29 December 2004

Rockets' red glare

I'm back on the grid! Miss me? I missed you!

So I know everyone has been distracted by the horrific and devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean (and rightly so, good god), but folks, I have been shivering in the cold and dark here on the cape of cod. We got blasted with 18 inches of snow in one night, the power went out, my front yard caught fire. Electrical fire. Twenty-eight thousand volts of white-hot true love.

But I'm back. After dodging exploding phone poles for a full night. And boiling water for warmth for two days and nights straight during which time the temperature dropped to nine degrees at night.

But it sure is tough to feed your self-pity when the only contact you have with the outside world is the NPR station you finally found after three hours of fiddling with a twenty-year-old boom box that has stickers on it that say PINK FLOYD LIVES and listening to nothing but horrific news of a giant tsunami coming out of nowhere and destroying everything.

But I was cold. And exploding electrical stuff is goddamn terrifying.

Here's how it happened: we were forecast to have rain turning into maybe a few inches of snow on Sunday night, which if you're from Cape Cod you know means rain and maybe a few hours of that crappy sloppy not-rain/not-snow slush showers, followed by a day of watching snow-related cancellations and school holidays and bank closings on all the Boston channels while the sun shines down on Olde Cape Cod. Not that I'm bitter, but an entire childhood of watching punks from Revere for god's sake get the day off from school while I have to go -- and there's a math test -- can make you cynical about weather forecasters calling for snow. Yeah right, you think, tell me another one, jackass.

So of course we got clobbered. Classic Nor-easter, apparently. Eighteen inches. Just kept coming at us, from about 6 pm Sunday until about noon the next day. The wind was howling, the snow was flying, the trees were bowing solemnly towards the ground. I was happily editing my latest pile of papers from New York, while occasionally telling Matt that he really ought to get off the computer, what with the lights flickering every ten minutes or so. Prudently, I did manage to unplug the stereo equipment.

All of a sudden: BOOM...... BOOM.

The lights were OUT. No flicker, just gone. But there was a bright orange glow out the front windows. We opened the curtains to reveal two volkswagon-sized piles of flame, right outside the door. Rainbow flames -- blue, green, orange and purple -- such festive, inclusive flames on either side of our driveway. With a yelp, we both jumped up and started pulling on socks and shoes and hats and coats and cats. I called 911.

The primary line outside our house had snapped, and now we had both ends of a 28,000 volt line sparking and writhing and burning like an enormous, two-tailed fuse in our front yard.

The fire department got there in a few minutes, but they couldn't do anything about it until the electric company turned off the juice. And of course the electric company was extremely busy that night, what with all the wires going down all over the place. I would have thought that evil green and purple flames would have put us close to the top of the list of priorities, but then who am I.

So the guys in the fire engine stood a safe distance back on the street, and Matt and I stood inside the house (feeling none too safe) and watched the motherfucker burn FOR TWO AND A HALF HOURS. The last hour of this festival of lights was punctuated by about twenty periodic explosions that felt like they were shattering windows for miles around, and that showered sparks across our roof. I could see them coming down on the other side of the house. Fortunately, I had been watching WW II documentaries recently, so I knew to jump behind our futon/foxhole during the shelling, pull down my hat and shout obscenities. Seemed to work for most of the guys in Band of Brothers. Worked for me.

The flames finally went out for good, the explosions got further and further apart, and the fire department checked our roof for smoldering bits, then left. We lit some candles (I know, I was nervous too, but it was dark) and piled up the blankets and turned on the (battery-operated) radio. I stared out the window for a few hours, being hyper-vigilant.

Amazingly, the only damage was to our fence, which is severely charred. My beach rose bushes got caught in the crossfire, but they'll live through anything. Probably bloom better than ever next year. Our computer and audio equipment are fine, but the coffee maker and the microwave bit it. Matt's out replacing them right now.

We got our power back two days later. The roads are still barely navigable, and all my fancy cheese from Christmas went bad in the fridge. But there is nothing -- nothing -- like walking into a house where the rooms are warmed, the lights are lit, and the water heater is humming.

And nothing has exploded in the front yard for a whole 48 hours. So far. I remain vigilant.

22 December 2004

Take me to the river

Posted by Hello

Here's another lovely view of the river out in front of our house. It was about 45 degrees the day I took this picture, and a few days later the scene was covered in snow. I really have to get myself a real live camera.

And no, I seriously doubt Santa is listening, considering the way I've been badmouthing him lately.

Bikes, bikes, so many effin' bikes...

I thought I'd post a couple of Amsterdam photos, since I hadn't really done that yet, but unfortunately I'm not much of a photographer, so here are a few that came out half-decently.

