Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lately: The Here and the Now

This Thanksgiving I helped plan a magazine-spread menu: pumpkin cornbread, savory butternut squash dressing, chardonnay glazed carrots, pan roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes with toasted pecans, spiced cranberry sauce, and a cranberry pecan tart. I’d love to say it was a catalog-worthy feast, but I’m a fledgling cook. The carrots were overdone, the butternut squash was too crisp because I didn’t cube it small enough, and the spiced cranberry sauce was inedible (so we now know that pinot noir vinegar is not pinot noir verjus).
The rents weren't happy that the ingredients included fresh rosemary, sage, and thyme along with wild rice, masa harina, and shallots. (Nor were they pleased about the Brussels sprouts -- who else has to beg their parents to eat their greens?) But I rationalized that the grocery bill would still be less than the $75 take-home dinner they were planning to order from Bob Evans. (The horror!)

On Black Friday we woke up at 3:30 a.m. to go shopping. I intended to bail out but mustered up the motivation to get out of bed by reminding myself I wouldn’t be able to participate in this truly American consumerist tradition next year in Chile. I had the same I’m-going-to-vomit nausea I get when waking up for 6 a.m. flights. When we arrived to Target at 4:50 a.m., hundreds of people lined up outside the doors in the rain. We left and went to the mall. There it seemed like a typical bustling day of holiday shopping until I remembered it was 6 a.m. and people were ordering Chinese in the food court. 
A couple of weeks ago before the Thanksgiving chaos, we were on a six-hour drive to D.C. for my visa appointment at the Chilean Consulate. I was thinking about the dozen documents in my manila envelope under the front passenger seat. Signed university acceptance letter. Check. Official statement of scholarship funds. Check. FBI fingerprint cards. Check. I’d heard so many stories about stern officials who never failed to demand new documents not listed on consulate websites or telephone information lines. That’s why I’d also brought along my birth certificate, bank statements, and a letter of my intentions just in case. They couldn’t deny me.

And they didn’t. Fredz, the man who processed my visa, was nothing but friendly and helpful, if eager to charge the $131 fee. After he pasted the document in my passport we had time to explore The Smithsonian Natural History Museum and learn about paintings by Da Vinci, Rubens, and Monet from a scholarly French guide at the palatial National Art Gallery. She led us through dim, glowing rooms with polished marble floors. I spent as much time admiring her demure eye shadow, glowing skin, and manicured nails as I did contemplating Botticelli’s use of symmetry or Caravaggio’s expressions of humanity. This woman oozes polish and sophistication, I thought as I admired her pressed clothes and perfect blowout. But when she stretched up her arm to point out a worm hidden in a Dutch master’s Vase of Flowers and revealed a wedge of dimpled midriff, the illusion of perfection shattered. Then I felt less inadequate with my wrinkled jacket and rain-wrecked curls. 

When the museums closed we walked by the Washington Monument and peered through the gates at the back of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. That night I pressured my parents into eating at the Indian restaurant by our Comfort Inn. Now I can’t stop craving Shahi Paneer, tofu-like chunks of homemade Indian cheese in a rich and spicy tomato bisque served with flatbread. I also managed to help my mom eat her Tandoori chicken dipped in yellow curry puree and yogurt sauce with carrots and cucumber.

Back in West Virginia I took a road trip to Lewisburg in Greenbrier County. Surrounded by rolling farmland in the Allegheny Mountains, it's the place small town myths are made of. I walked around the historic downtown stopping to browse at the boutiques, galleries, and antique stores (sometimes they're a better bet for vintage than thrift stores). They have two old fashioned barber shops with the revolving red-white-and blue striped poles in front, a bakery, and hip cafes with vegetarian menus and wi-fi. Advertisements for plays, concerts, and art openings were plastered everywhere. I took pictures of the old churches and graveyards and of the stately Carnegie Hall. On the way in and out of town I stared at the lovely Victorian and Georgian revival homes with green lawns shaded by grand trees (my dream house is an old one), wondering why I couldn't be from this part of West Virginia.

But at least in industrial Charleston I can frequent the Mountain Stage. I’ve heard Brett Dennen, one of my favorites who I found out is super tall with toothpick legs and wiggles while he sings, the virtuoso pianist/bluesy singer Diane Birch (I was disappointed that she was hoarse), and Sam and Ruby. I love the latter’s Suitcase Song

I also took some time out for TV last week -- I watched the season finale of Project Runway, in which my friend and old roommate Carol Hannah showed a collection in Bryant Park for New York Fashion Week. This was my first experience being a follower of a TV show, and now I’ll have to find another one because it was so fun. When I saw Carol Hannah on Regis and Kelly and discovered that she has 3,000 followers on Twitter, I realized she’s a celebrity. That makes me feel happy and inspired, and lucky that I have a dress she made me in my closet that she’s now selling for $700 on her website. Too bad my current life lacks any occasions to wear it. 

However things will soon change … My Rough Guide to Chile just came in the mail, and my flight to Santiago is booked. And The New York Times even recently ran an article about Valparaiso, the city where I’ll be studying. South America is closer every day.

1 comment:

  1. :) love it. same exact sentiments when i went to dc... but NEVER made it to the smithsonian.. my dad wanted to go to a war memorial and after that we got lost in friday rush hour traffic for 3 hours...

    ok well. i'll be saving up for south america! I'M NOT KIDDING!!


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