on waiting for the bus

we waited 20 minutes -- and this wasn't actually our bus. I was too excited when our bus arrived to take its picture.

I’ve spent roughly 620 hours of my life waiting for buses, and at least 375 of those hours involved waiting for the number 51 bus in Berkeley, CA.  I took that bus all through grad school and law school at Cal — the stop is right across the street from a fraternity, which provided either an entertaining way to while away time while waiting for the 51, or excrutiating, depending on the day of the week, the level of drunkenness at the frat, and how late the bus was running that particular day.  I’ll let you guess how many hours fell into each category.

One clue:  I’ve never longed for the time when I could go back to using the bus for all my transportation needs.

It turns out I’ve become less impatient, and apparently I’ve seen so much public drunkenness that I don’t even notice it anymore.  As a result, when we were in Seattle, and had all the time in the world, waiting for the bus that took us from downtown Seattle to the Fauntleroy ferry terminal was not a problem.  In fact, because it was the day of the gay pride parade, it was pretty entertaining.  Although really, I think the S&M contingent could have toned it down some.  The guy with the multi-color painted penis?  Needed to stay home.  Ditto the ladies with the targets painted on their breasts.  After William and I walked away from that, and I said I didn’t think I’d be able to scrub those images out of my head, he advised me to think about ballerinas.  Apparently, it works every time.

We waited a long time for that bus.  And even though I’ve become mellower about waiting, I still love that moment when the bus comes into view.

Dispatch From The Happiest Place on Earth

Before you check into the Disneyland Hotel, they send you a little informational packet that tells you, among other things, that you should not under any circumstances bring the ashes of your loved one to the Happiest Place on Earth. Ditto firearms, and costumes on those over the age of 10. So, if you feel the urge to scatter the ashes of your beloved off the side of the Matterhorn while you, dressed as a cowgirl, shoot twenty-one rounds from your rifle, this is not the place.

Don’t say I’m not good value in the travel tip department here at BlogLily.

Otherwise, Disneyland’s a pretty good venue for your tenth birthday if you, like William, enjoy half a dozen not too scary rides, a half hour spent exploring Tom Sawyer’s island, a cheeseburger and fries, the chance to watch a little television in your hotel room and then a trip to the movies in Downtown Disneyland, a place that really does exist.

The thing I love about William, by the way, is that he’s not really put off by the immensity of this place. It’s true that you could spend a lifetime here going on all the rides, and watching all the shows, and seeing the fireworks from the perfect spot — and some people (the ones in the lanyards with all the pins, wearing the mouse ears and wishing they’d change that rule about having your ashes scattered near the It’s a Small World Ride), apparently do. But when 3:00 comes around, and it is clearly a blazing 107 degrees out, well, why trudge around trying to see a performance of songs from High School Musical when you could go to your room and drink some ice water, eat grapes, and watch tv?

I learn things all the time, you know. No ashes at Disneyland. No Disneyland after 3:00 p.m.

Hope your summer’s winding down with one or two small learning experiences. xo

PS: I was so sorry to hear about Ted Kennedy’s death. A few years ago, I wrote about his concession speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. It’s here.

Moving To Guilford

 

I’d like you to be the first to know that I’m going to move my family to Guilford, Connecticut, preferable to a house that’s right on the Green, and across the street from the Guilford Free Library, which is where I am at this exact moment.

The only trouble is that I can’t actually move, having a job I like in San Francisco, and a husband with a job HE likes in the Bay Area, and three children in schools they like in Berkeley and a dog, well, the dog could move to Guilford. Maybe. The thing is, though, he has a friend in the neighborhood, a sporty dog named Dash, who can actually play with Archie without giving in to him or getting into a big embarrassing dog fight. Archie would probably want to stay in Berkeley too, I‘m thinking.

What this is, of course, is what always happens when I travel to see friends. When I do that, I always discover thatI want to live in the places where they live. Although this isn’t possible, it is possible to list the reasons, which is what I’m going to do.

