FRESHLY PRESSED? IT FEELS NICE

Freshly unemployed (ok, by choice so no pity here), I was lying on the couch for a post lunch nap. The dogs made me do it. Sitting at my desk, gathering jumbled thoughts on what to write, their snoring inspired me to get up and take a breather. Sliding into this unusual siesta, I was pondering whether writing about home-made lemonade and pasta would help me ease into this long week-end, purportedly the last week-end of Summer, the one that will turn LA beaches into ant hills, clog all freeways and that will give me even more ammo than needed to veg between the couch and the patio.

My eyes already closed, gentle snoring lulling me into sleep, the beeping sound of e-mails emanating from my iPhone started to jar with my impending dreams. Wait. That is too many e-mails. I am not that popular, not even with telemarketers. Certainly not at 2 in the afternoon.

Because I am a curious monkey and because I felt slightly guilty about the whole napping novelty, I reached for my phone and saw a long sequence of WordPress e-mails. The first comment was from Simply Om, congratulating me on being freshly pressed! WHAT?

The now welcome sound of more e-mails coming in completely jolted me awake. The dogs were duly informed but were not duly impressed. As soon as I started coming down from this very nice high which happened at a time when I am giving my life a makeover, I started thinking about the day I felt the need to publish blog, over two years ago.

The freshly pressed post on my mother’s voice was my 700th and one of the hardest to write. It all began because I wanted to see if I could develop the discipline of writing between 500 and 700 words five days a week, how hard it would be to make some of my thoughts public and to take criticisms. Working full-time, I had little time to publicize what I did, I don’t even have a Facebook page and I never gave much thought to what a blogging community was.  What I most vividly remember of my first post is how long I hesitated to press that “Publish” button, as if nuclear destruction was at my fingertips.

Yet, what started as a selfish endeavour turned out to be an eye opener on the generosity of other writers, an exercise in supporting each other, in making new friends, virtual and otherwise. In unexpected ways, it has even shaped some of the decisions involving my future working life. There have been some nasty comments along the way, a couple of threatening crazies who were quickly confined to the permanent junk, and even those taught me some welcome lessons.

Well, but enough gloating and pondering on the meaning of blogging. Tomorrow it’s back to the drawing board. Thank you WordPress editors and happy labour day week-end everyone.

Back on Tuesday

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ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – MELROSE TRADING POST

Photo credit: playingdressupwithkellie.blogspot.com

If you are in the mood to sift through some old bric-a-brac, second-hand clothes, hand-made jewellery but can’t face the daunting task of circling the whole of Pasadena Rose Bowl (or, simply, it’s the wrong Sunday for that), a fun, much smaller alternative is the Melrose Trading Post that takes place in the parking lot of Fairfax High School every Sunday, from 9 to 5.

A bit of a neighbourhood institution that started in the late ’90’s, I never made it there, always too ensconced in my New York Times on Sundays, walks with the dogs and other low energy activities (read: lazy couch potato). But when the sun is relentlessly shining and can only energize and shame you into not sitting around, even I find it in myself to drive to the other side of town for a bit of exploring.

The $2 entrance fee goes to benefit the high school, whose partnership with the Greenway Arts Alliance is responsible for this flea market. My exploration started in earnest with lunch, immediately making a run for the food court, right outside the school’s front doors. Despite BBQ smoke wafting and calling me in, my mother and I opted for a sinful Nutella and fruit crepe, prepared right in front of our eyes. There are plenty of small tables in the courtyard and, to make matters even more pleasant, a jazz trio of elderly men softly playing in the background.

The pleasant food court

So fortified, we tackled the stalls. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but had I needed empty frames or mirrors, I would have come up a winner. The clothing skews much younger and hipper than I normally wear (polyester 60’s dresses and denim hot pants were aplenty, as well as tiny fur coats) but some of the jewellery definitely caught my eye. A stand of old photographs was busy although I find the thought of using other people’s family photographs on my walls a bit disconcerting. I suppose it’s a way of inventing one’s ancestry, here in a city where re-inventing oneself is an actual requirement.

