holidays


he always sat way in the back of the car, in a tiny space above the engine, back of the soft leather seats, in a spot really designed for a single suitcase alone.
there were times they went to parties. lacking a sitter, they settled him into this nook and drove around until the engine had warmed. the cozy rumble of the motor had him asleep in no time. they parked, partied and he slept. they returned late, drove home and carried him up to his room. he never knew, but for their tales.

on road trips he climbed back there, feet drawn, knees bent, the bunk just wide enough to fit. the mottled carpet felt rough and scratchy on his legs. he lay there and looked up through the low sloping window and watched as clouds turned into high flying dragons. often he imagined them as wispy lily maidens, garlanded, rising from trembling lakes, beckoning, fully prepared to heed their call. he had keenly studied dark drawings of them in a picture book of fables from the black forest. the book had smelled musty, like a fog shrouded lake where neptune rose to watch the dance of his daughters.

heat from the engine, the rev of the loud motor soon had him in a dream, slouched in a pearl shell chariot, next to salacia, neptune's alluring queen. he raised the god's trident in triumph, savage sea horses driving the skiff madly, ardent dolphins riding apace.

the clatter of rain woke him, drubbing the sleek roof above. beads of the downpour trilled past his window, slithering in the airstream chasing the car. a fly buzzed in a corner above him against the smooth glass, where the porsche badge had begun to blister and peel. he reached up and the fly, as flies do, clambered to another corner, then bumbled down, started anew and began walking upside down, why did it not fall, he thought: was it its suction cups? he pushed on one of the triangular side windows. they were pop-outs, you turned a knob and the window hinged out with a snapping sound. now he had fresh air. the nosy fly ambled over and was gone. sucked out, drawn by the draught. rain had come as sudden as the return now of blue sky.

they were on the way to a vacation in the small village of his aunt. he loved spending his summers there, away from the city, in what seemed an endless terrain, the dark woods, the deep meadows, the small brook, where he could sail his boat. he had built it himself, but his aunt sewed the sails. a small push brought the boat past weeds out into the main of the creek, where a curling eddie made it keel over, float sideways and finally sink. he loved riding a bike at the edge of the woods along a mossy forester's lane. he didn't dare cross into the trees, because his uncle had told him of bears. he and uncle once walked up from the meadows into the forest. the trail lead along narrow tracks deeper into a tall pinetree grove. as thick undergrowth begun to line the path on both sides, afternoon's light slowly faded. he was scared. he grabbed uncle's hand, wanting to turn back, down to the meadow. just then he heard a horrendously loud growl, a truly abhorrent snarl. uncle bragged back home that the boy had jumped seven feet. he found out much later that uncle had been in cahoots with his friend, the butcher's son. that always cocky boy needed a lesson. of course uncle never heard the end of this. much later he found his shoe wouldn't fit. a dead mouse found a toe hold and afterlife in the tip of his boot. the dog was blamed, but there were two who knew better.

his aunt showed him how to smoke cigarettes, helped raising a tent made of bedsheets and willow poles, which fell when the dachshund made off with a main stay. when it rained, or if he felt like it he stayed in bed reading. or wanting tea. he might sway from a swing hanging from rafters in the old hay-loft. he did as he pleased, much as his very strict holiday schedule called for. aunt called him a lebenskünstler, an artist of life.

the town of ulm was their turn-off from the autobahn, down and around to a two lane road heading south, narrowly twisting. a sudden hay wagon slowed the ride, but shifting twice they got by, though just barely. the sudden raw acceleration forced him against the back, gasping, but thrilled in the rush of blowing past. the rig's driver shook his fist at them, but he stuck his tongue out at this meandering hack. he was squealing as their motor revved high, the car cutting tight into a narrow turn. feigning now, he drove his own five-fifty spyder on the track, racing ferraris, his voice made raucous, make belief shifting gears, and screechingly braking, boosting his engine piercingly loud. high drama from back, inside his very own cockpit.

such bluster drove them batty.
stop it! stop it right now, as though he had put his toy gun to their forehead.

