Jan 26, 2009

the noodles

of hong kong are, it turns out, justifiably famous. even if they're from a noodle bar at the airport. which is quite nice, and has sir norman foster's giant pieces of structural steel scattered gaily about.

Jan 25, 2009

everything should be this easy

mnz: you should cultivate patrons. i have to go to reunion dinner, enjoy yours.
me: if i was rich i would not need patrons now would i? tch
mnz: idiot. you need patrons TO GET A START.
me: well yes
mnz: it goes
a) languish
b) patron lifts you out of gutter
c) you are famous
d) you jettison your patron
like that
happy CNY

Jan 24, 2009


turf city last night, for the parents' anniversary. what used to be singapore's horse-racing complex is now a mouldering concrete edifice perched on the edge of encroaching jungle. there is plenty of parking once you make it in from swiss club road, and its hard to believe that this gigantic crumbling space is minutes away from some of the most expensive real estate on the island.

there's a cluster of enormous seafood restaurants on the second floor, all of which are stocked with pale pink cotton-polyester tablecloths, formica lazy susans, metal banquet chairs with PVC cushions, and brown carpet tile. the carpet's distinctive smell immediately brought me back to those chinese restaurants that used to exist in the shopping complexes in old HDB estates in central singapore--a combination of wet dog and spilled soy sauce. we got settled on the balcony overlooking the old racetrack (now with a large crevasse in the central field from which several trees protrude), then went out to the mezzanine to inspect the array of saltwater tanks containing a variety of live fish and crustaceans looking doomed and resigned.

tasty treats.

the two men holding court manhandle the seafood you choose, still alive and thrashing violently, into plastic bags that end up in your personal shopping basket. this is especially comic when frogs are being harvested from their little bin. normally quite placid, they become panicky and kinetic the instant they are touched and leap immediately out of the bag as soon as they are tossed inside. the bins are lined up in front of the tanks, jittering and sometimes falling over, to be taken away and weighed in the kitchens before you choose the style in which they are to be cooked. we had barely-cooked white saltwater prawns in chinese wine with goji berries and angelica root, a perfectly-steamed marble goby with salted vegetables and spring onions, sri lankan crab in chili sauce (unbelievably messy), a baked canadian lobster, oysters, geoduck clams with spring onions and ginger, and raw scallops topped with a seething mass of oil, garlic, and chives.

then we got up and rolled home.

Jan 23, 2009


it's unclear how we got onto the subject of bread.

at dinner last night at lagnaa in little india, when the subject of consubstantion and transubstantiation arose, su-lin related the fabled incident in which a piece of the sacrament was transformed into an actual slice of human heart when placed in the mouth of an unsuspecting parishioner. (is it polite to spit out from your mouth the body of christ?this slightly terrifying transformation appears to be a not-uncommon occurrence.) around this time, it also transpired that far from using for the Host bread baked only from the purest ingredients, worthy of being the essential (or, depending on your religious inclination, actual) body of christ, su-lin's church uses slices of gardenia bread* instead, so that the ceremonial fraction or breaking of the bread is more a limp tearing and compression.

also, am i the only one who remembers the bread man in threadbare shorts and shirt who would come around on his bicycle with a large zinc box on the back, filled with bread in plastic bags?

* gardenia bread has so many softeners and preservatives in it that looking at the ingredient list is a mildly unpleasant experience. the best thing you can say about it is that it is easy to tessellate.

Jan 22, 2009

simon høgsberg

now this is real sweet. a 100m composited photograph by simon høgsberg.

[thx phl]

Jan 20, 2009

ice cream

ice cream is deeply satisfying in the tropics. you cannot delay or otherwise draw out the eating, it melts so quickly after being removed from refrigeration.

here in the motherland, it can be purchased (for a dollar) as a small brick sandwiched between two pieces of baked wafer from an umbrella-shaded pushcart. there must be hundred of these carts, all tended by wizened individuals with old knives sharpened to the point of concavity, and the stuff all comes in paperboard-wrapped blocks from the same creamery (it may still be magnolia)--always sweet corn, red bean, yam, coconut, and raspberry ripple. a decisive cut, then the cardboard skin is peeled off with the tip of the knife. specialty bars and the like can be bought, but where is the charm in those? sometimes, if you're lucky, you encounter a cart that additionally carries a vat of singapore-style neapolitan: strawberry, chocolate, and sweet corn. (yes, really.) this you can only purchase in a stacks of tiny spheres in a wafer cone or in sandwich form, wrapped in a slice of soft bread. i made an ice cream sandwich at the ranch this summer, only to be met by retching and gagging noises all evening long from faithless unbelievers; it may be an acquired taste.

