Happy: July 2005 Archives

Eastern Fence Lizard, Northern fence subspecies

I think it was one of his relatives.

I don't know when a modest garden of pots on a low Manhattan roof qualifies as a natural wilderness, but I'm thinking that ours must be getting pretty close. We've watched birds of all kinds visiting the scene for water, berries, grubs or house-building materials, and one parakeet decided to come in out of the cold and stay. I've also collected and resettled a few snails in the last couple of years, but today I spotted a tiny lizard on the wall above the pots. Its body couldn't have been more than an inch long, excluding its tail, and because of its size and line-markings I thought at first that it was some kind of centipede or water bug. I just don't think of lizards as being big on New York real estate.

I didn't get a picture while I stood out there with my hose. I guess I couldn't quite believe what I saw, or maybe I couldn't imagine it was an unusual sighting. I still don't know if it was: Try Googling "New York City" and "lizards," and you'll see what I mean. Also, the critter was so small and well-camouflaged on the brown-grey stucco wall that I doubt it would have shown up at all even if I had my camera with me.

If he stays around I'll try to do better next time, but I don't want to frighten him away.

[image from eNature]

untitled (rose scallops) 2005

. . . there were these communities.

I'm very fond of shellfish, and my taste in art and food, especially food preparation, includes a powerful strain of minimalism. I spotted this gorgeous cache of shellfish at the Union Square Greenmarket this afternoon. Our plans for the evening precluded my bringing any home today, but at least I was able to take away the memory, the pleasure and this captured image.

The suppliers of this happy bounty were the smiling people of Pura Vida Fisheries, from Hampton Bays, Long Island.

I'm going back next Friday.

brown-eyed susans in our building's court garden today

Bubba waiting for us on Bedford Street in Williamsburg today

I have always been interested in cars. Actually, I'm something of a car nut, in spite of my interests and principles otherwise. Yeah, I know, it's 2005 and we now understand how much the automobile has done to destroy the world, but I can't explain my fascination. And I can't help it, if for no other reason than that I live in that world, where the automobile is necessary at least occasionally, even if you're a New Yorker and you really, really hate its cabs.

Barry and I have a new magic carriage. It comes when we call it, a little like Aladdin's ride.

I've always described the subway as a magic carpet, because its there when you need it, it never has to be parked and you can take all your friends with you. But sometimes carpets get tired and they start falling apart. I'm thinking in particular of my experiences with the unreliability of the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn on weekends, but the cancer has been spreading. It shouldn't take us nearly an hour to get to our home in Chelsea from Soho (that's about two kilometers, or a mile and a quarter), as it did this past Friday.

A few weeks ago we decided to activate a dormant Zipcar membership for the first time because we wanted to get to several openings in Chelsea and a few in Williamsburg on the same night. Alright, I admit it: I missed driving a car. Anyway, we picked "Bubba," which is the name assigned to the wonderful little Scion Xb in the picture above, and that night we carried five friends (two or three at a time) between the boroughs and around the town. We had a ball, in the end stopping for dinner with three of them before we floated back to the garage, crossing the Williamsburg Bridge again and continuing our stately progress up a lively Clinton Street and Avenue B before turning West and heading for home, on a perfect summer evening.

It's a fantastic carriage, and I use the noun advisedly, since we sit high inside a comfortable box, with six or eight extra inches above our heads and several feet between our noses and the upright windshield. A number of travelling trunks can ride secure and dry inside behind the second row of seats. The four doors open wide and if you want you can cross your legs while sitting in each of the passenger seats. There's excellent air conditioning and a great sound system. The car is whisper quiet, well-built and incredibly practical, and you can rent it on line or on the phone, by the hour or the day, picking it up and dropping it off at a garage around the corner (there are no check in or check out lines and no clerks to deal with). The Scion is two feet shorter than a Volkswagen Golf (or is it the Toyota Corolla?). Anyway, it's pretty short, and you can park it almost anywhere. It's just about the unAmerican car.

