Monday, August 31, 2009


Frank Beekman posted the last part of his final entry last night. It was the best writing on the Internet, and I've loved his unflinching (if overly harsh) self-examination, coupled with a novelist's sensibility and eye for detail, for years. He's been planning the end for some time now (posts have gotten less and less frequent) and it's a very graceful and fitting departure, but it still makes me sad, for a variety of reasons.

There is, by the way, no point in reading the last entry if you haven't read any of the rest of it. The archives are immense, but worth making their way through (you can cheat and read only the entries marked on the sideline as "quintessential accidental") if you like brilliant autobiography and can handle regular heartbreak.

One great thing about the Internet is that it allows me to explore aspects of myself that aren't well-integrated with my familial or professional life. And then to share that aspect with people who would otherwise find me mostly uninteresting. In that vein, Frank (and/or his altar ego) and I have had (very) occasional correspondences over the last few years, and for unknown reasons (i.e., the more suitable candidates all turned him down, I reckon) he asked me to help him launch his new web site. This involves reading a book and discussing it with him via email. Then he posts the discussion online. The first entry is up, and I'm signed up for one more book, after which he'll find someone more appropriate. I'm not denigrating my own reading or discussion skills, but he and I approach reading in very different ways, and I think his site would work best with a correspondent who shared his approach but has radically different literary opinions. Our first discussion was about Don Quixote, where we had radically different approaches but pretty much the same basic opinion of the book.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun discussing the book with him, even though it was very challenging for me to write about a book that utterly failed to engage me. Reading the book wasn't so much fun, but Don Quixote has its good points, and it's an accomplishment to have survived it. Besides, the next book is significantly less than half as long.

The web site is an intellectual endeavor, and I've long said that true intellectual discourse is not possible on the Internet. But the impossibility of attaining an ideal is no excuse not to work towards it. And it will be interesting to see where Close Reader takes the site, even though I'll sorely miss the further adventures of Frank Beekman.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Adventures in the Arts

1. Whenever EFU is over, she invites me into her room to sit on the bed which used to be mine but is now hers but will soon be mine again to watch episodes of The Office with her. She has seen them all before, but I haven't. We're about a third of the way through season 4 right now. She always wants me to watch multiple episodes, and sometimes I can handle two, but mostly I want to kermit* after one episode. It's brilliant, of course, and very funny, but even though my current office is nothing like Dunder Mifflin (we're all too busy, for one thing; for another, we're not idiots), I have in the past worked in places where the behavior of Michael Scott and company would have been only slightly out of the ordinary.

It bothers me that the show bothers me so much, but I'm going to assume that it's my sensitivity to the suffering of the mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation rather than any similarity to my own life that causes the visceral discomfort. I am glad that EFU wants to spend time with me, and I'm hopeful that her great admiration of The Office means that she'll never work in one, but we'll just have to wait and see.

2. When we were in Montreal, the girls wanted to see Julie and Julia because, hey, why spend time soaking in a foreign culture when you can see a movie that you could see just as easily at home. Actually, they were responding more to the heat/humidity/rainstorms, but there may be something to the idea that kids these days (get off my lawn!) have shorter attention spans. We tried twice to see it, but the first theater we stopped at was showing the film dubbed into French, so a couple of days later I looked online for an English showing (there are American films that are probably greatly improved by being dubbed into French, but this didn't seem likely to be one of them), and we went to a gigantic multiplex on the west side of Rue Ste. Catherine. All of the signs, and some of the pre-show, were in French, so I was worried for a bit, but we were in a show with Meryl Streep's actual Julia Child voice speaking English.

Interestingly (or not), at about the same we were watching the film in Montreal, b&c and his daughter were watching the film in Denver. B&c's daughter was the only one of all of us who didn't love the film. She's also the only one who had read the book, so draw your own conclusions.

I don't have much to add to what you've probably already heard about the film. I thought it was terrific, but it would probably be just as good on DVD. I reckon I'll buy the DVD when it comes out, so I'll know for sure then. Of course, if you don't like Julia Child, you probably won't like the film.

I know you're saying, "Mais, comment? Who are zees people who do not like Madame Sheeeld?" Trust me, they exist. My alter ego wrote an entry about two of them some time ago.

