Friday, July 31, 2009

French Bread

To paraphrase one of my favorite comedians, George Carlin, I love America. I really do. I would not want to live anywhere else in the world. But ... I am sorry ... America cannot make bread!

Maybe I have been spoiled for the first 23 years of my life at the Romanian small streets bakeries, and home made doughs. Maybe I have lived at the confluence of three major cultures that know bread: Romanian, Greek and Turkish! Maybe it's just Europe all around that does it better... I am not sure what it is, but whenever The Pilgrims came over, they forgot the bread on the other side of The Pond!!

But there is one bread that sort of brings memories back and is the best balm at the end of a tough week. It is definitely not Romanian or, with the risk of ignorantly generalizing, "European", but ... it comes close. Harris Teeter sells this crusty French bread, usually warm, that I absolutely love! It's usually on special, or sold out, on Fridays, by the time I hit the store. But it is with no failing and no doubt the best afternoon snack - or whole dinner - when I miss home and I want some cozy food to make my bad moods wash away.

We're ALL emotional eaters (aren't you glad that someone finally said it?! - yes, we all are!!), and this is my drug of choice! Sure, mashed potatoes straight out of the pot are too, but when I am not feeling like working for my drug, French bread it is.

I usually drive straight to the above mentioned store, and once inside, head for the Deli section, with no distraction, check the wicker basket first (that's where they have the "yard stick" loaves), and then for the regular shelf (where they have the 'Small French bread' - people usually don't notice those, and they're seldom sold out), and grab a loaf! The whole time my mouth is water, and my heart is beating fast, with anticipation. I try not to shop for a lot on Friday evenings, just to make sure I get out fast, with my bread!

I do the "check yourself out" line, and head for my car, bread in one hand, keys in the other. Gosh, I feel like an addict, and it feels sinfully good! Usually, all my purchases go in the trunk. Not the crusty, warm French bread! That goes to the passenger seat. Before I start the engine, I open the bag, and tear about a 5 inch piece off. Oh, memories flood my mind then: of my elementary school teacher buying her bread for her dinner over lunch, and bringing it in the classroom, and us, kids, asking politely (the smell was overwhelming!!) if we could have a piece. She always bought about 3 extra loaves so she should share them with us. So, while I am starting the car, backing out of the spot, and driving myself home, I am eating, with big bites, my 5 inches of French bread. Crusty. Warm. Fresh. So close to perfect and yet not quite there. But such a perfect surrogate, nonetheless.

And all the worries, bad moods, and dark energies of the week disappear into thin air. Just like that! No more. And then, once home, I snack on more, throughout the evening, sometimes skipping dinner altogether and filling up on bread. No, it's not just "dough". It's kneading hands, and work (to me!), it's the fruit of the earth, it's care, and love of food, it's memories, and heart balm!

French bread (to me) bought this way, and consumed as such, becomes so much more than just food. It becomes your favorite elixir, and your best friend, your comfiest chair, your warmest, most welcome and generous arms, your cheapest psychologist and your dinner, all in one!

They say that you can get to dogs' hearts through their stomachs. You can do so with people, too. Just find that one thing that does this for you. And you'll never go hungry! For food, emotions, ... what have you ...

Happy weekend, all. And happy snacking!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I'd Rather Be Sad??!! Hhmm ...

I think Dostoevsky said ( I might be wrong!) at some point that when you cannot write, you need to write about what it feels like to not be able to write. If you consider yourself a writer, there is not such thing as "not able to write", he implied.

But I am here to tell you: I cannot write lately! It's not that there is not "stuff" happening, because there is, people peeving me, or life lessons to come my way! Not at all! But I just cannot find the voice that will have something good, emotional, or remotely eloquent to say. I don't like my writing voice lately, and I would rather keep it quiet. Or maybe I just cannot find the inspiration to make what is happening interesting enough to share.

But here's the thing with me: historically, I have not been able to write, or have been a poor writer, when I am happy. My muse loves misery. She cannot handle me, nor the empty page, when I am happy! She has never been able to!

So, I can't help but wonder: should I be grateful for the happiness? Or mad that I cannot write?? Hhmm... Should I just be grateful for the non-writing, since it means I am happy? Or should I rather crave to be sad, since I miss writing so much?! Now, that's a twisted predicament!

