Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Recipe for Fun

You know what? I'm just gonna come clean right now. No dice on the junkin', finally found the flea market and it was the bad tube socks and underwear type. So much for keeping that genius antique concept on track. But the play is getting to be a lot of work and I for one may need a vacation from this vacation. It's certainly been a successful recipe for fun, everyone a necessary ingredient for late night revelry and later mornings (well noonish), endless snacks and hilarious antics. The meals out have been fantastic, but it's the impromptu market research and spontaneous cooking I've loved.

We've gone hog-wild, pun intended. Definitely not kosher and downright gruesome for vegetarian types, all those pig legs hanging in every deli, restaurant and bar, slung from the hoof with little cones collecting fat drippings. Nothing like the ripe smell of aging pig. It's the Imberico ham for which Spain is famous and it came home sliced thin (think prosciutto). Endless varieties of sausage, the more abstract, made with blood or some heart-stopping organ meat, the more Dave had to have it. In the end, he made delicious pizza with all those sausages. The daily and nightly spreads included white anchovies (precious stateside but reasonable here), regional olives, pickled peppers and cornichons, marcona almonds, goat and sheep milk cheeses, mandarin oranges and strawberries from the south, bosc-type pears (I'm particularly smitten with these, thin skin with traces of green in the traditional brown peel, sweet as honey), a little salad of greens with a simple vinaigrette of lemon and local extra virgin olive oil (bright green with a spring fresh taste) and it's that mediterranean diet you could eat every day, and we did.

Mark's the quick draw with the corkscrew, handy with a knife, continuously theatrical and ridiculously funny. He left no liver, rich cheese or wine pairing behind and Molly starts the call for meat when the sun comes up, has dispensed with the bread altogether and just eats the pates and foie gras with a spoon. Our chefs spared no expense, all things weird and wonderful came home and were shared, except the tab, which they rarely let us get. Molly is Betty Crocker and starts with a spotless kitchen and yummy breakfasts of everything-leftover-goodness. Christina and I filled in gaps, she at command central (her I Phone), keeping us plugged into world affairs (what's today's spin on Robot Cop-gate? where is that restaurant? how are we making that last flight to Detroit(not)?), saved our electronics from the only antique I saw (Molly's mother's adaptor sparking in the outlet), supplied smokey treats, some tasty jams (her research for a new business venture here) and late-night KP. Me? I'm the mother, spoon-feeding samples, fussing over torn acl's, curing car sickness with a sensible speed at the wheel, a little laundry service, coffee making, a few dishes, egging the comedy on. Our mantra got to be "it's all in the produce!" A simple recipe one adapts to available ingredients. Don't waste your energy or appetite on anything less.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Familiarity Breeds Content

Last night I stayed up while the moon travelled more than half way to its eastern descent, and now I am watching the sun come up over the mountains. The birds get so excited, there's no sleeping late with the windows open. Guess they can't hold it in their pea brains that this is a daily occurrence. I gotta find a better time to write than late night or I'll never sleep. Now a group of about 30 bluebird-types are swarming round and round in some cloverleaf pattern. It reminds me of how old asian people do tai chi together in parks (and how Dave wears circular paths..) It must be some kind of zen communal health and training program shared by the species. I watch the sheep down the hill socializing in their specific manner. I love how they make a wall, together bracing themselves when the wind whips up from the west. We've watched a few storms come across the ocean, driving the waves wickedly and high onto the rocky shores. This makes serious surfers come out in their wetsuits. Later in the night, the sea settles and Dave and I look at that expanse and talk about sailing. The only other ones out on these seas are commercial fishing vessels, and we can see their bright lights late into the night.

Practically the entire spectrum of landscape is so close at hand and magnificent that if I were born to this place, I'd probably want to protect and keep it for my family too. The flag of the Basque region is modeled on the union jack and you see the separatists' colors graffitied here and there. No Spanish is spoken unless you start speaking it. I hiked through a grove of tall pines, past blooming wildflowers and small verdant farm plots. The black-faced sheep ambled right to the fence next to me, curious to see who was treading the otherwise lightly-used road. The hills rise up nearly at my shoulders in some places. It's incredible how these old towns were cut and wedged into this mountainous coastal land. If you were planning to settle here, the only choice is to cultivate and find livestock that can adapt to the mountains. When you look up, and not while driving, you see the squares of terraced plantings striped with stone retaining walls. These are cut into old growth pine forests which are interrupted by corduroy patches of grape vines grown vertically and, immediately adjacent to small velvet pastures with their cottony polka dots of grazing sheep.