Why I Want to Live in Guilford:

If I lived in Guilford, I could be near my friend Debbie. And then I could watch her talk about her books with her beautiful long fingers making motions in the air to describe what she’s talking about and every once in a while I could even look into her office and see the drawings on her drawing table and know that here, where Debbie lives and works, wonderful books are being written for children, books that will entertain them, make them think, and make them love books even more than they already do.

If I lived in Guilford, I could be near Sandi Shelton. And then I could go for a walk with her on the beach at Hammonasset and she’d give me advice about my next book that would not only be correct but would also be inspiring. Plus, I would laugh a lot and so live a really long time, so I could take full advantage of her good advice. Also, I could watch her type, which is what I’m doing at this exact moment, and because she types fast, I’d always feel like things were good, because Sandi’s typing someone a really great,  long, funny and inspiring e-mail.

If I lived in Guilford, when spring came, I’d be so incredibly grateful that I wouldn’t quite know what to do with myself. Because after months of winter and then months of mud, flowers and green things would really mean something. I say this now, just as spring is about to arrive in Connecticut. What would it be like to actually live through these New England winters? I’m really not sure. Maybe it would be hard.

If I lived in Guilford, I could come to the Guilford Free Library, where there are just an amazing, amazing number of tables with plugs and lights and surface space. Not to mention, carrels, and little offices, and even, in the teen section, two of the kind of booths you see mostly a soda shops in tv sit-coms. Across from the booths in the teen section there’s a bunch of board games. Who ARE these people in Guilford who love library patrons so much that they even have a little table in the children’s library with a tea maker and coffee maker and an honor box where you can put in your dollar after you make yourself a cup of tea? If you were a tired parent, and it was the middle of deepest darkest winter, well, you could come here with your child and you could drink some tea and read a book because the children’s section has books for miles, plus a little yellow house where a child can sit and play for hours and hours.

If I lived in Guilford, I could walk the mile and a half down to the shore and then back again — the perfect three mile walk. I could do it every day, all year long, because that is what Gortex is invented for and so even if it was cold or icy, there are winter clothes that would make this intrepid behavior possible.

And if I lived in Guilford, my family would be wth me, and they’d be doing all these things too (well, maybe not the part about writing in the Free Library, although William might find that pretty tempting), plus W, who is a windsurfer, could windsurf out on the Long Island Sound, which is where he learned to windsurf in the first place.

I am leaving in two days, and I know I am not going to be able to move to Guilford. But I am at least able to be happy for Sandi and Debbie, and all the other people who live around here, because even though you can’t always live where your friends live, at least you can know after a good long visit that they are, in fact, living happy lives, which is pretty much why you travel to see your friends: because you need to know that they’re happy, and you need to live alongside them for a little while so when you go home their lives will feel just that much closer next time you find yourself missing them. So, I now have a good picture of the library and the Green and the way winter becomes spring, which should sustain me when I get back to Berkeley, which is a pretty fine place to live too, now that I think about it.

In Transit

On my way to the Oakland Airport this morning (I’m going to Connecticut), we were passed by — and then stopped entirely for — the longest funeral procession I’ve ever seen.  Mostly, the procession was made up of police cars.  But there were plenty of motorcycle cops, and firefighters and ambulance drivers, and park rangers, and anyone else who does a job where they protect people from harm.  All of them were on their way to the Oakland Coliseum, which is one exit before the airport.  Today’s the day for the funeral of the four police officers who were killed last week after a routine traffic stop went wrong.  

Being a cop is a dangerous job.   Mostly, I don’t think about that.  My general experience with the police as a citizen is to  feel mad about the ticket I just got for turning left when I wasn’t supposed to, or to feel grateful that someone’s directing traffic.  

But there are ways in which the police let us down and these disappointments are what you often see when you encounter the police in the media — police officers who extract confessions through coercion, hide evidence or manufacture it, use physical violence out of frustration or take bribes.  

This morning, I just thought about how brave you have to be to pull somebody over, and how much more courage it probably will take in the weeks to come to do that.  And I also hoped that the men and women going to that funeral will remember that young black men aren’t the enemy and that even when you’re afraid, you still have to do the right thing by everyone in the community you serve.  And I hoped that the young black men in the community will remember that the police aren’t their enemy and that many of them, particularly in Oakland, are not so different from they.  This is what courage looks like today:  seeing each other more clearly, and realizing that we are more alike than we are different.

