Saturday, April 18, 2020

Rectangle of Lawn and Snow

Snow!  Didn’t think we’d have any more of this stuff by April 18th.  It began last evening.  Everyone was up rather late, and I back up early myself.  Clearly it was wet snow, but there was enough of it to stick and by now, at ten in the morning there are a good four or five, lumpy inches of the stuff out there.  I can hear my mom sighing to see yet again more snow, this late in the year.   But it will clearly disappear before long.  Tomorrow is supposed to be in the fifties, and I’m very glad to have this quiet, blanketing to look out upon for as long as it lasts, this Saturday morning.

At six, I went out and threw some sunflower seeds around thinking the birds might appreciate it.  They were all quickly covered with flakes.  Down on the trial I saw what I expected.  The snow wasn’t really sticking on the gravel the way it was on the lawn or in the trees.  There’d be no way to cross country ski down here this morning.  But perhaps back up on the flat patch of my lawn I might make a go of it.

Earlier in the year, around Christmas time I’d rented a pair of cross-country skis, boots, and poles for the season.  I went down to the rail trail after the first big snow and had a try.  I’m not bad as a downhill skier, but haven’t a clue about cross-country skiing, having only done it once or twice as a kid.  It took me fifteen minutes to get the second biding to catch my boot that first day.  And ligaments in my knees and muscles in my calf weren’t so sure about what it was I was doing.  Once or twice I could feel myself catch my body just before I might have twisted and hurt something.  And after two days of back and forth that were sweat-inducing, which was the purpose, as you can’t ride your bike very far in that snow, it all melted and it never snowed again, damn global warming, but for one time when just like this there was wet snow, which I waited on for a few hours, getting chores done and only then readied myself for skiing to find it has already melted too far away to justify the hassle.  And therefore, I’d only really used these skis twice, this winter.

Fully expecting to not have such a chance again this year, I bounded up from the trail and resolved to plod around the flat stretch down at the base of our yard where one could proceed in a little sixty-by-twenty-foot rectangle of lawn and snow.  I got the boots in the skis easily enough this time.  My left knee needed some popping but after a few runs around the parallelogram I’d gotten a groove and before long I’d forgotten that it was work and started to enjoy myself.  Fully expecting it to all slide away before the end of the day, I am now at peace haven gotten me money’s worth out of this, my first ever annual cross-country ski rental.

Saturday, 04/18/20

Yellow Fields of Rapeseed

In years gone by, the last four to be precise, I have asked and received a gift, every year on my birthday.  China has five core, holy mountains, the WuYue 五岳。 We have climbed four of the five, including the eastern mountain Taishan in Shandong (2016), the northern mountain Heng Shan in Shanxi (2017), the southern mountain, Heng Shan in Hunan (2018), and the central mountain Song Shan in Henan (2019).  The best, or at least the most dangerous, is saved for last, the western mountain, Huashan in Shaanxi.  And ain’t nobody going from New York to Shaanxi this April.  Had thought it might have been possible not too long back, but it isn’t.

When we were recently over at Olana above Tivoli, I’d noticed a remarkable Catskill peak, which I couldn’t name.   A squat, tilted trapezoid, it figures in some of the paintings of both Thomas Cole and Fredrick Church.  You can also see it just before you reach New Paltz from the other direction, as you speed up the New York State throughway.  Ulster County’s tallest mountain is Slide Mountain, near the Big Indian Nature Preserve, past Ashokan, which apparently has some real, live old growth within.  My suspicion is that Slide Mountain and the one I’ve been seeing are one and the same.

The shortest of the afore mentioned Wu Yue is Heng Shan in Hunan which is “only” 4230 feet.  Slide Mountain, by contrast, the third largest in New York State is “only” forty-feet shorter than old Heng Shan weighing-in at 4190 feet.   In China, hiking nearly anywhere in the heartland of the civilization during the month of April, things are in bloom.  Inspired by, these trips are reminders of my first birthday in China, riding out into Anhui province amid all the yellow fields of rapeseed with the woman who’d become my wife when we climbed the mighty Yellow Mountain during the this same month in a much less industrialized China of 1994.

