Thursday, July 21, 2011

Like the wind

I've had a really good running week.  For the last three mornings I've woken up at 6 a.m. (sacrificing an invaluable 45 minutes of sleep) to go for a run before heading to work -- 3 miles, 4 miles, 3 miles.  Despite the disgusting heat, which feels like a thick soggy curtain laying on top of the city, the runs have been pretty good.  My times are where I want them to be and my body is slowly creaking into action.  This is definitely the most exercise I've gotten in a while, and the only way I was able to do it for the week was with L dropping off Alice for two of those mornings.  We'll see what the coming weeks bring.

The downside of my athletic triumph, of course, is that I am exhausted and ravenous all the time.  At work, at approximately 3:30 or so each day, I find myself skulking around the office looking for a snack to eat -- some kind of leftovers offered for public consumption or something I can poach without incident.  Like a pathetic woodland creature doomed to die in the winter, I usually find nothing.  I have also been extremely tired all week.  Last night we were reading when I was suddenly overcome with exhaustion and had to excuse myself to the bedroom to take a nap.  It was eight p.m., and this was distressing.  I woke up at nine feeling very discombobulated.

Tonight I'm celebrating tomorrow's rest day by staying up for a thrilling evening of "The Real Housewives of New York."  I don't have to run tomorrow.  I just have to navigate the heat, and try to combat the self-loathing that comes from watching too much Bravo.  And that sounds great to me.

Photo: Alice trying on my running shoes after I returned home on Wednesday morning

Monday, July 18, 2011

Harry Potter

Today I saw the last Harry Potter movie.  It was excellent, and I greatly enjoyed it.  I read the books as they all came out, but I am not an expert in the intricacies of wand lore and things like that.  I came to the movie as a mere novice, but that was enough.

I was surprised at the strength of the movie's emotional impact.  The overall story has unfolded in enough time and with enough stateliness to allow it to gather some real heft and meaning.  This is ultimately the story of an orphaned boy and his long, painful process of understanding his parents and the world they lived in.  The passions and jealousies that animated them and their peers. 

What's strange to me now is how much I relate to the parents.  Seeing Harry's ghostly parents promise him, in his hour of greatest danger, that they would be with him -- that they were always with him -- struck a deep chord.  Ever since Alice was born I have been grappling with this new emotional force, the instant and primal love that propels so much of what I do nowadays, in one way or another.  My mom told me, "You will kill for your kids," and boy, was she right.  (Mrs. Weasley cursing the witch who was attempting to kill her daughter, moments before she dispatched her nemesis into the great beyond: "Not my daughter, you bitch!"  Now I understand.)  It's interesting to me to track my own experience with Harry Potter over the last decade or so, watching the easy, thoughtless narcissism of adolescence slough away, later to be replaced by the sweet, gnawing ache of parental love.  It is about Harry and his gifts, but it's also about the ones who placed him there.  The whole story changes. 

Blueberry festival 2011

We spent this past weekend in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to visit James and attend the Blueberry Festival.  I knew Alice would get a kick out of it and sure enough she did -- she was very enamored with the animals at the petting zoo (the ducklings, the fuzzy things I presume were chickens, the goats, the cows, the pigs) and she enjoyed watching a wood turner craft little wooden tops on a lathe.  She also enjoyed the man who played old coal country songs on his guitars, songs that struck a sweet, poignant note to me -- I appreciate these dashes of northeastern Pennsylvania culture.  Other highlights included the inevitable bossy woman who told us how we should be raising Alice -- "Put a hat on her!  She needs a hat!" -- as well as the woman who intercepted Alice when she was walking around and took her by the hand until we popped up to retrieve our child from this well-meaning but completely unnecessary mini-abduction.

It was nice to see our girl trundling through the grass and eating bits of blueberry pie a la mode.  She loved watching the horses as they trotted around the dirt area behind the barn; with all of the animals, she would creep closer and closer, an arm outstretched towards them, until the beast made any kind of quick motion -- some sniff or snort -- and then Alice would startle and shuffle backwards to the safety of her parents.  Until it was time to investigate once again.

Thank you James for the photos...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Marathon training, week 1

Last week was the first week of marathon training!  Overall, successful.  I ran three miles on Tuesday evening, which was very unpleasant -- hot, soupy weather and clothing that felt too tight.  I am aiming for an 8:30 pace (last time around I ran at 8:55) and I ended up clocking these three at 8:26, so that was nice.  Wednesday and Thursday turned out to be "rest days," because I didn't want to/couldn't run, so that's fine.