3. I don't understand color. The house purchase is sailing unobstructed towards settlement, and I have no idea how to pick appropriate colors for the walls. I have an idea that I would like to paint the living room in three colors: a sort of French/Greek/Mediterranean matte blue along the bottom third or so to mimic wainscoting; a band of semi-gloss bright(ish) white above that to mimic a chair rail; and the remainder in perhaps a nice off white, or something similar. But I have no idea whether the idea makes any sense or how to go about choosing the particular shades. There must be technology to help with this, but hours of reading and watching HGTV have not helped.

And then there are all the other rooms. YFU gets to pick the color for her own room (subject to my veto), but that still leaves -- at the very least -- my bedroom to be done before the furniture comes in. Am I supposed to go camp out at a paint store and wait for some of the colors to speak to me?

I am really not used to caring this much about my surroundings, but this is my chance to have my own place reflect who I am. (Or a better version of who I am. If it was just going to reflect me, I'd just leave the walls their current white and everything else wherever the movers put it.) I spend minutes almost every day worrying about this.

4. Some NYC-based arts organization has invited our church choir to sing as part of a massed choir at a Lincoln Center (Avery Fisher Hall) performance of Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man in mid-January. It's part of a program that also includes his Requiem, which I haven't heard. Our choir did The Armed Man in June, and we did a pretty good job of it, and there aren't that many choirs who have done it, and I guess it would be cool to perform at Lincoln Center, but they want $590 from each of us, just to show up, rehearse, and sing. Travel, food, and lodging not included, naturally. Our choir director says that the group running this is a legitimate (for-profit) enterprise, and almost everyone else in the choir is really excited about it, but I can't help thinking that paying to sing at Lincoln Center is so, well, Florence Foster Jenkins.

Anyway, I have to decide pretty soon whether I'm in or out. I reckon it would cost about $1,500 all together. I have the money, but I can't help wondering whether it wouldn't be better spent on something else (b&c asked whether I'd like to go to Spain next April or May: there are some really good fares available). I also can't help remembering how much work it was to raise a couple of thousand dollars to mount the production at church, but now the members of the choir are eager to pony up a collective 30 grand or so because it's an honor to be asked. On the other hand, I did like singing the piece, and I'd have three or four days in New York with a relatively light rehearsal schedule. Decisions, feh.

*I am pretty sure I have said this before, but for anyone who missed it, "to kermit" means to run screaming from a room, with one's arms flailing above one's head. The etymology is obscure.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer Vacation Pictures

I would have liked to say something profound about my vacation, or at least about Montreal, but, oh, fuck it, I'm tired, and I'm really busy these days, so behold! The picture above is the front bumper on my car. I was pulling into a parking space on Rue Amherst, half a block from the extremely clean and efficiently run buanderie where I was headed to do my laundry, when I felt a small shake and heard a loud noise, and "Oh no, that street cleaning truck did NOT just run into me while I was parking!"*

But it had. There followed fifteen minutes of forms being filled out. About five minutes into the process, I had determined that I would much rather live with a scratch on my bumper than deal with a municipal government, but the driver insisted on filling out the forms. I was trying to be polite, so I didn't say much, and as time went on without any ranting on my part, he began to convince himself that it hadn't really been his fault. Monsieur. (After much discussion with YFU and EFU, I have come to the conclusion that "monsieur" is the French equivalent of "dude.") I was parking, and I was in my lane entirely, and you were coming the other way, and you hit me. Your bad, n'est-ce pas?

Anyway, Montreal is a great city, and I had a great time, but I wish I had done more stuff while I was there. I was hampered by a) the weather, and b) the kids. Invariably, when b&c and I have gone on a vacation, the weather has been gorgeous. We arrived in Montreal late Sunday night (there was an hour wait at the border) and left Saturday morning. Monday and Tuesday were near or above 90 degrees and oh so humid. It was painful to be outside. Wednesday was beautiful, and then it rained much of Thursday and Friday. Oh well. As for the kids: teenagers, oy! Once I realized that they were never going to be up in time for breakfast, I just went out by myself in the mornings -- walking through various neighborhoods, visiting markets, getting hit by giant street cleaning trucks: typical vacation activities -- and then called their room at 11 and met them in the hotel lobby at noon. Whatever floats your boat, I guess, but I couldn't help feeling that they weren't making the most of their time in another country. They did take to shopping and eating with great gusto, though.