As far as my readers go: I pray for understanding, and patience from you: if you want to just keep up with what I have been doing lately, I'll hate to tell you: I will NOT update the "status" on facebook with trivial notes about my daily routine, but in a nutshell, here's the scoop of the last week or so: going to the grocery, cooking dinner for the disabled, weeding the yard, having a wonderful dinner at Print Works Bistro (have your had their Spatzle?? What about their cheesy grits??), watching my Prom video and feeling too fat, working too much, and spending a whole weekend (so hard to come by and thus so much more precious!! ) with my boyfriend, cooking, watching movies and family videos, more working, and pausing for a day, or so, to remember my friend's birthday, who has passed away last year!

And if you want to know the truth about my soul lately: it's been blissful, and grateful for it all ! I am grateful for the wonderful family I have, and all my friends, far and near, I am grateful for the love and happiness in my life that I finally get to share and explore, and I am looking forward to a very bright future ...

And I will also look forward to learning how to write on happy spirits. Because I am guessing they will be very common from here out, as I am pretty sure that I'd rather be ... happy. I hope so, at least.

So, stay tuned, and thank you for your patience while I find my ... "happy" voice.

Monday, July 20, 2009

“A Cute” Movie

I am as puzzled when people tell me a movie was “cute” as when a realtor tells me a house is “darling”. These are very vague terms, to me, to refer to things that probably don’t suck that bad, but are not quite excellent.

But I found myself saying that the movie “The Proposal” is quite “cute”. And let me define it, from my point of view, at least!

Sometimes, at the end of a busy week, during which I have had everything from pleasant meets with friends, to boss screaming at me for trifles, from dealing with stomach bugs to forgetting to put out a weekly newsletter (oops! - that’s a first), from being totally and utterly in love to coming down to earth and realizing that a big project I am putting together will only have three volunteers, me included, maybe …- so at the end of such a week all I wanted was bag of movie theater popcorn (isn’t that the best comfort food??) and a chick flick!

And I chose The Proposal, because from all the reviews, it seemed to fit the bill! I wanted something without guns, and violence. Some sob story of someone falling in love and living happily ever after: you know – the kind of stuff that’s hard to believe in anymore. And not much brain engagement, either.

And for once, the movie delivered: it was not stupid, and it was not fantastical, and it was not lame, and it didn’t have crazy, surreal and unreal dialogues, nor retarded, fall-on-your-ass-and-expect-me-to-laugh, or cat-flushes-the-dog-down-the-toilet kind of jokes … It was just … a normal chick flick!

Relaxing, funny, mildly intellectually written. Sure, the eagle does snatch the dog, and then the cell phone, and the girl who could not swim is thrown in the water and doesn’t die, but that’s just to tell you, you’re still watching fiction! Other than that, it was a very, well, “cute” movie.

Sure, it could not help but have my biggest pet peeve about it, too, overcritical as I am – but it is one pet peeve I have about all American movies and TV shows: I do not (cannot) understand why, no matter how rich the characters are in a movie (or show), they always have to drive a beat-up, clunky, some sort of washed out blue, gray or orange shade truck from the 60’s or older!

WHY does every producer/ director/ movie creator feel the need to add such fake “local color” to the movie, beats the bejesus out of me! It’s so made-up and so contrived anymore! In this particular flick, the main family is referred to as “The Kennedys of Alaska”, and yet the mother drives one such truck, bad paint and rust and all. Why?!

But this is just my own “battle” with The American Movie Industry. Not just with this one clip!

So, all in all, I recommend that you go and see The Proposal, if you want to escape.

And trust me on this one: it’s cute, and it will deliver as promised.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Happy Change of Mood

There is a strange dichotomy going on in my dad’s personality: he has the most natural, most innate talent to make you laugh. He is truly a clown; while at the very same time he can be the worst downer you’ll ever meet.

I am pretty sure I am never as funny as he is. But I am positive that I don’t get my optimism, seldom as it comes, from him. Ever since I can remember, he’s always been sort of a “Chicken Little” to me. He’s always afraid the government is out to get us, the Russians, the Chinese, he always believes he’s going to die from something or other when he cuts his finger peeling potatoes (because of all that DDT, you know), or just has the sniffles; he always believes this life is a one of pain and suffering, and we have to go through it humbly, to wash off all our sins.

