31 December 2010

2010 was the year

The lakes froze solid in Copenhagen, and you didn't have to be on the bridge to walk across. There were couches, ice skaters, and dog-walkers out there through the winter months.

I went to Berlin, where I was linguistically bewildered and ideologically pleased.

I rode my bike everywhere.

I visited one of the oldest forests in Denmark to celebrate spring with dear Liv, Rune, Indigo, and Oumer.

Principles of Danish design became an essential part of my life.

I lived in Tietgenkollegiet.

I visited Laura in Switzerland, where I got an idea of how entertaining should go down.

After aperitivo comes dinner; after dinner comes coffee. Just a little one! And a little chocolate.

I realized I need to learn Italian. Dona a noi la pace (give us peace, if I'm not mistaken)...

Back in Copenhagen, spring was chilly but pleasant.

Esther and I found a favorite café.

I went to Bornholm, a Danish island in the Baltic Sea just south of Sweden, with Dice. If I were ever to live in Denmark again, I would move to Bornholm.

And I celebrated graduations and summer with extended family in Sweden. There is nothing like the warmth of early summer in the North.

I spent the summer at my parents' house in golden California.

I turned twenty-one, went to my first-ever baseball game (where the Oakland A's beat the Anahemi Angels fifteen to one), and had my first legal beer. And a margarita.

My dear friend Catherine lived with me for the summer. We went to Santa Cruz and the beach

and to Big Sur. Hell yeah!

Becky and I reunited - thank goodness - before she relocated to Portland.

I took too many planes

and spent a couple of weeks indulging in Costa Rica.

No matter how I tried, I could not get enough sun. Sun, sun, sun - I needed all I could get to compensate for the Vitamin D deficiency I returned from Denmark with.

I tasted a fine convergence of soil, sun, vines, and vintner at Castoro Cellars.

I moved back to Santa Cruz, where I continued being trailer trash

and met some kickass women (and some cool guys, too).

I let myself wander

and had quality time with my girls.

So much more than this happened - these are just a handful of photos that mark my Year of Decision.  2010 was a year of transition: I spent half of it on one continent and the other half on another. I'm happy I have all these (and many more) beautiful humans to share my life with. I'm happy that I have this beautiful life to share with all these humans. Let the hootenanny go on. Tonight, I will toast to letting go. Huzzah!

29 December 2010

intimate words from familiar strangers

"Sky-scraper used to mean the tallest mast of a sailing ship. The ships have left, but unwittingly we still refer to them when we name what we see."
-Eileen Myles, "About Martha Diamond" in The Importance of Being Iceland


"Being loved by the world is no substitute for having been loved by one person when you were small, and besides the world is a lousy lover."
-Erica Jong, Fear of Flying


"People are moving to California
who hate the beach and things
I think they'd rather watch t.v.
than hear a real person sing
course nowadays at parties
you got louder stereo equipment
so now if the party's too loud
it's like a radioactive shipment"
-Jonathan Richman, "Parties in the U.S.A."

23 December 2010

'tis the season

It seems counterintuitive that the part of the year that was most difficult for me - mentally but also physically - would trigger such heavy nostalgia and even homesickness. Last December, I was sick, cold, tired, light- and Vitamin D-deprived, and generally not quite where I needed to be, physically or metaphysically. I was having lots of fun: I was in Copenhagen for COP15; I was going on lots adventures with friends new and old; I was trying new things like ris a la mande (the Danish interpretation of rice pudding) and liver pate with bacon and mushrooms (a traditional dish). Winter, nonetheless, was difficult for me. Perhaps it always has been and I had never really noticed before.

In coastal California, our seasons are subtle. All week we have had pounding rains. The road my parents live on has been closed and my neighbors' driveway washed out. Today, however, it was clear and windy, and I went on an exquisite puddle-skipping run in the sunshine. I'm really glad that I don't live in Minnesota (although I am formulating plans to visit Catherine there; I want to see where she comes from. I can only imagine the corn fields and forests) or Iowa or even New York City. The lack of light during these unusual storms that are blessing California - and filling, finally, our groundwater reserves - is proving tough enough to endure; I stare at the sky at every chance I get during daylight.

At the end of last December, I was worn out and ready to go home. A good friend was visiting me from California; together, we went to my Swedish host family's house to celebrate Christmas. They live on a farm outside of a little town in the south-western Swedish countryside. Actually, I imagine that Iowa is somewhat like where they live. Flat, with big fields of wheat. In Västra Götaland, though, there are all these low mounds of rock that they call mountains covered in evergreen trees and blueberry bushes. I don't think blueberries grow in the Midwest, but correct me if I am wrong. At the Andersson's, it was warm, cozy, and festive. We decorated the tree and ate clementines and chocolates and pepparkakor med ädelost - gingerbread cookies with gorgonzola-type cheese in a tube.