Provencal furniture and 50’s modern seem to be still very much in vogue as well as the usual pottery, crystal and glass crap that is customary at these swap meets – I always think I will find a treasure but have come empty-handed so far. If you are into gloves, a stall full of them will intrigue you.

And now allow me for my Larry David moment – I can see where the etymology of swap-meet comes from, with barter being an acceptable form of payment in days of old but why do people keep on calling these markets swap-meets? Nothing is being swapped and you are not going to meet anyone. Only hard cash being handed over. Can’t we stick to flea markets (the clothes still look as if flea infested) or even the charming English car boot sale?

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THE SWEETEST VOICE

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Every Sunday, for the past 17 years, my mother’s garrulous voice has greeted me at the end of the phone line. I will have just waken up, most likely to a sunny Californian day, while she will be getting  dinner ready, in her cozy apartment in Italy, the curtains drawn, the tv humming in the background. For 17 years, her voice has embodied my connection to a home that is no more, to a family than hangs by a thread and a love that has survived intact the wrath of my teenage years and my many moves.

The slight shrill in my mother’s “hello” will let me know immediately that everything is fine, while a more subdued and lower tone will presage unpleasant news. A brief humming just before she speaks, her trademark hesitation, conveys trouble, somebody else’s trouble typically, while the mention of my full name prefaces a question she is loath to ask.

That voice that praised me, scolded me, lulled me to sleep, admonished me and, above all, loved me is the voice I hear in my head every time I think of my mother. It’s part of my being as much as my own voice belongs to me. Someone told me that,  when a loved one dies, the first thing we forget is the sound of their voice. No photograph can give it back and, while recording devices can preserve a sound for posterity, they are a far cry from  accessing a memory at will as we go through our day. If all goes according as nature intended, my mother will die before me and the morbid thought of the loss of those Sunday phone calls has crossed my mind as I watch the two of us age.

After much prodding on the part of both her daughters, we convinced my mother to spend a couple of months  in Los Angeles with me, rather than her customary two weeks. As I write or make dinner or even while I putter in another room, I can hear my mother softly singing or talking to the dogs as she stubbornly cleans and irons and tries to make herself useful. It’s hard to resist her happy sound, not to yield to the high tones or the broken notes, especially when she ventures outside to shout for the dogs, who probably disappeared chasing a rabbit or a squirrel. The concern I hear in her calls is the same she couldn’t disguise whenever I tiptoed through the front door, late at night, back from another revelry in my college years, letting me know she had waited up (although she always denied it in the morning).

And then the more placid “Good night” or “Here you are, you scoundrels” will follow, her worries assuaged by our return, everything and everyone once again where they belong.

 

The sound of her presence has brightened my house and made those who inhabit it, human and canine, happier and calmer. I believe it’s because the melody of her speech is irresistible and has the power to draw us in. It will be a much emptier shell when she leaves – the dogs’ snorting, the bubbling of the fish tank and the humming of the fridge will go back to being my day’s soundtrack. Until I reach for that phone and wait for the long, ringing tone of Italian lines and the shrilly “Pronto” will let me know everything and everyone is where they belong.

 

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THE LONG GOODBYE

Shortly after graduating from college, having decided to move to England with a vague and optimistic master plan on how to succeed in the music industry, I did the rounds to say goodbye to a number of professors I had particularly liked during the years. While visiting my French professor who, on hindsight, I liked more for his dashing looks than for any Proust he might have taught me, he asked me what I thought was a strange question: “Why would you leave a place where you can be a Queen Bee and move somewhere where you will be a nobody?”. I was slightly stumped at the time – other than a need to follow my instincts, I wasn’t quite sure why I was going. Call it wanting for some new experiences, broadening my horizons, or just being young and foolish, I knew I had to leave my hometown and move on.