Anyway, since it was really hot and sticky outside, we went to the underground section of Montreal on Monday afternoon, and on Tuesday we visited the Biodome, which has a controlled climate. Several controlled climates, actually. The rain forest area felt pretty much like it felt outside, but there was a lot to see. Lots of birds, for example.

There was a really cool bat cave.

I looked for Alfred, but I didn't see him. There were more parrots.

And other birds, including some waterfowl who, apparently, do not require camouflage.

The Laurentian forest section was much cooler. Though also only just as cool. When I pointed out a toad, YFU said that it looked like it had swallowed something.

I said that perhaps it had swallowed a golden key, but she didn't get it. EFU did, and there followed a discussion about whether YFU is old enough now to see Pan's Labyrinth and whether we have the DVD. She is; we do.

The beaver exhibit was also awesome.

The Antarctic habitat was a bit of a disappointment, but everyone loved the lemurs from Madagascar.

[As an aside, I would like to note that I am feeling significantly put upon today. Put upon in the way that is unique to a person who returns from a fine vacation to an office full of tedious work. This sense of persecution was in no way ameliorated when Blogger destroyed many paragraphs of text which I will now attempt to recreate.]

We had a lot of really good food when we were in Montreal. I didn't do as much restaurant research as I usually do before travelling, but it was mostly ok. I think the trick to eating well in most cities is to find the districts where there's good casual dining. We found a number of good restaurants along Rue St. Denis, north of the Berri-UQAM station. We also found a cluster of good restaurants along Rue St. Laurent, not too far from the Mont Royal station. In particular, on Thursday afternoon, when we were trying to avoid the rain, we ducked into something called Cafe Rumi, where I had the best falafel sandwich I have ever eaten. And while we were eating a very good order of frites, we looked across the street and saw a restaurant/grocery store called Le Canard Liberé. Their sign said that they cooked their frites in duck fat, so when we were finished with Cafe Rumi, we split a second order of (duck fat fried) frites across the street.

I had picked out what seemed to be a somewhat less casual and more expensive restaurant for Thursday evening, and I'd told the girls to bring along something slightly dressy. And the restaurant (a fondue restaurant that I believe was on the Rue St. Denis) was in a very elegant old Victorian house with chandeliers and high ceilings and dark furniture, but everyone else who was there, including the waiters, was wearing jeans. Oh well. The girls looked great. They wouldn't let me take their picture, of course. The fondue was really good, but we had ordered the table d'hote, and it was far too much food.

Anyway, I chose Wednesday, because of the fine weather, to visit the Marché Jean Talon a very large indoor/outdoor (indoor only in the winter, apparently) market. Despite the existence of a Metro stop with the same name, I had some trouble figuring out where the market was, but we soon were able to locate a steady stream of produce-laden shoppers headed towards the Metro, and by walking upstream, we found the market.

There were several permanent indoor establishments, including one that sold many varieties of dried hot peppers. EFU was intrigued by some of them, but I looked carefully at the heat ratings and decided that it was unwise to buy any food associated with a mathematical impossibility.

I imagine the habaneros feel downright inadequate with their measly little 9/10 rating. Whenever I didn't want to buy a food item, I told the girls that I was worried there might be import restrictions.

There were many beautiful varieties of stone fruits.

I bought some apricots and some nectarines. There was also a great deal of other wonderful produce, and, not for the first time, I sighed over not having access to a kitchen. There were beautiful, beautiful tomatoes.

There were also large quantities of bleuets sauvages. There were also bleuets cultivées, but I can get those at home, most of the year. I can only get the wild ones frozen. Not that I actually bought any bleuets sauvages, but I appreciated their presence, even at $65 for a (large) basket.

And lots of other beautiful produce. Also beautiful men, everywhere you look, but produce is easier to photograph.

Also ubiquitous: maple syrup, though it's not really any cheaper than it is in the states. On our last full day in Montreal, we walked from the hotel to a crêperie on the Rue St. Denis that EFU remembered from a trip with some classmates a year ago. (It also turned out to be the only restaurant where the waitress never spoke to me in English.) We had ordered savory brunch crepes, but we still got a little pitcher of maple syrup, and it turned out to go very well with my egg-, ham-, and swiss cheese-filled crepe.