Whew! All that to say my brain finds familiarity in these patterns and textures and the reference is the humble quilts that peasants and poor people made with clothing worn beyond repair. A longtime purveyor of old things, this is my particular landscape, the place I passionately protect and hope to pass on.The sun is now high enough to warm the path to the ocean, so I'm off to explore some more. The oceanscape with it's rocky cliffs and boulders is completely different. Of course I'll have a narrative to work out there because I can't help myself. I don't want to miss or forget anything and think if you're reading this, you should't either.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

New Frontiers, Fabulous Food

Travelling with 3 chefs is not for wimps. First of all these are hearty consumers of food and drink, they have opinions, about food for sure and just about everything else: politics, music, shoes, Detroit, sex, art, fire building, what's clean and what's not, did I say shoes? I'm just happy to taste a little, stay upright, see the full moon rise over the mountains and the big dipper moving to it's spring-time position in the northern hemisphere. I'm in Spain, my amigos are constantly amusing and the Jeff Koon's dog sculpture in front of the spectacular Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is blooming with pansies. That Bilbao used to be an industrial power that waned and turned to art for its revival makes me hopeful all over again for Detroit and these creative, hard-working people whose opinions aren't necessarily the same but agree on what it means to make a good life in Detroit. In the end the pizza-dough wouldn't behave and refused to cook in the picture-perfect wood-fired oven. Chef Mark from Wolfgang Puck Detroit proclaimed he might not cook at all and it was well-marbled Molly (her name de guerre) that patiently got the fire burning and the chicken cooked perfectly. The cheap wine had everybody laughing, so all is bueno. Dave scored reservations for a meal that the newly-arrived Mark proclaimed awesome. We got to meet chef Victor Arguinzoniz and see his immaculate kitchen with all those grills at his restaurant Etxebarri. His sous chef came out to explain in his Florida accent what made the menu that included smoked goat butter and shaved truffles, grilled oyster, local-caught crab, impossibly tiny baby octopuses, a grilled egg-yolk with purple potato puree and more truffles, grouper and a rare grilled ribeye plus smoked ice cream and all this done at different temperatures, so special. No sooner had the food been consumed when we were back to menu planning and the grocery store, refueling the refrigerator. We got cooks and seriously particular eaters, empty wine bottles, and dishes to keep clean. The internet is streaming constant Motown R&B, because we always bring ourselves whenever we go and the commentary on the latest controversial Detroit fundraising for art, "Robot Cop" is being followed closely. We can't seem to stop facebooking, blogging, emailing and connecting to our home bases, but tomorrow we are looking forward to exploring the ancient town of San Sebastian and if I can get up before lunch, I'm going to make another solo hike down the rocky slope to marvel at the big waves that cut the rocky cliffs and the view from which daring Spanish explorers imagined a new world that we simply call home. In our own way each of us is looking at a new frontier that many also call impossible and imagining great things to come.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Vacation Salvation

Dave and Molly along the river in Bilbao

This hke will be a snap

When the salvager is salvaging her own salvage it might be time for some salvage salvation, translation: vacation. Yeah I said I'd do some flea marketing but I'm traveling with 3 chefs so there's gonna be some eaten and drinken, a little sight seein and hikin to the ocean from our hilltop country house, as a crow flies maybe half a mile first. But oh what it took to get here. Did I say here is the Basque region of Spain? The latest mecca for foodie types? Yes I buried this detail a few lines in. What business do I have here? Frequent flyer ticket, house sharing with chefs, you saying no? No you are cashing in the change jar amigos. Our affable and charming, chef de pizza and most disarming, arranged a spacious country house with views of the mountains, terraced farms and sheep grazing, the ocean crashing. Ridiculously good. Chef Dave is making dinner, dapper in his dress clothes. Just something simple from today's farmer's market selections while Molly naps and I hike to the ocean. Better a man in the kitchen than say, in charge of all travel planning….