there's a reassuring continuity here: flavours, carts, wafers, knife-wielding old men and women, haven't changed since the 1980s. years ago, one of these pushcarts used to wait on coleman street, outside the old anglo-chinese primary school and ambush us on our way to the MRT station at city hall with a tootling horn and the promise of ice cream.

Jan 17, 2009

air in the morning

among the small pleasures of living in the tropics are the early mornings, which happen between the moment when the sky begins imperceptibly to lighten and the moment when the sun begins to cast a long and sharp-edged shadow—the word gloaming indicates this precise period. in this cool and dimness, small children stumble to primary school. most everyone who grew up here remembers waking before the sky was fully light, then sitting blearily at the kitchen table and trying to finish breakfast. which might have been (or maybe still is) milo or horlicks, a perfectly square slice of soft white bread from gardenia* or a misshapen slice from a loaf bought from the bread man with his tin box on the back of his bike, and a gelatinous soft-boiled egg with dark soy sauce and finely-ground white pepper. the longer it took to eat the vile jelly, the more it would congeal, turning after about 20 minutes into a particularly sticky and homogeneous brown gloop shot through with the chalazae. finally done with breakfast, you would inevitably be just late enough that the walk or bus ride (or, if extra lucky, the car ride) to school would be fraught, full of the nagging fear of being late and Getting a Demerit.

but if, like me, you are back home at a particularly loose end and school is at least a week and 11000 air miles away, then early mornings in these tropics are unmitigated pleasures. the air is still cool and damp, and breezes come in the window from the patch of jungle across the street. sometimes there is a paper filled with inconsequential news, to slowly page through. this week, there is a small-ish jar of kaya somewhere in the fridge, to be spread on toast. occasionally, when the filter can be found, there is coffee made from beans butter-roasted in a wok over charcoal.

* the jingle they used in tv ads from 1996 through 2001 is still in my head. the vaunted all-american recipe is probably stolen from interstate bakeries, makers of wonderbread. it makes me wonder why they couldn't have stolen a recipe from, say, the acme bread co. instead.

all through the night
while everyone's in bed
gardenia bakery's hard at work
baking our daily bread
only the best goes in
it's prepared specially
with ingredients from an all-american
[dum dum] recipe!

Jan 16, 2009


peach garden at novena (桃苑). mnz stood me dinner here, her gratitude being overwhelming for my contribution to various things including her current state of exalted employment and her calling cards (subsequently criticized for having unrecognizable hummingbird imagery and wonky type; ingrate). over dinner, i ventured the proposition that chinese food (singapore-style anyway) has no detectable grammar or logic; in addition, there have been distinct transitions in the master chefs at the stalwarts. as a result, it might be interesting to undertake a study of the genealogy of signature dishes (those associated inextricably with particular restaurants) and the spread of variation in dishes across the relatively small chinese restaurant landscape in singapore. anyway.

  • wasabi fried giant prawn with tobiko; roast duck with crisp, rendered skin and a drop of plum jelly; fried eggplant matchsticks with pork floss (the eggplant was The Best Thing Ever)
  • braised tofu with spinach and crab meat
  • shark cartilage and fish maw soup with goji berries (milky with dissolved collagen)
  • perch with strawberries and oranges (this was a bit weird and the sauce was too sweet and over-reduced, though the fish was well done)
  • jellied coconut water. simple, with the ideal soft crunch.
after which, we called sulin and asked her if she would trek out to the island creamery. there was a perplexing pineapple tart flavoured ice cream, but i did the usual and got the horlicks.* so that was nice.