It is from Sweden that my practice of eating Christmas cookies with cheese comes. Today it was a chocolate-topped, be-sprinkled sugar cookie with blueberry-vanilla goat cheese. Hardly gingerbread and gorgonzola, but I could make that happen, too.

It makes sense to be in Scandinavia during winter. The darkness and bitterness feel good when you are wrapped in a down quilt and basking in the glow of candles and even a glowing television. The limited light is soft on your soul, and you know that the dark is okay. Solstice has passed and the days are, after all, getting longer. They are, most likely, icy, painful days - especially last year and even more so this year - but when the sun is bright, it is oh, so, so bright.

So I miss Sweden. I miss the traditions and the trains and the people and the ways things are done. I miss public restrooms where they have full-length doors instead of stalls and fika (the social institution of a coffee break) and my host grandpa's stories. I miss the canals of Copenhagen, my flatmates, my friends and their ancient apartments and modern kitchen accouterments, and never having to speak English. But the extremes of Scandinavia did send me running back to California.

I am longing after Scandinavia, but I don't want to not be here. (I don't want not to be here? How much does word order matter when it comes to meaning?) I guess I am content to pull from my memory box and filter my internal nostalgia channel. It seems like I will never run out of people, places, and things to be nostaligic about. (It seems like there should be a verb for that - 'nostalgize', perhaps). Geneviève, for example, is in Iceland. I wonder what her life is like. Listening to Regina Spektor brings to mind Peter from Belgium who I met at a hostel in San Sebastián and how we just missed going to the Guggenheim in Bilbao together. Seeing the moon rising over the ridge to my east delights me; I wish I could preserve this moment and the countless others that are just as precious. If I tried to capture them all - as for a time I did - I would go insane. So, instead, I am being quiet. I am practicing a little yoga, making my neck long and my legs strong. Tomorrow I will make glögg, and I will toast and be toasty. On Saturday, I will try my hand at rice pudding.

21 December 2010

first day of winter

Outside the wind is howling. It almost sounds like voices are trying to creep in through the cracks around the windows - I hear a low wheeze that sounds like a person speaking through an exhale. It's nothing like the coyotes I'm used to hearing, or the frogs that have been serenading me to sleep for the last few nights, since the rains have come. Nevermind. We need the water desperately. On the news, they are saying that most of the reservoirs in the county at at 50% capacity, although one in Santa Margarita is at 105%! It's the worst storm since 2003, people are saying. 2003 wasn't so long ago, but I don't remember any storm then. Our road is closed and I wonder what it would be like if there was a serious mudslide and we were stuck up here for days - I wouldn't mind much, I don't think. We have enough dry goods and root fruits in the pantry, a freezer full of meat, and veggies in the crisper drawers to last for days. As a child, I always wished for the power to go out during storms so we would have to do our reading by candlelight. We lit candles anyway. We still do.

Getting into the "spirit" of the season, I made gluten-free Christmas cookies with this recipe. They turned out nicely, but I found them to be a bit lacking in flavor. They don't have much sugar and aren't so sweet - which is fine by me - but I think what they really need is more butter. (I've been reading and watching a lot of Julia Child's stuff these last few days.) I don't have much experience with gluten-free cookies, and certainly not gluten-free sugar cookies, so I don't know - maybe the flavor (or lack thereof) has to do with the gluten-free flour I'm using. Fortunately, I have all the time in the world to experiment.

 parchment paper keeps things from getting too sticky

out of the oven

a delightful mess

makes for fun treats

Winter is the season of turning inward, of letting initiative foment and ideas take shape, and baking in a daze allowed me fine time for introspection and letting go of some of the ideas that I've been hanging onto all year. (I don't need to be efficient. I don't need to just get it done. I don't need to... where is that birdsong coming from?) Plunging my hands into the stainless steel bowl of dough, I was able to stop thinking and just feel my feelings; stirring my brown sugar icing, I was swept up in the sweet scent of vanilla and sugar. I keep asking myself, In this moment, am I content? and I think, every time I can say yes, that I am happy.

And on that note, happy solstice!

18 December 2010

eight words

My most-abused words of 2010 would have to be:

1. Direction. I've been talking about getting/finding/creating direction for what seems like the better part of the year. Being twenty-one, about to graduate from college, and facing what looks like a hopeless job market, I feel like one of the oompa-loompas in the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory chanting, "We don't know where we're going, but the river just keeps flowing," while plunging through a tunnel on the river of chocolate. At least that's how I remember it. That scene always freaked me out.

