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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I felt like Alice falling through the rabbit hole, except the walls of my rabbit hole were packed with books. I was so bewildered that I couldn’t stop to look at anything in particular; all I could manage was to move forward through the avalanche of titles on book spines, through the smell of old and new paper, the soft rumble of human voices and the shuffle of lingering footsteps. There I was, inside Powell’s City of Books. My eyes misted over with tears. It’s silly, I know; it’s melodramatic, I know. But I couldn’t help it. I wandered, my mouth open, through the Orange, and the Rose, and the Coffee, and the Gold and the Blue Rooms. At the coffee shop I bought a very peppery soy chai that I was too impatient to drink. I explored the bookstore more attentively after this and found A Tour of Rumanian, Bulgarian and Balkan Cuisine that has recipes for dishes my grandmother still makes. I stumbled upon a book of poems by Hayden Carruth and was won over instantly. And then I had to leave. I simply had to. I couldn’t take it any more. My heart and my head were ready to burst. I thought, as I went out the door, that if heaven exists – and Powell’s is my version of heaven – I can’t handle all its marvels. My heart is too small for such wonders.

I spent the morning at the Japanese Garden in Washington Park. In the photo is one of my favorite things I saw there: a carving of a spirit who protects travelers, done in granite and dating from 1887. It is a small slab set upright in the earth, to the side of a footpath under a lily-of-the-valley shrub. I was very moved by the gentle face of this spirit; and I liked too that you could miss it so easily, that without great attention you could pass by it as if it weren’t there. Many good things in this world are like that; you have to search them out and to be present fully in the moment to see them. All the green in the garden made me so happy. I was very uncomfortable because of the heat; sweat drenched my whole body even when I stood still, but all the shades of green –- dark, or yellowish, or silvery, or speckled with white or maroon, variations on the same theme -- were very soothing. I remember this most strongly from the guided tour: the principle of asymmetry in a Japanese garden. I don’t think of asymmetry as beautiful. But the uneven shrubs, the pagoda with one leg shorter than the other, the shorter one anchored on earth and the other in water to suggest their interdependence, are truly beautiful.

For dinner, I knew I shouldn’t have, but I was so drunk on their smell and so hungry and thirsty (it hit one hundred and two degrees yesterday, with high humidity) that I ate strawberries unwashed straight from their green plastic container on my walk back to the hotel from Whole Foods Market. I had my dinner in a small Chinese take-out container: tofu and shiitake salad, with Napa cabbage and roasted red peppers. I experienced a small ecstasy eating it in my room in front of the window, watching the windows of the building across the street reddened by the setting sun, my feet and the small of my back aching from my day of walking. The salad was unbelievably delicious, crisp and refreshing and lightly sweet. I’m surprised by how well I can eat here; for lunch I had a salad from a little bakery at the corner of Alder and Broadway, baby greens with currants and roasted pistachios and grapes – hold the gorgonzola cheese – with curry dressing and a honey-wheat roll. What simple yet thorough happiness can good healthy food give! I’m overwhelmed by all these good things and I try very hard to move slowly enough so that they can stick to me, so that I can remember them vividly years from now. But I want to know and hear and see and feel more and more and more. I’ve always been a glutton for this sort of thing.


Anonymous Maven said...

It all sounds dreamy.

June 28, 2006  
Blogger Green Whale said...

More so than I would like, at times. It's hard to keep my feet on the ground -- the more they are literally on the ground, the less they are figuratively there.

June 28, 2006  
Blogger Jonathan K. Cohen said...

If you have any feeling for toys, especially old-fashioned sorts of toys, you should check out a Portland institution, Finnegan's, at 922 SW Yamhill. I was there thirteen years ago, and was amazed. It's still around.

June 28, 2006  

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