammoth ones—Harrah’s and Harvey’s—that are connected by an underground tunnel. We spent a few dollars on the penny slot machines; Andrew played a couple of hands of electronic poker. He decided against joining a table in the poker room—he wasn’t feeling it, he said—and we left more or left unscathed, secure in the knowledge that neither of us have a gambling addiction.

We stopped at a state park on the way home to collect more pinecones (bags of pinecones now fill the outdoor storage closet off our deck). Gathering pinecones from a woodsy trail is just good for the soul.

And so our Lake Tahoe weekend came to an end. It was a wonderful trip, definitely a place the warrants a repeat visit—perhaps when the snow comes, if we’re still here.