OK, so actually Matt took the pictures, but it hardly seems sporting to just blame him when he isn't here to defend himself.

But I guess I just did, didn't I?


(to clarify, I took the pictures of the river at home. judge for yourself.)


This was our favorite corner shop for delicious sandwiches and even more delicious cheese. (The massive structure just visible off to the right is Centraal Station, the huge and recklessly gothic train station at the topmost of the city.) Please notice that the translation on the awning of "Kaasland" (Dutch for "Cheeseland") is "Lots Of Cheese." We were sold on sight.

We got into the habit of picking up some bone-meltingly fantastic cheese here and cheap wine from across the street, then consuming these comestibles in the hotel room in the early evenings, before heading out for dinner.

It's really the only civilized way to conduct oneself, don't you think?

While on the topic of Dutch/English translations, I gave myself giggles all week because the word they use on window signs to indicate the store is closed is "Gesloten", which my brain insisted on seeing as "Get Lost(en)".

Same dif.

Footsore and fancyfree

One afternoon late in the week we spent in Amsterdam, we were taking a lovely walking tour (veeerrrrry slowly, in deference to our poor aching feet) of the Jordaan, a gorgeously canal-filled neighborhood in the city near our hotel. We spent a lot of time in the Jordaan, window shopping, dining, and sipping gin and Belgian beer. It's historically the working class neighborhood, but is becoming increasingly an arty, gallery-choked enclave of groovy bohemian-types. This is a bridge in the nearby Western Islands area, a somewhat spooky, eerily quiet area the day we were wandering in it.

Telegram for Mongo

Posted by Hello

A view of one of the canals in the Jordaan. Matt got a kick out the fact that this particular canal boat was a delivery boat, much like a floating UPS truck. I wish we had gotten more shots of the houseboats that lined the canals in this area, as there were some real doozies, especially with respect to the creative gardening methods some of these folks get up to.

Notice the crazy tilt of the two houses on the corner. This is a constant feature throughout the city, and gives the streets a charmingly loopy, drunken feel even when one hasn't oversipped the gin.

The canal vs. the can

A representative row of canal houses on the Singel. Would I live in one of those? Um, yeah, sure. Ya talked me into it.

On a side note, I just have to add here that the bluegrass show I'm listening to is currently playing a song that goes "I met my baby in the port-a-john line, I had to go and she was looking so fine; My eyes were floatin' and I had love on my mind, I met my baby in the Port-a-John line."

One of the verses contains the line "It's funny how love can make ya go WEEE!"

God, I love community radio.

20 December 2004

pretty pictures

This is essentially the view out my front door -- maybe just a short walk away from the front door. This picture was taken during an extraordinarily high tide. Usually you can actually walk all the way out to that picnic table in the distance -- without getting wet -- and make faces at the swans. I really need to get a kayak next summer.

And now I seem to have unleashed the mighty power of posting pictures (I can sometimes lag somewhat behind the times). I'm insanely proud of this accomplishment, and will now celebrate by eating a delicious sandwich. Does this merit a grilled cheese with tomatoes? Why yes, yes I think it does!

16 December 2004


I have never liked chocolate.

I remember being at a birthday party when I was about four, weeping and moaning because the cake was chocolate, and I already knew that I hated hated hated chocolate. Of course, the other kids didn't take much notice, except to fight over who got to eat my piece.

I can't stand fudge of any sort, brownies are gross, chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup, death by chocolate -- they can all go to hell. I have, on several occasions, actually ranted to the staff at restaurants about the oppressive hegemony of chocolate-based desserts on dessert menus. For crying out loud, like there is no other sort of yummy after-dinner treat? Honestly! Take a look at a dessert menu sometime! Sure, there might be a nod to the non-chocoholics among us, like a cup of watery sherbet or some tepid apple pie, but this is so clearly the post-prandial equivalent of putting a menorah next to the creche on the village green that it's more insulting than inclusive.

And although there were occasional episodes of yearning for a bag of peanut M&Ms when I was a teenager -- and I hardly think M&Ms count as chocolate, more just as junk food in a more general way -- I have remained steadfast in my dislike of the cocoa derivative.

So now it's December, I'm 33, and I'm in a bit of a funk these days. I've got the blues. Une malaise formidable. An indefinable, existential bleargh. I've done just about everything I can think of to shake this fog of yuck, including talk for an insanely long and expensive period of time with my best friend on the phone, stride out daily on brisk, invigorating walks through the woods and along the river, listen to old soul records whilst bubble-bathing in the glow of white votive candles and sandalwood incense, cook a great meal, dust and reorganize my rock collection, sleep late, wake early, get drunk, stay sober, chill, fume, seethe, and cry.

