Coming Fall 2020:
Hey Roberto Hu: Travels in Venezuela and other stories.
Coming Fall 2020:
Hey Roberto Hu: Travels in Venezuela and other stories.
Fun and good times at the supermarket: Out of eggs, I’m in line at Grocery Outlet with a carton of fresh brown “cage-free” eggs. In front of me are several hispanic laborers who are also purchasing just a few items. I see cookies in front of the divider and ask them, “are those good”? They grin at me: “good with coffee”. I ask the person behind me to hold my place in line and walk to the aisle that I’m directed to, to pick up a pack of the cookies. Wow, only two bucks! A bargain to be sampled in the morning. Thanks! The cashier who I have not seen before in the the short time that I have been visiting here in Portland, is a bit on the slow side – which perhaps may be because he is engaging in extended conversations with his customers. He asks one of the hispanic laborers what his name is and is told “German” in a thick accent. He responds “mine is Jeremy”, to which I retort: and I’m originally from Germany. What do you know: Three Germans! He looks at me for a bit and then asks, “really”? Then, before I can answer him he tells me “Ich bin unsichtbar” in a ridiculous American accent that is barely understandable. I start laughing, as what he has said is “I’m invisible”. I look at him and ask him “invisible, huh? I bet that comes in real handy when hiding from the boss”. He looks back at me and says” oh you understood what I said? “Barely”, I grin. He hands a receipt to the laborers and asks me what the word for that is. “Quittung”, I tell him although in hindsight it is probably “Kassenbon”. Oh, that’s interesting he replies, slowly counting out my change. “Can we do the language lessons some other time”? a lady two people behind me grumbles, as I have to laugh again, and depart with my eggs.
Walking under the canopy of an ancient olive tree that is whispering its blossoms on the dry parched ground around its gnarled trunk, and feeling a bit sluggish this morning, I wander into the park’s restroom. As I enter the doorway, a buzzing sound is audible coming from the right side. Attached to the doorframe of the supply closet I see what appears to be an awkward chunk of mud. Hovering right next to the chunk of mud is an oversized insect similar in appearance to a wasp. I proceed with caution to the furthest restroom stall not wanting to attract attention to myself, as I’m unsure as to the disposition of this mysterious creature that seems to be fully consumed by its activity around the mud deposit. The wasp-like creature’s hovering in the air reminds me vaguely of a hummingbird.
After quietly washing my hands I tip-toe to the exit door casually making visual contact. The insect seems oblivious to me and is still going about its muddy business.
A bit later I discover that this mysterious insect is known as a mud dauber. It is indeed a species of wasp that uses its mandibles to collect mud and then build a nest made of mud to lay its eggs. A dietary aspect of the creature that was unknown to me as well, is that the mud dauber consumes spiders. Most peculiar. But God made everything for a reason – in this case – an arachnid lunch for the mud dauber. An overpopulation of spiders in the locale thus seems a slim possibility with the mud dauber(s) doing their job so to speak. Many a person suffering from arachnophobia may be applauding now at this perhaps altogether new revelation.
I must say that with some regret I later instigate the destruction of the mud daubers habitat – when none is in sight of course – as a restroom certainly is not the proper place for building a nest – at least from a human perspective.
The next morning I again see a mud dauber – perhaps it is the same one – inspecting the now empty door frame. I can perceive that it undoubtedly is smelling the remaining traces of mud wondering what on earth (no pun intended) went on here. Luckily for me it doesn’t associate my presence with the loss of its home, as I also read when doing my research that the mud dauber can get belligerent and attack if provoked. I’m sorry little mud dauber to have caused you so much trouble and inconvenience negating all your hard work, but kindly build another of your unique structures somewhere outside if you don’t mind.
My note pad in conjunction with the empty paper towel holder on the ceiling tells me I’m out of paper towels again, plus a few other household items as well. Since the laundry basket is also rather full, this seems like an opportune time to accomplish both errands together on this warm sunny morning.
Arriving at the laundromat, first stuffing then feeding the machines, and letting them commence their duty, I employ a new feature I have discovered on my phone – a timer – thus letting me depart from the laundromat. I tend to think that watching a washing machine rotate is really not that terribly exciting, and thus am grateful for the new discovery.
Having procured a six pack of paper towels, part of my my second errand, I then meander the aisles and peruse the shelves looking for a can of oven cleaner.
All of a sudden a jar of peanut butter rolls around the corner at an astonishingly swift pace, catching me by total surprise. I stoop down and pick it up hindering it’s forward progress. The new found freedom thus impaired on behalf of the peanut butter jar, I spy the purchaser of the little runaway rounding the corner in hot pursuit. She smiles at me as I hand her the impertinent runaway. I ask her if she might know where the oven cleaner is kept, and just as I’m asking, I see it almost at eye level right in front of me – the last can of it too! This was no mere coincidence, it was destiny!
It has been a very different time these past months, and unlike the rest, I’m going to try to focus on the good in writing this post.
