Journal of a (Not so) Hidden Life

My dear reader,

I don’t intend to make a habit of diarizing my days for your reading pleasure. But, inspired by Our Hidden Lives, a book I write about here, I wanted to try a little experiment (which will be located on a tab at the top of my blog called A Hidden Life with the exception of this post) in diary-writing, one that involves describing life in 21st century California. Here it is, for what it’s worth.

2/16/07. A belated valentine’s day dinner at Chez Panisse. We rarely go out anymore, being so preoccupied with children and work. It’s good to remember that we once did this sort of thing, liked it, and will do it –someday — again.

Upstairs at the cafe, we walk by the open kitchen, and see a crowd huddled over what appears to be pizza dough on the counter. A woman with a cap of dark hair and a nice smile — Alice Waters — appears to be teaching the neophytes how to make a really good pizza. This is a good sign.

We ate oysters (all oysters served at Chez Panisse are identified by their homeland, in this case, Hog Island, which I imagine Alice Waters goes to frequently, just to make sure that the ones she’s going to be serving me are up to snuff as the briney pieces of perfection they’re supposed to be. In fact, that’s just what they were.) W had a spring time ravioli, with peas — it was perfect and jewel-like. (Note to self: Lucette is making pasta from scratch. I should try that again after my effort ten years ago.) I had the thing everyone has, but I never do: the mixed lettuces salad with little rounds of baked goat cheese that have been rolled in some kind of crumb mixture. This used to be unusual; now you can get it at Costco. But it’s lovely, because it’s dressed by someone who loves lettuce and knows how to make vinaigrette.

Best of all, though, was the tisane. It’s such a simple thing really, but there’s no restaurant I know of in the United States where you know for a certainty that they boil the water they put over your tea (in most places it comes straight out of the espresso machine water tap). And how lovely to see those mint leaves become incredible tea. W had apple tart (pink lady apple, I’ll have you know). I shared my tea with W, because it is Valentine’s Day and that is What You Do. I want to grow mint and lemon verbena and have a glass teapot in which to make tisane.

One of my favorite things about Chez Panisse, oddly enough, considering that it’s a temple to gastronomy, is the bathroom. Someone, a lapsed catholic, a penitent glutton, installed what look like little confessional windows over the light fixtures that’re directly above the toilet paper. I’ve never actually taken a picture of the interior of a bathroom before, but this seemed to call out for memorializing.

The movie we saw — Dreamgirls — was memorable only because it featured an Eddie Murphy who is so clearly enjoying himself. Everyone else seemed ‘way too earnest. This is, after all, a story about the rise of Diana Ross and the Supremes. I loved the audience though, a mixed group racially, with lots of African American women ranging in age from teenager to grandmother and lots of couples on dates. People clapped at particularly rousing numbers by Jennifer Hudson and I did too. I like that sort of participatory cinema far better than the artsy movie theater in downtown Berkeley where people glare at you if you dare to shift in your seat a little bit.

I’ll admit to a moment of wishing I could, like Pepys, now write “and so to bed” — in fact, it was “so to home in order to put children to bed.” First, though, a terrific meltdown by smallest boy, who was reprimanded for yelling “bastard” at the game he was playing, and for calling the woman who has cared for him so lovingly since he was a baby “fatso.” He is, all accounts to the contrary, not a total monster. Not yet. But if we don’t continue to be very, very strict with him about things like this, he will be.


21 thoughts on “Journal of a (Not so) Hidden Life

  1. Your diary-writing is a fine idea. I so enjoyed reading it. I really liked the tone which, to me anyway, had the sound of an earlier century! (Maybe because many of the diarists I’ve read before came from earlier times.) I think I shall try something similar on my own blog (if you don’t mind me “borrowing” your idea!). Have a great day. SS

  2. I’m so glad you’re going to do that, SS. And while you’re at it, post a picture of your favorite place to write — or describe it. It’ll be fun to know where to picture you.

  3. I don’t think my days have any kind of coherence or value to them, often, but I loved reading about yours, dear BL. I would quite liked to have played gooseberry between you and W and that lovely looking pot of mint tea.

  4. I know what you mean about coherence and value, litlove. I’ll bet the editor of Hidden Lives had to cull through a lot of “not much going on today” diary entries to get to the gems. That tea? It really was gorgeous. I wish you lived in my neighborhood. (and I owned a glass teapot and had what it takes to actually grow something so useful.)

  5. What a great idea. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and the pictures make it even more interesting. I hope you change your mind and make this type of entry a habit. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  6. I am not sure what to think with kids and bad language: our 2 1/2 year-old son has been going to school for a couple of months now, he brings back home a lot of non-family swear words, and seriously explains to us that it’s okay to say ‘putain’ when playing football and missing the goal ‘cos that’s what kids do. I am sure that if we put too much focus and emphasis on the bad words, he’ll learn them even faster.
    We’ll have to figure out how to handle that. In any case, there will be no room for bad behaviour, and I certinly would not be called names.

    The glass teapot is a brilliant idea. We have mint all over the garden, and I think we’ll be growing verbena this year.

