Sunday, March 26, 2006

A High Wind in Jamaica

I recently read, at Ted's recommendation, "A High Wind in Jamaica" by Richard Hughes. The jacket identified it as one of the top 100 novels of the twentieth century. I'm not sure about that, but the unusual structure of the book kept me interested and wondering what it was really about. What I thought was going to be a nautical yarn and snapshot of the old Caribbean, turned out to be equally about the psychology and behavior of children. There were some nice details on the geography of Cuba and the reality of pirates (as opposed to the mythology). The book also serves to remind adults of some of the weird thought processes children have, simply because various restrictions haven't set in and they don't know otherwise. I know that as a child my own mental universe was larger, and there was the constant assumption that the adult world understood everything I didn't. This book makes the unsettling point that neither children nor adults have a full grasp on the world around us.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

American Hanami

OK, let's set the record straight on cherry blossom festivals. I always figured that Washington DC adopted the custom from Japan, but recently some idiot rather jingoistically suggested that it must be the other way around.

From today's Salinas Californian, on the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC:

"The festival commemorates the March 27, 1912, planting of the first two cherry trees by First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese ambassador. A few of the original 3,020 trees donated to Washington on behalf of the Japanese capital of Tokyo remain. Others were cultured from cuttings taken from the original trees.

'New York owns Christmas and shopping, and we own the spring and cherry blossoms' said..."

If I'm not mistaken, the Japanese cherry blossom festivals or 'Hanami' go back a little further than 1912.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

emergency coffee procedure

This morning the power went out. Since the previous afternoon's coffee had been such a failure, it was imperative that I have a good, strong morning coffee to make up for it. Fortunately I had an old fashioned coffee grinder to grind the beans. To boil the water I had to break out one of the Sternos we were saving for an emergency.

I hadn't used a Sterno for many years. I managed to prop the kettle in the sink on two soup cans while the Sterno burned beneath with its invisible flame. It took an entire half hour to boil the water! And even then it wasn't boiling vigorously. I guess I had too much water in the kettle, among other problems. In any case this drill was a good thing in that it underscores the need to improve my emergency coffee procedure.

the coffee that nearly ruined my day

Over the years my taste in coffee has evolved into a drink that is basically half a cup of strong, above-average coffee blended with half a cup of cold vanilla soy milk.

Making it at home is easy, but at Starbucks I always have to explain the details. Recently the girl at Starbucks explained to me that there is something called a "Misto" that is essentially the same thing. This discovery has made my life -- my coffee life -- a little easier.

Yesterday I asked for a Misto and what I got nearly ruined my day. I was already miles away on the freeway when I realized that the coffee was blended with steamed, low fat milk, and the resulting flavor was quite nauseating. Apparently one has to specify soy milk, and then cold rather than steamed. The other two or three times I ordered a Misto they asked about those details. It never occurred to me that they would assume that anyone wanted steamed, low fat milk.

Friday, March 10, 2006

snow line

The snow here is a real novelty. I've never seen this much snow in Monterey County, and most people around here feel the same.

The snow line appears to be at less than 1000 feet, and thicker than the usual blanket.

Aesthetically, the mountains are turning lots of heads. White and green go well together.

death by peanut butter

One morning this week I decided to pack a banana in my lunch. No sooner had I grabbed one of the organic bananas I'd purchased at Safeway a few days earlier than I noticed that a very flat bug had been hiding between bananas. It looked like a cockroach but it was whitish-yellow and therefore unlike any insect I'd ever seen.

It was a bit too exotic to overlook so even as the kettle boiled I scrambled for some kind of container. The only one available was an unwashed peanut butter jar in the sink. I had no intention of killing the thing but death by wet peanut butter was its fate.