So, Sunday then, we’ll go have a try.  I wanted to leave at 7:00AM sharp.  The ladies have been going to bed during our quarantine around 4:00AM sharp so this was certainly aspirational.  We seem to have settled upon a 9:00AM departure.  The peak is only a seventy-five minute-drive from here.  There won’t be any marble steps carved into the peak nor any historically relevant sites to consider like ‘rearing horse pass.’  Upon reaching the top thoughts won’t span from Qin Shi Huang to Mao Ze Dong considering the other leaders who’d stood on the same ground.  (As if both Hannibal and Harry Truman did the climb.)  But I think it will be fun.  And my dad will join.  And we’ll get up there and see what we can see, having made it through another year of life.

Friday, 04/17/20

Goddamned Eyes Are Itchy

I needed a break after that the Hieronymus Bosch “Garden of Earthly Delights” puzzle we did two weeks back.  As noted at the time, I got obsessed with it, “just a few more pieces” and it became a ferocious time-robber, elbowing aside things like reading and exercise.  But it was also seductive and fascinating to stare at that intricate masterpiece for so many hours, considering the smallest differences in color and purpose across that complicated canvass. 

Life is sufficiently well balanced again where I’m keen to knock it off kilter anew with a second Covid-19 jigsaw.  I’ve mentioned that I’d already ordered a fine, looking puzzle “Spring” a with its human portrait composed of flowers, by the legendary Giuseppe Arcimboldo.  Out the corner of my eye, I saw the UPS track barrel down the driveway and shortly thereafter head back out.  But I was disappointed to see that there was only a long tube to be seen, and no puzzle.  It must be something the girls ordered.

I rechecked the order on Amazon and not for the first time felt a flush of anger upon seeing the word “delivered” listed there in my site next to my puzzle.  Is it at my neighbors?  Is it at my mom’s?  Looking a bit closer I realized that I had, of course, not ordered a puzzle at all, but rather a print of said painting.  And going out and unwrapping the mail tube I confirmed that I was now a proud owner of a Flower Man print.

More orders.  Where’s my stuff?  Lens Crafters doesn’t let you ask that question.  I’d ordered four packs of contacts.  They better get here soon, as I’m running out.  I got a simple email saying my order was being processed.  They notably do not afford one a tracking number nor allow customers any obvious way to make inquires online.  I’m gun shy from trying the phone line as it was more than forty-five minutes before I reached a human.  So, I’m extending the life of my existing contacts to the point of itchiness, until I have some surety as to when these will arrive.

As I’ve written before, I’m sure, ignorant non-physician that I am, there is some grave, medical danger that could befall me if I were to go to a pharmacy, buy a back of contacts that were not the right size, put them in my eyes, say that’s funny I can’t see, and be dumb enough to drive off and onto the New York State Throughway only to kill myself and who knows how many others’ all because I did not procure my contact lenses from the safe hands of an eyeglass shop that has my prescription on file, as I would have done, conveniently enough, for over a decade in Beijing.   I’m not one to whine about the “nanny-State” but this silly.  And now the system is broken, and my goddamned eyes are itchy.

Thursday, 04/16/20

The Grilled Fu-Dogs

My wife was clueless, before she was Clue-Queen.  We’d ordered and I’ve written before about buying a game of Monopoly for us to play here at the house, during our prolonged quarantine.   Alas, we’ve only played it once.  I won, as I recall.  But not long ago the little one asked me to order Clue.  We’d had a set, back in China, though I don’t think we’d played it for years.  I seem to recall she had a particularly strong affinity for the game as she seemed to play the French version over and over in her fifth grade French class avec Mssr. Moutard.

