Monday, June 29, 2009

Bernice talks about one very important thing

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the last Sunday in June in fact, three of us, Susie, her mother and I, paid a visit to Aunt Marian and Uncle John at Clear Bottom Lake, near Rockford, Michigan.

Listen in while Bernice talks about Tunis asking her to marry him and what her father says:

Conversations at Clear Bottom Lake

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the last Sunday in June in fact, three of us, Susie, her mother and I, paid a visit to Aunt Marian and Uncle John at Clear Bottom Lake, near Rockford, Michigan. We relaxed in the shade of trees overlooking the lake and listened to two sisters talking about growing up in Passaic, New Jersey. If you think that sounds uninteresting, you don't know these two women. Listen for yourself:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lazy, Sunny Sunday in Michigan

The last Sunday in June in West Michigan began as an incredibly beautiful day and seemed determined to stay that way. The plan was, or so I learned on Saturday, was to meet up with Susan's Aunt Marian and Uncle John at Arnie's Restaurant in Rockford. After lunch we would then head out to their cottage on Clear Bottom Lake. (photo below: Susie and her mom.)

We left home a little after noon and after stumbling around greater downtown Rockford we found a parking place at the nearby dam along the Rogue River.

Lots of changes since either one of us had been in Rockford that's for sure. Bike paths along the river, nice gardens sculpted in here and there; a serious imagination had definitely been at work. We quickly found Arnie's -- the sign was probably visible from downtown Grand Rapids. While we waited to be seated Jennifer, Susie's cousin and Marian's oldest daughter, arrived with her little girl Clare:

The six of us soon found ourselves at a table in one of the noisiest rooms north of the Mason Dixon Line. The place was packed with people, the servers were scurrying around like so many chickens with you-know-what cut off and sadly the management proved to be even worse. The food arrived 50 minutes after we ordered (soup and sandwiches being delicate creatures requiring great attention to detail. (photo below: Susie's Aunt Marian.)

The food was dull, which was being kind. Either overly salty or over-dressed it was not terribly good but there was plenty of it. This seemed to be a recurring phenomenon on our trip back west. The same observation was noted the previous evening at 84 East in Holland. A pasta place in downtown Holland, Susie, her mom and I ate there before heading out to the lake for the after-reception reception. Huge plates of tasteless pasta being served to people way to large to begin with.

But the conversation at our table was lively and it was nice to visit with Jennifer and her mom and dad.

Jennifer and Clare soon had to leave and so did we -- we could only take so much of such good food. We walked to the car and bid a fond farewell to the fast-paced world of Greater Rockford and headed out of town, toward Lesser Rockford. We drove the two minutes to Clear Bottom Lake and John and Marian's cottage.





We all sat on the deck overlooking the lake and listened in to conversations about times long past: about the day Tunis asked Bernice to marry him and about growing up in Passaic, among other things.

You can hear some of these conversations in the next two postings, right here:

http://sienaitaly.blogspot.com/2009/06/conversations-at-clear-bottom-lake.html
http://sienaitaly.blogspot.com/2009/06/bernice-talks-very-important-thing.html

After a glorious day enjoying a grand day at the lake and an even grander time listening to wonderful stories, Susie, her mom and I headed back into the hub-bub of Grand Rapids.

About half past six our friend Stan C. came by and picked Susie and I up for dinner. The three of us -- his wife Margie was in Colorado hosting a get together of some of her family -- headed over to the Blue Water Grille for dinner. Located along the banks of an old gravel pit now filled in and turned into quite a pleasant little lake we enjoyed an evening of talking, as we usually do, about good food and wine -- and in this case not so good food. Stan's pasta was more paste and my burger was more perfunctory than exciting. The service was uninspired and the wines uninspiring.

Still it was good to see Stan and to hear the incredible tales of their recent adventure to the Dark Continent. We had seen some extraordinary photographs and now had the stories behind them.

Needless to say good friends are a rare commodity. We're just sorry to have missed Margie.

All-in-all it was a wonderful Sunday, the last Sunday in June and our last day in Michigan. On Monday we headed back to the East Coast (motto: "Not the West Coast") and to work. A short week with the Big Fourth fast approaching.

To paraphrase Stanley, we were just happy to be there.

A wedding day but so much more

Last Saturday was a beautiful day in West Michigan.

After a leisurely morning Susie and her mom went out scouting for plants for a wedding gift. Jane and Dave had asked that if anyone wanted to give a gift that it be something they could plant in their garden. The idea is to eventually tag each plant with a nameplate of the donor -- a token of remembrance of this very special day for these two crazy kids who have come so far in such a short span of time.

