Saturday, November 21, 2009

This Blog Has Moved (AGAIN!)

Find me here from now on. That's I've got my own domain name and everything! Cool, huh?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


It's a little scary for me to say this (I feel as if I'm literally uprooting myself), but this blog, the one you're reading now, has officially MOVED to It now lives here, and nothing but the web address (and, ok, the design) has changed, so please please visit me here from now on. Update your bookmarks, your newsfeeds, your brains. I'll even remind you again of the NEW ADDRESS! It's:

Thanks for bearing with me, and for reading my blog; from now on, I'll see you here...


The city this morning was heartbreakingly beautiful. Puffy clouds and air so fresh you could drink it (I seem to have a thing about this). I detoured, went gliding down Broad Street and curled up St. Giles so that I could buy a sandwich and a pastry from a cheerful woman. Traffic, thick traffic, all the way towards town, but the roads away from town were clear and the city in spite of the traffic still had that air of Easter emptiness. I saw a girl in a striped shirt-dress and boots pedalling towards the Bodleian, her basket laden with bags and books, and thought how lovely it would be to have woken up early just to work in a library, to come out into the sun at intervals like a young stalk needing to photosynthesize, to maybe have tea later at the Vaults & Gardens cafe, outside in the graveyard where the chairs overlook tombs and flowers and the yellow-bodied dome of the Radcliffe Camera.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hurst Street, Springtime, 6 am

I wake at the unfamiliar hour to animal sounds. Noises like foxes fighting; exotic screeches carried down the street by wind or proximity. You are asleep until I stick my head out of the window, peering left and right past the dawn-bathed terraced houses.
"That sound," I say.
"Cats?" you say. Fall asleep again. I go into the bathroom, where the window overlooks a single street lamp. As I am watching it, through the blinds, observing the sallow glow against the almost-bright morning sky, it goes out. Apart from the emptiness it might be mid-morning.

Back in bed, the fox-sounds have stopped. Now it's only birds. Doves? In that way that early-morning birds have of making repetitive songs with their hoots and growls, they are like the worst pop song on the radio. Over and over again in my head (I'll forget the tune by afternoon). You are still asleep, and I ponder getting up, going outside, to see the street before anyone else sees it. Sunday mornings are best for this; no early commuters whistling past on bicycles, smugly more productive. All the drunks have gone to bed. For the first time in a long time I perceive how ugly all the cars are, lined up nose-to-tail, cows going to slaughter, in various shades of modern, various kinds of disrepair. There was one last year with a smashed-in window, that sat on the corner of Leopold Street and Hurst, and for months if you wanted to walk past it you had to pick your way through broken green glass. The houses still look bare--even the ones with gardens out front are still suffering the effects of winter gloom.

The thing about this street is, it wears its shabbiness well. Last night as we rounded the corner I said to you how I fond I was of the place where our street meets Magdalen road--of the pub with her bicycle rack, her evening-yellow windows, the red-and-green facades of the bookshop and the café, the weary half-rendered lettering of Silvesters ("E TERS STORES"), with its pots, its herbs, its kitchenware.

Not a soul about this morning, and as I try to fall asleep my mind is suddenly full of a Boston autumn, the crispness of the Charles River and the smell of rich people's houses in the Back Bay. Couldn't be further from where we are now. I close my eyes to picture the promenade in October better, the strange dome of the half-shell in afternoon light, the runners, the girls in skirts and light coats, stretching the days of sensible dressing out as long as possible. I think for certain I won't fall asleep but I do, with you and the pop-songs of the morning birds and the empty river of street that runs between James and Magdalen.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cowley Road, 4:30 pm

Sometimes Simon & Garfunkel is the only suitable soundtrack. Even when the sky isn't cloudy. Today it's a wide sheet of azure that the Mediterranean would be jealous of. I like the way the building across the street, made of blackened red brick, slants, moves away from the Cowley Road at a precise angle. The graffiti scrawled in white, below the beetroot window frames: Total Texaco Fuel Oppression in Burma. A poetic structure, as I sit here listening to the hum of ice-cream eaters, smelling burnt toast. Watching balding man in an army-green coat, brown leather brogues, smoking. Joined now by a woman with black hair and black boots. She's taller than him, but they're both made in miniature, fragile, transient beside the brick. Three girls, one in pink, one in blue, one in green, passing by. The delivery bicycle with its vast basket, shiny silver bell (I'm reflected in the domed steel). The shadow of this building is slinking up the side of the one across the road. Stealthy springtime: before you know it the sky will darken and the evening will dawn, the drunks will come out to play, the chill will slide back into the air and the dark hairs of you thin arms will stand on end, soldiers at attention, reminding you of a photograph taken at that September party, when you wore the jacket of his uniform over your sleeveless dress and leaned against somebody's garden wall.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