I thought the crepes were extremely filling, but YFU and EFU each managed to polish off a dessert crepe after their entree crepes. I was in awe. They were in some discomfort, I think, but we soon set off on a long walk, and they rallied in time for dinner.

Here is a gratuitous picture of a couple of guys in the tourist section of Vieux Montreal. Don't ask me why. About anything.

As is often the case, I found being in an urban environment very visually stimulating. Sadly, I had forgotten to recharge my camera for a couple of days, so after taking five or six flash pictures in an attempt to get a decent picture of this "Soupe au Ketchup" graffiti,

I was only able to take a few more pictures before my battery died. Immediately thereafter, when we were walking along what might have been considered a slightly seedy section of the Rue Ste. Catherine, I saw a fit, tan, smooth, shirtless man asleep on his motorcycle. It would have been the picture of the trip, but I did not get it. Alas. Still, before that happened, I enjoyed the plentiful signage.

And some of the other graffiti.

Traffic lights appear to be popular graffiti targets in Montreal. Especially the green ones.

But maybe they're just the easiest to reach.

For no apparent reason, I took many pictures of stairs.

I was especially taken by these blue ones that were very near our hotel.

But there were cool examples everywhere. Also doors, but I didn't upload those pictures.

I did my best to take pictures of attractive men, but mostly I failed. Even though they were everywhere. At the biodome:

In the park on Mont Royal:

On the bus back from the park on Mont Royal:

I was particularly impressed by the height and liveliness of the above young man's hair, but YFU assures me that it is less work than it appears to be.

For much of the year, a part of the Rue Ste. Catherine Ouest is closed to traffic, and there is eye candy everywhere. I don't think this cadet really had anything to do other than stand there and look pretty. Which he was very good at.

Much of that part of Rue Ste. Catherine appeared to be a gay district, but I was mostly unable to get pictures of the many attractive M-M couples I saw there. I was, however, somewhat luckier with the cute construction worker working outside my hotel room window.

Unfortunately, I found him somewhat less attractive after, one morning, I was walking to the Metro station and saw him standing next to one of the work trucks, relieving himself. He could at least have gone into an alley.

I saw this next guy just before my batteries died and I saw the guy sleeping on his motorcycle. He's not bad, as a consolation prize.

One of the first things I noticed in Montreal was that many (perhaps most) of the Metro stations have rental bicycles outside them. At the Champ-de-Mars station.

And the Mont Royal station.

And right beside our hotel, where there's no station at all.

The bike stand next to the hotel was the only one that I ever saw anyone take a bike from. I think that's because everyone who lives in Montreal already owns a bike. They're everywhere. There are even more bikes than there are attractive men (which hardly even seems possible). Also, the bike rentals are a little bit pricy, and since you're rarely more than a few blocks from a Metro or bus stop, they're not especially necessary. Still, I applaud the effort.

Many of the streets also have separate bike lanes (the rollerbladers also use them). In fact, the separate bike lanes are typically double lanes with a dotted line running down the middle so that traffic can go both ways. And, of course, there are plentiful provisions for bicycle parking.

I think I won't wait so long before my next trip to Montreal (My last trip was on my honeymoon, so maybe I was holding a grudge, but all is forgiven!). Next time I'll probably take the train and maybe go alone and get a short-term rental so that I can experience more of the city.

City travel, though, is a two-edged sword, and I don't just mean all of those smells that come out in hot weather in cities (even in Montreal). It is difficult to return to the suburban existence after a week in the frenetic beauty of the city. Come to think of it, it's equally difficult after a week in the placid beauty of the country. I'm hoping that my upcoming move to a still-suburban-but-less-sub-and-more-urban setting will help (the house inspection and the appraisal have both been successfully completed), especially since the accompanying decline in my level of disposable income will mandate a reduction in travel.

As delicious a setting as Montreal was and is, I couldn't help being acutely aware of how much of a visitor I was. As good a time as I had, I knew I was missing out on all the experiences of the people who live there and become intimately familiar with the city. I should be developing that same sort of intimacy with my own surroundings. It never seemed possible in the exurbs, but I'm hopeful that now that I'll be within walking distance of the Metro (and a Pho restaurant), I can feel a bit more like a city boy. With a garden. And then in another fifteen years, I can retire to a farm.

