Tuesday, December 27, 2011

thumbing it . . .

the day after Christmas i waited for the crosswalk light to transform into the green man, the man who crosses the street with no fear of automobiles running him down, but wait, it was the red hand of stop that caught my eye because it had no thumb, it blinked and blinked and then became stationary, like me, and it's thumbless presence made me wonder if all the red hands of stop were thumbless? How could i have missed this? This four fingered hand that tells me not to go, or go if you please, but i won't say i told you so when you lay there on the rain soaked pavement with tire marks across your belly, four fingers are just as adamant about the stop as five, aren't they? The green man, who walks with his elbows and knees bent at the exact same angle pushed away the thumbless halt who goes there? And I crossed, and forgot the slightly handicapped sign as thoughts of my nephew crossed my mind, the boy who is twelve who already has a mustache and is so much like my husband that Nature vs. Nurture arguments are no longer in question to me - genetics make the man . . . ah, another crosswalk, next to the Mexican restaurant which is busy with families tired of Christmas Ham and this hand of stop owns a thumb and i am wondering who will replace the tiny red bulbs back up there at the corner of King, so the thumb can return? Because, no one can really come to a full stop without the full hand can they?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Expat's Christmas

So, I wrote this little story for The Royal Gazette's Christmas Story contest back in 1997 -- I did not win, did not even get an honorable mention - why? well, first off, they probably threw it away the moment they saw it was written by an Expat, and secondly? It's subject was probably a bit too political and dark for them. But nonetheless, here it is, here it is, warts and all:


An Expat's Christmas


    It was Christmas Eve in Bermuda. Night was falling and a northeaster had begun to blow. Hamilton sent her workers early and fast to their bright warm festive homes with their heads filled with thoughts of Christmas hams, time with their families, and a bit of rum to warm their hearts. The streets were deserted and filled with driving rain. Boats in the harbor rose and fell on the grey cold sea. The Christmas lights that lined the streets were twinkling and shivering in the storm. The palms at the Foot of the Lane leaned hard into the sea faring winds that had come from somewhere deep in the snowbound heartland of the America to Bermuda to wish all a Merry Cold Christmas.

    Yet one tiny window overlooking the harbor still remained lit. This was the office of Henry Hall. Henry was desperately trying to repair a line of computer programming code that had crashed his company’s system earlier that day. The problem was which line of code? He would need most of the night to ferret the code out of hiding. The office had gone silent except for the buzz of the overhead lights and the computers.

He heard his boss’ words from earlier that day over and over in his mind, “Henry, do you ever watch nature shows on the tv?”

“Sometimes.” Henry answered as he stared in disbelief at the network that lay dying on the screen before him.

“Well, did you ever notice the way lions rip into the flesh of their prey? And the way there is always another animal waiting out in the wings for that lion to give up?” Henry’s boss was leaning into his ear now.

    “I don’t follow you, sir.” Henry kept staring as his computer screen continued to announce the terrible news; his network was completely trashed. His coworkers were in their offices pulling at their ties and their hair, because they couldn’t get the information they needed. Outside the wind was singing an eerie Christmas carol against Henry’s window.

    Henry’s boss continued, “Well Henry, my man, its very simple. If you don’t get this network back up by Boxing Day, the Hyenas will have their chance, finally, or even worse, the vultures. Oh, look at the time. I need to shove off before this storm gets too bad, what with last minute presents to buy for the family. Merry Christmas, Henry.” Henry’s boss whirled out of the room and minutes later he announced that everyone could go home early, “Its Christmas, you know.” All except Henry dashed for the doors. Henry was used to being left behind, sometimes it was necessary to work on the systems when no one was about.

One person did stop to wish Henry a good Christmas and that was Clarence DeSousa.. Clarence was the young and only Bermudian who worked in Henry’s office. Clarence was the mail clerk who recently had applied for the Assistant Network Technician position and Henry would be his boss if he managed to get the job. Henry knew deep down that Clarence didn’t have the background to get the job and the company would probably bring another expat in to do the job. “Thank you for the interview last week Henry. I really hope you guys give me the chance. See you next week.” Henry waved without turning Clarence’s way. “Fool.” Henry thought, “He’ll never get past the mail room in this place.”