Anyway, the three of us, Susie, her mom and I left Grand Rapids about midday and headed west toward Lake Michigan, stopping just short in downtown Holland. The wedding was scheduled to kick off at 2pm in Mulder Chapel at Hope College. The weather was fine, just the right balance of sun and cool air. Afterwards everyone walked the few short blocks to the Holland Arts Council for a wonderful reception: so many smiling faces spent recapturing fond memories, so many old friendships renewed amidst tasty food, cold beer and chilled chardonnay.

Later that evening we joined the family and friends out at Jane and Dave's place on Lake Macatawa -- a grand place to enjoy the beautiful summer evening and help the newlyweds kick off the next phase of their journey together.

Sit back, relax and enjoy the show:


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michigan, Memories, and a wedding among friends

This gorgeous Michigan Sunday morning began with great promise of warm sun, demanding some quality time at a beach somewhere, anywhere. While I'm not one to laze about in the sand I always enjoy a trip to Clear Lake to see Susan's Aunt Marian and Uncle John.

But that's getting a bit ahead of this tale.

Friday in Providence was overcast as I drove Susie to T. F. Green Airport (and no, I don't know who he was). After I dropped her at the departures I dropped the car off at Airport Valet ($12 a day with internet coupon of course) and caught the shuttle back to the airport.

Here's where it gets a bit confusing. Originally I was going to stay behind in Providence while Susie returned to her old haunts in western Michigan. The reason? Her best friend in high school they remained good friends all through college at Calvin and were roommates in medical school in Detroit, one Jane P.,was tying the knot to Dave Van D. -- at long last Dave thought. He's been waiting 12 years for her to say yes. And so she did.

But the story gets better -- and provides a lesson about the cycles of life and that history is can be disconcertingly nonlinear. These two had been sweethearts in high school and then went their separate ways: families, careers, a series of life changes that pulled them in a great many directions but never together. Until about a dozen years ago when almost by happenstance they reconnected -- almost on a lark they started dating.

The rest they say, is history. And now the circle has come full round and they are together once again. Maybe they were always destined for this and they've just been wending down other roads trying to find their way back here.

Who knows, eh?

The important thing is they are together now.

So Susie planned to come out and I planned to stay home. As last week began I began asking myself why I wasn't coming? Work was part of the reason -- but I'm a freelance and have a bit of flexibility in my time. I liked the people to be sure. I met Jane and Dave two summers ago and you can’t imagine a more inviting, generous group of folks than those kids who grew up in Fremont, Muskegon and Grand Haven in the heady days of Kennedy families, Texas nonsense and Nixon shenanigans.

Two days before Susie was due to leave I plugged into Expedia and got myself two tickets leaving Providence at roughly the same time and returning, as it turned out, on the very same flight!

The two of us kept in contact via cell phone as we traversed the mighty Midwest throughout the middle part of Friday. My flight to Cleveland was a bit bumpy and reminded me of driving our Mini on the roads of Rhode Island. Anyway my short flight from Cleveland to Grand Rapids was incredible. Smooth to be sure but we flew low out over Lake Erie and then cruised over Detroit and scooted among the clouds resembling so many ice floes in the sky. The land below was well tended and the grid patterns made me long for the sensibility we Midwesterners have always given for directions and communication in a physical space -- unlike New England where the idea of a quaint road is one that goes nowhere in three different directions.

I landed right on time, just a bit before 6pm and Susie was waiting for met at the gate. Since I only had carry on we called her mom to let her know I was on the ground and she was already on her way to pick us up. Before long the three of us were zipping out of Gerald Ford International Airport (nope, I don’t know who he was either) and off to spend the evening over sloppy joes, homemade potato salad and just relaxing in the cool Michigan night air.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Food, Work, Rain and Summer in Providence

I suppose the title says it all. The weather in the Ocean State the past couple of weeks has been on and off rain and then rain with brief hints at misting, followed by showers and then sweat-producing humidity. All of which adds up to the revelation that summertime is upon us once again.

This marks our second summer in Providence and also our second summer of doing things we never thought we would ever do but can't imagine doing anything else -- at least for the moment, eh?

