Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oysters and clams and lobsters, oh my!

I used to have mixed feelings about mollusks. While I have always loved scallops, squid, and mussels (favorite meal: mussels, fries, glass of red wine), clams never did much for me and oysters used to inspire ambivalence (or ambivalvence? PUN!). Oysters were too salty and fishy-tasting, too slimy in texture. I would eat them, if others felt inclined to order them, but I never really understood their appeal.

However, feelings and taste buds can change over time. Now I LOVE oysters and all their accouterments, from the little forks to the mignonette sauce. Fortunately, I work at Lineage, where we serve $1 oysters at the bar every day from 5-7 pm. We get our oysters from Island Creek, which is located in Duxbury, MA, about 35 miles south of Boston. This past Monday, Lineage was closed so that the entire staff (prep cooks, servers, dishwashers, everyone) could take a field trip to Island Creek.

It was a gorgeous sunny day -- we toured the harvesting facilities (it's a small, family-style operation) and then went out to the nurseries at low tide to wade among crabs, clams, oysters, mussels and lobsters. Then we docked at a barge and ate the freshest seafood you can imagine.

Pretty awesome. Definitely a highlight of summer 2010.

If you're in the Boston area, you should definitely come to Lineage for oysters (and dinner!). Restaurant Week(s) is coming up: August 15-20 and 22-27. Also, be sure to watch for the opening of The Island Creek Oyster Bar in September!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ah, to be 20 and live in abject conditions

Be honest: in college, did your living room/common room ever look something like this?

Mine did (minus the Confederate flag beach towel).

Yesterday morning, I was walking through Allston, where many of the BU frat houses are located, and was struck by the garbage-strewn lawns. Red Solo cups, beer bottles, empty pizza boxes covered the porches, evidence of the previous night's revelries. But what fascinated me even more was the fact that some of these house's occupants were sitting out on their porches and lawns relaxing in the sun, amidst their party trash. No one was lifting a finger to clean anything. They were perfectly comfortable, proud even, of their filth.

At age 29, I thought, I could never live like that. That's disgusting. But there was a time, in the not-too-distant past, where I did live in some pretty squalid conditions. It's a rite of passage, I think, to live somewhere gross when you're 20 and not care.

For me, that place was 67 Edgewood, in New Haven, CT, from 2002-2003. I could not find a picture of the actual house, but it looked a bit like this:

Quaint, right? You would never suspect the level of decrepitude that a cute little house like this on a college campus can sustain.

I lived at 67 Edgewood, much to the dismay of my horrified parents after they visited, during my senior year of college. I lived there with 5 roommates and 1 small dog named Robot. I paid less than $400 a month. And while we weren't the biggest slobs on the planet...somehow the house was always pretty rank. Especially the basement. I still have nightmares about this basement.

The basement smelled like the Disneyworld ride Pirates of the Caribbean: a mix of dank water, mildew, sweat, and gunpowder. It was also filled with the abandoned belongings of previous residents (clothes, window fans, computer keyboards, boxes of Q-tips and partially used deodorant sticks). I avoided the basement at all costs -- we had a washer and a dryer down there, but I still paid extra to send my laundry out because I was convinced that nothing could go into that basement and come out cleaner.

Whenever someone's parents were coming to visit, we made an effort to clean, but mostly this was just surface stuff -- putting away drug paraphernalia, making the dirty dishes in the sink look more presentable, etc. I'm not sure we owned a mop or a vacuum. In our defense, the house was already in such disrepair that cleaning it seemed kind of beside the point. We reported various problems to our management company (shower leaking into the basement, mice) but the only time they ever showed up to fix something was when a sink broke off the wall. Granted, I think a drunk person was sitting on it when this happened...but still.

Now I keep a pretty clean "house" (studio) -- the only cleanliness issue stems from my shed-happy cat. I won't let people come over unless I have thoroughly cleaned. But once....once I was much more lax. So while I shudder a bit while walking past the off-campus BU residences in my neighborhood, I would be a hypocrite to really judge the inhabitants. They are young and don't know any better.

Ah, youth. Not that I'm on the verge of AARP membership, but I am almost 30. My salad days are (mostly) over. Sigh.

Monday, July 19, 2010

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

My friend and fellow writer Akshay Ahuja (read one of his stories here) lent me a copy of The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees last semester and I have just now gotten around to reading it. Kees is not as well known as perhaps he should be -- in the introduction to his Collected Poems, Donald Justice says that although some may consider him a "minor" poet, he is still a significant one. And hey, if Donald Justice is writing the introduction to your Collected Poems, you must have done something right.

Kees's poetry is pretty bleak -- his most anthologized sonnet, "For My Daughter," puts forth a pretty solid don't-have-kids argument. I thought since we're in the throes of hot, humid summer in Boston, I'd post this one instead; it's also depressing, but I really like the hybrid form (it's close to a villanelle, but decidedly not one). Enjoy and please don't slit your wrists (at least not on my watch).

The Beach in August

The day the fat woman
In the bright blue bathing suit
Walked into the water and died,
I thought about the human
Condition. Pieces of old fruit
Came in and were left by the tide.

What I thought about the human
Condition was this: old fruit
Comes in and is left, and dries
In the sun. Another fat woman
In a dull green bathing suit
Dives into the water and dies.
The pulmotors glisten. It is noon.

