I’m still here. I Think.

On the plus side, it’s been only three months, not six, or twelve, or seventy-three.

I’d like to say I have a valid excuse for not entertaining my vast, innumerable readership with more regular musings on nothing at all. My pseudo-valid excuse is being busy, which is probably everyone’s excuse for ever not doing anything. After all, you’re not going to say “How dare you not do that because you’ve been busy!” but you might say “How dare you not do that because you’re lazy!” Either way, what I’ve been NOT doing has been writing. Here’s what I have been doing: watching Bones. I’ve learned a lot about human anatomy and crime-solving, so at least its been productive.

What I realized today, though, was the actual reason for my post-radio-age radio silence. It’s not that I don’t want to write things, or that I can’t think of moderately entertaining things to write about, but that I think they are so inane, uninspired, or repetitive that no one will want to read them or I will bore myself into oblivion simply by putting them on paper (or internet). I mean really, who wants to read about skiing AGAIN? Do you really REALLY want to hear about the absurdity of the people? The idiocy of the customer? How many pictures of stunning mountainscapes can a person POSSIBLY look at? You HATE amusing anecdotes and funny observations, don’t you? I thought so.

Oh, you do want to read those things? Well, I’ll get right on that. After I watch three more season of Bones. Oh, and The Americans. I started that last night. Spies! Russians! Reagan! Galore!

A quick one before I go? Statement of fact: there are two kegs sitting on the deck. I have no idea if they are empty or full or somewhere in between, nor do I know (sad truth) how to tap a keg and find out. Even sadder truth: it’s Passover so I can’t be drinking the beer, anyway. Now, if only they were kegs of rum…

Badlands, retrospective.

(And by retrospective, I mean it happened a while ago.)

I like maps. I had spent hours visually analyzing the selection of westward route choices — freeway? state highway? around the cities or through? risk? reward?

I left Maine in the morning. I climbed the Poconos/Adirondacks/Appalachians (and feel free to let me know which mountains I was actually crossing). I skirted the Great Lakes. Quick change, pizza, bed, and toaster waffles. I rolled over the grassy midwest, detoured north to close the door on a nagging old relationship and rescue my art, waffle iron, and Nintendo 64 from the gaping abyss of a six-month-old break up.

I (full disclosure) nibbled an Adderall and as the sun set, like a cowboy a thousand miles too far east, drove west. Rolling hills flattened out into infinite planes. Perhaps I’ll build a mathematical matrix to represent the great plains of South Dakota along I-90. The buffalo herd is at (103, 37), don’t kill too many or you won’t be able to carry them back to your wagon.

As fortuitously incidental, and thanks to a suggestion from what essentially turned out to be a flavor of the week, the Badlands rose around me as the sun rose from behind me.

Camera and tripod in hand, amphetamines in blood, and awe in heart and mind, I slowed my pace to absorb this strange, stolen glory.

Badlands, sunrise.

I did not go out the way I came—avoiding cities, creativity and efficiency in route—in the North and out the South. Into the heart of Pine Ridge, the largest and most fundamentally heartbreaking and devastating open air human prison in my personal memory. The eighth largest reservation in the country, but I experienced it as eternal. Hidden by miles of barren lands and political gambits from the public eye and consciousness, I was in a world where the buffalo roamed free but the people were fenced in. Inversion, pen.

Entering Pine Ridge, I saw the land browner, surrounded by fences, geospatial politics delineating land appropriation and supremacy. Leaving Pine Ridge, I saw the grass grow taller and geologic formations more impressive. Public use land, preservation over reservation, imposed government over indigenous freedom. In and out, in and out, the boundaries increasingly clearer, then fences increasingly higher, or perhaps this was just my imagination, or my anger growing.

I move through a small town, which perhaps once thought it could attract tourists, but instead showcases only dilapidated pick-up trucks and run-down buildings.

Passing through

The dirt road, as it has been dirt since leaving National Park boundaries, left my small town behind in a cloud of dry red dust and I, like every else, forgot and neglected her, leaving her to waste away as per socioeconomic hierarchies required.

My radio blared the Oglala Sioux tribal station, the only station I could get. As I moved between fences—free like a buffalo, penned in like the Sioux—what I can only describe as chanting and, unimaginatively, traditional music (honest or cliche?) accompanied me on my objectively stunning yet subjectively depressing drive.

I came to established farmland, to bigger, ostensibly wealthier small towns, to state highways, eventually to Wyoming, to gas stations offering “cowboy coffee” with a handwritten sign next to the hazelnut and French roast, eventually to cities and interstates and, short hours later, within view of my snow-capped Rockies. I followed the spine of the Continental Divide until I crossed into my little hamlet, South Dakota far behind me, as it so goes.

Mystery Maggy

Maggy, Prom?
Speechless.

Why did this never happen to me in high school? Why does Maggy get to have all the fun?

Fun fact: The request was signed ♥N+G. Friends? Two boys? Hmmm…Maggy intrigues me.

What we all want to know: did she say yes?

