November 2005 Archives

Someplace High in Paris

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A week ago Monday morning Matt and I visited a Parisian landmark I neglected to see on my first visit to Paris 21 years ago. I don't know why I didn't go before; I just didn't. But it was very cool to see the Eiffel Tower up close, and to gaze down on Paris from a height of over 300 meters.

Here I am:

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Here's Matt:

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Hosts and Guests

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Sunday was my last full day in Brussels. I was sitting at Matt's computer doing my email when he walked in to say good morning. We began discussing what we'd do on my last day, and I felt compelled to ask him if I'd been an OK guest.

He frowned for a moment, then nodded. "You've been an OK guest," he said, emphasizing the "OK" while looking away. Then he looked right at me. "You're not the easiest person to live with."

I frowned and nodded myself. I already knew this. At this point in my life I generally find other people hard to live with, and I figure it must work both ways. I'm very habituated to living alone, to managing my money, my space, my stuff and my time as I see fit. I first did it when I was 23, after my mission (which involved as little privacy as possible--you're allowed to use the bathroom on your own, but the rest of your time is supposed to be spent in the presence of an assigned partner, so you have fewer opportunities to break the rules). The parents of one of my friends in Tucson had a studio apartment they offered to rent me, and it seemed like a good place to live while I finished my bachelor's degree. I was surprised at how much I liked living alone. Yes, I was often lonely, but there are many, many worse things in life than loneliness, and one of them is sharing a kitchen with someone who never does the dishes, either properly or at all.

Il neige

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Brussels has been hit by a freak snowstorm.

According to a Francophone newspaper I'm not going to link to because so few of my readers read French, the storm this weekend was one of the three most severe of the previous 100 years--for this time of year, anyway. Brusssels doesn't normally get 10 to 15 centimeters of snow in late November. (Actually, it rarely gets 10 to 15 centimeters of snow, but it's more likely in January or so than in November.) We woke this morning to--that's right, you guessed it--a winter wonderland, and I convinced Matt to take photos of the view from his balcony.

Here's a view from the guestroom balcony, which faces east:

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I find the chimneys and snow-covered pitched roofs quite charming.

To the east of Matt's apartment is this lovely park. In mid-morning it was full of children sledding and building snow people.

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Here's the street to the northwest:

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Below is the view to the northeast--the dome at the right is the Palais de Justice.

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I Went: Europe

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Once upon a time, in January 1984, when I was 20, I got on a plane, went to London, spent a semester taking courses in English literature and English history, then hoisted a backpack with a sleeping bag strapped to it and set off to tour the British Isles and the Continent of Europe for two months or so BY MYSELF. I had one sweater, fewer pair of socks and underwear than I like to admit, a copy of Let's Go: Europe (at the time,Let's Go was the bible of the cheap traveler--I've been told its coolness has waned and the preferred travel guide is now The Lonely Planet series), my passport, and a Eurail pass. I was often profoundly lonely and on several occasions found myself in circumstances so desperate or extreme I was afraid for my life, but somehow I escaped not only death but serious injury--for that matter, I was never even robbed, though I was frequently menaced. Considering the class of hotel or hostel I stayed in, considering how often I slept in some isolated compartment of some night train, considering how willing I was to ask for and accept help from complete strangers, it's remarkable nothing truly bad happened to me.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Happy Thanksgiving from Brussels, which is where I currently am. I got here last night with my friend Matthew--before that we were in Cork, Ireland for about 20 hours (more on that visit later); before that we were in Paris for about 52 hours (more later on that visit as well); and before that he was hanging out in the luxurious Belgian penthouse apartment he shares with his partner, Leo, while I was spending my time getting to and from first the Detroit Airport and then Aeroport Roissy-Charle de Gaulle.

At the risk of sounding, uh, neither French nor francophilic, I must say that while I find Paris lovely and charming, I still prefer other cities to it, among them London and Amsterdam. I am glad to be in Brussels, partly because it is where Matthew lives and partly because it is not Paris.