*There is no recorded instance of my using, either in speech or in thought, any variation of the "oh no you didn't" construction, except perhaps to mock someone else who had just used it, but I would like to pretend that on this particular occasion I uttered something cleverer than a quiet groan.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

But Google Maps Said To Turn Left!

All I really wanted was some poutine.

When travelling, I like to have a single, attainable goal around which to organize the vacation. When b&c and I went to Italy a couple of years ago, for example, he asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, "I want to see David." And he said, "We're going to be in Italy for nine days." And I said, "Yeah. I want to see David." And he said, "David's in Florence. We're in Florence for three days. It'll take one morning to see it. We're also in Venice for two days and Rome for four days." And I said, "Well, I hear it's a very interesting country. I'm sure we'll find things to do. Maybe we can drink some wine while we're there. As long as I get to see David." Which I did. And it was a great trip. I loved every minute there, except maybe for the half hour or so after that pickpocket in Rome nicked my wallet. I especially liked David, but the wine and the gorgonzola and the thirty or so different versions of the Annunciation that I saw were pretty nice, too.

Anyway, I'm in Montreal this week, with EFU and YFU. Normally, we go to my parents' summer place in Southwestern Pennsylvania, but EFU complained, with some justification, that I go on a lot of foreign vacations, but that I never take them anywhere. So I looked into cheap hotel fares, and decided that while 500 miles is a long, long way inside a car, we could handle it (twice). The single, attainable goal for this trip was to have some authentic Montreal poutine.

I've coveted poutine for some time now. I've read about it in multiple places, mostly on a blog by an American expatriate. Poutine, for those of you who might not know is basically an order of french fries topped with cheese curds and topped with gravy. In subsequent research, I've learned that there are many variations available in the Montreal area, and I'm sure they're all fine. (Someone in my office, for example, said that when she was here earlier this year, she had a poutine that included smoked meat, another Montreal specialty.) But I was looking for the classic variety (There are, after all, several replicas of David, including two in Florence, but they really don't have the same impact.), and I had it on good authority that the Costcos in Montreal make a good poutine.

I, like any right-thinking person, adore Costco. And I rarely, if ever, visit another country without making a point of visiting at least one of its supermarkets (also laundromats, but that's another entry), and I'd never visited a non-U.S. Costco, so I'd have wanted to go to one in Montreal even without the siren song of poutine to draw me in.

I had originally planned the Costco trip later in the week, but it turns out that Hotwire and I have different ideas about what constitutes a two-star hotel. Our hotel, near the Vieux-Port, is entirely charming. The staff are friendly and helpful, the location is reasonably close to a Metro station (Champ-de-Mars), and the room is fine. Except for the medieval torture device being passed off as a bed. And the thirty-eight stairs between the lobby and my second-floor room (YFU and EFU are on the third floor: fifty-six stairs). Which, really, I wouldn't mind, but I would have appreciated a warning. I was driving, so I didn't bother trying to pack light (the planned trip to the laundromat notwithsanding: it's been very hot and humid here this week, and while I'm having a great time, I'm sweating through clothing at a record pace), and if I'd known I'd be walking up, I'd have brought a lot less.

Anyway, after two nights on the so-called bed, I could barely stand upright, and I figured (correctly, as it happened) that one thing Montreal Costcos were likely to keep in stock was camping mats, the kind you put under a sleeping bag. I don't have any of these, and they're useful things, so I thought I'd just buy a couple, put them on top of the bed while I'm here, then pack them up and take them home until another use presents itself.

So I go on the Costco website and determine that the nearest Costco is probably the one on Rue Bridge. I find the location and directions on gmaps, I retrieve the car from the parking garage, I get the kids in the car, and we head off, driving through what is apparently the touristy section of Vieux Montreal. (It's just over the hill from our part of Vieux Montreal, which is right near where the homeless people camp out. But it's fine here: it's very Europeanish. In fact, the homeless people camp out in the actual Champ de Mars, which appears to be a very pretty park.) And then the Vieux-Port turns into something more industrial, something that looks more like a working port. And I'm following the directions, which tell me to take a left on Rue Bridge, after which my destination will be on the right.

