Wednesday, January 28, 2009

La Belle et La Bete

Before there was Disney's Belle there was la Belle of Jean Cocteau (and before that a history of French authors, but I'm not going back that far in time). Inhabiting a mysterious, hazy world of black and white, she comes to love the Beast... or does she? For while Disney's characters are clear of purpose and personality, the dream world that Cocteau's Belle inhabits is an eerier place, where motives are sometimes muddled.

As someone who has always loved fairy tales, I have been eagerly awaiting the Grand Illusion's showing of Beauty and the Beast for the past month. And while I loved the fantastical world captured on screen, I left the theater feeling somewhat puzzled. In the end, as we all know, Belle's true love has transformed the Beast into the prince of her dreams. But again, is it really so simple? In Cocteau's version the Beast and Belle's former suitor appear to magically trade places, and Belle herself admits to the love she has for both. Is it her perseverance that brings her what her heart really desires, even after she rejects the proposals both earlier incarnations?

But that, in essence, is life. Love, and the decisions it forces us to make, is never that straightforward. Except, perhaps, in the case of a true beast.

"Ma bete!" Michael and I exclaimed upon seeing Lucy as we arrived back at home. Our own little beast wiggled with glee and rushed to greet us. Some things, it would seem, are indeed just as they appear.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Tricks

Y'all are gonna be so proud - I went to another birthday party in Tacoma Saturday night. And this time - drum roll, please - I actually read the invitation in its entirety. And found out exactly where the party was BEFORE driving down. And even took the cell phone just in case. See, in a mere two weeks time, I have stretched and grown beyond my former limitations. And if you are reading at this point and haven't the faintest idea what I'm talking about, just go back to the post titled "Where's the Party" from January 11th, and you'll know. Oh yes, you'll know.

This time the party was for my dear friend Jackie who should be properly embarrassed when I announce to the world (because there are so many of you out there reading this blog, I'm sure) that she has turned 30! Woohoo! We celebrated by taking in a dance performance that was a little more avant garde than expected (although, to be honest, it was about what I had expected, given the synopsis, and I rather enjoyed it, except for the poor visibility from our seats) and followed that up with pizza and drinks at The Rock. I was reminded of how much I like Tacoma; it always feels like such a close-knit community when compared with Seattle.

And today, I am pleased to report, I made yet another leap forward in rational behavior and made pasta using a pasta machine. Yes, this goes waaay back to my post from September 11th ("Pasta, Basta!"), wherein I describe the pitfalls of attempting to make ravioli by rolling the pasta dough by hand. It was not a pretty sight. But tonight's tortellini were gorgeous! Lewissa came over with her pasta roller (I have yet to get my own, but am now convinced that I absolutely need one) and together we created a fabulous meal of the aforementioned tortellini, filled with lemon juice, ricotta, Parmesan, and pecorino, topped with browned butter and sage, a polenta crusted chicken with a balsamic reduction and capers, broccoli rabe with seasoned oil, rosemary bread, and, of course, a nice Italian red wine.

The only thing regretful was the fact while Lewissa, Michael, and I were all exclaiming rapturously over the tortellini (isn't it nice to surround yourself with people who truly enjoy food?), Amy V was left with her plain capellini. Due to an egg allergy, the tortellini were off limits, but she did get to mix a little of the extra filling in with her noodles, hopefully to good effect.

As for me, I have leftover homemade pasta in the fridge, and believe me, this time I'm not afraid to use it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Knife's Edge

After last night's no-show, Amy V and I were pleased to find that our foray back to the Grand Illusion tonight was not in vain; we arrived on time, as, in fact, did about eight others (a real crowd for the Grand Illusion). The show would go on!

The film was Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water, a tense drama with only three players, a married couple and the hitchhiker that the husband impetuously invites on their sailboat outing as a not-so-subtle way to prove himself to his disillusioned wife. And if you're going to show a knife in the first act, it better be used in the third... and although it was, it was not in the way I had expected. Is this good filmmaking - thwarting the expectations of the audience, yet keeping them in suspense? Or a willful disregard for Chekhov's gun principle?

