Monday, August 29, 2005

Four States of the Union and Many More States of Mind in 16 Hours

I’m a little spacey, and a little tipsy right now, because I woke up at 4:00 am in Seattle (after sort-of falling asleep at 1:30), flew to Denver, and drove with Anne-Carolyn for 10 1/2 hours through Colorado and Wyoming to Bozeman, MT, only to find a freakishly delectable cheese-and-wine-bar in this truly middle-of-nowhere town. I had two glasses of cabernet that of course I can’t remember the name of, homemade goat cheese ravioli in marinara with fresh zucchini, and six different kinds of cheese which I also can’t remember the names of, and they were all amazing. The whole town, in fact, to my dazed and road-weary self, is a strange hep-cat oasis of fancy restaurants, gourmet tile shops (Seattleites, think Ann Sachs), and (perhaps more what one might expect) outdoor outfitters. We’re sitting in our motel room right now, on our respective beds, taking advantage of the free WiFi with our respective Dell Inspiron laptops . . . which makes the motel also sound like it’s a weirdly posh . . . but it’s not. It’s oh, so really not. All three faucets in the bathroom (shower, sink and toilet) leak, just a little . . . but, there is a bottle-opener on the back of the door, within reach of the tub. The air conditioner seems to be held to the wall with that clinical-looking white duct tape, the pastel rainbow curtains are hanging down from the rod at a sad angle in not one but two places, and—my favorite part and I kid you not—there’s a big ol’ lug-soled footprint on my pillow.
But the drive has so far been beautiful and the roads empty and the highway-side art entertaining—we’ve seen a buffalo, a jackalope, a triceratops, an Indian and horse, and we’ve had great conversation and enjoyed half a weird audio book and it’s fun to be part of someone’s homecoming. Tomorrow--Jerome Creek Ho!

Monday, August 22, 2005

This just in . . . There weren't too many pictures of me from Jerome Creek after Ian left . . . Marsh took care of that. Thank you, Marsh. Thanks a lot. Posted by Picasa

College Flashback

This weekend we took just a short trip, but nevertheless slept in “beds” other than our own. The Dave Matthews Band was playing at the Gorge for their annual weekend concert extravaganza, and we camped with Ian’s friends somewhere along the Columbia River and attended the show. Here are a few impressions:

1. Two outdoor concert events in two weekends and two states and two genres is pretty good.

2. It rocks to lie on one’s back on a blanket at the Gorge amphitheater, a small speck in a sea of fans (about 20,000), and watch stars shoot through the Ursas Major and Minor, while listening to some f***ing good live music. DMB kind of defies categorization, and they’re all really good musicians. It made me want to listen to music a lot more (which I’m failing to do as I write this . . . )

3. Mind over matter is important when camping at a hugely popular and free and beautifully-situated-right-by-the-Columbia River-campsite (and comfy 3-inch folding foam pads help the mind immeasurably), particularly when the giant, doped-up group just through the cottonwoods is having a jam session. Hey, I thought to myself, I used to think it was cool to hear African drum beats at Lewis and Clark at 2:00 am . . . and it was even cooler in actual Africa—kind of the heart-beat of the world—so maybe I can think it’s cool here too. And it was.

4. Bacon (really, it jumped on my plate from at least three sources), scrambled eggs, and hashbrowns are so good when cooked over an open fire—by someone else. And so is a rice milk mocha (okay, camp stove for that).

5. It also rocks to go ten steps from a solar lens of a tent into crystal-clear 50-degree water, even before 8:00am.

6. I loved spending the weekend with a group of seven people who, when faced with a road-construction delay on the direct route home, chose instead to drive a 100-mile detour through Quincy, Wenatchee, and almost-Leavenworth, stopping in Roslyn to eat at the Brick (yes, the same Brick from Northern Exposure). I also love that two of the seven had already been to the Brick two times before in five days, and that two more had been with them the day before for time two. No matter which way you cut it, the Brick is at least a 90-mile round trip from the campground. Silly Northern Exposure obsessers. But the Brick really is awesome, and I recommend it to everyone.

7. Skinny-dipping as the sun sank, gilding the eastern trees and setting the overhead cloud wisps aglow at Mom and Marsh’s (when we stopped to pick up the gimpy Spackle) was the perfect dessert.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


I have not historically been a fan of opera. In general, I find the voices to be a distraction from the music rather than an enhancement, and I haven’t developed a taste for forceful vibrato. My parents, both French horn players, seemed to prefer symphonic music to opera when I was growing up, because I became adept at identifying composers based on scant instrumental measures, but I’d be hard-pressed to name the provenance of even the most commercialized arias. The idea of attending The Ring, a glorious, well-reviewed and received Wagnerian extravaganza that takes as many hours to perform as a part time job, fills me with a sort of quiet horror.

