23 May 2010

Yann Martel

About 5 years ago, I came home to find a delivery from amazon.com on my doorstep. As I hadn't actually ordered anything and it wasn't my birthday, the box was a bit of a mystery. Until I opened it and found a note on the packing slip from my friend Lauren that said something like, "I just read this book and really want to talk about it with someone. I thought you might like it too..." The book was Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

I've had people suggest books to me, perhaps loan books to me. But I'd never had someone make a recommendation by actually purchasing a copy of a book for me. I suspected it was truly a must read. So I read it. And it was.

The curious illustration of a silhouetted boy in a life boat with a tiger, turned out to represent one of the most profound stories I've ever read in my life. And here I thought it was just going to be a book about a kid and a vicious animal. Never judge a book ...

I have been in constant awe of Life of Pi (and Yann Martel) ever since and have recommended it to everyone I know. (Perhaps I should be buying them all a copy as well). Martel hadn't published anything since that book - until this year when his latest, Beatrice and Virgil, was released. So he's on book tour now, and came to Kansas City this month, (thanks to Rainy Day Books and the KC Public Library) and, as you might imagine, I was there. With bells on.

He was as compelling a speaker as he is a writer. And I was amazed at how broadly instructive and enlightening his talk was - even when he spent a lot of time talking about the new book which I haven't even read yet. He did discuss Life of Pi, sharing (among other things) that the zoo, a significant plot element, seemed to him to represent the parameters that religion provides, versus the vast, wide, and - for some - uncomfortable freedom of secularity.

I am realizing that Life of Pi deserves another read. And, after Martel read for us the stunning section of his new book where the monkey (Virgil) tries to describe to the donkey (Beatrice) precisely what a pear is like, I am anxious to read Beatrice and Virgil too. Well, anxious, but hesitant, due to some contentious reviews of the disturbing nature of the latter 1/3 of the text.

In answer to the queries about the way his new book ends, he explained his goal as a writer is to be both "entertaining and elevating." Though I can't vouch for B & V (yet), L of P certainly hits that mark perfectly.

15 May 2010

KC Symphony - Simone Dinnerstein

It's been so gray and dreary today. Wet enough to feel like spring, but down right cold for May. After being out all day, I came home and was pleased to stay nice, warm, and dry in my apartment for a little while. I kind of wanted to stay here the rest of the night, but we had tickets to the symphony. We haven't been in many weeks and tonight's guest soloist was Simone Dinnerstein, and I've been looking forward to her performance all season long. So even though I kind of wanted to stay in, I went out.

The four pieces on the docket tonight were Schubert, Mahler, Mozart, and Strauss - all Viennese, each so distinct. Dinnerstein played the Mozart piece - Piano Concerto No. 21. Before she came on stage, wearing a watery, fluttering blue and purple iridescent gown, I had been reading in the program that this concerto, when it was written and performed in 1785 "held an expressive undercurrent that would not continue to please the Viennese public" and that they were "bewildered by this music and its incipient Romanticism."

Romanticism. They say that like it's a bad thing, but it was precisely these things that I loved about this piece - and that I have always loved about the second movement of this piece, a movement I know so well and always associate with spring. Every time I hear the music of the second movement, I think of rainy spring. Which might explain why the first and third movements also fit so well with the weather today, too. The entire piece is rich with emotion and felt so right on a night like this.

And as for Ms. Dinnerstein - her performance was so expressive and varied, both clear and complex, indeed as iridescent as she was.

09 May 2010

Happy Mother's-To-Be Day

Today marks the half-way point in my pregnancy - 20 weeks - and everything I read says you can start to feel the baby move by now. I was so anxious to feel it, to feel something. But what, I wasn't sure. Maybe the baby's moving and I just don't know how to recognize it? BabyCenter suggests that the feeling is like a goldfish swimming or a butterfly fluttering or - my favorite - popcorn popping, all of which are only mildly helpful since I have never had a goldfish swimming in my belly, a butterfly fluttering in my belly, and certainly not any popcorn popping inside my belly.