But the film did remind me of a Chekhov play, full of symbolism representing the disintegration of a marriage, fighting to prove ourselves regardless of our age, and the psychological manipulation used by both sexes to test the waters around them. I can't say I enjoyed the film as one does when watching a movie merely for entertainment, but it did make me think, and sometimes that's a good thing (OK, that didn't come out quite right - thinking is always a good thing, but what I mean to say is it can be good to watch a film that forces you to mull it over, not just turn your brain off for a couple of hours).

And as a side note, the film really made me wish I was sailing! Just not with those three, of course.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Grand Illusion Indeed

Named for a French film film of the 1930s, the Grand Illusion is a tiny jewel box of a theater that sits at the corner of University Way and 50th Street in Seattle's U District. Though attendance is sparse (and I don't think the theater hold more than 75, anyway), it's one of my favorite places to catch a movie in Seattle.

We were running late for tonight's showing of Knife in the Water, but Amy V, Michael, and I sprinted down the block in an effort to get there before the film rolled... only to find a locked door. Squeezing through the attached Starlife on the Oasis Cafe, I found two volunteers in the projection room, but the film wasn't running. It was late, no one had shown up on time, and they weren't going to show the movie for a grand total of three people who would only have had to pay ten bucks all together (with Tuesday being Member Mooch Night, Amy would've been free since Michael and I are members).

And really, I can't blame them. And I wonder how many times this has happened before, and I wonder again why so few people come here. Shouldn't the local college kids be lapping this stuff up? Art house flicks and bizarro late night shows on the weekends? The fact is, other than the annual It's a Wonderful Life Christmas party viewing (which, perhaps not coincidentally, is free for everyone), I don't think I've ever seen more than ten people in the audience, and even ten is a stretch.

So instead of spending an evening reading subtitles, we wound up drinking bubble tea at nearby Pochi while playing Yahtzee with a random assortment of dice. Not what we had had in mind, but hey, still a chance to get out. And Amy and I are considering trying the 9pm showing tomorrow... and this time we won't be late.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Winter Wonder Weekend

It has been an exhausting weekend, exhausting in the best sense of the word. While Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a holiday for many, I was only fortunate enough to get the day off due to the fact that I'm scheduled to work this coming Saturday. The chance to sleep in with Michael, who also conveniently had the last two nights off of work, was like a blessing sent straight from heaven.

As we were leisurely eating a late breakfast - cereal for Michael, leftover Persian rice with barberries from Pacific Market for me - Amy V came upstairs, obviously dressed for some kind of athletic activity.

"I was wondering, would either of you been interested in cross country skiing at Snoqualmie with me today?"

At first I was uncertain, but after Michael checked his email and confirmed that his friends were, in fact, coming over at 1:00 to watch a movie (which, in my opinion, is a terrible waste of a beautiful winter day in Seattle, seeing as those appear so seldom), I took the chance.

Now, neither Amy nor I are accomplished cross country skiers. Amy had done cross country a grand total of once before, conveniently only last month, while I also had only one previous experience - if you count trying it out ten years ago on a PLU outdoor recreation outing where our proposed hike was aborted about 100 yards from the parking lot due to a lack of visible trail markers at Mount Rainier. As someone with some downhill ski experience, I find cross country an altogether different beast, and going down a bunny hill that wouldn't shake even a novice downhill skier becomes a challenge of Herculean proportions on Nordic skis. Still, we managed to ski six kilometers and enjoy it, and I only fell once, when attempting a little "telemarking" in the final downhill stretch back to the lodge.

We were back home by 5:30, in time for me to meet up with another friend for dinner. Over beers at the Fiddler's Inn we fell into discussions about politics, feminism, and international perspectives. That, complemented by a delicious toasted cheese and roasted pepper sandwich, made a great way to unwind for the evening. There may be blisters the size of nickels on the backs of my heels, but tonight I'll fall asleep a happy woman.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

And We'll Keep on Fighting Til the End

If you bore something of a resemblance to Freddie Mercury: The Later Years, and had a powerhouse voice to boot, what would you do? Front a Queen cover band? This, it would seem, is the logical choice. Tonight, I saw the Queen tribute band Her Majesty play at Studio Seven in Seattle's Sodo district, and was struck by the similarity between the band's stand in for Freddie Mercury and the legend himself.

