Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More trouble across the border

or, riffs on a theme:

From The Canadian Courier, online.

The seamless fabric of Canadian society has begun to affect the outlook of the liberal Americans fleeing the spectre of a McCain Stalin Palin election, in their recent and ongoing influx into Canada.

Unused to a public transport system whose methods of conveyance arrive and depart on schedule, incredulous American guests of the Canadian government, shuttling between their Rehabilitation and Assimilation (RASS) camps spread all over Canada and Elk-sponsored socials in their host towns, have found that, increasingly, they have less and less angst. Similarly, ex-New York liberals, waiting for the subway on Montreal platforms find, in fact, that no waiting is necessary. Consequently they are beginning to forget how to bitch. Last week, when asked by her bus driver how she was feeling that day, an accountant from LA started to cry. "I feel like I'm in the twilight zone," she sobbed. "Everybody cares!"

In fact a common trend amongst writers, artists and bloggers has been that their output has slowed to a trickle. Interviewed in a coffee shop recently, a screenwriter staring at a blank laptop screen sighed, "There's just no tension anymore, no stress. Everything here works. I have health care, rights, confidence in the future, and rent I can afford. All I need is an organic chicken under $20," he added, as an idea slowly dawned on him and he began to type.

An informal poll amongst the homeless on the streets of BC revealed that 70% of them are Americans. A former interior decorator holding out an empty coffee cup for change, said that she left her comfortable Shelter and took the streets in order rekindle some of the buzz that working for hard-nosed and nose-diving Wall Street executives provided. "In the States I felt like I was living on the edge. Life was unpredictable. I came to the sidewalk to rekindle some feelings of uncertainty."

Some Canadian cities are finding their coffers full in an unexpected twist: in Vancouver, jaywalking Americans, disregarding pedestrian and traffic lights, and walking at will, have quintupled the city's intake of revenue as they continue to be ticketed for this offence. The attitude of the Americans on this point is intransigent, "Why shouldn't we walk if nothing is coming?" fumed a former copy editor, just as she stepped into the street in front of an oncoming car which slowed down for her and smiled and waved as she stalked across.

RASS camps all over the country continue to report widespread discontent among American guests as a result of the all-but-dried-up supply of organic broccoli. "Who knew you could eat so much greenstuff a day, eh?" commented an incredulous cafeteria cook as she dished out rutabaga soup to a baleful throng. "Yesterday I had someone questioning the content of the stock cubes I use!" she said indignantly. "I told her what's in them is stock! But the young woman wouldn't leave me alone, and said that stock cubes might contain hydrolysed vegetable oil and MSG. I told her there was no need to use language like that in my canteen!"

Several camps have begun to spawn vegetable gardens to stem the shortage of broccoli and wild arugula, another in-demand item, and some enterprising guests have started to raise chickens. "They claim", said an Administrator of a camp near the town of Beloeil to which especially demanding and difficult guests are shuttled, and which consequently supports the largest vegetable garden, "that our chickens are full of hormones and antibiotics. As if that were a bad thing, now! How else do you expect us to feed our hockey players, eh?!" he spluttered.

Recently at this camp a black market scheme was uncovered in which fresh broccoli was being shipped to the much larger camp outside Montreal, populated mainly by Harvard and other East Coast Ivy League alumni who claim it as brain food. The alumni are docile enough but become unruly near dinner time. Five days ago a riot was circumvented by a narrow margin after the black market broccoli, having been smuggled successfully into the kitchens was boiled too long by the Quebecois cook, losing not only its colour but its crunch. Disaster and some ugly scratches were averted when a bale of arugula, being kept back as a surprise, was hurled into the melee.

