1.31.2007 miss

The recent threat of an airline strike left 150,000 people stranded after flights were cancelled - including my mother.

Her visit was extended, giving the children a bit more time to enjoy her presence. She also graciously allowed me to run away to London for a party I would have missed otherwise.

Today is her last day. We walked over to the Polar Research Institute to look at Scott's last letters home.

Growing up I never imagined leaving my hometown. When I moved sixty miles away for college I was piteously homesick for the mountains and water, even though I was still on the Puget Sound. After grad school the six years in Portland represented a state of exile, no matter how much I loved my friends and house. When I moved to Seattle I felt like everything was finally sorted, that I had gone back to my true home.

I did not want to move away from the Northwest, or live anywhere more than ten miles from the place I was born. Then one afternoon I decided to leave forever - on a whim.

Every action has a consequence. Living here is fundamentally the best plan right now. But the choice means that I am separated from beloved family and friends, that my mother can only see her grandchildren for a few short visits once or twice a year.

This is sad.

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1.30.2007 tour

Gayle is of course simply lovely, no matter what she does.... and U.S. readers have an excellent opportunity to see her on tour over the next few weeks!

Barbara Kingsolver on the new book:

This is a novel of passion and consequence, identity and accountability. I love the narrator, her children, her wild ride, and this truly American story of getting mad and getting wise.

More about Self Storage.

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1.29.2007 paintings

Check it out:

New Paintings by Gabriel Liston + Jonathan Saiz
Sidebar by Kelli Scott Kelley
+ gallery
Denver, CO
January 27 - March 3
Reception Friday

Gabriel's work also appears in New Disasters of War at the Mizel Center. On Sunday, February 4th he will participate in a panel discussion about the show, based on the war etchings of Francisco Goya.

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1.26.2007 congratulations

Huge congratulations to Josh, who has accepted a permanent position at the lab!

This is completely thrilling as I will now always have someone to talk to at work events. And, of course, I didn't mean it when I called him a hesher.

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1.25.2007 more

My mother is visiting for a month. The children had great fun with her when I wasn't around to implement rules and regulations: they went on mad shopping sprees, bought candy they're not allowed to have, stayed up late. They went to movies, rented countless DVD's, saw Suessical the Musical and the Chinese State Circus.

I was extremely grateful that her presence allowed me to escape for ten days, and at the same time quite concerned that I might not do a very good job of entertaining her during the rest of the trip. January in England is a dark and cold time, after all.

So far we've been to all the good restaurants in town, and several in London. We've visited the Fitzwilliam, the Cambridge & County Folk Museum, and the Victoria & Albert.

Still on the list: Windsor Castle, West End productions of Cabaret and The Lion King, the inevitable pilgrimage to Harrods...

My mother deserves all the best treats the world has to offer. I wish that I could give her more.

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1.22.2007 sunlight

Whenever we met in the evenings Parkinson or Josh would ask what I had done during the day, and the answer was invariably I walked on the waterfront.

Sunlight is a forbidden pleasure, something I have not experienced directly since childhood. The south of France in the winter was a perfect solution - it was bright and cold and I wandered around bundled up, absorbing the rays of the sun without exposing myself to the dangers inherent in the activity.

Every morning I visited the market at cours Saleya and bought cheese, olives, bread, vegetables and fruit before setting off on my adventures. Mostly this involved walking to Vieux Port and sitting on a bench in the sun writing, or many hours on the beach at Castel Plage, eating picnic lunches and filling up notebooks.

There were long conversations in cafes with Andreas, and many chance encounters with other scientists I see all over the world.

I heard that Andy the Decadent Australian was in town and remembered how he came to see me read in NYC seven or eight years ago. At the time I was baffled that he was in the city to buy new glasses; now I'm the sort who flies to that city for the same purpose. I looked but never found him, never had the opportunity to congratulate him on his marriage.

One afternoon during a walk I stumbled across Josh, Andrey, and Nick taking a stroll when they should have been at the conference. I took my earphones out, wagged a finger, and said Busted!