He is worst on his birthdays, and around the beginning of a new year. A new year to him, is just a sign that all your trials and tribulations are only starting over, yet again, like Sisyphus’s journey back up the mountain, only now it’s worse, because you’re older, and more tired, and with less strength. What is there to look forward to?! He will talk himself, with you as the audience, through these sad diatribes of “why is life worth living, after all?!”.

Somehow, the rest of our family has gotten used to dad’s “fatalism” and we just think it’s amusing anymore. But don’t tell him that! To him, this is serious business. I call it “the Cancerian drama” – since he’s a Cancer, and they do tend to get stuck in the rut of “oh, pity me!” quite often (Sorry, C.! It’s true!!).

So, today, when I called him to wish him a happy birthday, I was not looking for a chipper voice at the other end of the line. And to my shock and amazement, a happy, jovial, calm, serene and patient dad greeted me instead. For a minute or two, I didn’t know whether I should count my blessings, or make sure I hit the right residence. He had just come back from a birthday party, of his best friend’s, and he was, for starters, just picking on the heat which was so bad that he had given up on criticizing it, and just made fun of it all.

He was making fun of much of everything, actually: the puny appetizers at the party, the lack of alcohol, the sweltering heat (as you remember, Romania gets pretty hot in July), the fact that mom was so hot, she was delirious, asking him to buy her a rooster, for some odd reason (mom usually hates creatures. All of them.).

He was in his rare form, today, where he would make you laugh at every single word he utters. There is an anecdote going around about my dad: at parties, he makes people laugh so hard, they sit across the table having dinner, and they spit food at each other laughing at his jokes. That’s the kind of mood he was in today. And not just happy, but optimistic, too! He was actually looking forward to things.

He told me about his planning his own birthday party for next week – since this week his buddy decided to have his birthday party on dad’s birthday, dad had to move his till next week. He talked excitedly about the 26+ (yes: twenty six!) appetizers he is going to make, and the fish and the grilled meat, and the frappe coffees, and the cake…The man loves to entertain, for a grumpy bloke!

Grilling with dad, back home, on his birthday, in 2007

Then, we started talking about his new venture, which is trying to buy a home. He found the home of his dreams, but the current owner is in this legal mess about an inheritance on the house, so dad can’t buy the house, legally, till the owner sorts out his papers. I even thought he would be gloomy about that. But he was not. He was patient to describe to me all the implications of the legal matters, and then, he explained to me in layman’s terms how an inheritance works, at least in Romania. He didn’t speak of “the cross he has to bear”, or the lack of luck that always chases him, in everything. He was matter of fact and hopeful that all this will be over, that the three lawyers he’s now hired to help out will find an answer, and come November, he might be in a new house.

I was shocked! This was not my dad! Of course, I tried to stay away from two sore subjects (for him): his age, and the fact that he is a happy grandpa – so, probably, that helped keep his mind off sad thoughts of growing old! But whatever it was, I enjoyed my good-mood daddy, if only for about 30 minutes out of this whole year!

Maybe he’s just realizing in older age that life is worth living and beautiful after all. Maybe he is looking back and realizing all the good things he has to be happy and grateful for, or maybe he’s just tired of just pointing out the ugly and difficult ones. Maybe this is just a passing mood for him ( I definitely get my moods from him!) , and tomorrow he’ll be back to grumpy ol’ dad. Maybe he is just tired that no one takes him seriously about his complaints, anymore … Whatever it is ( I was afraid to ask!), I love it, and I hope he keeps it coming!

There is something better than talking to dad, once in a while: talking to a happy dad – especially on his birthday! He doesn’t know it, but he probably gave himself the best present today, by allowing himself to be light, happy and make me and mom, and I am sure others, too, smile. He surely is never short of one thing, and that is surprising you. And this kind of surprising, I take any day of the year!