Skinny Dip

 

 

I can’t think of a better book than Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip to read on vacation.  I remember seeing this reviewed in the New York Times a few years ago and then I forgot all about it, until I found it sitting, absolutely free for the taking, on the bookshelf in the hotel where we’re staying.  

The trouble with vacation books is that they’re often so poorly written or constructed that it’s impossible to enjoy them. This one isn’t like that.  It’s an amusing, beautifully put together story of a woman whose husband tries to kill her while they’re on a cruise off the coast of Florida.  He’s too much of a doofus to get it right, which is good, because the rest of the book is concerned with the revenge she wreaks on him, revenge that is both funny and breathtakingly appropriate.  Let’s just say this:  if the person you want to get revenge on is someone who lives and dies by his reproductive organ, then the best revenge is to make it increasingly difficult for that organ to function properly.  Now, this could be incredibly un-funny, but Hiaasen doesn’t make a single misstep.  He manages to find redemption for a character who seems impossible to rescue, the bad are punished appropriately, the good get the things they need.  Along the way, there are pythons, and deeply tanned former police officers, and police officers from the midwest, and alligator road kill, and a whole host of Everglades descriptions, some of which make you want to weep when you see the stupidity of the people who participated in the despoilation of this part of Florida.

And now, I’m on to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which is proving to be wonderful, but in a different way and Nothing is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn, which is equally wonderful, but also in a different way.

The Paradise Cafe

 

Here at the Paradise Cafe in Baja, where we have been coming for smoothies and wireless internet for the last four days since we arrived, the two nods to Christmas are (a) a small sign on the door announcing that you can buy mistletoe on the 23rd (oops, we missed it) and kiss your sweetie (still time for that), and (b) … I guess there is no (b).  No Christmas carols, no santas, not a lot of stuff in the stores, not a lot of decorations.  It’s lovely — like being on a very healthy eating plan.  The absence of Christmas blare is amazing.  It’s very good for children.  We had a small present-opening morning on Thursday and then they all left to do things that were more fun than help their parents pack their car to drive down to Mexico.  (Charlie went to school — because it’s a party day.   Jack and William sang at a holiday party in Sacramento, where Arnold Schwarzenegger handed out hannukah gelt in a slightly grumpy way, which I liked hearing about.  He’s also not as tall as they thought.)  

We drove down last Friday morning, stopping in San Diego for a party and then after a huge, increasingly insane drive down the Baja peninsula that lasted 23 hours (note to ourselves:  don’t ever do that again), we arrived at Los Barrilles where, basically, there’s not a lot to do besides kiss under the mistletoe, and eat fish.  

It’s a nice little town.  People come down here to fish and windsurf.  Baja midnight occurs at about 10 p.m.  It took me three days to stop making lists.  

I hope you’ve stopped making lists too, and are about to settle into a beautiful holiday — no matter where you are, the whole paradise thing is, without a doubt, inside.

A Week at the Lazy S

We’ve been staying at the Lazy S Lodge, in South Lake Tahoe this week. It’s been perfect for all of us — we all love Tahoe, although for different reasons. My husband went to high school up here, and ski raced in the winter and worked at a boat rental place in the summer. This is his home, in a way, and he is perfectly at ease with things I find utterly foreign, like jumping off cliffs into icy cold water. I think it’s just the best thing for him, to spend a week here with his three boys, initiating them into that kind of thing. We’re leaving later today.

Right now, they are all out on the boat — William’s driving it, something he cannot actually believe he gets to do, given how much noise it makes and how satisfyingly fast it goes. Jack and Charlie are doing all the things you can do behind a boat driven by your younger brother, all of which are pretty fun for them, because they involve going really fast and occasionally falling off into the icy cold lake. It astonishes me that anyone would like that, but it’s absolutely clear that they do.