Josh replied We're on strike.

I was already dashing away but I turned back, spread my arms out wide, and shouted This is my job!

My thrashed leg hurt quite a lot, throwing off my posture and making both hips ache. I showed someone the bruises from the bike accident and he said It looks like someone took a ballpeen hammer and beat the shit out of you!

No injury could have kept me away from the 300 foot climb up the Colline du Chateaux to see the ruins and visit the cemeteries, including the Mercedes family tomb. One day I stopped at the Chapelle de l'Annonciation to light a candle for St. Rita, patron saint of terminally ill, but there were none for sale so I gave my tribute to a beggar on the doorstep. Later there were candles at the Chathedrale de Ste-Reparte and I nodded at the wax statue of a fifteen-year-old virgin martyr towed to Nice by angels in a flowery boat.

I even explored the New Town and attempted to shop, without much thrill or success because I had nobody to direct the activity.

In the evenings I headed back to the hotel, admiring the yellow building on the corner of cours Saleya where Matisse lived, with brilliant light striking it as the sun prepared to set.

I worked on the terrace as the light changed:

Then it was time to meet up with scientists for a series of banquets, receptions, and dinners. In my adolescence I aspired to be a geek but they weren't having me; I was too strange in a way that did not mesh with their pathologies. Now I run around the planet with the super-elite of that world, and I'm not sure how it happened. When I stumbled across him the first time Byron was just another broken boy; there was no indication at the time that he would end up having a career at all, let alone becoming a research scientist.

One night while I was taking notes about their behavior someone asked Will we be in your next book? The answer is no. I like these people in part because they offer no references to my favorite topics.

There were many fabulous meals, my favorite at La Merenda, a tiny restaurant with no phone that does not accept credit cards but has some of the best food I've eaten anywhere in the world.

One evening I was chatting with friends about a friends so-called midlife crisis (which appears to have started at birth) and explained that it is actually a phenomenon that happens every two years, always requiring some major change in his material circumstances. Peter asked So you've seen this happen seven times? and I nodded.

The problem this time, I said, is the fact that he likes his job and can't find anything else to fixate on -- he certainly can't blame anyone for any of his problems.

Peter considered the point and replied He would be a fool to throw any of it away!

I shrugged and said That is exactly how I feel about the whole thing. Josh and Peter raised their glasses in a toast and we collectively refused to tell the friend in question what we had been talking about.

It was simply genius to stay out late then retire to a hotel cut into the cliff of the Colline du Chateau, listening to the sound of the waves as I fell asleep:

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1.21.2007 blink

I make an effort to wear clothing appropriate to every occasion. Even in my excessively dark youth I always tried even if my failures were spectacular. There is an etiquette to uniforms, and while I remain true to my own aesthetic I believe that it is important to be respectful of whatever circumstance I need to deal with.

On the trip I went out to dinner with proper adults several times and I made an honest attempt to dress like a grown-up. It is difficult for me to pull off respectable but I own a few variations of outfits that fit the description.

There was one particular evening when I congratulated myself not only on my clothing, but also on my behavior. I did not say anything scandalous, did not challenge anyone on the fundamental flaws of their world view, did not inform a famous person that they were wrong and should stop talking.

I was surprised to hear later that an eminent scientist noticed my presence at all, let alone that they had formed an impression of me as stylish and jaunty.

The person they made the comments to was nonplussed and said But my friends are afraid of her - one remarked she is the kind of person who could slit your throat without blinking!

The person who made the first assertion replied There are some types of people you'll just never understand.

When I heard the third-hand account of this exchange I thought about it for a minute and said I would blink.

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1.20.2007 hunt

The other night we were sitting at a cafe in an alley in Vieux Nice and I was telling the East London Massive the story of the Hunt for Bad Boys and Lumberjacks but various colloquial and slang terms did not translate across the language barrier.

Six of us were from North America, or had lived there, and six were from elsewhere, and that meant that half the group dissolved in laughter as the other half stared in puzzlement.

