I am happy to announce my third published book. It has been a long time in the making and has finally seen the light of day. Hey, Roberto Hu is a collection of travel stories: the primary one takes place in Venezuela, with further explorations of California and the Pacific Northwest. The author’s cat Calvin dispenses his two cents worth in the introduction.
Memorial Day. As the sun is setting and I see the silhouettes of the dry oak trees, I am grateful for the quiet day. It was almost 100 F. today and a good day to stay inside with the AC on. I wish I could have been with family to have a BBQ, but they are far away. Sigh. Well, at least I was somewhat productive in tending to the cleaning of the shower, kitchen sink, and restroom. Sheer excitement you say no doubt. As I briefly perused the news earlier, I saw the honor and respect President Biden paid to the people in whose honor and memory this day is. I was also grateful to see that in Texas injustice did not prevail, but rather that it was defeated. I have high hopes that liberty, justice for all, and freedom will once again become the fabric of what this country was meant to be.
Sitting in a lawn chair this evening under the hummingbird feeder, one of these tiny lovely birds suddenly appeared out of nowhere, despite the fact that my cat Calvin was on my lap, and after briefly inspecting the feeder, started chattering at me. I do believe his or her exact words may have been: “hello, it’s a hot day and I’m thirsty – however this feeder does need some attention”. Thus, after placing Calvin inside, I took down the feeder and brought it to my now sparkling clean kitchen sink. Indeed, after opening the feeder a musky smell greeted me. I wouldn’t want to drink from that either. A cleaning was most definitely in order.
Hanging the freshly cleaned and refilled feeder back on it’s hook, I sat back down in my chair once again with Calvin on my lap, and we enjoyed the twilight again. What do you know, the sound of fast beating hummingbird wings could be heard and then my little friend appeared directly above me and flew straight to the feeder to drink – quite a few sips too I might add. He or she then flew over to me, chirped briefly, and flew off into the evening sky. I do believe it was a thank you.
A watercolor from my upcoming book “Hey Roberto Hu”.
I think it is safe to say that most people will be more than happy to leave this last year behind. The unexpected pandemic, the wildfires here in the West, other natural disasters around the globe, hunger, poverty, injustice.
The shelter in place implemented in March led to some unexpected experiences. Almost car-less streets, fresh air, families spending time at home and with each other, leaving behind the frenetic pace and wrong priorities for a while. There were lots of positives and things to be learned or re-learned.
Now with a vaccine on the horizon, and finally a decent man to lead our country again after the catastrophic last four years and the hope that “build back better” will indeed be what lies ahead. The potential is there to do good and to set a high standard and correct the wrongs that have plagued especially this country for so so long. Our wonderful President Obama set the bar real high and pointed the US in the right direction while making sure this country was part of the world community. This was and is so vitally important.
The hardship of the holidays without being together with loved ones, children being unable to go to school, overworked caregivers. Yes, the last year is best left behind.
On a personal note, I hope to finally publish my so oft delayed next book. I certainly have had time to write and draw a bit this past year.
May 2021 be a year of healing, learning, and making the world better in all regards. It starts with every one of us.
Coming Spring 2021:
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