Me? Well, I like the way the wind sounds in the aspens when you hike up a trail, and I do like how cool it is at night, even after a very hot day. I love it that it’s fine for me to be alone sometimes when they jump off cliffs are go out on the Lake. The boys? I think they love it all — the cliffs, the lake, the boat, even the hiking. They’ve also really been into watching the Olympics (we are big fans of beach volleyball, and all of us agree that maybe they didn’t need to show quite so many diving events).

Last night, at William’s suggestion, we playing miniature golf at Magic Carpet Golf.  We each competed on behalf of a country. W was Senegal, in honor of our wonderful Senagalese friends, Jack was China, because he was pretty sure that’d secure him the gold, Charlie was France, and conducted himself in the cheesiest French accent since Steve Martin was Inspector Clouseau, William was the United States, for obvious reasons. Me? I was Canada. I didn’t expect to win, but I was pretty sure I wouldn’t embarrass myself. I did win, in fact, hitting two miraculous holes in one, which shocked everyone, including me. It’s always like that when Canada wins, isn’t it?

Heart the Capitalist Machine

You never know, when you move to a city, what it is about it you’ll fall in love with. I moved to Berkeley in 1982 because I wanted to go to graduate school at the university. I didn’t know it would smell so good because of a combination of star jasmine and eucalyptus, or that the fall would be hot and beautiful and seem to last forever and that summer would be a so-so season of fog so heavy you think it’s raining. Nor did I have even the slightest inkling that this is a place where people have strong opinions about food.

The other thing I didn’t know is that the kids who work in places like the Star Grocery, which is a few blocks from my house, would have strong opinions about pie crust, and pie crust makers. One thing I should have guessed is that Nick, the guy who owns the Star, would be totally fine about little expressions of disgust with the world as it is, which is to say the world outside Berkeley.

I Love the Farmer’s Market

The Civic Center Farmer’s Market (Wednesdays and Sundays) is one of my favorite things about working where I do. There’s no avoiding it (although who would want to?) because it’s right outside the entrance to the BART station. Just as there’s no avoiding the fact that it really, truly, finally is spring. Peaches are here! And how about that use of the word “rich”? 

It has indeed been a rich May around here.  When you look up from the peaches you can see the State Building, which is where I work, adjacent to San Francisco’s golden domed City Hall and the Asian Art Museum, which represents THE finest example of how to turn a grand library into a really beautiful museum.  One floor above the court where I work is the California Supreme Court, and haven’t THEY made this a richly happy month? 

If you happen to be visiting San Francisco on a Wednesday in the spring, all you have to do to check out these many riches is hop on BART and get off  at the Civic Center stop.  Buy some fruit, and maybe a tamale.  Go into the Asian Art Museum, which is ahead of you and on the right.  If you can’t afford to pay the entrance fee, you can ask for the red chopsticks pass, which gets you into the cafe, where you can have a cup of tea and sit on the lovely veranda overlooking the farmer’s market.  And you can still see the beautiful job they’ve done converting the library into a marvelous museum space. 

Don’t forget to visit City Hall – and the Main Library, which is across from the Asian Art Museum.  There’s cheap food to be had down Polk Street, which is officially “Little Vietnam.”  And in another three weeks or so, the Supreme Court’s marriage decision will be final, and they will begin to marry people at City Hall.  You can sit in the grass and congratulate people, while you’re eating your tamales, or your fruit, or your vietnamese food. 

Some people find this extraordinarily rich neighborhood a little scary.  The tenderloin is home to a lot of people who are right on the edge of being okay — and many people who’ve fallen off the edge.  And no, they’re not always pleasant.  But they’re part of who we are, and there’s no denying their existence around here, and that is as it should be, I think. 

The Whole Thing Rated Pretty High on the Cactus Scale

We gave out a lot of cacti on our southwest road trip because we saw a lot of stuff we liked.  Here are our ratings on the 1-10 cactus scale, in case you’re interested:

Really Big Saguaro at a Park Outside Tucson dedicated to them: 8 cacti.

This relatively low rating is because it was hot. It was the beginning of our trip. We ate lunch, realized that cacti can be very big and moved on. The best thing here? We bought awesome sun hats.