I told her I wouldn’t play unless there were four people as it would be too predictable otherwise.  We got her older sister and the Mrs. to join and while the kids and I were back in stride fairly quickly my wife labored with basic logic.  She would show her own cards, (“No!  Don’t do that.”,) guess things that had already been guessed and by the end of the first game, which someone else won, it wasn’t clear that it made sense to play a second time.  The box does say however that it is appropriate for ages eight and up and fortunately she caught the swing of it squarely the second go-round and proceeded to win this next as well as the subsequent game we played.

I’ve been accused of making too many dishes, when I make the dinner.  It’s true.  The fridge is running low, I’m on-point this evening, and I thought I’d do a simple crowd pleaser; mac n’ cheese.  There were some veggie hot dogs in the freezer and no frankfurters to be found but that’s fine, one less dish.  Grilled some eggplant and called it a dinner.   The vegan and I consumed the cheesy noodles and tofu heartily, but our guest, my daughter’s chum is allergic to . . . soy.  Hmm.  (Does that include soy sauce?  Edamame?)  Sorry.   I’ll have to remember that.  The younger one ate around the grilled fu-dogs and my wife hardly touched hers at all.

Earlier in the day I’d notice her setting out on the swinging chair, reading the copy of “Thomas Jefferson, Author of America” by the late, great, Christopher Hitchens.  It was on a short list of things I’d wanted to read as we went back over U.S. history in this bit of home-schooling we’re doing.   Tonight, she said she was finishing the book off.  Often, we don’t read the same thing and I was so glad to be able to sync-up with her on this.  Whatever I was going to read next just got bumped off the list.  I’ll be sure to dive to this “Eminent Lives” series next.

Wednesday 04/15/19

Inspirational, Colorful, Steady and Participatory

Plucking aimlessly from a Wiki list of nineteenth century American composers, I considered Arthur Finley Nevin.  Spotify has a few of his compositions on a two-volume collection of pieces by the American Indianists.  I hadn’t known there was such thing.  I had a look, and I also had a listen.  These classically trained countrymen of mine from the late nineteenth century attempted to incorporate Native American music into western musical elements, so as to create a truly “American” music.

A quick read failed to uncover how it was they captured, studied, or isolated elements of actual Native American music, beyond mere impressions.  Presumably, early ethnomusicologists of sorts, tried to capture Native American rhythms or calls.  Perhaps its only my modern mind that can’t imagine trying to understand to Native American music without access to a recording.  The composer, diplomat Blair Fairchild, for example has compositions like “The Song of the Grey Hawk” and “The Song of the Grey Wolf.”  Did he draw these from songs he actually heard performed or are these what he imagines, Native Americans conjuring these animals might have sounded like themselves?  A cursory check online leaves all unanswered.

I was fortunate enough to have studied Native American music at Wesleyan University with Professor David McAllester, during what I believe may have been his final year of teaching there on the campus.  He had a range of recordings, which we considered and discussed and I’m tantalized to consider that he’d probably mentioned something about this group of composers, though I have no proper recollection.  Mostly though, we listened to the music of Native people’s.   Wesleyan’s ethnomusicology program was astounding.  We had a spoil of riches and if I’m fair, remember the muscular infectiousness of Ghanaian drumming or the inchoate otherness the Javanese gamelan more poignantly than any of the Native American sounds that we heard.  Still, the professor himself was a rather remarkable ambassador.

I do recall the timbre of his voice more than I can conjure many of his actual insights.  One anecdote I do recall involved his description of attending a Native American religious ceremony.  Inspirational, colorful, steady and participatory he explained to us that to have captured the ceremony with film or on audio would have been crass in his opinion as if he were to have started to do the same in the middle of a Catholic mass.  This made immediate and lasting sense. 

Tuesday, 04/14/19

Tie, Dirty Red Roots

Can we have Indian food?”  Back in Beijing we had Victor’s down the road, which served Thai and Indian food.  There are a half a dozen postings in this blog that describe evenings spent there, eating too much garlic nan and watching Bollywood videos on their large screen.  There are likely another few posts in here that could be searched for with key words like curry or saag paneer that would describe my attempt to make Indian dishes at home, as well. 

