01 April 2015


It is Veronica's fault that I committed myself to writing 30 letters in 30 days, one for each day in April.

It is wholly my fault that I wrote all 30 letters/cards/postcards on Sunday. I will drop them in the mailbox one by one, and the recipients will receive them in a nicely attenuated fashion, but the point is probably to get in the habit of writing a note a day, and there is where I fell down.

Birthday cards were first. I figured out all of the April birthdays and located cards. Then, so they'd arrive on time, I stuck a post-it on each one with the mailing date. Then one thing led to another and I was rooting around in a box of random cards and odd envelopes, and pretty soon, I had a stack of 30. One is going overseas. Four are going to my sister's house (one for her, and one for each of her children). Several are going to old college friends, people I've not been in touch with for rather a long time. Interestingly, only one is going to an imaginary friend; I've met every single person who is getting a piece of mail - except for Veronica. And since she started it...

I have to say, though, it was a fabulous project even if I did it all wrong.

28 March 2015

The Suitcase and the Sink

Sometimes I don't know where to begin the tale. Is it with the book I just finished? Is it with the MoMA exhibit I saw in January, the catalog for which is the aforementioned last book I read? Or should I start on a spring day in 1998, at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Connecticut, where I first encountered Robert Gober?

I think I'll start there. I can't remember why we drove up to Ridgefield from NYC. The Aldrich isn't much of a destination, but maybe we decided to stop there on the way to visit my cousin? In any case, the Aldrich had a Robert Gober exhibit open, and it was gobsmacking and challenging and exhilarating - an exhibit that I remembered for a long time afterwards.

Gober's a sculptor, the kind of sculptor that likes to remake ordinary objects. He cast a paint can in crystal and painstakingly hand painted it ... to look like a paint can. He took a piece of styrofoam found washed up on the beach ... and cast it in bronze and painted it. He's made wax legs with real leg hair, which then get socks and shoes, and are carefully placed sticking out of the wall, at floor level, shades of the Wicked Witch of the East after someone dropped a house upon her. And the sinks - reproductions of old beat up farmhouse sinks, made of paint and plaster and chicken wire and lath. They're not going to hold any water, ever.

But the piece at the Aldrich that stayed with me was the suitcase. Sitting on the floor in a mostly empty room, from a distance it looked like an old suitcase, lid open, satin lining showing. When you got closer, you realized that set into the bottom of the suitcase was a cast iron sewer drain. Closer, and you could see down through the grate to a tide pool complete with moving water and rocks and swaying seaweed. As you leaned over to peer directly down into the suitcase, there appeared a pair of men's feet. And it wasn't until you were leaning over from the other side, looking over the lid of the suitcase, that you could see that the man was dangling a baby over the tide pool. It had a cinematic aspect to the reveal, the way the suitcase morphed from ordinary object to portal. And I never forgot it.

Last fall, the Museum of Modern Art mounted a big retrospective of Gober. Me, being disorganized, I procrastinated until the very last minute so that we saw the show on the day it closed. Happily for me, there was hardly anyone there - everyone was upstairs at the exhibit of the Matisse cutouts. Those are all well and good, and pretty to look at, but my idea of fun is not a museum show where there are eleventy hundred people between you and the wall so you can't get a good look at anything. The Gober exhibit show was everything I hoped it would be. Mind-bending and thrilling, it was chock full of interesting things to see - including, yes, the suitcase of my memories.

I bought the catalog. I read the catalog from cover to cover, delighting in bits like "Just give me that two-by-four". And you know what? It makes my heart sing that there are such dementedly creative people in this world of ours.

When we were in San Francisco in February, we went to Alcatraz. Alcatraz is, of course, a glorious ruin - and is home, right now, to an exhibit of work by contemporary artist Ai Weiwei.

I was struck there by a sink. Long, rust-tinged, porcelain, unplumbed, it could well be one of Gober's sinks. How perfect to find it at Alcatraz. Art meets life meets art.

