Funeral for a Basque

pagegeui lane

Last week, I went up to Susanville with my mother to help bury my uncle, Marty Paguegui, who lived on the eponymous street you see pictured above.  I’ve never been to Susanville, not being close to my uncle.  It’s a wonderful place.

On the surface, I don’t belong in a place like Susanville, not at all.  Susanville is about 80 miles west of Reno.  It’s in the mountains — 4,200 feet — it snows up there.  People ranch, and they work construction (which is what my uncle did), or they work at the High Desert Prison, one of those huge new prisons the state of California’s thrown up in all kinds of out-of-the-way places.  When you drive out to Paguegui Lane, you can see the prison from a long way away because it has so many lights outside and there aren’t that many lights on in Susanville at night so nothing competes with it.

Me, I’m from a place that’s easy to get to, any season at all. And people here don’t ranch, let’s just leave it at that.  Side dishes with mayo, particularly ones with macaroni?  Not much in evidence in Berkeley. But surprisingly yummy when eaten in the parish hall of the catholic church in Susanville after mass, or at my Aunt Vicky’s house, in Maxwell, which is off I-5, on the way home from Susanville. I’m not sure you’re supposed to discover how much you love a place when you’re on a funeral mission, but there you have it:  that was mostly what I did.

My uncle — who was in his early 70s — had a lot of friends.  The funeral mass was crowded with them, and the amount of help they gave was huge and without any hesitation.  It was lovely for my mother and my cousins to have people volunteer to do things they couldn’t do.  For example, my uncle left his important stuff in a combination safe.  He’d given the combination to two different people, but on the Sunday when we needed to open it, the combination was nowhere in evidence.  So, how do you get a safe open on a Sunday in Susanville?  Well, you take it to the local locksmith, a heavily tattooed ex-con, and he drills it open in about two seconds so you can get the instructions for the funeral, the will, and the cash he didn’t want to put in the bank.

My uncle was a handsome man, in that way Basque men can be handsome, with a white smile in a dark face, the kind of guy who loves to dance, and has a way of talking to women that makes them feel that they might possibly be the most beautiful and desirable woman in the world.  As a result, he was not that successful with women long-term, but he clearly had a lot of short-term fun.  So much so that when it became evident that one of his wishes for his funeral was to have women pall bearers, the rush to volunteer was immediate and fierce.

Here are some other facts about Susanville:

  • Things start early.  Starbucks is open at 4:30 a.m.  That’s so the prison guards and the ranchers can get a latte on their way to work.
  • The local AM radio station, KSUE, has a very popular swap program every day, a program in which you can, for example, let people know you’re willing to swap your used generator for a ride-on lawn mower.  And if you show up at 4:30 a.m. at that radio station, which is in a little house by the fairgrounds, there will be a guy there who’s wide awake, and he’ll read the announcement of your uncle’s death and the funeral mass to come a couple times a day, just to make sure the word gets out.
  • You’ll discover, when you walk outside your room at the Best Western, after your mother’s woken you up to go to the radio station, that the air is cleaner and fresher than any air you can remember in a long time, and the moon will just be sinking beyond the edge of the horizon and you’ll notice that the sky is huge and open and so beautiful you want to stand there in the parking lot and not move because you know it’ll be a while before you see the morning in quite that way again.  And you’ll see this is why your uncle spent most of his life up here.  Because it is beautiful in a way few other places are.
  • When the Irish priest in Susanville is on vacation, his place is taken by the Rwandan priest whose parish is up the road.  This Rwandan priest will hug your mother more than a few times, and he will give a remarkable homily about life and death, which you know he’s seen a lot of, even though he looks like he’s barely thirty years old.
  • People will invite you to come back to Susanville because your uncle was their friend.  And you will come back — to a party in a few weekends, and to the big lamb barbeque your uncle gave every year, the one where the old Basques stand around telling jokes, charming women, living a good, full life.  You’ll come back because you like this place, this early-rising, kind, surprising place.

And that is where I’ve been, and what I’ve been doing, since I last posted about how good the food at the Berkeley Bowl looks in the summer.

A Thing of Beauty

Thing of Beauty (n):  Boy A does a push-up while Boy B releases skateboard UNDER Boy A and jumps over him, and then lands on the skateboard, after which time all spectators and Boy A and  Boy B shout, "Man, was that a Thing of Beauty or what!"
Thing of Beauty (n): Twin A does a push-up while Twin B releases skateboard UNDER Twin A and jumps over him, and then lands on the skateboard, after which all spectators (except mother, who is frozen in place) and Twin A and B shout, "Man. THAT was a Thing of Beauty!"