However, one of my best friends is an opera singer, and I have discovered that taking the time to learn about what your friends care about can be unexpectedly rewarding. It helps that Anne Carolyn has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve heard. She’s a lyric soprano (she’ll tell me if I have this wrong in some way) with a coloratura range, so she can flit about effortlessly in the stratosphere, and make your heart weep with the beauty of her lower notes. I’ve been trying to describe her voice recently, and I simply can’t do her justice. But she sounds like no one else—there’s a texture to her voice, like a rich golden silk brocade rather than smooth satin.

Anyway, the peerless Anne Carolyn Bird (ACB) has been in Santa Fe all summer, an apprentice at the Santa Fe Opera. This is quite an honor (and one that she has lived up to); the SFO is well-known, and people come from the world over to attend new and classic shows at the unusual outdoor hall. We attended three in the four nights we were in town.

First, Ainadamar
This opera was debuted three years ago at Tanglewood, when ACB was a vocal fellow there. She’s been involved in it since the beginning, and this was my second time seeing it. Its framework is the murder of Federico Garcia Lorca by, basically, fascist vigilantes; and his relationship with the actress Margarita Xirgu. But that’s not what the opera is about, and in this performance, it’s been polished enough that even I could see what the story really is. The dark, frantic, graffiti-like sets, the ascetic costumes, and the music—a combination of Latin rhythms and themes, percussion, burbling fountains, haunting chords and unbearably beautiful phrases—paint a vivid picture of freedom and oppression, love and heartbreak, hopelessness and endurance. There isn’t really hope, but the lesson is that endurance could lead there. The costuming of the fascists in commando fatigues made the whole experience all the more immediate. The mob madness that took the life of Lorca isn’t just a thing of the past.

Second, The Apprentice Scenes
This is the way to see opera! On one night, we enjoyed major scenes from 10 or 11 different operas, including Romeo et Juliette, La Boheme, The Rape of Lucrezcia, and ACB’s . . . which I can’t remember the name of, but the title character was Lucia, whom of course she played (sang?). Although the scenes ran well into the night, starting at 8:30 and ending about 11:30, the quick scene changes (and attendant uplighting of the auditorium) between each scene kept our blood pumping and our attention caught. It’s worth noting that the costumes for these 10 to 20-minute blurbs were incredible—ACB’s dress could’ve been a couture piece on the runway in Paris.

Third, Turandot
This is Puccini’s last opera, and he didn’t quite live to complete it. It’s worth noting here that the only time in the three nights when I was at risk of falling asleep in my seat (very unusual for me, as for the last several years I’ve nodded off for at least a little while in virtually every theater I’ve been in) was in Act III, after Liu the slave girl kills herself, and coincidentally Puccini dies, and someone else composes some music to fill in until the famous tenor aria recap at the end. But the rest of it was quite enjoyable. Turandot, to my untrained sensibilities, is a fairly traditional opera—the storyline is overwrought and irrational, the music sumptuous, most of the singing a little too operatic for my taste. (I find that opera is a great deal like a drinking game—in opera, the story often appears to be merely an excuse for the music, as is the game an excuse for the pounding of multiple shots of Jaeger). The visual spectacle of this opera was incredible. Brilliant silks and satins, feathers and ribbons, lace and elaborate wigs. The set was full of translucent staircases and stands (a metaphor for “ice princess” Turandot), and high walls and drop-offs, with people marching around right at the edge. Just a little scary.

In all, I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed the opera experience more than I thought I might, and more than I have in the past, even when my dear friend ACB wasn’t on stage. There’s hope for me yet.

Cheese Hangover

At home, Ian and I are moderate vegans. I understand that this is an oxymoron—Veganism is nothing if not a serious lifestyle choice, with, frankly, little room for moderation. True vegans not only don’t eat meat; they don’t eat anything that comes from an animal without killing it (cheese, or rather milk products, eggs, even honey), and naturally, they don’t wear leather. Certainly, they don’t abandon their beliefs in the interests of “cultural experiences”, particularly when the “culture” being experienced is merely a subset of Americana. For us, though, food choices have been more related to health than to moral values (well, me a little more than Ian, who was a vegetarian when we met and is only a little less so now). Therefore, at home in Seattle, where every supermarket has a sizeable organic food section and several are almost entirely organic, and even the freezer sections offer countless vegan TV dinners, our daily diet includes no meat except fish, no dairy except parmesan cheese (and the occasional slab of Haloumi: The Cheese that Grills), and eggs only in baked goods.

