Friday, September 11, 2009

September Song

I was living in Capital Hill, Denver, CO. We were having a poetry festival that weekend and had writers flying in from all over. My sister and her future husband were visiting from AL. When I woke that morning the first plane had already hit...the second plane followed. I was stunned and confused...worried about my friends who live in NY, worried about our traveling poets who would've been flying out of NY that morning, worried about whatever was happening, because at that moment no one really knew what was happening. None of our frantic calls to NY were going through. The capital was a block away from my apartment, so my neighborhood was locked down. It was surreal. Later that day (or perhaps it was the next, the days all blended), my sister and I walked down to a neighborhood shop just to get out for air. In amongst the chachskis, I found a matchbox with a black and white image of the NY skyline on it. The focus of the image was the Twin Towers. I still have that matchbox.

September Song
Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn't got time for the waiting game

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days I'll spend with you
These precious days I'll spend with you

Frank Sinatra sings it best...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Destination: The Urban Family Cincinnati

The GPL reopened Monday after being closed since May 3 because of a terribly leaky roof. A great deal has happened in the past two weeks, most importantly, the birth of our wee Fleegan friend, Cash Dean Catoe. Cash was born in a rather theatrical way, after what seemed to be a pretty typical pregnancy, and the theatrics have only just now begun to subside. He’s a pretty little guy, with red lips and a massive head of hair, and when you hold him, he scrunches down on you like he’s trying to burrow into you. It like he’s not quite ready to be out of the oven, and he’s trying to get back in…

So, while the Catoes were in Birmingham celebrating the birth of 2.0, Slim and I were headed to Cincinnati, the city where I was born. The reason for the trip was to see some of my old Ithaca Urban Family, the famed Brian & Olga Davies. It had been about 9 or 10 years since I had last seen B&O. They had two children during that time, two children whom I had never met, Diego and Marco.

Heading out on a road trip is always fun; heading out on a road trip with someone who is as equally excitable and eager to gawk at (and photograph) roadside curiosities (like the big Brown Squirrel selling furniture in Knoxville, and the road sign for Big Bone Lick, and further down the road, the sign for TMI) as oneself is even more fun. It was a trip of unanswered banana phone calls to friends, and split second decisions to stop at a liquor emporium in KY in the hopes of finding the elusive Original Barrel Bourbon that I just cannot find any longer (freaking Brigadoon of bourbon). By the time we tooled into the Natty, it was after 6PM, and the temperature was blessedly in the upper 70s. We slipped along the lovely Ohio River, and turned into the historic O’Bryonville neighborhood.

The Davies home is located on the corner of a very quiet street that intersects with a very busy thoroughfare. The property is almost triangular, with a tall hedge of camellias cushioning the sounds from the busy side street, and a fenced in back yard where the boys play (while we were there, the boys rarely played in the back yard…they preferred the front yard, or the home of the neighbor, strolling off in their pajamas under the pretext of looking for lizards, and ending up in the neighbor’s house long enough for Olga to have to phone over to have them sent home…they were like the smallest neighborhood ambassadors, spreading their sunny cheer, reminding me of myself and my sister when we were little). The lovely two-story stuccoed house is over a hundred years old, boasts hardwood floors, tall ceilings, and nooks & crannies throughout. The kitchen is magnificent in its amenities. I stood slack-jawed at the marble cabinet tops, double ovens, a stove hood of sleek German line (name promptly forgotten), butler’s sink, and an espresso maker. A Breville espresso maker. An espresso maker that, in the hands of master espresso maker Brian Davies, produced the gateway cup of espresso that knocked me completely off the strict one-cup-of-coffee-a-day wagon. This espresso was soft, like a blanket, and rich in aroma and taste, like a bar of dark chocolate; not too acidic, not too caffeinated…just right. I wanted to lie down in that espresso, and roll in it…

When we arrived just after 6 that evening, Olga was preparing to host a new mom’s PTA meeting for Diego’s school. She was dressed to kill in a white fitted suit, black three-inch heels and a black t-shirt with hot pink lettering that read “Party Girls.” She looked like the third partner of Crocket and Tubbs, and if I had not seen her without her jacket, I would’ve thought she was strapped and packing heat. The PTA plan was to have a mixer featuring heavy hours devours and drinks for the moms…sounded like a PTA group I could get behind. Olga promised to return from PTA in time to have late drinks with us before we toddled off to bed. In the four hours that Olga was gone, Slim, Brian, Diego, Marco and myself walked hand-in-hand up to O’Bryon’s Irish Pub for grub, and then, under the direct request of the imploring Marco, toured Owl’s Nest Park. As we made our way into the dark park, heading towards the swings & slides, Diego made some remark about the bad people who stay in the park at night. Now, Slim and I recognize a parent’s scare tactic when we see one (the best scare tactic to use on Marco is to tell him that whatever bad thing it is that he is doing will result in him getting hurt, and will make him bleed…because evidently, a bleeding Marco is the worst thing in the world that Marco can imagine…and rightly so. A bleeding Carol is not very appealing to me), and wanting to continue into the park without causing great distress to the youngsters, we (including Brian) replied that as long as WE adults were there with them, THEY would be safe. It is only when little children venture into a park alone at night are they in such danger from bad people. The park was donated to the city in 1905, and was a part of a former estate. It is a well-maintained wide-open green space, with a very nice playground. The boys love it. It is a loveable place.

