Modern Times

Tour Wasilla

Mudflats offers a “Photo Safari” of Sarah Palin’s home place. Take a look; it’s an enlightening look at the place, as Mudflats notes,

where Sarah Palin has lived and was raised since infancy. This is her world folks, and her executive experience before she became Governor in 2006.

No, it’s not all guns, pawn shops and rifle sales. Here’s the “Wasilla Professional Building”:

It’s a very different world up there in Alaska. If you’ve been there, or ever known Alaskans, you probably have some idea of exactly how different; if you’ve watched Northern Exposure, you probably have a bit of a clue. In fact, you probably know more about Alaska than Palin knows about the world at large.

Sarah Palin didn’t get a passport until 2006, and didn’t exactly wear it out once she had it:

Palin has . . . visited one fewer country than originally acknowledged by her Alaska office. Earlier in the week, the governor’s Alaska spokeswoman was quoted as saying Palin had traveled to Iraq, Kuwait, Germany, and Ireland, McCain campaign spokeswoman Maria Comella acknowledged today that Ireland was only a refueling stop on a trip in July 2007 to visit Alaskan National Guard troops in Kuwait and Iraq. (, 3 September 2008, citing a report in the New York Times.)

Palin’s “executive experience” isn’t the only thing that’s limited; so is her life experience. Or at least the kind of experience you’d expect in the Leader of the Free World.

The Valley is quirky, occasionally scary, often funny, and sometimes just downright unexplainable.

But, it’s fair to say, not really representative even of “small-town America” in what are usually referred to as the lower 48 states. Take the tour here; Mudflats says that “[A]ll the Wasilla photos were taken on main roads”. You’ll want to keep that in mind.

Thanks, Susan, for the heads-up on Mudflats.

Bento Explorations

Bento 20 – Cabbage, Gyoza and Rice Crackers

. . . in the blue, wackily-named Lube Sheep bento box.

Image of a Bento with Cabbage Salad and Crackers

Top Tier: Shredded cabbage and carrots in rice vinegar; vegetarian gyoza

Bottom Tier (clockwise from left): Fresh grape tomatoes; rice crackers; red peppers roasted with garlic; strawberries

Modern Times

John and Elizabeth and the Rielle Thing

We’re deeply into the fascinating soap opera that is John Edwards’ monumental decline, and the saga shows no sign of waning. Edwards’ issues and motivations seem pretty clear to me: he really is a narcissist (was he as proud of applying the label as it seemed in his interview?), and he truly believes that integrity is something you claim, not something you do.

First off, let me confess: I’m a liberal. I’m voting for Obama, for a hundred very good reasons. My daughter supported Edwards, is a contemporary of John Edwards’ daughter, and that daughter personally facilitated a job search for my daughter. Who is now completely disgusted by what John Edwards has done to his family. “She quit her job for him!” my daughter wailed. And that’s not the half of it.

A lot of people either quit jobs for Edwards, or, as we now know, accepted new, slimy ones. Every day there’s a new revelation, a new betrayal. New expenditures; new hints that your campaign contributions may not have gone exactly where you probably thought they did.

But it’s the women here who fascinate me. And yes, I do think Elizabeth Edwards rightly takes a major integrity hit here herself. She’s an intelligent, articulate woman, trained as a lawyer, and fully cognizant of what life in the public eye demands. When she made the choice to allow her marriage to be a key feature of her husband’s campaign — when she allowed it to become a public cornerstone of her husband’s character — she lied, she misrepresented, and she cynically used her bond with her husband to further his ambitions.

Elizabeth Edwards will now die not only knowing that her husband has fully, and publicly, disgraced himself, but she will also die with her own integrity tarnished. That, she did herself.

Here’s a truth Elizabeth Edwards conveniently ignored: This affair isn’t the first time she’s been exposed to John Edwards’ lack of integrity. A guy doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide that he’s going to have an affair, and that this sole activity is going to be his one dishonest moment. Nooooo. That just doesn’t happen.

A guy who decides to have an affair like this one — that gets confessed, that allegedly stops, but then doesn’t really, an affair that requires cross-country relocations of the principal, that requires pay-offs by close “friends” and the involvement of way too many lawyers, an affair that involves a baby — a guy who thinks he can pull this off has had previous integrity issues. Plenty of them.