I was going to take it to the cooperative extension at the Ag Department, but Lisa assured me that the nurse at Del Rey elementary school was an accomplished amateur entomologist. A few days later she identified it as a Cuban cockroach, which makes sense since the bananas were from Ecuador and had no doubt spent time bouncing around the tropics.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

obscure destination: Cuesta Ridge

A few things went right this weekend. I decided I would search for the Imogen Heap CD "Speak for Yourself". I had heard a track in Banana Republic while using the gift card John and Christine got me for Christmas. But to find it would probably require a trip to Monterey or San Luis Obispo.

After work on Friday, on a whim, I slipped into Wherehouse Music in Salinas. I knew the odds were slim. They had the Frou Frou CD at a ridiculously high price. Then I saw a separate section for Imogen Heap. What? The have it? And it's on sale? What's this? A used copy for even less? Bullseye. Those who know me know I have a special talent for this kind of experience.

Another thing that went right was today's weather. We had rain all last week and are due for more, but today was a beauty of a clear, sunny but not-too-hot day. I was due for a hike so I jumped in the car and headed for Cuesta Ridge, an obscure destination in SLO County I wanted to check out.

I blasted the Imogen Heap CD. She is the singer from Frou Frou, whose 2002 album "Details" was my favorite of that year. For all practical purposes the Imogen Heap album is a Frou Frou album. If you enjoyed her highly emotive vocals on the one, you will find more of the same on the other.

To get to Cuesta Ridge, you pull off south-bound 101 at Cuesta Pass, right before descending the big mountain. It's actually one of those emergency lanes for runaway trucks, but it also takes you to one entrance of Los Padres National Forest. There is a dirt clearing where hikers and mountain bikers typically park.

My goal was the "Botanical Area", three miles from the freeway on a winding, bumpy-ass road. Most people seemed to be driving there, but since the underlying purpose of my outing was to burn calories, I walked.

From the freeway these mountains look as though they may be heavily forested, but in fact they are covered with a thin layer of chaparral, barely three feet high. The views of Pismo Bay, the ocean, and Los Osos Valley were spectacular. There were some people para-gliding in one area and two fellows shooting at clay pigeons in another. There was also a big installation of radio towers, beyond which was the Botanical Area.

The Botanical Area is 1334 acre section of land covered with groves of rare Sargent Cypress trees. Suddenly the ground cover goes from about three feet to anywhere between fifteen and thirty feet. The groves are actually almost equal parts Cypress and Manzanita; neither are very tall, but the effect is pleasant enough.

Looking northeast, I thought I could see the snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada. They may have been clouds; but on the other hand they really looked like mountains. On a clear day, from such an elevated vantage point, why shouldn't one see the highest mountain range in the country?

emergency broadcast

Friday morning I was driving up the Salinas Valley on my way to work... It had rained heavily the night before. I noticed more snow on the mountains than I ever recall -- not only on the Santa Lucias to the west, but the Gabilans and Chalone Peak to the east, which is rare. A camera could have captured the best-ever photograph of the big Kendall-Jackson facility, with a heavily snowcapped ridge behind it, and a sharp ray of morning sun landing on a large, tree-less, snow-covered expanse high up on the ridge. Those parts of the Santa Lucias that weren't blanketed in snow were a vibrant green.

As I approached Soledad, I noticed the sky in front of me was a dark, menacing gray. I was listening to National Public Radio when suddenly the shrill tones of the emergency broadcast system filled my ears. I knew it wasn't a test because it interupted the regular programming. For a few seconds I was gripped with the dreadful knowledge that something terrible happened somewhere. The post 9-11 world has conditioned us to fear the worst.

It was actually the National Weather Service with a severe weather alert. The Bay Area was experiencing lightening and hail storms, and the effects -- which included power outages, flood warnings, falling trees and dangerously large waves -- were being felt as far south as Monterey Bay.

I was far enough south and away from the coast that none of this really interfered with my commute. What the emergency broadcast did do, along with the idiot in the SUV who nearly hit me while crossing the 101, is give me a jolt of adrenaline.