once a police car, flashing lights, stopped them. he slid from his den then, that very instant, pretending to sleep, lolling like an angel, snuggling his teddybear, sprawled out in the rear seat. this was only a traffic check. a madly speeding motorist had been observed, the constable noted. how could it have been them though, as they had been slowed, hadn't they, for some time at that, behind cows driven to pasture.

he then told the story they'd already heard a thousand times: how uncle got caught inside a herd of cows on his bike and how he had bumped himself on, from hind to hindquarter, nudging and pushing with one hand on some of those many rear ends, until, it had to happen, he pushed at a cow only to find his hand, then his forearm disappearing deep, than deeper into the animal's wide open rear. the cow lurched, as she would, tail up straight, uncle and bike in tow. they thought the story neither true nor very funny.

with the constable's help the herd moved finally into their pasture. the cowhand turned out a girl in a little skirt and black rubber boots, her ponytail swishing like the tail of one of her cows.

aunt paula's house was small. the factory, where tall machines pressed black powder into brown bakelite light-switches, and a small office were downstairs. to get upstairs you climbed a half-turn staircase for the kitchen, a bath, two bedrooms, a hay loft and a sunday room, where he slept on a sofa nearly long enough to stretch out. aunt paula and her husband, uncle otto, and gerd, their son, lived in this upstairs, together with a little german dachshund, who came around at night to bite his toes, always making trouble, or barking at imaginary mice. there was a maid, ottilia, came up in the morning to work the household, she cooked and washed and cleaned, while his aunt was downstairs in the office doing the books, sending bills and keeping inventory straight. uncle otto dealt with the factory and smoked countless cigarettes. his girls, mostly locals, worked his huffing machines. the girls were farmer's daughters, done milking cows and cleaning stables. uncle paid well, with vacation and work finished at four most afternoons. gerd was around. unless he was off in the woods with his fiancee, or made deliveries or one time fell off his bike trying to get past a herd of cows.

his beloved aunt had walked to the end of the village to roll out a "welcome to kirchberg" banner. with all the trouble he caused, he was her summer event and she, like him, couldn't wait for his holiday to begin. his favorite dish was warming in the oven, ottilia had rolled out the dough, paula mixed the filling, now he sat down and devoured those squares, crisped in brown butter, maultaschen they called this. his parents spent a night at the mosquito hotel, they didn't sleep much, and drove back the next day. they had their own holiday for a while, until they came back to reclaim the son who couldn't be found. no one knew where he might be, clearly hiding, uncle saw him running away, but had no idea where to. while they searched, he had climbed back into his pit, back in the car, looking up through the glass, at summer clouds, already dreaming. it took paula's third instinct to spot him. they all cried good bye, he crawled out once more to give his aunt a hug made to last until next time.

uncle otto called him his mother's son. he had given him ten marks to get stamps and mail a small package at the main post office a few miles away. he pedaled his aunt's bike there and found that the parcel cost only four marks to send. uncle had said to keep the balance, which meant he could buy a small cap gun and become billy the kid. uncle called him a spendthrift. but he shot his way through the barn chasing chickens, who took off squawking in terrified flight. the dachshund thought this a wholly new adventure, ran in crazed circles, barking madly. out of ammo billy played wild west for another day. then the gun without caps ended up in a box of uncle's utterly useless items, next to a zippo without flint wheel, a one arm scissor, a lone belt buckle, old wire rims missing a lens, a bell without clapper, many, many a screw, brassy and silver, a spool of pink threat. you never know, he would say. he was a fixer. his hands knew a sledgehammer as well as a micronometer. my aunt came to him, a small splinter under her red thumbnail and he pulled it with flat tweezers. he owned three cigarette lighters: a toujour'le, a peut-être'le and of course the jamais'le, that zippo lost a flint wheel. he only spoke a certain kind of french. to keep the kid from further trouble he had him polish bakelite light-switches on a slow turning buff wheel, but the kid polished his fingernails instead. when he was to sweep the floor, he made like a witch on her broomstick. the girls thought this funny, and laughed, when uncle tried to catch him, and catch him he did, to give him a spanking. but only in jest. his aunt was sure of that.