And We Don't Even Own This House

On days like these, I'm reminded of the ranch. We have a dead something festering in the walls or under the floorboards somewhere; all we know is that the smell is strongest at the spot just before you enter the kitchen. The Man comes home from football wanting to take a shower; but a pipe has burst, or broken, or done whatever it is pipes do, so that the kitchen is flooded with a sudden stream of water before we turn the main off. By sticking our heads in the cupboard under the sink (him in football kit, me in an oversized and ripped man's shirt and a pair of silk pajama shorts because I thought, silly me, I might have an early night) we ascertain which particular bit of pipe is the problem ("You see the silvery one?" he says. "No, not that silvery one, that silvery one."). But what good is knowing this? I have the imprint of a wet review section of the Guardian from six months ago on my feet and the Man can feel some "fraying," but neither of us is taking a bath tonight, I can guarantee that. As we carpet the kitchen in newspaper we talk about the smell, which the Man is convinced is like galvanized rubber. "It's dead rodent," I assure him. "I got very used to that smell in my childhood." Which makes my childhood sound horrific; it wasn't, quite the opposite, just infused, every so often, with eau de decomposing rat. Or eau de galvanized rubber, if you prefer.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Country Evening

Just as we finish scrambling along the wet shores of a makeshift lake, my phone rings. We're behind a perfectly English stone wall, sheltered from the muddy road running away from the village. Just a 9-year-old boy and myself. We've been exploring the outskirts of the village, the secret swampy places between water and meadow, for nearly an hour. At one point, after I sink in the mud, I tell my companion about the time my Dad and I donned wellies and walked the length of our local creek, following it until it met the sea. Now he's calling me, my Dad. From Buellton, the truck-stop town of grocery stores and auto-repair shops. I can't see civilization from here (maybe the gleam of a thatched roof beyond the wall) but I can talk to California. I'm watching the 9-year-old leaping over a stream in the same way I used to do while I waited for my Dad to finish his work in the garage. I'm speaking to that same Dad while I watch the 9-year-old. There's something strangely circular about this, and something dizzyingly meta. And, more simply, something rather delightful.

(Also, re: the last post, this, from Alain de Botton: "Journeys are the midwives of thought.")

Monday, March 30, 2009

Thought in Motion

I'm starting to think that I'm like one of those kinetic powered watches. Fueled by movement. When I was very small, my favorite thing to do at home was to think. For many people, thinking may be an active process only in the mind, but for me, it was (and, I'm increasingly aware, still is) a physically active process as well. At eight I traced a path around a pile of rocks outside my Grandparents' house. It was a small circuit and it might have made anyone dizzy, but maybe that was the point: in my dizziness I created stories for hours. Sometimes I bounced a ball against the side of the house--one of those red rubber balls, the ones we played four-square with in the playground at school. I was a good four-square player and bouncing the ball against the wall gave me practice as well as time to crawl inside my own self. I climbed the rocks behind the house, too. Some people might have said I was a little feral, even. I sniffed my books and sometimes, when I was out walking in circles around the pile of rocks, I took a bookmark with me to simulate the feel of words, which were so tied already to the act of reading.

Later I took longer walks in the hills. Being stationary made my mind cave in, my thoughts turn idle, as if my brain was made of syrup. I made stories up in my head and if I was feeling particularly excited about one I had to go out, I couldn't sit still, not even in a rainstorm. If I sat still the thoughts festered, but if I walked, they came easy and in great numbers. I think my breath was tied to my ideas somehow.

It became less literal over the years, as, it seems, many things do. When we're children, things manifest in concrete ways, but by the time we've reached adulthood we've found ways to complicate even something as simple as the process of thought, so that metaphor is all we have left to describe ourselves. Now what happens is that journey--going somewhere, travel--stimulates thought. Not even necessarily about the place itself, but, as with the watch, the movement of self sets something else in motion.

I'm a travel writer, in the way that travel can be taken to mean the trip from one end of the garden path to the other.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Like Being a Kid Again

We made a few sausages today. We're making more tomorrow. All I'll say for now is, PIG INTESTINES FEEL SO WEIRD. I stood there unraveling them (they're puzzles), rinsing their insides with water so that we could fill them with minced pork, and all I could think was, this is way, way better than play-dough.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fés, Summer, 2007 (A Poem in Prose)

Fés, Summer, 2007

From the bruised-sky countenance of an English summer (three hot days and a thunderstorm) we fly south; we are young.

At Bab Boujaloud, the blue-green gate, we look up, eyes hot, sweating diamonds onto a street paved with dust. Hey, Bob Dylan! Ali Baba! Nice girl! (I like being your nice girl, while you, today, are all shaggy brown hair, beard, sunglasses).

I like it when you speak French, when you say shokran, when you sit for hours, beneath a lamp, sketching its lace form, each precise indent, measuring with your eyes. You are intimate with it; I want to ask how these things are done, but the silence is all that keeps us cool.

Kif? We watch the owner of the café, carefully rolling, with stained and heavy hands, a joint. Kif? He says. Then I lose track; we swim home through Fauvist paint (even you look made of blue and green now). We follow sex with a nap, wake with eyes ringed red to dancing music. Listen to that, you say. (Perfect bliss).

In sudden palaces, children play, women scrub the smell of decay, the rot of orange blossoms from the floor. The tiles arranged with surgical symmetry (mathematics by color). We spend our days walking imperfect circles around the riads, the minarets, the medersas. We spend our nights too hot to touch.

Mornings made of honey and a single cube of sugar dissolved in the ocean of your coffee. I prefer mint, hot, sweet, so you teach me to tie a paper napkin round the glass because it was something you learned, once. I read the guidebook to you: It seems to exist suspended in time.

Even the shadows are still.