2. Balance. Even if the rest of my life is whack out of shape, I'm good at standing on my head.

3. I feel. I am basically ruled by my emotions.

4. Basically. Basically, adverbs are unnecessary.

Words I don't use enough and fully intend to make more promient in my vocabulary:

1. Bitchin'. Surf slang and a nod to an era I would have loved to live through.

2. Particle. Vague enough to be useful in all sorts of situations, specific enough to connote... something.

3. Carmine. This is a beautiful word and a beautiful (deep red) color, plus it recalls the insects that the color is extracted from. What more could one want from a word?

4. Obliterate. I need more action verbs in my life. Obliterate brings to mind oblivion and obliviousness and I wonder if obliviousness can ever be intentional and if, maybe, one can obliterate one's awareness and obliviously go into oblivion. It has something to do with letting go.

17 December 2010

i had this dream

"i had this dream everything around me was bleu cheese
and i was lactose-intoleranted to death"
Words, words, words. I can't tell where one string of words starts and the next begins. Maybe they're all parts of a web and there's no use in trying to separate them, to cull the meaningful from the meaningless.
Sargassum. Sessile. Serendipity. Saccharine, scintillate, stark, stork, scepter, psalm, stringent. I want to be in the sea.
Hey, John Mortara. I'm lactose-intolerant, too. Sick.
When I was growing up, I had friends, a brother and sister, who were lactose-intolerant. I always wondered why. As a kid, I never drank milk, but I didn't have any problems with it, either. Only in the past couple of years have I experienced a sensitivity to cow's milk. Like I said, I don't drink milk (the only dairy I get is in the form of parmesan and sharp cheddar cheese, plain yogurt, chocolate ice cream, and half-and-half in the coffee I don't drink). Anyway.
I'm not really into poems about poetry. It's like rock music about rock 'n' roll, you know? But dreams, words woven like lace, and bleu cheese - these things I get.

16 December 2010


The Coast redwood, the world's tallest-growing tree, can grow up to six feet in just one of its two thousand years. The sequoia takes hundreds of years to decompose. Mushrooms appear only when the genius fungus has built up enough energy reserves to reproduce. They, too, are practically immortal.

15 December 2010


Here are some butterflies.

They are the gems of a collection that belonged to a mathematician named Gerhard Ringel. Ringel was so enamoured of butterflies that he raised generation after generation of them - until pigment no longer colored their wings - in his kitchen. When he died, he gave them, along with all of his exotic specimens, to the UCSC Museum of Natural History.


Last fall, I visited the Basque country in Spain (and briefly popped over the border to France), where I was struck by the warmth of the people and the unparalleled culture of a people without a state fighting for autonomy. I learned the word for the drink that is a combination of equal parts red wine and Coca-Cola (kalimotxo) and the Basque word for tapas (pintxos), but aside from eating and drinking, I didn't give the language much thought.

Until I got the chance to research, analyze, and explain a language I had never studied for a class I took on linguistic typology. Obviously I chose Basque. Maybe a linguistic analysis would offer me some insight into why the Basque language has so many x's, a's, and k's.  
The Basque language belongs to its own family and is native to the Basque region of northeast Spain and southwest France. It is spoken on both sides of the western Pyrenees mountain range. Since it is not known to be related to any other living languages, it is known as a language isolate. The Basque word for the language is euskara; its eight dialects have approximately 658,960 speakers. The language is fragmented into a variety of dialects by its rural nature; in both France and Spain, Basque is an official regional language, but has no state of its own. In Spain, the regions of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Araba are being incorporated in the administration of a Basque Government known as the Basque Autonomous Community; the institution supports language normalization and preservation of the language as a part of public life. In the Basque Autonomous Community, Basque-teaching schools, ikastolak, have been compulsory since the 1960s even though Basque had been banned from schools since the end of the Spanish Civil War.
Prominent dialects of Basque include Bizkaiera, at one geographical extreme in the west, and Zuberoera, at the other geographical extreme in the east. These are the two most distinct variations of the language; Gipuzkera, along with Bizkaiera, is one of the most widely-spoken dialects of Basque. Other variations of Basque include Euskara Batua, unified (official) Basque, based on the central dialects, and Lapurtera, the dialect most classic Basque literature was written in. The first printed book in Basque, a collection of poems that appeared in 1545, was written in Nafarrera Beherea (low Nafarreaga). For official public and non-local purposes, Batua is the preferred dialect. 
The Basque language has no gender. It has binary politeness distinction, a complex syllable structure, double marking in clauses, and a lack of remoteness distinctions in the present past tense. The language has between twelve and seventeen cases, depending on which grammar one consults.
Basque abides by the majority of Greenberg’s requirements for Type III (subject-object-verb, or SOV) languages: relative clauses precede nouns, numerals precede nouns, nouns precede demonstratives, genitives precede nouns, and nouns precede adjectives, and, perhaps most tellingly, it has postpositions. 
Basque has a relatively free word order. Its numerous cases (between 12 and 17 depending on which grammar you read) mostly keep track of who does what to whom in the sentence. Within clauses, word order is restricted, but at the sentence level, it is quite free.
The position immediately before verb marks the element in the focus of a sentence, a phenomenon called galdegaia. In Basque, “elements in focus are likely to appear immediately before the verb in declaratives and interrogatives and immediately after the auxiliary but before the participle in negatives and imperatives. Focus is thus marked exclusively by word order without using any special affix. Other arguments in the sentence can occur either preceding or following the galdegaia + verb constituent.
 An example of an acceptable sentence in Basque is:
                Etxe atze-an patio ederr-a d-a-uka-gu
                ume-ak jolas d-a-ite-z-en
                House back-s.loc patio pretty-sA
                3A-prs-have-1pE child-pA play 
                “We have a beautiful patio in the
                 back of the house (so) that the
                children play.”

