Archives for posts with tag: travel

On June 12, 2013 I leave California for a meditation retreat in France with my zen teacher, Natalie Goldberg and a number of students I know. And, on June 16, 2013 Johnny crawls out of his house and shows up to play at the memorial for Les Blank.

What we do on retreats with Natalie is spend a week in noble silence, speaking only during question and answer periods, or to give or receive instructions during work periods, or in dokusan, brief group interviews with Natalie late in the week. We sit zazen, write in our notebooks, eat in silence. We study assigned books (memoirs, novels) and read aloud from those books and from our own notebooks.

We study our minds: sitting on chairs or makeshift cushions in the converted barn at Villefavard we focus on our breath, following it all the way in or all the way out, or focus on sound: church bells ringing, rain falling on stone, birds calling, cows lowing, the low hum of cars on the road. We also study our minds as our thoughts, emotions and memories spool out through our hands and arms, inked on the blank pages of our notebooks.

Natalie gives us topics. Or her assistants give us topics. We start out with “What is your material?” We quickly move to “What is your ‘Fuck-It’ List?” My anger spews out quickly: “What kind of a hell of a choice is this? Resign myself to a life as a drinking man’s wife, a drinking man’s girlfriend, grateful for the crumbs of the days when he is only drinking moderately, highly functioning, sweet and funny — and doing what during the other times? Going home to mother? Going to meditation retreats and Al-Anon meetings. Blech. And what is the alternative — excuse me, the fucking alternative — giving up the man I love entirely because he will not give up drinking, who will not even see the slightest possibility that he might have a drinking problem… Give up my love or suffer the consequences of his drinking. Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it — what kind of a choice is that?…Fuck it all — it does not need to be fucked — it’s already about as fucked up as a situation can get.”

Natalie sometimes calls herself good Natalie and stinky Natalie. Using that polarity leads to this pair of portraits:

Good Johnny follows instructions in the kitchen. Tells me he loves me. Looks at me with soft eyes. Snuggles up to me in bed. Says he’s lucky to have found me. Dresses in clean clothes, shaves and showers before he comes to see me. Looks forward to seeing me and spending time together. Laughs. Listens well. Tells stories. Is sensitive to my feelings, aware of how I’m feeling, reassures me. Good Johnny talks about telling the truth.

Stinky Johnny passes out, calls me from a bar. Doesn’t call or email for eight days. Doesn’t shower, shave or change his clothes. Flips bottle caps on the floor. Leaves bottles all over the house. Is argumentative. Challenges me. Cooks up dramas (example: soul music debacle). Evades (calls two D.U.I.s “traffic tickets”). Doesn’t show any awareness of my feelings or needs. Stinky Johnny says “What are you doing here?” when I come over for a date.

And then there is “How we find ourselves”:

“We find ourselves in a jam. We said we loved each other. We said we were committed to each other. Being committed to Johnny is like being committed to an insane asylum, being committed to rows and rows of unwashed bottles, being committed to a lover who does not answer the door when I come to see him, being committed to a week of silence, hard variety, silently worrying about him while he doesn’t answer emails and his phone gets full, when his brother confides that he has been suicidal in the past (Big deal, so have I, but it’s just another thing to worry about). Being committed to an actively-drinking alcoholic is marrying the drinking bouts, the holing up, the isolating, the disorder, the accusations, the undermining of perceptions. I find myself facing all of this in a sweet man that I really like when he is only drinking his daily maintenance dose, whatever that is (I have no idea).”

Later, we take on “What I brought with me”:

“I brought with me the weight of Johnny and his drinking, all of those beer bottles in the living room, stirring up my retreat, the open jar of peanut butter and the butter melting on the kitchen stool in the heat, the sound of a bottle cap hitting a hardwood floor, the moldy dishes in the sink, the bloodshot-ness of his eyes, the greasiness of his hair and him trying to be jovial and jocular as he sank into an alcohol-induced depression and called out from it that I was cold and unfeeling.

I brought with me the weight of my childhood in an alcoholic house in an alcoholic family — it’s a wonder that they let me get on the plane with all that. I brought my not knowing what to do about any of this.”

On and on we go. I keep wanting an answer: what should I do about Johnny and my relationship with him? I am angry and sad and frustrated by our situation, sarcastic by turns, then a little compassionate toward him. And then in the first sitting period of the day on the third day of the retreat, what to say to Johnny appears in my head:

“You can have what you want — the happy marriage, the fantastic record. You can have all that, but you cannot have it if you are drinking. The flourishing student trade, all of it. You can have what you want, but you can’t drink and have it…I’m going to ask him to make a choice between alcohol and me because I can’t live with Johnny’s drinking.”

