July 2011

I looked out of the picture in my den and I called out to Top Cat, “Come see this! The mortal enemies have called a truce!”

Usually, these two cats can’t stand the sight of each other. For two years they have been skirmishing out in the backyard, squabblingover who’s going to be head honcho, call the shots over the breakfast buffet and get first dibs on every body’s favorite door mat on the back door steps (the dry spot ,under the eaves, when it rains).

Top Cat takes a look at this scene and he shrugs, and says to me, “I can’t tell who that is.”

Can’t tell who that is???

How can that be? We only have four black cats for DoG’s sake, and they are all so very different from one another that it’s the easiest thing in the world to tell them apart!

See for yourself –here’s Timmy:

And here’s Blackie:

This is Dudley:

And this is Cindy…

…who is an indoor cat and not really part of this Black Cat Mystery but I wanted to show her to you to prove how very dissimilar all our black cats are, in appearance, attitude, body language, etc.

Right? You see it, right?

So now you tell me: who is on the stone wall?

And everyone who gets it right will receive in the mail a special print of a Vivian Swift cat painting along with a certificate for Superior Achievement in Catology.

Deadline for this contest is noon, Eastern Standard Time, on Saturday July 30.

Please leave your two names (either Timmy, Blackie, and/or Dudley) in the Comments below and if you are correct I will contact you for your home address so I can send you your prestigious credential, suitable for framing.

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Another week of sad, heartbreaking, awful, terrible news.

I was sitting on my patio.  It was 86 degrees at 7:30 am. The air was  numbingly still, suffocatingly hot (week long heat wave: not good) . I was already exhausted by the weather, the news, and the future.

My head drooped, my eyes barely focused on the bricks on our patio.

That’s where I found my sanity.

Do you see it?

That’s because it’s a tiny bit camouflaged, lying in wait (being aerodynamically designed to land up-side down). Raisons d’etre tend to fall into your life that way.

Let me turn it over for you:

It’s a Blue Jay tail feather, the center tail feather — the one around which the bird’s symmetry is arrayed.

 

No scientist would have the nerve to invent such a thing, the way its form and pattern meshes so effortlessly.

No artist would dare invent such a color, a cool steel-blue that shimmers hot turquoise like a flash of lightning.

This is the kind of miracle that you only get in nature, as a gift, just for paying attention,on this planet that seems determined to kill itself with sorrow.

In the quantity of joy this Blue Jay feather brought me on the morning that I found it under the rhododendron tree, this little little occasion of beauty and surprise, the world was redeemed. At least for the day.

Well, at least for the rest of the morning.

 

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Some of us think Summer is the time to slack off.

Some of us think it’s a great time to go to an air-conditioned thrift shop!

Today I took a trek into the village to check out the Junior League Thrift Shop. I live in a fancy town. IThere might be an unnoticed Dior or St. Laurent hanging here.

Or not.

But I can’t resist old LPs. I have a weakness for great album cover art of the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

(Those records are a mobile hanging from the ceiling, made of one 45, one 75, and one 33 RPM piece of plastic. Cool, huh? )

And I think I discovered here the Most Boring Album Cover in the World:

Some Big Band recorded a live album in Puerto Rico in the 1950s. LPs cost 25 cents each…I actually debated about whether or not I should buy this. I don’t know what gets into me sometimes. I bought it.

I loved these chairs, though, but I didn’t buy them.

I almost didn’t go look at the books because  lordy, I Do Not Need More Books.

Especially a book that looks a dull as this one:

My first impression of this book, judging it by its cover, was that this was an old guide book from the early 1980s to some Eastern European country. It looks totally un-enticing and I would have let it remain in the Bargain Bin of 20 cent hardback books…but I noticed that there was a little Union Jack flag on the bottom corner , meaning that this had an English translation inside.

The title of this book is: A Dream Journey Through Sweden.

Dromresan. Means Dream Journey in Swedish.

Good to know.

So I picked up the book and flipped through it. And a card fell out.

BTW, that’s a European butterfly hovering over that weird green cake, called a Peacock, le Paon-du-jour (Peacock of the Day) in French. Now that you know it’s name, you’ll see it in a lot of it in European art.

It’s been a long time since something spiffy fell out of a book for me. And a Swedish Birthday Card is what I call a JACKPOT.

