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 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.


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!

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


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??