This link has good information about the changes the new health insurance reform bill. If you’re sixty-five or you know someone who is and is worried or has questions, this is a good starting point.
Archive for March, 2010
Here’s a different story about a garden. Click on the link to go to a delightful short film on the White House garden and the first spring harvest.
In the strip mall next to the Luther Burbank Center—called by some the Wells Fargo Center—there is a new vegetarian restaurant, The Garden. I’ve heard from reliable sources that the food’s good. I wouldn’t know, personally. I couldn’t get served.
I went there before an eight o’clock concert at the Center. I walked through the door at about 6:45. From the front door you can see through the sidelight into the kitchen and I looked at a cupboard loaded with fruit; yellow bananas, apples, green, yellow, pink and red, citrus and a whole lower shelf piled with limes. It was a lush and welcoming image. First impressions can be deceiving.
The place is less than half a mile from the concert venue; this seemed like plenty of time, and it would have been, normally. There was a line a people ahead of me; a couple, two young women, and me. While I waited to get my name on the list for a table I looked around. The place has lots of windows, which give it a light, airy feel. It’s small. The Max Capacity sign read 48 and I think they had exceeded it. The bare walls and the tile floor bounced the sound around like silicon putty. To say it was noisy doesn’t really describe it. While I waited, a couple of pasta entrees were brought out of the kitchen and I have to say they looked very good. Lots of tomatoes, vivid greens and reds, and –even though this is a silly thing to write—the pasta did not look mushy. They also brought out a couple of salads. Those looked good too.
I noticed they had a large party, probably eight people, seated when I came in.
After six minutes I got my name written on the list. The couple who had been sitting down waiting when I came in got seated, then the two young women who’d been chatting.
Eight minutes after I’d put my name on the list, the cheerful hostess said, “We have a table for you!” and led me through the restaurant to a small table between the piano and the back door. It sounds bad but it was actually a pleasant table. I should know. I spent a lot of time there. I sat down. By now it was past seven o’clock. A serious young man in black brought me a glass of water. Behind him, a slender young woman carrying a pitcher (very classical) brought me utensils wrapped in a napkin. I asked her what the soup was. “Creamy vegetable,” she said. “Your server will be over soon.” Serious Young Man came back with an oval wire basket that had three slices of bread in it. He left one basket for me and one for the two young women who were seated just across from me.
I looked at the large party of eight. They didn’t have their food yet. It occurred to me that I should be worried.
Serious Young Man returned with a shallow dish of olive oil and vinegar for the bread. It was about ten after seven. I began mentally scaling down my order from an entree to soup and an appetizer. The soup was already prepared, right? And appetizers are supposed to be fast. Time ticked by and, as I often do when I’m stressed and do not feel in control of the situation, I began to engage in magical thinking. I won’t open my book, because if I open my book to read, they’ll think I’ve been taken care of. I’ll move the menu across the table from me, because then they’ll know I’m ready. Oh, wait, I’ll move it back, because they might think I’m waiting for a second person if I put it over there. I’ll just. . . keep. . . watching them.
None of this mattered. I could have leapt atop the table and begun Irish step-dancing, and it wouldn’t have mattered. They weren’t going to wait on me.
At about seven fifteen, the large party got their food. About five minutes after that, the server came to take the order of the couple who had been seated before me, and before the two young women next to me. Serious Young Men and Women With Pitchers (2 each for a total of 4 bus staff) circled like confused hummingbirds, but they did not take orders.
I’d like to make it sound like I was huddled in my corner nibbling stale bread, but the bread was quite tasty. They use whole wheat flour and the texture was soft—dinner roll texture. They must use honey or some kind of syrup as a sweetener; the bread was quite sweet and the vinegar made a nice counterpoint although it wasn’t the best balsamic-style vinegar I’ve ever had. They also have gluten free products on the menu.
At seven-twenty-five, the server who had brought the food to the big party came over to our part of the dining room. She brought the check for another couple who had been there a long time. Then she approached the two young women and expressed surprise that they had not been helped. This seemed odd since, as near as I could tell, she was the only server on the floor and, unless amnesia is a problem for her, should have known whose orders she had taken. On the other hand, amnesia would explain quite a few things. She told them she would be right back to take their order.
Yes, you read that correctly; right back to take their order.
I threw a dollar on the table, got my coat and left.
In retrospect, why the dollar? Looking back, I thought I had been weak and foolish to leave a dollar on the table. For what? A tip for Serious Young Man and Young Woman With Pitcher? For the bread? Shouldn’t they have to pay me for wasting forty minutes of my time? However, when I told the Sig-O this story, he said, “Did you pay for the bread?” so I guess that’s what I was doing.