sushi yoshida. yeenteck and love+butter both talked this up a lot so i convinced ego to abandon the life of monastic self-restraint at least briefly. after all, if you're going to be in norway for 12 months, where food of moderate quality will cost a kidney, it's a comparative bargain to spend an arm and a leg here for certifiable tastiness. there was a strange washbasin which required several minutes of intense study before the faucet's location could be deduced (a footswitch disguised as a small rubbery lump on the floor about 2 feet away). it was actually as good as they said it was, but marred by the ichigen-san effect** which was particularly noticeable because we were sitting at the counter surrounded by regulars. a bunch of old soccer buddy types who clearly knew the chef started their dinner by pouring him and the other sushi dude behind the counter a glass of sake. in return for their doubtless extensive patronage, they received an array of delights including what looked like a platter of salt-fried flounder strips so recently in their bath of boiling oil that they were still curling up as they were brought to the table, and spice-dusted chicken gizzard yakitori broiled a overdramatically with a blowtorch.
  • salted salmon roe (ikura) with yuzu
  • poached monkfish liver (ankimo) in shoyu with spring onions and grated chilied lotus root
  • tempura of fiddlehead fern, ginger shoot (myoga), lotus root (renkon)
  • red miso stewed top shells (sazae)
  • grilled ling cod
  • sushi: gilthead bream (some kind of aji), red snapper (tai) with green ginger, sardine (kohada), whelk (tsubu), sea urchin gonads (uni), with really quite good rice though not quite as good as at kiss.
  • sashimi: o-toro, abalone (awabi), tsubu, sweet shrimp (amaebi), bonito (katsuo), bass (suzuki), scallop (hotate), octopus (iidako). this was garnished with red clover sprouts and shiso blossoms, which i'm pretty certain aren't actually in season. they tasted of nothing. but this is also the first ever sashimi i've had where the shellfish completely left the fish in the dust.
  • dashi and clam stock with giant clam (hamaguri) and japanese trefoil (mitsuba) stems. the clam was incredible.
  • two perfect strawberries, a section of tangerine, and a honeydew melon so ripe it was on the verge of deliquescence
* the fabled horlicks tablets (available in both chocolate and malted vanilla flavours) are nowhere to be found these days. where have they gone?
** ichigen-san okotowari (一見さんお断り) is technically a prohibition against strangers patronising a particular establishment. in practice, the ichigen-san effect is when you (an ichigen-san or 一見さ, ie, a person seen by the establishment for the first time) consume a creditable meal even as you observe happy patrons well-known to the chef and staff toasting each other with secret reserves of 20-year umeshu and being handed numerous plates of mysterious but certifiable tastiness that never make it to the menu.

Jan 14, 2009

to the motherland, #2

monday morning was supposed to have been clear and moderately cold in boston, with no anticipated flight delays. so, of course, it snowed, causing a 2-hour delay in the boston to chicago flight (does logan have only one de-icer and is it driven by a clown who uses it to do wheelies in the snow? so it would seem, from seat 13G.) by a minor miracle, AA held the connecting flight from chicago to narita for 30 minutes so the 15 people connecting from boston would make it, and that then got delayed for 90 minutes, getting us into narita with just 15 minutes to spare for the connector from there to singapore. i landed in the motherland at 1am local time after 29 hours in planes and assorted airports; such is the romance of air travel in this modern age.

this tropical paradise is humid as crap. as one of my favourite people is fond of saying, it makes you feel like a human post-it pad. but it's actually quite cool these days, and pleasant. this morning, after peeling myself off the sheets, i took the train in to collect the new and fancy biometric passport i'd applied for online last week; it took all of 2 minutes and 12 seconds, which is sweet. but why the passport authority didn't take this opportunity to introduce a well-designed new passport is a question that will perhaps go forever unanswered (like the other perennial, "why is bad taste ubiquitous?"). spend millions of dollars on new passports and keep the cheap-o gold foilstamping on a bright red pseudo-buckram cover? inexcusable. let a giant drawing of the esplanade take up the entire lower right quarter of every spread? lame. use only anaemic pinks and blues in the security printing? bizarre. set all the type in heinous, squiggly, boldface on every page? reprehensible.

it is a tragedy.