Not sure that I’d actually tried to make Indian food since occupying this kitchen, here in New Paltz.  We don’t have much of what is needed here in the cabinets.  Sensitive about limiting grocery visits, I waited till this morning and had my first conscious look at the sampling of “Indian” goods in the meter they’d allotted there in the “Asian” section at Tops.  Different brands, different possibilities, here packaged in post-consumerism cool.  Ready to serve lentil dahl, chana masala, there is jar of korma sauce, and a smaller jar of chutney.  Grab a bag of basmati rice and gazing as Indian bleeds Thai across our little continental section, I spy the coconut milk I’d wanted. 

Checking out I’d almost forgotten the spinach.  Ain’t going to have no saag paneer without no spinach.  These plastic tubs of individual spinach leaves are prominently displayed along with a dozen other prepackaged salad leaf possibilities, none of which would have been available at Jenny’s in Beijing and I pause to consider that old Beijing market and think of longer leaved spinach bunches, fastened in the middle with an aluminum tie-tie, dirty red roots still dangling.  And though Tops might have spinach that looks more like a plant that came out of the ground than something modified and plucked for convenience, I grab a tub of individual, baby spinach leaves and dart back to where my items have almost fully made their way through. 

I hit send on a text I’d pre-typed to a friend.  “Need 5.”  He and I were to have spoken now, on the hour.  I bag up my goods, thank the checkout gal for her service in these hard times, and nod pleasantly to an employee standing by the ice machine who doesn’t acknowledge me. Exiting the automatic doors, I am obstructed by a woman standing on the mat that opens the automatic door, fiddling with her phone.  I say “excuse me” once to no avail and then repeat the entreaty much more loudly.  The woman is startled by my presence and rushes out into the parking lot with thoughts of airborne germs upon her mind, no doubt.

Bags all in, cart returned to its holding pen, I dial up my friend and he asks if we can reschedule as he’s feeding the kids, out there, three hours earlier than my noontime.  The phone switches to the car’s audio without me doing anything and it is suddenly very easy to talk, and calmly tell him that will be no issue, and reschedule our chat for some minutes before the online lecture we’re preparing for.

Monday, 04/13/20

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Falling Iridescent Blossoms

Were I to have been back in China and the world were something more like what it had been for the last two decades, I might have been trying to find a way to justify a trip to Tokyo this week.  I have multiple clients I’m doing work for there and it wouldn’t have been hard.  April, of course, is when the cherry blossoms explode across the country.  If you catch it just right, the otherwise rather grey metropolis comes out of its chrysalis yielding city-blocks and blocks of pink.  A few days later the leaves start to push the blossoms off and the green and pink juxtaposition is also remarkable. 

I have dear friends who have an apartment along the canal at Naka Meguro in Tokyo.  Apparently this was a rather fetid estuary during the seventies when Japan was rapidly emerging.  But today, the water looks clean and doesn’t smell and it is one of the best spots in the city to sample the cherry blossoms when the time comes.  So good, in fact, that it is mobbed and overrun with day trippers and nighttime revelers who like to share drinks beneath the falling iridescent blossoms.

The Wallkill Rail Trail here in New Paltz also has a stream that meanders along.  And not unlike Tokyo made my way across and back the trail all winter and never noticed a cherry tree.  Yesterday, on a late ride up towards Rosendale, I notice three small cherry trees in full bloom.  They had not been clipped and trimmed to generate the greatest possible profusion of blossoms.  They were comparatively spindly and sparse, but there they were nonetheless.  And once you see the blossoms the bark looks immediately like cherry tree bark. 

A bit gray outside today on Easter Sunday.  My mom had kindly brought the girls over some chocolate yesterday.  My little one (who is fifteen) asked and, no, I won’t be hiding any of it, expecting them tear open the living room in search for pieces.  But I will do some kind of brunch quiche to approximate the feeling of Easter, here in our lonesome quarantine. 