I went down the strip to Bad Ass Coffee where there were people in line ahead of me. In spite of this disaster—eek! Customers!–counter staff took my order in just a couple of minutes, and served me my drink less than a minute later! Miraculous!
Obviously, The Garden was experiencing technical difficulties that night. Still, they’ve been open for two months, and they probably chose the location because it is close to a concert venue. Did a server call in sick? When you’ve got bus-staff standing around looking for something to do, can’t you figure out a fix? Like maybe the bus-staff deliver the food, once the waiter takes the order? I don’t work in food service and even I thought of that.
I might give this place another try, but right now they are in the category of Epic Failure.
Update: Writing this post clarified my thinking and I called the restaurant to speak to the manager. I told her how disappointed I was. She apologized for my experience. She said that they only had one server that night; and that person had to leave at 8:00 and that they weren’t used to it being so busy before a concert. She hopes I will try the restaurant again when things aren’t as catastrophic. Maybe I even will.
“This whole campaign challenging the constitutionality of health care reform is just the latest chapter in a long pageant of conservative right-wing scare tactics designed to frighten people into thinking health care reform is a horrific change for America,” said Lazarus. “It really is a natural heir to the ‘death panels’, a natural heir to the ‘government takeover.’ These lawsuits that are being filed now, if you take a look at them, frankly they’re embarrassing from a legal standpoint. They’re totally frivolous. I’m confident they’ll be summarily dismissed even by conservative federal judges.”– Simon Lazarus, public policy counsel for the National Senior Citizens Law Center.
Here’s an interesting “for it before he was against it” morsel, courtesy of The Plum Line:
“One of the state attorneys general who has signed onto a nationally-watched lawsuit to overturn health reform is Republican Greg Abbott of Texas. The lawsuit alleges that the new law is unconstitutional because it imposes a mandate requiring citizens to buy insurance.
Turns out, however, that Abbott strongly supported a law in Texas last year that requires divorced parents to purchase insurance for their kids, even if they prefer to pay for their medical expenses out of pocket.”
“She was leaving, do you understand? She was already leaving me. Suddenly I wanted to know how far . . . I don’t know. How she was leaving didn’t depend on me. Maybe geometry had something to say on the subject.” –The Painter of Battles, Arturo Perez-Reverte Random House ,2008
The second bleak and slender book I’ve read in 2010 was The Painter of Battles, by Arturo Perez Reverte. The first thing of his I ever read was his fabulous book The Club Dumas. I loved The Flanders Panel, and enjoyed many of the Capitan Alatriste books, but his masterpiece in my opinion is Queen of the South.
The Painter of Battles is a departure, a meditation on war and the art of war, shaped into a short novel.
There are no puzzles or riddles. Like Queen of the South, this is the story of a life, the life of Faulques, an award-winning war photographer who is now a recluse, living in an abandoned watchtower on an island off the coast of Spain. Retired from photography, Faulques is painting a war-themed mural on the inner walls of the tower. One day he is interrupted by Ivo Markovic. Markovic was a Bosnian soldier, and Faulques took a picture of him. The photo won Fualques great acclaim, and it destroyed Markovic’s life.
Markovic has come for revenge. He tells Faulques that he plans to kill him. Before this happens, though, they talk, trading experiences of war and love.
The book draws heavily from Reverte’s own experiences as a war correspondent, and it is clear that the author has struggled through many of the moral questions Faulques begins to ask himself as the story progresses. Faulques consciously approaches his photography in terms of light, shadow and geometry; the same way he approaches the composition of his mural. He is reluctant to let in the thoughts and the memories of the moments before and after the snap of the shutter. Those moments, however, are the ones that truly define him.
As Reverte takes us back through Fualques’s life, we see the photographer through the lens of Olvido, the woman he loves. Olvido is fleeing the world of fashion photography and celebrity. She wants danger, passion, adrenaline, the authentic experience. There may be a death wish there too. At one point, she tells Faulques that her parents fell short by naming her Olvido (I Forget). They should have named her Nadie—No One. Olvido serves the role women characters often do in literary novels by men. She interprets Faulques for us. She is still a character in her own right, a reckless beauty in a war zone.
Balancing Olvido’s—and Faulques’s—narrative is Markovic’s. A soldier in a civil war, Markovic was marked for revenge in his home town when Faulques’s photo, exquisitely described in the book, is published on the cover of an international magazine. He loses everything, even his freedom when he is held as a prisoner of war. Markovic is the living voice that complements the silent photo.