I have to admit Zipcar's biggest appeal for me was the kind of cars they have available, and not just the short-term feature which must account for much or most of its popularity (you can rent some models for as low as $8.50 an hour, or $65 a day). It's been years since I rented a car in New York (for a day or weekend trip), and I think I only indulged myself twice. I blame my lack of interest in repeating the experience on the incredibly junky choices available from the standard rental companies. And what does it cost now to rent a car in New York on a weekend? I'm guessing around $130 to $150 a day.

I had decided that if I wanted a decent ride I would always have to wait until I got to Europe, where they have cars for people who really like to drive. Zipcar has Volkswagen Golfs, new Beetle convertibles, Scion Xbs, Mini sedans and convertibles, even small Volvos and BMWs for the big spenders, but I'm not going to give up Europe. They have the Smart, and the roads are wonderful too.

We revisited Bubba this afternoon and evening, because we were trying to get to a number of galleries in different parts of two boroughs not easily accessible by subway and on foot. And because we had so much fun last time.

Next up: a short trip into the country, and maybe even a splurge on a little convertible - short term of course.


In a NYTimes review of the restaurant Loreley published just over a year ago Julia Moskin wrote, "German food can be a hard sell. It is deeply unfashionable . . . . " I copied the quote down. Today I'm not entirely sure why, but it ended up in the pages of one of my German cookbooks where I found it a few days ago.

I didn't start off this week intending to prepare German dinners exclusively every night, but it's been working out that way ever since we made a return visit last Saturday to one of our favorite hometown restaurants, Kurt Gutenbrunner's Austrian restaurant, Wallsé.

My original idea was just to so something from my own childhood experience of a 4th of July meal, but a simpler, low-key version, since that was how Barry and I were dealing with the day otherwise. The fact that I didn't want to heat up the kitchen and we weren't able to cook outside certainly contributed to reducing my ambitions as well. I ended up with bratwurst (unfortunately they were nothing like the legendary Sheboygan sausage) grilled on a ribbed castiron pan, real German potato salad, some fantastic pink/white radishes, a cucumber salad my mother would have been proud of and a decent loaf of pumpernickel bread. In a significant departure from my Wisconsin family's experience we decided to raid the wine rack rather than the beer we're no longer laying down in the refrigerator because we need the space. The excellent riesling is probably what persuaded me to continue the Rhineland theme the next day, the day after the next, and eventually through tonight as well.

On Tuesday I located some excellent smoked trout, which I served with a bowl of whipped cream I flavored with lemon and grated horseradish, and we continued through most of the vegetables we hadn't been able to finish the day before, with the rare addition of some spicy puntarelle not consumed in an Italian salad two days earlier. Another Rhine or Moselle from the "cellar," and then a ginger rhubarb compote for desert.

Wednesday evening we had some crisp flatbreads with two smoked eels I had collected from the Union Square farmers (fisherman's?) market that afternoon, some wild watercress and the rest of the whipped horseradish cream. For an entree I turned on the gas for the first time since Monday in order to saute a thick slice of Niman Ranch ham and to boil some new potatoes I finished in sauteed sweet onion slices and topped with fresh thyme. We had small bowls of what remained of the cucumber salad on the side, now slightly augmented and refreshed with chopped puntarelle. Another good riesling, a Pfälzer, a Deidesheim.

Tonight after returning from a number of art openings in Soho we only needed a small snack, since following an afternoon in Chelsea galleries we had enjoyed Korean sushi at what was an outrageous hour for lunch - even for us. I had managed to save a bit of the ham from last night and we had it together with some good German mustard, the last of a potato salad which was still showing the stuff it was made of and some buttered slices of the sturdy pumpernickel. A fine Nierstein Riesling Kabinet was our company.

My point is that German food does not have to be scary. It never did, but today there is even less cause for alarm because of the development of a nouvelle German cuisine which I had predicted was inevitable years ago, at a time when I could and would abandon myself to the heaviest examples of German cookery with no regrets, no complaints. Unless she has changed her opinion, wherever she may be now, I would argue with Ms. Moskin that today German cookery finally has become fashionable; it's just that most of the world doesn't know it yet.