27 March 2015

On Whales and Submarines

Sometimes it's the simple things.

I was seated on the subway this morning, gazing between the standees, and what to my wondering eyes did I spy but a whale?

And the little wheels in my head turned, and I thought "it reminds me of the Peter Sis whale that I have".

And it was! Well, it's Peter Sis, not a whale, it's a submarine, but it has a familial resonance.

The MTA has this program, Arts for Transit, where they do installations in subway stations, and commission posters that get slapped up in unsold ad spaces.

I don't know about you, but I'd far rather look at art and read poetry than have to stare into Dr. Zizmor's rainbow wrapped eyes.

And Peter Sis? In the case of the whale, which debuted in 2001, I liked the art so much that I bought the poster and had it framed - long before I'd heard of him as an author and illustrator.

Sometimes it's the little things that get the day off to a good start.

04 March 2015


After a period of quiescence, the 11 year old has rediscovered her American Girl dolls. She has been hell bent on building furniture for them, and making bedding, and slavishly following instructions found on YouTube for the creation of eerily realistic doll-sized chocolate chip cookies, and chattering incessantly about wanting a fourth doll.

I, thinking three of them was already too many, said no, absolutely not, I will not buy you a fourth doll.

She, drawing on some hardwired capitalistic tendencies, I know not from where, decided that she wanted to sell two of the dolls. We talked about eBay, and about a local Facebook "garage sale", and she decided to take her chances on eBay - even after I explained about Paypal fees and postage. She took all of the necessary pictures, and wrote most of the copy. I fluffed up her copy (smoke free household!) and posted the two dolls for sale. She watched the auctions like a hawk and was thrilled with the results. I, frankly, was dumbfounded that one doll went for twice what we had paid in 2011, and the other went for about the original price. [One was a "girl of the year", the other was a now retired historical doll.]

Armed, therefore, with a chunk of money in the bank of mom, we headed into NYC the other day, with a friend of hers, to get that new doll.

First, though, we took the subway downtown and went to Economy Candy. I told her and and the friend that they could have $20 and 20 minutes; they were done in 15.

Then we walked up to Katz's Deli, where we didn't send any salamis, but we did have selzer and pastrami and an indulgent waiter who didn't mind when the girls dumped all the candy out onto the table to fondle it.

After lunch, we walked back to the subway, past the end of Sara D. Roosevelt Park, where there was a big sculpture made out of rubber mats. Dryly, my child remarked If I did that, no one would call it art.

Riding uptown on the subway, the two girls worked hard on staying standing without holding on. This is a life skill, people, and children from the suburbs don't get enough practice.

Finally, we got to the American Girl Doll store, where the two girls perversely decided that they weren't buying anything for themselves, it was for their "cousins". Weirdos.

Of course, on the train home, all of the purchases came out of their packages.

The moral of the story? Capitalism is good, especially when it reduces the number of dolls in your house.

27 February 2015

Photo Caption

Standing on
the platform
on a fiercely
cold and brilliantly
sunny February day
with his back to the
track, not watching
for the next train,
the commuter
tilts his chin up
to the sky, eyes
closed, dreaming of
the summer
that will come,

26 February 2015

In Which California Avocados Meet Moroccan Clementines

In two of the excellent meals we had in San Francisco last week, I ordered an avocado/citrus salad.

At Gialina, it was "blood orange & avocado salad with farro, fennel & goat gouda". [Gialina is low key and serves phenomenally fabulous pizza with a magical perfect crust.] A few days later, it was "california avocado salad with fennel, celery, citrus vinaigrette", at the Presidio Social Club. [PSC is a nostalgic throwback, like an upscale yacht club with great food and a daily Manhattan.] I loved both salads. The avocado provided lushness, the citrus made them sparkle.