We all know it’s a joy forever.  (And if you didn’t, you do now.)  But have you actually READ those lines recently?  You should.  They’re here, at the end of this post.

Weird New World

Today, because I live in the land of the teenaged, I spoke to Charlie,  who is upstairs in the kitchen as I write this (from downstairs in my office), on Facebook chat.  And you know what?  It was sort of fun.  Tone of voice, which can so easily derail a conversation with someone you love who also happens to be under the influence of, well, whatever it is that makes you a teenager, is entirely absent when you type.  No one rolls his eyes.  No one raises her voice.  No one expresses disdain or impatience or irritation.  Maybe we need to spend the next four years texting and twittering and chatting.

I am beginning to see the charm of micro-communication.  140 characters need not always be superficial communication.  Those 140 characters can add up to something quite substantial when they are partof an ongoing series of micro communications.  On Facebook, I know when my friends are happy or worried or feeling elated. I can see the shifts in their moods, the moments that make up their days and what they really, really like to eat.  (Who knew there was such a thing as a sushi burrito?)  And because the price of admission to Facebook for my children was that they had to publicly acknowledge me as their friend,  I know when my child isn’t too crazy about school, or misses Easter, or is loving his freedom this weekend.  I don’t DO anything about any of this — except maybe a thumbs up (not to the teenagers — they really don’t want your thumbs on their facebook page) and an observation or two of my own.  But all this information accumulates into a sense of who people are — or who they want to be, or who they’re working toward being.  It’s terribly interesting and awfully weird, but really quite wonderful too.


I am aware that it appears as though I’ve been loading up my  u-haul for the last three weeks in preparation for my move to the East Coast, where I will be pitching a tent in the Guilford Green and taking showers in the Guilford Free Library, because I will have no home and no job there when I arrive.

But, in fact, that’s not what happened after my recent trip to the east coast.  I got home to Berkeley.  Spring’s arrival is unambiguous.  Poppies everywhere.  Jasmine blooming in huge bunches.   Meyer lemons bursting on our bush outside.  How could I live anywhere but where I live?  And so I became distracted from blogging and everything else, and for three weeks I’ve been picking bunches of blooming things and coloring easter eggs and cooking stuff.   Lovely.

While doing all that, I’ve been thinking about this particular time in my life.  Spring is universal and timeless.  It comes.  It goes.   Things burst into life and then they are dormant.  Against that backdrop though, my children are becoming teenagers — a season I won’t ever see again, but one I love watching from a distance.

What I’ve noticed is that this  bursting-into-life, their spring, is actually pretty wonderful.  Adolescence is a time of big, gusty emotion, which can be a pain to deal with and can really unbalance a woman who isn’t used to that kind of drama (except when she’s doing it).  It’s also, though, a hugely fun time.  My kids are mischievous — they tease each other and me, and although I know that doesn’t sound like a big thing, I love it that they feel enough freedom to give me a hard time about listening to Lady GaGa.   I also love it that Lady GaGa, with her many weird outfits exists this spring.  And my kids are excited about being freer, about going to a big urban high school in the fall, about finding their own way — on the bus and at that school and then into the bigger world.

This weekend, Jack’s performing in Rigoletto — he has three lines on that huge stage, but he belts them out beautifully.  And Charlie?  He’s jumping off things on his skateboard that are very big — and spinning around when he does it and then landing and looking like it was all no big deal.  (While he wears the helmet I force him to wear).  It’s scary and exciting and fun to watch them.  I love being the mother of these kids, love the way they’re stepping onto the stage and launching themselves into life.

Happy Spring!

All About Him and Me

It probably comes as no surprise to many of you that I am married, although I am rarely allowed to mention any details about this alliance because my husband thinks it’s weird for me to write about him.  He’s not really into the whole web-revelation thing.  In fact, he had a Facebook account for about thirty seconds, but then people like his ex-girlfriend and those he went to high school with began to ask him to be friends and he couldn’t keep up with the whole dizzying whirl that those four friend requests seemed to him to represent, so he shut the whole thing down.  (I am still on Facebook:  and yes, I would LOVE to be your friend.)  

But I asked him nicely if I could tell people his middle name is John because I would like to participate in the “about our marriagething that has swept through the blogworld, and which requires that you reveal your middle name, for starters.  He said yes, which means he can’t say no to anything else I ask him for the next half hour as he heats up the black bean soup I made earlier today.  Me?   My middle name is Fay.  Through much of my childhood I was referred to as Lily Fay, but only by members of my family, and not now, ever, so don’t even think about trying it or I’ll un-Friend you.  