If anyone is looking for inspiration they should take a peek at the gorgeous photographs in "Culinaria Germany." My potato salad came straight from its pages, but I fell in love with Mimi Sheraton's "The German Cookbook" four decades ago and won't let it out of my sight. I may have moved from a German kitchen into a French one and today an Italian, but my first great love was this 1965 classic. It remains unchallenged as an English-language guide to German cooking even if it can't boast a single illustration. It was Sheraton's cucumber salad we enjoyed this week.

I knew I was going to go back to Southern Italy again, at least for a while, but I bought another handfull of kirbys just yesterday at the greenmarket. Tomorrow I'm going to see if I can find anything in Italian cuisine which could possibly love a cucumber.

NOTE: I tried to locate an image from "Culinaria" or elsewhere which might do justice to my argument, but without success, so I settled for the entertainment value of a World War I British propaganda postcard which may or may not be serious in complaining about the enemy's cookery.

[image from firstworldwar.com]

reaction in the public gallery of the Cortes on June 30, as the Spanish parliament extended full rights of marriage to all citizens

Some day a people crazy about waving its own flag at home and around the world may actually understand the liberty and justice it was intended to represent.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world has already overtaken us.

Excerpts from the speech by Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero delivered just prior to the vote last Thurday which legalized gay marriage and adoption of children by gay couples:

We are not legislating, honorable members, for people far away and not known by us. We are enlarging the opportunity for happiness to our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and, our families: at the same time we are making a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members.

In the poem 'The Family,' our [gay] poet Luis Cernuda was sorry because, 'How does man live in denial in vain/by giving rules that prohibit and condemn?' Today, the Spanish society answers to a group of people who, during many years have, been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended, their identity denied, and their liberty oppressed. Today the Spanish society grants them the respect they deserve, recognizes their rights, restores their dignity, affirms their identity, and restores their liberty.

It is true that they are only a minority, but their triumph is everyone's triumph. It is also the triumph of those who oppose this law, even though they do not know this yet: because it is the triumph of Liberty. Their victory makes all of us (even those who oppose the law) better people, it makes our society better. Honorable members, There is no damage to marriage or to the concept of family in allowing two people of the same sex to get married. To the contrary, what happens is this class of Spanish citizens get the potential to organize their lives with the rights and privileges of marriage and family. There is no danger to the institution of marriage, but precisely the opposite: this law enhances and respects marriage.

Today, conscious that some people and institutions are in a profound disagreement with this change in our civil law, I wish to express that, like other reforms to the marriage code that preceded this one, this law will generate no evil, that its only consequence will be the avoiding of senseless suffering of decent human beings. A society that avoids senseless suffering of decent human beings is a better society.

With the approval of this Bill, our country takes another step in the path of liberty and tolerance that was begun by the democratic change of government. Our children will look at us incredulously if we tell them that many years ago, our mothers had less rights than our fathers, or if we tell them that people had to stay married against their will even though they were unable to share their lives. Today we can offer them a beautiful lesson: every right gained, each access to liberty has been the result of the struggle and sacrifice of many people that deserve our recognition and praise.

Today we demonstrate with this Bill that societies can better themselves and can cross barriers and create tolerance by putting a stop to the unhappiness and humiliation of some of our citizens. Today, for many of our countrymen, comes the day predicted by Kavafis [the great Greek gay poet] one century ago: 'Later 'twas said of the most perfect society/someone else, made like me/certainly will come out and act freely.'

Can we try to remember these noble words the next time any U.S. politician opens his or her mouth?

[a dear friend of mine, Jamie Leo, forwarded the speech text this morning; it can be found on Doug Ireland's site, where the translation is credited to Rex Wockner; image by Susana Vera from Reuters]

untitled (Garden of Eden melons) 2005

Wishing everybody out there (except for the neo-fascist fundamentalists who would destroy it) a delightful 4th of July!

This page is an archive of entries in the Happy category from July 2005.

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