Thank you, Universe; Thank you.

 

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One thing I liked about Seattle is that it shares my feelings about the magnitude of a good cup of tea (left) in relation to a cup of coffee (right). Here’s what  tea-drinking heaven looks like:

You never know, in Seattle, where the perfect gustatory experience will reveal itself. Top Cat and I walked all over our University Park area on our first morning of the Great Pacific Great Northwest Tour and we could not find one single cute quaint achingly chic hipster-Seattle breakfast experience. Hunger got the better of us so we stopped in at (what I thought was) a one-off neighborhood establishment called Burger Master. (Turns out it’s a local chain.)

The place was clean, well-lighted, and full of regulars that looked like truck driving college professors. And the best thing was that if you order tea, they give you a choice of half a dozen black, green, and herbal teas. AND THEN THEY GIVE YOU A BACK UP TEA BAG.

Burger Master is the ONLY PLACE ON EARTH where that happens.

“We’re coming here every morning,” I told Top Cat.

And we did.

Here’s what the best breakfast place in all of Seattle looks like.

Although Burger Master is totally 100% my kind of place, you know that Top Cat, like most grown-ups, is much more demanding when it comes to cuisine. So he dragged me to a couple of fine dining experiences.

First, there was Elliot’s on the warf there, underneath the Pike Place Market.

The Copper River salmon had just that morning arrived from Alaska, an event that is as ballyhoo’d in Seattle as the Nouveau Beaujolais is in France.

This (above)  is what a $35 piece of fish looks like at Elliot’s. Top Cat said it was worth every farthing. ( had a $6 Caesar salad and couldn’t wait until it would be time for breakfast again.

The next night we drove across the West Seattle Bridge across the Puget Sound to go to Alkai Beach, to Salty’s restaurant, where we could dine while gazing at the Seattle skyline. Also, out in the middle of the bay there’s a float on which huge fat sea lions pile and bark their constant complaints that there are too many huge fat sea lion asses on this damn float.

This (above) is what a $50 piece of Copper River salmon looks like at Salty’s. Top Cat said it was worth every half-farthing.

My fish-n-chips were pretty good too.

The next day we headed to Edmunds.

Edmonds is a lovely town, as we walked around and poked into a few other book shops and Top Cat discovered that the wine shop there stocks a little-known Bordeaux that we discovered in the Cotes de Castillon— Chateau Robin — and he also found out that the wine we paid $40 for at Salty’s costs $14 out in the real world. It’s called 14 Hands and you will not regret spending $40 on it if you have to.

So we got a bottle of 14 Hands and drove to have a look at the coastal town of Mukilteo.

We had heard that Mulkiteo is a fine place to watch the sunset.

It was a tiny bit chilly, slightly colder than usual for May, and windy, and we had an open bottle of wine, so we sat in the car and opened a small bag of pretzels that Top Cat had been carrying in his jacket pocket for four days, and I opened the doggy-bag (Styrofoam box) that I’d got for the half sandwich I couldn’t finish at lunch, and we hunkered down for the view.

The light got dimmer, the wind got colder, it began to rain, the seagulls called one another, and we kept toasting our luck in being together in a rented car with left overs on the edge of the beautiful Puget Sound.

Here’s what a priceless dining experience in the Great Pacific Northwest looks like.

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Overheard at the Commerce Bank

the scene:  A mother and her teenage daughter were on their way out.

The daughter , wearing very short cut off jeans,  had long glossy hair like you only get with an expensive hair salon blow out.

She was scowling at what looked like a deposit, or a withdrawal slip.

The mother looked exasperated, and as they passed me I heard the mother say to the girl (in a half-lecturing, half-annoyed tone of voice, clearly rebutting something the daughter had said shortly before):

“We are not poor.”

I let my eyes follow them out to the parking lot,  to see what kind of ride the “poor” kid had.

It was a white Mercedes SUV.

Then I went home and called to  order the Long Island Iced Tea Appreciation Society.

Although I was not drinking iced tea. It was just  a gin and tonic — but it was in a tea cup.

OK.

When I was a kid, it took me a long time  to figure out whether I was born rich, or not. Doesn’t every kid, at one point, ask their parents, “Are we rich?”