In Santa Fe, it was actually pretty easy to avoid meat (although I didn’t always; the crispy, aromatic hotel-buffet bacon, the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, the Cuban-spiced pork sandwich . . . hmmm. I’m sensing a salty pork-product theme . . .); most enchiladas, burritos, even tamales were usually offered with a choice of cheese filling along with choices of beef and chicken and pork. Occasionally we lucked out with calabacitas (little squashes) offered instead . . . but by the end of the trip, I had so jumped on the dairy-product bandwagon that I insisted on an entire hot queso dip appetizer (and boy was it good). But you can have too much of a thick, creamy, salty-tangy-spicy good thing. I haven’t had a drop of dairy today, and I have a headache. But, I’m home again, and hair-of-the-chili-cheese-dog-that-bit-me isn’t on the menu.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

State Number 44: New Mexico

Of course, a chance to see my friend Anne Carolyn perform at one of the best young artist opera programs in the country is an excellent reason to go anywhere, but it didn’t hurt that I got to add one more state to my arsenal. I was also pleased with the proximity to Texas and Oklahoma, visiting which would bring me up to 46 states. I don’t know anyone in either, and don’t know any reason off-hand that I would take a trip specifically to either (although I’m happy to take suggestions if anyone has any), so I thought I would kill three birds with one stone. Yesterday evening, though, or rather late last night, Ian and I sat down and really discussed what we wanted to do today, and it turns out a trip to Texas and Oklahoma would have been feasible, but it would’ve taken a minimum of 10 hours, we’d have to get up early, we’d only see the barrenest, tiniest corner of each place, and all for me to put a couple notches in my belt. After not too much careful consideration, we decided to sleep in, and then visit some of the fine sights of the state we’re in. Besides, 800 miles in one day in the no-cruise-control/no-overdrive/no power-window white Ford Focus sounded like just a touch too much torture.

Instead, we went up to Taos. This part of New Mexico is quite forested (much to our surprise. We were expecting something more like Arizona away from the Canyon), and crossed by countless arroyos that fill with raging rivers quickly enough to drown unsuspecting hikers. Particularly at this time of year—the monsoon season when thunderstorms and accompanying rain gushers crack open the sky—stay on the roads. The pine forests, low sparse scrub, dry earth, narrow roads, and tiny hamlets of a half-dozen houses perched on hilltops, reminded us of Rhodes, Greece (minus the Mediterranean, of course). In Taos itself we pretty much drove straight through town (so no Julia sightings), as it appeared to be a cute and dense, but immensely tourist-populated, mall. We lunched near the Pueblo at a Tiwa “Indian home-cooking” restaurant, where we gobbled down burritos made with fry bread and buffalo (Ian) and chicken (me), homemade sauces, fried zucchini and corn, and wild rice. Dessert was more fry bread with a homemade organic chokecherry syrup; sweet, deep red, and with a tiny bitterness that made it interesting. Afterwards, we visited Taos Pueblo.

I had mixed feelings about visiting it, but wanting to won out. It’s a World Heritage Site, and at about 1,000 years old, one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the US. That’s right, it’s still inhabited. People live there, raise their children and pets there, work there. And tourists come and pay $10 each, and $5 more for a photo permit, to wander around and watch all this. It’s only open for 6 ½ hours per day, and many residents sell handmade art from little storefronts throughout the adobe buildings—intricately-detailed hand-painted and thrown pots, woven blankets, silver and turquoise jewelry. Having their site open for tourism undoubtedly brings a lot of money into the community . . . and that’s why we went. That, and the fact that the residents of this amazing, organic place have been here for centuries longer than us, and I wanted to honor that, and appreciate it. But there’s always that misty, insubstantial line between traveling and tourism, gawking and learning, and sometimes it’s hard to know which side of it you’re on.

Flight Risk

This is the first trip I’ve flown to since starting my blog. I used to love flying—the vertigo of the take-off, the look of clouds from the inside, the cranberry juice (morning flights) and ginger ale (afternoon and evening flights), the patchwork earth viewed from above, the rapid deceleration on landing. In recent years, however, I’ve become a worse flyer. I don’t think it’s related to 9-11, although we were on the east coast at the time and had to fly through Logan just a couple days after it re-opened (it was a disorganized nightmare, even worse than before the tragedy). Rather, I think my sense of my own mortality is increasing as I age, and I’m less comfortable in situations where I’m not in control. This got to the irrational point where I, during turbulence, would visualize a giant beam of light coming from the center of the earth and holding up the plane . . . and then I was afraid that if my concentration on my vision failed, the plane would plunge, screaming through the air, 35,000 feet to explode into a gory fireball. Anyway. The height of my phobia came last January, when we were flying to Hawaii. It was a turbulent flight. And there’s something about turbulence over the open ocean that’s even more terrifying than over ground—maybe because a crash won’t necessarily be recovered? Anyway, for about 2 hours approaching Honolulu, it was all I could do to keep counting my breaths, over and over, one to ten, one to ten, trying to keep from hyperventilating. My heart raced, my stomach churned, I struggled to keep from crying (an aside—I’m quite calm in an actual emergency), and finally we landed, safe and sound, in tropical paradise.

