Monthly Archives: August 2009

Statement of intent

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A few weeks back I went up to Wisconsin to visit my mom’s side of the family. The paramount concern when traveling by plane, of course, is the availability of reading materials to pass the time waiting in airports and sitting trapped next to strangers a few thousand feet in the air. Packing clean undies and a toothbrush and remembering to bring along valid ID takes a distant second place to ensuring that suitable reading material will be on hand.

As usual, I packed more books than I could have possibly read in five days, but it was a necessary precaution. What if I’d packed just one book, only to discover a few miles above Ohio that I didn’t like it?

Fortunately I picked wisely with State by State, a marvelous anthology edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey. Fifty different writers contributed essays about their states. The book has introduced me to lots of new authors, several of whom I want to explore in more depth. Anthony Bourdain had never intrigued me before– what I don’t know from cooking could fill libraries, very big libraries– but based on his excellent essay on New Jersey, I simply must read his other writings. I mean really, New Jersey: it’s the lousiest place north of the Mason-Dixon, even more wretched than Delaware, which is saying something, and yet Bourdain’s writing kept me riveted.

Other authors were familiar– Dave Eggers did marvelous things for Illinois, a basically useless state (but inoffensive, as compared to, say, New Jersey)– but the real reason for reading the book was to give me a feel for the different regions of my country. I want to live elsewhere, but I don’t have a very precise idea of what “elsewhere” entails, aside from “having mountains and snow, lots of each.”

The great thing about the essays in the anthology is that the authors are not writing tourism pieces. They’re not necessarily telling me the wonderful things about their states; pretty much everyone, for instance, bitches about development. (I am right there bitching with them.) Reading the book seems as good a starting place as any for contemplating places to move.

Current contenders include Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Vermont, and Wyoming. This list is subject to change, especially depending on the availability of jobs. Not that I’ll need a job. I expect the royalties from my book (coming out in just a few weeks!) will have me set for life.

To be clear, I’m not planning on moving anywhere anytime soon. Moving is expensive, and job security is a really lovely thing. Also, I don’t know how I would move the cats, who view travel in a motor vehicle with the same enthusiasm as I view abdominal surgery without anaesthesia. (Did I spell that correctly? This thing doesn’t have spell check. I could confirm the spelling in about two seconds, but I think I’ll leave it as is, regardless. It looks very pretty like that, with the E following the A. Don’t see that too often.)

There are other complicating factors, too, none of which I feel inclined to discuss at the moment. Let’s just say that I am thinking about moving in the vague future and leave it at that.

Now everyone please go buy lots of copies of my book so that I’ll be able to afford that move in the vague future.

 

AgriCulture

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A few weeks ago, I resolved to finally visit the Wilhelmsplatz Farmers’ Market, which I’d been meaning to do for several years. It took a great sacrifice on my part, getting up early on a Saturday (really: they close at noon; that’s insane) but I like the idea of the locavore movement. I write this while drinking coffee brewed from Tanzanian peaberry beans, but Tanzania is local to someplace, surely, though off the top of my head I couldn’t tell you where.

So I crawled out of bed and drove to the market. I ought to have walked, to underscore the environmental benefits of saving energy by buying locally, but it was really quite hot. And there I discovered blueberries that cost twice what I pay in the store, jars of honey that cost three times what I normally pay, and a whole host of other foodstuffs that were selling for boutique prices.

Now I never took an economics class, but as I figure it, there was no grocery store involved to jack up prices, and the food only traveled a few miles up the road, not a few counties or states or countries. Everything should have been cheaper.

It made me furious– not just because the prices were higher, but because the whole culture of the market was anathema to me. The market was chock full of people, every last one of them white. The farmers, also white, were attractive. The stalls were polished and professional looking. They even took credit cards, for crying out loud.

Here is what I look for in a Farmers’ Market:

  • Cheap prices
  • Customers from every walk of life, but especially from the low-income walk of life
  • Farmers who are scruffy, dirty, overweight, and wearing overalls
  • Farmers who pronounce overalls as “overhauls”
  • Signs that are misspelled and mis-punctuated, i.e., “Cheap cannalopes, fresh blueberry’s”

A farmers’ market should call to mind the poetry of Robert Burns. It should not remind one of the commercialization, gentrification, and globalization of the modern world.

I accuse you, Wilhelmsplatz. This is unconscionable.

Worst of all, I suspect that many, maybe most, of the folks buying goods were oblivious to the perversion of the market. People around here just don’t seem to suffer from class awareness– the constant, incessant, pervasive awareness that every single dollar needs to stretch.

I’d already realized that this is not the city for me, but the farmers’ market experience eloquently makes the case. I need to get out of here.

I also need to get ready for work, right at the moment, so I shall continue this discussion anon. Coming next: places Jessica should consider moving to