On Saturday I had my first long run -- six miles, which is not bad at all.  Just one good loop around Central Park.  I was hurting a little bit from the late dinner with friends we had enjoyed the night before, and I realized that there was a road race also going on that morning.  I pictured myself being devoured by an avalanche of thousands of runners in matching bibs, but through some miracle of geography and pacing I managed to avoid the entire pack.  I would pass mile markers and realize that the race had been going for 20 minutes already, and then 30, and yet I never got lapped and I eventually reached the tail end of the pack.  The goal with the long runs is to run slow, so my mantra was "slow and in control."  Yet at the end I realized that I was running 8:45.  It was a nice run -- stately, elegant, almost matronly.

Then finally Sunday was cross-training, after another late night of "Horrible Bosses" and $9 pitchers (plural) or of Rolling Rock.  After almost five hours of sleep I staggered to the gym for the R. & B./gospel spin class I have come to love, along with some weights.

In class we were listening to something ("To Worship You I Live" or "God Favored Me," I forget) with the resistance on the bike near its maximum -- pushing the pedals required such effort, such rhythm to keep moving -- leaning into it, heart beating steadily, sweat along my arms, shirt stuck on my back, eyes stinging.  The song was rising to a crescendo and the instructor started telling us, "Let go of the resistance.  Let go of the opposition.  Rise to the top of the hill.  The top of the hill is waiting for you."  And I started picturing L and A at the top of the hill, waiting for me in their golden light, waiting for me to move through all of this to reach them.  I don't know if it was the physical strain or my exhaustion or the music or the words, but I almost got a little emotional in that spin class.  Finally the song reach its peak and the instructor slowly brought us back to the bikes, to the small room, to the stinging and the sweat.  The moment had ended and we all looked up and around the studio, wiping the sweat out of our eyes, preparing for the next stage of the ride.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Going on a cruise around the western and southern coasts of Spain entails two trips.  On the one hand, you go to Spain.  On the other, you go on a cruise ship.  I naively expected the cruise to be somewhat Spanish – paella at dinner, sangria in the afternoon – but the cruise ship is a culture unto itself: English-speaking, abundant and plush, non-threatening, as boisterous as a seven-day wedding reception.  It’s CruiseLand!

CruiseLand is mostly populated by old Europeans, mainly English – round, burnt-pink people, shuffling along the corridors, moving with a grim determination to the buffet spreads.  They wake up early to begin baking on deck chairs under the unadulterated Mediterranean sun, or they gather in long queues to collect their baked beans at breakfast.  On formal nights they emerge from their cabins in tuxedos and gowns – tuxedos and gowns!  Packed away on a cruise ship! – to eat the delicious three-course meal in the dining hall and then settle in for more drinks around the boat.  The ideal cruise ship would not have any stairs; there would merely be ramps sloping downwards, from the upper decks with the swimming pools and nightclubs and unused jogging track, all the way to a series of troughs and buffet lines and bars.  The old English sunbirds could roll or shuffle or zoom along in their motorized carts (plenty of those onboard), smiling broadly and saying “excuse us, pet,” as they tumble on down to feed.

L and I quickly realized that we occupied a demographic black hole on this ship: early thirties, americanos, with a baby.  In addition to the elderly European crowd, there were a number of sloshed twenty-somethings – friendly, game United Kingdom kids who could always be relied on to volunteer for the ship beauty pageant or sexiest man contest or nightly karaoke (I myself performed a 1990s N’Sync hit at karaoke one night and received a warm reception from the Irish lasses).  These cool young kids seemed to be drunk much of the time, and were having fun in their flamboyantly obnoxious way.  How we envied them!  There were other young families on the boat, but being European, they had weird customs we could not adopt.  At midnight they could be found in the bars, their stroller parked beside them, their bonny wee tot sleeping peacefully inside.  There’s nothing like being in a bar on a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, surrounded by old Europeans in wheelchairs and young Europeans in strollers, listening to an outer-borough piano man bang away at “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”  Viva Espana!

The hallmark of CruiseLand was aggressive hospitality and good cheer.  I distinctly remember crossing an empty atrium at seven in the morning, not a soul to be found, while “La Bamba” blasted gaily through the speakers.  At meals, attendants and waiters would approach us bearing gifts of strawberries and napkin animals for Alice.  People would pat her, tickle her, hug her, pick her up, with barely a glance at us.  It took a day or two to become acclimated to this life: the endless food, the available drinks, the towels, the dinners, the tuxedos, the karaoke, the internet by the minute, the champagne bar, the spa, the lack of care or context.  The small grace of falling to sleep each night listening to the waves breaking off the hull of the ship. 

Seven days in CruiseLand wasn’t enough time.  Not even close.