Happy birthday, daddy, and get the grill ready for next week’s party! In your spirit of today, I am not sad I won’t be there: I am just happy that so many people will get to enjoy your charm and food for one day! I love and miss you!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Karen, the Flight Attendant, or Flying with Hitler …

I have thought long and hard before I started writing this. Life has been particularly good to me lately, so I didn’t want to jinx myself, and let Ms. Bitter come out of me … But … honesty always wins, and as my dear friend says, if you’ve got something to say, you gotta write a blog. Something like that!

You also knew me better than this, and you knew I could not be on a plane trip and not post something about airlines, and such! That would be so out of ordinary for me, wouldn’t it?!

So, without further ado, I’d like to share with you my latest experience on a Delta flight from Atlanta (does it ever end with Delta, you’ll ask: I suppose not!).

So, I board the 2:57 flight from Atlanta to Greensboro one Monday, recently. I am thinking I will miss the flight, because I only had 20 minutes between when my previous plane (from Salt Lake) landed until the second plane would take off. So, out of breath, I get to my gate at 2:40. I had a boarding pass, but no seat. At the gate, I jump the line of stand-byers (I HAD a pass, all right???) and I ask for a seat. The lady is all ready for me, and hands me a ticket, with my seat assignment. Seat 1D.

“Oh, peachy!” – I tell myself, “Can’t use the seat in front of me to store my carry-on’ Lovely!”. Little did I know that was to be the least of my worries. I try to run onto the plane, but the flight attendant is guarding it with her life. She barks, seeing my intention of getting onto her flight (and I mean “her” flight: proprietary as hell): “ONLY, if you’re going to Greensboro!!!!”.

OK. I am thinking: Oh, maybe someone just tried to get into her plane for a different city and now she’s worried. I have never, in my life, have seen anyone going past the gate and getting into the wrong plane, but I am sure I still have things to learn. So, I say, smiling: “Yes, I am going to Greensboro”. She sighs, rolls her eyes to make sure I see it, and lets me in.

I go right in, on the first row. The overhead bin is closed, which is weird, since the plane is not finished boarding, judging from the empty seats and people standing by at the gate. I open the overhead bin (first row, remember, so I am trying to use the bin), and she is right behind me: “Umm… What are you doing?”. I tell her I need to use the bin for the storage. She goes on: “Is your seat supposed to be in the first row??” – just annoyed as hell. I show her the ticket: “Yes, ma’am. 1D! First row”.

She rolls her eyes and sighs:” Well, make sure your stuff will fit in there”. I can’t think of WHY she made that comment, because all I have is a soft shell backpack and the bin is completely empty, but I am, moving right along and trying not to mind her.

I pull out my book, my purse (small, also), and my mini laptop, and leave the rest in the backpack and up in the bin. I have traveled much in my time – not as much as most folks, true, and not as much as I wish, but I have been on one or two planes. I have kept my purse next to me, in my seat, and I have seen people doing it all the time. This is my fourth flight traveling with the mini laptop, and I have always put it in the pocket in front of my seat, without any sort of comments from the flight attending crew. So, I think nothing of stuffing my mini and my book in the pocket, and tucking my purse next to my hip, on my seat.

Then, I notice, she gives the same treatment to ALL the folks that are coming onto the plane: making sure they go to Greensboro. And for those who sit in the front row, making sure that’s where they belong. I am starting to get annoyed! I am trying to wonder, again, judging from my experience, who in the right mind would just walk on a plane with the wrong destination in mind and sit just wherever the hell they wanna sit, just for the fun of it?! They give you that coupon with a seat on it for a reason, don’t they???

Anywhoo … I am glad it’s not me that she’s yelling at anymore.

I also need to tell you that the woman is NOT nice through this whole thing. She sounds mad. She sounds annoyed with every single one of us that walks in. Everyone notices her bad mood, and they pop their eyes at each other. But she comes on so strong you kind of just … shut up.

All the fun of watching is over for me when she sees my purse, and yells: “I am sorry, ma’am. THAT (pointing) has to go under your seat. It is the Federal regulation, and you must obey it!”. She is emphatic like that on the underlines words, like I were deaf, of some sort. I wanted to say I have done it numerous times before, but I figure it’s not going to happen on her plane, so I just “obey” it.