Decision made, I settle down. I write about meditation retreats. I write about a Jungian doll class I took. I write about childhood punishments. I write a description of the zendo and its furnishings.

When the retreat ends I travel back to Paris with another retreatant. Paris hotels are full. I have not made a reservation; she has. We talk the desk clerk into letting me stay in her room. He agrees as long as I am gone before the 6:00 AM shift change.

I clear out early in the morning, find my way back to the Gare du Nord, have a six Euro breakfast at a cafe, go to the Metro where I buy a bottle of water to get change for a ticket machine. I get on the RER train to Charles DeGaulle, where the flight is delayed. I use my last few Euros to buy a muffin, hoping they will give us real food on the plane: fruit, vegetables, some kind of protein. It is 2 AM California time. I want nothing more than to buckle myself into my airplane seat and sleep.

I arrive back in California late in the evening, too late to take the bus home. I take BART instead to an El Cerrito station. I am dead tired. When I get home I do not open my email or check my phone messages, but, when I do, there is nothing from Johnny.

Over the next few days I call, leaving messages like “I’m back from France. I’m wondering how you are doing. I hope you are feeling better. I love you.”

Johnny does not respond, even when I call to ask if he can just leave me a message to say he is alive. Welcome home. Apparently not much has changed since I left.


Villefavard Roses, 5"x7" watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Villefavard Roses, 5″x7″ watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

If I do not know it from my zen and Vipassana meditation, I should know it from my habit of seasonal eating: things change all the time and not always in ways that we expect — too much rain or sun disrupts crop production, or bees mysteriously die off and the crops are lightly pollinated. I had hoped to announce a big change today, one that would affect my life every single day, but the timetable for that has been changed. I am not trying to be mysterious or withholding, promising to tell you something and then not telling you, but since the planned change involved other people I am not at liberty to speak about what was going to happen, but has not. Plans are not going according to schedule and the schedule is not going according to plan.

Yesterday I sang at the Farmers’ Market in Berkeley. It was a bright, hot day and some new crops were in. I saw fresh apples! Pink Ladies and Pink Pearls. Blueberries and blackberries and strawberries are still abundant. Suncrest peaches and apricots and now Santa Rosa plums fill the bins at Frog Hollow Farm’s stand. I drank tomato juice and two bottles of water as I stood and sang. When I was done I ate a cup of caramel ice cream,  and a raw Thai salad cone from the vegan stand. I wanted to buy peaches or maybe blackberries, but I needed to hurry to catch a bus and contented myself with picking up a basket of Sun gold cherry tomatoes and a pound and a half of fresh green beans: perhaps I will make a pasta of them or a pasta salad for the Fourth of July potluck and barbecue that I always go to.

Justine's Kitchen. 5" x 7" Ink and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Justine’s Kitchen. 5″ x 7″ Ink and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

In other news, I have been asked to assist Natalie Goldberg at her December retreat in Taos, New Mexico. This is a great honor, and the first time I have served at a long retreat. Many of my old writing pals are slated to be there. So, having just returned from France, I need to start saving air fare for New Mexico. I went back to “the day job” on Friday, singing in the BART station for tips.

France. This year it rained a lot, so I didn’t have as much chance to paint, sketch or swim as I did last year. Nevertheless, I have chosen images from my French sketchbook to illustrate this post. I hope you enjoy them.

It is the last day of May. I have worked my last shift of the day and have time to reflect on the changes that May has brought. First of all, spring produce has crept into our diets, even in reduced circumstances: in May I have bought cherries, apricots, peaches, strawberries, and, last week, blueberries, bargain blueberries in a large Ziploc bag that I have consigned to the freezer for future pies, muffins and waffles. Last week the Berkeley Farmers’ Market had its first bunches of basil, although they were gone by the time I finished singing my two-and-a-half hour shift.

No matter: Mom bought a large basil plant at Trader Joe’s. It sits on our breakfast room table, soaking up sun from the bay window and producing large green leaves, large as the palm of my hand. Now, I know that the Italians prize small, tender basil leaves, but I will work with monster basil if that is what we’ve got — I just have to remove the veins and stems and tear it into small pieces. Last night I made my first pesto of the season, a hybrid of walnuts, garlic, olive oil, torn basil and feta cheese, pounded in a mortar and stuffed into slits in boneless skinless chicken breasts. I handled the stuffed breasts carefully with tongs, browned them in a skillet and set them in a broiler pan on a sheet of heavy-duty foil to bake in a 325 degree oven. While they baked, I made sourdough-buttermilk biscuits for strawberry shortcake, seasoned some whipping cream with sugar and vanilla, stir-fried some bok choy with garlic, steamed some fresh corn on the cob. This was my first attempt at stuffing chicken breasts and I had a little difficulty cutting even pockets of equal depth, but that did not affect the flavor.