How long have you been together?

Oh god.  Forever, basically.  Since 1986.  

How long did you know each other before you began dating?

We met in 1984 when he jump started my car, which is one reason why I married him.  (That I married him seven years after we met is another story altogether.)  For two years, every time I saw him, I thought he was very attractive and quite interesting, but not at all my type because he was, well… nice.  At the time, I liked men who were dark, and mean to me.  My husband is honest, smart, tall, blond, handsome, nordic, sporty and a former Eagle scout.  He is a truly fine man.  At some point, he declared his interest — my memory is that he did it in a letter he wrote to me while I was living in New Orleans and about to leave the country for a trip to Spain.  At the time my brother was living with him and I think maybe he wanted to let me know that, when I came back (if I ever did), it would be more fun if I spent time at his house instead of my brother.  (He likes my brother.  But he likes me more.)  

Who asked whom out?

I’m thinking he did, via the aforementioned letter.  I mean, we had lots of dinners and outings as friends, but our first romantic moment was his idea. And then he broke up with me immediately afterwards, because he thought the whole thing was too serious.  That lasted for about four months and then he stopped worrying about whether things were too serious.  As it turned out, we lived together for a very long time and it wasn’t until 1991 that we got married.  

How old are you?

Oh, pretty old.  You can probably work that out.  He is two years older than I am.  That gave him time to acquire the jumper cables that led me to love him.    

Whose siblings do you see the most?

His.  They live closer than mine.  But my siblings like him a lot.  They view him as a total miracle and all of them, including my parents, are even now — years and years later — relieved as hell I did not marry any of the many unreliable men I dated before him.

Which situation is hardest on you as a couple?

Because we are utterly opposite in most ways, most situations were hard for us in the beginning of our marriage.  But we have discovered what matters most to each of us and even though we think the other person is a lunatic for caring so much about that particular thing, we tend to respect these areas (which means, basically, give in on them) — the net result being that we don’t argue as much as you’d think.  

Did you go to the same school?

No.  We did both go to very bad public high schools (his was in Lake Tahoe, mine a suburb of Tacoma, Washington).  And then we went to ivy league colleges — he to Dartmouth, where all the nordic, blond skiers go.  And I went to Yale, where they seemed to be interested in badly educated girls from the Pacific Northwest.    

Are you from the same home town?

He grew up in California.  I grew up in Europe and in the wet, dreary Pacific Northwest.  We met here, in the Bay Area.  We both love living in Berkeley, something we have never, ever argued about.  

Who is smarter?

His answer:  “I know what you think, but I disagree.  I have more of an aptitude for science and math.  You’re good at everything else.”  In other words, I am smarter and he knows his times tables. He can also make the car start just by giving it a stern look and mouthing the words “I own jumper cables and I know how to use them.”  

Who is the most sensitive?

I appear to be but, in fact, he feels things quite deeply.  You’d just never know it, under that nordic calm.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?

Please.  We don’t eat out.  Unless you count Gordo Tacqueria, the burrito place where the guys glare at you when you get to the front of the line to order five totally distinct burritos, because no one in our family ever eats the same thing.  

Where is the furthest you have traveled together as a couple?

Nice.  A lovely trip.    Wait!  We went to Italy on our honeymoon.  Rome is further from California than Nice, I’m pretty sure.  My husband would probably know.  We once went on a bike trip through the Dordogne, before we were married, and every night he would take out our map and measure carefully, using dental floss (perfectly clean, unused floss I would like to add) to trace the lines of our routes, so he could announce, with admirable precision, the number of miles we had covered that day on our bicycles.  I could always guess it was far.  He could always tell you just how far.  

Who has the craziest exes?

Neither one of us.  We’ve been together so long that the exes have basically disappeared from memory, except for the vaguest of impressions (dark, not always nice to me: my exes.  little, cute: his exes).  Facebook saw a small resurgence of exes, but they weren’t crazy.  Just friendly. 

Who has the worst temper?

According to him, I do.  According to me, I do.  He has no temper at all.  When he gets mad it’s just funny because it’s so lame.

Who does the most cooking?

We both cook.  He was out front early in this area of competence because he knew how to grill really well, but then I discovered that if you read enough cookbooks and follow the directions, you can leave a competent griller in the dust of the lovely sprinkling of powdered sugar with which you are annointing the madeleines you learned how to make from reading Patricia Wells’ book on Paris food, which contains an incredibly delicious recipe for madeleines.  