Silver City, New Mexico: 8 cacti

We arrived the day before Easter. Unfortunately, Silver City was pretty much closed, except for the Buffalo Bar, which was so noisy you could hear it from down the street. Still, we liked the look of Silver City, which seemed very alternative, funky and fun.

Silver City Holiday Inn Express: 6 cacti

[no picture -- you can probably imagine the Silver City Holiday Inn Express, though.  It was the same as a million other such hotels.  But just in case you want a visual, here is a link.]

Lovely people. Really helpful. But we slept in one room with two queen sized beds, all in a row, like the three little bears, except there were five of us and it was just too weird, hearing everyone’s sleep noises at such close quarters. Still, the hotel was littered with easter baskets full of candy. What’s not to like about that?

Gila Cliff Dwellings: 9 cacti. Some gave it an 8 because of the windy drive that made them sick.

We did learn that these might not have actually been “dwellings.” Apparently, there is some dispute about what people did here. Our guide firmly believed they were used for big parties of a religious nature. Okay. I’ll go with that.

Las Crucas, New Mexico, Staybridge Inn and Suites: 10 cacti. Awesome hotel. Two room suite. Very inexpensive. Nice pool. What more can you ask from a hotel that has a view of the freeway? 

White Sands: 10 cacti. Off the charts.

Jumping off white sand cliffs, sliding down white sand cliffs, hiking through white sand cliffs. The whole thing: totally great. Beautiful.

Roadtrip…….. along the Rio Grande, with a stop to look at wildlife: 10.

Driving five hours, with a stop for the 7th best hamburger in the United States (according to GQ Magazine, and wow, shouldn’t THEY know?), and gas, and a quick look around a wildlife refuge where we saw frogs, coots, ducks, and some turtles sunning themselves, we saw the landscape change from a rocky barren, desert-like land to the red mesas and cliffs with snow covered mountains in the distance that are more typically southwestern.

Long drives and children ordinarily don’t mix. But we listened to a great book on tape — Redwall – and the time flew. The adults found the landscape very beautiful, because they did a lot of looking out the window. The children might not actually have noticed the landscape out the window because they were inside the abbey at Redwall, fighting against Cluny (whose name I don’t know how to spell because it was a book on tape), the rat with the accent that might have been slavic and might have been French but was definitely nasty.  The Rio Grande valley is lovely.  So is the English/Redwall countryside.

Sante Fe: 10 cacti. Or 9 cacti, depending on whether you think we are too freely handing out the cacti. 

We walked around. We looked at jewelry. We saw a vigil and hunger strike that seemed to be about Tibet. In the morning, the hunger strikers were gone. We decided maybe they’d gotten . . . hungry. Lovely town, but we did notice a lot of apparently unemployed men hanging out in the plaza, and many disaffected teenagers lounging around too. Also, our hotel, which was swankier than any other we stayed in, didn’t have any water due to some weird pipe failure problem that lasted an entire day. Not a single person 12 years old and younger really minded. One of the adults took a shower at the public pool (cost for entrance: $1.80.)

Santa Fe Skate Shop: 10 cacti.

The apex of the trip for the guys. A very cool older guy showed them a video of, essentially, insane skateboarders doing dangerous things. A few t-shirts, stickers and a hoodie later, all were incredibly happy.

On the Road

Tonight, I’m flying to Tucson. It’s spring break, and the boys and I are going on a road trip with some friends.

I’ve never been to the southwest, except with Willa Cather, via Death Comes For the Archbishop.

The itinerary involves landing in Tucson, then driving to Santa Fe. Along the way, we’re going to stop at a place called White Sands where, apparently, you can surf. Ha. We’ll see. On Easter, we’ll be going somewhere sacred. Maybe we’ll even get there early in the morning which is the best time to be anywhere on Easter.

Along the way there will be road food and the kind of hotels with buffet breakfasts and a pool.

Maybe the best time to think about change is when you’re on the road, driving to places you’ve never been. I’m bringing my computer and my camera, so I’ll let you know how the trip goes and how change looks from somewhere other than where I live now.

For now, I’m packed — flip flops are the order of the day.  (Except for hiking up to cave dwellings.  That requires something more serious.)

