28 February 2011

bright night morning (and other sweet tunes)

This weekend I had the pleasure of seeing Silje Nes at a cafe here in Santa Cruz. Silje Nes, from Norway but based in Berlin, plays beautiful and eccentric folk music, making use of a xylophone, marimba, flute and guitar. She also plays with a violinist and percussionist. Her music, a kind of makeshift symphony, drew me in, and I ended up perhaps a little too close to the stage trying to capture the moment.

While Silje sang and managed her instruments, Mats in the background did percussion. He comes from Bergen, a mountain city in Norway. After the show, he told me what he loves about the U.S.: Montana, the desert, California. He's been to forty-six states, and was hoping it would be warm by the time they got to California. Of course, they come on the coldest weekend in years.

And here I am wanting so badly to go to Bergen.

After the show, my girl Emerald and I went dancing.

This chick and I started the dance party. The DJ was playing hip hop, and when it got upbeat enough to dance to, we were the first ones on the dance floor. Here we are taking a much-needed water break.

I topped off the delightful weekend with a haircut. Now I have the lightning bolt I've always dreamt of.

26 February 2011

snow and protests on the central coast

While things are on fire in the Arab world and the Midwest is a democratic shambles, we here on the West Coast are hardly immune to the storm. In protest of the Republicans’ bill HR-3 (which will redefine rape to refuse women abortions and remove their right to choose as well as cut all federal funding from Planned Parenthood—which provides not only sexual health care but also cancer screening, HIV testing, and primary care for free—to millions of Americans), a Walk for Choice took place today in Santa Cruz simultaneously along with cities all across the nation.
The walk began at the Clock Tower, as such events usually do. 

The Clock Tower is central to downtown Santa Cruz; with its benches and fountain, it's a common gathering place, especially for the transient community. It is a significant fixture in the city, a shooting-off point, if you will, and it is not immune to windchill.
The difficult thing about winter in coastal California (and, if you don’t live here, you might be right to laugh at the idea that a coastal Californian winter could be difficult”), is that we don’t know how to deal with it, and big events tend to take place outside. When you show up somewhere you often don’t know if the event will happen inside or out, and many popular social arrangements demand the outdoors: walks, bonfires, picnics. Protests included.
This week we’ve had rain, but this weekend it got so cold that it actually snowed at sea level.

The snow came in quick, light flurries and melted almost immediately; nonetheless, it indicates how cold it is. And none of us who live hear really know how to deal with it—not having to deal with extreme cold on a regular basis is certainly a big part of the reason why I live here—so when it does get cold like this, no one really knows what to do. We have no infrastructure and virtually no precedent to deal with the atypical weather. So what do we do? We scrounge up our wool sweaters, our thermal underwear, our raincoats, our snow gear, and continue to kick it outside. 

When I showed up five minutes before the Walk for Choice was scheduled to begin, the atmosphere was one of friendly camaraderie. The organizers made it clear that it was a walk, not a march, that it would not be militant, and that, above all, it would be peaceful and civil. People, mostly young women but young and older men and women, too, huddled around the Clock Tower, discussing last night’s parties and local politics.
Many came with cardboard signs. Those of us showed up empty-handed were able to make signs with posterboard and Sharpies that some awesome family had brought with them. At the rally there were, of course, the socialist organizers, the representative anarchists, and the engaged university students. There were feminists, dog-walkers, and bicyclists. There were a lot of us. We were enough to take over the streets. 

At first I felt kind of bad for blocking traffic, but as we made our way down the main shopping street and up towards the center of town, I registered the action as a unique opportunity. How often does one get to stroll the busiest streets of her city, admiring all the trees in bloom, waiting for the forecasted snow to fall, feeling the sun on her face, and shouting in support of something she believes in? Ultimately, I’m just grateful. Grateful that I have the means to protest, and grateful that what I’m protesting is the potential removal of something necessary and good, and not for lack of having my basic needs met.

24 February 2011

pig heart tastes like pork

I've had octopus in Spain and dried, soaked, and re-cooked lutfisk in Sweden, but heart was something I've never encountered in any of my travels. The other day, after Farmer's Market with Ian and Celeste,

the three of us stopped in at el Salchichero, a new butcher's, where it warmed my pithy little heart - hah! - to find that I don't have to cross any physical boundaries to get out of my comfort zone and embark on a gastronomic adventure.