Now we know why he's picked alpha female travel companions. It seemed perfectly fine after landing to enjoy the afternoon kicking around Bilbao. Have some drinks and snacks, chill a little, look about. We'll check in with the travel agent later… on the only serviceable phone's last minutes. I's only an hour drive…that is if you actually know your destination, have an address. Here's what we have, "Drive to this little town Deba, ask at the church EVERYBODY knows the place…" Details! Disarming is a must when you have neither phone nor address and not really the right town. But, you can't get mad at Dave such is his charm. Did I mention we don't speak Euskada? It sounds like this: "zumba zaba zeba zaba zumba zaba zi" It looks like Greek. Few speak English. We don't know where we are going and yet we are going. Now with Molly at the wheel, Dave voted to the back seat, me navigating. It's a touchy stick, we keep stalling, on hills, with people on our tail. New information arrives, 'Molly can't really drive in the dark and gets car sick. Now I'm driving and it's harrowing switchbacks, on old narrow roads, pitch black, the ocean in place of a shoulder I'm driving which means I get to stop and ask directions, I'm big on this. I pull over, me who speaks no Spanish and them no English. This is just good theater, gesticulating and map drawing, but no mention of road numbers or names. These people have lived here all there lives. We've fallen into Laurel and Hardy improv and can't get out. No, it's "Afterhours" and we are going on 24 hours without sleeping. We drive round the roundabouts, Mollly turns green and Dave insouciantly lounges in the rear, nursing his torn acl.

Two hours later, it was a woman (I'm just sayin…) who walked outside and pointed with her finger to the direct route, less than 1km away. There patiently waiting was our house man. I get it, people pay big money for these corporate team building exercises. Team USA starts, stalls, starts, it's way to the finish line. I love a good laugh and I'm having some, on vacation in Spain.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Homecoming for a president

Royal Oak Flea Market Finds: Smart WWII Soldier's Coat, 1895 Detroit Ledger

Steve gets the kiddie wheelbarrow his parents denied him
He's gonna put fruit in it (his parents are ok with this)

Hillary gets hands for her manicure station.
Talk turns to get the picture

"It's hard work being president!" Seems like I've heard this line before and had something snide to say about it. Now there I go WHINING ABOUT THE SAME THING (Note to self, read previous blogs. Don't emulate THAT president). Feeling better, rested and happily for all of us, perky and grateful for everything. I am so mushy about all the people who came out in a snowstorm and on Superbowl Sunday to see what the big complainer brought back from New York, and to hear the stories which I love to tell. I feel like an old lady repeating myself: "The snow was this high!!!"(had to show picture) The people are so crazy!! (takes one to know one) and "I heart New York!" (did I mention I'm feeling better?)

Anyhoo, what a high to have customers who truly miss you and love what you do, read what you write then pack your store and buy things, bonus! They said they can't wait to see what I come back with next. You know I can't wait to go, especially this trip to Spain. I caught up with my local peeps first thing this morning at the Royal Oak Flea Market, bought a few things. I love this WWII soldier's coat, tailor-made to last and a great 1895 leather-bound Detroit business ledger, written in that beautiful ancient script with real pen and ink. As a writer, this sort of thing resonates with me. I love to hand write letters, but take the time for beautiful penmanship? Not likely. They barely teach cursive anymore. Can you imagine that a dollar's worth of goods warranted a hand-written entry into a thick hand-made leather book? Or that people engaged in pleasant conversation, spoke in complete sentences and used proper English? Now I do sound like an old lady.