Jan 11, 2009

to the motherland

tomorrow, for just under two weeks, by way of chicago and tokyo. once again, robertson davies will be accompanying the flight--a writer of quality generally unrecognized in this country--this time, the salterton trilogy.

my ambitions to head home with only a messenger bag are being foiled by a seemingly unending stream of requests for things to be brought home, some of which haven't even shown up yet. grumble. i suppose i should be thankful that people are not requesting, say, flat-screen tvs or air-conditioning units as in the days of old. a perennial problem for the minimal traveller going from a cold place to a hot one is: what do you wear to the airport? a heavy fleece will be pleasant for the 20 minute walk to the T (30F tomorrow morning, the weather people say) but useless after that; without checked baggage, where does said heavy fleece go? it is a quandary, no mistake.

on the cards for the brief span:

  1. a wedding in the family,
  2. the parents' wedding anniversary,
  3. dinner with mindy and cheryl, which is always good times,
  4. hanging out with all the prefects and the new crop of children,
  5. lunch with the ex-sailing crew,
  6. dinner with the humanities,
  7. sushi yoshida with ego
  8. and lots of lying around at home followed by
  9. (for the first time in 7 years) the dinner of reunion and the first day of the lunar new year.

Jan 8, 2009

you may be wondering

if tastiness results when you combine giant limas (soaked overnight and cooked until just tender) with chicken stock (made months ago from the carcass of a roast chicken), butternut squash, sweet potatoes, cumin, cayenne, chili, bay leaves, white miso, and vast quantities of chopped cilantro and garlic. the answer is: yes.

Jan 7, 2009

many hands

make the work light. so they say, anyway. in this case, many hands make lightwork. this is a beautiful video by itoworld* of a year's worth of edits on openstreetmap, a magnificent project to crowdsource maps. each edit lights up and then fades out, so that the world pulses as it is called into existence. maps are the ultimate shared reality.

OSM 2008: A Year of Edits from ItoWorld on Vimeo.

* as it turns out, not a navteq company. such are the perils of skimming attribution data.

ideas into objects

There are many ways of seeing, but the truest and best is with the intuition, for it takes in the whole, whereas the intellect only takes in a part. Pattern is born reproducing intuitively-perceived essence.
Soetsu Yanagi, Bernard Leach, The Unknown Craftsman
in the beginning of important things—in the beginning of love, in the beginning of the day, in the beginning of any work—there is a moment when we understand more perfectly than we understand again until all is finished.
W.B. Yeats, "William Blake and the Imagination"
yeats was only partly right. an idea is never cleaner and more understandable than when it exists in your head, simultaneously in all the dimensions and nuances necessary for it to make sense. making that idea concrete—in my case, writing it up or making the object—is the part i dread but can never avoid. taking a multidimensional idea and forcing it into however many dimensions the concrete representation makes available literally does violence to the idea. murphy's law says that the more an idea is truly valuable, truly complex, the more you have to lose in making it concrete.

it's the entropy of ideas, because the transformation isn't perfect and thus isn't fully reversible. something of the original flash of insight is gone by the time you've managed to reconfigure the idea, the flash retrievable only serendipitously when something in environment lets you see past (and forget) the concrete sign and back into what it signifies (which is why seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees—the name has the same relation to the thing as the concrete form to the original idea).

the frustration is particularly acute because, as karsten harries says, "No matter how radical the pursuit of presence, the work of art will always fall short of that purer art that is its telos. It points beyond itself and lacks the plenitude it demands." but we deal with it anyway because ideas can only be communicated when made concrete in some way; it's why we write papers and software, make sculpture, cook food, play music. nostos (in the greek) and saudade (in portuguese) both have a similar inflection, a longing for something possessed in the past and not ever to be possessed in the same way again.

as prospero puts it in the tempest: "this swift business / I must uneasy make, lest too light winning / Make the prize light"

Jan 3, 2009

tw food

halsey's in town briefly to celebrate the new year with smithies and wintry mix. like most of the bay area crew, she knows how to eat lavishly (ie: infrequently, without pinching pennies, and with like-minded people). at love+butter's recommendation, she and i walked down concord to tw food and spent a happy four hours being fed well, at a leisurely pace, by competent and happy table staff. everything was casual, confident, with no missteps, and there was really good bread.