We bought a pig heart. 

For three dollars, it was an excellent deal, and made a delectable dinner for the three of us. The heart was much larger than a fist. It was, in fact, larger than my two fists put together, and weighed a pound. As soon as we removed the heart from its vacuum packing, its strong smell, metallic like seaweed, filled the trailer obscenely; anyone who popped their head in would have been right to wonder what, exactly, we were cooking.

We didn't have a recipe, only the butcher's recommendations. He recommended that we cut off the tough top portion of the heart, segment it, and remove all the remaining gristly material, but we ended up just hacking off what seemed like the good stuff from the valves and exterior and calling it good. The exterior, composed mostly of white tissue, looked fatty but felt like plastic. Initially, the heart felt foreign and unapproachable (I might add that I find raw meat nauseating in general), but after it was cut up, it looked like any other meat.

To make a meal out of it, we fried up onions, garlic, sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts, then tossed the heart meat in with a good dousing of teriyaki sauce.

It made a kind of epic fusion dish. The sweet potatoes provided a lovely backdrop for the tough yet chewy meat, and the brussels sprouts added satisfying crunch. I found the combination of textures and flavors to be perfectly to my liking, while Celeste and Ian - evidently more sensitive souls than myself - both claimed to be able to feel slippery traces of the muscle lingering in their respective esophagi upon finishing eating. I just thought it tasted like pork.

If I were to do it again, I'd probably want to make a stew, because the meat is so rich. There would definitely still be onions and garlic involved, but also potatoes, greens, beets, and rice. It would be a savory stew just right for the tail end of winter and this unsavory weather.

18 February 2011


For the past month, I've been interning at Santa Cruz Weekly, one of Santa Cruz's two alt-weeklies and the only one in full color. When I first showed  up as an editorial intern, I thought my editor would just have me proofreading, moving things around on the computer, and running errands. 

I spend two afternoons a week in the downtown office. I even have my own desk and computer. Not only do I move things around on the computer and manage part of the website, but I actually get to write. I do two little music "blurbs" about upcoming shows every week and have written a couple of short articles, including this one about roller skating.

I'm really happy to see behind the scenes of local media. The insight will come in handy when I find myself no longer a student and all-too-probably trying to get by as a freelance writer.

random with a purpose

When we enter the theater, the lights are dim and a slow turning of colors draws our eyes to the stage. Green progresses to blue progresses to purple progresses to red; I blink and the whole stage is orange and yellow with a blue base. We find our seats, front and center, and, removing our coats, sit down. There is no coat check at the university facility. We stuff our wet jackets under our chairs and wait for the show.
With our cell phones off, we are secure in the knowledge of the nearest emergency exit.  The dancers’ entrance picks up where our conversation leaves off. I am not surprised that it is all women on stage – they make perfect sense to me leaping around in their spandex shorts and baseball shirts. Their arms click with each downbeat and their thighs carry them from jazz through modern to hip-hop.
I can’t help wanting to be up there, wanting to be watched. The dancers’ parents must be so proud, I think. Especially the redhead tapdancing in streetclothes with the fattest smile on her ruby lips. Her feet make a parallel rhythm to Ratatat’s “Wildcat.” It is difficult to sit still while all this is transpiring not six feet from my own shoes, but, contracted by the rules of being in the audience, I’m riveted to the performance, and I can’t move. I imagine the bouquet she gets after another triumphant performance: tulips. It is, after all, practically spring.
A dozen darkly-suited, masked acrobats get down and do the worm in unison, then climbing one other, spiral in masses of humans atop shoulders that levitating with ethereal grace neither masculine nor feminine. A solo piece by a young woman in a satin dress interprets Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” (Just before our love you lost you said / I am as constant as the Northern Star / and I said, constantly in the darkness / where’s that at / if you want me, I’ll be in the bar) with rolls, lunges, plies, and a smile. At the high notes, I hold onto my chin with one hand to keep from crying and marvel at the performer’s dedication to her craft: she will – and does – smile through the end of the show, even when there is nothing to grin about.
This is the university at its finest: engendering creativity, giving us the freedom to be inspired. Of course, the annual dance show isn’t put on by a class; it is directed and performed entirely by students – part of what makes it so awe-inspiring. As happy as I am to be a student, when I attend events like these, I feel most like a member of society beyond academia.