they had only one phone and it was down in the office. a black heavy bakelite instrument to be used mostly for business. when his aunt needed my uncle and knew that he was with his fiancee, she could have called, instead she had him take her bike to fetch uncle from the other end of the village. he pedaled past the crossroads and out toward a house adjacent to woods. there he'd been told he'd find uncle, likely upstairs, but he'd better knock before walking in. he knocked on two doors with no answer, but thought he'd heard a moan from a door down the hall. uncle lay flat out in bed, toes in socks, pointing up. tony, the fiancee, midways on top, brightly naked. as she flustered a sheet, he thought her strong bouncy backside impressive. uncle's supposed to come home, he scarcely managed and ran.

blackberry brambles on the fence to the neighbor's house were regularly trimmed by a goat, but only on their side. over at paula's they grew luscious berries, which in late summer were warmed by afternoon's sun and tasted dark and juicy. he picked them hand to mouth.


blackberries were himalayan, his aunt explained. he had only a vague notion of the himalayas as a place very far away, with gigantic mountains, somewhere in asia, always in snow. hard to imagine these berries would grow where it was cold and icy and wintry all the time. uncle said that huddled between those massive mountains were mild valleys. the berries likely grew there, but let's look it up. a singular encyclopedia, stamped "brockhouse" in old gold was chained to its desk-stand down in the office. an altogether fat book, with many pages, each page fragile off delicate paper, kept open to the last search by a wide red ribbon. he had to wash his hands before he could turn any pages. especially after eating blackberries. it turned out that the berries were native to virtually anywhere, most often considered a pest. he couldn't believe, that a delicious berry like that could be a nuisance and began to doubt how resourceful this book might actually be. uncle thought him smart to doubt what was printed, even in the "brockhaus". but he had lost interest and ran off with his kite to the stubble fields, where two days ago wheat stood high, wavering, wielding to gusts like sudden whitecaps at sea. but for now the wind was steady, white clouds on the horizon ballooning, a breeze taking to the kite in no time. everyone knows the diamond kite. it appears in all skies and usually sits dull before a slow wind, dangling a long streamer to keep steady. once the kite lifted up, flying that is, it was tugging gently on the string uncle had supplied from an endless collection of twine. the clown-faced red diamond made a little dance dallying left to right and back, now dragging at the belly of its line. the wind culled a few leaves at first, but soon the line stiffened and the once smiling clown waned as a red diamond. the string stripped from the boy's fingers and snaked away on the ground. he tried to step on it, but with each step the tail slipped further until it raveled high in a bush, then a tree and in a far distant, the blustery sky.

the boy didn't know as yet he could fly kites at sheep's meadow, the place in new york where commissioner hoving had opened central park to kite festivals and music, nor, that he would build a tetrahedral kite like graham bell's, a flying pyramid almost too big to get through the front door. he did not know of a place called "go fly a kite" on third avenue, where an indian man named bahadur taught him to fly fighter kites twirling high into eighty-second street, past ginkgo trees and fire escapes. you have to know about fighters. they go where their nose points. always. if they are before a gust and you hold the string tight they go there fast. very fast. so, at carl schurz park, up where the mayor lives in gracie mansion, where old folk like to sit in the morning sun three stories up from the east river. the wind usually comes from the west, behind you and it is perfect to fly this kind of kite. string taut it will rush in a straight line down and out of site, way down to the river below, making the old folk rise from their benches. they sit down and go "aw". you loosen the line now, twirling the kite, and nose up, line tight, he will rise straight like jesus from the grave. they go "ah" as the small diamond rises back into their view. if you know how you can go from "aw" to "ah" and back again, in a sharp spiffy. it does take some flying and a few kites drowned in the river.
at that time he hadn't met the kite-man of nantucket, who built a kite flapping its wings, a look-alike blue eagle, flew far out over tuckernuck island scaring gulls into screaming banshees.


i found this image of the nantucket kite man on line. the blue eagle kite on top, as well as the bat with green eyes next to him, i flew many times. he also made me a very large delta kite, called a valkyrie. eight feet across at the span, sewn of red heavy cotton, steeply bridled it flew in a good wind virtually straight overhead. a kite overhead is no easy feat, but at least it hasn't the pull it might 70 degrees out. once i sat in a casually tied dinghy. the eagle flew with flapping wings, on a fifty pound line about two-hundred feet out, three quarters up from horizon, tied down to the bow. it slowly pulled my little boat away from ship. trying to rope the eagle down, it ditched in the bay, close enough to fetch. but with no oars on board, i found myself far and away, mid morning, full sun, no hat, scared and alone on chesapeake bay with a wet blue eagle kite. i was of course rescued, my ship's captain slow, but found me as a spot in his binoculars and sent a speed boat waterskiing my way. by then my kite had me half mile off shore.

