Toad in the Hole

May 07, 2006

Culture Notes

I was up late last night arguing with someone over at Liz's blog about what were really editorial matters, as in: If I were her editor I'd've made this tootsie justify about every other word in what she's written. There are times when I dream that a corps of good editors would save the culture from a lot of depressing blather just by throwing darts at manuscripts or printouts tacked to the wall and asking about the words they hit: "What do you mean by that? What's your evidence for it?" Or just: "Wait a minute. Doesn't that sound just a bit silly to you?"

It's nice to be able to sling words around handily, but it's really irresponsible not to have anything to back up those words. It's really dangerous to let your pretty words convince you all by themselves that you're right about anything substantial.

Of course I'm biased by my point of viewing. I've said in public that a good editor turned loose on the likes of Murray Bookchin could have saved whole forests from the pulp mills.

It was late and I was tired, and it's hard to fish out the words when I'm tired. Maybe that's one of the (uh-oh) ironies of being a menopausal writer: You get the perspective you need and have had time to put a lot of things together and look at them from several angles, just when the nouns start getting lost in the wrinkles in your brain. That goes for birding, too. I have some modest field skill and am even acquiring an ear for songs, but thrash around for the birds' names. The dialogues between Joe and me when one of us (usually but not always me) recognizes something and thrashes around for its species' name while trying to get the bird pointed out to the other can be pretty funny, if mystifying. After all these years we have a lot of shared references that make sense only, well, you hadda been there.

Something between folie a deux and culture, I suppose.

What wore me out yesterday wasn't all that strenuous, but the fruitless mulberries on the street are blooming and my lung power is considerably reduced. It's a pain in the ass but it's become much less a matter of fury and worry since I've figured out what was going on and why, what the allergen load consists of just now in the season, how much I can expect to recover later. Knowledge is good for perspective.

It took me all morning to wake up, partly because I'd commuted to San Francisco to work Friday (riding BART grinds me down physically, for some reason) and partly because it was foggy -- read as "heavy low gray ceiling of cloud" if you're not familiar with California coastal weather -- and I can never convince myself it's later than 5AM on foggy days. Gene and Kate came over at 1, fortuitously enough when the sun was breaking through, and we went up to Sibley Regional Park to look for golden eagles, geology, posies, whatever.

The golden eagle pair that's lived there for years, keeping watch over the place from the broadcast towers that poke up in a cluster, is reportedly nesting and raising a kid somewhere in the trees on Round Top. They popped out first thing, obligingly enough, both of them wheeling in spirals and then sliding down the currents into the trees, behind the hill, out of sight and back again, their gilded helmets shining back at the sun. Guess this has been Golden Eagle Week, what with them and the one we saw being mobbed at Sunol and the same or another one there later on Wednesday. Yesterday, people walked by with their puppydogs and never even looked up, something I still find astonishing.

Windy and siesta-timed as it was, most of the other birds were by ear: purple finch, common and lesser goldfinch (we saw both of those too, chasing around pretty intensely), song sparrow, spotted towhee (saw California towhees too), wrentit, Bewick's wren, titmouse, black-headed grosbeak. A few fence lizards. The place is grazed, and a pit of invasives: poison hemlock, sowthistle and milk thistle, broom, foxtail and other exotic grasses, bur clover, yadda yadda. There was some blue-eyed grass and phacelia blooming, and poppies, blue dicks, a nice stand of ceanothus perched on its toes above a progressing soil slump.