    The hyenas. The vultures. He understood what his boss was driving at and it frightened him enough to stay and work all night. Even on Christmas Eve. He began to work so frantically that he forgot to call his wife to tell her he wouldn’t be coming home. He became so immersed in the code scrolling by on his monitor that he didn’t see the torrent of rain washing down the streets below. He didn’t see the boats in the harbor being tossed about in the black churning waters. He went into a state of oneness with the network that he had worked so closely with for the last year and a half; such a state that he forgot there was a world outside. He forgot that he was on a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that was presently besieged by what would be remembered as one of the worst northeasters to hit in over a century. He forgot that it was Christmas.

    Henry became so frenzied that he began to get very tired. He had been working for hours now. The sun had set and the street lights reflected in a wild collidiscopic burst through the rain. Henry had not eaten and most importantly he had not had any coffee. The lack of large amounts of caffeine and sugar had drained him. Henry fought the awful tired feeling that was wrapping him up. He shifted in his seat. He turned up the music on his cd rom. But nothing was going to save him. The code was just within reach, he could taste it. Alas, poor Henry fell asleep.

    He slipped from his chair and curled beneath his desk. His head rested upon that day’s edition of The Royal Gazette which contained another letter condemning expats and their apparent greed; these letters always made Henry so frustrated. From this position, colored Christmas lights that had been strung across his door blinked and shown down on his sleep ridden face. His skin turned the colors of a terrible Christmas card. On and off. On and Off. On and Off.

****

    “Henry? Henry wake up!” Henry could hear a voice. A familiar voice. “Henry wake up right now man.” The voice was closer now and Henry opened his eyes. He was in his office. The sun was shining and a figure was standing over him as he lay on the floor. “Man, you got the nerve fallin’ asleep on the job. You’re lucky its me and not the boss finding you. C’mon get up, it’s a gorgeous Bermuda day, I got something fascinatin’ to show you.” Now Henry knew. It was Premier Gordon. She was dressed in a bright pink suit and shiny patent sandals. Her smile was wide and she held out her hand to Henry to help him up.

    “Ms. Gordon. I mean Premier. I’m sorry you found me asleep on the job. I know how important it is for expats to set a good example for Bermudians. But I was just so tired.”

    “Never mind that now Henry. I must show you something of the greatest importance to you’re future in Bermuda.” She seized his arm and helped him up. Henry was surprised by the strength of this tiny woman who had come to visit him.

    The Premier led Henry through his office door and to his great surprise they entered his old living room in his old house back in the States. They stopped behind the sofa and Henry looked down to see himself and his sweet wife sitting and watching the television.  “You remember this night Henry. It’s the sixth game of the World Series. Its October of last year and it’s the night they called to ask you if you would like to work in Bermuda. You remember Henry?” The Premier was squeezing Henry’s arm just enough to remind him of a kindergarten teacher he once knew.

    “Yes, yes! How could I forget?” With that the phone rang and Henry on the couch let out a huge growl as he got up to answer it. “Who could that be? Its ten o’clock!” His wife was equally annoyed at the interruption. Henry watched as his self left the living room hanging on to the phone. He would be on that phone for an hour and then would return to ask his wife if she had ever thought about living in Bermuda.

    “You know the rest Henry.” The Premier said as she started to turn Henry around and around. Henry became dizzy and then the Premier stopped him. “Look Henry, its Christmas.” Henry rubbed his eyes and before him he saw his living room packed with boxes and his self and his sweet frazzled looking wife were knee deep in newspapers.

    “Can you believe this? Everyone we know is relaxing and drinking eggnog and we’re packing up to move to a rock in the middle of the ocean? I’m tired and I want to sleep.” Henry’s self sat in a pile of paper’s.