Earlier in the week I cooked a pork loin, slathered with peach chutney and wrapped in filo. I adapted this from something I saw Rachel Ray do once with chutney and puff pastry. Puff pastry is easier to work with than filo (it’s thicker), but I did manage to get part of the pork loin wrapped in pastry. I rolled the pork loin in the chutney-smeared pastry on a piece of cheap foil — that’s how I learned my lesson about using the good stuff when I cooked the chicken breasts later.

But before I even got to rolling up the pork loin I had to solve another problem: my jar of Frog Hollow Peach Chutney had only a tablespoon or so left in it and I needed perhaps half a cup of chutney. After halfheartedly consulting some online recipes for a chutney that would use the frozen peaches that we had on hand, I realized I could just read the ingredients on the Frog Hollow jar and fake it, guessing about quantities. So I took about a pound of frozen peaches and chopped them into bite-sized pieces.  I threw them into a sauce pan with some minced fresh garlic, a seeded jalapeno, a goodly grating of frozen ginger root, some organic sugar and some cider vinegar. I discovered that Frog Hollow Farm uses dried cherries in their chutney — no wonder it is so good. Not having dried cherries, I substituted a handful of dried cranberries. I cooked the chutney until it was thick and had darkened in color, stirring in the last of the jarred chutney and adjusting for seasoning (I had to add sugar a few times). I only made enough for the pork recipe, but I was impressed enough with the results that I may make it again.

I am still singing in the BART station five mornings and five afternoons a week, with Saturday singing shifts at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market three weeks out of the month. My busking income is rising slightly, my public repertory of popular songs getting a little larger. Last week I received a hundred-dollar tip from a woman who had occasionally tipped me a dollar: she handed me a CD of her piano music and a small, pale blue envelope.

“Put it in your pocket.” she said. “It is a lot of money.”

As I finished out my shift, packed up my gear and walked to the bus stop I enjoyed speculating about what “a lot of money” might mean. I was pretty sure it would be at least twenty dollars and fantasized about it being a grant of several thousand, with which I could complete my second music CD (about half done).

A hundred dollars is a lot of money to earn busking in one shift. Earning one hundred per shift is not typical. Neither is earning the sixty-four cents I earned during another two-hour shift later in the week. I came home laughing: since I started doing this seven and a half months ago I had never earned less than a dollar in an hour or two. I count myself lucky when any shift produces “double digits.” aka ten dollars or above, and a day when both shifts bring in double-digits is worth celebrating (cheaply, of course). Costly coffees and restaurant meals are rare in my life these days, but I get to work without a boss, except the one in my head. In May, my daily average hovered around nineteen dollars. I am debt-free and have managed to parlay some of my earnings into a plane ticket to France next month, where I will spend two weeks working and studying with Natalie Goldberg in Villefavard. No Paris sojourn this time around because I have a big project in July: watch this space for details at the end of June.

Will I paint again? Will I even sketch? I don’t know. I would like to find another “Nature Sketch” book like the one I took to France last year. I do expect to resume the Riverdog Farm produce box in July 2013 after a nine-month hiatus.

Also in May, I had the opportunity to hear Michael Pollan speak and read from his new book, Cooked. I look forward to reading the book at some point and to owning it down the road. He read us a section on death and fermentation, cheeses that smelled like body odors and the back ends of cows — highly entertaining. Anyone who likes reading about food and culture will enjoy his books.

Thank you to all of you who are still reading The Kale Chronicles, coming to you once a month at this juncture sans illustrations and proper recipes. Tune in at the end of June for further adventures and a preview of a life-changing July event.

Ink and watercolor sketch of Paris hotel.

L’Hotel du Quai Voltaire, Paris, France. Ink and watercolor. 5″ x 7″ Sharyn Dimmick.

Dear Readers,

I know I promised you a second cake post from France. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned (and I will tell that story later). For now, I offer you a few images from my trip, with captions. Don’t worry — I have plenty to show and tell. I will be back on my regular schedule soon, once I can get to a farmers’ market, pick up my CSA box and get back into the swing of summer in the Bay Area. Today I went to my favorite annual party, a Fourth of July bash where we grill food, swim, chat, sing and have a giant potluck all afternoon. I’ll report on that, too (Mom parboiled a huge slab of pork ribs yesterday afternoon).