Had it not been for my housemate, Amy V, I probably never would have heard of the show, which, apparently, was featuring no fewer than eight (eight!) live bands, with no discernible commonalities between the groups other than the fact that they were all doubtless happy to have a gig at a paying venue. Amy V's brother, Aaron, is the drummer for Her Majesty, and this was their second performance.

While Amy claimed that their earlier Sonic Boom Records show had higher energy, I was still impressed with the polish and presence of the new band. Aaron is no slacker on the drums, and knocked out a mean beat for throughout their short set. Faux Freddie Mercury led the audience in hand clapping through We Will Rock You, and the band played the bombastic Bohemian Rhapsody for their finale. One long-haired dude up front in the audience got to relive his head-banger days by thrashing to a particularly rocking part of this song, I have to admit I was singing along myself. Back in the day, when I was a teenager, I played Bohemian Rhapsody countless times on the piano, and had memorized every last word.

And speaking of teenagers, Her Majesty was followed by the group Modern Mosaic, who appeared to be a trio of sixteen-year-olds. Sixteen-year-olds who really knew how to rock, that is - these kids were more than alright, and definitely worth a second listen.

But you know what song is really stuck in my head? No time for losers, we are the champions... What can I say? It's catchy; ten million sports fans can't be wrong.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Big John's

One of Seattle's best kept secrets (in my humble opinion, of course) is hidden at the back of an old brick warehouse on Airport Way, only a few blocks south of Uwajimaya, yet a world apart. The location, to say the least, does not inspire confidence in the uninitiated.

"Why are you driving down here?" Michael asked me as I pulled into what appeared to be a merely a parking lot down a gravelly hill by a decrepit building.

"This is it," I told him. "This is PFI!"

PFI, or, if you want to get technical, Big John's Pacific Food Importers, is a small shop crammed with all manner of Italian and other European, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern imported foods, most sold at lower prices than can be found elsewhere in town - if, that is, you can even find some of these items elsewhere. Of course, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and Italian pasta are sold everywhere nowadays, but is your local grocery mart going to offer frantoia olive oil or spaghetti noodles that are three feet long? No, I didn't think so.

And the cheese counter at PFI will make any lover of the curds salivate. Cheeses that sell for $25 a pound at Central Market of Whole Foods might be $15 per pound here. And if you, like Michael and I, are a kalamata olive snob and only like the unpitted kind (believe me - pitting the olives before selling them noticeably decreases their flavor; we know, we've tested this theory), this is one place you can always reliably find them. The catch: with bulk chesses and olives, you must buy at least one pound, making PFI a kind of Costco of the specialty food world.

I regret to say that this was the first time I had made it back to PFI in more than a year. Its location, coupled with the fact that I don't technically need most of the things they sell here, inadvertnatly led to a PFI dry spell. Now, finally, I was going to get that good bottle of balsamic vinegar again, after having subsisted on the cheaper Trader Joe's version for at least a year. Life has been hard, what can I say?

Today I was also in luck because the other item I really needed - fresh mozerella - was on sale, and I snagged a three pound tub for five dollars. Unheard of!

"This is still OK?" I questioned the woman at the cash register. I was going to use it on the pizzas I was making for our neighbors who came over for dinner tonight. The dinner was, in part, a way of thanking them for the help they'd given in patching up our broken window while we were gone at Christmas (see the blog post, "When Winter Trees Begin to Fall"), and passing on the gift of food poisoning wasn't really what I had in mind.

"It's fine, it's just that they were dated for yesterday, so you should eat it soon," she told me.

No problem. For five bucks, that didn't even register as a risk, in my opinion.

Michael and I headed to the car with our purchases, and I pulled out the can of San Pellegrino Limonata soda I'd found for him. We traded sips as we drove home.

"It's such a strange place," Michael told me. "It's kind of run down, and there were some weird smells in the back."

I reminded him of the not-so-distant past when one had to use a ten gallon bucket as a shopping basket; that, along with four ramshackle shopping carts in various stages of falling apart, were all they had on hand.

"If they fixed it up too much, they'd probably charge more," I countered. Then maybe Big John's would be secret no longer. And really, feeling like you're one of the ones in the know is half the fun.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Where's the Party?