And, hey, I know that Americans shouldn't, but always do, assume that things will be the same somewhere else as they are at home, but at home, a Costco is something that you just can't miss. But somehow here, well, I was way back in a line of cars, and I was in the left lane, so I would have had to hang a left anyway, but the first evidence of Costco I see is the Costco gas pumps, and it's not that uncommon in the States for the gas pumps to be an outlier of the main Costco, so I didn't turn in at the gas pumps: I figured the big Costco building with the giant Costco signage would be after that, on the right, where gmaps said my destination was. But then I didn't see any other Costco signage. And then I didn't see any other place where I could turn around (or left or right). And then it became obvious why Rue Bridge was called Rue Bridge, as I was inexorably pulled by the flow of traffic across the Pont Victoria. And, you know what else? There are lanes on both sides of the Pont Victoria, but they both head south. It's a one way bridge.

I should say right now that some of the southern Montreal suburbs are especially lovely, and I regret that having no idea where the fuck I was robbed me of the opportunity to fully appreciate the architecture.

But you know, being in my car and having no idea where the fuck I am is not exactly an unusual experience for me. And the kids are used to it, too, so nobody got particularly upset. There was some laughing at me as I turned and u-turned and otherwise felt my way to a generally eastward direction and toward a (distant) bridge that would take me back to Montreal. And all this was happening around 5:30 in the afternoon, so there was a lot of traffic. But, at a very slow pace, we got back over the bridge and found our way back to Vieux Montreal and waved at the hotel room as we tried again. And this time when we got to the intersection with Rue Bridge, I thought I'd probably turn left just to avoid going over the (very nice, I'm sure) Pont Victoria again, but then when I got to the intersection, I looked straight ahead and saw a large building. And at the intersection I saw a very small sign saying Costco and Entree. And as I drove into the parking lot, I thought, "Wow, if that Costco was a snake, well, it'd be a really big snake with very modest signage, and it would probably swallow me whole before I could get away from it."

Not, of course, that there's anything wrong with modest signage. It's impossible to come to Montreal (or, I suppose other parts of Canada, but surtout Montreal) without realizing that you live in a wholly inferior country. I felt the American taint especially profoundly as I was trying to find my way around the banlieues. On occasion, I'd have to make a very safe but otherwise unsanctioned and unconventional U-turn, and one of the local drivers would honk, on general principle, and I would call out, "Desolé! Crazy American driver."

Certainly, going into Costco in Montreal does nothing to ease the sense of inferiority. I'm told that the Costcos in (or near) San Francisco are also superior to my local Costco, but I bet they don't sell fresh oysters. Or such good chocolate (80%!). And they certainly don't sell poutine.

But alas -- and here we must stop for the deepest of sighs -- I am still getting ahead of myself. Because after I had shown my Costco card and we'd entered and seen the small sign saying that the food court there did, in fact, sell poutine, we went around the store and filled the shopping cart with camping mats (and, I must say, they've been a great help: my back is much better) and very reasonably priced high quality chocolate and a sweater for each of the girls, I arrived at the checkout counter, where the fully bilingual cashier told me that while Montreal Costco (like the ones at home) take debit cards, they don't take debit cards that also bear the Visa logo. Or MasterCard, I suppose. They take bank cards and American Express (like at home) but not my bank card. The people behind me in line assured me that Costco does take debit cards, but a) the cashier looked at them, smiled, and said, "Do you work here?" and b) my debit card had already been turned down by the machine.

I asked whether there was an ATM in the store, and there was, but when I got there, the person checking cards at the entree told me that I could try the ATM, but it wouldn't work. So I tried it, and it took me through all the steps, but then it didn't work. So I went back to the caisse and sadly asked for my Costco card back, saying that I would have to return another time. The cashier shrugged and called out for a cancellation. I motioned to the girls, but YFU said, "What about your poutine, Dad?" And EFU said, "We can just wait here while you find another ATM."