As I live in a personal belief system that won’t allow me to look back, question decisions and play the what ifs game, in my world that original decision worked very well for me. I don’t know what kind of Queen Bee I would have become if I had stayed but I have certainly transformed into a butterfly, perfectly happy with my imperfect kingdom.

That question posed so long ago recently resurfaced when I decided to leave my latest job. I had been with a generous and interesting company for over 8 years; I was respected and beloved by my staff; I had a dream commute (not something to discard when living in LA) and I could have comfortably stayed on for many years to come. None of those thoughts did indeed cross my mind when I was mulling a change; rather, I was reminded of them this when the time came to say goodbye to my coworkers and clients,  a process that seemed to stretch beyond the last day and was filled with tears and vaguely nostalgia. I knew it was time t face new challenges, reinvent a third act that, on paper and rationally, has very few reasons to succeed. But how do I define success? Is it the paycheck at the end of the month? The number of people who will like me on Facebook?

On my last day, I told my mostly young staff not to forget their dreams. Ever. To water them a little bit everyday and to go after them, as outlandish and improbable as they are, because no one else will do it for them. In the end, it’s no so much the dream itself that matters but our willingness to embark on the journey to get there. That the “there” might not be the one we had originally envisioned matters little – we will have changed in the process and that is what I am seeking with my “foolish” choice.

It was probably foolish to leave a career path that a couple of university professors were more than happy to guide me on and to go fold children’s sweatshirts in a clothing store in London, pinching pennies to afford some meat  now and then, all the while sending handwritten and made-up resumes to every single record company, recording studio and management company in town, trying to get a foot in the door. It turned out I got both feet in, happy to relinquish the Queen Bee position to someone else who, I am sure, enjoyed it a lot more.

 

 

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SEVEN LOVELIES

Marcella of For Your Good Health was kind enough to nominate me for a Beautiful Blogger Award. Like all these awards that populate the web and that I am sure have the noble intention of making blogs more visible, the rules are:

  1. Add the image of the award to your blog post
  2. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  3. Post seven interesting things about yourself
  4. Nominate other bloggers  you feel deserve the award and let them know

Instead of posting seven interesting things about myself – could they really be that interesting? –  I would rather list seven books for the coming Autumn/Winter season. I know, it’s fairly hot today in Los Angeles and most likely wherever you are sitting  too but it’s too late to talk about Summer reads. All these novels require some time, possibly on the couch, with a cup of tea and the willingness to enter other worlds.

  1. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. My current favourite. I am obsessed with Tudor times and, at this point, I know more about the subject than I ever thought possible. Still, this Booker Prize winner, tells some of Henry VIII’s story from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view, in a fresh and detailed new voice.
  2. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. At the moment I am reading David Mitchell’s better known Cloud Atlas, another masterpiece, but Jacob de Zoet drew me in with the richness of details and the delicate and unusual love story set in 18th century Japan, a country then still unopened to foreigners.
  3. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Possibly one of the longest novels ever and, yet, I didn’t want it to finish. The story is centered around four Indian families and one woman’s effort to find a suitable match for her daughter.
  4. Saturday by Ian McEwan. I can’t wait for the release of Mr. McEwan’s new novel, an excerpt of which I just read in the New Yorker, as he is one of my favourite authors. The novel takes place in just one day in 2003, protests over the Iraq war in the background, when a surgeon’s week-end routine is disrupted by a violent act.
  5. War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy. If you have never read it, you must. That’s all I am going to say.
  6. The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie. When Rushdie’s books were still great – in this particular one, the narrator traces back the four generations that came before him
  7. Middlemarch by George Eliot. If you haven’t read it in school and have come to the end of the line with Jane Austen, this will satisfy your 19th century English cravings.