Last night at dinner Matthew, Leo and I discussed the fact that the next day would be Thanksgiving. Matthew, who is British, spent a couple of years in Arizona (this is where I met him) and occasionally (OK, frequently) encountered people who were remarkably ignorant about the world at large and not always very tolerant or even interested when it came to other cultures, so he is sensitive to American arrogance and ethnocentrism. I said I planned to have a lovely Thanksgiving, even though neither Leo nor Matt expressed the slightest willlingness to cook a turkey for me. "It won't be Thanksgiving here, Holly," Matt gently explained to me, "because we don't celebrate Thanksgiving."

Bowie Would Eat These Cookies

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Wayne (aka Saviour Onassis) recently lost a lot of weight on what he calls the "WWBE?" diet, or "What Would Bowie Eat?" To truly understand the rationale of the lifestyle, you need to watch Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, the movie featuring the last performance of Bowie's "leper messiah" before he retired the persona in 1973. The guy is SKINNY, and it's difficult to imagine him eating much of anything. (Saviour Onassis was kind enough to lay out the philosophy of this lifestyle on the blog we write together, Genius to Spare.)

But I bet Bowie would eat these cookies. I've been told by many, many people--Sweet Baby Jesus, among them--that these are the best cookies in the world. And as someone with a highly developed and discriminating set of dessert-loving taste buds, I can pretty much determine for myself that these cookies ROCK.

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

½ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. vanilla
½ cup sour cream
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided in half
1 & 3/4 cups flour
½ tsp each salt, baking powder, baking soda
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans, if desired

Melt 1 & ½ cups chocolate chips either in double boiler or in microwave by heating on high for one minute at a time, stirring after each minute of heat until thoroughly melted. (Should take two minutes.) In separate pan or bowl, melt butter. Stir melted butter and brown sugar together thoroughly. Add egg, vanilla and sour cream. Stir in melted chocolate. Add dry ingredients. Batter will be very runny; chill at least one hour. Roll into balls, then roll balls in granulated sugar for a nice finish on the cookies. Bake on greased cookies sheets at 350 for 9-12 minutes depending on how soft or crisp you like your cookies. Cool on pan for at least five minutes before transferring to wire racks for final cooling--cookies are extremely soft when they first come out of the oven. If desired substitute white chocolate chips for some of the chocolate chips added at end. I like to use 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, 1/2 chunk chocolate chips, and 1/2 cup white chocolate chips. 3-4 dozen cookies.

Confessions Best Heard on a Dance Floor

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What was it Winston Churchill said about the Soviet Union? "It is a CD, encased in a plastic box, sealed with an adhesive strip along the top, wrapped tightly in cellophane, inside a superfluous plastic bag"? OK, actually he said, "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma," but I think the first statement does a better job of describing something profoundly and lastingly inaccessible.

Did I ever mention that I HATE excessive and extraneous packaging? What about disco--did I mention that I hate disco too? What about Madonna? Did I ever mention that I have a fierce loyalty to the Material Girl, even now that she's gone and morphed into a self-righteous religious loony and one of the worst lyricists in the world? (Whatever happened to the woman who wrote "Live to Tell," a song that can still make me weep?)

All of which is to say, there are several reasons why buying Madonna's new album, Confessions on a Dance Floor, wasn't as rewarding an experience as I had hoped.

Toolbox

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One year in my 30s, when I'd grown tired of keeping my hammer and my screw driver in a drawer in my desk, I asked my dad to give me a toolbox, well stocked with tools, for Christmas. Mom said I couldn't have asked for a better gift, that he hadn't had so much fun preparing for Christmas since my sibs and I were little kids. He spent hours at the hardware store, she said, choosing the best box, then finding a saw that would fit in it ("It's not long but it's all you'll ever need, unless you want to hack down a tree, and in that case, you'd be better off calling a tree service," he told me of the one he bought), picking out a good set of Allen wrenches and Phillips head screwdrivers. He even gave me a spirit level. I've used all the tools in that box, except for the saw, and I'm sure even that will come in handy someday.

He also gave me an cordless power drill. He told me that I should recharge the battery every month, that not only would it mean it would be charged up whenever I might need it, but it would also preserve the life of the drill.