We strolled as far as the labyrinth that people have been making and changing by bits in a fake caldera -- actually a quarry pit -- north of the actual old volcano, which is now Round Top Hill. The maze is now sort of arrowhead-shaped. The spot it's in is where we got married lo these many moons ago, before the maze existed, when we'd been happily together for 19 years or so and I was self-employed and looking at a dire need for health insurance. We made it fun -- and we're still thankful that Robbie was so eager to marry us, and dressed her three dogs in matching kerchiefs for the occasion, and packed a champagne picnic besides. She refers to the occasion as The Bride Wore White... Sneakers. Padraig, Phoebe, and Toby Jugg were the best possible wedding party and, as happened, all the witnesses we legally needed. I'm still less than thrilled about letting the State into our bed, but I'm also still alive thanks in some part to having health insurance; at the time that was the only way to get it except for paying money we didn't have to get a single-party plan for the self-employed. And we made a party out of it, which one might as well, and had a good time, ditto. I myself made a single vow: This won't change anything between us. I think I've kept it.

The eagles, or their predecessors, were there then too.

Yesterday we four added a trot through the Tilden Bot Garden to see what else was blooming -- trillium, still, and ribeses and salvias and twinberry and some of the alliums and calochortuses in the bulb bed, and the bitterroot there.

Then we adjourned to early dinner at Finfine', an Ethiopian restaurant on Telegraph Avenue. I'd got a hot tip on that one from one of the hygienists at my dentist's, when I'd reported my culinary-triumph discovery that injera doesn't stick to braces. The hygienist is Ethiopian herself, and said Finfine' was her favorite, with interesting spices and the freshest ingredients. After two meals there I'm inclined to agree. And one of the beers they serve there, Hakim Stout, is marvelous. (The other I've tried, a lager or ale whose name I forget, is also very good. And so is the tej, subtle and complex, not just sweet.)

Culture's a funny plant. I'm thinking that food and music are its best blossoms.

And for a Bring On The Barbarians note, I found a card in the heap on my desk, something from an outfit we encountered at the Garden Show in March. One of those things that probably mark the turn from cultural flower to senescent overripe fruit, but whose products were seductive as all hell. They make doorknobs (and cabinet pulls and such) out of semiprecious stones. Gorgeous, expensive (but I suspect artificially cheap in the postcolonial or economic-colonial fashion) and as nifty to touch as to look at.

I'll post photos, of today at Sibley and Wednesday at Sunol, later, I promise. Joe has been selfishly hogging his own computer to do actual work.

Posted at May 7, 2006 05:01 PM


It's frustrating and pointless trying to argue with that woman...there's no logic whatsoever, no continuity, no point being made. She's just a bottomless pit sucking up everyone's attention, time, & energy. She just grabs hold of isolated phrases and tosses them around, never actually gets the big picture or seems to understand what others have said. But she always manages to throw out tasty bits of bait that lure more responses as people try to make her see the logic, and that keep her in the limelight. Life's too short, sez I.

Oh, but while I'm here, maybe you know the answer to something I've always wondered: why is it the Tilden Botanic Garden but the UC Botanical Garden? Are CA natives just way too cool to get stuck with a superfluous -al?

Looking forward to the pics.

Posted by: Vibrating Liz at May 8, 2006 03:20 AM

What pisses me off about people like her, Liz, is that they so often actually get paid to shovel that vague frothy shit, which image I'll just leave there for contemplation. (Does she? Get paid, I mean. I forget where the original meadow muffin came from.) Well, I get pissed off when such people waste electronns on such shit for free, too, so I guess that's not the only annoyance. I was perhaps overly polite because it's your blog and I hate to start bar fights without the publican's permission.

Come to think of it, though, I have better things to spend my oxygen on. Plus today was Aloha Sunday and I'm all mellowed out. Ever seen a spoiled five-year-old in a roomful of adults who are trying to play an honest game of poker, though?

I've never yet got anyone to tell me about the Botanic/al difference. Most gardens I know of are positive for the -al factor. If I do find out, talking to the garden people around here as I do, I'll let you know.

Posted by: Ron at May 8, 2006 06:38 AM

Perhaps it's the same distinction as that between historic and historical? Mostly someone trying to sound more French than Brit?

Posted by: Pica at May 8, 2006 02:54 PM

Or they ran out of space on the sign?

Posted by: Ron at May 8, 2006 04:45 PM