The couple that is sitting across the aisle from me (older, cute couple) are trying to put their stuff in the bin across from me, and they fail to see the “For aircraft staff only” sticker on it. They get admonished, with no regard for their old years (the attendant is probably in her late 40’s). They pick my bin, next, and she puffs: “Oh, that’s already taken” (by my little backpack!!) “I doubt you can fit your bag there”. The gentleman does fit it, and closes the bin. The lady of the couple is keeping purse on her lap. She gets yelled at about The Fed regulations, also.

It’s 3:00 PM and the flight shows no sign of taking off. She mentions to the older gentleman across from me that she’s waiting for the food supplies. I am wondering what food, since we all know we get no food on commuter flights. And she mentions that she called in the supplies at 2:10 and she is still to receive them. So, this will go into my book of "weird reasons planes are late taking off", I am thinking.

Then, she mentions: “I am a very patient lady (I puff within myself, because not a pore in her body speaks of 'patience'), but I cannot put up with this crap! I have been up since 5 AM and all I want is to get home and get into that hot tub that I have been thinking about all day!”. And she is tapping her foot, with arms crossed, looking out the door, for the supply crew. Impatiently.

All right, at this point, I am pissed! I am mad, because I had been up since 2 AM (if we’re talking Atlanta time!), and been in lines in airports for hours, and on planes all day long, on my vacation. She is doing her darn job!

This should not require pity!

The gentleman that is to sit next to me comes in late, and he is questioned why so late. He apologizes and says he just landed and almost didn’t make this flight. She sighs. Gives him the same spiel about “oh, you’re not fitting your stuff up there. Oh, I am sure it’s not going to fit, so don’t even try it”. The guy is speechless, mouth open and just annoyed eyes, but doesn’t say anything. His bag fits. I give him a sympathetic smile.

Then she is off to the rest of the plane, yelling at this older lady, telling her that maybe she doesn’t hear well (??!!), but she did say about half of a dozen times that no one can keep purses in their laps! Everyone is speechless and just wants to say something, but we all want to go somewhere, so we don’t budge.

Then, the supply crew comes, around 3:05. Yes, you remember right, the flight was to leave at 2:57 PM! She argues with the supply crew: no, she does not need M&M’s, she needs peanuts. The cross country Conair Jets get M&M’s, she is a commuter flight on the East Coast, she gets peanuts. The man pages someone for peanuts! Then, she wants more water – she gets that; and also a Conair liquor kit! I am thinking: this is a commuter flight and it’s 3 PM! Who will order liquor that probably is an arm and a leg!??? Who will have liquor and peanuts??? Anywhoo, she wants a liquor kit. We’re waiting for the second crew to arrive with the liquor kit.

Then, she argues with them about the paperwork: the list of supplies she gets has no carbon. She needs one with carbon, to keep a copy on board. The people (by now instead of the 2 people that showed up with supplies initially, we have five folks and three carts outside!) are saying they have no kind of other paperwork, this is it, for all planes. For all airlines. Sorry, Conair (which is us) gets carbon, she needs carbon! Their manager shows up, a bossy, gentlemanly man, and yells back at her (FINALLY, I say!!!): “Ma’am! This is what we have! You take it or leave it! But we cannot produce any other kind of paperwork! Make a copy when you get to the office, and be done with it. I can’t give you a carbon copy, and I am pulling my crew! You got what you need??”. She talks over him, but finally accepts the paperwork.

It’s 3:30. She closes the doors. Yay! At 3:40 we’re leaving!

Not before … she comes and notices my laptop in the pocket in front of me, and barks again – now even more mad, after the fight with the supplies people: “Ma’am!!!! (I blink!) Federal regulations prohibit the placement of electronics in the pocket in front of you. I would like you to listen to me when I speak, and do what I say!!” – this is very much verbatim!

So, I grab the laptop, and slide it under my own seat, mumbling (I just could NOT keep it inside me): “And WHAT ELSE, I wonder?!?”

The gentleman next to me goes “Geez!”.

She comes back, and pulls out of the seat pocket the Sky magazine, to show me the page with the Federal regulations. She shoves it in front of me, while I am looking out the window. I say, after a while: “ I heard you!” – annoyed and not looking at the page, but at her with my evil look (oh, you know that look!)

She cannot believe the gall, and says “Well, I heard you say ‘Whatever’, so I just needed to show you the rules!”