Maybe it’s the stories he told, like the one about his dead son that he told John Kerry. Maybe it’s the little promises he didn’t keep, the false reactions, the insincere responses, the little lies that got forgiven. Whatever they were, they were there. And Elizabeth excused them. She made her peace with them. She told herself that he was a busy man, and important man, that he didn’t really mean to do/say/be what he did or was.

And, in doing so, she added, incrementally, to this guy’s sense of invulnerability. She fed his narcissism; she confirmed his belief that anything he did would be forgiven. By his wife — because he’s “been in love with the same woman for 31 years” — by his adoring public, by the whole world.

John Edwards actually believes that conducting this affair while his wife was in remission is a point of integrity. He believes this, in part, because Elizabeth Edwards has confirmed his world view over the course of their marriage.

He’s wrong, of course. But what was she thinking?

Maybe she was thinking “he’s only human” the first few times he misrepresented things, or his words sounded hollow, or she caught him in a small lie. Maybe she was thinking “he wants to be a better person, but there are so many pressures on him”. Maybe she was thinking “I’m in it too deep; I can’t leave now”. Maybe, more recently, she was thinking “I’m dying; he won’t dare continue this affair now”.

But if she was thinking along these lines, she was dead wrong. As wrong as his moral compass is off. If they had had the type of marriage they claimed — the one they publicly touted, the one they publicized shamelessly — they would have functioned as partners. If Elizabeth Edwards had demanded a role as full partner, she would have demanded, early and often, the respect he failed to show her. Or she would have left, because it wasn’t forthcoming.

In choosing to stay, at every point along the way, Elizabeth Edwards validated her husband’s view of himself. And having made her pact with the devil, she fell deeper and deeper: agreeing to deceive herself, her children, and, BECAUSE THEY MADE THEIR MARRIAGE A PUBLIC ISSUE, her husband’s supporters and constituents.

It got worse, of course. Not only is there the whole, patently ridiculous issue of how the baby’s paternity has been explained, but allegations of misused campaign funds, lying lawyers (other than Edwards), and hordes of people who have spent, apparently, way too much time trying to cover up the whole sordid story.

Not to mention that if Elizabeth Edwards has a shred of decency herself, she must be horrified at the entanglement of the apparently weak-livered, easily-bought Andrew Young, his wife, three young children and extended family into this morass.

If you can believe media reports about her emotional state, Elizabeth Edwards is now devastated, not only by the continuing revelations, but by the failure of John Edwards’ “confession” to stem the overwhelming tide of condemnation. And this, most interesting of all, suggests to me that, in the end, she’d taught herself to accept exactly what John Edwards himself so clearly believed: that he can explain away any behavior he wishes to, and shape public reaction to his own benefit.

Narcissists like John Edwards don’t love anyone but themselves. They act to further their own agendas, not to establish mutual relationships, not to make the world a better place, not for the good of their children. They make the choices that gratify their own egos; everything else is irrelevant or incidental. Elizabeth couldn’t have lived with that man for three decades without seeing plenty of evidence of this; she just chose to ignore it. At her peril: In the last months of her life, she’ll pay dearly for the choices she made.

As for Rielle Hunter, well, let’s see. John Edwards has stated publicly that he doesn’t love her, he never loved her, he’s “been in love with the same woman for 31 years”.

Rielle knows, though, that “John from North Carolina” is lying when he says this. It’s not what he’s been telling her on his secret visits to her hotel room in Los Angeles. It’s not what he told her when she was spirited away (on a $50,000 flight in a private plane, according to one source) before his “confession”.

Acquaintances have quoted Rielle has having said, in recent years, that she was going to find a “rich and famous” man to hook up with. Well, she found “rich”, but now, I guess, he’s infamous. Whatever. In any case, one way or another, she’s probably managed to find a luxury-level meal ticket for the next 18 years. I’m not the only one, though, who thinks the baby daddy, not his campaign or his buddies, should be picking up the tab.

Oh, and Rielle, honey. John Edwards lies. Just want to make sure you know.

Photos: Top two from, photo of Hunter and Edwards from the National Enquirer.

Update 1/19/2010:  Oooooooookay, so maybe it’s more megalomania than narcissism.