Snowy Sunday

Wireless internet access at the ski area where your cell phone doesn’t even work? Tables next to actual working outlets? Tea that’s not $5 a cup like it is at most ski areas? I have died and gone to ski mother heaven. (Or is that the mother of all ski heavens?) I don’t know. But I am truly in heaven.

Okay, there’s a huge blizzard going on, and Charlie is all set to race in it. Jack and William are out there too, on chair seven, stalking the race. Each of them is gaining character in that way that only skiing in a blizzard can confer on a child with some nordic blood in him or her.

I am a bad example, I know, but I like to think that I am working, so I am a different kind of example. Except I’m having too much fun being gleeful about the wireless internet access to be an example of really diligent hard work, which is supposed to, you know, hurt. I am thrilled about Dodge Ridge. First, good name, don’t you think? Very western, very sierra-like. It’s a little bit of a secret place (and now that news of the free wireless gets out, I’m screwed getting a table), not being up at Lake Tahoe but, instead, more near Yosemite and the gold country, named because, you guessed it, this is where they found gold in the hills in 1849, thus creating California, land of the new age, Disneyland, movies, and fog over the Golden Gate Bridge. Dodge Ridge is about forty-five minutes from Sonora, the town where my mother grew up.

My wonderful cousin has a little house in Sonora that she lets us use. It’s completely uninsulated — we like to think of it as a miner’s shack — and we love it, and we really, really love my cousin for being so generous about lending it to us. It takes about two hours on a Friday to drive up here from the bay area. Sonora’s below the snow line, so you don’t have to crawl along through the snow the way the poor people who’re going to Tahoe have to do. We get there Friday night. Sleep in the miner’s shack. In the morning, my husband, nordic god that he is, gets up, makes coffee, and performs somehow the miraculous feat of getting four sleepy, not quite so nordic people, in the car for the drive up to Dodge Ridge. It is a military campaign-like affair. Mandatory bag checks (do you have your mittens, William?), for example.

My only job is, as Jack put it a few weeks ago, to make the whole thing more comfy and more tasty. That, dear reader I can do. Instead of character-enhancing sleeping bags, they now slumber in comforters with flannel covers. I make black bean soup and bring it up. I fasten helmets so they don’t cut off the flow of blood to the head. I encourage people not to lie down in the snow (that will make you wet, darling). I feel I have a function, small though it is.

And now I have wireless internet access. I am THE luckiest woman in the world, even if nobody in the publishing world cares that they could get in touch with me today, Superbowl Sunday, up in the Sierra if they wanted to. (What, you’re not working today?) Right now, I don’t really care either.

(I would also like to say that I am aware that this post doesn’t have a single paragraph break in it. That was not my intention. But, apparently, paragraphs have been banned on wordpress. Maybe they were being misused. Overused, even. Whatever the reason, try to take a breath while you’re reading this post. And wish me luck in having my license to paragraph at will reinstated. ( *Woot.   Paragraphs are back.  Never mind that I didn’t actually want to download another browser and stop using the perfectly good one that came with my mac.  But there you have it.  If you use safari and blog on wordpress you have to be okay about paragraph-less writing, which is sort of the equivalent of talking until you’re blue in the face.) 

Good Heavens

My wordpress dashboard has a place where you can save up your draft posts for a rainy day like today — and I just noticed that I have sixty four such drafts, which I find astonishing, because I can’t remember writing any of them. On closer examination I realize that the reason I can’t remember writing them is because, well, I didn’t. I just made up names for posts and then went away.

I see that recently, I was going to give you something called “All Good Things Come in Threes” (what good things might those be? I’m guessing food) and something else called “Hot Kitchen Tips!” (wash berries by tipping them into a bowl of water and then swishing them around?) and another called “Marie Antoinette goes to Versailles.”

That one I remember in some detail: I believe it was going to be a travel recommendation to those who go to Versailles. My suggestion, as I recall, is that you skip the interior of the place, particularly if you are there with children, because the lavish interiors of all such places all look precisely the same: lavish. And that can bring on the kind of boredom that makes children want to break through the velvet ropes and push the spindly little chairs over. Instead, and particularly if you are there in the summer, you should head straight out to the nice cafe by the lake, the one that I think is probably named after Marie Antoinette. There, you should eat ice cream and admire the chateau from the appropriate distance, as I am sure Marie Antoinette probably did in her time. And then you should stop at the gift shop, buy a nice ruler with a picture of the chateau on it, or a pencil with the same, and go back to Paris, without a moment’s guilt about skipping the whole interior.