As the book continues, Faulques begins to question his role. He always saw himself as a neutral witness, providing testimony, merely recording the atrocity around him. Through Markovic’s stories, Olvido’s words and his own recollections, he begins to doubt.
Reverte gives us the perfect metaphor in the photographer’s mural. Faulques sees it as an exercise in geometry and imagination, something external to himself, but we can see that he is literally at the center of it. He is right at the center of these images of torture, loss and death. The meticulous prose describes photography and paintings in terms of the vanishing point, the light, the line of sight, reminding us that the light of sight can be the same from a camera lens as from a rifle scope.
Although Reverte does a good job of creating the suspense, the momentum of the plot is not what’s important here. With Faulques, we come to question the role of war photography, war art, war news, the embedded journalist, and our own role as viewers, readers, consumers. Is war inherent in humanity, or does the presence of a witness, a camera, give permission, license to the torturer, the death squad, the soldier? Is this cruelty just ritualized theater, and are we the willing audience?
Unlike Faulques, who takes pictures of the still living and the newly dead, Olvido only photographs artifacts—shattered houses, bombed out cars, broken dolls. Bombarded by these bookend images, the dead and their trappings of life, we rethink our reaction to war. We believe these images are poignant and terrible, that they are teaching moments, but war does not stop because we see them. We do not stop wars because we see them.
Faulques is a well-defined, damaged character who is most alive when he is thinking about art, and who captures our sympathy in spite of ourselves. The book is bleak, deep and thoughtful, helped along with a precise and vivid translation. There are few plot twists; no reader will be surprised by Markovic’s action at the end.
Markovic speaks for every person Faulques has photographed. He has lost everything; home, family and freedom, but he still has his soul. It is up to the reader to decide if the photographer does.
I stumbled across this chocolate café the cold, rainy Friday I went to Petaluma to take pictures. The cafe is in a long, rather narrow storefront. The pleasant friendly woman behind the curving counter is the owner. She told me they’d been open a little over two years.
I ordered a hot chocolate and browsed the dessert case. The treats certainly looked sumptuous. There was lava cake, chocolate decadence, layered chocolate cakes and some smaller pieces that might have been truffles. I chose the triple-chocolate mousse, with its layers of dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate on top. The texture was light and airy, the flavor intense. This was the first time I was actually able to distinguish a different—and still chocolate-like—flavor to white chocolate.
My drink came in a smooth, dark brown ceramic mug, and a squiggle of chocolate syrup decorated the cap of whipped cream.
Viva Cocolat advertizes chocolate fondue for two on the weekends (reservations recommended). Think “high tea” at a chocolate café. The upcoming weekend she had two baby-shower fondue parties scheduled.
I sat at one of the small tables at the front so I could look out the window at the wet pavements and slanted curtain of rain. There are larger tables at the back in a room outlined with twinkle lights. Where I was sitting, a round display table showed off chocolate novelties, candies, puzzles and table games.
They do not make most of the chocolate they sell. They have products from Chocoholics in Clement, as well as Belgium, Brazil and France. My mousse came from a chocolate bakery in Marin County.
The hot chocolate was a perfect restorative after time spent in the cold rain. Next time, though, I’m going to sample the European sipping chocolate, rumored to be so rich that it’s like a melted chocolate bar. That sounds worth a try. I can recommend what I had, but to be fair, and a good reviewer, I really should go back many more times and try many more things.
Viva Cocolat, 110 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma, CA. (707)778-9888
Grave Goods; Ariana Franklin, Berkeley Books, 2009
“So, what are you reading?”
“I just finished Grave Goods, a history mystery, by Ariana Franklin.”
“Never heard of her.”
“It’s a pen name for a British writer named Diana Norman. She’s a journalist and a historian. The books are set in the twelfth century. I found six pieces! Is that part of her hand, coming out of the water?”
“I thought we agreed to do all the corners first.”
“No, we didn’t agree to that. You decided that. Look! That’s the shoreline, that piece goes right here. Anyway, her detective, Adelia Aguilera, is an Italian woman who was trained as a doctor in Salerno.”
“They didn’t have women doctors back then!”
“Not in England they sure didn’t. King Henry II uses her as his forensic expert, a coroner. Adelia travels with an Arabic eunuch and everyone pretends that he’s the doctor and she is just his translator.”
“Typical. Give the man the credit. Is this the tip of the sword? Look for some more gray pieces, I think it’s the sword.”