Update 1/21/2010: Did I mention that John Edwards is a liar?

Update 1/21/2010: Elizabeth — it’s not about her.  Nice point about good old Rielle smelling just a little bit less than the rest of the participants in what almost derailed not just the election, but potentially,  the presidency, 2008.


Bento 19 – Spring Roll in a Small Box

Three Tiers

Image of a Bento with Spring Roll in a Small Box

Upper Left: Grape tomatoes

Center Left: Broccoli with garlic slices

Lower Left: Green grapes, halved

Center Tier: Spring roll with lettuce, carrot, rice noodles, spring onion, shrimp, mint and cilantro in rice paper wrappers and small container of garlic-enhanced shoyu

Upper Tier: Rice crackers



Allium and I bought kayaks this year, and spent our first long afternoon in them in April.  We’re fortunate enough to live in a place that offers lots of opportunities to paddle within minutes of our home; kayaking would have been nothing but a dream if it had required even a hour’s drive away.

We found this creature in the parking lot, and repatriated him/her to a more felicitous location.

Zipping through the water later, I was astonished to see an enormous snapping turtle paddling furiously along, parallel to my course, but going the opposite direction. Later, Allium found himself next to another, almost as large; when he (she?) expressed an interest in tasting Alliium’s oar, we moved on.

Kayaks allow us to come very close to all sorts of creatures — even birds — without threatening them. We’re part of the landscape (albeit a bright part) in our boats. We can paddle in astonishingly shallow waters, too. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the bottom of the lake under Allium’s kayak.


Bento 18 – Bento with Celery, Peppers and Cabbage

. . . in the large faux enamel bento box

Image of a Bento with Gyoza and Crackers

Upper Left: Vegetable gyoza with dipping sauce in bottle and two strawberries

Upper Right: Grape tomatoes

Lower Left: Shredded cabbage tossed with seasoned rice vinegar; celery partitions; steamed rice with furikake

Lower Right: Green grapes below roasted red peppers



gc.gifSome days last fall and winter, I pulled on my boots, my wool socks and a sturdy hat and walked with a group of fellow fitness-seekers. We are travelers who have in common only our desire to walk; our venerable walking club has been around forever, and there are a multitude of hikes to choose from during any given week.

One result of the variety of options offered is that each walk is likely to be quite different from the previous one. So are the participants, who vary according to personal preference, ability, geography, and schedule.

An interested newcomer, then, might find, as I have, that each hike offers something the others do not. In the end, though, I found that these hikes offered nothing of the experience I hoped for.

wife-bat.jpgEarlier this fall, on what turned out to be my penultimate hike with the group, we marched out through an almost-quaint village, through a housing tract and into a wooded retreat, where the path turned and bent here and there, with slight elevations and declensions. A stream trickled under the trees; it was cold and clear, and, yes, beautiful in the way that a day can be when fallen leaves are still littering the ground, trees are newly barren, and winter is just beginning.

Scenery was not the only thing on the minds of my fellow pilgrims, though. A small drama was unfolding with a nearly literary precision as we walked. I turned, discreetly, to see the widow

Her kerchiefs were of finest weave and ground;
I dare swear that they weighed a full ten pound
Which, of a Sunday, she wore on her head.
Her hose were of the choicest scarlet red

summ.gifHer “kerchiefs” were, of course, modern outdoor gear, but of the more fashionable sort — the modern equivalent of that “full ten pound” — and the ensemble as cunning as that scarlet hose. Speaking with a certain reserve (though leaving nothing untold), our contemporary widow coyly fenced with her partner, setting forth her credentials in (literal) dollars and cents. ($200,000, if you must know; but that was just the condo.) He

. . . had a fiery-red, cherubic face,
For eczema he had; his eyes were narrow
As hot he was, and lecherous, as a sparrow;
With black and scabby brows and scanty beard;
He had a face that little children feared.
There was no mercury, sulphur, or litharge,
No borax, ceruse, tartar, could discharge,
Nor ointment that could cleanse enough, or bite,
To free him of his boils and pimples white,
Nor of the bosses resting on his cheeks.

He mistook her intentions, or, more likely, just didn’t understand.