I interpreted and brought everyone up to speed, including giving Ana's version of what constitutes a Bad Boy: tall, dark, dirty, emotionally unavailable.... and literate.

Dino asked if Bukowski or Henry Miller would make the cut for the literacy exam but I said that Ana would find both too obvious.

Someone suggested that we should take Josh on a Hunt for a Wife (because I suspect he believes in True Love). I offered to be the director of the endeavor but it was decided that an assistant would be better; I volunteered Ana's services without asking her permission.

Hunting for a spouse is quite a different proposition than finding some random boy who knows how to cut down trees. I never get involved in the serious matchmaking that might go astray and leave me forever stranded at unpleasant dinner parties.

Peter said that we should try to do a Bad Boy hunt in London but I shrugged and said that it would be impossible to replicate. Dino offered I can be emotionally unavailable!

I replied That is pretty obvious.

Then I remembered that I was not in fact on the west coast with my own people, but rather in a European cafe with sensitive scientists. I need to do a better job tracking which country I'm in at any given moment.

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1.19.2007 scooter

France is one of the rare places on this earth where men approach and attempt to talk to me. I have no idea what they are trying to say because I raise my hand in warning and march away.

Though this evening a boy on a scooter drove up on the sidewalk and blocked my path. I have enough language to know that he was not asking for directions.

This would officially be the first stranger who has ever hit on me, but I've decided that it doesn't count if it happens in Europe because that would be too easy.

I wrote to Jeff and described the incident and he replied:

You are so silly. You evaluate these occurrences on an individual basis by some outlandish criteria and then invalidate them. Face facts. You are a hottie and everybody wants you. As disturbing as that may be.

I've never debated the relative issue of hotness because that is something predicated on confidence, not beauty. Even in my most backward moments I've always had attitude to spare.

Though I challenged Jeff for proof and he was forced to reply:

I do not hang out with you and strangers. And when I hang out with you, people don't hit on you. So it is hard for me to have evidence. But I feel you have a lot of stories of "confusing" situations that just turn out to be someone blatantly hitting on you . . .

This is perhaps true-- but the incidents he is referring to never, ever involve strangers.

Recently at a party Iain overheard a performance artist trying to figure out whether or not it was okay to chat me up. Critically, he didn't even make eye contact.

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1.18.2007 proposal

I was reading a book proposal for a friend and wrote to tell him that he should say his work is like Anthony Bourdain meets Noam Chomsky.... but sexier!

He queried What was your catchphrase? Dorothy Allison and Mother Jones meet in the cancer ward?

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1.17.2007 confusing

I have many Capricorn friends and colleagues, but we mostly communicate from a distance. Until recently Erin Scarum was the only birthday twin I've spent a substantial amount of direct social time with, and she always startles me by understanding every subtle subtext of whatever anecdote I tell. This was particularly eerie in the days when I didn't want anyone to see the back story.

This winter I've hung out with other Capricorns and the experience has been illuminating, in part because we have a tendency to critique each other and most people wouldn't dare.

One afternoon in Seattle Greg appeared to be digging for the truth about my name (short answer: it isn't my fault I was born a Lavender) and in the middle of his speech informed me that I look like I know that I'm smarter than the common people (his actual words).

My mouth dropped open in shock. His eyes widened and he followed up with Did I just say that?

The waitress had turned up to take our order and she replied Yes, you did before offering her pen so I could take notes.

After quickly scribbling down the quote I replied If that is true of me, then it must be of you too!

He said Absolutely - I'm not separating you from me before getting distracted by flirting with the cute waitress.

The statement is not entirely true. Greg only knows me in the context of the Bus Stop and he was accurately describing the mighty force field that has historically protected me from straight boys in bars. Not that it fazed him.

Similarly, Sarah wonders out loud why Rachel gets away with so much in my company. For instance, I can't think of anyone else who would dare grab my phone let alone send racy text messages around the world.

