Dispatch from Quarantine 2: dia del padre

On Saturday, Spain joined a host of countries and cities in Europe, North America, and Asia, in urging, mandating, and in some cases, police-enforcing a self-quarantine and confinement to closed, mostly residential, spaces. Here is the first of what I hope will be a few (but who knows?!) daily dispatches of what that’s like.

Prior to the shutdown being announced, the city’s shop windows were plastered with Father’s Day offers. The day seemed to pass with a whimper.

Being in quarantine is much more bearable with a terrace. We can go ‘outside’; we can enjoy the intensity of the sun from indoors. We can look outside, quite easily see the sky. We can hear the birds directly overhead, yet sense the silence in the emptied-out streets and the placa below. Our daily circadian rhythm is almost uninterrupted, in tune as we are with the dawn and fade of the sky’s light.

When I moved to northern Virginia, I took the first apartment I visited, that had a decent long terrace and almost wall-to-wall sliding doors. My Trinidadian friend, Blair, who had also moved to NoVA from Blacksburg, would come to visit, and we would drag the long sofa out and lounge on the balcony. Coming from countries on the equator, a quest for the sun’s light and heat probably informed many of the things we did.

The list of groceries we’re running out of is getting a bit longer, So, tomorrow, groceries will be done. I look forward to some tasty fresh bread :)

Dispatch from quarantine

On Saturday, Spain joined a host of countries and cities in Europe, North America, and Asia, in urging, mandating, and in some cases, police-enforcing a self-quarantine and confinement to closed, mostly residential, spaces. Here is the first of what I hope will be a few (but who knows?!) daily dispatches of what that’s like.

We only just got back home on Wednesday, so the quarantine is only now real to us. Being all together like this is nice. The neighbors put a kickboxing heavy-bag on their terrace so we can hear them thump-thumping it, keeping fit. Sans the reggaton music today… then, a workout video they were following. My friend Rachel presciently took an offline friends’ group she manages online, so now there’s lightweight entertainment at my Whatsapp fingertips — today, there was a video of a panning shot of candlelight, roses on stems, stacks of toilet paper, and a reclining sunshades-clad yogi-style man in this hamman-style setting, delivering the singular line, “You want to be my Quarantine-Baby?”

It’s so nice to be able to work through this, or to have the prospect to do so. My realization today was, “oh, I can’t take my sewing machine with me from my workspace. However, I’ve been thinking of hand-embroidering the neon-yellow top, so I’ll take that with me. Thankfully, I got the embroidery theads last week, before we all knew that everything would be closed. And I can do a Yonderland issue…” I also thought to myself that since I can’t get models to work over the next few weeks, I can go retro and use some of the film photography I’ve been engaging in over the past year or so; there are definitely emerging themes.

Luckily this thing is not HIV that lasts forever in each person it infects — it has a two-week window to wreak havoc. So getting it under control, or even eradicating it, in a finite period of time, is feasible, if painful.

It’s challenging to try to not get sick when the contactless on my card decided it won’t work and I’d been too non-plussed to get a replacement card in the months before a general advisory told us what we all know, virus or not: use mobile payments and contactless whenever possible, to avoid unneccessary contact with germs. You should see me now, using the butt of my pen to key in my PIN, and almost growling at any taxi driver who tries to get my card out of the PoS himself, that I can do it myself, abeg. Two weeks ago, when the chaos of this was only ballooning in neighboring Italy, a taxi driver had been all touchy-feely with my card (she grabbed it from me to put it in the slot herself), and I had been too docile to protest. Me today would have growled at her :’).

Home is a calm space that it’s nice to be in, and I look forward to seeing what these constraints do to the aesthetics of the output generated by those in creative fields. So, in this case, to my output as well.

Friend visiting us at home before the country was ordered into quarantine. We had got this lovely ancient Moroccan carpet from a nice shop in Raval the day before, and had been airing its vintageness out in the sun, when I figured it’d make a fun backdrop.