In this example, the adjective ederra, “pretty”, follows the noun, “patio”, as predicted by Greenberg’s universals, and the sentence is well-formed in that it ends in the verb daitezen.  
Yet all four variations of the following sentence, demonstrating various word orders, are “good” sentences in Basque:
             Bilbo-n  euskara     hiru   urte-z    ikasi zuen
             Bilbo-in Basque(A) three year-for learn aux
             "He studied Basque in Bilbao for three years."
                      i.   Bilbon hiru urtez euskara ikasi zuen.
                      ii.  Bilbon ikasi zuen hiru urtex euskara.
                      iii. Hiru urtez euskara ikasi zuen Bilbon.
                      iv. Ikasi zuen Bilbon euskara hiru urtez.
It is curious that, although Basque is a verb-final language whose sentences generally end in periphrastic verbs, only two of the five samples sentences are sentence is verb-final, ending in the periphrastic auxiliary verb “zuen”, while the other three sentences end in nouns. 

In studying Basque in my limited time frame - and without actually trying to learn the language to speak it - I was unable to understand why such a verb-final language would so often allow its sentences to end non-verb-finally. Nor did I come to understand why, exactly, Basque utilizes so very many x's, a's, and k's. I can, however, say that the morphology of Basque - the way words are structured - is patterned on repeating particles that are used in various words. Case is marked on every noun, and with up to seventeen cases, many of which involve a's and k's, it's no wonder that the language involves a slew of ejectives.

08 December 2010

too much of thinking in boxes

Linguistics is really not making me feel good right now. Performing analyses of verbal paradigms in the Basque language of the western Pyrenees is taking up most of my time and all of my energy. In the introduction to his 1988 grammar, Mario Saltarelli suggests that my thinking is crude; I have a hard time reading the rest of the book. My eyes are doing weird things. I am seeing yellow spots on what used to be pristine white printer paper, and translucent shapes are drifting across my field of vision. My computer seems distant. How can that be? It's right at my fingertips.

Europe, also, is distant. I hear it is snowing there. That they're having another record-breaking cold winter. That this winter, at the beginning of December, is already putting the last one to shame in measurements of snow. This winter is trivializing the last winter I suffered through in layers of tights and wool socks and heavy boots. I am straight-up jubilant to be in California this year.

Even though I don't want to be living there, there are things I miss about Scandinavia. It is cheesy to say that my heart aches, although if I write my heart aches you will know what I mean and if I tell you that the pang of missing is kind of melting me from the inside out, but from only one side and working up, across my chest, towards the other side, from my hips through my chest to my neck - I might have already lost you. That is what this missing feels like. It is not nostalgia. It is not sugar and butter. It will never be candy. It is just dull and soft like clothes you waited too long to take out of the dryer.

I am missing my friends who are over there, and also those who have left there for Thailand, New York, Mexico. I, too, want to go places. I really want to go to Mexico. There is plenty to explore in California, though. I'd like to be hanging out with lepidoptera at the UCSC Museum of Natural History, dreaming up butterfly stories.

I am looking at this funny little chapbook I picked up at the co-op today. It is called i am like october when i am dead, written by this young guy steve roggenbuck, who, judging by his style - no capitals, minimal punctuation, minimalistic grammar, sigur rós reference - may be much too clever, or just very 2010. Speaking of 2010, the year is almost done. How 'bout that?

It's not that anything would be more pleasing to me than an in-depth analysis of Basque. Basque is fascinating. It's just that there are so many other fascinating things out there, and I am frustrated with not being able to give them my attention. In the meantime, the butterflies are waiting.