    “You can’t stop now. You can sleep on the plane tomorrow. What was your family thinking when they gave us presents?! We’re just going to put them in storage. Henry are we going to survive this?” His sweet tired wife sat down in the paper with him.

    “We’re going to more than survive this. We’re going to make more money than we ever thought we could. We’re going to finally get ahead and out of debt and to top it off we’re going to be living on a tropical island.” Henry kissed his wife.

    “That’s sub-tropical.” The Premier interjects. “C’mon Henry. You’ve seen enough. It’s time for you to go back to your office. Henry is softly weeping. “Premier, ghost. Whoever you are. Why have you shown me this happy past? I was so hopeful then that Bermuda would be the answer to all our dreams.”

    “Now, Henry don’t go mushy on me. Get back to work. You have a lot to do. Merry Christmas.” Henry was now back in his office. He sat down at this computer and started to work, but it was no use, once again he fell asleep.

****

    “Hey mate! Wake up, we got to get you home for Christmas.” Henry was once again woken by a familiar voice. He raised his head from his desk and turned to see his company taxi driver, Cecil Butterfield. “Its too damn windy outside for you to be ridin’ a bike. I’ll give you a lift.” Henry sleepily rose to his feet and followed Cecil out of his office and suddenly he was sitting in Cecil’s warm clean taxi and Cecil began to sing. “Oh de weather outside is frightful, but de…”

    “Cecil, how did you know I was still in the office?” Henry was rubbing his eyes.

    “I have my ways, mate.” Cecil was driving fast through the empty streets, the taxi seemed to have a mind of its own as the winds and rain blew all around them. “El Nino is causin’ dis storm. Dat’s what dey are sayin’ on de radio.”
    “Yeah, well maybe that’s what killed my network today, Cecil.” Henry was staring out the window.

    “Dat all you think about, man? Work? Hey we’re here.” Cecil slammed on the brakes and Henry fell forward off his seat. He crawled back up on his seat and looked out to see that they were not at his house, but at a little pink house somewhere in Somerset. There were bright Christmas lights all over the windows and there was a warm glow in the window. “Henry, I want you to see dis.” Henry followed Cecil out into the rain and cold and they walked up to the glowing warm window and peered in. “You recognize that family? That’s Clarence DeSousa and his sweet wife and their wee one. Dey ain’t got much, but dey are hopin’ de New Year brings dem some luck. You catch my drift, Henry?”

    “Yeah, I’m beginning to see the light. Can we please get back in the taxi and go home? I’m freezing!”

    “Yessir!” Within moments they were at the end of Henry’s driveway and Henry saw that all the lights were off. “Cecil, do think my wife is mad?”

    “Yep. She went to bed two or three hours ago after calling family back home. She ate a frozen dinner and cried a while. Yep. She’s had enough with you and Bermuda, Henry.”

    “Cecil, take me back to my office. I don’t want to wake her up.”

    “Whatever you say, mate.” Cecil turned the taxi around and they sped back into town, but at the Foot of the Lane, the taxi cut out. “Sorry Henry, I seem to be out of gas, you’ll have to walk from here.” Henry got out into the wind and rain and began the long walk up Front Street to his office. He was cold and lonelier than ever.

****

    Through the curtain of the storm, Henry spotted a horse and carriage approaching him. The driver was bent against the rain and the horse stepped lively despite the river that now replaced the road. The horse and carriage stopped in front on Henry and the driver waived Henry up in the seat beside him. Henry peered under the driver’s black hood, but he couldn’t see a face.

    Without warning, the rain stopped, but the clouds and light wind remained. They were driving along the South Shore and Henry looked out to see a suspended highway that surrounded the island, with huge arching bridges crossing the parishes. There was a smell of gasoline in the air and the houses were now high rises. There was garbage washing in with the tide and Henry saw people sleeping along the roadside. They turned back toward town and though it was morning, Johnny Barnes was not there to wave and welcome everyone to town.

    “Oh ghost, what has happened?”

    “The island was abandoned by the foreign companies and workers. They left an over-developed island with natives unable to keep her going.”