  • parsnip puree with crushed toasted pistachios on a very small sable.
  • smoked foie gras custard with a burnt sugar crust, served with apple matchsticks and toast points. according to the menu, these were liberty apples, the same kind that bren gave us when we stopped by his farm up in vermont. crisp, sweet, with a snappy acidity. [2003 auslese graacher-himmelrich, a mosel riesling from jj prum]
  • warm watercress soup with a garlic custard. this was one of the best, bright green, bitey and creamy, almost foamy. [2007 kimmeridgien, a chablis from jean marc brocard]
  • hard winter wheat risotto, made with squash and wild mushrooms. the grains were tender but still chewy, and had a sweet, nutty flavour. [2005 monte aribaldo, a tenuta dolcetto d'alba, made by marchesi di gresy]
  • poached cod with a slab of beets, a hachis of chopped pineapple and kiwi, and a puree of pineapple and riesling. perfectly cooked and flaking at the touch of the fork. the slice of starfruit reminded me irresistibly of french nouvelle cuisine cookbooks of the 80s; then i went downstairs to the bathroom and saw, on a lectern in the stairwell, a copy of georges blanc's nature dans l'assiette from 1987. [2006 reserve st jean, an alsatian riesling from marcel hugg]
  • thin slices of raw rib-eye cap in a cracked black pepper sauce, and braised beef shank and foie gras in a puff pastry shell. full of beefy flavour, extremely rich from the foie. the puff pastry was nicely done too, but the braise would probably have been better on a buttered toast point. [2005 suberli morellino di scansano, a sangiovese from mocali]
  • hirtenkase and roquefort. [2004 domaine chaume arnaud cotes du rhone]
  • valrhona chocolate soup with soft meringues. [2005 vin doux naturel, a fortified grenache from domaine coteaux des travers in rasteau]
  • citrus financier.
the wine pairing was a notably good deal: for $39, 7 almost-half glasses for well-paired wines that were uniformly decent. i especially liked the cotes du rhone with the roquefort, but maybe this is not such a big surprise.

here they are, on the map of cambridge good eats:

Jan 2, 2009

words from a totem animal

is where we were
but empty of us and ahead of
me lying out in the rushes thinking
even the nights cannot come back to their hill
any time

I would rather the wind came from outside
from mountains anywhere
from the stars from other
worlds even as
cold as it is this
ghost of mine passing
through me

I know your silence
and the repetition
like that of a word in the ear of death
that is the sound of my running
the plea
plea that it makes
which you will never hear
oh god of beginnings

I might have been right
not who I am
but all right
among the walls among the reasons
not even waiting
not seen
but now I am out in my feet
and they on their way
the old trees jump up again and again
there are no names for the rivers
for the days for the nights
I am who I am
oh lord cold as the thoughts of birds
and everyone can see me

Caught again and held again
again I am not a blessing
they bring me
that would fit anything
they bring them to me
they bring me hopes
all day I turn
making ropes

My eyes are waiting for me
in the dusk
they are still closed
they have been waiting a long time
and I am feeling my way toward them

I am going up stream
taking to the water from time to time
my marks dry off the stones before morning
the dark surface
strokes the night
above its way
There are no stars
there is no grief
I will never arrive
I stumble when I remember how it was
with one foot
one foot still in a name

I can turn myself toward the other joys and their lights
but not find them
I can put my words into the mouths
of spirits
but they will not say them
I can run all night and win
and win

Dead leaves crushed grasses fallen limbs
the world is full of prayers
arrived at from
a voice full of breaking
heard from afterwards
through all
the length of the night

I am never all of me
unto myself
and sometimes I go slowly
knowing that a sound one sound
is following me from world
to world
and that I die each time
before it reaches me

When I stop I am alone
at night sometimes it is almost good
as though I were almost there
sometimes then I see there is
in a bush beside me the same question
why are you
on this way
I said I will ask the stars
why are you falling and they answered
which of us

I dreamed I had no nails
no hair
I had lost one of the senses
not sure which
the soles peeled from my feet and
drifted away
It's all one
stay mine
hold the world lightly

Stars even you
have been used
but not you
calling me when I am lost

Maybe I will come
to where I am one
and find
I have been waiting there
as a new
year finds the song of the nuthatch