Hanging out with Rachel is hilarious because she tells me scandalous stories and says things like I guess you get what you deserve. I throw up my hands and shout No, you get what you choose! Then we both fall about laughing, to the bemusement of the English people watching our antics.

I've always been under the impression that I make perfect sense at all times, even when informed by credible witnesses that I am mysterious. I only just noticed that I might be sort of confusing.

This is what I have observed about children of the winter: we are, apparently, both capricious and constant. We move abruptly when we see a solution to a problem. We feel a conflict between decadence and thrift but keep business sorted even in dire circumstances. We do what we like even when we know better. We love secrets. We are excessively stubborn.

How strange.

Happy birthday to all the other winter babies!

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1.16.2007 view

I'm sitting on the terrace of a hotel room built into a cliff perched over sparkling blue water and a rocky beach, watching the sun sinking on the horizon.

For several days I had no internet access, no email, no journal updates. This felt more than slightly strange, even though I periodically retreat from the world. Not wanting to stay in touch with people is entirely different from not being able to do so.

My mother, kids, agent, publicist, and a few friends know how to reach me if I'm needed but so far no urgent matters have come up.

During the day I walk along the beach, staring at the water and listening to sad music, not quite escaping the month of January but also not terribly concerned because the sun is shining and the air is warm and I never imagined that I would spend part of my winter on the Cote d' Azur.

At night I go out with mathematicians and behave myself until a small crew splinters off and then I tell sketchy stories and laugh and laugh with friends until I can barely breathe.

This year I resolved not to think about what January represents, about all the dark cold winter days and nights shivering in hospital rooms.

The distance between the past, those rooms, that view across the Puget Sound to the Olympic mountains, and this view, this day, this anonymous hotel room, staring at the Mediterranean and a clear and distant flat horizon, is immense and at the same time minuscule. I'm the same person. I just grew up.

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1.15.2007 report

Birthday Report:

There were bike lights and books, chocolate and assorted other special treats. My main gift was a a Walkman phone. I've never owned a mobile worth stealing before; this will be interesting.

Since it is my very own I will be able to download a specialized misery mix tape to take along on journeys instead of making do with a borrowed iPod!

Amy Joy called to sing a birthday song in Dutch. Gordon called from SF. There were text and email messages from all over the world. Byron prompted a few of my friends to get in touch, but most remembered on their own, for the first time ever. There was even a card from my father -- who has never previously known the day or year of my birth! Some messages straggled in late, but almost everyone I care about got in touch.

We went to a restaurant for sushi and then ate a cake:

Later in the evening the children were both busy with xmas presents and waved vaguely when I headed to the pub to see friends.

Several lovely people turned up to wish me well in this strange new age. Talk around the table inevitably turned toward the relative merits of Cambridge, and a persistent desire (felt by everyone in the group, perhaps most acutely by yours truly) to move to London.

Jean asserted that Cambridge can grow on a person if you give it four, five, six years.... Hmm. Grow like moss? Dry rot? Living in this town is a lot like spending your whole life in a doctors waiting room. I have lots of friends and like the place, but I still yearn for city life. I grew up in a small town and I've been looking for anonymity ever since. I told him he was promoting revisionist history, particularly since he has keys to a flat in London.

Byron and Jean decided to be frat boys and practiced for a good long time:

I told many of my favorite stories to friends who had never heard them before (and in the case of Coffey or Nikolai, perhaps did not anticipate the extent of the potential chaos when agreeing to have drinks in a pub).

Sally decided to cause trouble and there weren't many opportunities on offer so she convinced the boys playing music in the front of the pub to drag me up on their makeshift stage.

She said I know you might stop talking to me.... and I interrupted to say Oh no, I'll do something worse! But it still happened over my protests.

I stood with my arms crossed as the band sang Rocky Raccoon and my friends clustered in front, laughing uproariously. I wondered if the song was a good omen or poor, given my history. One of the musicians took a photo on his mobile phone and shouted at the crowd Who has Bee's number?