I decided after that experience, though, that I needed to change something. The stress hormones pouring into my system weren’t doing anyone any good. Either I needed to get over my fears, or I needed to not fly anymore.

Not fly? Okay . . . take a boat to Kenya when I go back someday? Drive to Santa Fe? I do, actually, think both things would be fun, but I don’t have the time, given the option of flight, to do them. So there it is. I’m going to fly, and I’m not going to be scared. I’ve made my decision.

I can, however, still be uncomfortable. There are no direct flights from Seattle to anywhere in New Mexico, so we went through Denver. Our plane took off from Seatac at 7:30 am, so I’d had time to make my morning latte (there’s always time for that), but not time to make it through the several resultant trips to the bathroom. We’d taken our time at the terminal, buying a magazine and a bagel, piddling once; and by the time we were done, our flight had boarded completely and they were announcing last call. And then they called us specifically, but we were there and rushed on.

We were in middle and window seats, and the middle-aged gent in the aisle looked askance at me when I said we were in his row. As soon as we were seated, he fell asleep. Relatively soon after that, Ian fell asleep. I drank an entire can of cranberry juice, and slowly realized that sleep was not in the cards for me. I started to have to pee. Then it was well-established, but Ian and the man slumbered on. We hit some small patches of turbulence but I barely even noticed. I had to pee worse and worse. Finally, we were only about 30 minutes out. Then 20, then 10 and we’d started our descent. That’s it, I was stuck now. I pulled out the United airline magazine, Hemispheres, and started doing the crossword. I wished there was enough room to sit on my heel, as I used to do in the car riding home from Renton (about 20 minutes from our house) when I was little and Mom wouldn’t stop somewhere for me. “Sit on your heel,” she’d say, and I’d forget my need by the time we got home. But we all know that airline seats don’t allow for any maneuvering at all, let alone a maneuver that involves sitting on one’s heel. Ian woke up and started talking to me. I tried to ignore him and focus on the crossword, which was easy enough to be distracting. He persisted; finally I said “Look. I really have to pee. All I can do is the crossword right now. Oh, but when we arrive, could you bend down and pull my back pack from under the seat in front of me?” I remembered the last time I had had to pee so bad—it was at a movie, one with Goldie Hawn as a witch, I think, and I kept thinking it was almost over (well, it should’ve been) so I didn’t bother to get up and leave, and by the time it was finally over, I had to pee so bad I couldn’t even stand up straight as I rushed to the bathroom. Now, I sat clenched and wondered if I would have to buy pants at the Denver airport. And then I wondered if we would have a soft landing. And then I focused just a bit more on the crossword, and then there was a little turbulence but it didn’t bother me at all except to set me thinking again about pants at the airport, and then I unbuttoned my pants, and then we landed—very softly, I’m pleased to report—and eventually everyone made their ways off the plane and I was able to pee. I must have lost about 5 pounds. In the hour and a half we had before catching our next plane to Albuquerque, we passed the one place in the terminal selling pants: “Denver Pizazz,” full of gold lamé and sequins and animal prints. I admit it, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t need to stop.

In Memoriam

On a family boat trip in the San Juan Islands, 13 years ago on this day, my father, Ross Deane Mathewson, was stung by a single hornet, had a massive anaphylactic reaction, and died. I was 19 at the time, he was 51. What I miss most about my relationship with my father is the relationship we never had: we were never both adults together, because his death marked the end of my childhood. His sudden ceasing to be, in the middle of yet another idyllic, sun-washed summer outing, gave me my first real understanding of the fragility and uncertainty of the world, and my role in doing what I could to help others through it. More than that, though—it allowed me—no, made me see the necessity—to begin the process of learning how to live life—my life—fear and pain and comfort and euphoria and joy altogether—to the fullest. It is in part because of my father that I go after what brings me joy—I can see now, with the hindsight of adult experience, that he let fear keep him from some things that mattered most to him. I recognize many of my struggles, as well as many of my strengths, as his. I wish he could know me now, in this adult life. I wish I could share my struggles and successes with him, and I wish he could share his with me. I miss him.