Tonight I drove down to Tacoma for my friend Keri's birthday party. On arriving at their house, I noticed that it appeared very dark, almost as if no one was home... Also, very few cars were parked out front if this was, in fact, the scene of any but the most private of parties. Peering through the window confirmed my suspicions: either everyone in this house had decided to go to bed by 6:15, or else no one was home. I went back to the car to mentally review the situation.

First: I was positive I had the date and time right, although I hadn't read through the invitation again following the initial announcement. Second: I had left the cell phone at home, leaving me with no way of contacting anyone to verify this. Third: The party plan was for ice cream sundaes from six to eight. And kids were welcome. Hmmm...

The it hit me: they must be at their church! Sundaes, kids - it would be much easier to handle a crowd of youngsters in the church gym. While I hadn't been there since their wedding day more than eight years ago, I did know what direction it was in, although I had no idea what the correct street was. Still, after one wrong turn that, oddly enough, quickly ended up leading me back to the correct street, I found myself pulling up to the curb across from Peace Lutheran only five minutes later. And lo and behold, the party was a-happening!

This is not the first time I've had such bouts of "logic" lead me to the spot, despite being seemingly lost. It is, I've often felt, a good skill to possess. Of course, an even better skill might be the ability to actually read directions in their entirety and, oh, maybe even write down the information in some cases (I have also headed out to parties at an unfamiliar house and forgotten to write down the house number - yep, I'm a clever one - but I still found it!). As for now, I'm just happy I made it. Although I still couldn't for the life of me tell you what street that church was on.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Strawberry Fields Forever

Rutabagastories ground to an unexpected halt last week as our internet connection faltered. After much testing, Michael, with the help of his techie friend Howard, determined that the modem is at fault. Qwest has agreed to send us a new one, but for the moment I'm utilizing my housemate's computer.

It's funny how dependent we are on the internet these days. Had I not had access while at work, what would I have done? Emails, not phone calls, make up the majority of my long distance communication with friends, and nearly all of my current information on the outside world comes to me via the world wide web (or office gossip; there are some things that never change).

On Monday Michael and I pursued the more old-fashioned activity of going out to a movie. Entering the tiny Grand Illusion Cinema on the Ave, paying with check instead of credit, and sitting down to watch Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries in the well-worn theater seats made me feel more than a little nostalgic. With the whir of the film reel heard faintly behind us, and specks of dust making split second appearances on the screen as the story unfolded, this seemed the perfect way to view what is inherently a nostaglic movie. Seeing Professor Borg reminisce over mostly painful memories, yet somehow be able to move beyond the hurts of the past, including the many he himself created, both saddened and uplifted me.

After the showing, Michael and I went to Pochi for a late night bubble tea. Slurping tapioca up through a straw, listening to the Blue Scholars on the cafe stereo system sing about The Ave, I remembered the two of us sitting in this very place years before, following another movie at the Grand Illusion. I used to feel that my life revolved around the U District - I worked there, hung out there, went shopping, and went to church all within a few blocks of University Way, although our apartment was a couple of miles to the east. Years ago, when I first heard the Blue Scholars, I could relate - the Ave was my street, too.

These are mostly good memories, though, and I hope when, in my old age, I look back on my life I will be able to face fewer regrets than Professor Borg. With this new-fangled internet, I'll even have a digital record here to remind me. Unless, of course, the modem breaks down again. Maybe then my memories will return as surreal dreams, but for now I just want a reliable way to get back online.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

We're Off to See the Christmas Wizard!

The children of University Lutheran Church were finally able to put on their Christmas play today, having had to postpone it due to the snow in the weeks before Christmas. Being as we are still technically in the Christmas Season, which ends on Epiphany on January 6th, it was still a fitting time. And so today, those congregants who chose to stay after the service were treated to what I believe was the world premiere - correct me if I'm wrong - of A Christmas Wizard of Oz.

You may be wondering what Christmas could possibly have to do with the Wizard of Oz, and you would not be alone. But in this version, it was a blizzard, not a tornado, that ripped Dorothy away from Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, and a snowman, tin soldier, and stuffed lion accompanied her through the ice forest to the Wizard, with Dorothy wishing nothing more than to make it back home before Christmas day so she can open her presents.