Sunday 04/12/20

That Isn't a Dandelion

White Eldorado, Black Fever” is a novel by Rais Neza Boneza ,who hails from the Katanga region, which almost broke off during independence, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  A young boy and his friend decide to head off to the countryside to secure the “Grey Gold”, a mineral available in the Kivu region that has columbite and tantalite from which tantalum is extracted.  It is highly conductive and used in a myriad of modern devices from jet planes to laptops.  It is also radioactive and dangerous to secure.  A novel and a conscious wake-up call, Mr. Boneza actually provides a list of all the many devices that leverage this mineral in an appendix in the back.

I causally began the book, not sure if I’d proceed in earnest, but was quickly drawn in.  The two boys travel at the front of cargo truck and then rest in a small town before finding another ride onward. They are constantly talking to people from other tribes and struggling to find a common language with the people they encounter.  They meet a doctor who has lots of questions and one of the boys doesn’t trust this man.   Deeper and deeper they go towards the source of tantalum and, as expected things become ever more rudimentary, the further off the grid one goes in the eastern Congo.

When they make the deal and purchase the mineral at a price that will net them a big success if they can get the product home, they are ecstatic.  And later, when things fall apart, as they always do, we have not only the horror of what’s befallen them, but also the bitter loss of all that bounty they almost enjoyed, that lingers for the rest of the book. Something about this ephemeral wealth and sudden change of fate, seems rather topical just now.  Part of the wonder of fiction is you can spend time with someone whose circumstances are more dire and less hopeful than your own and draw succor from it. 

Later in the day, my mom and my stepdad came over.  The Mrs. had set up a nice, distance-appropriate set of chairs around a table outside.  We all wore masks, for a while and got no closer than an elbow bump.  Long overdue, I enjoyed the walk around our property with my stepdad who was able to point out the call of a cardinal and correctly identify a number of the plants we had which were starting to bud.  Down on the rail trail I pulled my wife and he over to show them some dandelions that had suddenly sprouted near the trailhead to our home.  “That isn’t a dandelion”, he suggested.  “That is . . . coltsfoot.  You can tell the base of the plant doesn’t have the same leaves as a dandelion.”  And indeed, as I looked closer this was all very clear.   Skunk cabbage, trout lilies, coltsfoot, someone must have had fun naming all these plants when they came across them for the first time with the English language.  

Saturday 04/11/20

Get My Coffee Later

It’s always a bit slow in the morning.  What do we do?  Review wechat and whatsap on the toilet.  Trudge over and throw my sweater and my pants on and pick up my socks from off the floor.  In my hands my two phones and my laptop.  I stop in my closet to get two new contact lenses from the shelf  and continue on into the kitchen.  The sun’s just coming on and prefer not to turn any lights on. 

The morning’s call will be in thirty minutes and I flip up the lap top to gaze over the New York Times and the Washington Post online, passing over so much I'm disinclined to read.  There’s about half a cup of coffee left in the pot and I pour it in a red mug and nuke it for a minute in the microwave.  Over at the coffee pot I dump the grinds in the compost and the soggy filter in the trash.  It takes longer than it should to fill the pot with water and now I'm concerned about the time.  Pour the water in the chamber, press the ‘brew’ button and get dash over to get the zoom bridge ready. 

The call was good.  A new prospect, with a warm hand off to me and my partner.  The people they want to reach . . . we can reach them.  The places they need help in . . . we have people there.  One of the gentlemen takes time to explain the solution in great detail and I’m tempted to walk away when I hear the telltale, staccato ‘beep’ of the coffee maker, three times in a row.  The coffee is ready.  I  decide to finish this before I go and get a cup. . 

When the call’s over, I know my colleague will want to have a debrief.  And before he can ring, I return to the kitchen to finally get some fresh coffee.  It's there, spread across the floor in a sizable puddle.  I forgot to put the pot back in under the filter to capture all this coffee.  I would like to say this was the first time this has ever happened to me.  Cursing, a lot, I start pulling sheets from the paper towel roll and stoop down to mop up the floor and clean the face of the dishwasher. 