    “Ghost, must it be this way?” The unearthly voice remained silent as they drove down an unrecognizable Front Street to come to a stop below the huge dark building that had replaced Henry’s company.

****

    Henry awoke with a start to find himself under his desk. The storm had passed, but the power was out making the island seem eerily quiet. “Have I missed Christmas?” Henry got to his feet and ran out of his building to get on his bike. He sped home and passed a couple walking on Middle Road, he stopped and asked them, “Is it still Christmas?” They nodded yes nervously. He continued to speed home.

    Henry burst into his house and hugged his sweet wife. “ I am so sorry for missing Christmas Eve. But we will have a wonderful day.” She smiled up at him and kissed him. “But first I have to call my boss. I want him to hire Clarence DeSousa as my new tech assistant.”

    “Are you sure? He’ll need so much training.” His wife looked puzzled in her flannel bathrobe.

    “I have never been more sure in my life, mate.”


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Eat This . . .

Yesterday, i bought a little fat spruce tree and decorated it with plump Christmas lights and it glowed all evening out on the porch in the blue cold, while we were warmed by a supper of braised chicken, carrots, radishes, and turnips with leftover risotto. Leftover Risotto? Yes, my dear readers from San Jose, there might be only one thing that is better than Risotto, and that is Leftover Risotto. Braised Radishes? I'll talk about them another time, but you can hold me to this, I may never eat a raw radish again.

So who do you turn to for the purest of Risotto recipes? Of course you head straight to Venice's Calle Vallaresso, near the Piazza San Marco, and duck into Harry's Bar, where else? And listen carefully to Arrigo Cipriani when he demands, "This is the simplest risotto--there is nothing extra to hide mediocre rice, a bad butter, or a tasteless Parmigiano." Got that? Don't be cheap with anything in life, especially risotto. And when he advises that the chicken stock be homemade, take him for his word on that, but if you can't, find a good organic, low sodium stock at the store, and no bouillon or may the gods strike you dead.  Once you have mastered this Risotto, then you may spread your wings and dare to make things so delicate as Risotto Alla Milanese (Saffron Risotto), or Risotto Con Asparagi (Risotto with Asparagus), or Risotto Con Porcini (Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms) - one of my favorite ways to enjoy Risotto is to find wild mushrooms at the market (not in the woods, all you will find there is poisonous mushrooms!) and sauté them with a couple of slices of bacon and then add peas. The Harry's Bar Cookbook is rich with Risotto ideas really, let your mind run wild . . . what will i have with my risotto tonight?

RISOTTO PARMIGIANO
Basic Risotto with Parmesan Cheese

(from Arrigo Cipriani's The Harry's Bar Cookbook)

This is the simplest risotto--there is nothing extra to hide a mediocre rice, a bad butter, or a tasteless Parmigiano. Everything has to be perfect. . . Once you have made it a few times, you'll find it comes as second nature. It's a good idea to have some boiling water on the stove, in case you run out of stock before the risotto is finished.

SERVES 6 AS A FIRST COURSE

5 to 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (1.250 to 1.5 ml)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 1/2 cups short-grain Italian rice, preferably Vialone or Carnaroli (about 250 g)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature (45 g)
2/5 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (80 g) plus extra to pass at the table
salt
freshly ground pepper


Bring the stock to a simmer in a saucepan and keep it a at bare simmer.


Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed 3-quart (2 3/4 liter) saucepan and cook the onion over medium heat, stirring until the onion is golden but not brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon to coat the rice well with the oil and onion. Turn the heat to medium-high, add about 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the simmering stock, and keep the mixture boiling, stirring constantly. As soon as the stock has been absorbed, add another 1/2 cup (125 ml) of stock and stir until it is absorbed. You may have to adjust the heat from time to time--the risotto has to keep boiling, but it must not stick to the pot. If your risotto tends to stick, put the pot on a Flame Tamer (Wolfy has one of these things and she cannot recommend this tool more highly). Continue adding stock about 1/2 cup (125 ml) at a time, stirring constantly and waiting until each portion is absorbed before adding the next, until the rice is creamy and tender on the outside with each grain still distinct and firm. This will take at least 20 minutes, maybe as long as 30 minutes, depending on your pot and your stove. If the rice is still a bit hard in the middle after you have used all but a few tablespoons of the stock, add boiling water 1/4 cup (60 ml) at a time, stirring it in as you did the stock, until each grain of rice is tender but still has the slightest bit of firmness and the mixture is creamy.