Canadians are cautioned that the current state of affairs is febrile. "The Americans will elect their new president in November," said the PM, on his new Nightly Broadcast, "and anything could happen. If McCain wins, then what we see now is a drop in the maple bucket. On the other hand, if he loses, I'm moving Stateside. I hear Obama has broccoli."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Abbacchio alla Romana

Lamb for dinner, Bevan's way: with vinegar and anchovies, rosemary and sage, till tender. I chopped some cucumber with garlic and added Greek yoghurt and terrace mint as an accompaniment, on lightly toasted bread from the Damascus Bakery.

Gladiolus callianthus

The leaves of the so-called Abyssinian gladiolus, from the highlands of Ethiopia. It will bloom in about a week, I think. The blooms are gorgeous jewels and are sometimes called Peacock Flower. I always pick up a little packet on sale when they cost about $3 for ten. But they are never expensive, and these were planted in late June, I think. The leaves are about three and a half feet long.

Problems at the Border

This just in from my American Aunt: [it appears to be a tweaked version of the orginal 2006 Bush-centered piece, but no matter, still funny].

"From the MANITOBA HERALD, Canada:

'The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration.
The possibility of a McCain/Palin election is prompting the exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray, and agree with Bill O'Reilly.

Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night. "I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield,whose acreage borders North Dakota . The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. "He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn't have any, he left. Didn't even get a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?" In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. So he tried installing speakers that blare Rush Limbaugh across the fields. "Not real effective," he said. "The liberals still got through, and Rush annoyed the cows so much they wouldn't give milk."

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons, drive them across the border and leave them to fend for themselves. "A lot of these people are not prepared for rugged conditions," an Ontario border patrolman said. "I found one carload without a drop of drinking water. "They did have a nice little Napa Valley Cabernet, though."

When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about the McCain administration establishing re-education camps in which liberals will be forced to shoot wolves from airplanes, deny evolution, and act out drills preparing them for the Rapture. In recent days, liberals have turned to sometimes-ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have taken to posing as senior citizens on bus trips to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half-dozen young vegans disguised in powdered wigs, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior-citizen passengers on Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney hits to prove they were alive in the '50s. "If they can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we get suspicious about their age," an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and renting all the good Susan Sarandon movies. "I feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can't support them," an Ottawa resident said. "How many art-history and English majors does one country need?" '

Oh, thank you, Judi.

But I do know that the broccoli shortage is caused by one of their own, Mr Vincent Mounier, who hordes the stuff. Then again, he is half French. You can't blame everything on US liberals.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Fall Preview

..and my 666th post to date. Hm.

An Amelanchier planted last week on a terrace in Chelsea...

Pyracantha coccinea on West 22nd, around the corner.

The berries of Taxus sp., also on West 22nd. The red berries are in fact edible and quite pleasant: sweet and a little viscous - at least the pulp is. The single, hard seeds in each fruit are not, and are poisonous. But it's quite OK to eat the fruit and spit out the seeds. In a polite manner. Taxus is used in cancer medication, commercially.

Trader Joe's, Cobble Hill

...opened on Friday, and I popped in on my way home after work. And popped right out again.

Two things caught my attention: a bag of many baby artichokes from California for less than $4 [an example of what Michael Pollan described as "irresponsible pricing"?], and...oh, some very petite endive - red and white - in a cute little package whose square footage of cellophane reminded me of my beloved Woolworths in Constantia, Cape Town, whose packaging, excess of, leaves a lot to be desired, but whose quality I personally tend to swoon over. There is nothing as good in the States. Not under one roof.

I will return to Trader Joe's when there are fewer ladies going , "Oh my Gwawd, look at the cute cwarts!" It may be useful for one-stop shopping. My butcher baker candlestick maker routine can be tiring: here for charcuterie, there for cheese, there for bread, over there for green things and fruit, somewhere else again for meat, etc.

I am spoiled by Sahadi's a couple of blocks from home, whose prices and quality are outstanding, with the Green Pea next door, with fresh - but seldom organic (I have hope, though) - produce, and the revamped Key Food where organic eggs, milk, chickens (but not meat) are to be had. Not to mention the Halaal butcher, the Borough Hall Farmers' Market...

