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Archive for May, 2010

Fancy restaurants

More than a year ago now, my dear friend Macy and her boyfriend Scott were in town. Mace and I met at her hotel. She gave me a gorgeous Greek necklace, to borrow for a while. The carved out places on it mean “eternity.”

We have a thing we do, where we share things over time. Like, we have a gorgeous, totally supple leather handbag she bought in England when we were at Oxford. She carried it all summer long there, and then gave it to me to take for a few years. I’ll eventually mail it back to her.  (Right now it’s in Chicago with my Mom, who fell in love with it at first sight.)  The necklace is another such item. Eventually, I’ll give it back to her.

Later that night, we met Scott and another friend at The Gramercy Tavern. It was the first really, really nice restaurant to which I’d been here in the City.  Like, the founder is a recognizable (to me) name in the world of chefs.

The food was beyond.  Between courses, they brought out tiny special plates, like tiny dollops of things, with the smallest carrots imaginable.  We did the “tasting menu,” which means that the chef chooses what to send you, and there are seven courses are so. The water (who is like a butler) tells you what wine might be especially delicious, and then you settle in for a few hours, and trust the people who are sending and bringing your food.

As I recall, they were very simple ingredients. And very, very tasty.  I oohed and ahhed over everything, and Macy gave me giant portions of hers, and it was so fine.

When I was younger in my adulthood, I thought that fancy restaurants would be intimidating. I thought that the waiters would look down upon one in the wrong shoes, or mispronouncing something. This isn’t true.  Really nice restaurants are warm places, where you sit and are comfortable, once you’re in them. The waiters are helpful, and eager to share things.

We ate for at least three hours. I was completely captivated.  They sent out special muffins afterwards. Everyone at the table gave me theirs, so I went home with extras, in fine special muffin paper.

At some point during the meal, I could no longer remember what I had eaten. I asked the waiter if he could please write down the things we had ordered. He did one better–he got an extra copy of the creamy-paper menu, and circled each thing our table had ordered. He folded it neatly and put it in a beautiful envelope for me to take home. It’s in my hope chest.

A few weeks ago, I went on a bachelorette party with my friend Jodut. Another of her friends had dated one of the chefs at Tabla, so we went there, where we were treated like queens.  Extra dishes! A beautiful table! Complimentary drinks!  The inside of Tabla is like a jewel-box— someone at the table told me it’s designed to look like the actual inside of a tabla.

We ate, and ate, and ate. I had bone marrow for the first time, and some suckling roast piglet that was the most tender and flavorful meat I could imagine. Fish curry, ingenious naan, impossible sorbets.

Again, the waiter was kind, the chef was approachable-looking and proud, and I felt tucked-in and secure at our table, sharing tastes and stories.

Last week, after a gallery/professional development event with former colleagues, we went to another fancy and fine restaurant. My friend Lee supports and sells maple syrup (truly the best) at the farmers’ market. Many fancy city chefs shop there of a’morning, and so he sometimes has nice restaurant connections. As we walked from the gallery to the restaurant, he called ahead and snagged a table. (For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the restaurant–  I think it might be “the Company,” but it’s pizza, but not pizza how you’re thinking.)  Once we were happily ensconced, Lee ordered, and I think there were some extras, and it was all again beyond.

Some things we had:  A pizza with béchamel sauce, and caramelized onions, and an amazing cheese. Another pizza with garlic and fresh pizza, and another unusual cheese.  A third pizza with quail eggs, and truffle shavings. Salads with things done to asparagus I had never imagined. Crostini with incredible chickpea concoctions.  Milk and cookie for dessert, with shared banana split (with giant pistachios) and a warm chocolate cake.

The chef came out at the end and smiled and said he hoped we enjoyed our meal, and I got to peek back into the kitchen to see the food and the fire oven for the pizza.  I love having such cozy meal memories.

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One of the blogs which has stolen my heart recently is Eat the Damn Cake, written by Kate, a friend of mine and a bright and thoughtful writer.

Honestly, not all of her posts resonate with me. Mainly, I think, because I don’t have any striking, niggling, or even fleeting issues with my body. Or: I like the way I look the majority of the time. And some of the time, a lot of the time, I love the way I look.  I often feel “left out” of feminine friendships and conversations when the topic turns to, “Oh, I wish I didn’t have these arms,” or “I just can’t stand my neck.”

Kate and I share a deep commitment to valuing dialogue, so I e-mailed her, saying, “Sometimes your blog doesn’t resonate with me…”  And she asked me to guest post.