Send me out into another life
lord because this one is growing faint
I do not think it goes all the way

w.s. merwin

Jan 1, 2009

self, expanding #4

some folks in missouri have found a neurophysiological basis (or at least response) to a state of selflessness. would be interesting to see if the same reported decrease in activity in the right parietal lobe occurs when individuals experience a state of inclusivity or big-heartedness (as described here) whether through art or pharmacology.

green pasture

[this prompted by bri's note on abundance.]

more than a year ago, when i was back in the motherland, i went to green pasture with kc and yc. one of the nice things about being home is having lunch with relatives. we stopped by yc's offices which were exactly like i expected: earnest, edgy people with architectural glasses. effie, who sits beside yc, was working on sketchup. someone in the office had a micro livingstone (by smarin.net), and it was surprisingly cute and cuddly.

green pasture was unpretentious and served food that was neither cheap nor expensive but was, in point of fact, extremely tasty. the owner had a strange bonnet on and spectacles with white frames and she prepared me a large bowl of bibimbap which i am looking forward to having again. she carves a sphere out of sweet potato to replicate the hardboiled egg yolk that usually goes on the top. in all, quite good. it was very singaporean; extremely earnest.

she came at us with a great phrase about the necessity of blandness: 淡中有滋味 (in blandness lies flavour). which, when i thought deeper about it as she nattered on, makes a lot of sense. blandness is better thought of as the absence of strong flavours that are not native to the foods involved in a preparation and which mask the flavours that would otherwise be faint but clear. salt and savour often are confused, and intensity and flavour as well. we value true flavours more because they are condensations of things we remember and they extend memories so they reach deep into the past.


the last time we had a snowstorm, the internet went funny too. just another excuse to hate on comcast. in any case, the year in review:

i was back in the motherland for over a month last november. for the first time in several years, enough of my family (ie, one) lived in the same country that it made sense having a permanent place to live. we were close to a rainforest and, in the mornings, a cool mist would sometimes drift in through my window. that was nice. i was working mountain view hours while in singapore, so i woke up late, walked out for breakfast at the town center, and harassed people into meeting me for beverages in the afternoons. i got books out of the library that i didn't have time to read in san francisco and read them all.

in my second week home, i started reading the steep approach to garbadale and doing my annual re-read of i heard the owl call my name. one day that week, i woke up just as the sky got light, and had an epiphany. it felt exactly like what w.s. merwin said, that this life does not go all the way. the goog was a sweet gig, but it didn't go all the way, not in the least. it didn't even go another full year. the prospect of still being there at the end of 2008, to be honest, was terrifying in a completely benign-seeming way. it was a variety of low-level existential dread, the kind frogs purportedly don't feel when they boil slowly to death. not to put too fine a point on it. occasionally, everything snaps into focus; maybe it was intuition, or the steep approach to garbadale, or i heard the owl call my name. in any case, before coming back, i'd begun to think about more school but did nothing about it. within an hour of waking up, i'd emailed the usual suspects to ask them to write letters for my applications.

after that, time passed rapidly. even before i heard back from schools, i'd begun making alternative plans, just in case. having spent a year making things on the weekends, i thought perhaps it would be a good thing to do that more of the time. through john grew sheridan, i contacted susan working at anderson ranch and put in an application to work the summer session in their wood/furniture/sculpture program and, bizarrely, got in. andy and susie magdanz, friends of glenn and ilene's, offered me a place to stay in cambridge for the first couple of months. it turned out to be an enormous victorian house down brattle street with two cats and two dogs.

at the goog, i ramped up the nonprofit earth and maps work, and got the climate project connected to avenue A | razorfish, and google connected to cleanuptheworld.org (the little thing steve and i dreamed up last year has now turned into this). i went to iceland with a fancy new gigapan robot and, with fulbright ben, drove around the island making ephemeral sculpture out of snow, ice, and rock (more on iceland here, here, here, here, and here).