borchert

die traurigen geranien, wolfgang borchert. my translation

wistful geranium


it was dark when first they met. then she invited him and now he was there. she showed him around in her apartment, and paraded the various tablecloths, and her bedding, as well as dinner plates and all the place settings she owned.

they sat face to face the first time in bright daylight; that's when he saw her nose. 
he thought that her nose looked like someone had sewn it on. it doesn't even look like a regular nose, more like a strawberry. oh, for god's sake, he thought, just take a look at those nostrils. they are completely unbalanced, truly. there's no harmony between them. one is narrow and oval, while the other yaws just like an abyss. dark and round and deeply endless. he took out a kerchief and dabbed his forehead. it is so very warm in here, she began.
he agreed, but looked at her nose. that nose must have been sewn on, he thought again. it is completely bizarre in that face. it also has a complete different color than the rest of her skin. so much more intense. and those nostrils, well, they really are without any harmony. or possibly a strangely novel harmony, he thought to himself, like a picasso.
so, he began again, don't you think picasso points in the right way?
who? who is that, she asked, pi-ca---?

well clearly not, he sighed and than in a sudden disconnect: you must have had an accident, yes?
what do you mean, she asked.
well, he uttered helplessly.
oh, because of the nose?
well, yes, of course.
no, the nose was like that right from the start.
she added patiently, yes, right from the start.
i'll be damned! he almost voiced, but then only said: no, really?
and asides, she whispered, i am exceptionally harmonic as a person. and i adore symmetry so much, just look at both my geranium by the window. one on the right, the other on the left. completely symmetric. oh, no, you must believe me, inwardly i am totally different, completely different.

that's when she laid her hand on his knee and he felt the glow of her appallingly intimate eyes way in the back of his head.
she continued quietly and a little shyly: i'm quite sincere about marriage as well, and about living together.

because of the symmetry? he evinced.
harmony, she bettered him kindly, because of the harmony.
of course, he said, on account of the harmony.

he got up.
oh, do you have to leave?
well, yes, yes, i do.
she brought him to her door.
inwardly i am really so much different, she began once more once.
oh come on, he thought, your nose is a complete imposition. a sewed on imposition. but he said aloud: inwardly you're like your geraniums, that's what you wanted to say, completely symmetric.
then he stepped down and out, not once turning around.

she stood by the window, gazing after him. that's when she saw that he stopped downstairs to dabb his forehead again. what she couldn't see was his grin of relief. she couldn't because she was in tears. and her geranium were just as sad.
at least they smelled that way.

risotto revised

risotto, again?

oh, yes. not the risotto of spring, nor the one of stravinsky's rites. technically we only entered the first of the four conventional temperate seasons, in portland, why here there just ain't no such a thing as temperate. though the rains aren't abnormal, but seemingly everlastings, well, at least we don't have the flooding they have in the now-a-days me-a-me. 


some of my older friends likely will yawn, some might no longer have a yawn in them, but i'll be seventy soon myself, and so can truly sympathize with them, after all how many risottos can a person revel in, let alone proclaim. but this i must. once upon a time, earlier, a friend advised to do every thing and all, often and while one still is able. i have taken this to heart early, though it meant many a lost lover and quite a few spoiled soups, risottos even at that. but as memory has it, mine at least, lovers found others, and me, i moved on, canteen to kitchen, flipping burgers to bringing forth a by now ancient, though momentous y2k feast. in my early days visiting bologna and eating my first eventful and enduringly memorable risotto at a restaurant then called tre vecchi. it turned eventful, simply because i believe it initiated my ever since lasting love for risotto. memorable, because shaved white truffles had not yet, but became much later the scent of gentle love making, all at once pungent and poignant, heartbreaking and rendering, la petite mort as the french might have it. and yes, euphemiously and delicately as applied to a risotto. this, obviously, and as you can imagine, must never simply become a dish of mushy rice. the rice can only be one of the arborios, a carnaroli at best. these on account of the starch make for the creamiest risottos. but i have written on this and on risottos before, obviously. i mention the dish now because i have made certain minimalistic refinements. simplicity brings with it a beauty of style pleasing harmony and certainly grace. simply put: less, as always, is substantially more.