Later in the day, I sent a document out, with the incorrect salutation.  I corrected it and resent it quickly, only to have someone point out that the currency was incorrect as well.  This too, I corrected, though I was certain that the poor person receiving these corrections was probably rethinking the utility of me and my services.  It’s been that kind of a day, since the morning coffee flowed freely on to the counter and down to the floor. 

Friday 04/10/20

All the Plants Grow

It was pouring this morning.  A proper deluge that just simply makes you glad to be indoors.  I could ride my bike in the rain.  But certainly, there is no rush to get out and confront the elements.  Did you hear that?  Thunder, very close.  My wife comments that there sure is a lot of rain in New York State.  Compared to Beijing, there is a lot of rain most places.  But surely here we get consistent downpours in the New York spring.  And as a result all the plants grow like it’s a rain forest in the summer.

Bernie has left the race.  I was more sympathetic to his call on the domestic front and remained skeptical as it concerned international relations.  My family never took him seriously.  Many of my old chums never took anyone else seriously.  There isn't much out there I could find on foreign policy for Senator Sanders.  I read one transcript of a foreign policy address of his from two years back:

It’s fine at a high level: proceed from a place of mutual respect.  Practically though this address was thin beer and didn't clarify much.  If pushed to choose and pushed to pay for things, would Bernie have withdrawn even further from our defense commitments in East Asia and Europe?  I suspect that he would instinctively want to withdraw our global presence.  I’d enjoyed his debate performances, certainly.  Where others wilted, nothing could seem to knock Bernie down.  Like many I have been underwhelmed by Biden’s ability to cut through.  Who would ultimately perform better against the Checker-Player-in-Chief?  I suspect Bernie would have been a more unflappable opponent for Trump.  Let's hope people aren't dusting off their “Bernie would have won” buttons, if an unthinkable second term befalls us.  

And by now, the thunder and the rain have passed. It is, at last, a fine spring day.  I head north towards Rosendale on the trail.  Skunk cabbage and trout lilies and an emerging constellation of green is beginning to compete with the dull brown and grey of the forest floor.  I’ve noticed film of algae already beginning to cover certain patches of swamp, up beyond Huguenot street, passed that golf course they have there out the back of Garvin’s. 

Thursday 04/09/20

Of Preparing for This

Two people in a row, both good friends, just sent me the article editorial written by Niall Ferguson about the Covid-19 entitled: “Let’s Zoom Xi.  He has Questions to Answer.”
I’ve read his work: “Civilizations: The West and The Rest,” and am familiar with his slant.  But I was surprised, reading inside, how presumptuous and haughty his posturing here was.  As if his three questions to China: What happened in Wuhan in your “disgusting” wet market, why was research on zoonoses being done in an urban area and . . . why did you not react sooner to the information . . . were the only questions worth asking and Xi the only leader to get heated up and yell “j'accuse” at.  

The questions need asking.  The Chinese press isn’t free to press on these matters.  This is unfortunate and indeed a core part of the problem, worthy of determined international inquiry when domestically it's unlikely to occur.  But, please, China was caught by surprise.  They made mistakes, they took action, made sacrifices and seem to have brought the disease under control.  The west, meanwhile, wasted its time.  Our leaders stood for two months like mute deer watching the SUV get closer and closer and closer until it ran us right over.  Countrywomen, countrymen, we did a poor job of preparing for this.  We should have had more coordinated leadership.  Let’s certainly admit that.

A few weeks, back Ian Johnson who’s long written thoughtfully about China, penned an op-ed entitled “China Bought the West Time, The West Squandered It.”
Johnson’s not afraid to hold the Chinese government to critique and difficult inquiry but traveling from China, which took the virus with the utmost seriousness to most anywhere else in the world, like Heathrow, he was aghast at how ill prepared everyone else seemed to be.  I flew across the U.S. to L.A. around the same time.  All those poor stewardesses and TSA workers and airport Starbucks employees, none of them had any idea what was coming and what they were exposing themselves to.  Trump was warned in strong terms, repeatedly, week after week and, beyond banning flights from China, he did nothing.  He told people not to panic.  It would be over by Easter.  He went with his gut, and once again, was forced to have to lie his way out of the blame that is squarely his own.  Before we grab the lapels of a foreign leader, we ought to examine our own individual and systemic shortcomings in our own performance, starting with the President.  They are legion. 