14 February 2011

five fun things for practically nothing

There are lots of fun things to do in Surf City; most of them are cheap and many are free.

1. The beach. There's surfing, swimming, kayaking, sailing, throwing frisbees, building forts, digging holes, building sandcastles, collecting shells, volleyball - you name it. On Sundays, there's salsa dancing at the Wharf. There are also buskers and all sorts of transient creative types hocking their wares. It's kind of a throwback, to say the least. Then, of course, there is the boardwalk. The Giant Dipper, a huge and fast wooden roller coaster, is only five bucks, and a big adrenaline rush!

2. Nature. Big Basin Redwoods State Park, just north of Santa Cruz, is the oldest state park in California. But even in and around town there are big, lovely redwoods all over the place. They're nice and they smell great.

3. Farmers' markets. I always go to the one downtown on Wednesday afternoons (and sample all the fruit, yum), but there are also markets on Saturdays on the Westside and elsewhere on other days. The market is nice because it's a gathering place where you can hang out while you do your shopping. I mean, how often do people bond over the citrus selection at Safeway?

4. Taquerias! On Monday through Thursday nights, there are cheap tacos and burritos and drinks at El Palomar taco bar. I love that their happy hour goes until 9 pm. And Taqueria Santa Cruz on Soquel has delicious ceviche (and everything else) and is open until midnight. Again, yum.

5. Dancing. Madhouse on Seabright is free to get into; Rainbow Room at Madhouse on Thursday nights is outrageous. It's a damn good time if you like dancing nonstop to top 40 with the LGBT crowd and getting hella sweaty with a bunch of punks/hipsters/anarchists/stylish people/young people/older people/locals/freaks! Yeah!

These are some of my favorites right now. There will always be more.

13 February 2011

being a human is so cool

I love being a human. One of the reasons why I love being a human is because being a human allows me to have this concept of "cool." It is one concept among many that I share with many other humans, even if all of us humans have different perceptions of "cool." I think it is cool that I keep accidentally typing Ø instead of " because my keyboard is set on Danish. I think Danish is cool because it has three vowels that English doesn't. Sometimes when I speak Danish I feel cool, though mostly I feel goofy trying to spit out the consonants. Wikipedia has a definition for "cool". It is somewhere along the lines of hip. Jack Kerouac was cool. He was an original hipster. Beat was cool; beat came from jazz. Jazz is cool because it lets the rules go. Being human is cool because being human means being able to do whatever.

12 February 2011

sunday, monday, tuesday, wednesday, thursday, friday, saturday again

The day is fresh and all is beautiful. Between the tops of the redwood trees is blue sky, and birds are chirping.

I head for the shower. You appreciate bathing so much more when you only do it once a week.

The small shower is locked, so I enter the large one. I haven't been in here yet this year. It is warm and surprisingly dry. The plastic lawn chair has disappeared. I hang my towel, place my soap and shampoo on the cement floor of the shower cubicle, and undress.

It is only when I step under the hot water that I realize I am living my dreams. I dream happenings; only in the middle of the 'real' event do I recognize that it was first a dream. In the steaming chamber, I recall that I was trying something new when I went down the hall in the residence of my subconscious and found the cleanest and most agreeable shower where, in true dream fashion, I may or may not have bathed, but certainly emerged clean.

My dreams are not so much visions as places I go. Unconscious, every setting I have ever known blends together, and home becomes Sweden becomes Santa Cruz becomes Chile becomes Denmark becomes Costa Rica. They are places I've been but have not yet been able to consciously process. Mutations crop up. It is as if there is time for mutations to arise, but when I wake and recall my dreams, I can never remember the sequencing. Last night I was in a park. No, that was this morning. No, that was last week; this morning I was in a warehouse with giant skylights, or else the Quarry. When I wake, it is as if returning from a long trip, and getting out of bed is shaking off a kind of cerebral jetlag.

I look forward to going places in my dreams; it is a kind of relaxed thinking. But I look forward more to going places awake and conscious. Thoughts of new adventures, discoveries, smells, sights and sounds give me pleasure. My greatest pleasures come from the smallest things. A white porcelain cup on a turquoise melamine saucer.

Not coffee. Hemp milk with molasses.