As to worthy bloggers, I recently came across :

Doves Today

and I reserve the right to nominate more in the days to come (having a hard time staying on top of all the blogs I come across)

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ADVENTURES IN LALA LAND – PICCA CANTINA

Anticucho black cod

Peruvian food has become extremely trendy and Picca offers a riot of flavors in what, I would imagine, is a personal and modern take on Peruvian food.  Ricardo Zacate, who first opened Mo-Chica (see review) in a funky part of town, has now graced the West side with Picca Cantina, which is garnering accolades and wonderful reviews.

Let’s start with the location, on that stretch of Pico Boulevard better known for kosher establishments – the stand alone building also hosts Sotto (check out the review), the excellent Italian eatery. Upstairs, however, is a modern cantina, with an open kitchen, sleek design and sleek customers to match, the latter handled with firmness and a smile by the capable hostess.

The noise level, once the restaurant is full, is beyond any reasonable conversation but my party and I were seated in a semi private room upstairs, around a sturdy and unusually large wooden table, and we were afforded an acceptable decibel level. Our server was professional, did not feel compelled to tell us her name and steered us through both the drinks and food menu with dexterity.

And what a menu it is. The  multitude of dishes are tapas size and meant to be enjoyed family style. To try the whole menu would require many reservations and a sizable savings account but the effort would be worth it.

My only other  experience with Peruvian food came courtesy of Mo-Chica (check out the review), possibly a more down to earth version of the food Mr. Zarate cooks at Picca, so I can’t say whether  what I ate resembles anything served anywhere in Peru. To accompany the various Pisco sour cocktails we ordered, we started by nibbling on Jalea Mixta, lightly fried seafood with a tartare sauce; Chicharrones de Pollo, fried morsels of chicken with salsa criolla and Papa Rellena, a Peruvian version of a jacket potato filled with slow cooked beef and a boiled egg. All three dishes were delicious, with the first two pleasing to less adventurous palates while the Papa Rellena will never make me look at another baked potato the same way. It was that good.

Egg, in the form of fried, made an appearance on another beef dish, a sort of stew, that was also excellent but the name of which I haven’t retained. If you do see it on the menu, do not hesitate though. The Ceviche Mixto also features thinly sliced potatoes in a citrus sauce and, if you are a fan of raw fish, the albacore tuna is a must. My personal favourite was served on a wooden board: Anticucho Black Cod with crisp sweet potatoes – a beautiful presentation and the buttery flavor of cod enhanced by a slightly sweet sauce. Seco de Paxo turned out to be duck leg comfit in a black beer sauce over cilantro rice. Despite my aversion for cilantro, at that point in the evening I was game to try anything and the duck was tender, flavorful  and highly unusual. As I said, bold flavors are the trademark of this restaurant.

Not sure if the Peruvian craze will continue or if Picca and Mo-Chica will keep on being the only game in town but if you are in for something different from the usual tapas, are in a festive mood and don’t mind a sign language conversation while munching on some pitch perfect and interesting food, make a bee-line for Picca and you won’t be disappointed.

Picca, by the way, means “nibble”.

www.piccaperu.com

 

 

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RANDOM THINGS THAT HAPPENED ON MY LAST DAY AT WORK

Image: trendytree.com

If it’s the small details, the ones we don’t notice, that gives our lives nuance, these are the little things that happened on my last day at work. Highly telling or not.

  1. My staff gave me the most wonderful, handmade scrapbook which opens with the quote: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you” Carl Sandburg. As careful as I was on not giving too many details about myself, I have to give them credit: they get me.
  2. I am a sucker for a surprise party, especially the one I really don’t expect. How did they pull it off? I am more of a fool that I believe I am
  3. In all the commotion, I lost my reading glasses. Serves me right. I always thought that having two pairs is the thing to do and never got around to it.
  4. Saying goodbye is emotionally exhausting.
  5. Eating cake at 10 in the morning does indeed mean you will crash at noon. Good reminder not to load on sugar early in the morning.
  6. Being able to nap in the middle of the day is exhilarating.
  7. Loving what you do, makes everything worthwhile.
  8. Real friends lurk in all nooks and crannies. Always keep your eyes peeled.

 

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