in march, i decided i couldn't wait any longer and gave notice. then, through a truly perverse turn of events, dan janzen and winnie hallwachs (from the ACG) showed up at google to give a lecture about genetic barcoding and emergent biological data. through them, and through brad, i got the chance to work on a genomics and structured data project at google--something i'd been trying to do from the time i started (efforts that resulted in the ill-fated visit by ed wilson, jeffrey sachs, and harold varmus, and in miscellaneous attempts with my favourite partner in crime, joel finkelstein, to get google involved with the encyclopedia of life project). with the international barcode of life folks, we went to costa rica to try and save the world (yes, really), with a large list of assorted googlers in train. i extended my time at google as long as i possibly could, then everything came to an abrupt end in may. last day at work on friday, then i packed everything up, sold a stack of books and my burning man tickets, dropped off two large boxes at the salvation army, drove the desk to halsey's house, sold the car, got a valedictory latte at ritual roasters, and had people over for a 36-pack of tecate. i left for colorado before sunrise the following monday. it was epic.

anderson ranch was, mildly put, a complete change. nestled in the mountains south of aspen, with bright sun, thin air, no cellphone reception (for me anyway), and internet access whenever we got to the shop computer. when i arrived, the aspens carpeting the mountainsides had just begun to put out the first tiny leaves. we got up at 7am when the sun came in through the apartment windows (not even hiding under the blanket would prevent it from doing so), biked up the mountain to the ranch for breakfast, and usually rode down through the sprinklers in pitch darkness after midnight; our apartment got into the habit of early morning pasta meals.

the maloof wood barn at the ranch. here, we spent all our time.

having 24-hour access to the biggest, best-equipped shop i'd ever been in made me want to try all sorts of hare-brained things. i got into the groove of making things and watching them fail, then trying again. i made pointless things, like clouds. i painted things weird colours and also no colour. i stood around in classes learning things i never really even thought about. some of the lectures were really great (like this, and this). the people i worked with were bizarre and marvellous, and made magnificent things--staff, students, faculty (there was a marvellous run of weeks with paul bowen, wendy maruyama, merryll saylan, and tom huang that will stay with me for a long time), and especially my fellow peons whose work i'd link to if only they had online portfolios. local art patrons had us over to marvel at their collections. when we could get away on the weekends, we took the free bus into aspen to observe the lives of the wealthy and tasteless, avail ourselves of a magnificent library built with their tax dollars, and get mildly discomposed at the local (only) dive bar. i left only twice, once for for catherine and zach's wedding in sundance, then again for sci foo camp (hitting up quince along the way). four months later, we were all wiped out and ready for the summer to end. it was getting cold again and the aspens were beginning to turn.

after the last class of the season, it was like the ranch took a deep breath and exhaled everyone to much needed time away. my last weekend there was strangely quiet after many weeks of the opposite. the holiday messed everything up, and my stuff followed bland to jackson hole before getting shipped out east. i showed up in cambridge with just a backpack on one of the hottest, most humid nights of the summer. the house on appleton street had high ceilings and tall windows opening out onto trees. those first two weeks before the start of school were full of leaf-filtered light in the mornings, and waking up with a cat on the bed. i developed a fondness for almond butter and honey on a freshly-toasted english muffin. ami came out to visit and we ate at craigie street just before it left craigie street.

school started in mid-september and i saw the sociology department for the first time ever. in october, i moved into a house down the street from william james hall. 3 storeys with 9 other people in it, and minimal insulation. the house runs as much like a well-oiled machine as a house containing 10 people can be expected to do. there is a lot of cooking, mostly of lentils, and we wear sweaters often. there was a backyard party to celebrate the end of the fall; matt made 50 pounds of slow-roasted beef brisket. classical social theory, economic sociology, stratification, the social psychology of organizations, and a class in letterpress printing by michael russem of the kat ran press (more here and here) somehow ate up the last 14 weeks--i don't know where the time went. they keep telling us that we'll be with our colleagues for the rest of our professional lives. for a surprisingly large number of classmates, i'm glad this is the case.

sabeel says graduate students are the only professionals whose labour isn't alienated. i'm not sure that's completely true, and ritual roasters is 3096 miles away but, even so, the best ice cream, pad thai, and sandwiches in the world (well, maybe not the sandwiches, but they're still pretty damn good) are within walking distance, i've seen ferran adria speak in person and tara donovan's retrospective at the ICA, and they pay me to think about stuff i care about. it hasn't always been a great year, but i'd say things are pretty good.

happy new year.