Of course, none of my friends do; my anti-telephone habit is still deeply entrenched even if I have been practicing.

Jean drawled That is a novel way to get a girl's number!

The next day my mother arrived to celebrate my birth and spend time with her grandchildren; we had a lovely dinner and then I had to dash off to London to do interviews. I went out for another birthday dinner with Iain, Xtina, and Susan.

Then of course drinks with David, who knew me at age thirteen and continues to amuse and amaze. I showed him one of the UK book jackets (there will be more than one - that is another story altogether) featuring a photo of me as a troubled youth, complete with slashed eyelid - though everyone who looks at it now insists they can't see the scar.

The whole table cooed over the image but I said Would you want a photograph of yourself at seventeen staring out from store shelves? David laughed and admitted I had him on the point. Though I do agree that it is a good cover.

Dinner with the East London Massive was predictably hilarious. One of the crew hit on the waitress, who invented a boyfriend on the spot. We took bets on her accent and nobody guessed correctly: Baltimore! I put my hands on my cheeks and said Lots of my favorite people live there. I love your Christmas lights!

The youngsters kept ordering alcohol in sets of three - wine, beer, and cocktails. I am too wise for such antics but somehow they managed to get me to drink two glasses of something orange, on the pretext of toasting..... whatever we're celebrating this week.

At four in the morning I crawled into a hotel bed, knowing that I would have to be in a taxi dashing to the airport at six - and that I had not yet packed.

Now I'm in the south of France with no plans to do anything at all for an entire week. Holidays have never suited me but I have high hopes that I can learn.

This birthday was the twenty-fourth anniversary of my first cancer surgery.

I am so incredibly lucky.

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1.14.2007 green

For those who wondered what the green dress looks like:

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1.13.2007 explanation

One evening M said in passing I don't know why you get all the cool friends. You don't even try and they flock to you!

I facetiously asserted that it might be my charm and social graces but she knows that I have only vestigial skills and just rolled her eyes. I asked her to expound on the subject.

You just want me to say more inflammatory things so you can write it down. It isn't hard to get in that notebook if I'm being rude!

True. But I coaxed her for an explanation of how I manage to know so many people. She continued:

You are a good planner - a pillar of hope. You are a hot mama and lots of people want to sleep with you. You are very self-confident and people are drawn to that. You are loud and talkative with people you know, and quiet and mysterious with everyone else. You are the kind of person people want to get close to.

I argued that I am in fact prickly and difficult and she replied If you were a teacher at my school all the kids would love you. Even if you were mean!

She is the only person who was honest enough to admit that the most recent cancer scar aged my face by five years. I suppose that her points might be valid - even though they do not reflect the version of myself playing in my own head. I'll have to ponder her comments.

Then we were bored and wandered into the city centre to take photographs of British food we find puzzling:

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1.12.2007 charming

Last night I met David at Quaglinos for drinks. We told many scathing stories of the green hell (as Mashburn always called the area of the county where we grew up). He can't really pronounce the name of his own hometown after something like thirteen years in the UK; it sounds like Ooh-la-la on his tongue.

The other people at the table laughed in wonderment, asserting more than once that the tales could not possibly be true. But they are.

At some point I spread my arms and said We weren't raised for this - meaning not only the fancy bar, or swanky hotels, or travels through Europe. Not just the material security, fantastic jobs, wild adventures.

David replied We weren't raised to have aspirations.

This is true; we were not even told there was something elsewhere to desire.

Later in the midst of one of my more cracked anecdotes I tossed off the aside That was before I decided to be friendly, charming, and have feelings and one of my companions stopped me.

That, he said, should be the title of your next book!

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1.10.2007 lucky

This week I have the first UK interviews for the book, leading to a predictable fashion emergency. My agent said that I should wear my lucky dress (even for phone interviews). Iain seconded the vote for a dress, or anything with cleavage.

I was still dithering but Mark said Wear a dress you silly lady. They are your trademark. Since he has mighty style powers I followed his advice, pulling out the green dress Sheila chose for me last summer.

