Thursday, December 29, 2011

Villanella in Taberna

"Tuna Sonnet" below was written some time ago, and I have since been wanting to try an even more restrictive poetic type, the villanelle. Our house painter Chris brought us some beautiful ripe Haas avocados from his yard, and I was inspired.

Villanella in Taberna

Tequila served with salt - it makes me gripe.
The standards of most drinkers are so loose.
Also, avocados should be ripe.

Fruity margaritas are just hype
Of tourist traps that push their pricey juice.
Tequila served with salt will make me gripe.

Guacamole of a certain type
Looks like it was excreted by a goose.
Please. Avocados must be fresh and ripe.

Apparently it's hard to do it right.
Just liquor, lime, liqueur. Then call a truce.
Tequila served with salt? We purists gripe.

One must, in making guaca, be contrite,
Be honest, brave, direct. Make no excuse.
The avocados must be very ripe.

With life, as with bar food of every stripe,
Enjoyment of the finest will seduce.
Tequila served with salt? You'll need to gripe.
And avocados must be very ripe.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tuna Sonnet

You take two cans of tuna, drain them well;
the tuna should be packed in water. Then
you flake the tuna in a bowl - be zen
about it, use your fingers. Now you tell
your sous-chef to chop these quite finely: red
onion, dill pickle, celery, garlic,
Italian parsley leaves, no stems. The trick
is in proportions, but I fear my head
can't fit those in a sonnet. Mix this most
attentively with mayonnaise, dijon
mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice. My own
prescription is four sandwiches, on toast.
Where comfort food's concerned: in summer, tuna.
Meat loaf is served in winter, under luna.

My dear old friend Lucy is a poet. I was a college “writer” who discovered he wasn’t much inspired to write, and have always stood in awe of those who can produce, those who can realize their dreams, those who can put their money where their mouth is by not only saying they are a writer, but being one. Every five years or so, I am inspired enough to write a poem. I had told Lu I wanted to write a sonnet, and of course she encouraged me. I had also promised her my tuna sandwich recipe (well, not mine, actually, it was published in Cook’s Illustrated), so I decided to kill two birds with one stone. Lucy said she liked it – I decided not to ask whether it was the poem, or the recipe, that she liked.

Apologies for the extra syllables – rules are made to be broken.

Monday, December 5, 2011

San Diego is beautiful. San Diego is boring. Discuss.

We moved here to Omaha-by-the-Sea almost twelve years ago, and have had a love-hate relationship with it ever since. You can’t entirely fault San Diego. We moved here because I got a job here, and we wanted to escape the weather of Boston. We had never been here, except for a brief weekend when I interviewed for my job, but knew that it was reputed to offer the best of southern California, without LA’s excesses. So far, so good, but we should have guessed that something was amiss in a city that feels the need to paint “America’s Finest City” on the door of every police car. We thought we would simply move here, and recreate our life in Boston, but with palm trees. That’s not how it works.

California is, famously, two states, if not more. Our brethren up north refer to SoCal as “the shallow end of the pool,” and they’re on to something. I have a theory that northern California was settled by people from the northeast, and the architecture and cityscape of San Francisco show that. Berkeley is about as close to Cambridge as one can get without leaving the US. Southern California, on the other hand, was settled by midwesterners. These are gross generalizations of course, but if you extend northeastern vs. midwestern sensibilities, you’ll see them in the two ends of this state. The Bay Area is more intellectual, liberal, denser. SoCal is friendlier, but colder, with suburbs as far as the eye can see, and people who drive into their garage, shut the door behind them, and never interact. You can see my biases here, but I came of age in Boston.

When we arrived here, people told us that it takes two years for San Diego to get under your skin. When they heard we were from Boston, they said – “Oh, five years, then.” And they were right. We hated it here, hated the housing, hated the people, hated the brown hills – we even hated the weather. Our first “Christmas on the Prado” in Balboa Park, we laughed at the people shivering in the 58 degree cold, bundled up. What kind of a city was this? Was this a city? Or just a place with beaches and houses and cars?

Slowly, we made friends, and slowly, they moved away. People don’t stay in San Diego, mostly, at least not the ones we like. Our friends tend to be from other places, and they tend to move to other other places. It’s expensive here, and the job market isn’t great. There’s not a lot of culture, at least not when compared to a city like San Francisco or Boston, and it’s so painful to get to LA that we rarely make the trip to partake of its offerings.

Yet, people were right. After several years, the city did start to get under my skin. Largely, it’s the beauty of it. You just have to let go of green – or rather, come to think of green as the color of winter, and brown the color of summer. You come to know that if it rains more than average in December, you’ll be driving to the desert in March for the wildflowers. You come to be more sensitive than you were to humidity, and to temperature. When the weather is always beautiful, there are grades of beautiful. You complain if it rains three days in a row. You shiver when it’s sixty, and you swelter when it’s eighty. House plants grow in people’s yards here – poinsettias, huge philodendrons, jade plants grow to form hedges. Flowers bloom year round. I miss rhododendrons and lilacs, but we have clivia, orchids, birds of paradise, kangaroo paws, natal plum, fortnight lilies, jacaranda, bougainvillea, star jasmine, lemon trees – riches I would miss if we moved. The sky here is extraordinarily clear, a beautiful blue, and we can often see the islands offshore, fifty miles away in Mexico. Sunsets are spectacular, the pinks and golds lingering for hours. We see more stars then you can in other cities. The beaches are beautiful, and they go on for miles.

I would desperately miss San Diego, if I were to leave. But I often fantasize about leaving.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mexican Limes

A friend of mine who lived in Mexico City said to me, "Bob, without those limes, the whole country of Mexico would come screeching to a halt." I think she's probably right. A burrito just isn't right without a lime.

I grew up thinking limes were just unripe lemons. That's not true, but supermarket limes look like unripe lemons. Here in San Diego, one of your neighbors is bound to have a lemon tree, and until they're ripe, those things look like limes.

Not so, the Mexican lime. Round as a pinball, and about the same size, maybe a little further across than a quarter. (The size of a Sacagawea dollar, then? Why doesn't anybody use those? But that's a separate rant.) These little limes have a very thin skin, lots of seeds, and are very, very, well, limey. Have one squeezed on your taco, chilango-style: two corn tortillas, lots of meat, some onion, salsa, cilantro, and that lime juice to offset the chiles. The juice of one is about right for shaking up a cosmopolitan - the juice of two for a margarita. I still buy supermarket limes, but these are the limes I get excited about, the ones the Mexican market has in a huge bin.

I'm told they're the same as Key Limes, by the way.