The small, specialized, family-owned nature of my shopping pleases me. I like to know people, and for people to know me.

Sunday evening

A small Woodstock glass of Noilly Prat white vermouth, on ice. All tax papers, bills and Miscellaneous filed. The cat asleep on a chair. Joan Sutherland singing, having followed on the tail of Jerry Douglas*. Lamb bubbling on the stove in its bath of herbs with anchovies and vinegar. My food budget (new developement) tallied up for the last two weeks and on track. Old fashioned raisin bars in the oven for the gardeners at work tomorrow. Bed made, laundry done - vague smell of lavender. Drain unclogged. Terrace damp and rained-on. Red wine bought (Napier Red Medallion 2000). Figs eaten.

[* Thank you, Knithound, whose suggestion he was.]


Vincent has started experimenting with super macro photography after stumbling upon a superb picture of a dragonfly covered in dew drops (story and link here). To read about his first adventure click here and to go straight to the pictures, click on this gallery. The pictures are delightful, dropping you into a world whose grace and complexity are usually lost to our eyes.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman Has Left

The bluest eyes, the best smile.

We are without heroes.


The motorized leaf blower is blowing leaves around the Long Island College Hospital. Whine whine blow blow.

The dog across the way is barking incessantly through its window. Bark bark bark.

It must be Saturday on Henry Street.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fields of Flowers, Mt Baker

Still catching up on the trip I took to Vancouver with a memorable detour to Washington.

To the right is...Table Mountain. Washington! Quite different from the one I know. But also rich with plants and fresh water. We started our day up high and then worked our way lower.

Lots of late lupins, maybe L. lepidus, scattered about, growing in low mounds over the rock, at this higher elevation.

I nearly missed this, right near the path in the shadow of a boulder, and squawked when I saw it. At first glance it resembled the rare Mimetes, from the Cape Mountains [the photo in the link is from Farm 215, a very interesting guest house near Stanford in the Western Cape, a couple of hours SE of Cape Town, where conservation and eco-friendly design are merged in a very happy and unusually sophisticated way].

It is Indian paintbrush, Castilleja [probably] miniata.

Apparently the flowers themselves are sweet and edible (luckily for Vince I didn't know that at the time), but the leaves and green parts are very poisonous due to a high selenium content.

Pink mountain heather, also hugging the rocks higher up: Phyllodoce empetriformis.

Above: Funny. This is what makes me so happy to be where plants belong. You see where they come from, and what their origins say about how they grow and what they need. Spiraea! So used and abused in "landscapes". The word makes me think of red mulch. I do like to use it as a tough hedge, sometimes, and I never knew that there was one native to these mountains.

Spiraea splendens var. splendens. Of some 70 species worldwide it is one of only 10 native to North America, and of a handful native to the Pacific Northwest. Here it is in the middle of its range, which stretches from British Columbia south to the Sierra Nevada and east through Montana, Idaho and Oregon.*

Above: fireweed - Chamerion angustifolium. Tall, stunning flower, with many still in bud, often right beside the road, as we drove down the hairpin bends to Glacier, later. Apparently quite easy to grow from seed. *

We made our way, mit picnic, down to a snowfed lake in an area called Heather Meadows. We followed what was barely a path, eschewing an obvious one on the other side of the water. It was hard not to walk on flowers. In some places the path disappeared into a stream, or became a stream's course.

Below, this was the first and almost the last flower I saw, both higher up, growing in the scree, and down here, wetter but still rocky. It was not in the books I have, but the Plant Forum at the University of British Columbia (UBC) was very helpful. Luetkia pectinata - Partridge Foot.

It is only about 6" tall...

Ranunculus occidentalis (I think) - or western buttercup. Very buttercup-y.

An orchid, I thought. But no. Pedicularis groenlandica. Common name? Lousewort. Lousewort...? -well. This one is called Little Elephant's Head, which is a little better (larger?), but not much. It is hallucinogenic! And partially parasitic, living on the roots of other plants. Likes to have wet feet, too.