Which was not easy. Costco, as you'd might expect, is not in the center of Montreal, so I had to head back towards town, repeating in my head the names of streets as I turned off them so I could find my way back without making another loop on two or more of Montreal's main bridges. And after ten minutes or so of driving around, I spotted an ATM, which I managed to reach after only another five minutes of turns, and then I found my way back to Costco, and I stood in line again, and the cashier said, "Look, the total is still the same!" I appreciated her good nature, and if she waited until I was gone to castigate Americans in French, well, we probably deserve it, right?

When I got through the checkout line, YFU and EFU were just returning with the food, and, well, poutine might not be David, but it's totally worth organizing a trip around. So good, so good, soooooo good. The kids only had a bite each, and they didn't really see what the big deal was, but, hey, that's why I'm not rushing to waste a couple of thousand bucks to take them to Florence. YFU did say that the frites were the best fries she'd ever had. I think maybe they still cook them in beef fat there. Poutine is not exactly health food. I think it might have a little more sodium than is strictly considered healthy, too. But it's worth a trip.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Our Long (Inter)National Nightmare Is (Probably) Over

So in the context of things that seem like they'll never end, but eventually do:

The Wars of the Roses: 32 years
Noah in the ark: 11 months (give or take; the passages in Genesis strike me as somewhat ambiguous, but it was a long time to be shut away with wild animals; besides, he spent a long time building the damned thing, though I suppose that when it was all over, he could have turned it upside down and used it as a barn)
The U.S. in Iraq: oh, wait

maybe my house hunt hasn't been so bad after all. Still, I feel like an underachiever. I started looking on July 25, and my offer was accepted on August 10, so I spent seventeen (17!) days looking for my new abode, and I figure the average time to hunt for a house has to be, what, 4.5 hours?

Anyway, I'm trying not to let my obvious shortcomings as a consumer dampen my joy at having found a place. On the other hand, I'm trying to keep a lid on the joy until at least the inspection, which takes place Friday. Then there's the loan application process. I was pre-approved, but it was by a different bank. There's really no reason why that should be a problem, unless the appraisal comes in significantly less than the loan amount. But I looked at the comparables pretty carefully and offered an amount that I was comfortable. The seller's agent had been going to counter, but my agent persuaded him that my offer was fair. (My realtor is really, really the man.) There are still a lot of things that could go wrong, but I'm optimistic.

Oh, and I love this house: I loved it right away. It's a cape. There are, technically, two bedrooms on the main floor and two upstairs, but the two upstairs will become most of my master suite. I will have to convert the upstairs half bath to a full bath, but I believe I can do that relatively inexpensively. And the basement is unfinished, but it's clean, and I wanted to have a hands-on renovation project, anyway. And installing some drywall and a laminate or tile floor seems like a lot more fun than mold remediation, which I'd have had to do on most of the other properties.

The downside of the property is that it's on a fairly busy street. I'm worried that may decrease its resale value, but I can always just die in the house. The street usually has a lot more traffic than you see here.

But the house is also less than a half-mile walk to the Metro, which was something I very much wanted. I'll still be driving to work, but it's five miles closer to the office than my current exurban home. The property's been very well maintained, and the exceptionally pleasant yard includes a hydrangea bush just like the one my grandmother had at her house.

(There are no spare radiators or decapitated ceramic fawns, but I know where I can find some less than a quarter-mile away. I'm sure EFU will rescue them for me if I give her twenty bucks.)

In the end, it looks like I'll have a mortgage for just over twice my annual income, and that's better than I thought I'd do. Back in the day, 2.5 times annual income was considered a reasonable ceiling. Lately, in this area, people have been spending closer to four times income, which, well, you know: financial crisis. Anyway: house I love and can afford. Yay.

The kids are thrilled about the purchase. B&c, well, he acts like he's been expecting this for a long time. I'm trying to figure out how to manage the separation and the post-separation relationship to make it as painless as possible for him. And for me, I suppose, but all of the excitement and work of moving into a new place distracts me pretty well from any potential separation anxiety. I'm sure that the actual move will be emotionally difficult, but there's a good chance I can do the bulk of that when he's in another country.

It's been very hard to concentrate on other things that I need to concentrate while this has been going on. In theory, now that I don't need to worry about where I'll be, I should be able to settle down, but I have a feeling that I'm going to spend much of the next few weeks dreaming of Ikea. There are worse dreams.