Tonight my prescription involved a modest glass of chianti, a book on the history of the English language, and Billy Holiday. At the end of the chapter on Middle English, I got up and padded over to the fridge to check on the defrosting chicken, and spied... a mini Toblerone bar that my husband pocketed at the concierge desk in Amsterdam. With a shrug, I took it back to the couch, opened my book, and swilled a little chianti and Toblerone.


I get it now.

Can I have more please?

Maybe, like, lots more?

Now would be good. For me, I mean. Would that work for you? Because now is good for me.

Thank you, and good night.

13 December 2004

Object lesson

Okay, real quick, here's the awesome backstory about me and Jan (see previous post).

When Matt and I were just starting to go out, back in 1995 or so, he suggested we meet one evening at one of his favorite bars. We had been going out for about two weeks at this point. I got there about an hour early, I can't remember why now, but probably because I needed to get a lift and that's when I was able to do so. I had never been to this bar before, although it would soon become our favoritest local hang...

So I'm sitting there, sipping on a beer, probably watching whatever sports are on tv, and there's this older guy a couple of barstools down from me drinking OV (Old Vienna) splits. Classic. He fixes a bleary eye on me, sizes me up (I'm a fresh young thing of about 24 at the time...) and sidles on down to sit next to me. He's clearly too old for me, but he has these really nice hounddog eyes and a loopy smile. Jan.

Of course the first thing out of his mouth is the old "you have incredibly beautiful eyes" line. Again: classic. He's a dog. He's making the moves on me, no holds barred. After a while of this, although of course I love getting hit on by charming old barhounds and therefore like to revel in it for a good twenty minutes or so, I think of an easy way to deflect his attentions: I turn to him very nicely and tell him that I'm flattered, but I'm engaged. (lie.)

He curses his rotten luck, goodnaturedly of course (in fact, everything Jan does, Jan does goodnaturedly), and then says, "I know everyone in this lousy town. Who's the lucky guy?"

I name Matt by his full name.

Jan literally falls off his barstool.

And the nightmare begins.

He staggers back up to his feet, takes a mighty pull off his OV split, and wraps me in a gargantuan hug. Through his joyful exclamations, it becomes clear to me that Jan knows Matt. Quite well. In fact, it turns out Jan is Matt's stepdad's oldest, bestest, childhood friend.

It further comes out that Matt's stepdad, until very recently, owned this neighborhood pub that I had never been to until this evening, and in fact Matt had practically grown up right here at this very pub, and in fact everybody in the room has known Matt since he was about five years old. And they've been listening.

Now everybody's buying me drinks, tears are flowing, they can't believe their little baby boy is engaged...

Then, of course, Matt walks in.

I try very hard to crawl into my shoes.

Of course, he lets everyone buy him a round of drinks before he sets them straight. Only proper. But ohmygod am I blushing like a first-time whore. I am so busted. Jan has never let me forget this incident (again, only proper) and extracts retribution every chance he gets by mock- (and sometimes not-so-mock-) making out with me whenever we meet.

There are worse things.

And, as it turns out, I did marry Matt. Eventually.

11 December 2004

Trick of the Tail


We landed back in Boston Wednesday night, but I had the rotten luck of contracting an unbelievably sinister cold on our last day in Amsterdam -- for which I blame Jan (more on that later) -- so my sorely abused sinuses and I have barely been able to sit upright since the Transatlantic Flight of Doom. Now that the jackhammers have stopped trying to shatter my cheekbones from the inside of my skull, I feel I can try to transcribe some of my times in Amsterdam.

Believe it or not, I actually took notes. An honest-to-god travel journal, which I dutifully filled out every night before clicking the light out around midnight. This is true, and I emphasize it because you will shortly find that hard to believe.

So let's start with the most embarrassing part, the part I didn't even write in my journal, merely alluded to, in code, because otherwise I'll just spend all my time dancing around the subject and trying to tell pretty, pretty lies. Like the lie that I did not, in fact, end up ass-up on the sidewalk outside the Melkweg nightclub one night.

Again, I blame Jan.

This was, what, Monday night? Matt and I had gotten tickets to see Lee "Scratch" Perry at the Melkweg (a large nightclub in the famously hot and happening Leidseplein). Then we forgot all about it, and invited our old friend from Syracuse who now lives in Brabant (what he charmingly refers to as "the Iowa of the Netherlands") to come and hit the town with us that night. When we realized the conflict in scheduling, we just rationalized that our friend is of retirement age, and will surely want to make it an early night, so we'll spend the early evening being chummy and plummy with him, pop him back on the train to Dutch Iowa, and then enjoy the heretofore unexplored nightlife of Amsterdam.