I know the internet is what it will take to keep my business going, but you know my stump speech: it really does make a difference to people to see all this stuff together as I see it. Maybe it's my inner actress wannabe: the show of shows, my avant garde experimental theater, hey, weird sells some, really? ! Well they get called up on stage, it's interactive improv man and the performance thing is kind of my thing and people like to play, hence my love affair with New York and all those creatives. I got to be in their fun play (thanks for letting me out though, sheesh, long curtain call that one). Then there's the part about the art created in a booth or a shop. The players get to touch it, own it. It's the business model I wrote to give everybody a nice part and I remember you and your name, the thing you last bought, I tease you a little, you get your costume on (it's a metaphor nobody wore the showgirl costume, well I might have...) this is playing for adults! See Steve with the wheelbarrow, we went to junior high together. I took this picture to send to his mother because he said he really did want one of these when he was little and he didn't get it. She texted back, said he got everything he wanted, how hilarious is that improv? Hillary is one of those long time customers that I haven't seen in ages, she owns her own salon and we talk about doing everything ourselves and do we really need men for all that grief blah blah ha ha...but yeah, there's that naughty naughty...hey! we're adults and presidents so we get to have fun with the burlesque dialogue (there's some weird theater)..right, she needed the 6 hands for the manicure station.

But back to the stump and seeing and touching the items I sell mattering business model, building relationships and the how is our mutual friend, your chemotherapy, burying your mother, raising your sister's troubled kid when you retired, lots of not funny adult stuff people need to talk about and it really only happens when you are in front of someone and can read that they care, or seem I get a lot of good therapy with my captive audience, ha! Truth is it really has to go both ways to work. God, so much for proper English from the English major, but it's shootin the breeze at this hour and I feel less old, unless you ask Wyatt...speaking of the divine child, what a delight to have him come smiling through the door at the end of the day. How great that he's in a good mood and helpful, collecting up garbage, turning off lights, closing up shop, carrying home bags, no complaining. He still delights in the snow which fell lightly as we walked and he clowned delighting me. Hot cocoa is still good currency and he will probably remember none of this moment. Good for him, his life is so full of new and interesting things and fun play, that's how it should be. I will remember because when it's hard adult crap a day like to today is currency you really need but can't buy. You earn it the old fashioned way...see whiny blogs. Well that's tonight's address from the president. And I'm the decider here and I say quit imitating that president, I'm going to bed and then Spain!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Load, Unload, Load Unload, Load, Is it Over Yet?

Another Show is so Doable

Design Tornado


Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to plan this truck load show at the store the week I returned from New York. It only takes a few new items to make an entire redirection of the shop necessary. I love my handyman Ben, who took up the thankless job of helping me, saying, "like, do you have a core plan?" Design by tornado by definition has a core, it's just a lethal plan. I hope in the midst of my storm, he didn't inhale the same wicked respiratory virus I did. While he's pondering a safe place to stand, I'm considering introducing a cello's steamer truck to the art deco collection. Will they be happy together? Will a headless baby mold and a giant plaster longhorn steer make a nice pair? Is it something you would see with a collection of faded and torn 1940's showgirl costumes? Around the store it spirals, moving once, moving twice, around and around until it lands just where it belongs…well do arranged marriages last any longer than the ones you buy in Vegas? I have often wondered what goes on in there after I shut off the lights. Whoa, this road warrior life may not be conducive to lucid thought. I just got a look at myself in the mirror. Disturbing. Should I throw these work jeans out? You know I won't. I feel like a petulant girl scout. I earned the damn badge, I'm gonna cover my ratty jeans with them. I confess to two melt downs this week. And yet, here I am still up, still writing. You push this hard, you are gonna get to the other side. It's not for everybody. But it is kind of a zen practice for me now. I hunt the high and low, look for whatever it is that is looking for me, design it with whatever else is in the store, it looks random and inefficient, but I really am consistent in my taste and somehow it meets my aesthetic criteria. Though the method may only work for me, it has worn a particular groove and I always find it, get into it. Creative brain function occurs. Sick and tired, it happens on auto pilot regardless. The last thing I did tonight before I dragged myself out of there was take this picture of a display that represents what it is I really want to do. I call it "Montmartre" I want to create fantastic environments, I want to travel. I love Paris. Any number of experiences have gotten under my skin and they come out when I'm busy working. The little things please me like, how great the florist's funerary cross form looks with all that vintage upholstery trim wrapped around it. This makes a difference to me. Will you know how long I've had these materials? No. I promise you it becomes an entirely new thing when you change the relationships of things. Well, for a while anyway (Hmmm dangerous road…key change) Wow, I just now realized I'm salvaging my own salvage. More like, I'm going insane and I'm taking you with me. You won't be bored, but boundaries are probably a good idea.