You may also wonder what this tale has to do with the story of the Nativity. After all, while Christmas may have been largely secularized in the commercial world, surely one would would still hear of the birth of Jesus in a church. There is a very simple answer to this question: the Wizard of Oz, Christmas or otherwise, has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. But at the end of the play, with Dorothy safe home in Kansas, delighting over her gifts of a toy soldier and a stuffed lion, and the snowman Uncle Henry built outside, the narrator brought it back to Bethlehem, Charlie Brown style. With all the children gathered around, one of the youngest read the famous passage from the book of Luke, where angels announce the birth of a babe in a manger to some frightened shepherds.

"This is the reason we give gifts at Christmas," the narrator continued. "To remember the greatest Gift, the gift of Jesus."

At that, the audience broke into applause.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Irresolute Resolutions

I have been pondering the history of New Year's resolutions. When did such a tradition begin? I can't imagine anyone, neither peasants nor nobility, deciding that they need to lose that extra weight they put on at the Christmas feast. While I'm sure that New Year celebrations have always centered around hopes for a bountiful time to come, when did we first endeavor to use the holiday as a catalyst towards self improvement?

Not that it isn't logical; the hope for a brighter future should only naturally make us think of our own role in it. Finally, this will be the year we get it together, the year we actually get into shape, stick to our budget, clean out the garage. Out with the old habits, in with the new, improved ones. And especially after a year that saw many people's hopes and dreams crumble under unexpected losses, we all yearn for something better, be it a new job after losing the old one, a new sense of security in times of uncertainty, or a new president. And so much feels beyond our control - there must be something we can strive towards, some way we ourselves can make a difference.

Lately, I find myself thinking more often about what I want from my life. Perhaps this comes with the territory of now being firmly rooted in my thirties; it's as if I'm grasping at the final moments of young adulthood, ready for something new, but uncertain what that may be. All I really know is, I want a life less ordinary. I don't want to work nine-to-five forever, but what are my options? What do I really want to be now that I am, supposedly, grown up?

I mull over various resolutions, but am not satisfied. Write a book - three pages each week? Well, I'm not sure if I'm ready to jump into that just yet. Go back to my comic strip? Make a bigger volunteer commitment again? Maybe even write those Christmas cards I still haven't gotten around to?

Perhaps I'm going about it the wrong way. Maybe it's not so much about setting a weekly goal as it is to just take each day as it comes and be open to new opportunities, aware of what's happening outside of my little shell of a world. Maybe, if I'm patient, the means to crack that shell will present itself, or perhaps I'll find the sliver where the light is already piercing through.

So at this time I'm not setting any resolutions. I don't know what the future holds, but that doesn't worry me in the least. Hey, I guess I do have one resolution after all - I hearby resolve not to worry about what comes next. Not a bad motto for the coming year, really. Let's see if it sticks.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

In with the New

If the previous two days have been any indication, 2009 is off to a great start. We rang in the New Year in style with a James Bond themed party. Above: Lucy looks like she's had one too many martinis. She resolves to be a more temperate drinker in 2009.

Actually, she was probably just disappointed that she was stuck licking the floor when all us humans got to enjoy cheese, meats, salmon, Moroccan chicken rolls, and cookies, not to mention the martinis. And knowing our dog, she probably wouldn't have passed up the Bloody Mary shrimp or even the stuffed mushrooms.

I like to get the New Year off to a clean start, so didn't wait around to clear the mess. Even though I didn't get to bed until 3:30 (and still was up before nine this morning- thanks for the wake up, Michael!), it was well worth it to get to enjoy a relaxing holiday. Amy V and I took Lucy for a walk around Green Lake, discussing our possible resolutions, and Jenn Z, a friend I hadn't seen in years, came over with her husband Joel for a lunch of New Year's Eve leftovers. In the evening, Michael and I headed out to a friend's place for games and the traditional southern New Year's dish of black-eyed peas. If every day for the coming year is half as pleasant, I won't have any complaints.

So, here's to a wonderful new year! As our friend Doug declared when toasting the end of 2008, "A year from now, may your stocks have grown and may gas prices have stayed the same!" Hear, hear!