A daisy? Erigeron, probably peregrinus. Lovely name.

These were prolific along the flat parts of the water meadow, along with their yellow cousins. Still, it took a helluva lot of Googling, as I was completely without frame of reference for a search. I could figure out that they were Mimulus, but which?

Mimulus lewisii, named for Lewis of Lewis and Clark. Another good name; one to situate the landscape within myth again.

And here the cousin. So thick underfoot that squashing was inevitable. Mimulus = monkeyflower. Bad name. This one is Mimulus tilingii. Creeping monkeyflower. Native to California. Must have wet feet. And in some places it really was in the small streams.

And the moss. Identifying moss is beyond my present scope of attention. It was just very lovely. Thick and fresh and deeply, brightly green.

We made our way around the little lake and beside the well-worn path there was one broad patch of phlox, growing, apparently, out of the rock.

Phlox hendersonii.

These, growing beside a small stream tumbling down a steep, grassy slope, looked like more ranunculus to me, and I searched and searched. Again, the UBC's Plant Forum came through with an answer: Parnassia, they said, and that steered me toward the species, fimbriata. Fringed grass of Parnassus. Though it hardly resembles grass.

It belongs to the Saxifrage family, and is considered threatened. I can't find why it is named after Parnassus, which is a Greek Mountain...?

Below, this little blue one stumped me too. And there was only the one. Usually, you see one flower, and then you see some more of the same (also a nice thing to apply to gardens, moving from drift to drift). UBC helped again. It is carniverous! Pinguicula vulgaris. Indeed. Or common Butterwort. The leaves are sticky and trap insects, which are then absorbed...yum yum.

The little path down on the right is the one on which we returned, after circling the blue.

Below: Valeriana sitchensis,* filling a whole bank between that little path and the water.

False hellebore - Veratrum viride - standing about 4 feet tall. Very poisonous to stock and considered a pest by farmers. There were no farmers here.

Back higher up, grasses grew in swathes amongst the low blueberries.

And the best for last. Very low growing blueberries, possibly bog blueberries? No more than a foot high and spreading in broad sweeps of red, their cloudy blue fruit held singly rather than in clusters, and no less sweet for it.

I could have stayed a lot longer. It was a brief taste (literally) of one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

* Encyclopedia of Northwest Native Plants for Gardens and Landscapes, Kathleen A. Robson, Alice Richter and Marianne Filbert, Timber Press, 2008.

Thank you, Vincent...x

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Driving to Mt Baker

It is something of a scandal that it was not until a week and a half ago that I had seen the mountains of the West Coast. I fell in love, and would like to go back. In an Airstream...with man and cat.

We made a day trip from Vancouver to Mt Baker, and found snow, lush grass, snowmelt streams, flowers, and fish. Small salmon, I say. Trout, says Vince. Feesh, says the cat, thinking about the Airstream.

The trees cathedralling the narrow road through the tiny hamlet of Glacier and up to the mountains made me think of (seemed to be humming it in fact), Angelo Badalamenti's theme music for Twin Peaks.

It is countryside fabled and ingrained in me through reading and through countless movies; absorbed Americana, first visited. I think my eyes were shining.

Below, Mt Baker.

And Mt Shuksan.

And a little cairn we made for Jay and Guy. They made one for us in the Kgalagadi. Stone prayers.

An alpine slope.

And a lake near Heather Meadows, characterized by another lake, fed by many rushing, icecold streams and endless carpets of spongy, emerald moss.

Vince on the path to the turquoise lake in the basin at Heather Meadows...

Clean, clean water. The sound of it everywhere.

The larger stream where we saw many fish.

Mt Shuksan in a photograph that I imagine has made many postcards. It's almost too kitschly perfect to publish. The kind of bad oil painting that hangs over dusty sofas.