True to her word, after several hours of catching up with Brian, and getting to know the confident Diego and the painfully expressive Marco, Olga returned. We finished the evening off with home-brined olives, glasses of Luis Philip Edwards, and lots of stories. We fell into bed at around 2AM, an hour that has long known my absence.

Morning broke with temperatures in the upper 50s. Olga & Brian slept in while Slim and I followed Diego outside for some fresh air. As Diego searched for lizards, we sat on the front porch waking up. I began to shiver, so I got up to go get my hoodie and discovered the front door was locked. Marco stood on the other side of the glass, looking at me trying to get in, smiling. I smiled back at him, pointed at the lock and asked him to unlock the door. He reached and reached for the dead bolt, but it was not within grasp. With one of his many million dollar expressions, he became frantic at my being locked out and his not being able to assist me, and finally, he dissolved into tears. I told him through the glass that it was okay, to please not cry, but he took off up the stairs for help (I imagined the scene: him running into Olga and Brian’s bedroom, crying and ineffectively trying to tell them that Slim, Diego and I were locked out of the house. Olga & Brian would be caught in a Lassie-like moment when Brian would shout “It’s Timmy! He’s down the well!”). While Marco was upstairs trying to get help, the ever good natured and very cool Diego showed up from his lizard hunt and strong-armed his way into the side porch door, which, unbeknownst to us, had been unlocked that morning when the boys had exited it earlier. I confirmed with Brian later over the breakfast of “leftovers” Olga laid out for us (toast, lox & vodka cream cheese, caviar, and blueberries) that yes, when Marco came into their bedroom, it was like a Lassie episode…and they never could coax the plot out of Marco.

We spent the afternoon at Findlay Market, where Slim and I bought some Hungarian Red garlic and a sad excuse of a black & white cookie. The market was terrific, with locally grown produce, locally raised & butchered meats, cheeses & sweets, as well as soaps, lotions, salts and various other market wares. We worked up a very hefty appetite while we were there, which proved a good thing, for our evening meal (our last supper with the Davies before leaving the next day) was to be a traditional Puerto Rican dinner of beans, rice, pork and tostones. Now, Olga’s cooking is legendary; I learned a great deal from her when I lived below the Davies in NY. And I had spoken on a number of occasions to Slim about the cooking prowess of Olga as well. We thought we were properly prepared for the meal…but no one can EVER be properly prepared for the awesomeness of one of Olga’s meals. She had taken two racks of pork chops (unsliced) the day before, had rubbed them with olive oil & Sazon and left them to marinate. She also pressure-cooked a pot of red beans on the same day. Then, about four hours before we were to eat, she roasted the pork in the oven and reheated the beans on the stove. A pot of rice was made, and plantains were cut and soaked in Adobo water for the tostones. The cooking of the tostones was a thrill to watch; I had forgotten Olga’s methods for making the perfect product. Olga took the Adobo-bathed plantain slices and placed them into a pan of hot oil and cooked them until they were golden. Then she removed them to drain and cool, and flattened them with the bottom of a bowl. Later, right before we ate, she tossed them back into the hot oil to finish cooking; the end result was a crisp, flat tasty chip that the eater could dunk into an olive oil, mashed garlic and Adobo mixture. Dinner consisted of a heavenly chop cut off of the pork rack, a scoop of rice, a scoop of beans, some tostones…and some wine. This meal was (as always with Olgita) perfecto! I don’t think we were able to stay awake for too long after eating…we all drifted off into dreams of sailing down olive oil rivers on rafts made of tostones…

We took our leave very leisurely the next day. Intending to get on the road by 9AM, we finally pulled away from the curb at around Noon. Leaving was made less difficult with a promise from the Davies to come soon to Alabama for a visit. And Slim and I promised that we would not wait too terribly long to return to Ohio…one mention of my Aunt Marilyn’s farm across the river in Covington, a farm that also had a pool, perked the ears of Diego and Marco. Yes, I think Natty is moving into heavy rotation with Chatty these days…

Post Script: After much searching on the internet, I finally found Original Barrel Brand Bourbon Whiskey from Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, KY, availability in the US: Unknown. It looks like they don’t make it anymore…can you hear the tears streaming down my cheeks as I type this?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tag Team Wildlife

I apologize for the long delay in blogging. School and work are getting in the way of my blogging time, and I regret that I have not finished my latest friends-giving-birth & fabulous vacation/travel blog entry. I promise that I will finish that entry soon, hopefully sometime this weekend. In the meantime, my sister recently shared some old emails I wrote to her and mom back when I lived in Denver. Evidently she thought them funny enough or informative enough to save for posterity (or maybe she knew I would be so terribly forgetful one day). I have to say that when I re-read this email, I had to laugh at what happened back in September 2002…September 7 of 2002, to be exact…and to marvel over the long-forgotten eight-mile hike that I took with friends that day in Estes Park. This email was entitled: Tag Team Wildlife

We got on the road on time, and headed up to Estes Park which is where the Stanley Hotel is located (think Steven King’s The Shining). Didn’t see the hotel, but we did see a bunch of Highlanders in their kilts since the park was hosting their Scotch-Irish festival.