I say, undisturbed: “ I did not say ‘Whatever’!”

She puts the magazine back and walks away. The guy next to me says again: “Geez! She sucks!”.

I agree.

And the journey continues. For the rest of the flight, I avoid her. I pretend to sleep when she serves peanuts, and I don’t make eye contact. She still blabs, looking at us, unfortunate folks of first row for comment and approval, and I look out the window. The other folks are quiet. She’s all but talking to herself …

We arrive in Greensboro, and she wishes us a nice day, and then she wants to leave us with a thought. And it pains me to put it out there … but I have to: she says on the microphone: “ I would like to leave you with a thought for the day folks. I want you to remember that ‘a smile is a facelift that we call can afford’ and I wish you all a very pleasant day!”.

Some people are laughing and some people (those who have been yelled at) are looking around at each other with inquisitive eyes of “are you freaking kidding me????”. We shake our heads, and instead of “good bye” I wanted to say: “you earn a smile, you don’t demand one”. But I figured I’d waste my breath and I don’t know about you, but I have more respect for my breath than that!

So, next time you fly Delta on a Conair commuter flight, and your flight attendant is Karen and she asks you if you belong there – be warned! You just saw Hitler, in a new incarnation!

And, for the sake of accuracy, all the similarities between names, institutions and reality in this bit are not purely coincidental. And I am not too sure what The Fed says about that, either …

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Most Beautiful Trip of My Life … Probably …

Note: Please click on the picture for all the photos from this trip.

This is the picture that summarizes, in my opinion,
the State of Utah - or at least what I have seen of it.
This is taken in Arches National Park, in Moab.

It’s the morning of July 4th, 2009, and I am sitting in Aa.’s truck (I know, my boyfriend has an honest to God Dodge truck – don’t ask! This is another story altogether!), sleepy and hungry, waiting for him to come out of the Jeep rental place in Moab, Utah.

We are renting a Jeep Wrangler for the day, to cruise along the Colorado river, in the Canyon of Moab. He’s been gone for a while, which makes me nervous, the a/c is going full blast, and I just cannot cool down! I am reading the visitors’ brochure from Arches National Park, which we visited the day before. They tell you all you need to know about how Arches National Park came about: about the sea it once was, the faults in the ground, about the Navajo and the Entrata Sandstones, which all made their own contribution to the landscape that we now see. I read for about 10-15 minutes, enthralled by this fantastic tale of patience (who is more patient than God? or Time?), and learn all I need to know about the geological tale of Arches. And after 20 minutes of seemingly seamless documented science, the very last two sentences of the story flow right in, sort of in an unexpected twist in tail way: “This is the geologic history of Arches National Park – probably. The evidence is largely circumstantial.”

And I finally wake up from a dream! A dream that has lasted, evidently, for the past 24 hours that I have spent in Moab! I wake up because of the intrinsic relativism of these statements. Relativism about something that exudes so much … certainty, and sureness, and … permanence.

The Arches National Park is a monument of nature like I have never seen. They rise in the middle of the desert, long after you thought that you left the mountains behind. Its vastness and tallness are overwhelming. I am not sure I will even attempt to describe what I felt, because words don’t do it justice. And pictures, I am not sure, don’t either. I had seen plenty of pictures of the “red rocks of Utah” before, but when you’re there – you’re like on a different planet! Near and far, tall and short, alive and dead, heat – are all measured differently. You’re hot, and tired, but you want to move on, and see more. The eye feasts for beauty, and there is so plenty of it, all around you, you’re not sure where to look first: all you know is that you don’t want it to be over.

I have loved deserts always. I have loved them for their simplicity, and simple gorgeousness! For their stoicism. If they can handle 50+ degree drops in temperature daily, and years and years of drought, they can handle anything. I have always been fascinated by deserts, because they have so much quiet but exuberant life bottled up in them: every cave, and every sand mount, you know that it hides ants, or lizards, or snakes, or birds, even. And then, there are the junipers. And the “bonsai” trees. Just a simple, delicate reminder that life can grow.

Pretty much anywhere. With stubbornness!