Why I need a committee to organize an outfit is a mystery, and also a new phenomenon. I've never allowed anyone to influence my costume choices, let alone shop with me, fuss over me in a dressing room, or select my wardrobe. My mother reports I never even let her choose my clothes as an infant.

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1.08.2007 vow

The other night Byron asked Did you expect to live this long?

I replied Of course not. Did you think I would?

No.

Really?

Nope.

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1.07.2007 day

The phone rang at the stroke of midnight and birthday wishes continue to arrive from near and far.

I'm now officially thirty-six, a number with a square root!

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1.05.2007 package

A package from Ana just arrived! I think that it was meant for Christmas but nobody ever remembers my birthday so I'll save the presents to open on Sunday.

The note inside read in part This paltry present is my attempt to thank you for all that you have done for me -- the recommendation letter, Seattle, etc.... Did I tell you the title of my next novella is Triple XXXmas?

Our hunt for bad boys and lumberjacks was hilarious; I would not have predicted that so many interesting friendships and projects would be derived from that strange week.

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1.04.2007 inevitable

Recently one of my motorist friends realized that I have assorted bad habits related to bicycling and extracted a promise that I would rectify my wicked ways. I put off any changes until this weekend as I predict that my birthday presents will all be cycling related. But the pledge did haunt me, and I noticed various things: I cycle fast on slippery surfaces, cycle when fog and rain mist my glasses and obscure the landscape, cycle at night dressed all in black without lights (or a bell).

My pragmatic brain evaluated the risk and realized that an accident was imminent. Though I was also extremely impressed that I have evolved from fearful to fearless. I am now my father's daughter, reckless beyond reason.

This afternoon I was waiting to meet my kid and pondering the whole issue of bike safety. When the boy arrived I greeted him and turned to wheel away, not noticing that my left leg was next to a short wooden boundary post.

The spikes on my pedal caught the back of my leg, the post the front, and the velocity of the bicycle moving started an precipitous tumble face first into the road. My mind raced through potential injuries and definite humiliation and I threw my body backwards, hyper-extending my knee and gouging the lower leg between metal and wood.

At least I didn't fall.

The fact that I very calmly continued the journey indicated that the injury was serious. I never react to physical pain.

I couldn't tell for a few hours if the bone was broken, but decided that if it bore weight there was no reason to go to the hospital. I think that I ripped some muscles and probably sprained my ankle. The old hip injury has come back to spite me. My knee is making this very interesting grinding sound whenever I move. I didn't quite know what to do but then remembered the advice of various people over the years, and started popping Arnica.

It is difficult to scramble up and down a steep riverbank when one leg is not cooperating.

Funny that my inevitable accident happened in daylight while walking down a sidewalk.

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1.03.2007 schedules

Today I had a highly amusing telephone conversation with Byron, who is attempting to sort out a travel schedule that is growing ever more complex.

I am only responsible for my kid fifty percent of the time, and all of the spring has been strictly blocked off for my work. Byron has to somehow figure out childcare so he can go to Paris, Zurich, and Seattle. Not to mention hosting all of the visiting researchers.

I predict it will be quite difficult for him to pull this one off.

Mark has been trying to tempt me back to the states but I really do need to be here for the book launch and various interesting literary events.

Though I just bought tickets to go to the French Riviera in an attempt to escape this terrible dark month. That will be my last opportunity to leave the country until NYC in April. Knowing that I am stuck here for a long stretch of time makes me feel claustrophobic.

I'm just a working class kid from a sketchy small town. I really do not know how all of this happened.

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1.02.2007 depression

Walking through the city centre we encountered a friend who did not come to Thanksgiving because he was felled by seasonal depression. He reported that he feels much better now; his run of bad luck is in the early winter, when it is darker around here. Byron pointed to me and merrily said She is just starting - sometimes it gets so bad she is suicidal!

It is true: I am grief-stricken this time of the year. I've done everything possible to fix the problem, and I am substantially less moody than past years, but winter is not my season.