The Tomato (last week's nickname based on BabyCenter's food corollary) - 5.3.10 - 19 weeks

Then on Thursday morning I was at work writing an email, minding my own business, and I felt the funniest ping in my abdomen. Not a ping, like a twinge. Or maybe like a twitch? Kind of a spasm ... sort of sensation. An itty bitty, split-second spasm. Or flick. But like a soft, padded flick. Kind of... Anyway, I consulted with a couple of pregnant/previously pregnant co-workers and confirmed. That had to have been the baby.

I have spent the days since then getting to know all the subtleties of the baby's movements. (And yes, I admit I can kind of get the goldfish/butterfly comparison. Still no popcorn.) How funny that I felt nothing before (or just didn't know how to feel it before) and now I feel something every day, several times a day. What a kick. Literally.

AND, just in time for Mother's Day.

So today we celebrated - Mother's-To-Be Day, the first feel-able baby wiggles, the 20-week milestone - with a delightful lunch at Happy Gillis and long awaited Fresher than Fresh snow cones for dessert.

Creamy Tomato Soup and the*new* Tartine sandwich (featuring hummus & arugula)

Opening weekend at the snow cone stand!
(clockwise, starting with the pale pink: Ginger Rose, Agave Hibiscus (daredevil!), Pineapple Serrano, Espresso with Mexican Cane Sugar, and Green Tea Pear)

It was a very Happy Mother's-To-Be Day indeed.

5.9.10 - 20 weeks

02 May 2010

Sailing in the Sea of Cortez

at sea in our vessel, the "Caribbean Reef"

Last week we went sailing off the coast of Baja California Sur, our second "babymoon" (our first was to London). Our friends, Ben and Jieun, who live outside of Seattle are big fans of the nautical vacation and we were delighted when, earlier this year, they invited us to accompany them on a boat for five days in the Sea of Cortez. It's not everyday your friend calls you up and says, "I'm going sailing, want to come?" We said yes post haste.

boats, bouganvilla and cactus

We set sail last Monday morning out of La Paz, BCS, from the Moorings marina that was inundated with bouganvilla - my favorite non-mid-western flower. There were cactus everywhere, too - the climate in Baja is so arid, though the nights on the boat were so humid. It was like New Mexico plopped down smack dab into the ocean. Our journey took us up and down a short piece of the coast and in and out of several islas. Our captains were my friend Ben and his dad who sailed and motored us adeptly while the rest of us did our best to help "batten down the hatches," "unfurl the jib," learn to tie a "bowline" or - at least cook dinner.

practicing the bowline at night

at anchor during the day

Our vessel was a 4 cabin Catamaran - Sergio and I had the bunk at the front of the boat on the right side - er, uh - the "starboard berth in the bow of the boat?" (Still learning my nautical terminology.) The boat was fully stocked with food and had a well appointed though tiny kitchen; we all took turns prepping and cleaning, and we easily fed seven people almost three meals a day for five days. (Despite the itsy bitsy grill.)

Sergio's guacamole with the freshest of avocados

a mango, superbly fresh and local in Mexico

We did make several stops along the way, including a nice dinner (Captain Denny's treat!) at the Playa Pichilingue restaurant on the night before our return where I had delicious garlic fish and tried to practice my Spanish by telling the waiter that "Over there where our boot is there are many pots." He knew I meant boat and waves. I think...

The Gringo's whale skeleton on Isla Coyote

But my most favorite stop of all was a tiny - and I mean tiny - island called Isla Coyote or Isla Pardito. It is a simple slab of rock jutting out of the sea where there live twice as many sea gulls as pelicans and ten times as many pelicans as people. There are only six families living on Isla Coyote plus "The Gringo" and his wife who collect whale skeletons. They all live in and among the closely clustered 8 or 10 buildings visible on the north side of the island (the south face is uninhabitable rocky terrain) and everyone there fishes. Including the pelicans and sea gulls. I have never seen anything like this tiny island and I was amazed.

And when we weren't exploring tiny islands, or mangroves, or cooking food, or successfully enduring a few nights of really rocky waters ... we all spent a lot of time reading.

What a way to vacation.

Bloodroot, by Amy Greene (L), Better Off, by Eric Brende (R)

PS: LOTS more pictures on Flickr