I'm serious about this, and I have to make this perfectly clear -- this was our one night of revelry in Amsterdam. We had spent the whole week prior to this exhausting ourselves with one museum or another, walking the entire length and breadth of the city center until we got over our phobia about the trams (OK, my phobia about the trams), strolling arm and arm around the canals, dining on excellent and surprisingly cheap food, and then hitting the sack before midnight, we were that tired. We hadn't even laid eyes on the Red Light District until Jan from Brabant/Syracuse/Iowa came along, except for one brief foray that I will describe at a later time.

So Jan meets us at the hotel, accompanied by the usual keystone cops activity that always goes with meeting up with Jan (we waited outside the hotel, as agreed, he went in the back door to the hotel and waited in the lobby, somewhat creatively, and we paced in our respective corners for an hour or so before our paths finally crossed. Par for the course), and we moseyed along to run some errand that he had to do for his wife. Pick up some book or other. Typical old-guy married stuff.

From there, he discovers we haven't "done" the Red Light District yet. We raise our collective eyebrows (trust me) and tell him we have no interest in being the Ugly American Tourists, but he waves us off and says he just wants to take us to his favorite bars in the RLD. So of course we go, as if there was ever any question about it. It's early, so the bars are sparsely populated. The first one is across from the famous "penis" fountain, the second bar is the somewhat famous Old Sailor. Jan prefers this awful local brew that Matt and I had earlier agreed was bubbly piss, known as Oranjeboom, but he's buying, so we're taking.

Did I mention Jan is a chain smoker? And I am coming up on my third anniversary of quitting smoking in February, so I am very much not used to inhaling great quantities of smoke. These bars, they are smoky. And Jan, he is a talker. A true raconteur of the best barhound type, so each punchline and innuendo is punctuated with Lenny-Bruce-quantities of cigarette smoke.

We stand, we drink large steins of Oranjeboom, Jan smokes and tells story after story, we double over in laughter and cough and sputter with hilarity. I buy us a round of Tequila. Later, I do it again. It is now about five hours later, and we've set an admirable pace for ourselves. The old man, by the way, is holding up fine.

We finally convince him it's time to get back on the train, so we stagger (yes) back to our hotel, where he left his backpack. He collapses on our bed, waits until Matt is in the bathroom, then plants a huge drunken smooch on me (there's a great backstory to my pseudo-flirtation with Jan-who-is-as-old-as-my-father, I'll have to tell it sometime). Matt fakes blustering in and "catching" us, and we giggle back outside, stumble (oh yes) up to Centraal Station and pour Jan back on the train to Iowa.

According to the three watches I seem to be wearing, we're late for Lee Perry. So we tram it back downtown to the Melkweg and catch the last half hour of the show. Holy Crap Is It Smoky In Here. Serious as a heart attack, I can hardly breathe. So I elbow my way out to the lobby, spy the lounge/bar to my right, and decide a nice refeshing tequila would hit the spot. It does. Man, am I usually right about that. I go back into the bandroom, where the band is just finishing up. Halleluia. Matt and I make our way back out to the sidewalk, where they have some sort of waist-high metal barrier between the sidewalk and the street. I think it has barbed wire, or sharp, pointy metal prongs on it. Matt sanely proceeds around said barrier, whilst I thumb my nose at authority, bend at the waist, and reverse limbo under it.

Natch, I lose my balance, go staggering across the quiet side street doubled over like that Dr. Suess giraffe who sneezed and bent himself in half, unable to straighten up or slow my velocity. I finally, thankfully, crash to my knees on the opposite sidewalk, where a very kind Amsterdammer on a bicycle stops and helps me up. My knees are still sore, and quite bruised. We poured ourselves back on the tram, made it back to the hotel without further incident. For some unknown reason, I woke up the next day feeling like ass on a halfshell, with a sore throat that quickly degenerated into the insanely potent cold I am just now recovering from.

And that's the most embarrassing, drunken, idiotic story I have from my week in Amsterdam. It seems to be the sort of zany, madcap behavior Americans are supposed to get up to in Amsterdam, so I've posted it first. From here on out, folks, it's going to be museums, cute waitresses, egg and cheese sandwiches,deep-fried meatballs, and strange signs and portents, so get your yuks in now. The whole rest of the time, I was a well-behaved ambassador of taste, humility and good manners.

Naturally, I blame Jan.