Thursday, February 26, 2009

Facebook in Real Life

Andrew pointed me towards this hilarious YouTube video last night, which nicely portrays the UTTER RIDICULOUSNESS of Facebook. I was half-asleep when Andrew beckoned me to the computer with "You've got to see this video," a summons I usually dread because more often than not it's some kind of Will Farrell montage. (The perception of WF's "humor" is a truly irreconciliable difference between us but one, I'm mostly certain, will not ultimately jeapordize our marriage.) This time, however, I was wholly amused:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Killing, Skinning, Twittering

I came across an article today on one of my favorite themes: the evil/danger of social networking/computers/video games for kids (indeed, for us all, but I won’t digress). This article, from The Daily Mail, presents findings from a neuroscientist named Susan Greenfield, who asserts that social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, actually change childrens’ brains, harming them in all kinds of ways.

The whole article was alarming and interesting, but what caught my attention was this troubling analogy:

“‘I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,’ she said.”

This gave me pause. I see what she’s trying to say—that the real stuff of life, the real physicality of everyday existence, the butchering and skinning and talking face-to-face, is giving way to sanitized, soulless anonymity and impersonality. But the analogy seems flawed. Who among us would advocate for a return to killing and skinning on an everyday basis? Those plastic-wrapped packages of meat make my life better; the “interaction” I lose with the animal is, perhaps, best lost, lest I turn to a diet of roots and greens. Fearing the loss of real-time, personal conversations is not in any way similar to mourning (?) the transition from hunting to supermarket-gathering.

But perhaps the analogy makes more sense than I first thought. Perhaps that loss of interaction with the animals we eat is, indeed, similar to the loss of interaction among in-person friends—both result in a kind of distance; a weakening of the ability to see others’ humanity; a dulling of the humane impulse toward nonhumans. Sanitized dialogues and online “relationships”—like unidentifiable packages of beef and pork—cocoon us, allow us to exist in our own small spheres, unconcerned with the effects of our words or actions.

The analogy is strange and disturbing and violent, perhaps best taken a bit less literally. Indeed, there’s a kind of truth to killing and skinning, just as there is truth to real conversation—to the real world, to a life lived away from a screen. This truth simply doesn’t exist in Facebook and Twitter’s relentless newsfeeds from people we barely know. And it is certainly something to be mourned when and if it disappears.

Fugitives Abound

On Monday, I had another run-in with the police. I say “another” even though my other two run-ins (which should really be “run-ins”) are spread over the past three years. Nonetheless, three “run-ins”—two of which involved fugitives who’d given my address as their residence—seems notable.

Anyway, when the police buzzed our apartment on Monday, I was certain it was going to be another fugitive, and then I was really going to have to start questioning my husband. This time, however, the detectives, as they called themselves, were seeking information about our downstairs neighbor, who’d just moved out two weeks ago. I barely knew her or the boyfriend that was always hanging around, and I don’t know where they moved, but I tried my best to remember what kind of car she drove and provided a detailed description of the boyfriend—“A skater-type.” They showed me surveillance camera pictures of a man I did not recognize, and a picture of the girl. “Can I ask what this is about?” I said.

“It might be just a misunderstanding,” one detective said. “Like if he”—pointing at the other detective—“stole my pencil, and I misunderstood it.”

Interesting. Fugitives abound.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Hard Copy

I have to say I love my blog. I’ve kept it for over three years now, and it’s really served as a kind of catch-all journal, travelogue, life record, etc. Of interest to many people? Surely not. But of great interest to me. I may often rail against the internet (doom of humanity, thief of childhood, etc etc), but I do like blogging.

Let me revise that. I do like blogging, but as much as I like it and have liked it and enjoy now and then revisiting stories from Spain and beyond, my enjoyment is tarnished by a fear of having the blog suddenly disappear. Who knows why this would happen—a crash at Blogger, a crash of the internet, it could be anything, and then it’s gone. Of course, I write all my posts in Word, so things wouldn’t be lost completely, but cutting and pasting hundreds of posts into some kind of single record would be annoying. Possible, but annoying.

What I’m getting at is this: I like my blog, but what I really LOVE, in general, are hard copies of things. And I see now I’m not alone. Turning one’s blog into a book—a physical, for-the-ages object—is possible now, thanks to companies like Blurb. The internet may be wonderful, but at the end of the day, you just want a hard copy. In five years, ten, no one will even know what a blog is anymore. At the end of the day, you just want a hard copy.