Taking an evening walk with my cat down the long straight road a ways (I usually carry him one-way, he drags me back on his leash the other way), we encounter some bicycles (he ducks down when they pass by), people walking their dogs (resulting in a bushy tail with the larger breeds – and then I pick him up until the disturbance passes), a lone jogger, the occasional horse, or perhaps a stroller.
It is so quiet. It seems almost like a different century, perhaps the 18th or 19th. The frenetic pace of modern society seems to have come to a complete standstill. The pink super moon just a short while ago was incredibly bright in the sky. Stars twinkle and can easily be seen. The usual smog and bad air are gone. My youngest brother told me he even saw a string of satellites above.
The quails I often see and that sometimes go almost unnoticed, now stand out with their pronounced calling, as sadly do the wild turkeys (they are lucky they don’t taste like butterballs), with hardly any other sounds or cars around. The sparrows that I feed every morning are getting accustomed to me, and when Calvin is sitting outside on his leash they ignore him as they hop about, sometimes they are almost within his reach as they peck at their food. As I told some friends, I know our heavenly father feeds them, but I’m supplementing their breakfast. The live and let live attitude among sparrow and cat is makes me happy.
It was a blessing to be able to watch some Easter services online and to listen to music this weekend. That’s using technology for good!
I try to joke with the grocery store clerks when I go shopping (wiping my hand basket with a clean wipe before entering the store of course) or at least smile. They clerks and nurses bearing the brunt of this, and welcome any friendliness or cheerfulness – I can tell. Where is all the TP and PT? Really folks? It may however be an unexpected economic boon for the producers who may be wiping their hands with those extra towels.
Instructions have been given out and people seem to be heeding them. As opposed to similar things that happened a century ago, we now have the luxury of instant communication, and there do seem to be a few sensible leaders left who are looking out for the common good. I find it is best though just to turn off the news and focus on the beauty of time standing still.
What was that recent expression or fad? “Slow food”? When I grew up that was how you ate – enjoying your food and giving thanks to God and the hands that tended to and prepared the food.
I found some trout for $4.99 a pound today. It is seasoned now, residing in the fridge, but will be cooked tomorrow. Tonight I think I will have some leftover lemon-rosemary Risotto (you can find this tasty recipe in Saveur Magazine), and a little Wayne Shorter to go with it.
Have a blessed evening.
A tribute to my friend:
I was so sad when I looked at my friend Elvia’s Facebook page a few days ago and saw a memorial posted there. A heavy heart at losing another dear friend. Unbeknownst to me, she passed away last month in her native country of Brasil to which she returned about a decade ago.
We had been friends for a long time. I met her around 1990 when I had a part-time job teaching at a language institute in the City. Her husband Paulo who was teaching Portuguese at the same school invited me to come by and have lunch at her restaurant “Café do Brasil – Brazilian Fruit Basket” on 7th Street. It was a tiny hole in the wall and she was in the middle of moving to a bigger space just across the street at the corner of 7th and Mission Streets. It was there that I tasted a smoothie for the first time, long before they became popular. Elvia’s smoothies were called vitaminas, and my sons as well as my favorite one was the Banana vitamina which had honey in it.
As I was underemployed at the time, I offered to do some work in setting up some shelves and moving stuff in what turned into a delightful exchange of labor for food. I am not really mechanically inclined to put it mildly, but am always willing to help. So I got to work and promptly made a couple of mistakes in cutting some wood – and Manuel, the chef cooking there started to sing a song: “Matthias, es un hombre de papel”, while giving me a big smile. It took me a bit, but I figured out what he had sung and I laughed, as he was absolutely right. Elvia named one of the delicious chicken entrees on her menu after Manuel, and the dish became a staple in our home cooking repertoire – chicken cooked in dark beer with plenty of spices. Later on I designed a menu for Elvia, applying some freshly learned Pagemaker skills, and thus gave credence to Manuel’s song.
Café do Brasil became almost a second home for my sons and me. On birthdays, and whenever I could afford it, I would take them to lunch or dinner there, driving over to South of Market from our tiny North Beach apartment. We loved the food: Feijoada completa with rice, black beans, farofa, collard greens, and a pork chop on the side, fried bananas with cinnamon, empanadas, coquinas. Elvia’s restaurant opened up a whole new culinary experience for us.
We attended the opening celebration of the new restaurant space of course. I recall Elvia – surrounded by a multitude of helium-filled balloons – being so happy to have ample space now for cooking, and room for more customers. The restaurant was bright and airy, with picture windows on two sides. We celebrated with our favorite drink: Guaraná Antarctica, a delicious Brazilian soda made from the Guaraná berry.
A few years later, Elvia had to move her restaurant location again, I think she either lost her lease, or they had raised her rent. The move was close – just up to Market Street – however, gritty would have been an understatement for this section of Market Street at the time, not that it has changed all that much. But: Elvia’s restaurant being there raised the bar and became a lone bright spot between 6th and 7th Street. Inside and outside, the restaurant was painted in the Brazilian colors of bright yellow and green, and there was now also space for the occasional musical performance, or for watching soccer games. World Cup games were rather lively.