  7. I enjoyed reading this and was delighted to see your mention of Pepys. My boyfriend has been reading his way through the entire library of Pepys’ diaries and is now on the second to last which looks to be about 800 pages. He occasionally shares bits of it with me and it’s interesting (though not enough to inspire me to actually read it). Hidden Lives sounds interesting. I’m always so curious about other people’s lives, and love it when people leave their lights on and curtains open at night so that I can get little glimpses of their worlds.

  8. I also like the idea of your Hidden Lives, and agree with others that there’d be no need to make a separate page for it. It’s such a lovely glimpse into your world.

    I’m sure your son, like my daughter (recently reprimanded for singing the charming playground rhyme “Vang mich doch, Vang mich doch, du arschloch”), is a delightful child. Someone once suggested a good rule for swearing to me: if you are not old enough to drink, or drive, or have a mortgage, then you are not old enough to swear. I’m saving this one up for someone when says to me, “But Mummy, I heard you say ‘sh*t'”.

  9. I love people who cherish the importance of what so many would consider something very ordinary, sharing a special meal that has been loving created by people who recognise the centrality of food, with someone you love. It isn’t ordinary; it’s a miracle. This is a wonderful blog.

    I’m with Litlove, by the way, where the tisane is concerned. I can get really exercised about the way restaurants make teas of any sort. Long live the tealeaf.

  10. Ahh, the days when “Mensch Meir” was a swear word. 🙂 At least in the mid sixties when we lived in Germany.

    BL: Did you know that Grandma wouldn’t let Mom go to see Gone with the Wind because of the word d*mn?

    As far as taking pictures in bathrooms.. I’ve done it more than a few times. Mostly because I could get a better self portrait that way.

    Doug and I did our Valentine’s dinner the day before, and bought chocolate the day after. The chocolate was 75% off that way.

  11. I, too, hope you continue with this journal of your “hidden” life. It’s the details that build and build to make a whole, colorful picture, so inspiring.

    I liked your photograph of the light fixture! Public restrooms can have the strangest things (and not just the lonely-seeming messages scrawled on the insides of the stall doors). I always wonder about what went into decorating them…

  12. I always think that diary writing – frequent, honest, amusing diary writing – must take an incredible devotion. Must be a true labour of love, and something I just don’t have a flair for. As litlove points out: there is so little of significance in daily routine. I suppose its noticing the little things, working the imagination…like with your confessional light fixture over the toilet paper…that make it worthwhile. I’m looking forward to reading more of your not-so-hidden life. 🙂

  13. Victoria, I’m pretty sure that great diaries are so good because they have great editors. I am a big fan of diaries. I think it’s because I’m so curious about people’s lives, both interior and exterior. The longer I read, though, the more I prefer the exterior with just a tiny dollop of interior.

    Nova, I liked your photos of city snow! They sum up something about good writing — often the most memorable details are the dissonant ones.

    Oh Sue, what a smart shopper you are! xo

    R-dad, Our youngest has dedicated himself to cleaning up his act after we explained to him that most words we think of as obscenities got that way because they are insults and hurtful. At seven, he has no idea really about the relative weight and meaning of words. He’s a language newbie and it wouldn’t be fair to judge him by the standards you’d apply to an adult. Still, serious steps must be taken or he’ll be barging around insulting people who won’t be as kind as we are.

    Ann, I raise my tea cup to you. Thank you.

    dear Charlotte, that is a good rule of thumb for all adult privileges (and errors) — and I have committed it to memory.

    Hello Jana, I sometimes think I’m going to get busted for standing in front of people’s houses for too long. As for Pepys, one of my favorite nonfiction books in the last ten years is Claire Tomalin’s great biography of Pepys.

    Well, Diana, I’m putting it all in that tab up there, which seems public enough, but not annoyingly so. Thank you for being such a faithful friend!

    Mandarine, Yay! You are on the right track. I envy you your mint and your verbena. I might give that a try. The only trouble is that I look out at our yard and can’t imagine how to begin. Can you grow things like that in a pot?

    Thank you Brad. A habit has been formed. xo

    Yogamum, We haven’t been for so long. It was nice to discover how much fun this kind of thing is. I also had two glasses of the best Bandol rose and i can’t wait to go back for more. (After we’ve saved up a little cash, that is!)

  14. Can you grow things like that in a pot?
    – You have to grow mint in a pot otherwise it invades the whole garden (incidentally, this is what happened at our place). And I know friends who have grown verbena on a balcony in a pot.

  15. My life is waaaayyy to boring to even contemplate diarizing, which is why I love reading about other people’s lives! 😉 I love that tisane–it looks so elegant! What fun to eat at Chez Panisse!

  16. I’m a tad behind here, per usual, but what a wonderful entry about Chez Panisse (and with photos)! I have only been there once, but it is such a treat.

  17. Oh, I am SO missing California after reading this post! We used to get mint tea at our local Moroccan restaurant, though I recall it being insanely sweet.

    Alice Waters is the reason you can get field green salads at CostCo…she is a treasure! Unfortunately trying to eat fresh local food in NY in the winter is a bit difficult.

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