After parking in the lot and suiting up, we waited for the bus to come and pick us up to take us to the glacier trail head. The first part of the trail was really smooth and easy to hike and took us up onto a switch-back course where you could look out over the valley and see the mountains covered with Aspen trees just beginning to turn for Fall. The Aspens made a yellow stripe through the evergreen pines and it was so very pretty. The color of yellow the Aspens sported was the color of a squash, and the leaves on the ground looked like slices of squash, ready to be eaten.

After about a half mile, the trail became rugged, taking us around the top of the mountain. From that point on, the hike became alternately easy, then moderate until we got to the first lake, The Locke.

The Locke was (at its entrance) somewhat small, and opened out into the space between the mountains, becoming bigger and bigger in the middle, then at the other end becoming smaller and smaller until it disappeared into the waterfall region of the mountains where we were headed. We decided to eat lunch on a big rock overlooking the Locke. While I sat on my rock, Friend #1 went down to the waterside to eat his sandwich, where a beautiful Grey Jay flew down on a limb above his head to watch him eat. Then another Grey Jay flew in on the same limb to also watch him eat. I heard a scurrying up behind me and turned to see a chipmunk staring at my sandwich. I turned back around and thought about the warnings of “Do Not Feed The Animals.” Just then, I saw Friend #1 throw a piece of bread down on the ground for the jays to eat and thought, “Maybe we shouldn’t feed these birds because THEY, in fact, are animals...” About that time one of the jays bombed Friend #1’s hand, knocking the rest of his sandwich to the ground and in a flurry, snatched it up and took off. Meanwhile, the chipmunk was alternately running at me from different directions in what I now believe to be an attempt at making me think he was not one, but many chipmunks, and that I would become scared and give up my food to the army of chipmunks who were waging a war at me. Then, all of a sudden, a duck flew out of the trees and began to go after Friend #2. And when Friend #2 got up and moved away, the duck came after me! I was laughing almost too hard to move or defend myself. We decided to get the hell out of our peaceful spot of respite, and on our way out, we stopped to warn the hikers spreading out their lunch on a poolside rock to beware of the animals. We could hear their surprised cries and laughs as we got down the trail and knew that they had not seriously heeded our warnings.

We headed along the trail until we got up to a point of incline where the hiking was about to turn into rock scrambling and climbing, and decided to rest. We began talking to this lone hiker from Iowa who was a former art teacher and outdoors enthusiast who was now retired. And because his wife had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and couldn’t hike anymore, he hiked alone. Iowa would catch up with us periodically and pass, and then we would pass him, back and forth, throughout the remainder of the hike. While walking beside me, he described the glacier lakes at the top and said he would see us there. And then he took off.

The climb to the lakes was at times tricky, but we went slowly and made it to the first lake called Lake of Glass. Clouds had moved into the area at that point and we had to put on our hooded jackets to stay warm. As he promised, we met up with Iowa again and he encouraged us to keep going up to the next lake, the last lake, called Sky Lake. He said it was most beautiful, and that you could see the glaciers really well there. We all took off, including Iowa, and hiked into the top lake. Oh, what a site it was! The clouds moved out just as we were coming into the clearing, so the lake reflected half blue sky and half grey. The color of the water was a teal/emerald. There were rock pyres on one side resembling the Eiffel Tower, while on the other side were remnants of the glaciers. The glaciers looked like smooth grey glass. They were a lot smaller than I had hoped them to be (one dreams of enormous glaciers) but the drought had decreased their size considerably the last couple of years.

We enjoyed the sight and rested there at Sky Lake for about an hour, testing the water temperature (very cold) and eating a snack for return hiking energy and then began our descent. We lost Iowa for awhile as he took an alternate route down the mountain, but we caught up with him again and hiked together till we got back to the Locke. That is where I sat down with him for awhile as he talked about how much he missed hiking with his wife. This time, when we parted, it was for the last time. I’m sure when he got back to his wife at campsite that evening, he had a lot to say about those crazy kids from Alabama he met up with on the trail.

The rest of our trip was just getting home and finding real food. We had buffalo burgers and beer at the Wyncoop Brewery and then went home. I was in bed by eight.

I hope you enjoyed this tale, and I encourage you to share it with my lovely sister as I will not be typing this damn story again for her benefit regardless of how much love I have for her. I love and miss you all! c

And so ends the story of Tag Team Wildlife...