We’ve ordered some new things to distract us during the quarantine period.  The kids wanted more drawing kits.  I got my younger one more black and white film for her SLR camera.  I got a book or two, ordered a Clue game.  Against my better judgement I also ordered another puzzle.  A puzzle might take the time of three or four books.  My choice this time?   I got one of the four-seasons series by the 16th century Italian painter, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, this one, the spring time man of flowers.  I think we may have the puzzle for the summer season painting downstairs, but I fear it is almost certainly missing pieces.  On the back of the Bosch painting I have currently on display on the coffee table, there is a photo of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “Tower of Babel” and it strikes me that this too would be a remarkable painting to consider in great detail, over hours and days, and weeks.  It appears we'll continue to have a lot of time on our hands for the foreseeable future. 

Wednesday, 04/08/20

Saturday, April 11, 2020

She Pulverized Me Two

We all miss “Chinese” food.  There are certain dishes that are impossible to find here.  Good luck finding real jiaozi, or roujiamou.  My wife has been remarkable about trying to figure out how to make various dishes and then experimenting, repeatedly to get it right.  We’ve been through dumplings.  We must have eaten thirty batches, where she attempted different pi and different xianr.  We went through youtiao experiments, as well as Jiajiangmian.

This morning I learned, that after I went to bed last night, I’m the Ben Franklin type that’s early to bed and early up the next day, she experimented with jianbingguoziJianbing are the time honored breakfast treat in northern China that people prepare on little sanlunche for a few kuai.  Dough, spun in a circle atop a griddle.  Crack an egg.  Add a crackly piece of fried dough and some spicy sauce, leeks.  She got ahold of some of that “special sauce” and this afternoon, wow, I was impressed:  She’s nailed the taste though the pi is still a little thick.  We all ate a second lunch of them and now no one is concerned with eating any dinner.

Was beaten in chess twice today by my little one.  I play to win.  I have no great strategy other than to keep the other person on the defensive for as long as I can.  She pulverized me two games in a row.  Probably the most fun losing I’ve had in a while.  It’s is wonderful to watch her intellect mature.  Sometimes this fifteen year-old flashes five-years old before my eyes, and other times she's twenty-five. 

I had a lesson today about the opening of California and the Kansas Nebraska Act.  So hard to watch the slow-moving train wreck of the late antebellum America.  The odious stench of slavery can’t be wished away.  And the southerners are not being “convinced” by all this moral insistence.  They pull further away, grow more convinced of the certitude of their position.   It won’t be next chapter.  This was only the penultimate period.  But tomorrow we will arrive at fateful moment where swords are drawn and Fort Sumter is fired on. 

Tuesday 04/07/20

Out, Go Home. Please.

I made dinner but it didn’t go very well.  I thought the cabbage and mustard with the pork done a bit Chinese vinegar was OK.  But others weren’t so sure. My older one is a vegan.  I made her three separate dishes, but no, she doesn’t like pepper or mustard neither Brussels sprouts are something, she reminds me, she doesn’t enjoy either. 

Boris Johnson is off to intensive care.  I genuinely hope he is OK.  And though it is probably inappropriate, I am very glad to know, in comparison that our president is virus free.  We do not need a MAGA-martyr.  We do not need to have an airport and a new tunnel crossing named after this charlatan.  Serve out your term and when you’re voted out, go home.  Please. 