On Kindness

If kindness were a fabric, would it be silk, smooth to the touch, with a rumble of tight weaves concealed beneath the smooth surface? Linen, porous and transparent, keeping everything light? Would it be honest cotton, versatile and as ready to take on print dyes as it is to contort itself into the most diverse of uses?

Kindness is the fabric of a good life. Without it, love won’t last very long. People won’t take the time to understand one another, so peace in cities might be little more than an abstract idea.

From personal experience, the church is one of the places that teaches kindness. The emphasis of kindness is a bit on you being ready to be the fall guy. Like Jesus was. Where everyone is struggling to not be the idiot, there is no kindness. Only mistrust, and unhappiness, and accusatory behavior.

The design of any city or country I have loved has always had kindness woven into the very fabric of its people. Sometimes it is because of a doctrine of kindness; the places where every man is for himself, do not have this outward-reaching attitude. And why should they, they think. Everyone else is grabbing what they can. Everyone else will do this, if they got the chance. This is funny. I’m having fun. This behavior resonates from one individual to the other, then within a couple, across the members of a household, a neighborhood, a city. You visit and feel the “every man for himself” vibe. The place is physically beautiful, but you can’t put a finger on what is missing. It is the kindness.

Kindness is complex, because it is not just about the first move. If your first move is kind, but is met with unkindness, e.g. the recipient of your kindness takes you for granted, you can’t then say, “I have tried”, and then begin to take them and others for granted, The next move still has to be kind, the doctrine of “How many times shall I forgive my brother? Seventy-times-seven times,” i.e. until you have lost count.

But you must be kind to yourself, too. And perhaps you must be kind to yourself first, because only out of a nurtured heart can true kindness flow. So, for example, if you practice forgiveness to the point that it leaves you unhappy, you should not remain in that situation. That can cross over from kindness to victimhood. Be kind to yourself.

Kindness shows in how we express things, the words we choose, how we gesture to others, how we respond when someone says something we deem unpleasant to us, in our first words to a stranger. There is such a thing as a kindly disposition. The elderly men and women I adore the most, have that: a face that tells a story of contentment and of kindness. It is not wealth-based.

I am really happy to finally put this evaluation of kindness down in words. It is such a weird topic to care about, but I have been giving it a lot of thought. My hope for you is that you meet people who are kind, whether they are smooth like silk or lightweight like linen or honest like cotton. That their kindness will be the weft around which other facets of their personality are warped. It won’t matter. They will all come together to make your heart a beautiful and happy place.

on amazon.

This photo was taken last month, during a sunny Saturday spent hiking in the fields. Around 100 cows and sheep, accompanied by their shepherd, paused to nibble on the leaves from nearby shrubs, the jingle-jangle of their cowbells creating a melodic dissonance.

Jingle Bells.

The sun still shines, often and intensely. At night, the city lights up like a circus, post-work crowds dashing about in pursuit of holiday gifts or a Yuletide feeling.

What do you think about Amazon? Do you have strong feelings for or against it? I did some of my Christmas shopping on there. While waiting for the package to arrive, I began seeing some front-page articles advocating shopping elsewhere. This year, I completed orders for three items on Amazon: a lovely book on creativity, some shoelaces, and aforementioned gift. Had the shopkeeper given me a precise restock date for the latter, I would have bought it in the physical, nearby store where I had first seen it. I also placed three orders on Amazon in 2017, and two in 2016.

From this scant record, I think I am not a prime Amazon user, and that subscription to Prime would be lost on me. Although a writer of one of the articles started off with two or three Amazon orders a year, he noted that he had made 119 orders so far in 2018, his third year as a Prime user.