“So, in this book, Henry’s found a pair of skeletons at Glastonbury Abbey and he wants Adelia to determine if they’re the remains of Arthur and Guinevere.”
“Can’t they just carbon-date the bones?”
“Did I mention, twelfth century? Anyway, Adelia and her lover Bishop Rowley—“
“Her lover? Bishop Rowley?”
“Ahhh, well, he wasn’t a bishop when they got together. Or a priest, even. The King appointed him so he’d have someone on his side—“
“On his side? But he’s the—did you say King Henry II?”
“Henry II? ‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?’ That Henry II?”
“That’s the one.”
“He was a terrible king! He martyred Thomas Becket, and he locked up his wife for like, forever, and— is that the hilt?”
“This writer thinks that maybe you don’t have the whole story about Henry. And she’s got a big historian-crush on him. And he did good things for Britain, he just lost out to the Catholic propaganda machine.”
“Hmm. We’ll see. Here’s more of her arm. Clothed in white samite. What is samite, anyway?”
“Heavy silk. Adelia could explain it to you.”
“So, is the skeleton Arthur? Never mind, I know it isn’t.”
“Well. . .”
“Hey, the monks at Glastonbury Abbey did claim to find Arthur’s bones. And Excalibur, by the way.”
“And a hundred pieces of the True Cross. We’re finding Excalibur—see if that piece fits. So, that’s the story? It’s CSI on Arthur’s bones?”
“No, there’s a mystery, when Adelia’s friend Emma Wolvercote goes missing on the road. And there’s a mystery about the bones she’s investigating, too, because they’ve been mutilated.”
“Ick. Your medieval lady doctor who’s canoodling with the bishop—he’d better watch his back, with that king. So, I should read this?”
“You should read the first one, Mistress of the Art of Death. It introduces Adelia and gives the set-up, and really shows how infatuated this writer is with Henry II.”
“So you liked Grave Goods, but you think I should start at the beginning.”
“Yes. I know how you like all the pieces to fit together.”
The rain turned the air a shimmering silver. In my car, I checked my cameras, hoping it would let up soon. Half an hour earlier the clouds had thinned, paled, and it looked like the rain was over, but now the drumming on the roof drowned out my flamenco CD. Behind me, Lakeville Highway was deserted, a streak of flat pewter, twin to the Petaluma River just beyond it.
For the film camera, the 105 mm zoom lens, and two spare rolls of 400 speed film; for the digital, fresh batteries and a set of spares. I looked out the water-streaked passenger window, where a sign in the boarded-up window of Sunset Line and Twine informed me that This Property was Patrolled.
Sunset Line and Twine sat on a trapezoid-shaped lot southeast of Petaluma’s new theater district. It started its life as a silk mill in 1892. Later, maybe the 1930s, it converted to nylon fishing line. The phantoms of the signs for these products still lingered on the red bricks of the long façade, especially on the two square, three-story towers.
The rain began to slow, or maybe I just imagined it. I slung cameras and cases around my neck, dragged up my umbrella and clambered out of the car. I locked my purse in the trunk and walked around to the imposing façade. Nearly every window was broken, most covered with plywood. In the north wing, gray-white Venetian blinds still hung above the plywood, some pulled in quarter-circle shapes like a lady’s fan. I imagined a worker, or a boss, suddenly yanking up the blinds to let in the morning sun. From a distance, across the driveway, standing under one of the dripping trees with water soaking through my walking shoes, I could imagine that the toasted-gold plywood was candle-light and that the place was a large, exclusive private school—or the Arkham Asylum. A rusted metal fence surrounded the place, but it was broken down in at least three places.
I stood in mist now, the rain having faded, leaving an icy wind that snatched at my collar and made my hands shake as I tried to frame a shot. A quivering black-and-white sign lashed to the fence warned me; No Trespassing. Next to the sign, new grass grew up over the flattened fence. I took a handful of shots of the south wing, where each window was boarded and no blinds showed through, and then moved over to get pictures of the tower. The two towers were not at the ends of the building but rather divided the face into thirds; three story sentinels, each with doors that opened, now that the metal balconies had been removed, onto air. The windows in the tower were not boarded, and they gaped dark and blank. At the second story window, something moved. I turned my head and it dodged back out of sight. I could feel my heart pound. I raised the film camera and zoomed in, trying to decipher the figure. My chest felt tight. The figure moved again. It was just a scrap of translucent plastic, weathered to lace and fluttering in the wind. I relaxed. I took a picture. I shot a few more frames and walked along the façade.