When Elvia got sick, the restaurant closed as her employees were unable to help to keep it open. It was a big loss for the many people that loved Elvia and her food, and to have a place to go where you felt welcome and were not rushed. Cafè do Brasil was so much more than just a restaurant and Elvia made sure of that.
I was able to see her in the hospital one more time and thankfully she looked like she was going to be fine. In fact, she was bossing the nurses and attendants around a bit, in the manner of keeping her employees on the their toes, which made me smile. I think she was tired though and wanted to go back home to Brasil to retire, which she then did.
I love you my friend, when I come to knock on heaven’s door, it would be delightful to have some Feijoada together. I could make some Schnitzel the next day too.
The drawing of the palm tree – to be included in a future cookbook – is by my son Patrick – circa 1990.
Here is Elvia’s recipe for a Banana vitamina:
2 bananas, 2 cups low-fat milk, 1 tablespoon honey, and a dash of cinnamon
1. Put all the ingredients in a blender and then blend until smooth (it is advisable to peel the bananas before you put them in)
2. Serve in chilled tall glasses
Late December 2018: I awake being misused as a trampoline once again. Meowing informs me that my duties of emptying the litter box are perceived as being neglected. Oh well, it is still dusk but I guess I’m up now. Did I see some leftover eggs, bacon, and chives waiting to become breakfast? I did indeed. Flashing orange lights and the loud roar of an engine approach as Calvin hops down off the mattress and instinctively hides. Yes indeed, “the blue monster”, albeit green in color in this locale has encroached upon the regional park to empty the refuse containers. I imagine the grin on the driver’s face, as he makes his unholy racket, surely rousing every last camper at the campground in the pre-dawn. “If I have to get up early, they might as well too”, is most likely the motto here. Luckily the brute soon disappears, the sun peeks out just a sliver, and the first birds awake, chirping their morning joy. The aforementioned breakfast items are turned into breakfast as the aromatic smell of Colombia Luminosa drifts through the brisk morning air.
Walking to the showers, I look for the wild turkeys I saw a few days ago but they must have wandered on. It is nice that this campground has hot showers. As I turn on the shower – the button needs to be pressed twice before the water gets hot – I see a rather large spider about the size of my thumb crawling into a corner of the stall and roll itself up as a stream of water hits it. We call it detante as I enjoy the shower and he remains curled up awaiting for my departure. Where this inside an apartment his destiny might not have been the same, but after all, I am in his domain now so a truce seemed appropriate.
I love crab season: the having ceased to crawl crustaceans filling the display cases of the fishmonger on a glistening bed of ice, all neatly lined up in a row in their unmistakable bright orange – the color of Dungeness crab when cooked. On sale at $5.99 a pound, who can resist? Apparently the customer in front of me, who is of the opinion that the crabs are too small in size, insisting that they should be at least two pounds minimum in weight. The girl behind the fish counter politely informs the customer that the crabs that have just come in from the wholesaler are all the same size. The words picky and ungrateful come to mind, listening to such demands. Asking “who’s next” after the grump’s departure, I raise my hand and order one of the “undersize” Dungeness crabs from the girl and ask for the crab to be cleaned. A delectable pound and a half my specimen presses on the scale – that is going to be one fine dinner tonight accompanied by some garlic bread, hot melted butter, and several slices of lemon. My cat Calvin knows the word crab very well too. As the girl cleans the crab in the stainless steel sink under the streaming water of the faucet, her co-worker on the other side of the counter grins broadly at her and me: “don’t forget to clean behind the ears”.
I see some pots of slender white daffodils with just one or two open blossoms, all lined up in a row, ready to be purchased in front of the grocery store. It is a stormy day today, and the looming rain clouds and their white counterparts are alternating their routines in the sky, with the dark gray ones maliciously sending their raindrops, while the white ones are being pushed along by the wind, happily doing nothing – January weather for California. A bit brisk by most people’s account I would venture a guess – “freezing”, if you were to ask a local. I am however pretty certain, that the daffodils are none too fond of this sitting outside bit on the shelf exposed to the raindrops, after most likely having spent a cozy life in the greenhouse.
Inside at the produce section a little girl brings mirth to my spirit as I overhear her telling her mother “I really am not too fond of this salad”, glancing at a bag of salad her mother just picked up, and then back at her mother. Meanwhile a little brute about the same size as her is reprimanded several times by his mother for bumping into people with their shopping cart oblivious to everything around him but the cart and its contents. Grace and oafish behavior in close proximity.
Having found the chives I was looking for and spying some salted butter on sale, I get into the “15 items or less” check-out line. A few lines over from mine, the same girl I had seen earlier is now being told by her mother to bring the big shopping cart back outside. Apparently no easy task, as she maneuvers carefully through the store avoiding other shoppers. Although now halfway to the door, she glances back at her mom with a question on her lips unsure as to where she should go. I wave to her and point towards the exit door, where a woman who has just come in from outside makes her back up as she tries to resume her task. This happens to her two more times until the girl finally reaches the door with the cart that is much too big for her. I crouch down to about her height where I am standing and look around me – indeed this is no mean feat if you are looking at life from this level. Good job girl!