Who is the most stubborn?

That would be both of us.  Fortunately, we are stubborn about different things.  

Who hogs the bed most?

He does.  He takes all the pillows and pulls the covers over himself and, basically, is a rude, rude bed partner.

Who does the laundry?

One of the triumphs of our marriage is our joint decision to hire someone to do our laundry.  How do you think I manage to write novels, work as a lawyer, raise my children and answer questions about my still-intact marriage while wearing clean clothes?  

Who’s better with the computer?

I am.  In fact, my computer expertise is legendary — mystical, even.  This comes from the simple fact that I — and I alone — read the directions before I plug anything in.  Thus, almost everything I try to fix or install computer-wise works beautifully.  For the rest of them, things work about half the time, maybe a little bit more if they sacrifice a small goat and pray really hard.  

Who drives when you are together?

50-50.  Well, now that I have glasses that let me drive at night, totally 50-50.  And this is a good question to end on because that’s what our marriage is:  a partnership of people who are equal, most of the time, except when it comes to jump starting the car (him), grilling (him), installing software (me) and yelling about basically inconsequential things (me).

The Paradise Cafe


Here at the Paradise Cafe in Baja, where we have been coming for smoothies and wireless internet for the last four days since we arrived, the two nods to Christmas are (a) a small sign on the door announcing that you can buy mistletoe on the 23rd (oops, we missed it) and kiss your sweetie (still time for that), and (b) … I guess there is no (b).  No Christmas carols, no santas, not a lot of stuff in the stores, not a lot of decorations.  It’s lovely — like being on a very healthy eating plan.  The absence of Christmas blare is amazing.  It’s very good for children.  We had a small present-opening morning on Thursday and then they all left to do things that were more fun than help their parents pack their car to drive down to Mexico.  (Charlie went to school — because it’s a party day.   Jack and William sang at a holiday party in Sacramento, where Arnold Schwarzenegger handed out hannukah gelt in a slightly grumpy way, which I liked hearing about.  He’s also not as tall as they thought.)  

We drove down last Friday morning, stopping in San Diego for a party and then after a huge, increasingly insane drive down the Baja peninsula that lasted 23 hours (note to ourselves:  don’t ever do that again), we arrived at Los Barrilles where, basically, there’s not a lot to do besides kiss under the mistletoe, and eat fish.  

It’s a nice little town.  People come down here to fish and windsurf.  Baja midnight occurs at about 10 p.m.  It took me three days to stop making lists.  

I hope you’ve stopped making lists too, and are about to settle into a beautiful holiday — no matter where you are, the whole paradise thing is, without a doubt, inside.

I’d Like to Cancel The Debate

Taking a page from John McCain’s flight plan I mean, play book, I mean book of GREAT IDEAS, I’m going to cancel all debate on the following irksome subjects:  

1.  First, no more talking about who walks the dog.  YOU walk the dog because there is nothing in the world you love more than the dog.  I, on the other hand, love at least six or seven things more than the dog.  (Don’t tell him okay?  He did make the long list of things I love.)

2.  While we’re at it, I’d like to pull out of the debate on whether you can have a youtube account.  You can’t.  Weirdos wil be looking at your videos and leaving weird comments.  Yes, most of them are your friends from middle school.  No, I mean, really honey, I didn’t mean to call your friends weirdos.  You have lovely friends.  I’m not worried about them.  I’m worried about the weirdos.  

3.  Oh, and also another debate I believe we need never have again is the one about why I use so much water when I wash the dishes.  I just DO.  I save the environment in ways you can’t even imagine doing:  for example, I actually recycle the newspapers and the junk mail, items you have apparently decided look better in the landfill than in our nice blue recycling bin.  

4.  There will be no further debate about bedtime.  You go to bed at 8:45 with lights out at 9 because I say so.  Believe me, I have done extensive research about sleep and I can only get as much sleep as I have discovered I need if your lights are out at 9.  

5.  We need no longer debate about why I don’t like to  listen to your reports about how windy it was on the bay today.  You have been windsurfing for the 25 years I have known you.  In all that time, the wind reports — which can take up to 30 minutes to deliver — could be summed up in one of two ways:  it is either windy or it isn’t.  I could guess and be right at least half the time.  I’m comfortable with that level of knowledge.

Having cancelled all these debates, I have suddenly discovered I have time to take a nap.  Who says I’m not presidential?