Friday, October 30, 2020

Me and Alva, o Tal Vez Elva

 One of the things I like the most about living in Los Altos is being able to shop at DeMartini’s Orchard; a small, locally owned and managed produce stand and food market that has been in business since 1932.  I think it’s still in the same spot where it began, on the main road into town just on the outskirts of our small downtown area.

It has a somewhat tumbledown aspect, as it has grown sort of haphazardly from a small produce stand into what is now a full service, albeit small, grocery store.  DeMartini’s stocks a large variety of produce, but only a limited variety of other groceries. 


But the smallness is definitely a huge part of the charm.  The groceries they do carry are high quality and artisanal.  For instance, you can make chocolate chip cookies from ingredients purchased at De Martini’s, but you will be using locally milled flour and breaking up a bar of bulk baking chocolate.  They have cornmeal, but not Jiffy muffin mix.  But you can buy about ten types of olives.  You get the idea.


My pre-pandemic approach to grocery shopping in Los Altos was to hit up the Safeway for basic grocery items and just go to DeMartini’s for produce and fun condiments and gourmet items.  However, during the early pandemic months when we were all encouraged to go out shopping less, I started making massive DeMartini’s runs and trying to get everything there.


I discovered that DeMartini’s carries gourmet versions of just about everything that I used to get at Safeway.  So that was kind of a fun discovery, courtesy of pandemic shopping.  No Ritz crackers, but look at these Rosemary Panzanella crackers!  No Tostitos, but how about these corn chips handmade in Gilroy?  No Frosted Mini-Wheats, but four kinds of muesli!


The staff at DeMartini’s has been consistently kind and helpful during the twenty years I’ve been shopping there, and they have been extra helpful during the virus times.  It’s a small shop, so it’s been challenging for them to accommodate all the health regulations, but they’ve done a great job.


Over the years, many of the staff have turned over, but I have always been aware of one Hispanic woman about my age who it seems has always been there.  She’s not a smiler or a talker.  She is brisk and efficient.  I can respect that, and I never tried to pal around with her.


But! One day a few months ago, as she rang me up, she said, completely in monotone, “I like your mask.  It is cool.” This was high praise, indeed!  I was too stunned to reply for a moment, and then I gathered myself and said “Thank you!  I made it myself.”  She said, “Will you make one for me?”  Again, I was thrown for a moment by the directness of the question, but then I said, “Of course I will”.


I made up a handful of colorful masks and gave them to her the next time I saw her at DeMartini’s.  She said, “Thank you.  Will you make me a, how do you call this?” and held up her pinafore.  I was startled but also pleased by her forthrightness.  “Sure, I’ll try,” I told her.  I found a pattern and made her a sunflower-patterned pinafore and matching mask.


Amy modeling my attempt at a pinafore

I gave them to her, and she seemed pleased, within the bounds of her taciturn nature.  The next time I saw her, she said “My sisters like the sunflowers very much.  Will you make them masks?”  Everyone likes to be needed, so I told that of course I would. Then I started my Spanish class and kind of forgot about the masks.


Today when I stopped in at De Martini’s to buy sweet potatoes and Lacinato kale, she rang me up.  “Where have you been?” she said, “I haven’t seen you.”  I said, “I’ve been in a few times, but you weren’t here.  And actually, I don’t cook as much now that none of my girls are at home.”


She asked how many girls I had, and I said three, and she told me that she had four, and we agreed that girls are the best kind of children.  This was the most conversation we have ever had in twenty years.


“I forgot about those masks you wanted – next time!” I said.  And she said “Don’t worry about it.  Gracias, Katherine.”


And I thought, how does she know my name?  And then realized that I have handed her my credit card hundreds of times over the years.  But this is the very first time she has used my name.  And then I realized that I had no idea what HER name was.  So, I asked.


“Alva,” she said.  Or possibly “Elva”.  Either way, this is huge progress in our relationship.  On my way out I spoke some very bad Spanish to her, but she didn’t seem to mind.  Finally, something interesting has happened, and I can’t wait to see where this leads.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

We Did it Again

We went a couple of places!  Susan and I went back to Filoli Gardens and this time she brought three of her roommates.  I totally morphed into Garden Mom, confidently stating the names of plants that I was only 35% sure about and pointing out garden features that no one had asked about, or cared about, really.  Once I realized I was doing it, I told them I would try to stop, but they assured me that Garden Mom is less annoying than Art Dad.  Also, I had sort of lied at the gate and got them in gratis on my family membership, and also purchased everyone a canned cocktail, so these savvy twenty-somethings were being very polite.

Speaking of Art Dad, Larry and I met Susan in San Francisco last week for lunch at Plow and a visit to the Asian Art Museum.  Plow is an uber-popular brunch place in Portrero Hill.  We’ve made vague plans to go there for two years, but it’s one of those no-reservations places, so we never felt we had the time to wait for a table.  Well, now, thanks to the virus, we have plenty of time, so we waited.  We saw many interestingly dressed young people. 