Our visit into the desert continued after Aa. managed to rent the Jeep, a fiery red Wrangler, and source of Aa.’s permanent grin that day, into the Moab Canyon, along the Colorado river. The river is muddy and slow, in Utah. And the mountains it cut over the years seem old, and telling. You can see waves, and waves of time (and water) have weathered them, and so many shades: from yellow, to rusty red, to black, and white, even. I would give anything to have a dress the colors of the Moab desert!

The Arches are perched up high, it seems, but for the Canyon, you go down below. Down below the life line, I thought, because the further and deeper we went into the deserted Canyon, the hotter, lonelier, quieter it got. I think my heart started skipping beats at mile 10 or so into the drive ( I think we had more like 20 miles to go that day, on paved roads, and dirt roads alike), and at mile 15 I begged to turn around. In 103 degrees, I felt ZERO oxygen going into my body! I was hotter than hot, breathless with a heart that was about to pop out of my chest looking for air. I love the desert, but that was my test to see if I could live in it. No, I can not!

And for all those folks who dream of the “dry heat” of the West when living in North Carolina, let me assure you: The West, and Moab in particular, was humid that day! The Moab sauna that day would put a NC summer's day sauna to shame in no time flat! Trust me!

We turned around, but not before we got closer to this rock formation that reminded me of The Pyramids of Egypt! The silence was deafening. Not a soul was around. Not a bird. Not a bug. Just silence, and red rocks. Black, yellow, white, and red and brown rocks. With “The Pyramid” in front of me, I thought I traveled to the end of the world. Just like in Arches, I felt small, and lonely. Felt like God has left me, and the world, in search for a lusher place.

In Moab, we ate at McStiff’s Plaza, for dinner (insert your dirty joke here). The food was great, the locale picturesque, but the beer (at least the Provo Girl Pilsner I got) was horrible, and the music even worse. I really liked the plaza itself: it came right out of a Western movie: all it needed was the horses, tied up outside! Breakfast was at Zax , and that was an amazing experience! You get red bandannas for napkins, and the salad bar is built inside of a wooden canoe. The door handle is an old wooden baseball bat, and the place warms up in the winter by the help of a cast iron stove. The flavor of time is so thick in this place, it’s sticky! You can get black beans and salsa for any breakfast dish, just to remind you that you’re in the desert.

The day after we came back from the desert, we headed to Sundance. And boy, did we fall into the other extreme! As much as Moab is arid, Sundance is lush! If Moab seems like the sky and the sun just slurped out life, and vegetation and green out of the ground, it seems like they burped it all back onto Sundance. The mountains are green, and the streams are bubbly and furious. Waterfalls are crying on cliffs, everywhere you turn. You feel small, too, here, falling over backwards trying to see the snow peaked mountains, but it’s a different kind of small. You feel the communion with nature, and God here, you don’t feel alone. You feel protected. The air was dry and fresh, filled with pine and lumber smells.

The brunch in the Resort’s Foundry Grill was amazing. Nothing short of high class and posh, yet relaxed and welcoming. The food was varied and ranged from eggs Benedict to beef Stroganoff, and carved turkey and grilled salmon. My favorite was the ribs and potato dish with bbq sauce and mango (I think) chutney – oh, out of this world – I thought!

Everything was done to perfection, and dining on the stone and wood patio with the wind and the water giving us a live performance was just heaven!

The Grill is housed in a beautiful and large log cabin, which complements the wild surroundings, and lives quietly amongst the pine trees and along the trout filled waterfalled river outside. If in Moab you were afraid to speak, not to disturb the silence of it all, and you could hear a pin drop, in Sundance, you were afraid to speak, not to interrupt the intricate dialogue of all elements amongst each other that morning: the roaring stream, the birds, the bees, the wind in the aspen trees, the deep, long whisper of the wind among the pine trees, the waterfalls in the distance.

If the desert was a splendor of reds and yellows and browns, Sundance was a warm chat of blues and greens, between the sky and the pastures and woods. The chairlift allowed us to get a better view of the valley, the peaks, and all the million dollar homes in between - done with very much taste, I might add.

In Moab I felt like it’s a nice place to visit, but in Sundance, I felt like I arrived home. I feel very much like a part of me was left in Sundance, at the top of that peak, when the chair lift turned around and I screamed “Let’s do this again!”, almost without any self control!