an onion very finely chopped. glazed in oil over a fervent fire, the rice added to toast. stirring at once to sooth each grain until all are gleaming and silkily lustrous. then to quench all, in an instant, of a sudden, with a ladle of quarter strength broth. and ever stirring, as the broth is absorbed and the rice has become all'onda, creamy, like a wave, flowing. and this is the time to stir in a sliced truffle. sliced, because shaved is for cheap restaurants. the fragrance will permeate, infuse, support coarsely grated parmesan, the reggiano kind.


this may sound impossibly corny, yet, when you look into the eyes of your guest, simplicity has become her impassioned delight, all of a risotto, conferred at once chaste and restraint.

recipe revised

recipes

one of my new favorite things to eat, especially these days in portland, is what i call: my rainy day soup.
i get an oxtail, cut into 2-inch pieces from uwajimaya, set it up cold in 2 quarts of beef broth over high. as the liquid runs to the boil, i'll keep it simmering, then, once reduced by half, or until the oxtails begin to peek out, i gradually add small amounts of additional beef broth to keep the liquid level. (or water, if i'm fresh out of broth) this will take a few hours, but really fills my kitchen with such marvelous scent. the result likely keeps for part of a week, depending on how soup-reliant my menus evolve.
we have in portland a tofu maker, darkly japanese,  of doing daily fresh tofu, i'm lucky, they're just down the street. so i run over to 'ota tofu' whenever i need truly, truly fresh, firm tofu. 
i keep typically a batch of previously cooked black beans, mexican style, in my icebox, but if for some reason i've run out, i open a can of black soy beans. (kuromame amani)
so, you get it, i cut the tofu into half inch cubes, adding which-ever-one of those black beans, and heap a pre-heated bowl with just the right amount to quench lunch, even a dinner hunger. the broth, deep, dark, dank and thronging, this side of a boil, enriched (further? really? with possibly what?) a heavy spoon full of  black miso (you mustn't get the miso to a boil!) diluted, of course, and backed off into the main. this very hot liquid will cover and warm the tofu and beans. scissors-cut cilantro, or chives, if you have any, a nugget of butter (always that) you'll likely think: way too much beans, way too rich, but quoting luther, an excellent cooking mentor, who is said to have said: why aren't you farting and burping, was my soup not to your liking? hence my rainy day soup brings out the delight of (amongst others) the sun, these days a rare phantasm in my now-a-days home away from my, if former, hometown. new york, sinatra's town of yore. old manhattan of course, will always be my first love, stephanie aside, but these days my love for the city is, for any purpose, so far retracted - and from what i've heard and read, it ain't even as bad now as it seems to have been, and as it , during my time, certainly once was.
so, soup of the evening, to quote another sensuous or censorious, love of mine, mock turtle herself, or, should you wish, the correspondent of foods, that cavillous woman herself, fed the wolf.

nyt cityroom.blogs.nytimes


my story published at:

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/back-for-more-return-of-the-pulp-fiction-contest/?comments&_r=0#permid=13316509 



The brutal grip of vice and poverty had driven her into the brawn of his arms. At first it was a great conquest, away from the hooksters and the sharks, the paunchy mafiosi and the losers in plaid. He meant money and she looked to get hitched. She didn't mind his porky fingers clawing her thigh. But money got slow, his beefy plasm had become annoying , the once covenant of his fleshy sinew had turned altogether slack. He blamed her, though by now she was fairly bled, her once snowy breast bruised. They parked at a blustery jersey dock. She got out, instantly a savage gust tore into her garb, her cloven halter top mauled. He tried holding her close, promising a world, but all lanes on the turnpike were stuck, the crossover at the bridge blocked, a rebound to brooklyn fairly choked off. How she longed to be home.