I know what answer I got. It was something along the lines, “We’re not rich and we’re not poor. Son’t worry about it.”

It didn’t take me long to figure out that my parents were smoothing over the fact that we were well on the poor side of a Mercedes SUV.

But I can honestly say that today, I am awfully rich. This is a picture of me, proof of how very rich I am these days.

And that’s only the 25% of it.

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I schlepped into Manhattan late last Thursday afternoon to deliver the finished manuscript of my Damn France Book.

I took a train into Manhattan, and a taxi to the Flatiron Building, and when I got to my editor’s office I took a photo of the Damn France Book sitting in her guest chair:

One of the reason I hand-deliver my manuscripts is because I get such a charge out of hanging out in my publisher’s offices, because my publisher is Bloomsbury, and Bloomsbury’s offices are in the historic Flatiron Building in New York City. You know the Flatiron:

Built in 1902, it’s been famous since it was erected on a peculiar triangle-shaped bit of land on 23rd Street in lower Manhattan.

In 1903, the artist Alfred Stieglitz made the first iconinc image of the Flatiron in a snow storm using that new fangled technology: photography.

In 1904, the artist Edward Steichen paid homage to Alfred with his iconic image of the Flatiron, using that new fangled technology: color photography.

The Flatiron is situated at the heart of lower Manhattan, where Broadway (an old Indian trail that slashes its age-old way diagonally down the isle of Manhattan) crosses Fifth Avenue.

See how the Flatiron is built like a triangle? Like a flatiron of yore? (Photo of a flatiron of yore to follow.)

On this visit to Bloomsbury, I was on a mission: I wanted to penetrate the inner sanctum, get to the heart of this publishing culture. I wanted to get here:

I wanted to get to the head office.

Well, they are very nice people at Bloomsbury. My editor, Kathy Belden, was more than happy to take me down into the pointy part of the building. Turns out that the Publisher of Bloomsbury, George Gibson, has his office in Bloomsbury’s front wedge of the Flatiron, on the third floor.

This is what a distinguished literary Publisher’s office looks like:

This is George’s desk, in the cradle of the Flatiron Building.

If you step carefully over George’s lateral filing system on the floor, and look out his window (which faces uptown, north, towards streets that number 24 – 220th, the highest street number on the island of Manhattan, by the way; anything higher is in the damn Bronx), this is the view:

 

And then I was out on the pavement, heading up to 29th street to check out the latest hipster haven in Manhattan, passing through the Fifth Avenue plaza at 23rd street:

My destination was The Ace Hotel at Broadway and 29th street.

The Ace is the anchor to Manhattan’s newest (and some say, last) new neighborhood — NoMad.

NoMad was the only stretch of un-named real estate left in Manhattan, a dreary stretch of streets north of 23rd and south of 34th that are full of discount perfume stores. The area is north of Madison Square Park = NoMad.

I wanted to see the Ace Hotel because the Ace chain (of four hotels in America so far) was founded by Portlander Alex Calderwood for Portland-ish travelers — cultural travelers— who travel to see film, design, art, literature, food, and music.

The sidewalk evergreens  have fetching little blue lights in them.

Inside the hotel it’s very dark and word is, there’s a hip bar scene going on in there.

It was so very dark in there that I didn’t take photos, but I wasn’t there for the bar scene. I was there for the Stumptown Coffee bar.

Stumptown Coffee is famous in Portland , Oregon — a strictly hometown institution, full of Portland ethos and style and insider jokes (Stumptown is an old nickname for Portland, from when it was a pioneer town and the developers were cutting down trees and the locals, already showing signs of their peculiar brand of Portland tribalism, decided to come up with the least catchiest town moniker ever).

So there I was, standing in the middle of the Stumptown coffee bar in the Ace Hotel,  and I start shooting pictures, and this is what the barista does:

That is sooooo Portland, soooo Stumptown coffee.

And yes, all the baristas wear hats.

One last picture, not related to this post at all: I walked to Penn Station on 34th Street, passing the Hotel Pennsylvania on my way to Penn Station to catch the LIRR home to Long Island. And on the sidewalk was the cabin crew for Air India, waiting for their bus to JFK airport:

I just loved the sari -ish uniforms — in turquoise!

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