Here are some of the benefits of Amazon that I see. Amazon is a good one-stop aggregator of products, backed by a strong search engine. More often than not, you will find what you’re looking for on there, with the range of styles and prices presented to you in a no-frills, one-page format. For those who like Netflix and movies on demand, Amazon is now a strong player in that sphere, too. With Prime, shipping is cheaper, or free. As an aside, last year, when I introduced free global shipping to our own operations, it was in keeping with the New Way Amazon has introduced to e-commerce. It is now reasonable to hold the expectation of free shipping. Amazon is reliable. Items also seldom remain listed if they are out of stock. Returns processing follows a reliable and straightforward process. For new products, a date-specific pre-order option is usually available. A responder to one of the articles noted how much easier it made her life, as a person with a disability.

For those on the sidelines, especially those in e-commerce, it is good to note some of these characteristics, and to note which ones are worthy of emulation.

If something about the ethos of a company, etc, bothers you, research it to learn more about how that ethos affects you as a consumer or patron. If you can’t live with it, find alternatives. Or go without that good or service, entirely. It has been nice to read articles on why people are thinking of ending their Prime subscription. So if you have a platform, I think it’s a good idea to use it to express your views, and in the process, educate others (like me) on the pros and cons of continued patronage.

Update: I felt it necessary to include this update on Amazon Prime members’ recent reservations about the service, namely, that Prime 2-day shipping is now too often 5-7 day shipping. Also, that even with Prime membership, not all items are eligible for 2-day shipping, leading Prime members to comb through product listings to find the ones that are Prime-eligible. Here is a Fast Company article (19 Dec. 2018) that details these reservations, along with links to other users with the same issues, on Reddit and Quora.

On the Amazon logistics side, the challenge lies in the reality that human beings are still the ones doing much of the order fulfilment in Amazon warehouses, driving the delivery trucks, etc. One Redditor noted that the slowdown was more noticeable once AMZL, which I think is Amazon’s fulfilment arm to rival USPS, DHL, etc, was launched. And the quandary of people wanting their items delivered fast, sigh, particularly when they pay $119 a year for shipping.

One thing the article highlighted is the importance of stating when the 2-day count begins for shipping. Does it include processing times, or is processing time an 8-day add-on? Customers like to know this, and it is within their rights to. I hadn’t thought I would find logistics interesting, but it is such a vital part of customer satisfaction that I find myself giving it more and more of a thought as my company, Minku, advances.

Winter.

Winter is a temporal desertland, its enjoyment expanded only by the warmth of communality: air molecules suffused with the aura of hearty food, the heat of others’ being, and the resonating sound of percussion and woodwind.

Winter is when the externalized activity and rush of prior months is internalized as plans, new ideas and, should one be lucky, change.

In the heat of June, an hour gone by in the quest for a good picture, we happened on a desertland with overgrown shrubbery and drunken graffiti. Dystopian, its setting of blue house, green foliage, and gold russet parched grass framed the textured reds of the abandoned casing in the foreground.

Soon another set designed by nature and circumstance will be sought, this time in the cold light and excess of fallen leaves of that listless limbo between Thanksgiving and Yuletide. Fingers numbly cold against the indifferent plastic casing of my film camera, I will frame a shot. Click.

Should we be even half lucky, the smiles and breath and glances of those who make our lives more beautiful will recur in the summers and winters of our cyclical existence, tinting each day with shades of their idiosyncratic beauty.

El Celler de Can Roca – all the food that’s fit to eat

“Did we really just eat for four hours?” I asked, as we polished off the last of four dessert dishes, an arrangement of distinctly-flavored chocolate strips leading to a neat heap of crispy chocolate crumble.

An eruption of giggles. It was a giggly experience. From the amuse-bouches that kept coming four courses in — “our bouches are duly amused,” one of us observed; to the waitress who began to say with a giggly, giddy urgency, how hot the soup bowl she had started to serve us from, was. Helped by her colleague, she hurriedly found the side-table on which to place the soup bowl, but the theatrics of it all, combined with the fun of dressing up for the dinner, still had us in giggles for a full minute after.

Three brothers: one specialized in breads (the wine bread was my favorite, suave in taste in fine contrast to the indulgent flavors of our sixth-of-a-day long epicurean experience) but also in sweets and confectionery, served from a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-style candy cart that rolled towards us as the waiters rounded up the last of our plates. The second brother a sommelier, and the third, head chef.