Spotted and phone-photographed upside down in the West End by yours truly.

How the NYT crumbled my heart into a pile of dust and ash

I am sad.

No, not because it’s Valentine’s Day and I have no one to share it with. Actually, I’m sickly happy about that. I’m sad because my childhood perception of my country is slowly but surely being shattered.

Whether it’s this Islamophobia of the ignorant punditry surrounding Egypt’s revolution or the broad realization that so many Americans will put their personal interests before the greater good, my world is not what it once seemed.

When I was a child (so like, five minutes ago), The New York Times was, in my mind, the newspaper. “All the news that’s fit to print,” and like so many, I took that to mean not all what it literally means but also to mean something like “truth.” In my upper-middle class educated white girl world, The New York Times told it like it was and like it should be. Then I strayed from conventional paths, renegade that I am, and tumbled out of my box.

That was when, about a year ago, the government of Kyrgyzstan collapsed and the New York Times failed to cover it for over 24 hours.

HOW COULD THEY? The New York Times was my bastion of all things right and good in this world. Of East Coast liberalism and intellectualism and Democrats and progress and the Ivy League and shit-tons of elitism. And then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. I became jaded and aware, and simultaneously the Times became stilted, conservative, unimaginative, written for women in fur coats who eat breakfast at Tiffany’s. It is the imaginary love child of social progress and corrupt capitalism, something that in the real world can never be, and it failed me.

After months and months of let-down, I was hurt still further – but unsurprised – when I saw this cover on yesterday’s Magazine section.

NYT Sunday Feb 13 Cover
Pipe dreams; NYT Editorial Staff still towing this line?

ISRAEL.

(TWO STATES.)

PEACE PLAN.

(MEN IN SUITS.)

This just in: OLD. NEWS.

Where are the people, the women, the invisible Palestine? Where is the acknowledgement of truth? What of logic or reason, why only rhetoric? Why is diplomacy a game for old guys? Why is diplomacy the game at all?

Anyone who knows me knows the NYT’s editorial decisions and writing regarding the Arab World have frustrated me for a long time. Isabel Kershner’s “articles” (creative non-fiction, anyone?) about Israel would be laughably one-sided and ignorant if so many people didn’t take the Times as gospel. Ethan Bronner’s piece on Jordan neglected the critical (I CANNOT UNDERSTATE THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS) fact that it is a criminally punishable offense to criticize the King in Jordan. Seriously. You make fun of his hair, the mukhabarat are at your door and next thing you know you’re in jail. Forever.

The American-centric (American in the dirty version of the word) perspective the New York Times takes to address the Middle East – and so much of the rest of the world – is painfully Orientalist made worse by its sporadic injections of anti-republicanism and fair-weather tenets of righteousness. Hell, the New York Times bleeds White Man’s Burden.

But what I really want to know is, in the wake of the Palestine Papers, why the New York Times, or anyone for that matter, is still trying to make a two-state solution a viable possibility?

Maybe I’m overstating or overestimating the importance of that leak, but I do recall a rash of “maybe two-states won’t work” Eureka!ing from journalists and thinkers who would not have said so (publicly) beforehand. But the Papers caused Sa’eb Erakat to quit. We found out Fatah was selling out Palestinians in the oPT and in Israel right and left. We found out Israel would stop at nothing to get more land and more control. Well, this we already knew.

Palestine Papers aside, to lay it out, two-states wasn’t working. “Talks” were stalled. Abbas and Fatah have no legitimate popular democratic support. Netanyahu and more importantly Lieberman repress any and all opposition. Israel already controls most of the West Bank, leaving any “Palestinian State” with a total acreage roughly equal to that of the Vatican, and less contiguous (I might be exaggerating).

So why is The New York Times, miraculously still the icon in my mind of all things East Coast Liberal (=good), touting so garishly this antiquated formula on the front page of the magazine section? They’re smart guys and gals, they should be able to figure this one out. Alas.

In my forever, the Times has given me a reason to get up in the morning. It’s given me joy, excitement, thrills, secret windows into worlds only imagined. But as it’s opened my eyes, I’ve begun to see it in a new light. My beer goggles are off (actually they’re on) and I recognize this once bosom companion for what it truly is; another piece in the puzzle of corruption, of intrigue, of coercion. It is not impartial; it is a player in this game of politics, and it has taken my heart along for the ride. It is high time I get it back.

I’ll finally have to close this chapter in my own history, forget about how I thought the world works, and discard the first four sections of the Times every day until I get to the Style Section. We all know Vows is the only thing worth reading, anyway.

Full Disclosure: I didn’t read the article. Couldn’t bring myself to.

Avancé

A friend and I met Allagash brewer Ryan at Novare Res on Friday night, and he let us in on this little secret: Avancé. Avancé seemed to be his project; aged for two years, with two hundred pounds of strawberries, and finally bottled. Sometime in the last week or two, the 500 bottles of Avancé were released at the brewery retail store only.

Avancé is kind of a big deal in the beer geek world. Ryan encouraged us to get our bottles ASAP, as they were sure to run out.