Then, driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Cruz, we found a guy selling fruit out of the back of a truck in a bug out overlooking the ocean. He had boxes of tiny, jewel-toned avocados, each about the size of a kiwi and five for a dollar. Twenty cents for an avocado! I bought five even though I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them, and we were flying back to New York at the crack of dawn the next day.

Yes, reader, those avocados came home with me. A few days on the kitchen counter and they ripened up to a nice black. And I diced them, and added celery and clementines (alas, from Morocco, not California), and a splash of oil and vinegar, and yes. It's a great salad.

Avocado, Celery, Clementine salad

1 stalk of celery
2 clementines
1 ripe Haas avocado
1 T. olive oil
1 T. mild vinegar (I like the UniĆ³ Riesling vinegar, but you could use a champagne vinegar or a cider vinegar)
salt & pepper to taste

Finely slice the celery, less than 1/8" thick. (I know: fussy knife work.) Place in bowl. Peel the clementines. Working over the bowl, do your best to filet them - remove all of the flesh from each segment and drop the flesh in the bowl. (Yes: more fussy knife work. You could just cut each segment in half, if you must.) Peel and pit the avocado, and dice into 1/2" chunks. Add to celery and clementine. Add oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and toss gently with a big spoon. Serve immediately.

Serves two.

22 February 2015

The non-ski, non-beach February break vacation

We just spent the winter break in San Francisco. My sister-in-law lives there, and we hadn't been to visit in a long time - and the girl child had never been. Between the three of us, we took about 1500 pictures - though that includes about 300 that my husband took accidentally while standing still with the shutter going off at his hip, like some kind of weird performance art. Here are the highlights - I think it's 22 photos.

We had lunch at Bacon Bacon. They have a mechanical ride-on pig. Everything has bacon in or on it.

The child went in the sea. Air temperature was great; ocean only good for crazy people and 11 year olds.

We had ice cream for breakfast, Secret Breakfast from Humphry Slocombe, because duh, cornflakes.

We, of course, rode the cable cars and hung off the sides.

I spotted a pair of large beige underpants in a window.

We went to the top of the Coit Tower, where you could see for miles. And the sky was blue.

The citrus available at the farmers markets was astonishingly good and varied.

This little angel lived at the entrance to a Sausalito houseboat.

This pig decorated another Sausalito houseboat. One of the houseboats was for sale, for a mere $799K.

Fort Cronkhite. Another place where we went to the beach. In February in Northern California.

I do like a ruin. This is part of a gun emplacement in the Marin Headlands.

Mandatory photo of iconic International Orange bridge, which we crossed a number of times.

The National Cemetery is - as they all are - moving. At the gates to the rear entrance is engraved Archibald MacLeish's poem The Young Dead Soldiers.

In Golden Gate Park, there are casting pools. And an angler's lodge - complete with a stained glass fly. An elegant older man told us all about the casting pools - and then climbed in and demonstrated, beautifully.

There were flowers blooming every where. In February.

We stumbled upon this astonishing building. It was a warehouse, supplying goods like mops and toilet paper to ships departing the Kaiser Shipyards for WWII.

We took the ferry to Alcatraz, where we took many many pictures of rusted metal, crazed paint, and crumbling cement.

And we got to see (most of) the Ai Weiwei exhibit.

Ai Weiwei rendered Edward Snowden (and 175 other prisoners) in LEGO bricks.

The Exploratorium is amazing. This picture sort of looks like a roiling wine glass - but it's about three feet in diameter and demonstrates fluid dynamics. I took almost no pictures there because we were having way too much fun.

One day, we rented a convertible to drive down to just south of Santa Cruz, to visit one of my aunts. We took the Pacific Coast Highway down, and Skyline Ridge back. It was a glorious day.

And we ate really well, because San Francisco is a great restaurant & farmers market town. The high point was a lovely meal in the cafe at Chez Panisse, with a formerly imaginary friend and her husband. And no, I didn't steal one of the water glasses.

It was an awesomely fun week in the sun.