Archive for April, 2008

Reviewing

April 30, 2008

The review book stream has begun to change its course to my new city. I’m pretty sure that Bob is breathing a sigh of relief at the Berkeley side of the river–and perhaps is still a bit disbelieving that the tidal waves he’s been under really will abate before the moving van arrives there.

Since 1978, these packages have been a part of my life. I compare them to a series of blind dates: some you can’t wait to leave at the end of an excruciatingly long evening while others you’d marry without regret. The plain wrappers tell only a very little: general provenance, how long the selected delivery system took. Galley copies aren’t fancy, for the most part, so judging a book by its cover isn’t even possible. Some arrive in their party clothes–finished or nearly–while others are a sloppy bunch of photocopies bound in nothing more than a giant metal clip, or even a sagging rubber band.

In the past 30 years, I’ve lived in about a dozen houses and apartments, on both coasts, up and down the left one. There have been lean times and fat, economically and emotionally, and only a very few constants, one of which has been this stream of possibilities, books in need of introduction to likely readers.

Some of the review assignments have come with generous word allotments for my measure of the subject while others verge on haiku necessity. It’s made me feel as though I can imagine being a wine taster or a food critique–not that I have either the talent or interest for either. Art criticism, on the other hand, is so far above my head that I cannot imagine its undertaking even on the aprt of an unknown other–although I read art critics and understand how to think about and talk about their approaches, knowledge bases, sensibilities. My reading is listening, not seeing–pretty damn funny for someone who reads a lot of sequential art.

What did he say? How did she say it? Does that saying work well or just well enough or not so well? Who will care about the content? About the saying of the content? Who said it better? Who couldn’t say it as well?

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Fog comes on little cats’ feet….

April 29, 2008

It’s a fine soft day, as that Irish fella would say, but it reminds me of Nantucket, rather than the Emerald Isle (although neither makes sense here in the urban area). It’s the kind of weather that feels chill without snapping because it’s so water-logged that it moves gently, making even the most sallow of us pink cheeked.

I think the Nantucket angle is purely personal–I spent a week there once when the weather was like this every day and every night, never quite raining (except for one afternoon storm), never truly light although it was summer. Other times I’ve been there, the weather’s been a bit–only a bit–more varied, but I remember living for eight days straight in a raincoat that never got so wet that it couldn’t be put on immediately again to go out after coming in.

The difference in latitude between here and my last 20 years seems dramatic right now: it’s light so late and already so early, whereas Oakland days stretch less far at either end year round.

In the paper, there are articles about the concert happening in Coachella, where, of course, fog would be an amazing accident. Date shakes, yes, fog, no.

Perspective

April 28, 2008

Although it’s been a warm, sunny day, it’s a warm, sunny day for Nova Scotia in the spring–not a warm day by Los Angeles standards. However, the weather is accompanied by the winding down of the university year and every male between the ages of 18 and 30 seems to have moved back to knee pants and jerseys.

On the harbour coming home from work, I saw a second lighthouse south of the one I knew to be in view on George’s Island. I can’t believe I was seeing Sambro from mid-ferry ride? But then…what?

On the Halifax side of the ferry run, things are cranking up for tourist season: a refitted steamboat is pulled up at Murphy’s Wharf, Theodore Too has been turned around for easy boarding, and so on. The sidewalk extensions have been pushed out into the block of South Street just up from the Nova Scotian Hotel. And the Carleton House, where I flirted with living for about a week last September, is being gutted in order to update its interior.

The spring thaw has arrived in the world of asphalt as well, so streets are getting real patches–and curb cut placements–instead of cold patches. In short, the new lease on life has arrived.

Red tulips

April 27, 2008

This evening I caught my first seasonal view of tulips in bloom: there’s a large formal bed of short-stemmed red ones on the west side of Cornwallis Park. There were kids running and sliding in the little pocket playground as well–hatless, coatless. The weather today was warm and sunny (although I slept through much of it and so didn’t get to hike as much as I had planned).

My weekend’s largely been spent reading that wonderful motley of stuff that arrives like a series of blind dates (aka review books). I finished a humorous, if dense, tome by a Slovenian philosopher arguing for totalitarianism’s reconsideration; a truly horrid YA novel in which each of four friends is more unsympathetic than the next; and a rollicking good one that promises “drugs, sex, and rock and roll, 19th century style” and delivers.

Not too wretched for a weekend of ill health.

Cold

April 26, 2008

Neither my headcold nor my disposition was improved by a fruitless trek to a shopping mall today, all in aid of finding–somewhere, but apparently nowhere here–a garment bag, etc., with which to store my winter clothes. The shopping center is markedly better lit than Hilltop Mall, so no fear of the outing turning me into an axe murderer, but it was hardly cheerful. My fellow bus passengers were all moody and openly communicative about their sour feelings:

-A little girl kicked the bus shelter with her pink boot no matter how many times her mother–who was smoking until she squashed the cigarette against the “no smoking” sign on the shelter–ordered her to stop.

-Behind me on the eastbound bus home, one passenger was running down her resume for a second one, between complaints about doing the type of work she does. Her companion was clearly uninterested and had her own conversational gambits on offer in return, which consisted largely of speculations about the fire that had been caused by a fish tank on Spring Garden Road last week.