And so, you might ask, have I made a blog book?

You betcha.

I made a book encompassing all the posts from our time in Spain, up to June 2007. Skipping Town, Volume I. And I am bowled over. I spent hours assembling the book—the blog is imported automatically, with no cutting and pasting required, but there are endless things to do with page layouts, picture-uploading, and picture-captioning. I included hundreds of pictures—tons more than I ever included on the blog itself—and the final product is more narrative photo album than blog book. The book is very high-quality, with an image-wrapped hard cover and professional binding. It is a comprehensive record of our trips, my Spanish adventures, our life together as new cohabitators. The best part? Beyond the fact that it’s such a pleasing product and so nicely produced? It’s a hard copy. If I lose every file on my computer and all my backup drives, and if the internet disappears, I still have a hard copy. I cannot express how pleased I am with the whole thing.

I can’t wait to leave California so I can start Volume II.

Get a preview of my blog book here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Seattle Weekend

This weekend, Andrew and I bundled up and flew to the Pacific Northwest for a Seattle exploration. First stop: the Museum of Glass, not in Seattle but in Tacoma, an easy bus ride from the airport. Tacoma is Dale Chihuly’s birthplace, and the Museum of Glass is connected to the downtown area by the Bridge of Glass—not a bridge made out of glass, as Andrew and I mistakenly believed, but an otherwise ordinary bridge made less ordinary by the presence of several Chihuly glass artworks. Two teal-colored rock-candy-like sculptures flank the entrance to the bridge; on the bridge itself is a glass-walled series of shelves holding Chihuly vessels, and an overhead sea of glass creatures and shapes.

The focal point of the museum itself is the Hot Shop, a working glass studio with stadium seating, where guest artists give glassmaking demonstrations. We were lucky to be there during Lino Tagliapietra’s residency—a glass artist from Venice—and we could have watched him all day. We watched him create a beautiful banana-shaped piece—and wondered if we should check the museum’s dumpsters for cast-off “demos.”

We headed into Seattle later that afternoon and had just enough time to visit the city’s amazing glass-walled public library, designed by Rem Koolhaas, and stroll around Pioneer Square and a great bookstore, the Elliot Bay Book Company. Soon it was dinnertime. We’d lucked into Valentine’s Day reservations—apparently someone had just cancelled when we booked through OpenTable—for Café Campagne, a charming French restaurant near the famous Pike Place Market. We had a delicious meal: calamari, duck confit salad, cassoulet served in an individual Le Creuset pot, and steak frites. Fabulous.

Sunday, we headed to the Seattle Art Museum to see an Edward Hopper exhibition—ten paintings of “Hopper’s women,” soulful, solitary creatures in cafes and restaurants. It was a great collection, and the whole museum had wonderful explanatory texts—so often museum texts are exercises in meaningless artspeak, but these were very informative and interesting.

Our main activity on Sunday was a guided walking tour of Pike Place Market—a “Savor Seattle” tour. Along with about sixteen other people, we followed the guide through the sprawling market—it was easy to hear him among all the chaos because we had unobtrusive headsets, very Japanese-tour-group—as he told us about some of the vendors and the market’s history. The real point of the tour, however, was getting to taste many of the market’s offerings; among our selections were delicious cheddar made in-house, piroshkies (a savory Russian pastry), clam chowder, smoked salmon, tiny cinnamon donuts, fresh apples and pears, and coconut cream pie. Later, Andrew and I returned to the market for fried clams from Ivar’s Acres of Clams.

We met our friends Joel and Lauren for dinner at a steakhouse Sunday night. Monday, we took a ferry to Bainbridge Island for brunch; the views from the water were wonderful. Then we walked around the International District and browsed in Uwajimaya, a Japanese department store--it was amazing, full of Japanese foods and knick knacks. I added to my collection of kawaii: a small panda that came inside a chocolate egg. Finally, we returned to the market yet again for more piroshkies and steamed pork buns. Cold and tired, we parked ourselves by the fireplace in our hotel’s lobby until it was time to leave for our flight.