Susie continues to produce wonderful desserts; each and every day at Gracie's finds her putting together something new, something special, something different and always something wonderful, like this cornmeal crust, lemon curd, lemon mascarpone tart:


Or the Kougelhof (brioche cake with dried cherries) that she eventually turned into a delectable brioche amandes:

My work continues to engulf my every waking moment -- well maybe not every moment but close. I'm up to my neck in archiving, cataloging and tagging (don't ask) each and every image in the university collection. Right now we're up to nearly 90,000 and counting and I love every minute of it. I'm learning an incredible amount and can't begin to describe how lucky I feel to have found something I truly enjoy. It's often demanding of course, but I just can't get enough of cataloging software.

Our lives in Providence have developed a rhythm again. After our recent long hiatus in Paris we got our groove back, or nearly so. I suspect our "tonal values" (to use a photographic term for a moment meaning gradations or intensity of color), our tonal values will forever be defined by our experience in the City of Light. When we return to Paris, our values will automatically adjust, realign and reset themselves accordingly.

In the meantime we cruise Providence looking for good food and occasionally slipping beyond the city limits to explore other parts of the Tiniest State in the Nation. Recently we cruised down to a couple of the beaches on the southern edge of Rhode Island:



Among other quiet wonders we caught site of a fisherman at work:

. . . and appreciated that when the sign means soft sand that's pretty much what it means:

Near the ocean we couldn't help but stare in wonder at the beauty of the marshland hugging the edge of the continent:

Nearly two weeks ago we took a drive to Mystic, CT and spent the day touring the aquarium and the Seaport -- lots of fun and a dead camera battery so you'll just have to take my word for it.

In fact, June kicked off with a not one but a couple of big bangs.

Our sister-in-law Dorothy retired after 35 years of teaching elementary school and special education in Whitinsville, MA. On June 8 we drove up to her school spent an afternoon celebrating with Dick, Dorothy and many of their colleagues. Lots of good food and plenty of sunshine -- for a change:

Dorothy marveling at the attention:



Susan and her sister Mary:

Shortly after we helped Dorothy in her moment of life transition, our friends from London Richard and Pauline dropped in for a couple of days. They had just arrived in Boston at the beginning of a 3-week-long tour of the Old South and where better to start than in New England.

We started off their first day with a short tour of Providence, sights of the city we were familiar with and some we hadn't seen before. That evening we hosted a dinner for eight: Richard and Pauline, Dick and Dorothy and Andrea and her mother Barbara (both Rhode Islanders but with tastes and sensibilities that run far beyond the state boundaries). The conversation was fast, the wine plentiful and the company warm; we most certainly had a good time of it -- and reminded us of warm evenings gone by around the tables with the Cheffs, the Fischers, the Koppendreyers and so many others scattered to the wind.

After a leisurely morning and amidst cold and rainy weather the four of us drove to the Atlantic Ocean. We had places to go and things to see but in no particular order and with specific agenda, barring having lunch with Barbara in Narragansett. Along the way we stopped at the Point Judith Lighthouse.



From the lighthouse we drove the few short minutes to Barbara's cottage by the sea where she served up a scrumptious lunch of lobster salad (fresh lobster from Galilee, RI). One can easily see where Andrea gets her sense of taste and graciousness -- from her mother. And we heard tales of Barbara's mother who ran a clam shack and rented out cottages almost in the ocean in the days before the Second World War, back when the world hadn't thought there would be a need to number wars.


We had a wonderful afternoon of warm comradeship, lively talk while we sat and stared out at the ocean, the limitless horizon, holding you in it's infinite hypnotic embrace. It did me in.

We then took a leisurely drive across Jamestown island skirting Newport and down to Little Compton and Sakonnet. if you're thinking of going to Little Compton I have to tell you it's beautiful there -- but they would really prefer you not come and bother them:

Now you know what happens to English Majors.

That evening the four of us walked across the street to Loie Fuller's for an aperitif. We felt compelled to show them the interior, of course, the striking art nouveau homage to a woman long dead in Paris now. (An incredible dancer, born in Illinois, her ashes are are interred in Pere Lachaise's columbarium but her name plaque has been stolen.)

Afterwards we drove the short mile and a half into the city, Downcity as it's called here, for dinner at Gracie's -- we had to show Richard and Pauline the engine of Susie's life now. Another delicious meal prepared for us rather than by us and a grand way to get R & P off to the proper start of their journey through this part of North America.

Sadly, we learned recently that one of Susan's cousins passed away suddenly in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Not quite 60 years old he died of a heart attack while leaving a movie theater.

God speed to you David Van Halsema. Be at peace and be at rest.

And for the rest of us, make the most of the moment we're given here. Life is short.

Take care, be well and we'll see you in Paris.

Steve