-A young father offered to cuff his three-year-old–who stopped whatever mischief had invited the threat–while his wife told the same child that his behaviour threatened a promised trip to the library.

And the rain spat with neither energy nor softness.

Going postal as positive

April 25, 2008

The post office here continues to floor me–simply by conducting business as though it were business. A goodly part of my shock comes from recent exposure to the particular branch of the US post office closest to my Berkeley house, where staff has taken bureaucratic inefficiency to a high art. It is truly like coming from the cave into daylight–even if the day were to be as grey as today’s.

Here, I go to the post office, ask a question–in this case about forwarding mail–and someone answers in plain language, politely, conversationally. I am given a form (rather than being directed to a rack of them) and each of its many parts is explained as to the “why” as well as the need to include or choice to omit.

Just after I return the form, one worker alerts the one helping me that he has an emergency phone call. He takes the phone but indicates to his coworker to step in and complete the transaction with me. The entire operation–including my completing all the info about from where and to where the mail is being shifted for whom and when–takes less than five minutes, during which time the postal worker helps two or three other customers as I fill out the form nearby.

I wonder if blood pressure issues are less prevalent here. This morning was the first time since my arrival that I caught myself swearing under my breath at a rude driver–both because there don’t seem to be as many and because I am more relaxed (because there are fewer?) when crossing their paths and sharing their intersections. Life is orderly without being regimented and it truly seems to affect one’s sense of well being. This one’s anyway.

Another sign of seasonal change

April 24, 2008

Most of the day was greased by a cold rain, leaden skies, and still water. I managed to be in a break between showers during my walk home and, atypically, cut up from Barrington to Argyle Street just short of Spring Garden Road. (Suffering from just a bit of a cold, I was seeking the least acute upslope between Barrington and home).

Argyle street is mostly lined with restaurants, the type doing heavy trade with tourists during warmer months. When we were here last summer, we noticed that the term “sidewalk cafe” has been reinterpretted here so that each business along that stretch could expand its dining room space to its frontage, while placing a temporary walkway into the street for pedestrians. Those walkways are now returning, as are the cables and other demarcations between restaurants along the permanent sidewalk.

These temporary walkways are different from frontage to frontage: brick-like tile, boards, other flooring material. They aren’t chintzy: their expanse into the street is almost as wide as the original sidewalk.

Another sign that winter is nearing an end–although snow is predicted for tonight.

Head cold

April 23, 2008

A slight cold has descended on me, not even a particularly uncomfortable one, but enough to make me slightly stupid and air-headed. Was that the cause of the conversation–loud–at the next table this evening sounding so vacuous?

“Remember when we were in Halifax last week?” This from someone to another someone as they both sat squarely in Halifax. “What kind of wine did we have?”

“California.”

“California wine?”

“Yeah, that was the kind it was: California.”

Well, that certainly narrows the field of possibilities.

The owl and the pigeon

April 22, 2008

Outside the waiting room windows at the Alderney Landing ferry terminal, there is a slab of concrete perched over the water, the kind of roost attractive to birds in need of rest. To cut down on the guano quotient, those “life like” plastic owls have been installed–a pair of them, full size and very predatory-appearing (to me).

Apparently, however, the effect spring has in so many young mammals may extend to warm blooded flying creatures as well. There appears to be a pigeon who has fallen in love with one of the inanimate guardians. Pigeons being pigeons, I cannot tell by its motley crue if the living bird is female or male, but whatever the gender, s/he appears to be enraptured with the northern most owl, stepping lively up to it (plastic must be an it), roosting a while in its shadow.

It’s the first in many years that my job hasn’t been directly in the line of traffic of teenagers coming and going from a neighboring school, and I realize that it’s the first in which I haven’t seen spring as it plays out in the running of the hormones on the scale that such placement offers.

Just a love sick pigeon, courting a plastic owl.

Fast talkers

April 21, 2008

Years ago, when I moved away from the East Coast, I was accused by new folks I was meeting of talking “too fast.” They were quick to blame that on my origin in New York, over-generalizing from rumors they’d heard about Manhattan (where I was not born) to the state at large (which I left when too young to talk at any speed). In college, on the West Coast, I did meet a man who truly remains the slowest talker I’ve yet met (His father was a jet pilot, a matter that fascinated me as I listened to Boyd present arguments in philosophy class that were both intricate and so slow-moving that I would catch myself napping between the beginning and the end of full sentences).

Over the years, either my own delivery has slowed or everyone around me had geared up so that I no longer gave any thought to speech speeds. Until I listen to folks in the Maritimes–or, even moreso, Canadians from further east. Not “everyone,” of course, but a goodly number can talk at a rate that nearly loses my ears and leaves me in wonder and amazement that they both can move all the mouth parts needed to produce speech with such speed AND have their content–this is in casual conversation mind you–so well sorted that they can verbalize at that pace. It’s a kind of physical and intellectual feat, all said.

It’s given me a new appreciation for listening, as well as for conversing. Like music, where too the silences are as important as the moments of pitch and tone, I am having to learn a whole new beat.