What a great city—much more big-city-like than I expected, though it did in some ways match the rugged Seattle of my imagination. I saw more than a few people who looked like they’d been living in the wilderness for twenty years and had only recently—though successfully!—reentered society; and we saw several men wearing Utilikilts, which are exactly what they sound like—a combination of utility belt and kilt. Rugged kilts. Our market tour guide was wearing one. But alongside all that were Gucci and Louis Vuitton, interesting architecture and wonderful museums. A fun exploration.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Deals

Last night, Andrew and I made a dreaded trip to Truxel Road, an alarming and chaotic multi-plaza shopping area containing every big-box chain store imaginable. I may have written about Truxel before, but it bears repeating: the parking system is awful, clearly designed by a sadistic maniac, and we once saw a man walking across the parking lot carrying a snake. It is among the worst places on earth. Needless to say, we hate Truxel Road.

However, I needed to go to Michael’s for a crafting item for something I’m making Andrew, and I needed paper from Staples. We expected to get these things. What we didn’t expect was to find ridiculous deals. Andrew got a pair of Asics sneakers for $17 at Famous Footwear, down from $60. And I got a brand-new laser printer for $25 at Staples, down from over $100. We spent the money we’d “saved” from our new purchases and went out to dinner (once we’d escaped Truxel Road with our haul). Those are Gabe’s-caliber deals, right here in NorCal.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

ICCA #12: Golden Dragon

I can’t complain about the Golden Dragon, a Chinese restaurant nestled in a small shopping plaza on Broadway (yes, there’s a Broadway in Sacramento). The food is pretty cheap and really good, and fast—just twenty minutes or so if you call in your order for pickup. We ordered in last week and had the House Special Dinner B: hot and sour soup, fried prawns, cream cheese fried wantons, General Chicken, Beef in Hot Garlic Sauce, and pork-fried rice—all for just $11.50 per person. Nice.

Monday, February 09, 2009

ICCA #11: Zelda’s

I can’t complain about Zelda’s, a Sacramento restaurant institution. Though Sacramento has a variety of dining options, we’ve found that our favorite is not very glamorous: a pizza place. From the outside, with its impenetrable, windowless front and uninviting, industrial-strength door, Zelda’s appears to be a dive-y establishment, perhaps one we would not be welcome to enter. Inside, however, it couldn’t be friendlier, with a smallish bar area and lots of high-backed wooden booths, all very dimly lit save for some all-season Christmas lights. The deep-dish pizza at Zelda’s is unique, its crust almost pie-like—not greasy at all. We always order the Combination, with mushrooms, olives, peppers, sausage, and pepperoni, and a half-pitcher of Budweiser. Our total bill is always exactly $25. Can’t complain about that.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Week of Foraging

When you live in a place like Sacramento, you get your thrills where you can find them. This week, Andrew and I challenged ourselves to eat for an entire week without going to the grocery store, foraging for meals within our refrigerator and cupboards. It’s Friday, and we’ve done very well. Here’s the rundown:

Late Sunday night, post-Super Bowl: leftover pizza from Saturday night at Zelda’s, our favorite pizza place.

Monday: Lunch—sandwich (Andrew), remaining leftover chicken piccata and rice pilaf from last Thursday (me). Dinner—fettuccini with sautéed Swiss chard, walnuts, garlic, and sun-dried tomatoes. Andrew also made a batch of blackberry muffins with blackberries we’ve had in our freezer since the summer.

Tuesday: Lunch—sandwich (Andrew), leftover fettuccini (me). Dinner—egg salad sandwiches a la Alice Waters (scallions, capers, parsley, cayenne pepper).

Wednesday: Lunch—leftover fettuccini. Dinner—chicken salad sandwiches a la Alice Waters (chicken, scallions, capers, celery, cayenne pepper).

Thursday: Lunch—leftover chicken salad (Andrew) and egg salad (me). Dinner—carry-out Chinese. Still not a grocery store.

Friday: Lunch—leftover Chinese. Dinner: a mystery. We’ll see what we can find.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Gamblin’ Time

Two Wednesdays ago, Andrew called from work and said, “I just checked last night’s lottery numbers.” On any other day, this would have been of little importance. We play the California Mega Millions on Tuesdays and Fridays, counting on our shrewdly picked numbers to set us up, eventually, for life, and we’re pretty consistent in our luck: we usually get zero numbers.

But on this particular Wednesday morning, the news was a little different: we’d forgotten to get our Mega Millions ticket for Tuesday. Andrew’s voice was grim, and my stomach dropped. “We got three numbers,” he said. Why are you telling me this? I screamed in my head. Out loud I asked quietly, “What would we have won?”