Remove the pan from the heat and vigorously stir in the butter and the Parmesan. This stirring will make the risotto even creamier. Taste and season with salt and pepper. While continuing to stir vigorously, add the few remaining tablespoons of hot stock (or boiling water if you've used all the stock) to make the consistency softer and softer. In Italy we call it all'onda--like a wave. Taste carefully for seasoning and serve immediately, passing a small bowl of Parmesan cheese. 

Wolfy Note on Leftover Risotto: i like to put the risotto in a lightly oiled baking dish and bake it at 350 degrees until its slightly golden. But as Arrigo says, there are many ways to make leftover risotto, such as his "pancakes" -- To reheat risotto in a frying pan: Use a nonstick pan. Heat the pan over medium heat and melt 2 tablespoons (30 g) of butter. When the butter is hot, add rounded tablespoons of risotto and flatten into pancakes with the back of the spoon. Fry the risotto until then are golden brown, then turn them and fry on the other side, adding more butter as needed.

Wine Notes:
Italian: Arneis "Blange" - Ceretto
American: Chardonnay - Mt. Veeder

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Man and the Cockapoo

While waiting for the light to turn green on Monday afternoon, I watched a man holding a cockapoo in his arms at the corner of King and Margaret. The man of sixty or so was slight and neatly dressed in a tweed coat, wool pants, and dark leather shoes. The cockapoo was full grown, but had the dark naive eyes of a puppy, his popcorn tresses ruffled in the early December wind and he hung alert in the mans’ grip. The dog wore a collar and a leash and this baffled me as I wondered if the man was holding the cockapoo because it was the only way to restrain the dog, but this wasn’t necessarily so. The dog was calm, and had an air about him of complete comfort. The man was equally calm as though this were a normal thing, to carry his cockapoo, but I could see him shift the dog slightly back and forth to redistribute his weight - it could not have been easy for him to hold the dog, who looked to be at least fifty pounds, maybe more. The cockapoo didn’t seem to be handicapped in any way, nor was he a dog who looked panicked. I wanted to roll down the window and inquire if they needed assistance, but as I watched them, there didn’t seem to be anything I could help them with. Perhaps the cockapoo was unruly on the leash and the man preferred to carry him when navigating town? But then again, perhaps the dog was in distress? Postictal from a seizure? Perhaps the man simply liked to carry his cockapoo -- a relief to some deep anxiety. The light turned, the man crossed the street, the cockapoo rested quietly in the man’s arms and moved to the rhythm of his confident stride and they disappeared from view near the courthouse as I drove away.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Poems For Jamie Wyeth, Part Five



New Year's Calling

the snow stopped just after we fed the horses tonight
did you see the clouds speed away over the fields?
and the stars rang on as we walked up to the house
no, i don't suppose you did
you're too occupied with what happened
and how the horse made you a fool
i told you not to take him out on Boxing Day
too many damn fools and you insisted
and now you sit there wriggling in your cumberbund
which couldn't possibly feel right
three broken ribs and a black eye
and here we go to the Von Tooten's New Year's Party
and yet, just this once, i wish we had stayed home
there's a perfectly fine bottle of champagne in the ice box
and plenty of duck for sandwiches
Sylvia will be the first one you know
she'll tell you to sell the horse
for cheap
and she'll be the first one to make the offer
because she knows he's game
too game for you
and it will be veiled in concern
but next year he'll win the Maryland Hunt Cup
and she'll send us the notices from The Chronicle
don't eat the Merry Tomatoes by the way
they're soaked in vodka
Tommy damn near broke his neck
on the icy steps last year . . . do you remember?
of course not