Office of the Roca brothers. Squint to see a photo of them on the left. Mexican sake ‘Nami’, to the right.

Psychedelic. Magic mountains of white asparagus heads emerged vertically from a lake of asparagus-loaded garum sauce, dotted with pickled, yes, asparagus. A smack in the mouth with all the ways asparagus could be, beyond your wildest dreams. All served on the same plate.

In an earlier course, miniature bonsai trees required that we picked olives off them to eat: the green ‘olives’, cold and sweet, were olive-flavored ice-cream; the brown ones, hot and savory, were a black-olive tempura-shelled tapenade (!) It was like Alice in Wonderland, with the scale a bit off (olive trees that fit on dinner tables), cutlery irregularly curled, and the paradox of choice – black olive hot; green olive cold, both options consumed in the end.

Excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

The most surreal experience of all was our repeated underestimation of the capacities of our bellies. Each time we thought we couldn’t possibly fit any more food, our dishes would be cleared, next wine introduced and served, plates and cutlery placed, introductory spiel to new dish given, and there we would be, relishing it like it was the first course of the evening. This was the case particularly with the desserts.

Our worlds collided. At least four of us at our table of eight were fans of the 90s Jim Henson show, The Dinosaurs, and a dessert of liquefied cucumber, cardamom, apple, fennel, and eucalyptus came accompanied with dinosaur-stemmed silverware. The silverware broke all rules of usability, but only if your understanding of silverware is simply ‘tools to eat with’. For us, they contributed to some of the most resonant giggles of the evening. Not only did we find a home for them on the strategically placed rocks that served as table centerpieces, but our dinosaurs formed partnerships and communities, traveling across the table and along their partners’ backs, before being picked up by their chubby sculpted stems to tackle our desserts. “I don’t use my juicy salif to juice lemons,” star designer Philippe Starck once quipped of his lemon juicer design, “I use it to start conversations.”

What one wouldn’t give to be a fly on the tablecloth during a dinner at Celler de Can Roca, a gastronomic experience designed to maximize delight, hearty mealtime conversation, and giggles.

crouching tiger; hidden dragon. Or maybe just dinosaurs.

Thanks to Anna for the pictures of the food. So busy was I eating that I forgot to document some of my favorite dishes. Like the magic asparagus mountains that ensure I’ll never look at asparagus the same way again.

Back to the ease of film

If I asked you how you tell a good photo, or a professionally-taken photo, it’s likely you would answer that it must be sharp and with the right areas in focus, and if you were a bit artsy you might like some ‘bokeh’, and that the composition should be on point.

Minku has had quite the photographic journey in the last seven years, a journey during which I unwittingly became a photographer, with a specialty in mostly product and portraiture.

Besides needing quick turnaround times for product photos to be used for the e-store and social media pages, I also ran into some scheduling challenges with the photographer I usually work with, who is based in California. The most recent round of challenges motivated me to both find photographers to work with locally, and refine my own photography abilities further.

For product shots, I’m still on board the dslr train, but for social media captures, I’ve started the transition to film. Film is more organic, the light is more like how I see the world, the edges don’t look so HDR, the smiles are softer, the wrinkles are more forgiven (yes, see what I did there), the hair is softer, the reds are pinker. Film is what my earliest memories were captured in; it is how I grew up seeing the world.

For every film photo I’ve kept in my recent rediscovery of the medium, I’ve discarded one. Still, that’s ok. I’m still learning my camera, and it’s not a complex one. I realize, too, that the complexity of the heavier, electronic cameras didn’t hold the solution to the organicness I sought. Photography is just my means of expressing myself, and with film, I realize I’m skipping the editing because the colors and textures, two things with which I hold an irrational preoccupation, are coming out perfectly. With electronic cameras,the hue was always too blue, the textures too sharp, the definition too high.

I am Goldilocks. With film, it’s just right.