There is a physical element, as cold weather is literally intolerable. My body shuts down at a certain temperature and I can't recover unless I take very hot baths, which isn't possible on the boat. I can't fly away to a hot climate because of course sunlight is forbidden (summer is also a treacherous season, but at least I can go out at night).

I don't really mind the crushing sadness as I often figure out something important when forced to slow down. Reflecting on my life is not a daily indulgence in the spring or fall.

In the past this has taken the form of digging around in my experiences growing up with cancer. For some reason this winter is all about relationships, and the various ways that I have failed to understand commonplace reality.

Another change this year is that various friends have written to check on me, and a few have even called - and I have been talking about my feelings. This is a new phenomenon as I have never been surrounded by people who tried to take care of me, or if anyone tried I flatly rejected the overture. Instead I always chose confidants who expected and reinforced my toughness. One example: Byron, while rock solid in all matters medical and practical, simply does not care and takes the position that I should get over it. Today I prompted him to ask how I am feeling and he replied No. You are an adult. Deal.

Of course this made me laugh.

Other than sleeping too much the main side-effect of my depression is a tendency to wallow in popular culture, which is anathema to my normal routine. Yesterday while wandering around I bought a Neil Diamond cd - and that is the least embarrassing music on constant repeat on the laptop.

I've also gone out to the movies or rented videos every night. When I bought a ticket to see Casino Royale it was clear I had officially exhausted the available cinema options in this small town.

There are probably many critiques to be offered about the movie but I've never seen another Bond film. The only substantial thing I took away from the viewing was a hunch that the killers I've loved are more charismatic and attractive than the current 007. I reviewed mental files and a few photographs and decided that my hunch was accurate. I thought too bad they chose a different career path.

Then I noticed that I had evaluated someone based on physical appearance. That has never happened before. How peculiar.

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1.01.2007 wish

The evening started at eight when Rachel texted Call me!

I picked up the phone and dialed. She was startled almost speechless and then scrambled out a bunch of information about where and when to meet. That was immediately, in the town centre, and I was still in my pajamas so had to rush to make it in time to have drinks with Jean and Peter.

We ate some sushi, then walked over to Rosie's house where we proceeded to drink far too much champagne over jolly conversations with academics and the occasional visiting sibling.

When it was time to depart for the next party the whole house followed us to Sidney Sussex, where I had an invitation to a party - though not necessarily accompanied by twelve party crashers. Nikolai was surprised but gracious. I wandered around, chatted with Magnus, brokered an arranged marriage, had a highly entertaining conversation with a town planner, and drank too much red wine.

The youngsters were extremely well-behaved, presumably because there were actual grown-ups present (in the form of professors and department chairs), which was interesting to observe. My behavior does not change based on whether or not a figure of authority is present, no matter how critical that person might be to my career. In fact, historically I have misbehaved in those situations.

The pub down below has closed so there was no repeat of the police drama of last year. Sitting on the window sill with Rachel, the word modernity was casually used by someone or other and Anil said Isn't that a tautology? I replied I refuse to debate vocabulary with computer scientists! But he requested a definition of postmodernism and Rachel delivered a swift and concise lecture, cigarette in one hand and glass of wine in the other, teetering precariously next to an open second story window.

Conversations about love and treachery caused a person who knows the country to say Life is like a road in Afghanistan. There are many twisting turns and you never know what will be around the next corner.

Last year a Russian woman explained that in her country the custom is not to make resolutions, but rather to make a secret wish, that you must not talk about even if it comes true. I told her that I did in fact get my wish for 2006, and refrained from commenting that the cliche be careful what you wish for proved painfully true.

The party emptied out in the wee morning hours and we followed Rachel to a borrowed flat one floor up, where we met Jean and Peter, who had been drinking absinthe all night.

There was much hilarious drunken chatter and then it was time to cycle toward the river at dawn. 2007 started auspiciously, laughing with friends.

I did not make a secret wish.

Happy New Year!

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