In the meantime, La Belle France in images from my camera and sketchbook.

Villefavard Roses. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

Photo shows vase of roses, apricots, basket.

In the kitchen at Villefavard. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

“My” room at Villefavard.

Striped Cups. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

Librairie. Limoges, France. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

Picnic lunch displayed on a graffitied park bench in Limoges.

Dejeuner impromptu. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

Ornamental drain cover, France.

French drain. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick

Portrait of impromptu band, La Souterraine, France.

Band photo by Lisa X.

Photo shows window display of hand-painted shoes in the Marais.

Painted Shoes. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick

Photo shows display of silver tableware from a Paris antique shop.

Antique shop, Rue de St. Paul, Paris. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

 

Glassware and candles in Paris shop window.

Shop window, Rue de Bac, Paris. Photo by Sharyn Dimmick.

 

Pen and ink sketch of window and view from Room 409, Hotel Baudelaire Bastille, Paris, France. 5″ x 7″ Sharyn Dimmick

 

 

I have been distracted this week, planning my life in advance, spending untold hours on the internet booking flights to and from Paris, reserving train seats, surveying my distinctly non-chic wardrobe with dismay and bemusement. It is odd spending the first few days of May madly thinking about mid-to-late June, when I will be at a writing retreat in Limousin with Natalie Goldberg and then in Paris itself.

Meanwhile, here in Kensington, our lone apple tree is in full bloom and spring crops slowly make their way into the farm box. Today I got snow peas and strawberries, asparagus and baby romaine lettuce, carrots and spring onions and braising greens. The breeze has blown all day. The sky is pale blue with wide filmy streaks of clouds.

The fruit and vegetables remind me of a meal I had last May in New York. Natalie had invited me and my friend and host Dorotea to lunch at her friend’s Manhattan apartment. Natalie and her friend had gone to a farmers’ market and come back with the first asparagus and strawberries of the season. Natalie fried up some gluten-free pancakes and set the berries and stalks on the table for our spring feast high over the Hudson River. Everybody but me tucked into the asparagus while I ate strawberries and pancakes for lunch.

May has come again and I am in my own kitchen. This morning I opened a bag of whole-grain blue corn that I stashed in the refrigerator when I last came back from New Mexico. The corn is fine-milled, pale blue with flecks of darker blue. I cooked up a quarter cup of it as a simple mush, boiling it in a cup of milk with a few grains of kosher salt and a small handful of dried sour cherries. The corn turned a lovely pale lavender color when cooked. I added a few drops of vanilla and stirred, then spooned up my breakfast, satisfied.

Blue Cornmeal Pancakes with Strawberries. 4″ x 6″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn DImmick.

For tomorrow, I plan a simple elaboration. Tomorrow I will cook another pot of blue cornmeal mush, eliminating the cherries. I will beat in an egg or two, some flour, some milk, a few tablespoons of sugar and some baking powder. I will stir in 1 tsp of vanilla last. I will heat a skillet on medium heat, drop in some butter, swirl it in the pan and drop quarter-cupfuls of pancake batter onto the hot metal.

Before I prepare the pancakes, I will wash and hull the strawberries. I will taste one and decide whether or not they need sugar. Since I will probably be eating them with maple syrup I may not sugar the berries unless Mom insists.

I first learned to make these pancakes from a Mark Bittman recipe reprinted in a local newspaper. You can read it here. Then I realized a couple of years later that I could wing it by using leftover polenta or cornmeal mush from dinner and adding basic pancake ingredients. I felt like a genius, but I never would have thought of it had I not made Bittman’s wonderful recipe many times. The pancakes are filling, but not heavy, and have become one of my favorite breakfasts for the warmer months when fresh fruit becomes abundant. I like them best with berries or peaches –any berries, but strawberries are the berries of the moment in my neighborhood.

Food Notes: Blue corn, if you can get it, is wonderful. It contains more protein than yellow or white corn. Also, Monsanto, developer of much genetically-modified corn, reputedly does not bother with blue corn, concentrating its research on yellow hybrids. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer not to ingest Monsanto’s experiments or products if I can avoid doing so. Vanilla adds a lovely flavor to corn, dare I say je ne sais quoi? I urge you to try it next time you make a sweet corn recipe.

Travel Notes: I am currently looking for hotels in Paris. Nothing expensive. Cheap is good. The room can be simple and I don’t care if the building is old. The hotel needs to be safe and near a Metro stop. If anyone has suggestions, or suggestions about how to find what I need please comment below or contact me. Merci beaucoup. — Sharyn