I’ve started a new book.  But only after finishing the unvarnished brutality of “The Shameful State” by Sony Labou Tansi.  It is not unlike his other work that I’d read “A Life and a Half.”  The language is like a detailed look at the righthand triptych of “the Garden of Earthly Delights. “  by Hieronymus Bosch where repulsive debauchery has asserted its normalcy.  The paintings of George Grosz and others from Weinmar Germany also come to mind or a jaunt with Virgil through the Inferno.   A loud, tortured call for sanity when everything has long since fallen apart.  Wretched. Sobering. 

And now “African Psycho, by Alain Mabanckou.  The writing is much sparser and more deliberately structured.  But the topic is no less raw and unpleasant.  Within the first few pages the young protagonist has announced his intention to kill one woman.  Shortly thereafter he rams out the eye of a boy who tried to rape him. 

Monday 4/06/20

New Strain of Tropical

The ladies all made a cake last night.  There is a big square cack on the bottom and a circle-shaped layer on top.  One layer is pink and the other shape is chocolate.  It is smothered in sparkles and occupies the majority of the first floor of the refrigerator like a determined protestor.  The shape resembles some sort of North Korean architecture, intriguing, but dysfunctional and a bit repulsive.   No one seems to have eaten any which is weird.

Rhumba on the River is about the sounds of Kinshasa and the sounds of Brazzaville and all the remarkable interplay that happened during the time since western interpretations of African music from Cuba and elsewhere, were reintroduced back into Congolese sounds.  I learned about the names of a dozen new performers.  Many of them are there on Spotify, remarkably.  All of these vintage tracks delicious, like discovering a new strain of tropical fruit. 

Amy Beach certainly looks Irish.  I love the familiar twinkle I imagine staring out from her eyes.  She may have been Polish for all I know but she did write a symphony called The Gaelic Symphony written in 1894.  This performed that year in Boston, was the first symphony written and performed by a woman in America. 

I have it on as I pedal past the apple orchard today.  Overcast.  I’ve caught up with one friend who I hadn’t spoken with for a while.  I notice. I don’t much want to call people and check in these days or quarantine.  A quick ping on wechat, certainly.  But somehow it's all too much to chat about just now.  I let a suggestion for a catch-up call go slip for one week and then two.  I don’t mean any harm.  It’ just overwhelming to consider reckoning with everything just now.  I hope everyone is OK out there in their own isolation. 

Sunday 4/05/20

The Barest of Guidelines

You don’t eat as much lamb in the U.S. as we used to in China.  You could buy individual frozen lamb chops from the local market and grill them one by one for a fabulous Xinjiang barbecue.  But here they wanted an ungodly sum for a crown of lamb.  And I wasn’t aloud to buy the chops individually.  I pondered buying it and separating them out but doing the math and decided to buy a package of pre-cut lamb pieces  instead. 

I visited Tops today.  It isn’t pleasant to shop with gloves and a mask.  It also feels silly when no one else is complying the barest of guidelines.  My sister in Brooklyn has had her ex and her son both test positive.  We’ve heard the University down the road has a case.  And now, must worrisome of all, the retirement community my dad and his wife are in, now has a case.  I pray otherwise, but this may spread quickly in our community. 

Down at the post office the guy is not wearing a mask.  But they expect we stay six feet back on the designated carpet.  I need tape and a box (sending masks to Brooklyn) and he points out what I need to do.  I worry for the young guy behind the counter with the remarkable tattoo on his forearm.  Isn’t he and all the staff concerned about working with so many different people?  One wonders how effective the post office has been at protecting their employees.  A gloves alone enough to protect them?    

In most of the places we visit, here in Ulster County, no one is wearing a mask.  What about all these check out cashiers at Tops?  A few are keeping themselves protected but most seem oblivious.  The cleavage between people who are informed and have means to withdraw from society and those who don't seem to know any better, and have no choice but to show up for work because they have immediate bills to pay seems to be widening.  I heard the announcement that they were hiring part time workers.  I'm sure they are.  Checker-Player-in-Chief does press conferences without a mask.  Are these people looking to him for guidance?

Saturday 4/04/20