The factory did look as if it could be . . . well, if not haunted, exactly, at least inhabited, and I was out here by myself this rainy Friday afternoon. As I moved closer, framing a shot of the palm tree that squatted in the tower’s corner, I heard, over the wind, the scraping, a rustling.
I lowered my camera. The noise stopped. It had been a specific noise; not tree branches rubbing, not the wind itself. It sounded like footsteps scuffing on pavement, or fabric shifting. I looked around, turning in a circle, but there were no other people near the factory, no cars on the road. The sound came again, riding above the wind, a rustle, from the direction of the tower—the tower whose ground-floor door had one glass pane broken out, leading into darkness.
I turned back, scanning the windows, even the dark tower window with its fluttering plastic, but I saw nothing else. As I moved, the sound stopped again, as if it could see what I was doing, and was shaping itself in response to my actions.
The back of my neck tingled and it wasn’t just the wind. I swept my gaze along the lush green grass that grew right up to the building’s foundation. It could just be rats. That would be scary enough. The grass undulated with the wind, flattening and straightening, but nothing else moved there. Nothing living, anyway.
I took one step, and another, toward the tower, toward the white wooden door with its broken pane. I could have reached out and touched the cold gritty bricks. I stood next to the gap in the fence, an easy entrance; but the broken pane in the tower door made entry even easier.
The wind shook me, thrashing the palm fronds, tugging on the strap of my camera bag, and my hair. The metal fence squeaked and, next to my right shoulder, came that rustling, scraping sound. The metal No Trespassing sign rattled with each gust of wind. This was the source of the sound. . . a No Trespassing sign.
My shoulders dropped down away from my ears. After all that, it was just the wind. Honestly. Well, how silly of me to surrender to my imagination, to think that this huge long-abandoned factory with its shattered windows and rusted doors could hold anything to fear.
(To be continued)
When to use one; when to eschew one; questions that have plagued writers and English students since the invention of punctuation. I direct you to a website, provided courtesy of steampunk writer Cherie Priest, that answers all your questions and some you didn’t even know you had.
Now I digress. What, you ask, is steampunk? Steampunk is a speculative fiction sub-genre that advances Victorian-era technology in a straight line and is often/usually set in the Victorian era. (Remember that Queen Victoria ruled for a long time.) Imagine steam-powered machine guns, automobiles, etc. In the graphics novel category, an example would be League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The Difference Engine would be an example of an early steampunk novel. There are schools of thought about whether west-coast steampunk is more “frontier” and east-coast is more urbanized/”Victorian,” and I don’t know about southern and southwestern steampunk. Mostly, it’s fun, and it’s a prose style that allows the writer to indulge in many a semi-colon.
The fun never stops!
I get about twenty comments a day now and I end up spamming all of them. About once every two weeks there’s an actual comment.
The human animal survived this long by identifying patterns, and that impusle is still hard-wired into us. I can’t stop myself from looking for patterns in this stuff.
I still get a lot of comments from Russian websites. They tend to cluster around two or three posts and one of them is about Brian Fies. I don’t know what there is about that particular post (I point people to Brian’s blog to a posting about pacing and suspense) but those Russian websites are really attracted to it. Maybe there is an untapped market for Brian’s work!
Today I got a gushing comment about how thoughtful, insightful and well-written my post was. The commentor hailed from a ReportTaxFraud website. Report tax fraud? The comments were in response to a recent post on Five Foods. I didn’t even write it; I basically summarized a Yahoo article. ReportTaxFraud also likes anything with Sarah Palin in the title. That’s just funny.
“Just wanted to let you know that your site looks funny on my Linux,” from Larry. Larry, just wanted to let you know that I don’t care.
My December review of Boneshaker got a couple of comments today. The first one said something like, “I would like to have technology like this to improve my work and life.” Really? Did you know that this post was a book review? What technology in the science fiction novel did you find useful; the subterranean drill that destroyed the city of Seattle? The poison gas that zombifies people? The dirigibles?
A second comment from a site with a name like lesbian-bi.com/lipacne stated, “I didn’t understand the concluding part of your article, could you please explain it more?” Hmm, well, it’s a book review, and my concluding paragraph states that I really liked the book. Clear enough?
When I tried to go to this website I got a Site Not Found error.
A high percentage of sites of origin, regardless of the names, appear to be porn sites. Some appear to be legitimate travel sites and a couple of aggregator sites that list blogs have left ping-backs.
I’m not pleased at all with the noise-to-signal ratio here; but I’m getting some fun out of splashing through the trash.