It is, alas, not summer here in Berkeley. It is cold, and it has been raining for what feels like my entire life. It isn’t the same as London cold and rain, because things are blooming here, spring being programmed to begin on February 1st in Northern California no matter what. The magnolia tree in our front yard is sporting fat, wet blossoms, but no greenery, and the princess plant resists any suggestion that spring might not actually be here, even though it too is wet and windblown. Still, good for them for insisting that what they expect should happen, will in fact occur.

Me, I’m inside, doing a task that I’m finding surprisingly fun, although I’m not so sure if it’s a good idea to expect anything to come of it. I might have mentioned that I sent off two of my stories to a lot of journals, and am bracing myself for the inevitable flood of rejections. That not being enough, however, I’m also putting together a package to send to agents, including an agent the nice people at that prize contest I entered suggested I speak to. I figure if I’m going to contact one person with a query letter I’ve sweated blood to create, I might as well contact another dozen or so with the same letter.

Looking for an agent is a little like internet shopping at an upscale website when you’re totally broke. You want everything, and you know that isn’t likely to happen. Still, a rainy day like today needs a little of that kind of fantasy. And if you, like me, happen to be looking for an agent for your fabulous book, this website has a really, really good list of them. Just don’t query anyone I like with your cold war mystery, the one that’s set in Bavaria in 1969, okay? Those agents are mine!

3-D Blogging

We tell our children they should never, ever agree to meet or provide personal details to the people they encounter on the internet — after all, that 12 year old they’ve met playing on the penguin website is most likely to be be an unshaven, unsavory thirty year old weirdo. And do not get me started on facebook. We all know that no one on social networking websites is actually in high school. They are all bored workers at law firms and investment banks, having fun for the first time in their lives pretending to be people they weren’t ten or fifteen years ago. Or worse.

And so I am a little nervous about admitting that the three bloggers I met in London were astonishingly normal, for fear that might make my children think it’s okay for them to have coffee with unsavory weirdos. Come to think of it, these three bloggers weren’t actually normal. They were more than normal — hospitable, kind, welcoming, funny, smart and (yes, I know you want to know), really good looking.

I met Ingrid, from The Girl in the Cafe first. This is only appropriate, because what made me love Ingrid’s blog so much is that she writes so beautifully about London, a city she moved to several years ago from Copenhagen so she could pursue her dream of making and writing films. I didn’t actually spot her for a while after I walked into the cafe near Piccadilly Circus, because she had her head down, marking up her film script with a very cool pink marker. Ingrid loves romantic comedies, and she is writing a marvelous script in that genre. Because I’ve been so immersed in Shakespearean comedy, which shares a lot with romantic comedy, it was really, really fun to have her tell me the story of her movie. And then we went to see Steve Carrell in Dan in Real Life, which was very funny. I left the cinema seeing Ingrid and her blog in an entirely different way. It was as though she’d popped out of the monitor and become even more real. Now I can hear her voice when I read her blog and imagine her in her seat at the cafe near the cinema.

A few days later, after an abortive attempt to make it to Cambridge to see litlove (who knew that a single tree could disrupt service between two cities so completely?), I had lunch with Michael, who describes himself as an unrelaxed dad but, in fact, is anything but. Michael works by the British Museum, so I met him there, and we had a lovely lunch of Korean food, which really took the edge off all the hummus and apples I’d been sustaining myself with. Michael and his wife have just doubled the number of children in their house, adding a daughter in the last month or so. He looked remarkably fresh for a man who’s got that much going on. His blog too seems different somehow after meeting him. It’s still the same interesting and thoughtful place but it seems to have a sort of accent and background it didn’t have before.