Taking off all my clothes at the beach and sunning even though I forgot my swimsuit. Meeting the best friend of one of my best friends and getting along splendidly. Losing track of time recounting aforementioned dreams. 

Joan Didion's Salvador. Avocados. Learning the names of the streets of the city that I have known as nameless for so long. Splendid sun in February.

09 February 2011

how to eat an acorn squash

it can be easy
it doesn't have to be complicated
especially if you're like me
and you're hungry

what you do is this:
you take a squash
if it's an acorn squash, that's good
that's what i'm talking about
but any squash will do really
as long as it's a squash
and not entirely moldy

take a knife
make sure you are near a cutting board
or some other hard, stable surface
and hold the squash there for a moment
so it is the squash you cut
and not a stray finger of yours

take the knife to the squash
slice it down the middle
through its belly
well done!
and scoop out the seeds and other goop in the middle
with a spoon or your hands

i hope you washed your hands
before touching the squash
but if not, it's alright
everything ends up down the drain anyway

take your two squash halves
put them on a plate or a baking sheet
whatever will fit in your toaster oven
drizzle them with olive oil
or butter, if you prefer
though i find butter difficult to drizzle
and sprinkle them with spices
maybe pepper, cumin, and cinnamon
perhaps paprika and curry

place both halves in the toaster oven
listen to that wonderful whirring of the timer
hope that half an hour means something
smell the fruit roasting

while the squash bakes
cook up some polenta
by mixing the grain with water
and a little salt
and putting it on to boil

when the squash is steaming
and seem like it might be done, try it
take the knife to the center of the fruit
cut out a slice
eat it
is it soft?
does it taste good?
if not, keep baking

when the squash is baked
and the polenta is thick and bubbling
take the squash out of the oven
and the polenta off the hot plate
and fill the cups of the squash with polenta
grate some parmesan cheese over the polenta
and sprinkle the whole thing with rosemary
put it all back in the oven

when the smell becomes unbearably delicious
and the cheese is crispy
and your stomach is rumbling
turn off the toaster oven
and take out a plate
put the squash on the plate
and pepper on the squash
and dig in

06 February 2011

book review

When I was seven years old, homeschooled and spent most of my afternoons in the local library, I learned to write book reviews. They were an assignment that my mom gave me every week; I remember turning them in to her matted on construction paper, loathing them, utterly relieved when they were out of my hands. Every page completed was a castle built in my juvenile fairytale.

Like the act of writing thank-you cards, however, my ability to write book reviews has long since been trained into a habit. It is not something I do exceptionally well, but it is something I can do at any time, and that I feel uncomfortable not doing when the occasion calls for it.

Right now I am reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. Normally I would wait until I finish a book to review it, but despite knowing neither how to pronounce the main character's last name nor the author's first name, I can't stop talking about it, so obviously it's a good one, and I don't want to wait any longer to put in a good word for it.

The book was published in 2007 and has since won a Pulitzer Prize. I probably wouldn't have picked it up except the lovely hardcover was a comforting sight on top of a pile of hippie reject clothes in the free box in the common room. I guess someone had read it for class and was passing it along (and most likely I'll return it to the free box when I'm done with it). Oscar, one of the three main characters, is one of those who sticks with you, and whether or not I have him in print on my shelf, I'm not going to forget what he's about.

I'm halfway through the book, and I don't yet really know what he's about. Science fiction. Overeating. Being afraid of women. Being the weirdest Dominican man there ever was. But Oscar comes from a family, a cursed family, and the rest of them are just as fascinating as he is. Long-legged Lola, his sister, always saves the day, and crazy Beli, their mom, is a curse in and of herself.

Thanks to Díaz's hilariously informative footnotes, I've learned a bit of Dominican history from this story. The author's voice is acerbic yet close and maybe the reason I'm being so slow to finish Oscar's story is because, really, I don't know how I'll take it ending.

04 February 2011

little dragon, big sound

Last night I saw Little Dragon at The Rio here in Santa Cruz.

Little Dragon come from Sweden. They make lovely "electro-soul." It's sort of poppy, sort of funky.

Yukimi had amazing stage presence. While she danced around, singing and banging on things, the boys provided dope beats.

It was a somewhat transcendental experience.

Especially because I got to speak Swedish with Erik afterwards.