And running out they were. I was in Allagash at 2:30 on Monday, none of the singles were left. I had to buy Avancé gift bags, which include small chalices and a bottle opener. Snazzy! But after me, there were probably about ten bottles left. Total. That’s it.

The saddest part? Brewer Ryan only got one bottle for himself!

Now, I am not a huge beer geek. I don’t really care about all those technical differences in the brewing process that make a beer more x than y or y than z. Whatever. I get it, it matters, but don’t tell me about it.

Beer appreciator, certainly. Strawberries I get. Molasses I get. Allagash I get. So when I do get around to tasting Avancé later tonight – hell – I don’t care about the details of the brewing. I care about how it tastes. And the label, of course, because I might be a marketing geek.





So it definitely tastes like strawberries, and the molasses flavor isn’t heavy but certainly discernible, at least if you know what it is. Not the most amazing beer ever by any stretch, but good. And, you know, bonus points for being all special and exciting.

Darker than expected, the nose was sort of spicy/fruity/almost woody, which of course you’d expect from a dark Belgian with … strawberries and molasses.

About halfway through my small chalice (came with the gift packs), I revisited the nose. And this time – I don’t know if it’s because the beer had more time to breathe, release it’s flavors, whatever – I caught a distinct whiff of childhood. What is that? Pine? Oak? Cedar? And then it hit me; nights on my parents bed, my sister and I taking turns picking songs from the worn, torn, split-down-the-spine Grateful Dead Anthology, and my dad picking out the chords on his guitar. This beer SMELLS LIKE MY DAD’S GUITAR CASE.

I am not kidding. It sort of made me want to stop drinking; the inside of the guitar case doesn’t exactly smell great. But as long as I focused on the fruity sweetness, and the fact that, unlike a guitar, this beer was 10.8% ABV, I kept on truckin’.

Ah, another important characteristic of Avancé, and one that critically makes it a really good beer, is that it DOES NOT taste like a 10.8%-er. Normally with that high of an alcohol content, you’re looking at those imperials that definitely taste boozy, with heavy chocolate or coffee tones to pseudo-mask the bite. This baby’s got no bite. Smooth as Skippy.

All in all, worth it for the experience of being one of a few hundred people with bottles of this stuff. Exclusivity has its price. And it was a good beer, would have expected nothing less of Allagash. Stoked for my next insider’s adventure into beer geekiness.

FMI on Avancé here and here.

By golly I’m just so darn thankful…

Well, here I am, disappearing again for days and days and days at a time. My apologies.

For some reading in the meantime, I’ve recently had posts up on The Only Democracy? and Mondoweiss, so knock yourself out.

For more mundane but less controversial musings on life in general…my third Thanksgiving away from home has just passed, and was remarkably easier and less depressing than the last two. Last year I somehow ended up alone, which was just lame, and the first year was in Jordan, and as the first just rather miserable overall. But this year we got our nice group of Americans and Israelis and Palestinians and Canadians together, and cooked a big ol’ meal, and ate and drank and photographed until we were about ready to pop. It’s funny to observe after all these years what really makes a holiday a holiday. You think it’s about food, or the specific location or tradition or group of people. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it really is about people; about people you love, family or otherwise, and being comforted by the knowledge that even if the situation isn’t ideal or we have misgivings or the mashed potatoes didn’t come out quite right, there’s really nowhere else we’d rather be right then. This is OUR Thanksgiving and WE made and Goddammit, we’re going to enjoy it. We managed to pull together a roast chicken, stuffing, wine, challah, sweet potatoes, and apple crisp. And hey, if that ain’t Thanksgiving, I don’t know what is.

But it is also lamely tempting to think about it in Thanksgiving-y terms. I was very thankful that I have a mother who cooks, so I knew how to make a roast chicken in a pinch. And I am very thankful for having friends who coerce me into cooking, even when I think I don’t want to. And I am thankful for having people to share food with, because roasting and eating a chicken yourself is pathetic. I am thankful, depressing as it is, to know I am able to survive the holiday season so far away from home; it’s indicative of growth and flexibility and, in a way, buoyancy. It’s hard, for sure, but when you have people to share it with it’s like a whole new thing, a new tradition, a reminder that life is full of possibilities and it’s a wonderful thing to not know what’s coming. Next year will be bittersweet, knowing it’ll be yet another different Thanksgiving experience. Probably not the crazy adventure of trying to make an American Thanksgiving in the Middle East, but (after looking at family photos from this year’s Thanksgiving that I missed) even family changes over time, no matter how static you wish it would stay.

I mean, I’m going back to cousins who are a foot taller and a year older and new babies I’ve never met…will some of these kids even know my name? I’ve missed three years of family events. As grateful as I am for what I’ve been able to do in these past few years, the holiday season really throws the sacrifices I’ve made into sharp relief. No regrets, to be sure. But the constant change and uncertainty is more often terrifying than not. But every year is new, and every year is different, and there’s nothing like making Thanksgiving half a world a way to remind you of how amazing this is.