Well loved he garlic, onions, aye and leeks,
And drinking of strong wine as red as blood.
Then would he talk and shout as madman would.
And when a deal of wine he’d poured within,
Then would. he utter no word save Latin.
Some phrases had he learned, say two or three,
Which he had garnered out of some decree;
No wonder, for he’d heard it all the day;
And all you know right well that even a jay
Can call out Wat as well as can the pope.

His voice was no more useful than a jay’s to meet the silence she offered him once he confessed that he still worked, long past retirement age.

Bold was her face, and fair, and red of hue.
She’d been respectable throughout her life,
With five churched husbands bringing joy and strife,
Not counting other company in youth

She dropped back a bit, but then came forward; there was no one else to bestow her charms upon. The rest of us, it seemed, were all unfit. Known, or unknown, or the wrong gender, or an even poorer match in age, or perhaps already mated.

icon2.jpgWe marched, the widow, her erstwhile, hapless suitor, and all the rest of us until we reached a clearing. Afar, in an alcove hewn from the earth, stood a statue of The Virgin Mary, adorned with garlands of garish beads. At her feet stood a small army of tall glasses with wax columns flickering within.

lights.jpgThe sight shook me, briefly, from my literary amusements. For a few seconds, cognitive dissonance took a back seat to raw panic, and another sort of drama. I am a Californian: who sets dozens of unattended flames out in the woods? Christians do, it seems. Or, in this case, Anglo Christians, as the flaming vessels lacked the devotional images present on similar devices lit by Hispanic worshipers.

beads.jpgAs horror subsided (after all, the leaves were wet, and this is practically another country), I surveyed the grotto. To the right and left the path twisted; the land was pocked with smaller and greater altars, each fitted with one statue, a multitude of flames, and beaded ropes. Was there really a glimmer of Christmas tinsel among the trees as well, or is the memory just a figment of my over-clocked mind?

“How could anyone help but feel the reverence of this place?” someone proclaimed, but archly, like a well-meaning schoolteacher. She stood under the evergreens, between demure Mary and a smaller icon several hundred yards away. The candles flickered like poorly designed electric lights; the cement of the statues stood leaden and solid, unrelieved by the brightness of the day.

The widow and her consort were not so affected. Behind me, she described aloud the difference between her yard service and the lawnmower employed by her eager, impecunious, friend. Her elucidation, though, was done too subtly for him to catch the point — or not, as the point, ultimately, seemed to be to avoid discouraging his attentive mien.

As a whole, we were not a reverent bunch. This sort of exchange proved to be common on these walks. Discordance between the putative motivation for these hikes (‘getting close to nature’) and the actual experience was the operant leitmotif.

cross.jpgFond as I am of the natural works ascribed to the Christian deity, on this particular hike, I was unable to appreciate the improvements made in this place by man. Likewise, no beauties, natural or enhanced, caught the imagination of either the widow or her companion. Like Chaucer’s pilgrims, one and all, we had other things on our minds.

Nonetheless, in common with that band from long ago, we were all searching for something. Not necessarily to fulfill a religious vow, but perhaps for some sense of a larger world, for companionship, admiration, affection, something — anything? — we could not find at home, at work, in our everyday lives. We all hike because everything else is not quite enough, and we suspect that on these pathways, in these trees, in the bright clear air of fall, we will discover something else, something just a little more than we feel in our everyday lives.

It’s unity, of a sort. We are all, in the end, pilgrims on the same journey. But this not the right one for me. I don’t know what to make of these conversations; of this artificial grotto in the woods; of verbal flirtations amongst ill-matched and alarmingly wary suitors. I am discomfited by the resonance between Chaucer’s cast and my companions. Under the circumstances, “le plus ça change” is not a reassuring thought. This is not what I am looking for, out on the trails amongst the greenery.