My post, “Stephanie Talks Body Love,” is an attempt, by me, to explain both why I am comfortable with the way I look, and also why I try to resist the negative self-talk that too many women my age (in my opinion) engage in.

The post has gotten a lot of comments– all of them from women who either applaud my statement, or wish they could share my confidence.  It’s slightly odd, given that I can be–in the middle of many a’night–riddled with anxiety, to think, “I am a confident women.” In this arena, however, I surely am.  I mean– I work at it to some degree, inasmuch that A: Men don’t so frequently undergo such self- and societal-scrutiny, and I don’t think that’s fair, and B: I am an educator and an advocate children, and I will be darned if I will allow negative voices (that aren’t true) to work against my girl students.

Well, there are other reasons.  It’s a lot to unpack. Haiti, and malnourished orphans have a little to do with it. My deeply held belief that I am a beloved child of God (and clearly God would think I am beautiful) has something to do with it, the way I have been influenced by Dominican sisters (in Truth, in true beauty and Grace, in What Really Matters), and in the way the most influential “images” of women in my lives come from literature, not from ads.  To begin with.

I want to write more about this. I also want to answer the commenter who asks, “What’s the difference between self-confidence and vanity?” This is actually a question I ask myself in regards to my academic abilities, but I think it’s worth articulating how I feel about personal appearance.  I also want to connect my ideas with those of other women who have influenced the way I think…  Perhaps a short series on this blog will be forthcoming.

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(Not yet, anyway.)

I am not Facebook friends with my Dad, yet.  I tend to be Facebook friends with people I see and hear from in real life frequently. That is, my friends.  I don’t like to have too many, and I want to “hear from” people I already hear from.

Anyway– my Dad recently got on Facebook, and looking at his page delighted me and made me remember some of the reasons I love him.

It’s hard to explain how _my Dad_ this all is.  That “daughters” is listed between “environmental issues” and “great joy” as activities. That his quotes are both spiritual and activist in nature.  That his hometown is instantly recognizable to me, that R.E.M. is my favorite band of all time.  That he is posing in Scotland, wearing a Virgin Mary hoodie.  And: quantum mechanics: what?

Just looking at this screenshot makes me happy. I’m tickled, imagining my Dad clicking, choosing different groups and music options, thinking of the quotes to include, finding “friends.” Does he know I’m on Facebook?  Not too long ago, he didn’t realize that e-mail is instantaneous, so I can’t imagine how he processes Facebook. And yet, this page is so, so him.

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“And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on this earth.”

–Raymond Carver

(photo taken by me at a library here in the City that used to be a women’s court)

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When I taught in St. Louis, one of my colleagues was a beautiful woman from Colombia. Senora took a shine to me, and nicknamed me “la muneca.” She would often tell me how beautiful her home country was, and invited me at any time to travel there, that I could stay with her family still there, and see the forests and hills for myself. I became friends with her son, who was my age. Recently, her son and I were instant-messaging on Facebook while he was in Colombia. I said, “What does Colombia sound like?”

Alberto wrote:

“bogota sounds like a stock market

if all the brokers were hummingbirds

buzz and hum humans

finger in glove compression

carbon exhaust painted streets.

300 year old monuments defaced by disenfranchised new money chasing their tails.

arepas, empanadas, hamburguers, and fig wafers

the toothless begging to eat.”

I have a wooden necklace Senora gave me, of highly polished red wood from Colombia. It feels like silk, hard silk. From her stories of home, I had images of deeply green forests, and perhaps open porches, and coffee, and hospitality.  From Alberto, I envisioned something so different– an urban, noisy, dusty center, with bustle and color and all of the contradictions that cities always bring.

I love “buzz and hum humans,” both the visual repetition, and the reminder of what a foreign city square can sound like, as you walk down into it.

Which…makes me think of the Old Town Square, in Prague. Kim and I used to walk to school (to teach) in the morning, and the road we lived on went straight to the square, eventually.  First, it would be very Soviet style abandoned suburbia, and then, the road would narrow and there would start to be shops, and then the road wouldn’t go straight anymore, it’d corner off, and angle away.  And then, and then: we’d walk into the square, with impossibly pastel building-fronts, and the morning light like icing on them. It’d be empty, before the tourists were awake and touring, and empty save birds and shopkeepers. Every single time I felt like I was walking onto a movie set, which made me feel guilty, because how lame is it to compare something _real_ to something created?

By lunchtime, when I would often go to the Kentucky Fried Chicken not far from the school (and eat chicken with mayonnaise and corn on the cob), the square would be buzzing.  Hum, human buzzing in Czech, and church bells echoing.

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