Soft humid breeze makes
hand grenades on long threads swing.
Guacamole time.

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LitQuake!

So LitQuake 2009 is underway and I am going to be at Joe’s Barbershop tonight for Be Afraid!  Evil Queens, Menacing Dykes, and Secret Gay Agendas, a special edition of the hit reading series.

I’ll also be attending Thursday’s 22nd edition of Literary Death Match:

Since launching in SF in July 2007, the Literary Death Match has spanned the globe—London, Paris, Beijing—but no question, the most epic episodes of the series have happened at Litquake. Join us for the third Litquake LDM: SF, Ep. 22, as we bring together a cast like never before, with an uber-talented trio of judges: actress/poet Amber Tamblyn, artist extraordinaire Paul Madonna and SF Chronicle cultural scribe David Wiegand, who will pass judgment on a downright stellar literary lineup featuring Tod Goldberg (Other Resort Cities), Frances Dinkelspiel (Towers of Gold), Lynka Adams (A Skeleton at the Feast), and James Nestor (Get High Now (Without Drugs)).
Verdi Club, 2424 Mariposa Street, San Francisco

I’m in a fantastic literary mood right now – due in perhaps unequal parts to reading Oscar Wilde for the first time (amazing!) as well as the inspiration of Julie and Julia and a breakthrough in plot and character motivation for a work in progress. We’ll see what progress I make!

Me, Julie & Julia

Eggplant parmesan - inside out version.  Olive oil and mozzarella, not two sticks of butter!

Eggplant parmesan - inside out version. Olive oil and mozzarella, not two sticks of butter!

Call me behind the times.  I just watched Julie & Julia.  An enjoyable story with a few surprisingly moving scenes.  I think its that both Julia and Julie were both such likable people that their ups and downs were very affecting.  I have to admit I cried in the middle of the film when the original editor who brought out “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” for Alfred Knopf canceled her dinner at Julie’s because of the rain.  And that wasn’t the only time!   But it was also a very inspiring story – in parallel for both women.  To see  Julia Child – who we only really know from her TV appearances – get her start against tough odds (Mme Brassard!)  and not knowing anything about French cuisine until rather late in life – well, we saw how driven she was to do something – something.

As for Julie – it was disappointing that Julia Child considered her not serious (or whatever – it wasn’t spelled out) – she was no Julia Child, but the leap she took was to experience Julia by actually doing her book.  And the cookbook is created to do and to teach – but how many owners or borrowers of that cookbook have ever done every recipe?  From the film, one gets the distinct impression that the “Trois Gourmands” and particularly Julia and Simone Beck actually tested every one.  As contrasted with Irma Rombauer.

I learned more than about Julie and Julia from the film.   I also learned that the Kabuki advertises their ticket price as $8.5o but actually charges $10.25 – your receipt explains there is a $1.75 “amenity fee”.  Makes we want to go watch Michael Moore’s new film – in a different theatre!

Finally I learned that my copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was “borrowed” by a friend now living on the other coast of the country – something she admitted as we discussed the film.  So educational!

Workshop

bwbarberpole-150x150The new Barbershop Writing Workshop kicked off last night at a home in Corona Heights, with the leader – Michael McAllister – myself and three other writers participating. I signed up for the ten-week workshop, which will consist of one two-and-a-half hour session per week, to do some networking as well as learn techniques and get useful critiques. I’m excited about it! Two of us had to bring a few pages of work-in-progress for the group to critique next week. I’ve already read through one piece and I think I am going to learn a lot.

The Woman from Rio and the Muni Curse

It happened last night. I rode the Muni #24 bus down to catch the subway at Castro Street, as I often do.  It was a dark night, doubly so since it was a new moon and fog was rolling in.  Gave the city an eerie feeling I tell you.   I paid my fare and took a seat at the front – the handicapped and elderly seats – but the bus had plenty of room this Sunday night.  Good people were  home with family and friends, not heading out to nightclubs, like me.

The electric bus quietly made its way over the top of the hill separating me from the Castro and on down, lulling me with the clicking of the wires and the purr of the motor.  Not much traffic tonight.  I noticed a woman sitting directly across from me, right behind the bus driver – and invisible to him because of the partition behind his seat.  Invisible to even the red eye of the security camera that looked back from its perch high up above the windshield.  Nothing struck me about the woman – I wasn’t actually trying to look at her – but from the periphery of my view I could see her.  Hair inky black, wrapped up in a scarf with more color than a dimestore parakeet, she wore a shift dress that looked too light for the weather, which was cooling quickly as the fog made its way into town.  The dress was a geometric print in various shades of green – near as I could tell.  Mind you, I am good with colors but the light on the bus was a cold, glaring, fluorescent so everything took on some green.  By the light of day her dress could have been most any light colors.  But her skin, the shade of milk-and-coffee and so smooth, yes, she had to be a Carioca I decided – with really no justification.  But this was idle thinking – little matter.  Her skin was a twenty year-old’s but her plump figure hinted she was older than that.

She caught my attention because of what she was carrying.  The lady in the print dress and colorful scarf, this imagined Carioca, was holding a bag of some snack.  I don’t read Chinese characters so I could not be sure what the treat was.  I had a conundrum now, and shortly another or two.  Was the woman Chinese? China has many ethnicities, after all.  I decided that for the sake of my made-up history she was still a Carioca but had stopped for a snack and the closest market was Chinese.  Chinese knew the city, more native here than me, for sure.  If she was Chinese, she would be prepared with heavier clothing for the evening.  No, she must be from somewhere else, somewhere a warm day is followed by a warm night.  I still imagined Rio.