Andrew waited a beat before breaking the news. “Four dollars,” he said finally, and I nearly shouted with relief.

I tell this little anecdote because it seems our luck has changed; and Sunday night I won $100 on the Super Bowl. This is remarkable for a couple of reasons: first, because I’ve never before bet money on the Super Bowl, and second, because I’ve actually never watched the Super Bowl the whole way through. But I had a small bet going with Andrew’s family, with $40 as my prize if the Steelers won, and was involved without my knowledge in Andrew’s pool at work—a “squares” wager that ye who usually watch the Super Bowl probably know about. It’s a game based solely on luck, with four prizes available, one after each quarter of the game (the winner is named based on the score of the game at that time). Andrew won the second quarter. And I won the big one—the fourth and final quarter. Our total winnings topped $100.

Regardless of this lucky streak, it would have been a fun Super Bowl. We watched in Napa with Beth and Nate and the babies, some of whom provided impressive Pittsburgh-themed food (Beth and Nate) and some of whom provided ample excuses for me to wander away from the game now and then for some book-reading (the babies).

Our luck has really turned. I think it’s time for that trip to Vegas.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bodega Bay

On Saturday, Andrew and I drove out to Bodega Bay, a small coastal town about an hour and a half’s drive from Sacramento. We met Beth and Nate and the babies near the harbor, and had lunch at a crab shack overlooking the boats. It’s Dungeness crab season here, with signs all over the harbor advertising fresh crab for sale directly from the local fishermen. We sat outside in the sun—it was a lovely day, in the 60s—and had crab sandwiches, nothing but fresh crab and a little dressing on good rolls.

After lunch, we headed to a nearby beach, nestled below a dramatic rocky coastline, with waves crashing over rocks in the surf. The beach was full of crab claws and mussel shells and saltwater-smoothed rocks and seaweed, but the babies seemed most interested in running at top speed toward the water, with Beth and Nate doing their best to keep their little shoes dry (they had less luck with their own shoes).

Before Andrew and I left later that afternoon, we saw a crowd of people gathered on top of a rocky bluff, so we climbed up to see what they were looking at. They were whale-watching—it was the last of the whales’ southward migration. When we went to Mendocino last year during the Whale Festival, we didn’t see one whale all weekend—but this time we spotted one within minutes. We couldn’t see a dramatic tail, but we did see a curved smooth back arching out of the water for a moment. My first whale.

That night, we had dinner in Sebastopol, at a wonderful little place called the Starlight Wine Bar & Restaurant. Most of the tables are inside an old Pullman Steamliner train car, with the original fixtures intact, including paintings of pastoral wine country scenes running the entire length of the car, above the windows. The chef had worked in New Orleans years ago, and a lot of the menu was so inspired; I had a delicious gumbo, and Andrew had a burger with creole aioli. Sebastopol is in apple country, so we shared a small round apple pie with cinnamon ice cream for dessert. As we ate, we engaged in one of our favorite conversational pastimes: Where would you rather live? The scenarios always involve two fabulous far-off places, and we debate the places’ merits and draws, how long we’d want to stay, logistics. Sometimes, such a discussion is painful. But it’s not so bad after spending a day at a place like Bodega Bay.

It’s the off-season around here, so we took advantage of ridiculously low hotel rates and spent the night near Santa Rosa. In the morning, we drove north to Guerneville, a town in the Russian River Valley, and had breakfast at the Coffee Bazaar, a cute coffee shop. Then we added to our list of redwood forest visits by exploring the Armstrong Redwoods State Park, whose large redwood grove includes trees as old as 1400 years. I absolutely love walking through redwoods; they’re so soulful, so mysterious and stately, and when I close my eyes it’s easy to imagine the silence of the forest being not much different from how it was when the trees were young. While the Americas were being discovered, while Shakespeare was writing his plays, those trees were growing. It’s an incredible feeling to be that close to something that’s been alive through all of it.


As we left the redwoods and drove on to Napa and the Super Bowl, we mused over whether, once we’re gone, we’ll be glad we lived for a while on the West Coast. We both agreed that yes, we will be glad. Chances are good that we would have visited the big California cities and parts of wine country at some point in our lives even without living here, but exploring places like Sebastopol and Bodega Bay are luxuries for those of us with time—and many weekends—to spare. And they’re places I’m glad we’ve gotten to see.