Quotation source

Chaucer image from Clipart ETC. Literary Characters

Wife illustration from Jane Zatta’s Chaucer

Summoner from Clipart ETC. Literary Characters

Upper statue from Flickr

Candles from Church Candles Online

Lower statue from Flickr

Cross on the wayside from Flickr


Bento 17 – Spring Rolls and Broccoli

Shrimp, Mint, and Cilantro Spring Rolls

Image of a Bento with Spring Roll and Broccoli

Upper Left: Green grapes and grape tomatoes

Upper Right: Broccoli dressed with shoyu and garlic

Lower Left: Lettuce, carrot, rice noodles, spring onion, shrimp, mint and cilantro in rice paper wrappers

Lower Right: Cucumbers in rice vinegar

Center: Small jelly

Center Right: Kalamata olives on picks with basil between


New York, New York

car-interior.jpgAllium and I returned from (nearly) a week in New York City this afternoon, relieved to have seen the last of 2007. The ride home, on Amtrak, was everything air travel should be, but will never be again: a civilized waiting area, helpful stewards, wide and comfortable seats, spacious lavatories and surfaces that were clean, clean, clean. We were delivered practically to our door; we were almost sorry when the trip was over.

We celebrated holidays first at home, then holidays in the city, trekking with Allium’s parents. His mother lives in an orderly world, and was surprised that begging was illegal on the subway (“but they do it anyway?” she asked).

traffic.jpgYesterday morning she could have watched, in the space of scarcely five minutes, the following: a blue Toyota, driven backwards down nearly the entire length of the street; two of NYPD’s finest exiting McDonald’s after a 15 minute break and climbing into a squad car they’d left parked in the middle of a cross street; a man urinating into a wall, discreetly; and I, illegally tossing household trash (for the second time that morning) into a can clearly marked ‘no household refuse-litter only’. The evening before, she had missed the young man sitting on our landing who leapt up as we approached our apartment door and apologized politely for the smell – ganja, we presumed.

The amazing thing about New York City is that it works so well. No one seems to have much respect for the kind of order well-known (and dear) to Allium’s mother, yet the world goes on, and, by and large, people are surprisingly kind to each other, and remarkably helpful on a one-to-one basis. A guy who looks as if he might as well stick a shiv in you as say good morning will gladly help a tired mom haul a stroller up the subway steps, and just about anyone will offer directional assistance if asked.

rap.jpgEven I am affected by all this mellow in the midst of the mad rushing that is integral to existence in the city. For example, I am not overly enamored of intra-car subway entertainment. Being subject to a serenade by a relentless accordionist whilst trapped with hundreds of fellow citizens underground is not my idea of a good time. Nor did I enjoy my involuntary subjugation to the break-dancing exhibition that shook and rolled our cylindrical encasement yesterday; it was a relief when one of the actors crashed unintentionally into a pole, prematurely ending the show and effecting a removal to another vehicle.

Though irritated, I am not seriously bothered by this perpetual insistence on making cramped travel noisier and more inconvenient than necessary. It’s New York; this kind of thing is tolerated, like the beggars, who, though apparently despised by most, are also, for the most part, civilly ignored rather than tormented or persecuted. I’m cool, too. Maybe it’s the residual ganja.

img_1888.JPGIt was a lovely week, full of new discoveries and the pleasures of being with family we enjoy. We walked like mad all over, looking for used book stores and tiny, well-recommended restaurants. Everywhere we went, it seemed, the targets of our quests were gone, boarded up, burned out, or moved, underscoring the organic nature of the city. It hardly mattered to us; there was always something interesting to discover and something good to eat.

We are home now, and glad to be here, delighting in the recollections of the week. Our feet propped up, we are plotting our return. In the meantime, we’ll revel in space all our own, and the kind of serenity that 638 people per square mile can buy. It’s ours, it’s fine, but, baby, there’s just no life at all outside our walls. Tomorrow we’ll sleep in, missing the clamor of early morning deliveries and the sound of hundreds of people beginning their day and reminding us that it’s time for us, too, to be up and away.

Traffic from Flickr

Train car interior from Flickr


Bento 16 – Bento with Gyoza, Carrots and Cucumbers

Gyoza, Carrots and Cucumbers

Image of a Bento With Gyoza and Carrots

Upper Left: Coffee flavored jell; dipping sauce with shoyu, garlic and ginger

Upper Right: Cucumbers in rice vinegar

Lower Left: Gyoza (vegetable, from Trader Joe’s)

Lower Right: Slivered carrots simmered briefly in a light sauce with mirin (then cooled); heart-shaped egg

The egg was shaped in one of my ice cream molds (see Bento 13). I don’t have the knack yet; that’s not a broken heart, but it is a cracked one!