Now, I was not staring at this lady.  I was using my elevator vision.  I use it on buses and the subway, too.  But I could see that she was not only enjoying her snack, she was spitting out pits or shells or something back over her shoulder.  Mind you this is all in the space of a minute or two.  Now I am a very polite person – far be it for me to tell her she shouldn’t be eating on the bus (and the shell or seed-spitting is clearly one of the reasons for the prohibition).  Perhaps they do it in Rio.  Of course they do and in Rio the bus windows are open and one spits the residue into the street.

Before I even think about it (I swear) I dropped the elevator vision and fixed a disapproving look, straight at her, that really only should be given between familiars, the Muni bus equivalent of kicking your mate’s foot under the table.   You know the look – the look you give your spouse just before they’re going to launch into some untouchable topic at the dinner party; the same look you give the person who carelessly drops their empty coffee cup into the trash instead of the composting container at the Ritual café.   That look.

I caught myself after a few seconds and resumed my Muni nonchalance.  Too late, I had caught her eye and I could tell she was now appraising me.  I gave her another couple seconds of “that look.”  I’m sure she understood me.   “No, your $1.50 does not include the right to spit seeds, or whatever disgusting things, on this bus.”

The bus was careening downhill now, and I had to grab a nearby pole to steady myself.  Fewer than a dozen other denizens, some of them homeless and riding the bus for a comfortable place to sit and doze, saw, or could see, our silent exchange.

A second went by with no reaction.  Then, she turned her scarf-wrapped head to the side and spat out another.  A slap in the face.  She had no shame.  I slid down further on my orange plastic seat, still gripping the pole as the driver braked hard for a stop.  The emboldened Carioca defied both gravity and inertia, turned her body and stretched her legs out across the empty seats next to her.  Involuntarily, I swear, I reacted to her placing her shoes on the bus seat.

She was taunting me.  I ignored her, looking forward now to check for my stop.  Really, one can only take this so far.  I wasn’t angry that she was using the shared bus as her own spittoon; I wouldn’t be so petty.  I readied myself to leave, heaving myself up with the aid of the pole against the lurching of the bus towards the stop at Market Street.

And then, she did it.  I had to turn towards her as I moved to the back of the bus to exit.  And she brought a hand up, the one she was eating with, and pointed at me with five fingers, outstretched.  I paused, again without thinking but here she was making an actual gesture, to me.  And then she turned her fingers inwards and with a flick of her wrist, sliced them across her throat.  I shivered.  What was that supposed to be?  A curse?  What was with the five fingers? The cutting of the throat seemed clear.

Quickly I touched my left eyelid with my left middle finger.  Her eyes widened.  Even in the cold fluorescent light I thought her face turned red.  So she recognized the Mal Ochio.  Good.  I ran for the back, down the stairs at the rear and hit the door open.  The cold moist air felt good.

The chastened green thumb

When my partner husband and I moved the 45 miles from San Jose’s fertile Rosegarden district to San Francisco’s Noe Valley a few years ago, I was ready for gardening challenges. I knew from my visits as well as my dog-eared and trusty Sunset Western Garden book that I was entering not just a new Zone but a terra incognita of cold summers, coastal fog, and lack of winter frost. And my new home in San Francisco would be a condominium with only a couple outdoor spaces for container gardening. I was leaving behind a lush yard sporting loamy soil on a valley floor that once supported a thriving Blenheim apricot orchard in favor of a cute kitchen balcony and a rooftop with views from Twin Peaks across Noe Valley and the Mission all the way to the Bay.

But my gardening thumb was the deep greens of heat-loving gingers, citrus, Madagascar jasmines and yes, one old and well-tended Blenheim apricot. San Francisco gardening? I was up for the challenge and full of confidence. Little did I imagine that in a few short years I would be ruing my view of Twin Peaks, with its accompanying cold and drying wind, nor that my green thumb would be tinged red with embarrassment.

For I had become the person the nursery plants dread – that one who trots off with potted flowers and herbs in the prime of their young lives, and in a few short weeks on a rooftop botanical Guantanamo, batters them into the plant equivalent of brain-death. Still alive, perhaps, but no longer growing; no longer flowering or producing delicious little leaves for my kitchen.

I do my research, checking the local websites for tips on what might grow. Still, last summer I confessed to family and friends I had harvested precisely three green-grape tomatoes – and that from an heirloom variety from Siberia!
I still try – gardening is a need, in my blood. I’ve restricted myself for now to buying geraniums and spearmint. If I can keep them growing, I may let myself try nasturtiums again. And then who knows – the sky’s the limit! I’m doing okay so far – although truth to tell, the spearmint is being a bit difficult. I feel a bit like I am in a Bad Gardeners Anonymous meeting, confessing I can barely get mint to grow.
>p>Sure, I still have that kumquat that I brought from the patio in San Jose, in a state of suspended animation on my kitchen balcony. It isn’t dead yet, but I feel its pain every time I give it water, and look fruitlessly for signs that it is reviving. I have cymbidium orchids that manage to thrive, and the warm and windless autumn this year has even lulled my Mexican lime into flowering, and tiny green babies are taking hold. But I’m not holding my breath. And I’m saving my pennies for a lean-to greenhouse.