I don't charge it every month, but I charge it pretty often. However, I never use it myself, though the handy man I occasionally hire to do stuff around my house is pretty glad I've got it. I admit I'm afraid of it. I'm afraid I'll drill a hole in my hand. Instead, I save up jobs requiring a power drill and then ask someone who's not afraid of it to do those jobs for me when they come to visit. Next time my parents visit, I'm thinking I'll ask my dad to install a couple of ceiling fans.

Maybe this makes me a wimpy girl, but I'm pretty competent in a lot of ways. There are a lot of things I can fix on my own. I'm just afraid of power drills.

There Is No X in....

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In 1994, the landscape of Iowa City was forever changed when the Java House opened at 211 ½ East Washington. Its appearance heralded the arrival of the coffee craze in the general Midwest--sure, there were probably Starbucks all over Chicago at that point, but there wasn't one in Iowa City. (In fact, there wasn't a single Starbucks in Iowa City when I left in 2001, but there's one now, I saw with disappointment, though at least it's off the main drag and not nearly as crowded as other, older, cooler places.)

Iowa City's downtown features an area known as the pedestrian mall, the ped mall for short. It runs through four blocks bounded by Washington on the north, Clinton on the west, Burlington on the south, and Linn on the east. Paved with brick, dotted with trees, well-stocked with benches both in the shade and in the sun, equipped with a fountain and a playground, it's a cool place to hang out if there's no one you want to avoid; if there's someone you don't particularly want to encounter--say, for instance, an evil ex named Adam--you are sure to find him there, sitting on a bench in the sun, hitting on some undergrad who can't understand why this 30-something guy with the crazy eyebrows (his eyebrows were his worst feature, looking as they did like small furry rodents nesting on an otherwise attractive face) is putting on this act of intense and obviously fake sincerity. The restaurants, shops and bars (mostly bars) around the ped mall occupy prime retail space, because it gets so much foot traffic.

Prior to the arrival of the Java House, the only coffee house in downtown Iowa City was a place called the Tobacco Bowl, the retail equivalent of an AA meeting or an indoor cigarette break: no need to shiver in a snowstorm between classes or put up with the boozy smell of stale beer while you get your nicotine fix--heavens no! Why not enjoy a nice espresso instead of a beer and stay warm while you're at it? You can either study the cigars in the humidor--such a variety--or sit in front of a big window facing the ped mall, watching everyone who walks by! I admit I see the appeal of all that, I just don't see the appeal of smoking. I would never hang out there, even with friends who smoked, because I hated how I smelled when I left.

Hopeless Cases and Lost Causes

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This is something I wrote during the summer, about a relationship I knew was doomed but still wasn't ready to abandon--I was so not ready to abandon it that I couldn't even acknowledge the real subject matter in the piece. I read it now and its intensity strikes me as strange, but then again, although there are situtions in my life I wouldn't describe as optimal, right now there's nothing I feel I should quit. Anyway, I came upon this piece and thought it might be better to post it when I don't feel all overwrought than when I do.

***

How many times do I have to say "I give up" before I believe it and mean it?

Or,

Why do I say "I give up" before I believe it and mean it?

One of my lessons in this incarnation must certainly be how to give up. I SUCK at it. We had all these lessons and lectures at church on "Enduring to the End," but what I really needed was some training in the fine art of judicious giving up, knowing when to quit, cutting my losses, calling it a day.

I knew within ten minutes of saying good-bye to my parents at the Missionary Training Center that I had made the biggest mistake of my life by going on a mission. But did I call my parents at that point and say, "Uh, yeah, Mom and Dad, I was wondering if I could catch a ride back to Arizona with you?" NO! I not only endured all freakin' nine weeks of the MTC, that "saccharin-coated hell-hole," as I had the good sense to call it at the time; I stayed on a mission for 18 and a half goddamn months, becoming more and more miserable, more and more ill, more and more damaged--but hey, I endured to the end of my mission and got a freakin' honorable release. It took me another three years to admit that I could not remain a Mormon, three years of struggle and failure and despair.

So why didn't I give up?

Because I didn't want to seem like a quitter.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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