We dry and die in the sun
While the seascape arranges old fruit,
Coming in and the tide, glistening
At noon. A woman, moderately stout,
In a nondescript bathing suit,
Swims to a pier. A tall woman
Steps toward the sea. One thinks about the human
Condition. The tide goes in and goes out.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hup Holland!

I've now been back from Europe for a week and I'm experiencing the classic post-vacation slump. After looking forward to the trip for months, I miss....looking forward to it. But the good news is, it was everything I hoped it would be and I have amazing pictures/memories, some of which I will now share on this blog. Below are the highlights and insights from my week-long trip to the Netherlands and Belgium, in Top Ten list form!

1. Dutch sounds and looks like a made-up Muppet language.

It's very easy to read Dutch, because it looks like a hybrid of German and English. Some of my favorite words:

winkel = store
eethuis = restaurant ("eat house")
slagroom = whipped cream
graag = please

wijn = wine

Spoken Dutch sounds similar to German, but with more enthusiasm and inflection. German is kind of like Dutch, minus the joy.

2. Witnessing two World Cup victories (quarter- and semi-final) almost made a sports fan out of me. I mean, this is infectious:

3. Dutch is not one of the world's great cuisines. Though I did enjoy stamppot, a traditional dish consisting of mashed potatoes, endives, bacon, and sausage. And in Belgium, things improved culinarily:

Yes, that's a gigantic pot of mussels. The frites weren't bad, either, though I still prefer them with ketchup as opposed to mayo.

4. Sexual Chocolate (Coming to America):

vs. sexual chocolate (Bruges):

5. European train stations are about 3,000 times cooler than American train stations. Case in point: Antwerp.

6. You are not supposed to take pictures in the Red Light District, so sadly, I don't have any. I will, however, share this tidbit about prostitution from one of my guidebooks:

"If you visit one of the women, we would like to remind you, they are not always women. Do not take pictures of the women. Out on the streets, do not shout or use bad language towards these women. Show some respect. If you have any problems with a girl or a pimp, do not hesitate to ask a police officer. We know why you are there and you can hardly surprise us."

Another guidebook gem, re: urinating in public: "A dirty habit, and always committed by men."

7. Hash + Van Gogh Museum = stellar combination.

8. The oldest gay bar in Amsterdam, Cafe 't Mandje, was opened by a lesbian named Bet van Beeren:

9. You can buy actual wooden shoes in the Netherlands

10. Everything is prettier when you're on vacation

Monday, July 12, 2010

Heaven and Hell

After a month-long unannounced hiatus and severe site-traffic atrophy, the Vagnino Monologues is back!

I have an epic post planned about my week-long trip to the Low Countries (Holland and Belgium), but first, a little theosophical musing. About death and what happens after it. Because while it's fun to blog about pet owls and bikini waxes, sometimes I feel the urge to think about things of substance, things with gravitas.

Before embarking to Europe, I wrote a lengthy paper about Don DeLillo's postmodern masterpiece
White Noise. All of the characters in the novel are obsessed with death -- one character even takes a risky experimental drug that is designed to alleviate the fear of death. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it -- aside from its philosophical headiness, it's very funny and a fast read.

So yeah, death. Truthfully? I think I think about it less than most folks. Of course I wonder what it will be like and am as shocked as anyone when someone unexpectedly dies and is just....not around anymore. I am more afraid of scenarios in which I know that I am going to die right before it happens. Not like with a terminal illness, but like in a plane crash or car accident or with a gun pointed at your head, where you are conscious and alert, but have to try to rationally process/reconcile your impending non-existence. That is terrifying.

Of course, I hope there is an afterlife. I like to think that heaven is a chic cocktail party with an open bar, great live music and neverending passed appetizers.

Or heaven might look like this:

(This was my favorite shoe store in Amsterdam. I almost wept when I walked in.)

Or if heaven isn't a shoe store or a fabulous cocktail party filled with friends and handsome strangers, I think it should be some sort of virtual reality-type situation where you get to relive all your favorite life moments. That would be pretty neat.

I'm a firm believer that hell involves travel gone awry. Some possibilities:

1) Hell is an airport (and not one with good duty-free shops and a Wolfgang Puck restaurant). Your flight never arrives and also you cannot leave. Your bags are lost. There is nothing to read except
Women's Health and Golf Digest. The drinking fountains are all broken and bottled water costs $3.25. You are forced to eat stale slices of sbarro and watch Today Show reruns with the sound turned off.

2) Hell is the Amtrak Waiting Area at Penn Station. The A/C is broken. The smell of urine is omnipresent. Your train is continually delayed. Bathroom is out of order and covered in yellow crime scene tape.

3) Hell is the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Fill in your own horrifying specifics.

Or maybe Sartre had it right, that hell is other people. But not all other people -- just the most annoying, obnoxious contestants/personalities from reality television. How would you like to spend eternity making conversation with the cast of
A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila?

I rest my case. (Also, does Tila Tequila look like a Bratz doll in that photo, or what?)

I guess the ultimate irony would be if heaven and hell are precisely the cliched stereotypes we associate with them -- angels and harps vs. fire and demons. So when you arrive, you're like, "Seriously? For reals? Ugh. I'd rather be in Port Authority with a man who sleeps next to a bag of his own trash. At least that's ORIGINAL."