II

i love you
i can't tell you how much
the snow betrays me
just look at the headlights
across the fields
i know i dreamed this night
when i was a little girl

III

if Tommy even looks at you
i'll punch him in the mouth
i won't hesitate
i'll do it
i'll drag him through the parlor
out the french doors
into the snow
and beat him bloody
like a christmas pig

IV

Do you remember the Merry Tomatoes?
Yes . . .
I won't make that mistake again
Oh, do, you were so funny . . .
I was?
You were darling . . .
They were delicious
Of course they were . . .
Like little bloody mary bombs
you almost broke your neck . . .
How many Maryland Hunt Cups?
8, no 9 . . .
And I've never come out of the tack
But the Merry Tomatoes . . .
Were my match
I'm going to make you a lovely cocktail plate . . .
I dare you
I'll do it . . .
And I'll devour them all

V

the puppies will come tonight
i just know they will
she'll have 8 or 9 or
ten!
and we'll be here
in the snow
in the ruffle
let's just have one drink
and slip home?
i don't want her to be alone
in the welping box
like a common foxhound

VI

is the President coming?
no . . .
but you said he was coming
well, she called and said that the snow
the snow?
the snow would keep them . . .
oh, well, i suppose, this will make things simpler
yes, simpler . . .
Sylvia will be broken-hearted
Sylvia will live . . .
Sylvia always lives

VII

there's a Great Dane in the driveway
that's Hester's dog . . .
why isn't it put up for the night?
Hester lets the dog do whatever it likes . . .
i heard the President is coming
well, then the President will meet the Great Dane . . .
M'am . . .
what is it?
M'am, there's a big dog in the driveway and it won't move
just drive around it Skeet . . .
but, M'am, i don't want to get stuck in the snow
it's okay Skeet, just drive around the dog . . .
why didn't you tell me the President was going to be here?
well, no one knew, until the hunt breakfast  . . .
on Boxing Day?
yes, where were you?
i was in the emergency room with Carroll, three broken ribs
oh!
that's a damn nice horse, he has no business. . .
Carroll has no business riding a mule
if i'd known the President was coming I would have worn my little elephant . . .
M'am?
What is it Skeet?
M'am, i've run aground of something . . .
Just hit the gas Skeet, but don't run over the dog
you know, my little gold elephant . . .
yes, with the pearl tusk and the ruby eye
all the same, the President is doing a fine job
i wonder if she'll hunt with us in the morning?
well, if she does, let's hope they give her a nice horse . . .
Carroll's horse?
oh!

VII

. . . "Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow."  . . .

there's never a poet
never
just once
i'd like to come to this thing
and be surprised by a poet
there i'd be,
standing on one foot
filling the other with champagne
juggling Merry Tomatoes
and up comes a poet
and recites to me
something a flame
something baudy
something
anything
to make me forget
another year has gone by
another goddamn year
but instead
Sylvia will whisper in my ear
something about volunteering
for the Hunt Ball committee
and i'll just die
just die of boredom

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Poems For Jamie Wyeth, Part Four

Skewbald

i am sensational
the hounds were not impressed
the huntsman was appalled
when i appeared with her
the morning of the Boxing Day Hunt
Mrs. Whooseyshoes asked,
"did he run away from the circus?"
and she answered, "yes -
do you know he used to run with elephants?"
and Mrs. Whooseyshoes sniffed,
"but can he run with hounds, dear?"

i heard the horn
i heard the the fields rise up
cold beneath my round spotted belly
she fed me ginger snaps
from her pockets
and told me, "Ware hound"
and this funny three-legged
lemon colored bitch
ran between my legs
and i wondered to myself
what is an elephant?

i wait for her
on these summer nights
and she takes me
for long walks on the roads
she sings and talks to herself
and once she asked me,
"did you smell it? the fox?"
and i heard the fox
go to ground
before the first star trembled