Salt Lake City had the surprising feel of a small town. I kept wondering how it managed to host The Olympics a few years back, since it felt so small. Dinner in Salt Lake was at a remote and yet again beautiful place called Log Haven Restaurant. I am not sure how Aa. found this place – it’s remote, and tucked away in the woods, in Wasatch-Cache National Park. But again, just like The Grill at Sundance, it had a feeling of belonging to nature, and of posh and gourmet, without being uncomfortable.

If The Grill had known and familiar but cooked with a twist dishes, The Log Haven had all gourmet, sophisticated, one of a kind mixes. The delicious, Iron chef-like dishes, the waterfall backdrop on the patio, the tall pines, and the log cabin feel were a beautiful ending to a beautiful day and amazing journey. We enjoyed the food, a cold drink and watching our very unique waitress explain our dishes with her hands. I hate desserts, but she explained the crème brule in such a way to the adjacent table, I had to have it, and it was some of the best kind I have ever had – just don’t tell my mom! It was … an experience all in its own.

I also loved the Provo Area, with its cozy, small town feel, and the beautiful trails and roads (that I hope to go back and explore on foot more) at American Fork Canyon! Just a secluded, very wild and well preserved natureland.

I loved Utah for many reasons. Sure, the company always counts as the most important, and that was priceless. But it seemed like people there live with respect and humility towards what God put around them. And God surely looks like He’s been generous to them! The freshness of the air, the beauty and grace of every rock, no matter where it lays is breathtaking.

I loved Utah also because there is such stark contrast between its various parts. Just like America, it’s a land of extremes. When The Rockies are smoking (after a good rain) and sun falls on Utah Lake, the view is magical! I felt like I was watching Jerusalem from atop of a hill. It was wild, and sacred all at one time!

There was such explosion of life, and color, and surprise at every corner, that I never stopped being wowed. I even forgot about buying souvenirs, and I just kept shooting pictures of every corner, and every street, and every peak! I did not want to miss one shade of the sky, or of the land or of the air! Now, I keep telling myself that this trip and my pictures will be my souvenirs. There were moments during this journey, I felt like mountains, and rocks, and rivers were not wanting me to go. I felt a relationship to it all, that I have missed for a while now.

Although heavily biased by my state of mind, and by the beauty and awe of nature, that I so love, it was most likely one of the most beautiful and unexpected trips of my life – probably. The evidence is largely circumstantial.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Japanese House – Redeemed

There used to be a time in my life when I swore I would never set foot inside of Kabuto, the Japanese Steakhouse on Stanley Road, in Greensboro. That was a time when some friends and I went there for the steakhouse (you know … when the foreign cook fries rice and other goodies in front of you), then we lingered on at the table, for a chat with our ice cream, and the hostess pretty much threw us out, on the excuse that the wait is somewhere North of 2 hours for those tables!

You can’t blame me for not wanting to honor them again with my presence …. But … times have changed. I have been absent from the joint for 4+ years now, and tonight was my first time back.

But not my last. What brought me in will likely bring me back: you can get a select number of sushi rolls at half price (several times a week, per their website), and even half priced wine on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Now, I am not sure if you’re a sushi fan, but a relatively fancy sushi roll (up to 8 pieces) for around $4 is definitely a great bargain!

I was pleasantly surprised that although they have just a selection of 10 or so items you can get for half the price, the choices are varied, and very elaborate. These are gourmet style rolls, not just fish and rice rolled in a dried piece of nori. The sushi chef is definitely not the plain cook I used to remember when the place first opened as a sushi bar, also. They are taking some chances with creativity, and they are ending up with some pretty interesting creations!

The portions are generous even for the big eaters, and just keep in mind: rice always expands! And they have interesting mixes of crunchies, ponzu sauce with various kinds of fish, and shrimp and eel sauce, too - all mixed into the same roll … Sure, more of a fusion style sushi, rather than the plain Japanese versions, but very, very interesting, and delicious! Very well done.

And no one kicked us out tonight. Actually the service was very attentive and friendly. Or maybe it’s because sushi is still less popular than fried goodies. Hhmm… Whatever they reason, I predict we will be back. This time is different. A place that sells good AND inexpensive sushi is not to be dodged. Not in my book, anyway.