And then, on Thursday, the day before I left London, they got that tree off the line and I managed to get myself to Cambridge. Here I met not only the lovely litlove, whom I’ve been reading since she and I began blogging at almost the same time, but her husband who is, oddly enough, a British version of my own husband — tall, blond engineers both, guys who will go out to the store and get the stuff you need to have lunch with your friend, and then take your friend on a little tour of Cambridge that includes the best place to buy sweatshirts without a single sigh or a bit of impatience. I don’t know where these men come from, but am amazed that there is actually more than one in the world. (Actually, to be fair, litlove’s husband is his own very unique person — down to his nice sense of humor and his love of being on the water rowing — but there is something about his tolerance and patience that reminded me so much of my own husband, perhaps because I have been feeling so grateful to him for taking on the herculean task of caring for our three boys while I was out having tea and soup and going to the theater.)

There is, of course, only one litlove, and she was just so much fun to spend the afternoon with. I had seen her picture, so knew what she looked like, but it’s really not the same as meeting someone and sitting around in their rooms and eating the yummy soup they’ve whipped up for you. Her blog gives you the impression of an enormous amount of intellectual energy, and so does she, of course. But what I didn’t realize is how extremely good she is, a person without any malice or edge or regret. It’s hard to describe this really, but I left thinking that both litlove and her husband approach life with the openness, curiosity and fearlessness that comes from knowing that there is only one such life and it is full of good and interesting things.

That, in fact, is what I thought about most on the airplane home (well, that and why it is that they FEED you so much on airplanes). That there’s really no time for regret or anxiety because there’s just too much to see and do. So I leave you with one of my favorite London views, something I was so struck by every time I walked past it on my way to Paddington Station. My brother’s apartment is close to the Paddington Basin, which is an arresting place: a combination of the 21st century, with lots of steel and glass, and a different time, best represented by the Westminster Fishing Club, whose pink door looks toward the enormous Marks & Spencer headquarters building and serves as a reminder that cities, like people (and like bloggers) are made up of many layers and if we are lucky, we will get to see as many dimensions of them as we can while we are still here.

Westminster Fishing Club

And Then the Lighting of the Lamps

Lighting of the LampsLondon in the winter is a place that’s perpetually darkening — the clouds always seem to be moving in and evening comes surprisingly early, especially if you, like me, are sleeping in a different time zone and find it difficult to wake up before lunchtime.

Yesterday though was a breathtakingly clear, silvery winter day. After lunch (with the very, very nice U-Dad, with whom I ate something far better than hummus and apples), I walked home through Green Park and then through Regent’s Park, and as I walked I could see it becoming evening all around me. It was extraordinarily beautiful, and I was not at all sad to see the day end so early. Well, a bit sad — which is how I feel about having to go home tomorrow.

Tonight (after a really fun trip to Cambridge to see litlove — about which I have much more to say in my next post!) I saw the most amazing production of Much Ado About Nothing at the National Theatre. Much Ado is a comedy that’s perpetually darkening — the witty banter of Beatrice and Benedick, for example, is shadowed by Claudio’s brutal accusation of Hero’s infidelity just as he and Hero reach the altar. Beatrice and Benedick are the only middle-aged lovers in all the comedies (there is a strong suggestion that they have loved each other before, and that Benedick dumped Beatrice, so having a history together is what makes most directors cast them as middle aged.) And so love for them is a little more rueful than it is for younger lovers, although still giddy enough for this to be a satisfying comedy, and to keep the darkness at bay.

What struck me most tonight (aside from the wonderful performances, the great staging and the really terrific music and dance) is that very little separates Much Ado from Romeo and Juliet — they share, for example, a friar who has the bright idea of suggesting to a young woman in love that her troubles will all be cleared up if she’ll just pretend to be dead for a while. Now why didn’t I think of that when I was in my twenties? In one play she comes to life to reunite with her lover and in the other… well, not so good. There is also a challenge to a duel, one avoided in Much Ado and one unavoidable in Romeo and Juliet. Much Ado ends with marriage; Romeo and Juliet ends with death. But very little more than chance and luck seems to separate the lovers in the comedy from the lovers in the tragedy. Maybe that is the point, in fact.

And so to bed, after one last cup of tea and a little bit of packing.