It turns out that people watching is one of the things that I miss the most.  Larry’s sartorial and styling choices just aren’t that interesting; and frankly, neither are those of the middle-aged denizens of Los Altos.  But the young people of San Francisco are fun to watch!  There were also lots and lots of dogs, which meant more to Larry and Susan than to me, since I still don’t like dogs (especially my own, get off my foot and stop licking yourself, Taggart).


After lunch we toured the Asian Art Museum, located across from City Hall in the old Library building.  I like Asian art well enough, but what I really like is the cool old building it’s housed in.  Larry went full Art Dad and was enthusing about Buddhism.  I did like a wall hanging that featured three existential poisons – “the cock of attraction, the snake of aversion, and the pig of confusion”.  The pig of confusion, how apt, it’s always rootling around in my subconscious.


Larry especially enjoyed the story about the Buddhist adept Virupa, who, by using his meditative powers to stop the sun, convinced a king to pay for his epic drinking spree.  Virupa is usually portrayed in the distinctive “I’ll have another” pose.


I haven’t been able to go many places in person for the last six months, and perhaps because of my yearning for distant shores, I have been reading a fair amount of travel essays and historical fiction.

Way back in March, the New York Times published an article entitled “Celeste Ng, Ann Patchett, Min Jin Lee and Others on the Books That Bring Them Comfort”.  It’s a great article and the authors recommended some of my personal favorite books – I Capture the Castle, Pride and Prejudice, A Room With a View, Love in a Cold Climate.  Also, the authors interviewed have written some of my personal favorite books – The Song of Achilles, Circe, Eligible, The Summer Before the War, State of Wonder, Euphoria.  The article also recommended books I hadn’t read, including Cousin Bette by Balzac.

When I saw the name “Balzac” you musical theater nerds will know where my mind went: “Chaucer, Rabelais, BALZAC!”  In The Music Man, these are authors that Marian the Librarian lends from the library and that the mayor’s wife and her ilk despise.

At 500 pages, Cousin Bette was a bit long, but I enjoyed it because it took me to a different time and place – a very specific time and place.  Paris in 1846, to be exact.  There is a LOT of detail about building layouts, room furnishings, styles of dress, salaries, dinner menus, business endeavors, military honors, and such.  There are also extensive descriptions of the machinations of some very, very badly-behaved people, which I enjoyed very much.  And descriptions of the virtues of a couple of saintly women, which were not nearly as diverting.

I’m glad I read one Balzac, but I cannot IMAGINE reading the whole of Balzac’s La Comédie humaine, “Honoré de Balzac's 1829–48 multi-volume collection of interlinked novels and stories depicting French society in the period of the Restoration and the July Monarchy. La Comédie humaine consists of 91 finished works.” 


I found some forums frequented by lovers of Balzac on the internet, and there are people who have made multi-year commitments and read all 91 works and have cross-referenced all the characters and locations and events in the books.  At this point, they’ve spent more time thinking about the books than Balzac spent writing them.


Here are some other excellent escapist works that have enabled me to leave my house without, you know, leaving my house.


Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country.  It’s about his travels in Australia and he narrates the audiobook version.  I closed my eyes and imagined being in Australia with him.


Kevin Kwan’s latest, Sex and Vanity, an homage to A Room With a View set in Capri, Manhattan and the Hamptons among a bunch of rich Asians, definitely an unfamiliar world to me. 


Mark Adams’ Turn Right at Machu Picchu.  The author spends months on a rough trek through Inca country with an irascible old Australian-born guide and some young Peruvian porters.


Michael Palin’s Erebus.  You may not know this, but after his Monty Python career, Michael Palin did a series of travel specials for the BBC and went all around the world.  I’ve seen all of these and read the accompanying books.  (Sahara was my favorite.). At some point Palin got interested in a British ship, the Erebus, that was used in two epic journeys of discovery to the Antarctic and the Arctic.  It’s always nice to read about someplace cold when it’s 92 degrees in your un-air-conditioned house.


Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight about her early life in Rhodesia.  It made me feel like mother of the year.


Abigail Hing Wen’s Love Boat Taipei, marketed to so-called “Young Adults”, but I enjoyed reading about Taiwan.


J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, described as a “children’s fantasy novel”, but my journey to Middle Earth was most enjoyable.


Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book, a lovely short book set on a Finnish island.


Christina Thompson’s Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, a deep dive into the settlement and peoples of remote Pacific islands.

History's Greatest Voyages of Exploration, a Great Course available from Audible, exactly what it sounds like, a series of lectures about trips across continents, across oceans, under the ocean, to the moon.


The Insight Guide to Spain 2019.  I read the whole thing, took copious notes, looked up a bunch of places on the internet.  Estoy tan lista para mi viaje a España.


Now I’d better get back to my Spanish homework, since it’s a group project and I don’t want to be That Person who tanks the group grade.  Es la hora de aprender sobre el cine desde de México.